Summary: Cloud is usually the jealous one, growling at patrons to the Seventh Heaven Bar when they have the audacity to flirt with Tifa. Just what happens when it's the other way around, and Cloud is the recipient of unwanted attention? And just how far will he push the advantage this gives him? Set sometime/when/where after Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus.

Jealousy, Take 1

By Ivy Tanté

It was nearly closing time, and Tifa pleaded for the clock on the wall to move faster. Tonight had been fast placed, almost frantic at times. Her feet were throbbing, hands chapped from endless plunges into dishwater, shoulders aching. And her temper was right on the verge of slipping from her control.

They were still watching him, and it was driving her mad.

At the table in the far corner of the room, seven women continued to laugh and joke and even sing. Tifa had spoken with them enough to know one had been promoted to a higher position within WRO, and her friends were helping her celebrate. That much she knew.

What she didn't like was how they were looking at Cloud.

He was in the usual seat at the end of the bar, the one her regulars considered 'his'. In the harsh, slightly green-tinted light his gravity-defying spikes glimmered palely in a way that drew her eyes, as well as those of the women in the corner. Tonight he wasn't wearing his pauldron, gloves, weapons harness or dust skirt. Just the sleeveless knit top that outlined his toned chest and abdomen, and his baggy, many-pocketed jeans. Tifa had to admit - at the moment he looked hotter than Ifrit, sitting there sipping a cup of coffee as he riffled through the latest report from WRO.

The only thing keeping her temper in shaky check was the fact Cloud was oblivious to the longing stares aimed at him. She knew he was as tired as she; several deliveries added to his route made him extremely late in returning home. And yet he grabbed a busboy from behind the bar the second he arrived and began cleaning tables. Gratitude for his thoughtfulness ended the moment she realized his actions brought him to the attention of the little celebration.

As Cloud moved around the room collecting bottles and glasses, wiping down tables and pushing in chairs, the females began to whisper and giggle quietly amongst themselves. Tifa could hardly stand the way their eyes seemed to strip him bare, hungry gazes lingering on well-muscled arms and that incredibly tight ass that his baggy jeans couldn't disguise. It had been particularly bad when Cloud was stooping to sweep under the tables.

When he reached their table, he offered to straighten up and remove any used glasses, bottles or cans for them, and promised refills. Oh, how they flirted as they thanked him; one was even so bold as to touch his arm in supposed gratitude. Cloud didn't respond to their overtures and left with the tray and their orders. Tifa herself took their requests to them just so Cloud wouldn't have to go back over there.

But they still watched, exchanging giggling comments and nudging each other while sending suggestive glances his way.

Walking to the end of the bar, she waited until Cloud lifted those brilliantly blue eyes from the reports to ask him, "Anything interesting?"

A snort sounded as he laid the papers on the counter. Wearily he rubbed at the back of his neck in a gesture that was endearingly familiar. "The Turks found another of Hojo's secret labs yesterday."

The bite in his voice let her know what they found hadn't been pleasant. "How bad?" she whispered, laying her hand on his arm in support. All her anger was forgotten in that moment; his memories of that traumatic time might be fading, but they were still powerful enough to cause him pain.

"From the look of things, it was one of the first he created. Whatever was in there… has been dead for a long time. Since before he started on me and Zack. Reeve is still gathering all the notes and test results now - he's asking if me and Nanaki will take a look at them." He sighed, resting one of his hands on hers, "I don't know why he thinks I might be able to tell him anything, because being a test subject doesn't make me an expert on Hojo's warped mind."

All too well Tifa remembered the battered, nicked and blood-stained exam table in Hojo's lab under the ShinRa mansion in Nibelheim. She could recall the smell of chemicals and decay, that metallic scent of dried blood and the tang of ooze that was Mako. What could Cloud's memories bring to him with his enhanced senses? Her grip on his arm tightened, and he gave a tired sigh as he took her hand and turned it, pressing a soft kiss to her palm.

From the corner of her eye, Tifa caught sight of the women. Their frowns at how close she was standing to Cloud, and the fact that he responded to her touch, delighted her. Emboldened, she leaned towards him and was ecstatic when he willingly accepted her kiss; but what she had intended as a soft caress was welcomed with open heat, and she slid the fingers of her free hand into the hair at the nape of his neck to steady her suddenly wobbly balance.

It was a few moments before she could think again, before she realized her lungs were demanding air. Tifa drew in a breath, opening her eyes to see that soft, gentle smile she so loved. His eyes, so intensely blue with a starburst of Mako green around the pupil, had darkened. In a husky voice spoken intimately low, he whispered, "Don't let them or their actions rile you, Tifa. You are the only one that can bring me low with a simple glance, and arouse me with just a touch."

Flushing, she pulled away and hastily headed back behind the bar. So, he'd noticed after all. And because they meant nothing to him, he hadn't responded to their overtures. Silently cursing herself for a fool, she dunked her hands in the soapy dishwater once more, attacking the latest round of glasses. Inwardly she wondered if this was how Cloud felt when an inebriated customer made a pass at her, and he reacted before thinking about the consequences. Humor began to get the better of her as she realized that no matter how much the women in the corner looked and longed and lusted, they couldn't have him.

It should have made her pity them, but in truth it tickled her.

When she laughed quietly, Cloud seemed to understand her thoughts, for he chuckled in that wicked way of his and slid off his bar stool to begin cleaning tables again. There was nothing in his voice that seemed unusual as he told the ladies it was nearly time to go and could he get them a last refill? Tifa was amused to see that they didn't linger and left their payment on the table instead of bringing it up to her. But she was too relieved to see them go to be offended.

Warning bells should have gone off in her head when Cloud firmly locked the doors behind that last customer. But his sudden move caught her off guard, and she was trapped in his arms with her back to the wall before she could guess his intentions. As usual, once he got those entirely too talented hands on her, all thoughts fled.

Except one…

So much for jealousy…