Here's the long-awaited chapter 3. Now we'll start seeing a bit of the plot. Also, this fic will start to follow Advent Children a little more, as it came out in the US yesterday and I've watched it twice. However, much will still be from my own mind since I've already planned certain parts and have already set up for them (ex Elena and Tseng have no place in this story, so they died in AC, etc). Enjoy people!


Chapter 3: Birthday Surprises

Rufus Shinra sighed to himself as he looked over the computer files. Each document was a detailed report of the Jenova Project and Jenova herself, and each document was as boring as the last, if not more so. He yawned loudly and rubbed his eyes, wishing he hadn't sent Rude home two nights before. Rude was the computer master and had an actual interest in the Jenova Project, he would have been very useful now… Why did Hojo's personal computer, after ten years of sitting idle, have to finally start up one hour after he left? Reno walked in a moment later with two bottles of beer.

"Any luck, yo?" Reno asked as he gave him one of the drinks. Rufus shook his head.

"I'm really too tired to focus. You want to take over awhile?"

"Sure I guess. I won't find anything creepy, will I?" chuckled Reno a bit nervously. Rufus smirked and drank. Knowing Hojo, it was a surprise they hadn't found anything to give them nightmares yet. He choked a mere five minutes later when Reno yelped.

"What's wrong?" he inquired, reading over Reno's shoulder.

"There was another project… it had nothing to do with Sephiroth…"

"Oh my gods…" Rufus whispered. "Reno. Go get a DNA sample from him. We need to be sure… and if she's in him, we need to keep him safe from the 'remnants.'"

--J.E.N.O.V.A--

"Come on you two, our guests will be here any minute!" Tifa yelled up the stairs. Bao and Aeris climbed down slowly, each of them yawning.

"Momma, we're still sleepy," Aeris moaned.

"The storm kept us up!" complained Bao as the two of them sat at the table.

"You were both out within fifteen minutes of coming to our room. Now eat your lunch, hurry up. You won't be able to play with Marlene unless you do," Rude ordered. Tifa sat behind Aeris and started brushing her hair.

"I don't know what to do with it anymore, the only things that cooperate are pigtails," she complained, putting two tails in as she spoke.

"I could shave it like daddy does!" Aeris piped up. Rude snorted into his coffee.

"No, I think it looks fine as it is," giggled Tifa. She smiled at Rude; they hadn't told their kids why he was bald lest they or their friends should tease him. As brave as Rude was, he could never stand being teased about his premature balding. Both kids were suddenly wide-awake as they heard a knock on the door.

"Marlene!" Aeris yelled. She ran to the door with Bao on her heals and opened it; a moment later, Tifa and Rude heard the door slam shut. Bao ran shrieking back into the kitchen while Aeris opened the door again.

"Mommy! There's a big scary black man outside!" he cried, tears on his face. Tifa giggled and picked him up.

"That's Uncle Barret, he's not going to hurt you. Come on," she reassured him. She carried him out and found Barret standing in the hall with Aeris on his shoulder. "Hi Barret!"

"Hey Tifa! Looks like I need to come out here more often, your little boy doesn't seem to like me much," Barret laughed. Bao cringed and hid behind Tifa.

"Bao, you're a wimp!" Aeris teased. Barret set her down and hugged Tifa, pecking her cheek. Aeris dragged Bao over. "Uncle Barret, this is my annoying little brother Bao."

"So I see," Barret chuckled. He knelt on one knee and held out his hand to Bao. "Nice to meet you, My Annoying Little Brother Bao."

"It's Bao! I'm not annoying and I'm not little!" he snapped at Aeris. Barret grinned and picked him up, putting him behind his neck. "Whoa!"

"Well I'm glad to meet you, Bao."

"Where's Marlene?" Tifa asked as she looked behind Barret.

"She had to go get a few things, sell some of her dolls to the merchants here."

"Oh, I need to remember to thank her for the ones she made us."

"I like my Chocobo doll!" Aeris piped up, bouncing around Barret as they went into the kitchen. Rude looked up as Barret came in.

"Good afternoon, Wallace," he greeted, unable to manage a smile but being as friendly as he could.

"Hello, Rude one," Barret replied. Rude glared at him after the pun of his name, but remained quiet. Tifa hurried in and grabbed a mug of coffee.

"Thirsty?" she asked, shoving the mug into Barret's hands. He set Bao on the floor and sat at the table. "So how are things in Corel?"

