Title: Interlude (October)
Characters: CloudxTifa, Denzel, Marlene, Yuffie
Word count: about 2000
Summary: That euphoric cloud 9/7th heaven stage of relationships just makes everyone gag, you know...
To their consternation, their transition from friends to lovers became a hot topic for wagging tongues all over Gaia. Cloud Strife was well known all over the planet not only as a hero of the Jenova War and the Geostigma healings, but also as the delivery man that brought mail and packages in a time when traveling was difficult for most people. His arrivals in towns at all corners of Gaia were highly anticipated, because he brought news and supplies without having to rely on the increasingly scarce reserves of Mako energy, and monsters on the road never prevented his deliveries. However, he turned down more jobs in their first weeks of being a couple than he had in the entire time his delivery service had been open. He was reluctant to be parted from Tifa unless the job was perishables that really needed to be moved quickly.
Similarly, 7th Heaven’s customers noticed that the menu had become rather uninteresting, and that the barmaid now spent less of her time chatting to customers, and more in the company of her now oft-present boyfriend. Since many of them came to 7th Heaven to enjoy being served by the pretty, friendly woman with such spectacular -assets- their disappointment started to show in the flagging sales.
Many of them bemoaned their bad luck when they discussed the matter amongst themselves. After all, Strife had lived there for two years without making a move, which had led to a number of theories about his sexual orientation, mental health, visual acuity, and just plain idiocy. But no one wanted to have a misunderstanding with the man who had defeated Sephiroth twice, no matter how quiet and reserved he seemed as he took delivery orders, helped her behind the counter or cared for the orphans they lived with. And it was hard to begrudge the glowingly contented, happy expression she wore constantly now, although it was annoying that the menu of the same few quickly thrown together dishes remained up for awhile. So business dwindled at dinnertime, although the regulars still sometimes came in for a drink later.
The kids too were all for Cloud and Tifa being happy, even if they were acting a bit stupid, but they had finally had enough after a couple of weeks of the same fare. The bar was deserted even though it was the usual time for the dinner rush, and Tifa had just served them the same meal that they had already had three times in the past week. She was eating with them because there were no customers, but she hardly seemed to notice what she was chewing, her red-brown eyes dreamy and unfocused as she reflected on the drive they had been on that morning.
She’d gone with him on a delivery trip to Kalm, snuggled up against his back as they’d zipped across the countryside. On the way back, they’d made a “rest” stop in a field of flowers…
“Salad AGAIN? No wonder the regulars are starting to go to other places, Tifa. Even Johnny’s Heaven has got more interesting food than us these days!” Marlene’s complaint broke through her reverie, and the girl poked the offending dish in front of her with a finger and refused to pick up her fork.
Tifa flushed and shot a guilty look at Denzel, who looked away quickly and shrugged. He would never complain about the food, too happy that he got to eat at all after his stint as a street kid, but Marlene had no such compunctions, having been spoiled by Tifa’s cooking for most of her life.
“I don’t mind it…but I guess the customers care. I mean, we haven’t had as many customers lately…and Cloud only ever has us chart a couple of routes nowadays because he has almost no deliveries either…are we going to be ok with money?” he asked worriedly, and Tifa felt a rush of guilt.
They’d been neglecting the children too, she realized, so blissfully engrossed in each other that they’d lost sight of everything else. She should have known that Denzel would worry about their finances, knowing about his struggles while homeless. And Marlene had always been fussy about vegetables, so she was usually more creative in her attempts to get her to eat them.
“I’m sorry guys… we haven’t been paying much attention to anything lately, have we?”
“You’ve been paying lots of attention to each other!” Marlene piped up, grinning mischievously. Tifa’s furious blush amused her enough that she forgot about her hatred for salad for a moment, taking a hungry bite before continuing. “Daddy says it’s good that Cloud finally has his brains where normal men have them.”
She paused, perplexed, as Tifa choked.
Barrett, I am so going to have to kill you…
“What does that mean Tifa? His brains are still in his head, right?”
Tifa scrambled desperately for a moment, until her gaze focused on the pink ribbon in Marlene’s hair. Then she relaxed and smiled again.
“It means that Cloud doesn’t worry about sad things so much anymore,” she said with gentle conviction. Marlene’s brows came together as she threw Tifa a suspicious look- she could have sworn she was evading again- but thought that this explanation rang true.
“I think he is happier too. But both of you are acting kind of silly now that he’s your boyfriend, you know,” she admonished, and Tifa laughed.
“I suppose that’s true. It’s hard not to be silly when we’re both so happy. But we’ll try harder from now on, I promise. In fact, I’ll call Cloud right now and see if he can’t bring me home something interesting to cook with tomorrow. Wutai, right?” she asked Denzel, who nodded and smiled. He always knew his hero’s schedule off by heart.
“Tell him to bring home stuff to make dumplings! And noodle soup!” Marlene said eagerly, grinning.
“Well, Denzel? Any requests?” Tifa said, flipping open her phone.
