A/N: Thanks for all your feedback! I'm glad people are enjoying this verse because it's been a whole lot of fun writing it. It's much more sensual than what I'm used to writing, but it's been a good experience in expanding my repertoire. Anyhow, as of right now, I still haven't quite decided what to do with this series. I have one more waiting to be written, but after that, I think I want to focus back on PRO BONO again. That being said, I think I've been around long enough to know that my muse is unreliable and prone to wandering all over the place. Meh...

Anyhow, here's a bit more suspense for you all. Takes place right after "Awake." Enjoy! :)


ANOTHER LIFETIME

#6: Burst
Summary: She dreamt of him and, she thinks it might be, her, but she wished it wasn't because that would mean that she'd betrayed him.
Word Count: 777
Originally Posted: September 28, 2010


Tifa wondered if she might be going insane.

It was one thing to have an overactive imagination which saw her ravished beyond her senses by a man in a portrait three hundred years old, but it was an entirely other thing to see that same man—living, breathing, real—following her wherever she went.

He was standing in the shadows watching her with that unsettling intense gaze when she made small talk with the bartender, and he hovered at the fringe of her vision when she tried to shake off the weight of his stare on the dance floor. She could have sworn she'd felt his touch burning across her bare shoulders sometimes but when she turned to see, he was never there. It was driving her crazy. Or maybe she was already crazy and he was a figment of her imagination?

But no. Yuffie had noticed him too and teased her mercilessly about his singular attention to her. Tifa didn't go out much, so Yuffie was always trying to find reasons she should. Apparently, hot men with stalker-ish tendencies fell under "reasons to go out." Tifa didn't quite get the logic in that.

He was such a persistent shadow all night, she was somewhat surprised to find her apartment empty when she finally went home frustrated and strangely restless. For a while she kept on jumping at the shadows and freezing at the slightest sounds, and every time she berated herself for being so foolish. Tifa considered herself a rational woman at heart, so by the time she finished her nightly routine, she was already laughing at herself for being so paranoid. Slipping into her small but comfortable bed, she fell into sleep's embrace quickly, her mind blissfully free of any dark strangers.

She was happy too early for he was in every one of her dreams that night.

They came in successive bursts, an endless assault on her subconscious that had her alternately squirming with desire and cowering in shame. It was a strange contrast, those dreams. Some proved so sensually addictive that it made her heated body writhe against her bed sheets. But for every sweet imagination (or was it a memory?), there followed quickly after another of horror. Those cooled her ardor as quickly as the fantasies of his touch fired it.

Because in those other dreams, she'd betrayed him.

Ohgodohgodohgod, what had she done? She hadn't wanted this. She never wanted this! Give him back, give him back, give him back, damn it!

"Why, Tifa?" his eyes accused her. She had no answer.

Selfish. She was selfish and she thought herself so clever in dodging their betrothal. Manipulated and fooled, she sold his soul, something not even hers to sell. But the worst part was that she hadn't truly wanted to break off their impending and inevitable marriage; she'd just wanted it to happen on different terms—her terms. She hadn't wanted a marriage of convenience; she'd wanted love.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Cloud…

All she managed to do was doom him to an eternal hell.

His screams of agony reverberated around, within, her and she clutched her head in pain.

In the end, she was left with nothing. No, it was worse than nothing. She owed a debt, one that could not be repaid with even a lifetime.

Give him back! Please, give him back to me. Please…

His eyes—anguished and betrayed—kept flashing before her, mocking her for her stupidity.

Maniacal laughter. "It is done, my Lady. As you had wished."

No, no, NO! She didn't wish. She didn't! Give him back! She just wanted him back.

Hot tears spilled from her sleeping eyes and her fingers clenched white against the sheets.

"It is done." The voice of a madman rang in her ears.

She dropped to her knees, a pistol suddenly clutched in her hand.

BANG!

She woke with a start, lungs fighting desperately for air while tears and sweat ran mingled down her cheeks.

The hand came out of nowhere to force her against a hard chest. "So you begin to remember, do you, my sweet?"

Her scream pierced the air.


Shout-outs for all my reviewers from chapters 16: Twinnet, Fenikkusuken, xoxo, midnight cowgirl rides again, sasusakufan2357, JingYee, et cetera et cetera, vLuna, Rend, kerapal bubbles, mom calling, DemonicAngel67

...and for chapter 17: beaucoup riant, midnight cowgirl, lollipop loving, too lazy to log in, luxe, Anon, dreaming sapphire , kerapal bubbles, OMo, JingYee, vLuna, neurogal09, Rend, mom calling, DemonicAngel67, Fenikkusuken