"Yuffie! Now!" Tifa screeched.
"Hiyah!" From her back Yuffie grabbed the Jayne materia and cast the counter-spell on Cloud before he could strike. His blade smacked against the ground harmlessly as the force of the spell knocked him down onto his knees. He looked up as the orange Kuzar glow drained rapidly from his eyes. His expression was vacant as he slowly stood up, hardly even knowing where he was. He looked down at the sword that was still in his right hand, as if he hadn't the slightest idea how it had gotten there.
Where'd all this blood come from? Why…why is everybody staring at me like that? Cloud wondered as he looked around, trying to get his bearings. Thenhe saw Zack lying motionless beside Aeris and froze. He looked from his weapon to his friend, his mouth open in horror. He didn't have to ask — he knew. Oh fuck.
Cloud's fingers slowly uncurled from the hilt of his sword and the weapon clattered to the ground. Shaking his head in disbelief he stared at his hands, as if he wished they were someone else's. He looked back up at his friends—though, were they still his friends? He could only imagine what he was in their eyes now. Jonas, Cissnei and Yuffie were all looking up at him warily, as if still making sure that the spell had left him; Tifa's look contained a touch of sympathy for him. And Aeris — Cloud couldn't look at Aeris.
But she had nothing more to say to him. The spell and the look of terror that had been on her face as she had hovered over Zack moments before melted away, and she collapsed exhaustedly onto his chest. She felt utterly spent, virtually numb. A lone tear escaped from her eyelashes and settled into the fibers of his blood-soaked shirt. The others slowly stood up and continued to watch silently, awkwardly.
"Yes Cloud?" Aeris said, turning to look up at him. But the baffled look on his face told her that the voice wasn't his.
"Aeris…? That you?" She snapped her head back around and her heart leapt.
"Zack…" she squeaked out.
A smile crawled across Zack's blood-spattered face at the sight of her expression. They both choked out a laugh in spite of themselves as he brushed her tear away. "Come 'ere you," he mumbled, embracing her. Aeris settled into him as he gently pressed her body against his. She didn't care how much blood he was getting on her. He didn't care how much weight she was putting on his chest. Just holding Aeris again was making him ache a little less. Just having Zack's arms around her was making Aeris feel safe. Sighs of exhaustion left their lips as their eyes fell shut. Just as it was starting to look as if separating them might have to involve a crowbar, the thunderous sound of propellers was heard as the Shera came up behind where the others were standing.
"Git yer asses in here! She's gonna blow!" came the sudden shout from Cid. Everyone turned to look up and saw the pink sky.
"Sunset! Crap!" Yuffie cried, clamping her hands on her head. In all the excitement no one had noticed that the sun was sinking—and the lava was rising.
"Let's go!" urged Tifa, grabbing Yuffie by the arm.
"Uh, why don't you guys go ahead and I'll catch up? Maybe I could just, uh, run down the mountain? Like really fast?" Yuffie said hopefully.
"Just take deep breaths, Yuffie," Tifa said, rolling her eyes in frustration at her soon-to-be-airsick friend as she pulled her towards the ship.
Aeris sat up and Zack tried to. "Cloud can you help me with him?" she asked. Cloud came quickly.
"Better just get yourself in, Aeris," he replied, crouching down to take her place "You don't look so good either." She gave a nod and drew away. "Jonas, give me a hand here." The ex-cadet scampered over and he and Cloud helped Zack up to the ship as fast as they could as the ground started to shake and rumble beneath them. Once inside they laid him up against a wall beside Aeris. Jonas climbed back out to help Cissnei gather the weapons while Cloud stayed behind, standing over his two friends, this time with no intentions of slicing them in half. "Zack, I'm so sorry..." Cloud said, shaking his head, his face still chalk-white. "I had no idea that I…that I…"
"Forget it, Cloud," Zack said weakly. "I'm sure I would've…done the same to you."
"Aeris just about did it for you anyway," said Tifa to Zack, tongue-in-cheek.
"Wait, what? You beat up Spiky? And I missed it?" Zack said, turning to Aeris.
"Er…I guess, sort of" she replied uneasily, as Cloud's face turned red with embarrassment.
"Hey, don't be modest," Tifa went on, "you might've killed him if I hadn't pulled you off." Zack threw his head back and laughed; he was starting to feel better already.
Meanwhile Jonas and Cissnei quickly loaded in the swords and shurikens and climbed into the aircraft, with Cid immediately pulling away. Suddenly a bullet grazed Cissnei's leg and she yelped as her feet were taken out from under her and she fell from the edge. Jonas dove and snatched her wrist at the last second, as he was the closest person to her. Everyone looked down to see the forgotten Alex standing below, shooting up at them. He had stumbled out of the cave, with blood on his arms and face and still with a somewhat-deranged look in his eyes. Alex laughed as Jonas and Cissnei dangled helplessly above the rising lava, trying to dodge his bullets. Then suddenly the STORM commander stowed his gun, leapt into the air and grabbed onto Cissnei's legs. She cried out again as her body was wrenched in two opposite directions. Jonas' arm was ready to rip out of its socket as he was suddenly forced to hold the weight of two people.
"So you killed George and were just gonna leave me to die, huh?" Alex said accusingly. He grabbed onto her, practically using her as a ladder to get to the ship.
Hold on…hold on, dammit… Jonas thought to himself, keeping a vice-grip on her arm. Finally Alex swung himself aboard the ship.
"And for what," Alex went on, "this little punk?" Suddenly he drew his pistol again and put it to Jonas' head. "Drop her," he ordered. "Drop her if you want to live." Jonas froze, feeling the cold metal through his orange curls. "You're running out of time, you know. That volcano's going to erupt. You wouldn't want six people to die because one man did something stupid, would you?" He abruptly shot Jonas in the shoulder, causing him to grimace in pain and nearly let go. "Don't be stupid, boy..." Alex bullied him.
"Alex, don't!" cried Cissnei from below. "This has nothing to do with him, or with any of them. This is between you and me, you know that!"
"Well it might have something to do with them if you don't let go…" Alex said to Jonas smoothly, putting the gun against his head again. "Drop the little lady and maybe you and your friends get out of here alive."
"Let go, Jonas," said Cissnei finally. A deer-in-the-headlights look crossed Jonas' face. Had she seriously just said that?
"I'm telling you, you keep her around long enough and she'll stab you in the back and leave you to rot," said Alex. "A little traitor, that's all she is. She's not worth it boy, she's not worth a thing!"
Jonas was furious—he couldn't possibly give up now. Instead of letting go he tightened his grip on Cissnei's arm, and with all his remaining strength he swung her back up over his head. At that moment the lava exploded forth from the volcano.
"SHIT!" Cid gave his wheel an extremely sharp turn to avoid the blast. Alex gave a shout as he was pitched out of the ship, his gun going off. Everyone else was hurled to the other end of the cabin, hitting the side and falling back to the floor in a heap. "Talk about your goddamn turbulence," the pilot grumbled as he attempted to right the ship. "Everybody in? Anyone hurt?" he asked, almost more out of curiosity than concern.
"No more than before," muttered Zack as the group started to untangle themselves.
"Not you, dumbass. Shut up and don't fuckin' die over there. This is an airship, not a goddamn hearse, ya hear?"
"Aye aye, Cap'n," Zack replied with a mock salute. "Shutting up and not dying." Aeris chuckled again and Cloud rolled his eyes.
Cissnei glanced around as everyone tried to get their bearings, and saw Jonas flat on his back with some blood on the side of his head from where Alex's last bullet had caught him. She quickly crawled over.
"Jonas…? Jonas!" she cried, shaking his shoulder.
"Unnh?" he let out a little moan as he stirred.
"Are you all right?"
"Uh, yeah it's uh… just a scratch," he replied, holding his head.
"I'm sorry you all had to be dragged into this," Cissnei murmured, mostly to Jonas. "I guess Alex just totally lost it at the end. He was—"
"An asshole," Cid broke in. "And this ship doesn't take assholes."
"Pretty much," said Cissnei with a smirk. "But Jonas…why?" she asked softly.
Jonas hesitated before replying. Really he had only grabbed her out of reflex, hadn't he? He would have done the same for anyone else…right? No, there was something more, something more to it than that. That was why he hadn't let go, even when his arm had felt like it was going to fall off. That was why he hadn't let go, even when Alex had offered to let his other friends live if he did. Even Cissnei had been willing to take that offer. But what Alex had said had replaced the fear in Jonas' eyes with a flame of rage. He hadn't felt that way since he found out that his older brother had died in a Shinra experiment gone wrong. Few times in Jonas' life had he ever felt that way, in fact. He was brought out of his thoughts as he realized that Cissnei was still waiting for an answer. But how could he tell her any of this? Surely she would only laugh at him...
"I mean, you could've been killed, y-you didn't have t…" she stammered, shaking her head. Finally Jonas decided to use some words that that brother had given him, long ago.
"Well," Jonas said awkwardly, propping himself up on his elbows and staring at the floor, "that brother that I had that I told you about, who was in SOLDIER…he once told me that a true soldier never leaves another one behind." He looked back up at Cissnei shyly as he finished, and got a small, satisfied smile in return. Jonas felt as if he had passed that little test for sure. But then Zack had to pipe up.
"Try again, Jonas!"
Jonas froze. Zack had put him on the spot and was clearly loving every minute of it. Again Cissnei looked at Jonas expectantly. "Well…the truth is…Cissnei…I did." he said.
"I did…have to. I was afraid of losing you," he admitted. "And then when Alex said you weren't worth anything…" he went on, shaking his head slowly, "i-it just hit me like a truck."
"I don't know how you held on after he shot you," Cissnei added sympathetically. "I mean, your arm must have been screaming." Jonas sat all the way up and took her hand in his, looking her in the eye.
"I guess my heart was screaming louder," he said quietly.
That did it.
A lump rose in Cissnei's throat as she put her other hand on his shoulder. "Oh…Jonas…"
"Score," whispered Zack with a mischievous grin. Aeris gave him a friendly poke and a look that said 'You're hopeless'. Cissnei and Jonas closed their eyes and both leaned forward, their lips less than an inch away from each other.
Again Cid broke the silence. "If everyone's done schmoozin', let's get the fuck outta here."