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The Smell of Scarlett

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It was the scent of brown that caught him. That particular scent had shadowed him throughout his mad life sticking to his creamy skin that nothing could get it out. Not water nor soap nor Mako nor Aerith’s cleansing waters. It had strengthened over time, at first a parting gift from the final stuttering breath his frail mother took, forsaking him. That smell blossomed in the middle of his chest, out of the wound that Sephiroth had dealt him. It seeped into his heart on the rainy fields over his best friend’s cooling body.
The stank couldn’t even be covered up by the menthol he enjoyed over his glass across from his bitterly smirking friend whose ruby eyes shone for the first time in decades - thanks to finally lying old demons to rest in crumbling mines. No, it was a too resistant… like him.

Lightening quick flashes of approaching dirt due to a big mouth and heart and the bitter salt tainting sweet burgundy at a dazzling party. There was nothing left in flighty hands.



A flash of silver was right there in front of him on his bookshelf stuffed to the brim. It shimmered in the early morning light then melted into tangerine sparks. A second later it was widening and stretching into a face that was familiar and so, so unwelcome. Zack’s blood soaked skin flew just inches from him hissing huskily in the shadows

“What happened to your dreams, Spiky?! Here I thought you were gonna be a hero, not some Gaia forsaken piss on?!” Cloud shot out of his quilted sheets grasping them tight to his haggard chest fleeing from the gory wounds marring his friend’s chest gushing sticky red on Cloud’s hands and torso. Rattling gasps shot out into the bitterly chilled air and Zack suddenly paused his jerky swaying to glance briefly out of the window beside Cloud’s window. The smell ebbed throughout the sparse area and choked the blonde further. It was like being by the First’s lifeless side again stuck praying for a sudden snicker and revival. It never came, not there nor here. Suddenly, glassy blue eyes reaffixed themselves into Cloud’s own and the damning sentence fell in hushed tones,

“Guess, it is time for me to take it back, huh?” Acute agony ripped through the delivery boy’s chest blossoming from the gaping hole made by Zack’s questing clawed hands thrusting through the thin man’s torso. A strong snap of muscles propelled the young man up in his bed clutching his convulsing chest and searching the space for an attacker only imagined. Cloud could hear the soft bird calls outside the apartment above Seventh Heaven joining an awakening Midgard.

Down the narrow street the sounds of cars zipping to life caressed his ears bringing him back down from that nightmare. This was real, this was now. Any demons like that didn’t lurk in this side of reality. But still the image of a twisted friend clung to his mind’s eye smearing everything in a dull film and reminding him of the smell of brown.

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The aroma of freshly cooked bacon roused her first thoughts. She squinted up at the ceiling, attempting to figure out where the smell was coming from, and why, when it dawned on her. A brilliant grin spilt the young brawler’s face and crinkled the skin around her doe eyes – eyes that her beloved often mooned over.

Tifa swiftly dressed and made sure to appear at least semi-presentable, just in case there were any photos to be taken. It was no secret that her lover was fond of recording every sacred moment in their lives together.

An easy waltz down the hall gave her time to plan her next (full) community self-defence classes. She had begun teaching the citizens of Edge how to protect themselves shortly after Yazoo and Loz’s near defeat by her and her companions, when the world had tried to end again. A battered woman strode into the dim of Seventh Heaven, beseeching to be trained in defence against a violent ex and Tifa Lockhart had accepted without pausing. She had become the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood prior to that day, in comforting the grieving over GeoStigma, and the many woes of life in the Edge. If anyone understood their plight it was Tifa.

A sudden turn around the corner revealed the tidy space inhabited by her favourite Turk, dusted from years in the hold of Costa del Sol. In the background of the rising Midgar, that added soft bird songs and traffic static to her pierced ear, a low hum greeted her as Rude carried the tune softly playing on the kitchen radio. It wasn’t often that he was able to make her a proper breakfast in his opinion, so in honour of their two years together, the reticent fighter had risen early to ensure that his beloved had a fine feast waiting for her.

