Friends

By Alex Weitzman

Characters, things, events, and places in this story are based on Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII. Sue me.

Author's note: Yes, this is a continuation of my story "Cid Gainsborough". It will end up being a trilogy, this story being the second of the three. There is plenty of story to tell that wasn't told in my previous work, you know......

======================

David Nichols stood in a college dorm room, looking around as two people with no faces walked in. He backed to the wall. The last thing he remembered was laying down to sleep.

The faceless person on the left spoke. "Nice furniture."

"You get used to it. Anyway, are you ready to answer questions?" the faceless one on the right said. "What is your name?"

"You know my name."

"For the record."

"David Cid Strife."

"Is this your parent-given name?"

David couldn't understand what was going on. Suddenly, the room disappeared, and he was standing in a red-lighted room with stairs in the middle. Wires and tubes hung everywhere, and all around were containment vessels. David ran to the stairs. The top of the stairs had a door. Over the door read JENOVA. The sight stopped David in his tracks. The door opened and, in the darkness, he could see someone. All he could make out was the bottom of a white coat. The figure giggled and walked back into the room.

David awoke. He was right. The last thing he did remember was laying down to sleep. The visions disturbed him, but he got up anyway and headed off to take a shower.

=========================

David downed his waffles in seconds and proceeded outside, where his buddy Josh's car was waiting. Sitting inside were Josh at the driver's helm and Warren in the passenger seat. Hopping in, he said, "What's happening, fellas?"

"Nothin' much. I finally finished that stupid science assignment," Josh replied. Warren smirked. "Oh, you mean the one that was due two weeks ago?" Josh grinned as he stepped on the gas. "Yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about!"

They passed the overhead banner reminding the town of Bisgaard's bicentennial anniversary, celebrating the town's conceivence 200 years ago. David kicked back and muttered, "The pie-eating contest is mine this year." Josh snickered at the thought of David's belly after the festival, while Warren just shook his head. They stopped at the corner of Avery and Brisbois to pick up Amy. She jumped into the back seat with David and immediately began to tickle him. David howled between laughs for a release.

Finally making it to Domino High School, late due to Josh's reckless driving, everybody literally fell out of the car. They all looked up to see Mrs. Hoover's most disapproving face. Amy beat feet quickly, avoiding being spotted by the teacher. David noticed it, but said nothing. Amy's grades were far too good to have to deal with their lateness.

Mrs. Hoover raised the trio up and began to lecture while she handed all of them passes to the principal's office. "You seniors need to be punctual! Haven't you any regard for your future? You could go so far, and yet you all don't persevere!" She droned on for awhile, but none of them really listened. They'd heard it before.

========================

Amy, sitting in Planet Life Literature, perked up as Mrs. Hoover entered the classroom. Getting up and approaching her, she inquired, "Are they off to the principal's office?"

Mrs. Hoover, smiling broadly, replied, "Yep. How'd you know they'd be late?"

"Oh, come on. Like they wouldn't be?" Amy turned to the rest of the class, who all looked rather anxious. "Okay, now you all remember, after school, come over to Warren's house, and the party can begin!" Suddenly, several more students popped into the classroom, obviously ditching class. "Like, did somebody say party?" Amy muttered under her breath, "Never miss a cue...." She pushed them out, while saying, "We're having the multi-surprise party for the birthday shared by David Nichols, Warren Chermonte, and Josh Helms at Josh's house. So go!" Amy turned once again to the real invitees, all nodding at Amy's quick trick, and said, "Now, all we need is somebody to occupy the three of them until 4:30. Any volunteers?"

Everybody looked at each other, waiting to see who would be the staller. Finally, a hand raised from the back of the classroom. Amy looked over to a skinny, morose boy in the back. He said, "I'll take the responsibility."

Amy, slightly confused, replied, "You sure, H.R.? I don't think anybody's actually ever seen you do anything around here."

H.R. said bitterly, "Well, thank you. But sure, I'll do something."

Another classmate behind Amy whispered to her, "Why not let him? He's not very cool, so he'd just be an appendix hanging around while we decorate Warren's house."

Amy didn't want to exactly let H.R. for that specific reason, but said, "Okay. Mrs. Hoover, call the principal and tell him that H.R. will be their 'designated driver'."

======================

That afternoon, Josh, David, and Warren found themselves in the backseat of H.R.'s rackety, un-air conditioned car. All three were properly unnerved by the driver: Nobody liked this guy, and the last thing they wanted was to be seen in his vehicle. Unfortunately, they found themselves under a blanket in the backseat, hiding their identities as H.R.'s car continued to be stuck in school parking lot traffic.

David moaned low. Josh whispered, "Don't worry, he'll just drop us at Warren's and then Warren's mom can step in with this affair. She's the PTA prez, y'know." David nodded, but neglected to mention he was cringing more at Warren's tennis sweat than anything else.

The trio couldn't tell much else for awhile, but they did hear laughter at the odd lump in H.R.'s backseat. Finally, they got onto the road and found no more traffic. H.R. looked in back and said, "You can remove that thing. There's nobody else left to see you in here."

No answer.

H.R. reached back and pulled off the quilt. All three has passed out from the heat of the day and the heat of being under a blanket in his car. He snickered a bit and made a sudden swerve, not waking them. H.R. punched the gas and headed off into a different direction.

=========================

The next thing David saw was the inside of a ratty-looking living room that didn't have much more than a TV, a couch that he was sitting on with Warren and Josh, a curtain, and a hallway. He nudged the others, who then awoke. Warren, worried, stood suddenly and was about to speak when H.R. walked back in the room with a lemonade in his hand.

"Sorry to surprise you, but while you guys were resting, I realized I needed to collect the conclusions of a little experiment I've been running at home. So I drove us here and pulled you three out so you wouldn't die of heat stroke."

Warren calmed, as did Josh and David. Josh looked around, stood up, and inquired, "Okay, that's fine. How long will it take you to finish it up?"

"That depends on what happened. In the meantime," H.R. said as he pulled back the curtain, "you guys can play my very cool new virtual reality fighting game." He revealed a marked-off area on the floor surrounded in glass. Two helmets and two pairs of gloves with game buttons hung from the ceiling. While the birthday trio looked on with awe, H.R. flipped a switch and the sounds of running computers filled the room. "Built it myself. Try it."

Josh and David sprinted immediately into the chamber and began to play while Warren, left in the dust, could only shout, "I got winner!"

H.R. then said to Warren, "C'mon. I have to talk to you."

========================

Warren looked over all the test tubes, beakers, and scientific setup H.R. had in the room he had been taken. "Wow. You've definitely got the equipment here, H.R. I had no idea that you were so.....into this stuff."

H.R. plugged in a small TV/VCR and laughed a little. "Well, maybe that's because nobody really takes notice of me anyway." H.R. stood up from the uncompleted thought, chewed on a pencil a bit, and rushed over to a notepad to write, all the while muttering, "Yes......yes....that'll work well....."

Warren felt a little odd about all of this. "Um, your parents are at work?"

H.R. didn't answer, but instead looked up from the pad, grinned, stuffed a video tape into the VCR and flipped a switch on a remote. On the screen, an old man whom Warren didn't know appeared, seeming to fiddle with the controls on the tape recorder he's clearly recording himself with. Warren almost asked who the geezer was until he began to speak.

"Ah, there we go. Scientist's log: About 587 years after project initiation. Original purpose can be scrapped, as I obviously have new data to rehypothesize with. New purpose: To determine the true effects of Jenova-implantation and observe the odd ritual seeming to be repeated by the test subjects known as Cloud and Sephiroth."

Warren's eyes widened a bit as the man continued. "Ever since my......well, I can't think of a better word than rebirth, I have been intrigued by why I have retained my original memories and consciousness. For decades I have pondered the situation, all while playing the role of one who didn't come from so long ago. Yet, when I snuck into Cosmo Canyon and learned of the one called Sandra 6 years ago, I knew that Jenova was more than just a being. This Planet Life study piqued my interest enough to alter my purposes. Also hearing of the Cloud rebirth called Cid, I knew that Jenova rebirths were different each time; in this case, it's every 500 years. To assure that possible rebirths of myself later wouldn't lose my identity, I found another former SOLDIER and tested his cells, later turning the successful data on myself. I'm quite positive that my next rebirth, and any after that, will retain the same characteristics of my first life that I retained this time."

H.R. smiled a bit as Warren stumbled backwards. The old man coughed a bit, and then concluded, "Now, having heard of the defeat of Tion by Cid, not only would I like to observe these combatants try their luck against each other, I'd like to see what I can do to even out the score a bit. This is due to......the fact that I had not started this more enlightened experiment until after Cloud had already secured a victory. Cloud has two wins. Sephiroth needs two, then. Data and conclusions to follow later."

As the tape ended, Warren abruptly turned to H.R., who was grinning wide. As Warren watched, H.R. opened a door to a closet. Inside, two adults, one marked Mom and the other marked DAD, both purple and deformed beyond recognition as humans by obvious Jenova gene additions and normal gene subtractions. Above them, a sign hung, with the simple message "Hojo Reborn".

Warren, shocked with comprehension, muttered, "H.R. is...." Then he raised his voice and, without shouting, said loudly, "You hypocritical bastard. You call yourself a scientist, when you plan on 'moving the experiment around'?"

H.R. retorted, "Oh, c'mon, Bugenhagen. Your Planet Life crap may have been right for some reason, but it's far too theoretical to even count. There's only one science and it's experimental science."

Warren growled, then rushed out of the room and down the hall to see David and Josh in the virtual area, fighting each other. Josh had the upper hand due to the fact that he had a black belt, but David was holding his own. H.R. appeared behind him and said, "That's right. It's just a preview of things to come. I warn you, Bugenhagen, I'm taking quite an active part, because it behooves my experiment. I'm taking Josh to prepare him: I suggest you do so with David."

Warren looked over his shoulder at H.R. "Why are you telling me this?"

H.R. simply grinned and said, "Josh's car is outside. You take that to some place and I'll take mine. In three years, upon the 21st birthday, I think you'll run into us again."

Warren, realizing the seriousness of a prepared Sephiroth, pressed the shutdown button and opened the door. David and Josh tried to protest, but Warren, very stoic, grabbed David and just pulled him out to Josh's car, the keys laying on the front seat. As they got in, David finally completed the question, "What are you doing?!"

Warren could only utter, "Tell you when we get there."

========================

Driving out of Bisgaard, David couldn't understand what was going on. The couple of times he had tried to speak were of no success, as Warren seemed in some sort of strange buzz, leaving him close to prosaic in nature. Hence, David came to the resolution that nothing would make sense until Warren got to wherever the "there" he referred to was and became Warren again, and not this overfocused driving arrow.

Suddenly, David could make something out in the distance. A small farm with a humble silo, barn, and house sat close to the horizon. Upon coming closer, David noted how dilapidated it all was. He almost asked Warren what the place was, then reconsidered.

Finally, they pulled up to the house and got out. Warren immediately softened his face to a penitent look. "I'm sorry for the rush, David, but there were dealings in that house that just....weren't right. If you'll come in, we can sit and talk about it."

David waved his hand hastily. "Now, wait a sec, Warren. Where the hell are we? Why'd we leave Josh behind?" He paused for a quick sec. "And when'd you learn to drive?! Your parents flat out said you wouldn't even be allowed to take driver's ed until you're twenty! Not that I agree with your parents, but how'd you learn to drive?"

Warren sighed. "My parents are probably the highest on my current list of pitiable people. There's a lot they don't know about me. And I can explain it all if you'll come in."

They both walked in and sat. Warren got up and grabbed a couple of sodas. As he returned, he began, "Y'see, David, you're not what you seem to be."

"What?' David replied.

=========================

"Whoa," said David after hearing the story of Cloud in such a detailed manner. "So, I'm Cloud?"

"Yep," Warren replied. "Now, Hojo is back after over 1000 years and he's looking to tip the scales on his so-called experiment."

David snorted. "That makes him a rather lousy scientist, doesn't it?"

Warren nodded. "I suspect that science has very little to do with it anymore. There's something else driving Hojo. Something I daresay he's tried to hold back, but it's pressed him to this point. It's more obvious now, as he's clearly taking steps to do things against the usual scientific method. It's gotta be something big, too."

David nodded. "Yes, one would think so." A small proverbial light bulb flashed in David. "Wait a minute. You've been Bugenhagen all this time, and you've just been watching me befriend the reincarnation of Sephiroth?!"

Warren shrugged. "I don't think it will matter too much upon the final curtain call between you two. Josh will be so into the form of Sephiroth that you'll hardly recognize him."

David nodded, recalling the fact he had to fight Sephiroth. "So, what are we now waiting for?"

Warren said, "I have three years to prepare you for the ultimate fight. If you lose, the people of this realm shall suffer under Sephiroth and, most likely, Hojo ruling over all for 500 years until your next reincarnation. If we win, we buy another 500 years for the people. It's simple good vs. evil."

David sighed. His life would never be the same. Warren then jumped in and said, "I also have another surprise. Meet Vincent Valentine."

David sharply turned to see a dark, tall, ominous man with a claw on one hand and a large gun in the other. He wore a crimson cape that covered his features, but the masking part of the cape was falling enough to see some of the scars on the bridge of his nose. David shifted backwards in his chair, saying lowly to Warren, "Um, didn't you describe this guy to be of Cloud's era and looking EXACTLY like that?"

Warren nodded. "Vincent is probably the worst of Hojo's experiments, as these tests alters the very rules by which Jenova cells work in the Lifestream. His extensive gene manipulation has caused his rebirths to be a complete resurrection, just as he was before. Therefore, he has the same scars from the original project. As a trade-off, it takes double the time for his revival: 1000 years." David whistled low. 1000 years was a long time.

Vincent shook his head. "Do not consider the 1000 years any difference to me. Be it two years or two million, to come back to this body is the true sign of a curse. But I pledged my help to Cloud a millenium ago and I have another chance to make Hojo cringe in pain. For that I am eager to take on the responsibility of aiding your training."

David nodded and said, "Well, thank you."

Warren grabbed a green sphere from a clothes hamper and tossed it to David. "Let's start then! To begin simply, what Materia is that?"

David stared at the glowing orb. After a long minute, he looked up again and muttered, "Huh?"

"What Materia is that? You know, which spell?" Warren repeated.

Vincent looked on with concern as David flatly said, "I'll be damned if I know." Warren quickly advanced up to David and said, "You don't know?! It's an Ice! A mastered Ice!"

Vincent patted Warren's shoulder, signaling that Warren should cool down. Suddenly, David spoke up. "Hey, wait..." He snapped his fingers. "Vincent! I've seen you before! In a dream! You were coming out of a coffin!"

Warren stood there, speechless. "Dreams? Cid didn't have dreams..." David, hearing that, said, "Who's Cid?"

Warren turned once more to David and said, "You rebirth every 500 years. Well, it's been over 1000 years from the original 'event'. That rebirth inbetween was a boy named Cid Gainsborough. To fix the time-space balance of the duel, the Planet birthed Cid at age 19 to no parents. He did retain something of his past life as Cloud, however. He retained Cloud's knowledge. He didn't have direct memories, but he knew things by intuition. Like how to use Materia. But you.....you don't know, do you? Instead, you're having dreams that are simple flashbacks, aren't you?"

David nodded. Warren slapped his forehead. "The Planet.....didn't know everything." He turned to the now-confused Vincent and explained, "The Planet and I both knew Jenova bodies would retain attributes in rebirth. What we took for granted was that the pattern was steady. Rather, Jenova bodies will switch attributes to retain each rebirth. That means all of Cloud's attributes are locked somewhere-" He pointed to David's chest. "-in there."

Vincent, picking up on it, "WHICH MEANS he can use Materia as long as the dormant ability is awakened."

Warren grinned. "I think I know a place where we can talk about Materia to beings that know about this stuff..."

========================

Meanwhile...

At Warren's abode, his mom helped as Amy guided the entire Planet Life Literature class in finishing the decorations for the party. Warren's mom approached Amy and said, "My, my, you're doing a fantastic job. How'd you get such command over these kids?"

Amy grinned. "I'd say all of them owe me for helping them out on exams, but maybe it's just my sparkling personality." Warren's mom smiled and returned to garnishing the cake and directing the other kitchen helpers.

Amy looked at the cake. It read, Happy 18th Tri-Birthday, You Terrible Trio. Amy chuckled. "They certainly enjoy flattery." She still wondered how three people could end up as same-age friends and then find out their birthdays are all on the same day.

Of course, Warren did introduce David to Josh, but he didn't know either, she thought.

Finally, someone yelled, "It's 4:30! They'll be here any minute!" Everybody rushed to a spot for hiding. People were being pushed out of the bathrooms, and every plant had a backing partygoer.

Amy quickly flashed out a comb and straightened her brown hair as she hid behind the armchair, located close to the front door.

After two minutes, everybody wavered a bit.

After five minutes, people were getting restless.

After ten, somebody said, "This is severely dreary."

Amy shushed the individual and hissed, "They're almost here. I know it!"

The door began to open. Amy grinned with triumph.

The guy at the door said, "You order thirteen pizzas?" Amy slapped her forehead and paid the man, taking the food over to the kitchen.

Twenty minutes later, nobody was hiding anymore, but rather partaking of the birthday feast. Amy stayed near the door, as she muttered, "What's keeping them? Where could David be?"

===========================

"Crater National Park?" David said incredulously. "C'mon, Warren, we were here on that field trip in 8th grade. What is it that could be so important here?"

Warren shook his head. "David, you've gotta remember. I'm Bugenhagen originally. I'm much wiser and have seen much more than you can dream of. The fact that I don't act like an old fogey, as I said before, is because I'm naturally energetic and I'm living life young again."

Vincent said, in his usual dry manner, "Boy, that must be fun for you, Bugen. Getting to relive your childhoods."

Warren grinned. "You think that's something? Shoulda seen me 500 years ago. I was a babe. And THAT was new, believe you me."

David was lost on the whole conversation, so he tapped Warren's shoulder to get him out of it. Warren complied and led the other two across a bridge and under an arch doorway in the outside wall. After that, they stood over a large crater of white rock, square-shaped.

"You see, David," Warren explained, "there are TWO Craters. One is at the North Cave, which may very well be where Hojo has taken Josh to become Sephiroth. The other is here: the former Temple of the Ancients. Of course, the millenium of ignorance to its actual identity has caused the founders of this park to fabricate a story to what it really is. They are, of course, wrong. And any second now, the Planet should do us a very big favor..."

Suddenly, a large blast was heard. David and Vincent looked around, then at each other and shrugged. Then, after a couple of minutes, all three could see a small dot in the air that seemed to be coming closer. It was a small sphere of black, and it hit straight in the very bottom of the Crater the trio was standing at now.

David began to say, "Isn't that a..." but Warren shushed him and pointed to the bottom of the Crater. The sphere began to pulsate with colors and then physically expanded for five minutes. David and Vincent were thrown from their feet, but Warren just stood there. When the dust cleared, Vincent gasped at a familiar sight. The Temple of the Ancients had rebuilt itself into its original building form.

Warren nodded at Vincent, who then helped David up and walked him inside.

======================

Inside, Warren led Vincent and a trailing David to a small pedestal. Warren whispered, "Stay close to me..." as he took a small greenish stone out of his pocket.

Vincent immediately recognized it, and turned to David, pointed at the rock, and said, "That's the Keystone. That'll get us into this temple." David, unable to stand much more, went straight up to Warren and said, "Okay, Warren, that's it. I've taken enough of this ancient mystical surprise stuff you're pulling out of nowhere. I suggest to you that you start coming clear with me and stop startling me with every step you take!"

Warren shook his head as he entered the stone into its proper place. "David, the big problem here is that you look at me and see your childhood buddy. You need to start looking at me as a trainer, or you will never survive your destined battle with Sephiroth."

As they descended, David was completely oblivious as he retorted to Warren. "You mean Josh?! Listen, Warren, there is very little anybody can do to make me fight Josh! I know all that Sephiroth crap, but if I go to that fight and he isn't some 'one-winged angel', then I will not fight him!"

David looked up at his surroundings and saw that everything had changed. Now he was surrounded by a myriad of staircases leading to more staircases. Doorways were sporadically placed around the area. The oddest thing was even though the temple looked small on the outside, the space was huge. Not even that, but it was so huge, no walls could actually be seen. He muttered under his breath, "He's a tae kwon do black belt as is. Geez, he's already a hard fight."

Oblivious, Warren said, "One could conceivably wander these paths forever. But, we're not so blessed for eternity, as we only have three years. So, the planet has, once again, come through for us. During my 500-year Lifestream time after the event of Cid and Tion, the planet, anticipating our possible use of this place, has briefed me extensively on the directions of getting around these places and to where we want to go. I admit, I questioned the learning at first, but now I realize it was quite crucial. The Planet, as always, is in enough control to assure our success." He walked about five feet down, with David and Vincent following behind. Warren then walked to the edge of the path, which overlooked a long drop around many staircases in many directions. Warren motioned to David to come over, then pointed down. "Look down there."

David looked over. As he looked, he realized that one wouldn't fall on a staircase, but would instead fall into a doorway placed like a hole. "Hey, is that where we want to go?"

Warren nodded. Vincent, also looking, said, "This would have saved Cloud a lot of time the first jaunt through."

Warren grabbed David's left hand who, in turn, used his right hand to grab Vincent's claw. They looked at each other, flashed thumbs up, and jumped. The triad plummeted down into the doorway, which led them to fall into a purple pool in a dark, slightly lit pathway room. The pathway was home to innumerable U-shaped rocks rolling by. They began to climb out when some figures began to appear, startling the threesome so that they stayed in the liquid of the pool.

The three figures formed themselves into women. One was tanned with mousey hair and what appeared to be a brown one-piece swimsuit. Another was fair-skinned with black hair and a yellow one-piece swimsuit. The oddest-looking of the bunch was attributed with bluish skin, silvery hair, and a purple one-piece. Warren nodded as he dog-paddled to stay up. "Ah, the three sisters. You're just the ones I've....we've been looking for."

The black-haired one approached Warren, reached to his hand, and pulled him out. The bluish one pulled out Vincent, and the tanned one pulled out David. The black-haired girl spoke first. "I am the eldest of the three sisters of the Temple. My name is Pollensalta, though I have gone by many other titles. These are my younger sisters, Snow and Jemnezmy. Why do you seek us?"

Warren pointed to David. "Examine him. Your purpose will be clear upon finish." David began to stutter as the three shapely females approached him. "Um...wait a...how do you plan to....examine.....um....hold it!.....back off!...." He repelled himself so much that he fell back into the liquid, where the sisters followed. In the water, David was defenseless and they began to move in and out of his head.

They then stopped, climbed out of the liquid and pulled David out. Pollensalta approached Warren again. "He is Cloud. You have brought him here to seek the wisdom of the Ancients for the battle with Sephiroth?"

Warren nodded. "He must learn the ways to use Materia. Otherwise, he will never defeat the evil."

Pollensalta nodded, then turned to her sisters. "Snow! Prepare the training field! Jemnezmy! Find Cloud something to wear and fight with! We begin the training tonight!"

========================

It wasn't the first time that Amy disobeyed her mother. She really didn't care anymore: things were just too bad at home for her. Her father and mother were in such marital stress that they feuded around the clock, and that was something Amy didn't need. What she needed to do was find David, Josh and Warren. She was most worried about David. The police had been searching, but nothing had come up. However, something inside Amy pressed her to investigate the school again. The cops hadn't found anything there, but she comforted her intuition with the fact that they only inspected the place once.

Without Josh's ride, she had to grab her bike. She helmeted up and began to pedal towards the campus. It was twilight, as the sun was just fading completely away. She moved faster, hoping to be able to examine in some good light. She sighed as she remembered her mom again, who had explicitly told her to not try to go off on her own. Amy brushed the memories of her mom off. David or not, she wasn't planning on being in that house much longer anyway.

Eventually, she made it to school. Then the hunt began. She looked in all the windows of all the rooms, shining her flashlight into the darkened classrooms to see if they were there, doing anything. She still wasn't sure what had pressed her to come, but something told her that someone could definitely be found. Soon, she had eliminated all the classrooms. This meant nook and cranny time. Bathrooms, garbage containers, bushes, all the trees around the football field. All was in vain.

But Amy wouldn't give up. She did know of one other place she could look: The gym roof. The only way of getting up there was through the stairwell in the locked gymnasium. The only way for quitters, that is. Amy moved several garbage containers together in the form of stairs, and climbed up to a lower, connected roof. From there, she platform-hopped some air conditioners and pipes and scaled the side until making it up there.

As Amy began to look around, she saw another figure on the roof. A small light on the roof floor revealed the bottom of a white coat reaching down to its feet. Oblivious to the coat, she yelled out, "DAVID!" It turned to face her and dropped to its knees. Now closer to the ground, the small light revealed long hair. A woman.

Amy, unsure of who it was, moved a bit to the side and slowly picked up a metal rod laying there, taking a defensive stance. Having now seen Amy move into the light, the woman picked up her head a little and said, as if she were dying at the pace of snails, "I.....I know....you...."

Amy responded with a "Huh?" and walked closer. The woman suddenly said loudly, "Don't come any closer!" Amy stopped, but the small light by the woman now shone on her face. She was covered in boils that looked greenish and purplish. Other than the colorings of her face, however, she did have a sort of beauty to her. Amy whispered, "Who are you?"

The woman looked up at her, with pure purple eyes, and said, "I am....Lucrecia. I...came here looking for my son."

Amy knelt down beside her and said, "What is his name?"

Lucrecia began to stare into space.

Amy shook her a little. "Lucrecia?"

"Sephiroth..........."

============================

Three years later....

"Is he ready?"

"He is," said Pollensalta to Warren. "We have trained him as much and as hard as the Planet asks. Cloud is prepared."

Warren, worrying a bit, sauntered over to a space where he could look into the Temple training field. David, whose hair had now naturally grown to resemble Cloud's, was exercising the mastered Bolt materia on several quick-moving targets. Nailing them all quickly, he then noticed the spare Bolt materia on the ground. The one that was born after Cloud's mastering of it. He picked it up, tossed it up and down a bit, then grinned. He threw it high in the air and pulled out the Knights of the Round. Calling them forth, the Bolt was chopping into fine dust as David laughed and the onlooking Vincent chuckled a bit. Warren turned to Pollensalta after seeing the spectacle and said, "How prepared?"

"We have trained his abilities. Nothing was said about his tendencies."

Warren shook his head. "He won't think of me as anything else but his childhood friend. I can't help him like that."

Vincent walked in and said, "And what is so wrong with being his childhood friend?" Warren turned to see him. While Vincent still looked as ominous as ever, there was something different about him. Before Warren could retort, Vincent added, "Just a thought."

Pollensalta asked Vincent before he left, "Has today's training been completed?"

"It's done. Let the boy rest." Vincent turned to exit as Warren note what was different. He could see it in his cheek structure. Vincent was smiling.

David watched his "trainers" from the arena through the very same opening Warren watched him. They were obviously discussing the "destiny" he was going to have to live up to very soon. David was aware of how many years it had been, how much he had grown as a warrior of Materia, and what Warren truly was. What he was also aware of was what made him seem subordinate: the family he once had, the friends he once knew, a life changed forever. And Amy.

As Vincent motioned to him from the doorway that he could leave, David muttered what he muttered after all his training sessions, "If I face Sephiroth, then I shall kill. If I face Josh, then I shall not."

As Warren transferred into the room they all used as a "living room", though it was adorned with ancient artifacts and the such as one would find in a temple, he saw a light emanating on the wall over the couch. He stopped for a second, then got a bit closer as the three sisters, Vincent, and David came in from behind.

David began to say, "What is it?" He stopped himself as the light began to shape itself. Everybody got closer to it.

Suddenly, the light burst forth, surprising all six of them and bringing them to their knees. As they painfully started to open their eyes, David could see what was happening. The light was turning into something tangible.

It was....a blade. A long, wide, purplish blade with a highly decorated sword handle. Warren, finally able to see it, said, "Ah...the Ultima..."

David replied, "Y'know, I think I've seen that in several of my dreams. That's Cloud's ultimate weapon, right?"

Vincent nodded. "It's like a blast from my past. It's been so long; it reminds me of the incredible journey I had taken with Cloud, Tifa, and all the others."

David stood up as the others stayed on the ground. He stepped towards the sword and took it off the wall. Its light stopped coming forth so strongly and everyone was able to stand up. Warren brushed himself off and sighed. "You know, David....you know."

David nodded. "It's a sign, right? That it's time?"

Vincent furrowed his brow. "THAT'S what the Planet calls a sign? Personally, I think that's rather corny."

It was Warren's turn to furrow his brow. "And when did you get sardonic?"

"Huh?" Vincent replied.

Warren shook it off. "Never mind." He turned to David. "However corny it is, it's clear. Tomorrow is your 21st birthday, and the sisters tell me your training is complete. I think that it's quite obvious where you'll meet Josh ~ I mean, Sephiroth."

"Wait a minute, not Bisgaard?!" David said.

"It's the most likely solution. We're not talking about a Sephiroth whose goals center more on destruction of others' lives. By now, we'd have heard that Sephiroth was tearing up places. Clearly Hojo has trained him to be focused on fighting you, and just that. Since there's no reason to meet anywhere else, like Junon or Corel, Bisgaard is an easy choice for them. I'd guarantee you that you'll find Hojo and his Sephiroth at....well....at home."

David stood there for a second, thinking, then nodded. "Fine then. We'll leave in the morning."

======================

There was nothing literally special about entering Bisgaard. Like any town, you'd see a little sign on the right that noted the city limits, then just watched as small establishments whizzed by, growing into larger stores and businesses. People were coming and going just as anyone's life would lead them. But the most pressing and obvious feeling that there was nothing special was that nothing had noticeably changed in the last three years. A couple of stores were different, but that was it.

Still, the ease that anybody would feel in the homey-ness of Bisgaard didn't come upon David. Instead, he felt odd. Just plain and simple oddness. Sitting in the backseat with Vincent while Warren drove, David could only look out upon the streets and wonder. Rising to his voice, he muttered, "I can never truly go back..."

Vincent caught that. "Hmmm?"

"I'm a part of something else now. I'm no longer a member of this community. It feels so strange to me; to be home while knowing it is no longer my home anymore."

Vincent seemed sullen, then smirked as he remembered something. "Well, here's a thought. Try it on for size." He pulled out a picture of David at the beginning of his training, at 18. David looked at it with Vincent. Vincent continued, "What's the differences here? You're buffer. Your hair's longer and....'spiky-er'. You're a fantastic Materia warrior now. And you're three years older."

David nodded.

"But has that changed who you are? You've remained the same person throughout. You can look however you like, but the essence of David is the same. No matter what destiny falls upon you, you will always be David Nichols, of Bisgaard."

David smiled and sniffed. "Thanks, Vincent." He received the same. "You're welcome."

Warren, up front, shook his head in confusion. The whole Vincent thing was really creeping him out. When and why did he become so....human?

Before he had time to continue on the thoughts, Warren caught someone in the corner of his eye. Josh. Normal-looking, but slightly older, Josh.

He pulled over and parked. Josh was standing there, but not looking at the car. It didn't even seem like he saw the car at all. Instead, he was leaning against the wall of a bagel shop, head buried in his arms. In his hand lay the large, unwieldy sword characteristic of Sephiroth. However, he wasn't even holding it right, letting it sit on the ground in a small groove that was obviously made by dragging the Masamune across the concrete.

Warren, Vincent, and David sat there for a second, then began to get out. David, mouth open, said, "Josh...."

"Careful, David. It might be a trick," Warren warned. However, the wavering in his voice indicated his apparent uncertainty of the sentiment.

Josh finally looked up and saw the three. His eyes widen and his face lightened almost sadly. He dropped the sword and ran over, hugging David. He said, "Ohmigod, Dave....it's been so long...."

David, swirled up in all that was happening, could do nothing but hug back.

Vincent could only stare in disbelief, but Warren gasped and ran over, hugging the both of them.

Vincent, left alone, said, "Could somebody bother to let me in on the reason for the hugfest? Warren, I'm looking in your direction." The threesome let go and Warren called everybody's attention. Warren said, "Well, I had been wondering about the perameters of Josh, the current reincarnation of Sephiroth. Since David exhibited different aspects of Cloud than the previous one, Cid, I was pondering what Josh would get from Sephiroth. And now it's clear: Josh is Sephiroth. He is Sephiroth as Sephiroth was meant to be. The worthy warrior and good friend, not the madman who tried to destroy a planet. In other words, Josh poses utterly no threat to this planet."

David pitched in, "And I knew it, didn't I? I was constantly telling myself if Josh wasn't evil, then I wouldn't fight him. If he was going to end up evil, I would have probably not even questioned the whole process, but rather just trained really hard." Warren nodded. "Yeah, that makes more sense. If there's anything indicative of Cloud Strife, it's his innate Sephiroth-sense."

"WHAT?!?" came a voice from above. Everyone looked up towards the roof of the bagel shop. It was a pony-tailed H.R., who had just shown up and saw David and Josh standing together peacefully. H.R. screamed, "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! DESTROY THEM!!!!" When none of the sort happened, he snarled and ran off.

Warren and Vincent, without even looking at each other for approval, both ran after him. However, Josh and David didn't. They looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking. They went to go sit in the bagel shop.

========================

Josh walked back to his table with a toasted bagel with cream cheese. His tastes hadn't changed over three years. David sat there with his muffin. As Josh sat, David grinned at his choice. "Well, still in the same old rut?"

"Hey, classics are classics." They held up their respective food items and clinked them like wine glasses.

"Happy 21st, Josh."

"Happy 21st, Dave." Josh paused. "Man oh man, it has been a long time, hasn't it?"

"I know. So, what has your past three years been like?"

Josh sighed. "Hell on ice. My life has been redefined into killing you."

David thought for a second. "H.R. seemed to expect you to do the deed. Does he not know your true nature?"

"Well, now he does!" Josh snickered quietly. "No, I've been pretending to be a part of his whole plan. After you and Warren left that one day, H.R. challenged me to that virtual reality fighting game. We got in and began. After a little while, I realized he was really trying to hurt me! I beat him, and then he said there was some sort of ultimate fighting game. But I didn't want to go. Then he offered some of that lemonade he was drinking. But he spiked mine. Next thing I know, I'm in some humongous dark cavern lit by torches."

David added, "Where exactly were you guys? Warren had some ideas." Josh nodded. "Later, I found out that we were in the North Crater, where Cloud, you, originally fought Sephiroth, which would be.....me, I guess." David smiled. Warren was dead-on.

Josh continued, "So, H.R.'s standing in there as well, by some lever. He starts going on about how I'm not going to understand it until I'm older and then tosses a Materia at my feet. And before you ask, yeah, I didn't know what it was then. Then he pulls that lever and out come these monsters. A whole bunch of monsters that he expected me to destroy. And that was what life was like for the next three years. Only, as I got older, H.R. expected me to get more evil or something. So I played along."

"Ah, and that's why he expected you to fight me. You've been stringing him along."

"Right," replied Josh. "Now how about you? What's been going on in David-land?"

David grinned. "Me? I've been in Crater National Park...."

=========================

Meanwhile...

Vincent held both of Warren's arms, supporting Warren as he dangled over the side of a building. After a couple of tense seconds, Vincent pulled Warren up onto the roof. Warren panted heavily. Vincent pulled out his Death Penalty, something he hadn't used for a long time.

"Warren, I don't think you should continue this one. Why don't you go back and get David and Josh? If memory serves me, Hojo should be a bit mutated by the time we face him."

Warren looked at Vincent and said, "You want to face him alone, don't you?"

Vincent's face had reverted back to its trademark sad scowl. "I.....have some score to settle."

Warren nodded. "I've been aware of that for over 1000 years." Then Warren thought of something. "Vincent, you've been...exceedingly happy lately. Not that you don't deserve it, but it's not exactly like you. At least, not the Vincent I remember."

Vincent, unprepared for the question, shot a glance over to Warren, then walked over to the edge of the roof and sampled the view. They'd been going from roof to roof, each building higher than the next. Now they were at least five stories up. The people below were going about their daily business. For so long Vincent was detached from that world, labeled a horrible freak. And now, due to Hojo, he had to return to the same fate every 1000 years.

"Well?" Warren provoked.

Vincent answered, "David truly does remind me of Cloud. I get the same sense of belonging with David that I felt when I was with him. Cloud never thought twice about my....condition. And with David, I almost feel human again."

Warren's eyes blinked comprehension. "Ah-ha! You made a friend."

Vincent turned on Warren and did something surprising; he grinned. "I suppose that is the way to put it." His grin faded. "But now is the time for battle. Go get our destined warriors. I shall keep Hojo busy."

Warren ran back as Vincent went on. However, he had only one more roof to go before he reached his eternal adversary. H.R. stood there, in a white lab coat that Vincent hadn't noted earlier. He was wearing bottleneck glasses. For Vincent's long-term memory, it was Hojo after a brush with a fountain of youth.

H.R. giggled in the classic manner. "How long has it been, Vincent? I haven't had a good look at your mutated self in quite some time. My, my. I can't even remember exactly what it is that I did with you."

"Want me to remind you? I can give it in detail," retorted Vincent.

H.R. looked falsely hurt. "Vincent, I'm crushed. After all these years, this is how you treat your good friend? We even share taste in women."

A shot from the Death Penalty hit right in front of H.R.'s feet, making him jump back a little. "Let me set one rule here, Hojo. You don't get to mention Lucrecia again. EVER."

H.R.'s grin got deeper as his gaze got meaner. "Fine then. My rule is that you don't get to live through the day."

Vincent snarled.

H.R. began to pull a small capsule out of his pocket. "If Sephiroth won't do his duty, then the job falls to me."

At that, Vincent's brain clicked. After Warren had told him all about the encounter at H.R.'s house three years ago, it all finally clicked.

"Yeah, Hojo, what's with that, anyway?" Vincent prodded.

"To be perfectly honest, I'm not su~"

"Not that," Vincent interrupted. "Why does the job fall to you?"

No answer.

Vincent continued, "Aren't you supposed to be the objective scientist? Just watch by the sidelines and take notes? This intervention crap really doesn't seem to support it. It's very obvious to me what you're doing. Hell, I know you, Hojo. You've always had a problem with this father thing. When you decided to make your own test subject out of you and Lucrecia, I know that you didn't think about what you were doing. Why do you think I went so berserk on your butt 1000 years ago? I was angry at you for what you did to Lucrecia AND that you couldn't decide whether to be a father or a captor to your son. But you're still just a half-father, Hojo. You always will be."

H.R. screamed and charged at Vincent, dropping the capsule and pulling out his pronged dagger. Vincent scowled and returned the charge, muttering, "This is for all you did to her..."

========================

The ladder clanked against the concrete as Warren lowered it from the fire escape. He had to get David and Josh as quick as possible.

"Wouldn't that be poetic?" Warren mused to himself as he ran to where he last knew his two buddies were. "After all the years of training, Hojo's pet project is ultimately good enough to kill him. THAT would be good stuff."

He made it about three blocks before he heard it.

"HOLD IT!!!!!!!"

Warren thought, Ohmigod! Is that...

It was. Amy grabbed Warren from behind and spun him around. Warren gasped in happiness and hugged her, making her drop her metal rod. "Amy! Wow, it has been forever!"

Amy pushed Warren away and slapped him square across the cheek. She said, "You big dope! You had to go off and take David with you!"

Warren quickly regrouped. One thing he hadn't considered when he was reacting to H.R. three years ago was the fact that they were leaving the fourth in their group of four friends behind with no explanation.

Warren rubbed his cheek and said, "Amy, I am really, incredibly, insanely sorry. I owe you a big explanation and - how'd you know that I took just David and not Josh?"

Amy twirled her rod and pouted for about fifteen more seconds before clearing it up into her usual impish grin. "Oh, just like how I know that when we were sitting in Planet Life Literature, the reason you kept getting perfect grades was because you wrote all of the stuff we had to study?"

Warren's jaw dropped. "Amy?! How on this Planet could you know that?"

Amy retorted, "Does Lucrecia ring a bell?"

Warren's jaw would have dropped if it wasn't already down there.

Noting the reaction, Amy turned behind her and walked around a corner. Then she came back, helping along Lucrecia, who still in her lab coat and sporting her boils. She was using a cane to walk. Warren watched as she hobbled to a bench and said, "Bugen....you've seen...Sephiroth?"

Warren nodded. He whispered to himself, "She's just the same as 1000 years ago. She's been altered in similar ways to Vincent."

Amy explained, "I came across Lucrecia when I was looking for your missing butts. Things were bad at home, so I just ran off with Lucrecia. We basically searched the entire globe looking for you three. In the meanwhile, Lucrecia told me about all the things she had heard inside the Lifestream. So don't go about thinking you're going to surprise me, Warren. I know it all now."

Warren chuckled to himself. Wait until she gets a load of David's Strife-like hair. Then she'll be surprised.

Warren said, "Okay. I'm going to get Josh and David right now. Lucrecia, if you want, you can hop on my back and Amy and I can run."

Lucrecia nodded. She got on Warren piggyback style, and they rushed off.

========================

"And then, Warren's looking at me and Vincent, in just his boxers and shivering in the cold, as the both of us are laughing!"

Josh broke into wild laughter as he and David walked out of the bagel shop, each of them with an arm around the other's shoulder. It hadn't taken them that long to get right back into the groove of old times.

"Man," Josh commented, "now that's what I'd call a Christmas present you wish you could return." Both of them laughed again. Josh continued, "Has Warren been that much of a tight-ass these past three years?"

David waved his hands in protest. "Now, now. He's definitely not the same Warren as he was previously. Of course, one's P.O.V. changes when you realize the guy's been around for over 1000 years. And while he's been slightly cranky, I completely respect the mission. Hey, maybe I've been too tough on the guy."

"Has he been too tough on you?"

David grinned. "Good point. We've both been tough on each other. I'll be sure to talk to him and set everything straight."

Josh sat down on a bench on the sidewalk, and David followed. He turned to his buddy. "Josh?" "Yeah?" "Out of curiosity, how much have I changed these past years?"

Josh looked a bit surprised at the question, then began to think. "Well, you've changed a bit physically, but you're still the same goofball I know. Why do you ask?"

David responded, "I want to know if I can possibly go home again." He got up and looked at the clothes store across the street. It was where he used to go shopping with his mom - rather, where his mom would drag him for shopping. Despite the feeling of torture that accompanied it, David felt nothing but longing for those days.

Josh went up beside him, prompting David to continue. "Three years ago, on this day, I was stolen away by my friend. No, by my destiny. This miserable Planet wanted me to dance in some sort of preordained warrior ballet, so that it can save itself from dying by the hand of some alien. But that's not what I want my life to be. Heck, if Warren had his way, I would have fought and died on purpose. That's......that's a pathetic life! That's the single most pathetic life I can begin to imagine for myself!"

Josh nodded. "That's not how I'd want to go. Screw this Planet. Let's live for our own lives."

David smiled at Josh. Then they slapped each other five and walked off towards an arcade. But then came the voice of Warren.

"HEY, GUYS!!" they heard him shout.

Both of them turned to see Warren. But then David saw who was running beside him. A young brown-haired woman with a metal rod.

David screamed, "Aeris?!"

He began to run towards Amy as she and Warren stopped dead in their tracks. David hugged Amy tight and said, "Aeris...."

Amy weaseled out. "David, I know it's been a long time, but you still remember me, Amy, right?"

Warren almost dropped Lucrecia.

David looked at her and a glaze went over his eyes. Then he said, "Amy! You...you're here!"

Warren got himself together and said, "David, Josh, your assistance is needed." Before either could protest, Warren continued, "Vincent is fighting Hojo - H.R. - upon a roof and he can't do it all alone. He needs you. BOTH of you."

Josh looked at David. He was in thought. Then he looked up, with the same intensity of the Strife legacy. A fire flashed through his pupils as he said, "Let's go."

=========================

BLAM!

The Death Penalty took its shot as H.R. made another run at Vincent with the dagger. It hit him squarely in the right shoulder, blowing H.R. completely off-balance and sending him towards the corner of the roof. He tried to get up, but he was too weak. Vincent touched the spot near his eye where a newly-formed, jagged slash sat, but he showed no pain. Nor did he show that much anger. It was clear that Vincent had been preparing for this moment for a long time. He walked right over to the semi-prone H.R. and cocked the Death Penalty right at H.R.'s forehead.

H.R. looked at Vincent with fear. "Aren't you even going to hesitate and consider whether what you're doing is moral?"

The Jenova in Vincent never sounded more deadly. "No."

Before he pulled the trigger, he hear a light, faraway voice. "Vin...cent...."

Vincent's eyes widened. He only stood still for one second before turning around sharply.

Everybody was there. Warren, David, Josh, Amy, and Lucrecia. Vincent wasted no time in dashing towards Lucrecia and taking her off of Warren's back. "Lucrecia.....how?"

Warren said, "She's Jenova-implanted, too. What we didn't know was that she's been altered in similar ways to you, Vincent. If I may be so bold, you two are, well, made for each other." David hit Warren in the shoulder for the badly-timed pun.

Vincent said, "I've waited a full millenium for you." Lucrecia only looked up at him with starry, purple eyes. Then Warren watched as Vincent's mouth did that weird thing again: he smiled.

Time held still for a moment, as Amy slipped her hand into David's, Vincent smiled at his eternal love, and Josh, who might have been the greatest danger of the Planet, shed a small tear for a simple love scene.

It was broken by a howl of pain.

H.R.'s dagger hit Vincent's posterior midsection. Vincent spun around to see H.R. with the capsule he had dropped earlier. H.R. snapped it in half and, avoiding any powder loss from the pill, swallowed one half and applied the other to the gaping bullet hole in his shoulder. It made an instantaneous reaction and H.R. began to transform in a way that was highly familiar to David.

Vincent stumbled to his feet, weakening every minute. He let out a mighty roar and transformed into Chaos, the demon of death. Yet, Chaos still had the pronged dagger within its flesh. It grabbed at the dagger, but it was no use. Still determined to avenge, Chaos went barreling towards the transforming H.R. in an effort to finish him. H.R. raised his former right arm - former because it was now a purple and red lobster-like claw - and slammed it upon Chaos, knocking the beast behind him.

Lucrecia gasped and Amy, picking up upon what Lucrecia desired at the moment, left David, picked up Lucrecia, and rushed over to Chaos, who was reverting back to Vincent. They were lucky that H.R. didn't attack them, for he was now concentrating on the combination of Josh and David, who had respectively drawn the Masamune and the Ultima Weapon.

H.R. gurgled, "I WILL DESTROY YOU MYSELF!"

David scoffed, "You weren't that successful 1000 years ago. What's different this time?" He grabbed for his Knights of the Round, but stopped when he saw Amy, Vincent, and Lucrecia behind H.R. in the corner. H.R. had situated himself too close to them for magic strong enough to hurt H.R. to be safe. He stuffed the orb back in his pocket and tightened the grip on his sword.

H.R. sent a large load of acid from his right pseudopod their way. Both dodged it effortlessly. Josh snarled and yelled, "HEY, NERD!"

That got H.R.'s attention. Josh continued, "I always knew you were nothing but nothing! And now, you're even less! But among them all, there's one thing you are most definitely not!"

Josh leaped incredibly high in the air, holding his Masamune back, letting it glint in the sunlight. "YOU'RE NO FATHER!!!!!!" As he descended towards the roof, he swung the Masamune dead middle of H.R.'s head. He didn't get very far. H.R. swatted the sword with his right claw off to the side.

And dead silence ensued except for one last gasp.

Josh had hit the ground on his stomach. His arms were outstretched in front of his head, letting his long Masamune extend to over where Vincent was. The curved blade had arched upward and the tip was stained in blood. The top of the sword had gone through Amy's chest.

=======================

"AMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" shrieked David. Josh raised his head and screamed, "AHHH!" He quickly removed the sword out of surprise and alarm. Her serene expression stayed as she fell to the ground.

David began to glow with radiating purple energy. The Ultima Weapon did the same. He began to walk towards H.R. and Josh.

Warren's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. His mind began to swirl with conjectures. Was the fact that Josh was the good Sephiroth not enough to prevent his fated killing by Cloud's hand? Was everything that had been done just as pointless as before? Did the destiny still apply?

Was Aeris' death just as fated as the final confrontation?

Josh was too overcome by sadness, grief, and guilt to see David advancing. H.R., on the other hand, was transforming too much to do anything. His capsule was badly measured, and he was turning into a purple mess. All that remained normal was the head on top and a few shreds of lab coat.

David brought his sword far back, ready to swing it. Warren's gaze was set while Vincent was still out cold and Lucrecia had fallen asleep upon her love's body.

Josh finally turned to see David staring at him.

David shouted, "Get down, Josh!!!"

Josh did so as David swung the Ultima Weapon in a mighty circle. He took off H.R.'s head and sent it flying over the side of the building.

Warren's dropped jaw turned into a wide open smiling mouth as David helped Josh up, spat on H.R.'s body, and stuck his sword halfway into the roof. David said to Josh, "That'll teach him to keep living after my buddy tried so hard to kill him."

Warren ran up to the two and group hugged. "Happy 21st, you guys..."

Vincent began to stir. He moaned and felt at the still-implanted dagger. Lucrecia also woke, and both of them gasped at the sight of Amy's body lying right next to them. Then they saw the headless mass of Hojo-Jenova material. Vincent rose to his feet and said, "What, may I ask, has happened here?"

Warren walked over to explain the events to Vincent. In the meanwhile, David got a sudden shock. Josh, sensing it, said, "What's wrong?"

Without looking at Josh, David responded, "H.R. is dead and you're not going to attack. Hojo will return in 500 years. Warren's going to want us to do the suicide thing with him." Josh nodded in understanding. "We've already reached that agreement, right?" David nodded back.

Warren shouted over to Josh and David from the other side of the roof. "David, were you just explaining the reason for the suicide? C'mon, I found a good spot to jump from! I'll see you all in 500 years!"

As David and Josh walked over, Warren backed up to the edge, spread his arms, and leaped backwards with a smile on his face. Vincent and Lucrecia watched Warren fall, but they jerked their heads away for the hit. Then two duos were left - Lucrecia and Vincent, and David and Josh. They stared at each other for a bit.

"Did you guys....wanna go first, maybe?" Josh broke the silence.

Vincent looked at David. David's eyes said it all. In those eyes, he knew that what Warren was...HAD proposed wasn't going to work for David. Vincent had no fear of death, and he was sure that Lucrecia didn't mind missing the next 1000 years. However, Vincent knew that David had a difficulty with the suicide idea since the first mention.

Vincent laid it on the line. "You're not dying now, are you? Either of you?"

Josh almost said something, but David motioned against that and just nodded.

Vincent nodded in return. "It was my grand privilege to know you, David. I am your good friend, forever on. Not just the Cloud bond, but for you, David Nichols. You are a good man - especially today, on your 21st birthday - and the world should not be deprived that." David smiled and sniffed.

Vincent turned to Josh. "You I have not had the pleasure of spending much time with, but what I heard from David is more than exemplary. I wish you well in your life just as much."

Josh, trying to inject a little broken humor into the moment, said, "And that's probably in defiance to the bond with Se-"

Vincent interrupted, "PLEASE don't speak!" He turned to Lucrecia and said, "Will you allow me to speak privately with them for a second?" Lucrecia nodded and Vincent pulled David and Josh away. "Sorry, but I didn't need you saying 'Sephiroth' around her. That's the worst subject for her. Fact is, she has not recognized you as the reincarnation of her son. That's the way I'd prefer it. Sephiroth was an anchor to a life that she doesn't need anymore. Hopefully, I can fulfill something more in 1000 years. I'd like to continue on with you two, but I'm afraid I may be a goner anyway." He wiggled the part of his body with the dagger, still there. He coughed and hugged David, then returned to Lucrecia.

Vincent Valentine said, "Are you ready?" Lucrecia nodded once more, muttering, "Vin....cent....." He yanked the pronged dagger out finally as his lips met hers. While they kissed, he brought the dagger to their throats. In only one swipe, he got his neck with one side and hers with the opposite side. They fell upon each other as their lifeforce drained away.

David and Josh watched the macabre scene. They looked over the corpses across the roof: H.R., Amy, Vincent and Lucrecia, and Warren over the side. Josh put his hand on David's shoulder as they walked away.

===========================

55 years later...

"Politics..." grumbled the 76-year aged Josh Helms as he walked back from the social security office and read the newspaper at the same time. The paper was proclaiming horrible nuclear war on the horizon. "Is no one concerned with the people anymore? Why should the leaders of one continent completely eliminate us for their distastes with our leaders? It makes no sense."

Josh eventually returned to the small apartment complex where he and David held joint ownership. He walked through the office towards David's apartment. Josh hadn't seen his friend all day and he was wondering what David might be up to.

He knocked. No answer.

Another knock. Zilch.

Josh scratched his gray chin stubble, then tried the door. Locked. But that wasn't a problem for one of two guys with a skeleton key. Josh walked in and called out, "Dave? You home?" He examined the apartment's insides all over, but he didn't find anything. Until he got to the bedroom. David Nichols lay there on his side, like he was still asleep. Josh went up to David and pulled him onto his back. Absolutely no reaction.

Josh felt David's wrist. No pulse. David Nichols had died of old age in his sleep. Josh began to breathe heavily. He said lowly, "It's over....he's dead...."

Josh got up and headed back towards the office. If he could have run, he would be sprinting. However, his age only allowed for very effortful steps. He got back to the office, opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a small box. He took his skeleton key and opened it to reveal a small red pill. Josh picked it up and looked at the quick-working, painless poison. Josh only internally swayed for a second, before he remembered everything David told him. All of the things that Josh could have been. He could have been a murderous psychopath. He could have been a demented summoner of meteors. But instead, he was Josh, and Josh had seen things that would make a normal person's blood curdle immediately.

"For the good of the Planet..." Josh said as he took his water bottle in his hand. Josh place the pill in his mouth and took a swig of water. He sat down into his office chair, the last words on his lips being, "May the Planet survive all that comes its way..."

.

Finis
E-mail: Sonic90127@yahoo.com


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