[Shattered] Dreams 24

Chapter Twenty-Four: Temptation at Every Turn

Reno sighed as he kicked at a piece of debris. It connected with his foot and shot against the far wall, clattering as it did so. It came as no surprise when he found that still didn’t satisfy him. He was both annoyed and angry.

There was nothing there; it had all been cleared out. No dark-haired bitch and no brainless henchmen. Tifa and her goons must have disappeared elsewhere once he escaped. He regretted not doing something to detain them at the time but knew that saving Wutai had taken precedence. Some things were just more important.

After the battle against Daunte and the hordes of monsters, which he only drove away and did not kill, Reno had been celebrated as a hero by the surviving population. Godo made him an ‘honorary taijo’, whatever the hell that was. Reno was just glad that he had survived. The Wutaiians seemed to share the same feeling.

After a meal and some much needed sleep, not to mention several futile attempts to make a phone call, Reno decided to return to the underground building where he had been held. As expected, it had been abandoned. It looked like the red-haired Turk would have to find them again for his revenge. They hadn’t even left any clues behind as to where they had gone either, making things even more difficult than before.

The small contingent of Wutaiian soldiers that had been made to accompany him poked around restlessly obviously bored. There were only about seven or eight of them, most looking as if they were newly recruited. Some had already started to talk in low voices, undoubtedly spreading more rumors as those in groups tended to do. The newest topics seemed to be the attack, himself, and even a few rumors about one Miss Yuffie Kisaragi.

Reno agreed wholeheartedly that it was boring and was about to call for everyone to return to Wutai when he heard his name being screeched along the walls of the abandoned base. The words bounced along the hall, gaining in volume as they reached his ears and rattled within his ear drums. He recognized the tone almost immediately and unconsciously gulped.

The Turk winced and sighed, momentarily wishing there was a rock for him to crawl under or that the ground would just widen and swallow him whole. Anything was better than having to deal with what was coming around the bend. He felt his aggravation level spike up another notch, but alas, there was not another rock in sight to kick. Along with fame and high regard, the Turk had also received an unwanted bonus… if that was what it could be called.

“Reno-sempai! Reno-sempai! News from Wutai!”

The ranks easily parted for the young woman as she rushed to where he stood. Iliana was his biggest fan and followed him around starry-eyed; she had yet to take any hints. She was beautiful with her long, dark Wutaiian hair and big, brown eyes, but his heart belonged to Reeve – no matter how tempted he was. Not to mention, Iliana was best friends with Yuffie. If anything that was a definite turn off. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the little ninja, she was actually quite a spunky female, but she did have the tendency to be quite annoying.

He waited patiently until the younger woman ran to his side, looking as if she had sprinted all the way from Wutai to him. He wouldn’t put it past her. In her hand, she clutched a communications sheet from the old radio tower that was receiving some sort of signal. It had been restricted to business communication, however, and not even Reno could get in to use it, no matter how sweetly he spoke or flirted. He couldn’t help but be worried for Reeve, knowing in truth that the attacks had not been limited to Wutai because otherwise his attempts at communication would have been more fruitful.

“Lord Godo gasp message gasp for you,” Iliana managed to get out before collapsing on her ass to the floor, panting heavily and handing him the sheet of paper. Her face was flushed although her brown eyes sparkled happily. She was ecstatic to get to be around her ‘sempai’ once more. Reno had to fight down a sigh.

He flashed her one of his charming smiles because she had worked so diligently to bring him the message. “Thank you,” he said simply before taking the missive from her hands. She beamed up at him, still somewhat panting. He hoped that he hadn’t inadvertently encouraged her.

Aquamarine eyes scanned quickly over the short yet effective words. His heart couldn’t help but pick up a beat from what he read. He had been extremely concerned when communications were down. The Turk worried that other places had been attacked as well. He knew Reeve could take care of himself but knowing how things were when he left…

Reno feared that they wouldn’t be able to see each other again, that the final words they had shouted would be the last they ever shared. He wasn’t normally that cynical, but something about the events brought out the negative in him. Yet, reading the missive, he found he could breathe a sigh of relief.

Reeve was coming to Wutai.

The executive was actually coming after him. The message was simple and obviously addressed to Godo and not himself. Perhaps Reeve wanted to surprise him? Then again, his helicopter had crashed, and he was held for ransom in some random underground base. Hell, he would have been worried, too. So was the amber-eyed man only coming because he was concerned… or because he truly understood why the Turk had left in the first place?

Sighing, Reno shook his head to clear his thoughts, looking up to see everyone in the base looking up at him expectantly, waiting for further orders. He folded up the paper slowly and shoved it into his back pocket before shooting them all one of his famous Reno smiles.

“Let’s get the hell out of here, yo,” he calmly ordered as he moved past most of them, heading towards the ladder that was the exit. “This place is boring as fuck.”

There was a general murmur of agreement as they began to follow him out. Pattering footsteps, the feeling of a presence, and Reno knew that Iliana now walked at his side, beaming up at him like some kind of stalker. He wondered how he could make her leave him alone without being rude or hurting her feelings. She was a sweet girl and really he was flattered by all the attention, but damn, she needed to move on and do something else.

There was a childish giggle in the back of his mind. (Hee! Kitty’s coming to Wutai. I told you he would.)

Reno gave the equivalent of a mental headshake at his anima. ‘Even you call him Kitty? Reeve’s going to be pissed.’

Asclepius laughed. (No, he won’t. He secretly finds the nickname cute.)

‘And you would know that how? He got all pissy when I teasingly called him it,’ Reno countered easily, resisting the urge to cross his arms and frown physically. If he did the Wutaiian soldiers and Iliana might think him mad. They were already awed by his control of his “summon” and didn’t know of the true connection the two shared.

The Turk secretly feared that if he were to reveal Asclepius in his true form, someone somewhere would get word and drag him off to be poked, prodded and tested on.

Hell no.

Reno had had enough of that when he had been ordered to help that damn scientist Hojo. Why ShinRa allowed him to stick whoever the hell he wanted with needles was beyond the Turk’s comprehension. The man was seriously sick and needed a good ass-kicking, which he eventually had received. Heh, good going Cid. The pilot deserved a pat on the back for that one.

(Seiryu told me,) explained the demi-god, as if that explained everything completely. (What are you going to do, yo?) The little summon snickered.

Reno frowned. ‘Do?’

Asclepius giggled again, the sound much like that of many wind chimes on a lazy summer day. Yeah, the Turk was somewhat of a poet at times. Even he had his days.

(You know what I mean… don’t act stupid.)

He was about to speak when another voice pulled him from his internal argument with his anima. He blinked and tried to focus on the sound.

“Huh?” he questioned, sounding very brilliant indeed.

“Was the message important, sempai?” Iliana questioned again, having no problems with have to repeat herself. “I didn’t read it. I thought it personal; was it about the battle?”

The scarlet-haired Turk turned his attention down towards the brown-eyed girl. She was looking up at him expectantly, an interested look to her face as she idly twirled a small dagger on her finger. She was quite adept with her hands, and Reno made a mental note to watch his materia around her. Iliana was friends with Yuffie after all.

“It was important,” he conceded and answered vaguely as he looked around. They had come out of the base and were slowly making their way back towards Wutai. A few of the soldiers were on alert, but most were calmly joking between themselves, already speaking of the food and drink that was hopefully waiting for them. Although most of the Turtle’s Paradise had been destroyed in the blaze, as well as many of the restaurants, a few had remained standing and were currently to full capacity trying to feed everyone.

“Oh,” the girl responded. “Then it was private?”

The Turk nodded in answer and turned away from her. She was a beautiful girl, yet to be unwed, and it was approaching that time for her in her life. Perhaps that was why she had attached herself to him? If he hadn’t already belonged to someone else… he might have been severely tempted. The old Reno wouldn’t have even waited – the Reno he was before he met Reeve wouldn’t have thought twice before giving her a try, but that was behind him now.

So what was he going to do? Wait patiently for the executive to show up? Would he demand an apology or just grab him and never let go? What if Reeve still didn’t understand? Those questions and more began to float in his mind; he found a small frown making its way to his face.

Asclepius shifted restlessly in his mind and made little coughing sounds, as if trying to get back his attention.

‘What?’ he questioned internally.

The demi-god sighed. (I know it seems that there is peace right now but don’t get too relaxed.)

Reno snorted within his mind. ‘Like I could right now. I’m so on edge, I’m probably gonna snap.’ It wasn’t a lie either. He was completely worried about Reeve, concerned as to why Wutai had been attacked, and Tifa was still missing, undoubtedly off planning some other dastardly deed.

The red-haired Turk sighed softly and turned his attentions back to where he was walking, not wanting to trip on a random rock or something and make a complete fool out of himself. Wutai was just over the next rise. Most of the soldiers had gone on ahead, leaving Iliana and him behind. Hmph. No surprise there; it had been exceedingly boring searching that base. Reno even considered joining them at the bar. He could really use a shot of vodka.

“Is something the matter, Reno-sempai?” Iliana queried, placing a hand on his arm and pulling him out of his thoughts.

He shook his head negatively and slowly extricated himself from her grasp. “Shouldn’t you be going home? I mean, I’m sure your father is worried about you or something, yo…” The red head trailed off, trying to get her to leave him alone with hurting her feelings.

Her happy face fell for just a moment, and he swore he saw her eyes tearing up just a little. Reno sighed. ‘Ah, hell, I think I made her cry,’ he thought, somewhat annoyed.

“You don’t want me hanging around you anymore?” she questioned in a voice that was as pitiful as the look on her face, slowly twisting her hands together worriedly.

“Look,” began Reno patiently. “It’s not that, really. I just think your father might be worried, that’s all.”

(Lies, lies, oh the webs we weave.) Asclepius giggled. (She’s playing you like an instrument.)

‘Shut up,’ retorted the Turk internally as he returned his attentions to Iliana, surprised to find that her expression had changed once more from sadness to utter delight.

“I’m glad, because I really admire you,” she said, an honest look in her eyes. “I mean, you took on all those monsters all by yourself. I’ve never seen anyone braver in my entire life, except perhaps Miss Yuffie, but you know…” she trailed off, leaving the rest open to interpretation.

Reno flushed under the attention, which was uncommon for him. For a single moment, he let his guard down. “I appreciate the attention, Iliana, but… mmph!” His words were cut off when the young Wutaiian girl suddenly threw herself at him and into his arms, overtaking his mouth with her own and aggressively kissing him.

He was too shocked to do more than accept it for the brief moment that it occurred. She was soft against him, all curves as a woman should be and smelling faintly of gardenias… don’t ask him how he knew of flowers.

It was different kissing her than kissing Reeve. She was quite unskilled, almost as if she had never pressed lips with anyone before, and she kept biting on his lower lips.

Finally, she pulled back after what could have only been a second and looked into his eyes, a slight blush staining her cheeks. “I’ve been wanting to do that…” she breathed softly.

His senses struck him then, with all the force of a bullet and he quickly but gently extricated himself from her grasp and put a few feet of distance between them. She gave him a confused look with a bit of hurt mixed in.

Reno put his hand to his forehead, feeling a headache come on as he sighed. “You are a nice girl, Iliana, and I am flattered by your attentions, but I am engaged,” he said quickly, wanting to get it all out and explained before she had a chance to protest him. “I am in love with someone else.”

“But she can’t possibly be treating you right,” the girl argued. “After all, you are here alone, and you look sad all the time…” she trailed off. “You would make a great addition to my family, and we would celebrate you as a hero, and father says that it’s my duty to marry someone of great worth…”

The Turk rubbed his forehead with his fingers seeming very much like Tseng in that moment and exhaled slowly. “He… Iliana, he! I have been with Reeve for years, and I love him. Yes, I’m mad at him, but I’m not about to leave him.”

“Him?” questioned Iliana, eyes widening in surprise. “Yo… you’re gay? But you seemed so… straight?”

(I can’t believe she couldn’t take the hint before, yo.) Asclepius snickered laughing internally. The Turk attempted to ignore his anima, hissing internally at him to be quiet while he solved this mess.

Reno opened his mouth to reply when the angry roar of a monster interrupted. Immediately, his eyes turned towards the sky, and his face blanched. Five flying monsters were circling the town of Wutai as if deciding the best place to land. They were of a type he didn’t recognize though the very sight of them chilled him to the bone.

These creatures were much larger the dragons in the Northern Crater and he could make out claws and spikes that were definitely painful looking. And there was none to defend Wutai, but Asclepius and he.

“Wha… what are they?” stuttered Iliana, fear evident in her voice.

Reno shook his head. “I don’t know…” he trailed off, unable to think of anything else of worth to add.

The creatures continued to circle, occasionally taking nips at each other. He couldn’t help but wonder what they had planned and if they were going to attack. Either way, the Turk knew he had to act fast.

“Iliana, go home!” he ordered quickly before taking off at a dead run towards Wutai, automatically calling for Asclepius as he did so. The air shimmered beside him as the human form of the demi-god began to take shape.

Behind him, the young Wutaiian was nodding numbly as she darted towards her home; all thoughts of ravishing Reno were gone from her mind in the wake of her fear.

“They are the Bandragores,” intoned Asclepius as his form finally became fully shape beside his animus. The green-haired teenager was easily keeping up with the red-haired Turk. “The guardians of the gate… I don’t know how they came to be on this plane. They shouldn’t even be allowed to materialize in this sphere.”

Reno just looked at him blankly, uncomprehending his words, as if they had been spoken in another language. He had never heard of the Bandragores. And gate? What kind of fucking gate was the demi-god talking about?

The Turk looked once more to the sky, eyes locked on the five circling creatures. They looked like a cross between a Dragon Zombie and Cerberus with two heads, a skeletal body, and covered in a slimy looking hide that was black and mottled with spines, which seemed to glisten with poison. He couldn’t help the shiver of mild apprehension and fear that traced down his back.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked to the west, his eyes widening in surprise as he paled even further. He stumbled in his step as his heart began to beat faster with fear.

It was the Highwind… heading straight for Wutai and the circling beasts above.

The building carried the heavy smells of antiseptic and sickness, underlain with the bitter, coppery scent of blood. Coughing and slight moans of pain filled the air. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging place, this abandoned building that had been hurriedly cleaned and turned into a makeshift healing center.

After the attack of the monsters on Midgar, many wounded were left behind. Reeve had roused what few soldiers ShinRa had left, as well as the Turks and gave them many tasks, including getting the injured some aid. However, that was over a day earlier and most had been treated or seen by a doctor. Most injuries ranged from the worst to simple cuts and bruises.

Throughout the pain and agony, a calming presence moved with soothing hands and a gentle spirit. She had a kind voice and words of encouragement. Her presence often brought a healing wave to those who received her care.

“Even though I can’t fight, I can be helpful in this much at least,” murmured Aeris as she gently retied a bandage around the leg of a child, who couldn’t have been more than eight. He whimpered in his sleep, nightmares most likely, and she pressed a calming palm to his forehead.

Although her flower shop had emerged from the battle unscathed, she had felt she could be more useful helping the wounded. She left it in the care of her employees, trusting them enough to be able to handle it. It’s not as if they really needed the money anyways, it was more of a spirit-lifter than anything else.

Cloud sighed from where he was standing behind her. “Is it such a terrible thing? To not have to fight?”

“It’s not that I want to,” retorted Aeris as she moved on to the next patient, an older woman with broken ribs. “I just don’t want to stand idly by. Have you spoken to Barret?”

The blond-haired man blinked for a moment at his wife’s sudden change of topic. “Eh… a few hours ago, but North Corel’s been left pretty much alone. If I can, I want it to remain that way.”

Aeris turned and eyed her husband, eye twinkling. “You want to fight, don’t you?”

He frowned slightly and shook his head. “What does that have to do with anything? You know I’m going to stay here with you.”

The auburn-haired woman sighed as she turned her attentions to the patient. “How are you feeling today, Mrs. Adams? Are your ribs still giving you pain?” Her cool and gentle fingers carefully pressed around the bandaging, checking to make sure that everything was still in place before she attempted a healing spell.

As the elderly woman spoke, Aeris allowed her mind to wander. Yesterday evening she had cast so many Cures and handed out so many potions that she had nearly passed out from exhaustion and magic depletion. Cloud had been forced to physically remove her from the hospital. She had wanted to stay and help them. There weren’t enough healers to go around, and so many people were still in pain. She couldn’t fight, not at six months pregnant and still going, but she was still a healer.

(I do not understand my animus. Why your heart is filled with sorrow?) came the soft voice of Hephaestion. He was one of the many constants in her life. She had always been able to hear her anima, even through the voices of the Ancients and the Planet. He was her first true friend.

‘He thinks I do not know how much he misses being a soldier. After all, it was all he dreamed of as a boy and all he knew after joining ShinRa. As if a life of peace would truly be what he wanted. He wants to fight.’

(He is also ignoring Iblion. We don’t have that much time. We cannot afford for any of the twelve to be unconnected.) Aeris conceded an agreement with her anima and sighed internally.

It was then that she heard Cloud shift behind her and come up to her side, his presence easily distinguishable from others behind her. She tucked the last bit of bandages around Mrs. Adams and carefully poured into her body a simple Cure before turning to address her husband.

“Why are you still ignoring his voice?” she questioned, locking gazes with her somewhat taller husband. His own eyes widened in momentary surprise before it seemed he shut down inside, and his gaze shifted away from her probing look.

“Ignoring who?” he mumbled, gathering up their supplies and preparing to move to the next patient as Mrs. Adams smiled up at them, already falling into a comforting healing sleep brought about by the calming effect of the Cure that Aeris had input into the magic.

The flower-girl sighed and absentmindedly rubbed her belly. “Hephaestion tells me your anima has been trying to speak to you ever since the crater… why haven’t you told me?”

Cloud shrugged off-handedly. “You should be able to guess. Voices in my head don’t exactly make me feel as if I’ve gotten rid of her.”

There was no need to say aloud who the blond meant when he said “her.” The name Jenova was like a curse on the lips of those who had fought against Sephiroth. That foul alien from the stars was behind all of their suffering, Hojo and her both. From the burning of Nibelheim to the battle to stop Meteor, all could be traced back to Jenova.

He sighed before she could respond and spoke again. “Besides… it’s all jumbled, and sometimes I would swear there was more than one voice…” His eyes looked somewhat haunted as he appeared to relieve the words that fluttered through his mind and heart.

The slight look of perturbation on Aeris’ face softened, and she grabbed her husband by the arm, quickly dragging him into one of the shadowed alcoves of the makeshift hospital so that they could speak away from the prying eyes of those patients that were actually awake. It was darkened there, only a bit of light shining in from a dirty, cracked window and partially hidden by a stone column that was once decorated but now a forgotten remnant of whatever the building had once been before Meteor.

Once hidden by the shadows and the column, the ex-SOLDIER drew his wife into his arms and held her close. She melted into his touch, his arms around her as comforting as they always were, and for an instant, she was reminded of that moment right before they left to defeat Sephiroth, lying on his bed in the Highwind when he gave her the promise ring.

“How do I know I can trust… it?” Cloud questioned softly, idly stroking her hair as he did so.

She heard the rumble of his voice and felt it in his chest as her cheek rested on his shoulder. “Instead of pushing the words away, listen to what they are saying. You might find you may have already known.” Her words were somewhat enigmatic, but that was the best way she could describe the feeling of learning to understand the anima. It was like that for her with Hephaestion when he first spoke. It was like coming home or meeting a friend she hadn’t seen in a long while.

“… I will try then,” he conceded, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head.

“I know you want to fight,” Aeris responded softly, bringing back the conversation to where it had been minutes earlier. “And I understand your reasons.”

He sighed. “I just want to protect you.” One of his hands moved to her belly, lying gently on the small mound. “And our future as well.”

“Things aren’t going to be simple anymore,” intoned the flower-girl. “The enemy must find it amusing to give us those six months of semi-peace before snatching it out from under us by complete surprise.”

The blond didn’t reply, having nothing to say in response. Instead, he chose to hold her closer and stared unseeing out the dingy and broken window, barely catching a hint of the sky above.

He had felt it, too, not long before the first attack. The restless shifting of the air in the world, as if something even more worrisome and terrifying than Sephiroth was about to occur. He had hoped for quiet after saving the world. He had wanted to see everyone he knew happy now that the threat of the former General was gone and done with. However, it seemed that dream wasn’t meant to come true.

“Oh!” exclaimed Cloud suddenly, a bright smile breaking out on his face. “She kicked me!”

Aeris laughed. “I think she’s trying to say that she agrees with you. Have you any ideas for a name yet?”

The blond nodded. “I was thinking Midori…”

“Anything special about that name in particular?”

He smiled faintly as he stroked his wife’s belly and shared a kiss with her. “It was my mother’s name.”

Jade eyes shone happily. “Then it’s perfect. Now how about we go back and help the rest of these patients before we stop by the orphanage?”

Cloud sighed exaggeratedly and acted the part of a weary slave. “I shall never rest. Always work, work, work… oh, my aching feet.”

Aeris laughed and shook her head. “And here I thought Yuffie was the dramatic one. Come on then, slave, there’s work to be done.” She took his hand and started pulling him back towards the lines of cots in the makeshift hospital. He went along without another fuss, content to just be in her company, no matter what it was they were doing.

[Shattered] Dreams 23

Chapter Twenty-Three: On Both Sides

Archer sat back in his chair in the common room and took another sip of his Café Mocha as he placidly watched his best friend pace back and forth across the floor. They had been traveling for awhile now and probably had at least thirty minutes before they would get to Wutai, but that didn’t stop Reeve from continuously worrying and fretting.

With communications towers destroyed around the world, the executive’s phone was useless in his hands, and there was nothing he could do to reach Reno more than he was already doing. He hoped and prayed that the red-haired Turk would still be there when they arrived. Reeve wasn’t sure what he would say or what he would do… didn’t have time to ponder that. All he knew positively was that he loved Reno, and there was no way he was going to allow him to run away again.

“Cid will be seriously pissed if you wear a hole through his floor,” Archer commented calmly as his hand twitched on the table. He suddenly wished desperately for a cigarette, even though he had given up the habit a year or so before. Now would have been a good time to revive dying habits after all.

Reeve’s head shot up and he glared heatedly at the amethyst-eyed man, though he didn’t stop in his pacing, worry lines etched into his forehead. He had already taken off his jacket, having slung it across the back of one of the chairs, and had even rolled up his sleeves on his arms and loosened his tie. The executive managed to look younger having shed most of the confining garments. His coffee, so graciously bought by Kyle, lay untouched and steaming on the table. Probably a good thing… it didn’t seem as if Reeve needed any more caffeine.

“I believe Cid would understand given the situation,” responded the amber-eyed man flatly.

Archer sighed heavily and looked at the executive. They had been friends for a long time… nearly five years. Almost as long as Cid and he had been apart. Kyle had been a brilliant designer in his own right, and ShinRa always knew when to recognize potential. They snapped him up right out of school and set him to work under Reeve in Urban Planning. Together, the two of them had designed many worthy projects, including one that was now forgotten in some archive for a city that would have been even better than Midgar had ever been.

Still, after all those years, Archer sometimes found that Reeve’s eccentricities were a bit annoying. The executive tended to take all blame and responsibility upon himself, even when it wasn’t necessary, and he was blind at times to anything that wasn’t right in front of his eyes. Thus, the cause of the reason they were now flying halfway across the world a day after all the major cities on Gaia had been attacked.

“Well you are certainly not doing yourself any good pacing like that,” Archer responded evenly. “He’ll be there.”

(Seiryu’s other is a bit high strung,) commented a familiar voice within the engineer’s head.

He nodded idly in response. “Aye, that he is.”

Reeve stopped his rapid pacing abruptly and stood staring, his head cocked to the side. He often did that when talking to Seiryu, as if the motion of his head really affected the telepathic conversation.

(Would it interest you to know he is safe and alive in Wutai?) the silver dragon questioned within the executive’s mind.

Amber eyes widened. “You know this? How?”

Seiryu chuckled, still managing to lisp somewhat as he had when he manifested in physical form. (Where do you think I exist, my animus? On Gaia? Somewhere secreted away, perhaps?)

Reeve had to fight down the flush of embarrassment. “I never thought about it…”

(The red-head has an anima. We have spoken. He is concerned for your safety and does not yet know that you are coming to Wutai. I told Asclepius to make him remain but not explain why.)

The executive made his way to his chair and sat, wrapping a hand around his cooling coffee and ignoring the bemused looks Archer kept sending his direction. Reeve pursed his lips as he continued his conversation with Seiryu.

“Where do you exist then?” questioned the executive.

The silver dragon chuckled. (All will be revealed soon, my animus.)

“Figures,” Reeve muttered. “No one wants to answer my questions.”

Archer cocked an eyebrow at his friend. “Problems?”

The executive shrugged. “You know how immortal beings are… They must speak in riddles that make absolutely no sense until /after/ everything happens.” He peered into his coffee cup skeptically before taking a hesitant drink, for the moment satisfied with what Archer had chosen for him. “Do you think I did the right thing?”

“What do you mean?” Kyle asked as he stretched and yawned, feeling generally tired. The past few days had been anything but relaxing, and the engineer was beginning to feel as if he had been wound too tight or stretched to thin. He could only be so laidback, and it seemed as if that aspect of his personality was going to rebel. And Reeve, though he was his best friend, was seriously starting to raise his stress level.

The executive ran a hand through his hair distractedly. “Left Midgar… I mean with everything in the state in it’s in… was it wrong for me to leave for personal reasons?”

Archer sighed. Leave it to Reeve to worry about something like that. He spent far much time worry about others and none about himself… or the ones he really cared about.

“I think Jennifer, Tseng, and Elena can handle it. Tseng’s been with ShinRa a long time, and Jennifer’s been your secretary for the past six months. Besides, Reno deserves this… if you haven’t noticed; things haven’t been well between you two.”

“Which is why he left in the first place,” muttered Reeve exhaling softly. He shook his head, berating himself internally as he laid his head down on the table.

Suddenly, Archer grinned. “Speaking of which… is Jennifer single?”

Reeve looked up, surprise registered on his face as he furrowed his brow in confusion. “What?”

“Jennifer… does she have a significant other?” the amethyst-eyed man queried. He idly tapped his coffee cup on the table as he grinned and settled back comfortably in his chair. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a date…”

The executive gaped at his friend. “But… what?”

Archer shook his head. “You thought I was going to make a play for Cid, didn’t you?”

Reeve raised a brow as he sipped on his coffee again, for the moment, all thoughts of his inefficiencies forgotten. “The thought had crossed my mind… as I’m sure it has for many of the others.”

Kyle sighed as he ran an irritated hand through his hair, fingers nearly tangling in the tie for his small ponytail. “Geez Reeve, I thought you of all people would know me better.”

Reeve could only shake his head and laugh quietly into his cup. He mused for a moment before he spoke again. “So… you gonna give women a try again, then?”

“You already knew I played for both teams, Reeve, don’t go pretending it’s new news,” responded Archer dryly.

The executive laughed quietly and tapped his fingers against the table as he contemplated his friend’s earlier question. “I don’t really know anything about my secretary to be honest, but if her flaunting is any indication, I’d say she was single.”

Archer grinned. “Good. Seems everybody around me is all paired up; I think it’s my turn now.” His mind instantly filled with many possibilities. Not that he wasn’t still somewhat in love with Cid Highwind, but he had learned six months prior that nothing was going to drag the pilot from his love of Vincent. The two were made for each other, and Kyle knew it. He had lost his chance long ago when jealousy and pride helped him make the wrong decision.

For a moment, the two men fell silent lost in their own thoughts as they calmly finished off the now cold coffee’s they had started long before.

Suddenly, before either could react, the air inside the common room shimmered, and two forms suddenly appeared. Reeve and Archer gaped in surprise as two bodies began to take form directly in front of them.

On the left was a young pale man with long metallic silver hair and pointed ears much like the elves in a child’s fairy tale. He wore a long robe in varying shades of green and grey, while his brilliant emerald green eyes observed everything placidly. In one hand, he held a short platinum staff adorned with a simple jade sphere.

His companion was a young woman of ethereal beauty. She was pale, like he, with stunning amethyst eyes. Her long white hair with grey tips was braided extensively and pulled into a heap of loops and knots atop her head. Fabric draped over her body in a myriad of colors. Her graceful neck and pointed ears were adorned with golden jewelry, and her wrists and upper arm twinkled with an elegant design.

Kyle stared in awe as his mouth gaped open. Reeve looked much the same, although his face also held an intent look of curiosity.

The male smirked as he looked down at them. “Frightened?”

Archer laughed. “Not in the least… who are you?”

It was the female who responded, placing a hand on her hip as she traded glances with the silver-haired male. “I am surprised you do not recognize our voices, even if our forms have changed.”

“Seiryu?” questioned Reeve, very surprised. His eyes had widened completely.

“The one and the same,” responded the silver dragon in human form. His smirk turned solemn. “Danger is on the horizon.”

“Trouble approaches on swift wings,” added in Tiamat, she of the white hair.

Archer stood to his feet suddenly, their words striking something inside him. “Wutai?” The word was almost whispered, though question it was.

The two nodded. “And all of the beasts are heading straight for this airship,” intoned Seiryu.

“We’ve no choice then,” remarked Reeve solemnly. He stood to his feet. “I won’t even ask how you know. We’ve got to wake Cid and stop them before they destroy anything.”

Archer nodded in agreement. “Let’s go.”

(Ack, the fluffy! Warning: Fluff and Candy!)

Nanaki lay on the ground, staring up at the deceptively blue and clear sky. The patch of grass beneath him was fragrant and soft, a startling contrast to the slight scent of death and burning that lingered over the city of Cosmo Canyon. This one spot overlooked the demi-human’s home town and was perfect for his sought solitude.

Arms folded beneath his head, the red-haired male sighed softly and tried to ease the ache in his heart and mind. His grandfather was gone from this world, Isis having left also not long after Yuffie, Cid, and himself had arrived. The demi-goddess had gradually faded away until she could no longer be seen. Bugenhagen had touched the lives of many. Nevertheless, Nanaki knew he could not keep his sorrow forever locked within. Grandfather would have never stood for it.

And now with his absence, it was Nanaki to which the elders turned for guidance. It was the demi-human to which they turned for questions about the planet and current events. Especially those concerning the recent attack on their city. He was tired of their persistence, tired of their demands, and was glad for this one moment’s peace.

Up here, he could still watch over Cosmo Canyon, always alert for any attack, free from the soot and ash taste that accompanied any of his meanderings through the town faded with the scent of the fresh breeze.

Nanaki’s ears perked up when he heard the sound of footsteps, light and barely pressing into the ground as they approached. He knew of only one other person with enough agility to sneak up on him like that.

“I knew I’d find you here,” came the voice of his best friend Yufffie Kisaragi. His eyes opened, and he looked up to see her grinning down on him, one hand cocked on her hip as she always stood.

“I’m hiding,” he offered by way of explanation before he closed his eyes and went back to relaxing. He didn’t mind Yuffie’s presence. He knew she wouldn’t bother him with fiscal figures and petty arguments. If anything, she would just let him be and that was quite enough.

He heard her huff quietly before settling down onto the grass next to him, sitting rather than lying. “You miss him alot,” she commented more than asked.

Golden eyes opened. Out of the corner of his vision he saw her idly picking at the grass, while his own gaze remained trained on the heavens above. A few clouds slowly drifted by, barely obscuring the clear bright blue of the free sky. “He was the only family I remember.”

“But… it’s not like he’s gone forever, you know,” she responded. “You’ll see him again. It may be awhile, but he’s still there with you.”

Nanaki smiled, uncoiling one of the arms from beneath his head to playfully push on her arm. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you sound so serious.”

“Hey!” the ninja retorted, brown eyes sparkling. “I have my moments.”

He chuckled lightly but didn’t say anything in return, settling back into his comfortable position. Yuffie was quiet as well, and the two sat for a moment in companionable silence.

Nanaki looked over at his best friend. She had changed somewhat in the past six months or so. Not so much that it was completely noticeable to others, but to him, who had spent the most time around her, she had become a bit calmer, more mature. She still teased and tried to take his materia, and was occasionally loud and obnoxious, but that was just her way. The demi-human had come to understand that about the young ninja.

He couldn’t help but admire her from where he lay. He had never noticed the inherent loveliness in humans as a lion wolf, only seeing their aesthetic nature. However, as a demi-human, he could at last understand the attraction, but Yuffie’s beauty was different than that of Aeris’ sweet glow or Shera’s plain yet sparkling façade. She was like sunshine, all bright and cheerful.

Neither of them had spoken of the kiss since it occurred. It seemed the both of them were too embarrassed to say anything and had pretended as if it had never occurred. Nanaki didn’t want to lose his friendship with her, but he knew deep within his heart that he desired more than that. He wanted her… it was a feeling he had come to just realize. Her personality was almost the perfect balance to his own: her playfulness dragging him out of his somewhat contemplative and serious shell, her intelligence a match for his own, and she was a fighter as well. Nanaki would never have to worry about her on the battle field, though that did not stop the odd feelings of protectiveness that would rise in him.

As his mind wandered, Yuffie started to amuse herself. Fingers trailed through the grass and weeds that they were reclining on, as if searching for the ever elusive four-leaf clover. Without thinking, the young ninja started to hum, the lazy warmth of the sun and gentle breeze making her feel strangely content.

She had a pleasant voice, nothing noteworthy like those of opera or pop culture, but altogether nice to listen to. The tune she hummed was something light and airy, relatively simple like a lullaby.

“That is a beautiful song,” the demi-human murmured, stealing a glance at the ninja. “Where is it from?”

Yuffie blushed, twirling a three-leafed clover around in her nimble, ninja fingers. “My mother used to sing it to be when I was little. It’s one of my fonder and clearer memories.”

He nodded in understanding and closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth of the sun. For the moment, all thoughts of war and destruction were far from his mind. He vaguely registered the sounds of Yuffie moving but wasn’t overly concerned. After all, it wasn’t as if she would attack him or anything.

Suddenly, soft fingers lightly grazed over his chest as the weight of the amulet was lifted. His eyes sprang open, and he looked up to see Yuffie leaning somewhat over him, eyeing the necklace interested as a thumb traced lazy circles over the ‘flamel’ design. The gold metal glinted in the sunlight, casting small rainbows over the ninja’s face.

“I wonder if you’ll ever change back,” she murmured thoughtfully, eyes flickering over his face before returning back to the amulet.

Nanaki felt his breath catch as he watched her, his skin tingling where she had barely touched him. The brown-eyed woman gradually allowed the gold links to slip through her fingers until it landed back on his chest with a slight thump, though she remained hovering over him. Something sparkled behind her eyes.

He wanted to kiss her. That unmistakable urge rode up in him again. “Yuffie… I…”

She shook her head gently, leaning over him. Slowly, deliberately, she brought one of her hand before his face, putting a finger to his lips. “Shh,” she hushed simply, before leaning over and pressing her lips to his own. His eyes fluttered closed on their own accord. For the first time, she initiated the contact.

In a moment, time stopped, and Nanaki almost forgot how to breathe, so absorbed was he by the soft press of her lips and her airy scent all around him. She kissed him gently, but he quickly took over, pushing his mouth against her own and coaxing her lips to part as he skimmed his tongue against the plump skin. She tasted wonderful.

The hand that had shushed him now rested on his chest, bearing her slight weight on him as Yuffie balanced herself so that she wouldn’t fall over. Their tongues carefully explored their mouths, dipping into each hidden caress and memorizing each unique flavor.

Nanaki couldn’t help the heat that began to spread through him, igniting fires he had been trying to suppress no more than the ninja could stop the red flush tinting her cheeks.

An arm uncoiled itself from behind his head and unconsciously tangled fingers through her black locks, tilting the ninja’s head further and rubbing on her scalp. She whimpered somewhere in the base of her throat before nipping gently on his bottom lip and deepening the kiss. What had begun as a simple kiss was turning into something far more powerful.

It was the need for air that finally separated the two best friends. Both of them were mildly panting, lips separated by only a few inches as their eyes locked. It was a tender expression that passed between them before Nanaki pressed himself upwards once more, invoking another kiss from the responsive ninja. He used a hand to balance himself as he moved into a half sitting position, not releasing his gentle hold on her head.

One of her hands still laid against his chest as the other came up and tentatively placed itself upon his shoulder, gently squeezing the muscle and fingers lightly playing across his skin. The feathery touches were almost a tease to the demi-human as he swiped his tongue inside the ninja’s moist cavern and memorized her taste. It was one he knew he would never tire of, something mysterious and vaguely exotic yet also citrus, as if she had just eaten an orange or tangerine.

Her lips pressed against his hungrily, but it seemed they dared do no more than kiss, almost devouring each other’s mouths in their passion. Nanaki couldn’t remember a time he felt more breathless and more excited… yet also terribly frightened all at the same time. This was his best friend he was kissing, but he didn’t want to stop, and neither it seemed did the ninja. He wanted so much more than just their friendship, easily recognizing the warmth that was spreading through him and slow throbbing that was starting to take form between his legs.

Yuffie smelled absolutely delicious and that was the only way he could describe it. He pushed down the moan in his throat and threaded his fingers through her hair in the same moment he rubbed a thumb over her cheek, an endearing gesture. The hand on his shoulder tightened slightly as the one on his chest slipped from its place.

Despite how much he was enjoying their embrace, and the soft play of her lips and tongue against his, Nanaki knew that they could no longer keep dancing around the issue. He wanted her to know how he felt and hoped that she could return his feelings. He would hate to lose his best friend, but it was worse in the long run to never try…

The demi-human slowly broke away from the kiss, pulling away so that he could look into her beautiful grey eyes, like the sky after a fresh rain. “I’m not going to pretend like this didn’t happen,” he said softly.

Yuffie blushed but didn’t pull away from his hold, unconsciously licking her lips. “I was confused at first,” she explained, voice equally quiet. “I wasn’t quite sure what to say… and then a proper moment never came up.”

Nanaki sighed, lowering his golden eyes for a moment in shame. “It’s my fault really; I should have said something sooner, but I am beginning to think that I want more than just our friendship; there’s something about you… I… can’t explain it, I just know.”

She nodded slowly. “I know… I feel it too, but…”

“But?” questioned the demi-human, idly running his thumb over her cheek once more.

“There are circumstances that I wish I could just forget, but I can’t. And father expects so much of me, and it just doesn’t seem fair…” The words began to rush out of her in all a torrent as her face scrunched up with sorrow, eyes glistening with the threat of tears. “I mean, I’ve only met him once; that was when I was a child, even then I thought him stuck-up, and I really don’t want to marry him because I like you more and its not really a choice that I…”

Yuffie was quickly cut off as Nanaki kissed her once more, something soft and tender. It was effective in that it silenced her and calmed her down a little. She leaned into his touch and wrapped an arm around his neck. He indulged himself for a moment before he gently pulled away.

The ninja blinked and pouted at the loss, looking unbelievably cute. He chuckled lightly before speaking about her earlier trouble and confusion. “Perhaps if we just take things slow…”

She nodded. “I do want to be with you; it’s just…”

He shook his head, the beads and shells clinking lightly. “It is okay. After all, we are friends first and foremost, right?”

Yuffie smiled at that. “Of course, you know you’re my best friend, Aki,” she teased, calling him by her pet name as she gently tapped his shoulder with her fist. “Unless of course there is some other ninja out there you would rather steal your materia.”

“No!” exclaimed the demi-human in mock horror. “Not my materia!”

The ninja giggled as she poked at him. “Yes, all of it. Even that precious Earth that you think is hidden, but I know you have.” Yuffie winked at him before waving a hand in front of his face, green materia nestled between her third and fourth fingers.

Golden eyes widened in mock disbelief. He had actually gotten better at noticing when the agile materia thief had taken his magic. This time he had realized but played along for the sake of her amusement. He pretended to diligently search his pockets and armlet before conceding that the ninja did indeed have his most precious Earth materia.

“Give it back then,” he said. “You’ve proven your point.”

Yuffie appeared thoughtful for a moment, tapping the materia laden hand against her chin before a somewhat evil grin broke out on her face. “Umm, no,” she teased as she leapt up and took off running across the hill, green grass soft beneath her feet.

