BY : Rina76
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 1486
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII Advent Children or any of the characters from the film. I am not making money from the writing of this story.

Chapter 40. Cloud

One day, Kadaj goes out to meet with Cloud so the two of them can talk alone and sort through their differences. I know that Kadaj desperately wants a good relationship with his big brother. I know that Kadaj loves Cloud; he always did, even when Kadaj was mentally unstable and was fighting against the former SOLDIER. From Loz, I've heard the story of how Kadaj held his sword over Cloud's head in front of all the captured children down at the lake. Cloud was about to be beheaded when a panicked Marlene called out his name, distracting Kadaj from the task and enabling Cloud to get away. By what Loz told me, I suspect that Kadaj didn't really want to kill Cloud, despite what Jenova may have ordered him to do, and he used Marlene's cry to give Cloud a chance to escape without angering his mother. If Kadaj REALLY wanted to kill Cloud, a little girl's plea would not have stopped him. The three Remnants had many opportunities to take Cloud's life but they all failed, whether by fluke or deliberate misaiming of their weapons, but I can tell that they're glad he's still alive. They're glad that Cloud is actually speaking to them and they are trying their best to form a proper bond with the only other person they know of who shares their cells. After all, family is everything to them.

I have spoken of my concerns regarding Cloud's trustworthiness so it's not surprising when Kadaj returns home and says to me, "Would you like to meet Cloud Strife? He really wants to meet you."

Glancing to the doorway, I enquire, "Is he here?"

"He's outside," Kadaj admits. "I didn't want to bring him into the lair without your permission. But if you meet him, then you can see for yourself that he's trustworthy. Tifa, Marlene and Denzel are here too. They're all waiting outside. May I allow them in?"

He gazes at me hopefully, waiting for my answer. How can I possibly resist those big, brown puppy-dog eyes?

"Well, tell them all to come in," I reply with a shrug. "I guess I should finally meet my other future brother in law, since I've heard so much about him already."

Kadaj gives a whistle that echoes up the hallway and into the garage. Soon, a little girl with a brown plait down her back comes skipping in excitedly, followed by a wide-eyed young boy and then an adult couple – a dark-haired woman with a short outfit and large breasts (who I assume is Tifa) and a blond man in black carrying a giant sword strapped to his back. That must be Cloud. His hair is yellow and sculpted up into large spikes on top. He is wearing a woven vest with a silver wolf's head pendant pinned to an armoured plate over his shoulder, and there's a matching earring in his left lobe. His muscled arms are bare except for a red ribbon on one and pair of black gloves that almost reach his elbows. Cloud is undeniably pretty, his features very fine and his blue eyes large and luminous. His face is so delicately formed but his body is unmistakably male and in that way he is similar to Yazoo. Cloud's chest and shoulders are broad and his stomach flat and hard beneath his top. He'd have to possess amazing core-strength to carry and wield that enormous sword and it shows in every line of his build.

Even though he's been invited in, Cloud stands back, silently surveying the surroundings. Tifa stands with him, her hand on his arm, offering support. After all, the three descendants of Sephiroth used to be his enemies and this is the first time Cloud has ever been into their lair so naturally he'd be a bit cautious. But nobody attacks him. We stand back too, giving him space and waiting for him to come to us instead of crowding him. Kadaj offers Cloud and Tifa coffee and when they accept, the youngest brother goes into the kitchen to brew a pot, urging Cloud to sit on a stool at the counter so Kadaj can talk to him as he does so. The blond delivery man awkwardly sits down, but not before removing that massive sword and leaning it against the nearest wall.