“If it doesn’t cost too much…”
“We have enough, don’t worry. Cloud’s saved up a big nest egg,” she said reassuringly, although as soon as she thought of it, she realized she’d never been told what it was that he had actually been saving for.
She flushed as she recalled that incredible first night in his arms. It had certainly distracted her. Even spending some of that money on the new bed the next day hadn’t reminded her to ask about it- she’d been too focused on what they would DO on that new bed, after all. She would have to remind herself to ask him when he got home.
Cloud was relieved by the distraction when his phone went off. It was annoying to have a lecture of any kind from Yuffie, but what was worse was when she was actually making sense. She was pointing out how he was being really irresponsible ever since he started “doinking Tifa.” People were starting to worry, because now they weren’t sure about how or when they could get things delivered, although they had come to rely on him.
He had been feeling guilty about this for a while, but had found it harder to promise to spend hours away from Tifa than to shrug off the guilt for being selfish. Spending their mornings together had become a new kind of routine that they both reveled in, and he quite resented the responsibilities that forced them to cut their time short. Being with her had always made him feel confident and happy, but the newfound intimacy and pleasure that came with this new aspect to their relationship made him want to spend every moment with her. Not only exploring and enjoying the physical rewards that he was now so keenly aware of, but also sharing thoughts and feelings with a freedom and security that he had never felt before.
He cared deeply about so many people, his friends, his family. He loved them enough to lay his life down for them, and had been willing to do so in the past. But being IN love was different…
Yuffie’s tirade stopped with a shrill squeal of outrage as he flipped open his phone, pointedly turning his back on her. However, the faint blush and the smile that came once he saw the caller ID ruined his cool act a little.
“Hey, what’s up?” he asked softly, a little embarrassed that the nosy ninja could overhear the tender note in his voice, but striving not to care too much.
“Hey... Just wanted to make a request before you got to Wutai,” she said, and he grinned. He could tell she was blushing and smiling too. The grin disappeared as Yuffie refused to be ignored.
“Hey, is that Tifa? Geez, can’t the two of you give it a rest already? You were just with her a few hours ago! She needs a talking to as much as you do, Cloud! Here, give me the phone-“ she said, and Cloud glared as he dodged her snatching hands.
“I’m already here. Yuffie says ‘Hi’,” he said dryly, smacking one of her hands away with a scowl.
“Oh! You sure got there quickly. Tell her ‘Hi’ back. Maybe she can give you some advice about my request, actually.”
“I drove faster than usual. Wanted to make time for a stop in Rocket town before I go home. Have to pick up something,” he said with another annoyed swat, “Yuffie, we’re trying to have a conversation. You can wait until we’re done if you want to talk to her so badly.”
She huffed, but stopped grabbing for the phone.
“Fine, as long as you don’t take off, chocobo-head. I’m not wasting MY minutes when she has it coming.”
“Yuffie wants to talk to me?”
“More of a lecture than a chat,” he warned, giving the petite ninja a wary look as she crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently.
“Oh,” she said hesitantly, “that’ll be my second one today. It wouldn’t happen to be about you, would it?”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
“You know, the kids have noticed we haven’t been working much lately.”
He fell silent again, wrestling with his emotions. She waited, knowing what he was like. Finally, he blurted, “We’ve both waited so long for this. I need- I just want-“
He broke off, glaring at Yuffie’s wide eyes and evil grin. It was hard enough to talk about his feelings without somebody avidly listening in.
“I know. I feel the same way. And Yuffie’s there, huh? Why don’t we talk about it when you get home, OK?”
He smiled and relaxed at the warm emotions and images those words evoked.
“Yeah. That sounds like a better idea. You wanted me to bring you something?”
“The kids request, actually. Dumpling wrappers, ginger root, and Wutainese mushrooms and noodles. I’m under orders to make a more interesting dinner menu tomorrow,” she said with amusement. He could hear the cheers of Marlene and Denzel in the background.
“I’ll ask Yuffie where to buy them. I’ll probably be back really late. You’ll have to put the kids to bed,” he said, frowning. Jobs that required going to Wutai were a pain, but he didn’t get them often. The villagers usually consolidated their packages into one bundle for him, in order to split his courier fee between them. The price of living so far from the rest of Gaia.
“I know. It’s all right. We’re having another slow night so I can handle things. Still haven’t had a single customer,” she sighed, “The kids are right, I suppose. Be careful on the way home, Cloud. I don’t want you breaking your neck speeding home.”
He smiled again. She knew him too well.
“I will. Don’t wait up; we can talk in the morning. I don’t have any deliveries until the afternoon.”
“Mmm. See you later,” she said softly.
He smiled, knowing by her noncommittal reply that she would wait up anyway.
“See you later. Here’s Yuffie.”
A/N: I wrote this in the same month that I got married, and making the slideshow brought back so many memories of that first "completely crazy about you" phase. However, this is also the shortest chapter because of that, and the one least able to stand on its own in the project.