Disclaimer: FFVII doesn't belong to me.
Tifa sat silently by, observing Vincent sleeping by the campfire. They unfortunately had only two tents, so Aeris and Yuffie were sharing one while Cloud and Barret took the other. Herself, Nanaki, and Vincent had decided to take tonight's watch shifts.
It was currently her turn, but these were the Nibel Mountains. She had walked these paths for half her life; she had picked their campsite and knew every nook and cranny in these sharp peaks. So she kept watch a tad less vigilantly than she might have otherwise, turning her attention on their newest team member.
He slept as unemotionally as he spoke, walked, and fought. Not a single expression marred that still countenance as he lay flat on his back, hands folded over his chest. Yuffie complained it made him boring, but Tifa personally found the lack of feeling fascinating. Morbidly fascinating, but fascinating nonetheless.
She resisted the urge to pull down the collar of his cloak and see what the bottom half of his face looked like. Without doubt he'd be offended. He already seemed to be on edge around their little ragtag band, although he was the one who fairly forced himself upon them. Still, they needed all the help they could get, and he was an ex-Turk.
A slight change drew her attention from her musings. His brows had drawn together, and Tifa studied the slightly troubled expression upon his face with an odd detachment. Suddenly, he rolled onto his side away from the fire, and she nearly started at the abrupt movement.
Tifa carefully peered around him to see if his expression had changed, noting that the new sleeping position seemed much more natural. His previous one had reminded her too much of how he first appeared in the coffin for her comfort.
If anything, he seemed even more troubled. She could barely hear small mutters emitting from behind the cloth, and Tifa silently inched closer to try to understand the muffled noise.
"...no...Hojo...stop... Lucrecia. Lucrecia, I'm sorry. Sorry..." and it continued. He curled up tightly against himself, mumbling, shaking, reminding her of a small child lost in the dark mountain and unable to find the way back down.
Tentatively, Tifa reached out a hand and brushed it against his temple, unsurprised to find it lightly dampened with sweat. She was also unsurprised when his hand shot out and gripped her wrist in a vice-like hold, his crimson eyes staring wildly into her own. However, they almost instantly calmed, and he quickly released her.
She sat back on her heels, sweeping away a strand of hair that had fallen into her eyes while she leant over him. "So...how bad was your dream this time?" she asked quietly. "Worse than the last one?"
Vincent sat up, drawing one knee to his body to use as a prop for his arm. The firelight flickered behind him, edging his profile with gold as he took a deep breath. "It doesn't concern you," he replied tersely, running his hand through his messy ebony locks.
"Hmm." Tifa stood and walked around to stand in her original place, then bent to pick up a stray stick and poke it into the flames, her hair falling in a curtain past her shoulder. Vincent watched her movements distantly, having nothing else to focus his attention upon.
"How often do you have them?" She straightened, tossing the stick to join its fellows in the fire. "Every night?" She paused, but there was no reply.
"Every time you close your eyes?" she persisted softly, watching the wood burn. "Even when you're not asleep, do they stay there in the back of your mind, waiting for you to return to them?" She turned her head to look at him, hands laced behind her back. His gaze however was on the fire, noncommittal and unchanged.
"I had nightmares like that too, y'know. A long time ago."
"What about?" he asked, not bothering to glance at her. Tifa smirked wryly.
"If I tell you, you're not going to tell me about yours, are you?" She shrugged and sat down, resting back on her palms. "That's alright, I guess."
"I have lots of nightmares of Nibelheim, and Sephiroth, and the Midgar slums." She leaned forward and propped her chin in one hand, detachedly gazing into the heart of the fire. "When Nibelheim burned to the ground, and Sephiroth killed...everybody...I had nightmares all the time. And when I killed somebody for the first time..." Tifa glanced down at her right palm, curling and uncurling her strong fist, "...I nearly fell apart. Even if it was to save my life."
"Mostly nightmares of Nibelheim though. At least, for the people I killed...there was a reason. I felt...scarred, and dirtied, but I had a reason. Nibelheim...all those lives destroyed. And for what?" Her hand rose unconsciously to lie between her breasts, feeling the slim ridge of the scar beneath her shirt. "I don't know. Maybe Sephiroth had a reason, but I doubt it. It was just so senseless, to take away everything from so many people who hadn't done anything," she paused, her eyes lightly burning at the old memory. But she'd stopped crying for that pain a long time ago.
Unexpectedly, she whirled her head around in his direction, and for a split second Vincent was gazing back at her. He averted his eyes at once to focus on the fire, but Tifa was patient, and she waited. And gradually, eventually, he turned his eyes to meet her own and held her gaze steadily. The right half of his face was cast in a warm glow by the flames, and Tifa once again found herself restraining the impulse to pull down his collar.
"...but they go away eventually," she continued quietly, gently probing the dark crimson. "It takes a while, but they'll go away."
