Characters: CloudxTifa, Denzel, Marlene, all Avalanche members, Dinne
Rating: PG-13 Sexual situations, but nothing explicit
Word count: about 5500
Summary: How is Cloud supposed to pop the question when everyone comes along for their snowboarding holiday?
With winter setting in again, all of the residents at 7th Heaven watched the weather forecast obsessively. Not only because it was harder for Cloud to make deliveries due to the bad weather and poor road conditions in some areas, but also because they were going on a family holiday for the first time. Reports of snow around Icicle Inn made them whoop with excitement, although a similar report for other places around Gaia would cause a groan. They were all counting down the days until the week of X’s on the calendar.
Marlene and Denzel were both terribly excited at the thought of playing in snow, something they’d only ever seen in pictures or on TV. Marlene sometimes put on her new snow pants just to giggle at the swishing sound they made when she walked around, and it was pretty funny to watch her speed walking around 7th Heaven in hysterics.
Denzel devoured information on snowboarding as if he was studying the sport for a doctorate thesis. He was always asking Cloud about bindings and board types. Tifa could tell he was a little anxious that he would be bad at it, and was doing his best to prevent that by learning everything possible first. It exasperated her a little to think that if he focused as hard on his schoolwork as he did on the snowboarding magazines that Cloud left lying around, he would do better in school. But she knew he didn’t want to be a scientist or doctor when he grew up- he wanted to be just like Cloud, so snowboarding mania it was.
Cloud couldn’t decide if he was happy about the holiday plans yet, although they were constantly on his mind. He really wanted to go snowboarding again, and he was looking forward to playing in the snow with the kids and teaching them to ride. But somehow, their little family holiday had turned into another group reunion, and it had sort of scotched his original plans to know that everyone else would be there.
He’d wanted the setting to be right when he proposed. Special but fitting. So he’d considered (and discarded) a bunch of different scenarios. For example, on bended knee at a romantic restaurant was hardly their style. He could just picture the way her mouth would twitch with repressed mirth if he tried something so stereotypical. She’d see it coming a mile off, which would make him more nervous and the moment more awkward, no matter how nice she’d try to be about it.
While cuddling after making love didn’t seem right either. Too thoughtless and offhanded. He wanted her to know that he’d tried to make the memory special. And so on. He’d tried out so many scenarios in his head that he’d almost worked himself into a panic over the whole thing.
But he’d instantly decided on making his offer to her at Icicle Inn after making a delivery there and seeing the fireplace, the cozy rug and comfortably stuffed couches in front of it. It had reminded him of Nibelheim, actually, but without the painful associations that came with that place. With the snowy mountains to play on during the day, and the warmth of the fireplace to snuggle by at night, there would only be fun, lighthearted times on the menu. He could imagine himself charming her as they made a snowman with the kids, impressing her with his moves as they carved a path down the mountain with their snowboards, and then sweeping her off her feet at night with his romantic proposal. So he’d booked a week in their nicest suite for him and Tifa, and an adjoining room for the kids.
Not that things ever worked out the way he imagined.
He was positive that if Tifa had known what he was planning, she would never have invited the whole gang to join them.
In the end he knew it was his fault for not thinking of the details- he hadn’t thought about how to get them all there, and they could hardly fit everyone onto Fenrir, especially since they would have snowboarding gear and overnight bags as well. When he’d told her about his holiday booking, her brow had furrowed as she pointed that out- and then cleared as she came up with the brilliant solution to the problem.
“Oooh, let’s go with Cid and Shera in the airship! He loves snowboarding almost as much as you do! In fact, why don’t we invite everybody? It’ll be so nice to get together again, don’t you think? Yuffie would just love that! Oh, Cloud; this is going to be such a wonderful holiday! I haven’t been boarding forever!” she’d cried, kissing him quickly and then dashing upstairs to start phoning people.
She hadn’t noticed the look of dismay on his face.
Everyone but Vincent had agreed to the trip immediately. But in the end Tifa had even managed to persuade him to come. He suspected she had threatened to give Yuffie his PHS number.
So here he was, finally making his way home after the last long day of deliveries, still mulling over how to make the proposal with the unexpected interference. The holiday season was always extra busy for the Delivery Service, with all the presents and greeting cards being sent. The fact that they were closed for a week also meant that people needed to get all their deliveries done early.
He didn’t mind bringing in the extra gil though- their little trip was going to be expensive and he didn’t want to have to worry about the expenditure. So he’d left the house at dawn every morning this week, and got back half frozen and exhausted late at night.
But he knew it was all worth it when he came home to the hot meal and bath that she had waiting for him, when she would welcome him home with a kiss even though his icy hands made her shiver.
The thought of that made him smile as he navigated the icy roads under the stars, helped him focus on the ride despite the numbness in his fingertips and mounting weariness.
He could hardly wait to see the smile on her face when he finally asked her.
They were both amused that the kids didn’t need to be woken the next morning- they all but exploded down the stairs before Cloud had finished his morning coffee. (“Happy Holidays! Happy- Aaah presents! Look at all the presents!”) Barret was certainly not as chipper after the rude awakening, nursing a slight hangover from indulging in a bit too much Corel wine as he’d talked with Tifa and Cloud the previous night.
He’d arrived earlier in the evening, and they had reminisced and chatted once Cloud had gotten home, just like in old times. In comfortable familiarity, Tifa counted the night’s take as the two men labeled and wrapped parcels for the children at the table together after the bar was shut. He had to admit it was nice to see how much Cloud had relaxed, how luminously happy Tifa was now.
He hadn’t liked the idea of them “havin’ relations” at first. He’d descended on 7th Heaven with a vengeance after Marlene had let it slip that they’d found Tifa in Cloud’s bedroom the morning after they’d officially become a couple.
“Well, how do you think we felt, Barret? Ashamed, embarrassed, terrified that we’d traumatized them…”
“Ye did! Marlene said they heard strange sounds! An’ you slammed the door in her face! What if it caught her fingers, huh?”
“She would have seen us if Cloud hadn’t acted so quickly!”
“So you were goin’ at it even though the kids coulda caught ya!”
“It was the first time we’d- we’re not proud of it! I know we weren’t thinking, but-“
“I don’ want my baby girl-“
“Barret. Are you going to take Marlene with you then?”
Cloud’s quiet question had brought an abrupt end to the heated confrontation. Barret had shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to let go of his righteous indignation, but unable to threaten to remove Marlene from their care either.
“The fields ain’t no place for a little girl- but I don’ want her bein’ exposed to any funny business either! An’ now you two are sharin’ a room-”
“It won’t happen again. We made a mistake, and we’re sorry. But they didn’t see anything, and you know we’ve been careful ever since.”
Another tense silence before Barret found more fuel for his argument.
“So you still been-“
“It’s been a long time coming, Barret, and we’re not going to give up on this.” Cloud spoke quietly, but there was no mistaking the steely determination in his eyes.
“We’re adults, with adult needs. We love the children, but we love each other too. It’s not a matter of one or the other, Barret,” Tifa added more calmly, heartened that Cloud was adding a voice of reason to hers.
“It should be!”
“But it isn’t! Or kids would never have brothers and sisters. Think about it, Barret. It’s just what normal families are like.”
He did, and then sat back reluctantly, glaring at the two of them.
“Fine, but I still don’ like it. Not fair when you two gang up on me, arguin’ neither.”
Tentative- but slightly smug- smiles appeared in response to that complaint.
“Comes with the territory."
Now Barret winced at each high-pitched exclamation from the kids, wishing that he’d asked Tifa to set up his pallet in her old room- now the mailroom- instead of downstairs. He’d wanted to be safely away from the sounds of any “relations,” but he’d drunk enough last night to fall asleep quickly and deeply, and he hadn’t counted on the noise factor in the morning. He soon gave up repeating, “Uncle Barret’s got a headache,” in increasingly gruffer tones from his prone position on the pallet, and asked Marlene for a look at her new earmuffs. The present unwrapping at the tree wasn’t going to finish anytime soon, and he supposed it was his own fault for indulging in a bit too much wine the previous night.
So he tried to drown his hangover in coffee as he sheepishly joined the family among the discarded wrapping and ribbons, layers of pink fluffiness finally shielding his eardrums from the shrillest sounds. He had to admit it felt good to see Marlene in such high spirits, squealing as she opened her presents, and dancing with joy when they oohed and aahed over the gifts she had given.
