Ghosts of the Past, Phantoms of the Future Chapter 3
Answers and Questions
The bell hooked to the door of Tifa's bar rang as it does when someone walks in. For Tifa, this was clue enough that she had a customer without having to see the person. Currently, she was bent over the floor, sweeping up the sharp shards of broken glass that scattered after she dropped the wine glass. The shock of her small realization that had caused her grip to loosen had given way to mere concern of not getting glass pieces in her legs.
"Just a second," she called out to whomever was there, "and I'll be up and ready for your order." She received no reply, but that didn't bother her too much. Finishing her cleaning, she leveled the dustpan with the glass in it and rose to view the newcomer.
And made her floor behind the bar's counter even more covered in small bits of glass upon this second drop.
The two of them stood there for a small moment, Tifa and Cloud staring into each other's eyes; they both had eyes striking enough to gaze into from some distance. Even in the lack of conversation, more was said by his presence in her bar than any mundane greeting.
Okay, man, Cloud thought to himself. Forget the silence and just break the very thick ice in this room.
You are such a doofus, Cloud's mind replied.
Tifa, still somewhat taken aback by this visit, remained silent for a bit before answering back, "Um, hi, Cloud. Won't you.....have a seat?"
Cloud weakly smiled and took a stool at the bar. Tifa brushed some of the glass away with her foot and said, "Can I get you something to drink?"
Drink? I need a gin transfusion after Midgar and this, Cloud's mind reacted. "Sure. Give me something hard."
Tifa laughed. "That's the Cloud I know. One 7th Heaven usual it is." She started mixing the drink when she noticed that it hadn't taken her very long to get back into the normal repartee she had with Cloud. As if her efforts to convince herself that his initial rejection was okay had all gone to pot. She wondered if it was the same for him.
She slid the drink over to him in their classic manner, but he only let the shotglass come to its own stop against the side of his hand. Tifa frowned; Cloud's mannerisms hadn't changed this past year. Just as revealing as ever. "Well, obviously something's happened to you, which explains what you're doing here. So, Cloud, are you going to tell me on your own or do I have to get you drunk first?"
Cloud looked up at Tifa, sighed, and took a slug of the drink. "Take a look at this." He put the glass aside and rolled up his sleeve, giving Tifa a good look at the scar. Tifa, after initial sympathetic cringing, examined it more closely. The wound was healing, but it was unaided; it didn't sport the smoothness of a Curative Materia scab.
"Are you trying to be manly, Cloud? No wimpy Materia for you?" Tifa joked. Cloud didn't laugh.
"Tifa, this is serious. This wound has literally not responded to my Cure spell."
"How is that possible?" Tifa asked.
Cloud put the sleeve back in its proper position and looked at her with great intensity. "There's more." Cloud continued to tell Tifa of the fight against the men in dark blue and the way that they were unharmed by his high-power magical spells, not to mention their inflicted wounds that could not be magically healed. Upon Tifa's insistence, Cloud seguewayed to the man in black, describing how he wielded the Masamune, or what looked like it, and his similarity to Sephiroth.
The physical description of the tallness and short, dark brown hair caught Tifa's attention. "Cloud, we knew someone like that." Cloud sat up straight and looked quizzically at Tifa.
"It was at Nibelheim," Tifa began. "The mission when I met Sephiroth, Zack, and you in Shinra uniform. But there was one more Shinra soldier with you.
"He was just as tall as you described, and the same type of hair. I remember running into him at night while I was looking at the stars from the well. He was on shift outside Gramps' Inn. The view of the stars is what started our conversation. After we pointed our favorite constellations out to each other, he told me his name was Kurt, and that he had joined the Shinra forces because his father was a member of SOLDIER.
"Then he took off his helmet and I saw what he looked like. Short hair. Very dark brown. I already saw how tall he was."
Cloud's eyes glazed over a little. "You know....now that you mention it, I do remember him a little. I mean, I didn't know his name or anything, since we were randomly assigned to the mission. What happened to him?"
Tifa looked puzzled at the question. "Are you kidding, Cloud? Don't you remember? You, me, Sephiroth, Kurt, and Zack were all on that bridge that collapsed. Kurt's the one who didn't make it."
Tifa stopped there and waited for Cloud. But he didn't say anything either. They sat there a little, as that last statement lingered in the air between them.
Finally, Cloud said, "Are you telling me that my attacker....was dead?"
Tifa couldn't answer.
The ring of the bell on the door caught both of their attentions. "Well, I hope I've not interrupted a love scene, but knowing what you've seen, Cloud, you've probably cut right to the chase." The unmistakable red cloak, black armor, and golden metallic glove led Tifa and Cloud's eyes up to the scarred face and piercing eyes of Vincent Valentine. "So why don't we discuss what comes next?"
Junon Energistics' office refreshment spots utterly destroy the Shinra coffee areas, mused Elena as she held her empty plate to her side, trying with difficulty to choose between the danishes, fruit, bagels, and other assorted foods without killing her figure.
She finally settled on the small splurge of a chocolate donut when she heard someone behind her. Turning, she saw Reeve walking in a beeline toward the coffee.
Naturally, she couldn't let the man get away without some heckling. "Hey, Reeve. Paranoid as ever, huh?"
Reeve shot a glance at her, but said nothing. He was too focused on trying to figure out the schemes of J.E. from the papers that had been assigned to him to process. Sure, he had Cait Sith climbing through the vents in the age-old "spy on the Prez" routine, but he couldn't just sit still and wait during the four hours he was making Cait record.
Still, just because Reeve wanted to be mature didn't mean that Elena had to be. As Reeve started to pour himself a cup of joe, she smiled and innocently said, "I guess the poor little kitty isn't feeling talkative right now."
The steaming hot coffee quickly singed Reeve's hand as he physically reacted to the taunt with an involuntary shudder. One thing never failed to annoy him - the humiliation he received from everyone at Shinra knowing he was behind Cait Sith. He shook the coffee off of his throbbing hand and said, "Don't go there with me today, Elena. I am hardly in the mood for your crap."
"Aww, does Mr. Meow-Meow need his salmon bits? Hey, let's go get you a scratching post and a rubber mouse!"
Reeve's eyes started burning red. "Alright, you wanna-be blonde," he said, now incensing Elena and her bleach job, "there's no reason I can think of to hold back on~"
The small beeper by his side started vibrating. Cait Sith needed to talk to him.
Gritting his teeth at the horrible timing, he managed to utter, "So long, suit jockey," as he stormed back towards his office. Elena, snarling, yelled after him, "Yeah, well, I hope you run astray of a bulldog!"
Reeve mentally shielded the final remark as he made his way back to his private office. Shutting the door behind him, he shook his head. Maybe he should get back at those damn J.E. guys for merely just hiring that miserable Elena. He didn't mind Rude, who was always aloof but never really unfriendly, but that little witch just got on his nerves far too quickly for the working environment to be properly calm.
Brushing the former female Turk aside, Reeve sat at his desk and grabbed the remote from his upper drawer. "Reeve here. What'd you call me for?"
Cait's upbeat tones crackled through, though in whispers. "Hey, boss. There's somethin' that you oughta hear."
"That's what you called me for? You ARE recording, aren't you?"
"Yeah, never stopped. But this really creepy guy just walked in, and he's got the Masamune on his back! I figured whatever he'd have to say would be important."
Reeve gasped. "Okay, patch me in!" Guy with the Masamune?, Reeve wondered. Is this the guy who was responsible for that massacre at Corel?
The voices in the president's office started to come through. " ~ tell that vice president of yours that I'll talk to who I want to, when I want to. Now, Mr. Chambers, you'll tell me what I can expect to hear when I *do* talk to him."
Must be the Masamune wielder, Reeve thought, since Chambers is the president. But wait! Vice president? There is no vice president! Just like Shinra. In fact, that was one of the eerie similarities that almost made me say no when they offered me the job.
Could this "vice president" be more important?, Reeve thought. So important that nobody knows he exists?
"Fine then," Sam Chambers' voice growled. "We're not pleased with you taking our soldiers and wasting them in your own little vendetta matches. Six, goddammit. Six! Six of our finest came with you to Midgar and they all went down. Do you have any idea how time-consuming and irritating it is to regenerate them again? The process is slow enough as it is in reviving our people without you taking them out and slicing them down again!"
"Strife is more of a threat to you than you know."
