Jessie x Cloud
Operation Fresh Start
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(sound of head hitting keyboard) Why did I agree to this again?

This is set pretty soon after FFVII the game, and includes some lead up info stolen from FFVII-AC the movie. Probably includes spoilers for both, so be warned. The whole premise of this story is a 'what if' scenerio. Let's just say that Jessie did NOT die in the Sector 7 plate crash. That makes her a viable option for Cloud's (and anyone else's, really) affections. Between seeing so few stories with Jessie (they kinda have to be pre-game or AU) or the other Avalanche members, and being so sick and tired of the old Aerith or Tifa choice for Cloud, me and some freinds decided that Jessie would have been perfect had she lived. No fake memories, no promises, no preconcieved notions, and best of all - no guilt! They could each have a Fresh Start on life.

This isn't to say that I'm against CloTi or Cleris... or even that 'Clessie' (as it's been dubbed) is even something I feel strongly about. I just want to see more options for that poor boy. With that - here's the first section. I'm not sure how the chapters will work out on this, since it seems to be running to long winded-ness... but hey. Enjoy?

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Chapter 1 - Beginnings
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The bar was a lot better looking this time.

That was the first thing Jessie noticed as her ride pulled up outside the scruffy building. She got out and thanked the driver, and limped slowly over to the front doors.

Well, it was now or never. Time to go let her freinds and the saviors of her world know she was ok. Mostly.

Jessie paused a moment, palm on the front door. Shee could see Tifa at the bar through the glass. No matter how much things change, there are always some that stay the same.

After pushing the door open and stepping timidly inside, Jessie was unsure of what to do. Go up to the bar and order a drink like this was the old Sector 7 base...? Throw herself at Tifa for a big hug? Stand there like the stranger she felt like now? sigh

Jessie limped forward, up to the bar. Leaping anywhere was out of the question for a while. Her knee wouldn't allow it. Some things even the best Restore materia couldn't heal. A crushed kneecap was one of them. The doctors had done the best they could. Surgury to remove the bone fragments, pins and plates and all sorts of things... but it would never be the same. Really, she should have taken them up on the offer of the replacement knee. It's not like she didn't know other people with mechanical body parts...

Thinking on that, Jessie wondered briefly where Barret was, as Tifa looked up to smile at her new customer.

"Welcome to 7th Heaven! Best drinks in E- OH! ... Jess...ie?" Her face was a study. Transformed from the freindly propreiter to shock and elated puzzlement. A little reserved, like she wasn't yet sure this was true.
"Jessie, is that really you?" Hope leapt into Tifa's warm brown eyes as she put down her bartowel and stepped around to hug her old freind.
"We thought you... But... What about the others?" Tifa tilted her head, eyes large with worry and hope mingled. She meant Biggs and Wedge, of course.

Jessie just shook her head, expressionless. She'd learned fast how to hide her feelings, in the last few months. When she was first discovered in the wreckage, Avalanche was still considered the enemy. She hadn't fared well at first. But, no point in telling Tifa that. What she didn't know, she wouldn't ask prying questions about.

Her eyes closed in pain for a moment, and then she bolstered up the rest of her spirits to answer without crying again.

"No. Not many ... from the Sector made it at all. I shouldn't have. I don't know why I did. I really don't deserve to be alive and as whole as I am. Not after..."
Her voice broke, and she choked back the tears that she refused to let out. Not now.

Tifa started shaking her head.
"No. Oh, no no. You DO deserv-" She was cut off, mid earnest rebuke. Jessie ran right over her with her vhemenant denial.

"Don't! Tifa, don't say that. You don't know... you weren't there afterwards. I've seen what's left of the 'survivors'. The entire plate, Tifa. All the people on top AS WELL as the poor people below. There wasn't much of a rescue effort, because there wasn't enough left of anyone to resque. Out of an entire Sector, the survivors didn't fill one hospital. And some of them died anyway. Most of who are still alive are crippled for life. ShinRa is paying for the medical costs, but you can't give a person back their family, or their homes, their life. Don't tell me I deserve to be one of the few people to make it out all right. Entire families, Tifa! Babies! I saw crushed remains of babies paraded past me in the temporary infirmery. It was my fault. I could have done something about that bomb... hacked it, defused it, something! I know I could have. But I didn't. No amount of 'rebuilding' on my part is going to make me 'deserve' to live any more than anyone else. Just... don't. I'm here, and... I'm going to try to start over, live again. But, I'll be doing it with the images of those people in my head, reproaching me for the rest of my life. Let's just... try to do better this time, okay?"

