Activities Chapter 2

Break the Silence

By Prositen

Cloud sat slumped in an armchair beside the window, looking glumly into the glass without really seeing anything. ‘Tomorrow’s my birthday and I guess I should at least feel some enthusiasm, but everything feels so hollow. What reason do I have to celebrate? I’ve lived another meaningless year, while Aeris... beautiful Aeris... is gone... I wish we could switch places. She deserves to live but I am the one left alive. What’s it all for, anyway?’

His mind was replaying her death scene over and over again, as it had ever since Aeris untimely demise. ‘Why didn’t I do anything?’ Although, if he had been able to move, he’d probably pierced her himself. ‘I was supposed to be her bodyguard, but instead I killed her.’ A part of him tried to counter this, telling him it wasn’t his fault, but he refused to listen. ‘If she’d never met me, she’d be alive and happy now.’

It didn’t matter if it was Cloud’s birthday, New Year or whatever festivity, it always took Cloud this way. Seeing the others enjoying themselves like this awoke his grief again - as if it ever could be said to be resting. Indeed, he was thinking about his lost love most of the time, but the pain he felt differed. Sometimes, he even tried to move on. Not today, though. He’d been alone with his destructive thoughts for hours now. No one dared disturb him while he was caught in this mood. Not since the time Tifa’d tried.

* * * * *

"Hey Cloud, cheer up!" she suggested, friendly brown eyes showing her deep sympathy. She always took it upon herself to comfort anyone feeling down, blaming herself bitterly if her efforts failed.

"Wha...? Tifa, please. I don’t feel like talking." He turned away from her again; eyes fixed on a dirty spot on the wall.

"Fine", she continued, refusing to yield to his depression. "You don’t have to talk, just come and help us decorate the tree, ok?" She glanced at the tree, smiling at seeing Vincent trying to place an angel at the top. Red watched the spectacle, offering his personal views of where the decorations should be placed, all of which was ignored.

Cloud looked up, his blue eyes ice cold. "I don’t expect you to understand, Teef, but I was thinking about Aeris. I don’t think it’s right for us to party so soon after her death."

´It’s always Aeris.’ Tifa flinched, desperately trying to hide the pain surfacing at her rival’s name. "Please Cloud", she tried, "it’s been almost a year since she died. Isn’t it time for you to... snap out of it? She wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn her the rest of your life."

If anything, the words seemed to have angered Cloud even more, to the point of finally letting his feelings show. "I loved Aeris, Tifa," he said, almost surprised by his own words. "I... I still do. And I never had the chance to tell her that. There was always something - or someone - in the way. I can’t forget her as readily as you seem to want me too. As you have done." His eyes returned to the stain on the wall, trying to ignore her.

"Cloud, that’s not..."

"Leave me alone." Under his breath he muttered something Tifa could only translate as "You didn’t even like her, of course you want me to forget about her".

Tifa hurried away, an unshed tear glistening in her eye. As the door to her bedroom slammed, Vincent stared accusingly at Cloud as if had heard the whole conversation. ‘I thought he, of all people, would understand. I guess I am alone in this.’ For a moment Cloud felt uncomfortable having treated his friend like that. He did like Tifa, it was only... 'Why can’t they just leave me alone?’

Tifa’s sobbing was the only answer he got.

* * * * *

He sighed deeply, once again regretting that Aeris would never know what he felt for her. Making sure he was alone he finally permitted himself to cry.

He was beginning to feel all right again. For now.

Outside the window, a car stopped on the driveway. After carefully making sure she had locked it, Tifa hurried towards the front door of the house, laden with bags. He lips was formed into the strangest smile, secretive but at the same time wary and almost frightened. ‘What has she been up to?’ Cloud got up from the sofa to get a better view. However, when Tifa noticed her friend, her expression changed into her usual cheerfulness.

"Hi Cloud! You’ll have to stay in there for a while, I’m afraid." She gestured towards her bags and smiled. Cloud nodded and sat down again, in a more comfortable position this time. ‘I guess there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of fun... I might as well enjoy this.’ It seemed he’d endure this birthday, too.

* * * * *

Tifa slammed the door shut behind her, and dropped down on a kitchen chair. ‘Damn Cloud! I don’t know what I see in him! It’s always that Aeris. I wish he’d remember that we’re his friends, too. Well, happy birthday, Cloud.’ The day hadn’t exactly gone as planned.

Alarmed by a sudden movement in the corner of her eye, she tensed. "What’s the matter, Tifa? Something wrong?" ‘Oh, right. Sephiroth. He’s the reason you came her, remember?’ She opened her mouth, intending to tell him it was none of his business, but somehow found herself describing her day.

"I guess you know it’s Cloud’s birthday today", she started. "When we met, yesterday, I’d just finished shopping for the party. I bought this game for him." She gave the copy of Ehrgeiz to Sephiroth, who with a puzzled look on his face examined the gift, browsing the manual. When he heard the reasons behind Tifa’s choice, he laughed heartily, flashing an understanding smile at her. She smiled back at him. 'I didn’t think he’d have humor.’

"Well, I thought he’d like it. He’s been talking about that game since he first read about it, several months ago. Anyway... We got up early this morning, well, not Cloud of course, and baked a strawberry cake for him. I brought a piece of it for you, by the way. I’ll get it for you. " The brunette gracefully got up from the chair and picked up a plastic shopping bag that had been standing under the table. It was filled to the brim with bread, fresh vegetables and other food that she thought he’d need.

"I thought he’d enjoy himself today. He’s been really moody lately but we hoped he was feeling better now." She found what she was looking for - a small lidded box - and handed it to Sephiroth. "There are spoons in the drawer over there," she explained, nodding towards a corner of the kitchen. She sat down again, resting her chin in her hand, waiting for Sephiroth to taste the cake. He nodded his approval; clearly appreciating it’s taste.

"After he’d finished opening his presents," Tifa continued, "he just went up to his room again. When we asked him to come down and have some cake with us, he yelled at us. I tried talking to him, but since I’m not Aeris he wouldn’t let me in." Tifa’s eyes darkened as she continued. "He’s talking about Aeris constantly, telling us others how perfect she was in her beauty, how incredibly intelligent she must have been, and so faithful to her friends... I really liked Aeris while she lived, but I’m sick of hearing her name now."

"Aeris Gainsborough?" He raised an eyebrow, smiling faintly as if he thought of some private joke.

Tifa nodded. "He was in love with her, and now he’s convinced himself that she was the love of his life. " ‘Sephiroth knows her last name? ’

"I see." Sephiroth thoughtfully drummed the fingers of his right hand against the table, making a hollow sound. "And you are in love with Strife?"

Tifa blushed. ‘Am I that obvious? But since he already seems to know, I guess I can tell him the rest.’ Actually, it’d feel good to finally let someone else know. "Since I was a young girl. We grew up together. But I don’t know how I’m feeling about him anymore. I just hate the way he treats us. Sometimes we good enough for him, but at other times we’re less than dirt. He just can’t stand seeing us being happy, I think." She closed her eyes, trying to restrain her irritation, not quite succeeding.

The conversation receded into a thoughtful silence. After a few minutes, Sephiroth broke it, the faint smile returning to his lips.

"Maybe I have a birthday gift that would suit him", he said. "I think you would appreciate it too." Tifa’s facial expression showed him that she had no idea what he was talking about.

"Why, we’ll bring him his precious Aeris back, of course."

* * * * *

When the clock struck midnight and Tifa still hadn’t returned home, Yuffie started to worry about her friend. It wasn’t like her to disappear like this - even though she had had plenty of reasons too, living with Cloud. ‘I wouldn’t blame her for leaving. If it’d been me, I’d dumped him months ago.’ Tapping her foot impatiently, Yuffie skimmed through all available channels, not finding anything that could keep her interest more than a few seconds. Weather forecast. Zap. A talkshow hosted by Scarlet ‘Oh gawd, what is she wearing?’ Zap. Part 3760 of "The Reactor", one of those eternal soap operas. Zap. Back to Scarlet. Zap. A black-and-white documentary from the war against Wutai. Zap. Zap. Zap.

Finally she turned the television off. After making sure no one was around to se what she was doing, she plucked four Materia orbs from behind the bookcase, where she’d hidden them yesterday after stealing them from Vincent, and started to juggle them. Green Shield followed a red Typhoon and yellow Deathblow, leaving glimmering traces in their tracks. She almost dropped the Final Attack but caught it before it had fallen too far. She’d never told anyone that what she liked most about Materia was the beautiful, sparkling colors. She could watch them swirling inside the spheres for hours. No two were exactly alike in their intricate patterns. But if anyone found out, they’d probably make fun of her. Yuffie, the World Famous Materia Hunter, gawking at the magic orbs just like a little baby who’d just gotten her first toy.

