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by Brandon Coleman
"All of you. Get off the ship and find out your reasons for yourselves. I want you to make sure. Then I want you to come back," said the spiky-haired warrior, staring out the window of the Highwind.
"Maybe ain't none of us'll come back..." Cid said as he slouched in the corner. He took another drag of his cigarette. "Meteor's gonna kill us all anyway. Let's just forget any useless struggling!"
"I know why I'm fighting," Cloud responded, "I'm fighting to save the planet, and that's that. But besides that, there's something personal too... A very personal memory that I have. What about you all? I want all of you to find that something within yourselves. If you don't find it, that's okay too. You can't fight without a reason, right? So, I won't hold it against you if you don't come back."
Cloud turned his back too look out the window of the Highwind once more. With that, the team left the Highwind in order to search out their real reasons for continuing the battle. Everyone except Cloud and Tifa, since the real Nibelheim no longer existed, and they had nowhere to return to. Reeve's Cait Sith robot also stayed behind, as his searching was done in person rather than through the automaton.
"Cloud...?" Tifa asked the warrior as he looked out over the horizon, "Do you think any of them will come back?"
Cloud shrugged. "It's really up to them whether or not they want to continue the battle. I'm sure if it's in their hearts to do so, they'll come back. Until then, we'll just have to wait..."
Barret Wallace trodded up to the temporary residence of Aeris's adopted mother, Elmyra Gainsborough, in Kalm Town, and looked up at the window. "That must be Marlene' room... Man, can't wait to see her again..."
He knocked on the door, and Elmyra answered, looking rather happy to see him again. "Barret! What a pleasant surprise! Where are your friends?"
Barret scratched the back of his head and replied, "Actually, I come to see Marlene. Cloud wants us all to find out why we fightin' Sephiroth, an' I gotta make sure Marlene's my reason."
Elmyra nodded and said, "I understand. She's upstairs in her room playing with her dolls. Go up and see her."
"Thanks," Barret said as he made his way up the staircase and down the hallway to his adopted daughter's room. He opened the door, and saw Marlene on her bed brushing the hair of one of her various dolls.
Marlene turned toward the door, having heard it open, and a wide grin instantly spread across her face at the sight of Barret. "Daddy! You're home!"
Barret smiled as Marlene ran up to him and lifted her up onto his shoulder. "Hey there, how ya been? You behavin' for Miss Gainsborough?"
Marlene hugged Barret around the neck and said, "Of course, daddy! She's such a nice lady. I really like it here."
Barret's heart was filled with joy at being able to see his daughter again, and he knew she was definitely the reason he continued to fight. As he tucked her into her bed that night, he felt more than ever that he had to keep fighting. For her sake.
The beastly creature known as Red XIII, or, to most, Nanaki, padded his way up the cliffs to his hometown of Cosmo Canyon.
"This valley..." he reflected, "Protected for so many years by those of my race who used to inhabit here... Cosmo Canyon, the center of learning for the Study of Planet Life..."
Nanaki knew in his heart that his real reason for continuing to adventure with Cloud and the others was not due to the fact that his "grandfather" had told him to. There was a more personal reason for his fight... He padded up to the barrel where Bugenhagen concealed the device to open the sealed door, and made his way through the Gi Cave to the back of Cosmo Canyon.
"Seto... the great warrior Seto..." Nanaki said when he reached the chamber with his petrified father within. He leapt up to the cliff and sat down next to the statue. "Father, I hope you can hear me... My heart has been full of nothing but hatred for you for as long as I can remember, but grandfather has shown me what your true fate was. The brave protector of Cosmo Canyon..."
Nanaki sighed deeply and shook his mane. "Now, I know what my destiny is to be as well. Son of brave Seto... I have inherited the charge of protecting this valley. If that means facing Sephiroth at the North Crater, so be it. I am Nanaki, sole protector of Cosmo Canyon! Father, you will not be disappointed in me!" With those words, Nanaki looked up at the full moon and began to howl, full of self-purpose and pride...
