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Optimal Scenario, File 5.0

Title: Optimal Scenario

Warnings: Contains not-particularly graphic shonen ai, mild language, and violence.

Summary: FFVII, Vincent/Cloud. Shelke decides to play matchmaker. This mostly seems to involve tormenting Cloud.

Author's Note: This fic is so amazingly cliché and trope-ish, but luckily I am also shameless and don't really care. Next week I won't be able to update on Tuesday, expect the chapter either Saturday or Wednesday. That sounds like a big window but it's very much an either-or scenario.


File 1.0
File 2.0
File 3.0
File 4.0



>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

File 5.0

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>



Their time at the Gold Saucer drew to a close much too fast for Shelke’s liking. Their last evening – or more specifically, Yuffie’s last evening – had been spent avoiding Cloud’s wrath. Shelke had been momentarily hopeful when she observed Vincent shadowing Cloud’s search for Yuffie, but once more it appeared her goal remained unfulfilled.

Thus returning to Edge in many ways felt an awful lot like defeat. A week at the Gold Saucer, reputedly one of the greatest romantic retreats on the Planet, and Shelke had yet to achieve her goal. She couldn't decide which was more inconvenient - Cloud's apparent obliviousness, or Vincent's denial.

Luckily, Shelke’s industriousness was matched only by her patience. She refused to give up. Vincent’s long term well-being depended on it.

Yuffie had parted ways with them at the Gold Saucer, returning to Wutai from there. Vincent, on the other hand, had accompanied them back to Edge.

“Are you staying for a while?” Shelke asked him as soon as they returned to Seventh Heaven.

“If you would like me to,” he answered.

She nodded in assent. That Vincent would stay at her request remained troublesome, but she would exploit it if it kept him in regular contact with Cloud.

“Vincent’s staying?” Marlene broke into a wide smile, and tugged on his red coat. “You can stay in our room! Denzel won’t mind!”

“Vincent can stay in the other guest room,” Tifa corrected. “That’s why we have so many rooms. You might have to share with Cid if he comes through, though,” she said to him.

“It’s not necessary,” Vincent said, “but thank you.”

“You’re always welcome here, you know that. We wish you’d stay more often.” She side-eyed Shelke at that. Much like Tifa’s misunderstanding of her supposed crush on Cloud, she apparently similarly misconstrued the nature of her relationship with Vincent. Shelke remained deeply fond of him, of course – she wouldn’t be going to all this trouble otherwise - but it was hardly emotional dependence.

Still, her task had only grown in complexity. Her resources were reduced with Yuffie’s departure, for one, though the Wutai Princess had graciously left her with Cloud’s Ribbon and a selection of materia on the condition Shelke ‘called her and told her everything’.

That the cross-dressing ploy had failed to work was disheartening, also. But it had not been a total loss – something unusual had occurred on the Event Square stage. There had been an undercurrent there, a conversation Shelke did not have all the tools to understand.

She thought she could guess, though. There had been a glimpse there, on stage, when the dragon had wrapped its arm around Cloud. Most people wouldn’t have seen it, but Shelke spent much of her time analysing emotions. And analysing Vincent, for that matter.

It had been subtle, but it had been present. A flash of possessiveness.

Shelke intended to exploit it.


………………….


For the next phase of her plan, Shelke required a new ally.

Her requirements were simple enough – they needed to be male, and to be a credible threat in terms of romantic stake, without risking any actual romantic stake, because the last thing she wanted was for Cloud to suddenly become unavailable. Vincent had spent far too much emotional energy on unavailable interests as it was – the whole point of this endeavour was not to repeat that mistake.

She sat in one of Edge’s many fledgling parks. It was as of yet barren, a square of sun-baked dirt amidst the growing industrial park. Its only feature was a playground set wrought with scrap metal salvaged from Midgar. In the heat of the middle of the day it sat deserted, giving Shelke the much-needed privacy for this call.

“Barret?” Shelke asked.

“Are you kidding?” Yuffie’s voice echoed tinnily from the phone. “No way he’d be able to pull it off. The guy’s about as subtle as a brick.”

“Cid, then.”

“Have you met Shera?”

“The airship?” Shelke asked.

“Yeah, okay, Cid’s married to his work, but that’s not the Shera I was talking about. Look, just saying, Shera’s a nice lady but she can be totally scary sometimes when it comes to Cid so we maybe shouldn’t do that to her. And there’s no way in hell Cid would agree. He’d blow the whole thing.”

Shelke moved to the next name in her mental list. “Tseng?”

“Turks? Oh heck, that’s actually – you know what, Tseng’s no good, he idolises Vincent, and there’s some rumour that he and Elena are going out, so no way he’d do anything there. But you know who would be totally perfect for this? Reno.”

Shelke considered that. Reno did possess a certain degree of ‘people skills’, and a reputation for constantly attempting to get under Cloud’s skin. “He will suffice. He stops by Seventh Heaven regularly.”

“You can just say ‘he’ll do’, you know,” Yuffie’s tone was teasing. “I’m supposed to be a Princess, and you talk more properly than I do.”

“I will work on it,” Shelke promised. She was aware, after all, that she still had a tendency to ‘talk like a robot’, or worse considering the sort of casual vernacular Reeve had managed to program into Cait Sith. It was yet another of the many side effects of Deepground – too much data diving in place of normal human interaction.

“It could be worse. Cloud talks like a total country bumpkin sometimes,” Yuffie confided. “Gawd, it’s downright embarrassing. Total mood killer. I bet that’s why Vincent hasn’t made a move yet.”

“Vincent is unlikely to let such things bother him,” Shelke said. “However if Reno agrees to help, it may encourage him to be more proactive.”

“Reno will totally agree. You’ve got cameras there somewhere, right? You have definitely got to have cameras. I need to see this.” She sighed theatrically. “Why did I go back to Wutai so soon?”

“You were concerned that Cloud was going to seek revenge on you,” Shelke supplied.

“Oh, right, that. Keep fighting the good fight!”

…………………


Despite Yuffie’s assurances, Reno was not so easily swayed. “Wait, wait, lemme get this straight, you want to hook up Vincent Valentine with Cloud Strife? You know, the Vincent Valentine in the moody red cloak with thirty years of unrequited love for a dead scientist, and the Cloud Strife with identity issues who’s still being stalked by his dead girlfriend from the Lifestream? That Vincent Valentine and Cloud Strife?”

“Yes,” Shelke replied.

Reno cocked his head and glanced at Rude. Rude adjusted his glasses, and didn’t comment. “Huh.”

Shelke had cornered them that evening in Seventh Heaven – it was far less secure than she would have liked, but Vincent had left for the WRO earlier and was not expected back for some time, and Cloud had yet to return from a long-distance delivery. Shelke had to take her chances that they wouldn’t be overheard by anyone else wanting to meddle.

“Ooookay.” Reno drawled the word out. “And you need to me to go hit on Cloud to make him jealous. Is that right?”

“That is correct.”

“It would be hilarious.” He appeared to be seriously considering it, until he abruptly shook his head. “Look, I mean, it’s a good idea, princess. Shiva only knows those two really ought to get laid, and you’re totally on to something there. But I’m not your guy. I mean, have you ever seriously pissed those guys off? They hit hard, yo.”

“Synaptic net dive,” Shelke said. “Anything you want.”

That stopped Reno cold. “Anything?”

Shelke matched his stare and waited him out.

Reno visibly squirmed under it. He glanced at Rude. “Hell, man, I can’t just say no to that. You know how many people are capable of synaptic net dives these days?”

Rude adjusted his sunglasses, and then gave the barest of shrugs. Reno grinned and turned back to her.

“I can hold that in reserve, right? Any time I want?”

“Of course,” Shelke replied.

“Yeah, okay then. We’ve got a deal.”

Shelke eyed Rude from the corner of her eyes. “Are you certain? You cannot do this half-hearted. We are trying to overcome considerable relationship inertia here.”

Reno looked offended. “What do you take me for? I’m a Turk, yo.”

…………………


Cloud sat at the bar, nursing his drink. The alcohol might not do anything for him, but it gave him something to do with his hands and he’d acquired the taste for it at some point.

Vincent didn’t arrive so much as Cloud caught a glance of crimson from the corner of his eyes and then the former Turk was simply there, as though he’d been there all along. “Hey Vincent,” he greeted. “Back from the WRO already?”

“It was a trifling matter,” Vincent replied. “What are you doing?”

“Unofficial bouncer. When Barret and I are around, Tifa prefers us hanging out down here to keep fights from breaking out.” He gestured to the seat next to him. “Feel free to join me. It can be boring sometimes.”

“I wouldn’t have thought Tifa would need a bouncer,” Vincent remarked.

Cloud reached over the bar to grab a bottle of whiskey and pour an extra glass. “She doesn’t have any trouble tossing them out, but I think she prefers the visual deterrent of a big sword or gun arm before it reaches that point.”

Cloud noted the arrival of Rude and Reno in the background, out of habit, mostly – they were Turks, and even years later those black suits would trigger a fight or flight response until he stifled it. Tifa saw them too apparently, as she immediately set to pouring two pints of beer. They were frequent enough visitors that they knew their orders by now. Spying on them for Rufus, perhaps. That they did it in broad view made it oddly courteous.

“Hm.” Vincent didn’t comment further. He’d yet to take a sip of his drink, but Cloud let it be. Vincent got even less out of drinking than he did, but having a glass in hand prevented others from asking potentially uncomfortable questions.

They sat there in silence for nearly an hour, watching fresh patrons trickle into the bar as others left, the crowd that stopped in on their way home from work being replaced by those who had been home and were now out for the night instead. Seventh Heaven was one of the more popular bars in Edge, possibly because its shelves were stocked with liquor from Wutai and other far-flung places, thanks to Cid’s airship and Yuffie’s Wutai contacts and Cloud’s delivery service. It gave them an advantage over the diners and clubs stuck with the East Continent staples.

Too noisy for Cloud’s tastes, really – he preferred the quiet of the open road, with only the roar of Fenrir’s engine to keep him company. But Tifa seemed to enjoy it, and these days it was making more gil than his deliveries anyway, so it was only fair he did his part to pitch in. Even if it was only to sit around as a visual deterrent for any trouble.

“Are you moody bastards just going to sit there in silence all night?” Reno popped up behind them – a quick eyeball of the bar had Rude loitering at the other end near Tifa, waiting on a refill.

“What do you want?” Cloud asked without turning around.

Reno leaned in, so close he stood almost flush. The stink of alcohol rolled of his breath, thick and heady. “Aww, c’mon Cloud, don’t be like that! I just wanna talk, yo.”

Reno was the sort of drunk who over-enunciated his words to hide how drunk he really was. As a Turk he did it better than most, but to anyone who had spent much time around him the burr to his voice was obvious. “Go home, Reno. You’re drunk.”

“I ain’t drunk, yo!” Reno slung an arm around his shoulders. Cloud sent him a dirty look, then nearly recoiled at how close his face was – enough to count his eyelashes, if he’d cared to. “We’ve only been here like an hour. Loosen up, crankypants, the night’s young!”

“Then go bother someone else,” Cloud said.

“But you’re the most interesting guy here!” Reno protested. “Except Rude, of course, but I see him all day.”

Vincent stirred next to him. “The Turks have certainly become unprofessional.”

Cloud raised an eyebrow at that – it was unusual for Vincent to offer that kind of unsolicited criticism. Reno shrugged it off without a care, though. “I’m off the clock, yo. Besides, I’ve got this killer fix for it. You wanna know?”

“No,” Cloud said.

“Y’see,” Reno rambled on regardless, “You mix an antidote – or a remedy, if you’ve got one, but that shit’s expensive – with a potion, and then like three cups of coffee. It’s magic, promise. Neo-ShinRa ought to patent that stuff. But I like you, so I’m giving you the recipe for free.”

“I don’t get hangovers,” Cloud pointed out. “Mako enhancements make it hard to get drunk.”

“Seriously? Well, guess that means there’s no point buying you drinks. Damn.”

“My drinks are free anyway.” Reno knew all this. Cloud couldn’t figure out his angle. He was drunk, though, so maybe didn’t have one for once. He glanced around for Rude to take his partner off their hands, but the bald Turk had vanished. Bathroom, maybe. They were stuck babysitting until he came back, then.

Reno’s arm was a warm, heavy weight on his shoulders, and his fingers were idling patterns on the bare skin of his bicep. Annoyed, Cloud shoved it off, but his hand simply fell with the movement, sliding down his back and coming to rest on his waist. “Woah!” Reno overbalanced, slumping against him. “Ah, shit, maybe you’re right, I might be drunk. Shouldn’t have pre-gamed before coming out.” His arm tightened, snaking around Cloud’s stomach.

“You think?” Cloud asked, becoming distracted by Reno’s other hand which had landed a bit too far up his thigh to be comfortable. He was attempting to process whether it would be more awkward to draw attention to it by demanding Reno move it or to just ignore it.

There was an odd wave of hostility from Vincent, made almost tangible in the air with the faint tingle similar to a Limit Break or materia. It was an alarmingly familiar sensation, one that normally preceded Galian Beast going on a rampage. When he looked over, though, Vincent was staring intensely at his drink, unbothered.

His imagination?

“Aww, but Cloud.” Reno honeyed his name, “Ain’t you ever heard of liquid courage? Guess you’ve got enough of the regular kind that you don’t need it.”

Reno’s hand dropped further, and Cloud all but jumped in his seat. There was no way that was an accident.

Cloud raised an eyebrow as the gil finally dropped. “…Are you hitting on me?”

Reno just gave him a toothy grin. “What, a guy can’t try his luck? You might be a moody britches but I got eyes, yo.”

Cloud shook his head in bemusement and very deliberately picked up the offending hand and removed it from his body. “Not interested.”

Reno pouted. “Can’t blame me for giving it a shot. Is it cause I’m drunk? I can come back later, y’know, when I’m not drunk.”

“Get lost, Reno.” Cloud gave him a gentle push away and turned back to his drink. Rude had reappeared down the other end of the bar, and he waved him over with a pointed look in Reno’s direction. Rude, for his part, just nodded and made to escort the other Turk away.

Vincent’s silence felt oddly stonier than normal next to him. Cloud slanted him a glance, but his comrade’s gaze was still on the Turk stumbling out of the bar.

He was watching Vincent, thus almost didn’t catch the way the Turk’s un-coordinated lurch faded away as he stepped out into the night. But then Tifa was calling for his attention down another part of the bar, and so he let the matter drop.

…………………

“This has to stop.”

Shelke turned her attention to the doorway of her bedroom. True to form, she had not noticed Vincent’s arrival until he spoke.

She swivelled her chair from the desk to face the door. The room was dark, the blinds half-shuttered, casting thin lines of warm morning light across the bed, to contrast with the pale blue of her computer screen. “Vincent Valentine. To what are you referring?”

“You’re aware of what I’m talking about.”

Shelke conceded with a tip of her head. She hadn’t expected to get away with it as long as she had, after all. And without Yuffie present to act as a cover… it was only a matter of time. “And?”

“And it’s gone far enough,” Vincent said. “I’m not sure what you’re hoping to accomplish-”

“I am hoping to see you happy, Vincent Valentine,” she interrupted. “And I have concluded that this is the optimal way.”

Vincent went abruptly silent.

Shelke waited it out – she had infinite patience, after all. In Deepground, the silence would sometimes stretch for weeks at a time.

His words, when they came, were measured and slow. “What is it,” he said, “That makes you think that would make me happy?”

“You care for Cloud Strife, far more than you do anyone else.”

“He might be a trusted friend, but that isn’t true. You-”

“I cannot return your feelings,” she said. “And I will not see you repeat the mistakes of the past. Not when you have a chance at true happiness.”

The words hurt to say, directly to his face – had Shelke the skill or tact, she might have a found a way to soften the blow, but she didn’t so was left only with bluntness. Yet it still left her hollow to see his expression still and the muscles on his face tighten.

She’d wanted to avoid this. Had hoped that she could encourage him into another direction before this conversation became necessary. But all she could do now was to help Vincent move on.

His stare was heavy – the full weight of the resolve that once kept even Chaos in check coming to bear upon her. “Have you even considered how Cloud feels about this?”

She paused, giving the question due consideration. Honestly, she hadn’t, aside from initial establishment that no others had a legitimate claim on the swordsman’s affections and that there were no reasons for him to be against the idea. “He would also benefit,” she determined.

“Tifa,” he said.

"They are not in a relationship, nor are they hoping to be," she responded firmly. “Tifa herself confirmed this. Why is it that you are so against it?” Had she miscalculated? No… that Vincent was here, now, having this conversation proved that her conclusions were correct. He would not have let it continue as long as he had, or reacted in this manner if she’d been wrong. “You cannot seek absolution through me. How long are you going to continue to deny yourself for the sake of memory?”

The silence this time stretched for nearly twenty breaths. Vincent stood as still as a statue, the faint blue of the computer screen casting eerie shadows across his face.

“Leave Cloud out of it,” he eventually said. “That’s all I came here to say.”

He was stubborn to the last. “What is it that you’re waiting for?” she asked.

“I don’t expect you to understand,” he said. “The matter is closed.” He turned to leave, red cloak flowing around him like liquid.

“No, Vincent Valentine,” she said. “It is you who does not understand.” Her gaze followed his back, noting the tenseness of his shoulders, and the way his cloak swept around his ankles as though in living agitation. “I am not Lucrecia Crescent, and I never will be.”

Vincent paused in the doorway, but left without another word.





Next chapter



Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 02:35 am (UTC)
That is the question, isn't it! Shelke can be an unreliable narrator.

I'm not a super fluffy writer, honestly. XD But I'm not setting out to write a tragedy here so you can rest easy in that respect. Only two chapters to go!
(Deleted comment)
eve_tenshi
Aug. 19th, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC)
"We are trying to overcome considerable relationship inertia here." - I've decided I love Shelke-style phrasing. Just, "relationship inertia" - I googled it, and it seems like it's a somewhat uncommon and loosely used phrase, but it somehow fits so perfectly in this situation XD

And Vincent, why you gotta be so suspicious :( Over-protectiveness is only cute until you start to ruin all of Yuffie and Shelke's fun! But great chapter as always, thanks for the consistent releases!
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
Vincent, ruining Yuffie's people's fun since 1997.

