Here it is. The full fic behind the little snippets (Secrets, Stolen Moments, and Sweetest Dreams). You don't have to have read the snippets to read this. They stand alone and this stands alone, but they are all little pieces of the same story. Some of this chapter may be familiar; I had to cover some of the basic story from Secrets in this chapter in order to clarify how Tifa gets to this point.
Rating: This chapter is tame, but erotic content is inevitable.
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from ffvii or any of it's characters, but I would certainly like to take this crimson angel home with me for a while.
Tifa caught sight of him standing at the waters edge. When he had appeared there, she had no idea; she hadn't seen or heard his approach. It was a flash of red in the brilliant sunlight that brought her attention to him, and now she couldn't turn away.
She had come here to get away. Away from the bar, away from the children, away from Cloud, away from her friends. She was tired. So tired, and it had nothing to do with her aching body at the end of each long day. That could be cured with a long soak in the tub. The fatigue that had her really worried refused to be dispelled. She had needed an out, a change of pace where she didn't have to do and see the same things day in and day out. She had needed a vacation.
She had realized some hard truths in the past year. Now that Sephiroth had been dealt with, hopefully for good this time, things had calmed down quite a bit, and into that calm crept a nasty revelation.
Life was passing her by.
Not to say it hadn't been a full life. She had certainly kept busy, working, taking care of the children, taking care of her friends, being a member of AVALANCHE.
But when had it ever been just about her?
Maybe she should thank Cloud. After all, he was the one that had brought it all to her attention. She had been sitting, leaning against the bar, her head resting in her hands, the lights turned down after closing, when she heard the opening and closing of the door.
"It's me, Tifa."
She turned to Cloud's voice, and at the sight of him, the knowledge hit her like a bolt through the heart. As much as she had wanted it, once upon a time, she was never going to be his. His heart belonged to others first, and though there was plenty of room in there for her as a friend, even as family, she didn't want to take second place, not to another woman, or man, for that matter, and that proverbial crystal clear bell was ringing furiously now; there had never been a chance for her and Cloud, and not because of him; because in her heart she knew she would never be first with him.
It was that realization that set the wheels in motion for a vacation that would isolate her from her friends and give her time to think about what she wanted, not for everyone else, but for herself. She had chosen a small town, somewhere off the beaten trail, somewhere none of her friends would consider looking for her. She had taken great care while making the arrangements for the trip, taking every precaution that her friends were unaware of her plans. She had let them know she would be taking a vacation, had even gone so far as to lie about her destination when Yuffie pushed her. Of course she was going to Costa del Sol! Where else would she be going? At Yuffie's suggestion that they meet up sometime during the trip, Tifa had almost burst into tears, but managed to control herself at the last second, and quickly promised Yuffie that she would think about it. Needless to say, she didn't mention it to Yuffie again, and when Yuffie repeated her offer on the day she left, she had made a vague promise to keep in touch. She had followed through with that promise, as far as she was concerned, with a postcard she picked up at the train station, which she dropped in the mail at the second station where she caught a connecting train, leaving no way to track her progress. She had felt guilty about her secretive actions, but kept reminding herself that this was finally about her, not her friends.
The inn she had chosen, quite randomly, turned out to be very quant and peaceful. It was tiny, but she had a very private room that overlooked the countryside. Setting out on a walk the first day, she had found this little spot by the water, so peaceful, so pretty, the surface reflecting deep blue sky occasionally interrupted by a cloud or two, and the countless shades of green of the surrounding trees. It was a place where her body could relax and her mind could rest and focus. She had come here everyday since, this being the fourth day, but it was the first time she had seen anyone else in the area.
Her mind raced with questions. Who was he? Did he come here often? Where had he come from? Did he find this place as peaceful as she did? Is that why he came? Did he know she was there?
She didn't think he was aware of her; she was hidden by the branches and shade of a large willow tree. She observed him from there. He was tall, definitely over six feet, and his lean body was hidden beneath a leather duster that was a deep, vibrant red, highlighted with black epaulets. His hair, hanging straight past his ears but not quite to his shoulders, shone brilliantly red in the sunlight, kissed with the faintest traces of gold. The profile of his face suggested sharp features and a long, graceful neck, and Tifa found herself longing for him to turn his head just a bit more so she could see his entire face, his eyes.
He seemed completely engrossed in whatever he was doing. What was he doing? She could see his lips moving, and he was gesturing one long arm out at the water. Was he summoning? Praying? She couldn't tell, but didn't dare interrupt him with her own movement. If he continued the way he was, he wouldn't even notice her there. Part of her wanted that, yet another part of her thrilled at the thought of his recognition. She remained very still as long minutes slid by. At long last, his arm dropped to his side, and a few moments later, he turned to leave, apparently oblivious to her presence.
She released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding as she watched him move away with long, purposeful strides, and as she thought the possibility was gone, he turned as he walked, pinning her with his gaze even as he moved, eyes narrowing, totally, completely aware of her. And just before he turned away again, before he disappeared from view within the trees and an outcropping of boulders, she thought she saw his mouth curve in the slightest hint of a smile.