By xaphanea

Aeris smiled quaintly, picking out a few more mature flowers and placing them gently in her basket. She stepped out, pulling the gnarly church door shut fully. She sighed heavily, breathing the rank polluted air into her trained lungs. There were a few people about, milling around in the slums of Midgar where they were forced to struggle for survival every day.

"Good morning, Aeris." Old Mrs. Duprisse hobbled out of her front door, leaning on the porch railing.

"Hello, Mrs. Duprisse." Aeris politely smiled, plucking a pink carnation for her regular customer.

"Still taking care of the garden, I see?" She had kindly eyes.

"Always." Aeris' expression lit up. "One day, Midgar will be filled with flowers."

"Not in my lifetime, dear." Mrs. Duprisse chuckled, and placed a few gil in the pink clad girl's hand. Aeris shrugged in dismay at her comment, and then bid farewell, continuing along the dirt road. Mrs. Duprisse was one of the few pleasant people in Sector 6, and bought a pink carnation from Aeris every few days.

Aeris didn't sell her flowers for profit; it barely made any. She did it to bring hope that Midgar was still fertile and one day it could be liberated from pollution.

Aeris fingered the blue dolphin pendant strung around her neck. It was the last thing Zack had given her before he left from Soldier. Zack was Aeris' boyfriend from their early teen hood, and she was certain that she was in love with him. She received letters every two weeks when he was commuted to a new location.

"Hey, flower girl." A deep voice rumbled from behind her. It was unfamiliar, but as she turned around, she recognized him as a drunkard from the alleyway near the church where she kept her garden. He obviously didn't want a flower, so she ignored his sneering unclean face and scurried off towards Sector 7. He didn't make an attempt to follow her, to her relief, and so Aeris headed to the train station where she could pick up Zack's newest letter. She was excited as she always was to hear from him.

The secretary was dressed in her normal dark brown attire, with an inch thick of make up smeared across her pale face. Aeris put on a smile, trying to keep her cheerful stature in this hellish town.

"Letters for Aeris Gainsborough?" She inquired, and the woman lazily looked up from her computer.

"None this week, toots." She replied, and then engorged herself back into whatever it was she was doing. Aeris' face fell, confused terribly.

"B, but he always sends a letter every two weeks!" She stammered. "There must be some mistake... maybe you missed it!" She clutched her basket until her knuckles turned white until the woman averted her eyes back up.

"I said there was nothing for ya." She snapped, and Aeris frantically backed away before she started becoming shrill and angry at the bored secretary. Rapid thoughts ran through her mind, until her body seemed to fall to a deadly cold at a sudden realization. What if Zack were dead? She hadn't realized that she dropped her basket until she was all the way into Sector 8, running as fast as she could. She didn't even know why she was running, her body had just carried her there. Fear gripped at her heart ferociously as she contemplated the possibilities. Either he didn't love her anymore, or he was killed. Both of them were horrible situations, and they caused her to worry insanely about him.

Aeris finally stopped in front of a run down building that looked to be an old bar, and sat down on the steps, letting a few frightened sobs overtake her. She buried her head in her arms, curling her knees up to support them.

"Hey lookie, the flower girl's all out." It was the voice of the drunkard, and Aeris' head snapped up to see him standing right smack in front of her. "Whatsa matter, darlin'?"

"Wh, what do you want?" Aeris frantically wiped her tears away, sniffling. She was too tired from her run to move, so she simply looked up at the strong man whose breath reeked of alcohol.

"You done yer job for today, flower girl?" He leaned down, causing Aeris to cough at the powerful stench of his breath.

"My NAME is Aeris." She firmly said, even knowing that she didn't sound the least bit intimidating. Before she knew what was happening, the drunkard scooped her up in his muscular arms, carrying her effortlessly into the nearest darkened alleyway. She kicked and tried to struggle free, but to no avail. He was impaired, but strong. Her breath was muffled and she couldn't scream; her face was suffocated against his chest.

Eventually Aeris ceased her resistance, as she realized it was no use. The drunkard carried her through some sewers, and eventually came up into a dark bedroom with no windows and a small door in the corner. There was furniture strewn everywhere, and a metal pipe nearest her. The bed was all in disarray, and looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in years. The hardwood floor was unfinished, and creaked loudly as the drunkard stomped across it.

He thrust Aeris down onto the floor right in front of the metal pipe, quickly clipping some easily produced handcuffs around her arms. She didn't even bother to move at all; she knew that her arms were secured around the cold steel. The drunkard gave her a sickly smile that made her stomach turn, and as he exited the room via the tiny door, she burst into a fit of sobs that wrenched her entire body.

Three days later...

He knocked on the door furiously, but still received no answer. He scratched his head, tension gripping at him as he finally wrapped his right hand around the doorknob. It was unlocked, which was uncommon in the slums of Midgar. Although nobody ever really visited this back place where few flowers still grew near the house. It was undisturbed, and that was why it was beautiful.

The door slid open and he took a hesitant step inside, black boot making little to no sound on the lush pink carpet.

"Hello?" He called, but to no avail. He quietly approached the staircase, letting out a deep breath as he worked up the courage to look upstairs. When he reached the creaking upstairs floor, he stopped dead when he heard sobbing. He burst into the nearest room, where he found Aeris' foster mother curled up in the corner, crying furiously.

"Oh, heavens!" She squealed, a hand going to her breast. "What are you doing here?"

"What has happened? Where is Aeris?" He blurted, brows furrowing. There was an awkward silence as she regained enough breath to speak.

"I don't know..." She buried her face in her arms, curling her knees up as Aeris had done three days prior. He fell to his knees, feeling emotion bubble up in his heart as he embraced the frail woman. "How did you get here?"

"I was released, finally." He replied in a soothing tone. "I came back to take care of you. To take care of Aeris."

"Aeris is gone... she's gone, Zack."

There was a gang of four. The big one that had carried her seemed to be the leader. His name was Butch. Aeris saw him the most, as he was the one who came to drool over her all the time. He never actually touched her, for some reason, but it was perfectly fine with her. A shorter guy, seemingly the youngest, was the one who brought her food. His name was Trip, and he was incredibly thin, even thinner than Aeris herself. The most perverted out of all of them was Allah, a darker skinned guy with slicked black hair and rotten looking teeth. He touched her often. Butch didn't want him to, so it was brief, to Aeris' relief. Allah would simply feel her chest through her dress, but never got much farther for fear of Butch catching him. But the nicest out of them all, the one that seemed to actually care, was Flame. He had a scar searing from his upper right cheekbone, down his throat, to disappear under his shirt. Aeris was fascinated by it, but never asked. She barely talked to any of them, except to plead with Allah to stay away from her. Flame tried to get her to speak to him, but she was still a little wary of his kindness.

