Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and PlayStation are owned by Square Enix and Sony, respectively, meaning they do not belong to me. I am in no way, shape, and/or form claiming to be the owner/creator of these concepts, though I do claim any characters not apart of the original Final Fantasy VII or Advent Children storylines (such as Rayne, Marcus, and Kale) mine. As such, I would appreciate fellow authors and readers to give credit where credit is due and not steal any of my characters and/or concepts. Thank you, and have a pleasant day.

...Hehe. (smiles sheepishly) Sorry about the delay...

(Schooling and Meeting)

"It'll be just fine, Kale." Astrid assured as she straightened the boy's collar, "Junon P.S. 119 is on the northern side of the upper plate, which is currently the safest area of Junon. You'll be in a class of kids your age, you'll make lots of friends, and I've already met your teacher." She smiled, "He's a nice man, Kale."

"Will you be staying with me?" Kale asked, nervous.

She thought about this, shrugging, "For the first few minutes. Once class starts, though, I'll have to go."

"Five minutes." Reno called from the front of the helicopter, "We'll settle down on the roof and you can take him to the head office."

Kale flinched, "Won't it look… weird if I come to school in a helicopter?"

Astrid shrugged, "Think of it as a conversation starter."

Once the helicopter landed, Astrid jumped out onto the ground and held her hand back towards the door, keeping her head low beneath the still spinning helicopter blades.

Kale took her hand and followed, clutching the disgruntled Shade to his chest.

As soon as the helicopter had begun to power down, Reno and Rude jumped out, jogging and straightening to stand on either side of Astrid and Kale as sentries.

Nodding sharply, Astrid led the way to the roof access door and down the stairs, heading straight for the principals office and ignoring the odd looks they were getting from teachers and students alike.

"Excuse me," She said to the secretary, nodding when the woman jumped, "Hello, my name is Astrid Cray. Is Principal Sao in?"

The secretary blinked behind her thick glasses, then riffled through some papers in front of her, casting nervous glances at Reno and Rude every now and then.

Seeing this and becoming highly amused by it, Reno waited until she glanced at him again to throw her a roguish grin, flashing all of his teeth and narrowing his eyes in a demented manner.

The secretary paled and looked back down at her papers.

Reno chuckled, only to choke and cough a second later when Astrid's elbow met his ribs sharply.

"Ah, here you are!" The secretary said suddenly, nodding and looking up at Astrid with eyes that had been ridiculously emphasized by her thick glasses, "You're right on time. Mr. Sao will see you now." She then stood, gesturing for them to follow her around the counter and to a door in the back.

"Principal Sao." She called, rapping on the door gently, "Miss Cray is here to see you."

"Let her in." A deep, baritone voice called back.

Astrid glanced over her shoulder and nodded to Reno and Rude, who nodded back and stayed where they were, guarding the door. Taking Kale's hand, Astrid walked through the door.

Inside of the office was dark and cool, the blinds shut and a single, small chandelier light overhead turned on as dimly as the setting would allow for both darkness and visibility for paperwork.

"Miss Cray," Principal Sao, a tall, dark-skinned man with thick black hair and deep brown eyes, stood, smiling and holding out his hand. After he had shaken hands with Astrid, he looked down at Kale and his smile brightened, "And this must be Kale."

Astrid nodded, smiling and sitting, "Thank you, Mr. Sao, for seeing us on such short notice. I know it's rather late in the year, but…"

"It's nothing to worry about, Miss Cray." Sao assured, nodding, "After we give Kale a proficiency test, we'll put him on the best track to catch up with the rest of his peers. This will, of course, require that you help him at home…" He trailed off, blinking expectantly.

"Which I assure you, he will get." Astrid assured, wrapping an arm around Kale's shoulders and nodding seriously, "He'll have myself and five others as references should he need it."

Sao smiled, please, "Good." He stood and walked out from behind his desk, looking at Kale, "Your teacher, Mrs. Nyquest, is expecting you. Shall I take you there, now?"

Kale looked up at him silently, carefully handing Shade over to Astrid and nodding.

"Good." Sao smiled pleasantly, "Then we'll just say 'goodbye' to your mom here and go."

Kale nodded again, then turned to Astrid and flung himself into her arms.

"Don't worry." She assured, smiling, "Mr. Sao already said that Reno and Rude can stay with you, and the helicopter will be waiting for you as soon as school is out to take you home."

"Bye, Mom." Kale muttered, following the principal out of the room.

Astrid stared after him, her legs numb and her heart racing.

"Yo, Astrid?" Reno stuck his head through the door, "You coming?"

"He called me 'Mom'…" She muttered, her eyes wide.

"Kid just made your day, didn't he?" Reno asked, smirking and rolling his eyes, "Let's go. Rude'll stay here while I take you to headquarters, then I'll come back after I drop you off." When she didn't move, the Turk sighed and grabbed her arm and drug her out the door, "C'mon, Rufus doesn't like to be kept waiting."