"Just as torn apart as ever. Nobody wants to work, the place is a pile of trash. If certain Shinra personnel would put in a word for us to get help…" He looked up at Rude, his expression half pleading and half disappointed.

"Hey, I've been trying to get support for you guys," Rude replied. "We just don't have the manpower at the moment. I promise, once I can get Rufus' approval, you'll be the first to know."

"Barret, you could trust him a little more. I did marry him, after all," Tifa said, wrapping her arms around Rude and pecking him on the lips before another knock sounded on the door.

"Marlene!" Aeris yelled. She ran to the door and came back with a fourteen-year-old girl wearing a lavender dress that reached her ankles, a ribbon tying her hair back, and boots that came halfway up her calves. With the darker purple short-sleeve sweater over her dress, Tifa would have sworn she looked just like Aeris Gainesborough. The only differences were the age and eyes; Aeris had been twenty-three when she died, and while she had green eyes, this girl had light brown. Marlene grinned at Tifa.

"Hi Tifa! Hey Rude," she smiled at him a bit nervously, still a little scared from when the Turks had kidnapped her ten years earlier. Rude smiled at her and she relaxed a bit, giving each of them a large hug. "Where's Denny?"

"He's outside reading. We didn't tell him that you'd be here," Rude told her. He pointed outside and Marlene hurried to the door.

"Momma, can we go outside, too?" Aeris asked. Tifa stroked her hair.

"I think Marlene and Denzel want to spend some time alone together. You can play with her later, ok sweety?"

"Ok… Bao!" Aeris yelled. Bao was digging around in a bag Marlene had set down next to Barret.

"Bao, get out of there!" Rude commanded, picking him up around the middle and holding him upside down.

"Aw, I wanted my present!"

"Here, I'll find it," Barret offered. He pulled out two small packages from the bag and handed one to each child. "Marlene made them, I think they might be clothes. Go try them on."

"Okay, Uncle Barret!" Aeris smiled. She ran upstairs with her brother hot on her heels.

"I better go make sure Bao doesn't try to put his pants on his head again. Be back in a flash." Tifa waved and disappeared up the stairs.

"Cute kids," Barret said when she was gone. Rude nodded.

"I'm happy with them. I admit there are times I'd like nothing more than to slap them around a bit, but I love them all the same."

"Like you love Tifa," Barret added, finishing his drink. He got up, set it in the sink, and said, "That's why I've been doing my best to get along with you."

"What is it exactly that you don't like about me?" Rude inquired. "Is it my working for Shinra?"

"What gave it away?"

"Maybe the fact you attacked several reactors and kept a close eye on me when Tifa was unconscious during the Meteor Crisis and I'd go check on her," Rude shot back. He relaxed and replied, "Thanks though."

"For what?" Barret shrugged.

"Getting rid of those things. Shinra needed a little downsizing," he smirked.

"You know… It isn't really the fact you work for him. It's more the fact that even though you didn't believe in what Shinra was doing, you went with them anyway. Reeve turned against Shinra to help us. I don't see what stopped you. Other than the money of course. I imagine Shinra employees get paid quite well, judging by this house."

"It wasn't the money or the glory…" Rude replied immediately and softly.

"Then what was it?"

"Tifa never told you, did she?" When Barret shook his head, he went on, "When I entered the Turks, I did it to find the man who killed my parents. After I finally killed him, I went to the President and told him I wanted to resign… I was young and stupid then. When I tried to quit he threatened to not only kill me, but the brother I hadn't spoken to in nearly six years. I didn't stay on for my own well-being, I stayed on for his."

"So why haven't any of us met him?" Barret retaliated, as if not believing that he would have remained a Turk for another person. Rude replied quietly and slowly.

"He died when Meteor destroyed Midgar."

Barret remained silent at this. He watched Rude a moment, noticing some emotion in his eyes other than the love that was always there for Tifa and the children.

"I'm… sorry," he said slowly. Rude shrugged.

"I don't worry about it anymore. I've moved on," he said, looking up as Tifa ran down.

"More stuffed animals," she grinned. "They wanted my help deciding where to put them."

Rude smiled, then changed the subject as they moved to sit outside.

--J.E.N.O.V.A--

Denzel sat beneath a tree in the backyard, his nose in the middle of a book as usual. His ears pricked up at the sound of a twig breaking nearby, but didn't pay much mind to it.

"So you can't come in to say hello to an old friend, I see?" Marlene smiled when she stood next to him. Denzel jumped and looked up at her in surprise.

