It was about 1 AM at Seventh Heaven, and the place was virtually
empty. A lone red-haired man with a rumpled suit walked in
and sat down at the bar. He could see the three people behind it,
getting ready to close up for the night. Two of them he recognized,
and the other, a black-haired man, had his back to him. No
one had noticed him walk in, so he called out, "Hey, too late for a
The black-haired man turned around to face him as he spoke. "Nope, what'll you hav—Reno?"
"The one and only," the redhead said with a smile. "Hey, I remember you—aren't you supposed to be dead, yo? I should probably tell the guys at Shinr—ack-k!" Reno felt Zack's hand close around his throat and practically lift him off his stool.
"Listen, 'yo'," Zack said slowly, looking daggers at the customer. "One word about me to your Shinra homies, and I will personally see to it that that sissy ponytail of yours is cut off, frozen solid, and shoved up your Turk ass. Are we clear, 'yo'?"
"Hey, cool it, man," said Reno nervously. "I'm not here for you."
"What are you here for?" Zack replied, letting go of him.
"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood, needed a drink…"
"Sure you were."
Finally the others came over. "Reno?" Cloud asked. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was just in the—"
"Try the truth this time," said Zack coolly, arms folded.
"Fine," said Reno, looking around to make sure no one else was there. "I actually came lookin' for you, Cloud. There's somethin' you ought to know."
"Oh, I just can't stand the suspense," muttered Zack sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "Closing time at the bar, mysterious guy walks in with important news…what is this, some kind of spy movie?"
"What is it, Reno?" Cloud demanded.
"It's that bum Kadaj. He's back."
"What? How did that happen? And when?" said Cloud.
"Nobody really knows, yo," said Reno with a shrug. "Though I do know that my boss's monthly anonymous death threats increased to five hundred last month," he added, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Usually it's only around three-fifty. They can be fun to read late at night when you're bored, or drunk…"
"So you sift through his mail?" said Zack, a bemused look on his face.
"Only for the dirty magazines," Reno replied with a shrug. "And the letters from fangirls…though most of those are addressed to me anyway…"
"Will you get to the point!" snapped Tifa.
"Okay, okay. So the bum somehow re-materialized and wants to become Sephiroth again."
"Surprise, surprise," Cloud muttered.
"You said that was, like, his purpose in life, right?" Zack said, turning to his friend.
"Yeah, he and his brothers. Are they back too?" Cloud asked Reno.
"At this point we're not sure," he replied.
"Why am I even asking? Whatever you want, the answer is no. No way am I getting mixed up in your crap again," said Cloud.
"Except it's got even more to do with you this time," said Reno, casually but ominously. "From what we've heard he's even nuttier now than he was before. Since there are no more of Psycho Alien Bitch's remains, he's gotta get his cells from somebody that's already got 'em. And the easiest target for that would be…"
"Me," said Cloud.
"You bet. Though I suppose Zombie Boy here could be a target too—any current or former SOLDIER would do the trick," said Reno, looking at Zack.
"How about you never call me that again?" the latter said, putting both hands on the bar and getting in Reno's face. Reno rubbed the back of his neck, fondling the top of his ponytail nervously.
"Yeah, but he'd want revenge on me personally," Cloud mumbled.
"So what exactly does Kadaj need? Like a piece of hair or something?" asked Zack. " 'Cause if we can just double Spiky's gel amount, no strand will ever move again!"
"Nope, he needs more." Reno replied. "The cells were real concentrated last time 'cause they came straight from the remains themselves. So this time, they say he would need a full pint of blood." Cloud's eyes grew to the size of saucers.
"Like, injected into him?" said Zack.
"I think he would just drink it, yo. Maybe straight from the source, maybe in a tall glass mixed with vodka on the rocks…damned if I know," Reno replied with a shrug. Cloud looked ready to vomit.
"Great, now he's a vampire," said Tifa.
"Yeah, somethin' like that," said Reno. "Anyway, my boss wants us to get rid of him—might help improve the Shinra image."
"Ha! The Shinra image?" Tifa exclaimed, staring at him in disbelief. "Isn't it a little late for that?" she added icily.
"So why doesn't he have the Turks do it?" said Cloud.
"We didn't exactly have much success with that before, if you remember. Besides, you're more likely to lure him into a fight."
"So I'm your live bait, is that it?" Cloud said, his anger mounting.
"I'm just the messenger, yo."
"Get out of here, Reno." said Tifa, pointing him towards the door. "We're closed."
"Okay, okay. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
A week or so had passed, and there was no other sign of
Reno, or of Kadaj. In fact, the bar and delivery service
saw very few customers at all. Things were relatively uneventful
until one evening when a disturbing conversation was overheard at the
"You look more worn out than usual, Jack," a man was saying to his friend.
"My cousin Reggie got murdered last week."
"Reggie the stoner? With the spiky blond hair?"
"Yeah, that's the one. I had just busted him outta prison and we're passing by this alley and suddenly he's getting his ass kicked by this little silver-haired freak," the other man grumbled. Cloud's ears pricked up from behind the bar where he was working his shift. "He was cuttin' him up like sushi, like he was tryin' to get the blood out. Kept calling him 'brother', whatever the hell that means. The way he was ranting it sounded like he was mistaking him for somebody else. " Cloud didn't need to hear any more; he turned and rushed out of the barroom unnoticed—or so he thought. The two men watched him go, with sly, almost satisfied smiles on their faces.
Zack had finished his shift and was hanging out with Aeris in their room, resting his head on her lap and staring at the ceiling.
"I…am…so…bored," he mumbled. "Life around here has been
so slow lately. I really need to see some action."
"Getting that itch to fight again?" asked Aeris.
"Wha— no! D-did I say that?" he stammered.
"You didn't have to," she replied, running her fingers through his hair. "I know you. You weren't born to be a delivery boy."
"That's not the point…I always knew settling down would never be your style," Aeris added. Zack chewed his lip. "When you were in SOLDIER, I wanted to see you more often, but I didn't think you'd ever really change. I'm not stupid, Zack."
"Of course not, I never said you were!" he protested.
"I know. It's just that I love you and I still worry about you a little bit someti—"
"Zack?" Cloud opened the door.
Zack lifted his head slightly, turning towards him. "Hi Spiky. Knock much?"
"Sorry. Am I interrupting?"
"Not really," muttered Aeris.
"Whaddaya want?" Zack asked.
"It's true—we have to find Kadaj and confront him."
"What? Kadaj? How did he come back to life?" Aeris said.
Cloud stared at his friend. "You didn't tell her?"
"Tell me what? Come on Zack, you know you can tell me anything."
"I know," Zack whined, "but, well, I didn't want to worry you…"
"Zack, I'm a grown woman…" Aeris said impatiently.
"Okay, okay," said Zack. "Last Saturday after you went to bed, Reno showed up around closing time…"
"Reno? The Turk?" said Aeris, slightly startled.
"Yeah…anyway, he says Kadaj is back and wants to become Sephiroth again, and that he needs to drink a pint of Cloud's blood to do it." Aeris's mouth hung open in speechless disgust. "Or the blood of anyone else who has…Jenova cells…in him." Zack finished.
"Like you," she said, arms folded.
"So what were you saying?" Zack asked Cloud, dodging Aeris's comment.
"He needs to be stopped—things are getting out of hand." Cloud told his friends what he had heard.
"Damn…" said Zack, his eyes widening. He got up and spoke quickly.
"Well I guess we'd better…um…" He glanced at Aeris.
"Just go," she said, looking away resignedly. He bit his lip awkwardly and turned and followed Cloud out of the room. "And Zack?"
He poked his head back in. "Yeah?"
"Kick his ass."
