Disclaimer: Don't own Final Fantasy VII, or Vincent, or Tifa, or Kalm, or Nibelheim, or...well, you get the picture. Just inserting them into the machine of my imagination and watching what pops out.

Cold Turkey

by: thelittletree

(Some VincentxTifa fluff -- I'm not very good at writing this stuff, I admit. Hopefully it's not too terrible. In any case, this is lovingly dedicated to JessAngel and The Highwaywoman, who, in their noisy machinations to prod me into action, woke up my muse. Happy belated Valentine's Day!)

"Time for you and time for me, / And time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea." -- 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917' by T.S. Eliot

* * *

Love-making, like everything, had developed a kind of predictable pattern.

Not that Vincent was always predictable -- something she had the faint suspicion he had cultivated under the watchful, undeniably curious gaze of Lily. Sometimes he would do something unexpected, like bring flowers up out of the garden because he knew she liked the smell drifting through the apartment; or he would straighten things up while she was at work; or he would purposefully leave his shirt unbuttoned (always purposefully -- she couldn't imagine him being unconsciously rumpled) because she had murmured once, only a step out of the shower, that she liked the closeness of her cheek against his chest.

And not that she was ever left unsatisfied by their love-making. After their first few encounters where he'd been a little like bird trying to relearn how to fly (albeit an enticingly eager bird), he'd revealed the wonderfully unhurried capacity to be a very considerate lover.

But, as with the rest of his life, (and only acknowledged in the beginning on a subliminal level by Tifa herself), sex had been regulated a routine. Something good and safe and proven time and time again to be more than adequate. Kissing him was still dizzying; his one lean, strong hand had become skilled and capable in the knowledge of her body; he was reliable comfort and steady pleasure; and the expression on his face, the look in his eyes, sometimes made her feel so incredible...

But...he'd still fallen into habit, and admittedly had very little experience with pulling himself out again. Not that Tifa wasn't happy enough to leave him to his routines most of the time. Vincent was Vincent, and she was no longer foolish enough to believe that she could change a person -- especially a person as obstinately stubborn as Vincent -- without their help and consent. But, after some back-and-forth about it in her own mind, she'd come to the conclusion that this particular routine should be discouraged. Because, like most of the things in his life over which he could exert only a certain amount of control, Vincent seemed unable to allow himself to relax completely into their love-making. And that, in turn, made it hard for her to relax.

And, in the long-run, she couldn't help believing that this would eventually be detrimental to their intimacy.

Unlike most of the things in his life, Tifa mused to herself as she changed into the nearly-transparent black silk that seemed to hug her every curve, wearing only a small, anticipatory smile besides, this was something where she could show him some of the pleasurable alternatives to habit.

She'd spent nearly an hour just bathing and brushing her hair and adjusting the bedroom until it was perfect. She'd even lit candles, though a part of her had argued that Vincent probably wouldn't notice if she'd released exotic birds into the rafters. But it was all atmosphere, all background, all engineered with the particular goal of putting herself at ease. For Vincent, he would undoubtedly know something was up -- she had very few secrets anymore when it came to him -- but she wasn't trying to trick him into anything. She was simply preparing herself for the initial wall of uncertainty that he always erected when facing any new emotional territory. And for that, she needed to be confident and comfortable.

And so, as she inhaled the smoky perfume of vanilla-white wax, she tried to imagine that the scent was putting the butterflies in her stomach to sleep.

It was early in the evening now, as she furled the coverlet for the third time and tried to find some wrinkle in the pillow cases she might have missed on one of her many inspections. Vincent would be home soon from his stint in Kalm (it was the first time she'd managed to convince him to go without her -- finally unwilling, after months of being patient, to keep rearranging her schedule). No dinner on the table to greet him, though. She'd thought about it; maybe something simple, just in case, just left in the fridge if he was hungry. But then she'd changed her mind. Better to let him choose what he wanted, if he wanted anything, and not make him feel obligated to eat what she'd made him.

She'd made the mistake once, the first time he'd come home after a hunt, of making him dinner. A full meal, too, complete with steak, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies. And he'd made a valiant effort to clean his plate. Eating slowly, she'd noticed, chewing with his eyes on the wallpaper as if trying to think of anything but the meat in his mouth. But, so soon after the transformations, after the taste of blood, the food had made him vomit despite his attempts. Half an hour in the bathroom with the door closed, and she'd felt so awful for making him so sick. So easy, sometimes, to forget that he shared his body with the alien appetites of four other creatures.

So, she'd eaten hours ago. And the only scent in the apartment, even in the kitchen, was that of the candles.

A key in the lock was her cue to slip into an appropriately shapeless bathrobe and close the door to the bedroom behind her. Vincent was just slipping out of coat and boots as she met him in the hallway.

"Welcome back," she greeted him with a grin.

He nodded a little as he reached for a hanger, his lips twitching into the smile always reserved for her. Two parts affection, one part grateful relief, she thought privately, as if some part of him was constantly just the tiniest bit surprised that she was still here waiting for him.

"Were you asleep?" he asked, stooping for a moment to put his boots in the closet.

"No. Just waiting." She held out her hand and waited for him to squeeze her fingers before stepping out of his way. Another thing she'd learned, and learned eventually not to feel upset about: after the hunt, Vincent never held her or kissed her. Not until he'd showered, as if the creatures might have left some tangible residue on his skin.

She anticipated, as she followed him to the bathroom, some remark from him about the omnipresent scent of candles. But he didn't say a word. He simply began the routine of taking the towels from the shower rod before single-handedly unbuttoning his shirt. Smiling a little at the idea of a completely unsullied surprise, she closed the door behind them and took up her usual perch on the linoleum counter.

They chatted as he showered, just some safe details about the hunt and some questions about her weekend without him. When he stepped out, pushing the curtain aside, she held a towel out for him and gave him a purposefully meaningful smile. "Don't get dressed."

He lifted an eyebrow at her, a corner of his mouth following suit as his eyes fell suddenly to the loose knot she'd tied in the bathrobe, as if the next order of business would be to make sure she was equally unclothed. But, instead of approaching, he dutifully dropped the towel on his head and began to dry his hair.

The bathrobe didn't last two steps into the hallway, and Vincent's fingers found the silk of the negligée before he finally backed out of their reunion kiss to look at her.

"What's this?" he wondered.

"Something for you," Tifa told him simply, smiling and trying to make it seem as if she hadn't spent an hour and a half choosing it, and one-hundred and fifty gil buying it. "Do you like it?"

"Tifa, you don't need..."

But she wasn't going to let him undo this. Quickly, she urged him into another kiss and let it become serious enough to, hopefully, drive all words from him.

As they parted, however, he continued, his voice now pleasantly husky. "You don't need to seduce me," he told her softly, his expression only lending truth to the statement.

"I know," she replied, idly running her fingers up his cheek on the pretext of pushing some hair behind his ear. "But sometimes it's nice to try something new."

He accepted this answer with aplomb and they moved with an easy familiarity toward the bedroom. As the door opened, however, the scent of vanilla came at them in a wave and Vincent blinked at the dozen or so oval wick-flames burning around the room.

"Candles," he murmured, as if it was something he'd been trying to place all evening.

Tifa laughed a little and pulled him in.

As they reached the bed, Vincent seemed ready to drop right into routine, but Tifa, both gentle and resolute, pushed him away. "I want to give you a massage," she told him, and before he could protest, continued, "I promise you'll like it."

This was the juncture on which everything hinged. Depending on how he was feeling, Vincent could make an excuse about being tired, or injured, or anything, and she would immediately drop the idea. But, as he looked at her, Tifa saw his expression go through a minute change, as if he was clueing in to something. He hesitated and her breath caught.

And then he smiled a little at her. "Of course."

She had him lie on his stomach while she reached for the oil on the dresser. And, after warming the soft, slippery liquid in her hands, she used practiced fingers to find and soothe the muscles in his back. He grunted and sighed softly as she worked, and she felt more than saw him start to relax into the mattress.

She didn't, however, want to make him go to sleep. The pads of her fingers were eventually replaced by the tips of her nails, and she dragged them slowly over his skin, stimulating the places she had so recently palliated. Surprised by the unexpected shift in sensation, Vincent stiffened and took a sudden, long breath through his nose. And before he could speak, or even steal a moment to recover himself, she did it again.

The soft hair at the nape of his neck. The slow climb of his muscle and the smooth descent into the valley of an elbow. The maze of veins at the vulnerable juncture of his wrist. The sharp caress of a shoulder-blade, down the hollow of his spinal column. And then into softer places as she urged him onto his back.

Down to the clear-cut impressions of hip bones, and the shallow indents beyond. Lower, teasing the sensitive curve behind his knee before venturing up, upward, but taking her time. Waiting, waiting. Waiting, somehow, for some sign that this might have revealed something to him, changed something, chipped away even a piece of his resolve for routine...

And then, aprubtly realizing she had many.

His breathing was quickened, his eyes closed. Consciously surrendered, the last of his tension melted away like ice from clay grown suddenly hot. And he was so beautiful.

One word, she knew then. One word, and she would fall on him. Give him anything for taking down that barrier and letting her in this way. He loved her. He rarely said it, but she knew it as well as she knew anything. He loved her and trusted her with so much, and wanted to trust her with so much more. She could read it like braille on his body.

"Tifa..." Hardly even a whisper, choked out on a breath, half pleading...

And she gave him everything.

And nearly cried at the freedom, burning as she skimmed the atmosphere like a shooting star, as she had her effort ardently returned to her one hundred fold.

* * *

She was playing with his hair, sure he was almost asleep, when he shifted a little, his shoulder moving beneath her head.

She glanced up. "You awake?"

"Hm." He opened his eyes and gazed for a moment at the ceiling. And then she felt him chuckle a little, a stutter of his ribs. "Candles," he murmured again. "And silk." Another muted chuckle. Almost self-depreciating.

"If that's what it took." She kissed his shoulder and nuzzled into the warmth of his skin.

A thoughtful pause. "Why didn't you simply tell me?"

She knew a scoff wouldn't be out of line in the silence that followed, but she gave it up in favour of the obvious skepticism of an, "Mm-hmm." Nipped at the bone gently, like a chide. "And what, exactly, would you have said?" And not only said, she realized, but done. What would he have done if she'd come out and said she wanted a change?

The dancing war between fire and shadow raged over the ceiling. Vincent seemed to be considering it. He took a breath.

"I don't know."

Almost expecting something else, Tifa resigned herself to the man she loved. Stubborn. Only changeable, as Lily had so often imposed, through indirect force. Apprehensive, sometimes needing the persuasion of proof, or a little outside intervention, to give him confidence.

And then he shrugged a little, a corner of his lip curling.

"Maybe I would have said 'cold turkey'."

After a moment, Tifa laughed. Half disbelieving, and half hoping.

He fell asleep soon after. Blinking and warm and comfortable, pressed against him, negligée long ago discarded on the floor, Tifa smiled and huddled closer.

And began to wonder what it would take to get him to stop smoking.