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Beloved, Chapter 21

Title: Beloved

Rating: M, for violence, language, slash.

Summary: FFVII, post DoC. Genesis/Cloud, one-sided Tifa/Cloud. It all starts when Cloud tries to leave during the middle of a Loveless performance.

Author’s Note: Sorry for the long wait for this chapter!  Thank you for your patience.  I'll have to beg a bit more from you as I'll be moving onto fortnightly updates from here on in, since the next two months are looking unusually busy for me and I've more or less run out of writing buffer. :( 

As always, lot of thanks to Little House for the beta.

 
 
Previous chapter




____________________

Beloved Chapter 21

____________________

 

 

Watery morning sunlight filtered through the bar’s blinds.  Tifa stared at the thin patterns of light across the tables as she wrapped an extra layer of padding around her knuckles.  She hadn’t been training lately, and her hands weren’t quite as tough as they used to be.  As tough as they needed to be, for this.

 

Her mouth moved on automatic, spilling out the mental checklist running in the background.  “The kids get back from school by three - they know to call if they’re going to be late, you’ve got your phone with you, right?  And, oh – the bar!  You don’t have to worry about it, I’ve been closing early anyway, I’ll leave it up to you, but if you do decide to open we’re all out Wutai liquors, there’s another order coming in but it’s not due for a few days yet so I should be back in time for that.  And if there’s an emergency I’ll have my phone too-”

 

“I got it, I got it!” Barret interrupted.  His clothes were rumpled and his beard scraggly from the overnight trip – he’d not even been there long enough to freshen up, but Tifa wanted to get moving as soon as Nanaki showed face.  “I know I ain’t around that much, but I know all this already!”

 

Tifa bit her lip, and tugged on her gloves.  “You’re right, Barret.  Sorry.  Thanks for making it back so quickly.  I wouldn’t feel right leaving the kids alone at the moment.”

 

“Ah, it ain’t no trouble.  Woulda been here anyway, but you know how it is.  Maybe if I’d been around a bit more mighta noticed something was up earlier.”

 

Unlikely.  Whenever Barret was in town he was too busy spoiling the kids rotten to pay much attention to anything else.  Still, Tifa could recognise Barret’s own brand of clumsy regret, so kept that thought to herself.  In some ways, it was comforting to know she wasn’t the only one wondering ‘what if’.

 

“Hey, Barret, do you think what Tseng was suggesting is true?”  Her voice sounded distant even to her own ears.

 

“Whaddya mean?  The bit about Spikey going all… you know?”  He scratched at his beard with his normal hand, face scrunched in thought.  “I don’t know too much about all that crap with Sephiroth,” he eventually replied.  “You know I wasn’t there for all that like you an’ Spikey were.  So I dunno, really.  Whatever you decide, I guess.  I’m behind you all the way!”  He slammed his gun arm against the table for extra emphasis.  “If it means we fight Spikey, or we wind up fightin’ against Reeve, I don’t care which!”

 

The sentiment brought a smile to her face, though it felt tired on her cheeks.  It must have shown, because Barret gave her a beady stare and grunted, “You sure you alright, Tifa?  Need any backup?  Cid ain’t far away, right?  Or we could get someone else to watch the kids.”

 

“It’s fine,” she said, clenching her fists a couple of times to test the wrappings.  “I’ll have backup.”  She was confident in her abilities, but she hadn’t forgotten how Loz had laid her flat in the Church a year and a half ago.  Fights against even regular monsters were safer all around with an ally.  “Call them in if you can, but I don’t want to wait.”  She’d waited too long already.

 

The jingle of the bell and jangle of beads from the front door caught their attention.  When they glanced over, Nanaki paused in the doorway, flank holding it open.  “Tifa, Barret,” he greeted nonchalantly.

 

After the past few days she’d had, Tifa wasn’t having any of that.  She stormed over and grasped Nanaki by the scruff of his neck.  “We’re going, Barret.  You know how to contact me.”

 

“Good luck!” Barret called as she physically dragged their four-legged comrade outside.

 

“Tifa!” Nanaki half-yelped.  “What’s this all about?”

 

“You’re coming with me,” she said firmly.  “I know you’ve been avoiding everyone, but this is important.”

 

He dug in his paws, a low growl forming in his throat.  “I won’t help you look for Cloud.  It would only lead the WRO straight to him.”

 

“We’re not looking for Cloud.”  She dug the keys from her pocket for the pickup truck.  “We’re doing what we should have done a long time ago.  We,” Tifa said, “are going to go find this clone for ourselves.”

 

 

……………

 

 

My Friend, the dream is Lost

There is no prisoner, no hope

The sword has fallen upon your feet

 

My Soul cleansed of darkness

Desires only truth

To defy shadows and return to glory

And end Your endless journey

 

Now all that remains to want

Is only vengeance…

 

Genesis quoted poetry in the background, giving Cloud the time and space to think while he sat on the edge of the stage, turning everything over and over in his head.

 

In the end, the need for cover and recovery had led to Cloud reluctantly accompanying Genesis back to the theatre.  While he still couldn’t bring himself to trust everything Genesis said, the similarities to Zack’s story had rattled him.  He didn’t know what to do next.

 

Old habits from AVALANCHE’s days on the run had him forcing down some food, and following it up with both a potion and an ether to make up for the day’s exertion and the lack of proper rest.  Then he’d sat down and checked over First Tsurugi meticulously, inspecting it for damage and sharpening each blade to perfection.

 

Now, he was left only with his thoughts.  Anxiety thrummed through him, like he’d cast Haste on himself only to find he had nothing to fight and nowhere to go.  It was frustrating.

 

How much time did they have left?  Already sunlight had begun to shine through the holes in the theatre’s roof.  He was frittering away precious hours on indecision, obsessing over the predicament Weiss had presented instead of figuring out what to do about it.

 

“…The morrow is robbed of hope

Yet still, you are beloved

Rising to the heavens on broken wings

So let it be my fate…

 

Logic and basic battle strategy insisted that he really did need to find a way to somehow inform at least AVALANCHE that Sephiroth had returned.  But if everyone else knew, they’d simply want to kill him again.  Cloud honestly couldn’t blame them.  And if AVALANCHE heard that Sephiroth was using Weiss’s body, that would only make things worse.  How could Cloud explain that they wanted to try to save Weiss?

 

For that matter, how could they save Weiss?  Maybe he’d better think about that first before he started imagining all the worst-case scenarios.

 

In his own experiences, willpower was the largest factor in beating back the call for Reunion.  Weiss didn’t have that – if he were in the state Genesis had described, it would take months of rehabilitation at a minimum to get him to the point of resistance.  The only other way to fight Jenova’s taint was…

 

An idea began to form.  "The Church," he murmured.

 

Genesis halted his soliloquy.  “You have something?”

 

Cloud nodded slowly.  “It's a matter of will.  Geostigma was, at its most basic level, Jenova's taint and the body's adverse reaction to it," he said.  "But the previous clones... they infused their will into the water in the Sleeping Forest, and those that drank it were taken over.  Or more like… their will was displaced by the water they drank."

 

Genesis made a sound of agreement.  "The Lifestream is, after all, reputed to be the collective will and thoughts of countless generations of life."  At Cloud's surprised glance, he smirked condescendingly.  "It is the very basis of Materia Theory."

 

Right.  Genesis understood the concept that will and memories were something that could be stored and transmitted physically, then.  That saved him some explanation.  "The water in the Church... it’s a cleansing agent.  It counteracted Geostigma."

 

Genesis was quick to catch on.  “And you think it could help Weiss too?”  He frowned.  "But what about you?  You still have that connection with Sephiroth."  His gaze was sharp.  “I saw you freeze up.  It’s not only Weiss he has influence over.”

 

Cloud shifted uncomfortably, avoiding his eyes.  “I was caught off-guard.”  It had been a long time since Sephiroth had tried to exert his influence so directly – it was odd that he’d tried again after so long.  Even when he returned with Kadaj, he’d merely tested it, used it as an irritant, a mental jab to accompany the ones made of steel.

 

“But you didn’t use this water to cure it?”  The doubt was plain in Genesis’s tone.

 

"It cured my Geostigma.  But S-cells are... different."

 

Hojo had been thorough with him.  He could no more get rid of S-cells than a tree could get rid of chlorophyll. He'd looked into it during his research on Geostigma, but they were so woven into his genetic makeup now that it was a wonder his hair hadn’t turned silver.

 

Genesis’s stare was heavy and assessing.  It was oddly reminiscent of the expression he wore in their first confrontations, back when they were still trying to place each other in their memories and solve the mysteries of the other’s existence.  “So we bank on the fact that Weiss does not carry S-cells specifically, and that this distinction is enough to make the water work.”  He ran his fingers lightly across the sword hilt hanging against his thigh.  “The challenge then lies in the confrontation.”  His lips quirked with sardonic amusement.  “I believe there are some buckets in the prop storage.”

 

Not exactly elegant, but since when did Cloud care about that?

 

Anxiety plagued him, however.  The fear hadn’t left, even with a plan.  There was still too much that didn’t make sense, too many doubts he couldn’t put into words.  The certainty that they’d overlooked something vital.  It was a primal instinct, a dread conditioned by horror after horror, a terror he could never entirely quash even as he fought through it.

 

Genesis studied him at length in the ensuing silence.  “Do not misunderstand, Cloud Strife.  I am grateful for your assistance here, but I have to ask – can I trust you with this?”

 

Cloud stared at him.  “After the last few days, you’re asking me about trust?”

 

“Weiss is important to me,” Genesis snapped in turn.  “It is a matter of duty.  But I am perfectly aware that you might not feel the same.”

 

Something inside him twisted painfully.  “I have to consider the danger to the Planet, too.  I’ll do everything I can, but this is bigger than Weiss, you know.”

 

Their gazes met, two shades of glowing blue steel.  And without a word, Cloud could sense a line being drawn between them.

 

He averted his eyes.  “Let’s get moving.  We can’t waste any more time.”

 

 

……………….

 

 

Nanaki trudged somewhat begrudgingly beside her as they made their way through the outer edge ruins of Sector 7.  Tifa brushed her hair from her eyes and squinted into the distance, trying to make something out of the piles of rubble.  This part of Midgar was nothing but various shades of grey concrete and metal, the depressing landscape broken only occasionally by the remains of a faded shop sign and Nanaki’s red fur beside her.

 

They’d left the truck a short distance inside the city walls – the last thing Tifa wanted was to be worried about their ride back busting a tire or breaking an axle.  So their progress was slow – Midgar was big, and even if the terrain weren’t littered with hazards it could take the better part of a day to walk from the walls to the inner districts.  To cross any of the sectors on foot could take close to half of that.

 

The morning sun was uncomfortably warm on her back, and her hair was already beginning to cling to the sweat beading the nape of her neck.  She really was out of shape if just this much activity was enough to tire her out.  It only took a couple of months of soft living, apparently.

 

“Have anything?” Tifa asked.

 

Nanaki hunched.  “No.  If the clone were so easy to find, I would have by now.”

 

Tifa shielded her eyes against the sun, and pointed down a road to their left.  “Then we’ll head this way.”

 

“Any particular reason?” he grouched. 

 

Tifa shugged.  She couldn’t track like Nanaki could, nor Cloud, or probably even Yuffie.  But she’d grown up in Nibelheim and learned a thing or two about terrain and hunting – and later, after joining AVALANCHE, of hiding.  “Nothing solid.  But there’s a clear path, and more cover.”  She waved a hand at the sloping remains of the Plate.  “And it’s a blind spot for all the nearest vantage points.  You’d have to fly directly overhead to get any kind of view.”

 

Nanaki kept pace, even if he didn’t stop grumbling.  “Cloud himself couldn’t find the clone when he was looking, and neither has Vincent or the WRO.  What makes you think we’ll have any more luck?”

 

“I don’t know if we will.  Maybe we won’t.  But I don’t believe Cloud’s going to become another Sephiroth.”  She curled and uncurled her fists, focusing on the pull of leather across her knuckles.  It was better than remembering Tseng revealing that black feather.  “The WRO and Turks are so busy focusing on that, they’ve all forgotten about the clone.  So we’re going to find the clone, and prove they don’t need to worry about Cloud.”

 

It was grasping at straws, she recognised that.  Even if they were successful, it still might not fix everything.  But until they solved at least that mystery, nothing would be fixed. 

 

In Tifa’s mind, a chance was better than nothing.  AVALANCHE had gambled on worse in the past.

 

That sent Nanaki into a pensive silence.  An ahriman screeched overhead, wheeling close to investigate, and veering off just as quickly when it spotted Nanaki.  Humans were one thing, but there was no mistaking a fellow predator.

 

“It’s dangerous.  Midgar isn’t safe for regular people,” Nanaki eventually said.

 

“It can’t be any worse than Mount Nibel, and I was the best climber in Nibelheim.  I’m not worried about a little mako in the air either.  I went for a swim in the stuff and came out fine.”  She side-eyed him.  “Why are you trying so hard to talk me out of this?  Hiding something?”

 

Nanaki ducked his head sheepishly.  It was as good as an admission of guilt.

 

She didn’t bother pushing, though.  When Nanaki wanted to keep a secret, wild chocobos couldn’t drag it out of him – much to Turks’ recent frustration.

 

It did, however, sharpen her suspicion that Cloud was hiding in Midgar.  Realistically, he could have gone anywhere on the Planet, but the Turks and the WRO had been focusing their efforts on Midgar, and Tifa was inclined to agree.

 

She shoved the thought from her mind, before the temptation could take hold to look for Cloud instead of the clone.  Like Nanaki had said, that would only lead the WRO straight to him.  She’d misjudged before, but she wasn’t going to bring the WRO to Cloud if he didn’t want to be found.

 

Still, with all the thoughts and worries that had been bubbling inside over the past week, she couldn’t resist commenting, “You don’t seem worried about Cloud.”

 

Nanaki’s good eye swivelled to her, but he didn’t respond.

 

“I just wanted to know… is he okay?  You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but do you know that much?”

 

This time, she waited him out, and was rewarded with a gravelled sigh.  “I don’t know anything for certain.  But I have reason to believe he is safe.” 

 

Tifa took a deep breath, held it, and slowly let it out again.  For now, that would be enough. 

 

Odin only knew it was more than what she’d had in the past.

 

They fell back into a strained silence, only the scuffs of Nanaki’s paws and her shoes keeping them company.  It made her wistful for the times when Yuffie would be chattering in the background, an endless stream of taunts and brags and tall tales of adventure.  When Cid would clomp along swearing at the world in general, complaining about everything from Shera to bad weather to needing a cigarette.  When Cait would break out into cheerful limericks or offer to tell people’s fortunes.  And Barret would shout over the top of everyone about what they should do next and then just as loudly worry about Marlene.

 

There was nothing to be done about it, though.  Those were days that couldn’t be reclaimed anymore, and she was starting to think it was foolish of her to wish for it.

 

“There aren’t many monsters in this area,” she observed after a while, mostly to break the quiet.  “But there are a lot of tracks.”

 

“Perhaps the wrong time of day for it,” Nanaki suggested.

 

Tifa bit her lip.  Hellhounds were typically nocturnal, but the guard hounds common in this region were more inclined to hunting during daylight hours – or at the very least they ought to have been protecting their territory from intruders.  Nanaki’s presence was a natural deterrent, but it was odd they hadn’t seen any prowling nearby.

 

On Mount Nibel, that was always a bad sign.  It meant snowstorms, or dragons.

 

What would it mean in Midgar’s ruins?

 

Before she could voice her concern, Nanaki’s ears perked up and he raised his nose to the wind in surprise.  “I think I have something.”  With a loping stride, he leapt up an embankment of rubble, disappearing swiftly over the other side.

 

“Hey, wait up!” Tifa called.  She was a mountain girl, but she didn’t have the advantage of four legs and a low centre of gravity.  She scrambled after him, debris scattering under her feet.  “Idiot!  Don’t run ahead!”  Odin, had he forgotten the cardinal rule of wandering in a potentially hostile area?  What was the point of bringing along backup if they didn’t stick together?!  She was going to chew him out big time when she caught up.

 

A harsh yowl scraped at her ears.  The hairs on her neck prickled with alarm – it was a sound she hadn’t heard for years, since the days of AVALANCHE picking fights way over their heads. “Nanaki?!  Are you okay?!”

 

The only answer was a thud amongst the wreckage.  Tifa cursed, struggling up the unstable junk pile.  “Nanaki!”

 

“He can’t hear you,” a smooth, strangely familiar voice answered.

 

Tifa spun, fists clenched, leg sweeping automatically through the air.

 

It was caught, and held.  A kick that even when she was off-form could break bones, stopped as though it had no more force than that of a child’s.  And all she could register was black feathers and silver hair and nightmares of fire-

 

She’d miscalculated.  Horribly.  Even the rest of AVALANCHE wouldn’t have been backup enough.

 

The word left her in a rush of breath, horror and disbelief and the dreadful realisation that they’d all been far, far too complacent.

 

Sephiroth?”



 

Next chapter
 

Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
killiara
Nov. 17th, 2012 05:48 am (UTC)
You have no idea how loudly I just squealed. The next door neighbor's dogs started howling.
sinnatious
Nov. 17th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
LOL! <3
skibalovesya
Nov. 17th, 2012 06:42 am (UTC)
Cloud's on the money with the Great Gospel... Geyser... the G3? The G-cubed? If it cured degradation and G-cell related shenanigans in TFA, then it oughta work here!

Though now I have the hilarious image of Cloud filling a pepper-spray/mace bottle with it and macing Sephiroth in the eyes. He'd probably scream. XD;;;

Also that end.

That end.

...Sinnatious. :| y u do dis.
killiara
Nov. 17th, 2012 07:11 am (UTC)
... my mental image had him hunting Sephiroth with a supersoaker, one of those real elaborate ones with a backpack unit storage tank. And of course it's a brighter yellow than his hair, with orange accents.
skibalovesya
Nov. 17th, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
Oh my god is it crackfic time yet. XDDD

Reminds me of the plan I had to take on Sephiroth at the end of the game with the Nailbat. Omnislash moar liek Omnibash amirite or amirite? ;3
kitty11chan
Nov. 18th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
*cackles* Someone must draw this!!
sinnatious
Nov. 17th, 2012 10:58 am (UTC)
I feel a Dissidia crossover coming on. Could it be that all along Sexy Cologne was actually just filled with Aeris's magic water?! XD

I live for cliffhangers. You know this already. Don't act surprised.
skibalovesya
Nov. 17th, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
Bwahahaha, I knew you'd catch that reference to your own fic there. ;D

I will always act surprised! I'm like a baby you play peekaboo with when it comes to fic. Object permanence is not my strong suit! XD
(Anonymous)
Nov. 17th, 2012 11:39 am (UTC)
They’d left the truck a short distance inside the city walls – the last thing Tifa wanted was to be worried about their ride back busting a tire or breaking an axel.

I think you might've meant axle instead of Axel?

Great chapter! Your cliffhangers always slay. ;u;
sinnatious
Nov. 17th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Indeed! Good spotting. Have fixed it, thanks.
ebil_angel
Nov. 17th, 2012 12:38 pm (UTC)
Oh Gawd....
swyrel
Nov. 17th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, Tifa, there you go causing trouble again. Now you'll be used as bait and Cloud will be terribly upset if you die. T_T On that note, you'd better not have killed Nanaki off! He's too fluffy to die!

