Prologue ~ Parting Ways
A young man gazed over the landscape from above, his blue-green eyes lost in thought. They had been able to defeat Sephiroth and witness the destruction of Meteor at the cost of countless of lives. The man sighed at the thought, not wanting to believe that there were still people occupying the slums of Midgar when Meteor struck. He didn't want to believe a new burden on his shoulders took over the old one.
"Cloud?" a familiar voice asked.
He turned around at the call of his name, giving the woman before him a weak smile. Tifa Lockheart was perhaps the only person he showed his true feelings to even if they were barely called friends when they were children. Cloud let the others think that he was the strong, cocky leader that he had appeared to be, but in actuality he didn't ask to be leader. Aeris had given the suggestion and the others simply agreed, but he hated being the leader and the only person who saw that was Tifa.
He extended his arm towards her, and she hesitantly took it, putting on her best smile. He wrapped his arm around her slim, bare waist and held her close to him, inhaling in the sweet scent of her hair as they both looked over the desert landscape on the Highwind.
"What is it, Tifa?" he murmured through her hair.
Tifa was fighting back down a blush as she slowly leaned against him. Cloud was being utterly romantic towards her; something that she had been dreaming of since the day he had left Nibelheim seven years before. However, everything was still a bit new to her. Her own thoughts were swirling around her at their closeness, almost forgetting why she came up here.
"Um...everybody..." she slowly began. "Everybody wants to see you." She closed her eyes for a moment as the remnants of the night before set out into the Northern Crater flashed before her. Only you... She opened them again, looking up at Cloud. "I think it's about where we should go."
Cloud chuckled in amusement, a low rumble in his throat. "I'm supposed to know? Geez, am I psychic or something?"
Tifa joined in the laughter, her smile widening into a grin. She snuggled closer to him to hide the smile. "I guess so."
Cloud sighed in defeat as he loosened his embrace. "Tifa...so many people were still there."
She remained silent for a moment before replying, "Cloud, there was nothing we could do about it. Like you said before, we did all we could."
He nodded at her response, the words ringing true in his head. He knew that they did all they could, but he still needed to hear them. With some more thought and a last look at Midgar, he said to Tifa,
"Let's go see the others."
<inside the Highwind>
Cloud and Tifa entered in the cockpit where everybody gathered, stopping their own conversations as the young couple entered. Barret suppressed a grin that was creeping to his face as they quickly split physical contact and blushed when everyone stared at them. He liked seeing the two together, and he especially liked seeing them happy. The two were like stubborn children not wanting to admit that they liked each other. Sometimes it would just drive him nuts when he was with them. Hell, if he didn't coax Tifa that time they were in Gold Saucer to ask Cloud out, then they would be still in square one.
"Yo, Cloud, where to now?" he asked.
The younger man shrugged, scratching the back of his head. "....Our job's done here; there's nothing else to do but part ways and keep the friendships that we've made. I'm sure you guys want to go back home and see if everything's still the same, right?"
One by one, each person nodded with the exception of Vincent. He stood in his usual spot towards the back, his eyes closed. At first Cloud thought that the man was sleeping, for he did fight against Bizarro and Final Sephiroth with him and Tifa, but he had opened his eyes and slowly nodded back at him. Cloud inwardly sighed; sometimes he didn't understand the man.
"Okay, then it's settled," Cloud announced at the gang and looked at Cid. "Do you think you can drop us off, Cid?"
The older man scoffed at him. "Shiiiiet, do you gotta ask?"
The first person to be dropped off was Yuffie, which was only right because she knew that the others didn't want her to steal their materia. That was fine by her. She had enough of her own materia to be happy with.
Yuffie paused in her stride as she neared her father's house. Gawd, what if he wants ALL of my materia? Her hands unconsciously went down to the pouch where her unused materia lay. Some of it was her own that were replicas of the originals she had equipped on while the others were the ones that Cloud had graciously given to her because he and the others had no use for them.
"Well, if that old man wants them, then he ain't gonna get what he wants," she said to herself and turned away, heading for her own home.
The next to be dropped off was RedXII or rather Nanaki now. As he wearily climbed up the steps, the guard at the entrance beamed with delight.
"Nanaki, welcome back!" the guard greeted.
Thoughts swirled in his mind, the words of Bugenhagen coming back. Nanaki wanted to protect Cosmo Canyon at all cots, just like his parents had done. However, he knew that his grandfather wanted him to explore the world, experience new cultures.
Yet Cosmo Canyon was his home.
Nanaki smiled at the guard, "I'm home."
Vincent quickly scaled across the Corel Mountains with little effort. He knew where he wanted to go; it was just impossible to land the Highwind there. He had to see her, tell the truth about her son. And...he wanted to apologize for abandoning her. Otherwise his heart would not be at peace.
Vincent paused in his climb to shoot down a Nibel wolf that was about to attack him with the Death Penalty. As he gazed at the dead creature's body in the distance, he wondered to himself why the creature strayed off from its pack. He is different like I am, he thought as his cloak swirled about in the wind. His metallic arm reflected off the sun's rays as it peered out from the cloak, a constant reminder of who he really was: a monster. Shaking his head, Vincent continued along his way to the place where his past remained waiting for his return before it could disappear forever.
