Premonitions II-C: Crisis Core

BY : Hippo_and_Friends_with_Benefits
Category: Final Fantasy VII > General
Dragon prints: 702
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core, it any characters therin. I am not making any money here.

Chapter 31: On the Lake

September 21, 0002

I stood at the enterance to Nibelheim. The wooden arch was still there, along with the broken-down truck that had been there since I was little. At the center of the town was the well. To the north, I could see the Shinra Mansion.

I didn't want to be here. My Uncle Brian always wanted to see me, but the feeling wasn't mutual. Still, I had promised Aerith I would look after Zack. Also, Zack's mom was paying me to take pictures and send them to her, letting her know he was safe. You probably forgot that, didn't you?

So the reason I'm not a big fan of Uncle Brian is because the abstinence-only crowd was right all this time: sex kills. No, sex didn't kill Uncle Brian, although (spoiler alert) he's dead now. It killed my Aunt Claire instead.

The long story short, Aunt Claire was a stay-at-home mom who overspent, much to Uncle Brian's resentment. He dealt with the resentment by having an affair with a younger woman. He ended up falling in love with her, and demanded a divorce from Claire.

The good news was that Uncle Brian came to his senses, ended the affair, and decided to call off the divorce. The bad news was, before he could tell Aunt Claire, she drove off a cliff (either intentionally or unintentionally; nobody knows for sure) and plummeted to her death.

But, hell, I remembered the real reason I was in Nibelheim, so I went up to Uncle Brian's door and knocked.

"Tobin!" greeted Uncle Brian. "It's been a while!"

It was the calm before the storm.

MEANWHILE...

Zack finished dressing and stepped out into the kitchen of his apartment. Aerith was standing there, wearing jeans and a Sector Five Cheerleading tee. She had a huge smile on her face.

This is the day, she thought to herself. I'll be going to the lake a girlfriend and leaving a fiancée.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Totally!" she exclaimed as she placed her hands on his shoulders and kissed him.

Zack tried to hide the sadness he felt; he knew what she was thinking, and he knew the potential results of the mission.

LATER...

Aerith gazed in amazement as she stepped out the back patio of the cottage by the lake.

The lake was huge, surrounded by only woods and the cottage. She had never seen a place that remote in her life.

"And your parents own this?" she exclaimed. "This whole lake?"

"The cottage," Zack replied. "And nobody else lives around here."

"Why don't they live here?" she asked.

"It's too remote," he answered as he led her to the boat.

"We're going on a boat ride?" she asked with a smile.

"I thought we could go swimming in the lake," Zack suggested as he stripped to his black swimming trunks.

Aerith got a naughty grin on her face as they reached the boat. It was time to put what she had told me about the other day into practice.

"Shit!" she exclaimed, pretending to be upset. "I forgot my bikini!"

"That's okay," Zack assured her. "We can just go for a boat ride."

"Wait a minute," Aerith said. "Nobody uses the lake but you, right?"

"And my parents," he clarified.

"I've got an idea," she announced.

"What's that?" he asked.

Smiling, Aerith pulled her shirt off and tossed it aside. She then reached back, unhooked her bra, and tossed it on her shirt, allowing her breasts to spring free.

"You like skinny dipping?" Zack asked with a naughty grin.

"I've never done it before!" she giggled as she unzipped her jeans and allowed them to fall to her ankles. She then slid her panties down and stepped out of them as well.

"But you need to put this on," Zack warned as he handed her an orange life vest.

Aerith gave him a cross look.

"There's a dangerous undertow," Zack warned as he put his own on. "Or a fun undertow. Depending on whether you wear one."

"My girls will be confined," she groaned as she slipped her life vest on.

Zack sat in the driver's seat as Aerith sat in one of the seats on the side of the boat. He backed the boat out from the dock and began to drive it. After about ten minutes, they were at the middle of the lake. Zack stopped the boat.

Aerith stood up and scanned the scenery. It was beautiful in every direction. This would be the perfect spot for a proposal. She began to get goosebumps.

And then, Zack stood up, walked over to her, and looked her in the eyes.

"So, Aerith," he began.

Her heart began to accelerate.

Is this it? she thought.

"There's something I need to mention," he continued.

With that, he quickly went over to his discarded pants and began to rummage through the pockets.

This is it! Aerith thought to herself as she put her hands over her mouth. These are my last moments as just his girlfriend!

Zack continued to rummage through his pockets for a few more moments. He then returned to Aerith, concealing something in his hands, and noticed she was covering her mouth.

"You okay?" he asked.

She could only nod.

He then opened his hands.

Aerith's heart sank immediately.

In his hands were two white pills.

"What are those for?" she asked, trying to hide her disappointment.

"Motion sickness," he replied as he handed her the pills, followed by a water bottle. "You'll get it from the undertow if you don't take them."

"Thank you," she said.

Oh well, she thought as she took the pills and a drink. Later, for sure.

Zack went into his pockets again, but Aerith did not get her hopes up. Sure enough, he pulled out his cell phone.

"Selfie?" he asked. "With the lake in the background?"

"Sure," she replied.

They cuddled together and smiled as Zack took the selfie, and then gave Aerith a chance to look at it.

It showed them from the waist up, with both their upper halves covered by their life vests.

"Is this okay for social media?" he asked.

"Yeah, it's okay," she replied. "No vagina."

"Check out the water," Zack suggested as he went to put his phone away.

Aerith walked to the edge of the boat. The water was typical dark lake water and nothing special.

Zack then saw his chance and pushed Aerith's bare butt with his hand, sending her into the water.

"Zack!" she exclaimed at the top of her lungs.

"What?" he asked innocently. "The life vest will keep you afloat!"

"It's freezing!" she cried as she huddled herself for warmth. "You're the worst boyfriend ever!"

"That's just the heat of the moment!" he laughed.

"Get your butt in here!" she shouted.

Zack smiled, tightened his trunks, and entered the waters with a cannonball, splashing Aerith in the process.

"What is it with you?" she sighed with her arms folded. "Tormenting a poor girl like me?"

"Because it's funny," he replied, laughing.

Aerith then swam over to him and placed her hands on his shoulders through his life vest.

"Then maybe we should get...romantic?" she suggested with a smile.

She then kissed him, and their tongues met.

Aerith felt a wave of love and connection go through her.

Maybe he didn't propose yet, she thought. But it's still romantic. Count your blessings, girl.

They continued to kiss deeply for some time.

"I love you," she whispered in between kisses.

She eventually stopped kissing him and smiled.

"I don't feel an undertow," she said.

"Just wait for it," Zack insisted.

And then, suddenly, the two lovers were flung four yards away from the boat.

Aerith screamed and closed her eyes as she held onto Zack for dear life. Yet when the movement stopped, and she slowly opened them, she saw his face, and immediately felt safe and secure in his arms.

"I guess that wasn't so bad," she giggled.

They kissed deeply once more. A few minutes later, the undertow flung them again, this time towards the boat. Aerith closed her eyes and held onto Zack again, though she felt more confident this time. Zack, meanwhile, held onto her tightly so she would feel secure.

When the movement stopped, Aerith again opened her eyes and smiled.

"Did I ever tell you you make me feel like the luckiest girl in the world?" she asked as she placed her hands on his cheeks and deeply kissed him again.

She was still kissing him when the undertow flung them again, this time away from the boat. She did not stop kissing him. Instead, she pressed her tongue against his until the movement stopped.

"This is so fun!" she exclaimed as she gently resented her hands on his life vest-covered shoulders.

The young couple smiled at each other, simply gazing into each other's faces.

"Damn, your eyes are beautiful," Zack said.

"Thanks!" she said. "Nobody ever compliments my eyes!"

"What do they usually compliment?" he asked.

"My butt," Aerith replied sheepishly.

The two kissed again.

And then, Aerith's smile was gone. She could not block out the reality forever. Slowly, she pulled him in for a hug.

Moments later, she saw the boat again. She was so fixated on his departure that she did not even notice the undertow.

"When do you leave?" she asked.

"Tomorrow," he replied, as he lovingly stroked her hair. "Bright and early."

Tears soon began to fall from Aerith's eyes.

"I don't want to lose you," she said as she pulled one of his hands to the surface and held it in hers.

"You won't," he assured her as he kissed her on the cheek.

"I booked a hotel for us," she said. "On prom night."

"I remember," Zack said.

"I figured that as long as we're booked with something, nothing bad could happen to us, right?" she asked.

"You got it," he assured her as he kissed her again. "Want to get back on the boat?"

"I think I would," she agreed.

Zack climbed onto the boat first. He then turned around, reached down, and helped his girlfriend up. Unfortunately, after raising her a mere foot, he "accidentally" let go, sending her splashing in the lake again.

"Zack!" Aerith shouted. "This is a dick move!"

"My hands are too slippery!" Zack defended.

"Yeah, right!" she retorted.

Aerith remained in her spot for a few moments. She then flung her bare right leg over the edge of the boat and pushed herself up. She then helped herself to her feet. Looking cross, she folded her arms.

"You just wanted the view, didn't you?" She playfully accused.

"That also," Zack replied with a guilty look on his face. He did have a nice aerial view of her naked lower half as she helped herself up.

Aerith giggled and took a drink from her water bottle. She then place her hands on the small of her back and smiled at her boyfriend. Gradually, the smile began to fade.

"What's on your mind?" Zack inquired.

"My love," she began, "I don't mean to judge, but I think Sephiroth is the crisis' core."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"He's old friends with that Genesis," Aerith continued. "You don't think he might be trying to protect him?"

"I dunno," Zack replied. "But I'm not worried. My sword is bigger than his."

Aerith then placed her hands on her hips and gave Zack a cross look; along came another inappropriate time.

"You're really giving me blue balls here," she said. "Telling me how big you sword is and all."

"Oh, am I?" Zack teased.

"Well," Aerith continued as she went up to Zack and pulled his trunks down, "are we going to do it on the boat or not?"

For reasons you can probably guess, I'll skip ahead.

Zack slipped his trunks back on and sat in the driver's seat, steering the boat back towards the shore.

Aerith sat in one of side seats on the boat, drinking her water bottle, having declined to put her clothes back on. She was still hoping for a proposal, and was adamant about being naked when it happened.

She then realized that maybe she could lead the conversation into it.

"What do want to do this summer?" she asked as placed her water bottle to her side and put her hands on her knees. "After we graduate, I mean."

"I'm quitting SOLDIER in June," Zack said.

"And?" she asked with a smile as she twiddled her fingers on her bare knees.

"We can run away together!" Zack reminded her as the dock came into view. "We were going to leave Midgar, remember?"

"Do you think we could maybe live here?" Aerith asked as the boat began to slow down. "This is bigger than all of Gongaga!"

"My parents don't actually own the whole lake," Zack replied as he parked the boat and shut it off. "Just the only house on the lake."

"They would practically own the lake," she corrected as she stood up.

"In a way, I suppose," agreed Zack as he stood up and took off his life vest.

He then climbed off the boat and onto the dock.

"Excuse you!" the soprano called to him.

Zack turned to see Aerith standing on the edge of the boat with her hands on her hips.

"Your not going to help a girl onto the dock?"

Zack reached out both his hands.

Aerith giggled as she took both of them in hers and climbed onto the dock.

"You left your clothes on the boat," Zack observed.

"They're not going anywhere," she said as she took his hand.

"What if it rains?" he asked as they walked back to the house.

"There's a dryer, right?" she asked.

"There is," he replied as he opened the patio door and signaled for her to go in.

"Such a gentleman!" she said with a smile as she passed through the door.

As she did so, Zack playfully smacked her bare butt.

"Ooh!" she said with a smile as she briefly looked at Zack.

He followed her into the lounge, where they both stopped for a moment.

And then, she began laughing hysterically.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"I peed in the lake," Aerith giggled.

"When?!" Zack asked nervously.

"While I was crying, right before you helped me up," she replied with a devilish smile.

"That's nasty!" he playfully snapped.

"Well, I figured, since I was skinny dipping, I'd be able to get away with it," she said.

"You weren't actually skinny dipping," Zack informed her. "You had a life vest on."

"Fun sucker," she playfully groaned.

Zack then turned around, slipped off his trunks, and began to walk up the stairs.

"I going for a shower," he announced.

"Coming!" she happily agreed.

She then spotted her cell phone sitting on the coffee table.

"I-I'll catch up with you," she said.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," she replied. "Give me a few minutes?"

Zack nodded and disappeared up the stairs.

After hearing the shower start, Aerith grabbed her cell phone. And she started to call...me.

"Aerith?" I greeted over the phone. "You okay?"

"Not really," she replied. "He didn't propose."

"I'm sorry," I said. "Maybe later tonight?"

"Maybe," she sighed. "Hopefully. He leaves tomorrow morning."

"How's everything else going?" I asked.

"We did it in the boat," she whispered.

I sighed.

"I really didn't want to know that!" I reprimanded. "Besides, that can give him a really nasty bacterial infection!"

"B-O-A-T! Boat!" she corrected. She then sighed. "Boys."

"Shouldn't you be spending time with your man?" I asked her.

"I should," she replied, "but I really need to vent something."

"Go ahead."

"He's going on a really dangerous mission," Aerith informed me.

It wasn't the first time I had heard that, even out of her mouth.

"All missions are dangerous," I assured her.

"I was born at night, but it wasn't last night," Aerith replied. "This feels...different."

"No two missions are alike," I said, trying to comfort her.

"This is really scary," she said. "I have this sick feeling that he's not coming back from this one.

I could tell she was crying, and I realized that nothing I could say could reassure her. So I asked.

"What's bothering you about it?" I asked.

"Sephiroth," she replied. "I've seen videos of him on social media. He's got this cold vibe. He seems like he would kill anyone who got in his way. I would die a happy girl if I could somehow prove to everyone that Sephiroth is a dangerous human being!"

"Don't forget," I replied, "I'm in Nibelheim right now. Maybe I could...follow them. I could make sure Zack's okay." I then paused. "Maybe I could...intervene if something goes wrong."

"You'd do that?!" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Of course I would," I assured her.

I suppose I was only half honest, but it wasn't a big risk. Sephiroth couldn't hurt what he couldn't see, right?

"You're awesome!" she complimented. "But now I need to go upstairs and shower with Zack. I'm kind of standing naked in the lounge."

"TMI!" I sighed.

"Hey, you're my best guy friend, remember?" she reminded me.

"True, true," I said. "I guess I'll talk to you later then."

"Bye," she giggled.

Aerith stood alone in the parlor, briefly rubbing her bare butt before putting her hands on the small of her back.

She felt somewhat reassured, but not completely.

And then, she realized she still had her life vest on. She slipped it off and ran for the stairs.

MEANWHILE...

I put my phone down. I had been at my uncle's house, sitting at the kitchen table.

"I think that girl likes you," Uncle Brian said.

"She has a boyfriend," I replied.

"Things change," Uncle Brian insisted. "She's comfortable telling you about her sex life."

"You heard that?" I exclaimed; I was quite surprised he could.

"There's three things that are dying out," he explained. "Special effects that can't be duplicated by a computer, bands that make millions on a farewell tour and actually retire, and cell phones that can only be heard by the people using them!"

I groaned, realizing there was nothing to hide. I slowly began to scan the room, hoping to see something I could change the subject with.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pool out the window. That belonged to Uncle Brian's neighbor, Claudia. She was a free-spirit who occasionally skinny-dipped back there.

Yeah, I know there's a lot of skinny-dipping in this chapter, but I'll probably kill the mood when I mention that Claudia was Cloud's mother. According to Uncle Brian, she would even give Cloud swimming lessons in the nude when he was little. Which, in turn, meant he watched her.

Which brings me to a memorable anecdote.

FLASHBACK...

Back when I was fourteen, Cloud was actually over at Uncle Brian's.

Claudia, as Cloud grew older, decided to be a little more modest and put on a bikini or even a one-piece. But this particular time, since Cloud was away, she had decided to revert to her old ways.

Claudia Stife, by the way, for all intents and purposes, was the biggest milf I ever knew. She was hot, I won't lie, and sometimes I'd think about her.

But that's the most I'll reveal. Long story short, with Cloud gone, Claudia decided to go skinny dipping in her pool. Mind you, that was outdoors, just in case you didn't figure that out. And we caught Uncle Brian watching the whole thing while married to Aunt Claire.

Like I said, Claudia Strife was the milf of the milfs. If Cloud ever developed an Oedipal complex, I'd forgive him. But Uncle Brian was married, and he should only be looking at Aunt Claire, who was also attractive (she wasn't my aunt by blood, so I can say that, pervert).

So, one day, out of the corner of my eye, I see Brian staring at the naked Claudia Strife. He noticed me, and his face turned bright red once he knew he was caught.

"You were looking!" I accused.

"I was not!" Uncle Brian poorly defended.

"I already caught you," I told him. "Not that I can blame you. She is hot."

"That's my mom," Cloud reminded me, in an annoyed tone of voice.

Meanwhile, Brian was beaten, and he knew it.

"You can't tell Aunt Claire about this," he pleaded.

"Don't do it again," Cloud warned. "That is my mom."

"There you have it," I added. "Don't stare at her vagina. Stare at Cloud. He did come out of it, you know."

Cloud and Uncle Brian blushed in unison.

"So can I trust you wont say a thing?" the latter asked me.

I nodded.

He then turned to the spikey-haired thirteen-year-old standing to my left.

"And you?"

Cloud nodded as well.

He then turned his head even further.

"And you?" he asked.

A raven-haired twelve-year-old girl in a green dress nodded.

"You can trust all of us," Tifa assured him.

END FLASHBACK...

Suddenly, I heard the front door open. I realized right away that the calm before the storm was over.

"Oh, Tobin!" I heard the voice call followed by approaching footsteps.

The voice that belonged to the girl who tortured me all throughout my childhood.

"Don't hide!" the voice warned as the footsteps grew louder.

A moment later, a fifteen-year-girl appeared in the doorway. She had dark, raven hair, and was wearing jeans and a green tee shirt. She looked directly at me, and gave me a wicked grin.

"Hey, Tifa," I greeted.

LATE THAT NIGHT...

I unrolled my sleeping bag a few feet from Tifa's desk.

Tifa was in her pajamas, sitting on her bed.

"How's your roommate?" she asked. "The girl? Who's always on your case?"

"Cissnei?" I replied. "She's fine."

"And yet you're away from her and still stuck with a girl for the weekend!" she laughed. "I suppose she doesn't terrorize you in your sleep like I inevitably will."

"She's usually goes into her room and locks the door at this time," I mentioned.

"Well, that's no fun," Tifa pointed out. "She's not growing a meth lab in there, is she?"

"No way!" I laughed. "She said she sleeps like a cartoon animal. And I've spent the last two years trying to figure out what that means."

Tifa began to giggle, and cover her mouth.

"I suppose you know what that means?" I asked her.

"You suppose right!" she replied as she continued to laugh.

"Well, what does it mean?" I naturally asked.

"Shirt, no pants," Tifa replied.

"That's what that means?"

She nodded.

"That's weird," I muttered. "Really weird."

Tifa immediately shook her head.

"Tobin, do you have any idea how uncomfortable and confining pants can be for a girl?"

"I meant why doesn't she just sleep naked?" I clarified. "Why does she wear a shirt?"

"It catches sweat," Tifa answered. "So guess what?"

"What?"

"Shinra's paying me to be the guide for the SOLDIERs when they get here," she announced.

"Nice," I said.

It made sense; Tifa knew the mountain pretty well. When Aunt Claire died, she stormed off to the mountain and ended up getting herself nearly killed. Now she's the mountain's expert.

"Oh," Tifa continued as she got up off her bed, "I've got to show you something."

She walked over to her closet and began to rummage through it. Eventually, she pulled out a rather small outfit, consisting of a crop-top, crop-vest, a mini-skirt, boots, and a cowgirl hat. It looked like she got it from either a Halloween store or an erotic boutique. Neither would surprise me.

"What do you think?" Tifa asked with a grin.

"It's...nice," I replied.

"It shows my belly button off," she added.

"I noticed," I said. "Hoping to impress the SOLDIER boys?"

"Actually," Tifa replied as she put the cowgirl outfit back in the closet, "an old friend is going to be with them."

She was, obviously, referring to Cloud. But she thought he had joined SOLDIER. She was going to be in for one hell of a disappointment.

"You're dressing like that for an old friend?" I asked her.

"Well," she replied sheepishly, "I love crop tops, but my dad hates them. You can't tell him, okay?"

"No problem," I agreed.

I knew she and Cloud were best friends since they were little. But now it was starting to look as if Tifa wanted them to become more than that.

This could get interesting.

THE NEXT DAY...

September 22, 0002

I woke up the next morning. As the world came into focus, I turned over in my sleeping bag to see a pair of two brown-and-white boots staring me in the face.

I gasped, and looked up.

Tifa was standing over me, wearing that cowgirl outfit, grinning.

"You still fall for that!" she giggled.

She was then good enough to help me to my feet. She stepped back and put her hands on her hips.

"So what do you think?" she asked. "Think he'll notice?"

"I know he'll notice," I assured her.

MEANWHILE, AT THE SOUTH ENTRANCE...

"So, how does it feel?" Sephiroth asked. "To be home after all this time? I have no hometown. I wouldn't know."

Cloud was silent. He was scanning the town, hoping not to see anyone who might recognize him.

"Uh...what about family?" Zack asked, mainly to break the silence.

"My mother's name is Jenova," Sephiroth replied. "She died shortly after I was born. My father..."

He didn't finish. Instead, he began to laugh.

There was something about that laugh that bothered me. He had already started to go nuts.

"Why am I talking about this?" Sephiroth continued. "Come on, let's go."

Sephiroth, Cloud, and the other trooper walked into Nibelheim.

Zack stood behind for a few moments. He seemed troubled as well.

"Sephiroth's mother's name is Jenova?" he said to himself.

Realizing that he couldn't keep the other three waiting, Zack ran into Nibelheim, joining them at the door to the inn.

"Are you one of the SOLDIER people who've come to investigate?" called an alto that only Cloud and I would recognize.

Zack turned to see Tifa standing three yards behind him. He scanned her for a moment; I think he might have been checking her out.

"Yeah, my name is Zack, and I'm with SOLDIER," Zack greeted. "First Class, mind you, First Class!"

Cloud's heart was beating faster; she was obviously looking for him.

"Huh," Tifa replied as she put her hand to her mouth, clearly disappointed.

"What do you mean 'huh?'" Zack inquired.

"Are there a lot of SOLDIER First Classes?" Tifa asked.

"Nope," Zack replied. "We're a small, elite group."

"They only sent two?" Tifa then inquired. She had to be sure.

"Yeah, me and Sephiroth," Zack informed her.

Tifa turned around.

"Uh-huh," she mumbled.

She began to walk away. She then turned around and looked Zack in the eyes. It seemed like she had more to say. But, then, she turned around again and ran off.

"Weird girl," Zack muttered.

Tifa is weird, by the way, but not because of this.

If Aerith is overtly open and sexual, Tifa is overtly the reverse. To the best of my knowledge, she's still a virgin. Hell, she has to be. If she dies a virgin, I'd be less than surprised.

"Ever since I was five," you'd most certainly hear her say, "nobody's seen me naked but me behind closed doors."

That was the truth. She wouldn't even let anyone see her underwear. She'd even go into the bathroom stall if she had to change for gym class.

I almost think it's a crime against nature. If she wasn't my cousin, I'd say she's hot. She could have any man she wants. But she doesn't seem to want any man.

Save one.

Meanwhile, Zack, Sephiroth, and the two troopers gathered outside the hotel.

"We depart for the reactor at dawn," Sephiroth announced. "Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Only one of you needs to keep watch. Make sure you get some rest as well."

Then one of the troopers, who was actually Cloud, approached him.

"Ah, that's right," Sephiroth reminded himself. "You have permission to go visit family and friends, if you so wish."

Cloud walked off and knocked the house next to Uncle Brian's.

I could see the door answered by a familiar blond woman in her early forties.

"Yes?" she asked.

Cloud sighed and removed his mask, revealing himself.

"Cloud?!" she exclaimed before throwing her arms around him. "Welcome home, Cloud!"

"Hi, mom," he greeted, without hugging back.

"Come, come," Claudia implored as she broke the embrace. "Let me take a look at you." She scanned her son for a few moments. "You look so handsome. So this is a SOLDIER uniform?"

"Mom, I," Cloud replied before the door closed.

MEANWHILE...

Uncle Brian confronted Tifa as soon as she got in the house. She had been hoping to sneak up to her room and change, but Uncle Brian happened to be waiting in the living room.

He gave her the nastiest look I had ever seen him give anyone.

"You dressed that way because you were expecting that pathetic scumbag to show up!" Brian grunted.

"No," Tifa lied as she quickly shook her head. "It's kind of hot out."

"Enough of the bullshit," Brian snapped. "You're fifteen. That's not how a fifteen-year-old girl is supposed to dress!"

"There's no law saint you have to be eighteen to wear a crop top!" Tifa retorted. "I actually looked that up!"

"Do whatever," Brian snorted. "Hump a married man, for all I care."

I know why he said that; he felt like shit after what he did to Aunt Claire. Like I said, Uncle Brian was a cheat. The last thing he wanted was for Tifa to follow in his footsteps.

MEANWHILE...

Cloud lay on his old bed as his mother continued to observe him.

"My, how you've grown," Claudia said. "I'll bet the girls never leave you alone."

"Not really," Cloud replied.

I wasn't surprised. Cloud's only five foot seven. Not exactly a chick magnet. Of course, if I didn't mention it before, my cousin liked him. But I'll elaborate on that later.

"I'm worried about you," Claudia continued. "There are a lot of temptations in the city. I'd feel a lot better if you just settled down and had a nice girlfriend."

"I'm all right," Cloud dismissed.

"You should have an older girlfriend," Claudia suggested. "One that'll take care of you. I think that would be the perfect type for you."

"I'm not interested," Cloud dismissed.

I think that was Claudia's way of telling him not to date Tifa. Tifa is a year younger than Cloud, so that would eliminate her. I don't know if that was really the case, but, at the end of this journal, Cloud does have an older girlfriend. I'll leave it at that for now.

AT THE INN...

The inn in Nibelheim was a small, modest abode, with the restaurant and front desk in the same room, and few paintings on the lobby wall.

Zack climbed the stairs to find Sephiroth in the hallway, staring out the window. It was strange; nothing was visible out any back window in Nibelheim but fields, mountains, and dangerous creatures that would occasionally tread them.

"What are you looking at?" Zack asked, well aware that there was nothing to see.

"This landscape," Sephiroth replied. "I could swear I've seen it before."

OUTSIDE...

Tifa and I were laying on our backs in the grass in her backyard, facing the mountains.

She had changed back into her tee shirt and jeans, and had seemed down ever since. At first, I thought it was because Uncle Brian had yelled at her. Then, she volunteered why.

"He didn't come," Tifa sighed. "I figured they would have to send him. He's from Nibelheim, and he'd know the area.

"Maybe they'll send reinforcements," I suggested.

"Maybe," she said.

She seemed to have a lot on her mind, which was unusual for Tifa. Usually, when I was around, all she ever thought about was tormenting me.

"I like him," she continued. "I've liked him since I was twelve."

But I already knew that. Anyone over five could've guessed that one, considering how badly she wanted to see him.

It would be nice; they grew up together. It's not like they would be in for any surprises. I wouldn't know; I had no neighbors growing up and thus no friends. My first real friends were Logan, who had moved away, and Durham, who had dated me, dumped me, eloped, and more or less disappeared off the face of the earth.

And then, it hit me like a kick in the nuts. Tifa was going to guide them to the Nibelheim reactor tomorrow. If Sephiroth did his thing then, she would be in as much danger as Zack and Cloud were.

I would definitely be cloaking myself and following them tomorrow.

THE STUFF THAT MIGHT HAVE GONE UNNOTICED:

This chapter marks the first appearance of Tifa since her attack in Gongaga, though, as this sequence occurs years earlier, it still does not explain her fate.

For anyone who may have forgot, the first seventeen chapters feature the twenty-year-old Tifa in the present, altered timeline, simultaneously looking for her father and planning her wedding. That sequence was originally going to follow the the Crisis Core story arc, but I had it before that to introduce all of the major characters within the first twenty chapters. Otherwise, readers would be over a third of the way through the fic and only then meeting Tifa, whom this story largely focuses on, even though she was absent for the last thirty chapters.



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