Disclaimer: I don't own anything but these words.
Tifa's tennis shoes thudded on the wooden floors as she slowly made her way down the hall, to Denzel and Marlene's room. She'd sent them to go get ready for bed while she cleaned up the remainder of the mess from her small bar. Purposefully perking up before knocking on the children's door, she called in a falsetto of cheer: "You two ready for bed? I sure hope so, 'cause I want my goodnight kisses!"
Marlene giggled from within, and as Tifa opened their door they both hopped into their beds, pulling their covers up to their chins. Tifa walked to Marlene's bed first, pushing the covers under her body, wrapping her up tightly in them. "Now you look as snug as a bug in a rug, Marlene!" Tifa laughed, kissing Marlene on her forhead.
"Aww, Tifa, you know I don't like buggies!" Marlene said as she wriggled around in her bed, untucking the covers a little.
Tifa looked to Denzel, who was turned away from them both, his eyes on the wall adjacent his bed. He was curled up, his arms around his knees under the blankets of his bed. Tifa sighed inwardly, 'He's like this so much recently... I wish there was something I could do for him, to make him forget...' She knelt at his bedside, rubbing his back, lightly dragging her fingernails over his pajamas, just as he liked. His back arched against her fingers, and after a moment, he turned to face her.
His Geostigma had gotten worse, she could see. It now covered almost his entire forhead, and she was sure it had progressed in his scalp as well. The look in his eyes was what drew the most emotion from her. He appeared to be holding back tears. She hugged him, rubbing the back of his head lightly, afraid to touch the Geostigma, which she knew was excruciating for him. He held onto her as though his life depended on it, his little hands forming fists behind her shoulderblades. He turned his head to her ear, and whispered, his voice faltering a little. "Tifa, when is Cloud coming home?"
How many times had she heard that question this month? Hell, just this week she'd heard it at least four. "I don't know, Denzel. I wish I did, sweetie, But I don't." It killed her having to tell him this same thing every time he asked. She felt herself becoming less and less adequate each time she had to dissapoint him, each time she had to see him frown and sigh. He let go of their embrace.
"Well, I wish he would just come home." He closed his eyes and rolled back over onto his side, away from her. Tifa shook her head and rubbed his back for a few more moments before leaving the room, telling the children goodnight one last time before she turned off the lights and shut their door.
'How many more times am I going to have to let them down for you, Cloud? It's so easy for you; you don't have to see them! But I DO! Every day, I have to wake them up and get them through their day, alone. I have to tell them yet again that I haven't heard from you, and that I don't know when you're coming home. I can't take this anymore.' But she would, as she had always done. She'd always take whatever life handed her, without complaint. She'd push her suffering further down into her being, hiding it from everyone else. Far be it from her to trouble anyone else with her problems.
Grabbing a bottle of wine from its rack on her kitchen counter, and a wine glass from the cabinet, she crossed her kitchen to the living room, setting the remainder of the wine bottle down on the edge of the coffee table after she'd poured herself a full glass. She drank half of it in one gulp, and topped herself off again. "Look what you've done to me... reduced me to drinking." She smirked, plopping down on her sofa, resting her feet on the coffee table in front of it. A laugh played her lips again, this time at her own hipocrisy. She'd always fussed at the kids for doing the exact same thing. Minus the drinking, of course.
Pictures lined the walls, providing her with material to brood over. Contemplating further about the things and people shown in them: her adopted children, Cloud, herself... the topic at hand jumped to her friends. How long had it been since she'd seen any of them? Three, maybe four months? Ever since Cloud left, she'd been so busy keeping everything up by herself that she simply lacked the time to spend with them. Being a 24/7 mother and a bartender on the side... she had little time for anything else at all. In fact, she cherished the times when she could take even an hour to herself to take a bubble bath.
She glanced up at the clock over the fireplace. Nine-thirty. Too late to call anyone... except maybe Vincent.
"Hah!" She laughed at the thought. The two had barely spoken when they were together, what grounds did she have to be calling him, especially at this time? Oh right, they saved the world together. But other than that?
She set her wine glass down on the coffee table, and leaned over to grab her PHS from the side-table, where it sat on charge. She scrolled through the numbers, pausing when she saw Cloud's name, holding her finger over the 'Dial' button for a few seconds, but then she shook her head, thinking better of it. She scrolled down to Vincent's name, dialing the number without hesitation.
'I must be really lonely,' She thought as she listened to the phone ring, drumming her fingertips on the table nervously. 'Is he even going to pick up? It's been SEVEN rings!' Immediately after this thought crossed her mind, the phone stopped ringing, and a cool, calm voice answered.
"Hello?" The voice said, slightly confused.
"Hi, Vincent. This is Tifa, am I calling at a bad time?", asking moreso for her own sake than for his... she was starting to regret her decision to call him. What would they even talk about?
"No, not at all. I was just... reading." Tifa could hear the hesitation in his voice, but being as she didn't know him any better, she didn't push the issue or even address it.
"Well, I know that we don't know each other very well, but I need to see someone... someone my age." She winced, knowing how stupid and selfish that sounded. But was it, really? Was she a criminal for wanting social interaction with people other than her children or drunken customers?
Vincent didn't seem to think so. "Of course. Would you like me to come over?"
'The sky is so pretty tonight', Tifa mused as she took another sip from her wine. The sky was crystal clear, offering the stars and moon the perfect stage on which to shine. Even the ground seemed to glow, the sky was so bright. It was times like these that Tifa honestly wished she had someone to spend them with; even if she had them at no other times.
After her call with Vincent she'd decided to wait for him outside, to avoid potentially waking them up with their talking, however unlikely that was. Maybe they wouldn't talk. They hadn't before, and that never bothered the two of them. It certainly wouldn't bother her now.
