Disclaimer: FFVII world and characters belongs to the respectful owners Square Enix and Tetsuya Nomura.
Purely fanmade. Written just for fun with no ill intentions.
The droning growl of a motorcycle could be heard outside The 7th Heaven as a blond, spiky haired hero came back from another long day of deliveries. The bar's other occupants was blissfully unaware of his arrival since they were already tucked safely in their beds, deeply engulfed in their dreams of good fortunes and unrequited wishes.
The young swordsman took great care not to disturb any of them as he quietly unlocked the door and stepped inside. Once inside, he unzipped his heavy boots and placed them by the door so they wouldn't make any unnecessary noise on the creaky wooden floor. To say it simply he felt exhausted after his long day, journeying all the way over to Cosmo Canyon and back, trying his best not to speed too fast on his motorcycle. Tifa had clearly told him not to break his neck during his rush to and fro, after all.
Unsurprising to him, the bar was dark, dimly lit and vacant when he slowly trudged his way up to the counter, his footfalls muted since he had removed his boots. But still he made sure to tread softly, wincing a little when he stepped upon a rather creaky floorboard. Luckily for him it didn't seem to disturb anyone as the house remained silent. Or that was if his enhanced hearing were anything to judge by.
Relieved his tired sapphire orbs scanned the clock on the digital radio by the counter when he passed it, sighing a little wearily when he read off what time it was. Almost three in the morning? Well, not quite the hour he had wanted to come home to...
Straying away from his pondering thoughts, he swiftly made his way over to kitchen area located behind the counter, rummaging through the fridge after something which appealed to his appetite. He had no idea over how much time had passed since that time he had gotten an opportunity to eat. All he knew was that his stomach practically screamed at him to devour something. Anything would do, his body clearly starved after his long day, or wait. Could it be two? He couldn't be so sure any more, and frankly didn't care.
However, as he searched through the fridge nothing seemed to tempt his appetite... Nothing at all.
Something was missing he guessed, and that became increasingly more clear to him when he gazed out towards the vacant bar, knowing full well how filled of life and vivid it was during the day, and the evenings when the place was filled with customers. All of it while he was out doing his late deliveries only to return home to this... emptiness. An emptiness soon to send a tinge of loneliness through said battle hardened swordsman. The dreaded sensation seared into his heart like a malevolent shadow, threatening to drain all life out from the already suffocating, empty night... Out of him. A feeling not too unfamiliar for Cloud, since he had been way too familiar with its ice cold brush of seclusion ever since his childhood and his prolonged stay at the decimated church,Aerith's church, when he suffered from Geostigma...
He missed her smile. Tifa's smile. Her vividness, her unwavering strength that always seemed to reassure him somehow. A strength that seemed to put him back on track whenever he felt down or lost within himself, wallowing in unwanted self pity. He missed her small, yet warm welcoming smiles she would only give to him and him alone, and today he had missed it. Missed it completely.
Not the first time. He thought with a slight frown.
He had been able to give her a call earlier that day at least, telling her not to sit up waiting up for him, knowing that he would be late no matter how much he would push his motorcycle over its limits, and to his slight surprise it seemed like she had done just that. Something he wasn't sure he should be happy or disappointed for.
Well he guessed he should be happy for it, since he knew that she needed her rest. She who was running the bar all day, all alone looking after two lively kids while he was out doing deliveries most of the day or to be more accurate, for several days. Something that reminded him that he had been absent a lot this past week, hardly being home for more than a few hours, mostly at night, trying to catch up to some much needed sleep (something he failed at miserably) only to leave in the morning, muttering a brief, but heartfelt goodbye to Tifa before driving away on Fenrir, barely able to notice the carefully hidden disappointment in her voice as he left.
Nothing but deliveries. Am I really happy with that?
He wasn't oblivious to what his absence would do to the Tifa he knew. He was not stupid, and he wanted to do something with it.
Can I really be content with that?