Nanaki laughed and jumped up chasing after her. Sure, they were supposed to be adults. Yes, they were two of the youngest members of a group of heroes to save the planet. After the events of the past few days, both of them deserved a little fun, even if it did seem childish.

Yuffie giggled as she ran from Nanaki, taking random turns and occasionally casting glances over her shoulder, Earth materia clenched tightly in her fist. However, it wasn’t long before the red-haired male caught up to her. Nanaki was the fastest and strongest member of their team. She knew she had no chance.

The brown-eyed girl tried to nimbly dodge out of the way, narrowly evading his first grab but getting caught by the second. He wrapped his arms around her in some semblance of a tackle, and the two went crashing to the ground, Nanaki rolling slightly to the left so that he didn’t crush the smaller female with his weight.

The two were laughing as the demi-human struggled to pry his materia from her grip. However, slim hands held on tight as Yuffie steadfastly refused to let go. The two friends playfully rolled across the small field of grass and flowers, petals getting caught in their hair with each movement.

“That’s it,” grinned Nanaki, the two of them finally coming to a stop with him halfway straddling her. “Its time for desperate measures.”

Brown eyes widened. “No. Not that. Anything but that.”

But it was too late.

Without warning, Nanaki dove in, fingers attacking. Yuffie began to giggle uncontrollably as he tickled her. She was extremely sensitive and ticklish, and to the little ninja, it was pure torture. The dark-haired girl writhed and gasped beneath his touch, trying her hardest to catch her breath from all the laughter spilling out of her.

Nanaki was laughing as well as he teased her.

“Fine,” gasped the ninja, holding out her arm and showing him the green Earth materia. “I give up.”

“Thank you.”

The demi-human smirked as he stopped tickling her and grabbed his materia, putting it back in its proper place on his armlet. Yuffie was trying to catch her breath as she looked up at him smiling.

“What?” he questioned, cocking an eyebrow.

She smirked evilly. “Your turn.” And with that she lunged up and tackled the demi-human, nimble fingers instantly searching out his most ticklish spots.

The sounds of their laughter filled the air as their anima’s watched on in amusement before disappearing in a short twinkle of light.

[Shattered] Dreams 22

Chapter Twenty-Two: Taking Over Me

Cid sighed once more as he moved through the hallways of the airship Highwind, heading for the Captain’s Quarters. His whole body ached with weariness, and his mind was nearly shattered with the trials of what had occurred over the past few days.

After leaving Cosmo Canyon in the capable hands of Yuffie and Nanaki, he had known they wouldn’t come, he had picked up Reeve and Archer in Midgar; the airship was now on its way to Wutai. Apparently, the executive had received some information that Reno was there. Cid was glad for Reeve, glad that he could find his lover and stop worrying. However, he was also insanely jealous; it just wasn’t fair in his mind. He’d been searching for months…

Cid shook his head, trying to clear away his angry thoughts, knowing it would do no good to be mad at Reeve. The executive couldn’t help that it was much easier to find a red-haired Turk that had been kidnapped as opposed to a dark-haired ex-Turk that had fallen – it seemed – into the very pits of hell itself.

The pilot yawned, his mouth opening wide and stretching at his face as his stomach growled at him angrily. He had already decided that he would use the four hour flight to get some rest, even if he couldn’t sleep, lying down would do him some good. He also knew that he should eat but didn’t feel like stumbling to the mess hall to eat. Food just wasn’t important anymore…

The pilot wasn’t a stupid man. He knew that he had been spiraling downwards for the past six months. He just simply hadn’t cared enough to continue living. Finding Vincent had absorbed him, took over his life until there was nothing left in him but the drive to find the ex-Turk.

His chain smoking had gotten beyond the barriers of ridiculous, and his alcohol tolerance was so high, that his blood was probably starting to think it was supposed to have scotch in it. He didn’t sleep at night… he didn’t sleep during the day… more or less living his lonely life as a zombie.

And to come so close, over and over again to finding his lover, it pissed him off but also saddened and stretched his already thinning hope. First, there was the fake, the one that claimed he had information just to extort some money out of him. Then, unbeknownst to him, Vincent’s claw had washed up on the beach, and he had been left out of the loop for five and a half months. Then the mysterious call from Bugenhagen, which also ended fruitlessly as by the time he got to Cosmo Canyon, the place was destroyed. Every time it was like someone was kicking him while he was down and delighting in his misery.

Vincent was… is… the only man that Cid had ever felt that strongly before. He had dated plenty in his younger days; he was actually quite a charmer before he met Archer and knew how to woo any who came his way. He had quite a few crushes… plenty of lusts… but never any loves.

Until Kyle came along. He fell head over heels for the older man, who was like a mentor to him. Though only two years older than him, Kyle was very much his superior when they had met at ShinRa. Cid had been sent to study under him to learn about building engines for his rocket designs. Even then he had dreamed of the sky and the stars… even then…

They were together for some time, everyday like pure bliss to the pilot. He had thought he was in love, believed it whole heartedly. Archer was the man he looked up to, the man who taught him everything there was to know about engines. He could easily make him laugh, and well, Kyle was fucking beautiful, too. It wasn’t a difficult task for him to become trapped within that amethyst gaze.

Then the chance of a lifetime fell right into his lap, everything he had ever dreamed… ShinRa offered it to him. They had heard of his interest in space, seen his layouts for the rocket design, knew of his skill as a pilot, and were interested in starting a space program, and they wanted him to head it. It was his opportunity to see the stars… his one chance to have his lifelong goal come to fruition. He accepted, of course he would accept; he would be a fool not to, but in the end, it was his dreams that ended the relationship that he thought would last forever.

They planned to build a town on the other side of the Nibel Mountains where the population was sparse, that way they would have plenty of room to expand if need be. However, that town was far from Midgar, on the other side of the world. There was no way Cid was going to pass up on that chance.

In the end, he had been made to choose in a way between his lover and his dream. They had argued and fought, and in the end… Kyle had left, walking right out of his life as if none of it had mattered at all. Cid headed for Rocket Town, met an annoying engineer named Shera, who followed him around like a lost puppy, and Kyle… he never saw him again… recently.

He had had relationships since then, even a brief stint where he attempted to date Shera. He kissed her once and that was the last time he would try that. If he had ever wanted to know what it would be like to kiss his sister, not that he had one, Shera had given him the opportunity. Afterwards, he apologized and started treating her as he had before. She didn’t seem to mind and eventually, she met Rude…

He hadn’t dated at all for almost a year by the time he had met Vincent, becoming almost content with his bachelorhood. Shera cooked and cleaned for him, so why did he need a lover or – Kami help him – a wife? He was beginning to believe that he would be a happy chain-smoking, cursing bachelor for the rest of his life.

Then he met Vincent Valentine, and his whole world turned upside down. From first sight he had thought that the ex-Turk was beautiful, despite his somewhat icy and held back exterior. He didn’t understand why everybody seemed to shy away from Vincent. Sure, he was a bit moody and didn’t talk much, but scary vampire, Valentine was not.

The pilot sighed as he found himself outside his room and dug into his pocket for the key to his room. He wasn’t sure why he bothered to lock it anymore. Pulling the small key out, he quickly unlocked the door and stepped into his room. It was messy, as usual. He couldn’t find it in himself to actually go clean it or pick up after himself anymore. He didn’t figure it actually mattered.

Cid threw his key onto the nightstand, followed by his gloves, all items out of his pockets, including his cigarettes so that they wouldn’t be crushed. Stripping down to his undershirt and some pale blue boxers, he stretched mildly before deciding it was time for a much needed nap, if indeed his mind would allow him to sleep.

The pilot lowered himself down to the bed with a sigh and crawled beneath the covers trying to get as comfortable as possible. He closed his eyes and tried to make his mind completely blank but couldn’t get the ex-Turk out of it. There had to have been some truth behind Bugenhagen’s words. The elder man was too wise for him to have been mistaken. Cid believed whole heartedly that Vincent had been in Cosmo Canyon, and if Isis was to be believed, then the ex-Turk was now somewhere in Gaia, only making the pilot’s task that much more difficult.

He choked, trying to hold back the flood of tears that were threatening to consume him. It was always like that, late at night, when the lights were off, the room was silent, and there was nothing left for him to do but think. He laid in an empty bed that smelled only of himself, that was always so cold on the other side, though even then it hadn’t always stayed warm and couldn’t do anything but /remember/.

He believed in Vincent, however. Would give up anything and everything just to find him… because he had to be with him if he wanted to live or breathe; his life, his love, had been completely claimed by the gunman.

It was the memories that got him. It was the images and the sounds and the smells that triggered every crack in his heart to pulse and pound repeatedly, pushing a little harder to break him down. He tried to fight the tears; he tried to swallow down the pain and the agony of loss, continuing to convince himself he would find the ex-Turk. Yet, even his own unfailing belief that the dark-haired man was alive couldn’t defeat the ache in his heart and in his empty arms.

Rolling over in the bed, he pushed his face down into the covers to try and quell the images that pushed at his brain… the memories that were so strong… the memories he associated with his own bed, his own room… Of the last time they had been together, of that one moment of brief trust that meant more to him then all the times they had been together before combined.

After dragging them to the pilot’s room and attacking him with his mouth, Cid knew immediately what it was the Turk had wanted. However, the pilot wanted things to be different, so when given the chance, he broke off the kiss and ran a hand through the ex-Turk’s beautiful raven tresses and looked into his eyes. He recognized the lust, knowing it probably mirrored his own, but it was also the faint hint of something more… something meaningful that made him certain he was doing the right thing.

“Let me… show you what it is to be human,” the Captain said softly, rubbing a calloused thumb over the gunman’s soft cheek.

Vincent’s eyes narrowed for a moment. “I already told you-“

Cid shook his head, interrupting whatever reason he knew was going to come out of Vincent’s mouth. “You’re the same size as me, Vince; I don’t want to hear that bullshit excuse anymore. I understand now… even if you didn’t… and all I ask is that you trust me to make you feel good. You once came to me with the same offer to make the pain go away… why can’t I do the same?”

The gunman frowned and made as if to pull away, but Cid’s arms were tightly locked around him. The pilot wasn’t going to let go until he had an answer.

“Trust… I trust you, Cid, perhaps more than is safe for me… but” He paused for a moment. The pilot could almost hear the protestations going on in the ex-Turk’s mind. “You ask for too much,” he murmured softly, looking away since he couldn’t leave.

However, Cid was not going to back down this time. He gently grasped the gunman’s head and turned Vincent to face him once more. He claimed the ex-Turk’s lips in a passionate kiss, trying to input all his desire and feelings into that one sensual kiss. He pressed against him, carefully nibbling on the bottom lip before slowly slipping his tongue inside, tasting, teasing, exploring the wet cavern.

“Let me show you how it’s supposed to be,” Cid whispered softly, trapping a crimson-eyed gaze with his own. He couldn’t help but run a thumb over the cheek. “Before that chance is forever taken away.” The unspoken words hung heavy on the air… the truth that in six days… there may not be a future.

Vincent sighed and closed his eyes, trying to fight down the apprehension that was building up within him. He leaned his head forward and buried his face in the pilot’s neck, and Cid sighed internally, hoping that they could forever stay that way. He had fallen head over heels for the ex-Turk and knew there was no other simple way to put things.

“… I will trust you,” the gunman conceded. A grin spread across Cid’s face at the dark-haired man’s words.

“I promise… I will be gentle,” he soothed in a low sensual voice.

Vincent looked up, and their eyes met, sky blue being trapped within a crimson moon. It was only inevitable that Cid’s lips found his gunman’s, but it was slow and exploratory, as if recognizing the taste of each other for the first time. He took his time, tracing the dark-haired man’s lips and running his tongue along the other, almost massaging.

Cid slowly began to remove his goggles and kicked off his shoes as he carefully pushed the ex-Turk back towards the bed. In turn, Vincent kicked off his boots and removed his black glove and gun holster. All of these items fell to the floor in a haphazard pile, forgotten. A blue jean jacket soon joined them.

The pilot pushed the gunman back until the back of his legs hit the bed, and he collapsed onto it gratefully. Cid knelt between his legs and bent over to kiss the gunman. He made every move slow and deliberate, not wanting Vincent to even think about changing his mind. He licked up his exposed throat before his lips landed on those of the dark-haired man’s, tongue flicking out to wet them. He could tell that the gunman was tense beneath him, as if anticipating what was to come with mixed feelings.

“You gotta relax, baby,” the pilot soothed. “I won’t hurt you.” He reached out and deftly unbuttoned the Turk’s shirt, slipping a hand inside to graze over a pale chest. He traced small designs over the scarred yet soft skin before settling over one dusky nipple. Vincent arched up beneath him at the touch, moaning softly. He was so damn beautiful… all pale and flushed with arousal, his skin almost flawless.

Vincent had even found it in him to dispose of the pilot’s shirt for him. Not that he minded.

Cid latched onto a nipple delighting in the breathy moan that escaped from Vincent’s throat, sounding almost like a purr. He knew he could never get tired of the sounds that the dark-haired man made. They were addicting. Every little moan or gasp, even the occasional whimper felt like he was breaking through every barrier that the dark-haired man had built, and Cid felt he was slowly beginning to understand and know the man that he loved.

The gunman bucked up with his hips, grinding himself into Cid’s erection even as he reached down to unbuckle the pilot’s jeans and push them off the blond’s hips. Sparks of arousal shot through the Captain’s body, and he bit his lip to restrain his own lusty moan, though it still echoed from his throat.

Cid backed off the bed so that he could remove his pants more easily, smirking down at the gunman. “In a hurry, are we?”

Vincent growled. “Just take those clothes off!”

The pilot smirked and hurriedly took off his pants, shoving his boxers down, as well. He was in as much of a hurry as the gunman. He wanted to feel flesh on flesh, taste that smooth skin rubbing along with his. He supposed it was because of the mako and Jenova that Vincent’s skin didn’t hold a tan but that didn’t bother him any. It only made the ex-Turk that much more exotic… that much more beautiful.

He leaned over the bed and tackled Vincent’s as well, a devilish smile covering his face when he realized that the ex-Turk wore no underwear. He was immediately met with that impressive erection, swollen with arousal and standing in a nest of ebony curls. Vincent looked good enough to taste, and Cid felt the hot fire beginning to curl in his belly and race through his veins.

“Commando?” questioned Cid, raising an eyebrow in question.
The ex-Turk waved him off. “You tore my last pair, and I hadn’t had time to buy more.”

The Captain didn’t respond. Instead he moved over to the bedside table and started digging around in the clutter. Damn drawer! He always shoved far too much in there because he was too lazy to find a rightful place for anything. He really needed to become more organized. But he had a reason for suddenly wanting to take a dive into the disorderly compartment. He had bought new lube earlier and couldn’t wait to try it out on the gunman.

He had been perusing the shelves when his mind had managed to catch this particular scent, and he instantly knew he needed to buy it. Though he would never forget the poor teenager’s reddened face when she rung it up, nor his own for that matter. None of that was important to him, however, because it was all worth it. The oil was perfect because he knew that Vincent would love the scent.

“Ah, ha!!” He held up a small bottle for the gunman to see and grinned from ear to ear before moving back towards the bed and crawling between Vincent’s legs, bending down to kiss him on the lips. He allowed himself only the barest of tastes before pressing the bottle into the dark-haired man’s hand lest he got carried away.

Vincent looked at the bottle and his eyebrows raised high, crimson eyes instantly locking on to the pilot. “How did you…?”

“Don’t you remember? You told me once that you loved tropical scents most because they made you think of places you would never be able to go. Besides the vanilla disappeared somehow, I haven’t been able to find it…” Which was true; sometime between the day before yesterday and the present moment, when he had looked earlier, the lube had entirely disappeared. He thanked his good fortune that he had impulsively bought the other earlier.

He leaned down and kissed the gunman once more, taking the opportunity to run a hand down Vincent’s body and caressing the soft skin.

It was so easy to love him… so easy to want to bring him joy that it almost scared Cid. Had it been so simple before, and he never noticed?

Cid roamed an empty hand down over the planes of Vincent’s body, caressing each of his sensitive spots and enjoying the sounds that the gunman was making. He didn’t even need the ex-Turk to touch him to get aroused. The sounds were quite enough.

He broke away from the kiss and trailed his lips down Vincent’s body. He wanted to taste the gunman and bring him pleasure. He wanted everything about this time to perfect, to be something that would last with the ex-Turk… something to erase the bad memories. The dark-haired man released a breathy sigh and buried his hands in the pilot’s hair, urging him to continue on.

The pilot drew the gunman into his mouth completely, taking in as much of the length as he was able. He swirled his tongue around Vincent’s erection and sucked alternatively. The dark-haired man was writhing beneath him, awash in the sensation and finally relaxing.

Cid took that opportunity to uncap the oil and began to coat his fingers with it, though never ceasing in his mouth torture. The room filled with the tropical scents of pineapple and coconut. He wanted Vincent to know only pleasure and was trying to distract him from the inevitable first pain.

He slipped his oil slicked hand down between the gunman’s legs and searched for the tiny puckered entrance. When he found it he traced tiny circles around the entrance, oiling up the outside and teasing the gunman before he began to press in one finger very slowly and very gently. Almost immediately, Vincent tensed up as he felt the invading digit.

Cid released the gunman’s erection from his mouth and crawled up Vincent’s body, capturing his lips. “Relax, baby, or it’s going to hurt no matter what I do.”

“I am relaxed,” the ex-Turk responded.

Cid couldn’t help the chuckle that broke out over his face. He tried to soothe the gunman’s fears by moving down and nibbling on Vincent’s neck, especially around the dark-haired man’s ears, a particularly sensitive spot for the ex-Turk.

Vincent moaned and clutched at Cid’s body, barely able to think beyond the pleasure that the pilot was giving him. The Captain took that opportunity to press the oil-slicked finger completely inside his apprehensive lover and begin to stretch him. When Vincent didn’t protest or tense up further, Cid added another finger, using a scissoring motion to stretch him. By gods, the pilot was going to everything he was able to make sure that he didn’t hurt his lover.

Vincent’s right hand trailed down the blond’s back, heading dangerously south to slip between the pilot’s two cheeks and running a finger around the blond’s tight ring. Cid couldn’t help but moan at the feeling, wanting to buck backwards at the teasing digit. Yet, he restrained himself, instead adding in a third finger, since Vincent was so inclined to start teasing the pilot in his own way.

He felt deep inside the gunman’s body, searching for the one spot that would make Vincent melt in his arms and convince the dark-haired man to no longer be afraid. He knew he had found it when the ex-Turk suddenly gripped the blond’s ass and purred deep inside his throat.

Cid stopped sucking on his lover’s neck, noting with satisfaction that he left a dark purplish-red mark in his wake, and pulled back just enough to look at his gunman. He continued to pump the ex-Turk with his fingers, making sure to hit his prostate each time.

The gunman was truly a beautiful sight. Eyes closed in passion, mouth parted slightly emitting small moans of pleasure, forehead just beginning to sweat, Cid found he would have been able to stare all night if he was so inclined. However, there was more that he had in store for the ex-Turk, and he pulled away reluctantly.

Sitting back on his lower legs and removing his fingers, Cid dug around in the covers until he found the earlier discarded bottle of oil and poured a liberal amount on his fingers. He coated his straining erection with the sweet smelling lubricant before capping the bottle and tossing it away.

He leaned forward and balanced his weight on his left arm as it settled heavily into the bed next to the gunman’s head. He used his right to guide himself slowly to Vincent’s entrance.

Slowly, gently, Cid pressed into him, inch by agonizing inch. It took nearly all the pilot’s willpower not to just pound into the ex-Turk, he was so damn tight.

However, things weren’t going as well as the blond had hoped. He noticed the slow tightening of Vincent’s features before emotions danced across his face so rapidly that he hardly had time to recognize them.

Instantly, the gunman seized up, clutching at Cid’s arms tightly, cutting into one with his claw. He scrunched his eyes up tight and moaned but not with passion. The Captain immediately caught on and knew what the problem was. In fact, he had anticipated it. Hojo was a master at mind manipulation and knew just how to destroy someone’s mind for a long period of time.

Without withdrawing, he took his right hand and gently cupped the ex-Turk’s face, wiping away an errant tear that had already broken free. Vincent seemed too vulnerable in that moment, almost like he needed a knight, and Cid was there to fill in the spot.

“Vince,” he said softly, trying to gain the gunman’s attention. “Open your eyes, Vincent.” It was a command in a way, but he knew the only way to get through the haze of blurred memories that he was sure the dark-haired man was reliving, was to be stern.

Slowly, almost painfully, the gunman opened his eyes, teary crimson meeting concerned blue. Cid saw flashes of regret and shame, pain and horror, and it filled him with sadness that the man he loved had been forced to endure such atrocities. In that very moment, Cid hated Hojo with every inch of his being, glad that he had been the one to snuff out his life.

He rubbed a thumb gently over the ex-Turk’s cheek, quietly marveling at how soft it felt and slightly worried by the ashen pallor. “Look at me. Look in my eyes, know who I am,” intoned the pilot, eyes never leaving the face of his lover.

Another lone tear slipped from the ex-Turk’s eye. It was always something that melted him on the inside, to see the dark-haired man allow himself such a blatant display of emotion, that one tear doing more to melt his hear than anything else.

“Kiss me…” Vincent whispered softly, voice sounding strangely broken to the pilot.

“I would never hurt you,” the blond whispered in return as he leaned down and claimed Vincent’s lips in a gentle kiss. The ex-Turk melted beneath him, giving in to Cid’s tender embrace. Slowly, the pilot began to thrust further into the gunman, while the dark-haired man clung to him like a lifeline. He felt needed, wanted… desired and loved with just that simple touch.

Vincent was so beautiful and everything that Cid had wanted. Holding him close, murmuring his name as they made love. That very act of trust being the thing that would forever bind Cid to Vincent. He knew now that there was no way he could ever be the same again. He had been remade, reforged into something entirely different. A brash pilot had been made to love, and he wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.

Cid lost himself in the emotion, he lost himself in the feeling as he slowly and carefully brought the gunman the pleasure he had been denied long ago. And when Vincent came, crying out his name and sounding so very… passionate, something within him melted completely. He wanted to cry sheer tears of joy, and he wanted to scream his love for the Turk.

As it were he could only scream incoherently, the sound enough to bring him over the edge until he collapsed in Vincent’s arms, wrapping his own around the gunman so tight he didn’t ever want to let go.
He loved him; there was no other way to be about it. He was hopelessly and forever addicted to the gunman, his heart and mind belonging only to Vincent, and he would never be the same again.

Cid choked again, biting back the tears that were threatening to well up as he relieved his most precious memory, of the last time he had held Vincent like that. Of the last time he had been able to kiss the ex-Turk in such a way… and his last chance to tell him that he loved him.

Dammit! That was the part that hurt most of all. That was the part that burned a hole in his chest that only increased everyday that sat a weight on his lungs, daring him to breathe… that caused him to be a man who could barely restrain his tears.

The ex-Turk didn’t know… he did not know that Cid loved him. He had not been given the chance to say it, though he’d wanted to scream it aloud to the world and swing a spear at anyone who dared look at the gunman wrong. No matter how he tried, Vincent would not allow him, as if he were afraid of the words and what they might imply.

Cid turned over and buried his face in the pillow, if only to hide from the pain that was forcing its way through his body. Slow close… and yet so far. He couldn’t help but wonder what he would say to his lover should he find Vincent. If Bugenhagen was right, then the gunman wouldn’t remember him. If so, then he wouldn’t be able to hold him or kiss him or even declare who he was. Cid didn’t even know if he could handle looking into those eyes and not seeing recognition in return.

Would it lead to him just mourning his love for the rest of his life, with Vincent so close yet far from his reach?

The pilot closed his eyes and tried to forget that fear. All that mattered was getting Vincent back in his arms. Anything else would be overcome at another time.

Sleep… was such a distant action for him. No matter how hard he tried, he could think of nothing but Vincent… his mind wouldn’t rest. It was as if there were some other force out there trying to remind him of his goal, of his love, not that he needed the help.

Shoulders shaking, as he no longer bothered to restrain the tears, Cid Highwind buried his face in the soft cotton and cried himself to sleep as he had so many nights before…

[Shattered] Dreams 21

Chapter Twenty-One: Wolf in the Fold

Green light without sound, an ocean of jade strings and whispers, flowing across his formlessness… he hadn’t a body anymore. That had been left behind when he had been forced from the world time before hand. Approximately two… if he remembered it correctly.

Everyday of his existence, if that was what it could be called, he relived his memories, his life be it good or bad.

He was floating, a mind without physical form, in an endless sea of emerald, constantly swimming, flying through the massive thoughts and collection of dreams. He was dead… he was alive… he was everything and nothing, and yet… he still dared to hope.

There were lights, so many lights… all around him some sparkling, some fading. Their colors shifted like that of prism from one array of color to the next, a never ending cycle of rainbow bright.

He was at peace. He was restless. He couldn’t find it in him to rest; he didn’t feel as if he had reason to move on. He was unable to let go, unable to become one with the swirling mass of consciousness that made up the life force of Gaia.

They whispered to him from time to time, words of encouragement, of love and peace. It was that which he was not ready for. He hadn’t been given enough time to do anything, live, breathe, taste, smell, experience…. where was his chance? Why was the hero always left without in the end? Hadn’t he deserved it?

He saw his mother, she was smiling at him, blue eyes bright and beautiful as always. Even when his birth father ignored her and pushed his wife and son aside, she always had a smile for him, a smile and a cookie. Kami, he loved those cookies. She was the one who had encouraged him, telling him how strong he was, how he could go so far and do so much.

He saw his father, not the one that had sired him, but the real one. The man who had truly loved his mother and he, marrying her even though she already had a child and a failed marriage. The man whose name Zack now carried.

His parents didn’t know that he would die at twenty-three, protecting someone who meant something to him as he had always been taught. His company had betrayed him, given him up to the slaughter, given him up to the pain and the tests. He had lived; he had suffered; he had survived, but it tore away at his companion, tore apart the already fragile, beaten psyche of his friend.

He saw Sephiroth, the seemingly cold man who never seemed to care for anyone. He saw himself, trying to befriend the man, wanting to see what he was like beneath the icy exterior, knowing that somewhere behind those fiery jade eyes was a good heart that hadn’t been beaten or tortured out of him. It was a feeling that Zack knew very well. Perhaps he had seen a kindred spirit in the silver-haired man.

He saw Sephiroth as he last remembered him, first walking through the flames of Nibelheim, and second in the reactor, having gone insane, claiming his mother was inside… that his mother was that creature behind the glass. Zack had become angry after seeing the look of anguish on Cloud’s face, though it was hidden behind the face plate and sought after his friend, trying to find what had caused their leader to go mad.

The raving lunatic that slaughtered everyone; the man that swung his sword with widened eyes and a manic sneer… that was not the Sephiroth he knew. His friend had always wanted to know of his parentage, but Zack had never really believed he would go so crazy. He had thought, even when fighting the silver-haired man, that it was not truly Sephiroth he was trying to destroy.

In his minds eye, as he floated in the abyss of gathered ghosts of those long dead, he saw many other events.

Sweet Aeris on the day he had met her when he was stationed in Midgar. Her emerald eyes always looking at him so lovingly, her kind smile that she gave to everyone and seemed to never falter in her happiness. She was the type of woman he could take home to his mother and be proud to have her on his arm. Then she faded as well… he was starting to forget.

Yet, there were other memories, no matter how hard he tried to push them away that stuck with him. Those of his last moments of life on Gaia haunted his very semi-existence. He was a 1st class SOLDIER! He should have been able to protect himself and protect Cloud, as well. The poor boy had suffered intensely at Hojo’s hands and needed Zack to watch over him.

He remembered distinctly the sound of the rain as it pattered over the ground. He was trying to run from the soldiers chasing after him, the ones that had been ordered to slay the fleeing experiments. He had to drag Cloud along with him as the kid was still half out of his mind with Mako Poisoning. He was lucky himself to be able to sustain his own sanity.

He recalled the smell on the air and the foreboding tension that strained his muscles and attempted to sink the hope in his heart. He heard the crunch of wheels over gravel as the jeeps caught up with them and listened to the sound of booted feet racing across the ground, trying to catch up to his enhanced speed. If he hadn’t had a burden… if he hadn’t been so weak…

The smell of gunpowder struck him first, he never understood that. The feeling of being pierced by a dozen tiny knives as his body jerked around like a puppet with no strings hit next. One, two… maybe even three he could have survived. However, the soldiers fired on him with abandon, pumping him so full of bullets he would never even be able to count them all. He felt his body slump slowly to the ground, as if he were moving in slow motion, Cloud falling out of his grasp and onto the dirt, dangerously close to a crevice. He reached with blurry vision, fading light, gasping breaths before he crumpled to the ground.

It was always then that sound caught up to him. He heard the gunshots, the soldier’s yells, the sound of the rain beating down on their helmets as he lay on his back, body twitching in his death throes. His mind strangely vacant as he watched the grey clouds above idly passing by, dumping more sky tears on the scene below as if crying for the two men who only wanted to be free… who only wanted to return to their loved ones and go home…

And the memories hit him over and over, a never-ending cycle that he was far too familiar with. For so long he had lamented over his life, how it had ended so abruptly, how he had never gotten the chance to tell any of them….

From his position in the Lifestream, he was able to see what was going on above, through the voices around him and occasionally he was given glimpses. He saw Cloud… his spiky-haired friend had survived and Aeris… he wanted to weep when he saw his former best friend kill the girl he had cared for. Until he heard from the others that she was not to be kept within them long. She still had a chance… thanks to the sacrifice of another.

And so he was forced to watch idly by as the heroes defeated Sephiroth and stopped Meteor, phantasmal fingers itching to hold his blade once more and get out there and help.

“Would you return to the mortal plane?” came the whispered feminine voice, soaring on the threads of fate around him, surrounding his body of thoughts with its presence.

“In an instance,” he mumbled in return. “If only given the chance…”

There was a cry, a low murmuring of a thousand voices weeping in pain and sorrow that filled his very soul. He knew the sound, knew it well and every time it imbibed him with guilt and sadness. The planet, that which he was a part of, was crying and he still refused to join….

“Gaia is threatened once more,” intoned the mysterious soothing voice, momentarily pushing away the endless cycle of his once life. “And our warrior is unable to fight. She cannot wield the strength that has been given to her and so another must take her place.”

“I don’t understand,” he said, idly noting the brilliant jade green hue of the Lifestream. It never ceased in its movement, constantly gliding through the inner existence of the planet as the balance between life and death, life above and below was carefully maintained.

“Would you go, Wolf Child? Would you fight again, if given the sword? Will you be our conduit?”

He laughed softly a sound that went no further than his own thoughts as he had no corporeal body to laugh with. “What I wouldn’t give for one more chance at life…”

“Then go,” intoned the voice, ghosting across his memories with a fog and sending him spiraling towards another flow of life, another road of forgotten memories and dreams, experiences and falsehoods. “He will be your guide. Follow your anima, Wolf Child.”

Without another word, or any warning of any type, it felt as if he were suddenly jerked by something tangible and pulled, his consciousness straining towards up… if indeed there was such a thing as up in the boundless collection of spirit energy and thought. A low voice rumbled in his ear, words he didn’t understand, but he listened intently anyways. His memories pounded against his soul even as the hands of those that wanted his presence clawed at him begging him to stay.

Then suddenly he started to /fee/ as if he truly had a body again. Tingling sensations all over and an odd sensation of everything coalescing, the green Lifestream forming around his body creating muscles and tissue and blood, form a face and hair and bringing him back to a semblance of his normal self.

And then he started to hurt… as if someone was pinching him over and over at the same time that they pierced his body with dozens of needles and knives. Feeling returned to his limbs, his skin… and it felt like he was on fire all over. He opened his mouth to scream, but it filled with gulps of the emerald liquid; he choked but couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t breathe… couldn’t feel anything but pain… oh, Kami the pain.

And suddenly he felt light on his face, washing over him with warmth and soothing motions trying to quell the rising tremors of ache that was in him. He felt a tug on his arm seconds before he burst above the water, feeling for the first time in years the breath of air and wind over his face. His eyes snapped open, burning as the mako touched his pupils, and he coughed violently trying to expel the acidic liquid from his lungs.

His hands grasped for something to hold on to as he floundered in the mako pool trying desperately to seek land before he found himself back a part of the Lifestream he had tried so hard to leave. He couldn’t stop coughing as more and more of the vile liquid came out of him, and his vision danced with stars from lack of air and dizziness.

His probing fingers felt the smallest traces of dirt, it clumped under his fingernails, and he dug in, determined to pull his heaving and throbbing body ashore. His body was weak… so weak… it was as if he had been running forever and getting nowhere. He hardly had to the strength to haul himself up out of the mako pool and onto dry land, his feet still somewhat dangling in the emerald abyss.

Zack collapsed against the dry and dusty dirt, mind reeling and managed to move another few inches to drag his feet out before he started to retch, over and over. First coughing to clear his lungs, now retching to clear his stomach. He doubled over with pain and it seemed like it would never end as gouts of the fiery liquid expelled itself from his body and he continued to lie naked and shivering on the shore of the mako pool.

Finally, it seemed that the bouts of sickness were through, and he was able to move a few feet from where he had vomited so disgustingly before he collapsed back against the ground. His body continued to shake, but whether from the cold or the mako, he just couldn’t be sure. Pain was still flickering on the edges of his unconscious but he didn’t care. Only one thought centered on his mind.

Only one realization was important as he slipped unconscious, mind spinning before collapsing.

He had returned to Gaia.

He dreamed he was a wolf. Graceful creature of stealth and strength, flitting through the forest on silent feet, determined hunter….

He could feel the forest beneath him, around him and taste the scent of his prey on his lupine tongue. He was the purest silver, the stormy grey; his eyes still that crystalline clear azure. He was strong; he was fast, and he was lord of his domain, Lord of the Forest. The images were hazy and blended, a unique mix of dark pastel colors like paintings he had never really enjoyed properly before.

And then, another wolf was running beside him, easily keeping up with his fast pace. It was beautiful with smoky black fur tinted with the silver of age but nonetheless inspiring. The other wolf moved fluidly, far more so than Zack in his lupine form was able.

He glanced over and was trapped within brown eyes, so pure like soil after the rain or a newly turned field. Their depths seemed boundless, and it felt like he was staring into time as the aged wolf saw it… just a blink and a moment.

And then the words came although they continued to run.

“I am called Fenrir by the humans, though I’ve a name much older,” spoke the wolf though his mouth did not move. “If you listen closely enough you can hear the forest whisper my name.”

Zack was in awe of the creature, whose very aura seemed to over take him. “Why have you spoken to me?”

“Because you and I are connected, young one. You and I were fated to fight together for the sake of Gaia.”

He flew past more trees, everything a green and brown blur of life and time. The fresh scent of pine and that of his prey, a prey he didn’t know, filled his senses. He blinked, finding it hard to concentrate on the words of the wolf that bounded beside him.

“The Lifestream… the voices… they called me Wolf Child…”

Fenrir blinked in response, putting on a burst of speed as he pulled ahead of the grey wolf. “Hai, and if you listen, if you put aside your thoughts and just feel… you will know who I truly am.”

“True self?” murmured Zack more to himself than anyone else.

“Learn my name,” intoned the darker wolf. “And gain the power…” With that spoken, Fenrir sped ahead of Zack, moving so fast that he only saw a blur of motion speeding through the trees, and it wasn’t long before he was alone yet again, running on his own with a seemingly endless reserve of strength.

The wind whispered through the trees around him as his clawed feet softly treaded upon the light earth. Somewhere, a brook babbled on continuously, the soft sounds of water splashing against a low bank easily carried to his ears. He could make out birds singing in the trees and even the oh-so quiet scratch of insects in the ground.

Every part of him began to stand out, from the way his muscles pulled to force himself to run… to the beating of his heart in his chest and the slight panting of his breath from his lungs. It was then that he began to hear it, just so faintly that it barely poked at his conscious.

The demi-god of the land and forest… one so ancient that even the forest had nearly forgotten his name but now chanted it for the sake of his animus.

“Heimdal…” whispered Zack, the name rolling from his mouth almost worshipful.

Everything began to fade with revelation as his running lupine form approached a shining white and gold light, flashing him with its brilliance. The forest of green trees and life disappeared until he was running on nothingness, heading towards the endless abyss of white light… falling…

He awoke to find strange suntanned faces staring down at him, one even poking and prodding him with a stick. He closed his eyes against the sudden intrusion of very bright sunlight on his sensitive eyes as he mentally took a recap of his body. His mouth was parched, his tongue feeling like sandpaper, and his lips were chapped, possibly bleeding. His entire body ached from head to toe as if he had been put through a rock grinder, and he felt somewhat sticky as if the mako still clung to his body. The sun felt hot against his skin and realized, somewhat belatedly, that he was also completely nude, lying on the ground in front of the strange people.

Something poked him again, and his eyes opened to glare angrily at the poker. It was a child, no older than eight, regarding him with cool yet strange striped eyes, both green and blue in alternating bands striking out from the iris. The child – female he guessed – grinned at him cheekily, revealing a row of even child teeth before stepping backwards, a hand landing on its shoulder.

Zack groaned and struggled to sit up, trying to hide his most sensitive areas as he did so. He felt a shadow fall on his back moments before a rather soft blanket fell over his shoulders and around his body acting as a quite effective covering. He accepted it gratefully, wrapping the azure cloth around his body as well he could before attempting to stand to his feet, noticing how strangely weak his body felt as his knees wobbled and buckled.

He probably would have fallen to the ground had not another of the strangers offered out an arm and gave him something to halfway lean on.

Now sufficiently covered and feeling slightly more coherent, Zack allowed his eyes to wander about him. There were probably about six of them gathered around, all the same dusky complexion and the same banded eyes though the colors did vary. They were dressed rather lightly, and primitively for that matter, in loose tunics and trousers cut above the knees, even the few women that he saw. They also regarded him strangely.

Zack was about to speak when the man in front of him frowned and opened his mouth. “We thought you were dead.” His voice was crisp and surprisingly proper. Judging from their looks, he half expected them to be unable to speak his language.

“So did I,” Zack joked, quickly falling into his usual personality. It made things easier that way. “Where am I?”

The man, who seemed to be older than all those around, waved a hand at the area. “An island south of the Midgarian mainland but north of Mideel. How did you survive the Lifestream?”

The dark-haired man pondered how he was going to answer that question when another wave of dizziness struck him, and he faltered in his stance, leaning more heavily on the person who had offered him support. Apparently, he was not as strong as he had initially thought and coming from the Lifestream had weakened him immensely. Not to mention he desperately wanted something to drink and was really craving food, like the kind he could no longer eat after he had died.

“Forgive me, I didn’t realize how much you needed rest,” commented the older man with a slight frown and furrowed brow. “You can come back to our village. We will be glad to help you.”

Zack nodded, trying hard to swallow though he felt like his throat wanted to close up. “Thank you …. for helping… a stranger…”

However, the older man with eyes banded of gold and green merely nodded in understanding and turned, heading into the forest surrounding the strange mako pool from which Zack had emerged. The dark-haired man followed after, his weak body being supported by another strange local, albeit a younger, more muscular one.

Over the next couple days, Zack was tended to by the strange locals as he was nursed back to health, his body and strength needing time to recover from the strange ascension from the Lifestream.

He eventually learned that the man who had led the group that originally found him was named Rikan, and he was actually the patriarch of the small group of natives that were living on the island. They called themselves the Jissus 1 and explained that they had been living a quiet life on the island as a small group for longer than they were capable of remembering. Zack had never heard of them before.

Every member of the Jissus had the same brown skin and banded eyes though the colors varied from one person to the next. They lived simply, taking from the land and giving back in return, never was anything wasted or thrown away unless all use had been stripped from it. They gave thanks to animals they hunted for food and treated the land with grace and dignity. He was awed at their choice of living, having never seen anyone behave in that matter before.

They had found clothes for him, items more suitable for his way of life than theirs. He wasn’t sure how they had found the loose black pants, heavy black boots and loose blue shirt for him to wear, but he didn’t feel it was his right to pry.

They were all surprisingly friendly, willing to share whatever it was they had, whether it be a piece of maza bread or a spot by the fire. He was perfectly willing to help out, as well, once he had regained his strength. Chopping wood helped him restore some of his arm movement and helping the hunters using only a spear aided him in remembering some of his old moves.

After what seemed to be two days, however, Zack became restless. He hadn’t forgotten the words of the voices in the Lifestream, or his purpose for returning to life. Not to mention he still felt a presence at the back of his mind, nudging him towards something. However, he wasn’t quite sure what that was.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the third day that Zack heard the voice. He had gotten up early and wandered into the forest to think, plopping himself down on a log and sighing with a bored expression. He had wondered why the Planet had chosen him as their conduit, why he had been given the chance, not that he wasn’t grateful. But still, there were many things he didn’t understand about that particular conversation.

(You humans never cease to surprise me. Always thinking, always desiring to be in motion, like you realize just how short your lives truly are and struggle to make it mean something,) came a voice suddenly in his head. It wasn’t mocking or condescending, just simply stating a thought with almost a hint of wonder.

Zack frowned. “I recognize your voice from my dream. I only hope I’m not losing my fool mind.”

There was a dry chuckle that was a bit infectious, causing the dark-haired man’s mouth to turn up at the corners. (I assure you that your mind is intact. Until you call my true name, I won’t be able to manifest myself in you because unfortunately you are not in mortal peril.)

“If I remember correctly, you called yourself Fenrir, but the forest whispered Heimdal…”

“That is absolutely right,” came a voice from directly behind him. Zack leapt to his feet and turned around, somewhat surprised to find a man standing there with a half bemused expression on his face.

This man had deep brown eyes, like the bark of the trees in the forest around him and deep black hair streaked with silver at the temples and roots, giving him the effect of being aged, though his rather youthful face was a bit contradictory. He wore clothes similar to that worn by the Jissus although his pants were longer and ended at bare feet. The man had his arms crossed in front of his chest and was regarding Zack with the same expression that the crystalline-eyed man was sure was on his own face.

“So which should I call you then?” questioned the dark-haired man, quirking an eyebrow as he assumed this was Fenrir/Heimdal “manifested”. After all, he didn’t get into SOLDIER on skill alone. He had a brain up there, as well.

The brown-eyed man waved a hand of indifference. “Whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve lived longer than you can think. I’m not about to cause a fuss over my name.”

Zack grinned. “Okay then, Fenrir, why are you suddenly appearing in my head, speaking to me, and materializing out of thin air?”

Fenrir cocked an eyebrow. “Convinced you’re still losing your mind?” questioned the tanned man as he moved past Zack to sit on the log, finding a comfortable position.

“Call me insanely curious? At least, if I’m hallucinating then I can provide the doctor with a semi-scientific response,” remarked the swordsman with a grin as he folded his arms over his chest.

Fenrir laughed at that, full-bodied and carefree. “I am your anima and a demi-god of the earth and forest, much like those things you consider summons. In fact, I am a summon. However, that doesn’t matter because you aren’t the one that has the materia that holds part of my power. It used to belong to this one human, who gave it to this big dark-skinned man, who in turn gave it to this amber-eyed, intelligent man, who in turn handed it over to a blond woman. Apparently, I am very popular.”

Zack laughed, raising an eyebrow. “Anima? I think I remember the Lifestream using that term.”

Fenrir shook his head. “That, my animus, is a long story, one which I don’t care to relate. Suffice it to say, we are matched for strength to fight together in the upcoming war in Gaia. It has already begun, and the warriors are being summoned.”

The spiky dark-haired man sighed and pursed his lips, looking upwards at the sky. “Will it ever end? Doesn’t this Planet deserve peace?”

“Should its inhabitants learn to get along? Perhaps… but most likely never… Man cannot survive in a time of peace, he becomes restless. He would create conflict if only not to feel settled and subdued.”

“Wow.” Zack shook his head, momentarily pausing. “You’re really deep there. Been studying humans long?”

Fenrir shrugged. “Are you ready to get off this island?”

“Got an idea of how I’m going to do that? Cause I certainly am not going to swim to the mainland,” said Zack.

The demi-god laughed. “You think I have only this form? Besides, I have magic, too, you know. A simple transport spell, and I can take you anywhere in a matter of seconds.”

The dark-haired man appeared to think on that for a second. “Where should I go?”

“Might I suggest acquiring a weapon and some armor before you go charging into battle?”

Zack nodded. “Might as well go to Midgar then. I don’t know what has changed in the years since I’ve been gone, but I know I can find information there.”

“Alright then. Want to say goodbye to your caretakers?”

“They know I’m grateful. Besides, I have the feeling that they already know part of what is going on, at least perhaps, more than I know myself.”

Fenrir chuckled. “Very well, Midgar it is then.” He brought up a hand and furrowed his brow in concentration, moving forward and placing it on the Zack’s shoulder. “Migro!”

And just like that, the two men vanished in a ball of light, and the forest stood empty, almost as if they had never been there at all.

[Shattered] Dreams 20

Chapter Twenty: Ides of War

“… It appeared out of nowhere. I don’t know how to explain it… everything was destroyed, and we tried to run, but it was pointless. The monsters invaded from all sides shooting poisonous gas and burning acid carrying rusted weapons and malicious grins. I’m one of the few to escape…”

“… I’ve never seen one like it before. It was something out of my worst nightmares. It killed without warning, striking quickly before moving on. A creature so vile that it would destroy even its own comrades should they stand in its way. And yet the whole time I watched it from my hiding hole, I felt as if it were searching for something it could not find…”

“… It was amazing! Here I was thinking my death is at hand, down the gullet of a damn dragon and poof! Like magic! This guy with black hair and a red cloak appears and starts chopping the damn thing to bits. I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“… They were everywhere! We tried to stop them, but we were far few for so many! One even absorbed my Fire attack and all of our bullets were useless! The spines from their leader exploded violently some even piercing the buildings and easily killing my friends…. (broken sobbing)… and now I’m all alone….”

“… It was the most frightening thing I have ever seen! Those dripping blood-red wings and that cold steel mask that hid all semblance of life… I didn’t think I would live the night. Then a creature came out of nowhere, all glowing in green and red, casting a shield over the whole town. We were saved! But our losses were great…”

“… Requesting immediate emergency aid. Many wounded, monsters still in the area. We are unable to defend ourselves…. will all perish soon… supplies short…”

“… He’s gone, Reeve. There were too many, and she couldn’t handle it. The people, what few remain, had hidden in the caves and most fear to come out. They are tired and hungry, battle worn and smoke-streaked, and still they look to me… look to me for answers I don’t have…”

They came, one right after another. His phone lines were constantly lit as calls began to pour in from all corners of the globe. Horror stories of monsters unlike any seen before. Many of the reports were stilted and difficult to be heard with all the communication towers that had been destroyed. Nearly all asked for aid that Reeve simply could not send. Not since he had disbanded most of the ShinRa army when he took over six months prior.

The executive sighed and glanced more at the clock that hovered over the door to his office. Three a.m…. eight hours since he, Seiryu, Archer, and Tiamat had taken down the foul demon that had sought to destroy Midgar and had driven away the hordes of creatures that had accompanied it. Eight hours since he had been able to rest or relax, eat, or even have a moment to himself.

His body ached, his mind was numb, and he felt he was going to collapse at any moment, but still he persisted. He couldn’t afford to sleep, there was still far too much to do. Much of Midgar had been destroyed, and there were many wounded. The dead were still lying in the streets, some bodies having not been claimed. They couldn’t lie there long otherwise the monsters hovering in the plains outside the city would find their way inwards. Reeve simply did not have the manpower to defend Midgar once more and take care of the aftermath of the battle.

Communication towers were still down everywhere, and the bulk of his force was out trying to hurry and repair them so that communication could at least not be destroyed. There weren’t enough potions and cure materia nor people that could use them to go around, and some were dying that could have been saved.

He hadn’t heard anything of Cid except for that one brief, angry phone call. Reno was still missing, and the rest of the Turks and Archer were all running around, working just as hard as he to restore some semblance of order to the shocked city of Midgar. Archer was working with the communication forces, his mechanical skills adept at fixing many of the downed towers. Tseng was trying to organize the small contingents in pushing back the small monsters that still seemed to infest the city while Elena was working to find shelter, food, and medial supplies for those that had been supplanted.

War had returned to Gaia. And in greater force than ever before it seemed. Just when the thoughts of peace had started to ingrain themselves within their hearts, fate came crashing down and stole it from them.

And still the calls poured in. Wutai… Cosmo Canyon… Junon… Costa del Sol… all the major cities on Gaia had been attacked and most of them were destroyed.

Junon was little more than a hunk of twisted and burning metal slowly spreading pollution into the surrounding ocean. Survivors and refugees were making their way to Fort Condor, but it was a fair distance. And the monsters that had attacked the coastal town were still tracking them, occasionally picking off the survivors one by one. Junon was no longer a place that could be called home. It would have to be rebuilt from scratch, the minor navy that had been stationed there completely demolished. No one had been able to stand up to the attack from the giant creature that looked remarkably like a Cactuar.

Costa del Sol had fared better than Junon but would still require massive repairs. Cloud’s villa had been demolished as had the docks and most of the boats, but in its entirety, most of the town had remained intact. It seemed a few of the towns patrons had bonded together and used a swarm of materia to drive away the minor contingent of monsters that had attacked. Costa del Sol had not been as ruthlessly gone after as the others. In fact, it appeared more of an afterthought, as if a horde of monsters had only stopped there for fun and not planning.

Cosmo Canyon… well, no one really knew what had happened there. He hadn’t heard from anyone since Cid’s call. All the executive could guess was that the town had been destroyed, some survived and Bugenhagen had died.

And Wutai… reports from the far western town had been inconclusive. He had gotten several different ones, although the defining factor had been that Yuffie’s hometown was attacked. There was a demon that led the charge and a large horde of lesser monsters that it commanded. Most of the reports made claim to a ‘mysterious savior’ but didn’t say more than that.

All in all it appeared that every city appeared to have been struck at nearly the same time in a large concentrated assault. Most of the citizens had been caught completely unawares, despite the warning afforded by Gongaga, and more than seventy-five percent of each city attacked was rubble, some faring better than others.

Reeve sighed and resisted the urge to lay his head on his desk by picking up the phone to dial the cargo docks and see how many, if any of the transportation methods survived the attack. It was a miracle that the Neo-ShinRa building had survived completely unscathed. Alexander, or as Aeris called him, Hephaestion, was truly a powerful summon to have protected Midgar so long.

The Holy demi-god had kept up his defense even as Reeve and his friends fought against the demon for little over an hour, finding it difficult to discover the kink in Mabuz’ armor, while defending themselves from the slurry of minor enemies that threw themselves in the former AVALANCHE’s members way.

The door to his office slammed open, and Archer hurried in, disturbing the executive’s train of thought. He looked up and saw the tired, haggard appearance of his friend and gave him a sympathetic nod. The man’s arms were full of more reports that he was sifting through even as he slightly stumbled across the floor.

“More transcripts from the radiowaves,” explained the amethyst-eyed man as he dumped the papers on the desk. “Most are from Wutai. Still nothing from Cosmo Canyon though. The men got the tower in Sector E up and running, but the soldiers in Sector B are having trouble working and fending off the monsters at the same time. It seems that a small contingent of Dropper Birds have started to harass them. Jennifer mentioned something about the Kalm reports but she was mumbling to herself so I can’t really be sure.”

Dropper Birds, ugh, nasty little creatures. They weren’t very large or fast, but had the uncanny ability to make tiny little bombs from their bodies and ‘drop’ them on victims below. Hence the name ‘Dropper Birds’. They were an unfortunate example of Hojo’s mad research.

Reeve sighed and looked at the stack on his desk. It would take him at least three hours to go through those and still at the end he might not know what was going on. Gaia, it seemed, had crumpled while they were all celebrating a minor victory, and he was struggling to hang on.

“And Tifa?” questioned the dark-haired man, although he already knew the answer.

Kyle shook his head, sinking into a chair and allowing his weary body a rest. “Still no word. But he’s a Turk Reeve, I’m sure Reno is fine.”

The executive tore his gaze away from his friend and looked out the window, amber eyes not missing the destructed state of parts of Midgar or the places where blood still stained the ground and white feathers graced the tops of many roofs. It had been a long, bloody battle. His hands clenched unintentionally as worry again furrowed his brow.

Of everything that he had to deal with, not knowing the fate of his lover was killing him the most. Tifa still hadn’t made any contact with them, and the Turks had been unable to discern her location. They knew, from the video, that she was in some type of lab or storage complex but didn’t know where. All known vicinities had been checked or scanned, but no life forms were detected. It was as if they had dropped off the face of the planet.

The executive sighed once more and returned his attention to the papers on his desk. The one on the top of the stack was first. He briefly read the header, mumbling to himself so that he didn’t miss anything important.

” 0230 hours, approximately seventy percent comprehension rate, lasting twenty minutes, Kalm Report of Damage in Monetary Values from Green Dragon destroyed by mysterious man as translated by…” His eyes trailed off the page as he noticed Archer nearly dozing off in the chair, eyelids sliding over his eyes as he continuously slumped in the chair. The executive shook his head and put down the paper, watching as Kyle slowly slid downwards until he nearly fell off the chair before bursting awake and saving himself from an amusing predicament.

“You need to rest,” commented Reeve in a voice that brooked no argument.

Kyle brushed a hand over his eyes, rubbing vigorously before he sat up and shook his head. “No more so than you, partner. If you don’t rest, I don’t rest.”

That was his subtle way of making sure the dark-haired executive allowed himself a reprieve. Yet, so far, it wasn’t working and Archer found himself dragging. He hadn’t actually slept in near thirty-six hours, and it was beginning to wear him down.

“There’s too much for me to…”

“Bullshit!” interrupted the amethyst-eyed man. “There is nothing more you can do right now but wait. Emergency systems have activated, soldiers have been deployed to all their respective places. The reports will still be there in the morning.”

Reeve glared at his friend and returned his attention to the paper at hand, idly moving it aside to concentrate on something more mind-grabbing than monetary reports.

“There will be plenty of time for rest later,” he grumbled, idly tapping a finger on the paper in front of him. He dared a glance at Archer, who regarded him with half-worry and half-anger.

“Besides,” his voice had softened in its tone. “I couldn’t sleep anyways as worried as I am about Reno. I’m afraid to close my eyes because of the images my mind always brings to me.”

Kyle sighed and stood up, walking towards the window to gaze out at the inky blackness that blanketed much of the city. The power had yet to be restored to all of Midgar.

“I understand. But it isn’t going to make finding him any easier if you’re barely alive and awake.”

Reeve nodded quietly although his friend couldn’t see him and returned his attentions to the paper in front of him. It appeared to be another description of the ‘mysterious savior’ that it seemed all the Wutaian reports were hooked on. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he stood up, grabbing the paper and hurriedly scanning it again. Other papers floated to the floor as he rushed over to Archer’s side, amber eyes drinking in the words.

‘… Red gem like a garnet… green fur… cutest thing you’ve ever seen and it cast a shield…translucent and repelled anything… and riding on its back was a man… bright red hair the likes I’ve not seen in awhile…’ The words jumped out at him, all sounding drastically familiar.

Kyle turned around when he heard the desk jump and the papers fall, surprised to see the executive moving towards him with a piece of paper in his hands. “Reeve, what…?” Archer trailed off when he saw the excited look on his friend’s tired features.

“Read this,” the executive ordered, thrusting the white sheet of 8 x 11 paper into the startled engineer’s hands. “Those lines right there!” He pointed to the section he had been reading and stepped back to watch the amethyst-eyed man’s reaction.

Archer looked at his friend oddly before returning eyes to the paper and slowly reading aloud, a small grin breaking out on his face as he did so. “We thought all was lost. The monsters were pushing our ranks backwards continuously, and our backs were literally to the wall. My only thoughts were for the safety of those behind us, hidden within the caves and needing our protection. Yet, the sheer volume of monsters was beyond our capabilities to defeat. Then, like an angel from above, our mysterious savior appeared. It was a huge creature, I thought it another monster. It had a red gem like a garnet in its forehead and bright green fur that literally shone with an inner light. Its body shape was similar to that of a rabbit or something else long-eared. It was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, and it cast a shield over us, while keening musically.” He paused momentarily, eyes flickering over to his friend for a moment and reading the barely restrained excitement in Reeve’s amber eyes.

Archer sincerely hoped that it was what it appeared to be as he continued his reading. “The barrier flexed and shone translucent and repelled anything that dared throw itself at it. We were saved. However, most astounding was that riding this beautiful creature’s back was a man. He was laughing as he swung what looked to be an Electro Rod at any enemies that dared to attack from the air. He had the bright red hair, the likes of which I’ve not seen in awhile and brilliant aquamarine eyes. They were like angels from above, and I will never forget the sight… not even on my dying day…” Archer trailed off, looking at his friend.

“It has to be…” whispered the dark-haired executive, as if saying it any louder would make it untrue. “It just has to be. No one else has Carbuncle! And that description, it could only be Carbuncle!”

The paper rattled in Kyle’s grasp as he nodded. “You are right. It’s him, Reno. He’s in Wutai of all places. Though how he got there I can’t imagine.”

“Then he’s still there!” Reeve exclaimed. “I mean, there’s no way he could leave just yet. Reports say all transport vehicles in Wutai were demolished in the attack so he MUST be there.”

Archer shook his head. “All this time… I just don’t understand it. Why would Tifa hide in Wutai?”

“Does it matter?” questioned the executive. He swiped the paper from Archer’s grasp and moved back towards the desk, grabbing the phone and quickly punching in some numbers.

“What are you doing?” asked Archer.

Reeve frowned. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m checking to see if our communication’s improved any. I have to get in contact with Godo and see if he can find Reno and make him stay put.”

The amethyst-eyed man nodded in understanding before waving a hand at the executive and heading for the door. “I’ll go see if any of our helicopters survived the attack.”

Yet, before he could get to the door, the PHS in his pocket rang loudly, the sound startling him. It hadn’t rung in quite a while, since most of the towers were down. Frowning, Archer dug into his pocket and pulled out the slim electronic device, noting the name on the screen.

“Archer, here,” he answered calmly, putting the speaker up to his ear. The phone crackled with static but at least he could make out the voice and words of the caller. It appeared reception wouldn’t be completely clear for a while.

“Kyle, I knew your dumb ass would still be awake,” came the voice of one Cid Highwind, rough as usual and full of his habitual ‘perkiness’.

Archer sighed. “Cid… we were worried when we didn’t hear from you for a while. How goes it in Cosmo Canyon?” He felt eyes on him and looked up to see Reeve giving him a questioning glance. The engineer moved back into the room, plopping back down into the seat he had vacated earlier while Reeve calmly placed the telephone on the receiver and attempted to eavesdrop the conversation.

“Random attacks by new breeds of Chocoboro’s for one,” intoned the pilot darkly in response. “I don’t know who’s behind all this or why, but it seems the monsters are either mutating… or something else is going on.” The phone crackled noisily then causing the amethyst-eyed man to wince.

“What about casualties and the town?” questioned Archer. “How did the battle seem to fare?”

Cid was silent for a moment as he pondered. “I’d say about sixty percent city loss and only twenty percent population loss. The residents here responded rather remarkably, getting quickly to safety.”

“What about Vincent?” Reeve queried. Kyle’s eyes shot up to his forehead before he repeated the question to the pilot.

Again there was a moment of silence before the pilot’s quiet response came through the PHS. “I don’t know. No one’s seen him. I haven’t found him, and he wasn’t among the survivors hiding out or any of the bodies we’ve drug out for proper burial. One of the townsfolk, the weapon shop owner I believe, claimed she saw a dark-haired man with a gun earlier in the day, and Isis says that she thinks Bugenhagen was talking to a man named Vincent… or more like arguing with him right after the attack began. She seems to believe that Bugenhagen sent him somewhere though she couldn’t even begin to guess where.”

“Isis?”

“Yeah. The demi-goddess of the sun, or Isis as we knew her, the long forgotten Sphinx materia. Don’t ask me to explain it cause I don’t know what the hell’s going on either. Damn Phoenix appears and reappears next to Nanaki whenever the hell she wants, and Leviathan who’s really Barinthus likes to spend time swimming in the ocean in human form,” the pilot paused before changing subjects. “Something really weird is going on.”

