Through the Looking Glass Chapter 5

Nightmares Relived and Revealed

By Lucrecia Marionette

Cloud's eyes opened slowly, his bleary vision allowing him to only see blobs of light and vague shapes but nothing more. He lifted his arms and rubbed his tired eyes, bringing the world into focus. He was looking up at a pale grey ceiling with humming fluorescent tube lighting dotted across it evenly. They flickered and buzzed with an electric whining and it drilled into his skull until he wanted to pull the pillow his head rested on over his ears. He had a terrible headache and whenever he moved his neck, it shot down his nerves and almost paralysed his limbs.

He lifted his head cautiously and looked down at himself. He was lying in a hospital style bed with the sheets folded around him so tightly he could see every contour of his body. The covers were lying from his waist down and he was topless and without his gloves. He peered beneath the starched white sheets and noticed with some relief that he was still wearing his trousers.

A shooting pain ran down his spine and reluctantly, he lay back down on the firm bed. He groaned and slowly rolled his head so that he was looking to his right. There was another hospital bed and someone else lay in it. Although unsure at first, Cloud quickly picked out Vincent's long black hair and gold claw that was twitching spasmodically. He lay on his back with his eyes closed. Sighing to himself Cloud realised that he was asleep and probably wouldn't appreciate being woken.

He slowly moved his head until he looked to his left and for the first time unnervingly noticed several monitors hooked up to himself. There was a drip going into his arm that contained a clear water-like liquid. He pulled a face. It reminded him disturbingly of nightmares he'd suffered about what had happened to him over the four years that Hojo used him as a test subject. He was lucky; he couldn't remember anything that happened to him during those experiments unlike the man who lay in the bed next to his.

As if on cue, there was a soft moaning to his right and Cloud painfully rolled his head over to face the other bed to see Vincent beginning to stir. He rubbed his face with his good hand and sat up slowly to look down on himself. His skin was deathly pale and scars covered his chest. Cloud watched silent and curious as Vincent traced the index finger of his claw along the old wounds as though he hadn't seen them for years and had forgotten their presence.

"Hey, Vincent." he called softly and Vincent turned to look at him, alarm written on his pale face. "What's wrong?" Cloud asked but his friend ignored him and once more lay down on his bed with his back facing the young warrior.

Cloud grimaced as he saw yet more scars covering Vincent's back, no doubt from his year of torture at Hojo's hands. With grim understanding Cloud saw why Vincent had always covered himself so obsessively; it was easy to comprehend when the signs of his past were so obvious. He longed to comfort his friend but realised it was futile; there was nothing he could say to help alleviate the suffering.

He exhaled deeply and turned away to lie on his back once more. He rubbed his temples again; the headache had become worse since he'd moved around and it was spreading to his muscles.

"Vincent?" he called out softly, feeling the need to create noise in the stifling room other than the mechanical humming of machinery.

There was a long pause. "Yes?" came the reply from his right.

"Are you all right? I mean do you hurt anywhere?" he asked choosing his words carefully in the fear that something he'd say would hurt or annoy his companion.

"No more usual after a transformation." he responded, his voice sounding quite faint because he still lay with his back facing Cloud. "My muscles ache and I feel sick."

"You don't have a headache then?"

"No." another pause. "Why?"

"Oh, I do. I was just wondering if you did too." Cloud finished.

The room stank of chemicals and he placed the throbbing in his head down to the prolonged inhalation of them. The room was small and he'd probably been breathing the same air since he was initially brought there. There was a door with a small, smoked glass panel in it at the foot of Vincent's bed and he seriously considered standing to let some fresh air in. His surroundings were unbearably clinical and sterile from the spotless tiled floor to the cold metallic walls. It made him long for home even more than before.

"Do you think that we're here because of Hojo's experiment?" he questioned eventually as the lights began to hum loudly once more.

"Undoubtedly." Vincent answered flatly.

Cloud cast his mind back to their previous encounter with the insane scientist. "How did he survive? I can still remember you tearing him to pieces. No one could have crawled away from that. It's just not possible."

"Apparently it is."

"Don't tell me you really believe that do you?" Cloud questioned half-rhetorically expecting Vincent to make no move to defend his opinion. He was not disappointed as there was nothing said in return. He sighed irritatedly. He was a man of action, not waiting around to see how things developed.

With no other options, he idly ran their encounter with Hojo through his mind again and frowned as something came to him. "Who's Janus?"


"Who's Janus? Hojo mentioned him and you seemed taken aback. I've never heard of him so I was just wondering who he is." Cloud explained to his companion.

"He was Hojo's assistant when I was their experiment. I suppose that I just thought he was dead after all of this time. Everyone else I once knew is." Vincent replied thoughtfully. He laughed humourlessly to himself. "Hojo's prodigy. I wonder what he looks like now?"

Cloud sniffed and fell silent. There were so many hidden undertones and secrets he knew nothing about. Something deep down told him that they were about to come into the light in all of their terrible glory.

He glanced over at the monitors. They emitted a low drone which was quite subtle but somehow drummed into his very soul. He wished it would stop but he was no scientist; for all he knew, the second he touched the machines he'd die. No, he'd rather wait and see what happened no matter how agonising that would be. It surprised him how little he actually knew about science. He'd always preferred a real sword over the metaphorical sword of knowledge. Life had evolved to its present state over thousands and millions of years. Who was he or anyone else to try and understand that? People like Hojo probably knew more about himself than he did. That was shown in what they had done to him in the past, what they'd done to Vincent. They could never see a person for what they truly were but they could control you and alter you down to every last cell. He couldn't pick up a sword and fight against that. It was something beyond his comprehension and control. It frightened him more than anything else he could think of at that moment.

"Are you... scared?" he asked quietly.

There was the sound of movement in the bed next to him and although he didn't move, he felt Vincent's eyes on him. "Are you?"

He faltered but eventually nodded. "I'm scared for myself... I'm scared for Tifa."

"Don't worry. We'll get out of here." Vincent said softly and Cloud smiled at his cold friend's attempt to console him.

There was shuffling and Vincent turned back to the wall.

As Cloud sank back into his thoughts there was the sound of a door opening and ignoring the shooting pains that ran down his spine, he forced himself to sit up. A man wearing a lab coat walked in with a limp carrying a clipboard. He closed the door gently behind him and smiled at the young warrior. He was quite old Cloud guessed; his hair was a dark grey and his face lightly wrinkled but his eyes were a youthful bright blue. He was fairly tall and lean but it was obvious by watching his movements that unlike the other scientists Cloud had seen before, he wasn't used to spending his entire days stuck behind a desk. He didn't doubt that the scientist could wield a weapon or fight as well as any other man he'd seen walk through the doors of Tifa's bar. He certainly didn't seem to fit in with the young warrior's stereotypical image of a professor or lab helper of any kind. If he hadn't seen the stethoscope and numerous other medical instruments hanging around his person, Cloud wouldn't have thought that the man belonged in the establishment at all.