As he and Tifa watched the others depart, Cloud began to wonder to himself where he would go. Wherever he would go, he knew that Tifa would follow. He could go and try to buy the villa in Costa Del Sol, but he always hated the warm weather no matter what others said. The weather reminded him too much of the temperature of Mako energy and the time he had spent in the Mako chambers at the Shinra Mansion .
"Hey, Cloud, where should we go?" Tifa asked him in her typically soft voice. It was always strange to him that she had a soft, gentle voice when she could practically pummel any guy that would try to take advantage of her. A smile crept to his face as an idea came to him.
"Nibelheim. We should go back to Nibelheim."
Tifa cocked her head to the side, confused. "Back to our hometown?"
Cloud nodded. "I doubt that those Shinra employees would hide in their masks anymore. Besides, it's our home. We can always rebuild."
"So you two lovebirds wanna go back to Nibelheim?" Cid shouted, grinning maniacally at the comment.
Cloud and Tifa's faces turned a beet red before Cloud could coherently nod at the pilot. He could hear some of the crew and Barret snicker in the background.
Scratching the back of his head and holding Tifa's hand, he said, "Uh...yeah, Cid. Next time, don't shout it out to the world."
Tifa smiled to herself as she gazed out the Highwind, thinking about the future ahead of them. Cloud made a surprising decision to return back to the small town where they both grew up in, yet she knew deep inside why. He wanted to make amends and start from the beginning.
Only you...she thought to herself as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Ow, Daddy! Your whiskers hurt!"
"But Daddy missed you so much, honey," Barret reasoned with his "daughter", Marlene. "You've gotten bigger since the last time I saw you."
Indeed the nine year old little girl had grown a bit taller since the last time he saw her. Barret noted to himself that Marlene was beginning to look like her mother everyday, her real mother that is. A twinge of pain stung his heart as he remembered Dyne's words to him before he jumped off the cliff. My hands are too stained with blood.
His own hands, too, were stained with blood but Barret was determined to take care of his best friend's daughter until she was old enough to go on her own. It was promise that he vowed to fulfill to his dead friend, at least to redeem himself of his own sins.
Reeve stepped out of the clock tower, his duty done. He had been able to take care of the little girl and help the others through his Cait Sith body. Even though he knew that everyone distrusted him, Reeve would always remember Aeris' words to be strong. He was glad that she accepted him fro the way he was. Reeve sighed to himself as he entered in the pub, taking one of the few empty seats the remained and asked for a beer. Shinra was finished which meant that he was out of a job. He could go look for another one, but he was afraid to be rejected due to his background. Heaving out another sigh, Reeve guessed that he would try to find the dysfunctional Turks now that Shinra was gone and Tseng rumored to be dead. He wondered to himself it the never-aging man really was dead. He himself saw through Cait Sith's body Tseng's limp form at the corner of the entrance, but he doubted that the man would die so easily.
Tseng spooked the former Shinra executive sometimes. The way that the aloof head Turk remained the same age the sixteen years he had been at Shinra Inc. always mystified him. Reeve didn't believe the rumors of his death. The man couldn't die so easily, even if it WAS Sephiroth who had "killed" him.
Tseng Chen slumped against another red oak tree as the renewed strength in him died away from his body. His right hand still clutched the wound in his side where Sephiroth's Masamune struck even though the bleeding had stopped. That still didn't mean the pain had ceased. Every move that he made, even blinking, was excruciating. He had managed to escape the destruction of the Temple months before but he had only managed to get halfway through the forest that had surrounded it. Time and time again his strength would fail him, but he knew he could never die. That was his curse.
The trees began to blue around him as his vision began to fail. Tseng was extremely tired. He needed rest, but he needed to get out of here. His sister's ocean blue eyes appeared before him with tears inside.
"I'm sorry," he murmured before he fell into unconsciousness.
A few moments later, a black chocobo appeared, its rider cloaked in black. The cloaked rider got off the creature and walked over to Tseng's unconscious form, gleaming red eyes boring into his body. The rider picked him up effortlessly in its arms and lay him across the chocobo's back. With one single action, the rider got on the bird-like creature and rode away, fading in the trees.
The only remnants that Tseng had left behind was a trail of blood.
AN: Yeah, this is the end of my rather lengthy prologue. I needed to make a background to set off the story or else it would be a tad bit confusing if I started on the first chapter. As you can see from a few scenes, I'm a loyal Cloud/Tifa fan. I respect Cloud/Aeris fans and other misc. pairings with the love triangle, but I have no love for Aeris *ducks the various tomatoes and other misc. veggies* Yet that doesn't mean that I hate her. I do like her to an extent and respect how other Aeris fans feel about here.
And for some clarification depending on how you treat Tifa throughout the game, Cloud and Tifa's night alone together before entering the Northern Crater varies. If you didn't use her that much, then her reaction would be "did you guys listen" or something similar to that. If you were *really* nice to her (and also got her in the Gold Saucer date), then she will say "you guys SAW" meaning that, well, yeah, something happened that night ^_~.
Anyhoo, enough rambling from me. You'll get to see why Tseng is technically still alive and just assume that the 13th Sephiroth clone was not found yet because that factor will play a big role in the next chapter whenever I have the time to write it out and put it up ^^. This is my first FF7 fic, btw, so please be nice and R&R if you can!