This one is for you, Lett. I hope you like it! As I am sure I will like mine/already do, depending on when I end up posting this!

I'm really happy with how this turned out- it spans the game, and Advent Children, then to my timeline. Only a one shot, but I was inspired by this amazing picture of Tifa- it painted her in a totally different light- rugged, almost animalistic- a deadly hunter.

So I centred this little one shot around it. This is for you Lett, my dear. You'd better review it too, seeing as it's for you! Much love x

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When he'd stepped out into the light from the gloom of the mansion for the first time, Cloud had introduced him to the rest of their motley crew- they all wore clothing that seemed to be an assembly of acquired fragments (layers of worn leather, or cotton, patched together with metal links, buckles or braces), weapons customised with leather straps and various attachments, and evidently heavily fortified with materia. It seemed he wouldn't out to much in his ragged cape, three barrelled gun and plated arm, after all.

"… and this is Tifa."

Vincent had always been conservative when it came to women, but the sight of her, so feral, and so raw, awakened a burning curiosity. Her lace up red-brown boots were well scuffed, her ivory skin patterned with a few nicks and cuts she had obviously obtained recently. Full breasts beneath white cotton, and leather braces, reinforcing a skirt of black leather. A mass of near-black hair well past her waist, shorted fragments framing her face of wild flicks and waves. Eyes of burning amber smouldered beneath perfectly arched, full brows, and her knuckles creaked in her leather gloves, coated with spikes.

Scraped knees, wild hair, and blazing eyes, full of emotions he suddenly felt the urge to understand.

"Hi," She said stiffly, before glancing up at him with interest. "Wow, look at that, we match." She indicated to her black leather garments and various braces, scrutinising his red cape and black attire beneath, the faintest trace of amusement gracing her full mouth. After a moment it was gone, though, replaced instead by an enduring grimace. She adjusted her elbow brace, and stared pointedly ahead, tapping one booted-foot impatiently in the dirt.

Well, his curiosity was well fanned, to say the least.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

She'd been sat out by the fire on first watch with Cid for a few hours, though of course, he was unable to sleep. He entered into the campfire's sphere of warmth and nodded to the pilot and the young woman he knew no better since they'd met. In a silence punctuated only by the crackle and pop of embers in the flames, he forgot where he was for a moment, staring into the swirling orange inferno with unseeing eyes.

When Cid got loudly to his feet to allow Vincent to take over from his shift (hell if he wasn' going to sleep, then why the hell not?), he found himself alone with the woman named Tifa. Three weeks- or was it four- and still all he knew was that they town they had found him in was once her home. That would explain the fury, then. Because the town he saw that day had been exactly as it had been before the fire. Though he dare not mention it. He knew full well who had done it.

Suddenly, she grunted in annoyance, and he raised his head from his reverie to look at her. She was tugging off her heavy, metal reinforced gloves, flexing and cracking her aching fingers. She then started to peel away the black supportive fabric that covered her forearms, protecting them from chafing by the leather straps of her elbow braces and metal knuckles. This item was allowed to fall away, too, and he found himself wondering if he should look away. Her pale arms, completely bare now, were there for all to see. It was intimate, almost, and he couldn't put his finger on why.

Probably because he could trace the contours of her muscles with his gaze, he could see the delicate recesses of her knuckles, the shading of the bruising there, where perhaps she had delivered a rather meaningful punch.

She stared at her hands, spreading her pale fingers and scrutinising her knuckles. "To think I used to play piano," She scoffed, probably more to herself than him, though he felt inclined to offer some sort of response.

"Man is capable of creation as well as destruction," He said quietly, aware of her heavy amber stare upon him. "Though I understand what you mean." He raised his hands, one metal, one flesh, not bringing himself to look at them.

The heavy creases in her forehead dissipated, her brows smoothing. Her boots scraped as she inched herself closer to him. "I did wonder about that," She admitted, finally coming to a rest a respectful three feet away, gazing openly at his hands. "May I…?"

