The truck grinded to a halt, spraying the surrounding area with gravel and dust. Inside, Cid slumped against the driver's seat, a satisfied grin spreading across his features.
"How's that for timing, huh?" He twisted behind him to see Cloud, Yuffie and Tifa sprawled awkwardly in the back, only half successful in keeping their seated positions.
"Dammit Cid," Cloud groaned as he pushed himself to his feet, "I said we were running late not suicidal." He sighed and kicked the rear doors open, ignoring Cid's retaliation.
Yuffie leapt out behind him grinning like a child. "This is so cool, I can't wait!"
Cloud smiled meekly then held out a hand to Tifa, the smile widening.
She smiled quickly but ignored the offering, hopping easily down behind the other girl.
"Thanks Cid." Tifa waved to the driver while Cloud pulled several bags from the truck then slammed the doors.
"Don't forget the chocobos: 8 o'clock." He smacked the side of the truck before moving several feet back as it skidded from the driveway.
Behind him, Tifa and Yuffie were already making their way towards the shopping centre's entrance.
A large red poster had been glued across several of the front windows with the words "Come visit Santa. Here Today!" written in green through the middle. Yuffie squealed with excitement. "This is going to be so cool!"
Tifa laughed at her enthusiasm while Cloud smirked at the sign.
"Don't tell me you're not excited Cloud?" She giggled sarcastically as Yuffie flew on ahead through the doors.
"Oh sure. Who wouldn't want to dress up in an itchy Santa suit for a day? Yippee, were do I sign up?"
Tifa laughed casually as they made their way through the large hall. Neon lights blinked festively in shop windows, leading their way to the back of the building were a small wooden hut had been set up, plastered in white and surrounded by Christmas décor.
The door was swinging open as they approached while the sound of Yuffie's ecstatic voice rang through the empty building.
"I think they've over done it on the fake snow again!" Cloud smirked, dumping his bags at the 'grotto's' doorway. "And that polar bear's head's still missing."
"Will you stop it? It's all for a good cause in the end." Tifa laughed, punching Cloud's arm.
"Yeah, I suppose. But you'd think Shinra would add some off their own funds to this. It's their fundraiser after all."
Tifa rolled her eyes and lifted one of the bags. "What time is it?"
"I'm gonna' get changed then. And could you see if you could get the keys for the post box over there. The kids love seeing their christmas lists up on the walls." Smiling, Tifa made her way into the small house. She spotted Yuffie lounging in the large, red seat that was Santa's chair and tossed her a costume. Eagerly the young girl snatched it from the air and hastily began to undress. Tifa surveyed her own costume in amusement. No doubt Reno had put in his own ideas for the design again.
A christmas green dress, skimpy-short and cut elf-style at the sleeves and base slid tightly over her body while a synthetic leather belt with a buckle labelled 'Santa's Little Helper' pulled in at the waist. Her legs sported red fishnet tights with matching kitten heels, adorned with bells on the toes.
A jingling, bobbled hat that sat neatly on her head was the only thing remotely appropriate for children.
Tifa sighed, her attempt to pull the dress lower failing entirely as it rose higher up her legs. It was all for a good cause, that's all she had to remember. It's what got her through last year and it would do it again this year, so long as Reno managed to keep his wolf whistles to himself.
Leaving the wooden hut, Tifa snatched up the keys Cloud had set aside for her and made her way to the red box across the hall. As she opened the door to scoop the letters out, a jingle caused her to lift her eyes only to jump back in shock as Yuffie popped up over the top.
"Look what I found!" In her hand, she held a twig of mistletoe, twisting it eagerly between her fingers. "You should SO try this with Cloud!"
Tifa giggled and locked the post box's door. "I don't think so Yuffie."
"Why not, he can't say no, it's a rule." She danced around her friend like a pixie, her face red with excitement.
"No, it's not that."
"Then why not?"
"…It would be awkward…that's all."
Yuffie paused for a moment, before her face scrunched up in a sly grin. "Awkward…or there's someone else!"
Tifa stopped, signalling Yuffie into squeals of triumph. "There is someone else isn't there?"
"NO. No….look Yuffie," Tifa smiled however her voice held a serious tone. "There is no one else, I just…don't think it's time for me and Cloud to…y'know, get together." She walked on while Yuffie followed, a look of annoyance spreading on her face.
"Well I think you've had plenty of time to think about it. Why not just go for it?" She lifted half the pile of letters from Tifa and began to rip open the envelopes.
Although smiling, in her mind Tifa was squirming at the thought of it. It was true, there was someone else, maybe not in the same type of relationship, but she may as well hang herself from the second floor balcony than say who.
