Summary: Cloud can't come up with a gift for Tifa. What could possibly make this Yuletide unforgettable? Christmas oneshot, nice and fluffy for the kiddies!
Disclaimer: Unless Santa is really, really generous this year, I'm probably not coming into ownership of any of these characters anytime soon. As usual, the Christmas holiday is referred to as "Yuletide" in my fics.
Queen's Quornor: I need to get back into my older fics. I want to get back into my older fics. But the muses are being stingy again. I've tried to write the next chapter of both "Seed" and "The End of My Life As I Know It" on two separate occasions, four total, and either lost the chapters when they were nearly done or lost my idea entirely. I hate disappointing my readers, both new and old, but something's holding the aforementioned muses hostage. Since that's a current no-go, I figured it was time to work on a oneshot in honor of Christmas. Hopefully, a little holiday CloTi romance will at least kickstart "Seed" again. I suppose I should mention that this fic takes place in the same timeline as another CloTi oneshot of mine, "At Last."
Cloud hated this time of year. It wasn't that he disliked the commercialization of a beautiful holiday with deeply religious meanings, nor the blinding multitude of colorful lights that illuminated nearly every corner of the normally dreary Edge. He certainly didn't mind the culinary creations that the many dedicated bakers around the world offered to friends and starving delivery boys alike; he always found himself gaining more weight than the pound or two Tifa and Yuffie complained of gaining. He didn't even dread the overplayed and extremely cheesy holiday specials innundating the television channels Marlene and Denzel consistently watched. No, what the spiky-haired swordsman loathed about the Yuletide season was that his work prevented him from spending much time with his family and friends. All the songs and specials emphasized the sentiment of being with the people who mattered the most to you during this, the most wonderful time of the year. But here he was, speeding from city to city with a stupid little sidecar attached to Fenrir, piled high with gifts from customers to people he didn't know and had to deliver with a cheerful smile.
Cloud didn't do cheerful.
Luckily, his deliveries were almost finished. Barring any last-second orders, he could go back to Edge and stash the damn sidecar back in storage, where it couldn't ruin his image as a silent badass warrior. Cloud tried to ignore the spherical lump of black metal as he sipped his cup of white mocha, mulling over another, more pressing matter than the sidecar.
Due to his deliveries, the swordsman had to do his Yuletide shopping when his timetable allowed it. Usually this meant stopping in at stores whenever something in the window caught his eye. That wasn't entirely a bad thing, because it prevented him from browsing, something he was prone to doing if allowed. For Cloud, browsing always resulted in the purchase of many items he neither needed nor would use, but seemed interesting and useful at the time. The tight schedule forced him to stop it, take a quick look around, buy the item that caught his eye, and leave without getting anything for himself. It was a decent system.
But only when there was no thought required for the gift or the person receiving the gift.
Cloud frowned and continued to drink his sweetened coffee. There was only one person he hadn't bought anything for yet, and that was Tifa. She wasn't exactly a difficult person to buy for - far from it! - but the swordsman really wanted her gift to be something special. He couldn't just buy her something for the kitchen or the bar, like he normally would: their relationship had grown to the point where he wanted a gift that she alone would use, something that would hold great sentimental value for her in years to come. Whatever he bought her had to display, at least in part, how much he loved her. But what kind of gift could do all that, and still not seem cheesy?
He had already thought up a whole list of gifts that held romantic overtones, and poured over the pros and cons of each item in his various hotel rooms. Dresses were out because he had no idea what Tifa would consider too sexy or too drab, and he didn't trust his own judgement in terms of female fashion. Besides, she might offer to share the dress with him if he gave her one. Shoes certainly didn't qualify because Tifa normally wore sneakers, and there wasn't much romance in a pair of Vikes or Etchers. The idea of buying lingerie for the woman he loved made Cloud's face heat up a couple thousand degrees, so that was out, no matter how delectable his girlfriend might look in it. Luxury bath products were a good possibility, but Cloud had gotten enough weird looks when he had merely stopped at the window of a store that carried that sort of thing. He had his pride, after all.
That left jewelry, and that single word scrawled at the bottom of the short list currently had Cloud scratching at his spikes in bewilderment. He had enough gil left over to buy some pretty nice ice, but there were so many possibilities that a single trip into a jewelry store in Junon had left him shell-shocked. Bracelets, bangles, armlets, anklets, watches, necklaces, rings, earrings, cuffs... He had practically dashed out of the store with the firm conviction that he had no idea what the hell he was supposed to buy.
