Author's Note – This is the final chapter…at last! The story actually turned out to be a lot longer than I originally planned. Thanks to everyone who reviewed along the way…I love you all!

Enjoy the ending.

Chapter 24 – Trust

My heart was pounding so hard and fast, I thought I was having a heart attack. Since when did I become a fucking weakling? Since when did I give a rat's ass about anything or anyone…since Tifa Lockhart became a part of my life again. That's when. Now I couldn't seem to focus on anything but her.

First it was Aeris for the longest time. She wondered why I couldn't be reasonable and start a relationship with her. She didn't understand me at all. Hell, I didn't understand myself at the time…and I quickly came to discover my heart was preventing me from moving forward with Aeris because it belonged to Tifa.

My heart belonged to her. My soul…everything. I couldn't make any decisions without thinking how it would affect Tifa or my relationship with her.


I stared at the closed door on the other side of the bedroom. The screams and cries were coming from the adjoining bathroom where Aeris and Yuffie were attempting to care for Tifa's injuries.

This was Rufus Shinra's apartment at Healin. He volunteered to give it up to Tifa and I while she healed. We needed the privacy and it wouldn't have been good for Denzel and Marlene to see her this way anyway.

When we reached the eastern continent, I had wanted to take Tifa to the hospital, but she begged me not to take her there. She couldn't bear the thought of strangers taking care of her. I knew how she felt. I hated the idea of anyone touching me, which was why I tended to my own injuries…whenever I got any.

Besides, Aeris had incredible healing abilities and I trusted her more than any doctor.

I glanced toward Shinra who stood facing the window, his arms folded, his expression unreadable. His usual stoic self…even though his own flesh and blood. But I was pretty sure he was feeling as uneasy as I was, even if he didn't show it.

"Noooo!! I want Cloud!"

The cries shot up my spine and I spun away to face the fireplace. I placed an arm on the mantle and pressed my forehead against the back of my hand as I closed my eyes tightly. Tears squeezed from my lids and dampened my cheeks. Dammit, why couldn't I be strong like Rufus and not show how upset I was. I was literally falling apart from the inside out. Hearing Tifa screaming so hysterically was ripping me to pieces.


I heard enough. As I wiped my eyes, I marched toward the door and threw it open.

Aeris whirled around, her face looking completely distressed, her clothes half soaked, her hair disheveled. She reminded me of someone who was trying to bathe an uncooperative elephant.

I tried to keep my anger under control. It didn't look like either of the girls were trying to hurt Tifa in any way. "What the hell's going on?" I asked in frustration as I closed the door behind me.

At the other end of the bathroom, surrounded by louvered windows, was a large whirlpool tub. Sitting in the center of it was Tifa, the water churning white around her pale shoulders. She raised her tear-filled eyes up at me. "Cloud," she gasped out miserably and with noticeable relief.

"She won't let either of us touch her," said Aeris. "Please say something to her."

I walked toward the tub, stepping into a large puddle of water surrounding it. "Tifa, it's okay. They're just trying to help you."

Tifa quieted alittle, until Yuffie tried to approach. "Noooo!!!"

I turned toward Aeris. "Just go. I'll take care of her."

Aeris nodded. "There's some strong healing potion in the water, Cloud." She put an arm around Yuffie's shoulder and led the young ninja away.

"Thanks you guys," I said before they walked out and closed the door behind them.

As I kicked off my boots, I pulled off my sweatshirt and quickly removed my trousers. In only my boxers, I carefully stepped into the tub and lowered myself down into the hot churning water. I hesitated to touch Tifa, afraid that she might resist and start screaming again.

But Tifa immediately moved toward me, wrapping her arms around my chest and leaning her head against my shoulder.

I waited until her breathing quieted before I attempted to touch her. Reaching for a cloth on the side of the tub and soaking it in the healing water, I gently brought it to her face, wiping away at some of the dirt that still lingered there and revealing the scratches and bruises I hadn't noticed before. I ran the cloth along the side of her neck and over her shoulder, visually inspecting her for other injuries.

