Ah, this quote…. It comes from an AMAZING song called Karma. The chapter name means glass, or marble.
Hopefully little bits and pieces of what is to come will show up in this chapter. All the better to confuse you, little readers (cue maniacal laugh)! Please review, everyone!
Chapter 29- garasudama
A single shard of glass was dropped, others soon followed, slipping from grip. Happening in one moment's silence, only one was left.
Cloud felt hollow inside as Tifa retrieved the spare key to the bar from the potted plant outside. Neither of them knew what it was- it had been a one-year anniversary gift from Yuffie, who claimed that the stupid weed symbolized something in Wutai, and that if they didn't accept it, they'd be cursed. Not that Cloud believed in curses and all of that, of course, but he took it anyway out of fear that Yuffie would mercilessly bug them further if they didn't.
The nearly silent click of the lock echoed in his mind. The smell of alcohol hit him full blast as Tifa opened the door and gingerly took a step inside. With a small smile on her face, she turned back to the warriors and said, "Welcome to the Seventh Heaven."
As soon as she had said it, a pair of legs dashed downstairs. A shrill cry erupted from the small little girl. A boy with a mop of brown, mussed hair ran down at the cry, a large man with a gun on his arm not too far behind. For a moment, both parties stood in silence. Then Marlene squealed again and ran into Cloud. A smile broke out on his face as he twirled the girl around, seeming to ignore everyone else in the room. "I've m-missed you, Cl… Cloud," she sobbed through her laughing.
Denzel finally ran down and hugged his waist. "You're back, Cloud!"
"Well, I'll be," Barrett said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Cosmos was right."
Cloud smiled up at him- a sight Luneth and Arc couldn't believe. "Good to see you too, Barrett." The ex-SOLDIER turned his attention back to the sobbing little girl latched to his leg. "It's alright, Marlene," he said, hugging her. "We're back."
"I-I thought I'd n-never see y…you again," she sniffled. "Don't leave me ever again, Cloud."
His smile faded. Marlene turned teary emeralds up at him. "Cloud? You… you have to go soon, don't you?"
After a moment's silence, he nodded. She burying her face in his chest and started a new round of sobbing. "But once I get back," he promised both Marlene and Denzel, who stared dejectedly at the floor, "I promise I'm not going to leave anymore."
"Forever," Marlene added with finality.
"I'm not going to leave anymore forever," Cloud affirmed.
Marlene smiled and refused to release his waist the rest of the day.
When Tifa and Cloud had settled Marlene and Denzel down, Tifa immediately went into the Seventh Heaven's kitchen to get some hot dinner ready. She nearly melted into happiness when her eyes looked to her beautiful refrigerator. Tifa vowed to keep the appliance as spotless and clean as she possibly could from now on.
Cloud was explaining all that had happened to them to Barrett, who took it all over a mug of Tifa's finest. Barrett took it well enough.
Only because of Tifa's glares reminding him of the children present at the bar, most likely, but he was relatively calm none the less.
"Avast, ye land scum!"
All eyes turned to Denzel and Luneth, dressed in random garbs of clothing. "Is that my curtains!" Tifa burst in despair.
Denzel turned and grinned to her. "Arr, it be."
She groaned into the counter top. "Let them have their fun, Teef," Cloud chuckled. "After all- IS THAT FENRIR'S BIKE STAND?"
Luneth blinked, looking down at the small metal pipe he'd found outside on a chunk of metal. "Fenrir? What's a Fenrir?"
Cloud ran up to him, both the onion knight and Denzel trying to scramble back outside to escape Cloud's wrath. "What did you do to my bike!"
Outside, the fuming blonde found a very guilt Arc, who stuttered out the excuse that he was practicing a new fire spell. Cloud cried out in fury, diving for his decimated bike.
"Aah! Not my fault! Not my fault!" Arc screeched, jumping for cover behind Luneth.
A long while, the boys' frightened whimpering came to an end. "…Cloud?" Denzel sheepishly started. "…Are you okay?"
Another moment of silence. Tifa and Barrett inched towards the door. Cloud stood over a heap of metal laying on the ground. "Yes, Denzel, I am okay," he finally said in a tight, strangled voice.
Tifa's eyes went wide. "B-boys, how about you come inside now?" she slowly started, inching away from the door herself.
They took one last final look at Cloud, whose eye had starting twitching a little, and ran inside to duck for cover behind Tifa.
The bartender quietly nudged the door shut with her foot.
"Cloud needs the screwdriver again, Tifa," Marlene called from the back door. Through the tiny crack, one could just barely see Cloud Strife leaning over his motorcycle with black smudges of oil on his face.
"Tell him I'm almost finished with dinner, please," Tifa said, handing the girl a screwdriver and a rag to wipe his face off with. Tifa shook her head as Marlene skipped outside, relaying the promise of good, warm food. Cloud dejectedly gave Tifa a thumbs up before delving back into repairing his bike.
When Tifa turned around, a wide-eyed face suddenly popped up in her vision. Tifa let out a cry, almost dropping the glass she had been drying. Yuffie jumped in the air and squealed. "YOU'RE BAAAACK!"
The ninja jumped onto Tifa and squeezed her tight, restricting air flow. Tifa frantically tried to push her off, but Yuffie was unrelenting in her hugging. Until she saw Cloud.
"CLOUUUUUD!" she burst, jumping on his back. "Ouch," she hissed, "I think your hair just stabbed my throat."
"GET OFF OF ME!" Cloud roared, all but throwing the ninja off his back. Marlene giggled at the sight, and Cloud mumbled something under his breath and turned back to Fenrir.
Yuffie took Marlene's hands and started to jump up and down, singing, "They're back, they're back!"
Both girls remained outside giggling until dinner.
Dinner at the Seventh Heaven was crowded. Very crowded, once people outside noticed the crowd Tifa was serving and poured in the bar themselves. Soon, Tifa had put Barrett to work at regulating who came in and who couldn't- old friends and frequent customers only- while Cloud moved his bike and tools to the garage.
The night seemed to stretch on forever, and yet still more and more customers came in to see Tifa. She had given Luneth and Arc jobs at washing dishes with Marlene and Denzel while she took a break.
"Yo, ya bunch in the back! Give me three of the house's finest."
"We're kitchen duty," Luneth yelled back, looking over his shoulder. A blonde man with a toothpick in his mouth sat at the counter, impatiently looking in for Tifa. "'Sides, I'm too young to serve."
"Where's the server, then!"
Arc rolled his eyes. "No wonder Tifa took a break upstairs. Impatient drunkards outside."
"WHAT'D YA SAY 'BOUT ME!"
The blonde man jumped over the counter and marched back to the kitchen. Arc attempted to hide from his wrath behind Luneth, but the boy was pressed up as close as he could get to the sink. Ignoring the warriors' terrified faces, Marlene waved at the blonde, who seemed to calm down a fracture at seeing her. "Hello, Cid. Tifa's upstairs and Cloud's in the garage working on Fenrir."
"Cloud?" Cid asked in a strange accent Luneth and Arc hadn't heard before. "When'd that sorry lump get back?"
"Earlier this morning! I'll get Yuffie to get you a drink while I go get him for you, okay?"
Cid smirked and patted her braided hair. "Thanks, Kiddo." As soon as she had skipped out of sight, Cid turned his fiery glare back to Luneth and Arc. "Yins had best not mess with the little girl," he threatened, punching his palm, "or else yer gonna have me and Barrett to worry 'bout."
Denzel rolled his eyes as Cid laughed madly and walked from sight. "He's all talk. Don't worry, guys." But when Denzel turned around to look at the two warriors, they were gone. "Uh, Luneth? Arc?"
"Under here!" Luneth stage-whispered from their hiding place in a large cabinet beside the sink.
Arc gingerly poked his head out, searching to see if Cid was still nearby, before stepping out behind Luneth. The two old friends turned to each other and nodded solemnly in agreement. "Definitely worse than Refia," Luneth decided.
"I hope he doesn't have a hammer."
Aerith smiled. "It's alright that you don't remember. After all, if you forgot so easily, it must not be important. Right?"
Rinoa dropped to her knees in defeat. That one moment- that one promise- was all a blur. She couldn't see that young man's face and couldn't recall his voice. The memory was already fleeting away until she could barely remember forgetting.
The Ancient turned around a moment and cocked her head at something in the distance. "Want to switch?" she asked in mock politeness.
There was something else about the woman Aerith transformed into that tugged at Rinoa's mind. The sinister smirk that made her feel useless and the elegant, flashy robes were so familiar. The woman ran her fingers through Rinoa's hair, making her involuntarily shudder. "Play nice with Sephiroth, now."
Ultimecia's cackling laugh turned the golden flowers back into a harsh barren desert devoid of color. The sky turned black and Rinoa felt the sudden urge to sleep.
She couldn't sleep.
This man with chaos in his eyes was an enemy.
"I tried calling Vinnie, but he only hung up on me," Yuffie sadly announced at four that morning. It had taken a lot effort (and shouting) on Barret and Cid's part to get the bar empty again. Luneth, Arc, and Denzel were struggling to keep awake. The instant Marlene had found Cloud, she sat down on his lap and fell asleep against his shoulder. Yuffie frowned and plopped down at the counter, resting her elbows on the sleek marble.
Cloud scoffed, still miffed about the bike incident, but calmed down somewhat to where he could stand to be in the same room as Luneth and Arc. "And how many times a day do you call him?"
She muttered something in Wutai, signaling her defeat.
Tifa rubbed her forehead to ward off a growing migraine coming on. "It's late, everyone. Today's been a hectic day. Barrett, can Denzel and Marlene stay one more night with you? Luneth and Arc don't have a place to sleep."
"Oh, that's okay, Tifa," Luneth interrupted Arc's happy cry. "Marlene will be mad if she has to leave Cloud. We can sleep on some blankets in the floor."
Almost as if to agree to this, Marlene draped her arms around Cloud's neck in her sleep. Cloud stood up, quietly announcing he was going to put her to bed. Denzel wearily got up and trudged after him to his own bed upstairs. Tifa smiled.
This is what I love about you, Cloud Strife.
Tifa suddenly stood up, cheeks turning red at her own thought. "I'll go get you some blankets, boys." Great excuse, Lockhart. Very inventive.
But… She shook her head, lingering in her room's doorway. I guess there's no more denying.
Cloud. I do love you.
"Hey, Arc? Are you awake?"
The black mage yawned and rolled over on his side. "What, Luneth?"
The blonde frowned, scowling up at the ceiling. "I'm worried about the others. Rinoa, Terra, and Dagger."
Arc sighed and sat up with another yawn. "They're okay. I bet they're in other worlds like us. Squall isn't going to let anything else happen to Rinoa and he's going to find a way to bring her back," he assured his distraught friend. "Celes won't let anything happen to Terra, and if I know anything about Zidane, he'd sooner cut off his tail than let something touch Dagger."
He changed the subject. "What about the enemy?"
"Yeah," Arc frowned, fingering the hem of his blanket. "Seymour, Ultimecia, Sephiroth…."
"…Exdeath and Enuo, the Emperor, and Garland. Seven. And there's twenty two of us, counting Jecht and Golbez. But with Rinoa out, we're down to twenty one. That's three warriors per enemy. Of course, we have to take Chaos's power into consideration. Chaos is only getting stronger with Cosmos gone, and he'll no doubt make the last seven villains stronger too. We're scattered and still shocked over the sudden change of events and surroundings, so we're at a disadvantage despite our numbers," Luneth explained, his trembling lips seeming unable to stop. Explaining things was his forte, the one thing he was best at. So when there was nothing else to be done, why not ramble on about the friends he had began to doubt?
A nagging thought in the back of his mind had started whispering nonsense since he first arrived in Cloud and Tifa's world. Friends will be lost. Worlds will shatter.
You will lose this cycle, little warrior.
Luneth had always wondered what "this cycle" meant. Had all this happened before? All of the fighting? He suddenly wished Cosmos were still alive so he could ask her some questions about just what was going on, exactly. Too much had happened at once with little proper explanation. What was Kuja thinking, anyway? To stay behind and die while he sent them off into the great unknown…. It bothered Luneth in more than one way not to know.
Friends will be lost. More? These people had gotten to know on the battlefield, who took the place of his family…. Were they to die, Luneth wouldn't know what to do. Seeing Bartz and Terra so shaken up when Gilgamesh died had honestly terrified the onion knight. Luneth had grown up as an orphan in a small village. He didn't have many friends or any family at all, save Arc and the priest who had taken him in as a baby, and he hadn't ever lost any of them. He didn't know what true loss was.
The unknown was a scary thing. That was why he wanted to know everything there was to know.
Arc noticed his friend's trembling hands. His sleepy scowl turned soft. "Listen, Luneth," he started, scooting over closer to him. "You were in Dissidia longer than me. You fought more battles, had more trouble, experienced more loss."
The mage pulled the covers up over him. "Now it's time for you to rest. We're safe here, Luneth. Chaos may be getting more powerful, but we've got an advantage, just like you said. We're best friends. Not just us two, but with everyone we met in Dissidia. No matter what Chaos or those other guys may throw against us, we have a certain fighting spirit that all but guarantees we'll win. We always do. Even with the odds against us."
Luneth's strong front was starting to break. The memories of his friends were growing more painful every time the image of their smiling faces came to mind. Bartz and Zidane making silly jokes, Squall trying his hardest to pretend he didn't like them. The Warrior of Light with his quiet, serious, protective face, always looking out for his warriors. Terra and her comforting arms when she hugged him goodnight before they went to sleep. Firion, Tidus, and Cecil, all of whom taught him all sorts of things- weapons, dreams, and honor. Cloud who, despite how everyone else and sometimes Luneth himself was a morose, lonely guy; always took the time to make sure he was alright after every tough battle.
It was getting harder to hold the flood swimming in his eyes at bay.
"My point is, you don't have to be strong right now, Luneth. Let us handle it for a little while."
And the flood of frightened, lonely tears burst from his eyes in an instant.
Folding in on himself, Luneth silently sobbed for them.
Breakfast was something everyone in Dissidia had dearly missed. Day after day, their only meal was soup.
So when Tifa fixed fried eggs, sausage, toast, and pancakes, Luneth and Arc were sure they had died and gone to Heaven. The smell instantly woke the two boys from a sleep they didn't remember drifting back to after their midnight conversation. Luneth was in a considerably better mood, gobbling his food down with little regard to table manners.
Marlene thought he was utterly hilarious and had decided that whenever she wasn't with Cloud she would be with him. This made plenty of memories of Cid's threat come rushing back. After that, Luneth wasn't very hungry anymore.
Cloud was showing a side no one knew he had- Tifa had almost forgotten how kind and gentle Cloud Strife could be. He spent all day outside exploring with Marlene and Denzel and introducing Luneth and Arc to all sorts of people.
The ex-SOLDIER had even agreed to a trip to the church to look at the flowers. The first step he took inside the nearly decimated building echoed across the quiet floorboards. Aerith's flower garden was as golden as ever. It reminded him of the sun in the Rift. Bartz, Lenna, and Gilgamesh came flying back at him. Cloud's lips twitched, but he caught himself before he frowned. Marlene was counting on him to be happy, and he wouldn't dare let her down.
Not when everything about her reminded him of Aerith….
If he only gotten there a bit sooner, he could have saved her. If he hadn't let go of Gilgamesh. If he had caught onto Kuja and Cosmos's grand scheme before they….
So many "what ifs?" were in his life. Too many regrets. Sometimes, he just wanted to forget it all and just start over with something completely different. A new life, maybe. Of course he knew that there were so many good memories he would miss out on if he led another life, but thousands of nightmares worth good moments with friends?
Rationality told him no. But Cloud knew better than to think something better could be out there. He had a family, he had a home, he had a bike in the garage that was almost fixed back to perfection.
But most of all, Cloud had a duty to the kids in front of him. Not just Denzel and Marlene, but to Luneth and Arc.
"A good friend of mine grew these," Cloud explained, kneeling down by the water's edge to look out at the flowers beyond. "She had a real talent for finding something special in such a dump of a place. Of course, that also applied to people, myself included," he wryly added. Luneth and Arc failed to hold in a snicker.
Maybe a new life would be better. Maybe it would be worse. But Cloud wasn't going to trade small moments like that for anything else.
Like Luneth was afraid of the unknown, he was afraid of losing what little he had left in a world that stolen so much from him.
"Garland, you're the last to leave for the other worlds. Take out this trash and find the warriors in Jecht's world."
Garland cast a sneer at the two men lying broken on the floor before Chaos's feet. "Trash indeed. Foolish trash that died in vain."
Chaos laughed, feeling a wave of discord come from Kuja's brother. He must figured have something out, the dear idiot. Chaos could hardly wait for the other's turmoil to give him more power. Ultimecia and Sephiroth were having a great time erasing Rinoa's memories ever so little to make her forget Squall, going against her wish from before she entered Dissidia.
Yes… it was all going according to plan. Cosmos had already failed in denting his powers with her broken dolls of warriors.
"Splitting yourself into their crystals won't help at all, dearest Cosmos."
It was almost time for this cycle to end.