Tifa stays near him with her arms crossed protectively over her ample chest. She glances at Loz (who's standing next to me) and he flushes and averts his eyes. I'm not sure if he's still feeling bad over what he did to her in the church or if he has a little crush on the woman who almost beat his ass. Loz told me how (among other moves) she kicked him in the face, jumped on his chest and knocked the wind out of him, and then threw him into a pile of church pews, breaking them to splinters. I don't know Tifa in the slightest but I do admire her for taking on a hulking giant like Loz by herself. Seeing Loz's blushing reaction, Tifa smirks and then moves her attention to Marlene who is rushing around in excitement, climbing over furniture and touching stuff as children do. As her guardian, Tifa calls out for Marlene to be careful and not break anything but we've already started kid-proofing the lair so all weapons are hung up high and there's nothing here within reach that's dangerous or that can be broken.

Not so excitable, Denzel wanders slowly about, staring at the roof and seeming awed that our home is built entirely within a cave under the ground. I recognise Denzel as one of the abducted children in the cage. He seems wary like most street kids are, but has intelligent eyes, which are now normal blue instead of slitted and green like the day I saw him. He and Marlene must have been friends long before the whole Reunion drama went on and it seems Cloud and Tifa have taken him off the streets and are taking care of him, in the same way they're taking care of Marlene. It's very kind of them, taking in two kids that aren't theirs. Not many people would do that.

Having run four laps around the living room already, Marlene then dashes up to Loz and I and hugs his leg. "Loz! I missed you."

"Hey, Marlene. I missed you too." He affectionately ruffles her hair. "How've you been, kiddo?"

"Great." She looks at me, standing beside Loz. "Is that her? The lady you're gonna marry? Kadaj said you were engaged."

"Yeah. Marlene, this is Cate."

In loud whisper, Marlene remarks, "She's pretty."

Loz fondly winks at me. "I know she is."

"And her tummy is so big!" the girl exclaims with round eyes.

Smiling, I ask, "Would you like to touch it? Maybe if you're lucky, the baby will give you a kick."

Eagerly, she nods, coming closer to me and placing her small hand on my belly. Right on cue, the baby kicks, making Marlene squeal with delight. "I felt it! Tifa, come here! Feel the baby!"

Leaving Cloud's side, Tifa ventures over to us. She does not seem intimidated by Loz, Yazoo or Kadaj in the least, but approaching me she seems slightly apprehensive. She probably thinks I'm one of those chicks who gets ragingly jealous whenever another woman comes near her man but she couldn't be further from the truth. Any woman who fearlessly takes on Loz with only hands and feet gets nothing but respect from me. Loz told me how she got some good hits and kicks in before he cheated and zapped her semi-conscious with Dual Hound. If he didn't have that electrically-charged weapon, she might have beaten him.

"Hey, Loz. How are you doing?"

At her casual greeting, Loz mumbles a reply and stares down at his feet. Probably to stop himself from looking at her boobs, which are pretty damn huge. I have to stop myself from looking at them too, focusing on her face instead. Of course, not only does she have a hot body, she's beautiful as well and makes me a tad envious. Not that I let that show, smiling at her in a friendly fashion.

"Hi," she says to me, somewhat nervously. "I'm Tifa."

"Cate," I return. "And this little one here has no name yet but they like meeting other people."

Glancing down at my baby bump, Tifa appears unsure if she should be touching me or not but I nod and smile at her, letting her know it's okay. I know other females love pregnant bellies and this could be a good way to break the ice with her.

"Go ahead. Touch it. I don't mind, honestly."

At my encouragement, she hesitantly rests her palm on my stomach, giving an astonished exclamation when a tiny foot kicks against it. "Oh," she remarks. "The baby's quite strong, isn't it?"

"Well, it IS half-alien," I reply jokingly. "You should see what other powers it's got."

Tifa gives a small smile, relieved that the baby's non-human side is not an issue for me or a topic to be avoided. The creature in my belly is being very accommodating, kicking so Tifa can see how powerful its little legs are.

Having already felt the baby, Marlene clings to Loz's leg again, pestering him for a piggyback ride. Or a game of tag. Chuckling, he indulges the girl, chasing after her and roaring like a bear while she runs off giggling. While he's preoccupied with Marlene and Tifa is counting how many kicks she gets from the baby, I begin to apologise for all the things my silver-haired fiancé did when he was being controlled by his evil mother.

