A/N: Here it is, the first chapter of my multi-chapter AU story. It's going to suck majorly. Please forgive and review xd
How do you describe a world that's ended? What can you say when you are a witness of something your mind will not handle, when you survive the collapse of the whole planet and your brain just refuses to grasp it?
The answer is: nothing. For those that survived, there was nothing left to say. Talking about the Meteorfall brought guilt, grief, regrets. It helped nobody. They were mourning even without remembering what had happened. Life became hard enough as it was.
Midgar was completely destroyed. Nobody survived not only there; the whole continent turned into a desert, devoid of life, after having taken most of the impact of the fall. Further away from the giant mako-filled crater where once, the city of Kalm was, some more defensive kinds of tall, dry grass managed to grow, covering the ground of sands. Surely, the grass would die soon, too. The climate turned too cold, succeeding in killing most of the insects on the continent. There was no water. It wasn't a place where anything could exist.
Surely, everything was going to die. Surely, there was no hope. But humans are stubborn creatures. Those that managed to live through the crisis gathered together in three places that weren't as damaged as most.
Wutai. Corel. Banora, or rather, what was left of the once-prosperous village. The three places that were still good enough for people to live in. Plants could be harvested there, animals could be bred in small amounts. The climate wasn't as cold as everywhere else. The three camps of humanity that survived the end of the world. Against everything.
Crowded, overly so. The three places for those that lived and while hundreds of people were few when compared to the hundreds of thousands that died, it was still too many for the limited space they had to share. It caused hunger, thirst, poverty. It caused crime rate higher than it had ever been before the Meteorfall. It, ultimately, caused the disease.
Crawling in the ruins of small villages, amongst the debris, feeding off of people too weak to fight it off, of temperatures too low to keep the survivors warm even during daytime, of poverty and hunger was the disease that couldn't be fought.
They called it the geostigma. It attacked parts of the body creating wounds, blackening the skin, making it rot. Black, thick blood seeped through the wounds and slowly, the disease was spreading, causing more and more pain to the infected – eventually being the reason of death. Geostigma was the final result of the Meteorfall. The final end of the world.
* * *
Tifa Lockhart was one of the few lucky people in the Wutain colony that didn't have it. She didn't know why; after all, she did take care of those that were too sick to do anything by themselves. She held their hands while they were dying, screaming obscenities, crying and cursing her to all hells. If they wanted to listen, she told them about the Lifestream, the source of all Life on the Planet. She told them all about Aerith, the last of the Ancients that was waiting there in the Lifestream, waiting somewhere where nothing hurt anymore, waiting for them, to make it all better. She didn't believe a single word she told them. Lying wasn't always wrong. Not when it could help them die peacefully.
Tifa spent most of the time in the set-up, poor excuse for a hospital just outside the village. And yet, she didn't catch geostigma. People that she helped called her an angel, sometimes; those that were too sick to live in the village with the healthy, but not sick enough to hate the whole world for their pain. She didn't feel accomplished. She never could.
She'd buried Barret not even a week ago. He was in too much pain; he'd called her things he probably didn't think, he'd told her how unfair it was that she lived and he was about to die. She knew he didn't mean any of it.
She hated herself for not being able to do anything for him. For being perfectly healthy when black blood filled his lungs, making breathing an excruciatingly torturous process. For letting him die without saying good-bye to Marlene.
'Are you doing it again, Tifa?' Yuffie asked, putting a hand on her arm, succeeding in bringing her out of her reverie. 'You're blaming yourself.'
'Yes, I am,' Tifa replied, sighing and avoiding looking at the tiny Wutain princess. She didn't want to see the black spot of geostigma on the younger girl's forehead. She didn't need to see it to know it has grown since last time.
Two months? Maybe three, if the pain didn't kill her too soon.
'Stop doing it,' Yuffie said firmly. 'It's not helping anyone when you blame yourself.'
'You did nothing wrong! The Meteorfall wasn't your fault and so isn't geostigma! It's not your fault that Barret had it and died! It's not your fault I have it. It can't be helped! So stop your brooding and live already. We can't, but you are healthy. Take advantage of that!'
'I can't, Yuffie,' Tifa whispered and it was final.
Vincent Valentine didn't live in Wutai. He just... came there, to take a look around, to hang around people, even if only for a moment. He spent time with people that he considered friends, because it was probably the last chance he had of doing so. He didn't manage to say good-bye to Barret...
Vincent's body was completely immune to the geostigma, as well as many other diseases. The man wasn't sure if he could really die after all the things that had been done to him. The end of all humanity was near, but he was not human. He was a monster that had to watch the downfall of the world.
A few weeks ago, he'd seen Cloud Strife. The blonde's condition was bad. His whole left arm was infected with geostigma, but that was the least of his problems. He was a broken man who didn't manage to do his bid – to save the world. He couldn't even live on his own there, in Corel. Cid Highwind was with him and they were travelling, not capable of staying – of dying – in one place.
Vincent shook his head. He was not about to change anybody's life, even if he could. Yuffie had asked him many times to leave Wutai and take Tifa somewhere she wouldn't see so much death. He never tried. He respected Tifa's choice.
Why wouldn't he?
This "city" was a joke. Even though the sick were isolated, kept away from the healthy, the streets were still crowded, filled with hungry beggars, even hungrier children, cheap prostitutes and those that simply didn't care anymore. Most of them wouldn't live through the winter. The temperature was reaching really low levels already. It could only get worse.
Suddenly, a figure caught his attention. A lithe silhouette of a man, probably; sitting by the wall, supported by it. His face was partially covered by a hood from his over-sized cloak, but still, it wasn't hard for Vincent to make out his features. His fierce red hair also helped, as did his facial scars.
'Reno,' Vincent said softly, making the Turk almost jump up in surprise. The redhead looked at him, or rather, seemed to – it was easy for the dark-haired gunman to establish that Reno wasn't seeing him at all. Nor was he seeing anything else. 'Reno, it is you.'
'I... I ain't tellin' ya a thing,' the redhead muttered, 'no matter whoever ya are.'
'I didn't expect you to,' Vincent replied. 'I can take you somewhere warm. I think there might be some food I will never eat that can help you, too,' he reached up and pulled Reno to his feet before the Turk could protest. So much for not barging into people's lives.
'Why ya tryin'?' Reno asked, probably talking just so it would cover up the fact that his legs were shaking and he simply couldn't stand at all without Vincent's support. 'I'm the bad guy, remember, Valentine?'
'You're making it... hard to forget, I dare say,' Vincent said while still helping the redhead stand. Or walk, to be precise. And, just as the words left his mouth, Reno stiffened before chuckling softly – sadly – and shaking his head.
'Ya sound like him,' he explained his unusual behaviour. Nothing else.
For some reason, Vincent did understand.