Born from the Shadows - Chapter 1
Author: Rhoey (Me)
Pairing: Vincent/Aeris, Cloud/Tifa and Cid/Shera
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Romance/Psychological Thriller/Action/Sci-Fi
Setting: Post game; 5 years after Meteor.
Status: Incomplete, in progress
Warning: Does not follow or conform to the spin-offs.
Summary: Five years passed since Meteor’s destruction of Midgar, and Aeris, hitherto believed and known to be deceased, is now discovered to somehow be alive. Vincent, a broken-down former member of AVALANCHE is requested to be the temporary bodyguard and escort for Aeris. Being lonely as he is, Vincent agrees to watch over her -- while struggling with his own personal miseries. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Vincent learns just how tough life can be when his feelings for Aeris exceed that of mere friendship, and a complicated love affair emerges, resulting in the birth of a daughter.
Eighteen years later, and twenty-five years after the downfall of Shinra, a second great war is imminent. However, an obscure youth movement rises to fight for freedom as well as force a resolution that will avert war, and restore welfare to the people without harming the planet in the process. The movement is in need of recruits, so a young woman named Florence Valentine joins in the fight, but soon begins to suffer in her own personal ordeal. An uncontrollable and malicious force that resides within her; a menace beyond her control begins to surface, putting at risk everything she has fought for.
Chapter I – Ghost from the Past
Seated at the kitchen table, with a cup of tea, which had since long gone cold before him, Vincent thought back on the past five years of his life, and all the different experiences over those years. His mind skimmed through many different memories, as he sat there in the dimly lit kitchen, staring vacantly at his cellular phone in hand. He ran his right thumb casually over the buttons without pressing them, and the screen displayed a contact list, on it, the name 'Cloud Strife'.
As he recalled many different events from the past, his mind strangely seemed to stop at one memory specifically: the time when Aeris passed away. That memory, for some reason, appeared to be of interest at that moment.
It happened over five years ago, and it was a time of great sorrow for many, which forever left a deep imprint in the hearts of those who held her dear. It seemed like such a long time ago, but it still evoked so many painful emotions, feelings of guilt, and all those 'could have, should have, would haves'. Especially to one particular young man, who still found himself guilty of not having acted when it really mattered – that young man was Cloud Strife. It was bitterly familiar to Vincent, and he could understand and relate to Cloud's feelings only too well; to lose someone dear to him, and blame himself for not being able to prevent it from happening...that had always been the biggest regret in his own life, a burden he was forced to live with. So many years since it happened, and he still thought about Lucrecia, wishing in vain that he had prevented her suffering. But that time was since long gone, in the distant past, and he was now stuck in present time, still clinging to the past like there was something he could do to change it.
It had been five years since Aeris' tragic demise, and despite the grief, life moved on. All the members of AVALANCHE had settled down somewhat for a life with someone close to them. Cloud and Tifa had been living together in Midgar ever since. What they called their home was a two-story house mostly built out of wood, with a concrete foundation, and a small backyard surrounded by a simple wooden fence. On the ground floor was their restaurant, something they decided to open in memory of "Seventh Heaven"; Tifa's old bar from over five years ago. They lived on the first floor above the restaurant with their two-year-old son, a small boy they christened Claudan, and lovingly nicknamed 'Claude'. They seemed like any normal family, despite their stormy backgrounds, and they worked hard to maintain a good life together.
Vincent had also decided to settle for a life in Midgar rather than return to Nibelheim; it was too lonely for him there, and that quaint village constantly reminded him of the pains of the past, and all the regret, which had become a burden too heavy for him to carry. All the events during the course of five years had changed him profoundly, and he had no desire to carry on living the way he used to do. Midgar didn't offer much comfort, but it gave him a decent job as a gunsmith, the security of a home, and living rather close to Cloud and Tifa was also an advantage, even though he seldom spoke to his two former comrades. He usually worked until late hours, therefore by the time he could make his way home to the small apartment he called so, it had already gotten dark. Work was all that he truly lived for and took comfort in, and he dedicated himself, and all of his time, to his job.
While he sat there at the table, he thought of one particular evening mere days ago, as he trotted down the dark streets on his way home. For what he saw that evening was something he would seldom forget. He remembered having felt so weary and cold, he wrapped his coat even tighter around himself for warmth, and quickened his pace somewhat. He gazed at the ground morosely and let his thoughts wander wherever they pleased. Different people, faces and voices whizzed by him unnoticed; he was too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice anything else.