"Loz told me about your fight in the church, Tifa. Sorry he hit you. And zapped you unconscious. And then kidnapped Marlene," I add, feeling worse with each sentence because it makes Loz sound like an absolute monster. "He's not normally like that, I swear!"

"It's okay. He's already apologised for it, the day he and Yazoo came to collect the water for your Geostigma. I know it was only Jenova's influence making them all act that way." She looks to Loz playing with Marlene and smiles. "Besides, Marlene adores Loz so that proves that he's got a good heart."

"He does," I agree earnestly, following her glance. "And he seems to adore Marlene as well."

Loz has picked the little girl up and is carrying her around on his wide shoulders, both of them laughing as she tries to reach the stalactites on the ceiling.

"He'll be a great father," Tifa admits, focusing back on my large, round belly, rubbing it wistfully. "You're so lucky, Cate. I can't wait until I have babies of my own."

She gives Cloud a longing look but he seems oblivious to her maternal yearning, the spiky-haired male gingerly sipping hot coffee that Kadaj poured for him.

"By the way, where's Yazoo?" Tifa asks, looking around for the middle Remnant.

"Oh, he's here," I answer. "He was in the gym room working out when you arrived so he's probably taking a shower right now. He wouldn't want anyone to see him all sweaty."

Right at that moment, the man in question appears. Emerging freshly showered and in clean clothes after his solo training session, Yazoo enters the kitchen with his short hair still damp. He raises a greeting hand to Tifa and then says hello to his oldest (and newest) brother, Cloud responding to Yazoo's welcoming approach with a polite but somewhat reserved greeting. Even though they have spoken before, Cloud cannot forget how he's been shot twice by Yazoo, once in the face and once in the heart, the blond bike courier astoundingly managing to live though both attempts. Also unable to forget, Yazoo broaches the subject so they can get past it, his green eyes full of regret for all his previously misguided actions.

"I must apologise once again for trying to kill you, Cloud. You're a very strong and worthy opponent," Yazoo comments in admiration as I listen in. "But I am glad we do not have to battle each other anymore."

"Yeah. Me too," Cloud replies. "I was getting tired of being shot."

His face doesn't change from its straight expression but I believe that was Cloud making a joke. Seeming thankful that his blond sibling holds no grudges, Yazoo smiles, clasping Cloud's shoulder in a gesture of respect for the ex-SOLDIER's strength, braveness and nobility. Cloud seems surprised by the personal touch but doesn't flinch away, more proof of how he's starting to accept these three former foes as his trusted blood-brethren.

Having finished his exploration of the lair, Denzel walks up, staring at Yazoo. "You look different with short hair," he comments. "More like a guy instead of a girl."

Yazoo chuckles, not taking any offence to Denzel's bluntness. "Yes, I suppose I do."

Trying to get the boy to warm up to him, Yazoo offers, "Would you like to go look at Kadaj's bike? It's been fixed up like new. Maybe I can start it up and you can try all the lights and rev the engine, if you wish."

"Tifa?" Denzel calls out questioningly. "Can I go up to the garage with Yazoo?"

"Of course you can," Tifa returns, proving that she too is willing to trust the Remnants, now that Jenova isn't controlling them.

"Okay. Let's go." Denzel shrugs, proving that he holds nothing against Yazoo for kidnapping him. He may not even remember the whole incident since he was drugged with dark materia. In any event, the former street kid willingly goes with Yazoo to the garage, the cage that used to be there now long gone, having been dismantled and taken to the metal recycling facility in town.

When Loz lifts Marlene off his shoulders and puts her down on the ground, she clutches his hand, tugging him over to Tifa and urging him to take them to the baby's nursery. Loz obliges and escorts them down the hallway, proud to show off the green and white room that he helped to create. I'd go with them, but I've yet to meet Cloud and I must admit that I'm super-curious about him. Seeing that I'm now alone, Kadaj motions for me to come over to the kitchen. He's seated on the edge of the counter, beside Cloud. The blond man looks up from his coffee as I approach, his blue eyes guarded but interested.

