nrgburst: (Cloti manip)
[personal profile] nrgburst

Title: Triangles and Resolutions (February)
Fandom: FFVII
Characters: CloudxTifa, Denzel, Marlene, Barret, Reeve
Rating: PG-13
Word count: about 6200
Summary: Not all love triangles are romantic. And does being in one mean that somebody always has to lose?
 

 Cloud had had an epiphany of sorts as the New Year dawned. It had been the last night of the holiday, and everyone had been a little sad to part ways and go home again. Denzel had insisted on boarding until the lifts actually shut down, Tifa had sighed wistfully as she slowly dusted the snow off her board, and Marlene had dragged her booted feet and pouted every step of the way up to the room. Only to be expected after the non-stop fun of the holidays- all play and no work was infinitely preferable to boring old home.

But Reeve and Yuffie had managed to distract them by putting together a surprise New Year’s celebration for the hotel guests. They had gotten the entire Icicle Inn staff in on the festivities, and Yuffie had been in her element emceeing the event while Reeve organized it. Everyone had obediently gotten bundled up again and trooped outside after dinner, following Yuffie’s gleefully shouted directions delivered via a familiar old megaphone. It was fun to wander under the lights they had strung up, going from the snowman-building contest to the hot food and drink stands. Marlene had happily reported that hot chocolate could make anybody feel better, and their whole family had heartily agreed.

Dazzling figure skating performances had followed, with a surprise appearance by Cait Sith. Their whole gang had shouted and cheered when he skated out for his number, and Marlene and Denzel had been baffled by his sudden appearance- when had he gotten there? Marlene had remained slightly miffed that nobody would tell her, infuriating her further by teasing that she should remember.

But all had been forgotten when the fireworks burst into the sky at the end of Yuffie’s excited countdown. Marlene and Denzel had been captivated by the spectacle, and had stood watching gape mouthed and shouting as Barret kept a hand on Marlene’s shoulder, grinning. As each glowing burst blossomed across the sky, the audience below gasped and exclaimed in awe and appreciation.

Except for one couple, hands linked as they looked quietly up at the display, lost in thought.

The last time Cloud had seen fireworks had been on a date. It had been bewilderingly awkward for him. Aeris had enjoyed it, teasing him over his reticence, laughing as he’d blundered his way through that ridiculous show. He liked remembering her like that, even if her laughter had somehow always seemed to stem from a bit of humiliation for him. And then as the fireworks began, she’d begun saying things that had confused him at the time, about how he resembled someone else. That she’d realized he wasn’t actually Cloud.

And now he was here with the woman who had helped him back to being himself; the one he’d loved for almost as long as he could remember and had just promised to marry him- and it dawned on him.

He’d never even taken her out on a date.

His eyes were open, but he was so lost in thought that he didn’t see the brilliant display above them. Until he felt her squeeze his hand…

For Tifa, fireworks would forever be associated with realizing that she had lost. The empty rooms, that “one date” message that Aeris had let slip- she had put two and two together and then watched the romantic display from a window, bitterly disappointed in both herself and fate. She could hardly dare to turn and look at him now, although she could feel his warm hand in hers, and the still unfamiliar weight on her finger.

But then she’d squeezed his hand once she’d thought of how gloriously it had all turned out. None of that mattered anymore. The inscriptions said it all.

They’d both watched as another tiny flare shuddered upwards and then suddenly burst into a bloom of radiant streamers through the dark.

And then he’d pulled her close and kissed her until they could both see fireworks even though their eyes were closed.

He’d figure out a way to make it happen. He owed it to both of them.


His resolution got off to an inauspicious start. The year began with another week of early starts and late homecomings caused by the holidays. Belated gifts and cards, along with the backlog from the week off caused an upsurge in special deliveries. They all missed him that week, especially since they had just been spoiled with a week of seeing him all day. So Tifa kept them all busy with various tasks. Some were fun- (“Let’s make holiday photo albums for everyone!”) and some were not (“Alright, time for housecleaning, guys.”) but it was enough to keep them all distracted before the kids went back to school and Cloud could keep decent hours again.

And once life settled back to its normal pace, he and Tifa spent hours showing each other how they felt again, celebrating their engagement in private. And he could see the joy in her eyes, the contentment in her expression. She didn’t resent the lack of candlelit dinners or moonlit strolls or diamonds on her ring. She reveled in the stolen mornings in bed, in laughing together when one of the kids said something unintentionally hilarious, even pressed a kiss to his shoulder once when they did the dishes together. He couldn’t help blushing and grinning when he saw her admiring her ring.

For her, this was all she wanted, more than enough. And he was happy, too. Waking up next to her every morning still gave him a warm jolt of pleasure, hearing her cry out his name in her ecstasy drove him absolutely wild, and thinking that they could spend the rest of their lives like this made him grin like a complete idiot.

But he wanted, perversely, to give her more.

So he mulled over it as he went on deliveries. He imagined what life would be like without the bar, or the kids. He tried out possible solutions and date scenarios in his head.

The problem with thinking of how to take Tifa out was that he always ended up dwelling on the date part. One of these days his fantasizing was going to earn him an injury that his reflexes couldn’t save him from. Monsters always had a knack for attacking just when he got to the good part.

But it wasn’t long until other, more serious issues became the focus of his thoughts as he made his deliveries.


All of Gaia was abuzz once they reminded Reeve about the healing pool in the church. As Commissioner of the WRO, he poured money and manpower into ridding people of the fatal illness, and its popularity subsequently reached an all-time high. Reeve kept inviting his old friends to join, knowing about Cloud’s natural gift for being a leader and how much people looked up to Tifa as a role model. He needed officers he could trust and people respected to help train and direct the new recruits.

They found the noble cause- and the flattery- hard to resist, and thought and talked about it a lot for a couple of weeks. Their lives were busy, and having a 9 to 5 work schedule -with paid overtime- was tempting. But they enjoyed their jobs and they were doing well enough that the salary that Reeve offered was not as impressive as it would have been a few months ago.

Many of their friends had already agreed to help him out. Yuffie popped into 7th Heaven whenever Reeve brought her in as a freelancer. She did a bit of everything, whether it was teaching self defense to the fresh recruits, or intelligence work that required her ninja skills. Cid’s new crew and ship had also been recruited to bring the most acute or hard to reach cases to Midgar, while Barret had joined the legion of Shadowfox drivers that would bring in others that were too poor, isolated or ill to make their own way. The ferry from Costa del Sol and the train from Junon were operating at capacity as the victims that could travel on their own made the pilgrimage. It wasn’t uncommon to see the newly healed in Edge, celebrating their renewed health before heading back home.

But in the end they both decided not to- people would have troubles staying connected without Strife’s Delivery Service, and 7th Heaven was its center of operations as well as a community fixture. Reeve was disappointed, but agreed with their reasoning. He admitted that he’d forgotten how important their own work was, being so intent on having the best people help him do his.

They all enjoyed the fact that a lot of the old gang was working together again. Barret was immensely satisfied to be there, saving lives. He would often think of that little girl in the potato village, and be grateful that he had the chance to make a difference now, at least. It would never cease to amaze him, that look in people’s eyes once that black scar melted away. The smiles and thanks they gave him for doing this job made him feel like a real hero.

He was sorry to leave the oil fields he’d been working, the men he’d been leading, but they were at the pumping stage anyway. They didn’t really need him to help with that, and he preferred to search for new oil fields anyway. Something that only a strong fighter like him could do. Reeve had asked him to continue doing that with the WRO once the need for Stigma healings dropped off. And since WRO headquarters was so close to Edge, he could see his little girl more often. Only a fool would have turned down a job offer like that.

So it was inevitable, really, that he would finally realize he had a rival.

And hell hath no fury like a huge man with a gun arm…


“What the !&# does this say?”

The others seated at the table all jumped at the unexpected roar of fury.

Sunday dinner was always special because it was their night off. Tonight, Tifa had decided on having hot pot. It was perfect for a number of reasons; hot, nutritious food went well with the cold temperatures outside; she didn’t have to cook for once, just wash and cut up the ingredients; and she could use up a bunch of leftover ingredients all at once.

So the five of them were seated around the table, putting choice looking tidbits into the simmering broth until they were cooked, and then eating them with sauce. It was a little crowded, but if Marlene or Denzel couldn’t reach the sauce they wanted or something that was on the opposite side of the pot, she or Cloud would fetch and pass it. Barret had joined them for dinner as well, because his new quarters at the WRO were just a short drive away now. He had spent the day furnishing his WRO apartment, and he’d promised to take them all out to see it next weekend.

It was nice to sit down together, sharing anecdotes about the happenings of the week. Tifa shared a joke one of the regulars had told her. Cloud talked about how they were setting up special windmills to power an energy grid near Junon. Denzel had a funny story to tell about what had happened while playing at his friend’s house yesterday. Barret was looking through Marlene’s school things, telling her how smart she was with each grade and glowing comment he saw. Marlene was near to bursting with pride, and related how difficult the quiz had been (“Miss Wilson used trick questions.”) and read aloud her ‘A plus’ poem. All in all, a pleasant Sunday night.

Tifa certainly hadn’t anticipated an explosion of temper at the table, and the bubbling contents of the pot and the flames under it shook dangerously. Denzel’s bowl dropped to the floor with a wet smash, and Tifa upset her glass at the sudden shout.

“Barret, what in blazes-“

He stared at the words on the offending sheet of paper for a moment longer before he erupted.

“I’m gonna kill your spiky ass!” he shouted, his chair clattering to the ground as he brandished his arm, the metallic hand changing before their eyes.

Cloud blinked in bewilderment, then swore and sprang for his swords across the room when Barret leveled his gun arm at him, obviously dead serious. There was a sudden scramble for cover.

But they’d both forgotten the other fighter at the table, and he'd only managed to complete the transformation before Tifa decked him.

“Have you lost your mind?” she cried, fists at the ready in case he dared to raise his arm again, “In front of the children! In our home!”

“Daddy, what are you doing?” Marlene shrieked, shaking off Denzel’s restraining arm. He’d dragged her out of the way and tried to cover her small body with his, but she was in too much of a fury to be anything but annoyed with him for getting in her way.

“That’s right! I’m your Daddy! Who wrote “Cloud Strife” where it says Father on this form, huh?”

Everyone froze at those words. The bubbling of the hot pot was the only sound in the room for several seconds.

Then Marlene tore upstairs, sobbing.

Cloud’s mouth fell open.

Why did his relationships always have to end up as triangles?


It had just happened so slowly, without any bells or fanfare, that really, nobody had noticed.

The thing was he’d had been uncomfortable with Marlene at first. Her exuberant affections and utter girliness had been as foreign to him as the ocean to the desert bred. He had cringed inwardly over the strident way she would insist on getting what she wanted and how helpless he would feel if she started crying. He’d turned her over to Tifa a lot when they had first started living together, confounded and harassed. But over time, especially with Denzel as a moderating influence, he’d gotten used to her, and she to him.

He still didn’t consider himself her closest confidante- her secrets belonged to either Tifa or Denzel- but he could admit that he liked the little talks they had. They weren’t the giggle sessions that he would see her and Tifa huddled in, or the loud, excited play that she shared with Denzel. But he had learned how to tease her now, how to comfort her if she was upset. He didn’t think twice about crouching and holding that small body against his if she needed a hug now, nor she of telling her stories to someone else instead.

He thought part of it was also just Marlene growing up- it was just easier to deal with her as the months passed.

He would certainly never claim to be a good parent. He still checked with Tifa on things like appropriate snacks and screwed up sometimes. (“Cloud! You have to check the pockets before throwing it in the wash!”) But he didn't mind taking responsibility for what needed to be done day-to-day, splitting the tasks with Tifa.

He supervised as she did her homework at night, tucked her into bed and shook her awake in the morning. He bought her new school supplies at need or treats on a whim, and had even taken her out coat shopping once, when Tifa had been busy doing something with the wine in the cellar. He talked to her firmly but calmly when she was having a tantrum or being naughty. He praised her warmly when she’d been especially clever or good. He took pride in her progress at school and enjoyed the sweetness of her company.

The same things he did with Denzel, really.

But Denzel didn’t have another legal father at the moment.

One who was rather incensed that she had asked Cloud to attend parent’s day, and that thinking nothing of it, Cloud had said yes.

So now he was standing across from Barret, feeling half guilty and half defensive, wondering if it was wise to put down his sword yet. He should probably just offer not to go- but some ornery part of him kept him from uttering the words, even though it might calm Barret down. Denzel had positioned himself between them, pretending to clean up the broken crockery, but glancing nervously at Barret as he slowly picked up the pieces. Tifa had given them warning glares before running upstairs after Marlene.

Barret looked as though he was torn between raging and being upset- the guilt in his eyes was obvious. They all looked hopefully at the stairs as footsteps sounded.

Tifa shook her head as she emerged and looked at the two men facing off across the room. Her mouth was set in a determined line.

“She says she isn’t hungry anymore. Why don’t you two-“

Barret roared and stormed out, slamming the door, and Cloud looked away angrily when she pinned him with a glare.

“Cloud!”

“I’m not going after him! I haven’t done anything wrong!”

That deflated her instantly, and her face softened.

“No,” she said reflectively, “no, of course you haven’t. That’s the problem.”

They all heard the sound of an engine starting outside, and then the splatter of gravel.

Sunday dinner ended up as a quiet affair that week.


Marlene was intractable and uncooperative for the next few days. She threw tantrums over her homework and picked fights with Denzel. She was subdued when waitressing, and forgot orders. She would sometimes get such a guilty look on her face when she looked at Cloud that he cursed silently to himself. She attached herself to Tifa again; insisting on sleeping with her a couple of nights even, and confessed that she was really confused.

She thought maybe she should have put her Daddy’s name down instead, but she’d just thought of Cloud first. Was she being bad? And if she wasn’t, as Tifa assured her, then why was Daddy so mad? Why did he want to kill Cloud? Why wouldn’t he answer the phone? She knew she’d made a mistake now, but she couldn’t even say sorry.

She didn’t understand why Tifa kept calling her Daddy a big baby, and looked mad herself. She also didn’t answer most of her questions. But it was comforting to snuggle against her, feel Tifa’s hand smoothing her hair. And she was sure that Daddy wouldn’t get mad at her for loving Tifa.

It was a trying week for all of them.

Her teacher sent a note home Thursday, asking why her star pupil was suddenly having a hard time paying attention in class. Marlene had also forgotten forms and left assignments unfinished- had there been a death in the family? Tifa showed it to Cloud wordlessly when he got home, and he sighed and looked over at the little brown haired girl.

Marlene looked more like her usual self as she animatedly described the special to her customers. Time had taken the edge off, and life went on. But it broke his heart to see that little shadow appear on her face at times.

He and Tifa had spent one morning discussing whether they should give up Marlene to Barret’s care, now that he was living close to the school and had regular work hours and a regular apartment. It might soothe the ruffled feathers; assuage the guilt that had stared out of his eyes. They both knew that if he decided to take care of her himself, they would have little legal recourse. Her last name was Wallace for a reason- Barret had changed it when he had adopted her.

But it would be hard on them. It just felt like she was their child now too, and Denzel’s sister. Imagining their home without her left him with an ache in his chest. Tifa had pointed out the other reasons they should keep her as well, wondering aloud about how Barret would feed her, whether there were other children in the WRO apartments that she could play with. Surely Barret wouldn’t pull her out of their family?

Neither of them could answer that question.

Cloud sighed with relief when he saw Reeve walk in the door. He could use some advice from a friend. It wasn’t that busy, so he told Denzel he would take the Commissioner’s drink order to him.

“Why so glum, Cloud? You’re not usually so moody these days,” Reeve commented when Cloud slumped into the seat across from him after setting down his usual glass of wine.

“Triangles. They’re the bane of my existence.”

“And here I thought it was silver haired men.”

Cloud had to smile at that. “Well, if you want to state the obvious…”

Reeve had some idea of what was coming. Barret had been extra touchy after his weekend off in Edge, and kept muttering about “his little girl” or “needed to figure things out, that’s all.” He’d refused to accompany Reeve into Edge for dinner, and anyone who would pass up Tifa’s cooking in favor of WRO canteen food was obviously upset about something.

“This have to do with Marlene, then?” he asked softly.

It was sometimes startling when Cloud stared you full in the eye with those strange Mako eyes.

“Barret told you?”

“No, not in so many words. He just seemed upset about something that happened over the weekend. Muttered to himself about his little girl. I put two and two together.”

“I just…she’s my kid now, too. It’s just been that way for two years, it wasn’t on purpose- it’s not like I don’t think he’s her Dad!” He lowered his voice again, wincing when he saw neighboring customers glance over. “Marlene’s pretty upset. He hasn’t called her since, either. It might be best to just ask him to take care of her from now on, but Tifa and Denzel and I… I don’t know… It’s not normal for a kid to have two dads, is it?”

Reeve shrugged.

“It’s not unheard of. I knew some families like that in Midgar.”

Cloud blinked.

“Really?”

Reeve smiled, knowing that some of the family structures he was familiar with would absolutely blow a country boy like Cloud away. So he gave a less unusual example.

“Not every couple stays together, Cloud. Sometimes parents divorce and remarry. Having two fathers is not as uncommon as you may think. I’ve seen some really complicated family trees in my time, especially when I was working in housing.”

“Wouldn’t that screw up the kid?”

“Does being loved and cared for by responsible adults screw up kids? I suspect it to be quite the opposite. Don’t sell yourself short, Cloud. I think you’re doing a great job with Marlene.”

Cloud flushed, nodding stiffly. There was something in that warm and rational way Reeve talked to people that made it hard to argue.

Reeve considered the younger man solemnly, glanced at the woman working behind the counter. Worrying about custody and questioning the quality of their parenting were hardly normal activities for people their age. His own early twenties had been downright hedonistic in comparison. He knew Cloud was twenty-three, and that Tifa was a couple years younger. While on holiday, he’d noticed how eagerly they had set off for a couple of runs on their own once they were sure that the kids would be supervised in their absence. The affection and pride they felt for them was obvious, but it must be hard sometimes. There were no doting grandparents or aunts to give them some time off from that 24-hour job.

Maybe it was time someone arranged a chance for them to take a break.

“You know, Cloud,” he said slowly, “with my background in urban design, I have to protest your poor opinion of triangles. They really are vitally important shapes.”

Cloud shot him a puzzled look. Reeve explained, diagramming his thoughts with a finger.

“If a frame is stressed or unstable, the easiest way to reinforce it is to add a triangle to it. Basic architecture.”

“Huh?”

“What I think you need- is another triangle.”

Cloud couldn’t understand why Reeve was suddenly on an entirely different topic.

“Reeve, we aren’t building anything.”

“Aren’t you?” He chuckled. He couldn’t help thinking about that adage about blonds. “Forgive me. Ah, Tifa, what is that wonderful smell tonight? I couldn’t understand the menu board.”

“Hello, Reeve, it’s good to see you.” Her eyes held a question, but he shook his head and she sighed. “Well tell him it’s Corel curry tomorrow, anyway. If that doesn’t bring him in, we’ll go after him ourselves. Mee Goreng is basically a fried noodle dish. Well, an attempt at it. Couldn’t seem to get it just right, although we got the ingredients from the new settlement. It still tastes good, I think- just not the same as what we had.”

“Some of the vegetables they usually use were lost when half the island went down,” Cloud offered apologetically.

“Well, since I’ve never been to Mideel in person, I can offer you an unbiased opinion on how good this new dish is.”

“I’m counting on it. I’m a bit worried that it’s the taste, but I think we aren’t having our usual crowd tonight because Mideel food is just too foreign for most folks around here. Still, it’s nice to have a bit of a break.”

Reeve chuckled to himself, causing them both to give him puzzled looks.

“I was just thinking that myself,” he explained, eyes twinkling. “Now, what does it take for a hungry man to get a meal around here?”

“Usually an order,” Tifa said dryly, smacking him lightly on the shoulder.

“Coming right up, Commissioner,” Cloud chuckled, standing. “Speaking of breaks, can the kids join you for dinner?”

“Send them over,” he said, waving and settling back with a sigh. Exotic food with a side of playground gossip and a lovely glass of wine. What else did a man need to take his mind off of work?


Barret Wallace was angry, but he forced himself to do crunches to try to work it off, knowing that putting holes in this ceiling would not only piss off his neighbors- it would probably cost him his job as well. He’d hit on the idea of building up his abs to ease his feelings tonight. He liked that WRO motto: Constructive, not just destructive.

He’d spent the remainder of Sunday night destroying a few monster nests around Edge, but he’d realized that he couldn’t just go around searching for fights now. He had an important job. He had to get these sick people to Midgar. And in the quiet solitude of the Shadowfox cabin, he’d been forced to really think about the past couple of years as he drove.

It had made him uncomfortable to look back at his actions. Sure, looking for oil was important. Without Mako, the world had all but ground to a halt. People had gone hungry, had struggled with those old and inefficient coal powered engines. Coal burned messy too- boiler men often developed a cough. So oil had been the best solution- not as powerful as Mako, but it burned cleaner and more efficiently than coal, especially after refining. People could get around again as a result of his efforts; generators gave power to homes all over Gaia now. Finding oil made lives better. He had to believe that.

But he’d neglected some other lives. And he’d come to the conclusion that the reason Marlene had written Cloud’s name on that form was because he had really left his job to the younger man. A couple of phone calls and occasional presents were not the same as being there everyday to read her a bedtime story and forking out the gil for new shoes when she grew out of her old ones.

He wished one of them had said something. He didn’t notice stuff like that, and Tifa and Cloud were just not the complaining type. He remembered the way Marlene had waved at him as he left, completely accepting of the fact that he was walking out of her life again. No protests or admonishments had been uttered as they saw him off. As if they’d all known that they couldn’t depend on him.

It made him wonder why they called him a friend at all, why she still kept calling. That knot in his stomach wasn’t just from all the crunches he was doing.

He lay back and opened up his phone, ignoring the flashing ‘mail received’ message as he studied the picture he’d set as the background. His little girl. She was so smart, so popular and pretty. Dyne had asked him never to make her cry.

And now he’d broken that promise.

The doorbell jolted him out of his self-recriminations, and he suspiciously peered out the peephole before he opened the door.

“Hey, Reeve. Thought you went to 7th Heaven for dinner.”

“I did. I’ve just gotten back.”

Seeing the sheer bulk of the man filling the doorway and that big metallic hand made Reeve wonder if he should have summoned Cait before ringing the bell. Barret was so volatile sometimes, and prying into family business was always best avoided. But he’d seen just how tired and unhappy all of them had been. The dark shadows under Cloud and Tifa’s eyes matched the bags under Barret’s.

And sometimes being a good friend meant that you had to risk foul tempers. So he spoke carefully.

And smiled when Barret reached out to grip his shoulder at the end of their conversation.


Marlene scampered forward automatically when the door opened at 7th Heaven. Friday nights were always busy, and she liked the smiles people gave her when she greeted them as the hostess. It was fun to be in the center of things, and Denzel didn’t like to talk to people as much as she did.

But she stumbled to a halt when she saw that it was her Daddy in the doorway. His face fell when he saw the hesitation on that little face.

But then she rushed forward with a wail, and he scooped her up, not caring that the whole place could see him crying.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry!”

“No, I’m sorry, Daddy!”

“No, it’s all my fault. I’m not fit to be your Daddy.”

“Don’t say that!” she shrieked, slapping him on the chest as she buried her face into his shoulder.

“I haven’t been around for you. But I’m gonna change that, startin’ today.”

He looked over to the bar, where Cloud was standing next to Tifa, both of them wrapping an arm around the other as they braced themselves for his next words. Denzel stood frozen in front of it, his eyes wide.

“Might be too busy durin’ the week, and someday I’ll be back out there searchin’ for oil again- but I’d like to spend my weekends here, if that’s OK. Help out with Marlene the way I should’ve before. I’ll never be able to thank you two for carin’ for her all this time. I’m sorry I been such a deadbeat.”

