Through the Looking Glass Chapter 4

A Secret Wish

By Lucrecia Marionette

Vincent drew the Death Penalty from its holder and Cloud held the Ultima Weapon before him. The Turks had already departed and ran off towards the staircase leaving the two AVALANCHE members alone to make their ways through the front entrance up to floor sixty-five. They walked quietly up the steps to the main door; their backs pressed against each other and their eyes and ears alert for any signs of life. They entered the main hall and reception without incident and with a shrug, Cloud put the Ultima Weapon away and began to look around for a possible way up the building. Vincent holstered his gun but immediately disappeared into the shadows as he always seemed to whenever entering an unfamiliar area. Cloud attempted to follow his path across the room but quickly realising it was futile, he turned away and began examining the elevator shafts.

The particular shafts that he was looking at consisted of huge glass tubes that stretched all of the way up the outside of the building to the final floor, seventy. He turned away and walked towards the next set of elevators to find Vincent already standing next to the open doors and looking up them. As Cloud moved to stand next to him he saw several thick cables swaying slowly due to an unseen disturbance further up the passageway. When he looked below he saw nothing but a bottomless pit from which emanated the sound of rushing water. It looked as though the river truly did come from below the building.

"It looks as though we'll have to climb... ." commented Vincent as he continued to look up the square tube.

Cloud pulled a face and flexed his arms and hands. "It's a long way up. We'll have to rest often."

Vincent nodded and holding onto the doorframe he reached into the passage and grabbed one of the cables. He handed it to Cloud and did the same again for himself. Cloud yanked on the cable to ensure its security and then taking a deep breath he fell off the floor and swung into the shaft, slamming into the opposite wall painfully and almost losing his grip. Once he was steady he nodded to Vincent who swung in with his legs out in front of him to absorb the shock of hitting the wall. He rebounded and slowly steadied himself until he was no longer swinging uselessly and wrapped the cable around his legs. Cloud did likewise and without a word said between them, the two men inched their ways up the rope until five floors later they could hardly keep their grip because their arms ached so much. Swinging for a few seconds, Cloud let go and fell onto the floor. Leaping up, he turned back and pulled Vincent to safety. They rested for a few minutes in silence before Vincent stood up and began examining the room.

"Is it familiar?" asked Cloud suddenly, breaking the aura of silence which had probably existed since Meteor's reign of terror.

Vincent nodded but as Cloud watched him, his movements became increasingly lethargic and slow. His eyebrows knitted in thought as he watched his friend's odd behaviour. Vincent walked slowly and hesitantly over to a large window that would have once given a view over the upper five section of the plate that used to hang above the ground level of the city. He touched the glass and looked at it as though he was seeing something that wasn't really there. He traced the outline of his face on the glass and then his arms dropped limply to his sides and he sighed and bowed his head sorrowfully.

"This is where I first met Lucrecia..." he said softly and Cloud felt a wave of sadness wash across him.

"I'm sorry." he sympathised lamely unable to think of anything else to say but Vincent shook his head.

"I just never thought I'd see this place again... ." he stopped and looked around at the room. It was quite large and Cloud guessed it was about half the size of the overall level. The skeletons of potted plants lay smashed and sterile around the floor and opposite the elevator doors there was an upturned table, probably a reception desk. A doorway led off behind it and there were faded signs on the wall. When he squinted he thought he could faintly see lettering and arrows indicating apartments and homes. It looked like level five was one of the floors where the Shinra employees had once lived.

Vincent walked over to the desk and with phenomenal strength bent down and lifted the heavy table until with a loud bang and explosion of dust and dry soil it righted itself. He brushed down its top in some weak effort to make it look more presentable and Cloud began to feel very uncomfortable as though he was watching some personal ritual that no one should ever be allowed to witness.

"Looks like someone forgot to pay the cleaner." Vincent commented with a slight smile that although wasn't visible, Cloud could detect it in his unusually humorous remark.

He pushed himself up off the floor and walked over to stand beside the dark figure who was once more looking out of the window.

"What are you looking at?" he asked softly.

"This is exactly where I stood when I first saw her." Vincent began wistfully. "I was looking out at the city when someone approached me and asked me why I was looking at such a depressing view. I simply told her that in an odd sense I enjoyed looking down at the people as they went on with their menial lives; living out what little time they have on the planet with pointless tasks that will get them nothing when death finally does touch them." Vincent shook his head and when he spoke again there was a mixture of sadness and joy in his voice. "I can still remember how frustrated she was at me. I was a cold bastard even then... . Eventually I turned and looked at her and even to this day I have never experienced anything like that."

He paused as he struggled to find the words to express what he was thinking and Cloud didn't dare disturb him. It was rarely that Vincent said anything more than a couple of sentences long and to hear him begin talking about his past was truly unusual and fascinating. When Vincent spoke like this it was easy to get caught up in what he said due to the passion and emotion he would put into his words. For a brief moment the world became irrelevant as he poured out a part of himself and allowed Cloud to see exactly what he kept beneath his dark exterior.

"It was as though someone had lifted a veil from my eyes." he said eventually with a soft tone. "I had never seen beauty like hers before and never have to this day. For all of eternity if I was to search for someone to match her I know that I never could. It was as though God had sent an angel down to hell to help a tortured soul. I can still remember praying internally, almost weeping and thanking him over and over again for choosing me of all demons on this planet... ." He stopped and for moment in the silvery moonlight that shone through the dusty window to the room Cloud thought he could see a tear in Vincent's eye. "She was lost and needed someone to show her to her apartment... she was new to the area having just transferred from Icicle where she worked with Dr. Gast. I escorted her to her home and asked her to dinner that night. Of course she declined... Hojo already had her in his grasp and wasn't prepared to let her go." Vincent spat out the last few words and Cloud looked back up to his face and felt alarm surge through his veins as the red irises of Vincent's eyes began to glow from fury.

"Easy now... ." soothed Cloud as he put a gentle hand on Vincent's shoulder to prevent something ugly from happening.

Vincent closed his eyes and tilted his head back, taking a few deep breaths. "I'm all right." he said quietly after a few moments of controlled breathing. He pulled away from Cloud and strode angrily towards the elevator shaft once more. "We'd should continue now." he said coldly, all emotion that had been in his voice restrained to feed the demon that patrolled the back of his mind.

Cloud sighed and walked over to join him and together they continued their ascent up the dark passageway.


"All right then, keep your eyes open. Remember we don't know who the hell these people are or what armoury they'll have." whispered Reno to his two companions as they crept up the vast staircase that led to the sixty-first floor. He held the nightstick up in front of him like a torch and it gave off an electric blue glow which dimly illuminated their paths. They walked in usual formation, Elena in the middle and Rude bringing up the rear; all of them on their toes and keeping their wits around them.

Although exhausting, the stairs were by far the quickest way to the target floor and within an hour of laborious climbing, Reno pushed his shoulder up against the door that sat at the very end of their trudge. His breath tore at his lungs but as the Turk leader he had to appear strong in order to keep his friends' spirits up. Elena appeared flustered, her cheeks red and her hair out of place and even Rude looked slightly dishevelled. He began to wonder what kind of hovel he looked as though he'd crawled out of.

"Ready?" he asked quietly but Elena shook her head.

"Can we just rest for a second?" she asked her voice pleading and breathless.

Reno scratched the back of his head and glanced over at Rude who to his surprise nodded to show that he wasn't prepared to burst into a strange room just at that moment either. Reno sighed thankfully and slid down the door into a clumsy sitting position, too weary to appear neat and professional, not that he normally did he realised with a smirk. Elena sank gratefully to the floor and she sat down on the top step next to Rude and leant up against the banister.

"I feel as though my feet are about to drop off... ." she moaned.

"Elena don't-" Reno began but he was cut off mid sentence by the female Turk as she glared at him.

"If you dare tell me not to be so weak then I'm gonna shove that nightstick up your ass." she threatened and Reno gave a broad grin to her confusion.

"You look gorgeous when you're mad." he remarked and she snarled and turned away with obvious disgust.

Reno laughed aloud and glanced at Rude who gave an out of character smile and shook his head. Rude never irritated either Turk; he was the middleman and friend to both and studiously kept it that way. While Reno and Elena bickered like siblings around him, he'd act as the referee to keep them apart and prevent them from tearing each other to pieces.

Reno often admired his stoic companion; he knew that he'd go insane if he were ever forced to act as 'child minder' for two people as annoying as himself and Elena.

With a weary sigh he leant back on the door and looked down the stairs that they'd walked up. It had been a nightmarish expedition and although he would never admit it, his feet ached and he longed to massage his legs to get the feeling back into them. He didn't bother though; he'd already reprimanded Elena for her complaining and he wasn't about to open himself to any of her own snide comments.

Fortunately they hadn't encountered any trouble on the way up but it unnerved him. It was clearly the easiest way up to floor sixty-five, a fact he'd considered before offering Cloud and Vincent the front route he recalled with a smirk, but he had found no signs of human activity. As a matter of fact he hadn't found any signs of animal movement either. It was as if the building was truly deserted. Had his investigations and contacts led him on a wild goose-chase? He had no information of the offenders or their motives behind the kidnapping. He wasn't even certain if this was the right place but something within him had urged him to follow this particular lead. Rude stood up and cracked his knuckles noisily in the narrow but tall room. Elena grimaced and looked up at him.

"D'you have to do that?" she asked irritably and Reno grinned.

"Looks like Mr. Silent is beginning to wear on Miss. Perfect's nerves." he smirked and both Rude and Elena flashed him angry looks.

"I'm only pissed off because I've had to spend the last hour trudging up a mile of stairs with your incessant prattling and egotistical wisecracks." she snapped at Reno whose eyebrows raised at the ferocity of the comment.

He opened his mouth to yell back but Rude stopped him by speaking first. "This isn't the time or place for an argument. I wouldn't be surprised if there were fifty men on the other side of that door after hearing your petty disputes all the way up on the seventieth floor." he admonished.

Elena blushed from embarrassment while Reno played with his ponytail, twisting it around his finger and pulling on it gently. "Yeah, sorry man." he apologised. "It's just this place... it's givin' me the creeps. I can remember when we used to patrol up and down the stairs looking out for AVALANCHE and anyone else who dared to muscle in on our turf."

Elena smiled. "Isn't it funny how we're risking our butts now to save an enemy of the Shinra and handing out directions to AVALANCHE members?"

Reno laughed quietly. "Well... whoever pays us the most gets our service. I'm sorry that we've ended up working for the opposite team but that's just the ways things go. I still miss that jerk Heidegger running about and ordering us around while Scarlet scampered behind him like a tart in that awful red dress."

Elena grinned and a rare smile graced Rude's face. "Heh, heh, heh. I can still remember that fat bastard Palmer running behind Rufus like a lap dog."

"Did anyone actually like him?"

Reno shook his head. "Nah... I think he was just kept around to make everyone else feel superior."

Elena laughed and Reno grinned, stood and turned to face the door that he'd been leaning against. "C'mon guys, lets do this for us. We don't need the Shinra... hell we don't need Reeve or any AVALANCHE dorks, this one's for us... for Turk pride."

Elena and Rude nodded gravely and readied their pistols while the electric whine of Reno's nightstick reached a higher pitch. With a deep breath, he pressed hard against the rusted door and it screeched in protest but eventually opened.

The three Turks dived into the room; weapons ready and eyes keen to spot any potential threat. It was a massive anticlimax for them to find themselves in a completely empty room with flickering fluorescent lights overhead, probably powered by a small Mako generator that had never been turned off. Dead plants hung pitifully over their containers and crunchy brown leaves littered the floor like an autumn breeze had blown through carrying with it all of the death it signified on its wings. Elena stood up from her crouching position and brushed her dirty knees down while Rude did likewise on the other side of Reno who stood in the middle.

"So where are they?" asked Elena loudly as she walked further into the room, her hands on her hips. "I was expecting some kind of reception party at least... ."

Reno chewed on his ponytail and walked forward to stand beside her. "This is really weird." he mumbled as he glanced over at the elevator doors. "I was expecting some resistance or signs of life. This is just... bizarre."

Rude walked quietly from his position beside the door and moved over to the large flower containers in the centre of the vast chamber. He peered into the plant corpses but saw nothing unusual among the rotting stalks and dead soil. Reno looked over to him but he shook his head to signify that he had found nothing.

The flame-haired Turk sighed angrily and prepared to speak when a strange sound filled the air. He had been used to silence other than the sounds that he and the other two made and it was odd to suddenly be made aware of anything else. Looking around for the source of the sound his gaze stopped on one of the elevator doors which was trembling slightly.

Elena looked at him quizzically and began to walk towards it before Reno pulled her back in the fear that anything could come from the long abandoned tube. They slunk back behind the metre high plant holders and readied their pistols in order to fire upon anything that emerged from the doors.

After an eternity passed, there was a chime that sounded familiar but warped in the derelict building. They'd heard it a thousand times before as they moved from level to level when the Shinra had been in power but to hear it in that terrible place under such circumstances made them wonder if they were part of a cruel joke and this was the twisted punch-line. With a mechanical hiss, the doors slid open and they jumped up and aimed their pistols to find nothing; nothing but empty air in the place of ten angry terrorists wielding guns and swords.

They were sorely disappointed. Reno's faced screwed up with pure puzzlement that was mirrored in his comrades and in unison they stood and began to walk around the sides of the useless rectangular pot. As they advanced upon the open elevator cubicle they stopped and stared in astonishment at the small, innocent looking parcel on the floor of the recess.

Immediately Reno knew something was wrong. He cried out in shock and the world gradually halted to an unbearably slow pace as everything happened at once. Rude realised at the same time as Reno that they had fallen head over heels for one of the easiest tricks in the book. The bald Turk turned and dived to the ground while Reno slammed his arm around Elena's shoulders and pushed her forward, forcing her to the ground as a massive explosion occurred behind them. All three skidded along the tiled floor from the momentum of their sprint and from the blast of the bomb that had been sent down to greet them. Rude was pushed painfully against the pot and his head hit it with a terrible crack and he slipped into oblivion as the searing flames rushed out to meet him. Reno somehow stumbled to his feet and half dragged Elena away from the source until they were thrown against the opposite wall that housed the door they'd entered through. The world burst into real time once more as the explosion imploded and the elevator cubicle erupted and fell with a scream down the shaft where it hit the bottom with a terrible bang and gale that rushed up and blew around the room scattering debris and leaves. Shrapnel flew out of the gaping hole where the elevator had hung peppering the walls and Turks with metal shards.

Reno held Elena between himself and the wall; his eyes closed tightly in agony and horrid expectation. The female Turk began to stir, utter shock written across her face beneath the soot marks and stray hair that hung down over her filthy, smoke stained visage. She turned her head to look at Reno whose face was contorted in pain.

Silence was the only thing that existed in the room now. Terrible, tense silence that hung in the air only after the most dramatic or horrifying events. Elena didn't want to turn or look around in fear of what she would find. The smell of burning flesh filled the air and made her want to retch.

"R, Reno?" she stuttered in panic, the initial fright wearing off as terrible reality set in. He didn't respond at first but eventually his aqua eyes open and looked into her brown ones. "Oh God, Reno." she whispered. "What the hell happened?"

"A bomb." he answered softly. "Try not to panic, I'll see if you have any injuries."

"You... you saved my life." she murmured while Reno smiled grimly.

"Looks like you owe me one, huh?" he replied expecting a snide comment in return but receiving none.

"Yeah... ." she said softly, lowering her eyes and looking at his body. "You're covered in burn marks." she stated obviously and he nodded painfully, his attention brought back to the injuries he'd suffered.

"I'll be all right." he lied through gritted teeth but Elena shook her head firmly.

"Don't act all macho with me you dumb moron. Let me see what's wrong."

Reluctantly, he stood up and backed away from her allowing her to stretch her stiff legs feeling thankful that she hadn't suffered anything worse than slight cramp and shock. Her eyes widened and she gasped as she looked at him. There was a terrible red burn all down the right side of his face and he held his right side with obvious agony. When she pulled his hands away she saw a large piece of metal jutting from his side. She blanched but it was hidden well beneath her dirty mask and forcing him to sit down and clench his teeth, she pulled it out. He let out an agonising cry and clutched his side defensively when she attempted to do more. She frowned at him.

"That'll go septic if you don't let me tend it." she said with motherly concern. He looked into her eyes for a few seconds and grudgingly moved his hands and clenched them tightly while she ripped off some of her own blue jacket and patched up the deep wound with it. Examining the other wounds she decided that although they were ugly, they weren't life threatening. Convincing him thus, she stood up and felt a sudden fear. "Where's Rude?" she asked her eyes wide and panicking.

"Oh shit." swore Reno attempting to stand but failing miserably. "I haven't seen him. Look for him Elena."

She nodded and began to scan over the wreckage caused by the blast. Eventually she found him slumped up against the plant container, his suit scorched and his hands and face badly burnt. He appeared to have escaped the shrapnel but he was deeply unconscious and that worried her more than anything else did.

"Rude?" she called gently without response and she called his name again but he remained still. "Dammit." she cursed under her breath as she reached up and pulled off his sunglasses that had been half melted from the heat of the flames. His eyes were fine to her relief and there was normal skin around them in the shape of a pair of sunglasses which she knew Reno would have fun pointing out to him when he came around. Smiling slightly at the thought she began to check him more closely for any internal injuries. In the process of this there was the sound of a faint creaking behind her and whirling around with her pistol at the ready, she faced the remaining elevator and watched as it opened preparing to defend her friends to the death if need be.

The doors hissed open as quietly as the other pair which had once stood next to it in the wall. As Elena's eyes focussed on the now open cubicle her breath caught in her throat and the pistol slipped from her numb grasp. She attempted to speak but no words came out of her lips that were incapable of moving. She sank to her knees and watched as an eerily familiar face smiled cruelly down at her.

"Hello Elena. It's good to see that you still remember me. It was nice of you to bring along your friends, after all, I couldn't go without greeting them now could I?"

Her eyes rolled back in her head as everything went black and the world faded from view.


"What the hell was that noise?" gasped Cloud in alarm as his head jerked up.

"Sounded like an explosion." Vincent answered as he rose from his sitting position and walked over to the open elevator doors. The sound came from the closed shaft and he felt thankful that they had chosen the safest passage. "We were lucky." he said to voice his thoughts. "If we had been in the other tube then we'd probably be dead now."

He examined their route and stepped back as the cable that they had been climbing previously began to move. "It would seem that the Turks have encountered our kidnappers." he commented flatly and Cloud leapt up and ran over to him.

He peered up the tube but was unable to see anything in the darkness. "Someone's using the elevator further up to come down." he mumbled as he watched the cables moving in front of him.

"That means that they'll be going up in a moment." Vincent responded. "If we hold onto the ropes then it would save us a long climb."

Cloud nodded but felt a pit appear at the bottom of his stomach. "I hope they're all right."

"They will be. Turks have a habit of surviving, especially those three." Vincent replied and Cloud wondered whether he heard a hint of pride in his companion's voice.

They waited in silence for a few minutes until there was a mechanical buzzing up the shaft. "This is our ride." Cloud said as he took a deep breath and leapt into the shaft grabbing onto one of the cables.

He slipped a few inches grateful for his sword gloves, without which he would've lost the skin of his palms. Vincent followed seconds later grabbing the rope only with his claw but keeping a firm enough grip to stop himself from sliding down. Once he was ready, he moved his right hand up to grab the cable and take some of the weight off his left. There was a sudden jerk on the cables as the elevator began to move and the two men were pulled upwards at three times the speed they had been moving at before. They both struggled to keep their grip and eventually their ride stopped as the cubicle above them halted suddenly and almost yanked the rope from their hands. Cloud swung into the open elevator doors on the floor their journey had stopped at and Vincent dropped in after him. They picked themselves up and Cloud brushed down his clothes that were covered in old dust and grime. Half-satisfied with his appearance he glanced over at Vincent who stood with his back to him.

"You okay?" asked his friend who nodded but didn't turn around.

He looked over Vincent's shoulder and saw him examining his right hand. The fingerless shooting glove hadn't provided any protection for his fingers against the friction burns of the rope and they were raw red and blistered.

"Oh God Vincent, here let me dress them." he grimaced but Vincent shrank away and shook his head firmly.

"I'll be all right." he said sharply and Cloud didn't bother to argue.

With a shrug he walked away and began looking around the room. '60' painted in huge black numbers on the wall opposite the elevator doors indicated the floor number. Fortunately for them the floor was the start of the internal set of stairs that could be used to move from level to level when the elevators were out of order without resorting to the steps that the Turks had used.

Cloud pointed it out to Vincent who seemed more intrigued with his wound too pay much attention. With a weary sigh he slumped up against one of the walls and took the Ultima Weapon from its holder. He began to play idly with the ornate hilt and wondered what everyone was doing and if Tifa was thinking about him.

I wish I'd said something... . I wish that I'd apologised or at least let her know how I feel about her. He mused glumly. I'm too much of a jerk to see what I have until it's too late. I know... when I get back I'll tell her. I'll stop waiting and hoping that I can put it off until another day. I won't shy away; I'll do it. Everyone else has suffered so much through love but I won't let that happen to me. I'll go home and I'll tell her how much she means to me and I'll make her glad that she's been the only one who stuck beside me through everything. I've never properly thanked her... I never once said how grateful I was. Why do I always think about these things when there's no way of telling her? Man, I'm an idiot... .

He sighed and stood up, the Ultima Weapon still in his hand.

"C'mon Vincent, it's time to go." he said wearily, suddenly longing for home.

Vincent nodded and walked over to Cloud who now stood beside the door that led to the stairs. With a nod, the young warrior pushed it open and they walked into the confined space with the electrical hum of barely working lights overhead.

Cloud adjusted his hold on the enormous sword; his palms feeling sweaty beneath his thick leather gloves. Vincent slipped the Death Penalty from its holder and held it up next to his face in preparation for danger. They crept silently up the stairs until they stood beside the floor sixty-one entrance. Vincent nodded at Cloud and the ex-SOLDIER pushed up against the door with his shoulder. It burst open and they leapt into the room full of expectations and fears; only there was nothing.

There were signs that something terrible had happened, obvious even to the least experienced fighter. The lights had exploded and live wires hung sparking from the ceiling. Blast marks emanated out from one of the elevators whose doors had been torn off in the presence of a great power. The charred remains of a large plant holder lay in the middle of the room and shrapnel jutted from the walls like deadly spikes. Cloud left the door behind him open as he walked in complete shock into the room. Vincent followed silently and proceeded to meld into the shadows as he patrolled the corners for signs of danger.

Cloud walked to the middle of the room, his path illuminated by the light that beamed out from the open doorway behind him. His shadow stretched onwards into the room until it bent as it hit the wall opposite him. As he watched his shadow for a moment something caught his eye and he walked quickly towards it. A shocked gasp came from him as he bent down and touched a blood mark on the floor and the fingers of his gloves came back stained crimson.

"Vincent, quick." he called. "I, I've found something."

He heard the sound of something moving and Vincent's shadow was cast over the spot as the ex-Turk walked up behind him. "What is it?"

"Blood." Cloud answered grimly.

There was a movement behind him and then something was thrown down before him. He lifted the shapeless black object up from the floor and felt a chill down his spine. The object was badly melted but it was vaguely recognisable as a pair of sunglasses. "The Turks... ." he mumbled and Vincent knelt down beside him.

"I think we can presume that they were taken prisoner." he said evenly, his voice without emotion. He reached down and to Cloud's horror he wiped his fingers in the blood but stopped as he noticed something more. He lifted something off the floor and held it to his face for examination. Cloud looked at him in puzzlement but Vincent eventually passed him an almost invisible strand of short blonde hair. "This is where Elena and Reno were during the blast." he announced as he stood up and turned back to the decimated plant holder. "Rude was trapped there."

"I hope they're all right." Cloud said softly. "It looks like it was a helluva blast."

Vincent nodded and wiped his fingertips on his cloak to remove the bloodstain. However as Cloud watched him do this, something struck him as odd. "Vincent? How's your hand?" he asked suddenly and Vincent stopped and looked at him strangely.

"It's... alright." he answered hesitantly but Cloud stepped towards him and he put the hand behind his back defensively.

"Can I see it?"

"No... Really, it's okay. I don't need anything. It doesn't hurt." Vincent said quickly but Cloud was certain that something wasn't right.

"Vincent, let me just take a look. I won't hurt you I just want to make sure of something." but Vincent shook his head firmly and backed away until he was trapped between the wall and Cloud who had a disturbingly resolute look in his eyes.

"I'm warning you Cloud." said Vincent suddenly, a dangerous tone in his voice but Cloud ignored it.

"Let me see it." the younger man insisted firmly but Vincent persisted in holding back.

Without warning, Cloud lunged forward and grabbed Vincent's right arm and pulled it out into the light so he could examine it. Within seconds he dropped it and looked into Vincent's eyes, horror and puzzlement swimming in the bright blue depths.

"What... How is this possible?" he stuttered, shock overriding every other sense in his mind.

Vincent snatched his hand back furiously and turned away to face the working elevator. "It's nothing. It's not important." he muttered angrily but Cloud grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him around to meet his gaze.

"Vincent, the wound has gone! It was there ten minutes ago and not even elixirs work that fast! What the hell is going on here?" Cloud questioned, his eyes wide and Vincent's narrowed.

"It is nothing to do with you." Vincent spat fiercely.

He strode away from the flabbergasted warrior who was unable to comprehend what he had just seen. The friction burns of holding onto the cable had shredded Vincent's fingers only ten minutes ago but now they had completely healed over without a scar or scab. Nothing could clear up a wound that quickly without leaving some kind of mark and he was certain that his eyes were working properly. With anyone else he would believe that he was going insane but this was too strange. Something was going on here that he didn't know about and he was determined to find out.

He spun around and prepared to confront Vincent once more but the sound of machinery working behind him forced him to turn and see what was happening. He backed away to stand near to Vincent who had redrawn the Death Penalty and had it aimed at the elevator. Cloud unsheathed his sword and together the pair were ready to defend themselves.

The second that the door opened the firing began. A rain of bullets sprayed out towards the pair who separated and dived for the floor, hoping to gain some cover from the battered plant holder. Vincent rolled across the rubble littered ground and fired blindly around the corner of the rectangular structure, grinning to himself as he heard one of the enemies cry out in pain and fall to the floor. He dared to stick his head around the corner and take a quick count. Ducking back he turned to Cloud and held up eight fingers. Eight fingers for eight men.

Cloud nodded grimly and leapt to his feet and sprinted across the no-mans land towards a corner near the elevator. As expected, one of the enemies dared to give chase and his life was ended by an all mighty swing of the huge Ultima Weapon that almost cleaved him in two. Using the now dead man as a body shield, he ran towards the elevator, his eyes closed tightly in preparation for hell. He felt bullets thud against the corpse and only metres from his intended destination, he released the man and flung him into the small crowd. They scattered out of the way and Vincent leapt up from behind his position and fired upon the confused men.

He killed two of them instantly and they dropped to the floor as he made a run for the corner opposite to the one Cloud had emerged from. Meanwhile, the warrior was engaged in a viscous sword and gunfight with two more men. While they fired, he deflected the bullets with the blade of his sword and they reflected back at the enemies who were forced to dive for cover. He launched himself forward when they stopped and in a murderous swing he decapitated both of them easily. They fell to the floor and their blood spurted out across the tiles, spreading like a hideous plague and Cloud was forced to leap back onto the plant holder. Two more of the men appeared before him, both with their guns loaded and aimed for his head. In a last desperate effort, Cloud dropped and swung the sword as low as he could and knocked them both to the floor. He held the sword before him with the blade pointed downwards and he jumped from the higher platform and stabbed one of the men. He pulled the sword back and prepared to plunge into the last survivor but he was too slow and by the time he raised his eyes, he was looking down the barrel of a rifle.

"Throw your sword down and surrender." came the firm order but Cloud shook his head and slowly raised it in the futile hope that he wouldn't be noticed. However the man kicked up and the blade was sent flying through the air to impale itself in the floor metres behind him and out of reach.

Cloud lifted his hands in submission and a shot rang out. His face screwed up and his fists clenched in readiness for the burning sensation of a bullet but it never came. He cautiously opened his eyes and saw Vincent standing away from him; the Death Penalty pointed towards his chest, smoke drifting from the black barrel. In a brief, panicking moment Cloud presumed that his friend had shot him. His eyes lowered eventually and he looked down upon the corpse of the man who'd held him at gunpoint seconds before, a bloodstain slowly spreading across his shirt.

"I hate shooting people in the back." Vincent commented dryly as he slipped the Death Penalty into its holder.

Cloud sighed deeply in an effort to calm his racing nerves but without much luck. He turned and lifted the Ultima Weapon, slotting it back into place on his back. "I've been fighting brainless monsters for so long it seems weird to fight humans. I still hate it." he finished giving pitying looks down to the dead men. "I don't like killing people especially young ones."

He knelt down and rolled over the one that Vincent had shot onto his back. He pulled off the man's helmet that covered his face and gently closed the young man's eyes and smoothed out his hair. Taking a moment to examine the man's clothes he found nothing that would reveal who he was or what he was doing there. All of them wore the same simple uniform. It was pale blue with a shirt with a darker blue jacket and trousers similar to the ones that he wore as part of the old SOLDIER outfit. Whoever led this group was organised and had plans.

He stood up wearily and looked over the slaughter. All of them had been killed in such gruesome methods, some with bullets in the head or back whilst his own victims bore terrible slash marks and deep cuts. It was terrible to look over Kalm wolves but it was something else to look down on dead humans. Out of morbid curiosity he counted the bodies. Eight of them just as Vincent had pointed out but there was a nagging doubt at the back of his mind like the one that he'd had when looking at Vincent's hand. Didn't he say that there were eight men after he'd shot one of them? Cloud thought to himself as he began to look around for his silent companion. We're missing a body... . He mused as he walked around the room in an effort to locate Vincent.

"Vincent?" he called eventually. "Where are you?"

"Right here." came the reply as Vincent stepped out of the corner he'd shrunk into during the fight.

Cloud frowned. "I think we're missing a body." he said glancing around and Vincent looked behind him.

"One of them sneaked up on me when I was reloading." he explained. "The body is behind me." he finished indicating to the corner he'd emerged from.

"Oh. What were you doing just then?"

Vincent held out his right hand that contained several unused bullets. "Ammo." he responded simply and walked away to the elevator preventing Cloud from continuing.

Shrugging to himself but realising that it would be pointless to push, Cloud joined Vincent and they went into the cubicle and pushed the up button. Vincent examined and reloaded the Death Penalty with expert speed and Cloud took the chance to scrutinise his own weapon.

All too quickly however, the ride stopped and the doors hissed open. Exchanging glances, they walked out and found themselves enveloped in darkness. The doors shut behind them and Vincent whirled around but the elevator had already gone leaving them trapped and without an escape route. Cloud swallowed nervously and peered into the darkness but could see nothing. Vincent turned around after weakly attempting to open the elevator doors and joined him in looking into oblivion.

There was absolutely no light in the room other than a dim one above the elevator doors and Cloud didn't know whether the walls were ten or twenty metres from him. All he could see were old desks and office chairs strewn across the carpet. Papers littered the floor and he felt tempted to reach down and pick one of them up to find some clue to where he was. In the consuming blackness he couldn't even find the huge numbers which indicated the level they stood on. As he glanced at Vincent he watched his dark friend look around the room, his eyes focussing on things he couldn't even imagine existed. It seemed that enhanced night vision was one of Vincent's many hidden talents.

"What can you see?" asked Cloud in a low tone, fearful of alerting any unseen enemies.

Vincent turned back to him, his face blank and unrevealing. "Nothing." he answered eventually. "No more than you."

He turned away and Cloud was left scratching his head thoughtfully. Vincent certainly wasn't divulging much to him that night.

Relying on hearing alone, Cloud began a stunted exploration of the room feeling his way around the walls and scattered furniture. As he glanced back at the elevators he momentarily saw Vincent watching him but he quickly turned away after noticing Cloud's observation. Cloud raised his eyebrows; he could barely see his hands before him and wondered how on earth Vincent was capable of watching him through the shadows. He didn't want to question or mention it. It was obvious that Vincent didn't enjoy revealing or talking of his 'abilities'.

After a while he had been around the perimeter of the entire room and found nothing. It was quite large at about thirty metres by thirty metres but he had no idea what lay in the middle or down the numerous corridors that branched off from it which he hadn't dared explore without light.

"Did you find anything?" Vincent asked when Cloud once more stood in the pool of light shed from the elevator sign.

You know damn well that I didn't find anything. You've been watching me all the way around this room. What are you hiding Vincent? Why are you being so defensive and secretive all of a sudden? I wish I could see through this mask you put on and maybe I would get some answers... . "No." Cloud answered eventually, eyeing Vincent warily.

Vincent stared back and seemed about to say something when there was a faint click from the other side of the room. Vincent turned suddenly to look towards the sound while Cloud was left gazing blankly into the shadows.

There was the sound of movement like footsteps shuffling across the carpet opposite them and the sound of something else, less recognisable but more mechanical approaching. Cloud held the Ultima Weapon feeling immediately safer for having the blade in his hands. He stared in vain into the blackness but could see nothing and leapt in shock as Vincent gasped and stumbled back next to him. Unable to see the threat advancing, Cloud took a few cautious steps until he stood beside Vincent who now had his back up against the wall.

"What is it?" he hissed, one eye on his friend and the other on the shadows.

"It can't be... it's just not possible... . "Vincent muttered, his red eyes wide and staring while his head shook as though he were attempting to deny what he'd seen.

Cloud grabbed the neck of Vincent's cloak and shook him violently to knock some sense into him. "Vincent tell me!" me whispered frantically. "What is it?"

"H, H... Ho-" Vincent stuttered fearfully, stopped as a voice behind them finished the sentence.

"I believe the word you are looking for is 'Hojo'." sneered a person from the shadows.

Cloud spun around, look of shock matching Vincent's covered his face at the sound of the familiar voice. As he watched in horror, like a ghost, a man wearing a white lab coat emerged from the darkness. He was quite tall although he walked with his hands clasped behind his slightly hunched back. He wore his long black hair back in a ponytail that allowed several strands to hang over his thin face and a pair of small round spectacles perched on the end of his nose over a wicked and sneering grin that came from the darkest pits of hell.

"Hojo... ." Cloud repeated in a whispered voice. "How...?"

"How am I alive? Simple really." Hojo answered, taking off his glasses and polishing them on the hem of his lab coat before replacing them and looking at the two men. "It would seem that you are such a failure, you are incapable of killing a defenceless scientist."

Cloud shook his head in disbelief. This wasn't possible, it couldn't be. Vincent had delivered the killing blow, almost tearing the scientist's head from his body as Chaos. They had left him cold and still beside the Sister Ray controls where he would've been crushed anyway by the weight of the massive cannon collapsing during Meteor's attack.

"I see you are trying to think of an explanation." Hojo spoke to destroy the moment's silence. "You obviously didn't do as good a job as you thought you had."

"Hojo, stop taunting them." ordered a second voice from the shadows.

Cloud once more looked to Vincent who was still staring in horrified shock at Hojo. Without any choice but to wait for the second person to make themselves known, Cloud watched the area behind Hojo. Eventually, a wheelchair moved slowly into view but the figure sitting in it caused Cloud to almost collapse.

"Yes... I can see how you may be having a hard time Cloud, two people returning from the dead and everything, but don't worry. You'll have plenty of time to get used to it." smiled the young man who sat in the chair pleasantly.

He wore a white suit over a black polo-neck shirt that contrasted as strongly as Hojo's heart and his lab-coat. A shotgun lay on his lap which he drummed his fingers along in a reassured fashion. He had curtained strawberry blonde hair that hung over bright, cold blue eyes. He smirked as he saw Cloud's face fall.

"I'm so glad that you could both stop by and give your regards."

"Rufus." murmured Cloud as he watched the young man. His gaze shifted between the two men until he felt as though his legs were going to fall under him. "But... you're both dead. You should be dead! How can you be here?"

"Now, now failure," sneered Hojo. "Watch your blood pressure. I don't want you having a heart attack or anything on me. You're much too important for that."

"Imp, Important? What are you talking about? I don't understand." Cloud faltered as he finally fell to the floor, too overwhelmed by the horror of seeing two men that should have been dead for five years.

"I need you for my little experiment." Hojo grinned as he stepped into the light. "I won't bother going into that though because I don't want to fry your pathetic mind."

"No... Tell me." Cloud begged. "What experiment? What are you going to do?"

"I, Hojo in all of my genius shall take the living to recreate the dead. I will overcome the barriers set by the laws of nature itself and I shall better them!" he answered jubilantly, his proud speech destroyed by Rufus pulling faces behind his back. "I will better what nature has sought to destroy for its perfection. The universe thought it could conquer me but it was wrong!" he yelled, spittle beginning to fly from his mouth as he became increasingly enthusiastic. "Wrong!"

He stopped and panted heavily and Cloud noticed that Rufus had ceased his taunting and was looking at the scientist with obvious concern. Eventually, Hojo wiped his brow and looked up, a manic grin spreading across his face. "I will recreate Sephiroth." he ended triumphantly, his voice a whisper and his face only centimetres from Cloud's. "I will make a god!"

Cloud's vision swam and his mind reeled. He'd spent an entire year of nightmares trying to conquer his fear of the SOLDIER who had destroyed his life. He had pulled AVALANCHE through hell to stop the insane Sephiroth as he sought godhood and was prepared to sacrifice the planet in his bid. He'd suffered visions and agonies imagining that the madman was waiting around every corner, lurking in every shadow, his aqua eyes glowing and peering out, watching him and haunting his every thought and dream. He'd imagined his friends slaughtered as they slept by the hands of his nemesis even though the silver haired man had been destroyed many years before. He had taken Cloud's mind and twisted it to his own design, using the young warrior for acts of terror that he had wanted to kill himself over. Hojo wanted to bring him back to life? How could he do that...? Why would he do that? What had driven the scientist to do such a thing? Was the world going mad or was it just him?

Yes... That's right. This is just a dream. Rufus and Hojo are dead. Vincent's still wandering around the world, hidden from us so we think that he's in his coffin. Reeve is probably asleep at his desk right now after a long night of work. I'll wake up in a few minutes and turn over to see Tifa; her beautiful face illuminated by a shaft of sunlight as it comes in through the curtains. I'll watch her for a while... I won't wake her. I hope that her dreams are better than my own. I won't tell her about this. I thought that my nightmares were over and she'll get worried if she thinks that I'm dreaming of all of this again. It isn't possible... it can't be possible... .

"Bastard!" roared Vincent suddenly, shattering the silence and dragging Cloud from his optimistic thoughts and forcing him to see dreaded reality.

Vincent lunged forward, his claw raised and ready to slash down on Hojo who watched the fury too transfixed to move at first. As the gauntlet was brought down to smash into his skull, he somehow twisted himself out of the way and it crashed into the floor with a terrible clang that resounded around the room.

Vincent looked up after pulling the claw from the floor and his eyes glowed with hatred, the blood red irises gleaming murder in the darkness.

Hojo was obviously shocked and disturbed from the sudden change but he tried to remain outwardly calm and collected. "What are you going to do now, Valentine? Transform into one of your little monsters and try to kill me? Hmm?"

"Yes... I'm going to make you pay for what you did." Vincent hissed menacingly, the light in his eyes alarmingly bright

"Oh now I don't think that would be very productive, do you?" Hojo said in the tone of voice that a parent would use when reprimanding a child. Rufus was visibly shaken by the turn of events and was wheeling himself away from the area as quickly as he could without drawing attention.

"Besides, there will always be Janus to continue my work."

Vincent stopped at the single comment as he cocked his head and looked at Hojo in distrust. "Janus...? Here...?"

"Yes, I'm sorry did I not mention that?" Hojo chuckled and the anger faded faintly from Vincent's eyes in the confusion. "It's just like a proper little reunion, isn't it? Heh, heh, heh." he chortled to himself as he glanced up at Vincent's puzzlement. "All we need now is Lucrecia and then it really will be official!"

Vincent crouched down low as though preparing to pounce on Hojo. "Don't you DARE mention her name!" he roared furiously, his voice deepening and taking on a bestial quality.

Unfazed by the immanent explosion of anger, Hojo seemed cheered even more greatly by Vincent's reaction. "Yes... I can understand your anger. After all she was a little whore wasn't she? I mean, knocking off two men at once... We certainly did keep her busy didn't we?" he said gleefully.

"Vincent, God no he's only saying that to make you angry! Just ignore the evil swine!" Cloud pleaded but it was too late.

With a cry of agony, Vincent fell to the floor and clutched his stomach as he gasped from the pain and tried to remain in control without avail.

"I think it's time we made our exit." Hojo said calmly as he turned back to Rufus who had already fled to the way out.

Cloud watched in horror as the nightmarish transformation enveloped his friend. The shadows that kept outside of the light seemed to be drawn into him until he was cocooned within a black shell that was increasing in size. Two massive wings burst from the creature and Cloud was forced to leap back to avoid being crushed beneath the powerful beats. Eventually all movement stopped and an ear splitting roar echoed around the room as the demon that was once Vincent raised its head. It smelt the air and eventually turned around and looked Cloud directly in the face, it's eyes level with his own even though it was still half lying on the floor.

"V, Vincent," stuttered Cloud as he looked into Chaos's pure red eyes. "It's me... C, Cloud."

The demon continued to watch him and with a sniff, it turned away towards the shadows and stood up, towering over Cloud at just under twelve feet tall. He glanced around the room and smelt the air, growling and glaring towards where Rufus and Hojo had run.

As Cloud listened, he heard the sound of the door opening once more and Chaos roared as it caught sight of several men entering carrying guns and tranquilliser darts.

Cloud felt completely blind in the room. He knew that a threat was approaching but he was incapable of defending himself. He had his sword but they had guns and he would be shot down before he could even go for the Ultima Weapon. The fact didn't seem to deter the demon however and it crouched down low before Cloud as if protecting him and snarled towards the advancing men threateningly.

He couldn't think properly, he never could as the demon. Pure rage and emotion ran his actions as Chaos. Logical thought took the back seat. There was someone unfamiliar coming, his predatorial vision allowed him to see them approach through the darkness but he knew that Cloud was helpless and he had to protect him. It was as simple as that. The bestial instincts wouldn't allow him to think in any more depth and so he handed himself over to demon without argument. It was easier that way; it had almost driven him mad trying to make it otherwise and sometimes it felt good to throw all caution to the wind and forget everything for a moment of simplicity.

They were close enough for him to smell now, the tranquilliser fluid was strong, almost in an overpowering way but he knew their intentions. He wished that there was someway to warn his weaker friend but that was as far as his worries got before he lunged.

Cloud stayed pinned back against the wall and watched as the demon leapt away from him and towards the advancing men. He heard their horrified screams as Chaos tore down upon them and ripped them limb from limb, tearing their bodies to pieces in the most hideous ways possible.

Unable to see what was happening, Cloud pulled out the Ultima Weapon and almost prayed for a chance to use it. As one of the men stumbled back into the light, he plunged it forward and impaled them and watched as they sank to the floor, drowning in their own blood. He pulled the weapon back and eagerly waited again for another chance to prove his usefulness. Another dared to enter the light and he slashed at them but they nimbly leapt back and raised their gun. He pulled up his sword just in time and winced in agony as he felt one of the shots hit his sword arm. When the bullets ceased, in one fluidic movement, he pulled up the sword and swung it horizontally to the ground, slicing his opponent open and then he plunged the blade forward to end the man's life. His enemy fell to the floor clutching his chest and breathing his last and Cloud looked down grimly at him.

He stopped for a moment and massaged his temples. He had suddenly come over weary and was having problems keeping his eyes open. Unable to remain standing, he fell to his knees and weakly tried to pull himself back up to a standing position using the sword as a lever. His vision blurring, he glanced down at the bullet wound and saw a tranquilliser dart sticking out of arm. With an ironic smile he plucked the dart from his arm and threw it to the floor as he heard a crash and Chaos fell to the floor unconscious.

"Ah, damn Vincent." he slurred wearily, patting the demon on its head. "Looks like we got caught."

Swaying exhaustedly for a few seconds, he finally fell backwards and into a deep, drug induced sleep.


Tifa sat bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring from her forehead and shimmering in the moonlight that shone through a crack in the curtains. Panting heavily she looked around the room as if to reassure herself that everything was in order. Only it wasn't... she was lonely. She looked down at the space next to her in the bed where Cloud would lie and she stroked it absently and thought of him.

She brushed a bead of sweat from her cheek and half-mindedly scraped back the long hairs that had become stuck to her face. She looked out of the window and up at the stars which shone brightly through the veil of darkness that smothered the city and sighed sadly.

After a moment's thought, she slipped out of the bed and a shiver ran down her spine from the icy air. Running quickly on tip-toes she grabbed a thin silk dressing gown that hung from the back of her door and pulled it on feeling the cool material soothe her hot skin. She tied the belt and with a last longing glance at the room, she slipped quietly into the landing. Glancing into Yuffie's room to ensure that the young girl was alright, she stepped quietly down the stairs to the kitchen and walked softly along the hall that ran below the upper balcony landing. She pushed open the door to the kitchen, her mind elsewhere and gasped in shock to see Cid sat at one of the benches cradling a mug.

"Cid," she said softly as she moved over to him. "What are you doing here? Where have you been?"

He looked up at her and she was upset to see more stubble than usual cover his chin and dark shadows beneath his eyes. "Sorry... did I wake you up?"

She smiled and shook her head. "No it's all right. I had a bad dream and couldn't sleep."

She pulled up a stool and sat beside him. He looked as though he hadn't slept for days; his clothes were crumpled and his face was weary and dirty. His posture was slumped and exhausted and his flying goggles lay discarded on the bench top. She began to play with them idly as her thoughts somehow wondered back to Cloud.

"What was it about?" he asked unexpectedly.


"The dream." Cid explained. "You said you had a nightmare. What was it about?"

"Oh... nothing really. Just... stuff." she answered unrevealingly unable to focus her mind on the blurred and flickering images that had forced her so rudely from sleep. "I can't really remember."

"Yeah, I get that all the time. Annoying isn't it?"

She smiled weakly feeling physically drained but mentally active. She was too worried to sleep. Worried in case the dream returned with it's fleeting but terrifying images and worried about Cloud.

"So... I guess that Cloud and old Vinny are still on their little mission now, huh?"

She nodded. "Cloud left yesterday at midnight. He met Vincent and the Turks at the Sector Six-Seven gate." her voice trailed off at the mention of his name.

"You're worried about him, huh?" Cid asked already knowing the answer but simply glad to hear her voice.

She nodded. "I was awful to him all day before he left. I hope he's safe."

"I can't imagine you bein' awful to anyone." Cid smirked and Tifa grinned at him.

"No... I was really awful." she sighed and began twirling the goggles around her fingers. "I was ignoring him and refusing to speak to him. I don't know why... it's been tearing me to pieces to do it but it somehow seemed right."

Cid pulled a box of cigarettes from his pocket, took one out and lit it. He inhaled and exhaled deeply but it came out as a sorrowful sigh and Tifa glanced at him. "Sometimes it kills ya to do something and you never do find out whether you were meant to in the first place. You just gotta trust Lady Luck and hope you've done the right thing."

She smiled. "That was very philosophical of you, Cid."

"Hey, I'm a guy of many talents." he grinned and she smiled and shook her head. His face became serious however as he examined his cigarette thoughtfully as though he couldn't find anything else to look at. "Why were you givin' him the cold shoulder then? You can't have just started for no reason at all."

Tifa clasped her dressing gown around her and began to feel uncomfortable in the suddenly cold room that seemed devoid of all emotion and comfort. "Many things I suppose." she responded softly. "I'm just worried about AVALANCHE and I took it all out him."


"Yeah. Everyone just seems to be drifting apart." she sighed, her eyes drooping wearily and her body becoming numb. "Reeve's gone missing, Vincent scared Yuffie half to death, you and Cloud fell out, me and Cloud have fallen out and now the dumb jerk's dragged Vincent up to the HQ where anything could happen to them." she traced invisible patterns with her fingertips on the bench surface. "I never even apologised to him. He was hanging around for ages before he left. I think he was waiting for me to say sorry but I was too proud to."

A tear ran down her cheek from her eye and fell onto the surface. "He could be dead right now and I never even asked him to forgive me." she sobbed as she broke down into the tears that she had been holding back.

Cid stubbed out his cigarette and held her, giving her a shoulder to cry on which he knew she'd been without all day and was sorely in need of. "Shh, shh." he soothed as he ran his hand down her hair comfortingly and she cried with all of the grief and regret that had been haunting her in her dreams.

Cid's bomber jacket reeked of nicotine but she didn't care. He was one of her friends and it was a part of him, one of the people in the world that she was most afraid of losing. She'd lost her family and wasn't prepared to lose the people who had supported her for a year of hell and who she'd supported in return. Few people on the planet would have any idea how much they meant to her but it seemed as though the bond between them wasn't strong enough to hold them through such a stagnant period. That night before she slept, she almost prayed for some new disaster, something that would unite the eight heroes of the Meteor Crisis once more. She couldn't express in words how much she longed for adventure and the chance to be with everyone again. Although the year of Meteor had been the worst she'd ever lived through, in some way it had been the best. She wished for the feel of the wind through her hair as she stood on the Gongaga plains overlooking the beautiful grasslands. She craved for the tension and excitement of stepping into a place so unusual and alien like it was as though it had emerged from the pages of a fairytale. But most of all she longed for the comradeship. The nights when AVALANCHE would sit together around a campfire and simply talk beneath the stars.

Cloud would always sit between herself and Aeris, somehow dividing his time between them equally and cheering up the most downtrodden spirits. Barret would sit next to her and Red; he'd talk with the feline-like beast about the planet and the universe. She'd always thought it amusing that someone such as Barret found interest in the intricate workings of the world and the life that existed upon it. Cid and Cait would sit opposite her either arguing or playing poker which would eventually lead to some kind of disagreement. Yuffie would creep around everyone and they would keep careful eyes on their possessions; one eye on their belongings and another on their conversation. Vincent would always sit away from the fire, his back to the frivolities and his face to the stars as he contemplated life. She would always take the time every night to sit on her own and watch everyone; freezing the moment in her mind like a photograph that she could take out whenever she was sad or lonely and needed something to cheer herself up.

Cid stopped stroking Tifa as she let out a contented sigh and was still except for deep and even breathing. He smiled softly to himself and stood up, sweeping one arm under her legs and lifting her easily. He carried her back to her room and set her down gently on the bed, pulling the covers over her and flattening out her hair so that she wouldn't accidentally pull it.

And so he left her, a secret smile on her face as she once more travelled the world with AVALANCHE in her dreams.


"When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all;
I'm on your side.
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

 When you're down and out,
When you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you.
I'll take your part.
When darkness comes
And pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down." 

Bridge over Troubled Waters
By Simon and Garfunkel


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