E Pluribus Unum Part 3

Requiescat in Sanguinem
Tempus Morieris

Circus Vitae


“Cloud!” She screamed, but it was no use. She couldn’t even hear herself over the crashing of rocks as the Northern Crater collapsed on itself. She leaned over even further…just a little bit more.

Suddenly he blinked, and it was like he finally saw her.

She felt his hand wrap around her forearm tightly, and, bracing herself against a boulder, she managed to pull him up to the ledge. He fell in a heap over her. She smiled, brushing back one of those damn spikes away from his eyes.

Then the ledge collapsed.

She shrieked, but he’d grasped the cliff wall in one hand, and her in the other. Is this…the end…? The others had escaped, but she’d stayed behind, hoping beyond hope…

Above them, the rope ladder from the Highwind unfurled. Cloud’s face brightened as he looked up and saw that Yuffie had tossed it down.

Tifa found herself scowling unconsciously and buried her face in Cloud’s chest to mask her expression. He very carefully transferred the two of them to the ladder. The Highwind began to pull up out of the crater, even as they scrambled upwards onto the deck.

Then the world went upside down. The airship was turned nearly ninety degrees upwards, and they all were holding on for dear life. Only by the pilot’s skill and the grace of the Planet did they manage to get out and away from that horrid place.


As soon as the Highwind was level again, Yuffie was hanging over the rail, losing the contents of her stomach.

I thought she got rid of everything on the way in. Tifa’s thoughts were spiteful, and they turned even nastier when she saw Cloud walk over to her.

He put one hand on her shoulder, the other on the small of her back, and he whispered quietly in her ear.

Tifa grimaced. If only this was like in Mideel. I wish I could see into his head, know what he was thinking… It was like a switch came on in her head, as she concentrated on him.

“Oh honey, get it all out. I know how it feels. When you’re done, if we live through all of this, I’ll take you out on choco-back and avoid all of this nastiness.”

Her eyes narrowed. Okay, I know I’m jealous, but now I’m just losing it. …no I’m not. Some strange surety told her inside that this was real…

Yuffie had finished her disgusting retching, and Cloud had her held up against him now. “This feels nice…I’ll have to tell you how sorry I am that I’ve been not paying attention since Mideel…concentrating on Sephiroth.” His train of though paused for a moment, and then it dropped the bombshell. “I wish you had stayed with me last night…I would have made up for that kiss at the Saucer, at least…”

Tears slowly making their way from her eyes and down her cheeks, Tifa turned away from that bastard Cloud and towards the skyline of Midgar in the distance. She watched as Meteor managed to come ever closer, while some glowing stuff that seemed to be Holy helped destroy the city.


She started to sob.

* * *

Tifa walked quietly to the bathroom on the Highwind. She heard Cid’s voice carrying out from the meeting room.

“I still say that we ain’t gonna find the guy. If he’s still alive, he’s either been taken by the Shinra or Sephiroth. Sephiroth’s got that glowy blue thing, and the Shinra are gonna blast our brains out soon as they see us!”

“Shit, I know that,” Barret replied. “But Cloud’s disappearance has gotten everyone shook up. Even Yuffie’s been actin’ weird. Weird for her, anyway.”

“What about Tifa, though? I just don’t get it.”

He was quiet for a moment. “I ain’t got no idea ‘bout that, you know? She been gettin’ weirder and weirder ever since she found him laid up at the train station months ago. Strong ninja goddess or somethin’ gone fool crazy over this psycho. From strong to wimp in no time flat, and she think that no one ever seen it. Fawned all over him, tells me he got to all these high ranks in SOLDIER, like he’s the only son of a bitch that Shinra ever hired to kill folk.”

“Fuck, man, so she’s fixated? While we can’t keep going on like this.” She heard the flick of a lighter. “Just searching?” Cid chuckled. “So, anyways, I told the pilot our next destination, since we haven’t hit shit looking for Cloud’s ass.”

“Where that be?”

“You know Costa Del Sol? Beach paradise hoopla? Well, in my stint flying planes, I found the spot that all the rich folk who hate people go to. Island paradise. El tropico.”


“It’s called Mideel. I figure we gotta look fucking everywhere, right? Let’s at least go somewhere that doesn’t suck, and we’re not likely to get ourselves killed.”

“Shit,” said Barret, “amen to that.”


Tifa almost couldn’t believe what she’d heard. Sure, Cid she didn’t know too well, but Barret had been a support for her. Like a combination of big brother and father. Her head and stomach dancing, she finally forced herself to slip away from her eavesdropping and into the bathroom.

She felt herself sink slowly down to a sitting position on the toilet; she felt the tears escape from the corners of her eyes, leaving trails down her cheeks. She didn’t brush them away. I’ve fought for them. I would have died for them. I was put into a damn gas chamber for following the path that Barret set for AVALANCHE, and he mocks the fact I actually care about another human being?

Slowly, the two men’s voices became audible to her again, as they passed by the door of the restroom.

“How exactly did you hire the spaz, again?” Cid asked.

“Well, it’s like when Tifa found him, some sort of obsessing switch got flipped over in her head. ‘Cloud this, Cloud that, when we was kids-blahblahblah…’ You know, it really weirded me out, cause she ain’t never mentioned this dude’s name before. Plenty of others, if you know what I mean…”

They died off as the two went further down the corridor.


Why did I never mention him to Barret before then? She was startled to hear a response within her own head.

“Just because the last time you saw him was so horrible, that’s all. No one could say that was weird.”

Her brow furrowed. Oh, that’s right. But what was so horrible about it, I don’t…was it…Nibelheim?

“Why bother yourself thinking about bad times, just because the people you thought were friends don’t respect you?”

But if I remember, I could find Cloud! Or help him once I do…he seemed so lost.

“You’ve been helping him get his memory back since you found him in Midgar. You can help him more. It will be soon, I promise. Just leave them behind and go to him.”

She smiled. That would be nice. Wait! But we’re on a mission to destroy Sephiroth and prevent Meteor, I can’t abandon that.

“Shinra was behind both Cloud and Sephiroth. Cloud is more important, and you’re the only one who can deliver him.”



Tifa leaned back, took a few deep breaths, and then tore off some toilet tissue and wiped her eyes. Rising, she rinsed her face in the sink. Peering at her face, she noticed that she now had a visible vein, ever so thin and spidery, at her temple. She frowned for a second, before she realized her depressed state might have caused the premature aging.

Stepping outside, she firmly closed the door behind her and made her way up to the bridge. I’m going to find Cloud soon, and I know it.

Soon she was so engrossed in putting up a fake brave face to her comrades, she’d forgotten entirely about the mysterious voice in the bathroom.

* * *

Kalm was full of refugees from Midgar. All around seemed paranoid and scared. Panicked eyes peered from behind the slivers of closed shades as they all made their way into the central square.

Barret and Vincent, blindly leading the company, had paused. Tifa turned back herself, waiting as Cloud made his way up to front and center. She smiled at him before she turned and glared at Yuffie. I saw that “innocent” hand squeeze.

The younger girl shrank back with a wounded face.

Windows of all the nearby houses slowly cracked open, anticipating whatever event was about to unfold. Cloud closed his eyes a moment, gearing up for the public speaking event of a lifetime. “People of Kalm, Midgar! Visitors from afar!” His voice rose steadily into the night, clear and strong over the hushed silence of the village.

“You all saw the Meteor falling closer! Not all of you know that the once glorious hero, head general of the Wutai war summoned it. Yes! Sephiroth had vanished for five long years, but he returned a madman bent on destroying the Planet for more power.”

He smiled. “But his plan failed. We have defeated him, and the black materia has been destroyed! You saw the flash in the skies, you saw Meteor disappear, and I am here to tell you that evil has gone forever!”


“Three cheers for AVALANCHE!” A voice came from a side street, as a man in his mid-20s stepped out among them. Dark hair, dark eyes, goatee. “AVALANCHE gave me the information to begin the evacuation!” Reeve pumped his fist into the air.

The fear broke; the eeriness ended. All at once, Cloud and Reeve were shaking hands and throwing their arms about each other.

“Papa!” Marlene came running out, trailed very closely by Elmyra. Doors opened and people began to stream out into the town square the moment she was tossed up onto Barret’s shoulder.

“I have to admit, you guys don’t all suck.” Reno came up to them, followed by Rude and Elena. “It was a smart move, not fighting us in the end. We were full strength to help Reeve get out all the people we could.”

Vincent was talking to Elena, Cid immediately accosted Reno for cigarettes (having smoked all of his in a chain when he thought the world was ending), and Tifa was startled at a quiet voice behind her.


She turned to see the trademark shades of Rude. “Sunglasses at night?”

He flashed a crooked smile before pulling them off, slowly. “The Lifestream hitting Meteor thing was pretty bright. I’m probably one of the few people who didn’t look away.”

“It was so scary there, up close.”

The pause was so extended, she almost turned away and looked for someone else to talk to, but he had gotten his nerve up. “I was thinking about you, you know. Hoping that you would get out of there okay.”

“Really?” Tifa felt her face getting warmer, and she smiled. “Thanks.”

A bottle of damn good whiskey was being passed around and had reached them. Rude took a swig before offering it to her. “This is too good for anyone to pass up. Once in a lifetime booze.”

“I recognize the label, you know,” she said, before taking a drink herself. “I was a bartender by night, and an extremist by…more of the night.”

“I know. You probably don’t remember, but before things got real tight up at Headquarters, forbidding under-plate in off hours, I stopped in your place a few times.”


A chorus of loud voices interrupted their conversation.

“Toast to Cloud Strife!” Reno called loudly and drunkenly above the crowd. The cheering could have been heard in Junon.

“To Cloud!” Reeve chimed in.

Cloud looked around him. “It wasn’t just--”

“Cloud! Cloud! Cloud” Everyone chanted, getting into it. Tifa smiled at Rude; they’d both joined in themselves.

One of the circulating bottles of booze was passed into his hand, and he took a good long drink, resulting in more cheers.

Tifa’s body began to feel tingly all over, and warmth was spreading out from her middle. Rude reached over cautiously, laying a hand on the small of her back. Her eyes were still on Cloud, so she was able to watch him completely.

Every second etched into her brain, as she saw him twirl Yuffie around as they both laughed, sobriety long forgotten. Pretending long forgotten.

Rude opened his mouth to say something to her, but his words were lost in the din that erupted as Cloud pulled Yuffie close to him for a long kiss.

Tifa shrank away from Rude’s words, his touch, running away from him into the night.



She blinked her eyes open. Where am I? The disorientation passed as she remembered the generous free lodging at the Kalm Inn. Despite the overcrowding due to the disaster, everyone was glad to give up space so that the “heroes who had saved the Planet” could have a bed, at least. Her bed was in a tiny room with barely any room to stash an extra bag, let alone any of the things she generally saw in an inn.

Tifa swung herself over the bed. It was still dark, but the sky outside had turned the shade of gray it normally did as it expected the sunrise. She estimated it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. So I got two hours of sleep…ugh.

Suddenly, she was possessed by an urge that most would have dismissed as irrational. Quietly, so as not to accidentally wake or disturb anyone else, she slid open the door and walked out into the corridor. As she passed the doors to various rooms, she would slow and listen quietly. Behind one, she was fairly certain she heard a girl crying. Did he sober up?

She smirked, despite herself.

Then, four rooms down from there, she found what she was looking for. No sound could be heard behind the closed door, and there were no signs of life behind it. It was as if some invisible force within her had said, “He’s inside.”

It was locked, but her days in AVALANCHE had not been for nothing. Breaking and entering were par for the course, as was stealth. Pulling off one of her earrings, she bent the wire on the setting until it was straight, then inserted it, silently slipping all of the tumblers into place.

The knob turned easily and smoothly.

Inside, sprawled on top of the lovely handmade quilt, Cloud slept where he’d flung himself. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully, but the expression on his face was less than pleasant.

What’s wrong, Cloud? Tifa’s brow furrowed. They had just saved the Planet, how could he possibly be so unhappy it carried over into unconsciousness? She gazed at his face. Let me help make it better, she thought to herself.

She moved in closer and lost control. One of her hands reached forward, stroking the side of his face. Suddenly, she was slammed with sights and sounds pouring into her head.


Cloud and Yuffie outside the door in which she had heard the crying.

He leaned in, but she turned her face, and his lips brushed her cheek.

She frowned.

“What is it?” He pulled her closer.

“You’re drunk,” she said coldly.

He laughed. “So are you, silly!”

Gently prying him off of her, she leaned away from him, crossing her arms. “I only got in on the first pass of the booze, thanks.”

“Ah,” Cloud whispered, “you’re mad cause you sobered up!”

“I’m not mad…just…I don’t understand it, Cloud. A little bit more than twenty-four hours ago, you’re shakin’ your head at me through the bridge door, then talkin’ shit in front of everyone…”

“You didn’t push me away in front of everyone in the square…” He put his hands on her hips, pulling her closer.

Yuffie sighed. “I just…gawd, I’m gonna regret this, but if you really want this--me, it can wait until you’re not drunk, right?”

“But we waited for so long…”

“And I was never, ever sure, if I meant anythin’ or if you were just emotionally retarded! Geez!”

His hands dropped, and his face fell. “I’m sorry I’m all screwed up. I just…the only girl I ever thought about like this was Tifa, since I was small…and she…I still don’t know what’s the truth and what’s the lies. Add in the fact that she’s been acting weirder and weirder lately, especially since I came out of Mako poisoning…”

“She was all starin’ and glare-y tonight. I‘d rather wait until we could be somewhere she couldn’t do that.”

“I was sticking you to the side for so long, trying to figure out my past, figure out what didn’t add up, figure out her…I just want to stop.”

“I can wait a little longer, ‘til we can get away. ‘Til we can answer just to us.” Yuffie reached up, brushing a droopy spike of hair away from his eyes. “Can we let that be the first nice thing you do for me?”


“…you’ve been a fucking jerk,” she replied candidly.

An eyeroll. “Really?”

“For sure.”

“Can I do a second, for goodnight?” Cloud’s face was a picture of pouty pleading.

“You’re still drunk!” More pouting. “Fine,” she assented. “Five second time limit.” But she was smiling when he pulled away.

“Tomorrow will be a new start, I promise.” Reluctantly, he again removed his arms from around her.

“Goodnight, Cloud.” Then Yuffie had the door shut behind her.

Wow, Cloud thought to himself, I wonder if this could be it…


Never doubting the vision for a second, it kept all of Tifa’s training and restraint to keep herself from punching a hole in the wall. It will never work if she gets to him. This will not happen! her inner voice snarled.

“…wha?” Cloud’s response was not mental, but verbal.

Tifa’s mind was a haze of anger, sadness, confusion, and arguing trains of thought.


Who cares? He’s happy, at least!

“I need to be with him, or else it won’t work!”

What won’t work?

“He’s so important…if I could just get to him, I wouldn’t need to stay here…”

…I could go anywhere I wanted, he’s got nothing to do with it.

“You searched for so long, stayed by his side, only to let him go in the end? He can’t possibly care about her the way he cares for you…”

He did fulfill his promise, didn’t he?

“Despite all the danger. Even though you didn’t know what was going on, he saved you. He was hiding in that suit of armor, hiding in wait for the moment you needed him.”


…yeah! He wouldn’t ever do that for her, he’s just looking for an easy target because I wasn’t there enough for him.

“…and guess who’s hiding in wait, for the moment Cloud needs someone to save him from himself?”


She smiled. I can help you, Cloud. Yuffie’s right…you’re just getting carried away with the moment, here and now. Looking down, she noticed that she’d not only fallen asleep in her clothes, but in her armor as well.

A yellow orb was glowing in her Mystile. Tifa nodded to herself.


Cloud awoke without waking. Walking to the desk in his room without seeing, and taking out pen and paper, he wrote without knowing. As Tifa laid herself down onto his bed, she watched as he blindly lifted his pack.

Her mind’s eye reported back to her as he slipped the note under Yuffie’s door, hefted his gear onto his shoulder, and made his way over to Chocobo Joe’s. By the time Yuffie awoke, Cloud was boarding a ferry in Junon, and Tifa was finally getting some much needed rest.

In Cloud’s bed at the inn. Naked.





Some of the cobblestones wobbled under her feet, and the well was already starting to look as if it was in disrepair. There was an odd quiet to the place; the Shinra employees had fled the town around the time Meteor seemed to be impending certain doom.

A sound was floating on the air, though, and it became clearer as Tifa made her way into the central square. Piano. She smiled to herself. So that’s where he is. She became quite excited and half-ran to what appeared to be her old house. She swung open the door and bounced up the stairs.

The playing had stopped the instant she had opened the front door, and she was met by a familiar face as soon as she entered her bedroom. “Cloud,” she said with a grin, “At last.”

There were dark circles under his eyes and a few days worth of stubble growth on his face. “Why are you here?”

She frowned at the dull sound in his voice. “I don’t know, you run away the day after the celebration party and make yourself scarce for six months. Everyone worried at first, but eventually went off to do their own thing. I never forgot, though.”

“How could you forget? It was your fault.” He fiddled with the chain attached to his belt.

Her face was the perfect picture of shock. “My…how could you say such a thing? I was worried sick!”

“Only because you stopped being able to control my every move!” He stepped closer, chest rising and falling with his angry breathing. “So why don’t you stop lying and admit that you freaked the fuck out five months ago when I broke off your manipulate spell?”

“Why the hell would you accuse me of such a thing? Is Jenova trying to do something with you?” Her voice was sweet, but overkill, like honeyed sugar cubes topped with frosting. “I’ll help you--”

“You think I wouldn’t notice you were in my head? I thought I was going crazy after the crater for a second there…but I woke up to see you use that…” Suddenly, the room flashed green.

Tifa would have fallen to her knees in agony, if she wasn’t also petrified. She wasn’t familiar with the effects of a Break spell. Tears welled up in her eyes and turned crystalline before they could fall.

“I hope I fuck this part up,” Cloud declared before bringing the hilt of his sword down on her armlet. Hard.

However his aim was true, and the manipulate materia shattered along with outer pieces of the Mystile. Please, I was only trying to help! She tried to shout the thought, hoping that maybe, somehow, he could hear…

“Stay out of my head!” He lifted his sword, preparing to shatter her entirely, but her scream of terror echoed throughout his skull. The Ultima Weapon clattered to the floor, as he brought his hands up to his ears, uselessly, in response to the pain.

She noticed that she still existed, and the panic began to dissipate. Can we please just talk about this?

“I trusted you,” he said. “It was stupid, but I did. But you’re just like everyone else I’d trusted. You lied. Even when you were in my head the first time, you lied. You still wanted to act like we were these perfect friends. Still wanted to believe that I had saved you like a big hero in the reactor…your way, not reality. I confronted you, and you barely said anything. So obsessed, caring so much, but doing everything to undermine me, my sanity…

“And you then try to up it to the next level, expecting me to just take it? Maybe it worked before, more than once. But you were there. You saw me break free. Yet you think me so stupid to fall for it again? You think so little of me that you want to turn me back into your little Cloud. Like I’m a pet, instead of a man. Doing everything you wanted, like right after you found me in Midgar.”

I just wanted to make you better…my friend…you weren’t a failure, you were the best…

“Why would you, Tifa of Nibelheim, talk to me about being a failure?” His eyes bored in to her unblinking ones. “What dark secrets do you have repressed and rewritten? Why are you so afraid of me remembering? So against me being happy? You never wanted much to do with me, why can’t I be with--” He shook his head. “This ends now. You have no power over me.” He pulled out a pendant holding a materia orb, green and glowing.

What are you going to do now, cast death on me? When I stood by your side…what is wrong with…you wouldn’t dare…murder…monster…puppet… Her thoughts died down to incoherency.

“I prayed. Maybe only Aeris could talk to the Planet. But I got her materia back to see if I could talk to Aeris. I haven’t blocked you out yet, because I wanted to see…if there was a mistake…but I was too hopeful. You will not be inside again.”

Tifa shouted everything she could mentally, searched as deep as she could, but he was right. She was cut off. This is all a mistake, Cloud…I didn’t even want to…but…she…

“You won’t see me again.” Cloud grabbed the coverlet off of the replica of Tifa’s bed and draped it over her form.

Panic didn’t hit her until well after she heard his footsteps go down the stairs and well out of the town square.

* * *

It was deathly quiet, but that was to be expected for ruins. Cloud had woken up in the middle of the night with some sort of visions. Not only that, but he insisted that everyone follow him to see if his hunch was right.

Tifa yawned, barely registering the conversation that Cloud and Yuffie were having up ahead. …Yuffie. She frowned to herself. They were spending an awful lot of time together. The “date” at the Gold Saucer had seemed innocent enough and, according to Yuffie herself, had been quite the disaster. But still, Yuffie and Aeris were Cloud’s only companions into the Temple of the Ancients. Three women, and he’d left the most accomplished fighter of them behind when chasing Sephiroth.

She was beginning to wonder if the only reason she was ever going someplace with Cloud was because everyone else was going, too.

What the hell are they up to? She was bewildered to see them walking into a house that they had searched top to bottom six hours ago, at the latest. Paused, head cocked in confusion, she was being passed up by her other companions.

“C’mon Teef.” Barret tapped her shoulder. “I don’ know what stupidity’s goin’ on in his brain, but you shouldn’t be stayin’ out here by yourself.”

She walked in to see that where a large image of a fish had once stood, there was a doorway which led to a crystal staircase. …insane.

Cloud and Yuffie were beginning to descend, followed closely by everyone else. Tifa fell into file at the end. Some sort of mysterious force was afoot in the Ancient Village…whether for good or for ill.


Yuffie’s gasp was good and loud at the bottom of the stairway, but she had an actual reason, for once. On a raised platform of some clear blue rock or crystal, their vanished friend sat plain as day. Kneeling, with her hands clasped together in some silent prayer. Tifa felt her feet pause when she hit the floor. Has she been here this whole time? Why couldn’t she just have explained? We could have let her be in here and just stood guard in the village.

Cloud slowly made his way across the water flowing around Aeris’ platform. Each step forward was awkward, like he was fighting some sort of invisible barriers. Tifa cautiously made her way closer, picking her way between her companions, trying not to raise notice.

He paused and held his head for a moment, like when he’d had his attacks back in the Midgar mako reactors. Be all right… He drew his sword, and she looked around. There’s nothing to attack…why’d he…

Suddenly he raised his sword high above him, and the only thing for him to swing down on would be Aeris. Tifa’s heart leapt into her throat.

“Not again,” she heard Yuffie cry. “Cloud!” Her voice had risen to a yell. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The sound broke Cloud out of his attack, and Aeris out of her prayer. Slowly, carefully, he lowered his sword and sheathed it. “Sorry,” he whispered.

Tifa was still looking at Yuffie. Not again? When on the Planet has he done this before? And why didn’t you tell anyone?!

Aeris looked up at him, smiling.


Quicker than most could see, a form fell down quickly from the ceiling. Tifa’s eyes were well-trained, but could still only catch a few glimpses mid-air. Black cape, long silver hair, a thin, long sword.

“Seph…” The name was on her lips, even as the masamune cut through their friend. Aeris looked down, staring at the blade exiting through her own midsection. Sephiroth yanked out his sword with more strength than concern, smirking at all of them. Her body pitched forward, right into Cloud’s arms.

