Final Fantasy VII
Shine Until Tomorrow
Notes: The characters from the games are not mine. The other characters and the story are! This is a story very loosely inspired by a dream I was having. I started thinking about how I could re-work it into a story when I woke up, and this happened. The title is from the Beatles' masterpiece Let It Be, which is being listened to a lot as this is written. Thanks to Kaze and Lisa for the plot help!
The flames were climbing higher and higher, their red, orange, and yellow hues blending in a sickening and selfish dance. They held a never-ending hunger and thirst for everything in their path, and a jealousy of whatever got in the way of their choreography. Both problems they solved by consuming it all. The vehicle was little more than a skeleton now. And the building was collapsing. Anyone inside would be burned alive or crushed by the falling ceiling. The roof over the porch was going right now.
His mind was a complete blank. Had the last five minutes happened? Was it just a horrible nightmare that he would wake up from, with his buddy shaking him and saying that they had arrived in Wutai? Were they . . . were they really all dead?
Somewhere he knew that the child in his arms was crying, terrified by the explosions. The orphans here had already seen so much! Why did they have to be put through even more because of these rebels? The rebels refused to accept Shinra rule over their land, but to blow up the SOLDIERs' Jeep and endanger all these young lives by doing so was outrageous. And the gasoline poured up to the porch of the building said that it had definitely been one of their goals. But . . . how could they have wanted the orphanage to go up in flames too? How could they have been that cruel, just because the director was welcoming to the SOLDIERs? . . .
And Seph . . . Seph had been in the building, trying to get out the remaining two children. Zack had been in there with him, right up to the time when the falling ceiling had separated them. He had screamed for Seph, he had been so afraid that the flaming beams may have come down on his best friend's head, but he had not been able to do anything. He had needed to get the little girl he was holding to safety. And now, now that they were outside and he saw what had become of the abode, any hope of returning to the inferno himself was shattered.
At last the voice managed to pierce his consciousness. Now he realized that the person had been calling to him ever since he had emerged from the fiery tomb. Lavender eyes looked up at the worried Wutaian woman standing next to him, holding out her arms for the child.
"Is she alright?" came the demand. Her voice was intelligent and mature, with only the barest trace of a Wutaian accent.
He swallowed hard, handing the girl to the woman with care. "Y-yeah," he choked out. "Well . . . shaken up. . . ." He reached up, passing a hand over his eyes. Maybe if he could not see the horror in front of him, it would fade into the sunset. Maybe it was just the sunset to begin with, innocent and harmless. But it was not.
"But . . . the other kids," he choked out now. "And the General. . . ."
General. . . . It seemed so strange, to call Seph that, respectful yet impersonal. And while any SOLDIER would feel horrified at the possible loss of his commander, it was even worse for one who hailed that man as his dear friend. How . . . how could this really be taking place? How could there really be no hope?
"There's nothing that can be done for them now." Her voice had tightened in indescribable pain. The two who had been with General Sephiroth were very precious to her, as were all of the children in her care. To think of them suffering such a treacherous fate was almost beyond what she could bear. But somehow she must go on. There were all the rest who still needed comfort and kindness, and a place to go. If they could get to her sister's home, across town, she would give them food and shelter until they could build a new orphanage. . . .
"No!" He was half-surprised at the intensity of his voice, and yet he was not. Vaguely he could hear the rest of the kids gathering around, sobbing as they clung to the woman's kimono. He needed to help her with them, to get them to another shelter, but how could he leave now when there were others still in danger? Maybe there was still a way to get past the fire. He could not give up. He could never give up! Not as a SOLDIER. Not as a friend.
He reached for the sword on his back. He might need it, to fight past debris and flames.
He paused, glancing over his shoulder. She was staring at him, fear and concern in her dark eyes. But he saw something else, too---a spark of hope.
"You might be killed."
He nodded. "Yeah . . . I know," he said. "But I have to try to save them. If I live, and they die because of it . . . I'll never forgive myself."
And then he was running toward the raging, crumbling labyrinth, his sword held high as his boots slapped the dirt ground, his thoughts racing and tumbling over each other. It should have been a simple inspection of how things were coming with Wutai's restoration. If it had not been for the . . . the warped and insane actions of these terrorists, everything would have been fine! They had taken away these kids' only home. They had tried to take away the kids' lives. And all because of their hatred of the SOLDIERs!
In his mind he could still hear the treacherous boom that had been the beginning of the end. He could hear the kids scrambling about, chattering in confusion and fright. And he could hear his own disbelief over it all.
"What was that?!" he gasped, running to the nearest window before anyone could answer. The Jeep stood where it had been parked, but now it was surrounded by the cruel flames as they climbed up and down and around its body. And below on the ground, a trail of gasoline was coming to life as well . . . a trail that led all the way to the front steps of the building. There was no way it could have been an accident. He knew in an instant that it had been a deliberate act of hatred.
The children stared, clustering around him, Seph, and Ms. Shidou, the director, as the porch caught fire. They would not be able to escape that way.
Ms. Shidou took a deep breath. They would have to remain calm somehow, even though she did not feel the least bit calm. What if the blaze could not be extinguished? What if the entire building went up in flames and they would not have any home? At this point she did not believe for one moment that they would have trouble escaping themselves. There were so many other exits.
"Alright, children," she said, "let's line up just as we practiced and go right to the nearest way out." She reached for the door handle, but drew her hand back as the heat seared at her. They would not be able to close the doors for some measure of added protection---not that the fire would not swiftly eat through them anyway.
"What kind of stove do you have in the kitchen?" Seph broke in, his voice urgent.
The woman's eyes widened. "It's gas," she admitted. Alarm came into her eyes. "And some of the children are in the cafeteria, gathering the dishes!"
The second explosion was much louder, much closer, and more horrifying. It felt as though the entire building was tearing asunder. And when Zack dared to look up, a too-familiar crackling could be heard inside as well as out. Glancing to the window, he could see more red and orange flickering there, beginning to eat the wood around it. The glass shattered, pieces flying every which way as the children cried out in panic.
"Stay calm, children," Ms. Shidou said, her voice wavering as she straightened up from where she had been shielding those nearest to the pane. "Let's stick to our plan."
"But what about Ellysa and Yuki and Ryou?" exclaimed a girl with her hair in pigtails.
"We'll get them!" Zack reassured.
He exchanged a look with Seph, deeply concerned. The orphanage was just a simple wooden building in a Wutaian village, devoid of any fire protection methods. Within a few moments, it would be almost entirely engulfed in flames. Already the room was feeling unnaturally hot, and the increasing fire was climbing in every direction through the rooms. Without a doubt, the stove must have given up the ghost, making the situation many times more dire.
Seph gave a firm nod. "Take the other children outside," he instructed, looking to the director. "We'll follow."
Ms. Shidou was not in a position to argue. She nodded as well, speaking to the children with her as she led them out into the hall.
Sephiroth followed, but instead of turning to the right, he walked straight across, entering the cafeteria. It only took a swift scan of the room to see that there was only one child present. All around the walls, the flames were gathering and spreading, each passing second bringing them closer to the wooden tables and benches. The counter separating the cafeteria from the kitchen was also ablaze. Beyond it, not much could be seen other than the curtain of fire.
The small girl ran over to the General, tugging on the edges of his black coat. "Yuki and Ryou are in the kitchen!" she cried, her almond eyes filling with horrified tears. "Are they dead?! Are they dead?!"
Sephiroth gazed down at her, debating what to say. It was certainly a possibility. But though he did not want to give her false hope, it would not be good to scare her even more, either.
"I don't know," he replied then.
Zack, right on Seph's heels, came to a stop as he also looked down at the child. "We're going to find out," he assured her.
Ellysa gave a slow nod, biting her lip. She looked so lost and forlorn as she stood there in her humble clothes and tear-streaked face. She was still clinging to Sephiroth's coat, too, as if releasing the fabric would ensure her unwilling solitude forever. And he noticed.
"Take her outside," he said, and before Zack could protest, Sephiroth had lifted her up and was handing her to Zack.
Zack swallowed hard, nodding as he held Ellysa close to him. He had planned to go into the kitchen himself, but Seph obviously had other ideas. This was not the first fire they had ever been in, however. And he had complete confidence in Seph's skills. He would be able to get in and out just fine, despite the growing danger. But that did not mean that Zack would not be concerned. "Okay," he agreed aloud. "But Seph?"
"Okay," he agreed aloud. "But Seph?"
"Be careful, pal." Zack looked up at his friend, trying to smirk. "You don't wanna give me gray hairs worrying about you, do you?"
Seph grunted. "I'll be out right after you," he said. "The kitchen door will probably be blocked, but if by any chance it isn't, I'll take them out that way."
With that he was hastening to the kitchen. Zack lingered a moment to watch, before starting to turn away. He needed to go. If it was not for Ellysa, he would be following Seph right into the kitchen. But she had to be taken out right now, before the blaze got even worse. If he waited, they might not be able to leave.
It was then that he heard the horrible sound of the ceiling giving way. His heart racing, he turned back just in time to see the flaming beams hit the floor right after Seph had gone through the doorway . . . or maybe not after he had gone through. There was no way of telling. He held Ellysa closer, screaming Seph's name. There was no answer. Nothing but the roaring fire responded to his pleas.
How could he just leave without knowing? If Seph was trapped, he would have to be freed right then if he would have any hope of survival. Zack moved to run over.
The ceiling had other ideas. Seph would have said it was a warning. Ellysa shrieked in terror, hugging Zack around the neck as a large piece descended right in front of them. As soon as it made contact with the floor, the planks also began to go up in flames.
Zack shut his eyes tightly. He would have to take Ellysa out and then come back. He could not possibly keep her here while he tried to see if Seph was alright. Turning abruptly to face the door, he gritted his teeth as he made his legs run in that direction. He would have to pray that Seph had not been hurt, that he and the other kids would stay safe, that they would be outside by the time Zack got there.
But they had not been there when he had burst out several terrifying moments later. And he had known then that they were not coming out.
"Seph!" he screamed as he reached what was left of the porch. Beyond the increasing size of the doorway, a wall of fire altogether blocked his path. If it had been impossible to use that door when this had first happened, it was many times moreso by now. He could run into it, but he would be burned alive before he ever gained the other side.
Turning, he ran to the left and around the corner of the building. The flames were so close now that his eyes were watering and a cough was rising in his throat. Was that . . . was one of the windows still accessible? The shutters were wide open, and the sash was up, allowing the smoke to pour into the atmosphere, but the fire was not right against the space. Maybe he could squeeze inside.
Cupping a hand over his nose and mouth, he dashed to the window and stared into the room. From what he could see, it was empty other then the furniture being devoured by the greedy flames. Thrusting his sword through the opening and into the floor, he used it for balance as he began to pull his muscular body inside. Soon he was lowering one leg, then the other onto the wooden planks. Rising his weapon high once more, and replacing his other hand to his face, he pressed forward into the growing inferno.
Judging by what he remembered of the floor plan, he should be in the recreation room right now. And there should be a door in front of him, to the right. Yes! There it was. He moved to it with haste, staring up and down the blazing hall. To his right were the kids' rooms, near the back of the orphanage. To his left were the cafeteria, kitchen, pantry, and front parlor. The fire had started at the front. When he had last seen Seph, it had been between the kitchen and the cafeteria. Seph had been going to get the kids out the side door, but who knew how bad it was there by now. If that way was impassable, he would have left with them and tried to come this way, and then wouldn't he have found the window in the recreation room?
A cold fear began to squeeze Zack's heart again. What if his first nightmarish thought was the real truth? What if Seph had perished under the falling ceiling, and the kids shortly after, if they had not already been dead? No . . . no, that could not be it. Seph was strong, the very best in the military. He could not have been defeated just like that. But still . . . still, it was possible. The lavender eyes were pricked again, and not due to the fumes.
He turned to the left, running to the pantry. There was a second entrance to the kitchen from there, for which he was grateful. It would be impossible to access the kitchen from the cafeteria, judging from how things had been when he had fled with Ellysa.
The closer he got, the more it sounded like he could hear a weak cry for help. He removed his hand briefly, calling back in a sudden rush of hope and desperation. They had to be there. Maybe they were hurt, but they would still be alive!
Yuki, the oldest of the missing children, answered again. Yes, she was there, and so was her younger brother Ryou. But the General . . .
The fear came back and increased tenfold. What about the General? What about Seph? But he forced it down. "Alright!" he said. "I'm coming. Just stay still and don't try to talk any more."
He burst into the kitchen, taking in the scene with alarmed and sickened eyes. The walls, ceiling, and even the floor were largely gone. The two children were standing on the edge of a gaping pit, their wide and frightened faces staring at their saviour. How would they even get over to him? It was too far for them to jump. That was why they had not been able to leave before.
Zack sprang into action. Placing the sword on his back, he indicated for the kids to step aside as much as they could. Then he leaped across the missing floor, landing safely on the other side. Bending down, he scooped Yuki into one arm and Ryou into the other. "Hold tight," he whispered.
Straightening up, he stared into what was left of the room. There was nothing to speak of. The flames had engulfed everything. A lump came into his throat and refused to remove itself. Seph . . . buddy. . . . But there was no time to think, let alone to grieve.
He turned back, clutching the small bodies close to him as he jumped back to the other side. Then, blindly running, he tore the way he had come, back to the recreation room. But his eyes widened in horror. That way of escape was now blocked. More of the ceiling had collapsed, and the fire had barricaded the entrance.
Yuki could sense that something was wrong from the way Zack had stiffened. "Are we gonna die?" she whispered into the strong shoulder. Ryou, too upset for anything but tears, had burrowed against Zack and refused to look up.
"'Course not!" Zack said, forcing cheerfulness into his voice. There was no need to worry them more than they even already were. They had just thought they were going to be rescued. And he would not let it be in vain! If he had to, he would knock out a wall with the sword. But first he was going to try the back of the building. Maybe there would still be a window they could use.
He hurried down the corridor as fast as humanly possible, peering into the first rooms they approached. The flames were too fierce. But he would not give up. Pressing forward, he looked into the next set. There! There was a room still intact, with the window ready and waiting.
He ran inside and over to the exit, staring out at the ground below. It was not far to fall, even for the kids. Everything should be fine. "Okay," he said, "now I'm going to lower you guys out the window first. Then when you're both safe, I'll follow. Is that alright?"
Yuki gave a numb nod, but Ryou shook his head with ferocity as he held on to Zack. "No!" he wailed. "No go! No go, like the Gen'ral . . . !"
Zack held on firmly, not trusting himself to speak for a moment. Seph . . . what happened to you? Now was not the time to ask. "Hey," he said, lowering his voice, "I'll be right behind you. I promise!"
But Ryou could not be comforted. He cried harder, gripping Zack as if something horrible would happen the moment he let go. And it was then that Zack noticed dried blood on the child's arms and hands . . . blood that was not his own. Zack's heart twisted until it broke, a horrified exclamation tearing free from his lips. Seph's blood. . . . What had these kids witnessed?
Yuki looked up at him, her eyes blank. She could not express her emotions through tears. They were too tumultuous and confusing for her to even understand. "I'll go first," she said, "and then I can take Ryou if you lift him out."
Zack nodded. "Then out you go," he said, leaning out the window as she began to loosen her grip on him. Her little hands moved down his arm and clutched his big hand as she swung herself free, jumping to the ground. Then she turned and looked up, holding out her arms for her younger brother.
It shredded Zack's heart all the more, when he tried to pry Ryou's tiny fingers away from his shirt. The poor guy was not even three years old yet, and a wail of anguish ripped from his throat as he struggled to wrap his short legs around Zack's waist. Unintelligible words were mixed in as well, but at last Zack realized that "No go!" had been pleaded several times, as well as "Don't leave!"
Zack looked the window up and down. Would it be possible at all, for him to get out with Ryou? It was not a very big opening, and it would be a pretty tight squeeze. He should not attempt it. And yet, how could he let go when Ryou was in such a distraught state?
The roar of the fire behind him made up his mind. It was lapping at the doorway now. Within a few short moments, this room would be gone. Gritting his teeth, he pulled Ryou's hands free and took hold of the small wrists. In one swift move, he swung the boy out the window into his sister's arms, amid haunting shrieks and screams of protest. Then, as Yuki backed up, he pulled himself into the window and out again, leaping to the ground outside. Scooping up both kids once more, he ran.
He ran until they had come around again to the front of the building, until panicked villagers were meeting him and taking the children from him. Somewhere in his turmoil of mind he heard Ms. Shidou expressing her immense gratitude and thanksgiving to him for saving Yuki and Ryou. She also said something about him coming with them and that he should get some food and rest, and be examined by the village doctor, but it sounded unthinkable.
He looked back at the building he had come from twice in the past fifteen minutes. It was entirely consumed now. As he watched, the remainder of the roof and the walls crumpled, letting the hungry flames have their fill. Absolutely nothing was left. He could not return a third time, out of some vain and desperate hope that he would find Seph alive.
His knees crumpled as well, sending him into the dirt. He reached out with his hands, gripping clods of the earth as his shoulders began to tremble. A cry of agony tore from his own lips. There was nothing he could have done. He knew that, but it was not a comfort. In his mind, he had abandoned Seph. He had left his friend to die in there, consumed by the fire and flames.
And he could not forgive himself.