i Aloha kakou,

Author, here, in case you haven't guessed. A good story should stand on its own, without notes explaining this or that, but it's up to you to decide whether or not this qualifies. I hope that having a fic that's a few hundred pages long entitles me to say a few things about it first. Either way, I'm going to say them.

I started this in the summer of 2000, which makes this story four years in the making. I actually had most of it posted back in 2001, before deciding that I wanted to work really hard on Seer and Raptor Crest, and that I might not ever finish this one--and then I took it down off the internet. I put it aside and kind of let it rot on my hard drive. The line "Isn't it enough that I'm afraid her her?" was the last one I wrote at the time.

Meanwhile, I got older, did and saw and learned a lot of things, and wrote some other stories. Somewhere along the line, I re-played FFVII too, I think.

I have a tendency to hate anything I've written that's over two years old, but when I came back to this one in January '04, I found that I still liked a lot of it. More surprising, I found that I still wanted to work on it. And then, after seeing the subbed trailer for Advent Children, I got it in my head that I had to finish it before that movie was released. At the time of this writing, I don't know if I will have accomplished that or not, yet.

I also want to point out that I'm aware this story has elements in common with GlassShard's brilliant and superb Too Much In The Sun, particularly the, uhh, premise: Many years after the events in the game, Jenova has returned, bad stuff happens to Cloud, Sephiroth has returned (without Jenova cells) and has to help fight Cloud's battle. ;; Yes, that's pretty freaking similar. And while I'm proud, in a weird way, to have thought of the same thing GlassShard did, all I ask is that you keep in mind the fact that I began this story, premise and all (in fact had halfway finished it,) before having read TMITS. I hope that the rest of it--characterizations, style, voice, subplots, themes--will be original enough. And if you haven't read GlassShard, read her. I can't say enough about her story. It's the best FFVII story I've read anywhere.

The decision to keep schmoopy romance and "OMFG OTP!" stuff out of here wasn't a conscious one, at first. I didn't have the motivation to write that kind of thing, and I think the idea of an arbitrary pairing for the sake of romance is stupid. In this story the characters are grown up, have seen worlds of crap, and have things to take care of that are much more important than who's boffing whom. When I picked up this story again recently, I decided to keep writing characters for whom relationships were less about puppy-love, and more about loyalty and decisions. Some people may find that bleak, but having known both, I no longer do.

If you're looking for tight, restrained prose, I'm afraid this is not the story for you. It's sprawling, and I know that it's downright purple in some places, not to mention some shameless Cloud Strife stroking, trauma and angst. (Hey! Cloud trauma is canonical! ;D ) I did try to keep everyone in character though, and expand on their established characterizations. I hope I didn't go overboard with at least those things.

Oh yeah, and this qualifies as a Longass Fic. If you'd like to read it, get comfortable.

That said, here's my on-again/off-again love affair with FFVII, its twisted story, and its beautiful and inspiring characters.

/i

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b The Turks -- Chapter One: Return to NeoMidgar /b

"Bitter, bitter, bitter," he muttered, laughing, he thought, quite bitterly as he walked into the gold pyramid of light from the streetlamp. He didn't glance back over his shoulder at the thug he could hear running the other way, who had been naive enough to try to tangle with him, supposedly to take his gil, but then again, you never knew what people really wanted.

The dumbass who had turned him around by the shoulder and tried to clock him one hadn't expected him to duck backwards so quickly, grab his wrist so quickly, and break it so quickly, all in quick succession.

"What're you doing?" he had asked the kid, watching his face twist in pain and surprise.

"I wasn't doing nothing, I swear!" the kid said, falling to his knees. It was a rather large young man, not as tall as he was, but twice as wide and muscular.

"No? You were just gonna ask me what time it was after you hit me? Then what's this thing?" He reached inside the thug's jacket and took the gun that he could so plainly see. He let go of his wrist as he looked the gun over. "This is a pretty serious gun. You ever look closely at it?" He pointed it in the kid's face. The kid fell back on his heels and tried to scurry away backwards. "You weren't going to try to use this on me, were you?" he asked.

"No!"

"Tch! And to hit a guy with glasses." It was about one in the morning, but he still had his sunglasses on. He kept them on a lot these days, unless the occasion called for something special, as it did now. He pushed them back into his hair and smiled as the kid's eyes widened in surprise. Then came the question he always got when he did this, although these days, he was never quite sure how to answer it.

"Who are you?" the kid asked.

Now came the hard part, choosing an answer to suit the moment. Many times he would just answer "nobody," and mean it. But this kid had pushed his buttons.

"Reno of the goddamned Turks," he answered very slowly and precisely.

The kid frowned, forgetting his pain for a moment. "There's no more Turks," he spat, getting to his feet. "Turks are gone. You're just another Mako injected freak." And he turned and ran as fast as his feet would carry him.

Reno didn't chase him; there was no reason to. No reason to fight with him about it. He was right.

He'd shoved the gun into his jacket pocket and continued walking to his apartment in Sector Seven.

A few hours later, Reno sat staring lovingly at his Electro-Mag rod. It was lonely. It was bored. He turned it on, (it squealed an unusual, feedback-like sound when he did--Reno vaguely wondered why it did that lately; something about the frigged up polarities here, no doubt,) and stared at it solemnly as it hummed and crackled to life. No ordinary tazer, joltwand or stunner, but a high voltage, Mako and materia enhanced instrument, made just for him. It was not meant to simply disable someone, though it could. It was made to be lethal.

Absently, he stuck the lethal end of it right below his ribs, and cranked it to about three quarters of its highest output.

Reno fell to the floor, holding onto the nightstick, and yeah, oh yeah, that hurt like hell. But, he reminded himself, probably so did having a gazillion ton metal and concrete plate dropped on top of you.

Finally, he couldn't keep his grip on the Electro-Mag rod any longer. His hand dropped to his side, and the EMr landed beside it. It continued to hum and crackle on the floor.

Reno got up shakily, turned it off, and slipped it back into the small compartment hidden inside the table drawer. He latched it and put his sunglasses on top of it. Mako injected freak. Yup, that was the deal all right.

He did wonder sometimes what the other Mako injected freaks were doing though. Once in a while.

Mako was such a thing of the past, Reno mused, still catching his breath, and Mako "enhanced" people so deeply undercover these days that it was almost a joke. Ten years after Meteor, normal people had taken to wearing sunglasses at night just to freak people out and make them wonder. Even novelty stores sold "Mako Eyes;" soft inserts of unnatural green or green-blue, that rested over the eyes like contact lenses. He'd seen them once while on the occasions when he ventured into Wall Market. They didn't glow, though. That was the one difference, they didn't glow. They weren't very convincing.

Deciding once again not to think about it, or what had just occurred between the EMr and himself, he took a hot shower, made a cup of black coffee, and promptly fell asleep on his tattered sofa, pretending he had a television to watch.

click...click...click...

Reno frowned and turned over on the couch. "Damnit, now what?" he said out loud. His own irritated voice cheered him up somewhat. He figured it was probably the stray cat that sometimes came scratching at his window. Sometimes he would feed it, sometimes he would throw a newspaper at it. He had to do these things, just to keep the world on its toes. Tonight would be a newspaper night since the little bastard had woken him up.

click...click...click...

"Fine," Reno muttered, and got up to go the kitchen to see if he had any leftovers to feed the cat.

As he got up, though, he saw the doorknob to the front door of his apartment turn slightly. Ah, so this was no cat at his window, then. He smiled, hoping that someone was trying to break in. He was just in the mood, and needed a little something on which to vent his frustrations. Bottling them up was supposed to be unhealthy, anyway.

He turned off all the lights and made his way to the door, making out the different shapes by the slight glow cast by his own eyes. He squinted, hoping to dull them, and looked through the peephole. At first he didn't see anything. Then he saw what made him stumble backwards, his hand over his mouth to stifle a scream.

A flash of green, a swirl of silver, and a black cloak--a human shape, pulling back from the door, presumably to lean into it and break it down.

"Shit!" Reno whispered.

He ran toward the window, readying himself to tear it open and jump out, when the door crashed open. He had no time to get out the window. His only recourse was the open bedroom door to the side, and he dove through it in the dark, rolling over to the side of the bed.

i Quiet! /i he told himself uselessly. i Stop breathing like that! /i

He could hear himself breathing in rapid, shuddering breaths and

he tried to control himself. As quietly as he could, he reached into the drawer in the table beside him and tried to undo the clasp on the secret compartment. But his hand, shaking as if charged by electricity, knocked his sunglasses aside. As they clattered softly against the drawer, he heard a swift movement in his living room. His fingers weren't able to undo the compartment and he fumbled with it. Finally the clasp slipped open, and he reached in, wanting to rush, but moving painfully slowly, to grab the nightstick.

The stupid, useless, pitiful Electro-Mag rod that would probably make the man in his living room laugh. No, no, Reno reminded himself, he wouldn't laugh. He would smirk, before ripping the EMr out of his hand and using his own weapon, that insanely long sword, to open Reno from crotch to neck, letting his guts spill on the floor. It would take him hours to die, maybe even days. The Mako in his system would see to that. He'd seen it done.

Sephiroth had done things like that.

Before Sephiroth had gone insane, he'd been an efficient killer, but his madness had turned him into a sadist as well.

i Stop BREATHING LIKE THAT! /i his mind screamed at him once more, as he felt, rather than heard, footsteps heading his way. He could barely hear anything over the sound of his own breathing, which sounded so loud to him, he felt it must be echoing all around the apartment.

Reno closed his eyes. Not so that he couldn't see, but so that Sephiroth wouldn't be able to see them glowing ever so slightly. Not that it mattered, he reminded himself, since Sephiroth had brighter Mako eyes which would probably light on him anyway.

He fingered the button on the nightstick, longing to turn it on, but he refrained. He knew that it wouldn't do anything to protect him, and also, the noise it made as it charged would surely alert Sephiroth to his whereabouts. Damned thing was noisy lately.

i And what the hell is Sephiroth doing alive anyway? /i Reno's mind thundered at him. i How did the bastard come back? /i

He felt his hair sticking to the sweat on his back and was keenly aware of every nerve in his body. He needed to open his eyes. He had to; he was helpless with them shut.

Whatever he saw, he thought, had to be better than not knowing.

He realized just how wrong that assessment had been when he did open his eyes, and saw green Mako eyes in his doorway, giving off a vague hazy light and casting shadows in the room. Reno's eyesight was so sharp that he could see the pupils dilate and the eyes narrow as they turned on him.

He knew he was trapped, but it was no use huddling in the corner, and the adrenaline in his body was screaming for him to get up and run. He jumped up and bolted for the door, hoping to startle the larger man and shove him to the side, and knowing the hope was in vain.

Sephiroth grabbed his arm and yanked him back as he tried to push his way past him. As he felt himself being jerked closer to Sephiroth, he realized he still had his nightstick, and instinctively flicked it on. As he did so, Sephiroth lunged at him, and Reno's back hit the floor with enough force to take his breath away.

No sooner had he hit the floor than Sephiroth had him pinned, one knee on Reno's chest, one hand wrenching the nightstick out of his hand (just as he had envisioned,) the other hand clamped hard over his mouth.

Reno struggled to breathe. Yes, it was certainly Sephiroth, of course, coming to kill him for whatever reason. But, he told himself as he tried to come to grips, he had faced death before. He had fought Cloud Strife, the man who had been able to kill Sephiroth in the first place. Reno was always prepared to die. He reminded himself that this would probably be a much more terrifying and painful death than he had imagined, but hey, didn't they all end the same way? He was a Turk--even if ShinRa had the wrong ideas and had collapsed--and he would always be a Turk. And if he did have to die, he resolved not to go out whimpering like a beaten puppy. Reno would sooner swallow his own tongue than whimper for mercy; that kind of death was for other people. Not that it would matter once he was in the Lifestream.

He let himself go limp and looked directly into the green eyes staring down at him in the near dark. In their cool glow, he could just barely make out his features. The same sharp, some would say elegant features that haunted the worst nightmares of anyone who had come across him in his later days. Not that anyone he knew would breathe a positive word about the monster who had slaughtered his way to near-god status.

"Don't move," Sephiroth hissed. "And don't scream. Not a sound."

Reno held still and waited. He didn't want to give Sephiroth the satisfaction of watching him do as he was told, but it also wasn't in him to outright defy Sephiroth. He wished that it was.

Slowly, warily, Sephiroth removed his hand from Reno's mouth. Reno didn't scream or call for help. It was plain that he was going to die, and obviously Sephiroth wanted to toy with him a little longer first. Screaming would do him no good; even if he had lived in the kind of place where someone might come to help him, they would only end up getting killed anyway. As it was, though, he knew that no one would come, and screaming would only give Sephiroth more satisfaction.

"One of Tseng's," Sephiroth said.

Reno nodded.

"You're ShinRa."

"There is no more..." he began to whisper, but then Sephiroth's hand was over his mouth once more.

"I told you, not a sound," Sephiroth said.

Reno nodded, then internally cursed the fear that had made him take that order without question.

"You can ask questions later," Sephiroth went on. "Right now I'm asking them."

Later? There was going to be a later? Just how long did Sephiroth intend to keep him alive? The longer he waited, the longer Reno figured he had to talk his way out of this. Not that it was likely, but anything was worth a try, and he reminded himself of this philosophy even as he lay under the gaze of the strongest killer the Planet had ever met.

"There's something you can do for me, Reno of ShinRa," Sephiroth went on. Reno was suddenly under the impression that Sephiroth was talking as much to himself as he was to him. "You're going to help me find someone."

Reno didn't move. So Sephiroth was going to keep him alive. Utterly confused, he waited for him to go on. He could hear him breathing evenly, while he himself was still struggling to take a breath. He imagined that the large hand over his face had something to do with that.

"Strife," Sephiroth whispered, again, almost to himself. "I need to find him."

Cloud Strife. Sephiroth wanted him to find Cloud? Why, Reno wondered, on this godforsaken Planet, did Sephiroth need his help in finding Cloud Strife? Or in doing anything, for that matter? But he didn't have time to wonder about it. Right now it came down to life or death. If he did this for Sephiroth, he might live, or at least buy himself some time.

Cloud Strife had helped to bring ShinRa to its knees. He'd let Tseng die. He had broken everything that Reno had, at one time in his life, lived for.

Sell Strife to Sephiroth, and possibly live. A clear cut deal.

He felt Sephiroth's hand ease off of him and he took a deep, much needed breath. "Go to hell," he breathed. And he waited.

Sephiroth's eyes bore into his, coldly, for a long moment. Reno could read what looked almost like irony in them. "Hell?" the eyes seemed to say, "I could draw you a map."

"I can't give you a choice," Sephiroth finally said. "I'm..." The eyes flicked away from his for the first time. "I'm sorry."

Reno froze. A moment later, he relaxed as blissful relief washed over him. He closed his eyes, fully expecting that when he opened them next, he would be lying on his sofa, probably drenched in a cold sweat, listening to a stray cat scratching at his window. He would feel tired and shaky, but at least the dream would be over.

Of course it was a dream. How ludicrous was it that Sephiroth would break into his shabby apartment in the badly rebuilt Sector Seven, stalk him through his house, nearly suffocate him, and then apologize?

The pressure on his chest eased up. Reno tried to wake himself up. Nothing happened. He opened his eyes. No green Mako eyes. Nothing.

He seemed to have fallen from his sofa onto the floor. He sighed, still frightened, but wanting to laugh at himself as he sat up. Stupid, stupid nightmare, the likes of which he'd had in the past. Not the same plot of course, and never such a realistic one as this had been, but... There would always be nightmares, he reminded himself. Part and parcel. Par for the course.

Reno looked around his darkened room. There, in the corner by his front door, Sephiroth's green Mako eyes seemed almost disembodied.

Reno felt his heart sink.

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i No, Reno is not a dramatic self-mutilator. There is a reason for this stuff. Unfortunately, it doesn't come till like a billion chapters down the road.

I will post more down the road, but slowly.

Mahalo nui loa to anyone who sat through this first chapter. /i