Darkness Falls Chapter 22

By Gemini83

North Corel was certainly growing. Not the squalor and wreckage it once was, the city could almost be considered a booming metropolis. Although not even half as large as Midgar, this was one of the biggest cities on the map.

Cid whistled, “Nice place Barret.”

Reeve nodded, “It’s good to see people are rebuilding the mess Shinra created.”

Elena gave Reeve a knowing look, “That was the old Shinra Reeve.”

“Yeah,” agreed Barret, “besides, I believe Shinra invested in this town, gave us funds to rebuild.”

The President of Shinra simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

Of course, one of the biggest attractions of North Corel was the ropeway. Or, perhaps the place where the ropeway led to...

“The Gold Saucer,” said Cloud, “it’s been a while since we came here.”

Kaede was staring at the wondrous lights and sounds from the ride.

“Impressive,” he said.

“We haven’t even gotten inside yet,” smiled Aeris.

The group went their separate ways. Kaede allowed himself to be dragged along by Aeris, following Tifa and Cloud as they related the events and amusements from their first trip.

Rude and Reno went off to Battle Square, choosing to test their new skills and see what they could win. Reeve was escorting Elena through the Gold Saucer.

“I can’t believe those guys,” said the Turk, “they have no sense of fun.”

“Oh come now Elena,” smirked Reeve, “what could be more fun than fighting monsters for hours on end?”

She gave him a wry grin, “perhaps doing paperwork for hours on end?”

Reeve winced, “touché.”

The two took in the sights as they walked through the Wonder Square, gazing at all the neon lights and concession stands. Reeve bought Elena some cotton candy and walked on with her, showing the various rides and amusements.

They entered the arcade room, and saw that a new wing had been added to the Square just beyond the other side.

“Well,” said Reeve, “what do you want to do?”

“Uhm...how about the Snowboarding Game?”

“Oh wow,” choked Reeve, “I’m not THAT brave!”

“Come on,” said Elena, “it will be fun.”

“Very well, I’ll go first...may the Planet have mercy on my soul.”

Elena laughed, “it won’t be that bad!”

Reeve warily got on the board and decided to take the beginner level. The President didn’t get far before he crashed. He managed to get up and snag a few points before the game was over, but the result was laughable.

Elena was trying desperately to cover her smile, but it wasn’t working. Reeve could see the wide grin playing across her face.

“Told you I was no good. Okay hotshot,” he retorted, “let’s see you try it.”

Elena got on the board and decided to be a little more daring, choosing the Crazy difficulty level. Reeve began to whistle funeral music as Elena arched her eyebrow at him.

Reeve laughed, “good luck.”

Elena smiled and turned to the monitor, “this brings back memories...”

Elsewhere, Yuffie was dragging Vincent through the food court...again.

“Why do you always bring to these places Yuffie?” asked Vincent, “in fact, why do you drag me anywhere at all?”

“Questions, questions, questions,” chided Yuffie, “learn to live a little.”

“This to the man who’s lived in a coffin?” asked Vincent.

Yuffie gave him a strange look before laughing, “at least you’re getting a sense of humor.”

Vincent blinked against the bright lights, “could we go somewhere else...please?”

The young ninja rolled her eyes, “oh fine, you big baby, where to?”

“Some place peaceful,” suggested Vincent.

“Hmmm,” thought Yuffie, “okay, how about the Gondola?”

Vincent shrugged, “very well.”

Yuffie stared in winder at all the fireworks exploding over the neon stands below. From here, they could see the Gold Saucer in its entirety. Vincent contented himself with sitting quietly and enjoying the relative quiet.

Yuffie gazed at the lights in rapture, but tore her gaze away long enough to see the quiet man sitting across from her. The young ninja sighed mournfully.

“Don’t you ever relax?” she asked.

Vincent shrugged his shoulders, “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Yuffie looked into his deep, eyes, “sure you do, it’s as if you’re carrying some great burden.”

“What do you want from me Yuffie?”

The ninja shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to know a little more about you.”

Vincent nodded gamely, “very well, ask.”

“Okay,” returned Yuffie, pensively, “what’s with that cave of yours?”

Vincent arched his eyebrows in question, “excuse me?”

“You know, that cave where we saw Lucretia’s ghost, you haven’t forgotten have you?”

Vincent closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall of the gondola. He let out a deep sigh and fell silent.

Before Yuffie could comment, he answered her question, “a long time ago...it was my dream...to build a house near that cave, to...”

“Yes?” prodded Yuffie.

“I...wanted to spend the rest of my life there, with the one person in the world who could make me feel whole. Then I met Lucretia, and my heart soared. I just wanted to take her with me, to live out on a cabin...by the lake, just her and I...and eventually...”

Vincent let out a ragged breath, “but that dream died a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry Vincent,” stammered Yuffie, “I-I didn’t know.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he smiled, “and what about you?”

“What about me?”

“What was your secret wish, what did you used to dream of?”

“Oh, you know me,” laughed Yuffie, “fame, glory, materia, et cetera.”

“I don’t know,” said Vincent, “I think there’s more to it than that.”

“And why do you think that?”

At this, Vincent smiled, “well, Lucretia used to say I had the remarkable ability to read people, it drove her crazy.”

Yuffie laughed, “well, you know me all too well.”

“So?” asked Vincent.


“Your dream.”

“I was hoping you’d forget,” answered the ninja.

“Not a chance.”

Yuffie shrugged, “all that glory stuff was my father’s legacy, his dream. But then the village was reduced to a ghost of its former splendor.”

Vincent nodded, “you wanted to see your father’s dreams come true, to see his pride restored. You wanted him to be whole again.”

Yuffie gave Vincent a strange look, “Lucretia should have pegged you as a psychic too.”

Vincent smiled.

“Yeah, you’re right,” answered Yuffie, “you know, my favorite place to think was on the cliffs near the fire caves. I could see the entire town.”

“Sounds peaceful.”

“It was,” she continued, “I used to think about what would happen once Wutai regained its former glory. I guess I always wanted some peace , some rest after it was all over. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always been searching for something, for that special something that would finally make me feel like I was home...that I was finally at peace.”

“Why do you tell me all this now?” asked Vincent.

“I can’t answer that one either.”

“This isn’t like you Yuffie,” said Vincent, “where’s the spirited Yuffie we all know?”

“She’s weary, quickly fading,” sighed Yuffie, “she’s the exterior I use to hide away from the world when I feel cold and lonely.”

“Sounds like Kaede, why don’t you talk to him?”

He caught the glimmer of a laugh in her eyes, “wait, don’t answer that. Why not Cloud? Isn’t he like your big brother?”

Yuffie raised her hands in futility, “I don’t know, I guess it’s like Lucretia said.”

Vincent looked at her, begging the question.

The ninja sighed, “you understand people, no, that’s not right. You KNOW people Vincent, almost better than they know themselves.”


“Please, let me finish. I guess it’s because you’re always around, you know exactly what to say, exactly what to do...not a screw up like me.”

“Don’t say that Yuffie.”

“Why not?” she demanded, “I don’t even know what I want to do with my life! Our planet may be destroyed by God knows what...and I don’t even know what I want, even less... who I am...”

“You know Yuffie,” stated Vincent, “you and I are extremely alike.”

“Oh really,” asked Yuffie sardonically, “and how is that?”

“Because you’ve been searching for something you’re entire life,” started Vincent, “you don’t know what it is, but it’s always eluded you, always slipped by.”

Yuffie felt her eyes water as Vincent continued to speak.

“All the while, you’ve been searching for yourself, for what’s inside. And despite every success you’ve had, every accomplishment you’ve made...you feel every bit as barren and desolate...as I have felt my entire life.”

Yuffie’s breath caught in her throat as she tried to reply.

“You don’t need to say anything Yuffie,” said Vincent, brushing away her tears, “your eyes say it all.”

She simply nodded.

“Look out that window, what do you see?”

Yuffie looked, and shrugged.

“You want to know what I see? Hope. I see a world unafraid to live. I see a planet that will stand up to anything that’s thrown at it.”

Vincent raised her chin, so that he was looking at her eyes again, “and now I see you, and I don’t have to go it alone. I have friend like you, I have people I want to be with, who fill in that void.”


“No Yuffie,” replied Vincent, “now it’s your turn to listen to me. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to face the darkness alone...believe me, when this is over...you’ll find your peace and quiet, I promise.”

The young ninja smiled, “for a recluse, you understand a lot about people. Why do you always know what to say?”

“You said it yourself...I’m psychic,” smiled Vincent, “remember?”

Yuffie could feel his warm breath against her face, his eyes calm and so alive. Lucretia had been right, he COULD read people. Annoying, maybe, but it was definitely charming. She smiled up into those deep eyes, so intense, and yet so gentle.

Vincent smiled back, and saw a friend looking back. He saw someone to talk to, to trust. He had told her things he had never thought of telling anyone, and he couldn’t understand why. One look into her eyes told him he didn’t care either, as he lost himself into those depths. She understood, perhaps more so than anyone he had known for a long time...and she cared.

A jarring of the gondola signaled the end to the ride. Yuffie was lost for a moment, was the ride over already? She didn’t even notice as Vincent helped her out of the cabin and walked her outside. Her heart was still beating like a drum, and she moved without thinking about it. Oh well, at least she had been able to talk to him. Surprisingly, she felt better, and her spry nature quickly came back.

Vincent smiled as he walked with her through the streets. He had enjoyed talking to her. It had been strange, but he felt better. One thing was for sure though, he wasn’t letting Yuffie out of his sights anytime soon...

Elena shrieked in dismay as the snowboard jerked heavily. The Turk had been setting a record when she completely wiped out. Elena could barely gasp as she was thrown through the air.

The first thing that she could think was, ‘this is going to hurt.’

Pain must have been a relative thing, for she felt nothing upon impact. In fact, she felt a strong pair of arms grab her, supporting her fall as she was hurled through the air. They held her still, as she struggled to her feet.

“Are you alright?” asked Reeve.

“I’m fine,” gasped Elena, “help me get up.”

Elena allowed Reeve to help her. Through some quirk of fate, she found herself staring the President of Shinra straight in the eyes, with inches to spare in between. What’s more, his arms were still around her waist.

He stepped back, giving her some room, “uh, sorry.”

Elena straightened her hair and ran her hands through her hair, “oh no, I’m sorry, thanks for breaking the fall.”

“So...you were saying, ice master?”

The Turk smiled, “hey, you can’t say anything. You didn’t do much better.”

Reeve shrugged, “so, what next?”

Elena saw huge signs advertising a new attraction, “let’s check out the ballroom.”

“Very well,” answered Reeve.

The pair walked through the doorway and into a great hall. Golden rafters hung from the ceiling, neon lights came into the room through tinted windows. And up above, a full moon was shining through the glass ceiling, the lights reflecting off the marble floor.

“Care to dance?” asked Reeve, gesturing to the twirling figures on the floor.

“Why not?” replied Elena.

As they began to waltz to the beautiful music, Reeve and Elena grinned at each other.

“It’s much better doing this when you’re not falling through the air,” said Reeve, “oh Planet, that sounded corny.”

Elena laughed, “no it didn’t, and you’re right, it is better. We should do this more often.”

Elena and Reeve stopped laughing and looked at each other, wondering what the other would think. A smile crept into the Turk’s features, encouraging the President to smile back.

“You’re right Elena,” answered Reeve, “I WOULD like to do this again sometime.”

The pair allowed themselves to lose track of time as they danced the night away.

Barret and Elmyra were showing Marlene around the gift shops and new rides. Cid and Shera followed not far behind. Everywhere, merchants shouted, selling their wares to the passersby.

“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” shouted a vendor, “win prizes at the Tower of Power!”

The man was next to a contraption, one where person would take a hammer and swing as hard as possible to hit the bell at the top of the ‘tower,’ thus winning prizes.

“Daddy,” said Marlene, “could I have a teddy?”

The little girl pointed her little fingers at one of the prizes for winning at the ‘Tower of Power.’

Barret grinned his response, “sure Marlene, just you wait!”

The tall man handed his daughter over to Elmyra while he bought a ticket for the hammer swing.

“Yeah Barret,” encouraged Cid, “show ‘em who’s boss!”

Barret cracked his knuckles and grabbed the hammer in both hands. Just before he could swing however, Barret was distracted by the vendors yelling to other customers. He faltered as the hammer fell.

The mark rose all the way up to the level...“wimp.” Cid doubled over with laughter at the display.

“Ha-Hey Barret,” he struggled to say, “not gettin’ enough vitamins?”

Barret glowered at Cid icily.

“Hey, get this next one,” Cid replied, “and I’m buyin’ the drinks next time.”

“Betcha I’ll beat you at the contest though,” returned Barret.

“Oh come now Barret,” chuckled Shera, “you two were so inebriated, neither one of you could tell who won.”

“Honestly,” Elmyra shook her head, “some men...”

Barret grumbled under his breath and bought another try at the hammer swing. However, he did have something to say to the vendor before he started.

Barret glared into the merchant’s eyes, “I suggest, for your personal safety, that you stay quiet this time.”

The man nodded nervously.

Barret picked up the hammer again and swung indifferently. The mark hit the bell, then landed, then bounced up again, this time breaking past the bell and flying through the air. It disappeared into a back street, followed by the clanking of metal and screeching of cats. Cid stared open mouthed at Barret, who simply grinned back.

Marlene bounced along on her father’s shoulders, holding two giant teddy bears. Elmyra laughed at the dumbfounded looks Cid gave to Barret. Shera pouted at Cid playfully, asking him to win a prize for her.

“Oh come on,” joked Shera, “can’t you win a prize for little old me?”

“Oy,” Cid scratched his head, “okay, how about sharp shooting?”

Barret shook his head, “aw come on man, that’s too easy.”

The captain pondered some more, “hammer swing?”

“Barret broke it,” smiled Elmyra.

“Okay, I got it,” said Cid triumphantly, “the pie throw!”

“That works,” replied Shera, the others nodded agreement.

The group walked up to the pie throwing stand, and Cid bought three tries to hit the clown behind the board.

“Come on,” shouted the clown, “let’s see what you got.”

The pilot threw the first pie, which hit the target board hard.

“Not even close,” taunted the clown.

He threw again, and missed again.

“Hah,” laughed the clown, “close, but no cigar.”

“Or in your case,” laughed Barret, “no cigarette, eh Cid?”
The former leader of Avalanche was enjoying his opportunity to taunt, “hey, if you need help-”

Cid didn’t even reply as he picked up the last pie and threw it at the clown. It hit him straight in the face, the impact sending him flying backward several feet.

The pilot turned to the now gawking Barret.

“You were saying?” asked Cid.

Tifa, Cloud, and Aeris showed Kaede around the streets of the Gold Saucer, and finally came to the Arena in Event Square. The doorman congratulated Cloud and Tifa as the hundredth couple.

“Oh no,” groaned Cloud, “not this again.”

“Please sir,” said the doorman, “you have to help us out here.”

Tifa tugged on Cloud’s arm, “come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Okay,” sighed Cloud, “but under one condition.”

“What is that?” asked the doorman.

“You have to let them come with us,” said Cloud, pointing at Kaede and Aeris.

“Hey,” protested Kaede, “I said I could play music, I never said I could act.”

Aeris jabbed him in the ribs, “where’s your sense of adventure?”

The Planeswalker shook his head as Aeris dragged him after Cloud and Tifa, “I must have left it back home with my better judgment.”

“Once upon a time,” said the narrator, “there were two great brothers, heroes of the land.”

Kaede and Cloud jumped onto the stage, decked with medieval armor.

“They were to marry two beautiful princesses...,” continued the narrator.

Eventually, the story reached the point where the evil Dragon King took the brides away to his castle, whereupon Kaede and Cloud were sent to save them. The evil dragon came out of hiding, holding Aeris and Tifa prisoner, wearing exotic dresses. Tifa was decked in a silky skirt and blouse, with slits along the sides that were a tease to the eye. Aeris was similarly clothed, revealing nothing, yet showing off enough of her shapely legs and arms to draw attention. They looked more like captivating nymphs, mystical and beautiful sprites, than the princesses they had been dressed as not too long ago. Kaede and Cloud gawked while everyone waited for the next line.

“Excuse me sir,” whispered the man in the dragon costume, “your line?”

“Oh,” said Cloud, “right...AVAST YE EVIL DEMON, RELEASE MY LOVE!!!”


“Uh,” whispered Cloud, “Kaede?”

The Planeswalker was still staring at Aeris.

Tifa and Aeris snickered, hands covering their faces.

“Cat got your tongues?” whispered Tifa to Cloud.

He blinked and smiled sheepishly, “you look great Tiff...”

She waggled her finger at him, “don’t get frisky with me.”

“Oh come on,” said Aeris, trying desperately to stifle her laugh, “the audience is waiting.”

“Right,” said Kaede, “I have an idea. Come here Cloud.”

Cloud listened as Kaede whispered his plan to him, and smiled.

“Should be...interesting,” answered Cloud.

He walked up to the ‘dragon,’ “touch my shoulder.”

“What?” asked the actor.

“Touch my shoulder,” repeated Cloud.


As soon as the dragon touched Cloud on the shoulder, the ‘knight in shining armor’ began to convulse.


Cloud ran at Kaede, slashing his sword. Kaede parried as he circled his ‘opponent.’ Sparks flew as their swords clashed. The audience hadn’t been expecting such a show, and began to cheer the fighters on.

Cloud jumped over Kaede's head, landing behind him, and thrust his sword at the exposed back. The Planeswalker jumped to the side, swiping his sword as he leapt, forcing Cloud to jump back in defense. Kaede followed the roll and leapt back towards Cloud, who did the same.

The clashed sword in midair, and kept on thrusting and parrying as they landed. Their swords were a blur as they attacked each other, neither giving ground. The crowd was mad with excitement.

“Not bad,” grinned Kaede.

“You’re not too shabby yourself,” returned Cloud

“As much as I’m enjoying this, I think it‘s time for the finish.”

“I agree,” said Cloud.

“Let’s do it.”

Cloud left an opening on purpose, which Kaede used to disarm the swordsman. He knocked away Cloud’s sword and punched him with an energized fist. Kaede let the energy flash into a blinding light for added effect. It was a pulled punch, so it didn’t hurt Cloud as much, but it did send him hurtling into the ‘evil dragon.’ The actor fell backwards as he released the two ‘princesses.’

Tifa cradled Cloud’s head in her lap, “Oh Cloud!”

“Kiss me,” whispered Cloud.

Tifa blinked in surprise, “what?”

“It’s all part of the act,” replied Cloud, “kiss me.”

She grinned in response, “you rogue.”

Cloud’s answer was silenced as Tifa stifled him with an electrifying kiss.

“TRUE LOVE HAS CONQUERED THE SPELL,” shouted Kaede for the benefit of the audience.

He kneeled on front of Aeris, taking her hand in his, “NOW WE CAN ALWAYS BE TOGETHER!”

He kissed her hand, then got to his feet, brushing her cheek with his hand. Aeris was about to close the distance for another kiss when the ‘evil dragon’ came up again.


Aeris glared at the actor, “beat it,” she whispered, “I’m busy.”

The actor seemed not to have noticed, for he continued to rant as he got closer.

Aeris gave Kaede a frustrated look, “okay...that’s enough.”

She turned around to face the dragon, “GET OUT OF HERE!”


The actor never finished his line, for Aeris punched him off the stage. The dragon stumbled backwards, as Tifa stuck out her foot. The actor tripped over the extended leg and fell into the orchestra pit below, sending up a discordant shrill of off-key instruments.

“Tsk, tsk,” said Tifa, “bad move buddy.”


The group eventually made it to the center of the Gold Saucer, where there was now a cafe and bar. It was one of those affairs where a person could sit on the edge, next to the windows, while it turned, thus showing them a panoramic view of the entire outside world. Right now, however, the cafe was stationary. Moonlight shined from the glassed ceiling above.

Barret and Cid had been about to have another one of their drinking contests. However, Shera and Elmyra would have none of it. Elmyra warned Barret not to set a bad example for Marlene, while Shera said she couldn’t stand to see her husband in such a state in public. So...they settled for egg nog and a staring contest. The first one to blink would be the loser. Shera and Elmyra simply went to their hotel rooms in mock frustration, taking Marlene with them, as it was past her bed time.

None of this stopped Rude and Reno from drinking though. They had come back from their trip to Battle Square, donning an array of prizes, and were currently holding each other up in a secluded corner, fighting the drunken stupor that threatened to overtake them.

Elena shook her head, “some men...”

Reeve laughed, “at least they’re fun.”

The Turk blinked at Reeve, “wait a minute, did I just hear the workaholic President of Shinra just say ‘fun?’”

“Oh, come on Elena,” groaned Reeve, “I’m not THAT bad.”

“You’re right,” said Elena, looking at him critically, “you’re worse.”

