Characters/Pairings: Cloud/Tifa, but a fair amount of ensemble vignette stuff too.
Summary: Tifa thinks about who is there so she doesn't have to think about who isn't.
Canon/Spoilers: Final Fantasy VII. Set shortly after Advent Children.
Warnings: None. Well, it's a bit WAFFy.
It's a quiet night. The best kind, as far as Tifa is concerned.
Yuffie has been and gone -- she goes out dancing a couple evenings a week, wearing a skirt so short she can't bend over (or rather, shouldn't bend over, although actually she doesn't let this stop her), and one of Red XIII's feathered clips holding her hair back from her face. The look hovers somewhere between rakish and ridiculous, and puts a time-limit on her bar-hopping activities, because they will only last until Red discovers the loss of his ornament and tracks her down to retrieve it. (He grumbles about it every time, but Tifa suspects he secretly enjoys the whole thing.)
Part of the reason it's quiet is that Barret hasn't gone back to the oilfields yet, and so there isn't the omnipresent clatter of Marlene and Denzel racing around upstairs. They had all three left early in the morning, to take Barret's groaning, retrofitted truck out past the wasteland to where the fields were fresh and blooming. She remembers Marlene, perched on one of Barret's broad shoulders, hollering, "Of course you're invited, dummy, do you think we'd leave you?" to a moderately bewildered but obliging Denzel.
One of the corner tables boasts three Turks. Reno comes in often -- purely to annoy her, she suspects, because there are plenty of other bars he could go to, and she annoys him back by being unfailingly pleasant. They're never going to be friends, there's a dropped plate between them making sure of that, but they're not quite enemies anymore, either. They buy expensive things and don't tip badly, and she doesn't exactly feel the need to throw them out. Reno usually drags Rude along with him, which is a bit odd because he's always so quiet when she brings him his drink (whiskey on the rocks, and the good stuff, too -- twelve-year aged Tynhauser) but quiet is better than a lot of things. Elena is there, too, as has been the case more and more often, nursing Wystyl Brewing Company's brown ale straight out of the bottle.
Three WRO employees have a table, and they're quite a bit louder than the Turks although still far from what a bartender would call rowdy. They're bitching roundly about the budget, the cost of repairs to the highway, the prevalence of mako-altered beetles and rats making repairs difficult, and the general irritation of life. Nonetheless, they're all laughing. That they're here is why Reeve won't be -- he says it's bad for employees to see their boss when they're out unwinding after a long day, and she can't say he's wrong. Nonetheless, she is a little sorry.
Cid will be around later -- he always stops by late, cadges gin and tonics, flirts shamelessly and without expectation, and tries to get drinks into Vincent, who reliably takes only wine and only one glass. This must be some kind of bizarre game they're playing, because she knows from experience that Vincent can put away a whole bottle of wine without thinking about it and without any apparent effect whatsoever. Whatever it is, she wishes Cid luck of it -- he's a stubborn old bastard, but Vincent is equally stubborn in his own silent way.
...and the truth of the matter is that she must be pretty stubborn too, because she's thinking so hard about who is here, or who will be here, because she doesn't want to think about who isn't here, and whether he will be, because things are -- things are better, but she's afraid to examine that too closely, for fear it will come apart in her hands.
Reno signals for another round -- another tequila-and-lime for him, another beer for Elena; Rude still hasn't finished his whiskey. She nods across the room and rises up on the tips of her toes to get the bottle down. As she's turning back, she sees the door open, there's spiky hair backlit by the setting sun. It isn't quite right to say that her heart leaps, because it's more like it uncoils. She finishes pouring Reno's third tequila as Cloud crosses the room. Cloud jumps the bar, lightly, to give her a kiss (miraculously without knocking anything over), and Reno, never passing up an opportunity to annoy her, wolf-whistles, but she doesn't care. Just doesn't care.
"Wasn't sure I was going to see you today," she says, letting him go reluctantly to pull Elena's second beer off the ice.
"I didn't have that many deliveries," he says. "And I wanted to get back." She grins like an idiot, can feel it, and can't bring herself to really care.
"I won't be off for a few hours," she warns, popping the cap off the bottle.
He shrugs. "I think I can wait," he says, and there's something in his eyes and voice that she can't put her finger on -- nothing huge, in fact something more important because it's not huge, but she was never good at talking about that sort of thing -- that was more Aeris' specialty. But the inner teenager jumps up and down and squeals, and she quashes it firmly, because she's an adult and this is her bar and some things one just doesn't do in public. He kisses her again, warm, not deep but lingering, and then vanishes behind the bar and she can hear the thump as he takes the stairs two at a time.
And if she smiles more that evening, teases Cid even more than usual and helps him attempt (with no more than usual success) to get a second drink into Vincent, and giggles helplessly at Yuffie's indignation and Red's smugness when he succeeds in tracking her down really rather early in the evening, well, she's entitled. And when she shoos the last lingering patron out of the bar and turns off the lights, and takes the stairs one at a time (because she'd been on her feet all day), and hears the sound of someone running a bath -- which is just exactly what her poor ankles need -- she thinks: this, yes, this is something I can work with.