It's Just a Kiss

For motchi, because her nudge-nudging is to blame.


Things were going to hell in a hand basket.

"Elena…"

Tseng sounded sympathetic, almost endearing. It was sickening, and she wasn't going to smile and swallow it. Each step she took caused him to take a step back, but eventually her nose was inches from his. She was sure that Hell Fire was blazing in her eyes; she could see it reflected in his pupils.

"Don't 'Elena' me," she spat, hands perched on her hips but shaking nonetheless. She was about to call him everything under the sun when she realized it'd be worthless. He looked terrified enough, despite his cool composure. She'd become good at reading his eyes in addition to Reno's lips and Rude's grunts.

Without a word, she pivoted, heading for the elevator. Reno and Rude were trying their best not to make eye contact with her. Reno had some kind of demented smirk plastered on his lips and she didn't like it. He was amused, but she'd put an end to that.

"Wipe that smirk of your face before I do it for you." The glare she offered him as a side to the biting remark might very well have taken his head off.

She should have known he'd only be further amused. The smirk spread wide, as she would have predicted had her pulse not been thrashing in her ears. That was always the problem when she got angry. She never thought far enough ahead, always let emotion rule. Stress, she could handle. Violence was second nature. It was this particular brand of anger that always left her reeling, trying desperately to grasp threads she couldn't see and failing anyway.

Reno was seconds from laughing, whether from amusement or nervousness, she couldn't tell. She'd barely made it to the elevator, crushing the down arrow with her fist, when he blurted out, "Hell hath no fury…" in some sadistic kind of drawl. She didn't need to turn around to find that cocky expression he was undoubtedly wearing, she could feel it, like hot, beaming rays of annoyance.

The minute the doors parted, she stormed the threshold and spun, punching the door close button heavily and repeatedly. She didn't bother looking back; she just closed her eyes in unison with the elevator doors and resisted the urge to go back in and give Reno a black eye.

She was left alone with her shaking hands and her thundering heart.

She loosened the black tie, ripping it away from the collar of her shirt and tossing it on the floor. It'd be there in the morning anyway and she didn't need it now. What she needed was to cool down. She needed to sit and reflect, decide what to do about this entire mess. She needed a stiff drink and good music. What she needed was a bar. Gods, I'm beginning to think like Reno. Preferably,a bar with a good deal of distance from Shin-Ra.

' ' '

The sun was setting outside, taking her hopes with it. She'd been pining for a slow night, but she had gotten a crowd instead. Thankfully, Barret had been downstairs working on something in the side room when the first argument came to head. He'd thrown the rowdy man out the door and assumed presence as a makeshift bouncer. He did that sometimes, when the crowd was unruly. Tifa needed him, and he was there, as usual. She'd come to rely on him heavily since Cloud had been gone. Something about a new job, but he was brief in his explanations. Rather than dwell on the hurt, she'd moved past it and focused on helping Barret raise Marlene. Denzel was growing up fast, but he was growing up smart with her influence and Barret's discipline.

"Barret?" Tifa called from behind the counter.

"Yeah, Teef?"

She laughed quietly. He always opted to yell across the noise, rather than simply walk to the counter. "Have I ever told you how glad I am that you came to stay with us?"

Barret nodded, she'd told him over and over again. "Sure have."

"Well, I just thought I'd remind you."

Her smile lit up the room. Barret was glad to see her smiling again after all that she'd been through. While the domestic kind of life wasn't as exciting as striking a well of oil or fighting off villains, he enjoyed the time with Marlene and he felt good about helping Tifa. She was family to him.

Tifa went back to tending bar, and he watched a couple of the card players in the corner. At least they were keeping the game quiet. He was just waiting for the drunk with the shifty eyes to get his ass kicked, but none of the others seemed to notice that he was peeking at their hands every time he leaned back to stretch or ogle Tifa.

For a busy night, things were extraordinarily dull. Barret was just about to stifle an overdue yawn when he nearly choked on the deep breath. He coughed once, and he could see that Tifa was looking at him curiously. She always told him he was the epitome of grace. He nodded toward the incoming blonde and watched Tifa's eyes dart, brows raise, and lips part.

Exactly.

While he had to admit, much to his dismay, that Shin-Ra had been on the trail to becoming a decent corporation and the Turks were actually helpful at one point, he was still surprised to see one of them show up at Seventh Heaven. They didn't make it a point to come around, and he didn't mind one bit. It was an unspoken agreement of sorts.

Elena wasted no time in claiming a stool adjacent to Tifa. She'd looked a little out of sorts, with the collar of her shirt diving into a V and lacking a tie. Tifa smiled warmly, "What can I get you?"

"Hm." Elena pushed a finger to her chin, evidently unsure about what to order.

"I can come back, if you're not ready."

"Oh, no. I was just deciding how strong I want that Costa Iced Tea."

Tifa had to admit, she looked like she could use something strong. "I'll add an extra shot of everything."

"Thanks."

When the drink was served, Elena immediately inhaled a third of it. Tifa would have been a little shocked by that, but she supposed that hanging out with Reno might provide some impressive drinking lessons.

"Is everything okay, Elena?"

Elena's eyes rolled as she set the glass down heavily. "Absolutely, if you consider being royally fucked by two of your coworkers okay."

"Um… Well, no, I wouldn't." Tifa was slightly flustered. Sure, Elena often poured a lot of details at them, but she'd never felt quite in a place to console her. This time, she felt bad for Elena.

"Yeah. It's shit, if you ask me."

"I can't imagine."

"That's what I get for choosing a male-dominated field." Elena tossed her hand back dismissively and nursed her drink.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Ugh. It's just boys being boys. Tseng pulled rank on me, and used Reno's rank to pull me off an assignment I desperately wanted so that the two of them can go off and play. I guess when you have a dick, it makes you special."

Tifa snickered, amused by Elena's attitude.

"I'd tell you what it was… but I can't," Elena added.

As if that has stopped her before?

"You know how men are…" Tifa's voice came across almost bitterly, surprising even her.

"You sound like you've had your fair share of bullshit from them."

"Oh, you could definitely say that."

"Have a drink with me, we'll rant about it," Elena offered. She was smiling, and Tifa wanted to take her up on that offer.

"That'd be fun, but I have to keep working. I can already see some nasty looks pointed this way. Maybe on a day off?"

"That works…" Elena craned to see the disapproving glances from customers with empty glasses. "I guess I should let you get back to work before they start breaking things."

"Right. We've had enough of that already."

Tifa sighed, tossed one of the dishrags across her shoulder and mingled into the bar room. She'd just collected a few glasses for refill when she caught Barret's eye. He was looking nervous, and she wasn't quite sure why. On her way back to the counter, she swung by him and whispered, "Is something going on?"

"Just watching these dipshits get braver and braver at stealin'. One's been cheatin' the whole damn time."

"You think they'll start a fight?"

"It's tough to say, but I'd bet on it."

"Wanna break it up then?"

"Could start an even bigger fight…"

Barret's posture was rigid, and Tifa didn't like it. "I'll think of something."

In the midst of refilling and rinsing, Tifa caught the tail end of a risky idea. She'd always pictured the Turks playing cards while waiting for a break in an assignment or while hanging out at a bar. Elena just might be the way to get rid of the scheming player without causing too much of a scene. Or at least less of a scene than if Barret confronted them.

After refilling the Costa Iced Tea, Tifa pressed her elbows to the bar counter, leaning toward Elena. "Are you much of a card player?"

"Are you kidding?" Elena smiled wide and wicked. "I can kick Reno's ass."

"Really? You think you could go win a couple games with those boys and break their game up?"

Elena was looking back between the players and Tifa, considering the proposition. "If you're trying to avoid a fight, it might work. I don't think any of them are drunk enough to hit a girl."

"If you don't mind…"

"I don't. In fact, it might be just what I need."

Elena was enjoying the idea of one-upping a bunch of men. She had taken quite enough from the opposite sex today, and she was going to even the score. She took care to make herself appealing, just to give them more reason not to give her hell when she started winning. Sauntering wasn't usually in her vocabulary, but she didn't let that stop her. Their eyes were hungrily upon her the whole way to the table, and she could feel several stray pairs as well.