"Marlene!" He yelled. He leapt up and hugged her tightly, swinging her around. "Oh my gods, I had no idea you were coming today!"

"Good! I was hoping they wouldn't tell you," she smiled. Denzel kissed her forehead.

"Happy birthday, Marlene."

"Thanks," she whispered, blushing slightly. She grinned and said teasingly, "So, what did you get me?"

"How about," he began as he took her hand, "we take a walk? Just the two of us, right after dinner."

"That sounds great," Marlene grinned. She looked down at the book. "What were you reading?"

"History book. It's all I read anymore," Denzel chuckled. He sat back by the tree. Marlene knelt and curled her legs to her body, then rested her head on his shoulder. It was his turn to blush. "What's this?"

"Your shoulder makes a great pillow," smiled the girl. Denzel smirked and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, not seeing Rude, Tifa, or Barret on the deck.

"They're cute together," Tifa muttered. Rude wrapped his arms around her.

"Like us?" he whispered. She pecked his lips then turned back to the teens.

"We need to keep an eye on them now. Damn hormones," Barret grumbled. Tifa and Rude laughed.

"Denzel's mature enough not to do anything, don't worry," Rude assured him. Barret shrugged.

"You never can tell anymore."

"It's scary how… Rude are you okay?" Tifa asked worriedly. Rude had shut his eyes tightly and let out a whimper of pain, his hand to his forehead. He blinked a couple of times then shook his head clear.

"Yeah… I'm fine. Just a shot of a headache."

"Blood pressure medicine oughta clear that right up," Barret suggested. Rude rolled his eyes.

"It's not my blood pressure."

"It wasn't a vision, was it? Not in the daytime?" Tifa wondered aloud.

"'Vision?' Whaddya mean, 'vision?'" Barret asked. Rude quietly told him about the dreams he'd had. Indeed, the headache he just got occurred as he saw himself looking into, then smashing, a mirror, and giving something to Reno to take to Rufus.

"Weird," Barret shrugged. "But you're probably looking too much into it."

"I hope so…" Rude trailed off, looking up as the two kids came running out.

"Marlene! Play with us!" they cried. Marlene giggled and got up, joining the kids. A little while later, Rude was out playing tag with them. Barret and Tifa watched them and laughed as Rude was tagged then fell over onto his son and wrestled a moment before Marlene, Denzel, Aeris, and Bao ganged up on him.

"You know, I don't like him-"

"I know Barret, you've told me many times," Tifa groaned as she grilled their dinner.

"Let me finish. I don't like him, but I still respect him. He's taken good care of you and those kids. And he told me about his brother today. From what you said about his parents, he's led a hard life. I respect him for how much he's been able to handle. Then the baby…"

"Please, let's not talk about that," Tifa requested quietly. "I still haven't been able to let that go very easily…"

"Sorry, Tifa…" he muttered. "I forgot how hard that was on the two of you. But you've still got the two healthy kids."

"You're right… I'm grateful for them. Hey!" She yelled, "Dinner's ready! Last person here goes to bed hungrier than the rest of us!"

--J.E.N.O.V.A--

"This way," Denzel said. He leapt nimbly from ledge to ledge, pausing at each to help Marlene. She paused at one to catch her breath.

"Wait up! I'm full of that Chocobo Tifa grilled and the cake she insisted on having. I feel fat!"

"Trust me, you're far from it," he assured her. They finished climbing the mountain quickly after that. "Now close your eyes and sit right here. That's it. Now… open them."

Marlene opened her eyes and gasped. On the western horizon, she could see a strip of ocean. Behind it, the sun was setting slowly, bathing the land and sky in a blood red, orange, pink, and violet glow. Denzel sat down next to her and intertwined his fingers with hers gently as he took her hand.

"Beautiful, isn't it? I come up here all the time. To be honest… I think of you a lot when I come here. That's why I wanted to bring you here today."

"Denzel… This is great. Thank you so much," she grinned, kissing him on the cheek. Denzel smiled and looked at her.

"I have something else for you."

"What?" Marlene grinned eagerly. Denzel hesitated.

"Marlene… You know, you got really pretty since we met. And we've stayed such close friends, I…" he suddenly found his voice caught in his throat. Instead of trying to speak, he finally leaned over and kissed her briefly on the lips. When he was finally able to speak, he looked at her blushing face and whispered, "I love you, Marlene."

"Denzel…" she whispered. He turned away.

"I'm sorry… I don't know what I'm doing I've never done this before."

"Denzel," she said again, pulling his face to her again. "I love you, too… Can we… kiss again…?" With a smile, he kissed her once more.

--J.E.N.O.V.A--

"Daddy, can't we stay up and say goodnight to Marlene and Denzel?" Aeris whined as she curled up in her father's lap. Rude smiled and stroked her hair.

"I'll give you another hour, ok? But the minute you start yawning, you're going straight to bed."

"You give those kids too much leeway," Barret told him. Rude shrugged.

"She's probably the only little girl I'm going to have, I'm allowed to spoil her."

"I know how that is, I'm just giving you shit," he chuckled with a wave of his hand. Tifa walked in and swatted Barret's head.

"Stop cussing around my children."

"Well excuse me!"

"Papa, we're back!" Marlene called from the hall. She and Denzel walked in hand-in-hand.

"Well you took your time," Barret scolded. "Three hours?"

"We didn't do anything, you want to go check her?" Denzel snapped back teasingly, resulting in the girl's deep blush. Aeris ran up and hugged them both.

"Goodnight!"

"Nigh'!" Bao yawned. Marlene hugged them both.

"Goodnight you two."

"I'll be back shortly," Rude announced, picking up both kids and taking them upstairs.

"Papa? Can I sleep in Denny's room?" Marlene asked. Barret choked on his tea. "Not like that! We'll leave the door open and everything. I'll even sleep on the floor-"

"No you won't, you're a guest. I'll sleep on the floor" Denzel interjected.

"Whatever…" she muttered. "Please, papa?"

"Well…" Barret fought an inner battle for a moment, then sighed. "One yell or moan from that room and we're going straight back to Corel."

"Thank you papa!" Marlene yelled. She hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek before heading upstairs with Denzel.

"What have I done…?" Barret muttered.

"Made your daughter happy, that's what." Tifa laughed and sat next to him. A moment later, her expression was serious. "Why did you come out here? It wasn't just for Marlene's birthday."

"What, I can't just come out to see you guys?" Barret smiled, but Tifa continued looking at him seriously. He sighed. "I heard something the other day. Come outside," he insisted. They stepped out on the deck and Barret continued quietly. "You know Vincent and Yuffie have been moving around since he made her a vampire."

"Yes, how are they? I haven't spoken to them since they came to see Bao when he was born."

"They're both doing fine, about to have a baby themselves."

"That's wonderful!" Tifa gasped, clapping her hands together. She settled down when Barret seemed less than thrilled. "But that's not what you came to tell me."

"No, it's not. They called the other day to tell me that they'd been to the Forgotten City. The weapons are gone."

"What?" Tifa gasped, a hand to her mouth. "How could they be? We hid them from sight!"

"I don't know. But Vincent said he scoured the area, there were no tracks anywhere, nor were there any remnants."

"So they weren't moved recently…"

"Vincent said he couldn't smell any trace of a living thing being nearby. He thinks they're still alive," he whispered. Tifa shook a little and sat in a lawn chair. "He said he thought he saw Louse or Loose or whatever the hells his name was down in the Bone Village a few days later."

"Loz… But how can this be? We killed all three of them… You're sure Vincent saw him?"

"Loz saw Vincent looking at him and ran. Vincent didn't give chase though, he didn't want to make a scene."

"This is impossible…"

"Tifa," Barret said slowly, "I heard that the Turks are looking into something dealing with the Geostigma incident. Do you know if Rude's…?"

"No, he won't tell me anything he does."

"Then things are even worse for you. If they're alive, they'll go after Shinra first. You're in danger as long as you're with Rude. I want to bring you, your children, and Denzel back to Corel."

"I'm not leaving him," she whispered, looking up at Barret. "We faced them before, we can do it again."

"Tifa, please? You're one of my best friends, I'm not going to let you get hurt because of him."

"I promise, I can take care of myself. I love Rude, I'm not going to leave him to fend for himself while I save my own life. Please, don't worry about me. But do warn the others. Tell them to keep their eyes open."

"I already did," he said quietly. Tifa hugged and reassured him quietly a few more times before Rude came out to join them.
"Barret, you'll be happy to know I peeked in on Marlene and Denzel."

"And?" Barret snapped, wanting to know.

"Denzel's got his pants on and laying on top of the blankets, and Marlene's curled up under them. Denzel's got his arm around her and was kissing her forehead but that's all. Hells, she's already sleeping."

Barret went to bed feeling very foolish that night, though his sleep was easy. Tifa, on the other hand, now had other things to worry about.