Disclaimer: In case anyone could possibly be in doubt, these characters and this world are certainly not mine.

This is my first attempt at writing Final Fantasy at all, so if you have a moment to spare, any feedback would be quite appreciated.

It was a typical errand run. While Cloud usually bought supplies for the bar in bulk, Tifa had run out of a few basic items, so he had gone to get them while she handled the lunch rush. Denzel and Marlene had, of course, jumped on the opportunity to beg to come along.

They were on their way back to Seventh Heaven, Tifa's shopping in one of Cloud's hands, his other grasping Marlene's own small fingers, when Marlene abruptly stopped in her tracks. "What's that?"

Cloud immediately came to a halt beside her, dropping the bag and reflexively reaching for the sword on his back, his eyes scanning for whatever possible danger Marlene might have seen.

Then he heard it--a high, piteous mewling that could only mean one thing.

His hand relaxed and dropped back to his side. He picked up the bag on the ground as Denzel ran toward the source of the noise. Moments later the boy had dragged a half-starved, filthy kitten out from behind a rusty metal box and some chunks of rubble. Marlene gasped, whether in horror at the cat's mangy appearance or delight at the small animal, Cloud didn't know.

At least until she squealed and dropped his hand, running forward and carefully taking the kitten from Denzel, cuddling it up to her chest and rubbing her chin against it.

Delight, then. Definitely delight.

"Oooh! Look, Cloud!" She held the kitten up toward him, her eyes wide and pleading. Cloud knew what was coming before she even asked, "Can we keep her?"

"How do you know it's a 'her?'" Denzel asked, standing beside Marlene and reaching out to softly stroke the cat's dirty fur. "Maybe it's a boy."

Marlene presented Denzel with an expression of skepticism. "She's too pretty to be a boy." Then she stopped and considered. "Well, Cloud's pretty and he's a boy--"

Cloud sighed inwardly and quietly said, "Marlene."

She fixed her eyes back on him and replied expectantly, "Cloud?"

Another inward sigh. There was something wrong with a child her age using that tone.

"Can we take her home?" Marlene repeated, snuggling the cat closer to her neck.

"Could be a him," Denzel corrected, but he, too, was looking at Cloud hopefully.

Cloud considered. It really shouldn't be a problem. Tifa wouldn't mind; actually, she would probably fall in love with the creature as soon as she saw it. Tifa loved cats, even lost and miserable ones.

In fact, Tifa loved a lot of things that were lost and miserable.

"Taking care of it would be your responsibility," he told his two charges.

Both kids nodded seriously. "We promise," Denzel said fervently.

Cloud tilted his head to the side slightly, and Denzel and Marlene grinned, knowing he had agreed. The rest of the way back to Seventh Heaven, Cloud was subjected to listening to them quarrel over whose turn it was to hold the kitten.

"I want to show Tifa!" Marlene exclaimed as they approached the door.

"I found him!" Denzel retorted.

"I heard her first!" Marlene argued.

Cloud was beginning to debate whether this had been a good idea after all. He cleared his throat. Denzel and Marlene stopped fighting and looked up at him guiltily, as though suddenly worried he would take the cat away because they were bickering.

Marlene frowned for a moment, and then gently held the kitten out to Denzel. "Here, Denzel. You can show Tifa."

Denzel lowered his face and shook his head. "That's okay. You do it, Marlene."

A huge smile blossomed on Marlene's face and she said, "Come on, we can do it together!" Seizing Denzel's hand, she pulled him through the front door of the bar.

Cloud followed more slowly, wondering, not for the first time, how they could switch tactics with each other so quickly. Tifa had told him on more than one occasion, "I think that's just how kids are," but Cloud knew that this business of raising kids was as new to her as it was to him. Even so, Tifa was so much better at understanding the way that Denzel and Marlene acted, so much better at knowing how to respond to them.

Yet they still always wanted to do things with him, whether it was coming along on an errand around Edge, as they had this morning, or watching him work on his bike, or even just sitting beside him as they read a book. It simultaneously bemused him and made him feel--strange.

Wanted, maybe, was the word.

He wasn't sure what to do with that particular feeling. Even six months after being healed of Geostigma and returning to live at Seventh Heaven, after finding some semblance of forgiveness with himself, Cloud was not sure how to handle this family business. Being wanted, or even possibly needed, was something that he struggled with every day. Being alone was far often easier. Running away was easier still, running where he couldn't hurt or fail anyone.

He was still there, though. Every day, something always brought him back. Maybe it was the echo of Tifa's words to him, the night the kids had been taken from them and she had confronted him about his Geostigma. "Stop running!" she had told him. She had known his life was hard, seen that sharing his life was something that was horribly difficult for him. She had told him it was difficult to share your life with others, but she knew he didn't want to be alone.

She was right. Which didn't make it any easier. Alone was what he knew. Tifa was aware of that, too, and sometimes Cloud saw the fear in her eyes, echoes of the same fear that he sometimes felt, though he thought that Tifa was afraid that he would leave, while he--well, he was afraid of staying. Then she would smile that smile only she could give and tell him, "We can do this, Cloud. We can do it together. Right?"

Maybe. Very slowly, with a lot of mistakes, sometimes tears, sometimes laughter. With anger and pain, remorse and fear. With hope and joy. The days passed, and every day, it got a little easier to breathe. "All part of being a family," Tifa would say. "It's never easy, Cloud."

Cloud stood by the door and watched as Marlene and Denzel dodged around several customers to get to the counter, where Tifa was setting several drinks down in front of more patrons. Even over the noise of the lunch rush, the children's excited voices filtered over to him.

"--a kitten! I heard it first, but Denzel found it."

"Cloud said we can keep it! Well, sort of."

"Isn't she cute!?"

"It might be a he, Marlene."

"We'll take care of her, don't worry!"

"We promised!"

"Can we give her a bath?"

"You don't know it's a girl, Marlene!"

"You don't know it's not, Denzel!"

Tifa put her hands out toward them and said something that didn't reach Cloud's ears, but both children immediately quieted, and moments later were running up the stairs with the kitten, Denzel's voice floating back to Cloud as he said, "We need to see if it's a boy or a girl!" Tifa watched them go, and then looked over at Cloud, a smile crossing her face.

Moments like this made the hard days in Cloud's life a little easier, made him understand why he stayed instead of running again. Moments when Tifa's eyes were filled with laughter, when he thought that perhaps he had actually done something to make her smile instead of make her worry.

He stepped up to the counter, and only those customers who weren't regulars clammed up at the sight of him striding past them. Stepping behind the counter, Cloud set the bag of supplies in his hand on the floor and nodded at Tifa. He was about to move away when she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "A kitten?" she asked, amusement in her voice.

Cloud shifted slightly, a bit uncomfortable, suddenly wondering if she was upset by it after all, but she smiled again and said, "I'm sure it will fit right in here." She squeezed his arm and let him go, turning back to her customers. "You got a phone call while you were gone," she added over her shoulder. "Someone has a delivery request for this evening. I left the slip on your desk."

"Thanks." Cloud headed upstairs for his office, pausing briefly in the hall when he heard voices coming from the bathroom.

"Look at her run! Catch her, Denzel!"

"I'm trying, Marlene! She's--oomph--fast! Got her! Ow!" Denzel yelped. "She's scratching me!"

Apparently the kitten really was female, since Denzel was actually referring to it as 'her' now.

"She doesn't like water," Marlene said wisely, and Cloud took another several steps in their direction, peering into the bathroom to find the tub filling with water. Denzel was clutching a wet, terrified-looking cat, which was doing its best to claw its way up his neck. Marlene came quickly to the rescue, though Cloud wasn't sure whether she was trying to rescue Denzel or the kitten.

"She is so excitable," Marlene declared, holding the cat carefully away from her body where it wouldn't scratch her. Then, very definitively, she decided, "I'm going to name her Yuffie."

"You can't name her Yuffie!" Denzel protested.

Cloud blinked and felt a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"It should be Yuffie," Marlene said staunchly. "She doesn't like to be told what to do, either!"

Cloud's lips turned up slightly, and he moved toward his office, immediately finding the delivery order written in Tifa's handwriting. He had plenty of time to take care of this particular delivery today, so he headed back out of his office. The sound of Marlene and Denzel's shrieks and laughter followed him down the stairs, and Cloud thought that maybe, just maybe, sometimes he really could bring a moment of happiness to his family.

As he walked downstairs and back past the bar, Tifa called, "See you tonight, Cloud." It was her way of always telling him--or perhaps reassuring him, or even herself--that he would return.

"Tonight," Cloud promised. "I'll get some food for the cat while I'm out." He took his sunglasses out of his pocket and pushed them on, looking over at her to see that her smile was still directed his way.

Yeah, he thought as he headed for his bike. Maybe. Maybe sometimes, even he could have glimpses of happiness.