Author's Note: Sequel to "Cradle Will Rock". Warning: Realistic situation and emotions follow. FF7 people are people, too!
The Coming of Eve
Marlene woke up to the sound of "Victory Bells", played merrily by her alarm clock on the nightstand. She didn't have to do work today because it was Remembrance Day, the day they had found the cure for Geostigma and Denzel had been saved in the Church. She yawned, rubbed the sleepiness away from her large brown eyes, and lazily sat up. Denzel was still snoring in his own bed. Marlene smiled, and turned to shut off the clock's cheerful rhyme.
The sun was shining brightly through the curtains. Marlene climbed off the bed to go brush her teeth. It was quiet downstairs; an odd thing, she thought. Tifa usually should be up by now, or at least the shower would be running. Marlene pouted. She padded across the floor, barefoot, and opened the door to the hallway, just in time to see the door across from her room opened and a blonde head poked out.
"Cloud!" Marlene cried, then immediately put her hand on her mouth as Cloud put a finger to his lip. "When did you get back?" she whispered, running toward him and hugging his lower torso tightly.
"Last night," Cloud replied. He was only wearing his sweatpants and a loose T-shirt. Marlene could feel his warmth through the fabric.
"Is Tifa still asleep?" she asked.
"Yep," Cloud replied. "She's tired."
Tifa's always tired in the morning when Cloud comes back, Marlene thought. Her stomach suddenly grumbled, and she shook Cloud's arm. "Denzel's still asleep, too. Let's have breakfast without them!"
"Okay," Cloud whispered back. He then took Marlene's small hands and they walked down the stairs to the to kitchen in the back. It was barely dawn and the weak light only lit a few spots along the linoleum and the plastic counters.
Marlene climbed onto one of the tall stools, linking her hands together. Cloud went inside the small alcove, flipping on the light switch and Marlene found herself bathed in blights of aquamarine.
"So what's it gonna be, little lady?" Cloud asked, opening a cupboard to get out a pan and spatula.
"French toast!" Marlene said, clapping her hands. "With lots of syrup!"
"Good one," Cloud replied. He leaned down to turn the stove on low. "But it's going to take a bit. You want something else while I make this?"
Marlene thought for a minute. "May I have some milk, please?"
"Coming right up," he flashed her a smile before turning to open the fridge. "A warm one?"
It was rare to see the man before her this cheerful nowadays. Marlene shifted in her seat again. Even without picking up the conversations between Tifa and her dad, she could still feel the change that fell upon Cloud. She and Denzel talked about it sometimes, about how suddenly one day the delivery man gained color back on his face after a short job. Marlene had literally felt an odd aura surrounding Cloud thereafter – a peculiar smell of some sort. No one in the house had it before, yet the scent seemed to be stuck to him post every delivery. Marlene had gotten used to it now and started to like it.
But six months ago it stopped. The paleness returned to Cloud's face, and that good smell was gone as quickly as it came. Marlene didn't know what had changed. All she knew was that Cloud had become very quiet, and Tifa's face had taken on the worried look once more. Sometimes she could hear them talk in their room, low but furious and Marlene would always run outside then, usually dragging a confused Denzel behind her. They would stay out until after dusk, and everything would be fine by the time they returned.
"Here you go," a glass full of milk was pushed in front of the little girl's nose. Marlene grabbed it with both of her hands, her eyes lined up with the rounded edge.
"Thank you," she said and took a big gulp. "Hey, Cloud?"
"You're staying for a while, right?"
Cloud turned back toward the stove, but still looked at her over his shoulder. "Yep. Don't think I got another job for a few weeks."
Marlene clapped her hands in joy. "That means you and Daddy are going to be here next week! Oh, can we go visit the Church later today? The flowers are growing there again."
Cloud took out a bowl. "Sure. I haven't been there for a while, either. It's a date, as soon as I talk about this with Tifa, okay?"
"O-tay!" Marlene replied. She swung her legs alternately, kicking the side of the counter in a soft rhythm. She heard the sound of water starting from upstairs – either Tifa or Denzel was up, taking a shower. Marlene smiled widely and looked out the window. The sun was shining strongly onto the dim grey streets. Remembrance Day was now looking very good.
She finished her milk and set the glass back down to the side. She could now feel the stove's warmth seeping out from the back. Her stomach grumbled again, loud enough for Cloud to answer with an amused quirk of his eyebrows. Marlene pouted. It wasn't exactly something she could control. She was about to say precisely that when she heard the unmistakable sound of the bell ringing just inside 7th Heaven'sfront door.
Marlene twisted around in her seat, curious. The bar wasn't open yet, hence no one should be able to simply waltz inside. Tifa made sure to lock the door before turning in, and if Cloud came in later he'd of course do the same. There was a gentle breeze, and suddenly she smelled that exact same scent again, the intangible sweetness with something sharp lying beneath. The next breeze was stronger, and before Marlene could blink the blur of red and black had solidified into the form of Vincent Valentine, standing solidly between the outside and the in.
Marlene heard something crack behind her. She turned around again and saw a broken egg on the floor, the white splashed onto Cloud's bare feet. Cloud himself was still holding onto the spatula dipped in cinnamon sugar, his posture frozen and his eyes impossibly large. His mouth was opened just enough for Marlene to distinguish the pale lips' trembling.
The little girl didn't quite understand as she looked back and forth. It wasn't as if they had never seen Vincent before. But something was off. There seemed to be an electric current passing between the two men, straight through her body as if she was a thin paper doll. She didn't even dare to breathe. The room's warmth suddenly became overbearing, and Marlene wasn't sure if the stove was at fault. She blinked repeatedly, and when even that became too much, kept herself completely still.
Cloud's quiet call made her jump literally off the seat. "Y, yes?"
"I . . . think our French toast may have to wait," his eyes never left Vincent. "Sorry."
He put down the spatula and walked, slowly and unsteadily, past Marlene and out from behind the counter. Marlene finally remembered moving as the field of tension excluded her small frame. She took the opportunity and ran quickly toward the back of the kitchen. She turned off the stove first, then grabbed some paper towels to wipe up the mess on the floor.
"How did you know I'm here?" she heard Cloud ask.
"Where else would you go?" Vincent said, light and cool. "Where else could you go?"
There was a muffled silence, and Marlene, curious despite herself, paused her cleaning and looked up. They faced each other, eyes blazed so brightly that Marlene thought flames were literally spreading from their pupils. Cloud's breathing was becoming ragged, his chest heaved in irregular patterns. Vincent was as calm as ever, except his fingers were twitching in anticipation. Of what, Marlene wasn't sure, and something in her gut told her that it wasn't for her to guess.
Vincent's good hand moved. It rose up toward Cloud's face, but stopped just short of touching skin and stayed there. Cloud's eyes closed, waiting with a thinly strained eagerness. He nearly rose to his tiptoes, and when Vincent's leather-clad fingers still remained a breath away he reopened his eyes and questioned silently. Yet his patience ran out before the answer was returned, and Cloud raised his own hands and clasped Vincent's within his palms, his nose grazing the slender fingertips. Vincent took in a sharp breath.
"You left me," Cloud murmured. "You just stopped coming and . . . You could have called. You could have told me something – anything but – why, Vincent. Why?"
"I was afraid," Vincent said.
Cloud moved closer, his cheekbone lightly brushed Vincent's lips. His gaze, however, was toward the bar's entrance. "Afraid of?" he asked.
Vincent's response was too soft for Marlene to pick up. She suspected they had completely forgotten about her, crouched down on the kitchen floor with sticky yolk paper in her hands. Marlene didn't think she should be watching this, but leaving would require getting up, and she was afraid that doing so would somehow tip everything over. So she stayed down and quiet, gathered up the broken eggshells and disposed the papers to the kitchen trashcan nearby.
When she looked back up they seemed to have finished speaking. Cloud's eyes were half-closed and Vincent's carried a soft look. Their faces were so near together that they were almost touching, and then they were touching and Marlene felt something in her leap in warning. She quickly averted her eyes – it was definitely one of those adult moments that she had accidentally witnessed with Tifa and Cloud. But this wasn't Tifa, and Marlene didn't know if that made it more or less strange. Even so, she was determined to stare right at the patterned tile in front of her and not listen to the sounds coming from that direction.
Until a familiar voice gasped behind her.
Marlene whipped her head around and saw the figure of Tifa on top off the stairs, clad in a house dress with dripping-wet hair splayed on her shoulders. Her hand hovered near her mouth in shock; her eyes round and glittering. Neither of the men moved, taking in her sudden entrance as if it were complete part of the plan. Vincent's hold on Cloud, if anything, became tighter. They were no longer kissing, but their posture suggested only a pause, rather than a definite cessation.
"Oh my god." Tifa's voice shook. "Oh my god! Vincent! I can't believe this. I can't – How could you?!"
As she rushed down the steps toward the unnaturally calm duo, Marlene scrambled up from her own position. She had never heard Tifa's voice going that shade of anger before, and she was getting very frightened. Tifa kept on talking, spilling out incoherent fragments while demanding an explanation. Vincent remained ever quiet, and Cloud, firm and determined in Vincent's embrace, patiently watched Tifa with an expected gaze.
Marlene thought the world was going to break.
Tifa only talked faster at the dragging silence. She circled both of them but kept her attention solely on Vincent. When she reached directly in front of him something crackled in the air, and Marlene spun around and dashed toward the back. She heard sharp slaps but didn't dare to look, and when she reached her bedroom she saw Denzel standing in the crack of the open door, an equally frightened expression on his face.
He moved back to let her in. When they were both safely inside, Marlene shut the door tight and turned the lock. Denzel's eyes were round as snowballs. His blinks showed his plain confusion, but Marlene didn't know any way to explain. All she knew was that nothing would be the same anymore.
After a minute she went to the nightstand and picked up the phone. All of their expressions – Tifa's anger, Cloud's resolve, Vincent's platitude – lingered vividly in her mind. The sound of breaking glass floated up the stairs, and Marlene had the urge to cover up her ears. She didn't, instead dialed the number quickly, and when the familiar gruff voice answered the relief was enough to bring her to tears.
"Daddy," Marlene cried. "Please come home now. Tifa and Cloud are fighting."