Chapter Forty-Two: Mended Chains
Yuffie stood outside the conference room, fingering the chain in her pocket as she waited for Archer to exit. Once the laughter had ceased, Cloud had dismissed everyone to the tasks he had assigned. The ninja was supposed to be heading for Wutai, but there was something she had to do first.
Nanaki had been very downcast since their journey into the Gi Nattak cave for many reasons she could understand. Reality was a harsh truth, and as such, their relationship had suffered. She hoped to improve his demeanor and show him how much she cared with a gift.
She remembered from some random conversation that Archer was good at metalsmithing, one of his hobbies, or so he had claimed. So she sought his expertise to mend the chain that the monsters had broken. It might be just the thing to cheer up her morose friend.
She heard laughing seconds before Archer and Reno exited, the amethyst-eyed man shaking his head as if in disbelief. Yuffie took her chance, latching onto his arm and pulling him down the hall and around the corner before he could even put up a fuss. The red-haired Turk didn’t even bother to protest, just calling out embarrassing things as they parted, causing the ninja’s ears to burn red.
“I need a favor,” she explained, releasing his arm once they were out of both sight and earshot. They stopped around the corner of the hall, and Yuffie put her hands on her hips.
He smirked. “I’m sorry, but you’re just too young for me,” he teased. “I can’t in all good conscience take your maidenhood. I believe that is meant for someone else.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, as if she /should/ know just exactly who he was talking about.
She blushed furiously before punching his shoulder playfully. “I’m serious,” she protested. “You know, that’s not… what I want.”
He winked but schooled his face into something more serious and less teasing. Archer leaned against the wall. “I’m listening.”
Yuffie sighed, shaking her head before digging a hand into her pocket and removing the broken chain. “Can you fix this?” she asked hopefully. The teenager eyed the silver links mournfully before handing it to him.
He furrowed his brow as he inspected the necklace. “It shouldn’t be that difficult,” Archer mused. “The snapped link can be welded back together, and it needs a good polish.” He thought he recognized the trinket and wondered how Yuffie had gotten a hold of it. The chain was not something he ever saw Nanaki without.
She smiled brightly. “Will you do it for me?”
He winked at her, a mischievous grin breaking out on his face. “For you or for Nanaki?” the engineer asked. He chuckled as another blush crept into Yuffie’s cheeks, and she spluttered to come up with a response. “Come on then,” he said, taking pity on her. “There is a workshop two floors down I can use.”
He moved off the wall and started walking, heading for the nearest elevator. Yuffie was right on his heels, unusually calm and silent for someone of her character. Archer hadn’t been the only one who had noticed the subtle tension between the two friends, just as he had been one of the first to sense the developing romance as well.
“Thank you, Archer,” came the ninja’s unusually quiet words as they moved into the elevator, and he selected a button. “I will pay you back somehow-”
He shook his head. “I’ll hear none of that now. I just want to see two of my good friends happy together.” He smiled slightly as the elevator music surrounded them during their trip downwards. Unlike most people, Archer found he actually liked the songs that played in the enclosed lift. It lifted his spirits and soothed his fragile emotions.
She blushed again, an action that he found too cute and sweet on her. “It’s not like that,” Yuffie protested.
The man raised a brow. “Oh? Then, I mistook those smitten looks?”
The ninja sighed softly, looking down at the floor as they stepped out into the hall. “Nothing could come out of it anyways,” she muttered dejectedly. “I’m engaged, and he’s… well, you know.”
“That didn’t seem to bother you before,” Archer interjected. “He’s intelligent, isn’t he? Probably more so than both of us.”
She nodded. “Yeah… and strong, fast, brave, loyal… cute even,” she ticked off his attributes on her fingers, smiling softly as she did so. It was an almost dreamy expression.
“Well, what’s changed about him… other than his form?” Archer inquired, their boots echoing down the empty halls as Reeve had dismissed what few workers remained for the day. It surprised the engineer that he was here, having this conversation with the young ninja.
He would have thought she would have turned to someone else. Someone she had known for longer. Then again, he had always been genial and easy to talk with. Perhaps she had seen that in him. Regardless, he was glad to be of help to her in any way that he could. At least, maybe he could calm the frustration that he saw building behind those soft, brown eyes.
Yuffie frowned. “You know what’s different; we can’t be together. It’s…” she trailed off, searching for the right word.
“Taboo?” the man supplied as he led her to a work room, opening the door for Yuffie as his mother had always taught him. Kami rest her soul. She had fallen to a respiratory illness nearly ten years past, and there were times he yet missed her.
The smell of grease and metal slapped them in the face as they entered, although it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant odor, and Yuffie nodded her response as she looked about the small workshop. There were benches and desks scattered above, some clean and some littered with tools. It was a relatively small room compared to some of the others she had seen and seemed to be an engineer’s haven. Archer was right at home.
“Well,” the man said slowly as he directed her to a chair and sat behind one of the stations, pulling out several tools she couldn’t even begin to recognize. “So was homosexuality once. Now, it is accepted… for the most part.” The last was spoken with a slight shrug.
The ninja chewed her lip. “Yes, but-”
Archer shook her head. “I’m just saying… he’ll be human again. I’m sure of it. Or who knows, with whatever strange magic surrounds him, perhaps you will end up as a…” the man struggled for the correct term, finally giving up after a few seconds, “whatever he is. I just don’t want either of you to end up losing your best friend.” The sincerity was evident in his tone.
An amethyst gaze bore into Yuffie’s as she nodded in understanding. Archer made a valid point. Just because Nanaki had changed forms did not mean that he had changed as a person, and her reluctance to speak on the matter was probably only encouraging the distance between them.
Yuffie watched in fascination as Archer pulled out many different devices to fix the chain, and some of them she didn’t even know where to begin with their description. Further, he had such an intent look on his face that she had to stifle a giggle.
Regardless of the silly expression on his face, the ninja couldn’t help but notice that Archer was an attractive man, much like Reeve. He had youthful, amethyst eyes and an easygoing smile plus an innate charm and a slow, almost Reno-esque drawl, which seemed to work on everyone. She could not help but wonder why he was still single.
It was quiet in the workroom except for the scratching of the tools Archer was using and the soft whir of the overhead fans. It gave her time to think quietly without interruption. The engineer was pleasant company, and he brought up many valid points for her to consider. She was surprised to find such an easygoing relationship between them.
As they sat in a reasonably companionable quiet, Yuffie found her mind wandering to her first cousin. She knew he was putting on a strong front, the teenager but wondered if he would ever be able to listen to the voices inside of him. Yuffie believed that eventually he would crack, even worse than his outburst before. A man could only hide so much, restrain himself for so long before it consumed him. The ninja feared for her cousin’s sanity but didn’t know if there was even anything she could do for him.
She shook her head softly, determined not to drown herself in morbid thoughts. Instead, the girl turned her attentions to her companion, still diligently working on the broken amulet.
“So,” Yuffie began slowly. “Anyone special in your life?”
Archer paused in his work, seeming to consider the question before shaking his head. “No,” he replied. “I’m a lonely soul.”
Yuffie giggled despite herself. The way he said that was almost as if he meant it to be a joke. Archer was truly a character. The ninja cleared her throat to hide the laughter and became serious once more.
“I have yet to find anyone,” he answered simply. Yuffie did not miss the melancholy and loneliness in his voice, and she wondered how she could call herself his friend when she hadn’t noticed before.
As his deft fingers moved to fix the chain she meant to return to the one she cared for, Yuffie wondered what Archer would find for himself. She vowed to herself that she would locate for her good friend someone to love and cherish. Elena was single, wasn’t she? And Tseng, Sephiroth, Zack… there were lots of options.
“What about Elena?” she suggested with a slight smirk.
The engineer frowned as he slid the shining polish and a cloth over the amulet. “No, she’s just a… hmm… well, look here,” he exclaimed in wonderment.
“What is it?” the girl asked, peering from across the room.
“There’s an inscription underneath the dirt,” the man replied thoughtfully, tilting the necklace more into the light so that he could see it better. Intrigued, Yuffie rose from her seat and hovered by Archer’s shoulder.
For my dearest, Kairi,
Who shall forever own my heart.
My love always,
“Kairi… that sounds Wutaiian,” Yuffie commented in awe. “I never knew that was written on there.”
Archer chuckled. “It was probably too dirty for you to be able to read anything.” He buffed the necklace one last time, allowing the shine from its cleanliness to echo on his face before he handed it over to the ninja, completely fixed and stain-free.
The ninja ooh’ed and aah’ed at the beauty before slipping it into her pocket. “Thanks, Archie!” she said with a smile before leaning over and giving him a friendly peck on the cheek. “I hope it will cheer him up.” She jiggled the chain in her pocket as she headed towards the door, intending to find her friend as soon as possible.
The engineer inclined his head as he began to clean up the counter top. “It would make him happier if you assure him you think no differently.”
Yuffie chewed on her lip, her eyes sparkling with some unnamed emotion before she nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I think so, too.” With that, she flounced out the door, shutting it with a quiet click behind her.
Archer merely chuckled and continued to clean the workshop. The vigors of youth never ceased to amaze him, not that he was that old to begin with. Still, he hoped that Nanaki and Yuffie got over whatever bump it was they were experiencing. The two were just too damn cute together.
Rude stood outside the door of the room, wondering why it was so quiet when he knew within were two women and two children. His wife was one of them. Woman or child, he couldn’t decide which. She still surprised him everyday.
Regardless, the meeting was now over, and it was up to him to inform Shera and the Widow Gainsborough about what had occurred as Barret was too busy arguing with Cloud over his duties. The swordsman was staunchly refusing to allow him too far from his daughter, while Barret was tired of being out of the main body of thought. That was an argument between two stubborn people, and Rude wasn’t interested in seeing the outcome.
Then again, one could argue that he was being equally ridiculous. After all, he was still standing outside the small room and looking like a fool for not going inside. Shaking his head at his own foolishness, the bald Turk put a hand on the door and opened it, and three pairs of eyes looked up at his entrance.
Denzel was at a table, little legs dangling over the lip of a chair and kicking back and forth as children were wont to do. He had a coloring book in front of him, and for such a young age, he was doing a painstaking job of staying within the lines. It was some cartoon that Rude was not familiar with.
Meanwhile, Marlene was on the floor, amusing herself with some toy cars and figurines that she must have brought with her from Corel. Elmyra was at the table with Denzel, reading some sort of fantasy romance, and Shera was lying on the couch, covered by a blanket. She was obviously asleep. She seemed so peaceful and quiet, something Rude knew was uncommon.
“Hello, Mr. Alexander,” the Widow Gainsborough greeted pleasantly as she smiled. “Have the boys finished their meeting?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rude nodded, a smile pulling at the corner of his lips because she had referred to them all as “the boys”. The door shut quietly behind him as he walked the rest of the way in.
“That’s good, and how is Tseng?” Although the ladies had not been present at the meeting, Barret had kept them aware of the events, explaining in hushed whispers how the Turk Commander had gone “nutso” in his words. Sephiroth had also stopped by momentarily to greet Denzel and briefly attest to Barret’s explanation.
“He has… recovered,” Rude replied, searching for the proper word. He moved towards his sleeping wife as he continued, “However, he is not ready to speak about what happened.” The bald Turk perched on the edge of the couch, removing his gloves before running a gentle touch down Shera’s face. Unconsciously, she moved into the simple gesture, a smile crossing her lips.
Elmyra clucked sympathetically. “That poor boy works himself too hard. I’ve never seen a man so driven, except perhaps for Reeve now, but I have known Tseng for nearly as along as Aeris has been in my care.” The woman frowned as she sighed, setting the book down on the table for the more interesting conversation as she went on, “He’s a good man at heart, though it is sometimes hard to see through his cold mask.”
Rude nodded in agreement even as Shera stirred under his touch, her head tilting to side. “Not like this one here,” came the teasing murmur as brown eyes opened and winked at him.
Ms. Gainsborough shook her head and wagged a finger at the now rising pregnant woman. “Now, Shera,” she began in an admonishing tone. “Rude’s a good boy, too. They all are, now that I think about it. Never thought anything else of the Turks. Just good boys in the wrong business.” A brief smile crossed her lips as she added, “Even that hellion trouble maker Reno.”
The dark-skinned Turk couldn’t help but chuckle at Elmyra’s comment. He wondered how a woman like her was attracted to a man as loud and brash as Barret. There must have been something there that he could not see. Perhaps the gun-armed man had a heart of gold and a soft touch? Then again, considering his own relationship, which some might think odd, Rude thought it best not to concern himself with the intricacies of love. Sometimes it transcended any and all boundaries: age, gender, race, social standing, profession.
“He knows I’m joking,” Shera explained as she threw off the blanket, hormones causing her to feel suddenly hot and about to burst into flame. She struggled to swing her legs about so that she was sitting up properly, her belly hampered her movements slightly. “I wouldn’t have married him if I truly thought that.”
“I appreciate the loving gesture,” he responded dryly. Elmyra and Shera both laughed.
The two children in the room gave the adults odd looks before returning to their entertainment, coloring books and toys far more interesting than their boring conversation. They were remarkably well behaved for being so young. Then again, they hadn’t had the easiest of lives, not with Marlene’s birth parents dying when she was an infant and Denzel having to watch his own slain before his eyes.
Rude, unfortunately, understood the pain that forced their silence all too well. It was the look of many of the children of the slums, Reno included. He knew his partner had been born and raised among the poorest of the poor, but it was something they rarely brought up. Reno didn’t seem too proud of that fact and would rather forget about that time in his life.
As such, Rude never questioned how the red-haired man had gotten his scars. Though he had wondered on more than one occasion, usually when Reno was reminded of his past. At those times, the redhead would get this faraway look in his eyes as he subconsciously rubbed at the marks on his face. It was a distant look, chilling and somber, and Rude always hoped that he would never see it again every time it surfaced.
It was yet another reason that Rude wore his sunglasses. It was much easier to hide your emotions when your eyes couldn’t be seen. His mother had once told him that eyes were the windows to the soul. One could see the truth of a man through them: whether he lied or spoke the honest truth… if he meant you harm or was a good man. You could always tell by the look in his eyes. There was a lot you could see through those windows, and as such, Rude defended himself mightily against those he didn’t trust with his fragile emotions. Very few had seen him without them on, his fellow Turks and Shera among them.
Shaking aside the somber thoughts and remembrances, Rude was about to suggest borrowing his wife so that he could take her to dinner when his phone rang, cutting through the laughter. They all glanced at his PHS with some trepidation as every time it rang recently it brought only bad news: the destruction of Gongaga, Reno’s disappearance, the attack of Cosmo Canyon, and on. The bald man exchanged looks with Shera before he answered the phone.
“Rude, here.” There was an initial static crackle before the phone cleared up, and he was able to hear the caller perfectly. Technicians had been working around the clock to fix the communications towers that had been destroyed in the battles of the last few days.
“Oh! Mr. Alexander! At last, I have finally been able to reach you,” responded the rather surprised and deep voice, which Rude immediately recognized.
Again, the dark-skinned Turk exchanged glances with his wife before grabbing her hand and threading their fingers together. “Dr. Tsuki,” he replied. “It’s been awhile. I’m pleased to hear that recent world events have not done you harm.”
The doctor chuckled. “This is very true. However, I have been trying without success until just now to reach both you and Mr. Strife. Unfortunately, Dr. Morrow did not survive the attack on Midgar, so I am taking half his cases, Mr. Strife’s included.” The man paused for a second, collecting himself. “Your test results have finally come back, including the DNA analysis.”
Shera’s hand tightened in his as Elmyra looked at them questioningly. They could all hear the doctor clearly through the phone and anxiously waited for him to continue. They were prepared for whatever he had to tell them.
“Please, Dr. Tsuki, good or bad, we would like to know,” Rude expressed, and Shera squeezed his hand so hard that hers was turning completely white.
The doctor fell silent and the sound of rustling papers could be heard. “I can tell you now that your son is perfectly healthy. In fact, he is supremely healthy.”
Both Alexanders let out a sigh of relief as Elmyra grinned happily. “That is good news,” Rude replied. “You had us worried, doctor.”
Tsuki laughed. “Worried? My dear sir, your only worry should be raising such a child. By all accounts, he will be extraordinary. Intelligence, speed, strength, magical adaptability, all will be of remarkable levels. The mako has indeed combined with your DNA, a truth that does not bring you much strength but will undoubtedly be passed down to your children fivefold. It is beneficial rather than harmful and won’t be as painful to them as it was when it was administered to you. It’s simply amazing.” The awe was very evident in the good doctor’s voice.
Rude’s jaw dropped as he absorbed Dr. Tsuki’s words. Not only was their son going to be healthy… but he was also going to be remarkable. He and Shera had been prepared to raise a child that would be disabled in some way because of the mako, but they had never thought their son would be extraordinary. He shared a pleased grin with his wife as he felt some of the stress and tension melt away.
“What about Mr. Strife?” he asked.
“Readings indicate much the same for his daughter. Mr. Alexander, these children could be the ones to change the world!” exclaimed Dr. Tsuki in a hopeful voice.
Shera beamed as she leaned towards the phone, her mouth near the receiver. “Dr. Tsuki, for now, I just want to get him born. We’ll take on changing the world when I’m not the size of a balloon.”
The good doctor’s chuckle could easily be heard through the speaker. “Well, Mrs. Alexander, only a couple more months before that will occur. However, I must deliver the good news to Mr. Strife. I will expect you at the monthly check-up two weeks from now.”
“Of course,” replied Rude. “And thank you, doctor.” With that said, he ended the call, another relieved sigh escaping from his lips. Two seconds later, Shera threw herself into his arms and kissed him soundly, his sunglasses getting knocked askew. The children giggled, and Elmyra smiled at their obvious love for each other. It was a joyous moment to be sure.
“Now, we have only one more problem,” spoke Shera as she pulled back from the kiss, and the Turk readjusted his shades.
Elmyra raised a brow. “Oh? What would that be?”
Both Alexanders exchanged mischievous glances, but it was Rude who answered. “What to name our son. I like Terexis-”
“-which sounds like a damn disease,” interrupted Shera with a snort and a teasing wink of her eyes. “While I prefer Mauldin, after my father.”
“With a name like that, he’ll be picked on at school, and its dangerously close to maudlin,” protested Rude, remembering his own younger days in school and on the streets for his true name, which he /never/ used if he could help it. With this thus spoken, the couple glared at each other. Well, Elmyra assumed that Rude was glaring considering that he still wore his sunglasses.
The widow Gainsborough laughed at them because although they argued, she could see the proof of how much they loved each other. It made her think, for just a moment of her dearly departed husband. She would never forget him even as others found their way into her heart, especially one smiling little girl that reminded her so much of Aeris.
“Have you considered a compromise? Maybe taken suggestions from others?” she questioned lightly.
But before either could answer, the two children made their presence known, proving that they had indeed been paying attention. Marlene giggled before getting to her feet and clinging to Rude’s arm.
“You could name him Barret,” she suggested.
Denzel looked up from his coloring book. “Or Riley,” he added as everyone looked to him in question. He lowered his gaze and mumbled as his face turned red, “It was my daddy’s name.”
Shera nodded before rising and giving the little boy a hug. “I think Riley is a fine name, don’t you, Rude?”
The dark-skinned Turk nodded in response before detaching Marlene from his arm and turning towards Elmyra. “Would you mind if I borrowed Shera and took her to dinner?” The rumble in his wife’s belly suddenly became another plea.
“Go on,” responded the widow with a teasing laugh. “It’s fine. Barret promised to bring us all some food after the meeting anyways.”
With Ms. Gainsborough in agreement, the handsome couple left to find something to eat as Elmyra returned to her book, a smile on her face.
With a slight click, Cloud hung up the phone before Aeris leapt into his arms, an excited squeal lighting up her face. He had just finished speaking with their doctor and had learned of their daughter’s very fortunate health. As if able to feel their enthusiasm, Midori kicked inside her mother’s womb, and Cloud was able to experience this movement as Aeris was pressed very tightly to him.
The two were the last in the conference room since Barret gave up under Cloud’s stubbornness. Everyone else had gone their separate ways. Tseng and Elena left with the two former SOLDIERs to find them some suitable lodgings. Cid and Vincent had returned to the Highwind for the night, and Cloud suspected, some privacy. Reeve and Reno had gone home most likely for the same, while Rude had left looking for Shera, mumbling something about steak and baked potatoes. He saw Yuffie drag Archer away and wasn’t sure what that was about, and Nanaki had mentioned something about trying to find a better weapon since it appeared he was going to be in his current form some time. As for the anima, he had no clue where they went when they weren’t deigning the humans with their presence. Cloud figured everyone would gravitate to their assigned tasks tomorrow, after what they had all learned had time to sink in.
Frankly, it was a lot to absorb.
Vincent was alive, and his inner demon’s had escaped, becoming the new threat was completely unexpected. Then, there was the return of both Zack and Sephiroth, as well as the discovery of the existence of the anima, two points he had never thought possible. Tseng’s outburst had been entirely unexpected, not to mention finding out he was related to Yuffie. Cloud wasn’t even sure if he believed that fact alone, much less all of this mess. And his own anima was going to be of no use whatsoever, a truth that was causing him much thought.
Would he even be able to sufficiently lead the fight against Balaam? Could the others really put their trust in him if he couldn’t hold his own?
“I’m glad that we no longer have to fear for Midori,” murmured Aeris as she nuzzled against his chest. The blond brought up his hands and stroked her back, again surprising himself with how much he loved her.
He didn’t know what would have become of him if she hadn’t been returned to his side. He felt that in the end he might have been consumed by his guilt and feelings of unworthiness. And with Zack also returned to life, there was nothing for him to torture himself with anymore. Those he had failed had made their way back to life. There was nothing he had left to do to bring peace to himself. At last, he could be happy.
“You know,” began Aeris. “Barret came to me earlier with the strangest question.”
Cloud furrowed his brow. “What?”
The flower-girl laughed slightly before pulling back from his hold. Teasing jade eyes locked onto him before she replied in all seriousness, “He asked me if I would mind it terribly if he asked Elmyra to marry him.”
Cloud’s eyes widened in surprise. He struggled to hold in his laughter. “You mean… he asked for your /permission?”
Aeris nodded, a slight giggle escaping from her lips. The blond decided it was okay to laugh and let the noise escape him. His wife, meanwhile, continued her narration, the words only increasing the man’s mirth.
“He was so nervous, stuttering over his words and trying to sound all proper. I swear, that may be the only time I’ve ever seen Barret blush.” Her lips quirked even more at the thought. “He not only asked for my permission but my blessing as well, saying that he would never take a mother from her daughter.”
“And what’d you say?”
Aeris seemed indignant for the briefest of moments. “Of course, I told him he could. It’s obvious how much he cares for her.”
“I guess a wedding is on the horizon. I’d hate to see you and Elena get your claws in that one, too.” Cloud snickered as Aeris punched him playfully.
“It’s too late anyways,” the flower-girl announced cheerfully. “Barret already said that if my mom said yes, which she will, Elena and I get to plan it. And I already have something great in mind.”
Cloud groaned, instantly feeling sorry for his friend. Elena and Aeris, normally kind and generous women, turned into snarling dragons at the mere thought of weddings. He idly wondered if it was because Elena was single, and he and Aeris had basically eloped. Or did there even have to be a method for the madness?
“Well,” the swordsman stated and sighed. “If your display in the conference room didn’t scare him off then he can’t say he wasn’t warned.”
She playfully punched him again. “C’mon you. Let’s go home.” Cloud inclined his head in agreement. After all, Elmyra was planning on taking care of Denzel, and everyone else had enough sense to do the same thing. For the night, at least, it would be a chance to relax before the real work began.