Evolution of Innocence Chapter 2

By Janet Monstwillo

(What am I doing wrong? I’ve done everything I could, I’ve tried everything I could think of, and still he ignores me.) Tifa sighed as she looked through her closet at her different outfits. (I’ve 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. I’m 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, I’m kissing him, and he’s 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 wouldn’t be in this awkward position.) Cloud had quickly removed himself from her apartment, telling her that it wasn’t that he didn’t care about her... (...but he can’t forget Aeris. I can’t compete with a memory. I’m real, and I’m here, and I’ll make more mistakes. But soon everything stupid she did will be forgotten and she’ll 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 don’t hate her. She was a true friend. But I’ll resent the way her presence lingers. Maybe I should thank her. Maybe if she lived, I wouldn’t have had a chance with Cloud.) She left to go to Cloud’s apartment. (I’ll apologize, and then I’ll 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. C’mon, Tifa, try to understand. I have to make sure he’s really dead this time.”

“Don’t 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 doesn’t mean he knows everything that goes on there. I have to make sure he’s dead for good. Otherwise, why did...” He broke off. “Look, Tifa, I know you think I’m a fool, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. You should thank me, I’m also keeping you safe.”

“I don’t need you to keep me safe.” (I just need you to be here, with me.)

“Are you telling me to leave you alone?”

“If I’m holding you back from your quest for the pseudo-Sephiroth, by all means, go right ahead, leave town and don’t come back. Hell, I even release you from your promise.”

“Tifa. You’re just angry about last night.”

“Why shouldn’t I be? You flat out rejected me. How do you think that makes me feel?”

“I’m not going to just go and have sex with you. If you really care about me, you’ll give me the time to make it more than that. If I wanted sex, I could go find a whore somewhere. You’re 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, you’ll destroy our friendship.”

“You’re 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, I’ll 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 Goldie’s back. (Gotta improve her diet. She’s going a lot slower these days.) “You’re lucky, you know that?” he said to the chocobo. “Life’s easy for you. Someone decides what you’ll eat, where you’ll go, who you’ll mate with...” He sighed. (Why can’t I make Tifa happy? I guess it’s because I can’t pretend that she’s the only thing I think about. Because every time I go on a search for Sephiroth, I’m 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 don’t know if I’ll 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 he’s way too old to be Sephiroth’s son.) The bartender handed him his drink. “Thanks,” he said. He turned so he could watch the Friday night crowd stream past the bar’s open door.

A young woman walked in, looking like she’d been assaulted.

“Are you okay?” Cloud asked.

She ignored him and turned to the bartender. “Joel, that’s the last time I go get the latest video game for you. I almost got myself killed.” She turned to Cloud, who was laughing. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m sorry, you just look like you’d been robbed or something...all that for a video game?”

She shook her head. “I know, I’m going to have to kick Joel’s 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 don’t think so, but I was thinking the same about you.”

“Maybe I saw you in here before?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t been in this bar in months.”

“Oh.” She held out a delicate hand. “I’m Daphne.”

“Cloud.” He shook her hand. “No offense, Daphne, but I don’t think you’ll get far beating your friend over here if you use those little hands of yours.”

“She’s been taking weapons training,” said Joel, wiping his hands on a towel. “Only two lessons, but she’s a devil with the ol’ rod. Like she learned it in a past life or something. Either that, or she’s 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, she’s dead.”

The silence hung thick in the room. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay, you didn’t 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 don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.” She looked at Joel. “You look tired. I’ll take over ‘til closing.”

“It’s only an hour.”

She smiled. “Go play your game. I’ll 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 there’s anyone on this Planet that understands what you feel like, it’s Daph. You should talk with her.”

Cloud gave him a puzzled look. “Why do you want me to hang with your girlfriend?”

“Daph’s not my girlfriend. She...was my sister’s best friend. Before Rachel died. And now her mom died and she’s got nobody but me. She mopes around a lot. I just thought you could maybe be her friend, y’know? 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. “Don’t 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 wouldn’t 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, you’re doing me a favor. I...you remind me of her.”

“Now who’s complimenting who? I say you’ve 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.”

“That’s just weird,” said Daphne.

“I agree with you, but the more I look at you, the way you act, and I just see that you’re very similar. I guess my real problem lies with Tifa. Me and her go way back, and I think she’s 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 can’t stop thinking of Aeris.”

“That’s very admirable. But not very realistic.”


Daphne smiled. “You’re going to get lonely someday, and you’ll want companionship, and Tifa’ll be there, and you’ll settle. I’m sure if Aeris knew she would understand. I know that if I really loved someone, I wouldn’t want him to be lonely. It’s not like Aeris can come back from the dead and cry about how you’re 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. “It’s just too soon, I guess. Tell me, how is it that someone like you is alone?”

She shrugged, with another smile. “I won’t be alone forever. And I have Joel. When I really think about it, I’ve 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. “That’s not what I mean.” Gathering up his courage, he leaned across the bar counter and kissed her softly. “There’s 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 didn’t know how she knew. That’s what scared her.


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