Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own anything even remotely associated with Final Fantasy VII. I may have kidnapped Vincent and Tifa (and whoever else I decide to throw into the pot) for this story, but they're not mine to keep. Yup. Now, read.

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Epilogue (or Chapter Twenty-Five, whatever you prefer): What You Have Given Me

by thelittletree

She pushed the arm chair into the corner and looked at it. Still not quite right. Pulled it out a little, turned it on an angle. Almost...but not quite. Maybe Lily had been right about this one. It was nice, but not everything nice could fit in one place.

The drone of the vacuum cleaner became suddenly obvious through its absence.

"'Kay, that's the bedroom done." Lily was working to tidy her feathery bangs as she walked into the living room. "How'd the fridge and stove look?"

Tifa scowled a little at the chair. "Fine. Clean." And then she stepped away and gestured at the offending piece of furniture. "Well? What do you think?"

Lily gave a small smirk. "Told you it might be too much. But there's a space there in your bedroom, maybe it would fit. Or maybe Vince would take it."

Tifa turned back to the chair, trying to picture it in Vincent's living room. "Well, maybe. I'll try it in the bedroom first. But not right now." She lowered herself into the cushions with a sigh. "If I try to move one more chair or table or couch or bed today, my arms are going to come loose."

"Then don't. Let's have some tea. Where's that kettle? Where's Vince?"

Lily disappeared into the kitchen. Tifa fingered the elastic Vincent had lent her a moment before pulling it out of her hair with a sigh, trying not to imagine what she must look like. "In the cupboard over the stove, and I don't know. I think he went to get something."

"Figures. As soon as we start cleaning, he disappears." The sound of the water running. "The pressure's low in the kitchen. You might want to mention that to the landlord."

"Okay." She stretched her legs out and wearily pushed at the heels of her shoes with her toes until she'd bared her feet. "Thanks again, Lily, for all your help."

"Like I said, not a problem. Did you get everything you needed from Kalm?"

Not everything. "Yes. Cloud bought his own silverware and pots and pans and things, so I took all of my stuff."

"Good. And the lease?"

Tifa left off in a little surprise from where she'd been picking at a nail. "I didn't tell you?"

"Don't think so."

Must've told Vincent, she realized, and just expected him to tell Lily. "Cloud and I talked to him, the owner, and he agreed to waive the rest of the payments. He has someone else who's interested in the property. So all we have to do now is pay off the existing debt, and we're in the clear."

"Glad to hear it." A drawer opening, and then a pause. "Shit, how many kinds of tea does one woman need?"

Tifa couldn't help a chuckle. "They're herbal. Try the peach apricot and chamomile."

A knock at the door. Well, there was one question answered. With a breath, Tifa prepared to lift herself from the chair. Before she could stand, however, Lily interrupted her effort.

"God, we're not going to come let you in, Vince. Just turn the knob and let yourself in. I promise we're not naked or changing or peeing with the door open."

With another chuckle, Tifa dropped herself back into the chair.

From where she was, she couldn't see the front door, but she heard it open. And, after a few moments of uncharacteristic silence, she could hear the sibilant sound of hushed voices. And her lips began to twitch into a smile. Vincent, maybe, but Lily would never win an award for being subtle or good with surprises.

"What's all that whispering about?" she couldn't help asking after a couple of seconds.

It quickly died off. And then the sound of movement.

"No, Vince, stay here. C'mon, dammit. Don't be such a cold fish for once in your life. Quick, Tifa, come in here before he gets away."

Exhaustion could wait. This surprise she had to get up for; if it was making Vincent want to disappear before she could see it, before she could express any gratitude for it she thought, it had to be good.

Lily was grinning from ear to ear when Tifa entered the kitchen, one of her hands wrapped resolutely around Vincent's elbow, the other holding what looked like an envelope. Vincent, however, looked the epitome of unwilling discomfiture. Dressed in his usual black with his hair scooped hastily behind his ears, he stood staring at nothing in particular, his expression scrupulously blank.

"There's supper on the counter," Lily said without gesturing, "and my cards and...a little bit of wine to christen the place." She gave a quick wink. "But this is from Vince." She held the envelope out to her.

That startled her. Something solely from Vincent, especially after he'd already done her a service in carrying some of the heavier things into her apartment. If anything, she should be giving *him* something for his help. Though that would have to come later, when Lily wasn't around.

"Thank you." She took the envelope without looking at Vincent, not sure how to do this without making him more uncomfortable. "You didn't have to."

Vincent didn't say anything. He was watching her, though, she noticed as she glanced up once before slipping a nail under the glue, out of the corner of his eye.

A small piece of rectangular paper, like a cheque. She pulled it out and let her eyes scan the generated writing, looking for an explanation. And then she couldn't help a sudden gasp as she realized what it was, what it meant. "Oh...oh my God." She looked up, feeling distinctly close to tears.

Vincent was now watching her directly, though his eyes seemed wary as if he wasn't sure what kind of reaction to expect from her.

She gazed back down at the paper. "Oh, Vincent. I can't accept this."

"It's already done."

She glanced up again, trying to blink her eyes dry. "Why...when did you do this?"

"What? What the hell is it?" Lily looked ready to burst with impatience.

Vincent didn't reply to her question. Tifa turned her attention to Lily and showed her the paper. "It's a receipt. For my debt on the bar in Kalm." She realized she was nearly whispering and cleared her throat. "With Vincent's signature on the bottom." At least, she guessed it was his signature, scrawled in sharp, tight lines where only the v's and t's were anywhere close to recognizable.

