THE CRAVE GAMING CHANNEL
V'lanna
 

*Author's warning*

I have never played Final Fantasy 7. I have only seen the last little schnible, but I have read several wonderful fan fictions by various authors, and added to the knowledge I have gained from my friend, I have gained what I think is enough knowledge to write a fairly decent story. However, if you don' t agree, and you read some of this and think "Hail Mary, what is she thinking?" I won' t hold you responsible. But please at least give it a chance, 'k? Oh, and all characters that aren't my own originals are property of Squaresoft. No other brand names of any kind are used with permission, so please don't sue me. And yes, I know the dialogue is weak in places. And for your own good, don't read this in one sitting. Your eyes will shrivel up like scared turtles. Print it out or something. I don't want to be held responsible for your blindness. And, I'm not sure about spells or materia or shape shifting so I didn't put that in here. Sorry. So now, on with the show


Family Ties

By: MaryAnne

brimar@execpc.com

Chapter 1 (Actually, the whole thing is one big chapter, or else I'd lose track of where I was).

"No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from"- Jewel Kilcher, 'Life Uncommon'

The exterior of the last remaining Shinra, Inc. office building glowed blood red in the setting sun. Jerusha Levington stood on the cliff jutting out of one of the many mountains surrounding Midgar. Jerusha started carefully maneuvering her way down towards the city. She knew exactly who she was looking for, and had a pretty good idea of where to find her.

"Yuffie, it's been almost too long." Jerusha whispered

Cloud, Tifa and Yuffie sat around a table in the back of Tifa's bar, Ninth Haven. It had been nearly six months since Sephiroth had killed Aeris, and Cloud still seemed distant and disconnected from the rest of the real world. Tifa was worried about him, more worried than she cared to admit.

"I still feel like it's my fault, and I should've done something to save her," Cloud was saying. Tifa pulled herself back to the present.

"Cloud, listen to me. It's not your fault." Yuffie replied. She'd changed a lot since the battle against Jenova and Sephiroth. True, she was still a stuck-up, arrogant, selfish, short little snob, but she had her moments, occasionally. Tifa noticed there was another customer at the bar, and considering how slow business had been recently, she decided it would be wise to be nice to this one. She walked over behind the bar, sizing up the latest addition to her steadily dwindling flow of customers as she went. It was a woman, young, in a beat-up looking leather jacket, the bar's dim light reflecting off a head of curly brown hair. When she glanced up, Tifa was shocked by the intense, familiar greenish-blue color of her eyes.

"Hi. What can I do for you?" she asked, pushing away the growing sense of unease forming in her stomach.

"Actually, I'm looking for someone" the woman replied." But all I know is his name."

"Maybe I can help you. What's his name?" Tifa inquired.

"Sephiroth."

Just the one word made Tifa unconsciously grow pale. What could she want with Sephiroth?

"You've heard of him" It was more of a statement than a question from this mysterious green-eyed stranger.

"Who are you, and why are you looking for Sephiroth?" Tifa managed to choke out.

"My name is Shalaina Towers, and is it really any of your business -"

Tifa cut her off. "That doesn't matter. Come with me." So saying, she took Shalaina and led her over to the table where Cloud and Yuffie were still sitting.

"Cloud, Yuffie, this is Shalaina Towers, and I know you may not want to talk about this, but she wants to know about Sephiroth." She said quickly, awaiting their reaction.

Cloud felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach. He'd been so close to moving past what had happened to Aeris, and this-what was her name? Shalaina. Telling Shalaina about everything that had happened in the past six months really wouldn't help.

"I can't talk to you know." Shalaina said. "Meet me in one hour behind the old power plant." With that, she fairly flew out of Ninth Haven.

Shalaina had never felt so hopeful. She'd been searching for the myth called Sephiroth for nearly a year, and this had been the closest she'd ever been. She still wondered why her father's last words were "FindSephiroth." Just thinking about that day shot her back a year, to her old home in Hysind. She'd been hacking into some old computer files, and had come across one labeled "Jenova: sealed 549146111." Curiously, she'd tried to open it. She'd almost succeeded when she heard her father behind her. She'd spun around, scared out of her wits.

"How'd you find that?" he gasped, suddenly short of breath. Shalaina never got to answer him, for he collapsed, and in the two seconds it took to reach him, all he said was "FindSephiroth." Then he'd died of a massive coronary she learned later. She never found the phantom Jenova file, and sometimes wondered if it even existed. Nevertheless, she started wandering from town to town, asking about her mystery. Apparently Sephiroth had never been really liked, and she only stayed in most towns no more than a day before moving on. So, now that she'd come to Midgar, she had a feeling something good was going to happen.

As soon as Shalaina had left the bar, Yuffie hit the roof. Well, it was more like the table.

"What the hell could she want with Sephiroth?" she fumed. She was really ticked now, and the most frightening thing was, she wasn't even sure why. She'd never even really cared about anyone a lot before, and now she felt both pity and anger: pity for Cloud, who was starting to come out of his obliviousness, anger at Shalaina for re-opening such a painful wound for everyone. But before Yuffie got a chance to say more, a knife blade came down on the table, millimeters from her wrist. Shaken, she looked up at the face of the person connected to the hand connected to the knife's handle. Her expression changed from fear to amazement.

"Jerusha! What are you doing here?" she cried, jumping up. Cloud &Tifa just looked mildly perplexed. Why would anyone want to see Yuffie? And why would Yuffie act so happy that this green-eyed brown haired knife-wielding girl had just tried to sever her hand?

"Guys, this is Jerusha Levington, my best friend from Wutai. " Yuffie laughed. "I haven't seen her in, I don't even know how long!"

Jerusha smiled; she was just as glad to see her long-lost friend. But she had things to tell Yuffie, personal things. Apparently, the older girl caught on to that.

"Yuffie, why don't you and Jerusha go catch up on things, and Cloud and I will meet you by the power plant." She said.

Yuffie and Jerusha skittered off into the growing darkness. Tifa looked after them wistfully, as though she was remembering back when she was sixteen. Once again, she had to pull herself back to the present. "Cloud, you don't have to go tonight. I'll go, and tell Shalaina exactly what happened. Then, I'll personally beat the crap out of her." Tifa said sweetly.

Cloud smiled. Knowing Tifa as well as he did, he wouldn't be surprised if she did. "No, I'll go, and so will you." He said. "Do you think we should try to hunt down the others?

Tifa squinted thoughtfully." I know Barret can't come; Marlene is sick and he's taking care of her. Cid has something wrong with his ship, and he couldn't be pulled away from that bucket of crap for anything. Cait Sith is trying to fix his Mog, and who knows where Red XIII is?"

Cloud nodded. "So basically, that leaves Vincent." Tifa nodded." I'll go get him, and you can close up here. Do you think Yuffie will remember to come?"

"Yeah. Even though she's a little prick, she's not as bad as she used to be." Tifa stated.

Cloud stood, and brushed some hair from his eyes. It wouldn't be hard to find Vincent, seeing as he was once again jobless. He'd had a job for a while; working with a firearms dealer, but then the shop owner's hotshot son had 'accidentally' blown up the shop. So basically, for the past two weeks, Vincent Valentine had been glued to the want ads.

"I should go if we're gonna get to the plant in time." Cloud said. Tifa looked as though she was going to say something, then changed her mind.

"Ok. I'll see you there." She said softly. Cloud left, and Tifa leaned against the windowsill, gazing out at the stars, which were scattered about the night sky like diamonds. "Just be careful." A slight breeze wafted in through the open window. Tifa shivered, then started closing the bar for the night.

Yuffie and Jerusha raced through Midgar, until they reached Yuffie's house. They burst into the living room, and Yuffie clicked on a light.