“Daddy! You look silly with those on! Look, here’s your present from Tifa and Cloud! Open it! Open it!”
“Ok, ok, gimme a minute.”
She suddenly stopped in her tracks, sniffing.
“You didn’t brush your teeth last night, did you?”
He frowned at her indignantly scrunched up nose, Tifa’s hastily muffled giggle and Cloud’s bark of laughter. Denzel looked up from his half open present, wondering what had brought about the sudden burst of hilarity.
“Might’ve forgot. It was late. An’ I’m gettin’ old, you know.”
She shook her head disapprovingly, but shrieked with laughter when he pulled her close for a whiskery kiss on the cheek anyway. It was nice to spend time with his little girl, even if she nagged as much as Tifa did sometimes.
The pancake breakfast that Tifa made helped to settle the last of his hangover, although he remained grateful to the earmuffs, because Denzel and Marlene were still almost too excited to eat, still prone to outbursts over the new toys (“Look! It can stand up by itself! See?”) and the start of the long anticipated trip to the mountains. He watched Cloud and Tifa direct their excessive energy through the tasks that needed to be done that morning, nursing his last cup of coffee and folding up his blankets as the household ordered itself around him.
Cloud made sure that the new presents were added to their bags after getting them dressed and ready as Tifa took care of the dishes. Then Tifa supervised getting the wrapping paper cleaned up, beds made and lights turned off as Cloud ferried their bags to the meeting point. When they finally all piled out the door, he was surprised when he noticed that they were actually going to be early for the pickup, instead of Cloud’s customary late arrival.
He wondered briefly how they could get all three adults plus two kids there early when it had been impossible for Cloud to get only his own ass somewhere on time before.
But he only wondered for a short time before admitting that it stumped him, and quickly dismissed his musings. It probably wasn’t important anyway, or someone would have told him.
As expected for Cid, the Shera showed up right on time, and the kids shouted when they saw her coming in. Riding the airship was like the cherry on top of a sundae for them- it started off the treat of the holiday with a bang. They’d gathered on the plains outside of Edge with all their bags and gear, all except Yuffie and Nanaki and his mate. He was looking forward to introducing her to all his old friends, and she was apparently quite keen to meet them as well. Cid had picked them up at Cosmo Canyon, and Cloud loved to tease Tifa about how curious she was about this mysterious addition to their extended family.
“You’d think he would have said something about having a mate!” she’d wailed after getting off the phone.
“She was in meditation or something.”
“Or something?” she’d huffed, disgusted with male inattention to things like sharing important details, “You knew?”
“Kind of. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll hear the whole story when he introduces us,” he’d said, grinning wickedly.
Being based out of Wutai, Yuffie lived the closest to Rocket Town and therefore had the longest ride. Her airsickness was even worse than Cloud’s though, so it was likely that they would find her onboard gagging and complaining in turns, or heavily tranquilized. Knowing how protective Cid was about his precious new airship, they all bet that she’d administered the latter herself, not wanting to risk the explosion that would come if Cid discovered a vomit stain on his deck. She’d recently started to develop a better sense of respect for other’s property- or perhaps merely a finer sense of self-preservation.
Cloud had already dosed himself, and yawned as he watched the airship approach. They’d prepared tranquilizers for the kids as well, in case they were also affected, but he hoped for their sake that they could enjoy the flight. He could picture the way they would explore the deck, squealing at the view from the windows and hanging onto Cid’s every word as he proudly explained the gears and levers. He wished he could enjoy it himself- but he was just going to take a little nap to avoid the nausea. They’d been up late catching up with Barret too, and he wanted to be refreshed and ready for the slopes. He grinned with the burgeoning excitement, despite being doped up.
Seven days of powder with awesome new snowboarding equipment would make anyone smile.
He and Tifa had treated themselves to new boards and gear, knowing that they would be investments for a lifetime. The artwork on each board was personalized, and he loved the statement that the gray on black board made. A sleek pack of wolves raced over the surface of his board, and the underside had another iconic representation of his signature symbol. He’d been so pleased by the results that he’d propped the board up against the desk just so that he could see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Tifa had laughed at him- and then promptly propped hers next to his.
