AUTHOR'S NOTES: All Final Fantasy VII characters, vehicles and themes © Squaresoft, and no infringement is intended.

Chaos Reigns
The Sequel to Cloud's Story

Written by Cloud

     
     Vincent Valentine stood atop the Shinra Mansion in Nibelhiem. The chill wind blew violently through his black hair as brilliant bolts of lightning cascaded wickedly through the distant skies. The scent of rising dirt caught the Ex-Turk’s nose- rain was coming. The dark man surveyed the town where his nightmare had begun with secret longing in his red eyes. He could still hear her voice. He remembered begging her no to do it, pleading with her not to go- but it all was in vain. He couldn’t stop the one he loved, the one he respected the most, from making the worst decision of her entire life, one that would affect not only the two of them, but the entire world besides. People had died, friendships were broken, and the world was torn to shreds and burnt to ashes, all because of him. That is your sin. There she was again, plaguing his thoughts. Would she ever forgive him? Would she ever admit her fault? Vincent twirled around, his cape whipping wildly in the wind. His sensitive ears had picked up something. He drew his monstrous gun and searched for the interloper that threatened his thoughts.
     It was only Cloud. The spikey-haired young man climbed up to the top of the roof where Vincent stood, now holstering his weapon. Cloud grinned at Vincent’s paranoia.
     “Touché.” The sword-toting man said. Vincent remained silent. Cloud frowned. “What’s wrong, Vince?” The red-caped man replied somberly,
     “It is not the presence of wrong that troubles me, rather it is the absence of right. “ Cloud carefully advanced toward his friend, placing his hand on his armored shoulder.
     “Listen to me Vincent,” Cloud said tentatively, “What happened here was not your fault, the blame lies on Hojo and we took care of that problem.” The former Turk thought back to the night at the cannon, where he, Cloud and Red XIII had faced Sephiroth’s father in a deadly confrontation that had left the others with retribution for the atrocities that the mad scientist had committed. It had been enough for the others, but not for him. Vincent’s eyes burned in a fiery rage,
     “But why Hojo?!” Cloud made a face. He hadn’t understood what the cloaked man had meant.
     “What do you mean by…”
     “Dammit Cloud!” Vincent interrupted, “Don’t you GET IT?! If Lucrecia had loved me, none of this would ever have happened!” Cloud of all people knew what that felt like. He had to make his friend see that it was her folly, not his in the least.
     “But Vincent, it isn’t your fault that she never felt that way…”
      “But she did! She said the words, Cloud! And in the end, she picked Hojo over me! Why wasn’t I good enough? Why?!”
     Cloud couldn’t understand why Vincent was doing this right now. Nothing had happened for a long time now. Was his friend- so often quiet and secluded- finally breaking wide open?
     “Vincent, that was a long time ago…”
     “Maybe for you it was, but for me it was but yesterday. I slept in a coffin, plagued by nightmares of my failure for so many years. I am frozen in time, frozen in pain!” A single tear rolled uncharacteristically down Vincent’s face. He could contain it no longer, all his pain, and all his sorrow, his entire rage burst freely from him, transforming him into a creature from a child’s nightmare. Vincent regressed into Chaos, letting loose a horrifying, blood-curdling screech before flying off into the storm. A blinding flash of lightning filled the air, leaving thunder in its wake, as rain pelted down from the dark skies, soaking Cloud clean to the bone. Vincent was finally facing his fears- and destroying himself in the process.
     A drenched Cloud climbed back in through the window from whence he came, his blonde spikes flat against his forehead. Tifa saw his state, and grinned mock-mischievously.
     “Nice hair, Cloud.” The woman said, pushing aside playfully the tress that seemed plastered to his forehead. Tifa ran her delicate fingers down the back of his neck as he wrapped his arms around her, intoxicated by how good she smelled. He had never thought that he could care this deeply for someone, even his former relationship with Aeris paled before the love he had found in Tifa Lockhart, his childhood friend, the one who was there all along. Her shallow breathing made the gooseflesh crawl across his muscular arms. It was almost like being…enchanted.
     “I love you,” he whispered in her ear. She smiled brightly and kissed him with all her might. The moment seemed to last for an eternity, until she pulled away slowly, resting her head upon his chest.
     “…And I love you too Cloud Strife…at least I do when you don’t smell like a wet dog!”
     “Hey!” Cloud exclaimed, half-surprised. Tifa only smirked, her beautiful face rising to kiss him again before letting go. She smiled playfully,
     “Come on, we’ve got a mission to attend to, SOLDIER!”
     “Oh really?” Cloud replied sarcastically, “and what would that be?” His girlfriend giggled and exclaimed,
     “Finding you some dry clothes!” She took the warrior’s hand in hers, squeezed it tenderly, and then led him out of the room. The curtains fluttered wildly around the open window, as rain poured into the mansion of it’s own accord.
     Although Cloud was worried about Vincent’s state of mind, he could not tear himself away from his Tifa. It had taken him so long to realize that he was in love with her; although he couldn’t blame himself for that- the ordeal with Aeris had wounded him more than he thought could ever be healed- but he was wrong. At first he had thought that his past, his shattered childhood, would never be redeemed. He had loved Tifa so much before he had left to join SOLDIER, her scorn had destroyed him both inside and out- and he never had the heart to tell her. But now things were different, now she loved him with all of her heart, and she was finally able to admit it. She had saved him from Aeris spite just as he had saved her from the fallen girl’s wicked magic. There was nothing that the two would not sacrifice for each other, and that was something Cloud had never experienced before. Sure, he had his flings and heartbreaks in the past, and he and Aeris had been deeply in love, but he had never felt THIS strong about anyone or anything in his entire life. A tear rolled down the warrior’s face. His emotions were out of control again, but this time he didn’t care. The door creaked open,
     “Cloud?” Tifa asked, “are you dry yet?” She stepped into the room smiling, but saw tears streaming in rivulets down Cloud’s mussed face. She sprinted to him in shock, running her slender fingers through his ruffled hair. It seemed as though they were one, and her gorgeous brown eyes brimmed with tears too. “What’s wrong?” she asked her love, choking back her own sobs.
     “Nothing…” Cloud said, struggling for words, “It’s just…you complete me, Tifa. I love you so much. I owe everything to you, my heart, my soul, and my very life. Sometimes I think it’s all a dream, that I’m not supposed to be this happy…I’m afraid that I’m going to wake up, and everything will…” Tifa brought her index finger to his trembling lips.
     “Shh…” she said- silencing him gently. She ran the finger slowly down his mouth, caressing the words he had spoken, the troth that he had pledged. “God how I love you…” the woman whispered. Their lips met in a kiss that must have lasted an eternity, the fabric of reality melting away- and for once, just once reality had fallen to it’s knees before a far more powerful force: love.
     Red XIII was tailing Vincent’s demonistic form out in the pouring rain. He bounded through the puddles like a child without caring how immature he might look. Part of it was worry for his friend, but even though it sounded wrong, the fire-red beast was having fun out in the rain.
     “Goddammit Red! Wait up, will ya?” A voice hollered from the distance. Cid came running out of the darkness, Venus Gospel in hand. The pilot was desperately racing to keep up with the beast: which led to him slipping and falling flat on his face. He slowly got up, his clothes completely drenched, his face filthy, and covered with mud from head to toe. Red knew what was coming, so he thoughtfully covered his ears with his paws. Cid bellowed at the top of his lungs,
     “Shit! What the f**k did I ever do?!” Out here in the middle of the f**kin’ night, soaked like a wet kangaroo looking for some f**kin’ demon in a fake Nibelhiem to boot! I could be at home with my wife! Damn, I’m pissed!” Bright lights flashed against the dark skies. Red XIII lifted his paws from his ears. What he had presumed as lightning were actually searchlights. It was none other than the Nicotine, Cid’s flying fortress. Shera was onboard, her mouse-brown hair whipping in the wind.
     “Jeez, Cid! I could hear you from all the way up here!” the woman shouted. Cid grinned as she tossed a rope ladder down to the two weather-beaten friends. After both had struggled up the ladder (Red had a hell of a time, being a beast), Shera served them both steaming cups of tea before they all resumed their search for Vincent. Little did the trio know that trouble was brewing right under their feet.
     Left behind in the middle of the Nicotine, a certain black sword shook violently. The blade had been shattered by Cloud’s Ultima Weapon, but being forged of Meteor gave it an attribute that Meteor had shared with Jenova- the inability to be dismembered completely. Now the blade was reforming itself, knitting itself back together again, the cracks that were slashed in fading. Whole again, the mighty weapon seemed to lift itself into the air- seemed to. Materializing from the empty air was the most hated apparition that had ever existed. Black boots formed out of nowhere, followed by a cloak of darkness that adorned armored shoulders. Ghastly white hair fell about his neck and down to his back. Finally, the eyes appeared, green and as cold as ice. An aura of blackness and death surrounded him as he raised his evil sword to the heavens and laughed maniacally. The planet shrieked in rage and pain as Sephiroth dematerialized, taking the blackened sword with him. He was alive once again, and now he had a sword as black and twisted as his own demonic heart.
     As if on cue, the shattered staff also began to reform itself, the shards coming together, becoming whole again. Appearing slowly at first- then all at once- came the flower girl from the sector five slums. She had followed Sephiroth across space and endless time to put a stop to his rampage once and for all. Aeris was back again, and death was destroyed. The staff became whole in her delicate hands, and she became whole with it. The staff called to her, attempting to possess her. Obey me. It seemed to say. Kill Cloud. Become one with the planet, and take your place at Sephiroth’s side. Aeris began to struggle internally, perspiration beading down her soft forehead as she closed her emerald eyes in pain. Finally, she opened them in rage at the attempted rape of her subconscious!
     “NO!!!” Aeris screamed, dashing the staff to the floor. “I will never be on the wrong side again!”
     But Cloud killed Zack, took him away from you…
     “That’s because Zack was possessed by that God-forsaken sword! It wasn’t Cloud’s fault!”
     You forgive him so easily now, but you could not forgive him before for not being able to stop the hands of destiny?
     “YES!!!” She screamed, on the verge of tears, “I only hope that HE can forgive ME!” The wicked voice began to laugh sinisterly.
     I understand now, Aeris Gainsborough. After all this time, after everything that happened, you still love him. But it’s too late for that now. There is no hope, Aeris! GIVE UP!!
     Aeris smiled bravely as the tears rolled down her cheeks.
     “Get out of my head, Sephiroth. I am lost to you, and I will never help you do anything.” The vile presence faded, defeated by the determination that Aeris had for salvaging her past and repairing her lost love.
     Red XIII, Vincent, and Shera where having a tough time finding Vincent. The Nicotine had been over every inch of Nibelhiem, and there was no sign of the cloaked man that they sought to find. Cid took a drag off his cigarette, then frowned. He was about ready to call it quits and get some sleep.
     “Screw it!” The grumpy old pilot exclaimed, “Vincent will be o.k. He’s probably sleeping inside that stupid coffin o’ his, anyway!” Red XIII gave Cid a scolding look, as if he were disciplining a small child.
     “Would you want us to give up looking for you?” the beast inquired. Cid scowled and shifted his gigantic spear in his gloved hand. He puffed on his cigarette once more, searching the skies for Chaos. Vincent seemed to have completely disappeared, unless he had left the fake town altogether. Suddenly, lightning flashed violently through the darkened skies and the silhouette of Chaos was revealed.
     The monster was flying in from the southwest, racing toward the town with blinding speed. The heroes saw him fly right past them in a gust of wind, heading towards Mt. Nibel. Red XIII trained his good eye on the monster, and noticed something even more peculiar.
     “Cid!” the beast cried, “Look at his claws!” The pilot produced a pair of binoculars and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The dark man really had lost his sanity- or whatever was left of it. Hanging from the monster’s dark talons was a woman they hadn’t seen in years, though they knew Vincent saw her every time he closed his eyes. Lucrecia was screaming, struggling, trying anything and everything to get away from the monster that repulsed her so. There was little Cid and Red XIII could do, the winged demon was flying full speed at Mt. Nibel, far out of the Nicotine’s range. Oh well, the pilot thought silently, sleep is highly overrated anyway. Cid’s face became grim as he shouted out orders,
     “Shera! Open the cargo bay doors and prepare the Highwind for flight! Red XIII! Get Cloud’s spikey ass out of bed and get him down here! We’re going after Vincent!” Red XIII snatched the PHS from the table and pushed the call button with his glowing tail as Shera rushed to the docking bay to make ready the Highwind. “Dammit Red!” Cid snapped, “Give it here, you’re gonna set the damn thing on fire!” He grabbed the PHS from the beast and dialed Cloud’s call number, only to be interrupted by Shera’s screams. The pilot rushed to his wife, wondering what possibly could have gotten into their ship- and hoping it wasn’t lethal.
     “It’s alright, Cid.” A familiar female voice said, “You’ll have nothing to worry from me.” Cid recognized the voice before she even emerged from the shadows of the dark corridor. Aeris. What is she, immortal? The pilot wondered to himself. His thoughts were interrupted by Cloud’s tired voice on the other end of the PHS.
     “What happened? Did you guys find Vincent?”
     “That and a little more…” Cid replied. “Umm…just get the hell down here, Cloud! Nicotine out!” Great, Cid thought once again. What’s Cloud gonna do when he finds THIS out? He picked up the PHS and dialed the call numbers of Cait Sith, Barret, and Yuffie. Barret picked up first,
     “$%#%$! What the hell you doing callin’ me in da middle o’ da night?” As soon as Cait and Yuffie picked up their ends (their responses were similar) Cid announced,
     “This is Cid here. We’ve got a situation down at Nibelhiem, I need everybody here, ASAP.” Cait Sith seemed agitated,
     “What the hell’s happened now? Do I ever get to relax?” Aeris picked up the PHS on Cid’s end.
     “Hello Cait. How are you?” The cat’s circuits blazed with anger,
     “YOU! Back again, Aeris? You gonna hurt Cloud some more, is that it? Leave my friend alone, do you understand?” Aeris cut in,
     “I’m not here to hurt Cloud, I’m here to protect him.” A resounding ‘what?’ was heard from all the members of the party: including those present at the Nicotine. Barret chimed in,
     “You gonna protect Cloud? From what?” The flower girl’s voice became somber.
     “Sephiroth is alive. He’s got Zack’s sword, and he plans to kill Cloud.” Gasps, groans, and curses were uttered at Aeris’ revelation. She spoke once again, “I understand that I betrayed you all. I know that I’ve hurt some of you more than I can ever repair. But I’m asking you, please, help me put a stop to this. I traveled back to this world to kill Sephiroth, but more importantly, to correct a mistake I made the last time our paths crossed. I promise you that I won’t hurt Cloud anymore. Help me, please.” Her voice trailed off as she shook with sobs and the tears overcame her trembling form. Seeing her pain, her anguish, and her regret over what happened with Cloud humanized the woman more than any act of kindness she could have possibly performed in the past. Cid was the first to speak,
     “It’s o.k. Aeris, I forgive you. And I’m sure that when Cloud gets here he’ll do the same.” Barret and Red XIII offered their agreement, and even Yuffie forgave the flower girl for what had happened in the past. But Cait Sith was a different story. The robotic cat had seen first-hand what Aeris’ scorn and spitefulness had done to his friend. He knew that Cloud and Tifa were very much in love, and for the first time since he had known him Cloud seemed happy. Cait didn’t want anything to ruin that, no matter what happened. The others signed off, making for Nibelhiem as quickly as possible to aid Aeris in her quest. Cait hung on the line a little longer, before finally speaking,
     “Alright Aeris, I’m in. But I’ll be watching you…” Aeris had regained some of her composure,
     “Cait I won’t hurt him, I was wrong about Cloud, and about me too.”
     “What are you saying?” the cat inquired.
     “Anything, everything, and nothing.” The flower girl replied. Cait muttered something to himself before signing off and heading from the Gold Saucer to Nibelhiem as fast as Dio’s buggy would carry him.
     
     “Tifa.” Cloud whispered, caressing her sleeping form. The woman groaned and turned over in her sleep. Cloud ran his fingers through her dark hair. “Tifa, you have to get up, Vincent’s in trouble!” Suddenly awake, the woman sat up in bed.
     “Alright, let’s go Cloud!” she exclaimed. Cloud laughed heartily as Tifa sheepishly blushed. She was wearing nothing but her underpants and her brazier.
     “Yeah, you’re going out in the rain naked. I don’t think that’ll go over well!” Tifa giggled at Cloud’s remark and more so at the expression he had on his tired face. This was going to be a long night. “Besides,” Cloud said, fishing through her drawers, “I don’t want you to catch cold.” Tifa grinned,
     “The great Cloud Strife, cold-hearted and merciless mercenary, actually cares about somebody else?” Cloud laughed,
     “No, I just don’t want you to get ME sick! Besides, the last time this happened was at Icicle Inn, and you were wearing your skirt and sleeveless shirt and you kept complaining about how cold you where!” Tifa seemed taken back,
     “Oh yeah…well, you were always bitching because there’s no sleeves on that SOLDIER uniform, and you were too damn stubborn to wear the jacket that Holzoff gave you!”
