Tifa put her hands on her hips, and directed her best glare at Yuffie. The one that made both Barret and Cid straighten up and act like adults, immediately, just because she said so. Yuffie was no exception, and promptly stopped laughing to gulp in trepidation instead.
This was particularly impressive, considering Tifa was – at the moment – only about a foot tall, and wearing a sarong made out of a cocktail napkin.
"Change me back right now," the miniaturized bartender ordered.
Yuffie nodded, hastily socketing the required materia, then concentrated and cast.
Distressingly, nothing happened. Tifa's tiny foot began to tap impatiently.
After double-checking her materia, the ninja tried again. Still nothing. Either her heal materia was defective, or there was something odd about the transform materia she'd used earlier. The evidence in favor of the latter was rather convincing: the mini spell shrunk whatever it was cast on, clothes and everything. This one had only shrunk Tifa herself, and did it while she had a ribbon equipped.
That foot was still tapping, the gesture remarkably threatening. It got worse when Tifa folded her arms. "What did you do, Yuffie?"
"Nothing!" the younger girl protested, "it's just a transform materia! I tried it on a Zolom yesterday!"
"Then why am I still the size of Marlene's Marcie doll? Why did the spell even work in the first place?"
Yuffie shrugged, and attempted to appear nonchalant while still quaking in her knee high boots. "Well... it might have kind of sort of been an experimental materia," she explained.
"Experimental?" Tifa demanded.
A small nod.
"As in: not really sure what it might do, so it needs to be tested?"
Another, even smaller nod.
"And you used it on me?"
For a person with a chest the size of a matchbox, Tifa could really yell.
"I tested it first!"
"On a Zolom! And I bet you didn't try to change it back into its normal, huge, rampaging self afterward, did you?"
Point. She definitely hadn't, choosing instead to book it out of there and let the spell wear off on its own. "Look, it'll probably wear off in another half-hour or so. Just be patient."
If she hadn't been reduced to a mere twelve inches tall – if that – and wearing paper clothing, Tifa would have snorted at the idea of Yuffie counseling anyone to be patient. "Fine. Tell me where you got this 'experimental' materia while we wait."
Three hours later, they were still waiting, and Tifa was heartily wishing she could shake the younger girl. They'd tried casting esuna again – more than once; they'd tried draping her ribbon around her waist like an over long sash; they'd tried a remedy – although Tifa couldn't manage much of the thick liquid in her current state: nothing worked, and both women were close to the end of their ropes. Yuffie was near frantic, horrified she'd turned her best friend into a fashion doll. Initially Tifa was angry, and struggling to hold her temper; but as the clock ticked off the minutes, she was also starting to worry she might be stuck as a trophy model for the rest of her life.
"I still can't believe you thought it would be a good idea to use something you found in an old Shin-Ra storage facility on me!" her normal equanimity long since evaporated, Tifa's tone was sullen.
"I'm sorry!" Yuffie said, for what must have been the hundredth time. "D'you want me to try the esuna again?" The ninja was collapsed on a barstool, her head in her arms, exhausted from the previous, repeated attempts. But if it kept Tifa from killing her in slow increments (exceptionally slow if they couldn't fix this), she was more than willing to keep at it.
"No..." sighing, Tifa acknowledged that Yuffie had done her best for the moment. "I'll just... try to be patient." She was good at being patient: she'd waited years for Cloud to get his act together. A few more hours wearing a cocktail napkin shouldn't be so hard.
Cloud. She really – really – could use a hug, and – although it had taken some coaching at first – he was a fantastic snuggler. His body was always so warm, and he smelled so good, and there was something about the strength of his arms and the breadth of his shoulders that made her feel safe. Like everything was going to be okay.
Tifa really – really – needed to believe everything was going to be okay.
Unfortunately, Cloud had taken the kids to spend the afternoon with Barret, and she was far too small to properly enjoy it, even if he were home to give her the much-needed embrace.
Her morose train of thought was probably the reason Marlene startled her so, when the little girl threw open the door and announced, "We're home!"
Yuffie promptly started up out of her doze, falling gracelessly out of her chair. Tifa just barely managed to keep from taking a similar tumble from the edge of the bar, as she turned too quickly on the slippery surface.
Marlene, not having noticed the state Tifa was in, rushed across the room to help Yuffie to her feet, as Denzel and Cloud came through the door in a more sedate fashion. It was Cloud's quick blue gaze that spotted the diminutive bartender where she perched on the granite counter. His sudden, surprised stillness caught the attention of both children, who turned to stare as well.
"Tifa?" they gasped, inching forward to make sure their eyes weren't playing tricks on them.
Blushing and beyond embarrassed, she was grateful when Yuffie's squeal of outrage pulled the kids' focus away from her. His hand fisted in the ninja's jacket, preventing her escape, Cloud's eyes remained locked on Tifa. Given his calm, and the hold he had on Yuffie, he'd already figured out what had happened while they were gone.
"Marlene?" the little girl turned trusting, curious eyes to Cloud's face when he said her name. "I think Tifa would be more comfortable if she had some real clothes. Do you think maybe Marcie or her friends have something she could wear?" The entire, extended AVALANCHE family knew of Marlene's current fascination with Marcie, and Cloud had been required to look for the special edition 'Lockhart' doll everywhere he went during the weeks before her birthday. Being cooed at by motherly women was not something he'd forget in a hurry. Marlene's face lit up with excitement at the idea of playing dress-up with Tifa, while said individual looked both relieved at the idea of something a little less drafty to wear, and anxious about the thought of being a child's plaything. Cloud hastened to curb the enthusiasm of the former, and the fears of the latter. "Be very careful carrying her upstairs, Marlene, and just show her where the clothes are. Tifa can handle it from there." Nodding, Marlene dashed over to the bar and gingerly scooped Tifa into her arms, before heading up to the children's room.
Once the pair was out of sight, those blue eyes turned to Yuffie. "How long?"
Still hanging limply in his grasp, she didn't even bother to pretend to misunderstand. "All afternoon. Three, maybe four hours."
Cloud nodded. "Denzel, please go call Barret, and tell him we have a code YUFFIE here at the bar." The little boy nodded and followed Marlene upstairs, while Yuffie spluttered in outrage.
"You assigned me a codename?" she demanded, "Like a code red or a code blue or something?"
Unperturbed, Cloud walked the few paces necessary to reach the bar, and dropped her in one chair while he perched on another. "Yes. You're worse than a code red. Congratulations."
For a moment, he was certain Yuffie was going to throw a tantrum like she used to. Her face was red, her hands clenched, and her eyes bright. He hadn't expected her to throw herself at him, wailing. "I didn't mean to," she sobbed, hands fisted in his shirt, "it was just supposed to be a harmless joke." Her arms moved, as if to shake him for emphasis, but he was far more solid than she; instead, she just managed to push herself back and forth on her heels.
Sighing, Cloud wrapped her in a loose hug, one hand rubbing her back. Practice soothing Denzel and Marlene allowed him to be comforting rather than awkward, if still a bit stiff. "I know, Yuffie. But it was still a foolish thing to do, and being sorry isn't going to be enough. You have to help fix this."
Her response was to cry harder, even as she nodded into his shirt. The spell didn't last long, however, and ten minutes later she was assuring him – in a watery mumble - that he was much better with people than he used to be.
"Thanks," he replied blandly, as he searched under the bar for a paper towel she could use to wipe her face. "Now show me this materia."