Kingdom Hearts II

Memento Mori

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is! It was directly inspired by the prompt "Memory" at the Kingdom100 Livejournal community, and I thought maybe it would be okay to put it up on this site while I'm waiting for my claim to be accepted. The Latin title translates to "Remember that you must die." It is deeply immersed in my timeline, and though some of my fics are stand-alones, this one probably really will confuse all who have not followed at least a portion of my series. Many thanks to Kaze and Lisa for plot help!

We buried you earlier today. Figures that it would be raining.

Zack picked the spot in the cemetery that he wanted. You'd probably like it—kind of quiet and secluded, not right by any of the paths. And there's a big evergreen tree right over the place. I think it's got pinecones, though. So they'll probably go everywhere and we'll step on them all the time.

It was really stupid, all the trouble we had even trying to get them to let you in! They didn't want some "winged freak" buried here. And they made a big fuss about it. But Zack made a big fuss right back. He's sick of this prejudice, and so am I. Well, it involves me too, so that's why I'm fed up with it. And of course, because of how it hurts Zack. Isn't it bad enough that you're dead, without all this?! The trouble just never stops.

I lean down, running my fingers over the words on your tombstone. In Memory of General Sephiroth, who courageously lived and died for his country's freedom. Oh yeah, what a fitting reception we had, for a general. A commoner who did the same thing you did would have been treated better, just because of not having wings.

What even were your goals, anyway? Were you fighting for the people of Hollow Bastion, the ones who turned their backs on you that you were so angry at? Were you fighting for Zack, your best friend, who never did give up on you? Or were you even fighting for yourself? I remember something you told me once—that someone like you has a hard time when there aren't battles to be fought, that it's like your purpose is gone.

I was surprised when you told me. But then again, sometimes you did start telling stuff like that about yourself. Not too much, though. I think the first time you did was probably the night I came down with that stupid fever and you were taking care of me because Zack was gone on a mission. You talked to me about how you'd given in to the darkness, and how much you regretted it. And you told me not to ever let it happen to me. You acted really tired then, and not just because of needing sleep.

. . . If you were fighting for these people at all, it was probably in vain. You were right—they don't care. A lot of them didn't even believe Zack when he told what happened. They thought he was trying to cover up for something, because he's always been so devoted to you.

I don't know . . . it made me mad. Zack wouldn't lie like that! And there wasn't anything to cover up. It happened just like he said. I was there. I saw it. But if they wouldn't even believe Zack, who's always been kind and good to them, then I know they'd never believe me. I'm just another winged freak, plus it's not a secret that I'm not too crazy about the people. But it's not like they give me a reason to be. It's almost too easy to not like them.

It's weird, to think of you not being around. I keep expecting to turn around and find you here, giving me a bored and world-weary look. And I don't know how Zack is going to handle this. He's been trying to hold it together, but I don't think he'd let me see him break down, if he could help it.

I've known him longer than you did, but I wonder sometimes if you're the one who knew him the best. You two . . . you just had some kind of understanding that I've never really got. Who could be more different from Zack than you? . . . Not that I'm anything like him, either.

I guess you and I were alike in our pessimism, anyway. Or the fact that we both were pessimistic. You always seemed more . . . I don't know . . . bitter and exhausted, like you'd seen more than I have. Wouldn't be surprised.

Why am I sitting here? I should go find Zack or something. He wanted to be alone for a while, and I guess I did too, but knowing Zack, he probably won't want to be alone very long. I think he needs to be around people to be truly happy. But now that he's lost you, can he ever be happy again?

I know it would be the same if I was the one who was gone. Zack gets along good with everyone, but you and I were always his best friends. He said once that he didn't know what he'd do without us, that he'd lost both of us at one time or another and that was way too much. I guess he meant he'd lost us to the darkness. And I told him he wouldn't have to find out what he'd do, that we weren't going anywhere.

Famous last words.

"Hello, Cloud."

What the . . . ?! I look up, twisting my body around only to see you standing near me. But that's . . . that would mean you're a . . . Great, so now you're haunting me? You look the same as you always did, with the wings and even the scars on your chest from the dragon's attack. You've got your sword in your left hand, but you're holding it so the blade goes out behind you. And you look tired and . . . sad? You're sad? Well . . . I guess you didn't want to die.

A slight smirk tugs at your mouth. "You're surprised to see me," you say.

"I don't usually get visits from dead guys," I grumble. "Shouldn't you go see Zack, instead? You know he's really broken up about this."

"Of course I'm going to see Zack. But I wanted to ask you something first." You shift your position, watching me. I don't like being stared at by a ghost. If I thought you could see into my soul before, it feels even more like it now.

"Why are you here, Cloud?"

I straighten up, facing you. "Why am I here?!" I retort in frustration. "Don't you think I wonder that myself?! I've got no reason to be here! If anyone was going to come, it should be Zack! But he probably can't stand it. Why did you have to die?! Why did you have to do that to him?!" And what's up with me? I'm just letting myself lose it again. I'm screaming everything at you that I've been keeping inside. I know it's not your fault, but it just . . . it makes me so angry, that you're dead and Zack's crushed and I don't know anything I can do about it!

Something flickers in your eyes, but you just ignore my ranting. "If there was a way you could bring me back, would you take it?" you ask.

And what kind of a thing is that to ask?! Isn't it too late for that? It sounds pretty pointless now! ". . . Sure, for Zack's sake," I say after a long minute of just staring at you in disbelief.

You nod. "But for your own?"

Something about that makes me snap the rest of the way. What is it with you, showing up to bother me like this?! And wouldn't you already know the answer anyway?! Isn't that what happens when you die, you get all these mysteries figured out?! Or maybe you do know, but you just want me to say it! Well, I'm sick of it!

Why can't you just leave me alone?! How am I ever going to adjust to this if you come back to haunt me?! And how will Zack?! Won't this just make it harder for him, too?

I swear at you. "What are you talking about?!" I yell. "You know I don't like you. I've never liked you! If it wasn't for Zack, why would I want you around? You just annoy me out of my mind! That's what you've always done! That's what you're doing now by showing up here! I don't want you here!" I stop to take a breath, but you don't let me go on.

For a split-second, something I don't recognize goes through your eyes. You're not . . . hurt, are you? But then it's gone, and you're giving me a dark smirk as you turn away. "I see." Your voice is level, your eyes shielded. "Then there isn't anything more to discuss." You start to walk off.

You're just . . . leaving? I've yelled at you a lot and you haven't seemed really bothered. At least . . . not like this. But you know I say stuff I don't mean!

. . . I didn't mean it?

Oh, forget it. "Sephiroth!" And for some reason, I'm running after you, grabbing at your arm. That's a stupid thing to do. Won't my hand just go through? And why am I chasing you, anyway? I always wanted to get rid of you, and you acted like you leaving this time would be for good. Yeah, I didn't want you to die, but that doesn't mean I like having you bound to me! It's so frustrating, having you shadow me, and hanging around my place, and leaving feathers in my couch. . . .

. . . It's not really that bad. Or it wasn't. What am I saying?!

You stop, but don't turn around. "I believe you've already made yourself quite clear," you say, still with that frustrating, even voice. "I am not welcome."

"Sephiroth. . . ." I swear again, but not at you. Just at this whole situation. You've confused the heck out of me now.

My hand curls around your arm, and we both freeze, me in shock and you in . . . I don't know what. Probably aversion to being touched. But . . . how? Why? I shouldn't be able to touch you! What's going on here?!

Calm . . . I've got to stay calm. . . .

"How come I could just grab you?!" I demand.

Your upper wing twitches. "You might as well release me," you say, not bothering to answer the question. "I doubt you are interested in any of my explanations."

I frown at you. Great. So I'm being stalked by a ghost I can touch, and I made things worse by letting my feelings get ahead of me. Even though I don't get why you're upset in the first place. It's not like it's stuff I haven't said before.

. . . I guess it's actually been a long time since I've said something like that to you, hasn't it? I yell at you a lot, but not like this. We'd been getting along pretty good before this happened. I'd settled into tolerating you most of the time. . . .