     “You know what?” Cloud replied, “…I was kidding. I don’t want you to catch cold. I would let you sleep if I could, but I was afraid that something might happen while I wasn’t here…”
     “Oh, Cloud…” Tifa sighed, reaching for him, “Why do you have to worry about everything so much? Nothing’s going to happen to me. You don’t always have to protect me- I can take care of myself. You’re so paranoid; everything is always so serious with you, and…” Cloud’s head was spinning,
     “And?”
     “…And I can get dressed by myself, too ya know.” Cloud snickered,
     “What’s wrong, afraid I’m going to find your orthopedic underwear?”
     “Cloud!” Tifa yelped. She was trying to be angry for no reason. Cloud’s paranoia was one of the things she adored about him. It was ironic to her that he was the one who always tried to protect her when it was she who protected him from his own subconscious. Your boyfriend’s crazy… Tifa thought to herself. I know: that’s why I love him. The woman smiled warmly, and Cloud’s confusion was apparent on his face. Tifa stepped forward and took his hands in hers, “Kiss me.” Cloud’s lips met hers in a fiery exchange. Tifa ran her fingers down his chest, and put her slender hand on the warrior’s heart. All Cloud could feel was her, his heart beating wildly against her hand, his tongue delicately probing the reaches of her mouth. The fact that she was wearing practically nothing didn’t take away from the situation. He wanted to stay in this moment forever, but he knew that Vincent needed him. He slowly pulled away, exhaustion apparent in his Mako blue eyes. Tifa knew what he was thinking. She softly caressed his face before pulling away.
     “I need to help Vincent,” Cloud said, going for his sword. Tifa grinned,
     “You’re not going anywhere, you’re too tired to do him any good. Let me go instead.” The warrior frowned, but Tifa’s reassuring voice pierced the blackness of his mind, “Trust me.” Cloud nodded,
     “Believe me, I do, with all my heart.”
     “That means a lot to me, Cloud. I…”
     “Well, you mean a lot to me, Tifa.” She could contain her feelings no longer; she rushed back into his arms, kissing him wildly. Cloud wanted to protest, but instead he closed his eyes and kissed her back. He knew he couldn’t keep this up, his friend was breaking at the bend somewhere out there- Vincent needed help. He pulled away, almost forcefully, “Teef, you know I love you, but I have to help Vincent.” Tifa pouted for a moment before kissing him again and going for her clothes.
     “You’re not going anywhere without me, Cloud. Hold on a minute, ‘k?” He only nodded as Tifa slipped into some warm clothes and pushed her hair back so it wouldn’t get drenched. Then they quickly left for the Nicotine, dashing out into the rain. Somewhere in the mansion, a voice laughed evilly. Sephiroth’s green eyes seemed to glow in the dark. Your paranoia serves you well, puppet, because of it, Tifa is still among the living…for now. There will be no stopping me the next time. The black blade glistened with evil energy in the opaque darkness of the basement, where Sephiroth lay waiting- and watching.
     
     “What the @#$% took you guys so long!” Cid exclaimed at the rain-soaked Cloud and Tifa. Cloud made a face,
     “It’s not important. What’s going on?” Cloud stared at the blank faces of all his companions, wondering why everybody was here all of a sudden. Cloud looked to Cait, who seemed to look ashamed- as ashamed as a robotic cat riding on a magical stuffed moogle could look. He addressed his friend, “Cait, what’s going on?” Cait bowed his head in despair,
     “Cloud, I don’t know how to say this…” The cat started. Tifa’s brown eyes became huge with fright as she clutched Cloud’s arm protectively,
     “Cait, she’s alive, isn’t she?” Cait somberly replied,
     “‘Fraid so. But that ain’t the half of it.” Red XIII cut in,
      “Sephiroth lives as well.” Cloud’s face became twisted with rage,
     “WHAT?!?!” He exclaimed in anger. “Where is he? What does he want?”
     “We don’t know where he is but we do know he wants to kill you, Cloud.” Aeris said, stepping in.
     “It’s impossible!” Tifa cried, “I killed you myself! Why don’t you ever stay dead?” Aeris somberly replied,
     “I was brought back when the staff I last wielded reformed itself. Sephiroth can control the weapons because they’re forged from Meteor. He still has the Black Materia.” She looked to Cloud, “Cloud, I’m sorry for what happened in the past. The choices I made…they were the wrong ones. As far as I’m concerned, my mission here is to protect you. I promise that the past died when Zack did. Can you ever forgive me?” Tifa interjected,
     “NO! He can NOT forgive you! STAY AWAY from my Cloud, Aeris! Do you understand?! You made your bed now lie in it!”
     “Tifa!” Cloud exclaimed, “Control yourself!”
     “NO CLOUD! She wants to take you away from me; I can see it in her eyes! Don’t leave me Cloud! Please don’t leave me!” she burst into tears and fell to the deck, sobbing uncontrollably. Cloud knelt down beside her and held her, kissing her tired brow.
     “Listen to me, Tifa.” Cloud said gently, “I’m your boyfriend and I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. Do you understand?” Tifa quickly nodded before burying her face in his chest and crying. Cloud looked up at Aeris. “You want to help me kill Sephiroth? Fine; but stay away from us Aeris. Stay away from my heart, it isn’t yours anymore.” Aeris ran from them all, tears streaming down her cheeks as she struggled to get away from the demons inside her head. She finally loved Cloud again- and he hated her for it.
     Cid Highwind took another drag of his latest cigarette. It looked like he was going to have to take charge here. Cloud was huddled in a corner with Tifa. The spikey-haired kid had tried for hours to call her down until she finally cried herself to sleep. The kid wasn’t leaving her no matter what- it was obvious that she meant the world to him. Aeris was somewhere on the other side of the Nicotine. The last time that he had seen, her state was no better than that of Tifa’s. Cloud seemed to want the girl out of his life for good, Cait Sith seemed to want pretty much the same, and Tifa would have probably killed the Ancient on the spot if- she wasn’t the moral person Cid knew her to be. All this hate going around his ship was pissing Cid off. There was no point to any of it, Aeris had apologized- she was here to help them! The pilot offered it up to Bahamut, let HIM deal with all this bullshit flying around my ship! At any rate, the Highwind was ready for take-off.
     “Alright everyone, here’s the battle plan!” Cid announced to no one in particular. All the heroes that were present turned in his direction to listen to him speak. “I’m going after Vincent! Red XIII and Cait Sith, you’re with me! We’re going into the caves to search for Chaos! Barret and Yuffie, you come along to guard the Highwind! If Sephiroth gets a hold of it, we’re screwed!” Cloud’s eyes met those of his friend’s.
     “What about me, Cid?” the Ex-SOLDIER inquired as the others were boarding the Highwind. Cid looked at him grimly,
     “You’re gonna stay here and work out your problem- and guard the Nicotine. Sephiroth could make a helluva fortress out of this thing.”
     “What do you mean ‘Work out my problem’? I don’t see anything wrong with what I just did!” Cid stared him down,
     “Don’t you? Nobody’s perfect Cloud, everyone makes mistakes- you’re no different! You gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth, remember? Then you attacked Aeris yourself! You’re a hypocrite, Cloud!”
     “So I’m weak! What’s your point, Cid? I…” his voice faded off because Tifa was stirring on his lap. She’d had enough for one night, he didn’t want to wake her. He looked down at Tifa’s slumbering form, and Cid could see the love in Cloud’s eyes. Cid regarded him gently,
     “Is the only reason you refuse to forgive Aeris is that you’re afraid of what Tifa might think?” Cloud looked up again,
     “Cid I…I don’t know. I don’t want to lose her. I love her, need her.”
     “And she loves you, Cloud. She always has! You didn’t see her when she was taking care of you in Mideel. The planet was going to die and she didn’t even care! All she cared about was you, and that will never change. So she couldn’t admit it at first? Who cares, man! You could see it in her eyes the entire time! You’re not going to lose Tifa for being a human being, Cloud.” Cloud lowered his face in shame. Cid was right, of course. Cloud couldn’t do to Aeris what she had done to him, and Tifa would understand.
     “You win, Cid.” The warrior said, “But you’d better get going. We’ll be alright here.” Cid smiled,
     “Take care of Shera, and don’t be afraid to give her a kick in the ass if she needs it!” Cloud laughed. He was certain that when a push came to a shove, Cid was all talk, and if something really happened it would be Shera giving Cid a kick in the ass for his own good. The pilot jumped onboard the Highwind as the docking bay doors opened to release the smaller ship. Cloud cradled Tifa in his arms and carried her off the loading deck. The woman stirred but did not awaken, and Cloud carried her to the master bedroom where Shera was sleeping. He carefully put her down on the bed and covered her with a warm blanket. Kissing her forehead, he fumbled for his PHS. He dialed Aeris number, hoping that she had reactivated it before he arrived. He was met with her tearful voice on the other end.
     “H-Hello?” the Ancient answered through sobs.
     “Aeris, this is Cloud. Please come over to the Captain’s room. I don’t want Sephiroth getting to you all by yourself.”
     “C-Cloud? Can w-we talk? Please?” the flower girl seemed to beg.
     “Yeah, I want to, but come here first, alright?” Aeris only nodded and made her way towards the Captain’s Quarters. Cloud was waiting at the door. She ran to him, her faced soaked with tears,
     “Cloud! I’m so sorry! I don’t know what to do! I’m sorry, Cloud, so sorry! Forgive me please! For-“ and the tears overcame her. Cloud wrapped his arms around her trembling body and held her gently.
     “I’m sorry too, Aeris. I promised I’d never hurt you, never let anything happen to you…”
     “Stop blaming yourself!” Aeris cried, “You always blame yourself no matter what happens! It isn’t your fault, Cloud!” They held each other for what seemed like forever, softly sobbing and vowing never to hurt each other again. Cloud finally let go, and went to Tifa. Thankfully she was still asleep. Aeris entered the room and shut the door behind her. The Ancient looked at Tifa’s sleeping form, saw how peaceful she looked. And to her despair, saw how much Cloud loved her. Sephiroth was right, she told herself, and it’s totally hopeless. But I’ll try, no matter what else happens, I have to try.
     Chaos set Lucrecia down in a darkened cave inside of Mt. Nibel. It would be impossible for his friends to find him here, even with Tifa helping them. He had a task to attend to. Lucrecia, Chaos bellowed, wake up! The woman stirred and sat up quickly.
     “Vincent, why are you doing this?” she asked of the demon.
     There is no more Vincent Valentine, I have wiped him completely from reality. We could not coexist. Vincent cannot experience emotions without turning into me. All of his love for you, all of his hate for Hojo and himself, has created me. Vincent is my scapegoat, the lowly dog who does my bidding. I am Chaos, and CHAOS REIGNS! The cavern shook with the sound of the monster’s voice. Lucrecia shivered in fright.
     “But why me? Why now?”
     Why? Why, do you ask? You tore me to shreds, Lucrecia. You were the only thing in the world that I cared about, and you chose Hojo- a complete and total madman- over me! Do you have any idea what that feels like? To love someone that deeply and they don’t even care? To spend the rest of your life in miserable desperation because the one thing that could make you whole is simply out of reach? And to top it all off, your lover turned me into THIS! He already had you, already had what he wanted, not your love, he wanted you for a specimen! A human experiment! He never cared about you one whit! How could you have been so blind? I would have done anything, ANYTHING for you! And now I am nothing but a monster, no matter what form my body takes. I look at Cloud, or Cid, or even Barret, and I wonder what it’s like to be human. I wonder what it would be able to get angry, or be happy, or sad, or even drunk without turning into some apparition of the night! I want to be human again, Lucrecia!
     “What am I supposed to do? I can’t reverse what Hojo has done to you, and I can’t change the past!”
     No, but you can love me. You did once, nothing ever dies completely.
     “I can’t love you!”
     Why Lucrecia? Am I ugly, perhaps? Hideous? IS THAT ALL THAT YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT?
     “NO! I just can’t, I refuse to.”
     Why? What are you hiding from me?
     “Nothing!”
     You lie! Even I can see the truth in your eyes!
     “I can’t love you. If I loved you I would be happy again, and I can’t allow that! I don’t deserve to be happy after my mistakes! Many people have died because I gave birth to Sephiroth! That is my sin! I won’t allow myself to be happy! I must be punished for my crimes!”
     That’s what I thought when I slept in the coffin. I thought it was right, because that was punishment for my sin. But enough happens in life without us punishing ourselves! Call it fate, or destiny, but we suffer enough as it is! I won’t let you be sad anymore, Lucrecia. What happened is neither your fault nor mine.
     “Vincent…I’m sorry. You’re right, both of us have suffered enough. The reason that I told you to stay away from me in the cave is because I knew that I loved you, I knew that with you I could go on living, and I wanted to die. And now I see…”
     “Vincent, let the lady go!” Cid’s voice echoed through the caverns. Damn, how did he find me? Chaos wondered aloud. Cid was a threat, a threat to Vincent finally gaining control of his life. He must be stopped.
     How did you find me here? Chaos bellowed. Cid, Red XIII, and Cait Sith appeared, weapons ready. The Venus Gospel sparkled with deadly power. Cid answered,
     “We tracked you by your PHS, now let Lucrecia go, Vincent!”
     “Wait!” Lucrecia shouted, “Don’t fight, please! It’s all right Vincent, I’ll be with you! You don’t have to do this!”
     Oh, but I do! Chaos’s reply echoed through the caverns as he flew screeching at the three combatants that had dared to enter his cave.
     “Crap!” Cait shouted, narrowly dodging Chaos’ razor sharp talons. The moogle bashed the demon over the head with his mechanical arms, the metal making horrifying sounds as it assaulted the tender flesh.
     “Be careful you idiot!” Red XIII shouted at the cat, “We’re not trying to kill him! You might have given him a concussion, Cait!”
     To his great surprise, the demon shook his head a couple times, barely even damaged by Cait Sith’s attack. You pathetic little fool, can’t you hit harder than that? The demon rushed full speed at Cid, who dove to the ground to escape his claws. He screamed in pain as Chaos Saber ripped his back wide open, blood gushing through his hands as he held the wound in pain. Cid spun around in a rage, slamming the butt of the Venus Gospel into Chaos’ skull.
     “It’s three against one, Vincent!” He pleaded with his friend, “What the @%$# are you trying to do, get yerself killed? Just stop this @#%$!”
     You pathetic coward! One clean hit and you want to retreat! What kind of a man are you, Cid?
     “Listen to him!” Lucrecia pleaded, “I don’t want to lose you!”
     Lose me to this pitiful little man? Don’t worry Lucrecia- that will never happen! Chaos bellowed, flapping his mighty wings once again. As he lifted his disfigured body high into the air, he was in the perfect position to get the drop on his former allies.
     “LOOK OUT!” Cait screamed at Red, all too late. Chaos was upon the beast, ready to tear him from limb to limb. The monster let loose another blood-curdling cry. It raised his claw high above the fire red beast, preparing to deliver a devastating blow- but Chaos hadn’t counted on Red’s agility. As the demon scratched his claws into the stalagmites that littered the floor of the cave, the beast was already airborne, landing flat on the apparition as he raked the quills of his deadly Limited Moon into the monster’s ashen neck. The animal quickly rolled of, not waiting for a counter attack. The demonic monstrosity took to the air again, growling at Red XIII,
     You’ll pay for that! Chaos let loose a horrifying screech as it rushed them again, thrashing like mad with his deformed arms.
     Try as they might, the heroes couldn’t dodge the sinister assault as it sent them all bleeding and sprawling to the far reaches of the cavern. Cait was the first to get up, his gears whining in protest,
     “Come on, Vincent! Don’t make me do this!” The cat groaned.
     Give me your best shot, cat! Chaos demanded. Cait was determined to follow this order, summoning up his strength for a magic attack.
     “Ice 3!” The cat shouted as Vincent’s darker side was frozen solid in a gigantic block of ice that lowered the temperature in the already-freezing cavern. “Now that’s what I call cool!” The cat joked out loud. Red XIII rolled his eyes,
     “That was a terrible pun!” the fire red beast shouted, licking his wounds.
     Apparently, Vincent thought so as well, as he liberated himself from his frozen prison. Without so much as a word, he slashed at Cait, tossing him away from his moogle.
     Red XIII was quick to attack, slashing at the demon ferociously with his Limited Moon. The quills dung deep into the monster’s flesh, flooring him, as the beast flipped into the air and assaulted Chaos from above. The demon reeled, letting loose a sickening scream, but was not down for long. He slashed violently across Red’s body, opening a large gash that cut clean to the bone. Blood oozed from the wound, the hot liquid forming steam inside the freezing cavern of despair. The wounded beast howled in pain, falling to the freezing floor as his life slowly drained from his body. The monster prepared for the final blow when Lucrecia threw herself upon the beast.
     “Don’t kill him, Vincent!” She screamed, tears welling in her eyes. “STOP THIS!”
     I can’t! You don’t understand…
     “You must!” Tears cascaded in rivulets down her cheeks. “I don’t want you or your friends to die! KILL ME INSTEAD!”
     You know I can’t! With that, Chaos turned to Cid.
     “Okay, asshole!” The pilot began, “Let go of my friend!” Cid spun his spear around, his slash missing the demon’s head by mere inches as it took off one his wings. The other countered with a slash across the face, the talons leaving deep rake marks in the skin. “You @#%$!” Cid yelled as blood trickled down his cheek, “Shera’s gonna be pissed!”
     Do you think that I care about your little relationship, Cid?
     “Isn’t this what all of this is about? Isn’t all of this just your pathetic inability to let her go? You can’t force people to love you, Vincent!”
     You know absolutely nothing you imbecile…
     “But I do! And I’m Cid @#%$in’ Highwind! You can’t beat me, so give the #$@$ up!”
     “Watch out Cid!” Cait shouted, jumping in front of the claws of the angry Chaos. To the cat’s horror, the blow knocked his head clean off of his shoulders. His circuits sparked, but somehow he managed to keep activated.
     “YOU BASTARD!” the pilot screamed, his anger reaching it’s limit. “Do you know what the #%$@ you just #%^$in’ did? You killed your friend! What the hell is your problem?”
     While Cid’s rage was mounting, Red managed to get to his feet.
     “Damn Cait, are you okay?” The beast asked.
     “A little dizzy,” the cat’s disembodied head replied, “but otherwise alright. But look at you, Red! Can you shallow an Elixir?”
     “I’ll try,” the beast replied as Cait poured the bottle’s contents into a crevice in the floor. Red lapped up the sticky substance with his tongue as the wound in his chest began to heal. He would be all right.
     “Dammit! Red, look!” Cait’s head screamed at the changing scene before them. Cid had beaten Chaos to a bloody pulp, and he was already high in the air, preparing his spear for one final blow. The pilot screamed in absolute rage as Chaos smiled evilly, closing his dark eyes. The dragoon released a horrific battle cry as he came crashing to the ground, plunging the Venus Gospel deep into the monster’s tortured heart.
     
     Chaos had fallen. Lucrecia ran to the monster’s dying form, her voice in hysterics,
     “NO! Vincent! Don’t die, please don’t die!” the soft flesh of her hands gently rubbed the rough skin of the demon. She was blinded by tears, “Please don’t die Vincent! I love you!” The monster’s trembling body disappeared, replaced by the form of Vincent Valentine.
     “Lucrecia…” the caped man whispered.
     “Please don’t die Vincent…” Lucrecia sobbed. Cid’s eyes raised to the heavens, the storm crashing violently above the cavern.
     “What have I done! I killed my friend!”
     “No,” Vincent said, rising to his feet, “I am free of Chaos, free of my curse! I live now because of you, Cid, not in spite of you!” Lucrecia smiled,
     “Vincent! Does this mean…?” The dark man nodded,
     “I am finally human once again! I can laugh, I can cry…” he turned to Lucrecia, “…and I can love.” His golden claw fell to the ground, revealing a normal human hand. Lucrecia removed the cowl from his face before taking it in her own. Vincent’s face was scarred around the mouth from where his flesh had stretched into various monsters. Lucrecia stroked his mouth with her free hand.
     “Your scars are deep, my love, but they will heal.”
     “As will yours, Lucrecia.” Vincent said, and to the surprise of the entire group, he smiled. It was a smile of joy, a smile of love- a smile of freedom. Vincent Valentine was finally whole again- and now he would live in the present. Lucrecia leaned forward and kissed the former Turk with all her might. Cheers erupted from Cid’s team and the Highwind alike as the received the good news. Unfortunately, their joy was short lived.
     On the deck of the Highwind, Barret and Yuffie were waiting for the others to return so they could get back to the Nicotine. Sephiroth had to be dealt with as quickly as possible- before he could kill again. Yuffie was staring over at the distant airship. She liked the Nicotine much better than the Highwind; it didn’t make her sick- not as much, at least. Suddenly her eyes became wide with fright, and her face paled at what she was seeing.
     “Barret, look!” the ninja cried. The big man did a double take- the Nicotine was firing on the Highwind!
     “Shit!” Barret shouted, “Get to the parachutes! MOVE!” Luckily for the pair, Cid kept the parachutes right inside the deck entrance to the ship. Barret and Yuffie jumped just in time as the Nicotine’s missiles tore into the deck of the Highwind. The magnificent ship shifted, pierced clean through the hull, and crashed into the side of the mountains. The Highwind exploded in a violent fireball the singed the side of the cliff on the way down. Cid saw the explosion and roared at the top of his lungs,
     “%$^$! My ship! What the @#@$! Who the $%$# fired on us!?” he saw the two parachutes suspended above the ground.
     “At least the others got out alright.” Red XIII said. Cait Sith was already on the PHS,
     “Barret! What the hell happened?” the cat screamed into the PHS.
     “Dat damn Nicotine fired at us! Call Cloud and make sure he’s not freakin’ out again!” Barret replied. Cait did a quick number exchange and called Cloud- but there was no answer.
     Cloud couldn’t believe his eyes; the Nicotine had fired on the Highwind! His PHS began to ring, but as he reached for in it exploded, the tiny parts shimmering in the air. Oh, no Cloud! No help from your friends! Cloud looked around for his invisible assailant, but could not find him.
     “I KNOW it’s you, Sephiroth! Come out and face me, you coward!” The maniac materialized in front of his former disciple, wielding his gigantic evil sword, the source of his demented power.
     “Hello, my puppet. It’s been too long. Come.” The cloaked man coldly stated, flying backwards and dematerializing. Cloud raced into the next room, where Tifa and Aeris were bound to the walls. The room that had originally been lavishly furnished was completely empty- and dark. Blackness seemed to come forth from the walls, enveloping everything in its opaqueness- and despair in its wake. Shera was in the center of the room- with Sephiroth’s evil sword at her throat. The demented monster laughed maniacally at his prey. “Now I will kill her, and you Cloud Strife, will blame yourself!” Sephiroth’s evil laughs halted suddenly as Shera kneed him in the groin. The evil man gasped as she escaped his vile clutches, and Cloud stepped in, Ultima Weapon in hand. The dark man attacked with the ashen blade, and Cloud expertly deflected it, landing a blow to his mouth. Sephiroth brought his weapon to bear, spitting blood, as Shera ran to Tifa and attempted to free her from the chains. Aeris’ chains simply disappeared into nothingness as she approached the other two women.
     “This is just an illusionary world Sephiroth made up…” the Ancient stated over the clanging of blades, “…imagine yourself free and you will be, Tifa.” The woman closed her eyes in concentration, and a couple seconds later the chains disintegrated.
     “Thanks Aeris.” Tifa said. “Come on, let’s help Cloud!” Cloud was struggling with the madman and his powerful sword. Sephiroth deflected Cloud’s thrust and swung straight at his head, missing by inches as he sliced through Cloud’s hair. Seeing an opening, Cloud thrust his blade into the wretch’s thigh, Sephiroth screamed in agony as Cloud hit him over the head with the handle of his sword. The monstrosity fell to the ground with the Ultima Weapon at his throat. Aeris and Tifa approached from the back, and Sephiroth was cornered. Cloud sneered angrily and slit the madman’s throat slit. Black blood poured from the open wound, but all Sephiroth did was laugh.
     “You fools!” the villain chortled, “I am invincible!” He disappeared in a flash of red light, leaving Cloud dumbfounded. He was shaking uncontrollably. Aeris put her slender hand on his shoulder.
     “Cloud.” There was no response. “CLOUD!” There was nothing. Tifa addressed the Ancient,
     “He’s inside his mind, there’s not much we can do…” Suddenly Cloud clutched his temples in his hands and fell to the ground, trembling. “Cloud!” Tifa cried. “What can I do to stop him? He’s inside his head, Aeris!” Aeris face became grim,
     “Then we have to find Sephiroth’s physical body! He’ll be vulnerable while he’s in Cloud’s mind! Come on!” The two women raced to the interior of the Nicotine, with Shera in tow. They would stop him from hurting anybody else.
     Reality twisted and writhed before the falling form of Cloud Strife. Was this the real world and the other the illusion? The fallen warrior didn’t understand what was going on- he was there with his Tifa, and he was happy, and everything was going to be alright- and now this. The maniac’s face appeared in front of him, his evil laugh ringing throughout the reaches of Cloud’s shattered mind.
     “Welcome back to my realm, puppet.” The grinning deaths-head said. Somewhere inside Cloud’s tortured mind, beaten and bleeding by the hatreds and fears and lies, he knew that the other world must be the true illusion. Tifa couldn’t love him, he was only kidding himself- all of it was a dream, nothing more than a false love to mend his broken heart. The man fell through the nothingness towards what he hoped was the end of his misery- the end of his very life.
     That’s right, you pathetic puppet. Tifa’s love is nothing but a dream I placed inside your delusional mind. Nobody cares for you, miserable failure.