She clung tightly to me, both of her arms locked around my chest. "I knew it…" she whispered hoarsely. "I knew you'd come for me."

Just to reassure her, I bent to brush my lips against her cheek. "You're safe now, Teef. I won't let anything happen to you again, I promise." I held my lips pressed to her skin. The guilt was eating away at me…forcing tears from my eyes again. "I'm sorry it wasn't sooner. We didn't know where he took you."

She didn't say anything else, just stared at the churning white water.

I soaked the cloth again and gently ran it over her forehead and hair, repeating it several more times to dissolve the mud caked in her knotted hair. After that I brought the cloth down to gently run it over the gashes on her back. "Am I hurting you?" I asked, just to get a response out of her.

She softly mumbled something.

I bent closer to her face. "What was that?"

She didn't say anything right away, but I saw the tears suddenly spilling from her eyes and the way her lips began to tremble. "You won't want me like this."

I didn't understand what she meant at first. "What're you talking about, Teef?"

"Look at me. I'm such a mess."

"The scars will heal."

"I just want to die," she sobbed.

"No!" I wasn't going to let her fall into the depressive abyss I knew all too well. I wrapped both of my arms around her and hugged her tightly. "Don't you dare think like that! You have people that care about you and love you." I squeezed her against my chest and pressed my lips to the side of her face. "What about me? You know I can't live without you."

"Everything hurts…I can't…"

"Yes, you can. I've been there. I know all about that hell." I kissed the space behind her ear. "Scars are superficial. Did you forget how many I have?"

She didn't respond.

"Remember when we were at your school and the Bandersnatches attacked? One of them clawed me. You rubbed the potion on me and the scars healed."

"They didn't disappear."

"No, but it doesn't matter."

"Yes it does."

"Why?" She had never been vain before. Where was this suddenly coming from? Not that she didn't care about her appearance in the past, but she just never cared about a scuffed knee or a scar here and there. Granted, this was a lot worse and maybe I needed to be alittle more sympathetic. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to make light of it, Tifa."

"It's all my fault." She sighed. "It just made me so angry…that I let myself get caught so easily. I didn't care. I provoked them, knowing they'd hurt me in the end."

"If it had been me, I would have done the same thing."

"But you wouldn't be cowering like an injured child."

"You're not cowering. You're in pain and I know sitting in this water hurts. But I also know you're strong and you'll get through this."

She removed her arms from around my chest and wrapped them around my neck. "Thanks for making me feel better, Cloud."

I gently caressed her back, brushing my thumbs lightly over the scars I knew would heal with continued exposure to Aeris's healing potions. "So I heard you laid out fifteen of those goons."

Tifa shrugged. "I might have broken a few noses."

I cupped her face with both hands and tilted it up. "I'm not gonna tell you it was a stupid thing to do. I'm proud of you for fighting back. I'll make a fighter out of you yet."

A small smile appeared on her lips. It's what I had hoped for. "So I can kick your ass?"

I smiled back. "Someone has to do it."

We sat in the tub together in silence, the only sound coming from the whirlpool's motor churning the water around us.

After awhile I could feel my fingertips getting wrinkled from being in the water for so long.

Tifa pulled away from me. "Get me out of this tub so I can apologize to Aeris and Yuffie for being such a bitch."

"That's my girl." I gave her a lingering kiss and was glad to feel her respond. Maybe she wasn't as mentally scarred as I thought she'd be. I had always known her to be strong-minded and strong-willed. She'd get over this and it would only make her stronger.

I made sure Tifa was comfortable sitting up in the king-sized bed, her back resting against two soft pillows. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine." She accepted my quick kiss, but swatted my hands as I tried to adjust the covers around her.

"You need something to drink?"


"Something to eat?"