Zack grinned, not having expected such words from her, and left. On the way out he bumped into Denzel, who had heard everything. "You guys'll be back soon, right?" the boy asked, a hopeful look on his face.
"Sure Denz, back before you know it! We've just got a little business to take care of." Zack ruffled his hair and went to catch up with Cloud. Before they could leave they had to go through the main barroom. As they came through the doorway a chair came crashing against the wall, just inches from their heads. "Whoa!" Zack ducked. A brawl had somehow broken out, and the chairs, bottles and fists were all flying. Even Tifa was throwing punches, having jumped over the bar earlier in an effort to break things up. They caught a glimpse of her knocking a guy flat. "Hey dumbass! How's it feel to get beat up by a girl?" Zack shouted. Someone took a swing at him and he and Cloud soon were caught up in the bedlam. Eventually they were forced towards the door, then out. "Damn, I hope Tifa can get them under control before they tear the place down," Zack commented, glancing back.
"She will," said Cloud confidently. "She can take care of herself—you'd be surprised."
"Unfortunately you're not so lucky," said a voice behind them. Before they could turn around they were both suddenly clubbed in the back of the head, and they fell to the ground, unconscious.
Cloud awoke in total darkness. He tried to get up but banged his head almost instantly. "Ow!"
"Spiky? You're in here too?"
"Zack? Where the hell are we?"
"In a big locked crate I think," his friend replied, feeling his way around the wall. "I've been trying to find a way out but I can't see a damn thing. Other than that I have no idea where we are. All I know is if anybody tries to use me as a lab rat again I'm gonna kill 'em."
"Too bad we don't have our swords."
"No kidding." Suddenly they heard a gunshot, seemingly aimed right in their direction. "Look out!" cried Zack. They flattened themselves against the bottom as they heard two more shots hit the top edge of the crate. Suddenly the lid flew open, and they looked up to see a man in a red cloak lowering his gun.
"Vincent?" said Cloud.
"Sweet! Cape Boy saves the day again!" Zack exclaimed.
"Don't call me that."
"Vincent, what's going on?" said Cloud.
"You've been set up."
"Yeah, so I figured," said Zack, rubbing the back of his head as the two men got up.
"You overheard a conversation about Kadaj, did you not?" Vincent asked Cloud.
"It was all a trap—a fake. They made that story up to bait you into taking action. Did you really think Kadaj would mistake anyone else for you?" Cloud hung his head, feeling quite idiotic at this point. It was true—Kadaj was insane, but not stupid. "And the bar brawl was started as a cover-up for your attack."
"Somehow this is starting to make sense," said Zack.
"How do you know all this?" Cloud said.
"Kadaj is back at the Forgotten City again. I've been hanging around," Vincent answered.
"Who's he working with this time?" Cloud asked.
"The mafia, actually."
"Wait, Midgar has a mafia?" said Zack, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, a small one. Every place has some kind of organized crime," Vincent replied.
"I thought that was what the Turks were for," Zack grumbled.
"Except the mafia doesn't answer to Shinra—not officially anyway. You never know who's paying who to do what these days. Anyway, the mafia just takes orders from whoever will pay them. The ironic thing is that Kadaj isn't even paying them in cash—just empty promises about taking over the world, or something. "
"Figures," Cloud muttered. "So the other two brothers aren't there?"
"Correct. But that means that Kadaj has the strength of two of them. He also somehow came into possession of the Masamune. Nobody is entirely certain of how these manifestations of Sephiroth work, not even the Shinra people. Anyway, Kadaj is having the mafia do his dirty work. He heard that you had another former SOLDIER working with you, so he hired those punks to knock you two out, load you in their truck, and deliver you to him on this mountain so he could cut you up and get as much blood for himself as possible." The two friends stared at him, disgusted. "So I shot out their tires, they swerved, and your crate ended up in this ditch."
"Awesome…" said Zack. "Thanks Cape Boy!"
"I told you not to call me that."
"Wait, what happened to the others?" Zack asked, his face falling.
"Aeris and Tifa were attacked too but they apparently fought off the punks very well," Vincent replied. "They and the two kids have been moved to a secure location until this all blows over. They badly wanted to help, but I thought it would be simplest if you took on Kadaj yourselves. Here, I brought you a present. " Vincent gestured off to the side, where a pair of swords had been thrown on the ground. Zack and Cloud stared at them in disbelief — indeed the weapons were theirs.
"Man, you think of everything, Cape Boy!"
"Don't make me regret saving you, Zack…"
"Twice, you saved me twice!" Zack reminded him, giving him a friendly punch in the shoulder.
"Don't touch me," said Vincent. "And for the love of God, stop bouncing. Save your energy." Zack settled down as he and Cloud bent down and picked up their swords.
"Well if Kadaj was expecting us he can't be far from here," Cloud said thoughtfully. Suddenly as if on cue, a voice echoed throughout the surrounding cliffs.
"Come out, Brother! I know you're down there!" The men looked up.
"Where the hell is he?" muttered Zack as they glanced around.
"There!" Cloud spotted him, standing atop a nearby ledge.
"That scrawny thing? That's Kadaj?" said Zack, looking where his friend was pointing and laying eyes on their nemesis for the first time. "He looks like a girl! Check out that leather—he looks like a biker-chick!"
"Seriously, he does! Don't you think so, Vi — " he turned to Vincent, but he was gone. Zack and Cloud exchanged looks of bewilderment but quickly turned back to Kadaj. "Hey Silverlocks, over here!" Zack gripped his sword and shot skyward, Cloud at his heels. Kadaj saw them and broke into a narrow-eyed smile despite Zack's mocking. He jumped from his ledge and the three fighters collided.
"You destroyed me, Brother! I'll cut your heart out!" he yelled at Cloud. Kadaj took a swing at him and Cloud blocked it.
"He put you out of your misery!" Zack corrected.
"Die you traitors!" he lunged at Zack next.
"Sorry, can't do that," the latter replied as their swords continued to clang together. "See, I've got a family. What have you got? A big fat Oedipus complex!" Zack knocked Kadaj away from him briefly; Kadaj came back to Cloud.
"I'm stronger now," he said. "I owe it all to Mother." He took another swipe at him.
"Your mom was nothing but an alien freak!" shouted Zack, before ducking the Masamune again.
"Yeah, get over it," added Cloud.
"No one speaks this way about Mother and lives!" Kadaj cried furiously, continuing to attack both Cloud and Zack. With Kadaj possessing the strength of two men, the trio fought long and hard, trading sword-swipes and occasional Jenova references. Finally, Kadaj was cornered near the edge of one of the cliffs.
"Face it, Kadaj," Cloud was saying as he leaned in, pressing buster sword against Masamune. "Your 'mother' is dead. You're a worthless puppet."
"That may be…" his silver-haired enemy replied, not an ounce of sanity left in his voice. "But Mother is so powerful…I only need a little piece of her…to tell me what to do!" Kadaj flung Cloud off of him with his sword, sending him flying backwards. Cloud's body slammed into the opposite cliff face, dropped like a stone and landed in a tree that stood on the ledge beneath. Zack's eyes widened as he watched his friend fall, his expression soon changing from surprise to fiery rage.
"Go meet your mama!" he screamed. He made a final lunge and struck Kadaj as hard as he could, right between the eyes. Kadaj fell to the ledge, face-down and seemingly unconscious.
