Prologue: Somewhere in-between

Will more than chance had brought her here this time, into the old ruins of the Shin-Ra mansion. She was surprised that now, 5 years after meteor, still nobody had ventured to claim it, and restore it to its former glory. She couldn't quite estimate the number of years that it had stood neglected, but by no means empty. She had come prepared for such encounters with its modern day inhabitants; her plethora of mastered materia gave her an unnatural buzz, almost a glow, as she traversed the building through the gloom, ducking under broken beams and avoiding holes in the floor, her premium hearts creaking at her knuckles.

This was going to be one hell of a project alright, but she figured she had nothing else to occupy her time; She may make some money out of it, at least, if nothing else were to be gained. She was going to renovate the place, or at least give it a good go. It was either that, or go crazy living in Edge with Cloud and the children.

More specifically Cloud.

It had gotten too much; living in constant fear of upsetting the kind of awkward equilibrium they had settled into. She didn't want to tell him how she felt, for she feared the answer, and her insecurities about how he felt about her were slowly driving her mad. She wasn't getting any younger, than was for sure, and at twenty five, she'd about had it tip-toeing around him. One morning, after the kids had left for school, and before Cloud himself left for a delivery, she finally worked up the courage to tell him she was leaving. He hadn't even seemed confused; just gave a curt nod, and quietly inquired about the children. Of course, she should have known that he wouldn't have volunteered himself to stop the whole courier charade and take the responsibility; they both knew he didn't need the money. It was just the 'being alone' aspect that she knew he could never give up.

She told him that Barrett had always made it known to her that he could take care of the children, if she wanted a break, and not to worry his pretty little head about such things. Perhaps she had imagines it, but he had smiled softly, before leaving the bar.

In the days that followed, she didn't realise just how angry his nonchalance had made her; not until, at least, she had started to break dishes for an outlet. She announced she was leaving, after five years of relative silence, and that was all he had to say about it? Not even one fucking question as to why, or to check if she was alright? She doubted he was even curious.

It made her feel sick to the stomach, actually. She suddenly realised that her decision would probably be the best one she had made for a long time. She needed to do something for herself. She needed to be alone for a while to think about what she wanted to do for rest of her life, because frankly, she didn't really want to be alone forever.

Cloud wasn't going to budge, and she didn't have the strength to make him. Part of her knew that even if she did confess her feelings, and all the she hoped for came true, it would never make her happy. She would always know she had been second. She would always know that it wasn't what he wanted.

So here she was, in Nibelheim, her satchel full of her savings and what few clothes and precious possessions she owned, ready to make a start on making a new start; Her plan hadn't quite formulated yet.

She finally emerged into the main hallway, sneezing and spluttering after running into a moth-eaten curtain. The weak sunlight filtered in through the grimy stain glass windows, dust motes dancing on the sunbeams. At the sound of metallic clanking and a whining creak, she realised her first task was going to begin at once; the place needed emptying of monsters.

A Ghirofelgo. Perhaps one of the strangest monsters she had come across. A figure of a blonde-haired man, riding on a giant axe. A man that had no legs. Jesus, they really creeped her out, but she was lucky in that all of the monsters here were pretty low level. She'd long surpassed them in her ability, and she wasn't that worried. Still, she had to perform a mad dive to avoid being hacked in half by the afore mentioned man-riding-a-giant-axe, cursing at the splinters she'd acquired in her knees as a result.

Staggering to her feet and temporarily abandoning her pack, she readied herself for the next assault. In the gloomy light of the hall it was difficult to make out where her attacker was hidden. The grand hall and staircase was an amalgamation of shadows and light beams, the latter only serving to hinder her eyes probing into the darkness. The house shifted and groaned around her, making it impossible to pinpoint a particular sound, one that might have been made by her quarry. Her ears and eyes were strained for any sign of movement as she began treading small circles in the grand hall, in an effort to map the whole room. The silence dragged on, though the sense of being watched did not cease, setting the hairs on the back of her neck on end, tingling in anticipation.

Damn it, since when had monsters gotten so sneaky?

There! Her head snapped towards the ceiling, a space above and between the two windows, where the intruding light beams would have sheltered it from view. Its height gave it the advantage of gaining astounding speed on its downward arc, and she barely had time to register its presence before the monster was on a deadly path to cut her asunder. In a flash she raised her arm and fired off the first spell she could think of.

The green glow of the materia surrounded her, her hair whirling around her as the magic began to work. Time materia; if she could stop it in its tracks, she could assimilate herself and perform one fatal attack to finish it off.

Though perhaps its deadly down stroke was coming toward her too quickly for the spell to take hold in time. She only registered that irony as she raised her arms in defence. Time seemed to be slowing, yet not near quickly enough; she could make out the gleam of the immense blade, reflecting the coloured light patches, forming a magnificent but deadly fractal.

The point connected with the orb of materia, still aglow within premium hearts, and for a second, she thought that the magic had worked. Everything seemed to freeze, as it should if the magic had been cast correctly.

Yet, something did not feel quite right.

Her skin began to tingle, and it seemed to Tifa that the very air that surrounded her began to vibrate. She became abruptly aware of a gentle ringing in her ears, getting steadily louder. Her arm bearing the Time materia began to feel rather hot, and then without any warning, the materia exploded.

Shards of a glass-like substance shot out, tearing into her skin. Oddly, the outline of the materia remained, though it was no longer solid; instead it formed a smouldering, luminescent mass. It began to pulsate, before winding around her static limbs. A sort of dust, she inhaled it unwillingly, trying to blink it out of uncooperative eyes.

The ringing became louder now, almost unbearable. Her vision started to blur, and all colours and shadow became one before her.

A bang, and she was thrown backwards to the ground. Then everything went black.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The next thing she knew, she was lying flat on her back, aware of several points on her body that throbbed and ached. Her vision seemed to be dominated by swirling lights and spots, though at least she could see colour. Yellow, burning red through her eyelids. Her throat felt raw, her lungs burned and aching. She coughed, blinking rapidly in an effort to clear her vision. Slowly, it returned to her, and she found herself lying exactly where she had presumably fallen moments ago.

Except everything was different.

The hallway was a wondrously bright and airy space. The chandelier glimmered in the burst of sunlight through the windows above her head, windows which were not missing panes, and were perfectly clean. Neither cobwebs nor ivy clung to the walls, walls which did not bear peeling paint and paper any longer. The hallway stood in all its glory exactly how it perhaps had been, long ago.

She began to wonder if she was dreaming, yet the return of the throbbing pains at various points of her body discredited that theory.

Then she heard footsteps.

Frowning and cursing, she managed to use a nearby wall to pull herself to her feet.

A tall man, wearing a navy blue suit came into view, emerging from one of the far doors that she knew to be the kitchen. The door, she noted, was not hanging off of its hinges. His gaze fell upon her, his expression undergoing a series of rapid changes. Confusion and shock foremost, yet that was soon replaced by concern. She glanced down and noted her bleeding cuts.

"Excuse me, are you alright?" Now there was something familiar about that voice…. where had she heard it before? She struggled to prop herself up, aware of her complaining joints. "Miss? Can you hear me?" He took a few more steps closer, his shiny black shoes tapping loudly as he walked across the polished wooden floor. Since when had the floor been polished? Since when had she seen the floor of the mansion at all, for that matter?

"I…" He stopped in a shaft of light, bursting through one of the windows. Though he squinted, she could make out a flicker of ruby as his irises glimmered in the sun. His hair was the colour of midnight, framing an attractive, pale face with very straight, defined features. HIs navy suit was immaculate, and his shoes polished to perfection.

"How did you…" He took a step closer, and then stopped upon registering the shock on the strange woman's expression. Behind the dirt-streaks and cuts was a beautiful face framed by a mass of near-ebony waves, proud and confident. Yet now, he saw that confidence waver.

"Vincent? Is that you?" The man's mouth fell open, betraying his otherwise cool exterior.

"How do you know my name?"

….to be continued.

A/N: This is supposed to be Dirge of Cerberus (Past) meets The Time Traveller's Wife (an excellent book, by Audrey Niffeneger). Let me know what you think.