“Yeah,” agreed the engineer. “We think so, too. All of this is of course connected. We only have to figure out how.” He looked up and saw that Reeve was holding out his hand, curling his fingers in a gesture that asked for him to be given the phone.

Giving him an odd look, Archer handed over the device, momentarily brushing a hand over the back of his tired eyes. Gods, he was getting too old for this…

“Cid? It’s Reeve,” spoke the president quickly before sitting back down in his chair, idly tapping the transcript that spoke of hope. “I think I’ve found Reno, how long do you think it will take you in Cosmo Canyon?”

“Eh… I don’t know. I don’t think I could get Nanaki to leave, so he and Yuffie will probably stay. If I don’t sleep I could be there by sunrise…” mumbled the pilot in answer.

Archer’s loud-mouthed yawn distracted the executive for a moment, and he had to bite back a small smile. His spirits had remarkably risen, thanks to that small transcript. He had found Reno that was all that had mattered. And the radio operator promised to get the message through to Godo.

“No, get some rest; I am sure we all need it. Just get here as soon as you can, and we can go to Wutai.”

“Wutai? What the hell is he doing in Wutai? Stupid dumb ass Turk always wandering off…” muttered the pilot almost jokingly.

“Does it matter?” Reeve asked. “Anyways, go to sleep. We’ll be doing the same. See you later.”

“Hai,” agreed the Captain. The phone buzzed and clicked before going dead in Reeve’s hands. The President handed it back to Kyle, who promptly shoved it into his pocket and regarded his former assistant with a critical look.

“The radio operator said that the message will go through to Godo. He also informed me that radio was our best option considering the attack succeeded in destroying all of our meager contingent of helicopters. We’d better get some rest now as we have to wait for Cid anyways,” explained the executive.

“Thank the gods!” exclaimed Archer, stretching mildly. “I had a feeling you were going to work until I either knocked you out or you passed out, whichever came first.”

Reeve smiled slightly as he gathered up a few papers and grabbed his suit jacket, following after Kyle towards the door. They wouldn’t actually go far, only to the small resting rooms just outside his office that had been created so that the over-working President would take a break. It had only couches, but at that point, a blanket on the ground in the Northern continent looked good to both men, their bodies beyond weary.

Just as Archer’s hand reached for the door to pull it open. The room began to violently tremble. Frames fell off the walls and crashed to the ground, instantly shattering and the two men struggled to keep on their feet. A sound like that of a million screaming voices rose from nowhere, echoing all around them with the loudness of a sports game and sending the hair on the backs of their necks to full attention.

“What the hell?” gritted out Archer as he clung to the wall while his legs shook beneath him.

Reeve threw himself at the wall, back against it for balance. “Earthquake,” he managed to get out.

“In Midgar?” questioned the engineer, eyes instantly darting to the window. He expected at any moment another attack like the one only eight hours before. “And what the hell is that screaming?”

The amber-eyed man closed his eyes and tried to ride out the violent quaking, the sound, and the voices still keening all around him. He recognized it, having heard it several times before… but that was six months prior when he and the rest of AVALANCHE were trying to destroy that monster Sephiroth.

Another violent tremble threw itself at the building before it all abruptly stopped, everything going suddenly silent. Archer had to open his eyes, not even realizing he had closed them as he pried his fingers from around the door knob. He had been clutching it to keep his feet.

“The planet…” huffed Reeve trailing off. “I’d recognize that sound anywhere, though it’s been months since I last heard it. The planet is crying…”

In another part of Midgar, Cloud was rocking his trembling wife slowly in his arms as they sat on the bed they shared and was whispering soothing words of nonsense to the Ancient.

Since the earthquake a few seconds before, Aeris had been nearly inconsolable as she wept and muttered quietly in a language that he did not understand. Her hands clutched protectively at her belly, and her head moved from side to side.

Cloud had also heard the planet’s cry and knew that Aeris, as an Ancient, could understand what the voices were saying and judging from her reaction, it was not something good or even encouraging. He felt powerless to help her and did the best he could, holding her until the voices stopped pounding in her skull like many pleas of forgotten children.

Ever since the battle many hours before, he had been exceedingly tired. Tseng and he had spent the better part of two hours riding through Midgar and disposing of monsters, while a battle they could only hear and not see raged above them and above a blanket of white feathers that Cloud knew could only belong to Hephaestion.

His arms ached from steering the bike and wielding his enormous sword at the same time, and his head throbbed from casting so many spells at once. He knew that Tseng fared no better although the Turk hadn’t had a chance to rest yet. Afterwards, when Cloud took Aeris home from the church, both Elena and Tseng had returned to Neo-ShinRa HQ where they were given immediate tasks to aid the people of Midgar.

“Cloud?” The body in his arms stilled and shifted before the auburn-headed woman turned her face up towards him.

He smiled down at the flower-girl, love shining through his eyes. “Is everything alright?”

She frowned and leaned in against him, placing her head just below his chin, one of her favorite places to cuddle. “The Planet… is afraid.”

The blond didn’t say anything as he pondered her statement. The last time the Planet had feared was when Sephiroth had invaded its lifestream and Jenova ran rampant. Could that mean that he was back and that their six month peace had been only a reprieve? If that battle in Midgar only eight hours prior had been any indication… his thoughts trailed off.

Aeris clutched at his shirt. “Have you been listening?”

“To what?” questioned the blond, frowning and furrowing his brow in confusion. The sound of distant thunder disturbed his thoughts. Cloud looked at the window, not surprised to see the flash of far off lightning. A storm was approaching it seemed. It was going to rain soon. Not that Cloud minded much; he was actually rather fond of thunderstorms and enjoyed them.

The flower-girl sighed. “Haven’t you even wondered why I can call Hephaestion without the materia, or even why I call him that?”

Cloud shrugged his shoulders. “I never really thought about it. I figured it just had something to do with you being an Ancient.”

Aeris couldn’t help but roll her eyes at her husband’s general cluelessness. He never was one for deep and provocative thought. “Why do you keep pretending like you can’t hear him? It’s not Sephiroth or Jenova. You’re not going crazy.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” insisted the blond, wrapping his arms around her tighter. “Tell me why the planet’s afraid.”

The auburn-headed female sighed and decided the issue could wait for another time. “It said that war is coming to Gaia… war that we might not be able to win. And that the inhabitants of this planet are not strong enough on their own to win against the threat that had been building from before Sephiroth.”

Cloud frowned. “Then Sephiroth was not our enemy then?”

Aeris shook her head. “No, he was. The immediate threat, yes, but also masking a greater foe, one that we might have realized had it not been for him. It’s time that everyone learned of the demi-gods and the war of years past.”

“The what?”

“You know of the summons, right? Our red materia? Well, the demi-gods have something to do with them. It is their power that makes the magic in the summon materia work.”

“Then why is this one dark?” asked the blond holding up one of his favorite summons, Chimaera. Though not one he had used in the war, having found it weeks later in a mysterious materia cave, he was still rather fond of the winged creature with the head of a lion and body of a serpent. She spat lightning and fire attacks when she was irritated and at times would cast Comet 2 on impeding enemies.

Aeris frowned and sat up on the bed, plucking the red materia from her husband’s hand. She rolled the ball around in her hand before shaking her head negatively. “She is no longer there. It’s as if Chimaera’s withdrawn her powers from the materia and no longer wishes to fight with us.”

“You say that as if our summons were free and sentient creatures!”

“They are!” the Ancient insisted. “And if you would just listen to him trying to speak to you, you would understand it, as well!” Her voice was both stern and chastising.

Cloud shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. All this talk of demi-gods and summons and greater foes that we should have known, monsters attacking the cities out of nowhere in more species than I have ever recognized… what happened to peace?” He looked at his wife beseechingly, hand automatically placing itself over on of her own on her belly. “What of the peace that I promised you after the battle was won?”

Aeris smiled softly before kissing him gently on the lips. “As long as i’m with you it doesn’t matter if we have to fight or not.”

He grabbed her quickly and wrapped her in his arms, holding her close. “I won’t lose you again…”

She nuzzled against his chest. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m told that I cannot fight this battle. Hephaestion says that I am not needed, another has come to take my place.”

“I’m not sure I even want to ponder on what that could mean right now,” muttered Cloud.

“Then don’t, but even if I am sitting this one out, I still need to tell the others what I know. No one else can speak to the planet like I. They won’t understand… no one knows of the ancient ones or the way things once were.”

Her husband nodded in understanding. “In the morning. For now, both of us need to get some rest.”

“Mmm, agreed,” murmured the auburn-headed woman as the two of them laid down and snuggled together. “I love you, Cloud.”

“Love you,” returned the blond just as readily, kissing her neck lightly as she drifted back into slumber. “Always…”

[Shattered] Dreams 19

Chapter Nineteen: Lost Number

A strange feeling gripped his heart as he stared at the gates to the small mountain town. Something about the place seemed familiar to him, as if he had been there before. Vincent frowned slightly and paused in his steps, for some reason, a strong foreboding sensation gripping him.

He also worried about Cosmo Canyon. He feared for the safety of the people there and wondered if Bugenhagen and Isis would be able to push back the creatures. The last time he had looked back, all he could see was the town lit up by the bright orange glow of flame. It had taken all of his will, and Erebus’ continuous prodding to keep him from turning back.

He sincerely hoped that it was all worth it because he felt the lowest of the low for fleeing to safety.

A low chuckle sounded from right beside him. “Hesitation? That’s a new one,” Erebus commented, his black robes swishing across the ground.

“This place gives me odd feelings,” retorted the dark-haired man without even sparing a glance at the demi-god.

Erebus chuckled once more but did not say anything else. Ignoring his anima, Vincent slowly began to walk into the town, the sign above the gate swinging in the breeze and reading Nibelheim. The moment he stepped through and beneath the archway, the memories smacked him the face with enough of a touch of reality to make him question his existence.

Smack!

“You have no right!” she hissed, jerking her arm from his grasp. “This is my life!

“But Lucrecia…”

“No!” She shook her head, promptly cutting off any protests he might have made, her brown hair swinging from side to side. He tried not to pay attention to the way the sun caught the light highlights in her hair, so enamored by her he was. “I love Hojo, not you, Vincent! We are friends, nothing more!”

“But he’s killing you!” the Turk replied in anguish, holding out his arms entreatingly.

Lucrecia frowned and took a step backwards. “Don’t play around with things you don’t understand.” Those were her last words before she ran away from him and fled back towards the mansion.

The grey-eyed man could do nothing but look after her arm outstretched, as if reaching for her, feeling as if his heart were breaking in two. His fists clenched at his side as hatred began to fill in the gaps… hatred for that damned scientist Hojo.

He had to protect Lucrecia. She had no idea what she was truly getting herself into. And the child… it needed his protection, as well. Someone had to stand up to that bastard!

His resolve strengthened, Vincent turned and headed out of the town. He needed to take some time to work off his anger before he attempted to go back into the mansion. He knew if he saw that smug face, he might not be able to restrain himself. Casting one more sorrowful glance at the path that Lucrecia had taken, the Turk drew his gun and prepared to take out his anger on some plains monsters, weak though they were…

Vincent gasped and reeled, his head spinning from the sudden onslaught of vivid memories. He felt abnormally dizzy and stumbled on his feet, hand flying out to grab a hold of something to steady himself. A bony hand snaked out and latched onto his arm, providing something solid for him to cling to. He stood stock still a moment, one hand going to his head as he waited for the world to stop spinning.

“Vincent?” the dry, raspy tone of Erebus questioned with concern.

The grey-eyed man shook his head slowly, blinking a few times to clear away the tears that had sprung to his eyes unbidden. “Nothing… just a memory.”

Erebus chuckled. “I’m not surprised,” he replied, pushing him back to his feet with one hand as he flicked the dark-haired man’s forehead with a bony finger. “Your mind has this uncanny ability to suddenly forget itself at a moment’s notice.”

Vincent pushed away his anima with an irritated hand and brushed hair out of his face, a strand having broken free from the loose ponytail that he was wearing it in. Without another word, he moved past Erebus and went into the small town of Nibelheim.

The first thing he noticed was how strangely quiet it was. There were no children playing outside nor could he hear any noise from any of the homes. A bird cawed softly from a roof and the sound of the wind blowing noisily were the only things he could hear. The dark-haired man looked to the sky and noticed the gathering storm clouds. It was going to rain soon and he wanted to be inside before then. Yet, he still had time, and he would spend that wandering around the town.

He walked past a few homes, peering nosily in a few windows. However, he found that both of them were abandoned, appearing as if they hadn’t been lived in quite a while. Layers of dust coated everything with a thick covering of age. Many of the windows were infested with spider webs, and the boards of the porches creaked noisily. He did notice that the few homes that held people were inhabited by recluses. He saw curtains shift slightly as he was observed, but other than that, they refused to answer the door or even leave their homes. The place was very odd, and it gave him an uncomfortable and unsettled feeling.

Everything in the town, surprisingly enough, seemed to be centered around a rusted and dilapidated water tower that looked as if it hadn’t been used in years.

He tried to go to the few stores that were present, bar included, to try and find out any information but was still sorely lacking. The shop was very under stocked with higher prices than he was willing to pay, and no one sold any materia. There was only one patron in the bar, and he was so utterly drunk already that it was to no point to talk to him. The bartender feigned ignorance, claiming he had only moved to the town a short while ago and had done it for the peace and quiet.

Hmph, peace and quiet indeed. It was as if the entire town had just up and died one day, and no one bothered enough to care.

He couldn’t help but wonder how he was supposed to find answers about his life in a dying town. There were very few inhabitants, none of whom recognized him.

Not to mention the odd feeling he had about the town. It didn’t scare him, but it did leave him constantly twitching anxious to leave, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to go wandering the mountains in the middle of the night and with an approaching thunderstorm. Erebus had disappeared; he wasn’t ever really sure where the demi-god went when he wasn’t annoying him.

However, it was probably the one place he had not yet visited that made him want to leave the most. The entire time he wandered and browsed, he felt an unexplainable pull towards the creepy mansion on the outskirts of town, surrounded by a rickety fence that was the epitome of horror movies everywhere. He tried to ignore the feeling, a bit unnerved by it but, in the end, succumbed to his senses.

Vincent paused just in front of the fence as he took one step towards the mansion that the Inn Master had explained was owned by the “ShinRa”. He claimed it had been abandoned for as long as he could remember, and so far, no one from the company had come to do anything about it. Most of the townspeople were afraid of it and didn’t go anywhere near. There were many ghost stories circulating around that particular building, and Vincent didn’t blame them. The place was creepy.

The dark-haired man looked at the sky once more, feeling the slight breath of moisture on the air and knew the storm was fast approaching. He faced a moment of indecision. Should he return to the inn and sleep until the storm passed or heed the strange pull towards the dilapidated building?

Erebus chuckled, suddenly appearing right beside him. “Wonderful vacation spot, do you not think? The air of suspicion and paranoia makes for rest and relaxation. Not to mention the dead flowers and browning shrubs… why it will provide the holiday of a lifetime.”

Vincent glared at the demi-god. “Why did you tell me to come here?” His eyes flickered to the ShinRa mansion for just a moment before returning to the demi-god. “This place might as well be dead.”

Erebus didn’t respond, instead shifting his gaze towards that of the mansion as if considering. “You seem to be avoiding this place. I wonder why?”

“Don’t play mind games with me,” the grey-eyed man snarled. “Do I need to go in there or not?”

“Ah, there goes that loss of patience once again. Has time really changed you that much?” questioned the demi-god as he shook his head and shrugged. “I cannot tell you what to do. You are the one who fears a building.”

Vincent irritated, pushed open the gate to the fence and moved past the demi-god into the front yard of the mansion. “I am not afraid,” he muttered, annoyed. “Just cautious…”

There was a squeak and a slam as the gate slid shut behind him, though he knew that Erebus was still there by the sound of robes swishing across the ground and the creaking of bones. The demi-god could be absolutely silent when he wished but at times didn’t particularly care.

The raven-haired man stood in front of the mansion and looked up at it, taking in the sloping of the porch and the broken windows in the face of the house. The front yard had been left untended for so long that it had overgrown and then collapsed with the weight of the weeds. There were many windows; everywhere he looked, shining dust-covered glass decorated the house face. It was a very old building, and looking at it sent shivers of trepidation down his spine, though he didn’t understand why.

Before the demi-god could accuse him of being afraid, Vincent moved towards the front door, easily pushing it open on creaking, rusty hinges until he stepped into the dim, dusty dark of the mansion. Thanks to all the windows he had some visibility, but other than that, he was forced to peer to see anything. He dimly registered a staircase and a high chandelier, as well as two or three doors on the lower floor. His ears picked up the low rumble of thunder from rather close by, but other than the creaking of the old house as it settled, it was silent.

He moved into the mansion, unable to shake the feeling that he somehow knew this place. Moving into the room to the left of the door, he found a piece of paper on the floor. Intrigued, he picked it up and glanced at the yellowed, faded parchment that appeared to be a piece of lab notes. There was something written on it and he strained to make it out.

(… for the lid of the box with the… Ivory’s short of tea… creek in the floor… up nine steps… and… six steps…)

The words were much too faded, and the paper crumpled in his grasp before he could understand any more. Shaking his head, he allowed the paper to flutter back towards the floor before turning his back on the otherwise empty room and moving into the rest of the house.

The rooms on the lower floor were mostly filled with junk and clutter, as if the building had been a dropping ground for furniture, all of it unwanted. There were no pictures or documents and very few books, making it difficult for him to discern anything of importance about the decaying mansion. Yet, he still could not shake the feeling that something was there… whether or not he could see it.

There was a piano in one of the rooms, two of the notes vastly off key and covered with thick layers of dust, though it appeared someone had recently been running their fingers over the ivory.

There were a few rooms with beds in them, uncomfortable looking ones at that, and even one wall that had strange scratches on it that he wasn’t sure he wanted to contemplate.

One room on the second floor had an opened safe within it, anything of value having already been taken by the previous inhabitants or common thieves, he really didn’t care which. The strangest thing; however, were the mysterious scores on the inside of the lid as if something had been trapped within…

However, it was the room in the northern part of the house that intrigued him. While all the other walls appeared to be made of the same material, for some reason, a corner of this room was made of carefully constructed stone glued together with a grey mortar. Vincent frowned and observed it carefully. It seemed so out of place, and he felt as if there were something behind the wall. Why else would it appear to be so different? No other rooms had anything that unique.

He moved up to the stone wall and ran his fingers over the cool rock. It was rough beneath his touch, not hewn to be smooth. He idly pushed on it, exerting a little strength and was surprised to find that it groaned beneath his touch and shifted slightly. Encouraged by this, Vincent placed both hands flat on the stone and pressed, hard. The door swung inwards at this, and a breath of cold stagnant air hit him in the face.

The dark-haired man wrinkled his nose at the decidedly vile odor and peered into the dusty dark. He could barely make out a set of wooden stairs that lead downwards. He stepped onto the first bit of plank and looked down, paling considerably. They spiraled downwards, occasional gaps in the wood and absolutely no handrails. If he fell… he couldn’t be sure he’d survive the fall.

Taking a deep breath, Vincent gingerly started to make his way down the steps, wincing at every small creak and groan of the decidedly ancient wood. He kept one hand on the mossy stone wall for balance as he descended. The further down he got, the chillier the air and more rank, as well. He wondered where it led… and why it seemed he was being pulled downwards.

Finally, he reached a ladder and climbed down it until he was standing at the very bottom of a rock tunnel, lit by small lights in the ceiling. He couldn’t help but wonder how it was being powered being as nothing upstairs seemed to work. He peered into the dim, the lights not being very strong, and saw that there seemed to be a tunnel that led straightforward.

Wrapping his cloak tighter about his body as protection against the outright cold and to keep himself from shivering, he pushed forward into the stone tunnel, idly noting the chains that hung from the ceilings or the weird purplish glow the entire place seemed to have.

He didn’t want to think about how creepy it really was beneath the ground. It was so dim that his mind was literally creating shapes out of nothing, and it was quiet, as well. He could near nothing save for the faint chinking of the chains or a breath of wind coming from somewhere. He strained his ears to listen, almost expecting something to appear which made his paranoia rise even higher. The darkness was cloaking all around him, grasping with phantasmal fingers…

Suddenly, a pair of hands latched on his shoulders and gripped tightly, appearing out of nowhere. He stiffened entirely, a shiver of stark fear running through his body as a cold wave of trepidation raced down his back. His eyes widened to the size of saucers, and he was forced to stifle a cry of fear. For the moment he forgot he had a weapon and only remembered that he had heard nothing, nothing at all and briefly considered passing out. His heart began to pound rapidly, every sense in his body urging him to run! His mind went utterly blank…

Until a dry, rasping chuckle from directly behind him caused him to flush with embarrassment. The hands left his shoulder, and Vincent whirled around only to come face to face with his anima.

“Not scared one bit, are we?” teased the demi-god. “Kami, I wish I could have seen your face but feeling that wash of fear, now that was classic.”

“Bastard,” hissed Vincent. “Why did you do that?”

Erebus waved a hand of dismissal. “You were creeping down this tunnel as if you expected something to jump out at you. I only heeded your expectations.” It was obvious the demi-god was trying to restrain his amusement.

The dark-haired man snorted and turned his back on his anima, not at all amused by what had just occurred. “That was not funny,” he growled, trying to hide his chagrin.

“I thought it was,” the demi-god snickered. When Vincent didn’t reply, Erebus shrugged to himself more than anyone else. “Fine then, I am gone. You know, I have other duties other than protecting your impatient self.”

The dark-haired man waved a hand of dismissal at the demi-god, still seething at having been embarrassed so and took a few steps forward. He glanced back only once glad to see that Erebus had indeed left. Breathing a sigh of relief he returned his attentions to the underground tunnel.

After a few moments, really not that long at all, he stopped and found himself confronted with two doors, one to the left and one just in front of him. Someone must have wanted this place to stay hidden for a reason, and he wondered if the doors would even open at all. There was another light here, one even brighter than the others, and it illuminated the ground. It was covered in dust and dirt of years, but he could see a few sets of tracks as if someone had come through recently. Yet, even those were covered with a thin layer of old age.

He pondered which door to investigate first before finally deciding on the one to the left. After all, usually the straight way was a continuance, while a side route was a deviance.

Vincent moved towards the average looking door and placed his hand on the cold knob, surprised to find it unlocked and turning easily in his grasp. He opened the door and stepped inside, wincing he was struck with even colder air that carried the faint stench of death and decay. It was not a pleasant odor, and it almost made him turn around completely. Yet, curiosity got the better of him, and he pushed forward, memories once more slapping him in the face. He closed his eyes with the sudden pounding of pain in his head.

When he was able to open them again, he found he was looking at a room that was brightly lit and filled with a few packing crates and, oddly enough, one lone coffin in the far end. There was no dirt or dust anywhere, and the dark-haired man understand that he was more or less experiencing a memory.

The mind worked in the oddest of ways.

There was a man dressed in a long white lab coat and wearing a pair of glasses, idly inspecting some sort of machine as he leaned over a coffin. From his position, Vincent couldn’t really see what was inside, so he took several steps forward. He vaguely registered the dirt and ground cracking beneath his feet but was concentrating on the scene before him.

As he moved forward he was surprised to find that there was a man lying in the coffin. He wore dark black clothing and had dark hair. His eyes were closed and Vincent could only assume he was dead… until he caught the subtle rise and fall of the man’s chest.

“I see the subjugation spell worked,” the bespectacled man tittered, idly pushing up on his glasses as he fiddled with a few more knobs. “Perhaps some time locked in this prison will cool those demons, no?”

Of course his victim did not respond. As Vincent drew closer, he realized with a startled gasp that the man in the coffin was himself. His eyes widened in surprise as the man in the lab coat laughed again before reaching up for the lid of the coffin.

“Sweet nightmares, Valentine.” The scientist sneered before he pushed the coffin lid down violently, the loud slam echoing throughout the room and effectively ending the minor vision/memory that Vincent was experiencing.

He blinked and suddenly found himself in the dim, cobwebbed tunnel beneath the mansion, staring at a dark room filled with crates and coffins. His eyes were unconsciously resting on the casket in the center of the room. He recognized the design on the lid as it hung haphazardly, similar to that in his memory. Taking a deep breath and trying to ignore the stagnant, chilly air around him, Vincent took a step forward and shoved the coffin lid aside, peering down at the surprisingly empty casket.

It looked and felt vaguely familiar. Whatever had happened in his memory, why he had been placed in the coffin and the talk of demons was all very confusing to him, but he knew to try and push his fragile mind to remember would be too much. He idly ran a hand on the lining of the coffin, surprised to find it felt rather soft to the touch.

Grey eyes looked about the rest of the room, finding nothing else of interest or noteworthy value, so he withdrew his hand and moved out of the room. There was nothing more to be seen in there.

Without hesitation he moved out into the tunnel and headed straight for the other door, reaching immediately for the handle. He frowned when he realized it was locked and would not open for him. He tried rattling the door, seeing if it would break, but unlike the rest of the house, it was actually quite sturdy and nowhere near as dilapidated.

Giving up, Vincent threw his hands up in the air and started back towards the upstairs. He was suddenly feeling very tired, very cold, and very hungry, wanting nothing more than to return to the inn for a night of rest. If he could, he would return in the morning and search for the key. He had a feeling that the answers were right behind him in that room, and as usual, they were eluding his every move.

That night he dreamed. Scattered images that seemed to flit back and forth between periods in his life when he was young, though those were fuzzier than others… and even of his time in Gongaga, brief flashes of the blonde Annalee and of Granny and Gramps sitting around the dining room table.

They always knew he wasn’t their son but treated him as such anyways. Granny always had a smile to offer for him and Gramps a satisfied smirk. He reveled in the feeling of family, somehow internally knowing that before he had been alone for a long time.

However, he dreamed of other things, too.

Fractured scenes of a past he couldn’t remember haunted every moment of his slumber. He saw himself in battle numerous times, always with a gun at his side. His appearance changed. At times he wore a dark blue suit and was accompanied by another man he did not recognize. Other times he wore a bright crimson cape covering dark black clothes with golden boots on his feet. Those times, his companions changed quite frequently, from a young spiky-headed blond with bright blue eyes to a large red-haired lion type creature, from an amber-eyed man in an executive suit to a Wutaiian looking teen girl, from a dark-headed scantily dressed female and even an auburn-haired woman, who wore pink and wielded a staff.

He also dreamed of blood… so much of it seemingly coating everything. He didn’t know why his thoughts were filled with such dark and ominous things but it almost seemed like a warning. He kept seeing thick dark black wings dripping blood and remembered the pain of something bursting through his back. Bright crimson eyes invaded his senses and mocking laughter burst through his subconscious causing him to whimper in sleep. It was like a nightmare come to fruition and it scared him.

He saw needles and light glinting darkly off a metal table and pale hands grabbing onto his flesh, grasping him so tightly it hurt. Green liquid flowed through and above him, leaving nothing but pain and agony in its wake.

Blood-stained claws reached for his very soul, determined to take him, own him forever. He opened his mouth to scream when suddenly a brilliant white and blue light appeared to push away the dark.

He was overwhelmed by the scent, that familiar erotic scent of tea and cigarettes, of engine grease and oil. He could feel those calloused hands on his skin once more and almost thought he could taste the man behind the scent, the one that loved him enough to battle his inner demons.

The voice, rough and gruff, so deep that it literally made him want to quake inside and set his skin and senses on fire spoke his name, the light pushing back all the dark. Hands brushed over his forehead, soothing him and quieting his fears. There was comfort there and love, an emotion so pure it almost seemed he was unworthy of it.

Blue eyes locked deep with his own, eyes like the sky on a bright summer day, only the purest of crystalline azure. He imagined he could see wings behind those eyes and felt as if he were soaring in the air. He didn’t understand the metaphor behind that then but somehow knew it was important.

Fingers ghosted over his skin, gentle caresses and touches that awakened a fire deep inside him, and Vincent just knew that he had find this person. He had to find the one man in his dreams, who truly loved him, if only to see if that feeling remained in real life…

Vincent turned once more to gaze on the more or less ghost town that was Nibelheim as he headed out towards the mountains of Nibel. He had been informed that there was a city on the other side of the range called Rocket Town, and for some reason, that name struck a chord within him. Having already transversed most of the continent, he decided that he might as well go on to that town also.

After all, his search in Nibelheim had proved entirely fruitless. After spending a night in the inn and having several disturbing and also pleasant dreams, Vincent had returned to the ShinRa mansion to search for the key to the other door in the basement. He had poked in every box, drawer, carton, and lifted up every loose board he could find. He sifted through dusty crates in the basement, opened the lid of every coffin, and still the key eluded him. He finally gave up after five hours of searching and listening to Erebus make snide comments.

It was then that he ventured over to the bar and heard about Rocket Town where the barkeeper had claimed he was born. He kept telling him that if he told the Captain about “Sammy” that the Captain could find him a job if he wanted one. He politely thanked the man and left from the bar. He had no interest in a job for the moment, his only interests lay in finding out who he was and the man in the dream as well, for that matter.

Grey eyes looked towards the town that was dying little by little each day and at the dilapidated ShinRa mansion still standing resolute against the world. He idly wondered if anyone would ever come to inhabit it again. Vincent still felt that many of the answers he was searching for were there but had conceded that for the moment they were beyond his reach.

He turned his back on Nibelheim and gazed with interest at the mountains in front of him. He had been told it was at least a day’s hike through the mountains, so that meant he would appear on the other side somewhere in the early hours of the morning which meant he would have to rest sometime between now and then.

Sighing his head, a bit weary of having walked nearly an entire damn continent in the past week or so, he wasn’t sure exactly how long, he headed into the mountains. He idly wondered how long he would have to travel before he found his way again or before he found any sort of answers.

The rain had fallen well through the evening and the night, and the afternoon was stifling as the midday sun worked on the water collected everywhere. He tried to ignore the wet heat that surrounded him but soon found he was sweating beneath his thick, grey cloak.

He heard the crunch of stones seconds before he felt the presence of the demi-god suddenly walking beside him. He was quiet, waiting for Erebus to speak first as he knew the demi-god would.

“On the road again.” Erebus sighed, shaking his head as his scythe struck the ground in staccato beside him.

Vincent frowned and glared at his anima. “As you are being as close to useless as one of your ability is able, I don’t see how you have a right to complain.”

The demi-god chuckled. “I was not complaining, just making an observation. This perpetual wandering, will it ever cease?”

Vincent shrugged. “I am going to find myself… and I’m going to find him.”

If he had a brow, Erebus was sure he would have cocked one at that statement. “Him?”

The grey-eyed man ignored the piercing gaze that was being directed at him, instead concentrating on the path before him. “Every night since I’ve had to leave Gongaga, and sporadically when I was there, I’ve dreamed of the same man. Whoever I’m going to find him because I know, if anyone knows me, it is that man.” His hand clenched into a fist at his words, his own solemn vow.

Erebus shook his head in amazement. “For such short lives… so much passion and strength… everyday you humans surprise me more.”

Vincent didn’t reply, having nothing to say to that as he continued to put one foot in front of the other, prepared for a long and arduous climb through the Mt. Nibel.

[Shattered] Dreams 18

Chapter Eighteen: Cry of the Sphinx

“Oh, my god,” breathed Yuffie as she looked out from the front of the Highwind down at the destruction of Cosmo Canyon.

Bright orange flame had overtaken much of the city, and thick plumes of greasy black smoke had formed a blanket over the once clean and bright town. Her hand involuntarily went to her mouth as her eyes watered. She should have been used to such a scene, having come from Gongaga, but it was too much too absorb. There should have been peace! After Sephiroth… it was all supposed to be over.

The ninja found her heart going out to all the innocents as she whispered a prayer of safe journey on those that may not have survived the attack. In the back of her mind, words whispered that they should have been there. They could have saved them… but she struggled to fight them down as she wrestled with her own pangs of sadness.

“Grandfather!” exclaimed Nanaki from beside her in angst as his golden eyes widened in despair. He turned half from the window to cast a pleading glance at the pilot. “Hurry, Cid, I have to get down there.”

The pilot didn’t have the heart to reply gruffly, only nodding before he pushed the Highwind’s pilot aside to land the airship himself. The smoke was thick in the air, heavy with ash and soot, clogging up his propellers and such. He didn’t trust his pilot to be able to land the Highwind properly in the near zero visibility or to be able to handle the airship when one of the engines to stop working.

However, Cid’s heart was hurting at his glimpse of Cosmo Canyon, as well. He had just spoken to the grandfather not but a few hours before. What could have happened in such a short amount of time? Bugenhagen had said that he had found Vincent… had he lost him once more? He couldn’t help but think… if only they had left Gongaga sooner… if only he had pushed the Highwind to her limits… perhaps they would have been there in time.

The Highwind circled around once more to find a place to land, and Yuffie had to swallow thickly, her mouth feeling dry and her throat choked. The city didn’t look any better from the change of sight. If anything, it seemed more destroyed on the northern side. She was on the verge of tears and was trying her best to blink them back, for Nanaki’s sake if no one else’s. The demi-human would need his friends right now.

She dared a glance over at him and was pained by the sorrow on his face. His eyes and lips had drawn together tightly, and his fists were clenched at the side, while his brow furrowed in worry. She knew he was concerned for Bugenhagen. Yuffie was, as well.

“Why? What could have done this?” he murmured aloud, eyes locked on the burning buildings. Most of Cosmo Canyon had become empty shells of flaming wreckage. He couldn’t see any enemies, but his sharp sight had found the bodies lying on the ground, some twisted and deformed others bloody and crumpled. Most looked as if they had been destroyed by magic, either Lightning or Fire.

“Perhaps the same that had attacked Gongaga,” wondered the ninja aloud, blanching suddenly at the thought. If the two were connected, then there was a new menace on Gaia, one that none of them knew anything about.

“I’m putting her down now,” Cid called out as he prepped the Highwind for a landing. Calloused pilot fingers danced quickly over the control panel, flicking switches and adjusting controls. Cid knew exactly what he was doing, even if he hadn’t personally piloted his airship in a long time. His face was set with grim determination, trying not to keep staring out the window at the smoking Cosmo Canyon.

Nanaki nodded in understanding of Cid’s warning and took off towards the cargo bay, determined to get off as soon as possible. His feet carried him quickly towards the door, his mind in another place already. He was first of all worried about his Grandfather and how the elder man had fared in the attack.

He had to hold back a snort at that. From the looks of it, the town seemed more the location of a massacre rather than an attack. Bodies littered the ground and homes were little more than piles of smoking, still-glowing debris. He couldn’t be sure whether the attackers were actually defeated or just left because there was nothing left to destroy. He automatically tightened the claw on his arm, just in case he met some monsters down on the ground.

Yuffie watched the demi-human leave before quickly making her decision. She followed after him, knowing he did not need to be alone at this time. If she had been in his position… well, she wasn’t sure her anger would be able to be contained.

“Nanaki, wait for me,” she called out, hurrying to follow him. He seemed very single-minded in his task, his thoughts in many places as he tried to hold back his own flood of tears. It was the sight of his home… on the top of the mountain that was little more than a husk of blackened debris that had done it for him. He had to know the fate of his grandfather; he had to!

The golden-eyed man felt a hand on his arm and stopped abruptly, turning his head and looking to see who had touched him. In his grief, he nearly did not recognize Yuffie and had to force himself to calm down. He closed his eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths before opening them again and allowing himself a glimpse into those granite eyes that often made him feel wobbly-kneed.

“Hey,” she said softly, tightening her grip on his arm and squeezing him gently. “I am here for you, okay?”

His angry gaze softened, and he afforded her a small smile. “I am grateful for that,” he responded. And truly he was. It was good to have friends. When he had been in Hojo’s care, he had been so alone, dealing with everything on his own. All the pain and tests… the experiments… he shuddered to think about it.

Just then, the airship gave a slight hitch, and the two knew that Cid had landed it. After exchanging glances, Nanaki and Yuffie continued on their path, hurriedly making their way to the cargo bay. Within moments they were lowering the ramp and stepping out onto the ground to get their first close up view of the devastation.

The smell of burning was what hit them first… burning wood, stone… living beings; the air was filled with soot and scorched flesh. Yuffie covered her nose and mouth with an arm as she looked about, eyes widening. Everywhere it was still aflame, and she knew what she had to do. She knew of only way to extinguish all the flame.

“I am going to call Leviathan,” she told Nanaki. “He can put out these fires and destroy any enemies that remain.” The Water God was her absolute favorite summon, had always been since she was little and dreamed of oceans and far away lands beneath the sea.

“Call his true name,” the demi-human responded a bit distractedly. He didn’t spare her a glance, too busy taking in the scene before them. He was scanning for signs of life first, muscles tensed for an attack that he wanted to be prepared for.

Yuffie quirked an eyebrow at him and gave a quizzical look. “His… true name?”

Nanaki turned and nodded slightly as the air next to him shimmered before a figure suddenly appeared. It was a beautiful woman with flaming red hair that was braided into many intricate knots and shining crystalline blue eyes that had no bounds. She was slightly shorter than the demi-human, only coming up to his shoulder and wore no shoes on her feet although pretty bangles of gold jingled on her ankles. She was dressed in a cloak that seemed more like a pair of fiery wings crossed in front of her and latched at her throat. The woman was astoundingly beautiful.

Yuffie was speechless. “W… who?” It seemed she could voice nothing more intelligent than that stuttered word.

“I am Suzaku,” answered the woman in an airy voice that was more musical than anything. “Or as you more commonly know me, Phoenix. This is my human form, more suitable for standing next to my animus than the huge bird form.” She smiled at the ninja softly, before returning her attentions to Nanaki, inspecting him with concerned crystalline eyes.

“You called him once before, you spoke his name,” continued Nanaki, though his voice sounded distant and cold. He was hurting deep inside and was slowly fading… “Back in the crater before the battle with Sephiroth or so you told me… his name of old…”

The ninja blinked as she appeared to consider his words before it seemed a light bulb flashed over her brain. She remembered… the name of the ancient sea god before the war and before Leviathan. It appeared that they were one and the same.

Nanaki heard footsteps on the ramp behind him and saw Cid coming down but motioned for the pilot to be silent. The blond cast him a strange look but obeyed, coming to stand just behind the two as Yuffie appeared to concentrate.

“Barinthus,” she spoke softly, as if afraid of what would happen. For a moment, nothing appeared until she heard the sound of rushing waves from deep within her heart.

A ball of water began to coalesce above the tiny group, growing in intensity and size as it glowed a brilliant shining blue. It flashed twice before exploding into the form of the great sea serpent, Barinthus. He roared quietly before twirling his great body around the three present, nuzzling Yuffie gently and gliding off towards Cosmo Canyon, extinguishing fires as he moved.

“Wow…” breathed the ninja. Her eyes widened in awe and a brief grin appeared on her face, barely pushing away the sorrow that was starting to gather.

Nanaki allowed himself a small smile as he patted her on the head. “He is your anima, as Suzaku is mine. The two of you are meant to fight together,” he commented before moving towards the city, the phoenix demi-goddess by his side.

Cid was standing in awe behind the two, surprised that his younger friends could be so powerful. He idly wondered if he would have such a gift but put that thought aside. The only thing he wanted was Vincent… and to find him he would have to go into Cosmo Canyon.

He and Yuffie exchanged glances before they, too, followed after Nanaki. For the second time that week, the three friends were forced to guard their hearts against the grief that threatened to consume them. War had indeed struck Gaia… war that no one was prepared for.

Cid tried not to let all the destruction affect him. Yet, the sight of tear-streaked ashen faces as they wandered, searching for lost love ones filled him with a familiar ache and longing. He could understand what they were feeling and didn’t wish that hurt upon anyone. He unconsciously reached into his pockets and pulled out a cigarette, lighting it up as his hands began to tremble slightly. Too much… it was all too much…

A hand touched him lightly on his arm and Cid started, looking down into the worried brown eyes of Yuffie. She offered him up a small smile.

“Hey, you’re shaking…” she commented.

“Needed a cigarette,” he responded with an off-handed shrug as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the pack, lighting one quickly. She looked as if she didn’t believe him.

Yuffie regarded him for a moment before squeezing his arm and letting him go. “He will be fine. Vinny doesn’t exactly lie down and give in, you know?”

