Silver Rose: Lights and Shadows
By Reno Spiegel

October 16, 3076
Late Shift. ShinRa, Inc. 11:45 P.M.

"You'll get the promotion, or I'll have Robert ShinRa's fat ass on a platter." - Professor Hojo, ShinRa Science Department

Not everyone with relatives starts high in this company, as some may think. I'm one of these cases, as a chef behind the scenes in the executive cafeteria, but if that's what it takes to get high on the rungs of the ladder here, I'll serve burgers until my wrists rot away. What everyone considers to be my father gave me a recommendation, so they shoved me in the kitchens, handed me a hairnet, and told me to turn off the lights every night before I leave.

Held to other jobs' levels, being cafeteria worker here is like CEO anywhere else. ShinRa is just that damn good.

I walk out of the building one night, in the dead-middle of October, and sling my brown jacket on, hailing a cab to take me to the train station a few blocks down from work. Much better than walking, though, seeing as how the first frost had knocked us on our asses in surprise and it had decided to snow the next day, hard, just to spite us.

Midgar weather is like a good Chocobo race at the Gold Saucer; no one ever knows how it turns out, and those weathermen judges mean nothing here. Midgar does what it wants to do, and if we don't accept it, it seems to double the load.

The driver tosses some small talk, and I throw back with big words just to confuse him, then hop off early and pay him everything from my pocket so he won't have to kill me if I ride it all the way to the station. Drivers atop the 'Pizza in The Sky' are known to do that, have someone take them to court, and win. Screwed-up people, they are, and a poor-ass chef, I am.

I flash my business card at the ticket person and she lets me through with a smile, without gloves even in this weather. They're known for their hard attitude toward the conditions, and soft mood toward their customers. Everyone in Midgar has a reputation. Anyone who lives above the Plate automatically earns the damn-rich title.

I live in the slums.

Someone like me wouldn't be caught above the Plate by anyone famous outside of the business, though. We're stereotyped as people actually with the job I have; low-pay worker, going twelve-hour days to try and grasp onto the second rung on the ladder of success, if just for a brief moment, before we feel the load and crumble into snivelling masses of shit.

It's about this time, as I'm ready to sleep the short distance to Sector Five, that Mills O'Donnel slams down into the seat next to me.


Mills "Lard" O'Donnel is a very heavyset man with a speech impediment, who demands to say everything about four decibals too loud. His hips are as wide as some small cars, and his breathing is always labored. Apparently, he tagged me from the kitchens. He works the grills, I take the orders. He's been at the job for eight years, everyday waiting for his promotion to come along, and is about twenty-nine right now. He got all his weight from eating the defective burgers. Poor fool demands dieting is a waste of his time.

"Hello, Mills," I mutter out of courteousy. I'm praying my tone lets him know to keep it down. This late at night, all the creeps are riding the trains home, and his breath is always steaming hot and smells like potatoes and ham.

"H - h - hey, S - Seph!"

See what I mean? And he has a feeling President ShinRa's just waiting for Palmer, the leader of the Space Program, to die out to take him to the top. I'm nice and let him keep his dreams. Father did promise me a promotion to the top of a new recruiting program, however, and I take his word, for once.

I feign a rumbling pager in my pocket and excuse myself to the phone in the back of the train. In reality, I do get on the phone, but only to check my messages at home. Sure, Mills is a good-hearted man, and I'm playing the role of a best friend until he gets one, but my shift ended ten minutes ago; I'm dead to anyone related to ShinRa except Father, the President, and myself for about twelve hours. I put in the two gil fee for the phone and get into my machine archive.

[you have. . .three. . .new messages]

A record for me, or so it seems. No one's talked to me frequently for months since I left Rocket Town and made my way here with Father. They all kind of faded from my mind, and I from theirs, and we silently called it even. I wonder how many people remember me by now?

[message. . .one]

A dial tone rings through the receiver. Someone who didn't leave a message. Most likely someone with the wrong number, or someone who didn't really need to talk to me that badly, because I checked to make sure the machine was turned on before I left. Never had that thing broken in its seven-year existence.

[message. . .two]

"S - Seph, this i - is --"


I delete that one with a press of a finger. Mills never calls me with any news. One of his favorite games is phone tag, but it eats up a lot of my tapes, of which I have one left. Third time's a charm on my answering machine. Hopefully I got that job at the weapon shop I applied for awhile back. The old man pays about fifteen gil an hour for moving his shit around, and I need that money.

"Sephiroth, before I say this, it's your fuck-up, and I won't let it be my problem."

Come again? The landlord, whose name was never given to me, has two main rules; he does something, it's a problem. Someone else does something, it's a fuck-up. Let's see what else he has to say on my latest F-U, shall we?

"I told you, if you didn't get that rent to me, your house would be taken away from you. I tried to play fair. I gave you an extra month to get it in, and you only gave half. Not good enough, my friend. The locks were changed this afternoon. You'll find a refund of that half-size rent you gave me in the flower-pot on my steps. Already gave your name to Aeca, too, so don't go to her for a place to live. See ya 'round."


[end of messages]

My head crashes against the steel wall of the train car, which is now rounding the Sector Seven pillar to get done to the "slum station."


My house. The one thing I actually owned, was just taken away from me. And here I am, standing in a Midgar train, a dead phone against my ear, with the rent in my coat pocket. And let me tell you, even below the Plate, the winds can bite through flesh like razors in the winter, and all the homeless thugs have the good, warm spots outside windows of factories.

Let's see. . .my friends. . .top-ranking ShinRa executives. And if I approached them with a proposition like that, they'd stare at me, laugh, and go on their way.

It's about this time the train hisses to a stop and everyone shoves their way onto the platform, trying to get into the crowd so they won't be attacked by, of course, the local gangs. I move out of the crowd and walk around a bit. The snow's started up again, and it flakes off when my hair swings. If I stood here for a little while longer, the silver tendrils would crack off at the slightest touch.

Damn my thin hair.

I hear a noise a ways off. A young woman. . .screaming? My semi-heroic side -- you know, the one that says 'hey, go help and you might get laid!' -- gets the best of me and I trudge over in the direction of the sound, only to find her selling flowers. Long hair, pink dress, big green eyes. I've seen her walking down on Kert Street before, swinging around the lamp posts with her basket over her arm. Looked almost drunk.

"Flowers! One gil! Anybody want. . .some. . ."

She frowns, wrinkles her face. I reach down into my pocket and pull out my rent money. A hundred gil, all wrapped up in a rubber band. I toss it around in my hand for a moment, then figure out I don't need to pay rent anymore. Nothing to pay rent on.

"Sir!" She comes hurrying over to me, snow bouncing off of her shoulders, unsettled by her sudden movement. She gives me the usual street vender smile, but I have a feeling she actually looks this pathetically innocent. "Want a flower? Only a gil."

I blink, stare, and drop the wad into her flower basket, then brush past her and head down the steps, toward the year-round fountain they planned on tearing down soon. Overhanging lights glare at me as I pass, and the wind spreads whispered rumors amongst the shifty trees about me. My shadow is embarassed to accompany me when we are beneath the light.

She looks dumbstruck when I glance back. "Sir, did you miss the two zeros on the end of this?"

I pause, letting her catch up, and shrug. "Maybe I did. But no one likes zeros. Remember that," I drone, then continue forward, disappearing down an alley filled with bums. My hand slides itself into the air. "Any room in that dumpster for a ShinRa employee?"

They scatter. I take the dumpster and the newspapers they left for blankets.

This must be rock-bottom.


October 17, 3076
Morning. Dumpster. Sector Seven Alley. 6:19 A.M.
"Midgar is cleaning up. Evicting the unneeded. I promise you, if you go into an alley and mention the name Aeca, they'll all run." - Aeca Rey, Midgar Times

Aah. The feel of my bed. I love waking up, knowing I have at least a bit of padding beneath me if I hit the floor. I roll to the side, try to shut the alarm clock off. I roll out of bed; fall flat on my face from a higher distance than I expected.

About this time, last night comes back to me, and I dash from the alley before the truck aimed to empty the dumpster can crush me.


That'll take some getting used to. Hands stuffed in my pockets, one gripping my handgun, I trudge through the ankle-deep snow out into the plaza, where the street light buzzes in the early morning glow of the city. There, of course, is no sun down here, but they installed lights on the Plate to mirror the sun's feel. All except for the heat, it seems to work.

The big clock on the pillar flashes a steady pulse of 6:20 A.M. Five or so hours until work, I guess, so I walk to the nearest restaurant, just thankful for some heat and free coffee to wake myself up. This is the place for people who can't afford real food; they look at you, judge how broke you are, and give you free food. A guy with half an arm left was reported to walk out with lobster one day.

I just get the coffee and a muffin, by choice. I turn from the counter and see Turner Rolan nursing a cup of his own and reading a newspaper laid out on the table.

Turner Rolan has been a good friend of mine since I came to Midgar. We rode the same train my first day here, and had a few chance meetings after that before we accepted the fact we might as well know each other. I sit myself down at his table silently -- he never seems to mind -- and he jabs a finger at the article he's reading. A few quotes from Aeca, the most poular landlord around here, jump off the page at me. About eviction.

"Word travels fast," I mutter, half to myself, before taking a drink out of my cup. A bit cold, but it'll do.

Turner eyes me tiredly. He's a tall, built man with a goatee and a blonde crewcut. He's got to be about six-three when he's standing. He basically owns the Rolan & Miklen firm ontop of the Plate, but his wife owns this place, so he gets a cup of coffee or two for free each morning. He's a lawyer, living about the Plate, but feeling sympathy for the ones below. Today, he's decked out in a grey business suit with a white workshirt and black tie, apparently running solely on caffeine from the way his eyes are so red. He knows the look on my face. "You're one of 'em?"


"Hell." He clicks his tongue, folds the paper, and stuffs it in his briefcase. A firearm glares at me before it shuts again. He's below the Plate; it's legal to shoot muggers down here, if you live up there. "I hope you didn't forget ShinRa rules? Page three, line ninety-seven?"

We had to memorize that damned book. I forgot that section. My head hits the table and a few hairs fall into my coffee. "Page three, line ninety-seven: Anyone without a steady living space, or home, will not be accepted into the company, and any evicted person will be fired." Turner had to read it when he handled one of my cases: I attacked a man on the street when I was drunk. Beat him to death with a steel pipe.

I won, somehow.

Thank God for Turner Rolan and Nimonasa Miklen.

He thumps me on the back of the neck until I sit up. "Look," he says. "I'll try and get something worked out with Old Man ShinRa, and if it all goes to Hell, you could always take a job at the firm."

"I know nothing about law, and you know that, Turner," I remind him.

He smiles a bit. "That's why you have me. You know my number. I've got a case a seven-thirty. Talk to you later."

I give him my thanks and watch him walk out the door, hail a cab, and ride toward the station. I sit there for a few minutes, nodding at people who glance my way, then finished the coffee and leave, back out to the plaza. The snow, which had come down through a few holes in the Plate, had stopped early this morning, it seems.

I made my way out of that restaraunt with a sub sandwich and another coffee, this in a styrofoam cup. It warms my hands up a bit, and I note I blew about twenty minutes sitting in there, but it's still awhile until work; until I'm fired.

ShinRa's getting on my bad side.


Oh, hell. There's that whiny flower girl from last night again, hurrying up to me with my change in her hand. "Leave me alone." I turn and start off. It's going to be a bad day. I feel I have every right to be cantankerous right now.

She follows. "But, Sir, I'm just wondering. . ."

I stop. She doesn't want to give me my money back. She has a question. I have an ache for questions all the time, for some reason. "What is it?" Still wearing the pissed-off-and-not-willing-to-speak-about-it suit. I'll probably head to Wall Market after this is over with.

"Um. . .well. . .I saw your picture in the papers awhile back. . .it said you work at ShinRa. . ." Get on with it. She buries the toe of her boot in the snow and puts her hands behind her back. "Why. . .were you in the dumpster?"

Woman. . .I let you follow me. . .I gave you my money. . .but you're really pushing your luck. I look around and pick up a discarded front page of today's newspaper, handing it to her and jabbing Aeca's article. "Now, if I may ask a question of my own. . ."


"Are you stalking me?" No use in dragging her along with the small-talk, huh?

Her big, green eyes blinked at me once or twice. She looks a bit nervous as she says, "I. . .I'm always concerned about the homeless people around here. . ."

Hold on. "Homeless people? You mean, you're not?" This is news to me. The way she was selling flowers like that, I thought she needed the gil for clothes.

"Of course not!" she insists, giggling softly. "I live just a ways away. It's just. . .so hard to find real flowers under the Plate, so I'm selling the ones I grow in the church."


"I could show you!" She lights up at this possibility. Apparently, she doesn't have too many visitors. "I. . .I have a lot of extra time. . .and since you'll be around here a lot. . . You could even stay there."

Desperate? Seems to be. She's got that pleading look on her face, though. I always fall for that; so I wave it off. "Yeah, sure, whatever." I turn on my heel and start to the train station; if I'm going to be fired, why not get it over with as early as possible?

"But, Sir, where will I --"

I shove a hand in the air and flick my wrist, not even looking back. "You'll find me!" Like you do every night. I stop at the station for a few moments to toss a few lines back and forth with the ticket lady. She understands my situation; lets me through with a smile and a free ticket.

Melissa's the best attendant the station's had in a long while.

Mills is nowhere in sight as I make my way to the back car again, grabbing the last seat before the train jerks and starts its way up the tracks to the Plate. Mills, of course, won't be coming in until later, though.

I hurry from the station to the building for once when I'm finally there. I flash my ID card and enter the doors, automatically waved through when the metal detector goes off; carrying a gun is nothing new to ShinRa, Incorperated. I punch the 'Up' button for the elevator and the doors slide open moments later.

"Holy shit, Sephiroth, early to work!"

Holy shit, I hate you. Scarlet Chassity, whose position isn't one of the things I know, literally slept her way to the top of ShinRa. Everyone from General 'Gya ha ha' Heidegger to President ShinRa to, as much as I hate to think about it, Professor Hojo. She stares at me from above ruby red lips, a hand on her hip and her red suit clinging tightly to her. She meant for that, I'm sure. Real bitch, she is. "Hello, Scarlet." On your way to your next victim?

She stays in the elevator just to spite me as I get on, even when I press the button and scan my card for the Seventieth floor. "I'm sure it's no secret to you as to why I'm here early."

"You're out of a job!" she sings out. We both hate each other with a passion. She knows everything about everyone. It's how she picks who to seduce next and get her promotions. She'll have to go big to move anywhere else; she's on the high-up ladder rungs now, with Daniel Reeve, Jason Palmer, General Heidegger, and others. And she did them all to get there. "Word spreads quick, Seph. Robert already knows, and so does everyone else. They've got your position up for grabs."

"Uh-huh. And remind me, where were you before you became a secretary here?" The elevator beeps and she stiffens as I start off, lingering enough to hear her yell "Stupid fuck!" at my back before the doors close.

It's not a big surprise; she was a street whore in Junon. And she'll confess to all the hype any day of the week. Robert ShinRa already has my file out when I sit down at his desk. "Sir, is there any way we can work this out?"

His eyes move from the paper he was reading to me, flashing with a bit of surprise. "I really doubt it, but we have your father's number incase we need to contact you," he says. And that's that. He slides the folder at me and shoos me away from his desk after tossing me a bag with enough gil to last me a few weeks inside.

Rule number. . .something: Never stay in President ShinRa's office once dismissed, or he takes something away from you. I stand up immediately, say a soft apology, and walk down the stairs with my things. Scarlet's already entering an office when I get forty floors down. She winks at me before closing the door.

Apparently, you were on your way.

I get outside. Hell. Sleet is falling from the sky faster than a plane in a nosedive, and many people are already shielding theirselves with something. Melissa waves me through the creaking, laughing gate coming onto the train again. Still no gloves, and a short-sleeved shirt, without cover. I give her my coat in exchange for another smile and a quick kiss on the cheek before I'm inside the train.

I have a path from home to work, and I know everyone on the way. It's like a family, all lined up. Dysfunctional some places, ties like shoelaces in others. It's all kind of balanced out, in its own, creepy way. I spend the rest of the day in a cycle of sleep, food, and window shopping until it's time to clock in for the night.

The flower girl is right on time.

She's leading me to the church here in Sector Seven. We spend most of the walk in silence before she speaks up with, "So. . .do you have a name?"

What am I, a fucking dog? "One of three: 'Sephiroth,' 'Sir, you're causing a disturbance,' or 'Who the hell are you?'. Take your pick." Me and my asinine attitude are inseparable. "How 'bout you?" It's a basic shoot-the-breeze topic, like the weather.

She smiles a bit at me. It's oddly warming. "Just Aeris works for me." No sense of humor. "I live a little ways past the business district here. Big house, bigger garden. Just in case you need any help. . ."

"You're sure you're not stalking me?"

She turns around and folds her arms over her chest, eyes narrowing. I think I pissed her off this time. "Look, I'm just trying to help someone who's currently sleeping in a dumpster," emphasis on that last word, "get a bit of heat to his system before he turns into an assicle!" I don't think she was meaning to say 'icicle,' either.

I blink and shove my hands back in my pockets. We stare at each other for a few more minutes, neither budging in our efforts, until she turns back around and starts toward the church again.

I win.

It only takes a few moments before we round the last corner and I step on a piece of stained glass; more, whole pieces stare me down from the windows of the church. One door is ajar, while the other is jagged with what look like stab marks from this distance. The church is actually quite large and nice, if you ignore the broken window and the trashed door, but I have a feeling it's not the best on the inside.

Silently, as if not to disturb the building, she leads the way inside the church. The door creaks when I push it open, but the inside doesn't look all that bad. There are a few rips here and there in the many pew cushions, a few floorboards have been knocked out of place, and there's more broken glass on the sides of the aisles, but one thing, straight ahead, would jump out at anyone: Flowers. And, as far as I can tell, real flowers, which no one ever sees beneath the Plate. Despite the subtle beauty of it, it doesn't exactly look safe.

"You know," I finally speak up to her back, "people would die to know how to grow flowers down here." It's true. Some people head up to the Plate just to see the trees, flowers, and such.

She smiles at me over her shoulder. "I don't know how I do it. It just. . .happens."

For some reason, I believe that. Churches are known to have supernatural powers. "So, if I do accept your strange offer and stay here. . .how much is rent?"

"No rent," she blurts out. "I. . .I'd offer it to everyone if I could, but I think most people around here would gut a person like me for confronting them." That's true. "I'm just glad you're even speaking to me. . ."

Shit, Aeris, you are as pathetic as you look. Too damn soft. "Uh-huh. Well, I guess, since they said there should be more snow tonight, I'll crash here." But only because you don't look like the serial killer type.

She smiles again. We talk a bit more while she goes to attending to her flowers. I tell her a few things about myself; family, old job, connections. I learn from her that she's lived her most of her life, and has been taking care of these flowers for about seven or eight years. Says she had something to do with ShinRa, but she dodges exactly how each time I ask her about it. I decide not to press. She gives me a blanket she keeps here for emergencies and starts out. I don't know why I do this, but. . .


She turns to me with the universal 'Yeah?' look on her face.

". . ." I know I'll live to regret this. "Thanks."

She smiles again, nods, and walks out the creaking door, leaving me in the darkness and silence of the Sector-Seven-church-turned-temporary-home.

How low can rock-bottom sink?


October 18, 3076
Early Morning. Pew. Slum Church. 3:45 A.M.

"You know, they say dreams are the gateway to reality. I think there's more to it. But, what do I know? I only have telekenisis and a straight jacket." - Patient 10638, Midgar Asylum

I'm running, and I don't know why. I feel caught. Caught in a giant labrynth of alleyways above the Plate. I look up, and see the clouds, ripping apart, leaving a hole of black until a golden, misty hand reaches down and slams into the Planet. The ground shakes.

Things are moving way too fast.

My hands sweat when I slide them along the alleyway wall. It's like one of those hedge mazes, but too high to climb out of, and too thick to blast through. Red -- yes, blood red, like the color you picture a demon's eyes as -- lightning crashes around me, winds ripping at my clothes, gripping my hair in their journey and trying to halt my progress.

Too fast. . .

I turn corners, scream for help, try to find a way out of the twisting paths. Eyes peer at me from the corners, hatred flashing at me, while shadows rush by with no source. It all makes no sense. No sense at all.

Help me. I scream it over and over again. Until I come to a dead-end.

A. . .thing, stands there, towering at least eight feet tall. Its face is so bad, it looks like someone shoved a knife in its ear and ripped a path across the eyes, turning to get the nose and mouth next and shoving its head into a can of brown paint. It's hideous. Its white robes, ragged, whipping in the wind, while it stands, calm. Looking at me. Sizing me up. Holding a long dagger; trying to pinpoint its target.

It rushes.

I think not. I run for it, the thing, trying to kick it back but only feeling my own leg buckle before it lifts me up and throws me down the path, into a wall. I break it. My back surges in pain, and its tall, lanky form steps easily through the hole.

I look up to see its jagged face as it picks me up by the neck and shoves me against the other wall. My throat tries to swallow itself whole, but the thing speaks.

"Murney de pantra."

Its voice sears in the back of my head, a foreign tongue screaming a warning at me. My tormentor throws me down and steps on my neck, raising the arm with the knife in a backswing. An orb of crimson propels itself from the hole in the clouds, quickly closing on us.

Crushing the labrynth with me inside.

* * * * *

I wake with a start.


That's the worst dream I've ever had, I decide as I open my eyes quickly and look around. I remember this time. I'm in the church, under the blanket. Something screams a ways away and I shove my gun back into my pocket, before I stand up and walk quickly away from the building.

Aeris was nice enough to let me sleep there for a night, I know, but I want to leave as quickly as possible; as well as it grows flowers, it spawns torture.

The pillar pulses 6:59.

I head for the free-food place on the other side of the Sector, all the while trying to rid myself of the memory of the jagged-faced monster. Something seems off the entire walk, but I complete my journey without incident or accident. As usual, Turner's at his table with a cup of coffee and newspaper, this time apparently waiting for me, because he puts his paper away when I walk in and shifts after I get a muffin and sit down.

"Problems with Old Man ShinRa, still?"

How'd you guess? "He fired me," is all I say, rubbing my hands together in the cold air of the restaurant. His eyes look a bit red, but his coffee cup is full. Something's up. "What the hell's with you?"

He sighs. Just as I figured. Something's wrong, and he's out to fix it. Lawyers are like that. "Somebody got shot on the other end of the Sector last night, by the church. Nobody got a description of the killer, though, so I've gotta help Miklen with that." Miklen doubles as an investigator when he has time. Quite the fucking value pack. I hate him. "Wonderin' if you might be able to help us out, too."

Funny. . . I didn't hear a thing last night, and I woke up on my own. "I guess, if I can find the time." My usual answer. I used to be a busy person, and now I have to go to Wall Market and check with the old guy in the weapon shop about a job. Things come up, Turner, you know that feeling. "Weird-ass dream last night. . .doesn't feel right. . . Do you know if Miklen knows any higher-ups that know anything about that type of stuff?" I take a bite of my muffin. Good today.

He holds his hands up suddenly. "I actually heard about that from somebody. Forget who, right now" -- great -- "but it'll come back to me in a while." A forgetful lawyer. Shit. Note to Self: Shop around next time.

"Fine, fine," I sigh. Better than running around blindly, right? Well, maybe. "Anyway, you know if the old guy at the weapon shop's still looking for help?"

He starts to stand up, pauses, and shrugs uncaringly. "I live above the Plate, Sephster." Watch it, Blondie. "Good luck with whatever it is." He aims his path for the door, but stops as soon as he has it open and looks sideways with a grin at me. Disturbing. "I remembered who it was now."

"Who's that?" We're getting a few odd looks.

"Patient 10638, Cell Block C in the old Asylum. Have fun," he chuckles, then steps out and hops into his own car to drive the rest of the way.

That reminds me. My old Cougar is still probably sitting in my driveway at my old house. Hopefully. I grab the pen Turner left on the paper -- aww, he was only halfway through the crossword puzzle -- and jot down on my arm:

Patient 10638
Midgar Asy

It's enough of a note for me. I steal his pen and paper and walk from the coffee shop-like place, staring at the clock again. I always seem to only spend about half an hour in there. I'm starting off to Wall Market, when, just as expected. . .

"How'd ya sleep?"

I shrug it off and keep walking, letting her tag along. People could pass us off for a couple, I bet. "Better than a dumpster, thanks. Hear anything about a shooting last night?" It's good to know what kind of killer is stalking around your bed while you're dreaming of fighting off an eight-foot demon who doesn't know English. "Murney de pantra" still echoes in my mind.

Aeris half-smiles and nods, without the usual basket today. "Yeah. Nobody saw who did it, though." So I've heard. "Might be better to stay somewhere else tonight?"

What are you getting at? I lift a brow at her and narrow the other eye. A trick I learned in college to scare people off, or just to look overly-curious. "What, back in the dumpster? And remember, they kicked me out of my house." Our shadows hesitate in their following, but we drag them along over our footsteps.

She laughs, not the annoying giggle I might've expected, and shakes her head. "Of course not. I meant my place."

Yeeerrk! Hold on here. I stop and turn to completely face her, seeing the look of surprise in her face. "Your. . .place?" I'm not one to stutter, you know. But this one would slap anybody down. I half-expect my shadow to ditch me here and now, like it does under the lamp posts. Wind howls a warning around me to just listen to her. I pay it no heed. "Listen. Aeris, you've been nice and all that, but. . ." But, what? I don't want to be a burden? I'd feel uncomfortable? I'm an asshole not up for taking a chance?

"You're one of the homeless people around here!" she huffs. Yeah, well, that, too. I suppose I could always sleep in my car. I should have let her know that a few seconds ago. Anyway, continuing. . . "And a nice one, at that. I'm not gonna stand back and watch you be the next one to get gunned down in the back alleyways!" Damn, she can be pissy when she needs to. "So, either" -- a deal. Fun. -- "you stay at my place, or I send someone out to kill you myself!"

From the look on her face, she's either serious about being this caring, or just really wants to get me into bed with her. I'll go with the former, the way she comes off. "Fine, fine." Angry woman. Never disobey. "Settle down for a second, and I'll lay it down for you. I've gotta run to Wall Market and do a few things. Should be back around. . ." I stare at the big Pillar clock. I have a feeling the landlord won't be too happy about me being there. "Give me three hours or so, then I'll jump back over here. We'll go from there, alright?" Ease her into it. She seems short-fused enough already,

She smiles. Dear God, she's a two-face. "Okay. Later, Seph." She bounds off into the snow, disappearing down one of the alleys. Probably the one she didn't want me going into.

I shake my head, sigh, and aim myself for Wall Market. That was quite an event to start off the day. Well, no more fretting about where to stay the next night, I guess, and even if she did just want to sleep with me or something. . . I sneak a glance back the way I came and see the footsteps between the buildings. I try and hide a grin. Why do I have this sudden feeling in the pit of my stomach is might've happened anyway?

The paths in Wall Market are always busy and littered with shopping bags, ice cream cones, and soda bottles. But everyone goes along, buying whatever they need, and then high-tailing it out of there. It's the business district inside the slums, so there, naturally, are a lot of shoplifters hiding in the cracks of the place. Which is probably one of the reasons I pack heat.

Clumps of muddy grass jolt out from place to place, though most are sick, dying, dead, while a number seem to be all three at once. Some are just covered with plastic bags, preventing an actual life from touching the plants. Although I'm no saint myself, this place looks like shit.

I pass most of the shops, including Fat-Fuck Corneo's -- thank you, Heideggar -- Honey Bee Inn, and step into the weapon's shop without knocking. A SOLDIER-uniformed man stands guard with a loaded twelve-gauge in plain sight next to the door, and he half-smiles at me when I walk in. He's probably seen me walking around the building.

The man who runs the place looks up and grins widely. "I remember you!" What a shock. Old people tend to forget me. Oh, wait. I mean people in general. "You came in about the clean-up job, right?"

I nod. He probably wouldn't hear me anyway. You know how old people get when thier hair goes white.

His smile disappears. Dammit. I know what's coming. "Sorry 'bout that, Son, but a guy turned his in before yours." He coughs for a moment, clears his throat, and goes on. He could've been hiding something in there, but I'm not really listening now. "Check back next year, eh, Kid? Boy, I run through these kids like potato chips. Shit, just the other day, I had a little kid runnin' about in the junk, and --"

"Will do." He calls out another 'Eh?' before I'm out the door, but I head straight for the properties just outside Sector Five. I hadn't really expected to get the job, anyway, but the gil would've been nice to pocket.

Next stop: Pick up the Cougar. I take the back alleys and about half my time, coming into a clump of properties in a semi-circle. A few people are out shovelling their driveways, just to make sure they can get out. The landlord's house sits on a small hill, and he stands on the porch smoking a cigarette. I'm not really surprised to see him start walking toward me, but it pisses me off to be delayed again, to say the least.

"Boy, I thought I told you to stay the hell away from here," he drawls. He was born and raised in Midgar, as far as I can tell, and if he pooled his resources, he could take out Kalm. He's high-rung of the major turf gang around here; the one I got stuck opposing. And now that he's not my landlord. . .

I hold my hands up, as Turner had done, and glimpse the jagged 10638 scrawled down. I completely forgot about that. I'll check it later; Aeris seems to be in search-and-terminate mode. "Just here for my car. Not up for startin' anything with you guys today."

"Fuck you," he bursts out. "It's not a matter of whether or not you wanna start somethin'. It's a matter of whether or not we're gonna start it. You make no decisions, Little Man. You're on our turf now."

If things could get any worse. . . Three of his lackeys are ambling this way from different directions. I grip for my gun in my pocket and get ready to let the bullets fly. "Well, then. Let's just get it over with." I can finally see why no one knows his name; he's a gang-leader.

I fire twice. The landlord hits the ground, shocked and cold, in a pool of red, sticky liquid. The second shot hits air. I'm surprised when the next guy only comes at me with a snow shovel. I wrench it from his grip, whack him over the back of the head, and thrust the handle into the neck of the next man in line.

I was taught to use any weapon available.

The next move is just for kicks. I scoop up a ball of snow and force it into the third's eyes, then swing him round and plow him into a trash can. These three were weaklings, and the landlord was the only real challenge, but they aren't exactly dead yet. My little stunt just proved I wasn't stupid. I haul ass behind a large van in the nearest garage as two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle come out and let loose. Metal hits metal in an abnoxious clanking noise inside the frame of the truck.

The heaters both run out about the same time and I make a mad dash for my Cougar. The rifle only makes a dull slapping sound when its shots go through the back of my tailing cloak. I can run like hell. The other two have chosen to lay off and watch me speed out of the complex, and the third follows after a moment. That was just a small rumble, letting me know to stay away.

The Cougar is a new-model sports car, low to the ground, close-to-streamlined, with barely enough head room to look around. It's got easy voice-activation, for easy getaways, and a stereo system that could stop the human heart if pushed far enough.

I'm a regular walking billboard.

Father bought it for me on my sixteenth birthday, and I haven't crashed it in the four years I've had it. My Mako Dreams CD remains untouched and starts in where I left off last time I drove this. I tap the wheel and mutter along out of habit.

Then I proceed to flip the heat system on and adjust the seat so I can see over the dash board. Somebody was in here, trying to take something, but it all seems intact. They just wanted the car. I disappear into the tunnel bordering the city made for getting places quickly and ease down on the gas.

No one really street-runs Cougars, but I can still find a few makeshift races with others inside the tunnel on my way, lightening my mood up a bit. Midgar is always up for fun.

I pull up next to a cop at one of the few stoplights in the tunnel and put my crazy face on, staring wide-eyed at him while I ease the volume to ear-blasting. Mako Dreams keeps their music full of guitars and drums, while their speech is screeching into the microphone like looneys. The cop eyes me cautiously. This is very close to illegal in a Cougar, but I'm in the mood for fun.

There comes a break in the song. You know, the ones that are filled with the building-up drum banging, cymbals and growls thrown in here and there to catch you off guard. I bang my hands, eye-catchingly fast, against the wheel at this time, capturing the cop's full attention.

Then comes the two bangs on the big drum. My head bounces off the steering wheel twice, I stick my tongue out and scream, and I repeat the actions the next time it comes around. I feel. . .very young and very immature. . .but a lot better.

As soon as the light turns green, though, I turn the music down to background level and drive off as stoicly as ever, leaving him stumped as a tree while I try not to run off the road laughing. I feel so, so much better now.

A faceless Grim Reaper stares at me from the window, my dashboard ornament with the usual, huge bobble-head. It came with the car, a little prank from my father, but it's good for nothing, except getting the old man in the red pick-up next to me to chuckle, tap his wife, and point at it. As expected, of course.

I finally make it back to Sector Seven, stash the alley in a public parking garage, and head back into Wall Market, going straight to the bar to argue with the waiter, like I always do. He's a thin, pale man with a lazy eye and a slacked posture, but a bitter attitude that could put out fire. "I'm not giving you a free drink, Sir," he growls.

I wave it off. It's only worked twice. "Ah, well. Then give me some information." I lean on my elbow all secret agent-like. He's got that 'What the fuck are you doing?' look on his face. "What do the numbers. . .10638. . .mean to you?" I hiss lowly. God, he's fun to toy with.

"Patient 10638, Midgar Asylum. How's my aim, Thief?"

Quite good. About the last thing I really had expected to fly out of your mouth. "Yeah, that's the one. What do you know about him?" Play it cool. Act like you meant to do this all along, and you knew he'd say that. And whatever you do, don't let slip that you thought he was an idiot. There you go. . .

He sits down, surprising me, and leans over the table. He's mocking me, the bastard. I will have revenge. "They say he's a real nutjob. Tortured child, like most of 'em are. Really bad pay on his first job, picked on all the way through school. Drove himself mad. Practiced a lot of psychic techniques. Starts bendin' spoons and shit, then got into explosions and such. Blew up a few apples, had a good time, got a good audience.

"Then he got fired. Went on a fucking rampage. Literally ran from the cops. Taunts 'em by bending their bullets back and aimin' 'em at innocents. What really got him in the jacket was when he blew up the cop car."

I blink. The workers are more informed than the bigs around here, I guess. "With a gun?"

The pale man just taps his temple and stands back up, walking off to get his next order.

I'm not so sure I want to go meet this guy. . .

* * * * *

Aeris waits for me in our usual meeting place in the plaza. Most of the day, I've been running from Midgar to Kalm, just for something to do. I really need a job, I decided earlier. The pink-dressed flower girl seems to be in a better mood than she had been, but I'm still going to have to watch myself. For more than just an attack.

"You ready?"

I've come to notice she never gives a real greeting when she approaches someone. It's dark again; there was a power failure in the ShinRa Building, so all we have it the dim light filtered in through the holes in the Plate. They need to touch this place up a bit. Maybe they'll get Mr. Urban Development on it soon. I almost snort; Reeve does nothing to benefit the slummers. "Yeah, I guess." As you can tell, this didn't sppeal to me as much as it would the normal person. I mean. . .she was a stranger, and here I was, accepting a bed from her. She could be dragging me into a warehouse to face the Hellions, those stupid fucks I'd shot one of earlier.

Shot. . .

I'm a cold-blooded killer. . .

I smack myself awake mentally and follow her through the winding passages of the Sector Seven alleys. This is the quickest route on foot, but undoubtedly the most dangerous, of course. We make it without incident, though. Her house is a bit on the large side, but the garden blows it all to dust. Flora creeps up the fences and soft sun actually shines down on the garden, from one of the large, ironically-placed gaps in the Plate.

"How the hell. . .?"

"It just happens." She's like an echo from the church last night. She walks right in the door, only pausing to call out "Mom, I'm home!"

Oh, shit. Her mother lives here, and I doubt she'll be too thrilled about her daughter taking in a homeless man who was rejected by ShinRa and his landlord. Well, ex-landlord, in two senses of the word. I wonder if the other Hellions bothered to hide the body and try to whack me later, or left it there, gave my name, and are going to let the authorities deal with me. Either way, I'm a stubborn bastard, and I don't budge too well. They'll kill me before I get taken in.

The old woman, presumably Aeris' mother, gasps when she sees me. This can't be good. "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God, Aeris! He's Shinra!" Forgot about the logo on my jacket pocket. Whoops. "Did he follow you home? What's he want? Why isn't Tseng here this time?" I half-expect her to grab a broom and promptly smack me in the teeth with the handle. Her face loses some color when she meets my eyes; I tend to have that effect on people.

"Relax, Mom." For once, I'm glad Aeris is so calm like this. "He's a. . .friend of mine. He got fired and kicked out of his house, so he just needs a place to stay for a few days." Her mother doesn't look convinced, but murder's not in her eyes yet. "Can he just use the spare room until he gets a place?"

Okay. Let's freeze. One, she called me her friend. I'm only a mild acquaintance, as far as I remember, who she's subtly making sure stays in-line. Two, I have no fucking clue how long it'll be before I get a place. Neither does she, unless she's a weirdo like the crazies. Now, let's continue on. . . "You know Tseng." I ask very few questions, and usually only state the should-be-questions when I know they're true.

The old woman, the mother, squeaks in surprise. As if she thought I couldn't speak; the homeless may have their hinderances, but we aren't incoherent, Woman. "I. . .we. . . We've had our problems with ShinRa, Incorporated in the past," she spits at me, "and I, for one, am not the forgiving-on-a-moment's-notice type. So, you, ShinRa, should leave before things get ug --"

"Mom." Aeris' voice pierces our soon-to-be-debate like a torpedo through water. We both have enough sense to listen to her. See, Woman, we're not stupid, either. I want to chuckle, but Aeris is still waiting for the smoke to clear between us, and her mother's eyes to stop smoldering. "Can we just sit down and talk about this? How. . .how about over some tea or something?"

I wait for the old bat to speak, but she just stares at me, jaw set, eyes sending me a warning to watch my ass when I turn around. I don't want to fuck with this one. "Sounds wonderful, Aeris," I say, a bit overly-cheery, for the oldest in the room nearly swoons as she grabs her daughter's sleeve and tries to whisper, though I hear her plainly:

"You told another ShinRa your name?!"

"Ex-ShinRa," I correct from the sidelines, but Aeris overlaps me and gets the attention.

She sighs, and speaks in a normal tone. "Relax, Mom. He's perfectly safe. Why, I let him stay at the church last night and he didn't do a thing to harm me or it." Except for dream about a ball of fire coming to kill us all from splitting clouds, but, hey, who cares about that one? "He's not like Tseng was. He doesn't even work for them anymore." See, SHE listened to me. "And I'm sure he won't come at me with a gun while I sleep. Are you reassured yet?" I can hear her losing patience, but she sounds like this happens a lot. I feel sorry for her. For some reason.

Her mother stands stone-still. Her eyes search Aeris', then move to mine, trying to find that shred of insincerity she's looking for. They've had quite the shit-run, as I like to call it, with Tseng, haven't they? Her lips shift as she debates her words, then open and give her verdict. "I think we have some tea bags in in my room, in my drawer."

I've just scored the first trust point with Mommy-Dearest. My silent touchdown dance is a smile of grim victory flashing over my face before Aeris smiles widely back and hurries to grab the tea bags.

Her mother turns to bitch mode. She grabs me roughly by the collar, hisses between her teeth, and stabs me with jagged knives from her pupils. "Boy, Fate as my witness, if you so much as lay a bad finger on my daughter, so help me God, I will find you and strike you down with my bare hands. I will rip you limb from limb and send you back to the hellhole you came from, piece by piece, organ by organ! Do I make myself clear as crystal?"

I'm too smart to jack off here. She means what she says, and being able to rip me down to four-foot-six is a feat proving she won't hesitate to keep her promise. I would applaud her if my air supply weren't slowly depleting. "Yes, Ma'am." I strain to keep the sarcasm hidden beneath faulty lairs of promise. She stares at me for a moment more, then abruptly shoves me at the table and goes back to the stove, muttering something beneath her breath. She calls out to Aeris now.

"I found the tea bags, Dear! I seem to be forgetting more and more in my old age." She let loose a half-chuckle and shook her head with a grandmother-like smile, shopping a few more onions and tossing them into the pot. It was all a ploy to lay her rules down to me. I like this one. Smells like she makes a mighty-fine stew, too.

Dinner begins and finishes mostly in silence. The old woman, whose name turns up to be Elmyra, keeps eyeing me as if I'm going to leap from my chair and skin them both alive, while Aeris tries to defend me anytime her mother makes an offensive comment toward me. I shut up and mostly keep my eyes on the stew. Tastes as good as it smelled.

Compliments to the Easy-Stew box, recipe on the side, trying to hide out in the trash can.

As soon as we finish, Elmyra lets me off with a glared warning after telling Aeris to show me my room. I'm still not on level ground enough to bitch at her that I don't have a bedtime. I hate this part. I sit on the bed for a moment, trying to get used to sleeping in a strange house.

Aeris smiles softly at me. "I'm sorry for the way Mom's acting. . .but we've had problems with ShinRa for a while. . ." She'd been trying to avoid this one last night, but now she jumps into it, though reluctant. "The Turks are after me. I'm. . ." She sighs. A heavily-guarded secret, I can tell, but she seems to feel she owes me something. Proceed, Flower Girl. . . "I'm the last surviving Ancient, or Cetra, on the Planet, and the professor at ShinRa wants me for his experiments." She blinks at herself. "Felt good to let all that out. . ."

I add to the blinking, propped up on my elbows. I'm about to speak when she silences me by standing up. "Well, I'm right in the next room if you need anything. Wake up call?"

"Eight-thirty." All the hotels on the ShinRa trips ask for a wake-up call time, and I have a feeling I'll be sleeping in tonight, now that I have a bed around. She nods and wlks to the door, half-way out, before I do it again. "Thanks."

She pops her head back in, grins lightly, and gives me a wave before closing my door and submerging me in the void-like darkness. I pull my boots off, toss my jacket to the floor, and slip beneath the covers, already hushed by the pulling of fatigue holding my worries in its lap and letting me drift off, smoothing back my sins for the day so I can rest without consequence.

The second rung is in sight.


October 19, 3076
Morning. Guest Room. Aeris' Home. 7:56 A.M.
". . .Do not give patients sharp items." - Office Sign, Midgar Asylum

It feels good to wake up with a bed under me after a few days of sleeping in a dumpster and on a church pew. The bed is quite welcomed, but Elmyra's snoring reaches me even in here. Seems a lot closer than it should be. My eyes open and I look at the chair in the corner. She sits there with a shotgun across her lap, head tipped back and snorting noises coming with her inhaling. The door's still closed, so I assume she sneaked in late last night.

I creep from the bed, gun out of my pocket and into my hand, and stand directly infront of her, levelling the firearm between her eyes. Wrench! The shotgun falls into my other hand and she bolts awake, eyes flung wide and mouth moving in silent words. Sunlight beams in through the open window, accenting her fear. "Boo." She whimpers at just the one word. "Elmyra, why the hell does this look like you were going to shoot me while I slept?" I keep my voice low, making sure not to wake Aeris if she's still asleep or alert her if she walks by the room.

"I -- I -- I. . ." She gulps loudly, as a frightened bird in a Sunday morning cartoon might. "I was just w -- watching out for Aeris. . ." I'd never expect, after all the show she put on last night, I'd have her under my thumb like this. "Please. . .it was just once. . .to make sure you weren't like Tseng. . . Please, please don't shoot."

Aw, fuck it. "Sorry, Elmyra. Tseng did send me." I tense my arm. Pull the trigger.

. . .

. . .


Slowly, a sadistic smirk spreads over my lips and I chuckle softly, shaking my head and patting her on the shoulder. "Just fuckin' with ya, Elly. Tseng and I may both be callous bastards, but I'll never voluntarily work for him. Now, run along and make some breakfast, and we'll agree never to speak about this again, eh?" He hand her the shotgun back and shoo her out of the room, which she does while shivering violently. I follow her out; sleep is no longer an option.

We're lucky Aeris still seems to be asleep, because she would probably look at us oddly and get bad ideas. Elmyra hurries right over to the stove and I put the gun away, get the paper from the doorstep, then take a seat at the table as if I were one of the family. The Midgar Times claims that Miklen has no idea who might've shot the man in the alley two days ago. I'm not surprised; Miklen probably already knows it, and is just waiting for them to get impatient and then, 'suddenly' solve the case.

Miklen's an egotistical shit.

The kitchen stays silent for a few more minutes, before the ceiling rumbles lightly and Aeris bounds down the stairs like a child on a Saturday morning. Only she isn't screaming "Cartoonscartoons! Channelfourchannelfourchannelfour!" and spilling a box of cerial all over the floor in the process. She looks us over in turn, still with the groggy, why-the-hell-am-I-up look in her eyes, and blinks a few times at me. I wave it off. "Guess I didn't sleep in."

Elmyra's shoulders sink in relief and she goes back to the pancakes. I could've ratted her out. But I could just picture that.

"By the way, your mother tried to kill me."

"Did not!"





No, don't rat out bitchy old woman. I'll jot that down in the rulebook for this place later. The younger nods and smiles at me, then tosses open the curtains, squints even in the dim light, yawns, and runs back upstairs. Quite the show. "So, you two're Ancients?"

Crash. There goes that plate, in about fourteen pieces on a small run infront of the stove. She curses under her breath, slams her fist down, and gives me the dirty look from last night. "She is. I'm not. How much else did she tell you?"

I could say everything and get tossed out, but I'll stick with the truth, We've got a shooter out there, and I don't want to meet him. "Not much else. Just said I'd be able to crash here for a while, then when I got a place, I'd be out. So, don't mind me. I'll be gone before you know it." Unless you shoot me, then I think you might have a hunch I'm not around.

She snorts and goes to picking up the expensive-looking china. I help not. I go back to the crossword puzzle, taking Turner's pen out in the progress. Five-letter word for a non-fiction, informative form of writing. I hate these ones; I failed English three times.

Even when she slams a pancake down on the table, just above my paper, I'm still gnawing on my pen and wracking my brain. Biography. . .autobiography. . .interview. . . Aw, fuck it. I'm about three inches away from slamming the pen down.


My chair slides a few inches in each direction and I look up. I wonder how long the flower girl's been standing there? Too long and too silently are the only ones I can come up with. "You might make a good SOLDIER recruit." I jot in essay and look at the next one. 23 Down: Ten-letter, local band's name. Mako Dreams. Next, please. "Any interest in hand-to-hand combat?"

She smiles, pats my shoulder. "Maybe. We'll see what happens. See if this helps. . ." She plucks the pen away, uses my head as a kind of wall to lean over, and pens in about three different answers. She's still got the smile plastered on her face while my eye twitches and the pen lies restless on the newspaper.

"Or an instructor."

She giggles, says something about always doing these, and walks off to grab a plate. 31 Across: Referring to 23D, this band's first music video was for this song. Blacklist of Sins. Ask me anything about Mako Dreams and I'll have it. I'm surprised how family-like she's treating me. I mean, she literally picked me up from the streets, brought me in, and gave me a bed. Sure, Elmyra's being a bitch about it, but that's no the point. I don't think I've ever been treated like this. Father was a mean old bastard that was always too busy with his experiments, and I never knew my mother. It feels. . .oddly good, though a bit mushy. Like oatmeal. "Ever been over to the old asylum, Aeris?"

She's back at the table, sitting across from me and looking over what I have done. I'm still caught on 3 Across. How old is Robert ShinRa? Like I ever asked him that. She shakes her head and looks at me oddly. "I didn't even know there was one."

I nod and try 'forty'. It fits, but there's also fifty and sixty to think about. It'll all fall into place later. "I've got some business with 10638 over there today. If you don't have anything better to do. . ." I let it hang there. I'm really not in the mood to go and see this guy by myself. He sounds. . .well, dangerous. 5 Down: Large serpent that hangs around the outskirts. . . Zolom. Hm. I guess it was forty. He looks old as dirt.

Her eyes light up at the opportunity, like an old man who just got a new hearing aid. "I'd love to! Those poor people over there probably need someone to talk to anyway."

Elmyra jumps in. "I'm not so sure, Aeris. Those people over there are rumored to be quite dangerous." She grabs her daughter's sleeve and purposely lets me hear her mutter, "And I wouldn't trust his friends, if I were you."

"Mo - om!" She slams her foot down; this is turning ugly real quick. Whether Elmyra just thinks she can whip this, or doesn't kno Aeris' current temper, I don't know, but she's not moving an inch and I can't concentrate on 18 Across. "I told you! He's not like Tseng, he isn't a ShinRa anymore, and he's posing absolutely no threat to us!" She's not keeping her voice down, that's for sure. And Elmyra's looking a bit nervous. "Not to mention, HE'S MY FRIEND!"

The house settles into silence, Aeris shaking with rage and Elmyra's eyes are tearing up. I'm just sitting here, stunned, waiting for the fly on the table to take a dive into my coffee and force me to be the first one to get up and walk around. It flies off and lands on my ear; I use all self-control to stay still.

Elmyra wordlessly turns and walks over to the stove. I whack the bastard fly, who gives a frightened death buzz. He flips off my ear Olympic-style, corpse not as heavy as it should be, and lands directly in the cup of homemade syrup. A perfect, flying leap. If I nhad a '10' sign, I'd be holding it above my head while Aeris and Elmyra jumped around with pompoms. But no one else sees my insect friend, so I push him into the liquid with my fork and slide the cup toward the old bat's plate.

Life is good.

Aeris doesn't two-face on me. She keeps the dull burn in her eyes when she says we should head out now. I nod and stand, tucking the paper inside my jacket after I put it on and heading for the door.

"By the way, Elly." She jerks and spins around. She still thinks I'm going to blow her brains out the front of her skull every time she turns her back on me. It's not like the thought doesn't occur to me. "Great syrup."

I hear her break down the moment Aeris shuts the door, then her own shoulders sag and she lets out a huge sigh. "I'm really sorry about this, Sephiroth. We've just had a lot of trouble with the ShinRa, and she doesn't like to let things go so easily. The Turks have been after me for I don't know how long, and anyone from ontop of the Plate isn't trustworthy to her." We're aimed straight for the Cougar, seeing as how it would be quite the walk to the asylum.

"You don't seem to take after your mother," I state bluntly. It's still dark down here. We're bathed in the nothingness of all the shadows of the night. There could be a moose fifty feet away and we wouldn't suspect a thing until the headlights put a glow on it.

She gets into the car, then waits for me to get into the driver's seat and say something to turn it on before she replies to me. "She's not my real mom. Ifalna died at the train station when we left ShinRa. They're still out for me. They could take me in any time, but Tseng never does. Just waits until I decide I want to go with him. And, y'know, someday, maybe I will."

How touching. I tap a few buttons on the CD player, then just slam it with my fist to turn it off. She doesn't seem like someone who would be interested in hearing Kala, lead vocals of Mako Dreams, scream out about how fucked the world is turning. I agree with her veiws. I listen to her music. Bottom line. "If I were you, I wouldn't touch the Turks with a thirty-foot pole." I don't, even though I'm not her, but that's not the point.

The point is, the Turks are dangerous people, and if you cross them incorrectly, you've got some problems. Rude, the bald, built guy, will just follow you to the ends of the world, cut your jugular out, and push you off the edge. Tseng, the leader, will just try to deal nicely with you, but when you refuse many times over, he strikes like a viper. And then there's Reno. Tseng's dyed-red-headed, cocky, tough, asshole of a brother, Reno. He's the official, unwritten heir to the Turks, and has the 'I take NO shit from you!' reputation. Once after getting beaten in billiards, he stabbed the girl's eyes out with the pool stick and threw her in the dumpster outside. He was never charged; ShinRa can do whatever they please. Now he goes to anger management three days a week and has the best eyes in the company on him. These are the people who burn the houses and pin it on terrorists. These are the people who watch the city and only solve the problems threatening them.

These are the people who own you.

"I don't try to," she blurts out, almost too quickly. It's a sign she wants to go with them, her heart tells her to, but common sense tells her that no one will go along with it too well. I'm half-listening to her, the rest of me wracking myself and trying to remember how to get to the asylum while avoiding Hellion turf. I don't want her to die, and frankly, I don't want my ass kicked this morning. "Tseng's known me since I was real little, though. He's protective of me, so he won't pull me in. No one else knows, I don't think. I'm just worried about the --" I don't understand what she mutters here. "-- redhead finding out."

She knows them as well as I do. If Reno found out, Tseng would be bodybag material, and it doesn't matter how blood-related you may be in ShinRa. You cross someone, you die. "Tseng's trustworthy when it comes to secrets, Aeris." I know him personally. I like him just fine. And Reno can crack some good jokes, so he doesn't bother me. But Rude hit me. I don't forgive him. The best route to the asylum for how I want to go about it is through the tunnels. I'm headed there. "A lot of those ShinRa fucks aren't as bad as their rep makes 'em out to be." Then some are shitloads worse. "If the redhead ever comes around, just find me." I put fear into Reno. I don't know why, but he's quite freaked when I'm in the same room with him.

She nods. A few yawns and coughs are all that we exchange the rest of the way to the asylum, and even inside, we seem too scared to speak.

In the movies, they make it out to be a place with beds, nice rooms, and a visiting area fit for President ShinRa himself. A place where they put you in a white jacket to help you get better. Lies. Screams reveberate through the lobby, and bars, with cardkey activation, adorn every doorway and crossing in the halls. The receptionist keeps an automatic weapon in view and sits behind reinforced, bullet-proof glass. Whether this is Midgar, or the standards for all asylums, I don't know. Warning signs hang around the walls.

Sunlight doesn't have a prayer of getting inside. No windows, no cracks. Steel or padded walls. There isn't room for ten people in the lobby. I walk to the armed receptionist. "You're no stranger to the Rolan and Miklen firm up here, are you?"

She looks up from her paper and grins at me. "Turner told me somebody might be stopping in for him in the next few days. You him?"

I nod. Turner always plays it safe, while Miklen -- no one calls him by his first name, by the way -- is a jump-in guy. He'd run onto a Wutain minefield if it meant some publicity. I should've actually expected he'd go and do something like this. "10638. Heard a few stories and hoped he might be able to help me out on a dream I had a few days ago. Scared the shit outta me." And I'm not lying; I don't think it exactly screamed good fortune.

She waves it off. Other things to do, huh? An annoying beep sounds from a few alarms in the hallway when she taps a button behind her cell-like glass. She's safe. She likes it that was. "He said a guy'd be coming in. Not a guy and his girl."

Aeris shifts. Shit. I forgot she was even here for a second. I lay my head on the glass to get a better look at her. She's older than she sounds. Old veterans like this aren't the lenient type. She probably abides by all rules and doesn't let anyone fudge on a rule. She wouldn't take in an armless bum with rats gnawing his feet off if he couldn't pay rent. I turn to the flower girl and give her an apologetic look. "Sorry about this. . .she's not gonna let you in, though. . ." I leave it open for suggestions as a SOLDIER walks down the hallway. My escort.

She smiles. "That's alright. I'll wait out here until you get back."

She's going to sit here, alone, in a looney bin waiting room while I go talk to a psychic psycho. She's got some guts. I nod, pat her on the shoulder, and go with the uniformed security. Another one joins us in the hallway, and when I mention 10638, they've got two more there almost immediately. This guy must be a real crack. I enter his room while they go into another. Peeking inside, I see it's like the secret one off of an interrogation room, with a one-way mirror and headphones. And the real room looks like a police interrogation room, too. The ones they use when their suspects aren't killed when they find them. Who I assume is my quarry is handcuffed to two poles on the metal table, and shackled by the feet to the heavy wooden chair he's in. Silver, old-man hair shoots down his back in small rivers of color and his eyes are taped up so he can't see. He's already in the straight jacket for when they take him back. "10638?"

"Mark." I bite the insides of my cheeks as I take a seat to keep from laughing. Mark. What a name for a psychic serial killer. I would've expected something long and foreign; kind of like mine. "Lemme guess by yer voice. Younger kid, pretty dark mood, into a lotta the new music scene. Watch sparin' television, and when 'e does, it's the news to see what's goin' on up at ShinRa. Works at a fast-food place n' drives his dad's ol' piece of shit car. Had a dilemma a few days ago n' somebody recommended the old psycho 'n the nuthouse to 'im. Unhappily married with two kids. How's my aim?"

How many times can I hear that in forty-eight hours? "About two-thirds correct." He curses under his breath and snaps his fingers, saying something about his first guess being me a virgin. Incorrect, too, but I won't waste time. The SOLDIERS in the back are probably already laughing their asses off. I wish they hadn't taken my gun away. "Why'd they tape your eyes up, by the way?" It's very unattractive.

He smiles at me. I'd picture him as the type who's been in here for years and knows the place like the back of his hand even with the blindfold on. "They don't want me going on a rampage again, and I need to see what I'm looking at to make it do anything. Blow up, twist, float here and there, whatever. You've got questions. Keep askin'." He gives one of those wheezy laughs.

"Miklen." He stops laughing and strains to listen. "His partner recommended you to me. Said you knew a lot about the dream business and such. I was wondering if you could give me a little. . .knowledge."

He nods and tries to sit back, then slaps the poles lightly and just leans as far as he can. "I got out of that business a long time ago, Youngin'. Sorry I can't help ya, but it's the rules 'round here. Used to run a stand in Wall Market. . .somebody mighta picked that back up. Next to the old lady sellin' soup. 'Bout all the info I can give ya without gettin' myself locked in the shock-chair here. Maybe I'll talk to some of my friends. Get 'em to talk to ya. Sorry, Kid."

They were listening to us. The four SOLDIERs hurry back in and grab me from the chair, shoving me out the door while a man with a taser walks in. Mark's screams haunt me to the lobby.

And, while we're combining haunting and lobby in the sentences. Reno's propped up on a chair next to Aeris, listening as she rambles on about something, a pleased smile on his face and his head bobbing up and down. Her eyes are lit up, and he looks as if he just landed a thirty-pound fish on half of a pole. I can already, unfortunately, see the pictures rushing through his head. Those would be why he's smiling. I want to shudder, throw up, and strangle him all at once. The Turk looks up when I approach, shows a row of teeth, and waves unenthusiastically. He's feigning amusement. Fear sparkles in his eyes. I make my hand into a gun in my pocket and try to make it unable to be ignored just to screw with him. The receptionist still has my real one. "The Sephmeister!"

Both you and Turner will pay for that someday, Reno. Aeris mirrors his smirk. She won't need a ride home; she'll most likely get one or two from him. "Hey, Reno." I refuse to give him more than that. If I looked closely on the ground, under the flourescent lights, I would see his shadow quivering. I still don't understand what's wrong with me. Maybe it's the whole dark-emerald eyes thing. "How'd you track me down?"

"Well." He kicks one foot atop the other and leans his head back, arms resting on the backs of the chairs beside him. One of those is Aeris', and probably the only reason for this action, and the other one is home to my coat. I debate on which I should save first. It's not that I hate Reno, but. . .he gets women with every bottle of booze. "Drivin' around. Home from my second job at the weapons shop --" Bastard! "-- and saw the trademark 'MKO DRMS' license plate on the back of a Cougar. Now, who else would be so into a band that they'd make a plate out of it? So, I figured I'd drop in and say hey. This your girl?" He knocks heads with Aeris. He's dropping subtle pickups like atom bombs; laying way for his takeoff with her. I'm leaning toward strangling him. What the hell's wrong with my chest all of a sudden?

I shake my head and swallow. This isn't one of those fake help-me-help-me-I'm-dying chest pains. This is one that comes complete with flushed cheeks, worried onlookers, a wobbly shadow, and sweat dripping off your chin like a waterfall. Those ones that sneak up, crawl up your legs, and wrap their teeth as hard around your neck as they can go without popping your skull clear off. I've never had one of these before.

And the next moment, I hear someone crying out -- or is that me? -- and I'm on the floor, colors dancing around the outside of my vision. But there's this guy. This guy with a green buzzcut and long fingernails. Sharp, but not vampiric-long, teeth, a black bomber jacket, and glowing green eyes. Like mine. Like the Lifestream is rumored to be. And then, the man's gone, and I hear sirens minutes later, but I'm already too far into the void to call out. Tell them what hurts and why it does so. Tell them about the big green man, staring at me from the steel ceiling of the asylum.

Where am I. . .?


October 23, 3076
Evening. Room 208. Hospital. 6:30 P.M.

"You're too young for one of these." - Doctor Charlindon, Junon Hospital

". . .Severe. . ."

". . .Heart attack. . ."

". . .Shock. . ."

". . .Doing all we can. . ."

I am Sephiroth. A self-appointed enigma wrapped in a blanket of lies, floating through a fantasy void of my own mind. I'm afraid, if I pull out for too long, I'll see the shithole the Planet has turned into. And I'll be pulled along with the current, degrading me to the really low-level people. Seeing as how I say this, a heart attack will not be the cause of death in my paper article, if they give me one.

I stay in the blackness for now, waiting for a good time to break out and shout to them I'm alive and well. Listening to their slurred and blurred speech as it goes in one ear and out the other. I was always a good listener, but I can't grasp the concept of much right now. All I know is that there was a severe heart attack. I know, because I feel.

Beeping machines. Squeaking nurse shoes. Doctors jabbering and phones ringing. But I'm trying to find a familiar voice in the jumble. There!

"Goddammit, you stupid mother fuckers! Let me talk to my damn cousin!" Tseng's lies are up in the air again. He's in another room. They still have no idea where I am in all this. Neither do I. It feels like I just woke up from a really long nap, but not completely. I've still got ties to the dreamland, and could go back immediately if desired. Probably this goddamn tube in my arm.

My eyes pop open. No one's around to see it, unfortunately. I wonder what they would've looked like? I try to sit up and spit out words in the process: "I'm -- aah! -- just -- fine." Pain slams into me like waves. I can feel a massive headache weighing on my neck, and the doctor immediately rushes over, Tseng on his coattails, trying to ease me back down into bed, repeating over and over how I shouldn't be moving.

Just --

"SHUT UP!" Now, all I hear are the echoes of the head Turk's cry, heart monitors, and ringing phones. No one dares to breathe. I can't breathe. My heart leaped into my throat way too tight to leave me breathing room.

This goes on until he speaks up again.

"I want him released now."

The doctor looks appaled. I'm sure my face doesn't differ too much. Even for Tseng, this is a ballsy order. But a Turk sticks to both his metal and physical guns. This is not a man to deny power. The doctors and nurses must be oblivious. "That's insane, Sir." Yep. They don't call him Tseng. They don't know him. "He wouldn't make it down the stairs, let alone all the way to Midgar. He needs at least another week -- week and a half in here."

I do want to get out of here, though.

The doctor and Tseng exchange words on this for a good three minutes, capturing everyone's attention, before a gun whips out. I'm off the bed and out the door with a bottle of medicine on crutches -- I don't know why -- in moments. He has the official Turk van double-parked in the handicap zone. No one even dares to question it. I turn to look back at the door once we get off the steps, and find a large mural just about them; Scarlet standing infront of the Sister Ray, smiling like a school girl.

Maybe a school girl that lost her virginity at nine?

Now I remember. She's the weapons specialist and inventor of the Sister Ray, a two-hundred foot cannon aimed out to sea from Junon Harbor. Where I am now, I guess. Tseng's got the 'Who's the man?' pose up and a cocky smirk on his face. I should knock out a few of his teeth. At least then he'd be able to make a logical decision.

Instead, I give him a thumbs up and switch to another finger when he turns around, spinning his keys and whistling, and heads for the van. Paint chips flake off of this thing like the leaves from the atop-the-Plate trees in autumn, and the exhaust, filling a room, could leave you guessing at what color the floor was. It's been in the business for years is my guess; I mean, no one drives a manual shift anymore, and this monstrosity could've been the first with a stick.

As soon as it's started and I'm yelling over the motor, I start asking questions. "Why the hell did you do that?"

He kind of shrugs at me as we back out of the parking lot and haul ass onto the road that heads down to the docks; there's a Turk ship, too. These guys have everything, but they update absolutely nothing. The S.S. Kickass -- compliments of Reno -- is an old battlecruiser that wouldn't stand a chance against some of the new ones. But they always know there's a Turk inside, so they don't dare touch it.

Because some people actually stand up for the blue-suits.

He decides to answer me only after we have clearance to board the boat. "Reno mentioned you keeled over in the asylum and they took you here for some damn heart attack. He wanted to come with, but he's been a bit. . .busy. . .lately." Something's wrong. He's playing Mako Dreams. One thing we don't have in common is that he hates the Mako Dreams, and usually only plays them when easing me down into something.

He's easing his way up the ramp connected to his big blue ship. It's meant for bicycles, not thousand-year-old vans. "This is Blacklist. What's goin' on?" He twitches and guns it the rest of the way up the ramp. Something's very, very wrong. I know this for sure when he gets out, turns around, and makes a mighty-fine dent in the side of the Big Blue Machine. Careful. Wouldn't want to hurt the ancient piece of shit, right? "Dammit, Seph!" he screams through the open window. "They sent me out here to kill you, that's what!"

My spine turns to a column of ice, and my hands lock around the tattered and town armrests like vices. Kill me? Kill me?! That's all he's here for?! I lurch out of the vehicle, leaving the crutches, as the boat hauls forward. As soon as the weight of the van is over the ramp, its "auto-pilot" orders it to head back to Midgar, or to Junon from the Midgar docks. The thing has some speed, too. If the van isn't around, there's a button to press on your way to the deck. ShinRa technology is kind of funny. It relies all on the hope that the procedure is the same every time. But, back to the real matter at hand. "Kill me?! You fucking idiot! I'm one of your best friends, and you're just gonna fucking kill me?!!"

He looks shocked, as if I suggested it in the first place. "C'mon, Man! It's Turk business! I could lose my job if they found you still alive!" He turns around and throws his hands up, bending over ever so slightly so his shirt rides up his back a bit. "They could kill ME if they found out y --"


He staggers forward, head marred in a cloud of smoke, and turns around, his eyes showing surprise but his mouth with a smile of pure triumph. I know he wanted it. But. . .he's a Turk. And now he's a Turk, face-down with two holes at the base of his spine on the deck of an old battleship, while I have a hot handgun gripped in my fingers, smoke rolling out of the barrel like it does from an old Indian fire. I've killed two people before. The Hellion warlord, and the guy I hit with the pipe. But never one of my best friends. But there he is, dead as anything, with my face behind the barrel.

We're too far out for anyone to see me, but I still crouch low, put the gun away, and shuffle over to him. He has no last words for me, just keeps the smile on when I strip off his Turk suit. No, I'm not funny like that, but it's a dead giveaway as to who he is, and I'll need it to be able to get off the boat without questions. I'll say I'm a rookie. I don't know what it is, but something tells me to grab the knife from his belt. I do so, then jam it into his forehead and slide it all the way down to his throat. Good and dead. And it looks like more than one person.

I then haul his body over the side of the ship and let the corpse belly-flop into the rolling waves. I brace myself against the side as the ship picks up speed. He floats. Always knew his head was hollow. They'll probably find him out fishing one day, identify the body, but have no suspects. Turks are supposed to get their jobs done, so they'll figure he was a really good shot to take down Tseng.

I look at the near-perfect Turk suit bundle I have in my hand, and get back into the van to put it on. He did me a favor, bending like that. Now no one will suspect I killed him and took his identity.

I'll be hiding out in Kalm or something for a few years.

But first. . .

* * * * *

Blam, blam, blam, blam, blam!!

I drove all the way to Midgar from Junon, stopping twice to get gas and just using my death-look to silence any questions tossed at me. Any official-looking people in Midgar or the cities that asked where my supervisor was: I used the quivering rookie voice and told them Tseng was to be undisturbed in the back of the van.

But Aeris hasn't answered her door the whole three minutes I've been banging on it, but I hear music inside, so I know someone's in there. It's loud, though. They probably can't hear me. It's not exactly soft, so I doubt she's alone. I dread what I might be welcomed by.

So, if that's the case. . .

The door's unlocked, so I help myself in. I immediately regret it; the smell of beer and smoke make me gag and grip the medication bottle on my pocket. I would've broken the knob off for a flashy entrance, but it hurts to lift my leg that high right now and I'm out of bullets. The music's blaring, yes, but I can still hear laughing. At least it's not from the bedroom; that wouldn't be good. Instead, and here's what I feared, Reno and Aeris are sitting on the couch -- him with a beer on the table and a cigarette in his hand, and she with nothing visible, and looking mighty sober -- chatting their heads off at one another, breaking into simultanious giggles and chuckles.

Why am I so disgusted that they don't even hear me walk in? I trudge over and kick the boombox on the floor into about five pieces, an audible crack coming from under the lid of the disc chamber. That got Reno up; he's looking like a cornered Chocobo, and his cigarette's somewhere amongst the couch cushions. Aeris is wide-eyed. The Turk stares at me. He's scared again, but he tries to put on a false face. "Fuck you. My best stereo. If you're gonna be like that. . ." Shivering, and not from the cold, his shadow sweeps across the floor when he picks his blazer back up and slams out the door.

That was damn easy. I guess I won't yell "By the way, I killed Tseng" after him, just to save myself. I storm to the kitchen, looking in the mirror on the wall, and grab the scissors from the counter. Dammit, if this doesn't grow back, I'll kill. Again. Snip. I'm down to shoulder-length hair, the rest left ignored on the floor, and more flaking off when I jut my hands through it. Aeris looks appaled.

"Sephiroth, what the HELL are you doing here?!" she screams, practically blowing out my right ear. I turn and jab a finger at her, the medication bottle rattling in my closed fist as I do.

Here's what I'd like to know: "What the FUCK is he doing here?" No reason to get stingy on the explicits, am I right? "Dammit, Aeris, I just shot his brother and took his clothes! The real Turks'll be here in minutes! And unless you wanna meet up with 'em, I recommend you do as I say." She doesn't look persuaded. I'm shooting in the dark with this one. "And the only thing they'll do is take you right into the lab!" Hojo's lab. . .my father's lab. . .dear God, she's the one. I could earn a lot of gil turning her in.

This has her mind clicked. Her eyes narrow and she tries to crack her knuckles in frustration. I don't move. I'm getting the impression she'll leap out and bite off my arm if I try. "We. . .we at least have to wait for Elmyra."

"No!" That came out a bit heated, ne? But shouting gets points across. "How do you think she'll react, really? She already hates me, and now she knows I'm a killer, if we stay and wait. Worse yet, I got rid of Tseng, the one person you figured you could trust in ShinRa. Men like Tseng are few and far between, Aeris. They won't be as nice anymore; they'll bring you home in pieces if possible. You've gotta trust me on this. We need to go into hiding somewhere, and I need your help to stay that way." Sniff, sniff. I'd like to thank the Academy. . .

She's still not convinced. "Oh, yeah? Well, what makes you so sure I don't hate you? That I want to go through with this? Hell, for all you know, I could be as bad as those people up at ShinRa, and I could kill you as soon as you turn around!"

"You won't."

"How d'you know?!"

I stare directly at her, to get my point across. "Because the rifie's right behind you, you know it, and I'm still breathing. C'mon, Aeris, we both know you don't have nearly enough gall to shoot me dead. Not like it's a bad thing." In fact, it works quite well for me. Har har. "Now get your coat, anything you might want, and come out to the car." And I'm out the door. I'm not too shocked to see someone already jacked the Turk van. That's what happens down here.

I'm inside the Cougar before I know it, turning the music back down but keeping a steady beat with my foot. I'm staring at the front door from over the steering wheel, and I realize, were I to wreck, the wheel would probably pop off and the column would go through my neck like a stake through air.

Was I too demanding with her? I mean it, I need her help. Reno will be out for blood when he hears about Tseng, and with me wearing the suit, he'll know exactly where to come. Well, after me, anyway. He won't know where I am, though. It All Ends Tonight screams at me from the speaker down near my feet, but the door is my target.

It opens and she walks out. I have to smile; because she has a bag over her shoulder, a coat over her dress, and an "if this doesn't work, I'll actually kill you" look on. I know what this means even before she gets in the car and gives me the finger.

This'll be one helluva trip.


October 23, 3076
Lunchtime. Café Faust. Kalm. 11:39 A.M.

"Ooooh. . .ninety-nine bottles of --"
"Shut. The hell. Up." - Sephiroth H. and Aeris G., on the way to Kalm

I think my endless streak of car-songs got to her somewhere before we left Midgar, and by the time we were half-way here, my arm was so black I thought it would sprout oil if she punched me again. I can't help it; annoying people is a fun and interesting habit. Doesn't everyone know that? We're stopped in Kalm for some lunch, though I've got bacon and eggs and she has a salad. We're so different. . .I wonder why she came with me again.

She's got her eyes on the top of my head, hard and demanding; she knows I know she wants something, and suddenly, I want to jump up in a butler's suit and yell out, in a very snobbish voice, "Yeeeess?!" Hey, I can dream, can't I? I just look up and wait for her to say something.

She shifts uneasily, now that I can see her, and slouches when she asks, "So, is there any set destination to this trip?"

I remember clearly, this is Aeris, one woman not to disappoint and/or piss off early in the morning. I really don't want to disappoint her, either, but I don't know where there is to hide out where Midgar hasn't been connected in the past few months. Except. . . "Great Glacier, unless you have any better ideas?" I go back to the paper for a moment, letting this sink in on her. Although I can almost hear her twitching inside, I don't look up.

Any contradiction of what I usually am would be like. . .caring.

She grabs the paper and starts whacking me over the head with it. I'm lucky there aren't many people eating here today, or they'd be snickering at me getting beaten with the crossword puzzle. She stops. "Good God, Seph, I packed for something very, very warm, not the Great-fucking-Glacier!" That's the spirit. Don't be so stingy on the obscinities. "We can't go there! For one, there's no place to stay without freezing to death, and two, we don't have survival skil --"

"You don't have survival skills. I do." And, really, I'm the only one that needs to be kept alive and hidden at this time, unless this paper says you killed Tseng and not some madman. "And look, there's always that old guy What's-His-Name. He's got a cabin that he lets anybody stay with. Went there on ShinRa business and delivered food. He's a perfectly nice guy and he'll understand this shit." I sit back as if that's that. And really, what else is there to say, besides the comment I left out in order to save my own ass?

She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head so hard I think it'll fly off. "No. Fuck you. We're not going to the Great Glacier. I don't care how much we have to argue, I'm not moving until you decide on a much warmer place, and I know you need me to survive. So, c'mon, new idea."

My teeth are grinding so hard the other table's patrons look over at me. She's not budging an inch, and she's sealing off her weaknesses. It's checkmate and gridlock rolled into one and pushed into a high-tech vault. Ladies and gentlemen, a Midgar Zolom wouldn't move us. "Aeris. . .listen very, very carefully. . . Anywhere else is gonna have ShinRa ties, so we need to go somewhere remote. . ."

She only shifts to where she's in her chair a bit deeper. "I'm not going to the Great Glacier. How's about Costa del Sol? I know they've got some bads experience with ShinRa, so they wouldn't know, right? That works, huh?"

I growl deep in my throat, walk forward, and grab her arm, trying to lift her up and drag her out. "It's still too public, Aeris! They'd know we were there if one of the locals even saw me in the paper. Until I get some facial change, we can't be out in the Goddamn open like this!"

She puts all her weight into, I'm guessing, her ass, shaking her head. "I'll scream. I'll scream and tell everyone just what you did if you don't let go of me and head to Costa del Sol," she warns.

I don't listen, just point my finger at her and then jerk it at the door. "Aeris. C'mon, Aeris."

"One. . ."

"Oh, for God's sake, Aeris! It's just a cabin for a few weeks!"

"Two. . ."

"Dammit! Get up! We're going to the Great Glacier, and that's all there is to it!"

"Three. . ."

* * * * *

Costa del Sol.

A beach town, full of happy vacationers and surfboarders looking for a good challenge or a good wave. Then you've got the real weirdos that go pale before they even leave the bar, and have to stick around in order to regain a tan. A fun, family-like place, where everyone can lay back, kick their shoes off, and call it a good time.

So, where am I?

"The whole stain-removal package, for a low, low price of twenty-eight gil! Order today!"

Watching a fucking stain-remover infomercial in our Inn room, hanging off the bed by my legs and praying I can pass out from a blood-rush to the head. So far, so bad. I'm still awake and pissed-off.

It's been like this for three and a half damn days.

She's down on the beach with a margarita, probably flirting with anyone she sees and getting in some swimming in the setting sun. I'm reading an 800 number upside-down and wondering if I would get a few Satanic tips if I called 8998 instead of 8668. I really doubt it. That's probably the relationship helpline they're advertising on the soap opera channel. I can just picture that happening to me.

"Hello. My girlfriend is a controlling little bitch that forced me to go to Costa del Sol instead of the Great Glacier. I need help."

"Yes. Yes, you do."

Of course, the reason for me going outside is only half-obvious. For one, I never tanned well, always turned out red as a matador's flag. The other is because I murdered a Turk, and pretty much took his whole identity with the suit. Someone knocks on the door. I call out the natural "Who is it?"

Room service.

For the first time today, I bound up and hurry to the door, smoothing my dead-man suit down and tossing the remote on the bed. Yes, you heard me right. THE bed. As in, not two separate beds.

Aeris and I are still trying to get over their narrow availability.

I take the bottle of vodka, just as I'd ordered it a few minutes ago, and the waiter looks at me oddly. "Hey, haven't I seen you before?"

"Probably not," I tell him.

He shrugs it off, mutters something, and holds out his hand, just barely so I can see it. A tip? I never give tips, but he's been such a bother. . . I open the bottle, grab his wrist, and pour some into his hand, proceeding to shove that into his face, push him out the door, and slam it behind him. I half-flip onto the bed after closing the bottle to keep a jumpy attitude present.

Score one for me.

I fill up one glass for Aeris when she comes back. Actually, it's for me when she comes back, refuses, and I down it like bottled water. The rest of the bottle goes with me to the chair I've set up by my open window, "paradise" breeze wafting inside and waving through the hair I have left.

My. . .fucking. . .hair!!

The hair was left on Elmyra's kitchen floor, and ever since, I've been running around with a jagged cut-line because of my inexperience as a makeshift barber. And getting, needless to say, plenty of shit because of it.

Forgetting that trouble for now, I squint and take a drink before looking down to the beach area. Aeris isn't exactly flirting like an airhead. She's actually lying peacefully, reading a book in one of those revealing two-pieces the men like to drool over. I'm not going to kid myself. I have been among those people for some time now. Aeris, although two-faced and threatening when she needs to be, is no exception for me. Had I the choice, I'd march down to that beach right now and. . .

My thoughts, better left unsaid, string on until she moves and starts back toward the Inn, which almost forces me to set the bottle down, and resume my position upside-down on the bed. The infomercial's repeating, and my mouth is hung open when she walks in. I start silently mouthing the words to the stain-removing demonstration and she gives me a long stare.

"Have you been drinking again?"

It wasn't too good the first time, when you walked in and saw me nursing a whiskey bottle and humming a sing-along song, was it, Aeris? I can see why she worries, but I still point straight at the bottle on the nightstand. "Glass by the TV if you want some. Move quick, this offer goes fast. Call in, today!" I chuckle softly as she shakes her head, grabs her dress and coat, and walks back out of the room to the bathroom.

I'm suffering from an intense cabin fever, I concluded earlier. I'll go mad in weeks, and become a vegetable that knows the late-night television schedules in less than two months if I don't get out of here.

Or maybe I'll get alcohol poisoning before that second stage.

Back outside, the sun has just dipped below the horizon, and a few surfboarders are probably gathering their equpment for an evening surf. I know the schedule of the locals in only about four days of sitting at my window and counting the people sitting at the bar across the street.

Aeris, a kind of temporary mother-figure to me, comes in a few minutes later and tosses her clothes into the corner pile she's made. We plan on finding somewhere to do our laundry soon. She smiles sadly, shakes her head again, and forces me straight onto my side of the bed. She would be great with the elderly, I figure. I grudgingly help her out, finally settling into a comfortable position when she turns off the lights and adds herself to the other side.

"Hey, Seph. . ."

"Mmngh." A feather pillow is all I taste for a solid six seconds before I lift my head, still staring at it. "Huh?"

I can't see a thing, but I don't hear her move. "Remember our little deal?"

My heart hits my throat. We had a deal that, should one of us develop feelings for the other, the former would take the floor until we knew what to do about it. This was for safety's sake, just so we'd survive the night. "Uh-huh." I dread what she's about to say, but all the while, I just want to hear it come out of her, then have her roll over and shove her tongue down my throat. Although I fess up to these silently, I happen to like this bed, so my own tongue stays bitten.

". . .It still stands."

I try not to sound let down when I sink my face back into the pillow to muffle some choice words. I can almost feel a smirk coming off of her when she says, "Goodniiight, Seeeph."

I'll spend tomorrow deciding which is worse: Aeris or this hellish cabin fever.


December 1, 3076
Nighttime. Villa. Costa del Sol. 10:10 P.M.

"I'm shocked you're not speaking in tongues and sacrificing cripshay yet." - Aeris, Costa del Sol villa

Believe it or not, I spent over a month without stepping one foot outside, except when we bought the villa down the street and moved in there. Despite the efforts to get me to go to the beach with her, Aeris can't persuade me. December first? Another day on the calendar, another day of crossword puzzles, and another day of wondering if I should just walk out to the car and get my CD out, at least. After awhile, I think the cabin fever started to feel normal, though I'm not sure how sane I am, cutting out newspaper clippings and making fake articles that look way too authentic. My favorite:

"Veggie Surprise"
The self-appointed Potato Killer struck
again last night, deep inside the Gongaga
forests, presumably sneaking up on his
target and tying her up. He proceeded to
take her to her own house and stick tooth-
picks into her neck, slowly killing her from
the outside. To dispose of the evidence,
he wrapped her in tinfoil, broke her limbs,
stuffed her into the over, and turned it on
High, then fleeing the scene of the crime.

Many a-day I thought about sticking that in some unsuspecting person's newspaper, but that would mean leaving the villa. My permanent, as far as Aeris was concerned, home. She'd gotten used to me, and I had decided she wasn't as bad and two-faced as she had first seemed. For a lack of better words, I would just say we've grown up a lot.

I had taken a knife and made my hair a bit scraggly, so I would look like one of the local surfers, and although I still hold onto Tseng's Turk suit, I've gotten a local, brandname -- Shields, I think the company was -- T-shirt and black, baggy jeans. I look damn near normal now. Aeris has been buying me new clothes when she thinks I need them, and treats me like a perfectly normal person, even though I don't go outside.

So, how are we getting all the gil, you ask? She had taken a job at the bookstore next door, and in Costa, you were so drunk you tipped someone if they said Hello. She comes home with one, two hundred a day, just because she gets a lot of looks from the winos.

She goes to work early, comes home late, and usually carries at least a handful of groceries for the day. She never tells me how much she makes a day, but I have a feeling it's much more than she should be getting.

But why the hell would I complain? I toss in my own savings, too.

As soon as the door slams out front, I move from making a fake ransom note to standing in the hallway, waiting for her as she stuffs the end of a gil note into her coat pocket and hefts a bag of food higher into her arms. "And how're we today?" I often hassle her about being a bookworm or a nerd, but she laughs just as hard and usually comes up with a comeback. I love our little villa. I take the bag from her and set it on the kitchen counter, picking through it as I always do.

She grins when I look over my shoulder, a sure sign she has something in store for me. "What now?" I ask. "Not another bookshelf, I hope." Thought the first one's still sitting in my room and supporting my television. I go back to sorting through the magazines she bought us. A few homemaking ones, and then the heavy metal edition of the local music studio's. Kala and her three counterparts scowl from under the title: Mako Dreams. It's deposited directly into my huge back pocket for later reading.

The edge of her lip quirks up. "Thought you might like that one. Anyway, I've got a nice, little surprise for you."

I turn around. She's got a gun aimed between my eyes. In a few moments of pleading, I'm on the floor, dying in a cold heap.

Or, at least, I expect it when I turn. All she has is the same look on her face, so I decide asking, "What?" doesn't hurt. Seeing as how there's no gun, I don't think she has the mind to kill me here and now.

She wags a finger at me. "Nu-uh. If you wanna see it, you have to do something for me." I'm unnerved by the mischevous twinkle in her eye. Almost as if the request was outrangeous, but the reward very much worth it. I know about two things like this, and one punches me in the spine and makes me straighten.

"And that is. . .?" I don't want to let on any anxiousness, but she doesn't make a move. She just shows two rows of straight teeth, turns around, and points at our front door.

"You have to come down to the beach with me. Now."

My eyes bulge out a good six feet, or at least I think they would if they could. The beach. A place full of surfers, and more importantly, a very public place. A place where a guy like me sticks out and is an obvious target for lookers. "No way. You know my rules. I don't leave the villa unless absolutely necessary, like it burning down or something." My arms are folded over my chest. Three, two, one, stubborn!

She rolls her eyes and leans on the counter, staring hard at me. She wants me to move and just come down to the beach, but I'm as stubborn as they come, and I'm not budging. "Oh, c'mon. It's dark, late, and you looks different than you did in a suit. No one's going to see you, let alone reognize you and turn you into the police. I really doubt ShinRa has any reason to go down to the beach, anyway."

True. The bastards usually stuck, humped over their desk, in their office. No one went out and had time to get a tan; this is ShinRa we're talking about, here. Lucky, I got out of there before I was shot at my desk. I haven't moced a foot from my spot, though. "Is it worth it?" I ask uneasily.

She nods furiously. "Oh, for you, I'm sure it is." She doesn't have on a seductive smile, or I would see it right away and. . . Well, who knows what I'd do? As if that's all there is to it, she walks over to the coatrack, takes mine down, and hurls it at me. "Five minutes. That's it."

I stare at the coat in my hand. Black, just like my mood and the sky. My favorite color, the color of the Mako Dreams CD cover. This really has no relevance to the matter at hand, but I need to focus on something besides her face. If I do, I'll crumble like a thirty-foot stack of bricks. Five minutes. Five minutes can't hurt. Logic slaps me hard. 'C'mon, you paranoid fuck. Five minutes is nothing!' it yells at me. What I wouldn't give to punch it before I slide my arms into the coat and follow her to the door.

She gives me a weak smile and opens the door. If you don't step a foot outside for over a month, and then decide to take a walk on the beach, it's more of an experience than an event. Everything is seen in new color when you're not in a smoke-stained room, making fake newspaper articles. The buildings rush at you in a new light, not seen through fogged windows, and there is nothing that can compare to the smell of the outside world.

I was never a nature freak, but I think it's instinct to want to drop to your knees, praise the heavens, and kiss the cobblestone path. And if Aeris weren't standing there gauging my reaction, I just might. Wordlessly, we walk down the stairs to the villa, quickly stepping down the road and passing the dimly-lit bar, which smells just like my room now. Cigarette smoke and alcohol. I turn my head ever so slightly when we walk by, and look at the Inn. Our room's lights are off. Either it's empty, or they're asleep. I look up. No stars. Must be cloudy.

I stare at my arm when I finally see it. The back of my wrist almost glows in the darkness. I've been needing to go outside for some time now, but the risks are too great for broad daylight. Lost in my surprise, she asks if I mind if we rent out the spare room. I shake my head and look up just before I can fall off the edge of the wall by the stairs leading down to the beach.

"Never been down here, have you?" she asks, lowering her voice and looking around on the beach. The surfers aren't out. It must not be the right time of the year for them or something.

I pause, follow her down the stairs, and then shrug. Ever seen moonlight without stars? It's an eerie sight. "The old man might've brought me here when I was little. He travelled a lot with my mom, but I wouldn't remember any of it." Despite it being Costa del Sol, it gets cold at night, which would be the reason for coats. Coats on a beach. It's irony. I need to observe almost everything my first time out here in awhile, so I start with the odd ones.

She's at the water's edge. I'm still three steps up from the sand. As soon as she sees this, Aeris beckons me forward until I'm just a few inches away from where she's standing, then turns around and holds her arms out. "Welcome to the Costa del Sol beach. Love this place. Ignore all the litter and it looks really nice."

I'm on the fine line between paying attention and trying to breathe. The medication I ran out of wouldn't help this, anyway. The moonlight has magical powers, one might say. In the light of noon or so, not much is unique, but at night, bathed in silver, it's all kind of amplified. Features are more presented, eyes dazzle even brighter, even the slightest movement or touch is knee-buckling.

Ever been out at night with someone, and all of a sudden you want to grab them by the shoulders and bury your lips against theirs, not stop until the sun rises? Never release, and just pray they don't kick you in the groin, or it's all turned to ashes that not even a phoenix can rise from?

Well, dammit, I don't know if it's the moonlight or the old desire rising again, but I want it. Aeris is inches away, swaying and humming softly, her shoulder brushing mine as she rocks back and forth. My hand inches out, almost on its own power, and hovers above her left shoulder -- but I refuse to let it move any closer. I know the risks, were I to actually do something like this, and they aren't very appealing to me right now. Lose the villa, lose my things, and have to leave to live on the streets.

Most of all, though, losing her is the least welcoming of all.

Though. . .what if she does the same thing? Stands over me while I sleep at night, aching to come closer, wondering what I would do if she gave in? I woke up once, in the pitch black darkness, and slit my eyes to see her standing there, humming as she is right now, staring intently into my, so she thought, closed eyes. Was she worried that night, or does she continue to do it; stand watch and wonder and wait?

I'm old enough to make my own decisions, but I'm acting like a dumb schoolboy with a crush when I let my hand down and see her turn her head to me from the sudden movement of my arm. I pretend I was pointing the new moon out to her. She nods, turns around, and looks at me expectantly. "It's been five. You still want to go back?"

Hah. Do I want to go back home, or stand here with you, hair forever smelling of roses, infront of me? I just nod and lead the way this time, fist clenching and releasing in my pocket. Fuck. I had it; I could've moved in right then, but I'm a fucking wimp. Sephiroth, self-appointed enigma, doesn't have the guts to kiss a girl on the beach, possibly one of the most-romantic places man has known about.

Damn me and my worrying.

As soon as we're back inside, the bedroom beckons me to come in and suffocate myself with a feather pillow or two, but first, I want to know just what I was getting for going down there and enduring all that shit. "So, what's the big surprise?"

Her head shoots up. "Huh? Oh, yeah, that. Letting me down, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a rubber-banded stack of small pieces of paper, and tosses them to me. "This means you'll have to go outside again, y'know."

Even the sight of two tickets to a Mako Dreams concert in Junon and a backstage pass doesn't get me as excited as it could, although I do stutter for a moment, fling my eyes wide, and almost drop the little package to the floor. And God help me, it doesn't aid my resistance when I give into the instinct to hug her.

The next few minutes I ask questions about how she got them. She doesn't answer any, just saying I'll find out eventually, and then I go into the bedroom, put them on my nightstand, and throw myself under the blankets in my jeans and shirt. Not even worth taking the shirt off tonight. The moonlight shines on a picture of her standing infront of the Cougar that I took from the window of our Inn room. I put it facedown and flip over the other way.

I didn't have the guts to kiss her, standing in the lunar illumination, smelling and looking just like a beautiful, silver rose.

Not tonight, my dear. . .not tonight. . .


December 2, 3076
Morning. Villa. Costa del Sol. 6:19 A.M.

"You're a fan." - Jinaisim, Costa del Sol Books

Morning. Jesus, I feel like I've got the hangover to end them all. My head throbs, my muscles ache, and my eyes hurt so bad I can't open them. Maybe I'm dead. Yes, maybe I died and went to Hell as many have told me to do over the years. Ah, release. Sweet, sweet release. I can open my wings, fly, soar into the heavens any time I want to now.

The alarm clock sounds next to me.

Bang. There goes the rifle, one of my wings is out, and I'm spiralling down to the Planet again. Oh, well. Nice while it lasted. Three, two, one, impact. Groan. Fuck the day. I don't want to wake up and meet it this time around. My hand almost crushes the poor pocket-sized travel clock when I turn the alarm off, then drag myself from the bed and walk to the window on the cold floor.

The sun peeks over the horizon, skips across the water, and reflects directly into my eyes. It meets my center finger and I close the shades. Six-thirty in the morning and I'm already waiting for sunset. Pathetic? I wonder as I stride out of the room, into the living room, and find the new pants and newspaper on the couch for me.

Nope, just stupid, I figure. I look over the paper. No interesting news, except for the mention of the concert I'm heading to with Aeris. I try to remember last night, but my heads pounds, mostly from frustration, so I turn the coffee back on and grab the newpair of pants. Seeing as how no one else is high enough to see into the windows, or lives with us, and Aeris is at work -- Friday, thank gods -- I just slip them on in the kitchen.

Sure, I fall flat on my ass once, but I'll live. . .

As soon as that's done and my old pair are tossed into the laundry basket, I turn on the news and check the mail on the table. Nothing new has come up in Miklen's case, which is finding who killed Tseng. I stick out my tongue at his scowl on the screen and flip through the envelopes. Mostly a bunch of local things, one a newsletter from Mako Dreams I ordered under a fake name, but the bottom catches my eye.

Something few know about me, I have a sister in Kalm. Now that most have forgotten the long-haired face on the front page of the news, I've contacted a few of my old friends. She, Kline Bauchner, lives with her husband on the top level. I gave her my address incase something came up that I needed to know about, but this one is addressed from her husband himself. He's never sent me anything, so you can see the reason for my concern, right?

I slide my fingernail -- vampiric-long, just to be different -- in one of the corners and start to open it.


Instead of ringing, our phone gives three beeps in little groups, something that sounds way too much like a smoke alarm for my ears. The letter falls forgotten to the table and I stride to the stove, turning off the steaming coffee and picking up the phone in one swift arm-sweep. "Jolteve household. Jim speaking." Jim Jolteve sounds so backwater I just had to call myself that.

"Get down to the bookstore as soon as you can, would you?" Aeris. It's my year off; I shouldn't have to walk anywhere. "Remember how you said I could rent out the place for a little while?"

My mind actually goes back this far. I slap myself in the head and mutter thanks to its selectiveness under my breath. "Yeah, vaguely. Why?" I scratch my neck and reach for the coffee pot, balancing the phone while I reach in the dishwasher for a cup. "Kinda blurred, but didn't you say you'd put an ad in the paper?" I coulda sworn. . .

"Uh, no," she answers choppily, and I hear a cash register blip in the background. Oh, well. It seemed reasonable to assume. "C'mon, I've got the guy down here now and he needs some help with the rest of his stuff."

Rest? "Rest?"

"You sleep that hard?"

"I probably had a few drinks before I drifted off that I don't remember. Don't dodge the question." I reach in the fridge and get an apple out. Breakfast is a tight budget around here for me. I'm probably so thin because I have coffee and a piece of fruit every morning. Aeris just has metabolism; eats sausage and eggs each morning and still looks good on both levels.

"Right. We moved about half of it in last night, and now he's just got a couch and a few small things to get up there." Another cash register goes off. "You owe it to him."

I stab a little stick-demon in the side of the apple with my fingernail. "And why's that?" I don't really feel like moving from the villa today, anyway. If I do, though, I could go out to the Cougar, get it opened, and grab what we haven't had around for a month or so. "Complete stranger, probably looking for a place to live, and I suddenly owe him help? I may feel hungover, but my mind's sharp enough." Does she think I'm stupid?

Silence for a few moments. And then, "Kala's husband. He got us the Mako Dreams tickets. I hope my selection wasn't too bad?" I can almost hear her smile over the phone. "He's gotta run for now, but just come down and I'll show you what's his. Right inside the bookstore, now."

I give an immediate affirmation. Jinaisim Mukau, husband of Kala, lead vocalist of Mako Dreams. My idol's spouse, probably forbidden to tag along on tour, will be sharing a living space with me. If my head didn't still pound, I'd be belting out Blacklist as loud as possible and making some big breakfast for myself. My coat slips on almost unconsciously and I'm out the door.

* * * * *

A few small things? My ass. He had a couch, a dresser, a mattress, and a complete drumset to move upstairs. Not to mention I'll never get to see the guy. He'll be out of town for about a week, but promises to pay his rent, as he told me over the phone.

Fine-dee-doo. Then he can move his own shit out when he leaves. The drums sit unassembled infront of me in the basement. I'm on a folding-chair at just past 2:30 in the afternoon with a cup of fruitjuice, wondering if it's really worth it to set them up for him. He'll be gone for a week, and sure, there's a note on the cymbal to put them up immediately, but hell, how's he gonna know? On the phone he sounded like a stuck-up bastard anyway.

I snort, take my juice with me as i go upstairs. Drinks are for dinner, I agreed with Aeris, so she didn't find me passed out and think I'd died. . .again. Oh, she'd blown a fuse that night when I woke up. I grin as I ascend the stairs and blink in the sudden light. Appears the basement was darker than I thought with just candles and a lantern around.

I grunt it off and walk into the kitchen, putting the bottle in the fridge and looking around. I'd cleaned between contemplations of whether or not to set those things up, but the letter's still on the floor. Too far down to pick up. Jinaisim gave me loads of work and I haven't even met him yet. No pictures in the magazines of him, no description of what he looks like. Hell, if Kala's name wasn't on the wedding ring in one of his bags I'd gone through -- sue me, so what? -- I would question his being on-the-level.

Three. . . I bend knees. Two. . . Arms swing out to my sides. One. . . Aim toward the letter. ZOOM! I hit the waxed floor like a bullet and slide acros, grabbing the letter on the way and going into a head-over-heels roll as soon as I hit the carpet. God, I love this house. Too many things a big-kid like me can do.

Aeris is standing there when I look up, frowning disapprovingly before plucking the letter out of my hand and ripping the top off of it. "You're not big enough to read it yourself," she mocks. It's Friday, so she gets off early. I stare at the ceiling so I don't have to go through all this from last night again.

The letter falls in the side of my face suddenly, and I knock it off when I look to see her with a dreading look in her eyes and a stun-still expression on her face. I don't need to read it. And I don't read it. Kline lived her entire life with a heart condition, probably where I got my newfound one from. It kept increasing in severity until another attack could mean death. I spent the life I had caring about Father looking up to Kline, wanting to be as popular as she was, wanting all her friends. She was my idol, and did whatever she could for me.

And even as Aeris kneels down and lays my unresponsive head in her lap, smoothing back my hair, I just know one thing. The only think I need to know right now. She's dead. . .oh, God. . .she's dead. . .


December 4, 3076
Afternoon. Cemetary. Kalm Outskirts. 3:47 P.M.

"She. . .she was a good woman, Kid. . ." - Nameless Mourner, Kline's funeral

Jinaisim? Fuck him right now. Aeris? She's here, decked in black, but she doesn't know the half of it. Nine-tenths of these twenty-some people didn't know Kline, never will know Kline. They're just here for an excuse to miss work. And my father has his eyes trained on me from across the crowd, I can feel them even when I step forward in the drizzle and set a boquet on the coffin my darling sister lies dead and cold in.

He didn't know his own daughter, never will now. He's just here to boost up his image with the fat ShinRa fucks by going to her funeral. And miss work. He knows what I did, he knows I put a bullet to the back of Tseng and cut off his face. But he won't tell. Turn your own son in for murder, you're considered a low-life traitor. And, if possible, this insults Professor Hojo, and man so low and cold that he makes this place here and now seem like a utopia.

That rotten bastard. That cold, low, filthy bastard. He ignores her existence past the age of ten and then comes to give token sympathy and maybe a few forced sobs. You know why he's here, standing in a black suit, in the cold rain that makes me wish I could like the crowd on fire even more? To get his share. To get what he can out of the will, nothing less, barely more. To miss work, to collect his part, to boost his façade.

I want to pull out my handgun and spill a clip into his chest, not stop there, break his skinny fucking skull over a rock. See how he likes the mental pain. See if he agrees with his old methods of boxing my ears until I shut up now. He stands at the head of the crowd, giving a false sad speech. I stand in a tower with a sniper rife, the lock on his goddamn forehead. I taste his blood on my tongue, want to be there with the gun in the tower.

My eyes flare from beneath my hat, an old Mafia-style thing that came with the charcoal pin-striped suit, and meet his for a moment. He dares stand here. He dares come to my beautiful sister's funeral, shed false tears and pretend to give a damn. The nerve. He should be buried with her, alive or dead it matters not.

Aeris' tears are real, but only because I'm down and I might not get up this time. My eyes are dull whenever I see anyone, I've gone silent for the past few days. Once in awhile Hojo glances at her. He knows who she is.

You want her, you. . .you damn fucking asshole?! Come get her! Come through me to get her, but don't expect to make it past my damn armspan. I'll snap your scrawny neck before you can ever lay a finger on someone I love again, like you did when you beat Kline with the belt, you sick fuck.

Love. Hah. I'm delirious or something. . . I loved Kline, but I can't love Aeris. No, not me. Watch your tongue, Boy. Didn't you always tell me that, Professor? Oh, I'll let you collect your share, but what I feel should be mine I'll take back in time. When you happen to drink the poisoned wine, when you trip down the stairs because your leg somehow managed to give out at the top, when you drown because someone accidentally filled your lifejacket with water. I'll be the one on the other side of your death, I promise here and now.

People give me their false sympathies, their plastered on faces and their rain-made tears they consider real. The burial's over, the men are shovelling on the mud right now. I swear, I see my sister wink at me through the window on her coffin she'd insisted on having years ago before they cover that, too.

G'bye, Kline. No, don't worry, I'll get him for you. I'll take the sick bastard down for the both of us one of these days. You just stay there, he'll come up to the Lifestream, then me. Then, Sis', you'll get the revenge you deserve. I know for a fact the Cetra are a caring race betrayed by him, so they'll let us beat the shit out of him when we're there together.

The man who handled her will steps up to me and tips his ballcap. Wearing one to a funeral. Bad form. Aeris huddles closer to me for the warmth and to hold the umbrella the best she can over us. Lucky her, she watches the movies and knows it always manages to rain the hardest on a funeral day.

"Your sister was a great woman," he sighs, breath coming out in clouds. A middle-aged man with faint sideburns and a goatee. Heh. Hey, related to Daniel Reeve at all? Token care. Sympathy for the devil, I like to say. Because someday I'll go to Hell and take over, you know. The Professor's at his shoulder, staring steadily at me. He's not scared. He can't be scared. You need a heart to be scared. Even a cold heart will do. "She had a lot to offer you. I talked to her about her will a few months before this.." Really? I would've never guessed, seeing as how you just told me that. I'm still distracted and irrational, staring at Hojo. "She split it up between you and your father." Nope. Don't see him. "If you'll just come with me to my office. . ."

There's more he wants to say, like "I'll give the dead bird's stuff to you and collect my pay for doing so." All of these people are liars. All of them except Aeris and I don't know a damn thing about caring today. I care about Kline, Aeris cares about me. The sideburned man turns and starts toward town. Hojo pauses a moment, almost dares to smirk at me, then follows him.

Aeris scoots closer as soon as we start walking. I don't know if she's cold, afraid, or concerned, but whatever the case, I gently slip an arm around her waist and continue on. Almost immediately she seems to calm down a bit.

"Professor Hojo's. . .your father?"She's not short on breath, just testing the waters. And she hasn't nailed me in the teeth yet, so I guess this is helping.

I snort and shake my head, tossing a few flecks of water off my hat in the process. It's like one of those old mobster movies. Now we're going to go smoke weed and shoot up a strip club, Maria. Make sure the spaghetti's on when I get back. "He was never a father to me. Not worthy of fathering a goddamn rat. His own damn fault we're here." I don't dare say anymore, because he's still in earshot, and could have Reno come out and put a bullet between my eyes in half a day. He would do that. He had no problem sending Kline to the grave.

She gets the basic idea, shivers, and lays her free hand on my elbow. We've gotten a lot closer in the last few days. My luck's been down and she's keeping me steady right now. Doesn't help that I've still got the urge to. . .well, nevermind.

My hand subconsciously drifts to my pocket. The Mako Dreams tickets. Two backstage passes. Directions from Kala herself inside Junon. Can I go and truly enjoy it? No, probably not. . .but I have to go. I know Aeris must've paid a bit more than just a smile and the comment that I like Mako Dreams to get them. Extra gil or extra services, she got 'em, and I'll not go back on the offer now. Tomorrow night, Mako Dreams, Junon Event Center. We'll most likely drive -- we hopped a boat in the Cougar -- there tonight, stay with Kala and the others, then shop around until the concert tomorrow night.

We get into the man's office. It's like the movies. A desk to the side, four chairs evenly spaced, and quite comfortable, in the middle of the room, and a flatscreen television on the wall. He instructs us to the seats and skips to the chase with a glare from me. Hojo's ponytail wags in my face and I struggle to not move my hand from Aeris' to grab it and pull as hard as I can. Sure, I want him dead, but she needs to be calm around here. Although out of his labcoat, the old man still looks dangerous and menacing.

"Kline chose not to document what she was giving to you visually, but I've got a few notes here," the said notes come out of his desk, "that should include it all. Let's begin, shall we?"

So, we get to the chase. She left most of it to her husband in town, who was in much too bad shape to even move from bed today, and a few things to the Professor. Who I will never refer to as Father vocally from here on in. An old beater car, the papers to a Chocobo -- probably for his testing, the animal -- and everything he once gave to her. To me she left almost nothing, but we'd spoken on it once before. She was going to leave everything to the old man, just so he'd have to be reminded of all the sick shit he'd chosen to put her through. I got her old records and a few necklaces she used to wear. Not the best, but they had notes to me on the inside. From her in the Lifestream, they were signed. She had it all planned out.

Good God. She was so young when she had it all planned out. From the first attack, she was waiting for the final, just to show him. I choke down a sob as the sideburned man rambles on and on about what she's giving us. Clocks, coins, watches, all to Hojo. Records, poems, old books, some to me. I understand you, Kline. I hold nothing against you, wherever you are.

Once he finishes, I have about half-a-box full of things, and Hojo has three in a large stack. I want to laugh, want to cry, want to scream. Want to kill. I've killed three people. One, I was drunk. Two, self-defense. Three, minor self-defense with a touch of giving a favor to Tseng. Call me a murderer and I'll tell you it's true. But this time, if there could be a four, the reason would be desire. I crave to kill him. I want his blood soaking into my shirt, my gun at the scene of the crime when he falls. I want my eyes to glint madly in the moonlight, fangs sprout through my mouth, and claws to pierce through the walls of this damned office.

I'm a maniacal little shit today.

The Professor insists on following us out to the car with his boxes, all stacked on a cart he's pushing infront of him with some hidden strength. I load my box in the back of the Cougar and turn around. Aeris is already in the car, thank the gods, but Hojo's eyes bore through me. "Lot of nerve you got, coming to this."

"That's not the way you talk to your own father, is it?" His first words to me in years critisize me. Déjà vue. He was like this after Mother died, the pale bitch. Did I ever tell you I don't get alone with my parents?

I grunt, a sign that I don't want to talk to him at all, but offer him some words of wisdom. "Fuck you, Old Man Hamster."

"Hamster?" I know more than him? Funny, I thought he was the scientis -- oh, wait, hamsters are normal. He doesn't care about them.

"Hamsters eat their children, you kill yours. Funny, huh?" I mock. I slam the hood shut, turn around, and face him with my arms over my chest. We're silently viing for the spot of the alpha male. I'm steadily losing. Bastard. "I suppose you're not just following me for the hell of it?" He never is. He always wants something.

He grins almost softly. Trying to win me over. I throw out another wall and pinch my eyebrows together. He jerks his finger at the Cougar. "Still runs as well as ever, I suppose?" he queries. I nod, keep my silence. I know I'll crack before he gives up, but not without a shit of a fight. "You're seeing the Cetra now, are you?"

Never one to forget a face, were you? Never one to leave the said face the way it is, either. Not without beating it a few times, no, you don't swing that way. "No business of yours who I'm seeing anymore, Hojo. Take note of this: She has a name, and you're not touching her. Not ever again. You're not laying a finger on me or anyone I love. Ever. Again."

The poor man thinks I'm bluffing. He smirks and reaches out a single finger toward my shoulder.

I knock it away and slug him in the face. I don't hold back because he's an old man. It's the kind of knock-down punch that boxers throw, which he just did. He's on his back, suit and all, in the just-outside-Kalm mud, staring at me as if I were a Cetra myself. And let him think whatever he wants, I decide as I walk toward the car, opening the door and getting in. For a solid five seconds, I debate on putting it into reverse and breaking the rest of him into pieces.

But Aeris' eyes are glistening in the rear-view mirror out of the corner of my eye, so I just ease the gas down to the floor and head toward Junon. Not today, old man. You won't get the pleasure of dying under the wheels of a car.

If I have to, I'll come kill you with a toothpick.

* * * * *

Change of plans.

Instead of staying at the huge Mako Dreams mansion, which is unfortunately being sprayed for mites, we'll just spend the night at Kala's apartment in Upper Junon. She'd given a message to one of the workers, he relayed it to us, and we were on our way. Around all the rusted cars and ones with all the windows knocked out, the Cougar parts the crowds. Some point, some gape, and some just walk past like normal people.

Okay, okay. Two point, one gapes, and the rest of them just walk by. I'm so proud of the car I'll lie to myself, I guess. I get out the driver's side and look up at the building. Kala lives at the top. A gothic-style place, complete with stone balconies and gargoyles on the top. I whistle and look over at Aeris. We had a talk on the way, and I've settled down a bit. Leaving the car doors open emits waves and waves of sound from the stereo, so I reach in and turn the entire vehicle off.

We also reasoned that I should be allowed to have the music as high as I want it, her demands. The band-member already hangs over her balcony waving at us. With a 'MKO DRMS' license plate and "Me Pissed,You Shit" blasting from the speakers, I guess she made a correct judgement. Kala disappears and reemerges at the main door a few seconds later. For once, I see her smiling.

Kala's a dark person, mesh socks on her arms and necklaces galore on. Decked out in a black dress, hair's done up nicely, and she's wearing almost the entire line of Cipot Toh clothing, a brand that ships straight out of Wutai. Almost-perfect face, not a visible flaw on it, blue-green eyes staring from under thin, finely-worked-on eyebrows. Married or not, if you're dark, depressed, and/or a Mako Dreams fan, you want this woman at least once. There's no question to it. I'm dead meat if she tries to hug me and tell me how sorry she is.

Apparently, as Aeris has said, those two have already talked a bit from her visits to her husband and Aeris' working in the bookstore, this proved when they smirk and each other and exchange what looks like a bearhug. Bad sign. I'm next, I figure, and try to shift away slightly. Like I said, I'm down hook-line-sinker, head-over-heels for her if she even gives me an inviting look.

She turns to look at me now. The deciding moment. We size each other up with our eyes, stare a moment more, then she leans forward and wraps her arms around me. Three, two, one, "I'm sorry about your loss, Sephiroth." I'm dead. My head feels light and, to make it look authentic enough, I rest my chin on her shoulder. Yep. Dead as a doornail. Demon in disguise this one. Aeris looks at me with sympathetic eyes. I search for envy. Envy might save me.

No liferaft comes for me.


Kala pats me on the back twice and lets go, inviting us in and shutting the door behind us. No clothes on the floor, spotless kitchen, and three cats, lined up on the back of a two-person couch as if told to stay there. As soon as I look at one, the whole bunch takes off for another room. The vacuum stands lifeless by the table. She was preparing for guests before we came. Well, here we are.

"Jinaisim's probably off somewhere else, one of the smaller towns," she informs me, or us. I don't know how much Aeris knows her. But Kala's worried about her husband, from her tone. At least I know she's not available. "We're in a rough patch right now, anyway." Shit. There goes that beacon of hope. "Coffee, tea, beer, water? Vodka?"

And and Aeris break into stifled laughs at that one, and I whirl around to see them both grinning at me and trying to hide it. So, they share stories, huh? Wait until we sit down, I've got plenty. I shake my head to all offers and they go chuckling to the two-person couch. I'm left with a leather recliner.

"I heard you're quite the fan, Seph." She isn't one for shooting the breeze, I guess. "How many concerts you been to?"

They don't tour often. "Four."

"We've only given three."

"Private sounder in Midgar," A sounder is where they go in and play for about three people to see if they're ready for a CD. "I knew the bald guy in security."

"I'll fire 'im. So you were the one messing with the lights."

"Rude has ShinRa to fall back on. We worked on the same floor." I smile thinly. "You have nice concentration, anyway." I glance at Aeris. "Where'd you two meet?"

The Cetra of the group smiles a bit. "No matter where we met. The tickets got you out of the house, right?"

Damn. Strike one. She's winning. "Sure they did, but it's no everyday my idol steps into my roommate's store and picks up a paperback novel. There's some underground business you two're running, right?" I don't expect to hit anything the way I'm firing, but it's worth a try.

Kala points over her shoulder and I follow with my eyes. Two bookcases, brimming with hardback and paperback. Strike two. Fuck. "Point taken. How'd you get the tickets, though?" I'm still eyeing Aeris uneasily. There's something I'm not putting together.

"Jinaisim. Crossword puzzle."

It clicks. In the back of the metal magazine, there was a crossword puzzle that had everything to do with the hot metal bands. If you completed it and sent it in, all correctly, and they drew your name, you would get two tickets and backstage passes to the Mako Dreams concert tomorrow. I'd missed the deadline, but I remember, the night I'd been watching Aeris watch me, she'd had the magazine in her hand. She probably just handed it to Jinaisim and begged him for tickets, seeing as how I was in such a slump.. "You're a sneaky one, huh?"

She, I swear, starts giggling. I quirk the side of my lip up and shake my head, glancing at a smirking Kala in the process. She looks like a cat watching a mouse. "Sooooooo," she drawls, "you must have a lot of stories, working at ShinRa and all."

And so, the stories begin.

A little past an hour and a half later, all three of us have glints in our eyes and are exchanging comments like machine gun fire. She would ask us a question, and Aeris and I would add her in in cycles between us. It went something like this for awhile:

"So, how'd YOU two meet?"

"Found him in a dumpster."

"ShinRa fired me, so I needed a place to stay. I bought a flower from her --"

"With way too much of a tip, by the way."

"-- and she started stalking me around the whole goddamn city!"

"I wasn't stalking you! I was concerned! You were homeless --"

"And you threatened me if I didn't come home with you."

"Well, probably good you're as obedient as a little puppy, then."

"Excuse me?! If you remember right, your mother and I had plenty of fights, and I won!"

"My ass! How many times did I jump in and rescue you from death?"

". . .Okay, a few, but the rest of the time --"

"There was no 'rest of the time'!"

"I coulda held my own."

"You didn't."

"Could've, though, if you weren't so concerned, as you call it."

"She's my mother! we're due to have some fights along the way!"

"That doesn't mean steal mine! She was inches from a heart-attack when you jumped in!"

"You were a ShinRa! Of course she was!"

"And I saved your ass from Tseng, if you remember correctly."

"Killing counts as saving?"


"My ass."

"He was gonna kill me. What'm I supposed to do, sit there, nod, and let him go about it? Besides, he didn't wanna do it."

"Oh? What'd he do, tell you?"

"Of course."

"I don't believe that."

"I was his friend for a long time, remember. As you yourself said, I was a ShinRa."

"And I know you're not trustworthy."

"Then why the blazing hell are you sitting here with me after almost two months of living with me?"

"I. . . Damn. Got me."

And then, in the middle of a serious discussion like that, we'd just burst out laughing for no apparent reason, Kala, who I've lost most attraction to, as well. There truly was no reason, as far as I can tell. Now we've calmed down a bit, broken out the drinks, and gotten half-way to drunk. As far as I can tell, my decisions still have a bit of logic to them, though. Kline, I know, would like to see me like this.

The vocalist among us even has some good hard liquor down her. Now we're on to the humorous stories. The times any of us had gotten three-times as tipsy as this and tripped over our own feet, when we went to wherever wearing which embarrassing suit. You can imagine the look on my face when I reveal I spent three solid Halloweens in a dress. Then Aeris, ever the life-saver, tosses on the table that she spent one with too loose of a costume. Claims the pants would always fall down whenever she went to ring the bell, and Elmyra couldn't sew it to make it any smaller.

I don't comment while she speaks with this one, just finish off the dinner of fried chicken we were prepared.

Eventually, after watching a movie or two and talking some more, the clock rings out eleven. Kala clicks her tongue. I know what's coming. Either her saying it's time to head off or discussing places we're sleeping. "Well, I've got the concert tomorrow, and there's no way I'm leaving you two here alone, so. . ."

The universal signal for "Get your asses to bed."Aeris is nodding, I want to ask a question, but the oldest of us tosses the other woman a set of keys and points at the room next to the one the cats disappeared into earlier. Aeris stands up, lets her left knee wobble slightly, and walks back there. Kala starts turning the lights off.

"Where do I sleep?"

She jerks her head over and stares at me for a long while. "I figured you'd either take her room or the couch. All depends on how it is between you two."

Pretty good, unfortunately. I nod my thanks, she gives me one last sympathy hug, and I trudge to what will now be known as our room for the night. The door almost refuses to creak when I open it, but Aeris is smiling from next to the door at me, letting me know, "I figured you'd come in."

Her red jacket is already in the chair in the corner she's next to, which sits next to a small oak table, housing a lamp, the only source of light in the room. From this angle, the tiniest of shadows, caused by her nose, makes a dark spot beneath her eye, and her arms are folded over her chest. God, the moon can't compare to this.

Driven by alcohol or desire, I almost pounce, sweeping around on my leg, stopping infront of her, and staring for a moment. Large green eyes dare me. Ruby red lips beckon me. Flinching fingers at her sides worship and crave me. Which to give into first? My sober side screaming to back off, or the shuddering digits on her hips urging me on?

Fuck it. I will not go down as a coward tonight again. She's already against the wall. Our lips clash and a shock runs over the both of us. Her resistance barely matters and completely disappears when my hands cover her own. She's been drinking the same thing I have. I can taste it now. Stopping? No. She's drunk, so am I, but I have feeling we both know the consequences when she pulls back for breath and slides her hand along the wall.

Toward the lamp cord, grasping it.

"I knew you'd come, Sephiroth."



Unknown X, XXXX
Dream World. Hall. Ancient Church. X:XX ?.?.

"We'll be kings, Gast!" - Hojo, ShinRa lab to Professor Gast

I'm standing in a church. A new church, or maybe just a large hall. Pillars support the top of it, fifty feet in the air at least, and the faces of different gods stare at me from the walls. An altar is infront of me, over the white marble floor with no carpets in sight, and I see Aeris' back to me. One of the god statues looks like it's reaching out, infront of her, a pearl white hand curled slightly and almost touching the top of her head, a gold pot in its other arm. Praying.

A Cetra has to be religious, I'm sure. Praying to and for the Planet, listening to its replies as she told me she could.

Two shots. Two shots are all I hear, except for my quick gasp, but the bullets. They go by slowly, like the movies make them do in a slow-mo scene. At a crawl they go. I try to reach out and pluck one from the air. It goes right through my hand, even leaves a charring hole the size of a golf ball. They're aimed for Aeris. I run forward, try to jump infront, but something holds me back. Not like wrapping around me and pulling, nor some invisible wall I crash into.

It's mental. A feeling I absolutely can't get less than ten feet away from her. I don't know what it is, or why I'm there. I can walk, but I'm forced away from that "barrier." Maybe they'll go through her. I look at her head from the hole in my hand, and hope the same happens. It doesn't. The statue, the god infront of her. Its porcelain hand reaches out, grabs her by the hair, and throws her directly at the two bullets.

She collapses, bleeds like a syringe, and hits the floor with the sound of a glass breaking. Dear God. My silver rose, my pillar of strength, the woman I half-believe I love to the extent of my powers, is dead infront of me, and I can't even move to hold the body. I turn. It's the first time it occurs to me to look at the source of the bullets.


Ever-cocky, redheaded, completely-sober Reno, stands with a gun in his holster and a blank look in his eyes, just feet away from me. No regret. Nothing at all in those eyes. "Why?" I wonder, I ask.

He walks forward, past me, and the body is gone into thin air. He walks directly past my barrier, to the god statue, and reaches out, touching its face lightly. "The gods, the supreme rulers, are said to have created what we are, what we were, and what we will be." There's depth, almost kindness in his voice. "Listen, don't speak. This tale could very well save you from your fate.

"When the gods created everything, they had a utopia in mind. A perfect place filled with happiness, love. Void of hate and greed. When the gods created the first humans, the first animals, and the first plants, they knew not of how big a mistake they had made. When that also became clear, they made a new being. A Cetra, or an Ancient. A being of only kindness and love, a being that could rule their world as well as the humans'.

"But the Cetra were rejected, called the gods' favorites. And this angered humans and animals alike. So the geniuses, the best humans they had, pulled together and created, on their own, one last thing. A Jenova.

"The Jenova were destined to be mortal enemies of the Cetra. The Ancients, the fools they were and the fools they will cease to be when she is killed, tried to make peace with the Jenova, offer them friendship. But the humans, in the hate they had created contradicting their original plans, had created the Jenova to hate even deeper than they ever could. They made armies of Jenova by enjecting the original creation cells into humans and making them reproduce. Jenova can spawn, when in peace, every two weeks.

"Then there came about Mako. Mako was pulled from the Planet's soil and originally used as a drug. It gave people hallucinations and super-powers for a limited time. By using their primate brains the gods had chosen for them, they figured out to enject a Jenova being with Mako, creating, as you can guess, super-beings. And not to mention, Mako meant almost-instant death to many of the Cetra if they came in contact with it.

"Cetra were forced to make weapons, armor, and battle strategies when the Jenova started killing their kind. As soon as they started fighting, the gods never forgave them. Brtraying their original intentions had made them. . .sinful. The humans were not the same. The humans were allowed to fight.

"The war lasted thousands of years, and eventually, once machinery and such was invented, the Jenova overtook the Cetra and then burrowed deep into the Planet to hide. Barely any Ancients made it out alive, and those who did were shunned by the humans and cast away. They went into hiding as well and slowly dwindled until three remained.

"And then Professor Gast stepped in.

"The man, tutorring Professor Hojo at the time, captured the three remaining Cetra, and took them in for studying purposes. He fell in love with one of them, and a daughter was born some ten months after the first words were exchanged. Aeris Gast.

"Your father was enraged. He believed the gods had an ultimate plan, and in order to fufill it, humans and Cetra had to despise each other. He devised a plan behind Gast's back, and soon killed him. But he had enough to carry the project. Ifalna and Aeris were put to tests. Hojo even reproduced with another Cetra, Subject AA4 according to him, to create a half-Cetra like Aeris. But not through love. Only through hate.

"Your sister was half-Cetra, Sephiroth.

"And there was a third. A third, a half-Cetra of the original colonies, who took great interest in Hojo. All three were women, the subjects. Ifalna, Project AA4, and Lucrecia. No stranger to that name, are you? No, I didn't think so.

"He fell in love with her, contradicting himself, but then mind-wiped the woman to make her believe she was an assistant, and not a Cetra. They were married, Hojo never feeling guilt for his actions, and she had a brief affair with a man. A man who lived in Midgar, a fellow assistant to the Professor, and one who insisted on having her. Vincent Valentine, leader of the Old Elite Turks.

"Nine months later, with Hojo always thinking he was the father, another was born. A fourth-Cetra, who never knew, who could never hear the Planet because he was not even half the ancient race, one who the gods scowled at for fouling their plans and sicced a huge amount of misfortune on. And he never knew.

"He stayed around the lab, but never made friends with the subjects, the Cetra, because he'd read the Book. And the Book stated that humans and Cetra were enemies. His father believe the Book, so he did, too. And then, the rest of the story you well know."

I'm stun-still. Reno had been pacing as he tells me this, and I drink in his words. I want more. I want to know more about the little boy in the lab, who never knew his true heritage. It all makes perfect sense. The attraction to Aeris, the dreams. The eight-foot creature that didn't speak human tongue. A Jenova hallucination, super-powered, caused by my one-fourth reaction to living around Mako for so many years. And my bad luck.

"There will be another child. A three-fourth Cetra, Nine months, the parents both part of the original race, no matter what fraction. He or she will be the most Cetra-hereditary in more than fifty years."

Reno turns and grins at me, but it's no like he used to. He means it now. "I know you killed Tseng, but no one else needs to. Congratulations, Sephiroth."

My head spins. It can't be real. There's no proof it is real.

"Oh, but it is," his voice rings. He chuckles. "You can wait the entire nine months to find out, or you can believe me now and tell Aeris. Tell her everything I've told her. There will be a note, when you wake up, on the nightstand. Read it and let her read it. Be happy with yourselves, Sephiroth. Coincidence has brought you together, love will keep you that way."

"Reno," I gasp. He was raising his hand, most likely to cast me back into the real world, if this place is real. "What. . .what are you?"

He smiles, hand raised at eye-level with me. He's sending me home. He's sending me back to the bed, probably to wake me up with Aeris next to me. "Me? I'm just a reject, Mako-enjected, Jenova descendent who knows the truth and a lot more than he should. See you soon."

And then, just like that, the floor slips away and I'm back to the real world.

Nine months.

A new Cetra.

. . .I'm smiling in my sleep.


December 5, 3076
Morning. Bedroom. Kala's Apartment. 9:30 A.M.

"The residents of Junon were shaken yesterday as. . ." - Reporter, Junon News

Well, when you wake up suddenly, wedge one of your arms out from around the other person in bed, and grab the note on the nightstand, the last thing you want it to say is:


Call me in Midgar. The
number is on the back.
Have fun.


Because he's telling the truth.

I'll call him later, come find him, and bruise his face up. It's quite a thrill at nine-thirty, first to look out the window and flip off the sun, then to glance at the floor, see your jeans, and think, Holy shit. We were drunk, but it happened and I remember all of it. I flex my jaw a bit out of habit and lay back down, snaking my loose arm back around Aeris' hips.

I was drunk. I knew what I was doing, though, and the realization that Kala's not the one with her face in my shoulder is welcomed this day. It's well past when I should be getting up, but I fade in and out for about another hour until she shifts beside me, opens her eyes, and gives me a crooked grin, trailing a fingernail down my cheek. "And how are you this morning?" she murmurs, about as awake as me.

She remembers it all. Not a regret in the world, as far as I can tell, and she keeps some humor in it. All three: The best signs I can get right now. I smile and kiss her forehead. "The church may've been better than the dumpster, but it's got nothin' on this. We should get up."

Aeris shakes her head as furiously as possible and tries to hide her face from the sun. "No way. I don't think I've ever been this tired right away."

"Makes enough sense, but Kala's gonna think we're dead if we stay in here too much longer." I'm not bossing her around today. In truth, this seems as good a place as any to stay the rest of the day. I poke her in the side. "We need to sit and have a talk later, hmm?"

She waves it off, stretches, and yawns out a "Whatever." Poor thing's never done this, but at least there's no hangover with it. I've figured out, if you stay awake long enough and, um, exercise, it helps to remove the headache you would otherwise be receiving in the morning from Junon alcohol. Hotel room, three years ago. I was foolish.

Aeris mumbles a few more things, scowls at the sun, and then sits up, fishing her clothing from the floor. I'm no better; one of my shoes ended up in the bookcase in one corner of the room. She is, even counting movies, the first I've seen to wake up and be almost totally normal after a night of that. I figured she'd either be jumpy, freaked, or clingy right away.

I finally, as I'm pulling my shirt back on, get to look around. Even for an apartment, the ceiling is awfully high, and angels' faces break away from the walls a ways up, staring directly down at us. I shudder and look away. Too much religion can kill a man, or so I've heard. Then again, I wonder what it can do to a Cetra.

God. We're going to have a kid. One time, like they said, is all it takes. I'm one-fourth Cetra, I'm in love with a half-human, and we're still being hunted by ShinRa for killing a highly-respected killer. Counting out Hojo and all I have to kill him for now. Never telling me, brainwashing Mother, never actually telling me about my real father.

We step out the door. Kala is in the kitchen, the radio on soft and a pan of bacon sizzling on one of the back burners. She hears us walk out. "One, what d'you want for breakfast, two, I ain't cleaning that up. Maid comes over at two."

I throw one of my shoes at her back. To tell the truth, I was hoping she'd be off somewhere when we woke up. "What's the plan for today?"

She kicks the shoe back at me without looking up from the pan. "You order your breakfast, then notice your early Christmas presents on the table, we eat, go shopping, then hit the concert. Made an alteration on where you're sitting, by the way."

I'm already headed for the presents when I tell her anything with eggs is fine. A new-looking, black trenchcoat is thrown over one of the chairs, and a wrapped CD is on the table. Mako Dreams: Hidden Metal. On the back, it describes how five copies were made, and then the songs destroyed. One for each band member, one for me. Aeris' is a large box of year-round flower seeds and a defensive stick.

"Figured you'd enjoy that one, Seph', since you're the biggest fan of ours I've met yet. Aeris, that's just for those shitfaced punks back in Midgar." Kala's converted directly to Mako Dreams mode, something she's known for doing before concerts. She once trashed the hotel room because they cooked her steak wrong, I heard.

She walks over with two plates and Aeris and I hug her in turn, thanking her thoroughly. We talk like rabid chimps all the way through breakfast, and then it's off to shopping. Junon has plenty of stores around, so it's not too hard to find what you want here. There's one tall office building you can see from all areas in the city. Inside, there are rumored to be fifty-eight floors, the top twenty owned by ShinRa and the others by small businesses from paper-making to pet shops. I hear about this way too late today.

Kala insists we stop in and get something to eat. The food court is on the bottom floor. She steps in the elevator, Aeris and I follow, and she punches the button for floor fifty-eight. This only disturbs me when she enters a five-digit code on a pad that extends from the wall, and then the machine jerks up. I narrow my eyes. "Seems like it takes an awful lot to get a bite to eat around here." My hand unconsciously finds Aeris'. "Special food court or something?"

"Not really, Sephiroth." She's used my name maybe twice before, always in a playful mood, but now she sounds serious. The elevator has a door on either side, the ideal place for an ambush. For someone without a weapon or protection from high-power rifle rounds, you're pretty well dead up here. If someone decides to run on a rampage, anyway. I know the smell around here, and from the sudden grip by Aeris, she does, too.

Seems like a Cetra talent to be able to identify the scent of gunpowder without a challenge. When you're in danger, a lot of things happen. It's called the general adaptation syndrome, or GAS. Your blood pressure rises, as does your pulse, and almost all your abilities heighten while it cuts off your digestion syndrome, using the power for other things, like reaction time, sight, and sound. Add on Cetra abilities and you've got a highly-dangerous lifeform.

What do I mean? I mean, when I hear even the slightest sound of footsteps coming toward the elevator, to the door behind us on the top floor, and said door creaks open, I push Aeris to the side where they can't fire, and shove Kala infront of me. A good pair of legs is all a man needs to vault off the side of the elevator and pin himself against the ceiling. Kala Makau screeches and goes down in a haze of bullets, and then the SOLDIER the shots came from seems downright shocked, judging from his reflection against the golden doors on the other side.

He starts walking forward, into the elevator. I see the barrel of a rifle, as I'd thought, poke inside. The signal to drop, grab the frame of the door, and swing my feet into his face. I land in the hall of an office with him infront of me, rifle three feet from his left arm. I flip it up into my own hand with my foot and point it between his eyes. "Who's your boss?"

He swallows hard, sweat beading on his forehead, and his voice wavers when he says, "I -- I'm not. . .I'm not permitted to give out that information, but he guarantees you won't shoot."

"Oh?" My first shot is direct, and blows out one of his kneecaps. He howls, and I see Aeris peeking out the elevator door when I glance back. I put his face back in the crosshares. "Rephrase or lose the other leg, Secret Boy." He tries to repeat what he'd just said through gritted teeth. I'm fed up. I take out the other leg and then put three in his chest. Aeris whimpers, and I'm about to turn around when someone else speaks.

"I really wish you wouldn't do that, Son. Quadruple murder, if I remember correctly. You could get in a lot of trouble that way."

When it comes down to "Father" Against Son, the son always loses. He's never got the balls to shoot his own father without assistance, and I'm alone today, I realize as I look up and see him sitting at the desk. He must have walked in during my interrogation. And when you're alone after stage one of the GAS, you move directly to stage three: The alarm doesn't shut off. You pump adrenaline until it hurts to breathe, but you have a short burst in which you have almost supernatural powers.

I have him pinned in with the gun, even from back here, but he pulls out a sword. An old man with a six-foot blade, no matter how feeble he may appear, is a scary sight. It'll take oil off of a driveway. "I'm not as foolish as the other. One shot, and then I attack."

I make a mistake. I use my one shot. He sidesteps like the wind and turns to see the window shatter. "Dammit. Now we'll have to pay for another." He turns toward me and leaps. He leaps across the entire room, landing inches from me. "That's an expensive window. Son." His eyes. It's all in his eyes. They're glowing with power; a Mako injection, no doubt about it. When it's fresh, Mako is more powerful than Stage Three of the GAS, but not a Cetra in it.

"Your turn. Dad." The sword is thin, not like a SOLDIER sword, with a unique design on the handle. You notice a lot of things when you're cought off-guard with something that holds instant killing power rushing at your forehead. So you dodge, preferably rolling down at an angle and springing back up. I do, his blade his the carpet and bounces back, but I lose my footing on my own bounceback, then go tumbling.

The old man swings again, with the grace of a gazelle, this time clipping me in the face before I can completely roll out of the way, and nipping my cheek lightly. A straight line of blood splatters against the carpet, but I get on my feet and dance away from another swipe this time. He pauses to regain his figure. I almost wait, then decide against it and fire at his hand. It hits its target, but he barely moves. Three of his fingers skitter, I swear to the Ancients, skitter off into a crack in the floor. "What the hell?"

"Welcome to the wide world of Jenovans, Sephiroth. There are many more than you may think, and only a Jenova can kill one of its own. I would invite you to join us, but I think it would be an even worse chemical inbalance if Jenova were injected into a one-fourth Cetra-human." I fire another at his head, just to see what would happen, but it jumps over. I don't mean I missed, I mean it was on a direct path for his nose, and then it leaped over his head and continued on. A Jenovan trick.

I count out my bullets when I hear a click. One on the Hellion leader, one on Tseng. Two on the SOLDIER's knees, three in his chest. One in the far wall of this room, one at Hojo's hand. The last one, the tenth, splinters wood even as I run this check. Ten bullets to the gun at a time, and no extra clips. I'm empty. I don't both trying to pistol-whip the maniac, just dodge from here on out. I think of a plan, then scratch it with every dodge I take.

Can't steal his sword, sure as hell can't shoot him, and attacking would be both futile and fatal. I turn and dash. Not for the elevator, not for the window. Straight for the desk. The chair behind it, bless my luck, is on wheels. I lift it with a bit of effort, Hojo advancing in a walk just to taunt me, and throw. It works. He tries knocking it away, but ends up gouging it. A foolish mistake. He doesn't watch, and the chair ends up completely impaled upon the sword, leaving him about a foot on his end.

"When did we stop fighting, Hojo? When did we stop fighting and start hating? Start hating, killing, and destroying, huh?" I plan for him to drop the sword and start fistfighting me now. I'm wrong.

What he does instead is growl and kick the sword. It snaps off evenly at the one-foot mark I noticed earlier, and then he hauls off and throws it at me. With exaggerated speed, it flies directly for my head. Stupid me. Stupid, ignorant me, I try and deflect the damn thing with the back of my right hand. I gasp, louder than ever, when it continues on, and then stops a mere inch from my eye. it went between my index and middle fingers, a few inches below the space. It went directly through the back of my hand.

I fall. I've never taken a fall voluntarily in a battle, but I do now. A horrid, gut-churning, cracking sound like a chocobo thrown off the top of a building. Even Hojo pauses to wince, his face contorted in a mixture of pain and pleasure, but then he charges. Not so much a charge as a heated stomp, but he's making his way nonetheless. I don't scream. Screaming is a sign of weakness, I just grit my teeth, try to get back up, and fall right on my face again.

GAS Stage Three has made me vunerable to an attack. A physical attack, and if I don't stop this soon, the family curse will kick in and my heartbeat will go through the roof. I give it one last go. I leap up when he's in range and try to swipe with the half-sword in my hand. He's expecting me to stay down, so this catches him off-guard, making him lose his balance and go tumbling to the ground. I pin him down.

"Seph, roll!"

I don't even care who that voice belongs to, but it's telling me there's a bit of hope for me. I roll to the side, and a pulsing bolt of heat rams down into Hojo. In a few seconds, his twitching has stopped and his body is charred.

. . .It was that easy?

I slowly crawl to my feet and look around. Inside the elevator, the doors jammed open, Reno of all people is helping Aeris up. How he casted a lightning bolt down on a Jenova man and killed him instantly, I don't know, but I start hurrying over there. Until someone grabs the neck of my coat and hauls me backward. "What, no thank you for good ol' Jinaisim?" And I'm stunned into stillness. Not because of the name, but because of the man.

Holding what looks like a green marble in his hand, grinning lop-sidedly at me, and raising two-fingers in a kind of wave, is the green-haired man from the ceiling of the asylum.


December 5, 3076
Near Noon. Office. JRL. 11:46 A.M.

". . .local multi-millionaire Professor Julius Hojo was murdered at the Junon Research Lab." - Reporter, Junon News

I dart back, but my legs give out and I'm down again. I slowly dare to look at Jinaisim. Now he's frowning, but he's still just like the one from the asylum ceiling, right before my heart attack. "You're. . .you're going to kill me. . ."

"Why in the nine hells would I kill you?!" he almost explodes. "Jesus, Seph', you did me a favor killing Kala. She would've gone after me next, then Reno, then probably some real important people. I've got no reason to kill you besides leaving my drums on the floor, and I can always buy a new set of those once we get out of here. Which, by the way, we need to do now," he reminds me, unneeded. He tosses the marble-looking thing around a bit. "Nice work, Reno. Effective."

Reno waves it off and walks over to the body of the Professor, kneeling down and poking it in the face. "No shit. He's fried beyond extra crispy. Grab the other one and do somethin' with our hero here, wouldja?"

I'm completely lost during all of this. I guess that's what I get for leaving ShinRa when they were on the brink of a big development. "What the hell is that thing?" I try to point a finger at Jinaisim, and almost slit my throat in the process. Oh, yeah. The foot of metal I have sticking out of my hand. I'd almost forgotten.

The green-haired man, pulling another from his jacket pocket, holds it out for me to see. "Materia. Condensed power, and if you get enough experience with it, you could blow apart a chocobo just by looking at it. Right now, we've got healing Materia, fire, and lightning. We're planning on selling it for about three-thousand gil, but ShinRa's going to want the plans when they hear about it. We'll make a good hefty profit off of that. Now, hold still or lose something important."

It's one of the most magnificent things I've ever seen. He concentrates for a moment, and then shimmering green surrounds me, bathing me in what feels like frigid air for a moment before disappearing into nothing. Jinaisim staggers for a moment, but I leap to my feet and shake myself off. "The hell. . .?" I'm perfectly fine. Touching my cheek, I feel only a scar of where I'd been cut minutes ago. My hand feels alright. I even pull the sword cleanly out, expecting a searing pain, but I only get a hole I can stare through, skin already grown together, but not bridging the gap. Very unattractive, but my corpse would've been worse.

Aeris rushes over to me and nearly leaps four feet to wrap her arms around my neck. Reno, the other end of the long, thin katana in his hand, returns to Jinaisim and makes a gagging sound. I just place my arms around her waist and glare at him for a moment. "Healing Materia," my should-be-housemate clears up. "You weren't as bad as you thought you were. Heals wounds, brings back your energy, and makes cousin Earl a lot more fun when he's drunk at Christmas. It's only temporary, though. That'll last about a day, and if you're not in a hospital by then, bye bye."

"Which means we need to leave soon," I assume.

"Now," Reno corrects. And that's almost all I need to know.

"Alright, then, let's leave." Aeris is at my side, gripping my hand for dear life. Reno and Jinaisim share a worried look. The later shifts on his feet and the former takes a cigarette from his breast pocket, shaking his head.

"It's not that easy." Reno walks up, takes the other half of the sword from the ground. Two seconds of staring at it and the entire seven-foot killing machine is back together. He hands it to me before going on. "See, we came up through the elevator after we cleared everyone out of the building. There's four elevators in the corners on every floor, from the twentieth on up, and the main elevator in the center goes all the way from bottom to top. In event of a lockdown, which is automatic, eight hidden cameras inside the elevators flick on, alerting the authorities if they capture any movement, and four hidden on the outside. Keep in mind, however, the main elevator has no cameras, because it's frozen at the top. All the cameras in the building, foolishly, are at the elevators on the sides. There's no way to get in and down without the Junon Force coming any second. The outside of the building is bullet-proof and crack-checked every day, meaning no way to climb. And, in event of said lockdown the main elevator goes to the top and doesn't move without a forty-digit access code, which is changed every hour on the hour, which no one aside from a supersystem can hack, and even that's hard. Also, shatter-proof windows, so if you came with rapelling equipment, you would be sorely disappointed. To make this all clear, we're almost completely stuck."

"Almost?" Aeris' voice is alight with sudden hope. I've given it all up. Factoring all of that in, there's virtually no way out. We're in a maze with no exits and cutting through the hedges gets you shot.

Reno grins and nods. "We got up here just before the whole place went on lockdown. You didn't see it, Seph', but Aeris was on the elevator when we got on, then we came up, ran out, and the whole system boosted up. We barely made it before they would've called the Force. This is irrelevant, I'm just showing off." He chuckles a bit, but Jinaisim elbows him in the gut. "Right. The one way to get down is to head to the twentieth floor and access the vault with hacking equipment. Inside is a panel, locked in a small safe, and then you've got another code. Once done with all three, you can shut down the cameras, reanimate the elevators, and you're done. Ride to the bottom on the main elevator, walk out the door, and pray no one notices."

The smell of the dead SOLDIER is finally getting to me, but I shake my head. "Alright, I know what you're getting at, but we've got a problem. How the fuck do we get down to the twentieth floor? The elevator we can access can't be moved without a code that we can't hack. And the other four that we may have been able to access earlier have twelve eyes on each. There's no way."

"Actually," Jinaisim speaks up, "this is something you and Reno need to talk about."

I glance at the one in question. He holds up a finger and beckons me with him, toward the restroom. I reluctantly let go of Aeris' hand and follow him. The walls are marble tile, as someone might expect from a high-ranking shithole, and I don't only mean the toilet stalls. Reno locks the doors once we're inside, walks to the sink, and stares in the mirror for a long moment at me. ". . ." He hesitates, takes a drag from his cigarette, and lets it out slowly. "We're going to have to kick you down the elevator shaft, loaded with safe-cracking tools, then have you blow out the cameras and elevator codes and get us down the main elevator, via a lift-up panel inside said elevator."

I blink and hunch my back, laying my head on the wall. "Reno, I know for sure you didn't come with rapelling tools, and you're not just shoving me down the shaft and praying I live."

He tosses me what looks like a handheld GPS system from his pocket with wires attached to it. "Put one of those wires on either side of the door and watch the numbers. When they're done, spin the dial left, right, left, right, left following the numbers. If there're more than five numbers, continue the pattern." He's ignoring me. "Once inside the vault, repeat the pattern with the smaller safe, which is in the center of the room on a pedestal. I'll tell you the code once inside." He opens the collar of his suit and sets an earpiece on the counter. "Any problems, it doubles as a communicator."

I clench my fists. There's no way I can get down the shaft without killing myself. The walls, as seen through a bullet-proof, clear siding on the elevator, have no ledges to grab onto. "How the hell did you know what we were getting into?" He used to be afraid of me, now he's telling me what to do.

"As a reject Jenova, one unwelcomed by society, I was given the opportunity to become a full-blooded Cetra. And as the only Jenovan to ever reject such an offer, I was molded into a kind of peace-keeper between the two races. The Planet looks over her children, the Cetra, and therefore keeps me informed of the things taking place. I happened to be in town, so the Planet contacted me and let me know how to go about it, and here I am now, telling you all of this because I want to save your life." He's talked tome today more than he has at any other time in my life. It's quite shocking.

"Why? Why do you wanna save my life now, and not before? Why now, huh?! And why the hell are you telling me what to do, when you used to cower at the sight of me?!" I demand. Maybe it's the stress that has me so worked up, maybe it's the fact that I just killed two people and now I'm trapped with a Jenova, someone who's as mysterious as a magic trick, and the woman who's going to soon find out she's carrying my child.

But now he's pushing me against the wall and, I swear, lifting me at least a foot off the ground by the lapels of my coat. "You're right, I used to be afraid of you, but only because I knew you had no idea what you were, and y'know, it's fuckers like you who're the most lethal when they have no goddamn clue what they can do. You're the ones who would repeat some crazy chant from a song and split the shittin' Planet apart! And right now, I'm tryin' to save your ass, make sure you don't get killed, so that kid out there that Aeris is gonna realize she's having might be able to have half a life and be able to come home to a dad waitin' in his room, like you and I never got to have! We had the abusive ones, Seph', who had nothing better to do when we got home than beat our fuckin' ears until we screamed for mercy, and even then they didn't care! I'm trynna save you because I know what Hell's fires look like! So you get out there, you go down that shaft, and you make about five people a little -- no, a lot -- happier to be alive when they hit the ground, you got that?!!"

His eyes are an inch away from lighting into flames while a forked tongue pops out from his mouth and wraps around my neck. His class ring has made an indent just below my shoulder from his force, I'm almost sure. Just within arm's length, I reach out and grab the safe-cracking device and hold it up for him to see. "We're all getting out of here alive and illegally. Shouldn't the Force be coming soon, though?" It only makes sense, if the place goes into lockdown, that the authorities come. Unless ShinRa's suddenly being run by infants and dumbasses. Oh, wait. . .

Reno shakes his head and lets me down, still clenching and unclenching his fists in frustration. "The Force only takes direct orders from Hojo when it comes to the Research Lab, as he called it, so they can't touch this place until they find him dead, or the alarms go off. Like I said, Jinaisim and I got everyone out of the building so we could pull this off. You ready?"

