Author's Note: I've had so many random plot bunnies bouncing through my head lately for FFVII, mostly about Cloud, Tifa, and their little family, so I thought I'd start jotting them down. This focuses on Tifa and the kids. It sort of stemmed from reading On the Way to a Smile: Case of Tifa, which I'm sure everyone knows took place before Advent Children. It said that Tifa introduced Marlene to people as her daughter. And of course, there was also the moment in Advent Children when Barret told Denzel to look after his mom. It then kind of evolved into this, because you know that those kids have to have issues, given everything they've been through at such young ages.

This will be two parts--the first part a look at Tifa and Marlene, called 'Can I Call You Mama?' and the second a look at Tifa and Denzel, called, 'I Don't Want to Call You Mom.'

Disclaimer: If I owned Final Fantasy, would I be writing fanfiction?


Part 1 of 2

Can I Call You Mama?

The first time Marlene called Tifa 'Mama,' she was having a nightmare. Tifa awakened to hear Marlene screaming for her, but it was not 'Tifa' she was shrieking in her half-awake, terrified state.

"Mama!"

Her screams roused everyone else in the house; Cloud reached Denzel and Marlene's room only half a second behind Tifa, his feet bare and his sword in hand, and even as Tifa reached Marlene's bed and pulled her into her arms, she could see the relief in Cloud's eyes. Relief that, even though Marlene was frightened, she wasn't in any danger.

On the next bed, Denzel was sitting up and blinking sleepily. When he seemed sure that Marlene was getting cared for, he slumped back down onto his pillow, though his blue eyes kept peering over worriedly.

Cloud rested his sword against the wall and came over to sit on the bed next to Tifa. Marlene was crying and shaking, her face pressed into Tifa's shoulder, clinging to her. Tifa met Cloud's eyes and he frowned a little. They both knew that there was not much to be done about the nightmares. They had enough of their own, and it would be impossible to expect that the kids would sleep peacefully every night, particularly given everything they had seen and been through. Monsters, kidnappers, diseases, battles, death--it was really a wonder that they held together as well as they did.

The nightmares had been worse lately, though, particularly for Marlene. Cloud and Tifa had discussed it, and both were positive it was because it had only been two months since they had left the children behind to go help Vincent fight. This was following a year that had been probably the safest and most secure they had all had in a while. The crisis with Vincent seemed to have brought up the fears and insecurities that Denzel and Marlene had struggled with so much in their short lives--namely, fear of abandonment, fear of being alone.

Cloud reached out and laid a hand on Marlene's back, and at his touch, she turned her face toward him, tears still pouring down her cheeks. Her eyes moved up to Tifa's, and her face crumpled all over again, her cries turning into sobs. "Please don't go away," she said. "Please."

Tifa's chest constricted painfully. She hugged Marlene tightly, her arm encircling Cloud's hand in the process and pressing it more snuggly against Marlene's back. "I'm not going anywhere, sweetie."

"Everyone goes away," Marlene wept. "Everyone. Sometimes they don't come back. I don't want you to go away."

Tifa closed her eyes briefly. Barret was still out on the road, and would likely be there for a long time. It had been almost three years since he left Marlene to Cloud and Tifa, and though he visited Marlene and talked with her quite a lot, he seemed unable to really settle down long-term. In fact, Tifa knew that Barret was torn between his love for Marlene and his guilt for his sins and what they could do to her. He didn't know what to do anymore if he was not fighting. Just after they returned from joining Vincent on this last battle, he had taken Tifa and Cloud aside and flatly told them he was keeping Marlene in their care. He knew that he was her papa, and always would be, but he said that Marlene needed stability, and it wasn't something he could give her right now. And, he had added, Tifa was the only mother Marlene had ever really known. Marlene was growing toward being a young lady, and needed a mother in her life. At Seventh Heaven, she not only had a mother, but she had a brother and another father figure. Tifa understood Barret's decision. She had raised Marlene just as long as Barret had, and she couldn't imagine life without the little girl. She told Barret he was always welcome to live at Seventh Heaven--he had helped build it; he had suggested the idea of restarting a bar--but he said he wasn't ready for that. Maybe someday.

Tifa continued to hold Marlene, whispering soothing words to her. It took several more minutes before Marlene's weeping subsided, and still a few more before her body began to relax, until finally she was asleep on Tifa's lap. Cloud's hand was still pinned between her body and Tifa's arm. It didn't look very comfortable, but Cloud didn't seem to mind. He waited until Tifa shifted her arm enough for him to pull his hand free before moving, watching as she carefully settled Marlene onto her pillow.

Cloud stood and his eyes landed on something behind Tifa. She turned to see that Denzel was gazing at both of them solemnly. It was a moment before he spoke. "She cried herself to sleep tonight, after you left the room. She tried to be quiet, but…I heard her," he finally whispered, his eyes moving to Marlene. "I think she's scared."

Tifa was sure Marlene was scared, but Denzel didn't fool her. She saw the fear in his own eyes. Maybe she could get him talking. "Why do you think she's scared?" she asked softly, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"She's afraid you're going to leave again," Denzel whispered, dragging his eyes downward so he was no longer meeting their eyes, picking at his blanket nervously. "But I know you can't stay all the time. You have to help your friends, like they come to help you."

