Tifa climbed down the ladder with a soft sigh, wiping the sweat from her brow with relief. Finally… After many days, many failed and interrupted attempts, her stock was finally reorganized and replenished. Bar mirrors were cleaned, the light reflecting in their surfaces seemed stronger than ever. All mahogany shelves scrubbed and polished clean, bottles and glasses placed in the exact order she always envisioned them in.
Proud and tired, she looked at her bar and counter as if she just achieved her life-time goal.
A drop of sweat run down her back, from under the loose top, traveling along the straight spine, soaking into the frayed hem of cotton shorts.
Summer was in full bloom, and in a city made of chrome and steel not even late evenings brought any change in the sky high temperatures. The fan moved lazily under the ceiling, its metal wings stirring the heavy air almost nonchalantly ,the constant buzz the only sound that accompanied her heavy breathing.
With the ladder placed on the hooks, right next to the enormous sword, Tifa closed the storage room with a satisfied sigh. The home made calendar swung gently against the smooth wood of the door, catching her attention and causing her lips to curl in a smile.
Marlene and Denzel put a lot of effort into making this, each making six drawings for each month. Right now, Tifa was looking at a group of stick people at the beach, under what appeared to be a scorching sun. Her fingers touched the one that supposed to be one of the children before she reached to the pencil that pierced the hair tie, two swift marks to cross out another number.
Her life was all numbers it seemed, so easy to count, add, divide.
With a glass of white wine in her hand, enjoying the sloshing sound the alcohol made as it washed over ice cubes when she moved, she soon was sitting down on the warm porch in front of the bar, watching the stars appear in the slightly purplish skies. The air was still hot and heavy, Ifrit's breath that lingered in Edge, and the streets were empty, dust settling in for the night.
Her top and short clung to her body as she straightened her legs, the glass cool in her hand and wine bringing relief to her throat.
Seven months ago, Winter begun with rains and chilled winds from the desert surrounding the parasite city that rose on the corpse of old Midgar. Six months and seventeen days ago the first frost painted crystal flowers on her windows as Cloud left for his deliveries just like any other day. She was going to do her inventory then, she had it all planned out. But the door opened midday and a man stepped in.
A man with a rust covered sword on his back and a brilliant smile on his lips.
She punched him as a "hello".
Now he was upstairs, putting a sun burnt Denzel and a freckled Marlene to sleep.
For a period of time he was at her side, asking questions with no voice at all, doing tremendous damage to her walls and shields that surrounded her heart. Sharing laughs and silent moments, small touches and looks that would haunt her in troubled dreams. Then three months and four days ago, he told her that he loved her. A day later, he specified that he was in love with her.
She told him to leave and he did, and it was meant to last forever.
It took heartbreak and a moment of despair to bring to her senses, to remind her that she didn't need to fight for once.
The wine was pleasantly sweet and bitter as Tifa smiled against the glass, she could still remember the taste of a rain tinted kiss. It was their first.
The hinges gave a small squeak of protest, breaking her chain of memories, bringing her back to the present. He still wore his heavy boots, she thought with a slight frown on her pretty face , as – judging by the soft thumps - Zack made his way towards the fridge. The ponytail danced behind her back when she shook her head. They needed to buy him some slippers.
Fuzzy ones. So he would stop stealing hers in the mornings.
The sound of bottles made her smile a little. He finally learned to grab the ones from the back first whenever he wanted a cold beer. Moments later he sat down next to her, arms brushing and sure enough, heavy boots made a stark contrast to her flip-flops on the ground. He took a swing from the bottle, and she enjoyed the sigh of Adam's apple moving as he swallowed.
"Next time" he finally broke to warm silence between them, placing a tender kiss to a bare shoulder "You'll put those two to sleep and I'll reorganize your stock"
"Only to find half of my year supply of Junon Ale gone?" a small smirk appeared on her lips "Forget it… Not to mention, you are surprisingly good with them"
"Yes, apparently placing sour cream compresses on burnt backs is my biggest trait!"
Tifa laughed lightly, turning slightly to face him, chilled fingers brushing the lone black strand out of his face.
"Maybe not the biggest… but you're right, it's one of those" fondness laced her words and Zack shook his head in amusement.
Her fingers slid down his cheek, tracing the outline of his face and he enjoyed the small touch, his eyes half-closing in content. Her hand was gone too quickly though, as she concentrated again on her wine, and Zack felt how damp his shirt was and how uncomfortable it made him as it stuck to his back. He placed the bottle on the ground, watching droplets of water slid down the dark green, before he reached to the collar and pulled the piece of clothing over his messy head.
He heard the sharp intake of breath next to him even if Tifa not once averted her gaze from the building on the other side of the street, and his ego swelled a little bit. She frowned, however, when he half turned, throwing the said shirt into the bar.
"We need air condition" the muscles in his arms flexed when he stretched "I'm sure Tuesti can help us out with this"
Even brows knitted lightly, one finger tracing the outline of her glass. The WRO leader was the most probable person to turn to with such things, however Tifa was one of those people who really hated asking others for help.
Yet the days were growing hotter, and each year it was getting worse.
"I don't want to owe him anything…" she finally answered, hesitation clear and unclouded in her voice.
"Naah, don't you worry your pretty head. It's Reeve who owns me a favor"
She blinked with surprise, looking at his smiling face. Reeve Tuesti was a busy man, set on making things right for once, and Tifa could count on the fingers of one hand all the times she met with him. He visited her bar maybe twice or thrice, but on all these occasions Zack was away, helping his best friend with the deliveries.
"I worked there, remember?" he poked her ribs with one finger , laughing when she swatted his hand away "I dragged my sorry ass through the slums more times than I can count, carrying out a mission after mission for his department. And they didn't pay me, so I'm gonna go down there and ask all that's the best for my family"
They were close enough for Zack to feel Tifa stiffen at his words. It was just a brief tension on muscles, the slight clench of her jaw. He looked at her ,noticing her teeth graze the full lower lip. And in his opinion, the only one allowed to do that, was himself.
"Tifa? Something's wrong?"
"No, it's nothing…"
"Oh hell you don't" Zack turned her face to him, one thumb brushing against her lips lightly "You are going to talk to me, or I'm going to interrogate you!" he wiggled his brows, earning a short laugh.
"You're just being a big jerk…" it came out as something between a laugh and a snort, and she shook her head.
"I know" he pulled the tie from her hair, enjoying the feel of cascading locks against his hand "What is it"
"Just what you said… Family" she leaned in, brushing her nose against his gently "We.. we're one, right? A strange one… "
"Yeah…quite the bunch…"
There was her, the motherly figure, the one who offered her arms to the children when the grown up world became a little bit too frightening. There was Cloud, the hero, idolized in Denzel's eyes. Barret, Marlene's foster father, who loved her as much as he had problems showing it. The gentle Cetra, who filled in the role of a sweet older sister, with her light teasing voice and soft laughs. Then came the Uncles – Val and Cid – and the slightly klepto Auntie Yuffie. Somewhere among everyone was a place for Nanaki, not quite the Uncle, but not quite the family pet. And there was Zack…
"The kids will get confused soon" Tifa sighed, sloshing the wine lightly, feeling Zack nod his head lightly "About who is who in the complicated structure… There's you and Cloud and Barret…I mean, some kids don't even have one father!" she snorted, maybe just the tiniest bit bitter "If I can't figure it out, how will they?"
Zack scratched the damp beet label with one blunt nail, watching as it peeled off with the greatest ease. Briefly he wondered how often did Tifa's mind wander to the subject of their family… because his did so very often. It was one of his few uncertainties, not knowing where the hell he stood in the whole structure – apparently Tifa didn't really know either.
He knew the most important thing however.
The young woman next to him sighed lightly, placing the glass aside, long legs stretched comfortably as she leaned backwards, supporting her weight on her elbows. Head tilted back, the tips of loose hair brushing the dirty wood as she closed her eyes.
Zack knew where he stood with her.
"You know…I think we should call Reeve" he traced the flat stomach with the wet bottle, smirking slightly at the sight of suddenly clenching muscles "Get the air condition here, and then pack some skimpy clothes like these for you, some light for me and the kids, and go to Gongaga"
Heavy lids fluttered open, as she looked at him, brows rising up as if doubting his sanity. Summer in Edge was enough to drive anyone crazy with the dry heat and. Summer in Gongaga however… was tropical, with high temperatures and high humidity, that sort that made it hard to breath. She was there, once and under completely different circumstances, and wasn't too keen on going back.
"Gods, after all this time I've been around, I though you would develop better communication skills" Zack laughed, leaning in and kissing the side of her jaw "I promised the kids to take them to the Festival. And I want to introduce my hot girlfriend to my mother"
Her right eye twitched at the crude compliment and she opened her mouth snap back, before shaking her head and deciding that it would be for the best if she would let it slip by.
"I do not need better communication skills, wise ass"
"Yeah yeah , words aren't the only way and all that" Zack's voice was slightly teasing, before he placed the empty bottle away, moving behind her.
He pulled her closer, his arms slipping under hers and hands brushing against her ribs as her head tilted to one side, resting on one shoulder.
"You're sweaty…" she murmured with fake protest as he pressed a kiss to her exposed neck "And so am I…"
"Mhm… you didn't seem to mind that in the morning"
She shot him a glare from half-closed lids and she pinched one thigh. Zack winced lightly, but he was unable to hide his amusement as his hold on her tightened.
"I'll be good now"
"You better" came a lazy reply, as her hands unclenched over the black pants.
Tifa smelled of dust and that funny stuff she used to polish the wood, the fragrance surprisingly pleasant. And she was so soft, so warm, comfortably stretched out on the porch and surrounded by his embrace. And she was still so easy to embarrass, judging by the soft pink that adorned the tip of her nose.
"There's still so much you have to learn" fingers of his one hand danced on the soft skin of her stomach "So, so much"
"And you're the one to teach me…?" even her laugh was lazy and deep, and Zack loved to know he was the reason behind it.
A small kiss pressed to her temple.
"For now, I'll help you remember"
Heavy lids closed over smoked eyes and Tifa let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding. There … there were many things she needed to remember . For such a long time she was a fighter and a mother, that the woman in her got lost somewhere along the way. Like a rebelling teen, one she never really had a chance to be, she had yet to discover that it was ok to demand, ok to be needy, that it was alright to sometimes break and let someone take care of her.
To remember that she had to be weak, to remain strong.
Zack hummed in the back of his throat happily, as he caught the soft fabric with his teeth and pulled to one side, revealing the smooth roundness of her shoulder. She smiled lightly as his lips danced on the warm skin, teasingly brushing every now and then at that one place where it was the softest. Teeth grazed gently at the soft curve between neck and shoulder, and her head tilted even more to the side, eyes half closed in pleasure.
"You know…" his whisper was hot and lazy against the moistened tissue.
He pulled her even closer, feeling the skin of her back against his stomach, one hand sliding beneath the loose material and one thumb brushed the underline of one heavy breast. A small shiver ran through the smaller body and her fingers curled around the loose fabric of his trousers.
"When I felt through that church roof… I thought I saw an angel leaning over me, watching me." Zack pressed his lips to the small spot where he felt her pulse quicken "But I know now you're a true one… a true angel of Seventh Heaven…."
Silence, just a tad too long for his liking, stretched between them as he felt her whole body sag against his, her palms open and light on his thighs. Her shoulders started to shake and Zack sighed heavily, feeling his own lips curl.
"I overdid it, didn't I?"
"You ruined a perfectly good moment" she laughed, reaching behind and feeling the messy hair beneath her fingertips "You're hopeless"
"I blame you" again, even teeth nibbled the skin between shoulder and neck "You're utterly different from all the women I knew"
"I thought that was the reason you fell in love with me" Tifa's reply was a soft purr in the back of her throat "So tell me Zack…what then?"
He blinked with surprise, lashes brushing against damp skin before he raised his head.
"After visiting your parents and after the Festival…"
Lips stretched into a smile, as the ex-SOLDIER raised his head, feeling soft tresses beneath the sensitive tissue. For a moment he remained silent, observing the quiet street from above her head, his hands resting on the flat of her stomach.
"We're going to work on the whole family issue"
"Of course" the mirth in her voice was evident as she pushed herself up from her half-lying position "And of course you already have the answers for it" she started to scramble up to her feet.
Something in his voice made Tifa turn her head, eyes narrowing lightly. She knew that tone already and that always meant some kind of trouble. For her.
"Well what?" her hands were firmly placed on his thighs for support, as she crouched between strong legs.
"I always wanted two"
He watched confusion paint different shades in her eyes, as she tried to make any sense of what he was saying. Then they widened and her mouth opened in a silent Oh! as realization kicked in. His smile was wiped away as his world was suddenly full of her, his head hitting the wooden porch as she knocked him over, lips claiming his and her hands found their way to hold his face.
Despite the dull pain in the back of his head, his hands circled her waist and he smiled into the unexpected kiss.
She kissed him like there was no tomorrow, her knees on both sides of his hips and Zack briefly wondered that maybe they should start working on that family issue right now.