Hello, hello!

                Here, as promised, is the sequel to Chi to Ase to NamidaCAN took place pre-game, and I've left the events of the game as they were in my little continuity, here.  This story takes place immediately after the events of the ending of Final Fantasy VII.  Some of this will definitely not make sense unless you have read CAN, and reading Scenic Route to the Promised Land would also help.  Scenic Route is no longer on fanfiction.net, since it was rated NC-17 for violence, gore, and adult situations.  Keep this in mind if you decide to got to these places to read it:

For the slightly updated version go here: 

For the original version with notes go here:

At this moment, knowledge of Scenic Route is not required.  If you do read it, please thank the site owners for placing my fic there, and tell me what you think, so it can grow at more than its far too glacial pace.

Thanks for reading, further notes at bottom!

            All You Can Know

Cloud sat quietly beside the remains of the Highwind, polishing his sword.  His eyes barely focused on the blade as he mechanically cleaned imaginary stains from it.  He was so close to remembering something, some vastly important something, that he could feel it skittering over his nerves.

            Slowly, uncertainly, he turned his memories over in his head, not just those he had assumed to be true, but also the others he had disregarded since awakening in the train station in Midgar months ago, and the ones he'd only recently learned were there.  It was a terribly disorganized mess of sensation, reflection, and knowledge jumbled into an only barely traceable network within his mind.  One event didn't necessarily lead to the next in his head; rather, one led to some other one that might be the next, or an earlier one, or a later one.

            Cloud was slowly assembling a timeline for himself, reorganizing the memories as best he could.  He'd started with one he knew was real, one whose date he knew—unhappily enough, the promise at the well.  Then he grabbed a great handful of memories at random, and started sorting them.

            This happened before that, that happened after this, this happened after all of that…  It was confusing and hard, but Cloud was slowly—so slowly!—getting his memories in a semi-understandable order.  It was more difficult when he had a memory he remembered from a couple different viewpoints, like from both Zack's and his, or his and Tifa's.  It was even worse when he had events in his head he didn't think he'd been present for.  He had to keep several timelines running simultaneously in his head to contain it all.

            Now he sat, polishing away at Ultima Weapon, wondering at the sudden emotional turmoil he was in.  Sephiroth had burned his hometown, killed almost everyone he'd ever known, gotten him stuck with Hojo for five years, then tried to destroy the planet; he deserved to die.  And Jenova, too.  Indeed, the thought of having taken out Jenova made him feel better, but something seemed deeply wrong with having killed Sephiroth.  Maybe it was because he'd been a 'clone,' albeit a failed one?  He'd seen the reverence the others held Sephiroth in; perhaps a bit more of that had been programmed into him than he'd thought?

            Cloud looked up from his musings as someone cleared his throat quietly before him.  Vincent stood there, red eyes solemn under his equally red hood.  Cloud allowed himself a moment to gaze appreciatively at Vincent's fine features, then forced his mind to return to focus.  He crooked an eyebrow at Vincent, distantly amused that he was the only one who would dare approach him, right now.  Vincent Valentine—ex-TURK, now peacemaker and go-between.

            /Shut up, Zack./ Cloud thought to himself as Zack's distinctive brand of humor surfaced for a moment in his psyche.

            Vincent looked levelly at him.  "We have determined approximately where it is we have been forced to make camp.  We are about 50 miles outside of Midgar, almost that from Kalm Town."

            Cloud nodded.  "The Highwind?"

            Vincent shrugged, a tiny wry smile touching his lips, and a little dry humor warming his coolly professional voice.  "Judging by Cid's incessant, colorful, and passionate swearing, not immediately reparable.  He has so far been unwilling or unable to give a precise damage estimate, though it seems the airfoils are a total write-off."

            Cloud nodded again.  It was awful hard to get something like the Highwind off the ground with no air foils.  Kind of like trying to make a rock fly.  A very big rock.

            "Supplies?"  May as well get all the news, after all.

            Vincent seemed to notice his tense 'let's get it over with' manner.  "Not so bad as it could be.  We've plenty of food; the main problem is going to be water.  Much of the Highwind's stored water was lost with most of the ship or spilled out when we hit.  Materia and items look good, though we're running a little low on hi-potions.  If we have to camp here for an extended period, tents will also become an issue, though we can make them stretch by using the Highwind for shelter.  We should be able to get someone into Kalm or Midgar before that's an issue, though."

            "The injured?"

            Now Vincent grimaced.  "Red XIII is still limping, though he refuses to remain idle.  I set him as look out on the south side—his senses will help, and he won't have to move much as a stationary sentry. Yuffie really should get some medical care.  She will live, but she could use a practiced hand for most of the bone-setting.  The Planet knows what happened to Reeve, but Cait is still shut down and unresponsive."

            Cloud bobbed his head a third time.  He'd expected as much.  "Can't do much about Cait, and Red is smart enough to keep off that injury.  I'll see what I can do about Yuffie in a bit; I seem to recall some battlefield medicine from back before…before."

            Vincent was silent a moment.  "Was there anything else you needed, Cloud?"

            Cloud shook his head.  "No, I'm fine.  I…think I can't believe we won, is all.  I feel a little off balance with no goal to work toward."

            Vincent seemed to accept this, though his eyes were still sharp on Cloud's features.  "We will all have to work at staying alive and healthy, for now.  After that, I imagine Midgar, even the Planet itself, will need some help in rebuilding."

            Cloud hesitated a moment, then grunted a soft acknowledgment of Vincent's words.  The ex-TURK turned away, gliding back toward the others on near-silent feet.  Cloud smirked, amused, when the quiet older man made Cid jump by coming out of 'nowhere' unexpectedly.  Cloud knew he did it on purpose, just as he was fairly sure Cid didn't actually mind, for all his cursing.  Funny how those two had become such good friends over the course of this; they really didn't seem to have much in common, but maybe that just made their friendship stronger.  But then, that seemed to be the case with all of them.  The things that kept them together—though nameless—were far stronger than the few things they had in common.

            Cloud stood up, stretching the kinks out of his legs and flipping his weapon to his back.  He really ought to go see to Yuffie now.  He just hoped she whined less about bone-setting than she did about airsickness.  She was a ninja from Wutai; surely she could deal with a bit of pain.


            It was amazing what a big rock from outer space could do to change a place's decor.  Cloud had to blink several times at the remains of Midgar just to figure out that it had in fact been Midgar, once.  The whole thing was flattened.  As though a great hammer had smashed down atop it, although Meteor had obviously not actually hit.  What little hadn't been utterly crushed was twisted into macabre spires reaching toward the sky like grasping skeletal hands.

            Given the number of dead he could see or smell, Cloud wasn't even vaguely amused with himself for coming up with such a metaphor.

            He was utterly amazed to find pockets of people still alive, though.  There had been the large family trapped between a bit of fallen Plate and the remains of an old lean-to, probably their own home.  There was the gang of street kids huddled in a chunk of sewer pipe.  There were dozens of small miracles of similar sorts sprinkled liberally amongst the dead, dying, and maimed.

            Aeris's church had survived entirely untouched.  A number of people had taken refuge in it, and they were likewise unscathed.  How strange the way the world worked.  Was it a coincidence, or something more meaningful?

            Thinking about it made his head hurt, so he stopped trying.  If there was an answer that he was meant to have, it would come in time, in pieces—like his memories, it wouldn't reveal itself to him all at once.

            They met up with Reeve, in person, at last.  Apparently, his transmitting gear had been destroyed by Meteor's effects.  He took the HP Shout off of Cait, seemingly intent on dragging it with him.  Cloud didn't care enough to argue.

            Reeve had apparently been using his time away from them to take stock of things in Midgar and what was left of Shinra Power Company.  As he told them, it seemed as though well over eighty percent of the population of Midgar had been killed, but those who had survived had mostly been those who hid in the places he'd designated safe zones—a weight off his shoulders to be sure.  He couldn't really help it if so few people listened to the advice of one who knew the city inside and out.

            Most of the Shinra Regular Army had dispersed to their hometowns for the 'end of the world.'  Reeve was currently in the middle of reallocating that man-power to help put the world back together again: rebuilding homes, schools, hospitals.  Midgar's SOLDIER forces, however, remained mostly intact, as did most of the forces at other major SOLDIER bases, like Junon, the Wutai bases, and various others.  Some of the smaller places had broken up, the men being less motivated to stay, but a large percentage of those at even the smallest bases simply headed to the nearest large stations.

SOLDIER was quickly becoming the backbone of the recovery forces.  They were far better trained in all forms of combat and better disciplined than the Regulars, so they were ideally suited for stopping rioting and looting.  They were also many times stronger than the average human, so back-breaking, labor-intensive tasks were sped up a lot by SOLDIER involvement.  SOLDIERs were also required to learn a wide range of skills, since they were so much smaller than the regulars, so a standard SOLDIER squad could do almost anything, from healing to building to record-keeping to police action.

Rude of the TURKs had shown up in a quickly slapped-together medical facility in Midgar.  He went around using his Restore Materia on anyone and everyone who needed it, and took no compensation for it.  He also helped SOLDIER clean up some of the rioters that had been so prevalent in the days immediately after Meteor.

Elena had shown up at the same place only days later.  She just came back with Rude after one of the last mop-up operations, making no excuses or apologies.  She did a little bit of first-aid, more medication dispensing, and a lot of paperwork.  She also brought refreshments to the workers.  She even supervised their preparation to make sure none of the scarce supplies walked off, even in the hands of someone who needed them.

Reno was, as yet, unaccounted for.

And with that, they were essentially caught up with events in Midgar, and mostly around the Planet.

Cid stayed with Reeve, trying to get permission to get into the store of parts for the Highwind kept at Junon—they were mainly useless or barely useful for anything else, and rapid transit might become an issue should anything else screw up right now.  Vincent stayed with him.  Red XIII and Yuffie stayed at the hospital, Yuffie picking fights with poor Elena at every opportunity.  Tifa and Barret went to oversee work on their beloved sector seven.

All this left Cloud on his own.  Sword strapped to his back, Cloud set out into the recesses of Midgar.  He let his feet guide him wherever they wanted.  To his surprise, he found himself ascending onto the remains of the collapsed Plate, though he was not sure which section, and wasn't worried enough to check his compass to find out.  Once he got to the top of the plate, however, he experienced a powerful sense of deja vu.  He paused for a moment, trying to determine 'who' was the source of the sensation.  He discovered, to his dismay, that he couldn't pinpoint it.

At a loss, Cloud started hiking up the streets, finding the slant of the plate only a little difficult.  He once again let his feet take over—obviously, there was something he wanted to see here, and since his head didn't know what or where it was, his body would have to lead.

Soon enough, Cloud found himself outside a small house.  It was boarded up, and looked to have been that way long before Meteor appeared in the sky.  It seemed easy enough to pick the lock on the front door, but instead, Cloud looked around for a place someone might have hidden a key.  He found himself on his tip-toes reaching into a dark space only barely larger than two of his fingers.  They came out with a key.

Cloud slowly inserted the key into the lock and turned.  The door opened with a small squeak, and Cloud stepped inside.  He glanced around a narrow entry-way, a closet on one side, a sword rack on the other.  Ultima Weapon stayed firmly in place on Cloud's back, though the rack seemed specially designed to hold SOLDIER-type weapons, like Ultima Weapon.

"Hello?" he called into the still house.  There was a thin layer of dust on things, and the place seemed truly abandoned.  He stepped into a living area connected to a kitchen, kicking his boots off out of a reflex he had no idea he had.  A ghostly image passed before his eyes of Zack sprawled out on one of the chairs there smiling at…him?  Then a voice echoed from the kitchen.  "Hello, Cloud.  Cookies should be ready in five.  If you're tracking mud on my carpet, you're not getting any."

Cloud shivered.  How real it felt!  A memory?  He hadn't had it before, but there it was, glowing in his mind with a luminous sense of rightness that few other memories he had held.

The squeak of the door, a sudden heavy tread and the scrape of a sword from its sheath jerked him out of his musings.  A man with dark red-auburn hair lunged into the room, sword out.  He wore the uniform of a Colonel in SOLDIER and the little insignia for the commanding officer of the Midgar base on his collar.

"Who goes there?  You better have a good excuse for being here, mister, or you're going to regret…"  The man suddenly checked his swing as Cloud turned to face him fully, Ultima Weapon singing free of its bonds and into his fighting stance.  "…Strife?" the other asked.  "Holy, Strife, it's you!"

Cloud blinked.  "Do I…know you?" he asked, and the frown returned to the other's features.  Cloud quickly put his sword away and held out his empty hands, palms up.  "I'm sorry, sir.  I'm a little amnesiac, so you'll have to forgive my lapses in memory."  Well, it was near enough to the truth, anyway.

The auburn-haired man put his sword away as well, and gestured to himself.  "Colonel Andrews.  We met in Xi-Fe-Xiu during the Wutai Uprising.  I was commander of the Wutai branches of SOLDIER."

Cloud's brow furrowed.  "I fought in the Uprising?"  The memory of crouching in a muddy trench and pushing his dirty blond hair out of his eyes so he could see to clean his gun smacked him right between the eyes, and he winced.  "I did.  I remember that…partially, but clearly.  There was you and someone…Major Shimo?"

Andrews nodded solemnly, shocked by the scope of memory loss Cloud Strife was betraying to him.  "Shimo's a Colonel himself, now.  In Junon."  He stepped forward.  "Strife, what happened to you?  How did you lose your memory, and why are you dressed like a pre-reorganization SOLDIER—hell, like Zack?"

Cloud shrugged.  "It's…a long story."

"So start talking before I decide you shouldn't be in Colonel Zack's place."  Andrews made a snap decision not to mention that it was Sephiroth's, too.  While it seemed impossible for Strife to forget Sephiroth, of all people, it might have happened.  And the General got a lot of bad press, of late.

Cloud frowned.  "I…you knew about the Nibelheim mission, right?"

"Everyone did.  It reeked of set-up in hindsight, but there was only a faint scent of it apparent before everything."

"Well, I went; we went.  Big trouble, Sephiroth goes mad, razes the whole thing to the ground, tries to kill the lot of us.  We survived, but Hojo came along and we got to play guinea-pigs for him for five years.  Some of the experiments involved erasing one identity and replacing it with another.  I'm missing great whopping pieces of my life, and half of 'my' memories aren't even mine."

Andrews whistled.  "Shit.  Just to get something straight, 'we' is you and Zack, right?"

Cloud nodded.  "Yeah.  And here's the kicker—it's almost as accurate to call me Zack, now.  Much of my readily accessible memory was superseded by Zack's, and a whole lot of my personality is now what his was.  Yet, I, as 'Cloud,' barely remember anything about him.  I only wound up here because I let my feet do what they wanted."

"Great Planet…!"

Cloud felt his lips quirk in a bitter smile.  "That's about what I thought when I found out…only minus some of the more colorful cursing."

Andrews nodded solemnly.  "I can only just imagine.  Anyway, I'm glad you came when you did.  SOLDIER is allowed to hold the belongings of members listed as 'missing, presumed dead' for five years and five months.  This place and everything in it was on the verge of going up for sale.  I've heard some collectors have really been insistent about getting their hands on this place.  But since Zack and Sephiroth left everything to each other and you, everything here is yours now."

Cloud blinked.  "Sephiroth left me his stuff?  Why?  Did we really…know each other?  I thought I was just some Regular along for the ride in Nibelheim.  Come to think of it, why was I rubbing shoulders with the likes of you and Shimo in Wutai?"

Andrews sighed.  "Look, Strife.  I would ordinarily tell you all about everything, but if you are missing that much of your memory, maybe it's best if you remember and come to accept it yourself.  The fact remains that all of this is yours.  Why don't you hang out here for a while and see if anything jogs your memory?"

Cloud cocked his head, considering.  It sounded like a good, sound, reasonable suggestion, so he bobbed his head.  "Sounds all right to me, sir.  Thank you for letting me know."
            Andrews laughed.  "Strife, it was worth it to see you again.  I was shocked as anything to find the door to this place hanging ajar.  I was expecting looters or something, not the rightful owner!"  Andrews sauntered toward the door, waving cheerily.  "If you can still find your way around, you may want to swing by the gym sometime.  Best damn place to catch up on SOLDIER news, now that the bars are closed."

Cloud laughed.  "Will do, sir," he said, his heels clicking together in an almost salute as the other man let himself out.

Cloud spent several hours poring over the place.  He looked at every little knickknack, every dish, every article of clothing.  He got deja vu more times in one hour sorting through Zack's sock drawer than he'd gotten before in his whole life.  The real shock came when he found himself sorting through his own clothing, staring at shirts, pants, socks, underwear for a much smaller person.  He could see himself in many of these things.  When he started looking through his hair bands, Cloud found himself running a hand through his short hair.  He remembered that it had been longer, before, at least in back.  When had he cut it…?

He had a flashback of being held down in a transparent cage while a man shaved his head, Hojo and a full complement of armed guards looking on.

Cloud immediately resolved to let his hair grow.  Even if he was supposed to try to remember everything eventually, he really didn't want reminders of that time smacking him in the face every time he looked in the mirror.  Besides, the long hair would help him remember the times before Hojo.

Cloud picked himself up, steeled himself, then entered Sephiroth's room.  In contrast to Zack's vague clutter and his own neat-because-I-don't-have-much cleanliness, Sephiroth's room was well ordered.  He had little, and most of what was visible on initial inspection could have belonged to anyone.  All that he owned had its own place; neat, but not neat in a painful or obsessive way.  Sephiroth just seemed to have been an organized person—which seemed all the odder compared to the madman Cloud knew from Nibelheim onward.

To Cloud's surprise, he found a few items of Zack's in Sephiroth's room—mostly magazines, but also a simple decorative bangle, and a pair of socks with holes worn through them—the latter obviously on Sephiroth's 'things to throw out' stack.  To his even greater surprise, he found near buckets of his things, and he had seldom had much.  There was a messy pile of his hair bands on one corner of the night stand, one of his old, faded t-shirts was draped over a chair, a stack of text books that seemed both utterly familiar—as though he'd read every page of them—and also totally strange sat on one of the bookshelves…

It looked like he'd practically lived in Sephiroth's room.  Admittedly, it seemed as though the house was stocked only for short visits during leisure time, but it seemed to have been frozen in the act of gravitating toward Sephiroth's room.

Sighing, Cloud sank down on Sephiroth's bed.  So little of this made sense.  The corner of his mind that was labeled 'Zack' told him that it all made sense, he just wasn't looking at the evidence and coming to conclusions properly.  At that moment, Cloud didn't really care.  He was tired and no longer felt like sorting through all the stuff in this house.  He contemplated getting up and going to bed, then shrugged, a mischievous grin on his face.  He was sitting on a perfectly functional bed right now; why bother getting up?

Cloud burrowed himself under the covers after shaking the worst dust off them.  Once there, he sighed contentedly.  This bed was really comfortable.  He had expected a little thrill from sleeping in Sephiroth's bed, but instead found himself sinking into sleep as though he'd found the most familiar, comfortable, easy to sleep in spot on the Planet.

Maybe he had.


"Hey, you."

Cloud didn't bother to lift his head from where it was pillowed against his arm; he didn't even open his eyes.  "What do you want?  I'm trying to sleep."

"I know.  Just wondering what kept you so long."


"It's been years, Cloud.  Things haven't been right without you.  I'm glad you're here."

Cloud snaked an arm out to reach behind him.  "Shut up and come here," he mumbled.  A weight settled on the bed behind him, and he sighed as strong arms looped around him.  "Better."

A soft laugh.  "Sleep, Cloud.  Time enough for talk later; for now, just rest.  You deserve it."

"Mmmnnn, Seph…"

Cloud jerked awake faster than he'd ever done so in his admittedly unreliable memory.  Had he really just dreamed he was in bed with Sephiroth?  He looked around himself.  He found to his surprise and vague unease that he was sleeping distinctly on one side of the bed, leaving room for another body to slip in behind him.  Exactly as he'd lain in the dream.  Maybe the dream had prompted him to take that position?

Maybe that position had prompted the dream.

Cloud shivered as a thought occurred to him.  No matter what, the dream had happened because something about being in bed with Sephiroth had already been buried in his mind.  Was that Zack's influence?  Sephiroth had distinctly said 'Cloud' in the dream, but surely that was just creative editing on his brain's part.  Besides, working off memory, there was no way it could have 'been years,' since Cloud hadn't known Sephiroth for years.  Maybe a little before Nibelheim, and five years of thinking him dead.

Cloud groaned and scrubbed at his face.  Then he sat up and padded out of the room for a shower.  As much as he liked tormenting himself with questions he had no answers to—yes, that was sarcasm—he really shouldn't be hanging around here much longer.

One quick shower (Holy, how were the water lines still working?) and a frantic attempt to find both towels and clothes later, Cloud felt ready to go.  He was wearing a pair of Zack's old sweats and one of his t-shirts, black with the words "got Mako?" printed on it in Mako green.  He ran his own comb through his hair and dumped his—well, Zack's really—uniform in his bedroom to clean later.  He'd almost forgotten how nice it was to be in something other than the uniform.  It had been years since he'd had anything else, since it was all he'd had for the months since escaping Hojo, and before that he'd been naked in a see-though cell for five years.

Cloud found he did indeed remember where the SOLDIER gym was.  It took several minutes to walk there, but that was okay.  It had been a while since he just dropped in on a place, walked there in no hurry, content to simply gaze up at the appearing stars.  It really was odd how a rock from the sky could change a place—not long ago, the lights of the city had obscured any sight of all but the very brightest stars on the darkest of nights.  Now, there was only a bit of lingering chemical pollution, with none of the light pollution that ordinarily strangled the splendor out of the Midgar sky.  The air even tasted cleaner, though the Mako stink lingered since the reactors were not yet shut down.  It was a time consuming process to shut down a reactor safely, and though there was no way he could have known it, he did.

Cloud shook his head and listened a moment to the sounds of the gathering night.  Nights in Midgar had always been an awful lot like days, at least in the slums where there was hardly any sunlight, but right now Midgar could have been practically any other place.  The soft sounds of insects and small animals that had survived the disaster and were beginning to return were most prominent, followed by the distant sounds of people.  He was so far away from the bustle of rebuilding that people seemed almost to not exist.  Beneath all the sounds of life, there was the faint whisper of his Mako-enhanced hearing, a sound that had become very normal to him.

Immersed in his senses, Cloud almost didn't notice when he had finally reached the SOLDIER gym.  Only when the sounds of men exerting themselves and the protests of various pieces of equipment reached him did Cloud halt and look at where he had been headed.  The stocky building interrupted the shape of the new skyline of mangled metal spires with a nice, normal shape, standing charcoal-grey against the bruised color of the sky.

It looked…very gym-like.  Big double doors, no real windows, the sounds of people on mats and hardwood floors, artificial lighting from those bulbs that remained.  Cloud took a deep breath and stepped inside.

At first, his presence went unnoticed and unremarked.  But SOLDIER was a small group, and people as distinctive in appearance as Cloud just didn't pop out of the woodwork.  Soon enough, there was a gaggle of SOLDIERs headed his way, obviously the bullies of the group—while SOLDIER was generally pretty good as far as attitudes went, just like any other place, it did attract some bullies.  Cloud sighed mentally, and hoped these guys would go away quickly if he didn't provoke them.

The leader, a handsome man with a good seven inches on him, stopped right in front of him.  "Hey, no kiddies allowed.  Shinra may've gone crunch, but we still don't let any little girls in."  His friends chuckled and Cloud swallowed his ire.  He knew he looked feminine—it had meant trouble for him from childhood—so they didn't have to rub it in!

Rather than crush the pathetic fool's face in as his more bloodthirsty side wished, Cloud calmly looked up at the taller man.  "I'm sorry, sir, but I am male, twenty-one years old, and SOLDIER has no height restrictions."

The SOLDIER smirked.  "You think you're all that, eh, fairy?  Well, SOLDIERs got Mako, and you don't.  So beat it."

Cloud let his half-lidded eyes open, displaying the glare of the brilliant Mako energy in them, powerful enough to show despite the artificial light that washed out most SOLDIERs' eyes.  "I do have Mako.  I also have a SOLDIER sector pass, if you want to see it?  It's a little old, but I've been listed 'presumed dead' for a few years, so it never got renewed."

The SOLDIER sneered.  "Yeah, right.  More like you're a coward who went AWOL, and you're just back to take a slice of glory, now that the Company's gone."

Cloud pulled out the dog-tags he had managed to keep with him through everything and presented the tab that indicated he was allowed to use SOLDIER facilities.  The SOLDIER glowered.

"Fine, so you ripped dog-tags off a dead body.  There're enough of them lying around, now."

Cloud was truly beginning to get peeved.  He felt his muscles tighten as he fought not to go for his sword, but the SOLDIER had seen him tense.

"Aw, strike a nerve there, did I, blondie?"

That did it.  Ultima Weapon hissed out of its sheath on his back and comfortably into hand.  The SOLDIER facing him hesitated a moment, not knowing what to make of the huge, crystalline blade, but he jerked his sword out, too, immediately casting Ice 2 on Cloud.  Obviously, this man was reasonably adept at magic, because that did a fair bit of damage for a mere Ice 2, but Cloud had taken and dealt bigger and better.  He'd been impaled on Masamune in it's Master's hands, had endured five years of nearly non-stop Mako treatments and experimentation at Hojo's hands, had beaten back Jenova, and had stood toe-to-toe with Sephiroth.

This man was nothing.

Cloud smacked his opponent aside with the flat of his blade, crushing through the frantic attempt to block or parry.  He swatted the other man aside like a fly with one regular attack.  Then, when the man crashed to the ground, Cloud immediately planted one foot on his sword-hand, forcing him to release his weapon, and put the sharp tip of the deceptively blunt-looking Ultima Weapon to his throat.  His enemy stilled.

"There, I take it you'll be having no more problems with me?  And quit charging that Ice Materia—I think we've already proven your magic is nearly useless against me."

The SOLDIER nodded slowly, and complied.  Cloud stepped away, then whirled when a voice addressed him from not too far away.  "Damn, Strife.  Do you always have to make an entrance?  Rumor has it you nearly sent Zack to the hospital when you first sparred him.  And put that great tree-chopper away before you hurt someone."

Cloud frowned at Andrews as he obediently sheathed his blade, then the memory floated to the surface.  Cloud quickly put it in position in the memory matrix he was constructing himself, then gifted Andrews with an innocent expression his feminine features could still pull off as easily as when he'd been a child.  "Aw, sir, I did not!  I only gave him an itty-bitty bruise.  And you should have seen what he did in return!  I could barely get up for drills the next morning!"

Andrews shook his head, his short auburn pony-tail lashing behind him.  "I don't believe you; all these years later and you're still a scamp."

Cloud smiled slightly.  "When it suits me to be, sir."

Andrews ruffled his hair.  "Cut it out with the 'sirs,' Strife.  You know the gym is informal."  He frowned.  "What happened to your hair, Strife?"

Cloud tensed.  "Hojo happened."

Andrews sighed.  "Sorry, Strife, didn't mean to upset you."  Cloud shrugged it away, and Andrews seemed to accept that.  Then he smiled.  "Got a few people who'd like to see you again."

Cloud shrugged again, and followed when Andrews waved for him to do so.

There was a small group of people clustered over on one side of the gym, chattering in excited, but quiet tones.  Cloud was startled to realize he knew these people.  He screeched to a halt, and Andrews looked at him, a question in his eyes.  Cloud shrugged and wracked his brain for names.  God, he could almost figure them out.  The woman was most noticeable since SOLDIER had so few women in it.  Next most striking was a man of about average size for a Regular in a Regular's uniform.  The rest of the faces were also recognizable, and Cloud screamed at his mind to relinquish to him at least where he knew them all from.

/Wutai,/ a voice in the back of his mind said, very quietly.  The floodgates opened at last and names tumbled into his awareness.  Artemis, Ray, and the Thirteenth Street gang.

"Holy…!" he breathed, stepping forward.  Heads turned toward him, then smiles broke out on faces all around.  Cloud suddenly found himself tackled flat by a highly enthusiastic Ricardo "Ray" Ramirez.

"Cloud!  Dude, you're alive!  They said you were dead, and Zack and General Sephiroth, too!  But I knew better—Ha!  Zack and the General are probably just hiding out somewhere until this whole fake Sephiroth thing dies down!"

Cloud awkwardly, but happily, wrapped his arm around one of his best friends ever.  "Ray!  Holy, it is so good to see you!"  He sobered.  "To my knowledge, though, Zack and Sephiroth are both dead.  Zack died when we busted out of one of Hojo's labs; Sephiroth died in Nibelheim."

Ray's face fell, as did most of the faces around them.  Hearing confirmation of a rumor that much of the Shinra had secretly been hoping was false for years was bound to do that to anybody.  Nonetheless, in seconds, Ray was back to hugging—almost cuddling—Cloud and babbling happily.  The whole group of SOLDIERs around them sat down, adding their bits as Ray updated him on everything.

Captain Jackson was a Major, now; Buck Sergeant Ryans had retired and set up an off-duty bar on the fringes of town that was now being used as a supply depot and rest station for the repairs in Sector Two, along with the clinic there.  Artemis was still looking for 'Ms. Right' and kicking ass as part of Riot Control.  Ricky and Reggie, were helping out with debris clean-up in Sectors One and Two, and maintained that Sarge Ryans was the best drink mixer on the Planet.

Cloud gazed at the faces around him, delighted by the waves of comfortable familiarity radiating off of them.  These were people he'd fought beside in a messy war Shinra had almost lost, people he trusted.  He didn't feel like a man who'd spent the last five years in a lab and most of his recent life confused as to his identity.  Rather, he felt like a soldier who'd been stationed elsewhere, who had friends willing to fill him in on recent events.  Cloud took it all in, placing the feeling of happiness in a special place in his memory, the 'I know this happened and it's good' section.  He was oblivious to Colonel Andrews parked against a nearby wall, watching him watch them, with a pensive expression on his face.


All right!  Part one of All You Can Know!  It's a big, big part, and I hope you enjoyed it!  I blatantly stole the title for the fic off a song by Steve MacDonald off of the album Sons of Somerled—again.  This one describes poor Cloud's mental state pretty well, I think.  Lyrics are further down.

Yeah, I guess I'm starting with Cloud all confused and unhappy.  Don't worry, though, things will get better for dear Cloudy.  *grin*  I hope everyone will stay tuned for the next installment, hopefully coming soon to the matri-I mean, to a computer near you!  *laugh*

As always, comments, questions, concerns, et cetera are welcome.  I love reviews and reviewers…  Doesn't knowing that just make you want to click that little review thing-a-ma-jig?

--Akuma no Tsubasa

"Will a man sell his soul
When a man wants to know
..Memories are forever

Will a man change his mind
Hoping to find
..Lost reality

All that you've been
And all you've become
Can a man hope to last

Not knowing his past
If he chooses to stay
Will the world fade away

All that I know, is all that I know
And all that I know, is all I can show

And it hurts but it's true
When you pray to the blue
And so you reveal, that nothing is real
Nothing but you

I hear the past calling me
Calling forever we'll be... one family

Will a man lose his mind
Hoping to find

Will a man lose his way
Will he break down and pray

Look for the questions
and the reasons why
Look to the people

look to the sky

Look to the books

look for the names
Look for the pride
that flows in your veins

Look to the loved ones,
where have they gone
They live on in memory
they live on in song

Look with amazement
soon you will find
That the past is still real,
and it's all in your mind"