After twenty minutes of struggling with buttons as big as her hand, Tifa was thoroughly fed up with both Marcie and her clothing. Once she was restored to her right size, she was going to go down to the company and give them a stern talking-to about role models and promoting realistic self-images in young girls. And if – Minerva forbid it – the others couldn't find a way to put her back to normal, she'd get Cloud to make them hire her as the first ever life-sized doll model.
Because this? This was ridiculous. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her figure, thank you, and yet none of the doll's clothing fit. Not even the outfit supposedly styled after Tifa herself! The bustlines were all proving to be too big, while the waists were too small.
Which meant she was stuck wearing a pair of shortie pajamas, one of the few ensembles cut loose enough through the waist and seat to be comfortable. She'd never realized what a tease Marcie was, though, as the material was quite a bit more see-through than anything in her own lingerie drawer. (This was, perhaps, a bit harsh. Marcie wasn't anatomically correct, and so had no nipples or other things to show through the material.) At least it was better than a cocktail napkin, and the matching bathrobe and slippers fit passably well, too.
The only positive thing about the clothes being cut to fit some perverted executive's idea of the perfect woman – all huge breasts and waspish waist – was that Tifa didn't have to try on the impressive collection of ball gowns. For a single woman struggling to make a living (her current profession was Shin-Ra Administrative Assistant, Tifa thought) Marcie had an awful lot of evening wear. Plus three wedding gowns and two fur coats. Marlene had been excited at the prospect of getting Tifa into all of that extremely feminine finery (lace and sparkles and flowers were liberally scattered everywhere), until the black vinyl shorts that came with the Lockhart doll had been impossible to fasten. At that revelation, the little girl's plans to spend the afternoon playing dress-up were effectively derailed, although she did wheedle and plead until Tifa agreed to try on one – and only one – of the formal wear outfits.
So when Cloud came into the children's room, he found Tifa clasping the least frothy of Marcie's wedding dresses to her chest, her tiny features twisted into an expression of mild annoyance. It was so far from what he'd expected as to be surreal.
"I'm sorry, Marlene," she was saying, as the little girl tugged at the stubborn zipper, "it's just not going to fit."
"But it's so pretty!" Marlene protested, before catching sight of Cloud in the doorway. "Don't you think Tifa looks pretty, Cloud?" she demanded.
Tifa froze, face and chest flushing a bright pink with embarrassment as she looked up to verify that yes, her boyfriend-slash-lover was present for this humiliating little episode. "Marlene picked it!" she blurted out, absurdly desperate to be certain he didn't think any part of this was her idea. Because it most definitely wasn't. It would be bad enough if he caught her trying on real wedding gowns; surely living vicariously through a fashion doll's wardrobe was even worse, and definitely more pathetic.
To her relief, his expression betrayed nothing but gentle amusement, although his eyes still held traces of concern relating to her current – shrunken – size.
"Yes, Marlene," he willingly agreed, "but it's a bit..." Fancy? Long? Frilly? "...much. Couldn't you find anything more comfortable for her to wear?"
Marlene sighed – the long-suffering sigh of a child feeling constantly thwarted by adults – and gave up the wedding gown as a lost cause. "Marcie's clothes didn't fit very well, Cloud," she answered, "but we found a pair of pajamas and a robe."
"That's it?" Cloud's tone was mildly surprised.
"Uh-huh," Marlene's was distracted as she helped Tifa fight her way free of stiff net petticoats and the overlong train of the gown. "Tifa says Marcie has a body dreamed up by plastic surgeons."
Tifa's high-pitched and somewhat tinny protest earned a slight smile from Cloud and a puzzled look from the child.
"Well you did," Marlene stated in tones of baffled confusion. "You were really cross about it, too-"
"Thank you for your help, sweetie," Tifa cut in before anymore secrets regarding exactly how poorly she was coping could be revealed. "Why don't you find Denzel and the two of you have a snack? There's fruit salad in the fridge."
