Chapter 1: The Most Beautiful
Aeris loves Tifa's hair. The color reminds her of the soil, rich and dark, but the way it cascades down to Tifa's hips reminds her of water, and she wants to thread her fingers through the stream. She never says a word.
Tifa loves Aeris's hair. She loves how it curls a little, wishing that Aeris would let it loose more often so that she would have a reason to reach out and touch, connect accidentally with skin. She never says a word.
Chapter 2: The Most Beautiful
When he's old, Cloud puts his swords on sale.
When he's old, Cloud puts his swords on sale.
He and Tifa are both silent as they collect them all, admiring the blades that are still untouched by rust and testing how their weight feels in their hands. Cloud takes pride in the way he can still hold the Ultima Weapon with untrembling fingers, how the hilt still seems to be molded to his touch.
Putting the last sword away makes him ache, but when Tifa asks him if he's sure, her hand gentle on his shoulder, he says: "It's time for somebody else to do good with them."
Chapter 3: Hopeful
Tifa waits for a phone to ring.
Tifa had never been in Cloud's house before, and both she and Mrs. Strife knew it. They kept smiling at each other in discomfort until the phone rang.
"Hello, Cloud." Tifa crossed her ankles under the table and rubbed them together, trying to remember things she wanted to say to Cloud and failing. She hoped he wouldn't snicker at her if she ended up stammering. She hoped she wouldn't stammer at all.
"Tifa from next door is here. Would you like to talk to her?"
Tifa held her breath.
The receiver was put down.
"Maybe some other day."
Chapter 4: For Future Reference
Cloud keeps secrets.
Zack's girlfriend could have been a model. It was so easy to take a good photograph of her and she didn't even know that Cloud was around.
Cloud wondered how scared she would have been if she only had turned around enough, seen him in the shadows. Only thing she knew about Cloud was the uniform he wore.
He knew that Zack would be terrified if Cloud told him that he knew about Zack's girlfriend, that he could tell Shin-Ra where she was. Zack had protected the secret so hard. But he didn't have anything to worry about. Cloud wouldn't tell anybody.
Chapter 5: Mortality
Cloud is eighty-five years old, Tifa is eighty-four.
Cloud is eighty-five years old, Tifa is eighty-four. Cloud still looks like a boy and Tifa is dead.
She's nothing but bone and skin in his arms, her blood still in her veins. Cloud can still feel her last breath on his skin when he gets up and carries her outside, where fire is waiting.
They are not hermits, so their neighbours are going to see him like this, but it doesn't matter. Cloud is nude and soft like a new-born while Tifa burns into dust, the earth beneath them is warm like a womb. There's something about that feels like fate.
Chapter 6: Paying Respects
Cloud visits Icicle Inn.
It must have been beautiful here when the Meteor came down.
Cloud watched the town before him, imagining red flare on the snow. The frosty ground moaned beneath his boots when he walked over to Professor Gast's house, ignoring the bite of the cold on his cheeks. Nobody would bother him; apocalypse usually kept people inside for a while.
Had Aeris ever made it this far, she might have touched the door with wonder, aching to know about life behind it. Pity there was no way to know. If otherwise, he might have felt something when he set the house on fire.
Chapter 7: Easy Living
Cloud and his job choice. Pre-game.
Mercenary's career wasn't what Cloud had dreamed of, but it came with advantages. Having no superiors to answer to was one. Having no obligations to others was another. As he listened to Wallace and Tifa debate about whether he was trustworthy or not, he thought how easy it would be to walk away. If anything, that was freedom.
Looks like I'm doing just fine with your life.
Chapter 8: Anniversary
Nanaki celebrates his birthday.
When Nanaki turns 300, his friends in AVALANCHE are long-gone, their descendants impossible to track. But when his human friends bring him a cake made of beef and his children gather around him, he smiles.
"Grandpa's going to cry," one of his grandchildren laughs, and Nanaki recalls a time he thought he would die the last of his kind, a time he and Tanja believed they would never have children who lived. None of those around him know the grief of those years. It's a blessing.
I have also been challenged to write about another surprise character, which I hope to get on with now that my crazy cough actually may start healing. Hopefully this will be a good writing year.
Chapter 9: Cafeteria Talk
Edie sits in the cafeteria.
The statement was followed by thunder of laughter, which made Edie flinch.
"Look at all these cunts. Want to be soldiers." Edie wanted, very much, to look around if any other women looked as uncomfortable as she felt. She didn't dare to look up from her plate. "Guesses, guys. How many came here to drop their panties for great Sephiroth?"
"Make that all."
Edie wanted to punch their mouths shut.
Chapter 10: The Next Step
Tifa had been ready.
Now, it seemed like all it took was one simple question.
His lips were a little too tight against hers, his knee pressed a little too hard between her legs, and his hand was needy on the back of her head, but also gentle. He felt almost dangerous. She wanted to know how dangerous.
Chapter 11: Don't Speak
"Words aren't the only way to show your feelings."
"Words aren't the only way to show your feelings."
Cloud wasn't good with words, so he took her advice. But Tifa took it first.
Her hands slid over his shoulders, pushing gently, and Cloud found himself stumbling to the ground. His other hand found the small of her back, then her hip as she sat down next to him. Her arms settled around him, uncertain. Physical affection didn't seem to be her thing. It wasn't his either.
Chapter 12: Saving Of Face
Yuffie isn't having fun at the Gold Saucer.
What a horrible night. The spooky hotel would haunt her forever, Cloud was a jerk and Cait Sith had turned out to be a sleaze. On top of it all, she was getting pity-walked back to her room.
They were at the door, and she wanted to flee. But something about his presence behind her prompted her to turn around.
"Sorry for wasting your-"
A kiss landed, gentle, on her forehead.
"No waste." He gave her a soft smile and left.
Chapter 13: Adjustments
Barret tries to be a good father.
Back in Corel, Barret hadn't known violence. He used to read to children at the library. He had sung in a choir during weekends. Neither those things helped a man going to a war, but they helped a new father.
He never had much money for nice things, but he bought Marlene stories of warrior princesses to last for many nights, and sung her to sleep on every one of them. Sometimes he was caught humming to himself, always catching snickers. But Barret didn't mind. It wasn't much of a talent, but a talent nevertheless, and a talent well used.
Chapter 14: In the Noon
Hojo's son comes to visit him at work.
"Professor," Ingrid said, "your son is waiting out there."
A while ago, the president had told Hojo that his son could use company near his age, and that Hojo's child was good enough to qualify. Rufus had even been interested. Hojo couldn't understand why his boy wasn't.
"He asked me if he could come inside," Ingrid continued, her voice amused in a way that annoyed Hojo. "I think he wants to see you work."
He couldn't understand at all.
Chapter 15: Little Fears
Aerith tries to adjust to life in slums.
The laboratory she had been imprisoned in had never suffered from sudden power outages, so how frequently that happened in the slums scared Aerith for a long time. She tried to be brave and stay in her room first, flashlight in hand, but fear eventually drove her to find Elmyra from the dark house.
The first times, she couldn't help but worry about being troublesome, but Elmyra always waved those worries away. "It's normal," she said, and looked ashamed; Aerith buried her face against Elmyra's chest and pushed the secret undertone in her second mother's voice out of her mind.
Chapter 16: Wonderland
Cloud gets Aerith back.
It took blood and a prayer, and Cloud had Aerith in his life again. She reached out to touch his cheek.
"I love that you love so much." Aerith smiled and took the opportunity to lean against his chest.
He stood still for a while, then embraced her. Her body felt warm through her clothes. She flinched when he sought out the spot where Masamune had pierced into her.
Cloud heard her gasp of betrayal seconds before he snapped her neck. If he hadn't known already, that would have been his proof.
"Nice try, Sephiroth."
Chapter 17: The Fine Art Of Moving On
Cloud liked being alive.
He was happy to wake up to a new day. He liked to laugh. He wanted to laugh. The day he found Geostigma from his body, his world ended.
Yet, there was a voice inside him that said he had no right to feel like that. The voice spoke of Zack, Aerith and sacrifices, and Cloud hated them both for not letting him go.