The young woman pressed her left side against the marked doorway and traced lightly the signs of her kids’ growth over the years bringing an even bigger grin to her merry face. At this rate, Tifa was sure she would have complete smile lines by thirty! From being a pillar of faith (ask the resident red head) that had shown the locals that good things could happen, to building her beloved bar using a piece of Shin-Ra’s ruins – as requested by the remaining owner, so that something wonderful could be born out of his failure. She had no plans to give up her dream of running a bar like her late father, but now it was no longer that simple. A family had been put together, brick by brick, alongside her establishment and it had been in large the product of Rude and Tifa’s coming together after Sephiroth had been put down once again.

The sight of fluffy eggs caught the woman’s eye, and then the steaming cup of espresso and milk that sat next to it, and no longer could resist. A pan full of bacon grease and potatoes sizzled merrily as she plucked up her favourite cup that read “Midgar’s Best Breasts” and took a deep sip. She noted the older brawler’s smirk quirk up his right lip, that was clear from her perch by his side. It was mornings like this that they both craved and guarded jealously. In the serenity of the early morning, he simply continued to prepare her a favourite meal that his grandmother had taught him as a young child. Rude paused a brief second in his constant flipping to press a chaste kiss to his love’s lips and mumbled “Good morning, my girl.”

“Oh I’m a girl now? I thought I was a woman,” Tifa teased lightly, indulging in her coffee, and basking in the warmth of Autumn sun shining through the kitchen window. The oldest Turk rumbled a laugh out at her words and gave her hip an impish pinch making her squeak and jump in mock surprise. It was never a dull moment with him and she was pleased for it. A sudden intrusive thought flashed into her mind and creased her face into a frown. The rapid look was caught by the Turk and he sighed lowly acknowledging that similar thoughts had crossed his thoughts recently as he intoned:

“You know that he will listen to you if you try to talk to him.”

Tifa’s face twisted into outright displeasure at the slip and she countered:

“If it was that easy, he would have just told me he was gay when I was trying to force him into a family.”

At that, the brisk Turk shot earth-toned eyes to her, to stare her down. It worked surprisingly well in her opinion, and she breathed through her nose attempting to reign in her pity party quickly. Rude plated the remaining food and addressed the issue smoothly as he could.

“The problem is that there was no discussion at the time. Now that you two have discussed things, you know how to act with one another. This is the same principle but it involves getting him help.”

A bitter smile settled on Tifa’s lovely face, while the sounds of the faucet running down the hall alerted the couple to the fact that their young charges had risen. If it was only that easy, she thought, then Cloud would be happier than he was now. It seemed at every turn, Cloud was facing down issues beyond her imagination and yet when she could truly help… nothing came of it. If she brought up her concerns, the blonde could possibly shut down even more and flee again. Cloud alone was a dangerous thing because apparently Mako made even the wisest men stupid and mad.

Tifa finally mumbled to her lover as he encased her in his board arms “I just wish I could make him understand that it is okay to not be the silent hero all the time.” A lingering kiss was placed upon her silky locks and a firm answer came.

“Honey, if you could do that then we won’t be here.” Rude knew all too well how Tifa’s worries over her beloved childhood friend persisted, and over time he himself had begun to harbour them. No one, no matter how great, should be alone like that. The Turk could only pray that someone came along soon to chase that boy down, and give him the love he so dearly needed.

“Yo, speed it up in there, kiddo,” their resident wild thing bellowed down the hall, cutting through the silence of the morning, and reminding them both of their other major project. Tifa’s heart had begun to miss beats around the other Turk nearly a year ago, and one night as she and her lover had been shutting down the bar she had let it slip. Chilling fear had grasped the normally ballsy warrior in that moment, wondering if she had just ruined her own love life, when she heard the most shocking reply from Rude:
“Yeah, he has a way of doing that.”

It had been a simple statement that had led to a serious discussion about their relationship, and Rude’s relationship with his superior, that ultimately settled both concerns and minds. Tifa and Rude decided not even a month after that confession that they both loved the smacky red head and would slowly attempt to add him into the folds of their life...
Which had gone fairly well for a while now, if the man’s appearance to the apartment was any indicator.

And, so far, it had pleased those who had figured it out. Vincent had taken one look over the top of his circular shades one muggy night, upon entering Seventh Heaven, and smiled briefly at Reno’s lean back carefully framed by Rude’s lax arm while they detailed, carefully, a past mission to Denzel under Tifa’s admiring eyes. It seemed he had figured out, from that brief exchange, their plan, and had begun to work in small, but concrete ways to push the relationship into fruition – up to and including offering to watch the kids whenever the adults needed a vacation, and fussing in stern Wuutian at both Tseng and Rufus if he felt that the duo were being worked too much, or that Rufus was moving in where he wasn’t wanted.

Tifa gave the older Turk a rueful grin at the noise filling their home, one that softened Rude’s gaze back into its original state. There were mornings like this, so few and far between, that they enjoyed together… and bringing Reno into their lives like this was going to make it so much better.

The lanky man strolled in wearing nothing but threadbare navy bed pants, and a cut off top that showed off his sinewy arms, muscled from years of toil and battles, smirking in his typical impish way, and immediately set to snatching a sip from Rude’s chipped mug. Reno leaned against the counter between the couple naturally and questioned:
“So what’s the feast made up of today, yo? Please tell me ya got some more of this mojo.” The two brawlers glanced at each other in between Rude plating some of the food, and Tifa replacing Rude’s personal espresso mug, amidst the distraction, for Reno’s own personalized drink that was far sweeter and creamier than the either of them enjoyed, to communicate their pleasure.

“Hey! Quit makin’ ey- oh thanks, doll, never mind,” Reno’s tangent ended after he took a healthy sip almost purring out of joy. Tifa swatted the man’s flank for the snippiness and he muttered a sincere apology not really meeting either of their gazes. It happened occasionally that Reno seemed to realize that what was going on, and became shy about all of it for some unknown reasons. His ears, cheeks, and neck had flushed into a dusty rose, as he fell into his own mind, playing with his cup. The mature Turk’s arm yanked the other close in a loose grip so that Reno could get away if it was too much, but tight enough to make his intentions known. Tifa closed in, and held the two in her grasp to ensure that they all felt secure in this vital moment, and kissed the corner of Rude’s mouth. They would need each other in the coming months.

Especially when the time came to help Cloud.

Reno’s eyes cut across the hushed room, basking in the embrace of the others, briefly noting the lone blonde looking through the doorway, and waved shyly at him. The swordsman nodded at him curtly and turned away, never once speaking in fear of dulling their mood.

Chapter Text

It was blur of cobbled buildings glimmering in the early morning light, each one shifting from the broken stages of healing. ‘This was a city built to keep on rocking,’ Cloud’s wistful mind supplied, leaning with him through familiar curves down repaired streets. Several passersby waved at the well-known savior riding past. Crafting lives out of ashes and hope was routine at this point. It was the crucial thing that all of Midgar possessed; it came from decades hidden beneath plates of toxins and bullshit authority- the pride needed to make broken places home. Even though he wasn’t truly one of them, Cloud often sympathized with them. Midgar and Edge had grown on the loner over time even if it had been quite reluctantly.

Fenrir and rider burst from Midgar’s city limits in no time leaving everything to mind itself one way or another. After all that’s what it always did. The shiftless blonde focused on the distance being eaten up by his everchanging pet project whilst mulling over his upcoming visit. It was- on the outside- a job. Go to Cid, hand over the measly box of custom tools from Reeve, and head back to… well… the usual. A defeated sigh left Cloud’s chapped lips and a quick swipe of the tongue did little to help.

The usual was helping around a town that needed healers, not warriors. The usual was pacing around an office that needed workers, not loners. The usual was being reminded of wearing a mantle that was just not comfortable. Cloud knew that the nightmares were awful, but at least those issues disappeared with the sun light. The others he dealt with simply didn’t. Which is why the inside of his current trip mattered so much.

A singular town had grown from Cid’s workshop completely by happenstance. At first Cid had laid down the foundation for his own sprawling hanger to house the majestic Bronco and some other projects along with himself simply stating that he was a better help “away aways” then amongst the “noisy shit happenin’ ‘round ‘ere.” Then he had needed more space for a workshop because “can’t do godsdamn thing ‘round ‘ere withoutcha assholes muckin’ it all up and touchin’ my shit.” What that meant Cloud still wasn’t so sure but he suspected it had something to do with the time that the two had stumbled upon Reno snapping gum and photos of Cid’s latest partially finished air bike. It had broken into a straight up frenzy of electricity, glass and barely comprehensible accents in the time it took Cloud to blink and Cid to charge. The mischievous Turk still liked to recount the way that he nearly escaped with both ass cheeks attached whenever he encountered the older man no matter the audience or setting much to Tifa’s chagrin since all curse words were kept since “censorship blows, babe, and ain’t the fun kind.”

It had been followed by a friend of Cid constructing a similar shop attached to the main one since they usually ended up comparing notes and passing drinks back and forth. That had been frowned upon by Sheila and the man’s partner due to the fact that Cid and the guy had foolish habits of using their half-finished contraptions to get home. So Sheila had encouraged them to throw in with them and just live next door. That had led to the two men realizing that having to haul themselves into their trucks to run and get booze was too time consuming, so they convinced a local brewer named Terra to set up a shop in exchange for a few machines that bottled his goods faster if he would set up a brewery next to their workshops. Terra had started it up quickly and began to spend more time at this brewery due to the efficiency of its machines before he just threw in the towel and moved his base of operation, and family, into the little house that Cid and his friend crafted. That had led to the man’s wife deciding to set up a little diner on the side of the brewery so that the men would do more than consume a whole day’s worth of calories in booze and it started attracting customers. Soon enough the single house that Sheila and Cid lived in had grown into a makeshift neighborhood often visited by people coming to see everyone and then shifted into a small town.

To say that Cloud was impressed by it all was an understatement- especially since the older blonde often grumbled about the neighbors and such. He guessed a while back that Cid needed company just as much as the next person. The lithe blonde pulled off the main stretch that had been reconstructed for traveling purposes into the well-worn circle that was in front of “The Sheds” as everyone had taken to calling it. Most of the buildings were simple metal structures that were one story each with the largest obviously being where Cloud was headed- Cid’s workshop. The almost SOLDIER popped his kickstand out and took a steadying breath before dismounting. He checked the package over once then collected it in his hands and made for the doors a few feet away. Cid’s sign that read “Official Business Only” hung in a window of the front door. (It did very little to keep anything inside truly official.) Cloud entered casually, ready to have a simple chat with the other that would consist of more grunts than words. It was one of his favorite places to go to have a moment to catch his breath and think. His own office was usually never safe for such things because Tifa and the kids were often in and out. Cid’s, however, was one of those strange places where there seemed to be a general understanding that the heaviest thing in it should be the pieces being worked on.

A radio lilted soft country on the long counter overlooking the shop floor. Cid perched there on the edge of an office chair inspecting a drawing of some sort. Cloud cleared his drying throat to catch his friend’s attention to only get a brief glance and snort of acknowledgment. That was his que he supposed, and he carefully set the box down and took the stool closest to the wall. His back molded to the metal behind him and he took a series of deep breaths in that serene place. The scent of mechanical oil and dust filled his nostrils and took him to a place of silent work. A place where the only thing necessary to deal with whatever was within his grasp. The air bike sat on blocks a few yards away- nearly complete after little over eight months of work, and Cloud wondered if Cid would let him tinker with it some more. Everything seemed to have drifted to a steady rhythm as each scratch was made upon Cid’s paper and dust settled in the midday light.

Finally, heaving a grunt Cid turned his head to the newcomer. A few days’ worth of stubble covered his chin and a cigarette dangled from pinched lips. Calculating blue eyes took in the lean figure stretched in the seat across from him and hands ever at work came to a halt. Another grunt sounded, and the older man (seeming older with each second) sucked in a heavy drag and stubbed out the remaining embers almost like he had years ago before shit really hit the fan. “Son, we need ta talk,” those simple words broke the serene peace Cloud had reveled in.