Cid Highwind stared up at the large tower where his rocket had been and thought to himself. Hard to believe that piece of shit rocket was ever able to make it into space... Funny, how I fulfilled my dream inside that hunk of scrap, and made a big mistake too...
Cid walked up to his house and knocked on the door yelling, "Hey, anybody in there?" Shera opened the door a few seconds later.
"Why, Captain, what are you doing back here?" the female mechanic asked with a look of surprise on her face.
"What the hell you callin' me 'Captain' for? The name's Cid, remember?"
At this point Shera was looking even more surprised than before. "I'm sorry, Cap... I mean, Cid."
Cid smiled and said, "That's better. Shera, I came back here to tell you something. I don't blame you for destroying my dream. I didn't back then, either, but I felt like I had to blame someone. I was pissed off for a while, but I know you were just looking out for my safety."
The pilot took a break to have a puff on his cigarette and continued, "That last time, I learned something else... If I'd taken off the first time, I'd have probably bit it anyway. The tank you were worried about was defective, but I didn't listen to you. Guess what I'm trying to say is I'm sorry for how I've treated you all these years."
Shera had been standing there pop-eyed for most of Cid's speech, but she shook her head and seemed to snap out of it. "I... I don't know what to say... I'm so glad..."
Her emotion overcame her, and she found herself wrapping her arms around Cid and hugging him gently. He hesitated for a moment, but returned the hug fondly, whispering to Shera, "Don't worry... I'll make up for it all soon..."
"Look at this place..." Yuffie said in disgust as she looked around her hometown. "How could dad turn Wutai into a place like this?" She picked up a Turtle's Paradise flyer and tore it to shreds. "It's terrible..."
Yuffie visited the Pagoda of the Five Mighty Gods next, and looked up at it. The building was worn and highly out of use. All they ever do is sit up there and hide their true power... They've fallen from glory just like the rest of the town... And all because we lost one stupid war?
She eyed the materia in her boomerang and smiled. I'll bet there's plenty of great materia in that cave where Sephiroth is... all I need is a little bit of it, and I can turn Wutai back into the great city it used to be... before dad and the war... She turned up her nose at the very thought, but it made her realize how much she really cared for Wutai, and that "All for Wutai" was truly her call to arms.
Reeve kicked a stone as he walked through the slums of Midgar. "Wow, I never knew how polluted the world under the plate had gotten since we started using Mako..." He looked around and saw the run-down buildings and the dirt the people of the slums had to live in. "I can't believe this... The way these people are living... it's shameful..."
A small girl with dirt on her face and a flower basket in her hand approached Reeve and tugged on his pants. "Hey, Mister, would you like to buy a flower? Only one gil each..." she asked, pausing to cough into her hand afterward.
Reeve's eyes softened as he saw the pathetic look in the child's eyes. He handed her ten gil and said, "Here you go. Pick out a bouquet of your best flowers for me."
The girl said, "Oh, thank you, Mister, thank you!" and handed him ten of her violets, tied up with a short piece of string. She toddled off happily, counting her newly-earned money.
"These poor people..." Reeve said, sniffing the flowers. "If I were in charge of Midgar instead of the President and Rufus, I would have done things a lot differently..." Then a realization came over him. "Wait... Shinra no longer exists, and Midgar's just crying out for a reconstruction effort. All it would need is someone to take charge of the project, and I've got the know-how, being the former Head of Urban Development! I'm going to go talk to Domino right now and organize a reconstruction effort!"
Reeve ran off in the direction of the old Shinra complex, knowing Domino would be there, packing up his belongings. As he ran, ideas flying through his head, he stopped to hand the bouquet of violets to an attractive young lady, smiling all the while.
"Lucrecia..." the raven-haired man lamented as he looked across the valley that spread beneath him, and the waterfall at its edge. "Why did you choose Hojo? No... why did I allow you to? All I could do was watch..."
Vincent felt the energy of Jenova and Lucrecia's sorrow for her departed son Sephiroth emanating from behind the waters. "Now, look at me... I am a monster, not fit to receive your love... It is too late for me to do anything..." Vincent clenched his claw-hand and stared into the distance.
The brown-haired woman stepped out from behind the waterfall, and put her hand on his shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, Vincent... I chose Hojo in defense of him... I had no idea he would take it as meaning more than that. The birth of Sephiroth was as much my fault as it was yours..."
"But Lucrecia..." Vincent began, "I could do nothing to stop the Jenova Project... The turning over of your child to Dr. Gast... And my punishment... was to watch... that, and what Hojo gave me... this damned body of a monster..." He clenched his claw once more and looked down at himself in anger.
Lucrecia sighed and turned Vincent to face her. "Vincent... you're not a monster. You're the most beautiful human being I know. But I am not long for this world. Once you defeat Sephiroth, the Jenova in me will die out, as has my will to live... But I'll see you in the afterlife. There, we can be at peace... All I ask of you is to defeat my son. End this suffering of mine. If you truly care for me, you will understand."
Vincent nodded. He lifted his hand to touch Lucrecia's cheek, and parted with her silently, as she vanished back behind the waters...
The morning after Cloud sent everyone off the airship, he and Tifa were still wondering who would come back, and also what to do next. Just then, they heard the Highwind's engine start up, and ran to the piloting chamber to see who started it.
When they arrived there, they found Barret and Cid at the controls of the airship. "Barret! Cid!" Cloud called to them.
Looking rather surprised to see them back, Barret asked, "O, oh... is that okay with you?"
Then, everyone heard a rustling sound in the corner, and Red XIII jumped out. Cloud called out to him as well.
Tifa looked around at the three and asked, "Why didn't you tell me?
Red XIII padded up and said, "But, you know, Cid.
"Hey, Red XIII. If you butt in now, you never know what they'll say later..." Cid replied waving his arms.
Tifa blushed a deep shade of red and turned away. "Were you watching?" She ran to the front of the ship and held her head in embarrassment. The others shrugged and shook their heads.
A few moments later, another familiar face showed up. Vincent walked into the control room very casually, as was his style. Cloud greeted him as well, rather surprisedly. "Why such a puzzled look? You don't want me to come?" asked the former Turk.
"No, it's just that you're always so cold," Cloud said, "I thought you didn't care what was happening.
Vincent slicked back his hair with his hand and said, "Cool? I guess that's just how I am, sorry..." He did a backflip and landed in his customary space in the corner.
Everyone was startled when a red light began to flash and a loud alarm started to blare, but calmed down once they saw that the Cait Sith robot was back in action. Barret stepped forward and said, "Well lookey-here. The Shinra manager's come back."
Cait Sith scratched his head and said, "Uh, excuse me but... I wanted to come with the main group, but I couldn't get away... So some people in Midgar took me in." He jumped into the air saying, "I know I have a stuffed animal body, but I'll work really hard!"
"I guess that's everyone," Barret said.
"No, Yuffie's still missing," pointed out Red XIII.
"She ain't gonna show up. 'Least this time she didn't steal our materia," Barret laughed. "Guess we gotta be thankful for that.
Just then Yuffie dropped from the ceiling, punching and kicking at the air. "How could you say that?" she said, obviously annoyed at Barret. "I came all the way here after being seasick as a dog! I didn't go through all that just to have you guys have all the best parts to yourselves!"
"Welcome back, Yuffie," Cloud said smiling.
Yuffie blushed and said, "Gee, Cloud... that's so nice of you to say that..." she stopped. "You sick? Oh, well, whatever. I'm gonna be in my reserved seat in the hall... waiting... upp! Urk!" She held her hand over her mouth and ran for the hallway.
Cloud looked around at all his friends, smiled, and said, "Thanks, everyone."