Well howdy do~!
I was finally able to pull myself out of my hole and write this chapter.
Enjoy!


Loud Whispers IV – Everything's Fine

How long had she been sleeping?

It was bright – she could tell that before she even opened her eyes. The light filtered through her lids as if they were not even closed.

Tifa slowly cracked an eye open, holding her hand to shield her face. She noticed that the lights were not even on in her room. Looking over her right, she saw that her curtains had been pulled all the way open.

She sat up, feeling groggy, but not necessarily pained. Sighing with relief, the brunette also noticed that her barely-touched soup bowl and unopened crackers were no longer sitting at her bedside. She'd rather them than what was there. The disgusting, transparent orange bottle was present, as well as a fresh glass of water.

Even though she wasn't in much pain at the moment, Tifa also knew from experience that it could come on at any minute. She took more of the medicine (this time with the aid of water to help get it down), and kicked the rest of the sheets off of her. They weren't covering the majority of her body, and she assumed she had pushed them away during her fevered night. In fact, Tifa still thought she felt a little warm, but she was feeling much better than she was yesterday.

The clock next to the medication told her that it was later than she would have liked: a bit past noon. No wonder I'm feeling better. I've slept the majority of the time home!

Even so, Tifa smiled and got up. Pulling on a pair of pajama pants that were at the end of the bed – Did I kick those off too? – she made her way out of the room.

Halfway down the stairs, she could already hear the familiar noise of items being pushed around and the clicks and zippers of luggage. When she reached the landing that gave way to the last few steps, she stopped at the banister and looked at her father. He looked well put together, but she could sense how much of a mess he actually was. His things were not as neatly arranged as she was used to seeing them. Usually, her father took a day or two to prepare for a weeklong trip to Midgar. Today, however, he'd only a few hours.

I wonder if he stayed up all night... Tifa sighed.

Her father must have read her mind.

"I woke up at six. I tried to be quiet so I wouldn't wake you sweetheart."

Timothy turned around and smiled at his daughter, before going back to packing a briefcase. She flashed one back at him.

"It's okay Dad. I probably wouldn't have heard the next house over explode. I'm fine."

He nodded in response, mumbling about not being able to find some miscellaneous item. Tifa heard him and picked up a pair of socks sitting on the chair next to him as he rummaged through a nearly packed suitcase.

"Dad."

He looked at her, then what was in her hand. Taking the socks, he held her hand for a little longer and kissed her forehand.

"Thanks. Sorry..."

"It's fine Dad. You seem a bit scatterbrained."

"Yes..." He stopped for a moment and gazed at her. "Are you feeling alright? Are you sure it's okay if I leave...?"

She nodded. "Yes. I told you last night that I was starting to feel better. My chest barely even hurts anymore. I'm okay Dad. Really."

His stance relaxed; she could visibly see the tension release from his shoulders. Dad...

"Okay then. I'm glad you feel better. That it wasn't as severe as I thought it would be."

"I know how to take care of myself. It's okay. I promise."

He zipped up his last suitcase and stood it up. Reaching out, he enveloped Tifa in a hug. "Okay sweetheart. I love you."

"I love you too." She gripped him briefly before he pulled away.

Timothy looked around the room to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything else. Tifa wrestled with a question.

"Why are you always so short with Cloud?"

He stopped, his gaze shooting back to her. Shaking his head, he grabbed a bag and headed for the door. "Tifa, I'm not going to argue with you before I leave."

"What?" She was astounded. He always does this! "What arguing? Dad, I just asked a question."

"One I'm not going to entertain. For one, in my house, I don't have to explain myself to you." Tifa rolled her eyes. Timothy saw it, but ignored the gesture. "Two, I don't want to talk about him before I leave you."

"I just don't understand. Why can't you at least tolerate him? He's my friend!"

"He's a boy I thought I told you to stay away from!"

"That was when I was nine! What's so bad about Cloud? Why can't you like him?"

"I do not have to explain myself to my daughter!"

Timothy took a deep breath. Tifa crossed her arms. This was futile. Why did I even ask?

"I have to go Tifa. We'll talk about this when I get back."

He picked up his suitcase. Once the door closed and she heard his car depart from the driveway a few minutes later, Tifa began to make herself a meal.

No we won't. We never do.

/~/

"I'm kicking your ass."

Why was he so good at these games? Cloud has asked himself that over and over throughout the years that he's known Vincent. He only got to play them when he was over someone's house, and he managed to learn in a few hours what it took most people a few days.

"No... No! Dammit!"

Cloud threw down the controller as Vincent celebrated yet another victory that resulted in Cloud being virtually killed... again.

"Cough it up. I don't have all day."

"Yes you do, shut up."

He fished out yet another ten dollars from his pocket and handed them over to his raven-haired nemesis. Vincent stuffed it in his.

"It always feels good coming into your house and shooting you down Cloud. Would you like to go another round?"

"Ha ha," Cloud mocked. He got up, making his way to the kitchen. He wasn't exactly sure what he wanted to eat; he just knew he was hungry. As he rummaged the refrigerator, Cloud heard his mom close her room door.

"What are you doing?"

"Wondering what to eat..."

"Do you have to do that with the fridge open?"

Cloud closed the door and looked at his mom. "Well, I don't have the inside memorized. So I have to open it up and see."

She huffed. "Look in the pantry. That at least doesn't cost money."

Cloud shook his head. "Vincent, do you want anything?" he shouted into the next room.

"Nope!"

Cloud looked over the wall separating the kitchen and the living room and shook his head. Vincent was spread across the couch, counting his money.

"Asshole..." he mumbled.

"What did you say?"

He'd almost forgotten that Marina was in the room.

"Nothing! Nothing." Cloud grabbed a bag of chips and retreated. His mother shook her head.

"Aren't you going somewhere today?"

"No... Didn't plan on it anyway." He opened the bag, and Vincent dug his hand inside. "I thought you said you didn't want anything."

His friend only shrugged.

The phone rang, and Cloud looked up toward the kitchen.

"I've got it!" his mother called, before answering in a hushed tone. She then retreated to her room.

Cloud snacked on more chips in silence. He debated picking the controller back up.

"So... what is that? Fifty dollars in five rounds? I think that's a new record Strife."

Cloud made up his mind to throw a pillow at Vincent to shut him up. The latter only laughed.

His phone rang then, and he reached for it on the table.

"Sore loser," the red-eyed teen said quietly, though loud enough for Cloud to hear.

"Whatever." He pressed a button before putting the phone up to his ear. "Hey Teef."

"Hi Tifa!" Vincent chimed in the background.

"If she wanted to say hi to you, she would have called your phone," Cloud said smugly.

The guest gave his companion the finger.

"What are you doing?" the brunette asked, giggling.

"Nothing. Vincent just being a jerk as usual."

The accused punched Cloud in the arm. He ignored him.

"How are you feeling?"

"Much better actually. I was wondering if you two wanted to come over. We can have practice now!"

His brow furrowed. "Are you sure? You seemed pretty bad yesterday. I don't want you to strain –"

"I'm fine. Just come over. And call Aaron and Matt. I'm making lunch for everyone."

"Tifa..."

"Cloud. I am not going to say this again. I am perfectly fine. Quit worrying! I think I know my own limits. If I think I can sing today for a couple of hours, I can sing. And tell Vincent I said hi back."

He sighed. He hated it when she turned the motherly tone on.

"Fine. But I'm not telling him that."

"Telling me what?" Vincent requested with a mouthful of chips.

Cloud hung up and stood. "Tifa said she's feeling better. Wants to have practice now."

The other quit crunching and swallowed. "Oh... Well, I'll just meet you there. Need to get home and get some more clothes. And shower."

"You don't have anymore over here?"

"No. I was running out at my own house so I just brought them all back home."

"You can just borrow mine then. It's fine."

Vincent shrugged. "Maybe they won't be home. It's Saturday. Usually Summer drags Brison out to go shopping or some shit like that. I'll just meet you there."

"Okay. I'm not leaving for a while. I need to do the same, plus mom is probably going to want me to straighten up. She's been pissed off about every damn piece of dust lately. It's annoying."

"Well, you need to. Look at the mess you've created!" he laughed.

"Get out Vince!"

Vincent heard Cloud laughing as he closed the door. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked. He had a long one ahead of him, but he had time.

How in the world did Cloud and Tifa follow me all over town when I first moved here? Nibelheim isn't the smallest town, to say the least. It only seemed that way because everyone knew nearly everyone else. The families living here have been around forever. Only recently did people begin to move into the town.

He sighed, humming a song to himself. He was in higher spirits than usual. Maybe it was from taking Cloud's money... Or maybe the past eighteen hours have just been good ones. And he had a good feeling about the coming ones. Practice sessions were always good. They were like a sanctuary for everyone there.

Town was as busy as to be expected on a Saturday. There were people everywhere, but Vincent ignored most of them. He was just thinking ahead, to spending more time with the people he considered family.

His only obstacle was getting through his own home first. He spotted his parents' car from down the street as he arrived into his neighborhood.

Shit... I didn't think they'd be home!

Maybe they were asleep. Maybe they were at a neighbor's. The possibilities swirled through his head. Did he want to risk it? He was in no mood to let his parents dampen his day, nor did he feel like getting into another fight.

Cloud said I could borrow his clothes... But Vincent needed a shower. And underwear... He racked his brain for some kind of solution, any solution.

He sighed. He needed to get into his room, at least to get some clothes. Maybe he could go back and use Cloud's shower...

Sucking in a breath, he made the rest of the way to his house. Vincent's height didn't make sneaking around any easier, but he tried his best. He slinked around the windows of the front room. He didn't see them in there, so he assumed they must be in their bedroom. Great. That would make getting in and out of his room harder, for his was right next to theirs.

Once Vincent reached his window, he peered inside. Everything was as he had left it yesterday afternoon. Pushing his window up, he carefully climbed over the sill and ran to his door. He quickly opened the waiting backpack and went over to his dresser. From there, he took out a couple of pairs of underwear, t-shirts, sweatpants and jeans and stuffed them into the near-empty book bag. When he swung it over his shoulder, he hit the dresser and knocked over a book.

He watched it fall. It felt like life had temporarily entered slow motion. By the time he could react, it had already hit the ground with a loud thump!

A door opened outside. Vincent glanced at his own door, before dashing towards the window.

"Vincent!"

He didn't stop. Vincent quickly jumped over the sill and slammed the window in his father's bloated face. The man inside was livid. Vincent stared at Brison through the glass, watched his blood-shot eyes nearly bulge out of his head.

"Get your ass back into this house now!"

He shook his head. He could feel nineteen years worth of terror seeping into his brain, rooting him to the ground.

No! Run! Run Valentine!

The look in his father's eyes kept him there, however. Brison looked angrier than Vincent had seen him on most occasions, the vein in his forehead visible. He gulped. He remembered that day in the yard when they moved away from Kalm, the time he got smart, the time he didn't get the remote fast enough, the time when…

Brison started to open the window. That snapped Vincent out of his reverie.

As he regained control of himself, he slowly backed away from the house. Vincent ran in the opposite direction.

"Vincent!"

He dared not stop until he was at least out of his neighborhood. He knew his father. He might jump into the car and drive after him. He might leave him alone and go back to whatever drunken stupor he was in before being disturbed. Hell, he might even come running down the street after the boy. But Vincent knew what he was going to do, and that was run like hell.

It was a good fifteen minutes later that he finally stopped to take a breath. Leaning against a building, he bent over, coughing. It had been a while since he ran like that, and the pain from yesterday morning's fight wasn't helping. Fuck him. Vincent gritted his teeth. His parents seemed a lot more aggressive lately, and he wasn't sure if that was possible. But he didn't care. He was not about to risk another tango with them.

Looking around, he slipped out of the alley and began walking with the general population. He had a long while before he reached Cloud's house. Taking out his phone, he sent a text to the blond.

Hey, wait up for me. I'll be back there soon. Trouble home.

He put his phone away and took another deep breath as he crossed the street. There were less people here. He hated crowds.

A car came rambling up beside him. Vincent rolled his eyes. He was not in the mood for this.

"Hey there Vinnie. Want a ride?"

He kept walking, and he made sure to keep his face void of emotion. "Fuck off Zack."

Zack snorted. "Just trying to help a friend, that's all."

"We're not friends."

"We are through mutual relationships." Vincent didn't stop. "How's Tifa? Is she feeling better?"

The raven-haired teen slowed down at the mention of his sickly friend. "Yeah. We're actually having practice today." Vincent gave him a sideways glare. "Is there nothing better you could be doing than riding along the sidewalk?"

"I can see you're in no mood to talk." Vincent rolled his eyes again. "Well, I actually need to get back home. But I'll see you around Vinnie!"

Next time he calls me Vinnie within arm's reach, his nose will be broken.

/~/

As soon as Vincent left, Cloud headed upstairs.

"Cloud?"

He stopped midway up to answer her. "Yeah mom?"

"Oh! I thought that was you leaving. It was Vincent?"

"Yeah."

"Cloud, it's a mess down here!" She must have seen the living room.

He sighed. "I know. I'm going to get it after I shower. Promise."

He turned around to see her at the bottom of the stairs with a smile. "Promise huh?"

He smiled back. "Of course mom. I always keep my promises."

"Mm, I know. Just hurry all right? I don't want this sitting here all day."

"I will!" he shouted behind him as he climbed up the remaining stairs.

Twenty minutes later, Cloud checked his phone while drying his hair. He had two messages. The first was from Tifa:

Mind getting some apple juice on the way over? Pleeeeeeeeease :)

Cloud chuckled quietly to himself. Yeah, she's definitely feeling better.

yeah sure. what's for lunch?

He put the phone down for a moment to button up his shirt. He saw that the next one was from Vincent. It worried Cloud slightly, but if he was already on the way back and able to text, then his friend must be fine.

NP. take your time. its fine. you alright?

Since he had to wait for Vincent, Cloud took his time packing his guitars. He gathered a few pens and the notebook he used to write lyrics, and put them into a knapsack. Swinging that over his shoulder, he put his phone in his pocket with his wallet, grabbed his cases, and went downstairs.

He put his cases down next to the front door and went into the kitchen. His mom was on the phone.

"I'll call you back okay?"

He went over to the refrigerator and took out the milk.

"Do you consume something every few minutes?" his mother laughed.

Cloud shrugged. "I guess so... Never noticed it before."

Marina shook her head. Cloud's phone vibrated and chimed. It was Tifa.

Thanks. And you'll see!

He smiled, pouring himself another glass of milk. His phone went off again.

why does vinnie hate me again? he hurt my feelings today you know.

Cloud shook his head. Zack must have caught him after he left home.

he doesn't hate you. you act like a child.

Marina was staring at him when he finished texting. He smiled at her and kissed her cheek.

"I know mom. The living room."

When he was nearly done vacuuming, there was a knock at the door. Marina answered it.

"Hello Vincent hunny. Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Ms Strife. May I use your shower? The water isn't working in our house right now."

Cloud looked up to hear Vincent's response. He looked awful. Pale. Tired. Like he did after we got out of that mansion and he told me about his parents...

"Oh... sure dear. You know where it is, don't you?"

Vincent nodded and made his way upstairs with a quick wave to Cloud. The blond only nodded back.

"Hunny, does Vincent get enough sleep? He looks exhausted."

Cloud shrugged, and continued to vacuum. Marina went back into the kitchen and grabbed the phone. He couldn't hear her over the vacuum cleaner, but was done soon enough. Cloud lied down on the couch and put his hands behind his head. He rested for a moment, before remembering something.

"Hey, did the mail come today?"

His mother looked at him, and told the person she was speaking with to hold on. "Yes. It's on the counter. It came while you were in the shower." He heard her door close soon after that.

Cloud tensed and stood up. He wondered if Marina had gone through the mail or not. She hadn't said anything to him about any letters, and once he went through it, he saw for himself that he had received nothing. Dammit.