Lily raised her eyebrows in obvious shock. "Vince, where the hell did you get the money for that?"

But he seemed content to keep it his secret. Tifa bit into her lip, wanting both to accept it with no questions and to demand to know how he'd managed it. Finally sighed. "Vincent, really, I can't accept this. It's too much."

"One less thing you'll have to pay for." His eyes were firmly focused on the receipt. "To make sure you can make ends meet."

To make sure she wasn't coming back to live on Lily's couch, she thought. "Well, then, I'll pay you back..."

"Not necessary."

And Lily smirked with a sudden scoff. "Give up, Tifa. He'll never take any money from you. Just accept it. You don't pay gifts back."

And, after another few moments of struggling with the idea, Tifa gave in. Glanced up at him again with a grateful smile. "Thank you, Vincent. This is..." But she wasn't sure words would do it justice. Too much, certainly. Worrying about something for so long, and then suddenly having it all put right...were there words to describe the relief? She had to blink back her tears again. "This is the best gift, I think, anyone could have ever given me." And she chuckled a little. "Or forced on me. Thank you so much."

Didn't miss the quick flash of movement at his throat as he swallowed, gave a quick nod.

And, with her usual sense of good timing, Lily interrupted the moment before it could become uncomfortable. "Well, if you two don't mind waiting for me, I'm going to go change before we eat. My cards are there if you want to start a game." And she slipped into her sandals and went out the door.

As if looking for something to occupy the sudden space in the room, Vincent picked up the deck and, sitting himself at the table, began to shuffle. But Tifa wasn't ready quite yet to start playing. She ducked out of the room and went into her still empty bedroom closet where she'd hidden something behind her suitcases. Walked back into the kitchen, trying not to grin like fool.


He glanced up from shuffling.

"Here's something for you, too. For helping me move." She brought it out from behind her back.

There was a questioning kind of recognition in his eyes as he took the bundle, and then it faded into surprised comprehension as he unfolded the gray material to reveal a sweater.

This time she couldn't hide her smile. "It's to replace the other one. And..."

The rest of the gift fell out into his hand. A package of cigarettes.

"For your vice. Until Lily will let you smoke hers again." She pulled a lighter out of a pocket where she'd stowed it and put it on the table. "It doesn't hold a candle to what you gave me, but..." She shrugged a shoulder and trailed off.

And she couldn't deny the spark of delight she felt as his expression softened a little. "Thank you, Tifa."

"Well..." She shrugged once more, trying to make it casual. "Maybe it's kind of an apology, too, for everything."

He flicked his eyes up suddenly and his gaze was shuttered for a moment as if he would have preferred that she hadn't brought it up. But then, as if he was releasing some tension, his eyes became gentler again and she half expected him to say, 'Forget it.'

"Don't feel you have to apologize, Tifa." He hesitated a moment. Dropped his eyes to the package of cigarettes. "I'm not angry." He stopped for a second time, and then gave a quiet sigh through his nose. Made himself look into her face, she thought. "Everyone needs a place they feel secure in," he began quietly. "I have no grounds to say where that place is for you. I have no monopoly on peace."

And she couldn't help another small smile. "But you deserve some share in it. We'll just have to..."

A quick flash of unease in his eyes, and she decided to choose her words carefully.

"...work on it."

She and Cloud had talked. Twice already. Still on shaky ground, because she was still angry and he still wouldn't admit that he was really to blame for her suicide attempt. Both of their faults maybe, and it would take awhile to come to an understanding. Hard to tell right now if they would ever get back together.

And Vincent. Still so shaky. So hard to tell what she felt. He was a hard person to know, maybe a hard person to get along with sometimes. But she was attracted. And he could be... Sometimes he could be. And someday, if things went down a particular path out of all of the paths that were possible, maybe...

Maybe he would someday realize that she was not Lucrecia. And not all love had to be painful.

Vincent only nodded at her words. Looked down at his hands as he began to worry at the plastic around the cigarette package with a metal finger until it gave way, and then he pulled one out and slipped it between his lips.

And Tifa pushed the lighter to him across the table. "So, are we going to play?"

"If you're going to sit down."

Half way through the second game, the door opened and Lily entered. "I'm back," she called unnecessarily amid the sound of sandals dropping onto linoleum. And then, "Is that cigarette smoke I smell?"

And Tifa glanced up to find herself sharing a startled, guilty look with Vincent. Almost without a second thought, she reached over and plucked the cigarette out of his mouth, slipping it between her own lips. And then she looked back to her cards, trying not to inhale.

And Vincent, she soon realized, had the best 'What the hell are you talking about?' expression she'd ever seen. Though somewhere between tea and wine and playing and eating and Tifa coughing and wiping her eyes, Lily finally broke it apart.

"Oh, let him smoke the goddamn thing. I don't care. Let's just play!"

Tifa laughed, and it felt good to laugh. Vincent smiled, nearly a full, amused smile. And it felt good to see it, like looking at something you never could have imagined if only because it would never have been as beautiful as the real thing. And they played cards.

And it felt like home.

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The End. There. It's done. *sniffle*

This story was a *lot* of fun to do, and I have so many people to thank for making me continue it. All of you readers and reviewers (I'd write all of your names down, but that would take forever. You all know who you are!); my Dad for reading and encouraging me and constantly asking when my next chapter was going to be up; my two sisters for being an audience willing to read or listen to me drone on; the boy who lives in my house and eats my food and steals the covers; and (of course) the characters who live in my head and occasionally make their way onto paper. Or computer screen.

Thank you. Much love.