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Chapter Two

Through the corner of his eye, he saw her wipe a tear from under her veil. "What is up with this dress she's wearing. Not at all like her.." he thought. It was true, Tifa wasn't in her normal dress code you can call it. Behind the dull black dress was a beautiful body, lean and with signs that muscles used to be there, and obviously not used in a long time.

She eyed him back with equal caution, knowing his thoughts. She read everything he was thinking, right down to the very word.

"You know I'm not the same person I used to be." She said in a cool voice. She cocked her head to the side to see what he'd make of this comment.

"I think that was quite obvious from the beginning, donít you think? I havenít seen you in years and I've imagined you to be the same since I.."

She leaned in a bit, "Go on, say it, Cloud".

There was silence.

"Since I left you." He pinched his lips shut. He had actually never said that before, nor admitted to it. But deep down in his heart he knew his own intentions, and acted upon them.

"Good boy," She thought "Now we're getting somewhere."

Tifa took a sip of her black coffee. Cloud watched her drink it puzzled, completely infatuated with her. He couldnít lift his eyes off of her and it bothered him to look so naÔve in front of her.

"Ten years ago it was, that was saved the world. Ten long years. And still it does feel like yesterday. Everything, from the defeat of Sephiroth to the victory parade that lasted a month straight. Everyone was joyous and thankful that Lifestream restored all that had been lost or damaged, and so it seemed everything would be back to normal. Everything but us."

"There was never an, 'us'" he said coldly.

"Ah, and to this day you deny me the right to say there was nothing between us. That kiss, you do remember. How can you forget? The kiss of everything but love. The kiss of long lost lust and passion, but no love. And somehow I convinced myself it was just that."

Cloud covered his face with his hand revealing his exasperated face. He sighed deeply and with a notion of his hand, urged her to go on.

"That night you told me you wanted to talk to me. You wanted to tell me something you have kept a secret a long time, but no longer felt the need to conceal it. I was ecstatic! This was it, I thought. You were going to admit you're feelings for me after all. I dressed up specially for you, bought a new dress, put on makeup. You made me feel something I've never felt before, and I loved that about you. You made me feel..important."

"You came to me that night hoping for the best, but got the worst instead. Tifa, what would you have rather me done? Tell you I loved you when I didnít?"

"No. You could have not led me on the believe so. But we're sidetracking now. I showed up at the pier, just as you told me. You were leaning up against the rail, with the coming darkness in the background and you were barely visible in the twilight, but still I saw you in that dashing uniform. Right then and there I loved you more than ever. You took me aside and told me to look out over the ocean. You said you wanted to go there, live there far away from everything.." Cloud breathed in heavily as if remember that night too, as if smelling the salty air they both loved so much.

"You wanted to go there, alone. You wanted to start a new life where you knew no one and had no obligations holding you back. You wanted me to be the first to know that by the time dawn came you would be long gone. To a far away land, starting that promising new life. I was devastated. I ran away from you, fast as I could. I ran and ran until I couldn't breathe anymore, unable to face the truth that in fact you didn't need me, nor want me. It was destined to be this way and I tried to go against destiny."

"That was the last time I saw you. I knew I would never see you again after that, and at the time it didnít phase me. I wanted it that way, just as I told you. I wanted no followers."

Tifa stared long and hard at the floor. Cloud didnít know if she heard him or not, but he certainly hoped she did. He wanted her to know just exactly how he felt and not to make up these childish fantasies of hers.

"Hm." She laughed.

"What?"

"Nothing, Cloud."

"What a weirdo you've become."

She laughed harder this time. "You haven't a clue." Cloud just sat there motionless waiting for her to continue.

"When I felt I hadn't the strength to run anymore I sat down in the grassy field I was in. I looked up into the stars and wished on every one of them that you would regret it. And then I burst into tears that only sleep could stop, and eventually I did fall asleep. But not for long. Someone must have found me there, and being as vulnerable that I was, whoever he or she was carried me somewhere for shelter. You could only imagine what I felt like when I woke up. Scared out of my mind not knowing where I was, and feeling like my heart was ripped right out of my chest. Next to the cot I slept on was a note, 'I will return tonight, please make yourself at home." I didn't know what the right thing to do was. Wait for this person to return and thank them for their hospitality, or leave because I had no idea who this person was! What if they turned out trying to hurt me?"

"I decided first too find out where I was, maybe I was familiar with the area. Looking around the house, or more like a cottage, I knew this person must be man. It was too messy and unorganized to be a woman, and suddenly I was afraid. I made my way to the front of the house and stepped outside, the heat of the day whipping me in the face. The sun seemed to burn my skin in merely a second, and I jumped back quickly. Where was I?"

"I looked out the window careful not to get too close to it. And then it hit me."

'A Desert?' I whispered. 'But there wasn't a desert anywhere near where I was last night!'

"Immediately then, the hunger hit me like a freight train. A deep hunger, like in the soul. Nothing could quite sum it up. The kitchen cabinets were completely bare and there was nothing but water from the facet that seemed even remotely edible.

'Well, it's water or stave. There isnít even a glass to drink from!' I had no choice but to stick my head under the running water like some kind of animal. The day felt like an eternity before my 'host' came back home to make his formal introduction. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw who it was."

Tifa closed her eyes, retelling the story, imagining it all again. Because this is where it had all begun.

'Vincent? It's you?'

"He slid past the open door and closed it behind him. I'll never forget the instant relief, but also a bit of edginess to know it was him who brought me to this place. He walked so lightly it was like he wasnít even touching the group. It seemed as though he floated past me into the next room where I was reluctant to follow."

'What were you doing out there last night?' he said not even bothering to look her in the face. He emptied a little pouch hanging from his side onto the kitchen table. Numerous amounts of money rolled across the table, each catching a portion of the dim light reflecting it in all directions.

'What was I doing out there? What were you doing out there!?'

'Hunting.'

She took in a breath of air, 'Hunting?'

'Yes, hunting.' He said taking a precious jewel out from another small pouch dangling at his side. Tifa studied him and his peculiar movements as he fondled the stone. It seemed as though he had nothing else to say, and it was too dark for Tifa to make her way back to wherever she came from..

It then struck Tifa that she had no home. It was though overnight she lost everything, her home, her friends, her love.

'Tifa?' still he had not looked at her.

She shook herself out of it, no use getting depressed over all of this. Least of all in front of someone who would be the last person to understand. Her impression of Vincent was that he was a man of mystery. A cold man to which not even her warm smiles could break down his icy barrier.

'Yes?'

'Don't let first impressions fool you.' And he slid out of his chair and stood before her.

She was baffled and didnít know what else to do. She stood just as quickly as he did fearing his next move.

'I must go back out. You may spend the night, and I'll be back here the same time tomorrow. So long.' And he was off. A mist the shadows back into the night.

'Vincent, wait!'

But it was too late, he was gone. Tifa sat down on the cot and analyzed the situation. She was alone again, left to fend for herself.

'Vincent, I'm hungry!' she yelled after him. The only reply was her own echo she imagined coming off those bare kitchen cabinets.

Chapter 3