E Pluribus Unum Part 1
Requiescat in Sanguinem
Daylight broke over the visage of a woman standing by the sea. Long, black hair flowed freely to a point just below her waist, ending where her form-fitting corset did. Any man who saw her at a distance would have lost his breath, as she seemed the image of a fantasy pinup: lithe legs in leather pants, overlarge breasts pressed into the position of ultimate cleavage, even a materia pendant placed strategically between them an excuse to stare?
At a closer look, a slightly different image would emerge. Her slimness was not due to good genes, but the presence of strong, hard muscles due to a now decades-long martial arts regimen. Among the smile and frown lines, the small battle scars on her face, she bore purple markings in a near-tribal design. Some were thick, dark, and nearly black; others were thin, spidery, and barely more lavender than her natural complexion.
She reached a hand to her pendant. This hand was callused and battle-hardened. Cradling it in her fingers, a smile began to creep around her face. If one were to dare to creep even closer to her, as close as one might stand near a dear, old friend, or a lover, her image would mutate further.
Her eyes, naturally a smoldering mahogany, had taken a metallic gleam of gold. They narrowed, not in the crinkle of a smile, but in a glare of determination. As her fingers clasped the materia hard, her smile transformed into a smirk. With a small nod to herself, she spun and strode confidently away from the seaside cliffs, towards the canyon before her. Walls of powdery blue stone would soon surround her, sheltering her final destination where glass stairs would carry her far beneath the Planet to the altar of the blessed. (Or the damned.)
A half-sane giggle escaped from Tifas lips. The sound barrier was broken, and while she walked, she began to sing
Veni, veni, veniam
Ne temori faciam
* * *
(Do it quickly, before you lose your nerve) she thought. Slowly, with a care few who knew her would recognize, she dismounted from her black chocobo. The trip from Wutai had been long and annoying. She wished, not for the first time, that her interest in chocobo breeding had been as intent as Clouds.
Yuffie winced at the thought, the memories, and concentrated instead on remaining un-nervous. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other, she plunged herself behind Lucrecias waterfall and into the cave beneath it.
The roar of the water shed just passed made her entrance and first several footsteps seemingly silent. The steady sound became farther away as she progressed deeper. And the deeper she went, the more oppressive the silence seemed to become. She grimaced with every footfall, every pebble she kicked, every slight whisper of breath she heard escape her lips.
I feel like Im walking around a tomb. She finally was approaching a place where the passage widened, though, and she became a bit more hopeful. Her final steps took her into a rounded cavern where, front and center, lay a coffin with a deep ebony finish.
No duh on the tomb observation, Yuffie, she said under her breath with a wry smile. She shook herself back into seriousness and concentration. Then, taking a deep breath, she slowly approached the coffin and examined it carefully. She smiled and nodded to herself, then reached forward and undid the clasp.
Suddenly, the lid flew up and its inhabitant popped straight up into a sitting
Yuffie screamed and jumped back, one hand covering her mouth and the other subconsciously floating to her abdomen.
Thats your greeting?
She moaned softly, taking a few breaths to calm down before replying. And thats yours?
Those who are polite, knock. Friends call more often than once every ten years. You must then be neither. Vincent examined her with a wary eye.
b-but how did you--
I may have been in here for the past ten years, and I may have been asleep just now, but no, I wasnt in stasis for ten years. This time is not like before. Im perfectly aware how long Ive been in here.
I was going to ask how you knew I was in here, but that does answer other wonders. Yuffie offered him a half-smile.
Youve already forgotten about my super-senses? Senility must set in early for the Wutaian. Though I wouldnt enjoy seeing the antics of your father after ten more years of deterioration.
Godos been dead for eight years. One of her hands flitted back to hover just over her pelvis.
I would offer condolences, but I doubt thats your reason for calling on me. He rose softly until he was perched on the edge of the coffin, then dropped down to the stone floor. I could guess, but I would rather you tell me. Why are you here? His voice was cold, yet gentle.
She swallowed. Ive made a mistake.
I daresay weve all made some fairly large mistakes since Vincents words trailed off as her head began to shake softly.
No, no, no not that kind of Yuffie grimaced. Well, weve been separate and big-headed and egotistical, so probably, but this is personal and big and
Vincent found that his mouth had gone dry. Why come to me?
I thought you might understand. A breath. He wrote to me. And he visited me. But he always tried to stay as distant as possible at first I thought he just needed to get his head back together. After his swim in the Lifestream and subsequent psycho time. Tore me up inside. Wed been seeing each other secretly, since the Gold Saucer, so I didnt have any right to stay with him in any of your eyes. So Tifa did.
She brought him back. From both his own head and going near catatonic
again in the Northern Crater. I just figured that was it. I had lost. I went
home, to protect and rebuild Wutai. Godo was sick and a slave-driver. For
the last two years of that bastards life, all I was doing was hocking
She swallowed. Avoiding the eyes and hands
of every prick he hauled in with more than a couple gil to rub together.
He wanted to marry me off, for a mere pittance, when
Vincents brow furrowed, and his eyes were clouded with bewilderment. You mean to say that you fell in love with Cloud?
Please dont tell me I was stupid and foolish. I was a teenager, and I was. I know I was. I dont think I would have gone for an arranged marriage, anyway. My feelings just made it that much worse. But then my father died. She laughed bitterly. I thought that was the answer to all my problems. Finally, I thought. I had all these ideas for rebuilding, gobs of cash saved from selling materia. The lords didnt care.
She saw his confused gaze. Ill explain. Wutai, bass-ackwards Wutai, is still under a convoluted system of noble families. I needed their support to do anything. I was the base, authority-snubbing, tomboyish dyke of a daughter of the most incompetent leader the country had ever seen. They wouldnt depose me, honor prevented that, but they wouldnt aid anything I tried. They were purposefully contrary. Then things changed. Everything worked out. Weve been happy and on our way up.
I thought you--
Its ugly, but its not what concerns me. She waved a hand. Right after I made the I mean, right after things began to turn around, Cloud began to write to me. This was probably four years ago. Eventually, he took some vacations up to Wutai. We were back to being close again. Friends again. It was wonderful and such a surprise. You know, none of us really kept in contact with one another, I dont think.
She continued. He always felt rogue, like he had nowhere to lay his head. No family. No hometown. I tried to convince no, at one point near the end, I was begging him to relocate to Wutai.
You still werent over him?
I had a twinge or two, but I was mainly concerned for him. You see, whenever he wasnt in Wutai, he was living in Nibelheim. Completely alone. Yuffie lifted her eyes to meet his. And then he disappeared.
Vincents eyes widened in shock. Hes just gone? He vanished?
Yes, he has. But
I did see him one last time. I went looking for
him, two months ago. Found him the first place I looked. That damn fake,
Her feet passed over well-worn cobblestones. She heard a melancholy tune floating through the air above her. Yuffies gaze fell square on the house in front of her. The replica of Tifas house. I should have known, she whispered sadly. However, she did not change her course and continued into the building and up the stairs
He was at the bench of Tifas piano, slowly but steadily playing the melody to the tune written on the sheet music before him. Dressed in black leather pants and a tight, sleeveless blue top, his physique was on display. Strong arms, muscular chest; Cloud Strife still did not look a day over twenty-one.
Her breath caught, and he chose that minute to pause his playing. Their eyes met, and he learned that he was not alone any more.
How long? He left his question half-finished.
Not more than half a second. Yuffie winced at the unspoken implication. (What, does he think I was stalking him? Peering in? Staring.) You know, she said, her voice growing a bit too-loud, you could have just told me. Instead of this.
Cloud rose. What are you talking about? He sounded genuinely confused.
The old times were a mistake. Or hormones. Being friends is too awkward. Im okay, but dont write. You wont see me again.
They werent! Yuffie, thats not what I not what
Eight months, Cloud. Without calling, writing, or visiting. Now I know I dont have any claim to you, but you could have said good-bye. Her face fell. Especially when I was so so used to having your company again. I liked having your friendship, even if I can never have She willed her tongue to stop moving before it went way too far in sharing her inner thoughts.
Its not you, he began.
I know, I know, Its not you, its me. But its all the same in the end.
He swallowed. Im sick.
Do you think I live here for fun? Do you think I want to be alone? Im looking for answers here. This is the place where I stopped being normal and became whatever Hojo made of me. Im doing research.
Why didnt you ask me to help you? Yuffie approached
him and, exercising restraint, took his hand in hers. I cant
stay here, but I can read. And look. And offer you a place to take your
He turned away. She wont get out of my head. I cant expose anyone to that.
Youre strong, and Im sure I can tell the difference between you and Jenova--
Its not Jenova. I think it may have something to do with that, and its what I started researching here but thats not my problem. No. I have someone breaking into my head every time I let my guard down, and its someone I thought was my friend. She was inside once. Clouds hands curled into fists. Now she thinks she has a right to be in there whenever she wants.
you dont mean ? Yuffie gasped. But how could she? She wasnt ever exposed to Jenova like you were. Manipulate materia doesnt have that effect, and doesnt last ten years, anyway.
I know. Shes seen things looked into more than the distant past. And shes jealous.
Jealous? But she seemed happy even after that first time we were at the Gold Saucer together. Debacle for us, but she was glad I got to spend some time with you.
A little while after Meteor, when I was sitting around here trying to figure out what had been done to me I realized shed gotten inside somehow, was digging. I blocked her out. Cloud looked up and into her eyes. I decided, then, that no matter what had happened or might happen with us, I would stay away from you til I was sure she was gone. It took six years.
He reached up and brushed a hand down the side of her face. And then I came to make my peace with what-ifs. Say goodbye. But you were free. Alone. The way you looked at me His voice caught. I couldnt leave. I decided to take it slow, so we werent just using our memories. Kidding ourselves.
Her voice started to tremble. B-but then you disappeared again
Shes back. Not full-time, thank the Planet, but I cant keep her out.
What does she want? Yuffie whispered.
I dont know. But from my experiences, I know I have to keep her from getting angry. I have certain memories and areas of my consciousness blocked--for now.
Youre going to tell me to leave and not come back.
His look was anguished. I dont want to put you in danger. Dont you know I care for you?
A strange fire began burning beneath her eyes. No, no I dont. You havent done a thing to tell me or show me. Not in ten years.
Do you think I havent wanted to? The last time I came back to you to say goodbye. Get my last glimpse to help me fight her back out of here. He gestured to his head. Out of my mind, leave it for me because I can have you, in my mind.
She scoffed. Screw that, Cloud.
He looked at her, wounded.
If theres something you want to do or say, youve got
about five seconds. Then Im walking out that door and going back to
It seemed like he was there before the words had left her mouth. His hands clutched at her lower back, drawing her tight against his body. His lips began at her neck and marked a trail upward until he found her mouth and kissed her hungrily.
Yuffies arms curled around his neck, and she matched his eagerness, mark-for-mark. He broke away, tongue and lips running across her collarbone as his hands slid up her form-fitting top. A moan escaped her as his fingers touched a more sensitive spot; the noise stirred him from his mad pursuit.
We shouldnt. Clouds breathless voice vibrated against her shoulder.
Maybe not. She bit her lip. But I dont want to be safe. I want you, if only once. Slowly, she peeled off her shirt, then replaced his hands on her breasts. She pulled his head back down to hers and deliberately ground her hips against his. A brief pause, only to utter the words, Dont. Stop.
It was mere moments and slow motion all at once. He laid her down on the bed even as various articles of clothing were being flung across the room. Fingers, lips, tongues explored the exposed skin of the person before them. Their cries rose to a level threatening to awaken the ghost town outside, and then he was within her, finalizing the long-delayed consummation.
Yuffie fell to pieces beneath him; he slowed. Her eyes fluttered open with a sudden realization. She arched her back, and his world exploded.
You shouldnt have Cloud mumbled.
A smirk. I told you not to stop.
I dont know if Ill be able to black that out. Keep it away.
Maybe I dont want you to block out that I love you. Silence.
He sat up. Its dangerous for her to know Im in
This story, while in the range of too much information, is nice and all, but whats the point?
This isnt me whining or anything. Yuffies voice wavered. He was gone when I woke up. All I found was this. She thrust a bit of fabric into his hands.
Vincent arched an eyebrow at her before unfolding the white cloth. His eyes widened as he examined it. What, was this the pillowcase?
She closed her eyes and nodded. It looks like its written in
If this is why youre here
One of the reasons. Not the only.
Vincent continued. I can confirm your suspicions. This was written in Clouds blood. I can smell it.
She sank to the floor, shaking. I didnt want to be right.
You found this two months ago? Have you gone to anyone else?
Yuffie shook her head. Theres no one to go--
We would all, I should hope, he said, voice quivering with restrained anger, care about this. Especially since it involves three of us. He paced. How did she get this power? Whats her motive? Do you have any idea?
Id like to know. I havent seen her in ten years, of course. Cloud hadnt either except in his mind. She forced her way into his dreams, his thoughts, raping his own brain!
Its disgusting, Yuffie. I will never deny that. I am a bit curious, though, why you would taunt someone Cloud was so afraid of.
I wanted to be with him! Her voice had risen to nearly a yell.
Did you have to do it on a replica of her own bed? Thats not the way to avoid the wrath of the psychotic!
Her eyes widened. I--I never even realized, Vincent. Though I dont put any of it past her if itd happened in a neutral place.
I dont really, either. Its just Im a bit concerned. If Clouds disappearance and this note are her reaction to one night together He looked at her, and she met his gaze steadily, confirming what his suspicions and senses had told him.
She swallowed, fighting back tears.
how will she react, Yuffie, when she discovers that youre carrying his child? Vincent moved next to her, placing his good hand on her shoulder.
Drops swam in her eyes, which were fixated on the object dangling from Vincents claw and the words written upon it:
The two chief scientists of what had (ironically) been dubbed The Jenova Project were pacing amidst the chaos.
Gone. The voice was melancholy, empty. Our labors are all for nothing. The sentence ended in a near-growl.
Red? Arent you more worried about the dead? Reeves shock was painted on his face. She apparently killed everyone on duty, down to the interns.
Never was his old friends feline gaze more unnerving. You know what the purpose of our research was for, Red XIII hissed. If they were dead, but we still had our results
That was your goal. He sank down into a nearby desk chair and surveyed the lab. Filing cabinets ripped apart, the contents burned. Cabinets with every piece of glassware, down to the stirring rods, shattered. Mine was to help everyone tainted by Shinra get themselves somewhere back near normal. His eyes rested on the device that theyd spent the majority of their post-Sephiroth, post-Meteor lives developing. The only intact object in the building, aside from an elevator and a handful of cameras.
Still the humanitarian. Though youve got a few million lives pressing down on your conscience. Im sure I would be, too. He crept around the holding tank, eyeing the bolts and tubes and pipes.
I checked it already, Reeve said, changing the subject. Its in perfect working order. Not a damn o-ring is out of place. Pristine like the day we built it.
Which is the problem.
He was silent for a moment. I would say its a problem, developing a machine that extracts Jenova cells, and coming in to work one morning to find someone has deliberately drained it.
But its whole. And its not like it goes in reverse. Grimaces were even uglier than normal on an animal face.
A nervous laugh. Apparently, it does. Our security cameras, which seem to have been deliberately left alone, show a woman entering the building, slaughtering our colleagues and friends. She smashes everything to bits, straps herself in here, just so-- He gestured to the Collection Point, which looked like a chair with tubes radiating from it.
Yes, the tapes also show that it was Tifa Lockheart!
Jenovas a shapeshifter. You know that as well as I do.
Red XIII gave a small nod. We also painted a huge target for whatever consciousness she has left, gathering cells here.
If shes collecting every remaining bit of herself and reforming, we ought to warn someone, he murmured. The two of them sat in silent contemplation for a few moments. Neither moved to leave.
Suddenly, a burst of static emanated from Reeves hip. He snatched the two-way radio from its holster and held down the comm button. Yeah?
It was one of the security officers posted at the entrance to their building. Weve got a couple of rather insistent visitors who claim to be friends of yours. Normally wed let them up, but
The person who did all this looked like a friend of ours.
He exchanged a look with Red XIII before continuing. Who is it?
There was an extended pause before another, very familiar voice came over the channel. Im here with Yuffie. Judging by the security measures and the reactions of people around here, I suspect youve already had an encounter with the reason for our visit.
A growl. He dropped off the face of the Planet for ten years, but he knows?
Reeves eyes widened in realization. You cant possibly think--
He has Jenova in him!
Since when do they get along? Red XIII demanded.
They managed to put aside differences to save the Planet, if you recall, came the soft reply.
A brief stand-off. They stood a few moments, regarding each other. Then Red XIII gave a slight nod and walked over, placing his muzzle near the radio. Bring them up to us.
* * *
Lets check for someone in Junon, Yuffie, he says. Is there something youre hiding from me? Yuffie asked as she was led, along with Vincent, to the elevator.
Turks know how to find things. Information and people. The two of them stepped inside, and he pushed the button for the laboratory.
I would have never guessed. She smirked.
No, not judging by the ones you got to meet back in the day. They stopped making them like they used to. He did not smile back, but his eyes softened a bit.
Apparently! she laughed, as the doors behind them slid open.
I see some of us havent changed, growled Red XIII. I see youre still making light of times of trouble.
Its not my fault youre such a sourpuss. She made a face at him, then turned. Long time no see, Reeve.
He nodded in greeting.
So how did this odd partnership form? Vincent asked.
Reeve crossed his arms. Could ask the same about yours.
She came to me yesterday with some rather awful news about some friends of ours. His stance and expression were equally wary and stony.
My friends from Shinra days were having problems stemming from the Mako/Jenova treatments of the past. The only research Id ever found was a book of Professor Gasts at Cosmo Canyon. I went back there about six years ago, found Red, and we formed a partnership.
In the largest building in the city? Formerly Shinras?
He threw his hands up in the air. Im the only surviving executive of the most powerful power company in the world, how do you think Im going to make a living? Another power company. A different styled one, though. You could say theyre franchised. Barret even managed to get one built in New Corel.
Impressive! Especially considering what happened to the last one. Yuffie offered a small smile.
Red XIII turned abruptly and walked into a small security station next to the elevator. Catch up is good and all, but Im more concerned with what you know about all this.
Exchanging glances, the others followed his lead.
The four of them leaned over the surveillance monitors and were silent as the loop from 3:00-3:30 a.m. played back.
A woman entered the lab. Slender, but strong. Her steps were quiet, light, and perfect; she nearly appeared to be floating. Her dress was dark, her hair long, and her face covered.
Her movements were slow and deliberate. Some of her blows were physical, while others occurred seemingly with a twitch of her fingertips. Flames of pure magic, not materia. There she stood amidst the chaos of her own creation, reigning destruction in a dance with perfect choreography. The figure paused, removed a mask, and sneered at the camera.
Yuffie gasped in spite of herself, and Vincent nodded. So it is as I thought.
Wait, Reeve gasped, you really think it is--
He held up his hand, as the footage kept rolling.
One thing was left pristine in the room. A piece of equipment that consisted of a chair-apparatus connected to a holding tank. Even in grayscale, the contents of the tank appeared to glow through its glass containment. Tifas feet seemingly slid to a position next to it. She traced her fingertips along the glass, down and around each metal support, and finally placed her whole palm on the tank.
Like a frostbite victim trying to feel the fire, or a medium reading the portents of a crystal ball. She smiled at the camera and mouthed something.
Rewind it. Yuffies voice was barely audible.
what did she say?
They watched again as the malicious smile formed, and the lips formed soundless syllables. Hello, Yuffie.
She shook her head and pounded the screen with her fist. I havent done anything to you!
Vincent pulled her back. So, she seems to be draining the contents of that tank. He turned to the others. Whats in it?
But Red XIII growled, Why Yuffie?
Reeve broke the impasse. Nothings in the tank. Not any more. It used to have all the Jenova cells that we removed from people we were trying to cure. Restore to normal. It takes multiple treatments, and we didnt want the cells free to do whatever. So we kept them.
So someone could waltz in and take them? How foolis--
It doesnt work. in. reverse. He glared. Come on, youll see. He pointed to the device standing in the laboratory just beyond them.
First of all, said Reeve, the subject sits in this chair, just like so, and straps the connection straps at two points. The first goes over the neck, we pinpoint the jugular vein. You saw Tifa do this. The second goes around one of the thighs, we pinpoint the vena cava. Blood is taken from the vena cava, run through our filtering system, and then replaced in the body via the jugular vein.
What does that have to do with the no backwards capability thing? asked Yuffie.
Well, the Jenova cells come out via the filtering process basically, they end up falling down in the filter area, into the holding tank. Even if you could reverse the filtering system, you couldnt get them out of the tank. You would just be taking blood from the jugular and putting it in the vena cava. And its all blood from the veins, so it wouldnt do a bit of difference.
She only put on one strap, said Vincent. She didnt reverse the filter, she just used the portion of the cycle that returned substance to her bloodstream. And she had enough power over the noncorporeal cells to call them back to her.
Red XIII began pacing back and forth. Thats impossible! She didnt make a single adjustment to the system. Its exactly how we left--
Its not. At least, I certainly hope that what Im seeing is not what the tank was like in pristine condition.
Three very puzzled sets of eyes were now scrutinizing him.
I do not perceive things as you all do. No response. His voice took a turn for the sarcastic. My Jenova superpowers allow me to see that there is very minute etching all over that glass tank.
A few moments of stunned silence overtook the group, in spite of all the unusual events theyd been becoming accustomed to.
Vincent? Yuffies voice wavered, breaking through. It doesnt say Yuffie, does it?
Even I cant see that well. I think its microscopic.
Reeve was instantly on his radio. Hey, Reg. Bring up the handheld digital scope from my truck. And the monitor, since Ive got no working consoles up here.
* * *
The guard most likely left in an even more disturbed state than he had been in when he arrived. Reeve had quietly instructed him to set the equipment down in the middle of the floor and then leave them in private. He began to scan the tank on his own, steadily increasing the levels of magnification.
Now, I dont need to know your projects planned end, whether you were being philanthropic or wanting to acquire power. Lets assume you were being philanthropic. When it results in this rather large tank full of Jenova cells, apparently sealed forever, what were you going to do with it?
Seal it even more impenetrably.
then? Vincent raised an eyebrow.
Shoot it off into space, Reeve called cheerfully from the tank.
Yuffie and Vincent shared a look of bewilderment.
I got in contact with Cid awhile back, he continued. Ive been funding some research. Though we hadnt decided yet whether we want to shoot it so far it escapes orbit, or place it into orbit where we can go up and monitor it. Either way, the technology to get a crew into and out of orbit is in place now. He looked up and saw their faces. What? She came from space, I figured we should send her home at last.
thats not it, said Yuffie slowly. You stopped looking at the screen. Theres words on it. I cant make them out yet.
He adjusted the focus. It looks like they were etched on the inside. Reversed. He stepped up the levels of magnification, and the letters grew larger and larger.
The messages in the glass remained a mystery. They had slowly analyzed them. The pattern kept repeating itself: four individual lines, over and over. Some letters slightly differently etched than the others. Strings of words that simply did not make sense on their own. Dusk fell and the four of them were already exhausted.
What do you suggest we do? Give up?
Shes mad, Reeve. Insane. She left us gibberish and thought she was being clever. Red XIII shook his head. This is beyond us.
Just because you cant figure it out, doesnt mean its gibberish!
Vincent noticed that there were only two voices arguing and eyed Yuffie carefully in his peripheral vision. Her face was pale, and she was tottering back and forth. He couldnt tell if it was hunger or exhaustion, but he did not want to let it escalate.
You can waste all the time you want on this. I do not care. I will spend tomorrow conversing with security and the police, looking for actual leads on her whereabouts!
Excuse me, said Vincent.
What? Red XIII half-snarled, turning to face him. Are you going to offer your veiled opinion on this matter, when you have yet to tell us the important reason you showed up on our doorstep?
I have no tale of my own to tell. Since you were not exactly gracious hosts, weve been here all day with no break for a meal. I see Yuffie over here on the brink of sleep, and I realize that we should eat and find an inn.
Yuffie noticed that all sets of eyes were on her. Ive been a little under the weather lately. I think my story can wait until the morning, but Her voice trailed off for a moment. I think she left a clue here. I think she left a clue with me. I think she wants me to find her. Her hand trembled slightly as she moved to brush a piece of hair back behind her ear.
Come along. Vincent reached his good hand down to her, helping her up. With a surprising amount of warmth, he guided her towards the elevator, his hand on the small of her back. He turned back for a moment. Gentlemen. We will discuss plans in the morning. What to do next, because I dont think we should all sit here alone playing codebreakers. If nothing else, because weve a shortlist of the next people shes likely to visit in the night.
* * *
Yuffie looked tiny on the opposite end of the booth. She had her arms wrapped around herself defensively. Ill just have whatever your soup of the day is, thanks.
Youve not eaten all day.
Chicken salad sandwich, added Vincent as he handed the small menus back to the waitress.
I didnt know you ate.
Its for you.
She grabbed her water glass but, instead of taking a sip, she moved her hand, swirling the ice cubes. Im not that hungry.
You are not like me. You need food, especially with your stress levels up so high.
Lifting her eyes from the ice water, she studied his face intently. is that why youre being so nice to me?
Of course, Yuffie. Its not because I could identify with a psychotic person wanting to harm both me and a person I cared deeply for simply because I wanted to be with her. That couldnt be it.
Her brow furrowed. But in your case, they were already together before
I think youll see, in Tifas mind at least, she saw things a little bit differently.
The waitress arrived, setting their food in front of them, and laying the check down on the table. Vincent pushed his plate until it sat in front of her.
A quiet understanding between them, Yuffie grabbed a sandwich half and took a cautious bite.
* * *
They slowly walked back to Ghost Square. Not a word had passed between them after theyd seen Just who the hell do they think they are? Shed said it earlier, and she would be saying it to her dying day. Fuck the Shinra. Everyone was tied to them.
Even us, she said softly.
Huhn? Clouds response was less than eloquent. Quite fitting, given the nights events.
We hate the Shinra, avoid them at all costs, and spend time trackin their damn mistake and our lives are still all messed up because of them! We trusted Cait maybe it was a mistake it was a cat, gawd but he ended up being Shinra. Yuffie paused before the stairs in the lobby. My fath--Godo told me that I couldnt trust anyone on the outside. That nobody was what they seemed. Everyone was fake. I just said the last part of my thought. Everyones fake even us.
Were not fake! Were going to find Sephiroth.
Why, Cloud? I know its not just revenge. I know what revenge looks like, acts like, and youre nothing like it.
I have to. Or I wont make it. He started to go up the steps.
Are you lying to all of us? Faking with all of us? A tear slipped down her cheek. I know I hurt you all with my materia scheme in Wutai. I said I was sorry! Why did you have to do this to me?
He turned back. I didnt do anything
Lets ignore everyone and everyday. Talk about tonight. I cant believe you acted the way you did messin up that play bein such a jerk in the gondola. Why did you even go with me if you hated me like that? And why did you let me think if She closed her eyes. Nevermind. Just get the fuck away from me.
Let you think what?
Stop actin like you had no idea what you were doing. Protectin me when we were fighting. Helpin me with my seasickness. Rescuin me from that pervert up on Da Chao. She bit her lip. Why did you have to be so nice? Why couldnt you have just asked me to stop when I was tryin to be nice back tonight?
A strange light flickered across his face, and he glanced around himself nervously. Its complicated, Cloud whispered. Im complicated. Sometimes Im not even me. Barrets crazy and obsessive, Cids old and bitter, Vincents a freakshow, Red XIII is too quiet, Aeris is some lost race and also constantly finding trouble, and Tifa
I get it. You an her. A sniffle.
No. His eyes bored into hers with an intense emotion behind them--was it fear? She changed. She doesnt even know it yet.
Yuffie grabbed his hand. Then why--
Its not safe, and Im not ready. Its too hard. I like you too much to more than just nice would hurt you. I wanted you to leave me alone and be safe. I do like you, so much that Im telling you nice.
She nodded. I just
My first kiss, and you didnt even kiss me back.
He fully turned back towards her and touched her face. Do-over for both of us. And he brought his lips down to hers.
Then they broke apart.
Well have to tell the others what we saw..and heard in the morning. Barret wont be happy. A pause. Goodnight.
Sweet dreams, she whispered back to him as he climbed the stairs. As he made his way down the hall and into his room, she got a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach. Like she wasnt alone. She turned behind her, to where the other end of the inns hallway formed a balcony in front of the stairs and met a pair of smoldering burgundy eyes.
She screamed and bolted upright, panting in her terror. Even then?! A moan. No, no, no Was the dream memory or message or symbolism? And paired with the clear recollection of her post-date gushing to Tifa in their shared room at Ghost Square Yuffies stomach was turning in time to pace her tormented mind.
Vincent had turned to watch her with concern at first scream and became quite worried when he watched her stumble towards the bathroom.
On her knees in front of the toilet, she gagged and dry-heaved, but nothing would come out. The churning slowly passed, and she sank back, sitting on her feet with her head in her hands.
I would have woken you earlier, had I known this would be your wake-up call. Vincent stood in the doorway.
Why? She didnt move a muscle.
Reeve got a call a little after daybreak. He swallowed.
Hollow fear began to build within her. It took a lot to unnerve Vincent.
Barret said there was an accident in Corel.
An accident that was probably something you-know-who did on purpose?
Quite likely, dont you think? he asked.
I dont know what to think any more. I dont know what she wants with us or if shes just trying to get to me.
No one knows except for her. He reached down and helped guide her back to her feet. Now I told Reeve that we would meet them at the dock as soon as you were rested and ready to go--
I cant eat now, and Im done with sleeping for quite some time.
He patted her on the shoulder. Then, as soon as you are ready, Yuffie, we are flying to Corel. I think we should prepare for the worst.
* * *
They touched down in the dust bowl. The four figures exiting the Gelnika were obscured by the sand swirling around them. They were silent and had been silent on the trip, for the most part.
When Vincent had inquired of the details of Barrets early morning call, Reeve could only manage to answer: He sounded like he was about to go crazy. Not not Barret crazy. Not angry. About to snap completely and jump of a cliff crazy, with his last words making less sense than Clouds mako-induced haze.
Red XIII cocked his head. Shouldnt we talk to Cloud about this? Tifa being a childhood friend and all? Plus, Id imagine hed be Barrets first choice for back-up.
Yuffie had just curled up into a ball where she sat, willing her new waves of nausea to go away. There was no time to explain her problems; not when she had the gut feeling that the new development could very well be much, much worse.
Vincent had just set his mouth. We better be contacting everyone we can, after we find out the details of what happened here.
As they approached the outskirts of the town, they were met by a familiar, yet unexpected face. Olive complexion, clean-shaven head, any trace of emotion obscured by dark sunglasses.
Fancy meeting you here, Rude.
He remained expressionless. We all had to get work somewhere, Reeve. I pulled the unlucky card of being head of security at the energy tower here. Reading Yuffie and Vincents expressions, he added a bit more information. All energy towers using Reeves technology are, as far as I know, either thermal, solar, or hydroelectric. Ours receives thermal from mako as well as solar, given the amount of sun we get in this neck of the woods.
I assumed it had to be along those lines, given Barret allowing its erection. Vincent scrutinized his surroundings. Its abnormally quiet around here.
I dont blame them for hiding. I would, in their position. Ive met you here on purpose--for many reasons, your meeting is to take place in the tower.
New Corel was like a ghost town possessed. The streets were empty; seemingly, the buildings were, too. Yet beneath the solid, silent exteriors, Yuffie could sense activity. Those hiding inside, fearing for their lives, were also angry beyond belief. Trust had been breached. The unthinkable had happened once again.
Someone needed to pay.
Shed taken to the habit of walking quite near to Vincent. The vibes the place was sending off were so disturbing that she found herself clutching his arm to help her continue walking. As her hands came to rest at his elbow, she caught a knowing, cynical look shot from Red XIII to Reeve. She shuddered at the implication of her sudden closeness to their most mysterious comrade. At least the truth will surprise them more, she thought to herself.
It was a relief to arrive at the power plant, where a slight buzz of activity was allowed. Still, they felt the glares of distrust from the few people milling about.
Hes just inside, Rude assured them, as he led them into the building. They walked down the main passage, through a doorway, and turned into a narrow corridor. The door at the end was their final destination, and they filed through it, one-by-one.
Yuffies heart lurched forward. Even though she and Barret had never really gotten to the point of friends, she knew the man in front of her was the perfect image of misery. She knew because shed learned misery well.
Mr. Wallace? Rude was the opposite of his nickname, the epitome of businesslike politeness.
His intense eyes looked up through hollows. I think ya can just use Barret at this point. I won be boss for much longer, and aint no way in hell, I will be mayor. I be lucky if they dont lynch me for this shit.
Barret. Reeve stepped forward. Im still not sure whats happened, aside from the fact that it took place here. Youre not the only one having troubles, though. Thats why Im not the only one who came.
It was at that point that he truly noticed the members of the group that had filed through his office door. He sprang to his feet. Joyful surprise softened his face for a moment. Red! Yuffie! Vincent! Why, kitty-thief-coldman! He laughed to himself.
Yuffie was astounded as she was enveloped by a sudden embrace, followed by a mane-ruffle for Red XIII and a hearty handshake for Vincent.
Yall came for me?
We all would have come for anything, had you just asked, Vincent said. However, we came on our own volition, because we knew chances were high that your problems were His voice trailed off.
Horrible. Yuffie broke in. Youre not alone in this. We need to know your story. Then we can compare it with ours and help or solve the problem.
Good! If theres somethin terrible going round, we can fight it. Barret gave his gun-arm a loving stroke. And if yall already know, then maybe we can set some bad stories fuckin straight. He eyed Rude suspiciously.
They could see repressed anger behind his façade, as he protested. I am only reporting what someone who saw her said! Before he because she He shook his head. I know there was no love lost between you and Reno, but he said what he said because he wanted vindication! Not because he wanted to hurt--
Why dont we hear the whole story, see what we can add with ours. Perhaps you are closer to the same page than you think, Reeve suggested, as he nodded over to Barret.
Im gonna start at the beginning, so Yuffie and Vince herell understand. Ever since I got back to Corel, Ive been mad about improvin the place. It was my fault that Shinra ruined everything more my fault for leavin them to be nothin more than a way station to the damn Gold Saucer! But the Shinra zecutives were right about one thing: minin coal was dirty and dangerous. And the people here still wanted power. And work work that wasnt so hard as coal.
Five years past Meteor, and were all stuck in the same damn shit as before. No matter how much materia I sell, how many gil pieces I invest in the town everyone still hates me. Cuz they can never go back to coal now and be happy. But its a secret hate. He laughed, bitterly. Nobody in Corel would go around bad-mouthin no guy who pays for the school, the roads, makes up bullshit jobs so were not all dependin on the Saucer tram. They despise me anyways, jus think I dont realize.
I ran for mayor. It was stupid, but they was even stupider, cuz they elected me. So I decide to see if maybe somebody since Shinra has found a way to make power thats not Mako or coal. And Reeve here had. Now, I had trouble trustin him at first He shook a finger in Reeves direction. part of me thought to myself, once a Shinra, always a Shinra. But he done me good. With his compnys money plus Corels money a.k.a. my money, we built this tower. No problems. Good jobs, good power.
It was a rebirth. We called the town New Corel, after. For five years, we been happy. They stopped hatin. I would go into the mayors office from 9 a.m. to noon, and then work here 1 p.m. to 8. Marlene had friends at school and was our secretary in the afternoons. I even got over my Shinra hate and hired these Turk goons. Three of em, in charge of security. Could have one here round the clock, if I needed em.
Barret sat down, then, his face contorted in pain. We was happy. All of us, even if the work was hard sometimes. It was better than coal. Or an ass-beating His voice died, and he shook his head, overcome.
Rude broke in. There was a breach in our security. Not that our security was ever exceptionally tight. Our biggest fears out here were pranks and vandalism. Not everyone around was as happy with the new power supply as the majority were. We generally only kept two personnel on duty in the middle of the night. No one would visit, and one person was usually sufficient. Especially considering one person was always, always a Turk. Who wants to harass the night shift, especially when they make sure your house stays nice and cool in this heat? Last night, one of our regular guards was ill. A pause. So Elena joined Reno on duty.
You essentially had more security than normal, Vincent stated with surety.
A nod. Elena was working a double shift, on top of it, so around 10 oclock, she was getting pretty hungry. She called Marlene to ask her a favor--to bring her up some dinner. Thats the last thing we know for sure.
Yuffies mouth went dry at the sound of the name shed last associated with a four year old child.
Marlene had left around the time Barret went to sleep, so he didnt miss her when she didnt return immediately. No one heard the screaming until 2 a.m. Rude swallowed. The nearest neighbor to the plant called Barret, who called me. The two of us prepared for the worst, and still didnt comprehend what what we found inside.
Is she I mean, if there was screaming, she couldnt be Yuffies voice broke through the silence, stuttering the thoughts the rest of them had swirling in their heads.
She was the only one alive. Every worker on duty Reno Lane He shook his head. Everyone dead, but shes all right. If you can call being tied up and forced to watch the murders of two people all right. Shes in her home, with a nurse, under sedation.
She looked at him knowingly, watching the nervous fidgeting, the tics, as he kept trying fruitlessly to hold back any clues to his emotions. I cant imagine
I can. Rudes voice cracked. She fucking bled them dry. What she did to the workers was horrible, I wont deny that But what she did to the last--the best was brutal. And no one has any damn clue for a motive!
I been tellin you, a dyin man dont have to see straight! How do we know it was Tifa? How can we even be thinkin its her? From the look on Barrets face, it was obvious that this was already a major point of contention.
Did Reno identify her by name? Vincent asked quietly, eyes on Rude.
He said she didnt look the same, but yeah. His dying breath you think hed waste it on something petty and old as a grudge against AVALANCHE?
My condolences. Its always hard to deal with a comrade going down.
He was quiet for a moment, then reached up to adjust his sunglasses. Thats not the worst of it, actually.
Its not? Red XIII looked up. Has she accessed mako from the thermal devices? Done something else suspicious?
Its easier to show you, Rude replied.
* * *
They passed cleaning crews on their way to the heart of the plant, which seemed to be shut down for the time-being. Rude paused outside the doors to the main security room. We collected evidence, photos, are finished with every other area of the building. Here things are untouched, because she was cruel and deliberate. And we believed that with Reeves assistance, we could decipher something He waited a moment to recompose himself. I have seen many terrible things. This room is among them. I understand if not all of you follow me. I wish none of you had to.
Yuffie bristled slightly at the concerned looks shot in her direction. Just because every new piece of this puzzle freaked her out more didnt mean she couldnt handle receiving more to help solve it! Tifa seems to have become terrible. If we dont look at what shes done, we wont know how to keep her from doing more.
There was a collective setting of jaws as they entered the crime scene. Two chalk outlines were all that remained of two people who werent necessarily friends, but not quite enemies. Splashes of a dark red-brown color covered the already dark walls. The splashes didnt make sense, though, relative to the bodies.
This isnt just terrible, said Red XIII. There is something weird about how she left the room. Its off.
I can tell you all, from way too much experience in destroying people, that these patterns of blood were not caused by its exit directly from the body. Vincent grimaced. She placed it where it is, most likely with purpose.
Purpose? But we cant see the damn shit! Barret squinted at one pattern that took up most of a wall. Wait I can make out a letter or two L U S.
Reeve snapped his fingers. I have an idea! Let me grab the bag I brought from the Gel.
They huddled together as he left for the office, seeking quiet solace in each others company until he returned. With a couple spray bottles and a digital camera.
I told you, were not cleaning it yet and weve taken plenty of damn pictures, okay? Rudes voice took on an edge of desperate anger.
You all called me because I have some science knowledge, and you trust me. Keep on trusting. The camera is to take pictures of what happens after I use the bottle, because the effect isnt permanent.
Rudes face remained set and skeptical, while Red XIII appeared to have suddenly realized what his lab partner had in mind.
He rolled his eyes and stepped up to the patch of blood that Barret had been staring at. Watch. He worked quickly, pumping the trigger on the bottle, lightly covering the surface.
Suddenly, they all could see the letters L and U (as well as others), glowing with a bright blue-green.
Wait, Mako sticks to blood? Barret looked as bewildered as most of them felt.
Reeve smiled. This is luminol. Its a substance that glows when it reacts with other substances. One of them is blood. Even if this room had been cleaned completely, we could have used this to see where the blood was.
Im glad this wasnt well known when I was a Turk, said Vincent. Though, at least, I may have been spending too much time in prison to fiddle with the project in Nibelheim, then.
Theres downsides. It will destroy a good amount of the blood sample. Also, it doesnt last forever. So lets hurry. Coat everything, take pictures. Weve got a few hours of luminescence at this strength, but if its anything like what she left on our tank well need time. He handed off bottles to Rude and Vincent, standing back with the camera to take a shot of the wall hed covered.
What she left Barrets voice trailed off, and he looked at Yuffie. Whoever did thiss been somewhere else?
She nodded. Yeah. Stole all the Jenova cells that Reeve and Red had extracted from people Shinrad messed with. She took a deep breath. Better now than never. And she abducted Cloud, or mind-controlled him, whatever, in the middle of the night. He hasnt been seen since.
Everyone except Rude and Vincent paused in surprise.
Cloud? asked Red XIII. How do you know this?
Because because I was with him at the beginning of that night. Her eyes blazed fiercely. She left me a message as well. Well have to sit down, put em together, and decipher them, because its beginning to look like shes either batshit insane or an expert in code. Both? She nodded at the words now enveloping them.
Yuffie lay down in her borrowed bed, pulling the patchwork quilt around her. She passed her fingertips over the various pieces of fabric, fitting into one another like pieces of a puzzle. She wondered if the things that Tifa left in her wake could ever fit together like this, like the gift Elmyra had given to Marlene.
She snuggled into the fluffy down mattress. Im supposed to be resting, but I just feel useless. Shed emptied her stomach contents as soon as shed left the tower, and Vincent had insisted she be given a place to lay down while they started to work on Tifas messages.
Her hand came to a rest on her abdomen. sometimes I wonder if Ive lost it. Or is this just what its like, to have Jenova cells inside? Is there a barrier? Am I just one of them now?
Should I just be waiting for my time to go crazy?
Sleep was just as much a stranger to her this evening as it had been for the past two months. Laying her head back on the pillow, Yuffie fought her deepest worries and listened to the voices that rose through the not-thick house walls.
* * *
Theyd stared at the walls of the security room until the luminol went dim. Every wall was the same. It wasnt enough to create one huge bloody message; it had to be repeated so there was no way it could be missed.
Barret had gone to spend the night at Marlenes bedside; shed been transferred to the local clinic. Hed given the rest of them the use of his house to rest and regroup. Theyd sat down to a meal of bland take-out, and Vincent had convinced Yuffie to get some rest.
Rude sauntered over to the kitchen table that was to be their brainstorming area. He slid his long legs above and onto one of the two thick benches that was on either side. As he did so, he methodically set a bottle of vodka and four shot glasses onto the bare wood surface in front of him.
I doubt Ill be drinking, said Red XIII.
A shrug. Ill save it in case I want to switch to something harder. A bitter tone had entered his voice, and he began to pour himself a shot. Anyone else?
Vincent seemed to take his for nostalgias sake more than effect, and Reeve could barely tolerate his. Rude immediately was downing a second after the last drop of his first hit his tongue.
He set the glass down, his brow furrowing. Hed removed his sunglasses. I never drank at times like these. That was a Reno thing. I needed to do a Reno thing tonight maybe itll help me see what happened to him.
Reeve placed printouts of the security room on the table, then added to it images of the Junon holding tank etching. Here are the notes we took on the letters. We noticed a continuous repeating pattern. Four lines repeated. Three of them contained sentences, and the fourth contains a word or words that we dont know. He placed one blown up image on top of all of them. Here is the repeating pattern in the second type of etched letters. While you were all asleep last night, I was getting a computer to do some of our work for us. Its why I was awake to take Barrets call.
What are the sentences? asked Rude.
I am alive here, let me out. She says shes coming. There is more than one.
Whos alive? Where is here? Whos coming? More than one of what?
I dont know, said Reeve, and I think I need another shot.
Whats the repeating pattern within the odd letters? Can you write it down so I may look at it? Red XIIIs tail twitched behind him, leaving patterns of alternating glow and shadow upon the wall.
Rude looked at the blown up image. O I T A I T E H E N R M T N R R N C H E R, he recited as he wrote down the letters.
So theyre not in any sort of word order, correct?
And its not every instance of a particular letter? Every E is not etched in the secondary way?
From this picture, it appears random, said Rude.
Reeve recapped the liquor bottle. Hes right. Theres not an obvious message that pops up. That pattern repeats, within a pattern of the four lines that repeats so those letters could very well be part of another message.
Is it really code?
Code or an anagram, said Vincent.
Im better with anagrams, Red XIII said. Pass the paper.
Reeve scrutinized the image again. I tried to use the computer to crack the code. Unless its a code of words in the Cetra language or some other unknown tongue, its not a code.
Rude grabbed another sheet and began to tear it into squares.
Vincent arched his eyebrow.
I work better with my hands. Id have asked if there were a word board game about, but then I remembered. Were in Barrets house. He chuckled. Hes got a world of spirit, but I know from some of his memos that language is not his strong suit. He placed twenty-one squares in front of him and copied down the letters.
I doubt all those letters go to one word, said Reeve.
Do you think its a sentence? Rude asked, randomly shuffling the papers about, hoping that inspiration would strike.
If the other lines in the glass were sentences Red XIIIs voice trailed off, his head cocked to the side as he stared at his sheet.
One line was gibberish as far as we can tell. Also, shes insane. Vincent leaned back, skeptical. What if its just so sorry, my Jenova now? or something equally silly and petulant?
Cant be. Theres no S or J, Reeve replied, with a grin.
Rude began to pull pieces aside.
Do you actually have something? Vincent asked.
I just decided to pull out simple words I saw. Heres in, and He moved some more papers around. Theres the.
Pull out a while youre at it, then. Wait! At!
At least in and the could be part of a phrase on their own, Rude retorted.
Reeve set his glass down firmly, third shot down. For shits and giggles, lets see what letters youve got left.
Moving in and the to the side, Rude moved his hand, gesturing to the remainder:
O A R T E R M T N R I N C H E R
Can I pull out a word, can I? Reeve seemed to be getting closer to the edge of intoxication.
If its stupid, put it right back, advised Vincent.
Reeve pulled up pieces of paper. Ta-da! Crater.
How on the Planet does the word crater help us? The one crater we know collapsed. He shook his head. Pass the alcohol before I slap you.
Rude cocked his head to the side, glancing at the letters left.
O M T N R I N H E R
A shuffle. Nothing. Another.
Give it up, said Vincent. At least put Reeves silliness back.
N R H O T M I E R N
Wait. I see north, Rude said.
Is there an -ern? Reeve smiled.
Holy shit. He pulled the letters out. Look.
IN THE NORTHERN CRATER
That leaves i and m Im in the Northern Crater Or is she? Vincent consumed another drink of the vodka. What if its a trap?
If she wanted to kill Barret or me, she probably could have done it while we slept last night.
She certainly could have found me in Junon, Red XIII added. Reeve?
He nodded in response. Seeing what happened here, and at the lab, I know she could have gotten to any of us if she chose. We dont need specifics, I suppose, since shes not here to ask, but how was Yuffie sure Tifa did something to Cloud?
Hed pretty much stated that he was in fear of Tifa as soon as she found him. Hed isolated himself because of it. So when she awoke next to this instead of the man whod been there the night before Vincent pulled out the bloody pillowcase. She made an assumption. She came to me to prove it right. I can assure you that someone took Clouds blood to write this message. And in light of all these things, I only have one idea.
Ideas are good, said Reeve.
A cynical smile. This one isnt particularly nice. Tifa deliberately left Yuffie alone, despite having the perfect opportunity to harm someone she deems a bitch, at the least. She didnt go after either of you in Junon, but she went after your machine. The brutal deaths in the power plant the only link is Jenova.
What about the messages? asked Red XIII. Those dont mention Jenova at all.
She wants to draw us out, to her? The crater could be a trap. But, if Cloud is still alive, it would probably be the only opportunity to save him. Cloud lost a lot because of the experiments done to him. I dont think hes had the opportunities that youve all had since Meteor. Vincent stood up. Yuffie will go wherever she thinks she will find him, and I will toss my hand in, too. We have to find Cloud whether its to save him, or avenge him.
Reeve stood up, smoothing back his dark hair. Clouds sacrifice for us all was up there with Aeris, even though he still walked beside us, in the end. I am with you.
As am I, Red XIII nodded. I am certain that Barret will be with us, as well. It looks like this will be the most unlikely reunion.
As the three former members of AVALANCHE moved to leave the table, Rude spoke up from the bench. Wait. He looked up. I know I dont have enhanced abilities, and Im not all that smart. Im sure from your viewpoints, Im just someone who lost a lot of fights to you. Yet, I cant rest if I cant solve what happened to Reno and Elena. If this is a trap, I want to be beside you when you walk into that net.
Bring scissors! Reeve smiled.
* * *
The next morning, six gathered around Barrets kitchen, instead of four. Reeve immediately began to speak. I made a phone call before I went to sleep last night. Good and bad news.
Bad news, said Yuffie. I dont want to wait for the punchline from hell.
Tifa has apparently already paid Cid a visit. She left her mark on Rocket Town. Only on the shuttle. He nodded to Vincent. You may have been on to something last night. Cid doesnt think theres anyone whod been exposed to Jenova in Rocket Town.
What did the shuttle say? For a good time, call Tifa in the Northern Crater? Cloud plus Tifa equals Smiley-Face? Ring around the rosey, die you motherfuckers? The words fell out of Yuffie before she could even stop them. She wrapped her arms around herself.
Reeve shrugged. Cid spelled it out for me. W-E-C-O-S. He has no idea what it is, either. He was hoping we would. It happened about two weeks ago, and hed just assumed it was vandalism. Except for one thing; the message was burned into the side of the shuttle. Theyve refinished and repainted it already, so theres no point in looking at it.
Barret shook his head. So yall sure that this is Tifa?
Cloud was convinced that she was very, very dangerous, Yuffie said. Decide what you want, but I believed him. Especially after Her words trailed off, and she shook her head.
Cid wants us to pick him up before we head off. So I suppose this is last call. Are we ready? Reeve looked around at his companions.
Fuckton of ammo for the gun-arm! Barret gave his trademark pat.
Yuffie smiled, in spite of herself. I have a case of materia that I acquired lawfully, all for your enjoyment.
Is it all right that I left the positronic animals at home? Reeve grinned.
Perhaps, said Vincent, if we go in a strong, but cautious team we may save more than one friend today. We knew Tifa, and the Tifa we knew was not a monster, was not Jenova.
Save Cloud, then try to save Tifa? Red XIII nodded. That should be the plan.
She may have turned, like Sephiroth, but there was a point where Sephiroth could have been saved, had he any friends.
Lets go, then, said Rude. For friendship.
And hope, replied Vincent.
As the group filed out the door, Yuffie paused.
I know why Im fighting, Cloud said. Im fighting to save the Planet, and thats that. But besides that, theres something personal, too
Yuffie bit her lip, listening to his speech. But all I have is Wutai and nothing I do is going to help them. Itd probably be better off destroyed.
A very personal memory that I have. What about you all? He paused. And met her eyes.
She smiled to herself. So he hadnt forgotten?
I want all of you to find that something within yourselves. If you dont find it, then thats okay, too. You cant fight without a reason, right? So, I wont hold it against you if you dont come back.
The airship traveled very quickly, dropping off the crew and members of AVALANCHE. Yuffie wasnt sure why she faked her landing in Wutai, staying on that hateful ship as it made its way across the Planet. She felt the Airship come to a stop, hovering near the outskirts of Midgar. The motion sickness passed with the motion.
She realized it, though, as she made her way back to the bridge. Clouds still here. And hes all alone. However, as she neared the door, she saw someone else walk through it. Someone with long, dark hair. Puzzled, she continued on.
Cloud saw her through the clear panels of the door. He glanced at Tifa, then back at Yuffie. He shook his head, subtly.
That ass! Hot tears sprang to her eyes, as she heard the muffles of their conversation.
What are you going to do, Tifa?
Did you forget? Im all alone. I dont have anywhere to go.
This isnt happening. Gawd, I am such a moron! Yuffie ran down to the meeting room and huddled herself in the corner, as the tears continued to flow. He liked you. He even met with you a few times. But Tifa knew him first, and she was the one who saved him.
Its not fair! Im just as alone as she is, I have every right to fight for
Everyone was stunned the next morning, when she came back. Shed never left in the first place. Her home was in shambles, and her own friends didnt know she was coming back to join them when they were in trouble. Then, Cloud
She shook her head. It didnt matter. She didnt have to get anything back, to fight for love.
Yuffie nodded to herself, as she prepared to walk out to the Gelnika. For friendship, hope, and love.
And this time Im not going to leave the Crater empty handed because of you, you conniving bitch.
The bathroom in the Gelnika was tiny and utilitarian. Yuffie washed her face with the cold water from the sink. Cursing motion sickness. Cursing morning sickness. Her reflection showed a version of herself that she did not know: sunken eyes, face taut, thin and pinched; she looked like the victim of a vampire. Taking a deep breath, she tied her hair back with a red headband. She was in horrible need of a haircut; her trademark pixie had taken on a shaggy mind of its own.
She was met by Vincent as soon as she walked out of the door. Were almost there.
Im ready. She nodded. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.
He didnt respond immediately; his eyes seemed to be searching for something in the distance. I know youre capable.
Thank ya much. She rolled her eyes and moved to walk away, but he grabbed her by the arm.
Dont take this as an insult. I want you to stay as far away as possible.
Why? She yanked herself away, furious. Just because--
Because I got entangled with someone Jenova ensnared, once. If a form of Jenova arrives, fight. If Cloud needs it, help. I wont let anyone be destroyed like I was, though. If she gets to you, itll only be through me. You dont deserve that.
Vincent. A tear slipped from her eye. I understand. But you need to understand, too. Youre not the only one whos lost something important. Not the only one that wonders, Am I even real anymore? She paused. This should have been impossible. She placed her hand over her abdomen.
All the more reason to keep her away at all costs.
A shudder passed through the body of the craft, as it made its landing descent. Theyd arrived.
* * *
The Northern Craters face had changed, but its soul hadnt. A fine mist of mako energy permeated the air, like a green veil. The winds that passed along the outside ridge were frigid.
So, what? Are we all gonna go down then? Cid asked, lighting a cigarette.
Reno and Elena couldnt take her, apparently. Rude swallowed. Why would we risk not going full force?
Meanwhile, Vincent and Red XIII had walked a short distance away from the group, eyeing the crater for clues to Tifas whereabouts.
No Vincent paused, peering down into the crater. About two hundred feet down, he could see a large, flat platform area formed from an outcropping of rock. Upon it, he saw a figure, and what appeared to be a large crystal of solid mako. He motioned to Red XIII, and then he pointed down. Confirm this.
His good eye searched the area, his feline ears twitched forward, and he gave the air a sniff. Theres someone down there. The smell of Jenova is strong, but beyond that, I cannot say. Given the amount of people Hojo gave Jenova injections to in the first place, and how many survived the Reunion It would almost have to be Tifa. Reno and Elena are dead, add in our treatments, and you and Cloud just may be the only individuals with Jenova cells anymore. Red XIII grimaced. And Tifa, after the lab incident.
Over here. The request was quiet, as Vincent motioned to the others. Were going to keep it down, and try for an element of surprise. He pointed to the west. I see a decent path that way. I think Reeve, Barret, and Cid should take it. A nod to the east. Another way down over there that is a bit harder and more direct. The four of us will take it. Were a little more agile, and hopefully will be as quiet as you are.
Well need a signal, Rude said. We cant have one team going in without knowing if the other is prepared.
Ill wave my tail in the air twice, said Red XIII, that should be bright enough to notice. Barret can fire one shot in response, and well approach that platform.
The group split and began their advance. Even though years had passed, and the crater had collapsed, they all found that their path felt natural. When Sephiroth had been defeated, they had secured the fate of returning to that spot for the third time.
The final time.
* * *
From his vantage beneath a large boulder, Vincent could just spy the other group reach their destination point. He looked back at his concealed companions, nodding at Red XIII. Its time.
With cat-like grace, he leapt just beyond Vincent, lifting his tail into the field of visibility for the other team.
Suddenly, they heard a voice calling out to them. Can we end this charade? A cold laugh. I watched you all, with my eyes and my minds eye. Friends, lets hold a council like human beings.
The sound was Tifa, yet not. The warm, sweet, naïve tone their friend had at twenty was honey to this voices vinegar. Yuffie felt her heart dive down as the four of them exchanged glances, trying to deliberate their position non-verbally.
Dont make me force one of you out here. I could, you know. They watched her emerge fully out onto the platform from her point of concealment. There are seven of you. Come out slowly. I am here for good, not ill, despite your assumptions.
Slowly, they emerged. At Vincents insistence, Yuffie was at the rear of her group. She was the last to see Tifa and could not stay the gasp from her mouth.
Her face was marked with lines of black and purple. Her eyes glowed yellow. A white streak had formed in her hair, just at the right temple. While she had never dressed very modestly, her practical style had changed to something more provocative, in stays and leather.
The strangest part, however, happened as she moved. Parts of her seemed to phase in and out of reality. If an arm moved; first the phantom skin moved, then the core. Flesh tone, then purple. The human mask seemed like it could no longer contain the alien.
Tifa! Barret cried out. Why? Whyd ya His voice trailed off, losing muster on its way to accusing an old friend of murder. Marlene was there, he finished lamely.
The voice seemed softer, nearly human this time. I saved her. Her eyes flashed, and the voice was cold again. She couldve died like the rest of them, but Tifa insisted. A lot of things became messy to keep Tifa happy.
Yuffies stomach suddenly lurched, and she leant against the stone wall next to her. Not now, this is not the time. She turned and placed her forehead against its cool hardness. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and saw that the wall was the large mako crystal Vincent had seen on the ridge.
Her scream interrupted Tifas rambling. NO!
Vincent went back to her, as a smirk crossed Tifas face. Her fists pounded and pounded, and as he reached her, he grabbed one arm. The other reached out, palm raised, fingertips positioned to brush the face that was buried inside.
The blue eyes were wide open, yet sightless. Arms outstretched but touching nothing. Face contorted in pain, lips locked in a silent scream, Vincent was eye-to-eye with Cloud Strife.
Rude stepped in, supporting Yuffie, even as Vincent turned soundlessly from the gruesome sight in front of him. The only noise anyone heard was the cock of a pistol.
He had a gun to Tifas head before anyone realized it, even her. Yet, she laughed.
I will not hesitate to kill you.
She was right.
What? he snarled, digging the barrel deeper into her temple.
Tifa said if I took him, no one would notice. I had to make a show. Lure you all here. She thought, hoped, you would all jump at the first sign of trouble. But no one came. So I stole myself back, piece by piece. I came back to finish the job with Cloud, but there was one piece missing.
Her fingernails dug into his neck, tearing his flesh, loosing an artery. He lurched to his knees, still holding the pistol up, and she kicked it away. An afterthought. His blood spurted like a fountain, and she held her hand out, thrilling in the flow.
Fuck! A hail of machine gun bullets flew straight towards Tifa, Barrets full force unleashed. Red XIII dove back behind the boulder, and Rude fell down, pressing Yuffie to the ground under him.
It was unnecessary. Tifa held up her free hand. The bullets slowed to a stop as they approached her, and they fell harmlessly to the snow. The hand thrilling in Vincents blood was starting to hold what appeared to be an iridescent blue blob.
Vincent, Yuffie sobbed.
I think its finished, Tifa said, half to herself. She held up her hand, and the blue coated it, traveling down around her body before slowly sinking in. The other hand made a simple gesture, and the bleeding stopped.
Vincent weakly touched his hand to his neck in surprise, then brought it down and stared. Something was different.
You meddling cretins, she said lightly, in her cold voice. You always thirst for power, and then fuck it up every time you get it. Miserable fools. I give you a gift. A gift of myself, by myself, and you squander it. Afterwards, you take my body bit and parcel, spreading it to the ends of the universe like chaff on the wind.
She paused. Every single one of you I inhabited was the same. You wanted petty things. If you had power, you used it to punish others for wanting the same petty things. Even this one. I only kept on because she told me something of someone. A smile. My other half. Beyond this stupidity, she was not petty. She must have had my gift, but she gave it up for this. She gestured around her in scorn.
I take it back. Tifas face contorted in a snarl. I took it back. She kicked Vincent lightly. Every last one of you is now the pathetic mortal you should be. Even him. She strode towards the mako crystal and, in one movement, she caused it to shatter. With another twitch of her fingers, Cloud was floating prostrate. She allowed him to rest on a raised, flat stone.
Is he dead? Vincents voice was a hoarse whisper.
I have no mercy. Yet, I did not kill anyone that she cared about. That was the pact we made when we started this arrangement. Tifas hand slid up, caressing the light green orb that now sat inside the materia pendant. However, this one this one, she thought suitable for my purpose. I want to trade. Corpus corpori. That she was sacrificed while this waste lives
Shes going to try to resurrect Aeris? Yuffie heard Red XIII mutter behind her. Shell kill fifty, yet cant let the murdered have peace?
A broad smile passed over her face, and she raised her arms up to the heavens. Streams and tendrils of the Lifestream began to pass upwards, passing over, around, and through her on their route to the sky. They all heard a buzzing noise off in the distance, steadily approaching. Make me whole again, Tifas voice prayed.
The buzz increased to a roar, almost like an engine. A shadow appeared overhead, steadily growing.
Holy hell, look at that damn thing! Cid yelled from across the platform. That is a beautiful piece of fuckin aircraft!
For it was actually an airship. The nose was slim like the head of a serpent, and its wings flowed back from the center cockpit. Bright and red, like a fierce dragon, it steadily descended downward almost vertically, landing nearly on top of them.
A set of steel stairs descended, and they watched in awe as two figures emerged, followed by others. Catching their attention first was a man with tousled, shaggy hair, carrying the strangest example of a sword that they had ever seen.
In front of him, on her knees, a young woman had burst forth. She had short dark hair, but familiar marks on her face and a yellow glow to her own eyes. She locked eyes with Tifa, and one word escaped her lips.
All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition
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