It was ocean themed, all dolphins and waves in varying shades of blue. In the center of the board one dolphin arched and flipped out of the water in the same effortlessly acrobatic way she could. They both agreed that her board suited her just as well as his suited him, and he couldn’t wait to see her in action on it.
So it was with a certain reverence that he set the boards down in the storage area of the Shera, carefully placing their other bags so that they wouldn’t get accidentally scratched or damaged in any way. Silly, he knew, since they would get banged up once they were using them, but it didn’t hurt to be a little extra careful at first.
“Here’s the last one. Shera said Dinne and Nanaki are up in the control room with Cid,” Tifa said, tossing down the last bag hurriedly. “C’mon Cloud! Couldn’t you have taken it after we met her?”
“They sometimes take awhile to kick in,” he yawned, but he followed obediently as she tugged him out of the cargo hold, smiling sleepily. She was cute when she was nosy.
He fought off the lingering effects of the drug as they checked in, glad that Tifa was by his side to remember any details that he missed. They helped the kids settle into their room first, struggling to keep them on the boring task of putting clothes into dressers instead of pressing their noses to the frosty window.
“Why doesn’t it freeze into raindrop shapes if that’s what it is?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. It just doesn’t. Denzel, can you fold up the bag once you’re done with it?”
“Oh, yeah.” He hurried back to the empty duffel. “Where does that door go? Do we have two bathrooms?”
“It goes to our room. You can unlock it, if you want. Put the empty bag in here first though.”
Denzel complied quickly before scrambling over the bed to check out the new door.
“Hey, look Marlene! There’s another door! But I can’t open it!”
“Looks like we have to unlock it from the other side, too,” Cloud said, looking up from the heating vent he had opened.
“A door to another door! Door to door, double door, double dare,” Marlene sang, pushing in to try the catch herself.
“Hey! I was here first!”
“Marlene, if you’re done putting your clothes away, put the bag in the closet to finish.”
“No, I’m not finished yet,” she said, dashing back.
Barret and Yuffie poked their heads into the room then- they had managed to get rooms on the same floor and were already finished unpacking. (Or more likely, hadn’t bothered to.)
“Wanna learn how to make snow angels, Marlene? Daddy can take you out now!”
“Nanaki and Dinne are already out there. It’s her first experience with snow, so it should be fun. You guys too, huh?” Yuffie said, having watched the way they walked gingerly from the landing site to the hotel.
“Yeah! Tifa, can we?”
“We have snow pants!” Marlene offered, running over to the closet to get them. Tifa sighed as Marlene abandoned her task again, effectively distracted. It was always like this when Barret was around, but she couldn’t blame him for wanting to spend as much quality time with her as he could.
“We still have to get you guys rental gear, but if you come in when we need you to try on the boots it should be fine.”
“I’ll help them finish up here, Cloud. Can you start on our things?”
“Sure, Teef. Thanks guys. I know they really want to get outside. We’ll be down in a minute,” he said, smiling.
Yuffie tilted her head, bemused. Cloud sure was a lot nicer now. Still…
“No worries, chocobo head!”
He glared at her as he walked out of the room, words unneeded, and she chortled. Good to know she could still have her fun.
His annoyance evaporated when he opened the door to their suite. The huge window across from the door framed the big bed, fireplace and cozy rugs on the hardwood floor. Snow fell gently on the mountains outside. A smile tugged at his lips as he dropped the first bag in front of the dresser, surveying the room again with satisfaction.
Maybe the setting would be all right after all.
Denzel had obviously been keeping an eye out for them, racing back inside as soon as he saw Cloud and Tifa appear in the lobby so that he could watch the proceedings in the rental shop.
“You have an Alpine board, right Cloud?”
“Good for speed and carving, right? But only for experts,” Denzel said, looking at his own rental board a little wistfully. Both him and Marlene had child sized Freestyle boards, nowhere near as long and cool as Cloud’s. He knew from the magazines that they were the easiest boards to learn on, lighter and easier to control, but he desperately hoped that he could learn fast enough to have a board like Cloud’s next time.
Cloud ruffled Denzel’s hair affectionately. He’d been eight years old once, too.
“It took me a couple years to get good enough to use a racing board, Denz, and I was on the slopes every weekend during winter. Give it a few years. I’ll buy you a board once your feet stop growing, and then you can tell me if you want to learn to ride Alpine or not. It’s not as versatile as other kinds of boards. And you’ll go fast enough on even a Freestyle board that the first thing we’re going to teach you is how to stop.”
“Why doesn’t Tifa have a racing board? You said she was good at snowboarding.”
Tifa sputtered with outrage at that.
“I’ll have you know Denzel, that there is more to snowboarding than speeding down a mountain as fast as you can,” she lectured, incensed.
“I’m sorry Tifa, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, brows knitted with remorse.
“She’s right. And she isn’t good at snowboarding.”
“She’s absolutely amazing at it,” he finished, chuckling at the way her expression changed from appalled to embarrassed and flattered at the unexpected compliment.
“Oh…” she grumbled, punching him lightly in the arm. He’d managed to douse her outrage completely with that clever comment.
“I just thought you would have a racing board too,” Denzel explained, his eyes pleading, and she sighed.
“Oh, it’s OK. I’m not angry. I just don’t get boys and their need for speed,” she added drolly, rolling her eyes before she smiled. Denzel grinned back, knowing he was forgiven.
“Going fast is cool, that’s why! Right, Cloud?”
“I think so.”
“See, Tifa? I’ll get Marlene, OK? She’ll want to see the boards,” he said, and then raced out of the shop when they nodded. They watched him silently for a second before Cloud decided it would be worth it to finish his story.
“You know, I only went snowboarding every weekend ‘cause the girl I had a crush on did,” he said softly.
She was speechless for a second, turning to look at him with round eyes, spots of color appearing on her cheeks.
“She was the regional youth Freestyle champion. I think I fell in love with her the first time I saw her catch big air and pull a perfect 540 with a tail grab,” he murmured. “I remember the way she was smiling the whole way through. She was just the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. ”
“You never told me,” she said, blushing furiously.
“You’ve seen my memories.”
“Not all of them, obviously.”
“Well anyway, you know now,” he said, grinning as he leaned in, snagging her close.
“Since when did you become such a smooth talker, Cloud Strife?” she demanded softly, tiptoeing and lightly brushing her lips over his.
That did the trick of making him blush and revert suddenly to being tongue-tied.
“I’m not. I mean, I guess it’s easier around you and the kids,” he stammered, as thrown off balance by the compliment as she had been earlier.
“Well, I’m glad.” She sighed. “I’m sure Denzel is too, for saving him from my wrath! I guess I do get a bit oversensitive about being the less cool parent in his eyes,” she said, scrunching up her nose.
“He loves you, Teef. But he’s a boy. Any boy would rather be like his dad than his mom, right?”
That was the first time either of them had referred to themselves as parents aloud. And they both realized that a moment later, their eyes meeting in shock.
Just acting as parents was easier than saying it, somehow. As they regarded each other in embarrassed realization, they both laughed at how silly they were being.
“See? Still bad at talking,” he joked. They broke apart at the familiar sound of the feet and voices of the children, and a second later Denzel and Marlene burst into the shop.
“You got the boards already?” Marlene exclaimed, out of breath from running. There were traces of snow on their boots and on her mittens.
“Yup. Might as well try on the boots and attach the bindings while they’re both here,” Tifa said to the rental clerk.
He nodded, appraising the height of the two children in front of him. “So the smaller board is for your daughter, and the other for your son?”
Marlene and Denzel’s startled expressions turned into beaming smiles when Cloud and Tifa hesitated and then answered softly in unison.
They both exclaimed in shock when they opened the door to their suite, and hurried to remedy the problem. Their room felt especially cold after they had gotten so cozily warm lounging in front of the fireplace downstairs with everyone.
“Thanks for lighting the fire, Cloud. I can't believe it's so chilly in here! We should have remembered to open our own heat vents earlier. The bath will take forever to fill up,” she exclaimed, hurrying to the fireplace to warm her damp hands in front of it.
She still didn’t like to look at naked flames because of the memories they stirred, but fire had its uses. It would take a while to cut through the chill in the room, and she wondered how long it would be before she could show Cloud his surprise present without shivering. She could just imagine how shockingly cold the duvet would feel before they warmed it up with their body heat. She dug her toes into the sheepskin rug under her feet, already warm from its proximity to the flames, considering the possibilities. The bathtub was always fun, but they’d never tried it on a rug before…
“It was a good day, wasn’t it?” he asked softly as he joined her. He wished he’d remembered to open the vents earlier. She looked so pretty, standing there in the flickering light though, and he knew she didn’t mind, even if he could never get all the details right.
Memories of the day flashed into her mind, distracting her from her train of thought. She smiled when she thought of Denzel’s triumphant face as he finally learned the trick to turning. Marlene falling asleep in front of the fire downstairs, and Barret tenderly carrying her up to bed. Vincent’s rare smile as Yuffie whooped and Reeve pounded him on the back as they celebrated their victory in the snowball fight. Shera looking radiant as Cid gruffly announced that they were expecting. Nanaki twining tails with his Dinne as they all pitched in to relay stories about him. Cloud’s indulgent smile as the kids opened their presents that morning. His grin of undisguised admiration when she landed a flip; the sheer fun of pulling tricks as they wove their way down the mountain together.
“Yeah. A perfect day,” she breathed. She slid into his arms for a kiss; her eyes warm with appreciation. “I’m so glad you thought of this, Cloud. It’s the best holiday I’ve ever had- and to think that it’s just getting started! Although it might actually be more of a pain once the kids start getting better at boarding!”
She laughed, but broke off when he didn’t join her, obviously distracted.
“Yeah… Just getting started…” He suddenly brought his gaze up to hold hers, his eyes so vividly blue that she inhaled quickly.
“We’re pretty happy now, right Tifa?”
She tilted her head, startled by his seriousness.
“I- I think so…”
“But…there’s this one thing…that I think would make us happier…” he said, taking her hand and sliding down to one knee as he produced the box from his pocket. He smiled when he saw the dawning comprehension on her face.
“Will you marry me, Tifa? I promise I’ll try to make the rest of our lives just as happy. As a real family.”
He hastily stood again to comfort her when he saw tears welling up in her eyes, dismayed. He’d been so sure…
“Yes!” she gasped, jumping into his arms so eagerly that he staggered a bit. “Yes! Oh, Cloud!”
He kissed her back hesitantly; still a little anxious over the tears that were running down her cheeks, the hitching way her breath was catching.
“But…why are you crying?”
“Because I’m just so happy!” she cried, laughing, and he smiled with relief, thumbing the tears off her cheeks before they kissed again.
“I love you, Tifa…" he murmured against her lips. "I promised myself I’d never make you cry again…but I guess if they’re happy tears, it’s ok…”
“Oh, Cloud, I love you,” she whispered, and her tears did seem to sparkle like gems in the firelight, although they were eclipsed by the warm glow of her eyes and the radiant gleam of her smile.
Fire never evoked bad memories for either of them after that night. His memories would always be of the way she rose over him like a goddess as they loved, her skin and hair gilded by flames, the rings on her fingers glowing as symbols of the promises he’d made as she caressed him, regardless of the scars. For her, the way his eyes burned like embers as she revealed that she could still surprise him despite her eternal steadfastness, the reflected gleam of his eyelashes as they framed the ardent promise there, the way his hair looked like burnished gold between her fingers as they both lost themselves in the final, sizzling explosion. And even after the inferno had settled to a gentle glow, they found that the flames could be rekindled with just a gentle stroke.
Suffice to say that the fire was merely embers on the hearth, and the duvet was warm to the touch by the time they slid into sleep, bodies tangled comfortably together.
Author’s note: This chapter was primarily inspired by the scene from Crisis Core where Zack meets Cloud- a 15-year-old boy who laughs easily and has no troubles walking in snow. Combine that with Tifa's incredible ability for acrobatics and the snowboarding mini-game (and the fact that I finished writing this on a snowboarding trip) and a winter chapter with snowboards seemed obvious. The alpine/freestyle contrast also seemed to fit their characters and Nomura's belief that they are complements to each other.
Tifa’s understandable dislike of fire (mentioned at Cosmo Canyon) had me set the scene for that long-foreshadowed proposal. I hope it was romantic rather than unintentionally hilarious! I had a lot of doubts about how much cheese I could write without inspiring hysterical laughter- I was absolutely howling at some of my earlier drafts.