He had almost decided to simply get her flowers and something useful, such as a sweater, but Cloud had steeled himself and vowed to buy Tifa some kind of jewelry for Yuletide this year.
But what? What, what, what?
The swordsman started to take another sip of his mocha, but almost spilled it down his front when his phone suddenly began vibrating in his front pocket. Carefully balancing the cup on Fenrir's fuel tank, he pulled the phone out and looked at the display window. A tiny smile tugged at his lips, and he flipped the cell open and put it to his ear.
Cloud's smile fell a bit at the unexpected bellow. "Barret. You're earlier than I expected."
"Oil wells're doin' better than we thought, so I took off fer the week. Couldn't wait to see Marlene any longer, y'know?" Tifa said something in the background, and Barret laughed in reply, forcing Cloud's arm into an involuntary jerk away from his ear. The man really needed to learn volume control. "Guess I'll see ya when ya get in, Spiky. Tifa wants to yap, so here ya go. Jus' keep it clean, a'right? There's kids in the house!"
Cloud felt the tell-tale heat rising along his neck and face, and heard Tifa's squeaked protest before Barret's booming laughter exploded in his ear again. How Barret had figured out their relationship had become intimate, the swordsman didn't know. But the older man always found ways to make his two friends squirm whenever the kids weren't around. With any sort of luck, Barret wouldn't be gifting him with a skimpy purple negligee again this year. Cloud still wasn't sure if he could totally forgive Yuffie for wheedling the details of his brief venture into the world of crossdressing out of Tifa and then telling the rest of their friends about it. He had a sneaking suspicion that the loud-mouth ninja was the one who told Barret about Cloud and Tifa's physical relationship, too.
"Tifa." The lovely voice of the bartending, ass-kicking angel he adored soothed his ringing ear, and his smile lived again.
"I'm so sorry about that. Barret was the one who decided to call you, to make sure you'll be home in time for Yuletide."
"I don't mind." Hearing Tifa more than compensated for the embarrassment of Barret's ribbing. "I should be back sometime tonight, unless any other orders come in."
"Aren't you at Fort Condor? It'll take you all night to get back to Edge."
"I don't want to be on the road all day tomorrow." He had never spent Yuletide Eve at the bar. Even if it meant driving nonstop into the wee hours of the morning, he would get there in time.
"Just promise me you won't run yourself into the ground, okay, Cloud?" He could hear the concern in her voice, but there was a measure of humor present as well. She knew he wouldn't listen to her in this matter.
"I'll be fine, Tifa," he assured her. "I'll see you tonight."
"Okay. See you when you get back, then."
Cloud ended the call, feeling a special warmth infusing his torso. He really did love Tifa. That woman was the other half of his being, the rock that kept him grounded and sensible. She was always looking after him, even when they were separated by hundreds of miles, always keeping his spirits up when he lapsed back into his old depression. She protected him, kept him from falling apart. It had taken him three years to finally tell her, with more than actions, how he felt, and he would always regret not having the guts to do it earlier. Every moment spent with her was more precious than anything, and all he wanted was to share that glorious sentiment with the perfect Yuletide gift.
But what would fit the bill? What would tell the world how much he treasured Tifa, how much he loved her? What would remind her of that feeling every time she looked at it?
Cloud's roaming eyes caught sight of yet another small store, the display window filled with glittering trinkets and wreathed in silver tinsel. He felt a wry smirk crook his lips. He was such a blond sometimes.
He pitched his empty coffee cup into the nearest trash bin and began walking towards the shop.
Edge was dark and silent by the time he reached the city limits. Even the most devoted Yuletide merrymakers turned their lights off past a certain hour of the morning, leaving Cloud with only his mako-enhanced vision to guide him back to the bar. He didn't mind, though. Excitement had kept him wide awake, all the way from Fort Condor. It was going to kill him, waiting until Yuletide morning to present Tifa with her well-deserved gift, but it would be worth it.
The swordsman eased his bike into the garage behind Seventh Heaven, grateful that the neighbors had gotten used to the engine's noisy rumble. The last thing he needed was to get hit with a noise ordinance this close to Yuletide. Some present that would be.
Cloud rubbed his arms and pulled his key out of the his pocket. Edge was bitter cold, and he was looking forward to sliding into bed with his girlfriend. Tifa always piled at least seven thick blankets atop her plush comforter the moment fall turned into winter, in an effort to ward off the chill that seeped into the bar. She was especially susceptible to cold, something Cloud did not mind in the least. Even before they became lovers, Tifa would often slip into his bed and snuggle up against him during particularly chilly nights.
To his utter relief, Barret was the only visitor in the house. The entirety of AVALANCHE would be arriving to celebrate the holiday, along with various significant others and assorted friends, and Cloud certainly didn't want to step over any sleeping bodies on his way to the stairs. Barret lay sprawled on the downstairs sofa, all but shaking the foundation with his snores, and the blond swordsman smirked as he sneaked by. Even if he were to jump all the way up to the second floor, one stair at a time, Barret would not wake up. Hopefully that would give him a little extra time with Tifa in the morning, so long as the older man had no idea he had gotten back. An hour or two of uninterrupted time with his girlfriend would be a gift in and of itself, after all the time he had spent on the road this month.
Cloud debated whether he should get a shower, then decided to simply take one in the morning. He was already freezing, and would only get that much colder once he switched off the hot water. Besides, Tifa had lived with him on the road, and if she could deal with his unwashed self then, she could deal with it now. Firm in that conviction, Cloud tiptoed over to her door and gently eased it open.
Tifa looked up from her book and broke into a wide smile when she saw him. "You're earlier than I expected," she whispered, laying her book on the nightstand.
"I thought you'd be asleep by now," Cloud replied, lowering his habitually soft voice even further as he pushed the door shut. "It's three in the morning, Tifa."
She shrugged. "I knew you'd be back, so I waited up for you. It let me get some reading done."
The swordsman favored her with one of his rare, tiny smiles. He had known she would wait up for him. It was just one of the many things he loved about her. "Is Barret the only one here?" he asked, sitting down on the bed to begin removing his boots.
"Everyone else will be in later this evening, but he couldn't wait to see Marlene. She was so excited; I had the worst time trying to get her to go to bed." Tifa watched him disrobe with glittering eyes. "Denzel'll be happy to see you."
"Not as happy as you, I hope," Cloud quipped, diving beneath the covers beside her. Tifa squealed playfully as his icy flesh came into contact with her warmer skin.
"You stay on that side of the bed, Cloud! You're freezing me!" she laughed.
Cloud wrapped his arms around her, molding her body against his. "So warm me up."
She buried her face in his neck to keep from laughing. "Impossible man. It's too late for that!" she said, rubbing her hands along his back.
"I haven't seen you in days. The kids can make their own breakfast this morning," Cloud mumbled. He was really too tired to do anything, now that his exhaustion was catching up with him, but Tifa didn't know that.
She snickered. "Fine. I'll spend an extra hour or two sleeping in this morning. Is that sufficient?"
"More than." Cloud yawned into her hair. "Say, Tifa?"
"Hm?" The martial artist seemed more intent on chasing away his unwelcome cold temperature than sleeping right now.
"Would you get something out of my coat for me?"
Her hands stopped their rubbing. "And get out of this bed? Sorry Cloud, but no."
His lips quirked again. He'd known she would say that. "Fine. Don't get your gift."
Tifa launched herself out of the bed and was back in his arms before he even realized she had moved, prompting another tiny smile from him. If there was one thing Tifa could not do, it was waiting to receive a gift meant for her. She always had to have it right then, an endearing idiosyncrasy in a woman lauded for her patience.
"What is it?" she breathed, cradling the tiny package in her cupped hands.
"Open it," Cloud urged, trying to sound casual and fatigued.
Paper tore and the little red ribbon flew, and the swordsman watched his girlfriend suck in her breath as she uncovered a small, hinged box of black velvet. She propped herself up on her elbow and looked at him with wide mahogany eyes. "Cloud?"
Braving the cold, he sat up and took the box from her shaking hands. "Happy Yuletide, Tifa," he said, opening the box to reveal a shining circle of silver. A diamond and the two rubies flanking it shone brightly in the soft light of the lamp. "Will you marry me?"
"Cloud..." Tifa was crying now, and vigorously nodded as she presented her hand to him. Cloud noted that his own hands were trembling a bit as he slid the ring onto the appropriate finger. Now officially engaged, he enfolded her in his arms and laid them down on the bed, pulling the many blankets high about their shoulders.
"I wanted to get you a gift you'd never stop treasuring, something that told everyone how much you mean to me," he confessed against her hair. "I thought about labelling the tag 'Mrs. Cloud Strife'."
"The ring is more than enough," she sobbed. "I would have fainted if I saw a tag like that."
Cloud smiled and continued to hold her, the name ringing gaily throughout his head. Dimly he wondered if he was even happier than his bride-to-be, but shrugged the thought off and kissed the top of her head. Maybe it was a little cliche, but he was assured of one thing: no matter how many years passed, this would be one Yuletide Tifa would never, ever forget.