Disclaimer: Characters in this story are copyrights of Square Enix. They are by no means mine. Only the storyline belongs to me. If by any chance I have used any ideas similar to those of existing authors, please inform me so that I may change the details. If there is no notice, I will take it that usage of the idea is permitted. Thank you.
Chapter One: Daze
Glass tinkling, water running…A dark-haired young woman stood at the sink, enjoying the quiet rhythm of peace. Presently, she glanced at the clock on the wall opposite her; it was almost eight-thirty in the morning. Any time soon…
A low rumbling issued from somewhere above her.
"5, 4, 3, 2…" whispered the woman under her breath. "1."
A group of children, approximately six of them, came bounding noisily down the stairs. Tifa smiled readily.
"Good morning. That was excellent timing."
The children chimed a 'good morning' together and clambered to one round table. Soon, Tifa was busy preparing breakfast for the children and a few others who would be coming down in a little while.
"Good morning, Tifa!"
"Good morning, Marlene. Where's Barret?"
The six-year-old girl seated herself between the other kids.
"Papa's still sleeping."
"Well, after all the work he's been doing, I suppose we'll just let him sleep in," said the martial artist as she served some toast to Marlene.
From behind her, there was the dull thud of boots against wood and Tifa turned around to find herself face to face with a young man sporting blond hair.
"Morning, Cloud! Coffee?"
"Thanks," replied the ex-SOLDIER quietly.
While waiting for his coffee, Cloud checked his phone for messages. He found one. It was from the Wutaian ninja, Yuffie. She called to tell him that she would be dropping by soon. The strong scent of freshly brewed coffee assaulted his nose as Tifa placed a cup of coffee and a plate of toast and eggs in front of him.
"You've had two phone calls this morning. One's a delivery request, the other one's from Reno. They're expecting you to call back by noon."
Cloud nodded minutely as he sipped the hot beverage. Life had returned to normal two weeks after the Reunion. Well, almost. Tifa prepared three breakfast trays and made her way upstairs. Balancing the trays expertly on one hand, she gently knocked on the door of the last room. When no one answered, she twisted the doorknob slowly.
The room was dimly lit. Tifa placed the trays onto the window ledge and parted the curtains to admit a little sunlight. She turned around to look at the now brighter room. Three figures lay in individual beds, their silver hair glinting from the sunlight. The youngest-looking was closest to her, while a short-haired young man slept closest to the door. Slowly, silently, she picked her way across the room and approached the short-haired figure.
"Loz…" she called gently. "Loz…wake up…"
The young man stirred. Tifa preferred to rouse the eldest of these three siblings first, after a rather unpleasant experience trying to wake Yazoo up. The long-haired youth almost sliced her head off with his gunblade.
"Tifa…that you?" slurred the groggy young man.
"Yes, I've brought breakfast. Can you please wake Yazoo?"
In a matter of minutes, Yazoo had been roused from his sleep and the two brothers took turns cleaning up in the bathroom. Tifa's thoughts wandered as she set out the trays for them. It was hard to believe that a couple of weeks ago, they were the worst of enemies.
To Cloud's (and everyone else's) surprise, the three scraped it through alive, but the youngest, Kadaj, had been weakening ever since they got him here. There were plenty of problems when they first woke up to strange surroundings, as expected. Yazoo mistrusted them and still did by the looks of things, even if a little. Loz had mellowed out a bit, and did his best to ease things out between them. He was more concerned with Kadaj's condition. The young swordsman was slightly delirious and had been burning with a fever since two days back. It was unavoidable. He was, after all, Jenova's body of thoughts. With her death, it was only a matter of time before he disappeared, as with what will happen to Yazoo and Loz.
A soft click nudged her out of her reverie; Yazoo was staring at her in a somewhat wary manner. Then he went to Kadaj's bedside. Tifa thought it best to leave now and gestured to Loz the medicine she had deposited on one of the trays. He nodded gratefully.
As soon as she was downstairs, Tifa was met with Marlene's queries.
"Is Kadaj-niichan better today?"
"I don't know, Marlene. He was still sleeping when I went up."
Suddenly, they heard a loud racket from above them. Cloud and Tifa looked at each other for confirmation and rushed upstairs. Marlene quickly ran after them.
In the room, Yazoo and Loz were trying to hold down a thrashing and screaming Kadaj. He was in one of his nightmares.
"Kadaj! Kadaj, calm down!" Yazoo was on the verge of panic.
Loz too was shouting for him to wake up. Marlene moved closer to Tifa, slightly frightened at the sight.
"Niisan!" screamed Kadaj.
At this, Cloud moved towards the struggling trio. Loz saw him and released Kadaj. The blond gripped his shoulders, a difficult task as the younger boy was putting up a fight. Yazoo watched desperately as Cloud wrestled with his brother.
