Author’s Note: This is my first serious fic I’ve written by myself. (Amazing I can write anything serious, after Roadtrip.) Thanks to Cait Sith for the insight on making the battle rooms, and for putting up with me as well. (This is dedicated to you, so you’d better appreciate it!) And now without further adieu…
Cloud Strife was standing in the church in the sector five slums of what was left of Midgar. An effervescent feeling came over him, and his reality was whisked away. The sweet scent of fresh flowers filled his nostrils. It was the intoxicating aroma of Mako Eyes and lavender. Aeris. Cloud became overcome with grief. Why her? Why did she have to die? Tears streamed uncontrollably in rivulets down his face. He caught his reflection in a pail of water. “You let her die, Cloud.” he growled at himself. He tore his sword from his back, slicing the bucket in two. “Arrgh!” he cried, whipping the sword violently about him. Wind raised from the ground and formed a violent tornado, ravaging the garden as his Finish Touch limit break came into play. Cloud the animal sneered angrily at himself, standing amidst his wrath of destruction, leaving the garden razed and devastated
He awoke in bed with his sheets soaking wet. He was unable to stifle the scream that came howling from his mouth. He silently cursed his subconscious for the hell it had put him through. Once again, he was ravaged by his own mind, and once again, he couldn’t forgive himself for what he had done and what he had failed to do
“Cloud!” Tifa cried from a couple rooms away. They had both been living in Kalm, in that old house where Marlene had been kept, since the destruction of Meteor. She leaped from her bed and bolted for Cloud’s room. “Cloud! Are you alright?”
“I’m o.k. Tifa.” He managed weakly, clutching his head in his hands. Tifa wrapped her slender arms around his trembling form and held him
“Cloud, what’s going on?” she wondered out loud. “Why do you do this to yourself?” He had lost consciousness and could not answer. Tifa gazed at his sleeping face, and realized how peaceful it was. Not twisted with rage and pain, or hatred, or the impassive mask he wore when he chose to hide what he was feeling from a world that didn’t understand him. His mind might be a shell, his soul tortured with guilt and shame, but she could see past all that. It mattered not to her that he never made it into SOLDIER, or that his past was a mystery filled with gaps and gaping holes. She loved Cloud for who he was, not who he had tried to be. She wished she could tell the warrior what was in her heart, sometimes she wanted to cry it out to him, for Bahamut’s sake. But for now she was content to take care of him when he needed her. Someday it would happen, she knew. Someday the fates would smile on her and Cloud would see how much he meant to her. She would find a way to fill the emptiness in his soul, to make him whole again. She smirked, “Stubborn bastard,” she said, kissing his forehead, “you wouldn’t know what was good for you if it jumped up and bit you in the ass.” She turned off the light she had frantically flipped on upon her entrance, turned back once, then quietly slipped into the night
On the other side of the world, Vincent Valentine stood at the gates of the Shinra Mansion which was once again his home. The cold air of the mountains of Nibel rushed through his long, black hair. He shouldered his gigantic Death Penalty as he walked toward the only store in Nibelhiem. Few people inhabited it now, the actors hired by Shinra had fled, but some people had made Nibelhiem their new home, despite the fact that it was all a hoax. Vincent entered the store in a gothic manner, his red cape flowing in a vampiristic rush of wind.
“Sure like to make an entrance, don’t you?” Cait Sith inquired, smirking. “You think you’re some kind of vigilante?” Vincent’s expressionless face did not amuse the cat. He searched for some reaction, but found that Vincent was like stone, more a marble statue than a man
“Why did you set up shop in Nibelhiem, anyway?” Vincent asked of the cat. Cait jumped on the back of his moogle which waddled over to Vincent.
“I just wanted a break from all the casinos and lights of the Gold Saucer. Sometimes you just have to get away from it all. It don’t get much more ‘away from it all’ then Nibelhiem, Vince. Of course, I could go camping, but that would suck ass! I mean, think about it! The bugs, the lack of food, dirt, animals keeping you up all night, and eventually I’d run out of Dr. Pepper and that would be THE END!” Cait Sith smiled, awaiting Vincent’s reaction, but of course, there was none
“You wanted to borrow my materia?” Vincent asked. Cait sighed,
“Yeah, I need to gain some levels so I can make some more money in the battle square.” It seemed the only place Cait could really do so. He couldn’t ride a chocobo, and if he entered the arcade, he would see Mog House, hear the music, and lose his sanity. Therefore, he needed to get stronger, and this seemed to him a good place to attain his goal. His earlier explanation had been a bit of a flop, and he waited for Vincent to make a fool of him, but the man only sighed and handed him his armlet and placed the materia from his gun in a sack.
“I’ll watch the store while you’re out,” Vincent said, although he didn’t think that anyone would buy items from Gold Saucer at the outrageous prices Cait charged. Maybe once the cat got more AP he could sell his hard-earned items cheaper. It still seemed ridiculous, however, to give the most powerful summon spell on the planet to a robotic cat riding on a magical stuffed moogle. “Oh, and Cait,” he said, revealing a hint of a smile, “have fun camping.”
Cait Sith and his moogle were quite a bit exhausted. They had battled monsters all day long, but had managed to gain 10 levels in the process. The moogle hopped briskly down Mt. Nibel, and Cait hoped they would be able to return to the town before nightfall. Unfortunately, the psychic cat had failed to predict the incoming rainstorm that formed quite out of nowhere above his head and rained down despair for any chance of reaching the town before nightfall. The robotic feline silently cursed rain and the outdoors in general as he set up a tent and went to sleep.
Cid Highwind breathed in the smell of machinery as his newest and greatest dream of aviation was becoming a reality. The warm-hearted old pilot had finally softened up it seemed, after his dream of flying the Shinra # 26 into space. He had found more than just a dream in the starlit sky, however, much more. He had finally admitted- first to himself, and then to her- his feelings for Shera. She had saved his life on the rocket, and he felt as though he owed her his life. What was more, he now wanted to live his life for her. Cid had asked Shera to marry him, and to his great surprise after everything he had put her through she had agreed. Now the Captain’s house was a place of happiness and love rather than a place of broken dreams. Cid had seen what a fool he’d been in the past, what a damn fool. Shera wasn’t a maid; she was a princess. So Cid had thought ‘every princess deserves a castle’ and had begun planning the work of art that stood, or rather, floated before him now. Twenty times the size of the Highwind and capable of floating anywhere on the globe, Cid’s new floating castle was the place he and Shera would raise their children together. It had runways so smaller planes could land on it, and it even had a docking bay for the Highwind. Cid’s new creation would put him within reach of all of his friends and keep him within reach of his family as well.
“#$^#^!” He said, lighting a cigarette, “this time Cid, you just may have gone too far!” He looked at the magnificent spires of the new airship, and marveled at just how close it was to being a castle. “King Cid,” he thought wistfully as he took a drag off his cigarette. “I could get used to this.”
Cait Sith was drenched. He awoke soaking wet, his tent torn apart and ransacked as he slept.
“Damn!” He cursed, looking for his HP Shout. He found it, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then his face turned ashen. “Gone!” He cried. Half the materia in Cait’s inventory was missing! He searched his armlet, Vincent’s armlet, and his inventory to see what was gone. No, not gone, stolen! Somebody had stolen Knights of The Round, Ultima, Final Attack, Life, several HP pluses, and pretty much every other materia he had in his possession worth taking. Cait saw a red orb and a ray of hope rushed through him. Then he realized that the summon materia was Choco/Mog. “Perfect, just perfect!” the cat remarked, “Vincent’s gonna kill me! I’ll be guitar strings when he finds out about this!”
Cloud awoke for the second time and let out a long yawn. Tifa entered the room, carrying a tray of her famous waffles and Uribo bacon. She set the tray down with a smile and sat down gracefully in the chair next to his bed.
“How are you feeling, Cloud?” she inquired of him. Cloud shrugged his shoulders.
“It was just a nightmare, Tifa. Really, I’m o.k.” Tifa took one look at him and knew that wasn’t true. He was hiding something, something that was tearing him apart from the inside out. Why couldn’t he just tell her? Why did he have to hide behind his mask of pride and refuse any help she could be to him? Pushing her thoughts aside, she managed to smile,
“I made you breakfast,” she said warmly.
“I’m not hungry,” Cloud stated. He got out of bed and headed for the shower. He needed time to think, time to be alone. Tifa’s eyes brimmed with tears. Why was he being so cold? WHY?
“Let him be, Tifa,” she thought to herself, “let him go and beat himself up some more over something he won’t even mention. Let him crawl inside a false place where the only person he’s hurting is himself. Let him be the master of his own illusionary world.”
The hot water spitting out of the faucet gave Cloud a temporary haven to the thoughts that were plaguing his mind. Tifa worried about him too much. He was fine, and he could take care of himself. He wrapped a towel around his dripping body and walked over to the mirror. Taking a comb in one hand and a bottle of hairspray in the other, he went about his daily regimen of spiking his light blonde hair. He quickly dressed and brushed his teeth. He walked toward the door and opened it, only to find Tifa standing at the door with her hands planted firmly on her hips.
“We need to talk.” She said simply. Cloud stammered,
The shrill ringing of the PHS phone silenced anything he might have said. Cloud answered the phone more to stop the ringing than to talk to whoever could be calling. To his great surprise, it was Vincent.
“Cloud,” the dark man said, “you’d better get down to Nibelhiem. We’ve got a bit of a problem.”
Cloud stood outside the gates of Nibelhiem and a chill ran through his bones. No matter how many times he saw the illusion it still surprised him. The memory of Sephiroth burning his town to ashes, and worse, the memory that Zack, not he, was the member of SOLDIER first class. The warrior hung his head in shame, thinking about all that he had lost since that time, and what precious little he had gained, only to be ripped away from him.
“Come on, Cloud!” Tifa exclaimed. She didn’t like seeing him like this. Although she understood where Cloud was coming from, she wished he could just be strong and leave the past in the past. She took Cloud’s hand and practically dragged him through the gates and into the town. Tifa looked at the Shinra’s illusion of their hometown and shuddered. The company had known absolutely everything and exactly how to duplicate it. That was what scared her. Thank God that Reeve owned the corporation now. They followed the street to the Shinra Mansion, the only building that hadn’t been burned down in the fire of nearly seven years ago. Vincent and Cait stood outside, obviously the situation was dire.
“Cloud!” Cait said, shaking nervously, “We’re in trouble! Somebody’s stolen our materia!” The pair earnestly explained to Cloud what had happened to Cait the night before.
“So somebody’s running around with a mastered Knights of the Round?” Tifa inquired.
“Unfortunately,” Vincent said, “Cait was unable to identify the perpetrator.”
“Damn!” Cloud said angrily. “We’ll have to search the mountain for the thief.” He split the group into two parties; Vincent and Tifa were to search the caves, while he and Cait took off for the reactor. They would find the one who had done this.
Cait Sith and his moogle followed Cloud along the seemingly endless path to the Mako reactor of Mt. Nibel. Cloud seemed preoccupied to the cat, preoccupied and even angry. What was going on inside his mind? It wasn’t odd, he thought, for Cloud to be like this, but he had a feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. They passed through an old door and came upon the back of the reactor, obviously the shortest path. Entering from the stairwell, they climbed the intricate path through the reactor to that fateful room where Cloud’s nightmare had begun. Cloud stopped suddenly, took a deep breath, and barged through the door, sword drawn. Nothing.
“I don’t know why I expected anybody to be here,” Cloud stated. He walked up the stairs to make sure he was wrong, and opened the door to where Jenova was stored before Sephiroth’s rampage of death and destruction. He was quickly overwhelmed with a flood of memories that came rushing through his mind. He fell to his knees, head in his hands, and trembled uncontrollably. Sephiroth. He couldn’t stand it! His mother, his town, everything taken from him flashed through his brain with unbelievable clarity. Why couldn’t he stop him before it was too late? “Because you are a puppet, Cloud. A heartless, soulless puppet whose only purpose in life is to be a failure, just like Hojo and Sephiroth had said.”
“DAMN IT!” Cloud screamed, rising to his feet and charging at the remains of the canister that had held Jenova. Swing after swing of his sword destroyed any machinery that had ever been a part of the storage room. He hated Jenova with every fiber of his being, and the cruel twist was that it was a part of him. He stood there, gasping for breath, fuming.
“Cloud get a grip!” Cait yelled to his friend. He hopped off his moogle and put a gloved paw on Cloud’s shoulder, trying to comfort his companion. “There’s nothing here, let’s just go.” Cloud slowly nodded and they walked towards the door when a gleaming buster sword ripped through the air and stuck in the wall inches away from Cloud’s head.
Emerging from the darkness was a man Cloud hadn’t seen in years, yet had seen every time he had looked in the mirror. It was the same face, he knew, except for the black hair and green eyes.
“Zack.” Cloud stammered, “You’re alive! Why did you attack us? What’s going on?” The man who had been Cloud’s friend had murder in his eyes.
“What’s going on, Cloud? You’ll find out soon enough. But for now, know that I am here to make you suffer as I have suffered since you left me for dead.”
“Zack, what are you talking about?” Cloud inquired. “How are you here? Why are you...” He stammered as Zack withdrew a wickedly forged black sword. Cloud stood there in shock, his face paling at the shape of the blade. The sword surged with something, something dark. Something evil. “Where did you get that?” He gasped.
“This sword was forged from the rock of the meteor you and your friends destroyed, and I assure you that the blade wants revenge just as badly as I do. But first, I want to see you suffer, Cloud, and I’m not the only one. Until we meet again!” he said, sheathing the blade and disappearing in a flash of shimmering light, leaving Cloud and Cait dumbfounded.
“Well,” Cait said half-heartedly, “at least we know what happened to my Escape Materia.”
Vincent followed Tifa through the Mako-colored caves of Mt. Nibel, looking for the one who had taken his materia. Although he refused to show it, he was fuming with anger. Whoever the thief was, they were obviously up to no good. They would have to be found and punished for their crime.
“Vincent!” Tifa screamed in horror, as a monstrous green insect with slimy wings and piercing fangs attacked her. Vincent twirled his gun and blew the monster’s head off with one swift stroke. “Thanks,” she sheepishly replied. The dark man only nodded as they walked on, searching. They came upon a cave half-buried under rock. The dust had freshly settled, as if the cave had recently been sealed off. Tifa motioned to Vincent,
“Stand back,” the woman said. A green orb in her glove glowed brightly, “Ultima!” The fiery green glow emanated the cave, blasting the newly fallen rock to oblivion. A gaping hole was that led deeper into the mountain was the result of her efforts.
“After you,” Vincent said the faintest of smiles playing upon his otherwise impassive face. They trudged farther on, deeper into the mountain.
“I’ve never been here,” Tifa said, “I thought I knew every inch of these caverns.” Vincent shrugged as they walked on, finding that the narrow path widened into a huge cavern with scientific machinery and glowing tubes lining the walls.
“It seems that Hojo has been here,” Vincent said, his red eyes filled with hate. Tifa only nodded,
“It seems vacant now,” she said reassuringly, only to find that she was dreadfully wrong. Standing in the middle of the room was a person both of them had saw die at the hands of Sephiroth. Her green eyes were filled with nothingness, icy indifference to those that she was seeing. For the first time since Hojo had altered him, Vincent’s face was filled with shock and surprise,
Cid plopped down in his favorite chair with a steaming cup of tea and smiled at the love of his life. Shera sat down quietly and returned his loving gaze. The were both exhausted, but their efforts were not in vain. They had all but completed their new floating home. Cid lit a cigarette and grinned from ear to ear,
“So what shall we call it?” he inquired of Shera.
“I think we should call it ‘The Nicotine’.” She joked; smirking at the burning chemicals Cid inhaled all too often.
“Sadly, I don’t think you’ll have the pleasure of christening your new ship,” an unfamiliar voice said. Cid gawked in awe at how the man could enter his house undetected. He was wearing the garments that Cloud usually wore, and strangely enough, resembled Cloud in almost every respect, except his hair was black and his eyes were as green as Sephiroth’s.
“Listen you $%^$!” Cid retorted, “Where do you get off coming into my house and threatening me? Do you know who I am? I’m Cid! That’s who the hell I am!”
Zack unsheathed his black sword and before Cid could even move, ran him through with it.
“The name is Zack,” he said matter-of-factly, “Pleased to meet you.” He ran out of the house and Shera ran for Cid’s Fullcure Materia.
“Cid!” she pleaded earnestly, “Hang in there!” She cast the spell and the gaping hole in Cid’s chest was replaced with new flesh. She wrapped her arms around him, crying with relief, as it surely would have been his death had she not gotten the materia quickly.
“That’s two I owe you,” Cid said gratefully.
“Damn!” Shera said, looking out the window, “Cid! Look!” The brand new airship was rising from where it had rested at an incredible rate.
“Shit!” Cid exclaimed, running out the door, “That #$%^ is stealing our new ship!”
They ran as quickly as their legs would carry them after the ship, but it was climbing too far, too fast. Zack had stolen their new dream. Cid buried his head in his hands, and Shera stroked the back of his neck lovingly.
“It’s o.k. Cid.” She said, “at least we’ve still got the Highwind.”
“The Highwind!” Cid started. The Highwind could catch up with him, and he could use it to get his new ship back. Then he remember the pain of that blade in his chest, how quickly he had been beaten and how powerless he was against Zack. He would get his ship castle back, oh yes, but he would need some help first. The kind of help only another sword toting ex-SOLDIER could provide. He scrambled for the PHS to call Cloud.
Tifa could not believe what she was seeing. Aeris was alive, standing before her, without a hint of the wounds that Sephiroth had inflicted upon her.
“Aeris, you’re alive!” Tifa gasped. Aeris grinned,
“Yeah Tifa, I’m alright.” Aeris said, “Do you know where Cloud is?”
“We’re chasing somebody who’s stolen Vincent and Cait Sith’s materia.”
“Maybe I could help? Take me to Cloud.” Tifa nodded and they started along the path to the reactor. Vincent could not shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. He needed to know what: right now he just dismissed it as his own insecurities. He snatched the PHS from inside his cloak and called Cloud.
Back at the reactor, Cait Sith was losing his mind! Cloud was freaking out, Zack was alive and now their enemy, his materia was missing, he wanted a Dr. Pepper, and the damn PHS was ringing off the hook.
“What the hell do you want?” Cait Sith screamed into the PHS. He was met with Cid’s gruff voice on the other end.
“Dammit Kaitty, get me Cloud! That @#%& Zack is alive and he stole my @#$%in’ ship!”
“Cloud’s a little… unreachable at the moment,” Cait replied, “We know about Zack, he just attacked us with this wicked looking sword! Get a hold of Red XIII, Yuffie, and Barret and meet up with us at Nibelhiem. And bring the Highwind!”
“Yes sir,” Cid said, wondering when Cait Sith had acquired a sense of responsibility. “Rocket Town out.”
Cait reflected for a moment, then turned to Cloud who seemed to be frozen in time. He just stood there with no expression on his face, staring into nothingness.
“Cloud!” The cat said, “We’d better get back to…” Then the godforsaken PHS started ringing again. Cait picked it up “Now what?” he snapped angrily. Vincent’s voice sounded surprised on the other line.
“Stay there, we’ve found something, and we’re coming to you.”
“YOU found something!” Cait screamed, “Zack is freakin’ alive! He attacked us and stole Cid’s new airship! He’s the jerk who stole our materia! He’s got this evil black sword that was forged from the metal of Meteor! He swore up and down that’s he’s gonna kill Cloud!”
“Aeris is alive.” Vincent said simply. He was met with silence on the other line as Cait’s circuits overloaded and he passed out.
Cloud met the face that haunted his dreams outside of the reactor. Her green eyes sparkled in the fading light, yet Aeris could not meet his gaze. Cloud couldn’t believe his eyes, here she was before him, seemingly untouched by time, and he couldn’t think of a single word to say to her. All the nightmares, the guilt, the pain, the love, the hate, all of it for her, yet he remained silent. Aeris spoke,
“Cloud, you…it’s good to see you again, Cloud.”
“Aeris, I… is it really you?” The man stammered.
“Yes,” the flower girl replied, “I don’t know how, but somehow I’m still here.”
“Maybe we should get moving,” Tifa interrupted, “Cid and the others will be waiting for us.” Cloud stood there in silence for a moment as if something had possesed him, then slowly nodded his head.
“Yeah…” He said. Cait shot Tifa a knowing look, and the five began the trek through the mountain back to Nibelhiem.
“Cloud,” Aeris said, shaking her head, “You just…you just stood there. You saw him coming and you couldn’t save me…” her gorgeous green eyes brimmed with tears, “You wouldn’t save me. My love, my Cloud, was nothing more than a puppet…” Cloud dipped his head in shame, and guilt ran through his body like the blood in his veins.
“Aeris…I…I’m sorry.” He managed weakly, “I wasn’t strong enough, I’m a failure just like Hojo said.”
“You were strong enough,” Aeris countered, “you were in SOLDIER. You just didn’t care then, Cloud, didn’t care about anybody but yourself.” Cloud looked to Tifa, Cait, Vincent; anybody for support but none would give it
“Aeris, forgive me.” Cloud pleaded with her. She would not meet his gaze and she would not forgive. Watching her, alive and well, and hating him, someone who she loved, was like dying a thousand deaths over and over again. He needed to be loved because he hated himself; he needed to be forgiven because he could forgive himself. What was he to do now?
“Aeris, I love you.” He whispered to her. Her emerald eyes turned and faced him, and for the first time since the Forgotten Capital, she looked into his Mako blue eyes.
“It’s too late for that, Cloud. It’s over.”
“If you love someone, it’s never too late,” He said, almost desperately.
“I don’t love you anymore.” She said coldly, “And after everything that’s happened I don’t think I ever will again.” Cloud stopped talking, tears streaming from his eyes. He was lost without her, and seeing this was like losing her all over again. They made their way down the last stretch of the mountain path in silence to where Cid and the others were waiting.
Cid saw them all coming, Tifa, Vincent, Cait, Cloud, and…Aeris?
“Hot damn!” The old pilot cursed, “She’s alive!”
“What?” Red XIII inquired, but he could see her too. He came running towards them, with everyone else in hot pursuit. They all ran over to Aeris, touching her, talking with her, asking if she was alright, and what had happened. Barret noticed that Cloud looked like he was dying inside. Surely Cloud had missed her more than any of them, yet Barret had never seen his friend so sad, not even when Aeris had died at the hands of Sephiroth.
“Yo, Cloud!” The big man asked, “What’s up? You look like you just been shot by some damn foo’ Shinra! You awright?” Cloud bowed his head in shame,
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he replied. Barret searched his face, only to be met by Cloud’s angry, piercing eyes. “Just leave me alone.”
Cid stood in the middle of the group, ready to take charge in any way necessary.
“We need to mount a counter-offensive.” The pilot said. “Zack’s got my ship and I want it back.” Aeris started,
“Zack,” she said, “Zack is alive? Where?” Cloud’s face paled at her words. It couldn’t be…
“In my damn airship! Where else!” Cid hollered. Aeris addressed the group,
“Zack…he’s alive. I’m going to find him. I have to see him again.” Cait started,
“Whoa! Zack is our enemy now, Aeris! He’s totally lost his mind!” Aeris shot Cloud a spiteful glance,
“I’m sure he’s more upstairs than somebody around here. I’m going to find Zack, and Cloud, don’t you dare try to stop me. I leave you here as a friend, but the next time we meet…” She didn’t finish her sentence, didn’t have to. She wasn’t just betraying Cloud; she was betraying them all, yet nobody made a move to stop her. She left without another word as night fell upon the world, and nightmare fell upon the heart of a man named Cloud Strife.
AVALANCHE set up shop in Vincent’s mansion, preparing to make absolute war on Zack and his stolen fortress. They were taking great care to equip themselves as necessary, since Zack surely had henchmen, not to mention half their materia and Aeris at his side. For the most part, everyone had accepted Aeris’ decision to leave the group. One person, however, took it very badly.
Cloud was an absolute mess. He refused to eat, sleep, or say a single word to any member of the group. Cid had tried talking to him, Cait and Red had tried talking to him, hell, even Yuffie had tried talking to him, but he showed no sign of moving except for the shallow breathing that let everyone know he was still alive. Tifa kicked everyone else out of his room, and slowly sat in the chair next to his inept form.
“It’s her that’s been killing you for so long, isn’t it?” She asked bluntly.
“Why, Tifa? Why is she doing this to me?” He spoke, for the first time in what had seemed like an eternity. “Why can’t things just go back to the way they were? Why?”
“Cloud,” Tifa said gently, “It’s time to move on, it has been for a long time. If she won’t forgive you, then forgive yourself.”
“I’m NOTHING without her.” He said, “nobody else will ever find it in their heart to love a monster like me.”
“Cloud that’s not true!” She shot back.
“I’m a puppet! A failure! I lost the best thing that ever happened to me and I’ll NEVER get it back because I’m too weak, too pathetic to deserve to be loved!”
“Stop it Cloud!” Tifa cried, “Stop doing this to yourself! You’re not the only one you’re hurting!”
“Nobody gives a damn about me,” he said plainly. Tifa shouted, almost screamed,
“DON’T YOU GET IT? Don’t you see? I care! I love you, Cloud Strife! I’ve always loved you! I want to be with you and I want to share this world we’ve saved with you! I love you!” She collapsed in his arms, breathing heavily, her dark hair covering his broad shoulders as she pressed ever closer to him, trembling.
“Tifa…” He said, and his voice trailed off. He just held her, and she held him, and the whole world melted away, and for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, Cloud slept soundly that night. The strike against Zack began at dawn.
Cid had slept little, yet he and Red XIII were preparing the Highwind for the upcoming battle. They were taking the fight straight to Zack’s stolen flying fortress. Red was helping Cid as they rigged extra cannons and missile launchers into the deck and fuselage of the ship.
“That @%&& is gonna get it!” A determined Cid said, “I want my Nicotine back!” Red frowned for a moment, clearly puzzled,
“He stole your cigarettes, too?” the beast asked. That was surely punishable by death.
“No,” the other said. A smile spread across his face as he mused for a moment. “Shera called it ‘The Nicotine’. Sounds stupid, but I like it.” He thought for a moment, then broke the silence that his contemplation had created. “Red, if I die tomorrow…” Red shook his head,
“You won’t die, Cid. The fiery red beast said with determination, “You’ll be able to see Shera again, I promise you that.” Cid nodded,
“Well, I guess I better get ready to lead this thing…”
“Fat chance, Cid!” Cait Sith shouted, riding his moogle out toward the ship.
“What do you know about leading an assault, Kaitty?” Cid asked.
“Not a damn thing, and don’t call me Kaitty, Cid. I never said I was leading this thing…” Cloud walked out of the Shinra mansion, buster sword in hand, with the Ultima Weapon strapped to his back. His eyes had a piercing gaze that Cid thought should he look him in the eye he would be blinded for the rest of his life. Red XIII asked,
“Cloud, are you alright? Do you really want to fight against Aeris?”
“Aeris is dead.” Cloud said, “And so is Zack. Whoever these people are, they aren’t the people that we have known in the past.” Vincent started, and almost corrected Cloud, but Tifa’s pleading glance kept the dark man silent. Perhaps it was better if Cloud thought of them that way. “These people mock the existence of our friends,” Cloud continued, “and we must make them pay for it. Friends, let’s take back what’s been taken from us, but more importantly, let’s take back our pride!” Cheers erupted as the group raised their Final Weapons in the air. Cloud took the buster sword-Zack’s buster sword- and snapped it in half over his armored knee. The group was excited to see Cloud acting like a leader again. THEIR LEADER WAS BACK.
“I feel as if we must take vengeance!” Vincent said, his dark eyes showing determination and strength.
“It’s on now, FOO’S!” Barret exclaimed, his Missing Score glistening in the early morning light.
“We’ve got Zack on radar,” Cait announced to the would-be combatants.
“Alright everyone,” Cloud said, his voice in a commanding tone, “Let’s Mosey!”
“Damn! Again!” Cid exclaimed, “Stop saying it like a wimp! Can’t you say ‘Move Out’ or something?”
“Move Out!” Cloud yelled, and everyone jumped aboard the Highwind as it took to the skies once again. It would not be long now.
Zack and Aeris stood on one of the many decks of the Nicotine. Zack was dressed in his SOLDIER garments, with the exception of the long black cape that adorned his shoulders and the huge armlet that he wore which allowed the wearer to equip twice the amount of materia as the Wizard Bracelet did. Aeris was decked out in full body armor; her Princess Guard traded in for a twisted, wicked black sorcerer’s staff.
“He’s coming.” Zack said. Aeris put a hand on his shoulder.
“I won’t let him hurt you,” the flower girl said. Zack laughed,
“Cloud? Hurt me? Not so long as I posses THIS!” Zack drew his monstrous sword, which glimmered with evil power. “I will destroy him and take back everything he has taken from me!”
“You’ve got a good start,” Aeris said, “You got me back.” She kissed him fiercely, her emerald eyes closing in the sanctity of the moment, which, like everything else, was about to be shattered.
“YEEEEAAAAAHAAAW!!!!” Cid cried, firing a barrage of missiles from every weapon he had mounted on the Highwind. Zack and Aeris hit the deck as the flaming projectiles almost took their heads off. More missiles darted around the flying fortress. The battle had begun.
The Highwind rushed around the other end of the fortress in a blast of air. Unfortunately for AVALANCHE, Zack had hired hundreds of mercenaries using the gil he had acquired from stealing Vincent and Cait’s mastered sense materia and selling them. It seemed a good venture for him, as the mercenaries were parachuting onto the Highwind. Some carried guns, blasting a barrage of bullets into the hull of the airship. Cid had a novel idea,
“Shoot their $%^&in’ parachutes!” the pilot screamed over the roar of bullets flying and elemental spells being cast.
“Take this, SUCKAS!” Barret roared, using his Missing Score to take out scores of paratroopers at a time. The ones that got by him were shot by Vincent- with his monstrous Death Penalty.
The Highwind moved quickly with Cid at the helm; he dodged passing missiles from the Nicotine with astonishing agility. Cloud and most of the others were on the deck slaughtering mercenaries and traitor SOLDIERS, while Cait Sith manned the machine guns and missile launchers. Yuffie was in the back puking her brains out, of course. Cid angled the Highwind carefully,
“This ride’s about over!” the old pilot shouted as Cait blasted the docking bay doors open and the Highwind docked with the flying fortress. The team outside waited for Cid and the others to catch up and together they boarded the Nicotine. Cloud led the way deep into the ship.
“Let’s do this!” He shouted, his Mako blue eyes filled with anger and excitement. “Cait and Tifa, you’re with me. The rest of you show these mercenaries and SOLDIER traitors a taste of what AVALANCHE can do!” Cloud’s team took off running, pressing even deeper within the depths of the fortress. Cloud felt a strange calling within his brain, no, his Jenova cells. ‘Come to me, puppet.’ It seemed to say to him. Cloud shouted at no one in particular,
“I’ll come alright you bastard!” Tifa and Cait looked at him questioningly, but it was soon forgotten as they pressed on. They came upon a group of mercenaries who were still in the ship. Cloud stepped back and gutted one with his massive sword, while Tifa sprang forward and kicked another in the face with her steel tipped boots. Cait took two out with a massive Fire spell, while Cloud jumped high into the air.
“Meteorain!” He screamed, causing hundreds of comets to fall from his massive sword, killing the rest of the enemies. “First Class.” He muttered. “We must be close.” Tifa looked ahead and saw that the hallway split into three parts in from of them.
“Perfect.” The slender woman said sarcastically. The three halls were marked, ‘Cloud’, ‘Tifa’, and ‘Cait Sith’.
“I must be getting predictable in my old age,” Cloud said, grinning. Then the moment of humor had passed. “If either of you find Zack before I do…”
“Then we’ll bring you his head!” Cait Sith exclaimed. Tifa nodded only nodded. What choice did they have?
Tifa watched Cloud and Cait as they entered into Zack’s little ruse. There was always a bit of cheese in every rattrap, she knew. She only hoped that Cloud could defeat his former adversary. She gave Cloud a knowing look, and then she took off down her ‘designated hall.’
“Good luck, Cloud.” Cait said as his moogle carried him to his portion of Zack’s sadistic game.
“Zack.” Cloud thought to himself, “Traitor. It’s time to settle the score.”
Cait Sith entered one of the many useless rooms in Zack's flying fortress. "What the....", he whispered to himself as he saw the interior of the room. It was large and oval-shaped. The fact that it was completely empty wasn't the first thing one would notice about this room. The color scheme would cause even the toughest SOLDIER 1st class to feel queasy! The walls were day glow orange. This was painted over with bright, pink stars, and (it gets worse) lavender stripes. The floor was painted the most disgusting shade of green even know to man, or any other specie for that matter. The entire thing was finished off with a neon-colored rainbow on the roof.
"This has to be the most horrifying room I've ever walked in!” the cat exclaimed, trying hard to keep from retching. "The mural room in the Cetra Shrine ain't got nothin' on THIS!"
"You like it?” Zack jokingly asked as he entered through the huge, wrought iron door. "It really wasn't my choice, but my associate insisted."
All of a sudden, a giant black cat that looked remarkably like Cait walked in and stood behind Zack. This cat was as big as Cait's own moogle, if not bigger! On it's back was something Cait Sith could not believe.
"A moogle?” Cait asked.
Then the moogle talked, in a voice somewhat similar to Cait's. "Not just a moogle, THE moogle.” It answered, in an extremely cocky manner. "Allow me to introduce myself, I am Kupo Saith. I was created by Zack to be his aide, kinda help him with, well... this and that."
"Now, Kaitty,” Zack mocked him, "I want you to keep my friend here entertained. He's been so lonely, I thought he could use some company! Now play nice!"
"Not so fast, Zachery!” Cait mocked him back; "I've got a score to settle with you, on account of what you did to Aeris!"
"Sorry, but I've got bigger fish... Or should I say smaller minnows to fry!”
“Leave my friend alone you coward!” Cait said, “Hasn’t he suffered enough?”
“He will NEVER suffer enough, cat. So long as you are his friend, you will suffer too, and all because of him. Of course, you could betray him, join forces with me. You betrayed him once already.”
“And I’ll do it again,” Cait said, “OVER MY DEAD BODY!”
“That’s the idea, cat!” With that, he left, laughing hysterically and slamming the iron door behind him.
"Okay,” Kupo interjected, "Time for us to rumble!" Kupo pulled out a megaphone, much like Cait's, but twisted and evil. Our hero pulled out his HP Shout and prepared for the challenge of his life. "Here comes trouble!” the moogle said as he charged Cait.
"Trouble?” the cat responded, "All I see is you." He decided now was a good time to see if his materia still worked, as he hadn't used it in what seemed like ages. "TORNADO!” he yelled out, as his Contain materia glow a bright green. Out of nowhere, as huge whirlwind appeared, and caught Kupo in its destructive power. It spun him dizzy, then pounded him hard against the floor. It soon dissipated, leaving Cait to laugh over his moogle nemesis.
"You think that was funny?” Kupo asked as he pulled himself to his feet. "Well, have I got the punch line for you!" He summoned up strength through his Enemy Skill materia as he cried out "GOBLIN PUNCH!" With that he proceeded to uppercut his enemy until he hit the ceiling, then came crashing to the floor.
"Is that the best you can do, Saith?” he asked, "'Cause that was pathetic!"
"Try this on for size!” Kupo's anger was welling up. He didn't want to disappoint his creator, or his nemesis, either. "BOLT 3!" The ominous glow of the Lightning materia made the room light up like the Fourth of July. From out of nowhere, chains of lightning bolts struck the hapless Cait as he struggled to maintain control. As the bolts stopped raining on him, he collapsed on the floor.
"You can't... win... Kupo...” he struggled to say, "I've got... a mastered... Final Attack..." He searched his m-phone, but couldn't seem to locate the desired orb.
"Ah! You mean this?” Kupo smiled evilly as he held up the light blue sphere. "Good thing I've got the Steal As Well materia, eh, Cait?" Kupo began to laugh maniacally. "No cheating in my room!” as he said this, he tossed the materia into a previously unmentioned wastebasket.
"D-d-d-d-d-d-damn!” the cat cursed as his faithful friend put him back atop its head. "FULL CURE!” Cait yelled as a glowing circle appeared beneath his feet. Cait felt the warmth of a thousand suns rush through him as the holy beam found it's way through his tattered circuits, restoring them back to their former glory.
"I HATE you!” the moogle cursed as he witnessed Cait being restored. "But I've got just the thing for that...." Kupo was interrupted by a shout from Cait to his moogle. The moogle ran forward, and knocked Kupo across the room and into a wall.
"You can't get the better of ol' Cait!", he sounded out as Kupo's cat lifted him off the floor. "But... here goes nothin'!" He checked his armlet quickly; to be sure that nothing else was missing. "MANIPULATE!"
"That'll never work!” Kupo said as both Cait's Master Command materia and Hypno Crown started to give off a faint, yellow glow. Without warning, Kupo's giant cat went haywire. "WHAT THE SAM HELL?" The cat grabbed its rider and began to slam him headfirst into the floor. As this was happening, Cait and his moogle sat back and enjoyed another meaningless conversation, seeing as the moogle can't speak.
Meanwhile, the cat was pummeling Kupo like no one's business. It picked Kupo up, and held his limp form above its head. As Kupo regained consciousness, so did his cat. It returned to its senses and placed the moogle back on its head. "YOU BASTARD!” the moogle swore, "I'll teach you a lesson or two!" Kupo shook his head to regain all his senses. "HASTE!” he screamed, causing his Time materia to sparkle. With that, a giant clock caused time space to speed up for him, causing him to move at great speed.
"Uh oh....", Cait was worried.
"COMET 2!” was Kupo's response. The Comet materia shined brightly as comets fell from the heavens and smashed into Cait. As soon as this attack ended, Kupo was ready for his next one. "FREEZE!” Kupo yelled out, causing the temperature to lower. The Contain materia flashed violently in Kupo's Dark M-phone. The magical orb caused ice to form on Cait's feet, freezing him and his moogle companion to the floor.
"S**T!” was the surprising answer from our hero, as he NEVER swore.
"And more to come!” Kupo's words traveled quickly as he was still under Haste's power. "ULTIMA... X4!" The Ultima and Quadra-Magic materia orbs flashed together, in a sequence of blue and green. Cait saw no means of escape from Ultima's deadly force, seeing as it enveloped all but it's caster. Matters were worse; he was frozen in his tracks. The first of the mysterious, green clouds hit him with all it's fury, melting the ice. The second blast caused him and his life-long chum the fly in opposite directions, sparing the moogle from the onslaught. The third and fourth spells blasted Cait with the fury of hell, and left him broken upon the floor.
"I knew you were no challenge, LOSER!” Kupo mocked him, as he and his wicked henchman pranced about. But the cat wasn't beaten, far from it. It's fortunate that the moogle was spared from the last two spells, as he was in better shape then his dying friend. Holding tightly to Cait's W-Item materia, he threw both an Elixir and a Remedy into the air, the former for Cait, and the latter for Kupo. Cait rose to his feet as Kupo slowed to a normal speed.
"This cannot be!” Kupo exclaimed, as he kicked his cat's head to stop its silly dance.
"It can, and it is!” Cait yelled out, holding high a red materia orb.
"Not that!” Kupo screamed, expecting the ultimate end.
"Yes, THAT! FAT CHOCOBO!” Cait screamed, causing the summons spinning lights to fly around his form. Kupo began to laugh as Cait and his best friend disappeared. But Kupo's laughing ceased when the five-ton bird smashed his circuits flat, beyond any hope of repair. Cait Sith's moogle buddy ran toward him as he opened his arms. Cait had won! He and the moogle shared a friendly embrace, as Cait told his companion, "If it weren't for you, I'd be lost. Now, come on pal, let's go and see if Cloud needs us." Cait reclaimed his Final Attack materia as he left with his partner.
Cloud found Zack out on the deck of one of the many spires of his floating castle. There was pure murder in his Mako blue eyes. He unsheathed his Ultima Weapon from his back, and brought the glistening blade forward.
“Zack.” He said dangerously, “Your time has come. It’s over.” Zack turned towards Cloud and drew his monstrous black sword. The wicked weapon shined evilly in the fading light.
“No, Cloud, YOUR time has come.” Cloud searched for a thread of the man who had been his friend but could find nothing. His humanity was totally gone. “I was always better, Cloud, and I always will be.”
“Damn you to hell!” Cloud cried, swinging his blade at him. Zack parried and the blade stuck into the floor. Cloud labored to pull it out as Zack thrust his sword into Cloud’s shoulder, slicing through armor, flesh, and bone. With a cry of rage and pain Cloud ripped his sword from the floor and thrust it upward at Zack, knocking his demonic black sword from his hands. Cloud decked Zack, knocking him to the steel floor. Zack rose from the ground, wiping blood from his chin and retrieving his sword. He snarled as a red materia from his armlet glowed with ferocity,
Cloud felt cold as he descended into a gaping hole in the ground. The burning smell of Esper overwhelmed him as a Knight of the Round Table sliced him mercilessly with his sword. Another knight came; twirling his staff and smashing Cloud over the head with it, then a third, tossing all the blazing fires of hell from his staff. Scorched and bleeding, Cloud managed to rise to his feet and take hold of his sword that was floating in the nothingness around him. The next Knight raised his sword, sparks flying, but Cloud cleaved his sword in two and ran him through with his Ultima Weapon. The next knight had barely raised his Long Sword before Cloud had sliced him to ribbons. The next knight came flying at him with a pick and was decapitated. A sorcerer cast a large ice spell, but it was no avail against him. The next warrior’s staff was broken in half as Cloud sliced through it and deep into his armor. The knights kept coming, another threw comets, another tried to attack him with a spear, but they were both defeated. Cloud’s sword glowed a faint blue as the next opponent advanced; swinging a gigantic black axe and missing Cloud by an inch. Another attacked with a sword but was easily dispatched. Finally King Arthur himself came, wielding the legendary Excalibur, but even he was no match for Cloud in his rage. The fabric of reality shattered, and Cloud was back on the pillar with Zack.
Zack’s face was ashen. Cloud had survived! He glared angrily at Zack, and he roared fiercely from his bleeding mouth,
“Omni-slash!” The world turned red as Cloud raised his sword to be endowed with the power of the planet. The blade’s dull blue glow became blinding as Cloud sprung forward and relentlessly attacked Zack. He leaped into the air and just hung there over his battered foe to deliver the final blow, raising the gleaming sword high over his head. He smashed the blade down, slicing Zack cleanly in two. The fallen warrior hit the ground with a tremendous thud, and all was silent. A green glow emanated from Zack’s armlet as he cast Life 2 as his final attack. He rose from the steel floor, completely healed and with a vengeance.
“You thought you could defeat me that easily, Cloud?” he growled, “Did you think you could just BECOME me? Did you think you could just take my materia, my sword, my armor, my past, and my girlfriend, my VERY LIFE? I’m myself and nobody else is! You pathetic imposter! I want my life and I’m taking it back, NOW!”
Zack rushed at Cloud, bringing his sword high above his head. Cloud whipped his blade back and hurled it at Zack. It struck him clean in the chest and he flew backward, impaled on the sword as it buried itself three feet into the wall.
“I never took a thing from you that you didn’t take for granted,” Cloud said, the anger rushing from him and leaving only sadness behind. Zack coughed up blood and went limp against the wall. Cloud looked over at what was left of the man who had been his friend, and more recently, his enemy. He still felt the pain of his betrayal, but he was overwhelmed with relief that it was all over.
Tifa’s trek ended with a large room with a fountain in the middle of it; surrounded by marble pillars and numerous platforms. It seemed to be the very center of the airship, and from above the fountain a thin slit let a little of the sun’s rays in, casting shadows on the pillars and stone ceiling. ‘Plenty of space to move around,’ the woman thought to herself, and before she knew it she was moving around quite a bit, dodging cascading lightning bolts that rained down terror from the clear sky. Her assailant was wearing heavy armor, her staff bent and twisted, but Tifa could identify her quite clearly. Aeris swung her black staff at Tifa who leapt back, catapulted off one of the marble pillars, and round-housed Aeris square in the face. The other went sprawling, yet brought her staff up and struck Tifa right under the chin, causing her to fly backwards into the stone wall.
“Ugh…” Tifa moaned, wiping the blood from her face, “Give it up, Aeris. I’m sure Zack is dead already.”
“More like Cloud is dead already!” Aeris snapped, “But the good news is that you’ll get to join him on the other side!”
Aeris charged Tifa, staff first, so to meet her head between the cold stone of the wall and the glistening metal of her twisted staff. Tifa dodged at the last second, sweeping Aeris from her feet and knocking her flat on her butt. The other brought her accursed staff into-and almost through-Tifa’s stomach. Tifa shrieked as the staff bashed across her face, leaving her all but inept.
“This battle ends now,” Aeris said triumphantly, pointing the wicked head of her rod straight at Tifa as a dull blue light came forth from it.
Tifa saw the flash of evil energy heading straight for her; but her limbs blatantly refused to work. Just as she was about to close her frightened eyes for the last time, the form of a man came flying through the air, taking the full force of the blast and falling to the cold stone floor.
“Tifa…” Cloud said, “I came for you…I…I kept my promise…”
“Cloud!” Tifa cried, wrapping her shivering arms around him, “Please don’t die Cloud, please…” Cloud’s face was a mask of pain.
“Tifa…” He said, “I’m sorry…took me so long…to realize I love you…I’m so cold, everything’s dark…I love…you…Tifa…*…”
“NO!” She screamed, seeing the light fade from Cloud’s eyes. Tears streamed down her trembling face as she sobbed uncontrollably. Somehow Tifa forced herself to stand, turning to Cloud’s murderer. “You…” she hissed, her voice filled with rage and pain, “You’ve been killing him slowly for two years, Aeris! And now you come back just to finish the job? Finally, finally he loves me, not you, and YOU STILL find a way to take him away from me!”
“He killed Zack.” The woman said coldly, “I don’t give a damn about your feelings, Tifa. Prepare to die!” She lifted her staff to the sky and that single ray of sunlight hit it, even the rays of the sun being twisted to it’s evil power, but before she could cast the spell, lightning shocked it forcefully from her hands.
“You never gave a damn about Cloud’s feelings either.” Cait Sith said, holding his megaphone in a menacing gesture. “You killed my friend, Aeris, the best friend I have in the whole world! Not just physically, you took his soul away too you heartless bitch!” Tifa rose to her feet and Cait flanked her right, advancing toward Aeris with such rage that not even the mighty Bahamut could have stood against them. Aeris cried out in desperation,
“Petrify!” but Cait’s moogle already had her staff in hand. Cait cold tell just by looking at it that it too was forged from Meteor. It would have to be destroyed, but not until the one who had possessed it was destroyed first. Tifa cornered Aeris, her face twisted with hatred,
“Final Heaven!” the woman shouted, hitting Aeris with the force of a nuclear explosion, sending her right through the ceiling of the room and clear out of the airship; and then she fell, without even a scream, to her death below.
Tifa fell to her knees sobbing. Her Cloud was gone, and now it was her who was lost. She set her trembling head down on the cold of the stone floor and lost perception of the world. Everything was warm now, she felt like she had in the lifestream when she had shown Cloud the real him, so long ago.
Everything seemed bizarre all of a sudden, Cait was gone and so was the ship, and she realized she WAS in the lifestream.
“Planet,” she said, “hear me please. Cloud doesn’t deserve to die. If it weren’t for him you would be dead, too. Please do him the same favor he has done for you. Restore my Cloud.” Nothing really happened, but the planet seemed to speak to Tifa, if only in her mind. ‘Destroy Zack’s sword and Aeris’ staff,’ it seemed to say. Tifa’s reality was broken by Cait’s voice,
“Tifa!” the cat shouted. She awoke with a start, and everyone was standing around her.
“You alright?” Cid asked, smoking yet another cigarette. Red regarded Cid strangely,
“Cloud’s been killed, I don’t think any of us are.” Tifa jumped to her feet.
“Find Zack’s sword,” the woman said, taking Aeris’ rod from Cait.
“What’s going on?” Cait asked.
“I have a hunch…just trust me, alright?” Then she took Cloud’s sword from the fallen warrior and brought it above her head. She slammed the blade down, slicing Aeris’ staff in two. Minutes later, Cid came running in with Zack’s wicked sword. Tifa had more trouble with this one, but between Cloud’s Ultima Weapon and Cid’s Venus Gospel they destroyed the black blade as well.
“Look!” Yuffie cried, her eyes glowing with fear.
Tendrils of the lifestream came forth from the floor, enveloping Cloud’s body in its holy glow. After a few hushed seconds it all dissipated, and Cloud seemed to twitch. His chest rose and fell as he began breathing again, and he opened his eyes, the Mako blue glow was there once again.
“CLOUD!” Tifa cried, rushing over to him. She wrapped her arms around him and the tears just came. Her love was alive once again. The others came rushing over to him, astonished at what they had seen before them.
“#$#%!” Cid exclaimed, “He’s alive! Tifa, how did you know?” Tifa grinned, clearly giddy with delight,
“I don’t know, I just…knew.” Tifa caressed Cloud’s tired brow and kissed him fiercely. “I love you.” She said to him. Cloud held her close,
“And I love you too, Tifa.” They got up together, hand in hand, and walked away from the shattered weapons that lay on the floor, finally leaving the past behind them.
“Oh!” Tifa started.
“What is it?” Cloud asked gently. A light green glow almost blinded the couple in a flash of energy. Tifa opened her gloved hand. Resting in her delicate palm and was the Holy Materia.