"So what's been going on lately?" She asked. Jerusha suddenly grew quiet. In fact, her entire demeanor seemed to change. It was almost like she'd aged twenty years in two seconds. The light went out in her eyes, the emotion out of her face. The smile slipped from Yuffie's face as well. She thought she'd better sit down.

"What happened?" she asked, dreading the answer. Jerusha sank down on the couch.

"Not long after you left, someone contaminated the water supply in Wutai." She replied, expressionless. "The entire town is different, Yuffie. Everyone who isn't dead or insane left. My parents are dead. They died a month ago, and that's when I left."

Yuffie felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on her. She'd practically grown up at Jerusha's. The Levington's had been as close to her as her own parents. They hadn't even cared about all the times when Jerusha and Yuffie had been caught stealing Materia; they were glad they'd found something to do in their spare time. Who could be so sick as to poison the water? Numbly, she relayed the tale of Aeris, Shinra, and the battle with Jenova and Sephiroth, ending with the arrival of Shalaina Towers.

"My goodness. Things sure aren't what they used to be." Jerusha remarked ruefully.

"Nope. Listen, I've got to meet that Towers girl in about 15 minutes. Why don't you come with me?" Yuffie implored. "It'll give you something to do."

"I'll come with you," Jerusha started" if you tell me who that guy was in the bar? He was definitely a looker."

Yuffie grinned. She and Jerusha had so much in common, it was almost scary.

When Cloud reached Vincent's house, it was quiet and dark. Undaunted, Cloud knocked, and when there was no response, he tried the door. Not surprisingly, it was open. Vincent was always saying he had nothing worth stealing besides his gun, and no one knew where he kept that. Cloud pushed open the door, and saw Vincent, asleep at a table, his head resting on a newspaper.

"Vincent." Cloud shook him. No response. He tried again, still with no sign of life. Cloud sighed. "If this is the only way to wake you up, then tough." He cupped his hands around Vincent's ear.

"VINCENT!"

It worked. Vincent was up like a shot. "What the Hell-"

"Good morning, sunshine." There was but a hint of sarcasm from Cloud.

"Oh, hey Cloud. What are you doing here?" Vincent asked.

Cloud glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten minutes. "I can't explain right now. We have an appointment to keep. Better bring your gun, and I'll explain on the way."

"What do you mean, we? Cloud, what's going on? What're you talking about?" Vincent got no answers, mainly because Cloud had already taken off. He had no other choice than to grab his revolver and follow him.

By the time Tifa arrived at the power plant, the only other person there was Shalaina. The moonlight illuminated her hair and made it seem almostsilver. When Shalaina turned towards Tifa, she bore such a resemblance to Sephiroth that it was truly unnerving. Nevertheless, Tifa strode forward.

"Hello, Tifa. Where's everyone else?" Shalaina asked.

"They should be showing up pretty soon." She answered. "But why do you want to know about Sephiroth?"

Shalaina sighed. She knew this question would come up, but she'd hoped, in vain, that it wouldn't be for a while. "I can't tell you right now. I'll explain everything once everyone arrives."

Tifa didn't say anything; she didn't trust herself.

"You love him, don't you." Shalaina said.

"What?"

"Cloud." Shalaina smiled. "It's written all over your face."

Tifa stammered. "I- well, - what does that have to do with anything?"

"You didn't want him to come tonight. When you said who I was looking for, he looked like a damned soul on Judgement Day. You felt his pain, his anguish, didn't you?"

Tifa snapped. "Yes, I felt his pain, and I felt it Sephiroth killed Aeris. Do you have any idea what it feels like to see someone you love in pain?"

Just then, Yuffie and Jerusha stepped out of the woods, followed shortly by Cloud and Vincent. Shalaina regarded Jerusha and Vincent icily. "Who're they?" She asked Yuffie.

"People who can help you just as much as Cloud, Tifa or I could." The ninja answered just as coldly. "Vincent used to work for Shinra, and Jerusha is a better thief than I am, if you're looking to 'borrow' something."

"Why are you here?" Cloud didn't waste any time getting to the point.

"I want to find Sephiroth." Shalaina answered simply.

"Why" Vincent asked.

"Because it was my father's dying wish. His last were 'Find Sephiroth'. So I've done a little research, and I've found out that both my father and Sephiroth had something to do with a project called Jenova. What exactly they had to do with it is still beyond me." Shalaina crossed her arms, hoping they'd be satisfied with her answer.

"What's your father's name?" Vincent asked sharply.

"Hojo. Hojo Levington. Why?" Shalaina asked.

"I'll tell you later." The ex-Turk answered.

"You mentioned Jenova." Cloud said. " In that plant somewhere, there's probably a file on Jenova and Sephiroth. All you need to do is find it, and that should answer some of your questions."

Jerusha piped up. " I could find it. Really, I could. If you tell me roughly where to look, I could find the file and get out of there before anyone even knew I was there."

Shalaina turned to Jerusha, luminescent eyes glowing. "You could seriously do that? But you don't know what's in there. That plant has been empty for quite some time, and who knows what has decided to take up residence in there? If you're so bent on getting the file, though, I'd try the basement."

Jerusha brushed off her concerns. "Don't worry. I'll be fine." She walked up to the dark, empty power plant and selected a window. She turned to the others. "If I'm not back in an hour, wait a little longer." She pushed the window open, and disappeared into the dark void. Just then, Vincent noticed something.

"That little sneak stole my gun!" He fumed. Yuffie giggled, but Tifa, Cloud, and Shalaina remained silent. Somehow they all got the idea she'd need it.

Jerusha slipped to the ground silently. She crept down the dark, dank hall, holding Vincent's gun ready. She suddenly stumbled over a wooden crate, then decided that would be the best place to start. She blew some dust off the top, and pulled a few planks off. Inside there were about 20 brown folders. After digging for a while, she found one labeled 'Jenova: sealed 549146111'. She opened it and started sorting through the pages. She came across a picture of a hauntingly mysterious looking man. Eyes that glowed green-blue, exactly like Shalaina's, and flowing silver-white hair. Jerusha whistled softly.

"Now I know there's some next level crap going on here." She said to herself. She sorted through a few more papers to make sure this was the right Jenova file, then closed the box and stood, preparing to leave.

"I guess it's just you and me, Seph." She said to the folder. Then a gun clicked next to her head.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." An unfamiliar voice said.

"She's been gone too long" Yuffie fretted, pacing back and forth. "That's it. I'm going in after her."

"Yuffie, relax." Cloud ordered. " She's been gone ten minutes. It's probably going to taker her awhile to find what she's looking for, so stop pacing. You said yourself that she was a better thief than you are, and she's got Vincent's gun. Trust me, she'll be fine.

Vincent looked away uneasily. The bullets in that particular gun weren't your ordinary run-of-the-mill bullets. He'd modified them himself, and each one was a small but highly explosive bomb. If Jerusha shot anything with it, she'd have 5 minutes to get out of the power plant and away from the building.

Jerusha was, needless to say, more that a bit concerned at finding herself staring down a double barrel shotgun. Laughing nervously, she pushed the gun away so she could get a clear look at who was trying to kill her this time. It was a man, not looking any older than twenty-five, with reddish-orange hair and bright blue eyes. There was something about him that suggested he hadn't been in contact with any other human for quite awhile. Discreetly, Jerusha slid her switchblade out of her sleeve. She didn't know for sure if she'd have to use it, but better to be safe than dead.

"Who are you, and what the hell are you doing here?" He asked, aiming the gun once again at her temple.

Jerusha pointedly pushed it away again. "What does it matter to you? And who do you think you are, coming in here and aiming your little toy gun at me?"

The redhead cocked the trigger. "Since I'm probably the last person you're going to see before you die, I might as well humor you. Name's Rufus Shinra, former CEO of Shinra Incorporated, and everyone thinks I'm dead." He paused, and flicked some errant hair out of his eye. "Satisfied?"

Jerusha gave him a silent, deadly glare. "No". Then, with frightening speed and agility, she spun and kicked Rufus' jaw, sending him down to the ground. His gun went flying, and she caught it in mid-air. Jerusha planted one foot firmly on Rufus' chest, preventing him from going anywhere. She whipped out her knife, all three blades glinting even in the darkness, and held it at his throat.

"So," She said casually, " if you're supposed to be post mortem, then why are you hiding out in the basement of an old abandoned Mako power plant?"

Rufus could tell he'd underestimated the pixie-like girl. No one had been able to pin him before. Nevertheless, he maintained his infamous cockiness and arrogance. "Why should you care? And who are you, anyway?"

"Since I'm probably the last person you're going to see before you die, I might as well humor you. I'm Jerusha Levington, and since I have what I'm looking for, I'm currently facing a moral dilemma."

"What's that?" Rufus asked from his place on the floor. He was sure he didn't want to hear the answer.

"Should I let you live and finish your miserable existence as a human being alone, or should I cut your throat out and leave you here to slowly bleed to death?"

Rufus didn't answer. From the darkness behind Jerusha, she heard a low, menacing growl.

"Please tell me that was your stomach." She said.

Rufus shook his head. " I was hoping it was yours."

Slowly, Jerusha turned around. This time, instead of facing a shotgun, she was facing the abdomen of a very large, very hungry, and very mean looking alligator type creature. She kept looking up, and saw the head of the creature about twenty feet above her, poised to strike; poised to kill.

"Au, shit." She muttered. The creature's head started it's lethal descent, and she managed, barely, to pull both herself and Rufus out of Death's teeth. The alligator's teeth sank deeply into the cement where Jerusha and Rufus had just been. Jerusha grabbed Rufus' shotgun, and started yelling and shooting the alligator simultaneously.

"Listen, you genetically (bang) mutated (bang) freak of nature (three bangs). If you had (bang) the slightest idea (bang) of what kind of day I've had, (bang) you really wouldn't mess with me. (Click)."

Jerusha stared at the gun. It wasn't supposed to click. All she needed was one more blast, and Lizard-Lips would be done for. She chucked the spent gun down, and pulled out Vincent's 'borrowed' gun. One well place bullet to the head, and the creature fell dead. Jerusha sighed. She was going to hurt in the morning. Rufus picked up his empty gun and slowly got to his feet.

"Why'd you do it?" he asked, flicking his hair back with a well-practiced move.

"Do what?" Jerusha replied, rubbing her temples.

"Save me. If you wanted me dead, Barney ® could've easily done it for you."

Jerusha cast a sideways glance at Rufus. "Because I like you, Rufus. You're snobby, stuck-up, self-centered, and a spoiled brat. Qualities like that look good on someone like you." Jerusha said. Then she noticed something she immediately wished she hadn't. The one empty shell from Vincent's gun had a timer on it. Jerusha put two and two together and came to the conclusion that something was about to explode in 3:3433. 323130.

"This is REALLY bad. C'mon." She grabbed Rufus' hand, and, still clutching the file, started to run.

"What's really bad?" Rufus asked as they ran.

"Later. I'll tell you later." Jerusha replied.

Yuffie grew pale when she heard the gunshots. Something had gone horribly wrong, because Jerusha didn't usually go out for the kill unless she was provoked.

"Vincent?" Shalaina asked hesitantly, "that, um, that wasn't your gun, was it?"

Vincent shook his head. If Jerusha had pulled off that many rounds, all of Midgar wold be reduce to ash and shadow people by now.

"Look!" Tifa cried, and pointed to the power plant. Sure enough, Jerusha was running out of the plant . . . but someone was close behind her. Chasing her? Not likely, Tifa reasoned. From what Yuffie had said about her, she'd have beaten her pursuer to a bloody pulp by now.

"RUN! NOW!" She was shouting. So they ran, just from pure apprehension. They ducked behind a group of boulders, joined shortly by Jerusha and Rufus. Rufus Shinra? Before any questions could be asked, the Mako power plant was blown to the heavens. A huge, billowing green mushroom cloud towered over Midgar and the surrounding area. Once it dissipated, all was deathly quiet.

"Jerusha?" Shalaina whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Did you get the file?"

Jerusha smiled. "You could say that."

Cloud stood and faced Rufus. "Rufus? But-you died six months ago, didn't you?

Rufus sighed. "I'm not dead, Strife, not yet, anyway. When my office was destroyed, I was almost dead, but as far as I know, I plan on living a long, long time." He turned to Shalaina. "What file are you looking for?"

"Not looking for, found:" Shalaina was victorious. " I was looking for a file having something to do with Jenova and Jerusha was good enough to find it."

"Yup." Jerusha smirked. "Oh, by the way, Vincent, thanks for the gun. I'm wondering what exactly you did to the bullets, but you ought to package them, stick a government warning on them, and sell them. You could make a fortune." She tossed the gun to him. Yuffie glanced at her questioningly.

"What exactly did you run into in there?" she inquired.

"Besides Rufus? Well, a really pissed off lizard." Jerusha replied. " I decided I could only kill one, so I was nice and put the lizard out of its misery."

Tifa glared at Rufus; she never really liked him. "Personally, I would have kept the lizard."

Rufus glared right back. "Nice to see you too, Ms. Lockheart. How's the bar coming?"

Tifa didn't answer. Shalaina took advantage of the silence. "Um, Jerusha? Can I have the file?"

Jerusha handed over the file, and Cloud shifted his sapphire eyes uncomfortably. For some reason, he really didn't want to tell Shalaina that Sephiroth was dead. But he had too. "Shalaina" he started gently, " Sephiroth is dead." Shalaina turned towards him, shock and denial evident in her bright eyes.

"No." She said softly, "No, he isn't dead, Cloud. Trust me on this one. He may be gone, but he isn't dead. Not by a long shot."

There was an uneasy silence. "Ms. Towers," Vincent began, "if and when you find Sephiroth, what then? I mean, he went kind of insane. Sanity's a hard thing to recover."

"When I find him, I intend to ask him what he and my father had to with this whole Jenova thing. But for now, I'm going to find someplace to sleep. I'll see you all tomorrow." With that, Shalaina turned on her heel and left. The rest of the group slowly dispersed until only Cloud and Tifa remained.

"Just when you think it's safe to turn your back-" Cloud started.

"-The knife is turned counter clockwise." Tifa finished.

Cloud glanced at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips. "Yeah, something like that." He sat on one of the boulders. "Tifa? Do you think this thing with Sephiroth will ever end?"

Tifa perched on the rock next to him. "Eventually. Even if it follows us till we die, then you know it'll be over. "

Cloud was silent for awhile, as if he was mulling over her answer. Then he spoke. "Tifa, if I ask you something, will you be totally honest with me?"

Tifa was surprised; she thought Cloud knew she would never lie to him. "Of course."

"You didn't like Aeris, did you?"

The question settled heavily on Tifa's conscience. " I-well, I didn't hate her, but no, I didn't like her." Nervously she awaited Cloud's reaction.

"Why?" he asked, his blue eyes drilling deep into her brown ones.

"BecauseI don't know. I guess I felt like she was intruding. I mean, Cloud, you and I have been friends for as long as I can remember, longer, probably. We've seen each other through everything except the German measles, and them she just sort of showed up. To be honest, I didn't like it at all. But I didn't want her dead. I wouldn't wish that on anyone." Tifa paused. "Just out of curiosity, why do you ask?"

"I overheard what Shalaina said to you earlier." Cloud said.

Tifa felt a slow blush creep up her face.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" He asked.

Tifa looked away. " I don't know. I just couldn't. I thought I'd lose your friendship, and I don't want to lose that." Hesitantly, she glanced at him. His eyes were full of something-compassion? Pity? No-it was something elsesomething she'd never seen directed at her. Cloud gently cupped her face in his hands and was about to kiss her, when they both heard someone clear her throat. They both looked over and saw Yuffie leaning against a tree, enjoying the romantic moment developing in front of her.

"Sorry. Am I interrupting something?" She smirked. She knew very well what she was interrupting. Cloud drew his sword and started towards her menacingly.

"Yuffie, if you breath a word of this to anyone, I swear you'll regret the day your parents met." He growled.

"Oh, I won't" She vowed. " But I don't trust you two here alone. I'm not leaving unless one or both of you come with me so I can keep an eye on you."

Tifa laughed. "Go on, Cloud. Just don't kill her. I'll see you later."

Cloud smiled at Tifa, then started in on Yuffie. She yelped and took off into the woods, Cloud in hot pursuit. Tifa sighed and lay back on the rocks, gazing up at the stars and smiling. Eventually she sat up and started towards Midgar, when an all too familiar voice stopped her.

"Love is such a precious thing, isn't it?" Tifa whirled, and the bottom fell out of her stomach. Sephiroth had suddenly appeared, with a slightly ghostly luminescence about him.

What are you doing here?" she asked, a lump of fear forming in her throat.

"Don't worry, little girl." He laughed softly, evilly. "I'm not going to hurt you, but you might want to watch out for your beloved." Sephiroth's voice was wrought with sarcasm on the last word.

Tifa started towards him, but he laughed again and vanished.

Cloud had barely gotten home when there was an urgent knock at his door. He opened it to find a very distraught looking Tifa. "Tifa? What are you doing here?" He ushered her inside, and she sank down upon the couch, while Cloud paced back and forth.

"Cloud, after you left, he was there." Tifa barely managed to whisper.

Cloud stopped in mid-pace. "He? He who?" Tifa buried her face in her hands. "It's Sephiroth, isn't it?" Tifa nodded, and Cloud sat next to her and took her hands in his. "What'd he say?"

"He said he wasn't going after me, but I should watch out for you." She recalled. "Cloud, he's going to try to kill you!" A tear pooled in her eye, but she quickly blinked it away.

"Did he say anything else?" Cloud wondered.

"No." Tifa stood. " I should probably get going. I was just- " She trailed off, at a loss for words.

Cloud nodded. "Do you want me to walk with you?"

Tifa nodded again. "That would make me feel a lot better." Midgar was dangerous at night, even if you were a marital arts master.

Cloud and Tifa hurried through the night in a tense silence, each one glad for the other's company. When they reached Tifa's house, Cloud paused, then kissed her gently. "I've wanted to do that for awhile." He admitted.

Tifa smiled "I know."

There was again an awkward silence. "I should go," Cloud said. Tifa nodded.

"I'll see you tomorrow." She said.

"Till tomorrow" Cloud said, then started off into the night.

Yuffie practically pounced on Jerusha once they got back to Yuffie's house. "Why didn't you just leave Rufus in the power plant?" she asked. Jerusha sighed and ran her fingers through her short brown hair.

"Because he's practically lived like a recluse for at least six months. If I'd left him, there's no telling what kind of mental problems he'd have to deal with." She replied.

"All he is is one big mental problem." Yuffie retaliated. Jerusha glared at her. "Oh, I see" Yuffie continued. "You like him, don't you?"

"Yuffie." Jerusha started. "You've known me since we were born. You and I are practically sisters and I think by now you know my taste in men."

"You like them to be assertive, decisive, intelligent, and taller than you." Yuffie said. "In other words, snobby, arrogant, and at least 5'5. And from what I know about Rufus Shinra, he's snobby, arrogant, and I'm not entirely sure how tall he is, but he's taller than you are. Face it Jerusha. You've got it bad."

Jerusha glared at her friend again. She didn't like Rufus, at least in that way. She couldn't possibly. He was a stuck-up, uptight, spoiled little rich kid who had tried to kill her. But then again, she'd tried to kill him right back. She should've kept the lizard, like Tifa said. Damn conscience.

Shalaina ducked into an alley on her way to the hotel she was staying at. Someone had been tailing her for quite awhile, and she was hell-bent on finding out who it was. She produced a long metal rod that could've passed as a decent weapon in itself, as it often had. A few flicks here and there and it changed into a lethal pair of spiky nun-chucks. All in all, not a pleasant way to die.

Footsteps were approaching. Shalaina got a good grip on her weapon, and peered around the corner. Instead of some meanie stalker like she was expecting, she saw no one except Vincent Valentine. Shalaina felt mildly disappointed. She wanted to kill someone tonight, but she only killed if she was in a tight spot. And honestly, Valentine didn't seem like the one that she wanted to kill.

"What are you doing here?" she asked him.

"Funny. I was just going to ask you the same thing." He replied. "What's with the nun-chucks?"

"I'm not from around here, and I'm not entirely sure what crawls out of the woodwork at night. What are you doing here?" she repeated.

"I'm going home," came the short explanation.

"As am I." She replied.

Vincent gave her an odd look. "But you just said you're not from around here. "

Shalaina tossed her hair haughtily. "I still have a place to stay." Ok, she thought, so what if is isn't quite true. Well, actually, it was. She could stay at the hotel she was currently staying at as long as she could sweet talk the owner. Or scare him spitless. She chuckled softly to herself at the thought of the short, balding man trying to evict her from his roach motel. She could take him easily.

Vincent gave her a sidelong gaze. "What's so funny?" he asked.

Shalaina smiled. "Nothing." She decided to change the subject before Vincent was totally convinced she was clinically insane. "So, Vincent, how exactly are you involved with Shinra, Inc., or are you just along for the ride?"

He was quiet as they walked through the alley. "I used to work for Shinra awhile ago, but I don't really want to go into it."

"Aha." Shalaina's imagination was already running away with her. "Let me guess. You were working as, let's see here, a security guard of sorts, and you were assigned to watch a group of scientists to see that they didn't get into places where they really shouldn't be. You fell madly in love with one of them, but she ended up leaving you for another scientist, and I have absolutely no idea where I came up with that." She ended, and immediately wished she'd kept her mouth shut. A change came over Vincent like a sudden, unexpected waterfall. He appeared darker. Not angry, just sad. "That didn't happen, did it?" she asked hesitantly.

Vincent nodded. "Not exactly, but close enough. You almost figured me out, Ms. Towers. You've gotten into the 'dark past' no one's supposed to know about."

Shalaina groaned inwardly and mentally kicked herself in the shins. "Damn, Vincent, I'm sorry. I had no idea-" she was cut off.

"Don't worry about it." He said, then took a left and disappeared into the blackness of night and was gone.

Sephiroth drifted within the Lifestream, thoughts churning. He'd seen that Towers girl, and he knew she was looking for him. Why, he couldn't figure out. He'd never seen her before, he was sure of that. But she knew a lot about him, which was almost frightening. Almost.

"You should have killed them all." Jenova was berating him again. "Save yourself the trouble of putting up with them." She urged.

"Oh, shut up." He muttered. He couldn't kill Cloud. Sephiroth wasn't sure why; it was some sort of mental block he had. And it pushed him even closer to the edge

The next day dawned cold, dark, and rainy. Tifa opened Ninth Haven and knew instinctively it was going to be a slow day. Not half an hour later, Cid Highwind showed up. To Tifa, the scruffy blond pilot was always like an older brother. She greeted him warmly.

"Hey, Cid. How's the Highwind?" She asked, referring to his airship, which had been breaking down a lot recently.

"Tifa, why the hell did I even build that $*%#in' thing?" He asked, sinking down on a barstool. It was clearly a rhetorical question, but it got an answer anyway.

"Because" she said, setting down a cup of coffee. "You're gonna make it to the end of the universe someday, and you sure as hell ain't walking there,"

Cid smiled wryly. "So, you know why one of the power plants blew last night?"

Tifa sighed. "It's a long story"

"That's Ok" Cid said. " As long as that bucket of $#!% ain't workin', I ain't planning on going anywhere."

Tifa figured he was right. "Ok, you're in for it. Last night, Cloud, Yuffie and I were here, trying to pull Cloud out of the depths of despair. Then this girl named Shalaina Towers shows up, wanting to know about Sephiroth. She tells us to meet her behind the power plant and left. Then some other girl comes and almost takes Yuffie's hand off. Enter Jerusha Levington. She and Yuffie go off to catch up with things, 'cause apparently they're best friends. Cloud goes off to hunt down Vincent, because we figure he's the only one free, and I close up here. Everyone goes and meets Towers, Jerusha breaks into the power plant, gets the Jenova files, finds Rufus Shinra, who is alive, might I add. Then she and Rufus kill a lizard or something, come out of the plant, the plant blows up. Yadda yadda, everyone except me leaves, Sephiroth shows up and threatens to kill Cloud, and leaves. Then I went home. There, Cid, that's what you missed."

Cid whistled. "Damn, I gotta get out more. I thought Rufus Shinra was dead."

Tifa nodded. "So did everyone else. But for some reason unbeknownst to us, Jerusha didn't kill him. Probably likes him or something like that."

In another part of Midgar, Shalaina had been poring over the files for hours. She stumbled upon the name of Sephiroth's father, or at least his first name. The second part was smudged out The name 'Hojo' was still clearly legible. There was a list of aliases, Hojo Levington being one of them. My God. Shalaina thought not my father. How could it be? She read on, seriously frightened by what she saw. 'The subject was injected with Jenova cells, as was her unborn child, thus enabling both to live though most anything" Shalaina felt sick. Sephiroth was a genetic experiment, andher brother.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered to her dead father. Never in all her twenty-three years had she felt so alone, so betrayed. She gathered up the papers and headed for Tifa's bar. She needed something to drink. Something strong, to make her forget everything she'd just read. She wandered through Midgar until she reached Ninth Haven. Even though it was relatively early, it was open. There was one other patron there, a scruffy looking blond guy who was chatting it up with Tifa. Tifa saw Shalaina and waved her over.

"Hi. What's wrong?" She asked as soon as she saw Shalaina's wan expression.

"I'll tell you later." She replied hoarsely.

"Anyone mind explaining who the &(@% she is?" Cid demanded.

"Cid Highwind, Shalaina Towers. Shalaina, Cid." Tifa introduced. Cid nodded.

"So you're the dame I been hearing so much about."

Shalaina regarded him cooly. "Probably, Mr. Highwind. Strange, but I don't recall ever hearing your name mentioned before."

Cid smirked. "That's because you ain't been around Midgar long enough, lady."

Shalaina had a fiery retort on her lips, but Jerusha and Yuffie entered Ninth Haven, arguing fiercely.

"Jerusha, the more you deny it, the more I'm gonna be after you." Yuffie was saying.

"What're you fighting about now?" Cid asked.

"Jerusha likes Rufus and she won't admit it." Yuffie said.

"I do not." Jerusha bit back. Then she turned to Cid. "Who're you?"

Cid slammed back the rest of his coffee before answering. "Cid Highwind, captain of the Highwind, not to mention her builder. And I'm assuming you're Jerusha Levington?"

"Gee, no one has a self-esteem problem here, that's for sure." Jerusha said sarcastically. "And never assume things. It'll get you into trouble someday."

"Pleasure to meet you, too" Cid grumbled.

"So anyway," Yuffie continued "I know Jerusha likes Rufus and she just won't admit it."

Jerusha sat upon a barstool and buried her face in her hands, defeated last. "O.K., I like him, alright? I like him a lot." She looked at them all with pleading green eyes. "Please don't tell anyone. Please."

Tifa contemplated this situation; it was vaguely similar to the one she'd been in with Shalaina the night before. Only Cloud had heard that one, and Tifa wasn't really sure where Rufus was, but she was more that he wasn't in her bar. "I'm not talking," she said. "And neither is anyone else." Jerusha looked greatly relieved.

"Talking about what?" Cloud asked from the doorway. Jerusha spun around so fast, she tumbled right off her barstool, landing unceremoniously on the floor with a resounding thud.

"I'll tell you when you're older." Tifa said.

Cloud gave her a panicked look. "Tifa, you're starting to sound like my mother, and frankly, it's scaring me." Then he noticed Cid. "Oh, hi Cid. How's the Highwind?"

"Don't get me started, Spiky." Cid growled. Cloud backed down, then turned to Shalaina. "Did you find anything in those files?" he asked her. Tifa kicked him under the bar. 'Don't' her warning gaze told him. But he couldn't unsay what had already been said.

Shalaina sighed. "I might as well tell you all now. You know how I said my father had something to do with Sephiroth? In the file, it mentioned several times that my father was Sephiroth's father as well. That means he's my brother." Her voice shook at the end.

Cid was still confused. "Would someone mind explaining?"

No one got a chance. Cait Sith came careening into the bar, not on his Mog, for once. "Tifa! I need your best liquor, and lots of it." Then he caught sight of Jerusha and Shalaina. "Hello, ladies, I don't believe we've met."

"Forget it, Cait." Yuffie said smugly. "One's already taken."

"Why do you need my best liquor?" Tifa inquired.

"It's my Mog! It's addicted" Cait moaned.

"Addicted." Tifa said.

"Yes. The reason it isn't working because it's having a hangover and if I don't get it some liquor it's gonna die and-"

Cid broke in "Listen, cat. Hangovers don't kill anyone. Besides that Mog is just some big stuffed thingie that really has no mind of its own. Give the stuffed #^%! *^@ Some damn aspirin and wait 12 hours"

Cait Sith stared at Cid a little unsure. Then he took off as fast as he could towards the nearest drugstore."

Cid chuckled softly. "Sucker".

Jerusha got off the floor and headed to the door as well.

"Where you goin'?" Yuffie called.

Jerusha turned. "A talking, mechanical cat just came in here and demanded booze for a hung-over Mog. I think I need to take a long, long, long walk. It's been a pleasure." She let the door slam behind her. She started heading out of town. She'd almost gotten out of Midgar when a hand clamped over and she was pulled into an alley. She tried to scream, then kicked her assailant and elbowed him in the stomach. She was released, and immediately turned to beat the crap out of whoever attempted to steal her. As soon as she saw who it was, her anger turned to amazement.

"Rufus?" Jerusha said, shocked almost speechless. Sure enough, Rufus Shinra had attempted to kidnap her, or so she thought. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I needed to talk to you." He gasped, having the wind knocked out of him.

Jerusha crossed her arms over her chest. "You could have reached me another way, y'know."

Rufus shook his head. "No way. If someone recognized me, that would be bad. Remember that I'm supposed to be dead. And I'm easily recognizable."

Jerusha nodded. " It's the hair." She started once again out of Midgar, Rufus falling instep beside her.

"So, where're you headed?" he asked, flicking a pesky lock of hair out of his eyes.

"I'm going for a walk. I've had a really long day, and it's only 1:45. Care to join me?" she offered.

"Sure".

They continued walking for a while, until they reached a scenic overlook, overlooking Midgar and the surrounding area. Even though it was a banal day, the view was still spectacular. Jerusha felt as though she was on top of the world.

"So, what'd you want to talk to me about?" she asked.

"I just never thanked you for not killing me last night." Rufus replied. Jerusha looked at him, somewhat surprised.

"Don't worry about it. I'm not mean enough to kill someone I like." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Jerusha blushed and looked for a rock to crawl under. She couldn't believe what she'd just said. "I mean-."

"What?" Rufus didn't quite catch the meaning of her words. "You told me that last night."

"Yeah, I know." Jerusha was desperately searching for words. "But I do like you. A lot." She bit her bottom lip nervously.

Rufus was surprised. He looked at Jerusha differently, seeing her as more than some almost-17-year old kid who'd decided not to waste him. She wasn't looking at him, and he could tell she was scared spitless.

"You know," He choose his words carefully. "You're not so bad either, for a short, snobby, stuck up self centered spoiled brat."

Jerusha looked up at him, a hurt expression in her mossy green eyes. He smiled at her, and she returned the smile, shyly.

"Really?" she asked.

He moved ever so closer to her. "Really."

Sephiroth tried to shut out the voice in his head. Finally, Jenova's constant rantings and ravings dimmed to White Noise. Sohe had a sister. He really should have seen it sooner. Now, Sephiroth felt an almost uncontrollable rage toward Hojo. He'd had a hard enough time accepting the cold hearted, callused scientist as his father, and now to hear he had 'turned a new leaf' after leaving Sephiroth's mother, was undeniably cowardly. Sephiroth was secretly overjoyed that his father had suffered a painful death. It should have been more painful. More lasting.

Suddenly, Jenova's voice returned with a vengeance. "Child, you have to get rid of Cloud and the others. Now." Sephiroth wondered why Jenova was so impatient.

"What does it matter to you?" he asked curtly. "Really, mother, you've got to get control of this bloodlust of yours."

Jenova was getting angry. "Look at what he did to you. He killed you." She said. "Don't you think it's only fair to get back at him? To seek revenge?"

"Fair?" Sephiroth spat out. "Where did you ever come up with the idea that life is fair? Life's not fair, Mother. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something."

"You're right." Jenova bit back. "I am selling something, aren't I? I'm selling you the chance to live again. If you do as I say, you can roam the Planet as you please. You won't have to be watching your back every second to see if someone is behind you, waiting to strike you down again."

"And what about Shalaina? You want me to kill my own sister, too? Hell, why not just wipe out the whole human race while I'm at it?" Sephiroth let his head drop into his hands. Jenova would never let up until he agreed to do what she said. "Alright. I'll do it if you promise, if you give me your word, that you will leave me alone. For good."

Jenova was silent for a while, as if she was contemplating his offer. Finally, she gave her answer.

"If you get rid of them, and only if you get rid of them, then I'll leave you." There was a hint of resignation in her voice.

"Don't pull that guilt trip on me, Mother. It stopped working a long time ago." Sephiroth growled.

"This isn't a guilt trip. Sephiroth. Do you know how much it hurts to have your only child want you out of their life?" Now she sounded honestly sad. But there was no room in Sephiroth's heart for pity.

"Do you know how much it hurts to find out you're nothing but a genetic experiment?" he said bitterly. There was no answer, just the sound of the Lifestream shifting and changing, never remaining the same.

Shalaina had had a sense of guilt nagging her at her conscience for a while. She really regretted what she'd said to Vincent about his past with Shinra, Inc. She tried to console herself with the thought that she hadn't known, but she still felt she had to apologize again.

"Cloud?" she asked, "Where does Vincent live?"

He gave her an odd look; she was getting a lot of those recently. "Why?"

"I just need to tell him something." She said softly Cloud gave her the address and she headed for the door.

"I think she likes him." She heard Yuffie whisper. Shalaina paused at the door and turned.

"Y'know, Yuffie, you just may be right about that." She grinned at the young Ninja, then left.

After Shalaina left, Cid headed out as well, with the excuse that the Highwind wasn't going to fix herself.

"Cid!" Tifa yelled out the door.

He turned. "Yeah?"

"You still owe me for the coffee!"

Cid laughed "I'll pay ya tomorrow." With that he sauntered off.

Tifa plunked down at the bar. " He's not gonna pay me."

Yuffie laughed. "Just beat it out of the bum." Her expression changed. "Hey, don't you think Jerusha's been gone a bit too long?"

Cloud shrugged. "She's around somewhere."

Yuffie wasn't convinced. "She's been through a lot lately. I hope she didn't do anything stupid." She hopped off her stool. "I'm gonna go look for her." She strode out of the bar purposefully. Tifa watched her go, then started, as if she just remembered something.

"I just remembered something." She said. "I promised Barret I'd make some soup for Marlene. I told him I didn't trust him to make it because he can't tell soup from nuclear waste." She started hunting around Ninth Haven's small kitchen. "You wouldn't be interested in making some with me, would you?" she asked Cloud.

He shrugged. "I can't cook any better than Barret."

Tifa's head popped around the corner, smirking suggestively. "I wasn't talking about soup that time."

Shalaina arrived at Vincent's. She swallowed past a large lump of nervousness. Get a grip. She told herself. All you have to do is say you're sorry and leave. With that somewhat comforting thought, she knocked on the door. A few minutes passed, and Shalaina turned, about to leave. She heard the door open, and turned to face Vincent. As if on cue, the clouds that had been gathering over Midgar suddenly opened, and a downpour ensued. She stuck her hands deep in the pockets of her leather jacket.

"I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry for what I said last night." She said. "It was totally uncalled for-"

Vincent held up a hand to stop her. " You had no idea. Don't worry about it. Listen, why don't you come in before you either ruin your get pneumonia ?"

Shalaina smiled. "The jacket's seen worse."

Once inside, they both sat upon an old beat-up couch that looked as though it had been though the Apocalypse.

"Did you find anything worth while in that file?" Vincent asked.

Shalaina nodded numbly. "Probably more than I cared to."

"Such as" Vincent prompted.

She looked him straight in the eye. " Sephiroth is my brother."

She'd surprised him; that was plain enough.

"How is that possible?" He managed to get out.

"We have the same father. After Sephiroth was born, Hojo took off, assumed a new identity, but it wasn't new enough. Then he met my mother, and then I came along. After my mother died, he turned completely reclusive."

"How'd did you mother die?" Vincent asked. "If it's not too personal"

Shalaina looked away. "She died when I was 10." She looked back at him, her aquamarine eyes pooling with tears. "She and my father and I were down by the river that runs outside Hysind. I was goofing around by the rocks near the shore, and I fell in. My mom went in after me. The current had carried me downstream, and by the time she caught with me, we were getting near some rapids. She pushed me up onto a rock. Then an underwater current, and that was the last time I saw her."

Vincent was silent for a long time. "I'm sorry." He finally said.

Shalaina brushed away a tear. "Don't be. I shouldn't have been by the river. It's my fault."

"No." Vincent said firmly. "It's not your fault. If she hadn't gone in after you, you wouldn't be here now, would you?"

Shalaina shook her head, then stood. "The rain looks like it's letting up. I should go."

"Are you sure?" Vincent asked. "It looks like may start again."

Shalaina studied Vincent. He seemed like he really wanted her to stay, but she had to go. "I'll be fine." She said. "Thanks anyway." Without another word, she left.

Yuffie was starting to worry about Jerusha. It wasn't like her to disappear like this. She searched the crowded streets of Midgar. Despite the rain, many people were out and about in the outdoor markets, buying and selling, trading and bartering, arguing and agreeing. Yuffie didn't spot Jerusha in the crowd. Dejectedly, she turned back and headed for home. She opened the front door and almost had a stroke.

"Jerusha! Where the hell were you?" she asked her soaking wet friend who was lounging in a recliner.

"I was up on a cliff." Jerusha replied. "With Rufus."

Yuffie gave her friend her sternest look. "You didn't-" she let the sentence trail off.

Jerusha looked insulted. "No, I didn't get laid, if that's what you're implying."

Yuffie pretended to think. "Hmmm, well, I know you didn't not to anything, because you've got a rather large, rather noticeable hickey."

Jerusha grinned sheepishly. "So we kinda made out for a while. Heck, I'm not pregnant or anything."

Yuffie giggled almost girlishly, considering she was almost the grand old age of 17, and plopped down on the couch. " So I assume you told him you like him." It was a statement, not a question.

Jerusha chucked a pillow at her. "No, I just jumped him. Of course I told him, you dense moron!"

Yuffie glared at her, faking offense. "Well, you know how some people get when their minds stop working"

Cloud and Tifa, once they had the soup in a kettle, made their way to Barret's. He had recently moved out of Elmyra's house, and he and his daughter Marlene live above a small coffee shop. They arrived rather breathlessly. Tifa rang the bell, then glanced over at Cloud. She started giggling.

"What?" Cloud asked.

'Nothing." Tifa replied. She plucked a bit of a carrot out of his blond spikes. "There."

They both heard Barret's heavy treads on the other side of the door. It opened, and Barret obviously looked pleased to come into human contact.

"Hey, y'all. 'Sup wich you?" he said. Cloud and Tifa exchanged sideways glances. The story just kept getting longer and longer each time it was told.

After Shalaina left, Vincent debated over whether or not he should go after her, then decided it would be best if he didn't. She seemed like kind of a quiet person; when she wanted to talk, she would. Even still, she didn't exactly strike Vincent as being totally stable. For a lack of something better to do, Vincent set off for Cid's hanger, where the Highwind was stored. It was a bit of a hike, but Vincent didn't mind. Cid would probably take his mind off things by griping about how the Highwind was such a miserable piece of $#! %.

"Valentine!" Vincent turned and saw Rufus Shinra following him. Involuntarily, his one hand clenched into a fist. The last person he wanted to see was Rufus. Nevertheless, he remained somewhat civil.

"Hello, Rufus." He responded coldly. He never cared for anyone related to Shinra, Inc. Not for a while. Obviously Rufus didn't pick up on that.

"Where you heading?" he asked, falling into step beside Vincent.

"Out to Cid's hanger."

The former Shinra CEO didn't leave as Vincent was silently praying he would, and as they neared the abandoned hanger that housed the Highwind, Vincent just gave up on losing him. Wagner's Die Walkure could be heard about a mile away.

"Sohow long has Cid been working on this thing?" Rufus asked.

Vincent shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. He's not gonna hear us with that classical stuff playing." So saying, he searched momentarily, and found the plug to the stereo system. He pulled the plug, plunging them all into eerie silence for about two seconds. Then Cid came storming out of the Highwind's hatch.

"What the $&! *in' #@** is goin'" then he caught site of Rufus and Vincent. "Oh. What're you doin' here?" he asked.

Rufus circled the Highwind, scrutinizing it carefully. "I was just wondering how much a piece of crap like this could go for."

Before anyone could stop him, Cid had the young Shinra up against a wall in a chokehold. "Listen, you stuck up little *$&#!@#, she may be a piece of crap, but she's my piece of crap, and I'm the only one allowed to insult her. Capice?" Rufus nodded, and Cid released him, then picked up a wrench and started adjusting various nuts and bolts. "So, what do you think of this Towers chick?" he asked Vincent.

"I'm trying not to." He answered dryly.

Cid shot him a look; he could draw several conclusions just from the tone of Vincent's voice. "I'll bet."

Rufus flicked his hair out of his eyes. "If you ask me-"

"Which we didn't" Vincent interjected.

"-I like Jerusha." Rufus finished. "A lot."

Cid glared at him. "She's just a kid, Shinra." He growled.

Rufus looked away. "I know, but she's more mature than she seems."

After Shalaina left Vincent's, she wandered aimlessly for a few hours, then found herself in Hysind, which was maybe 3 hours' walk from Midgar. She headed, almost in a trance, towards the river outside town. It hadn't changed in the past 13 years, not since she'd been there the day her mom died when she was 10. It was still the same black, tumbling, turning frothing water that appeared almost gentle and mesmerizing on the surface, yet underneath, it was like a tiger waiting for it's prey.

Shalaina sat upon a group of boulders near the water's edge, and wrapped her arms around her knees, staring into to the black waters. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a silver locket. She held it for a while, then opened the fragile heart. Inside, there was a picture of her mother and father, Cera and Hojo. Shalaina smiled fondly as she recalled the day the picture had been taken. She'd been seven, and she and her parents were at Cera's parent's house for a summer vacation. Everyone had been so happy, laughing and remembering on the past. Shalaina gazed upon her mother's face, long since lost to her.

"Shalaina" Her head shot up. She heard her name, yet no one was around. It sounded as though the voice had come from the water

Vincent was suddenly seized by a cold grasp of uneasiness. Something had happened.

"Cid." He said sharply. "Have you seen Shalaina recently?"

Cid shook his head. "Why?"

Vincent couldn't shake the feeling that something horribly bad was going to happen to Shalaina. "Rufus and I are going to look for her. If we don't find her, you had better get this piece of crap working."

Shalaina concentrated on the voice floating out of the churning waters. "Shalaina," it said. "You know why you're here. You know, and so does everyone else, that it's your fault your mother died."

Sephiroth listened helplessly as Jenova manipulated his younger sister's mind. He was powerless to do anything, and he hated the feeling, as he hated Jenova.

Rufus and Vincent went around to everyone's respective house or bar, but no one had seen Shalaina for a few hours. Eventually, the entire clan had gathered back at Cid's hanger.

"Rufus, what's going on?" Jerusha asked quietly.

Rufus shrugged. " I have absolutely no idea."

"Child, the only way to end your guilt is to end you existence." The voice was soothing, and it held Shalaina its helpless hostage. "You know I'm right, so come. Come with me, Shalaina."

Cid ran through the pre-flight checklist; the Highwind was alive, for now. Vincent was growing increasingly impatient.

"Cid, what the ^*$& are you doing all that for?" he growled. Cid gave him a withering look. Vincent did not wither.

"Listen, if I don't do this, I could blow an engine block or a power output, and that'd be real short trip, wouldn't it? I don't even know where I'm supposed to be going." Cid grumbled.

"Hysind." Vincent answered tightly.

"Vincent." Tifa called. "Sit down. Relax. We're going to get there in time."

Vincent spun on his heel, fixed his steely gaze on Tifa as the Highwind heaved herself off the ground. "In time for what?"

The voice had convinced Shalaina. She had inadvertently killed her mother, and she must die as well. She failed to notice the Highwind land not far away. She undid the clasp to her necklace, and let it drop to the ground. She set her rod down as well, closed her eyes, and stepped off the rock-

But she didn't fall. Instead, she felt a strong hand pulling her back, away from the water, the voice, and the guilt. She opened her eyes to see who had saved her. It was Vincent.

Vincent had seen Shalaina about to drop into the water. Without realizing what was happening, he'd sprinted towards her, leaving the others behind. He pulled her back from death, and she looked up at him, her eyes- Mako eyes- were full of more grief than he thought humanly possible. Then she broke, and sank to the ground. Shalaina clung to Vincent, softly weeping.

"My God." She said amidst her tears. "I'm sorry."

He just held her close, stroking her hair and letting her cry.

Sephiroth was secretly grateful to Valentine, although he could never admit it to Jenova. She'd probably kill him, but it's hard to kill someone who's already dead, he reasoned ruefully.

Shalaina lifted her head from Vincent's shoulder, smiling tearfully. "Thank you." She said. "No, thank you isn't enough." She half-laughed to herself. "If it weren't for you, I'd be dead right now." The realization of what she'd almost done made Shalaina dizzy.

Vincent tenderly wiped a tear from her cheek. "Just doin' my job."

Unexpectedly, she kissed him softly. "Don' t underestimate yourself." She told him. "I'm serious. You're my guardian angel."

Vincent looked over Shalaina's shoulder. Cloud, Tifa, and the rest were all standing about 100 yards away, watching them. Keeping an arm firmly planted around Shalaina's waist, he led her back to the group.

"They're going to want answers." He said.

They did. Jerusha and Yuffie practically spontaneously combusted holding back their rapid-fire barrage of questions, while Cloud, Tifa, Rufus and Barret just asked Shalaina and Vincent silently what had just happened. Then there was Cid.

"What the $*#&%in' pile of %&*$# #$*#$% just happened?" he asked. Shalaina didn't answer, because there was a low murmur of thunder, and flashes of lime-colored lighting on the horizon.

"I'll tell you when we get to my house." She replied. "That lighting is really freakin' me out."

The pack started towards town, Jerusha, Rufus, and Yuffie bringing up the rear. "Who'd think that Shalaina and Vincent would decide to fall for each other?" Yuffie asker her love-struck companions.

"Ya got me." Jerusha replied.

They arrived shortly at Shalaina's childhood home. While it had once been a neatly kept house, the yard and garden had long since overgrown with weeds, and several trees whipped angrily in the growling wind. Cotton-like black skittered shyly across a full moon, signaling an approaching storm, not one weather related. It gave Barret the creeps.

Shalaina opened the front door, and everyone congregated in a small living room.

"So." Cid started. "What the hell happened?"

Shalaina was quiet for a while. When she spoke, her voice shook slightly. "I was confused. That spot by the river was the spot where my mother died. I felt responsible for it, and then this voice told me the only way to get rid of my guilt was to die. So that's what I decided I'd do." She paused, her hand flying to her throat. "My necklace! Zut alors, I must have left it down by the river-"

"Don't worry." Cloud said. "I'll get it." He left, and headed down to the river. The moon was almost totally concealed by clouds, which made finding the small silver pendant somewhat difficult. Cloud eventually found it near the shore. He was about to start back when he heard a smooth, all too familiar voice behind him.

"Don't say I didn't give you fair warning." Cloud turned, and beheld Sephiroth hovering several feet above the river, Masamune poised. Before Cloud could react, it came down in a deadly arc.

Tifa was pacing back and forth restlessly. "I'm going after him." She decided. "He's been gone too long." She stalked out the door, and everyone else just sort of clumped together and followed her. The dark house, added to the coming storm, was inching the adrenaline level up a bit.

Tifa was the first to get to the river, just in time to see Cloud be struck down by Sephiroth. She raced towards her childhood friend, while Shalaina raced ahead, and, locket in her pocket, grabbed her rod. Sephiroth was about to deal the deathblow to Cloud, but instead of meeting no resistance to soft flesh, the Masamune met steel. Shalaina's rod. Enraged and intrigued, Sephiroth came down to Earth. Brother and sister regarded each other cooly, and Shalaina felt her heart breaking. Breaking for her older brother who was so consumed by hate, he would stop at nothing to seek his sweet revenge. She tossed down her weapon.

"I'm not going to fight you." She said. "But look at yourself. Look at who you've become. You used to be among the elite, one of the best warriors ever conceived. Everyone looked up to you. Everyone respected you. Now look. You're a pathetic, twisted puppet of someone else's doing. I feel so sorry, for you, mon cher frere. Sephiroththe name means 'angel'. I assume you knew that. But you're a fallen angel, brother. You've fallen."

Sephiroth gazed at Shalaina. The wind pulled at his black coat, and whipped through his silver hair like mercury. But it was his eyes that held Shalaina. Identical to hers, in color only. His possessed a certain sadness about them.

A voice suddenly pushed into her head. "Kill her now, Sephiroth."

Shalaina was shocked. It was the same voice that had convinced her to commit suicide.

Sephiroth's lips turned into an evil smile. "You hear that? That's my mother. You know her voice." The smile dropped from his face. "I didn't want to have to kill you, Shalaina. I never wanted to become what I am. But Jenova, my mother, has a hold on me. She's making me do this." The evil smile was back. "Please understand I hold you in the highest respect." He raised the Masamune. "Fare thee well, dear sister."

"You won't kill me." Shalaina retorted softly. "You said you don't want to kill me. Well, I don' t want to be killed. If you kill me, let me ask you this: what'll it accomplish? You won' t accomplish anything. Jenova will still haunt you, and so will I. Put down your sword, Sephiroth. Put down your hate. Push out Jenova."

The Masamune dropped to the ground, Sephiroth dropped to his knees. He looked up at Shalaina. "I can't." he said.

Shalaina knelt beside her brother. "Yes, you can. Let her know that she doesn't control you anymore. Trust me."

Jenova started screaming at both of them, her voice coming from every tree, rock, and any living organism. "You can't do it! You'll never exist without me!!" But it was too late. Sephiroth had cast her out for good. He looked deeply into Shalaina's eyes, saying a silent "Thank you". Then, as quietly as he'd come, he was gone.

Shalaina turned, and walked back towards her friends, who were just gaping at this point. Cloud was conscience thanks to a healing spell Tifa placed on him. She kept walking until she reached Vincent. He wrapped his arms around her, and they both watched the clouds dissipate, and the stars re-appear one by one, like diamonds.

****************************************************************************************** *Epilogue*

A month after the near battle at Hysind, the clan was gathered once again at Ninth Haven. Shalaina had settled permanently in Midgar, as had Jerusha.

Tifa was busy planning changes to her bar. "I'm going to turn this thing into an actual restaurant," she said, twisting her 2-week old engagement ring. "I'm sick of running a beer barrel."

Shalaina turned towards her, expression hopeful. "You think you'll be needing someone to work here? Please? I need a job." She was begging Tifa now. "I need a source of income! How am I supposed to support myself?"

"Get married." Vincent replied. Everyone stared at him, especially Shalaina.

"What do you mean, 'get married'?" she asked slowly.

"I mean," Vincent started "you should marry someone who loves you and who just made a very nice fortune patenting explosive bullets."

Shalaina stared at him disbelivingly, then smiled. "Oh, sure, what the hell?"

"There's a big surprise." Jerusha whispered to Rufus.

"You ever think about marriage?" he asked.

"Ask me again in a couple years." She replied.

At the other end of the table, Yuffie and Cid were busy consoling a weeping Barret.

"I just get a little emotional at times like these." He said, voice wavering. Yuffie handed him a Kleenex ®. "Thanks."

"It's ok, Barret." Cid said gruffly, " Just let it all out."

Not everything was ok. There was a great disturbance in the Lifestream. Unknown to everyone else, a new form of evil had been born. It wasn't Sephiroth or Jenova, it was something never before seen on the Planet

And there you have it. My pathetic attempt at a fanfic. Now, I face a moral dilemma. Should I actually write a sequel or not? I realize that I've severely maimed the plot of FF7, but who gives a hock-tooey? I've never played it, but if you read my forward, you'd know that. So does anyone out there think I should write a sequel? Anyone vote no? Anyone just not give a rip? Lemme know, 'k?

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