She sighed heavily. "No."

"Something to read?"

"No! You are the worst nurse ever!"

"Sorry." But I wasn't offended. "I haven't had much practice."

"Will you please let Aeris and Yuffie in?"

I gave her a small smile, knowing she wanted to make things right with Aeris and Yuffie after I had to kick them out of the bathroom earlier. Tifa felt ashamed of the way she behaved toward them when all they were trying to do was help her.

I walked toward the bedroom door and opened it. Everyone was sitting in the den. Rufus, Aeris, Yuffie, Cid, Barret, Vincent, Reno and Rude. The only one missing was Zack and I told him to stay away until I called him. I didn't want Aeris freaking out so soon after freaking out over Tifa's condition when we arrived six hours ago.

All eyes looked expectantly at me. I pointed to Aeris and Yuffie. They practically launched themselves out of their seats and rushed into the bedroom with me.

I closed the door and leaned back on it, crossing my arms insipidly, knowing I'd have to listen to a half hour of girly apologies and pardons. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my time with Tifa.

Aeris and Yuffie didn't even make it halfway to the bed before all three girls burst into tears.

"I'm so sorry!" howled Tifa.

Aeris sat on the bed to Tifa's right and Yuffie on the left.

"Oh, sweetie, it's okay," cooed Aeris, carefully hugging Tifa.

Yuffie did the same on the other side. The three of them hugged in silence and cried and making me feel totally uncomfortable.

"If you don't mind, I'll be outside," I announced.

When the three of them didn't even acknowledge me, I walked out of the room.

Again all eyes went to me when I came out. I shrugged timidly. "Girl talk."

Vincent stood up. "I have to get back to Nibelheim."

"Yeah, sure, Vincent. I understand."

Cid got up, too. "And I gotta get back to Shera before she divorces me."

"Thanks for your help, guys." I watched them walk out before turning to Barret. "You don't need to hang around, Barret."

He shrugged and got up, briefly glancing toward Rufus. "If you don't need me anymore, then I'll go check on Marlene and head back to the oil rig."


"Anytime." He gave Shinra another cursory glance before the big guy walked out.

That left Rufus and the two Turks.

Rufus was talking quietly on his cellphone. "I don't care how much it costs…I need it completed by the end of the week…Then bring in whoever you need to get it done…What do you think? I don't make demands like this if it wasn't important."

I walked over to where Reno was sitting on the couch and I sat on the coffee table opposite him.

The redhead gave me a dull glance, like he was bored. And maybe he was. There was no reason for anyone to be sitting out here, except Rufus who was waiting his turn to see Tifa.

"There's something we need to talk about, Reno."

When Reno averted his eyes, I knew he knew the subject.

"It's about Zack."

He swallowed hard and tried to resume his look of indifference. But he failed miserably and refused to look me in the eye again. "Hey, it's no big deal, man."

"I don't think you mean that."

Reno finally looked at me and I saw the hurt in his blue eyes. "You don't know anything."

"You told me you were falling for Aeris."

"Yeah? Well maybe I wasn't thinking when I said it. Maybe I happen to know she digs you more than me. Whatever happens, it doesn't matter. If she wants to hook up with that dude, fine with me."

"She might not even feel the same way about him as before." I knew I was giving him false hopes, but it could happen.

"Right, she'll pick me over a First Class SOLDIER who just so happens to be her first love. Yeah, that'll happen."

"I'm sorry, Reno. I don't know what else to tell you."

He shrugged. "It's fine. As long as she's happy. She deserves to be happy after all the shit we put her through over the years."

It was strange hearing Reno talk this way. He was worse than me when it came to sarcasm and pessimism. He never had anything nice to say. But this was the nicest thing he had ever said…especially about Aeris. Maybe there was some hope for him. "I'm sorry," I said again.

He looked up with false cheer. "Hey, maybe Tifa can hook me up with one of her friends from school."

I rolled my eyes. Or maybe he'd never change.

A couple days later, I led Aeris by the hand down the hallway, heading toward the billiard room.

"Cloud, where are we going?" she asked.

"You'll see."

"But I promised Tifa I'd sit and watch TV with her tonight."

"No offense, Aeris, but I need some alone time with my girlfriend." It was true. Ever since Tifa was well enough to see the others, not a single moment passed that there wasn't someone in the bedroom with her. I thought about putting in a revolving door…Huh? What was I thinking? I needed to install a deadbolt lock and put a couple of attack dogs outside the door so no one would come near.

Aeris giggled. "Oh, I get it. You're trying to get rid of me."

"I mean it in the nicest way possible. But that goes for everyone, not just you."

We reached the billiard room and I tugged her inside with me.

The second we stepped into the room, Zack jumped off the bar stool he had been sitting on and stared expectantly toward the woman standing beside me.

Aeris froze in her tracks and her hand fell away from mine.

I turned toward her, noting the look of surprise on her face. If she fainted, I was there to catch her.

But luckily she didn't faint. Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at the man who was nearly one hundred percent Zack Fair. "Zack…"

"Hey, babe," Zack uttered in his cool demeanor. He flashed her his priceless smile. "It's good to see you again."

I had expected tears and shock and maybe some fainting. But what I didn't expect was for her to suddenly whirl around and rush out of the room like Sephiroth was chasing after her.

Zack let out a brief chuckle. "Not exactly the reaction I had hoped for."

"Yeah," I agreed as I held up a finger. "Be right back." I headed out after Aeris.

She was walking back the way we came, her feet moving as fast as they could carry her.

I caught up and grabbed her by the arm to stop her. "Aeris, why'd you run away?"

"That's not Zack," she said, tears still falling down her cheeks.

I wasn't sure what to say, but I had to try something. "Well, no…he's not exactly the real Zack…but he's as close to Zack as anyone will ever be."

"It's not the same."

"I know, but can't you just give him a chance? He really wanted to see you."

She angrily pulled her arm out of my grasp. "Why did you bring him here?"

I shrugged unsurely. I really wasn't sure why, other than thinking maybe she'd forget about me if she had someone else to focus on…someone like Zack. I knew she was still upset that I didn't feel about her the way she felt about me. But I was almost positive she liked me because I reminded her of Zack. She even admitted it to me once at the Gold Saucer. So why wouldn't a copy of Zack be good enough? "I thought maybe…you'd be happy to see him."

"Where did he come from, Cloud?"

"He's a clone. Dalton created him using samples of Zack's blood from SOLDIER. He acts just like Zack…really. He said he studied tapes to get it right."

"What tapes?"

"When I was at the SOLDIER academy, I remember Zack mentioned having to do visual recordings after every mission. He said he liked to talk about you on the tapes. I guess maybe the clone became interested then."

"Cloud, I hate you for bringing him here," she defied. "Don't you know it took me forever to get over him…and then you…I just can't." She ran off, her hands covering her face.

I let her go this time. There really wasn't anything else I could say to her anyway. But it hurt to hear her say she hated me for bringing him here. I turned and slowly walked back toward the billiard room.

Zack looked up from his drink when I walked back in. "Couldn't convince her to come back?" he asked alittle hurt.

I sat down on the barstool beside him. "Sorry, Zack. I guess she's still hung up on you and can't get passed the fact that you're dead and…" And that you're not the real thing. But I didn't say it outloud. Maybe all Aeris needed to do was talk to him. I mean, I was alittle skeptical at first, too. Zack and I had gotten close in the academy. He helped me with my studies and helped me work on my fighting skills. He even helped me with my weapons training, including target practice. The fact was, I had seen him die right before my eyes and a piece of me had died there with him. It was disturbing to see him alive and walking around…forget the fact that he had tried to kill me at the Gold Saucer… I wanted to give him a chance because I really longed for his company. I wanted him to be the real thing.

"It's okay, kid. Maybe it's just not meant to be. Besides, you said she's sort of with someone else right now, right?"

"Yeah. Reno."

"Reno's the guy with the red ponytail."

I shrugged. "You know, I'm pretty sure he's not who she wants to end up with."

"Yeah? And how are you pretty sure?"

I turned to look at him. "She told me." Gods, he was exactly like Zack, down to the scar on his left cheek. Dalton thought of almost everything. Not the eyes though. They may have looked exactly like Zack's, but there was a different depth to them. They lacked Zack's life experiences. They lacked his spark.

He took a sip from his drink. "Well, I think she's in love with someone else," he said with a smile, looking somewhat amused.

"Like who?" I asked too quickly before realizing I already knew the answer.


I shook my head, wanting to quickly dispel that thought plan right out of his mind. "No, she thinks she loves me. But it's you she's in love with…or rather…Zack Fair before he was killed."

"So you think I might still have a chance?"

"I dunno. Aeris is a very complicated girl. Just give her a chance to get used to the idea of you being around again."

He looked away with a laugh. "Around?" He shrugged and gulped down the rest of his drink. "Sure, I'll be around."

When I saw Zack suddenly focus on something passed me, I turned in the opposite direction.

Aeris was standing at the doorway, her green eyes wider than normal. She looked terrified, but she took several small steps into the room.

Zack leaned toward me, his eyes remaining on Aeris. "Whatta she like to drink?" he mumbled without moving his lips.

"The hard stuff," I mumbled back before turning back to Aeris.

"Pour a glass of the stuff in the purple bottle," Zack told the bartender.

I got up, thinking it was probably best if I left them to talk alone. When Aeris touched my arm as I started to pass, I stopped in front of her. "You gonna be okay?" I asked her. "You want me to stay?"

She shook her head, her eyes still glistening with tears as she looked up at me. "I'm sorry about what I said, Cloud. I don't hate you."

"I know." I took her hand from my arm and squeezed it with a smile. "I'm glad you changed your mind." I released her hand and walked out of the billiard room.

When I walked into the apartment Tifa and I were borrowing from Rufus, I headed straight for the bedroom. It was quiet. No kids running around, jumping on furniture and playing the stereo too loudly. No pesky ninja pretending to dust the furniture just so she could hang out. No Turks hanging around in the den, like Tifa needed round the clock protection. And now, no Aeris because she was busy dealing with the reappearance of Zack Fair.

I rubbed my hands together with a grin…alone at last…and opened the bedroom door.

Tifa was on her cellphone, sitting up in bed. "My Gods, the things he can do with those great hands…" She immediately clammed up when she saw me. "Uh…I…I have to go….Yeah, I'll call you real soon. Bye." She tossed her phone aside on the bed and raised her arms up toward me. "Where've you been? I missed you."

I crawled up on the king-sized bed, which I thought was way too big, and carefully embraced Tifa. "Well, I got Aeris and Zack together."

She hugged me tighter. "Really? How did it go?"

"Alittle shaky at first, but I think they'll be fine." My hand automatically went under her thin tank top and grazed over the scars on her back. They were almost healed, thanks to Aeris's potions. "Who were you on the phone with?"

"Sara and Jaden." She started kissing the side of my neck.

"Talking about me?" I hissed when she bit me. "Owww!"

"What makes you think I was talking about you?" Her mouth came up to cover mine in a heated kiss.

"Who else has great hands?" It seemed like an eternity since the last time we had kissed like this.

She giggled. "Rude…he just left fifteen minutes ago after giving me an amazing back massage."

I pulled back, pretending to be angry. "Excuse me?"

She laughed harder. "I'm just teasing. No one can compare to your hands."

"That's better."

Tifa stood up on her knees and pulled my teeshirt up and over my head. "I want you naked right now."

I wanted me naked, too and I wanted her naked. But the dreaded voice of reason overpowered the voice of my growing love spear. "Nah, I don't think that's a good idea." It's what came out of my mouth, but I made no move to stop her from unzipping my pants and I couldn't control my wandering hands as they tugged her tank top up. "I don't…wanna…hurt your….back." It was hard to talk with her tongue in my mouth.

Tifa pushed me down on the bed with surprising strength. "Don't worry. I like being on top anyway." She straddled my hips and bent forward to pull on my lower lip with her teeth. "I like having control over you."

She was lucky I loved her. I didn't relinquish control very easily. But then again, I was pretty sure when it came to Tifa, my control went right out the window.

As the end of the week came, things were pretty much back to normal, except we were still staying at Healin. I was kind of getting used to the place, but I knew we couldn't stay there forever and live off of Rufus's charity. I needed to get back to my delivery service and Aeris needed to get back to the tavern once the minor reconstruction of the front entrance was complete. Tifa was going to stay with us until we eventually got our own place.

Money really wasn't going to be a problem for quite awhile, even though I tried to give all of it back to Rufus.

"Take your money back, Rufus."


"I don't feel right taking it."

"It was a job, Cloud."

"I know, but I would have done it for free if I had remembered Tifa when I first agreed to do the job."

"I insist you take something."

"Alright, I'll take enough so I can build a new bike and something extra for Tifa and I to get our own place."


"Put the rest in another account to pay for schooling for Marlene and Denzel."


Of the five hundred thousand gil Rufus had paid me for the job of protecting Tifa at the Icicle Village Academy, I kept one third of it. The rest would go to Marlene and Denzel for their education.

"Cloud! Hurry up!" Tifa called out from the den. "I can hear the airship approaching."

I was tying my shoelaces in the bedroom. "Be there in a sec."

Ten minutes ago, Rufus sent Rude to deliver a message. He wanted Tifa and I to meet him at the landing pad. Cid was coming in his airship for something. Rude wouldn't elaborate, which pissed me off to no end. But Tifa and I got ready anyway.

I came out of the bedroom. "Are you sure you can make it?"

"I've been walking at least one hour a day. I can make it to the landing pad. It's not that far."

I took her hand and we walked out of the apartment together. It really wasn't a far walk, but I just worried Tifa would collapse from exhaustion. Especially after we spent the last couple hours this morning getting frisky and romping around in bed.

When Tifa and I got to the landing area, the Shera was already parked and the engines were shutting down. Rufus, Reno and Rude were already standing there. The only ones missing were Aeris and Zack and I knew they had left for a couple of days to spend some time together in Costa Del Sol.

The ramp lowered under the airship and the usual clan appeared. Yuffie carrying her shuriken. Barret hoisting his heavy gun arm. Cid with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I expected Vincent to step out any second, but it was just the three of them.

"What's going on?" I asked, trying to read the various expressions on their faces. Yuffie looked cheerful as a baby chocobo, Barret looked raring to pick a fight with anyone and Cid looked pissed off at the world as usual.

"Why don't you ask the king of Gaia?" Cid motioned toward Shinra.

I glanced toward Rufus.

He had an uncharacteristically sheepish smile. "Just a token of my appreciation, Cloud." He waved his hand toward the airship.

A familiar rumbling sound echoed from the ramp. I trained my eyes there for a suspicious second before a spitting image of Fenrir was maneuvered down the ramp, Vincent sitting on the seat. My mouth fell open. It was Fenrir…or something very similar. But how? The bike was in pieces at the bottom of the chasm near Bone Village. Whatever was left of it was unsalvageable.

I turned back to Shinra. "Where did this come from?"

"I had it built exactly to the specifications supplied to me by Captain Highwind."

Vincent pulled up in front of us and kicked the stand in place before dismounting. He gave me a crooked smile. "Rides like a charm, Cloud."

I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket and I retrieved it quickly, wanting to inspect my present. When I glanced at the display, I discovered I had received a text message from Zack. I opened my phone and read it: -- You trust too quickly, Cloud. --

Tifa squeezed my hand, drawing my attention away from the cryptic message. "Let's go for a ride."

I slipped my phone back in my pocket and gave her a smile. "Did you know about this?"

She smiled very demurely. "It was hard not to tell you, Cloud. Rufus told me the other day. I thought it was a great idea."

I walked over to Shinra and held my hand out with a smile. "Thanks, Shinra. You did something right for a change."

Rufus returned my smile and shook my hand. "I figured I'd save you the time and money."

I turned to the shiny new motorcycle and walked over to mount it. As Tifa came toward me, I held my hand out to help her mount behind me. I turned the left handle, revving the engine. It was loud…even louder than Fenrir.

Tifa scooted close against my back and wrapped her arms around my waist. "What're you going to name her?"

As I glanced over my shoulder at Tifa, Rufus's cellphone rang. "I'm not sure yet. I'll have to think about it."

"Who is this?!" Rufus suddenly yelled.

I glanced toward him in surprise, never having heard him raise his voice like that before.

His brows narrowed as he listened to the caller. "You goddamned bastard…" He looked in my direction. This was the first time I had ever seen Rufus Shinra lose his cool. He removed the phone from his ear and pressed a button.

"Do you have me on speaker?" asked the voice through the phone.

My heart jumped into my throat when I realized I recognized the voice. Floyd Dalton…but it couldn't be. Ifrit fried him right out of his wheelchair.

"I'm sure some of you recognize me. For those that don't…allow me to introduce myself. I am General Floyd Dalton." He chuckled. "And yes, I am alive and well."

Everyone started jabbering and swearing loudly. Rufus and I were the only ones who remained silent.

The man on the phone cleared his throat. "If you don't mind, I'm very busy and I don't have a lot of time to be chatting."

The talking died down.

"I'm sure you're all wondering about the man in the wheelchair. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that wasn't me. He was a genetically engineered clone, made to look like me in a more incapacitated manner. I am not in a wheelchair and I am physically fit and healthy."

Barret was growling like an angered animal and clenching his fist so tightly it was shaking.

"I have big plans, my friends. Big plans to create a whole army of clones. And by the way, my extensive knowledge in genetic engineering and growth acceleration will ensure my success."

The more he talked, the sicker I felt.

"To the ex-members of the terrorist organization called AVALANCHE, you aren't excluded from my project. I have a generous supply of blood taken from each of you during various past attempts to thwart Shinra Corp."

"We're not terrorists, you sick mother fucker!" yelled Cid.

Dalton chuckled again. "Of course not."

Cid was about to say something else, but I shot him a glare and held up a hand to shut him up. The pilot wasn't happy, but he remained silent.

"Let me take a moment to explain what's happened so far. Over the last few weeks I've made countless death threats to President Shinra, asking for…let's just say, things I really don't need. So far he has been uncooperative in providing me what I've asked for. Now I understand young Rufus is much smarter than his father, so I know he's seen through the façade to the extent that I've asked for unnecessary items. And based on the supposed trap set for me at the Gold Saucer, I am assured you are well aware of what I'm after. Is that correct, Shinra?"

All eyes went to him.

"You want the remaining pieces of Jenova," Rufus replied, his demeanor back to being cold as ice.

"That's right. Now since I was present when the pieces were retrieved from the Northern Cavern, I know what they look like. I have a photogenic memory, so you cannot fool me with cheap, shoddy replicas."

"What makes you think we're just going to turn it all over to you?" I asked.

"Let me guess. That's Cloud Strife who just spoke, correct?"

"That's right," I replied defensively.

"The young man who wanted to be a SOLDIER. Yes, I remember you well. You barely survived the Mako injections at the academy. But that was, of course, because the late Professor Hojo decided to give you more than the recommended dosage…just to see what would happen. It was an unfortunate experiment which cost you your chance to become what you dreamed about."

I didn't like the way this guy was making light of my situation. "It wasn't so unfortunate. I'm better than any SOLDIER ever was." I had a right to be conceited about my own abilities.

"Yes, but of course. You've defeated the great Sephiroth not once, not twice, but three times. Quite a feat for someone so small and incompetent."

"Go fuck yourself," I yelled, contravening my own rule to not lose my cool around assholes like Dalton. "I could defeat you with one hand and blindfolded."

"I have no desire to waste my time on someone as insignificant as you. You're like an annoying virus that just won't go away."

"Why don't you show yourself and put your money where your mouth is? Or are you worried I might beat you?"

"Enough! Be prepared to comply to my demands when next I call or you and a large portion of the world's population will suffer the consequences. Not to mention the fact that I hold the life of someone very special to all of you. Goodbye for now." A loud click followed his last statement.

Someone special? I glanced over my shoulder. Tifa was still sitting behind me on the new bike so he couldn't be referring to her.

Rude shook his head in disgust. "He's been playing us all along, just to see how we would react."

"Now he knows our weaknesses," added Rufus. He glanced in my direction. "Even if we destroy the remains of Jenova, he'll unleash his clone army against us and the rest of the world."

"So what're we gonna do?" bellowed Barret. "We can't just sit on our asses and wait for him to call!"

"Can't you use your spy in the sky satellite and find this creep?" Yuffie asked Rufus.

Rufus nodded, an immoral gleam in his eye. "There's a lot we can do. But not from here."

"From where then?" I asked.

"Shinra headquarters. We need to salvage the right equipment."

Cid grinned. "This is it boys. Balls to the walls!"

A thought popped into my head and I dreaded to even think that it could be possible. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and glanced at the text message I received from Zack. --You trust too quickly, Cloud. – I understood the message now. How could I be so stupid? I did trust too quickly and always the wrong people.

I looked up and pushed the hair out of my eyes as I turned to Rufus. "They've got Aeris."

He didn't even bother to ask how I knew because I was pretty sure he had already come to that conclusion. The Zack clone was still working for Dalton and now Aeris was in their custody.

"Oh no," Tifa said in a low voice.

So what did I learn from all of this? First, don't trust anybody. Second, Floyd Dalton was a lot smarter and more conniving than I thought, even though Rufus had previously warned me. Third, things were really going to get ugly from now on.

So what else was new?

The End

Or is it???????

I know you're all going to PM me with cuss words I've never even heard of.

No, really, sorry for leaving you all hanging like this, but now I've provided myself with a challenge to write a sequel…maybe not a long one, just enough to really bring some closure. It won't happen right away because of a couple other projects I'm working on.

First, I've got to finish the last chapter of Addiction, which I've mentioned to some of you in Review replies that the story feels kinda weird to me now because it's not Cloud and Tifa. But I can't go back and change it so I'll just let it end with my original thought in mind. Expect to see the concluding chapter sometime in March.

Second, I might write the second chapter of A Little Extra Fun. It was meant to be a one shot, but I got a lot of great feedback and some people were insisting I continue it. Expect to see this also sometime in March.

Third, I've seen a lot of stories out there that follow the FF7 game story from beginning to end. I want to try my luck at it and put my own spin to some of the dialogue. Of course I will be adding some new material, especially Cloud and Tifa's childhood years. This is a pretty big project so I'm not planning to start posting any of it unless I'm confident I can see it to the end. I don't like leaving things unfinished.

That's it for now.

Thanks again to everyone. I've tried to reply individually to your reviews when necessary. Thanks to everyone who doesn't have an account with fanfiction. And finally, thanks to RC, my work buddy, for putting up with my giggles on the opposite side of our joined cubicle and providing me with a sounding board when I get into my Cloud Strife veneration moods. It's not over til it's over, kiddo.