Ok, initially inspired by 'The Art of Innocence'. I'm not a yaoi fanatic, although I do like it, but I will admit that story left me wondering… what if?

(That aside, true yaoi fanatics, don't read 'The Art of Innocence'. It's NOT yaoi. Hilarious, yes; yaoi, no.)

Returns

Prelude

Tifa huffed silently, careful to keep her exasperation from her patrons. It was the busiest the bar had been in months, summer just starting and Friday evening Happy Hour.

Even though some of the patrons were those who usually got a bit rowdy with a few drinks in them, not a single fight had broken out and not a single man (or woman) had tried to feel her up.

Not tonight. No, she had unexpected—though relieving—insurance.

Cloud Strife was sitting at the bar, absently flicking a penknife through patterns that would have left anyone without SOLDIER reflexes with fingers turned to bloody ribbons, eyes roving restlessly between the door and the clock above the bar.

As nervous habits went, Cloud's tended to be somewhat unnerving. The fact that he was actually indulging in one of them was almost enough to make Tifa worried, except that Cloud didn't wait for danger. No, Cloud hunted anything threatening his people down, ruthlessly efficient in removing danger to his friends and family.

Still, seeing the knife flicking silver glints through dancing fingers had Tifa on edge.

Not danger. Just… waiting. But for what?

The dull roar of the crowded bar was something that usually would have had Cloud holed up somewhere—either his room on a quiet night, or the church when things got as crazy as they were right then.

Over an hour slid by with Cloud becoming gradually more anxious to the eyes of those who knew him well. The flashing knife had never stilled, its patterns becoming increasingly complex as time passed.

Then the door banged open, hard enough to bounce off the far wall, silencing the entire bar in one swift sound.

A drop of too-dark blood hit the bar, the light clatter of metal on hard plastic drawing Tifa's attention from glowing violet eyes and broad shoulders back to her friend just in time to see relief flood his eyes.

"I'm home!" the call rang across the silent room, deep and smooth.

Cloud was halfway across the room in a heartbeat, Mako-speed making it seem almost as though he had teleported from his seat at the bar, only to be met by the stranger—who actually picked him up in a rough hug.

As if that weren't enough, Cloud actually hugged back for a moment before being set down, "You're late," he managed, irritation and relief mingled in his tone.

Spiked black haired shifted as the man flushed lightly, a hand coming up to rub the back of his head in an oddly familiar gesture. "Sorry, Spike."

"Come on," Cloud had the stranger by the wrist and was headed for the stairs in a blink, apparently forgetting the now-bloodied knife he left lying on the counter.

All Tifa could do was stare, distantly grateful she hadn't been holding anything when the shock came.