She was sick to her teeth about being pushed at Cloud; she only tolerated it as a good cover for her true emotions. But today would make it all worth listening to. He was here, she knew it, she felt it and if it was anything like last year, he would let her know of it. The question was how?
Uninterestedly, Tifa sifted through the letters, sticking one after the other onto the grotto's walls. Once finished, she busied herself at lighting the small fire set into the wall's face, careful not to set the stockings on fire like she had the previous year. They had just barely hidden the charred remains by the time the centre had opened and the kids had stormed to the grotto's doors.
She jumped at Yuffie's sudden voice. As she turned, the young ninja pushed a letter at her, a wry smile curling her mouth. "It's addressed to you."
Curiously Tifa took the letter and froze, her eyes glued to her name on the envelope. She tore the top away, turning so the contents were hidden to the girl behind her. Slowly, Yuffie edged closer, eager to peer over Tifa's shoulder but just as she neared a glimpse, the letter was scrumpled into a tight ball and tossed into the fire.
"Hey, what was that about?" Yuffie pouted. "Hehe, was it a boy?"
Tifa turned to her friend, as if she had just been pulled from her own world. Her face was flushed and her hand was twisting in her hair.
"So…who was it? Tell me! Was it fanmail?"
Tifa grinned, almost slyly, purposely teasing Yuffie. "Hmm…maybe."
"Was it Cloud?"
Tifa shrugged nonchalantly, a cheeky grin curling her mouth.
"You are so infuriating," Yuffie giggled. She sounded more like a schoolgirl with every minute. "I promise I won't tell."
Before Tifa could reply, the door creaked open and Cloud stepped in; cell phone in hand.
"Look the kids love them we have to ha…yes I know I'm not the one catching them Cid but I'm not the one who let them out either…just put Vincent on…because Vincent isn't trying to talk while restraining a chocobo…"
Tifa and Yuffie exchanged amused glances as he argued; Yuffie childishly mimicking Cid's end of the conversation. Only when Cloud slumped into 'Santa's chair' did they realise the conversation had ended.
"So…what's happened now?" Tifa asked in between giggles.
Cloud gazed up. "It seems Cid backed the truck into the chocobos' pen and some got out. Some being all by the sounds of things."
"So are they going to be here?"
"Well…yes but they'll be late."
"That's not so bad." Yuffie cut in. "At least they'll be here."
Cloud raised his eyebrows. "True…but getting them through crowds of people queuing to see Santa may prove to be a problem."
There was a brief silence, broken by Yuffie's optimistic voice. "How about you section a path off or something? It couldn't be that hard right?"
"That could work," agreed Tifa, "how about it Cloud?"
"Where are we going to get something that'll be long enough to stretch from the back entrance to here?"
Yuffie thought for a moment before again reaching a solution. "I think there's some cables up in the second floor hardware store. More than enough to work. I could ge-"
"I'll get them!" Cloud and Yuffie jumped at Tifa's sudden burst of eagerness. Uncertain, Cloud thought for a moment.
"Well…if you think it could work."
"Of course it will work. It's a great idea. I can get the cables now while you two finish up here." Tifa smiled with enthusiasm.
Cloud smiled in return. "I'll come give you a hand!"
"No. It's okay; you can stay and help here. I can manage. Besides, you still need to get changed and this place opens in thirty minutes. Yuffie can finish the decorations and so on, yeah? Plus if it takes me a while getting them down we'll need at least one Santa's helper here to greet everyone!" Slowly Tifa had begun to edge towards the grotto's doorway.
Cloud and Yuffie thought over this and, after a moment, finally saw the logic to Tifa's answer. "Great, then I'll get started on that now and you two can…well...finish." Restlessly, Tifa spun from the grotto and headed straight for the escalator. She leapt the steps two at a time, her mind on completely different matters than fencing for chocobos. That letter had been a boy all right, the one she wanted to hear from. This was just too perfect an opportunity to fulfil her desires, there was no way she was passing it up. Hopefully with the work needing done back at the grotto, no one would come looking for her anytime soon.
She began to run, the bells on her feet ringing noisily. She turned down a third corridor, took left and arrived at a door hidden into an alcove in the wall, well away from the first floor's view. She swallowed and waited for her breath to return before twisting the door's handle. Darkness greeted her, engulfing her form as the door closed. Her fingers felt for the lock and, without thought, flicked it shut.