Though she hardly ever showed it he knew that she longed for him, secretly wanting him to be around to spend more time together with her and the kids. But no matter how much she wished that, she understood why he went out on his deliveries, knowing that they needed the income his deliveries would bring, as well as it would grant him the freedom he needed. Still it didn't stop her from sitting up waiting for him Cloud knew, being the sole reason why he had called. To assure her that he was all right.
He cared for her after all, deeply. He just didn't know how to express it... yet. He was never particularly good with expressing himself with words either way...
Perhaps... I should take some days off...
Suddenly he found the fridge highly uninteresting. The crave for something to eat even less appealing. He closed it, staring at it absentmindedly for a moment as several thoughts plummeted through his head.
A part of him felt reluctant to just let go of his delivery business. He loved the sense of freedom it gave him whenever he went out on the roads for a delivery. It didn't matter where, as long he got out from the city. The feel of the wind as it tousled at the spikes on his head or the way he felt adrenaline rush through his veins as he accelerated his motorbike could hardly be outmatched by anything. The way it brushed against his naturally fair skin, or the way it made him feel alive. The sensations it granted him very uplifting, easing away the otherwise troublesome thoughts in his mind, and in a way he found it to be strangely soothing. The growling, roaring sounds his motorcycle, Fenrir, made whenever he pushed it to its limits and beyond, filling him with such contentment and exhilaration it for a moment felt like he was flying.
He loved all of it, and yet, nothing could compare to what he felt for Tifa, for those he cared about. He was willing to sacrifice his very life for them if he had to, and at one time he almost did... at a time when he thought it would be the best decision to keep them all safe.
How wrong he had been...
But, to take some time off didn't mean he would have to quit his delivery service all together did it? No, that was just ridiculous. He was ridiculous to even let such a thought slip past his mind! They needed the income of it. Even he in his current state of mind, no matter how weary or tired he was, could understand it.
Yeah sure the bar had its own money income, but if it wasn't for his idea to start his own business, they wouldn't have gotten as far as they had come now, and he knew that Tifa understood it, more than anything. Yet, perhaps he should try to compromise a little. Creating some sort of balance where he could still be able to attend to his deliveries, yet at the same time being able to spend more time and live with those he loved. Perhaps it would help if he shortened his delivery service from 'World wide' to 'Local'? Although he would admit with an honest heart that he would still accept the longer deliveries if the pay was good enough.
With those thoughts still lingering in his mind he snapped out of the reverie he had been in, and made it for the stairs. He could do without food tonight, for how could food taste good when he had no one to share it with? No one to keep him company?
He decided to try to get some sleep then, though he already knew it would be futile.
Once he reached the landing which separated their rooms, he quieted his steps even more than usual, not wanting to wake the children he knew were fast asleep behind the door next to his room. For that matter, he didn't want to disturb Tifa either. The soft, steady breathing which resounded through her door as he passed it, told him that she was fast asleep. The sound of it caused a rare smile to ghost over his lips, knowing full well that she was sleeping peacefully. Hopefully without any nightmares.
Everything's normal here I guess.
Out of habit he checked to the children just to make sure they were safe. The door to their room made a small creak as he peeked inside. He mentally cursed himself for it, hoping that he hadn't awakened them. Especially Marlene since she was known to be a light sleeper.
To his relief both seemed undisturbed there they both slept like babies. Denzel with an arm hanging over the side of the bed, snoring softly and Marlene with her favoured chocobo plushie held tightly to her chest. Cloud smiled at that, knowing they were both safe and sound, oblivious to his presence as he silently slid the door shut.
And thus he prepared himself for another long night. Most likely he would be laying wide awake in his bed, thinking (brooding as Tifa called it) over things that wouldn't let go of his exhausted mind. Endless, ceaseless musings over things he really shouldn't worry about, but still did no matter how fatigued he would become. He sighed. The simple thought of it didn't appeal to him at all.
He was about to open the door to his own room when a peculiar sound caught his attention, sounding unmistakeably like a sob.
