Mission 79: Brothers

"I'm what?" To say Cloud Strife was shocked was the understatement of the century. "That's a lie!" It better be a lie, he desperately needed it to be a lie. "You're lying; you made that up to bother me, you..." He stopped short of breath and leaned back on the front counter of the Seventh Heaven.

Behind that very same counter Tifa stood frozen like a statue, eyes wide, mouth open, every inch completely still, save for the tightening of her grip around the glass she had been cleaning when she heard the news. The glass gave in and shattered, causing Tifa to jump in pain and disappear into the kitchen to clean her hand.

Cloud didn't notice the event that had transpired with Tifa and the glass behind him. He just stared forward at Tseng. This was Tseng of the Turks, the serious and responsible leader not known for his pranks. He wasn't Reno, his words were not so easily disregarded. Cloud wanted him to be Reno so he could roll his eyes and ignore him, maybe even swing his sword at him. But this was still Tseng, the leader, the serious one, the one who wouldn't play such a cruel joke on him.

"I wish I was..." Tseng admitted, he knew that the truth would be difficult to handle for both Strife and the president. Reno of course knew, but he was back at headquarters bothering Rufus against his better judgment. However, it wouldn't be long before he realized that it was best not to infuriate the man who paid him and moved on to bother Strife.

"She never told me," Cloud gasped breathlessly. "She would have told me." He clung to the possibility of everything being one big mistake.

"Think about it," Tseng reason, his expression as serious as ever. "Would she have told you? He came and went, he left, just like that. It was a remote town in the middle of nowhere. He didn't need to worry about his reputation out there. There's no other explanation about why she wouldn't tell you, she couldn't, it must have been... difficult."

Tifa reappeared from the kitchen and took her previous spot behind the counter in silence. She didn't hurt her hand too badly, just a few shallow cuts that would no doubt begin to fade by the next day.

"Shinra Mansion," those two words left Cloud's lips and he shivered involuntarily. Maybe that was the reason why he went to that little town, maybe he stayed there, then they met and... he didn't want to think about it He desperately didn't want to believe it to be true. He bit his lip to stop the agonizing scream that threatened to escape his throat at the realization that it could be very true.

Then it happened, Rufus Shinra walked into the Seventh Heaven dragging Reno by the ear. The redhead complained every step of the way, as it was natural, but the blond president didn't release him until they stood right in front of the counter, facing cloud. "Strife," Cloud jumped upon being addressed by Rufus.

"Strife," the ex-soldier repeated, "yes, Strife, not Shinra."

"Why is it my fault?" Reno protested, rubbing his pained ear. "Everyone believed it. Elena was already making a fuss before I realized what was going on. Even Tseng and Rude believed it."

"I know," Rufus voiced, "it was all my fault for being unclear, I was upset and caused a misunderstanding. I don't blame you, Reno, I just needed to let out my stress on someone. Take it like a Turk," he sounded almost apologetic, but not quite, certainly not. There was a pause before Rufus' voice's turned aggressive again, "actually, it is your fault, because you're the one who let her out in the first place!"

"Rufus," Cloud's expectant voice interrupted the exchange between Rufus and Reno. "What does this mean?"

"The Turks overheard me." Rufus paused, searching for the right words to phrase it.

"Ranting," Reno supplied.

Ignoring Reno, Rufus continued, "thinking aloud about having recently discovered that Dark Nation's puppies are not pedigree. Reno stupidly let her run off while he wasted time at the Seventh Heaven, instead of walking her like he was supposed to, her puppy's a mutt. Recently I acquired some documents that indicated I might have had a sibling, or rather half sibling from Nibelheim. The man in question, still a boy then, was confirmed to have died in the Nibelheim fire. The timing was just bad I suppose. The two events have nothing to do with each other, but speaking of both things all at once made the Turks misunderstand and somehow believe that we were brothers."

"Then we're not?" Cloud held his breath waiting for the absolute confirmation.

"No," Rufus confirmed.

Cloud let out a breath of relief, "that's good to know."

Rufus pouted, "what's that supposed to mean?" Indignantly, because truly, he didn't want Cloud as his brother, but really, Cloud should have been honored, Rufus left, dragging Reno out by the ear again.

Cloud just stood there looking like a huge weight had been thrown and consequently lifted off his shoulders. He found that he at least had that much to be thankful for, he wasn't a Shinra, never mind the benefits that could bring to a poor broke guy like him, he didn't think that deeply about it. Tseng soon followed after Reno and Rufus, which left Cloud to loiter around the bar and Tifa to go about her tasks of cleaning glasses that were already clean out of lack of anything better to do.

Cloud was feeling peaceful, for the most part, until the next day, Reno showed up with a wagon full of puppies and tricked him into taking one. After all, Rufus' couldn't keep them all, plus it would be good for Shinra's image if they gave away puppies.

End of Mission 79

Disclaimer, I don't own Final Fantasy VII. For those who enjoyed my story "Reintegration" (the one where Sephiroth came back to life) I now have it available for download at my site as sound files. I'll have more audio fics available later.