Author's Note: Happy New Year everyone! In the spirit of the New Year, I've decided to upload another story in a different genre. Exciting, I know. I hope you all enjoy the story! Feedback is appreciated. :)

Disclaimer: I own nothing at all.

The Risks of Gambling

Summary: [AU] Tifa didn't know she had a gambling problem until she staked her freedom… and lost. [CloudTifa] [ZackAerith]

Chapter 1 – The Stake

The lights glittered across the large room as Cloud Strife, Zack Fair and Aerith Gainsborough stepped inside. Both men donned expensive Armani suits as Aerith wore a violet cocktail dress.

"Alright, finally!" Zack proclaimed with a wide grin, winding his arm around Aerith's waist. "It's about time we got here."

"This is pointless, Zack," Cloud said. "You know I don't like to gamble."

Zack turned to his best friend. "Come on, Strife, live a little!" he exclaimed, giving Cloud a friendly smack on the back. "You never know whom you'll meet at these things," he added, grinning towards Aerith who smiled in return.

The casino was full of men and women, each crowding the gambling tables. The slot machines were filled across each row as the smell of cigarettes overflowed in the room.

"So, where should we go to first?" asked Zack as Aerith pointed at a couple options.

While the two idly talked, Cloud glanced around the room, standing nonchalantly with his hands fisted in his pockets.

He watched a few women in the casino walk by him and turn their heads, openly staring at him. Some would even flash him a flirtatious smile and bat their thick, fake eyelashes. However, Cloud ignored their advances, remaining indifferent to the women. After all, it was Zack who kept goading him to come, so much that Cloud felt he would never get any peace unless he agreed. He was here simply as a favor to his friend, nothing more.

Finally Cloud settled his eyes on a poker table with little people filling the seats. After exchanging some money for poker chips, he walked towards the table as Zack and Aerith followed indolently behind him. Once he approached the table, Cloud idly threw a few chips on the counter as the dealer began dealing cards to Zack and Cloud as Aerith sat patiently beside Zack.

"Welcome, gentleman. The game is Texas Hold 'Em," introduced the dealer as he finished passing out the cards. "What are your opening bets?"

Just as Cloud was about to pick up a few chips, he heard a loud commotion behind him.

"What? What do you mean I lost? There's no way he could have gotten four of a kind! He must have CHEATED!"

Hearing the words slurred together, Cloud glanced over his shoulder, shifting his attention to the person who was making all the racket.

Cerulean eyes settled on a woman with brunette hair. She was standing up, her arms lightly shaking at her sides in fury as she glared at the casino dealer. Her cheeks were flushed as she breathed heavily. Cloud found his eyes drawn to her heaving chest before lowering to the slit in her dress, revealing long, smooth legs. The woman was dressed in a long black dress with a slit in the side and an open back.

When his eyes moved back to her face, her sleek brunette hair was tied up in a French twist with a few strands from her side bangs falling against her large, chocolate brown eyes fringed with thick lashes.

Cloud watched her for a few moments before resuming his attention to the card game in front of him, only to hear the clicking of heels behind him and the scrape of a chair being pushed backwards.

His eyes shifted to the side to see the same brunette woman he was looking at taking a seat right beside him. Her perfume flooded his nose along with the scent of alcohol.

Seeing how she sat down, Cloud noted she was tipsy as she clutched to the shot glass with clear vodka filled inside it.

"I'll probably—probably have better luck here," the woman slurred out, "because… because you're not a cheater, right?"

She lifted her eyes from the table to the dealer who smiled in return. "Not that I know of, ma'am."

"Good! Let's play!" she shouted, tossing a few chips to the center.

Feeling a nudge at his side, Cloud turned his attention to Zack who was wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, giving his friend a thumbs-up. Cloud knew exactly what Zack was referring to (especially since his eyes wouldn't stop darting between himself and the woman), but the blonde remained impassive.

Seeing Cloud's expression, Zack gave him a pointed look. Leaning towards him, he said, "Dude, the chick next to you is a bombshell! She's the type of girl you need in your life!"

Feeling a firm squeeze on his shoulder, Zack craned his neck over his shoulder, seeing Aerith giving him a heated stare with her distinct jade eyes. Zack laughed uneasily from his girlfriend's stare, bending his arm behind his head as he scratched his hair, adding, "But she's nowhere compared to you, Aerith. You're smokin'!"

Aerith shook her head, playfully rolling her eyes at the flattering remark nonetheless. Tugging on his sleeve, she suggested, "Let's go to the slot machines, Zack."

Zack gave her a questioning look. "Why? I'm feeling lucky here, I think got a good shot of winning—"

When Aerith cleared her throat and jerked her head, Zack followed her gaze to Cloud, seeing the spiky-haired blonde glancing from the dealer's cards to the brunette woman, then repeating the pattern once more.

Zack looked back at Aerith as a wide, wolfish grin appeared on his features. "Alright, alright…" he turned towards the dealer. "I fold," he said, passing his cards to him before standing up and placing an arm around Aerith's shoulders. "Remind me to tell Cloud he owes me."

Aerith giggled softly, holding the hand that was around her shoulders. "Just follow me, Zack," she told him as she led him over towards the slot machines.

Two hours later…

"The lady wins again," the dealer announced as Tifa cheered.

"Alright, I'm on fire tonight!" she exclaimed as she took another swig of her drink. She then leaned across the table and gathered her winning chips.

As the dealer gathered the cards and dealt once more, Tifa rested her elbow against the table, leaning her face into the palm of her hand as she glanced over to Cloud.

"What's your name?" she asked, absentmindedly twirling a piece of her hair. Seeing Cloud merely glance at her and say nothing, Tifa smiled lopsidedly. "Not much of a talker, huh?" she asked, tilting her face further into her hand. After checking her cards and seeing what cards were on the table, she raised a $1,000 worth in chips. "That's fine," she continued, lazily glancing at the blonde. "My name's Tifa. Just so you can remember the name of the woman who's going to beat you 11 times straight!"

Tifa…? Cloud repeated in his mind. That name… sounds familiar… He glanced at her once more before pushing the thought to the back of his head.

"Don't get overconfident," the blonde stated, remaining unperturbed by his series of losses. After all, he was simply playing the game to have something to do.

As the dealer put down another card, Tifa smiled widely at her hand. "If you say so," she said, glancing between the pot and her hand. She had a Straight Flush running from the 8 to the Queen of Hearts. Taking a couple of chips, Tifa tossed them toward the center of the table. "I raise $10,000."

"Do you call, monsieur?" asked the dealer.

Cloud simply nodded, tossing the same amount in chips.

"You know, most men often never have the opportunity to spend time with me," Tifa began. "Normally because I'm very… selective." When she saw Cloud eye her from her head to her toe, her smile widened. "Tell you what. If I lose my hand, you can have me."

Cloud rose an eyebrow at her offer. "You're betting yourself?"

Tifa nodded, her smile confident. "That's right. All of me. You'd have me at your disposal."

Cloud found her offer tempting, but upon whiffing the scent of alcohol that seemed to radiate from her, he quickly realized she was probably making the offer because she wasn't in a stable mindset. But he didn't pay too much attention. Her offer definitely made the dulling game more interesting.

"And in return?" he asked.

"For my stake, I want your Rolex watch and keys to your Lamborghini," she replied matter-of-factly. "I'll use the car, but the watch will make a nice gift for my father, since he lost that same model and they discontinued it's making."

Cloud's face was stoic. "You value yourself for only a couple million?"

"Not at all," she replied, though her speech was still slurred. She placed her hand on his arm, smiling alluringly when she felt him tense. "But you're cute, so I'll give you a discount."

Cloud glanced between her hand and her face before moving his arm out of her grasp. "Call," he stated, removing his Rolex watch and tossing his keys in the pot. He thought nothing of offering his watch and car, as they were simply possessions, nothing more.

Tifa smiled when she saw him give up his watch and keys. Too easy… she thought. After all, when she offered herself to a variety of businessmen, she knew their judgment would be so clouded at the idea of having her at their disposal that she could get them to offer whatever she wanted in return.

"Reveal your hands," said the dealer.

Tifa slammed down her cards. "Read it and weep," she taunted victoriously. She laughed and began to reach to collect her winnings before the dealer shot out an arm in front of her.

"Before you collect the pot," the dealer told her, "look at your opponent's hand."

Tifa froze, her brown eyes slowly looking at Cloud's hand that lay neatly assorted on the table. Her heart sank in her stomach when she saw he had a Royal Flush, with a 10 to the Ace of Spades.

"Monsieur Strife wins," declared the dealer.

Tifa's mouth hung open as she sunk slowly back into her seat, her expression devastated.

Cloud silently retrieved his winnings, refastening his watch to his arm as he shook his wrist to settle the watch comfortably back on his arm.

"But—I—he—" Tifa mumbled, stunned at the idea of having she lost.

I hadn't lost the whole night! she thought to herself, reflecting on each game. I can always tell people's bluffs, but this one…

She sighed, raising her hands to rub her throbbing temples. She then grabbed her shot glass and downed the shot of tequila. She wiped her mouth with her hand and turned in her chair.

"Excuse me, waiter—!" Tifa yelled before turning around once more. "Oh…" She moved her hand to her forehead as she swayed side to side.

"Ma'am," asked the dealer, "are you all right?"

The brunette nodded, feeling her cheeks flushed from the alcohol. "I… I think so…" she mumbled. "Just… a little… sleepy…" She then slumped against the table.

Seeing her even breathing, Cloud realized she had fallen asleep.

"Do you know who she is here with, monsieur?" the dealer asked Cloud as he looked between the blonde and Tifa.

"No," Cloud replied succinctly, glancing at Tifa as well.

Tifa… he thought to himself. Why does that name seem so—?

"Yo, Cloud!"

Hearing a voice calling him brought Cloud out of his thoughts. Turning around, he saw Zack and Aerith approaching him.

"So, how was the game?" asked Zack, glancing at the poker chips placed in front of Cloud.

"Fine," Cloud plainly answered, glancing at Tifa who remained soundly asleep.

"Is she all right?" asked Aerith, her face concerned as she walked beside Tifa and placed an arm on her shoulder.

"She drank too much," Cloud informed her, gathering his winnings as he tossed a couple chips to the dealer.

"You aren't just going to leave her here, are you?" questioned Aerith with a frown, gently shoving Tifa's shoulder to try and wake her up.

"I don't feel right about leaving her here either, Aerith, but we don't know anything about her. She could be a thief or a fugitive for all we know," Zack reasoned, scratching the back of his head.

Aerith's frowned deepened, glancing towards the blonde. "Cloud?"

Cloud blinked, then tilted his head to the ground to evade Aerith's pleading eyes. "Zack has a point," he commented.

"You two are too overprotective," said Aerith, standing up and crossing her arms across her chest. "But for good reason…" She tilted her face down, tapping her chin as she contemplated. "How about I keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't do anything, does that help?"

Both Aerith and Zack glanced at Cloud.

Feeling his friends' stares boring into him, Cloud glanced away, muttering a simple, "Fine."