Marlene willingly accepted the offered distraction, skipping out of the room and leaving Tifa to finish getting dressed on her own. She was tying the belt on the robe when Cloud spoke.
"It wouldn't be a fair fight."
Tifa blinked, and looked over her shoulder to find him changing out the materia in his bracer. "What wouldn't?"
"You versus Marcie." There was definite humor in his tone. "You were glaring at her like you wanted to plant your fist in her face. If it'd make you feel better, go ahead, but it really wouldn't be a fair fight."
"Oh!" She hadn't realized she'd been staring, much less threatening mayhem with her eyes. Marcie – or, rather, one of her incarnations – was currently propped up in the cardboard 'wardrobe' that held the bulk of her clothes. "It wouldn't even muss her perfectly painted-on features anyway," she answered, congratulating herself on keeping the resentment down to a minimum.
His soft laugh washed over her, somehow comforting, and then the sound... changed... and warm arms folded her close in the hug she'd been wanting all afternoon.
Her dear, sweet, protective man had shrunken himself. It was ridiculous, but so exactly what she needed, and she turned to bury her face in his open collar. For a few moments, wrapped in his arms and familiar scent, with the well-known texture of his shirt brushing her cheek, she could pretend there was nothing wrong. It certainly didn't feel any different: Cloud was as strong and solid as ever.
"I sent Yuffie to the WRO," he told her after a few moments of quiet communion, his fingers sliding through her hair to rub comfortingly over her back and shoulders. "According to her, their were 'volumes' of research data with the materia when she found it. Although she kept the stone, she turned the files over to Reeve." Which was lucky, because Reeve was thorough and methodical and would have filed it away in case it was needed later... whereas if Yuffie had kept the paperwork as well as the materia, it would have been used to start camp fires and build lopsided airplanes. "She took the materia with her as well, in case Shelke can shed light on it just by looking." It was definitely possible. Stranger things had happened.
Tifa felt herself relax at the news. It wasn't a solution, but surely it was a step in the right direction. Someone – even if it wasn't her – was working to restore normalcy.
"Shera is coming to help you keep an eye on Denzel and Marlene." Unspoken was the fact that all three would be keeping an eye on Tifa. Life was dangerous when you were only a hand-span high.
"What about you?" Because it was a given that Cloud was planning something.
"Barret, Cid and I are going hunting for the Tiny Zolom Terror." The mixed exasperation and humor let her know Yuffie was the source of the critter's new title. "If we have to, we'll catch another monster to bring back as a test subject, but I'd rather find the one Yuffie already shrank." For a number of reasons, the most important of which was the fact that the zolom had been under the effect of the materia for longer than Tifa. Finding it could tell them if there were any other surprises – aside from the prolonged mini state – in store.
"Makes sense. And Vincent?"
Cloud's smile was apparent in his voice. "He's coming to babysit Yuffie, so the rest of us don't have to worry about the trouble she's causing."
Laughing, she pulled back out of his embrace, ready to stand on her own again. "What did poor Vincent do to you?"
"Nothing." Mako eyes carefully scanned her face, the tension in the corners eased by whatever he saw in her expression. "But I'm going to be busy, and he's the next best person to reign her in."
Tifa was fairly certain that 'best' in this case meant 'most annoying', at least from Yuffie's perspective. She laughed again, and Cloud leaned in to let the sound play against his mouth as he kissed her.
"So, you'll be heading out once Cid and Shera get here?" if her question was somewhat breathless, she laid the blame entirely on his shoulders.
"Yeah. Just... stay close to Shera while we're gone, okay?"
"Cloud, I'm not even a foot high. I'll be careful."
This time, he was the one to relax. "Good," he answered, giving her another brief kiss, "'cause Marcie's boyfriend Ben is eyeing your backside, and he's taller than I am. I think he's intrigued now that he's seen a real woman for the first time." His tone was completely deadpan. "Don't be flashing him if you have to change again, the bastard would absolutely refuse to close his eyes."
Impossibly, considering the day she'd had, Tifa burst out laughing for the third time, and threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, Cloud."