<3
lenine2
Aug. 19th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
Another great chapter. A mix of humor and poignancy.

I especially liked Reno's part in this. I bet he enjoyed it, too. Good thing Cloud didn't unexpectedly reciprocate.

sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
I toyed with the idea because it could have been an interesting twist but that would have just driven it into super-angsty territory. XD Paper-thin plot this time!
avianahelena
Aug. 19th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
“Wait, wait, lemme get this straight, you want to hook up Vincent Valentine with Cloud Strife? You know, the Vincent Valentine in the moody red cloak with thirty years of unrequited love for a dead scientist, and the Cloud Strife with identity issues who’s still being stalked by his dead girlfriend from the Lifestream? That Vincent Valentine and Cloud Strife?”--Oh, Reno. You really know how to sum up a situation.

And Cloud. Sweetie. It is never your imagination. NEVER.

I'm starting to wonder if Vincent stays stuck on the unrequited feelings because it's "safer" for him. That's something someone like Shelke could have missed.

Great chapter--you're managing to actually do lighthearted fun in a Vincent/Cloud fic without making it overtly cracktasic, which is kind of a huge accomplishment, so kudos!
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC)
'Just my imagination' is really the same sort of trope as people breaking off to explore one-by-one in a dark and mysterious house.

Very savvy reading on your part. And thanks, glad you're enjoying it!
firedraygon97
Aug. 20th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
Hee, my favourite part has got to be Yuffie and Shelke's interaction through all of this! Friendships, especially well-written friendships between girls, are often lacking in fanfic, so it's nice seeing this. :)

Looking forward to when Cloud figures out what's going on!!
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 03:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it really is so often all-romance all-the-time isn't it? Although I guess that's the point of this fic too... There need to be more friendship based fics though, I agree.
caterfree10
Aug. 20th, 2014 05:52 am (UTC)
ohhhhhh god this started out so cracky and then my heart kersploded sfajhdlkajfhalk

Anyway, I absolutely love Reno "drunkingly" hitting on Cloud. and that's not my love of 10000 ships talking Just. Cloud you are so oblivious, pls buy a clue ok. *pets Cloud*

And I absolutely love that conversation between Shelke and Vincent. It's 100% everything Vincent needs and incredibly true. I mean, I'm not even sure he himself realizes how deep his obsession with Lucrecia runs and he needs a damn wake up call. I'm hoping this serves as a catalyst. I love that he's thinking of Cloud tho. Just another layer of "you like him more than you realize~" Vincent: king of underestimating himself for 35+ years
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 03:40 pm (UTC)
It's a very popular ship, isn't it? I've never been able to properly get into it sadly, but glad you enjoyed that little morsel!
qem_chibati
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:45 am (UTC)
ahahahahaha! I knew as soon as Shelke was saying she needed a male accessory that Reno was going to end up being involved, and was not disappointed. :D
sinnatious
Aug. 20th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Heh it was kind of predictable, wasn't it? But it's that kind of fic. :P Happy to serve!
rafira
Aug. 21st, 2014 09:04 am (UTC)
oohh woahh things get serious :O! here i was thinking it would be crackfic. can't wait to read the next chap X!
sinnatious
Aug. 21st, 2014 09:23 am (UTC)
My crackfics always seem to turn serious, and my serious fics always seem to wind up a bit cracky. It's a problem sometimes.
ratzels
Aug. 23rd, 2014 03:19 am (UTC)
Poor Cloud. Always getting hit on and pawed by unwelcome guys.

I loved seeing the direct approach at the end, even if Vincent was the one instigating. XD
sinnatious
Aug. 23rd, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
It's his unfortunate lot in fandom life.
aramisa
Aug. 23rd, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
Yay for the Reno/Cloud bit, my favorite making-life-work-after-Apocalypse/loudmouth-meets-brick-wall FF VII pairing!

Also: "Tseng’s no good, he idolizes Vincent"

I think I already have my Christmas prompt XD

Edited at 2014-08-23 07:49 pm (UTC)
sinnatious
Aug. 24th, 2014 07:14 am (UTC)
LOL you guys plan far in advance! What if I don't do Christmas prompts this year, huh? What then? :P
aramisa
Aug. 24th, 2014 03:54 pm (UTC)
Well, in that case, I'll just ask for my prompt now 8)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )