Final Fantasy - All Series Fan Fiction ❯ Belated ❯ Belated ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Disclaimer: Definitely not mine; always returned to Square Enix after they’ve been thoroughly snuggled.

A/N: It was Tifa Lockheart’s birthday on May 3rd, and I forgot!  In honour of FFVII’s blushing brawler, please enjoy this piece of fluff.  Influenced by the numerous incidents in ACC and DoC where Cloud either gets heck for, or apologizes for, being late.

Fun fact: Japanese bathrooms in private homes/businesses are usually located on the first floor, as part of the laundry facilities.

Set during the year following DoC.

Contents: High enough doses of WAFF to exceed your Recommended Daily Intake.

Bouquets to my lovely betas, Kitsune13/TamLin and Ranuel; your new toothbrushes are in the mail.




Happy Birthday!”

“Happy Birthday!”

“What’s all this?”  Tifa pushed her dark hair out of her face, blinking muzzily as she sat up in bed.  A loaded tray was deposited in her lap by two bright-eyed children, who then piled onto the mattress on either side of her.  Scanning Marlene and Denzel’s offerings, prepared with love and enthusiasm if not ability, Tifa smiled and hugged both of them.  “Thank you!”

“And you’re keeping the bar closed all day, right?” Marlene demanded, bouncing a little as Tifa sampled the lightly-blackened toast.

Yes, the bar is staying closed,” Tifa patiently agreed, mentally adding another tally mark to the column of Marlene’s relentless reminders.

“Good!  That way you’ll be ready for Cloud’s surprise!”  The little girl practically wriggled with delight; she’d been that way since the swordsman had taken both her and Denzel into his confidence the previous day, before he left on an overnight delivery.  “When are you buying that thing I told you to?”

“This morning - since the bar is staying closed and all.”

Denzel peered at her through his bangs.  “I think it ought to be blue.”

Marlene instantly put her nose in the air.  “That’s such a boy colour!  Pink is prettier!”

“Cloud’s a boy,” Denzel argued.  “We like blue.”

I like Cloud’s blue eyes,” Tifa commented.  Smiling at Denzel, she said, “Maybe I can find something like that.”

“With pink trim?” Marlene asked hopefully, and Tifa laughed.

“Happy Birthday, Tifa,” came a soft voice, and a young girl with old eyes pushed the door further open with her foot, another tray in her hands.

“Thank you, Shelke.  Is that tea?”

“It certainly is.”  Pouring a steaming cup, Shelke handed it to the grateful woman.  “I shall go with you on this expedition.”

Awww!  I want to go, too!”

Tifa pinned the pouting child with a stern look.  “You’re not missing school because it’s my birthday, young lady.”  

Marlene briefly scowled, then gave in with fairly good grace.  “Okay – but you’d better be all pretty when we come home!”

“But... Tifa’s always pretty,” Denzel said in confusion.

“She’ll be especially pretty,” Shelke offered.

The boy shyly smiled.  “Cloud’ll like that.”


“I don’t know....”  

“You look stunning, Tifa.”  Watching the other woman hesitantly smoothing her hands over the shimmering halter dress and tug ineffectually on the modest hem, Shelke added, “It’s the same length as your shorts – in fact, it might be a bit longer.”

“Really?  It just seems... draftier.”

Shelke hid a giggle behind her hand.  “Because it’s a skirt, Tifa.  You used to wear a famously short one, or so I’m told.”

“Right.  Okay... it feels flimsier.  I keep wanting to put on more clothing.”

“Silk is definitely lighter than leather.  Looks more feminine, too.”  Shelke eyed Tifa’s long, slender legs, adorned by a pair of strappy heels.  “How do the shoes feel?”

“I can’t run or fight very well....”

Exasperated, Shelke fisted her hands on her hips.  “Neither of which you’ll be doing today.”

Tifa knitted her fingers together.  “I guess I’m not used to being... decorative.”

“Get used to it, birthday-girl – for one day, at least.”


Tifa didn’t have much time to feel like a porcelain doll for the next few hours, because almost as soon as the sign went up on 7th Heaven’s door proclaiming that the bar was closed for a private celebration, a constant parade of well-wishers bearing gifts began arriving.  A table and part of the bar’s countertop soon overflowed with baskets of fruit and vegetables, cheeses wrapped in tissue like fine china, fancily boxed sweets and many bouquets of flowers.

The owners of the market stalls where she bought food for her family and the bar, her liquor suppliers, the other shops and businesses on their street, plus all of their neighbours somehow knew it was her birthday; Shelke just smiled and shrugged, then cheekily implicated the kids.  A ribbon-bedecked keg of beer gifted by Junon’s most famous brewery had just been tapped when Yuffie turned up, while several of the market ladies commandeered the kitchen and produced trays of snacks.

Tifa found herself in the unaccustomed position of the guest of honour, seated at one of her tables, being waited on and fussed over; it was all a little overwhelming, but everyone was so kind and genuinely pleased that she slowly began to relax.  Her glass of chilled Banoran cider was always mysteriously topped up, and before she knew it, Tifa was more than a little giddy and thoroughly enjoying herself.

Even the arrival of a pair of grinning Turks escorting a large and very formal red-and-gold flower arrangement on behalf of Rufus Shinra didn’t dampen the festivities, especially since they were rapidly followed by a jovial Reeve bearing both Cait Sith and a case of vintage champagne.  Graciously kissing Tifa’s hand, Reeve raised a glass and stepped into the role of genial host in the man of the house’s absence.  Marlene and Denzel charged in the door half an hour later with a clutch of their friends in tow, adding their youthful energy to the happy hubbub – and keeping the tone family-friendly despite at least one of the Turks’ best efforts to rowdy things up.    

At one point, Denzel sidled up to Tifa; waiting for a lull in the conversation, he confidently told her, “You’re the prettiest lady on the Planet.”

“Thank you, Denzel,” she blushed.

“I can’t wait for Cloud to see you,” he breathed, his eyes shining.

The afternoon flew by, during which it seemed the entire neighbourhood came and went, and soon Marlene and Denzel began taking turns standing watch outside, obviously waiting for Cloud.  Barret rolled in, his arms full of parcels from Rocket Town and Cosmo Canyon, closely followed by Vincent.  The red-cloaked gunslinger looked askance at the enthusiastically celebrating room, solemnly expressed his good wishes and promptly vanished while Barret hoisted a mug and lead a round of cheers for the birthday girl.

As the crowd thinned, she noticed Marlene urgently whispering with Yuffie, who frowned lightly before nodding and disappearing outside, phone in hand.  “Is something wrong?” she asked the little girl, who rapidly shook her head.  

“Nope!  Did you try one of Mrs. Corletti’s almond cookies?  They’re awesome!”

However, just after the Turks were finally pried loose from the now-empty beer keg and sent on their way, it became obvious that something was awry.  The owner of the flower shop two blocks down, who had earlier been a guest, came hurrying in with a heavily swaddled floral arrangement in her hands.  “I’m sorry to intrude, Miss Lockhart,” she puffed, a little out of breath, “Your young man said he’d pick this up before closing, but he seems to have been delayed.  I’d hate for you not to have them, because he went to considerable trouble over them.”

As soon as Tifa unfolded the protective tissue, she knew just how much trouble Cloud had gone to.  “Oh... my....”

“He was most particular – gave my supplier fits, he did!”

“What is it, Tifa?” Marlene asked, scrambling up on the barstool beside her.

“Nibelheim lilies,” Tifa answered, displaying a cut-glass vase filled with delicately fragrant blush-pink blossoms.  Reverently brushing her fingertip beneath a pendant row of the dainty flowers and setting them to nodding, she continued, “They’re also known as ‘maid-of-the-mountain’, but my mom called them ‘Tifa’s lilies’ because they always bloomed around my birthday.”  A matching blush tinting her cheeks, she murmured, “How did he know?”

“So pretty!” Marlene sighed, then insisted that Denzel come over and sniff the posy.  “Aren’t these lovely?”

“They smell good,” he agreed, then looked adorably baffled when she rolled her eyes and huffed.

“Thank you so much for bringing them,” Tifa said to the florist, who beamed.

“My pleasure, Miss Lockhart.  Enjoy your evening!”  Gaily waving, the woman bustled off.

Barret refilled his glass and poured one for Vincent, who had reappeared as soon as the room emptied.  “Where the hell is Spiky, anyways?  He shoulda been here afore now.”

“I’m sure he’ll be home soon,” Shelke assured.

“Hmph.  The fool’ll be late to his own funeral.”


Another hour passed, and still there was no sign of the swordsman.  Calls to his phone went straight to voice mail, and the children couldn’t disguise their growing anxiety.  Shelke tugged Yuffie into a corner for a whispered conference, and then another terse phone call was made that cancelled a much-anticipated reservation.  When Denzel’s stomach began rumbling despite the amount of snacks he’d eaten, Tifa tied an apron over her party dress; however, Yuffie decreed that there was no way that the birthday girl was going to cook her own celebratory dinner and with Barret’s ready assistance, hauled all of them across town to a lively Wutaian restaurant near WRO headquarters.

“That was great!  I’m stuffed!” Denzel proclaimed, patting his stomach.

“It was,” Tifa agreed, smiling fondly around the table at her rag-tag family.  “Thank you, everyone.”

“It weren’t as fancy as what Cloud was plannin’,” Barret ruminated, pouring Tifa a cup of jasmine tea.  “But it’ll do.”

“He was really looking forward to surprising you,” Marlene sadly remarked, listlessly stirring a limp vegetable around her plate.

Denzel reached over and stole one of her uneaten dumplings.  “I’m sure Cloud has a really good reason why he isn’t here,” he loyally insisted, then brightened.  “Hey – why can’t Tifa’s birthday be over two days?  That’d be awesome!”

“Then it’d be a belated birthday and it doesn’t count,” Marlene insisted tearfully.

“Of course it would,” Tifa soothed.  “It’ll be an extra-special birthday.”

“Really?”  Marlene perked up.  “Then you can wear your pretty outfit again!”

Tifa plucked at the fringe of the deep pink shawl –Barret and Marlene’s gift - draped over her bare shoulders.  “Well... the bar really shouldn’t be closed two days in a row....”

“Hell, I can sling beer an’ the girls can wait tables,” Barret grumbled.  “Yer regulars just won’t have nothin’ to ogle.”

Shelke nodded eagerly as Yuffie pulled out her phone and punched in a number.  “Hey, Reeve!” she chirped into the receiver.  “You know that fancy-schmancy restaurant over on the west side?  The one with the really snooty maitre d’?  I have a favour....”


The phone shrilled next to her ear, waking Tifa out of a restless sleep.  Fumbling for the device, she blinked blearily at the screen – and then snapped wide awake when she saw the caller ID. “Cloud!  Are you all right?”

“Mostly,” he grunted and in the long pause following that single word, she heard a wealth of pain.  

“What happened?”

“Later.  Did the flowers arrive?”

“Y-yes.  They’re beautiful.”

“At least something went right today.  Home soon.  Love you.”

She barely registered the connection being broken in the surprise over his parting endearment.  Cloud rarely so bluntly verbalized his emotions, even in their most intimate moments; Tifa realized that whatever had happened, it must have been incredibly stressful.  Turning on the bedside lamp, she threw off the covers, intent on dressing quickly to deal with whatever condition Cloud might be in.  However, she paused when her eye fell on the gleaming blue garment hanging from the closet doorframe and made an impulsive decision.  Practicality be damned - Cloud Strife was going to have the best-dressed nurse in Edge.


Just before midnight, an exhausted man rolled his battered motorcycle to a stop outside 7th Heaven.  Rubbing his gritty eyes and cursing his missing goggles, Cloud tried not to dwell on just how much of a clusterfuck the afternoon had been.  Sliding off the saddle with far less grace than usual, he had to steady himself with a hand on Fenrir’s gas tank as he coughed several times.  Each violent movement sent a dense cloud of black particles puffing into the night air; wiping his eyes again, Cloud opened one of the bike’s many compartments and extracted a carefully-wrapped parcel before wobbling towards his haven.  Leaning all his weight on the front door, he barely grabbed hold of the jamb in time to avoid falling on his face when it swung open.

Staying upright by sheer force of will, he stumbled over the threshold – and came to a full stop, his mouth falling open.

The woman Cloud loved was a vision in blue, wearing ridiculously impractical shoes that did amazing things for her long, slim legs, her soft hair swept back from her sweet face.  Barely aware of how just the sight of Tifa was balm to his frazzled nerves as he exhaled for what felt like the first time in hours, Cloud’s gaze lingered on her bare shoulders and slender arms, already anticipating her embrace... until he caught the distinctive stench of burnt wool emanating from his vicinity and thought better of it. He had interrupted her in the act of admiring a bouquet of fragrant maid-of-the-mountain lilies and as she turned towards him, her skirt swishing audibly, he smiled crookedly.  “I seem to say this an awful lot – sorry I’m late.”

Her answering smile absolutely glowed with happiness.  “Welcome home.”  She rapidly crossed the room, reaching for him despite his atrociously filthy appearance, but he caught hold of her hand instead and held her at arm’s length.

“Look at you,” he murmured, admiring the way the dainty straps of her heels accentuated the enticing length of her bare legs and how the deep colour of the dress set off her hair and skin to advantage.  Finally meeting her bashful gaze after he’d drunk his fill, Cloud whispered, “Beautiful.”  When Tifa tried to close the gap between them for a closer embrace, he shook his head.  “Not until I’ve cleaned up.”  

“I don’t mind a little dirt,” she pouted.  “Oh...!”  His pauldron strap abruptly came loose when she tugged on it, accompanied by a shower of carbonized leather and wool as a large patch of his clothing crumbled into ashes.  Looking closer, Tifa realized that the normally shiny surfaces of the wolf’s head badge were dulled, as if it had been exposed to extreme heat.  “What happened?”

His wry chuckle brought on another coughing fit.  “A Midgar Zolom.”

“A... Zolom?  You were in Kalm?”

“Yep.  Elmyra had something for you.”  Offering the package, he winced at his grubby fingerprints on the bright paper.

After a peek under the lid and an appreciative sniff, Tifa smiled again.  “Her famous spice cake?”

“Wouldn’t be a birthday without one.”  The soot smeared on Cloud’s face made his eyes appear even brighter as they locked glances.   

Reluctant to let him go when he was obviously hurting, Tifa asked, “Cure first, or shower?”

Shower,” he declared emphatically, ineffectually brushing at the greasy streaks on his skin, and she laughingly shooed him towards the bathroom while she went in search of a mop.


When he emerged long minutes later, thoroughly scrubbed and wrapped in a towel, he found Tifa waiting for him with an equipped materia.  Cloud closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensations of the healing energy stroking across his skin, but mostly enjoying being home with the woman he’d ride through fire for - literally.  Leaning into her touch, he sighed deeply; when she laughed softly and slid her arms around him, he contentedly nuzzled her neck.

“Come to bed,” he murmured, nibbling until she arched into him.

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Yeah... but not for food,” he rumbled, tightening his grip on her waist, nipping her earlobe and making her squeak.  

“Cloud...!”  The laughter bubbling in Tifa’s throat died away at the intense expression in his blue eyes.

Leaning his forehead against hers, he rasped, “When that Zolom flamed me, all I could think was, ‘I’m going to die on Tifa’s birthday.  What a shitty gift.’”  Bumping noses, he continued, “I didn’t want to do that to you – I never want to leave you, especially not like that.”

Choking up, Tifa tightly hugged him.  Cloud lifted her into his arms and started for the stairs, but the heady scent of the lilies temporarily diverted him into the bar.  Setting her on her feet, he plucked one of the dainty stems out of the vase; while Tifa watched, bemused, he laid the pale pink blossoms against the rich blue bodice of the dress.  “How did you know?”

Tucking the sprig into her hair, Cloud answered, “Every year on your birthday, your mom made those fancy cupcakes – the ones with the gumdrop flowers – and you wore a little bunch of these lilies pinned to your blouse.  I’ve never forgotten the taste of those cupcakes, or the scent of the flowers.”  She choked up again; smiling quietly, he pressed a tender kiss to her lips and murmured, “Happy....”  His eyes strayed to the clock display visible on the bar’s phone, and he ruefully continued, “Belated Birthday, Tifa.”

It was her turn to pull him into a gentle but very thorough kiss.  “You’re right on time, Cloud.”


A/N:  Maid-of-the-mountain lilies are a complete fabrication, but if they existed, they’d resemble blush pink lilies-of-the-valley.
Converting /tmp/phpmXWxNS to /dev/stdout