Cloud thought his first date with Barret had gone quite well, to the point where he'd gotten sort of... hopeful.
Barret hadn't called for a week.
He sighed as he sketched over the design Cid had requested, broad sweeping strokes that made him focus instead of feel sorry for himself. There were plenty of other wolves in the snow, after all, even if Barret had been a particularly nice one.
Aerith whistled from the doorway. "Looking more like a Levikron than a Chocobo these days Cloud. What happened?"
"Mr. Wallace," he snapped waspishly, "has decided he doesn't want an injured partner." Cloud emphasized his point by gesturing at his bandaged left arm, wiggling his fingers in a sarcastic manner as he grimaced. "That's fine."
"Oh. Can I coax you into the Parental Charity Dating Pool then? Since your wolf slipped into the snows." She inquired softly.
"That's fine. But I'm wearing that sweater you made me. Damn thing is the only one that'll hide my 'stigma." He sighed, getting back to work.
Cid was a demanding taskmaster when he wanted to be and this particular design needed to be finished promptly.
When he switched seats after Squall Leonhart, who had been a rather good swordsman, he almost stood up again out of sheer rage.
"Hello, Wallace." He greeted stiffly.
"Indeed." Cloud sniffed, unconsciously channeling Vincent at his angriest.
"Would it help if I told you my phone got thrown over a bridge by a drunken business associate, I lost your number because of it and Mrs. Fair just told me that you're not very happy with me right now?" Barret offered with a wince. "You're not the only one who's number I lost."
Cloud rose a disbelieving brow until Barret fished out the phone in a small plastic bag. It had a huge chunk missing from it and it was sopping wet inside the bag, sea grasses stuck to what was left.
"Oh. So..." He shuffled in the small seat and murmured, "you did mean to call back?"
"Absolutely." Barret reassured instantly, soothing Cloud's pride and a little bit of his ego too. "That was the best damn date I've ever had. My phone got snatched while I was trying to call you to let you know I'd really like another date."
"Even after I acted like an asshole?"
"Are you giving me another shot?" Barret countered.
"Well, yeah, it's not like you asked for that to happen to you. I'm sorry I got... pissy at you." Cloud apologized as he extended his left hand.
"Hey, if someone didn't call me back after a week, I'd get pissed off too." Barret took it with a small smile. "I still think you're pretty handsome, though, and I'd love to go on a date that's not here. You game?"
Cloud chuckled as he tugged Barret up with a wink. "Of course I am; we're eco-terrorists."
Barret laughed at that, head bowed as he shook with mirth. "C'mon, let's go before we scare the other parents."
They tumbled into Cloud's favorite diner, still holding hands and giggling as they were ushered to a booth.
"Cloud, did you find a date?!" Jessie crowed from her place behind the diner's bar. "Biggs, you owe me two hundred gil!"
Cloud shook his head even as he tightened his grip on Barret's metal hand. "Brace yourself, they're... enthusiastic."
"And I'm Jessie, heart of the Sector Seven Express!"
Barret looked at them, looked at Cloud and smiled.
"Aww, godsdammit, I do owe you two hundred gil. You couldn't have waited another day, Cloud?"
"Ahh, I see how it is," he teased, "I'm just a poor schlub that you take bets on in your spare time and definitely not one of the co-owners, right?"
Jessie cracked a smile as she said, "Right!"
Cloud stuck his tongue out at her and she did it right back, just before a real customer entered the diner.
She pulled it back in so fast and did a 180 customer service shift so fast that Barret blinked. "Don't worry, she saves the sass mostly for Biggs 'n Wedge. I was going to this place since way before it was a diner. We all scraped our savings together to open the place. Kinda how I got started on Fenrir and building my sword."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we were the only place for miles that could deliver soup to Junon without having it spill cause I got damn good at killing monsters on my delivery route. You thought these were gym muscles?" Cloud flexed in a cheesy Zack pose. Barret flexed his own, rather nice, set.
"Same here. Had to fight monsters to get where I am, both literal and figural. Being a Dad an' all," Barret checked his phone, which prompted Cloud to shoot a text to Riku, asking about the boys.
"How's Marlene? Heard she was down with a cold last week."
"She's doing better. I'm sending her to school after she's over the sniffles though I heard that the school cold got Denzel at that Parental Pool thing. He doing okay?"
"Cousin Riku's watching them right now. Den got sick, which means the trips did and now they're all on the couch, sniffling while watching Fantas'i 7. Before you ask, I already got over it because some asshole decided to come into work dripping snot and sneezing all over the place, claiming it was 'allergies.' Allergies my ass." Cloud rolled his eyes at the stupidity of his coworkers as Wedge set down a menu.
Barret perused the menu, tapping the scramble as Cloud ordered his usual plus something decidedly off menu.
"I think a Nibel coffee too."
"... What's a Nibel coffee?" Barret prodded.
"You'll see in a minute."
Biggs cackled from the back and brought Cloud's old machine out into pride of place. He hopped over the counter, settled the coffee filter with a quick tap and filled it with his personal stash of coffee. The scent of it filled the diner and Jessie made a mournful noise when it finished brewing.
"It's my hometown's specialty. Here."
He heard Biggs stifle a gasp and Wedge flail at the grill.
"Shiva, Strife, you must really like this one." Jessie murmured as she passed him.
"... Maybe just a little." He gave a quick wink as Barret inhaled the scent of the coffee and then took a sip of it straight.
"Huh. That's some damn good coffee."
"Yeah?" Cloud asked, nearly giddy with the relief of knowing that Barret hadn't left him.
Cloud walked with Barret, swinging their joined hands. Barret's gift to him was tucked against his chest, the rich, heady scent of lilies making Cloud's steps seem lighter than air.
Perhaps there was more to this particular wolf, he thought, and plenty to be discovered.