Chapter 5

Note: There will be no warnings before a chapter with graphic scenes. It would ruin the effect of the story.

Disclaimer: I do not own final fantasy or any of its characters.

As it figured, the coffee shop had been robbed.

Cloud had realized something was wrong the moment he'd unlocked the front door, and the door had jammed. The door only jammed when the last person who locked it didn't close it properly and didn't lift the door to let it rest on the frame. Occasionally Yuffie forgot, but she hadn't been to the store since he'd been there, and the last one to close up had been either Tifa or Barret.

He entered the café with caution, Vincent trailing behind him carefully when he realized that something was off about Cloud's behaviour.

When he flicked the lights on, his fears were confirmed. Chairs were scattered across the floor, with one of the sofas torn where someone must have dragged a knife over the old leather. Broken glass littered the floor near the bar; the remains of water glasses and juice bottles. Peering over the counter, Cloud groaned when he saw the mess that the coffee beans had created all over the kitchen area.

"Oh fuckidy fuck." He swore loudly as he tiptoed towards the cash box, but it was still locked. 'It would have been emptied before the store closed, since no one was going to come back.' He frowned. A lot of businesses were like that, and this must have been pretty recent for no one to have come and noticed this yet. So why did someone break into a shop with no money?

Vincent had already made his way into the back room, heading towards the security camera terminal. Cloud followed, sighing when he saw the lockers ripped open, several hanging off their hinges. His personally looked like someone had gone at it with a crowbar.

Glancing inside, he realized that he'd forgotten a coat and a few books. Well, what remained of the books at least. The pockets of his jacket were turned out and there was another long gash on one of the sleeves.

"It looks like someone was looking for something." Vincent spoke as he removed the DVD that contained the store video footage. He slipped it into a blank case and put it into one of his pockets and glanced around at the mess that surrounded them. "Whoever it was probably didn't find it, looking at the damage they must have done when they couldn't. They weren't that professional either if they didn't think to remove the security feed."

Cloud sighed again and pushed his coat away. Yep, that piece of clothing was a lost cause. Vincent was heading out the door; phone in hand to call the station. He wandered back into the main store, avoiding the shattered glass on the floor. They'd smashed the TV too, which was really bad because they'd only just been able to afford it.

His companion called to him from outside. "I've got to quickly run over to the station to drop off the tape. Don't leave the store." He ordered before the police sirens turned on and he heard the car speeding away.

Cloud stood awkwardly in the middle of his destroyed place of work.

Deciding there was nothing better to do, he walked towards the small closet behind the counter. Pulling out the broom – thankfully not broken - he started to sweep the scattered coffee beans into a pile to the side. Clearing a path on the floor for the police when they arrived, he glanced out the window, where the street contained a few people who peered curiously into the open door.

"Is the store open again?" A quiet voice came from the doorway, and Cloud turned around to see the new arrival. A tremor of fear went up his back when a familiar tall figure greeted him, the lank brown hair framing a pale face.

He tried to calm himself, and appear in control. "No… Sorry. We're just cleaning up now." Cloud cursed himself at how shaky his voice sounded. The man looked around the store, pausing for only a second when his gaze crossed over the young man in the middle of the store. "That's too bad…" He looked like he wanted to step further into the store.

"I'm sorry, but I'll need you to leave. I have to keep cleaning." He forced a small smile on his face and walked over to the door to open it further for him. He stared at Cloud for a second longer, but walked out again.

Cloud let out a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He was really trying to not force his suspicion on any person that passed him, but it was really easy to image that even a person who looks at you for a second longer is planning your death right there.

He locked the door for safety once the man was out of sight. Suddenly he didn't feel like cleaning anymore. He was sure the police would bring someone in to get rid of most of the mess, and they could leave the rest till this was all over and they were ready to open again.

Sighing again, Cloud picked up one of the fallen chairs and set it upright, before sitting down. 'Tifa's gonna have a conniption when she finds out about this.' The woman had put a lot of effort into this store, and though both she and Barret equally owned the place, she had practically created the café.

The sound of cars pulling up outside the store snapped Cloud of his reverie, and quickly he got up to unlock the door for the police officers. Zack bounded in, stopping smack in the middle of the wreckage to take in the damage. He whistled, before spinning around facing his blond companion.

"You know, if I'd known about this place beforehand, I would definitely have come here." The lieutenant grinned at him before addressing the two other officers that accompanied him. "You guys, start the prep for forensics. Dr. Crescent'll be here in about half an hour, but you can clear the floor to the walls and the other damaged places.

"Cloud, was anything stolen?" Zack asked him as he pulled out a notepad, pen poised to begin writing. Cloud shook his head, relaying that there had been no money in the store since they hadn't been planning to come back for a while.

As Zack puttered around looking at the damage, Cloud suddenly remembered the state of his locker. "Vincent said they were probably looking for something, and my locker was a total mess." He frowned, wondering who could possibly want something of his.

The older man paused, his brow furrowing as he thought about it. Looking past Cloud, he caught sight of the torn jacket that hung from the blonde's locker. "Did you leave anything in your pocket?" He asked, glancing at the young man. Cloud shifted from one foot to the other as he tried to think of what he'd done the last day he'd been in the shop. He obviously hadn't forgotten his keys, and his wallet was in his pocket, so nothing of worth could have been in them.

Shrugging, he leaned against the chair that sat in the middle of the destroyed room. "I can't remember. There might've been some receipts or something, but not anything that I'd miss if I didn't have it." Zack frowned, motioning for one of the officers to take the jacket. The uniformed man put the clothes into a large plastic back, sealing it quickly before putting it with the other pieces of evidence they'd already amassed from around the store.

"I don't want to jump to conclusions, but looking at your current situation, it could be the murderer." Zack spoke quietly, putting his notepad back into his pocket. "But for all we know it's just some kids who are taking advantage of the panic and decided to trash the place. It wouldn't be the first."

The two of them looked around at the mess that had been left. "Still, this is a bit much." Zack conceded and sighed, heading back outside to his car to contact the station.

Cloud wandered back into the staff room, staying out of the way of the two officers who were taking his trashed possessions from his locker and putting them into plastic bags. One of the men nodded at him, before the two exited the small room and headed back out to the trucks as well.

Glancing around the area again, he leaned against the back door, closing his eyes.

He felt it move behind him, a barely audible click echoing through the empty locker room when the doorknob moved back into its closed position. Whirling around, he frowned when he opened the door again, glancing out into the back alley. Cloud knew he hadn't opened the door, and none of the officers had been back there except for Vincent and the man who had taken the remains of his clothes and books from the locker. "Hey Zack?" He called, hearing the man talking to one of his coworkers in the main area again.

He stuck his head through the doorway, looking quizzically at Cloud until he noticed the open door. Pulling his hands out of his pocket, he ushered the other away and opened the door further, tsking when he glanced down at the outer doorknob. "Well, I guess we know how he got in without damaging the front door." Zack muttered, kneeling to get a better look at the destroyed lock.

The two moved out of the way quickly when a forensics worker moved between them, hands already pulling on latex gloves and pulling out a box of powder. Cloud looked up at the older man, who shrugged, pulling out his notepad and adding their finding to the long list that he'd already amassed. The officer on the ground wiped away the white powder that now covered the doorknob.

"No prints," The man told them, standing straight. "but the damage was done by a bullet, fairly powerful and from a close range." He explained, saluting to Zack before heading out through the store with his case.

Zack sighed, pushing the door further open and stepping out into the back alley. Following him, Cloud noticed that the other officer's had already taped off the small space, the yellow strands just visible around the corner.

"Aha!"

Cloud jumped, glaring at the black-haired man who grinned at him before pointing at a particularly muddy patch. Scowling, he looked down at the before-mentioned piece of dirt, not understanding what exactly about it created enough attention to excuse scaring the living daylights out of him. Moving a bit to allow the light from the staff room behind him out into the alley, Cloud's eyes widened slightly when he noticed the large impression almost exactly in the middle of the mud.

It took him a few seconds to realize that the dent was a large footprint, barely discernible from the surrounding concrete and dirt in the alley. Zack whistled, brushing away some loose dust that had gathered on top of the print. "Dude has a big foot, whoever he is. Must be popular with the ladies." An annoying grin made its way onto his face, and Cloud found himself overcome with the urge to whack it off of him.

"Hey fellas, get that forensics guy over here, will ya?" He called, standing up and leaving Cloud staring at the impression while he walked back into the shop through the back door.

Cloud shivered suddenly, his hands going up to clench around his upper arms as a cold wind blew into the alley. Frowning at the mark on the ground, he wondered if the man it belonged to was out somewhere, planning his death maybe. Whoever he was had the contents of his ruined jacket's pocket too, as well as Denzel's blood on his hands, most likely.

A hand on his shoulder startled him out of his thoughts, his head snapping up to stare at the person with wide eyes. Letting out a sigh of relief, Cloud let Vincent pull him up and lead him back through the shop and into his police cruiser. Glancing through the window after he sat down in the passenger seat, he watched the police officers walk by the front door to the coffee shop, one of them sweeping away broken glass and coffee beans from the floor.

"Tifa's gonna be pissed." He muttered as Vincent sat down in front of the wheel, the sound of the engine roaring nearly drowning out his comment. The older man sighed, pulling the car away from the crime scene and out onto the main road. "One of the women at the station left a message on her and Barret's cells." He explained, before the car turned silent while they made their way to the police station.

Cloud sat down in his usual seat on the couch at the back of the large reception area of the building, waving absently to one of the ladies sitting at the desks who greeted him cheerfully. Vincent stalked off quickly, disappearing into one of the many doors that lined the hall and leaving his charge alone. Another door opened soon after, and a large boot stepped out before Cloud looked up to meet the eyes of the police captain.

Sephiroth nodded to him quickly, before heading back into his office. He emerged again a second later, a styrofoam cup in his hand. Cloud smiled slightly as the tall man handed him the steaming drink, before blowing carefully over the hot liquid. Sephiroth stood there for a minute as he waited for the younger man to take a sip, before clearing his throat.

"Valentine has said that you'll need to stay here for several hours." The man told him, appearing slightly uncomfortable and continuously glancing back at the closed office door behind him. Cloud nodded, an eyebrow raised slightly. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to keep someone company for me until I return from my meeting." Sephiroth asked, visibly relaxing when he nodded without hesitation.

Cloud's eyes widened slightly when the officer door opened, and a young woman peeked through the gap between the frame and the dark wood. The police captain turned around at his expression, before reaching out towards the stranger and holding the door open for her.

At once he realized that this was Aerith, Sephiroth's famous sister that both Zack and the silver-haired man had spoken of on several occasions. As she stepped out, Cloud immediately took note of the IV on wheels that she held with a tight grip, white knuckles clenched around the support handle as she slowly pulled the trolley out of the doorway. She grinned at him, her entire face lighting up and her green eyes flashing slightly. She had long brown hair - probably as long as her brother's – tied up in a high pony-tail, which drifted down behind the loose dress that she wore.

"Hi!" She quipped, her grin growing (if that was possible) as Sephiroth helped her over to the couch. "So you're Cloud right?" She asked, her attention focused completely on him. To his chagrin, Cloud could feel the telltale heat of a blush going up his neck, and he swore he could see the police captain smirking slightly from the corner of his eye. Nodding mutely, he resorted to staring back down at the still-steaming cup of coffee that was clenched in-between his slightly sweating palms. Across from them, Sephiroth bid his farewells, before heading down the hallway.

Cloud internally cursed himself for being such an awkward person, though most likely the young woman beside him would pin his silence on the effect of the events that had recently plagued his lifestyle. Without letting her smile fall from her face, she glanced down at the white cup that he was precariously close to crushing between his hands.

"You work in a coffee shop right?" He glanced up at her, nodding quickly. "Then that instant stuff must taste like sewer crud to you then." She giggled, watching him pull a face before schooling it back. "…S'not bad." He mumbled, setting the styrofoam cup down on the table in front of him. Aerith continued without skipping a beat, her cheerful voice easily filling the space left by his social ineptitude. "I personally can't stand the stuff. I'm not supposed to drink it anyway though, so I guess it works." She smiled, and Cloud couldn't help glancing up at the IV that towered over the two of them from beside the couch.

Following his gaze, she sighed slightly, before smiling again. "Don't worry about that. I just have it most of the time so I don't get dehydrated. I'm actually doing really well." She grinned, pumping her fist for emphasis. Cloud relaxed slightly, noting that she looked much more active and her skin more flushed than he'd expected from what Zack had told him.

"I had a lung transplant a couple of weeks ago actually." She continued, staring across the hall to where phones were being answered in the entranceway. "It's the third transplant I've had in the past two months, but it seems that they're finally starting to pay off."

Cloud grinned at that, finally looking at her full out. Aerith returned his expression, before stretching out slightly and flopping against the back of the couch.

Shifting slightly at the close proximity to the bubbly girl, he noted the way her hair spilled over the leather cushion, looking slightly familiar.

"Yeah, doesn't look a huge amount like my brother's, I know." She spoke, though that hadn't been what he was thinking of. "I've got my mum's hair, though Seph looks a lot more like her. You've met her, actually." Cloud paused, in the middle of taking another sip of his coffee.

"…?" She smiled. Glancing down the hall to see if anyone was coming. Leaning over to him, she whispered in his ear, her breath sending goose bumps down his neck. "She's dating your guard."

"What?" He nearly shrieked, before covering his mouth and turning towards him companion and continuing in a more subdued voice. "Dr. Crescent is your mother? She doesn't look much older than you!." Aerith giggled at his reaction, her green eyes twinkling. "Yeah, but then again you'd never guess Vincent's age by looking at him."

She leaned back again when they stopped laughing, her eyes drifting slightly shut. "She divorced my dad when I was pretty little, but I was with my dad until a few years before he died." Cloud's lips thinned, glancing at the girl beside him. "He did some dumb stuff, though I think he meant well." She shrugged, looking up at the clock on the waiting area table. They'd been talking for well over an hour at this point.

"Sephiroth took me in after I turned eighteen though, since he's usually around more than mum. He isn't home as much now though, with what's happened." Sighing, Cloud felt a bit of the humor that had filled their conversation drift away slightly as the two thought about the circumstances that were probably the only reason the two would've met.

The sound of a door opening down the hall pulled them from their thoughts, and the two glanced up simultaneously as Sephiroth walked around the corner, a tight smile on his face. "Thank you for keeping her company, Cloud." He nodded at him as he helped Aerith from the couch.

"Bye Cloud!" Her chipper voice pulled a final smile out of him, and he waved as the two headed out of the station. A second later Vincent exited the meeting room, files tucked under his arm.

Cloud followed him towards the police car, feeling lighter than he had in a while.

To be continued -

There. Stop bugging me and let me go graduate high school.

On a random note, it took me five tries to spell Styrofoam. I don't like that word.