Half-turning in his chair to face the doorway and the two rather anxious children in it, Cloud held up a hand for quiet as he finished taking an order for a delivery to Fort Condor. When he hung up, Denzel and Marlene bolted into the room, clamoring for attention.
"There's a strange man downstairs, pestering Tifa!" Marlene announced.
"He said something that made her turn red and drop the glass she was holding!" Denzel added.
"And then she yelled, 'Excuse me?' really loud!" Marlene concluded.
Cloud, eyes bouncing back and forth between the two children as they spoke, was skeptical that anything could be happening in the bar that Tifa would be unable to handle. However, their distress was obvious, so he allowed them to tug him out of his chair and push him down the hall.
Besides, their running commentary was rather amusing.
"Do you have your sword? Where's your sword, Cloud? You might need it."
"It's downstairs, Marlene. I have to go out again in a bit."
"Good thing you're still here! Tifa seemed really upset by whatever this guy said."
"I'm sure it's nothing she can't handle, Denzel."
"But... what if the guy is flirting with her?" That thought did give Cloud a moment's pause, before Marlene nipped it in the bud.
"I don't think he was flirting, Denzel." The little girl's tone was wise and all-knowing. "Tifa just ignores that."
"Well," Denzel argued, "sometimes she tells them to leave, too."
"Only if they're drunk and she's warned them before."
"Or it's Reno."
"Reno would be in a class all to himself," Cloud commented dryly. "I'll be right back."
With the kids peering around the doorway at the base of the stairs, Cloud headed toward the bar. There was a man sitting on the stool at the end, his posture comfortable and confident. His hair was somewhere between the gold of Cloud's and the red of Reno's, and he wore it short. He was tall (taller than Cloud, anyway, like most people) and dressed unremarkably.
Cloud had never seen him before.
Tifa was talking and laughing with him, however, and quite obviously happy. She was also blushing. As he watched, she shook her head, cheeks pink, and flipped her hair behind her shoulder.
It looked like Marlene was wrong.
Tifa was flirting, and enjoying it.
Tifa was flirting with someone other than Cloud, and enjoying it.
Blond brows furrowing in a frown, his eyes turned dark with annoyance.
Tifa was used to customers asking her out, or trying to cop a feel. Oh, the regulars knew she wasn't interested, but at least once a week someone would wander in, sample the alcohol, and then try to sample her. Usually she'd laugh it off, or maybe bend some fingers.
This... this had been... different.
Different and unexpected enough to disrupt her normally calm and friendly demeanor. She'd blushed and fumbled, dropping the glass she'd been drying, and raised her voice when she responded.
Not because she was angry, but because it was so out of the ordinary.
Yes, it had definitely been a first.
Luckily, the customer wasn't offended by her reaction, and simply teased her about it. Laughing, if still somewhat red, Tifa shook her head – confirming that she'd never been in this situation before – and used the hand wearing Cloud's ring to push her hair back. Most people recognized the symbol when they saw it, and assumed it was a promise ring. Which was handy, as it provided another way to fend off the overly amorous, without having to hurt their feelings.
"Ah, I see." Careful fingers closed around Tifa's as curious eyes examined the silver wolf's features.
The guy at the bar was holding Tifa's hand. Cloud's frown grew until it was reflected in his eyes and in the curve of his mouth. Realizing his feet had stopped moving, he forced himself forward again, catching Tifa's eye as he rounded the bar. He let his hand curve around her waist as he walked behind her. "The kids thought there was a problem?" It was half statement, half question, pitched so the customer could hear as well, and carried an edge.
Then Cloud raised his eyes from Tifa's confused brown ones, and froze.
Marlene and Denzel were in so much trouble.
"No, everything's fine." Tifa's voice was cheerful and embarrassingly knowing. "Just a bit of a mix-up."
"Yes, she was quite nice about turning me down," the voice was a soft alto, and had he only heard it before, Cloud wouldn't be feeling so foolish. "After she got over her shock, at least." Cloud could only nod, dumbly, and then try to make himself look busy fixing a drink as the woman paid her bill and quietly left.
Woman. As in female. As in elfin features and curves under her shirt. As in not Tifa's type.
"It's sweet that you were jealous," Tifa told him, but her eyes were laughing.
"I'm an idiot."
She laughed outright at that, slim arms curving around his waist. "No, you were jealous," she corrected, resting her cheek against his shoulder blade. "It's nice to know you care. You really didn't need to worry, though."
Cloud turned, an eyebrow raised in question, knowing she wasn't done teasing him.
"Your sword is much, much, much bigger than hers."