"Cloud. You need a social life."

I almost choked on my brioche. It would have been great advice from anyone else, but from Vincent Valentine?

"That's what Cid told me to say." he added, reaching across for another roll.

I breathed a sigh of relief. That wasn't so bad. Cid could say that.

"However, I agree with the sentiment."

I choked again. He stared at me, silently, regarding me over the table. His 'killer death glare', as Yuffie calls it, had never been quite so effective on me as others. But, damn, he'd be practising.

"That's hypocritical of you." I said, brushing it off.

"I went to see Cid only last week. And I came to see you today." Dammit. He had me there.

"You saw Cid? What did you do?" I asked, reaching around to change the subject. Vincent had a better bond with Cid than with most of the others, although he and I had a lot in common.

"We drank." he said, a dark smile coming to his eyes. Of course.

We sat there, for a few moments, him looking at me whilst buttering his bread. It was a good place, in the middle of Edge. He'd invited me. I hadn't been too eager, but then I thought, how often does Vincent do this kind of thing? So, I went. Out of pity. I admit it. Seems like he wasn't the one needing pity, though. Guess I was caught up in the past. Again.

"I live above a bar, Vincent. Drinking isn't really a great social escapade for me." I quipped, looking around desperately for words to defend myself. They wouldn't come.

"That may be so. But you cannot shut yourself up. Coffins make uncomfortable beds." His eyes narrowed in a glare as he said it.

Dammit. Cid knew what he was doing. Who'd be stupid enough to argue with Vincent about that? He was the ultimate expert in shutting yourself away, after all.

"Well. I've passed on the message. My job is done."

He pulled his chair away, and put it under the table again, like a true gentleman. Then, he made to leave.

"Give Tifa my regards." he said over his shoulder, walking away. After five minutes had passed, it was as if he had never been there at all. Almost surreal.

"Tifa..." I muttered to myself. I caught it and crammed it down. With my history, the last thing I needed was to start talking to myself. But I still couldn't shake the thought that maybe Vincent was never really there. Like I was never really a SOLDIER.

Then, I looked over at his plate, and saw a small pile of well-buttered, but uneaten bread. That made me feel better. Maybe I wasn't the only one with neuroses after all.

I got home late that night. Late, but not as late as Tifa's regulars. She's an attractive girl, with a sweet heart, and that always seems to attract a certain kind of people. The wrong ones.

"Cloud. How was work?" she called. The same as every night when I got home and hid in my room.

"Hmm." I grunted, same as every night when I didn't want to talk.

It should have ended there. It would have. But I guess Vincent and Cid really knew what they were doing. Not even knowing why, I pulled out a barstool, third on the right. The same one I used to occupy in Seventh Heaven. Stuck in the past, again.

"Tifa." I started, unsure of what to say. My voice was a little different than normal. I saw a flicker of fear and apprehension run through her features.

"Cloud, don't." she said. The tone in her voice was almost pleading. But twisted, wrenched. In pain.

"Don't what? Tifa?" I asked. My heart faltered for a moment as she swallowed.

"Don't leave again, Cloud. Don't." she said. My heart kicked back into life too hard for its own good, and I felt it burning.

"You...thought I was going to leave?" I asked. I sounded like a lost puppy. A little boy. Maybe I couldn't help it. Maybe.

"I've...really let things get this bad, huh?" I mumbled, not giving her time to reply. "I'm an idiot."

"No...You're just going through a rough time." All other conversation in the bar was forgotten; for all intents and purposes, it was just us. There might have been orders placed, but Tifa didn't take them.

"So are you. So is everyone. Children, adults, everyone. 'A lot of children miss their mothers. That's the kind of world this is.' Rufus said that to me, once." I said. I was losing it, grasping helplessly for the point I wanted, needed, to make.

"Cloud." she said. For the first time, I looked into her eyes. She was almost crying. Almost. Not even I was a big enough ass to make her cry.

"I just wanted to say that...I'm sorry. I've missed you, Tifa." I said. It wasn't what I wanted to say, but it was more true. I missed her, deeply.

"I missed you too, these past three years. Ever since we beat Meteorfall, I've missed you." she said. Her brown eyes were so sweet, so deep. I couldn't take this anymore. I got up.

I stopped at the stairs. I looked backwards, and locked eyes with her again. I wanted to say that I'd always be there, that even though I was sometimes in my own little world, she could come and share it anytime. Something corny like that. Something she would have liked but Cid wouldn't.

I didn't.

I said "I love you", instead.

It was the first time I'd admitted it, even to myself. I tasted the words as they left my tongue, and they were good. Sweet. True. I found myself wishing I said them more often.

She looked at me, and smiled. But not happily. Bittersweet.

"Cloud, I'm not Aerith." she said. I think that brought her closer to tears than I could.

"I'm not Zack." I replied. And that was fine. For a while, I had been. I'd been more Zack than Cloud, and maybe that had been the one who really loved Aerith. But I was Cloud now, and maybe I was a little broken, and a little confused, but it didn't matter. I was Cloud, and she was Tifa.

That night, we held each other, tender but chaste. We weren't ready for that yet. We would take it slow. She'd been waiting for me for three years, she said. Probably even longer than that. She could wait a little more. I smiled, for the first time in a long while. I could wait too, I said. I'd gained more than her that day; I'd gained a future. She grinned, and called me corny. Typical Cloud. I smiled, and we slept.

That was the way it was. We didn't share our first kiss that night, or anything like that. We didn't need to.

And, it's funny, but I could never have done it on my own. I never would have taken those steps without being pushed. Maybe that's the kind of person I am- not a leader. But something else, and I have to find out what it is with the time I have left, and with the one I love- love, not like or admire or whatever- by my side.

And this is the way it is. We're not perfect, but us.

Goes to show, I guess. Sometimes good advice is all you need.

***

Well, this is my first Cloti, written with one of my new projects in mind. I wrote it in about two hours, and I personally feel pretty good about it. I don't think Cloud has quite the complexity that I would have liked, and Cloud being angsty? Well, that's original, isn't it? Still, I liked it. I'm hoping other people do too.

The project in question I blatantly stole from many other authors. It's basically the 'dictionary word of the day' prompt thing. Except, I took 14 words (two weeks worth of fics, at one a day) from the Cambridge dictionary site's top 40 most searched words.

Unfortunately, I took the first fourteen. One of which is actually the word 'dictionary'. But I'll cross that hurdle when I get to it.

Peace out, I guess.

TheVulpineHero1