The Music Box
By Ceres Sky
Chapter One: Remember
Author's Note: This is a prequel short story of sorts to a longer fic that I hope to write soon. It has been a long time since I've written fanfiction (or anything else for that matter) so my writing will probably be very rusty. Hope you enjoy the story anyway! Sorry about the original upload. messed up my formatting.
There was life in her eyes again. Was it arrogant of him to believe he was the one who had brought that life back to her eyes? She stood at the sink, humming as she washed dishes. He sat at the bar, watching her, wondering why he had always felt alone when he had a family waiting for him.
A family. Is that what Tifa, Denzel, Marlene, and Cloud were? On his delivery runs, his clients would sometimes ask, in an effort to make small talk, "Mr. Strife, do you have a family?" He would always nod nonchalantly and say yes. What else he could say?
Tifa finished washing the dishes and came to sit beside him at the bar, smiling as she set a glass in front of him. "It's late, Cloud. Don't you have a delivery tomorrow?"
Cloud looked over at her. "It's late, Tifa. Don't you have a bar to run tomorrow?"
She laughed, her eyes lighting up at his teasing. "Well, yes, I do, but I don't have to get up early as you do."
He wanted to give her something. Something special to her. But what? He didn't realize that he was frowning until Tifa spoke again.
"Cloud, what are you thinking?" She seemed concerned, and Cloud knew what was going through her mind. He's thinking of Aeris again.
"Tifa, if there were one thing you could have back, what would it be?"
Now it was her turn to frown. And he could see the question in her eyes.
"Do you mean an object, a person, or a feeling?" She asked quietly.
Cloud sighed. He wished sometimes that their conversations were not always so overshadowed by their past, by... her. He knew it was not what she would have wanted, for her friends to always mourn her death. She had told him herself that everything was all right and she held nothing against him for not being able to save her.
"An object, Tifa," Cloud said, almost defensively.
Tifa looked surprised for a moment, but her gaze grew far away as she sorted through her memories. He wasn't sure if he could ever obtain what she came up with, but it could not hurt to try. He could always ask Vincent. The man was a better investigator and informant than all the Turks put together sometimes.
Tifa shifted on the barstool, mouth set in decision. "A music box my father gave me... after my mother died."
Cloud was surprised to know that he remembered that music box. Though he had been banned from seeing Tifa after her terrible accident in the mountains, he had still been able to watch her from his room since they were neighbors. He had known that Tifa often kept her curtains open during the day. He remembered watching her pick up a music box from her desk and play its tune over and over again. Sometimes, she would look up and see him watching her. She would give him a little wave and then disappear from the window, hiding with her private pain. Soon, she stopped opening the curtains in the morning and Cloud would not see her at all for days.
Tifa's eyes were deamy. "It was a plain little music box. Just a couple dancing on a wooden block, but the woman reminded me of my mother. And the tune was one she often sang or hummed while she worked around the house."
"Was it the tune you were humming while you were doing the dishes just now?" Cloud asked.
Tifa glanced at him, eyes widened in realization. "Why, yes..., it was," she stammered. Then, she smiled. "I'm glad I still remember it."
Cloud stored all this information away, deciding that he would go visit a local trinket shop during his deliveries the next day. The owner would probably be able to help him.
"Cloud, what about you?" Tifa asked.
Cloud started. He had been focused so much on what TIfa's answer would be that he hadn't thought she would turn the question back on him. He wasn't prepared for it and had no answer.
"What about me?" He echoed, trying to buy himself some time. Various memories swept through his mind, but there were so many things he wished he could have back that he could not choose only one. He looked over at Tifa, feeling guilty as he said, "I don't know, Tifa."
She nodded. "It's okay, Cloud." She shrugged. "I shouldn't have asked."
Cloud stared down at the counter. "No, I asked you; only fair that you ask me. To be honest, I haven't thought about it."
Tifa stood up, taking her glass and Cloud's over to the sink. She quickly washed them and set them down to dry. She came back to stand near him. He looked up at her and was startled to see the light still in her eyes. He had thought she would be upset about his answer.
"It really is okay, Cloud," Tifa smiled at him, and Cloud almost felt that she was laughing at him behind the grave sincerity in her eyes. "I shouldn't have expected a guy to think about things like that. After all, you really are okay now, right?" She hesitated, doubt trickling into the amused expression on her face.
Cloud heard the words, but he knew Tifa well enough to hear the actual meaning behind them. Are you going to stay with us, Cloud? You aren't going to leave us again?
Cloud reached out to take her hand. "Yes, Tifa, I'm okay."
She squeezed his hand, the doubt leaving her face quickly as it had come. "I'm glad." She let go of his hand and walked to the stairs. Turning back to face him, she said, "Good night, Cloud."
He watched her go. He wished that he had not left when he found out he had Geostigma. He had thought it was best for his family, but now they would always doubt him. Denzel had been strong, while Cloud had gone off to die alone. Somehow, he would have to make it up to them. He wondered how long it would take.
"You're wanting me to make you a music box?" Braden asked. He frowned, lost in thought. "When do you need it?"
"I'm in no rush, so you can take your time if you have to," Cloud said. Braden was the owner of the Edge of the World shop, and Cloud had made many deliveries for him since Braden's specialty was unique gifts. Braden could also talk a mile a minute once he got going.
"What do you want this music box to look like?" Braden asked, shuffling around some papers a little bit nervously. He very much hoped he would be able to fill Cloud's order. Strife Delivery Service had allowed him to reach areas of the world that would otherwise never have heard of his shop.
Cloud described the gift carefully while Braden took notes on a piece of paper. When he finished, Cloud said, "I'll even go pick up the parts you need for free."
Braden brightened at that. "That would be a big help to me, Cloud. I could probably finish it in a week if I didn't have to wait for parts."
"I will get them for you today if possible," Cloud said as he handed Braden a few coins. "Here's an advance on the cost."
"If you'll wait here a moment, I'll go make out a list for you to take to Zangan in Nibelheim. He is my parts supplier. He's hard to keep track of; the guy is always moving. But he sells quality parts and makes it a point to let me know where he is. The two of us go way back. Trained together in martial arts. Kind of funny we both ended up in the same business."
Cloud had remained silent through this waterfall of words, but he had to break in at the end as Braden was about to head to the back. "Did you just say Zangan is in Nibelheim?" His head was spinning slightly at the the thought of going back to his hometown. Even more shocking was that Tifa's martial arts teacher would be there. Someone Tifa hadn't seen in more than 7 years.
"Yes, I did," Braden said. He studied Cloud thoughtfully. "Do you know Zangan?" When Cloud did not answer right away, he looked a little worried. "Are you all right, Cloud?"
Cloud regained his composure and tried to look less surprised. "It's just that Nibelheim is where I grew up."
Braden walked into the back, talking as he went. "I see. Well, you should have no trouble finding the place then. I thought I was going to have to give you directions. It sounds out of the way from what Zangan's told me." He came back with a sheet of paper and handed it to Cloud. "There used to be a Mako reactor there, right?"
Cloud nodded, staring at the paper in his hand but not seeing the words on it. "I'll go right away. I should have the parts back for you tomorrow." The sooner he got back from Nibelheim, the better. He had to admit a certain curiosity though in what Zangan was doing there.
"Here, give this to Zangan for me, will you? He was wanting some things to sell in his store. I don't know who he's going to sell them to though. I've heard Nibelheim's been deserted for years. Something about ghosts in a haunted mansion there that scares folks away." Braden handed Cloud a small package and the coins Cloud had just given him. "Take these for your delivery fee and then you can pay me when the music box is finished." He smiled, then shrugged. "That Zangan, he's always been the itinerant one, but I like Edge just fine. Who knows? Maybe people are moving to Nibelheim and there actually is some business there." He showed Cloud to the door, the bell ringing cheerily as he let Cloud out. "See you tomorrow, Cloud. Tell old Zangan I said hi, will ya?"
"Thank you, Braden. I'll see you tomorrow."
As Cloud rode out of Edge on Fenrir, one thought was ringing through his mind. "What is Zangan doing in Nibelheim?"