Jaguar

Standard Disclaimer still applies.

Authors Note: College has started up again, and due to my courses, time will be limited to spend on Iron and Jaguar. NO they are not 'unfinished' forever, and NO I will not be discontinuing them, I am merely stating that the likelihood of a chapter appearing every few weeks is slim to none. I may write smaller chapters rather than larger, to accommodate the demand for readers, but do not expect any miracles.

This Chapter is RAW


Cloud was starting to get annoyed. It had been going on for months now, really. He wondered how long all three of them had to dog his every move for their satisfaction. Zack was the worst, though. He followed him everywhere. Even to the latrine. The only times Cloud wasn't followed was early in the morning where, every two weeks he met with Elena somewhere. He complained to her often, finding her a good listener and vice versa.

At least Elena didn't pester him.

Angeal was a bit more subtle, inviting him to spar at given moments, or politely inquiring about his day (unlike Zack who stalked him!) and even offering advice. Sephiroth really ticked Cloud off, almost as much as Zack did about the whole thing. Instead of speaking to him, the General would stalk him like Zack. But where Zack would fill the silence with mundane things, Sephiroth would follow him discreetly from a distance and in the shadows.

Cloud suspected that Sephiroth was underestimating his perceptive abilities. Else wise, he'd have figures out that Cloud knew he was being followed by him. How often had he had to strongly resist the desire to bang his head into the wall? It had been 6 months since he had come to ShinRa, and during those months he had become annoyingly familiar with the 3 high ranking individuals. He even met Genesis sneaking in occasionally. He politely ignored the instances when he saw him, winking at the sneering man who always huffed in annoyance when he saw Cloud.

Cloud was never a fan of stalking. Ever since Jenova had possessed Sephiroth, Cloud had really never been a fan of Stalking. It made him very weary and conscious. Had this been any other type of situation, Cloud felt it might have been able to deal with his paranoia, but he needed, desperately needed some alone time, coupled by a visit with Rufus. Unfortunately, no such opportunity presented itself to Cloud, and for 6 months, grated angrily on his nerves.

He had to see Rufus. He had to figure out what he was going to do, and Rufus would help him. It was his job too, according to the words of Gaea. He couldn't even leave the ShinRa complex and into Midgar without all three men accompanying him.

Therefore, on August 7th, two weeks before his birthday, when Cloud was summoned to Rufus, it couldn't have come at a better time. He was well near ready to crack.


Cloud woke up to soft taping on the dorm room main door. He frowned, getting up and out of his room, hardly dressed to see what the matter was. As usual, Zack completely slept through the knocking and Reeve (their Ghost roommate who was never around) was no where to be seen. Cloud sighed, shaking his head and opening the door.

He was not expecting to see Tseng and Rude there, looking as imposing in the early morning as ever. Cloud always wondered what the point was to wearing shades in the morning or night.

"Rufus Shinra requests an audience with you." Cloud blinked, trying not to dance with joy. Finally! An excuse to see his Aid and figure out what the hell he was supposed to be doing!

"Understood." But instead of following them, Cloud returned to his room and sought about getting a change of clothing, having a shower and getting ready for the day. When he returned from his room to the door, Tseng was waiting inside their dorm with Rude guarding the entrance from outside. Cloud nodded to him, and Tseng took the lead, followed by Cloud then Rude.

They moved quickly yet as inconspicuously as possible through the hallways. Several times, Cloud noted that Tseng took a different route to different elevators. After the third time, Cloud realized they were taking a route with the least amount of guards and video surveillance. Almost all the guards were Turks too. Rufus was being careful, he realized.

Tseng stopped, finally at a large office door and gestured Cloud to go inside with he and Rude remained guarding the door on the outside. Cloud nodded to them and walked swiftly inside. He stopped at attention.

"At ease." Rufus commanded, gesturing for Cloud to take a seat. He did so, without preamble and waited to be addressed. For awhile, there was nothing said or done as Rufus continued an uninterrupted inspection of the documents before him, a radio softly blaring somewhere. Cloud took this time to inspect his office. It was homely, large and Spartan but with rich wood-reds and whites. It was a comfortable professionalism.

"As you know, all SOLDIERS occasionally do missions outside of the normal, correct SOLDIER?"

"Yes Sir." Cloud wanted to beat around the bush and ask what was going on, but a subtle tap with his pen to his ear told Cloud that Rufus didn't want to take chances. The walls had eyes and ears apparently.

"SOLDIER Strife, you are familiar with the Country Side?"

"Yes sir." Cloud responded evenly. Rufus stopped what he was doing and looked up at him. Cloud found himself being studied by sea blue eyes and a sharp awareness. Rufus seemed satisfied.

"I find myself in interest of several rare artifacts that cannot be found in any shop." Rufus started, Cloud's forehead wrinkled. He was starting to get inkling… but how was this supposed to help him on his mission?

"These artifacts, we have found out, are hidden around the world. Out of all the SOLDIERS here, you are perhaps the one most qualified having the knowledge of how to survive on your own lending you aid on this mission. I do not care how long it will take you, but I will require you back every year end for an update and stock statement. Should any artifact be too large to continuously carry around, arrange for storage and call Tseng for pick up. Materia is yours to keep, even if it is rare. Consider it your payoff as well as a weapon of your choosing. You will be supplied with transportation, communication and a detailed list of potential relics we are aware of." This end statement was punctured by a small envelope.

Cloud took the envelope and opened it, finding a fresh new state of the art cell-phone, a pair of keys and two small key chain lazer lights. He knew the lights were actually the lists (all he had to do was press 'on' against a dark wall, rather handy!) but what caught his attention were the keys. One was for a foot locker, one to some other type of lock, and the other…. His eyes widened.

The keys even had his customary wolf head keychain. Rufus had given him Fenrir back. Masking his emotions once more, Cloud nodded.

"Afirmative. Does the PHS have a tracking system?" Rufus shook his head.

"It can only be activated by you. I am giving you the full support of my Turks should the need for transportation exceeding this continent be imminent." Cloud nodded, he was glad he wouldn't be swimming across the ocean any time soon.

"The locker is in Warehouse B, sector 3. It is ShinRa owned, and contains weapons and Materia for your use. Your transportation is located in the company lot. There are also two more things in that envelope."

Cloud blinked, looking into the envelope to see what hadn't fallen out. A credit card and an all pass card. He nodded appreciatively.

"The pass card will allow you in and out of Midgar, as well as the company lot and warehouse. I expect monthly communication with you on progress, but only an annual physical meeting, understood?" Cloud nodded and stood up, saluting.

"Yes sir. I shall depart immediately."

"Dismissed, SOLDIER."

And that was that.


As Cloud was making his way to the company parking lot, where Fenrir would be, Sephiroth was angrily storming into Rufus' office. When he had gotten word of a mission order, especially for Strife, he was furious.

No, Furious was an understatement. He didn't understand his own emotions concerning the boy; he felt an almost overwhelming urge to protect the blond child the moment Hojo became interested. Sending a 14 year old child out on his own with virtually no backup, into the wild against all sorts of monsters; what was Rufus thinking!

Bang!

The door almost came off its hinges with the force that Sephiroth used to open it. He was further incensed by the fact that Rufus hadn't looked up from his paperwork, or even seemed surprised over the intrusion. In fact, he didn't even greet Sephiroth, just continued his paperwork.

Eventually, when the snarling and grinding of teeth were met with the drawing of Masamune, did Rufus deem is appropriate to greet his guest.

"Take a seat Sephiroth, seeing as you're the one intruding, you can wait until I am done." He stated, raising a pale yellow eyebrow and gesturing to the seat. Sephiroth made no move to the chair. He hissed at Rufus instead.

"How dare you!" Sephiroth snarled, a half drawn Masamune still clutched in his hand as he flexed his grip. Despite the endearing changes that Rufus had gone through over the past years, going from spoiled to a bit more humble and wise did nothing to sooth Sephiroth's temper. The fact that Rufus was not afraid of the pissed off general irked the silver haired man.

"Don't make accusations, General." Rufus warned calmly, waving off the plethora of Turks coming into the room to save him.

"You send a 14 year old child out in to the wild with no backup, with only a handful of materia, and a single weapon! What the fuck are you thinking! What gives you the right to even use my SOLDIERS for your ends! Use the goddamned Turks!"

"The only person with the qualifications is currently a cadet. SOLDIERS are under my command as are the TURKS. As a courtesy, to you Sephiroth, Myself and Tuesti allow you to run them. Mostly. And Cloud Strife is not helpless."

"Fine. But you sent him without backup! Let me accompany him, he doesn't know the monsters out there!"

"No, you're too recognizable." Rufus stated. Sephiroth stared.

"What mission did you send him on that requires anonymity!"

"That's classified. But he will be required to travel to all places and most of those places greatly dislike ShinRa. Strife has been debriefed appropriately and knows not to display his allegiance."

"Does this have to do with those resistance groups!?"

"No, though I can see where you would get that impression. You would attract too much attention where he will be going. The answer is No, General."

"Then Send Zack! Or Angeal!"

"Both teaching the Cadets, and cannot be pulled from that duty as there is no one else qualified with the job."

"Then Jacobs, Smith, or Whistler! Any one of them could protect him!" Sephiroth argued, seemingly to fume with steam out his ears. Rufus sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He hadn't anticipated such a dramatic change in Sephiroth.

'You've no idea how you've already changed everything by being who you became before coming here."

"Whistler is currently taking the third Class SOLDERIS for a monster run near the golden saucer. Smith has accompanied him and Jacobs is on maternity leave with his wife. There are no other first class SOLDIERS that could help Strife, do you understand now? On a personal note, Sephiroth…" Rufus leaned forward, resting his chin on his folded hand, glaring at the silver haired man in a menacing way. He relished in the fact that his glare had slightly unnerved the stoic man.

"Cloud is not weak. It is an insult to him to think as such. You can stop worrying. I ordered him to keep up correspondence. Likely I will have to forward on letters to you, Fair and Hewley as it's possible I will be barged in on several times until he returns."

"And when will that be?"

"A few years, I bet." Rufus smiled as the stoic man sputtered and stared in shock.

"I am not looking forward to telling them that…." The silver haired general muttered under his breath, more like groaned out softly with a few curses.

"This isn't over." Sephiroth swept out of the room, missing Rufus Shinra's smirk. 'If only you knew what we're planning.'


Cloud revelled in the feeling of Fenrir roaring beneath him again. He supposed that thought didn't sound too wholesome. But oh well! He nearly giggled as he roared around the roads of Midgar, aiming for sector 7. He had already been to the Warehouse and his locker.

Inside had been his old clothing. How Rufus had gotten them Cloud didn't want to find out. Those Items of clothing wouldn't fit him for a few years yet, until he stopped growing at 19. He remembered that he was supposed to have a large growth spurt when he was 16. That was another 2 years from now. He couldn't wait to be big again.

Along side his old clothing, were street and travel clothing that fit his smaller lithe frame. Black cargo pants with plenty of pockets and a brown and beige shirt with a Dart blue sweater for the cold; A black leather coat that was suspiciously warm and fussy inside for winter times, and black combat boots. There were other assortments for Cloud that he didn't bother really looking at until he was fully dressed in the first items he saw.

Once all the clothing was packed away in the spare compartments of Fenrir, Cloud took a look at the Weapons and materia currently inside. He smiled, seeing almost one of everything magical. One fire, ice, lightning, cure, poison, earth, heal, revive, seal, time, gravity, destruct, exit, barrier, comet, fullcure, Contain, shield, transform, mystify and Ultima.

He was disappointed to find no Master Magic, or that the glowing globes were all un-mastered individually. But he supposed he could make due. He also noted he had Chocobo/Mog, Ifrit, Hades and Titan. All ShinRa owned (before he had liberated them of the materia when he was in AVALANCH). He smiled, wondering what Rufus had to pull to lend them out to liberally.

Now he was riding through the streets, merely observing before leaving that he suddenly saw a very familiar run down church. His breath caught in his throat as he turned that way, driving up slowly and cutting power off, He saw there, one foot on the ground for balance, staring up at the beautiful stained glass catching the sun's light.

He smiled sadly, having half a mind to turn back. It wasn't until he was at the doors had he realized he had moved. Yes, this was very familiar. Without delaying any more Cloud entered the church, not at all surprised to be greeted with silence and beautiful blooming flowers. He walked as far into it as he could, past the benches and to the flowers. He stared down at them, thinking about the last time he was here.

"Do I know you?" Cloud jumped, spinning around to looking at the young face with astonishment. He sucked in a breath. She was real. She was alive. She was breathing. Cloud couldn't speak. Perhaps, he was not as healed from Aeirth's death as he initially thought.

"Are you alright? You look a bit pale." She approached him, and Cloud came crashing back into himself. He nodded shakily.

"Ah… I'm fine... just shocked that's all..." he told her, his voice slightly strangled. She giggled at his misfortune. He smiled wryly.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think you know me."

"Are you sure Cloud?"

"Yes-" He stopped, throwing her an accusing look. "That's cheating." Cloud pouted, earning himself a sympathetic laugh and a hug. He froze still at first, but Aerith was persistent. He eventually relaxed, putting his arms around her, he held back the tears. She was real. She was soft. Warm.

"I did say you would not be alone." She whispered to him. He nodded. Upon finding out about Rufus, he had not anticipated that there might be others having come back as well. He sighed, taking in the scent of her shampoo and holding her contently. He was only slightly taller than her, after all.

"Are there…?"

"That's for you to find out. Mother Gaea did not think sending you back and losing every victory would be worth loosing her chosen warrior's mind over. You cannot deny without us, there would be no Cloud, neh?" Aerith giggled still embracing her friend. She felt the blond boy nod slowly, soaking in her words, her voice. Aerith frowned.

"Are you leaving already?" Cloud squeezed her. Aerith squeezed back.

"Then take a flower for the trip." She told him, and was rewarded with quiet chuckles.


Angeal had taken Sephiroth's news with a frown and sad shake of his head, neither man was willing to tell their Colonel the news. However, this unwillingness turned into flat out terror when Zack walked into the room with a pale, withdrawn and pissed off face. He stared at them each individually for a few moments before speaking.

"Where is SOLDIER Strife? Angeal was assigned to watch him today. I repeat, where is Soldier Strife?" Zack's voice was very quiet, his use of formalities sent Sephiroth and Angeal on the edges of their seat. Right now, Zack was the most terrifying thing on Gaea.

His question had herald the entrance of a very long charged silence that hung heavily with apprehension. Not even the great famed General dared look his own Colonel in the eye. He had never experienced a Zack this terrifying before, had it been another circumstance, it may have been a novel experience. Now? Sephiroth just wanted to crawl into a hole until the storm passed over.

Angeal was having similar feelings.

"He was sent on a mission. Long term, without back up save for Turk service should he request it." Both men braced for the inevitable blow-out, and were shell-shocked when no such verbal explosion took place.

"The nature of this mission?"

"We're unsure, there are no records of it, not that we expected anything. Rufus claimed it was classified and that he would be traveling to areas where being incognito would be best, which ruled out Seph, and since we're training cadets….." and for a long time, Zack remained standing, with his scary serious face and arms folded, glaring at them menacingly.

"And I take it that since the First Class Elite are short on members, there is really no one qualified to assist Soldier Strife." Sephiroth nodded solemnly, warily. Angeal and him both watch Zack, trying to decipher what the man was thinking.

"HE'S A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD CHILD! HE TURNS FIFTEEN IN TWO WEEKS!!!!!!!"

Zack's chest heaved with the effort to scream as he had done, Sephiroth and Angeal suffered and winced through it (staunchly denying having jumped 40 feet in the air when he startled them)

"Further more! At any time, ANY TIME he could be captured by Hojo and his goons. DID YOU THINK ABOUT THAT!" He roared at them, his Mako violet eyes going from peaceful purple to bull-raging red. Sephiroth felt the blood drain from his face.

He had not thought of that. He'd been thinking about a 14 year old child in the wilderness against monsters. Well, Hojo does count as a monster… he thought grimly. Shifting slightly, he saw Angeal's normally dark tanned face ashen.

So he hadn't thought of that either.

"And you say this is long term? How long term!?"

"Rufus mentioned years…" Sephiroth whispered to the enraged man, he actually physically flinched when Zack's murderous red eyes glared at him.

"Years… so for years, we won't know a thing, Hojo could capture him and we'd be in the dark!"

"Rufus mentioned that Cloud would have to keep formal and monthly correspondence." Sephiroth's eyes narrowed.

"THAT WHICH COULD EASILY BE FORCED!" Zack screamed at him again.

"STOP OVER REACTING!!!"

Silence was golden, Angeal thought distractedly as he rubbed his temples.

"There's really… nothing we can do."

Silence, Angeal thought, was horrifying.


The first time Rufus received a monthly communication with Cloud over his email, he'd been surprised by the brief statement.

"Locations Confirmed. Pick up in Heaven." That had been his message, nothing more, nothing less. Rufus found it peculiar.

Heaven?

The answer didn't come to him until some days later, when he heard some SOLDIERS commenting on the bar they were going to that night.

Bar…. Bar…. BAR!?

Rufus felt stupid. After Judgement day, Tifa Lockheart had crafted herself a nice pub in Kalm named 7th heaven. Pick up in Heaven must have meant there was something that Cloud couldn't carry, and thus left somewhere in Kalm. Rufus smiled, buzzing Tseng into his office. So far, everything was going to his carefully crafted plan.


The first message to the fearsome threesome (Zack, Angeal and Sephiroth) had come 4 months later, when a letter had made itself onto his desk. Rufus had stared at it for a full 20 minutes before realizing it wasn't addressed to him, but rather a recently graduated Cadet. Someone named Elena…

Wasn't that a low level Turk? Rufus shrugged, buzzing Tseng once again. It didn't take very long for him and the blushing blond girl to arrive, as per orders.

"R-rufus Shinra S-sir!" She squeaked and saluted, much to the other blond's displeasure.

"This is addressed to you, it is from SOLDIER Strife. Normally I wouldn't have bothered with being polite and read it myself, but I'm curious about something. Please open it and read it." He ordered, much to the befuddlement of the girl and Tseng. She nodded, taking hold of the letter and opening it. She read the first few lines before a vein grew in her forehead.

"Sir, this is addressed to myself, Zackary Fair, Angeal Hewley and the General, Sir." She told him politely. Her eye was twitching slightly, and Rufus was even more interested in the contents than before. He nodded to Tseng and motioned Elena to take a seat.

Within an hour, all 4 individuals were gathered in Rufus' office, much too someone's displeasure.

"I fail to see why we are gathered here…" Sephiroth started before being abruptly cut off by Rufus.

"You wished to have any correspondence forwarded to you, from Cloud, did you not? Well one letter addressed to four people begs to be heard all together." Rufus said benignly, he waved to Elena who, with the letter still in her hand, began to read, trying to ignore three piercing stares as best as she could.

'Dear Ellie (Zack, Angie and Sephy-chan.) and Rufie-kun.

If you are reading this, than I am dead. And if you are really that gullible, I pity you. Honest. I won't say much here, as there isn't anything to say in regards to my mission. My health is fine, so those who worry need not. I have made some friends; one even refuses to let me out of their sights. In any case, to individual people…

Rufus: The other day I got into breeding Chocobos. I won't say where, but I have no need for Air transportation, I have a chocobo that can travel overseas. Aren't I such a money saver?

Angeal: within the next month should be another shipment, there are some rare Swords I feel you would be delighted with.

Zack: out of all three of you, most likely you are worrying the most. Don't, I have no desire to be babied by you, so just shut up Aniki. :p

Elena: has anyone else walked in on you? Scarlet did on me one time… she's scary! P.S: Kick Reno's Butt in the exams, if this gets to you soon enough. If not, beat him up later.

Sephiroth: I have nothing to say to you that would be meaningful, so I won't try. However, in the next shipment there is a small box for you, thanks for protecting me from Hojo.

That's it. I'm not very good with the friend thing. I'm not that type. I apologise.

P.S: Rufus; I've taken a break near Sliver Moon.'

For awhile, no one said anything.

"Rufie-kun!?""Sephy-chan!?""UGH!" the comments were simultaneous. Rufus looked like he was gagging, and Sephiroth was green around the face.

"That's it. May we be excused sir?" Rufus nodded, waving Elena away, who bolted from the room. So many high ranked people in one room unnerved her. One by one they all left, even Tseng who had been hovering in the doorway. Rufus pondered.

Friends that wouldn't let him out of his sight… That could either be Tifa or Vincent. And what did cloud mean by Sliver Moon? Wait… a Sliver of moon was normally a crescent… Ah! He was somewhere near Lucrecia's cave! Wait… that was near Nebilheim... which meant he likely took a stop home.

Having now affirmed himself with Cloud's odd way of coding things, Rufus smiled. Cloud was a long way from Midgar, and the Chocobos were a good investment, for now he left no witness trail within the Turks.

Everything was going marvellously.


The first 2 years went by with a nary whisper of Cloud's coming and goings. Each time he came for an Annual report, he somehow managed to avoid everyone, seen only by Rufus, and left unseen.

But after two years of relative peace, shit started to hit the fan. A group named AVALANCH had formed. There were the proverbial thorns in the President's side. And they had a large fan base. Inwardly, his Son smirked. AVALANCH was reported to have some strange council of leaders, and aside from the notorious Elfie and Barret Wallace, the other 'leaders' were never seen.

But Rufus knew better than that, now didn't he? He laughed to himself, wondering if Cloud had figured it out, and how shocked he must have been. Rufus Shinra wished he could have seen the look on his fake Cousin's face.


4 years passed by, Cloud would be 18 now. It was a scary thought. People within Shinra had eventually forgotten about Cloud, though 'SOLDIER Strife' was still talked about, the youngest soldier ever. There were a few people who remembered, but eventually they had moved on, feeling a heavy sadness follow them around.

Even though they hadn't truly known Cloud, as he had shut himself away from them. His absence left them wondering. Cloud had this feeling to him, like you wanted him near. Sephiroth, above all had not forgotten, having been plagued continuously by Hojo for news of Cloud. It seemed, that Hojo had not forgotten, nor was he giving up.

When a mission to Nibelheim had come, Hojo had tried to make Sephiroth go. But surprisingly, Rufus had intervened. Rufus had stated that his last correspondence from Cloud, still in the field, was from the Golden Saucer, apparently he was heading home to visit a girlfriend. Rufus in fact, had told Hojo he would send cloud to fix the Reactor, and that sending Sephiroth when a perfectly capable SOLDIER was already there was ludicrous.

Rufus had won the argument with a smug look.

But that had also been well over a year ago. Since then, the fearsome threesome had yet to receive any correspondence from Cloud, though in passing Rufus told them he was still around.

Angeal often wondered what Cloud looked like now. Was he taller? Another thought popped into his head. What about his Mako injections? Was he suffering from Poisoning? How had his skills improved?

Unfortunately, Angeal would not get answers for a very long time.


First time Rufus got confirmation from Cid Highwind, he nearly killed someone. He knew something was suspicious when he received no monthly update from Cloud for 3 months. He suspected Hojo, but had no definable proof. The fact that Highwind of all people had contacted him, made him worry. Elfe of AVALANCH was long since dead, and the public leader was Wallace.

However, receiving notice from Cid, saying that for the last 4 months he had been running AVALANCH behind the scenes scared him. Cloud was supposed to do that. So when Cid mentioned a meeting with all 'illustrious leaders minus MIA Cloud' meant something terrible.

They had just passed the 7 year mark, too. Cloud should be 21. Around the time Judgement Day had passed. Though this time around, Sephiroth remained sane, with two very good friends by his side. He had never gone to Nibelheim, never killed so many people.

But where was Cloud? He hadn't even received any shipments either… minding him; the shipments were now few and far between…

As Rufus walked around, Rude and Reno (now second in command of the Turks) guarding him, he passed people in a Daze, thinking extensively. Go? Or don't Go? Rufus chewed his lip in thought.

"You look conflicted, Vice-president." Rufus jumped, staring into cat-like green eyes, intimidating, dauntingly handsome as well. Rufus sighed.

"Sephiroth." He said warily, caustically, because the moment he opened his mouth, the General's eyes narrowed intensively. He knew something was wrong.

"Colonel Fair." Rufus added, looking to Sephiroth's right. Zack had gained a few more scars; he was much older as well. Rufus sighed, rubbing his temples.

"I have made a decision concerning you. I want you to pack only the necessaries for a long term mission with plenty of travel; be ready to leave from Hanger 3 in 2 hours. You will accompany me somewhere."

With that, Rufus turned and left, taking Rude and Reno with him. The blond haired young man continued to chew his lips in thought. He resembled his previous self now, having long since regained the physical stature he had before coming back in time 11 some years ago.

But still, he worried.


"…..quite ill…."

"……-gain consciousness?"

"…-ecting treatment…"

"Up the dosage…."

"….-ir"

Blackness


As the chopper sat on the pad, ready to go, Rufus checked his watch counting down the time for some strange reason. His constant checking made Sephiroth and Zack very conscious of their surroundings. Rufus was in the middle of signing before a walking talkie went off.

"Shinra, he's on his way. Hojo's going to be pissed though." Rufus grabbed the talkie and responded.

"I know, how soon, Tseng?"

"Minuets." Rufus cancelled the transmission and opened the door of the chopper facing the building door and waited. Within moments, not minutes, something red streamlined out the door and into the chopper in milliseconds that no one had a chance to arm themselves. Rufus quickly shut the door once more and signalled to Reno to book it.

Three heads turned to the red-orange clad Lion-wolf thing with a fire lit on its tail.

"Hey red!" Rufus waved over the noise, then put on his earmuffs and doing the same for Red. The wolf creature nodded before speaking, and thus thoroughly freaking out Zack (and making Sephiroth uncomfortable)

"My thanks, Rufus. I take it this concerns our missing friend?" Rufus nodded grimly.

"When we get there, tell the others. I'll debrief these two before we start." The red thing nodded before settling down for the ride.

The ride was actually relatively short, much to Zack and Sephiroth's annoyance. They had been told they would be out for a long travel mission. What was 2 hours? When they landed, Rufus ordered Reno and Rude to stay by the chopper, Red left them and disappeared and Rufus gestured for the two SOLDIERS to follow him.

"Sephiroth, Zack… I'm sure you're wondering what this is about." He was met with silence. Rufus sighed, he felt like an old man.

"Cloud went missing 4 months ago, my guess shortly after his last communication."

"WHAT!?" Zack, predictably. Rufus could feeling burning green eyes on his, and shuddered.

"His mission was actually coming to an end, and I was set to call him back. At first I suspected his gear was destroyed. But after no correspondence I grew worried. Now that you have this information, I can tell you what Cloud was doing these past 7 years." If they hadn't been interested before, they were like attentive loyal dogs.

"Well? What the hell have you had him doing that made him vanish for 7 fucking years!?" Zack, notably.

"Cloud's mission was very sensitive. I had charged him with the task of treasure hunting for rare artefacts. However…" he held up a hand to stop the General's angry snarl.

"However, that was a guise for his real mission. His real mission… was the destruction of the Mako reactors and Hojo's secret laboratories."

Rufus turned around to meet the Astonished eyes of two high class SOLDIERS. Sephiroth, he noted, had an odd gleam in his eyes…. Almost like… hope. Zack looked flabbergasted with the shear amount of work it must have taken.

"Then the chance of Hojo having Cloud is….?"

"Higher than I would like. But there's more to my scheme."

"More!?" Zack yelled out hoarsely. His hand was clenching and unclenching the buster sword on his back. Rufus noted Sephiroth doing the same thing.

"Yes… the Leaders of the terrorist group AVALANCH are, in part, working for me. Only in part, mind you. In fact, the group was taken over by Cloud a few years back. And they are who we'll be meeting with momentarily." And like that, Rufus started down the path to Healin Lodge. He left behind and stupefied Colonel and rather stunned General in his wake.


Rufus stepped onto the plank leading into one of the Lodges side rooms, looking behind him to see the General and his sidekick starting to catch up with him. He waited until they were there before knocking on the door. He hoped someone sensible answered-

"AH TURKS!" Rufus looked up from his position on the pathway ground as Yuffie bowled into him and onto the railing behind him, scanning the scenery. Zack had drawn his weapon and Sephiroth had partially drawn his. But Rufus waved them off.

"Should have known better, Shouldn't of you Shinra?" Came a teasing female voice from the doorway before them. Sephiroth Turned, as did Zack but only slightly. So far, aside from knocking Rufus Over there was no threat. They were still on edge, having not yet fully comprehended their situation purely for the reason that it was unbelievable.

A medium height women came out from the door way, on one arm was a red ribbon; she wore leather gloves, a white sleeveless shirt covered with a leather sleeveless vest and black leather Capri pants. She wore a partial skirt that was long in the back, but short with many pockets in the front. She topped off her look with steel-toe boots and her long black hair.

However, Sephiroth and Zack did not notice these things. They were staring at her gargantuan breasts. The women sighed irritably.

"Are you going to stare all day or come in?" She held out her hand to the blond man before her, who took it gratefully and heaved him into the room with seemingly little effort.

"Oi! Yuffie, you here for the meeting, or are you going to pick a fight with the Turks?" The little girl, whom Sephiroth now noticed wasn't so little, turned towards them. Where had he seen that face? She was definitely Wutain…

"Fight! Tell me about it later, kay?" the Women nodded and waved her off. The Women sighed, and turned to the two SOLDIERS. She watched them warily; she seemed a bit warmer towards Zack than Sephiroth as the general noted how she seemed to stiffen near him slightly.

"Are you two coming in or not? And whatever you do, try not to mind Barret, he has a temper."

"What is your name, Ma'am?" Ever the polite one, Sephiroth asked.

"Tifa. I'd tell you my last name, but I still have family alive." She told them, walking back inside the lodge. Zack shot a look at Sephiroth.

"The stuff Blondie puts us through…" he sighed dramatically. Sephiroth felt like laughing.


For awhile, no body did anything; everyone was merely taking in the others. The SOLDIERS found themselves in seats trying to ignore the 5 pairs of eyes (and two robotic eyes) watching them. Rufus, however seemed to take it all in stride. He'd done this before that was obvious.

"Seeing as Someone is about to pop, I'm Tifa. This is…" she pointed to Zack who spoke his name, and Sephiroth who curtly did the same.

"And seeing as you know Rufus already, he's more like an honorary member. Right, beside you Zack, is Cait sith, and beside you Sephiroth, is Nanaki, or rather Red XIII as dubbed by the Bitch Professor." She said distastefully.

"Across from you, is Barret with the gun arm, and Cid Highwind with the cigar. The only two missing are Yuffie who's badgering the Turks and Cloud who's mission.…. Oh! And behind you in the corner is Vincent." Zack spun around and looked into the corner. No one there. He looked to the other one, no one there. He looked back to the first one, and nearly yelped at the red cloaked vampire thing.

"Okay, officially the creepiest man in existence." He said and shuddered back into his seat at the round table.

"Blame that on Hojo."

"Sick 'lil shit 'otta burn in 'ell." Barret snarled his accent thick with rage. Tifa threw him a look and he shut up remarkable quickly.

"Last time I saw Cloud was briefly in Rocket town when he stopped for gas, this was 4 months ago, around the 27th. When did he contact you, Ruf?"

"On the 17th. Did he mention anything to you?"

"No, he looked agitated though."

"I know why!" a really annoying, whiny chirpy voice announced from the doorway. Yuffie happily skipped into the room before stopping cold and raising a shaky finger at Sephiroth..

"GYAH! TIFA WHY IS HE-" Whap! Cid smacked the girl on the back of her head with his hand while his other hand pulled out his cigar and exhaled, shooting the girl a look.

"Wutei war is over Yuffie, Besides… Sephiroth is like a kitten, he's harmless…" Rufus ignored the rather scathing glare from the general. Cid chuckled.

"More like a panther stalking his prey." The captain muttered. The Ninja pouted.

"Cloud was in Wutei when he visited your Father, right?" The Robot spoke up, and Sephiroth was very surprised to recognize the voice of his superior, Reeve Tuesti.

"Did Godo say something he shouldn't have?" the robot danced on the moogle, and Yuffie winced, shooting Sephiroth a panicked look. The silver haired man understood the moment the Robot finished his sentence. Godo had been his enemy in the way, and now here stood his daughter, no wonder she freaked.

"Actually, it's the other way around." Eyes looked at her. Yuffie scratched the back of her head and giggled nervously.

"Father spoke to me on my last visit, 3 months ago. He said that Cloud when he was there, was agitated and spoke about getting strong warning signals from the planet. But because Cloud isn't a Cetra he couldn't decipher them. Father said that, when he asked Cloud about them, Cloud seemed afraid. Cloud apparently said that he was getting these really bad feelings and premonitions. Father told me that he couldn't console Cloud, because there had been strange patters in the life stream."

"Grandfather Bugenhagan might know more about this phenomena, if this is the case." Nanaki spoke for the first time.

"Shit…" Barret muttered. Sephiroth decided to speak, seeing as everyone else lapsed into silence.

"Irregardless of this fact, Cloud should have retained contact, and informed his superior of the break in Mission pattern. Either something scared him so bad, he went into hiding… or…" and here Sephiroth turned to Zack who was wearing a pale pained face.

"Or Hojo got his grubby fucking hands on him." There was a long period of silence before Rufus spoke up.

"How many are charged?" Cat Sith perked up.

"Every Reactor, even old and unused ones are armed to explode. Vincent knows more on the laboratories." Everyone turned in their seats to stare at the man in the corner. The red cape moved, fluttering in an invisible wind as if it were alive. A head of long black tangle hair rose revealing deathly pale skin and haunted red eyes.

"To my knowledge, every existing lab has been tagged." Zack frowned.

"No one truly knows how many labs the sicko has around the world but the sicko himself. How many labs are there?"

"43." Came the monotonous response. Tifa shuddered, Sephiroth hissed and shivered, thinking back to the dark things.

"The only prob'em is tha' Strife 'as all the 'effing codes! We can' detonate t'em. 'till we get Cloud 'ack!" a large dark skinned fish slammed onto the table, making several others jump.

"We should visit Bugenhagen first, it's our only lead." Tifa calmed him down, shooting a glance at Rufus.

"Right, General, Colonel, helping AVALANCH is you're new mission. Sephiroth will have to change his appearance, Tifa…" She waved at his hesitancy.

"We got it covered. We'll contact you through Reeve once we get an Idea of what's going on." Tifa told him with a nod, as He and Yuffie departed, leaving Sephiroth and Zack in the hot seats. Tifa turned to them and frowned.

"No funny shit, got it? If it wasn't for the fact that Cloud trusts you, we wouldn't be here."

"How often did you see the Robotic spike?"

"Maybe twice, three times a year…"

"More than us…" Zack muttered despairingly. Tifa shot him a sympathetic glance.

"He wanted to protect you in a way. Did you know that, Zack? You got under his skin, and he got scared you'd get hurt. The Both of you, so don't worry too much okay?" she smiled and gestured them to follow her out of the room, which was no vacated.

The Hunt for Cloud Strife was on.