And here it is—the final chapter in this re-write of one of my first multi-chapter VinTifa Romances. It's taken me almost a year to get this right, and I'm not entirely sure I am happy with it. There is an epilogue to come, but I might end up tearing it to pieces to compliment the style of ending I have gone for.
If there are any reviewers out there, it would be good to hear from you, as always.
RECAP: Cid made good on an old promise, though Vincent still has to decide whether he has the capacity to forgive Tifa for her mistake, at the expense of his own pride.
Chapter 19: Reconciliation
His face felt like it was aflame; the pain was acute, sending dancing spots before his eyes. His nose had been broken, but was healing off centre. He'd had to break it again to set it straight, leading him to his current predicament lying perfectly still on a rented bed, trying to focus on anything but the blaringly obvious agony that plagued him.
Cid was right. He was a coward.
In all fairness, Tifa owed him nothing, especially after his abandonment of her. Why then, he asked himself with a grimace, was he so affronted by the notion of her sleeping with someone else?
Probably because it prodded and probed at old wounds, barely healed and prone to inflammation.
What blame could he put upon her? He shook his head, swallowing down a groan at the surge of pain the movement induced. He couldn't allocate any to her, only to himself.
He had been the one who wanted to help the broken creature he had found that night in Kalm. She was a bird with fractured wings, an injury all the more poignant for him to observe because he knew how beautiful she could look in flight. He had wanted to hurt the one responsible for breaking her. Then inevitably comparisons had been made, and that was where the lines had begun to blur.
In vain he had hoped that being apart from one another would lessen the turmoil they no doubt both felt; for his part, his urge to protect her, the swell of pleasure her smiles brought him, the irrational notion that he could perhaps take her in his arms and kiss her and she would dizzy in his arms…
All notions of a fool, no less.
Their reunion at Christmas served to poignantly remind him of what he had tried so hard to repress within himself. And kissing her beneath that blasted mistletoe had been the hardest test of all; for under the scrutiny of all their friends, he had wanted nothing more than to take her face in his hands, gently tease her lips apart with his and use all means available to him to persuade her to never let him go.
Wutai had been the bridge too far. She'd had to wear that dress and she had to just look at him the right way just once… It had taken nerves of steel for him to push just hard enough to let her dress whisper to the floor. Then he had lowered her to the matting, kissed her everywhere until she was breathless and dizzy and repeating his name with each haphazard exhale as though he was all she needed to breathe, and he'd taken her to a place without stars, and shown her that it might have been years, but he still knew the right places to kiss, to bite, to pinch…
Then that name. That name. Cloud; The man who had broken something so beautiful ,that even though it lay in pieces before him, each tiny fragmented shard was still worth its very weight in gold. Vincent had been the one to put her back together again, piece by golden piece.
His work was not complete. It never could be. His fingers had gotten burned too close to the flames, and it was a case of all or nothing. Nothing being the option he had apparently chosen, following her verbal outburst. Cloud's name was a cold weight that settled in his stomach, and festered there.
All in all, events had snowballed to here. He would have laughed, had the action not sent white hot pain shooting across his face. He had chosen to run from her believing the worst, as he was wont to do. Yet he was tired or running.
For once, he wanted closure.
Would confronting her with the truth remedy his situation? He could deal with her anger, as he had done before, but if he revealed the one thing that had driven him away that night, he risked shifting the heavy burden of blame onto her already weakened shoulders.
One thing remained a certainty in his mind; he cared for her. He didn't want to be responsible for another downward spiral that he was in no position to intercept.
So that was it; his fork in the road. Go to her, tell her the truth; and risk breaking her. Maybe there'd be a chance for reconciliation… if that was really what he wanted, if his overbearing morals would allow it. Or leave her to her anger, never knowing the truth, and risk losing her forever.
Whichever path he chose, he risked exacerbating the damage they had already caused between them.
He sighed heavily, wincing at the now dulling throb in his broken nose. His healing rate was speeding things along nicely, yet still it would still bother him for another week or so, at the very least.
Could he stand a little hurt to heal the pain?
She bolted awake, her subconscious fleeing from a nightmare. The details became a haze; trying to recall each detail was like clutching at smoke, her desperate movements only served to send them flittering away, fading gradually into nothingness.
Gasping for air, she wrenched open the shutters at her bedroom window, admitting an eager coastal wind into her little cliff top house. The brisk sea air plucked at loose strands escaping her braid, and sent her curtains wafting softly back and to in the ebbing breeze.
She was reminded of the first night Vincent had stayed with her at the bar in Kalm. It had seemed so symbolic then, baring the still and silent rooms of her house to the air as though releasing them from imprisonment. She imagined that the all the negativity that had festered in that house over the past year before Vincent arrived was released at last. Fresh air and a fresh start. So it had seemed, at any rate.
She breathed slow and deliberate, calming her racing heart, distracted gaze drinking in the moonlight midnight landscape.
A shadow caught her gaze, cast long in the light from the full moon. There was no mistaking those features, so pale in the lunar glow. It was him; he was here, he had come.
She drank him in; bloodshot eyes, broken nose, a soul burdened with decades of suffering… and yet he still managed a ghost of a smile for her. Only for her.
Had they both needed this to realise what was important—what was dearest to them?
Though no words had been spoken, understanding and guilt battered against her in waves. She couldn't find any words to describe her humility.
She reached out hesitant fingers to touch his swollen nose, unable to prevent the gentle laugh that escaped her lips. What fools they had both been. She curled into his reluctant arms, squeezing, squeezing so tight, to let him know that as long as he wouldn't let her go, she would remain by his side. He was the one she had chosen, faults and haunted past be damned.
Her chest ached desperately, each inhale as fragile as a butterfly's wing. The sea breeze raised goosebumps on her bare arms.
"Perhaps we should go inside?" His voice was familiar, and yet so strange.
They enter her darkened hallway, suddenly aware of how audibly they breathed here in the stillness of her house. Remaining silent, he turns, scanning the shadows of the picture frames on the wall.
There were pictures of the children, taken over the past few years, though one clump of photographs seemed brand new- Christmas at Cid and Shera's in fact. On closer inspection he discovered one that must have been taken without his knowledge; Tifa and himself, walking ahead in the snow, bundled up in their coats and scarves. Her arm is thread through his, and he can make out the tip of her nose, her face turned up to his. She is laughing at something he said.
Things had felt so fragile then, but looking back, it seemed like there had never been simpler times. She looked happy.
"I had hoped that I could help you move in here, you know? I spent a while here before I headed to Rocket for Christmas, making sure it was liveable. There was bats in the loft, and the floor was in a terrible state." She recalled the scent of fresh paint that had pervaded long after she had moved in.
She felt a wave of gratitude towards him, but she dared not approach him, or touch him yet.
"I was—and still am—angry with you," He lowered his gaze, shoulders slumped visibly towards the ground. "This Gregg… getting someone else involved like you did… I naively thought that you just needed some time to get over Cloud's death."
She felt both ire and guilt bubble furiously in your chest. "You think I could replace you so easily as that?—that I seek to replace either of you?!"
"No, Vincent!" She curls hers hands into fists. She used to be afraid of getting angry at him, once, worried that he would simply turn and walk out for good. Since he had done that once, she didn't fear it again. What more did she have to lose? "Nobody was being replaced! Not Cloud, not you."
She runs her hands through her hair, agitatedly pacing in her living room. "You know, I had a pregnancy scare. I felt so stupid! To think I could be carrying a child that belonged to a stranger—"
His breath caught in his throat at her revelation, though he said nothing, watching her turn in the room with her flurrying hands. "I thought to myself; what a fucking mess you're in, Lockheart. I hated myself for my weakness. I've never been this weak in my life. My father would be so pissed at me."
She sighs heavily, one arm limp at her side, the other awkwardly clutching the opposite shoulder. "Can we ever fix this, Vincent? Can you ever forgive me? Can we make anything good come out of this mess?"
He shook his head slowly. "I needed time to think, but Cid…" He rubbed self-consciously at his nose. "I don't know anymore, Tifa. It's too fresh, still, for me…"
She nodded mutely. "We should probably get some sleep," The clock confirmed it to be well past midnight. "You can… stay in the spare room and we can talk more in the morning." She almost didn't trust him to agree to stay, but her soft amber eyes boring into him shamed him.
"Alright." She led him to the door, though he already knew the way. He had painted it all himself.
"Here. Extra blankets are in the cupboard. I will be… down the hall if you need anything." A quick flick of her eyes up to his, and he wondered what it was he would need that she would readily give him.
"Good night, Tifa."
"Good night… Vincent."
He pressed his back to the door, running his hands over his face. He had made it here without stopping, and his body was beyond exhaustion, yet he knew sleep would not claim him tonight. She lay not feet from him, no doubt angry and confused, and he had the power to fix this, if only he was brave enough.
There had been so much anger, so much hurt and awkwardness that it seemed a miracle that they were here now, together. If she could forgive him, if he could forgive her… where once, their relationship had been only a dream, it could be real.
Vincent woke rather suddenly, staring up at the sun-splashed ceiling of an unfamiliar room. A warm presence beside him shifted, and he looked to his side to find Tifa nestled into the crook of his arm, her hair spread over the pillow like silk.
Tifa? But what was she doing here?—he checked—this was his room. So she had come to him in the night?
He took in the scent of her hair, and touched her warm cheek with hesitant fingertips. Her breath was warm on his neck, her skin soft to the touch.
"Tifa…" He whispered her name, wondering whether or not he should have moved her before he woke her, to save awkwardness.
"Don't go…" She shifted closer in his arms, their legs entwined. "I couldn't sleep alone, knowing you were here. I needed you."
He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Tifa… I.."
"You don't need to say anything." She didn't open her eyes, instead taking his hand in hers and squeezing with sleep-weakened fingers. "I know this is wrong. But I want you to forgive me. I want you to tell me everything, because I want to understand. I want… I want us."
He breathed in deeply, and released a slow exhale. If she wanted him, and he wanted her, then that was the first step. He had to overcome his tendency not to trust; otherwise he would risk his only chance at happiness—their only chance.
"I…I want us, too."
She opened her eyes, smiling softly as he peered into her face. "Then that's the first hurdle over with."
A/N: I'm sorry this took so long to complete. I've literally been coming back to it for about a year, unable to complete it. There is an epilogue, which isn't so intricate, and so won't take me too long re-write.