"I'm here, I'm here…Calm down, Kadaj. Nothing's going to hurt you," whispered the blond.
Kadaj's form relaxed visibly but his faced was scrunched up, as though in pain. After a while, his breathing evened out and he appeared to have fallen back to sleep. Cloud placed a hand on his sweaty forehead. It was still hot.
"He's still burning."
"I'll go get a wet towel." The martial artist volunteered and hurried off.
Yazoo was still slightly shaken from the experience, and required guidance to a seat. This was the third time it had happened. None of them could understand why Kadaj was having such disturbing nightmares, or why he would be screaming about 'Mother', that is, Jenova or why only Cloud could calm him. When Tifa returned with a wet towel and a glass of water, Yazoo pressed it to his forehead and continued to rouse the boy.
"Kadaj…"He patted his brother's shoulder lightly.
The boy's eyelids fluttered open, jade green eyes peering at him wearily.
"It's time to get up."
"But I'm tired…" groaned the younger boy.
"You can go back to sleep after having a bit of food and medicine, okay?" coaxed Yazoo gently.
Kadaj nodded. Feeling as though they were intruding upon a private moment, Cloud and Tifa made their exit quietly.
"Wha' was that racket?"
They turned to find Barret standing outside his bedroom. The pyjamas did not match the machine gun he had attached on his right arm. Marlene ran up to him to hug her father.
"Mornin' baby!" Barret beamed. Tifa regained her composure.
"Why don't you wash up? I'll have breakfast ready for you downstairs."
Voices whispered around him, swirling like the darkness tantalising, luring him. How long had he been struggling? He couldn't remember. His limbs were heavy, as though someone had pumped lead into them. The voices cast tentative touches, pulling, calling. But still he swam on, driven by an urgency that he couldn't quite grip. There was something very important that he had to do, but what was it? His mind was in disarray, scattered thoughts he couldn't recollect.
The darkness was gradually receding, a sign that he was approaching his destination. His lungs burned for air, and he propelled faster. The hazy outline of the moon above him grew more and more defined until he burst through the surface. He took greedy gulps of precious oxygen and waded to the shore. By now, he was so exhausted he could barely move. With gargantuan effort, he hauled himself out of the water. Having achieved at least one task, his body finally gave in to fatigue and his eyelids began to close. Just before he fell into unconsciousness, he saw a flash of red and a low voice calling,
Cloud stood staring at the familiar building of Shin Ra Company. It was slightly run down, but no doubt still usable. He stepped into the building. The reception hall was deserted save for a young man standing by the elevator. He tapped his baton lightly on his shoulder, fiery red hair unkempt.
"Yo! Took ya long enough!" waved the man. Reno waited for Cloud to come over before pushing the button for the elevator.
"Got the place up and runnin' faster that we expected! Good thing the power's still on." Reno produced a security card, and soon they were moving up in the elevator. Cloud let him chatter on about Shin Ra's latest development without really listening; he was just glad he wouldn't have to climb the countless flights of stairs like he did two years ago.
Reno led him into a large room; Cloud saw it that it was the president's office. A blond figure was seated at the table, his side flanked by two other people Cloud recognised as Elena and Tseng. The figure rose to greet him.
"Glad you could make it, Cloud." He extended a hand.
"Let's not waste time, Rufus. Get straight to the point."
Rufus shrugged and sat down. "Alright. I heard that your friend has found an oil mine."
"What's that to you?" countered the ex-SOLDIER coldly.
"Well, now that we can no longer use Mako as a power source, Shin Ra is looking for new…investment, shall we say?"
Cloud narrowed his blue eyes.
"Your friend's active search has yielded results, most obviously, but he must lack the necessary equipment to continue further, isn't that so?"
"And you are proposing…?" asked Cloud. He could smell something suspicious here.
"A deal, Cloud. A partnership, if you will. You share with us the information about the oil mines, and we provide the equipment you will need."
"Why don't you speak to Barret yourself? This has nothing to do with me."
"I'm afraid that he may not wish to be on speaking terms with us," Rufus commented somewhat lamentably. "Think about it, Cloud. We change to oil, and we won't hurt the planet anymore. People in Midgard will have better lives, and you will receive your share of profit, just name it. Everybody wins, Cloud."
Cloud contemplated for a moment. "The decision is not mine to make."
He turned to leave.
"Wait. Will you not at least persuade your friend to listen to us?"
Cloud's figure paused for a moment before walking on. Reno moved to catch up with him, once more leading the blond into the elevator. Rufus smirked satisfactorily.
A/N: That's the first chapter. Everything seems to be going well, so far. Hopefully, I'll have the next chapter up soon. Please review and thank you.