From the roof, the ride in the helicopter took far less time than expected, because soon they were landing on the roof of the old Junon branch Shin-Ra base.

"Why are we here?" Astrid asked as she stepped out of the helicopter, "We aren't going back to Healin?"

"Nope, we're done there." Reno nodded, "Rufus's healed up as much as he can and thinks it's about time that Shin-Ra got off its ass and back to work. This place is the new base. Now, I gotta go." He threw her a mock salute and started the helicopter, "Close the door and get inside!"

Astrid slammed the door and backed away, watching as the sleek aircraft rose, hovered, then turned back in the direction of the school and flew off. Heaving a sigh, Astrid turned and headed to the first entrance she could find. Inside, she wandered around for a bit, giving her memory time to remember the dusty, cobweb draped halls and where they led.

Eventually, she made herself to Rufus's old office, where she found him glaring at the thick layer of dust on his chair in disgust, Tseng and Elena standing on either side of the large window behind both the chair and the desk.

Rufus looked up at her as she walked in, scowling, "Just look at this place." He gestured to the room around them, indicating to the old burns on the rugs, the stuffing that had been ripped out of the torn leather chairs and sofas, the broken glass of the giant windows behind him, and the rest of the general destruction and defacement of the room, "Two years was all it took for those gang punks to completely demolish this place."

Astrid shrugged, crossing her arms over her stomach and crossing the room slowly, "Not as bad as it could be, you know. They could have completely gutted and burned the rooms had Palmer not been here."

"Palmer," Rufus sneered, "All he did was hold himself up in the kitchen for two years. The rest of the compound is no better, and all of the aircraft and vehicles have either been stolen or vandalized."

"Okay," Astrid nodded, clapping her hands together, "Then let's get to work cleaning things up. What's the first thing we need to do to get Shin-Ra back together?"

Rufus stared at her for a minute, then shrugged, "I didn't know we were trying to reestablish Shin-Ra."

"Of course we are!" Astrid smiled widely, "Remember two years ago when I told you about the progression of government and how eventually the people were going to rise against you and overthrow your tyrannical regime?"

"Vaguely." The man growled, narrowing his eyes.

"Well, I didn't tell you at the time, but that was actually already happening, and your usurpers were AVALANCHE." Astrid shrugged, "However, as is the case in some revolutions, just because you're no longer controlling the world doesn't necessarily mean that you're done playing your part."

"I know," Rufus sighed, rolling his eyes, "The WRO, right?"

"Yep." Astrid nodded, "I'll swing by Gold Saucer and pull out a bit of money, swing by Cosmo Canyon to take care of a few things, then head right to the WRO Headquarters."

"You know where it is?" Rufus asked, frowning.

"No," Astrid admitted, shrugged, "But I know someone who does." She pulled out her PHS and dialed a number, turning towards the wall and holding it to her ear, not addressing Rufus any further.

"President Shinra." Rufus turned to Tseng, who blinked, "Is it… wise to leave matters like this to Miss Cray? I've studied her work before and you and she… don't exactly handle business the same way."

"It's fine." Rufus assured distractedly, waving his hand and studying several papers he had pulled out of his pocket, "She and Reeve get along, so things should go well."

Tseng shook his head, "Sir… I don't think you understand. You and she really don't handle business in ways that are even remotely similar."

"Then Reeve should find it all the easier to agree with her terms." Rufus muttered, pulling out a pen and scribbling a few things onto the papers, "Rocket Town metal is supposed to be of a fine grade, right? We're going to need to put up some new fences…"

Tseng frowned, "Sir, you aren't listeni—"

"Alright." Astrid interrupted, turning back and shutting her PHS, "Chocobo Rob is sending Misha, but I have to go to the edge of town; I don't like the idea of her wandering through to the upper level alone." She nodded, "I'll be back in a few hours, probably; Misha's a fast pacer and Gaia is a fairly small planet."

"You have your Shin-Ra issue PHS?" Rufus asked, nodding when she pulled it out, "Good. Call if anything happens and we'll be there as soon as we can."

"Roger." Astrid nodded, putting the phone away and turning towards the door. She stopped mid-spin, stood still for a moment, then turned back and walked to the desk, her face blank.

Rufus scribbled a few more things on the papers, then looked up and blinked, quirking a brow when he saw Astrid standing in front of his desk, just staring down at him. "Yes?"

Astrid stared at him for a moment longer, then leaned across the desk and grabbed his collar, yanking him towards her and smashing her lips against his.

It took Rufus a beat to recover, and when he did he kissed her back, only to have her draw back as soon as he began to respond. Rufus growled and glared at her, "What in the hell was that for?"

"Payback." Astrid said, smirking as she turned and walked to the door, "For what you did to me at the Gold Saucer." Then she was out the door and gone.

Rufus stared after her, silent.

Behind him, Tseng chuckled, "She seems to be getting even bolder."

"That's a relief." Rufus smirked, "I was starting to think we wouldn't get anywhere."

………

Astrid stood before the door of one of the many houses in Rocket Town, stalling on knocking and looking around settlement.

Since Shin-Ra had fallen and the WRO had taken over, commerce within the town had grown, so, naturally, so had the town itself. The discovery of oil and the following discovery of oil being used as a natural resource increased the need for workers in Rocket Town, and the sudden increase of job opportunities had led to many people, mainly those from the fallen city of Midgar, moving to Rocket Town for a chance to start over.

There was one thing that hadn't changed, though, and she was standing right in front of it.

"Can I help you?" A gruff voice barked from behind her, something circular and rod-like pressing against her spine.

Astrid raised her hands slowly, laughing, "Cid, you really have to stop 'greeting' me like this."

"…Astrid?" The rod fell and a hand grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around so she was looking up into the scarred and grizzled face of Cid Highwind.

Astrid smiled, raising her hand and waving, "Yo."

Cid laughed, pulling her into a rough, one-armed hug before dragging her through the door and practically throwing her down into a chair at the kitchen table. "Shera! Get some tea made! We've got company!"

A tall, lithe woman with long brown hair pulled into a ponytail and glasses walked into the kitchen, smiling widely when she saw Astrid at the table. "Miss Cray!"

Astrid stood and opened her arms to receive Shera's hug, hugging the woman back tightly, "It's good to see you, Shera." She then nodded to Cid over Shera's shoulder, "Both of you."

"Good to see you, too." Cid nodded, "Shera, the tea."

"Oh, right!" Shera broke away from Astrid, shuffling over to the stove and pulling out a teapot.

"Now, Astrid," Cid began, sitting down at the table and resting his feet on its surface, "Where have you been?"

Astrid sat, smirking, "Oh, I think you know."

Cid snarled, "Still with that Shinra bastard?" He pulled out a cigarette from behind his ear and place it between his lips, lighting it and exhaling a long plume of smoke before going on, "No clue what you see in that guy."

"Frankly, neither do I." Astrid laughed and shrugged, "But it's there, and it keeps me by his side."

Cid chuckled, then dropped his feet to the ground and leaned forward, looking at her gravely, "What is it you need, Astrid?"

"The WRO." She answered, just as grave, "Where is Barret?"

"Out on the fields." Cid nodded to Shera as she set two cups of tea in front of them, "Drink up, eat something, then I'll take you out there."

Following the gruff pilots orders, Astrid drank her tea, savoring the comforting, warm, bitter liquid. It had taken her four hours of riding on Misha to get to Rocket Town, and they had taken the straight path, crossing the mountains. It had been tiring work, and she was grateful for the homemade tea and the sandwich Shera made for her.

After they had eaten, Cid led her to the renovated Tiny Bronco and they got in, flying several miles northeast and passing over great seesawing pumpjacks and derricks that were drawing up crude oil from several meters under the ground.

There were hundreds of them as far as the eye could see, and there were dozens of men manning each one.

When they got to the center of the action, Cid directed the airplane towards an airstrip and began to set down, guiding the plane effortlessly onto the tarmac and stopping it without a hitch. As they jumped out of the plane, a great bear of a man made their way towards him, his gun-arm waving in the air.

"Heeeeeeeey!" A great, booming voice roared, "Ciiiiid!"

"Barret!" Cid roared back, raising his arm high.

When Barret was close enough to recognize her, he laughed out loud and pointed to Astrid, "You, young lady, have a lot to answer for!"

Astrid laughed, "Don't I always?"

Once he was standing in front of her, Barret drew her into a bone crushing bear hug with his gun-arm, the strength of the muscles in his fighting arm only acting to heighten the force and making her back crack loudly.

"Finally come out of hiding, eh?" Barret asked as he dropped her, smirking down at her as she bent over and placed her hands on her knees, coughing.

"Yeah." She rasped, "Figured it was about time to stop hiding and reintroduce myself to reality."

Barret nodded, then frowned, "Hey, back in Midgar, with Kadaj and the others… you're better, right?"

"Of course!" Astrid exclaimed, plastering a smile on her face, "Enough about that, now. I need your help with something."

Barret nodded, "Finding Reeve, right?" When Astrid looked at him in shock, the man shrugged, "Reeve figured you'd be lookin' for him soon. Let me get someone to cover for me and I'll take you."

"I'll cover." Cid offered.

"Thanks." Barret nodded, then sighed, "Well, I guess now I gotta blindfold you."

Astrid blinked, "Blindfold?"

"No one outside of the WRO knows or is to know of its location." Barret said simply, pulling a long, thin cloth and a black bag out of his pocket.

As he secured these over her face, Astrid vaguely wondered if the sensation was what it felt like for those about to walk death row.

When she was thoroughly blinded, she let Barret place a hand on her back and guide her across the tarmac, where after several moments of walking he helped her board a vehicle.