For TarotCard87, who didn't realize I would give her what she asked for! Though there is a serious tone to this, to keep it in sync with the first chapter, I hope it's also sweet and playful enough for you.
Thank you to The Sacred and Profane, who made the original request that this blossomed from.
Cloud stepped out in the hall, listening, waiting, and watching curiously as Tifa once again ran down the hallway in a fluster. She barely spared a glance for him before disappearing once again into her room, leaving the door half open behind her, so he could hear her rummaging clearly.
Crossing the hall, he pushed the door open, leaning against the frame.
"Everything okay, Tifa?"
"Hm," she responded absently, clearly distracted.
"Are you looking for something?"
"I have a date," she muttered from where her head was stuck inside the closet.
As if that explained everything.
"So why are you racing around the house like a headless chocobo?"
She pulled out of the closet, blinking up at him, then, confused.
"Because I'm not sure what to wear."
"Where are you going?"
Tifa blinked again, her perception of reality warping around the edges. Was Cloud offering to help her get ready for a date? That's certainly what it sounded like.
"I don't know."
"How can you not know?"
"It's a surprise. Sort of."
Cloud wasn't sure what that meant, but found a way to work around it.
"Okay, will it be formal?"
"No." She thought about it. "In fact, we'll be pretty much alone."
Eyebrows rose at that, but Cloud didn't comment on it.
"Then why are you worried about what to wear?"
"It doesn't matter if no one else is there, I still want to look good for him," she blurted out before the truth of the statement really sunk in. She did want to look good, even though it was their first official date. Even though at the beginning of their last meeting, she hadn't been sure what to think of this man talking to her, more or less flirting with her. But what she had learned that day about him showed her an entirely different side of him, and she had gone from not caring about what he thought at all to caring about it a great deal.
The realization stunned her.
"Well, what are you going to be doing?"
"We're going…" No, she didn't want to answer that one. It wasn't as if it was a big secret, but it was none of Cloud's business. "…out. That's really not important, is it?"
"I was just going to suggest that you wear something that makes sense with whatever it is you're doing. I mean, if you're going parachuting, don't wear a skirt, for Gaia's sake."
She whipped around to glare at him. "Ha, ha. Very funny, Cloud." But he was right. She didn't need to dress to the nines for stargazing, but she still wanted to look good. So; something simple and casual, but just a bit dressy.
That made it easier. She smiled a bit, letting Cloud off the hook.
"Thanks Cloud. That actually helped. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get dressed. He'll be here any minute."
When she exited her room a few minutes later, she was as happy with the classic black jeans and the plush, deep red sweater she had chosen as she would be with anything else she chose.
The dull thumping on the door downstairs sent her heart spiraling into her throat, and she had to compose herself to keep from racing down the stairs to answer. That she was so excited about tonight was surprising and the closer she got to the door, the worse the fluttering got. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, Cloud was standing, stock still, in the center of the open doorway. He turned slowly towards her, eyes wide, jaw clenched tight. Then he looked away, refusing to meet her eyes.
"Why, Tifa? Why him, of all people?"
Tifa opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She could understand why it might confuse Cloud, but she still couldn't believe he had asked her. In the background, Reno was backing into the shadows, holding up a surrendering hand.
"I'll wait out here, yo," he promised in a low voice. Good; he wasn't going to interfere, and he wasn't going to back down.
The few seconds it took Reno to disappear from view gave Tifa the time she needed to collect herself.
"That's not a fair question, Cloud, and even if it were, I don't think I would answer it."
She almost apologized for the wounded expression that crossed his face, but bit her tongue. She didn't want to hurt him, but she couldn't allow him to dictate her life. Circling around him, she reached for the door.
"Good night, Cloud," she voiced softly as she pulled the door closed behind her.
Reno was sitting on a bike, one long leg anchoring him to the ground, the other curled in front of him on the seat. Tifa expected him to be smoking, but there wasn't a cigarette in sight, and she was once again reminded how she had judged him.
Cloud's confrontation had taken some of her nervous energy away, but as he turned his head at her approach, his body still in profile, his eyes catching some small light to illuminate their color, she was struck by the image this man presented, deceptively lean with an easy appearance, but a survivor at heart, as lethal as he needed to be when it was demanded, and now he was unexpectedly intense and focused on her.
"Yeah. It's nothing to worry about."
He didn't look like he believed her, but he straightened up on the bike and held a hand out as invitation to get on the bike. She accepted, finding his hand warm, and slid into the seat behind him, hesitating only briefly before wrapping her arms around his waist.
"By the way," he said softly over his shoulder, "you're beautiful in red, Lockhart. You should wear it more often."
She was sure he could hear her blush in the weak, breathy thank you she uttered. He was a striking image himself, head to toe in black, from the combat boots to the loose, long-sleeve button down shirt.
She had no idea where they were going. Reno hadn't told her; he had promised it would be perfect, and she had let it remain a mystery. Heading out of the city, they drove for miles, until the city lights were a distant memory, and the sky was a dark blanket backdrop to millions of stars. Having long since left the main roads, he navigated the hills to a high-rising bluff, where he brought the bike to a stop and killed the engine.
Tifa didn't move, didn't speak; could hardly breath. The vastness of the sky from this location was overwhelming, and there were more stars up here than she had ever seen from the city. Reno turned to her, a knowing smile on his face.
"So? Whatcha think, Lockhart?"
She knew her eyes were wide with wonder and that her mouth was hanging open slightly, but she didn't take her eyes from the sky and didn't hide her awed reaction. Her voice, when she spoke sounded small in the wide open space.
"It's perfect, Reno. Just like you promised."
He shifted, drawing her attention back to him as he dismounted the bike and produced a blanket from a small compartment. Spreading it on the ground nearby, he took her hand and led her to it. Tifa glanced at him shyly as she lay down on the blanket so she was looking straight up into the heavens.
"I didn't expect this kind of treatment." Again, she had underestimated him. "You really did think ahead."
Reno sat down beside her, eyeing the distant horizon.
"There's something to drink in the pack, but I didn't bring food. Did I forget anything else?"
Tifa shook her head, sighing as she traced a pattern in the stars with her finger.
"No. It really is perfect. If I had a pillow, I'd probably fall asleep."
Reno's head dropped to the side as he gazed at her. His expression, relaxed, eyes half lidded, mouth soft, lacking its usual smile, she wasn't sure she was interpreting correctly, but it made her nerves tingle.
"I figured you could use me."
That confused her somewhat, but he was already moving, what he was suggesting becoming clear as he re-situated himself and lifted her head to rest it on his thigh while he leaned back on his arms and dropped his head back to study the stars himself.
"What do you see when you look up there?"
Tifa was still debating leaning her head back. The intimacy of it thrilled her, but was she reading more into it than was there? Reno was an enigma, giving up his own comfort for hers, one minute seeming to be sensually flirtatious, the next completely serious. She didn't know which to expect from him, or which she preferred more. In fact, the reality scared her. It wasn't her preference she was questioning anymore; she actually craved more of both.
She let her head rest against him, finally and distracted herself with the question at hand. She pointed out a pattern of bright stars.
"Looks like a house."
No response for a minute or two, and then Reno pointed out his own pattern.
"A ninja star," Tifa countered.
"An ice cream sundae," he responded.
Tifa pointed suddenly, changing the game.
"Find me a brighter star than that one." One by one, back and forth, they found five stars that were brighter.
"It was a game my mother played with me when I was little, like finding shapes in clouds, but with stars." Tifa explained. "Or finding a blinking star; she always said it was winking at me. Or seeing who could see the most shooting stars in a meteor shower. It's one of the few memories I have left of her."
Reno didn't respond and, with his head turned up, Tifa couldn't see what reaction that might have elicited. An idea struck her, one that, strangely, wrenched her heart as a case of 'what if' set in. What if…
"Reno, you don't regret telling me anything we talked about the other day, do you?"
He shook his head, not looking down.
"I'll never be sorry about anything I tell you, Lockhart." And there it was; that oh, so serious tone back to accompany the change of subject.
Silence fell again, but it wasn't comfortable. Tifa was sure there was something more to the feeling of insecurity she had. Time stretched out, but Tifa waited patiently, hoping he would give her some clue before she had to ask.
"I don't want to cause you any problems at home, Tifa," he admitted. "If there's something between you and Cloud, or if this is going to create a rift, I'll understand if you don't want…"
A hand pressed to his chest stopped his train of thought. Lowering his gaze, he watched it slide along the buttons of his shirt and remained very still as her fingers slid over the length of his throat, his eyes slipping shut and his chin rolling into her hand as her palm cradled his chin.
"You're not causing any problems or creating a rift, Reno. If that happens, it will be Cloud's doing, not yours. I'm right where I want to be, and he has no say in it."
Hopeful eyes opened to meet her gaze.
"You sure 'bout that, Lockhart?"
"Positive." She stroked her thumb across his jaw before letting her hand slip back the way it had come. He shivered as she brushed over his neck again.
"Seems like you've found one without even trying, yo."
"Huh?" What was he talking about? "Found one what?"
Lips curving up, his eyes danced with heat and mischief.
"Don't tell me you forgot what our deal was, Lockhart. I get to look at the stars with you…"
"And I get to try to find out where you're ticklish." Of course she hadn't forgotten. She just hadn't realized it would be that easy.
"Is that it? Your neck?"
Was he going to answer her? He looked like he might be thinking about it, but she wasn't sure.
He pointed suddenly.
There was nothing there by the time she looked, and, dubiously, she wondered if there had really been a shooting star, or if Reno was simply distracting her from her question.
Only one way to find out.
Sitting up, she turned on him. As fast as she was, she was sure Reno could have avoided her, but he made only a minimal effort. She attacked his ribs, the most likely place, she figured, he might be ticklish. He didn't laugh; he tried to fend her off, protecting himself with his arms, and trying to roll into a ball. Tifa persisted, wrestling with him, worming her way around and through his defenses until he was first chuckling, and then laughing outright. She found there were certain spots along the sides of his ribs and belly and under his arms that he was more protective of than others, and then paid particular attention to those spots, laughing with him, until, finally, they were both gasping for breath. Tifa went for one last tickle attack, but when he caught her wrists loosely in his hands, falling back in mock surrender, she let him keep them in his grasp, somehow aware that if she really pulled away, he would release her.
Catching her breath, she grinned down at him.
"You're ticklish all over, aren't you?"
Tilting his head, Reno shrugged.
"Now you know my greatest weakness, Lockhart."
Disengaging one of her hands, she reached down to slowly trace a line from his chin, down his neck, and then along the inside of his arm. There were places where there was no reaction, but his neck, collar bone, and from the inside of his elbow to his wrist were a different story. Under her fingers, his muscles jumped reflexively to her touch, and he shuddered beneath her, gasping, bringing her attention back to his face. The heat there made her hyper-aware of her position, straddling him, all but sitting on him. She felt her own face flood with warmth as she backed off quickly to thump down beside him on the blanket.
Reno sat up, reaching out to brush the hair back from her face, ignoring her current state of embarrassment.
"Promise me something, huh?"
She was skeptical, but she nodded anyway.
"Promise me you won't use it against me until I find out if you're ticklish, too."
She poked at him playfully one last time, giggling, her discomfort gone. Reno wriggled around to sit beside her, wrapping his arm around her, and pulling her to lie down beside him, this time with her head pillowed on his shoulder in the crook of his arm. As they settled themselves to look upwards once more, a flash of light streaked across the sky.
"Another one," Reno whispered. "Did you make a wish?"
"Yes," Tifa responded softly. "Did you?"
Neither voiced their wish aloud. Both wished for the same thing: More tickling, more stargazing, more time together. Simply more of each other.