Tifa blinked back hot tears, barely able to believe the scene in front of her. Even though she’d seen people she cared about die, this was different…this was in front of her face…this was… She barely heard or saw Cloud screaming at Sephiroth, the return taunting.

However, she did notice the form of Jenova that suddenly arose in front of them, giving Sephiroth a chance to escape. Cloud carefully laid Aeris down and drew his sword, Yuffie running up quickly to aid him.

Aeris… Tifa did not hesitate to run up herself, fear of being underappreciated forgotten for a moment.


The pain had made the battle more difficult, but had also leant intensity to their actions. The fight against the form of Jenova had been brutal and swift. Even as the alien body dissolved into nothingness, she heard Cloud…shouting at it.

“I am not a puppet!”

She moved to comfort him, help him with this problem, but paused. Aeris was still laying there, perfectly still. She would never cheer them up, tell them weird stories about the Turks, talk to the Planet…

Cloud met her eyes over the body of their friend. He looked just as sad as she felt. New tears glittered in her eyes. He started to move towards her.

The moment was interrupted by a loud sob to her left. Yuffie’s shoulders hitched up and down. “Oh gawd…” She fell down to her knees.

And Cloud turned to her. “Hey…” He knelt down and slid an arm around her shoulders.

She buried her face in his shoulder. “Aeris was th-the only one who was ever nice to me! Only one who gave a damn…” Her sobs continued, near-hysterically.

He reached over, stroking her hair. “Shh…don’t say that…I’m glad she was nice, but don’t ever say that.”


Tifa slowly backed away, her silent tears still unshed. Ignoring the looks and reactions of her friends and their mourning, she began to run back up the crystal staircase, taking the steps two at a time.

I just need some air, she said to herself.

“You just needed to get the hell away from the little girl’s hysterical grandstanding,” an inner voice replied.

* * *

Her tears were freezing to her face. I have to stop this, or… She winced as she pulled the tiny bit of ice from her cheek. …I’ll have to admit he won. Have to admit that I let him get to me.

“I was only trying to save him. I bet he ran straight off to that little slut.”

She paused for a moment, feet sinking into the snow. Oh come on, I’ve never seen anything to indicate that she’s a slut.

“She threw herself at him, didn’t she?”

Tifa quieted her now-normal chain of mental conversation and continued her trek through the mountains. Normally, petrification wore off in an hour or so, but Cloud had done something to amplify his spell. She was stuck, blinded by the covering, for nearly a week. She winced to remember her savage attack on the kitchen afterwards, eating every bit of food in sight, as long as it contained preservatives.

After resting for two days, regaining her strength and her health, she set off in the first direction that seemed right. She decided to pay a visit to the reactor that had changed her life, Cloud’s life, Nibelheim’s life. She had no idea what she would find there; most of the answers and lab notes were still in the mansion down in the village. However, things had been made in the reactor. She still wasn’t sure she trusted Cloud’s hazy memories or Hojo’s insane assertions.

Finally, she came to the top of Mt. Nibel. Ahead of her was the old, dead reactor. Somehow in the impending apocalypse, Shinra must have decided that even supplying power to their fake town wasn’t worth it anymore. It looked like no one had been inside since…AVALANCHE themselves. Tifa took a deep breath, climbed the stairs, and walked inside.

As she walked down the main corridor, she was surprised to find that she was not going to need the flashlight she’d brought along. Even though the place seemed powered down, yellow emergency lights were adding a glow to the place. Eerie, maybe, but they still did the job of making the dark hallway visible.

She made her way further inside, finally pausing at the platform preceding the reactor’s core. A pang struck her, and she could see the image of her father’s body, almost perfectly. For a moment, the chaos inside her head quieted down, and she could think for herself.

Papa, why did you ever come up here? You weren’t a fighter. You didn’t understand what was going on with Sephiroth or the Shinra soldiers. All you did was get yourself killed and lead me to…to…

She shook her head and walked into the reactor core. And was surprised to discover that she was not alone.


“Hello.” The man looked to be thirty or so, possibly younger. Between herself and Cloud, she’d begun to see that stress and pain could age the body like nothing else.

“Uh, hi,” she replied cautiously.

“This looks weird, doesn’t it?” He raised a hand, smoothing back his black hair.

She nodded, then put forward a small smile. “I’m sure anyone being here looks weird, so I’m a weirdo, too.”

“You seemed a bit more familiar with this place. Like you were supposed to be here.” He sighed. “I’m just trying to solve an old, old mystery.”

“Mystery, huh?” Tifa looked at him with a hint of suspicion. What mystery would that be? Mysteries are a dime-a-dozen in Nibelheim.

“My brother was in SOLDIER. So was I, I joined up after him, always copied my big bro. But he had the…‘luck,’ you could say, of going MIA. I never mimicked that. He was sent on a mission with the great Sephiroth. Near here. I know this, because he wrote me a letter talking about it. Mail within SOLDIER isn’t scrutinized as much as mail going to civilians. However, Sephiroth disappeared on that mission, along with my brother. All traces of my brother.”

Tifa’s breath caught.

“It’s like Zack never existed, at least to Shinra. I’m sure everyone he was with died or were executed in some fashion, but I would like to know the truth. My parents have gone completely batty. They ask everyone they can find about him, and no one knows what they’re talking about. Sometimes I think the reactor incident in Gonzaga was an attempt to take them out, to finally destroy the last trace that proved he ever lived.”

“I lived in that village down the mountain,” said Tifa softly. “It’s weird. The whole place was destroyed over five years ago, in the aftermath of that mission. As far as I know, I’m one of two people who survive and remember the old town. Even the others who’d left home, I eventually lost track of. It’s like they were disposed of the first time they went home to visit.”

“You were there? You might remember my brother…” He stared at her with disbelief, a smile crossing his features.

This is just a sidetrack. Tell the guy his brother was shot outside Midgar and get on with your own business.”

It’s a nice guy. A good looking nice guy. I would like some attention…and it would be fun to eventually wave this guy in certain people’s faces. An actual SOLDIER who isn’t…

“…isn’t a failure?”


“…you’ve got a point. He may be useful, after all.”


Tifa smiled back. “While the town down there is fake, there’s a bit of edible food, and some comfortable chairs. I know how to build a fire in the quirky fireplace in the mock-up of my old house. We can have dinner, and I can tell you everything I know.”

“This is amazing! Luck, or fate, is smiling on us tonight. You can tell the truth, and I can finally get my answers… Thank you.”

Tifa leaned forward, playfully grabbing his arm, and led him back out of the door. With just his warm skin against hers, she could feel the power within him. He had not been lying about his SOLDIER membership. There was mako in his veins. And Jenova.

“No, thank you.”




She jumped as a crash of thunder boomed louder than the bombs AVALANCHE had set in Midgar. The entire scene in front of her was illuminated as bright as daylight for a fraction of a second, then she was back in the heart of the dark storm. She shivered; she had been walking for quite some time, and she was soaked to the bone.

Leather pants and a white t-shirt weren’t exactly wear for wet weather. Between her clothes and the look of exhaustion on her face, she knew that she looked like a pitiful, bedraggled, piece of trash. With just a hint of indecency, she thought, looking down at her nearly see-through shirt. Perfect.

She paused in front of the small house, an obvious bachelor pad. There couldn’t have been room for more than three or four rooms in the small building. Another crash of thunder. She reached up her hand and pounded on the door, hoping to be heard over the storm.

A light came on inside.

Did I wake him? It’s not that late.

She saw a figure moving inside, towards the door. Slowly it opened. Rude stared at her for a few moments, confused. “…Tifa?”

“Can I come in? It’s a bit…wet…out here.”

