YIKES! It has been SO long since I updated this story. I got it in me to put out another chapter for this though. I been trying to get some inspiration for this fic and got just enough for another chapter! I been trying to finish my Resident Evil one...so it can be out of my way. Losing inspiration for that one too. x.x But I am trying! Please, enjoy the chapter and let me know what you think!


Chapter 9
The Honest Life

The afternoon slipped away unnoticed through the clouds. Loz was sitting at one of the heavy, wooden tables with a glass of iced tea, skimming through the books he had chosen from the library. Nothing got his attention as he drank in each word every line in the books provided. Some even came with pictures which he stared at, absorbing the scene and letting it sink into his memories to be recalled on later. There were words though, he could not understand or pronounce. Tifa saw the frustration in Loz's eyes as he tried to understand everything he was reading. The dark haired woman stepped upstairs to her own small book collection and pulled a thick volume from the shelf. Returning, the heavy book was placed on the table next to the other pile. The remnant looked up to her for an explanation. A chair was pulled over and she sat down with him, opening the book.

" I gather you know...the alphabet, right?"

"Well, yeah...A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I-"

"Ok then, well this is what we call a dictionary. It has many words in it, and explains their meanings...what one don't you understand?"

Loz pointed out a word he had not understood very well to her. Tifa looked at it and pronounced it for him.

"That is ludicrous. So it starts with an L. So, you use this book...everything is in alphabetical order...we flip to L...then the next letter is U. So it may be towards the end of all the words with L, since U is close to the end of the alphabet...ah, here. So this explains it. It ia an adjective...so it means to describe something. Ludicrous itself means, causing laughter because of absurdity...provoking or deserving derision...ridiculous, laughable. See? Some words...have many other ways of describing how someone acts, feels or looks. And there are varying degrees of meaning...so...you can say something is pretty. If you think it is worth more than that, it can be beautiful. More complimentary would be exquisite," she explained patiently, letting it all sink in and be understood. Loz nodded some, and stared at the dictionary. Hungry eyes were upon it like a starved dog. That book she showed held all the words of language and explained all their meanings. He saw it as a key to understanding a lot of the books he had.

"Thank you, Tifa..." he said, a sudden grin spreading across his lips. "Can I...borrow that?" he asked, wanting to use it whenever he had trouble with a word. Tifa nodded and let him do his own form of studying. The glass he had was empty...she took it to get him a refill so he could enjoy his evening before they opened. It was important for him to read and learn, to understand the world past and beyond his brothers, Sephiroth, Mother and Cloud. There was so much to explore, to learn and experience.

The hours ticked by quicker than Loz realized it. The dictionary helped him with a few choice words and understand everything he was reading. A small pile of books were to his left and had been finished. The sun had managed to peek out from the clouds and was setting on the horizon. The books had arrested Loz' attention for so long, it slipped by him that it was time to eat dinner. All the wonderful smells from the kitchen had been ignored.

"Loz!" Tifa called out. It broke him away from the books finally and he looked up, and sniffing the air, realized how much time gone by. It was dinner time already and after that, they had to open the bar. Loz ventured into the kitchen and saw Tifa getting plates out to put the food on. He was curious what she had cooked up. Seeing slabs of meat on the plate in sauce, and some vegetables, he wondered how good it would be. It certainly smelt good.

" Denzel! Marlene! Dinner's done!" she said loudly. Soon enough, small footsteps were thumping down the stairs at the call. Their joyful faces ran to the table got onto the chairs. Loz had to wonder...was this how all families normally were? He crossed the room and sat down at the table with the children, offering a small smile to them. Plates bearing steaming helpings of food were set before them. When Tifa joined them, the kids began to eat and Loz watched. He turned to the food and cut a piece of the meat with his fork and knife. He put the slice on his tongue and began to chew. The sauce was thick, like a gravy. Salt. A kind of broth. A hint of pepper too. And flour. He seemed to like it and smiled, beginning to dig into the pile of food. The kids were chattering about something, while Tifa seemed to gaze fondly at them.

"Tifa...I was wondering..." he said softly, slowing his eating as he mind began to drift on the idea. The fork was set on the edge of the plate, as worried eyes focused on her. " What will Cloud say...?"

Tifa stared at him a moment or two before turning to her plate of food in contemplation. It was all Loz needed to understand that Cloud may not be happy about his presence here, much less around the ones closest to him. It caused anxiety to bubble up. Maybe if he worked hard...

"Do not worry about Cloud...you have been very willing to change, and be a good person. For me, it is enough. And it will be for him too," she said in the most reassuring voice she possessed. Some carrots and peas were pushed about by the fork while Loz listened to her words. He was hoping she was right.

The kids were put to bed, and given kisses by Tifa. Loz stood in the doorway and watched. He felt like a spectator on a family he wished to be a part of. The sort of kindness Tifa had shown him was never given by his brothers. Just watching them, he was becoming full of many questions. Were all mothers kind? Was it natural for brothers to pick on you? Was it normal for family to tell you to kidnap or kill other people? Seeing everything Tifa did the past few days fell in contradiction to everything he and his brothers were doing. The sense of peace he had here was...enjoyable.
Tifa closed the door and the two went downstairs to get ready to open. Loz had taken all his books and put them away in his room. Tifa started on the dishes from dinner while he dressed into the leather apron. He grabbed one of the large black tubs and set it out for use tonight. While she was busy with the dishes, he went tot he bar and made sure she was in stock with what she was needed. The tables had been cleaned, and everything cleaned this morning, so it was not so bad setting up for tonight.

"You ready, Loz?" Tifa asked as she appeared from the kitchen, drying her hands from doing the dishes. Loz gave a nod and went to the door and opened it. He put the stopper down to keep the door open and flipped the sign from "closed" to "open". Loz walked back inside and went into the kitchen. It was just the beginning, and there no dishes to pick up. So until customers came in, he had nothing to do. He went upstairs to grab one book he was reading and the dictionary, and sat in the kitchen to read. Tifa peeked around the corner and smiled a bit. He was certainly a bookworm. Footsteps could be heard and Tifa turned to see a group of guys coming in, laughing and enjoying themselves. They settled at one of the table near the bar. Tifa came to them, wearing a smile.

"What do you guys want?" she asked, taking out a notepad and pen.

The night began to drag on, and more customers came into the bar. Tables filled with local people, from upper class to lower class. There was only one problem and it didn't escape Tifa's notice. The bar was not as full as it normally was on nights like this. There were less people than normal, and she got a feeling why. Was this town that prejudice? These people either didn't care or weren't aware. Loz came out to collect the shotglasses or plates, and went to the back to clean them. Some gave him scathing glares, while some looked upon him curiously. It had been the same last night too, but Loz seemed to be ignoring it for the most part and not acting out his anger. She couldn't imagine how he might be feeling though.

Someone put some music on the small jukebox she had, and played some rock music. Tifa smiled as she served a round of shots to three people sitting at the bar, then grabbed a towel to wipe it down. The clattering of dishes from Loz in the back, the sounds of chatter and music mingled with it, made for a lively place that made her happy. Reno and the Turks didn't show up tonight, which was not normal. The reason why she had already considered. Still...was it fair to toss Loz to the streets, just because the public didn't like him? It would be the same as tossing someone into a tank of hungry sharks. And if Rufus Shinra found out...she didn't trust what he might do about the returned remnant.

As the hours passed, and the numbers dwindled, Tifa made a last call and began to clean up and put up the liquor. Loz collected all the plates and glasses to take to the back, offering a faint smile to Tifa before disappearing into the back. A soft hum came from Tifa as she went to the door and flipped the sign, closed the door and locked it. It was not a busy night, but busy enough to keep her on her toes. She was glad Reno hadn't come, given Loz' temperament and Reno's excessive joking while drinking. Given the last time they visited, she was not looking forward to breaking up another bar brawl.

" Tifa, the dishes are done...want me to come out and clean the tables?" he asked. Tifa took a long look at the man's face. Why was it so hard to believe that at one time, the two of them had fought a hard hitting battle? The same man who had beat her down, taken Marlene, and the materia? Sometimes...first impressions are not always the best.

"No, we will take care of that in the morning...go get some sleep," she said. Loz nodded and disappeared back into the kitchen. Hearing his heavy boots make their way upstairs made her think of one point when they had kicked her. She needed to stop thinking of the fight, of the past. The Lifestream had given him a second chance, and she secured that chance for him. In essence, she was like a guardian to the young man...and so far, he'd been very cooperative. Tifa sat down on a bar stool and wiped the bar down absent mindedly. She couldn't...get him off her mind.

Loz was preparing for bed. The boots had been placed by the door, and his leather outfit was on the chair. All the clothes that they had bought him, he planned on to wear soon. He knew nothing of fashion, or what would compliment him or not, but Tifa had. He smiled and tugged on a pair of boxers to sleep in. He stretches his arms and yawned, feeling wiped. The bed covers wered tugged down and he was about to slip into them and turn the lamp off when he heard a knocking on the door. Given the few odd occurrences lately, he feared who was knocking. He clenched his teeth and approached the door cautiously.

"Come in," he said. To his relief, it had only been Tifa. He offered a slight smile. "Was just getting to bed," he said. Tifa gave that quaint smile of hers and nodded. "I know...go on," she said. Loz perked one of his silver brows but did so. He sat on the bed and slipped under the covers, yawning again and getting comfy. When he did, he found Tifa standing over him. It didn't occur to him why she was in his room, or standing over him like this.

"Good night, Loz,"she said kindly and leaned down, placing a kiss on his forehead. It was a common thing she did with the children, a sign of affection and love she had for them. He blushed as his eyes widened at the expressed token of affection. Fingers gripped the edges of his covers nervously. Was this what it felt like to have someone look after you and care for you? Love you?

" G-Good night, Tifa..." he said, and dared to look back to her when he felt the heat from his cheeks disappear. She gave a soft chuckle and turned the lamp off for him before leaving his room. She looked back before closing his door and letting him be submerged into the darkness. Loz looked to the door's area for a long while before getting comfy in the bed and turning sideways. A soft smile appeared on his lips, as he slipped into dreamland. Someone cared for him. She cared for him. It was his first taste of knowing what it was like to have a genuine, caring individual in his life.

Tifa was preparing for bed when the phone in the other room rang. It was late, and receiving such late calls was unusual. There could only be one person who would call her this late. She strolled into the next room and picked the phone up.

"Hello?"

"Tifa..." a soft voice came from the other line. Blood ran cold when she heard his voice. It should have been happiness, and jubilation to hear him...but the past few days...funny as it was she had hardly thought about him. An unconscious fear that he would ruin the slight understanding they had here was writhing quietly in her heart.

"Cloud," she said, trying to put relieved, kind energy into her voice. Did Barret lie and go run his mouth to Cloud, and tell him who was under her roof?

" How is going?" he asked quietly. Tifa lied and said everything was fine, the children were doing well in school, the bar's business was steady as ever, mostly thanks to Reno and his paycheck, and she was excited to see him if he ever got the chance. A short silence on the other line answered her question as to seeing him.

" ...I won't be able to see you for a little bit. Still getting a few more delivering jobs done. I am hoping to return home in a couple of days. I can't wait to see you all," he said, his voice for the first time seeming to hold some recognition of happiness to it. It softened Tifa's smile into a real, genuine one.

"We can't either...Denzel will surely be excited to know you're coming soon," she said. The children adored Cloud, and it extended to many other children in the city. After the incident with the remnants, Cloud was there in the pool of healing water, helping heal the children. Again he fought to protect calamity from befalling the already broken city.

" I'll see you soon, Tifa..." he said softly, and then a gentle click was heard. Tifa still held the receiver to her ear before lowering it to the holder. She placed her hands on the edge of the desk and surveyed the flurry of pictures tacked to the wall. Her, Her and Cloud, them and the children, and more with Barret, Cid, Yuffie and the others. Chocolate eyes lowered to the delivery orders on the desk before she slowly retreated from the room to her own. Would Cloud believe her excuse? Would he ever come to accept Loz, or would it result in a fight? The one thing she knew was, she could not let Loz go...only with her, the children and possible Cloud would he learn what it meant to lead an honest life.