Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII. If I did, the story would have gone like this.

AN: Well, it's back. And this time I'm going to try to get further on it. -grins sheepishly-

This story is AU, very AU, so expect lots of twisting of the original plot and other such surprises. Constructive criticism is welcome and will always be taken to heart. Enjoy the story.

Here, the desert stretched on forever—an endless sea of sand, rippling in time to the lonely wind. The sun beat down mercilessly, its harsh glare reflecting off the sand and making it near impossible to see. This place had been beautiful once. Rivers and lakes had dotted the landscape, blue gems in an endless sea of green. But its beauty was stolen by war and greed, leaving only scarred surfaces and empty spaces behind.

Not many ventured into this wasteland. It was rumored that wild animals roamed its open dunes, preying on unsuspecting travelers. Bandits presented another threat, hiding behind large boulders to ambush those passing by. The air was still and silent—not a living thing for miles on end—but then, a sound drifted from the west and increased in intensity.

It was a dull roar, drawing steadily closer—the unmistakable whine of a helicopter.

A black speck appeared on the horizon, dark against the white light of the sun. It grew as it approached, flying low over the towering rock formations and cliffs that rose from the earth. On the side of the craft a red seal stood out against the black paint.

Shinra Electric Company.

Within the chopper, two figures peered through the windows, keen eyes searching the ground for any signs of life. Both were dressed in identical blue suits and sported matching headsets.

The similarities ended there, however.

The pilot had a mass of flaming red hair, sticking out in all directions on the crown of his head before terminating into a long ponytail that hung down his back. Sharp gray eyes, glowing with mako, stood out against pale skin—youthful features only marred by two red slashes beneath each eye. A suit jacket hung open from his lean frame, protecting a white shirt unbuttoned at the top while goggles rested on his forehead, keeping long bangs from obscuring his vision. Dirty combat boots furiously worked the pedals, keeping the helicopter in the air.

His partner was smooth and professional—suit pressed, tie present, shirt starched, dress shoes polished. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes and light streaming in through the window reflected on a shaved crown. His skin was several shades darker than his partner's but just as smooth with a neatly trimmed beard adding age and maturity.

"They want the two of us," the pilot spoke, breaking the silence with a lazy drawl, "to find them in this desert wasteland." He shook his head and scoffed. "Impossible."

His partner turned his head slightly to look at him. "We always accomplish our missions…"

"We're Turks," the other finished, looking over at him, an air of offense tinting his words.



The very name itself struck fear into the hearts of those who heard it. Elite assassins, the President's bodyguards, no one crossed a Turk and lived.

No one.

The bald one continued. "Tseng has something he would give him."

His red-headed companion glanced at him in surprise. "To the target?"


The pilot sighed. "A failed postman." His eyes flicked down to the box of letters sitting between them. "A mission that's taking over a year."

A contemplative silence fell between them as both retreated into their own thoughts. A sharp crackle emitted from their headsets, dragging them back to the present.

"Reno. Rude. Anything yet?" The voice was deep and refined, even over the distorted connection.

Both shook their heads.

"Nothing at all." Reno quipped.

A sigh crackled through the headphones. "All right. Keep looking. Try moving to point 120."

"Roger, Tseng."

"Understood," Rude added.

"We'd better hurry," Reno said grimly, jerking the control stick. The helicopter veered to the left, speeding off to the east, the two Turks still searching for their elusive target.

Far to the east, miles ahead of the Shinra helicopter, a truck deposited precious cargo near a large boulder before speeding away across the desert, dust billowing in its wake, the roar of its engine shattering the stillness. As it vanished over a small rise, two figures struggled toward a large boulder, one man dragging the other.

The first was dressed in the dark blue uniform of a SOLDIER, a large sword strapped to his back, glinting in the desert sun and bearing no signs of use. With a grunt, he propped his companion up against the rock, watching as the young man slumped forward, lifeless.

The way he had been for a year.

Zack Fair swallowed, pain pricking at his chest as he stared at the comatose form of his friend. Glowing mako eyes welled with sadness for a brief instant. It shouldn't be like this. Biting his lip, Zack reached out slowly, gripping Cloud Strife's blond hair lightly and shaking him, desperately hoping he would wake up.

No response.

Cloud only slumped further forward, sliding down the rough surface of the rock toward the hot sand—a limp doll unable to support his own weight.

Zack could feel his heart breaking.

He had hoped to see his friend open his eyes at least once before the end. For he knew this was good-bye. They were coming for him. He could hear the choppers in the distance. And, as a black mass on the horizon, Midgar mocked him, offering the tantalizing promise of a safety he would never reach.

I hope you make it, Cloud.

He couldn't bring himself to say good-bye. The words lodged in his throat like glue. So he smiled, conveying everything he needed to say in one simple gesture, and slowly stood, drawing the last pieces of his strength. He could run no longer. Now, at last, it was time to fight.

As he turned and strode away he failed to see the figure at the base of the rocks stir and extend a hand toward him, silently begging him to stay.

They gathered on the ridge, dozens of them—light clothing blending in with the wasteland, triple eyes on their helmets glowing an ominous red. They spilled over the ridge onto the ground, one crawling mass, as two choppers circled overhead, noisy predators waiting for the prey. As one, they cocked their weapons—the ominous clicking drowning out the whirr of the aircrafts.

Zack surveyed them silently—hands on his hips, sad smile gracing his lips.

At least they took me seriously.

The thought brought a dry chuckle bubbling to his lips as he struggled to disregard everything he would never do, the life he would never live. For they were here to execute him and he knew they would succeed.

But he would take as many with them as he could.

"Jeez … the cost of freedom sure is high."

It would take his last, his all, his everything, but he was willing to give it.

Not for revenge, not for justice, not even for freedom, but for a boy with blond hair who deserved a chance to live,for a girl with gentle features whom he loved, for the man who had taught him so much…

… and for himself, to prove to Shinra Electric Company that he was a SOLDIER and a hero.

They were waiting. He could feel the tension in the air. With a grim smile, he removed Angeal's—his—sword from his back and held it firmly in front of him, staring at his image in the reflection.

He was going to die. He would never see Aerith again, or Cloud. After coming so far and running so hard, he was going to die.

But it didn't matter. Because if they could live he was willing to be the sacrifice.

His fingers tightened around the hilt of the sword. "Hold tightly to your dreams…" He had held the words in his heart since the day Angeal spoke them. Now, he whispered them for himself and for the boy lying behind the rock whom he hoped would one day discover their meaning. "…and no matter what time comes…" The sword flashed bright in the sunlight as he brought it down. "… as a SOLDIER …" He swung the sword behind him, muscles taut, ready. "…never let go of your pride!" The last words ended in a defiant yell.

They could take his life, but his dreams and his pride would always be his alone.

A cry came from his throat, echoing off the rocks, soaring toward the sky.

A hero's last battle cry.

His last, his all, his everything, here now, for Shinra to see, to show them alone he was a hero.

He charged forward, watching them raise their guns, hands poised on the triggers. The first shot erupted, a harsh crack of thunder.

And the world suddenly shrank. There was no more Cloud, no more Aerith, no more Midgar, only him, Shinra and the end of everything.

But if he could die with honor that would be enough.

Icy rain assaulted him the minute he stepped from the chopper, wind from the dying blades whipped his hair and clothes in every possible direction, and mud sucked at his shoes. Reno hardly noticed the cold, too intent on the grim scene before him.

Broken pieces of armor and weapons littered the ground. Blood trickled over the rocks, washing away with the falling rain, forming a stream of red that ran right past his feet. The survivors of the battle moved among the wreckage, gathering the bodies of their comrades and struggling to clean up the mess. But one thing, disturbed him—sent a spike of fear and dread through his veins—there were no prisoners, no sign of his target anywhere.

Rude climbed down behind him, also taking in the damage with a critical eye.

"It must have been some fight," he murmured.

Reno sighed and started forward, further into the chaos. "Wait with the chopper. I'll be right back."

He didn't wait for Rude's response, but trekked toward the captain standing in the center of the fray, barking orders to his men.

"What happened here?" Reno asked casually, stopping behind the soldier.

The man whirled, fear darkening his normally impassive features as he stared at the imposing figure only a foot away. He gulped quietly. Turks—the one group of people he had hoped never to meet.

Reno raised an eyebrow impatiently and the captain hurriedly stuttered over a reply. "He just came at us, sir. Like a man possessed. It was … crazy." He shuddered—mako eyes and a lone, angry yell echoing through his mind.

Reno crossed his arms, staring hard at the man. "Where is he now?"

"Dead, sir."

The Turk's reaction was not the one he had been hoping for. Glowing orbs narrowed to slits and a dark frown twisted pale lips. "Dead?"

"Y-yes, sir." The captain stammered fearfully, hoping the ground would open and swallow him, anything to get away from the Turk.

He nearly cried out when an EMR appeared in his vision, humming with electricity and pointed straight at his heart. "Those were not you orders. You were told to wait for us.Those men were supposed to be taken alive, you idiot."

The captain could feel himself trembling, fear throbbing in every vein at the sight of the Turk's eyes sparking with rage. "B-but, s-sir, he j-just came a-at us and…"

The mag rod crackled louder as the Turk thumbed it to a higher setting—the shrill electric whine drowning out the patter of the rain. "I don't care about your excuses! He was supposed to be taken alive."

The soldier knew he was going to die and shut his eyes tightly beneath his helmet as Reno raised the weapon threateningly, preparing to strike.

"Reno." Rude's stern voice cut through the silence, stopping Reno mid-attack.

Glancing over his shoulder, Reno frowned at the sight of his partner walking towards him across the battlefield. "C'mon, Rude, I'm only going to fry him a little."

Rude stopped and shook his head. There had been enough blood shed already. Reno seemed to understand and lowered his arm—a long, rattling sigh accompanying the movement. The captain opened one eye, peering at the Turk cautiously.

Reno chuckled bitterly. "I guess this is your lucky day. Now get out of my sight."

He was happy to obliged, scrambling away to help his men and thankful to have some distance between him and the crazy Turk.

"What happened?" Rude asked.

Reno turned around slowly, EMR still in hand, fury still a fire in his gaze. "They killed him," he spat.

Rude didn't seem surprised, but bowed his head in subtle grief nonetheless.

Reno continued, looking around him at the field of death. "It wasn't supposed to end like this. Not like this…" Another bitter laugh, and pain crept in alongside the anger in gray mako eyes. "Those idiots."

His eyes found two lumpy tarps lying on the bluff, protecting the bodies of the targets from the rain. They lingered there, taking in the simple scene and welling with regret.

"But then again, we're all monsters." It was a quiet murmur and he tore his gaze away from the tarps to the blood spattering the ground. "What other end is there?"

Rude said nothing, off-balance by his partner's strange behavior. Usually, Reno didn't care this much about a mission.

His partner whirled suddenly, eyes blazing with something Rude couldn't define. He watched in silence as Reno stalked past him, marching toward the forgotten chopper. After a moment, he followed. Reno yanked open the door and reached inside, pulling the box of letters from the seat.

He paused for a moment, staring at it.

Letters, dozens of them, penned by a woman in love, never to be opened.

It hurt, for reasons he couldn't understand and with an angry cry, he hurled the box over the edge of the cliff, watching as the white envelopes twirled and pivoted gracefully in the air, slowly fluttering toward the ground.

There was one letter left, on the floor of the chopper. He pulled it out, watching as the rain created dark stains on the pure white paper. Something stopped him from throwing this letter away—the same ache that had caused him to destroy the others.

He could feel Rude's eyes on him, sense the silent concern radiating from his partner. With a tired sigh, he slid the letter into a pocket of his suit jacket, protecting it from the harsh rain. Turning around, he faced Rude fully and forced a smile to his lips.

"Let's go report to Tseng."

Rude nodded, refraining from commenting on Reno's bizarre behavior. Reno wouldn't mention it either. They could both pretend that they weren't effected by Zack Fair's death, by the bitter pain of failure. They would hide their aching, bleeding hearts behind walls of ice and stone for one simple reason—they were Turks.

And Turks didn't feel.

The men watched the Turks go with silent relief, tension visibly draining from their postures. The captain shouted orders to his men and slowly they began to pack up their equipment and retreat over the ridge. They would set up camp far away from the scene of battle, tend their wounded and bury their dead. Then, they would return and give the two refugees the burial they deserved.

The ex-SOLDIER's courage had touched the hearts of many in the battalion. He deserved to be honored, though he might have killed many of their comrades. They were Shinra and such was life.

As they trudged away from the grim battleground none of them noticed when one of the tarps moved.

AN: Reviews keep me going. Review and I will update.