"Strife is a worthless drifter!" Chambers shot back. They're talking about Cloud, Reeve realized. "Our reconnaisance agents have already told us that. He's out unconsciously searching the world for that Ancient, Aeris. Hell, we even searched the Stream and didn't find her. But what's important is that Strife will never find her, but he'll keep looking. There's no reason that he would ever come after us. We don't do Ancient research. We don't even have a scientific program; he'd never come for us."
"You're coddling yourselves," said the man with the Masamune. "It won't be long before your true purpose is revealed. Once that happens, Strife's nature will kick in and he'll be after your asses like no tomorrow."
"And let me guess - I'm supposed to listen to you because you know SO much about it. Half of your mind wants revenge for one thing, and the other half wants revenge for all things," Chambers sneered. "Your orders are to slaughter who we tell you to. If you're so sure that Strife is destined to come after us, then wait your damn turn and we'll tell you to do it anyway."
A small pause in the dialogue made Reeve listen more intently. Someone was thinking.
"I'll remain reticent. For now," answered the man with the Masamune. "But if I get impatient, then I'll do as I damn well please." The sound of a shutting door forced Reeve's ear further from the remote's speaker.
Reeve, after a pause to think, said, "Cait, thanks for the heads up. Keep recording."
"You got it." Reeve, satisfied with the answer, put the remote back in the drawer.
This has gotten very, very serious, Reeve mused. There's more to this than just simple profit and greed. I'd better write to Barret.
For all the souping-up that Reno did on his motorcycle, one would think that he'd be able to do what he wanted to do. During the entire time that he'd had this babysitting job, Yuffie's S Class gold chocobo was able to keep ahead of him; it was by sheer obstinacy that Reno was even able to follow her to the places she liked to go to; that and the fact that Yuffie's allowance would be sliced if she completely lost Reno. Thus, she would always wait for him to catch up and grab a boat ticket before crossing the seas on her ride.
Now, with the parts he got in Kalm, he thought that maybe he could get past her this time. Maybe even scope out the area before she arrived to make sure it was safe. But to no avail; she was constantly half a mile further than him. Reno figured it must've been those Sylkis greens she fed the bird before leaving.
Still, he was able to arrive in Junon with her still in his line of sight. The port town had grown slightly, and gotten somewhat more lively since the introduction of Junon Energistics. He didn't completely know what Yuffie wanted to do there, but he figured it had something to do with shopping.
He internally grinned. Maybe she wanted to go clothes shopping. He liked watching that.
Despite all, it wasn't a store he found Yuffie in; he was able to catch her at the entrance. "You know, I think you're pushing that canary too far," he said as he walked up to her. The chocobo greeted him with an angry "WARK!" in his ear.
Reno snarled. "Yeah, well, I don't like you much either, birdbrain."
Yuffie pouted. "Back off, red. Goldie's just faster than you'd care to admit." She sighed and turned the pout into a smile. "But for once, I'm glad you're here. I could use the protection while I tour J.E. and say hi to Reeve."
"What?!" Reno reacted with alarm. "J.E.? Man, I can't go in there! What if Rude or Elena saw me? They don't know I've got this job. I'd never hear the end of it!"
Yuffie snickered. "Fine then. Don't follow me. I'll just tell Daddy when he calls on my PHS that you wouldn't accompany me..."
Steam figuratively came out of Reno's ears, which just served to amuse Yuffie further. "You know, I'm only here to do you good."
"Hey, nobody said you had to follow me around all the time."
"Your father's PAYING me to follow you around all the time!"
The young Kisaragi playfully looked up in the sky in thought. "Well, I suppose you could come with me, stay here and lose your job, or cover yourself with a tarp and walk in. Thought you might not be very effective under a sheet."
Noticing that their mid-street argument was causing some onlookers, Reno tensed up his knuckles and gave in. "Let's go to J.E."
"Here you go, Vincent. On the house," Tifa said as she handed him a full glass. He nodded solemnly and took a small sip.
Cloud, sitting across from him at the table, leaned forward and said, "Okay, Vincent. What is going on here?"
Vincent muttered, "Very well." Tifa, watching him put down the glass and match Cloud's lean, noted that little time would be spent reminiscing, particularly with these two. Cloud seemed to be quite focused on the issue at hand. And Vincent....Vincent was just always intense.
"I've been tracking the actions of a certain new company," Vincent stated flatly.
"New company?" Cloud pondered. "You don't mean Junon Energistics, do you?"
Vincent's usually squinting eyes widened a bit. "Oh, so you have heard of it. I didn't think you had, due to your wandering existence this past year."
Tifa took a seat beside Cloud as he replied, "No, I'd heard tidbits here and there about a company called Junon Energistics restoring several towns." Tifa jumped in, "And I think that's the name of the business that Yuffie's got a monetary stake in."
Cloud eyed Vincent. "So that's what you were doing in Junon when I ran across you briefly?" Vincent nodded. Cloud continued to deduce, "And you're going to tell me those findings aren't good."
"You are, once again, more on top of the facts than I suspected, Cloud," Vincent admitted. He took a slug of the liqour he brandished and started to explain. "After we all split, I had retreated to the chocobo farm outside of Midgar, helping Choco Bill and his family in the chores. I'd hoped to live my remaining misery out in relative peace, and not have to deal with people shrinking in fear of me; Choco Bill had grown accustomed to me already."
"Clearly this ended up not being the case, right?" Tifa asked. Vincent nodded his affirmative and continued, "It was once I saw a newspaper that Choco Bill had brought home from his weekly foray into town. The newspaper was talking about the new company, Junon Energistics, trying to downplay the controversy of the hiring of Rude and Elena, two former Turks, as security chiefs. I was suspicious of the whole affair, and so I traveled over to Junon to determine what was the issue. That's when we ran into each other, Cloud. After our small meeting, I tried to get into the building, but I instead followed what looked like a new batch of Turks; all in dark blue, led by a man in black wielding the Masamune. The sword was what caught my attention, and so I boarded the boat along with them."
Cloud's attention became stronger. Vincent sighed as he went into the next chapter of his tale. "What I saw after the ocean trip was a massacre. These 'Turks' went to Corel and utterly wiped out a group of protesters against J.E.'s influence."
"Protesters?!" Tifa jumped up out of her seat. "Was Barret one of them?"
"No, but he did arrive later," Vincent answered. Tifa's horrified face prompted him to add, "He didn't die at all, if that's what you're wondering." Tifa, calming herself, sat down once more and motioned for Vincent to continue. "Well, after coming out of my hiding place on the ship, I made it to Corel too late; they'd already taken the lives of the protesters. Barret, then, ran up and had a small scene with the man in black. During that encounter, Barret tried Fire, which passed over his target with no damage whatsoever. Then, as Barret shot at him, the man in black and the other 'Turks' disappeared, dissipating into the air in a manner that reminded me too much of.......Spirit Energy."
Cloud and Tifa both perked up at that. "Spirit Energy?" Tifa meekly parroted.
Vincent immediately answered, "WHICH led me to question, since Materia's magic is power created from the Lifestream, could something from the Lifestream be hurt by such an attack?"
The other two looked each other dead in the face. This was making sense. A very creepy sort of sense.
Cloud recovered from the shock and said, "Fine. Then how'd you know to contact me?"
"The man in black didn't go far upon his disappearing act. He appeared some distance behind me, to which I went and eavesdropped on him. One of his 'Turk' cronies told him you were in Midgar, to which he rounded up six henchman and took the boat back to Midgar. I followed as closely as possible, but I missed your fight. However, I knew there was no way they could've killed you - you're too good for that - and I figured that an encounter with the Masamune would send you back to Tifa."
"And, knowing that Tifa was in Kalm from our meeting in Junon, all you needed to do was ask around the town for where she was," Cloud said, finishing the story.
"Right," Vincent affirmed. "It seems to me that the only explanation is that the Lifestream is not at rest. But in what way and why, I cannot tell just yet. I am sure that Rude and Elena have nothing to do with this; despite our problems with the Turks in the past, both Rude and Elena are highly principled people who may have worked for Shinra before, but something this.....demonic would sway them immediately away. As a former compatriot of theirs, I feel an obligation to protect them from this sort of business. Come with me to Junon and help me get them out of there."
"Reeve, too," Tifa added. Both Cloud and Vincent looked at her. She rewinded herself a little and said, "I guess you haven't heard. Reeve is also working for J.E."
Cloud looked back at Vincent. "So now we KNOW that this company isn't letting its lower employees onto the secrets, whatever those are. Reeve wouldn't have done this again."
