She heard the door shut—quiet to avoid waking her or the kids—and she dimly registered the growl of Fenrir revving to life. With a sigh, Tifa rolled onto her side, eyes staring blankly at the wall, pillow mauled between agitated fingers.
He hadn't even said 'goodbye', she thought, blinking away the sting and the hurt that casual dismissal caused.
When had it changed—again? she wondered. When had the distance and the resentment and the loneliness crept back between them and silently pushed and quietly pulled until, before they realized it, there was a chasm between them and no available bridge to cross it.
She pushed her face into the pillow, smelling only detergent and vanilla. Once, not all that long ago, she would have scented rain and wind and electric warmth. Now, the space beside her was cold and the office had become an unofficial bedroom—again—and she was so damn tired of this.
And so alone.
Why was it so easy to leave her alone? she wondered. Barret had once told her that she was too strong for her own good, and she'd laughed and wondered what the hell he could mean by that, but she got it now.
She was Tifa Lockhart. She was strong and dependable and sturdy. She could be left alone and still be okay. After all, she'd been forcing smiles and reassuring everyone since she was 8 years old. Why be surprised or hurt if people believed it?
She pressed her fingers to her eyes, snorted in disgust at the dampness she found.
It was her own damn fault, she thought with bitter resignation. Five years ago she had taken Cloud in from that train station and fallen in love. But she'd hid it-so well, he almost never found it—but he did, and they did...for awhile...and then something else came up.
Geostigma tore the world—and them—apart.
But again, she stood on her own, held her family together, and when needed, she'd held Cloud together too, and eventually they'd found their way back. Back to each other, their lives and...to their semblance of normal.
It had been good—better than good—for a time, but then something had shifted again...altered him or her (she really wasn't sure who changed)...and they couldn't seem to connect anymore.
It wasn't even one thing, she supposed. But more of a combination of things that led to the distance. They could be seated across the table from one another and it felt like the whole of North Corel separated them.
Physical intimacy had lasted only slightly longer than the emotional loss, but even that had changed from sensual loving, to hasty fucks, to nothing at all. It had been weeks since they'd touched, and to be honest, even though the press of her own hand was relief, it was that connection she missed.
The tandem heartbeats, the salty kisses, the knowing that even if the words weren't there, they still had that.
But they didn't.
She had tried, earlier in the week, to make that connection. Cloud had stared at her with his unblinking blue eyes and simply turned on his heel and left the room. No words, no apologies. Nothing.
Shiva, she felt empty.
Stifling what was either a sob or a growl with her pillow, she rolled over and closed her eyes. She had a few more hours before the kids would be up, and was completely lacking the motivation to roll out of bed just yet. She'd sleep, and maybe, if she was lucky, she would dream of being happy.
"Never pegged you as the depressed type."
The voice-mischief and sin-tickled her ear, swinging her head around. Her stance was immediately defensive, her expression guarded.
Blue eyes, deeper than the sky and hinted twilight dark, smiled at her. "Been a long time, Lockhart."
Tifa blinked, rubbed her eyes, blinked again. Nope, still there. Dark hair, devil-may-care grin, dimples and smug charm. "Zack?"
His smile widened and he opened his arms. "You remembered!"
She dropped her stance, inclined her head. "Yeah, well, you're kind of hard to forget."
"I am pretty good looking-"
"You were there when my hometown burnt to the ground."
He stopped and rubbed the back of his neck in a gesture so familiar her breath hitched. "There's that reason, too, I guess," he conceded with a weaker version of his grin. "But I am easy on the eyes," he added. "You've gotta admit that."
"I hadn't noticed."
"Uh-huh." He shifted, turned and sat on a boulder that she hadn't even noticed until that moment. "Neat place, your dream world," he told her.
Looking around, Tifa recognized the spot they were in as one of her hideaway spots when she was a kid. Up a bit from the Devil's Hand trail, it was hidden and hard to get to. She'd gone there a lot after her mother died. To sit, to think, to just be. Without pitying stares and expectations. Away from her father's eyes that never smiled anymore. Away from the other kids that didn't understand why she was 'no fun anymore'.
"So," Zack said, legs swinging back and forth. "What are you hiding from this time?"
Startled, she looked at him.
He shrugged. "Your dream. I only know the things you want me to know."
Seemed logical enough. For dream logic, she supposed. "All right, then, tell me; why you?"
"Why am I dreaming of you?"
"Because I'm sexy."
"Hey!" Indignant, he poked his tongue out at her.
"We barely spoke when we met, and when we did..."
"You were asking about Cloud," he finished for her with a nod. "Yeah, I remember."
"So..." she rubbed the space between her eyebrows. "It makes no sense why I would dream of you."
Eyes soft, he asked, "You looking for Cloud again?"
Turning her face away Tifa shook her head. "No, not really."
She arched a glance over her shoulder. "He doesn't want to be found."
"Ah." He nodded, as if he completely understood.
She stood quiet for a few minutes, staring out across her hazy memories. "Am I..." she faltered, tried again, "Am I really so bad?"
"Tifa." He was behind her in an instant, warm hands and strong arms. His chin rested on her shoulder as he hugged her back against his chest. "Don't do that. Don't let him make you doubt yourself."
"It's hard," she confessed. "To want to be everything for someone, and end up being nothing."
"I know." And there was inflection in his voice that told her he did know. It carried a hint of sadness that Tifa felt certain she didn't place there. She frowned, pensive.
"I am just dreaming, right?"
His answer in coming was too long for her liking. "Yeah. Just a dream." He tucked his chin deeper and nosed her hair.
The motion made her stomach tighten and do a little flip. Unconsciously, she pressed back closer, then paused. "I can feel your heartbeat," she breathed.
"But you're dead."
"Your dream, Tifa." His fingertips brushed along her arms. "I'm as alive as you want me to be." His lips hovered against the shell of her ear. "Anything you want me to be."
She closed her eyes, shivered. "Zack..."
Did he know how much she wanted to lean into him, to feel his heartbeat—real or imagined—to be held and have thatconnection...
"Take what you want," he encouraged, teeth grazing.
Tifa turned in his arms, clutched his face between her hands. Soft, broken sounds hummed against her lips when he kissed her. He made a throaty groan and cupped her jaw, his touch achingly gentle. He shifted his position, lifted his mouth from hers after several long moments.
She stared up at him, her eyes luminous. He watched her as she watched him. Her hand moved, her fingers stroking the dimple on his cheek. "I don't want to use you," she whispered.
With a chuckle he dropped his head so that their foreheads touched. His breath panted out in harsh puffs against her moist lips, and when he met her eyes again there was hard resolve etched on his handsome features and a lingering vulnerability that he couldn't erase. "I'm not him," he whispered, honest, "and I don't want to be. I'm here for you, Tifa, if you'll have me."
Every fantasy she had ever entertained about the charming SOLDIER she'd met at fifteen flashed through her mind in the space of a heartbeat. This had to be a reason she was dreaming of him, right?
Zack was open and honest and charming and funny. He was sunny days and lazy afternoons. He was comfort in heartache.
He wasn't hers to break.
She wasn't his to shatter.
If she chose to go, he'd let her. If she stayed...he'd be willing.
More than willing if the hard press of his body was any indication. He wanted her. Deciding that she wanted him too, she pushed her hand through his hair, rounded the back of his head and pulled him down for a searing kiss.
Dream or not, it felt good.
She had no time to change her mind—not that she planned on it—before his arms closed around her, dragging her to him. He was at once hard, possessive, male. Hot and hungry, he worked her mouth, until she was gasping and melting into him. She had to slide her arms around his neck to anchor herself. Her fingers brushed his nape, sinking into his hair as she met his tongue with her own.
Zack pressed his hands to her sides, sliding them beneath the fabric of her cotton top, moving up to cup the soft weight of her breasts in his palms. "We can get rid of these now, yes?" he asked, a bit breathless.
Dreamy, her head lolled back. "Huh?"
His smile was arrogance itself, but she didn't mind. "I'll take that as a yes," he murmured, and the next instant they were flesh on flesh.
"Dream, remember?" he teased, lowering her to the layers of silk now at their feet.
Tifa sighed as the cool fabric played over her heated skin. "No bed of roses?" she asked.
"I'm not that cliché, Lockhart."
He levered himself above her, hooded eyes following his hands as he took her breasts in his palms, her nipples budding to taut peaks. "So responsive," he hummed appreciatively, thumbs brushing her tender flesh.
"Oh, Gods," she arched into his touch.
Zack leaned back, running one hand over her calf, watching her with dark, unreadable eyes. "Candlelight," he said, suddenly, and gone was the sun and in its place tapered candles and the soft hum of distant music.
"Nice," Tifa gasped. In the flickering candlelight she lay, gloriously naked, sprawled before him and feeling more beautiful than she had in months. She felt selfish, suddenly. She was doing nothing for him and he was bathing her in silk and candlelight.
"I don't want you to," he cut her off, even before the doubts could creep in and latch on. He crawled over her, placed her fingertips against his lips, played with them with his teeth and tongue. "I don't need you to take care of me. Let me take care of you. Tell me what you want. Take what you want."
To the rest of the world Tifa Lockhart was sturdy, dependable and strong. But here, with him she was vulnerable and in need of care, and he was there for her. She drank in the sight of him crouched above her, his body tense with desire. He had strong, muscular arms, broad, expansive shoulders, tight flat abs. Her eyes drifted lower... And being healthily endowed could be added to that list. She lifted her gaze to his, noticing the purple hint to his eyes. "I want to touch you," she said.
Without a word he stretched out beside her, giving her free reign over his body. Tifs rolled onto her side, her dark hair across her shoulder to dance against his chest. Zack brushed the strands in front of her eyes back with his knuckles. She sighed, leaning forward to inhale against his skin.
Cloud always smelled of something sharp, and wild, and tangy. Zack was something equally wild, but warmer, spicier. She bent closer, her mouth trailing languidly across his neck. "You smell nice," she told him on a whisper.
Tifa closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of his smooth skin beneath her lips. His hands wandered as she drank her fill, stroking along the smooth curve of her back and along her arms. He groaned faintly when her teeth tugged at a nipple.
He slid one hand down her body, stroking the nest of curls at the apex of her thighs. She shivered and he seemed to take that as his cue to go forward. He stroked his fingers between her folds. She pushed against his hand, a soft moan that sounded like his name escaping her parted lips. He tilted his head, watched her face.
Tifa lifted one knee up to rest on his hip, allowing Zack complete access to her secrets; an action that he took full advantage of. He rolled them so that he was resting between her legs, his thumb pressed against her clit while he stroked two fingers deep.
"Gods, you're so damn beautiful, Tifa," he said, voice hoarse.
Tifa hadn't ever heard her name like that. Washed in sex and need, with more than a hint of desperation. She opened her eyes and grasped his face between her hands. "I want you inside of me, Zack."
"Tell me how you want me," he groaned, moving his hand to replace it with the thick head of his cock. "I want to hear you say naughty things to me."
Blushing, Tifa told him, "Deep and hard," before clutching his hips and pulling him flush. It was her dream, after all. She could be a little...assertive.
Chuckling, Zack cupped her ass and rolled forward.
Sweet Gaia! Pleasure. Waves of it.
"More?" Zack questioned, pistoning hard.
Tifa tilted her head back. "More."
His jaw tightened and his eyes swirled. His teeth flashed in a grin as he shifted his hips so that he stroked just right
Tifa gasped, both from pleasure and shock. "Zack...I..."
"Almost there." He stroked his hand over her sweat dampened hair. "You just have to trust me." He thrust and snapped his hips at the same time. "Let go."
She closed her eyes, fingers scoring his shoulders. Just let go... "Wait...I..."
"Trust me," he encouraged.
"I don't know," she whispered, body aching, approaching orgasm. If she let go, who would be there to catch her?
"I will" he told her, anchoring her hips with his hands, driving deeper. "Promise."
"Please, Zack, I can't think…" She scrambled for rational thought as her inner walls tightened. She grit her teeth against the pleasure.
Zack kissed her chin, nipped it. "You know it's why I came back," he rasped. "To be the one for you."
Tifa shook her head. No, this was just a dream. A fantastic, oh, Gods, yes, right there, dream, but just that. A silly fantasy conjured by a lonely heart.
Zack slid completely out of her, stroked the head of his dick against her clit. "Does this really feel like a dream?" he whispered before surging in again.
Her answer was stolen when she fractured into a thousand shards of rapture. Her hands clamored across his back, pulling him down to her as she screamed her release. He caught her close to his chest, held her as she arched and bucked and tumbled along sensation.
They lay on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, fighting for breath. It wasn't until the sweat cooled and heartbeats returned to normal that she turned her head to look at him. "Explain."
Zack brushed his knuckles down her cheek, smirking at her tone. "Truthfully, at first I didn't know why I came back," he admitted. "I thought it was for Cloud. But then...I didn't go away when he won against Sephiroth. I didn't return where I was supposed to...so I wondered, if not for Cloud, why was I here?"
Tifa waited patiently. Confused, but patient
Zack shifted, raising himself up on one elbow. "I could feel this sadness...I had this ache." He touched his chest. "It came and went, but then it grew. Until it was all I could do to stand it, so I followed it." He met her eyes. "And found you."
"But...but you said this was a dream."
"It is." He touched her lips with his. "I can't be corporeal, or I would punch Cloud in the head and come sweep you off your feet. But I can be this. I can do this."
Tifa swallowed the lump in her throat. "I don't..." she shook her head. "I can't use you like that."
"I hardly feel used," he told her. "Happy. Sated. Content. Not used." He arched a brow. "Do you feel used?"
She thought about it. "No."
"What do you feel?"
Warm. Safe. Content. Connected.
"This can't work, not really." She didn't know who she was trying to convince, Zack or that wicked ember of hope in her heart that refused to die. Someone that loved her. "A relationship in my dreams?"
"Why not?" Zack asked. "You sleep every night. We could have hours together. Do things, go places that other people can only...well, dream of."
"Cloud." She threw the name down like a brick wall between them.
Zack sighed and carded his hands through his hair. "I don't have an answer for that one."
"No, I don't imagine you do." She sat up, her hair a veil between them. "I don't..." she sighed, tried again. "I don't know how not to love him," she confessed on a whisper.
"Tifa," Zack's hands and voice were gentle. "I'm not asking you to. I'm just wondering—hoping—that maybe we can try. Just try."
"I don't know. This is really kind of...unusual. To put it mildly."
"Just think, 'my boyfriend is a ghost' is such a conversation topper." His dimple flashed. He touched her hair, brushed it back to see her face. "No pressure. Just think about it. And if you want," he leaned in to nuzzle her neck. "You can dream of me."
Tifa woke on a trembling sigh and her body still tingling. She smiled to herself and burrowed her face into the pillows.
Detergent and vanilla and something warm and spicy greeted her.
Startled, she sat up abruptly, smacking the alarm clock onto the floor and nearly tumbling from the bed. That had all been a dream...right?
She pushed her hair back and took a steadying breath. But...what if?
Shaking herself, she looked down at the fallen alarm clock. Just a little past six. Kids wouldn't be up or need breakfast for another hour. She could get up now and have a non-rushed, peaceful shower and a cup of coffee. Or...she could roll over and go back to sleep...
Breakfast was late, her coffee was rushed, but the grin on her face remained all day.
AN: Done for a prompt on Livejournal's Springkink Community. :D