NOTE: It is recommended you read both My Little Angel and Unwilling Weapon before you read this story in order for everything to make sense.
The party has recently acquired the Highwind and Cloud has just been found in Mideel. Tifa sits awake looking at him while he nods his head and mumbles unintelligibly.
“He’s been like this since I’ve been here.” Tifa thinks to herself. “The doctor says he’s been like this for a while, since they found him in fact. He was in the Lifestream four days if he’s been here only three. What’s happened to him?”
The nurse enters. She looks at them both. “You should get some rest. You haven’t slept a wink since you got here. I know you’re worried but these things take time. He’ll be here in the morning.” She leaves.
“She is right; I haven’t rested at all since I’ve been here.” Tifa lies down on a stretcher. “I’m a bit tired. It doesn’t matter anyway, I won’t leave his side.” She turns over to look at Cloud. “I may be sleeping but I’ll be right here for you so don’t worry.” Tifa goes to sleep.
On the Highwind the rest of the party is gathered.
“Well it looks like Tifa is out-of-action for the moment.” Cid says. “What’s the plan?”
“We want to stop Shinra from taking the Huge Materia and crashing it into Meteor.” Cait Sith replies.
“I’m no fan of the Shinra but why should we stop ‘em?” Barret asks. “If Meteor gets popped I’m happy even if Shinra did it.”
“We are stopping them because that will not work.” Red XIII says. “Even in the very unlikely event a simple bomb could destroy Meteor Sephiroth could just summon it again by drawing on even more of the Planet’s energy. Is that not how materia works?”
“Shinra has never given a thought to any citizen’s well-being.” Vincent says matter-of-factly. “Whenever they take what they want people get hurt. We want to stop that as well.”
“Plus it’d be a big waste of rare materia!” Yuffie pipes in. “We gotta have something better to do than crash it into something! Come on!”
“Ya know, I think she’s right…” Cid agrees.
“Does seem like an awful shame.” Barret affirms
“That cannot be what it is meant for.” Red XIII concurs. While Vincent shrugs.
“The very least we could do is make some money off of it!” Yuffie exclaims. Everyone looks at her. “What?”
Tifa is sitting in a field of flowers. Flowers as far as the eye can see. A familiar looking pond sits nearby.
“What is this?” Tifa looks around. “Where is this?” She looks up. “The Lifestream…” She sees the portal.
“Not quite.” A voice comes from behind Tifa.
Tifa spins and sees Aeris behind her a good distance away in the field. “Am I dying?”
“No.” Aeris says lightly. “This place is a product of your mind. I’m actually here to visit you. It is just that whenever you think of me you think of flowers. Since I ‘left’ your subconscious also attaches Lifestream to your thoughts of me.”
“Oh, sorry.” Tifa apologizes.
“It’s okay. I like flowers.” Aeris kneels down. “I really do.”
“So…” Tifa trails off.
“Why am I here?” Aeris asks easily. “Don’t think too hard about it. Come over here, I can barely hear you.”
Tifa begins to walk in Aeris’s direction. “So how are things?” Tifa asks weakly.
“Oh come on!” Aeris says cheerfully. “Don’t be so uptight! Just look around, relax!”
“She’s right.” Tifa thinks to herself. “She is still who I used to know and it is pretty here.” She looks around and continues to walk. She trips on something and falls on her face.
“Are you all right?” Aeris’s voice comes from above.
“Yeah.” Tifa picks herself up. “Cloth?” She remarks standing. “Wait a second…”
“You may not have noticed but yes I look a bit different than when you last saw me. You’re standing on the hem of my dress.”
“Sorry!” Tifa jumps back as though standing in acid.
“Calm down! It’s alright, I’m dead already!” Aeris laughs gaily. “Lighten up!”
“Aeris, I’m so-”
“Hello? Take it easy!” Aeris reaches down. “Hop on.”
Tifa looks at the hand uneasily. “…aah.”
“Why are you so tense? I’m not going to hurt you. It is easier to talk face to face.”
Tifa gets on and Aeris raises her hand slowly. She looks Aeris over. The Ancient appears happy. “Well…” Tifa hedges.
“Take it easy.” Aeris repeats. “You’re in good hands!” She smiles and Tifa visibly relaxes a bit. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” Tifa exhales heavily. “This must be how Cloud felt. Really a bit scarier than I thought.”
“It’s okay. Now let me tell you the name of the game. You ask me a question, I try to answer. You got it?”
Tifa nods. “Why are you here?”
“To give you some information.”
“Have you …returned to the Planet?” Tifa asks uneasily.
“No. I am unable to because of two things.” Aeris looks sad.
“An unfinished task, namely saving the Planet and the Lifestream is in a state of flux.”
“It’s stuck. Because of the energy Sephiroth is drawing on to maintain the Meteor spell no new souls will be created and no old soul is allowed to return to the Planet and continue the cycle. The Planet is gathering energy just to continue to exist.”
“How were you going to save the Planet?”
“By using Holy magic to counter the Meteor spell.”
“I can’t tell you that. You have to figure it out for yourself.”
“Can the Planet be saved now that you are…gone?”
“If someone uses Holy magic to counter the Meteor spell.” Aeris repeats. “You have to ask better questions.”
“Holy, its power, where is it?”
“You have it.” Aeris looks more melancholy. “My time is running out, please hurry.” She begins to flicker.
“Will I be the one to save the Planet?”
“It will be your decision. Your choice will change everything.” Aeris sets Tifa down. “I have to go.”
“Why are you so big?”
“To help guide you.” Aeris fades away. “Goodbye.”
“Wait!” Tifa reaches forward and is grasping toward the ceiling in the doctor’s office. “Damn!”
On the Highwind the whole crew is getting ready to shut down for the night. It has been an eventful day and everyone is tired.
“All right! Jarheads assemble!” Cid calls over the PA. Everyone joins him on the bridge of the Highwind. None of them look too pleased.
“Didn’t know this Shinra junk had a loudspeaker.” Barret says offhandedly.
“It ain’t junk! It’s my baby!” Cid looks around. “Looks like everyone is here.” He clears his throat. “We on the Highwind are getting ready to quit for the night. We’ve landed just outside Kalm, anybody got somethin’ to say before we go?”
Nobody says anything. Cid looks at everyone in turn. They all look at one another. Silence still dominates.
“We need to decide on an official leader.” Vincent says, breaking the silence. “Cloud is out of the picture, at least for now. He was an informal yet official leader. We need someone to act in his capacity.”
“Well I say me!” Barret declares. “Who agrees?” No one makes any noise. He hangs his head down. “Me neither. I ain’t cut out for this crap.”
“I put in my vote for Vincent.” Cait Sith says. “It may not mean much with me being a spy and all but still…”
“I give Vincent my support as well. He is both calm under pressure and analytical when thinking is required.” Red XIII agrees.
“Vince is cool.” Yuffie says. “Not as cool as but very cool.”
“I throw my vote in for da stiff too.” Barret says. “Nobody I’d rather have at my back.”
“It looks like it’s settled.” Cid says. “Vinnie you are the acting leader of this band of nut jobs.”
“I do not think I am up to the task.”
“Why not?” Cid asks. “Give a couple orders and pray we were born with common sense.”
“It is not the job. I was commander of the Turks long ago-”
“Then you know what you’re doing. You’ll be fine!” Cid pats him on the back. “What now, boss?”
“The procedures go: status report, plan, execution, clean up.” Vincent reminds himself. “Status report.” He says, turning to Cait Sith.
“Shinra is still regrouping from the WEAPON attack on Junon.” The toyasaurus begins. “Since the public execution turned into a fiasco and they lost the Highwind they’ve been scrambling for other methods of transport. They have put off the Huge Materia collection until tomorrow. They plan to start the Coal Train for transport from the Corel reactor and a full frontal assault on Fort Condor.”
“Plan…” Vincent thinks considering the information. “I’ve got it. We’ll have to wait for Shinra to make their move then stop them. The best way to do that is in teams. We have the six of us, which makes two teams of three. We will split the material and stake out these locations early for our counter attack.”
“Not a bad plan, Vinnie. This leader business fits you.” Cid says. “How are the teams?”
“I’m going to Corel!” Barret declares. “They can’t ruin us again!”
“Already allotted for that, I think Cid and Cait Sith should accompany you.” Vincent says.
“What is the deciding factor in these teams, Vincent?” Red XIII asks.
“Simple. Fort Condor is a defensive tower. Yuffie, you, and I have long-range capabilities. I have my guns, Yuffie has her ninja shuriken and you are a powerful magic caster. Our fighting is going to be fierce and we should preempt the enemy as much as possible. We can ill afford mistakes. Cid and his team shouldn’t have much problem range wise. If there is battle it should be easily engaged at close quarters.”
“I like the way you think.” Cid mentions. “Sound plan.”
“Let’s get some rest. We’ve had a long day and it is an early start tomorrow.”
Day breaks and sunlight streams into the doctor’s office. It shines upon Tifa whose eyes open slowly.
Tifa wakes up and looks around. “It’s morning already?” She thinks to herself. “Wasn’t much time.” She looks at Cloud. “I bet they wonder why I’m here. The doctor probably doesn’t understand since there is nothing I can do for him from a medical standpoint. I’m sure Cid and the others don’t get it since Cloud is a wreck and I could be helping them. I understand where they’re coming from I suppose. But that doesn’t matter now. I’m here for him and that is all that there is to it.”
The doctor walks in. One glance at Cloud tells him all he needs to know. “His condition appears unchanged. The odds are he’s gone without sleep again.”
“He doesn’t sleep?” Tifa asks incredulously. “His eyes have been open for the last week?”
“Yes, all signs point to that. It’s amazing actually. He could very well perish from sleep deprivation rather than Mako poisoning.”
“There is really very little I can do for him here. Now that you’re here maybe his condition will change. You may be his guardian angel. That’s what he needs right now.” The doctor leaves.
“You’ve been awake for the last week.” Tifa says to Cloud. “Well I was asleep for the last week so I’m not much better. I guess you don’t care though because I don’t think you can hear me. That’s okay, as long as we’re in this together.”
Aboard the Highwind final preparations for the missions to recover the Huge Materia are being made.
“Everyone is here.” Vincent states. “Now we all know the teams, correct?” General affirmatives go through the group. “The materia has been divided right?” Assent yet again. “You remember the plan, Cid?”
“Yeah, we done went over it a million times!”
“We are all adequately equipped?”
“Yeah, ma!” Barret chides.
“You can be such a wet blanket Vince!” Yuffie agrees.
“Better a wet blanket than a pallbearer.” The room falls silent.
“Vincent, we have reached your destination.” Comes over the loudspeaker.
“Yuffie, Red XIII, let us go.” Vincent shimmies down the ladder to Fort Condor. They follow. The Highwind pulls up the ladder and flies off. The watchman comes out.
“Who are- oh, you guys.” Says the watchman, putting his weapon away. “What brings you here?”
“We have received word of a massive assault planned on this place.” Vincent replies. “This time they want the Huge Materia. We intend to stop them. The Huge Materia cannot fall into their hands.”
“Aren’t they using it to launch at Meteor to try and save us all?” The watchman asks. “I’m kind of all for it myself.”
“That cannot work. The Meteor spell cannot be stopped by a simple bomb.” Red XIII says. “It is a waste of a large piece of planetary energy.”
“A waste? Be serious! A celestial body is going to intersect with the path of our Planet! Any chance we have to save it should be taken! No matter who or what does it, even if it is the Shinra!”
“Get real!” Yuffie interjects. “Even if there was a chance of this materia stopping Meteor it wouldn’t matter to you! Shinra’s gonna level this place and everybody in it when they’re through. Birds included! But you knew that, right?”
The watchman looks a bit distressed but maintains composure. “You are right. I had not properly considered the gravity of the situation. Your aid is appreciated. Though our resources are limited we will support you any way we can.
“Thank you. What is your financial situation?”
“We cannot afford to hire any soldiers. We still have a few catapults from previous engagements but we can’t make any additions because we’re tapped out. Could you help us?”
Yuffie and Red XIII glance uncomfortably at their shiny new crystal weapons. They look as though they want to speak but say nothing.
“I am sorry but we ourselves are low on cash.” Vincent says not batting an eyelash. “It is as I suspected. This battle falls entirely on our shoulders. Are you ready?”
“It is as you command.”
“Bring ‘em on!”
Having just arrived in Corel Cid and his partners are having trouble communicating to the residents of the remains of the village.
“Well if it isn’t techno-freak!” One townsman sneers. “Good to see you!”
“Look, I ain’t here for no static.” Barret says keeping his voice level. “I got sumthin’ to tell you.”
“What’s that freak?”
“Ya’ll got to get out of here! The Shinra is gonna ruin everything again! I don’t want anyone getting hurt!”
“Yeah, right! I believe ya!”
“It’s your fault our town got destroyed to begin with!” Another citizen interjects. The crowd assents.
“Ya’ll don’t understand! The Shinra done started-”
“Started what? Trying to help? We heard. They want to blow up Meteor. You still want to stop ‘em?”
“Listen, you don’t understand. They went to the reactor-”
“To get some materia to blow up the big rock there! Yeah, we know! If you want to stop ‘em we ain’t helpin’!”
“Give me this.” Cid snatches the Crystal M-Phone from Cait Sith. “WINGNUTS! LISTEN UP!”
“Who the hell are you?”
“SHUT UP AND LISTEN! THE SHINRA DONE STARTED THE COAL TRAIN. YA GOT TO GET OUTTA HERE!”
“The coal train ain’t run for years! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“THE TRAIN IS RUNNING AND IT’S GONNA RUN SMACK INTO THIS TOWN IN A SECOND! GET THE HELL OUT!”
“That’ll destroy everything we have!”
“Betta yo’ stuff than you.” Barret says. “Or them kids.”
“I still don’t believe ya, freak!”
“Alright.” Barret says sadly. “Yo’ life, yo’ choice. I tried.” He turns to his friends. “Let’s move out.”
“That’s my line!” Cid admonishes.
In the hospital Tifa has just gotten situated and ready for the day. Now she is standing next to Cloud’s chair watching him.
“Hello.” The doctor says, walking in. “Ah, good to see you awake. Could you do me a favor?”
“Yes, doctor.” Tifa replies. “How can I help?”
“Well, your friend is taking up my exam room, could you take him for a walk? Fresh air may do him some good.”
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“He’s been cooped up in here and my other patients who do come by aren’t comfortable with him there.”
“I guess I understand. You hear that Cloud? We’re going for a walk.”
* * *
On the roof of Fort Condor Vincent and his people wait.
“Why you still foolin’ with all those guns?” Yuffie asks “Didn’t you bring enough? You just got a new one!”
“One must be prepared at all times.” Vincent replies. “Would you rather I prepared in battle while you needed my assistance?”
“I guess not but still…”
“Prudence is the best approach to a life threatening situation.” Red XIII agrees.
“You’re no fun!”
“Battle is not meant to be fun. The idea behind preparations is to minimize the risk as much as possible. If that takes the ‘fun’ out of it then so be it.”
“I’m ready for everything!” Yuffie leaps sideways and begins to shadow box. “Bring anything and I’ll clobber-hey!” She trips over Vincent’s outstretched foot.
“Are you ready?” Vincent asks, looking over each firearm in front of him. “You didn’t look the part.”
“Not for that! Come on Vince-hey!” Yuffie stumbles and nearly falls from the tower from an expert leg sweep.
“Weren’t ready that time either. Are you ever ready?” Vincent holsters the Quicksilver.
“Why you!” Yuffie flings the Crystal Cross.
“Hm. You should carry more of these.” Vincent mentions holding the oversize shuriken in his one hand. “What if it doesn’t come back?” He hands it back to Yuffie. “You should be more careful with that.”
“Humph. Jerk.” Yuffie snorts snatching the weapon.
“We have company.” Red states. “Orders?”
“You will take that side and Yuffie will take the other. I will be in the middle. Do not be afraid to call out for help. Time to execute the plan. Take care.”
Walking the railroad track Cid and friends are wondering what is up.
“Ya know what? I thought it would be more hectic than this.” Cid says, taking a puff from his cigarette.
“Me too.” Barret agrees. “It’s real quiet though.”
“Am I the only one who finds it stupid ore at best very odd that we are walking on railroad tracks that a train is supposed to come barreling down any minute?” Cait Sith asks loudly.
“Doesn’t it sound slightly outrageous? I’m the one with the stuffed toy for a body reminding you of very real danger?”
“I guess…” Barret says distracted.
“Yeah, you do sound kind of stupid.” Cid agrees. “Where you get off telling’ me how to live, toy?”
“I come from a place very far away called logic!” Cait Sith snaps. “You ever been there?”
“Naw, I guess not.” Barret says reflectively. “Considerin’ what we out here doin’ an what we done to get here we ain’t gettin’ closer to logic no kinda way.”
“Ya’ll ain't done nothing’ but crazy crap since I fell in with ya and it ain’t got no smarter since.” Cid agrees.
“Then just for old times sake let’s walk next to the tracks a while. We’re almost to the reactor, it shouldn’t matter just humor me.” Cid and Barret grunt in response and shuffle over to the side of the railroad ties.
No sooner do they do that than a locomotive come speeding by on those same tracks.
“Hmph!” Cid begins to run.
“We’d better catch up!” Barret follows.
“Didn’t you see that? We nearly- never mind.” They run into the reactor.
* * *
In Mideel Tifa is taking Cloud for a walk.
“Who would’ve thought this would happen?” Tifa says to Cloud. “I just survived my own execution while you’ve been in the Lifestream this whole time and now we are taking a leisurely stroll. Life is strange isn’t it?” Cloud does not respond. “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than here with you. First thing out of my mouth when I woke up was ‘where were you?’ You mean a lot to me. At this point you’re all that matters. I don’t have anyone or anything else to hold on to. Cid was so surprised when I insisted on coming here. He almost sounded angry but I didn’t care. If there was a chance you were anywhere I was going to take it. When Red XIII dropped that hint I had to come here. There was no ifs ands or buts about it.” Tifa pauses to look at Cloud. “I just wish you could understand me. That is what I want more than anything else right now.” Tifa closes her eyes and bites back some tears. “It’s alright. You can’t help it, I-” She stops and composes herself. They arrive at the beach.
For a time there is silence almost. Only Cloud’s incessant head bobbing is heard over the waves.
“I had the oddest dream last night.” Tifa says offhandedly sitting on a piece of driftwood next to the wheelchair. “Aeris came to visit me. Only she was huge. It made me think of how I looked to you back in Wutai. It was slightly scary. You didn’t convey exactly how unnerving it was when you told me.” Cloud does not respond. “She told me that Holy could save the Planet even though she is gone. She said I have the power to do it. It didn’t make that much sense to me but she said I would have to figure it out for myself. My choice will change everything she told me. That’s a lot of pressure. Telling you about it does make me feel better though. I guess I’m ready to face it as long as you’re here.”
On top of Fort Condor a battle is raging.
“How is everyone doing?” Vincent asks, firing Sniper CR at the aerial beasts overhead.
“Good so far.” Red replies casting Comet magic. A good number of enemies are destroyed when the boulder falls. “I am doing well.”
One of the inhabitants of the Fort peeks out. “Don’t cast that again unless you want to bring this place down!”
“Fifteen down and counting!” The white ninja replies dodging barbarian fire. “Sixteen!”
“How are you catapults holding up?”
“My catapult is fine. It has sustained no damage.”
“My rock flinger’s kind of beat up but I’ll be fine!”
Vincent inspects his own catapult. It appears worn from many engagements. “I don’t trust it.” He thinks, firing into the flock. Each round finds a target and eight flying enemies are dead. “I’m putting some distance between it and I.” He moves away from it. “Take care around those catapults.” Vincent calls out. “They could-AMBUSH!”
From the sky the sound of engines are heard as paratroopers fall in. A whole lot of paratroopers. They blanket the field like a sudden snowfall.
“This is not good.” Vincent says reaching for the shotgun. He lets the ones nearest to him have it with both barrels and goes for another loaded weapon to save time.
But this is when the catapult decides to quit and Vincent can barely save his own hand as a broken projectile device falls on his guns.
“Damn. What a waste.” Vincent pulls his brand new Winchester rifle into action from his shoulder strap and starts firing. The rest of the group, none of who have got to their feet quite on the ground catch rifle rounds and never end up standing. He gives his area a cursory check and his area is clear but it looks like Red is in trouble.
On the left side Red XIII is fighting bravely. He uses spell after spell, Fire 3 raging through the crowd.
“This is simple.” Red thinks to himself. “Now for the endless hordes to cease…”
Out of the blue Red is surrounded by Shinra troops. All around him weapons leveled. He doesn’t blink twice and leaps back and lets loose an Earth 3/All combination spell. The soldiers lose their footing as the ground bucks beneath them. They were just about consumed by the land when the catapult above Red defers to an earthquake and tips over depositing a boulder on him.
“Oof.” Red grunts as he is forced into the ground. “I cannot move.” He tries to cast but he is unable. Fatigue from the previous spells and a piece of granite prevents him from succeeding.
The soldiers that survived the ground trying to swallow them are struggling to their feet. They bring weapons to bear on Red. Shots ring out. But the soldiers are the ones hit.
“Thank you. I would be most grateful if you removed this rock from me.”
Vincent sprints over and gives the slab of stone a hard punch with his claw. It cracks in two and he pushes the pieces apart. Red is marveling at this feat when Vincent dashes off again to help Yuffie.
Yuffie has been keeping them at bay with her shuriken. It has been on the fly the entire time continually whistling in her defense. She has been dancing around the catapult that has continued to work despite increased damage to it.
“This is easy; I don’t see what Vince was so bent out of shape about. I guess he doesn’t want anybody to have any fun.” Yuffie thinks launching the Crystal Cross again.
As the airborne troops make their landing Yuffie is quickly surrounded by them and cornered. She leaps back a few yards over their heads and throws the cross at them. Or she would have if it had not hit a newly arrived airman in the back on the return and lodged there.
“Vince jinxed me! Jerk!” Yuffie gripes going back toward the crowd. “I have to get it back before he finds out. I’d never live it down.” She jump kicks one of the soldiers. She kicks another in the face and a signature three punches to the midsection brings down another. While a fourth male takes a lower blow and doubles over. “Almost there!” Yuffie thinks reaching for the large throwing blade. But she falls short of her target because she has been sweep kicked by a fallen soldier. Only by the grace of Lady Luck does she survive as the battered rock propelling apparatus gives way and lands next to her head. “What the-my star!” Yuffie exclaims seeing the corpse housing it buried under the ruins of a catapult.
The sound of a weapon cocking grabs her attention.
“I got to throw something!” Yuffie thinks rolling sideways onto her back. Spying her assailant she does a backward roll and lands on her feet and bumps into another person. Yuffie elbows her new enemy in the gut and reaches back grabbing his gun, flings it as hard as she can at the first attacker. The enemy goes down, brand new Winchester bent over his face.
“I was trying to hand you this.” Vincent says slightly winded, holding the Crystal Cross. “I managed to save it since it appears you had lost it.”
Yuffie says nothing back still to Vincent. She does begin to turn red. “…”
“I should not have been worried, as you are quite resourceful.” Vincent continues. “Even without your only weapon you found something to throw. I regret that it was my rifle but…”
“No, it’s alright. I was just a bit surprised you ripped it from my shoulder and flung it.” He hands her the cross. “Guns aren’t for throwing.”
“Thanks even though I-”
Vincent stops her with one raised hand. “The Commander will take his time getting here. We had best get ready for him.”
In Corel Reactor, Cid is trying to get a train to work.
“%@$*!” Cid swears, yanking some levers. “Move damn you!”
“Do you know how to operate this thing?” Cait Sith asks.
“Course I do! If you can fly a plane you can drive a train!”
“You know how to operate this thing, right?” Cait Sith turns to Barret.
“Jus’ cause I lived in a coal minin’ town don’t mean I can drive no train!”
“You’ve got to be better than him! You have to know something!”
“I know that’s the brake and them two make you go.” Barret points at some levers.
“Oh, so now you tell me! After I made a fool outta myself!” Cid releases the brake. “Here we go!” The train starts to move. “How we make this bucket go faster?”
“Pull them levers some kind of way.” Barret says looking at the escaping train. “Sumthin’ and hurry up!”
“This way?” Cid pulls the levers alternately.
“That’s the ticket.” Cait Sith says dejectedly as the engine comes to life. “How could we let this maniac drive this thing?”
“Because we ain’t got no hands.” Barret replies somberly. “I got one an you got none so that caffeine crazed flyboy gets to drive. I’m not too wild about it either.” The train lurches beneath them.
“Now we’re goin’!” Cid laughs heartily. “Yee Haw!”
“So bear with me, maybe we get through this in one piece you know?”
Cait Sith sighs. “Lunatics continually foil the Shinra. Insane people are hampering a global, all-seeing, unlimited manpower corporation. It never ceases to amaze me.”
“Yep, that’s us!” Cid agrees enthusiastically. “Ya’ll ready to jump?”
“Here we go!” Cid jumps, the others follow.
“This is crazy!”
“You got that right!”
On Mideel beach Tifa is sitting next to Cloud.
“So you have any interesting dreams lately?” Tifa asks.
Cloud does not reply. His bright mako eyes rise to meet hers then fall again.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you haven’t slept. That’s sad. You can’t dream.” She watches Cloud for a few minutes. His eyes almost seem to be flickering. “You’ve got to be so tired. There’s got to be something I can do for you. I can’t imagine what this is like, no rest for so long.” Tifa thinks back. “I remember back when you shrank you would’ve liked to sleep all day. If that happened you could catch up on needed sleep. Wait that can happen…” She checks her armlet. “I still have the Transform materia. It’s not like I’m changing your treatment or anything since you aren’t getting any…” She stands. “Here goes nothing.” Her armlet glows with the materia’s power.
Cloud is engulfed by its green glow. He begins to shrink from his five-foot height. He doesn’t seem to notice as the chair becomes roomier as he slides toward the center. His shrinking stops at two feet tall.
Tifa stands over the chair. “May I sit down?” She asks, moving to seat herself. “You may need to move over.” She moves him aside and positions herself next to him. “Kind of tight fit there, you should probably sit here.” She picks him up and puts him in her lap. “That’s better.” She plays with his ruined hairstyle.
For a while there is little sound. Tifa stares off into the waves absently toying with Cloud’s hair while he relaxes in her hands.
“Remember this, Cloud?” Tifa asks softly. “About how you saved me and shrunk in the process? We had to learn to help each other as best we could. It was awkward and a bit scary at first but it got to be fun. After a while we enjoyed it. It was such a new experience, I learned to like it. I’ve been meaning to try it again but I didn’t know how to approach you about it. You were always so serious and depressed after Aeris…that no time seemed like the right time.” She cradles Cloud in her arms and begins to rock him gently. “I would go to the ends of the Planet for you. You mean everything to me. I just want to hear your voice again. I know you can hear me; I only want you to say something. Anything, just give me some kind of sign!”
Cloud shifts in Tifa’s arms. He moves closer to her and slips deeper into her embrace. “Mmm…” Cloud hums. “Tifa…”
“Cloud?” Tifa’s eyes dart to him. “You spoke?” She looks him over. “He’s sleeping. Finally.”
Sure enough Cloud has slipped off to dreamland on Tifa. He looks contented enveloped in her arms.
On Fort Condor Vincent, Yuffie and Red XIII are having a difficult time with the enemy Commander.
“Be careful. It looks different.” Vincent warns drawing the Quicksilver from its hip holster.
“I’ll shred it!” Yuffie declares darting forward.
“I am with you!” Red dashes alongside her.
Together they unleash a combination Limit Break as Earth Rave and Blood Fest fall in sync. Pounding blow after blow land, slicing and biting in a frenzy Red and Yuffie attack without let up to destroy the enemy. With the attack completed they draw back and survey the enemy’s condition.
It looks fine. Better than just fine, it is healing as they watch.
“That is not possible. Nothing living could survive that kind of punishment.” Red gasps.
“This isn’t fair!” Yuffie whines.
“It’s some kind of mix between living being and machine!” Vincent yells firing the Quicksilver to divert it. “Get back, we need to come up with another plan!”
“I’ll dice it anyway!”
“The son of Seto is not afraid!”
They charge forward again. This time they activate their Deathblow materia hoping for a quick finish. On this go round they fail from start. Somehow it manages to evade their attacks and counter hitting them both with hard fists spliced with metal. Our warriors are taken by surprise and injured pretty badly.
“You’ve got to regroup! Pull yourselves together!” Vincent continues to yell. He empties the last of his bullets into the monster.
“I’m taking this thing out!” Yuffie yells advancing yet again.
“You have my support!” Red begins to gather energy to cast a spell.
“Red, stop!” Vincent warns. “You can’t cast that spell here, you’ll bring down the fort!” He starts running. “Comet rocked this place! Comet 2 will destroy it!”
“I cannot cast, you are in the danger zone.” He stops the spell.
“I’ve got you!” Yuffie yells. “Hi Yaah!” She attacks. The monster counters.
Neither attack hits.
“Hey, what’s the big idea?” Yuffie demands of the ex-Turk. “I nearly sliced ya!”
“Get back.” Vincent says flatly with the monster’s fist held by his golden claw. “I’ll handle this.”
“What’re you gonna do? You got no more guns or bullets.”
“Cleanup. Stay back.”
“Whatever you say.” Yuffie steps back. “This’ll be good.”
“Fury contort my body and destroy my enemy!” Vincent yells. He glows and changes into a chainsaw-wielding demon in a hockey mask.
“Hellmask…” Red whispers. “Yuffie shield your eyes!”
“Aieeee!” Yuffie screams as she beholds the Nightmare attack.
“Get down!” Red commands tackling the petrified ninja. He looks up at Vincent or the being called ‘Vincent’. It begins to destroy the enemy Commander very sloppily. He can’t bear to watch.
On the train Cid and crew are having a tough go of it.
“Sure is hard to keep your balance while fighting on a train.” Cid mentions swinging his Partisan at some soldiers.
“You think?” Barret asks sarcastically trying to brace for a secure stance.
“One of the many reasons this was not a good idea!” Cait Sith yells throwing a soldier into two others and watching them fly off the train.
“I’m not complaining’! I’m just sayin’ is all!”
“Don’t jus’ say nuthin’!” Barret snaps. “It was yo’ idea!” He looks around. “Let’s move up.”
They hop cars up one further. Another wave of enemies awaits them there.
“What, do ya grow on trees or something? Why don’t ya just give up?”
“Not company policy. They won’t back down.”
“Don’t stop till you break em.” Barret sprays them with A.M. cannon fire. “Like so!” The soldiers fail in their duty. “Lets move.”
They hop cars again. Now they are on the second car. Soldiers in flying apparatus occupy it.
“Short range combat my foot! What is that?” Cid hollers.
“Sumthin I’m gonna take care-huh?”
The enemy in question veers right and collides with his two allies causing them to crash on the side of the train procession.
“What the @#%^ happened?”
“Don’t puzzle over it too hard.” Cait Sith says. “I used Manipulate to make one crash into the others.”
“I thought it was luck or cheap junk.” Barret says.
“Luck maybe. Cheap, never! You have no idea what we spend on those things!”
“Let’s go already!” Cid says impatiently on the lead engine.
“What do we got here?” Barret asks. “Looks like the same setup as before.”
“The other guy was nice enough to leave and let me drive.”
“Isn’t that great? I’ll apply the brake.” Cait Sith looks on approvingly. “Uh oh.” The brake lever snapped off in Barret’s hand. “This ain’t good.”
“You do know how to stop this thing, right?” Cait Sith asks. “Anybody?”
“Got me there.”
“I’m all outta ideas.” Barret says holding the broken lever.
“You can make stuff do stuff. Make the train stop.”
“To control something it needs to have a mind for me to control. So I can’t make the train stop any more than I can make you stop it.”
“Oh, okay. There’s got to be something…”
“Try doing what you did before the other way.”
“Yeah, that’ll work!” Cid jerks the levers alternately.
“We speedin’ up! The other way!”
“The other way? There ain’t no other way!”
“There has to be another way! Do something!”
Cid jerks the levers alternately again. “There ain’t no other nothin’!” He declares as they accelerate.
“We gonna crash? Are you serious?”
“There is another way. I just don’t know it.”
“I’m tryin’!” The train is going really fast now.
“Stop trying. Can’t you read a speedometer?”
“You know what?” Barret asks. “If we survive this, remind me to smack the $%&* outta you.”
On the shore of a quiet hot springs town Tifa sits holding Cloud.
“I could do this all day.” Tifa says dreamily gazing at the waves. “We needed a break.” Cloud seems to agree, finding some way to nestle even closer to his caretaker. “Who needs to fight WEAPONs and all that stuff? All that is too much trouble. This is all I need.” Tifa’s stomach rumbles. “That and some food. You’re probably hungry too. We should go back and get some lunch.” She stand and puts Cloud back in the wheelchair. They head back to town.
They walk into the village. A dog greets them. It sniffs at Cloud several times then seems to look at Tifa for an explanation.
“I suppose you’re right.” Tifa acquiesces. “It may be a tad strange and hard to explain.” She stops and restores Cloud to his original size.
The dog approves. It licks Cloud’s hand and wags its tail. Then it decides to follow them.
“You want to keep me company?” Tifa rubs the dog behind the ears. “Wait out here.” She walks into the doctor’s office.
“How was your walk?” The nurse asks. “Oh, you got him to sleep. How did you manage that?”
“Magic.” Tifa replies. “Do you feed him intravenously or something?” She asks. “I bet he’s hungry.”
“It is about that time. I’ll set him up. The doctor is almost done for the day so you don’t have to leave again.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.” Tifa walks out. The dog is close behind. He follows her to the weapon shop. “Doesn’t look like that crazy lady is in here right now.” Tifa says to her four-legged friend. They enter the establishment.
“Hi, how can I help you?” The shopkeeper asks. “Looking for something to bust up Meteor?”
“If you’ve got it.” Tifa replies smiling.
“Eh, you couldn’t afford it.” The shopkeeper laughs. “What can I get you?”
“I’m a martial artist. What do you have in gloves or claws?”
“Only high quality I assure you! You won’t find better anywhere!” The portly man reassures her. “How about this?” He holds up a Crystal Knuckle.
“I need a weapon not a showpiece.” Tifa says looking over the armament.
“Then here it is! It may look pretty but it’s just as deadly. Each face is razor sharp. If you touch a corner of the artwork you bleed, plus…” He dons the gauntlet and lamblasts the wall. “It can’t be broken from the outside!”
“Hmm…” Tifa considers the hole in the wall.
“I tell ya what. Buy it I give you the bangle half price.”
“…sure” Tifa purchases the knuckle and the bangle.
“Good investment. That bangle cannot be penetrated! Even bullets bounce off!”
“What do you have in a sword? I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“Buying for our little friend in the hospital? I saw that sword he had, everyone had to. It’s enormous.” He reaches under the counter. “I’ve got just the thing.” He pulls out a dusty box.
“What is that?” Tifa asks, sneezing.
“Only the best blade money can buy!” He opens the box. “Voila!”
The room is filled with fragmented luminescence as the multifaceted weapon sees daylight. Tifa is blinded and the dog is whimpering paws over his eyes.
“Look at this.” The merchant commands turning the blade so less light is everywhere.
“What is that?” Tifa asks seeing a thousand reflections of her in the sword.
“It is called the Crystal Sword. A flawless prism blade of legendary sharpness. Simple steel cannot achieve the immortal edge that perfect crystal can. It was custom made years ago for the second in command of SOLDIER as the sister to the greatest steel of all time. He has never come back for it so it has been here a long while.”
“It’s so light and balanced. It is beautiful.” Tifa breathes picking it up.
“Awe inspiring isn’t it? Unlike my other weapons there is only one of these. I’ve been holding onto it because I haven’t seen anyone else yet who would wield something like this. It’s too big for normal fencers to use. You can have it.”
“Really? How much?”
“Nothing. I’ve collected on it already. I just want to see it take some use. You’ll need a bangle too.” He hands her another Crystal Bangle. “On the house.”
“But I can pay.”
“Don’t worry about it. Meteor’ll hit soon so who cares? Matter of fact you want to pay me?”
“Find a way to destroy Meteor. You and the little guy will need all the help you can get.” Tifa nods fervently. “We’ll call it even then.”
In Fort Condor Vincent and friends are reporting to the leader.
“We have repelled their attack.” Vincent says. “We require the Huge Materia.”
“Oh, that.” The old gentleman reaches under the table. “Here.” He hands Vincent the Huge Materia.
“What were the damages incurred as a result of our battle?” Vincent inquires.
“You’re telling me the materia wasn’t in the reactor?” Yuffie bursts out. “Why didn’t you just hand it over?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Vincent says.
“We needed your help to save the condors.” The old man says.
“I did not mind helping.” Red XIII mentions.
“You shouldn’t have minded too much.” The old man says crankily. “Between the earthquake and a comet you damaged this place more than the Shinra!”
“I am sorry. I meant no harm.” Red says humbly.
“Yuffie, what happened to battle being fun? You should be happy the opportunity to fight arose.” Vincent says smugly.
“That monstrous thing scared the crap out of me! Battle was not fun with it around!”
“Indeed the enemy Commander appeared to be a concoction of Hojo’s. That is never a picnic.”
“I’m not talking about it. I meant you! I was scared stiff!”
“It is what battle does to me. Both a powerful ability and a curse.”
“Indeed what you became was quite fearsome.” Red agrees. “It would be a good assumption to say we underestimated you.”
“Our mission is complete. Now to wait for the Highwind to retrieve us.”
* * *
In North Corel Barret, Cid, and Cait Sith are sitting in the inn doing nothing.
“I can’t believe we made it.” Cait Sith says incredulously.
“Me neither.” Barret concurs.
“Why are ya so surprised? I had it under control the whole time!” Barret gives him a smack. “Ow, what was that for?”
“Lyin’. Sides, you was s’posed to remind me.” Barret smacks him again.
“It was a move of pure genius.” Cait Sith continues wonder struck.
“Lucky is more like it.” Another smack lands on Cid.
“Ow! Hey, somebody recognizes skill when they see it!”
“You revved it as fast as it could go! Like that was smart! Woulda smashed my hometown if not for sumthin’ lucky!” Another crack resounds.
“The coal burned too fast. The old train couldn’t take it. The engine blew and the wheel locked up. Barely saved the town. Perfect timing. I’m sorry I thought you an idiot.”
“Why you sorry? He is an idiot! A *&%$#@^ idiot! It coulda blew us up!” The open palm attacks gray hair.
“We can go outside if you gonna keep hittin’ me.” Cid says slowly.
“Get some rest. Fight on the way to get the others. Shut up for now.”
* * *
In the clinic Tifa has just walked back in.
“Hey Cloud, I’m back.” Tifa says. “I’ve got something for you.” She enters the exam room. “Hello, I thought you had closed up for the day.” She says to the nurse.
“Yes, we did.” The nurse replies. “But I wanted to know how you got him to sleep. I have to know, we tried everything.”
“Try a sleep spell?” Tifa asks, setting down her purchases.
“First thing. Over and over again. Sedatives wouldn’t work either.”
“You said magic right? What magic?”
“He’s awake right now. Show me please?” The nurse pleads with Tifa.
“I do need him sleeping for what I have planned.” Tifa thinks to herself. “Alright.” She relents. “Watch closely.” She uses Transform on Cloud and he shrinks to his two-foot height. “All I did was this.” She picks him up and rocks him to sleep. “See?”
“Oh!” Comprehension dawning on the nurse. “May I hold him?”
“…I’d rather not.” Tifa replies nervously. “Could you hand me that bag?” She sits in the wheelchair and situates Cloud in her lap.
“Okay.” The nurse sounds disappointed. “Here.”
“Cloud, guess what? I’m going to fix your hair!” Tifa rummages through the bag. “The nice maid who runs the accessory shop gave me everything I need. It’ll be fixed in no time flat!” She opens some hair gel and starts to apply it.
“What exactly are you trying to do?” The nurse asks.
“Trying to resurrect his hairstyle.”
“Spikes. Large, outlandish spikes that stand in all directions. Silly, huh?”
“Only because you’re going about it the wrong way. That stuff will relax his hair. It’ll fall down his back like yours if you keep going like that.”
“Do I even have the right stuff?” Tifa asks.
“Yes. But you have to mix and use it a certain way. I could do it if you let me.”
“No, I can handle it.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look like you know what you’re doing. It wouldn’t be any trouble.”
“I did destroy the hairdo.” Tifa thinks. “She is right, I don’t have a clue. I guess if it’s going to get done it should be done right.” She concludes “Help me, please.” Tifa decides. “The last thing I want is for him to come to and say I did it wrong.” She stands. “Be careful.” She hands Cloud to the nurse.
“Don’t worry. I know how you feel about him. I wouldn’t dare not take care.” The nurse sits. “This and this…” She trails off fiddling with all the bottles.
For a while the room is quiet. Only the sound of goop being applied makes any noise. Tifa looks on anxiously while the nurse appears very busy.
“I shouldn’t be scared of her hurting Cloud, she is a nurse after all.” Tifa thinks. “I’m more afraid that she doesn’t know what she is doing. I’ll catch all kinds of crap form him when he’s better if his hair is even worse than before. I didn’t know that much went into it. He had just cause to be mad at me given how much it takes to make the silly hairstyle.”
The nurse is on a different page. “This is really strange. I’ve never done anything like this before. I mean I figured it was a special way of putting him to sleep but how did she come across it?” The nurse stops for a moment. “Tifa, how did you come across this method of putting Cloud to sleep?” The nurse asks abruptly. “It seems pretty odd.”
Tifa doesn’t answer. She appears lost in thought.
“What?” Tifa shakes her head vigorously. “Yes?”
“I was wondering how exactly you found this particular technique for putting him to sleep?” The nurse asks timidly.
“Oh, well it seems effective. Do you suppose it could work on other people?”
“Sure, I guess.” Tifa shrugs.
“It might be fun to try.” The nurse smiles.
“I got a kick out of it.” Tifa replies thinking back to how red Cloud was when it first happened.
“Almost done.” True enough you could see spikes forming under expert guidance.
“Thank goodness.” Tifa says relieved. “I almost thought there was no way it could be saved.”
“It’ll be fine.” The nurse gets up. “Done.” She hands Cloud to Tifa. “Don’t touch the hair.”
“Where have I heard that before?” Tifa rubs her chin.
“Not yet. Leave it alone. It has to set.”
“Thank you. I can’t repay you for what you have just done.”
“No, thank you. That was a one of a kind experience, very unique.” The nurse turns to leave. “See you tomorrow.” She leaves.
“Good bye.” Tifa sets Cloud down. “I guess we should turn in too. Give your hair time to rest.” She chuckles.
On the Highwind the sun is setting.
“All right, are all nimrods present?” Cid asks. Everyone makes some kind of noise. “Good. Now it’s on you, Vince.”
Vincent stands. He regards the room with an even apathetic gaze. Everyone flinches under his scrutiny though his eyes focus on no particular person. “Will someone from the North Corel team please tell me what happened?”
“Yeah!” Yuffie seconds. “Why are you guys so late?”
“I am not concerned about that. Now how did the mission go?”
Cait Sith steps forward. “We arrive at North Corel at 08:47. We were unable to immediately de0part for the reactor until 09:10. Barret and Cid spent this time trying to convince the residents to leave.” Vincent nods. “We walked the tracks for about twenty minutes when the train with the target inside went past. We barely evaded that and Highwind was able to activate a second locomotive to pursue them.” Vincent looks at Cid then nods for Cait Sith to continue. “We managed to catch up to them and fight our way to the front of the speeding train and stop it. With an ingenious move by Highwind the town was saved.” Cid looks proud of himself.
“Hmm, I spot two flaws in your plan utilized.” Vincent says. “First there was no plan to preempt them. The idea was to catch them before they could escape. Second your execution of the plan was haphazard. It involved what sounded like complete dependence on a random occurrence. Suppose that engine had not been there or operational? Not to mention proper attention was not paid to safety. Fighting to the front of a speeding train that you all must have jumped to and leaving the train you used to slide sounds very smart.”
“Well, I did something right!” Cid proclaims loudly. “I saved all these bird brains!”
“All the crazy stuff was yo’ idea!” Barret counters. “Riding the train, jumpin’ on it and fightin’ on it, all you bro! An don’ get me started on how you ‘saved’ everybody!”
“How exactly did that happen?” Vincent inquires.
“Highwind opened the throttle on the engine too wide. The coal burned too fast and blew the motor. It was directly linked to the wheels so when it stopped, they locked up. Barret thinks it was a lucky break.”
“I agree. Your cleanup, how you fixed the mission once it went bad, was in bad form. It should’ve made things worse. However it was done well considering how it went. No innocent lives were lost and mission accomplished.”
“How did your mission go, Vince?” Cid asks sullenly. “As planned?”
“No.” Vincent replies. “It went very bad. We were overwhelmed then ambushed. Stationary defenses became liabilities putting us in danger. Resources became taxed and the enemy Commander was tougher than expected.”
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, bud!” Cid says in higher spirits. “Nobody is perfect. No innocent lives lost, mission accomplished that is all that’s important, right?”
Vincent nods. “Okay then. The Highwind is shutting down. Tomorrow we check on Tifa and Cloud. Then we go from there.”
Early morning in the doctor’s office finds the nurse getting it ready for the day.
“Got to sweep, I left yesterday before I could do it.” The nurse grabs a broom. “I didn’t quite remember. I had something else on my mind.” She walks into the exam room. “Accident.” The nurse scoffs to herself. “An accidental discovery; I bet this is how it happened.”
Tifa is lying on an exam table. Cloud rests on top of her with her hands tightly clasped around him like a teddy bear. They are both sound asleep.
“I’m actually jealous.” The nurse thinks, sweeping the room. “I want to try it. But I don’t have the materia or a guy in mind. One would be east to get but the other…wonder if she would share-of course not!” She looks at the couple again. “It isn’t fair! I enjoyed yesterday but there’s nothing I can do about it? No way to duplicate the experience, it just is not fair!” She moves to the other room. “Aside from having a guy, what guy would dig that? The odds don’t seem to be in my favor.” She checks some equipment. “Some people have all of the luck.” She looks around. “Almost time to open.” She walks back into the exam room. “Wake up. Tifa, wake up.” The nurse says poking her.
“What now?” Tifa grumbles, rolling her freshly opened eyes.
“You wouldn’t want to have to explain this to the doctor would you?” The nurse gestures at Tifa.
“It is a slightly awkward position.” Tifa agrees. “Thanks for waking me.” She sits up and sets Cloud in the wheelchair. In no time he’s his ‘normal’ size again.
“I’m so envious.”
On the Highwind everyone is up and about.
“We’re going down to see Tifa and mini-numbskull, who’s coming?”
“Anything to get off this ship!” Yuffie cries. “Count me in!”
“I am worried about them.” Red XIII states. “I too would like to go.”
“Then it’s settled. Let’s go.” They land near Mideel and reach the doctor’s office shortly.
“Ah, you are her friends am I not correct?” The doctor says. “You are just in time. I have just checked his condition.”
“How is he?” Cid asks gravely.
“Better actually. His overall condition in unchanged. He is still very far away from us with little motor control but he’s managed to get some rest. I can’t imagine how.”
“Hmm, well I’m no doc. Resting is good, right?” Cid asks.
“Yes, but it doesn’t make any sense.” Tifa, how are you?” Red asks. “This has to have been difficult for you.”
“Surprisingly, I’m fine.” Tifa replies. “I’ll wait as long as it takes for him to get better. That isn’t so hard. It’s something I’m going to do because I won’t leave his side.”
“That’s love!” The nurse gushes. “I wish I had someone to care for like that!”
“The midget means that much to you? I just don’t get it.” Yuffie says lightly.
“Shut ya trap! It ain’t your-whoa!” The ground trembles. “What was that?”
“The Lifestream is gushing up beneath us. It happens pretty often, no need for alarm.” A terrible screech is heard outside.
“I know that sound!” Cid declares. “That’s WEAPON!” He rushes outside.
“What are we gonna do to WEAPON?” Yuffie whines. “It’s really big!”
“We will confront it and find out!” Red dashes outside.
“Oh man!” Yuffie gripes following.
“What should we do?” The nurse screams frantically. “WEAPON is outside!”
“We should evacuate but WEAPON is in the way.” The doctor replies. “We will need to think of something else.”
Tifa isn’t saying anything. She is trying her best to change Cloud’s equipment. She has already changed the bangles but is having trouble removing the sword. “A little help?” Tifa says at length.
“Why are you doing that now?!” The nurse asks.
“We’re cornered with WEAPON outside! We may as well arm ourselves! Now help!”
“Okay!” The nurse pulls Cloud out of the chair. Tifa swaps the swords quickly. “Whew!” Cloud plops back in the chair. “Couldn’t hold him.”
“I’m checking outside!” Tifa declares going to the door.
Outside there are cracks in the ground where WEAPON fired at the party. They aren’t doing too well.
“Why won’t this thing die?” Cid demands using Ice 3 on WEAPON.
“Because it is a legendary machination of the Planet’s will that cannot be destroyed.” Red replies, using Fire 3 on it.
“Because it’s really big!” Yuffie yells throwing the Crystal Cross high. “I got it!”
WEAPON reels back as though it has been hit in the eye. It fires blindly into the air then flies off.
“I did it!” Yuffie screams jumping up and down.
“The ground is still trembling. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Me too. Somethin’s going down.” Cid looks back at the hospital. He sees Tifa peeking out. “Get out of there! This place is gonna go!” He turns to his party. “We’re out of here!”
“What?” Yuffie stops rejoicing.
“We cannot leave Tifa and Cloud behind!” Red says emphatically.
“She’ll understand! We gotta worry about ourselves for now! Now move!”
“But-” They both say in unison.
“No buts now go!” They flee the town.
Inside the quaking place of wellness Tifa is trying to get Cloud and escape.
“What are you doing?” The doctor asks.
“Escaping!” Tifa replies. “What does it look like?”
“Isn’t WEAPON still outside?” The nurse asks. “You’ll be killed!”
“I think WEAPON is gone. It can’t be any safer in here if the place crashes down around us!”
“Valid point.” The doctor makes his exit. The nurse follows.
“Come on Cloud. We’re going to make it!” Tifa bursts through the door of the office as it sinks into the landscape. “Hang on, we’re almost there!”
The terrain behind her is giving way quickly but she is managing to stay ahead. Suddenly an area in front of her falls and she stops short only to plummet an instant later because the platform she was on disappeared.
“Aaaah!” Tifa exclaims falling into the Lifestream. Cloud splashes in beside her without a word. Then there is silence.
It is dark. Tifa looks around and can see nothing but blackness. She hears many voices around her.
“Cloud?” Tifa calls. Her voice echoes back at her. She begins to walk forward. “I thought the Lifestream was green…” She thinks to herself.
Abruptly the surroundings change. From blackness all around with infinite depth to pieces of places she has been.
“Cloud?” Tifa says spotting him sitting in a backdrop. “Huh?” She sees a ‘Cloud’ in each scene.
“Tifa, I need your help.” The ‘Cloud’ closest to her says. “Help me remember…”
“You’ve been trying to remember all this time?” Tifa asks. “Let’s remember together!”
From Cloud’s perspective, things are different. He floats in blackness and all he can hear is himself crying out in anguish. Not only one voice but many. The whole idea is giving him a headache. He grabs his head and looks down. Now he can see them beneath him. It is maybe five or six of them. They all have the same expression of agony on their faces as his. They sit on fragmented pieces of settings once familiar to him. The places flash and change without warning or reason. Finally he too vents his pain adding his voice to the chorus of suffering eyes tightly shut. For a while there is nothing but tormented wailing then he hears a voice.
“Cloud?” It sounds familiar but he cannot place it.
It matters not to him until he notices something. One by one the voices stop moaning. He opens his eyes and sees something unexpected. Below him a colossal woman has picked up each version of him and placed them on her shoulders. Each one she touches falls silent and appears relieved.
“Who are you?” Cloud asks of the benevolent titaness. “I feel as though we have met before…”
It appears as though she cannot hear him. She surveys the area around her. “Let’s remember together!” She says decisively.
As Cloud watches the angelic amazon rearranges the scenes, continually conferring with the people on her shoulders. Working together the setting finally makes sense again.
“What is she doing?”
“Does this ring a bell?” She asks of the many reflections of Cloud. They appear to have come to consensus. She takes them off her shoulders. With them all in her hand she looks the place over. “Are you certain?” She asks again. They all nod. “Then it is time.”
The facets of ‘Cloud’ begin to merge. He finds himself floating toward the event. She simply watches compassionately as they all come together. When the process is done only he is standing in her hand.
“Do you remember now?” She asks staring down at him.
“I remember.” Cloud replies meeting her eyes. “Tifa.”
“Then we should go back.” She looks up and the whole dream fades away.
Cloud wakes with a start. “Tifa?” He says coughing.
“Yeah?” Comes from beside him.
On the Highwind Cloud has just explained who or what exactly he is. (As he understands it anyway.)
“So that is who I really am.” Cloud concludes. “Any questions?” No one says anything. “Would anybody like to tell what has been happening while I’ve been gone?”
Everyone looks at Vincent. He steps forward. “As acting leader while you were incapacitated I will inform you of what has occurred.” He then proceeds to relate the entirety of all events from beginning to end. Others add comments and correct him. “…and that is everything.” Vincent finishes.
“Thank you.” Cloud says. Everyone leaves the operations room. Except Tifa. “Is there something wrong?”
Tifa doesn’t say anything. She walks over to Cloud and begins to squeeze the heck out of him. “Don’t you ever do that again!” She says forcefully adding even more compression. “You had me worried sick!”
“Could you ease up a little?” Cloud wheezes. “I’m afraid you’ll crush me.”
“Sorry, I was-”
“Calm down. You have the right to constrict me to pieces. Let me take the sword off though. Being sandwiched between you and it hurts.” He takes it off. “What is this?”
“The Crystal Sword.” Tifa replies. “I got it for you while you weren’t well. I changed your equipment so that when you came back you would be ready.”
“It’s amazing…” Cloud says appraising the weapon. “I’ve never seen anything like it…”
“You never will. It’s one of a kind.”
“Reminds me of someone.” Cloud stares at Tifa. “Thank you for picking me up and putting me back together. Only you could’ve done it.”
“You helped. It was a team effort.”
“Don’t give me that. You fixed me. Without you it wouldn’t have happened. But enough arguing, as I remember someone was wringing the life out of me.” Cloud rembraces Tifa. She surprises him with a kiss. They lock eyes for a moment unsure what to do.
“Who will you be sending for the next mission?” Comes from the doorway. “Am I intruding?” Vincent asks. “I can come back.”
“No, it’s all right.” Cloud says hastily disengaging Tifa.
“We should be getting ready anyway.” Tifa agrees stepping away from Cloud.
“I’ll be up on the bridge with my decision in a minute. Thanks for the reminder.” Vincent nods and leaves. Cloud turns back to Tifa. She smiles and leaves as well. He shrugs and heads up to the bridge.
In Junon Cloud, Tifa and Red XIII are heading for the underwater reactor.
“What was Vincent coming in here for?” Cloud asks. “He didn’t request to go and I didn’t ask for him.”
“That is because Vincent’s firearm collection is very depleted.” Red replies. “He was barely able to save the rifle he just bought and the handgun he keeps close. All of the other weapons in his arsenal were damaged beyond repair in the last mission he did.”
“So he’s going on a gun run?”
“Junon would be the place. I noticed several weapon shops the last time I was here.”
They walk on in silence. Junon bustles with activity. Civilians and soldiers alike are busy. Our party is lost in thought.
“I feel so out of it.” Cloud realizes. “So many soldiers around and they don’t even look surprised. I missed a lot and caused a good amount of trouble just by being out. Not to mention it’s my fault Meteor is coming. I gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth a second time. I feel like a failure. But I have to press on. No matter what he must be stopped.”
“I’m so glad Cloud is back.” Tifa thinks. “I’ve felt lost with no direction without him. Now that he is back I feel like I can do anything! I don’t know exactly what Aeris meant but I’ll figure it out! Most importantly I won’t be alone. He’ll be right beside me when I discover what she meant. I know so.”
“I’ve never seen so many soldiers anywhere at once.” Cloud mentions breaking the silence. “Why is it like this?”
“Ever since the WEAPON attacks started, this place has been the main target.” Tifa replies. “They have tripled the guard and have at least that many on standby.”
“We may find out exactly how many there are if we are not careful.” Red adds. “Many of these are additional soldiers on duty because they are probably expecting us. The Huge Materia is a high priority concern according to Cait Sith.” Cloud nods and they enter the building that with take them to the underwater reactor.
In the shopping district Barret, Vincent, and Cid are checking shops for firearms.
“And you tellin’ me all yo guns got smashed?” Barret asks incredulously. “What you need is one o’ these.” He points to his gun-arm.
“I’m a bit surprised you saved the Winchester myself.” Cid says. “I seen it. It was pretty bent.”
“I re-machined the barrel and it was as good as new.” Vincent replies. “You have the equipment on board; it wasn’t that hard.”
They walk into another shop. A guy with orange hair is at the counter. A bell sounds on their entry and he barely glances their direction. Then he continues leaning back in his chair.
“I’m liking for guns.” Vincent says. “What do you have?”
“I got what you see on display. Dat’s it, nuthin else man.” The shopkeeper replies.
“You don’t have any ‘specials’ do you?”
“Naw.” The man looks up. “Is dat you under all dat stuff, Vince?”
Vincent nods. “Long time no see.”
“Sorry, didn’t recognize you.” He reaches under the showcase. “I got this.” He pulls out a large handgun. “Fixed magazine automatic.”
“What is that?”
“Shinra prototype. The clip slides up as you fire rounds. You shake the cases out load it and push it back down. Inside the handle the bullets get charged with Mako every time you reload.”
“Like a vertical revolver.” Vincent realizes looking the weapon over. The shopkeeper nods. “Where did you get it?”
“Got it off the plane that went down, won’t say how. It’s called the Outsider you want it?”
“How much?” Vincent is examining the gun very closely now.
“What did you pay for the slingback?” Orange hair asks gesturing at the rifle on Vincent’s back. “It’s worth double that.”
“That’s a rip off!” Cid yells.
“@#$% him and his stupid *&^%!” Barret agrees.
“I’ll take it.” Vincent replies pocketing it. “See me later about it.”
“Yeah sure. Take care.” They walk out of the shop.
“Why’d you say you was gonna pay that?” Barret asks.
“You just got screwed!” Cid adds. “Royally!”
“Don’t ask.” Vincent replies looking around. “The airport seems very busy.” He says changing the subject.
“Why? There ain’t no planes in it I know.”
“Checkin’ it out anyway?” Barret asks. Vincent nods and they head for the airport.
Deep underneath Junon Cloud and his party are fighting valiantly.
“This sword is incredible!” Cloud says between attacks. “It doesn’t have a scratch on it after what I just put it through!” He finishes the guard robot.
“It should be.” Tifa replies, knocking out a soldier with one punch. “It is supposed to be the companion to the greatest steel ever made, whatever that means.”
“Really?” Cloud asks giving the sword a second look before putting it away. “That means it is the Masamune’s equal?”
“I would not worry about that at current, Cloud.” Red says practically. “The target has just been placed in that red submarine. We should hurry.” They head for the underwater craft.
“Well, well, well.” A familiar voice says derisively. “Who do we have here? If it isn’t Sephiroth’s favorite mini-me!”
“Reno!” Cloud hisses, drawing the Crystal Sword. “Get out of the way!”
“You can’t take the three of us!” Tifa warns going into fighting stance.
“As much as I would like to give that another try, I don’t have time for you.” Reno looks at his watch. “My priority is the Huge Materia!” He runs off to the red submarine.
“Scared?” Cloud calls after him.
“Cloud? I do believe we have a more pressing problem.” Red mentions.
“Red XIII is right.” Tifa agrees. “I’ve got something you can put your sword through right here.”
“What-oh. That.” A large mechanical loading device about thirty feet tall confronts the party. “Or I can help with that.”
At the airport Cid, Vincent, and Barret are watching from afar.
“Can’t tell from here. We should get closer.” Barret says, squinting.
“That has to be the last aircraft they got.” Cid says. “That old clunker.”
“What are they loading into it is the question.” Vincent states. “Follow me for a closer look.” They creep onto the airstrip. “Still can’t quite see…”
“Hurry up and get that Huge Materia loaded!” Yells an officer. “Meteor ain’t gonna blow itself up!”
“Still got questions?” Cid asks. “It’s pretty obvious now.”
“We’ve been duped.” Vincent says flatly. “They didn’t release information on this. They know there is a leak. They probably didn’t think we’d notice the extra activity if they did it on the same day.”
“Well now we know!” Barret declares. “Let’s stop ‘em!” He stands.
“Sit down!” Cid commands pulling Barret down. “There is an army out there!”
“And I got the artillery!” Barret cocks the A.M. Cannon.
“I’m calling the head dipstick, so hold your horses! If that doofus says attack we attack.” Cid calls Cloud’s PHS. “No answer…”
“My guess is they are in or close to the reactor. It’ll jam any radio communications in the vicinity.”
“We jus’ gonna let ‘em fly?” Barret asks dubiously.
“Nothing else we can do…” Cid concurs. “It’s just too many of them to fight.”
“Let’s leave. They aren’t ready to depart just yet. There may be something we can do.” They head back to the Highwind.
In the underside of a naval fortress Cloud and comrades are fighting for their lives.
“We can do this!” Cloud yells casting a Bolt 3 spell on the dockside contraption.
“I have no doubt but how?” Red replies casting Fire 3 on it. “We are having little effect.”
“By giving it our all!” Tifa shouts throwing a powerful set of piston punches at the machine. They bounce off.
“You can’t put your fist through solid steel!” Cloud yells noting her dilemma. “Cast on it!”
Tifa checks her Crystal Knuckle. “Transform, Poison, Restore, those won’t work. All I got is independent materia in the bangle, what to do?”
“Can’t you cast?”
“Nothing I have will work! All I can use is Restore!”
“Indeed quite a predicament.” Red says being grazed by a laser. He growls.
“I got it!” Tifa casts Cure 3 on Red XIII. “It’s all I can do.”
“Thank you. I am most-” Red is grabbed by one of the hydraulic claws. “Certainly in great pain!” The claw tightens around him. Red howls and goes limp.
“Red!” Cloud yells getting ready to cast Bolt 3 again. “Aaaah!” The machination’s other arm grabs him. “Help!” Cloud screams as he too is having his midsection crushed.
“Cloud!” Tifa rushes forward but she cannot reach him. “This isn’t happening!” She pummels the machine ineffectively. “No!” She begins to glow green all over.
“Tifa…”Cloud sighs falling unconscious.
This pushes Tifa over the edge. She reaches forward and rips the arms from the robot. Then she pulverizes the rest with a few well-placed blows. The machine falls to the ground completely scrapped. It isn’t until she pries the claws from her allies that she notices the change.
“What the-” Tifa thinks pulling the pieces apart. “When did this happen?” She looks around. “This is weird.” Suddenly she shrinks back to normal.
“Geez, that knocked the wind right out of me.” Cloud says returning to consciousness. “What happened?”
“What exactly did you do to it?” Red asks staggering to his feet.
“I ripped it apart.” Tifa replies unsure of herself.
“Good job.” Cloud pats her on the back.
“No time to waste. We must hurry.”
Aboard the Highwind Vincent is dialing the PHS over and over.
“Look, you ain’t got to keep calling them.” Cid says. “The nimrods will contact us.”
“I’m not worried about them. I’m trying to contact them as soon as possible so we can catch the plane together. The sooner they pick up the sooner we get them on board to plan something.”
“Yeah, since we couldn’t jus’ blast ‘em.”
“You would’ve went out blasting that’s for sure! You can still can if you have ta kill yourself. Go on back there, they’ll oblige ya!”
“Cloud we have an emergency situation, where are you?” Vincent asks. “We need you here now. Where can we pick you up? Outside Junon on top of a submarine. Got it.” He hangs up. “Look for a submarine.”
“That’s them waving right there.” Cid says. “Give ‘em the ladder.” They pull the other three on board.
“That plane looks like it’s takin’ off!” Barret says.
“What plane? What emergency?” Cloud asks.
“I should’ve remembered the Huge Materia in the Mako cannon!” Cait Sith says. “How could I forget?”
“Somebody say something!” Cloud demands.
“Follow that plane!” Cid commands.
“Why? Somebody explain!”
“The Huge Materia missions they attempted yesterday they tried to attack two places at once. Today they had two pieces in Junon. One in the reactor and one in the Mako Cannon. They only released info on one but went for both simultaneously again. We got wind of the other not too long ago and are pursuing it now.”
“We left the first piece underwater in our hurry to get here.” Cloud replies. “While we chase this some of you should go get it. It’s in a red submarine the coordinates already programmed in. You can’t miss it.”
“They’re landing in Rocket Town!” Cid cries. “That’s my home! I’m going now!”
“Tifa, you still up to it?” Cloud asks. She nods. They touch down outside Rocket Town.
In the cargo hold of the airship Yuffie is quite ill.
“What’s with all the racket?” She hollers bent over. “Why is this thing flying so crazy?”
“Everybody is trying to do two things at once!” Cait Sith says gleefully. “Finally some action!”
“This is not fun!” Yuffie holds her stomach as the airship lurches and takes off again.
“But it is! The clamor, the commotion, doesn’t it make you feel alive?” Yuffie gives him a sour look.
“We have to go underwater and retrieve the Huge Materia.” Vincent says walking into the cargo hold. “Which one of you wants to go?”
“Underwater in a submarine? Count me out!”
“I’ll go!” Cait Sith says eagerly.
“Good, it is almost time to depart.”
Cloud, Tifa and Cid have their own problems. After a relatively brief encounter with the Shinra and Rude of the Turks they entered the rocket. Intending to get the Huge Materia and go they were surprised when Palmer locked them in and launched the shuttle by remote. The materia is locked in a combination compartment that Cloud and Cid are trying to crack now leaving Tifa alone to think.
“That sure was a surprise.” Tifa says aloud. “So this is outer space. Nothing special really.”
“That ain’t the combination I said!” Comes from above. “What are ya, dense?”
“That IS what you said!” Comes a retort. “It was wrong!”
“They’ll be at that a while.” Tifa chuckles. “They should be able to figure it out. What I can’t figure out is what happened at the reactor just now. If I really did grow to the size of that thing we fought why didn’t anyone say anything? How did it happen? How do I know it actually happened? I have been under a lot of stress lately I could’ve dreamed it up. I mean it doesn’t make any sense having occurred at all. It has the unreal feel of a dream but that robot was destroyed. There was no other way I could have done it…” Tifa puts her face in her hands. “I feel so confused, like I’m coming apart at the seams. There’s no one I can ask because they would’ve mentioned it by now and I don’t want to sound crazy. What do I do?”
“We’ve got it!” Cloud yells, coming down the ladder. “Hey is there something wrong?” He asks noting Tifa’s expression.
“I got it!” Cid counters. “No thanks to you!” He climbs down. “What’s with you? Broke your new glove already?”
“Looks like it from here.”
“Huh?” Tifa looks at her gauntlet. There are hairline cracks spreading throughout the Crystal Knuckle.
In another stolen Shinra vehicle Vincent, Barret, and Cait Sith comb the ocean floor.
“Coordinates in the computer can’t miss it…” Barret mumbles.
“This is boring!” Cait Sith bursts out. “I wouldn’t have come if this was going to happen!”
“Do you have something to tell us?” Vincent asks of Barret.
“Because we’ve been here before. Twice as a matter of fact.” Vincent replies. “Are we lost?”
“No, we ain’t!” The pilot declares loudly. “I just don’t know where we are right now…”
“Maybe I should pilot.” Vincent takes the helm. “First, let’s right the vessel…” The submarine spins unbalancing the occupants. “Then set a course.”
“Just because it was that easy don’t mean you can eyeball me like that!”
* * *
In the escape pod Cid, Shera, Cloud, and Tifa sit watching as the spaceship disappears in the distance.
“Goodbye Shinra No. 26…” Cid says sadly. “I’ll miss you.”
“Why, you made it to space!” Cloud says pointedly.
“You realized your dream, aren’t you happy?” Shera adds.
The rocket hits Meteor. A blinding flash fills the chamber and no one says anything.
Still not impressed by space, Tifa falls asleep as conversation picks up again. She finds herself in a familiar meadow. Looking around Aeris is where she was before.
“Hi.” Aeris says, waving.
“Hey.” Tifa replies, walking over. “Wait a minute…”
“Yes we are the same height or thereabouts. It’s hard to explain. We don’t have much time.”
Tifa stares at the ground. She can barely make out individual blooms. It looks like a carpet from her angle.
“Sit down. Let’s talk.” Aeris says. “I’m sure you have questions.”
“Yeah, what happened to the Crystal Knuckle?” Tifa asks taking a seat.
“They broke.” Aeris says lightly. “Next question.”
“I mean how did they break?”
“From the inside the only way they could.”
“The crucial query. I’m glad you’re getting the hang of this.” Aeris smiles. “They broke because your hands exerted too much force on them.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you swung far harder than any normal human could on something very resilient.”
“How did I manage to do that?”
“By becoming much bigger of course. You remember don’t you?”
Tifa’s face shows a mixture of dismay and fear. “Yes but…” She trails off.
“I don’t have much time.” Aeris says flickering. “You don’t seem to be in the condition to ask questions so I’ll give you a hint. It’ll become clear in a time of great need. When faced with the most difficult choice follow-”
Tifa is violently jerked from her seat as the pod hits the waves. “*%^#!” She swears. Everyone turns to stare at her from his or her various positions on the floor.
“Are you all right?” Shera asks.
“Sounds mad.” Cid says.
“She’s not one to suddenly wake up, that’s for sure.” Cloud agrees.
On the Highwind everyone is back together.
“What do we do now?” Cloud asks the party. “We got all the Huge Materia, right?”
“Yes.” Cait Sith replies. “We aren’t too happy about it.”
“We gotta figure out a way to stop Meteor!” Barret exclaims.
“Way to master the obvious!” Cait Sith says.
“Duh!” Yuffie agrees.
“Aeris had a way.” Cloud says quietly. “She was sure it would work. If we knew what it was then maybe…”
“Maybe grandfather knows.” Red XIII suggests. “We should go visit him.”
“I agree his opinion on this matter would be useful.” Vincent affirms.
“Beats sitting here.” Cid says nonchalantly.
“What do you think, Tifa?” Cloud asks of the martial artist. She does not respond. “Tifa? Hello?”
“Oh, what?” Tifa says absently.
“I was asking what you thought of us visiting Bugenhagen to ask him about Meteor.”
“Good idea I guess.”
“To Cosmo Canyon then.”
After going to see Bugenhagen he decided he could no draw a conclusion without going to where Aeris was headed. A quick ride in the Highwind and a hike through the Sleeping Forest leaves the whole motley assembly in the Forgotten Capital.
“Hmm, I see.” Bugen mumbles. “The projector in the legend…”
“What are you thinking?” Cloud asks. “None of us understand this at all.”
“Simple really.” Bugen replies. “In the legends Holy stops Meteor. White Materia negates the Black Materia. In the event you need to find Holy this projector exists. I have read about it.”
“Find Holy?” Cloud asks, puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“As there is a Black Materia there is a White Materia. If we need to find it this projector should show where it is. But it needs a key to work…”
“This should fit…” Barret says pulling out an ancient thingy majig. “Here.”
“Where did you find this?”
“Underwater. Everybody thought I was lost but I was lookin’ for this!” Barret replies triumphantly.
“Ho, ho, ho!” Bugenhagen laughs as it begins to work. “Look at that!”
A cascade of water falls around the area surrounding the party. Light appears on the face of the water creating a makeshift projector. Aeris is on the screen. It zooms in on her hair. A glowing stone attached by a ribbon comes loose. It falls free and bounces from the pedestal. Just as it is about to enter the water a hand catches it. The view pans out and everyone can see who holds the White Materia, then the scene fades.
“You have the White Materia?” Cloud asks flabbergasted.
“I didn’t know. I just caught it. I thought it was that Fire materia she made off with.” Tifa produces it. “I didn’t even look at it.”
“It is good that it glows!” Bugenhagen say happily. “Aeris’s voice made it to the Planet so the materia could be activated.”
“I guess we found it. Use it, see how it works.” Cloud says.
“…I can’t. It isn’t time yet.” Tifa says.
“Let me try it then.” Tifa hands Cloud the materia. “No use, it doesn’t even glow when I hold it.”
Everyone tries but there is no chance. It only glows when Tifa has it.
“It appears as though Holy has chosen you. It is not mere chance that you have the White Materia. Ho, ho, ho! Use it well.”
“I guess we can leave here. Let’s move out.”
On the airship everyone is lounging about taking a break. The sun is setting and everyone just wants to relax.
“It’s hard to believe you’ve had Holy all this time.” Cloud says wistfully. “You’re the key to stopping Meteor. You and you alone.”
“I should have known.” Tifa thinks. “She said Holy’s power was with me, I shouldn’t be surprised. How could I have been so stupid? If I had just paid attention to what she had said-”
“You seem distracted. Does it weigh heavily on your mind?”
“Yes, of course it does! I’m the last hope!” Tifa bursts out. “It falls on me and only me! I feel like the whole world is on my shoulders! I just want to give up.”
“Don’t think like that! We’re in this together! I don’t care what happens, I’m with you! We’ll keep each other strong!”
“You mean that?”
“I’d die before letting something happen to you. I promised you.” Cloud says staring up into her eyes.
“Everybody to the bridge! We’ve got a situation!” Cid yells over the PA.
“You ready?” Cloud asks.
“If you are.” Tifa replies. They walk holding hands to the bridge.
On the deck everyone is having a fit.
“Damn it all, WEAPON!” Cid yells.
“It’s heading for Midgar, Mako Cannon non-operational, moved from Junon, battlestations, reactor 1 and 7 not operational…” Cait Sith babbles.
“You see that? @#$^*(@ WEAPON trying to destroy Midgar!” Barret says. “Annoying @#$%^&*(+-`@!”
“Didn’t it learn something from its brother?” Yuffie says smugly. “I already kicked its butt.”
“It is apparent that we cannot stand idly by.” Red states. “Something must be done!”
“Orders, Cloud?” Vincent asks, cool as usual.
“Cait Sith get a hold of yourself!” Cloud commands. “I need information!”
“Sister Ray…” Cait Sith trails off. “Sorry about that. Situation. WEAPON is heading for Midgar. No mobile forces. The Mako Cannon that just got moved there from Junon and upgraded is not operational. Prognosis grim.”
Cloud considers the information and comes up with one decision. “We are going to try and fight WEAPON!” He announces. “Everybody let’s arrange materia and get ready. Drop time in ten minutes!”
On the ground everyone is preparing to confront WEAPON. They are scattered around in the general area to support each other.
“Are we ready?” Cloud asks. Tifa and Yuffie who are nearest to him nod. “Lets give it all we got!”
WEAPON hits land. Everyone begins to attack at once.
“Don’t give it a chance!” Cid exclaims casting Quake 3.
“Bring it down hard!” Barret affirms unleashing Limit Technique Ungarmax with the A.M. Cannon.
“Lets show WEAPON some fireworks!” Cait Sith uses Fire 3.
“It shall fear our might!” Red XIII calls down Comet.
“We must prevail!” Vincent uses Ice 3.
“Eat this!” Yuffie casts Demi 3.
“WEAPON must be stopped!” Tifa casts Bolt 3.
“To save the Planet!” Cloud uses Ultima. WEAPON stumbles back with the power behind the attacks but continues forward. “It can’t be…” Cloud says as all gasp and swear.
WEAPON has shrugged off the entire assault and is undamaged. It braces its feet and flaps on its shoulders open up revealing a very impressive armory.
“Everybody watch out!” Cloud yells. “Take cover!”
All combatants dive for cover as a cannonade of all kinds razes the landscape. Everyone cries out as it impacts near him or her. The WEAPON satisfied that they had been destroyed, moves closer to Midgar.
“We can’t surrender!” Cloud implores. “We’ve got to keep fighting! Give it your best!”
“I ain’t done yet!” Cid proclaims summoning Kjata of the four elements.
“Get a load of this!” Barret calls down a Satellite Cannon burst on the target.
“I am not afraid!” Red casts Comet 2.
“This is it!” Yuffie summons Leviathan the guardian of Wutai.
“I hold nothing back.” Vincent summons Bahamut ZERO the lord of all dragons.
“Lets turn up the heat!” Cait Sith summons Phoenix the immortal winged beast.
“We have to win!” Cloud casts Ultima comboed with Mp Turbo this time to double its power.
Tifa is just about to cast Shiva when she notes the smoke clearing. “It’s standing in a crater…” She whispers disbelievingly. “Nothing we’ve got will be enough…”
“Hit the dirt, it’s attacking again!”
An unimpressed mechanical embodiment of destruction unleashes another wave of devastation. The party screams in pain as the attacks wreak havoc on them. They can barely move.
“I can’t keep going.” Cid says wheezing.
“Bullets just bounce off, nuthin’s workin’…”
“I am sorry I have failed.” Red sighs.
“Our magic isn’t enough.” Cait Sith states.
“We lack the strength.” Vincent agrees.
“I can’t do it.” Yuffie admits.
“This can’t be it…” Tifa groans.
“There must be something…Holy, you have to use it. It’s Midgar’s last chance!”
“I tried. It didn’t work.”
“Please just one more time? It’s all anyone has left.”
“All right.” Tifa struggles to her feet. “Planet hear my cry! Lend me your power please!” She casts Holy. The materia floats before her and gleams bright. Fully expecting WEAPON to be struck down by Holy power she is surprised that it still stands. The glowing sphere enters her body then she begins to grow.
“What is this?” Cloud wonders prone on the ground. “What is happening?”
Tifa grows all the way to one hundred feet tall. She can see eye to eye with the WEAPON now. “I won’t let you pass.” She says voice echoing across the continent.
WEAPON looks at her and does not pause in its advance. They meet and it becomes a grappling match between a buxom barmaid and a doomsday device. Tifa shoves it back and punches it low in the gut area. Metal crinkling is heard and cheers come from the ground. She presses on and follows with kicks to its legs that leave it nearly immobile and a punch that shatters the over-taxed gauntlet to pieces in its face.
Cloud, still an invalid for all intents and purposes watches in awe. “She sure is taking it to WEAPON.” He glances at Midgar. “Oh no, the Mako Cannon!” He makes it to his feet. “Got to warn her…” He casts Ultima in Tifa’s direction.
“What was that for?” She asks, having fallen to avoid the powered up spell.
“Stay down!” Cloud yells as loud as possible. WEAPON takes this opportunity to light up Midgar with a 347-gun salute.
“I could’ve stopped it” Tifa yells, trying to stand. “Why did-” A thick beam flies right above her. “…”
WEAPON is hit directly. It coasts from its feet and lands on the shore with a massive hole right where Tifa punched it. It does not move again.
“It looks like we won.” Cloud says uncertainly. “What to do about this though?” Titanic Tifa towers over the party.
From Tifa’s point of view things look different.
“I can barely see them.” Tifa thinks to herself. “They’re so small…” She looks around carefully and slowly sits down. “This is crazy but then again what in the last few days has made any sense?” She glances north. “The barrier around the cave is gone. That is useful.”
Everyone else is piling onto the Highwind. With a good gawking spell had by them all they board the vessel.
“Wonder where they’re going?” Tifa notices Cloud still standing nearby trying to signal her. “What does he want?” She lowers a hand for him to hop onto and then slowly lifts him to her face. “So tiny…” She places him next to her ear. “Can I help you?” She asks.
“Yeah.” Cloud replies “You could quiet down a bit to start.”
“Sorry.” She laughs.
“How do you feel? You were able to defeat WEAPON. The whole thing is unbelievable.”
“I feel strange.” Tifa replies.
“You might, there isn’t anything else to expect after what just happened.”
“I mean light-headed. When that cannon was fired I could feel the Planet’s pain. I became weaker along with it.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. Even now I can feel the Planet’s energy flow shift. It’s heading toward North Cave. I feel weaker…” Tifa begins to shrink. “The Planet can’t support both me and Sephiroth. It’s like a tug of war but someone else is pulling with Sephiroth.” Her shrinking leaves her at around sixty feet tall. “I don’t know how much more the Planet can take.”
“Something is giving Sephiroth more energy?” Cloud dials the PHS “Cait Sith, now that WEAPON is gone what is Midgar’s status? Reactors all set to overdraw on Planet energy? Won’t that cause meltdowns or worse? The energy is heading toward North Cave? Massive blackout? We’ll try to help.”
“What is happening? I feel so woozy.”
“Someone is using the Mako Cannon to overload the reactors and is redirecting the energy at North Cave. The reactors could explode and Midgar would be in bad shape.”
“So, what do we do?”
“I am going to go get everyone and we are going to stop whoever is behind this. You are staying here; there is no way you can fit in Midgar now. There would be too much destruction.”
“You may need my help!”
“You have to sit this one out. I’m sorry.”
“You can’t make me!” Tifa exclaims.
“No, I can’t but you don’t want to harm innocent people by accident do you?”
“Then I need you to put me down so I can go.”
In the Sector 8 military district Cloud and his posse are gathering for one last huddle.
“Alright everyone we’ve got a madman to stop!” Cloud says loudly. “We’ll split up to not attract too much attention!”
“Well if you want to get to the Mako Cannon as fast as possible you’ll need me.” Cait Sith states. “Unless you know Sector 8 better than I do.”
“Good point. Who else is with me?”
“I’ll go.” Barret says guiltily. “I blew No. 1 and a lot of people suffered because of it. I want to try and make it up to them.”
“Okay, the rest of you stay out of trouble.”
Outside Midgar Tifa sits patiently waiting. She just watched them parachute into Sector 8.
“There has to be something I can do.” Tifa thinks to herself. “What if they run into trouble? Shinra knows they’re coming; they have to have something planned. There has to be a way…” The Highwind lands next to Tifa. She looks at it oddly then resumes thinking. “This is going to take some getting used to.”
* * *
In a Sector 8 train tunnel Cloud and friends creep through the darkness.
“If you aren’t right on time…” A voice snickers.
“Reno!” Cloud snarls drawing the Crystal Sword.
“This will be our last meeting.” Reno says flicking out his electrified baton.
“Luck’s run out.” Rude grunts cracking his knuckles.
“Our orders are to seek…” Elena begins falling into fighting stance. “…and kill.”
“Whatever ya’ll want!” Barret replies cocking the A.M. Cannon.
“No.” Cloud says putting away the crystalline armament.
“Why? Might as well settle this now.” Reno says. “You scared?”
“No, just tired.” Cloud replies. “We’re here to stop the reactors from going up like firecrackers and here you are in the way.”
“So?” Rude snorts.
“Look, I could settle up with you or save Midgar. It would be a shame if we were blown to kingdom come while we were fighting though.”
“It would not be enjoyable…” Elena agrees. “But it’s our job.”
“We fought a WEAPON to get here. If you got to fight let’s go and get it over with.” The ground rumbles under them. “Or just get out of the way.”
“You think that was a reactor?” Reno asks.
“Better safe than sorry.” Elena replies.
“Hmm, pipsqueak’s right.” Reno says telescoping the Mag Rod. “We’re done for the day.”
“Let’s just get out of here.” Elena agrees. Rude nods. The Turks leave.
“That was easy.” Barret says.
“Don’t think we got to the hard part yet.” Cloud sighs.
“The controls are just ahead!” Cait Sith informs them. They emerge from the train tunnel. “Just up those stairs!”
“Not so fast!” Comes an amplified voice.
“Heideggar!” Cait Sith hisses.
“You don’t give up do you Reeve?”
“Scarlet! Oh no, I know what this means!”
“What, you’ve got to tell us!” Cloud exclaims.
“What’s the big- @#$&!” Barret swears.
Scarlet laughs. “You’re in for a treat!”
“The latest in Anti-WEAPON artillery!” Heideggar joins in the merriment. “All for you!”
“Anti-WEAPON?” Cloud asks, sword drawn.
“Built to destroy WEAPONs.” Cait Sith says. “Tougher than an actual WEAPON if the specs hold true.”
“@*&$!” Barret swears again.
The large red machine comes into full view. “Meet the Proud Clod!”
“Now you’re finished!”
En route to Sector 8 Tifa is moving quickly.
“Good thing I thought to enter through Sector 7. This place is already flattened. Plus it’s right next to Sector 8.” Tifa stops. “I’ll just wait here and take a look around.”
Cloud, Cait Sith and Barret emerge from the train tunnel. Tifa breathes a sigh of relief. They draw their weapons. Now she is worried.
“What’s wrong?” Tifa wonders form her position. “What the heck is that?” She catches sight of the Proud Clod. “They can’t handle that!” She dashes forward.
“Tifa!” Cloud exclaims. “I thought I told you to stay behind!”
“I’ll take care of this!” Tifa replies as though she hadn’t heard. “You go stop the reactors!”
“Okay! Show this bucket whose boss!” Barret yells.
“Be careful!” Cloud calls up to Tifa. It looks as though she hadn’t heard but he can see her smile just a bit. He runs after his comrades.
“Look, it’s the wench I had to give a good slapping. You come back for more?” Scarlet asks. “Heideggar, let’s get her! Stop drooling! Just because you weigh the same doesn’t mean she’s interested!”
“This thing doesn’t look so tough.” Tifa thinks. “It’s not even that big.” To be truthful the Proud Clod only stood about forty-five feet tall. She moves to grab it. It slashes at her outstretched hands so she jumps back. “But still dangerous!”
“You don’t scare me!” Scarlet declares. “Get a grip on yourself; you’re driving this thing too!” The Clod advances forward. Tifa gives ground until they are well into Sector 7. “Afraid you’ll hurt someone? Fear not, you’ll be the only victim here!” The Clod fires a volley of bullets at Tifa. She shields herself and the Clod slides forward for a tackle. It takes her down hard into the wreckage of her own bar. “Give her some Materia Beam!” The cannon on the back of the Proud Clod begins to glow.
Tifa kicks up suddenly and the beam goes astray into Sector 8. She regains her feet quickly and lands a punch and a kick on the red robot. It doesn’t budge and slashes across her arm in return. She does stumble and the robot tries to tackle her again. This time they clasp hands to claws and Tifa braces with one foot smack dab in the middle of Sector 6. She feels something snap under her foot.
“What did I just do?” Tifa wails in her mind. She shoves back and leaning forward punches hard twice knocking the machine away. She looks at back at what she stepped on and relief cascades through her. “It was just the place with the gun that shoots at people. No one could’ve been in there.”
This glance would be costly as the Proud Clod lunged forward and delivered a gut punch of its own. Doubled over, as only living things can be Tifa is lifted from her feet and tossed bodily into Wall Market.
Words do not describe the pain Tifa feels as she skids into Sector 6 face first. She closes her eyes as she impacts the star attraction of Midgar. “…no…” Tifa moans as she feels building after building crumble under her. “This can’t be happening…” She lies there appalled at the gravity of what she had just done by meaning well. Afraid to move for fear of crushing others she lies still. Despite that, she begins to spread out compressing even more of Midgar. “I don’t want to be any bigger!” Tifa cries vibrating the neo city. “Please no!”
“What’s wrong, you give up?” Scarlet teases. “It’s amazing something so big can be so weak.” The Proud Clod charges the Materia Beam. It fires.
Tifa is not moved. She doesn’t feel it at all. She grows bigger and bigger taking up more of Sector 6 until she reaches Sector 7 “No more!” Tifa shouts pushing herself off the inn she was resting on and standing. She surveys the devastation. “Why?” She whispers. “Why did this happen?”
“Don’t just sit there, fire again!” Scarlet commands.
“You…” Tifa says with a quiet rage evident in her voice. She picks up the Proud Clod in one hand and begins to dismantle it. Since it is nowhere near knee high she is finished rather quickly with the destruction machine. She holds Scarlet and Heideggar in her palm; they are barely an inch tall by comparison. “Any last words?” She asks with her face in their immediate area.
“You’re just going to ogle her up until you die?” Scarlet yells at Heideggar whose eyes are the sizes of saucers. She turns to her colossal captor. “I hate you and your friends! You may be big but you’re just a failure! You squashed everyone you wanted to save by trying to help them! How does that feel? With you in his corner how can Sephiroth lose?” Scarlet laughs.
“You will pay for that.” Tifa says monotone. Her hand begins to close around them. Scarlet stands triumphant while Heideggar is still peering through Tifa’s fingers for one last look.
“NO, YOU CAN’T!” A voice says from the ruins of Sector 7. “THEN YOU’LL BE JUST AS EVIL AS THEY ARE!”
“Who’s to say she isn’t?” Scarlet laughs again. “Look at what she has done!”
“Cloud…” Tifa whispers, setting down the Shinra executives. “I…” She stops and stalks off through Sector 7 over him and out of Midgar.
“WAIT TIFA PLEASE!” Cloud begs plaintively.
Outside of Midgar on the Highwind the group convenes.
“Cid, how long will it be before the Highwind is flying again?” Cloud asks.
“Two or three days. Could be longer could be shorter.” Cid replies. “I don’t see why she had to break the propellers; what did Highwind do to her?”
“I can’t tell you.” Cloud shrugs. “I don’t know what’s with her right now.”
“She has a lot on her mind.” Red says reflectively. “It has been very trying for her these past few days.”
“She is not alone.” Vincent agrees. “I too have much to consider.”
“It looks like we all have something to think about.” Cloud deduces. “It may have become unclear what we are fighting for or how we are doing it. We should all take a break and realize exactly what it is again. Come back when you are ready to continue.”
“Good idea.” Barret affirms. “Let’s go get our heads on straight.”
“What if none of us come back?” Cid says morbidly. “If the whole Planet’s riding on that premenstrual bundle of nerves we’re good as done.”
“You may be right.” Cloud says somberly. “At this point it is hard to tell. I’m sure of why I’m here; I’ll be back. That much I know.”
“This thing is getting too scary for me!” Yuffie squeals. “WEAPONs, Meteor, Tifa, the whole situation is beginning to freak me out!”
“Then leave!” Barret says harshly. “Ain’t nobody makin’ you stay!”
“Calm down. You aren’t being fair.” Cloud turns to Yuffie. “I can understand if you don’t come back. It’s scary for me too but I’m going to face my fear no matter what. I made a promise I’m going to keep.”
“I’m sticking with you.” Cait Sith says. “Shinra is finished, the hierarchy is falling apart. We have done so much to harm the Planet I’m throwing my lot in with you until the end. Not in the name of Shinra but because I feel responsible for some of this. I may be a toy but I’ll give you 100%.”
“Good to hear.” Cloud turns to Cid. “I’ll need your chocobo.”
“Are ya crazy?” Cid demands. “I’m not letting Goldie within ten miles of that girl!”
“Honestly I don’t feel like arguing.” Cloud says slowly. “I want your permission but it doesn’t matter.”
“You ain’t takin’ anything of mine anywhere near that crazy broad!”
“That is not called for. I really would rather not fight about it.”
“Well that’s what’s gonna happen!”
“I’ll see you later Cid.” Cloud goes to walk past him.
“Not so fast, shorty!” Cid strikes Cloud in the eye. Everyone gasps.
The smaller man is rocked by the blow and takes a step back. He looks at his assailant and meets his eyes with his one. “Are you done?” Cid just stares open-mouthed. Cloud goes to walk past him again.
“I’m not letting you take Goldie to her doom!” Cid cocks his fist back to swing again. Everyone on deck targets Cid.
“It ain’t funny no more.” Barret states A.M. Cannon leveled at Cid.
“Just let Goldie go. Cloud won’t just let something happen to her.” Cait Sith says ready to clobber the aviator.
“Pick on someone your own size!” Yuffie squeaks.
“Do not attack your allies.” Vincent says Outsider trained on him.
“You may not like what he is doing but that is not just cause.” Red says ready to pounce.
“Thanks everyone.” Cloud says. “I look forward to seeing all of you later.” He leaves.
Roaming the Planet at three hundred feet tall Tifa is trying to collect her thoughts.
“I can’t believe what happened back there.” Tifa thinks. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. I thought I would save the day; instead I just made everything worse. Cloud was right. He warned there would be too much destruction. He asked if I wanted to harm innocent people by mistake. I said no but it occurred anyway.” She flashes back to when it happened; the sensation of bubbles bursting all over her. “Each one couldn’t have been a life, there were so many…” But she remembers that Sector 6 was the most visited and heavily populated place in Midgar. “I just wanted to help!” Tifa begins to cry softly. “I don’t even understand why I became larger. I didn’t want to, why would it need to happen? It’s almost like the Planet wanted me to destroy all those people… When I fell I began to expand. The more I expanded the more people died until I reached the edge of Sector 7. Then I stopped growing.” Tifa comes to a sick realization. “Aeris said people who died could no longer continue the cycle. The Planet uses their spirit energy for life force. Sephiroth and I draw on the Planet’s life force to gain power. The Planet does want me to destroy for its own sake, so it can live a little longer!” Tifa begins to feel very ill. “I killed all those people to satisfy the whim of the ground I stand on? Hundreds died just to sate its need? The biggest thing in the world and I’m only a pawn? Everything I’ve ever done to lead up to this, being a puppet for the Planet?” Tifa sits down. “What about all those who died? My friends? I knew people in Sector 6! Doesn’t the Planet care how I feel?” She covers her face. “I guess the emotions of a servant don’t matter; all I am is a tool!” She cries herself to sleep.
Barret sits outside the Highwind looking back.
“I don’t care what nobody say!” Barret yells into the evening sky. “I’m standing behind you all the way Tifa! I know ain’t a bad bone in yo body so I know you ain’t mean for that stuff to happen. It don’t matter no way. Even if it’s just me you and Spikehead, cause I know he’s comin’ back we’ll do this!”
* * *
In a bar in Kalm Vincent is sitting down.
“Hojo is dead.” Vincent says to himself. “What else is left? I can never have redemption and I have already taken my revenge; what else can I do? The love of my life is gone, I don’t see a point in going on.” He takes a sip of his drink water. “I have no one to guide me. I have to decide this one for myself. What else is there to life but the pursuit of death? All those who are born, die. I have nothing left I want to kill but do not want to die. What can I do? It all feels so meaningless…” He sips from his glass. “Cloud has something to fight for. He wants to kill Sephiroth and he is willing to die trying. He is willing to risk it all for his love. I respect that. For that I shall help him. If not for him I would not have been able to take my vengeance. I owe him something. I shall follow him in his quest to its end.”
Red XIII is halfway to Cosmo Canyon.
“Why am I running?” Red wonders. “What am I afraid of? Sephiroth? Tifa?” He stops. “I said I would help save the Planet. I will do that. Regardless of what happens that is what I will do. It is what father would want.”
In Midgar somewhere Reeve sits contemplating.
“Not for the money. Not for prestige. Not for good nor service.” Reeve thinks to himself. “They have no incentive aside from the off chance they have of saving the Planet. They put their lives on the line n the slim possibility that what they do now can change tomorrow. That is all they consider. No matter how crazy or far-fetched the plan they jump in headlong with all their hearts. Completely focused and unafraid of failure even though they have only one life to live.” Reeve comes to a conclusion. “The very least I can do is aid them to the extent of my ability. If only to respect the severity of the choices that they have made.”
On the airship Cid sits alone on the bridge.
“I admit earlier I went a bit far.” Cid says to the air. “I shouldn’t have socked the little guy, it wasn’t right. But he doesn’t understand! This crazed lady stomps up to my baby, scares my crew half to death, and busts it up pretty bad! Why would I want my best friend to go through that? I’m just worried about her; I wouldn’t wish being snapped in two on anybody. ‘Cept that bastard in North Cave. Maybe I can explain it to them.”
In the hold of the grounded vessel Yuffie is hiding out.
“Why haven’t I left yet?” Yuffie wonders. “This stuff is too much for me. I just wanted some quick material, not all this! I’m scared silly of Sephiroth and Tifa too! I should be on the first boat to Wutai!” She double over at the thought. “Why would I continue to subject myself to this abuse! When this thing is in the air again my lunch is too! I’m going to be sitting here retching my guts out! That isn’t fun! Cloud knows how I feel he gets motion sickness too. He bears with it though. Poor guy.” Yuffie considers her options.’ “Dad would probably scream the heck outta me for not doing the best I could and not bringing any materia back. ‘Sides I wouldn’t get a chance at the Huge Materia if I left now.”
Galloping on the back of a Golden chocobo Cloud is scouring the world for Tifa.
“I have to find her.” Cloud thinks. “I can’t do this without her. There wouldn’t be a purpose. I can’t go on with her like that, she needs help! I saw her eyes, the pain, and the sadness! She needs someone to talk to. She did for me what I could not do for myself. She made me remember who I really was. If I can help her remember it’ll be okay. I made the promise and this has to be the most trouble she’s ever been in because her enemy now is not Sephiroth it’s herself. She needs to know it’s not her fault and that I am here for her no matter what. I’ve got to find her.”
Cid wakes up bright and early.
“All right, let’s get it together!” He calls over the PA. “I know it’s early but we got to get started sometime.” He goes to get a toolbox. “What’s left of you guys can come on and work.” To his surprise the entire crew shows up. “I swear I told ya to go home!”
“We did. We still are home.” The head engineer replies. “If that’s fine with you sir.”
“Yeah, whatever. Get to fixing our propulsion system!”
“Good Morning, Cid.”
“Well if it ain’t whatever your name is…Cait Sith! That’s it!” Cid says cheerily.
“You remembered.” Cait Sith sounds astonished.
“Hello.” Comes another voice.
“Vinnie! My favorite stiff! How are you buddy?”
“I am alive.”
“Yuffie, don’t try to sneak past me! I see you!” The jovial tone disappears. “Drop the materia! All of it!”
“Still watchin’ her with one eye all times eh?”
“You bet, Barret! Don’t you?”
“Rather cruel to say in the presence of one who possesses a singular eye.” Red XIII pipes in.
“Sorry, didn’t see you there!”
The bridge becomes very quiet. The air becomes pregnant with tension as everyone begins to quiver in anticipation. They all look at Cid and each other uneasily.
“I admit yesterday I acted like an idiot.” Cid begins breaking the silence. “But you have to understand she stormed over here and scared the *&%$ out of my crew then broke my baby up! I’m lucky they’re still here! For all I know she may feel like eatin’ chocobo or I dunno!”
“Yesterday was difficult for us all.” Vincent says.
“Loads of tension.” Cait Sith continues.
“Tons of pressure.” Barret mentions.
“Taking leaps of faith.” Red adds.
“Enough to push anybody over the edge.” Yuffie concludes.
“Ya’ll forgive me?”
“Yeah, sure!” Barret says lightly. “After all I thought I would be the one to snap!” Everyone laughs at that.
Outside of Costa del Sol Tifa waits.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to do this but I feel like I’m supposed to. The Planet wants me to. It wants their energy. Aeris said when faced with the most difficult choice follow what? I can’t remember!” Tifa thinks hard. “I suppose if it’s what the Planet wants it can’t be all bad. Maybe Scarlet was right, who’s not to say I’m as evil as they are?” Tifa begins to walk toward the coastal resort town. Her size increases each step she takes toward the beach. “It anticipates me destroying Costa del Sol…” She stops. Though the gore has washed off the slick sensation remains, a macabre reminder of what happened. “I can’t. There are even more people here than Sector 6. But I have to…” She prepares to annihilate the town.
“Stop!” A tiny voice implores from Tifa’s feet.
“Huh?” The vast vixen looks down, way down. She spies a golden speck with a splash of purple. “Cloud?”
“No, this is not right! You aren’t evil!” Cloud yells into the Crystal M-Phone
“Of course I am, didn’t you see what I did? I leveled Sector 6.” Tifa replies.
“No, that isn’t you! That wasn’t your fault! Would someone evil watch over us? The only reason you even went was because you were worried about us!”
“I went because the Planet wanted me to go. The Planet wanted all of those people to die.”
“Because Sephiroth and I drain so much energy that the Planet has to get it back somehow. That’s why when they died I got bigger. The Planet shared some of the energy with me.”
“Please don’t do this! There has to be a better way!”
“It’s the only way.” Tifa says grimly.
“No, this is not you!”
“It is now. Can’t you see I’m beyond help?”
“Never! I’ll always be here for you! I promised!”
“You mean that?”
“You are never alone! I’ve searched the Planet looking for you; I’m not going anywhere!”
“I didn’t want you to see me do this.”
“Then don’t do it!”
“I have to. I won’t be strong enough if I don’t.” Tifa whines.
“You have to do it?”
“Yes. Otherwise I’ll be too weak.”
Cloud hops off Goldie. “Go on home.” The chocobo runs off. “Then do me first.”
“You heard me. Kill me first. My energy is worth something isn’t it?”
“You have to. If you go to that place I’m running under your feet.”
“But why?” Tifa asks on the verge of tears.
“Because my life belongs to you. You can take it whenever you want. But theirs do not. They are not ready to die for you. While I still live I cannot simply allow you to hurt them.”
“Even if it is to save the Planet?”
“But so many have died…I-”
“No, you can’t ever make it right but you can try to do better next time!”
“You’ll forgive me?”
“I never blamed you! Come with me, we’ll change the future together!”
“You’re right!” Tifa realizes shrinking. “There has to be another way!” She shrinks further. “If everyone dies then there is no purpose to the Planet!” Tifa returns to her sixty-four foot height. “I guess the Planet doesn’t like that conclusion.”
“That’s my girl!”
“I’m sorry I caused so much trouble.”
“I’d rather it be trouble than something you would regret forever. The people in Sector 6 couldn’t be avoided. If you had not come we could’ve been finished by that thing and all of Midgar would be history. If you had intentionally rubbed out the lives of those people over there you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself. That would be the greatest tragedy.”
“Well I still want to go down there.”
“I feel like taking a break.”
On the Highwind Cid has everybody working.
“Where is that meathead?” Cid demands. “We been here all day!”
“He may be still searching for Tifa.” Vincent says. “At her size she could cover a lot of ground quickly.”
“He could be resting, the odds are he has searched all night.” Red adds.
“He could be on his way now.” Cait Sith says.
“He could be anywhere, we don’t know.” Barret says crankily. “Why ask?”
“Have you tried calling him?” Yuffie asks.
“Of course! He ain’t picking up!”
“Want us to cover reasons for that too?” Barret asks grumpily.
“Monsters may have got him.” Cait Sith suggests.
“He dropped the phone in the water.” Vincent adds.
“He is resting.” Red says again.
“Thanks, real informative.”
“Wasn’t it though?” Barret asks sarcastically.
“Hey, how often do chocobos roam this area?” Yuffie asks.
“Pretty rare, why?” Barret replies. “What color you talking about?”
“Gold? Where?” Cid darts to the rail. “He let Goldie go?” He goes to tend to his mount.
“Well we can assume he found Tifa.” Vincent says.
“Unless he just wants the exercise.”
After a brief visit to the beach Cloud and Tifa are off heading back to the Highwind. Currently floating in the middle of the ocean.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Tifa asks, floating on her back kicking lazily.
“Yes it is.” Cloud replies lying on her chest staring up at the sky. “Couldn’t be better.”
“Shouldn’t we hurry?” Tifa asks worriedly. “Aren’t the others waiting?”
“Nah. Why should we? Highwind’s probably still down for repairs.”
“Oh yeah…” Tifa remembers. “Sorry.”
“Give it a rest. I don’t care. I’m enjoying this.”
“Comfy?” Tifa teases. “Hope I’m an easy ride.”
“You’re supposed to turn red and stammer.” Tifa chides.
“Why? I’ve got the best seat in the house. What shame is that?”
“Spoiled sport.” Tifa says sullenly. “You know what though?”
“I lost all my materia including your Lightning.”
“So? I imagine microscopic glowing rocks weren’t high up on your list of priorities.”
“You aren’t mad? You’ve had that Lightning forever.”
“I’m resting most tranquilly with my girlfriend in the middle of the ocean on a picturesque day. Try to bring me down.”
“I ate Goldie.” Tifa says giggling.
“Cid’ll flip.” Cloud shrugs.
“I’m going to eat you when we reach land.”
“Cross that bridge when we get to it.”
“I am actually a WEAPON in disguise.”
“Best WEAPON ever.” Cloud turns over to meet her eyes.
“Just think of where you are.”
“Nowhere else I’d rather be.”
“Seriously?” Tifa makes a funny face.
“Only time in the world all I can do is lie around. Should happen more often.”
“You’ll never ride the big roller coasters again!”
“Am I too small for this attraction?”
“No matter what shoes I wear I’ll tower over you!”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“Everywhere we go we’ll get odd looks!”
“I’ll permit jealousy.”
“You’ll need tailored clothes!”
“I like feeling special.”
“You like this whole thing don’t you?”
“It grows on you.”
“There isn’t a thing I can say is there?”
“You can keep trying.”
“That would make your day wouldn’t it?”
“Already made my day.”
“So you’re happy and that’s it?”
“Now you’ve got it.”
“Even though Meteor is coming?”
“We’ll take care of it.”
“I give up!” Tifa says exasperated. “You win!”
Cloud chuckles. “I know.” She joins in.
On the Highwind everyone is debating about what to do.
“I say we look for ‘em!” Barret declares. “S’posed to been back by now!”
“We said we’d wait!” Cait Sith counters. “That’s what we’ll do!”
“I agree with Barret.” Yuffie seconds. “Don’tcha think it’s weird they aren’t back yet?”
“But we have not waited a full day yet.” Red XIII pipes in. “We should stay until tomorrow at the very least.”
“All o ya shut up!” Cid interrupts. “We ain’t going nowhere ‘till this thing’s back in the air so get back to work!”
“Man, you ain’t listenin’!”
“Cid is right, we should fix this bird then go.”
“We should wait.”
“I think I see the problem.” Vincent says, putting down a wrench. “The people working wan t to quit and look for Cloud and Tifa while those who are not working want to stay and wait for them doing nothing.”
“You’re right, Vinnie.” Cid realizes. “How did you know?”
“Simple, they’re complaining about work. They just want to stop. While Red XIII and Cait Sith don’t want to do anything; unable to work they just want to sit around.”
“So what do I do?”
“Let them stop working. Otherwise they’ll quit on their own anyway. Yuffie will just disappear and Barret will most likely sit down and swear about it then dare you to make him do it.”
“Right again. So will you continue to help?”
Vincent nods. “You’ve got mechanics on staff as well. We’ll be finished before long. With or without their help.”
“Thanks. As for you sacks of &*$#, ya’ll can stop working.”
“Fine by me!” Barret walks off.
“Cool!” Yuffie is close behind.
Floating in the middle of the sea Tifa and Cloud are relaxing as the sunsets.
Tifa looks at her passenger. “He’s sleeping with a grin on his face. He is so happy but I don’t understand.” Tifa ponders. “He didn’t explain it to me. So much has happened yet he can still smile? Even after…”
Cloud wakes up. “Where are we?” He mumbles.
“Just outside Junon.”
“Don’t go there. Make land near Midgar; Junon gives me the creeps.” Cloud says remembering a dream long ago.
“Okay…” Tifa replies. “Whatever you say.”
“Thanks.” Cloud’s eyes close.
“Wait, I have a question.”
“Huh? Ask away.”
“Why are you so happy?”
“I thought I explained that…”
“Why does it make you happy?”
“Because the promise gives my life direction. I was just wandering about caring about nothing then a purpose comes along. Something I can work toward. It gives me a reason to keep going.” Cloud pauses. “But to say I came here after searching the Planet for you because of the promise is a lie.”
“The promise is a lie?” Tifa is puzzled. “But…”
“Yes, it’s just an excuse at this point. Frankly there isn’t anything in the world you could run into and get in trouble. I love you. That is the bottom line.”
“What I said before I meant. I would die before seeing you hurt. I can’t stand the thought of it. You mean more to me than my own life. So seeing you happy and well makes my day. Not having to worry and being able to relax in comfort with you after all we’ve been through for even a little while is enough to leave me content.”
“You’re the one that was there for me all those times before. You were there when I needed help every time. Being able to help you like you’ve helped me gives me the impression I’ve given something back. I love that feeling.”
“You like feeling like the big hero?”
“Well you’re my hero.” Tifa laughs.
“I enjoy that too.”
“Mm hm. You jiggle when you laugh.”
“What?” Tifa notices Cloud bobbing up and down not quite with the waves. She turns red.
“Don’t be shy! Laugh, it’s good for your soul!” Cloud says laughing.
Tifa is trying not to laugh. The whole scenario seemed so absurd and silly that she can feel her resolve giving. Cloud laughing at her wasn’t helping; she felt so awkward she could pass for Ruby WEAPON. “I…” Then something inside her breaks up and she begins to laugh. Slowly at first then with increasing fervor. “That’s why he’s happy, he doesn’t take himself seriously!” Tifa realizes. “He just takes it easy. That isn’t a bad idea! I should loosen up too!”
They laugh a good long time coasting along the shoreline in the moonlight. Tifa releasing loads of pent up tension and guilt while Cloud sits watching as her eyes brighten and become less murky with the dark shroud of pain that he grown accustomed to seeing. She laughs until tears of joy flow down her cheeks into the water. The oblong wackiness of what’s been happening finally hitting her and sending her into a fit of hilarity unlike any other. She is oblivious to having floated to shore and continues in her gaiety until she can see Cloud standing next to her face looking stern.
“We have to go.” Cloud states. “The others are waiting.”
Tifa regains composure and stands. She feels as though a mighty burden has been lifted. “And where do you think you’re going?” Tifa asks matter of factly.
“To meet the others.” Cloud replies. “Coming with?”
“I will. But you have a prior engagement.” She plucks him from his feet.
“Surely you remember what I said.” Tifa says teasingly, licking her lips.
“No…” Cloud says unsteadily. “What did you say?”
“I was going to eat you when we reach land silly morsel.” Tifa laughs.
“Umm, I thought you were kidding…” Cloud says weakly.
“Nope, you are just too tempting. I couldn’t help myself.” Tifa raises him to her mouth.
“I taste terrible!” Cloud declares as a last defense.
“I’ll be the judge of that!” Tifa puts Cloud in her mouth. She wraps Cloud in her lips and gives him a little lick then releases him.
For Cloud the event was most like being caught between two mattresses and having them twisted to fit him the long way. He can’t move covered in softness then he jerks as he’s goosed by something wet. He convulses into the cushions enfolding him. They vibrate as she hums relishing his taste. When she releases him he looks up at her with a stubborn look while she is smiling shyly down at him.
“About time!” Cloud says. “Thought I’d have to take another round of Mako Poisoning to get some attention!”
“Silly.” Tifa remarks. Then they set off for the Highwind.
At the Highwind everyone is preparing to shut down for the night.
“They didn’t show up…” Cid says.
“Well, there’s tomorrow.” Barret replies.
“We may as well wait.” Cait Sith agrees.
“Why is the ground trembling?” Red interrupts.
“I believe they are approaching.” Vincent says looking off into the distance.
From the bridge they can see Tifa. She appears happy. The crew of the Highwind notes her approach and is more than a little jittery.
“T-that’s her…” Yuffie stutters.
“Yep.” Cid says resolutely.
“Shoulda’ been here earlier!” Barret complains. “Better late than never though.”
“It is good that she has returned.” Red states. No one else says anything after that.
Tifa stands before the Highwind. They can see Cloud on her shoulder. Her eyes are level with the bridge and she gazes at each of them in turn.
“I’m sorry.” Cid, Cloud and Tifa all say at once. It turns into a bunch of noise and everyone clams up again. Another discomfited hush falls over everyone.
“I’ll go first.” Tifa decides. “Since I have the loudest voice.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry about what happened yesterday. I shouldn’t have damaged the Highwind and didn’t mean to scare you guys in the back. Yes, I see you. I’m sorry.” Then she places Cloud on the deck. “You next.”
“Cid, I’m sorry I pissed you off yesterday.” Cloud says apologetically. “I should not have done what I did.”
“I’m pretty sorry too. Shouldn’t have been hittin’ ya. Wasn’t right.”
“Hit? Cloud?” Tifa says clueless. “Explain.”
“He’s kidding around.” Cloud says lightly. “Don’t mind him.”
“No, I got to face up to it.” Cid says. “Nice thought though.” He steps up to the rail. “Yesterday I wasn’t too happy with knucklehead over there. He told me he was taking’ Goldie an going’ to see you. I was not having that.” He looks down. “I called you a couple of names and when he tried to push past I hit him.”
“You hit him?” Tifa repeats.
“I hit him in the eye and would have again but everybody stopped me.”
“So are you gonna get me or something?” Cid looks prepared for the worst.
“No! We’re friends right?” Tifa smiles. “Maybe you knocked some sense into him.”
“Hey, I got plenty of sense!” Cloud objects.
“I beg to differ. Cid knows as well as I do that I could’ve eaten his chocobo!” Everybody laughs.
“It’s good to have you back.” Barret says.
“I’m glad to be back.”
“You know, speaking of return, all of you are here.” Cloud mentions. “You all found why you’re fighting?” They nod. “I won’t ask; it is a personal decision for you all to have made. Just satisfied you all came back.”
Tifa yawns loudly. Everyone looks at her. “What?” She asks innocently. “I’m kind of tired.”
“Maybe we should all turn in.” Vincent suggests. “It is a bit late.”
* * *
In the morning Cloud wakes up in his usual place. Unable to move because her hands hold him immobile he gripes about it.
“Can’t move.” Cloud mutters trying to extricate himself. “Got things to do and I can’t get started. I was going to sleep on the Highwind but she just snatched me up and here I am. I guess that is one of her privileges. I’ve got nothing against this sleeping arrangement if she would let me go when I woke up.” He looks toward the Highwind. “I think they can see me from the ship! This is embarrassing!” He tries harder to get free. “Arrggh!”
On the Highwind Cloud’s friends are indeed remarking on his predicament.
“He’s stuck.” Barret says. “That’s funny.”
“He ain’t going nowhere till she wakes up.” Cid agrees. “Wonder if he’s got to ask permission?”
“She’s got him under her little finger.” Vincent replies. “He just might have to.” They laugh at that.
“She gripped him and decided that’s where he was gonna go. I don’t know how well I could deal with that.” Barret says.
“He didn’t look too surprised to me.” Cid replies. “I bet he knew what it was.”
“I would hope he’s okay with it, doesn’t look like much he can do from where I’m standing.” Vincent states. They nod.
Suddenly there is movement from where Tifa is. Her eyes open slowly. She looks at Cloud who appears to be speaking.
“Looks like he’s letting her have it.”
“He sure don’t look too happy about the whole thing.”
As they watch it would seem Cloud is giving quite the lecture. Tifa listens eyes half-closed with a bemused expression.
“What if I say no?” Tifa asks sleepily. Cloud protests some more. “No.” Her eyes close and Cloud is still held captive. He pitches a fit but it does not matter.
“She sure told him!” Barret laughs. “Tantrum won’t do nuthin’!”
“She ain’t have to tell him!” Cid agrees. “She just let him know who calls the shots!”
“A lover’s quarrel…” Vincent chuckles. “How quaint.”
They watch some more. Cloud appears to have given up. Instead of struggling further he adjusts his position and goes back to sleep.
“That does look comfortable…”
“It sure does…”
“A man could get used to that.”
Later on closer to noon everyone is gathered on the bridge of the Highwind. Tifa and Cloud are in the vicinity.
“First order of business!” Cid bellows. “Itinerary for the day! Any suggestions?”
“Well, the barrier around North Cave is gone.” Cloud mentions. “Now is the time to confront Sephiroth.” Tifa nods.
“Not a bad idea! So how are you getting there?” Cid asks Tifa.
“I don’t know…”
“At her current height it would take several days to reach the cavern on foot.” Vincent states.
“We need to think of sumthin’!” Barret says. “Meteor’ll be done hit by the time she walk there!”
“Why don’t we just carry her in this thing?” Yuffie asks. “There’s plenty of room in the cargo area with me.”
“She can’t fit in Highwind no kind of way!” Cid screeches. “You crazy?”
“You think this can pull her weight?” Cait Sith asks. “There may be another way.”
“Yeah it could probably carry her. I got a trick for that but what are you talking about?”
“I think he means a sort of harness. She could hang underneath the airship.” Vincent elaborates.
“While not the most cozy means of transportation at the very least it’s functional.” Red XIII agrees.
“You want to try it?” Cloud asks. “It could be dangerous.”
“Why not? How dangerous could it possibly be?” Tifa asks jokingly. “I fall, scrape my knees and be on my way.”
“Well if you’re serious about it I’ll have my crew see what they can do about rigging something up.” Cid concludes. “Now the next order of business!” He turns to Cloud. “Did you sleep well?” He snickers.
“Fine.” Cloud replies not understanding.
“Tucked in tight?” Barret asks laughing outright. Tifa smiles.
“What are you talking about?”
“Trouble getting out of bed perhaps?” Vincent chuckles.
Cloud doesn’t say anything. It occurs to him what they are getting at and he begins to feel a familiar burn on his cheeks. Cid, Barret, and Vincent are having more guffaws at his expense. He turns to Tifa for some support but she is giggling too. The healthy rosy color of his face made apparent his chagrin and he wished he could just sink into the ground out of sight. So he begins to drop from view.
“What?” Tifa sounds surprised as her dimensions change. “It’s stealing away my energy again?” She is now only thirty-two feet tall. “Fickle Planet…”
“Are you all right?” Cid asks noting Tifa’s disappearance.
“Cid!” Cloud calls up from Tifa’s shoulder. “I don’t think we’ll be needing that setup.”
Later at the North Cave the party is gathered.
“Well, it took some doin’ but we’re here.” Cid says.
“I still can’t see how I managed to fit in there!” Tifa says stretching. “I’ll be cramped for days…”
“What is important is that we’re.” Cloud states. “North Cave is a big place and we should probably split up. We should decide the teams now.” Nobody says anything. “There are eight of us so one group will have two people. Tifa and I volunteer for that so the rest of you can decide for yourselves.” With that Tifa scoops Cloud up and they walk off.
“Cloud?” Tifa asks once they are out of earshot. “Are they …afraid of me?”
“Yeah, they are.” Cloud replies from her shoulder. “I thought they would be.”
“But why? I don’t want to harm anyone.”
“On a conscious level they understand that I’m sure. But we humans are scared of the unfamiliar. It frightens us.”
“Unfamiliar? They know me, we’re like family!” Tifa protests.
“Not you so much as what you have become. What you are capable of. When we fought WEAPON we did our damndest to succeed. We failed horribly. We had no chance at all. When you defeated it with a few punches and kicks it showed them how powerful you really were.”
“I did what I had to so I could help! Any one of them would do the same!”
“True. But it was a very potent lesson to learn. In Sector 6 the entire was destroyed by your presence.”
“It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t mean to-”
“Exactly. You didn’t mean to. They know that and do not hold you responsible. However all of that occurred without you even trying.”
“Now you’re mad. You pick up the big red thing and take it apart. Then you’ve got Scarlet and Heideggar in one hand and they’re about to be pasty. At this point there is nothing we can do to physically stop you. All we can hope is to not experience the same fate.”
“I would never-”
“Hear me out. Next you storm up to the Highwind and snap the propeller blades like twigs. Not hard for you but take the next two days to repair.”
“I know I shouldn’t have done that.” Tifa says contritely.
“Now you come back. Cid confesses to hitting me and everyone expects you to punish him in some way. Even though you don’t there was nothing anyone could’ve done to stop you. You could’ve pulped him and that would have been that.”
“We are friends! I would not consider such a thing!”
“Even joking around it scares them. When you said you might’ve eaten Goldie Cid’s face fell as he realized that somewhere there was some chance of him losing his best friend.”
“I don’t need to eat. The Planet sustains me like this.”
“That is beside the point. Your casual movements scare them. The ground quakes when you move. Their ears ring with your voice. Your nonchalant treatment of me creeps them out. Those same hands can destroy just as easily as help.”
“I would never hurt my friends!”
“Just consider this; this would take some getting used to and they have not had the experience that I have. They are already terrified of Sephiroth and Meteor. There is a lot on their minds. They know you won’t hurt them but they cannot help but watch you warily.”
“I have not changed. I am still who I have always been. That person would not hurt them, why should I?”
“It is not fair to expect them to accept such a radical change in so little time. I trust you because I love you. They may not have that connection with you.”
“…You’re right. It makes it no less painful for me though. I feel alone and reaching out to my friends frightens them.” Tifa sighs. “A conflict that never ends and I’ve got other battles to fight. The luck of the draw I suppose.” They proceed further into North Crater.
Cid, Barret, and Vincent walk quickly through the cavern.
“This is it guys. That bastard’s down there waiting.” Cid says. “Can’t believe I went this far with you goofballs…”
“I never would’ve guessed we’d end up here lookin’ for Sephiroth.” Barret agrees.
“Many things defy belief.” Vincent says thoughtfully.
“I know what ya mean. Nobody could’ve told me Holy was some kind of transformation spell. The whole thing is messed up if you ask me.”
“Pretty crazed ain’t it?”
“Depending on where you draw the line for sanity anything may be ‘crazed’ as you say.”
“Huh? You’re gonna have to speak English.”
“I feel what he’s sayin’ though. How you see it is how you call it. See crazy call it crazed. We always see things different though.”
“I’m sure Sephiroth sees what he is doing as perfectly logical.”
“What are ya getting at?”
“You got to be realistic. Jus’ because it’s something you’re not familiar with does not make it wrong.”
“It does but only in the light of one’s own vision. Which is inherently flawed and always incomplete.”
“Hmm…” Cid ponders as they advance further in the cave.
Red XIII, Cait Sith, and Yuffie trek through the underground pathways carefully.
“Man, why couldn’t he be right here waiting for us?” Yuffie carps. “Sheesh, way down there?”
“Tired already?” Cait Sith asks. “We haven’t gone that far yet!”
“No, I’m just losing my nerve. I was already psyched up to fight but now it’s going away.”
“You should master your fear.” Red XIII states. “Then you would always be ready.”
“Master my fear? I have been scared stiff since I saw Sephiroth! We got to fight him, Meteor’s coming down, WEAPONs everywhere, Tifa stomping around…”
“You are afraid of Tifa?” Red asks.
“Yeah! Aren’t you?”
“No, it is not our way to be fearful.”
“Stuffed toy for a body, not really attached to it.” Cait Sith says absently.
“Well you weren’t stuck in the cargo hold with her! I thought she was gonna squash me by mistake! I was too worried about her to be airsick!”
“Why are you afraid of her? She is our friend.”
“She’s huge! Duh!”
“Seems alright to me. Pretty cool about the whole thing overall if you want my opinion.”
“Didn’t you see the way she went ape crap on that WEAPON? Couldn’t even nick it, she went to bustin’ it up real fast!”
“There is little basis for fear.”
“She snapped those thingies off the Highwind like this!” Yuffie snaps her fingers. “Those things are thicker than my arm!”
“She was more than a little distressed at the time as I remember. I would’ve been too in her situation.”
“Did you yourself not say that there has been enough pressure to push one over the brink?” Yuffie contemplates this as they travel deeper.
Cloud and Tifa are making excellent time.
“We should camp here.” Tifa says, sitting. “My legs are killing me.”
“Whatever you say.” Cloud replies sliding off Tifa to the ground.
“We weren’t going to make it to the bottom today. We would need to have started earlier.”
“We could have if someone hadn’t overslept…on purpose!” Cloud yells the last bit up at his partner amiably.
“Well I didn’t feel like getting up right then.” Tifa smiles.
“Didn’t feel like it…” Cloud mutters pulling out cooking equipment.
“What are you making?”
“Nothing for you, lazy!” He starts a fire.
“I’m selfish. Oversleep, slow everybody down for a few zs and I’m selfish. Yes, justice in action.”
“I didn’t hear any complaints.”
“Oh.” Tifa thinks back to what they talked about earlier.
“Don’t worry about it. I doubt there were any at any rate.” Cloud says dismissively pulling out tent pieces.
“What’s that?” Tifa asks.
“Tent. You endorse them so I’m giving it a go.”
“No, I don’t think you can fit.”
“Don’t bother putting it up. I don’t think you’ll be using it.”
“Not my decision is it?” Tifa shakes her head. Cloud sighs. “I thought as much.”
In the campsite of Cid and his crew a discussion is taking place.
“Let’s just say you were in Cloud’s position and Shera was in Tifa’s position, would you see things differently?” Vincent proposes.
“No! Shera’s a head case too! Me an her ain’t that close!”
“Why not? She’s pretty and around your age…” Barret hints.
“Shut ya trap!”
“For the sake of argument let’s say you and Shera are close.” Vincent says exasperated. “Would you see things differently then?”
“…Maybe.” Cid relents.
“Think about it.” Barret elaborates. “It ain’t that far out. The idea makes sense. They been close and still are close no matter what.”
“True love, almost too simple to comprehend.” Vincent says wistfully.
“She attacked my baby! How do you explain that?”
“I ain’t.” Barret says flatly. “I’m jus’ tryin to get you to understand that Tifa the way she is isn’t that crazy. That what she’s done isn’t too crazed neither. If you think she’s cracked from get go, whatever. I know you’re wrong but some things ain’t gonna change.”
“She probably disabled the airship because she had some things to sort out and didn’t want us around at the time. It may have been for our own good. Keep in mind she could have destroyed the Highwind but chose not to.”
“She’s got the most sense out of all of ‘em and ain’t done no bad by anybody on purpose.” Cid considers.
“Everything has a reason.”
“She’s still the same person, just more to see I suppose.”
“That’s the idea!”
At Yuffie’s campsite dinner is about done.
“Why does she get to loom over everybody?” Yuffie wonders. “What if I wanted to?”
“There is nothing to be done about it now.” Red replies. “All we can do now is help her any way we can.”
“But she’s scary!”
“So? Your duty is to your company. Personal problems should be left at home.” Cait Sith says. “Shinra company motto.”
“What if she flips again? What then?”
“We will deal with problems as they occur.”
“I could be dead the next time they occur!”
“Think about it this way.” Cait Sith begins. “How often have you seen Tifa angry?”
“How many times have you seen her suddenly flip out?”
“Would you go crazy for just any old reason?”
“Why would you assume she would? You’ve got to attack problems logically. Personal safety aside, evaluate your situation. Rather than safeguarding your life assess risk of danger. Why prepare for something that will not happen?”
“Do you really believe she is a danger to you?”
Yuffie looks as though she would like to speak but says nothing. “…”
“If she is what will you do? Do you have a plan?”
“I believe you should trust her.”
“While logic stipulates that one should not worry about factors out of your control that you cannot change nor anticipate. Basically the same thing.”
Cloud wakes up on top of Tifa as routine goes.
“I’m going to miss this.” Cloud says aloud.
“Why? Am I good for a bad back?” Comes from under him.
“Among other things.” Cloud replies.
“About time you got up. I thought you would sleep all day.”
“What time is it?”
“No clue. I’ve been waiting for you to get up. Figured I’d let you sleep in.”
“How long have I been asleep?” Cloud says sitting bolt upright. “We’ve got to go!”
“Relax. We made good progress yesterday. We’ve got time.” Tifa smiles. “You didn’t sleep THAT late I’m sure.”
“Well in that case shall we go?”
“Let’s.” Tifa agrees. She picks up Cloud and the bag then walks off.
“You know what?” Cloud remarks from his perch on Tifa’s shoulder. “You’ve got me spoiled rotten.”
“Do I?” Tifa chides.
“Yeah, you’ve got the bag, me, and you’re just stepping on the monsters. It’s the easy life.”
“Well there has to be some perks to having me around other than as a mattress. Why have you bother with the simple stuff anyway? It’d take too long and you would be wiped out.”
“I’m not useless now!” Cloud retorts.
“I don’t know…” Tifa teases. “What can you do?”
“All sorts of stuff!”
“Can you reach this high?” Tifa raises her hand high.
“How about hold this with your pinky?” She holds the knapsack out.
“Can you even keep up with me?” She sets him down and begins to walk at normal speed. He’s running to keep up and she stops to have a laugh at his expense.
“Try something I can do!” Cloud demands slightly winded.
Tifa looks around. “This looks like the bottom…call the others. Let them know we’re here.”
“Roger.” Cloud dials up his cohorts. Relatively short bursts of conversation ensue. “Done.”
“You know what else you can do?” Tifa says eyes lit up with an idea.
“Give me a foot massage.” She sits down.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why not? You can do it can’t you?”
“At a time like this?”
“We’ve got time.”
“I carried you all the way here. The least you can do is this small favor.” Tifa shrinks in size. Now her height is only sixteen feet. “It’s draining more energy? Damn this!” She sounds irritated. “Go on your job should be easier now.”
Cloud gets to one knee as Tifa kicks off her boots. “Pink socks?”
“Is that a surprise?” She slips her socks off. “It’s what happens when you have more than one pair. They might be another color.” She presents her feet to him. Even though she just decreased in size they are both around a yard long.
“They only issue you one pair of socks in SOLDIER! I didn’t know they came in other colors!”
“Whatever you say, get to it.” Tifa looks at him expectantly.
Cloud stares at her feet unsure how to proceed. He sees the scar she got from a snake so long ago and touches it. Surprised at the smoothness of the skin he rubs it again. “Why are your feet so smooth?”
“I wash them.” Tifa replies. “Another thing they probably didn’t cover in your SOLDIER training huh?”
Cloud starts rubbing in a pattern caressing the sole of the foot. Tifa coos encouragement from above. He increases tempo until he feels a lump.
“That is where there was a rock in my shoe. It hurt like heck.” Tifa shakes out a boot. A stone the size of a golf ball falls out. “That thing.”
“That’s not too fun looking.” Cloud remarks trying to massage the tension out of the knot. He succeeds and what is best described as a gasp of relief is heard. He is almost knocked back as she withdraws that foot and puts the other in its place. “Hey!”
“Sorry.” Tifa apologizes. She watches as he lavishes attention on her other foot. At this point she is more impressed with the sentiment rather than the act itself and she allows him to stop after a few minutes. “They feel a lot better now, thanks.” It was true they did feel better. Not so much from expert care as simple attention. The feeling of Cloud tending to her feet was pleasurable in and of itself. The sensation of being the object of his devotion gave her a special thrill.
“You’re welcome.” Cloud replies. “Don’t say I never did anything for you.”
“Just hope it isn’t the last thing you ever do.” Tifa says soberly looking at the path to the heart of the Planet.
Crouched in a tunnel, Barret, Cid and Vincent are none too happy.
“Get offa me!” Cid demands. “Let me out of here!”
“No.” Vincent replies unslinging the Winchester rifle.
“Too many out there.” Barret agrees cocking the A.M. Cannon.
“I don’t care! Let me out!”
“Shh. Stop making noise.” Vincent says lining up a shot.
“What are you, a chocobo?” Barret asks targeting an enemy.
“Me an Goldie are a little claustrophobic so what?”
“You’ve got to calm down. This is the best place to take decent shots without being attacked.”
“That’s what you get for traveling with marksmen.” Barret affirms.
“Whatever. Say Vinnie, why aren’t you using the Outsider? You’re gonna pay a fortune for the damn thing.”
“Shots won’t group outside fifteen feet. That’s why I carry a rifle. For ranged work.”
“I thought even you knew that one, Cid.”
“I did. I just had to mention how much he was gonna pay for that sucker.” He goes back to watching them shoot, trying to calm himself. “If Tifa was here she’d flatten the lot o these thing like pop cans.” Cid thinks to himself. “But her and Numbskull #1 already made it to the bottom. They’re waiting for us and these guys are taking all day!”
Yuffie and her team walk quietly, trying to avoid detection. So far it appears to be working. Enemies don’t pay them any attention.
“You are trying to avoid fighting?” Red whispers. “That is not like you.”
“A real smart guy once told me that battle was not meant to be fun.” Yuffie replies voice low. “That means I don’t need to be engaging in it.”
“Using you mind instead of your fist, very smart.” Red says approvingly.
“I may as well not be tired when I get there.”
“Ninjitsu seems to be handy for that.”
“You aren’t doing too bad at it either. You’re a natural.”
“The others are at the bottom already. Maybe if we could stealthily hurry?”
“Good idea. Cait Sith speed it up.”
“OKAY.” Cait Sith replies. “UH OH.” Monsters turn their direction.
“Tell me you did not just speak into an M-Phone.” Yuffie says aggravated.
“I DIDN’T JUST SPEAK INT AN M-PHONE. IS THIS THING BROKEN?”
Red XIII shakes his head. The incident has left him with a headache. “Perhaps if we just hurry?”
“I think we should speed it WAY up.” Yuffie agrees. “Run!”
At the bottom of the crater everyone has managed to meet up.
“We’re all here.” Cloud says. “Good to see you.”
“This is it.” Tifa says grimly. “We are going to do it.”
“The fight for the Planet is in its last act.” Vincent says philosophically.
“Let’s just wish for a happy ending.” Yuffie adds.
“We’ve come a long way.” Cid says tiredly. “Don’t screw up!”
“All we can do is fight our very hardest.” Cait Sith says.
“Failure is not an option.” Red XIII growls.
“This ends today!” Barret declares. Everyone looks around at one another. The looks of determination and resolve bounce around until they fall on the leader of the pack.
“Okay, one last check. Everybody got the weapons and materia they want to bring to the final battle?” Everyone nods. “Let’s go!”
They enter the threshold. A large area lies within. They are at the top of it while the monsters are rising from the bottom as one cohesive unit.
“Cloud!” Tifa yells. “I can get through but only two people can come with me! Who is it going to be?”
“Don’t ask me! I’m staying behind, we’ll meet up later!” Cloud yells back. “Who wants to run point with Tifa?”
“I’m goin’” Cid says. “I ain’t got time to be afraid.” He steps forward.
“Count me in.” Yuffie seconds. “I’m no fan of big droves of anything.” She steps forward.
“You ready?” Tifa asks. They nod. She scoops them up under her arms and leaps from the landing.
“Oh &^#@!” Cid swears hurtling through the flock of monsters. “Why did I volunteer?”
“Aieeee!” Yuffie screams at the top of her lungs eyes tightly shut.
“We’re almost there!” Tifa reassures them. “Hang on!” She lands in a forward roll. “Phew!” She releases her passengers who are amazingly enough in one piece.
“We made it.” Cid says disbelievingly. “We’re behind the herd!”
“What is this place?” Yuffie whispers in what is an eerie hush.
“Look out!” Tifa cries standing over Yuffie and stopping Jenova from attacking her. “Move!” She commands holding Jenova back.
Yuffie can’t move. She’s petrified with fear. Eyes locked with Jenova and Tifa towering above her she cannot form a conscious thought.
“Yuffie!” Cid yells. “Damn it! Quake!” Cid casts Quake on Yuffie who falls and eyes torn from the fiend flees. “You gotta be careful!”
“Master my fear, master my fear…” Yuffie keeps repeating like a mantra.
“I need a hand!” Tifa calls.
“Gotcha!” Yuffie throws the Crystal Cross. It amputates a tentacle that has Tifa’s arm bound.
“On it!” Cid performs a Boost jump and liberates Tifa’s other arm. She cocks it back and delivers a devastating punch to the genetic aberration landing the blow right next to him. “She means well, I know so.” Cid thinks drawing back.
Jenova tries Bio magic on Tifa. Since she’s so big the poison takes effect slowly. Jenova tries to attack her physically while the poison takes its toll but an Esuna leaves the monster up a creek as her victim lands more heavy hits. Jenova counters with Ultima.
Tifa dives in the way and absorbs most of the damage for the party. Her Crystal Bangle yields under the strain shattering into a million pieces as the potency of the spell throws her back.
Cid and Yuffie don’t miss a beat though. With their large comrade landing near them Yuffie has already cast Full Cure on her and Cid has countered with a Kjata Summon on her behalf. Tetra Flare does considerable damage to the alien but it is still advancing. Tifa rises and charges forward angry that her armlet has been destroyed.
“You ready?” Cid asks Yuffie. She nods and they are on Tifa’s heels. As Beat Rush, Dragon Dive and Blood Fest begin the triple combination Limit Break has Jenova from all sides and it can’t move. As Tifa finishes with a Meteor Strike her comrades jump back prepared for the worst. But their fears are unfounded, as Jenova moves no more.
“She did nothing but act in my defense.” Cid considers. “Wasn’t nothing to be afraid of.”
“Even though I was all amidst her feet I didn’t get hurt.” Yuffie realizes. “She’s still a skilled martial artist no matter how big. She knew what she was doing.”
Cloud and his people are just finishing with the swarm of creatures.
“I wonder what happens now?” Cloud ruminates putting away the Crystal Sword.
“I dunno.” Barret replies.
“They look done down there.” Cait Sith mentions.
“It is good they have succeeded.” Red agrees.
“It is not over yet.” Vincent says, sliding new rounds into the Outsider and slamming down the magazine.
“Let’s proceed down-whoa!”
Everything goes black then vision returns. Everyone is floating in a circle. They all look hurt. At the center of the ring is Sephiroth himself. He says nothing but you can feel the disdain radiating from his being.
“Sephiroth!” Cloud hisses. “I can’t move!” It isn’t long before the rest of the party notices similar problems. “We cannot lose here! We’re so close…”
“Cloud!” Tifa says suddenly. “We can do it!” She flashes bright. “Come on!”
“The true power of Aeris’s prayer, who is with me?”
Though most of the party is too tired or unable to move one comes forward. “Let us end this.” Vincent says quietly. They float up to Sephiroth who has taken the form of an angel then the battle begins.
Cloud starts off strong. He casts Ultima with MP Turbo to more than double its power. Sephiroth is knocked back. Vincent follows with Demi 3 and Tifa tries to pound the seraph. Demi fails and she manages to inflict some damage. Sephiroth counters with a Shadow Flare attack that knocks Tifa off her feet then takes flight.
“I can’t reach him!” Cloud yells.
“Too high up!” Tifa agrees.
“I’ll take care of this.” Vincent brings his trusty rifle into action from his shoulder and begins to fire. The precision fire is hitting the wing of the archangel.
“Bring him down!”
Indeed the shots are having an effect. Sephiroth is coming down. As soon as he is within range he counters with explosive force that affords him some space. Tifa and Cloud have to draw back.
Vincent is undeterred. He has drawn the Outsider and has been rapidly firing since the savior has reached their level. Rhythmically firing reloading and slamming the magazine with machine efficiency he can barely avoid another Shadow Flare. “Got to be more careful.” Vincent thinks coming out of a roll gun trained on Sephiroth. “No mistakes…”
“I call upon a power you cannot understand.” Sephiroth pronounces and a light appears behind him.
“What?” Vincent depresses the trigger. The Outsider explodes in his hand and he is knocked to one knee. “Sorry…” He says as he passes out and falls from the air they stand on.
“Vincent!” Cloud bellows, rushing to his fallen comrade.
“Cloud! Look out!” Tifa screams pursuing him.
“What?” Cloud looks up just in time to see Tifa match the strength of Final Heaven to Super Nova. The light is blinding and he can’t see. His next site is of Tifa flying away from the ferocity of the attack. “No…”
“You can do it…” She whispers before she fades from view.
“But I can’t. I need you…”
“What’s wrong?” Sephiroth taunts. “Realizing your place, pathetic-” He stops as the Crystal Sword is inside him up to the hilt because of Climhazzard.
“I’ve had enough of this!” Cloud claims leaping into the air dragging the blade up with him. “You’ve hurt too many!” He unleashes a crushing Meteor Rain on the saintly visage. “But now you’ve crossed the line.” He comes down with a perfect Braver finish.
“This can’t be. I am all powerful-” The spawn of Jenova falls in two pieces.
“I won…” Everything fades away.
In the bottom of the crater everyone is gathered again.
“What the hell happened?” Cid demands. “How’d we get back here?”
“He did it.” Tifa replies somberly looking at Cloud on the ground.
“So what now?” Barret asks. “Does Meteor hit or what?”
“That is the Planet’s choice.” Red XIII says.
“I say we go home.” Yuffie suggests.
“Not a bad idea.” Cait Sith agrees.
“Uh oh.” Tifa says out of the blue. “Now it’s time, isn’t it?”
“Whom are you talking to?” Vincent asks glaring at the remains of a prototype pistol he was not too happy with.
“The Planet has decided. You all have to leave this place.” Tifa doubles in size.
“How are we gonna do that?” Cid says sarcastically. “Magic?”
“I’ll help.” She doubles to sixty-four feet.
“I’ll walk thank you!” Cid states.
“This place is going to come crashing down on your head pretty soon!” Tifa retorts grabbing the unconscious Cloud. “Hop on!” She doubles in height again.
“You don’ have to tell me twice!” Barret jumps on. The rest follow suit apart from Cid.
“I’m going to fill this place up in half a minute! You had better hurry!”
Cid looks around. The place is trembling and Tifa is taking up increasingly more space. “Alright…” He jumps into her palm.
“Lie flat and hold on!” Tifa commands clasping her hands together. “It’ll only take a minute.”
“@#$%! She knows I’m claustrophobic!” Cid thinks beginning to wheeze and cough in the enclosed darkness.
Yuffie shudders in terror. “Please don’t mash me, please don’t mash me!” She repeats over and over under her breath. She can hear Cid gasp for air. “She isn’t squeezing him is she?” Yuffie thinks panicking. “Can’t she tell she’s killing him? She wouldn’t-”
Suddenly light floods the area. Yuffie can see Cid coughing having been brought on by an asthma attack.
“ARE ALL OF YOU ALRIGHT?” Comes from above.
Everyone looks up. Tifa is gargantuan. There is so much room in her hand it could be a helipad. Everyone is having trouble comprehending her massive size.
“CLOUD? IS CLOUD AWAKE?”
In the dark under a red moon Cloud and Sephiroth stare each other down. Sephiroth with the Masamune while Cloud holds the Crystal Sword. They stand on nothing in the cosmos and wait at the ready.
“That sword is second to mine.” Sephiroth says. “As you are to me.”
“I am my own person.” Cloud replies. “There is no comparison.”
“You cannot defeat me.”
“I have not come this far to fail.”
They both rush forward simultaneously. Cloud tries for Climhazzard but taller swordmaster knocks it aside easily as a second moon gleams overhead. He launches a beautiful counterattack that forces Cloud to regroup.
“I’m going to have to try something new.” Cloud realizes.
Sephiroth laughs quietly so one can barely hear it. “It will all be over in a flash.” He whispers.
They lock eyes while the crimson satellites blaze overhead. Suddenly they’re flying at each other again.
“Last dance of sword!” Cloud yells sword raised.
“Blink moment.” Sephiroth says calmly.
“OMNISLASH!” Cloud roars striking.
“Shadow Counter.” Sephiroth whispers fading from sight.
All you can see are the blood colored spheres shining over where the battle occurs. You can hear the sounds of crystal and steel collide but you can’t see the combatants.
“It feels as though my life has been lived in anticipation of this instant.” Cloud reflects to himself leaping high. “I must win.” The auburn orbs gleam brighter and he can see the white-haired warrior. “There he is…” He makes his move.
Sephiroth raises his katana to deflect Cloud’s assault but it is too late. The Crystal Sword comes down upon him with lethal force. He staggers back injured badly, his mouth an O of surprise. He falls to his knees transfixed at the sight of blood on his hands. Amazed because it is his own. The legendary steel falls from his hands and he follows.
Cloud looks up at the moons. “Thank you.”
The moons flicker and blink becoming a familiar face. The surroundings fade and he can hear someone calling his name.
He wakes up. Tifa’s face fills his line of sight. The celestial twins that are her eyes are focused on him. He stands and signals her.
“GOOD. CALL THE HIGHWIND AND HAVE THEM COME GET YOU.” Tifa doubles in size becoming one thousand feet tall. “SIGNAL ME WITH A FLARE ONCE YOU’RE ALL ABOARD.”
The Highwind arrives pretty quickly. Everyone gets on, Cloud last and the flare is fired. As they fly above Tifa’s head he jumps off landing in her hair.
“What the @#^&!” Cid screams. “He crazy?”
“Sure looks like it.” Barret agrees.
“There is no saving him now.” Red states.
“Why’d he do that?” Cait Sith wonders.
“He’s as good as done down there!” Yuffie affirms.
“My guess is he didn’t want her to face this alone.” Vincent says wistfully. “Even at the price of his own life.”
In the Northern Cave Tifa waits for Meteor to hit at one thousand feet tall.
“I have all the energy the Planet can spare.” Tifa thinks. “This is it. I have to stop Meteor by myself.” She tries to concentrate. “All right this is for everyone!” Meteor contacts her hands. It’s hot and pushing down hard. “Got to hold on!” She thinks biting her lip.
Abruptly she feels more power flowing into her. She glances around and can see the Lifestream rising from the ground. She can feel herself doubling in size again and again.
“I can do this!” Tifa believes at eight thousand feet tall. She pushes Meteor back and can’t move it any further. “I have to!”
On the Highwind everyone watches the epic struggle at the top of the world.
“Doesn’t look like she can do it…” Cid says sadly.
“She’s givin’ it one hell of a good go.” Cait Sith decides.
“There’s gotta be sumthin’ we can do to help!” Barret exclaims.
“No, there is nothing.” Red XIII shakes his head.
“All we can do is wait.” Vincent affirms. “It’s in her hands now.”
“Literally.” Yuffie sighs. They continue to watch the event unfold.
From his position in Tifa’s hair he watches as Meteor is at a dead halt.
“You can’t move it any more?” Cloud says aloud. “I know you can do it. We’re in this together!” He begins to ponder. “There has to be something…you just need a little more…” He comes up with an idea. Cloud begins to pray.
Below him Tifa is having a really hard time.
“I can’t quit now! I’m the Planet’s last hope!” She feels her feet slipping tearing trenches in the landscape. “I’ve got to whoa!” She feels a rush of power unlike before. “What is this?” Tifa wonders doubling in height three times more. Now at better than twelve miles tall she looms out of North Cave and casts her shadow over the world. “Wow…” She crushes Meteor in her hands and empties the dust into the crater. “I really did it. I can’t believe it…”
On the Highwind everyone else is having trouble believing it too.
“Did you see that?” Barret gasps. “She smashed the big rock jus’ like that!”
“I saw, I just don’t believe it!” Cid replies.
“I don’t think you are the only one having trouble with that.” Cait Sith says.
“Tifa succeeded. It is astounding everything turned out so well.” Red XIII states.
“Yippee, no more Meteor!” Yuffie rejoices. “Yay!”
“Now the world is as it was.” Vincent concludes.
They look at Tifa who can be seen from everywhere on the Planet. Indeed all citizens of the world cast their eyes to their savior. She gazes over the world like a benign goddess and smiles. Cheers go up from everywhere as they realize the crisis is averted. Those aboard the Highwind cheer too, happy that it is all over.
Tifa is in the field of flowers again. Though she looks she can’t see Aeris anywhere.
“Down here!” Aeris calls up.
Tifa sits down. “Aeris, I want to know… how?” She picks the Ancient up.
“Easy!” Aeris replies. “With their help!” The meadow fills with people.
“Yes. It was their energy you borrowed to become large enough to stop Meteor.” “The Lifestream…”
“Yes, that’s it. Even those who perished in Sector 6 gave what they could. They forgive you.”
Tifa looks around. She can see many familiar faces. “But how did I get that last bit of energy that sent me over the top? I don’t think the Lifestream was enough.”
Aeris shakes her head. “You’re right. This is why I had to try and guide you. I didn’t want you to make the same mistake I would’ve made.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Of going on alone. I refused the power because the Planet showed me a vision of myself as an evil monster. I would not allow myself to become that so it chose you instead. You were going to make the same error if not for Cloud.”
“Cloud?” Tifa is perplexed.
“You cared for him more than anything. He would let nothing stand between you and him. That devotion to one another held you both together. You might have given in if not for him.”
“I would’ve.” Tifa admits, remembering how close Costa del Sol came to destruction.
“Energy given freely is more powerful than that which is taken.” Aeris explains. “That is why the Lifestream made you so big. We saw your plight and wanted to help.”
“That still doesn’t explain where that last surge came from.”
“It does. You were not alone when you faced Meteor.”
“I was. I put everyone in the airship and confronted it by myself.”
“Untrue. One person was with you the whole time. He refused to leave no matter what the cost.”
“What are you talking about? No one would be foolish enough to stand in the path of- oh.”
“Hi.” Cloud says stepping out of the crowd. Tifa picks him up and places him next to Aeris.
“You stayed behind? But you knew-”
“That you were going to face the hardest trial any human has ever had to deal with?” Cloud interrupts. “You expected me to leave you behind to do it alone?”
“He was with you the entire time.” Aeris continues. “He saw your dilemma and prayed to the Planet to give you strength.”
“That much more? It was an incredible burst of energy all from him?” Tifa is incredulous.
“That was the power of his love for you. The very essence of his existence. There was no way he would let you fail.”
“How was he able to give me this boost? I thought…”
“The Planet took the spark of life from him while he was still living. He offered himself and…” Aeris doesn’t finish.
“Now I’m here.” Cloud takes a deep breath. “To say my final farewell.”
“So you…died to help me?” Tifa shakes her head. “No, this isn’t right.”
“I did what I had to. You were in so much pain I couldn’t bear it. I did what I could to shoulder the load.”
“Your soul was ripped from your body while you were still alive. Did you think I wanted you to go through that for me? I can’t imagine how that felt.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Cloud says easily. “It was worth it. I would do it again.”
“Don’t say that!” Tifa bursts out. “No, that isn’t what I want! What about me?”
“You’re safe. That is all that matters. Didn’t you know?”
“What about us? Without you there is no us!”
“I had no choice. If it comes down to you or me I pick you no question.”
“Wahhh!” Tifa begins to cry.
“Please don’t cry. It really tears me up when you cry.”
“Then I have no choice.” Tifa says between sniffs. “I’m taking you back with me.”
“He sacrificed himself willingly.” Aeris says. “He paid full well knowing what would happen.”
“Yeah, well I’m sure you understand.” Tifa replies. “I’m not having this. It is as simple as that. I didn’t come this far and do all that I have done to lose in the victory lap!”
“I know.” Aeris smiles. “You deserve it anyway.”
“I can’t go Tifa.” Cloud objects. “I have to return to the Planet you have to understand.”
“Understand what? I own you don’t I?”
“I distinctly remember you saying ‘my life belongs to you. You can take it whenever you want.’ Well I’m taking it now!”
“But-” Mako blue eyes meet with magma red ones and he stops short.
“What else could you possibly have to say? You’re mine. I’m not letting anyone or anything take you away from me.” Tifa looks around. “You hear that Planet? He’s mine and you can’t have him!” She switches Cloud to her other hand and wraps her fingers around him tight. This fist she holds over her heart.
“Well I guess this is goodbye.” Aeris says.
“Yeah, I have one more question though. What did you say last time? When faced with the most difficult choice follow…?”
“Your heart.” Aeris finishes. “But I don’t need to tell you that.” She laughs. “Great job saving the Planet! See you!”
Tifa nods and the scene fades away. She wakes up with Cloud lying nearby.
“Tifa I have to-” Cloud is cut off by a kiss. “Hey…”
Tifa just stares at him, almost angrily. “I have to do everything.” She invades his personal space again. “Save the Planet and take the initiative. Lazy little bum!” She kisses him again.
“Whoa!” Barret calls. “We interruptin’ sumthin’?” Tifa pays no mind as she continues to tax Cloud’s air supply.
“Guess not.” Cid says. “Couldn’t pry them apart with a crowbar.”
“Would you want to?” Vincent asks. “That does not seem safe.”
“Not to even think about.” Cait Sith agrees.
“They deserve a break.” Red XIII states. “Leave them alone.”
“Leave them alone? Let’s leave them here!” Yuffie whines. “I want to go home! They’ll be here when you get back!” Everyone laughs.
* * *
In Costa del Sol Cloud and his wife are just waking up.
“Good morning Cloud.”
“It had better be a good morning.” Cloud replies crankily. “Waking up in this place keeps reminding me of how much it cost.”
“It didn’t cost that much.” Tifa chides.
“Let’s see you go buy a villa! Just pull a few hundred thousand gil out of your butt and buy a cottage in a resort town!”
“It’s right next to the beach, isn’t that convenient?” Tifa gets up.
“Everywhere is next to the beach!” Cloud retorts. “It’s a resort town!”
“Well I’m going to the beach. You want to come?” Tifa says changing into a swimsuit.
“Yeah, hold on.” Cloud fetches some specially tailored swimming trunks. “I’m coming.” They walk down to the beach.
At the shoreline Tifa sets up the umbrella and a towel for herself. Cloud lies on the sand checking out the scene.
“Ahh.” Cloud looks around. A favorite pastime of his was to try and find a girl with something skimpier on than Tifa. He had only found on once before and she had to find her top. He knew it wouldn’t happen. After all who buy a swimsuit two sizes too small? He supposed it was just as well. It drew attention from himself and his size. Just about all of it in fact.
“You shouldn’t gripe so much.” Tifa says interrupting his search. “You saved a ton on the rings.”
“The wedding and engagement rings…” Cloud says derisively. “As if they would’ve run a quarter million!”
“You put materia in as the insets! Cheapskate!” She lies down on the towel.
“Just because I didn’t buy the materia doesn’t make it cheap. I put the pieces you wanted as the stones!”
“You could’ve bought new pieces!”
“They don’t sell mastered materia! Just admit for how much I paid for our beach house I should own the beach that comes with it!”
“Whatever.” Tifa stops paying attention.
“Hey cool rings.” Remarks a girl walking by. “What are they?”
“The blue one is an MP Turbo, the green is a Transform.” Tifa replies.
“Cool.” The girl walks off.
“What are you doing?” Tifa asks.
“Laying out my towel.” Cloud replies.
“Not right there. You’ll ruin my tan.”
“You’re under an umbrella in case you haven’t noticed.” Cloud reminds her. “Those can really ruin a tan.”
“You don’t need a towel.”
“It’s the principle. Lie around on the beach on a towel.” Cloud explains unrolling his towel.
“People are starting to stare.”
“Do I care? They should get off my beach! Tourists!” Tifa laughs at that. “Besides they’re probably just jealous. I got the best seat in the house after all.” She laughs again.