The Second Incarnation Part 12

In the Meteor's Wake

By Shelly Ichishita

"Let's mosey."

Barret, Cid and Yuffie groaned. "Are you trying to sound like a geek Cloud, or does it just come naturally?" Yuffie quipped.

"Come on you guys, give me a break. Barret can you pass me that duffel?"

"Sure," Barret tossed the bag to Cloud.

Cloud strapped the heavy bag to his back. "Okay, just to please you guys," he looked at Yuffie. "Let's head out." He turned to look at the guys, "better?"

Barret placed Marlene on his shoulder. "Yeah, a lot." Barret looked over at Tifa. She was quieter than usual. He hated to see her brood. Barret promised himself that he would pinpoint the cause of her depression before they got to Midgar.

The group started walking out of Costa del Sol. The Highwind was parked nearby so it was a matter of minutes before they were at Kalm. Yuffie hopped out and hurled the minute the Highwind touched ground.

Barret walked slowly behind Tifa. She was shuffling her feet and her eyes were downcast. As Barret watched Cloud approached Tifa and was abruptly dismissed. Barret waited till the others were out of sight to advance towards Tifa. "What'd Spike do now?" he asked her.

Tifa hesitated before replying. "Nothing. Look Barret, I want to tell you everything but it's really complicated."

Barret let Marlene run on ahead. "Spit it out Tifa. Cause I can't stand to see you all depressed."

"Thanks for caring Barret," she stopped walking. "But there isn't anything that can help." She told Barret exactly how she felt. By the time she had finished, Marlene was settled in with Elmira, and Cloud and the others were ready to head to Midgar.

Barret kissed Marlene and Elmira goodbye. It had been decided not to introduce her to Ellie and Nia. The memories would have been too painful and she was worried enough with Reeve missing.

He turned to Tifa and started walking. "Tifa, the way I see it, you can keep rejecting Cloud and make the both of your lives miserable; or you can say the hell with it and go for what you want. It shouldn't be so hard. He likes you too."

"I know that Barret. But I'm not right for him."

"Bullshit," Barret put his hand on Tifa's shoulder. "Who else stuck by him when he was going wacko? You gotta give yourself more credit than that."

"It's irrelevant now anyway," she pointed towards the Highwind. Cloud was siting in the shade with Nia. "He's already moved on."

Barret shook his head. "Tifa just think of yourself for once. Its not too late."

Cid screamed at the top of his lungs, "all aboard."

Tifa jumped a little. She gave Barret a quick hug. "I think I might take your advice, o wise one." She winked as she scurried up the ladder.

Barret was glad that he had cheered her up a little. He looked around, Cloud and Nia were moving closer and the rest of the group was in the Highwind. Nia climbed the ladder and Cloud was about to follow when Barret stopped him.

"We need to talk later." Barret told Cloud. Cloud nodded. Barret climbed onto the Highwind's deck.

I wonder what all that was about? Cloud scratched his head and went to join his friends on the deck. He got up the ladder pretty quickly. A little too quickly, because he fell right on Barret.

"Ugh, watch it Spike."

"Sorry Barret, I guess my aim is off, I was going for your head."

Barret was just about to aim for Cloud's head-with his fist-when Cid brought the Highwind to a sudden stop.

"We're at Midgar blockheads." Cid announced enthusiastically. His tone changed abruptly when he saw Shera outfitting herself with a rifle. He walked over to Shera quickly. "What do you think you're doing?" he questioned furtively.

"I'm going with you Captain." She stared back at him, daring him to stop her.

"Please don't do this." Cid pleaded with her. Shera simply stared at him again. Her normally serene gray eyes held a determined gleam.

"I have to do this," she moved closer and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I can't stand by and watch you put your life on the line anymore. You can't ask me to. I need to fight by your side."

Cid nodded. "But you don't know how to use that," he indicated the assault rifle that she had unslinged.

"Vincent's been giving me lessons," Shera gauged Cid's reaction. "I told him that I wanted to learn to defend myself."

Cid grinned. "Well I can't think of a better shot than Vincent. If it's alright with the guys you can come."

"Can't think of a better shot flyboy?" Barret grunted under his breath.