Her hands hit the table, her hips cocked, and she tossed strands of cropped, ashen hair over her shoulders. "Mind if I join?" Her voice was huskier than necessary, but the charm worked. She'd gained their attention, however disturbing and ordinarily unwanted.

Two hours, five refills, and seven wins later, the groveling players had given up and gone home. Elena grinned crookedly and wound her way back toward the bar with a triumphant air about her even if she wasn't walking as straight as she had been on her way to the table. She took a route along the sidelines, rather than through the tables where there was far too much to trip over for her comfort.

That was when she finally noticed the face from the past. The one who'd practically led her ex-enemies into dozens of fights, even if the spiked blonde took a lot of the credit. He was the silent hero, even though Barret and silent didn't much belong in a sentence together. She gave him a strange, fleeting smile of recognition and reclaimed her seat by Tifa.

"Back for more?" Tifa asked.

"I was thinking so, but the room won't sit still."

"Well that's not good."

"Nope. Especially since my bodyguards aren't around…"

Hearing Elena refer to Rude and Reno as 'her bodyguards' made Tifa laugh, but at the same time, she realized it would be a little dangerous to send the Turk home on her own, with a loaded gun.

"Can I call a cab for you?"

"Well, I'd say yeah… but I don't think they take credit cards…"

"Why don't I have Barret walk you home then?"

"Oh, it's a long ways-" she began, taking a moment to pace her speech "-I don't want to put you out."

"Not at all, I wouldn't have a clean conscious if I sent you out there alone."

"Mmm-" Elena seemed to be considering the prospect, holding her head delicately as if that would keep it from feeling heavy. "He doesn't mind?"

"Barret? Would you mind walking Elena home?"

Tifa could tell he wasn't any too pleased with the idea, but he wasn't the type to tell her no when her Good Samaritan habits came into play.

"Not if we leave now."

"Are you ready to go, Elena?"

"I guess. I wish I could put off tomorrow… stay away from the two bastards who stole my assignment."

"Maybe you could take a day off? Make it a long weekend?"

"Maybe. We'll see…" Elena huffed and slid off the stool, keeping her grip on the back cautiously.

"Take care," Tifa called as Elena headed for the door.

"Yeah, you too."

' ' '

The moon was high, bathing the streets in pale light, washing out any vibrancy within sight. Barret was enjoying the silence, basking in the peace that he and the others had brought to Edge. Sure, he was walking a drunken Turk home, but she was being quiet, focusing on keeping her feet moving in a semi-straight line. And they were half way to her apartment. If he had only known it wasn't going to last the whole way.

"So what're you doing here? I thought you'd be off playing hero. Doing something wild and exciting."

It wasn't really that he was insulted by the insinuation of the statement, but more that it was coming from Elena in a tone of voice that reeked of challenge. He ignored her, watching a car pass noisily.

She stopped, turning toward him with a gleam in her eyes that troubled him. "Oops. Did I hit a nerve?" She cocked her head and feigned innocence like a regular gold carpet actress.

"Just walk…"

"Aw. Poor Bawwet got his nerves in a bunch. Gun barrel jammed?"

He seriously considered showing her just how slick the barrel was.

"Bawwet," she repeated. He stopped even with her, glaring into hazel eyes.

"Stop callin' me that." He was certain that under-the-influence Elena was as annoying as Yuffie.

"Okay, Barret." Elena stumbled the first step, but managed to fall in behind him.

The girl had downed an awful lot of alcohol, he was surprised that she could walk and carry on a conversation at all—even if it was a very unpleasant one-sided conversation.

"Honestly, I'd love to know what made you stick around this place." Elena was now beside him, using his prosthetic to stable herself as they stepped down into the crosswalk at an intersection. Barret was slightly surprised at the warmth that radiated from her hand into the metal of the prosthetic. They weren't kidding about state-of-the-art.

"Damn it, Elena. Why?"

Despite the fact that they'd safely stepped back onto the sidewalk, Elena was still using his arm. In fact, she'd snaked her arm around it and that was making him more than a little uncomfortable.