He bent towards her slightly, his own eyes searching. "And Sephiroth? What do you feel towards him?" he asked gravely.
She shook her head, causing a small ripple to flow down her dark tresses. "I...I don't want him to hurt any more innocent people." Her arms wrapped around her shoulders, as if to ward off a sudden chill. "You know...when he wiped out Nibelheim all those years ago, I was so angry. I couldn't believe what had happened, that my hometown was burning, my friends murdered before my very eyes... And all I had done was hide with Zangan on the rooftops and alleys until he left. All I had done was hide and watch..." A hand rose to her forehead, momentarily shadowing her claret eyes, but it fell as quickly as it had risen. "I ran to the reactor to catch up with him, only to find my father dying and the Masamune wet with his blood. I can still recall, down the last detail, how slick and dark it appeared on that cursed blade..."
Tifa took a breath and turned that memory away. "I tried to kill Sephiroth then, with his own sword, even though I knew it was futile. I was just so angry...so blinded...I wasn't thinking at all. I don't know if that would even qualify as feeling. I don't know...I don't know what came over me." She swallowed. "It wasn't until later I started feeling the pain. I almost preferred being so blindly angry, it hurt so much..."
A twig snapped, and Tifa's chin jerked upwards, breaking her train of thought. Only a Nibel wolf standing on the cliff above her. She relaxed, closing her eyes. When they reopened, a bright smile was on her face as she looked at Vincent. It didn't quite reach her eyes.
"That was a long time ago though. It still hurts when I think about, but not so much. Thank goodness pain fades," she laughed half-heartedly.
"...what a sense of humor," Vincent remarked, impassive. She shrugged.
"You take what you can get. People don't laugh often nowadays." She tucked her hair behind her ear before dropping her eyes to run a thumb over the knuckles of her glove. "And you? How do you feel towards Hojo?" she asked.
Silence greeted her. When she cautiously peeked out from beneath her lashes, Vincent was merely sitting there, his gaze directed back into the fire, apparently lost in thought. Tifa shifted slightly, wrapping her arms around her legs to prop her chin on her knees. She hadn't really expected an answer.
But at the sound of her boots scraping across the pebbly ground, Vincent's hand dropped from his knee to rest on the floor, and he lifted his mechanical claw before him, watching the light flicker and slide over the smooth metal. "I feel...nothing towards Hojo."
"Nothing?" she repeated. She had both expected and not expected that answer. "But I thought the only reason you came with us is to face him?"
"That's true. However...nevermind." The claw lowered, and he fluidly rose to his feet, staring down the mountain trail. "Do you want me to take over the watch?"
"...if you want to," she sighed, feeling the tinge of disappointment as she poked more wood into the campfire. She had never expected him to return her openness, but there was still that small hope that had insisted in staying. Silly.
Therefore she was duly surprised when he spoke again. "...it seems my feelings have evaporated during my long sleep," he said mellifluously, almost as if he had spoken aloud by accident. Tifa's astonished eyes instantly focused on Vincent's tall form, not wanting to miss a thing. "I hold no anger for Hojo. He has committed many actions, however, that need to be avenged, and I accepted the burden long ago. Though I'm no better than he, I made a vow...and by aiding his destruction, I may atone for my own sin..."
"So you're coming with us out of guilt?" Tifa asked, confused. "But you said you didn't have feelings...?"
He turned his head to look at her, one eyebrow raised at her frankness. He noted dimly that she was a rather feisty female as his gaze was drawn to the golden glow the flames cast upon her body, shining and gliding down her dark tresses, a river of molten bronze and melted dark chocolate.
There was a time he had seen a sight similar to it, and it caused his heart to race and his stomach to twist. A time when he leaned down and reached out a hand to cup the face of its holder as his other rested on her shoulder, a time when her beautiful green eyes looked into his own, plain brown ones, and...
But the eyes staring up at him were brown shaded with wine, and his own a stark crimson. The heavy weight on his left side stated clearly he no longer had a gentle touch for her shoulder. And he felt nothing. Nothing but the mere aesthetic entrancement of the firelight playing on her hair.
No anger, no loss, no pain. No love. Just a faint memory of the last time he had emotion, of the final vow he had sworn and the current realization that it should be carried out. A small, nagging need to atone that would not let him rest. A vague sense that he owed her penance. He doubted those would qualify as 'feelings'.
"...forget it." He turned his back to her, choosing to stare into the darkness.
"...I'm sorry. Did I offend you?" Tifa asked uncertainly.
"There's nothing to apologize for," he replied curtly.
"...alright. But, y'know, if you ever want to talk I'll be happy to listen," she offered from behind him, stifling a yawn at the end. "I think I'll go to sleep now. Good night Vincent."
"...good night, Tifa."
