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Reintegration

By Mikari

Humor / Adventure

Chapter 2

Reintegration

Step 31: Partial Truth

It was a meaningful occasion and it took place in an elevator. I wasn't expecting Elena's revelation to have such an effect one me, but somehow it did. It was as if something deep inside me was unlocked.

The elevator started going up then halted, Rude had stopped it; my reaction would decide when it would move again, how far and in which direction.

"We didn't want to tell you yet because we're still investigating and giving you only a little information might leave you feeling uneasy until you get more," Elena is putting it gently, that's for sure. "We also wanted to make sure we had our facts straight... Anyway, for now, this is all we can give you." She reached into her pocket and took out a plain small white envelope which she gave me.

Truthfully, I wasn't particularly in a hurry to open it. I even considered nonchalantly putting it in my pocket and moving on with my day, but Rude might have tried to prevent me from touching the elevator's controls until I saw the envelope's contents and admittedly I was curious.

The envelope had some weight to it, which I was surprised I could perceive. My sword is by the definition of most people very heavy, though to me it feels light, and the envelope was certainly light enough to be carried with ease by a normal person. However, considering how small and thin it was, it shouldn't weight at all.

A part of me was proud of the perception, but I quickly disregarded it and focused on finding the cause of the weight by shaking out the envelope's content out into my open palm. With a glimmer of gold, the weight was revealed to belong to a necklace, a golden chain with a heart attached to it. It appeared to be a locket, but it didn't open and I don't want to break it and look like a brute.

I looked at Elena with puzzlement, waiting for her to tell me what the connection was between the locket and my past. My guess was correct as she soon revealed, "it was your mother's. It looks like a locket but it doesn't open, the two pieces were soldered together on the sides, it's a false locket, the kind she must have spent hours trying to open only to find that it wasn't a locket at all, just a charm."

Perhaps Elena had a similar experience with an article of jewelry much like this one, but try as I did to picture the scene with my mother in place of Elena, I could not. I couldn't imagine mother doing anything, simply because I couldn't imagine her at all. If I tried too hard, I would get the picture of an alien fossil stuck in my head and it would all go downhill from there.

I pocketed the golden heart chain and noticed that there was something else in the envelope, one more thing, a picture. That's when the world felt like it came to a stop. I can't describe what it was, but somehow I knew that the woman in the picture was my mother. I could suddenly imagine her trying to open the heart charm thinking it was a locket and no alien fossils came to mind.

I don't know for how long I stared at the picture but when the reality finally sunk in I voiced a barely audible, "thank you," and inquired about her name. By then the elevator had started moving up again, though I didn't immediately notice, distracted as I was by my fascination with the picture.

"Lucrecia," Elena replied.

"Lucrecia..." I repeated it, not Jenova, Lucrecia; that was her name. "Lucrecia," I voiced the name again, committing it to memory, then the elevator doors opened and Reno received us on the top floor with his usual ramblings.

"Do you know what Blaze did just now? He jumped on the keyboard when Rufus was typing, it was so funny, it's like he wanted to help; he's such a good little chicobo. Rufus got mad because something was deleted, but he didn't get mad at Blaze, he got mad at me. Why do I always get blamed for everything? I mean sure Blaze is too cute to stay mad at, but why can't he just not be mad at anyone?" Reno continued rambling and the chicobo he carried chirped in unison, Reno is a bad influence on that bird.

We went into the president's office where Tseng casually asked, "is everything okay?"

To which Elena replied with a cheerful, "everything's fine."

"Sephiroth," Rufus spoke, calling my attention and receiving a discrete warning look from Tseng that would have escaped the untrained eye. "When you were leaving you said 'not Lazard', what did you mean?"

"I was just reminding myself that despite the physical similarities you're not him," there's an edge of bitterness in my voice that I didn't intentionally included.

"Good, because I don't want to be in anyone's shadow. I'm sick of always being Shinra, as if I'm the company and not a person, as if I'm nothing but my father's successor." It sounds like hit a sensitive spot.

"You're not..." you're not Lazard's shadow, not Lazard, not my trusted friend... But I don't want to say that, not now that I feel I might have misunderstood the earlier conversation. Not now that I have started to believe what I want to believe.

"I'm not trusted, I know that," Rufus finishes. "Maybe trying to say things gently isn't the way to earn your trust, I'm tired of this running around, either you forgive Shinra or you don't, but you can't stay in-between forever; running off and coming back, changing your mind."

"Then don't say things gently, don't sugarcoat it, I want to know. What do you think I'm expecting, a happy past that I somehow forgot? I know the details of the truth will be unpleasant. I was raised to be a weapon, that's what I am a weapon..." Something clicks into place, but it doesn't feel wrong, it feels as if I'm staring right at the truth without realizing that' it's the truth, but at the same time, I feel that I can face it if only I could understand it. My conclusion is that "I'm ready to know."

"Then I will tell you," Rufus sounds truthful and determined, I sense I can believe him. "I think I finally understand why I let you join the Turks, I thought it was due to Shinra's debt to the world, but that's not it. The reason is because I somehow felt identified with you. We both carry the burden of our fathers. Your father was a scientist at Shinra, the old Shinra..."

A scientist... could he be? "Why didn't he tell me?" I don't expect to hear an answer, "he had countless chances to tell me that he..." then the answer came to me, "of course, he couldn't tell me; it was the old Shinra full of blackmail and threats. He must have wanted to tell me, but he couldn't. It must have been difficult, but I won't hold it against him, I'm just glad to finally know who he was." Rufus and the Turks are staring at me as if I'm insane and the strangest thing is that they didn't even stare at me this badly when I was. "What?"

"You don't hate him?" Rufus manages to push the words past his shock.

"No," I assure firmly, I truly don't feel anything negative towards my father. "Even if I never knew he was my father, Gast was still a great man."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 32: Information

The president's office remained silent for a long time. "What's wrong?" No one dared to answer. "What is it?"

"Gast..." Rufus began to speak but stopped, Tseng looked at the president, then at me, then back at the president and nodded. Rufus continued, slowly and gently, almost as if he was apologizing, "Gast wasn't your father."

"Oh..." I realize that I was jumping to conclusions, trying to believe what I wanted to be the truth. I wanted the brilliant scientist to be my father; I wanted a father figure I could look up to, perhaps to make up for the absence for all these years. "Then who was my father?" Again there is silence. "It's okay, I don't care if he was at the very bottom of the science department, I don't care if all his experiments turned out to be failures; I just want to know who he was." How bad can this piece of information be?

Rufus sighs, "this doesn't mean anything, you're nothing like him and we all know that."

Was he a tyrant, some kind of crazy, cruel mad scientist? If that's the case, how in the world did the gentle looking woman in the picture end up with him? My nose wrinkles in disgust, "it can't be, not him..." The solemn expressions on the Turks and Rufus' faces hint that if my guess is bad, it's probably right. "Hollander?"

"Not him," Rufus shakes his head.

I let out a breath of relief; it would be most unpleasant to think any trace of Hollander's DNA resides in me. "That's just about as bad as it gets, whatever the answer is, you can be direct, it can't be that terrible." I'm getting impatient.

"It's worse..." Tseng admits.

"Who could be worse than Hollander?" Maybe he was some no name scientist who did many terrible things while remaining anonymous. If that's the case, perhaps my lack of knowledge about him will make the situation easier to deal with, though I would want to know the full story eventually, no matter how many horrors it may carry.

Rufus gives me the worse response possible, the answer that I would never guess, the name I could never imagine, because it's just too terrible, "Hojo."

"You're lying..." There's no reply, no hint of untruthfulness, no hope. "The walking mass of complexes... Out of all the men in the world, why must it be the walking mass of complexes?" I massage my temples, feeling a headache coming on.

"It doesn't matter, let's just leave it in the past," Rufus is quick to insist.

I nod, "yeah, the past..." I grip the edge of his desk for support, an action that doesn't go unnoticed.

"Are you alright?" Rufus inquires as one does out of habit, despite knowing the obvious negative answer.

"I'm fine, just a bit light headed..." I'm lying, I'm wide awake, but I want to skip out on everything today, I want to take a sick day and it's working.

"Maybe you should rest," Tseng is quick to suggest, while Elena glances at me worriedly and Rude nods in agreement. I nod weakly, feeling ridiculous, and agree to let Reno walk me to the infirmary.

xoxox xox xoxox

Blaze is chirping cheerfully as usual and Reno is grinning from ear to ear, "man you're good, you deserve an Oscar!"

"Pardon?" Did Reno see through my act? Did everyone else?

"Your sick act was first class, I should know, I used to do that all the time in school," Reno commends.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I try to feign innocence.

And fail miserably, "sure you don't..."

I stop half way to the infirmary, "can I ask for a favor?"

"Shoot!"

"Can you keep it a secret if I sneak off to the archives? I want to know who Hojo was. I knew him as nothing more than," I search for the right words, "a very lame loser." My chosen vocabulary feels odd coming from me, but I think the term fits him perfectly. "Maybe he had better days."

"You don't know, no wonder you're not throwing a fit!" Reno has a big mouth.

"You mean it gets worse?" Now my curiosity is growing even more, inquisitiveness is cruel.

"Ah... well..." I think Reno has finally realized he succeeded in inserting his foot in his mouth, metaphorically speaking of course. "Tell you what, we'll go to the archives and take a look around, alright?" Reno makes his way to a vending machine and casually buys a chocolate bar, honey bread that's more honey than bread and a can of Pepsi, neither of which he opens.

I feel like I'm walking straight into a trap but I agree none the less, "let's go."

xoxox xox xoxox

In the deep basement, the gentle hum of multiple servers can be heard. The place is decked with technology, in racks reaching to the ceiling. The air conditioner is cold to prevent the equipment from overheating, but the machines generate heat, turning the atmosphere into a thermal contradiction, an antipode of hot and cold.

"Who dares to invade my territory?" An ominous voice is heard, the woman sounds commanding and firm, resembling a being from another plane of existence judging the mortals of this world and choosing who is worthy.

"It's just us," Reno responds in a very ambiguous way.

"Who are you?" I address the figure behind the glow of a computer screen, the light reflecting off her silver glasses, making it difficult to look at her in the eyes. Her messy dark hair makes her white skin look even paler.

"Information comes at a price," for a moment, the woman's resemblance to a reaper is too close for comfort.

"I got your payment right here," Reno deposits the food and drink he bought from the vending machine into her desk.

Her tone changes, "what? No fan service?"

"If you bring her back," Reno tilts his head towards a picture frame on the desk, but the image changes constantly, so I'm not sure what picture he's referring to, "and I'm drunk enough to forget your other identity."

"Too much effort," she shakes her head with an air of superiority and Reno pouts, while I find myself missing the essence of their exchange.

The picture on the frame automatically changes again and I see many happy faces, save for one, in a familiar background. It's the Seventh Heaven, Reno is there, obviously drunk, I'm sure he would be on the floor if not for the two women standing left and right from him. He has an arm around Tifa's shoulders and the other around an unknown woman wearing black and blue to match her hair, and that's what's keeping him on his feet. Cloud approaches from behind, as if to pull Reno away.

Tseng and Elena are in the picture too, next to the unknown woman, with Tseng looking only slightly drunk, but still sober enough to walk in a straight line and Elena appearing to be very drunk, her face resting against his chest, arms tightly wrapped around his midsection, face red. Rude stands quietly to the side, next to Tifa, I'm guessing he drank the most but is the least drunk. The picture changes once more before I can make any additional observations.

The unknown woman speaks, "what information do you seek?"

"Seph here wants to know about Hojo," Reno reveals.

"Sephiroth," she speaks in that portentous voice again, I do not think you will approve of what you find," I finally comprehend that this woman knows who I am, not just my real identity, but also my past.

Then it hits me, of course she's aware, she's the keeper of Shinra's databases, she knows more than anyone. All the locked records, she has access to them. "I want to know the truth, please unlock the database for me. I don't care how bad it is, I want to know."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 33: Control

I try to ignore the fact that the keeper of the database keeps playing with my hair; she won't stop even when I tell her to. I try to focus on reading from the computer screen, one of them anyway, there are ten and the other nine are displaying complex codes that give me a headache just looking at them. This is probably more dangerous to my sanity than locking myself in a basement to read from books for days without food or sleep and that's saying a lot.

Hojo is far worse than I thought. He wasn't just a nerdy mass of complexes, he was bad, evil, rotten, low, disgusting, traitorous, cruel, horrible, creepy, disrespectful, lying, repulsive, deceitful, malevolent, awful, malicious, atrocious and... and... and he probably smelled bad too. "Why did I have to read this?" I lift my first in frustration, but stop when I feel a firm tug on my hair.

"Hit the computer and you're dead," I'm not in the mood to have some girl sink her claws into my face or sabotage my hair.

Instead I get up and glare at Reno, "why did you let me read that?"

"Isn't that what you wanted?" Reno inquired with genuine confusion.

I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again like a fish. Finally I let out a breath, "you're right," saying that to Reno felt terribly wrong. None the less, the point is I shouldn't ask for the truth and complain when I get it. I didn't want to be protected from the truth like an ignorant fool who can't handle it, but now that I got the information I wanted, I think they were right to think I couldn't handle it. I would much rather be the child of a fossil than that man.

"Seph?" I feel terrible and I deduce my appearance must be bad, because Reno is staring at me as if he were looking at an agonizing man on the brink of death.

"Maybe you should take him to the infirmary," the keeper of the databases suggests.

"Yeah, c'mon Seph, let's go," I follow Reno mindlessly.

xoxox xox xoxox

I'm tired of looking at the white ceiling as I lie in bed at the Shinra HQ infirmary. At some point someone checked my vitals signs, but I wasn't paying attention. I don't think they found anything physically wrong with me that they didn't already know. Just when I thought I couldn't get anymore mentally scarred.

Blaze chirps at me and I could have sworn I sensed concern in him, but he's just a chicobo. "Blaze..." I look at the little red bird, ignoring the irritating redhead holding him. "You're not afraid of me, are you?"

Blaze chirps and I decide to interpret it as no, extending my hand to take him. Reno pauses and reluctantly deposits the little bird into my open palm. Blaze looks at me curiously without a hint of worry.

"Congrats!" Reno finally speaks, and I don't quite understand what he means.

"Who are you congratulating?" I inquire in puzzlement.

"You."

I look at him as if he's more insane than I was, or am. "Why?"

"Because you didn't go berserk, so I won't get into trouble," Reno explains.

I pause and think about his words, it's true, I'm not going crazy. I'm utterly disgusted with myself, I'm nauseous and I have the chills, but I'm not going on a killing spree. I can even hold Blaze without worrying, which I'll admit I was a little afraid of doing before since he's such a tiny fragile creature. "I feel sick, I mean really sick."

"Not just an act? Wow, I guess karma does exist, I'm glad it hasn't caught up to me," if it ever does, no doubt Reno will die a very painful death.

"I need to do something," but I don't know what. What I do know is that if I don't let out my immense frustration right now, it will push me to insanity all over again and I'll burn down the whole city of Edge. It's either that, or I'll turn into a bigger emo than Cloud, both of which, specially the second, are absolutely unacceptable.

"What do you mean?"

"About all of this, I can't keep it bottled up."

"You could yell at the top of your lungs!" Reno is quick to suggest.

I shake my head in disapproval, "I would feel ridiculous."

"I'll yell with you," he takes a deep breath.

"No! I don't need a bigger headache!"

Reno makes a face as if swallowing the scream he build up. "Cry like an idiot?"

"I don't feel like it," frankly I can't imagine it and I'm glad I can't.

"I know; you should drink yourself silly!" Reno grins at the idea.

I shake my head, "that won't solve anything," besides, it would take too long for me to get drunk, if I'm even capable of getting drunk.

"I'm out of ideas..."

After a moment of silence, I finally come up with something, "I'm going to train."

xoxox xox xoxox

A normal man would have been crushed hours ago, but I've been training in high gravity for a long time now. The machine is set much higher than the Turks usually set it, up to full capacity at 999 times normal gravity. I've been smashing training equipment with Cloud's face on it the entire time and though it helped a little, I know I need to find another way to deal with my past. I think I'm so shocked it just hasn't sunk in yet and I dread to think of what may happen when it does.

When I finally come out of the gravity room, after the machine overheats and automatically shuts down to prevent further damage, I look at my audience, now consisting of all four Turks, Rufus and Blaze, instead of just Reno and Blaze as it was when I started. "Why do we wear these suits?"

"They make you look professional," Rufus replies automatically, at least no one appears to be upset about my outburst in the training room, though I did hear Reno getting a scolding in the background when Tseng first arrived.

"Sorry about the training room..."

"It's alright, it's good that you trained instead of," Rufus searches for the right words so as to not sound offensive, "letting things get to you," and burning down Edge I'm sure he would mentally add.

I nod, not knowing what else I can say and see myself reflected on the bulletproof glass around the gravity and holographic training chamber. "My hair is flat," I observe, feeling rather dumb. Am I that desperate for a distraction? Never the less, my hair really is flat.

"You can go home and fix it, it's late anyway," I appreciate the calm in Rufus' tone, as if he's been reassured that things will be alright. It makes me wonder why I lost control before if I can handle the shock I received today, at least for now, maybe I became stronger.

It's the evening and now that my stomachache has subsided, I feel hunger catching up to me, "I'll see everyone tomorrow." I head to my apartment, blocking the identity of a certain loud mouth neighbor out of my mind. As I left Shinra that day, flat hair and terrible traumatic origins aside, I felt remarkably normal.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 34: Cars

I wonder what the Turks talked about after I left. Tseng, Reno and I live in the same building, but they didn't head for the building after work. Tseng hasn't been in his apartment lately, which is understandable with a noisy neighbor like Reno, then there's that secret mission he's been working on, which I have certainly not forgotten about.

I'm sure Reno isn't home yet, I can tell because it's quiet. I'll enjoy the peace while it lasts. I took a shower, changed and fixed my hair, blow-drying it and brushing it with more patience than an average man would have and it recovered its previous splendor.

"You're such a narcissist," I nearly jump out of my skin at the sudden voice. I don't know if what made me miss the presence was the fact that I was so focused on my hair, or that I've tuned out my senses in an effort to relax, maybe it was both.

"Reno," my voice carries an understandable amount of irritation, "I didn't hear you come in." Furthermore, I thought the door was locked. Something doesn't feel right.

"I just came to visit, don't mind me, just keep doing when you were doing," he hangs around in the background suspiciously.

I turn towards the mirror again and brush my hair, watching Reno's reflection stand perfectly still for a long moment, observing my suspicious look reflected in the mirror; then he walked out of the room. I decide it's best to follow him. He makes his way to the kitchen and opens my refrigerator, which is something that Reno would do, except he's just too quiet, "where's Blaze?"

Reno pauses, as if thinking about his answer, "at home."

"Who are you?"

He stops the pretend search in the refrigerator and looks at me, "I'm Reno, do you have amnesia?"

"Liar, you're too quiet to be Reno. The door was locked, how did you get in? Who are you? Why are you here?"

He grins evilly, this is not the look of mischief Reno gets when he's plotting to play a prank on Cloud; this expression is much more sinister. Before I know what's going on, he punches me, which sends me flying through the kitchen wall, causing me to land in the hall, stamped into the opposite wall, leaving an indentation in the shape of my body. That was definitely not Reno, but he was amazingly strong.

I recover as fast as I can and rush back to my apartment through the same hole I was thrown out. I searched the place inside out but found no signs of the false Reno. I concluded it was best to alert the Turks of the recent happenings immediately.

xoxox xox xoxox

We haven't been able to find any clues about the false Reno, but the damage to my apartment shows that this wasn't my imagination and I'm glad the Turks didn't think I did that myself, though they were reluctant to believe I could get thrown around like that. I don't want to believe it either, what kind of enemy is this who can disguise himself as someone else so physically accurate, though the lack of acting skills gave him away. Whoever this enemy is, he's strong and dangerous; we're on full alert.

The weekend arrived and though I feel terribly uneasy and have been plagued by nightmares lately, the Turks insist that I must try to relax and they said they were taking me shopping to help accomplish that. I really don't see how that could possibly help, it might make things worse.

xoxox xox xoxox

It's the afternoon and we're at a Shinra vehicle dealer, which sells a variety of land transportation devices. We're going car shopping, apparently the Turks thought it would help me relax if I got a new car to drive around, and obsess over. I had tried to tell Tseng that "there's a dangerous being on the loose and this is no time to go car shopping. The world could be inches away from destruction!" I went on to insist we took security measures in the city, but Tseng disagreed.

The leader of the Turks calmly replied, "the world is always in the brink of chaos and the only way the people of Edge can lead peaceful lives is if they don't know." I received a flood of information after that; the Edge mafia world is very active and if we make an obvious move, it would cause unnecessary tension that could bring a lot of casualties. That's why it's so important for the Turks to keep the balance, move in silence and walk in shadow.

Rude is quietly looking at the cars while Tseng is taking notes on a clip bored. Rufus is busy going over the specifics of a show that will take place soon; life goes on even if we know there's a dangerous enemy out there. I suppose there really is always some kind of danger out there. If people lived thinking of the risks, they would spend their entire lives in constant fear.

Elena was standing to the side looking bored and grumbling about men being slow shoppers a while ago, but she found a rather elegant little shop selling rearview mirror jeweled ornaments and appears to be entertained by it. She and a brunette woman are discussing which decorations are the best, I've never seen her before, albeit I get the impression Elena has. Judging by their conversation, of which I caught a few bits and pieces, they must not see each other often and are catching up on the regular occurrences of their daily lives.

Reno is talking to someone else, a blond man with goggles, they seem to be focused in their conversation using engine related technical terms I have seldom heard before. I never knew Reno could voice such big words. As for me, I'm left to baby-sit my little godchild, Blaze, and look around, seeking to find the ideal car, despite still not having a driver's license.

xoxox xox xoxox

Time passed and I finally found some cars I liked; I was torn between two different models, one black and the other silver. Rude's input was, "both," but I didn't even need one car, let alone two, yet the Turks insisted that I would feel better if I got myself a treat and reminded me that my Turk salary had not been suspended regardless of my temporary leave of absence, to put it nicely, so I could afford it. Feeling somewhat guilty, I purchased both cars and arranged for them to be delivered to the apartment building's ten story parking lot, reserving two spaces for them.

As we regrouped to leave, I learned that Reno had added a new car to his collection of vehicles, this time a red sports car and it was while he made the announcement that the blond man with goggles noticed my presence. "No #$%& way! That's Sephiroth!" I became paralyzed on the spot, realizing that I had seen him before; he was with Cloud's group long ago.

"Don't freak out Cid," Reno laughs it off, "this is Seph; he only looks like Sephiroth."

"So he does, had me worried for a second there. I'm Cid Highwind, best pilot ever."

"I'm Seph, nice to meet you," it amazes me how easily I can get away with this false identity, but I suppose the facts that I don't have my sword with me and I'm not destroying things are proof enough.

"Best pilot my foot," Reno argues, "that's my title!"

"You have a long way to go Turk," Cid argues. The exchange continues between them until we are joined by Elena and the brunette woman who I find out is Cid's wife, Shera.

xoxox xox xoxox

The afternoon went by, giving way to the evening and Rufus and the Turks, myself included, plus Blaze went out to have some dinner. Nobody was worried about getting Blaze into the restaurant, because we knew no one would dare say no to Rufus Shinra. Dinner was delicious and thankfully peaceful.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 35: Transportation

Learning to drive was... chaotic. Reno, the self proclaimed all purpose pilot of the Turks, offered to teach me how to drive. How in the world he get licenses for such a variety of vehicles? I'll never know, but he does have quite the collection. He's certified to drive everything from cars and motorcycles to jets, helicopters, ships and submarines.

I wasn't the only one having driving lessons that Sunday; there was a boy, just barely old enough to drive, very eager to get his license. For a split second I imagined Reno being the same way as a teenager, then I concluded that the image was wrong, because he wouldn't wait until he had a license to start driving all sorts of vehicles. Maybe they gave him all those licenses because they knew he would drive and pilot anyway.

The boy is familiar with Blaze and seems to get along with him quite well, referring to himself as the chicobo's uncle. He does seem to have a sibling-like relationship with Reno and if they didn't look so different I would have assumed they were brothers.

This boy, who introduced himself as Chika Akatsuki has ivory hair with black highlights and golden eyes. He's just as talkative and energetic as Reno and has been getting driving lessons from him because "bro doesn't freak out like the ferryman and my old man." By listening to Chika's chatter during the driving lessons I found out that he is a student, holding several part time jobs, one at a convenience store and the other at a loan office, he lives in another city but sometimes comes to visit Edge.

The old man he mentioned is in fact his father from what I could gather, and the ferryman is his boss at the loan office. He didn't say why they called him ferryman and I didn't pry, people get the strangest nicknames for the most random reasons sometimes. Besides, between Chika and Reno's headache inducing incessant chatter, I couldn't get a single word in.

Reno drives like a maniac, though he is surprisingly capable of driving like a human being while explaining how to drive during the driver's test, as opposed to how to drive in real life. I have no doubts the styles are indeed different, one must be ready to get creative with maneuvers to survive the highway, but I don't think it's really necessary to take things to the extreme.

Headache aside, driving can be harder than it looks. It took a moment to get the hang of getting the car to do what I wanted it to. If the car is an extension of myself, it lacks the reflexes of the rest of me, but I adapted remembering the principals of video games. In games, you must adapt yourself to the responsiveness of the controls, it's not the same as being there in person; you need to work with what possible movement you have, just like in driving, except it's not as easy to see when it's not a in a top view camera angle.

Overall, after a lot of stress and plenty of annoying teasing from Reno and his monochrome haired mini-me, I finally felt that I knew how to drive well enough to pass the test, until we went off to practice the specific things needed to pass. It wasn't as simple as going from point A to point B, a lot of twists, turns and technicalities stood in way and every tiny detail had to be performed in the right order even if the outcome wouldn't be affected and you no one would ever need any of that in real life. I decided it was best not to schedule my test for a while.

xoxox xox xoxox

When Monday came, Rufus merrily informed me that I would be required to get my license soon, as all the Turks are supposed to be able to drive various vehicles should the need arise. I take it Reno shared the story of my driving lessons and for once the president found his antics amusing.

Rude was assigned as my instructor and I would be allowed to count the lessons as Turk training. On the bright side, Rude is a skilled driver, the down side being his perpetual silence. I had to keep guessing if I was doing things right and often remind him that I'm not a mind reader. None the less, I think my driving skills improved.

xoxox xox xoxox

My nightmares worsened, it got so bad I actually welcomed the noise coming from the floor below because I didn't want to sleep. Then, one night, it was miraculously quiet and I wondered if Reno and Blaze were even there. For a moment I feared they were murdered by the shape shifter.

I imagined the fiend disguising himself as someone else, a pizza delivery boy who randomly came uncalled in the middle of the night, Reno would take the pizza without explanations and become distracted enough to be killed. Albeit such a strong enemy wouldn't require a distraction, maybe he disguised himself as me and snapped Reno's neck before the Turk could even say "hey Seph!" and he would die thinking I went insane ran off to burn down Edge.

I panicked and rushed to the floor below. "Reno! If you're alive open the door!"

A very sleepy Reno opened the door, he was wearing red pajama pants and his goggles, why he would wear his goggles to sleep is beyond me. Blaze was cuddled in his arms, quickly falling asleep again. His hair was an even bigger mess than usual; something I didn't think was possible, yet somehow confirmed his identity, because he's a box of surprises, most of them chaotic. "Hey Seph," he yawned, "what's up?"

"Nothing, it was quiet and I thought..." you were dead. I know Tseng has been rarely staying in his apartment in this building lately, going off on secret missions, staying in one of his other houses, or going to Elena's place. Tseng can come and go quietly, leaving behind the feeling that everything is okay, but Reno always announces his plans even if no one asks him about it and wouldn't leave without saying anything.

Reno doesn't reply; he's no longer listening to me, having fallen asleep leaning on the doorframe. Somehow, he managed to hold on to Blaze in his sleep and the chicobo remained in slumber land.

"Reno!"

He jumps awake, "What? Where? Who?"

"You fell asleep standing, you should go back to bed."

"Oh yeah... good idea..." He yawns again, "didn't you have something to say?"

I shake my head but throw out the truth anyway, "just making sure you're alive."

He laughs, sounding much more awake now, "I'm a Turk! Don't worry so much and get some sleep. Staying up late has caught up with Blaze and me, I thought you would be really tired too, you sure look it."

"Yes, I'll get some rest, sorry to wake you..." I was lying; I didn't get any rest at all.

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Due to some urgent business concerning the mafia, I had no time to take my official driver's test for a few days, instead spending my time sneaking around and participating on several stake outs like a mix between a secret spy and a renegade police officer. The platinum haired yakuza lady was on the move and the balance of power in the mafia had shifted drastically. This information was gained from an individual, old enough to be a man but small enough to be a boy, who I caught when I was partnered with Reno and Rude.

He ran away and we cornered him, taking our separate ways and blocking all his possible escape routes in the alleys of the least friendly parts of Edge. He must have recognized Reno and Rude, yelling insults directed at Turks in general, accusing us of siding with 'her', except we didn't know who this 'her' was at the time.

The boy chouse to face me in favor of Reno or Rude, he must have recognized them and thought he could get past the new Turk. Needless to say the most challenging part was definitely not the fight; the hard part was restraining him without killing the fragile brat.

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Reintegration

Step 36: Nightmares

After some intimidation, threats and a few electric shocks for our captive, we found out that the Platinum Witch, as the platinum haired yakuza woman is known, has been integrating several gangs into her own and it was rumored the Turks were doing her dirty work.

The boy was a low ranking messenger so he didn't know much. Reno and Rude made sure he spoke of everything he knew and later informed me, I didn't feel like staying there for the entirety of the interrogation, it reminded me too much of the old Shinra, traces of it still exist, too many fragments, more than just small pieces.

Elena tried to tell me, when she found me pacing around outside the questioning room, that she too was bothered by the situation when she was new and even now, but countless innocents would be lost if the mafia wasn't kept in check. "If we cut all ties, we lose control. We can take them down if Shinra shows its true power, but at what cost? The city must be cleaned slowly and those who clean it will have to get their hands dirty." It was a reality I had to face, but I was getting tired of all those harsh realities and my inability to temporarily escape them in my nightmare filled sleep.

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After the interrogation drama calmed down, we regrouped to discuss our strategy, sitting in a conference room that might have been occupied by President Shinra, Heidegger, Scarlet, Palmer and Reeve if this was the old Shinra. In the new Shinra, it is occupied by President Rufus Shinra and the Turks, Tseng, Reno, Rude, Elena and myself. Blaze was left with a babysitter for his own safety, though I'm not sure with who, I have a feeling Reno would be picky about that, he does seem protective of the chicobo, so Blaze should be fine.

The conference room feels more like a classroom really, though I wouldn't know, having received my basic education from Shinra in a rushed home schooling process, so I could hurry up and focus on training. None the less I felt quite satisfied with my marks, despite being pushed to complete the curriculum as soon as possible.

However, if I had been in a classroom, I imagine it would be like this. Tseng and Elena are passing notes, though knowing Tseng, they most be more work related than they appear, organizing information and keeping a record of the discussion for later reference. Whenever Rufus, our would be teacher, asks something, Tseng replies, usually without even having to look at the report Rude wrote, which Tseng has already studied. He would be the know it all, favorite student, who has everything organized and always answers all the questions.

Elena might have been assumed to be the day dreamer who doodles on her notebook, but I don't think that's accurate. She seems to be more like the one who tries too hard and takes notes of every last detail, probably even what the teacher was wearing and who replied to each discussion question. The student who is competitive deep down, but too focused on overachieving to shine as much as she could.

Rude is the quiet one in any situation, the tall boy who sits in the back and goes unnoticed. He might have been wrongly marked absent several times even if his attendance record was most likely perfect. The boy who never said a word, but had good grades, the who one dared to approach, except the class clown, Reno.

I imagine Reno would arrive late to every class and sit next to a window to look outside. He would set up a wall of books around him to hide a handheld video game and play all through class, then ask Rude for help with his homework, meaning having Rude do it for him. He would end up in the principal's office often due to a variety of practical jokes and when he finally graduated, everyone would wonder how in the world he managed to accomplish that.

I yawned and folded my arms on the table, resting my head on them. I'm so tired, but I'm not sleeping. I wouldn't be the kind of student who sleeps in the classroom; Reno might do that, but not me. I would be diligent and pay attention, but I certainly wouldn't be a teacher's pet or a know it all, just a good student. Yes, that's it...

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"Sephiroth!" I jolt awake at Rufus' voice, the images of my nightmare still fresh in my mind. There was Hojo, Jenova and a big tank with green liquid and a silver haired baby inside.

My breaths are labored, my puffy red eyes wide in alert and I'm looking in every direction, searching for the hiding place of a monster who is waiting to attack me. I close my eyes and cover my face with my hand for a moment, then take a deep breath and look at the worried expressions that surround me. "I'm sorry, what I did was inexcusable, falling asleep like that..."

"What's inexcusable is allowing yourself to reach this state. Sephiroth, don't think we haven't noticed you look like a zombie lately. Your eyes are red and puffy with purple lines under them and you look like you're constantly suppressing yawns. If you're suffering from and insomnia this severe, you should see the doctor," Rufus scolds.

I shake my head, "It's not insomnia, I just can't sleep," then I realize how stupid that sounds.

"Insomnia means you can't sleep," Elena clarifies.

"Even I knew that!" Reno laughs.

"I know," I think they believed I knew what insomnia meant; they probably assumed I was too out of it to speak coherently. "It's not that I can't sleep, it's just that I can't..." I'm not making any sense, not even to myself, but I can't help it, this is difficult to put into words.

What am I supposed to say? That I'm too frightened to sleep? I'm not a child, I shouldn't be afraid of nightmares. What else should I tell them? That I hear strange noises from under the bed and in the closet when I'm alone in my apartment? I wasn't afraid of monsters as a child and it would be ridiculous to fear them now. If i say that, they'll conclude I'm crazy and I probably am.

The Turks look at me expectantly, waiting for me to explain what this is about. "Nightmares," I finally confess and decide to leave it at that.

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Reintegration

Step 37: Facing Reality

After my confession about having nightmares, it was decided that something had to be done. "There's a dangerous enemy out there and the mafia situation is getting worse. We don't know if there's a connection or not, but regardless of that, both problems need to be dealt with. We need you at your best, sorry to say it, but there's no time for you to learn how to deal with things step by step. This will either make you stronger or break you, but I believe that if you ever had the potential to overcome your past, you will do it regardless of how hard it is." From a certain angle Rufus might have sounded harsh, but his words also showed that he does have faith in me.

I'm reassured now that I've gone from being the issue to being part of the resources that are needed to solve the current issues. I nodded tiredly, "I will handle things," even if it means facing the monsters in my sleep.

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I didn't know where Rufus and the Turks were taking me; I just followed them like a zombie and got in the car, where I dozed off for a while and woke with a startle. I had more nightmares and they were even worse than before. Lucrecia transformed into Jenova and Hojo murdered her, in the background there was a silver haired child crying helplessly, unable to do anything or even move.

When I got out of the car along with the group, the six of us traveling in two cars, I noticed that we were in front of the Seventh Heaven. Maybe facing Cloud is their way to make me face my past and hopefully learn to deal with it.

We enter the Seventh Heaven and occupy the stools in front of the bar, which suspiciously became available as we came in. Tifa greets us with her usual cheer, but Cloud looks uneasy. He glares at us, mostly at me, and shares his theory, "I suspect you really are Sephiroth."

The entire establishment falls eerily silent; the murmurs of random customers in the background have died down so suddenly it feels like someone hit the pause button during the noisiest part of a movie.

"Alright, I confess," I hope Rufus knows what he's doing. I have a feeling I might understand what's happening better if I had been awake during the meeting. "The rumors are many, but the sources are not reliable," does he mean that the rumor originated from the mafia and spread to civilians? Is the mafia trying to reveal my identity aside from spreading rumors of the Turks working for the Platinum Witch? "This man is Sephiroth's long lost twin brother, Seph. He was declared a failed experiment and never permitted to join Soldier. His health was very fragile until recently, in an effort to make up for Shinra's past deeds, we provided him with medical treatment until he was cured and now he's even healthy enough to be a Turk."

Suspense hangs in the air as people deliberate if Rufus is telling the truth or not, then Reno decides to support the president and reassure everyone by putting me in a headlock and messing up my hair. "Would the real Sephiroth let me live after this?" I want to kill him, but the fact that I miraculously manage not to has cleared me of the suspicions of being... me.

It seems a poorly made Sephiroth clone, a failed experiment, isn't as interesting as the real Sephiroth, so everyone goes back to their business, resuming their previous conversations as if the pause had never occurred.

Cloud looks thoughtful, solemn and supportive? "It must have been hard, to be treated as a failure, to be left in a fragile state of health and to be accused of being like Sephiroth." I don't know what to say so I remain quiet as Cloud continues. "I can relate to what you're going through, I'm sorry I doubted you."

I am speechless and Cloud is an idiot. Watch out Reno, someone is trying to steal your title of biggest idiot in the world. I can only accomplish a silent nod and instead focus in the effort of fixing my hair with my hands.

"I would let you borrow my brush, but with my bad luck with hair, it's probably jinxed," Cloud comments. I don't want his brush touching my hair anyway.

"You have a hairbrush?" Reno laughs. "Brushes are for girls, real men don't need them, right Rude?" Reno runs his fingers through his hair as if to prove a point and does the opposite.

"Don't listen to him, you can borrow my brush," Tifa offers before I can say anything and disappears up the stairs to retrieve the hairbrush, arriving with it seconds later. "I'll help," she starts to brush my hair. Elena played with it, that geeky girl from the databases played with it and now Tifa.

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How did I get myself into this? What was Rufus thinking? "Trying to clean your name?" I growl through my teeth.

The president smiles, "of course, and it's also a test."

I can read between his words very clearly. If I can survive tonight without killing anyone, I can survive just about anything. "You're taking a big risk..."

"Have some confidence," Rufus is either cocky or desperate and despite the carefree mask, I have reasons to believe it's the second one.

I sigh, then yawn, taking the air I threw out back into my lungs as if it were my worries, I try to get rid of them but can't help it but to keep them. It's late and the Seventh Heaven is closed, but we're still here, we're having a sleepover.

The boys, because it doesn't feel like we can be called men given the situation, are crowded in Cloud's small room. I don't know when Tseng had the time to pack pajamas, but he did and he retrieved them from the car's trunk and handed them out as if we had all planned this together, now we have changed into them, to put ourselves in the sleepover mood.

I can still clearly picture Cloud's face when Rufus suggested having a friendly sleepover to help them all become better friends and Tifa exclaimed delighted "that's a wonderful idea!" I suppose the idea of Cloud being annoyed does make it more pleasant.

It was revealed that Blaze's babysitters were actually Marlene and Denzel, Blaze is with us and so is Denzel since it was decided that all the boys were sleeping in Cloud's room despite the confining space, and the girls would sleep in Tifa's room. I never imagined Tifa owned this many sleeping bags but she dug out one after another from various places, closets, from under furniture and so on. I suppose she's used to having the former members of Avalanche stay over.

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Reintegration

Step 38: Sleepover

"Listen up men, we have to be ready!" Denzel is pretending to be some kind of army general, which reminds me that I was once a general, but I can't reminisce about the old days with the present capturing my full attention, it is rather amusing. "This is our base," he points to a square drawn on a paper, which I assume represents Cloud's room. "This is the enemy base," he points to another square, most likely Tifa's room, "and this is the war zone," he signals to the area connecting the two squares, the hall. "We need a battle plan." He's wearing the most normal looking pajamas out of all of us in a shade of blue that's not too dark and not too light.

"I have an idea, general!" Reno's pajamas match his hair, he mentioned they were glow in the dark, as if the massive red isn't bright enough as it is. Rufus warned him that he better cover his glow in the dark pajamas when it was time to go to sleep, but Reno laughed, reminding him that no one sleep in sleepovers. Personally, I'm very tired, but I don't want to have nightmares or doodles on my face, so I will try my best to stay awake.

Blaze chirps and Denzel nods, "Lieutenant Blaze is right, you're far too reckless, soldier!" It's strangely amusing to hear a Turk being called Soldier, when in fact the role change was the other way around for me.

"You didn't even let me tell you about my idea!" Reno pouted, "I think we should sneak into their base and steal their cookies!"

"That is too reckless!" Cloud argues; he's wearing sky blue pajamas with pictures of fluffy white clouds. "I've tried that before, with Cid, Vincent, Nanaki, Barret and Reeve and we walked right into a trap. Even if Yuffie and Shera aren't there, Tifa and Marlene are merciless enough on their own, plus now they have Elena to help, who knows what new ideas she'll bring."

"It is best not to try to steal cookies from Elena," Tseng is wearing royal blue pajamas with red triple sevens all over.

I vaguely recall Reno telling me a story while I was trying to ignore him one day. The Turks had gone to a casino and while Reno gambled none stop, Tseng remained an observer. Reno teased him so much about being 'too chicken' to gamble that he finally gave in and won the triple seven jackpot from the slot machine on his first try, but refused to gamble anymore after that. Maybe that's why it was decided that those pajamas suited him; maybe they were a gift from a Secret Santa or something.

"We'll have to come up with a strategy," Denzel mused.

"Why don't we just stay here and not pick a fight," Rufus spoke for the first time in a long while. His pajamas were probably a gag gift too, light green with dark green gil symbols.

"Are you giving up already? Have hope, soldier!" Denzel encouraged.

Rude remains a shadow in his black pajamas, blending into the darkness of the room, which is lit only by the flashlight in the center of our circle sitting on the floor. He would make a good ninja.

In contrast, I am used to a more direct approach, "why can't we just charge in? We outnumber them; we would win in a pillow fight." I'll admit I was feeling silly in my silvery silk pajamas with pictures of little chocobos in every color chocobos come in, a gift from Rufus and the Turks. I don't really care anymore, I've decided to focus on our cookie mission and forget about the rest.

"They'll take you down before you can even get a good grip on your pillow," Cloud warns.

"They're girls," Denzel reminds us as if it were something terrifying. "They hide horrors that we can't even begin to imagine," cooties perhaps?

There's a knock on the door and we all fall silent and wait, all eyes on the door, which is closed but not locked. "Is it a trap?" Reno inquires impatiently.

"It could be..." Denzel theorizes. "To your battle stations, ready your weapons!" By that he means pillows, there are also a lot of extra pillows in the Seventh Heaven. "Someone will have to look outside the base."

A long moment passes and no one volunteers. Is the situation truly that scary? I guess this is my chance to be the hero. "I'll go."

"You're a brave soldier!" General Denzel commends, "alright men, get ready to defend Seph, we won't abandon our comrade!"

After the dramatic speech, while everyone is holding their pillows ready to save me should the need arise, I open the door and find a plate on the floor with a cupcake on it and a little card. I pick it up and place it in the center of the planning circle, reading the card, which contains only one word, "peace."

"A peace offering? Looks like there was nothing to worry about after all," Rufus concludes too soon.

"Or maybe it's poisoned!" Reno looks at the cupcake suspiciously.

"Do you think they were hoping we would fight over the cupcake?" Tseng theorizes, "divide and conquer."

"Sleep," Rude finally speaks, causing Reno to remind him that no one sleeps in sleepovers, but Rude is not one to need reminders. He doesn't say much, but when he does, it's best to listen.

"That smell," Tseng looks alarmed.

Taking Blaze into his arms, Reno leaps towards the door, "it's sleeping gas, abandon ship, I mean base!"

In a sudden incomprehensible panic, we all rush out of the room. Reno is out, but Rufus and Cloud are stuck in the doorframe trying to get out at the same time and the rest of us are still inside our compromised base.

I look out, over Rufus and Cloud, and see that Reno is surrounded. "Hang him over, Blaze is coming with us," Marlene commands, I didn't know a little girl could sound so intimidating.

"No way, I'll never give him up!" Reno sounded determined, but his determination faded when Tifa held up a plastic glass over his head.

The glass' white color hid its contents and Tifa grinned evilly, "If I pour this on your hair..."

"I give up!" Reno pleaded for mercy, "I'm sorry Blaze, I'll rescue you, I promise!" Blaze was handed over to Marlene, who took him away to safety, out of the line of fire.

"If I pour this on your hair," Tifa spilled the contents of the glass on Reno, "it will be wet." What was in the glass was revealed to be just water.

Before Reno could complain, he was forced to retreat along with Cloud and Rufus who were also caught by the cold liquid of Elena's water gun.

We closed the door to the base, but we're exhausted from the sleeping gas and fighting against its effects is difficult. "I know this scent, there's an antidote, Elena has it," Tseng recalls.

"Traitor," Rufus collapses into a deep sleep, pushing Cloud along with him.

"Get off, Shinra!" Cloud complains, but is too sleepy to push Rufus off.

"Throw the cupcake out the window!" Reno frantically tries to open it, but it won't budge.

"It's sealed, because I thought someone was breaking in and sabotaging my shampoo, so I kept it in my room, locked the door and sealed the windows," Cloud explained. Here comes karma to get its vengeance and take everyone down at the same time.

"Bar," Rude speaks again and for a moment I wonder why he's stating the obvious. There is a bar downstairs, but it's not like we can flee there, we have no escape route. Then I realize he means we should bar the door, Tifa probably has a spare key so locking it won't be enough. Unfortunately, by then I'm on the floor, collapsed in exhaustion and sleep is claiming me.

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Reintegration

Step 39: The Morning After

I'm dreaming, somehow I know this is a dream while it's taking place. I wish I knew it's not real when my nightmares come, but I guess that even if I knew that, I might still believe it, because it might have been real in a distant past, or at least similar to the harsh reality.

This dream, although I know is a dream, is very real. Maybe it's wrong of me to call it a dream, it's more like a memory; an event that I know for a fact took place.

In my memory, I'm in Cosmo Canyon sitting around a camp fire with Tseng and Nanaki. We're roasting marshmallows and I keep worrying they'll burn, but I don't say anything.

"I've always thought people deserve a second chance..." Nanaki's words surface in my memories and though we didn't directly speak of it then, I was well aware that he knew who I was.

The scene of the peaceful star filled scenery of Cosmo Canyon is shattered by the buzz of a new day. I stretch, feeling stiff from sleeping on the floor and push myself to get up even if I'm still tired. I wish to go back into that peaceful dream; I haven't slept well in a long time.

I'm caught in the excitement of the morning; the girls are wide awake, I theorize they spent the entire night eating sweets and doing girl activities. Putting make up on each other, bashing men, plotting terrible evils or whatever it is females do when they are left to their own devices.

Denzel looks like a miniature Cloud, that's child cruelty if I ever saw it, but he seems happy about it. "I like it!" His hair is bleached blond and spiked.

"I don't like mine!" Cloud is trying to get his white hair to spike but it falls down on his face reminding me of a certain body of thoughts. I push the image away and focus on enjoying Cloud's misery. "What did you do?"

"I put some relaxer on your hair, miss Cloud," Tifa grins mischievously.

Cloud pouts, "I hope I can wash it off, you're cruel sometimes, you know that?" Not only has his hair lost its spikes, he's also wearing makeup. It's strange; it looks like someone transferred the head of a woman into a man's body.

"I know," Tifa sounds proud. Even more so when Cloud looks in the mirror and sees his hair is not the only problem. He appears to be horrified, as if some terrible memory has surfaced and he wipes the makeup off so harshly, I almost expect his face to be erased, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

Reno has occupied himself in making fun of Cloud, calling him various names, as if trying to find a proper female name for him, "How about Rain, because of rain clouds? Or Lightning, that could be a girl's name."

"Lightning yourself, or is it Rena," Cloud growled back.

Reno stuck out his tongue and continued trying to get himself untangled from the multitude of pink ribbons tied all over him.

Tseng was quietly removing the braids from his hair and cleaning off the makeup, taking his defeat with as much dignity as a man in makeup can muster. Rude is occupied washing his entire head, since he had makeup doodles all over it.

Rufus keeps grumbling and removing decorated hair clips, while complaining about how his face shouldn't be hidden by makeup. My guess is there are pictures of this that will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

"I don't like pink," Reno complained.

"Pink is light red," Marlene reminded, while petting Blaze, who was obviously spoiled.

"Okay then, I only like dark pink then," Reno threw out his counter, if you could call it that. "Seriously red is cool, but not pink."

"I'll bet you like red, that's why you're wearing that red lipstick and nail polish," Cloud tried to get back at Reno for all his teasing.

"Better than purple!" Reno retorts and I observe that while the redhead has red nails to match, Cloud does indeed have purple nails. Rufus' nails are golden, Tseng's are navy blue, Rude's are a bright orange that clash with everything else about him, Denzel was spared the nail torture, the little general seems happy with his Cloud hair, but I still say he got the worse punishment out of all of us.

As for me, after taking the time to notice the state my comrades were left in, I finally break out of my denial to realize that I'm not doing any better. My nails are perfectly manicured in a shiny metallic silver and my hair has beads in it. I don't even want to look at my face because I'm probably wearing makeup, I think I would rather wash it off without looking at it, but all I can do is yawn.

While Cloud and Reno's argument continues, at some point Reno throws out a point that catches my attention. "At least I didn't dress up as a girl to sneak into Don Corneo's mansion!" cloud looks both shocked and horrified, babbling unable to come up with a counter. "That's right, everyone knows about it."

What happened next was a little odd I'll admit. I started laughing uncontrollably thinking about Cloud's predicament. I don't think I've ever laughed that loud. As well as I could through the laughter, I requested pictures, which Reno promised to provide, in fact, he offered the entire security video confiscated from the mansion.

Leaving Cloud to threaten Reno's life, I yawned again and as if in a trance, I moved towards the first bed I spot. My mind doesn't immediately register the fact that this is Cloud's bed and by the time I come to the realization, I'm already too comfortable to get up. Once again, sleep takes over and time passes.

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I wake up sometime later and notice the colorful stains on Cloud's previously white pillowcase from the makeup they put on me being smothered all over it. I stretch and try to blink away any remaining sleep, rubbing my eyes and finding silver in my hand. Silver eye makeup, great, just great, but despite my humiliating predicament, I'm thankful I didn't have any nightmares.

I stumble out of the room, grabbing my clothes on the way, and head towards the bathroom, which is fortunately free. I don't ask or say anything before locking myself in and getting into the shower.

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Reintegration

Step 40: Fragments

I'm clean now, having finished my shower, except I couldn't wash my hair because the beads won't come off. A woman weaved them into my hair and I'm afraid only a woman can get them out. Though I'm also glad I didn't try to wash my hair, Cloud's shampoo might have been sabotaged again and I don't feel like putting Tifa's fruity scented shampoo on my hair.

Now dressed in day clothes, without a speck of makeup left on my face, I shyly venture downstairs, ready to retreat if the area is too crowded. "Good morning, the breakfast rush just passed so this place will be quiet for a while." I go out into the open space of the bar. "Did you like the beads and decided to keep them?" Tifa giggles.

"I can't get them off," I confess. "And this," I show her my silver nails, "won't come off either," no amount of scrubbing with soap and water would work.

Tifa laughs, "Okay, I'll have some mercy."

"Thanks..." I don't know if I should be thanking her after she took part in this, but I would rather stay on her good side, so I quietly sit at the bar and let Tifa free my hair of the beads. "Where is everyone?"

"Rufus, Tseng and Rude went back to Shinra. Elena is helping me in the kitchen; she said she wanted to learn more recipes. Reno is upstairs with Blaze, Marlene and Denzel, playing video games, and Cloud is out on a delivery, with purple nails," she chuckled at the end.

"Do I have to wait until they grow out?" I suppose I'll be wearing gloves for a while.

"I can give you some nail polish remover," though I gladly accepted Tifa's offer then, I changed my mind later when I read the multitude of warnings behind the nail polish remover bottle. Flammable, toxic, acid, poisonous and a variety of other things, plus the substance smelled rather deadly, I'll just go with the gloves.

I have concluded that women are indeed very dangerous creatures and their cosmetics are radioactive weapons in disguise.

"All done," Tifa wasn't really all done; she didn't remove one set of beads, which I fingered as a hint. "It doesn't look girly with just one. It looks good; you should keep it. I knew that she wasn't going to remove it for me so I quietly nodded. "You were asleep for a whole day, its morning, but not the same morning when everyone first woke up."

"Really?" She nods and I know she's telling the truth, I somehow feel the passing of time. At least I'm not tired anymore and I didn't have any nightmares. Maybe torturing me with a sleepover did have a positive effect, it got my mind off my troubled past and sacrifices aside, I did finally get some rest.

"Would you like some breakfast?" Tifa smiles cheerfully.

"Yes, please," I find that I am quite hungry after sleeping for so long, but I soon regret my wish for food.

"Elena, bring out the experiment!" Tifa calls towards the kitchen in the back.

"Experiment?" I'm having second thoughts about this.

"Relax, I'm sure it's good," Tifa tries to reassure me, but it doesn't work.

"Here they are," Elena's experiment looks like normal pancakes to me, maybe a little ticker. Instead of being stacked on top of each other, they are set in separate little plates, which she brought over on a tray. They are also smaller than usual, but there are more of them. "Make sure you savor each one and give me your sincere opinion before moving on to the next."

I was relived to find that the experiment was not as strange as it sounded. Elena was simply trying to figure out what kind of filling tasted best and trying out different combinations. I must say that cream filling pancakes are quite delicious.

xoxox xox xoxox

Shortly after finishing breakfast, Tifa and Elena retreated to continue their culinary experiments and I decided to stay there sitting at the bar and enjoying the peace and quiet, for a little longer before joining Reno, Marlene, Denzel and Blaze playing video games upstairs. It was then that a dark haired man wearing a red cloak arrived.

The man looked at me as if he was expecting me to be there, almost as if he recognized me, but he was not alarmed. He then silently took a seat on the stool next to where I was and observed me curiously and quietly.

Sometime after Tifa and Elena left and before he arrived, I had taken mother's necklace out of my pocket where I carried it like a good luck charm and had been absentmindedly fingering it, running my thumb on its smooth surface.

"A locket," it wasn't until the man spoke that I realized why he looked familiar. This man was also with Avalanche, a gun wielder I believe.

"Just a necklace," he doesn't seem too alarmed by my presence, was I wrong to think he recognized me? I'm a bit concerned about someone seeing my silver nails, I haven't had the chance to find a pair of gloves yet, but this man isn't exactly normal looking so I don't really feel judged.

"It was the only thing he gave her and he didn't even tell her, he only left it for her to find." The man spoke in riddles, making it sound as if the 'he' was himself, but that couldn't be right, why would he refer to himself in third person?

"What do you mean?" He makes it sound as if this necklace is an important piece of some kind of soap opera mystery that is about to be resolved. "This necklace belonged to my mother."

"I spoke to Tseng," the man revealed, suddenly changing the subject.

"Who are you?" My curiosity increased considerably.

"He was quite insistent to hear my version, but there are things I rather not talk about too often." Suddenly Tseng's secret mission comes to mind and I remember the conversation I overheard that time. Whatever was being hidden from me, perhaps it really was due to a lack of confirmation and this man has the answers Tseng was trying to obtain. When he arrived looking as if he was searching for me and confident that he would find me, was it because Tseng sent him here?