Chapter 18: A Little Help From My Friends
Young Reeve has a friend who looks after him.
"Just watch," Cait said with a wink, and started to run water out of Reeve's eyes. The foster mother immediately came over, drawing Reeve in her warm embrace.
"It's all right now," both she and Cait said, and Cait added: "And if that changes, I'll take care of everything again. That's a promise!"
Chapter 19: What You Hear
Hearing the dead is natural for Aerith.
Her mother tried her best, but was still worried if Aerith mentioned a conversation she had overheard, even after hearing the people in question were alive. So Aerith tried to be less weird. It wasn't that fun anyway. The dead often mumbled.
The one voice that was always clear was the gentle hum of the Planet, as lost as it was in noise of Midgar. It was the voice she listened to at nights, when she wanted to imagine her birth mother singing her a lullaby.
Chapter 20: Seeking Purpose
Aerith hasn't figured out the White Materia yet.
"One day you'll know what it's for," the Planet said and Aerith rolled her eyes. She knew she needed to hold on to it, but she was nevertheless frustrated. Now, the Materia was just a pretty thing. Useless.
Sometimes Aerith searched her own heart for answers, scratching for knowledge she knew was there. Sometimes she searched for her mother, trying to hear what she remembered to be her voice. The silence was her answer, silence of which color she knew to be the elusive white.
Chapter 21: The Right Thing
Reeve pays his respects to Scarlet.
"It's not like anybody cares," Cait complains upon receiving orders, but after an adjustment it sets out to do its duty. By the time it reports back, Reeve has convinced himself he won't get good news.
Reeve doesn't react.
Chapter 22: Drawn In
How a scientist falls.
Absence of human interaction wasn't something she wanted, and she was happy to be in company of her intellect. What she didn't welcome was the smells that came along, the sweaty armpits, the hints of shampoo. They distorted the lab air.
Chapter 23: Self-Worth is Overrated
She used to know she wasn't a compromise.
Tifa's parents taught it was not wrong to think of oneself.
You have choices. You have free will. You don't owe smiles or looks or kisses to anybody just because they think you do. Your happiness is not up for compromise. Promise you won't forget.
They had hoped Tifa would always know her worth. She tried not to wonder how ashamed they would be of her now.
"At least," she started, but Cloud was already at the door, already unhearing, leaving her alone with children who didn't understand why he had stopped caring. She used to know she deserved better.
Chapter 24: Never Assume
Scarlet has seen a surgeon, but not for the reason they think.
It's not a secret that Scarlet isn't young. She hears snickers about the lines around her mouth and the silver in her hair. Young men think she sees a plastic surgeon every month and Palmer thinks she's jealous of the secretaries. Scarlet ignores it all. It's not her fault if they look at her cleavage more often than they want to.
Only once she has fixed herself; after years of too tight control, she wanted to eat whatever she wanted, so she made her stomach bigger. Sometimes she wonders what they would think of that, but she doesn't really care.
Chapter 25: Stolen Beginning
Cloud envies a fellow soldier in Korean War. Fusion with Mad Men.
Cloud felt rotten, but the most painful thing about the war was Zack Fair's hopeful smile.
"Eighty days and I'll be home." The softness in his voice seemed to belong to a movie hero rather than to a real man. "I'm going to be a salesman. It will be great."
Cloud thought of poverty and his mother's hatred, and burned with envy. He was surprised by how horrible he felt when a misplaced lighter and gasoline ended Fair's life.
Yet when he switched his dog tags to the dead man's, all he felt was hope spreading on his own lips.
Chapter 26: Undone
Denial comes to an end.
A soldier named Zack existed. Feeling like a knot, Tifa followed Aerith outside.
She had wanted to believe. Oh, so much. She had wanted nothing more than to remember how the boy next had come home a soldier, even if for a while. Cloud's faith in that was so absolute, and Tifa had always been fickle. Wasn't it only natural that she had to be wrong?
But now Aerith was in tears, and back in the house two people missed their son, and no matter how hard she tried, the man smiling in her memory was dark instead of fair.