Entitled: Splatter Scintillation
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Length: 2,700 words
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII and etc.
Notes: For Ali. I got lazy, so all ten prompts get to be squished together.
She has a good smile for the cameras. Open, friendly, and only a little stiff at the edges. She's a pretty girl. Pretty enough to keep Cloud silent for the rest of the day and it's, hey, did you know her? and a whispered, please, don't.
So he doesn't.
What he does to is get the girl's phone number, writes his in silly cursive numbers across her arm while she flushes, blushes, looks at the floor—hey, he can see the appeal. She isn't Aerith of course, no way, he's not the type of guy who'd go around blending girl's faces together for his own comforts, but she has her own sweet, naïve kind of charm.
Here you go, he tosses the number at Cloud's head. It bounces off and falls to the floor. Cloud looks down, and his brow puckers with his lips, his hands tighten, and his voice comes out pinched when, you shouldn't have done that.
Some people just need a little push. So he makes no promises. He can feel Cloud looking at his back, betrayed and accusing, and tells himself not to care. It's for the kid's own good. He needs to learn to seize the day.
Maybe he'll take Tifa out to lunch.
She thinks of Cloud through caviar. She's never had it before. When she adds a little salt, the look on Zack's face is enough to make her snort into her water glass. It's horribly embarrassing. She rubs at her arm, over his number, written so big it'll be a wonder if the whole town doesn't up and call him.
Do you know a boy, she asks carefully, with spiky blond hair? He'd be about her age. She wasn't quite sure if Cloud was even alive anymore—if the stream of progressively terser letters came from him or some sadistic, twisted asshole of a cadet.
Oh, yeah, Zack says, with a shrug, don't worry about him.
Her shoulders relax. She adds more salt. Zack winces. Is he your boyfriend or something?
No, yes, not really, well, maybe a little, she wonders how old he is, if her skirt's too stupid, if her accent is too stupid, if she's too stupid, but then—why should she care? It's not as though she has to impress him. She sits a little straighter.
I have a sort-of girlfriend too, he says brightly. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, his admittance makes her relax—this isn't anything serious. She can eat lunch with a handsome young man with terrifying eyes and a dare-you smile. She's allowed. Maybe they can even be friends—she'd like that.
She gives him her number. She won't be losing his anytime soon, after all, and if he calls, if things don't work out—at least they'll have this.
He takes a bite off her plate and gags monstrously. She laughs herself sick.
She volunteers as a tour guide, and spends the rest of the day talking to Sephiroth, with Zack, and at the grunt-soldiers following them. For the first bit of the day, she's incapable of anything other than monosyllabic responses, too awed by Sephiroth's legendary presence to offer up any articulation.
Zack bounds up the mountain with excited, eager eyes, until she forgets her stoicism and finds herself pointing out stupid, completely unimportant bits of trivia. That's where Mr. and Mrs. Harris were married last week. There was a bee stuck in her veil, she had an allergy, and on top of crashing into her own wedding cake, her whole face swelled up.
That's where I set my goldfish free. I was eight and didn't know about the water processors.
When Zack pulls her up a ridge with one, strong heave from his well-muscled arms, she walks a full five minutes before realizing that he hasn't let go. She falters mid-narrative, and then tightens her grip and plunges on recklessly.
Why not? Why not?
She shouldn't be expected to just sit around doing nothing. There isn't a contract. She isn't betraying anyone. He'll go back to the city in a few days to his girlfriend and it will be totally, totally fine. She knows what's hers and what isn't.
And for these few days, he is hers.
After they return to the village, she is struck with a sudden insight to her rather uncharacteristic behavior. Her face grows hot, she turns to slink away—and he is there. He is simply everywhere, and that's the problem with a small town, of course.
She stomps off into the forest and spends several hours staring at her mirror in the stream, splashes it into pieces, and returns. She was allowed to like him. She wasn't doing anything wrong.
Returning home, the village was burning.
There is a period of crimson, from the pounding in her head to the sea of fire her home town has become, the color of her father's blood. Of her blood. Of rage and of heat and of agony, of battle, and then the fading—blackness.
His eyes are green and his hair is silver and he looks—he looks like and angel, an angel with the devil's voice ringing in his head. His wings are the color of ink and then there is more black, there is Zack's hair when he pulls her to safety and he shall avenge her but oh, she is helpless and she is dying and she is furious at her own defeat and so, so frightened, and clinging to the poisonous blue of Zack's eyes. They blink.
Cloud looks down at her.
She can feel her heart breaking.
And all the walls are white. It hurts. It hurts all over and she blinks, blinks, waits for the scene to change back to color and all she keeps getting is blaring, noisy white, until she begins to feel that she may have turned white too—and this light is so painful.
The nurses help her eat and change, stand.
Her arm is bare. His number is gone with him and Cloud, and if it weren't for the ashes and the hole in her chest, she'd have thought she'd made him up in her head.
There is the quiet sound of rupture in his ears. Bubbles. Bubbles.
He isn't breathing. His chest is compressed and taut, as his pores soak in poison. The world is strangely silent, and all he wants is to sleep. To escape the uncomfortable crawl of electricity, touching him everywhere.
It sounds like someone's hitting a bell with a stick—BANG. He sees the drowned white press of a finger against glass, then a face pulls up close, pulled strange by the tube's distortion. Their lips move.
He starts again.
Countryside, farm boy, city, Midgar, SOLDIER, calico blue and unending adrenaline, simulations, scars, the reassuring weight of things to his shoulder—blades, hands—Angeal, Genesis, clone wars and flowers, Turks, dark wings, Cloud, the reactor, Sephiroth, Tifa—Mako.
Her phone number floats in his pocket.
He counts to a thousand, puts his legs against the glass, and moves.
He drags Cloud deep into the underbrush, and then dumps the smaller man gently, covering him with leaves. He sticks a gun in Cloud's hand. Maybe, if something bad comes, he'll be able to muster the energy to pull the trigger.
Be back in an hour, he says, and races towards the village. He doesn't like leaving the kid alone.
He restocks on supplies in record time, and is just turning to leave the shop when something catches his eye. A payphone. His hand twitches. His cell's been dead for who knows how long.
He could call his—
No. Not his parents. They can't know. They can't—
Aerith? No, wait, she doesn't have a phone. He's already dug into his pocket for the money, has eased down the coin slot. He listens to the dial tone.
He has to call someone—someone.
She wrote her number in pencil. He guesses on the last two digits, and listens to her phone ring. Four times, then the answering machine.
Hey, this is Zack. I was just calling to tell you that Cloud and I are okay—well, sort of. He doesn't mention the comatose bit, I didn't really have anyone else to call, sorry. He isn't. He hasn't talked to anyone in days. I'd stop by and say hi, but…that would probably be a bad idea. He's already gotten her home town burned down once, after all. That's all, really. I'll come back and see you, someday. If anyone asks, you didn't hear from me.
He hangs up, and then calls back to listen to her answering machine.
Tifa keeps her cell pressed between her ear and her shoulder as she moves steadily through her rooms, rooms decidedly smaller and dirtier than the ones she had held as a child.
Three new messages.
She lifts a rag and began moving it over the windows in wide, passive circles, listening mildly through the first message. And then the second one begins.
She freezes. Her scar tissue throbs. She knows this voice. She knows the way he shapes his words. Stunned, she listens as he speaks, his voice every bit as energetic and playful as it had been five years ago.
She wants to scream.
She hangs up before listening to the third message and runs out the front door without locking up. She takes the first train out of Midgar and digs into her pockets for a pair of worn, battered gloves.
It is nearly midnight by the time she gets home. Driven with a restless, burning energy, she steals into her old house and moves silently past the newly inhabited rooms—rooms now owned by another's life.
She goes up into the attic, and pulls out papers. Memories. Journals and loose notes and scrapbooks and she pours over them intently, biting her lip as she searches—
All she needs is a number.
She listens to his message again, her lips making a fine white line. Cloud.
Suddenly furious she shoots a vicious, frustrated kick at one of the memory crates, and abruptly strides out of the house, almost crying with frustration. She just wanted to see them again, to touch them, to be sure that they weren't dead, and that five years really could pass—five years…
She'd thought the two of them dead for five years.
She makes her angry way back to the train station and sits with her head between her knees, biting her lower lip and trying not to cry. She looks at her arm, trying to find ink residue from five years past. Her arm is almost mockingly bare and clean. Giving a muffled sigh, she drops her head back down into her arms and tries, tries to think.
She gets back on the train to Midgar, and stares moodily at her feet, upset by her own defeat. The barren landscape whips past her, more decimated as she draws ever closer to the city.
The girl next to her has a phone number scribbled on her arm. Tifa smiles a little bitterly, at the irony of it, and drops her eyes back to the floor. Her smile grows a little. The girl has another number written on her shoe.
The longer she looks at the number, though, the more familiar it looks, until suddenly she remembers—digits, digits, digits.
It's over, she thinks, relieved, and reaches for her cell phone.
But a small voice within her whispers that this is only the beginning.
Zack pulls a face, one arm strung around Cloud's waist as he pulls the slighter man along in his wake. There's the sound of an army around him, and he can't help but marvel at the sheer obviousness of it.
There's no way out.
He sighs, setting Cloud down, and as an afterthought leaves the food and water by him. He probably won't be coming back, anyway.
For a minute he only squats at Cloud's side, looking at the kid affectionately, sadly. He'd have liked to have made it back to Aerith. He'd have liked to have seen Tifa again.
Five years, his stomach burns. Maybe that's why he doesn't think, It's not over yet. Maybe that's why he says his goodbyes instead. Maybe five years is what changes a person, whether they're conscious for it or not.
He reaches back for his sword. It's a movement so familiar to him it's become nearly reflexive—in the way another person pushes out lead in a mechanical pencil.
It's not just five years they've taken from him, after all.
He looks at Cloud again. He isn't going to see Aerith ever again.
You take care of them, he says. He means both of them. It's the closest he can come to letting go.
Less than five miles away, Tifa perches on the edge of her seat, pressing a phone to her ear.
There was no answering machine. After a moment she hangs up and tried again. There was a slight crackle of static, as the train passed under a tunnel, and then the press of white noise.
On her third attempt her eyes glaze, and on the fifty third ring her free hand has curled limply in her lap.
The girl beside her looks over, and says quite frankly, "I don't think he's going to answer."
Tifa looks back at her. Numbly, she shuts the phone.
It's probably nothing, she thinks, and looks out the window. The city's long shadow has just begun to touch her.
Underneath the plate, she can't even hear the rain, much less smell it.
But somehow, she knows it is.