He walked over to Cloud with an obvious limp, his hand outstretched and the warm smile still on his thin lips.

"Hello Mr. Strife." he said amicably. "My name is Dr. Janus."

The shock of recognition hitting him, Cloud looked at the hand with disgust and then up at the man's face.

Janus sighed and shrugged but the smile never left his mouth. He glanced over his shoulder at Vincent's bed and then back at Cloud. "I expect that Vincent has been talking to you about me?"

Cloud looked at him suspiciously. "No... All I know is that you were there when Hojo put him through hell. I'm not prepared to shake the hand of any man who has done that to one of my friends."

"Ah, very good. I like a man with loyalties!" Janus exclaimed as Cloud watched him puzzled wondering why he wasn't angry or offended at his refusal. The man was so nice it was disconcerting. Janus limped away from Cloud and stood between the bottom of the two beds. "So then, how are we both feeling?" he enquired pleasantly.

Cloud glanced over at Vincent and began to hold himself back but the pain was starting to become more than an annoyance. "I have a headache." he blurted out. It was becoming too much to bear and he didn't care whether or not the scientist was going to chop him into pieces for it.

"A headache, eh?" Janus repeated as he scribbled something down on his clipboard. After a few seconds he looked up at Cloud and smiled. "I'll see if I can get something sent to you. I'm afraid that Hojo isn't exactly obsessed with comfort. I'll ask one of the lab workers to bring you some painkillers, how does that sound?"

"That sounds... great, thanks." Cloud answered feeling completely overwhelmed.

"That's good. I'll get them to you as soon as I can. Now, I imagine that both of you have one hundred and one questions so, here I am at your disposal if there's anything you want to ask."

Cloud glanced again over at Vincent who had remained unmoving throughout the entire meeting. He began to feel guilty for even talking to the over friendly doctor although it was impossible to do otherwise.

Janus glanced at him and then at the other bed. "Oh, don't worry about Hojo's little pet." he said waving a dismissive hand. "I'm not expecting any kind of welcoming party. He's always been the 'silent and strong type'."

"When I wasn't screaming in agony underneath your scalpel, you mean?" Vincent spat, beginning to move around in his bed. "And I despise being referred to as some creature."

"Oh come now. Don't tell me that you still hate me after all this time?" reprimanded Janus putting his hands on his hips and looking at Vincent who still lay with his back to them.

"What may have been almost forty years for you has only been six for me. I can still remember everything and even if I live for an eternity more, I will never, ever forget." came the angry reply.

Janus raised his eyebrows and looked at Cloud who wore a worried look, perhaps in the fear that Vincent would do something he'd later regret. Coughing nervously to dispel some of the tension, he drew Janus' attention back to himself.

"Um... J, Janus?" he stuttered warily. "What the hell is going on? Why or even how are Hojo and Rufus here?"

"Ah, you're straight to the point! Cutting to the chase! Good, I didn't want to muck around with meaningless questions. We can get down to business can't we?" Janus beamed brightly as he sat down casually on the end of Cloud's bed. "Now then... where do I start?" he thought aloud as he tapped the end of his pen against his teeth.

"How about Hojo? He's dead... or at least he's meant to be dead. How can he be here?" Cloud urged and Janus stopped and thought carefully before turning to him.

"Professor Hojo, or at least the one that you have just seen is a clone." he said simply and Cloud's jaw fell open at the single sentence.

"A, A clone? But I didn't know that the technology was that advanced."

"It's surprising what the Shinra worked on that never came to light, isn't it? Anyway, as it is obvious to you, me and anyone else, the real Hojo died at AVALANCHE's hands five years ago in sector eight. I was called in four years ago to recreate him and so I did. I'm quite proud of him. He's very good, isn't he?"

"But when we were talking with him earlier," Cloud protested. "He said that we hadn't killed him as we thought we had. He said that he was the real Hojo."

"Yes," muttered Janus as he frowned seriously. "That is an unfortunate side effect. He does believe that he is the original Hojo." He leant closer to Cloud and lowered his voice to a loud whisper "And I'm not about to tell him otherwise."

He sat up straight once more. "If I did then God knows what he'd do. He might kill himself or something strange like that. Many of the people we have cloned in the past do tend to have that rather disturbing reaction." He shrugged and sighed. "Anyway, according to him, he narrowly escaped death and someone found him and dragged him here to recuperate. He was in a deep coma for the past few years and only woke up a few months ago. He's convinced of that anyway." grinned Janus and Cloud felt sick.

"Did you do the same with Rufus?"

"Oh God no!" exclaimed Janus pulling a horrified face. "He's the one that called me here in the first place."

"But Rufus was killed when Diamond WEAPON attacked, wasn't he?"

Janus shook his head. "He was simply knocked unconscious. It was no mean feat for the rescue teams to find him when they were searching for survivors."

"But he's Rufus Shinra." Cloud stated with a degree of disbelief. "Surely he would've been recognised. Why wasn't it splashed all over the newspapers?"

"I'm not sure myself. I don't like to question the people that pay me." Janus shrugged. "As you've probably seen he's been completely paralysed from the waist down. I've heard him crying out in his sleep before too, but I've never mentioned it." snapping out of his melancholy tone, he smiled back down at Cloud. "Anything else?"

"Why did Rufus want Hojo brought back to life?"

"Oh dear. You shouldn't use words like that." said Janus gravely. "Hojo has not been 'brought back to life' as you say. Cloning involves taking cell samples from a person and recreating their appearance and personality. He doesn't have the same soul therefore he is not the same Hojo. He is Hojo in looks and intelligence only. The real Hojo is floating somewhere in the lifestream.

"He made cell samples of every experiment he ever had, himself included. It was easy to uncover his sample and use it to clone him. The chances of the same spirit being used for a clone as inhabited the original body are... well... a billion to one.

"Now, back to your question. Rufus has been badly injured both physically and in his pride. The Shinra Empire took generations of his family to reach the stage it was at when he came to power. Unfortunately it was snatched suddenly from him when he was in his prime. The only thing he has left now are a few contacts and favours that people owe him. That is how he reached me and that is how he formulated his plan."

"What plan?" interjected Cloud.

"The plan to resurrect Sephiroth, of course." Janus answered and Cloud felt a wave of nausea wash over him but he hid it in the fear that Janus would leave if he appeared ill. "I know for a fact that you knew Sephiroth well. Even through his madness and after his 'god stage' he is still known as history's greatest general. Now then, what on earth could Rufus do with the world's greatest military leader?"

Cloud thought for a while and as the truth dawned upon him, his face fell and fear clutched at his heart. "An army... to retake the world. That's what Rufus has planned, isn't it? He's gonna use Sephiroth to re-conquer the Shinra Empire?"

Janus smiled and nodded his head whilst waving a finger at Cloud. "I'm glad that you are so quick to catch on. You have no idea how many times I had to explain that to some of the idiot soldiers Rufus commands." he cleared his throat and regained his composure. "Yes, Cloud. You're correct. Rufus wants his power back. Now, he's not the most patient of men and he's already had to wait four years for Hojo and he isn't prepared to wait another twenty-eight before Sephiroth is ready to order around. Hojo was expendable and the cloning process was rushed which is how we were able to remake him in only four years but Sephiroth, he is something much different. If we wanted him as perfect as he was before then we will have to wait an entire lifetime until he has matured and experienced the same things he had originally."

"Perfect??" repeated Cloud in terror. "He was insane! He killed hundreds and hundreds of innocent people! He tried to take over the godamned world!"

Janus tapped his teeth with the end of his pen once more in thought. "Yes, that was a bit of a set-back but this is why we have Hojo now." he ceased fidgeting and looked back down at Cloud's horrified expression. "Unfortunately as you will have no doubt noticed, they were both a little... what's the word? Eccentric in their lives but we can remedy this."

He stood up and began pacing with a limp backwards and forwards along the space that ran between the two beds. "Hojo is the only person in history who has ever had such advanced knowledge of cloning and genetics. I resurrected him because of this. He is the only one who would have the knowledge to literally 're-program' Sephiroth and make him... well... 'Less mad'." Janus laughed at his own private joke and Cloud watched him in disgust. "Unfortunately because I do not possess such information, it was necessary to bring Hojo back and he would also bring with him the wisdom of how to speed up the cloning process. Because he is alive, we can not only remove many of the negative points from Sephiroth, we can produce him from a test-tube of cells in a week!"

Cloud shook his head. This couldn't be happening. The scientist was talking about resurrecting the insane man who almost destroyed the planet and all life on it. In a week?? This wasn't right... he had to be stopped.

"Because I do not have the knowledge to 're-program people' I could not carry out the process on the Hojo clone. Because of this as you may have seen, he is still very... well, manic in the most respectable way possible. He is a danger and so he has what I suppose you could call a 'built in expiry date'. That is to say, his life will terminate once Sephiroth has been created."

Cloud felt even more stunned. Now this Janus was playing around with people's lives as though they were simple objects and nothing more. "What the hell gives you the right to do something like this?" he exploded. "You've made a life and like some kind of god you've already decided when it's going to die? You're no better than Sephiroth was! He was willing to sacrifice an entire planet to reach godhood; the only difference is that you scientists think you're already there. You have no right, no right at all to play with human life like this!!"

"Now, now Mr. Strife. Try to calm down." soothed Janus although he was visibly disturbed by Cloud's violent outburst.

"Why? Why should I calm down?" he questioned forcefully. "What do me and Vincent have to do with this sick little scheme of yours? Why do you need us in your perverted experiments?"

"If you stop acting like a child then I'll tell you!" Janus snapped and although fuming, Cloud immediately quietened and prepared to listen. "Now then. Sephiroth was only so powerful because he had been injected with Jenova cells. Unfortunately you and the other members of AVALANCHE destroyed her on your way to kill the first Sephiroth. Because of this, her body was destroyed and her soul returned to the planet. Now there are only two sources of Jenova cells left that Hojo and I could use in our experiment." Janus stopped and glanced at the two men. "Yourself and Vincent. Hojo's genius was even able to predict that the both of you would fall into our laps so easily due to the kidnapping of your friend, Reeve Jameson."

Cloud stopped. He knew that he had been injected with the cells of the alien life form but Vincent...?

Janus noticed Cloud's shocked expression and looked over at Vincent with a sly smile. "I see... . " he muttered. "It looks as though you've been keeping some things to yourself, eh Vincent?"

"Janus... ." said Vincent in a threatening manner. "Don't. I'm asking you."

Cloud's brow furrowed with puzzlement. What the hell was going on?

Janus turned back to Cloud and resumed his explanation. "You are both the last carriers of Jenova's cells which is why we needed you. We knew that you Mr. Strife would contain usable cells but we weren't so certain about Hojo's pet here. You see, his many years in the coffin gave the Jenova time to adapt to his body. They were absorbed into him as we predicted they would and so he became something else, something... not quite human."

"Janus!" roared Vincent furiously as he sat up and glared at the scientist. He bowed his head and his long black hair hung over his face like a veil. "Please... ." he pleaded, his tone softening dramatically. "Cloud... doesn't know and I don't want him to. This is my problem and mine alone."

Cloud looked between the two men and watched as some unspoken message was passed between them. Eventually, they both turned away and Vincent lay back down with his back to them and Janus drummed his fingers along his clipboard absently as his thoughts wandered for a moment and he watched Vincent.

With a sigh, he looked back at Cloud and forced a smile.

"I'll make this quick. I imagine that there are many things you will both wish to talk about." he paused and looked over at Vincent who remained impassive and still. He glanced back at Cloud and sat once more on the end of his bed. "Because of this evolution, Vincent's cells are no longer usable for this experiment but you Cloud are perfect as a donor. We will begin a cell transfer as soon as possible but you may be upset to hear that because your body is in the first stages of fully accepting the cells, you will be killed by the process."

Upset? Upset wasn't quite the word! He needed to see Tifa! He wanted to see Tifa and at least say good bye, not die alone and sorrowful in this room... in this butchery. He wouldn't let himself. He couldn't die here; he couldn't leave Tifa....

"The Jenova cells shall be injected into the clone at the early stages and they will multiply as it grows. This means that by the time it has matured to the stage that the original Sephiroth had reached before his death, he will have the exact number of cells in his body as before. He will be an incredible replica, of course without the same soul, and he will lack the same madness that riddled him before. He truly will be perfect and he shall be Rufus's to control." Janus ended and stood up, a proud smile on his face.

Cloud stared at him with undisguised antipathy. The man had walked into the room and justified his ability to create life and death in the space of an hour. How could anyone do anything so obscene? It wasn't right... . It was perverse and needed to be stopped, but how? What could he, a lowly fighter do? He had no knowledge of science, he knew only how to fight and it was futile. A stabbing sensation went through his mind and he clutched his head and cried out in pain.

Janus watched him with concern for a moment before limping towards the door and opening it. "I'll send some painkillers along in a moment. Oh, and by the way. Don't mention to Hojo that he's a clone. I doubt he'll believe you but I can't have him thinking about anything else except Sephiroth at the minute." He grinned and winked before walking out of the door and closing it behind him.

Silence settled in the room in a smothering blanket and Cloud felt himself almost choking on it. A million and one thoughts ran through his mind and he couldn't focus on a single one. There was only one word repeated in his thoughts over and over again; Sephiroth, Sephiroth... . But there was something else, something much darker and hidden. He looked over at Vincent; his sombre friend looked as though he hadn't moved since Janus entered.

"Vincent...?" he called hesitantly and softly but without a reaction. "Vincent, speak to me."

"What is it?" Vincent asked wearily with a hint of sorrow in his voice.

"I was hoping that you would be able to tell me." Cloud answered quietly.

"You really don't want to know... ." Vincent whispered in a barely audible tone.

Cloud frowned and pulled himself into a sitting position, wincing from the pain but pushing it to the back of his mind in the presence of something much more important and demanding. "I want to know. You're hiding something. I've known it ever since I saw you in the bar, it's been wearing down on you and it's gonna destroy you if you don't talk about it."

"No!" snapped Vincent angrily, sitting up but facing away. "Cloud, you know nothing about it and trust me that when I tell you, you will loathe and despise me for it as I do myself. This isn't something that I can share or even talk about; it disgusts me more than anything you will have ever seen in me and I long to destroy it."

"Let me be the judge of that."

"I... can't risk it." Vincent said sorrowfully. "Please Cloud... don't ask me about it."

"Don't you trust me yet? We travelled together for just under a year and we fought side by side. We helped you when you became ill from your transformations and you helped us when we were injured or on Death's door." Cloud's voice trailed off as he shook his head sadly. "I want to know if there's something you're hiding. You can't deny that even in the worst situations it helps to know that there's someone you can turn to."

"I wish that were so... ." Vincent responded wistfully.

"Then make it so." Cloud said firmly. "Vincent if you don't want it to, then your secret will go no further than this room but if something is happening to you then tell me. I need to know as a friend that you're gonna be all right."

"I am beyond that."

"Don't put this off. Please Vincent. Don't brood to yourself, you have no sins to atone for and you have no one else to worry about. Let someone else worry about you for a change. If you're not doing it for yourself then do it for me. I won't be able to sleep or forgive myself if something happens to you and I never found out. Don't do that to me... don't do that to yourself." Cloud stopped and sighed as he watched Vincent's shoulders slump wearily.

"I... will tell you." Vincent answered hesitantly. "But... don't hate me for it. I am doing this because you asked me to and I do not want to destroy one of the only friendships that I have ever had in my life. Although I fear that by doing this I will drive you away anyway."

"C'mon Vincent... I'm listening." Cloud urged softly.

Slowly and faltering, Vincent turned until he sat up facing the wall at the foot of his bed. Cloud studied his face for a moment. As far as he could recall, it was the first time he'd ever seen the whole of Vincent's face. He usually kept it hidden beneath the neck of his cape like the rest of his body, shrouded in darkness and mystery. Now with a sense of foreboding and anticipation he waited for Vincent to show himself for the first time.

"I... am... ." Vincent paused and looked down at his hands which he held clasped on his lap. He shook his head, a faint smile on his lips partly through disbelief and surprise at himself. Partly through an odd feeling of relief and peace. He looked up and turned to look at his friend, his blood red eyes glittering with some hidden emotion that Cloud couldn't quite place.

"I'm a vampire." Vincent finished, his eyes lowering until he once more looked down at his hands.

Cloud froze. Wh, What did he say? V, Vincent? A vampire? This is some joke... a sick joke. That's right... just a joke.

He felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips which spread to a grin. A chuckle escaped from his mouth and eventually he was in hysterics; tears rolled down his face and his head pounded from the headache but he ignored it. All for a second of relief. The laughter felt good, it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from his over-burdened shoulders. Not even the horror of the situation could destroy the moments' peace that he felt as he threw all of his fears from his mind.

"Stop it... ." Vincent said quietly but his plea was ignored. He suddenly turned to Cloud with fury in his eyes. "Stop it!" he roared furiously and the laughter died on Cloud's lips.

He paused and looked into Vincent's eyes to see infinite sorrow and pain within the crimson irises. "Please... stop." Vincent repeated softly as he bowed his head and closed his eyes.

Cloud felt his breath catching in his lungs. Any words that he wanted to say choked him and only added to the accumulative effect of the shock as it overpowered him.

"Y, You're... not joking are you?" he whispered.

"Have you ever known me to joke about something like this?" Vincent responded as he once more looked up to meet Cloud's gaze.

"How...?" Cloud choked. "How is this possible."

"I don't understand the science, not completely... . I have spent many years trying to but without avail. I am a nosferatu, a vampyre, a blood-sucker, a creature of the night... whatever you wish to call it I am a demon that survives by harming others." he finished.

"All those jokes... Cid and Barret... ."

"Yes. They may have believed themselves to be making 'humorous' remarks but they were not untrue." Vincent sighed. "Appearances are not always completely deceptive it would seem."

"You're really a... vampire?" Cloud asked in a restrained tone of voice, unable to make the fact sink in.

"The cape..." Vincent answered as he looked back at Cloud. "The neck always hid the bottom half of my face. I wouldn't let anyone near so it wasn't hard to conceal... what I really am."

"You have... fangs?" Cloud questioned hesitantly.

Vincent nodded and slowly drew back his top lip. Cloud gasped and his hand went to his mouth in shock as he saw Vincent's wickedly pointed canines. They were about twice as long as those of a normal person's and they seemed to gleam exaggeratedly in the cold fluorescent light.

Cloud swallowed the bile that he felt rising up the back of his throat and nodded to indicate that he'd seen enough. Vincent closed his mouth, but the fangs still protruded over his bottom lip in such an obvious fashion that Cloud felt shocked he had never noticed them before.

"I'm sorry." Vincent said softly as the stifling silence once more crept into the air.

Cloud shook his head. "It's all right. I'm the one who should be apologising."

"I wasn't expecting you to run over and embrace me for it." Vincent commented dryly and Cloud grinned at him.

"It was just the last thing I was expecting after everything that's happened today. Then again I suppose that with everyone coming back from the dead and plans to resurrect the biggest serial killer that the world's ever known, nothing should've surprised me." Cloud sighed. "I just didn't think that one of the biggest shocks was going to come from one of my friends."

Vincent fell into a guilty silence and Cloud glanced over at him. "Don't worry about it. I won't tell anyone if you don't."

Vincent forced a sad, lopsided smile but it seemed twisted and wrong to Cloud as he knew what lay beneath the pale lips. Unwilling to think about it, he put his hands behind his head and rested them on the headboard of his bed. "So what have you been doin' for the past four years then?" he asked as he stared up at the ceiling. "Something tells me that you haven't just been wandering around without purpose for all of this time."

Vincent sank back down in his own bed and lay on his back to find idle curiosity in the flickering light above his head. "Research. I've been travelling from university to university, from library to library."

"For what?"

"For hope of a cure of some kind." Vincent explained with a slight laugh. "There is only death and that seems unlikely in the face of everything else. I should already be dead, as a matter of fact I often wonder whether I am or not." As he said this he lifted his good arm and looked at the white skin finding a moment's interest in the death-like pallor. Dropping the arm limply by his side he sighed deeply. "I've spent most of my time in the Shinra Mansion library. You weren't entirely wrong in believing that I had gone back to my coffin. I simply spent my time reading and looking... and searching."

Cloud considered the information given to him before turning his head to look at Vincent. His friend lay completely still and for a moment he truly did look dead. Only the slow blinking of his eyes and occasional sigh showed his genuine state. The fangs that had been revealed to him only moments ago sat over his bottom lip easily; they had been thus for a long time hidden so well beneath the scarlet shrouds of Vincent's cape. Cloud felt his stomach twist again partly from the nauseousness inspired from the very thought of what Vincent was and also from the throbbing pains that persisted to creep down his limbs. He turned back to the ceiling.

"So why didn't you ever come to see any of us?" he asked eventually.

"I couldn't. I haven't always been like this." Vincent breathed nostalgically. "From the second you woke me up it has become much worse. At first... the need for... blood," he said falteringly, unwilling to say the very word. "It was nothing worse than a craving. I wouldn't let myself succumb to it but at times it became so strong I had no choice. It was driving me insane. That was when I had finished being Hojo and Janus's little 'pet'. It was one of my many oddities that I discovered after they had finished with me.

"I awoke from my coffin before you and the rest of AVALANCHE found me and I encountered Hojo who found great amusement in my new form." Vincent paused momentarily as he seemed to remiss about the past. A glazed look flickered over his eyes as he sank into his thoughts, but sighing deeply he pulled himself from them. "When you woke me up I immediately noticed how much stronger the craving had become. I won't lie to you... quenching it was one of the first things that went through my mind when I saw you."

Cloud shuddered and Vincent smiled grimly. "I never have though... never. I've always managed to keep the so-called 'Bloodlust' at bay; at least that's what the books call it. But, it developed into something much worse. It became more than a simple craving; it was a necessity."

He stopped and closed his eyes in thought. "My body was dying," he said. "That's what I have gathered from my reading and Hojo's predictions. I should be dead. The Jenova cells and my own body had now fully fused and as Janus said, I became something 'not human'. Because the cells had evolved, I was not affected by the Jenova reunion although at times I did feel a slight calling or a desire to be somewhere.

"The Jenova cells have a strong sense for survival and realised that I could stay alive if I took the life from other humans." Vincent paused as his story reached a climax. "That's how I was recreated as a vampire. I could hold back what I was easily for the first year that I travelled with you. In fights it was easy to sneak away and... Do what I had to do. However, as things became stagnant and we did nothing more than fly from town to town and help people get their lives together in the year after, I was finding it increasingly difficult. I had no choice but to leave."

Cloud sank into his thoughts. Everything made so much sense now; it was so blindingly obvious he felt as though he could kick himself for it. All of the jokes... the cruel jibes. No wonder Vincent had always reacted so violently to them. He was scared; worried in case anyone found out his dark secret. It was hardly surprising.

"That's why you left a note." Cloud said to finish Vincent's tale. "You didn't want us asking any questions or wanting to know where you were going and why."

Vincent nodded. "I didn't want anyone to find out or get hurt. I couldn't make any guarantees; I still can't that I won't end up hurting someone close to me to satiate the bloodlust. It's unbearably strong. I often wonder why I allow myself to let it take over me. I always talk about how meaningless my life is but why don't I just kill myself? I am nothing more than a sick contradiction. I despise myself but yet I continue to sustain my life by harming others."

"Don't say that Vincent." pleaded Cloud. "Look, you're one of us, one of AVALANCHE and when we thought that something could've happened to you... it was awful." he shook his head sadly. "I told you... we're always here for you. You don't have to force yourself to suffer in silence. I know we haven't gone through any of the things that you have but if you ever need to talk to us then we're here."

Cloud turned his head to face Vincent who remained silent and impassive, however there was a look of slight serenity in his ruby eyes. Cloud smiled to himself, even if he never got out of this place at least he'd made peace with one of his friends.

His head jolted up as there was the sound of the door to the room opening once more. Three men clad in lab coats entered carrying numerous medical objects between them. They immediately made a beeline for Cloud's bed and he looked up at them with puzzlement.

"You're wanting a pain killer?" the first asked simply and Cloud nodded.

"Hold out your arm please." said another as he produced a syringe and small bottle of fluid.

Cloud did as he was told and held out his arm in preparation for the injection. Before he could react, the last scientist reached forward and grabbed it roughly, forcing it still so that he couldn't move it.

"This'll just hurt for a second." the second scientist said as he filled the syringe and discarded the bottle, preparing to insert to needle into Cloud's arm.

There was a gasp of alarm from behind the scientists and suddenly one of them fell to the floor with a metal clang. The one holding Cloud's arm turned around in shock and nudged the one holding the syringe, pushing the needle awkwardly and painfully into Cloud's forearm. He cried out in shock as both of the scientists fell to the floor unconscious, one of them with a stream of blood running from the back of his head, staining the tiled floor.

Cloud looked up in alarm to see Vincent standing over them in his trousers, the back of his claw covered in blood. He held out the small bottle to the stunned warrior who took it and read the label in confusion.

"Methohexitone Sodium?" he read aloud in puzzlement stumbling over the long words. "What's wrong?"

Vincent took the bottle from him and smelt it. Wrinkling his nose he dropped it to the ground where the rest of the liquid it contained was sprayed across the floor. "It's an anaesthetic." he explained. "It would seem that Hojo is eager to begin his experiments."

Cloud's eyes widened in shock. "We've gotta get outta here!" he exclaimed as he leapt out of bed but immediately fell to the floor.

Vincent bent down and helped him to stand without avail. He crumpled to the floor weakly and the room began to swim in a sickeningly familiar way. "Oh shit," he breathed dozily. "They managed to get some of it in me."

"Dammit!" cursed Vincent violently.

He tried to help Cloud to stand once more but the sound of the door opening forced him to stop and attempt to defend himself. His top lip curled back in a vicious snarl and the armed soldiers who entered stepped back in alarm.

"Shoot it!" yelled one of them but another held him back.

"If you do that, Hojo'll use you for his next project!"

"Knock him out then!"

Before they could react, Vincent leapt over the end of his bed in a single leap and wrestled the first to the ground with unnatural strength. He drew his claw across the man's throat and his life was end in a gurgle as blood frothed from his lips and he was still. Vincent leap back, the gold tips of the gauntlet dripping red and his fangs exposed in a feral threat.

Cloud weakly tried to pull himself to his feet but the numbness was spreading. He fell to the floor for the final time and Vincent; momentarily distracted, ran back to help him. Attempting to get some signs of life from his comatose friend, Vincent was unaware of impending danger as the butt of a rifle was smashed into the back of his skull.

Feebly turning to fight, his feet and legs tangled up and he collapsed weakly into oblivion.


"I'm bored."

"Jeez, Reno. Will ya just shut the hell up? You've been saying that over and over again for the past three hours!" Elena exclaimed angrily. "Three hours! Have you any idea how long that is to be stuck with you anywhere??"

Reno looked at her through his eyebrows. "The feeling's mutual."

The female Turk glared at him before putting her hands on her hips and continuing to pace. She'd been walking backwards and forwards across the same few metres for the past few hours but nothing had changed. She felt as though she could do it for a year more and still everything would remain the same. Reno was right; it was deathly dull in the cell and her company didn't help at all.

She stopped for a moment and looked at the people that occupied the prison with her. Reno sat slumped up against the wall opposite the door staring out through the bars continuously as though it would speed up the arrival of someone new. He sat beside Rude who had surfaced from unconsciousness only an hour before but had been his usual non-conversationalist self for all of that time. There was only one other in the room left, Reeve. He'd been overjoyed to see them but as Reno pointed out that his only saviours were now imprisoned with him, his face had fallen and he'd remained silent and gloomy ever since. Sometimes she could kick Reno. Even if Reeve was a little slow at times, at least he would've made some decent company for a while until it sank in.

"Why don't you sit down and rest for a while?" he asked, shattering his silence and looking up at her.

"If I stay still for too long then I'm worried that I'll never be able to get up. I need to keep active for when help comes." she explained.

"Elena, no help is coming." Reno sighed as he looked up at her. "I've been listening to the guards talking and they have Cloud and that Valentine guy. Hojo want's 'em for some experiment of his and they're gonna be under even tighter security than we are. All we can do is think of a plan."

"And have you? Thought of a plan?" Elena asked, an excited tone in her voice.

"Ah, I'm workin' on it." Reno replied as he twirled his ponytail around his finger nonchalantly.

"No you're not! You're just staring out of that window like... like a... like a useless pile of shit!!" Elena yelled furiously and Reno burst out laughing.

"I'm so glad to see that you haven't changed." said a voice from behind the door and all noise stopped instantly.

Elena felt goosebumps prickle up her back and a wave of fear ran through her mind. There was the click of a lock and with a nudge, the cell door opened to reveal a man sat in a wheel chair.

"Holy crap." breathed Reno. "You weren't lying Elena."

"Yup... you're all still the same Turks I remember, even if you are softer than before." said Rufus as he scratched his chin thoughtfully. "So come on then. No 'aren't you looking well boss?' or 'it's so nice to see you after all this time, sir's?"

"Y, You... look well... s, sir." stuttered Elena, her legs beginning to go numb.

Rufus sighed and shook his head. "You're a poor liar Elena. I wonder if that has anything to do with all of this time you've been spending in good old Reeves' service, huh? You certainly all fell for the little bomb trick. I was expecting better, really I was."

He shook his head sadly like a father who had been let down by his children. "Have you forgotten everything? Hmm... I bet you can't even remember how to set off a bomb, eh Reno?" he said as he glanced at the flame haired Turk who hung his head, thoughts of terrible guilt and remorse swimming through his mind at the memories of the destruction of Sector Seven at his hands. Rufus turned to Rude. "I bet you've forgotten how to kidnap someone, haven't you?" He finally turned to Elena. "I bet you can't even remember the subtle art of manipulation, can you?"

He shook his head again. "I'm very disappointed with all of you. I mean look at the state you're all in. Burns... shrapnel injuries. You all behave like the old Turks but your skills have gone to waste. It's a shame. If I'd found you earlier and you weren't running around like lapdogs after Reeve here then I would've asked you to come back. As it was you had already been tamed and I didn't think that any amount of persuasion," he paused and glanced at Reno. "Or money would've made you come back to me. It's a shame when loyalties get thrown to the wind, isn't it?"

"Loyalties?" exploded Reno. "You're talkin' to us about godamned loyalties? When everyone thought this place was gonna fall to pieces, we came up here and searched day and night for your body. We travelled the world looking for Shinra survivors and we gave up an entire year of our life trying to put things back together but it was useless. When we heard that Reeve was gonna rebuild Midgar we came crawling. Our loyalty didn't get us anywhere with you. We never left your side, any of us would've been glad to hand over our lives to save yours but you were always doin' some shady deal or gettin' into something that you needed us to drag you out of. We never got anything out of it except the threat of death hanging over our necks day in, day out.

"I'm not lying, I enjoyed it. I loved the action and suspense but you were a bastard. You never cared. To you we were just three more employees but you meant the world to us.

"You're getting to us about fucking loyalties? You're screwed up in the head. You set off a bomb to kill us!"

Reno leapt to his feet in the passion and fury of his speech while Rufus watched indifferently, not an emotion crossed his cold face although anger flickered in his eyes.

"You seem to be mistaken Reno. I sent that bomb to do you all a favour. I wanted to see what you were made of, you needed to see what you were made of." he answered firmly.

"You wanted to see that we were made up of blood and guts!" Reno responded angrily. "You sent that bomb down to blow us to pieces and don't try any of your manipulative shit on me. I know all the tricks in the book. You wanted us dead."

A grin spread across Rufus' face and Reno glared at him with disgust. "I must admit, I have underestimated you. You're right... I did send that bomb down to kill you. I sent it down to kill all of you but part of me wanted to see something. I wanted to see if you were still strong, I wanted to see if you were still worthy."

"Worthy... of what?" asked Elena hesitantly. She was completely shocked and numbed after seeing her boss who had supposedly been dead for five years and watching Reno scream and yell at him in a way that would've been treason, punishable by death in the past. "What's going on? What did you want to see if we're worthy of?"

"The new Shinra Empire of course." Rufus replied simply as though it was obvious to everyone but her. "I am intending on claiming back the world which is rightfully mine."

Reno shook his head in disbelief. "You're mad. The world's changed. People don't want power like yours any more. They don't want to be ruled over like a dictatorship. They don't want electricity either. Everyone saw how the Lifestream saved the planet and now it's an offence to even consider using Mako for energy."

"Mako? Electricity?" repeated Rufus in shock. "Don't be so stupid. It took the Shinra family generations to take the planet through public service; weapons and energy. I'm not prepared to wait that long."

He sat back in his chair and glanced over the room's occupants. "What good is the world if I can't have it now?" he arched his fingers and looked over the peaks. "I want the world and I want it now. I shall get it."

"How?" asked Reeve as he stood up, daring to speak for the first time. "How are you going to do this? People have got freedom for the first time in centuries and they won't give it over to you at the snap of your fingers."

Rufus parted his hands and waved a finger at the dirty, navy-blue suited executive. "You're right, Reeve. Very good, but I'd expect that from someone who used to work for me. I'm not intending on giving them a choice in the matter, it's as simple as that. In fact... no. I am giving them a choice." he paused dramatically as he looked over his audience. "They can either die or they can accept my leadership. An army... weapons. That's the key to this. My old man got it right the first time before he went pathetic and turned from war to energy."

"You're gonna use an army to take back the world?" laughed Reno. "Where the hell are you gonna get that from? You can't make it appear out of mid-air!"

"No... perhaps not but when I destroy this city then people shall be crawling over themselves to join me."

"Destroy the city!" gasped Reeve. "You can't do that! You'll kill millions!"

"Just as my father did before me when he ordered Reno to blow up Sector Seven, you mean? If memory serves me correct, you worked for my old man then."

Reno rubbed his face as though he could wipe away the stains of his guilt while Reeve sighed wearily and shook his head. "I objected to that... I said over and over again that it was a mistake but he didn't listen to me!!"

"Well, you will find your objections as lost on me as they were on him then." Rufus announced coldly and Reeve sank to the floor.

"You know nothing about war, Rufus." said Rude suddenly. "How do you expect to conquer the world?"

"Ah, now this is the clever bit!" grinned Rufus. "I shall have Sephiroth, the world's greatest general to command my army. We will be unstoppable."

The Turks and Reeve exchanged looks before bursting out laughing and almost falling to the floor. "Y, You're gonna have Sephiroth command your army?" spluttered Reno, trying to breathe through his laughter.

"If you haven't already noticed, Rufus," sniggered Reeve. "He's kinda dead!"

The room elapsed into hysterical laughter again and Rufus' jaw and fists clenched in anger. "I'll show you!" he yelled angrily. "I'll show you all!"

Reno wheezed and attempted to get his breath while Rufus turned and began to wheel himself from the room.

"Uh, Boss?" he called and Rufus turned back to glare at him. Reno grinned and lifted his hand. He flicked up his middle finger and Rufus' face went a furious crimson. "With all due respect sir," Reno said seriously. "Fuck you!"

Reno collapsed into laughter and the others joined him on the floor while the cell door slammed shut and they were left alone.


Where am I? What is this place?

Cloud tried to lift his arms but they were pinned to his sides; either that or he was too weak to lift them. He looked up at the ceiling but saw nothing except darkness; it was so high he couldn't even see it. He slowly rolled his head to his left and saw blackness there too. It felt as though he was in a room without dimensions; it stretched on infinitely in all directions and he felt suddenly exposed and very afraid.

He managed to lift his head slowly and look down upon himself. It seemed as though he was still lying on the same bed he had been before except in a new room. The monitors had gone from his side and pure silence existed in the limitless room. He lay his head back down. He still had a headache; it was still throbbing at the back of his mind but he was thankful that it wasn't any worse. His body was utterly numb and his senses blunted to the point of complete blindness. He felt vulnerable and alone; where were his friends? Where was Vincent?

He rolled his head to right and saw a bright light that blinded him at first. He blinked to clear his vision of the glowing dots that swum before his eyes. He narrowed his lids and made out the shape of a large table with Vincent lying on it, unconscious to the world in a deep sleep. He opened his mouth to cry out and speak with his friend but there were the sounds of approaching footsteps and he fell silent to avoid detection.

From the shadows emerged two figures like spectres, both wearing white lab coats and carrying a tray of medical instruments each, one of them with an obvious limp.

"Just set them down here." ordered one of them in a cold voice; Hojo.

The other did as he was told and stood beside the cruel professor on the opposite side of the table to Cloud.

"Sir... I don't mean to be disrespectful, but do we really have to do this?" asked the other; Janus. "I mean, do you really want to get side-tracked on past vendettas when you should be concentrating on Sephiroth?"

Hojo picked up a scalpel and turned to Janus quickly, holding the blade up warningly. "Don't order me around, Janus. You're here to learn, not question me." he turned back to Vincent's still form and rolled up his sleeves.

"Now, observe."

He jabbed the blade in Vincent's chest deeply and Cloud paled. It was dragged down the abdomen until he stopped the cut just below the navel and above the top of Vincent's trousers.

He placed the knife down on the tray and pulled on a pair of surgical gloves. "I wish we had better conditions than this." he muttered irritably glancing around and forcing Cloud to close his eyes quickly. "Heh, heh, heh. It would've been more fitting if I could've finished this in the Shinra Mansion."

Cloud opened an eye and continued to watch the procedure with morbid curiosity.

Hojo plunged his hands into the slit he'd made and with a sickening crack, widened it. Cloud swallowed forcefully feeling as though he was going to vomit but his observations went unnoticed as Janus began to assist in the butchery.

"Pass me the red syringe... uh... try fifty milligrams."

Janus nodded and began toying with several chemicals before passing Hojo a syringe containing a softly glowing red liquid. Hojo parted the deep wound and plunged the needle in, pulling it out again empty seconds later.

"You know that I couldn't have done this before? Before he underwent that vampiric metamorphosis of his anyway." he said absently as though trying to create some noise in the silent room other than the sickening sounds of his surgery. "How is that blood sample we took from him earlier by the way?"

"Oh, er, it displayed the same qualities you predicted it would." Janus reported.

"The immune system?"

"Yes, it was as volatile as expected. We took several samples and tried mixing it with bacteria and viruses but it completely destroyed anything foreign. We predict that the reaction would be the same with illness and even wounds. His healing rate must be astonishing." Janus answered as he passed a spatula to Hojo's open hand without a word. "As you asked we added other blood samples to it and the effect was quite dramatic."

Janus paused and Hojo looked up at him. "Well?" he asked expectedly with a hint of eagerness.

"Well it assimilated the red corpuscles and absorbed them, taking the oxygen and other nutrients within them out. It was all as you said it would be sir. It eliminated the white cells and platelets but I did not have enough time to analyse how they did this."

"Very good Janus. You've improved since you last worked under me." Hojo commented; a rare compliment from him. "You're still slack and untrustworthy though." he added, his voice suddenly cold and threatening.

Janus's eyes widened momentarily. "Sir?"

"You're keeping something from me, Janus." Hojo said in a low tone but he did not turn from his work. "I know these things."

Janus paled. "I, I don't know what you're talking about, sir."

Hojo looked at him and pulled his hands from Vincent. They came up stained a dark red all of the way up to the elbows and Cloud retched silently. "Don't even bother trying to fool me Janus." he said with his eyes narrowed. "It degrades me and it degrades you. Now pass me the scissors and watch this. I think you will find it interesting as I shall find it greatly satisfying and amusing."

As Janus passed Hojo the sterile instrument, a wicked grin spread across the scientist's face. "Now then Valentine. I shall finish what I started, won't I? I wish that I could've done this earlier but your body was too weak. Now though... Heh, heh, heh! Now it's different!"

Cloud gasped in alarm as Hojo set to work with fiendish vigour. He couldn't see exactly what was happening but Janus' face drained of its blood and his eyes bulged as he watched the gruesome operation.

"No... ." cried Cloud feebly and the scientists' heads lifted, startled at the unexpected interruption. "Please... leave him alone." he begged weakly.

Hojo glared at Janus who quickly grabbed a syringe and filled it. He moved around the huge table and held Cloud's arm down as he thrust the needle into it.

Cloud winced from the pain but didn't get a chance to object as drowsiness overcame him and his head fell back onto the pillow; his eyes closed and his body going numb.

"Have you dealt with him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I shall have to have a word with some of those idiot lab helpers. I can't believe that they couldn't do anything as simple as injecting a half-conscious man with an anaesthetic."

"Well, two of them were knocked unconscious and two of them killed."

"That's no excuse."

A pause and a gleeful chuckle.

"Heh, heh, heh! Watch this...!"

A cry of pain...

... And then nothing.


"I don't care what you say, Cid Highwind. I'm going up there."

"Tifa," pleaded Cid desperately. "Look, they've only been gone a few days..."

"A few days too long." Tifa shook her head, tears in her eyes. "I'm not gonna sit around here uselessly while Cloud and Vincent... they could be dead for God's sake!"

Cid reached out and touched Tifa's arm gently. "Look Tifa, I'm sure they're all right. Cloud and Vincent are survivors... if anything I bet they're pulling the Turks out of imprisonment right now. It wouldn't surprise me if the three stooges managed to get themselves caught an' now our guys have had to save their lives."

"Okay Tifa! I'm ready!"

Cid span around to look into the kitchen entrance. Yuffie stood there in her travelling outfit; her white shorts and dark green tank top with the shield on her left arm and the large shuriken, the Conformer in her right hand.

Cid's jaw dropped open and his cigarette fell to the floor. "Don't tell me you've let the brat in on this little kamikaze stunt of yours?"

"Hey! Who're you callin' a brat, old man?" asked Yuffie in an offended tone.

Cid glared at her but Tifa drew his attention back to the main point. "She agreed to help me. I've been talking to her about it for a while and because she's trained like a ninja, she'll be perfect for breaking into rooms and sneaking around."

"As a thief y'mean." mumbled Cid under his breath receiving a glare that he studiously ignored. "Anyway, why the hell didn't you tell me about this?"

"Because you're a cranky old man and she knew you'd try to stop her!" Yuffie piped in.

Cid flashed her an angry look while Tifa grinned and shook her head. As Cid turned back to her, she swapped it for a frown and pretended to give the young girl a reprimanding stare. With a sigh, she turned back to the old pilot. "She's not entirely wrong Cid. I knew that you'd try to stop me."

"Damn straight!" he exclaimed. "I'm not about to let you go runnin' up to that HQ so you can throw your life away on some spiky headed jerk!"

"I'm not going alone, Cid!" Tifa protested and Cid laughed.

"Oh yeah, sorry! I forgot that you were draggin' Sick-Bag along with you so that she can cower at the first sign of danger!"

"I'm gonna kill you...!" yelled Yuffie furiously but Tifa shushed her with a frowning glance.

"I'm not just taking Yuffie... ." she said and there was a knock on the front doors to the bar.

Cid watched with a puzzled look on his face as the proprietress slid off her barstool and walked to open it. As the doors swung open, a small black and white cat wearing gloves and a red cape clutching a megaphone was revealed sitting astride a huge white mog.

"Hey there!" it grinned and with a nudge, the mog walked into the bar and Tifa closed the doors behind it.

"You're takin' Cait with you?" Cid yelled, his voice rising to a higher pitch. "Jesus Tifa, what the hell kind of carnival are you tryin' to run? You don't stand a chance!"

Cait's brow furrowed in puzzlement as he glanced over at Yuffie. The young ninja shrugged and grinned while the argument continued to blow out of proportion.

"Cid, you are not going to stop me and that's final!"

"I'm not gonna let you leave this bar with these two, Tifa. If I have to, I'm gonna drag you screamin' and kickin' to your bedroom and I'll lock the door!"

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Just try me! You're a good friend Tifa and I refuse to watch you walk into certain death."

"You think I can't handle this myself?"

"No I don't!"

"I'll show you how well I can look after myself!" Tifa said angrily as she pulled the Premium Heart on her fist and prepared to defend herself.

"No... I don't think you can Tifa," said Cid, all emotion draining from his voice as a mask of sadness overcame his tired face. "Which is why I'll go with you."

Tifa stopped and looked at him, surprise in on her face and tears welling in her eyes. She suddenly leapt forward and threw her arms around his neck as she kissed him over and over again on his cheek ignoring the scratching sensation of his stubble.

"Thank you Cid! Thank you!" she said tearfully and bashfully, he returned her embrace.

"Ah, no problem kid. I don't think I could bear to watch you get yourself killed for nothin', especially not for that moron who doesn't know a good thing when it comes up and hits him in the face. Now get off me before I have to use the Venus Gospel to prise you away!" he laughed and she dropped back, with a happy grin.

"I can't tell you how much this means to me." she said softly.

"You don't have to." Cid responded gently. "I know."

She smiled brightly at him and then at her other two friends who had remained quiet throughout the argument.

"Hi Cait."

"Hello Tifa. Um... everythin's alright now?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Everything's fine. Is everyone ready to go?" They all nodded and with a deep breath she looked towards the doors. "It's time for us to leave."


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