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05 April 2007 @ 06:10 pm
[Fic] "Two Guys and a Girl," part 8 -- Final Fantasy 7 (Mercverse AU)  
This story is set about ten years before main mercverse canon, insofar as this AU can be said to have any canon. :-) So. "Two Guys and a Girl," in which I bend, staple, and otherwise mutilate normal game canon involving trips to Nibelheim, because seriously, what's the point of crack AUs if you can't play around like this?

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Two Guys and a Girl: Part 8
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She'd heard stories all her life, but Tifa had never actually seen a ghost before. For half a second, she thought it was only a strange woman standing on the balcony, looking over the sprawl of the ground floor, the fenced-in yard, and the brooding forest.

Then she realized she could see the still-smoldering remnants of the demons' pyre through the woman's body and flowing dress. And the moon was on the other side of the mansion -- this room should have been in shadow, not lit by a weird, greenish glow.

She couldn't breathe to scream.

The curtains stirred again, and the ghost woman turned to face the room, staring right at Tifa. "Have you seen my son?" she asked.

Tifa backed toward the door.

"My son," the ghost said, gliding through the curtains, one hand pointing in accusation. "My only son. They stole his body, and I couldn't find his soul. What have you done with my son?"

Her son? This was Lady Shinra. And Tifa didn't know any magic -- she couldn't fight a ghost. "I don't know anything about your son," she managed to say through her fear. "Nobody knows what happened to your son. But it's been thousands of years since the Angels' War -- he must have died by now. He's probably waiting for you."

If the ghost went into the lifestream to look, Tifa would be safe.

Lady Shinra shook her head, her eyes closed in denial. "He isn't dead. I've looked and looked, but he's never there. Someone is hiding him! Where are you hiding him? You've twisted my house around me, but I'll find him."

Her eyes snapped open again as she glided closer to Tifa; they glowed an eerie, brilliant blue, as if lit from within by lightning. The color struck a note of familiarity in the back of Tifa's mind, but she couldn't place it.

"I'm not hiding your son," she said again, reaching for the door. "I don't know any magic, so I couldn't hide people's souls if I wanted to! And I've never been to this house before -- I'm not the one who messed it up. It was your family who did that!"

"My family?" Lady Shinra said, drifting to a halt and tilting her head in confusion.

"Yes, your family!" Tifa said, anger and resentment burning through both her fear and her good judgment. "Your family who hunt demons for fun, and who let mad scientists breed monsters in the basement. If you're mad about that, go yell at Cloud, not me!"

Lady Shinra's eyes flashed. For a bare second color washed through the green glow that surrounded her -- pale pink in her high-boned face, gold in her hair -- and the familiarity of her eyes suddenly connected.

"Cloud?" Tifa whispered. "Cloud is your son?"

"You do know him. Where is he? Give him to me!" Lady Shinra stretched out her hands, beseechingly.

Tifa leaned against the doorframe in shock and pinched herself to make sure she wasn't caught in a surreal nightmare. The ghost and the room refused to vanish. "Cloud Strife is your son. That means he was born before the Shinra took the throne. That means he's thousands of years old, and he's still alive." The world spun around her, settling into new shapes and relationships. "He's not human. He can't be human. What is he?"

"His father's son," Lady Shinra said, right next to Tifa. One cool, insubstantial hand pressed against Tifa's shoulder. "Please, take me to him. I've waited so long."

"But you're a ghost," Tifa said. And you didn't take ghosts to see friends; all ghosts were unstable and dangerous, no matter what their reasons for evading the lifestream and rebirth. Lady Shinra had been waiting since the Angels' War. There was no telling how unbalanced she'd become.

What if she tried to kill Cloud, so he could go to the lifestream with her?

"I won't hurt him," Lady Shinra said, as if she could read Tifa's mind. "I promise. If he's sleeping, I won't even wake him. I simply need to know that he has people who care for him and a place to belong. Your concern tells me that he has friends, at least."

Tifa bit her lip, but Lady Shinra's eyes, so brilliant and sad in her delicate face, were exactly like Cloud's eyes, and Tifa couldn't leave them empty and in tears. "All right. I'll show you where he's sleeping. But you'd better keep your promise."

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Being trailed down a dark hallway by a faintly glowing ghost was not a reassuring experience. Tifa flinched at every creak in the floorboards, and kept expecting an army of the dead demons' ghosts to pour through the walls, or Zack to burst from his room and startle Lady Shinra into draining his life.

Her heartbeat sounded loud as thunder in her ears, perhaps because the ghost behind her made no sound at all, not even a whisper of skirts against the carpet or the soft rhythm of breath stirring the air. Lady Shinra's hand on her wrist felt like frozen smoke.

"This room," Tifa whispered after they'd passed the staircase and the two abandoned offices. She pushed open the door and pointed to the floor where Cloud lay, between the piles of furniture and the open window. Moonlight spilled across his face. "See?"

Something sharp and tingling shot through Lady Shinra's hand, jolting against Tifa's skin. "Oh," the ghost said, reaching forward. "Oh, Cloud."

In his sleep, Cloud shifted and his hand groped out from under the covers, searching for the sword Tifa suddenly noticed beside his mattress.

"Out. Now." Tifa shut the door and hastily sneaked back down the corridor to the bedroom where she'd met Lady Shinra. The ghost followed, slowly, looking back over her shoulder toward the moonlit room.

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"He hasn't changed," Lady Shinra murmured as Tifa shut the bedroom door behind them. "All this time and he looks the same as the day the hunting party brought his corpse into the front hall. If he hadn't moved, I would have thought I was remembering that again, still caught in the same endless nightmare."

Tifa opened her mouth to offer sympathy, but clicked her teeth shut without speaking as the ghost's words struck home.

Cloud's corpse?

"But Cloud's alive," Tifa said, walking over to sit on the canopy bed. A puff of dust rose from the star-speckled counterpane and twinkled in Lady Shinra's faint, greenish aura. "How could you see his corpse if he's alive? There aren't any spells to raise the dead."

Lady Shinra lifted her hands in a helpless shrug. "I assume it's his father's blood, but I don't know. All I know is that he died -- an accident, they said, a stray arrow at the wrong time -- and I had nothing left. My first husband was dead, my second husband had cast me aside and refused to let me raise my daughter, and now my son was taken from me as well. I thought I might as well follow Cloud... only he wasn't there. And there are spells to trap souls.

"I fought my way back only to find that he wasn't here, either; I'd lost nearly a decade in the lifestream, and Cloud had long since left Nibelheim. I couldn't search for him -- if I stray too far from my place of death, I lose my grip on this world. All I could do was make my presence known and wait." Lady Shinra shrugged again. "I think I may have gone mad several times through the years, and I'm afraid that I'm out of practice talking to people. I apologize for frightening you."

Tifa fiddled nervously with her hair, twisting the strands around and around her fingers. "It's okay. I wasn't really scared. So Cloud's father was a demon?" Some demons had nearly miraculous healing powers, after all, so you could slice them open and an hour later they'd get up like nothing had happened. If you mixed that with demons' naturally long lives, maybe that could explain a person living for thousands of years.

Lady Shinra smiled. "Cloud is the only person who has the right to ask about his father. Don't be nosy." She settled on a delicate birdseye maple chair by the door and folded her hands in her lap. "However, if you'll forgive me my own rudeness, will you tell me about my son?"

Tifa twisted her hair harder, accidentally breaking several strands. "Um. I only met him yesterday, so I don't know him that well. Zack could tell you more -- Zack's his heir, Cloud adopted him a while ago, I guess. But I know that Cloud's rich, and he's probably important -- he knows the royal family pretty well -- but he's not arrogant about that."

Lady Shinra leaned forward, eagerly, and Tifa looked aside, uncomfortable as the focus of such intense interest. She wondered what else to say. "Um. He listened to me when I talked. He answered my questions. He cares about Zack and about doing the right thing. Um. He's bad at fire magic, he drinks tea a lot, and he's really good at talking to people and getting them to do what he wants without arguing. I think he's seen a lot -- sometimes he sounds cynical, or maybe just tired and kind of sad -- but I don't think he'd just sit back and not try to change things.

"Um. Zack said that Cloud used to be a mercenary a long time ago, but he probably doesn't do that anymore. He spends time at court, and he knows how to act there, but he says most of that stuff is stupid." Tifa drummed her fingers against her thigh, considering. "I think he might be the lord of Nibelheim, and if he is, he doesn't collect any tithes and stuff; we just pay the annual tax on the mines, and that goes straight to the king so Cloud wouldn't have any say in it." And that was all, unless Lady Shinra wanted to hear about how Cloud's hair looked like late afternoon sunlight on distant mountain peaks, or how a person could drown in his eyes, and that wasn't the sort of thing you told somebody's mother.

Tifa shrugged. "That's all I know. I'd like to learn more -- I think he's planning to stay in Nibelheim for a while, so we can both get to know him. Um. I'm Tifa Lockheart, by the way."

Tifa looked up toward Lady Shinra, wondering how she'd taken her rambling.

Lady Shinra smiled as she wisped into invisibility, color and light unraveling like timeworn cloth. "Thank you. He will be all right. Now I can rest."

"Don't go!" Tifa said, lunging forward to grasp intangible shoulders. "You can't go without talking to Cloud! You're his mother -- what am I supposed to tell him?"

Lady Shinra's fingers pressed against Tifa's hand for a fleeting second. Faintly, so softly Tifa almost thought she was imagining the words, she said, "He doesn't need me anymore. He hasn't searched for me the way I longed for him. He's alive; he's moved on. There's no point in teasing him with false reunions." And there was nobody in the chair, nothing but a fading green glow.

Tifa clutched empty air and wondered why she was crying.

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End of Part 8

Back to Part 7

Continue to Part 9

original post and comments

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You know, that wasn't quite how I thought that meeting/conversation would go, but once I got past the initial 200-500 words, the scene more or less wrote itself. And it does give me a lot of interesting stuff to play around with in chapter 9, so I think, all in all, it worked out.

...

Anyway, moving on. It's been snowing off and on all day today. I am bundled up in my long winter jacket and my scarf, which does not make me happy, and doesn't keep my feet warm, either. :-(

I want spring back!
 
 
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