Aftermath

BY : Sterling
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 316
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Author's Note: Welcome to my FF7: Advent Children fanfic currently known simply as Aftermath, which takes place very immediately after Advent Children. This fiction stars Cloud, Tifa, Reno, Rude, and Vincent. The others may make small appearances. It is my intent to keep the characters as IC as possible, and follow canon very closely, allowing for a bit of my own special brand of fan interpretation. I will post warnings at the top of each chapter if there is anything worthy of warning.

Update 2018: In process of fixing the format, and replacing � in the story with proper punctuation.

Thank you: Youkofox, my beta, for your assistance on this first chapter. You rock!

Reviews: To put it simply... I love reviews, and invite all constructive criticism and praise. Flames will be deleted, as this is not the proper place for useless negative energy. If you read this, please leave a review. Your reviews encourage and energize me. I will be sure to thank you in future chapters for it. ^_^

And so, it begins...

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Chapter 1: Waiting

Time was passing slowly for Cloud. He tapped his fingers on the rough wooden table in front of him, and his mind idly wondered how much longer he should sit there. This was the second time this week that Vincent Valentine had failed to keep an appointment with him. It made no sense, because Vincent was usually pretty reliable. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but an unspoken possibility lingered in his mind like a cigarette smoke trail caught in a slow spiraling wind. Vincent could be in trouble.

He looked at the beer in his hand, opened more than an hour ago, and barely touched. It was warm now, and putting the bottle to his lips didn't appeal to him at all. He glanced around the bar, again, hoping that Vincent had simply been unable to find him in the crowd.

"Some crowd," Cloud said quietly under his breath.

It was early, and the club was hardly what anyone could call crowded. Club Nine was new, and although he'd never been there before, he'd been told that the place really started to fill up as the clock neared midnight. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and glanced at the clock pulsing in the upper right hand corner. 9:15 p.m. He sighed, and resolved to wait a little longer.

A tinge of worry fluttered through Cloud's stomach, making his brow furrow with determination. He was worried about his friend. Trouble seemed unlikely, though. He had just spoken to the ex-Turk two hours ago, and everything had been fine. Well, everything except the fact that Vincent had been calling from a pay phone.

He put his beer down, still relatively untouched, and unconsciously slid it a few inches away from him. He jumped slightly, when his cell phone began to ring unexpectedly. He glanced down at the display, and stared questioningly at the name that appeared there.

"Tifa?"

"Oh, good, you picked up." Cloud couldn't suppress a smile, and he held the receiver closer to his ear, hoping to drown out the background noise from the club.

"Sure did. Everything ok?"

"Yeah, everything's fine. I was just calling to see where you are. Our bar is so dead tonight. I was thinking about closing it up early and maybe having some fun... with you." Tifa's voice quieted a bit toward the end. Cloud waited for her to continue.

"Where are you, anyway?"

"I'm at Club Nine, waiting for Vincent."

"Still?"

"Yeah, he hasn't shown up yet," Cloud said.

"Maybe you should give him a call."

"I think I will soon."

"Well, maybe I can come over there and... one second."

Cloud leaned his elbows on the table, while Tifa put him on hold. He could hear snippets of the conversation in the background, but nothing clearly. He figured that she must be holding her finger over the receiver.

"Sorry about that, Cloud. Looks like I just got a few more customers. I mean, a lot more." She sighed into the phone. "Not that I'm complaining or anything. We can definitely use the money. It just would be nice to have a night off. You know?"

"Yeah, I do. We'll go out soon, I promise. Wherever you want to go. Ok?"

"Deal," she said, her tone brightening considerably. "Alright then. Let me know if you hear from Vincent. I'll talk to you later."

Cloud pressed the end-call button on his phone, and glanced at the time again before putting it back in his pocket. Only a few minutes had passed since he last looked at it. He was disappointed that Tifa wouldn't be coming out to join him. She really did need a night off from tending the bar, and he would give it to her soon. As soon as he figured out what Vincent wanted.

The lights in the club dimmed a notch, and a murmured cheer went up from a few patrons. The DJ started to play some music at half-volume: a slick tune with a slow melodic beat that impressed Cloud, and made him wonder who the artist was. He began tapping his fingers again in time to the music, rather than as an outlet to his anxiousness.

"Well, well. Look what we have here, yo?"

Cloud flinched, and closed his eyes, bracing himself. He instantly recognized that unmistakable voice. It was the voice of a man who he had known as an enemy and more recently, an ally. It was the voice of a man he was reluctant to deal with at the moment.

A solid metal rod smacked firmly on the wooden tabletop, just barely missing Cloud's resting arm. A little flicker of blue electricity wrapped itself around the tip of the rod, and disappeared further down the metal shaft.

"Reno," Cloud said. He opened his eyes, and turned to face the red-headed Turk in a quick fluid-like motion. He stood, poised for a fight. He started to draw his sword, but Reno quickly withdrew his electro-magnetic rod from the table and put it away, hands out in submission.

"We better not spar here," he said, licking his lips. Cloud shook his head disapprovingly, grunted, and sat back down. Reno glanced at Rude, his blue-green eyes squinting in amusement at Cloud's behavior.

"He doesn't look happy to see us," Reno said, muttering to Rude in an amused tone.

Rude loomed behind Reno, seemingly uninterested in Cloud. He gestured toward the pool tables in the corner and held his hand out toward Reno. Rude rubbed his thumb across his index and middle finger twice in a gesture that clearly meant "give me money".

"I hope we come out ahead this time," Reno said, pulling some crumpled bills from his pocket. He put them in Rude's hand without even bothering to count them. "Oh, wait. Leave me enough for a couple of drinks."

He pulled out two large bills and Rude lifted his shades to inspect the unkempt money in his hand. After straightening it all out, and counting it, he carefully folded the cash and added it to his money clip before putting all of it inside his jacket pocket. He glanced at Cloud, who was staring straight ahead doing his best to ignore both of them. With a quick shrug, and a meaningful glance at Reno, he left to go play pool. Reno gripped Cloud on the shoulder excitedly.

"What are you drinkin' there? I'll get you another one."

Cloud tried to protest, but Reno had already turned and started walking toward the bar. He watched Reno's long red pony tail swing behind his head as he walked. His suit was unzipped and his shirt loose and unbuttoned, as usual. He wondered why Rufus Shinra tolerated Reno's casual attitude, when the President himself seemed so neatly groomed and well put together. Not that he really understood how the Turks operated on a daily basis. He half-expected that someday he might even have to fight against them again, if the President willed it. He really hoped not.

The lights dimmed again, and the crowd roared approvingly. Cloud glanced around in surprise. The club had filled up nicely in the last few minutes. Or had it been an hour since he had last thought about it? The music turned up a little louder, and the DJ livened up the music with a popular dance tune. He watched in amusement as a small group of girls tried to coax each other out onto the empty dance floor. If Tifa had been here, would she have tried to get him to go out there and dance?

Reno came back and caught the direction of his gaze, seemingly oblivious to the thoughts Cloud had been thinking. "Nice to look at, aren't they?" He put a fresh beer down in front of Cloud, and popped the top off with his keychain. The bottle cap skirted off the table and landed on the floor, lost and forgotten. He opened his own beer, some designer brand Cloud had never really liked, and raised it in the air toward the blond sitting next to him.

"To a good friend, who can hopefully play some pool and not lose my money."

Cloud clicked his bottle against Reno's, and both men took a few swallows of their beer. Cloud looked at Reno with one eyebrow raised, and a curious glint in his eyes.

"Superstitious?"

"Nah, not me. It's just not as good if I don't celebrate opening each bottle."

"That's a lot of celebrating," Cloud said, with an amused grin.

"You have no idea, yo." Reno wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and looked at Cloud thoughtfully. "What are you doing here? I never thought I'd see you in a place like this."

"I needed a change of scenery," Cloud said.

"Your bar not interesting enough?"

"It's not that, exactly. Just needed to get out."

"I know how it is. I get bored easily, too." He poked a thumb over in Rude's direction before continuing. "I've been tryin' to get him to try this place with me for two weeks now."

Cloud nodded, but said nothing in return. He pulled out his cell phone again, and glanced at the clock. 11:02 p.m. He silently acknowledged that Vincent wasn't going to make their meeting. Now that the club was fully in motion, any serious discussion would be difficult, if not impossible. He frowned, momentarily forgetting that Reno was watching him intently.

"Expectin' someone?" Reno said. He sounded so casual, yet Cloud knew the Turk's words had been calculated and delivered with the purpose of information gathering. Reno's laidback demeanor probably got him almost everything he wanted. Cloud was sure that Reno had everybody fooled. He often looked scatterbrained and behaved much the same as he looked, but Cloud suspected there was more to the skinny red-head. He was a Turk after all.

Cloud opened his mouth to answer, and then thought better of it. What did Reno care, after all? For that matter, he wondered if Vincent might be reporting something new about Shinra: something Reno had no business knowing.

"That girlfriend of yours?"

"She's not my girlfriend," Cloud said, a little too quickly.

Reno laughed out loud, and finished his beer. He excused himself and went to get another one. Cloud watched him go, clenching his jaw with mild annoyance. He respected Reno as a fighter, but as a friend? He'd never actually considered him a friend before. Cloud sighed deeply, seriously considering leaving the club for the night. First, he would call Vincent.

Cloud pressed a few buttons on his phone, and held it up to his ear. One ring. Two. Three. Four. And an answering machine picked up. Cloud narrowed his eyes and looked wearily toward the wall, wishing that Vincent would actually get a cell phone. He held one hand up to cover his other ear to block out background noise as Vincent's boring default message played.

"Your party is not available now. Please leave a message after the tone."

"Hey, Vincent. It's Cloud." He paused, unsure about what he should say. "Uh, hope everything's ok. We can try to meet another time. Call me."

He put his phone back into his pocket and stood up to leave. He looked around for Reno briefly, didn't see him, and shrugged. He took three steps toward the door, when he heard the red-head call after him. He stopped reluctantly and turned around.

"Strife! Leaving already?" Reno said. He held two freshly opened beers in his hand. One for him, and one for Cloud.

"Yeah," Cloud said.

"C'mon, one more," Reno said, offering the open beer to Cloud. His eyes glinted playfully in the semi-darkness at the blond. "Besides, you haven't gotten to see how bad Rude really is at pool."

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A/N: If you made it this far, please please rate & review. Thank you! ^_^



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