She could hear her own heart racing, could almost feel it in her throat; a mixture of anticipation and fear. Something moved within the room, far to the back. Tifa focused on it, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Slowly she edged forward, faint terror beginning to grow in her mind. She could soon make out the shapes of stacked boxes and crates; the Shinra logo stamped clearly on their surface. She picked her way carefully over the layer of fallen mops and debris that littered the floor until she reached the rear of the store, turning full circle to survey the room. She could almost see into every corner now and the emptiness caused disappointment to grow inside her mind. Their meetings were brief; they had to be if they were to be kept secret. Maybe once or twice a year at most and normally no longer than twenty minutes to be safe. If he wasn't already here then it was unlikely he ever would be.
An icy shiver suddenly ran up the girl's spine. Instinct told her to leap forward but a hand swung across her mouth and wrenched her back while another grasped both wrists and secured them from use. Tifa trembled, a mixture of shock and glee as her body was pulled tightly into the chest of another. She almost wanted to squeal with delight, to turn and wrap her arms round the torso behind her. But that's not how this relationship worked.
If she even hinted to him that her feelings went further than just physical play, that her emotions went beyond their mutual need for each other's touch, there would be no question, things would become very dangerous for her indeed. All they shared were their equal lusts for each others body, nothing more and nothing less.
Hot breath tickled her ear as Sephiroth's head came close to hers, causing her tremors to increase.
"Have you been a good girl this year, Miss Lockhart?"
Tifa's head tilted to the side as his hot breath tickled her neck. "Or …"
She felt him laugh inwardly, low and seductive. "Maybe you've been naughty?"
The hand across her mouth slid away, the thumb tracing her lips before lowering down to stroke across her chest. The green dress shaped her breasts perfectly; inviting his touch.
She gazed up at the ceiling and smiled wryly. "What would you prefer?"
Another laugh, this time almost threatening, emerged from his throat. "You tell me."
His other hand released Tifa's wrists and grasped the girl's belt to twist her round. Her breath caught when their eyes finally met. There was no doubt she feared for her life every time they encountered, but it was usually outweighed by the excitement she felt when she knew what he held in store.
Sephiroth towered above her, his vice-like grip trapping her small form against his body. Mako-green eyes gleamed with lust in the darkness, mesmerising and predatory, impatient to take what they sought.
Before Tifa could even close her mouth, he had captured it with his own. Memories of their first confrontation like this flooded the girl's mind and she laughed at how inexperienced she must have seemed. She knew him better now. Knew that he liked it his way and no other.
His lips were firm and insistent as always, and it took the girl a moment to regain her senses before she relaxed against him. Instantly her hands rose up to his chest. She needed to feel his body for herself, to slake her craving which had grown unbearable since their last encounter. Her hands slid gently beneath the straps of his coat and began to move eagerly across his chest. She knew he liked the touch as he pulled her tighter, his tongue delving deeply into her mouth. He was by far the more dominant, his tongue exploring insistently, hands groping and merciless.
As Sephiroth's fingers reached Tifa's hips once more, he spun her into the wall. She gasped from the impact, strangely aroused by the pain. By the time she caught her breath, she noticed that Sephiroth's leather coat was now slumped in a heap on the floor. The sight of his body always left her breathless and again she found herself struggling for air. On impulse, Tifa's arms flew up to entwine through his hair while his mouth bathed her neck with sucks and nips. Gradually his own hands drifted lower to Tifa's legs. There was a loud shredding noise as his fingers reached the red stockings barring his touch. Impatiently, he tore them away and began to caress her inner thighs, stroking seductively. Tifa keened softly into his ear as he teased her skin. She felt her feet lift from the ground as Sephiroth tugged the dress up to bunch at her waist. The cool air seeped between the girl's legs, only heightening the sensation of Sephiroth's fingers gliding higher. She mewled eagerly as he reached her underwear, parting her legs further to pull them down.
Slowly and purposely, Sephiroth slid his fingers inside her, grinning wickedly as she gasped aloud. He probed her roughly, a deep laugh rising from his throat as she threw her head back in pleasure. His free hand caught the back of her neck and forced her mouth to his once again.
Immediately Tifa responded in firm kisses, suckling restlessly at his lower lip as his fingers went deeper. He spread the digits out; stretching her painfully and earning a sharp nip that drew blood.
Tifa moaned impatiently as he withdrew his fingers, her eyes glazed with a lust that matched Sephiroth's predatory glare. She could just barely make out the noise of him undoing his belt before he grabbed her roughly beneath the legs and straddled her across his hips. Tifa shivered with anticipation, eager to feel him inside her once more. She tightened her hold around his waist as he lowered her slowly onto his throbbing member. As he strengthened his own grip, he plunged into her, driving a choked cry from her lungs as he broke through her barrier. Pain surged through her abdomen in tremors and she waited, teeth clenched tightly, before the ecstasy began to stream through her body. He waited briefly for her to adjust before plunging into her once more, causing the girl to whimper pitifully. She bit down hard on her own lip as the man began to pound into her.
A trickle of blood streamed down Tifa's chin before Sephiroth lapped it away, eager to sample the taste. He rejoined their mouths in a passionate kiss, clearing any thought of pain from the girl's mind.
Soon, blissful groans were escaping her with every one of Sephiroth's strong, purposeful motions. Each stroke dragged a cry of pleasure from Tifa's body, encouraging him faster until he was slamming her lower back into the wall. The pain was now enhancing her pleasure and she pulled herself harder onto him.
Blood seeped between their conjoined bodies, mixing with the sweat now gleaming on their skin. Her body would suffer later for this, but right now all Tifa could think about was the extreme euphoria Sephiroth was giving her. She grasped his shoulders, burying her head into the crook of his neck. She loved the scent of him; the strong, musky aroma that clung to his flesh and intoxicated her senses.
Her muscles soon began to tense as the girl neared her climax; her body arching into his as she exulted her release. Stars danced behind Tifa's eyes and she fell onto Sephiroth's chest as he came within her, a ghost of a groan gracing his lips.
His head fell to Tifa's neck were he continued to kiss her skin, sending goosebumps across her flesh. Light hands brushed across Tifa's back as he withdrew from between her legs. She struggled to regain balance as her feet touched the ground, small tremors still racking her form. Sephiroth laughed into himself as she supported her body against his. He inhaled the scent of her hair, stroking her bare flesh obsessively as he waited for the girl to recover. When Tifa could stand on her own feet, he tilted her head back and kissed her swollen lips, pulling her mind back to reality. As she smiled against his mouth Sephiroth pulled away and began to dress.
The feelings now swarming Tifa's mind were both hated and adored. She felt like she was on Cloud Nine but it only left her craving Sephiroth's touch more when he left.
Tifa watched him hazily, only half aware that he was now adjusting her dress for her. Sephiroth brushed the sweat-plastered hair from her face then flashed a dangerous grin.
"It's not fair when the villain fucks better is it?"
Tifa laughed softly and stepped away from him towards the door. She turned briefly, her mouth turning up slightly at the corner. "What makes you believe I think that?"
At this, Sephiroth laughed aloud and took a step back, the room's shadows swallowing his form. "Because you talk in your sleep."
Tifa froze, not knowing how to respond. Before she could, Sephiroth had already gone, only the faint echo of his laughter drifting through the empty room.
The thought unnerved her but the sound of the centre's clock shook the girl from her confusement. Composing herself, Tifa strode from the room, heading straight for the ladies toilets.
She had to clean up fast. She brushed her hands through her tangled hair and dried off any body fluid still noticeable on her legs. She finished by splashing some cold water across her face then rushed to the room where Yuffie said the cables would be. She had to admit she was doing pretty well so far, all she had to do now was convince everyone else that her stockings had tore by some other general means and she'd be in the clear for another while yet.
Leaping two stairs at a time, Tifa arrived back at the grotto, arms bundled with the cable.
Cloud came out to meet her and took the wire from her grip, striding back round the wooden hut to help lay it out. As he moved away, Yuffie bounced across the hall towards the girl but slowed as she came near, eyes wide and staring curiously at her friend.
"Whoa, what happened to you?"
"Loose nail!" Tifa sighed, gesturing leisurely at her bare legs. "I'll get another pair in the bag."
Yuffie's face flushed as she approached her friend, her expression turning into an unnerving grin that suddenly made Tifa feel like the world was watching her.
"What…what are you smiling about?"
"Just a hunch…but did you get up to anything else when you were away getting those cables?"
Tifa suddenly felt sick and was sure her own expression was clearly showing it.
"…No, of course not…what makes you think that?"
Yuffie lifted a finger to her friend's neck and touched a spot that made Tifa pull away in shock.
"Well I'm not you…but I'm damn sure that hickey wasn't there when you left!"
Tifa flushed scarlet and reached up to her neck to feel the location that Yuffie had pointed at. She didn't know what to say. There was only a rising panic and a twisting nausea as she thought for an excuse.
She stared, almost desperately at the girl beside her but to her surprise, Yuffie winked and raised her finger to her lips. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." She looked round to the area Cloud was situated then back at Tifa. "So, it was a nail that ripped those tights then, huh?"
Tifa stared, dumbstruck then burst into laughter as her friend linked their arms and led her back towards the grotto.
Something told her things had just become a whole lot harder for her and her secret 'flings'. But hell, in the end, that's what made them so damn fun.