She was starting to wonder if he'd even come. It had been at least and hour and and a half since they'd talked, and as far as she knew, he only lived about 15 blocks away.
"He probably decided to ditch me too..." She painfully thought, taking another sip of her wine, hoping to drown out the thoughts of Cloud that were beginning to pop up.
"Who did?" asked a familiar voice, from about twenty feet away. Startled, Tifa looked up and noticed Vincent.
She supposed him to be the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.
He was on foot, wearing a casual black t-shirt with relaxed jeans that hung low on his hips, and casual yet nice black shoes. He had traded his bandana for a hair-tie, which he used to pull his long hair back into a loose ponytail, his bangs still framing a long, delicate, pale face. He'd even shed his gauntlet, and had that hand tucked into a pocket.
"Oh, no... no one!" Tifa prayed that her front doorstep cast enough shadow over her to hide her blush. "Thanks for coming, Vincent. Although, I was starting to wonder if you would ever show up!" She rose to her feet, leaving her glass on the stoop, near the door.
"I told you I'd be here, did I not?" He asked, his face as unreadable as always. Maybe this was why Tifa hadn't spent much time getting to know him. 'Vincent, please. I learned that just because someone tells you they're going to be here... doesn't mean they will. She shifted uncomfortably as Cloud's face entered her mind's eye, and then closed the remainder of the distance between them, pulling him into a quick, superficial hug, doing anything she could to dash the thought from her mind.
"Would you like something to drink?" she asked as she pulled away from him, bending to retrieve her wine glass from where she'd left it. "Maybe some wine? It's good tonight!" Laughing, she raised her glass slightly and took another sip, frowning that it was nearly empty.
Vincent, having barely had time to comprehend the small hug, declined her offer. "No, thank you, though." He closed the gap between them and sat down on the last stair of her doorstep. "The reason for my tardiness was that I walked. I probably forgot to mention that to you. Forgive me." He looked off into space, his forearms on his knees.
Tifa sat down on the stair above his, and to the right of him. She turned her head in the direction that he held his in, wondering what was so damned interesting about the ground. They sat in silence, falling into the same pattern they always had when they were together before. Vincent being deep and brooding, and Tifa falling into his stride, because things were easier that way.
"He won't even return my calls, Vincent." Vincent didn't ask who 'he' was - Tifa assumed that he already knew. A few seconds passed, and she spoke again, neglecting to wait for his response. "I've left him messages... he knows that Denzel is sick with Geostigma. Yet he won't call? He won't come home? Not even for me, but for them! He won't even come home for them..." Tifa trailed off, then picked up at a different interval in her head.
"Why does he think that I can just take care of everything? Why does he think that I'll always just accept whatever it is he wants, whatever it is he says, whatever it is he does? Why am I always the one left to pick up his messes, to take care of his problems? What about MY problems...?" Tifa huffed. She realized how rude she was being, talking as though Vincent wasn't even there. But she was glad he was, whether or not he was listening. It didn't matter.
A few minutes passed by, in silence. Vincent finally answered her battery of questions, in his monotone and detached way, without moving his head or looking away from the spot he'd been starting at. "Because you LET him. You allow him to treat you that way,and he thinks that it's okay, simply because you never tell him that it's not. You just hide your feelings, allowing them to consume you, all the while wearing a happy face."
He turned around to face her, his eyes holding hers. "If you told him what you're telling me, maybe you wouldn't feel this way?"
sliding down to sit next to him, she smiled sadly. "I wish it was that easy. I wish I could just call him up and tell him exactly the way I feel about everything. But what would that do? It would only push him further from me. It wouldn't make him come back... it wouldn't make him care... it..." She whimpered, her eyes filling with tears as she looked away from Vincent. 'What would HE know, anyway? He doesn't have all the responsibilities I have...'
"Tifa, please look at me. And please, listen to me." He paused, obviously waiting for her to turn around before continuing. "Cloud is confused. He doesn't know what's happening any more than you do. I'm sure he cares very much for your well being, as well as the children's. But Geostigma isn't something he planned on. He thought that once Sephiroth was gone, that everything would be taken care of. He doesn't know how to roll with the punches. Keep that in mind." Vincent rubbed her arm, squeezing it lightly. "Not to say that excuses him from his behavior. But maybe it helps you a little more, to hear a possible reason, other than that he hates you, and wants you to be miserable?" He smiled.
Blinking furiously to rid her eyes of the tears that had grown, she smiled back. "Thanks, Vincent." She leaned over into him, hugging him tightly. Hands pressed flat to his back, she held onto him as tightly as she could, remniscent of how Denzel clung to her. Was she really as vulnerable as a little sick child? Yes, and more.
Accepting his role, Vincent hugged Tifa back, rubbing her head with one hand, his other circling her waist, holding her close. His head turned upward, to the sky. "You're strong, Tifa. You'll find a way to do what you know you should." A reassuring hand slipped itself into her hair, soft and dark, however eerily luminescent in this light.
Tifa pulled back, enough to look at him again. Her eyes shone beautifully, intensified by her tears. She absorbed his face, his features. She made herself aware of every place on her body that he was touching, and that he had touched. Her eyes moved to his lips, and before she knew it, her lips were pressed gently against his, his hands firmly grasping her arms, pulling her closer to him.
Her arms found their way around his shoulders, forcing his hands to reposition themselves at her back, his arms around her body, holding her firmly, as though she might dissapear. She supposed that he needed this as much as she did. She forgot herself in his touch; her worries, fears, and obligations melted away into him.
She knew him to be the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.
A/N: I wrote this after listening to "Forget Myself" by Third Eye Blind. It's funny how things like that can inspire you.