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 34: What a Friend Does

October 2, 0002

Tifa lay in my bed, still unconscious.

It was now five hour later. The Shinra had sent a relief team to extinguish the fires and remove the bodies. When they were finished, only a few charred, unsalvageable building frames remained.

Nibelheim, being a small town, had a population of a hundred and forty. Of that hundred and forty, the survivors were tallied at seven.

I kept staring at the unconscious Tifa, hoping it wouldn't go down to six.

"She's hit her head," Zangan explained. "She had a nasty bump."

"Did you see anyone else at the reactor?" I asked.

"I saw Cloud and Zack on a stairwell," Zangan replied. "But when I came back for them, they were gone."

"Where did they go?" I asked.

"I have no idea," Zangan answered. "But they did seem to be recovering. By the time I returned, they...also took your uncle's body away."

I lowered my head. I never exactly liked the man, especially after what he did to Aunt Claire. But now that he was dead...

And then, I noticed that Tifa's eyes had opened.

"Where am I?" Tifa asked groggily.

"My place," I replied.

At least there was some good news for the day.

"In Midgar?!" she exclaimed. "How did I get here?"

"Zangan found you," I informed her. "At the reactor."

"Who else did he find?" she asked in a shaky voice.

"Nobody," I replied.

Tears immediately began to fall from her eyes. She signaled for me to come to her, so I did without hesitation. She threw her arms around me and cried to my shoulder.

"I was hoping it was a bad dream," she sobbed. "Papa's dead. And that trooper...I know he's dead, too."

I said nothing; I couldn't confirm otherwise.

"And Zack," she continued. "He didn't deserve to be berated like that. If only I could apologize to him. I feel like such a bitch."

"Don't worry about it," I assured her. "Neither Zack nor the trooper were confirmed dead. They might still be alive."

At least I could give her that.

"Did you bring me here?" she asked.

"Zangan did," I replied. "He's out in the common area. Want to see him?"

"I'd like that," Tifa answered.

So I stepped out into the common room and signaled for Zangan to come in. I then stayed there, wanting to give them some time.

And then, another door opened. Cissnei emerged, fully dressed in a tee shirt and jeans (I could see out the window that it was morning), and, upon seeing me up, practically ran to me and hugged me.

"I'm so sorry about Uncle Brian," she said.

"Thanks," I said.

"You've been through so much," Cissnei continued.

"So have all of us," I replied. "Listen, I've got my cousin in my room."

"No worries," Cissnei assured me. "She can stay with us as long as she needs to."

I felt somewhat relieved. At least my cousin would have a place to go.

"But," Cissnei continued, "at least let me make you breakfast. You need something in you."

"Go right ahead," I approved.

THREE WEEKS LATER...

Uncle Brian's body was never returned to us, so we couldn't have a funeral for him. Maybe it was for the best; funerals always seemed to make people sadder.

Tifa, meanwhile, slowly recovered, though the sting of losing her father would obviously linger. She didn't do anything rash, like when Aunt Claire died, but she would cry a lot for the next week or so. I would get up to hold her each time. I let her have my bed, sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag.

As for Zack and Cloud, well, I didn't learn their fate until much later, so, at that time, they were more or less missing in action. No social media posts confirmed their "current" whereabouts.

Of course, I couldn't tell Tifa that was Cloud until I knew where he was.

It was a loss for all who knew them. I was reminded of that one day as I was sitting at the cafeteria table across from a sad person.

"You okay?" I asked.

"I got yelled at by my coach," Aerith replied. "She caught me crying at a game. She said I was cheerleading captain, not tearleading captain."

"That was nasty," I said. "Even cheerleaders have personal lives."

"What could I have done wrong?" she asked rhetorically.

"I don't think it's personal," I tried to assure her. "He answered you before. Maybe something came up. Maybe he's on another mission."

"For three weeks?" Aerith asked. "And in Nibelheim, he at least answered the phone. Now he won't even text me back. Tobin, are you sure he wasn't one of the dead?"

"Not according to the report," I replied.

"That's one load off," she said. "But if he's still alive, why isn't he responding?"

Aerith, of course, had to move out of Zack's apartment and back in with Elmyra. It was not an easy adjustment; she was reverting from a practically married adult to a single teenager again.

Only time would tell how she did with it.

Cissnei, Tifa, and I went trick-or-treating for Halloween at the end of the month. I had texted Aerith and invited her to go with us, but she just wanted to stay in. She and Zack had planned to go as a plug (Zack) and and outlet (Aerith), but that was ruined due to Zack's absence.

I began to fear my friend would never be the same again.

November 16, 0002

I supported Aerith by going to all her games until the season ended mid-November. It's what a friend does. After the final game, I took her to the diner. I bought her dinner and all that. She tried to be happy, but it was really hard, given the circumstances.

"Still no sign of Zack?" Aerith asked me.

I shook my head.

"Not that I saw," I replied. "His social media hasn't been updated since Nibelheim."

She sat quietly for a few moments. At that time, I was completely oblivious to Zack's fate, so my guess was as good as anyone else's.

