Final Fantasy VII: Fear

By Serena Gainsborough

Part 3


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tifa stared over the top of the crate she and Red were hiding behind, watching the scene carefully. They had made it to Kalm in good time and had only recently learned that an unscheduled barge was en route from Bone Village with archeological artifacts for transport to Midgar. That barge was their ticket to the Forgotten City. There was a nearby port and the goods would be brought into town and then the barge would leave as if it had never been there. Tifa and Red had to make sure that they were on that barge before it sailed away.

Sitting back down Tifa sighed, thinking about Cloud and the others. She wondered what they had found on their journey to Nibelheim. Had they already found Aerith? Maybe even Sephiroth? If so then this trip to Bone Village was a waste. Red suddenly lifted his head, his ears perked at the sound of a foghorn.

“The ship is coming ashore. We should leave now,” he said, rising to all fours. Tifa agreed and rose as well, turning her back to the townspeople and random soldiers. The pair managed to slip out of Kalm unnoticed on their trek to the small wharf where the barge was disembarking. They walked on in silence, their thoughts on their companions. Both hoped that the others were all right, but as they neared the barge both were shocked to find some of the deckhands running away as if they were being chased by a monster.

“It’s him! Run!!” one yelled frantically, nearly stumbling over his own feet. The sailors didn’t even notice Tifa and Red come onto the scene, curious. Tifa looked toward where the barge was docked, noticing some of the ropes that would hold it to shore dangling off the hull. What in the world could have frightened these men?

“Tifa! Look, up there on the top deck!” Red said gesturing with his head for her to see. Tifa looked up and once she caught sight of the black cape and long white hair she knew who was responsible for the mayhem.

“Sephiroth,” she whispered. Even as she said his name Sephiroth stood tall and proud, one foot hooked onto the guardrail, his other planted firmly on the deck. The wind tousled his hair and cape, fanning both out behind him. He looked as if he were deep in thought, for his ice blue eyes focused on the horizon and nothing else.

“Sephiroth!!” Tifa yelled, her hands cupped around her mouth. Sephiroth glanced down at her and Red, raising an eyebrow at their presence. Gripping the guardrail with one black gloved hand Sephiroth leapt over the side, coming to a stop before Tifa and Red. Rising to his full height, he regarded both quickly.

“Why are you here?” he asked, his voice devoid of emotion. Tifa crossed her arms.

“I should ask you the same thing. Where do you get off at frightening all those men? With any luck one has already informed a Shinra soldier of your being here and is on his way now!” Sephiroth ignored the young woman’s outburst by taking three strides away from her and Red. Tifa clenched her fists at her sides, irritated by his outward arrogance.

“Sephiroth! Where is Aerith??” Tifa demanded. At Aerith’s name Sephiroth froze in his tracks. He slowly turned his head to gaze at Tifa from beneath silver bangs draped over his eye.

“I don’t know. She was taken from the Forgotten City.” Red narrowed his good eye.

“Did you allow her to be taken?” Tifa could see Sephiroth’s hand tighten around the Masamune handle, that being the only betrayer of his emotion.

“No.” With that Sephiroth kept walking. Tifa and Red chased after him, curious to know the story behind Aerith’s disappearance. Sephiroth totally disregarded the unwanted company as he walked away from the barge, which was surely swamped with Shinra troops to investigate the ‘mysterious’ passenger. Tifa grabbed Sephiroth’s arm, her voice stern and urgent.

“Wait just a minute!” Sephiroth turned on her so sharply Tifa nearly jumped back, his gaze ice cold. Red growled deep in his throat at Sephiroth’s glare.

“Where are you going?” Tifa asked, eyeing Sephiroth despite her previous fear. The silver-haired man stared at Tifa, refusing to admit he had failed in protecting Aerith. That was his shame and his alone. But he did allow himself to tell the girl of his destination.

“Midgar.”