Tifa’s eyes filled with tears, but she smiled widely.

“Oh, Barret, don’t be silly.”

“I’m not. Sorry it’s taken so long. We’ll talk about it later, when you’re not so busy,” he said gruffly.

He patted Marlene’s back as her breathing calmed a little, starting to feel embarrassed that all the customers were staring transfixed at the scene.

“Don’t cry, Marlene. I gotta ask you to do something.”

She lifted her pink face from his shoulder, nodding and sniffing as she wiped at her eyes.

“Can you ask Miss Wilson if you can bring two dads to that parent’s day? I wanna go too.”

Cloud’s eyes widened. And he smiled and nodded slowly when their eyes met.

Maybe not all triangles ended up with somebody losing.


Cloud stayed downstairs in the bar with Tifa that night as Barret took the kids through the bedtime routine for the first time. Baths, toothbrushes and a story later, they were tucked in, although they were both a little too excited at the novelty of the experience to lie quietly. Marlene giggled as she got a good night kiss, and they whispered for a long while after he turned off the lights and closed the door, leaving it open just a crack as Cloud had instructed. Then he sat at the bar and enjoyed some well earned Corel wine, feeling satisfied as he exchanged stories with the regulars, chatted with Cloud and Tifa as they handled the bar work.

After the bar shut, they talked about the details of the new arrangement as he helped them clean up for the night, sweeping as Cloud cleared tables and Tifa got started on the dishes. They tried to refuse his offer of gil at first, but he argued them out of it. He was making a good, regular wage now, and it was time he started contributing to the family. He reminded them that he should learn to give and not just take, too. And they had a wedding to think of, and he remembered how expensive those were. His mind was made up, and so they relented in the end.

So there was just one more thing to take care of.

And Barret being Barret, he took the direct, no tact at all approach.

“Hey Cloud. You and Tifa ever go out on dates?”

Cloud stopped mid-wipe of a table, and Tifa’s head snapped up behind the bar.

“Barret!”

“But that’s what couples do. And I never seen you two go on one.”

Cloud had obviously decided to let Tifa do all the talking in this conversation, and just looked at her, cheeks flaming.

But this was hardly the easiest subject to talk about, even with their closest friend.

“We-we spend time alone together,” she stammered.

“I know that. What I mean is a date. Dinner. Dancing. Watching a movie. You know. Romantic stuff. C’mon, Spiky. Even a pretty boy like you musta taken a girl out before.”

Tifa went pale at that, and suddenly busied herself with the dishes, and Cloud looked at her helplessly and then down at the ground.

“Yeah, but…”

“Well, I guess I can watch the kids once in awhile. You know, since me and Marlene are gonna be havin’ more father daughter time anyway. So why don’t you two go out then?”

Cloud’s head suddenly snapped up again. Tifa looked just as stunned at the suggestion, her mouth open in an astonished "o."

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure. Why don’t you go Sunday? I got some catchin’ up to do.”

They were both suddenly smiling at him so gratefully that he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Jus’ keep it down when you get back. Don’t want the kids wakin’ up ‘cause you two are makin’ too much noise.”

So that was how Cloud kept his resolution. Every few Sundays he and Tifa would leave Barret and the kids and go out on a date. They would take the chance to dress up in nicer clothes and have a meal somewhere so that they could enjoy being served, for a change. They would try out new experiences like that jazz club on Edge Square, or strolling hand in hand through some airy museum. They would relish those after date kisses on the stairs, and if it was a dinner date, the incredible after date lovemaking.

After all, Reeve was right.

Triangles are useful shapes.


A/N: Yes, despite being a die-hard Cloti fan, I did get the Aeris date on my first playthrough. (Didn’t everyone?)

The way Barret fobbed off Marlene on Tifa and Cloud (and on Elmyra in the game) has always bugged me. That selfishness is pretty hard for me to stomach, having had a deadbeat dad myself. However, they are consistently presented as a trio in DoC, and as I got the idea of a Marlene/Cloud/Barret triangle, this chapter started brewing in my mind. So here is my little piece of social commentary, disguised as a fanfic.

 

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