"Who are you?" I repeat the question with further puzzlement in my voice.

"Vincent Valentine and that," he motions towards the golden heart necklace, "is Lucrecia's locket.

"It doesn't open," lockets open, but I don't know why I feel the need to correct him. I hold the two heart pieces between my left and right index fingers and thumbs, gently tugging them apart. "See? The two pieces are soldered together."

"I wonder if she thought so too," one of Vincent's hands is a golden claw; he extends the other hand, the human one, and I reluctantly place the necklace into his open palm after a short moment of consideration. He holds the heart between his thumb and index finger and presses it, causing something to click and the two heart pieces pop apart, remaining attached only on one side.

I had tried to pull it apart, giving up in fear of breaking it, no wonder it wouldn't open. The design of having to press the heart to open it is unusual, but I suppose it is convenient, it's easier to open for those who know how.

Vincent doesn't even fully open the locket, allowing the pieces to rest on each other, millimeters apart. He hands it back to me. I fully open it, wondering if mother figured this out and put a picture inside, or if the secret to opening the locket remained unknown to her.

I'm surprised to find that there are two pictures in the locket, one on each half. One picture is of my mother, Lucrecia, I recognize her immediately. The other picture is of a man who is not Hojo.

To be Continued

Reintegration

Step 41: Past

The man in the picture inside mother's locket has black hair and from what I can make out on the diminutive image, he looks very similar to Vincent. Yet if this picture is old, then that man must have aged by now, he can't be Vincent. Yet I feel their resemblance is more than just a coincidence.

I can somehow sense that the man in the picture, whoever he may be, and the man sitting next to me, who said he was called Vincent Valentine, both hold links to my past; memories that were probably not recorded in the Shinra archives. "Who are you?" This time, I want more than just a name.

He looks at me strangely, he already answered that, but repeats his name anyway, "Vincent Va-" he stops, having caught sight of the picture in the locket.

"Do you know him? You do know him!" I draw a conclusion from his expression before he can reply. "Is he, could he be?" A theory forms in my mind. "Is the man in the picture your father?"

Vincent remains silent for a long moment before closing his eyes and breathing deeply, whispering, "why?"

"You look like him," I insist, "do you know him?" I press further, I need to find out what he knows, he must know something important, otherwise Tseng wouldn't have tried to find out.

"The man in the picture loved Lucrecia," he pauses as if letting a rush of emotion sink in, "even so, he couldn't save her..."

"From Hojo? He stole her away from that man? Who is that man, what's his name?" I feel that my life has become a soup opera of hidden origins. In my desire to have a father other than Hojo, I imagine the man in the picture to be my father. My mother would have been expecting me before Hojo stole her away, but no one knew. "Is this my father too?" Are we brothers, even if we don't look alike? I know I must owe my silver hair to the experiments; it might have been darker otherwise.

Vincent remains quiet for a long moment, almost as if it's painful to speak, "my father's name was Grimoire," he makes a long pause as if debating what he should do, "he is not the man in that picture."

"Who is he then, your uncle? Are we cousins?" I'm convinced that the man in the picture has a direct link with Vincent.

"It's complicated," it's clear that Vincent is having a hard time talking about this, and here I am pressuring him. "We're not blood relatives, I can at least tell you that, but..." He stops, unable to go on, powerless to find the right words, maybe because there are no right words for certain things.

I shouldn't be so selfish, I'm not the only one with a harsh past; maybe he has a complicated origin as well, or if not, a complicated history. "I don't mean to pressure you into talking about something that's hard for you. I just want to know more about my past. You know who I am, don't you?"

"Lucrecia's son..." he breathes, "you're Lucrecia's son."

"Yes..." It's almost as if that detail is more important than all my past deeds, but he does know who I am, I'm sure of it.

"Hey Vincent, when did you get here?" Tifa emerges from the kitchen and greets him.

"A few minutes ago..." Vincent is still a bit shaken from our conversation.

"Are you alright?" Tifa inquires, noticing his discomfort.

Vincent glances at me, then looks at Tifa, "yes," I suppose he expects her to hold a grudge.

Tifa shakes her head, interpreting Vincent's concern in her own way, "he's not Sephiroth, he's Seph of the Turks; you can relax."

Vincent looks as if an unknown irony has slapped him in the face. "Seph of the Turks..." He appears to be remembering something, if he would only speak of it. "Another Turk, a distant dream that never was," what is he talking about?

"I am a Turk..." I feel the need to emphasize.

Vincent nods, "I know, I believe you." Why does he look so pained? It's almost as if he had a dream and the dream came true, except he wasn't a part of it, even if it had been his dream.

I'm just shooting in the dark with these random guesses, but the fact still stands that I'm sure he knows about my past, he knows about mother, my real mother.

"Can I get you anything?" Tifa still looks concerned by Vincent's behavior, but not too much, as if mourning and speaking in metaphors isn't all that strange.

"I'm sorry, I must cut my visit short, I came here to meet Seph, we have a job to do," Vincent's explanation surprised me. I wasn't sure he was willing to continue our conversation, but this must mean he's willing to tell me what he knows.

"Shinra and the WRO are working together again? Well I'm glad Seph was assigned for the job this time, I think Reno was messing up on purpose," Tifa looks relaxed now, attributing any change in Vincent's behavior as being a side effect of the prospect of working with a stranger and one who resembles Sephiroth no less.

"I will do everything I can," Vincent assured before turning to leave.

"Me too," I blurted out in a rush, "see you later, tell the Turks I went somewhere with Vincent if they ask," I sound like a boy running out to hang out with a friend, and asking his mother to inform any other friends that might come looking for him of his whereabouts. I rushed out after Vincent, only to find he was standing at the door, "what is it?"

"We need transportation, aerial transportation."

xoxox xox xoxox

"I still don't understand why I can't do with you guys," Reno's complaint is followed by a chirp. "What is it Blaze, do you want to look out?" He holds the chicobo near the glass window, "we're really high up aren't we? Who ever said redheads can't fly? Blacky back there doesn't know how to pilot, that's why we're here."

"This is a private matter," Vincent insists, "if you follow us, I'll shoot you."

"That will just make him more curious," I point out truthfully. "Look Reno, I don't know where we're going," Vincent only provided Reno with some coordinates, "or why we're going there, but it will help me understand my past so please try to behave."

"Alright, alright... you're no fun!" Reno grumbled.

Vincent sighed in exasperation, "we should have called Cid."

xoxox xox xoxox

After more complaining from Reno and some threats from Vincent, who is clearly sensitive about whatever it is we're going to see, we finally land in... well... it's pretty much the middle of no where.

There's a water fall and Vincent is heading towards it, I follow him and Reno follows me, "stay."

He whimpers, stumps his feet and remains motionless. I know he'll keep following me as soon as I turn my back, but I hope that doesn't interfere with whatever Vincent is planning.

I rush past the waterfall and enter the cave behind it after Vincent; then I stare in shock, "mother!"

Reno arrives, shielding Blaze from the falling water, "what? Jenova?"

"Silence!" Vincent aims his gun at the redhead, who wisely decides to remain quiet, at least for a while. As for Blaze, he is silently looking at the cave scenery in curiosity, awed by the glow of the crystal encasing mother.

"Lucrecia," I correct, "her name is Lucrecia. Is this a statue? No, she's real, I feel it, but how? Is she... different?"

Sensing my worry, Vincent assures, "she is a human being," he still holds Reno at gunpoint.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 42: Mother

My life had certainly taken a surprising turn; Vincent let me to a cave where my mother, Lucrecia, is encased in a crystal, apparently alive.

Vincent's next revelation put some of the pieces together. "Tseng investigated my past and thought I might have information about Lucrecia. He followed me, I know he did, but he didn't come in here, although he kept finding me and trying to talk me into giving him more information. I think, he must have known what was here, yes, I'm certain he did. Perhaps he wished for me to tell you, maybe in hopes that I would feel better if I could do at least this much, if I could take part in helping ease her torment." He's not angry at Tseng, he's grateful.

"Torment?" I reach out for the crystal encasing mother and her voice flows into me.

"Sephiroth, my son... Sephiroth... I'm so sorry; I can never be forgiven for such a terrible thing... Sephiroth..."

I want to comfort her, "mother, it's alright, I'm here. Don't be sad, I'm not angry at you."

"My guilt is her and her guilt is you," I don't understand what Vincent means.

"Mother... please wake up." The crystal growls brightly and breaks, she falls out and I catch her.

"Lucrecia!" Vincent rushes to her side.

Her eyes are open, she's looking right at me, almost as if she's afraid I'll fade away any second, "Sephiroth?"

"Yes, I'm here, you're safe now, don't worry," I can't believe this, she's alive, she's really alive!

Mother smiles, "I'm sorry, for not protecting you," it seems being unable to protect is the source of guilt of many. "I'm sorry I let you be used, I'm sorry..."

She sounds so weak it worries me, "it's okay, just rest, you're alright now, I don't hold anything against you. I'll take you to a doctor, you'll get better, then you can live with me, we'll be happy."

"Thank you for coming to see me..." It sounds like she's saying goodbye and I don't like it.

She glances at Vincent who looks sad, "I'm sorry for what I told you before, and for not being able to-"

"Thank you Vincent," she cuts him off, letting him know that there's no need to apologize. "Sephiroth..." She lifts her hand weakly and I take it. "I love you, my son, even if I didn't show it like I should have."

I can feel her growing weaker, fading, "hold on, stay strong; don't give up now!"

"My time should have ended long ago," she smiles, as if seeing me is enough, but I don't want her to go. "You are hope..."

Those were her last words to me before her life faded away. "Mother? Mother!" She didn't answer, she didn't move, she disappeared...

xoxox xox xoxox

I exit the cave just in time to catch Reno's comment of, "it's so gloomy now."

Vincent had given me some time alone to compose myself; he's standing near the cliffs, looking at the horizon.

"Vincent," he turns to look at me but I say no more.

"Let's go," Vincent finally speaks and joins us to fly back to Edge.

xoxox xox xoxox

Vincent goes off on his own when we land on Edge. I'm still curious about what he may know, but I realized he really cared about mother, so her passing must be difficult. It's hard for me as well, even if I didn't know her for long, but she sounded so tormented calling out to me from the crystal as if she was morning my death. At least she's not suffering anymore and faded away with a smile on her face.

I hand Blaze back to Reno, I held him on the way back, finding comfort in the little chicobo. "What are you going to do now? Take a break?" Reno inquires.

I shake my head, "I would rather stay busy," besides, I'm calmer than I thought, it seems that even if troubled pasts are not so rare, it's how you deal with them that makes the difference.

"You could take your driving test now, it's been put off for a while, but I think there's time," Reno suggests.

"I think I will," I might as well, who knows when I'll have time again, plus it will give me something to focus on.

"Do you need a quick reminder lesson?" I do as much as I need a bullet through my head.

"No thanks, I think I can pass."

xoxox xox xoxox

Yesterday I did pass my driver's test, just barely but that's not the point. It wasn't out of lack of control of the car, but rather because of the silly things that get points taken off such as altering the order of certain details or looking left and right instead of right and left. Either way, the point is that I passed.

For the sake of increased security and keeping up with the entire Seph identity, a false profile was created for me and my medical history was forged. My real profile is accessible only to Shinra, while the fake identifies me as a citizen of Edge. My old accounts were terminated and the data and balances were transferred to new ones. As the name on my driver's license and Shinra credit card says, I am now Seph Crescent.

I know I live in walking distance of Shinra HQ, but I just got my license so I want to use it, thus I decided to drive to work. I drove around Shinra's large parking lot until I found the Turk section and recognized the cars there. I found my parking number and left my car in the proper space, then walked towards the main building, just a few steps away.

A butterfly flew by and I couldn't help it but to look at it, flapping its orange and black wings slower until in landed on the pavement. I made sure not to step on it and continued on my way.

"Sephiroth..."

I turned and faced the being that was now standing behind me. The platinum hair, the pink skin, the glowing eyes, "Jenova!" Where did she come from? There was no one there before, unless... of course, the butterfly, I wish I had stepped on it. "You're not Jenova, you're that shape shifter!" I swung my sword at her.

"Have you forgotten me, my son?"

My head hurts all of a sudden and it feels like I'm losing control, but I manage to hold a firm grip on reality. "You were behind this; you were trying to take over my mind. It won't work now, I have no more doubts!"

The being attacks, but this time I'm ready and put up a fight, slashing her horizontally in the middle, but the two halves put themselves back together. "Lowly creatures, you'll never win, this planet is mine!"

Regardless of her words, she retreated, jumping behind the line of cars and disappearing. I searched for her all over the parking lot and killed all the suspicious bugs I found, but I'm sure none of them were the shape shifter. To be able to put herself together that way, was it a reunion? The way she could speak to me as if the Jenova cells left in me reacted to her, is this shape shifter a being of Jenova's kind, another calamity?

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 43: Calamity

As I get into the elevator and press the button to go up, I'm pulling my PHS out of my pocket and setting it to conference call mode, calling all the Turks and Rufus at once. "We have an emergency, I just had a fight with the shape shifter in the parking lot, but it got away."

I hear Tseng shouting commands in the background before replying, "everyone go to the president's office right away."

xoxox xox xoxox

Rufus, Tseng, Elena, Rude, Reno, Blaze and I are in the president's office now. The glass windows are covered in metal, as if we were expecting a tornado to come any second, but this is worse. "It might be Jenova, another one I mean."

"What?" I don't blame Rufus for his alarm.

"It's only a theory, but I think that's what that thing is. It can shape shift into anything, it was a butterfly before and I didn't even suspect what it truly was. It tried to take control of me, but it didn't work." If that thing had simply attacked, I would have been caught off guard, I might not even be standing here now, I'll have to be more alert. "It's as if it's connected to Jenova somehow, that's why I think they are of the same kind. Besides, I cut it in half and it got back together, just like the reunion theory."

"This is worse than I thought; everyone needs to be on full alert. Tseng, contact Junon, we have to be ready!" Rufus pauses, his face invaded by shock once again, he's looking at the computer screen which was left on and ignored when the emergency meeting was called.

"Sir?" Tseng looks at the screen and I become curious about it too.

The screen is all black, save for the red letters that read, "connection terminated."

"This is not an error," Tseng concludes.

"What do you mean?" I urge.

"This isn't the message that pops up when the connection to the mainframe is lost because of an system error or a problem with the hardware or software," Tseng explains. "The connection was terminated on purpose, all of Shinra's networks are halted, even the satellites. Practically all of the city's services that require data transfers have been stopped. The only ones who know the access codes to do something like this are the president, Rude, Elena, myself and the keeper of the databases."

"I do too," Reno complains, "no, wait, I think I forgot," it seems that Tseng predicted that would happen. "What now?"

"Go, Sephiroth, you too," Tseng commands.

Reno leaves Blaze on Rufus' desk and runs out of the office, I follow him, unsure of where we're heading. "Reno, where are we going?"

"To the basement," he runs into the elevator and holds down the button to stop it, then presses a combination of numbers, like an access code on a secret panel that also serves as the elevator's controls.

"Just what does this mean?" I can tell it's serious.

"Remember where we went to get information? The place with the databases."

"Yes," I recall it clearly, I found out more about my origins and the girl who worked there played with my hair.

"There's another level lower than that floor and that's where we're going. There has to be a reason why she shut things down."

"Is she alright?" She was a bit eerie, but perhaps I only thought so because she was dressed as a scientist and I had a dislike towards scientists at the time, but I know they're not all bad.

"Who knows, our team would be incomplete if she's not. You know how it is," I don't have the slightest idea what Reno is getting at. "Every team of secret spies needs a leader," Tseng, "someone tall, silent and intimidating," Rude, "someone skilled in piloting anything and totally awesome," I wonder who that could be? "A rookie," I think he means Elena, but technically I'm the rookie. "Someone who's a little crazy," is that supposed to be me? "And a tech geek," that must be her.

"Wait a minute, those are mostly Turks," does that mean she was aiming to become one?

"She's one of the undercover Turks," there are undercover for the undercover? "There are more, I think you'll meet them soon, but not in the best situation."

I'm about to curiously inquire her name, after all I just found out she is our teammate, but before I can ask, the elevator doors open and we exit it to a devastating scene. "How did we not hear this?" It looks like there was some kind of short circuit and an explosion, or several.

"The president's office is too high up and it's sound proof," Reno looks around and I make sure to watch his back, he's too careless at times. "These aren't the real archives; it would be too obvious to keep everything right at headquarters. This place is connected to the archives but the real data wasn't lost."

"What about..."

I fall silent as Reno kneels, brushing his fingers on the debris covered floor, they come up red, "she got herself injured, even with all this. She has an affinity for electricity, like me, except in a much geekier way. She loves technology more than anything, she was surrounded by it, electricity was all over, that boosted her power, but it wasn't enough." He dug out a strange looking helmet, stained with blood. "This is used to connect to the computer directly by brainwaves; you have to be a real geek to generate brainwaves that are strong enough."

"Reno!" I found her, the injured girl whose name I don't know.

"Sephiroth?" I feel a cold chill; I don't think I can stand having another woman die in my arms.

She reaches for me weakly; her blue nails remind me that mine are still silver under my gloves. What a silly thing to remember now, but my mind is seeking distractions away from this scene. I take her hand to assure her, "be strong, we're getting you help."

She glances at Reno, he hasn't moved, instead staring at her, scrutinizing, "Reno, you came for me..."

"Yeah, I did... Calamity!" I drop the fake just as her blue painted nails extend inhumanly like knives directed at my throat. Reno unleashes an electric attack, which distracts her for only a split second, but it's enough for me to gather myself and attack with my sword.

The being screeches when I cut it apart and Reno keeps attacking the pieces with electricity, but they crawl away, like a dismembered monster that cannot die. The pieces put themselves back together no matter how much I cut them up and how much Reno tries to stop them.

Finally, the creature disappears into the debris, probably transformed into something small. We searched and searched, but it slipped past us. Our situation is definitely critical and the chaos has just begun.

"This isn't working, it must be gone, we need to leave too and meet the others," Reno heads towards the elevator and I follow.

"What about the girl? She's a Turk, our comrade," I remind him. "How did you know this one was a fake?"

"I knew because of her wimpy 'Reno, you came for me' line, the real one would say something like 'your timing sucks Red', she's gone," Reno replies.

I get into the elevator too, "gone? You mean dead? To say it with so little regard..."

"Not dead, Turks don't die easily," Reno corrects, "we found blood but not a body, she escaped, but we can't follow her. She must have taken the secret tunnel and activated the traps as she went along to make sure that thing didn't follow her. She's following the mission she was given if something like this ever happened, no one expected another Jenova, but in case you revived insane, there was a plan. All the Turks have a part to play, except you haven't been given a role yet, but I'm sure you'll be busy."

So the contingency plan designed for me has finally been activated for the calamity. Yet, I wonder if the girl is truly alright, having left so much blood behind. "Are you sure she made it out?" What if the creature turned into something big and ate her? I would hate to think of anyone suffering such a terrible fate.

"There are no damsels in distress in the Turks."

It's true, I have witnessed how dangerous Elena can be, I nod, finally convinced. "Right, so are we going to meet the others? The creature might be after them as we speak!"

"They're long gone by now," Reno assures. "The satellites aren't working so we can't contact them, but it doesn't matter, I know where each of them is." I suppose this is part of the emergency plan.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 44: Crisis

We're currently in Junon, that is Reno, Rude and myself; Tseng and Elena are off in Icicle with Rufus and Blaze. The network is back online now, the encoding was changed for safety and the core rebooted to connect to Junon in maximum security mode. Junon is now the false mainframe, while the real one remains hidden.

I'm almost afraid to ask for details about anything, least the walls should hear. Even a tiny insect could be the enemy, even if it sounds paranoid. Yet there is one thing that I must ask, "why did the enemy retreat?"

"I don't know, maybe we were closer to winning than it looked," I really want to believe Reno's assumption, but I know it to be false.

"We weren't winning, if the battle went on, we would have become exhausted and the creature would have overpowered us," it is the harsh reality.

"A secret advantage," Rude suggests.

I have learned to understand Rude's short replies by now and can read between his words. "That makes sense, she could have thought we were holding back," a million thoughts run through my head and memories from the documents of the Jenova Project come to me. "How did Jenova die all those years ago? The creature could have done research; she must know about Shinra's involvement with the Jenova Project and assumed that through it the secret to defeating her kind was learned."

"This sucks, I don't like relying on bluffs, it's not the Turk way!" Reno pouts.

"Then we'll have to turn that bluff into a reality, we need to learn how to defeat Jenova," but that information wasn't covered in any of the reports I remember. It was all about bringing out that obscure being's mysterious power, not about how to defeat it.

"How are we going to do that?" Reno inquires.

At first I'm at a loss for words, my mind goes from overflowing with information to completely blank when I focus on that one question. Seconds tick away, tension hanging in the air, then I speak one name, "Aeris."

"Aeris? The ancient? But isn't she...?"

I nod, "it may still be possible to communicate somehow, I don't think she faded away, she's in the life stream somewhere."

"Are you telling me that Cloud wasn't delirious when he said he could talk to dead people?"

I give Reno a puzzled look, "Cloud said that?"

"Yeah, a long time ago, I remember hearing him say something about talking to Aeris and Zack."

Reno's revelation should give me hope, but instead I'm filled with bitterness. "We'll have to," I hate this, "ask him," it's unbearable, why must he be the hero?

We informed the other Turks and the president of the new developments, left the Junon 'peacekeeping' troops in stand by and headed to Edge.

xoxox xox xoxox

The situation in Edge is grim, the streets are filled with fear and everyone runs away when they see Reno, Rude and I; save for a few who stay to insult us. I take it the rumors about Shinra helping the mafia have grown substantially and become very public.

We enter the Seventh Heaven and a man with a gun arm aims his weapon at us, Barret I think his name was. However, Vincent counters by aiming his own gun at Barret and Reeve intervenes by placing his hands on both men's shoulders and shaking his head, "calm down." The tension could be cut with a knife.

It looks like Avalanche has reassembled to face the current crisis. Reno, Rude and my PHS's receive test messages at the same time. News seems to flow fast, but not fast enough all the way to Icicle. It's a warning about some very incriminating news reports related to Shinra and the mafia. I take it everyone here has seen them.

Tifa is here, with Marlene and Denzel left and right of her, she looks alert and protective, akin to a lioness defending her cubs. Yuffie, the ninja girl, is pouting and grumbling hateful words towards Shinra. Cid is watching on impatient and next to him Shera stands with a look of reserved judgment. Nanaki is the most composed out of the entire group.

In contrast, Barret is the most tense, "you've got some nerve showing' your faces here!" After a deadly glare directed at us, he turns to look at Vincent for a moment, "just whose side are you on?"

Vincent shakes his head, "there's not need for bloodshed, let's give them the benefit of the doubt."

Reeve expressed his agreement, "let's try to understand each other. If they were as guilty as it seems, they wouldn't come here so openly."

"They're plotting something!" Barret accused.

I've just about had it, the world will be overtaken by that calamity if we don't stand against it and we can't do that unless we stop fighting amongst ourselves. "We're plotting to save the world from the calamity."

Reno and Rude stare at me; I know I've said too much.

"They're already in a panic and they will know eventually," I excuse myself. "Not only that, but they need to know." Both my Turk companions nod, understanding the urgency.

Our PHS's go off again and Reno checks his, "turn on the TV," he suddenly insists, "this is important, turn it on!"

Tifa reaches for the remote control and turns on the television, the channel doesn't matter, she switches but the same thing is everywhere. The screen announces the coming of an important message. They must be making certain it s broadcasted all over the world and assuring that everyone has time to turn on their TV.

The screen with the written message changes to show Rufus, "I know that the city of Edge is an a chaotic state right now and the world will probably soon be affected. This is not Shinra's doing, we are trying to fight against it and we need your cooperation. Please watch this report all the way through before passing judgment."

Another message appears on the screen stating when the following news report first aired on local TV in the Icicle area. The news report, which was not seen as anything big at the time, spoke of a meteorite that many of the inhabitants of Icicle claimed to have seen landing in the mountains, yet no one could actually find it. Researchers were out searching, in hopes of finding something of scientific value.

Rufus appears on the screen again, "we believe the supposed meteorite, which was never found, was the arrival of an alien life form. The citizens of Icicle have some testimonies to share with the world."

The next part of the report was very intriguing. The people of Icicle shared their experiences of a series of unexpected events which threatened life long friendships and created many feuds. They claimed that people where doing terrible things that those who knew them never expected, thus they supported the theory, which we already know is true, of a being capable of shape shifting and taking another person's place.

Following the statements, there came a report from a forensic doctor, confirming the shape shifter theory, it was the only explanation. A woman who was with the search party looking for the meteor got separated from them, but promptly found, as per the testimony of the rest of the exploration group. She had been acting strange and disappeared from Icicle shortly after the disputes worsened.

That same woman's body was found dead in the snowy mountains and the forensic tests revealed without a doubt, that she had died on the day when the meteor fell, due to unusual puncture wounds. She was the shape shifter's first victim. Naturally, since Shinra was still seen as powerful despite trying to keep a low profile, she must have been attracted to it, or perhaps she sensed the cells of her own kind in Cloud. Comparing the dates, it was shortly after she disappeared from Icicle that I arrived, so maybe she sensed me.

She must have done her research, but the information she could access was limited and she probably relied on urban retellings of the past and rumors about Shinra holding the secrets to absolutely everything there ever was. She must have assumed that those high ranked in Shinra knew how to fight a creature like her, another of Jenova's kind, a calamity, and the ones with the higher rank had to be those closest to the president, the Turks. That assumption has made her cautions, but she's clearly growing impatient.

Rufus appeared on screen again, explaining more about the being and speaking of his suspicions that the creature had infiltrated and overtaken the mafia. The Platinum Witch, yes, it must have been her, I picture that woman's expression from when she got away at the restaurant and I picture the new Jenova. One looks like an obvious alien and the other like an exotic human, but their faces match perfectly, how did I not notice it sooner?

The report ends and the same message from before, the one at the very beginning, displays, though the word 'replay' is at the bottom. They must be playing it all again in case someone missed the beginning or was left with any doubts. Tifa mutes the TV and looks at us, her face terribly worried. "Cloud is gone and I can't reach him on the phone."

My eyes widen in realization, the Platinum Witch was frightened of Shinra knowing how to defeat her, that's why she avoided starting a fight for so long. She wanted to access the databases to find out what we would do against her to device a defense and counter. That is also why she investigated my history; she wanted a puppet to use as a bodyguard. She must have realized she couldn't control me and gone after Cloud. He must have left because he knew he was losing control and didn't want to hurt anyone. "We have to find him!"

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 45: Rival

The church in the Midgar ruins would be the most obvious place to search for Cloud according to Tifa, but he was not there. I did find a PHS with several missed calls, but no signs of where he could have gone. Yet the atmosphere itself gave me a clue, it somehow reminded me of the Forgotten City.

If my return is in any way linked to the arrival of the calamity, which it very likely is, then this is no time to start doubting my instincts, thus my destination is the Forgotten City. Even if Cloud is not there, maybe I can communicate with Aeries myself since it is her final resting place, though I try not to think of whose fault that is.

xoxox xox xoxox

It was Cid who took me to the Forgotten City on his airship, since the Turks are running around everywhere and getting things ready while trying to prevent a panic and a civil war, with help from the WRO and Avalanche, that how I talked them into letting me take this mission, emphasizing they were needed in Edge.

Next on my to do list after saving is learning how to pilot, then I will be able to get around just about anywhere on my own. Perhaps if I ask nicely, Cid will teach me, because I'm certainly not getting flying lessons from Reno.

I asked Cid to wait in the airship, he wasn't thrilled about it, but decided to let me go about my business by myself as requested. The Forgotten City is the perfect example of quiet and eerie, a deserted ghost city with such a strong atmosphere I almost expect a ghost to pop out any second. Hopefully it will be Aeris' ghost and she will have answers.

I made it to the exact place were Aeris was k-where she died. I wonder if she's shaking her head in the life stream thinking 'he's got some nerve going back there'. There's no sign of Cloud anywhere.

I call out for him, "Cloud!" No one replies and I call again, as loudly as I can, but there is no response. I look at the spot where Aeris was when I attacked her and feeling regretful I go on my knees on the same place and pray in an effort to communicate with her.

I hear a murmur, but I can't understand what it is. I focus on it and block out all my other senses. Is it working? Am I really communicating with the life stream, with Aeris? 'Behind you,' the voice is blurry but I can understand it.

My eyes open immediately and my senses become alert, finally perceiving the previously hidden presence of another. I turn and block Cloud's attack with my sword. It was close, but it would be too ironic for me to die this way. "Cloud!"

"Sephiroth! You're the one who's causing all the trouble, you and Jenova," his eyes are glowing brightly but his gaze is lost.

"Snap out of it, you're being used!" It was quite a struggle for me to become resistant to the mind control, I had times when I thought I was going insane all over again, times when I banged my head against the wall and times when I passed out. The voices, the visions, the nightmares, but Cloud should have already had some time of his own and there is no more. "Wake up, Cloud!" Aren't you supposed to be the hero? What guilt do you carry that holds you down?

"Don't stop, kill him, kill him now!" I jump away from Cloud and look at the one who is speaking. "You're Rufus' secretary!"

"Amy Talic? Oh no, my name is Aeris, Avenge me Cloud! Sephiroth wants to destroy my very soul!" Amy Talic... Calamity, how could she slip by with a name like that? That time when I thought I almost killed her, she was the one who made me lose control to weaken my mind so she could use me. All those times when I lost control, it must have been her all along, hidden in the shadows, trying to break me and turn me into her puppet.

"Idiot!" I yell at Cloud as he continued slashing away with his sword. If I ever fought him again, I never thought I would only defend; it's difficult to keep reminding myself that the one I have to defeat is not him, albeit the temptation of knocking some sense into him in a none too gentle way is ever growing. I wonder if pain will wake him up. "You really are nothing but a puppet!"

"Shut up! I won't let you... I won't..." He comes at me quickly, jumping and rushing down with his sword.

I block, he jumps back and slashes left and right, I back away and touch the water of the pond; then I hear that same voice again, the voice that warned me, Aeris' voice, but it's clearer now. 'Cloud is in despair, free him from it!'

How very ironic, I would rather give him despair, but it seems I have no choice, yet I don't know what to do. "How do I make him wake up?"

'Remind him he's a hero,' Aeris, you're not making this any easier. Either way, I came to get Cloud to communicate with Aeris and now I'm talking to her.

I focus my thoughts, instead of speaking, 'tell me how to defeat the calamity.'

Aeris replies in my mind, 'the protector of the planet, the one who has been given that mission after all the others were defeated, will know.'

"Who is it?" I say the next part aloud as I attack Cloud; I'm tired of only defending. Either way it doesn't matter, I don't think anyone else can hear Aeris anyway and that one question doesn't hint at much. Even if Aeris tried to talk to Cloud, which she must have, it seems he can't hear her. Maybe he came here to seek her help, but his mind was overtaken before he could.

'You will know...' why is she being so ambiguous? How am I supposed to know?

'C'mon legendary hero, can't you save your comrade?' That voice, I've heard it before. 'I've always looked up to you guys, so don't let me don't. I think I managed to become a hero, how about you become a hero again?' Angeal's little friend, Zack Fair.

'Cloud is not my comrade and I can't wake him,' I mentally reply.

'So the great Sephiroth is helpless, what a pity!'

"Shut up!" The battle between Cloud and I continues, "I can win, I can beat him!"

'He's not himself... is that okay? Besides, aren't you a hero? Aren't you supposed to save your comrades?' Zack is being very irritating right now.

"Fine, I'll do this the hard way," I put away my sword and focus on dodging Cloud's attacks, which only narrowly miss me. If he cuts my hair I'm cutting his head off, no questions, no excuses, no second chances. "Cloud, I'm not attacking you anymore, are you going to listen?"

Cloud's sword coming towards me is something I can only interpret as a negative answer.

"That's not the real Aeris!" I really hate this, "the real one said you're a hero," that left a bitter taste to say. "Would Aeris tell you to seek revenge? Don't be so weak, Zack would be disappointed," I make the connection, that cadet Zack hung out with was Cloud. I never really knew him; he was only the friend of a friend of a friend, but I think I'm getting to him. "That's it, stay awake, think of... Tifa, remember Tifa! She's your childhood friend, right? You protected her, like a hero," how long is it going to take him to come to his senses?

"I couldn't protect Tifa, my home town or anyone..." again with the couldn't protect guilt trips and this one affects me too.

"It's not too late, are you giving up? Is the past more important than the present?" I feel like I should have asked myself that question many times.

Cloud he yells in agony, drops his sword and holds his head, the sight is not at all unpleasant. "no... no! Get out of my head! I'm not your puppet; I won't let you use me!"

"Cloud! Are you abandoning me?" The calamity, still in the form of Amy Talic, or should I say Aeris, is desperate to regain control over Cloud.

"She's not Aeris!" I insist.

"Not Aeris..." I think Cloud is finally understanding.

Then the being changes into Tifa, "Cloud, be my hero, save me!"

"She's not the real Tifa, what kind of hero can't tell the difference?" I argue back.

"Tifa..." Cloud screams in pain, "Tifa!" He closes his eyes tightly, desperately holding on to his true self, then he finally opens his eyes, focused and determined. "Stop trying to control me!" The calamity takes this as her cue to leave and jumps away. Both Cloud and I chased after her, but she escaped.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 46: Despair

"Thank you," Cloud's words were sudden, breaking the silence of the Forgotten City as we walked back to Cid's airship. "If it wasn't for you, I would still be..."

I don't feel like saying anything.

"You're an inspiration, worthy of being admired; even after all the difficulties you must have gone through, you still went on. I know what its like to be weakened and trapped," I'm not like you Cloud. "In many ways, you and I are the same," no we're not.
"Can you really say that to this face?"

"I know you look like Sephiroth, but it doesn't matter, you're not him and I know it."

"And if I was?" I'm so tired of hiding.

Cloud shakes his head, "don't worry, I have no doubts. You can't be Sephiroth because he's a traitor, I looked up to him and he destroyed everything!" I suppose it hurts more to be betrayed by someone whom you admired, but you were only another cadet, another human to be jealous of when I thought I wasn't human.

"Don't take it so personally..."

"I know, it's not like Sephiroth knew I existed, that bothers me even more, he probably looked down on me all the time."

"He couldn't look down on you if he barely noticed you at all."

Cloud pauses and looks thoughtful, "you're right, he doesn't deserve to be given so much importance even in memories; he doesn't even deserve to be acknowledged." That's not what I'm saying at all, "thanks for telling me that," I didn't!

"Sephiroth was a hero before the Nibelheim incident. Do you remember Angeal?" He shakes his head in confusion and I continue, "the one who trained Zack, he must have mentioned him. Angeal and Genesis were both friends of Sephiroth, the high ranking generals who ended up disappearing. Don't you remember at all?"

"Angeal..." I can tell Cloud is searching deep in his memories, "Angeal, yes, Zack did mention him and I remember seeing all the generals from afar, Angeal, Genesis, Sephiroth, but why do you say this?"

"I don't even know where I'm going with all of that," this is the truth.

"Inspiration?" Cloud suggests, "the three top ranked soldiers and Zack, they all influenced each other I guess, but Sephiroth was... What ever happened to them?"

"Why would I tell you? You won't properly honor their memories," this conversation is over.

"I honor Zack's memory and I don't remember much about Angeal, but I will honor the tiny pieces I have, he was a good person, Zack said so."

"You don't even know their story..."

"How do you know it?"

"From," my brother? I can't believe I'm still lying, maybe it's best to say, "my other self."

Cloud's eyes widened, "Sephiroth? You and your brother were connected? I see, you got all the negative effects of the experimentations while he got stronger, the sacrificial twin. But that wasn't all; you also got memories from him."

"The twin who was sacrificed..." sacrificed to pain, to despair, to doubt, that's one way to say it. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if the different eras of my life are my other selves. I do remember having other selves, fragments that I feel have returned to where they came from, to me, so why not say it like that? "The part who was sacrificed, the part that existed, back then."

Cloud looks uneasy, and finally reassured, as if something that has been bothering him for a long time has been resolved. "I think I understand, the legend and the hero; that was you, the evil one was the other half, the half created by Shinra, by Hojo, if that half wasn't there, it would have been you, all the time, the good half... I don't feel so bad anymore, thinking that I once looked up to a monster, the one I looked up to was someone else, a hero, it was you all along." Great, that's just what I need, I want to punch him.

I shake my head, "I don't understand it," and neither does him, but maybe most if not all people have different sides to them, different selves. "Either way, I'm here now," and I feel like I have a mission to defend this world from the calamity.

"Are you two getting on or what?" Cid calls out from the airship; we reached it and just stood outside talking. We get on and he takes off.

xoxox xox xoxox

While on the way back to Edge, I communicated with the Turks and the news is bad. In the background I can hear Reeve blaming himself for wanting information, though it doesn't make sense until Tseng explains that the calamity attacked the WRO and obtained a secret list of the undercover Turks, which the WRO had previously demanded from Shinra. They were being hunted.

Edge had fallen to chaos so we regrouped in Nibelheim, hoping to find some form of clue in the data kept at the mansion, even if it had already been analyzed before.

I entered the mansion along with an uneasy Cloud, who was soon hugged by Tifa. We were all there, Rufus, Tseng, Elena, Rude, Reno, Cloud, Tifa, Vincent, Yuffie, Reeve, Barret, Nanaki, Shera, Cid and I. Blaze, Marlene and Denzel were there as well, seeing as Edge wasn't safe.

The girl from the databases no longer wore her scientist disguise, instead dressed as a Turk, her previously black hair now black and blue, she doesn't look scary anymore, though to any normal person the fact that she is recognizable as a Turk would make every mental alarm scream out 'deadly'. She seems to be doing alright and has made it here, so her mission at the secret core of Shinra's mainframe system must be over, or maybe she was called because we need all the help we can get.

There are also a few others here I only barely remember, I must have caught glimpses of them in another time, or should I say another life. Some I have forgotten, but some I recognize. The woman with red-brown hair who is tending to the children while Tifa is busy reassuring Cloud, I hear them call her Cissnei. She commented something about feeling the need to return; perhaps she left the Turks and didn't come back until recently.

There is a blond woman resembling Elena, but her expression is quite different, much more serious. Elena and her glance at each other as if holding some sort of sibling rivalry. I would guess they are sisters given the resemblance.

There's also a man with an electro rod having a play fight with Reno, I don't remember him, or maybe I never knew him, I can't be sure. It seems not all the undercover Turks in the list were hunted down by the creature, the strongest have gathered here, for I have no doubts they must be the best of Shinra to have made it here alive.

The army has gathered and if we do not head into battle soon, the number of casualties will continue to increase, but we don't have a battle plan. How are we going to defeat that creature? How will we even know where it went?

I feel a sudden pain and a cry for help, though many are speaking among themselves, none of them are crying. It sounded like the voice of a child, but the children are composed, though I can tell they are not ignorant to the gravity of the situation. This is no time to be hearing voices in my head, I thought that was over.

This voice, it's not trying to control me, it's calling out to me, crying for help, beginning for protection as if the child was in turn also protecting something precious, as if the fall of this child means the fall of the precious thing that is protected by the child and that is why the child cries so intensely for help.

'Sephiroth... please... help me, save them, that thing is killing me, it hurt so much, it hurts in the same place as before, it hurts so deep and strong!' This voice is not evil pretending to be helpless; it is not from the calamity. I feel it, I know it, I understand it; it is the planet itself. But why is it talking to me? I'm not an ancient, is it because I've been in the life stream before?

"Sephiroth..." That is not the planet; someone else is calling me, "Sephiroth!"

"Tseng..."

"This is no time to space out, we need to face that calamity, it's on the attack and it will hunt us down. We'll discuss the battle strategy now," Tseng explains.

"No, there's no more time to plan, the planet is crying out for help, I don't know how, but I can hear it. The calamity is injuring it, she's," in the same place as before. There was no huge crater near Icicle when the new calamity landed, so why is the Northern Crater there? I don't think the crater was created when Jenova landed, it must have been later, that must have been a wound she inflicted on the planet. If she gets to the center, the wound will be mortal, I just know it. "The Northern Crater, that's where the calamity is, she's digging deep, trying to kill the planet."

I don't really understand why, but everyone believed me, they had faith in this strange newly discovered ability to hear the planet. Maybe it's something that I could do since I was revived, but I was unable to focus enough to actually listen; I didn't know how to listen. Maybe it's because I understand myself better, and came to terms with who I am that I'm really discovering what I am, though whatever I have become is still in many ways a mystery.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 47: Limit Break

Shera remained in Nibelheim taking care of Marlene, Denzel and Blaze, the rest of us, Turks and Avalanche, have come to the Northern Crater on Cid's airship. The group includes Rufus, who stubbornly refused to stay away from the action, though he promised to act mostly as a sniper.

The crater has become much deeper and an evil aura is in the air. We make our way down, careful not to fall, but as quickly as possible, until we reach the deep bottom. The calamity has noticed our presence and is ready for the inevitable confrontation. Eliminating those Turks must have been a provocation and a test, but we didn't respond swiftly enough, I think she knows we are unaware of the secret to defeating her, she herself most likely doesn't know what it is. A weakness that one is unaware of can be extremely dangerous, but it won't do the opponent any good if he is unaware of it himself.

"Lowly creatures, do you dare fight me?" She laughs mockingly. So this is her true form, she's not simply copying Jenova anymore, though they are definitely of the same kind. She has the same pink skin and her eyes glow brightly. Her hair is a shiny platinum color and it's much longer than Jenova's moving as if carried by the breeze, but there is no breeze down here.

There is a glow around her, maybe Jenova had that glow too when she lived, but she didn't include it in her Jenova disguise, possibly because she determined that we wouldn't know of it, since Jenova died so long ago. It cannot be denied that the sight is majestic, if her expression were serene instead of malicious; some might mistake her for some kind of angel.

Everyone stands ready and speaks their own oath of courage, but I am too focused on the coming battle to hear them and too distracted by myself to make my own. Then, in a split second, the fight begins.

We didn't have time to train together, Turks and Avalanche. I half expected people to start bumping into each other and accidentally cancel out their attacks like newbie cadets, but fortunately that's not the case. Rufus is shooting more and more as fast as his ammunition can be refilled. Vincent is doing the same, though instead of staying in one place where cover can be found if needed, he's moving around and jumping to shoot while staying out of he way of the calamity's attacks.

Joining them is Tseng, fast and precise without the theatrics of Vincent's jumps, but without staying in one spot for more than a split second. Elena's sister is following a similar strategy. Barret, the other gunner of our group, is rather amusing to watch, charging in full force firing away and backing out when overwhelmed with attacks, only to charge in again a second later, confident that next time he'll land the finishing blow for sure, but this is only the beginning.

The three Turks who have an affinity for electricity, Reno, the girl with black and blue hair and the man who was play fighting with Reno back in Nibelheim, all wield electro-rods and are focusing their energy in unison, creating a much more powerful electric attack.

Cissnei and the ninja girl, Yuffie, was it? Are surprisingly synchronized with their shurikens, though I sense it is Cissnei adjusting herself to match Yuffie's attacks from opposite directions. It's clear she has the most experience in terms of teamwork, making the best of numbers and being quick to fill in all the openings left by the others. Obviously, she hasn't neglected her training.

Reeve is not here in person, though he is on the airship, controlling Cait Sith from there. The robotic cat is riding on Nanaki, pounding away at the Calamity whenever Nanaki strikes, adding a little extra to the first's attacks.

Tifa, Rude, Elena and Cid are attacking from different directions but with perfect timing, as if trying to divert the enemy's attention before the next attack and all at once watching each other's backs.

It seems everyone has found their own little subgroup to work with, while at the same time supporting the overall team. "Ready? Let's get her from both sides," the sword wielders are stuck together, why must I be teamed up with Cloud? None the less we attack in perfect unison, I wonder if seeing how I use my Masamune, he'll figure out I'm far too similar to Sephiroth to be only a twin or clone.

The calamity's force is amazing. Whenever she is damaged in any way, and it takes a lot to do that, she heals instantly, she's serious now, it's a lot harder to cut through her in her real form. We have all noticed her tremendous strength and resistance and the unspoken notion to attack repeatedly hoping that we're faster then her healing powers is put into effect.

She no longer has the semi angelic appearance from before. Her skin has become red with anger and power and her previously ivory glow has turned dark. Her eerie eyes glow even brighter and her platinum hair moves like deadly tentacles. She has grown sharp claws and spikes, making it very difficult to attack her. Her skin has also become harder, akin to armor made of ruby. She truly is a terrible calamity.

Her attacks are not limited to the physical, she possesses a sort of telekinesis, moving large boulders at will and throwing them at amazing speeds like canon balls. Her strongest attack is that dark force. She threw it into the air like a dark sun made of negative energy and it exploded, raining deadly beams on us. Most were left in a near death state, knocked unconscious while others, barely alive and able to crawl, struggled to heal themselves and awaken their companions who would surely be crushed if they stayed still.

Hours passed and our energy is almost exhausted, our sanity and will to live being brutally tested. I feel it too, pushing my body to the limit and summoning energy to go on from a supply that's already empty. We had come equipped with materia, but the summons did not come to our aid. The calamity laughed at our attempts, she was able to block out Aeris from the life stream in the planet, she can easily block out communication with alternate dimensions much further away. Ice, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Comet, Ultima... even with he flow of Time itself on our hands and layers of Barriers and Shields, we cannot Restore ourselves as fast as she can and the effect of our materia is fading.

No one can carry an infinity of items into battle, no matter how small and concentrated they may be and no one can become truly invisible, no matter how well armed and how fast and often they are healed, even with materia to enhance our life, strength, speed and energy. Our preparations were hasty but strong, dare I say we could conquer the world if we wished, but it seems we cannot save it.

They're falling, all my comrades are falling. I can't let this happen, not again. I couldn't save my friends in the past, now that I feel I can make new friends, that I have made new friends, I can't let them die. Not this again, I don't want their lives to be stolen away.

Rufus has forgotten his promise not to be reckless, he along with Vincent, Tseng and Barret, despite being armed to take on the world, have run out of ammunition. They're charging in recklessly, putting all differences aside and striving together. The electric team led by Reno has no more energy left for such attacks and they charge in as well. Cissnei and Yuffie, their weapons broken, join them. Rude, Elena, Tifa, Cid, Nanaki and Cait Sith, they're all attacking as well. Each of them in the last of their strength, each of them desperate, each of them knocked away.

"Now!" Cloud calls out. They have managed to do some damage with that last effort, the calamity is healing slightly slower, though still fairly fast. We attack, over and over relentlessly, ignoring our pain and blood, I imagine my state must be as bad as his, as bad as all of us, but we're still awake, clinging to our last drop of life. It wasn't enough; the calamity threw us away like lifeless puppets with cut strings and recovered. "How can we beat her? This is hopeless..."

We can't retreat, if we do, she'll finish digging to the center of the planet and kill it. It might fall apart and even if we prevented that, even if we regrouped and won, if the planet died, where would we live? All the living beings in the world will no longer have a means to support themselves. "We cannot fall into the shadows..."

I attack once more, head on, the calamity fights back, but I don't change my course, jumping high while her long tentacle-like hair tries to hold me back, but I keep moving and slash down at her with the Masamune, her claws cutting deep into my flesh as I go. I want to knock her all the way to the legendary promised land where evil would disintegrate, to a distant place where she can't hurt anyone, I don't care if she drags me with her, but I will protect this world.

She screeches loudly, louder than ever, in deep agony. "That was reckless, suicidal!" Cloud scolds; it's as if he's afraid to be left alone to battle, afraid to be the last to fall.

"I'm not about to lose," I assure. "Her energy is not infinite, she's powerful but not immortal; her kind was defeated before." Though I should be terribly close to death, I instead feel a rush of calmness, because I'm not struggling anymore. I am doing what I must and I have decided to try my best until this battle ends. I am no longer focused on the outcome, I'm only thinking of the here and now.

I see the world from a new perspective, regardless of what I once was and what I am now, all that matters is that I'm here and what I wish to become is... a hero. Even being an unknown hero will do as long I as I do everything I can to protect, true heroes are not about glory after all, not about fame and being turned into action figures, it's about giving everything to protect. I call upon all my power, past and present and stand ready for battle once again, with a single black wing on my back.

"Sephiroth," Cloud whispers.

"You knew didn't you? Deep down you've always known, but you didn't want to believe it. Cloud Strife, stop clinging to a past villain to feel like a hero by comparison, there is no such a thing, because a hero is someone who shines so brightly that there can be no comparison."

"I..."

"It's not really for you to determine, ask your friends when this is over and they'll tell you." The calamity attacks and we fight, unable to speak any more. I know what I am, by accepting myself, including my flaws and past mistakes, I was able to understand it.

When Aeris said 'you will know' she was giving me the answer, but finding yourself is something you can only do yourself. Mother must have known; that's why she smiled and called me hope. That is also why it didn't feel so strange to be called weapon and why I can hear the planet after finally learning to listen.

This planet really is childish. It chouse the strongest out of those who were slain, assuming that would be enough for them to become heroes. It took the most powerful beings from the life stream and turned them into Weapons, the protectors of the planet. Yet those dragons didn't know what they were doing. At least this time the one who was chosen to be the next warrior of the planet can actually think and strategize. Well, Planet, I'll show you you've made the right choice.

Cloud has fallen, exhausted and injured. I move him out of the way quickly. He's still conscious, he says something, but I don't understand.

"Rest, I'll finish this..." I summon those three parts of myself that I might have suppressed in the past. They appear, coming from me. "Kadaj, Yazoo, Loz, keep her busy for just a moment so I can summon the planet's power."

"Let's go, we'll show her who's boss!" Kadaj leads the way into the assault with fiery courage.

"We'll put up a good fight!" Yazoo wisely strategizes searching for openings.

"And we'll make you proud!" Loz shows his power jumping into the action.

I summon the power of the planet, the power of hope itself and put my very being into one last attack, to break my limits, to break all limits and accomplish what must be done. Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz return to me, becoming one with me again and I charge forward, my sword glowing a pale green.

Even impaled, the calamity struggles strongly, clawing at me and throwing her dark energy. Her attacks are not without effect, but I know I must stay strong. I can feel her very being connect to mine as if our souls are doing battle. Every memory I ever had flashes before my eyes, both good and bad. I treasure the good memories and accept the bad ones as an inevitable part of who I am.

Then the green glow fades, and the calamity's life begins to disappear as well, but she still holds on. I'll have to finish her myself, she's stubborn, clinging to this world, changing her shape; mother, my real mother, what a cruel illusion, but she will not fool me. I am surrounded by a silver glow, my very soul. I'll dissolve this calamity's very last cell; there will be nothing left for history to repeat itself. Finally, with desperate rage, she faded away completely.

I remain in this world for only a few seconds, more. I see them waking up, the planet is healing them now that it has been freed from that creature that inhabited it like a disease. I believe the planet wished to help us more during the battle, but the calamity had held it back, now she's gone and the planet is free to heal, though it will take a very long time. They are awake, my comrades, all of them, I spread my wing as I feel myself fade away; I put my very soul into disintegrating the calamity after all. I smile, not wanting to be remembered looking grim and this time the expression doesn't feel so strange, "I will never be a memory..."

xoxox xox xoxox

"Some people are just so stubborn..." Zack?

"He doesn't know when to take a break; he's restless like a puppy, like you." Angeal?

"He might be mad if he heard you calling him a puppy... Wait, you just called me a puppy!" Zack...

"It seems it's not his time..." Aeris?

"There are some who might get lonely if he's not there; he's still needed in that world." Angeal...

"I guess this means you'll be on your way, give my brother my good wishes." Lazard?

xoxox xox xoxox

"Wark!" Of all the things to wake up to...

I open my eyes and see a room that is mostly white, an infirmary; the Shinra infirmary at headquarters. I remember fading away, I guess I must have reappeared somewhere and was brought here. The large red chocobo's color makes it stand out against the pale room, as if his size didn't already make him obvious enough. The chocobo looks at me curiously, his blue eyes glowing with... mako?

"Wark! Wark! Wark!"

"What is it, Blaze? Why are you..." Reno stops, it is one of the rare but pleasant occasions when he's left speechless, as expected, it doesn't last long. "He's alive! He's alive!"

"Blaze?" I stare at the chocobo, he's big enough to carry me and he certainly looks strong. He's nothing like that fragile tiny creature I remember. "How did he get so big? For how long have I been in a coma? Why are his eyes glowing?"

"It's been a whole week. You beat that evil alien, you're a hero!" I can tell he's avoiding my other questions.

"Reno, what happened to my godchild?"

"Um... well... I kind of lost track of him that one time and he might have eaten something radioactive..." Reno confesses. "But don't worry; the doctor says he's fine, except for the part of being a bit bigger than most chocobos and a lot stronger and faster. I entered him at the Gold Saucer last weekend and we won all the races!"

I laugh; I should have been prepared for these antics when I came back. "With you as Blaze's father, it should come as no surprise that something like this would happen." Blaze bends over so I can reach and I pet. "Good to see you again."

"I wonder why no one's rushing over... Hey, didn't you hear me? I said Seph's alive! He's awake!" Reno insisted.

"Shut up, I'm not falling for that again!" I know that voice...

"It's true this time, really!" I can definitely imagine Reno in the boy who cried wolf situation.

"I'm trying to read!" The other man argues.

"You read Loveless everyday!" Reno pouts, "is that more important than your comrade coming back to life for the billionth time?"

"You're drying my patience!" Genesis moved to white curtains around my bed away, his hand raised with his favorite book ready to hit Reno with it. He stood frozen for a second before yelling, "Sephiroth! Everyone! Sephiroth is awake!" One by one, they rush into the room while Reno pouts because no one believed him.

xoxox xox xoxox

Apparently it was Reno who found Genesis and brought him to Shinra, thus the Turks, myself included, took it upon themselves to help in the process of reintegrating him into society. Hopefully, I'll save him from being driven insane by Reno's antics, Elena's crazy driving, Rude's absolute silence, Tseng's workaholic ways and Rufus being well... Rufus, plus whatever new strangeness the other Turks may add, because no one is ever normal in Shinra. The president was surprised when I delivered Lazard's message, then smiled, knowing that Lazard continues to exist somewhere in the life stream.

Right now we're all reunited at the Seventh Heaven, Cloud and I are not exactly friends and I'm sure he'll never admit I saved him back then, but it doesn't matter. He knows who I am and accepts it well enough not to put up a fight. Tifa must have been shocked, but she too has come to terms with the truth, they all have. There will be no more hiding.

The reason why we're here at the Seventh Heaven isn't simply a victory reunion and it's certainly not for the sake of listening to Reno's 'thee soldiers walk into a bar' jokes. We're here because my new adventure in this world began with an invitation to hang out at the Seventh Heaven and I thought it might be good to have Genesis come here too.

"Next week," Genesis declares, "we're all going to see Loveless!" I know he will insist until we all do, Shinra and Avalanche alike.

End

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