“Sure!” He waved her inside, and she stepped over the threshold, shivering despite herself. “What brings you to Corel?” He looked at her closely.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“Actually grew up near here. My father was a coal miner. I’ll be more specific. Why are you on my doorstep, and not Barret’s, when I haven’t even seen you in--”

“Three years?” She smiled. “Well, actually, it’ll have been three years next month.”

“You kept that close track of it?” Rude’s face was the very definition of bewildered.

“I had some business that took me nearby, and I noticed that…you were here. I figured I’d stop by and say hello, but I got caught in the rain on the way. This isn’t normal weather for around here, is it?” She turned towards the window, as the rain continued to pelt against the house.

“No, it’s not. Did you say hello to Barret?”

She lowered her head, let her face take on the appearance of sadness. “He’s never gone to visit me, why would I visit him? On the other hand, you…” Tifa looked up to meet his eyes, her own so bright they almost glowed with energy. “I guess I was too embarrassed by how I acted that night to ever get up the nerve to apologize.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Apologize?”

She stretched absent-mindedly, pulling the translucent fabric of her shirt tighter against her skin. “You were being very nice to me, and I ran off because I was a stupid, jealous little girl. I know now it’s too late to try to go back to where we were then…you probably have your own life and family now…”

“Nah. Quite single. Does it look like anyone else lives here?” He gestured to his utilitarian living room. A couple pieces of pristine furniture, a television, and a half-eaten takeout box on the table.

She fought the urge to laugh. Of course not. You’re too easy. “I’ve thought about it a lot since then,” she whispered, stepping in closer to him.

“…w-what?” he stammered.

“What could have happened if I stayed there with you…” She reached up, brushing a piece of hair behind her ear, then letting her hand travel lower, “smoothing” her shirt over her chest. Watching his eyes follow her hand, then color spread over his face when he noticed that she’d caught him. “I know we can’t go back…but I’m still curious. I wish I knew what would have happened if I had let you do what you wanted.”

“I don’t know, Tifa. I liked you…that’s the only thing I knew for sure.”

“Could you…still? I’ve been all alone.”

She could almost see the blood travel from his brain down to somewhere lower. Rude reached out, stroking her arm. “I find that hard to believe.”

Drawing herself in closer, she laid her hands along his sides, just above his hips. She felt his heat, felt his breaths coming and going harder. Her lips were barely apart from his. “Believe it.”



Tifa awoke to a pitch black room. She quietly extracted herself from the foreign arm thrown around her and carefully slid out from under the bedcovers. She stood, naked in the small bedroom, with the only source of light a tiny window in the opposite wall.

Find your pants, the knife’s still in its holster.”

She walked around the bed, finding her clothes in a pile on the other end. She grabbed the weapon, then tossed them even farther away, close to the door.

Time to get more of what’s mine back from Shinra’s little sheep.”

Tifa nodded, then leaned in closer to the person she’d woken up next to. Brandishing the knife, she prepared to do her usual cut-and-extract technique. Suddenly, she recognized the face of the man in front of her. Rude?! She dropped the knife, and it clattered to the ground.

Rude stirred, rolling over and mumbling. But he remained asleep.

“You useless little bitch! That would have made things very messy, had he woken up. I can’t keep things from being messy if you can’t do your job properly!”

…you said that we were going to help understand Cloud better.

“Hasn’t this worked well all the other times?”

Flashes popped up in her mind; men, who had been in SOLDIER. It was like watching herself from a third person perspective…she watched herself approaching them…fucking them…taking the knife and… “No,” she whispered. “This can’t be me.”

“It is you. The real you…whenever this little wimp side of yours can be put to sleep for awhile. I’m surprised it woke up like it did.”

If it is me, I’m not ever going to do this again!

“Pick up the knife.”



Tifa got up, scrambling for the door, reaching for her clothes. Suddenly a force from within rendered her motionless. She fought, struggling against this unknown paralysis. Every now and then, she did regain control and made it a bit closer to her goal.

“Wait. You were complicit for so long. Why are you so scared? Fighting so hard?”

I don’t know, maybe the fact that you want me to knife someone I know! Someone I… Her thoughts faded as she began to recall the earlier events of that evening. Acting like she never had, talking like she never had…being looked at like she never had…

“I made a mistake. It wasn’t time. You weren’t ready. It’s good we did not attempt to find Cloud, yet. Think for a moment here. We’re freeing all of these poor people from the Jenova inside them. They will never be sick again, never be crazy like Cloud.”

B-but all that blood… Her thoughts were contradictory, but already the fighting spirit within her was beginning to die down.

“It just seems bad, because the cells come from the blood. Come on, your memory is just acting weird again. Just continue with Rude.”


“He’ll be okay. Why would you do something harmful to your friend?”

Tifa was both acting and watching. She felt her hands move on their own, yet could still feel herself controlling them. She sliced open a vein on Rude’s arm, and blood began to flow steadily out of him. She watched in amazement…the blood passed through her hands, and a glowing blue mass collected in them.


She concentrated hard, and the green orb in the knife began to glow. The Cure spell sealed the cut on his arm, even eliminated most of the spilled blood. Rude hadn’t even stirred. The blue mass began to seep into her, slowly, like thick liquid through a sieve. The world around her became fuzzier…


That was very, very close. Tifa outwardly winced as she quickly dressed herself. The stronger the host, the stronger it will fight if you cross too many lines.

I will keep you happy, Tifa. I can’t have you emerge to spoil my plans.

She let herself out the front door. The storm had ended, and the small puddles caused by the rain were beginning to give way to the dry dust of Corel. Putting herself back together was going to take forever, at this rate.

* * *

“How do I look?” The younger girl twirled around, clad in an “I ♥ the Gold Saucer” shirt and a microscopic pair of jean shorts.

Tifa looked up from her materia. She’d been sorting through it; she wanted a thorough list of what she owned before she’d sleep in the same room with Yuffie, after what happened in Wutai. She shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Kinda like a tourist.” She stuck out her tongue.

“I want to look like I’m fun.” She swayed back and forth in front of the full-length mirror. She made a few punching motions, a nervous habit. “At least the shirt’s stretchy, huh?”

Aeris walked through the door. “You look cute!” she chirped. Glancing at Tifa nervously, she turned and whispered something in Yuffie’s ear.

Leaning forward, she could make out a few of the words. “…lone now… …best chance…”

Yuffie frowned. “But what if…?”

“You’ll never know if you don’t try!” Aeris said, gently pushing the other girl out the door, shutting it, then locking it.

Her response was a few half-hearted bangs on the door.

“You’re not getting back in until you get some sort of answer, silly!” She turned and sat on the bed next to Tifa. “So what are you doing, hon?” She ignored Yuffie’s feeble final bangs and her stomping off down the hallway.

“Making sure I know if she snatches up a few of these while I’m not looking.”

“Oh, Tifa. She apologized. Besides, she was only doing it because her father pressured her so hard. I can’t even imagine leaving home to have the whole fate of your country placed on your shoulders!”

She looked up. “You’re too easy on her. She could have gotten us killed.”

“We shouldn’t rely solely on something that’s easily stolen or destroyed in the first place. Or used up, seeing as it‘s mako-based and all. I thought you knew that, fought for it.”


It was often impossible to have a realistic conversation with Aeris. She would insist on trying to see the best in people’s motives and intentions. “So, why’d you kick her out of the room, then?” Tifa asked, changing the subject.

A giggle.

“Why’d she care about her outfit?”

“You’re serious!” Aeris laughed some more. “I can’t believe you haven’t noticed. Cloud’s been kinda extra nice to Yuffie lately. She thought she was imagining things, but I finally asked her about it, because I’d seen it too. So for the past week or so, I’ve been trying to get them cornered together to figure it out. So. CUTE. Anyway, spending the night at a place like this is the perfect opportunity.”

She’d stopped her sorting in shock. Cloud…and…Yuffie? What? “Perfect opportunity for what?”

“A date!” The other girl smiled, then got up and danced around. “I hope it works. He better say yes…I told her to tell him that he could count it as the date he owed me, if that helped. I mean, she’s a teenager, and half the time he acts like a teenager…”

“There’s a five year difference!”

“True,” said Aeris. “But Zack was about five years older than I was, and acted a lot like Cloud does. Not that there aren’t differences! There are differences between me and Yuffie, too…but just the way she’s acted, all nervous about liking him… It reminds me a lot of me. And since Cloud isn’t as confidant as Zack was, unfortunately, they both needed a little…” She giggled. “A little push!” She flopped down on her bed.

“Wow…” Tifa’s voice trailed off. “Maybe…I’m weird here, but wouldn’t it be better to stay out of their business? Maybe Cloud was just being nice, and you just foisted this date idea upon him.”

“Didn’t you see the way he looked when she was tied up on Da Chao? No, it’s not simple concern. He was mad at her, but infuriated at Corneo…” She paused. “Hmm, well, if Yuffie’s not back within the next minute or so, we can assume that Mission: Yuffie date! was a success.” She pulled out her rod and began to polish it.

Tifa stared at the door, secretly hoping…but after a half hour, she had to concede that Cloud’s dumb ass had probably gone along with being coerced into Mission: Yuffie date!



Yuffie slipped back in the door well past midnight. Aeris, in typical chirpy flower girl form, had gone to bed a couple hours ago.

Tifa was still sitting on her bed.

“Hi,” the younger girl whispered.

She could see the glow around her from across the room. “So what happened?” She took care to keep a bitter note from her voice. What happened while you stole away my friend and left me alone and bored for the night?

“Well…” Yuffie giggled. “First we went to the play, and got picked to be performers. Cloud kinda messed the whole thing up. The right lines were obvious, and he said the weirdest things he could think of. …I slapped him at the end. I apologized right afterward, though! I just didn’t like gettin’ embarrassed in front of a bunch of people, you know?”

“You went out with a guy, and you…slapped him?” Tifa was amused now.

“Aw, when you say it like that… Gawd…” She grimaced. “After that, we went to Speed Saucer and rode on the roller coaster. There’s a shootin’ gallery on the ride, and Cloud won me this.” She held up a little soldier toy. “Watch!” She wound it up, and it began to hobble along the floor.

“After that, we rode on the gondola…I embarrassed myself again, and…when we got off, we saw Cait Sith.”

“That’s weird. He was just hanging around? He’s a toy.” Tifa frowned.

“That’s what we thought, so we followed him, and on the entrance with the huuuuge set of stairs, a helicopter came down. Tseng was in it, and Cait Sith had the Temple Key. He just handed it over to the Turks!” Yuffie punched the air. “It made me so mad!”

“Seems like we can’t trust anyone,” Tifa muttered. Little ninja girls steal materia, then Cloud, and toys steal keys to dangerous Ancient ruins.

She sniffed. “Cait Sith says that we have to let him stay around with us.”

“Why the hell would we do that?”

Yuffie glanced at Aeris, seemingly relieved that she was still asleep. “He’s got Aeris’ ma. And Marlene.”

“No…” Tifa felt tears spring to her eyes. “Wait ‘til Barret finds out. He’ll rip the stuffing out of that ‘toysaurus.’”

“So, yeah, not really a dream date by any measure.”

“Instead of a goodnight kiss, you get to see someone turn traitor.”

“Well…” Yuffie grinned sheepishly. “The goodnight kiss came after that.”

For some reason, this revelation hit her stronger than Marlene’s kidnapping. She tried to retort, but no words would come out.

“I better get rested up to deal with breakin’ the news to Barret in the mornin’. Don’t worry about things too much. For some reason, despite being Shinra, and a traitor, I don’t think the guy behind Cait Sith’s mask is such a horrible guy! ‘Night, Teef.” She tossed off her shorts, crawled under the covers, and was fast asleep in no time.

It took longer, however, for sleep to come to Tifa. It’s not fair.

“Cloud’s special. My plans will never work without him next to me.”

* * *

“You don’t understand,” she heard the man say. “Everyone I’ve known from SOLDIER has disappeared.”

“What is there to understand?” came the reply. “I believe you…I just don’t know what you want me to do about it.”

“You were way up top in Shinra, Tuesti.”

“Urban development.” He threw a look of desperation back at the bar, as if he wished he hadn’t agreed to follow the other man out the door. “I don’t know much about that type of science…I’m not a biologist. I’m an engineer.”

“You’ve been working with mako, figuring out a way to get energy without taking it out of the Planet. You’re a smart guy, a really smart guy!”

“Rick, it’s simple physics…” His voice trailed off.

“You’re the only one around now with the resources to help with this. It wasn’t just SOLDIER that underwent the treatments, you know. The last set of Turks got the bath, too. Weren’t you friendly with one of them?”

“Reno and I went back a bit, yeah. Rude and I went out for the occasional drink as well.”

“So even if you don’t care about us…I mean, as individuals, enough to try and help…think about your old friends. How would you feel, no, how will you feel when they disappear, after you know you could have tried to stop it?”

“What do you want me to do?” Reeve asked. “I mean, if I get the resources and the people with the right skills, what do you think will help save you?”

“Just find a way to reverse the treatments they gave to SOLDIERs. They say it was just a mako bath, but no one who accidentally fell into mako fountains or that accident in Mideel have vanished like the ex-SOLDIERs have.”

“Do you think someone is attacking them?”

“I don’t know,” said Rick. “It’s either that, or they’re going someplace on their own, like when some people started disappearing back during that Sephiroth thing. …it’s hard to believe that’s getting closer to five years ago than not, huh?”

“Yeah…” He nodded. “I can’t make you any promises, but I will try to find something…figure out how to help, or find someone who can.”

“I knew I could count on you. You were always a stand-up guy. Hell, you even go out to have a drink with someone you haven’t seen in about five years!” He clapped him on the shoulder.

“Gets lonely sometimes in Junon. It’s so big and bustling lately.”

“Credit goes to you, man, for getting the energy crisis solved. We should do this again…just so you can let me know when you need me for a guinea pig.” He started to walk down the sidewalk.

Reeve waved at him, as he made his own way in the opposite direction. “Oh, you are so going to be first under the knife, bud!”


Rick didn’t look in the alley he passed immediately past the bar, which was a good thing. He would have seen the person who’d been eavesdropping on his conversation. Tifa peered after Reeve a few moments, making sure he wouldn’t turn around and notice her tailing his friend.

She quickly followed after her latest target. Ex-SOLDIERs hadn’t been disappearing; she’d just been divorcing them from their stolen Jenova cells, in the easiest possible manner. This one had led her to a new goldmine, however; if Reeve’s reversal process extracted the cells for her…she became giddy at the thought.

This didn’t have much bearing, though, on her plans for tonight. Except to cement them. If Reeve had any inkling of doubt on his latest project tonight, it would vanish if he awoke to the news tomorrow morning that the very man who’d begged him for help had managed to lose all of his blood in the night.

She paused. Does it have to be so extreme? He says he’ll do it…

“Rick was in the plan, anyway. Research will take time, and the stronger I get…the faster the goal approaches.”

Catlike, she began to run after him. When she was about ten feet behind him, she called out. “Hey!”

He turned, warily, but a drunken smile crossed his face when he saw that the voice came from a lovely young woman. The handful of purple lines etching her face were barely visible in the dark. “What’s up, baby?” His shields came down, and he had no pretence of being careful.

“I had noticed you in there, but I don’t think you saw me.” She slowed, sauntering up to him purposefully.

“No…I would’ve noticed someone like you looking at me.”

She rewarded the tired line with a girlish giggle. “So when I saw you leaving, I made to catch up with you.” She bit her lip. “I accidentally heard part of your conversation--I hope you don’t mind--”

“Not really,” he interjected with a grin.

“Good. Because my hunch was right! You were in SOLDIER.”