The exercise didn’t keep Yuffie’s interest for long, either. She caught the Materia, two in each hand, and put the globes away again, carefully making sure that their glow wasn’t visible. It wouldn’t do if Vincent could find them already. Hopefully he wouldn’t even have noticed that they were missing, though with him you could never know. He did seem a bit suspicious at breakfast, but on the other hand, he had made it a habit to always suspect Yuffie of being up to something. Usually he was right, but she tried not letting him know that.

Well, enough thinking about him.

‘Boring. Boring, boring, boring.’ She had never liked waiting. Everything she wanted should preferably happen the moment she first thought about it - and now she’d waited for Tifa to come back for years. She wanted to show her friend her latest addition to her Materia collection. Tifa wasn’t too pleased by Yuffie’s little hobby, but she would like this one even if she didn’t appreciate the way Yuffie’d gotten it.

Yuffie admiringly gazed into the huge, white orb. This one was truly unique; she’d never seen a white Materia before. Or had she? An insubstantial memory flickered just outside of her reach. ‘Where have I seen this one before?’ She tried remembering, but couldn’t distill the memory fragments into anything useful. ‘Whatever. It’s probably nothing.’

* * * * *

"What?!?!" Tifa spluttered, straightening in her chair. "Yeah, I’m sure that he’d appreciate that, but why would you do such a thing? Is it even possible?" ‘Do I want her back? If someone had offered this a little earlier, right after she’d died, then I’d gladly agreed. I would’ve done anything to get her back. But now? I guess it’s not her fault that Cloud can’t stop talking about her, nevertheless...’

"It worked for me," Sephiroth replied, interrupting her thoughts before she could decide what she felt. "As for the reason - would ‘vengeance’ be an acceptable explanation? I didn’t appreciate getting run through by a sword. Apart from that, he’s always been an annoying kid."

"But where’s the revenge in giving Cloud exactly what he wants?" She still didn’t understand. ‘Well, at least he doesn’t want to kill Cloud. I guess that’s some consolation.’

Sephiroth chuckled. The sound was somewhat unexpected, coming from him. "You didn’t know Aeris Gainsborough for a very long time." That was not a question, and he didn’t wait for Tifa to acknowledge the fact before he continued. "I met the girl several years ago, when we both were test subjects of my father, the late professor Hojo. I had plenty of time to get to know her, between her escape attempts. Her personality has a few rather... interesting traits, to say the least."

"What do you mean?" Her mind was not totally into the question, though. ‘By Alexander! Did Hojo even experiment on his own son?’

"You’ll see." Once again, he refused telling Tifa more. It seemed he liked keeping secrets. "So, what do you say? Will you accompany me to her burial site?"

"Yeah... I guess."

* * * * *

Yuffie’d fallen asleep in the couch, when the sound of a car arriving woke her up. ‘Tifa? Oh man... what’s the time?’ She scanned the room, fighting to stop her heavy eyelids from taking control over her body. ’02:26. Where’s she been?’ She yawned loudly, stretching her arms towards the roof, when she lost the struggle and dozed off.

When Yuffie awakened the next morning, she noticed that someone had put a blanket over her. In the kitchen Tifa was singing to herself as she prepared the breakfast. Everything seemed to be in order. Yuffie got up, dropping the blanket in a less-than-neat pile, and entered the kitchen bubbling with questions.

"Good morning, Yuffie," Tifa greeted her good-naturedly and handed her a plate. "I made pancakes, is that all right with you?"

"Yeah, sure." In fact, she loved Tifa’s pancakes. She always made them just crispy enough, without burning them as Yuffie herself always managed to do. She started eating, and then remember her questions.

"Umm... I was" chew "waiting up for you last night." chew "But you never" chew "came, so I" chew "fell asleep." She swallowed loudly, and emitted a deafening belch shortly after.

Tifa didn’t answer.

"So, where were you?"

Still silence, except from the rattling sound when she put the frying pan down.

"I heard when you came home, at half past two."

"I was just taking a ride," Tifa finally confessed. "I needed some time alone."

‘Driving around alone for eight hours? Yeah, right. That’s not like you, Teef. I’m gonna find out your secret.’ "All right," she answered and grabbed another pancake.


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