Don't really know what pressed me to do another word of the day challenge but here I am…

Mansuetude is a noun. It refers to the mildness or gentleness of an object.

Tifa's hands were soft, a lot softer than he thought they would be. He had seen her take down monsters twice her size. He had seen her kill men for the betterment of the world. He had seen her at her angriest. He had seen her when she was at her darkest but then she could always stave off the darkness that was seeping into her heart. It was like a light switch for her. And a small part of Cloud was always jealous of her because she was able to become happy and calm in the beat of a heart. He wanted to be just as happy as she was but there was always something holding him back, something that kept her separated from everyone else. It wasn't that he didn't try to be apart of things. He did try to do things like everyone else did. It was just that when he did try something always blew up in his face.

Like the time he tried to help Marlene make for the school's bake sale. He had just wanted to take something off of Tifa's shoulders so that she didn't have to worry about it late at night and stay up all night cooking for Marlene. She would have done it too. Besides, he was off work since he had gotten that day's deliveries done. But apparently cookies were too difficult to make for him. He nearly burned the cookies. Granted, Reno had been running around that afternoon and wouldn't stop pestering him no matter how many times Cloud threw the red headed Turk out of the bar. Somehow he kept getting back in and he kept asking questions about whether or not Tifa was dating anyone at the moment or if he had gotten the stick out of his 'nether regions' and had the balls to ask her himself. Reno had only censored his words because Marlene was within earshot. Tifa would have killed him if he cussed in front of Marlene.

But the thought of Reno getting into Tifa's love life was enough to make Cloud see red. All self-restraint was thrown out the window as he practically manhandled the Turk and threw him out the door, scaring some of their neighbors quite effectively. As he was throwing out the Turk for the final time, this time threatening to use First Tsurugi against him, should he come back, Tifa was saving the cookies from a fiery demise at the hands of the talentless cook. Marlene did end up taking them to school for the bake sale but had the woman not noticed the heartening smell of chocolate chips and sweet sugar then they might have had to have looked for a new place to live, and a new place to start Tifa's bar. It was embarrassing for her to thank him over and over again for nearly burning the house down. She had kissed him on the cheek for his efforts to help her out, regardless of his modest protests. Marlene was the one who said he had done it so she wouldn't be so busy. It was obvious Tifa appreciated it.

Or perhaps the time he had Denzel help him with Fenrir. He and Denzel were changing the oil. Tifa called for him. His hand slipped on the tool he was holding and oil spurt in his face. Denzel got a kick out of it. Tifa came into the garage and upon seeing him, sitting there with oil in his face she had laughed. She walked over to him and took a rag out of her back pocket. She cleaned his face off and sent Denzel off to pick Marlene up from a friend's house. Cloud felt like his manhood had been insulted because he kept screwing up around her. He liked her and he knew it. He always felt like he was invincible around her but at the same time it was also around her that he felt the most vulnerable he had ever been in his entire life. She knew him, inside and out, so she knew every little secret he had to offer to the world but she never used them against him.

It wasn't that Cloud didn't want to be in Tifa's presence it was more the fact that he couldn't function in Tifa's presence. Twice now Tifa's laughs had made him drop something within the last several weeks. There was one occasion where he had tripped and, sort of, walked into a wall when Tifa winked at him playfully. Dear Gaia, he wished that knew what made it so chill didn't run down his spine every time she so much as uttered a syllable. It wasn't like Tifa knew what she was doing to him, either. She just acted normal and treated him like an equal, even in the moments he felt like an outcast. She made him feel normal, something he hadn't felt since before he joined Shin-Ra all those years ago – something he regretted but didn't regret all the same every day of his life.

He felt that he was too dark, too tainted to even be allowed near such acts of kindness and affection. Deep down he knew it was Tifa's mansuetude that kept him from leaving forever. She was the reason he came back every night. So every night, after the kids came home from school, did their homework and went to bed after a warm dinner he sat in the bar and watched as Tifa worked. He acted as a sort of bouncer for her. When there were customers getting far too rowdy after they had one too many to drink, even though Tifa had a strict three-drink limit, no matter how much of a 'heavy-weight' they claimed to be. He would take them out so that she didn't have to bother but there were times when he couldn't be home. The patrons knew not to mess with her and when new guests did mess with her they learned quickly why that wasn't such a good idea.

It was Wednesday night. Cloud was running a little late because of a delivery all the way out to Rocket Town. He wasn't too far from home because he had called moments before, telling Tifa where he was and apologizing for being so late. She brushed it off. She understood how things were. Just because the world was finally gathering itself back together it didn't mean that all the monsters would leave in an instant. Tifa was cleaning a glass when a redheaded Turk sat down in front of her. The Turk going to Tifa wasn't unusual. He normally came once a week and talked to her. He never really came over when Cloud was around. It wasn't hard to notice Cloud because he sat at the same barstool every single night that he was there. And being a Turk he was always on alert of his surroundings. He had a lot of enemies who didn't particularly care for him or his chosen lifestyle.

"How are things between you and Cloud?" Reno asked.

"Good," Tifa said.