“Midgar? Sephiroth, Aerith isn’t in Midgar. She’s somewhere else.” Sephiroth turned on Tifa, his gaze locked with hers. Red watched the exchange curiously. Despite Sephiroth’s piercing gaze and stiff composure his eyes revealed a hint of emotion. Of desperation.

“Where is she?” he asked, speaking as evenly as he could. Having her taken from under his nose was bad enough, to know she wasn’t even at his destination angered him even more. Tifa began to recount the conversation she had overheard from the Shinra soldiers, Sephiroth taking in each word. Frowning he clenched a fist.

“Nibelheim is where she would be.” With renewed purpose Sephiroth walked away from the two, ignoring Tifa’s cries for him to stop. When he had finally disappeared Tifa sighed and shook her head.

“I can’t believe Aerith has been with him for this long. He’s so cold!” Tifa said.

“Tifa, there is more to that man than either of us realize,” Red stated sitting down and wiping down his face. Tifa wondered what made Red say such a remark but instead turned away.

“Come on, we may as well return to Midgar. There’s nothing more for us to do here.” Red agreed and followed Tifa away from the ship, both careful to avoid the troops that had assembled at the ship.

* * * * *

Cloud stood staring up at the sky, his thoughts on the whereabouts of his friends. They had flown all day, finally having stopped outside Junon. As of now Cid slept inside a tent, his booted feet sticking out the entrance. Vincent had gone off somewhere once they had made camp, but Cloud didn’t have time to notice. Wasn’t it just a month or so ago that he and his friends were on the road, looking for Aerith? She had been safe, but now there was a threat she wasn’t. Frowning Cloud remembered that Hojo had been involved in this mess. Seeing the caravan carrying Jenova left him no comfort either. None of it was making any sense, driving Cloud nearly mad with questions that no one had answers too. If only there was a way he could get in touch with Aerith, to see if she was all right. A sudden rustling alerted Cloud, making him turn to reach for his sword which lay inches away. He relaxed when he saw Vincent enter the campsite. Vincent merely glanced at Cloud before unloading his weapon and ammunition then went into his tent. Sighing, Cloud stretched his arms above his head before letting them drop to his sides. Tomorrow they would sneak onto the barge leaving for Costa de la Sol. If only there was an easier way to get to Nibelheim. I wonder how Tifa is. I hope she’s all right...., he thought, his worry for the young woman incredible. In the month and a half since they had left Aerith and Sephiroth Cloud had grown closer to Tifa. He knew that he was starting to fall in love with her but kept that to himself. Times were hard, and admitting how he truly felt about anything had always been hard. Finally deciding to turn in, Cloud crawled into his tent before removing his armor and gloves. Sleep did not come to him as quickly as he would have liked.

“Sheeeeet!!!!” Cid swore for the tenth time to himself. He and his two companions stood in a line, their hands above their head and about fifty guns or so cocked on them. It had come all of a sudden, giving the three men no time to gather their weapons and counterattack. A man dressed in the normal Shinra red uniform stepped up, eyeing each man critically. Cloud, who stood in the center, showed no emotion. He wouldn’t give the commander the satisfaction.

“Hmph. I thought we had taken care of you and your pathetic band. No matter, you will be taken to Junon for execution,” he said. Cid was the only one who muttered something and it was a vulgar curse. The commander gestured for three of his men to take the prisoners. As each Avalanche member was led away from the camp Cloud took notice of the same truck they had seen a day or so ago. He shuddered. Jenova was in there. After being marched to an empty truck the three men were ordered inside. Cloud was jabbed roughly in the lower back with the barrel of a gun, causing him to collapse in. When the back doors slammed shut Cid offered a helping hand.

“You all right, kid?” he asked. Cloud accepted the old pilot’s hand and sat down on one of the drab benches aligning the side of the truck. He mumbled a response while rubbing his lower back. He was infuriated that they had been taken by Shinra when they were so close! Damn...should have chosen a better campsite. Bet they took the Tiny Bronco 2, he thought with a frown. No doubt Cid would be pissed if they destroyed it.

“Everyone, we have to make a break for it at Junon. We can’t waste anymore time.” Cid humphed.

“Damn right, but Junon’s not exactly the sort of place people like us can just leave unnoticed. How do you expect to hightail it outta there?” Cid asked. Cloud held his head in his hands and exhaled in frustration.

“I don’t have the slightest idea. Maybe something good will happen and spring us loose, I don’t know,” Cloud said.

“Nothing good can come from being Shinra’s prisoners,” Vincent said suddenly. Cid looked over at the raven-haired man before laughing.

“Ya know, for a quiet guy you sure are clued in.” Vincent raised an eyebrow at the statement but said nothing more. The truck began to move, making the men hold onto whatever was available to prevent from falling. There was an uneasy silence that followed as the men sat, lost in his own thoughts. Cloud leaned against the wall, turning Mako-blue eyes toward the window. The countryside rolled past them slowly, matching the speed of the truck. Cursing himself again Cloud closed his eyes. I hope Tifa made it to the Forgotten City. She’s a smart girl, she won’t let herself be captured by Shinra. Cloud nodded to assure himself of that thought. Things looked pretty bleak for them when all of a sudden the truck came to a screeching halt, launching its passengers from their seats. Cloud and Cid collided on the floor, Vincent being the only one who managed to prevent himself from flying across the truck by gripping the metal bench with his claw. The muffled voices of Shinra guards could be heard as they scrambled to stop whatever had gotten in their way. Vincent got to his feet and looked out of the window. He showed no emotion to what he saw.

“It’s Sephiroth.” At that both Cloud and Cid were on their feet and looking out the other window. Sure enough Sephiroth stood alone, his Masamune withdrawn and ready for action. The guards didn’t know what to do at the unexpected arrival.

“Let’s get out of here!!” Cid cried. Vincent took his claw, dug it into the metal of the door and pulled with all his strength, ripping it off the hinges. Cloud leapt out and was on the run instantly. Cid turned to Vincent and nodded, giving him a thumbs-up sign.

“You’re all right, man,” he said. Vincent dropped out of the truck and headed in the same direction Cloud had gone earlier without so much as a ‘you’re welcome.’ Cid grumbled to himself and followed. Cloud had been taken by some Shinra guards who weren’t scared by Sephiroth’s sudden appearance. Vincent ducked behind another truck, Cid staying with him.

“What the hell are ya doin?? We need to help that kid!!” Cid said, but Vincent shook his head.

“Watch,” was all he said. Cid did so, but every sensible cell in his body demanded he rescue his friend. Remembering what Vincent had done to the door and what the claw could do to a man prevented Cid from leaving his hidden place. In the meantime Cloud was on his knees between two guards, his blue eyes on fire in anger. The commander turned to where Sephiroth stood and addressed him nervously.

“Se...Sephiroth? What are you doing here?” the man asked. Sephiroth glared at the man.

“I was passing by and something about this caravan drew my attention. What are you hauling?” Sephiroth asked. The commander shook his head.

“That’s classified. Besides, we don’t tell the company’s business to ex-employees.” Sephiroth was on the man in an instant, his Masamune pressed against the commander’s neck, Sephiroth’s free hand gripping the front of his uniform. His eyes blazed with hatred as he glared at the commander.

“I helped that company win the Meaningless War all those years ago so I feel I’m damn qualified to know what you’re transporting,” Sephiroth said. The commander trembled visibly in Sephiroth’s grip.

“Sephiroth!!” cried Cloud. Sephiroth looked over at Cloud, his gaze never softening. Cloud frowned at the caped man. He doesn’t know Jenova is here? Sephiroth tossed the commander aside and pointed the Masamune at the men who held Cloud. His glare alone told what he wanted. The guards released Cloud and stepped away. Sephiroth approached Cloud, his sword still withdrawn. He was face to face with the young man now, Cloud’s hand clenched.

“We just seem to keep running into each other.” Cloud said nothing, but crossed his arms.

“What are you doing here? Where is Aerith?” Sephiroth glared at Cloud, his silver bangs falling over to shadow his features.

“That is why I am here.” Sephiroth turned to the remaining guards and pointed.

“Get their weapons, and I don’t want any trouble.” The men dispersed in a blue wave, some dropping their guns. Sephiroth shook his head. Shinra didn’t bother to employ brave men anymore.

“What do you mean by that?? Sephiroth, was she taken?” Cloud demanded. Sephiroth felt compelled to cut the young man down but held back, knowing he was Aerith’s friend. Instead he turned away just as Cloud’s sword was thrown toward him. Cid and Vincent had emerged, retrieving their weapons.

“Hey, didn’t you hear me? Sephiroth!” Cloud went to go after him when he saw the older man approaching the largest of the trucks. Where Jenova was held. For a long moment Sephiroth stood there, as if in a trance before he unleashed a Fire3 spell, incinerating the truck. The cry of rage Sephiroth had released would forever be remembered by the three Avalanche members.

“Did he know Jenova was there?” Cid whispered. Cloud said nothing, Vincent giving the slightest shrug. The guards that stayed were trying to put the fire out as Sephiroth walked toward Cloud and the others. The scene was reminiscent of the time in Nibelheim when Sephiroth had destroyed it. But this time Sephiroth didn’t possess the cold glare of a madman. In fact he looked a little sad.

“You knew what was in there?” Cid asked as Sephiroth strode past.

“I knew,” Sephiroth replied through clenched teeth. Cid muttered a ‘Sheesh!’ as he held the back of his head with one hand, leaning against his spear.

“We’re on our way to Nibelheim. There’s-” Cloud was silenced by Sephiroth’s voice.

“Aerith is there. I’m going to free her from that damned madman. If you are wondering how I knew I met up with your two friends in Kalm. We’re wasting time.” Cloud had all his answers in that one statement. Sighing he followed Sephiroth, strapping his sword to his back. Cid followed suite, but Vincent lingered a little while. I don’t suppose Sephiroth knows that Hojo is his birth father. Perhaps it is best that remain a secret., Vincent thought before he, too, headed out.

* * * * *

Jack stood silent vigil over Aerith’s sleeping form, his bare arms crossed before him. She had been asleep for a good few hours, leaving him plenty of time to think. After a lengthy consultation with the Planet he knew of Aerith and her selflessness in helping Sephiroth win his humanity. The Planet also spoke if Aerith’s other friends heading their way. Jack didn’t want to stay in Nibelheim. The threat of their recapture was eminent and Hojo was most likely waiting for them to emerge. Aerith mumbled softly in her sleep, whispering Sephiroth’s name. Jack sighed slightly. She must be in love with Sephiroth. He could see how she had always kept thoughts of the one-time killer to herself but the slight blush coloring her cheeks told her story. Jack then knew he would have to return her to Sephiroth and vowed to do so as she slowly came around.

“How did you sleep?” Jack asked as Aerith sat up, yawning. She offered him a sleepy smile before coughing a bit.

“I feel a little better now. Has Hojo been looking for us?” Aerith asked as Jack came to sit beside her. His nod was grim.

“Yes, I saw some of the guards combing the town. This isn’t a big place, it’s only a matter of time before we’re found out. Listen,” Jack looked up at her, smiling a bit. “The Planet told me about you and Sephiroth. He’s coming here now, if that’s any comfort. But we can’t stay in Nibelheim any longer. Do you feel you are up to some travel?” Jack asked. Aerith’s eyes widened at the knowledge that Sephiroth was coming for her. She nodded.

“I’ll do my best. But I can’t wear this,” she said, pulling at the soiled nightgown. Jack smiled and got up, heading for a chest in the far corner of the room. Flipping the top open he removed some men’s clothes. Returning he placed them into Aerith’s arms.

“I did some exploring of this place while you slept,” he said. Aerith smiled at him and rose, heading for a tall set of crates. Jack waited while she changed. She emerged wearing a pair of dull brown pants, a long sleeved sweater and a beret. Jack nodded his approval. She looked just like a villager.

“What about you, Jack? Aren’t you going to wear something else?” Aerith said, pointing at his green pants and tan vest. Jack waved her off with a smile.

“I can always wash them in the river. There was only one set of clothes anyway. We’ll leave here at dark, all right?” At Aerith’s nod Jack smiled. They had a long trip ahead of them.

Crouched low against a grassy knoll Jack watched as guards patrolled the entrance to Nibelheim. He and Aerith had miraculously gotten past them and were safely tucked away in the tall grasses. Aerith lay huddled close to him, her thoughts on Sephiroth and their short time together before her capture. She hoped she would meet up with him before Hojo had a chance to find her. Once that happened she may never see sunlight again.

“Come on, let’s go,” Jack whispered, turning to her. Aerith agreed and allowed him to help her to her feet. The pair rushed down the hill, the grass brushing against their thighs. Jack made sure he kept at a steady pace so she wouldn’t fall too far behind. It was a ways to Cosmo Canyon, his home away from home. There he knew they would be safe. Bugenhagen would see that Aerith was also a Cetra and would no doubt offer her shelter. If they were lucky the encounter with monsters would be rare. Jack only had a small knife tucked away in his boot, Aerith was defenseless. Jack prayed that the Planet would allow the last two Cetra safe passage as they ran into the night.

* * * * *

The four men made it to Junon, managed to take the airship Highwind with as little resistance as possible and now they were en route to the other continent. Sephiroth stood alone on the top deck, his arms crossed. He hadn’t said a word to anyone since they battled to get the plane. The only company he tolerated was Vincent’s since the man said absolutely nothing.

Cid had been ecstatic at the chance to pilot his ship and was doing so now. Cloud also kept to himself, seated in the cockpit but keeping his gaze downward. The men had a lot on their minds this trip.

Sephiroth looked up into the sky, picturing Aerith’s face. How are you doing now? Are you all right? If I find you otherwise Hojo will pay dearly..., he vowed. It would only be a matter of time before they reached Nibelheim. The Highwind was a fast plane and she sliced through the air gracefully. Sephiroth felt the quicker they got there the better, for Cloud still retained his hatred of Sephiroth for what he had done all those years ago. Sephiroth knew the boy had perfect reason to hate him but refused to take any action because of Aerith. Sephiroth sighed, turning away from the passing ground to lean against the guardrail. His eyes caught sight of Vincent standing alone on the other side of the ship, the wind tousling his red cloak outward. Sephiroth found Vincent to be an enigma among the members of Avalanche due to the fact he appeared to always be in his own world. Vincent looked up suddenly, meeting Sephiroth’s eyes. The two men stared at each other briefly before Sephiroth broke eye contact. Vincent too resumed staring out at the scenery as if he had never looked up. Just then Cid’s voice sounded over the intercom, alerting everyone to return to the cockpit. Sephiroth walked away from the guardrail, his eyes downcast. Vincent followed close behind, nay a word exchanged between them. When Sephiroth emerged from the doorway into the cockpit he could see the small town of Nibelheim growing larger as the plane descended. His anticipation grew. Hold on, Aerith. I’m coming....

Aerith and Jack took cover as the large airship flew over them, its engines generating gusts of wind that grazed across the plains. Aerith covered her head, the winds whipping at her loose hair and baggy clothes. Jack looked over his shoulder to make sure she was all right. The plane passed on by, slowly descending close to Nibelheim. Rising, Aerith watched as a rope ladder was thrown over the side of the plane, followed by three men. Aerith squinted her eyes at the third man. From where she stood the man was just a blur but something inside her dared to believe. Jack stopped walking, seeing that she hadn’t followed.

“Aerith? What is it?” he asked. The flower girl stood transfixed, her hands clasped before her. Then a voice spoke to her from within.....It is him. Overjoyed and disbelieving at the same time Aerith suddenly broke into a run. Jack called out to her, then followed suite. Aerith’s heart raced as fast as her legs carried her to the plane. As she drew nearer she could see the long white hair that identified one man and one man alone. Sephiroth!!

Once his booted feet touched the ground, Sephiroth looked up sharply as a voice invaded his senses. Cloud and Vincent stood close by, curious as to why Sephiroth suddenly stopped. Two running figures suddenly appeared in the distance, drawing Sephiroth’s attention. Suddenly he stiffened, his face losing color.

“Sephiroth? What’s wrong with you?” Cloud asked, his voice irritated. Sephiroth didn’t answer the young man, for he was in a state of shock. Could it be? Could that be- her? Vincent voiced Sephiroth’s unspoken wish.

“That’s Aerith coming this way!” he exclaimed. Cloud covered his eyes and squinted at the pair of figures. Sephiroth started to walk away, each stride bringing him closer to a sprint as Aerith neared him. Sephiroth instinctively opened his arms, dropping the Masamune just as Aerith came upon him, throwing her arms around his waist. Aerith clung to Sephiroth tightly, burying her face in his nearly-bare chest. Vincent and Cloud watched in silence at the spectacle. Vincent swore he saw tears in Sephiroth’s closed eyes as he embraced the young woman. Even Jack was awestruck. He had heard stories of Sephiroth being an evil and sinister man bent on inflicting an injury on the Planet so he could ascend into immortality. But now, seeing Aerith and Sephiroth in a joyous embrace, that thought may as well have been a lie.

“I had hoped, prayed, you were all right,” Sephiroth said softly as he retained his hold on Aerith. Aerith looked up at him, smiling through her tears.

“I would have still been Hojo’s prisoner had not been for Jack,” she said. Sephiroth looked up at the other man, curious. Jack looked much like a forest boy in his plain tan vest and dark green pants. A headband could be seen as well, its ties blowing free. Silver armlets adorned his wrists, obvious for protection against forest animals. Jack took it upon himself to approach the pair, bowing at the waist to Sephiroth.

“It was my pleasure to help her. My name is Jack, one of the last Cetra,” he said, extending a hand. Sephiroth looked at Jack’s hand blankly before shaking it. Cloud and Vincent came over to the three and more introductions were made. Once that was done, Aerith hugged Cloud then Vincent in turn. She smiled warmly at both of them.

“Aerith, why were you taken prisoner?” Cloud asked, feeling a bit uneasy at the sight of her and Sephiroth standing so close. Aerith’s smile faded as she recalled her experience.

“I don’t know. Hojo never did anything to me except keep me in a cold cell. I don’t know what he did to Jack, but I could hear his screams for three days straight.” Sephiroth frowned as he thought of Aerith imprisoned in that cell. The vision brought forth more anger toward Hojo.

“They were injecting me with some kind of substance. It would leave me in a drugged state for hours on end. Hojo never informed me of his plans either,” Jack said. Cloud looked over at Vincent. Before the young man could question his companion a group of men suddenly materialized behind them, their voices crying out.

“Halt!!! Stay where you are!!” shouted one. Aerith gasped and before she knew it Sephiroth had swung her up in his arms and was running. Cloud, Vincent and Jack followed, hoping the men who were chasing them weren’t armed with guns. Suddenly another group swarmed in front of them, freezing the escapees in their tracks. Jack looked over his shoulder, then up ahead and cursed at the fact that they had been surrounded. Cloud withdrew his sword, Vincent his gun. Sephiroth placed Aerith down and poised the Masamune. Jack raised his fists. Aerith stayed close to Sephiroth, eyeing their situation nervously. The two groups of men moved in slowly, all eyes and guns on the trapped men and woman.

“Dammit! How could they have rounded up so many men in such a short time?” Cloud said, his voice low. His companions had no response to that question. A man dressed in a white lab coat emerged from the center of the crowd, his hands behind him. Vincent narrowed his eyes.

“Hojo,” he said. Hojo approached them calmly, as if their weapons held no plausible threat. Aerith pressed herself closer to Sephiroth for protection. The scientist overlooked the men before cracking a wry grin.

“Ah, so we meet again. Take them all, but I want to talk to Sephiroth alone.” Hojo’s orders were carried out but just as swiftly Sephiroth had the tip of the Masamune pressed underneath Hojo’s chin, his blue eyes narrowed.

“I have nothing to say to you,” he said. Hojo smiled despite the situation he was in.

“Oh, we have much to talk about. For instance the Jenova cells inside you that are slowly killing you, am I right? You denied Jenova and now, with the reunion so near, her cells are looking for a way out of your system.” Sephiroth stared blankly at the man, his hold on the Masamune wavering slightly. How had the man known?

“That is not your concern,” Sephiroth said through gritted teeth. Hojo laughed.

“I’m afraid it is, Sephiroth. I had such high hopes for you, but had it not been for that girl you would have become more than science, more than anything,” Hojo smiled wryly. Sephiroth slowly lowered the Masamune, his eyes cold. Hojo retained his smile.

“So in the wake of your failure I have a greater plan. The spawn of the Cetra will carry out what you failed to do.” Aerith gasped, Jack clenching a fist.

“Spawn? You intended on- breeding us??” Jack said, his voice tinged with anger. Hojo nodded, his grin reminiscent of the type of man he was.

“By having you, as the last male Cetra, breed with the girl, I would have had a Cetra child bestowed the powers of Jenova. Not a Sephiroth clone, but a much better one. A Cetra of that capability would have powers undreamed of by my predecessors!!” Hojo started cackling in triumph.

“Damn you Hojo! Have you no conscience?” shouted Vincent, his gun raised and ready. The anger in his voice was unmistakable. Vincent had lost a lot due to Hojo’s whims and he was about to do it again. Hojo glared at Vincent.

“Conscience?? A scientist must not have a conscience or morale. That is what makes me a better man than Gast,” he declared. Sephiroth raised his Masamune once more, its tip pressed against Hojo’s heart. Everyone held their breath, wondering what Sephiroth would do next.

“Go ahead, kill me. I can see it in your eyes,” Hojo said, grinning. Sephiroth trembled with fury, his desire to slice the man into a thousand pieces threatening to consume him. Suddenly the wind picked up drastically, spreading the guards apart. Cloud, who had been lost in the whole conversation, looked up to see the Highwind hovering above them, the rope ladder unraveled.

“C’mon!!!” shouted Cid, waving. Vincent opened fire, Cloud sliced into some men as Sephiroth swept Aerith into his arms and headed for the ladder. Urging her on, Sephiroth turned and attacked some men to clear their escape. Jack scrambled up the ladder after downing a man who had come up behind him. Aerith tried not to look back as she climbed up, but she couldn’t help herself. On the ground were the three men, all doing their best to keep the soldiers at bay. Cid helped Aerith over the railing, placing her down.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he smiled, saluting her. Aerith got to her feet just as Jack leapt over the edge to stand beside her. Cloud was coming up, as was Vincent. Sephiroth remained on the ground, continuing to ward off guards. Rising his fist, Sephiroth called forth a Bolt3 spell, three large lightning bolts splitting the sky and striking down a good amount of the men. Sephiroth then climbed up, leaping over the side easily. Once everyone was aboard Cid pulled up the ladder and raced to the cockpit. Sephiroth carried Aerith inside, the other three close behind.

“Fly!!” Cid shouted to his pilot. The pilot saluted Cid and did so, turning the plane away from Nibelheim. Aerith clung to Sephiroth as the plane veered to the right, then its engines rumbled. When they had cleared the Nibel area Cid turned to the others. All looked exhausted from their ordeal.

“Who’s the new guy?” Cid asked, pointing to Jack. Jack introduced himself, Cid nodding in response. Sephiroth looked down on Aerith, taking notice for the first time she was wearing men’s clothes. Her face looked slightly flushed, but that was probably due to their escape.

“Is there someplace she can rest?” Jack asked, voicing Sephiroth’s silent wish. Cid bobbed his head and pointed.

“Yeah, in the operations room.” Jack thanked him and turned to Sephiroth, only to find that he had already picked up Aerith and left. Cloud approached Jack, placing a gloved hand on his shoulder.

“Jack, can you tell us where you’re from? Is there someplace we can take you?” he asked. Jack turned to look at Cloud and sighed, nodding. He then proceeded to tell the very same story to Cloud, Vincent and Cid that he had told Aerith. When Jack was done his audience didn’t know what to think.

“You’ve been in hiding all this time? How could your cover have been blown?” asked Cid. Jack shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe they got wind of me through someone else. But I can’t thank you enough for setting me free. Hojo is a monster,” Jack said, shaking his head. Vincent nodded in grim agreement.

“I only know too well,” he said, revealing his claw.

“Do you know what Hojo meant about the Jenova cells killing Sephiroth? Is there anything we can do?” Cloud asked.

“I don’t know much about what Jenova is. I’ve only heard Bugenhagen say a few words about the project, but that was it. You can drop me off in Cosmo Canyon. I must tell Bugenhagen of what Hojo is planning.”

“Speaking of Hojo, did anyone see where he went off to?” Cloud asked. Vincent shook his head.

“I saw him duck into the crowd as soon as Cid arrived. He’s either long gone or safely hidden. We haven’t seen the last of him.”

Sephiroth stayed by Aerith’s side as she slept, her head tilted to the left. She was suffering from a mild cold, but a quick cure spell had eased any of her suffering. Sephiroth was plagued with what Hojo had said. Was the man right? Were the Jenova cells within him killing him slowly? Or had Hojo been lying? Sephiroth held his head, trying to make sense of it all. He was glad that Jack had been able to help Aerith escape or else she would have been subjected to Hojo’s cruel experiments. Sephiroth clenched his gloved fists, wishing he had run the man through. He knew he and Aerith could not return to the Forgotten City now. Where could he take her so she’d be safe from Hojo?

"Sephiroth?" Aerith whispered, drawing Sephiroth’s attention to her. She was awake, her aquamarine eyes staring intently at him. She reached for his hand, which he took. He turned her hand palm-side up and covered it with his other hand, dropping something into her palm. Aerith looked at him curiously before drawing her hand away and looking. A smile crossed her features.

"My materia. Where was it?" she asked, holding it to her chest.

"On the bed in the city. It must have been tossed aside during the fray," Sephiroth explained softly. Aerith sat up, then embraced Sephiroth. He closed his eyes as she held onto him.

"I knew you would come," she whispered. Sephiroth pulled away, looking deeply into her eyes. He ran one finger down the curve of her face, then cupped her chin. Aerith swallowed slightly, remembering the last time she had seen that look in his eyes. She closed her eyes as he neared her, his lips inches from hers. Aerith felt a surge of surprise mixed with joy as he laid claim to her lips. She held him close to her while they kissed. What they both had wanted for so long had at last come to pass, neither showing signs of shyness. Nothing else mattered to them as they shared in this moment.

The Highwind soared to the southwest where an unknown future awaited her passengers. Hojo was still at large, as were his plans. How long would it be until he found them again? It was a question no one dared ask and no one had an answer to.

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The End?

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