"As you wish." He reached out both his hands, and to his surprise, she took the flesh one, tugging off the leather glove gently before turning it this way and that. He wanted to blame the fire for how hot he had become, but he knew he'd only be lying to himself. Futile at best.

"You have hands like mine," Her lips twitched into a soft smile, as she pressed her palm to his, their fingers splayed. Her fingertips only just reached the third crease of his strong fingers, though when she turned their conjoined hands in the firelight, he understood her meaning. Both pale, capable of killing… He was shocked at their softness, the delicate pressure of the pads of her fingers warming his. "And this one…"

He released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding as the contact of their palms suddenly ceased, the cooler air of the night assaulting his naked hand. He balled it into a fist.

He could barely detect the tracings of her fingertips over the metal plates, though it made him shudder nonetheless. "A hand is a hand." She shrugged, releasing him and turning her attention to the skies instead. Her weight resting on her palms flat to the ground, her head tilted back to expose an elegant throat, he suddenly wanted to know more about this woman.

Why did she seem so sad? Why was he enticed by those fury filled eyes, those stiffened shoulders manufactured to carry burdens she didn't necessarily have to bear?

"I always used to look at the stars… Where I grew up, you could always see them…" She mused, stretching her long powerful legs before her, crossing them at the ankles. "I used to think they were watching over me, you know?"

"Guiding you?" He prompted softly, aware of Barret's sudden snore from the nearby tent.

"Sort of. But I know that's bullshit." She shook her head firmly, her cascade of dark chocolate hair tumbling about her face, and falling into her eyes. Before he could stop himself, he'd reach out his human hand to push the heavy tresses aside. She considered him carefully, a frown of a different kind curving her eyebrows.

"You should get some rest. I know you haven't been sleeping well," He told her, turning his face away, to disguise his sudden flush. The metal of his gun was cold as he took it in his hand, ejecting the magazine and blowing down the barrel to remove any dust.

"Thanks, Vincent." She held her breath audibly, before scrambling to her feet, dusting herself down. She left him aching with desire to know what she might have wanted to say.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

On the bridge of the Highwind, she always liked to stand by the windows. He chose a more secluded spot at the back by some consoles, observing Avalanche as though he were not part of it. When they left her in Mideel with Cloud, he noted her sudden removal poignantly. He would find himself glancing toward the railings periodically, expecting to see her there; bathed in moonlight, her skin dancing with light bouncing off the ocean's surface, or raging in the glare of a myriad of sunsets.

But instead there was just empty space.

He tried to shake it away; don't be stupid Valentine, this isn't the time for such things. And Chaos would chuckle in his head, probing him further. Reminding him rather coyly of the dreams he had often found himself rather unexpectedly indulging in, against his will of course.

It seemed that whenever he closed his eyes, she was there, waiting for him. In his dreams, she was never angry, though; she was beautiful, carefree, lost in the moments of ecstasy, her body just as pale as he'd imagined, and just as beautiful, just a powerful, rendering him speechless and void beneath the touch of her delicate hands…

No. It would never happen.

When she returned, Cloud now alive and well at her side, he noted her sudden revival of spirit. When her boots trod surely on the wooden boards, he'd glanced up, surprised that she'd come to stand by him first.

"It's good to have you back, Tifa." He told her quietly, more earnestly than he'd ever said anything before. The smile she'd given him almost caused his knees to buckle.

He went back to admiring her in the play of light as always, appreciating each day even more. Because the day approaching the final battle drew closer.

He didn't know what that day would bring.

. . . . . . . . . . .

She stares into the abyss, her knees bleeding from the jagged rocks beneath them but she does not care. She watches for him, hoping, praying that the one she loved would return to her. The one who was so damn blind to her affections, it made Vincent want to punch something: Because it reminded him so much of himself. He wanted to take her firmly by the shoulders and shake her, tell her that she was wasting her time…

He'd wished someone had done that for him, though he wouldn't admit to himself that he most definitely would have disregarded them.

…As she would, too.

Cloud returns, bruised yet victorious, catching her in his arms and lifting her to safety. Her warm eyes burn only for him, and he frowns from his vantage point, huddled on a rocky outcrop with Yuffie at his side. She will never see anyone else, as long as Cloud's mere presence is there to offer her even the faintest hope of love, the barest promise of a life together.

He knows he will never see that burning as he does in his dreams, when he allows himself the luxury of sleep. She will never burn for him.

. . . . . . . . . . .

It is Midgar, three years after meteor decimated the capital, and now a new threat all but tears it apart again. He descends upon the panic, the rush, ever calm, his weapon at his side. At the sound of his voice, Tifa turns, and he almost stops dead at the smile she gives him; the very one that had threatened to ground him years before.

But it is only for a friend. Only for a comrade. He feels blessed that it is so, at the very least.

The beast Bahumut wreaks destruction and havoc upon the city, and yet he does not fear it. Cloud is powerful, he will triumph. He sensed the ancient's power, the last foothold toward their common enemy. Aeris… The beautiful young girl who had stolen Cloud's heart away.

Vincent lands beside those he sees as his friends, and they look on, fearful for what would become their leader, someone they all know is far too damaged for the role. He watches her as she gazes to the sky, her brow creased, and he notices she is crying. Though his one flesh hand is far too tainted to touch her. So he watches on, silent.

. . . . . . . . . . .

In the church, the haven, a rose amongst the thorns of a recovering city. All is well again, the disease known as Geostigma cured by the blessed waters of holy.

Yet he plays her words over in his mind. You were watching over him weren't you? She is bathed in amber luminance from the setting sun, her chocolate hair gleaming, glowering, on the bridge of Cid's proud new ship. Thank you. She knows she could do nothing for the man she loved, whereas a dead woman still remains his everything.

Vincent sighs and turns away from the scene before him, his determined step carrying him away from the sounds of laughter, away from the ethereal magic of the church and out into the street again. The threat for now is gone, he knows, and he is left idle. Where does he belong, he wonders with a scoff. Nowhere. He never really did belong anywhere.

"Vincent?" Her voice calls his name, and he turns immediately, as though expecting her to need help. She jogs to catch up with him, confusion marring her features. "Where are you going?"

"I am not needed." He replied, casting his ashamed gaze to the grey concrete beneath his feet. He knows how pathetic his words sound. "Cloud is well again, the children are no longer sick. You can carry on."

"Vincent…" She takes a firm hold of his arm, catching his by surprise. He notes the absence of her arm brace, and her gloves, now tucked safely into her back pocket. "It's not a case of being needed…" Her voice is soft, and he notes that she no longer seems the angry woman he once knew. He wondered if she had gotten what she wanted, after all. "I've not seen you in years."

"Does that bother you?" His tone is of disbelief, and she laughs at his faintly incredulous expression.

"Yes, it bothers me, Vincent. I worry about you." She gazes up at him through her lashes and his chest constricts almost painfully at the sight of tears glistening upon her perfect face. He tugs off his leather glove, before reaching out a hesitant hand to gently caress her cheek.

She starts at the contact, her eyes fixed upon his as he examined her face more openly. His thumb gently brushes the moisture aside, then glides over her cheekbone. His warm palm comes to rest at her jaw. "You do not need to worry about me, Tifa."

"But I do. You never call, and Marlene is always asking about you-" She hiccoughs, stepping a little closer into the fold of his arm. It is almost an embrace; an invitation, an opportunity, if only he would allow himself to take it.

"Marlene has brought me up to speed on things since I found her in the forgotten city," he says with a faint smile visible over the neck of his cape. "She tells me Cloud is running a delivery business."

"It's a business yes, but it's also an excuse."

"Excuse?" He scowls a little, wondering if the brunette would confirm his presumptions.

"To be away all the time. We don't see eye to eye these days. He's-" Her voice catches in her throat and she takes a moment to massage it. Fresh tears leak from her eyes, dampening his palm. "I can't do this anymore, Vincent, I-"

"You need to be selfish for once, Tifa. Barret is a father, Cloud is… lost. You have every right to chose a life for yourself."

She didn't want to have to take care of someone else's children. She didn't want to be left waiting for someone that would never come back, anymore. She wanted a life.

He suddenly understands, and pulls her the final distance towards him. She is folded perfectly in the crook of his arm, her cheek pressed against his chest, and he notes how warm she feels, and how well she fits.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

He sets down the final box near the stack of other boxes labelled Tifa's Room, huffing out a laboured breath as he stands to recover, cracking his back into place. He shrugs his upper body out of his sweater, thankful he was wearing a simple black cotton t-shirt underneath. Tifa stomps up the stairs a moment later, her arms laden with a pile of bedlinen. She dumps it onto the bare mattress in the bedroom they are stood in, glancing up at him as she blows her fringe out of her eyes, stomping her foot down as she rests her weight on one leg. Steel toe caps are great when moving house- no broken toes due to misplacing of heavy furniture. She chuckles internally at their matching work clothes- boots, jeans, black cotton shirts.

"Thanks for your help moving all the furniture and the heavy boxes. I'd be beat by now if it weren't for you."

"Don't worry about it," He huffs in response, throwing the window open to encourage the breeze inside.

"In fact, thank you for… well, everything." She starts, moving around the bed to get the benefit of the cool influx of air. She crosses her arms, suddenly exuding a little discomfort, stepping a little closer toward the man she had gotten to know so much better recently. And she was smart enough to notice the connection. "I really needed someone to tell me to get my ass in gear. I just… I never thought it would be you."

He chuckles warmly, though his body radiates caution. She knows he doesn't like praise, or people being beholden to him. Not to mention proximity. But she knows the best way to thank him will be in a way he least expects.

"I hope you're going to be happier here." Kalm. Where he also lives, or at least, currently. She plans to persuade him to make it permanent.

"Oh I will be," She tells him softly, taking a step closer, until the toes of their boots are touching. "Because…"

She reaches out a tentative hand to sweep his sticky hair aside, damp from the exertion of shifting about her sofa downstairs until it was just right. His ruby eyes go a little wide at her touch, rapidly sweeping over her face."I know I've got you to take care of me."

"Tifa…" His breath is warm on her palm, his body exuding both warmth and that rich musty scent of his sweat, currently sending her mind into overdrive. "You- I… Is this-" She presses a finger to his lips and smiles, standing on her tip toes to lean close to his ear.

"Allow yourself this just once. I promise you won't regret it."

He has no words to say to that, his lips parting with a silent protest that will never come, because she is suddenly kissing him, her arms curling about his neck. His stomach feels about ready to drop to his feet, and his heart is somewhere is his throat, but he finds the initiative to wrap his arms tightly about her lower back, tugging her closer, because he wants to know what it feels like…

Their clothes are damp and sticky, and he becomes steadily frustrated by the restriction they impose. She leans rather heavily on him, though with her on her tip toes to reach him on account of his outstretching her by a good few inches, and not to mention his sudden mental haze, they overbalance, and topple to the bare mattress.

She only laughs, toeing off her boots with surprising efficiency before scrambling atop him, peering down at him though the mussed curtain of her hair.

"Is this really happening?" He breathed aloud, trying to ignore his state of mind, in the hope that she would not notice it also.

"You bet it is," She lowers her body to his, inching her fingers beneath the hem of his shirt, tracing his sweat-cool skin. Her mouth descends over his once more, hot and wanting, her lips flushed, her eyes burning…

burning for him.

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From the workshop of JJ