I nod and he walks for the door. As soon as I hear it unlock, my gut wrenches and I know, for some reason, that this is going to end with someone's blood being spilled.


December 5, 3076
Afternoon. Office. JRL. 12:12 P.M.

"There are no leads on whom the criminals may be, and there will be a funeral held for the Professor later this week." - Reporter, Junon News

"Oh, fuck."

I'm now standing inside the elevator, after Jinaisim and Reno have opened the hatch on the floor, and looking down. Fifty-eight stories of cold blackness, and I'm about to be forced down there, watching the numbers and grabbing for all hell when I see a lit-up "20" coming up.

Actually, now I'm jabbing a finger at Reno, who's as calm as anything, making jumbled sentences about all the reasons I shouldn't do this. "Aerophobia" and "instant death" come up a few times, but he takes my pause to explain, in that same calm, reasoning voice, that I'm the only one that can do the job. "Look, Reno," I ground out at him, "I see no apparent reason that you can't jump down there yourself! Jesus, you know the system better than I do, and I'm sure you're a lot more in shape!"

He raises two fingers at me, cigarette between, and blows a line of smoke at me before he says anything. Jinaisim has his arms over his chest, leaning against the wall, and Aeris is sitting on the floor next to him incase it starts resulting in punches. "Of course you see no apparent reason. It's not apparent. Fuck, you could guess all day and you might hit it once in a green moon. If you know it's coming, you'll never pull it off. Basic instinct of your kind, Sephiroth."

My eyes narrow. I'm sick of playing this idiot's games. "Jesus, Reno! This is all one of your big mind tricks to make me keep my hope till the last minute, then end up as a splatter of red on the floor, isn't it? You're tricking me so you can call the Force, get those two arrested, and take over the whole fuckin' place!" Actually, I'm shooting in the dark. Hell if I know what I'm saying. But the one thing I do know is. . . "And you're not throwing me down the shaft!!"

Jinaisim puts his hands on his face and sighs through his fingers. "Seph', I trust what Reno says. He's been right this whole time, and even though I don't know what your "kind" is, I'm behind him." Aeris is staring at her feet. Reno's smoking almost-peacefully. I'm fuming. Welcome to the fucking crime family.

"You're going down the shaft, and we're all getting out of here alive." I draw the blade, Masamune by the name on the handle, from my waist and hold it in a defensive stance. This guy's going to get a fight if he wants me to go down there. "Oh, for God's sake, Sephiroth, stop it. You don't even have to question the fact that I could have you down quicker than your old rival could've." Speak Hojo's name after death, you get a mouth full of lead, or, in this case, a vision full of steel.

"Don't." One word, even as the sword rushes at the space between his eyes. I'll kill him this time. Send me to my death, I'll chop you in half. Everything slows down, except for him. He lifts an arm and presses two fingers to his forehead. "Murney de pantra." Just like the dream, it bounces off the back of my head and rings in my skull for a solid three seconds. He reaches the fingers out toward me, and his eyes glow. Blood red. Demon red. Eight-foot, speaks-no-English demon red. "Fires of hate, flames of revenge." His lips move now, and a green aura flares around him for a brief second. "Tongue of Jenova!"

Everything goes back to normal speed, and I'm hurled head-over-heels backward into the elevator. As if dropping a nail, I soar down the open hatch without so much as a scrape against one of its sides. I can't see anthing ahead of me, and I can't wrench my head around to see above me, but in a few seconds of free-fall, I hear Aeris. And it's the worst sound I've ever heard. Not only does she scream my name, it's so desperate my head almost explodes.

Let's think over what's happened throughout the day, hm? I woke up, figured out how madly in love I am with Aeris, and then went to breakfast. Got a nice new coat, went shopping, and wound up in the middle of a triple-murder. Now I'm plummetting down an elevator shaft and all I can think about is how bad I have it. God, Seph', buck up and take death like a man. Although I wouldn't know a thing about that, I've been surrendering to people for almost twenty years, up until a few months ago.

I'm going down head-first and all I can do is scold myself. As if Reno's not doing enough of that. From above, he's swearing at me like a sailor, telling me to believe, telling me to hate him. Muney de pantra, murney de pantra, hate me, belive, think that you hate me! Just shut the fuck UP!!!

And then it happens. I'm not sure exactly what "it" is, but it hurts like a bitch. I'm jerked up for a swift second, my back feeling as if the spine had just been pulled out of my leg, and then I start to float slowly downward. In the event of a lockdown, the Force uses rapelling equipment to climb the elevator shafts. Therefore, there are lighted numbers above each doorway, and a button inside opens each automatically. I watch the numbers intently, and although I want to know what slowed me down so suddenly, the first one I lay eyes on says twenty-three.

Twenty-two. . .

Twenty-one. . .

I lean forward, jerk a few times, and then latch onto the ledge for floor twenty. Although I think my legs are going to continue on and the jerk of the blow will knock me all the way down, I reach up and press the button with complete ease. The doors slide open and I blink in the new light for a moment, but then all I hear is the humming of flourescent lights and the ringing of a phone.

The floor is completely vacant, and I, Sephiroth, have just leaped down thirty-eight floors of elevator to open a door without a scratch. Hell yeah. I grunt and pull myself onto the tile, only pausing once again when I hear a sound like ripping fabric, then look back to see something black disappear quickly behind my shoulder. Wonderful. Now I'm stuck with rats. I fucking hate rats. Using all the strength my legs possess, I swing myself up and stumble onto the twentieth floor of the Junon Research Lab. I made it. And I'm alive.

I reach back to try to snag the rat, but all I feel is a large rip -- no, two -- in my coat and small somethings scattered all the way down my back. I turn around. More on the floor. I kneel down and examine a few. Then I stand up and back away as fast as possible. No, no, no, no. . .

I did NOT just see feathers.

I rip the earpiece out of my pocket and blurt into it, "Reno, what the hell did you see from up there?"

I expect Reno. I get a shaky voice of Aeris. She forces out total nonsense statements, and then explodes when I tell her to calm down and explain it. "Would you be fucking calm if you saw somebody blasted to their Goddamn death and turn into a fucking angel halfway down?!!"

An angel. Reno used his little trick, blasted me down the shaft, and I got angry and turned into, most-likely, the true form of a Cetra. No more walking around oblivious. I'm putting two and two together for my own self now. "Put. Reno. On." She's mad, but eventually, she turns the communicator over to Reno. I'm still standing here, looking at the shaft as if Lucifer himself had just jumped down. And maybe, just maybe, he did.

"What fucking game are you playing, Reno? What Goddamn game is worth all this?" I haven't even given him a chance to say Hello before I'm all over him. What has this turned me into?

He sighs, as if talking to a disobedient child. "The game I'm playing just might save all our asses and let you know what you can actually do. Now, you're going to -- and keep in mind, you make no decisions as of now, Angel Boy -- look around for the safe I told you about, use the cracking equipment, and let me know when you're ready for the code."

After a minutes or two of solid swearing, some in hate and some in fear, I no longer question him. I don't yell at him. Because either one will probably get me killed. I feel my back again as I walk toward the safe, right next to the elevator. Two long rips. About three feet long. The black thing disappearing under my shoulder must've been the end of the wing. Makes sense that my back hurt, then. I pull out the safe-cracker and do the process just like he told me. It's oddly easy, then again, he's a Turk; they have some high-tech equipment.

Just like he said, and the safe opens with very little resistance. A steel door makes sense for the weight, though. Alright, just one more -- . . .Oh, fuck, yet again. I've got the communicator in my hand again. "Reno, we have a problem."

"Of course we do." Why doesn't he ever sound worried? It's unnerving as all hell. "Aeris is in the bathroom, puking her guts out because dead people smell bad. I'll throw him down as soon as you give me your news."

I take a look around again. I'm sure of it. Plenty of safes along the wall, but, "There's no pedestal. Just a bunch of ShinRa-marked safes, same size, along one wall. What's your plan now?"

"Think loose tiles. Do you think Hojo would be stupid enough to leave it in plain sight if we know it's somewhere in there? The other ones are all testubes and Jenova files. so don't mind those. And if it's not in there, you try your best to fly back up here and we decide what to do then." He's like the teacher your had at the end of the day in school. So perfect, you just can't wait to leave him and go home. "And if you don't make it back up, in event the tiles aren't loose, me, Jinaisim, and Aeris shoot each other."

Fucking comforting, jackass. I mutter and go about tapping the tiles with my foot. Solid. Solid. Solid. I do this around the entire room, then go back and do it again. No good. No loose tiles. Deciding I'm a bit pissed off, I kick the cabinet in the middle of the room. The glass, a few jewels behind it, shatters, but the thing doesn't move. I kick the side. It doesn't budge. Fall, damn you! I hurl myself at it.

Rooted in place.

I grab the comm from my ear. "Reno, when we get out of here, you're paying for all my therapy."

He laughs. "When we get out. Alright, so this means you found it and you need the code, am I right?"

I give him the bad news that the tiles are all solid. "All we've got down here's some cabinet thing with some," I walk over to it and inspect the jewels for a moment, "damn rocks or diamonds or something." He asks what kind, says they might be valuable somewhere down the road. My God, we're all about to die and he wants to know what kind of rocks they are. "Like I know." I reach forward and pick one up. It's attached to a string, and flies back as soon as I lift it.

The cabinet hisses and opens up slightly, expanding as the jewel case rotates out of view, and infront of me comes a panel with two, what look like, small, metal hoses coming out of the sides. He's laughing in my ear again. I jumped a solid four feet backward. "Funny. Reeeeal funny. Alright, give me the code." I hear some rustling.


Fuck is never a good exclamation a time of seriousness. Fuck is actually probably the worst warning sign you can get in one, to be honest. "Why fuck? Fuck isn't good, Reno. What's going on?"

"I forgot."

I swear, if I could reach that far, I would be choking him already. He forgot. How Reno. Only Reno would get into a place as serious as this, then tell you he can't remember the access code. I can see two switches already. Elevators: Off. Cameras: On. And a flashing Code box on a small screen above a keyboard. "Okay, then. Well, we'll have to lift up the panel and wire it." As a kid, I got plenty of experience with wires. And ifn you punch the panel hard enough, like so. I ram my holey hand into it and it pops up softly.



A message flashes across the screen: "ERROR: GAS RELEASE COMMENCING." The two pipes extend about an inch and hiss. I sniff. In about three minutes, the room will have enough gas in it to blow that steel door behind me completely across the twentieth floor, thanks to possibly one of the most effective security systems in the entire Junon Research Lab. "Father" knows son, son is screwed, group planning to perform illegal activities inside vault is screwed tenfold.

"Reno, there's a gas release."

He pauses for a few moments, or else someone had his device hands it back to him. "Problem?"

"That means that if I screw up during the rewiring process, the entire place blows. Didn't you listen in school?"

"I flunked eighth grade over and over until I was old enough to drop out and learned everything else from Tseng, thanks." That comes with a chuckle. Sounds like him. "One word of advice: Don't screw up."

He doesn't have to say anymore. He basically just told me everyone up there's counting on me to make sure the elevators are working in a few minutes and that a screw-up means they're all dead. Blow out the twentieth floor, everything above is screwed. No pressure, Sephiroth. None at all. I lift the panel the rest of the way off and look at the shitty wiring job in the first place. An infant could rewire this.

Assuming Hojo isn't smart enough to pull any tricks, I carefully go about the job. Next to the wire-cutting tools I don't have, my newfound weapons I'd insisted on bringing incase the Force was down here is my best bet. I'll have you know, doing a rewiring job with a seven-foot katana when one tiny error means you're for sale, now in crispy recipe, isn't too simple.

Nevertheless, in about ten minutes, the panel is back on.

And the switches work.

"Lady and gentlemen of Floor Fifty-Eight of the Junon Research Lab, we now have elevator power. The dumbass downstairs apologizes for the inconvenience." I hear whooping cheers, about as loud as you can get from a group of three, and the sound of an elevator door closing a few seconds later. The tubes are on reverse now, and seeing as how safes are usually crackless, I think most of the gas will be back where it belongs in a few seconds.

When they get to the twentieth floor, shockingly without incident, it's about as tearful of a reunion as three guys and a girl can get, without me, Jinaisim, and Reno actually crying. The latter stays in the elevator a moment, as Aeris hurls herself out and clutches me as if I'm going to fly away.

Oh, yeah. The wings.

Reno, briefcase in hand, hurls two uniforms at Aeris and I. Two Turk suits. "So they can't suspect you," he says. Obviously, we may have a little company on our way out the door. We slip into different corners on the floor and return a few minutes later, looking as officially-Shinra as possible. Reno, ever resourceful, shoves our clothes into the case and we re-group onto the elevator.

"Who are you?"

At first, I think she says it to me, but when I turn around, Jinaisim is being stared at by Aeris' large green eyes, looking perfectly at ease. "You wanna die today?" The entire elevator seems to tense and then relax as he says, "Then don't ask me yet." It's a fair deal. You save our asses from Hojo, we let you have your secrets. Somehow, though, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. Aeris grips my hand, and I hers.

As if fifty floors up, the world doesn't exist, people down here are going about their usual business. They only pause to look at the three Turks and one. . .whatever, walking off the elevator. Reno nods at anyone who catches his eye, as if to say, "It's under control." We get outside, glad to be away from then smell of the dead, and see the Turk van waiting for us.

I blink. I had that last. "But I thought. . ."

"Yeah. I took it." Reno looks as confused as I do. "What, you thought I walked back to ShinRa?"

Fair enough. Freedom. I just realized, in the cool air, we're absolutely free for the time. No ShinRa firing at us, no cuffs on our wrists. We're just. . .free. Jinaisim points down the road. "I'll be leavin' now. You people are enough to kill me."

"Walk backward. Sephiroth here's known for shooting guys in the back."

Ha. Ha. I wonder where we'll head now, Aeris and I. Cities haven't really been our thing for a while now, and ShinRa's still hanging around, so Midgar or Junon are out. Costa del Sol irritates me, so we're done with that place. Maybe somewhere like Nibelheim, up in the mountains. A nice, quiet town where we could settle down with the kid and live in near-peace.

I look down the street. Jinaisim's already headed off. The other way, Reno's sticking his head out of the van and jerking a thumb behind him, toward the back. "Y'snooze, y'lose. Aeris got to it first. You and the other guys in the back, I guess."

Other guys. . .? Oh, God. Another ambush, I can see it now. I'll run back there, try to climb in, and they'll riddle me with bullets. I knew I couldn't trust Reno. Nevertheless, I find myself pulled toward the back of the van. The door opens without a struggle, and I see two men sitting on the tire-coves at a table bolted into the floor, staring back at me with playing cards in their hands. On has tall, golden, spikey hair that touches the ceiling, and looks downright puzzled.

Reno, peering at me through a little doorway in the van, smirks like the devil himself.

Because across the table from the blonde man, I know the other who mirrors the smirk for the first time I've ever seen. "Heya, Punk."

"Hello, Rude."

Veeeeery fucking funny.

I climb in the back and sit under the table, all the while telling myself, as I hear chuckles from all four and the van lurches forward, this is gonna be one helluva trip.


December 13, 3076
Evening. Hallway. Turk Headquarters. 9:56 P.M.

"Turk Headquarters, Aeris speaking." - Aeris, Turk HQ

Aeris and I aren't Turks, and neither is the new man. Yet Aeris, he, and I are living in the Turk headquarters with Reno and Rude somewhere near Holzoff's cabin in the Great Glacier. We're living here because Reno took us here and we have nowehere else to go or be. So we're doing odd jobs. I'm an assistant for when they have a big mission, which hasn't come up yet, Aeris is a kind of secretary, and the new man, Cloud Strife of Nibelheim, is quickly training me in the arts of fighting with a sword. Reno swears he'll teach me, when he has a moment, how to harness the power of the whole changing-into-an-angel thing.

Right now, I'm standing in the hallway, talking to him. Starting with myself, in hushed voices, it's going something like this:

"You knew first. You should do it."

"She ain't mine."

". . .Fair enough, but I'm no good at these things."

"Speak from the heart, Grasshopper."

He's got jokes. Reassuring, to an extent. "At least watch me and make sure I don't fuck up?"

"You don't want me to do that."


"See these scars on my cheeks?"


"How do you think I got 'em?"

Hell if I know. "Gang-fight?"

"Told my old girlfriend and proposed in the same sentence."


"Exactly. Go for it."

He leans against the wall and jerks his head at the door. Aeris' door. She should be laying down, reading one of her paperback novels right about now. We're closer in the past week than we were, but still not up to the point of sharing a room and whatnot. The headquarters is almost a large shack. Pizza boxes and beer cans in the main room, most on the floor, and no one cares. The dishes are piling up in the sink to the point of looking like a tower, and we wash them once a week, or when we run out.

And no one cares.

This place is home now, and these people are family. We all have schedules, we all respect each other, and we all look out for whoever needs it. We have ample money, frankly we could go out and buy the old ShinRa Mansion without breaking a sweat, but we like it here. We're attached to the five-bedroom, trashy, could-be-beautiful place. Speaking of ShinRa, they don't even look for me anymore. Reno bribed them to call off the search.

Kala herself said, in a backstage interview I have on disc in my cabinet, "Watch your back like you'll die in seconds. Fight like you'll live for eternity."

Reno, Rude, Cloud, Aeris and I are all fighters, outcasts from the pool of society thrown together by an odd twist of fate and given the tolerance, just enough of it, to stand each other and each others' annoying little habits. Like Cloud's sharpening of his knives. And Reno's beer-breath that never seems to cease. Aeris insists on turning off the lights when everyone's asleep, and Rude is so forgetful he can't remember where the remote went half the time, even when it's in his hand. Me, I always turn something on, be it the stove, radio, or sink, and walk right out of the room as if it were nothing.

But somehow, we cope. And we, as much as possible, have grown to almost-love each other and the idiotic ways we do things in just a week.

". . .Alright."

I step up to the door and give it two hard knocks. Reno sinks back into the corner, just within earshot of her room, and gives me a thumbs-up. No fooling around now. This is when it gets serious and I need all the support I can get. Unfortunately, Rude and Cloud took the snow-riders, our newest purchases, out to get some groceries, though Reno will do.

It's not like knocking on an old girlfriend's house's door. There's no waiting while they get down from the bathroom and come to the door. A quick, surprised, "Come in!" floats out to me. Awake. Alert. Both almost surely spell trouble for me.

I reach for the knob. Can I go in? Can I truly go in and let her know what I know? "Murney de pantra." My hand twists he knob in a sudden, jerky movement, and the door pops open. Reno tries hard not to snicker from the shadows, letting me know there's no harm; I just needed to be persuaded.

I kick a hackey-sack -- there's no reason four twenty-some-year-olds can't have a little fun -- at him from the floor and slowly creep into her room. I leave the door open. In the event she strikes me, I'm running. She's got her finger in the book, laying in bed with the nightstand light on.


She must know I love her. The way she looks at me every day, just asking me to say something. I try my best to do the same, but apparently, I'm not too good with body language. I glide over to the bed as best as possible, trying not to let sweat bead on my forehead, and take a seat. She doesn't object, just pats my knee and smiles, like every other time I've come in. "What, can't sleep?"

"Kinda. Freaked Reno'll try to punch me awake tomorrow morning." We're a family that speaks only in sarcasticness. Very few serious statements have been exchanged in a natural conversation around here. "You remember what happened at Kala's about a week ago, right?" We never speak directly on such a thing. We're like school children at the prom. The unspoken hints bobbing around the air.

"Seeing as how you wouldn't have to ask if I remembered the Junon thing, yeah, I assume I do." She props herself up against the pillows and furrows her brows. "Why, what's wrong?"

What's wrong? Hm, to start off, Reno's a Jenova and we're going to be parents in about nine months. G'night. I reach out and take her hand. I'm going completely off of the movies I've seen. "Aeris. . ." And I almost choke. Almost. Then I can see Reno in my mind's eye, shaking his head and slapping me pretty damn hard for being a moron. "Reno talked to me and told me something I think you should know. . ."

I can't figure out for the life of me why she suddenly starts smiling and presses a finger to my lips, then removing it and replacing it with her own. When she breaks away a few seconds later, I must have the most confused look ony my face, because she almost laughs when she slides her arms around my neck. "I know."

She knows, She knows and she's looking ready to stab me in the back. When you're a kid, your god is the one your parents tell you is your god. But when you hit a certain age, twenty or so I guess, you have to pick your own. Right about now, I just pick Reno's name off the top of my head since I missed my choosing point, and silently pray to him she's okay with it.

"He talked to me first." Lousy, all-knowing bastard. Keeping his secrets, too, hm?

I try not to look like an absolute geek by placing my arms around her waist and shifting to sit better on the bed. Easy to attack, but looking cool with the situation. I hope. "And. . ." I prod.

She's still smiling. A good sign or a bad sign, I don't know, but I'll interperet it as the first just to be at ease with what she's about to tell me. She pulls herself up to me and kisses me again; but this time, she doesn't pull away for quite some time, and when that does happen, "someone" has already shut off the lights and closed the door for us.

Maybe this won't be so bad.