What It Should Have Been

By: generalquistis and zhakeena

Generalquistis's note: uhm… you might encounter terms here such as "Wutaian" or "Wutaian Language", "Midgarian English" or "Midgarian", or "Nibelheim English". For the sake of this fic (or at least from my own and my co-author's wild imagination), Wutaian is like Japanese or Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, whatever…); Midgarian English would be something like American English… and Nibelheim English would be something similar to British English.

Six: Escape from Nibelheim and Back to Midgar…

Zack finally found Cloud all dazed and unmoving on the ground outside the ShinRa Mansion. "Where's Sephiroth?" Zack asked.

Cloud did not answer. He was too dazed because of the smoke and he was too tired. "Aw man!" Zack stooped down and lifted him up, draping him over his shoulder. "I'll just get you out of here…" he muttered. Cloud just moaned, feeling so sick. "Where's… my mommy?" he asked.

Zack raised an eyebrow, realizing that Cloud sounded like a kid back there, but before he could answer, Cloud had finally lost his consciousness. "Oh no… I hope he'll be alright… and I wonder where Sephiroth is…" he thought to himself as he made his way out of the smoke and fire of the town. "I think the others think that it's our fault that's why they're on the look-out for us now…" Zack thought miserably as he kept on running to safety.

He was beginning to get tired but he still kept on running to avoid the ShinRa SOLDIERs. "Well… we're as good as fired now, buddy," Zack muttered to the sleeping Cloud.

After a long while, they had finally gone past the forest and was in the desert highway where it was very sunny. He was really panting hard, looking around for any traces of passing vehicles. Maybe they could hitch a ride to the port and then steal a ride on one of the ships heading back to Midgar or even Junon. He just needed to see Rufus… he could help them. He knows that Rufus wouldn't believe his father or anybody else even if they inform him that Zack and Cloud were the ones who burned Nibelheim with Sephiroth. They were buddies anyway.

He calmed down a bit when he saw a small truck pass by. He waved at it. "Hey!"

The truck stopped for them. Zack instantly ran to it with Cloud still on his back. "Could we hitch a ride to the nearest port? My friend here needs help and we need to get back to Midgar immediately." He asked. The driver just shrugged. "Go ahead." He said.

oOoOo

A week later…

President ShinRa was enraged, but at the same time, worried. "This is it, Old Man. Your downfall has finally arrived." Rufus told him. He had called upon his son from Junon to assist him with the matter regarding the burning of Nibelheim, and Rufus had just arrived five minutes earlier but the boy wasn't doing much of a help for him.

President ShinRa pounded an angry fist on his desk and leaned back on his seat. "You're not helping, Rufus. You're supposed to help me!" he shouted at his son's face.

Rufus just remained standing by the window, looking outside with a cold look on his face. The First Lady, his mother, was just seated on the couch in one corner of the office and fidgeting with her gloves. She looked disturbed.

The other executives were there, including Hojo and Gast. Aerith was standing behind her father and she really looked very worried. A few SOLDIERs were also within the area.

"It's your fault, however, father. If you didn't let your second-rate scientist do whatever he wants with the JENOVA Project, this wouldn't have happened." Rufus said airily as he raked his fingers through his hair.

Hojo twitched upon hearing that. He had never really been into good terms with the President's son ever since the boy was born.

"Shut up, Rufus." President ShinRa muttered, trying to control his temper.

"No, you listen up and you listen good, father. Now do you understand the consequences of what you've done? Now the people will know that you are a fraud. The media will know. They built up your reputation; they can easily make it fall down. The media will know what happened and they will bring about your downfall. You'll lose all your money and you'll be living in the slums…" Rufus started planting negative things into his father's mind to cause more panic so that he wouldn't be able to think clearly.

President ShinRa got up in rage, "NO! I will never let that happen!" he turned to his executives. "Give out orders to all employees; this must never reach the media! There will be no Press Conferences unless I say so. Reeve," he turned to the Head of Urban Development.

"Yes, sir?" Reeve responded.

"I want the reconstruction of Nibelheim. The same appearance, the same EVERYTHING! I want it to look like as if nothing happened!" and the President turned to his other executives, smiling slyly at them, "And then I want many of our employees to occupy those homes and act like the citizens of Nibelheim." He continued.

Rufus turned to his father, glaring at him unbelievably. "You're insane!" he reacted.

"This is for the good of the company, Rufus." The President replied with a proud look on his face. Rufus marched up to him, "Well then tell me, what about Zack, Sephiroth and Cloud? Their bodies weren't found in the ruined houses or anywhere in the area. They survived. And now you're asking for their heads?" he demanded.

"Well… I never thought you'd stoop down to the levels of those… people? They're not from our own class, Rufus. I can't believe you're even friends with them." President ShinRa said mockingly. Rufus was surprised at what he said.

The First Lady swallowed hard, clenching her fists as she got up in protest, "Aren't you forgetting something?" she asked the President. He turned to her. "What, dear?" he asked with an innocent smile on his face. Her blue eyes widened in awe. She pursed her lips, took a deep breath and just walked out of the office, leaving everyone, but the President, puzzled. Rufus eyed his father with a cold look on his face, "You are a bastard." His eyes seem to tell him. But President ShinRa was too numb to see or feel the anger in his son's eyes. With that, Rufus walked out of the office, following after his mother. Aerith followed after him. "Rufus," she called out. He did not stop, he just kept on walking; after all, he knows that she can easily catch up with him. She did. Rufus knew what she was thinking about so he said, "I know they're alive. I'll send out some Turks to find them."

Aerith grabbed his arm to make him stop walking. He did, but he didn't face her. She took a deep breath as she stared at Rufus with a sad look on her face, "Rufus, Sephiroth just doesn't go snapping like that? There must've been something that triggered him to do that! Shouldn't you go investigate on it first?" she asked.

Back on the 70th floor, while Aerith and Rufus were talking downstairs, Hojo was making a proposal to the President: "I believe JENOVA has something to do with all these… We'll just have to find out what. But we're going to need a Cetra to be able to find the connection."

Gast's eyes widened when he heard that. "I strongly object to that proposal!" he protested.

President ShinRa shrugged. "Well at times like these, you shouldn't be thinking of your own sake and your family's sake! You have to think of the safety of the masses! Now I want you to help Hojo and the rest of the Science Division to come up with a solution to the problem. And since you are a very loyal employee, I want you to surrender your daughter and your wife to ShinRa for the benefit of everybody." he told Gast.

Gast frowned at him. "Well in that case, I quit. I wouldn't allow you selfish bastards to touch my wife and my daughter!" he said frustratingly as he turned to walk away, but he stopped when he heard President ShinRa say, "So I am a selfish bastard, eh?" and he heard the click of guns around him. He slowly turned around to face the President again and he realized that there were rifles pointed at him already at the command of the President… and the SOLDIERs holding the rifles looked like they were all ready to fire.

President ShinRa smiled calmly at Gast. "Well, if you don't abide by my rules, I'll just have to forcefully make you work for me…"

oOoOo

Aerith and Rufus jerked up in surprise when they heard rifles firing from the 70th floor. Aerith felt something pierce through her heart and tears just fell from her eyes. "Daddy!" she screamed in horror before deciding to run back to the 70th floor. Rufus somewhat knew this was going to happen but he didn't know how, but before Aerith could go back, he quickly grabbed her wrist, "No! You have to get out of here!" he told her.

"But my daddy!—…"

"There's no time!" Rufus told her as he led the way to the elevator, but they were too late. They were already surrounded by SOLDIERs. "Bloody hell…" he muttered. His father was quicker than he thought. Aerith swallowed hard as she hid behind Rufus.

"Move away from that Cetra, Rufus." President ShinRa said through the P.A. system. Rufus knew that he was watching them through the surveillance cameras hidden somewhere on the ceiling.

Rufus still maintained a cool and calm appearance as he stared coldly at the SOLDIERs, examining the looks on their faces. Shrugging, he stepped away from Aerith. Aerith's eyes widened. Has she been betrayed by a childhood friend? "Rufus!" she attempted to go after him, reaching out a hand to grab his arm to stop him from leaving her, but he was out of her reach already because she had been pulled back by some SOLDIERs. They began to tie her up, restraining her from further trouble that she could possible cause. Rufus turned back to look at her. His face looked stiff and cold, and Aerith couldn't even read the look in his eyes. She shook her head in disbelief as she stared helplessly at him.

"Take her away." Rufus said stiffly. However, Aerith was the only one who heard the choke on his voice. She just bowed down her head in disappointment as the SOLDIERs dragged her away from him, leaving him alone there.

