Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Unless they're originals. Then they're mine.

Rating: PG-13 (there will be some drug references coming)

Continuity: Breaks off from continuity right after Advent Children and takes place 4 years later.

Pairing: Cloud and Tifa are married, so obviously CloTi. A little Tseng and Elena later.

Summary: Six years after Meteor and the world is still broken, plagued by mako addiction and memories of the past. On the outskirts of civilization, the remnants of SOLDIER are uniting, and Cloud and Denzel must learn the meaning of family to survive.

Notes: This story is based on the original game, Advent Children, Case of Tifa (from the Compilation) and Case of Denzel (from the Compilation). It is NOT based on DoC or Before Crisis, so if what I create in this story differs from what happens in those two games, please don't be surprised.

Feedback: Give me critique and I'll give you better stories. Thanks!


Part 1: Family Portrait -- Cloud

Sometimes, when he first wakes up to the siren-call slap of his alarm, he forgets who he is. Then, he opens his eyes and sees the family portrait in a stand-up frame beside his bed, and he remembers. That picture is four years old now, taken right after Denzel was healed of geostigma.

His eyelids fall closed again and the smiling faces of Tifa, Marlene, Denzel, and himself disappear from view. He'd gotten in late last night, or early this morning rather, and on days like this, there is only one way to get out of bed. He breathes in deeply one last time and takes just a moment more to enjoy the feel of the lithe body tucked in his arms, before he gently unwraps himself from her and rolls away. He keeps rolling until he falls off the bed, body thumping heavily against the floor.

The first few times he woke himself up this way, Tifa nearly had a heart attack, but after almost two years of marriage, he thinks she may finally be used to it. He hears something fall gently to the floor beside him, and then something warm is pressing against his side. Or maybe not.

He opens one eye just enough to see the top of her head, dark brown hair glistening in the clean morning light that floods through their window. "Tifa?" he says gently.

She mumbles incoherently in response and then snuggles her nose into his arm until he lifts it so that she can press closer against him, her head cradled against his shoulder and his hand resting on her back.

"You're on the floor," he says, wondering if she's even awake enough to realize this.

"Mmm… oops. So're you."

She throws an arm across his chest possessively, and he tightens his hold on her without really meaning to. "You're not helping my cause any," he comments mildly. Somewhere in the back of his mind a little voice rattles off a list of deliveries he has to make today. He sighs and clobbers the little voice. It shuts up abruptly.

"I didn't get to see you last night. I fell asleep before you came in. It was so late."

He ignores the underlying question of why he got back so late, and says instead, "You see me now."

She shakes her head against his side, the strands of her hair tickling his arm. "Nooo, I don't. I haven't opened my eyes yet." Her voice is soft and sing-song like. It makes him think of sunlight and birds chirping and rolling green fields.

Well, there's not much he can say to that, or wants to for that matter, so he lets himself lay there, Tifa's body warming him against the cold wood of the floor. He thinks he might fall asleep again, but his eyes are open and he's staring at the white paint of the ceiling, trying to draw pictures in the shadows the sun casts through the curtains.

"You're brooding."

He blinks, surprised. "No, I'm not."

Tifa shifts a little next to him, still looking like she's trying to sleep. "Cloud Strife, I know when you're brooding. I've seen it often enough."

"Your eyes are still closed, remember?"

"Doesn't matter. I can feel it."

He doesn't say anything, not really sure what he should say but not worried about that either. She'll guide him with her questions. She always does. So he waits, still and tense, listening for the sounds of Denzel and Marlene waking up in the next rooms. His thoughts turn more towards Denzel and he tilts his head a little to the left, thinking about the 14-year-old boy lying in his old room under plaid sheets, a wild mess of brown hair thrown across the pillow.

"What is it, Cloud?" She's finally opened her eyes and she rolls over, the top half of her body on his chest, elbows pressing gently against his ribs, so she can look at him. He follows the line of her hair around her cheeks to her eyes. They look glassy, the amber color luminescent.

"Just thinking about Denzel." After two years of marriage he isn't any better at explaining things to her, and his voice comes out a little hesitant because he's not sure what he's going to say next.

"About that summer camp he wants to go to?" She moves her arms to make a pillow for herself with her hands, resting her chin on the laced fingers.

"Yeah. I looked into it some yesterday. That's why I was so late." He closes his eyes, remembers the headquarters building of Holding Hands International – a network of steel and glass and polished floors. "I spoke to the camp coordinator…" A burly man with a long red beard and curly hair that stood out against ash-white skin. He held a cigarette constantly, and as he spoke, little gray streamers of smoke whipped out of his mouth. "I didn't like him."

"That's it?"

He opens his eyes to glance at her, confusion scrunching his features. "What else is there?"

"Cloud…" she drawls out, lifting her head so she can slap his chest playfully. "Denzel really wants to go, and it doesn't sound too bad. They're supposed to spend the summer doing community service, and Denzel doesn't have many friends… This could be good for him, you know."

He sighs, feeling the air seep out from deep in his lungs. He's not really sure why he's resisting so much, why the thought of sending Denzel away for a month gathers up in his throat and sits there, tight and uncomfortable. Eyes up at the ceiling again, he tries to remember himself at Denzel's age. I was obsessed with being in SOLDIER. This is far less dangerous. "Okay," he says abruptly.

She blinks at him, and the flutter of her eyelashes makes him think of butterfly wings. "Okay?"

"Yeah… but let me tell him, okay?"

She smiles slowly. "Okay." She yawns then, pushing herself off his chest so that she is sitting next to him. Her arms reach over her head, palms pressing upward. "I should go make breakfast. They'll be awake soon." Her tone is light and airy and sounds slightly triumphant.

He narrows his eyes at her suspiciously. "Denzel sent you to convince me, didn't he?"

"What makes you think that, love?" She kisses him lightly on the cheek and then stands, an impish smirk on her face as she scampers out of the room.

It takes him a few minutes to finally get up off the floor, but he finds himself sitting on the bed instead of walking to the closet to get dressed. The family portrait sits on the nightstand and he takes it in his hands, studying the smile on Denzel's face, a frozen laugh lifting the boy's cheeks.

Why does he feel so scared?