"Hey, you ready?"

The blond turned around to see Vincent coming down the stairs with his backpack on his back. "Yeah, I'm good." He went to the back of the house and knocked on Marina's door. "Vince and I are leaving now!"

"Alright. Have fun!"

He walked back to the front and grabbed his keys from a rack near the counter.

"You've got to be the best liar I've ever met." His friend only smiled at that. "You look better. Nothing happened?" Cloud enjoined as he picked up his guitar cases.

"No. Everything's good. Though I might have to stay over for a few days." Vincent opened the door.

"That's fine. You know you can. And by the way, I have to swing by the store on the way to Tifa's."

/~/

Her father had put her in such a sour mood. The only way she could rectify it was by showering, cleaning, and cooking. Those were the only things short of punching a hole in the wall that would calm her nerves.

"Why does he have to be so damn infuriating!" she mumbled to herself. Grabbing her spatula, she carefully picked up the last sandwich from the frying pan and put it on a plate. The plate went onto the table next to several others. The frying pan went into the sink.

Tifa washed her hands before setting a bowl of pasta salad onto the table. She sent a text to Cloud.

And bread. I'll pay you back.

She felt a little better, but she just could not understand. Why is being friends with them so bad? She knew her father would have preferred if Tifa had more girl friends. When Aerith moved here, he was more than happy to see his daughter hanging around another girl for a change. Even when he found out that Aerith was a friend of Vincent's, it was still nice to know that there was another female around.

She also noticed that he had become more hostile toward Cloud ever since she and Priscilla stopped being friends, and when her mother died.

Tifa rolled her eyes. Whatever. Nothing was going to change; why couldn't he just accept that? Cloud and Vincent have never done anything wrong to me. Why can't he at least be civil with them?

She sighed. Why did she keep thinking about it? Nothing's going to change…

The doorbell rang then, and she smiled. Everything was going to be okay. She could just push all of that into the back of her mind and focus for now on music.

Except, it wasn't Cloud and Vincent on the other side, but Yuffie instead. Tifa smiled, but she felt little behind it.

"Hi there!"

"Oh, uhm… Hey."

"What's wrong?"

"I just wasn't expecting to see you here, that's all."

The younger girl's smile faltered. "I just wanted to see if you were okay."

Tifa nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks. How was… whatever you guys did last night?"

"We just watched movies at my house," Yuffie said with a smile. "Cloud snored through the last half of one."

Tifa bit her lip. "Yeah, he does that." She looked around. "Is there anything else you need?"

Yuffie's grin faded even more. "Actually, no. Just wanted to make sure you were fine."

"I've never seen you come around before…"

"Your father usually answers the door. I knew he wasn't home, because my parents are back in town."

"Right." Tifa sighed. "Look, I have to finish setting up. And cleaning. You know…"

The other girl nodded. "Yeah, of course."

Yuffie turned around and saw Cloud and Vincent getting out of the car, each carrying a grocery bag. Vincent was on the phone. Yuffie intertwined her fingers, suddenly without an idea of what to say.

"I'll see you later, okay?" Tifa opened the door wider for Cloud, who was coming up behind Yuffie. He looked at her for a moment, before greeting her and walking inside.

Vincent nodded to Yuffie and barely uttered a word as he hung up the phone. She gulped.

"Hey Vincent. How are you?"

He stopped at the door. That was not the right question for the moment. "I'm… okay. How about you?"

"I'm good. Uhm…" She was trying to find something to say. Anything else to say.

"Hey, have you seen Aerith since last night?" He suddenly asked. "Or do you know if Zack has spoken to her? She has my ring. I let her hold it while we were over."

Yuffie blinked. Why is it always her?

"No, I haven't seen nor spoken to her. But I'll pass it along through Zack."

"Thanks…" He looked back at the door. "Anyway, I have to go. You know, set up and everything."

"Yeah, sure. See you at school."

Vincent went through the door, angry with himself. I should have asked Zack that when I saw him! Not Yuffie… He never knew the right thing to say to that girl.