And then, a tear rolled from Aerith's eye.

"I drove him away," she finally said.

"No," I tried to assure her. "Why would he do such a thing?"

"I told him I wanted to get married young," she continued.

"I don't see why that would drive him away," I said.

"He didn't seem ready," she answered. "That's it. I scared him. And maybe because I got too picky with the flower wagon."

"He hasn't changed his relationship status on social media," I pointed out.

"I don't know," Aerith replied. "Something inside me tells me I really blew it."

December 7, 0002

One day, Hojo was summoned to the president's office. As it turned out, President Shinra had discovered the creation of Karnak after Hojo had failed to erase all security footage.

"So you're saying," began President Shinra, "that you created your very own Sephiroth clone last September. and you never even told us?!"

"I was not ready to declare the experiment successful," Hojo replied. "He was only part Sephiroth. Some of his DNA came from Cloud Strife, the trooper."

"And then you let him get away?" added Rufus.

"He was becoming beyond destructive," Hojo replied. "He nearly killed me as well."

"Who gives a shit?!" retorted Rufus in an upset voice. "He would've made one hell of a super-soldier! With the loss of Sephiroth, we need him!"

President Shinra gave him an angry look.

"You're going to have to get him back!" he demanded. "In the meantime, there's going to be something a lot worse than Karnak in your laboratory!"

That was, of course, Jenova, who was recaptured and moved to the Shinra Building.

December 25, 0002

For Christmas, I suggested we go see my parents, but Tifa had other ideas.

"You know, Tobin," she began when we were in private, "I don't think Cissnei has a family."

"Does she have parents?" Tifa asked.

"She's never mentioned them," I replied.

"Does she have any brothers or sisters?" she then asked.

"I do remember her saying she was an only child," I answered.

"Does she have a boyfriend?" Tifa then asked.

I shook my head.

"She's never brought anyone over," I informed her.

"What did she do last Christmas?"

"Now that you mention it," I answered, "she went to work that day."

Tifa gave me a sad look.

"Tobin," she began, "I think she's lonely."

"She seems happy," I pointed out.

"So do I," Tifa said. "But this is my first Christmas as an orphan, and it stings me inside."

I gave her a hug; she needed to know she wasn't alone.

"Tobin," she continued, "you need to spend Christmas with Cissnei. You're all she's got."

I didn't say anything. Tifa had a point, but she needed me as much as Cissnei did.

We ended up having both my parents and Zangan over. And yes, at Tifa's insistance, I got Cissnei something: a cocoa mug.

Cissnei was the happiest I had ever seen her at the end of the day.

That's the one thing about Tifa: she's almost never wrong.

February 7, 0003

Aerith's eighteenth birthday eventually came up. She had started to recover from Zack's disappearance, but two days in February caused her to relapse. The first was her eighteenth birthday. Mind you, Aerith had been hoping to become Mrs. Fair at that age. With Zack having vanished without a trace, that seemed kind of unlikely now.

By chance, a Jeri Lyons (remember, Aerith was obsessed with her) concert happened to fall on Aerith's birthday.

"Get tickets and take her!" Cissnei had told me.

"But Jeri Lyons sucks!" I dismissed. "She doesn't even write her own songs! She's basically a pole dancer with a microphone!"

"And how much do you think Aerith would like it if you took her?" Cissnei insisted. "Snooze, you lose."

So I bit my lip and took Aerith to see Jeri Lyons on her birthday.

Aerith was beyond ecstatic. She was singing and dancing along the whole time. It was one of the few times she wore a crop top.

Afterward, we were even randomly selected to go backstage and meet her.

"Best birthday ever!" Aerith whispered to me.

February 14, 0003

I got three white roses that day.

The first one was from Aerith. I got it at school, during lunch.

She seemed sad again, but that was most certainly because it was Valentine's Day. Still, I had to ask.

"You okay?" I asked.

"I was hoping for a rock," Aerith replied sadly as she looked at her bare ring finger.

"I know," I said.

I still thought the idea was crazy, but I figured she would feel better if I at least pretended to agree with her.

"It's been four months now and still nothing," she continued. "I'm even trying things the old fashioned way."

"Old fashioned way?" I asked.

"I'm writing letters," Aerith clarified. "Needless to say, he's not writing back."

"Did he leave an address?"

Aerith shook her head. Then she said something that got me by surprise.

"I think that maybe I should start over," she said.

"Start over?" I asked, though I knew what she meant.

"With a new boyfriend," she clarified.

"You think you're ready?" I asked her.

"Well," Aerith replied, "I'm not getting any younger. And now that I'm eighteen, I need to think about my life as an adult."

She did have a point there.

"I think...maybe I should have...a younger boyfriend," she continued. "One who won't deceive me like that."

"If that's what works for you," I said.

Aerith then smiled at me.

"Tobin," she began, "this might sound weird, but...would you mind walking me home after school?"

"I'll be happy to," I told her.

LATER...

Sure enough, I walked Aerith to her house after school. She unlocked the door and led us both inside. She tossed her backpack on one of the kitchen chairs, and looked down at her jeans.

"Man, it sucks!" Aerith sighed.

"What?" I asked.

"When I lived with Zack, I was able to walk around with my vagina hanging out," she replied. "I had to get used to having to wear pants around the house again." She then began to laugh and cry at the same time. "And I'm sorry I just shared that with you!"

Before I could say anything, she threw her arms around me, clutching my shoulders tightly. Now she was only crying.

"I miss him, Tobin!" she sobbed.

"I know," I softly replied as I hugged her back.

"I miss Gehrig!" she sobbed again.

"I miss her, too," I said.

"You're all I have left," she said.

It was a sad fact, but I realized she was right. It seemed like everyone was losing everyone.

Aerith. Tifa.

And Cissnei seemed to have lost everything a long time ago.

THAT NIGHT...

The second white rose came from Cissnei when I got home.

"Everything okay?" she asked after she gave it to me. "You're home later than usual."

"It was Aerith," I replied. "She needed a good cry."

Cissnei gave me a sympathetic look.

"She still takes it hard?" she asked.

"Maybe just today," I replied. "Because she's single now."

I put my backpack on my side of the sofa and turned around.

"You know this is your chance," Cissnei said.

"At dating Aerith?" I asked.

"You got it," she confirmed. "Aren't you going to take it?"

"She's still grieving," I replied. "And half of her is still hoping Zack will return."

"And time is running out," Cissnei added. "Four months until you graduate. And then..."

After knowing and being friends with Aerith for three years, I really didn't want to think about this. But it didn't make it any less true.

"...she won't be in my life anymore," I said with sadness.

Four more months, and that would be it. Aerith Gainsborough would be just a memory.

"You know," Cissnei began, "if she's your girlfriend, she'll come with you to Xing."

I had never thought of it that way. If we were a couple, she could join me.

But still, I was hesitant.

"Somehow," I continued, "I'd like to keep my...options open."

"For who?" Cissnei asked.

It was a good question. I still don't know why I said that. To this day.

"Durham and Cory show no signs of breaking up," she continued. "You can't wait for her."

"No," I dismissed. "It's not Durham. If she did tried to get back together with me, I'll tell her not to let the door hit her in the ass on the way out."

"Yes!" approved Cissnei as she high-fived me. "So who else are you thinking of?"

"I'm not sure," I replied. "But I can't ask Aerith out until I know for sure."

"Snooze, you lose," Cissnei warned before going into her bedroom and shutting (and locking) her door.

With nothing further ado, I went into my own room. And that's when I got the third white rose, from the pajama-clad Tifa.

"You can be my cousin and friend at the same time, you know," she informed me. "I don't think I would've made it without you."

April 20, 0003

Two months later, Aerith was sitting across from me in the cafeteria. She had seemed a lot better since Valentine's Day, and hadn't cried since.

Still, there was one last loose end that had not been tied up with: the prom was in May. She had been counting on going with Zack; she had even booked a hotel room for them.

So, this particular day, she seemed in a really good mood about something. So, naturally, I had to ask.

"What's on your mind?" I asked.

"Zack still hasn't come back," Aerith began. "And prom's a month away."

"I know," I said, expecting her to start crying at any moment.

But she didn't. Instead, she began to twiddle her fingers.

"You have been a really good friend to me through all of this," she began. "And I can never thank you enough."

"Don't mention it," I assured her.

She smiled at me.

"So, Mr. Tobin Lockheart," began Aerith, "I was wondering if you would like to go to the prom with me."

I nearly gasped. Aerith Gainsborough was asking me to the prom.

"As friends?"

I did need to clarify.

"Of course," she replied. "Yeah, I know I had epic plans on going with Zack. I've had them since September. But I've realized and accepted that he's not coming back."

I was silent. This was a lot to take in.

"Tobin," Aerith began with a smile. "You never did answer."

"Yes!" I replied. "Yes, I will go to the prom with you."

"Great!" she exclaimed as she sprang to her feet.

I did the same.

Aerith ran up to me and hugged me.

"We're going to have so much fun!" she giggled.

THAT AFTERNOON...

Aerith came home with a huge smile on her face.

"Somebody's happy," Elmyra observed.

"I'm beyond happy," Aerith replied. "I have a date for the prom!"

"Really?" Elmyra asked. "Who?"

"Tobin!" Aerith happily exclaimed. "My nice Tobin!"

"That's wonderful!" Elmyra said. "Are you going as friends?"

"You bet," Aerith replied.

"Is he going to pick you up in a limo?" Elmyra asked.

"I think so," Aerith answered.

"Are you going to dance?" Elmyra then inquired.

"Mom, it's the prom!" Aerith insisted. "Of course we're going to dance!"

Elmyra paused.

"You're not going to...have sex with him, are you? Sorry, that's a mom question."

Aerith giggled.

"It's not the plan," she replied. "But if it happens, it happens."

And I'll end the chapter there. The answer to Elmyra's question lies in the next one.

That's one hell of a cliffhanger, and you know it.



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