Author's Note: Happy New Year everyone! Wow, how time flies! Can you believe it's been a year already? Thinking about that, it's interesting to see how this story has progressed. When I first thought of this idea I never thought about actually writing it down, but then I did. I find it interesting the direction the story took. I never plan out anything I write from beginning to end so it's fun to see what the mind comes up with along the way.
Thank you so much everyone for your support, compliments and critiques of the story! This got more attention that I thought it would get and I'm glad to see you guys enjoyed reading as much as I did writing. It means the world to me so thank you very much! :]
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plotline.
Warning: Chapter contains mature content.
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 12 – Exchanging
"Congratulations… Tifa Lockhart!"
Both Cloud and Tifa physically flinched, their eyes growing wide hearing the latter's name. Their labored breathing hitched for a moment as they both froze.
But Tifa was more in shock at what she may or may not have heard.
"I love you."
Her body shook from the adrenaline still coursing through her veins. "What…" she began, her voice breathless as she glanced up at him. "What did you say?"
She studied his face, but his gaze only flickered to her before he turned his head away.
Her attention was stolen when she heard thunderous applause. With the announcement, the two were brought out of their cloudy, lust-filled minds. When it registered in her mind what had actually been said, Tifa's eyes grew incredibly wide. A hot blush spread across her face realizing the position her and Cloud were in.
The first to move, she pulled her hand out of his pants, hearing him inhale sharply. She closed one eye and whimpered when he shifted as well, withdrawing his fingers from her.
From the other room, they could hear Gast's booming voice. "Tifa, come on up!"
Her heartbeat was painfully erratic. "Oh Gaia," she whispered, eyes incredibly wide. Her legs loosened against him and Cloud lowered her to the ground, his arms secure around her waist.
He panted softly, his warm breath fanning her skin. "You… need to go," he breathed, his voice gruff.
Mortification set in her features as she looked in his eyes, her palms flat on his chest. "Not… not like this!" she whispered, a hot blush spreading across her cheeks.
Her hair was tangled, her makeup a mess, her dress crinkled from Cloud's rough hands, her panties uncomfortably wet with subtle red blotches on her neck and shoulder from his harsh sucking and biting. Meanwhile, Cloud's shirt was ripped open with most of the buttons lying scattered across the room, his chest heaving with light red scratches across the skin from her nails with Tifa's lipstick smeared across his face and neck.
Her face drained in color, her body still shaking from the rush of adrenaline moments ago. "Oh no oh no…" she muttered, burying her face in his neck. She never thought she would find herself in this situation.
"Are you out there, Tifa?" Gast's echoing voice asked.
Cloud looked down to the woman hiding herself against him. "Tifa, you need to go."
She immediately shook her head. "I can't! Not in front of all those people!"
His eyes glanced to the side before returning to the top of her head. "I'll go with you."
"Cloud, you're in no condition to go anywhere!" A hot flush renewed itself on her face when her eyes trailed down his firm chest to the slight bulge still evident in his pants. "There's too many cameras out there! It's too embarrassing!"
He shifted his legs, grunting at the delicious friction against her smooth skin. "We'll have to come out sooner or later."
She pouted, looking up at the brilliant cerulean eyes she loved before sneaking a glance into the other room. The crowd was already murmuring to each other, probably making outlandish theories as to why she wasn't there or accepting the project rights.
"Do I have to?" she whispered, turning her head and resting her forehead against his collarbone. "I look like a hot mess."
He took her hand, giving her a reassuring squeeze. "You never look bad," he mumbled, looking away.
She lifted her head, giving him a dazzling smile. "Really?" she asked, her smile growing wider when she saw the faintest of blush on his cheeks. She lifted her hand, turning his face to her as she gave him a sweet kiss.
"Thank you," she whispered, pressing another kiss to his cheek.
She did her best to fix her appearance, using the subtle reflections offered from the clear glass that encased exquisite busts and sculptures. She combed her hair with her fingers, carefully untangling the knots. Her face matched the color of her scarlet red dress as she brushed her hair over her shoulders and in front of her neck, making sure to cover the small marks Cloud had unintentionally made. She could see his eyes silently watching her through the reflection as she composed herself.
Her heart skipped a beat when she saw him move, placing a hand on her arm. She flinched, only to release the breath she didn't realize she was holding when he pulled one strap of her dress back up her shoulder. She smiled in thanks, expecting his hand to retreat, but instead it lingered for a moment's hesitation. Then, with the tips of his fingers, his hand slowly trailed down her arm. Delicious tingles shot up her spine as another blush dusted her cheeks.
Her pulse quickened when she felt his arms wrap around her waist, his firm, warm chest pressing against her back. She swallowed uneasily; biting her lip and closing her eyes when he brushed her hair from her neck, placing a wet kiss there before making his way to a sensitive spot under her ear.
"Cloud…" she mumbled, sinking into his arms, feeling that uncomfortable heat in her body again.
His teeth nipped her earlobe before flicking it with his tongue, making her shiver. She made a small noise in the back of her throat, leaning her head against his shoulder. Her eyes fluttered open when she felt him shift behind her, placing his face beside her own.
"You look fine," he said quietly. More than fine—the sight of her made him want to have her breathless and pressed against him again. The way her eyes were glazed over, heavy-lidded and fringed with thick lashes, locking with his own through the reflection, her hair tousled and her tongue slowly wetting her lips, red and slightly swollen from his kisses—fuck.
He turned her around, his hand grabbing a fistful of her soft brown hair as his mouth pressed hungrily against hers. She squeaked at the intensity, grabbing the collar of his cutaway coat and eagerly obliging him as she parted her lips, letting his tongue tangle with her own.
He slanted his mouth over hers, his other hand on her lower back, crinkling the thin fabric in his tight grasp. Tifa pulled away from his demanding lips, her eyes still closed as his hand held her jaw and turned her face to the side, kissing her cheek and along her jaw.
"C-Cloud…" she panted, her hand tightly clutching his blonde spikes, "my dress—"
His eyes shut tighter, his eyebrows furrowing together as he forced himself away, loosening his hand from her hip. He cleared his throat, turning his head away from her as he lightly caught his breath.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
Tifa giggled at his bashful expression, her arms resting against his neck. "Don't be," she answered, giving him a glowing smile when his eyes glanced back to her. "I'm flattered."
His gaze fell before he looked to the side. "You should go," he muttered.
Her fingers played with the thin hairs at the back of his neck. "I'd rather stay here with you…"
He closed his eyes, her soft voice caressing his ears. "Tifa…"
She heaved a sigh, her arms loosening from around his neck. "I know, I know. Business first, pleasure later." A smile crept on her face at the glint in his deep cerulean eyes. She leaned up and kissed him soundly on the lips.
When she pulled away, her eyes fell on his mouth smeared red from her lipstick. She looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. "That shade suits you," she quipped, giving him a broad smile. A small chuckle escaped his throat, a rich sound she immediately loved.
She walked away from him, standing at the corner adjacent to the other room. She took a deep breath to steady her rising nerves. She glanced over her shoulder to Cloud who motioned with a nudge of his head for her to go on. She flashed him a nervous smile before heading out to face the crowd.
"Ah, Tifa, there you are! You had us worried! I thought you may have gotten cold feet," Gast said with a friendly smile as a couple of the guests laughed quietly. Then he turned back to the crowd. "Another round of applause, please, to the woman who I've bestowed my treasured project to!"
The claps roared once more, and Tifa smiled uneasily, tucking a strand of brunette hair behind her ear. She searched the sea of faces, spotting Zack's mischievous grin as he snickered behind his hand and Aerith smacking his arm before giving Tifa a kind, knowing smile. She could only imagine what was running through their minds.
In the back of the crowd, her eyes fell on Cloud who watched from behind the wall and gave her a nod. She blushed in embarrassment, knowing he stayed back because even with his suit closed, his toned chest was still exposed without the buttons to close his shirt.
She turned her head and looked at Gast, leaning over towards the man. "Gast, may I speak to you in private—?"
"Sure, sure, right after this," he replied.
"But it's—" Tifa began, but he turned away to face the crowd before she could finish.
Gast raised his hand to quiet the applause, which died down moments later.
"I'm sure most of you are wondering why I chose this young woman to receive the coveted rights," he began, looking at her and giving a smile. "Well, when I had first met Tifa, she had felt so familiar. I realized much later it was because she was Tifa Lockhart, heir to the Lockhart foundation fortune. I'd met her father years ago when I was still building up the reputation of my company, where I had briefly met his little princess."
Tifa smiled politely at his words, fidgeting slightly as she fixed her hair. Gast turned and looked at her, directing his smile towards her.
"Tifa, despite being blessed with wealth, you have grown into a wonderful, humble woman, touching the hearts of everyone you meet. Not corrupted with greed, I could think of no one better to have the rights to this project than you, and I trust it will be in more than capable hands. Congratulations."
Gast raised his glass as the room broke out into thunderous applause. After a few moments, Gast led Tifa down the grand staircase where a swarm of people surrounded her, asking many questions all at once. Her eyes flickered back and forth from face to face, giving each person a charming smile as she did her best to maintain a calm composure.
Cloud observed her quietly from a distance. He saw her eyes glance over to him a few times, silently imploring him to rescue her from the overwhelming situation. However he reluctantly stayed put. Though he wanted to help, he knew if he entered the crowd in his current state of dress, it would only add questions than answer them.
Cloud blinked before turning his head, his gaze falling upon Zack giving him a wide, teasing grin that stretched ear to ear.
Zack mockingly stared at the blonde's chest, bare aside from the black cutaway coat over his shoulders. "I like the new look buddy, but it might be a little risqué for this type of event, don't you think?"
Cloud rolled his eyes and sighed, giving Zack a pointed look as the raven-haired man laughed at his response. He walked to Cloud, giving him a playful smack on the back.
"But in all seriousness, what happened to your shirt?" He picked up the white silk fabric, bringing it slightly closer to his face for better inspection. "It looks like the buttons were ripped—" he paused, his eyes widening in realization. "Oh. Oh!" He grinned wolfishly as Cloud gave him a glare that lacked in intimidation. "Damn, didn't think Teef was a wild one in the—"
"In the what, Zack?"
The man jumped, whipping around to find Aerith with her arms crossed across her chest. "In the… in the—well, you know! Look at his shirt Aerith!"
Her green eyes fell on Cloud's chest before glancing to the buttons lying scattered across the floor. Then a bright smile filled her face as she looked at Cloud, her hands coming together in a single clap.
"I'm so happy for you!" she chirped, her eyes twinkling in delight.
"At least you two were able to avoid getting in the papers again," Zack added with a playful wink.
Cloud turned his head away, trying his best to cover the fact that his cheeks were growing warmer, but it was no use. It'd only be a matter of time until—
"Aw, look Aerith! Our Cloudie's blushing!"
Zack laughed again as Aerith giggled behind her hand, her eyes closing merrily. Cloud sighed quietly to himself, silently surrendering to his friends' merciless teasing. They'd stop eventually (he hoped.)
When his laughter died down, Zack cleared his throat, crossing his arms over his chest. "But in all seriousness, Cloud, you realize Tifa got the rights and not us, right?"
Cloud glanced over his shoulder, looking towards Tifa who continued to politely converse with other guests of the party. "I know."
"You know Sephiroth's going to let us have it when we go in the office Monday, right? Not to mention you'll be out of a job by Monday afternoon!"
Cloud gave a small shrug, looking towards the ground absently. "It doesn't matter."
Zack gave his friend a quizzical look. "It doesn't—what? Cloud, you've spent the last decade working to get to where you're at today!"
"For one reason," Cloud replied, lifting his gaze towards Zack. "This… 'high society' life never made sense to me. These people have more money than they know what to do with. They fake their smiles and appearances all to get more money or higher status. In the end, they're never satisfied."
"Maybe, but…" he mumbled with a frown.
"There are other jobs out there," Aerith added, placing her hand in Zack's. "It's his decision."
Zack shifted his eyes from Aerith to Cloud. "Are you sure?" he asked. "It's not too late to go to Gast and get him to change his mind. Nothing's been put in writing."
Cloud looked away, glancing at the crowd in the other room. "At first I thought I wanted validation from these people. To be acknowledged as one of them." His eyes fixed on a certain brunette in the middle of the crowd. "But then I realized… it wasn't their attention I wanted."
Tifa gave a few more smiles before the guests began giving goodbyes. She accepted the hugs the women gave her and thanked the "congratulations" tossed towards her. When the last guest turned their back to her, her smile dropped from her face as she let out a heavy sigh, running a hand through her hair.
She looked towards Cloud's direction, giving him a wide, relieved smile when her gaze fell on him. His stomach twisted at the sight of her smile, but it wasn't a feeling of discomfort—instead it was something pleasant, something that made him feel lighter, calmer.
"If that's what you want," Zack said, scratching the back of his head before shrugging. "It's up to you. We'll see you back at the house later, yeah?"
Cloud nodded, watching Zack and Aerith leave before he turned his attention to the tiled floor below him.
"Congratulations once again," a voice said behind her.
Tifa glanced over her shoulder, a smile falling on her face as she turned around. "Gast! I'm glad I found you. Can we speak in private—?"
"Ah, already thinking about business at your own celebration party," said Gast, taking a sip of champagne from his glass. "No need to worry now, Tifa. We'll discuss all the legal technicalities in my office tomorrow."
"But—" Tifa began, but he dismissed her sentence with a wave of his hand.
"We'll discuss it tomorrow," he repeated, beaming a bright smile. "In the meantime, go, mingle! Enjoy yourself." He rose his glass to her before taking another sip and walking away to speak with other guests.
Tifa watched him leave before she sighed and relented, deciding she would have to wait until tomorrow, as Gast clearly wasn't going to listen to her tonight.
Tifa jumped at the sound of the low voice, turning her head and glancing at the source. "Cloud! What are you doing here?" Her eyes fell on the bare skin of his chest, visible from the deep v of his black cutaway coat. A heated blush spread across her cheeks as she grabbed both sides of his shirt and held them together. "Your shirt is still… ruined…"
He shook his head. "It's not that bad. Is something wrong?"
She glanced up at him. "Yes, but I'll fix it tomorrow."
He nodded, then quietly studied her face. "You look ready to leave."
She blinked before looking around her, noting the party was beginning to die down as guests began to say goodbye to one another. A tired smile crossed her ruby lips as she met his eyes. "Yeah. It's been a long night."
He nodded, looking towards the exit before he removed her grip from his shirt, only to grab her hand and hold it as he began to lead the way out. Tifa's eyebrows rose as she looked at their intertwined hands, her heart skipping a beat when his hand gave hers the smallest squeeze, as though assuring his grip was secure.
When they reached his service car, he opened the door for her, never releasing her hand until she slid into her seat. It wasn't until he let go that Tifa realized how big and warm his hand was. The idea that he automatically reached for her hand thrilled her.
"Go," Cloud told the driver when he settled in himself. He glanced at the girl beside him, noting the distant look in her eyes. "Tifa," he called, watching her flinch and blink before she turned her face towards him. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing! I just…" She paused for a moment, her gaze wavering to the side. "Cloud, you know it wasn't my intention to secure the project rights for myself, right?"
"I know," he answered her.
"I'll fix it," Tifa added. "Tomorrow, when I go to meet Gast, I'll convince him to give the rights to you—"
"Tifa," Cloud interrupted, shaking his head. "You don't have to do that."
She frowned. "Yes I do! What about your job? Without the rights, won't you get fired?"
The man shrugged, looking passed her and out the window. "Don't worry about it."
"But Cloud…" she mumbled, looking down at the empty space between them. "You're going to lose your job because of me, and you expect me not to worry about it?"
Silence settled between them. Instead of breaking it, Cloud lifted his hand, twirling a strand of silky brunette hair around his finger. Tifa's eyes softened as her shoulders slacked. Whether he realized it or not, he had shifted closer to her as his soft breath fanned her skin.
"Cloud…?" she murmured, her voice a soft whisper.
His eyes flickered to hers. Tifa found herself getting lost in the deep cerulean hues. His eyes were bright, holding an unreadable emotion, but his gaze was warm and unguarded.
On instinct, her eyes closed as she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. Her audacity didn't occur to her until a moment later, and for a second she worried if she was being too bold, but her qualms dissipated when his hand buried itself in her hair, pressing her closer to him as he tilted his head and kissed her back.
A pleasurable chill shot down her spine when he pressed his mouth harder against hers. She hadn't intended the kiss to go deeper, but she couldn't pull away. His aura was powerful, his scent overbearing, drawing her in.
His tongue traced her lower lip, making her eyes squeeze tighter. She felt him shift, pulling her into his lap. His fingers pressed into her back, keeping her close. She melted into him, placing a hand against his cheek as she opened her mouth. His tongue immediately sought hers, and she felt herself getting dizzy with the rush of emotions coursing through her. His hands slid down her sides while hers squeezed on his shoulders. He grunted when she unconsciously moved her hips against his while one of her hands grabbed the nape of his neck.
Tifa jerked when she heard the car door open. She pulled away from Cloud's lips, her eyes fluttering open.
"We've arrived at 7th Heaven, sir," said the driver.
Tifa's cheeks burned as she breathed in gulps of air, her hands resting against Cloud's chest as she stared at his collarbone.
"I—tomorrow—um…" she mumbled, feeling her face grow even hotter. Beneath her hands, she felt Cloud's chest rising and falling quickly as he too caught his breath in heavy pants.
"Yeah, tomorrow," he breathed, loosening his grip on her.
The heat of her blush traveled down her neck as Tifa moved off Cloud, running a hand down the length of her hair.
"Well, um—goodnight," she said, mustering a smile.
Cloud paused, regarding her for a moment before leaning over and kissing her mouth softly, running the back of his hand slowly down her soft cheek.
"Goodnight," he murmured against her lips, locking his sharp cerulean eyes with her own.
Her heart raced in her chest so fast it made her lightheaded. She mumbled incoherently before remembering to breathe and inhaled a slow, shaky breath.
"Come see me tomorrow?" she asked, placing her hand over his.
"I will," he answered, and her face brightened at the affection in his eyes.
She squeezed his hand before letting it go, moving away and taking the driver's hand as he helped her steady on her feet. She thanked him, glancing over her shoulder and giving Cloud a last smile before the driver closed the door.
As Tifa walked towards the front door, she became lost in her thoughts. It astounded her how simple kisses from that man made her knees weak and her head dizzy. In a moment she went from an independent woman to an incoherent mess.
But at the same time, the thought of him made her smile. She giggled softly to herself. She'd grown to love the man, to be in love with him, and the idea of that made her feel inexplicably happy. And as she thought of her feelings for him, she wondered his feelings for her. She knew he felt something for her, but did his feelings run as deep as hers?
She pondered the topic before a quick memory from earlier in the evening flashed across her mind—him, pressed against her, his body hot and hard, his lips against her skin and the words, "I love you."
She stopped her next step, clutching a hand to her chest. Had she imagined it? When she had tried asking him earlier, he never answered her, and for the moment she had forgotten she had asked as Gast's sudden declaration took priority in her mind.
She turned around, looking at Cloud's car and watching it drive away down the street. For a moment her heart sank, but then she remembered the affection in his eyes and the tingle on her lips whenever he kissed her. So maybe, just maybe, it wasn't her imagination. At least, that's what she wanted to believe.
Tomorrow, she resolved. I'll ask him tomorrow.
The early morning haze crept through the window as Cloud grudgingly got out of bed. He quietly slipped into his business attire, making sure to be extra silent when passing Zack and Aerith's room.
When he had arrived the previous evening, Zack and Aerith weren't home yet. Knowing this, Cloud went into Zack's room and turned off his morning alarm. He knew when he would go and see Sephiroth the next morning Zack would only worsen the situation by blurting his objections to whatever Sephiroth would have to say. Thus, Cloud decided it would be easier to face the man alone, without Zack's boisterous presence.
When Cloud arrived to the Shinra building, he ascended the many floors via elevator, waiting patiently as the machine came to a halt at his floor. He absentmindedly dragged his feet to the board meeting room, knowing full well that Sephiroth had heard the news of the bequeathing of the Jenova project rights despite the information only coming out just last night. Cloud didn't need a memo on his desk telling him his superior wanted to meet with him, he could practically sense it the minute he left the party last night.
When he reached the door, he sighed quietly before raising his fist and knocking twice.
"Come in," a low voice said.
Cloud stepped inside, closing the door behind him. Plants stood at each corner of the room, a large rectangular table residing in the middle. Large, cushioned chairs bordered the table as Sephiroth sat at the head of the table, speaking quietly with a few other Shinra board members.
When his eyes flickered over to Cloud, he motioned for the other men to leave the room. They quietly complied, filing together and leaving through the door in the back of the room.
"Cloud," Sephiroth greeted, his fingers lacing together as he propped his elbows on the table. "Have a seat."
"I'll stand," Cloud replied monotonously, remaining close to the door.
Sephiroth chuckled. "You seem very tense today, Cloud."
The blonde remained quiet, however the silence didn't last long. Sephiroth glanced at the documents laid out before him, shuffling a few papers before speaking once again.
"I must say, Cloud, I'm disappointed. I saw potential in you. You could have superseded Fair, perhaps even myself, but you couldn't even do one simple task. You let yourself get distracted, by a pretty face no less." Sephiroth clicked his tongue, his lip curling in a disdainful sneer. "We had an arrangement, Cloud. You know what happens next."
Cloud's eyes shifted to the corner of the room.
"However," Sephiroth continued, "I'm feeling merciful today. We have received a proposition: a business merger with a pharmaceutical company. A man calling himself Professor Hojo proposed the transition of mako fluid to small pills, to be sold."
"Mako?" Cloud said, lifting his head to look at the man. "Aren't the side effects of its injection still unknown?"
"You and Fair are fine."
"Fine," he repeated through clenched teeth, his hand curling into a fist. "I lost part of my memory for good—"
"A minor effect."
Cloud's eyebrows furrowed together as a heavy scowl set on his face. "Zack and I were prepped for those injections. It could do much more damage to the average person. It needs to be completely tested—"
"Estimated projection of sales is in the billions."
"You're willing to risk lives for money?"
"Shinra will get sued."
"Not if you do your job right."
Cloud's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
Sephiroth smirked. "You are the Chief Financial Officer of Shinra. You're good with numbers. If there is a lawsuit, mix around the numbers. Give a fraction of the stated compensation."
"You… want me to corrupt federal records." Cloud frowned. "That could get me in federal prison."
Sephiroth leaned back in his seat. "You underestimate the extent of my influence, Cloud. Of Shinra's influence."
Cloud fell silent, his gaze hollow as he stared at the floor. "…I can't do that."
Sephiroth's eyes slimmed. "This is my only offer to keep your job."
A piercing glare settled on Cloud's features. "Then fire me. I won't risk innocent people's lives for a couple of bucks."
"Billions of dollars."
Cloud turned around, walking towards the door. "Not interested."
Sephiroth scoffed. "Pitiful."
Cloud clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth against one another before slamming the door behind him.
Tifa hummed quietly to herself as she tore open one of several boxes, taking out the contents of new wines and liquors as she arranged them neatly on her bar. She heard the front door bell ring as it opened, catching her attention as she shifted her eyes towards her guest. When spiky blonde hair and blue eyes came into sight, a wide smile spread across her face.
"You came," she said, putting down the Pinot Noir wine she was holding as she wiped her hands against one another. She walked towards him, only to frown when she saw his troubled face. "Cloud? Is something wrong?"
He lifted his gaze towards her, shaking his head. "It's fine."
Her eyes filled with concern as she laid her hand gently against his upper arm. "Is it because of what happened at work? I met with Gast today and told him I couldn't accept the rights. Was I too late?"
"Tifa, I told you didn't have to do that."
"I know, I know. But I wasn't the best choice for him anyway. He admitted that his choice was mostly influenced because I reminded him so much of his wife. I tried to suggest that you and Zack should receive them, but it sounded like he already had his mind made up. I'm sorry, but I can try again later today—"
"No," Cloud interrupted. "There's no point. The company won't take me back."
A heavy frown tugged Tifa's lips as she looked away. "I'm sorry. If it weren't for me—"
Cloud shook his head. "Don't be sorry," he told her. "It's not your fault. I quit."
"You quit?" Tifa repeated, her eyes wide to match her shocked tone. "Why?"
"They asked me to do something I didn't agree with," he answered, dismissing the topic with an offhand shrug. "It doesn't matter. I never liked it there anyway."
Her hand fell from his arm. "But… you worked so hard."
"For one reason," he murmured, lifting his eyes to meet hers.
"Are you sure that's what you want?" she asked.
"You're what I want," he mumbled in a hushed tone that made her blush.
"Well, I could use a business partner," she suggested, giving him a dazzling smile. "That is, if you're interested."
The corner of his mouth quirked up in a small smile, and she noticed his eyes holding that same emotion as the time he might've said the three words that kept her up the previous night.
Tifa bit her lip, wondering if she should bring up the topic. She saw Cloud grow confused as he lifted a brow. Knowing he was going to ask her what was wrong anyway, she decided to speak up.
"You know, Cloud," Tifa began, idly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I was thinking about last night, when we were, you know… in the other room…"
He tilted his head, his faze puzzled. She sighed inwardly, knowing she would have to continue despite not wanting to, as she was horrible at things like this.
"It's just… when…" She paused as the memory of the previous night's events caused a hot blush to renew itself on her cheeks and set her heart racing. "I thought I heard something… three words… and… I just wanted to make sure it… wasn't my imagination…"
"Three words…?" he repeated, shifting his eyes to the left. Her teeth chewed her lower lip as her stomach flipped in anticipation.
It amazed her how suddenly his face, normally vague and hard to read, became an open book in a matter of seconds. She knew he knew what she was talking about when not only his eyes widened but his body physically flinched. Suddenly he looked nervous and bashful, avoiding her eyes at all cost as he turned his head and stared at the corner of the room. One of his arms bent back and rubbed the nape of his neck.
His shy reaction restored her confidence and almost made her feel giddy. A smile crept on her lips as she laced her fingers behind her back, leaning forward and tilting her head up to look at him. "So… it wasn't my imagination?"
He didn't respond, but the hints of red dusting his cheeks and the way he continued to avoid her eyes was all the answer she needed.
Her hand came in front of her mouth as she giggled softly, catching his attention.
"What?" he asked quietly.
She lowered her hand, giving him a beatific smile. "Ten years later and you're still shy around me?"
He blinked at her, and she laughed once again before throwing her arms around his neck in a hug. "You're so dense, Cloud!"
"Dense?" he asked, his hands resting against her waist.
She leaned away, looking at his face, her brown eyes glowing in happiness. "You act embarrassed as if you said something bad. Don't you know by now? I…" She swallowed, her eyes coming to a close as she smiled brightly at him. "I love you too."
"You… you do?" he mumbled, his eyes wide in disbelief.
"Don't sound so surprised!" she chided playfully. "Rinoa and Aerith were right about you. You have a good heart. I'm sorry it took me so long to realize—"
Her eyes widened when she felt his mouth on hers, his arms crushing her body to his. Her hands tangled in his hair as she kissed him back, her heart racing even faster from the passion in his kiss.
The heat from his body surged through her, the tight grip of his rough hands on her making her head spin.
His tongue flicked over her lower lip, sending a delicious tingle down her spine. A soft moan escaped her throat as he explored her mouth and rubbed his tongue against her own.
His mouth slanted over hers, his hand gently tugging her hair to tilt her head back. Her hands grasped the collar of his black vest, clutching tight as she pressed her lips harder against his.
The need for air made her draw back as the two breathed heavily, his forehead resting hers. Both their eyes were heavy-lidded, dark with raw desire as the rush from the previous night coursed through them once again.
Tifa licked her lips, watching the way Cloud's eyes were trained on her mouth.
The glare from the window reminded her they were in the middle of her bar. Realizing this, she took a step back, seeing his eyes glance up her face in confusion.
She smiled, grabbing his hand and almost dashing up the stairs. When he realized what she was doing, he wrapped his arms around her waist, making her squeal in surprise as he hoisted her over his shoulder and immediately ascended the stairs in a few long strides.
Following her direction, he opened the door at the end of the hall, finding a decent sized room simply furnished with a bed, dresser, mirror and nightstand.
When Cloud reached the bed he gently lowered her against it. Tifa grinned as she grabbed his vest, pulling him on top of her as she shifted back against the mattress.
He propped an arm on either side of her head, looming over her as he kissed her deeply. Her hands ran up the lengths of his toned arms to the middle of his vest, grabbing the zipper and rapidly shoving it down. He quickly pushed himself off her, pulling the vest off his body before he captured her lips once more.
She pushed her tongue in his mouth while running her hand down his toned chest, his hot skin only adding to the heat building inside her.
Wrapping a leg around his hip, she pushed his pelvis into her. She bit her lip as Cloud groaned softly, his eyes squeezing tight as he panted.
His head dipped into the curve of his jaw. She gasped as his hot tongue pressed against her skin, flicking her earlobe before running down her neck. Her hand held the back of his head as he trailed kisses down her collarbone, her breath quickening when he dipped his tongue between her cleavage.
He placed his hands on her breasts, massaging the tender flesh as Tifa moaned, squirming beneath him. He sucked her pulse point as she arched her back, pushing her chest into his kneading hands.
Her cheeks flushed dark as she grabbed the hem of her white shirt, pulling it over her head and tossing it off. She unhooked her bra as Cloud pulled the straps down her arms before throwing it on the ground with her shirt.
His eyes were dark yet glowing, glinting with hunger. Tifa pulled his head down and kissed him, moaning into his mouth as he pressed her breasts together before resuming his rhythmic squeezes. The pads of his thumbs brushed over her hardening nipples before pinching tight, making her squeak and thrash her head back.
He lowered his head to her chest, drawing wet patterns on her skin with his tongue.
"Ahh…" she whimpered, turning her head to the side. His eyes glanced at her face as he drew a sensitive peak into his mouth, sucking hard.
The hand against his hair pushed his face deeper into her as she moaned his name. Her eyes shut tight, breathing hard as his tongue circled the rosy bud and nipped at it with his teeth.
He kissed the tip before moving to her other breast, squeezing the creamy flesh tight as Tifa continued to squirm and whimper.
He took his free hand and dropped it between her legs. She gasped when he pressed his fingers against her, running a quick circular motion against the thin fabric of her panties.
He kissed down her stomach before removing her skirt and panties in a swift fluid motion. She panted heavily as Cloud ran his hands slowly up her legs from her ankles to her thighs. She blushed as he eyed her center, looking as though he were admiring a fine painting.
"D-Don't stare like that," she mumbled, biting her lip as she stared at the ceiling.
Cloud blinked, lifting his gaze to her face. Her hair fanned out beneath her, her rosy cheeks, kiss swollen lips and heaving chest—everything about her pushed him over the edge.
Her modesty only added to her appeal. He leaned over her, putting a hand beside her face as he turned her face to him and kissed her hungrily.
"Beautiful," he murmured, looking at her large brown eyes. "So beautiful."
He pushed two fingers inside her, making her mouth fall open as she cried out. Her hips bucked as she lifted her lower body off the mattress. He shoved his fingers in and out of her in a rhythmic pace, muffling her moans with his tongue against hers.
Her eyes shut tight as Cloud kissed her neck, rubbing his thumb against her clit. She whimpered as one arm wrapped around his neck, the other reaching down and grabbing his hand, pushing it deeper into her.
Heat coiled in her stomach until it exploded, making her arch her body against his as she cried out. He kissed her cheek as her body shuddered, her breathing labored.
She reached up and kissed him, tugging his lower lip between her teeth as her hands shucked his pants down his legs.
He closed one eye and groaned when her hand squeezed his hard length, hot and throbbing against her palm.
She smiled at him under heavy lashes as his breaths became short and uneven, his chest rising and falling quickly. His forehead rested against her shoulder as she trailed kisses from his temple to his neck, her thumb rubbing the slit at the tip before running her hand down once more.
The nails of his hand dug into her hip as his breath fanned her skin. "Ngh, Tifa…" he groaned, tilting his head back. Her hand was heavenly, soft and cool against his skin.
She positioned him at her entrance, matching his heavy breathing as she looked into his eyes.
"Are you… sure?" Cloud asked, his voice thick and hoarse.
She nodded almost too eagerly, pressing her lips against his. "I love you," she whispered, the tips of her fingers against his cheek.
He brushed the hair from her eyes, tenderly brushing his thumb against her soft cheek. Slowly he bore his weight on her, moving his hips forward, burying himself inside her.
She gasped as his eyes glazed over, his mouth falling open slightly. Her nails dug into his shoulders when he pulled out. When he pushed back in, a loud moan escaped her as her muscles clenched around him.
He kissed her as he picked up his pace, thrusting fast and deep making her cry out his name. He grunted with each thrust as her legs wrapped around him, moving in sync with him as she ground her hips viciously against him.
He slammed roughly into her and she screamed. Her walls tightened around him, making him growl her name. He shifted her legs over his shoulder and continued pounding into her. Tifa thrashed her head back, moaning loudly as the new angle filled her entirely.
"Ohh—" she whined, gripping the sheets tightly beneath her. Cloud panted heavily, groaning. He pressed his chest against hers, kissing her deeply as she ran her hands through his hair.
He swiveled his hips in a circular motion before he drove himself into her, his hand coming up and squeezing her breast that bounced with every thrust. She cried out as pressure began to build up within her, mounting higher and higher as she grew closer to her peak. She clutched the pillow behind her head, her eyes blissfully closed as she whimpered. Cloud ran his tongue from her neck to her cheek, mumbling her name and other nothings into ear with his heavy pants.
A thin sheet of sweat coated both of their bodies as his slams became harder and deeper. Tifa's moans became louder and higher before she came long and hard, her tightened muscles causing a delicious spasm to shoot down his spine as he groaned loudly. He gave a few final thrusts before he pulled himself completely out of her, rolling off of her to the side as their labored breathing filled the room.
A smile curved Tifa's lips as she shifted on her side, resting a palm in the center of Cloud's chest as she kissed his cheek.
"Amazing," she whispered, watching him turn his head towards her as he looked at her with half-lidded eyes.
He chuckled as a small smile crossed his features, closing his eyes as Tifa lightly ran her fingers from his hair to his jaw. She kissed him soundly on the mouth, pulling back until she felt a hand at the back of her head pushing her lips back to his. His tongue swept into her mouth, massaging hers, making that same ache boil inside her once more.
When he pulled away, her eyes fluttered open, surprised to find the same glint glowing in his deep cerulean eyes and a familiar throbbing pressure at her hip.
"Again?" she asked, eyebrows rising incredulously. "Already?"
"You have no idea," he answered, a wicked gleam in his eye.
She laughed as he rolled on top of her once more, tangling his legs with hers as he kissed her.
The front door bell chimed as the door opened, but the sound went unheard by Cloud and Tifa as they stood by the bar counter.
"Cloud, can you hand me the Adulam Sauvignon Blanc?" Tifa asked as she continued to unpack her newly arrived stock.
Cloud blinked, glancing at the variety of bottles in the box. "The what?"
"The Adulam Sauvignon Blanc."
"Uh…" The bottles clinked together as he rustled through them. "This one?"
"No, it's this one. That's a red wine. Blanc means white, not red." Tifa shook her head jokingly. "Didn't going to all those fancy parties all these years teach you anything?"
Cloud shrugged. "Never paid attention. Only Aerith knew stuff like that."
"Well, in this business you're going to have to learn. It's very important to—hey, what are you doing? Cloud!" She burst out laughing, swatting his hands away from her. "Stop it! You know I'm ticklish there!"
He smirked. "I know. I remember."
His hands continued to tickle her sides as she squirmed away from him, vainly pushing him back through her giggles. She ended up cornering herself against the counter as his hips locked her in.
"Okay, okay! I give up! I'll handle the wine!" To her relief, his hands finally stopped as they settled on her sides. Her laughter died down and she panted softly, keeping her smile when he pressed small kisses against her neck.
"If you didn't want to learn about wine you could've just said so," she said teasingly, lightly pulling a spike of his hair.
He shrugged, lifting his head to capture her lips. She sighed and melted into him, tilting her head as her other head rested against the back of his neck.
"Well, looks like you two can't keep your hands off each other."
The pair pulled apart from each other, turning their attention to the guests.
"Zack! Aerith!" Tifa greeted happily, untangling herself from Cloud's arms as she gave Aerith a hug.
"Figured you'd be here," Zack added. "And by the way Cloud, thanks for letting your best friend know that you quit and decided to move in with Tifa here." He gave a playful scowl as he lightly shoved the blonde's shoulder. "Would it have hurt to use a phone? I know you hate those things, but they're pretty useful in sharing information quickly!"
"I was going to tell you," Cloud said, scratching the back of his head.
"Oh yeah? I call bullshit, Strife!" He gave his back to him, crossing his arms over his chest. "And here I thought, after all those years of friendship, you'd at least give me the decency of a heads up in your drastic life changes—!"
"Don't be so dramatic, Zack," Aerith said, rolling her eyes as Tifa stifled her giggles.
"Aw, Aerith!" he cried, pouting.
"We figured you two would be in your 'honeymoon' stage, so we let you be for a few weeks," Aerith explained, her brilliant green eyes shining. "But Zack was getting restless, and I knew you would be here, Cloud, so here we are."
"They told me what happened when I came to the office that day," Zack added. "I don't blame you. What they wanted to do, risking people's lives like that for money, it's ridiculous. I just wish you would've let me know so we could have quit together, and maybe give a piece of my mind to Sephiroth—"
"You quit too?" Cloud asked.
Zack nodded. "You bet I did. No way was I going to work for a company I didn't agree with. Besides, you know I barely put up with that place anyway. Without you what would be my motivation for going to work every day? Because we both know it sure as hell wouldn't be Sephiroth."
Cloud chuckled. Typical Zack.
"So, Tifa," Aerith piped in, glancing at the girl. "I'm thinking of opening a flower shop. I saw a lease for some space not too far from here."
"Sounds like a wonderful idea," Tifa replied with a wide smile.
"You bet it is!" said Zack. "After guys leave your bar good and drunk, they'll be looking for flowers to give their girls or to give to try and get lucky, and they'll be so wasted they won't even know they're getting ripped off! It's perfect!"
"That's not why I'm opening the shop," Aerith said, but despite her insisting tone she couldn't help but laugh with the others.
"I think this could be a great opportunity for a partner business," Zack chirped, grinning widely.
"Maybe," Tifa replied, mirroring his cheery smile.
"You know, Teef, sometimes in life you've gotta gamble and accept the risks. Hell, come to think of it, none of this would have happened if I hadn't dragged Cloud's ass to the casino that night!"
Tifa smiled, leaning into Cloud's side. "I'll think about it."
"A business merger doesn't mean free drinks, Zack."
"Shh! Don't give away one of my terms, Cloud!"
Aerith laughed as the boys began to argue. "Some things never change, hm?"
Tifa giggled. "Nope. They never will."
Author's Note: First of all, congratulations! You've reached the end of the story!
I can't begin to stress enough how much I appreciate all the reviews, favorites and alerts on this story. I honestly wasn't expecting that much since the FFVII category doesn't get much reviews anyway, especially considering this is an M story which eliminates a lot of the audience, but you guys flattered me so much with your reviews!
Sorry if this feels like a random ending. I know some of you wanted me to continue writing but if I had extended the story, updates would be really dragged and the quality of the plot probably would have deteriorated. And um, sorry if this last chapter isn't that good. I probably shouldn't say this, but I was thinking of completely different characters most of the time I was writing this. Wasn't good for the imagination considering it made it hard to keep character. So if the characters seem really OOC like "god what is wrong with you they are so OOC," I apologize.
In other news, it's 5:50 AM right now. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Fun fact, I started this story on January 1st, 2012 and here I am, concluding it on January 1st, 2013. Pretty freaking epic I say. 12 chapters, 50,000 words later, here we are.
I love you all! Take care and have a prosperous new year!