Cloud was already chowing down on a sandwich when he finally walked in. He looked at Vincent with a crooked smile. "What took you so long?"

"Shut up moron." He put the apple juice in the refrigerator for Tifa, who was sitting on the couch in the living room. He sat down. "Ham and cheese?"

She only nodded back, her eyes still closed. She felt very tired.

"With pasta salad?" he inquired teasingly.

"It's the only thing I could make quickly!" Tifa sighed, exasperated. "Sorry. I'm just not… Today's not proving to be the best day."

Vincent gave her a small smile. "I know. I've run into my own trouble." She raised an eyebrow at him, but he shook his head. "It's not worth getting into. I'll go eat. It smells delicious." He kissed her on the cheek before getting up. Tifa smiled.

The door opened again.

"Please, no applause lady and gentlemen."

She giggled at Aaron, then at Matt once he shoved his brother. "Oh but why not? You're so great!"

Matt snorted. "Don't entertain him."

"Well, have some sandwiches and pasta. We can start in a few. I've already eaten, so don't worry about me."

She leaned back into the sofa and closed her eyes, only to feel the weight shift next to her.

"You don't have to pay me back. It wasn't much."

Tifa nodded. She felt him his cool hand against her forehead, and side-eyed him.

"Just making sure you're alright. You seem exhausted. And you feel a bit warm."

She glared at him. "I'm fine Cloud. Stop it."

He sat back into the cushion. "So, what did Yuffie want?"

"Checking on me. Apparently she's done it before, but Dad's always answered the door."

"Mm…"

Tifa looked around. "Everyone good?"

Once she got verbal agreements from her companions, she grabbed her water bottle and headed for the basement.

"Better late than never right?" she declared.

/~/

Zack read a letter as his aunt and uncle gathered the last of their things.

"Have you seen Yuffie, Zachery?"

He mentally cringed. They were the only people here who called him that. "Nope. She'll be back soon though."

Yuffie's mother sighed. "We've told her about leaving without letting us know."

Zack just shrugged.

Godo came back into the room then. "Asuka, we have to leave now."

She nodded, grabbing her purse. The front door slammed.

"Oh, Yuffie dear!"

Asuka could clearly see that her was daughter irritated. She held her by the arms. Yuffie forced a smile.

"I just wanted to let you know that your father and I will be back in a few hours."

Yuffie just nodded back. She was not in the mood to speak, which was rare for her.

Asuka kissed her on the forehead and let her go.

"See you later dears!"

As soon as her parents left, Zack got up from the table. He gently put a hand on Yuffie's shoulder, who shrugged it off.

"Why does Tifa hate me?" she sighed.

"Why does Vincent hate me? Why does Tifa's dad hate Cloud? Why why why?"

Yuffie rolled her eyes at him. "Whatever Zack. Where are my parents going again?"

He shrugged. "Some social function. I was half listening."

Yuffie huffed. "I mean, every time I try to be nice, she blows me off! What did I ever do to her?"

"Dear, you're whining."

Yuffie stuck her tongue out at him. At her next thought, she slouched. "Vincent's looking for his ring by the way," she said sourly. "From Aerith." On the last part, she winced.

Zack cocked his head to the side. "Why don't you like Aerith? Hm?"

"It's not… her." She shook her head. "Never mind. Just forget it."

He sighed. He rarely saw his cousin this way, and he hated it. He hugged her.

"Come on, get off of me." This was not what she needed, for him to get sappy on her. She could take his sarcasm and everything with it, but not this. Yuffie pushed away and went upstairs.

Zack sat back down and continued to read the letter from his parents. Maybe I'll visit them on my next break. He smiled at their words. He missed them.

She came back down a few moments later, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt.

"Next break, I'm visiting my folks."

Yuffie nodded back as she put headphones in her ears. "Maybe I'll go with." She searched for a song on her iPod. "I'm going for a run."

Zack chuckled. "They'd be glad to see you." He waved her goodbye as she went out the door.


See you around everyone! And thanks again for continued support!
Much love goes toooooooo:
sunflowerspot, vLuna, Azkaban, and Lord Divestre Croft~!
Ta-ta!