All in all, she was relieved that things hadn't gotten too bad. She was getting fed, and wasn't beaten at all. She wasn't sure exactly what they wanted her for yet, but she didn't think she'd ever get to go home again. Aeris wasn't even sure if she really wanted to. With all the spare time on her, every waking moment she thought of Zack. She pined over his abandoning, and realized that she had no more will to go on. Her feelings for him had always been strong, so very strong, and now she couldn't even bring herself to even try to escape on the occasions where she was uncuffed to do her business in the sewer.

After a calming chamomile tea with Aeris' loving caregiver, Zack set out to scour the Sectors, searching for his beloved. He hadn't seen her in over two years, trying to reach his goal of First Class Soldier. But he realized that it wasn't all the romantic dream it had looked to be. When he left the slums to join the military, he promised Aeris that he'd write to her whenever he could, and it set into a routine that every two weeks he'd write from his new relocation. But the whole procedure grew so monotonous. He had to struggle through boring easy missions with little funding, hoping that the next one would be a challenge to his toned skills. The training had been the only interesting part, and when he was out on the field, he didn't use any of it. His only consolations were that he'd get commuted and get to write to Aeris again.

It wasn't until Flame was killed that Aeris was really attacked. He had come down, and seemed a little irritated about something.

"Hey, Aeris." He huffed, sitting down in front of her. "I'm going to be straight with you, girl. I know what Butch wants you for." Aeris' eyes widened in half hearted happiness.

"Thank heavens!" She cooed, and Flame was taken aback.

"You spoke." He triumphantly said, a smile tugging at his lips.

"Why do they want me?" She demanded, and Flame's face fell.

"The Turks have been looking for a clean kidnapping." A gasp. Aeris hung her head at his words, biting her lip so hard she drew blood. She shook with fear. That psycho Hojo was contstantly trying to capture her for his own sadistic reasons. "Hey, hey. Don't worry. I'm getting you out of here."

"Butch'll kill you." Aeris choked. "The Turks'll kill you." She winced.

"I'll leave too." Flame lowered his gaze. "I've heard of the crazy things those bastards at Shinra do to people."

"You have no idea." Aeris' eyes shimmered with tears. She was filled with feelings of fear, relief, and a clenching of her heart that couldn't be described. Flame uncuffed her hands quickly, helping her to feet to hold her arm gently.

"What are you doing?" Allah's voice was full of rage, as he burst through the door.

"Taking her to the bathroom." Flame covered, but froze when his seething comrade produced a silver gun.

"You're not supposed to take her handcuffs off." Allah stepped forward, and Aeris shivered noticeably. Flame suddenly flipped open the door to the sewers, and thrust her out into the dank area. Allah yelled and Aeris struggled to get up again, yet hesitated. She wasn't sure if she could leave Flame, he had helped her greatly. She didn't know him well, and particularly was neutral towards him, but he was the only one who actually cared, and that mattered. She heard yelling as Flame and Allah argued, and she pounded on the slammed door.

"FLAME!" She cried, fearing for his life.

"Go, Aeris!" There was a thump, and she stepped back as the door opened. Allah shoved Flame forward, and he rammed right into the scared girl.

"Flame?" She asked, and he looked up at her with his cerulean eyes.

"You have a beautiful voice." He whispered, and Aeris' shrill screams rang out through the thick air as Allah shot Flame five times in the back.

Zack trotted through the slums, stopping to look up at a concerned looking woman leaning on her front porch.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" He politely inquired, adjusting his buster sword on his back. She turned her attention to the purple clad soldier, and smiled warmly.

"Hello, young gentleman. Are you a mercenary?" She crossed her arms, seeming to cheer up immediately.

"Ex-Soldier, ma'am." Zack replied, shifting his weight. "You looked troubled, may I help you with something?"

"Ah, you are a sweetheart. There are not many of those left in these parts." She looked nostalgic for a moment, and then sighed. "My flower girl hasn't walked by in a few days, and my carnation is withering. I sure hope she's all right. There are not many who have the will to keep a garden in the slums."

"You know Aeris?" Zack exclaimed.

"Yes." The woman furrowed her brow. "And you?"

"I am Aeris' boyfriend, Zack."

"Oh dear me." She replied, placing a light hand to her chest. "I've heard a lot about you, sir."

"Do you have any ideas as to where she could be?" Zack asked, his heart fluttering with hope.

"No, and I'm sure she would have told me if she was going anywhere." She stepped back and turned towards her house. "You will find her, I suppose?" She inquired back over her shoulder.

"Yes." Zack promised.

"I wish you well, young soldier." With that, she left the porch and disappeared through the front door. Zack blinked slowly, turning his head this way and that as time seemed to slow down around him. The people on the path moved about, slower than time could possibly be adjusted. He felt a calming to him, and his heart burst with longing for his beloved. Aeris was more to him than a girlfriend, she was his reason to live. He had put away enough of his gil for them to get married, and be well off together. In time, they could possibly even move out of Midgar to a nice village like Kalm or Rocket Town.

Zack shook his head, as time revealed itself to become normal. He ignored the odd stares he was receiving and focused on the task at hand, striding down the dirty roadway quickly.

"Hey, Reno." Trip gruffly said as the disheveled Turk entered the run down house.

"Shut up." Reno snapped. "My patience is crap and I want to get this over with. This Sector is a bitch." He pushed his shiny expensive sunglasses up on his head, blinking tiredly. His hair was in disarray, as his attire was so famous to be.

"Where are the other two?" Trip blurted, obviously nervous.

"If you don't get Butch now, I'll tear your arms off." Reno narrowed his eyes, and Trip leapt up from his dinner and nearly knocked his chair over.

"Uh... yeah." He stumbled backwards, and then turned to bolt up the stairs. Reno smirked, and then walked to the bookcase to examine a few elephant figurines. He knew he was intimidating, almost as much as Rude. Elena was a drag, but tolerated in her rookie stage. That was the main reason he had offered to come in alone, leaving Elena and Rude outside. She was hot, and definitely a desirable woman, but that was to be saved for after work.

"Yo, Reno." Butch thundered down the stairs, adjusting his sloppy clothes in his wake. He was a mess.

"You're a tramp, Butch." Reno icily said, turning away from the bookcase. "Always have been." His deep eyes locked on the civilian's. "Can I have the Ancient?"

"Uh, yeah." Butch ran a hand through his uneven hair and motioned for Reno to follow him. "We're keepin' her in the basement, cuz it's soundproof. Not that she's real loud anyways." He rambled, and Reno rolled his eyes. Butch headed down a flight of stairs and then threw open a door.

"What the FUCK is going on here?!" Reno barked, suddenly enraged. Aeris lay on the floor, sobbing, while Allah was poised on top of her. She turned her head to Reno, staring up at him with her sea blue orbs emanating tears down her fair cheeks. Her purple coat was strewn on the bed, and her pink dress was torn from the thigh. Allah was frozen in place, holding her arms to the floor, with his body weight pinning the rest of her down.

