|By : Hippo_and_Friends_with_Benefits|
Category: Final Fantasy VII > General
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|Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core, it any characters therin. I am not making any money here.|
Chapter 38: Xing: Year Three
September 30, 0005
"So let me get this straight," I groaned. "Tifa's allowed to kick me in the balls?"
I was doubled on the ground in the fetal position, clutching the respective part. The gi-clad Tifa was standing proudly over me with her arms folded.
"Relax," Zangan assured me. "This won't affect your fertility the least."
"That wasn't my question," I insisted. "A girl can kick a guy in the balls here?"
"Absolutely," Zangan informed me.
"But does that mean a guy here is allowed to kick a girl in the...um...beeeeeeeeep?" I inquired.
"Absolutely not," Zangan informed me.
"But last year, you said gender wouldn't matter when our training was done," I protested.
"Is your training done?" Zangan asked.
I groaned and shook my head.
Tifa was at least good enough to help me to my feet.
December 24, 0005
The next few months were typical martial arts training. We kicked each other's asses, but nobody further got their balls-or lady parts-kicked, which was a relief.
We went to a Wutai-themed restaurant on Christmas Eve. Yes, I know, I've mentioned that Xing and Wutai are sworn enemies, but they love each other's food.
This was one of those restaurants where you sat on the floor at a table. I'll point out that there was a karaoke bar there, and we were all begging each other to do a song. Eventually, each and every one of us ended up giving in. Karnak did one first. Then Tifa did one. Since it was Christmas Eve, it was all confined to Christmas songs.
Then the damndest thing happened. The restaurant manager, who had been watching the entire time, suddenly plucked Cissnei and I to do a song. An a cappella, couples' Christmas song.
Rather than humiliate ourselves, we went along with it.
Most people in the restaurant were probably mesmerized by Cissnei's surprisingly powerful pipes. Cissnei had a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice that I had never known existed. It struck me the moment she opened her mouth, and I practically spent the whole song thinking: this is Cissnei? It was a side of her that I had never seen (or heard, to be technical).
And then, something happened that I never expected in my life: I was mesmerized by her singing.
A few people were probably checking her out physically, though she was wearing an ugly red sweater and a pair of black slacks, which most guys would find anything but sexy.
But I know one person, after hearing Cissnei croon and watch me become mesmerized, was thinking something else.
And, at that moment, Tifa thought what you were most likely thinking already:
Tobin and Cissnei would make a cute couple.
May 3, 0006
FYI, nothing was ever said about the possibility of Cissnei and I becoming a couple (though I'm sure you had it in the back of your head) until Tifa's nineteenth birthday.
We celebrated with the four of us...again.
We went to dinner and a movie...again.
So, instead, I'll skip to the part where Karnak and I went in for the night, and Tifa and Cissnei were laying on their backs, on the ground amongst the evergreens.
"We have to celebrate your birthday when it comes around again," Tifa began.
"That's all right," Cissnei dismissed. "I'll be twenty-four."
"Well," Tifa continued, "what would you want?"
"All I've ever really wanted was a family," Cissnei began. "But my mom died when I was born."
"What about your dad?" Tifa asked. "Is he still alive?"
Cissnei shook her head.
"I looked up the records," she replied. "He died when I was four."
Tifa then looked over at her friend. An idea popped in her head.
"You could always get married," she suggested. "Your husband will be your family. Maybe you'd have kids, too."
"I don't think I'll ever get married," Cissnei said. "They say nine out of ten people get married, but I think I'll be one of the unlucky ones who don't."
"What makes you say that?" Tifa asked. "Everybody likes you."
"I've never had a boyfriend," Cissnei replied. "I'm twenty-four and I've never even been on a date or kissed anybody, let alone had a boyfriend."
"Neither have I," Tifa said. "But I'd like to get married someday."
Cissnei was silent. All the two girls heard was the sound of crickets chirping through the tall evergreens.
"Why don't you try dating someone?" Tifa suggested.
Cissnei began to laugh.
"I'm a Turk, not a love-starved twit!" she replied.
Then, Tifa began to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Cissnei asked.
"I was just thinking back to history class," Tifa replied. "Do you know who you remind me of?"
"I know. Do you know how many people told me I reminded them of her?"
Tifa shook her head.
"Well," Cissnei continued, "you're not the first."
"But you do," Tifa continued. "You even have a surprisingly incredible singing voice, just like her!"
"Thank you," Cissnei said. "Look, I know what you're going to say next. Yeah, I know she did end up falling in love with someone. But it's not for me. I don't know anyone, and people my age are hard to come by."
"What's wrong with Tobin?" Tifa finally asked.
"Tobin?" Cissnei replied. "It's a completely different relationship. That, and I'm more than two years older than him."
"But when you two were singing together on Christmas Eve, all I was thinking was 'they'd make a cute couple.'"
"He's my best friend," Cissnei finally replied. "But that's the thing. It's a completely different relationship. It's like saying an elephant and an elephant seal are the same thing. Cars aren't better than planes, but if you're going to try and fly a car, good luck with that."
"I disagree," Tifa dismissed. "Cloud has been my best friend since I can remember. If I had to pick a guy to be with...it would be him."
"You're still trying to track him down?" Cissnei asked.
"I am," Tifa replied. "I would give anything to see him again."
"Let me ask you this," Cissnei began. "Do you dream about ripping his clothes off?"
"Not really," Tifa replied. "No."
"What would you do if he touched your butt?" Cissnei asked.
"I don't know," Tifa laughed. "I'd probably just bust him over the head."
"I rest my case," Cissnei announced.
"It's not all about sex," Tifa said. "It's like when we're little kids, and we see couples in love, and all we're thinking about is how much they love each other." She paused. "Then we have the sperm and the egg talk and it kind of ruins it."
"You have a point there," Cissnei agreed.
"You know what really sucks?" Tifa continued. "If my dad never cheated, I'd still have a parent to go home to. Sex can be evil sometimes."
"Let me ask you this," began Cissnei. "If you were changing or in the shower, and Cloud walked in on you and saw everything, what would you do?"
"I'd scream and crawl into the fetal position because I'd be so embarrassed," Tifa replied.
"You know if you get married, you'll have sex," Cissnei pointed out.
"I'm aware," Tifa replied.
"He'll see your privates," Cissnei warned.
"I'm aware," Tifa replied.
"He'll see your butt," Cissnei warned.
"I'm aware," Tifa replied.
"And you seriously want to marry him?" Cissnei asked.
"I wouldn't marry him now," Tifa explained. "I'm only nineteen. This didn't happen over night. It happened when I ran away from home."
"You ran away from home?!" Cissnei asked.
"When my parents split," Tifa informed her.
Cloud suddenly heard the sound of stones being thrown at his window. He got up out of bed and made his way to the window, where he could see Tifa standing twenty or so feet below. She was in her pajamas, and her hair was a mess. She was obviously in a difficult state.
"What's up?" asked Cloud.
"Can I come up?" Tifa requested. "Something happened."
Cloud scratched his head. "It's eleven," he replied. "Don't you have to be in school tomorrow?"
"Yes," Tifa replied. "But it's not that I'm going!"
Cloud then disappeared into his window. Tifa's heart began to sink until he returned and threw a rope ladder over the window.
"Climb aboard," he said.
"Thanks," replied Tifa as she adjusted her duffel bag and climbed up and through the window.
"No problem," Cloud replied as he helped her through the window and into his room.
"Where did you get that ladder?" Tifa asked.
"My mom got it for me when I was seven," Cloud replied. "Remember that movie about fire safety we saw and it had those ladders?"
"Oh yeah," Tifa reminded herself.
"You're in your pajamas," Cloud observed aloud. He also observed that her eyes were red and bloodshot.
"I know," Tifa replied as she sat on the rug and lowered her head. "I'm so sorry to intrude," she apologized. "But I can't stay in my house right now."
"I know," Cloud said. "I heard the fighting."
"How much?" asked Tifa.
"Something about money," Cloud replied. "But it got kind of muffled after that."
"Then you didn't hear the worst of it," Tifa told him.
"I take it you need to get away from it?" Cloud asked.
Tifa nodded. "If that's okay."
"Of course," Cloud replied. "You kind of saved me back there."
"I like it better in here," Tifa continued. "Really, I feel safer."
And then, Tifa began to cry. She was not the type to cry in front of people, but this time she simply could not control herself.
"Tifa?" asked Cloud as he sat down across from her. "What happened?"
"My parents are getting a divorce," Tifa replied sadly as she wiped her tears.
"I'm sorry," Cloud replied.
"Thanks," said Tifa. "But I honestly don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing. I've seen my mom cry more the past year than the previous eleven."
"How are you feeling?" Cloud asked. "Sorry. That was a stupid question. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here."
"I really don't know," Tifa said. "It's really the fighting I need to be away from."
"So what happens now?" Cloud asked.
"My mom's not going to live here anymore," Tifa replied. "Just my dad and I"
"What gave him the right to decide that?" Cloud asked.
"Money," Tifa replied. "He's got it. And an attorney."
"Why's he doing this in the first place?"
"She blasted the credit card again," Tifa replied.
"And he's divorcing over that?!" Cloud exclaimed.
Tifa shook her head. "That has to be a cover up," she replied. "Personally, I think he's seeing someone else."
"You think so?"
"He's always been coming home late recently," Tifa continued. "He said it was overtime, but his work is always deserted after five. It's just his nature. I heard that before he married my mom, he had almost as many partners as President Shinra."
"I'm sorry," Cloud said. "Is there anything I can do? I've never seen you cry like this."
"Would you understand?" asked Tifa. "Parents divorcing is a devastating thing!"
"I wouldn't," Cloud replied. "I don't have two parents. Knowing who your father is is a luxury in itself."
"Oh," said Tifa. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Cloud assured her.
And as Cloud continued to sit across from her, he suddenly noticed something. Tifa was barefoot. He didn't see it as much of a big deal, but she was always a sneaker girl. The fact that she was barefoot caused him a sense of softness from her.
"Cloud," Tifa continued, "Can I please stay here tonight?"
"My mom would kill us both," Cloud replied.
"Your mom doesn't need to know, does she?" Tifa pressed. "And tomorrow, since neither of us are going to school, we can have a whole day to ourselves!"
Cloud was stunned. "You're playing hooky?!"
"Come on!" Tifa protested. "It'll be just like when it was before we started going to school. What do you say?"
"I suppose," Cloud relented. He then pointed to the sofa across the room. "It's yours."
"Thanks, Cloud," she replied with a smile. She walked over to the sofa and put her stuff down.
Meanwhile, Cloud climbed into his bed and pulled the covers over himself.
"What's wrong?" asked Tifa.
"I'm tired from the day," Cloud replied. "I was asleep before the fighting woke me up."
"I see," said Tifa. And then, to Cloud's surprise, Tifa walked over and climbed into the bed beside him.
"Hey!" Cloud exclaimed. "What are you doing?!"
"Relax!" Tifa insisted. "Don't tell me you'd rather me yell across the room for your mom to hear?"
Cloud sighed. "You have a point."
And then, he fell asleep.
THE NEXT DAY...
The noon sun shone over Cloud's backyard as the two friends were immersed in the pool's cool water.
Tifa was wearing a yellow one-piece. Cloud was wearing a pair of purple trunks. Tifa noticed first and couldn't help but point it out.
"We're complimentary colors," she said.
Cloud didn't know what that meant, so he just nodded. "Are you sure your mom won't see us?" he asked.
"I'm sure," Tifa insisted. "You can't see the pool from my house."
"I've never been over," Cloud said. "So I wouldn't know."
"That's right," Tifa reminded herself. "Your mom won't catch us, would she?"
"She's still not going to be home for another five or six hours," Cloud replied. "And I only have one parent to worry about."
Cloud was then silent. The fact that he had been raised by a single mother wasn't something he was proud of, but it did work out for him from time to time.
"Would you ever try to find out who he is and maybe track him down?" Tifa suddenly asked.
"Who?" asked Cloud, though he quickly realized whom she was talking about.
"Your father," Tifa replied.
"I've always been thinking he died," Cloud said. "My mom always refers to him in the past tense. She wouldn't do that if he was still alive."
Tifa then turned on her back and began to do a backstroke. "What do you think happens?" she asked.
"When we die," Tifa clarified as she reached the wall of the pool and turned a hundred and eighty degrees.
"I dunno," Cloud replied. "I think we just cease to be."
"How do you know?" asked Tifa.
"I don't know," Cloud replied. "I just believe it. There's no reason to believe otherwise."
"Prove it, then," challenged Tifa as she reached the other wall and turned again.
Cloud sighed. "The burden of proof isn't on me; it's on someone who wants to prove something exists. What do you believe?"
"I believe we cross the mountains," Tifa replied.
"Those mountains?" asked Cloud as he pointed to the ones in the distance.
"That's right," Tifa answered.
"Prove it," Cloud challenged.
"I don't know how, really," Tifa said as she ceased her backstroke and stood on her feet. "I would guess I'd have to cross."
"And if you just find another town on the other side?" Cloud asked.
"It's doesn't mean there's no afterlife," Tifa replied as she reached back and wrung out her long, dark hair. "It just means I looked in the wrong place."
"So who do you think it is?" asked Cloud.
"Who who is?" asked his friend.
"You know…who your dad is…"
Tifa frowned. "I really don't want to talk about this."
"I know," Cloud said. "But if we can prove it, the judge will give everything to your mom. Including you."
Tifa almost felt her ears go up. Then, her heart sank again. "But, remember, she can't afford a lawyer."
"And you said she'll represent herself? Just showing proof to the judge would do the trick."
Tifa suddenly smiled. Her friend was right. "It has to be someone at work," she said. "I don't know where else it would be."
"Does he go anywhere else?" asked Cloud.
"No," Tifa replied. "We have trackers on our family wireless plan. We know where we are at all times."
Cloud paused nervously.
"Don't worry," Tifa continued with a smile. "I left my phone behind."
"So what should we do, then?" asked Cloud, thinking of how to catch Brian.
And at that moment, a drop of rain hit Cloud's forearm.
"Did you feet that?" asked Tifa.
"What?" asked Cloud. "The rain?"
Tifa nodded. "Time to go inside?"
"And what are we immersed in?" asked Cloud sarcastically.
And then, almost as if in response, they saw a flash of lightening.
"Okay," Cloud agreed as he and Tifa jumped out of the pool in unison.
Cloud and Tifa were seated in front of the TV in Cloud's room. They were still in their swim suits, but were dried off. The rain was coming down outside.
Cloud was showing Tifa one of his video games. "Mousetrap," Cloud said.
"Oh," said Tifa as she stood up and placed her hands on her hips. "Isn't that the 3-D shooter where you can look at naked women in the shower, and shoot them if you want to?"
Cloud nodded, somewhat embarassed.
"Played it," Tifa declared.
"You've played it?!" asked Cloud, quite surprised.
"I played it for five minutes," Tifa replied.
"Why only five minutes?" Cloud asked.
"I got caught playing it," Tifa said. "My dad took it away and now I can't get a new one, since they took it off the market."
"They took it off the market?" asked Cloud. "Why?"
"Too many kids were buying it."
"Oh," said Cloud. "Wanna play? It'll be more than five minutes."
"Sure," Tifa replied. "But I'm kind of hungry."
"We've got some frozen stuff in the kitchen," Cloud informed her.
"Sounds good to me," she said.
They went downstairs into the kitchen, whereupon Cloud promptly opened the freezer and began rummaging.
"So how are we going to do this?" asked Tifa.
"Prove my dad's a cheat?" Tifa clarified.
"We could follow him to work soon, while I'm still suspended," Cloud replied.
"It's a good idea," said Tifa. "But there's one problem. I'm not suspended. I have to be in school."
"Get suspended," Cloud suggested as he reached towards the back of the freezer.
"Are you serious?" Tifa replied, surprised.
"I've never been suspended," Tifa said. "I've never even had a detention!"
"There's a first time for everything," said Cloud as he pulled out a box. "Like these fishsticks."
Cloud turned around to see Tifa with her back turned to him. He first directed his gaze to her head, as she was fixing her hair. His gazed then shifted to her legs and backside, primarilty the latter. Tifa was a tee shirt and jeans girl, so Cloud never got a good look at her legs, let alone her thighs. He had a strange feeling he wanted to keep looking, and also some sense of...wanting.
And then, the realization came to him. Tifa was a girl. They had been playmates forever, but the fact that he was a boy and she was a girl never seriously crossed his mind until lately. It was an odd thing, because it seemed like they would be nothing but child playmates forever.
Not forever, Cloud realized. He was thirteen and she was twelve. They would grow up, but that would be it. She would find a career and possibly move away. Or her family, whatever was left of it, would.
Just then, Tifa turned around. "What's up?" she asked with a smile.
"Um...nothing," Cloud struggled to say.
"Sorry," she said. "I guess me standing still isn't that exicing," she laughed.
"It's not that," Cloud said. "Just a lot on my mind. What we talked about and all."
"I can tap dance," said Tifa. "Wanna see?"
"What brought that up?" asked Cloud.
"Just to get our minds off of it," she replied with a smile.
With that, Tifa began to tapdance, causing both herself and Cloud to giggle in unison.
And then, Cloud's smile faded from his face. He saw a figure appear behind Tifa.
Tifa stopped tap dancing when she noticed his smile was gone. And then she turned around.
"Hi, Miss Strife," Tifa greeted with an embarrassed look on her face.
"How much trouble did you get into?" Cissnei asked.
"A lot," Tifa replied. "But that's when my feelings for him kind of began."
"Because he was there for you and you felt safe with him?" Cissnei asked.
"That, and one other thing," Tifa answered.
"What was that?"
"It's when we were inside, in our bathing suits, and I noticed he was bare-chested, but my upper half had to be covered. He had trunks down to his knee, and my thighs were bare. In short, I realized that he was a boy and I was a a girl. And that meant that we could be a couple someday." She paused. "And I could feel him checking me out while I was fixing my hair. I kind of liked that."
"I'm attached to Tobin the same way you're attached to Cloud," she said. "But he'll never see the good stuff as long as he's alive."
"Why do you say that?" Tifa asked.
"For one, I'm two years older than him," Cissnei replied.
"That's it?" Tifa inquired. "When it comes to Cloud, I don't even think about our age. For the record, we're a half a year apart, and he's older, but I never think about it."
"I don't know," Cissnei said. "I just have always seen Tobin as my best friend. Strictly platonically. I love him to the moon and back, but I'm not taking my clothes off."
"There is one other thing," Tifa began.
"I went bowling with Cloud for my thirteenth birthday," Tifa continued.
"I do things like that with with Tobin," Cissnei said.
Tifa sighed. "I was wearing a crop top."
"And?" asked Cissnei. "A lot of teenage girls wear crop tops."
"But I felt differently when I wore it in front of him," the younger girl added.
"What do you mean?" Cissnei inquired.
"I felt...vulnerable," Tifa replied. "And I kind of wanted him to touch me on the skin that was showing."
"So there is a spark between you two," Cissnei observed. "But not between Tobin and I."
"Try wearing a crop top around him," Tifa suggested. "See what happens."
"I don't own one," Cissnei replied.
"I'll get you one," Tifa offered. "I don't want to see you pass this up."
"My friendship with him is the most precious thing I have," Cissnei said. "I won't ruin it. Sorry, but I don't feel about Tobin the way you obviously feel about Cloud."
Tifa sighed. She really thought we would make a cute couple. She then decided to change the subject.
"I think Karnak is Cloud," Tifa finally said.
Cissnei immediately sat up.
"Karnak is Cloud?!" she exclaimed.
"I think so," Tifa replied. "I have that feeling that I've known him for years. He's also had that spiked hair."
"Have you asked?" Cissnei inquired.
"Whether he's Cloud?" Tifa answered. "No."
"Have you ever asked where he's from?" Cissnei suggested. "Or when his birthday is?"
Tifa shook her head.
"If it matches up, it could prove he is," Cissnei pointed out. "Not to mention, he might remember something from your childhood."
Tifa realized that it was a good idea. And then, she got an idea of her own.
"Tell you what," she began. "I'll ask Karnak all those questions on one condition."
"Go on one date with Tobin," Tifa commanded.
The defeated Cissnei sighed.
June 30, 0006
Tifa was, no doubt, a brave and strong young woman, but it took her nearly two months to gather up the courage to inquire to Karnak about his origins.
This happened on particular evening at the end of June, when Tifa found Karnak casually sitting beside one of the evergreens.
"Hey, Karnak," she greeted.
"Hey yourself," Karnak replied.
She smiled at him for a few moments. She had to think about how best to lead up to it.
"You're the only one here I've never really gotten to know," Tifa said.
"There's not much to learn," Karnak replied.
"Oh, come on!" she insisted. "We all want to get to know you. Can't I just ask a few things?"
Karnak looked at her.
"Go ahead," he permitted. "But I don't see how that might affect anything."
Tifa smiled inside. Now was her chance. She would ask him five questions. If the answers matched how Cloud would answer them, he was Cloud for sure.
"How old are you?" she first asked.
"Nineteen," Karnak replied. "I'll be twenty this summer."
The same age as Cloud, Tifa thought. On to question two.
"When's your birthday?" she asked. "We can celebrate."
"August nineteen," Karnak replied.
The same day a Cloud's, she realized.
"This is kind of random," Tifa continued, "but, before you came to Xing, what did you do?"
"I was in SOLDIER," he answered. "First Class."
That's what Cloud had wanted to do.
Her heart was beating faster now. So far, he had gotten all of the questions right. Just two more, and she would know the answer for sure.
"Where are you from," Tifa asked, with her voice slightly shaky.
"Nibelheim," he replied.
Tifa's palms were sweaty.
Four out of five so far. One question away from the truth. But first...
"I'm from Nibelheim," Tifa said. "I'm nineteen myself. How come I've never seen you before."
Karnak was silent.
So was Tifa. She was wondering how he would respond.
"Who said you haven't seen me before?" he asked.
Now Tifa's heart was racing. He was strongly implying that they knew each other. There was only one way to confirm how.
And then, she asked her final question in a trembling voice. It was a question which Cloud was her only non-relative that could answer.
"What's my middle name?"
"Claire," Karnak replied. "After your mother."
Tifa's eyes soon became wet, and one tear escaped.
"Cloud?" she weakly asked. "Is it you?"
"It's me, Tifa," he said. "It's me."
And so it was, at the age of nineteen, that Tifa...never mind. Just wait to see what comes next.
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