Through the Looking Glass Chapter 3

Honour the Charge They Made!!

By Lucrecia Marionette

"Is he asleep?"

"Dunno... mebbe he's dead?"

A shocked gasp. "Don't say things like that you moron. 'You-know-who'll have our heads if anything happens to this guy."

"C'mon... mebbe we should go in. Y'know... just give him a kick in the ribs to see if he's alive...?"

"Stop sounding so hopeful. I swear, the minute my back turns I wouldn't be surprised if you ran in there and beat the crap outta him."

"Ha, ha, ha!"

"What's so funny?"

"You're probably right! Heh, heh, heh!"

"Don't laugh like that... it freaks me out. It reminds me of him and I'd just rather you didn't. Anyway, I'll go in and check on the prisoner. I don't trust you as far as I could throw you."

"Ah... you probably couldn't even lift me up!"

"Brains are more important than brawn nowadays. There are hardly any monsters around anymore and if a guy wants to survive it has to be by wits alone. That's why I'm the commander and you're the soldier, capiche?"

"You're only the commander because you're such a brown nose... . Heh, heh, heh!"

"You did it again... .Oh, it doesn't matter. I'm going on there and if I don't come out then you'll have to find someone else to kick your ass at cards!"

A set of keys jangled noisily and the sound of a rusty lock turning screeched loudly through the small dark room. Reeve lay as still as he could, his breaths shallow and quiet in an effort to feign unconsciousness. The prison door creaked open and a set of loud footsteps entered the room and came towards him.

"Hey, hey Blue Suit." said the obnoxious commander who walked in to check on him. "You awake?"

Reeve's muscles tensed but he remained still. I just have to wait a little more time and I'll be outta here... .

"Um, Ben?" yelled the commander nervously.


"He's not movin'."

A second set of footsteps came into the room and stopped a few metres away from the vice-mayor as he struggled to remain still.

"Oh shit." swore the soldier now identified as Ben. "Y, Y'don't think he really is... dead do you ya?"

"I dunno... ." mumbled the commander he knelt down until Reeve could smell the man's vile breath. He almost gagged but held his corpse like act with incredible resilience. He felt a nudge in his ribs as one of the men pushed him in an effort to cause a reaction but without avail.

"O, Oh shit. We're dead... ." mumbled Ben. "W, We're fucking dead. We're gonna get put into one of them cages a, an' then..."

"Shut up."

"An that twisted bastard'll do awful things to us..."

"I said shut up!" yelled the commander angrily. "Look. It wasn't our fault. We didn't touch him so it's nothin' to do with us. W, We just have to find out why he's like this and then everyone'll see that we're innocent."

"Shit." breathed the young soldier. "I can't believe this. Why us? Why the hell does this kinda shit have to happen to us... ."

"We knew the risks." came the firm answer although there was a hint of fear in the commander's voice. "We just have to see what happened. I'm sure that there'll be some way out of this... ."

"Some way out of this?" repeated Ben. "You're fucking crazy! What do we do? Attach puppet strings to him and move him around whenever someone comes to see him??"

"Look. Maybe he's just unconscious you moron." the commander hissed eventually. "I'll check for a pulse... ."

Reeve felt his head being jerked to one side and a rough hand placed clumsily on his neck. Holding his breath for a few seconds in anticipation, he suddenly came alive and grabbed the shocked commander's arm. With skill that would've surprised his AVALANCHE friends, he twisted the arm behind the commander's back while pulling out the pistol off the man's belt in one fluidic movement. He pushed the barrel of the small gun against his captive's temple and watched Ben, his eyes wide in shock and fear.

"All right. Back away otherwise I'll blow his bloody brains out, I swear I will." said Reeve firmly to the young man who complied shakily his hands shivering from fear.

Reeve pushed forward still holding the commander as his prisoner into the small holding room where his captors had conversed before checking on him. Reeve pointed to a chair in the corner of the room with the pistol.

"Sit there." he ordered stiffly to Ben who immediately did as he was told. Reeve turned his attention back to the commander who was beginning to whimper and sweat from pure fright. "Now then, you and I are going on a little trip. If you try anything then you're going to get a bullet through your brain but if you do as I say then I'll let you live."

The man under his power nodded his head violently until Reeve physically stopped him. "Don't annoy me you bastard or I may just shoot you anyway."

The order sank in quickly and all noises ceased until the only sound Reeve could hear was his own heartbeat which boomed and thumped in his ears. He swallowed his fear and pushed forward towards the only door out of the small room. "Open it."

The commander reached forward and put pressure on the handle, pushing the door open with a quiet squeak. The open doorway led to an unlit corridor whose end was hidden within shadows that were not dispelled by the dim light from the holding room. Reeve took a deep breath and continued forward, his prisoner now silent in worry for his life. The walls, floor and ceiling were all covered with sheets of cold, clinical steel. Faded red symbols on the walls gave poor clues to his location and unwilling to waste time he pressed onwards with renewed vigour from the thought of freedom.

The hopefulness was all in vain however as he reached the first fork in the corridor. Voices emanated from his far right and it seemed as though they were coming closer. With the intention of hiding he began to walk towards the opposite route but his captive was being less co-operative. "C'mon! Move!" he whispered loudly. "Do you want me to kill you?"

Gaining strength from an unseen source the commander somehow twisted himself from Reeve's grasp and broke free. The vice-mayor aimed his gun at the ex-prisoner's head and his trigger finger twitched while he stared at the red uniformed man who trembled on the floor. He clenched his jaw and summoned the courage to do what he knew he had to in order to escape.

It was useless. He wasn't a murderer. He just wanted to get the hell outta there but if it involved taking someone's life he couldn't force himself. It was at times like this that he admired Cloud and Barret.

Cursing himself for his weaknesses he threw the gun to the floor angrily and sprinted away from the junction without an idea of where he was going. Flickering florescent lights buzzed above him giving a poor light in the twisting corridor. Unused to the exercise, his breath soon burned in his lungs and he once more cursed himself. This'll teach me to hide behind a robot to save the world... .

His footsteps rang hollowly through the metallic halls and they pounded into his head only emphasising the already deafening beats of his heart. Tugging on the collar of his once pristine white shirt he paused for a seconds rest and eventually pushed forward; unaware of what he was doing or where was going only pursuing the thought of freedom with the passion of a madman. As he turned a corner, the faint sound of someone alerting the guards drifted along the stale air. The bastard's told them where I am... I should've shot him when I had the chance. Damn you Reeve, you're too much of a Samaritan for your own good... .

Running blindly he crashed straight into a group of five guards as they moved towards the disturbance. Throwing two of them to the ground, Reeve leapt up in the hope of keeping the advantage of surprise somehow on his side. However, he was too slow and by the time he was prepared to sprint once more, three rifles pointed at his head.

"That's as far as you go." growled one of them. "I think it's time you went back to your cell, don't you?"

Reeve muttered furiously but his oaths were stopped abruptly as something hit him on the back of the head and he sank uselessly to the floor; his bid for freedom over.


"Oh... I think she might be coming around." exclaimed a friendly woman.

There were the sound of soft footsteps approaching.

"So she's not dead then?" smiled a jovial but gruff voice.

"Will she be all right?" a concerned but controlling man spoke, one that was used to worrying for others and taking responsibility.

"I think she'll be fine." said the first voice softly. "Yuffie...? Yuffie, can you hear me?"

An eye opened and closed almost immediately. Harsh light invaded her mind and bleached her thoughts and sight with its brightness. She tried again and was more successful. Blinking to clear the illuminous dots from her vision she looked up at the faces of the people who were tending to her. Three familiar fronts smiled back at her but worry clung like a terrible mask to their forcefully happy visages.

"Hi." she smiled wearily.

The others grinned back obviously pleased to see her safe.

"Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?" Tifa asked kindly and Yuffie nodded after a moments' thought.

"I am kinda thirsty. Could I have a glass of water please, Tifa?"

Tifa nodded and left the room quietly.

"Good to see you awake, kiddo." smirked Cid. "I thought you were a goner when you showed up!"

"Gee... thanks... I think." responded Yuffie unsure of how to take his comment.

"No probs!" the pilot smiled back. "Umm..." he looked up at Cloud who met his gaze and passed a silent message to him. "I'll leave you two alone then." he finished. With a mock salute that made Yuffie giggle, he left the room tramping noisily across the wooden floorboards.

The mood turned serious as Cloud forced a smile which Yuffie saw straight through. Noticing her disbelief and notice of his hidden worry, Cloud dropped the cheerful mask and sighed. "Are you all right then... I mean really?" he asked eventually.

Yuffie felt forlorn. She wasn't entirely sure how she felt. Her last memories were of being chased through a storm by one of her 'friends' who had the intentions of gutting her and tearing her head off. How was she supposed to feel? Happy to be safe... Or sad to be in this situation in the first place? "I don't know." she whispered truthfully.

"You've been out cold for three days... You talked in your sleep." Cloud said quietly. "What happened between you and Vincent? You mentioned books."

Yuffie bit her lip and attempted not to cry. Although she knew what had happened to her, hearing Cloud talk about it stirred up all of the fear and horror that she'd felt on that terrible night. "It was my fault." she answered unrevealingly reliving the nightmare in her thoughts. "Vincent asked me not to but I didn't listen... ."

"What happened?" Cloud questioned gently. "If it's too difficult then you don't have to..."

Yuffie shook her head. "I think I'd prefer to get it off my chest... ." she replied with a touch of sadness. "Vincent had warned me not to go into his room... . I was bored and I fell asleep on the couch when he went out for once of his late-night walks. I woke up and he still wasn't back so I decided to go to bed. For some reason, I'm not sure why, I decided then and there that I was going to look in his room. The door was open so it was tempting and although I knew I shouldn't go against what he'd ordered... I, I couldn't help myself.

"It was black inside... he'd painted the walls and black curtains covered the windows. I don't know why he was so obsessive with the dark but I was just so fascinated by being there that I began to take a look around and I found a bookcase. Out of curiosity I looked at some of the books and they were all from the Shinra Mansion. That was weird enough but when I looked at some of them, they were all about him, about Vincent. I read them and they were basically diaries by Hojo." she stopped and shuddered at the memory.

"They were horrible... ." she whispered. "I, I felt so sorry for Vincent. Hojo... Hojo was evil. For that whole year he had Vincent trapped he was obsessed with making him into some kind of monster, into a freak. I was almost sick by some of the things he wrote... . It was awful... ." Yuffie sobbed and tears fell from her eyes and landed as wet smudges on the quilt cover dying it momentarily a darker tone to what it was normally.

Cloud put a comforting hand on her arm and taking a deep breath she continued. "I read the last entry and was about to put the book away when Vincent suddenly burst into the room. I, I've never seen him so mad... ever... . I was too shocked to move but he somehow jumped all the way across the bed and yelled and screamed at me. He was about to slash me with his claw but I dodged and he destroyed the bookcase behind me. I didn't look back from that point on... . I just ran and ran... . I didn't care where I went."

She stopped as the nightmare became too painful. "I don't know how, but I somehow made it here. I, I can't remember any more after that." she said softly. "It was my fault, I shouldn't have gone in... ."

Cloud put on a grim expression. "We haven't heard anything from him. As far as we know he could've left Midgar."

Yuffie looked up at him suddenly, her eyes misted with tears from painful reflection. "D'you think I drove him away?" she asked tearfully. "Does he hate me that much?"

Cloud looked down at his hands sadly. "Don't blame yourself Yuffie. He should've known better. He was just annoyed... you know how Vincent gets sometimes."

"Are you saying that I can't be trusted?" Yuffie questioned unexpectedly in a low tone. "Is that what you truly think?"

"Oh... I'm sorry Yuffie. I, I didn't mean it like that. I would've been tempted. Who the hell wouldn't have been? I'm proud of the fact that you stayed away for so long. If I had been in your position then I would have sneaked in on the first day."

Yuffie forced a smile and regretted her snappy presumptions. "I still shouldn't have done it."

"I'm not giving you an excuse for what you did... but I'm not the one to judge. If you want I'll go and see him. You can come... and apologise if that's what you think you need to do." he offered and Yuffie nodded grimly.

"Yeah, that's what I should do. But not now. I feel bad enough as it is and I'm still exhausted." she answered punctuating her statement with a yawn. "Can we go tomorrow?"

Cloud looked at her for a moment and shook his head. "No... you rest now, Yuffie. I don't think that you'll be ready to leave this room for another few days yet. Try to gather your strength and in the meantime I'll see if I can getta hold of Vincent himself."

Yuffie nodded dozily without argument and slipped beneath the warm covers where she felt an odd security from the aggressive world outside. Cloud would sort things out, Cloud always did. He was the pillar of support in AVALANCHE against Sephiroth and now that five years had passed why should anything be different? Things would be all right... just leave it to the leader... .

Cloud stood up as Yuffie's breathing became deep and even, her eyes closed in contentment and dreams. Even if he couldn't find Vincent, at least he had given her a night's peace. He turned and left the room quietly, closing the door behind him and walking down to the kitchen where Tifa and Cid sat at one of the benches. They looked up at him as he walked nonchalantly into the room.

"She's asleep." he announced unprompted. "Vincent basically almost tore her to pieces. From what I've heard, she was lucky to get out alive."

"Shit." breathed Cid as he stubbed out a half-finished cigarette and shook his head. "What the hell sent the guy so psycho?"

Cloud pulled up a stool and sat down beside them casually but his mind was deep in thought. "He kept some books in his room and warned her not to go in. Yuffie did though and read some things that she regrets now. Vincent walked in and caught her so she ran away and ended up here by some twist of fate."

"What was in the books? Was it because he found Yuffie reading them that he was so angry?" Tifa asked curiously at the enigma unfolding before her.

Cloud nodded. "Yeah. Yuffie said that the books were about him. They were lab reports and diaries by Hojo describing what he did to Vincent and things like that. She's really shaken up about it. She just burst into tears at the thought and she tired herself out."

They sat in silence contemplating the events but there was a strong feeling of unrest and suspicion aroused in them. Cid lit another cigarette and as he exhaled a stream of smoke into the air, he leant back on the bench contemplatively.

Glancing around at the other two he pulled a face. "Is it just me or does anyone see somethin' fishy goin' on here?"

"It's like this is only the tip of the ice berg... ." murmured Tifa in confirmation. She looked up at Cloud. "Y'know what I said to you about how I thought he was hiding something when we saw him for the first time a week or so ago?" Cloud nodded and she continued. "I dunno but... . For some reason I've got this really strong feeling that this is linked. I'm not sure at all... just call it a woman's intuition."

Cloud sank into his thoughts again and a depressing silence reclaimed its territory over the three friends.

"Ah, screw this." swore Cid suddenly throwing his cigarette to the floor and crushing it underfoot in disgust. "I'm goin' round to that creepy freaks house right now and I'm gonna see what the hell his problem is."

Tifa gasped in alarm and Cloud stood up to restrain the unthinking pilot who had already begun his defiant march towards the back exit. "Cid, don't be an idiot. For god's sake, you'll get yourself killed and make matters worse." Cloud said angrily pulling his old friend back. "We need to think about this and if anyone's going over there then it'll be me and Yuffie."

Cid muttered furiously under his breath but said nothing audibly and slumped back down in a sulking position that clearly stated his opinion on the subject. Cloud sighed irritably while Tifa glanced nervously between them. She opened her mouth to say something and gently ease them out of their reluctance to speak when a loud knock shattered the atmosphere. Their heads jerked up towards the entrance to the bar where the banging had come from. Two sets of eyes eventually landed on the proprietress who took their silent hints and moved through to the vacant room which had been closed to the public for the night.

The knocking was repeated, this time louder than before and clearly emanating from the bar's front doors.

"Hey! We're closed." Tifa yelled only to be met with an even more urgent and louder thumping and rattling that threatened to smash the glass panels in the doors. "Didn't you hear me you idiot? I said I'm closed."

The knocking continued and Tifa inhaled sharply rolling up the baggy sleeves of her sweater. "Okay then, you asked for it. I'm comin' out there to teach you some godamned manners even if I have to wipe the sidewalk with your face!" she yelled warningly without effect and storming to the doors, she unlocked them and threw them open.

Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened alarmingly from shock at the sight which beheld her.

"Well hello there Miss. Lockheart. It's nice to see you too." said a flame haired man in an unkempt blue suit. "You're not gonna invite me in? I'm hurt... ." he finished with his trademark smirk plastered on his face as though he'd been born wearing it.

"Reno... ." muttered Tifa in disbelief. "What do you want?"

"Just a chat." grinned the leader of the Turks. Too overcome by surprise to object she stepped to one side as he sauntered in with his usual cool and casual walk. She glanced out the doors at the street which was shrouded in night's shadows with the notion that he may have been followed. Sensing her apprehension he looked up at her.

"Please Tifa, you should know that I'm too good to be followed by some of the rookie terrorist groups around here."

Realising that he was right, she drew back and pulled the doors shut behind her, locking them once more and slipping the key into the pocket of her jeans. "Come through to the kitchen." she said flatly expecting him to follow without her request anyway as she moved behind the bar to the kitchen door.

Cloud and Cid looked up from their silence as the door opened quietly and Tifa walked in with Reno behind her. He looked at the two men who shared Tifa's shock at his visit.

"Hey girls." Reno smirked. "I hope I'm not disturbing the sleepover?"

"Look, Jerk," spat Cid angrily. "We're not in the mood for any of your wisecracks so if you're not here for a damned good reason then you'd better leave now."

Reno put on an expression of mock offence and clamped his hand to his chest in false distress. "Cid! You hurt my feelings and after I came all of this way to see you!"

Cloud looked up sullenly pondering why everything seemed to be getting worse as the night progressed, his face grim and his thoughts grimmer. "Reno, this is a really bad time for you to stop by. I don't mean to be rude but if you haven't got anything useful to report then you should go."

"You're not Rude!" Reno laughed as Tifa rolled her eyes and sat down on the stool she had occupied before answering the door. Eventually realising that the mood was far from cheerful he sighed and leaned back on the bench opposite them. "So... what's been going on that's so unbelievably bad?"

"It's nothing important." Cloud dismissed. "We're just worried about Vincent... he's scared Yuffie witless and we haven't heard from him since."

Reno screwed his face up in thought and looked back at Cloud after a while. "Vincent... you mean Valentine right, the ex-Turk? Hasn't he been missing for years anyway?" Cloud nodded. "So how the hell has he managed to scare the crap outta 'little Miss Wutai'? I know that I always had shivers up my spine just lookin' at the guy but I must admit that I'm impressed if he can do it after a disappearance of four years!"

Tifa shook her head. "He came back a fortnight ago and Yuffie's been staying with him. A few nights ago he frightened her to the point of death and she ran here, delirious from fever and panic."

"But enough of that." interrupted Cid. "Why the hell are you here?"

Reno arched his eyebrows and sighed wearily. "I wouldn't have bothered you all if I'd have known that you were having such a tough time. But anyway, I just came to say that we think we may've found where Reeve is."

Cid leapt up from his seat, a miraculous change to his previous state. His eyes gleamed with a renewed sense of adventure that had faded from the old mans face since the death of Sephiroth. "Well why the fuck didn't ya say so in the first place? Godammit why are we still sat around here thinkin' about some monster in a dark apartment when we could be out kickin' some ass!"

"Hold it Captain Planet." said Reno seriously receiving a furious glare from Cid. "I didn't come along to ask who wants to join us on a shopping trip. This isn't any ordinary rescue which is exactly why I'm here."

He pulled up a stool and stroked the surface of his nightstick absently as though he was attempting to trudge up words from the back of his mind to vociferate his thoughts. "Ah... well... as you know the Turks are specialised in things like kidnapping, espionage and rescues... things like that."

He stopped and Cloud began to fidget impatiently. "So why has that brought you here?"

"Uh... well... The thing is, we don't think that we're dealing with our run of the mill terrorists and anti-Midgar groups here. Whoever took Reeve did a damn good job of it which is why it took me and the other two so long to find out exactly where they've hidden him." Reno coughed but it seemed to be more out of nervousness than the need to clear his throat. "Well we've managed to find out that their hideout is the old Shinra HQ."

"That old building?" exclaimed Cid. "I dunno why Reeve didn't just knock it down. It creeps me out just to look at it."

For some reason never quite sure, although Reeve had completely re-landscaped Midgar he hadn't laid a finger upon the walls of the old HQ. It stood like a ghostly and hideous finger pointing accusingly up to the heavens casting a long shadow upon the sectors like a massive sundial as the sun moved across the sky. During the day it threw down shadows like a terrible reminder that it still existed and even at night it scared the locals. It obliterated a huge patch of the stars from whatever angle you looked at it leaving a gaping blackness in the velvet sky. Around its base was a wide radius where no building stood or only the bravest dared to venture. Ghosts were said to haunt the area which was in permanent shadow and strange noises rang out from deep within its haunted depths during the blackest nights.

"As you can tell, it makes a perfect place to make a base out of." Reno said to lift them out of their thoughts and daydreams. "Unfortunately much of it was destroyed and altered when Meteor and Diamond Weapon attacked all those years ago. I used to know the place inside out but because it's so twisted I could walk into my old apartment now and never recognise it. Rude, Elena and me could go in there and drag Reeve out in a matter of hours if this was any normal operation but we don't have the element of surprise. For all we know, we could walk in through the doors and get gunned down before we could draw our pistols."

He paused dramatically as though he was testing the interest of the others and as they began to exchange restless look he leant back and continued. "As much as it pains me to even consider asking you all... I haven't got a choice in the matter. It's between practicality and good old Turk pride and when the vice-prez of Midgar's life is on the line I'm sorry to say that Turk morals take a back seat." Uncomfortable at his posture and feeling the need to move around, he stood up and began pacing stopping eventually to look at the three members of AVALANCHE who stared back with baited breath. "Ah, damn my pride." he swore gently, scratching his head bashfully. "I've come to ask if you could spare a couple of people to come along and join in on the action. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to have to do this but as I said I have no choice and when I say a couple, I mean only two of ya." he finished shoving his hands into his pockets looking down at the floor.

"Dammit, I was waiting for you to say that!" laughed Cid as he leapt up and thumped Reno on the back enthusiastically. He spun around still grinning and looked at Cloud. "C'mon Spiky, get your ass ready! You an' me are takin' a little trip to the HQ!"

Cloud glanced at Tifa who met his stare with a forced smile and a shrug. He sighed and looked down at the floor in thought until Cid strolled over to him and picked him up off his feet. "What're you waitin' for?" Cid questioned. "Reeve needs our help."

"Wait a moment Cid." said Cloud evenly. "I need to think about this."

"What's there to think about? You an' me are goin'!"

"Not... necessarily." Cloud answered hesitantly and he watched Cid's face fall.

"Who the hell is then?" Cid asked with obvious hurt ignoring the amused glances that he received from Reno. "You're going because you're the leader but that leaves me, Tifa and the kid upstairs. There's no way that Yuffie'll be ready to leave that room before the end of the week and no offence Tifa but I know the HQ better than you do. I dunno what you've based your plan on, Cloud but if you're choosing her out of emotion then maybe it's time we picked another leader." he finished furiously.

Tifa blushed and pulled away half upset by the sudden attention and half infuriated. Cloud's face turned an ugly shade of red as he glared violently at the pilot who had pushed too far. "Cid stop being a moron before I throw you outta this house. Don't you dare question my leadership qualities. I dragged AVALANCHE down to that hellhole of a crater and I pulled us all back out again. I've been through torture to keep this group together and when I failed Tifa was the one who kept the faith. If anything she was more of a leader than I was, more than any of us were and you're too blinded by your own ego to see that. Why the hell should I choose you? How dare you presume that I will, and what makes you think that I will choose Tifa anyway?? I'm the one who has to decide who's going to save Reeve and if I make the wrong decision, then he could die. Don't you think that I have enough to worry about with you screaming on like a little kid who hasn't had his own way??"

Cid's face went white in shocking contrast to Cloud's furious scarlet. The two men stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity and not a word was uttered to relieve the tense atmosphere.

Cid snarled and turned away eventually to storm out of the back door, slamming it behind him, and as he left the room went uncomfortably hollow and cold. The bang of the door echoed and resounded in the tiled room for a few seconds before fully dispersing and leaving silence. Reno coughed quietly feeling the need to create some animation in the stale room while Cloud sighed and rubbed his face with his hands perhaps in some futile hope that he could erase any signs of his fury. Tifa felt tears mist her vision but she blinked them back angrily. After so long of perfect harmony, was AVALANCHE truly falling to pieces? First Reeve went missing and then Vincent almost killed Yuffie. Now Cloud and Cid, the two men who had always been such good friends in the past had almost come to blows over such a trivial matter as who was going to make up a rescue party.

"I'm sorry about that." said Cloud quietly to the room's other two occupants.

"I don't think that you should be saying that to us." Reno commented in the same low tone and Cloud nodded sorrowfully.

"I know." he whispered and looked over to Tifa for some recognition but she was staring down at her tightly clenched hands which rested on her lap. He sighed and scratched the back of his head. "We still have to worry about the rescue party." he ended and Reno looked up.

"I must admit, I thought that you'd take Highwind."

Cloud shook his head. "He was right about needing knowledge of the HQ but he missed someone off the list."

Reno cocked his head to one side and cast his mind back to the previous conversation. After a moment his eyes widened and he looked at Cloud in disbelief. "You mean Valentine right?"

Cloud nodded grimly. "Vincent used to be a member of the Turks and although he never talks about it, I bet that he would've spent a lot of time at the HQ. Who knows, maybe because he went there over thirty years ago he'll know about any tunnels or passages which might have been forgotten about in your time.

Reno shrugged but he didn't look completely sceptical. "I dunno, but maybe you're right. How are you gonna persuade him though? From what you've said he'd sooner kill anyone who dared to go and see him than talk."

Cloud seemed thoughtful. "He's the only one I can think of that I'd like to take. He's an unbelievably strong fighter and he's been wandering around for the past few years and won't have forgotten his skills. He'd be more than a useful ally if we get into trouble. He'd work well with you if he's been in the Turks."

Reno mentally weighed up the information given to him and nodded whilst standing up. "Look, you getta hold of this guy and I'll meet you at the Sector Six entrance to the Seven Gardens at midnight tomorrow."

Cloud agreed and showed the Turk leader out of the bar door. When he turned back to enter the kitchen he saw Tifa silhouetted in the light with her hands on her hips and a dangerous glint in her eye. He walked over to her with his hand stretched out in a gesture that he hoped depicted guilt. He stopped a metre away from her angry frame and looked into her eyes.

"Tifa, I-"

Tifa slapped Cloud around the face with incredible speed. Although the blow had not been too hard, Cloud stumbled back from the unexpectedness of her cruel jab and he held his raw-red cheek with one hand.

"You bastard!" she yelled. "How the hell could you do that??"

"Tifa? What're you talking about?"

"Don't act dumb with me Cloud Strife. You know that everyone's been under a lot of stress recently and you're supposed to be the one that holds your wits. How could you shout at Cid like that? He's been going insane all week thinking about Reeve, you know how much he's been wanting an opportunity like this to do something and you took it away from him. You cruel, cruel bastard. I know that he's not the most practical choice but you didn't have to tell him like that. You threatened to throw him out of the house for God's sake!"

She stopped and looked at the shamefaced man before her with disgust and fury. "He's meant to be one of your best friends." she continued, the angry edge to her voice had been blunted but now the tears that she'd been holding back were brimming once more. "The group is falling apart and you're supposed to be the one that keeps it together, not break it to pieces even further." She finally broke down and a wracking sob tore through her body. She covered her face with her hands and cried into them almost relishing the cold tears that ran down her hot cheeks.

Although his face still stung from her slap he tried to reach out to her again by softly brushing his hand against her bare arm. She allowed the warm touch for a brief second wanting nothing more than to be held in his grasp but her defiance overran her again and she pulled back. The redness of her eyes and the streaks that ran down her smooth skin glistening silver in the kitchen light served to enhance her beauty to the man who stood watching her. He felt as though someone had just wrenched his heart from his chest and it pained him more than any wound he had ever suffered in battle against the most terrifying foes.

"Don't touch me." she hissed but her barriers broke down once more as fresh tears ran down the old stains. "Don't touch me..." she repeated sobbing. Before he could hold her she turned and ran crying from the doorway and up the stairs to the first floor.

Cloud stood helplessly with his back against the wall. Tifa was right... the group was slowly being destroyed. Not by some new threat to the planet or an evil force. No, it was by something much more damaging, themselves. He was no better; he'd helped contribute to the downfall and deep within he prayed that there was something he could do to heal the tears.

He pushed off from the wall until he was standing up straight and with a sorrowful sigh he walked through the kitchen and turned off the lights preparing for a night on the couch.


The metallic clangs of pans and saucers being banged around in the kitchen stirred Cloud from sleep early the next morning. He rubbed his weary eyes and attempted to stretch but the hard couch had knotted his muscles painfully so that even the slightest movement caused him to flinch. Forcing himself awake he sat up and attempted to focus his bleary vision whilst wincing from the loud thumps emanating from the next room. Tifa was obviously making her presence known through the noise.

He stood up and brushed himself down in an effort to look more presentable which was difficult because he'd slept in the clothes he'd worn yesterday. He didn't look too bad; he still wore the same pants and boots that were part of the SOLDIER uniform that he now only donned during special patrol duty. Over the top of the SOLDIER tank top and belt he wore a baggy sweatshirt like Tifa's only where hers was light blue, his own was a deep maroon. Creases covered the material of his clothes but he pulled a grim face realising that his appearance would be the least of his worries that day.

Taking a deep breath for courage he walked quietly through to the kitchen where Tifa had begun making lunch for the bars' customers. She was peeling potatoes with a disturbing vigour as though she was enjoying the job at hand and Cloud shrank back wondering whether or not it was a good idea to talk with her. He scratched his head nervously and found all of the speeches that he'd spent all night rehearsing in order to apologise flew out of his mind leaving it as blank as a sheet of paper except not as white or unspoilt. Reassuring himself that the most important things when it came to emotion were from the heart and not the head, he stepped forward quietly until he stood to one side of her. At first he presumed that she was ignoring him but as he opened his mouth to speak he noticed trails of tears running down her face and dripping into the dirty water beneath her. He closed his eyes and bowed his head sorrowfully as he realised that nothing he could say would console her grieving and would probably only serve to worsen matters. He tiptoed away until he stood beside the back door.

With a final, longing glance in her direction, he pushed against it gently and it opened silently revealing the mid-January world beyond which seemed so much colder now that he was not with her. Brushing away a tear that ran down his cheek he stepped out and closed the door behind him, running down the back alleyway in case she heard his departure and attempted to speak with him.


Although it had not snowed all winter the skies on that day were grey and overcast reflecting Cloud's mood as he walked huddled down the main street. A blustery wind blew down the road from behind him pushing him towards Sector Four and Vincent's home. He allowed his thoughts to be blown away by the gale but with a morbid glance he realised that the street reflected his life. It stretched on far beyond his eyes could see bordered by so many other people that controlled and decided the path he would take. The wind pushed him on faster and faster until he lost all control of the speed he travelled at losing people and memories along the way. Even his thoughts and worries were carried forward by the wind dispelling them from his mind at that moment but one day the inevitable would happen. The breeze would cease blowing and he would catch up with his fears. Because of all the time he spent moving them away from himself they would accumulate like a terrible pressure waiting to collapse on him like a tidal wave and smother him within it's depressing tides letting him to drown in his own failings.

Cloud snorted derisively at himself. He was becoming as morose and philosophically orientated as Vincent and whenever he looked at the darkest member of AVALANCHE he always found himself praying that he would never become the same. It looked as though now he had the time to sit back and look back over his life he was turning into blonde haired version of the ex-Turk. He felt a smile creep across his lips for the first time since the previous night. The next thing he knew people would start calling him a 'vampire' and expecting him to turn into monsters whenever he got annoyed.

Unfortunately his years of peace were coming to an end. It looked as though there would be no rest for Cloud Strife. No chance to settle down and make a family or worry about trivial things such as bills and leaking roofs. Fate had not quite finished with him and AVALANCHE. Even if this latest trouble was about the breaking of the group it was more serious than any Meteor. Throughout their trials and tribulations they had always remained together and presumed it would always be thus. To look around and see his world tumbling down after everything that he'd been through was almost too much to bear. Another tear rolled down his face but it was blown from his cheek before he even moved his hand to wipe it away.

He was so involved in his thoughts that as a huge shadow was cast over him, he looked up and was shocked to see that he was standing in Sector Four. Glancing down at the piece of paper in his hands with a hastily written address on it from Yuffie he compared it to a large sign post which sat on a vast, bright green lawn to his left.

"'Silver Birch Heights'," he read aloud. "'78c'."

He strode across the grass ignoring the haughty looks he received off the residents who were having picnics and playing tennis on the large green. Although he felt slightly self conscious at his scruffy attire and overall appearance he sneered inwardly at them. After all, while they had been running around like headless chickens during the Meteor crisis he was the leader of the group that saved them all. At first he had openly hated the attention that AVALANCHE received but now he almost missed it. Perhaps deep down his ego had always welcomed the praise and the acknowledgement of his achievements. It was the least that he deserved.

After walking across the huge field he began reading more signs to find the block that Vincent was situated in. After a few minutes of searching and climbing stairs he stood outside door 78c.

Lifting up a trembling hand he tentatively knocked lightly on the door and then harder as he gained a little more confidence. There was no reply for long time and he considered knocking again but there was the eventual sound of something moving around slowly behind the door.

"Who is it?" called a muffled but greatly irritated voice. "This had better be good otherwise I'm going to tear your head off."

Cloud's eyebrows raised and in a brief moment of madness he considered turning away and never returning but clearing his throat he moved slightly closer to the door. "Uh... V, Vincent? It's me... Cloud." he stuttered warily.

At first there was no response and guessing that Vincent hadn't heard he licked his lips and prepared to speak again when the sound of a bolt being unlatched and the lock clicking caused him to take a step back. The door opened a fraction and Vincent looked out from the slit and examined Cloud carefully up and down. Seemingly satisfied that everything was in order he released the door which slowly swung open and stood to one side allowing Cloud entry. Cloud stepped in with obvious hesitation and looked all around him in the same way that Yuffie had done a week before.

He found himself in a corridor that led off to his left and right. Both ends of it were hidden in darkness and he peered into a room opposite the door he'd just entered through. There were heavy curtains drawn across the windows and judging by the rest of the apartment he predicted that the curtains were closed in all of the other rooms creating a dark and secluded atmosphere that perfectly mirrored his friend. Cloud jumped suddenly as the door behind him was shut and he spun around to face Vincent who leant heavily against the wall as if unable to stand on his own. His red eyes glittered curiously in the darkness and were the only things clearly visible of the shadow-like man who stared back at Cloud. The eyes moved slightly as if nodding towards the door that Cloud had been looking through and taking the gesture to mean that he was to enter the new room, Cloud swallowed nervously and walked through. Vincent followed on silent footsteps and Cloud began to feel incredibly self-aware of how much noise he made in comparison to the dark figure.

He made out the shadow of a couch to one side of the room and he sat down unwilling to create any more noise that would disturb the delicate silence. Glancing around worriedly for a second he was unable to find Vincent who had blended in with the darkness and he considered calling out before there was a bright but small explosion of light opposite him. His heart leapt in shock but as the brightness dissipated to a warm glow he saw Vincent holding a candle and dead match in his hands. He used the candle to light others in the room until there was a poor but nonetheless welcome illumination in the room. Vincent returned to his standing position opposite Cloud where he regarded the young warrior with blank interest.

Cloud looked around for something to talk about and break the static atmosphere as his eyes adjusted to the dim light.

"Um, why don't you open the curtains?" he asked eventually.

"I would prefer not to." came the sharp reply that put a quick halt on the topic.

Cloud continued to look around at his surroundings and eventually his eyes picked out a strange mark on the ceiling. As he squinted and scrutinised it more carefully it revealed itself to be a tear of some kind.

He said nothing but as he once more looked around the room more tears and rips became suddenly apparent to him. They all came in lines of four and ripped across shelves, walls and carpets. Huge chunks of plaster littered the floor and scraps of paper lay all around like rose petals that decorated the streets at festival time in Wutai. It was more than obvious that whatever had gone through Vincent's mind the night that Yuffie ran from him was not pleasant. He rarely transformed outside of battle and it was a horrific and terrifying thing to witness whenever he did. The rip marks were obviously made from hands which wielded massive claws capable of tearing through steel.

Cloud began to feel fear like he never had before and as he looked over at the doorway to the room he noticed bare and twisted hinges. Daring a look behind him he saw a door which had been pulled in two with splintered wood and shards jutting dangerously from it. An incomprehensible strength was the only thing that could have done such a violent act and Cloud turned back to face Vincent, his eyes wide in shock and understanding.

"Vincent..." he began quietly but he was cut off by a malicious and bloody stare.

"What have you come here for?" Vincent asked darkly. "Have you come to help me? To console me? I expect that Yuffie has told you all about 'poor little Vincent' and his 'nasty experiments'. I want to be left alone. I suffer a great deal more than you can ever possibly see in those books or in me. You have no idea what I go through and I don't want you to understand. If that is your intention on visiting me then you may as well leave now and take your sympathies with you." He closed his eyes and clenched his hands as though trying to regain control. He turned away and took a few deep breaths and held his face in his hands for a few seconds as he struggled to keep his composure.

Cloud was completely taken aback. He'd expected anger and violence but the tone in Vincent's voice was almost pleading as though he was begging to be allowed to suffer in silence. What is he keeping from us? Why is he so adamant on making sure we stay away? Why Vincent? God why do you let yourself suffer in silence? We can help, I'm that there must be something that we can-

"You should leave." Vincent said quietly as he turned around slowly interrupting Cloud's thoughts. "I was asleep and I'm very tired... very tired... ." he finished, his voice dying out in a whisper.

"I, I just came to ask you something." Cloud responded as he stood up half wanting to walk over and help support the dark figure who looked as though he were about to fall to the floor. "I promise I'll leave if you tell me to."

Vincent said nothing but nodded slightly staring down at the floor.

"The Turks have found out where Reeve is," he began hoping for some kind of reaction to the news but seeing none. "They need AVALANCHE's help and they want two of us to go and help them. I was wondering if you want to go with me?"

Vincent didn't reply at first but he slowly lifted his head up and looked Cloud in the eye with an emotionless gaze as he seemed to consider his answer. After a while he nodded and straightened himself out as though embarrassed at his weakness. "Yes." he said to confirm his answer. "I'll come. Where do I need to be and by when?"

Cloud smiled at his friend warmly, glad that at least one person in AVALANCHE wasn't about to reject him and decline. "The Sector Seven/Six gateway, midnight."

"Very well. I shall be there." Vincent finished wearily. "I'm afraid that I cannot stay awake for much longer. If you would care to see yourself out-"

Cloud nodded and put up a hand to stop Vincent talking. "It's all right." he said softly. "I'll see you tonight."

Vincent bowed his head gratefully and with a final glance around the room and a shiver down his spine, Cloud left the apartment and began his slow journey back to the bar.

Vincent blew out all of the candles in the room and yawned. With a grim expression he locked the front door and walked to his room closing the door softly behind him before collapsing exhaustedly on the bed and falling asleep almost instantly. He slipped effortlessly into a deep dreamless sleep which would carry him softly through to nightfall and the upcoming trials which he somehow knew within his heart he would face.


Reno shuffled and shivered in the volatile cold night air. For the first time all winter, small white snowflakes had begun to fall delicately from the heavens to decorate the cityscape with a powdery pure layer. Never one to appreciate nature in its moments of beauty, Reno persisted to swear and mutter curses at the icy touches of every ice crystal as it landed and melted on his exposed flesh. He lifted his head and chewed thoughtfully on his long thin ponytail which hung like a vivid red streak down his back most of the time when he wasn't sucking on it. He glanced around at his two companions. Like him they wore the trademark blue suits of the Turks but all three were very different.

While he stood in all his dishevelled and unkempt glory the others stood with their suits pristine and perfect, not a crease touched their jackets or disturbed the line of their trousers. However one was a woman and many considered her to be a beautiful one at that. She wore her straight blonde hair in a tight bob that was only as long as her jaw-line and her large brown eyes fitted in perfectly with her smooth skin and slightly rounded face. Many men had tried to take her away from the 'danger' of the Turks but the pistol on her belt had seen the light of day more than a few times that week already to dissuade them. She was looking at her hands and nails with efficient scrutiny examining every contour and line on their surface and pulling a face every now and then as she found an imperfection.

From Elena his gaze drifted to the final member of the trio and probably more the epitome of a Turk than any of them. He stood a tall man, imposing but often stoic; hiding his eyes behind dark sunglasses which he rarely took off and preventing any emotion to cross his stern face. Like Elena his outward appearance was neat and business-like but after giving him a few daiquiris he'd party like the rest of them. Reno smirked and shook his head. He and Rude had been friends ever since they'd joined the Turks together. They knew nothing about each other's past and never asked it to be any different. They were both Turks and that was all that mattered. The sense of camaraderie was stronger than any marriage in the Turks as Cid had often found amusement in pointing out. They would never abandon one of their own; it was one of the basic rules. They would never betray one another and they'd always work as a team with ruthless and merciless efficiency. In the past during the Meteor Crisis they'd provided a few headaches for AVALANCHE. It was just the way things worked out. It was their job and they had to do it; the so-called Turk creed.

"What're you sniggering at?" asked Elena suddenly and Reno jerked his head up, not realising that he'd laughed aloud.

"Oh... nothing, sorry." he mumbled as he looked back down at the ground and Elena shrugged.

She looked irritably at the gate and then down at her watch. "What time did you tell them, Reno?"

"Midnight... what time is it?"

"Quarter past. They're late." she frowned continuing her look around. As she looked out of the gate and into Sector Six she squinted as she caught the distant form of a person running towards them. She nudged Reno in the ribs and nodded towards the figure. "Is that one of them?"

He narrowed his eyes and looked towards where she'd indicated. After a few seconds he saw light glint off the blade of an enormous sword strapped to the person's back and he nodded confidently. "Yeah, that's Cloud. Only he would use such a stupidly huge weapon."

Elena gave a lopsided smile and turned away to look into the park. As she did however she caught sight of movement in the corner of her eye in the shadow of the massive gate doorway. Pulling out her pistol from its holder and spinning around to face the movement in one fluidic motion she cried out in shock and the gun dropped uselessly from her grip. Reno and Rude immediately responded to her cry and they ran to flank her, their own guns pointed and ready to fire at anything that proved a threat. After a moment of adrenaline surged searching Reno and Rude exchanged odd glances before holstering their guns once more and looking at Elena. The female Turk was staring like something possessed at a dark shadow in the corner of the sector where the partition wall and a building met at a right angle.

"Elena, what the hell are you trying to do?" asked Reno with a frown. "Is this some new kind of fighting tactic where you attempt to give your enemies heart attacks by staring at a shadow and gasping like something's tryin' to kill you?"

Elena continued to stare with wide eyes towards the same spot and Rude shrugged uselessly to say that he didn't have any idea towards what was bothering her. Eventually Reno pulled a face and stared at the corner attempting to make some sense out of Elena's shock. As he watched to his horror a pair of red-glowing slits appeared in the shadow and hung there, staring back at him. He felt a shiver creep up his spine until he was paralysed by fear unable to even go for his nightstick while Cloud's approaching footsteps became audibly closer until panting heavily he stood beside them.

"Sorry I'm so late." he apologised breathlessly. "I had a few things to do at the bar before I could leave."

He knew that wasn't true. Deep down he knew that he'd been delaying purposefully in the attempt that Tifa would finally discontinue her silence and run to him, throwing her arms around his waist and begging him not to go. No such luck however. She'd been giving him the cold shoulder all day long and although he'd flashed her warm smiles whenever she glanced in his direction they were not returned. He'd walked in on her crying once but as before he avoided her in the knowledge that she'd begin to get angry if he saw her in such a weak state. He cursed himself inwardly for being such a clumsy oaf and eventually left in one last futile hope that she'd run after him and ask forgiveness. No, he was far to egotistical for his own good... .

His greetings were not reflected back by the three figures that stood like statues, staring towards a corner in the park. Getting his breath back, he glanced toward the shadows where a pair of red eyes seemed to be looking back at them with an amused curiosity. At first his heart leapt but there was a glint off gold metal in the light cast down by one of the candles that served as streetlights and familiarity took the place of the initial fear although it wasn't completely dispelled.

"Vincent, stop playing games." he called to the eyes that shifted their gaze from the Turks to the young warrior who stood defiantly in his SOLDIER uniform and the massive Ultima Weapon strapped to his shoulders.

As the group of four watched, the eyes rose up until they hung high above the ground and then a figure stepped out from the darkness, the shadows sticking to him like some kind of liquid. He was taller than most at around six-foot tall and a crimson cape fluttered from his shoulders stained black by the shadows. Beneath the cape he wore a baggy black shirt and trousers tucked into a pair of pointed boots. Jet black hair hung over red bandages and revealed a pale face into which was set the gleaming ruby red eyes that had held them in such terrible thrall when they first noticed him. The metallic glint which Cloud had noticed came from the gold claw at his side and although Reno now knew that the stranger was an ally, he still felt a strong element of mistrust around the dark man.

"I should apologise." Vincent began, a touch of odd amusement in his soft voice that was rarely raised above an audible tone, perhaps to add fear to his appearance. "I simply wished to observe you all before I made my presence known."

"You're Valentine?" said Reno rhetorically getting a nod from Vincent who now stood before him. "What the hell are you, some kind of vampire or something?"

Vincent's eyes began to glow at the comment and he glared dangerously at Reno. "I do not appreciate such remarks." he said with his eyes reduced to slits.

Cloud looked nervously at his friend. Vincent always had taken an extreme offence to anyone making any insult towards his appearance even though he insisted on shrouding himself so darkly. Everyone in AVALANCHE had learnt the hard way about what was and what wasn't appropriate to talk about in front of the ex-Turk. He began to wish that he'd mentioned the points to the blue suited figures who now began to look even more uncomfortable beneath Vincent's penetrating stare.

He cleared his throat unnecessarily to beak the tense atmosphere between them much to Reno's relief as he'd been locked in Vincent's hypnotic gaze since his foolish comment.

"We should get going." Cloud said seriously and everyone nodded.

"We have a busy night ahead so I hope everyone's ready." Reno added as he looked at the ensemble gathered before him. "When we're there, we'll separate into two groups. Me and you two," he indicated towards Rude and Elena. "Will go around the back." He turned to Vincent and Cloud. "You two go straight through the front entrance. When there we'll meet up on floor sixty-five. Is everyone clear?"

Receiving four nods he made a motion with his hand and ran through the garden towards the abandoned HQ that many had sought in vain to avoid since the city was rebuilt. He was followed closely by the others and they zigzagged their ways through undergrowth that sprang up near the base of the monstrous structure where no gardeners dared to go even when maintaining the beautiful park.

After pushing their ways through the jungle-like area they burst out onto the ring of lifelessness that circled the very base of the pillar. It was here that the ground was paved in broken tarmac preventing any flora from breaking the monotony of black concrete with its colour. Twisted and scorched sheets of metal littered the ground from when the HQ had been attacked by Meteor and the pillar-like building itself was almost torn in pieces by huge cracks. They sprang from its base and ran all of the way up as far as the eye could see in the dim light and threatened to widen any second and bring the whole column of metal down upon them.

They walked in silence for a time until they halted outside the start of a long winding pathway that snaked its way around the building and above their line of sight.

"The old railway line." Reno explained to the others who stood transfixed by the bizarre sight. "We need to go up if we want to reach the front entrance because it's on level with where the plates used to be. I'm hoping that it won't be broken anywhere but if it is then we'll have to find a different way round."

He started forward and the others followed behind in single file like some kind of funeral procession. Cloud only prayed that it wasn't their own. An hour passed as they walked up the wide, twisted walkway that had one been used as a rail line. Cloud remembered with grim reflection the only times that he recalled using it. Both were as a member of AVALANCHE when he and the small group that consisted of himself, Barret, Tifa and the three others who had been good friends of Barret (what were their names? Oh yeah, that's right... Biggs Wedge and Jesse) had been on their way to blow up some of the once prosperous Mako reactors. Cloud looked out to the horizon and made out the vague but massive shapes against the landscape of the useless reactors that stood now only as cornerstones to the sectors and nothing more. The city of Midgar itself was built like a massive wheel. Circular in shape, walls that spanned out from the centre hub or the HQ acted as spokes separating the eight sectors that had once been individual towns. The reactors themselves now simply indicated where the ends of the 'spokes' were. Edifices to the Shinra's old glory just like the street lamps that had never been removed. Although he hated the Shinra and everything they'd stood for he regretted the fact that life had taken such a step backwards and everything man had worked so hard for now stood rusting and battered. A mournful sigh escaped his lips and Vincent cast him a curious glance but said nothing. A small river now flowed through the sectors from the base of the HQ. No one really knew how it had began or even where it sprang from but people suspected that it was the result of the water pipes beneath the building bursting and flooding forming an unnatural but beautiful river. It began at the centre of the city and snaked its way outwards until it pushed its way to the sea, a path it had carved over the year that Midgar had been deserted. From the great height that the group was now at, the faint bubbling of the river and the wind howling around the old building were the only sounds they could hear.

Pushing such unnecessary thoughts to the very back of his mind Cloud plodded onwards and upwards along the spiralling platform to which there seemed no end. As his thoughts mulled over such a depressing idea the group stopped and looked at a platform which jutted out of the side of the building falling short of the railway by many metres. Reno stepped cautiously to the edge and peered into the darkness to see the faint but eerily familiar outline of the Shinra HQ front entrance.

"This is our stop, girls." he announced jovially, his voice surprisingly cheerful for such an uncertain future.

Vincent walked over and stood next to him. "Do we jump?" he asked simply and Reno gave him a look of pure disbelief.

"Have you any idea how high up we are? Either you're insane or just a poor judge of distances." the Turk answered incredulously shaking his head. "No... We have to find something to bridge the gap."

Vincent walked back to stand beside Cloud who began to speak but he was completely ignored as the ex-Turk span around to face the HQ once more. Before Cloud could attempt to say any more, the dark figure rocked back on his heel and without warning began to sprint forward directly towards the chasm. As the others watched in shock, he leapt from the platform and sailed through the air, his cape flapping behind him like a pair of dark wings. Within seconds it was over and he landed silent and catlike on his toes and fingertips on the jutting ledge. Only dust which had been deposited since Meteor's attack objected to his presence by swirling and hanging in the cold air before coming down to settle and stain the fresh white snow with dirt. He stood up casually and brushed himself down before turning back to face the others who were too stunned by examining the unnaturally large distance he'd cleared in his bound to say anything.

Cloud recovered first and taking a few nervous steps he made his way to the edge of the walkway. "There's no way that the rest of us could make it across there like that," he began looking around at the faces of the Turks whose shocked expressions emphasised his point. "See if you can find anything over there that we could use as a bridge."

Vincent gave a nod and walked silently across the platform until he melded with the shadows and disappeared from their sight. As soon as he felt safer, Reno turned to Cloud, his eyebrows still raised from the incredible event.

"How the hell did he do that?" he hissed loudly as though still worried that Vincent could hear him. "That's a fifteen metre gap at least."

Cloud shrugged. "He was experimented on by Hojo. Certain parts of him were enhanced and every time I go out on a mission with him I find out something new. God knows what else he can do that we don't know about."

Reno smirked and turned back to the opposite ledge where there were the sounds of something being moved around. As he watched, Vincent came into view dragging a huge sheet of metal with a hideous screeching across the floor. He winced at the terrible noise but continued to observe him as the sheet was pulled over to the nearest edge of the platform. Vincent began to move it around and then he stopped and examined the gap quickly realising that the walkway that Cloud and Turks stood on was higher than his ledge. He looked up questioningly at the others who began to think of a possible solution.

"Is there some rope or something over there?" Elena called eventually and Vincent turned back to the shadows. He emerged minutes later carrying a length of electricity cable.

He proceeded to tie it around a thin but sharp piece of the metal and securing it, he threw the free end up to the others who caught it and began pulling. With Vincent pushing on one end and the others pulling they soon had the sheet in place as a crude bridge that spanned the large chasm precariously. Reno put a foot on it and pressed down cautiously. Although the metal dipped slightly and wobbled it remained in place and swallowing his fears, he began a heedful descent down the metallic slope. Unfortunately as he reached the middle, the snow began to fall with an increased ferocity until the 'bridge' was covered in a thin film of crystals. As he took another cautious step, his foot slipped out from beneath him and he fell unceremoniously onto his backside and slid the rest of the distance on his rear almost knocking Vincent down in the process as he stood at the bottom of the sheet. After helping Reno to his feet, Vincent turned to the others and questioned silently who was going to be next.

Elena stepped forward nervously and took a last glance down the yawning drop where she could see the snowflakes dance and drift far below her. Focussing her eyes on one particular crystal, she watched it until its path became unintelligible due to the distance and darkness below her. Taking a deep breath she considered walking across the makeshift bridge but after a moment of consideration, she sat down on the edge of the metal and pushed herself down it like a slide. After she was standing safely on the ledge she turned triumphantly to Cloud and Rude who remained on the platform opposite.

Cloud looked over at Rude who shook his head. "I'm the heaviest so I'll go last." he said and Cloud nodded in understanding.

The young warrior took the massive sword known as the Ultima Weapon from his back and held it like a javelin before throwing it to the other side where it imbedded itself deeply in the metal floor. He sat down on the sheet and slid down, leaping up expertly when safe and pulling the sword from its temporary metal sheath.

Rude walked to the edge and took a few seconds before thinking and putting both feet on the iced surface. Reno opened his mouth to cry out and warn the final Turk but to his astonishment, Rude slid casually down the surface like it was a surfing-board. He hopped off easily when the ride stopped and Reno shook his head in disgust.

"Godamned show-off!" he swore with a hint of admiration for his friend. Rude grinned in response and with everyone safe, the rabble walked towards the HQ entrance. They stood for a moment in silence as they stared up in awe of the once impressive doorway.

The Shinra insignia had once decorated the door frame and a large set of steps once led up to the entrance itself like the gates of heaven only hell was contained within those walls. Flags once adorned the corners while massive pillars supported an overly ornate roof. Now everything stood in ruin and disrepair. The flags hung tattered and dulled like the Shinra symbols while the columns and roof lay twisted and battered on the broken tiled floor. The steps were cracked and dented giving the impression of terrible sorrow and emptiness. Cloud almost pitied the Shinra and downfall they'd suffered.

As he glanced over at the three Turks he saw that his faint sorrow was magnified countless times on their faces. Although they had changed their ways they had always been completely loyal to whatever cause they worked for. The Shinra had given rise to them, it had been their sole purpose in living and when it had been destroyed they were left without direction and meaning. They still missed the old days and the way things once were. Cloud sighed quietly and glanced over at Vincent and was shocked to see the same sadness he'd seen in the Turks upon his friend's pale face. Not wishing to disturb the mourning of his companions, he remained silent until Reno turned around to face them, a sad smile on his face.

"Looks like we're home." he said quietly and the others bowed their heads respectfully. "I don't want to be here any longer than necessary... this is an in-out mission. We find Reeve, we kick some ass and we get the hell outta there. No prisoners, I don't want the risk of this happening again. They've made a laughing stock of the Turks and they won't get away with it. Now c'mon, let's go in there and show them what a mistake it is to dare take someone under our protection away from us."



Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred



When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

The Charge of the Light Brigade,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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