Rufus looked up at one of the surveillance cameras above him. He heard his father laugh victoriously, "That's my boy!"

Rufus turned away and headed for the elevators. He pressed the button going to the level where his chopper was waiting to take him back to Junon. While on his way to the chopper, he was making a call already. "Hello. Jillian. Yes, this is Rufus ShinRa. Are you with Rude and Reno? I want you Turks to go to Sector 2. Take Ifalna and transfer her to a much safer place. Don't ever let my Old Man or anybody else find out about this, is that clear?" and he hung up as he boarded the chopper.

oOoOo

Zack and Cloud were still in the West Continent. They were not able to ride a ship back to the East Continent because they had no money.

While walking lazily in a deserted road, a yellow pick-up truck passed by and stopped when the driver saw Zack carrying a dazed Cloud on his back. "Hey, need a lift to somewhere?" he man asked them.

Zack smiled happily, "Sure! Thank you!" he said as he placed Cloud on the back cargo before he hopped on the same area. The vehicle began to move.

Zack stretched his arms as the man asked, "Where to?" Zack replied, "Well… wherever you're heading to…" he said.

The man shrugged. "Very well…" he said.

Zack turned to Cloud. "I wonder if we'll still ever make it to Midgar…" he muttered.

Cloud just stared blankly at him.

"Aw c'mon, buddy! Don't look at me like that! We'll be alright! I'm sorry for the pessimism. We have to be optimistic, right?" Zack told him happily.

Cloud felt sick. "What is up with this guy? Why's he always looking at the bright side? Can't he understand that you can't trust anyone anymore because we're in the death list of ShinRa!" he was thinking in panic, but all he could was stare at Zack with a blank look on his face.

"Well… it's been nice bonding with you for the last few days that we've been together. Even though I don't think I ever got to know you better because you're too quiet. But don't get me wrong. I enjoy having you around rather than traveling alone by myself! And I wouldn't even leave you behind, don't worry. We're buddies, right?" Zack asked happily.

Cloud wanted to pass out. "The only thing I learned about you on the time that we were together for the last few days was that you talk too much!" he thought rather dizzily. His mind began to travel lazily and he couldn't control it. He couldn't hear Zack's voice anymore and he couldn't see clearly. He wondered if he was dreaming. And random thoughts began to enter his mind such as, "Gee… did Nibelheim really burn down? … I wonder if Tifa is dead? Hahahahaha… if she dies, I'll be free at last! But I'm gonna feel sorry for her because she wouldn't be able to experience life to the fullest. But oh well… whatever… hahaha…" and his thoughts drifted off to Aerith, "Baaaaaaah… I wonder where she is right now… baaaaaah…" he thought dreamily.

Meanwhile, Zack was observing the look on his face. He raised his eyebrows. "Gee… I wonder why he's drooling…" he thought to himself.

Cloud's mindless daydreaming went on for several more minutes… and it had just been interrupted when he felt himself land painfully on the hard ground. He snapped back to his normal senses but he still couldn't move. He could feel pain on his head… he must've hit it on a rock or something. If only he could stand up…

"Cloud, run!" he heard Zack say to him. He opened his eyes and saw his friend running. He was being chased by SOLDIERs… ShinRa SOLDIERs… "What's going on?" Cloud was thinking… but his eyes were closing on its own…

oOoOo

Five SOLDIERs moved around Cloud. "Gee… you think we should shoot him just like what we did to that other guy?" one of them asked.

"Nah. This one's as good as dead already. Besides, his head is bleeding. He'll die soon." Another one replied. With that, they left Cloud there.

A few moments later, Cloud had regained consciousness. "…where am I?" he was thinking. He moved his hands, and he touched his aching head. "…ow…" he slowly sat up and looked around… and he saw Zack lying on the ground far from him. "Zack!" he called out before rushing to his side. He stared unbelievably at his friend. "Zack…" he thought in shock. He's dead? Cloud shook his head in confusion. "How did this… happen?" he thought to himself. He turned around when he heard some carriages approaching. Thinking that those could be ShinRa SOLDIERs and since he thought he should save himself for the sake of Zack, he just decided to run off, leaving his dead friend behind. "I'm sorry, Zack…" he was thinking rather bitterly as he headed for the forest, thinking of a way to maybe steal a boat back to Midgar.

oOoOo

"So, Princess Yuffie, how does it feel to be going back to Wutai after the war?" a Ninja asked the young lady who was seated comfortingly on a cushion by the window of the carriage where she is in. But she was really very bored. "Just make sure my room isn't a mess. I heard that those SOLDIERs almost destroyed the Pagoda!" she responded rather brattilly.

"Anyway, your training as a Ninja will resume soon after we get home…" the Ninja told her.

"WHAT! GAWDS! Can't I at least rest for a while! My feet are getting cramped here!" she told him.

"Well… you look rather comfortable…" he replied.

"Well doye! Ever heard of acting!" she snapped before looking out the window again… and her eyes widened when she saw a man lying on the ground. "OH MY GAWD!" she shrieked, making everyone panic.

"What?" the Ninjas protecting her asked.

She gaped at the man, trying to find out of he's already dead or not. She instantly jumped off the carriage, making the Ninjas worry. Her assistant followed after her to assure her safety. "Miss Kisaragi!"

Yuffie ignored her assistant and continued to run in her Kimono and Wutaian slippers. She knelt down beside the man and tried to find traces of life. "Gee… he's still alive…" she said.

"He is?" her assistant asked in awe.

"Yeah. He's breathing… but barely. If we take him back with us, he can make it!" she said.

"Oh no, Miss Kisaragi! We can't do that!" he said.

"My orders! Besides, he is a SOLDIER, can't you recognize the belt? I think he's First Class too! We could use him against ShinRa! We could extract vital information from him regarding ShinRa so that we could get back to them for destroying Wutai and making our nation poor!" she said.

Her assistant thought for a while. "Well… that is a good idea… but you do the explaining to your father once we get there!" he said, not wanting to confront Lord Kisaragi about the problem that Yuffie had started.

"Of course. I'll reason out with Daddy. He'll find the idea perfect! Heehee!" Yuffie laughed victoriously before signaling the other Ninjas. "Hey, a little help here!" she called out…

oOoOo

Tifa slowly opened her eyes and realized that she was lying on a cold dirty floor… beside a dumpster in an alley. She instantly got up but winced when she felt pain from her gut. She clutched the wound on her stomach and realized that it has not clotted very well yet… and it was not healing. "How long has it been? How did I get in here? Where am I?" she thought in confusion as she decided to go out into the streets and maybe look for a hospital. It was a messy street and nobody seemed to notice her as she passed by. Fighting nausea and the urge to faint because of loss of blood, she continued to walk slowly, dragging her feet with her and trying to keep her steady breathing. The heat of the place was getting into her and she realized how thirsty she was. The heat reminded her so much of the fire. She looked up at the sign board ahead of her pointing at several directions: To Sector 6. To Sector 7. To Sector 5.

Confused, she turned to a passerby and asked, "Excuse me, madam, but what is this place?"

The lady looked strangely at her and frowned slightly when she saw the blood on her stomach and the way she was wincing in pain. "This is Sector 4, Midgar. Are you alright?" the lady asked.

Tifa's eyes widened. "Midgar?" she asked in awe. "But this is, like, in another continent!" she thought in shock before turning away. The lady called out to her, "Miss, are you alright?" but Tifa just ignored her. "How did I get here?" she was thinking as she mindlessly crossed the street, not aware of the cars. People were staring at her and some were even yelling at her to get off the street but her mind seemed dazed… until she almost got run over by a white expensive-looking car. Luckily it stopped just before it could completely hit her. Tifa snapped back into her senses and stared at the car with a dumbfounded look on her face. It did not take too long before a middle-aged lady wearing a white wide-brimmed hat, a white business suit and white high-heeled shoes got down from the car with a worried look on her face. "Oh my goodness, are you alright, young lady?" she asked as she rushed over to Tifa.

Tifa blinked, fighting the urge to faint. "I… I guess so…" she struggled to say as her hand remained clutched against her stomach and she winced in pain as the lady assisted her in walking towards the car. "You don't look alright. I'll take you to the hospital now. What happened to you?" The lady asked from her with worry in her blue eyes. Tifa examined the features of the lady. "Gee… what a beautiful lady. Strawberry-blonde hair, blue eyes…I think she's rich because her skin looks so fair and so smooth… and she's wearing white… oh no, I think I stained her clothes!" she was thinking quietly before she finally lost consciousness.

"Hurry up, please," the lady instructed her driver.

"Yes, ma'am." The driver responded as he drove to the nearest hospital, which was in Sector 2.

oOoOo

"This… is… so wrong!" Sephiroth was thinking in annoyance when he saw his face on the WANTED list posted on the wall of the police station in Sector 7, Midgar. He finally arrived back in Midgar but all because he stole a boat in Wutai and rowed all the way to Junon Harbor, then got off, walked more than a thousand miles, and then finally, he reached Midgar. And he was wearing a not-so-good of a disguise, but it could at least make people think for a moment that he is not Sephiroth. This is what he did: tied his hair in a loose ponytail, wore a red trench coat and wore dark-tinted sunglasses. "Now I have to go into hiding for the rest of my life… all because of JENOVA and that wretched book… urrrrgh…" he grunted miserably as he turned away, only to see a bunch of children looking up at him curiously.

"What a funny-looking man." He heard a little boy say. He raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah. You think he's nice?" a little girl asked.

Another little boy shrugged.

Sephiroth smiled at the children, "Hey, want some ice cream?" he asked.

The children obliged happily. After Sephiroth had bought them ice cream cones, he went off to look for a payphone and tried dialing Rufus's mobile number. When Rufus answered, Sephiroth finally felt some hope resting in the situation he is in: "Rufus!" he exclaimed.

Rufus was quiet for a while before saying, "…Sephiroth?"

"Yeah!" Sephiroth replied.

"What are you—… are you… alive? Where are you!" Rufus demanded in confusion.

"Well… I'm not sure if I should tell you because for all I know your old man could've brainwashed you into thinking that I'm capable of killing all those people and…"

"Well are you?" Rufus cut him off.

Sephiroth's smile faded when it all came back to him. "…I just did…"

"YOU IDIOT!" Rufus snapped at him.

"It was an accident! I DIDN'T MEAN IT! Pleaaaase! Ruffeh! You're the only one I have right now! You're the only one I know enough who can help me and understand meh! Please!" Sephiroth wailed quite childishly.

Rufus was quiet for a few moments. "Okay, that sounded so wrong…" he muttered before he proceeded, "Well then explain to me first what made you do it!"

"Do what?" Sephiroth asked.

"The burning of Nibelheim, dammit! Are you aware that a lot of people died in the fire?" Rufus demanded.

Sephiroth blinked. "Oh that. Well… it's… kind of embarrassing… I don't know if I should… uhm… tell you…" he said with an embarrassed smile on his face.

Rufus was silent for a while before saying, "Does this have something to do with the Hindu that you were asking me about a week ago before you became all sixes and sevens?"

Sephiroth frowned. "What? Sixes and sevens? Speak in Midgarian English, damn it! Not in Nibelheim English!" he snapped impatiently. "Fine… let me rephrase: Does this have anything to do with the Hindu that you were asking me about a week ago before you lost your marbles?" Rufus asked. "That's better." Sephiroth said in relief. "Answer the question." Rufus muttered. Sephiroth took a deep breath before saying, "…yes."

Silence.

Sephiroth rolled his eyes, puffing and then released his breath in frustration. "Never mind. Are you in Junon?" he asked, figuring that Rufus might just laugh at him if he discovers that he went insane for a while just because he couldn't understand the Kama Sutra. "Yes, I am in Junon." Rufus replied.

"Can I go there?" Sephiroth asked.

"No. Not until you tell me…" Rufus began, but Sephiroth cut him off, "Actually there are two major reasons…"

"Well then tell me. Maybe I could look for a solution so that Old Man will erase you off the death list." Rufus told him.

Sephiroth was quiet for a while, feeling his gut twisting and his knees shaking. "I CAN'T TELL YOU!" and then he hung up and just ran off.

oOoOo

Yet another seven days later…

"Oooh… bright lights…" Tifa moaned as she moved her right hand to shield her eyes from the bright hospital lights inside the room where she was confined.

The nurse who was in charge of her smiled gleefully, "Oh finally! You're awake, miss!" she said.

Tifa finally managed to adjust her vision and turned to look at the nurse. "…How long was I out?" she asked groggily.

"Approximately seven days after the kind First Lady had brought you in here," the nurse explained, but Tifa wasn't even listening. She was staring at her left hand with the dextrose on and then turned to her stomach, seeing the gauze and the bandages wrapped around it. The nurse approached her, putting down the clipboard on the bedside table. "That was the deepest cut I've ever seen around here… and the biggest too. It's good you didn't get tetanus or anything serious like an infection that can kill you. What happened anyway?" she asked.

Tifa remembered the Masamune cutting through her skin and she cringed. "I… don't really want to talk about it." She said softly before looking away.

"You'd better not sit up for a while. You might feel a little pain." The nurse advised. "The person who brought you in here was kind enough to pay all of your hospital bills, but then we need to know what your name is and where you come from." She continued.

"M…my name is Tifa… Tifa Lockheart and… I'm from Nibelheim…" Tifa began rather weakly, remembering the burning. The nurse was surprised. "Oh my goodness! You're a survivor of the fire?" she exclaimed in disbelief. "Tell me, how did you survive?" she asked curiously.

Tifa thought for a while, staring blankly at the ceiling. "I… cannot… really make it out… right now… but…" quick flashes returned to her consciousness and her eyes widened. "Someone was carrying me…I wasn't in the burning town itself… I was in the mountains… in the reactor…" she trailed off when nurse picked up the clipboard. "That's enough information for now. You continue later, okay? I have to call ShinRa and report to them about you as a survivor. You might be able to help them…" the nurse told her as she left Tifa all alone to regret what she had just mentioned. Tifa struggled to get up. "No… not ShinRa…" she cried out in protest, pushing herself to sit up and get off the bed, but only succeeded in falling down to the ground. She angrily removed the dextrose from her hand, not caring if the needle hurt her. She clutched her stomach, hoping that it wouldn't bleed anymore. "They're not going to make me face those ShinRa…" she was thinking angrily, recalling that she had vowed to hate them forever. "They have done enough damage already to my life! What more could they possibly do to me? Interrogate me for the incident, like I'm the only surviving witness? I shall never help them! Ever!" she thought angrily as she slowly got up… and then she heard the fire alarm and people screaming from outside her private hospital room. They were screaming something like "AVALANCHE!" But she couldn't make it out very well until she opened the door to take a look. Everyone was running to the emergency exits.

"AVALANCHE!" she heard it again, this time it was clear. Her eyes widened. "Avalanche? Oh my God! We're gonna get trapped in snow if we don't get out of here!" she thought in panic before she started to run towards the stairs. ShinRa SOLDIERs began to infiltrate the hospital and they ran into Tifa. They were surprised to see her. She shrieked, thinking that they were after her.

"Hey, lady, calm down, we're just—…" She didn't let the man finish. She punched the lights out of him and went past him, surprising the other SOLDIERs. "Get her! She could be one of them!" the commander yelled at his team.

Tifa continued to run down the stairs, hoping that she wouldn't fall off and roll down. When she finally reached the exit, she bumped against a big and tall man with a gun-arm. She shrieked again in surprise. "Whoa, slow down, foo'! Where ya goin'? What's botherin' ya? Ye'r a patient?" he asked upon seeing that she was wearing the hospital gown and an identification bracelet on her left wrist. "Unhand me!" she snapped, trying to break free from his tight grasp. Then the rest of the ShinRa SOLDIERs finally caught up with her. "You're right, boss! She is one of them AVALANCHE!" one of the SOLDIERs pointed out.

"Fire at them!" the commander said; but before they could succeed to do so, the big tall man started firing his bullets at them, bringing them all down. "C'mon, gurl!" the man dragged Tifa with him, leading her to a black pick-up truck with other armed men and women. Tifa was overwhelmed at them. "Where are you taking me? Who are you people!" she demanded.

"Barret, who is she?" a woman with mahogany hair asked in confusion while staring at Tifa.

"Just leave her, Barret! She could be a ShinRa!"

"Why would she even be a ShinRa?"

"Well the better if she is a ShinRa. We could kidnap her in exchange for ShinRa stopping all their God-forsaken activities."

"Damn! She is a ShinRa!" another man declared, staring at her identification tag. Tifa clutched her own wrist tightly as the vehicle began to move away from the hospital quickly. "For your information, I am not a ShinRa! And I don't even know why I'm wearing this tag! All I know is, there's an avalanche and we have to get away from here as fast as possible otherwise, we'll get snowed-in!" she said with a worried look on her face.

Silence.

"What?" she asked curiously, wondering why they were all staring strangely at her.

Barret, the big man who saved her, laughed out loud, followed by the woman, and then another woman, and then another man with the bandanna around his head.

"What's so funny?" Tifa asked with a dumbfounded look on her face.

"Foo'! It's not even snowing!" Barret told her.

Tifa blinked and looked outside. It wasn't snowing. "It's only autumn, dear." One of the women told her. Tifa was surprised but she was speechless. The woman with mahogany hair offered her a handshake, "My name is Elfe. AVALANCHE leader. The one who saved you is Barret… and these are our other companions, Fuhito and Sears… that's Jessie driving, and then there's Biggs and Wedge." She introduced.

Tifa was dumbfounded. "AVALANCHE?" she asked.

"We're… an organization against ShinRa…" Sears began, and Tifa's face lit up. "Oh splendid! Maybe I can join?" she asked pleasantly.

Silence.

"Well… tell us something about yourself first and tell us why you're bein' chased by those SOLDIERs while you're wearin' a nametag that says ShinRa!" Barret pointed out.

Tifa bit her lower lip, trying to recall the things that happened to her. "Well… I don't know how long I was out… but… my name is Tifa Lockheart and I'm from Nibelheim…"

"Nibelheim?" Elfe asked in surprise.

"Are you a survivor?" Barret asked.

Tifa swallowed hard, "I… guess so… but I don't know whom I was with and how I ended up here in Midgar! And then I was really badly wounded right over here," she referred to her stomach.

"Oh my… looks bad…" Elfe reacted. Blood was starting to seep through the bandages. Fuhito stared at it, "Nah. It just needs a little cleaning. I'll take care of it later on." he told them before turning back to Tifa, "Go on," he urged. Tifa took a deep breath before proceeding, "… and I can remember crossing the street and I almost got run-over by a white car… and then this woman got out of the car and helped me. And when I woke up again, I was in the hospital already." She explained.

"A woman?"

"A white car?"

"How does she look like?" Fuhito asked.

"Uhm… if I can remember it right… she was very beautiful. I think she could've pass as a beauty queen when she was younger… She has blonde hair that was all wavy and bouncing with the wind as she walked… and her eyes were so blue… and she was wearing white."

Silence.

"It must've been an angel." Jessie stated flatly.

Elfe instantly reached for Tifa's left wrist, staring at the inscription written on the identification tag. "Patient of Dr. A. ShinRa." And she removed the tag, throwing it out of the truck, "You wouldn't need it anymore, dear." She said with a slight smile on her face, totally puzzling Tifa.

Tifa blinked.

Elfe just smiled at her. "Jessie's right. It must've been an angel." She said.

oOoOo

"Are you sure it's alright with you that you quit med school just so that you can fulfill your father's wishes that you become a businessman instead?"

Rufus just shrugged and leaned back on his seat while staring at the computer monitor with a blank look on his face. "I'm sure about it, mother." He said softly.

Mrs. ShinRa just remained standing before her son's desk in Junon.

"It's really nice of you to visit me here, mother." He said, turning to her with an appreciative slight smile on his face. She smiled kindly at him. "I just want to make sure if you're alright here."

He rolled his eyes, "I'm not a baby anymore, mother. I can basically take care of myself!" he protested.

"But you're 16, Rufus!" she said.

Silence.

She laughed, "I'm just kidding. Oh please don't mind that I baby you sometimes. After all, you're my one and only son!" she told him playfully. He just stared unbelievably at his mother. "Well… how's your life in Midgar anyway?" he asked.

She sighed heavily. "If I don't have patients in Midgar, I would've transferred here with you a year ago."

"You know, it's so easy. If you can't take living with father anymore, all you have to do is to file a divorce." He pointed out.

"You know I can't do that!" she told him.

"And why not, mother?" he asked in confusion.

"…your father's image… you know how important it is for him… and for our family too…" she stated flatly, but her eyes revealed that she was just in denial.

Rufus just kept quiet. He could understand that his mother had endured so much emotional pain caused by his father but he could not even do anything about it. He just shrugged and proceeded to compute the expenses as he asked, "Anyway, how are the things with Aerith in the laboratory?"

"I don't really have access to the laboratory. You know how much I hate going there and talking to Hojo…" she replied rather bitterly before reaching for her mobile phone when she heard it ringing. "Yes?" she answered the call. Her eyes widened. "What?" she demanded from the person on the other line.

Rufus looked up at his mother in surprise from where he was seated.

"Even the girl?" she asked.

Silence.

His mother hung up with a nervous look on her face. "I have to go. AVALANCHE attacked the Sector 2 Hospital and one of my patients is missing." She told him.

"Which patient?" he asked blankly.

"The one I was telling you about the other weekend. The Turk who called me even reported that the nurse that I assigned to take care of her was killed during the shoot-outs!" she said as she picked up her purse and saluted to her son, "Well then, Rufus, I'll see you some other time. Good luck with those expenses." She told him before rushing out of his office.

Rufus just shrugged it off and started typing again.

oOoOo

"You sure you're okay here, Mrs. Gainsborough?" Elmyra asked.

Ifalna just remained seated on her bed with a blank look on her face before turning to Elmyra and then nodded her head. "Just call me Ifalna. Please quit with the formality. After all, I have been here for more than a week already." She said softly.

Elmyra studied the woman with a worried look on her face. "Reno of the Turks had another visit today asking if you are alright. Orders from the Vice President. Don't worry, he will provide for you. It's the least he could do for Aerith." She said.

Ifalna nodded and looked away.

Elmyra sighed heavily and approached her, "Oh come on, Ifalna. You can't spend the rest of your life moping around in this room! You have to get out once in a while and breathe some fresh air!" she suggested.

Ifalna just sat still.

"Why don't we go outside to the garden?" Elmyra suggested.

Ifalna smiled faintly. "Aerith loves flowers…" she said softly.

Elmyra blinked. "Oh my… I think she's a little imbalanced… but maybe it will pass…" she thought miserably before forcing Ifalna to get up. "Yes, yes, we all know that your little-miss-ray-of-sunshine loves flowers! And if you don't start becoming happy she'll lose her sunshiney-happiness and become sad! Now let's go outside and let's meet the new neighbor who just moved in next door!" she invited, dragging Ifalna to the door and then downstairs. The Cetra didn't say anything. She just stared into empty space.

As soon as they reached the house next door, Ifalna just sat still on the front porch of that house while Elmyra knocked. After a few moments, the door finally opened and there was Mrs. Strife standing there with a curious look on her face. "Oh… hello," she greeted pleasantly.

Elmyra offered a handshake, "Hi, I'm your neighbor. My name is Elmyra, and this is my friend Ifalna. We both live next door." She said brightly.

Mrs. Strife accepted the handshake. No one was really nice to her in Nibelheim when she and her son Cloud first arrived there. She was happy to have Elmyra and Ifalna as neighbors… maybe they could become really good friends too.

"So you live here alone?" Elmyra asked.

"Well, yes. I arrived here from Nibelheim with two other people, but one of them went missing when we decided to ask for vacant inns where we could stay. We left her near a dumpster for a while and when we returned, she was nowhere to be found anymore. My other remaining companion just helped me find a place to stay and… well, here it is. And then he left. He says that he wanted to travel and work someplace else." Mrs. Strife explained.

"So you are from Nibelheim?" Elmyra asked in awe.

"…Well… not really. I was born and raised here in Midgar but then I had to move to Nibelheim when I had a son…" Mrs. Strife began. Elmyra laughed, "Oh so that's why you have no Nibelheim accent! Your accent is so Midgar. Anyway, where's your husband?" she asked.

Mrs. Strife was disturbed by the question, but she still struggled to answer it, "Well… I'd rather not talk about it…" she said softly.

"Oh well, I understand if it's a sensitive situation. Maybe once we all get to know each other better, we could share secrets with one another! Wouldn't that be great?" Elmyra asked as she dragged Ifalna upwards so that she would stand up and face their new friend. Ifalna stared placidly at Mrs. Strife with her green eyes that seemed to give off a blank stare… and she saw quick flashes of visions and experiences of the person as she stared into Mrs. Strife's eyes. Ifalna's blank stare faded off and she smiled nicely at Mrs. Strife. "I am Ifalna." She said, offering a handshake. Elmyra was surprised at her.

Mrs. Strife was puzzled at first, thinking that Ifalna could be a nutcase, but then realizing that she meant no harm, she smiled slightly and accepted the handshake. "Claudia. Claudia Strife." She answered.

oOoOo

to be continued…

generalquistis's note: The names Sears, Fuhito and Elfe do exist. They come from Final Fantasy 7 Before Crisis. Regarding Mrs. Strife's name, well… just thought of anything that sounded something similar to the name Cloud.