Epilogue


Stunned.

They all stood there stunned, and stared at the collapsed mass of dirt, rock, and concrete. It took them all a moment for their eyes to re-adjust after the immaculate light of Meteor flashed with a blinding radiance throughout the area. It brightened up the darkened sky like a wrathful flash of lightning before it was swallowed back down into the depths from which it came.

With adjusting eyes, they stood their ground, still in too much shock to even really make sense out of what just happened. They all knew what had happened. They all understood it was going to happen. They just didn't really want to believe it was going to happen.

"What the hell was that?" Barret loudly said, unable to hide the level of surprise in his voice, "That was no normal self-destruct!"

He was right; it was no normal self-destruct. In fact, it was nothing that any of them had ever seen before, except for those that were under the employment of Shinra. Even then, it was only the Turks that had ever been a real witness to that type of an explosion, and it was just as awe-inspiring as it was the first time they'd seen it.

No one was thinking clearly enough to really know the extent of the situation though. It was Rude that was struck with the realization first, just shortly after Tseng muttered out the word, "Meteor".

At that moment, Rude's hand came up to his mouth to hold back any kind of overwhelming emotion that might escape, as he stared at the sunken and smouldering pit in the ground. It wasn't until Tifa felt his sudden and uncontrollable trembling while she helped him to his feet and held onto him, offering him support from his weakened state and tried to hold him back when he nearly fell forward, that she suddenly realized what was going through his head.

She suddenly felt herself going pale and almost as weak as the man she held in her arms, while she hopelessly tried to blink back her own tears as an overwhelming wave struck her.

They weren't just staring at a recently destroyed Mako refinery. Nor were they even staring at a victory. They didn't even really take the time to focus on the beauty of the small golden lights dancing as they fell gracefully down to the rubble from whence they came, settling delicately as their lights slowly diminished.

They were staring at a grave.

As sudden as the realization came to them, an urgent voice screamed into the air. No one would have ever known who it was, because it was something that no one would have ever expected from the source in which it came. But they were there. They were there, and they heard it, just as much as they saw it.

Rufus Shinra tore himself from Tseng's grip with Reno's name agonizingly escaping from a depth that put torment to shame. With clothes torn and dirtied, he shakily darted forward to run and stumble to the mass of destruction before them to search for the only thing that ever made his life feel complete. Not that it was ever really all that much, but it was all he felt he had.

Only there was nothing to search for. Tseng was second to break out of the shock of what just happened, and clumsily darted forward to catch the young president in an attempt to hold him back from causing further damage to himself. "He's gone! Rufus!"

"No he's not, Tseng," he growled, like a wild and dangerous creature, baring his teeth and aiming the ex-Turks gun at the man he'd respected all his life. After mindlessly pulling back the safety, he started walking backwards with tottering steps toward the direction of where the Mako refinery existed only moments ago.

"You can't go in there, Rufus," Tseng tried to plead in a mild tone, to calm his young President down, "The place could be flooded with Mako."

"I don't give a fuck, Tseng!" he frantically shouted at him, and shakily brushed his bang away from his distraught eyes while taking another step back and pointing the gun at anyone who made a slight movement.

With another step, he just missed tripping over the ash and dust-covered ex-SOLDIER lying unconscious and twisted on his back on the hard mountainous ground. He was thrown back by the violent force of the explosion when he refused to join the others in his determination to save the redheaded Turk he'd developed a fondness for.

"Rufus… You're not thinking clearly," Tseng calmly tried to explain, and made another attempt at talking some sense into the young blonde. By trying to remove the shake from his own voice and his body in order to gain some form of passive authority, he continued in a steady tone, "You're only going to get yourself killed. The rubble hasn't completely settled, and you might only succeed in getting yourself trapped."

With a crazed laugh that would have been the epitome of what insanity would sound like if it had a voice, Rufus tapped the side of his temple repetitively with the barrel of the gun in his hand and demonstrated the fact that he really didn't give a shit. He basically dared Tseng by staring wildly at him in a physical challenge to make his best effort to try and stop him.

In the meantime, everyone else stood in confusion at the uncharacteristic display they were suddenly witness to. The man they all viewed as a cold, unfeeling, tyrannical, and as a controlling menace appeared to be having what could very well be described as a complete breakdown.

And it was just that. Perhaps he would have been able to hold himself together better if it wasn't for his captivity that became the prelude to an incident he felt could have been avoided and was unnecessary. Or perhaps it was the fact that his own system had already started on a course to turn itself against him that left him thinking unclear.

Or better yet, maybe it was just the culmination of all things considered. The truth was that no one really understood the complexity of the driving force behind what they were seeing.

"Rufus… please," Tseng implored again, and carefully took a step forward, testing his luck as the young blonde irrationally and dangerously returned his aim to the man that had become his mentor over the years, "We need to get you out of here." Carefully taking another step forward, Tseng put his hands up to express his intention for a truce, "We can send in a crew to scout the place… We have people that are trained, Rufus."

"That will take too long," Rufus growled under his breath, and took another wavering step backward, carefully stepping over Cloud's outstretched arm to avoid tripping over it. "He could be dead by then."

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Tseng silently prayed to the gods before trying to carefully gauge out the weight of what he was going to say next, "There's no way he could have survived, Rufus." With another deep, shaky breath as his own words sunk into his soul, he swallowed back any sign of weakness that might shine through. "Please… We need to get you back to the tower… Put the gun down, Rufus," he supplicated again, and tried his luck once more by taking another cautious step forward, "There are wounded people here that need tending to."

"Then go without me."

"You're one of them, Rufus."

At the next step that Tseng took, and to everyone's astonishment, Rufus fired the gun with the intent to kill the only man that had ever cared for him as he was growing up, just as Vincent surprisingly anticipated the action and blocked the shot with his gauntlet. Then he positioned himself in front of the slender Wutian in a manner of protection and expectation.

Almost at that same moment, Cloud came back to a hazy consciousness and grabbed Rufus by the ankle when he went to step back again, knocking the frenzied president ungracefully onto his back in a cloud of fine ash and dust.

No one else really knew what to do or say, since no one else really knew what was suddenly going on. Jared was still too dizzy to be able to focus properly and remained slumped on the ground and ignored. Rude and Tifa had given into the depths of their grief and clung to one another on their knees, completely incapable of pulling themselves out of their emotional torment.

Yuffi, Barret, and Cid, had never seen such a spectacle from the normally suave President of the Shinra Company, and therefore, they stood there speechless and not really knowing whether or not they should get involved. As far as they knew, the Turks had always been expendable, and why Rufus would decide to shoot his first in command over the loss of one of his most unreliable and unstable Turks in their eyes didn't quite make sense to them. At least, not when one only looked at the surface.

"And you!" Rufus sneered, as he pulled himself clumsily back to his feet and aimed the gun hatefully at the ex-SOLDIER who shook his head in annoyance and readied himself for anything that the weak and crazed lunatic before him might attempt.

"Take your damn pills, Rufus," Cloud coldly said, and threw the bottle Reno left with him at the overwrought, younger blonde while pushing himself off the ground. He told Reno he'd take care of Rufus, but he didn't exactly recall saying he'd be nice to him. Therefore, there was really no need for tact as the emotionally-charged, Mako-enhanced blonde glared at Rufus with an equal hatred.

"Perhaps you'd like me to take the whole bottle." With a sick and twisted purr, a darkness crossed over the President's eyes, and he completely ignored the bottle as it bounced off of his chest and landed on the ground at his feet, where it quickly became forgotten. All the while, both he and Cloud kept their eyes locked with a bitter repulsion toward one another, anticipating anything, everything, and possibly even nothing from either side.

"Smarten up, Rufus," Cloud commanded, and readied his sword, "You don't have your hound to protect you this time."

"From what I recall, I didn't have it for very long the last time." Bitterly sneering at the older blonde, Rufus took a step back again, toward the newly caved-in pit that had claimed his lover only moments ago.

"You can't save him." With a tight throat, and his back to the others, Cloud's eyes blinked back the unrelenting storm of emotion behind them, "And I promised him I'd get you to safety."

"How do I know that you're simply not in a hurry to get me out of the way?" Rufus asked coldly, swallowing back his own torrent of emotion building up in his throat. Then he ran his free hand through the unruly mess atop his head and started a slow circle between him and Cloud, "So you can run in there and claim him all to yourself."

"Don't be an idiot, Rufus," Cloud warned, adjusting the grip on his sword, "If that was the case, I wouldn't have even helped you out of that…" Blinking again, Cloud choked slightly on his own words and found himself unable to finish the sentence.

Taking advantage of the sudden attack of emotion within his adversary, Rufus pulled back the trigger with a deadly aim while Cloud blocked it successfully with his Mako-enhanced reflexes.

Even under attack by his own physical and emotional state, he was still ready for anything that Rufus had to throw at him. Everyone else stared at the two men in utter bewilderment over why in the hell they would have chosen such a time to pick a fight that could have waited for a better time as more shots were suddenly fired from the dirty and tattered young President, and Cloud managed to get close enough to take advantage of a window of opportunity to smack Rufus to the ground.

"What the hell is the matter with them?" Barret asked with a frown. Why Cloud always had to fight with everybody at any given moment without any apparent reason half the time was beyond him. Not to mention that the tattered President was also known to be one of their biggest antagonists, but he was never one to perform such an uncontrolled display, "Can't they choose a better time to do this?"

"They're both in love with Reno," Cid piped up, and lit his cigar like there was nothing odd or surprising about what he just said, "Well… I guess ya could say were."

Ignoring the fact that Yuffi and Barret were both staring at him like he just told them Sephiroth was still alive, and that Tifa was giving him a dirty look riddled with disbelief over the matter, he shrugged and tried to spit a piece of loose tobacco from his bottom lip.

"What?" Cid asked, with a hint of annoyance when he realized they were continuing to stare at him in spurning. Then he let out a deep breath and slouched over to his side, "Oh fer fuck's sake… Don't tell me you guys didn't know the little punk was gay."

"Wha?" Yuffi asked with wide eyes, and turned her attention over to the President of the Shinra Electric Power Company who'd managed to get back to his feet and lunged at the ex-SOLDIER, still firing and accusing the other of wanting him dead and out of the way.

"You guys never thought it was odd that he had all those beautiful women throwing themselves at him, and he just fuckin ignored it?" With a roll to his eyes and a shake to his head, Cid took another drag from his cigar. "I can't believe you idiots never noticed the way he always checked Reno out whenever we ran into him… even when we were fightin him, for shit's sake."

At the acknowledgement of the dead clicks coming from Rufus' frantic triggering, Cloud threw his sword down at the same time Rufus threw the empty gun at his antagonist and hit him in the head with it. Then the older blonde commenced to tackle Rufus down to the ground when he turned to run toward the massive pit of destruction behind them, accusing him of only stopping him because he wanted Reno all to himself.

"You've gone insane, Rufus!" Cloud yelled, and reeled back from a strong kick to the head, amazing even the ex-SOLDIER at the amount of strength that Rufus possessed, particularly in the state he was in, "You can't save him!"

"He's not dead!" Rufus growled at his antagonist, with a chilling fright to his voice, "He can't be!" He convinced himself, as he managed to suppress a choking gasp and grabbed a solid piece of rock on the ground to swing it at the miserable tramp before him.

"Tseng," Vincent whispered into the Wutian's ear when he saw the concern in the man's face, and positioned himself to hold the Wutian firmly in order to keep him from getting involved. "Cloud can handle this," he soothed, and commenced to pull the distraught man farther away from the crowd in hopes that he could collect himself better if he wasn't so close to the turmoil.

"They're going to kill each other," The Wutian quietly said, while letting Vincent guide him farther back.

"No they won't," The ex-Turk consoled with his soft growl of a voice, and stroked Tseng's hair away from his face in a manner of comfort. With a slight lump in his throat, the slender Wutian looked into the deep garnet eyes before him and nodded with the hopes that the ex-Turk was right in his strange wisdom.

"So, you're going to get yourself killed over this?" Cloud asked through his teeth, and lunged forward again.

With his arms firmly around Rufus' waist, they both fell hard, to the ground, and Cloud found himself letting out a pained shout as Rufus took the opportunity to roll himself on top of him and press the unforgiving force of his knee into the ex-SOLDIERs ribs that were damaged from the explosion.

As a reaction, Cloud managed to swing a hard fist into the President's stomach where his stab wound hadn't completely healed, causing the distraught younger blonde to double over for a quick moment while pulling himself out of the agonizing struggle for breath.

"I… promised him…" Cloud breathed out in exhaustion, from the fact that he hadn't fully regained his strength yet, "That I'd… take you… to safety…"

While on his knees with his hand over his stomach, only it wasn't so much over the fact that he'd been struck and was over the fact that he still hadn't taken his medication, the young President started shaking. But being the stubborn type that he was, he did everything in his power to ignore it and pushed himself up, while the slightly older ex-SOLDIER stumbled to grab the bottle of pills that were discarded to the ground.

"I'd rather die than have to rely on you," he sneered, and stumbled again before pulling out his knife that he'd reclaimed after he was unbound in the Observation room. Then he swung it at the older blonde when he moved to grab him again.

"Don't be an idiot, Rufus," Cloud warned him, after successfully pulling himself just a hair away from the sharp edge that swiped at him and quickly grabbed the weak and shaky wrist that held it with an unyielding vice.

Then he roughly pulled the crazed blonde toward him and lowered his tightly restrained voice while setting his hate-filled, Mako-enhanced eyes into the torment of the icy blue before him. All the while, he fought back the overflow that was threatening to consume him by blinking it back as hard as he could again.

It was the first time that Cloud had ever really looked passed the frozen will that Rufus always hid himself behind, and he suddenly realized with an unwavering distress that felt like it could never be washed away, why he always mattered so much to the redhead. "Reno would have wanted you to live."

When Cloud's words cut through to the depths, consuming the last bit of restraint that Rufus held in reserve for his hopes, it finally sunk in. His eyes closed with a sudden lack of will and the blade fell out of his violently shaking hand. Then his other gripped into the front of Cloud's shirt with a harrowing grasp while he fiercely gritted his teeth.

Not realizing what was going on at first, Cloud found himself unable to pull away from the suddenly overpowering hold he was caught in, and found himself wanting nothing more than to pull away for reasons unknown to him. It wasn't until Rufus completely stiffened and his eyes shot uncontrollably and blindly open, revealing a frightening clear green as his pupils were nearly non-existent and an excruciating scream escaped from him, that Cloud realized what was suddenly happening.

"Shit!" Cloud screamed in a panic, and frantically tried to open the bottle of pills with his mouth.

"What the hell is happening now?" Barret yelled, while they all stood there in awe, not knowing what to do.

"He's going into shock," Tseng said in a panic, and attempted to pull away from his old co-worker to run to the young President. But he was held in place, staring at the ex-Turk that hovered over him, in confusion.

"Those aren't going to help him," Vincent softly said, and held up a bottle of clear-capsule pills in his gauntlet-clad hand for Tseng to take note of, "He's too far gone now."

"You knew?"

Closing his eyes, he buried the lower half of his face farther into his mantle with a slight nod and gently let go of the slender Turk. Stepping back as the bottle was grabbed from his hand, he silently watched the Wutian run urgently over to his President's side.


After taking advantage of Rufus' long overdue attack and the opportunity to sedate him before breaking the capsules open to pour them into his mouth, Cloud resentfully helped Tseng carry the unconscious President to the Highwind once he began stabilizing from the medicine Vincent had given to the appreciative Wutian.

Holding the young blonde closely and protectively once they were on board, Tseng paid no mind to the questioning stares that were set in his direction. Instead, he simply rocked the younger man while holding his head pressed to his chest and prayed to the God's to ensure that his young protégé would come out of the ordeal with as little trauma as possible.

In the meantime, Tifa had started quietly tending to Rude, who was still unable to respond to his surroundings for fear of losing control of his emotions. For years, the Monolith of control had always watched out for his younger friend who was five years his junior.

He was always there to protect him. He was always there to keep him safe and out of trouble. Even eighteen years ago, before the redhead even became a Turk and they became friends, he sat by his side every day when he was in the hospital, ensuring that the little guy would be all right and taken care of, and now he'd failed him. He'd failed him miserably.

"Is it true?" Tifa quietly asked, without turning around and remaining on her knees in front of the man she was certain she'd fallen in love with, as Cloud walked behind her with his head down. "Are you really…?"

"I'm going back down," he quietly said, while attempting to swallow back his emotions and cutting her off. Not wanting to answer the question he knew she was asking, he made his best attempt to avoid it and buried his head deeper into his shoulders, "Just to make sure."

Avoiding all the attention that had turned to him from her question, he kept his eyes to the floor and started to walk briskly toward the exit. But he was stopped by a golden, gauntlet-clad hand and pushed gently back, "It's too dangerous, Cloud."

"I don't care."

With an acknowledging nod at the fact that he doubted he would be able to talk Cloud out of his irrational urge, Vincent swept his garnet-coloured eyes across everyone in the cabin, including Tseng, while they all shared a silent agreement on the matter before he stepped out of Cloud's way and opened a small vial of Dream Powder.

Then with an elegantly swift movement, he gracefully blew the powder toward the young and unsuspecting, ex-SOLDIERs back, allowing the fine particles to envelope the air about the young blonde's head. As the Mako-enhanced male fell backwards, the suave, red-cloaked gunfighter caught him adeptly, before lifting the solid weight into his arms with a frightening ease so he could carry him to the lower level of the Highwind to lay him down.

After brushing the young blonde's hair back in understanding, and silently asking for the forgiveness of his actions, the ex-Turk straightened up and nodded subtly into the collar of his mantle, closing his eyes for a moment while burying the lower half of his face and feeling the low vibration of the engines starting up.

He opened his eyes after that, and he peered off into space, through the black mane of his long bangs as he took note of the slight elevation of the Highwind lifting off below his feet. Then he lifted his eyes to the deck above and replayed the scenario of everything that had happened from the moment they arrived at the refinery to the moment they boarded the Highwind, contemplating the weight and necessity of the penance involved, and wondered.

"Yuffi…" Tifa spoke up, while holding onto Rude's hands and stroking the backs lightly with her thumbs, "Could you please tend to Jared?"

With a frown of resentment over the fact that she was asked to tend to a Turk, the youngest member of the crew sauntered over in protest while Barret went up to the helm to see if he could needle more information out of the old pilot in regards to what he knew about Cloud and what was going on when they were on the ground.

In the meantime, Tseng soothed Rufus when he started to stir, hushing him from his obscure mumbling. "It's okay, Rufus," he quietly said, and started rocking him again while stroking his hair back, wondering if Jenova's voice was talking to the young man again.

It started the year Hojo tried one of his new and unorthodox experiments, leaving the poor boy with crippling migraines in their wake as he made his best efforts to stubbornly ignore them and push them aside. "It'll stop when we get home… We'll get you fixed." With his eyes closed to hide his emotions, he pressed his lips to the young man's temple and muttered while hiding the choke that threatened him over the knowledge that he knew what he was saying was a lie, "You'll be like new."

"What's wrong with him?" Tifa meekly asked, after she sat beside Rude and rubbed at his back in a manner of comfort.

"He's ill," was all that Tseng was willing to offer as an answer.

Nodding, she turned her eyes to the floor and then leaned her head against Rude's shoulder. With a deep breath, she simply reminded herself that it didn't really matter how much effort she put into it. Shinra would always be a world that was separate from hers, and that there may never be things she would know about the world the man she cared for came from.

It was something she was going to have to accept if she wanted to continue to be with him, despite the unwelcome feeling it often filled her with.


When the Highwind arrived at its destination, no one really noticed the lack of presence from the ex-Turk after he took Cloud to the lower deck. They all simply figured he'd stayed down there by himself. It wasn't uncommon for Vincent to seek out solitude as a hobby, and therefore no one really went in search of him.

In fact, it wasn't until they landed atop the Shinra Tower that they realized he'd disappeared altogether. Yet no one really thought anything odd about that either, since that also seemed to be one of his hobbies, and those that knew him well enough to know that, simply shrugged at each other while they helped the Turks deplane from the Highwind.

It was a long night, and to make it even more foreboding was the fact that it was the season for the longest nights, reflecting the weight of the veil that covered the air of those that stood atop the tower, under a still-darkened sky.

As Tifa stood behind her lover with an uncertainty over whether she should offer her company or not, she shivered slightly from the cool breeze as she remembered the only other time she'd ever entered the Shinra building. It was when Reno had fallen ill from Kurn's attack, not that long ago.

The reminder was like a dead weight, and she felt the need to shake it off for the concern of those around her and reluctantly offered to accompany Rude to his home for fear of leaving him alone. She naturally expected a refusal, but made the offer nonetheless. Rude didn't answer her though. Instead, he kept his back to her and walked into the building with not so much as a word, leaving her with a continuing weight that she didn't quite know how to interpret.

"Tifa," Tseng said, startling her slightly when he came to her side and placed his hand on her shoulder. As he stood there waiting for the hospital crew he'd called before they landed for Rufus, he compassionately gave an answer to the silent question she was struggling with, "Go after him."


Shortly after Rufus was collected and safely escorted to the infirmary, the Highwind lifted off with a still-unconscious Cloud. With a deep breath, Tseng called Elena on his PHS and informed her with enough information to simply let her know why they were detoured, and why they were back sooner than expected, minus certain details that could wait until later.

He'd tell her in private, he assured himself. There was no need to upset her while she was alone with their newborn child. "I'll be down in the infirmary," he told her near the end, "I'm going to get Rufus' procedure set in motion before he has the chance to self-destruct and find a way to sabotage his chances."

"Why would he do that?"

A little too much information, Tseng told himself. "I'll tell you when I come home… How's Allysia?" he asked, knowing it was a sure way to take her mind off any more questions that she might ask over the recent events.

"She's been a little cranky."

"Hm," he mumbled, as he entered the elevator and hit the button for the infirmary, "Do you think it's anything serious?"

"No," she answered, and hushed the baby on the other end of the phone, "I think she's just being miserable."

"Sounds like someone I know," He teasingly said.

"Yeah… whatever…" she answered, causing a sudden twinge in the older Wutian.

"Yeah… Whatever, Man…"

"Tseng?" Suddenly a little concerned over the silence on the other line, and wondering if she'd said something wrong, she asked, "Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine," he answered, with a tight throat. Then he took a deep breath while he watched Erryn run into the emergency room along with Rufus' doctor, "Elena?"

"Yeah?"

"I have to go," he quietly said, and closed his eyes when he overheard Erryn asking Jared where Reno was, "I love you." Then he shakily closed the PHS before she had the chance to respond, and wondered what the hell he was going to do with Rufus after the completion of the procedure.


After verifying that Rufus' system had completely stabilized during the time they were on the Highwind, Tseng ordered the doctor to get started immediately with the first phase of the procedure that Reno and Kurn had worked out. It took just under an hour to perform and to make sure everything went as expected with no complications appearing to arise.

During that time, Tseng chose to wait outside with a second cup of coffee, finding a sense of comfort in the smell more so than the taste as he sat there with his eyes closed, allowing his senses to take away his thoughts.

He didn't even bother to open them when Erryn came out and took a look around, noting that Reno still wasn't present, and asked Jared again about his whereabouts since he didn't answer her the first time. He was smart enough to avoid the possibility of getting her emotional before assisting his Boss' doctor in a procedure that meant life or death.

It turned out that he'd made the right decision, given the reaction that he received when he did tell her. She stood there in shock for a moment. The thought of the man that had tormented her for more years than she cared to count was actually gone, washed her with a wave of confusion.

How could that possibly be? She'd just saved his life not that long ago. He'd just released her from the greatest fear that he held over her. How in the hell could he possibly be dead? After all that?

"You're a fuckin liar!" she screamed at him without a warning, and pushed him hard enough to make him stumble back, sending the coffee in his hand flying against the wall. All Tseng did was take a deep breath and let out a hidden smile from behind his cup as he took a fake sip and inhaled the freshly brewed scent, reminiscing at how familiar her reaction and her own faint Slum drawl was.

"You piece of shit!" After another push at the dumbfounded Turk, she wiped furiously at the tears that were suddenly running out of her eyes, wondering why the hell they were there in the first place. Then she pushed him back again and threateningly told him, "Reno doesn't die that fuckin easily!"

"Gaia, Bitch," he said, and stood his ground, "I thought you would've been happy to hear the fucking fag was dead."

With a stinging slap across his face, she went unpredictably hysterical on him. "DON'T YOU FUCKIN CALL HIM THAT!" she shrieked with widened eyes, and pushed him unexpectedly into the coffee dispenser, "YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO FUCKIN CALL HIM THAT!"

"Good Gaia," Tseng muttered with his eyes still closed. Then he cleared his throat and stood up after clearing the expression away that he hid behind his cup. "Erryn," he started, and set his coffee down before continuing with a calm and commanding tone, "This is neither the place, nor the time to behave that way… I'm sure you're well aware of that."

"Sorry, Sir," With a meek apology, she lowered her head while wiping at her eyes again, and sneered as Jared pushed himself away from the machine he was pushed into, "I don't know what came over me."

"It's all right," the Wutian continued in the same calming voice, "We're all a little stressed and tired tonight. Perhaps it would be best for you if you retired for the evening. I'm sure the doctor can handle the observations over Rufus on his own while everyone else gets rested up."

With a nod and her eyes still on the floor, she muttered that she'd do that, and apologized again for her embarrassing behaviour before leaving quickly to retire to her own apartment.

"Are all the people from the Slums that fucking crazy?"

"I wouldn't call them crazy," the leader of the Turks answered unaffectedly, and straightened out his pants, "You have to understand the environment they grew up in. They're just a little less held back and more willing to stand up for themselves than those of us that were trained to repress our emotions for the sake of our social status."

After smoothing his long black hair back, he walked up to the youngest Turk and stood in front of him with a compassionate appearance.

"And Jared," he said, with the same calm tone that he used to address Erryn with, right before he backhanded the younger male hard enough to send him crashing into the condiments on the small table behind him, and continued with the same calming tone, "I don't care whether Reno is with us anymore or not. I don't want to hear you refer to him with that type of disrespect ever again."

While still holding his stoic appearance and mannerism, he pulled a loose hair off the front of his jacket and then straightened it out a bit as he dropped the strand into the small garbage can beside the newly broken table, before he said with a tone that held no threat and no hint of what just transpired, "I'd like to see you in my office in the morning."

With an affirming nod, the Wutian walked passed the younger man and inspected the coffee dispenser to make sure it wasn't damaged, and then he poured himself another cup of coffee, thankful that he drank it black and therefore wouldn't have to go through the mess that the young Turk made on the small table that he just broke.

"You're dismissed for the evening," he said, and he kept his back to the Turk and his eyes on the door that Rufus laid behind as he took a sip and savoured its rich flavour.

"Yes, Sir," Jared answered in a slight state of shock, and then he wiped the blood away from his mouth before taking his leave.


Shortly after Jared left the waiting area, Rufus' doctor came out of the President's private room and took a knowing glance at the calm Wutian who was still sipping his coffee. Then he commented on the raucous he heard only moments ago and confessed that he would have come out sooner, but he didn't want to interrupt.

With a slight smile that was barely visible, Tseng took another sip before asking the good doctor how Rufus was doing and nodded in approval at the positive response that was relayed to him.

"Very good," he said, and took another sip before continuing, "I'm going to have to order you to ensure that Rufus remains sedated and under close observation until the entire procedure is completed. I'm not willing to take any risks in regards to the delicate state his emotions are in right now."

"Understood, Sir," the doctor replied with an uncomfortable nod, and took note that the redheaded Turk was nowhere to be seen. Then with a hesitant sigh, he rubbed at his tired neck and carefully regarded Tseng, "May I ask what transpired to warrant such cautions?"

"We may have lost Reno."

Curiously regarding the Wutian again, the doctor repeated, "May have?"

With a slight nod, the Wutian took another sip of his coffee before speaking again, "I've ordered the Search and Rescue Department to start a search at first light. But I doubt there will be anything to find."

"Did he disappear?" the doctor asked in confusion.

"No," Tseng answered, and stared at the door Rufus was behind, "It was a Meteor explosion."

"I was involved in the Proximity tests for the initial studies of those explosions," the doctor commented, and pulled his hands out of his pockets to rub at his eyes in thought, "If he was at a safe enough distance, he may have sustained minimal damage."

"Mm," Tseng mumbled quietly in contemplation, before taking another sip and then licking his lips, "I'd like to hope so."

"But you don't think so," the doctor said, as if he could read the slender man's thoughts.

"No… I believe he was in the heart of it."

"Gaia," the doctor breathed out, and placed his hand over his mouth, "I hope you're wrong."

Staring at the door to Rufus' room again, Tseng finished off what was left in his cup and licked his lips again before distantly stating, "So do I."


With a heavy sigh, Tseng paused in the hallway before his door and stared at Rufus' apartment with an overwhelming sense of emptiness before he cleared his throat and dug into the pocket of his pants for his keycard. Then for a brief moment, he could almost swear that he heard that all too familiar chuckle of that unruly redhead, and smell the faint scent of the unusual spice that the younger rambunctious male always carried as a slight chill ran by him in the hallway.

"Would'n be here if it weren't fer ya."

Closing his eyes while taking in what he knew was his mind playing tricks on him, he smiled to himself at the thought of no matter how hard that ruffian's life was at times, the little devil always managed to laugh, smile, or crack a joke.

He doubted he could have carried such a playful disposition if he'd had to go through all the cruelty that the redhead's life had to offer. Perhaps he's better off now, the Wutian thought to himself in an attempt to help himself deal with his emotions. He can finally rest in peace.

Despite all the attempts the younger Turk made to hide it, the volatile second in command never was happy. Not that he was passing any blame to the younger man for being so, he was only trying to reassure himself with whatever logic he could come up with to alleviate the crushing weight that could shatter him, and then he repeated the words that Reno had spoken to him so long ago with no more than a slight air to his breath.

"Wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."

Then he swiped his card through the lock on the door and entered his apartment to tell his loving wife the news that he didn't want to admit to himself, and held her trembling body while he let himself go and joined in with her.

Some things just never got easier, despite the number of times a person could bear witness to it.


For over a couple of hours, the pale, ghostly-white figure had been carefully moving and stepping over broken concrete and loose rocks. His skin seemed to take on an even more unearthly appearance from the lack of artificial lighting to aid him in his cause, and every now and then he'd brush the crimson out of his way as he searched.

He didn't see it as a hindrance or an annoyance. It was just something that had always gotten in his way, and it was easy enough to ignore. As he scanned the area carefully, his enhanced eyes allowed him to see clearly under the blackened sky that offered no forgiving light to aid a normal individual.

All the while, he ignored the fine powdery dust that still floated in the air as the ash settled on his garments while he moved about in search for any kind of sign for what he was looking for. He continued with an almost contradictory determination. He knew that if he searched hard enough that he could set his own mind at ease, or at the very least, he hoped. Somewhere amongst the aftermath of destruction there may be a vital key to the answers to his own questions, and it laid in what he searched for, if it was still there.

He watched how everyone reacted and behaved from what little window he could take advantage of, and he listened with his enhanced hearing to what everyone had to say. It was actually something he'd done for most of his life. It wasn't only because he was trained to do it, or because he was enhanced by a mad scientist against his own will, it was because it was something that just came naturally to him.

It was something that always allowed him to have a little more insight into what was going on around him, even though it did fail him at a few crucial and emotionally weak moments. But that wasn't because he wasn't paying attention. It was because he chose to ignore it. That was why he tortured himself so much over it.

But somewhere, amongst this unforgiving grave, maybe there was a proper warrant for the unwavering determination that he felt. He'd been listening and watching for far longer and to far much more than he cared to admit to anyone. That was why he felt that there may be answers in which he sought after, and if what he was looking for still existed, then maybe he might be able to continue in the quiet research of his own unanswered questions.

Despite all of his secrecy though, his agenda was nowhere near malicious, and he continued with his tireless pursuance without really expecting to find anything, but at the same time refusing to stop until there was proof that his efforts were either fruitful or fruitless.

As he got closer to his destination, he heard what could have been mistaken for a weak breath, and he stood at that moment, like an instinctual animal as his senses perked up in prescience. Allowing the ash covered crimson to blow itself clear in the slight breeze that blew lightly through the mountainous paths with a cool and comforting caress, he closed his eyes and let every muscle in his body relax.

Letting himself feel the subtle energies of the planet mingle with his own, he opened himself up to the ethereal sensations that offered the aid that single-minded focus could never offer. And there it was, the sound he was most hoping to hear… a faint and unstable heartbeat. The sound was no further than the small cave-like opening he'd uncovered before him.

Opening his eyes slowly and carefully, pulling himself out of a self-trained meditation with a deep breath, he moved quickly – but not rushed – into the area roughly located where the Control room of the Mako Refinery existed before the remaining structure of the facility collapsed all around it.

With only enough space to crouch, due to the fact that the small area was nothing more than a disintegrated hovel buried in the ground, he took a moment to study the stability of the small opening. As an added precaution, he cast Barrier, along with All, on himself and whatever else could possibly be alive, on the off chance that the seemingly-stable structure might crumble upon him.

Once he was completely inside, he took a quick look around and noted the solidified amber remains that he recognised as the magnetic field that only the Shinra-produced EMR was capable of emitting. Only, under normal circumstances, the remains would have dissipated after breaking its stability from the outside. This time, it was curiously left intact, albeit, shattered like a fine, glittering and golden glass amongst the broken remains of the small tomb he'd crawled farther into.

But he still saw no signs of life.

He should have known it wouldn't be that easy. Nothing ever was that easy, and he closed his eyes in an attempt to find the source of the faint life he'd located only moments ago, hoping that it hadn't finally been lost to him.

Only he didn't really need to. A slight sound of rubble moving caught his attention, and he noted through his peripheral vision when he opened his eyes, the frail movement of what could very possibly be ashen-coloured fingers, covered with trails of dried blood beneath loose boards and a light enough covering of concrete, rubble, and more of the curiously glittering amber shards.

Carefully assessing the surroundings around what he found, he decided it was safe enough to unbury the figure without the risk of causing a cave-in.

With careful movements and ease, he moved the obstructions away to reveal the form he most hoped he'd find, and muttered out, "Cure3," to ensure that he didn't cause any more damage to the frail and shattered body he'd found. Then he waited for it to have some effect before dragging the weakly breathing enigma out to safety, and held him with his head on his lap and stroked the short and tattered red strands of hair in restrained thankfulness.

After a weak murmur and a slight, grimacing movement of the younger Turk's leg, the ex-Turk hushed him and told him to lie still before lying him down, carefully on the ground. Then he pulled the redhead's PHS out of his pocket, thankful that it was still intact, and searched through the directory for a familiar number.

While waiting for an answer and hoping that it wouldn't cause too much confusion on the other end as to why Reno's number would be the one to show up on the other's display, he crouched above the redhead and watched him with a subtle curiosity when the redhead's eyes blindly opened.

Tilting his head, he noted how his eyes were changing from green to blue from the effect of the unstable dilation of his pupils, with an almost wave-like pattern caused by the instability of his vitals at that moment, and he bowed his head in shame over the knowledge behind what was causing it.

Despite the fact that Vincent knew he wasn't responsible, he still couldn't help but feel a sense of guilt with the knowledge that he was the outcome of that experiment performed several years ago. He'd gained his strengths and enhancements on behalf of the studies performed on a child who was left broken over it.

"H-hello?" came a confused greeting, broken by the nervous clearing of his throat.

"Tseng," Vincent answered, while holding the PHS with his claw-shaped gauntlet, and running the fingers of his other hand curiously and carefully along the scars that the redhead placed on himself after he closed his eyes and his breathing became more steady.

"Vince?" With a hint of uncontrolled excitement over why Vince was using Reno's phone to call him, he hushed his sniffling other half, and asked, "What did you find?"

"Reno."

"Good Leviathan…" he muttered, "Is… is he…?"

Shaking his head in silent answer to the question Tseng was afraid to ask, he stroked the redhead's hair back from his face and opened a Hi-Potion to pour into the younger man's mouth, "He's alive."

"Thank the Gods," he breathed out, as a light and happy laughter sounded across the other end, "I'll send out our fastest chopper right away. Are you still at Mt. Nibel?"

"Yes."

Leaning forward over the Turk again as his eyes opened once more, Vincent simply nodded a goodbye, unconcerned with the fact that there was no way the other end could acknowledge it and closed the PHS to put it back in the redhead's pocket.

"Rest," he told the younger man, after he carefully poured the liquid into his mouth. Then he moved him carefully to rest his head comfortably on his lap after the Turk's eyes closed again, and patiently waited for the sounds of a Shinra helicopter while watching the slowly brightening skies around him.


That's it folks - fini! I hope you enjoyed the story, and that the ending wasn't too big of a disappointment for you (cheeze).

I'm going to take a bit of a break and try to catch most, if not all, of my spelling and grammar errors throughout this story, and then I'm going to upload a pdf version of this to my site for anyone that would like a saved copy (I'll leave the link in my bio once it's uploaded). The main description for this story will have status :UNDER REVISION typed in it until I'm done polishing up; then it will be changed to status: COMPLETED when I'm done.

There is a sequel out for this called The Gemini Project, simply because I felt that there were a lot of things that would be easier to explain if written in a third person POV, and I would really like to explore the other Turks a bit more. However, it will have a bit of a different pace to it, since it won't be so Reno-centric (crazy), and you'll get a deeper look into some of the other characters that really couldn't be done with the point of view I chose for this one (which I found very fun to play with, but also very challenging). Don't worry though, it still has it's main focus on the culminations between Reno and Rufus. But it's more of a suspense, and much like this one, it starts off a little slow because even though it's a sequel, it's still a different story in its own right.

Special thanks go to everyone that reviewed! You're comments, opinions, ideas, and suggestions were really what fuelled this story, more so than me. It was fun to play with some of the ideas put forth, and to see how I could fit them into the story. Your support was, and is greatly appreciated.

If there was anything that you felt could have been described better or just simply didn't make any sense to you, besides the introduction of all the weird things in the last two chapters which were a lead-in for the sequel, please feel free to PM me, and I will make an attempt to try and clear things up either personally or when I write GP.

Take care,

Kremesch


Revised: August 15, 2010