New chapter, a short one, but leading up to something I promise! Please R&R!

9. Proof-reading

As the hour approaches seven, she tries to quash down the unfounded sense of unease within her. Why is today any different, she asks her reflection as she combs her hair for what is probably now the sixth time within the last hour. Still, there manages to be a new knot in it each time she does. Because, she thinks somewhat ruefully, it's the first time you'll have been truly alone together since everything started; since she started to notice the way she felt around him. It didn't feel like anything she'd ever felt before, and perhaps that's why she'd ignored and dismissed it for so long.

He made her feel like she could do anything; he could empower her, and yet he still belittled himself. He was such a strong, beautiful person, and yet he just didn't see it. He was sincere, calm, trustworthy… and recently, she'd noted that he was also shy, where certain things were concerned. Much in the same way as she was, when it came to love.

There, she'd admitted it; She suspected that there wasn't going to be any turning back.

Her buzzer sounded abruptly at ten to the hour, making her heart jump into her mouth. She checks over her dark tight fit jeans, vest top and jacket ensemble one last time in her mirror, before giving her hair a habitual ruffle at the roots. Within a minute of her pressing the lock release he was outside of her door and she was letting him in. He looked a little brighter at least, she noted with a small smile. Probably had the best night's sleep he'd had in weeks.

"I thank you graciously for your help today- it should really be a punishment for you, considering this hang over is your fault." He handed her his coat as she had politely waited for him to remove it, and appraised his surroundings. The apartment was open plan and spacious, and something cooking in the kitchen smelled fabulous. "I like the paint. I take it that's what Yuffie had on her face last week?" He was referring to the lilac blob he had spotted on the young Ninja's cheek.

"Well, she did insist on starting the paint fight. I couldn't get it out of my hair for days," she recalled with a scowl. "I think it works quite well, though. Did you find me alright, then?"

Suddenly the conversation was plunged into cordiality, and she found herself making both tea and small talk in the kitchen as he inspected the contents of her open shelving units, and the spines of her collection of cook books. Her kitchen back at the bar had had a much more industrial feel to it, somewhat Bauhaus and minimalist. This one was more kitsch, how she remembered the old family kitchen back in her house in Nibelheim. It felt a lot more like home.

"Something smells wonderful," He said after accepting the mug of freshly made tea, and following her back into the living room where he took a seat upon a very comfortable sofa. "Please tell me it's lasagne."

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

Several hours later, long ago fed and satisfied, Reeve's paperwork had been categorised into piles for sorting atop Tifa's coffee table, Tifa herself sat crossed-legged on the floor by his legs, thumbing through a file of data sheets. "Jesus, Reeve have you ever considered putting all of this onto the computer system?"

"Hm. Not secure enough. Data protection…" He answered vaguely, apparently deep in concentration. She indulges a glance at him over her shoulder, before returning reluctantly to reading through the data.

"You could pay someone to design a security network, surely?"

"We do already have a network, but we use that for low risk data, and communication. All high security documents are hand delivered. By Cloud, actually."

"Surely there's a better way, though." She huffs, tossing that to the pile designated as 'no'.

She was proofreading, highlighter at the ready for marking out errors, though her concentration was waning. As was her pile of documents to complete, she noted with relish. Stretching her arms above her head with a discomfited groan, she let her head rest back on the sofa cushion, her eyes closed, arms flopped down and resting in her lap. She listened to the tap-tap of Reeve's fingers dancing across the keyboard of his laptop, and the occasional scratch of his pen across the stack of papers at his side, enjoying the comfort of their amicable silence. After a moment, she felt him shift, leaning forward to place down his laptop on the table before him.

"Giving up?" He chuckles, sinking gratefully back in his seat, without the added weight of his laptop across his thighs. "Got to say, we've done well."

"It'll take a few more days for us to get through it all, I think." She throws her arms backward to rest against the cushions, her eyes remaining blissfully shut.

" 'Us?' I thought you were just planning on helping tonight? I couldn't ask you to help me do all of it."

She opened her eyes, turning her face toward him. "Well, why not? Besides, it's been nice having you around. I don't see you otherwise," she teased, reaching up to poke him in the ribs. He jerked away reflexively, suggesting that he may well be ticklish.

"Ah… touché."

"Well, I'm thinking that we deserve a drink!" She hops up and onto her feet with far too much energy, he thinks, heading towards the kitchen.

"I hope you don't mean alcoholic…" He runs a hand over his face, scratching at the stubble that grew in places that he would normally keep closely shaven. Perhaps it was getting too much, to keep it like this… Maybe he'd be saying goodbye to it soon.

"Haven't you heard of hair of the dog?" She re-emerges, clutching a bottle of what he suspects is rum. Saying nothing as he watches her pour it, he accepts the glass with only mild hesitation. What harm could it do? It might serve to make him more talkative- she had probably already noticed the tangible, heavy silences already. It is for that reason that he is glad she chose to switch on her stereo moments ago, should it occur again.

"Are we drinking to tomorrow this time?" He remarked, surprised to note that she blushes slightly, choosing to bend her head over her glass to hide it.

"No." She tosses her hair back defiantly, her delicate jaw set. "To today. I'm sick of tomorrows."

"To today, then." They drink in silence, and he wonders momentarily what has changed. They continue with the respective tasks in silence, and he is unable to concentrate, distracted his urge to reach out and sweep her hair aside, to touch her face, as if to affirm her reality. His glass stands empty now beside hers, still glistening with the residue of the rum. It was strong, and the buzz has given him the courage that he previously lacked.

He watches her carefully; it's always in moment like this, when he catches her unawares that she appears the most beautiful. Her long hair almost reaches her waist, and currently her fingers are buried in it, rubbing gently at the roots at the base of her neck, considering the paper before her. The lighting has been dimmed, though still he can pick out strands of auburn in hair that would appear otherwise as a dark sheet of near-ebony. He can distinguish the silhouette of her lashes, cast upon her pale cheeks, and he watches, enraptures, as she runs the pad of her index finger across the rose-coloured swell of her lower lip.

"Tifa…" His tone is thick, almost weary, and she lifts her gaze to meet his eyes, brow furrowed, curious. "Perhaps we should stop now. It's almost eleven. We can continue with this tomorrow, if you insist on helping me still." He teases the folder she is gripping from her fingers, setting it aside before resting his hand upon her slender shoulder. "Let's just enjoy a drink, before I have to go."

She eases her body up and back, so she is now seated beside him, her thighs almost brushing his. Clearing his throat, he bends forward to refill their glasses. He drinks perhaps a little faster than he normally would. "I should have done this a long time ago," He begins, and her curiosity becomes hybrid with trepidation. "I've perhaps not made time to talk with you, as I should have. I've wanted to apologise, though paradoxically I had not found opportunity until now."

"That's alright," Her smile is warm, though her fingertips, curling rather suddenly into his palm are cool. "I understand, you know? Perhaps better than you think. It's not like I'm used to people being busy. I'm best friends with probably the busiest set of people in the world. But they always make time for me when I need them, and they never let me down- you included. You proved that on my birthday."

"You deserved it; to be shown just how much people care about you." He squeezed her hand in return.

"And you too- I don't want to see you like I saw you last night, again. It's not good for you," She reaches out to touch his hair, spreading apart the strand with her thumb until it lay flat, shining cobalt in the light.

"When this is over... the memorial, finding Vincent… we should celebrate. All of us, I mean; Avalanche together."

"Oh, I plan on it." She replies softly, letting go of his hand and resting her cheek on her forearm. "Until then, though, don't go overworking yourself. I mean it; otherwise you're in trouble."

He chuckled softly, and she felt the heat rising to her face when she noted that his eyes stayed trained upon her face.

She couldn't stop thinking about the way he looked at her long after she had bid him goodbye at her door. It wasn't like she wasn't used to being stared at; in her bar, perhaps the low cut shirt did well to bring in business, but with Reeve, it was different. It was almost as if he revered her. That, she was not used to.

She was Tifa Lockheart, member of Avalanche and a woman of the sector seven slums. She was tougher than people gave her credit for, and in spite of this, she still wore her heart on her sleeve. A place where it was prone to getting damaged, she thought with a dry laugh as she set about washing up the neglected dishes from dinner.

Something was definitely on the horizon; she could feel it, like the pressing air before a thunder storm. All that she didn't know was when it would finally come into the light.

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

It seemed that Reeve's duties were amalgamating into one these days. The paper work dealt with, he then had to turn his attentions immediately to the memorial service, and going on tours to inspect the damage done to the areas on the outskirts of the Deepground reactor. Days would go by where neither Cloud nor Yuffie could say they had seen him at HQ. Tifa could only harbour her disapproval for a later date.

It must have been two weeks since the last time she had seen him; it had been at the memorial service, where she had been sat several rows back it the sea of chairs before the erected podium where he gave a speech in memory of those who had given their lives in the fight against Deepground. As of yet, Vincent had not been seen.

Tifa sighed to herself, cleaning the bar top somewhat autonomously; it was already shiny. Had she chosen to look down, she would have been able to see her worried face staring back at her in the granite. She daren't consider that they had lost another member of Avalanche to the seemingly never-ending fight against the many evils in the world.

She didn't want to believe it.

Vincent was stronger than that, surely? He must have gone to find himself, to find his reason for forgiveness. Hm. Much like Cloud, then. Were there any men these days who weren't content with how they were?

Well, Cid seemed happy enough. Though he was in a category all on his own.

It was past midnight, and she had come in to help complete the night's lack-lustre cleanup. She hadn't been in the mood, really. Yet right then, she wished she had of persevered with it. Huffing rather laboriously, she tossed the rag in the vague direction of the sink and leant on the bar with her elbows, thrusting her chin into her open palms.

Was anything ever going to calm down? Would there ever really be peace?

Her elbow nearly slipped from the bar top as the sudden shrill peal of her PHS, jerking her rather abruptly out of her mind's depressed ramblings.

Who, by Gaia, would call at this hour?

She didn't recognise the number, and so she answered with caution."H-hello?"

"Tifa, its Shelke." That girl had a strange, deliberate way of speaking that seemed unnerving to Tifa. It set the hairs on her arms on end, at times.

"Oh, hi." She narrowed her eyes a little. A tiny part of her still didn't trust the girl, in spite of how she had eventually assisted the WRO in the end. "What's up?"

"I have found Vincent. We are returning to Edge."

"You- you have? That's excellent news! Have you called Reeve?" Her sudden rush of joy overwhelmed her mistrust.

"Well, we thought you should be the one to tell him," She could almost picture the girl's strange, almost out-of-practice smile. It seemed like everyone, Shelke included, was aware of the attraction between herself and Reeve, though it didn't take much reading between the lines, she supposed.

"Oh, alright. Well, when can we expect you?"

Scribbling down details onto her memo pad with the phone wedged between her chin and her shoulder, she couldn't help but notice the bubble of excitement growing within her chest. Although the hour was late, she was positive that Reeve would want to hear the good news regardless. As she pocketed her PHS once more and began a mad dash to lock up before heading out with her only her keys in hand, she toyed with the idea of leaving him for at least a few more hours; after all, hadn't he done the same to her, when he had been in the hospital?

She shrugged away the notion as she had locked the door and set the alarms. She was far too excited to break the news to Reeve, whom she imagined had had somewhat of a lack of it lately.

Breaking into a jog, she headed in the direction of his apartment block.

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Revised and cut a little short, so I can perfect the next chapter! A Massive thank you to SakR9, who has reviewed quite a few chapters of this story, but who has also disabled PMing, so I could not thank them personally!

Please review!