Cloud and Tifa made eye contact with each other again, and it was Cloud who answered, quietly, "Yes, Denzel, but--" another glance at Tifa, and then Marlene's sleeping, tear-splotched face. Cloud was quiet for a moment, searching for the right words. "We're here now," he finally said simply.

Denzel's eyes flashed up to Cloud's face before returning to his blanket. "Yeah." He didn't sound entirely convinced.

Cloud held out a hand toward Denzel. "Come on."

Denzel gave Tifa a brief glance, and she smiled encouragingly at him as he slipped out from under his covers and approached Cloud, who put a hand on his shoulder and guided him out of the room. Cloud grabbed his sword on the way, and Tifa stepped out into the hall, watching Cloud deposit his sword in his own room before leading Denzel downstairs to the bar.

Tifa smiled toward the stairs and then quietly returned to her room. Cloud was probably feeding Denzel something horribly sugary--but he would be doing it while talking to him about what was bothering him. It was what he always did. What he had been doing for over a year, when he returned from his long sojourn, healed of Geostigma, learning to heal his heart. Healing anything took a while, and hearts…hearts were fragile things, so easy to break and so hard to put back together.

Cloud had made a lot of progress, though. They all had.

A sigh escaped Tifa's lips as she glanced back toward the children's room. They still had more progress to make, but they could do it. She was sure they could, no matter how long they had to work on it.

Tifa returned to bed, but it took a little while before her alertness faded enough that she could fall back asleep. When she woke a short time later, she wasn't entirely sure what had dragged her to consciousness until she opened her eyes and saw the small figure standing at her bedside, holding tightly to a stuffed rabbit.

"Marlene?" Tifa whispered, quickly sitting up. "Did you have another bad dream?"

Marlene shook her head. "I just can't sleep."

Tifa lifted her blankets up, silently inviting Marlene to climb into bed beside her. She did so without any hesitation, squirming around until she found a comfortable position, lying on her side, facing Tifa. Tifa waited until she was settled before she let the covers down over both of them.

Marlene gazed at Tifa for a moment. "Tifa?" she asked in a quiet voice.

"Yes?"

"Is it…is it all right…"

Tifa wasn't sure if she had ever seen Marlene quite so uncertain when it came to asking something. Usually she was the most inquisitive child. "Is what all right?" Tifa asked, brushing Marlene's hair out of her face.

"Can I call you Mama?" Marlene asked quickly.

A warm feeling clenched around Tifa's heart, spreading until she felt the smile growing on her face. "Yes," she whispered. "Of course you can."

Marlene gave a smile of her own, snuggling closer to Tifa, closing her eyes with a contented sigh. Within several minutes, her breathing was slow and even, and only when Tifa was sure she was asleep did she close her own eyes and succumb to her exhaustion.

She woke to again find eyes on her, but this time it was Cloud who was standing at the end of her bed. She blinked at him, wondering drowsily just how long he had been standing there--and more than that, why he was standing there.

Marlene was still beside her, and had managed to pull the bedcovers off of Tifa and get them wound around her body sometime during the night. The sunlight streaming through Tifa's window was too bright for it to be just after sunrise, which was when she usually woke, and she squinted at Cloud. "What time is it?" she mumbled.

"Just after ten."

Tifa sat up quickly. "Ten? The bar opens in an hour! Why didn't you wake me?"

"Tifa, it's our day off."

Oh. Right. Tifa sank back against her pillow. "Is there--something you needed?" she asked pointedly, raising her eyebrows at him.

"Yuffie's on the phone. She's up in arms about something, but she won't talk to me." Cloud shrugged. "I thought it would be easier to wake you than hang up on her. You know the trouble she'd cause the next time she visits." He held up the phone in his hand, which had been out of Tifa's sight.

Tifa rolled her eyes at the notion of Yuffie's sort of trouble and held out her hand for the phone, but Cloud kept the mouthpiece covered and tilted his head slightly, his attention moving to Marlene. "How is she?"

"All right--for now," Tifa sighed. "How's Denzel?"

Cloud frowned. "The same. He's worried, but he doesn't want to really let us know that." He shook his head. "He thinks it's all his responsibility. He doesn't want to let anyone help carry his burdens."

Tifa quirked an eyebrow. "Well, that sounds familiar." Seeing Cloud's expression, she reached out and laid a hand on his arm. "You've learned, Cloud. So will he. He has you to help him, doesn't he?"

Cloud smiled at her, not with his mouth as much as his eyes, but it was one of his expressions that gave her warm tingles and brought a smile to her own lips. He handed Tifa the phone and left the room. Before Tifa could put it up to her ear, a small moan brought her attention to Marlene, who was awake, stretching and blinking at Tifa curiously. "Good morning, Marlene."

Marlene smiled sleepily. "Good morning…Mama. Is that Yuffie?"

Tifa could hear Yuffie's voice coming out of the receiver. "Hello? Helllloooo? Cloud! You better not have hung up the phone, you big--"

Tifa sighed again. "I guess I'd better deal with this," she said. "Maybe if you go see Cloud, he'll give you some breakfast."

Marlene brightened and jumped to her feet, no doubt already thinking about how to convince Cloud to let her eat leftover cake for breakfast. Tifa waited until she was gone before she pressed the phone to her ear, interrupting her friend's ranting. "Yuffie?"


To be continued in part two, which as I said, will be focused more on Denzel.