The sunset's glare caught Tifa and Vincent's eyes; Cloud was facing the other direction. Vincent replied to the weather, "It's getting dark, and the road to Junon is not as safe as it once was. Not with the man in black gunning for you. We should leave in the morning. Gather supplies tonight."
Tifa nodded and said, "We can stay in some of the rooms I have. I've upgraded 7th Heaven to an inn as well."
A small 'woosh' sound accompanied the envelope as it slid down the mail chute's input slot in Reeve's office. Reeve felt as if a little bit of the burden had just lifted itself. Having contacted Barret with the information he'd heard via Cait, it wouldn't take long before the former leader of AVALANCHE heads towards Junon in a manner not unlike the name of his old rebel group. The four hours had already ended, and Cait Sith had been deactivated and put back in his closet space. However, finishing that letter was more important than going to what might have been four hours of nothing, and so Reeve hadn't started investigating the tape yet.
A sharp rapping on the door got Reeve's attention, who looked up to see the door fly open without waiting for anyone to answer the knock. There stood Yuffie, beaming with arrogant pride. Reeve's mind quickly put two and two together; he'd heard that Yuffie had eased her ego, but walking through a company she put money into probably made her feel really self-satisfied.
"Hey, Reeve-ster!" Yuffie shouted with a grin. "The man behind the great robot moogle!" Reeve rolled his eyes. Elena bugged him, but he could handle Yuffie. After all, he did have some respect for her fighting prowess.
"Making financial house calls, Miss Kisaragi?" Reeve shot back with a smile. She shrugged and walked in, revealing a bruised and reddened Reno behind her. Reeve sat at his desk and said, "Reno? What are you doing here - and how many briar patches did you crawl through to get here?"
Reno grabbed the first chair he saw and sunk into it in relief. "I'm her hired muscle. Hired by her dad, that is. I'm under contract to follow her and watch out for her until she's eighteen."
"So, you made a deal with the devil?" Reeve sneered.
"Same difference," Reeve said back to Reno. Their combined half-snickering made Yuffie react in overdone offense, but she said nothing. She was admiring the office.
"So what did exactly happen to you, Reno?" Reeve inquired as Yuffie began to examine the office more closely. Reno sighed and said, "I've been trying to avoid Rude and Elena; if they knew what my job is, I wouldn't hear the end of it until another Meteor comes. So, of course, on the way to your office I saw both of them coming down the hallway. Naturally, I jumped into the nearest room I could find, without looking. Ladies' bathroom."
Reno held his hands up to motion for a halt. "Say no more," he said, veiling his grand amusement as much as possible.
Yuffie was loving the quality of the office. She walked over to the window and took in the rather nice view. "So, I see you've done well in my company."
Then it hit Reeve. Yuffie, and Reno as well, don't know. They don't know the truth about Junon Energistics. Reeve stood up and said, "You're both in grave danger being here. So am I."
Reno and Yuffie looked at each other quizzically, then turned that look towards Reeve. "Danger?" Reno blandly responded.
Sighing, Reeve motioned for the two of them to come over to his desk. Once they were there, he took the tape and started rewinding it to the part that he already heard while it happened. He didn't have time to try and find new incriminating evidence when he already knew where some was.
"What's this all about?" Yuffie protested. Reeve shushed her and stopped the tape. Turning it on, all three of them put their ears near the speaker on the tape player. Then, as suddenly, they jerked their ears back as the sound of a door slamming open rang through the air.
"Hello, Sammy," said a voice that Reeve recognized as the Masamune-wielder. "I hear you sloths in the management rank have some issues with my methods."
Hey, Reeve mused, this must be the first part of the exchange that was occurring while Cait was getting me.
A tense pause followed in the conversation. "Get out of my office," Sam Chambers' voice snarled. Yuffie squealed, "Oooh! Sounds like a gangster film!" Reno put his hand over her mouth.
"Or face the consequences when Mr. Shinra finds out you came talking to me instead of reporting directly to him. An order of his is a damn edict."
Reno and Reeve both muttered, "Shinra?!"
This better not be heading where I think it is, Reeve thought.
"Oh, boo-hoo, Sam. I don't think you'll be telling anybody such a thing. And as for lord Rufus, tell that vice president of yours that I'll talk to who I want to, when I want to."
