Author's note: This story is my attempt to get back at a style I used to write for a long perios of time - a little bit ironic, more of attempted humor than things that get too serious. Story take places somewhere after the events of Advent Children - long enough to get Cloud back into talking more than one word for an hour. The relationship between him and Tifa is a special one - much more than normal friendship could be, yet with no romantic feelings. In other words, this story is a shamless excuse for me to write a full blown Zack and Tifa get-together.
That said, enjoy the story!
The flowers moved gently when she stepped over them, her boots making soft noises on the soft soil. The hem of her pink dress brushing gently against their long stems, as she moved around slowly, without unneeded haste, tending to a rising bud or a withering plant. She hummed a soft song while she worked, nimble fingers smoothing curled leaves and petting soft petals, her whole figure wrapped in a aura of peace and harmony with everything that was around her. The sight of her, as she worked in the vast flower field, was indeed an angelic one..
The calm spell was broken by a jubilant voice and loud footsteps were heard, delicate flowers getting crushed beneath heavy combat boots.
"I told you, NOT to step on the flowers" the girl pouted heavily as she straightened her back "Could you do it just for ONCE, please?" her hands rested on her hips as green eyes flashed with slight irritation. One brown boot tapped slightly on the ground, as if the emphasize her current ruling emotions. Just in case the slightly knitted brows didn't do that on their own.
The man she was addressing took a look around, and raised one brow in a quizzical manner, his lips stretching into an easy , slightly sheepish smile. The girl sighed at the sight, and shook her head slightly, chestnut braid dancing behind her back. There was no way she would make him remember that one, only one rule… no matter how many times she would ask, beg, threaten or remind him to be careful on the field and respect her flowers. She sighed again and brushed her hands off.
"You will never learn, will you Zack?"
The tall man in front of her stretched his arms up, and gave a hearty laugh. It was loud and heartfelt, as everything he did.
"Sorry honey, it's just the way I am!" he pulled at one soft brown lock, causing Aerith to smack his hand away "Ouch! Hey I am just being friendly and all!"
"Don't you honey me, Zack Fair!"
"Alright, alright…" he rubbed at the back of his palm, a small pout forming on his lips "So what are you up to today?"
She raised one brow and shook her head again with silent amusement. Did he really need to ask…?
"The Flower Girl is sooooo not in the mood today" Zack grinned and sat on the ground, picking on the nearby flower.
"I'm tending to them. As I have been doing since I came here. And as I will probably do for Holy knows how long…" she pouted "So you could make my afterlife easier and STOP ruining them"
There was a soft giggle ringing through the air, making both of them look around in utter surprise. For the last few years there was only the two of them, the gentle Cetra and the joyful, SOLDIER spending their time in the presence of each other. Zack stood up, brushing his pants off, the remains of soil staining his purple trousers, his blue eyes slightly narrowing. Aerith looked around , the braid swinging left to right, a look of absolute shock written all over her face.
"Who is it?" she called out, trying to figure out why the giggle sounded so familiar.
"You children… " the voice was soft and had a strangely soothing effect, despite its source still being unknown "You arrived here much before your time…."
"Alright, this isn't funny anymore! " Zack rested his hands on his hips, his chin pushed slightly forwards.
"Far too young to live eternally in the Stream… this is our gift to you"
Before they could even say one more word, the flowers suddenly started withering away, their curled up leaves all yellow and rusty, petals falling onto the now dry soil. The white light of the horizon seemed to be getting closer. And before Zack could even try to understand what was happening, he felt as if his mouth was filled with awful tasting liquid, and he began to choke. Fighting for any air in his lungs, he saw Aerith's knees buckle and the girl gracefully fell onto the already dried up flowers. He felt the bile coming up to his throat and after that, all he saw was black.
Tifa smacked the hand that tried to grab one of the half made sandwiches.
"I said, I'll MAKE you some" she suppressed a grin when she heard a low mumble as the hand withdrew from under her elbow "Honestly Cloud… you think that I'd let you go out there for one knows how long without any food at all…?"
"I wouldn't be all that surprised…" he mumbled some more under his nose, then sat at the table, waiting for his food to be handled to him.
"Was that you saying thank you for my efforts to keep you well fed?" she turned to give him a small smile.
Cloud gave her a half smile, enjoying her laugh as she finished his packed lunch. He liked those moments in the morning, where she would make his food before he left for his daily deliveries. The kids were still asleep upstairs, and the sun barely rising, it's faint rays tinting the glass of the windows. It made waking up at the crack of dawn so much bearable.
"You got much to do today?"
"No" he shook his head and frowned as the longest of his blond spikes suddenly danced before his eyes "I have to go to Wutai though. And Gongaga…" he frowned slightly, still being not too comfortable with going to the little village. "I'll be back late probably, so don't stay up. You can catch some sleep after this crazy week" another small smile as she handed him a neatly packed up lunch. Nothing like a taste of home on the other side of Gaia.
"Ha, I wish" she rolled her cinnamon eyes slightly "End of the week Cloud. There's going to be a crowd today. " she leaned onto the window frame, a dishrag still clutched in her hands "Elymra's coming over today, taking the kids. She misses Marlene terribly, and since she and Denzel go in a bundle..."
"So you have a day off?" he stood up, taking a look outside. Despite the sun rising, it sure had to be cold. If the frosty flowers that bloomed over night on the windows were anything to go by.
"I'm making the inventory today. At least I can do it today, with the kids out for the whole day, and the bar doesn't open till round five."
"Inventory?" Cloud gathered his delivery list, pushed it into the back pocket of his trousers and mentally prepared himself for work.
"Well yeah, had to come to this sooner or later" she laughed slightly, stretching her arms above her head "You could get me some Wutaian rum, you know…if it sells good, Yuffie can send me more on short notice"
"Unless she drinks the town's supplies first" the blond mumbled under his nose, as he pulled on his gloves. Only then he threw another hesitant look towards the window again.
"What is it?"
"Thinking…" he ignored the amusement clearly painted on her face and elaborated "Wutai and Gongaga are fairly warm right now, but I think I might freeze my ass off on Fenrir on the way back" he scratched his chin in a thoughtful manner, enjoying the chuckle she gave as she made her way pass him.
Right behind the kitchen there was a small wardrobe, partly used also as a house-supplies storage of some sort, in which all their winter clothes were stored. Tifa wrinkled her nose slightly at the faint scent of wool, and located a warm, thick sweater for her friend to take. Pulling it from one of the shelves, squeezed in right between her own woolen turtleneck and Denzel's trousers. She ought to look through those clothes today. The temperatures in Edge were getting lower and lower each day and those clothes were sure to come in handy soon. She threw Cloud the piece of clothing, noticing the tattered elbows and making a mental note to look the city for some warm sweaters. That one was too worn out to fulfill his purpose if it got really cold.
"Thanks Teef" the blond spikes got a bit muffled as he squeezed his head through the collar "I'm off then" he gave her a quick hug for goodbye.
"Take care, and remember my wine!" Cloud only nodded as he left the room, his boots making surprisingly little thumping sounds on the wooden floors of the bar.
There was a quiet creak as the main door was opened, a soft thud as it closed behind the man. A moment later, she could hear the angered growl of Fenrir's cold engine. She stifled a yawn as she continued her way around the kitchen… the kids would be up soon, as Elmyra was to pick them up early in the morning. Not that she had to worry about getting them up today, she grinned to herself. They would be up like a shot as soon as they could smell breakfast.
Tifa threw another look at the window. Frost painted crystals were illuminated by the sun, sparkling with orange and red hues. It would seem that a fine day was beginning.