Tarnished Side Chapter 12

By Janet Monstwillo

"What happened to you guys?" Reno asked smoothly, looking at the table where the rest of his companions were seated.

"You haven't heard the news?" Rude pointed to the television screen right behind him.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "we know the president's croaked. Is there anything more than that?" He gazed behind his friend to see the breaking news report. His eyes widened. "Holy–wha...wh..." he stammered. "Did you guys know about this?"

"We tried to stop it," Jessie said softly, "but we got there after they'd sealed the sector off. We didn't do this, the Turks did."

"Sephiroth couldn't have helped though." Aeris looked at the group of strangers in front of her. "He was breaking me out of the lab then."

"I'm sure they understand, babe–" Reno stared at the TV, even more shocked then before. "That Seph guy is wanted for murdering the president? Guess that scary red-caped guy was right about them pinning blame on him."

"You mean...Sephiroth didn't kill the president?" Tifa asked slowly.

"No." Raieyana shook her head. "Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't put something like that past the guy, but we saw with our own eyes. Some whacked out looking blonde guy with a..." She paused, suddenly noticing the busty brunette had a scar on her face, remarkably similar to that on the president's murderer.

"A scar like yours," Reno said bluntly.

She closed her eyes, hugging herself.

"Teef?" Zack placed a hand on her shoulder.

"How...odd," she whispered.

He simply patted her back comfortingly. Glancing up at the two girls he'd just met, he decided it was time to get to know each other better. "So what's the deal with you two? Sisters or something?"

"I'd actually like to find out myself," Aeris said.

Everyone turned towards Raieyana, expectantly. "Well...I guess the first thing you need to know about my story...is that Aeris is an Ancient, the last of her kind. Which makes her very valuable to Shinra. Seventeen years ago, Aeris was being held in the lab of Shinra's Science Department. In those days, technology was not very advanced. They didn't know much about DNA or cloning...what they could do was in vitro fertilization–test tube babies."

"You're my test tube sister?" Aeris looked at the girl in shock.

She shook her head. "It's not that simple. All this information is what was told to my father after the fact, just so you know. Apparently, Aeris, your mother was very ill at this time. They weren't sure if you were going to be strong enough to make it, even if they raised you in a lab. So they transplanted the contents of one of your egg cells into a mature one...and fertilized it with a sample they had gotten from one of their Turks. The commander." She swallowed. "My father, Tseng."

"So what does that mean?"

"It means that genetically speaking, you're my mother." Raieyana continued on before she could get interrupted. "For some foolish reason or another, the head of science, Hojo, actually told my father about me...he smuggled me out of the lab and eventually cut all the ties he could with the company. Of course, they've been blackmailing him ever since."

"Why do you have glowy eyes?" Rude asked.

"Aside from mixing Ancient DNA with that of a strong Turk, Hojo thought it necessary to give me a similar Mako bath treatment as that given to members of their army. Except I figure I was given a much higher dose than most of the Soldiers were." She put her hands on her hips. "Now don't give me that pitying look! I don't even remember ever being in the lab. My dad's had me since I was a toddler."

"I don't remember much about the lab myself," said Aeris, "but what I do remember wasn't horribly bad...just stifling for a kid, of course."

The others nodded their understanding.

"Shinra is...more unbelievably evil than I could have imagined," Tifa remarked suddenly. She shook her head. "Guys...I think it's about time we got some rest."

Rude and Zack stood up and started to head up the stairs behind her. Jessie gave her cousin one more hug, before turning to follow the others. "I will see you in the morning!"

Aeris looked at Reno and Raieyana sheepishly. "Yeah, I think if I get in late and wake Sephiroth up, he'll go all terse and mean on me. So, when he wakes me up at dawn, I'll be sure to knock on you guys' door!" She giggled, trotting up the stairs.

Reno blinked a few times. "She's sleeping with the silver-haired dude?"

"Calm yourself. I'm sure there are two beds...besides, he thought if he shared a room with you, he'd have to kill you eventually." Raieyana grinned. "Dunno why he thought you'd survive me."

The two of them headed up to their room. Reno pushed open the door, allowing her to enter first, with an exaggerated gesture. "Now, honey, if you get lonely during the night, you're always welcome to join me in–" He looked past her and grinned.

"One bed?" The look on her face was one of sheer horror.

"Looks comfy," Reno said, shutting the door.

"Yeah..." She pointed to the floor. "And look, how thoughtful, a rug for you so sleeping on the floor doesn't make your ass too cold."

"You like the floor? Kinky." He raised an eyebrow.

Leaning over, she began to turn down the sheets. "Oh come on, you didn't possibly think you were going to get the bed."

"Wait one second, missy. I'm perfectly willing to share. So why do you think your stingy butt should be sleeping in it?"

Raieyana put a hand on her hip. "If you were a gentleman, you'd sleep on the floor, no questions asked."

"Well, last time I checked, ladies don't wander around with strange guys. Period." He smiled smugly. "Just think, if it were a few years ago, you'd be called bad names for merely spending time alone with me."

"I'd call myself bad names if I did this voluntarily."

"That so? Then why'd you beg to tag along with me today?" Something small and shiny whizzed through the air, pinning his sleeve firmly to the wall. Reno examined it. (A silver shuriken...)

She glared at him. "I was working with you to help Aeris. Not because I'm attracted to a grungy guy like you or because I thought your cowardly methodology of hiding under helicopters was worth much of anything."

He pulled the small piece of metal off, tossing it into the wastebasket. Approaching her, he laughed a bit. "Yes, like the way you yell when something happens that you don't like is anything better."

Whirling around, she turned her full attention back to the bedding.

Reno grabbed her arm, spinning her back around to face him. (Man...if looks could kill...there would be some permanent bloodstains in the hardwood floor.) "Sorry. I keep forgetting you're just a kid."

Piercing green eyes continued to glare at him. "Are you quite finished?"

He brought a hand up to caress her cheek. "You're pretty damn cute when you're mad, though."

Her gaze softened a bit.

Grinning mischievously, he gloated to himself. (Well that was easy.) "How `bout a goodnight kiss?" he whispered, slowly leaning his face down to hers...

Raieyana decked him in the face with a pillow. "I might be young but I'm not stupid." She ripped the bedspread off the bed, throwing it at him viciously. "If you so much as lay a finger on me in the night, I will start cutting off very important parts." Shutting off the lamp, she crawled into bed. Alone.

Dejectedly, Reno lay down on the rug, covering himself with his second-rate bedding. Soon though, he was deep in sleep, unaware of the bright green eyes that were gazing at his form half the night.

* * * * * *

The little girl gazed down from the catwalk of the old reactor, watching the Lifestream's ebb and flow from quite a few stories up in the air.

Suddenly, a form rose out of the glowing liquid, floating gently up. It came to a stop in front of her. Standing around five foot seven inches tall, blonde hair styled into tall spikes, blue eyes glowing from overexposure to the Lifestream.

"Cloud?" she whispered. "You're all grown up."

"I wish you were," he said sadly.

Tifa looked down, realizing that she was no longer a little girl, but a twenty-year old woman. She stood and faced him. "I am...look at me."

The man reached out, caressing her cheek, the scarred flesh. "You thought you survived, and I had fallen. But the truth is, I have moved on, while you remain the same."

"I don't understand..."

"You are still weak," he said scornfully, throwing her down. "You are a mere human." He spat upon her.

Wiping his saliva from her face, a tear dropped down, a glittering spot on the cold metal walkway. "No! I trained and fought...I will avenge what he did to you."

"Fool." He drew his sword, long, thin...a replica of the Masamune that the former general carried himself. With one fell swoop, he slashed the woman from shoulder to abdomen.

Tifa could not speak, nor scream. She just simply watched as her blood flowed from her body, sliding off the walkway, dripping into the Lifestream. Cool green soon became flawed with shades of red.

Suddenly, she was a little girl again. Her chest was fine...but she was holding the gash in her marred face, watching the blood trickle from her clenched fingers, and crying.

Tifa sat up with a start. "Cloud, no!" she whispered, before realizing where she was. (An inn...in Kalm. It was only a dream... partly a memory.)

Chapter 13

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic