Premonitions II-C: Crisis Core

BY : Hippo_and_Friends_with_Benefits
Category: Final Fantasy VII > General
Dragon prints: 702
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core, it any characters therin. I am not making any money here.

Chapter 33: It All Breaks Loose

September 24, 0002

I was relieved that something went wrong with Sephiroth's original plan, but was still wary of what he was doing. Once he had that encounter with Genesis, he went straight to the mansion to isolate himself, only appearing out front a couple of times.

So, long story short, I was somewhat concerned he was still going to go cray-cray, but l had an advantage: I could check in on him without being seen.

By chance that morning, I saw Zack going into the Shinra Mansion; I think he was thinking what I was thinking. So I cloaked myself and followed him inside.

Inside, there was a huge foyer with a flight of stairs. I saw Zack go up and to the right, and I did likewise.

The mansion was dark inside, as nobody had lived there for years. I knew Sephiroth was lurking here somewhere, but so for I saw no sign of him. There was just dusted floors, torn curtains, and windows so filthy you couldn't see out of them. If someone cleaned that house up, he could practically keep the house as a fee.

And then, we got to the room that had the lead. A piece of the stone wall was pulled away, revealing a secret passage that Zack naturally disappeared into. I followed him to find a spiraling staircase leading downward. It was one of those staircases that leaves you feeling weird if you look downward, so I didn't.

Anyway, I got to the bottom, where I saw the doorway that Zack had passed through. Beyond that, it seemed like a tunnel in a natural cavern. It made sense, as we were below Mount Nibel. But this tunnel was artificially lit, thus allowing me to watch Zack disappear through the doorway on the other side.

You'll never guess what was beyond the tunnel: a library! I mean it. There were shelves lined with books and a desk and everything. But, hell, you'll probably guess who Zack found down there: Sephiroth.

He was pacing around, with his eyes glued to one of the many books in the room.

"A life form in a state of suspended animation, excavated from a two thousand-year-old stratum," read Sephiroth aloud. "Professor Gast named this lifeform Jenova. Date: X/X/XX: Jenova verified as an Ancient. Date: X/X/XX: Jenova Project approved. Mako Reactor One authorized for use."

He continued to pace around the room, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Zack was in there with him.

"My mother's name, Jenova," Sephiroth said to himself. "The Jenova Project...could this be a coincidence? Professor Gast, why didn't you tell me? Why did you have to die?"

Zack cleared his throat, hoping to attract his attention.

"I would like to be alone," Sephiroth requested.

Zack respected his wishes and left immediately.

I stayed for another twenty minutes, watching him pace and read. Finally, realizing that nothing was going to change, I turned to leave.

On my way back through the tunnel, I spotted a room I didn't notice on my way in here. I think at this point it goes without saying, but curiosity got the best of me.

By the way, you do know what curiosity did to the cat, right? Well, once I got into the room, I almost wanted to leave. The room was full of coffins and body bags.

It's not like I've never seen a dead body before, and I've been to three or four funerals in my lifetime, but this was simply too much. I decided to leave the room.

And that's when I noticed. One of the coffins jolted.

I literally smacked myself in the face to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I wasn't.

I spent the next several minutes waiting for the coffin to jolt again. Not only did it jolt again, but it actually opened. And here comes the icing on the cake: the dead body inside sat up.

I watched him for several minutes. He just sat there and did nothing but gaze in my direction. He was wearing mainly black, except for a purple cape. He had long black hair, and his left hand seemed almost mechanical. And it seemed as if he was looking directly at me.

"Well," the man from the coffin suddenly began, "how long are we going to stare at each other?"

I gave him a shocked look. I then ran my hand in front of my face to see if I was still cloaked; I was.

"Yes," the man continued, "I see you."

That was all I needed. I turned around, ran through the tunnel, and up the spiral stairs. I didn't look back once, and I sure as hell didn't stop until I got to Uncle Brian's house.

"You look like you've seen a ghost!" Tifa exclaimed as I came in through the door.

"I think I did," I replied.

I stayed inside for the rest of the day.

Sephiroth, meanwhile, stayed inside for seven days.

ON THE FIRST DAY...

September 25, 0002

I had trouble sleeping that night, and woke up at six that morning. I still couldn't get it out of my head that a dead body rose up and talked to me, let alone see me, despite me being cloaked.

I looked up; Tifa was still sound asleep. Realizing I wasn't going back to sleep, I got up and showered. While cleaning up, I realized something: the stiff didn't come after me. Not only that, he wasn't going after Sephiroth. He obviously wasn't a bad dead dude.

As fucked up as this sounds, I was wondering if he knew something about this situation that I didn't. That mansion had a secret library and laboratory. That was connected to where Sephiroth might have come from. It was quite possible then, that the corpse I saw had once worked there.

He might know about Sephiroth.

He might know about what he was planning.

But there was only one way to find out.

I dressed, went downstairs, and went outside, heading straight for the Shinra Mansion.

I remembered the way really well once I got inside the mansion. I entered the foyer. I went up the stairs to the wing on the right. I descended the spiraling stairs and entered the tunnel. Finally, I stepped into the room with the coffins and body bags.

Don't get me wrong; I was scared shitless the whole time. But I figured he had some answers.

He sat up and looked at me, just like that other time.

"You again?" the stiff greeted.

"Y-yeah," I stammered. "It's me. H-how can you see me? I'm cloaked. I can't be seen by anybody."

"I'm not just anybody," the corpse replied.

"So who...or what are you?" I naturally asked.

"Vincent," the stiff replied. "Vincent Valentine."

"I'm Tobin," I greeted.

"It's a pleasure," Vincent said.

I'll admit I was quite relieved that he wasn't going to come after me. He really did seem like a decent guy.

"So are you alive or dead?" I then inquired.

"Somewhere in between," Vincent answered. "I've been here for years."

"Do you have any idea what's going on?" I asked him. "Or is that what's been waking you up and making you shake in your coffin?"

"Something seems...different," Vincent admitted. "Usually, this mansion is quiet. It's been many years since it's been occupied. President Shinra lived here decades ago. But it's been all abandoned. Until lately. There's been activity here."

"Tell me about it," I said. "I'm not even the only one down here. This guy Sephiroth-"

"Sephiroth is here?!" Vincent exclaimed.

This was going easier than I thought.

"You know him?" I asked.

"I knew his mother," he clarified.

"You knew Jenova?" I inquired. "Can that thing...talk?"

Vincent shook his head.

"Lucrecia," he corrected. "His mother's name is Lucrecia."

"But he says his mother's name was Jenova. Some alien they found all frozen," I said.

"He might have some of that creature's cells inside of him," Vincent replied. "But Lucrecia Crescent is his biological mother."

"So you're saying he wasn't spawned by an alien they found in the ice?"

"No way," Vincent replied.

"So you're saying he came out of a human woman's vagina?" I asked.

"Precisely," Vincent replied. "Dr. Crescent was a normal human being."

"So what Genesis said was a lie?"

"Would that be Genesis Rhapsodos?" Vincent asked. "The prototype?"

"You got it," I replied. "He told Sephiroth he wasn't human and a whole bunch of other shit."

"Then it's too late," Vincent sighed as he lay down again.

"What do you mean, 'too late?'" I asked.

"Sephiroth normally has a stable personality," Vincent explained. "But when he's emotionally compromised..."

He quietly put the lid back on the coffin and said no more.

"Yo!" I exclaimed. "I've got more questions!"

Vincent didn't respond.

I wanted to yell at him more, but I realized that Sephiroth might hear me. So I quietly left.

LATER...

I lay back down on my sleeping bag and rested my eyes. I soon fell asleep, and didn't wake up again until noon.

What woke me up was the sound of footsteps slowly creeping into the bedroom.

I was on my stomach, and I could see a pair of black boots walking through the door.

Shit, I thought, as I began to tremble. Sephiroth has tracked me here.

As I moved my head up, I could see a pair of green camouflage pants on the figure that was now a few feet away.

I sighed in relief; it was definitely not Sephiroth.

And then, suddenly, a paintball gun dropped in front of me.

I looked up to see Tifa, also wearing a black tank top and sporting her own paintball gun, with her face painted green and eye black below her eyes.

"I'm going to hide somewhere in town," she announced. "In ten minutes, come looking for me. When you find me, it's war!"

She grinned, and ran off.

MEANWHILE...

Karnak, by the way, had made it to Junon. He had memories of that city; Cloud had been there not too long before.

He pondered the situation. He was less than a month old, yet he had years worth of memories from two different individuals.

But now, he realized, I'm going on a new course in life.

What is my place in this world?

Is there more to my life than killing the president?

AND ON THE SECOND DAY...

September 26, 0002

The next day, Karnak arrived at Costa del Sol. He had taken the ferry across the ocean, and his pale skin had never felt the sun the way it did there.

And then, there were the bikinis. As he had the body of an adult, he had the mind of an adult. He also had the same desires and lusts.

Cloud was a virgin. Sephiroth was not. As a result, Karnak missed sex.

On the beach, he happened upon a twenty-year-old in a white bikini. She had short, blond hair, and a tattoo on her lower back.

As Karnak approached her, she gave him a dirty look and continued on her way.

"Hello," Karnak greeted.

"Don't talk to me, you freak!" she shouted. "Creepy!"

"Is it because of my blue hair?" he asked.

"No, it's because you came out of nowhere!" she snapped as she began to walk faster.

"But I didn't do anything wro-"

The girl turned around, and sprayed pepper spray into his face.

Karnak staggered back and covered his eyes. By the time he recovered, the girl was gone.

"Am I a freak?" he asked himself aloud. "Am I human?"

And he was passed by as if he wasn't there.

MEANWHILE...

I noticed that Tifa still seemed depressed over Cloud not being there.

You're probably wondering, so, yeah, I'll tell you. I wanted to tell her that Cloud was here, badly. But I had already promised Cloud not to tell anyone. It was really a big no-win, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. And then, I began to wonder: was there a way I could somehow reveal that Cloud was here, without actually telling her?

In any event, I found one way to cheer her up.

There was a pay phone outside the local diner. Once Tifa came outside, I casually walked over to it and grinned.

"I think it's time I claim my disability benefits," I announced.

"Aw, Tobin, not again!" she protested.

But I knew she needed this.

I popped a gil and called the phone. Moments later, a representative answered.

"Western Continent Disability Claims Center," she said.

"Uh, yeah?" I said. "I'm disabled."

"What is the nature of your disability?" asked the representative.

"I've got this huge crack in my butt," I replied with a grin.

The representative immediately disconnected the call.

Tifa burst out laughing, so hard that she had to sit down on the bench.

Mission accomplished.

AND ON THE THIRD DAY...

September 27, 0002

I sat in the town square, staring at the mansion to the north. Sephiroth was still there. So was Vincent. I didn't bother to go back there, now that I knew that Vincent wasn't going to be any great help.

I was kind of wondering when Sephiroth would come out of there. This is morbid, I know, but I was also wondering if the poor bastard killed himself. It wouldn't surprise me; his world was shattered.

I also wondered whether Genesis was still in the area.

And then, Tifa sat down next to me. She was dressed in a normal tee shirt and jeans, and I thus almost didn't recognize her.

"He's still in there?" she asked.

"I think so," I replied.

"It's been three days," she said. "What happened back there?"

"God only knows," I replied.

Of course I knew the truth, but I didn't want it to look like Zack had spilled the beans somehow.

Tifa then stood up and stretched.

"Well," she said, "he's going to have to come out of there sometime. It's not our job to deal with him." She then turned to face me. "There's a small lake in the mountains. Meet me there in an hour. I could use some cousin time."

"In the mountains?" I asked.

Tifa nodded with a smile.

"Bring your bathing suit," she commanded.

AN HOUR LATER...

I stripped down to my trunks and sat on the rock near the lake. I looked into the distance; to the north, I could see the shadow of the reactor. I wondered if Genesis was still there, and, if so, what he might do to the reactor.

I also wondered what would happen if that Jenova creature ever got loose.

"Right on time!" Tifa suddenly called from behind.

I stood up to greet her, and noticed she was proudly sporting a blue two-piece.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked.

"What?"

"My first bikini!" she clarified.

"Not bad," I replied.

Now, I know you might find it weird that she wanted to show her bikini body off to her own flesh and blood, so I'll explain. The truth is that Tifa is simply proud of her body. She runs just about every day, and was on the track team during her freshman year.

Oh, and Uncle Brian. She's wanted a bikini since she was thirteen, but he, being over-protective, said no. It was also a way of showing that he couldn't stop her from doing what she wanted.

Tifa even took a selfie of us and sent it to her aunt, my mom.

A few moments later, my mom texted her back: "I wish I looked that good in a bikini when I was fifteen!"

We swam for a couple of hours, mainly dunking each other and squirting each other with our hands if you ever tried that trick.

Afterward, we were drying off on a rock, when Tifa seemed melancholy again.

"You okay?" I asked, even though I knew the answer, and the reason.

"I was hoping to take Cloud here," Tifa began sadly.

"I take it you discovered this spot not too long ago?" I asked.

"We always used to go swimming in his backyard pool," Tifa continued. "But I was always a kid and wearing a dorky one-piece. I was hoping to show him my new bikini."

Unlike with me, I knew she wanted to impress him.

"When he left," Tifa added, "we were kind of on a sour note."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"We had a school dance," she replied, "and I badly wanted to dance with him. I wanted to feel his shoulders. I wanted to feel his hands on my waist."

"You mean you hit puberty," I added.

"I was thirteen, so, basically, yes," she confirmed. "But he wouldn't dance with me. He was running into the bathroom every time there was a slow dance until Mr. Tarin, our principal, stopped him. I asked him to dance, and he wouldn't. I've forgiven him, of course. He wouldn't dance with anyone, and he's painfully shy. It's generally believed he has Asperger's. But I was angry at first, and confronted him later that day. The next time we talked, we met by the well, and he told me he was going to Midgar to join SOLDIER. And we haven't spoken ever since."

"Do you regret it?" I asked. "Confronting him, I mean?"

She sadly nodded.

"Yeah...because you never know how much time you have left with someone."

That hit me hard.

And then, Tifa got a really sad face and hugged me from the side.

"Tobin," she began, "I never did tell you. I'm really sorry about your friend Gehrig."

"Thank you," I replied.

Despite the fact that Tifa reveals a little more of her body than Uncle Brian would have liked (again, she's proud of her body) and loves to pull pranks on me (I am the closest thing to an older brother she has), she really is a wonderful person. She actually sent me a present when Gehrig passed away, and put hearts on my social media wall.

"Have you been doing okay?" she asked as she rested her hand on my shoulder.

"Mostly," I replied. "Though I wonder a lot what our relationship would be like now."

"She was your girlfriend?!" Tifa exclaimed.

"Well," I replied, "she would've been had she lived. We were getting close. One time, at Gold Saucer, she fell asleep on me. And there was steamier, believe me."

"Say no more," Tifa commanded. "I am your cousin."

Just then, I began to hear footsteps. They were coming from behind us.

"Genesis," I whispered.

"Jennifer who?" asked Tifa.

And then, he came into view.

No, it wasn't Genesis.

"You guys know each other?!" Zack exclaimed.

He was in his black trunks, carrying a towel. I guess others knew about the lake after all.

"We're cousins," Tifa replied. She then cuddled in real close to me. "Couldn't you tell?"

Zack took a look at both of us.

"You do look alike," he observed. "Small world, I guess."

The three of us then jumped into the lake and played around for a few more hours.

Zack, meanwhile, gave me a look, as if to say: "We need to talk about something."

And I knew it had to do with Cloud and Tifa.

AND ON THE FOURTH DAY...

September 28, 0002

I stayed in the fourth day. So did Tifa. We mainly sat in her room playing video games.

The highlight of the day came when Uncle Brian angrily called Tifa downstairs.

Suddenly, my laptop was ringing; someone was making a video call.

"Tobin!" exclaimed Cissnei after I answered it. "How's Nibelheim treating you?"

"Not bad," I replied. "Staying with my uncle and cousin."

"That's nice," she said.

"Zack's in town, and so is Sephiroth," I continued.

"I heard," Cissnei replied. "And I hear Sephiroth's gone missing."

"Not exactly," I corrected. "I heard he's been in the Shinra Mansion for days...Cissnei, I need to ask. Has there ever been any documented case of Sephiroth acting strangely?"

"You know I can't tell that to anyone," Cissnei replied. She paused. "But I will to my best friend since I trust him."

"Thanks," I said happily.

"Sephiroth has never behaved out of the ordinary," Cissnei continued. "His psychological evaluation came back perfect every time."

"That's a relief," I said. "I'm worried for my cousin. She was his tour guide for the mountain."

Cissnei smiled.

"So what else has been going on?" she asked.

"Zack and I agreed to help set Cloud up with Tifa."

"Who?" Cissnei asked.

"My cousin," I replied.

"They know each other?" she asked.

"They were best friends when they were kids," I answered. "But they had a falling out after a dance."

"Ouch," Cissnei said. "Maybe it's for the best that I can't dance to save my life."

"So Zack and I are thinking of ways to get them back together. As friends first, maybe, and we'll take it from there."

Cissnei then sighed.

"It's not the same without you around," she said.

"I know," I replied. "Same here."

It was uplifting to know that she missed me.

"Hi, Cissnei!" called an alto suddenly from behind me.

I turned to see that Tifa had returned to the bedroom.

"Hi, Tifa!" Cissnei greeted back.

Tifa ran up to the laptop and put her hand on my shoulder.

"Thanks for being a friend to my cousin!" she said.

"Don't mention it," Cissnei replied. "Well, I'll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Come home soon, okay?"

"Will do," I promised her.

The screen then went blank.

"You two must be really good friends if she misses you like that," Tifa observed.

"We have been more or less at each other's presence for the past two years," I replied.

"Except when you're at work," she said. "And when she's sleeping like a cartoon animal."

We both laughed in unison.

"Cute jeans when she's awake, though," Tifa added.

"What did your dad want you for?" I asked.

"He found my bikini drying on the patio," she replied. "He gave me the 'no bikinis' talk and told me how what I was doing was giving the family a bad name."

"It's not," I assured her. "All teenage girls wear bikinis. I've been to pool parties."

Tifa grinned.

"If he ever yells at me again," she said, "I'll have our family name written on the back of my bottoms. Then he'll have to deal with that!"

I laughed back. Then I realized that, since Tifa was more or less done growing, she could practically keep that bikini forever.

"What would you do if you got married?" I asked.

"I don't know," Tifa laughed. "I'm only fifteen. No ring until I'm at least twenty-six...if ever."

Of course, she didn't seem to take into account what would happen if she was reunited with Cloud.

Now this was getting interesting.

THAT NIGHT...

I woke up in the middle of the night to find two interesting things going on. The first was that there was a ladder a few feet away from me, leading to an open latch in the ceiling.

The second was that Tifa was gone.

Even a six-year-old could have put two and two together. So I climbed up the ladder myself to see what was going on.

Tifa was standing on the roof in her pajamas. She was staring at the stars.

"Mom?" she began. "It's me again."

The sky, of course, didn't respond.

"Cloud never came like I was sure he would," Tifa continued.

She then sadly lowered her head.

It was getting harder and harder to resist the temptation to tell her, but I had already made a promise to Cloud to keep my mouth shut.

Tifa then raised her head and looked at the sky again.

"Mom," she continued. "Will he come? Will I ever see Cloud again? Please give me a sign."

Unsurprisingly, Aunt Claire didn't give a sign.

Tifa collapsed to her knees and began to cry.

I quickly got up onto the roof and knelt down next to her.

As soon as she noticed me, Tifa threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly.

She didn't even object to the fact that I was eavesdropping.

AND ON THE FIFTH DAY...

September 29, 0002

Cloud sat on his bed at home. His mother was hovering over him, much to his annoyance.

"You seem...tired," Claudia observed. "Are you eating right?"

"I'm all right," Cloud assured her. "The company takes care of me."

"Is that so?" asked Claudia. "You can't cook, right?"

"Nope," Cloud replied.

"I was worried sick about how you were doing," she continued. "I heard you were up in Modeoheim."

"That's right," Cloud replied. "But I made it."

"And you were in Junon during an attack?"

"I made it," he repeated.

He then sat silently. He was thinking about what he had promised Zack. He wondered how his mom would take it.

"Cloud?" she began. "You're quiet all of a sudden."

"Mom," Cloud began. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Claudia replied. "Ask away."

"Do I have to date an older girl?"

"Of course not," Claudia replied. "I just think that would be perfect for you, but if a younger girl makes you happy, then go for it." She paused. "Is there someone you have in mind?"

She knew her, so he figured he may as well tell her.

"Tifa," he replied.

In response, Claudia actually smiled.

"That's great!" she said. "When did this happen?"

"Two years ago," Cloud replied. "When I was last here."

Claudia smiled. "Tifa's a really nice girl," she said. "I know she'll treat you well."

"I just don't know if I'm ready to tell her how I feel," he admitted.

"You know, Cloud," Claudia warned, "if you don't tell her how you feel now, she might move on the next time you come back."

"You think so?" Cloud asked.

"You left when you were fourteen," Claudia replied. "You're back for the first time since, and you're sixteen now. You might not be back again until you're eighteen or nineteen. Isn't that right, Cloud?"

"It's possible, Cloud admitted.

"Now's your chance," Claudia said. "Ask her before you go."

"So you're okay with Tifa being the woman in my life?" Cloud asked.

"Of course I am," Claudia replied. "But I will always be your mother."

THAT NIGHT...

I might have forgotten to mention that there's a bowling alley in Nibelheim. It's kind of hidden; you go into a foyer and take the escalator down.

It was Tifa's idea, and we went with Zack. But once we got to the bottom of the escalator, there was a problem; there were three of us; teams usually divided into even numbers.

"How about boys versus girl?" Zack suggested.

"Very funny," Tifa laughed.

She was wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a dark blue tank top, and she was already getting stares. She just wanted to hurry up and bowl.

"Chick versus dicks," I added.

She turned to Zack.

"Does your girlfriend play any sports?" she asked. "Maybe we can get her over here somehow."

"She's a cheerleader," Zack replied.

"That doesn't count," Tifa sighed as she folded her arms. She then turned to me. "What about your roommate?"

"It's ten," I replied. "She's usually asleep but now."

"Like a cartoon animal," Tifa sighed.

And then, she smiled.

"Well, look whose here!" she suddenly announced.

Zack and I turned to see Cloud reaching the bottom of the escalator, hiding his face with his mask.

Tifa immediately went up to him.

"We're about to bowl," she began, "but there's only three of us. Wanna play?"

Cloud quickly nodded.

"Great!" Tifa replied with a smile.

Tifa was the best bowler of the four of us. She really didn't need a teammate; she never got less that five pins.

Zack meanwhile, was the worst, mainly getting gutter balls. I think he was distracted. Like I said before, Tifa was wearing a pair of skinny jeans, and I could tell Zack was checking her butt out every time she went to bowl.

I didn't get pissed, because he was only human, but I was pissed that I was the second worst, after Zack.

Cloud, meanwhile, was second best, but still mediocre. He was getting, on average, four or five pins each time. But this one time, he gave Tifa this long look. He then squatted, pushed, and actually got a strike doing it.

"Holy shit!" Zack exclaimed.

"Woot!" Tifa called out as she high-fived Cloud.

She then turned, and became quiet.

Where have I seen that before? she thought. That seemed familiar to her, but she couldn't recall from when.

Needless to say, Tifa and Cloud won the game.

As we were getting ready to go, Tifa turned to Cloud.

"I really had fun tonight," she said.

Cloud nodded and put both of his thumbs up. He then turned and went to the escalator. Moments later, he was gone.

Zack and I laughed. We both already knew it was Cloud, and he did an excellent job hiding his identity.

But it was now apparent that Tifa was beginning to suspect something.

AND ON THE SIXTH DAY...

September 30, 0002

"So Cloud," Zack began the next morning, "I called my girlfriend when you told me to, so..."

"I know, I know," Cloud interrupted. "I'll reveal myself to Tifa. Slowly."

"She needs a hint, at least," Zack said.

"She got one last night," Cloud informed him.

"She needs more," Zack insisted. "I think it's time we arranged a date."

"A date?!" Cloud exclaimed.

"Ever been on a date before?" Zack asked.

"Not really, no," Cloud replied.

"That's going to change this week," Zack announced.

Cloud began to tense up.

"Come on!" Zack insisted. "You'll do fine."

Cloud was silent. His face began to appear flushed and sweaty.

"Look," Zack began. "Either you ask her, or I ask her."

Cloud remained silent.

THAT EVENING...

Zack found Tifa near the well that night.

"Hey there!" she greeted.

"Hey yourself," Zack replied.

"Thanks for a fun night," she said. "I needed that."

"I actually wanted to talk to you about our friend who got a strike from squatting and pushing," Zack informed her.

"Oh yeah," Tifa laughed. "That was only the second time I'd ever seen that. My friend Cloud did that once."

Zack realized she might figure out the truth more easily than expected.

"Really?" he asked, trying to hide his delight.

"Cloud took my bowling for my thirteenth birthday," Tifa explained, smiling. "He got a strike from squatting and pushing, just like that trooper did. It was the second most memorable part of that night."

"Second most?" asked Zack.

"Later on," she continued, "Rufus Shinra started to bully us, so Cloud beat the shit out of him!"

"He beat up the vice president?!" he exclaimed.

"No," Tifa replied, "he wasn't vice president then, but...you said you want to tell me something about him?"

"He would like to get to know you better," Zack informed her.

Tifa's smile faded. She folded her hands behind her back and looked down. She kicked the dirt.

"I don't know," she began. "I...I don't think I'm ready to give up on seeing Cloud again."

"What if I told you that getting to know this trooper might lead you to seeing Cloud again?" Zack suggested.

"By going on a date with another guy?" she asked in bewilderment.

"You don't have to consider it a date," he assured her. "Just...get to know him."

She looked down again.

"Look," he continued, "how badly do you want to see Cloud?"

"I'd give anything to see him again," Tifa admitted.

"Than do me this one little favor," Zack pleaded. "It's not a date, I promise."

"I'm confused," Tifa said. "How could this trooper lead me to Cloud?"

"It's possible that he knows Cloud or works for him," Zack replied.

"It's possible?" she asked skeptically.

"Okay, it's definite," Zack admitted. "But that's the most I can tell you. The trooper will have to tell you more."

And then, it dawned on her.

What if it is Cloud, she thought.

"You know what?" she replied. "I'll do it."

"Great!" Zack said.

They both got a strike from squatting and pushing. It really might be him!

"I'll dress sexy," Tifa announced. "Tell him I'll meet him tomorrow night!"

AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY...

October 1, 0002

The next evening, Tifa and (although it still wasn't confirmed to her) Cloud were walking together through the fields outside of Nibelheim. She was wearing her cowgirl outfit. He was wearing his trooper uniform, mask and all.

"So," Tifa began, "how do you know Zack? He said you're friends."

"I met him in Modeoheim," Cloud replied.

I knew Tifa wouldn't recognize his voice. She hadn't seen him in two years; his voice had deepened in the interim.

And yet, Tifa was curious. She was wondering whether she could verify whether this was the man she had known for years.

Whether this was the man she had feelings for.

"That was pretty impressive what you did back at the bowling alley," Tifa continued. "Have you ever done anything like that before?"

"Once," he answered. "Maybe."

Bingo, Tifa thought. Not to mention, he promised he'd come to my rescue at the well. And that trooper put up a good fight to protect me back at the reactor.

Tifa began to smile. The evidence that this was, indeed, Cloud, was mounting.

But didn't Cloud join SOLDIER? her mind continued.

That was a fly in the ointment. Cloud left with his heart sent on joining soldier. But her companion was a trooper.

If he is the trooper, that means he failed. But so what? I wouldn't think differently of him. It's not how I'd define him. He was my childhood friend.

Hell, maybe it's better that he didn't make it. Maybe I could talk him into coming home?

"What's on your mind?" Cloud suddenly asked.

I think there's a way I can lead into this, Tifa thought.

"There is something I'd like to ask you," she began. "What's your name?"

Cloud stopped.

Tifa turned to face him.

I think this might be it, Tifa thought. In a few moments, I'll know the answer!

"If you must know," Cloud began.

"I must, I must!" she playfully replied.

"I know yours," Cloud continued. "Tiffany Claire."

Tifa gasped.

"H-how did you know my full name?" she exclaimed. "Certainly not from Zack!"

She's figuring it out on her own, Cloud realized. Fuck it.

He began to reach for his helmet.

A huge smile appeared on Tifa's face, and her face literally began to glow.

At the same moment, Cloud began to glow as well.

And then, the smile on Tifa's face vanished, replaced by a look of sheer horror.

Cloud immediately turned around to see the cause of Tifa's sudden change of emotion, as well as the cause of the glow: Nibelheim was on fire.

"Oh my God!" she said in a trembling voice. "Papa! Tobin!"

And she dashed past Cloud as fast as she could.

Like I said, Tifa ran track, so there was no way either Cloud or I could catch up to her. Cloud was fast than I was, too. He soon disappeared as well.

By the time I got to Nibelheim, the whole town was ablaze. Almost every building was on fire, inside and out.

I saw Zack coming out of Cloud's burning house. He was shaking his head.

I realized that he had seen Claudia's dead body. I'll admit, that woman was immature, but I felt bad that she had to die like that.

And I felt very sorry for Cloud.

Zack, meanwhile, turned his attention toward the north end of town.

There stood Sephiroth, displaying pride instead of remorse. I knew right away that he was responsible for this.

He did it, I thought. That son of a bitch actually snapped.

"I'm coming to get you," Sephiroth announced.

He then turned and seemed to walk through the flames. His comment didn't seem to be directed at Zack.

"How could you?" called Zack. "Sephiroth, how could you?"

He followed him north, to Mount Nibel.

And then, a flaming post fell, blocking my access to the town's northern exit.

Years later, what I found out had happened was this:

Sephiroth was the first to arrive at the reactor. The person he was "coming to get" was none other than Jenova, the creature he had thought was his mother.

Uncle Brian was the second to arrive at the reactor. He arrived right after Sephiroth did, and was able to confront him.

"What is wrong with you?!" Uncle Brian demanded. "Those were innocent people!"

"Nothing is wrong with me," Sephiroth replied as he rotated his sword. "Something is wrong with you. With all of you. You modern human beings are disgusting creatures. It's time I purified the planet."

That did it for Uncle Brian.

"You insane son of a bi-"

He never finished his last words.

Sephiroth stabbed him and withdrew his sword.

Uncle Brian fell to his knees. Then he fell forward. Then...nothing.

Sephiroth nonchalantly dropped his sword and walked into the pod chamber.

Tifa was the third to arrive at the reactor. She came in, climbed down the ladder, and stepped onto the pipe bridge that led to the pod chamber. And then, she slowed down. She began to tremble as she gazed at Uncle Brian's lifeless body. Then, when she reached it, she softly knelt down, and began to cry.

"Papa..." she sobbed.

Then, she saw the wound; the wound that could only have been caused by a sword.

"Sephiroth!?" she sobbed in a broken voice. "Sephiroth did this to you, didn't he!?"

Uncle Brian, of course, didn't respond.

"Sephiroth," she continued. "SOLDIER...mako...reactors...Shinra...everything!" She turned her head to the ceiling. "I HATE THEM ALL!"

And then, the Tifa I knew was gone; a fury had taken her place. She picked up the sword and ran into the pod chamber, where Sephiroth was at the top of the stairwell.

"Mother," he said, "I'm here to see you. Please, open this door."

Tifa began to growl.

"How could you do that to papa and all the townspeople?" she demanded.

She then charged up the stairs, sword in hand.

But she was inexperienced.

Sephiroth took the sword and sent her down the stairs with the greatest of ease.

If you happen to know Tifa, by the way, you might noticed I left something out: the part where he cut Tifa across the chest. That's because he didn't. She actually jumped backward to avoid him, and the rest wrote itself.

Tifa lay on the ground, semi-conscious, as Sephiroth continued on his way.

Zack was the fourth to arrive at the reactor. He climbed down the ladder and ran across the pipe bridge, knowing there was nothing he could do for poor Uncle Brian.

In the next room, he spotted the fallen Tifa laying on her back. He quickly knelt down at her side.

"Sephiroth did this, didn't he?" he asked.

He tried to help her up, and she immediately turned away harshly into the fetal position.

Realizing she would not let him help her, he darted up the stairs, stopping halfway to take one last look at my poor cousin.

"I hate you!" she sobbed. "I hate Shinra, I hate SOLDIER! I hate you all!"

And then, she passed out completely.

Zack didn't take it personally; the feeling was starting to become mutual. But now, he needed to stop Sephiroth before he did any more harm. As he reached the top of the stairs, he took his sword and slashed his way through the door.