"Cloud, this is my future sister in law, Cate," Kadaj formally introduces us. "Cate, meet my big brother."

"Hi, Cloud," I greet him with a smile, plonking my heavily-pregnant self on a stool next to him. "I've heard a lot about you. Nice to meet you at last."

"You too," he answers automatically. Normally, I'd shake his hand but I sense that he wouldn't be comfortable with that yet.

"Thank you so much for the church-water, by the way," I add with gratitude. "Without that, I'd still have Geostigma and let me tell you, that shit is the worst disease to ever hit the planet."

"I know. I used to have it on my arm as well. Kadaj told me about you and why you needed the water so badly." Cloud's gaze drops to my belly and then back up at my face. "I'm glad the baby is okay."

Nodding, I say, "Thanks. Speaking of the baby, I need you to touch it."

He blinks in a startled manner. "Excuse me?"

"Kadaj said you can be trusted but in order for me to be certain, you have to touch my stomach. The baby will be able to tell me things about you, such as if you're a good person or not," I explain further. "It's kind of psychic. Would you mind doing that for me, please?"

"Oh," Cloud says, appearing to think it over. "Well, if that's what you want me to do, I'll do it."

"We already trust you completely, brother," Kadaj says encouragingly. "But Cate doesn't know you the way we do. She just has to be sure."

Cloud gives a short nod to show that he understands. Turning his seat towards me, he takes his glove off, rolling it down his forearm and slipping it from his hand. Before he makes contact with my belly he hesitates, as if not wanting me to know about his past, but then deciding that he has nothing to hide, he lays his palm flat on my bump. His hand is warm through the fabric of my maternity shirt.

The baby reacts differently with him than it did with Tifa or Marlene. Instead of getting a short, sharp kick, Cloud gets a long rolling nudge, as if the baby's rubbing against him like a cat. It's a sign of affection and clearly proves that they share the same cells. Unsure what that movement means, Cloud begins to remove his hand but I take it in mine, holding it against my belly.

"Come on, baby of mine," I whisper, closing my eyes. "Show me what I need to see."

As soon as I say that, the vision comes. In my mind, I see Cloud with a man who looks a lot like Paxx Fair, the violet-eyed bartender and barista I've spoken to. With the knowledge that comes along with my vision, I realise that I am seeing Zack Fair, Paxx's older brother and Cloud's best friend. Gods, Paxx looks so much like him. It's remarkable. Except Zack has a scar, a cross on his left cheek, and he's outfitted in military-type gear. I see them hanging out together, riding in the back of a truck, Zack teasing Cloud about becoming a real SOLDIER. The vision changes, and I see Zack lying on the ground near the edge of a cliff. It's raining. There's blood on his body and face, dripping into his black hair. He's mortally injured. Also injured, Cloud comes crawling over to Zack. Zack pulls Cloud's head down to his chest. Even though Zack is the one who's dying, he comforts Cloud, telling him to live for the both of them. He gives Cloud his sword and then dies, smiling peacefully. Cloud lifts his blood-stained face to the raining sky and howls with grief. Along with the images, I get feelings and boy, there are a ton of those.

Now, I understand why Cloud is the way he is. Despite his quiet, private, introverted nature, Cloud feels emotions deeply – he just doesn't always show them on the outside. But with Zack, he could. Both being captured and experimented upon with Jenova cells, they'd been through hell together but they emerged stronger for it and their friendship was truly a special one. Nobody knew Cloud like Zack did. Since Zack's death, Cloud has become even more distant and reclusive, and because of this it gives the impression that he doesn't care, but that's not true. He steps up when he has to, to help people in trouble and fight against the evilest of evils. He may not be a SOLDIER anymore (if he ever was one in the first place), but he's still a warrior.

I also see him swerving and crashing his motorcycle to avoid running into the children that Kadaj temporarily possessed near the lake. I see Cloud fighting against Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz, and then later on, against Sephiroth, being impaled by the silver-haired General's long sword but even tortured, taunted and in incredible pain, Cloud never gives up. He defeats Sephiroth and then when Kadaj returns to being himself, I see Cloud catching him, holding him as a brother. I see Yazoo shooting Cloud and then the explosion on top of the building. I see Cloud after the battle is over, floating in the water inside the church. I see him awakening with children around him in a circle, as well as all the people who care about him standing at the water's edge. I see him healing Denzel's Geostigma. Lastly, I see Zack appearing to him as a spirit, along with a girl in pink dress who means a lot to Cloud as well. Aerith.

I let go of Cloud's hand, blinking as the visions fade and I return to reality. One thing the baby made very clear to me is that Cloud is a good man. Loyal. Honourable. Valiant. Strong of spirit and heart. There's nothing bad about him at all. We can trust him, even with our lives.

"What did you see?" Cloud asks, staring at me intently with those bright blue eyes.

"I saw you with Zack. You were both on a battlefield. He gave you his sword and you were with him when he died."

He nods, returning quietly, "Yes."

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Cloud," I offer, sensing his pain.

He nods again, acknowledging my sympathy.

"Death isn't the end, you know," I tell him softly. "The people you love don't disappear forever. They live on in the Life Stream, where they wait for you to join them one day."

"I know. Kadaj told me that he met Zack there. I've even seen him myself lately. Just when I was feeling weak and about to give up, Zack appeared to encourage and inspire me. He even offered to help me fight Sephiroth." Cloud's mouth shows the faintest suggestion of a smile, as if he'd expect no less of his old friend. "That's Zack for you. Even dead, he still thinks of other people first."

"Sounds like a really great guy. You two must have been very close."

"We were. Zack was the closest thing I had to a brother." Glancing to Kadaj, the blond male adds shyly, "At least, back then."

Kadaj beams warmly from his bench-spot next to us, immensely pleased that Cloud finally thinks of him as family and not an enemy.

"I've met Paxx. Zack's brother," I inform Cloud. "He's a nice guy too."

"Yeah, I spoke to Paxx recently. He mentioned you and how you first met at the club," Cloud affirms. "When he offered you help in the coffee shop and told you that he had connections? I'm one of them."

"Good to know," I reply, thinking that having a freedom fighter like Cloud on your side can only be a beneficial thing.

Just then, Loz comes back, looking overwhelmed and harassed. He begs me to go join Marlene and Tifa in the nursery. Apparently, they're raving about how pretty the room is, looking in all the cupboards and drawers at the cute little outfits and bombarding Loz with baby-related questions that he doesn't feel equipped to answer.

"Don't worry, I'll save you from them," I reply laughingly, getting up from my seat with Loz's assistance.

"Thanks, Catey," he says gratefully, not used to having so many girls in the place.

"Excuse me, Cloud. It was nice to meet you but I should go discuss baby stuff with the womenfolk," I murmur apologetically. Shoving Loz into my empty seat, I add, "You guys stay here and chat. You still have a lot to learn about each other."

"Sure. Take your time," Loz replies, grinning at Cloud and slapping him heartily on the back. "Big brother and I can talk about bikes."

Cloud is jolted by Loz's rough gesture of affection but he recovers his composure and soon he'll be used to it. Before I leave, the newest member of our flock reaches out and touches my arm. I stop and look at Cloud in surprise.

He asks in concern, "Did I pass your test?"

"Yeah. You passed. The baby likes you so you must be all right." Smiling, I pat his hand. "You're welcome here anytime, Cloud."

The corner of his lips twitch in another almost-smile, and after nodding thankfully, he turns back to his two new brothers who are eager to speak to him some more, while I go off and join the girls in the baby's room.

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