     Cloud’s strangled cry echoed through the reaches of reality,
     “But I feel…! If I feel this much, it can’t be wrong!” His fears were multiplying, was everything an illusion? Was his whole life nothing but a delusional dream where he was always the one to suffer? Tendrils of Lifestream enveloped the man, but they didn’t have the nurturing effect of the river of green at Northern Cave. The tendrils wounded him, pricked him, caused him to bleed from his very pores until he screamed in agony; they instilled pain and envy and forgetfulness in the shattered form of the man known as Cloud Strife. He felt the cold aura of death all around him, his vision breaking and twisting before him. He was caught in the black hole of his own mind- a puppet to no one but himself.
     Forgiven, Cloud? Are you truly forgiven? Neither Aeris nor Tifa gives a damn about you and neither one ever did!
     “That’s a lie!” the broken man screamed, “If nothing else, at least Aeris loved me!”
     Aeris loved Zack, and that is what she saw in you. She told you herself on the Gondola, it was like seeing him again, because you were in SOLDIER. But you were NEVER in SOLDIER, Cloud, and you were never cared about by a single soul as long as you have lived! Your father abandoned you in the womb; your mother only took care of you out of pure guilt! You were the most hated child in Nibelhiem- never finding anyone or anything to belong to, and nothing has changed! So dance for me, my puppet, your arms wave wildly, your legs flailing, until I pull the string that is nothing but a noose around your neck!
     “Damn you, coward! Show yourself! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”
     He was met with nothing but Sephiroth’s insane laughter as he faded away into nothingness. Everything was dark, pure blackness enveloped the entire world, except for her. She was there, her brown eyes glistening. The scene unfolded before Cloud, slowly at first, and then all at once. The sky was filled with the celestial beauty of millions of stars, shining brightly on the couple. Tifa was standing on a wooden plank, a bucket on her side. The cold air of Nibelhiem filled the warrior’s lungs, as he thought back to the night before he left the beauty of this town, this sky, and this woman, for the filthy slums of Midgar to enlist in Shinra’s army. The stars were gorgeous, and so was Tifa, the brown of her eyes meeting the blue of his own- and then she laughed. She laughed uncontrollably at him, her slender sides heaving in absolute mockery of what he was thinking. Out of nowhere her three friends from her youth appeared- her real childhood friends, something that he never truly was. They were also laughing, and tears welled up in Cloud’s eyes. Tifa finally gained enough control over her giggling to speak,
     “What’s going on, Cloud? What made you think that you ever meant anything? You are nothing to me. To think that you thought that I could ever love a waste like you!” The woman began to laugh again, her friends’ chortles in perfect unison with here own. Then the three disappeared, leaving only the two of them behind. Tifa smiled sweetly, “Cloud I was only joking…Come here, touch me.” She said to him. Tifa ran her fingers across his cheek- and slapped him clean in the face with all of her might, knocking him to floor as he hit his head on the planks of the well. She started laughing again, and Aeris appeared, her giggles accompanying her counterparts’ as they both made a fool of him.
     You were never worth a fucking thing to anybody. You’re going to die here, you understand? But before I killed you I just wanted to show you how pathetic you truly are. It was madness to stand against me, nothing but pure arrogance. You are nothing to anybody, the master of your own illusionary world. And now that world is coming to an end. You can’t win.
     Cloud knew that he was beaten. Sephiroth was right, about everything. He might as well just give up, let the Planet take care of it’s own woes. Did he even stop the madman to begin with? Or was that all an illusion that he made up, a memory to fill the gaps where nothing seemed to fit- a jigsaw puzzle with a hundred of the same piece. He didn’t know what to do; he was completely lost.
     Cloud heard a voice, her voice. It was singing in his soul, telling him that everything that Sephiroth told him was a lie, telling him that he wasn’t wrong, or crazy, or unloved. Tifa was trying to help him see the truth, but he couldn’t believe it, wouldn’t believe it. His life was nothing but a lie- that was the only truth he knew. Somewhere inside of his a voice cried out, and he saw those same brown eyes, on the verge of tears, staring back into his own.
     “Trust me Cloud.” Tifa said. Her delicate hand found his and tenderly squeezed it. Aeris appeared on his other side, taking his hand and holding it firmly. There were tears in her green eyes,
     “Don’t listen to him Cloud.” Cloud tried so hard to avoid the gaze of the glowing emeralds that were her eyes, but he was to no avail. Their eyes met, and the Ancient softly spoke, almost whispered, “Trust me.” The others were quick to follow, Cid and Red XIII, Cait Sith and Barret, even Yuffie was coming to the rescue of the man who had saved their lives so many times. ‘Cloud, you’re our friend, and we do care, and you know that’s the truth! You have to trust us, you have to!’ Tears were streaming from Cloud’s Mako blue eyes as all the others disappeared. Tifa was still standing there, holding his hand. She wrapped her arms around him in a loving embrace, and all Sephiroth’s power was completely shattered. She disappeared, and Sephiroth stood before Cloud, a look of shock on his face.
      “I understand now, Sephiroth. This is my mind, and as much as I deny myself, as much as I lose faith in myself, I know what is true inside my own sub-conscious. Even if my life were a lie it wouldn’t matter here. I am the master of my own illusionary world, and here it is YOU who are MY puppet!” Cloud raised his Ultima Weapon his above his head, its blade glistening with power in the dark reaches of his soul. He slammed the blade down, and Sephiroth’s form splintered, shattered into a million pieces, and disappeared in a flash of light that at first seemed so huge, but became tiny and insignificant as Cloud’s consciousness trailed away.
      Tifa couldn’t seem to find Sephiroth. She knew that the bastard must be on the airship somewhere, but she didn’t have time to search every room in the floating fortress that was once again a place of ruin and despair. Aeris and Shera were still with her, racing to find the monster that had entered the mind of her beloved.
     “Tifa! Aeris! Come quick!” Shera’s voice shouted from the other hallway. Tifa ran full blast to room where the mechanic’s cries had escaped. There was something odd on the door of the room, it seemed to glow with a life force all it’s own. Tifa trembled as she felt shivers run violently down her spine. How had Shera gotten in? Luckily, Aeris was right behind her, the reflection of her emerald eyes reflected off the enchanted door.
     “What the hell is that?” Tifa inquired. Aeris examined the glowing material.
     “It looks like some sort of barrier.” The Ancient replied. A green materia on her staff began to glow with intensity. “De-barrier!” the woman cried as the yellow light faded from the door. Tifa looked at the twisted staff that Aeris was still using. She remembered what it had felt like, the tip of her chin being struck with it, her stomach smashed and razed after the blow the other had dealt her. And now she was using that staff to help her save Cloud. It just didn’t seem right, but Tifa somehow knew that the staff was the only reason why Aeris was still here. The time for thinking is over, the woman told herself, and Cloud needs your help.
     “Alright, let’s go Aeris!” Tifa exclaimed, charging through the door. The other woman rushed in right behind her, finding Shera in hysterics and Sephiroth sitting motionless on the cold metal floor. His eyes were open, but they were filled with icy indifference to the world around him. He was staring into nothingness, totally in a world of his own- and then the cold eyes began to focus, focus in on Tifa. The woman shuddered as Sephiroth got to his feet, the black sword shining evilly in his hands.
     “Tifa Lockhart…” Sephiroth said, smiling sinisterly, “Cloud’s true love. Die.” Before the woman could even move, Sephiroth slashed deep into her ample chest with his blade. Tifa screamed as blood poured hotly from her breast, forming a sticky, crimson pool on the cold steel floor. She fell to the ground, her eyes wide open but seeing nothing. Shera screamed as Aeris raised her staff to protect the form of her fallen comrade. Sephiroth only laughed at the flower girl, raising his wicked sword in an offensive position. The world had shifted- once again, everything in reality worth fighting for was going to hell, and once again, all that was good and right in the world had been shattered- once again, chaos reigned.
     The heavy clanking of boots against the metal floor distracted the monstrosity from his current prey. Cloud sprinted through the passageway and into the room, the situation mirrored in his Mako blue eyes. His love lied drowning in a pool of her own blood, her eyes staring into nothingness.
     “TIFA!” The man cried as Sephiroth’s cold eyes trained on him. He had found peace and love was again, and Sephiroth was taking it away. They always took everything away, didn’t they? You were left with nobody to care about you, nobody to love you, nobody to be with you or even understand. It was a crime to have something without it being ripped away from you for nothing other than the sadistic joy that fate extracted from your pain. Cloud’s eyes closed in on Sephiroth, an unholy growl in the back of his throat. THIS man would hurt nobody else- never again would a soul suffer at the end of Sephiroth’s sword, at the pain of Sephiroth’s words. The warrior drew his sword, and the blade glistened with rage, ferocity, everything that Cloud felt in his heart was manifested in the gigantic sword as it prepared itself for battle. Sephiroth smiled, slamming the hilt of his demon sword into Aeris’ forehead, knocking her to the floor. He abandoned his prey, facing Cloud with his sword at the ready. The other raised his sword and let forth an inhuman scream as he rushed at the demon in black. Sephiroth deflected the first blow, but before he could counter a vertical slash ripped through his chest. The cut didn’t faze him as he tried again to strike at Cloud, but found all he could do was defend against the enraged Ex-SOLDIER’S relentless attacks. The sword came flying at him again and again, Cloud was screaming like a madman at the loss of the one thing he held dear.
     “Your emotions make you weak!” Sephiroth said as Cloud thrust too far, overstepping his range of motion. Sephiroth slashed deep into Cloud’s side, his blood pouring from his wound and mixing on the ground with Tifa’s. Cloud screamed in pain and fell to the floor; barely able to defend against the madman’s blacked sword. Sephiroth roared in agony as something struck him cleanly in the back of the head. He spun around to see the bloody wrench that had hit him rolling on the ground. Shera’s face was twisted with anger and fear as she frantically searched for a weapon.
     “You little bitch…” Sephiroth uttered, a green orb on his armlet glowing, “Petrify!” Shera tried to dodge the white mist that was forming around her, but to no avail. She screamed in agony as her flesh grew harder, her bones constricted, and she turned into a statue- even her eyes were frozen- a look of sheer terror captured in stone. The monster grinned as a gigantic sword ran through his chest, causing black blood to gush through his fingers. Sephiroth’s smile faded as Cloud ripped the glowing blue blade from him, his young face red with rage that burned like a white hot embers. The whole room turned crimson as Cloud raised his glowing blade to the heavens.
     “Omni-slash!” The warrior screamed as he charged Sephiroth, his sword ripping through the dark man’s body over and over again, until Cloud leapt into the air and hung there, as if suspended by the power of his own unholy rage. The last blow brought Sephiroth to the floor, breaking the demonic sword in half. Cloud brought his sword up underhand, raising the hilt high above his head as the sharp metal glimmered with destructive power. He stabbed downward into Sephiroth’s chest, his sword going clean through the madman and into the floor. Although he was impaled and unarmed, the psychopath began to laugh maniacally. Cloud jumped backwards as he clenched his fists in rage. A materia orb on his armlet glowed red with ferocity, as red as the anger that was shaking his soul,
     “That’s right Sephiroth, LAUGH! Laugh at this you bastard! Ultimate End!” Cloud disappeared as the floor beneath Sephiroth vanished, the smell of Esper thick in the air. The would-be god was about to meet the Knights of the Round.
     Aeris fumbled frantically with Tifa’s body. She could get no response from the woman, her cure spells weren’t working and neither were her Phoenix Downs. There was nothing she could do. Tifa was dead. Tears welled up in her eyes- Cloud shouldn’t have to take this. She wanted so badly for him to stop hurting, and shame overwhelmed her as she thought of what she had done to him too. She hadn’t forgiven herself, whether he had or not, and somehow she had to atone. The Ancient looked over at the spectacle on the opposing side of the room. The Knights of the Round were still attacking Sephiroth, burning him, freezing him, ripping his flesh to the bone, but all he did was laugh- laugh at everything. The demonistic black sword he wielded had already forced itself back into existence. What was she supposed to do? Suddenly a white glow caught her eye. It was coming from Tifa’s bloody glove; the woman was drenched in her own blood. Aeris ignored the crimson liquid that almost completely covered the floor of the room. The Ancient started in shock- it was the Holy Materia! How it got here, why Tifa had it, it didn’t matter. All that mattered is that she could stop Sephiroth’s rampage of death before it was too late. She carefully pried the white materia from Tifa’s glove, cradling it in her own blood-soaked hands.
     “Planet, please hear me…” the woman addressed, “Help me finish what I have started. Meteor and Sephiroth must be wiped from the world, and their actions with them. All that have died at the hands of Meteor must be avenged, the killing must stop forever.” The Planet seemed to answer, the sounds forming words inside her mind.
     If Meteor is wiped from the world the staff that sustains you will also be destroyed. You are sacrificing yourself- do you concede to it?
     The answer came as shock to the young woman, she hadn’t thought that she would die again. She couldn’t leave Cloud alone after all that had happened to him. The man needed someone to love; someone to make him whole- and Tifa was gone. What could she do?
     “If I give myself to you, dear Planet, may I have Tifa’s live in exchange for my own?”
     It didn’t respond at first, but she heard the answer in her soul. It was a glimmer of a moment- she barely made the decision before her lips had selflessly spoke the word ‘yes’. The emerald orbs that were her eyes gleamed with tears. She would see Cloud again someday, when the past and present and future were one. Aeris understood that if she really loved him, she had to let him go. She wanted to scream, to curse herself for denying him when he had needed her so, but she faced the future bravely, her face showing no regrets as the fabric of reality cracked and Cloud materialized inside the room.
     Sephiroth lie on the floor, charred, broken, and bleeding. Patches of skin were missing where he had been cut clean to the bone- and the grinning deaths-head that remained of his face was still laughing. He forced himself to stand; the Ultima Weapon tearing through his flesh as it ripped through him, unwilling to disconnect itself from the cold metal floor. Sephiroth’s ashen sword flew into his bloody hands like it had never been split in two. His laughter was deafening; it encompassed the room, the ship- the whole world. Nothing but blood and laughter, blood and laughter, blood and laughter…
     The now unarmed Cloud’s hands flew to his temples, unable to take it anymore. His mind was leaving his body; it was all too much to stand. The clanking of metal awakened the warrior from the ghost dance that was Sephiroth’s laugh. Aeris stood, the white materia cupped in her delicate hands, a look of pain and loss on her once innocent face.
     “Holy!” The woman shouted, and then Sephiroth’s world was no longer funny. The Holy Materia glowed pale green; the light’s intensity growing to a verdant ferocity. A blast of white magic assaulted Sephiroth, and for once the Planet took vengeance on the bastard that had damaged it so. The black sword shattered into a million pieces, it’s shards disintegrated into absolute nothingness. Sephiroth screamed in agony as his flesh was ripped from his body, leaving only his skeleton, all set aflame until it burned to ashes. His blood burned on the remains of his skeleton, green flame scorching every inch of his body. The last thing to go were his eyes, so often cold and uncaring, but finally frozen in a look of shock and fear. Aeris fell to her knees in exhaustion, and Cloud bolted across the room to her and Tifa. He cradled Tifa’s lifeless body in his arms, the tears welling from his blue eyes like an untamed river of pain and suffering. Aeris wrapped her trembling arms around him,
     “Cloud, she’s going to be alright…” The man started, a look of confusion on his face.
      “Aeris, she’s totally gone, she’s…” His words were interrupted as Tifa began to breathe again, forcefully at first, but finally it mellowed itself to the point of serenity. The wound that had punctured her breast had sealed itself up, a faint scar visible on her bosom. Cloud gently stroked her face, his mind struggling to understand what had just happened. He turned to Aeris,
     “Aeris, how did you…?” She smiled sadly,
     “It isn’t important Cloud.” He could tell she was hiding something, something important. He carefully put the unconscious form of his beloved down and arose, walking over to Aeris in a clank of steel.
     “What’s going on?” Cloud asked the Ancient. Her eyes brimmed with tears,
     “Nothing, Cloud. Just hold me, I don’t have much longer.”
     “Don’t have much longer?” The confused youth asked. His ears heard a shattering sound from across the room. It was her staff; the last piece of Meteor that existed on the Planet- and it was slowly fading away!
     “AERIS!” Cloud cried, rushing to her. He wrapped his arms around her, her hair was in his face, but it didn’t matter. He understood what she had just done, the sacrifice that she had made. “Why?!” he asked of her, “Why did you do it? Sephiroth wasn’t worth your life! WHY?”
     “Because I love you.” The trembling woman said, running her slender fingers through his blood-matted hair. Her lovely face rose to kiss him one last time. Cloud didn’t resist her probing, he opened his mouth and let her soft tongue slip inside. He remembered what this had felt like, to hold her, to kiss her…to love her. Cloud was cheating and he knew it, but he didn’t care- Aeris had just given up everything for him. The effervescent moment ended abruptly. Aeris pulled away, their eyes meeting for the last time. For the first time since the Forgotten Capital, her emerald eyes were filled with radiance and life and love.
      “Promise you’ll never forget me, Cloud.” Aeris pleaded.
     “How could I ever for get you, Aeris? How could anyone?” He replied. The flower girl smiled, leaned forward to kiss him…and then shattered in his arms. The broken pieces got smaller and smaller as all that was Aeris fell to the floor- and was gone forever.
     Tifa’s vision was slowly coming back to her. Her eyes finally focused on the scene before her. Sephiroth was gone, and there was no sign of his evil sword. Aeris’ staff lay shattered on the floor…and Aeris was in Cloud’s arms. She was kissing him, and he didn’t even try to reject it! Just because you killed Sephiroth doesn’t mean you can cheat on me, Cloud! But then Tifa noticed something else, the staff on the ground was disappearing from existence, and her weapon felt lighter than usual. The Holy Materia was missing! She’s going to die now Tifa. Die for you and Cloud! Now don’t you feel like a bitch? She did, she responded to the voice in her head. Her moment of pain was short-lived; Aeris shattered in Cloud’s arms like a piece of glass being struck by a hammer. She watched her lover fall to his knees, rage and grief twisted into a face that seemed too young to feel so much pain. She forced herself to her knees, crawling to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her chin on his shoulder.
     Cloud started, afraid that Tifa had seen him with Aeris. He never would have told her, he didn’t trust that she’d forgive him, didn’t think that she loved him enough. Well maybe it’s time that you started trusting her, Cloud! His mind seemed to say, until he realized that he had said the words aloud.
     “About damn time.” Tifa said, her lips finding the nape of his neck and kissing it. Cloud’s embarrassment faded as he spoke,
     “I…I’m sorry Tifa. I couldn’t push her away- she gave up everything for me, for both of us. Or maybe…maybe that just helped me to see what was really there all along.”
     “You’re forgiven, Cloud. I know in my soul that even if Aeris has your mind, I have what’s important to me…your heart.”
     “You’re not missing much in the mind department, believe me…”
     “Stop it, Cloud. I won’t let you beat yourself up again.
     “You know what, Tifa?” Cloud inquired.
     “What?” The woman asked, not loosening her hold on him.
     “I love you.”
     “Cloud…” Their lips met in a passionate kiss as Cloud wrapped his arms around his beloved. Somehow, they had survived the madness. They were young and in love, and they vowed that nothing would ever come between them again. Cloud pulled away, if only for a moment,
     “Teef, shouldn’t we give Shera a Soft? Not to mention Cid and the others are still in that cave…” Tifa grinned,
     “Let’s save the world later. The only world I know is you, Cloud.” She kissed him fiercely, her eyes closing on everything but him. Their lips parted as Cloud’s mouth found the new scar on Tifa’s bosom and gently kissed it. His hands felt along her back for her bra clasp- and unlatched it. She kissed him again as he carefully undid the ribbon in her chestnut hair, allowing it to fall all around them. Tifa pulled ever closer to him, her words like honey on his lips,
     “Take me.”
     
     Aeris Gainsborough was back in the Lifestream again, the overwhelming green hurting her eyes as she struggled to adjust to it once again. Her mind was suddenly flooded with regrets, but her decision had already been made. Once again, she had died so that others could live, and once again, she wondered why she always had to do the right thing. She always tried to be sweet and innocent, but maybe that was shattered now by the harshness of reality. If she could still cry, she would be bawling right now, but there were no tears left. All she could do was laugh, and laugh, and laugh…
     “Aeris!” The old man’s voice called. Her laughter abruptly stopped as Bughenhagen floated over to congratulate her. “You stopped him, Aeris, you saved the world again!” Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie were there, smiling at her.
     “You did great, Aeris!” Biggs said, his dark eyes shining with admiration. Then Zack came, his voice filled with pride,
     “You saved him, Aeris. Don’t feel bad for what happened, it was my fault, I should have been able to control the sword.”
     Thank you Aeris, sweet Aeris, for saving us again. Now you can go off somewhere and die until there’s a need for you again. And all the while you’ll be smiling, and kind, the most selfless person in the world. We all love your innocence, Aeris. Don’t ever lose that part of yourself… But is that all you really are, the selfless heroine, a martyr? Don’t you have wants, and needs and loves too? Aren’t you human? I guess not, you’re an Ancient…
     “STOP IT!” The flower girl screamed at the top of her lungs. Her friends’ faces were filled with shock, but Aeris didn’t even see them. “I NEVER ASKED TO BE AN ANCIENT! I DON’T WANT TO BE THE STUPID HERO! I’M DEAD, DEAD! AND I NEVER EVEN GOT TO LIVE! I NEVER EVEN STARTED! WHAT THE HELL DID I EVER GET OUT OF THIS!” She began to sob; despite the fact that tears were not permitted within the green hell that she had reentered. “I want to go home…” She cried, falling to her knees in the emerald death that confined her to this place. To save a world not her own, one she barely even knew. But she would be strong. She forced herself to stand, drying her eyes of her pain. She turned to face Bughenhagen, fire in her emerald eyes.
     “Take me to Sephiroth.” The Ancient stated simply. The old man, the traveler of the Lifestream, slowly nodded. He didn’t know what was going on, but he could deny the girl nothing. The two of them disappeared, a flash of red on the green of death.
     Sephiroth was chained to the wall of a cave, deep within the holy stream of brimstone. He saw the old man and the flower girl enter his prison, and he began to laugh, that strange, strangled, maddening laugh the frightened the old man deep in his soul. What were they to do with this man, this creature born of hate and madness?
     “Welcome back to hell, Aeris.” Sephiroth said, pure hatred glowing in his eyes. He chortled, “So was he worth your life? Was it really worth it Aeris? Is he mourning you, grieving your loss? Is he pining for you now, Aeris? Look for yourself, child of light, he’s fucking another woman!” The monster began to laugh again, his maniacal and evil smile about to be wiped from his sinister face.
     Something inside of Aeris snapped. She had never felt like this before, rage was coursing through her body with the force of a tidal wave. She jumped forward, her delicate hands balled into ugly fists, her face twisted with anger. She lunged forward, slamming her fist into Sephiroth’s face, breaking his nose, teeth spilling from his mouth like pearls from a broken necklace. She struck him over and over again, finally ending her assault with a kick to the face. The force of the blow forced Sephiroth’s bound arms clean out of their sockets as the chains whined in protest. The Ancient spit in what was left of the bastard’s face as she kicked him in the groin. She tried to charge him again, but Bughenhagen put a withered hand on her shoulder. The Ancient just fell to her knees; her sobbing overcame her, the tears becoming all that she knew. Bughenhagen floated forward, a look of utter hatred upon his aged face.
     “You want Meteor, Sephiroth?” The old man asked, “Then I shall give it to you. Murderer of planets, stealer of souls, breaker of hearts, I’ll give you what you want! Here!”
     Black bars formed from nowhere, encompassing Sephiroth in his own private hell. He couldn’t control them; he had been stripped of the Black Materia. He was eternally trapped within a cell that he had created himself.
     “That’s right Sephiroth!” The old man continued, “Completely unbreakable without a weapon of the planet! Enjoy eternal punishment, Sephiroth!”
     Sephiroth screamed in rage only to find that the pair had vanished. There was nobody to torment, nobody to injure, and nobody to kill. His whole world had completely vanished. All he could do was watch the world from his prison as endless time unfolded before his evil eyes. Cloud. I can’t even torment the puppet anymore! He’s beaten me; they’ve all beaten me. But I can watch him suffer. He doesn’t need me to make him suffer, he brings it all on himself. But when Sephiroth’s evil eyes opened his to look into the world of the living, there was no torment to fill the hole in his empty chest. Barret and Yuffie were taking Marlene to see a play in the once-tattered city of Midgar. Red XIII and Cait Sith were betting on the Chocobo Races as the loud music of the casino drowned out their strangled cheering. Cid and Shera were holding hands on the deck of the Nicotine, gawking lovingly at the stars and at each other. Vincent and Lucrecia were in each other’s arms, correcting a mistake they had made so long ago. And Cloud and Tifa were sitting together on the well, staring into the each other’s eyes and renewing their promise as the stars twinkled above them. Their lips met lovingly in a kiss as a shooting star flashed through the sky.
     Sephiroth roared at the top of his lungs. Love had conquered all! He hated it, hated it with every fiber of his mangled being. Nobody had ever loved him- nobody had ever cared that he existed! He had been nothing but a tool, a tool for death and destruction. The madman saw the truth now- everything that he had pushed on Cloud, all the pain and rage that he had vented on the youth…his harsh words had really been directed at himself. It wasn’t the world that he hated, or the people on it, or even human emotion that he cursed so frequently. It was himself. You hate yourself, Sephiroth; it is your internal struggle that has caused all of this. You lashed out at everyone and everything and made them hate you too! You built your own prison; nailed your own coffin shut! You wanted to be the master of reality, but you couldn’t even rule over your own thoughts!
     “But I can change!” He screamed out loud. “I understand! I’ve found my way, I can change!” But there was nobody there to hear him. It was too late for Sephiroth. To his surprise, tears welled up from his once empty eyes- but it was too late. Inside his own mind he heard the sound of a heavy door shutting forever…and leaving him locked inside.
     
     

~FIN~


Log back onto Jessie's Computer