Chapter 25

Wide Awake

"But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

It was time.

The group had spent the hours following the decision devising the plan they were to enact. They had obsessed about it relentlessly, pouring over every possible hiccup or possibility they might encounter. They had repeated their roles time after time until now, when there was nothing left to do.

Nothing but to do.

Cloud and Reno had spent most the time coordinating the plan, arguing occasionally and pointing out flaws in each other's plans. Aggravating as it was, the men found their dislike of each other only led to a better final product, as their disdain led to more easily spotting holes in the plan.

While this was happening, Bee had insisted on checking on each of the prisoners. She had reset Cid's nose with a disconcerting crunch that had promptly caused him to pass out once more and his nose to spew blood. She assured them it was for the better, although Cid was having a hard time believing this with his two fresh black eyes. Bee had done what she could for the other four, cleaning up what she could. She wrapped Tifa's hands with gauze she found, but most of the injuries were of the "suck it up and let time heal variety" according to Bee. The result was the crew that stood before him.

It was less than heartening.

Cid had two black eyes and stitches, but it was the grimace on his face that told you where the torture had truly hit him. Tifa and Barrett were littered with bruises, and the gauze that wrapped Tifa's hands only reminded him of where her gloves should be. Reeve was walking with a slight limp, but his hushed conversation with Bee and the lack of discussion gave none of them a hint to what caused it. Only the Turks looked fresh and ready, and Cloud couldn't fight the deep mistrust that brewed at their sight.

The sound of a chopper cut through the air.

No one spoke. Cloud knew they were waiting for him. But as he looked deep in himself, he found nothing. They all knew the realities of this mission. They all knew how much could go wrong. He attempted to begin a sentence, but no words came out.

Reno glanced at him, and for once Cloud was thankful for the Turk's cocky arrogance. "Alright chickenheads," he announced, drawing eyes towards him. "Let's go."

Rufus and Jamison Auhn stood on the roof of the building as the helicopter neared. Two members of the SP flanked the Presidents. They stood calmly as the helicopter hovered above, dropping a ladder.

Rufus expected to see his sister's blonde locks whipping in the wind, and vaguely wondered if they looked alike after all these years. They certainly never acted alike.

Even growing up, Rufus had adored the lap of luxury they sat in. He had loved the little suits his mother would put him in, and enjoyed the attention he got from cooing society women. As he got older, he relished always having the best and newest of everything. As he grew older still, he knew the reason for all these feelings was that nothing was greater than walking into the room and feeling, nay being, better than everyone around you.

Bee was another story.

She had never liked the frilly outfits their mother put her in as a toddler. She would cry and cry until she'd peel them off and run around in her underwear, to their mother's horror. As she got older, she shirked away from the attention that came from being a ShinRa. It was then she first started disappearing, young as she was. She'd give their mother a heart attack as she surfaced in places that were not only far from home, but dangerous. Young it only happened few and far between, but she grew older still. She grew cleverer, able to disappear and reappear without their parents being the wiser. He grimaced when he remembered the disheveled state she'd return in. He didn't understand his sister, nor she him, and when she finally disappeared for good at 17, there wasn't much love lost.

Yet as he waited to see his long-lost kin, the only blonde locks he saw were Strife's as he climbed down the ladder, followed by Lockhart. Strife jumped off and landed, followed by Tifa, and Rufus waited for the entourage to follow. Yet no one did. The ladder stayed down and the helicopter waited. The roar of its blades was only drowned out by the silence below.

"I thought we had a deal, Strife," Auhn said in a bored and haughty tone.

Strife nodded. "We do."

Rufus glanced at Auhn, who was only looking at Strife. When the other two men stayed silent, Rufus spoke. "If so, where is the briefcase," Rufus asked, "and my sister?"

"You'll get them." Strife said simply.

Auhn chuckled. "You don't seriously expect us to give you Valentine and Kisaragi without them do you?"

Cloud shook his head.

Rufus felt frustration building in his chest. What was Strife doing?

Finally, Strife spoke. "But we don't trust that you aren't going to attempt a dirty trick. In fact, we know you were."

There was no way he could have anticipated what they had planned, Rufus thought. He was bluffing.

"So what then do you propose?" Auhn inquired.

Cloud smirked and glanced down at his watch. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out an object and tossed it to the men. Rufus caught it reflexively, and looked at what he held.

It was a video phone. The screen crackled to life.

His sister appeared on the screen, tied to a chair, mouth duct taped and eyes frantic. A gun was held to her head. In her lap was the briefcase, with an odd black device around the handle.

Tifa finally spoke. "Now you may recognize the background. But just in case you don't, she's down in the lobby of your building."

"Get to the point," Auhn sighed.

"You see that device around the briefcase? That's something Reeve came up with. It's a lock that only responds to a certain voice." Tifa's voice started to sound taunting.

Rufus still couldn't see where this was going as Lockhart strode towards them, seemingly oblivious to all the guns pointed at her. Rufus then saw she reached into her pocket and emerged with a vial of clear substance.

"So here is what is going to happen," Tifa smirked. "First, all your goons are going to leave the roof. Including those armed guards with machine guns you have hidden. Then you are going to give us Yuffie and Vincent. Then I'll give you this." She motioned with the bottle.

"Why would we need that?"

Strife stepped in as he nodded towards the video feed. On the screen, a hand had appeared "Because the second we have Vincent and Yuffie, my guy down there is going to give her what she thinks is water." Cloud shrugged. "Well it is water. But it is water laced with poison from a rare spider called the Black Widow. Black Widow venom is unique because it's impervious to all normal antidotes, and only responds to this one Tifa holds right there, known as Angel Tears."

Rufus was glaring at Strife. He hadn't anticipated this level of planning. He hated him for it.

"The other thing about Black Widow venom," Tifa spoke up, "is that it is extremely fast acting. They say without the antidote the victim can die as soon as fifteen minutes."

Auhn too seemed to share the underestimation of Strife and his crew. The older man's eyes were narrowed and his nostrils flared.

"And that would be troublesome for you," Tifa said, "seeing how only Bee's voice can undo that lock. And no, no amount of force or magic can get it off either, unless you want to risk blowing everyone and everything around it to high heaven. I'm sure you remember how good Reeve was at his job."

The hatred that boiled in the air between the four was nearly palpable.

"So what do you say?" Strife said.

Auhn and Rufus were silent, and refused to look at one another. Neither would defer to the other. But it was Auhn who made the first move, as he turned and whistled. He motioned for all the men to leave the roof, and one by one they filed away.

The decision was made.

Cloud took a step back so he was not in arm's reach and Rufus glanced down at the video. His sister's duct tape was being peeled off.

Rufus motioned to the last SP member left on the roof, who opened the door. Out stumbled Valentine and Kisaragi, blindfolded and baffled. Rufus motioned once more and the SP member undid their blindfolds. Rufus then gave a nod that dismissed the member. Before he left, he handed Yuffie and Vincent each a duffle bag that had been out of sight.

Valentine and Kisaragi seemed to at least vaguely understand what was happening. Rufus glanced down. His sister seemed relieved as she was offered a glass of water.

"Jamison," Rufus said sharply. The other man looked at the tape and saw as Bee raised the glass to her lips and started to drink.

"Take them!" Auhn said, his voice rising.

"Come on!" Cloud said, and it was the only cue the other two needed. Yuffie and Vincent started sprinting for the ladder.

"Think fast," Tifa said and tossed the vial to Rufus, before sprinting off herself. Cloud turned around once more and Rufus could have sworn he saw the blank-faced man smirk. Tifa turned around as her run slowed, and her face took on a thoughtful look. "By the way," she called, "my associates tell me your elevator is down. You should really fix that."

Jamison and Rufus looked at one another. Without a word, they sprinted off in a blur of white and Armani. Above, as a helicopter pulled away, laughter rang in the sky.


By the time Jamison and Rufus reached the bottom of the building they were drenched in sweat. Their thousand dollar suits were ruined and their impeccable hairstyles were mussed. Even going down, the fleet of stairs at the Auhncore Tower was nothing to bat an eyelash at.

Sure enough, the back of a blonde head caught their eye. She was tied to a chair in the center of the room, and her head was lolled down. Rufus and Jamison sprinted towards her, rounding to face her.

She looked up at them and frowned.

"Oh Mother of-" she started irritably.

"Drink this," Rufus ordered as he shoved the vial at her.

"What? No," she insisted, blue eyes that matched his own filled with indignation.

"You must," Jamison urged.

She gave Jamison a look that made the Northern Continent shudder. "There is nothing I must do."

"Bee!" Rufus said, causing his sister to look at him in alarm. "The water they made you drink a short while ago? It wasn't water."

Confusion flooded his sister's face as she raised an eyebrow at him. "What are you talking abou-"

"It was poison," Auhn completed with urgency in his voice. "You must drink this."

He shoved the vial at her. Though the rope restricted her upper body, her lower arm was free to grab the vial. She stared at it, and then looked at them like they were crazy.

"I'm sorry I'm still lost. What water?"

Rufus looked at her with a mixture of frustration and haughtiness. "The water you drank! Just about ten minutes ago! With the gunman at your head!"

Bee continued to look at them like they had four heads. She then proceeded to wave the vial in front of her nose and take a tentative sniff. Auhn threw his arms in the air and Rufus started running his palms through his hair. Finally, after a long pause, Bee spoke.

"Gunman?" she started slowly and looked at them. "Boys, I've been alone since I woke up on this floor. And I haven't drank anything in hours."

Jamison and Rufus looked at each other slowly.

"And this is water," she said dismissively, shoving the vial back their way.

The incredulous glances turned to the vial that, with a quick whiff, was indeed revealed as just water. Rufus saw a tick starting to work in Auhn's temple. Rufus understood what had happened, even if he didn't like it. Auhn grabbed the suitcase and sure enough, there was no black device on the handle.

"But if you two gentlemen have a second to untie me, you can explain how the hell I got dragged into this." Bee's voice cut through the silence.


The helicopter rose into the air. Yuffie and Vincent climbed inside looking dumbfounded. Apparently they had not been notified of the plan AVALANCHE had concocted. They looked around as though not sure what to expect.

Tifa stood in front of Yuffie, her hands resting on the girl's biceps, and the ninja stared back at her in a seeming stupor. Tifa's eyes welled up before she snatched the Wutain into a tight embrace. Yuffie blinked wildly before finally snapping out of her daze and wrapping her arms around Tifa as well. Tifa drew back and cupped the young ninja's hands in her face before the tears started spilling down her face. She then turned and forced her arms around Vincent, who visibly tightened. Tifa didn't care. Yuffie gave Cloud a stoic nod.

No words were spoken.

They had arrived at the decided safe house. Yuffie snapped out of her daze long enough to raise a vague protest about it being the same place she had first met Rufus; he clearly knew it was there. The Turks had explained that Rufus was brought in when he was still unwell, and taken out a way that ensured he had no idea where it was. Yuffie still did not seem happy, although it was hard to tell whether suspicion or sickness after the elevator ride was the culprit.

When they had arrived, the silence continued.

They all were standing around broken, battered and reunited. They looked at each other as though looking at strangers; looking each other over, staring at one another. No one was sure who made the first move. But when they did, motion erupted. Hands were shook, hugs were given, and loud slaps on the back permeated the silence. Even Cid and Barrett pretended not to notice when Yuffie's eyes welled up, and Tifa tried her best to muffle her occasional sob. Then, eventually, the circle reformed. They all knew what they were waiting for. He knew what they were waiting for.

All eyes were on him. He knew what they were expecting. He knew what they wanted. But when he opened his mouth, it was dry and empty. He shut it again. He shook his head and looked at the floor.

He wanted to say something awe inspiring. Something that would charge them up; invigorate them. He could see in their eyes that this is what they expected. They expected a speech; a rally cry. But for whatever reason, despite their recent victory, there was nothing inside him. There was nothing but pure fatigue.

So when he finally lifted his eyes from the floor, he simply shrugged. "Let's get some sleep."

The look on their faces said this might have been exactly what they needed to hear.


Rufus and Auhn sat in the office. After getting her signature, they had sent Brooke back to Junon via helicopter. Now they stared at the briefcase sitting on the desk between them. Rufus closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. "We have to have a plan," he announced. The darkness behind his eyelids allowed him to think more clearly. He opened his eyes and Auhn was nodding at him.

"Indeed. Where shall we begin?"

Rufus breathed in through his nose and exhaled slowly again. "Well we need to go over everything. The whole plan."

Auhn was nodding approvingly, his face even. It was strange, because as much as Rufus resented the man, he had to admit Auhn never seemed rattled. He envied that. While Rufus was mostly calm and collected, Auhn's emotions never took over like Rufus's did on occasion. Auhn waited expectantly for Rufus to speak again.

"Get Roberts," Rufus said. "Get her."

Auhn flipped open his cell phone and dialed her number. At this time of night, she was probably already asleep. Yet she answered, like she always did, though her voice was groggy. Auhn told her she was needed and she put up no protest. "She'll be here in twenty minutes," Auhn told Rufus. Rufus nodded.

"We need to revisit Mission #2: The FW. We will do one last sweep of Rocket Town, the slums and Corel. If at that point they aren't found, the S Case and the M Case subdivisions of Mission #2 are pointless."

Auhn nodded coolly. "I'd say that is a good call. And the G Project?"

"It will be the only thing keeping Mission #2 open; yet it will be on a reconnaissance basis only. We will keep our spy in Wutai and pull all other resources devoted to the G Case."

Auhn nodded once more. Rufus felt his thoughts falling into order.

"Missions 1 – 3 are always the top three priorities of the SP. But now Mission #3 will take priority over Mission #2."

"Keep going," Auhn drawled.

"In fact, Mission #3 should take first priority. By completing Mission #3, it will weaken and startle AVALANCHE. It might even lead us to AVALANCHE."

"So should Mission #3 be reassigned as a capture mission?"

Rufus chuckled. "No. The Turks will never respond to interrogation, we made sure of that. Mission #3 will carry on as planned."

The men sat in silence for a moment. Rufus took a deep breath. Auhn smirked at him like a proud father. Rufus glared back in response. "Then," Rufus began again, "Mission #3 should keep them busy running long enough for us to restart Project: Resurrection."

"Which is why you want Roberts," Auhn fed him.

"Yes. We need to see how Marionette is going before we allow the Scientist's obsession to switch. In fact…" Rufus trailed off.

Rufus stood up and walked over to his shelves. On the center shelf was a cigar box that Rufus opened gingerly. When he lifted off the top layer, a lower level of cigars was revealed. When he picked up the second cigar from the left he found a small silver key. Picking it up, he walked back over to the desk.

"There's one more thing," Auhn said, swilling a scotch around in its glass. Rufus paused behind the desk. He searched through his mind to see if he was forgetting anything.

"What," he finally asked, contempt lacing his words.

"Your sister," Auhn said, saying the word with a slight hiss after drinking his scotch.

Rufus looked at him with raised brows. "Excuse me?"

"She's a problem," Auhn said. "They used her against us once. They'll do it again."

Rufus shook his head. "We have her signature. We have the briefcase. She is of no use to us now. They know this."

Auhn's lips twisted upwards. "They don't know what we really wanted. They probably think we wanted the briefcase just to try and have some control over the situation."

Rufus leaned forward on the desk, looking down. He paused. "I just don't believe they'll find use for her anymore," he finally said.

Auhn gave a half shrug, though it was insincere. "Maybe," he said. "Or maybe they'll realize what else she can be used for."

Rufus looked up at Auhn, trying to catch his train of logic.

"Think of how we brought them down," Auhn led him.

Rufus's brow furrowed. "Public opinion," he muttered.

"Yes," Auhn breathed. "So imagine they kidnap her again. But this time they reveal to the whole world that not only is there a living, breathing Shinra out there, but her brother is alive too." Auhn's voice rose with intensity as he went on, and he slowly rose from his seat. "That she knows what this company really is. That she had to sign the company over because it technically is the same company. What do you think would happen then, Rufus?"

Mayhem. Revealing Auhncore as ShinRa would cause everything they had worked for to crumble. How the people let this happen to them again was beyond Rufus, but they thought Auhncore was a good company. They thought that Auhncore was taking care of them; that they were protecting them. Rufus said none of this out loud but Auhn must have seen it on his face.

"So," he said, leaning towards Rufus. "Your sister."

Rufus frowned and stood up straight again. He calmly sat down in his chair as Auhn's gaze beat down on him. "When Jessie gets here," he began, "she'll be instructed of a new high priority target. She will send out two men immediately."

As if on cue, Roberts came in the door.

She was clearly fresh out of bed. Her hair was pulled into a hasty braid, and her oxford shirt was wrinkled and tucked unevenly into her slacks. She still had slid on small heels however. Roberts' eyes were red and bleary. "I got here as quickly as I could," she announced, walking over to the men.

"Good," Rufus nodded at her. She sat down in the chair next to Auhn. Her facial expression was a mixture of fear and apprehension. "We need an update on Marionette."

Jessie seemed relieved. Ever since Hojo was revived, they had created a division for him under the Intelligence Branch. They had decided this would be preferable to putting him with the legitimate scientific branch of the company. Therefore Jessie was in charge of his department. "It is going extremely well according to the Scientist," she revealed. "As you know the project was successful in its implementation during the Wutain War. Since then, however, other matters coupled with the fact it only had one successful implementation caused the project to be sidelined. Yet the Scientist has isolated variables that he believes caused the initial success and is the process of testing on animal subjects."

"That is good to hear," Auhn told her. She smiled. Auhn's face, however, quickly turned dark. "But since you are here, I think we should speak about the other matter."

Jessie's face fell. A meeting with them had been scheduled for tomorrow, and by the look on Auhn's face, it was exactly what she had feared.

"Kim Banks," Auhn said darkly. It was incredible how quickly his face could go from passive to terrifying. Jessie fought the urge to whimper.

"Yes," she whispered.

"Tell us," he commanded. Rufus raised an eyebrow, unsure of what they were talking about.

"A week or so ago," Jessie started softly.

"Speak up," Auhn growled.

She cleared her throat. "A week or so ago, Kim Banks – the head of the Information Branch – was attacked in her home. She was throwing one of her rehabilitation parties." She paused to explain. "She likes to rescue prostitutes and strippers from the slums and 'rehabilitate' them. Well she was introducing two of her new triumphs when she was attacked."

Auhn's face was dark and his eyes were fixated on her. She swallowed.

"The two girls she introduced disappeared. We believe they were the culprits of the attack."

Rufus frowned. "Okay. So other than the head of our branch being attacked, why do we care?"

"Wait for it," Auhn grumbled.

Jessie willed herself not to look away. "It turned out that Banks, unbeknownst to us, had a copy of every single file from the Information Branch, as well as backups of all the computer files, under her house."

Rufus looked at her incredulously. Auhn's face had the same dark leer. Jessie attempted to swallow the lump in her throat once more. "As I said, we didn't know."

"And where is she now?" Rufus asked.

Jessie looked at her lap. "She's dead. The blunt force trauma killed her."

All at once, the darkness slid off of Auhn's face. He smiled as he said, "Good."

Jessie looked up from her lap with wide eyes. "Good?" she echoed.

Auhn gave a curt nod. "Yes. She was a danger to the company."

Rufus opened his mouth to continue the thought, but suddenly paused. "Wait. Why did you tell us about the files?"

The darkness crept up on Auhn's face this time, but now it almost seemed as though he was taking pleasure in her torture. "Yes Jessie, what?"

Jessie felt her innards shriveling under the men's glare. "The file room was destroyed. Burned down and wrecked."

Rufus resisted the urge to allow his eyes to pop out of his head. Instead he leaned back in his seat and folded his hands together, looking skyward. Auhn kept his gaze fixed on Jessie. "And why, Jessie, hadn't we heard about this yet?"

This was the worst part. Jessie hadn't reported it as soon as it had happened due to an investigation of the incident. No matter which way one went about it, Jessie would have blame. Either she promoted someone to the position who broke company protocol and was hoarding files or she didn't report the incident soon enough. She had been praying it was a non-AVALANCHE related event. She knew better however. "We are still investigating the case," she said meekly.

"But tell me Jessie, it's close to solved, isn't it?" Auhn's even, dark tone rang tauntingly in her ears.

"Yes," she said quietly.

"So when were you going to tell us?"

"Tomorrow," Jessie answered truthfully. She had, however, been hoping to tell them on her terms. She hadn't expected Auhn to already know what had happened.

Auhn shook his head. "I am disappointed in you, Roberts." He sighed. "Tell us the results of the investigation."

The worst was yet to come. Jessie's mouth was dry as she looked up at the two men. She found she couldn't hold the gaze and found herself staring at a letter opener instead. The thought passed her mind that if she was fast, she might be able to plunge it into Auhn's eye socket. Maybe Rufus would be so shocked she could push him out the large glass window. Instead, she spoke. "It appears it was an AVALANCHE orchestrated event. We don't know who the women were, as the whole house ended up burning down, including the security footage. We got Ms. Banks to a hospital but she succumbed to her injury before she could tell us who was responsible."

There. She had told them; AVALANCHE had once again danced under their noses and they hadn't caught them. She was afraid to look up. Then, however, a finger appeared under her chin and tilted it up. The finger belonged to Auhn, who forced her to meet his eyes. He dropped his finger. "It's okay," he said, his tone now eerily soft.

Her eyes clouded with confusion. "What?" she whispered.

"It's okay," he said in that unnerving tone. "Yes it is…unfortunate, of course, that they may have access to some information they should not have. But we will use this incident against them."

Rufus nodded, standing up. "AVALANCHE murders former rape-victim employed by Auhncore," Rufus said, hand passing across the air in front of him as though he was visualizing the headline. "Murder and arson added to the list of AVALANCHE's crimes."

Auhn's gaze on her made her want to squirm. It was as though he could see right through her. He leaned back in his seat and reached forward to a glass of scotch she hadn't noticed before. "I suppose we should update Roberts here on the most recent development." He said dryly.

Jessie looked with question at Rufus, who was in the process of pouring himself a glass. With his back still to her, he began to speak. "We have, as of tonight, acquired Project: Ressurection," he announced. Jessie's eyes bulged from her head.

"What? It's still out there? How?"

Rufus turned around and walked to the desk. He took a sip and bared his teeth. "We traded it for Valentine and Kisaragi."

Jessie's mouth fell open. "What?" she asked, dumbfounded.

"We caught them once, we can get them again," Rufus said confidently.

On a personal level, this thrilled Jessie. The idea that AVALANCHE was out of Auhncore's clutches filled her with joy. On a professional level, this was a nightmare. It meant she had to start all over with hunting them. And since her professional life was so entangled with her personal life, it had a personal implication as well. Her initial thrill faded as she realized this would require starting all over. The dread she felt every time they got closer to one of them. The pit in her stomach that grew larger with each sighting, each forward motion.

Jessie was resigned to it though. Ever since Auhncore had saved her, her life hadn't been the same. Ever since the plot to rise from the ashes had started taking form, the sadness had started overwhelming her. And ever since taking down AVALANCHE had become the key to not only the plan, but her entire area of contribution to the company, she had lost the will to live.

She didn't sleep anymore. The little bit she got was plagued with nightmares and tossing and turning. Jessie was positive Auhn knew, too. She suspected he got off on her torment. That he assigned her to this very position as a sick form of torture. Her life was indebted to him and he never let her forget it.

She'd kill herself if she wasn't certain someone much more horrible than her would take her place.

"So here are the things we need to make sure get done," Rufus told her, leaning onto his desk with both hands. "You need to sweep Rocket Town, the slums and Corel one last time before taking all manpower, except for our Wutain spy, off of Mission #2. You need to make Mission #3 top priority. You need to orchestrate the press release about the murder and arson. You need to get Marionette experimenting on human subjects. Most importantly you need to give this," Rufus said, touching the briefcase, "to The Scientist. You can pick it up tomorrow. You got all that?"

Jessie had started furiously jotting notes down in the notepad she kept with her. She nodded. "Got it," she said quietly.

"One more thing, Roberts," Rufus said. Jessie looked up at him expectantly. "I need you to send two of the SP out tonight, immediately following this meeting."

The expression on Jessie's face no doubt was in response to the time of night and the implications this had. Still, she waited.

"It should be an easy job. The men will need to fly out to Junon and back. Shouldn't take longer than 12 hours all together."

"Sir?"

"There is a target out there. She is extremely high priority and needs to be disposed of as soon as possible. She goes by the name 'Brooke Fauve.' I will expect a report of mission success by end of business tomorrow."

Jessie didn't need to know why, or even who Brooke was. That was the name they would need to find her. Jessie wrote it down carefully. "Anything else?" she asked.

"No," Auhn spoke. "You're dismissed."

Jessie stood, perhaps a little too quickly, placed her bag over her shoulder and began to exit. When she was about to exit, however, Auhn's voice met her ears one more. "Oh, and Jessie?"

Dread trickling over her skin, she turned around. "Yes?"

The dark look was back on Auhn's face. His eyes were terrifying, pits that could suck the soul out of people. "Do not," he said lowly, "let anything like that happen again."

It was as though gravel was in his throat and the devil was in his eyes. Jessie tried to keep her terror off her face when she nodded. "Yes sir," she said.

With that she would hurry back home for another sleepless night.


Cloud startled awake to the sound of insane laughter filling his ears. He scanned the area wildly, his hand automatically flying to the sword he was keeping by his side. But as he knew to be true, no one was there.

No, it was just another manifestation of the same nightmare that had kept him awake all night. The same nightmare kept startling him awake and torturing his sleep, making it impossible. He sighed and drew his knees up, resting his elbows on them and pushing the heels of his palms into his eyes. Yet as he did so, bright green eyes appeared. His eyes shot open once more.

It seemed sleep was out of the picture.

Yet as he walked through the sprawling underground apartment, he saw lights from under a few of the rooms. It was a small comfort to know he wasn't the only one struggling with sleep.

He emerged into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. But even as he chugged it down, he found himself with a foolish urge that he felt compelled to indulge. So he climbed into the ridiculous elevator and allowed it to shoot him to the surface. He stepped out of the ruins of the ShinRa building, the irony of the situation not escaping him, and into the area in front. He sat on a piece of wreckage and leaned back to stare at the darkened sky.

"Guess it's not just me then," a lazy drawl came from his left.

He looked over, suddenly feeling ridiculous for not bringing his sword, when he realized it was Reno. The redhead laid by another bit of wreckage, a lit cigarette between his lips. He took the cigarette as he exhaled, looking over at Cloud.

"What's that," Cloud asked gruffly. He didn't care that they had helped. Old habits died hard.

"I'm not the only one who can't sleep." Reno stated.

Cloud had no response. Reno chuckled and let his head loll back to the sky, as though searching for an answer in the great wide nothing. Cloud couldn't take his eyes of the Turk however, and couldn't help but wonder what was keeping him up. The Turks had no obligation to be here. They had no reason to stay. The only person they were loyal to was Rufus, who had just revealed his true alliance.

Cloud narrowed his eyes and sat up. Reno took notice but didn't feel the need to stop lying. In fact, Cloud's thought had stirred something in him.

"How do I know you aren't still working for Rufus?"

Reno raised his eyebrows at him and stubbed out his cigarette on the skylight. "Well yo," he started, moving his gaze back upwards. "You heard it from the horse's mouth."

Cloud wasn't in the mood for Reno's lazily playful nature. "And why the hell would I trust something he said?" the anger rose in Cloud's voice. "In fact, if I was him I would want us to think you were on our side, so you could better feed information and better yet, us, to him."

Reno finally sat up and folded his arms on his knees. He looked out at the city and nodded slowly. He gave a shrug and a chuckle. "If I were you," Reno said, staring straight, "I'd think the same thing."

Cloud narrowed his eyes and glanced over to see if Reno had his nightstick on him.

Reno must have seen this in Cloud's face because he smirked once more, and slid his body down again. He put his hands behind his head and looked over. "But that's not what's been keeping you up all night, is it?"

Cloud's silence was answer enough for Reno, who decided to stare up at the sky. Cloud stayed sitting, looking out at the plains. He was so exhausted. The lights of the stars glared accusingly, making him feel exposed and vulnerable. Making him think of all that had happened, and all that he'd done. All that was left to do. Yet it was only one thing that was keeping him up.

Because Reno was right. Since Sephiroth's name had been uttered, it was haunting him. The idea that they were going to try to bring him back was as ludicrous as it was terrifying. They had lost control of him once before. Why they would think this time would be any different was lost to him. Thousands of questions like these poured through Cloud's head as he sat in the wreckage with an old enemy. Finally one question cut through his obsession and he addressed the redhead once more.

"You." Cloud said suddenly.

"Me," Reno replied with that familiar playful cadence.

Cloud looked at him. "What is keeping you up?"

Reno didn't break his gaze from the sky. At first it seemed as though he wasn't going to answer, when his words finally cut the silence.

"Same thing as you, yo," he said, never looking. "Things that are supposed to be dead…well…they should stay dead."

And with that the two stayed in the darkness and spoke no more.