Paradoxically, however, he remembered the details of that night with incredible clarity. He'd pressed on through the narrow streets, despite his weariness; it wasn't that far anymore, just a few minutes till he would arrive. He had been walking for longer than a half hour, and his feet began to ache. All he wished for was to lie down and get some decent sleep. But that was something his nightmares wouldn't grant him. Indeed, recently he found himself awakening almost each night from his slumber with a violent jerk, and then he would lie in bed, awake, and reflect over his nightmares.
Just then, his eyes narrowed as he recalled when he stopped short in his tracks. It didn't take long until he detected a familiar presence nearby. This had been that one memory which he could not seem to ignore, forget, or shrug off as though it hadn't been anything truly peculiar indeed. What a strange feeling that was. It was a presence he had not felt since a very long time.
So, he whirled his sight around. On the street not too far behind him, he spied four figures emerging from a building. The silhouettes were of three adults; a couple, a little child that seemed to be a boy, probably the couple's son (or so he assumed), and another adult. He watched on as the little boy tiptoed, and one of the taller figures knelt down to embrace him. It was a very long embrace, and it looked like they were taking their final farewells. The boy's big blue eyes gleamed with the tears that welled up in them, and he seemed reluctant to let go. What occurred to Vincent was that the kneeling figure wore a long, dark, hooded robe, and he could not make out that person's face, or even whether that person was male or female.
Vincent took a sip of his cold tea, seated comfortably in his wooden chair by the table. He rested his chin in his brass claw, and stared into empty space as he arranged the memory of this night into a chronological order. Then came that particular moment: the instant when he for some reason couldn't tear his watchful eyes off that odd figure. The face was disguised well beneath the hood, but that figure in particular emanated an eerie, familiar presence, something he had felt before, only couldn't quite place his finger on when and where. Rooted to his spot on the narrow street, the man regarded the strange figure as it bid the sad looking boy and the couple farewell, waving its hand.
The figure looked in Vincent's direction, having sensed him watching, and met his eyes for a mere two seconds. He instantly noticed that the figure underneath the robe was a woman. Oddly, however, the instant she had seen him, she pulled the hood over her head further, thus concealing her face completely, and upon turning around, she dashed away down the street suspiciously, much like a thief in the night. That woman's odd behavior certainly puzzled him. Thus, he decided to follow her, stalking her without a sound, as he walked down the street on her trail. He followed her from street to street, building to building persistently.
Vincent pushed his now empty teacup aside, and knit his brows, puzzled at the following memory; as he came around a corner, his pursuit was suddenly over – she was gone. She simply disappeared without a trace into the shadows, and Vincent saw her no more. But rather than continue looking for her, he stopped short. He stayed there for a while, completely still in place, contemplating. He barely understood the thoughts running through his head, but even less did he comprehend what he had seen. Had it been a mere ghost? Were his eyes playing tricks on him? He quickly became aware of how ludicrous this entire situation was, almost laughable. But even so, he could have sworn that he saw...
No, it couldn't have been! She couldn't be alive, he kept telling himself. No, how could she? She was since long dead, and he was there and he saw when it happened!
Still, however, the way that woman hid her face when she noticed him puzzled him further, and that strongly familiar aura he sensed around her didn't calm his mind one bit either, especially those eyes…
His gaze returned to his cellular phone, which still displayed the name 'Cloud Strife', and his finger now lingered on the "OK" button, over glowing orange letters that spelled 'Call'. But his thumb hesitated to press the button just yet.
Something was terribly wrong with that scene he'd experienced. If there were even a slight possibility that she could have somehow, despite the odds against her survived, then why would she choose to go into hiding? Why didn't she show herself? Why would she instead choose to wander the wasteland and the dirty streets of Midgar as a lone figure, detached and aloof, hiding her identity from the rest of the world?
Or was he simply beginning to lose it, merely imagining the whole scenario?
So many questions nagged him, and all those thoughts tossed about in his head. But before they could cave in on him, he managed to push the button on his phone; its small screen displaying the words 'Now Calling…' and he lifted it up to his right ear.
Tifa had to run up and downstairs far too many times all in one morning. It wasn't a big house, but having to climb the stairs constantly became a very tedious task rather quickly. The day hadn't even started yet, but already the woman was sweating.
The restaurant downstairs would open at ten sharp, in a mere two hours, and so she was preparing for the day. Claudan needed his breakfast, and Cloud too was helping Tifa with some house chores; some phone calls had to be made, paperwork needed to be done, Claudan was hungry, and work would soon commence. Both Tifa and Cloud's hands were full.
It was only a few minutes after nine o'clock that Tifa could finally start making breakfast for the entire family (and Cloud could sit down for a moment and have his coffee). She turned the dial on the stove to full heat, picked a bowl from the cupboard and placed it on the counter. Opening up an egg cart, she started cracking eggs, one by one over the bowl, and threw the eggshells into the trashcan.
"Did Vincent tell you what he wanted to talk about?" She asked as she cracked the last egg, her back facing Cloud who was seated at the kitchen table with the fresh morning newspapers in hand.
The latter was surprised by the random and odd question, though answered between sips of his coffee, "Umm, no. He just said there's something he needed to tell me. Why?"
Tifa whipped the eggs together and poured the bowl's contents into a pan she'd placed on the hot stove.
"He hasn't been very talkative lately, has he? Even less than he used to be," the tender-hearted woman remarked, "I think he's really lonely."
She stirred the eggs in the pan as they cooked, and added some salt. Cloud rose from his chair, and placed his empty coffee cup in the sink, then leaned against it, folding his arms.
"Well, of course. He lives all by himself in that run-down and abandoned apartment in the ruins, and hasn't even cared to change his situation," he added cynically, "So what?"
Tifa looked at him and frowned slightly. "But he doesn't do anything, does he? I mean aside from work. He doesn't go anywhere, he doesn't talk to anyone."
Cloud nodded in agreement, "Yeah."
"The only one he ever really talks to is Cid, but even that's a rare occurrence these days. I mean, how many times has he spoken to us for instance, over these past six months? Once. This was yesterday on the phone."
Tifa fell silent for a moment and stirred the scrambled eggs one last time until she lifted the pan off the stove and turned off the heat.
"Last time we visited him, I noticed he had a half-empty bottle of wine on his desk." She noted as she glanced askance at Cloud.
Cloud glanced at her, and scratched the back of his head. "Are you implying that he's drinking? Don't be ridiculous!"
"I don't know. It's just not like him. I've never seen him as much as in the presence of alcohol, that's all."
"True. But even so, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way," he shrugged, "It could very well be a misunderstanding on your part."
Tifa sighed. Overcome by concern, she declared, "I'm just worried about him. However I look at it, he's our friend, Cloud. Something should be done; we can't just sit by idly and watch while he wastes away, and-"
But Cloud interrupted her firmly and placed his hand on her shoulder, "Tifa...I don't mean to sound cold, but I don't think there's much we can do to change him. It's his life, Tifa; it's his decision. Besides…I'm already up to my ears with my own stuff."
"Don't say that." Tifa felt very bad, and Cloud's harsh comment did not seem to help either. "Don't you remember...what Aeris used to say?"
Cloud froze solid in his spot at the mention of Aeris. He was silenced effectively by that mere name.
"She said...'Never give up hope'." Tifa revealed.
Never give up hope – never lose faith, never say 'never'. Just believe - and nothing would be impossible. Tifa truly believed in those words. She believed there was still hope for their friend, however distant or impossible it really seemed.
After a moment of silence, Cloud admitted, albeit reluctantly, "Yeah…you're right, I guess."
Tifa smiled. She was glad he understood. Cloud, however inquired, and annoyed, "How did we end up talking about Vincent, anyway?"
The man had a million things on his mind already. The last thing he needed right now was discussing Vincent and his 'problems'.
"Well, I just asked about the phone call from last night."
"I'll be meeting up with him later today and he'll tell me. But until then, can we please drop it and talk about something else?" Cloud sat himself on his chair and started to eat the scrambled eggs Tifa had made, with a piece of toast on a small plate.
The evening came swiftly that day. With the amount of customers their restaurant had, and with Cloud being away from home for several hours, Tifa was forced to multitask and run back and forth more than usual. She was slaving away to serve each customer, and the whole day, she had barely managed to have a short ten-minute coffee break; she was swamped in work. Not a single table was empty, thus her entire evening was busy, and ever so often, she wiped the beads of perspiration off her forehead, but still kept a smile on her face, despite the stress.
She was taking an order from a younger couple, just when Cloud stormed into the restaurant, though remained silent, and brushed past her. Tifa was certainly stunned and confused as her eyes followed the man, until he disappeared into the kitchen. Luckily, none of the guests seemed to notice, but Tifa knew that something was wrong.
"Alright. And would you like anything to drink?" She asked the young couple, still smiling, and tried to maintain her good spirits, but glanced occasionally back at the kitchen door. Once the couple took their order, and Tifa had jotted it down on her small writing pad, she hurried into the kitchen, and through the backdoor that led to their side of the house. The door to their backyard stood open, and she saw Cloud outside, walking back and forth restlessly on the porch with his arms folded, seemingly irritated.