A sob? Cloud whipped his head around curiously, alarmed, trying to find out which direction the sob came from. Could it be Marlene again? She often had the tendency to cry in her sleep when she was having nightmares, but how could that be? He had just checked up on them and both seemed so peaceful. More peaceful than he would ever be. Still he decided to check on them... just to make sure.
A pained gasp suddenly alerted him, coming from the opposite direction of Denzel and Marlene's room. A pitiful whimper followed by the shuffling whisper of bed sheets being pulled and tossed around swiftly told him that there was nothing wrong with the children. In fact the sounds came (to his fear) from Tifa's room.
In three hurried strides he was already by her bedroom door, the doorknob cool against the gloved palm of his hand. He hesitated for a moment before he entered, unsure on how Tifa would react if she found him in her room in the middle of the night. Still he went in, worried about his childhood friend, which he had a good reason to be when he caught sight of the jumbled mess of her bedclothes. She was tangled within them, tossing and turning restlessly in her bed sobbing and gasping through her anguish. She undoubtedly suffered from a nightmare and a bad one at that.
"Tifa?" He called. His tone unsure, worried.
With care and with hurried steps he approached her in one, two, three, four strides until he stood beside her bed, silently looking down at her.
Deep concern glinted in his electric blue orbs as he took in her trembling form. The way she clutched her hands tightly at the bedsheets as she gasped, flopping her head to the side in a helpless whimper. Her eyes was shut tightly in a futile attempt to block out the terrible images that assaulted them, and worse yet the pitiful tears that rolled down her cheeks as she sobbed, calling his name, her voice a strained whisper.
"...Tifa." He murmured compassionately, knowing full well what she could be dreaming about. A small mountain village engulfed in flames. A silver haired man with cold, green cat-slit eyes cutting her down mercilessly...
Just like him she too had her share of painful memories from the past. Their past he corrected reminiscing back to the day, that fateful day when their hometown burned down to the ground. His blue eyes darkened with grief from the thought.
He snapped back to reality when he heard her heartbroken, trembling voice, wondering what he should do. That he started to feel guilty about it too didn't help either...
"D-Don't...leave me." The brunette pleaded, tentatively reaching a hand out towards him almost as if she knew he was there before she once again tossed, dragging her hand along with her, being reduced to nothing but a trembling small ball as she wrapped her arms tightly around her shoulders for comfort, her back towards Cloud, sobbing quietly.
Cloud was torn about what to do. Sure he knew how to handle a nightmare. He had done it before with Marlene and Denzel when they had nightmares. As good as he could anyway, but with Tifa... it was different. It pained him to see her in such a weakened state. She who always used to be so strong. The epitome of strength in his eyes, and yet here she was, decreased to a shivering ball of pain, crying his name.
Though it hurt to witness her like this, nothing hurt him more than to know that it was he himself that haunted her dreams. Snatching her away from her much needed rest, her comfort, but really how could he blame her? She had watched him almost die not two weeks ago, and that he knew -even when he survived and all was well- would take some time to heal since it was still pretty fresh in her mind. The deep rooted fear that he would somehow disappear on them again, still being pretty apparent in their lives, and he was to blame for it. For his own stupidity for leaving when they had needed him the most. When he hadneeded them the most.
Without further dilly dallying he started to unclasp his shoulder pauldron which covered his left shoulder, thinking that it would just be in the way. He could vaguely remember his mother holding him when he suffered from nightmares when he was little, finding comfort and safety in her reassuring presence. Perhaps it would do the same for Tifa? By simply being held? It certainty worked on Marlene and Denzel, so why not her?
He knew that she had comforted him before when he had suffered from nightmares, by simply being there for him. Giving him warmth and comfort in her own little ways. He vaguely remembered her cradling his head on her lap once, affectionately running a hand through his hair while humming on a calming tune. A tune which somehow cut through his nightmare and erased it, putting him at ease. Her soothing gestures had made him feel safe and secure...
Now, he thought with determination as he looked at her, it was his turn.
His shoulder armour dropped unceremoniously to the floor as he, without a word slipped under the sheets of her bed, still fully dressed. His movements were tentative and cautious as he moved to lay beside her, almost as if he was afraid his presence would startle her.
Once he settled, he moved in towards her still trembling form. He wrapped an arm tenderly, yet firmly around her waist and pulled her a little closer to his body. Her back pressed neatly against his chest, filling her with what he hoped was warmth and reassurance that he was there, and for a brief moment it actually seemed to work as her sobs quietened.
He didn't like the way her body tensed though when he touched her. Her abdomen raising and falling for each shallow breath she took, her breathing both rapid and strained. He could feel it as clear as day under his fingertips, and it worried him, and for a moment he wondered if he was doing the right thing. Even when he was holding her, her nightmare still raged on as a sudden twitch ran through her body.
Perhaps it would be best to just wake her? To spare her from such torment, but how? He would most likely get punched at if he tried, judging by the way her heart beat rapidly in her chest. He could feel it, almost hear it from his position against her. It left him at loss at what to do, and it frustrated him.
However, his frustration didn't last long when she suddenly twisted around in his grip, screaming: "Don't touch me!"
Her hurtful words almost had him recoil for a moment, but he knew she was incoherent, not knowing what she was doing in her dreamlike state, and as such when she tried to twist herself free from him again he saw his opportunity and wrapped his arms tightly around her lithe form. Pulling her and holding her close to his chest, not letting go no matter how much she struggled and yelled towards him. Obviously she fought against whatever horror she was witnessing in her dream.
"Shhh, calm down... It's me, Cloud." He soothed in a low whisper, tenderly smoothing a leather clad hand over her dark tresses, combing them slightly with his fingers. He could feel her tears as they stained his shirt from where she had her face buried into his chest, gripping at it tightly with her hands. Not that he really cared. He just wanted her to feel safe.
"I'm here... you're safe." He pressed a light kiss into her hair. "...It is just a nightmare."
Slowly but certainly, she started to calm down. To make her feel even more secure Cloud softly started to hum on a soothing melody. A melody he had often used to hum to himself whenever he felt lonely and alone.
It saddened him a little to hum it, since it brought forth a painful memory of the past, but still he let it flow heartily over his lips. Never ceasing, hitting the bars with an out-most accuracy. It surprised him really, how easily he hit the notes and how soft and pure his voice sounded... Ever since childhood, he had lived on the belief that he couldn't sing, that it wouldn't matter even if he tried and now -ten or so years later, he figured out that he actually could. The fact that he could actually utter such clean tones, felt almost unbelieving to him, and now he would share them with Tifa.
It was the least he could do.
He had no idea when, but as Tifa's breathing evened and grew deep, he too, eventually fell asleep, the love of his life still cradled in the safety of his arms. Her head tucked beneath his chin as they both got comforted by each-others presence and his humming. A hum soon to fade from his barely parted lips as his breathing too, eventually deepened with sleep.
Morning came. The warm, radiant rays of the sun gradually filtered through the curtains in Tifa's room as it rose further up into a blue, cloudless sky, but that wasn't what slowly awoke the martial artist from her now peaceful slumber. No it was the sensation of having something warm, yet familiar nestled up against her body. At first she thought she was dreaming, but as she got slowly more aware of her surroundings she figured out that the form beside her was quite real. Not to say that its sudden presence felt a bit unexpected on her part. Still she didn't feel threatened or panicked or anything of that sort, just surprised over why someone else was laying in her bed next to her.
She felt that she somehow knew, and trusted this person. The distinctive scent of wind, motor oil and earth made her feel strangely calm and secure, almost like if this person knew how to make her feel better.
She opened her eyes briefly, only to find them a little blurry due to sleepiness when she caught a glimpse of something coloured in a navy blue. She could feel the rough material under her hands as she tightened them, and when she moved her hand a little down to the left she could feel the steady beat of a heart she wouldn't trade for anything in the entire world.
A small smile flitted across her lips and she tipped her face up so she could look at his face, and true enough there he was, sleeping soundly beside her. Or more correctly, up against her. One of his arms was draped loosely over the curve of her waist while the other laid tucked underneath her neck. It was warm. He was warm, laying like hot coals against her, but she didn't mind. Didn't mind at all as she soaked it all up, letting his warmth fill her with the comfort and security she needed.
It had been a long night. Made even longer due to a certain nightmare...
Sun-kissed rain fell on her skin, but the sensation had been far from blissful there she had been forced to watch Cloud fight single-handedly against three silverhaired men, all clad in dark leather as they had lashed out at the already severely wounded and weakened swordsman.
She had tried to help of course, not wanting Cloud to fight all by himself, but she couldn't. It was like some sort of invisible wall kept her away from him. Like if she was secluded from the world. A ghost.
She had banged her fists against it, kicked at it. Even screamed at it, but nothing seemed to help and all she was left to do was to rest her palms against its non forgiving, cold surface. Forced to watch with terrified eyes as Cloud fervently tried to dodge and deflect merciless blows directed at him, but his movements grew more sluggish for each swing and arch he did with his heavy blade, and Tifa knew -due to her experience as a martial artist- that he wouldn't last long in this state and she dreaded it. Hated it.
Bullets flew, steel met steel. Clashing, creating sparks, crimson puddles everywhere...Tifa didn't want to watch, didn't want to see the blood she knew belonged to Cloud so she clenched her eyes shut.
"It's just a dream. Just a dream." She had recited in her head. Over and over...
Until her blood went cold.
The moment she opened her eyes it was to see her childhood friend, the one that had promised to be there for her, stabbed clean through his chest. Glimmering crimson steel protruded from his back before it got forcefully withdrawn in the same fashion that it had impaled him.
The next moments were like in a blur, silverhaired men and golden drops fading like smoke on the wind and the wall that had barricaded her way finally cracked, much in the same pattern as a spider web. It then vanished, as if it had never been there, crystalline pieces floating like feathers on a non-existent breeze before they faded, but Tifa didn't have eyes for those. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the dark form in front of her, laying so still in a growing puddle of blood...
She wanted to scream. Wanted to do something to get the sick feeling she was feeling in her gut out, but she couldn't. All she could do was to move towards her fallen childhood friend, her movements numbed.
"C-Cloud?" She had called upon reaching him, slowly dropping down to her knees on a ground of dark crimson, but he had just looked numbly back at her. The blue in his eyes pleading as if he wanted her to relive him from the pain. The sight had broken her heart.
With trembling fingers she had gathered his broken body into her arms, cradling him to her chest in an attempt at comforting him. Trying to tell him that he would be all right. That he would survive...
"Please... don't die!"
Her anguished words had been wasted. Foolishly, in a desperate attempt in saving him because in her dream it had already been too late. In her dream, Cloud Strife died, cold and lifeless in the safe cradle of her arms...
With her eyes moist and a painful lump starting to manifest in her throat, Tifa returned to the present. The dream... it-it had felt so vivid. More than usual, but the worst with it had been the ever present feeling of helplessness. The feeling of being forced to watch Cloud die in front of her, feeling his last breaths-
She caught herself, somehow managing to swallow that lump before her emotions really could manifest and she blinked away those tears that had started to fill her eyes. Those tears that wanted to slip loose. She had no reason to cry. To hurt. Cloud was right there beside her wasn't he? Breathing and alive. So wonderfully alive...
You came in here to try to comfort me, didn't you? The thought echoed through her mind for a moment, her eyes locked to his face.
She faintly remembered hearing his voice. Whispered, hummed, her reassurance in the dark. Her pillar.
His voice had calmed her, even if she couldn't remember the words but when she thought on it, it didn't really matter. Didn't matter at all as she continued to look at him, studying how he looked like in his utter relaxation.
Words were trivial after all...
...Beautiful, was the first thought to strike her mind after moments of just watching him. The way his feathery blond eyelashes seemed so soft in the dim light, the fair complexion of his skin, not to mention his not thick but not thin pink lips. They were slightly parted in his sleep, relaxed, and Tifa couldn't help but smile. She always found him adorable when he slept like that.
Eventually wanting to know what time it was, she shifted slightly to peer over her shoulder at the clock situated on her bedside table, trying not to move too abruptly in his arms of fear she would wake him. She blinked, a little puzzled when she noticed that it was still quite early, around 07:30 a.m, but she would soon have to get up either way. The kids needed to be tended to and her bar needed some preparations before it could be opened and she presumed Cloud would have to go out on an another delivery sooner or later. She hoped for the latter though. He had been gone for a while on his previous trip. If you could even call two days long, but for her it had been too long. Very long and nor did he seem to consider the thought of taking a day or two off either. Even when he, after the geostigma incident, seemed to choose his delivery trips more deliberately, trying to get home at least once per day, he still seemed to stick a little too much to his old ways. But at least he seemed to pay more attention to her and the kids now, trying to be there for them and he always said goodbye before he left, no matter how far behind schedule he was.
Perhaps she could help him out a little. Coach him into taking a few days off but for now she would let him sleep. A sleep much granted she was sure considering how tired he had to be after all of his working days... And sleepless nights...
Would the nightmares and the ever conflicting thoughts ever grant them solace?
Sighing she tenderly ran her fingers across Cloud's cheek, her touch feather-light and careful. Two weeks had gone since the defeat of Sephiroth and his remnants at the derelict ruined Shinra tower. Two weeks. She couldn't expect everything to solve itself in that small amount of time. No, this, everything considering their family and her nightmares would heal themselves over time. Including Cloud's problems. She was not so naïve to think they all would, by some magic ritual, become completely healed. Things like that never settled themselves in such a fashion. She of all people should know that. No, they would get through this the hard way, like they had always done and would always do.
The small, sudden patter of rushed children's feet in the hallway alerted her that one of the kids had gotten out of bed. Probably Denzel, she thought. He, next to Cloud were usually one of the first to rise in the morning, bright like a light and ready to help her out with whatever she needed. But today though, he seemed to be allowing himself to sleep in for a little longer (if the distant sound of the faucet and his rushed steps back to his room was something to judge by). Still, she took it as her cue to get up even when a part of her wanted nothing but to just stay there within Cloud's arms, enfolded in his warmth.
Well, I guess that will have to wait for another time...
Slowly she started to free herself from his hold, her warmth and weight leaving him and for a moment it seemed to go fine. He still slept on, relatively undisturbed, until his arm slipped from her waist. He stirred, a slight groan passing his lips before his blue eyes flickered open. He seemed to be startled at first, his eyes glassy and unfocused before they finally focused on her. He blinked, clearly struggling to wake himself up more, and with a voice sounding too slurred and incoherent to belong to one who was fully awake he mumbled, "Tifa? ...Is everything alright?"
"Yes, Cloud. Just getting up." Tifa said reassuringly as she reached out to stroke her fingers over his hair, being mildly amazed over how her simple touch made him relax. "Go back to sleep okay? It is still early..." She didn't need to ask him twice. He was asleep again before she could even count to three. His soft breathing filled her ears and for a moment she felt tempted to stay there with him, but she knew she couldn't. Not with the bar she needed to tend to, but still, it didn't stop her from packing the sheets a little more snugly around him. Then she rose to her feet, tugging her night gown a little tighter around her body.
Funny how the sound and sight of him sleeping could put her heart at such ease...
"Thank you, Cloud... Thank you for caring." She whispered as she leaned forward and planted a light but heartfelt kiss on his right temple. She let it linger there for a moment before she straightened, a warm smile on her lips and a tenderness in her eyes as she turned away from him, silently heading for the bathroom.
She would wait for him downstairs.
The bed was vacant when Cloud finally woke. He could sense it even before he opened his eyes and when he did, he found himself bolting upright, startled. Wh-when did Tifa get up?
In a half awake frenzy his eyes traced wildly around the room for a moment, trying to get a glimpse of her if she was still nearby, but his eyes fell on the clock on her bed-stand instead. His eyebrows shot up from what he saw. It was already past 10.00 a.m. Two hours past the time he should have woken up and worse yet, just about half an hour away from the time Tifa usually opened her bar!
Not thinking he bolted out of the bed and started down the stairs. He couldn't allow her to open the bar. Not yet. Not until he had suggested what he had in mind at least.
Typical me to oversleep when I'm first able to sleep. I just hope I'm not too late. Tifa hates to have her customers waiting.
He skidded to a stop at the bottom of the stairs before he came striding into the bar which left more people wide eyed than just Tifa, who stood by the sink, staring at him like if he had just materialized out of thin air or something. She quickly recovered though and as she did so did the two other persons in the room and Cloud didn't find himself too surprised when he suddenly had a small six year old girl hugging him around his waist. He smiled as he put a hand on her head, gently ruffling it. "Good morning, Marlene."
"Good morning Cloud. Did you sleep well? Tifa said you were so sleepy earlier this morning. Is everything all right?" Cloud shoot Tifa a glance upon hearing this from Marlene but she just smiled knowingly and he could tell from the look in her eyes that she had told them about where he had slept that night. Aka in her bed. Cloud didn't know whether he should be happy or flustered by that. They were still piecing their lives together and he had just barely started to think of the possibility of him and Tifa starting to share a room one day. Even less to speak of it.
He would let the matter rest for now. It was too early.
"I'm alright, Marlene. There's no need to worry. I've slept enough." He gave her a last reassuring look before he directed his attention to Denzel who seemed to be wanting to give him a hug but for some reason held himself back, looking at him a bit shyly. Cloud couldn't help but to shake his head a little inwardly. Denzel had always looked up to him, trying to be older than he is. Trying to be a man, trying to be as strong as Cloud, but all Cloud wanted was for him to act like the kid he knew he really was, so that was the reason why he suddenly stepped forward and playfully started to ruffle that brown mop, his smile growing as he got a light chuckle out of the boy.
"Morning to you too, Denzel."
"Cloud, stop it!" The laughter in Denzel's voice told Cloud otherwise though, but still he stopped, smile still tugging around the corners of his mouth. He was about to say something more when Marlene cut him to the chase, clearly to tease Denzel and Cloud couldn't stop the small twitch of his lips as he witnessed the look Denzel sent her. One that clearly told her to shut up.
"I hug people when I feel like it. It has nothing with manliness to do." He retorted to Marlene's teasing comment of whether hugging someone was considered manly or not. Cloud watched the exchange for a few moments, amused until Denzel turned wondering blue orbs on him. He could already see the question before it was even asked.
"Yes?" He waited patiently for the question, noticing that Marlene too had joined Denzel in his wondering, looking at him almost hopefully. He knew where this was going, and he was already prepared for it.
"You... wont go out on a delivery right away will you?"
"I won't." The answer slipped easier from his tongue than he had expected. So easy in fact he didn't mind ruffling the boy's hair a second time, which earned him a wide grin.
I have something better in mind.
Suddenly remembering why he had rushed down the stairs like a maniac, he turned to Tifa who currently kept herself busy with drying off the last plate from Denzel's and Marlene's breakfast with a well used piece of cloth. He let out a small inaudible sigh.
There was still time.
Without a word he approached the skilled martial artist, noticing in his peripheral that the kids, understanding that he also wanted to greet Tifa, went back to what they did prior to him coming which was to draw and colour some drawings on a nearby table.
"Mm?" Cloud stopped in his tracks when she turned to him, obviously sensing his approach. The warm tenderness in her wine red orbs had him forgetting what he was going to say for a moment and he swallowed. Those eyes spoke volumes of how she felt like right now, over him and he found himself mildly enthralled over what he saw. It wasn't until she spoke to him again that he snapped out of it, blinking.