Reeve gave Elena an odd look before the two broke out into laughter.

Vincent and Kaede sat at a table, alone, watching the others talk and laugh. They simply brooded in silence as they nursed their cups.

“It’s nice to see them enjoying themselves,” said Kaede.

Vincent nodded, “we needed a break.”

The Planeswalker nodded, looking at Aeris laugh at some joke from Tifa.

“She’s special,” said Vincent, “isn’t she?”

Kaede nodded, “much like Yuffie is to you I’d wager.”

He tipped back his glass as Vincent widened his eyes in surprise.

“Is it that obvious?” he asked.

Kaede shrugged, “it’s the little things really, the way you look at her, the way your bodies attune to each other...”

“The way your eyes sparkle,” continued Vincent, “how you feel at peace whenever she’s around.”

Vincent gave the Kaede a meaningful look, indicating his obvious feelings for Aeris.

The Planeswalker smiled and raised his glass, “touché”

“How do you deal with it?” asked Vincent, “how do you force yourself to feel it, knowing that...”

Kaede stared at Vincent realizing what he meant, “...knowing that the beast lurks deep within you?”

Vincent nodded, raising his fists, “these hands...they’ve caused so much pain, spilled so much blood...”

The Planeswalker smiled, “that’s what I told Aeris, not long ago.”

“What did she say to it?”

Kaede smiled, “she said, ‘your hands may be stained, but your soul is pure.’”

“Do you believe that?” asked Vincent.

“I don’t know what to believe,” answered Kaede, “all I know is that I love her.”

Vincent nodded, “makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

“I’ve gone most of my life without these emotions, I lost them a long time ago...”

“And now that you’ve found them again,” continued Vincent, “you can’t imagine being without it.”

Kaede nodded, “how did you deal with it Vincent, having lost your love?”

Vincent sighed and looked out the window.

“It doesn’t pain you to talk about her?” asked the Planeswalker.

Vincent shook his head, “I was lost for so long...I just took it a day at a time. I’d go to sleep...force myself to wake up every morning...”

“Then you’d try to remind yourself to breathe in and out,” said Kaede, “to keep on going.”

Vincent nodded, “and eventually, I was able to get over how perfect my life had been, whenever she was near...just to see her face, to see her smile, see her hair caressed by the wind...”

Kaede continued, “and forcing yourself to be better because of her, to protect her, although every tear she shed made you die inside.”

“And make sure it never happened again,” Vincent nodded contemplating his friend across the table, “you needn’t have asked me Kaede, you know how it feels.”

The Planeswalker shrugged, “it was just nice to know someone understood, although it doesn’t make the cold, dark nightmares any better.”

“Kaede,” said Vincent, “like you, I shut myself out emotionally for the longest time, until...”

“Until?” asked the Planeswalker.

“Until I learned that these feelings were natural, essential even, they are what makes us feel alive, what makes us human.”

Kaede stared at the ex-Turk, “human?”

“You know what I mean,” he replied.

The Planeswalker nodded.

Vincent shifted in his seat, deep in thought.

“What is it?” asked Kaede.

“Kaede,” said Vincent, “what were your last thoughts...back at Cosmo Canyon...when you...nearly died?”

The Planeswalker let out a deep sighed and took another sip of his drink, “they were torn, mixed, confused. But I felt...oddly at peace, as if simply being in Aeris’ arms was all that mattered. And a dark side of me actually laughed.”


Kaede nodded, “for how could I, of all people, feel love? How could I, a cold spirit, feel something a machine should be incapable of?”

“I can relate to that,” smiled Vincent, “I felt much the same before Cloud and the others woke me. And what else...?”

“I was...afraid...I suppose,” Kaede struggled to find the words, “but not for myself. I did not...could not...know what would happen to her once I was gone. All I had was hope. But in that dark abyss I was in, before Aeris pulled me out, there was no room for hope. There was only emptiness.”

Vincent nodded, “we have both been the monsters we fear, we have both lied dormant in our own crypts, hiding the evil deep within.”

Kaede continued, “it tears me apart, you know? If I ever lost control to that madness...”

“But you haven’t,” replied Vincent, “like me, you force yourself to control it, if only for the sake of the one you love.”

Kaede gave Vincent another knowing look, “you should tell her, you know, before it’s too late.”

“I plan to, I won’t let her slip away,” replied Vincent, “not this time.”

The Planeswalker nodded.

Vincent gave Kaede a critical look, “You should tell Aeris as well. And don’t just say it, vow it, shout it out, let it be written in stone.”

The Planeswalker grunted in uncertainty, “and if it’s too soon?”

“Trust her,” said Vincent.

However, the man couldn’t help but feel slightly hypocritical. Why was he telling Kaede to do this, when he couldn’t even bring himself to do the same for Yuffie?

‘What is this I feel,’ thought Vincent, ‘is it fear?’

Vincent laughed inside, thinking it strange...for first time in so long that he actually felt afraid, it was over love.

Yuffie, Aeris and Tifa talked happily together, Cloud simply content to listen as he sipped his drink.

Aeris caught sight of Vincent and Kaede talking quietly in the corner.

Yuffie followed her gaze, “it looks like those two are brooding again.”

The Cetra shook her head, “I’ve tried to get him to open up more, do something.”

“He loves you Aeris,” replied Tifa, “be thankful for that.”

“I know Tifa, and sometimes he can pleasantly surprise me, you know?” asked Aeris. Then she stopped, eyes downcast.

Tifa nodded, “but it pains you every time you think about the scars, about what he’s gone through.”

Yuffie laughed, “we can sure pick them, can’t we girls?”

Cloud stopped his drinking to chime in a response, “hey, I thought women liked the strong-yet-sensitive, silent type.”

“We do,” smiled Tifa, “it’s just that you boys can be such a handful at times!!!”

They looked on as Kaede said something to Vincent, causing the ex-Turk to smile and nod. The two men got up as they walked towards the girls’ table.

“What do you think he said?” asked Yuffie.

“We’ll find out,” answered Tifa.

As he neared, Kaede took Aeris’ hand and kissed it, causing her to blush, “perhaps the lady would care to dance?”

Vincent repeated the gesture with the young ninja, “come with me Yuffie?”

Tifa laughed, “what was it you said about ‘pleasant surprises?’”

Aeris smiled, then turned to Kaede, “I’d love to dance.”

“I’ve never really danced before,” replied Yuffie sheepishly.

“I can teach you,” smiled Vincent.

The two girls smiled as they allowed themselves to be taken to the ballroom below.

“Will wonders never cease,” said Reeve.

“Let’s give them company. Care to try it again?” asked Elena.

“I’d be delighted to,” answered Reeve.

Tifa smiled at Cloud and raised an eyebrow in question.

He laughed, “I can’t let the other loners outdo me, can I? Besides, if you think I’ll miss a chance to be with you, you’re crazy.”

She smiled as Cloud took her hand and led her to the ballroom.

Moments later, several new figures were dancing under the starlit sky, light shining through the glass above.

“Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” asked Tifa.

Cloud remembered that night before they entered the crater...resting under the starlight. He had been content simply to be near her that night...oblivious to everything but the sweet sound of her breathing...the gentle caress of her hair against his skin.

“I could never forget,” replied Cloud.

Tifa noticed Kaede talking to the musicians, while Aeris was ordering a something from the drink stand. The two had been lost in the music before, simply staring into each others’ eyes.

“What’s he up to?” asked Tifa.

Cloud turned around, “Oh, don’t tell me he’s going to do it!”

“Do what?”

Kaede picked up the microphone, his voice reverberated through the speakers.

“Excuse me,” he started, “but I’d like to do something for someone very special.”

A spotlight shined on Aeris. She turned, still trying to gather what was happening, and blinked against the glare of the light.

Kaede waved to Cloud, “I think my friends won’t have any more requests in the way of this kind of thing for a while after this fiasco. And I think this qualifies as winning our bet.”

Cloud raised his glass in mock appreciation. The spotlight moved away from Aeris, allowing her to blush without anyone noticing. Kaede conversed some more with the band before beginning to play a few warm up tunes. The audience clapped encouragingly. Then Kaede began to sing, while his guitar weaved its tune through the ballroom.

Beauty and grace is what touches me most,
Good times can put me in fear,
I always feel safe when things are bad,
So I cannot let you come near,
It seems that I thrive on the dark side of things,
I always feel alive when the death bell rings,
Now you come and bring out the tears in me.

Pain never makes me cry, but happiness does,
It's so strange to watch your life walk by...
Wishing it was,
Wishing it was more like fantasy,
Where every day surprises me...
Wishing it was.

Wishing it was...
Wishing it was...

This feeling won't last 'cause I cannot survive,
I tell you I've been here before,
When it's movin' this fast,
It's a matter of time,
One of us walks out that door,
It seems that I thrive on the dark side of things,
I always feel alive when the death bell rings,
Now you come and bring out the tears in me.

Pain never makes me cry, but happiness does,
It's so strange to watch your life walk by...
Wishing it was,
Wishing it was more like fantasy,
Where every day surprises me...
Wishing it was.

Wishing it was...
Wishing it was...

Give this some thought,
And I'm sure you will know,
This is the way it must be,
Emotions will rise, emotions will flow,
You bring out the tears in me...

Pain never makes me cry, but happiness does,
It's so strange to watch your life walk by...
Wishing it was,
Wishing it was more like fantasy,
Where every day surprises me...
Wishing it was.

Wishing it was...

The audience cheered uproariously, demanding more.

Cloud smiled knowingly, “he always seems to be able to capture the spirit of things.”

Tifa turned to Cloud, “what do you mean?”

“Well,” explained Cloud, “in order to become a soldier, one has to shut himself out emotionally.”

Cloud lowered his head, remembering memories from what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Tifa squeezed his hand reassuringly, “Go on.”

“That song,” he continued, “is what I felt, and undoubtedly what he felt, when we forced ourselves to open up again. We had to kill a part of ourselves, and it was frightening to bring it back.”


“Because,” said Cloud, caressing Tifa’s face, “we could not bear to hurt the one’s we love...”

Tifa’s eyes began to water, “Cloud...”

Kaede’s voice rang over the speakers again, “I would also like to dedicate this next song to the one person who can unlock my soul and send it flying, just by looking at me...”

In the audience, looking at Kaede, Aeris’ reaction mirrored that of Tifa’s.

Yuffie jabbed Vincent in the ribs, “that Kaede, what a sweet talker.”

Vincent smiled, “he put it succinctly though.”

Yuffie raised a questioning eyebrow at his direction.

“Well,” shrugged Vincent, “who else would I rather spend time with, than the one who completes the void in here?”

Vincent took Yuffie’s hand and rested it against his heart. She was speechless as he caressed her, raking his long fingers over her silky black hair.

She tried to stammer a response, but was interrupted by the opening twangs of Kaede’s guitar.

“I’d say this had been a fun night,” asked Reeve, “how about you?”

Elena laughed in response, “yeah, I can’t remember the last time the either of us really relaxed.”

“Oh, I don’t know Elena,” answered Reeve, “I always feel calm whenever you’re around.”

Elena’s sigh was swallowed by Kaede’s words, as he began the words to his song.

There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea,
You became the light on the dark side of me,
Love remained a drug that's the high not the pill.
But did you know that when it snows,
My eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen?

Baby.. I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave,
Ohh...the more I get of you the stranger it feels.
Now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the grave.

There is so much a man can tell you,
So much he can say.
You remain my power.. my pleasure.. my pain.
Baby...to me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
Won't you tell me is that healthy baby?
But did you know that when it snows,
My eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen?

Baby...I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave,
Ohh...the more I get of you the stranger it feels.
Now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the grave.

I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
And if I should fall...
I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.
I've been kissed by a rose on the grave.

There is so much a man can tell you,
So much he can say.
You remain my power.. my pleasure.. my pain.
To me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
Won't you tell me is that healthy baby?
But did you know that when it snows,
My eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen?

Baby.. I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
Ohh...the more I get of you the stranger it feels.
Now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom on the grave.
Yes.. I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
Ohh...the more I get of you the stranger it feels.
And now that your rose in in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the grave.
Now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom...on the grave.

Kaede concluded his song to a roar of applause, as he made his way to Aeris. She was speechless, but gathered enough presence of mind to jump into Kaede’s waiting arms, which only heightened the cheering.

“Did you like it?” smiled Kaede.

“It was wonderful,” replied Aeris before kissing him.

Between the loud cheers and the beating of her heart, she could barely even think, and simply melted into the kiss.

Up in the cafe, Reno and Rude were slowly coming out of their stupor, wakened by the cheers coming from below.

“Argh,” groaned Reno, “what’s with all that racket?”

The two yawned tiredly.

“Hey,” shouted Rude groggily, “where’d everybody go?”

They all decided to spend the night at the ghostly hotel, to enjoy the relaxation of the Gold Saucer for a while yet.

During the night, while everyone else was asleep, Kaede left the hotel to seek Dio. Reeve came with him, and in short order, gained audience with the owner of Gold Saucer.

He was overjoyed to see Reeve, and clapped the President of Shinra on his shoulder.

“Good to see you again,” bellowed Dio, “how are you?”

The returned a hearty handshake, “well, and you?”

“I can’t complain, what can I do for you?”

Reeve turned to Kaede.

The Planeswalker looked grim, “I have to ask you to ground the Gold Saucer.”

“WHAT?!?” demanded Dio.

Kaede explained to him about the Drahk threat. Word had traveled around the world that planetary forces were mounting, but nobody yet knew the true gravity of the situation. Unless he wanted the Saucer to come crashing down on the cities below, it would have to be grounded, kept safe on the planet until such time as the Saucer could rise again without fear of attack.

“Very well,” answered Dio, “I have always had backup plans should there be a need to do this. But wished there would never be a need.”

“So did I,” sighed Reeve, “will you be alright?”

“I’ll be fine,” replied Dio, “just give me a couple of days, you take care.”

“You too,” returned Reeve.

Kaede and Reeve returned to their rooms, not a whisper disturbed the quiet in the hallways.

Reeve breathed heavily, “will it be enough Kaede?”

“It has to be,” replied the Planeswalker, “are the planetary forces ready?”

Reeve nodded, “just a few odds and ends to work out.”

“Very well, goodnight Reeve.”

“Goodnight Kaede.”

But the tired warrior didn’t feel like sleeping. In him was a bone deep weariness, the kind that ate at him inside, but wouldn’t allow him to sleep. So, he chose to go to the balcony outside, and gaze at the stars.

As Kaede neared the balcony, however, he noticed someone was already there.

“Couldn’t get any sleep?” he asked.

Aeris turned around, “Oh, Kaede, what are you doing up?”

“We had some important business,” he answered, “and you?”

She simply shrugged, “just looking at the stars.”

“Mind if I join you?” asked Kaede

“Why not?” she replied

And together, the two watched at the spectacle of heaven’s portrait.

The Planeswalker let out a great sigh.

Aeris turned to him, “Something on your mind?”

Kaede shrugged, “just remembering.”

“Remembering what?”

“Places I’ve gone,” he answered, “people I’ve seen.”

Aeris nodded, “what’s it like...out there?”

Kaede leaned against the railing, gazing at the starlit sky, “oh Aeris, where to begin?”

He gathered his thought before speaking.

“Despite the war, you’d be surprised how many planets live on like nothing is out of the ordinary...”

Aeris looked at his questioningly.

“I guess you would call them...neutral territory, places too important for either side to campaign against. I’ve seen planets where the blood flows through the streets like water, I’ve seen entire worlds, nothing but empty, burned-out shells. And yet...there are so many places that remain relatively untouched. Where wonders abound.

There are countless worlds, Aeris, where the soul purpose is to do nothing but to enjoy life. I’ve seen places dominated by trade, an intergalactic bazaar...a market so large, it spans entire planets. I’ve seen stations in space, so astounding they make the Gold Saucer look like a child’s playpen.”

Aeris looked into Kaede’s eyes, noticing how his eyes beamed.

“Oh Aeris, you should see those sights, the Star’s Cradle nebula, boasting fluorescent showers of light like you’ve never seen. The meteor and ice constellations of Coruscant. There are planets where the entire civilization lives in underwater cities, or places where all the cities are in the skies, and no one lives on the surface. I’ve been to planets so beautiful, you couldn’t tell where the ground stopped and Heaven began.”

“What’s our homeland like?” asked Aeris, “how is the planet of the Cetra?”

Kaede gave her a knowing look and sighed, “our planet...is beautiful. I cannot explain it any other way. A sky so blue, it’s intensity can only be matched by the shining seas. Hues of blues and green, life everywhere you look. It has forests so thick, there are actually cities in the trees. Entire coastal cities, underwater cities, and island cities abound, much like the Fortress of the Ancients. To see their legacy to this planet is to understand but a fragment of their splendor.”

“You’ll have to take me there sometime,” said Aeris.

“I will,” vowed Kaede.

“Okay then,” smiled Aeris, “it’s a date.”

The Planeswalker smiled, “you know, I’ve been meaning to ask you...”


“Back at the Fortress, how did you know what to do?”

“You mean how did I activate...whatever it was that occurred?”

Kaede nodded.

“I don’t know,” conceded Aeris, “it was so natural...almost as if...”

“It was deep inside?” hazarded Kaede, “as if it were reflex?”

“I guess so,” agreed Aeris, “it almost felt like coming home.”

He nodded, “...coming home...”

Aeris caught a strange glimmer in his eyes, something that signaled his mind was far away, in the past.

“Hello, Kaede, are you there?”

He blinked a few times before turning his gaze to her.

“What were you thinking?” she asked, “was it about your home?”

Kaede shook his head, “not now...ask me again sometime.”


“So,” continued Kaede, “did you like my little tribute to you in the ballroom?”

Aeris smiled and covered her eyes in mock embarrassment.

“Shall I take that as a yes?” grinned Kaede.

She raised her hands in surrender, “yes, yes, I give up, although I would be grateful if you didn’t make me feel like the center of attention every time YOU are expressing yourself for a change.”

“Can’t help it.”

Aeris laughed, “well, I’ve enjoyed the talk, but I think we should get some rest.”

Kaede nodded, “good night Aeris.”

“Good night Kaede.”

She left him, gazing at the stars. Off in the distance, Kaede heard a door being closed. He sighed as he brought up the memories of long ago, but soon grew weary. He returned to his room not long afterwards.

Much of the rest of the day went uneventfully, but the entire Gold Saucer was busy due to preparations for the grounding of the airborne attraction. Cloud and the others left before sunset, preferring to relax at Villa Cloud for a few more days before final preparations for planetary defense took them away.

As always, Cid and Shera decided to test out the new Highwind, while the others shopped in the city or amused themselves with the other townsfolk. Reno and Rude, of course, went to the bar, while Reeve and Elena opted to play soccer with the children in town, keeping an eye on the two Turks.

Along the beach, four figures stood looking at the sunset.

Tifa hugged herself as she looked at Cloud beside him.

“So,” asked her husband, “did you have fun?”

Tifa nodded, “I’m surprised those people at Event Square let us leave after the popularity of the play!”

Cloud shrugged, “actually, one look from Kaede, and the director pretty much wet himself trying not to annoy us.”

Tifa laughed in response, and looked in the distance as Kaede stared into the eyes the woman before him, oblivious to his surroundings.

“She’s the only one who can make him smile like that,” said Tifa, nodding towards Aeris.

“She’s unlocked his soul,” answered Cloud, “she makes his heart feel complete.”

“Gee Cloud,” joked Tifa, “that was almost profound.”

He grinned at his wife, “you know, I found someone that does that for me.”

Tifa arched an eyebrow, “care telling me who?”

Cloud laughed, “you have to ask?”

Tifa smiled back at him, “let’s give them some space.”

Cloud gave her a sly look, “what do you have in mind?”

She raised an eyebrow in response, “you know, we were kids together, I’ve been married to you for the better part of a year, and I’m still finding things out about you.”

“Such as?” he asked.

“What’s say we go dance inside?”

“Couldn’t think of a better idea.”

Soon afterwards, Kaede and Aeris heard the music coming from the villa.

Aeris laughed, “I think she’s enjoying our new discovery about you two.”

He wrapped his arms about her waist, “I think I am as well.”

And together, the two danced to the soft sounds of the shore mixing with the entrancing rhythm of the music.

Once they stopped, Kaede turned to the sunset again, and sighed longingly. Once more, Aeris saw that same strange look in his eye...the one she had seen on Gold Saucer.

“You told me to ask you later...” started Aeris.

“Don’t finish that sentence,” replied Kaede softly, “I...think I can tell you now.”

Aeris looked into Kaede’s eyes expectantly, “it has something to do with your ‘home,’ or a previous one.”

“You know me too well,” sighed Kaede.

“Don’t you have a home?” asked Aeris.

“Not a real one, not anymore. But I did once, I returned to it...after I was freed from the Drahk. It was a quiet place, a coastal village, several light-years away from the Cetra homeworld where I was born.”

“And what did you find?”

Kaede looked away, “nothing...it was all gone, destroyed years before.”

Aeris gasped, “nothing was left?”

He shook his head, “mostly vegetation...growing over the ruins and ashes, but I did find a chest, buried beneath the remnants of the dojo.”

“What was in it?”

Kaede took the sword from his shoulder strap, “I found a letter, my master’s last will and testament.”

“What did it say?”

The Planeswalker breathed heavily before continuing, “I said that if I was reading the letter, he had died before passing to me his legacy. He entrusted to me this sword...his sword...that I might go out and do good with it, carry on in his memory.”

Kaede lowered his head, “a fine corruption I became of his work.”

Aeris shook her head, “don’t say that.”

“It’s true Aeris. Sometimes...I fear what he would say...if he saw what I became.”

Aeris took his face in her hands, “no Kaede, he would be proud, proud of what you have become. He would glory in what you have made yourself into.”

He raised his eyebrows dismissively, “oh really?”

“Kaede, you’ll have to realize, one day, that what counts is what’s in here,” Aeris touched her hand to his heart, “whatever the Drahk did...whatever you did, I will never lose faith in what’s in your heart and soul...what’s deep inside.”

Kaede stared at her, “how can you say that?”

“What about me?” demanded Aeris, “can you imagine how I felt, when that monster had
control over me...forcing me to...to hurt you? Do you know how I agonized over every blow-”

She buried herself in his arms as she sobbed, unable to continue.

Kaede tried to comfort her, “hush Aeris, it’s alright.”

He raised her face, brushing away her tears, “it wasn’t your fault, no one blames you. It’s over now.”

‘Why can’t you realize that Kaede?’ thought Aeris, ‘nobody blames you for what you did.’

“Do you trust me?” asked Aeris.

“Of course,” he answered.

“Well...I trust you,” she smiled, “so you should trust yourself.”

Kaede sighed, “ah Aeris...why do I deserve you?”

“Because you’ve got a strong heart,” she replied.

“And you’ve captured it,” Kaede shook his head, “and here, in my moment of despair, you try to give me hope and forgiveness...”

Aeris caressed his hair, “it is what a person does for the one they love.”

Kaede smiled sadly, “there is more yet that you should know, before you so blindly give me that gift...which brings me to this...”

He reached beneath his shirt, and drew out a chain. On it hanged a silver ring.

“I knew I felt something there under that shirt,” grinned Aeris, “what is it?”

Kaede drew back, as he took off the silver trinket, thumbing the ring in his hand.

“This chain,” he said, “belonged to my father. My mother must have given it to Sensei, before she had to leave. When I found the sword, this chain was attached to the scabbard. It’s the only thing I have to remember him by.”

Aeris looked at the ring Kaede was holding, “and that?”

He slid the ring from the chain and held it up, “this ring...belonged to my mother. It was returned to me by Talon and Kyra...upon my coronation into the Planeswalker order...as the heir to my parents’ legacy...”

Kaede looked away, unable to continue.

Aeris could see he was troubled, “Kaede, what’s wrong?”

He gripped his hand into a fist, to stop it from trembling, “do you remember what I told you when this started? When you thought I could still be under Drahk control, and Cloud wanted to kill me?”

She pondered for a while before replying, “yes...you said that killing you would be a favor...that many of your own kind tried...tried to kill...”

Aeris trailed off, finally realizing what Kaede was implying.

“Now you understand,” he nodded, “my coronation had little to do with honor and respect for me, it was more out of reverence to my parents. My position, my rank, it had everything to do with them...and nothing to do with me. Talos and Kyra saw to it that I was treated with respect. But no one can control thought and emotion. Many cursed me as a...a mockery of their legacy...of my parents’ legacy.”

Aeris shook her head, “but you achieved great heights, you had other allies, Bahumet and-”

“Yes, you’re right,” Kaede interrupted, “and for the support of what friends I had, I am grateful, but their were always mixed feelings when it came to me. The High Council grudgingly applauded my efforts, but were ever fearful of me, for I was an unknown, an enigma, a loose cannon...I knew the secrets of both sides, so I was unpredictable. The Drahk cursed me as an abomination and a traitor, but there would always be those among the Planeswalkers that would never trust me, that would brand me as a hidden viper.”

“They feared what they did not understand,” deduced Aeris.

Kaede nodded, “I can’t blame them, it’s the nature of living beings to fear the unknown...and in my case...there’s something else that you should know.”

“What does it matter,” asked Aeris, “you’ve got a good heart.”

“I’m not sure I deserve such praise,” returned Kaede.


Kaede sighed, “do you remember Veletta, the Mistress of Evil?”

Aeris nodded.

“Long ago, when I was still with the Drahk...I was betrothed to her,” said Kaede, downcast.

Aeris gasped.

“Now you see,” he continued, “why they hated me so much. Veletta is one of the most feared and powerful of the Drahk. Millions have died at her whim, she is a feared and hated butcher of worlds. In the eyes of the Council, a would-be consort to such a demoness could never be honored. And yet, the Drahk curse me forever for spurning her and the Emperor.”

“Aeris,” said Kaede, “I’m not complaining about the hand fate dealt me, although I may not like it at times. I’ve seen and done too much to ever be pure again. But I did want you to know what kind of a person you were trusting.”

She remained silent, then something clicked in her mind. She shook her head in denial, “did you marry her?”

“No,” answered Kaede.

“Did you love her?”

“Never,” spat Kaede.

“Did you enjoy killing all those innocents?” she continued, baiting him.

Kaede’s eyes flared, ‘why is she doing this? Does she really hate me then?’

That had to be it. He loved Aeris, but had forced his emotions on her when he had no right to do so, for she had yet to know the truth. It wouldn’t be fair to force her to love him...not after this. He felt himself go cold inside. He had never wanted these emotions again, but once he found them, he discovered he could not let go. They had become a part of him, just as much as she had.

He kept calm in the face of his fears, knowing that without her, he would surely be lost in the cold, icy depths within himself. But he’d endure, as he always had...if only for her sake.

Aeris widened her eyes in fear. Why wasn’t he answering, had she pushed him too far?

‘Please,’ she thought, ‘anything but that, never let ME be the source of his pain...’

After a disturbing silence, Kaede answered her question, “never, each dead soul was ever like a weight...bearing down on me.”

Inwardly, she sighed in relief. Now it was time to put an end to this useless self-doubt.

Aeris raised her hands , “then stop torturing yourself! You are not to blame!”

She grinned at Kaede while the man blinked, unsure what to make of this unexpected response. And looking at his surprised features, Aeris knew she was finally getting through to him.

“Why...are you smiling?” asked Kaede confusedly, “if anything, you should be...outraged.”

“Oh Kaede,” Aeris shook her head, “will you never learn?“


“No, no, no,” exclaimed Aeris, “you were never hers, you never loved her. You were manipulated, it was not of your own free will. Kaede, can’t you understand? Just by being alive, by doing what you do...just by loving me, you are defying the evil that yearns to capture you. I dare say, that the Drahk Emperor is tearing his hair out because you’ve made such a fool out of him...since his work is ashes.”

Aeris saw her reasoning had worked, for a smile crept its way into his features, he was obviously amused at Aeris’ idea, “you don’t belong to them anymore Kaede...you never did.”

“Let’s not worry about it anymore,’ she continued, “I don’t care about your past troubles. I love you...not because of your position or power, but because of your heart...you are mine now, you reside in here.”

She tapped her heart, as if showing him, forcing him to realize that she would never be whole without him.

“Aeris,” sighed Kaede, “you fill my soul, but you must be able to see the monster that lurks inside me, the abomination others have cursed me to be.”

Aeris shook her head, but Kaede silenced her by resting his finger on her lips.

“Don’t try to deny it Aeris, I feel complete when I am with you, but you have seen into my mind. My life has been full of struggles, both inner and outer. And the subsequent changes haven’t been pretty.”

A tear rolled down Aeris’ cheek, as she caressed Kaede’s face, “but you’ve done so much. Please, I can’t say anymore to you. Can’t you feel it at all? We need you Kaede, I...need you. I couldn’t...”

Aeris fell silent and looked down, but Kaede brought his hand to her face, lifting it up.

Those tears broke the shell that had been covering his heart. She shed these tears for him...they were tears of healing. And he knew now, that he would never let her go, for she was as essential to life as the heart inside him that she had captured.

He smiled, “Thank you Aeris... thank you for being able to see past this weak shell.”

“Kaede,” cried Aeris.

“Hush,” soothed Kaede, “I just wanted you to know. I promise Aeris, that I’ll try it your way, try to keep hope...because of one very special reason.”

She raised her head, “and what’s that?”

“You make me want to be a better person. You inspire me to keep fighting, to wake up every day if only to see your smile and hear your voice. You are a part of me now Aeris, and you always will be, which is why I want you to have this...”

Taking his other hand, he opened up her palm and placed the ring inside, closing her hand around it, “would you take care of this for me?”

Aeris gasped as she looked at the ring...it was beautiful. The stunning silver artifact was stylized into the shape of angelic wings.

“It is made of a rare metal mined from the Cetra homeworld,” explained Kaede, “it...it is as much a part of me as my heart, and I give it to you...I want you to have it.”

Aeris looked up at Kaede, she was stunned into silence. Kaede returned her stare with a rather expectant one, tense and unsure.

“Kaede,” gasped Aeris, “is this your way of proposing to me?”

He coughed and looked away, rubbing his head. For the first time in his life, Kaede found himself emotionally at a loss for words, “well, uhmm, I...yes...”

Aeris surprised him by laughing.

He blinked nervously, “did I do something wrong?”

She managed to calm herself and shook her hand in denial, “no, no it’s not that, it’s just that...”

She reached into her pocket, and drew out the ring she had gotten for Kaede, “...I have one for you too.”

He stared at her aghast, “how...how did you know?”

“That’s the funny thing,” she smiled, “I didn’t, I just thought it would go nicely with that chain, and I wanted you to have it.”

Kaede took the ring from her grasp and looked at it. The craftsmanship was undeniably excellent, the silver flames would have looked real if not for the color. The finely cut gem looked like lightning trapped within the sea.

He placed the ring on his chain, “I will keep this as safe as I keep my love for you.”

Aeris mirrored Kaede’s movement, placing the angelic ring around her necklace, “and this I keep as near to my heart, as much a part of me as you are.”

“Does this mean,” pleaded Kaede, “that you accept?”

“It does,” she answered breathlessly.

Kaede blinked nervously, “I apologize if I startled you, it’s just my...we can make it...I just had to do it like this-”

Aeris silenced him with a tender embrace, “Kaede, it was perfect.”

And the two joined souls stayed like that until long after the sun had set.

Tifa and Cloud looked at them from the Villa.

“I didn’t know he had it in him,” smiled Tifa.

“Neither did I,” agreed Cloud, “bravo Kaede.”

Tifa sighed.

“What’s wrong,” asked Cloud, “jealous?”

She smiled wryly and jabbed Cloud in the ribs, “now why would I be jealous?”

Cloud gave her a sly grin and raised his hands, “Oh, I’m gonna get you for that!”

Tifa’s eyes widened as Cloud began to ti

kle her, “hah, hah, no, no-ha, Cloud, st-stop!”

The two roared out in laughter as they toppled together on the floor.

Cloud had her pinned, “do you concede?”

She smiled back at him, “meanie.”

He flashed her a wolfish grin, “do you concede?”

Wrapping her arms about his neck, she replied, “only to you.”

Barret heard the commotion from his bedroom and came out to see what had happened. What he found was Tifa and Cloud sprawled on the floor, kissing. The two hastily looked up in embarrassment.

“Uhm...hello Barret,” stammered Tifa.

“We were just-,” started Cloud.

Barret shook his head and raised his hand, “don’t say another word, please, I really don’t want to know.”

Reno had also heard what was happening, and came through the doorway to investigate as well.

He stared wide-eyed when he saw Tifa and Cloud, “whoa, GET IT ON!!!”

Barret rubbed his temples with one hand while pushing Reno back through the doorway.

“Go back to sleep fool!” roared the tall man.

“I go where the action is!” retorted Reno.

“You’ll get more action than you can handle unless you zip it right now!” snapped Barret, “besides, there’ll be plenty of work for us tomorrow.”

Sounds of their bickering faded into the distance as they went to their rooms.

Cloud looked back to Tifa, who was blushing.

“Hmm,” quipped Cloud, “remind me to thank Barret sometime. Now, where were we?”

Tifa smiled back, “you rogue.”

“But a lucky rogue,” he returned.

Tifa stopped any further response with another kiss...

Author’s Note: Good lord! I hope that no other chapter gives me as much trouble as this one did! I can safely say that his chapter alone has taken me longer to write and revise than all of the fight scenes combined!!! The strange thing is, I still keep thinking it could be better, but I really needed to write some more about their personal lives. Oh well, I hope I haven’t disappointed you guys too much, forgive the cheesiness. Anyway, I finally start the fight scenes. Next chapter starts the prelude to festivities, then it’s just a few long battles, more plot twists, and origin explanations. After that, it’s just ending and epilogue. As of now, I am planning on two separate endings, but I’ll see later if I’m up to it.

A word about the songs: some of the lyrics are probably wrong. However, I think I will paraphrase Seal when I say that these lyrics are more applicable because this is what I thought they said, which is why I posted them here. Sorry if this bothers you. Anyway, the songs are “Wishing it Was,” by Santana and Eagle Eye Cherry, and “Kiss from a Rose,” by Seal. Don’t worry, no more lyrics from here on.

Like I said before, the writing is done, but it’s all skeleton-work. The real fleshing in begins prior to my revising and posting, plus I want to see how the ending works and adjust other chapters accordingly if needed. By the time I’ve posted this chapter, I should hopefully have the entire story ready for final revision. Thanks for sticking with me, and keep those ideas and comments coming!


Chapter 23

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic