Evolution of Innocence Chapter 2
By Janet Monstwillo
(What am I doing wrong? Ive done everything I could, Ive tried everything I could think of, and still he ignores me.) Tifa sighed as she looked through her closet at her different outfits. (Ive worn that one a zillion times...that one looks hideous on me...) She grabbed a short sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. (No wonder Cloud ignores me. Im so damn boring.) As she dressed, she contemplated what went wrong the last time she tried to get close to him.
(Well, we had the nice talk. Nice until he managed to start talking about Aeris, that is. But I steered him away from that, and the next thing I know, Im kissing him, and hes kissing back... And it would have been fine if I had left it at that.) She shook her head and zipped the jeans. (If I would have just been satisfied for the time-being, instead of trying to get him into bed, we wouldnt be in this awkward position.) Cloud had quickly removed himself from her apartment, telling her that it wasnt that he didnt care about her... (...but he cant forget Aeris. I cant compete with a memory. Im real, and Im here, and Ill make more mistakes. But soon everything stupid she did will be forgotten and shell be the perfect little martyr. And no matter how much he might have loved me, Cloud will resent it that I lived while she died.) A tear slipped down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away. (No matter how much I sacrificed for the cause, her sacrifice was the ultimate.)
Tifa put on her shoes. (I dont hate her. She was a true friend. But Ill resent the way her presence lingers. Maybe I should thank her. Maybe if she lived, I wouldnt have had a chance with Cloud.) She left to go to Clouds apartment. (Ill apologize, and then Ill wait for my next chance.)
Cloud and Tifa, along with Barret, were tired of traveling and had settled down in Kalm after Meteor had come, two months earlier. But Cloud still roamed over all the ends of the Planet, searching out every Sephiroth rumor, no matter how implausible. Tifa was still surprised to see him leaving his apartment decked out in full battle gear.
Where did somebody see him now? she asked spitefully.
Junon. Cmon, Tifa, try to understand. I have to make sure hes really dead this time.
Dont you think Cid would have told us if there were any Sephiroth impersonators in Junon? Most of the rumors were just imitators trying to make a living in haunted houses.
Just because Cid runs the airport there doesnt mean he knows everything that goes on there. I have to make sure hes dead for good. Otherwise, why did... He broke off. Look, Tifa, I know you think Im a fool, but Id rather be safe than sorry. You should thank me, Im also keeping you safe.
I dont need you to keep me safe. (I just need you to be here, with me.)
Are you telling me to leave you alone?
If Im holding you back from your quest for the pseudo-Sephiroth, by all means, go right ahead, leave town and dont come back. Hell, I even release you from your promise.
Tifa. Youre just angry about last night.
Why shouldnt I be? You flat out rejected me. How do you think that makes me feel?
Im not going to just go and have sex with you. If you really care about me, youll give me the time to make it more than that. If I wanted sex, I could go find a whore somewhere. Youre above that, Tifa. You need something more than that. I need something more than that. If you try to make us, what we are, just physical, youll destroy our friendship.
Youre more than a friend to me, Cloud.
He gently turned her head and kissed her softly on the cheek. I know. He mounted his golden chocobo. Hopefully, Ill be back by evening. He tugged on the reins.
Raising her hand up in a gesture of good-bye, Tifa watched him ride off into the horizon. (I can give you time, Cloud. We have plenty of time.)
Cloud slapped the reins against Goldies back. (Gotta improve her diet. Shes going a lot slower these days.) Youre lucky, you know that? he said to the chocobo. Lifes easy for you. Someone decides what youll eat, where youll go, who youll mate with... He sighed. (Why cant I make Tifa happy? I guess its because I cant pretend that shes the only thing I think about. Because every time I go on a search for Sephiroth, Im trying to find...Aeris. If only I could look in her eyes one more time. Tell her what I think. That she was the strongest one of us all. And how I dont know if Ill ever feel whole again.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Gimme a beer. Cloud sighed. (No Sephiroth. Just this guy traveling with a circus calling himself Son of Sephiroth. Never mind that hes way too old to be Sephiroths son.) The bartender handed him his drink. Thanks, he said. He turned so he could watch the Friday night crowd stream past the bars open door.
A young woman walked in, looking like shed been assaulted.
Are you okay? Cloud asked.
She ignored him and turned to the bartender. Joel, thats the last time I go get the latest video game for you. I almost got myself killed. She turned to Cloud, who was laughing. Whats so funny?
Im sorry, you just look like youd been robbed or something...all that for a video game?
She shook her head. I know, Im going to have to kick Joels ass for this.
Cloud looked her over. (Long, black hair, exquisite blue-violet eyes, legs that go on forever...she must be almost as tall as I am.) His eyes met hers.
Do I know you? she asked. You look familiar.
I dont think so, but I was thinking the same about you.
Maybe I saw you in here before?
He shook his head. I havent been in this bar in months.
Oh. She held out a delicate hand. Im Daphne.
Cloud. He shook her hand. No offense, Daphne, but I dont think youll get far beating your friend over here if you use those little hands of yours.
Shes been taking weapons training, said Joel, wiping his hands on a towel. Only two lessons, but shes a devil with the ol rod. Like she learned it in a past life or something. Either that, or shes a natural born killer in denial.
The rod? Cloud hesitated. I knew someone...she was awesome with the thing.
Aww, said Daphne with sympathy, picking up his tone, troubles in love?
No, shes dead.
The silence hung thick in the room. Im sorry, she said.
Its okay, you didnt know.
I, of all people, should learn to have tact. I hate it when strangers ask me about my family, even though they would have no way of knowing that they were dead. This girl, what was her name?
Why do you care? asked Cloud bitterly.
It helps to talk, she said softly. We all need someone to talk to. I was just hoping to ease this awkwardness. You dont have to say anything if you dont want to. She looked at Joel. You look tired. Ill take over til closing.
Its only an hour.
She smiled. Go play your game. Ill close.
Fine, if you insist. We need some more vodka up here, though. You can get it, right? Daphne went to the storeroom. He looked at Cloud. If theres anyone on this Planet that understands what you feel like, its Daph. You should talk with her.
Cloud gave him a puzzled look. Why do you want me to hang with your girlfriend?
Daphs not my girlfriend. She...was my sisters best friend. Before Rachel died. And now her mom died and shes got nobody but me. She mopes around a lot. I just thought you could maybe be her friend, yknow? You two seem to compliment each other. You both are walking around with issues.
Daphne walked back into the bar. Go, Joel, now! she ordered, finger pointing to the door.
Fine, Daphs, he said, putting his hat on. Dont get too friendly with the drunks, baby.
Cloud stared into his drink. Aeris, he said softly.
Daphne turned around and gave him a queer look. What?
Her name was Aeris.
Oh. You want to talk about her?
He set down the empty mug. Only if you want to listen.
She touched his hand and smiled. Who wouldnt want to spend a few minutes with a cutie like you? Staring into those baby blues? I bet the only reason you carry that sword is to fend off the women.
Cloud stared at her. (No one has smiled at me like that besides...besides Aeris.) Thank you for the compliment, but really, youre doing me a favor. I...you remind me of her.
Now whos complimenting who? I say youve got nice eyes, and you tell me I remind you of someone you cared about a lot. What is it? Do I look like her?
Yes and no. Physically, not at all. Your mannerisms are the same, almost exactly.
Thats just weird, said Daphne.
I agree with you, but the more I look at you, the way you act, and I just see that youre very similar. I guess my real problem lies with Tifa. Me and her go way back, and I think shes in love with me. And sure, I could be the jerk, take advantage of her feelings for me, but I refuse to be with her if I cant stop thinking of Aeris.
Thats very admirable. But not very realistic.
Daphne smiled. Youre going to get lonely someday, and youll want companionship, and Tifall be there, and youll settle. Im sure if Aeris knew she would understand. I know that if I really loved someone, I wouldnt want him to be lonely. Its not like Aeris can come back from the dead and cry about how youre cheating on her, is it?
Cloud looked at Daphne. Her eyes, the musical tones that rang in her voice...she was right, he was lonely. He scrutinized her face. Its just too soon, I guess. Tell me, how is it that someone like you is alone?
She shrugged, with another smile. I wont be alone forever. And I have Joel. When I really think about it, Ive had a lot more than some people ever will.
Cloud stood up. I really have a long trip home now. But... Umm... How long are you planning to be in Junon?
Probably for a little while, at least.
If I come back, in a couple of days, would you be here?
She nodded. I can be your psychologist.
He shook his head. Thats not what I mean. Gathering up his courage, he leaned across the bar counter and kissed her softly. Theres something magic about you, he whispered.
Daphne watched him walk out the door. (No, the magic is in you, Cloud Strife...) Then a realization hit her, and she almost dropped his empty mug. (He never told me his last name...how could I...) She watched the mysterious young man ride down the street on his chocobo. (Cloud Strife, a mercenary from Nibelheim.) She knew that was who he was. But she didnt know how she knew. Thats what scared her.
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