“That matter?” For a moment, he might have been suspicious.

“Well, only in that SOLDIERs get me all hot ‘n’ bothered.” She made a show of overtly checking him out. “Can I come?”

He chuckled at the innuendo. “As much as you want, darlin’.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, slipping his hand a bit lower for a feel. The two of them walked off into the dark night, and as far as the Junon police were concerned, Reeve Tuesti was the last person to ever see Richard Monroe alive, besides his killer.




Thunder crashed, and Tifa cursed herself for being such an idiot. How the hell can you run out of rum? You’re a bartender! She shook her head, wrapped the paper bag with the bottle underneath her jacket, and ran through the street. She came up to the train station.

Thank god there’s not a crowd, I can get back quickly now.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a groan. She turned and saw a blond man huddled on the stairs, holding an extremely large sword. Weirdo. She made a move to continue, when the ticket taker for the train spoke to her.

“I feel sorry for that guy, but if he doesn’t move soon, I’m going to have to call security forces.”

She winced, knowing that security forces had been a euphemism for “thugs to throw people who haven’t committed a crime into lock-up” for quite some time. She glanced back at the guy with a bit of pity.

Huh. Did he look familiar? Do you want to get out of the rain anytime tonight?

“It can’t hurt to check, can it?”


The new thought was weird, but her curiosity was piqued, and she knelt down beside the man. “Hello?”

He looked up. “…augh? Zack…”

She nearly jumped back, she was so startled. I haven’t heard that name since…since… She was shaking a bit as she lifted the man’s hair out of his face, and she was greeted with something that blew her mind. The face of Cloud Strife.

“He saved your life.”

I haven’t seen him since he called me out to the water tower, and I had him make that goofy promise…

“Five years ago…” She blinked. Vague memories of being cradled to his chest, being set on the cold floor of an industrial looking room…a man with silver hair and a long, deadly sword.

“Cloud?” Her voice was soft. “Cloud!”

He simply blinked at her.

“It’s Tifa, Tifa…” She searched her brain, thinking of a way to jog him to his senses. She repeated the words as they streamed into her head. “…your old friend. From Nibelheim…when we were kids?”

His brows crinkled, as if he were deep in thought. “I…I’m Cloud.” He blinked. “How are you, Tifa?”

She laughed. She couldn’t believe this…from crazy to remembering her in half a minute! “I’ll be better once we get out of this wet, yucky rain. I have a bar not too far from here, why don’t we go back there? Besides, I left Barret to fend for himself while I went on a booze run. He will be pissed if I get back any later.”

Carefully, she helped him up. He seemed weak, but he gained strength and speed the more they walked.


“Took you long enough, Teef!” Barret shouted over the counter, where three regulars were glaring at him. “They didn’t believe I was filling in for you, or that we was out of rum!”

“That true?” she demanded.

The customers looked sheepish. They had trouble giving the buxom girl a hard time, between her speedy, accurate drink preparation, and their desperate hopes she’d eventually perform sexual favors for them.

“Get back to your seats, and maybe in a couple of minutes I’ll get you some rum and MaKoke.” She helped Cloud up to the bar, and he cautiously sat on a stool.

“Who’s this guy?” Barret demanded.

“An old friend who ran into some trouble getting around Midgar. Then there was the rain.” She laughed. “This is Cloud Strife. He used to be in SOLDIER.” She raised her eyebrows. “I bet he knows his shit, Bear.”

“I’ll believe that when I fuckin’ see it.” He eyed the young man. “A little green to have been a full-fledged SOLDIER and be done with it.”

Cloud had been staring at the bar since the conversation had started. “Well, I’m not in SOLDIER now,” he offered.

“But ya gots SOLDIER eyes!” Barret glared.

“And that’s why I said ‘used to be,’” Tifa reminded him. She set a cocktail in front of Cloud. “This is my trademark drink, Seventh Heaven. I’ll get you a bite to eat as soon as I serve those drunks over there.” She slung a tray on her arm, and brought out the rum and colas to the impatient customers.

“I don’t trust fuckin’ Shinra,” Barret said, half to himself.

“Think I do?” Cloud stared at him, then downed his drink.

Tifa smiled at the two of them from across the bar. Customers were pacified, and old friends just met new friends. Why did I go into that SOLDIER thing, though…

“He looks it, he had to have made it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have mako eyes.”

Something is off, though. She tried to remember again if she’d seen Cloud since seven years ago, but her memory was hazy.

Why did I leave Nibelheim in the first place, anyway? Suddenly, it struck her that she didn’t quite know the answer to that question, and fear overtook her so quickly, that the empty glasses she’d just collected dropped to the floor.

They shattered into a million pieces, and the shards were still more coherent than her memories.

* * *

He slipped up. Tifa smirked to herself as she stormed her way down the streets of Nibelheim. If you stay in one place for too long, you’ll leave an imprint. And even your metric fuckton of Jenova cells isn’t going to do you a bit of good compared to mine.

She wasn’t completely focused on him, now; there was too much going on to devote her full energies to Cloud. But she had been toying with him for quite some time. He made for a good plaything.

Remember when I caught you about to declare yourself free of me? Free to be with her after all this time? She laughed. I have awful timing, don’t I?

A floor above her, Cloud’s eyes blinked open.

Awake, loverboy? Good. You’ve been fixated on this little bitch for way too long.

She felt his mind stutter in panic. “I could say the same to you, you know. For both me and Yuffie.”

So you think I’m fixated on your slut, then? How about I pay her a little visit upstairs?

He moved to wake her, and she focused on his muscles, immobilizing him.

Come on, Cloud. That’s no fun. Quietly, she opened the door to her old house. It’s funny. The last time we both were here, you abandoned and humiliated me. Funny how the tables have turned. She stepped into the bedroom, meeting his terrified eyes, feeling his panicked mind flit back at the other body on the bed.

A quick glance to his bare body told her all she needed to know.

Why did you throw it away? I thought it helped you block me out. Her laughter this time was purely mental, and she watched his face contort as he heard it.

“You know why. Somehow you found a way to control that, and it made me hear you stronger.”

Well, Cloud, as you should know…more mako equals better materia control. I controlled your precious Holy, too, until you tossed it aside. Is it in the trashcan here? She ambled over to the wastebasket. Hmm, no materia. Well, we’re going to have to go searching for it.

A wordless command, and he was standing before her.

She looked him over with derision. I forgot your clothes were piled on the floor. She felt his wordless thoughts and scowled at him. Like I would use you like that, like that’s what I ever wanted you for. Haven’t you figured it out yet, puppet?

Cloud’s eyes widened.

She paused. I suppose it would hurt you more to let you know that Tifa’s fighting, inside. It’s too much trouble to kill you, because of her. Strong little girl.


Slowly, she pulled out her trusty knife. You’re not going to be able to make a sound.

He watched in terror as she cut a deep wound into his upper arm. The blood flowed freely, but not enough to quickly kill him. With one hand, she collected the blood as it pooled out, a blueish glow collecting in the center. With the other, she dabbed a finger into the blood, the other on his pillow.

I’m leaving the bitch a note. She was too wimpy to find you on her own for years, and I think this little piece will be just the thing to keep her away from us.

“You’re wrong.” Cloud glared at her, even as she cast the Cure spell to heal his wound.

We’ll see. It doesn’t matter anyway, she has nothing that I want. Not anymore. Her control was like a cord wrapped around his neck. She left the room, dragging him behind her.

It was her turn to have her hands on Holy. There had to be an important reason why its power had suddenly become her ally, instead of her bane.

* * *

“Papa!” Tifa fell at her father’s side. Sticking straight up out of his gut was the masamune. Masamune… “Did Sephiroth do this to you?” She stood, her chest heaving with fury. Giving no thought to calming herself down, as she’d been trained, all she could do was fixate on the sword.