"R, Reno?" The name tumbled from his surprised mouth.

"You perverted filth. I want you out of Midgar, NOW!" Reno ordered, striding over and dragging Allah to his feet by his hair. The squealing man dropped his gun, and Reno thrust him out into the sewer. "Right where you belong, dirty rat." He closed and locked the sewer door, turning back to Butch. "If he is seen in Midgar, you will shoot him."

"O, okay." Butch stuttered, his head jerking in a nod. Aeris forced down her tears, struggling to sit up. Reno noticed a nasty purple bruise on her left cheek, and rage burned within him. It didn't look as if Allah had raped her; they made it just in time.

That was another reason why Reno had offered to go in alone. He had a soft spot for the girl, the poor Ancient subjected to inhuman tests for Hojo's sick and twisted pleasure. He treated her as gentle as possible, despite his harsh reputation.

Reno knelt down and scooped the tense girl up in his arms, regaining his laid back stature. He pushed past Butch as Aeris easily settled into her newest captor's arms, closing her eyes to avoid Butch's lusting stare at her exposed legs.

When they reached the front door, Butch coughed nervously, causing Reno to glare at him before exiting.

"What?" He coldly asked.

"You, uh, said you'd pay me." Butch replied nervously.

"I said I'd pay you if you got me the Ancient." Reno paused. "Not a battered up and abused Ancient." With that, he left, kicking the door shut harshly with his Shinra booted foot. Aeris' eyes fluttered open as she heard Elena's gasp.

"Jesus Reno!" She exclaimed, jumping up from her perch on the front steps.

"What did you do to her?" Rude asked in his monotone voice.

"I didn't do anything." Reno replied, clenching his jaw. "One of Butch's bastards started in on her." He walked down the stairs, sneaking a peek at Elena's ass as he did.

"She's a mess." Rude stated calmly.

"Where's Tseng?" Aeris inquired innocently, startling them all. The three averted their attention to the young woman, but Rude shook his head.

"Let's go." He instructed, feeling no sympathy for her. They quietly traveled throughout Sector 2, making it back to the Shinra Helicopter quickly enough. Elena sat in the passenger seat beside Rude, who clicked a headset into place as he took the controls. Reno crouched in the back with their prize, the Ancient that Hojo so closely desired. They'd been trying to track her down for so long, get her without taking blame from her guardian at home.

"Reno?" Aeris meekly said, as he handcuffed her hands in front of her. He sprawled back against the wall of the helicopter, content with just staring at her. Without a response, Aeris continued. "Where's Tseng?" She asked again.

"He doesn't do excursions anymore. He's an office Turk now." Reno lowered his eyes. "Elena's new, you won't remember her."

"At first I thought she might be Scarlet." Aeris slumped forward, shuddering at the memory of that hateful woman.

"No, Scarlet would never make it as a Turk." Reno shook his head solemnly. "She is just too damned vain to take that dress off." He seethed inside, and for the rest of the trip, the two of them remained silent.

"So, what do they want the girl for?" Elena asked Rude casually. He winced slightly, shaking his head.

"You don't need to know about that." He replied in a quiet voice.

"You're right, I don't need to know. I WANT to know." She countered, crossing her arms pertly. "You guys know, I should get to."

"She belongs to Hojo." Was all Rude would say, and Elena took it as enough. She was petrified of Hojo, and didn't want to know any more about his creepy experiments.

Zack looked up at the helicopter flying past the edge of the plate. He remembered his trip back from Kalm in a Shinra helicopter, and how uncomfortable it was.

Then it hit him. The Turks must have gotten a hold of Aeris, undercover. His blood began to boil as he thought of Reno putting his dirty paws on her fragile body.

Assuming a Soldier stance, Zack saluted the disappearing helicopter spitefully.

"I won't give up until she's safe." He promised, narrowing his Mako glowing eyes in hatred.

Reno let out a huge breath as he hung up his gun on the rack hidden in the back of the closet. The lazy Turk lived in his office, seeing as he didn't take up much space and didn't really need an office. The Turks' secretary, Miss Chambers, took care of all the paperwork and calls. Besides, it beat having to travel out of the building to go home, sleep for a few hours, and then journey the way back. Reno led a laid back life, which meant during the off time he had, he wanted to relax as much as possible.

The room worked as a bedroom. It contained a walk-in closet, a pull out couch that was his bed, a large desk with a comfortable chair, and a glass wall that looked over half of Midgar and the mountains. The Turks lived almost as King-like as the President and his power lusting son, without the stress of politics.

"Reno?" Miss Chambers' voice came through on his speakerphone. He crossed the moonlit room to the desk, pushing a button and then turning to the window.

"What is it, Violet?" Reno's raunchy voice inquired as he watched the trees on the cliff side waver in the wind.

"Scarlet is here to see you." Miss Chambers paused. "Shall I let her in?" Reno closed his eyes, and sighed softly. He wasn't sure what he had done wrong, but the only reason Scarlet ever came to visit him was to flaunt her breasts and lecture him about something.

"I suppose you should." Reno quietly replied, and then heard Miss Chambers chuckle before closing the connection. He reached over, turning off the phone as the door slid open. Scarlet stepped inside, allowing the steel to close behind her. She was a sight to behold, but Reno forced his eyes not to stare at her. He submissively faced the window, and Scarlet laughed softly.

"Reno, you slob." She tsked, stepping over his Turk coat strewn on the floor.

"I know you came here to bitch, so just get it over with." He crossed his arms, a lock of messy hair flipping down over his left eye.

"Actually, cowboy," Scarlet had reached his desk, and lightly fingered his sunglasses sitting there. "I came to congratulate you." There was a light creak as she sat up on the desk, crossing her legs seductively. Reno confusedly furrowed his brow, eyeing her despite his previous decision not to. Her light blonde hair was down, for once, and it tumbled down her back, shimmering in the moonlight bathing the room. Her crimson lipstick contrasted her milky skin, and Reno shivered, reveling in the sight of the beautiful woman before him.

"What are you talking about?" Reno's throat and mouth were dry as sandpaper, and his voice nearly croaked.

"The raid today. You did well." Scarlet uncrossed her legs, then switched, recrossing them the other way. The slit on the side of her dress opened, showing off a feminine thigh that sent Reno's heartbeat skyrocketing. "You tamed the beastly Ancient, somehow. Rufus is very pleased." A smile tugged at the corners of her perfectly painted lips, but ended up as a wide smirk.

"So he sent his lapdog to thank me?" Reno managed to slip out, licking his lips.

"I'm not lapdog, Reno." Scarlet narrowed her eyes, cocking her head. Her hair slipped down off of her shoulder, showing her smooth throat to him. "I'm more of a cat."

"Rufus' pet, in any case." Reno blinked consciously. Scarlet stared at him, and then reached across the desk, brushing the hair out of his face.

"I'm nobody's pet, little boy." She swung her legs over, so that she sat on the side of the desk nearest to him. She leaned back on her hands, looking up at him from beneath her dark eyelashes. Reno shifted his weight, determined to control himself and resist her. He knew that this was a game she loved to play, especially with him. Only usually she was putting him down as she did it. "I only answer to myself."

"Considering what Rufus pays you, you should answer to him too." Reno raised an eyebrow, amused at her discomfort of how he knew her monetary income.

"You are a cold bastard, Reno." She shook her head, sneering at him. "I can warm you up, if you'll let me."

"I won't get caught up in your games, Scarlet." Reno shook his head, turning back to the window. The stars littered the sky, and he tried to immerse himself in studying them. He felt her hand on his arm, and then almost wasn't surprised to feel Scarlet's lips pressed against his own, almost desperately. Her arms snaked around his neck as he deepened the kiss, hands on her hips lightly.

"Reno?" Miss Chambers' voice came over the speakerphone, and he sighed, pulling away from the warm woman. She shook her head, clutching his collar tightly. Reno raised an eyebrow, and Scarlet reached down with her right hand, toying with the clasp of his belt. He grinned evilly, then grasped Scarlet's waist firmly, wrenching her to him in a deft movement, claiming her hungry lips again.

Violet Chambers sighed, hoping that Reno wasn't dead due to Scarlet's lecturing. There was a click as his office door locked, and Violet's jaw dropped. Perhaps Scarlet wasn't killing him after all...

"What'll it be?" A short girl with long chestnut brown hair asked from behind the counter.

"Tequila." Rude emotionlessly said, and Elena nodded to double it. Seventh Heaven was the Turks' favourite bar in Midgar, not only because Rude had the hots for the bartender, but because of the range of drinks.

"Why do you think Reno never comes to the bar anymore?" Elena swiveled on her stool. "Do you think it's because of me? I don't think he likes me much." Rude shook his head, sprinkling salt on the crook between his thumb and forefinger.

"It's not that." He assured her. "He's just skeptical about Tseng leaving for an office job."

"Yeah, but I was the one who took Tseng's place." Elena replied, licking the salt and downing her shot. Rude handed her a lemon slice, which she gratefully took between her lips. Rude mirrored her, and then nodded at the bartender to fill their glasses again.

"Don't take it personal. It's just Reno, he's skilled at giving people the cold shoulder for shadowy reasons." He finally removed his sunglasses to rub his eyes absently.

"Rude, you really shouldn't drink so much." The bartender sympathetically said. "You're in here night after night, it wears you out."

"Miss Lockheart, I appreciate your concern." Rude acknowledged. "But this is my down time, and I enjoy spending it here, with you." Tifa Lockheart blushed, and refilled the shot glasses.

"I still feel bad about Reno." Elena cut in and repeated, pinching the salt. "Maybe if we invited Tseng out here..." She trailed off to down the burning liquid.

"Tseng won't come anymore." Rude shook his head. "It's not his place anymore."

"It's not his place to have a drink among friends?" Elena raised an eyebrow.

"No, it's not his place to have a drink among ex-colleagues." He corrected her. "That's just the way Tseng thinks." A shrug.

"He's different." Elena reflected quietly.

Three shots, eight beers, and a bottle of wine later, Rude and Elena were the only ones left in the bar. The sun was just coming up, and they had an hour until they had to go back to headquarters. Tifa, seeing that there was nobody around, shared the last of the wine with the two Turks.

"I don't know how you do it." She wrinkled her nose. "It must be hard to sober up so quickly, before you get to work."

"Ah, the wonders of working at Shinra, darling." Rude bellowed, causing Elena to giggle uncontrollably.

"What do you mean?" Tifa inquired curiously.

"Hojo made this item kinda like a Tranquilizer." Rude slurred, slapping a small vial on the counter. "Sobers you up straight away!"

"Wow." Tifa held the vial up to her eyes, reveling in wonder at the liquid contained. "This could so helpful in a bar-"

"NOPE!" Rude snatched it from her, nearly falling from his stool. Elena was still laughing.

"If you don't mind..." Tifa began, sipping daintily from her glass. "Could I watch you use it?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Yep, but you hafta keep quiet about it, cause it's a secret." Rude winked, and Elena paused for a moment.

"... Secret!" She squeaked and then continued to guffaw shrilly. Tifa cracked a smile, and then watched in awe as Rude swallowed the yellow liquid easily. He made a face, and then wavered for a moment. Elena stifled her laughs to watch, and soon enough, Rude had her arms around him so he could help her stand.

"Thank you, Tifa." He commented, leaving more than enough gil on the table.

"Th, thanks to you too, Rude." Tifa replied, smiling modestly. Elena dragged her feet, following Rude as she giggled cutely. He never gave her Hojo's concoction until they got back to headquarters, because she preferred to stay in a drunken stupor longer. The woman had some serious problems, but hell, they all did. One had to have a hatred for the world to work in Shinra, let alone be a Turk. Elena certainly hated the world, but was severely conscious as to what her colleagues thought of her. Otherwise, she was a cold-hearted bitch, nearly as bad as Scarlet.

"Rude..." Elena groaned, and then threw her head forward, and purged loudly. Rude curled her hair back from her face, keeping his feet out of the way of the heaving stream. "Give me... Hojo's... shit..." Elena gasped, and Rude reached under her, leaning her back over his arm. He tipped the vial between her lips and watched her struggle to lap up all of the liquid. A few moments later, she stiffened, straightening up from Rude's arm. "Thank you."

"Come on, let's go to work." Rude blinked slowly, watching Elena tidy her clothes, thinking of Tifa.

"You mean, let's go to hell." Elena corrected, running a feminine hand through her blonde hair. "We get to visit the mad scientist this morning."

"Lovely." Rude sarcastically stated, distaste evident on his face as they began walking.

Reno inhaled deeply, feeling bliss overtake him as the smoke wafted gently through his lungs. His nerves had gone insane when he woke up, remembering what had happened the night before. Scarlet was curled up beside him, her arms coiled around his midsection. Reno took another drag, staring at her peaceful sleeping form, looking so innocent and beautiful. He stared up at the ceiling, brow furrowed, until he felt something warm and soft tickle his stomach. Scarlet was awake, but she ceased trailing her lips along Reno's skin after noticing his troubled expression.

"Why the long face, Reno?" She turned her head to rest her cheek on his lower chest, staring up with those cerulean eyes.

"Just thinking." He replied, finishing off his cigarette and stubbing it out on the coffee table ashtray beside him.

"About what?" She pressed, and he watched her features move so naturally as she spoke. "The lab rat?" Reno almost winced when she called Aeris a lab rat, but managed to hold it back. He was distracted by her genuine unpainted face, as her makeup had rubbed off during the night. He reached out, moving a lock of hair out of her face.

