Through the Looking Glass Chapter 13
The Unsung Hero
By Lucrecia Marionette
Both Tifa and Cloud sat bolt upright in bed the second that the incredible boom reached their eardrums.
"Another Mako-reactor explosion?" questioned Tifa fearfully.
"It sounded closer," Cloud answered with wide eyes that glowed blue in the rooms darkness.
"I smell smoke," Tifa reported after a few seconds of horrid silence had elapsed. Her head snapped around to face Cloud and her breath caught in her throat. "Oh God! The bar!" she exclaimed and he sprang from bed.
"Wait here; Ill check it out."
"No," she returned firmly. "Its my bar; I wont sit here uselessly."
They grabbed their weapons from their bedsides and ran out onto the landing where both Yuffie and Sephiroth stood, their puzzlement mirror images of the couples.
"Whats happening?" Sephiroth asked quickly. "Is it the mob?"
Cloud didnt answer and pushed past them and ran down the stairs. The door at the bottom was closed but he could see smoke pouring from the thin gaps around the entrance and a faint orange glow from beneath it. Taking a step back, he kicked out and the door burst open, its hinges twisted and useless.
The smoke attacked his lungs with the first breath he inhaled and his already weakened state of health was worsened. He elapsed into a violent coughing fit, doubling over and clutching his chest whilst the Ultima Weapon slipped from his hand. Covering his nose and mouth with the neck of his night-shirt he stood and wiped the smoke induced tears from his face.
In the brief time that the fire had existed it had already turned the room a charcoal-black. Flames had spread from their obvious point of origin in the bar and were now consuming the dry wooden benches and stools that surrounded the grimy tiled floor.
"Cait!" he shouted over the almost deafening din of the roaring blaze. "Cait, where are you??"
There was a quiet coughing and choking from somewhere nearby and Cloud strained his eyes to look around the floor. Eventually he spotted a silhouetted figure against the wall of flames seemingly trying to push them back by waving his arms and will alone.
"Cait, what happened??" Cloud blurted out as he covered his eyes against the searing heat and attempted to get closer to the small cat.
Cait turned around and faced the blonde-haired warrior. There were tear marks streaming down his face and his fur was scorched and sooty; his golden crown reduced to a melted mass of metal on his head. His red cape was full of blacked char marks and he only wore one of his gloves.
"Mog!" he sobbed loudly. "They threw in a petrol bomb and I didnt notice until it was too late! They got Mog!!"
The distraught creature turned back to the flames and tried to take a step forward; however the heat alone pushed him back and he screamed in frustration. "Let me in!!" he cried passionately. "I want to get him!!"
"Cait, no!" Cloud yelled. "H, Hes gone! Theres no way he willve survived. For gods sake, dont get yourself killed!!"
Cait fell back wearily onto the floor and Cloud swept him up in his arms. "B, But Mog !" Cait wept as he buried his face in his paws.
"Shh," Cloud soothed as he stroked the cats sooty fur. "Cmon, we have to get out of here. Im sure its what Mog would have wanted."
Cait sniffed and rubbed his tiny nose with the back of his un-gloved paw. He set him down on the floor once again and he looked up at Clouds face.
"Where are the others?" he asked.
Cloud opened his mouth to reply when there was a sudden crash from upstairs followed by a woman screaming.
"Oh shit!" Cloud murmured. "Theyre upstairs!"
He ran towards the doorway to the living area and suddenly the beams above his head collapsed into a heap of burning wood. Cloud leapt back just in time to avoid being crushed beneath their weight. "Tifa!!" he bellowed over the roaring fire. "Tifa can you hear me??"
"Cloud !" came the faint answer and his heart leapt. " The floors collapsed and Yuffies hurt ! Theres no way out !!"
Cloud thought quickly. "Tifa, youll have to get out through one of the windows. Ill catch you!!"
" What ? C, Cloud ?? Are you still- I cant hear "
The noise of the spreading fire became too much and Cloud roared in fury; his fists balled and his jaw clenched. Cait looked up at him worriedly. He wouldve cried again had he the tears but instead his own tiny jaw set in defiance and he looked at the seemingly blocked doorway. His heart leapt however as he noticed a small, barely noticeable gap between the floor and one of the beams. Just the right size for
"Cloud! I can get to them!" Cait told his companion excitedly. "Go outside and Ill tell them to jump. Dont worry, everythingll be fine!"
Cloud looked down at him not fully understanding, but as the cat dashed towards the heap of smouldering firewood and was immediately swallowed by the flames, only to appear in a heat haze on the other side he finally understood.
His pause was broken though as he heard on the very edge of his audible range a faint thumping and anguished cry. Snapping his attention from the blocked doorway he turned to another in the wall which had also been half blocked by one of the longer beams laying part way across it.
"Cid!" he gasped quietly.
He ran to the doorway, fighting the heat of the flames with every step. He felt the skin on his arms blister and the smell of burnt hair filled his nostrils while smoky tears blurred his eyes. Still he pushed on until he stood outside the lounge door.
"Cid!!" he repeated, much louder.
"Cloud, you stupid bastard! Get me the fuck outta here!!" screamed a furious voice and Cloud couldnt suppress a smile from touching his lips.
"Stand back!" he ordered loudly. Taking a step back he kicked out and the door shattered away from him.
Cid sprang out from the previously locked room and leapt over the burning beam which had held him in. Cloud helped him to walk as his lungs were exposed to the fumes for the first time and the two men burst out of the back door and into the secreted alleyway behind the building.
Cait tore up the once perfect wooden staircase, the heat of the flames behind him driving him faster and furthering his fear. He scrambled onto the landing and was met with a gush of black smoke as it rushed him like a tidal wave momentarily blinding him and confusing his senses. He squinted and wafted a paw in front of his face in a feeble attempt to clear his vision as he walked forward.
After a few metres he walked straight into a hard object and was knocked back to the floor. There was a sound of an exclamation and he was lifted high into the air above the carpet of heavy smoke which was dissipating on the floor. Blinking a few times he found himself looking into Tifas soot streaked face, her beautiful burgundy eyes wide in terror. He was reminded of a deer hed once seen caught in the headlights of a Shinra truck.
"Tifa," he coughed. "Cloud wants you to jump out of the window so he can catch you. The way down the stairs is blocked by burnin beams."
"We cant go anywhere!" Tifa contended, her voice a higher pitch through fear and panic. "Yuffies trapped in her room! The floor collapsed and the roof set on fire and fell down. Theres no way to reach her and she doesnt have a window to escape through!"
As she finished, Sephiroth stumbled backwards out of the young ninjas room, coughing and choking on the thick plumes of smog that poured out. Tifa ran over to him, Cait perched on her shoulder.
"Can you get to her? Is she alright??" she blurted out worriedly and Sephiroth shook his head.
"I cant even see her," he reported grimly. "For all I know she could have fallen through to the bar below when the floor gave away."
Tifa gasped and tears welled in her eyes. "Did you call to her?"
He nodded. "I couldnt hear anything over the noise. I shouted as loudly as I could but theres no way she couldve heard."
Cait leapt off the tearful proprietress shoulder and ran to the door, his face turning aghast as he viewed the hellish scenario for himself. Pushing down whatever emotion threatened to spill over and force him into a sobbing heap of black fur and charred material, he turned back to his companions.
"You two get out," he ordered with a firmness that was unusual for the normally jovial feline. "Ill go an get her out."
Tifa looked about to object when Sephiroth touched her arm lightly and shook his head. "Theres no use waiting here. If anyone can get her out its him; hes the only one that can survive the temperatures."
Tifa appeared as though she was about to shout back at him but instead she bit her bottom lip suppressing a sob and looked down at the cat. "Good luck, Cait," she said quietly. "Well meet you outside."
"Sure," he nodded. "Just get outta here. The stars arent ready to stop shining on us just yet!"
Tifa smiled and Sephiroth grabbed her wrist gently but with authority and pulled it to indicate she should follow him. With a last backward glance at Cait, she followed the silver-haired warrior into the next room along with a window still with the image of the defiant feline sat surrounded by flames.
Satisfied that the couple had escaped safely or were at least at a window, Cait padded slowly and cautiously into the room which had turned into an inferno in a matter of minutes. Sephiroth was right; he could withstand the temperatures better than any human but it didnt stop them hurting and Cait found himself suddenly reluctant to enter. Faltering for a brief moment he frowned.
"Cmon," he reprimanded himself, "Whats the hold up? You were so brave a second ago, where did it all go?"
There was an ominous creaking and he looked up in time to see what remained of the roof buckling downwards and towards its inevitable collapse.
He gritted his teeth. "This isnt the time to step back; youve always wanted the chance to prove yourself and here it is. No use in running away. The die have been rolled; its my turn to be the hero."
He found a sad smile touching his cattish features. "Yeah, lets go."
He moved with renewed determination and forcefulness into the room and moved as close as he dared to next to the wall of fire. "Yuffie!" he cried at the top of his voice. "Can you hear me?"
There was no answer as he expected and so he started to patrol along the length of the room. After less than a minute his eyes fell upon a tiny gap beneath what remained of the floor and a long splintered shaft of wood turned black from its nearness to the bulk of the blaze. Steeling himself, he set his jaw and threw himself blindly at the hole. He yelped as his back smashed against the top of the hole but bit it back and landed clumsily on all four paws.
His eyes immediately started to scan over the wrecked corner of the room and his eyes stopped on a pile of snapped wood. His senses, heightened by the adrenaline-surged circumstances picked up on a low moan which seemed like less than a sigh in a gale.
He ran to the pile and started to pull charred planks away, eventually revealing a square of black material. Urged on, he started to pull away the wood with increased vigour until the barely conscious form of the young woman clothed only in a large black shirt was fully exposed.
"Yuffie," he said as he moved his mouth close to her ear. "Its Cait. You have to get up quickly. We dont have much time."
At the sound of his voice, Yuffies eyes flickered open and widened as they focused on the towering flames barely three metres from her position. She sat up hastily and attempted to stand, falling back down to the floor with a cry of pain.
"My ankle," she moaned. "I, I think its broken."
Cait grabbed a piece of wood from nearby and tied it crudely to her left calf using his tattered cape as a bandage. Yuffie surveyed the makeshift medical-attention and flashed him a sooty smile. "Thanks," she said gratefully.
The expression of happiness slipped from her face however as the foreboding creaking occurred again above them only twice as loud as it had been before.
"We need to get out before the building collapses," Cait notified the ninja calmly in an effort to prevent her from panicking. He glanced back at the flaming wall which cornered them in the precarious room and picked out a point where the flames seemed less intense. He ran over to it and looked back at her. "You need to jump over," he said firmly. "Grit your teeth and close your eyes to fight the pain."
She looked at him in horror; to her the area seemed as dangerous as any other along the blazing barrier of wood. Her leg throbbed agonisingly and she couldnt even stand let alone leap across great distances.
"C, Cait," she stumbled fearfully. "I, I cant jump that! My leg hurts too much."
He trotted back to her and stood on his hind legs, planting his paws on her shoulders so that they looked into each others eyes. "Yuffie, you have to jump. If you dont then who am I supposed to play tricks on Cid with, huh?"
A smile played on her lips although her eyes still reflected back the harrowing image of the fire beyond.
"And, if you dont push back that pain, who am I meant to read my cards for? Yknow how everyone else hates it when I try to tell their fortunes."
"Thats because youre rubbish at it!" Yuffie laughed and a relieved expression broke out on Caits face.
"Hurt my feelins while Im tryin to console you why dont you!" he grinned and she looked back at him with a sorrowful smile. "Cmon. We need to escape otherwise the rest of them might try to do somethin awful like settle down for good and start a family!"
Yuffie now beamed happily back at him. "Yeah," she said with an expression of mock disgust. "We cant have them goin old on us now, can we?"
"Thats my girl! Now lets get outta here."
Cait jumped back and watched carefully as Yuffie steadily pushed herself to her feet. She stood on her right, uninjured foot and testily set the toes of her left on the floor, the pain caused reflected on her visage. She limped over to the place in the flaming barrier Cait had indicated to and pulled a face.
"Are you sure its safe?" she asked quietly and Cait looked up at her.
"Of course it's not safe!" Cait responded and Yuffie looked down at him with a puzzled expression. The cat laughed in return and assumed the posture he took when making fun of Cid. "Nothin's been safe since we walked over that dumb bridge but are you gonna wait around here all night while we go up and get a piece of the action?!"
Yuffie laughed brightly at Caits mimicry of the old pilot when she, Tifa, Cid and Cait went up to the HQ to rescue Cloud and Vincent. Her fears reassured for the moment, she took a deep breath and turned back to the hurdle. She watched Cait run at the wall and appear on the other side as he seemed to meld straight through in her peripheral vision.
Her mind firmly on the task at hand, she closed her eyes tightly and prayed to every god she could think of. Taking a deep breath, Yuffie leapt.
The pain was unbearable, it tore up her leg and stabbed her chest like a thousand knives but she fought it back until it had subsided into a dull aching. After what seemed like an eternity, she landed on the other side; rolling when she hit the floor and clutching the broken foot to prevent jarring it.
She remained in a foetal position as if fearful to open her eyes but there was a soft nudge on her cheek and she slowly moved her head to look. Her eyes met with Cait who was looking down at her admirably.
"Nice jump," he grinned.
Her expression darkened as she prepared to tell him exactly how badly her foot hurt and how much she wanted to get out of this hell when she felt the floor beneath her quiver. Her eyes widened and she stumbled into a standing position, wincing as her foot was nudged.
"What now?" she asked her companion and he ran to the door.
"We get out of here," he responded and she limped painfully over to him lifting the Conformer from the charred floor as she passed it.
They found themselves on the landing. The fires had spread from the kitchen and had reduced the staircase to a blazing slope. As Yuffie watched, her feet frozen in place there was a prolonged creak and wooden structure collapsed. She swallowed forcefully and looked down at Cait who sat at her feet.
"Wh, Where do we go?" she stuttered fearfully.
"We need to get to a window or somethin," he replied as he glanced around.
The banisters to one side of the balcony-like landing were slowly beginning to be smothered in the enchanting flames as they rose up from below like flickering ivy. As he glanced back to the room they had just exited from, it gave an almighty groan and collapsed down with an explosion of heat that blew around them and fuelled the blaze further until the heat was unbearable.
"Cait!" cried Yuffie as she started to panic, clean lines where salty tears had run clearly visible through her sooty mask.
He shook his head to dispel his moment of paralysis as he stared at the hypnotising, orange glow. For a brief moment, despite the intense heat raging from the inferno before him he felt a dreadful cold chill run up his spine as though there was something behind him. Dismissing it as nothing in order to reassure the terrified young woman, he stood and looked towards the far end of the landing.
"The next room wont be safe. Try the one along from there; it has a window out onto the alleyway."
"Y, Youre coming, arent you??" Yuffie questioned in a horrified tone and he gazed up at her.
"Of course I am, but after you. I can stand the heat more than you can-" A sudden jerk of the floor beneath them stopped him mid-sentence. "Neither of us are gonna get out of here though if we dont hurry."
Yuffie nodded firmly and strode forward ducking back whenever the flickering flames blew too close to her. Eventually she stood outside the designated doorway and shielding her eyes, she turned back to Cait.
"Come on!" she urged. "This place is gonna collapse!"
He nodded in agreement and took a step after her. However, as soon as his gloved paw made contact with the floor, there was a groaning from above him and both cat and ninja lifted their eyes to look at the ceiling. The struts that supported the landing and roof above it had been reduced to charcoal beneath their vision and the strain was starting to have its effect on the rest of the building.
As they watched completely transfixed, a crack appeared in the plaster ceiling between the pair. It slowly widened, smaller rifts snaking out from it like lightening until the whole roof looked like little more than a broken egg-shell. They were both too horrified to act; fear glued their feet to the spot and prevented them from moving their bodies.
A tumultuous roaring sound filled their ears and as they turned their fear filled eyes to look at one another, the ceiling dipped down and finally collapsed showering the entire landing with fire and stone.
Yuffie leapt back just in time twisting her already broken foot awkwardly. Now not only the smoke of the inferno stung her eyes, but the plaster dust and grit made them water along with the pain.
Waving the dust away, her heart suddenly sank and she rushed back out into the upper-hall. A huge portion of it had collapsed in the middle leaving a massive blazing chasm between the entrance to her room and where she stood. Only a thin beam which had somehow remained intact joined the two otherwise separate parts of the landing.
A pile of rubble and wood covered the far platform and as she watched, it slowly started to move. A plank was pushed away and it fell to the flames below to be consumed. More rubble and debris was delicately shoved away. Despite the movers best effort though, the precarious, smouldering platform started to creak and sway dangerously forcing her to her knees and pulling her broken ankle painfully.
Slowly but surely, a dusty head emerged followed by the forepaws of Cait Sith. She felt her heart leap momentarily at the sighting, but as another judder tore through the building her stomach flew up to her mouth. There was a quiet coughing and Cait wiped his eyes tiredly so that he could focus on the figure who crouched barely metres from him but was as good as a thousand miles away.
"C, Cait ?" said Yuffie.
Her voice was nothing more than a trembling whisper but somehow, the small black and white cat heard it. Even above the roar of the flames that were drawing nearer with every heartbeat even over the ragged sound of his breath.
" Yeah ?"
" Y, You cant leave me . The others are waiting w, we have to go ."
Cait swallowed. "I I cant, Yuffie . If I move the whole floor will cave in ."
"Im scared." Yuffie breathed, her voice swept along by the heat of the fire. "B, But you said you said you were coming with me ."
His tiny jaw tightened in resolve which he mustered up from the very depth of his pure heart. Blinking back the tears that threatened to destroy his moment of pride as he sat amongst the swirling flames, his fur ruffling in the hot breeze he looked back at her.
"You go first." he said firmly without a hint of fear in his voice. "When youre out safely Ill jump out after you. If we both move at once then neither of us will survive."
Yuffies brow furrowed from the agony of choice; but the authoritative and chivalrous tone in his voice somehow reassured her and overcame her fear.
"You will be alright, wont you?" she asked quietly and for a long time only the shuddering jolts of the floor and the crackling flames were her reply.
"The stars are still there, Yuffie." he answered cryptically without a hint of sadness but she found tears streaming down her cheeks again despite his attempts to console her. "As long as they still shine, you can know that fate will guide us. To some its kinder than others to some its not. It isnt up to us. Its how we live with the hand weve been dealt that makes the difference.
"If you stay an wait then youll never know; you cant put off things until the future. Remember that. Live your life for the moment and have no regrets; thats the greatest thing Ive learnt about being with yall.
"It isnt safe here and if you dont leave now then maybe you never will."
He bowed his head.
"Im . Im just gonna wait here for a while," he said softly. "You go on ahead."
Yuffie started to tremble and she bit her bottom lip to stay calm. However, it didnt stop the tears from falling and she felt more alone and vulnerable than she had been since witnessing Aeris death. The cold and oppressive chill that gripped her soul almost numbed her and drained her of her emotions. But as she stared back at the tiny, innocent cat she knew he was right.
"Ill Ill see you Cait Sith." she whispered and he flashed her one of his brightest and happiest smiles. Had it been anywhere else but there, she felt that her heart would have burst from joy.
"Yeah ." he replied wistfully. "You will. I, I think that I think that deep down I mightve earned that ."
She returned his smile through her tears and pulled herself to her feet, gripping onto the doorframe to support herself. Taking a final look at him, she slowly turned and limped into the room, struggling to keep upright against the earthquake-like rumblings that tore through the house.
As the ferocity of them increased, her pace quickened until she was almost running. With a final lurch, she lunged forward and grabbed hold of the windowsill. Pulling herself and lifting the window pane, she looked down into the alleyway.
"Cloud! There she is, quickly!" exclaimed a female voice.
"Sephiroth, over here!"
Without even looking and the inevitable numbness of unconsciousness creeping up on her mind, Yuffie slid through the narrow gap, not even caring whether she was caught.
As soon as she landed in the arms of the two men her eyes started to close.
"C, Can we go now ?" she asked in a soft whisper.
"But what about Cait?" Tifa questioned worriedly. "Hes still in there!"
"No " breathed Yuffie finally. "H, Hes gone now ."
Caits eyes misted with tears and with his last strength he let out a wailing sob which wracked through his tiny body. He covered his eyes with his paws and felt the moist, clean tears soak into his fur and single glove.
"Why are you crying ?"
Caits head lifted suddenly, wet eyes wide in fear.
"Why are you crying, Cait ?"
"I I dont want to die," he whispered chokingly. "Ill never get to see anyone again... ."
"Sure you will, Cait!"
"Wh, What what do you mean ?"
"You have earned what you desire . It is not your fate to be forgotten here."
He heard a soft giggle. A noise he recognised from a long, long time ago.
How long had it been ?
Five, six years .?
Cait allowed a smile to bless his thin lips as he rested his head upon his folded paws.
She told me to be strong . Im so happy .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest, 4i
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