A sort of prequel…

Wrote this at work. I know; that's not entirely productive is it? But then again, those of you who know me, will know that I thrive most in least- ideal situations. Oh well, Just some drabble that I suppose fits in best with this small Autumn-centric world I constructed.

Enjoy.

-0-

I would like to get to know you…

Hold your head high/think about a better time

-Lucy Rose, Place.

-0-

The world was shifting.

So subtle so insignificant… yet outside his awareness, billions upon billions of reactions were taking place, random collisions of things at the sub-atomic level, too small for him to comprehend. Though he sat perfectly still relative to his surroundings, his skin was hit by millions of particles each second, and each breath was a catalyst for a series of reactions that served to keep him alive; all while the Earth hurtled through space at over a thousand miles per second…

A knock at his door brought him to awareness, though a twitch of his closed eyelids was the only movement he could muster in response to the intrusion. The living room curtains were open just a crack; the harsh yellow sunlight filtered through, creating a stage light for the dust motes to dance in. He watched them circle lazily in the shaft of light, apparently content to drift on what momentum was generated by the steady flux of particles in the room. Whoever was here to disturb him, and them, would leave soon.

TapTapTap

More urgent this time. His eardrums flexed in response to the sound wave, attenuating the harsh rapping noise before allowing it to be translated to his brain. His knuckles whitened as he gripped tightly at the arm rests of his chair.

"I know you're in there, Vincent." The voice is preceded by a metal screech; the letter box flap is lifted so that their intrusion cannot be ignored. "Please just let me in, I need to talk to you."

He sighs softly, chin lowering to rest against his chest. "Vincent…" Who was Vincent? And more importantly, did he want to know?

His steady rise to his feet is enough to shift the air in the room; the dust motes are in frenzy now, dancing and swirling with one another, as if competing for space in the narrow slit of evening sunlight. The door opens and immediately cool air displaces the stuffy air that had been trapped within for days. He squints in the sunlight, the cool influx lifting back his hair from his face.

She in standing in the golden sun on his doorstep. She is holding an umbrella in her hand, and he notes that there are droplets of moisture on its repellent surface. He can taste the rainfall on the air. It smells good. Fresh and clean. Wide amber eyes widen even further as they take everything in; he uses the silence to do the same, taking in everything about her. A delicate, flora scent washes over him at her proximity; is it her shampoo, or even perfume? Her hair is molten chocolate, glowing like a halo around her perfect oval face. Her skin is ivory, and picks up the glow of the day; she could be made of sunlight, for all he knew.

"Vincent, you look…" lips purse before words that she might have wanted to say, but thought improper to. Tired? Hollow? Terrible? All would have been plausible descriptions. "You look different." She decided, tilting her head slightly.

He refrains from asking her how he looks different, fearing her answer. He knows full well hew probably looks like fatigue and hunger have neglected him for a person more accommodating to their whims. He ignores their calls, more often than not.

"I came from Kalm," She tried to start conversation again, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. "May I… come in?"

He cannot refuse her. Kalm was many miles from here, in Junon. It would be rude to send her back. Perhaps she would realise the futility of this visit on her own, in a short time from now. He had little energy to dissuade her.

He steps to one side, and she slips past him into his hallway. That indistinguishable floral scent washes over him again; what is it, he wondered to himself?

He snaps the door shut, and listens to her shrug out of her coat and step out of her shoes in the silent stillness of the house. Fabric rustled and leather creaked. Sounds so familiar, yet never made by any other but he. Why was she here?

Rather than ask what was burning inside, he silently entered his kitchen, aware that she followed him. "Would you like some tea?"

"Ah, yes. Please that would be nice." She scoops her hair behind her ears, lips pulling into a firm, polite smile as she accepts his offer. Her curiosity is blaringly apparent, even with his back turned to her. He busies himself with the kettle, aware that she is still standing in the middle of his sparse, compact kitchen, appraising whatever she can with curious eyes.

She is far too polite to take a seat without having been offered such first. His fingertips rest on the counter as the kettle starts rumbling a little, as the element exchanged energy with lethargic, cold water particles. Two identical mugs await filling on the counter, off-white and unchipped. Uniform.

She has turned her attention to the window now, stepping tentatively forward to peer outside. The stream that bisected his patch of land bubbled past as always, slightly swollen from the recent rainfall. He steals a moment to take her in, as the rumble from the kettle reached new heights.

She looks a little shorter, he notes, but then again she had removed her shoes. Brightly painted toes are now visible instead, contrasting with the drab grey of the linoleum. Delicate ankles and a section of her calves are revealed, almost to her knees, protruding from the hem of a pale green skirt. The style is much better suited to her, much better than black leather, and metal plating. Without her coat she is wearing only a cotton tee and a thin cardigan. He notes that she has pulled the sleeves over her knuckles and has her arms crossed across her body tightly. Does she feel the cold? Is she insecure, or uncomfortable? Or all of the above.

The kettle clicks off, and in a swathe of steam he pours out the two cups, dutifully adding the right amount of sugar to her tea. He remembered, and that was enough to make her smile as he passed her the cup.

He invites her to sit in his living room, allowing her the freedom of choice. Politely, she avoids the armchair that looks like the only habituated piece of furniture in the room.

"I guess you are wondering why I am here," She begins with a small mirthless laugh, blowing gently at the tea before taking a tentative sip. She winces- too hot. Her lips look a little pinker.

He says nothing, instead taking a sip of his tea in response, nestled within his armchair once more.

She is shaking her head, perhaps subconsciously. Chocolate waves shift over her shoulders as her head moves. "I finally left him."

His eyebrows lift, disappearing into his mass of raven hair.

"I know," She chuckled dryly, lowering her mug to her lap. "After all this time I did it."

"What did he say?" He couldn't help it; the curiosity was too overwhelming. Cloud had stolen years of Tifa's life, lying to her, keeping her close because he was so afraid to be alone. It didn't matter who she was, she just had to promise to stay, to be content to be just someone to him.

"Not much," She stared into her tea pensively. "Which I suppose I should have expected."

He takes another mouthful of tea, aware that it is probably too hot to do so. Regardless, he has to do something to steady himself.

"I mean, we were both just so hollow… I became convinced that I was too... old and jaded to find anyone else if I did leave him," She continued, picking at a loose thread in her skirt. "And when it came to leaving, I didn't think there was anywhere I could go to."

The thread became unravelled, though he wondered if she could even see it; her eyes were swimming with unshed tears. "Barrett has the children, and I didn't want to let them see me like this. Cid and Shera have little Thomas to worry about, and I just… I felt so lost."

"You are always welcome here." He found himself saying, setting his tea aside because suddenly it had lost all of its taste. "You mustn't think you are a burden on any of us."

She smiled a little, and as weak as it was, she looked as though she might have felt something underneath the heavy weight of her sadness. "Thanks, that means a lot… but really I just wanted to see you, make sure you were alright."

"You were worried about me?"

"Of course!" She laughed, wiping away tears with the heel of her hand. "You mustn't think you are a burden, Vincent!" She felt a small pang of joy at seeing the corner of his mouth quirk upwards. "Ah, a famous Vincent smile. I must be very lucky."

Feeling it was safe again, he resumed his hold of his mug of tea. Peering at her over the rim of his cup, he could almost pretend she hadn't been crying moments before. Never had something so lovely graced his living room. He mustn't allow the fact that she had chosen him to visit overwhelm his imagination. After all, she did say she had nowhere else…"So what do you plan to do now?"

"I was thinking of heading over on the ferry to Costa del Sol. I have all my stuff in the car, so… who knows!" She attempts a non-committal shrug. It doesn't work.

"You drove here?" He'd simply assumed she had come by train, or at least by airship. The drive wasn't known to be easy, with little by way of properly constructed roads. It would have taken just over a day, and he hoped she had not attempted even a fraction of the journey by darkness, for there were most certainly no means of lighting after the sun had gone down.

"I had to get away… and quickly. I had no other choice, really."

His lips were a thin line, a sign of his disapproval. "You could have called. I am certain Cid would have come to collect you. And if needed, I could have chaperoned you from Kalm."

She smiled again. Damn. What had he done to deserve witnessing such a sight? "You're such a gentleman, Vincent. I appreciate the offer, really, thank you."

"The ferry takes several hours overnight, and if I am not mistaken-" He jerks back his wrist and consults his watch. "You have missed it for today. The next crossing should be Monday at the very earliest."

"Oh." She deflates before him, and he almost regrets disappointing her. She had clearly not given her journey much thought, and he conjures up images of her stuffing her belongings in the car as quickly as she could, before jamming her foot onto the accelerator and heading out of Kalm for good. "I haven't really given this much thought, have I…"

"Where have you left your car?" He asks softly, setting down his tea and rising to his feet. She looks a little confused, before answering.

"I… It's by the park. Why?"

He opens his palm, twitching his fingers expectantly. "I will move it for you, for now. You may remain here until Monday." Then he could wave her off from the pier and be left alone with his memories, and dying hopes.

He follows her silently into the hall as she reaches into a coat pocket to retrieve the keys, turning to consider him with a sombre expression. "I'm sorry Vincent, I never meant to impose upon you this way, I—"

"Tifa. You are not imposing. Please, don't think you are ever an inconvenience to me."

She falls silent, standing still as she watches him shrug on a coat before going outside into the cool autumn afternoon.

The keys are a cool weight in his hand as he closed him palm around them in his pocket, stilling their jingling as he walks at steady pace along the path. The sleepy town outside of Junon is as still as ever. Everywhere is a spectrum of golds, ambers and reds as fall is in full swing. He watches as leaves tossed into the air by the autumn blustering winds tumble and spiral down to the ground again.

It was probably an autumn just like this one, several years before, when he had fallen apart in front of her.

-0-

Alone in the house, she finds herself wandering through the compact rooms, ascending the narrow dim stairwell, and opening tightly closed doors. It was exactly as she remembered it, for it hadn't changed one iota since she left it, years before.

It had been a wreck, a hollow beautiful shell with nothing to fill it; much like the man who had bought it.

She had stood at his side as they surveyed it from the street, wondering what was going through his mind. Cloud was away for a couple of weeks, and she had made the journey South by train to assist him with his move. He hadn't wanted to take her time, thought she was more than happy to point out that she wanted him to take it. She missed him. That revelation made him wonder just how bad things were for her, at home, yet he said nothing about it.

Happily, she had babbled on about paint, and fabric, and great places to buy second hand quality furniture, and all the while he had listened and wondered; wondered how she could appear so happy, when she lived a lie every day. She hadn't wanted to talk about it, but he knew exactly what she was trying to hide from. A truth so ugly and repulsive that it was better to simply shut it away and never speak of it or think upon it. He had many of those, himself.

He traipsed along behind her in the local hardware store, offering quiet opinions and passing decisions on colour, before his arms were laden with tubs of paint, paintbrushes, trays, and various implements he hadn't even thought of.

What would he have done without her?

For the best part of a week they attacked the house with shared fervour, whistling along to a crackly analog radio as they worked, sleeping on bare mattresses at night with naught but sleeping bags for warmth and rolled up shirts for pillows. He apologised for the conditions, and had offered to pay for alternative accommodation, but she had laughed at him. How many nights had they spent in tents, or simply under the stars with nothing but leaf litter for a pillow? She pointed out that there was little difference, really, warming her hands on a small electric heater as a particularly cold night set in.

"Except we don't really have much peril to worry about in the morning," She winked suggestively, before reaching into her bag and producing some wine. They drank out of jam jars, for that was all they had, and he had to admit that he had laughed for the first time in years that night, waking in the morning to remember what punishment was to be had for a good time. They had fallen asleep surrounded by the evidence of their indulgence; he didn't remember her opening the second bottle…

In the course of the week, the entire house was injected with life upon receiving several coats of paint. Floors were scrubbed bare, woodwork sanded, and windows wiped clear. It was as if the house could breathe again, now so full and bright with light.

It was some point in the next few days that he had told her what he was thinking (he had blocked out the entire memory, because it was almost too easy to fall into to it and imagine what he could have said or done instead, and how the future could have turned out so different). She was rubbing frigid fingers together, trying to spark some warmth into them. She was standing in the centre of the room, the light bulb hanging bare and ugly from the ceiling. Her overalls were stained with paint they hadn't even touched, a spectrum of change and new beginnings. She was due to return to Kalm that night, and a part of him, gaping wide and achingly empty all of a sudden, didn't want to let her go.

"You don't have to go back."

"What?" The ghost of the smile she had been wearing moments before was in danger of disappearing completely, but he had to try, he had to at least give her the option. Some unknown static had pulled at her pony tail, and bits of it stuck up erratically. Her hands rested lightly on her hips, still bearing smudges of white emulsion.

"You don't have to go back to him, Tifa. You're…" A ray of sunshine, caught in a jar, too fragile and too perfect to ever let go. "You deserve better."

She ducks her head, the immediate overhead glare of the bulb casting her face into shadow. Dread settles in the pit of his stomach, a sensation of icy fingers pawing at weeping wounds. He draws closer, hoping for some sort of warmth to thaw out his frozen interior, faltering within reach of her arms. "What happens when I leave him, Vincent… Who else is there for me?" She raises her head slightly, and he is crushed by the sight of her glistening cheeks. "Who could understand what it's like to have had the life I have?"

"Whatever you might be afraid of… there is one person who understands." She recalled the sensation of fingers sweeping aside her hair, his cool palm settling against her frozen cheek, and she had slipped dangerously close, weary arms coming to rest against his chest. His heart beat insistently against her ear, pressed there with the intent to discover if life truly flowed within him. She pleased with her discovery that it did.

"You shouldn't stay because you feel you have no other choice. Because believe me when I tell you that there are plenty of men out there who might not deserve you, but they will want you for themselves all the same." Somewhere in the middle of that sentence a lump had formed in his throat, and he struggled to swallow it down again. Would she see through his plea, so poorly shrouded, like water trying to pass for wine?

"You're right… at least I will have you."

A back-up, a second choice… he had been there before, and old utterances and promises of 'never again' echoed in his mind. Was he slipping back into the same role? Could he do it again?

No.

This time was different. This time, he hadn't had his chance at first. There was no baby—could she be as careless?—and no crazed scientist: Just another hollow shell, like he.

"You will always have me." He squeezed her tighter.

And he was right: because she did.

-0-