Jessie's anguished diatribe shocked Tifa into silence. She'd never seen Jessie without a smile. A cheerful determination to do her best. Almost gleeful when it came to seemingly impossible challenges. This Jessie... she seemed tired, and bitter, and ready to give up. That just wasn't right. No matter how bad things had been, if she gave up now it would just make them worse. But how to convince her of that. Tifa pondered Jessie in silence for a moment. There wasn't likely to be any way to change her mind on such a traumatic experience. This obviously wasn't the whole story, not the way she'd clamped her mouth shut and refused to make eye contact.

One step at at time then.

"Cloud should be back soon, he's out fetching ingredients for me. And Barret is in Junon, seeing a doctor about his arm." Tifa tilted her head and smiled charminly at Jessie. Trying to lure her into normal conversation, maybe even asking questions.

Jessie smiled back wryly. She knew what was going on. But better to change the subject than keep thinking about... that.

"His arm?" Jessie asked obligingly, "Is there something wrong with his arm, or is he getting that upgrade he talked about off and on?" She ignored her flash of interest at hearing Cloud's name. Why would he remember her, anyway?

Tifa leaned back against her well cleaned bar and smiled knowingly. "Barret has decided to try getting something a little more like a hand this time. You should see him walking Marlene to school in the mornings. It's adorable."

Both women looked at each other and smiled. Barret was wound around that little girls finger like a ribbon. Such a tough guy. Such a softie for his little girl.

"So..." Jessie took a look around the bar, noting the bare walls and scavenged seating. "Cloud is out getting 'ingredients' for you? You must be working hard to keep this the best bar in the area." Jessie looked back shyly at Tifa. With a small self depreciating smile, she offered "Do you want me to pitch in? I'm sure there's got to be something I could do to help."

Tifa winked and slid back around the bar.
"I'm sure we can find something. So! What would you like to drink? I think I've got everything on hand for your favorite..." Tifa smiled warmly at her old freind, and started deftly whisking out drink componants.

Jessie smiled and shook her head in amazement. "Sure, why not. Just one though, I'm still on medications."

She watched with interest as her drink was magically produced from the assortment of flasks and bottles, and stirred to a swirl of perfection. Jessie couldn't help but to laugh as Tifa mockingly floated a little red fruit on top, like she always did for Marlene.

"There you go! Enjoy!" Tifa slid the glass over, and just as efficiently started putting everything back in it's place.

Jessie took a sip and smiled. "Perfect, as usual TIfa." She shook her head again and took another sip. Tifa was a wonder. How she could manage to stay so unchanged, even after everything...
Jessie's eyes darkened and her smile drooped. She quickly hunched over her glass to try and hide it, and turned to look around the big room again.

Tifa watched Jessie out of the corner of her eye, and just went about her business. There was alwyas something to do in a bar. Glasses to wipe spotless, things to clean, the phone to answer...
And a good bartender always knows when to leave a patron alone. Jessie obviously needed some time.

A few moments later, and something occurred to Jessie. "Hey, Tifa... Where is everybody? I mean, your customers? I'd think this place would be crowded this time of day." It was late afternoon, and if nothing else, the early drinkers should have been filling empty seats in the back.

Jessie lifted a brow at Tifa, and glanced around again at the empty bar.

Tifa nodded, and set her current glass back on its shelf.
"Usually, yeah. But commerce is pretty slow still out here. Not that many people have the extra to spend yet. And for the past week, most anyone who can is out helping put up the monument in the central square. Things will pick up this evening, and next week. You'll see." Tifa nodded encouragingly at Jessie, and whisked the empty glass away.

"You want a sandwich? You look like you haven't had much appatite lately. I've got some chips even, if you'd like." Tifa turned away and started getting sandwich stuff out without even waiting for Jessie's response.

Jessie sighed at Tifa's sharp assesment. Not 'you look like you haven't been getting enough to eat' but 'you look like you haven't had much appatite'. There was quite a difference. Who could eat, with visions of crushed babies floating behind their eyes? Jessie just closed her eyes and tried not to cry. The sound of a plate being slid in front of her made her look up.

Tifa stood there, careful not to look too concerned, but obviously caring. "Eat. You'll feel better."
She smiled again, and bustled off to take care of things. Distantly, Jessie heard a phone ring. Tifa moved off to answer it, spoke briefly and came back to lean on the counter nearby. Close, but not too close.

"That was Cloud. He'll be here in a few hours. He's got a good deal on the starfruit I asked for." Tifa tilted her head and smiled in amusement. Cloud hadn't even known what a starfruit was until she'd shown him one. Clueless didn't even begin to describe him when it came to what was needed for a popular bar and restaraunt.

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(and this is where I ran out of steam the other night. I'll just pick up the next 'chapter' where I left of here. I might streamline it later... but meh.)