It was late morning the following day when Tseng and Elena stepped outside their apartment building and out onto Main Street. It was a perfect day for early spring, the air still cool but with a clear sky above as the sun shone down upon them. Elena paused and looked both ways down the street, trying to figure out in which direction they ought to head first.
Aeris had dropped by their apartment and that of Reno and Rude a short time before, delivering some food and other basic supplies. She'd also given all of them a generous amount of gil with which to purchase clothing and anything else they might need, deciding that was easier than trying to shop for all four of them. Elena found she already liked the cheerful woman who'd been far more kind and helpful than she needed to be. She admitted she was just a bit jealous of her long association with Tseng, but quickly scolded herself. It was obvious that nothing more than a casual friendship born from his assignments existed between them, and her significant other was a man who quite obviously did not have a roaming eye anyhow.
Elena glanced up at him as he looked down the street in the opposite direction. Tseng already seemed much better after full night of sleep, though his severe black eye was still very difficult for her to look at. He didn't seem bothered by it, though, and she supposed after the near-fatal chest wound he'd sustained not all that long ago it must have seemed like a very minor injury to him. Waking up in each other's arms, finally able to feel safe again, had been good for both of them. Tseng had been much more collected and nearly back to normal when he'd awakened, and neither of them had wanted to get out of bed. She smiled to herself, her mind flashing back to their love-making, a warmth spreading throughout her body. Despite everything else, it was so wonderful to be in love… especially with a man who had proven he'd give up everything for her.
"I think I see a sign for a clothing store this way," Tseng said, finally turning back to her. They were both still wearing the same clothes they'd been in for days, and Elena definitely looked forward to putting on something fresh.
"Okay," she agreed, used to allowing him to make decisions mostly because he had been her boss before he became her boyfriend. Besides, Elena was easy-going on minor issues, usually happy to go along with the flow. "Even after showering I still feel gross wearing this outfit again…"
Tseng made a sound of agreement, though he still looked immaculate in the suit he'd changed into shortly after leaving Midgar. He turned and began to walk down the street toward the garment shop, Elena following after. She kept a few paces behind him out of habit, not really thinking about it as she enjoyed the beautiful weather and took in the sights of their new hometown.
They were about halfway there when Tseng stopped suddenly, causing Elena to do the same and study his back with confusion. Slowly, he turned to face her, a thoughtful expression on his face as if he'd just remembered something important. To her surprise, a smile crept across his face, and when she met his eyes they were shining.
"Elena, what are we doing?" he asked her quietly, his voice warm with affection. She frowned, confused, unsure of what he meant and why he was looking at her that way. Was this some sort of a trick question?
"Um, I thought we were going to look for new clothes…?"
Tseng shook his head, though the slight smile remained. "That isn't what I was referring to," he said, still looking at her intensely. "I meant… why are we walking like this?"
"Like… what?" Elena asked, shifting a bit uncomfortably now. Despite everything, sometimes, he still made her nervous.
He sighed heavily, though his expression didn't change. He took the few steps needed to return to her side, then reached out and firmly took a hold of her hand, lacing her much shorter fingers through his. "You're still walking behind me," he said as she looked down at their hands in surprise. "And it just occurred to me… that we don't have to hide any more."
Elena's eyes widened, surprised that she hadn't thought of that unintentional benefit. Still staring down at her hand joined with his, her mind began to race with possibilities. Suddenly, after almost a year together of concealing their feelings from everyone around them and sneaking around like guilty criminals, the need to do so had been completely stripped away. Everyone already knew.
At first, the realization made her feel oddly vulnerable and exposed, but she quickly felt a rising excitement course through her. The pressure that fact removed from their lives was incredible. No more worrying about being seen together after work hours, or constantly fretting about how to act around him in public. She could even write and tell her family she was in a committed relationship, and she could finally turn down men who approached her with the truth instead of a lame excuse. They could actually spend time together outside of their apartment and do all the things that normal couples did. They could eat out without pretending it was related to business, take walks together, go see a movie… The more she thought about it, the more amazing the reality of it became. Maybe he could finally relax and enjoy their relationship more, and she could stop living on pins and needles as she tried to remember how to address him under which conditions.
"Oh my gods," she whispered in awe, looking up into his dark eyes and smiling back. "We've had so much to worry about that I… I can't believe I didn't think of that! Wow…"
"Neither did I, until just this moment when we came out in public. I expect it will be an adjustment for us, but… I don't think it will be all that difficult."
A rare mischievous smirk cross his face, and he stepped forward and took her in his arms before she realized what was happening. He leaned down and kissed her passionately, and she instantly melted into him, forgetting about everything but the man she loved. When he next leaned back to study her, she must have looked so completely stunned that he chuckled quietly.
"Sorry, I couldn't help myself… I just wanted to see how it felt."
Blinking for a moment as she caught her breath, Elena felt a wide grin cross her face. Already, Tseng seemed so much more relaxed that she was instantly more at ease as well. Any embarrassment she may have felt at their public display of affection instantly faded away. Let people look, she thought joyfully. They had nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide any more, so let them stare. Nothing anyone could do or say would ever be able to touch them.
"It felt incredible," she replied, slipping her hand back into his. "And now we've got the rest of our lives to enjoy it."
((* To continue following the main plotline of my AU, you will next want to read Transformations.))
((Author's Note: Yeah, I realize that I had marked this complete, and usually an Epilogue is... you know... the end. But I had this scene idea I could not get out of my head. It seemed too short for a one-shot, and was so closely related to this plot that I thought it would lose its impact on its own, as many may have no idea what was going on. So I decided to just go ahead and add it on to the story. I'm not sure if one is 'supposed' to do this, but eh. I don't care to be honest, haha. I wanted to, and that's that! Hopefully you enjoyed the additional content. Please take a moment to let me know! Thanks! ~ JenesisX ))