"Woo!" Zack let out a cheer as he landed on his feet victoriously. He started to glance around, looking for Cloud. Suddenly he felt the Masamune rammed directly through his midsection. "AUGH!" Zack crumpled to his knees, choking. He looked up and saw Kadaj, who had staggered to his feet, smiling maniacally with a death-grip on the hilt at the other end. He ripped the sword out, then thrust it into Zack twice more. Zack watched his blood spill, breathing hard and cursing under his breath as he realized that at this rate a nice pint wasn't far behind. The sword was ripped out one more time and Zack fell on his back. He watched a pair of blurry, smiling Kadajes stumble forward, breathing hard as well, and licking their lips. Kadaj stopped and stood before him on a wobbly rock, putting both hands on the hilt and triumphantly raising the sword over his head, ready to slice Zack in half.
"Thank you," the two blurry Kadajes said. "You've been most useful."
"No!" a voice suddenly shouted. A blond cannonball shot across Zack's field of vision, colliding with the raised Masamune. Kadaj let out a yell as he and Cloud catapulted over the edge of the cliff, sword and all. Kadaj plummeted to ground below. Cloud seized the sword in midair, drove it hard into the side of the cliff, and pole-vaulted himself back onto the top, landing on all fours a couple of yards away from his friend. "Zack," he panted, "you okay?"
Zack, whose eyes had fallen shut, looked up at him again. "Ugh…I will be," he said, holding his stomach as he tried to sit up. He smirked. "That was some pretty sweet stuff you pulled right there."
"Eh, I just didn't feel like watching you die again," said Cloud. He was trying to sound casual, but he could not hide his angst; the color had obviously drained from his face completely.
Zack grinned weakly. "Ha…ha…ow, don't make me laugh, please."
"I think once was enough, really," Cloud continued.
"Yeah…I'll go along with that…" Zack replied, grimacing. "Heh, look at me," he added, glancing at his blood-soaked shirt with a smirk. "I look like hell. Aeris is gonna kill me."
"You really need to get your fears straight, man," said Cloud, shaking his head.
"So is the mama's-boy dead?" Zack asked.
"For now," Cloud muttered.
"Well, might as well start trying to get out of here," said Zack, struggling to get up. "It's a long way down."
"You sure you can?" asked Cloud as Zack leaned on him heavily. Before his friend could answer they heard the sound of helicopter blades. The two looked up to see the aircraft coming right towards them, a big glaring red logo slapped on the side.
"Shit, a Shinra chopper! Are you kidding me?" said Zack hoarsely. "Reno must have ratted me out after all, that son of a—"
"Hey! Get your asses in here, yo!" a familiar voice shouted as the helicopter landed and opened its door. A flash of red hair could be seen in the cockpit "You're going home."
"Home?" said Cloud, utterly baffled.
"You mean you're not here to finish us off?" called Zack.
"Why should we trust you?" Cloud added.
"Because there's no other way I'm getting down from here without falling on my freakin' face," Zack broke in, having made up his mind. "Let's go."
"And try not to bleed on the seats too much," the pilot added as the bedraggled pair moved towards the open door. "My boss doesn't know I'm here."
"Just remember what I told you last week, Reno," Zack grumbled, "'cause it still stands."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Reno," Cloud pressed, "why would you do this for us?"
"Maybe out of the goodness of my heart?" Zack and Cloud gave him a look that said 'Try again'. "Or…maybe because two hot chicks are paying me off?" He jerked his head towards the inside of the helicopter as he spoke, prompting the two friends to have a look. They could hardly believe their eyes, especially since they were both about ready to pass out anyway; there sat Tifa and Aeris in the back of the chopper. The two women smiled and Aeris gave a little wave as Zack and Cloud's mouths fell open.
"Ha! Ha…ha…ow. You'd better watch that 'hot chick' talk Reno, or I might have to knock your teeth out when I wake up," said Zack. He had broken into a smile, despite the fact that he was so spent that he was seeing about four women back there by now.
"Jealous much, Zack?" said Aeris.
"Just sit your asses down, yo." Reno said to the men. He turned and headed back to his place in the cockpit.
"And Reno?" said Zack as he and Cloud collapsed into their seats.
"You can keep the ponytail."