"That Stevenson-guy is bothering Tifa again."
Once, Jessie and others had been too intimidated to disturb Barret during his nap, but after learning that 'Tifa' was the word for safe approach, nosiness had eventually become a habit. He probably needed to fix that. "That guy has serious trouble getting the point," he growled as he got up, ignoring Jesse's amused smile as he headed past her, flexing the fingers of his good hand. Not that Tifa would allow him to put up a fight in Seventh Heaven, but with most weasels, mere menace was enough.
On the other hand, Tifa seemed to be on the verge of beating somebody herself as Stevenson loudly demanded her attention, waving a stack of cash at her turned back. Poor guy was desperately trying to look impressive in his expensive suit and recently dyed hair, but the suit didn't fit and no new colour would stop his hair from thinning, and the fact that Stevenson was blissfully ignorant of all this made it all more pathetic. Barret sighed with frustration, and gestured Wedge, who had been observing the situation with narrowed eyes before he arrived, to stay put. Stevenson hadn't tried to manhandle anybody yet, so there was a chance that he might leave peacefully.
"I'm not going to leave until you see my point," Stevenson stated smugly, leaning slightly over the counter as Tifa turned back to serve a customer sitting next to him. Tifa stared at him for a moment before finally speaking up, insisting gently:
"I told you, I'm not interested. I'm sure you have your connections, but I just don't care." She had been much ruder last time, which had lead to strutting on Stevenson's part and some broken glasses, but now Stevenson's mouth tightened in a sneer, his fingers curling against his palm as he slammed his fist down to the counter.
"Look, I'm sure you don't want to spend rest of your life in the slums" he hissed, a muscle twitching nervously on his cheek. "I can give you something better.."
"..in your own house, I bet," Barret interrupted, finally making his way to the counter. One long look at the customer sitting next to Stevenson was enough to free him a stool, and he smiled at Stevenson as he sat down. "The door's that way."
Stevenson refused to move, first, staring stubbornly up at Barret, but always quick to give up, he soon slid off his stool in silent defeat and trudged over to the doorway, pocketing his money carefully. Tifa sighed and began to pick up empty glasses from the counter, crooking a tired smile at Barret. "Do you want a drink?"
"What I want is shits like Stevenson off your back," Barret growled, his foul mood easing just a little when he noticed Tifa's smile gaining a bit more depth. She had such a beautiful smile, and luckily she did smile a lot, which made it more difficult to watch her pretend to be cheerful. "Seriously, that guy would be dead if he chased after me." He pondered over this for a moment, grimacing. "That would be pretty disturbing."
A tiny snort was the only sound Tifa made, but her honey brown eyes twinkled with laughter when Barret looked at her, and she tilted her head slightly to the side as she watched him. "I don't know, I think there could be a future for you in theatre."
Barret stared at her in disbelief. "That's what he means with connections? A little too delusional for me." He shrugged indifferently, fixing Tifa with a firm stare. "Just throw him out next time. If that's the best he comes up with, I don't think he can cause any trouble to your business."
Jessie had walked up behind him, with Wedge trailing after her, and now she leant over Barret, whispering in fake awe:
"Oh, but he can make her a star!" She settled down on the stool left empty by Stevenson, grinning wide. "And of course that's what Tifa deserves instead of this."
"So he wishes," Tifa murmured, returning the grin. But it was a hollow grin, her expression darkening as she turned away again, cleaning a glass absently. Barret watched her thoughtful face, deaf to Jessie's cheerful babbling, and had no trouble figuring out what Tifa's abrupt moodiness was about.
Of course she deserved better. Hell, all people in the slums did, even people like Stevenson, but all of them had just as lousy chances to improve things. People in AVALANCHE were all connected by unspoken pasts, so Barret didn't know that much about Tifa, but he could tell that this wasn't the life she had in mind, and no matter how positive she tried to be, the regret was always there, longing for happier days.
It would all be better once Shinra Inc. was done and dealt with. There were times when Barret doubted his battle, wondering if it was really worth it to struggle through one failure after another, but it was moments like this that convinced him again that he was doing the right thing.
"The only kind of stars we need to think about are the ones shining over AVALANCHE when we started out," Barret declared and gestured grandly upwards, as if there was a sky up there instead of a roof and the upper plate high beyond that, blocking them from the beautiful world outside.
"I heard it was cloudy back then," Wedge pointed out, snapping his mouth shut when Barret gave him a hard glare.
"There WERE stars," he insisted, smacking the counter lightly for emphasis. A lone glass tinkled in agreement, but Wedge didn't seem too convinced. Barret sighed at that and added glumly: "Or at least imagine them. It's not too hard, is it, Tifa?"