She smiled at him and set her glass down. She already reached behind the bar and grabbed him a beer – his favorite one and set it on the counter. He always tried to run her up for free booze but she gave him a tab. As irresponsible as he was he always managed to pay her on time, probably out of fear that she would ban him out of the bar if he didn't pay her. She was enjoying the way things were going. Sure, Cloud had been distant in the past but he was really changing and she was proud of him for it. She encouraged it as much as she could. He was getting more involved with Denzel and Marlene. He was home more often though he had never called her bar his home aloud. She did hope he considered it his home too because he helped pay bills and mortgage. The lease was also titled in his name. She also hoped he considered her, Denzel and Marlene as his family. She had custody of the kids, aside from her joint custody with Barret over Marlene, but if anything happened to her she would have liked to have believed that Cloud would take care of them.

"Has he become your knight in shinning leather yet?" Reno asked.

Tifa struggled to hold back the crimson surfacing her apricot cheeks, but miserably failed. Reno wondered if he was the only one, at least between the three of them, who noticed just how close Tifa and Cloud really were. He seemed to be the only one who saw how close they kept to one another, and how everyone else was kept at a fingers-length distance. It wasn't meant as an insult and their friends were more than welcomed to be with them since Tifa enjoyed the company of everyone but she always seemed to know Cloud better, read him better, and know his reactions better. After years of watching it, Reno had seen just how quickly Cloud fell for Tifa. And he believed Tifa might have felt something, though denied it, yes, but Reno just assumed that Tifa didn't acknowledge such caring feelings particularly since her past relationships had ended on sour notes.

Tifa was left speechless for once in her life. She had heard of true love. She read romance novels as a teenager. She even attended high school like anyone else. All they were, amounted to one thing, stories of unrealistic teen romances that always ended with the girl getting the guy she liked. They were happy marriages and happily even afters, through unrealistic struggles, conflicts, emotional battles, and the challenges of raising a family and married life. Her life surely wasn't going to be anything like the books. She was already better than the clichéd characters who always waited for the hero to save them. In fact there were several times where she saved men. She helped save the world for crying out loud but for some reason men didn't want to be with a woman who could probably beat them in a fight. Whenever her name was brought up men either backed away slowly or leaned in close, far too interested in what she had to say about all of her trails about saving the world. Either way it was always the last date.

But she knew, too well, that love was a double-edge sword.

It was as dangerous as it was wonderful, as delightful as it was dastardly. She had seen love turn boys into drooling monkeys and kicked dogs. It could instantly turn girls into crumbling piles of tears and begging and screaming for their boyfriends to take them back and make them whole again, make them 'easy'. She had watched people fawn over their current squeeze like he or she was their entire world. She watched her happily ever after vanish time and time again. She didn't want this to happen again. She would have been okay if she never fell in love. She would have been perfectly fine with having Cloud as her best friend but she simply didn't love him. Plus, she didn't want to turn to the bottle like some people had.

She knew what love did to people. She knew how girls put up with boys who treated them like shit. She had been one. She knew how boys wasted their time, money and lives supporting their girlfriends with gifts and compliments. She had seen them. Even in happy marriages and true loves one spouse would do anything to please the other, or followed them around like lovesick puppies. It was like a new form of control except it wasn't forced. One spouse was perfectly willing to do anything to please their lover. They obeyed without question, worked, suffered and gave their 'love' everything from time to money to business to their lives. People fell into the habit of sacrificing to feel this 'love' all because they relied on someone else to make them happy. Tifa wanted nothing part of it. The dependency on another to be happy was the main thing she wanted to avoid.

"Y-you're just being ridiculous!" she stammered.

Tifa had fallen asleep at the bar. She had been cleaning up the bar and exhaustion crept over her like a blanket. However, she slept lightly, still from her time in AVALANCHE. She heard the door snap shut and immediately she perked up. She jumped out of the stool she had been slumped in and turned towards the door with a sleepy fist in front of her chest. It was probably at half of her strength but she knew that one punch, sleepy or not, would have been enough to take an intruder out, however she recognized the footsteps walking on the hardwood. Whoever was walking treaded each step lightly, their care and caution evident in each step. The volume of their pace was soft enough so that they would not disturb Denzel and Marlene sleeping in their rooms, but loud enough for her to hear them, because whoever it was knew she would be waiting to make sure they got in okay, and so that she didn't panic because of strange footsteps in the house.

Cloud rounded the corner. For a moment he stiffened upon seeing Tifa, standing there, looking as if she had just crawled out of bed. He stared at her for a moment, taking in her weary posture, the slight frown on her forehead, but also seeing it. It being the glimmer of light in her eyes that was, he knew, for him and him alone. Then he was moving swiftly toward her, tracking dirt across her clean floor. He enfolded her in his arms, so tightly he was almost afraid he would crush her, but he couldn't seem to loosen his grip. He realized he was trembling as he clutched the back of her vest with both hands, fingers digging into the leather as if he would spin out of control if he let go. It was a desperate, terrified embrace. He had no idea what he was doing. He had no idea and it scared him.

"Welcome home…" she whispered softly.

"Thanks…" he whispered back.

And it truly was good to be home.

Hmm… rather fluffy. Well, please review for me.