"You really shouldn't wear so much makeup all the time." He told her, and she giggled.

"So I've been told." After saying that, Reno's face fell and Scarlet narrowed her eyes in accusation. "You aren't getting all emotional about me, are you?"

"No, Scarlet." He shook his head. "With our job, I can't get emotional."

"You're right." She agreed.

"You've gone soft." Reno teased. Her attitude lifted his spirits some. "What happened?"

"You're a good fuck, Reno." Scarlet replied, smirking. "Just returning the favour." Glancing at the clock, Reno realized that he had to be in Hojo's lab in ten minutes.

"I have to go." He disentangled himself from Scarlet's arms, hurrying over and opening his closet. "You can stay here as long as you want... just to relax or something." He suggested, pulling on a wrinkled shirt and a pair of blue trousers. "I'll be back-"

"I won't be here when you get back, Reno, you know that." Scarlet sat up, exposing her full nakedness to him as she smiled cutely.

"Yes, I know." Reno sighed, draping a tie over his shoulders even though he knew he wouldn't use it. He slipped on his holster, and then slid into his blue Turk coat easily. "It was fun, though."

"It was, wasn't it?" Scarlet's lips curled up, and she cocked her head. Reno gave her his infamous half smile, and slipped his gun into its holster. With a nod, he grabbed his sunglasses, pocketed his cigarettes, and unlocked the door.

"Morning, Violet." Reno greeted on his way by Miss Chambers' desk, a lopsided grin plastered across his face. She shook her head, snickering quietly.

"Morning, Reno."

"Well, there's only one way I know to get up to the plate without Shinra right of way." Tifa Lockheart furrowed her brow. "But, may I ask why you want to go up to the plate unauthorized?" She blinked, a feeling of nostalgia washing over her as she looked over the dark haired and determined person before her. He reminded her so much of a boy she once knew, with his set jaw and resolute eyes.

"I can't say." Zack replied, his mouth forming a firm line. "Miss, please. I need to get to the plate, and I need your help."

"Your eyes are full of Mako." Tifa pointed out. "If you're from Soldier, then why can't you take the Shinra lift?"

"Ex-Soldier, ma'am." Zack corrected, and sighed. "I returned to the slums for the girl I love, and now she's been taken away by Shinra. I have to go save her. I have to get her out." He stopped, clenching his fists. Tifa blinked, feeling tears threaten her. His situation was so tragic, and so beautiful, that she just had to help him. His story reminded her of when that little blonde boy she knew so long ago ran off to join Soldier. Only he never came back to her... he never loved her the way she loved him...

"Tifa!" A loud male voice barked from the door of the bar. "Where's Marlene?!"

"Playing in the back, Barret." Tifa replied, forcing a smile.

"Okay! Everyone out!" Barret Wallace bellowed, and the few people scattered about the bar quickly scurried out, leaving gil on the tables. Zack stood, unmoving, and Tifa's smile disappeared. "Who's this knucklehead?" Barret rumbled, shaking his fist. Zack turned around to view a large man with an offensive gun attached to one arm.

"I'm not a knucklehead." He stated, narrowing his glowing eyes.

"Yer from Soldier, all of you Shinra snakes are knuckleheads." Barret challenged, flexing his natural arm.

"He's not in Soldier anymore, Barret." Tifa stepped out from behind the counter, jumping into the heated conversation. "He's trying to break into Shinra to rescue someone."

"Look Tifa, it's bad enough that you let those Turk in here-"

"The Turks come in here?!" Zack cut him off, causing Tifa to turn to him. "Did they say anything about an Ancient?!" He grasped her shoulders.

"I-" Tifa stammered, choking on her words. Barret lunged forward, shoving Zack against the counter hard.

"Keep yer paws offa her!" He roared.

"Barret!" A brown haired girl burst in the bar door, her eyes ablaze with a frightened fire. "We've got trouble."

"Troops?" Barret turned his complete attention to the thin and out of breath girl.

"Lots." She nodded. "Too many for me and the guys. We need help, fast."

"Where are they?" Tifa stepped forward, hair swooshing back and forth as she did.

"Tifa, you ain't goin." Barret firmly said.

"Jessie just said she needed help! You guys need me!" Tifa cried.

"Marlene needs you!" Barret shot back. "When this shit is happening, you gotta stay with that little girl!" There was an awkward silence, until finally Zack cut in.

"I'll go." He said, unmoving and unblinking.

"What is UP with you?!" Barret accused, pointing a warming finger at the strong young man.

"Look, Barret, he can help you." Tifa tried, eyes desperately begging. "He was in Soldier, he's strong, and he wants to help. You can use him, Barret." She stopped, hopefully looking at him. Zack stared at her, taking in her young innocent beauty, and wondering at her sudden trust for him. He then shifted his gaze to Barret, who finally walked towards the door.

"Fine. Knucklehead, you're with me." He spat, and Zack seethed innately, nodding to Tifa and then exiting.

"Well Reno, you're looking smiley this morning." Elena raised an eyebrow, turning away from the window. Reno adjusted his sunglasses, winking at her. Rude snorted, shaking his head.

"Good morning." Tseng entered the room, monotonously speaking.

"Loosen up, Tseng." Reno rolled his eyes. "You can take that stick out of your ass when you're with friends." Tseng watched him from the corner of his eye, but offered a small smile.

"So Reno, how did you sleep?" Rufus entered, stopping beside Tseng to look down at Aeris' quiet form resting on a lab table.

"Very well, thank you." Reno replied indifferently. "Yourself?" The room was small, but looked down over Hojo's main laboratory via a huge window. The scientist himself was adjusting wires connected to the sleeping girl.

"Alright, considering." Rufus side glanced the disheveled Turk, his hands in the pockets of his crisp white pants.

"Am I missing something?" Rude inquired, furrowing his brow. There was a silence before Elena burst into a fit of giggles. Everyone turned to stare at her, except Rufus, who resumed staring at Aeris with wonder.

"Reno got LAID last night!" Elena cried, pointing at the amused Turk in accusation. "Rufus knows who it was, too!" She looked to the red haired vice president, but he didn't answer. Hojo had left the lab, and Aeris was awake. Her eyes darted around the room, and then locked on his. She wasn't secured to the bed, but remained stock still. "Earth to Rufus..." Elena trailed off, and the Turks all studied him curiously.

"She's beautiful." He murmured. "They never let me see her last time..." There was a slide as Hojo entered the supervising facility, chuckling enigmatically.

"The reason for that is because of her beauty." He coughed lightly, and Rufus snapped away from the window, averting his full attention to the hunched scientist. "But soon, she will not be so beautiful."

"What do you mean?" Reno spoke up, his serious stature back.

"Tonight will be the time for the transformation." Hojo rubbed his hands together, a sneer coming over his twisted features. "I will inject her with the liquid I've been working on for months, and then... well, see what happens."

"See what happens?" Reno furrowed his brow. "What will it do to her?"

"She will undergo a transformation beginning with her skin. Because of her Ancient blood, she should be able to survive the entire experiment." Hojo pressed his hands up against the glass, looking upon Aeris as if he were about to eat her for dinner. "By the time the potion is completely through her, my specimen will be somewhat of a drone. A drone that listens to me, and does my bidding. A drone that will live forever, and is ultimately strong." His eyes lit up hungrily.

"Are you saying you're creating a super soldier out of her?" Rufus raised his chin. "Do you have my father's consent?"

"Of course, she will obey President Shinra." Hojo quickly said, easing the mind of the vice president. "In simpler terms, this young Ancient will be the new Sephiroth."

"Well, what's your name?" Jessie asked, cocking her gun as they ducked behind a dumpster.

"Zack." Zack replied, unsheathing his massive sword and readying himself for combat. Barret snorted, shaking his head.

"Zack, eh?" He raised his gunned arm offensively. "Sound like a wussy to me."

"Nah, Barret." Jessie half smiled. "He was in Soldier. Just like that Cloud kiddie that Tifa talked about."

"Cloud?" Zack echoed, remembering the name. "I think I knew a Cloud."

"Well, if you ever see him again, tell him Tifa's waitin'." Jessie raised an eyebrow at him. "She's been waitin' for him to come back for years and years."

"He won't come back." Zack shook his head nostalgically. "He's going all the way to first class." He remembered Cloud from a raid they had once done on a place near the coast called Fort Condor. The two of them ended up double-teaming a catapult machine together. "He's a strong warrior."

"Enough talkin', already." Barret snapped, peeking around the dumpster. "Let's get the hell out there."

"Biggs and Wedge are waiting on your signal." Jessie confirmed, standing up straight. Zack admired her confidence; she didn't look like much, but definitely had balls.

"Awright, Shinra bastards!" Barret bellowed, voice carrying. He burst out, with Jessie close behind. Zack followed, slashing a few soldiers on his way by. He didn't recognize any of them, but they were all headquarter trained anyway. They had probably never been out of Midgar. That gave him an advantage, since he had been out on the battlefield. Jessie leapt up on top of a garbage can, popping bullets into anyone that came too close to either male below. She cast Wall on herself using materia to avoid the bullets from the soldiers. Barret frantically shot rounds in all directions, and Zack struck down anything nearby. When it seemed that they were winning, there was a sudden blast of wind and a huge machine leapt out into the street.

"Gyahahaha!" A loud voice came out through a speakerphone. Zack cringed, he knew Heidegger, unfortunately. But where there was Heidegger, there was a powerful weapon, he knew that much, and so he grasped Barret's vest in warning.

"You can't fight this!" He cried over the sound of the large robot firing in all directions.

"Get your damn hands offa me!" Barret yelled, tearing himself away from the dark haired warrior. Jessie tumbled down off of the garbage can, ducking to avoid the blasts.

"It's going to launch a powerful attack soon, we have to take cover!" Zack countered, but Barret shook his head.

"I'm gonna beat Shinra, I ain't backin' out now!" He began to shoot at the machine, not even fazing it. Jessie screamed at him to stop, but it was no use. Zack grabbed her arm, pulling her to the ground behind Barret's frenzy.

"Biggs!" Jessie yelped, but her voice didn't carry. "Wedge!" She clenched her jaw, worrying for her friends' safety. There was a rumble as the weapon powered up, emanating a blinding light. Suddenly there was a huge explosion, and Zack threw himself over Jessie's trembling body before everything went black.

"I'm going to go talk to her." Reno lowered his gaze, and Rufus shot a quick accusing glance. "I have a few questions before the... experiment." He kept his mouth in a firm line, and held his breath until the corridor was empty. Hojo had skulked off to his office, leaving Aeris alone. Reno let out a deep sigh, entering the quiet sanctuary and locking the door behind him. Aeris didn't stir, but her eyes followed him as he neared her.

"Do you know what Hojo is going to do to you?" Reno stopped right beside her bed, looking down upon her peaceful pink clad form. She hadn't been changed into a hospital gown, for reasons only Hojo knew.

"No." Aeris quietly replied, still unmoving.

"Why are you giving in?" Reno couldn't hold back the question, his mind spinning insanely as he picture her in the pain that was to come. "Last time you were here you did everything you could to escape... and did. Now you're just lying there, allowing yourself to be tampered with. Why?" He furrowed her brow, masking the protective emotions from his face.

"I don't care what happens to me anymore." Aeris closed her eyes, allowing her breathing to keep steady. "I've lost everything, it just doesn't matter anymore."

"What do you mean?" He inquired, feeling a tiny pang in his heart as he listened to her.

"The man I love is dead." She spat, out of breath from trying to keep her tears inside. "If I did get out of here, there would be nothing left for me to live for." She bit her lip harshly, nearly drawing blood.

"What about your family? That woman you live with?" He wondered, shifting his weight slightly.

"Hojo told me they sent soldiers this morning to scour sectors 6-8." Aeris finally broke down, letting the tears fall freely down her cheeks. Reno clenched his fists.

"Look, Aeris." He firmly said, causing her to stare up at him with her sad blue orbs. "Hojo is going to morph you into a mindless robot tonight. It's... it's going to be incredibly painful."

"Why do you care?!" Aeris sat bolt upright, narrowing her eyes. Anger and sadness overwhelmed her, battling violently for control. "You brought me here knowing that Hojo would do this to me, and I gave in. I gave up because I don't want to deal with life without a partner! And NOW you're sympathetic? Save it! Save your fake concern for my well being, Reno, because you don't care. I don't want to die remembering your pathetic act of pity!" She stopped, shaken up and unable to speak anymore. Sobs wracked her body, and she sat on the lab bed, arms taut and chest heaving. Reno felt his body freeze are her words sank in.

"Think what you like, girl." He gave in, knowing he couldn't break her stubborn ideals. "I'm sorry you lost your loved one." He turned around, striding from the room with sure, quick steps. When the door clicked down, Aeris curled up, hugging her knees and burying her face in them.

"Zack..." She murmured, soaking what was left of her dress. "I want to be with you, Zack." She looked up from her drenched skirt, suddenly feeling the adrenaline to do something that could bring her to him. She tentatively stood, and approached the counter. Hojo's equipment was strewn across it, and Aeris gingerly picked up a scalpel. She looked down at the glinting blade, and then gulped audibly as she upturned her pale wrist. She brought the shining weapon down to her skin, pressing it down just enough for it to hurt.

Zack stirred, and then sat up straight as an arrow, suddenly wondering where he was. Looking around, he saw he was in a Shinra cell. He was lying on a hard bed, and, looking down, saw Jessie sprawled on the floor beneath him. He flexed his arms, making sure they still functioned, and then gingerly slid off of the bed, standing shakily on the tiled floor. He knelt down, brushing Jessie's hair out of her face and pressing two fingers to her neck. 'Idiot, they wouldn't have brought her in if she was dead...' He argued with himself, but was still worried until he found her pulse. She stirred, and then her eyes fluttered open. She wasn't as beaten up as he was, and didn't have a burn anywhere on her.

"Zack?" Her voice croaked, and then her eyes saddened. "Where are the others?" She looked around the room quickly, but it was empty.

"I don't know." Zack answered honestly, triggering fear in the girl. But, she didn't let it overtake her as she slowly got to her feet, approaching the door. Taking a deep breath, she suddenly yelled.

"BARRET!" She cried, startling Zack to the point that he almost fell over.

"Jessie?!" A deep voice came from the left, and she ran to the wall, pressing her hands up against it. The walls didn't go all the way up to the top, and she stared up the whitewashed metal, envisioning him in her mind. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." She smiled faintly. "The others?"

"Wedge's here." Barret paused. "Biggs ain't." Jessie backed away from the wall, clenching her fists simultaneously. The look on her face reminded Zack of his mother. The strong features, with such sadness behind it that she was trying to hide with all her might. She sat down hard on the bed, blinking a few times slowly, and stayed completely still. "Jessie?" Barret asked, but knew he wouldn't receive an answer. "Yo Zack, you there?"

"Yes." Zack replied, still watching Jessie with interest.

"Uh... I jes wanna say thanks." Barret hesitated. "Ah, I ain't no good at this... but without ya, Jessie'd likely be dead if it weren't for you. We 'preciate it." Zack knelt down, silently taking in Barret's thanks, and looked up into Jessie's mournful eyes.

"We're going to get out of here." He assured her. She met his gaze incredulously, almost laughing.

"And how do you propose we do that?!" She exclaimed, throwing her hands up into the air.

"The walls, they don't go up all the way." Zack pointed out, even though she already knew. "I can hoist you up right over the wall into the hallway."

"You are a dense little boy, Zack." She retorted, shaking her head. "Don't you think people have thought of that? They have. Do you really think the Shinra would be that stupid as to just leave a wide open escape in the jail? There's guards everywhere, robos and humans alike. We wouldn't stand a chance without our weapons."

"I can fight without my sword until we get the weapons." Zack assured her. "I used to work here before I was sent out of Midgar. I know exactly where they are. Besides, Barret has a gun attached to his arm, for Christ's sake. All you have to do when I lift you over is land on your feet and unlock the door from the outside. The passcode is 65442." He smiled at her quietness.

"It'll trigger the alarm system when we encounter a guard." Jessie raised an eyebrow.

"As long as we can fight, we can get out." Zack countered.

"YO!" Barret yelped from his cell. "What the hell you two doin' in there?"

"Don't worry Barret, we'll have you out in no time." Zack called back, and nodded to Jessie, who stood reluctantly. She wrung her hands a few times, and then walked to the wall.

"Hoist away."

Suddenly, a large piercing siren flooded the room, and Aeris dropped the scalpel as she jumped. The room went red, and she whipped around, darting her eyes about frantically.

"ALERT. SECURITY ALERT." The computer boomed. "ESCAPEES FROM PRISON BLOCK LED BY DARK HAIRED EX-SOLDIER. ALERT. ARMED AND DANGEROUS." Aeris froze as she listened to the announcement. She closed her eyes, repeating over and over to herself that it wasn't Zack, that he was dead. She knew that someone would be in to get her soon, and if she wanted to use the scalpel, she'd have to do it right away. Her mind battled with itself violently.

"Zack is DEAD." She squeezed her eyes shut, clenching her small fists. "But... what if it's him? What if he came for me... somehow?" She knelt down, rasping out breaths that shook her entire body. Suddenly, she sprang to her feet, whipping open the drawers beneath the counter. The smallest one contained a rack of materia orbs, and she scooped up a few. Jamming them into her belt, she strode from the room quickly.

After jogging through a few corridors that were seemingly empty, Aeris came upon a small storage area, containing countless crates and various weapons. There was a pile in the corner, and she approached it gingerly. Her metal staff was propped in the corner, and there, on the floor, lay Zack's large buster sword. She knew that if he was being held in the cells, that his weapon would be confiscated and stored with the inventory. It had to be him, it just had to.

Aeris clutched her staff, and then scurried out of the room as she caught movement up ahead. Hiding behind a crate, she shimmied around to the back of it, and then whipped around to come face to face with Reno. Before she could scream, he covered her mouth and shoved her into the wall, staring her straight in the eyes.

"What are you doing?" Reno grasped her shoulders tightly, staring at her in worry.

"You just lectured me on giving up, why are you stopping me now?" Aeris reached up tentatively, pulling the disheveled bow from her hair. Her cinnamon locks tumbled down her shoulders and she looked up at Reno from beneath them.

"I didn't lecture you." He spat, narrowing his eyes. He let go of her, turning around. "He's one of the escapees, isn't he?" He hesitated, still facing away from her. Aeris expertly French braided her hair, keeping it all out of her face.

"Yes." She bent down to retrieve her fallen staff, and clutched it in two hands. "I think."

"My job is to take you to confinement." Reno put his hands in his pockets, shifting his weight.

"Then why do you have your back turned?" Aeris inquired, voice shaking lightly.

"Why are you still here?" He breathed, closing his eyes. There was a shuffle, and when he turned around, she was gone.

"Yes, Violet?" Rufus looked away from his window, pressing the speaker button on his phone.

"Hojo told me to notify you. The Ancient has escaped." Came the professional reply.

"What? I thought it was just a few civilians."

"It was, but I suppose she took advantage of the situation." She explained. "He asks that you and the Turks take care of it personally. Before she leaves the building."

"Does he want her alive?" He crossed his arms.

"I believe so." After hearing that, Rufus strode to the door, grabbing his gun from the wall and replacing it to its holster. He descended into the Turk lobby, smiling at Violet.

"Thank you greatly, Violet." He winked at the secretary before exiting into the hallway. Violet blinked slowly, repeating again in her mind that she was the luckiest girl in Midgar.

The alarm finally stopped, so abruptly that everyone who had been listening feared they had went deaf. Zack halted in his tracks, peering around before signaling for the others to follow. After getting them all out, Barret had agreed that Zack should lead them out. The four reached a red doorway, and Zack turned to Barret. The huge man looked horrible, there were burns all over his arms, and his forehead was cut open widely and bleeding.

"There's an elevator down the hall to the left, take it to floor 3 and then climb out. There's a building roof down there, you can jump to it and then climb to the ground." He said.

"Where you goin?" Wedge raised and eyebrow.

"Just go." Zack shoved him, and then burst into Hojo's laboratory with a faint image of Jessie's concerned face. But that disappeared when he saw Hojo facing the counter.

"Where's Aeris?!" Zack cried, gripping his sword offensively.

"She's gone." Hojo sneered. "Vice president Rufus'll drag her back here."

"Well, I'll be waiting." Zack's jaw jutted forward, causing Hojo to laugh out loud.

"That dog of a President's son will kill you before you can blink, little boy!" He adjusted his glasses on his nose, brushing a stray hair from his forehead.

"If you don't shut up, I'll kill you first." Zack warned, causing Hojo to stiffen. The man was evil, but not fearless.

"You don't understand the glory of my work." The hunched man rumbled. "This is for the good of Shinra, don't you see?"

"You're sick, Hojo." Zack seethed. "You have no values. I don't care how 'glorious' your disgusting experiment is. It's not glorious if you're violating innocent people."

"She may be innocent, but there was no choice." Hojo ran his gnarly hand along the lab bed, licking his lips. "She is the last remaining Ancient, and unless you can find me another one, I will continue creating the ultimate Solder using her."

"Why do you continue this?" Zack incredulously asked. "Sephiroth FAILED, there's nothing you can do to change that. Why do you even bother?"

"Sephiroth is not dead, you blind fool." Hojo's lips curled. "Sephiroth will live on forever due to my research. He will return, and I want to give him a proper welcome using a female version of him. They can start a new breed of Soldier, the saviours of Shinra. Don't you see how this is benefiting the world?"

"No. All you're doing is creating war with other forces. Sector 7 was attacked brutally by a weapon that 'benefited' the world. No, it benefits you, President Shinra... the Turks." Zack clenched his jaw in anger.

"Actually, it attacked Sectors 6 and 8, too." Hojo corrected.

"What?!" Zack blurted, thinking of Aeris' house.

"Hojo, I found the mouse." Rufus' voice came over the speakerphone. Zack glared at the unruly scientist, as if warning him. "Hojo?" Rufus sounded irritated. "Do you want me to bring her down?" Zack nodded his head, and Hojo balled his fists simultaneously. He closed his eyes.

"Sir, don't bring her here, there's a mercenary!" He quickly yelled, backing up.

"A mercenary?" Rufus questioned.

"He wants the Ancient!" Hojo cried out, and Zack shook his head, assuming an attack stance. "Have her escorted to my research lab outside of Midgar!"

"ENOUGH." Zack bellowed, rushing Hojo and pinning him to the ground. With the tip of his sword pressed against Hojo's pale throat, he spoke. "Rufus Shinra, my name is Zack, and I am holding Hojo hostage until you bring Aeris to me." Zack stated, waiting in anxiety for a reply. To his surprise, he heard a laugh on the other end.

"Well, Zack. Kill Hojo." Another laugh. "I've been wanting a reason to get rid of him for years. That makes two of us, apparently."

"Then you don't need Aeris." Zack negotiated, as Hojo squirmed.

"Oh, I need Aeris." Rufus slyly replied. Zack heard a whimper and stiffened.

"Keep your hands off of her!" He cried, and leapt to his feet, dragging Hojo out into the hall with him. "Where is Rufus right now?"

"How would I know?" Hojo retorted, but Zack heightened the pressure of his blade on the scientist's neck. "His suite!"

"Show me."

"Sir?" Violet's calm voice came over the speakerphone.

"What is it, Violet?" Rufus irately replied, and Aeris backed up fearfully. He hadn't done anything to her as of yet, simply implanted a frightened frenzy that pulsed through her brain. She had heard Zack's voice, that was proof he was alive, and okay. And here for her.

"You have a visitor." Violet paused. "Please open the door." Rufus grasped Aeris up in his arms, cocking his gun as he kicked the unlock button.

"So, the rat made it up here." He muttered, and in strode Zack, holding Violet Chambers tightly. Hojo scampered into the corner, keeping out of the way.

"Zack!" Aeris felt the tears roll down her cheeks in happiness, her heart bursting at the sight of him.

"Give her to me." Zack's eyes softened as he took in her current state. Her light pink spaghetti strapped dress was torn up to the thigh, her hair loosening and unruly, and there were bruises on her shoulders and arms. But she was still beautiful.

He felt anger swell up inside of him, and dug his fingers into Violet's waist.

"Ah!" She squeaked, and he loosened slightly.

"How about I kill her right in front of you?" Rufus was smirking as Aeris trembled.

"I'll kill her." Zack broke out in a cold sweat. He didn't want to kill the young secretary, but he had to be offensive if he were to help the girl so unfairly held captive.

"Fair enough." Rufus ran his free hand down Aeris' hips, stroking her leg. She flinched explicitly, wanting to flee, but knowing that Rufus would shoot either her or Zack immediately. Zack shook with anger, and Violet felt it, squeezing her eyes shut in fear. Aeris grasped her belt, and her eyes burned into Zack's as Rufus dipped his hand under her torn dress.

"Zack." Aeris mouthed, and then her eyes fluttered closed. A crack was heard, and a single bolt of lightning came out of nowhere, striking Rufus on the head. A storm began to brew in the room as Rufus was assaulted over and over with electricity. Aeris grunted in pain as she shared some of the sharp voltage through her captor. They both shook violently, and Rufus dropped his gun. Zack threw Violet onto Hojo, who cried out in surprise. She rolled off of him, crawling forward as Zack tackled Aeris out of harm's way. The spell finally ceased, and Rufus twitched slightly. Zack kicked the gun out of the way, and scooped Aeris into his arms. He clutched her to his chest, reveling in the feel of her small body once again.

"Rufus!" Violet's shrill cry cut through the still air. "SECURITY!" She screamed, and the piercing alarm went off to a different note. Violet ran to the President's son, clutching fistfuls of his clothes. Zack got to his feet, supporting Aeris enough for both of them to stay upright. He knew that a horde of guards would come through the door and annihilate them very soon. He had to get them out, and fast. Aeris groaned tiredly, pointing to the window. A helicopter was hovering there, and Zack stepped back as the attached gun shattered the windows. He spotted Reno at the opening, motioning for them to leap to the flying machine. He shook his head, holding Aeris tighter.

"Zack..." She coughed, and he lowered his ear to her lips. "Let's go..." He looked at her incredulously, but she nodded as well as she was able. He shifted his gaze to Reno, whose expression was serious. The door burst open, and a few robo guards rolled in. Zack took a run, and leapt out of the building without even looking. In the air, time seemed to slow down, and his breath caught in his throat. The helicopter looked so far away...

But then he felt the hard floor of the helicopter as Reno clutched them both, hauling them fully inside. With a hand motion, the Shinra mobile sped off, away from Midgar. Zack adjusted himself slightly, and Aeris nestled against him. He kissed her forehead, and then they both fell into a deep sleep. Reno looked upon them, feeling relieved that Aeris was safe. He returned to the passenger seat, looking at his pilot.

"Thank you." He offered a grin.

"I think both of us have gone soft, Reno." Scarlet replied, returning him a smile.