The tape player then shut off, as Reno dived for the off button. "What the HELL was that, Reeve?!?"
Reeve, who had sunk to his chair, said, "Um....I'm not really sure. But I think you can get the gist that something's not right here."
"Not right?!" shrieked Yuffie, who had backed away into a corner of the office. "RUFUS is the vice president?!"
Reno grabbed Reeve by his cuffs and lifted him up, so that he was staring right into his eyes. "Rufus Shinra was killed by the Diamond WEAPON. We found the body, buried it, and spit on the grave. So now you're going to tell us why that pompous redhead is still running a business."
Gulping, Reeve motioned for Reno to put him down, who obliged. Straightening out his collar, Reeve began, "I'm as clueless as you about Rufus; that's the first time I heard that part of the tape. But let me play you the rest, and fill you in on what Barret told me."
It had been months since Tifa had experienced a nightmare about Nibelheim. That was back when they were fighting Sephiroth, still rediscovering Cloud's past. But the nightmares had come back, although now the focus was on Kurt. The intensity of the dream had brought her back to the world of the waking once more.
She went out of her personal room in the inn area and headed towards the bar. Maybe a small chaser would knock her out once more.
Once she got there, though, she saw a lamplight on one of the tables. Cloud was sitting there, staring at his hands. Tifa remained quiet as she got closer. Upon gaining a better angle, she realized it wasn't his hands he was looking at; it was some shred of paper.
She went up behind him and said, "Call the Insomniacs Anonymous meeting to order already." Cloud quickly turned to see her, and relaxed upon recognition.
But as he was about to put the paper into one of his pockets, Tifa snatched it out of his hands. Cloud weakly protested, "Hey!", but then gave in, knowing full well that Tifa never gives up when she's curious.
The text was in an unfamiliar handwriting style, and the words were even more unfamiliar:
You found what you were looking for,
Though you lost something dear.
But you will find it once more
If you let go of your fear.
Follow your heart; it will show you the way,
And that dear thing you lost will be with you to stay.
It didn't take Tifa very long to realize why Cloud was keeping this a secret. The words were unfamiliar, but there was no denying that there was one person that it implied: Aeris.
"Cloud, what is this?" Tifa quietly asked as she sat down next to him.
Cloud sighed and told Tifa the last part of his encounter in Midgar - the fortune-teller and the odd resemblance to what Cait Sith had said to him and Aeris in the Gold Saucer.
"I had to come to you because of the fight, Tifa, but the one thing that gave me a doubt in coming here was this fortune. Because...Tifa, I think the fortune-teller was trying to tell me that if I go after our Kurt lookalike, I might find Aeris."
Tifa looked oddly at him. "Why would you think that Aeris could be found, especially through Kurt? She's dead, Cloud. You and I both saw it."
He grasped her hands tightly. "Because of what Vincent said! Remember, he thought that when Kurt disappeared, it looked like Spirit Energy dissipating. If the Lifestream is involved in this, then it's almost certain that our last Ancient is involved in some way!"
Cloud was getting excited now. "Tifa, I really think I can.....Tifa?" Tifa had looked away, and Cloud couldn't see her face behind her brown bangs. He stopped talking and tried to see what was being said by her face.
Suddenly, a voice emerged from behind the bangs. "Was that the obligation, then?"
Tifa's head rose once more, her eyes unwavering and strong. "That was it, wasn't it? You had to go search for Aeris. That's why you said no to my offer to stay here. Because you knew that you could never be satisfied with.......just me."
Cloud stammered, "Tifa....I...I never wanted to....."
"I know, Cloud. It wasn't an attack on me. You were just being honest with yourself. Or so you thought." She stood up from the table and walked back towards the inn.
"Tifa!" Cloud called after her. It was enough to get her to turn around again.
"Cloud, your poem there talks about something dear that you lost. But before you go searching the City of the Ancients for her cold body once more, I want you to ask yourself something, and answer yourself with the most honesty you have ever felt within your being.
"Of all the things and ideas you lost, is Aeris really the most dear one?"
The words came out fleetingly, like all simple sentences do. But the question swirled around in Cloud's mind so much that their initial utterance seemed stronger than it was. Tifa sighed and said, "Get some rest. We've got some journeying to do tomorrow."
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