"Why not?"

"Why do you-" Interruption came in the form of a harsh inhalation when Elena brushed full torso against him. Just a part of her swagger, but he could feel things he was certain he did not need to feel. "-care?" he finished. The word came half growled.

"Curious… I guess."

If Elena realized what she'd done, she was hiding it well. He slipped out of her grasp, distancing from her to avoid anymore contact. "Drop it."

"Not good 'nough to know, hm?"

She was shaking her head, mumbling something beneath her breath and walking faster even if she had to spread her arms to hold her balance. He had no idea why she was so sensitive to his block. There was no way she was interested in the lives of such regular people. Curious? Just an excuse. Tifa used it all the time.

"Elena, slow down. I'm not peelin' your ass off the street if you get hit by a car." It had to be the alcohol. That was the only reasonable explanation for her mood. "Look, it's because Teef needed me around to help out. Marlene, too."

Elena stopped, faced him with a little smirk. "You couldn't say that?"

Barret caught up to her and she started back down the road looking satisfied. She looked lost in thought for a block, watching nothing in particular and glancing up at him from time to time until she said, "That's really sweet."

"Couldn't leave 'er to take care of all that by herself."

"Yeah, you could have. But you didn't. That's sweet."

"It's what friends do."

"Bet you wouldn't screw her over for a job…"

"Can't rightly say I would anymore."

"Anymore?"

"I was after wealth there for a while… but things change."

"At least you realized it was wrong. Anyway, this is me."

Elena had paused in front of an impressive high rise. He hadn't even realized they'd headed downtown, probably too busy making sure she didn't nose dive over any curbs. She was fidgeting with the cuffs of her blazer.

"'Night, Elena."

Barret was just about to turn back to the sidewalk when she asked "You don't need anything before you head back, do you?"

He shook his head, wondering why she seemed to be stalling and why she was biting her lip the way she was. He was about to ignore her oddities and be back on his way when she grabbed the crook of his elbow, hazel eyes blazing in the silver light and holding eye contact.

"Thanks for walking me back."

He thought that was the end of it. That she'd let him go and wander up to her apartment, forget all about the evening after the sixth glass and lose all the bits and pieces of the conversation. He was wrong.

Elena balanced on the tips of masculine shoes, using his elbow to bring herself even with his cheek. His skin felt warm when she placed a kiss on a portion of skin just mere inches from his lips. And rather than falling back and leaving him stunned in the crisp air, she kept to her toes and nuzzled her nose against his face sweetly, her finger tips massaging the inside of his elbow.

Her hair was intoxicating, as was her breath when it ghosted across his lips. Too much alcohol to discern any particular taste, but he was sure he could taste the sugar from the tea when her mouth crashed against his. The kiss was unexpected enough, but the urgency and fire behind her lips were nearly startling. He was surprised at the way she devoured his bottom lip, gripped his arms tightly, and melted into him.

And all he could do was stand, rooted to the concrete and shocked beyond reason. He could have pushed her away when she'd first gotten close. Should have stopped her from nuzzling into him like a lover. The thoughts all came far too late, and he'd just caught up to the kiss when she broke away. The thick coat of dust lying over his libido seemed to be swept away when she breathed hard, warming the moisture left on his lips from her kiss. He was feeling things he hadn't felt in years, and suddenly starving and thirsty. It was all he could do to resist kissing her again. But she was drunk, and that's what this came down to.

She sighed, kissed him desperately one more time, and then she was disappearing into a dim lobby. He was left empty-handed and wondering what had just happened. He hadn't pictured the night turning out quite like it had, and he was quite unsure how to feel about it.

It was nothing, right? Too much alcohol in a small woman, a little conversation, and there you go. Nothing she'd remember, something he should forget. After all, it's just a kiss.


Disclaimer: Characters and locations belong to Square Enix. I just meddled with them for fun.


Well, how's that for a pairing? A little bit of a challenge, but I had so much fun writing this and seeing where I could go with it. What do you think? I'd love to know!

Thanks to motchi for suggesting BarretxElena and for taking the time to read and offer advice.