Cid allowed the smallest of grins to peek out on his face. “Yeah, you’re right about that brat. Now, let’s see if we can find him, eh?”

The sound of a long and loud mournful cry echoed from all around them. Ahead, Nanaki had drawn to a stop, head cocked towards the sky as his eyes closed and he listened. Suzaku has placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and was murmuring something softly.

The sound seemed to fill the air, almost musically seeming much like a funeral dirge. It appeared as if someone were being mourned for. It broke through all barriers and touched each of the three friends deep inside their hearts. Yuffie herself felt as if she would cry from the sound.

The air beside her shimmered and an older looking man with shining jade-aquamarine eyes and hair the color of turquoise stone stood there. He wore a gi and hakama of brilliant cerulean that seemed to flow as if it were water and his wizened face was handsome.

“It’s Isis,” spoke the man, his voice soft and bubbly. It was a deep voice, melodious and pleasant on the ears, sounding much like waves crashing over a shore on a warm day. “She mourns the loss of her animus.”

Yuffie turned to him startled, her eyes widening. “Barinthus?”

He nodded and smiled softly. “Hai. This is my human form. All of we demi-gods have one.”

Suddenly, in front of them, Nanaki took off at a dead run, heading deeper into Cosmo Canyon and straight towards the remains of the building he once called home. Suzaku floated at his side, more hovering than running. Cid, Yuffie, and Barinthus were frozen for a moment in surprise as the demi-human hadn’t said anything before he started to run.

Exchanging quick glances, in agreement for once, the pilot and the ninja took off after their emotionally damaged friend. They tried to push past the destruction that was around them but found they couldn’t tear their eyes away.

Cid ran after Nanaki but his mind was in another place. He was worried. Bugenhagen had claimed that he had found Vincent, and if that were true, the ex-Turk was somewhere in Cosmo Canyon… but said town had been attacked and nearly completely destroyed. Would he be able to find his lover?

It seemed as if fate and luck were against him. Every time he should have drawn close to Vincent, something would throw him off course. Whether it be in the form of a certain dark-haired president or a horde of monsters intent on destroying a city. The pilot sighed. No matter what it took or the hell he had to cross, he would find Vincent… because he had promised himself that without the ex-Turk it just wasn’t worth it.

“Dammit, Vince,” he muttered more to himself than to anyone else. “Ya didn’t have to give yourself up like that; we could have found another way…” But even as he spoke those words, he knew that they were probably false. Vincent was intelligent, even if he was guilt-driven. There probably was no other method.

The blond pilot skidded to a stop, Yuffie nearly crashing into his back. His blue eyes widened as he took in the scene before him. In his thoughts, he had ran without sight, finally catching up to Nanaki, and he didn’t like what he saw.

The demi-human had stopped abruptly in the path, hands clenched at his side as he stared with trembling shoulders at a still form lying on the ground just outside the husk of his former home. Yuffie gasped from beside Cid and buried her face in the pilot’s shoulder. Unused to giving comfort, the blond put an awkward arm around the girl and patted her back soothingly, his own face softening.

There was another form kneeling beside that of the one on the ground. This one was that of a tawny-haired female, scantily dressed in golden furs and such with a feathered headdress of golden plumage. She had bronze skin and piercing azure eyes although they shimmered with tears that streaked down her smoke-stained face. The woman seemed to be translucent, her body both there and not there as a trembling hand patted the white ash-choked hair on a very familiar head.

Nanaki stood there for a moment not moving. The phoenix put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off without a word as he took several small steps forward before sinking to his knees on the ground. He grabbed his claw weapon violently, jerking it off and tossing it aside. The metal clattered to the ground, an unwelcome noise in the silence. The red-haired demi-human’s shoulders slumped as he reached out with trembling fingers.

“Grandfather…” came his murmured voice on the wind, so very soft and broken.

The demi-human brushed some of the white hair out of Bugenhagen’s face and looked down with sorrow-filled amber eyes, liquid with unshed tears. His grandfather seemed so peaceful, not a trace of pain in the smoke-streaked features. Beside him, the golden woman wept quietly, her form flickering in and out.

“I tried but there were too many…” sobbed the woman. “I’m not a fighter, but I tried…” she trailed off, breaking into tears anew. “We had been together so long. He was one of the few that could hear us, hear me.”

Cid blinked with sudden understanding as the small ninja quivered in his arms, soaking his shirt with her tears. She had grown close to the older wise man in the past six months, having spent nearly every waking moment learning from him alongside her best friend. Barinthus moved smoothly to the pilot’s side and nodded as if confirming Cid’s suspicions. Even his sea eyes were dimmed with the pain of loss. Bugenhagen had been very well known among the demi-gods. The tawny-haired woman was Isis, Bugenhagen’s anima.

“I should have been here,” Nanaki whispered, his voice breaking as a small silvery trail of tears began to make its way down his face. “If I had…” He was unable to continue, balling his hand into a fist in anger with himself… for his failure.

“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” Suzaku intoned, moving to kneel beside her animus and offering a consoling arm to her demi-god friend. Isis accepted the hand gratefully, body still wracked with sobs. The lioness demi-god and her anima had been especially close having spent over one-hundred years linked together. “You couldn’t possibly have been everywhere at once.”

The demi-human blinked, as if seeing his anima for the first time. A sudden dawning crossed his features. “Suzaku, you have restorative powers! You can bring him back!”

The phoenix in human form lowered her eyes mournfully, brushing the back of her hand over the fallen grandfather’s forehead. “I cannot. It is far too late…”

“You are a demi-god,” protested the golden-eyed man. “I don’t understand! Why can’t you save him!” his voice cracked as he reached out with one arm to grab the shoulder of his anima. He latched onto her, surprised that beneath his fingers he felt fabric rather than the feathers he had expected.

Suzaku looked at him sadly, her face softening at the anguish she saw there. She wholly wished that she could do as he asked if only to take away that look. “I can’t…” she whispered softly. “He has lived his time.”

Nanaki’s fingers loosened in their hold as he slumped, head falling downwards as his chin struck his chest. Red-hair curtained his face, hiding his expression although the drops of salty water raining down on his knees and the smoke-streaked ground were unmistakable. His shoulders shook and the sound of broken sobbing permeated the area. The demi-human had lost the last semblance of family that he had. There was no consolation for that.

Cid turned his gaze away, unable to watch his friend break down any longer. It brought up far too many painful memories for himself. The lamenting and melancholy he had been fighting with over the past six months struck him anew as he was reminded of his own loss. He felt movement and saw Yuffie detaching herself from his side only to move to that of her best friend.

She knelt behind him and laid her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arms around his stomach loosely. She didn’t speak, knowing it was enough for him to know she was there for him. He didn’t say anything either, only continued to weep his sorrow, unafraid to show his pain. One of his own hands went to hers, covering the slimmer, smaller fingers with his larger ones.

Cid turned away from the scene, trying to push down what was bubbling up in his heart, threatening to overtake him. One thought was prevalent on his mind. Where was Vincent? If Bugenhagen was there… and the house was destroyed behind him, then where was the man that the grandfather had thought was Vincent? The pilot took several steps away, leaving the two and the demi-gods to their sorrow. He was nowhere near as close to Bugenhagen as they and knew he would be of no use in comfort. Not when he was trying to fight down his own misery and pain.

He walked away to a small pile of blackened boulders and uncaring about their state, sat upon one, staring out over the destroyed town. So much devastation and death… and for what purpose? When was Gaia ever going to find peace? Sighing to himself, and pushing down the disconsolate feelings within him, Cid dug into his pocket for his PHS, knowing he had to call Reeve and tell him what had happened in Cosmo Canyon.

Tears… he was well acquainted with those. Crying and struggling to maintain some kind of grasp on sanity while his heart tore itself into so many pieces forever unable to be repaired. At least Bugenhagen had had his chance to live. His opportunity to love and be loved, a long fulfilling life filled with everything that composed his happiness and sorrow. Cid hadn’t hardly the chance to be with the one he truly loved before it was taken from him.

Shaking his head to clear away his dire thoughts, the pilot pressed the auto-dial button for Reeve’s cell and stared out over the broken city, unconsciously lighting a cigarette as he did so. He had a feeling that he was soon going to need a lot more. The sun was slowly beginning to set, casting rays of orange and gold over Cosmo Canyon, illuminating the pink and tangerine walls of the stone that surrounded the city. On any normal day it would have been beautiful. However, on a day of such bad tidings, it was only a bringer of sorrow.

The phone rang in his ear twice more before someone finally answered. There was a click and then static blared in his ear, hissing and crackling.

“What the fuck?” questioned the pilot, holding the PHS away from his ear with an irritated frown. It sputtered at him as if angry.

“Hello?” came a distant voice, trying to break through the interference. The pilot instantly recognized it.

Cid blinked and brought the phone as near to his ear as the static would allow. “Reeve?”

“Cid? … what…. too?” The President’s voice was fading in and out and the pilot could hardly make him out. “Some of the … destroyed… in …. battle…”

The blond strained his ears to listen as the words battle struck him suddenly. Had Midgar been attacked, as well? “There’s been an attack on Cosmo Canyon,” informed the pilot the moment there was a second of clear air.

“One on Midgar also,” said Reeve in response, for the moment their connection perfectly clean. “Things are bad, but we handled it. Most of the city remained intact.”

Cid took a puff of his cigarette, releasing the breath he had been holding. “It’s not so good here.” The phone crackled once more and he was forced to wait for it to clear, glowering at every second that passed. “Whatever it was destroyed the town, making it little more than a collection of burned buildings. Bugenhagen… he… didn’t make it.”

The President sighed softly. “I know Nanaki is crushed. Do you know what attacked?”

“Haven’t been able to talk to anyone yet. Isis keeps fading in and out and all the survivors have fled into hiding, deep within the twisting tunnels of the mountains of Cosmo. The others… well, it’s going to be a long time before the town can recover,” responded the blond, casually flicking ashes from his cigarette onto the ground as he stared at the ruins of Cosmo Canyon. The wind ruffled at his clothes, attempting to send a chill to his bones. Little did it know but Cid was already cold, inside and out, slowly dying day by day…

The phone crackled loudly and fizzed in his air, sounding very much like a snowy television set. Cid grimaced and held the phone away from his ear, glancing just once at the level of bars on the screen. He had just one, no surprise there. Cosmo Canyon had one of the worst locations for towers and many had probably been destroyed in the attack.

“Cid? Cid? Are you there?” Reeve’s voice cut through the fizz.

Cid hopped down from the rock and started to walk, hoping that would help the reception. “Yeah, I’m here.”

“Listen, I’m going to be quick because I don’t know how long the connection is going to last. But stay in Cosmo Canyon for now. I don’t know what’s going on, but I fear if you go into the air you might come crashing down in a way you least expect. Tifa still hasn’t contacted me.” Reeve’s voice dropped an octave, making it increasingly difficult for the pilot to hear him. “Tseng suspects that there is someone on the inside.”

“I’m not leaving anyway,” replied Cid gruffly. “Vincent is here somewhere and I’m going to find him.”

“What?” exclaimed Reeve. “What are you talking about?”

Cid sighed and flicked his extinguished cigarette onto the ground before rubbing his forehead in annoyance. Though he talked on the phone he kept an eagle eye out for anyone who might either be alive, or look even remotely like Vincent.

“Bugenhagen called me, which is why I am here, and told me that he had found Vincent. I’m not leaving until I find out what happened and if he’s still here.”

Reeve was silent for a moment. “What if… what if it’s another hoax Cid? I mean, can you really trust anyone who’s making that claim?”

“I don’t want to hear it, Reeve,” cut in the pilot. “I’ve had enough of your meddling. Thanks for caring, but I need to do this on my own. I am the only one who seems to think he’s alive anymore, and I’ll be damned if anyone else slows me down.”

“But-”

“No.” Cid shook his head negatively although the President could not see him. It was more the principal of the movement rather than the actual movement itself. “I’m doing this Reeve. It’s not as if I need your consent. Take care of Midgar and for gods sakes, go find your own lover.” He didn’t wait for the executive to respond before hanging up the phone. It was then that the pilot realized he was still somewhat furious with the dark-haired man. His anger had not faded by much.

Sighing, Cid slipped the phone back into his pocket and surveyed the area around him once more. There didn’t appear to be any living creatures in the city. The survivors had fled, and monster carcasses littered the area.

Curious as to what had attacked Cosmo Canyon, the pilot skidded down a small embankment until he was standing on level ground and in front of a few bodies. He walked boldly up to one, kicking at it and turning it over.

It was a winged bat demon, similar to the type that he had seen in a big pile outside of Gongaga. He didn’t recognize the species as one that he had fought against before. In fact, most of the monster bodies that he saw he did not recognize. Were they mutating? Did it have something to do with Hojo’s experiments? Had they gotten loose before the Turks could destroy them all?

Frowning, the pilot moved from the body at his feet to the next. It was charred as if it had been struck by lightning. He recognized the tell-tale signs. This monster he did not recognize either, and he had thought that he had fought all that existed on Gaia in the battle against Sephiroth. And why hadn’t their bodies dissolved like the others? That was not good…

Stones clattering on stones alerted him to the fact that he was alone. He surreptitiously placed a hand on his spear as he listened intently, trying to determine the direction of the noise and whether or not it was a threat. There was another small clatter just behind him, a little to the left. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the Venus Gospel and pulled it out at the same moment that he twisted his body, ready to meet his foe, jaw nearly dropping in surprise.

It was a strange monster that was leering down at him, indeed from nearly a height that towered over his by four feet or more. It was completely black, almost the color of pitch and blended with the shadows. It vaguely resembled a Marlboro but had enormous wings jutting from its shoulders, and its body seemed to be covered in feathers and tentacles.

“What the… fuck!” Cid had no time to ponder as suddenly several tentacles shot out at him, at speeds almost faster than his eyes could detect. He dodged the first and sliced the second, diving to the ground and rolling to avoid the third all in one same motion. It seemed six months of peace had not slowed his reflexes at all.

Rolling to his feet, the pilot glared at the monster, mentally reviewing his stock of materia. Fire, Lightning, Meteor, but nothing that would protect him. The creature roared, its voice sounding more like a loud ‘kweh!’ before it flexed its body and shot a stream of razor sharp feathers at him.

Cid planted his feet and spun his spear in a vicious circle, effectively warding of the sharp projectiles only missing once when one sliced him across the cheek.

“Fuck this!” he growled, tossing a fist at the creature. “Bolt 3!” Lightning crashed down from a clear sky and struck the creature in the head, stunning it momentarily and illuminating the area around. The sound of thunder resounded through the air, echoing across the empty and still smoke clogged sky.

Cid’s eyes widened. It couldn’t be… but it was. The monster was a Chocoboro, though he hadn’t heard of one in such a color, or away from Midgar for that matter. Hojo had only created those creatures in the Midgar labs, not anywhere else. How had it gotten to Cosmo Canyon?

Suddenly, the black Chocoboro began to flap its wings as if preparing to take flight, throwing a constant barrage of sharp feathers and tentacles at its prey. It keened like a bird once more as its body slowly began to rise into the air, aided by its massive wings.

Cid ducked and rolled, avoiding the projectiles as he ran carefully towards the monster, anger flushing his features. The damn beast was making a fool of him. His body was beginning to glow a reddish-orange color, the signs of the beginnings of a limit break.

“Take this damn freak!” he growled, nimbly slicing a tentacle as he leapt at the rising beast high into the air. He drove his weapon deep into the monster’s body, sending in his own power so that an explosion resounded throughout its feathered blobby frame and throwing him a few feet backwards.

The Chocoboro crashed to the ground, cawing in pain as its tentacles writhed in pain. Cid landed with a grunt on his back, several feet away from the creature. For a moment, the two enemies struggled to rise up off the ground, bodies wracked with pain. Cid coughed, trying to breathe air into his smoke-infested lungs, mentally cursing every cigarette he had ever inhaled, though he would never confess that to anyone else.

“Fire3!” he cast quickly while he struggled to regain a breath, sending a stream of fire on the creature. It rapidly enveloped the monster, causing it to burst into flame and ‘kweh’ angrily.

The Chocoboro jumped to its feet and heaved in a big breath, ignoring the pain of its burnt body. Cid moved to a kneeling position, eyeing the creature warily. He didn’t know what it had planned, or even what attacks it could use.

With a large exhale, sounding indeed like a train in a tunnel, the creature blew out a gale of poisonous gas that ignited when it passed by the flames surrounding the Chocoboro’s body. Blue eyes widened in surprise as Cid dove to the right to avoid the attack, body rolling across the ground.

He hissed in pain when some of the deadly breath connected with the last of his left leg and started to burn like acid. “Fucking hell!” he cursed, drawing up into a slight crouch with his injured leg tingling and burning beneath him. “Why won’t you just die?”

The Chocoboro cackled as if it understood Cid’s words and turned to face the pilot, who was now breathing heavily with pain and exertion. Several tentacles shot out at the blond, more than he could block on his own. He held out an arm, intending to cast Meteor, when a black appendage shot by him, grazing his forearm and shattering the armlet from around his arm. It flew into many pieces, landing all about him in bits of pieces.

Cid scarcely blinked before he realized that all he had left to him was a spear. That thing was significantly more powerful than the ones that the Turks had to destroy. What had caused it to change?

The Chocoboro ‘kweh’ed loudly as it advanced on the pilot, an abnormal and shockingly pink tongue escaping from its mouth to lick lips that weren’t present. It considered the blond defeated and an easy kill.

“Fuck you!” cursed the pilot glaring. “I ain’t going down without a fight.”

The Chocoboro took a step towards him, menace gleaming in its blood red eye when an orange flash suddenly appeared between the two. It stopped, eye widening in surprise before orange blood began to seep, and its head slowly slid down from its ‘neck’ only to plop on the ground with a disgusting slurp and gurgle.

“Old man, you’re hurt,” came Yuffie’s voice from beside the pilot suddenly. Cid gaped as Nanaki appeared, as well, claw stained with orange blood and black Chocoboro gunk.

“What the hell… just happened?” questioned Cid even as he fell back on his ass, unable to support his weight on his injured leg any longer.

The ninja smiled slightly before holding out her cure materia, casting the healing magic on Cid’s legs and relieving the burn, helping the singed skin in growing quickly. “He’s gotten faster than he once was,” she said by way of explanation.

The pilot turned eyes towards Nanaki. “You were that blur I saw seconds before its damn head just fucking fell off?”

The demi-human nodded. “You shouldn’t have wandered off alone. This place is still teeming with monsters.”

Cid waved an arm of dismissal. “I’m a grown ass man. I coulda handled myself.”

Yuffie smirked. “Yes, you seemed to be doing just fine when we wandered up.”

The pilot blustered, shooting her an irritated glare. “You didn’t give me any time. I was drawing it in for my final attack,” he explained. However, he knew the truth of the matter. His moves were slow, reflexes even slower, and his strength diminished. Before, that monster would have been a piece of cake. Ever since he had lost Vincent in the crater, he had been letting himself go… not eating or sleeping. As a result, his battle skills had gone down. He could have been killed…

“You didn’t find any traces of him then?” asked Nanaki, his question instantly returning the somber feeling to the group.

Cid sighed as Yuffie finished healing his leg and stood shakily to his feet. “Not a damn thing. But one of the survivors might know something, if we can just get them to come out of hiding.”

Nanaki nodded. “There’s an entrance in the floor of all the lower shops… the inn and such. I’ve got some things to take care of, but Yuffie and you can go talk to them.” He waved a hand briefly towards the lower levels of Cosmo Canyon before turning and dashing away.

Yuffie bit her lip and watched her friend rush back towards the upper levels of the town. “He is still hurting.”

The pilot sighed in agreement, bending down to swipe the Venus Gospel up off the ground. “Hai. But that is to be expected. It will be a while before he can even accept it.”

‘Kind of like someone else I know,’ snorted the ninja internally. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and looked up at the older man. “Let’s go find Vinny, okay?”

Cid nodded and gestured her to walk in front of him. The two headed towards the lower levels, the pilot unable to resist one last jab as he kicked at the Chocoboro’s head and caused it to roll around the ground as they walked past.

Neither of the two noticed the small shining metallic object that popped off the back of the creature’s head and fell to the ground as Cid kicked it.