A/N: I apologize for the delay between updates; I swear they will come faster. School is not the friend of a rushed fan fiction author.

Cloud gets a semi-leading role in this chapter! Hooray!

Second section of this chapter is pretty lame. Won't you bear with me?

The end is in sight! Must…reach! I hope you know I had no intentions of taking this in any certain direction. However, awesomely loyal reviewers and the mass amount of compliments and/or suggestions have inspired me… Thanks much! (As you'll note in earlier chapters, I was ranting about choosing either Vincent/Tifa or Rufus/Tifa or even Cloud/Tifa… This shows how irresponsible I am. Ha! You'll forgive me, won't you?)

Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy 7 or any of the characters; the plot is mine, the setting and the characters belong to those dudes who live far, far away. Worship them.

-

"Gawd! Lemme go, lemme go!"

Yuffie squirmed in and out of shackles and restraints, flailing her knees and elbows; hand and foot were chained to some part of the floor or near ceiling, creating a very uncomfortable position for Cloud and the ninja.

However, the ex-SOLDIER remained silent, glaring at her and pleading for her silence.

Renegade SOLDIER stood around two meters apart from each other, wearing an outfit similar to Zack and Cloud's back when they were in the little group. The room was shadowy and murky with a few balconies hovering above, simply giving all the more ways to shoot the two AVALANCHE members. As far as Cloud could tell, two doors remained perched directly in front and behind them.

"Shut up, Yuffie!" Cloud shushed, wrists shaking in chained bonds in an attempt to emphasize his point; she stuck her tongue out at him indignantly.

"No way!" She wriggled around some more in the manacles, vein pulsating in temple. "This is SO uncomfortable, Pokey!" Her voice raised in the familiar yelling state. "DON'T YOU KNOW TO TREAT GUESTS WITH KINDNESS AND HOSPITALITY?"

"You're not guests, brat!" Scarlet's annoying tone of voice resonated through their ears, and the door behind them opened. The clacking of high heels approached slowly, before turning and heading right in front of them.

"Just the person I wanted to see." Yuffie said sarcastically, still writhing her legs around. "If this is one of those creepy movie torture chambers, then I'll have you know a ninja like me is SKILLED in the arts of escaping and kicking butt!" she screamed.

"Yuffie, stuff it," Cloud murmured, hands moving around in the shackles. Yuffie glared at him.

"I suggest you listen to him." Scarlet hissed, her palm raising and bringing it against Yuffie's right cheek. Yuffie swore loudly, raising her head. "I want answers."

"Like hell you're getting any!" Yuffie made a disturbing sound, and then promptly spit in Scarlet's eye. Scarlet howled slightly—which was kind of pathetic, Yuffie noted—and then sneered at the AVALANCHE.

"What kind of answers?" Cloud pressed on curiously, eyes narrowed in an I'm-waiting-to-be-impressed sort of look.

Scarlet grumbled swears and insults directed towards the Shinobi, wiping green-flecked eyes and snarling slightly. But then, she folded her arms, standing a little further away from Yuffie.

"'The Voice'."

In those two words, it was as of the curiosity and fear of Turk and select AVALANCHE had broadened to unthinkable horizons; Cloud's eyes widened, and alarm flashed in the misty-purple depths of Yuffie's eyes. And even Scarlet herself had spoken of it with some kind of apprehension, some trepidation. It was… well, intimidating. Like opening someone's diary and discovering something you didn't need—want—to know.

-Hello.-

This time, even Yuffie could hear it—'it' wanted to make itself known amongst the others. And now it had the gratification to do so.

"Who the hell are you?" Yuffie asked shakily, the question self-assured yet the tone timid; her hands tightened around the chains that held up her shackles, and she noted that the SOLDIER standing around glanced about hesitantly.

-'The Voice'.- A coy tone was all it took to get on Yuffie Kisaragi's nerves, and unnerving audacity took over wavering cowardice. She sneered, but it continued. –I suppose it wouldn't help to tip you in on something, would it? Mako storage in sector 2, warehouse 7 was salvaged after the Shin-Ra building was attacked by Diamond WEAPON.-

A short, unsteady silence followed this remark; none could figure out what exactly it meant, at least for now. Cloud's weathered hands also grasped the chain above the handcuffs, and irritation flickered in sapphire eyes.

"Why are you telling us this?" Yuffie realized for a moment that Cloud indeed got the picture, and yet, he was still wary; she grinned for a moment at Cloud, but the smile was wiped off as the response came.

-Because this is a game. Hide and seek.-

The SOLDIER in the background twitched collectively, and a deadened look took over their determined features. A collective cocking of guns didn't capture Scarlet's attention, and she looked around for the source of the voice…

"Watch out!" Yuffie screamed.

About sixteen collective gunshots rang through the once soundless air, and Yuffie shrieked as several holes appeared in Scarlet's dress and arms. And the blonde fell over. Dead.

-It's beginning to manifest.-

The Voice vanished from audible range, and Yuffie bit her lip, turning her head away from the sight of Scarlet's bullet-riddled carcass. Cloud made a small sound in his throat, and craned his head to the horror-stricken SOLDIER, who were examining their guns. He gave his wrists a sharp tug, and the chains fell apart like butter; he rubbed his wrists, and Yuffie swallowed, then frowned.

"How come you didn't tell me you could do that? Could've saved me some time."

Cloud stalked over to some crate and smashed it apart, yanking out the Ultima Weapon and the Conformer; his face remained set in stone, as if now determined with a course of action. He turned and flung the Conformer at the bonds, shattering the manacles—and causing Yuffie to plop down onto the ground.

"Ouch! Gawd, you could be a little gentle!" Yuffie rubbed her knees before sitting up and plucking her Conformer out of a crate; she gingerly stepped aside Scarlet's body and trotted over to Cloud. "What do we do now?"

"We're going to Warehouse 7. Call Cid, and get Reeve and the Turks to come, too." Cloud's response was monotonous and prepared, stalking out of the door.

"What about the search? Rufus!" Immediately, Yuffie regretted bringing it up, and one hand flew over her mouth in a feeble attempt to cover up her mistake; Cloud disregarded it, but his hand tightened over the hilt of the weapon.

"Call Tifa and tell her to hurry up the search, and then when she finds him, bring him to Warehouse 7. And…" Cloud closed his eyes for a moment or two, and then they opened, gleaming with a new kind of resolve. "Tell her Scarlet said he was last seen in Nibelheim."

He flung the PHS carelessly over his shoulder; Yuffie caught it, and watched his retreating back in a sort of stunned, impressed silence. Then, she grinned, and trotted after him, clutching the cell phone in one hand and the Conformer in the other.

-

Rufus slowly regained consciousness; this was one of the few times he hadn't remembered where he was when he awoke, and for a few fleeting moments he thought he was still on the Highwind.

No such luck.

He sighed, sitting up slowly and resting his feet on the floor; it felt stuffy, and that probably came from sleeping in his entire outfit for the night. Oh well. At least he got some much-needed rest. He tried to run a hand through his hair, yet his fingers found themselves caught in the mass of tangles and knots. Goddamn.

At some point or another, loud swearing emitted from the base floor of the inn, followed by an eerie sort of quiet, and then finally, some pleads. Goddamn it, what now, was the place being robbed?

He distinctly heard a hand closing around the doorknob to his room; he rolled his eyes and made a quick motion to withdraw the shotgun from his pocket.

Unfortunately, it wasn't quick enough. A small wave of relief washed over his consciousness as he realized it was only a few AVALANCHE members standing at his doorway—and yet it somehow faltered when he found that Vincent Valentine already had the Death Penalty trained right between his eyes. Rufus's gun was barely halfway out.

"What, are you going to shoot me?" he questioned intolerantly. Vincent's eyebrow twitched, and the rifle was lowered slowly.

"Hello." Red XIII trotted out of the doorway, flaming tail held in the air even as he sat; his single eye scanned Rufus up and down as if he was some kind of germ, but the condescending look quickly vanished from view. "It took a bit of negotiations, but we managed to get here."

"Fantastic."

Red XIII cleared his throat, and then continued with a hint of intolerance in his voice (always bitter towards Shin-Ra, even Reeve and friends). "Tifa has requested your presence on the Highwind. Alongside AVALANCHE." The last part seemed to hold some bitterness in the tone, which Rufus did not fail to notice; he rolled his eyes at the closing sentence, and clasped his hands together.

"Tell me. Why do you think I left?" Rufus queried, eyes narrowed in dislike. "Enlighten me with your imagination."

Red XIII was silent for a moment, and then glanced up at Vincent. The black-haired man stepped forward, arms hanging limply at his sides.

"Your reaction was expected." Vincent stated lifelessly, looking like a person who was doing the most boring job in the world. "However, we would not be good 'terrorists' if we didn't have some reason. Henceforth…" Looking rather disinterested in the following happenings, he stepped aside of the entrance and towards Red XIII.

Tifa Lockheart hesitantly toed into the hotel room, scratching the back of her neck and looking rather timid. She gave a small grin to Vincent and Red XIII; Red XIII and Vincent nodded in return and turned on their heels, walking calmly out of the area.

To tell the truth, Tifa was probably the last person Rufus wanted to see in his run. Against his will, his eyes widened somewhat in regards to her presence—something he didn't fail to cover up.

"Hey." She grinned anxiously, scratching her left arm with her right hand and edging out of the doorframe. "How've you been?"

Rufus was silent for what seemed almost an eternity, avoiding her cherry gaze carefully.

"Just lovely." Rufus finally retorted, plopping back downwards on the bed and staring fixedly at the ceiling. "Lovely. Incredible. Marvelous." The hand wielding his shotgun loosened slightly, and he found a familiar pang of emptiness and disregard as he felt Tifa sit down on the bed next to him.

"I'll take that as sarcasm."

"Ding ding ding. You win a million gil. For the next question, why are Chocobos yellow?" Rufus dully glared at the popcorn ceiling as Tifa chuckled softly under her breath; it annoyed him, and yet a foreign feeling of warmth flashed through him…why? Damn it all. "How did you find me? Put a tracer in my lunch or something?"

"No… Cloud said Scarlet said so."

"Ah. Spikes." The ex-president blinked dismally, eyes rolling subconsciously at the mention of Cloud. "With the hair that's fun for the whole damn family." Tifa frowned slightly, but dismissed it shortly. "So, what do you want?"

"I think Vincent portrayed my point just fine." She lay on the bed, resting her head in one hand so her face loomed over his. Rufus merely glanced in an opposite direction, looking impartial towards her curious stare.

"Tempting offer, but I think I'll pass. I don't do the 'environmental-friendly terrorist' thing."

Tifa was silent for a moment, attempting to examine his eyes; however, he simply turned away, almost as if he didn't want her to look at him. She made neither further sound nor comment and stood, promptly leaving the room. Red XIII and Vincent reentered shortly thereafter, and there was another stillness in the room—I think they were giving him condescending looks…

"May I help you?" he finally asked testily. Vincent rolled blood-red eyes, apparently annoyed; he glanced at Red XIII, not really choosing to speak. The Cosmo Canyon native cleared his throat again.

"I don't see the point in ignoring your heart's cries, Mr. Shinra."

"…I think Hojo gave you one too many anesthetics." Rufus stared at Red XIII, quite oblivious to what he meant. The wolfish-doggish creature's single eye appeared to roll, and the X in the other one seemed to twitch slightly before remaining stagnant—his message to Vincent was very clear: this guy is really dense.

Vincent had once dealt with a man like Rufus before—quite blissfully ignorant to the world of love, devotion, etc. And then due to some bizarre happenings, that man met a woman. And the first stage was denial.

Lucrecia.

For a moment, there was another calm; Rufus rolled his eyes and sat up, clasping his hands together and half-glaring at Red XIII and Vincent.

"What's in it for me?"

"Answers."

The two AVALANCHE members stared at Rufus, daring him to make a decision; the ex-president appeared thoughtful, and then he smirked, standing up from the bed and pocketing his shotgun. Acknowledging this, Red XIII and Vincent turned and left the room, Rufus trailing after them. He needed answers—more ways then one.

In a large hole on his flank, a small pain made itself known.

Manifest.