Author: Guede Mazaka
It’s long past closing and Tifa thinks she should have kicked out this woman a long time ago. The day’s been a hard one, leaving its marks in the ache between her shoulders and the duller, broader one in the bottoms of her feet, and all she wants to do is lie in a tub of hot bubbly water with someone massaging her toes.
And the head hanging over the lone filled glass on the bar might have the right color of hair, but its strands hang ragged in a pageboy instead of spiking every which way. The suit still raises the hairs on the back of Tifa’s neck, a reflexive kind of repulsion mixed with wariness. She’s seen them acting more neighborly nowadays, but she doesn’t trust anyone whose eyes she can’t see and theirs are always behind slippery dark sunglasses.
Elena lifts her head to push some of her hair out of her eyes. They have brown pupils. They’d be a nice color if they weren’t nested within a web of red lines and covered over with moisture. “Can I have another?” she asks.
Tifa stops scrubbing at the spotless bar and just looks at the glass still sitting in front of Elena.
“To make a pair.” Whatever Elena is drawing in the condensation pooling around the glass she’s got, it’s not animal or vegetable or mineral. “You know. Like how things are supposed to be. They come in pairs. Two eyes, two ears…”
“One mouth.” Tifa goes back to scrubbing the bar. That lasts all of two minutes before even her denial is too fed up to continue. She’s tired. She has so many people below waist-height that depend on her and so many above waist-height (but sometimes who might as well be shorter) and for once she’d like somebody on whom to depend. But that somebody’s out and doesn’t answer his voicemails, and in this bar it is damp and creaking and just…empty. Except for the Turk.
Now Elena’s head is down on her arm, and her arm is pushing the glass nearly to the edge of the bar. She moves a little when Tifa takes it, but doesn’t protest. Somewhere along the line she’s slipped out of her jacket. The edge of her cuff is a little frayed and the wrinkles in her white shirt look as if they’ve been there for days. “But it’s always better with two, right? Even if it’s not two mouths…two and two and that means someone else has your back. That’s what Reno always says and he should know.”
Elena giggles a little and Tifa indulges in a stare, because even if it’s Elena, it’s still a drunk Turk and that’s still new. She dries her hands on a second towel.
“He’s got Rude one way, and then there’s Rufus another and sometimes Tseng another…he’s a regular mix-and-match toy,” Elena says. She tosses up her head so her hair falls sharply into place, her smile bright enough to pass as materia. It’s more like a shorting fuse, because a second later she’s crumpled, head in hands. “And what do I get? Reno even invited me out drinking yesterday and that means he doesn’t think I’m just a floating set of breasts but it still wouldn’t be drinking with him, it’d be drinking with him and Rude and goddamn why can’t I at least have a partner?”
Tifa’s still drying her hands on the towel. They’re getting a little chapped, she realizes, so she puts it down. It falls next to her keys and she looks at them, thinking about the door and the night outside, and the little sachets of tea waiting for her upstairs. She could do that for herself, anyway.
“Oh, I know, I know, Tseng-sama pairs up with me but that’s just because of numbers. He still looks over his shoulder to make sure I’m following.” The little snort Elena lets out then was dry and bitter and too old for her. Her fingertips poke out of her hair, curling in and straightening out. They curl in more. “Not that I mind staying back there. He’s got a great ass, you know. And it’s the only way that I can look at it without remembering how ridiculous I was a year ago and being completely embarrassed but I’m back there because then he doesn’t have to think about me, not because it’s part of the plan and that’s how it would be if we were really truly part—Tifa?”
Elena knows her name, which is mildly surprising. Less surprising to Tifa is her light leap over the bar, whiskey bottle in hand, to land on the stool next to Elena. It’s a great sensation, leaping. Like flying. Like riding fast on a motorcycle with head down and hair streaming back.
She doesn’t do much leaping in the city—no room amid the cramped rickety refugee shelters that have been temporary for going on two years now. And she doesn’t get a chance to get out of the city much. Nobody’s around to give her the ride and it’s too long of a walk for a woman with so many responsibilities.
“Are you kicking me out?” Elena asks.
Tifa shrugs as she opens up the bottle. She takes a nice, long swig before passing it to the other woman.
First Elena looks at it. Then she tilts her head, hair veiling half her face. The half that’s visible is wry and understanding with a little bit of pride in the background that’s ready to rear up at any hint of condescension. “Are you being the sympathetic bartender?”
“Maybe I just want you to be quiet.” Since the other woman isn’t taking it, Tifa puts the bottle back to her lips. When she offers it again, Elena takes it with a half-guessing, half-puzzled face. “I can’t be cheerful and supportive to everyone every time. Especially you.”
Elena laughs. She knows what Tifa means. She knows that ‘you’ doesn’t mean Elena-the-person, who can babble long enough to impress Tifa and whose untucked, unbuttoned shirt gapes at the neck to show the soft curve of a breast and who also understands something about the lonely face at the window that’s looking out. It’s a dangerous world out there and it’s best taken by twos, at least, but sometimes there’s no one. And sometimes there’s someone that doesn’t see this.
“Sometimes it’s strange, you know,” Elena murmurs. She toys with the bottle-neck, then downs a slug. The face she makes is incredible enough to make Tifa crack a smile. “But you’ll give me the good stuff?”