Sephiroth was in the next room, staring at what appeared to be a sarcophagus.

"Mother," he said to its head, "let's take back the planet together. I had an epiphany. Let's go to the promised land, mother."

"Sephiroth!" Zack shouted. "Why did you kill the townspeople? Why did you hurt Tifa? Answer me, Sephiroth!"

Without looking back, Sephiroth began to laugh.

"Mother, they're here again," he continued.

"You should have ruled this planet. You were stronger, smarter. But then they came; those inferior dullards. They came and took this planet away from you. But don't be sad, mother. I am with you now."

He pulled the head of the sarcophagus off and casually tossed it aside.

Beyond the sarcophagus was a tank. Inside, there was a woman.

A naked blue woman, with one nipple and pink, glowing eyes

"We meet at last, mother," Sephiroth greeted.

And then, Zack's buster sword appeared at Sephiroth's neck.

"Sephiroth!" he exclaimed. "Have you completely lost your mind?"

Sephiroth quickly turned and struck at Zack with his sword.

Zack stopped it with his own.

"Sephiroth," Zack grunted as their swords remained locked, "I trusted you!"

Zack tried, unsuccessfully, to strike Sephiroth.

Sephiroth knocked Zack off the platform and then followed him down.

Zack found himself on a clear floor that appeared to be above a pit full of mako energy.

Sephiroth was standing a few yards away, facing him. He drew his sword.

"No!" shouted Zack. "You're not...you're not the Sephiroth I once knew!"

He pointed his buster sword at him.

"I am the chosen one," Sephiroth announced. "I have been chosen to rule this planet."

And then, Sephiroth did something that could only be described as supernatural to make the glass shatter, causing them both to fall to a catwalk that was suspended above the mako pit.

With both of their swords drawn, Zack and Sephiroth charged in unison, with one always attacking with his sword, and the other always defending with his. The catwalk had no railing or barrier whatsoever; if one turned, the other could knock him into the mako pit below. This was a dangerous moment for them both.

Eventually, Zack did a backflip jump, landing on the higher ground he had been on before.

Sephiroth had quickly followed. Enraged, he charged Zack with his sword again.

Zack quickly defended himself with his buster sword.

But Sephiroth had struck the sword with such force that it knocked it out of his hands.

Zack was sent through the doorway and down the pod chamber stairs.

Now he was the one who was semi-conscious.

Satisfied, Sephiroth turned back towards Jenova.

Cloud was the fifth to arrive at the reactor. He climbed down the ladder and onto the pipe bridge. He ran across, ignoring Uncle Brian. He charged up the stairs of the pod chamber, passing both Tifa and Zack, and into the third room. He picked up Zack's buster sword and charged up the pipe that led to Jenova's tank, stabbing Sephiroth in the back.

"Aarrrrghhhh!" cried Sephiroth. "Who are you?!"

"Mom," Cloud growled. "Tifa... my town...give it back! I had so much respect for you! I admired you!"

He withdrew the buster sword, knocking Sephiroth into the tank with such force that it cracked, and causing Sephiroth to collapse to the ground.

And then, Cloud realized something.

He frantically left the room and raced down the stairs of the pod chamber, finding Tifa laying silently on the ground.

"Tifa?" he called in a shaky voice as he held his tears back. "Tifa? It's me, Cloud. I was here this whole time!"

He then pressed his fingers into her neck, and was relieved when he felt a pulse.

And then, Sephiroth came from Jenova's chamber, still wounded and slightly limping, carrying his sword in one hand and the sarcophagus head in the other.

"How dare you!" he growled.

"Cloud," gasped Zack from the stairs, "finish Sephiroth off..."

Cloud gently rested his childhood friend on the floor. He then picked up the buster sword and ran to the base of the stairs.

"Sephiroth!" Cloud shouted before charging up the stairs, jumping, arming the sword mid-air, and bearing down on Sephiroth.

Sephiroth, with more experience, parried with his sword, knocking Cloud into the third room. He then entered the room himself, took his sword, and stabbed Cloud in the shoulder, lifting him into the air.

"Don't test me," he warned.

And then, Cloud did the unthinkable: he pushed more of the sword into him, lifting Sephiroth off the floor instead.

"No!" cried Sephiroth. "Impossible!"

Cloud then gathered all his strength, grunted, and pulled the sword out of him so hard that it knocked Sephiroth into the wall lights. The glass broke and a small explosion followed; he began to shake as if he was being electrocuted. Then, with little warning, Sephiroth plummeted into the abyss and was gone.

In the pod chamber, Zack continued his vain effort to crawl up the stairs.

Cloud emerged from the doorway, collapsing and sliding down the stairs until he reached Zack's spot.

"Cloud," Zack gasped, "you did it!"

Zangan was the sixth to arrive at the reactor. He picked up the fallen Tifa, and carried her away.



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