But if I just tolerate you, why am I so upset?

. . . I'd better figure out something to say. My thoughts are all mixed up. And you're probably getting impatient that I'm still clutching at you.

"I . . . I was just frustrated," I grumble, gripping tighter at your arm. "You dying . . . it was just so sudden. I didn't expect it at all. You just used that harsh attack on those things, and then you were laying dead. I never had the chance to say anything to you . . . and neither did Zack." I shut my eyes. Why can't I just make those memories go away? It's like they're determined to keep bugging me. I keep seeing over and over what happened, and you just laying there, your wings spread all around you. . . . It was awful. Zack's scream is still playing in my head, too . . . and him running to you, pleading for you to get up, to say something. . . . I can't stand it.

"I used to have dreams about me killing you, like that one where I lost it and took over Hollow Bastion." I can't face you, so I'm staring at the grass. And I can feel you're watching me. "I hated it. . . . I always wondered if I could really flip out like that, and then you told me that you'd fallen into the darkness. You told me not to let it happen to me. And . . . I don't know, I told myself I wouldn't." This is getting way off the subject. And you know it, too.

"What's your point, Cloud?"

"I don't know what my point is!" I scream.

"Then I will be taking my leave." You reach to pry my fingers away.

And more thoughts just tumble out, while I grab you even more insistently. I don't even know why I want you to stay here and listen to this rambling. "When you were just there, dead, I . . . I figured it was my fault somehow, that you'd be alive if I'd fought harder against those things . . . or something like that." I curse. "What I'm trying to say is that I didn't want it to happen! I didn't want you to die!"

"For Zack's sake," you say, unmoved. "You mentioned that. If you still hate me so much, then it would be better for us both if I departed."

"No!" I scream. "I don't hate you! I don't hate you at all! And it's not just for Zack!" . . . What am I saying?! It's crazy, to be saying these things to you. You were going to leave, maybe for good. And even if you'd stayed around Zack, I wouldn't have had to deal with you anymore. But . . .

You're still staring at me. I can't tell if you believe me or not. But why would I lie about something like this? Especially when for ages I've been denying it altogether?

"Cloud . . ."

I just rush on. "I don't think I even really dislike you! All those things Zack told me about you, that I just couldn't believe . . . well, they don't sound so crazy anymore." I look up, glowering at you. "And I can promise you I'm not making this up. Do you know how hard it is for me to say this stuff?"

"Ungodly difficult." Your voice is still cold, but it almost sounds like it's softened a bit.

"I . . . I didn't mean to hurt you." I let go of your arm, turning away.

"I wasn't hurt."

I look back at you. You're facing me now, your arms crossed on your chest. And you're giving me a deadpan look. But there's not any tension now.

Well, whatever. I wasn't really expecting you to agree on that. And if you want to let it drop now, that's fine with me! I don't like spilling all of these thoughts, and the more I'm talking, the more I realize it's really true . . . somehow.

I just watch you for a while. ". . . Are you going to tell me what's going on?" I demand. "Why can I touch you? I shouldn't be able to unless you're . . ." I trail off. That's impossible. You couldn't be! We buried you! I saw your body. So did Zack. And we both saw you die!

"Yes, Cloud. I'm alive." You just look at me seriously. "What you buried isn't me. It's a clone created by Doctor Hojo."

Okay. What?! "A clone?!" I hear myself yelling. "Why would he clone you?!"

You just shake your head. "I don't know. All I know is that he intended it to cause mischief. He wasn't expecting it to become a renegade and try to stop the destruction instead of creating an uproar." You rub your eyes, looking tired again. "What I would like to know is, how did he duplicate the state of my wing?" You look down at the lower right one. "The clone's wing must have been bent, in order to look exactly like myself."

"It was." I remember that really clearly, because you . . . the clone . . . whoever, was laying on it. Then when Zack ran over and took the clone into his arms, pleading for him . . . it . . . to wake up, I saw that wing laying on the ground, curled over itself.

"Then he may have deliberately forced it into such a position."

I stare at you. "You mean he would do something on purpose to make it go like that?!" I know the guy's bad news. And after what he did to Zack, I shouldn't be surprised at anything he might do. Why would he care if he hurt the wing of some experiment of his, as long as he would get what he wanted out of it in the end?

"He would. He could have broken the bones and set them in a way to ensure they would grow back bent."

Zack would really be indignant and angry about that. I'm not too happy about it myself, when I think about it. Sure, it was a clone . . . but it was still alive. It must have felt things, like pain . . . even thought stuff out. I mean . . . it wouldn't just die for no reason, would it, unless it was following Hojo's orders? It must've wanted to sacrifice itself for a good reason.

"Let's go, Cloud."

I come back to the present, looking up at you. "Go?" I frown, still caught up in my thoughts.

"To find Zack."

Of course. I nod. Zack's going to be overjoyed. And that's a mild word for it. There's probably not any word, even in your big vocabulary, that would fit good enough. But wait a minute. . . .

I look at you suspiciously. "How do I know you're not just another clone?"

You smirk in a grim way. "I'm pleased to see you consider the possibility," you say. "But a clone only resembles someone physically. A clone will not possess the other's thoughts and memories. A clone would not know that I am bound to you. A clone would not know the origin of your wing, at the Olympus Coliseum. It came as you fell into the darkness."

Now my wing twitches. I don't really like you bringing that up, but you're right. A clone could never know that.

"Okay, fine. Whatever. Come on." I push past you, cutting across some other graves as I head for the gate. I can hear you following me.

"And where were you, anyway?" I yell back. "Why didn't you come here before now?!" I've got to make myself stay calm, somehow. I know you must've had a good reason. But for you to just pop up again, after all the agony you've been unwillingly causing Zack, yeah, it makes me upset. I guess that's probably part of the reason why I blew up at you.

"I was detained." Now you're walking alongside me, but you're not facing me. "You knew I'd left to try to discover the origin of these fire creatures. I wasn't able to return until today, and that's when I found out that I've been presumed dead." You pause. "It wasn't an extremely pleasing revelation."

I snort. "No, it really wouldn't be."

"I went looking for Zack, but he wasn't home at the time. I also tried your house, and then I wondered if I would find either or both of you at the cemetery."

"That makes sense, I guess." Zack was probably out walking or driving or something. I frown a bit. He'd better be back now, instead of getting into something stupid like an accident. It could happen. He hasn't been focused on stuff at all lately. He's just devastated. You mean the world to him, you know.

We keep walking.

I never saw him fall out of the sky. There was just that big burst of light when he was attacking back at those creatures. Then it faded, and he . . . he was laying on the ground, so still. Both Cloud and I were just staring . . . we couldn't even comprehend. Somebody screamed . . . and I knew it was me.

I ran to him, dropping down next to him and grabbing at his arm. He was just tired . . . maybe unconscious, but it wasn't anything he wouldn't get better from! This was Seph. He'd survived using this attack before!

He didn't move. I grabbed tighter, calling to him, but he was just limp. My hands were shaking, everything was spinning, a lump was rising in my throat. . . . I turned him gently onto his back, and . . . and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I couldn't believe that his chest was still. I screamed for him to wake up, leaning down to listen for a heartbeat. It had to be there! Seph couldn't die. He couldn't!

There wasn't any pulse at all. It was like on the battlefield, when Seph died in my arms. I called out to him again, but I don't remember what I said. Seph had to get up! He had to open his eyes, to look up at me, to let me know he was okay. But he wasn't okay. He'd never be okay.

My eyes fly open. Just a dream . . . another nightmare, or an "incubus", like Seph calls them. But it isn't. It's not something that'll just fade away now that I'm awake. It really happened. Seph's really gone. I stare up at the ceiling, feeling that lump in my throat again. He's never coming back. . . .

Oww . . . I'm laying on the couch with my head on the arm, and the timer on the microwave in the kitchen is telling me that my food's done. It's louder than I remember. I straighten up, rubbing at my kinked neck.

I've always liked cooking my own food, and the microwave's mostly been around for when Cloud's staying here and wants to eat in the middle of the night. But since Seph . . . well . . . I haven't felt much like cooking anything. I've been using up the TV dinners in my freezer instead. Seph wouldn't like to see me like this, but I don't know how to make myself feel any different right now.

I just . . . can't believe he's gone, you know? There was that one year of Hell after he died in battle, but then he was back. All of that seems so long ago—him ending up frenzied, attacking our enemies without remorse, his first death. It feels like it was another lifetime, almost. And now all the pain from that, and more, is rushing in again.

Where is Seph now? That's one of the things that's been plaguing me the most about all this. He was supposed to be bound to Cloud until Cloud's death, but I don't think he was ever told what would happen if he died first. Wouldn't he go to Heaven? He was a good person. He was always a good person! I know he fell into his darkness for a while there, but he was still Seph underneath it all. And he got himself under control.

I know he's been a good influence on Cloud, too, even if Cloud can't ever see it. Seph went through with his mission as best as he could. If he wouldn't be allowed to go to the good place, well . . . I don't know what I'd think of what's going on over there.

I feel awful. I know I've been distancing myself from Cloud, but I . . . I don't know how to handle this. And I know Cloud doesn't. I've tried to be there for him, but he's so angry all the time, and insists that he doesn't care that Seph's dead. He doesn't know how to help me, either, and I don't want him to feel like he needs to. I mean . . . just knowing he wants to try means a lot to me, but I know he doesn't feel like it's good enough.

I wonder if he's home now. I should probably try to call him or something . . . maybe go over after I eat.

Someone's knocking at the door. Wonder if it's someone from the base. They know we buried Seph today, even though they don't think it was really Seph. They all think I'm delusional or something because of Seph dying in that battle several years ago. Guess I'd better answer it, in any case.

Something's brushing against my hand as I start to move to get up. I look over at the crease in the couch. Dark blue is peeking up from under my fingers. And then I just know what it is, before I even pull it out. Seph's feather. . . . He was always getting them caught in the couch when he slept on it. I've never minded finding them. But seeing this one, and knowing there won't ever be any more of them . . . knowing what that means. . . . I have to swallow hard to get rid of the lump in my throat, but it just comes back.

I just want Seph back. But I know that's too much to ask. He was brought back from the dead once; it won't happen again.

I set the feather down on the coffee table and get up, moving slowly across the room and grabbing for the doorknob. Turning it, I find that Cloud's standing on the porch, shifting and looking uncomfortable.

"We need to talk," he says, looking up at me.

I'm worried now. Is something wrong with him, too? Or is he just worried about me? "Sure, Cloud," I tell him. "What's wrong?"

He steps up into the doorway, his wing twitching. "I . . . I found out some stuff about Hojo." He shifts some more, rubbing the back of his neck as he glances around the room. Cloud's usually not like this. He just blurts out whatever's on his mind, no matter how it sounds. What's going on?

I look at him worriedly. "What about Hojo?" I ask.

"He . . ." Cloud swears. "I don't know how to say this. He cloned Sephiroth."

He . . . he did what?! He cloned Seph?! Somewhere out there, someone's going around who looks just like Seph? I . . . I don't think I could stand that, if I ever met up with someone who looked exactly like him, but wasn't him. Especially now, when Seph's . . .

"How do you know?" I gasp.

Cloud looks even more uneasy. "Because . . ." He seems to think about it and starts over. "You met him before. We both did."

I'm not getting this. My mind must just be in a fog, but I'm not picking up whatever reference Cloud is hoping I will. It's pretty obvious he doesn't want to be explaining this, but what's the full reason for it?

"Nevermind, Cloud."

I know I'm freezing at this other voice. It's coming from outside, somewhere in the shadows. I know it . . . I could never forget it. But I can't be hearing it. Maybe it's this clone Cloud just mentioned. But why would he bring the clone here? Why . . . ?

Seph . . . it looks like Seph standing on the porch. He's coming in, looking tired as he goes past Cloud. It can't be Seph. It has to be the clone. Seph won't be coming back now. Not this time.

He . . . he looks over at me, regret and trust in his eyes. And recognition. This isn't a clone. A clone could never look at me like that. A clone wouldn't know me.

I just stare at him. "Seph . . ."

He smiles a bit, but he looks sad. "It was the clone you buried," he says, sobering again. "I don't know why it sacrificed itself." And he says that he was away, that he was still investigating those fire creatures, that he didn't even know what'd happened until he came back today.

I'm hearing it, but I'm not hearing it. All I can really focus on is that this is really happening. Seph's alive! He didn't die! He did come back. . . . And I'm running to him, glomping and laughing in joy. He stiffens a bit, but he was probably expecting this. He hugs back after a moment.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Cloud shutting the door. He's smiling a bit, but turning away to try to hide it. Same old Cloud. But he's happy too. He'd never say it, but he is. He never wanted you to be dead. The more he denied it, the more I knew it was true.

I pull back, grinning up at my buddy. "You've been gone too long, Seph," I tell him. I know it hasn't actually been that many days since he . . . I mean, since that poor clone died, but it's felt like an eternity. Every day's been like weeks inching by. And I never want to go through that again.

Seph grunts. "It couldn't be helped," he says. His eyes say a lot more—that he's sorry for putting me through this, that he never wanted it to happen, that he wishes he could've got back sooner.

Now that he's home, I don't really care about the pain I suffered while he was gone. But I care about what Cloud had to suffer, of course, and Seph didn't have it easy, either. Can you imagine, coming back not thinking anything will be wrong, and finding out that everyone thinks you're dead? That'd be awful. It would cause so much agony for everyone you care about, and you'd be feeling horrible that they were hurting because of thinking that you were dead.

I smile a bit, probably looking melancholy myself. "It's okay, Seph," I say, and mean it. "Now that you're back, everything's going to be fine."

The mad doctor smirks to himself, leaning back in his chair deep in the confines of the old castle. He will not be discovered here. Not yet, anyway, and he will have time to unleash all of his cruel plans. Mathews was a fool to think that he would succeed in keeping his prisoner for very long. Not even the highest ranked general in the military is a match for such a brilliant mind.

It is a pity about that clone, really. Obviously there was something flawed in its design and training, for it to go against what it was supposed to do. But in that case, all the better that it destroy itself. That saves the trouble of cleanup. And there will be others, ones that will obey every command that they're given. Their wills will be made to bend. After all, life is something meant to be taken and examined and controlled. But clones are not honestly alive, anyway, he believes. They are better than robots, but not truly human.

Another smirk begins to grace his merciless features as he studies a small photograph in his hand. It has aged nearly thirty years since it was first taken, but it has been well-preserved—both physically and in his memories. He recalls the day he took it very well.

It depicts a young woman, beautiful and helpless as she looks at the camera with sad and frightened eyes. Her long brown hair is swept up in a ponytail, the end of which has been grabbed by the small child on her lap. He is adventurous, not wanting to cease his explorations to gaze at the lens of the camera, and she has to hold onto him to prevent him from escaping. A shock of silvery hair falls over his two-year-old face, nearly concealing a green eye. With obvious annoyance at playtime being interrupted, he is also looking at the camera. So young and yet already so stubborn and independent.

The picture is set back on the desk as the doctor rises. There is much to be done.

I never knew anything was amiss until I entered Hollow Bastion. Nothing seemed different at first—people milled around as usual, largely apathetic to me as I walked among them. Though some of them did begin to give me strange looks. I wondered about it, but I was not that concerned until I overheard some of the women ahead of me beginning to gossip.

"Commander Fair was out at the cemetery today."

I stared in disbelief. Had I heard correctly? Why? Why would Zack go there? Was something wrong?

"Oh, burying that friend of his?"

Friend? Had something happened to you? Had you gotten in over your head during a battle and ended up . . .

"Yes, the man who claims to be Sephiroth."

I think I stopped in my tracks for a moment. That . . . that was impossible. What had happened? How could he believe that I had died? Then I remembered what I had discovered about the clone's creation during my absence. Could it have been the clone who had perished? Had Zack never been given the chance to speak with it and learn that it was not myself?

I quickened my pace, wanting to hear anything else that would be said. Panic and alarm were beginning to take residence in my heart, but I pushed them aside. I had to find Zack, to let him know that I was fine. I knew he was heart-broken, especially considering what happened nearly six years previous, when I met my end in battle. For him to have to suffer again, and needlessly, was cruel.

And what about you? I was not certain at all how you would be taking it. What did you think of what had happened, if you thought anything at all? Were you angry? Helpless, probably, concerned about Zack. When you screamed at me in the cemetery, I realized all the more how badly the experience had affected you as well as Zack. I believed your unkind words were the truth at first, though as you spoke to rectify the damage, I soon saw that they were not.

In one way, I am surprised by that, after you have despised me for so long. But I am pleased that I was not only imagining that things have changed between us. You are not my enemy any longer, someone to be reviled and loathed. I wonder if I even still see you as a reflection of myself, or if that is now a thing of the past.

. . . I suppose also, when you vented your frustrations at me, I felt guilt, to some extent—to know what my "death" had done. And I was angry that I had not returned earlier to be able to prevent it entirely. It was unavoidable, and that angered me as well.

Returning to my account, the women were still continuing their senseless talk.

"What happened, anyway? I heard that he was killed by those horrible fire creatures."

What? Never! I would not be bested by such mindless entities.

"I heard that he was going to let them attack the town, but they settled for destroying him."

Ridiculous! And though I have little respect for the majority of the townspeople, I would not stand by and allow an assault of such magnitude to take place. I am not such a dishonorable person.

"Oh no, he was killed trying to stop them. That's what Commander Fair says, anyway, and even if you don't like that winged man, surely you don't think the leader of the army would lie to us?"

Of course he would not!

"He wouldn't have to be lying. He could be deceived. Obviously he must have been, to think that person would ever be the friend he lost in battle."

"He probably isn't even fit to lead the army, when he's under such a delusion!"

"I heard he was given a psychiatric exam and shown to be perfectly sound in his mind."

I had grown weary of their nonsense almost as soon as it had begun, but this angered me anew. They had no true concept of what Zack's work was like, or whether or not he was qualified to lead. There was little point in listening to any more of this farce. I had to locate Zack, and you.

I stepped forward, moving in between the women as they slowed near a crossing. "Excuse me," I spoke, my voice harsh.

I could hear gasps as I went past, ranging from shock to disbelief and even possibly horror.

"It's him!"

"It can't be!"

"It must be his spirit, coming to haunt us all!"

"But I felt him touch me! He can't be a ghost!"

Such idiocy. I was grateful to put it far behind me as I hastened to the other side of the street.

I still regret that this happened. But there is little point in such feelings now. Zack is happy again, knowing that I am alive. And you . . . I doubt that I would describe you as "happy", but you are relaxed, at least. However, now there is one more task that needs to be done. . . .

Once more I have returned to the cemetery, in the company of both you and Zack. The day is overcast, as it was when the clone was buried. An unfriendly wind makes its way through the trees with insistence, as their branches wave and dance. They are as marionettes in some way, under the control of their unseen master.

You glance toward the sky, rolling your eyes as a raindrop splashes against your cheek. "Typical," you mutter. "Raining again."

"Of course," I answer. "Why wouldn't it, when we're at the cemetery? That's the most inconvenient time for it."

Zack shakes his head at us both. "Imagine me being best friends with a couple of true blue pessimists!" he smirks.

The three of us lift the modified headstone out of the Jeep, carrying it over the grass to the recent, currently bare grave. We pause, judging the correct placement so as not to lay it crooked. Then, slowly, we lower it to the ground.

Zack straightens up, gazing at it in soberness for a moment. You follow suit, though you cross your arms and look somewhat uncomfortable again.

I look at it as well.

In Memory of a man of courage, who gave his life in the protection of others.

Zack was unsure of what all would need to be changed. Originally he had planned to only remove my name and replace it with "a man." But as we talked about it, we wondered if Hollow Bastion could truly be referred to as the clone's country. Eventually we opted to alter the entire inscription. It looks better this way.

Zack is still studying the grave. "That must've been an awful existence," he murmurs. Of course he was horrified when we told him of the probable details, including that Hojo may have broken the clone's wing. Now we are even more determined to find that monster and bring him to justice. He can't conceal himself forever. And nothing such as this will be allowed to happen again.

"He may have allowed himself to die only to escape such a pointless life," I remark.

"We'll never know," you say. "But if that was the only reason, I guess he was a lot different from you."

Zack looks thoughtful. "What do you think would happen to a clone, after dying?" he muses. "I mean, he was artificially created, but he was still alive. Wouldn't he deserve an afterlife as much as anyone else?"

I look to him. This line of thought is not surprising, especially from Zack. "I doubt we will ever know that, either," I say. "There are those who believe that clones would never attain an afterlife. Some even feel that they do not possess souls. I never gave it much thought either way." Not that Zack would have, either. This was the first clone to have crossed any of our paths. And perhaps the last.

"Just think what you want to about it," you tell him. "It's not like it'll hurt anything."

Zack nods. "Yeah. . . ." He looks to me, smiling in a melancholy way. "You know, Seph . . . maybe he wasn't really that different from you, after all."

I grunt. "Why do you say that?"

Zack looks to you before continuing. "Cloud and I were trying to fight off a bunch of those things that were getting huge, and then the clone showed up and was fighting a lot more of them. We ended up getting into a pretty sticky situation." He shudders. "The poor guy got wounded a couple times, badly too, and yet he still was going to use a harsh attack on them." He gives a weak, sad smile. "He told me and Cloud to stay back, and . . . that was all that got said before he killed those things . . . and himself with them. Maybe he never even thought he would die. Maybe he thought he'd be able to handle it."

"Maybe." It's true that if it was myself, I would not have gone into it expecting I would perish. I would have fully believed I would live—or else I would have fought the known inevitable with every ounce of my strength.

"Well . . . whatever his motives were, he sure came through for me and Cloud that day. Probably all of Hollow Bastion, too." Zack lays a hand on my shoulder. "I really wish he hadn't died. He deserved to live, and I would've liked to talk to him. But I have to admit . . . if one of you had to die, Seph, I'm glad it wasn't you."

I nod slowly in response.

You take the opportunity to interrupt. "We should get out of here before we're all soaked," you grumble. The rain is beginning to gather speed, and it has been forecast to be serious throughout the day. Though it is by itself for now, I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually is joined by the thunder and lightning.

Zack nods. "True," he says, smirking a bit. "Don't want anyone to come down with a cold."

He turns back to the grave. "Hope you've found some happiness now . . . wherever you are," he says quietly. "I know it's not enough for what you did, but . . . thank you. I'm going to do the best I can to live up to your sacrifice."

If you have anything to add, you keep it to yourself.

As for me, I never met this clone. It would seem awkward to encounter someone exactly resembling oneself and created from his own DNA. But my gratitude for what the clone did is indescribable. I know firsthand how overwhelming those creatures can be when they become large. That clone protected Zack, as well as you, when their army grew too enormous for swords alone to handle. If I had returned to find Zack dead, instead of the clone . . . I don't know what I would have done.

The three of us start to turn to leave.

Something out of the corner of my eye catches my attention and I turn back to look. For a split-second, I am staring at myself—careworn and sobered. The image locks eyes with me briefly and then is gone, as if he has either teleported or has just vanished from my view.

But in that brief moment, he has transferred some of his thoughts to me. He perished because he found something worth protecting—because for him, he finally found some meaning in life. And though he regrets the pain he unwillingly caused Zack and you, he does not regret what he did. He is relieved that he and the fire creatures were the only ones to die.

"What is it, Seph?"

I glance over at Zack's confused face. He did not see the spectre. And you are raising an eyebrow at me.

"It may have been a trick of the light," I reply, half-turning away. "Or maybe the answer to the question concerning whether clones have souls."

Zack blinks in surprise. Then a slow smile of understanding comes over his features.

"You saw the clone?" you ask.

I nod. "So it would seem. I don't see him now."

Zack gives a slow wave in the direction of the grave before turning back to you and I. "Come on, pals," he says. "Let's go."

We both nod. He lays his hands on our shoulders as we depart.