...It seemed like he had done the right thing in comforting her the night before...
"Cloud, what is it?"
"Nothing. I just-" His voice trailed off when his gaze fell on a lunch box sitting on the counter. His lunch box he realized and already in the process of being filled. Different pieces of fruits and newly finished sandwiches littered the place around it and he felt his expression soften upon the sight. She even prepared food for me...
"You don't have to do that."
"W-what?" He didn't have to look at her to understand that she was perplexed. He could already sense it in the way she put down Denzel's plate.
It was all in her voice.
"I'm taking the day off today." He met her eyes as he said those words, watching as surprise struck them and for a moment it seemed to leave her speechless. As if she hadn't expected it, at all, but it soon turned to happiness however. Happiness he had longed to see on her face.
He had been a little anxious of her reaction to his decision though. Now, if only she would join him.
"And I wondered," he cut in, scratching the back of his neck in a moment of awkwardness, "If you would join me?" He watched her as she considered his question and although he could see on her body language that she wanted to say yes, something held her back and with a sinking feeling he knew what that 'something' was. He had been too late.
Damn it. If only I had woken up earlier.
"Cloud?" He looked up at her voice, not realising that he had lowered his gaze. Judging by her tender smile he hoped his disappointment didn't show off too much.
"I can't okay? Not so close to the opening hour but you know what?" Still smiling she leaned in close so only he could hear her and in his ear he could hear her whisper, "For you I will close earlier and on top of it I will even make your favourite dish." She winked at him as she pulled away, teasing. "Look at it as a thank you gift for yesterday."
Once again Cloud found himself blinking at her. Did she just thank me?
Still mildly baffled he turned to the table where Marlene and Denzel sat and though they tried their best not to show it, he knew they had listened in on their conversation. Especially when Marlene looked at him, her eyes filled with glee.
"Let me know if you need anything." He was about to head over to the children when his stomach suddenly let out a loud growl, letting the whole world know about its displeasure. Cloud put a hand to it in surprise, grimacing a little when he felt the hunger pangs wrack through it. Gaia, it felt like they were trying to digest him from the inside.
Maybe he should have eaten something the previous night...
"Cloud?" he felt a concerned hand grab him around the arm, undoubtedly Tifa's. "Didn't you eat anything yesterday?"
Turning to her, his hand still on his stomach he shook his head, looking at her a little guiltily. "No." What was it with her anyway, knowing that he hadn't eaten? Was it because of her female intuition?
"Here. Eat this." Before he could say anything she had pushed a delicious looking sandwich into his hand, urging at him to eat it. From what he could gather it was filled with chicken, cheese and crisp, fresh lettuce leaves. To be honest he would say it was a bit too much.
"No buts. You need to eat you know? Besides, I made it for you."
Well, Cloud couldn't quite argue with that. "I know." He smiled a little sheepishly before he took a bite. The sandwich tasted just as delicious as it looked and a part of him regretted that he hadn't decided to eat earlier, but he guessed his mind had been too preoccupied back then and what did it matter now anyway? Tifa was happy and he was happy and as for now, as he took a new bite from his sandwich, it was all that counted.
"So," Tifa interrupted as she threw a quick glance towards the clock to determine the time, "What will Cloud Strife do on his day off?"
Cloud could only smile, swallowing the food he had in his mouth. He already knew the answer.
To be together with my family.
Phew, finally after months of wrestling I was finally able to get this story down. I had originaly planned it to be about some fluff with Cloud comforting Tifa after a nightmare, but as I wrote it kinda took off in its own direction, evolving into something else. The nightmare part still remained in it, but the story itself grew into something more profound than what I originally thought of. Well, not that I'm complaining ;)
Hope you enjoyed and thanks to those who have been patient with me like you Greysouthpaw, and I would especially thank my sister. It is thanks to her support that I was able to find the reslove to finish this.
Oh, and this is the first time I've written a fanfic primarly in Cloud's POW. Hope I got him right.