“I’m drinking it, too.” Tifa takes it back, but doesn’t drink from it. She’s had enough to give her the false illusion of warmth, but only as far as the flesh is concerned. The room still looks gray and dark and huge to her. “What’s strange?”
“What you end up doing instead, when you try to get by,” Elena says. She isn’t looking at Tifa. The curve of her neck is white against the gold of her hair, and the hands she has resting on her knees have perfect nails but rough red calluses beneath them.
Tifa turns to put the bottle behind the bar, and as she does she thinks that this won’t solve anything, that this won’t even last beyond the whiskey taste in her mouth, which is already evaporating. When she turns around, Elena is there to put hands on either side of her face and kiss her, and Tifa still tastes a little bit of whiskey but not past the first second. She threads a hand through Elena’s hair, which is long enough for a grip and short enough that Tifa can twist her fingers in it and feel the ends bunch up into a rough fringe.
If any of the guys were here they’d whoop and holler, shout for them to do it good, baby because they’d want it nice and wet and slow. Well, Tifa can do the middle one but the ones on either side aren’t in the description because this isn’t about being pretty. This isn’t even about men, really, except referring to their absence. It’s about getting by.
The force of the kiss pushes her back on the stool, up so her feet drop to the ground. Her elbow bumps once, twice against the bar and Tifa twists so they push over the hard wood edge and land on top. She’s still pulling at Elena’s hair and Elena is sucking on her lower lip hard, tugging it back against teeth. Tifa pushes the other woman sideways with her tongue and darts in to bite at Elena’s earlobe.
Elena takes a fistful of Tifa’s skirt and unceremoniously bunches it up. She’s rougher about it than any of the men Tifa’s been with, and Tifa appreciates that even while she bangs them around, wedges Elena up and onto the bar. Climbs up after while one by one, Elena’s heels hit the floor.
Then Tifa’s on top of her, hands full of Elena’s shirt that needs an iron so badly and mouth joined to one as hungry and desperate and hardening as hers is. She undoes every button so they won’t pop off, but squeezes her hand over Elena’s breast without caring how the other woman takes it.
So it’s lucky that Elena takes it fine and then some, her hand moving long and fast between Tifa’s legs. She slips her thumb beneath the strap of Tifa’s underwear and loops it down so her fingers have free run. First slide’s all the way from the coarse hair to the hole behind the hole, which revives a little bit of the not-really-naughty sweet girl that’d come to the city.
Elena doesn’t laugh, but she moves like one, liquid and amused and subtly distant despite Tifa’s hands, Tifa’s mouth. She rocks her fingers back, then forward. Back and forward, centering on the gathering concentration of hot tension that’s knotting up beneath Tifa’s skin, swelling her clit, every stroke shorter and shorter. Anger goes well with that, so Tifa indulges. Puts a few runs in Elena’s hose—where does the woman find that these days?—while she’s digging for the twist-and-press that makes Elena’s eyes pop, makes Elena’s gasp overlay Tifa’s so she feels better about this.
Because Tifa tries so hard, so hard to find the bright spots and think of the sunrise the next day and because someone needs to do this even if it leaves them more alone in an overcrowded slum than someone in the countryside would be. She puts all her energy into making things better in little ways, making them beautiful and nice and this isn’t any of those. This is Elena’s lipstick smearing across Tifa’s cheeks so when the sweat runs through it, Tifa almost thinks she’s crying blood. This is Elena’s fingers pinching hard and harder and hardest till Tifa is nearly weeping as much as she’s crying out in pleasure, because sometimes it just has to hurt before things can be let go of. This is the red marks of Tifa’s teeth standing out on the white rise of Elena’s breast as it heaves faster and faster, struggling to pump air into the straining body below Tifa.
This is not nice. This is everything Tifa tries not to do because everyone else already does it and it just makes things…
…except you can’t really make things worse where there’s nothing to begin with. And somehow Tifa can’t argue about the exhaustion that makes her slump over on Elena and not try so hard to go when that clearly isn’t working, or about the damp hand that flattens out against her back. It’s not her mother’s dim memory-touch, and it’s not a friend’s comfort, but it’s…well, at least Elena is here. Here here, body and mind.
“Ooooh…and we weren’t even drunk yet,” Elena says a little later, when they’re off the bar and trying to make themselves presentable. It’s not because they want the positive attention or because they want the ego-boost so much as it’s part of routine to look well, and routine’s nearly all they have now.
Tifa leans against the bar and wrestles with her hair, thinking. Then she twists her fingers out of her hair and walks over to the front, where she switches off the ‘Open’ sign and locks the door.
“Oops.” Elena’s red, but looks less embarrassed than frustrated with herself. “I can’t believe I forgot about that. I’m so—”
When Tifa walks back, the first thing she does is pull out the bottle again. She holds it up to the light to check the level. “If we get drunk now, we can forget the order that we did things.”
“We could,” Elena says. She gives up on buttoning her shirt halfway and just lets her hands flop, dead-tired and without enough hope or enough desperation. “Can I have a glass?”
“Help yourself,” Tifa says. She sits down on the floor and pulls her knees up to her chest. After a moment, she looks up to meet Elena’s stare. “Just this once. Because we’re going to forget.”
There’s just enough in the bottle for two. They only have one and one, but it’ll do. Just.