Hours later, Vincent was once more sitting on the ground, right leg drawn to his chest, observing Tifa as she slumbered within her sleeping bag. When he had first met her, he would never have guessed such a lively woman could carry such scars, and had he been his past self he would have respected and even envied her for being able to put a past so traumatic behind her. As it was, he held only a mild interest and a high opinion.
The sound of moving gravel caught his ears as Nanaki stretched from across the fire, and Vincent could make out his rising form through the flames. "Is it my turn to take over?" he asked, padding around the blaze to turn his good eye on the other man.
Vincent stirred himself from studying the soft contours of her face. "Yes. ...I believe I'll go for a walk," he stated calmly, standing.
Vincent nodded in acknowledgement of the warning and strode into the night. In a few hours the dawn would break, and their journey would continue. He would find Hojo, and if he survived that encounter...what next?
...if they had not yet fought Sephiroth, perhaps he'd stay to aid this group. It couldn't hurt to offer his assistance a little longer, and it may be the best way he could ever atone for his sin. His sin of doing nothing, watching as Lucrecia faded right in front of him.
"All I had done was hide and watch..."
It was different for him though. She had been a young girl; there was nothing she could have done to stop Sephiroth. He had been an adult.
It was different.
He skirted around a large boulder in the pathway, then paused. After a short moment, Vincent leaped to land gracefully on the top of the rock. He crouched there for long moments, thinking and remembering.
It didn't hurt to remember anymore, not the lost love, the rejection, or the betrayal. He could replay Lucrecia's dying breaths in his mind without batting an eye, recalled the moment she accepted Hojo's proposal as dispassionately as one would watch mindless daytime television. Nor did he find pleasure in remembering the soft kisses he and Lucrecia had shared, the loving words that passed between them. To Vincent, it was as if his emotions had been swept clean away, leaving him only with the faint residue of what had been.
There was no passion or depth of feeling left in him. Hate, anger, love, fear, misery...such intensity was beyond his reach.
He had to wonder how he would live the rest of his life. Forever detached and isolated, untouched by all. In a way, he welcomed the prospect. He would never then have to face his remembrances, except in his dreams.
In his dreams...there they lived, writhing and strengthening in the hidden corners of his mind. In his nightmares, he felt everything he could no longer feel in his waking life. And he would rather keep them there, vague and shapeless and insubstantial. At least then he could reassure himself of their falsity.
It was cowardly, and he realized it. And yet, he wasn't sure if he would be able to bear the emotions of his true memories. He wasn't sure...if he was as strong as she.
Abruptly, Vincent dropped from the rock to the ground, landing silently. He swiftly returned to the campground, striding past the quizzical expression of Nanaki to kneel down beside Tifa's sleeping form.
"Let me be," he commanded her sternly, careful to keep his voice low. "Leave me with my nightmares." She shifted, undoubtedly from the sensation of his warm breath over her ear.
"They won't fade until you face them, you know," Tifa muttered in response, rolling towards him to place her back to the dying fire. Her eyes sleepily blinked up at him, catching the faintest trace of surprise fleeting over his visage behind his softly black hair. "If you lock them away then they'll stay there forever."
"Then that's my decision, and my punishment," he whispered firmly.
Her lips formed a small, enigmatic smile as her eyes closed, tired. "I still say that's weird. But that's okay." Her faithful warm gaze met his, that alluring smile still there. "I know you'll deal with them someday, when you want to feel again. If you ever want some help, call me, alright? You shouldn't face nightmares alone."
"...I've faced everything alone," he informed her, his purpose clear – he had no need to seek assistance.
"All the more reason to have a friend then," she countered brightly. The sky above them was starting to lighten, announcing the nearness of the sunrise.
"Let's not argue about it now," Tifa interrupted cheerfully. "I don't expect it'll happen for a long time anyway. But when you do decide, just remember my offer, `kay?"
Defeated and amused by the combination of her optimism and her stubbornness, Vincent nodded. "Very well."
"Great. Now, Vincent...er..." she hesitated, biting her lip. Vincent wondered what could possibly make her waver now, after speaking to him so plainly.
"Do you think you could...ah...well..." He tilted his head to the side inquisitively. "Your hair's tickling my nose," she finally spat out, embarrassment heating her face.
After a moment of silence during which Vincent struggled to keep his composure, he sat back on his heels and watched as Tifa rose and hastily glanced at him from the corner of her eye.
"Um...thank you," she offered with a quick, abashed grin.
"We should start preparing for today's journey," was his response, his tone as impassive as ever. She nodded and hurried to start cleaning up camp, signaling to Nanaki that it was time to get ready to go. Vincent did the same, thankful for the cloak collar hiding the small, irrepressible smile playing around his mouth.
AN: Yes, I'm still alive! Shocking, isn't it? Anyway, this was written to stave off my sudden craving for Vincent/Tifa. Reviews are welcome.