Tifa woke up early, as she always did, and immediately regretted it. Her head ached not from the after-effects of the party to celebrate finding a cure from Geostigma, but from those of the AVALANCHE-only after-party, the one that ended a little over four hours ago by her clock. She might have to kill Barret if he ever egged her on to drink that much again. But just before she could hit the snooze on her alarm and go back to sleep, she remembered there was a reason she had to be up early today; that while the population of Edge was in such a good mood she'd surely be forgiven for taking a day off (in fact, she wasn't surprised to learn later most businesses were closed for the day, whether to celebrate or get their own sick to the church), she had made a promise, an important one, that required the bar to be open for at least a few hours. So she grabbed an empty cup from the bedside table to fill with water and stood up, shuffled forward. Blinked at a mess of blond hair and its owner sleeping curled up on the floor by her bed: had Cloud come in to make sure she got in bed okay, or...? Hopefully he remembered, because she didn't. That he was on her floor and not in her bed put a cap on her guessing too much, but at least he wasn't keeping a distance. Though, having slept through her alarm, he was probably nursing a huge hangover of his own.

She really needed that water before she speculated any further on Cloud's state of mind. She went to the bathroom, filled her cup, drank the entire thing, and filled it again. Drank more. Decided that relationship matters were too complicated a subject to parse at half past five anyway and put that aside to sort out her appearance and then focus on the task awaiting her in the kitchen: fixing a large breakfast that any kid would love. Pancakes, eggs, sausages, and cold fruits seemed like a good start, and she started gathering together the ingredients for the pancake batter, all the while reminding herself why she couldn't simply go back to bed.

The kids at the church yesterday had been so happy to be healed of their Geostigma. They'd probably thought they didn't have a future, that 'tomorrow' was a word for other people, and suddenly, some hope had been restored. But...not all of it. Because in reality, Sephiroth's cruel disease had sought out despair in the people it infected. Aerith had given humanity the cure to Geostigma itself, but they still needed to face the problems that had caused that initial despair and only become more complicated with the onset of the epidemic. Though some of the children had families, a number of the kids in Edge who had been infected with the stigma were orphans, their parents lost in Meteorfall or its aftermath, and they'd stopped trusting most adults. It had become apparent even during the very first celebration at the church. Two children, friends from the looks of it and extremely young, had hit it off with a family that Tifa knew well enough to be relieved when the oldest brother picked up one of the girls and gave her a piggy-back ride starting back to their house, promising the eager tagalong that she'd get a turn too. The sight had made her smile, and she'd looked around to see if any of the other orphans were having the same luck. But they hadn't even been trying. They'd looked happy, and smiling, but they had also been huddled up amongst themselves, or around Cloud, who apparently hadn't realized how many orphans in Edge knew him by sight thanks to his motorcycle's unique look and now considered him one of theirs after he'd driven to the City of Ancients for them. He had been swamped and overwhelmed (in a good way, if left considerably frazzled afterward). But they'd clearly separated themselves from any other adults, and even more, a kind gesture on an adult's part, like a pat on the shoulder, might get a timid smile from them-but then they would back away, letting the hand fall into empty air.

Tifa had been upset then. She was still upset to think about it. Because the reason most of the orphans hadn't tried to connect with the adults became all too horrifyingly obvious after some thought of the last two years: when the children had been sick, adults had ignored them, shunned them, sometimes even shouted cruel words at them for daring to be sick and without a home they could be hidden away in. So why trust an adult? They'd had to rely on themselves so much for the past two years, and they probably figured they'd do even better for themselves now that their bodies weren't being regularly wracked with pain.

Why bother with the adults, if they thought they'd be abandoned again as soon as there was another problem? It was a fault of the grown-ups for not doing anything to protect the children when they had needed it most. And though many had been limited by circumstances-she'd wondered after Denzel's arrival if they could take more children in (and suspected Cloud had also given this thought), but their finances simply hadn't allowed it-even that had been influenced by the backlash at anyone with Geostigma: the bar & restaurant of Seventh Heaven had been making good money and probably could have supported another child or two before Denzel's sickness became known, and a significant number of customers simply stopped coming in. Afterward, they simply couldn't have risked scaring away any more patrons.

Tifa let out a heavy breath, shaking her head as she ladled out pancake batter onto the hot grill. Now that Geostigma was no longer a threat, she hoped to be serving up a lot more good food, and any who'd spurred on ill-founded rumors about how the stigma spread could eat crow for their fear-mongering. At any rate, as long as customers returned now, and Reeve came through on a small donation for this project, they'd be able to afford feeding the orphans of Edge a free breakfast, for as long as it took to find them new homes. She'd only invited them for this morning, on an impulsive wish to do something for them, to show that the adults could have their act together and help them. To not make them have to search for food or go hungry again. Reeve and Cloud had found her soon afterward to discuss the pragmatics for the invitation to be extended on a continuing basis. Well, Reeve had done the vast majority of discussing; Cloud had turned up with a hopeful expression that showed his support for the idea. Later he'd be riding out to do a supply run for extra breakfast foodstuffs.

In the meantime, though, Tifa was just settling the first batch of fluffy pancakes on the warmer with the syrup when she heard a faint noise at the front entrance. She looked up sharply, startled, and then smiled after emerging from the kitchen to see three kids at the door, staring at her wide-eyed. A bit eager and early, since it wasn't quite six yet, but that just reassured her that this had been a good thing to do, something they needed very much. She pushed away the remnants of headache as she went to open the door. Her focus needed to be on them. Not just to make sure they left with full stomachs, but to encourage them to open up, to find a way to fill their hearts.

"Good morning, everyone. Come on in! Have a seat."


Author's Note:
Case of Yuffie establishes Geostigma infecting people who think they are going to die, so it made me wonder a lot about things not being completely all right at the end of Advent Children. In some cases, the reasons people thought they would die were very temporary (three brothers thought they would drown; they didn't, but were infected during that time). In cases like Denzel's and Cloud's, it wasn't temporary at all but part of an on-going problem. Denzel's and Cloud's issues were alleviated along the way (Denzel was taken in by a family, Cloud began to forgave himself), but what about the victims who still have problems? The way people treated Moogle Girl and her brother during ACC made me wonder about orphans especially, so I wanted to write something where that was addressed.