I've had the start of this chapter written for a while, but I was sort of lost for material of finish it. It may be a little short but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
For those of you who haven't seen it, please check out my all new Reeve/Tifa fic. I'd appreciate it, and it might give you something else to read while waiting for another update! :-/
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16. Making Amends
The Highwind's engines burst into life once more, humming pleasantly as Cid steered them out of their docking point. All of Avalanche were below deck, save for Tifa and Barrett. He had asked to speak with her, though at the moment he said nothing at all, instead choosing to stand by the rails and stare out over Midgar. She couldn't help but notice that the meteor shone brightest of all in the skies above the city, and its looming presence was of little reassurance to her that their little space stint had done any good at all. The city lights were an ugly smear of orange and yellow across the dark landscape, though in a way it was almost beautiful; pinpricks of colour piercing the darkness. It was a damn sight improvement on how it looked in the daylight; all greys and black, not to mention the smog. She wondered where sector 7 was, and if anyone had even bothered to start clearing it since the plate had desecrated it. Her fingers twitched; another impulsive urge to punch Reno for all the trouble he had caused.
"You and... him. When?" He said at last, turning around slowly. He had at some point ripped off his tie and shed his suit jacket, though it did little to dispel his obvious discomfort with the garments he still wore.
"I... I don't know what to say to you Barrett. It's been long enough that perhaps you should have noticed earlier."
"I don't know what you want me to tell you. Does there have to be a reason? And why does it matter so much to you, anyway?" Her hands found their way to her hips, though she resisted tapping her foot impatiently.
"I just... I never thought you, uh, stopped carin' for Cloud." On the plus side, he didn't seem angry anymore, though now, he radiated confusion and discomposure.
"But I thought you never liked him much anyway," A small smile crept to his lips at that. "Cloud and I have solved our issues. We are friends, and that's all that matters. Whatever I may or may not feel is my own business, now."
"I jus'... ever since you came t'me in the slums years ago I kinda seen you as a daughter. I already adopted one, and I guess I thought it'd be cool to have two..."
"I get that, and I appreciate it." She reached out and gave his immense shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "But you can't tell me what to do, and who to love. Who knows if we'll even survive the year... what does it matter?"
"It matters because…" He shook his head again, running a rough hand over his stubbled chin. "If it don't, may as well die now. I gotta still believe this could work, Tifa… I gotta think that life can be… normal again."
Her smile was gentle and sad. Turning, she slipped her arm through his, watching the dark shape of Midgar slip out of focus in the distance. "I wish I could think like that… But I just keep thinking about all of the things I've always wanted to do and… it scares me all over again."
Tifa gave a sheepish grin, leaning her face toward the large man's shoulder, to hide her bashfulness. "Most of the things a girl wants; to get married and have a big white dress, to have children… But you know I'm not like most girls. I always wanted to set up my own martial arts school in the city. I always wanted to go to university. And I always wanted to go travelling."
"You can do all those things!" Barrett protested, giving her shoulder an almost crippling squeeze. "And so will Marlene, someday."
"I miss that kid." She admitted, suddenly wishing she were back in the slums, if not to enjoy one of the evenings they used to have to themselves, when Barrett and the others were out 'working'. "I swear, she's far too old for a four year-old at times!"
"Tell me about it!" They shared a laugh, recalling all the times they had been told-off by the youngster, her tiny arms crossed defiantly across the front of her pink dress, which was more often than not dirtied.
"She's going to break hearts one day, and you are just going to have to accept that."
"What about you, though? You gonna see the world, not to mention meet many other… men. Is Vincent the one or somethin?"
She shook her head, giggling despite herself. "I honestly don't know. All I do know is that I care about him, and he also feels the same for me. I couldn't really ask for anything more."
"Well, uh, I mean this in the nicest way possible- I'm happy for ya, but if he hurts you, I'll kill him."
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Vincent knew better than to ask if she was alright; he knew what the answer would be if he did, so instead, he chose silence. Lowering himself to sit with her up on the Highwind's deck, legs dangling through the railings, he struggled to think of what to say. He didn't quite know how the news had made he himself feel, let alone anyone else.
"Well…" She began, her mouth suddenly dry. "I kinda saw this coming." He didn't respond, choosing only to take her hand in his. "At least… we can-"
He was going to say, don't cry, everything is alright. But those words were as redundant as they were empty, so instead he slipped an arm about her shoulders. "We did everything we could."
"I know that. It's just…." She stared out over the skies, the half of the stratosphere that lacked meteor he noted, tinted rose and amber as the sun set over the mountains. They were somewhere north of Kalm, docked. "What about all the children who will never know their future? All of the history that will be lost, forgotten?"
The news had been global; there was no need to go to Cosmo to find out. The nuclear bomb had blown off a chunk of the meteor, though still, it's trajectory had not been altered. It was hovering over them, still, motionless, and waiting.
"I… I don't know Tifa." He sighed. "I honestly don't know. All I do know is… I need to finish things, before… before we head into the North Crater. I want Sephiroth's death to be the last I am responsible for."
"Hojo?" She whispered in question, burying her face into his neck.
"Yes." His knuckles whitened as he tightened his fist. "He is in Midgar, I believe. Yuffie has been… helping me to track him down. He is working with Scarlet on the new cannon."
"Then I'll go, too." She decided. "As soon as the stupid, stuck-up cow has fired that cannon, I am going to throw her off it."
For the first time in a long while, he laughed. "Sounds like a plan to me."
"Then we can go and face Sephiroth together," Her fingers interlaced with his tightened. "…And we can wait out the end."
"I've been thinking about this, actually, and I wanted to talk to you about… about what we are going to do."
"You mean, if we succeed in the crater," Her laugh with devoid of humour. "If we can even get in there at all."
"Yes. I meant that if we are faced with Meteor… I thought perhaps we could return to Mideel."
"Didn't it get destroyed by Weapon?" Her eyes were closed, her forehead resting on the handrail before her.
"Well… Or at least somewhere we have good memories together, to spend the time we have left."
"You don't mean kill ourselves do you?" She half-joked, straightening to stare at him.
He shook his head firmly. "No- I mean after the final battle… we could go somewhere, just you and I; be together. Then we cast Sleep and… we don't have to wait for the end. We simply…"
"Stop existing together?"
"I'll give it some thought," Tifa got to her feet, giving the horizon one last longing gaze before she turned to face the other half of the sky. It was darker, though marred by the angry smear of Meteor. "I'll need to ask Cid to plot a course for Midgar soon."
"Tifa?" she turned in the doorway, her shoulders slumped. "I… I'll be inside soon." He swallowed the lump in his throat as her form vanished beneath deck.
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"Do you remember busting out of Don Corneo's joint?" Cloud was laughing, seated cross-legged in one of the empty rooms in the bowels of the Highwind. They had crossed paths in the night, and upon confessing their insomnia, they decided to wait it out together.
"Yeah. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't recognise you right away!" She wiped at a stray tear, chuckling even though her sides hurt. "And that dress was… ridiculous!"
"Hey, I picked it myself you know!"
"That's what worries me!" The bubble of hysteria in her chest faded, leaving her somewhat hollow again. "You rescuing me… Must be old times."
"Ha. Yeah," He rubbed at the back of his neck, before reclining on the wooden floor, staring up at the steel-clad ceiling. After a moment, she joined him, though she lay on her side, watching the play of moonlight on his skin. "I can't believe we only left Midgar under a year ago," He admitted, foot jiggling.
"It feels longer," She agreed, suddenly wishing she'd brought a blanket. "And yet so much has changed."
"It certainly has. All the friends we've made, and the places we've been. Back in Nibel, we wouldn't have even dreamed of a life like this…"
"No, you're right. It's strange- I never thought I'd end up leaving that town; Funny what fate throws at you."
"Fate…" He savoured the word, perhaps with distaste. "Such a cruel thing. It took away so many lives, and ruined those it left behind."
"The way I see it, killing Sephiroth won't make any different and yet… it's everything. If I at least get to punch that monster once before I die, my life would not have been a complete."
"Don't talk about your death that way… as though you're so worthless as to be discarded." His haunting mako-blue eyes focused on her face, and she suddenly wondered why her heart had given up on somersaults until now. Now wasn't the time to add complications….
"I didn't mean to… remind you." She breathed, not daring to move. She was in arm's reach; a respectful distance.
"Of what?" The gentle frown that creased his nose, that made the blue of his eyes burn through the dark, reminded her so much of the moody sixteen-year old Cloud.
"Of Aeris," She whispered softly, almost wanting to hold her breath. "I know it must be so hard to… go on without her."
"It's hard because… Because I could have saved her… I should have gotten there first…." His leather gloves creaked as he made fists with his hands, his jaw set firmly.
"Cloud… we were all to blame. We should have been stronger… We should have protected the Materia better. We should have protected Aeris better. But you know her- she was stubborn. She wanted to go to the Forgotten City… she needed to. No-one could have deterred her. You know that." She propped herself up on her elbow to peer down into his face. He gazed back, fractured and conflicted.
"Did I ever tell you I joined SOLDIER to impress you?"
Why was he telling this now? She frowned. "I know that. But why are you-"
"You've always been there. I… I should have been there for you, too. But I… The experiments Hojo did… Zack's memories were imprinted into me. Aeris was his girlfriend, not mine, and yet… I had feelings for her. Were they… do you think they are mine, or Zack's?"
"Cloud, I… I don't know."
"What if I'd never been in that tank? What if…" He trembled, evidently traumatised by the memories, turning on his side and tucking his legs up closer to his chest. "What if things between us could have been different?" She found herself wondering how they had gotten so close, only when a gloved hand closed the short distance between then to touch her cheek. A shudder travelled down her spine at the contact of leather on her skin.
"I don't know what to say, Cloud." She breathed, aware that their faces were barely inches apart, and that never once had he looked at her that way. Why? Why now?
"You don't have to say anything."
"I…" Staring back aghast into his face, she didn't see cerulean eyes, but ruby ones. She didn't feel leather on her skin, but cool fingertips, bare and loving. "Cloud, I'm sorry." She swept his hand aside gently, a lump forming in her throat. "But I do have to say something… Cloud, I… Why are you doing this now? You know that Vincent is… he has my heart now. There's no way I can do this to him. And I can't do it to myself, either." She got to her feet slowly, turning to look back at her childhood friend, a well of confusion and hurt still lodged firmly in her chest. "Whatever we were… whatever we had… it is no more."
Vincent was woken by cool hands on his face, and tear-soaked lips against his. "Tifa? Are you alright?" He made to move but she placed a hand on his chest, stilling him. She removed her clothes before slipping between the sheets with him, seeking his warmth.
"Just hold me." She whispered into his chest, and so he did, soothing her by teasing his fingers through her long dark locks of hair. Her sobs soon subsided, her breathing calmed by the warmth and proximity of Vincent's body to hers. She nuzzled a little closer into his side, emitting a deep, heavy sigh. "I love you, Vincent."
"I love you, too." He replied, smiling softly to himself. The first time he'd ever been told that, and yet the moment felt so bitter-sweet. "More than you know."
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The following morning left Vincent wondering what had upset Tifa so deeply. At first, he had simply taken that perhaps she had somehow gotten worked up about the whole end-of-the-world thing, who wouldn't after all? Though after noticing how she would look at him, her cheeks dashed with an embarrassed flush, he began to think otherwise.
They were all gathered on the bridge, Tifa in her usual place at the front, her arms folded across her chest, face turned resolutely to face the view beyond the window. He noted that Cloud was trying his best to talk to her, but she refused to face him. Upon noting Vincent's arrival however, he seemed to give up on the endeavour. "Is something wrong?" He asked, glancing back over his shoulder at Cloud, who was busying himself talking with Cid at the helm.
"I… can we talk later?" She sounded angry, though her eyes were filled with sadness. Taking the hint, he remained in silence. "I'm sorry- I'm not angry with you." Her fingers slid between his. "You've done nothing wrong."
"I'm guessing Cloud said something?" He muttered, aware of Cloud's gaze wandering toward them.
"I… He just… last night we were talking and…" She wiped at her eyes furiously. "He tried to…"
Vincent didn't like how this sounded. "Tifa? Do you want me to talk to him?" He couldn't help but feel slightly protective of her. He recalled how Cloud had regarded him when he had first joined the group; with contempt, suspicion, and he clearly didn't trust him, especially around Tifa.
"No, no." She shook her head firmly. "Well I'm not really sure what he was hoping to achieve. It was as if he… had hoped that he could change things."
Vincent chewed on his bottom lip. "Change them?"
"Don't pull that face, Vincent." Her frown vanished as she reached up to touch his cheek. "I know what you're thinking in that messed up mind of yours, and I haven't changed my mind about you; about us. I love you, remember?" He felt his face grow how as, in front of everyone, she shifted closer to press up against him, her arms wrapped around his neck.
"How could I forget?" He murmured back, foreheads almost touching as he leant close. Then, partly because she knew Cloud was watching, and mainly because she wanted to, she brought her lips to his, pressing her body closer.
Cid was making vomiting noises behind them, her lips stretching into a smile against Vincent's mouth. "We'd better go and get ready," She said, pulling away to gaze into his face. "We have people to assassinate."
"Is that an excuse to get me somewhere alone?" He raised a brow, a glimmer in his eye.
"If you want it to be."
"Well, everyone is expecting us to, so we may as well not let them down." She was laughing as they left the bridge together, blissfully unaware of the amused side-glances their teammates were giving them.
The room Tifa shoved Vincent into was one she hadn't come across before- dank, gloomy, and pretty much the same as all the others; though it would serve. She found a surface to force him onto, undoing her shirt and stepping out of her shorts before kneeling astride him, lowering her wanting mouth to his.
Being with Tifa made him feel ten years younger than he actually was; surely it wasn't normal for a man his age to be getting so much sex. He couldn't help but laugh at that thought, earning him a quizzical look from Tifa. All he knew was, it felt good to be carefree, even if it was going to be short-lived. His kisses turned desperate, hands clutching her thighs, helping her body to grind against him, aggravating the focus of their pleasure. The metal wall behind him was cold against his back, but her body was so warm…
He climaxed quickly, and within moments, Tifa reached hers, the small stuffy room filled with the sound of them trying to catch their breath. She didn't move though, her face buried into his neck, though her knees were beginning to hurt from kneeling upon whatever it Vincent was sat on.
"Cloud tried to apologise I think…" She told him after a moment, loosely clutching his shirt in her fingers. "For hurting me. But… I'm not really sure what he hoped to do… I think he was going to kiss me."
"He's probably trying to adjust. It's difficult, knowing the world you know with everything you love on it isn't going to last."
Tifa said nothing for a moment, just inhaling Vincent's scent, and committing it to memory. "I felt guilty."
"You did nothing wrong." He replied immediately, his cheek resting on her hair.
"I know. But it made me think about… say I'd never met you… he would've just used me. Then I got angry with him. He just thinks he can do whatever he wants, without there being consequences; he must still think that I care for him in that way."
"I think you made your point, though," He smiled against her hair, his fingers lost in her soft chocolate strands. "Let's just get on with the mission. We can yell at Cloud later."
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In the makeshift armoury, Vincent had just shoved a magazine into place in his contingency handgun, and was squinting down the barrel when Cloud entered. He sighed internally- what a time to pick, when nobody else was around. Saying nothing, he holstered the weapon at his hip, before turning his back to the room, routing around in his specified locker for the black combat gear that Tifa had apparently hung up there after the last time he'd worn it.
"So you're after Hojo, huh?" Cloud asked from across the room. Still shirtless, Vincent inhaled deeply before turning, to face his addresser.
"I don't plan on making another attempt after this, so yes." He hadn't intended his tone so sound so irked, but yet it escaped his lips as such.
Cloud's azure gaze pierced his for a moment. "Tifa has told you." Guilt, thick and heavy, a net dragging him down.
For an instant, Vincent felt uncertain. Should he lie? "It's nothing to do with me." He said slowly, lowering his eyes. "I have no quarrel with you, Cloud."
"She… she's happy with you. I didn't see it until last night." Cloud sighed, seating himself upon one of the benches, the wood groaning under his weight. "I just… I don't know what I was doing."
"It's fine, Cloud." He hoped the blonde could interpret the finality it his voice- his patience would only last so long. For some reason, he felt his fingers twitching. "I'd rather not discuss this any further, and I imagine that you wouldn't either. Let's just concentrate on the task at hand, then we can go and get rid of Sephiroth for good." He didn't even try to hide the harshness biting in his tone, abruptly tugging the since-discovered combat gear from its hiding place.
Vincent tugged on the close-fitted black shirt before meeting Cloud's cerulean gaze one more. His lips quirked at the corner. "If you have issue with the scientist too… We should take him out together."
Cloud smiled softly in return, getting to his feet again ."Let's do, it then."
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I'm so sorry it's been so long- it's getting harder to write now I'm getting nearer to the end. Please bear with me! And as always, reviews are immensely helpful.