Yuffie was already on the ground. "Why didn't anyone think to pack tranquilizers?" Nanaki asked as he stepped around a puddle of liquefied fish and rice.

The sky was rapidly darkening. Cloud surveyed the ground below. "We'd better find Reeve and Vincent's base camp before nightfall," he remarked.

It had been a month since anyone in the group had set foot in Midgar. The crown jewel of the Shinra Empire was now a twisted heap of metal. Shera stepped around a metal door with a large number five painted on it. She was glad that she was going to be able to fight alongside Cid. Shera had been in love with her "captain" since the first day she had started working on the Shinra rocket project. She knew that she was putting herself in danger, but she needed to be there to make sure he was safe. She stifled a giggle. Cid wouldn't like to know that she was thinking about keeping him safe. Men always seemed to think they could take care of themselves.

They walked past Aeris' church. Cloud was tempted to walk inside and see if the flowers were in bloom. The church stood almost intact, save for the holes in the roof. Nia and Ellie had wanted to go in but Cloud hoarsely asked them to keep going.

The mood was somber as they walked through the slums. They stepped over the ungainly rubble in silence. Memories shadowed everyone's thoughts. Barret stared at the contorted metal and wood fragments that had been Section 7. A tin metal roof glinted in the sun that now poured down upon the slums. He bowed his head, thinking of the friends that were entombed there.

Nanaki spotted the campsite first. Somehow it didn't surprise him that Reeve had chosen to sleep in the Honeybee Inn. He and Yuffie sprinted ahead of the group. Cloud watched as they raced each other to the inn. He felt old. Cloud looked towards the mountains, he sighed and remembered a time when he and Zack would've raced each other to camp.

Almost everyone was at the campsite now, with the exception of Tifa and Cloud. That was it, she decided. She was going to take Barret's advice. She was just about to open her mouth to tell Cloud how she felt when Ellie came running towards them. Ellie took Cloud's hand, "come on slow poke," she said giggling as she dragged him away. "We'll all be asleep by the time you get to camp." Cloud laughed and let her drag him. Tifa looked up at the night sky, she could almost scream with frustration.

Ellie stumbled on a piece of wood, Cloud caught her in his arms and she kissed him on the cheek. Tifa turned her head away sharply. You're so dumb! She told herself. It wasn't as if he was really interested in her anyway, she glared at the back of his head; it was probably just some male hormone thing.

Tifa kicked a few pebbles. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she hadn't heard the wolf until it was upon her. Tifa hit the ground and kicked the beast off, it snapped at her feet. There wasn't much left in Midgar and the animal was desperate for food. It had waited for her to be separated from the others. The wolf was hungry and smart and it never gave her a chance to get up. She tried to sweep kick the animal's muzzle, but before she could extend her leg Cloud ran up and cleaved the wolf in half.

"You okay?" he extended a hand to help her up.

Tifa got on her feet and winced, her ankle had been twisted in the fall. "Not really."

Cloud picked her up effortlessly. Tifa wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her into camp. She placed her head on his shoulder and brushed her lips over his neck.

Cloud breathed in sharply. He was very confused. Ordinarily Tifa would have finished off that wolf with one hit, how did it manage to catch her off guard? Even more confusing than that was the feel of her lips against his pulse and the way she felt in his arms. Cloud took another deep breath. The entire group was watching from the doorway as he walked into the inn. Cid and Barret started to clap, but one glare from Shera stopped that quickly. Cloud sat down on a step; he held Tifa and gently took off her shoe to inspect her ankle. It was only slightly swollen. Ellie discharged a cure spell and the swelling died down.

Tifa didn't move to get out of Cloud's lap. It felt comforting to lean her head against his shoulder and he didn't suggest that she should get up. Her emotions overtook her as she moved in his lap and lightly pressed her lips to his beating pulse. Cloud swallowed audibly and Tifa wondered if she had made a mistake. He pressed her to him deliberately, "don't do that again unless you mean it," he growled.

Tifa heard a gasp; she turned to see everybody staring intently at them. She blushed and quickly leapt off of Cloud's lap. Cloud stood abruptly and headed for the &$#% room. "Let's get some sleep and head into Shinra Headquarters in the morning," he said gruffly before entering the room.

Tifa realized that everyone was still staring at her. Barret saved her by breaking the silence. "I'm gonna go to bed. Anyone want my trail mix?"

"I'll take it!" Yuffie yelled. Barret tossed her the bag and walked across the floor.

"Red ya want to share a room?" Barret asked. Red replied in the affirmative.

Yuffie, Nia and Ellie slipped into the Group Room and Cid and Shera nuzzled cozily in the empty lobby.

Tifa took a deep breath and walked into the &$#% room. Cloud was stretched out on the queen-sized bed. Her heart raced as she leaned forward to get a closer look at him.

Cloud looked at her quizzically. "What are you doing here?" he murmured.

"I...uh..." she tried to speak but she was too nervous to get the words out. "I wanted to thank you," Tifa finally managed to say. She smiled sheepishly, "and sorry."

"Oh." Cloud sounded disappointed. "That could've waited 'til morning."

"I know," Tifa acknowledged. "But this couldn't." She leaned forward and kissed him. His arms encircled her and drew her down to the bed. His tongue traced the seam of her lips. Tifa opened her mouth in astonishment, she hadn't realized that Cloud was such a good kisser. His hands stroked her back passionately. Then he broke off the kiss suddenly and sat up.

"So why are you really here Tifa?" he moved away to face her.

"I wanted to..." her voice trailed off. Tell him, she screamed at herself. But somehow she couldn't force the words out.

"Hey Cloud!" Nia popped her head into the room. "Oh," she sounded dejected when she saw Cloud and Tifa on the bed next to each other. "I'm sorry, I interrupted you."

"It's alright Nia, I was just leaving." Tifa tried to get off the bed. Her legs felt rubbery though and she had to lean on Cloud to regain her balance. But that was a big mistake, she felt even more woozy and unstable after she touched him. She fell back against his broad chest.

Cloud reached out and caught her. "I'll talk to you in the morning Nia. Get some rest, we'll be leaving at daybreak." Nia nodded and stepped away from the doorway.

Now I'm alone with Cloud again. I wonder why he sent Nia away, she thought. A stimulating sensation alerted Tifa to the feel of Cloud's hands on her heated flesh. He nuzzled her neck and whispered, "so you were going to tell me why you came?" An involuntary moan escaped her throat. The moan quickly changed into a whimper as Cloud pulled away. "Tifa I care about you, but I need for you to tell me if you feel the same. If you only want to be friends I can live with that. I just need to know how you feel."

Tifa turned her body so that she was facing him. Her mind told her to push him away but her hands instinctively reached out for his warmth. "I can't do that right now Cloud. You may think that you want me but I think that you should take all the factors into consideration," she looked pointedly at the door that Nia had just disappeared behind. It felt so good to be held by him, but for his sake she was going to have to go, it was thoughtless of her to have come in the first place. He let go of her and Tifa started to leave.

She had the doorknob in her hand when he asked in an injured tone; "do you think I don't know the difference between lust and love Tifa?" he spread out on the bed and slipped his hands behind his head. Hopefully she walked back to his side. He closed his eyes. "If you want this to work you're going to have to make the next move. I've laid my cards out on the table. You know there's only so much rejection one guy can take."

Crap. Big steaming chocobo crap. Tifa knew she had to make a choice. Take what she wanted or step aside and do what was best for him. 'Cause face it, she thought, Nia or Ellie were infinitely better for him than she was. Cloud moved to make room for her on the bed; "if you're going to take that long you might as well sleep on it."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

Cloud rose from the bed, "jeez Tifa, I'm not gonna jump you!" He colored slightly at his outburst. "Look, the other rooms are all filled by now and you're not going to get any rest outside with Barret snoring like that so it'd be better if you slept here." He walked over to his duffel, "if it'll make you feel any better I can go, but you really should get some rest."

"Don't go. We'll just each stay on our own side of the bed right?"

"Sure, scout's honor." Cloud held his hand over his heart.

Tifa lightly punched his shoulder; "you were never a scout."

"Okay, you caught me on that one," he rolled a blue sheet and extended it down the middle of the circular bed. "But I promise to be the perfect gentleman." He threw her a pillow. "Sweet dreams."


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