I’ve done some training. Not with a real blade, not yet…and nothing that big. But I can do some damage. Sephiroth certainly was never Master Zangan’s best student! She pulled the sword out of her father’s body and did a few practice swings with it. It was heavy, certainly, and its length made wielding it a tad awkward, but she was fast. She knew she was fast.

She would have the thing in Sephiroth before he knew what was upon him.

For Nibelheim! And my friends! And papa! She ran at the figure on the reactor’s steps, sword ready to strike.

As he turned, his cold green eyes chilled her, but her stroke was already traveling downward with a force beyond her. Still, he managed to dodge her blow. Elbowing her in the face, he managed to loose her grip on his blade. He reached down with one hand and yanked it from her.

She looked up in terror to see the masamune raised fully above Sephiroth’s head.

“Foolish girl,” he snarled, as he drove the blade downward, slashing her open from collarbone to pelvis.

The force of the blow, combined with the perception-clouding nature of her agony, caused her to lose her balance and tumble down the stairs. She fell in a senseless heap at the bottom, sobbing.

“Let the pain you feel for acting the fool, instead of knowing your place, teach you that you should lay down and die like the human sheep you are.” He made his way up to the main chamber atop the reactor, and Tifa began to fall out of consciousness…


“Sephiroth! I trusted you! You were my friend.”

“Get out of the way.”

She heard swords clashing, but she did not open her eyes. Could not open her eyes. She was so tired, and her middle was burning…

Tifa felt someone else fall down the stairs as she had done, not much earlier, but she paid little notice. She’d just remembered why she’d picked up the sword in the first place. Papa is dead…


Time passed. It could have been minutes, it could have been days.

“Zack? ZACK!” She heard a man yell; heard his footsteps falling on the metal grate underneath them. “Oh no…” His voice died. “Tifa,” he choked.

Exerting her last bit of effort, she opened her eyes as the person knelt next to her. She saw blue eyes, yellow hair…it was Cloud Strife. Plain, ordinary Cloud, who’d she had met on the well the night before he skipped out of town. She’d had him make this stupid promise…

And then she was floating, floating away in Cloud’s arms. He gathered her up and set her nicely down in a place where she wouldn’t get hurt if any more fighting broke out on the stairs. Silently, he cast a Cure spell, but it barely did any good. Perhaps her wound clotted a little faster, but blood was still seeping out through her top.

“Cloud…” she whispered. “You kept your promise.”

She saw his eyes widen in surprise at her recognition, but that was the last thing she saw. The room went black and soundless as Tifa finally lost consciousness.



“My specimen is gone! I have the SOLDIER packed up down in the mansion, and his pal down with him. The old man outside is useless, like half the town.”

Tifa’s eyes blinked open momentarily to see a greasy man who had black hair and was clad in a lab coat.

“Well, this one seemed to take to the injections really well,” came a voice from the other side of her. One of the scientist’s assistants.

“It took enough, just to keep her from dying!” The man screeched. “She better not be useless at this point.”

“Hell, we give her another one or two, she’ll be able to walk out of here on her own…”

Tifa kept her eyes as slits, as she tried to covertly examine her surroundings. It looks like I’m in the mako reactor…but how? She vaguely remembered being hit with the masamune, but a look downward showed that she was clad in a pristine blue hospital gown. She had absolutely no pain where the wound should have been, either.

What happened? She thought carefully back. Cloud saved me…wait…you must be getting delirious. You haven’t seen Cloud in two years. It must have been that SOLDIER, Zack.

Suddenly, a third person came running into the chamber. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Professor Hojo, but a man just took out the guard outside--” His words were cut off as a blow to the temple knocked him out completely. The assailant had made it to the heart of the reactor.

“Stuart!” Hojo practically shrieked. “Get out a gun!”

But before his words were finished, a series of shuriken had his assistant pinned against the wall, practically immobile.

Master Zangan entered the chamber proper, as the professor sniveled in fear. “So, this is the great hand of Shinra. I see the effects you’ve all had on this town have been quite helpful.”

“What do you want? I am but a humble scientist.”

“Sure you are.” He reached down, grasping Hojo by the throat. “What caused the place to catch fire?”

“We--” Hojo gasped. “don’t…know…better…than…you. Men…dis…appeared. What…do…you…want.”

Zangan looked over, finally seeing Tifa laid out on the floor, apparently unharmed, and nearly wept for joy. “The girl! She is my star student, and I was devastated to see her home destroyed. I hoped to at least give her a warrior’s send-off…but…she is alive!”

“Take her…go…one…condition.”

“Don’t I have you at my mercy?” He held onto the professor tighter.

Hojo nodded, and the grip loosened. “Still, take her far away and don’t return. She saw things she should not have. I’ve tried to remove some of the memories, but the method is not yet perfect…”

Zangan carefully gathered Tifa in his arms. “Don’t worry. If I had my way, neither one of us would have to even think about the likes of you again.” The master hurried out of the reactor, ready to take the straightest course off of the continent.

“That’s too bad for you,” Hojo whispered, rubbing his sore neck. “Since she’ll come back. They’ll all come back.”




Tifa blinked her eyes open.

Pristine hospital room. White walls. No sharp objects.

She looked down. Strapped to the bed…? She shook her head; she hadn’t felt this disoriented since…since…

Her head began to swim, a thousand disorganized memories flashing and retreating, fifteen years misplaced and muddled. Dreams, nightmares, and reality fighting a contest to see which would come to the forefront.

Yet, at the background of all this, she could sense it. Blood. Blood on my hands.

The walls shook with the force of a huge explosion. A sonic boom was not far behind the sound of a giant engine soaring off into the air. Where am I?

Her ears, long practiced at hearing conversations occurring beyond whatever walls she was occupying, picked up on two voices as they approached her room from the outer corridor.


“Why is it so important to you that I see her?” A man’s voice demanded, loudly. “Even the visitors left, so this thing can be all over! We can go far, far away, and be together. Finally.”

Tifa winced, recognizing him. Cloud… I did something…terrible… Every time she tried to concentrate on something specific, it hurt. It felt like a giant chunk of her brain had been ripped away.

“The visitors…looking at them, it taught me a lot. The one guy, Squall, told me that the girl who’d become like Tifa, Rinoa, had gone around sucking the power away from people on their world. She didn’t cut them open to bloody deaths, but I think their powers were more superficial and less…caused by things in your blood.” Yuffie shook her head. “Anyway, he was able to forgive her. He knew that the bad things weren’t her, but that Hyne thing. Who happens to be Jenova!”

“I don’t know if Tifa was ever herself, then! When would she have gotten Jenova before she started cutting people open to suck it out?”

“When did you get Jenova?”

He was silent for a moment. “After confronting Sephiroth in Nibelheim.”

“Did Tifa confront Sephiroth in Nibelheim?”

He didn’t respond.


Tears began to flow down Tifa’s cheeks again. The past few days had been as hazy as the past few years, but she know she had cried enough, whenever she remembered, to where she should have had nothing left to cry out.



No response.

“You don’t have to be best friends, or hang out. Just acknowledge that she was fucked over worse by the same damn thing that fucked you over. Please... My father held a blind grudge for years. His was against outsiders, but it still drove our entire country into the ground. And I couldn’t stand for…our child to have a father who was that close-minded.”

“Our…but…you said you couldn’t!” Cloud’s voice rose in shock.

“I know. That was the deal I made with Leviathan. The trade to save Wutai. But I am, and there’s only one explanation left for how I could be.”


For a moment, Tifa was lucid again. Jenova. So tenacious to live…


“But…Yuffie, I wouldn’t think it could travel through my…” A pause. “I mean, it takes entire cells of hers…that’s ridiculous, I know basic biology!”

“Time will tell, right? We can get him or her tested after birth, maybe get treatments from Reeve when the right age comes. But until then…” Her voice died.


It’s not over!” They could hear through the walls as Tifa shrieked in horror, the memory of crimes conducted in her skin crushing down and consuming her once more.




All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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