When she finally caught up with him, Tifa asked, with anxiety playing on her voice, "What's the matter? What's going on?"
Cloud was fuming with rage, but Tifa detected frustration and even sadness in his voice as he exploded, "That damn bastard! I can't believe him! Damn him, Tifa!!"
She regarded him, puzzled. "Who?"
It had been years since Tifa had seen Cloud this enraged. Her heart seemed to pound harder in her chest, and she was truly confused and couldn't comprehend just what (or who) could have possibly upset him this bad.
He scoffed, "Who do you think?"
Tifa still couldn't guess anyone. However, she did recall Cloud saying he would meet up with Vincent, who apparently had something important to discuss with him.
"Is it Vincent? What did he do? What-"
Cloud exploded at her. "He's ranting and raving! He's completely lost it!"
Tifa was taken aback by his strange and hostile behavior, but tried her best to remain calm. "Cloud, what did he do?"
But rather than answer, the man rambled on and on in a rage. "I can't believe it! You were right, Tifa: he should really get help! Just not from me!"
Tifa gave him an understanding look, and then decided to take a different approach. She stated softly, while stroking his shoulder, "Please, Cloud. Just calm down and tell me what happened. Okay?"
In response to her plea, he suddenly fell silent and turned away from her, still shaking with anger and frustration. His shoulders quivered. He hung his head as he stammered, "T-the bastard...he went as far as to suggest that...that…Aeris is…alive!"
Tifa's heart sank. She felt as though ice-cold water flushed through her entire body. She was completely stumped and speechless, and her heart leapt at the mention of her in particular, and even more at that claim. She reviewed Cloud's words in her mind once more, almost as though she couldn't quite comprehend the meaning behind them. Could Vincent truly have said something so absurd and so hurtful? She understood Cloud's feelings now, and she could not help but sympathize with him.
The latter scowled. "Is this some sort of a sick joke? What the hell is wrong with him? How dare he disrespect Aeris' memory? After all she's done for all of us…how dare he!?"
Cloud broke down, sitting himself on the only bench on their porch. He clutched his head as he trembled from uncontrollable rage and frustration. "How dare he?"
The compassionate Tifa sat down beside him and touched his shoulder. "Cloud..."
To be sure, she knew not what to tell him; she didn't have the faintest idea of what she could possibly say. She had never before experienced such a bizarre situation. "I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you. Maybe he just-"
"This is ludicrous!" Cloud cried, not letting Tifa finish, "What the hell is his problem? He wants to lose the few friends he has left?"
No matter how angry Cloud was, or how outrageous Vincent's supposed statement was, Tifa still couldn't bring herself to lose her temper or patience. "I wish I knew..."
Cloud looked at her and met her calm honey-colored eyes. Suddenly, he felt very guilty about his behavior. His expression softened as he choked out, "I'm sorry, Tifa. I'm so sorry…I'm like this. It's just...Aeris, she...I can't stand to have anyone disgrace her memory..."
Tifa understood completely and nodded, stroking his shoulder compassionately. "Neither do I. But somehow I don't think that Vincent would want to either."
Cloud gazed at her significantly. Tifa then squeezed his shoulder slightly when she concluded, "Come on now, Cloud. Be strong! I'm sure he will come to his senses and apologize for upsetting you."
Having said that, she rose promptly from her sitting position. "I have to get back to work now," she said, heading towards the kitchen, and glanced back at Cloud before she disappeared out of sight, "Will you be okay?"
Cloud composed himself somewhat, and managed to nod in response.
"Good. 'Cause I could use a helping hand back there, you know."
Once Tifa left him, he still lingered there another moment in the same spot, thinking bitter thoughts. He still could not believe what he heard Vincent say, and what he found all the more outrageous was, that he would call him, and have him leave work and everything else hanging, just to tell him something so absurd! Cloud couldn't guess a reason to Vincent's very puzzling behavior. But he did not care to guess one, either. Whatever his reason, Cloud didn't see a justification to those hurtful words. They only seemed to fuel his hatred all the more.
"If that bastard says anything else about...about Aeris, I swear...I'll...!"
Letting off some more steam, with that last thought, he decided to help Tifa and occupy his mind elsewhere. And so, he hurried back inside, only to be overwhelmed by the amount of guests their restaurant had that evening. His very breath froze at the sight.
"This is going to be a long night!" He mumbled to himself under his breath, and with that, he rolled up his sleeves, heading straight to engage in his everyday duties.
Original source: My DeviantART and Fanfiction.net