Also, AVALANCHE certainly isn't a stealthy bunch, are they? If they were always that loud, it's a wonder Vincent would even travel with them. lol

...Genesis needs to stop quoting poetry and just throw Cloud on the ground and get it on! It's been too long since we had the slashy bits lol

I just love the little tidbits you throw in, as usual~ with Tifa going soft and Cloud repairing his sword after a hard fight <3 Just something that most authors gloss over, but you just amaze me with all of the little details you add all over the place. XD

Great chapter! <3
sinnatious
Nov. 18th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
Nanaki has rock-solid canon plot armour. He's alive five hundred years in the future, after all.

AVALANCHE were hilariously un-stealthy. Every single one of their attempts at infiltration were the stuff of comedy. Exhausting themselves climbing the stairs in ShinRa? Barret scaring everyone else out of their train car? That time they dressed Nanaki up as a naval trooper when they all snuck on board the submarine? ...This is making me realise how tragically little crack I have included in this fic.

LOL, and how tragically little slashy bits, too. Sorry! This is why I tend to stick to gen these days.

And thank you~!
swyrel
Nov. 18th, 2012 07:08 am (UTC)
Well, yeah, but just b/c he's around in canon doesn't mean you have to keep him. T_T you always worry me with things like that lol

And don't forget cross-dressing Cloud! lol Man, Genesis needs to find out about that XD

But even your gen fic makes us want slashy bits! Or did you forget that you started everyone liking Genesis/Cloud w/ a gen fic :P
skibalovesya
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
I always thought it was so cute/funny that TFA sort of implied some mutual Sephiroth/Cloud and Cloud/Sephiroth UST, then Genesis kind of wedged his way into that and was like NOPE, MINE.

I wonder what he'll do here...~
swyrel
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Well, in all fairness, Genesis DID see Cloud first in TFA so apparenlty he got to stake some kind of claim, especially when Cloud saved him. lol

But yeah, possessive/jealous!Genesis is cute~
reighost
Nov. 20th, 2012 06:58 am (UTC)
TFA?
reighost
Nov. 20th, 2012 07:01 am (UTC)
Oh hang on nvm, *headdesk* The Fifth Act... wow do i need more sleep or what!
caterfree10
Nov. 17th, 2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
Goddammit, how many chapters are you going to leave it so the first word out of my mouth is "SHIT"? I've honestly lost count already askfljhdslkjhfasklfhsd

Also, YAY NEW CHAPTER! Long time coming but oh so welcome. <3

I like Tifa's idea. I mean, hell she has a point, everyone's so focused on Cloud, they forgot about the "clone" (not that they know Weiss isn't a clone at this point, but minor details) which isn't in anyone's interest since, well, it has lead to the point that no one wants. As Tifa has found out the hard way. Jesus fuck I askjlfhslkajfhafkjls

And I like how Cloud came to think of the healing water in the church. Like Skiba said, if it worked in TFA, why not here too? :>
sinnatious
Nov. 18th, 2012 01:39 am (UTC)
If everything goes to plan, all of them. >:D

LOL, well, TFA obviously isn't canon, but the water is a terribly convenient cure-all Square has gifted us with and I'm going to abuse the hell out of it.
caterfree10
Nov. 18th, 2012 03:33 am (UTC)
You are an evil, evil person, and I hope you know this. :P

Yeah minor details, but it still works yeah? :>
ynyuki
Nov. 18th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
You big, bad wolf, Seph... x) <3 *caught one of your rivals for Cloudy's heart?*

>.< I nominate you for the Best Cliff-Hangers-At-The-End-Of-Every-Chapter Writer. I am sure 99.9% of your readers agree with me.

sinnatious
Nov. 19th, 2012 09:44 am (UTC)
LOL, I will work hard to be worthy of this honour.
kitty11chan
Nov. 18th, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
Ack!!! Tifa, you baka; remember what happened the last time you took on a clone?? What makes you think this will be any different?? Jeez, you have this coming.
sinnatious
Nov. 19th, 2012 09:49 am (UTC)
It's a little bit inappropriate, maybe, but this response made me laugh. XD
kitty11chan
Nov. 20th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
Hey, truth is truth; she has it coming.
darkbombayangel
Nov. 19th, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
I love the chapter! ^_^
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )