Hi to all of you loyal readers! I am so happy to be able to write for you, and I am even more happy with the positive reviewers! Thank you, Nigtalea for reviewing so positively. You stimulate me with your enthusiasm! Thanks for that!
There is one person I dedicate this to, and that is Lisa, my amazing beta-reader, who, once again, worked her ass off to correct all of my spelling and grammar mistakes. Thank you so much!
As you can see, this chapter is extremely long, but I couldn't help it. Enjoy!
Huggles to all of you!
Eline

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~Aerith's Inheritance~
Chapter three
On the edge of despair
By Eline aka Asrialth

"Miss Gainsborough, miss Gainsborough!" A voice sounded from behind her, and Aerith looked around, and saw a very exited Rude. Rude was extremely fond of Aerith, not like Elena, who treated her kindly but saw her as a mission, or Reno, who thought Aerith was hot and therefore flirted with her, or even Tseng, who genuinely liked (and fancied) Aerith but put his work first. No, Aerith was the only one who took Rude seriously and who could blame the ones who didn't, who could take someone seriously who was Reno's best friend?

Aerith's kind heart and witty remarks had made him so fond of her that he would do everything for her. He wasn't in love with her or anything, but he just looked up to her and liked her a lot, like a real friend.

"Mr Rude, what is the matter?" Aerith said and smiled at him, "what terrible thing has occurred that made you so hasty?"

"It isn't terrible, really," he said and returned her smile.

"What is it?"

"Elena, Reno and I were supposed to watch you the entire morning, but I fooled them by saying that Tseng gave them another assignment for the morning, I figured you would like to write to your SOLDIER friend in privacy, without Elena and Reno watching you."

"Oh, Mr Rude, you couldn't have given me a more delightful morning, oh, thank you!" She jumped up and quickly gave him a hug, then grabbed a pencil from somewhere between the pillars, fetched a sheet of paper that was lying on one of the church banks, and then sat down next to the flowerbed and started writing, while Rude kept a distance and respected her privacy.

--Present Day--

Tseng showed Cloud a chair and sat behind his desk, he folded his hands on the table and looked at them for a moment, before lifting up his head and taking in Cloud's face.

"So you think that SOLDIER is out there being the bad guy again," Tseng said, it was not a question, but a statement.

"I 'm just telling you what I see, Tseng," Cloud said, who refused to sit down.

"And what do you see exactly?" Tseng asked politely, but there was an edge to his voice, he was very tired of the conversation and of Cloud in particular. He sounded like he thought it would be impolite to tell Cloud what he thought, but that he also thought Cloud was saying stupid things. Cloud recognized that sound in Tseng's voice, and he furrowed his brows.

"What I see, Tseng is Mako poisoning," Cloud answered.

"Cloud…" Tseng hesitated before answering, looking down at his hands again, "Cloud, you know I think of you like a friend, and an ally in battle, so you have to understand I mean everything that I say well…"

"What is it, Tseng?"

"I think you are prejudiced Cloud, SOLDIER, and we, the Turks, too, have done very bad things to you in the past. To you, to your friends, to your family and to the rest of the world, I am aware of the fact that we haven't always been good, like we are now. For yes, Cloud, we are now a company that does good things, we have made mistakes in the past, but we don't make them anymore."

"Ha, mistakes," Cloud scoffed, "you and SOLDIER have nearly destroyed the world with Shinra, you hurt innocents, you drove Sephiroth crazy, you chased down Zack and then killed him, and…"

"Cloud!" Tseng said, and his voice didn't sound polite anymore, "enough, Cloud, I won't allow you to talk to me like that. Will you please remember that we fought on your side when Bahamut Sin attacked the city and that my boss Rufus Shinra protected Genova's cells for as long as he could from Kadaj, even though he was terminally ill, also, we helped you stop Deep Ground and my boss even funded the WRO, I admit that we have done bad things, but we have atoned!"

"Tseng…"

"You can't conclude that the mystery person who kidnapped the orphans was SOLDIER, just because someone was Mako poisoned."

"They were the only company I know that used Mako so much, I'm the living proof of that."

"A good detective knows not to exclude all other theories when they find a support for one theory, face it, it's not SOLDIER that's doing this, Cloud, please understand. Don't let your prejudices rule your judgment. You know I like you and you know that I would never do anything bad to you or the kids, and no one else in the company would either," Tseng said to Cloud.

"Not of your knowing," Cloud grumbled, Cloud was a nice young man, everybody knew, but now he was stressed and angry and he needed to show that somehow, and Tseng was the unlucky one to hear it.

"Cloud, I respect you a lot and I wish that you find the kids, and I really want to help you find them, but I must ask you to leave now, until you have regained your reason… good luck" Tseng stood up and walked towards the door.

Cloud followed his movements with his eyes but stayed where he was, part of him wanted to apologize to Tseng and to ask for his help, but another part, his pride wanted to shout at Tseng because Cloud knew he was right, SOLDIER was involved in this.

But at the very moment that Tseng's hand reached the doorknob and Cloud opened his mouth to speak, the door burst open, and it would have hurt Tseng a lot, if his reflexes hadn't been so quick and he jumped away in time, composing his startled face quickly enough for Reno and Rude not to see it.

"Thanks for knocking," Tseng told them sarcastically.

"Sorry boss," Reno said, "but we heard that Cloud was here, so we must speak to him," Reno said, shrugging while Rude apologized a hundred times for interrupting.

"Why?" Tseng asked Reno.

"Because we heard that he found Cissnei" Reno answered and for the first time in his life, looked at Cloud with gratitude.

"He found Cissnei?" Tseng asked, amused, "what exactly did you hear?"

"Well," Reno answered, "I heard from the new girl Maddy, who heard from her friend Folkert, who was told by Heidegger, who had talked to the girl from the telephones, whose boyfriend works at the guards, and the girl with whom he cheated on his girlfriend, which is your secretary, heard the telephone conversation yesterday between you and Tifa. So we heard from a very reliable source that Cloud followed an army of three hundred warriors from the south who carried Cissnei and seventy other beautiful women as a price back home to the south, and that he killed all those warriors on his own and took with him all the women and a load of gold worth a fortune and that he bought a villa for Cissnei where she can recover from everything and that Cloud asked her to marry him."

"And all of that in one day?" Tseng stifled a laugh.

"No, I believe it took three…" Reno said and looked out of the window with a thoughtful expression. "Anyway, Cloud, we owe you big time."

"Well" Tseng said, "It went a bit differently" he told Reno and Rude the entire story and Reno was very disappointed.

"Oh" he said, "I liked the first version better, so, Cloud, what happened to her, how is she, where is she, why are you here, what did Cissnei tell you, did she kick some ass?"

"Another time Reno," Cloud said, and prepared to leave the room, he had stayed here long enough and he knew that he wouldn't find any more information that he needed. He needed to look somewhere else, or find some leverage to make Tseng talk. For some reason, he knew that Tseng knew something, Cloud had considered for a moment to talk to the people who worked for the Turks, but Reno's story had just proved that kind of information wasn't as reliable as he had hoped.

"Why?" Reno whined, "why are you guys always so mysterious, why do you never tell me anything?" Cloud had no idea what it meant. He believed this was the first time that he hadn't told Reno what he wanted, and so he ignored Reno and turned for the door.

"Cloud, good luck with your search," Tseng almost whispered, "I will do for them what I can with my authority, but I can't guarantee anything. And remember…" Cloud turned around to hear him, "don't be prejudiced, be open for all alternatives, and…. information can be found on places where you don't expect to find it…."

Cloud nodded, not sure what to think of that information, and left the building, headed back to Seventh Heaven, for he had to talk to Cissnei.

When Cloud was back on the street, his phone suddenly started to beep furiously. Obviously, there was a bad connection inside of the building, because he suddenly had twelve missed calls, though his phone had not rang inside. Nine of the calls were from Seventh Heaven, which meant Tifa, the other three from Vincent. Something must be really wrong, if Vincent called him so many times. Tifa called him all the time, it probably wasn't such am emergency in her case. But Vincent….he must have something important to say.

Cloud quickly drove home to make his phone calls from there and check up on Cissnei and Tifa, he left his Fenrir on the pavement, so that if it was necessary, he could immediately drive away.

He walked inside, calm because nothing stirred there so nothing bad could have happened. If bad things happened, Tifa would freak out and it was something you could hear from outside.

"Tifa? I'm back!" he yelled through the bar… No answer.

"Tifa?" not even a movement, only the cold echo of his own voice in the vacant room.

"She… is… not here…" he heard a voice from the staircase at the other end of the room. He ran towards Cissnei's voice, who sounded as if the talking hurt and cost a lot of effort, she was walking down the stairs, steadying herself at the wall, her appearance feverish and her infected leg shaking every time she put her weight on it.

"Cissnei! Are you alright? steady there, be careful!" Cloud said, and he put an arm around her waist to help her of the last steps.

"Thanks," she said feebly, as he pulled a chair towards them and helped her sit down, she grimaced every time she moved her leg, but didn't complain.

"Your fever has come back," Cloud told her.

"Huh, you're kidding," Cissnei said, looking at him sarcastically, "I didn't notice."

"I'm sorry, what I meant, was that you should stay in bed until you are somewhat better, be calm and get as much rest as you can."

"Well, I am fairly sure that being mako-poisoned isn't the right way to get better either, so why not get up and go downstairs?" Cissnei said.

"Yeah, about that mako-poisoning… Do you know who-"

"Cloud, I remember barely anything of it anymore, and not who it was, I'm sorry. The first thing I remember afterwards is Tifa trying to calm me down while I was yelling unintelligible things. The odd thing is that at that point, I realized I was being stupid and that Tifa didn't understand me, and yet I couldn't get my mouth to stop screaming. My body had a will of its own, is what I thought. Anyway, I feel much better now."

Cloud looked at her, horrified "you feeling better now? Wow, I wonder how bad you felt before…"

"Very bad," Cissnei answered and produced a tiny smile.

"Talking about Tifa, by the way, where is she?" Cloud asked and looked around, "I figured she would force you to stay in bed until you are eighty-five."

He laughed silently, for some reason, Cissnei's optimistic behavior, had turned his mood more positive than before, he was feeling better now, and he knew that in this mood, it would be easier to look for the kids, because now his mind wasn't clouded with anger.

"I came down to tell you this, Cloud… Tifa has left, she went after the kids" Cissnei said, and her puffy, reddish eyes looked up at him in despair. She told him what had happened and how she had tried to stop Tifa, but that she had been so determined that she had left anyway.

"I don't understand…" Cloud said, although he knew somehow that Cissnei was right, Tifa indeed would do everything that gave her even the smallest chance to get the children back. He would do the same, of course, but then again, he was stronger and faster than she was. Sure, Tifa was a good martial arts fighter, but how much could a person do with only his fists? Cloud had Fenrir, his buster sword, his incredible speed and his fearsome reputation. He was nearly undefeatable! What Tifa did could be suicide.

But on the other hand, they didn't have much information yet, perhaps Tifa had known more about it and it wasn't suicide at all. Perhaps she did have some master plan that could make everything right. After all, Tifa barely did anything without thinking it through. Not since she nearly died during Sephiroth's attack at Nibelheim when she tried to save her father. Tifa was a smart and sensible woman, she was strong, sweet, tough and brave and above all, very responsible. She would never go somewhere if it would mean that she would die.

Cissnei explained what she had heard and what Tifa had said before she left.

"I picked up a little bit of what the man on the other side of the line said…" Cissnei said, "Something about that Tifa had to help him with something and that the kids would be safe if she did that..."

Ah… Cloud's positive thoughts vanished. Yes, Tifa was an extremely responsible woman, and she never did anything without thinking it through, but if someone offered her the safety of the children, in exchange for her help, she would do it without thinking. Who wouldn't? It would give her the chance to save the kids and kick the ass of the kidnapper as well. He knew she must have been thinking that, she didn't care about her own life, as long as the children were safe. If someone had offered him the same thing, he would have done it as well.

Okay, so Tifa would help the mystery man, the question was: with what did she have to help him? Was it dangerous? and illegal?

It probably was, otherwise, the mystery man would only have had to ask Tifa in a friendly manner, and she would have helped him immediately. So the thing Tifa needed to do was something she had to be forced to and wouldn't do freely. All the villains that Cloud knew whirled through his head and he remembered what they all had done and what damage they had caused the world. Cloud shook his head to remove those thoughts. The bad guys had been defeated long ago, they were the living proof of it. There had been peace in the world for almost two years now.

But what did peace mean in this world? Bad things happened all the time and every time Cloud and his friends had solved it, they had thought peace was finally restored forever, yet every time some other person who held a grudge against the entire world arose and then suddenly they were fighting again. What was it that Rufus Shinra had said again?

'The Life stream courses through our Planet back and forth across the borders of life and death. If that cycle is the very truth of life, then history, too, will inevitably repeat itself' Rufus was right. The entire planet was in a big loop of good and evil, and they were fighting to get the main role in the play all the time, but it seemed like evil was gaining strength at that very moment.

"I have to go there," Cloud concluded from his thoughts, he had to get Tifa out of there before she would help the mystery bad guy, something that must be really dangerous. Not only to herself, but probably also to others.

"Cloud, you can't!" Cissnei exclaimed, "It's highly dangerous!"

"That is exactly why I need to go!" Cloud said, "It is extremely dangerous, and so Tifa is in danger, I need to get her and the kids out of there!"

"Tifa chose to go there herself…" Cissnei answered in a soft voice, "it was her decision. If something happens to her, it is something that she knows. She has thought this through, Cloud, she knew the risks and she went nonetheless, It is very brave of her, but," she said, and her voice became louder now, more determined. "If something happens to her, it will probably be done by something that is strong enough to hurt you as well. People who have the power to capture and hurt Tifa, are really strong, we need reinforcements before we go there…"

"Yes, you are right," Cloud said and nodded, "wait… you said 'we'?"

"You don't expect me to sit back and do nothing, Cloud?" Cissnei said and looked at him as if he was the crazy one.

"You are ill, injured, fatigued and feverish, of course you are going to sit this one out," Cloud answered. Cissnei knew that she couldn't do anything about it, because Cloud would stop her anyway, even if she was at full strength. She felt weak and left out and it hurt.

"Thank you" she said curtly. Cloud smiled just a little bit because of her reaction, but otherwise ignored her completely, his mind was with Tifa, wherever she was, and he was so concerned that it gave him a headache. Doing nothing was not something he usually did, not after the events that took place with Kadaj and his two blond "brothers".

He had to do something, Tifa meant so much to him, she was a connection with his past in Nibelheim, she was his first love, and then his best friend, she was the one who had carried him through all his hard times, who had stood by his side even when he was about to break and she was the one who knew him the best. She was simply the person he loved most in this world, though not in a romantic way. Not anymore, that is.

But knowing that she would be hurt, hurt him more than he could say. It made his fingers tremble and his hand ball into fists, it made his feet restless, wanting to follow her wherever she was. He felt helpless now that Cissnei had told him not to follow her. It made him feel… useless, like a bad friend.

On the other hand, Cissnei was right as well, it could be pure suicide to go there on his own. He needed back-up first, but he didn't want his other friends in danger either. He knew that if he would call Yuffie, or Cid, or any other, they would help him without thinking, but that was exactly what he didn't want them to do. They needed to think before they risked their lives.

He could ask Vincent, Vincent would help him no matter what happened. He didn't care much for his own life, and he was stronger than most other people he knew, and smarter too. Yuffie would hate Cloud for getting Vincent in trouble, but that was a risk that he was going to have to take.

Cloud shook his head while he reached for his phone, he noticed that he was thinking silly things just to get his mind off of Tifa. But he couldn't show weakness this time.

"Who are you going to call?" Cissnei asked when she saw that Cloud dialed a number.

"Vincent Valentine."

"The ex-turk? Why?"

"Because for some reason, Vincent always seems to know what to do at what moments, he never panics and he will help me." He pressed the "call" button.

"What do you want?" Vincent's threatening voice answered before the first ring.

"Well, I don't know, you called me six times," Cloud answered immediately.

"Oh, Cloud, it's you," Vincent said, and he sounded relieved.

"Yeah, who else?"

"No one… I expected someone… else… to call" Cloud noticed Vincent's reluctance to talk about it so he decided not to ask further. Vincent asked why he and Tifa didn't pick up the phone and Cloud replied shortly about what happened and about where Tifa had gone.

"I was afraid of that…" Vincent said.

"Why? Do you know anything more about it?"

"I am at their base now, Cloud, and it is extremely dangerous here."

"Whose base? Where?" Cloud asked, confused.

"Cloud, you can NOT come here, you can't bring others, you have got to stay where you are. Trust me when I say you will not be able to safe Tifa or the kids right now. I will keep an eye on the three of them, but that's all I can do for now."

"Vince-"

"Stay where you are, Cloud," Vincent interrupted, "ah, someone's approaching, I have got to go. I'll report back every hour."

The line went dead and Cloud cursed.

"You heard Vincent, you've got to stay here," Cissnei said, happy that she wouldn't be left alone again.

"I know what Vincent said," Cloud hissed, feeling so helpless that it made him feel sixteen again, when he found Tifa in Nibelheim, severely wounded by Sephiroth. Like then, he couldn't do anything to save her, but this time, there even was no Zack to back him up, and no Sephiroth to kill to make her safe.

"So what will I do now?" Cloud asked.

"Sulk?" Cissnei suggested, "panic? Try to flee?"

"Very funny," Cloud answered darkly, he didn't sound like he found it funny at all, "but I am serious here."

"So am I, Cloud, all I am trying is to make you see that there isn't much else you can do. If Vincent tells you to stay here, you should listen to him, and, we have to get people to help us."

"I don't want others to get into trouble…"

"Neither do I, but I guess we don't have much of a choice, the kids' parents need to be informed at some time about the kidnap of their children, and in order to get those children back, we need help. So I suggest you make some phone calls."

Suddenly, Cloud remembered Barrett and panicked more than he had so far. Calling Barrett was the worst thing he could do, and even though he had to, it was suicide. He would happily be willing to go to the enemy's camp without weapons if he could avoid calling Barrett.

"For instance, what will Marlene's father do when he finds out that Marlene is gone?" Cissnei asked, turning practical.

"Well…" Cloud answered, "he will kill me. No Barrett would first kill me, then resurrect me and then kill me again."

They talked about what to do and eventually agreed that they should wait for more information from Vincent before telling Barrett and the others about what happened. If it turned out to be too dangerous for the others to be involved in, they agreed on not telling their friends but asking Tseng for back-up.

"I don't think Tseng will help me anymore," Cloud suddenly remembered.

"What makes you think that?" Cissnei asked, "Tseng is an honorable man, of course he will help us. He cares for you and Tifa, and for me, that has to count for something!"

Cloud explained to Cissnei what he had said to Tseng and how they had parted.

"You make everything harder than it is already, don't you?" Cissnei asked and rubbed her temples.

"Well, I didn't know then that Tseng was the one who sent you to help Zack and me escape… so perhaps I shouldn't have been so angry with him, but I was stressed, okay?" Cloud said in defense.

"Okay, it's okay, but this just makes everything more difficult… what should we do now? We have to think of a way to make Tseng forgive you… he is a very forgiving man, luckily, but I do think that you should apologize to him," Cissnei said, "but let us first wait for news from Vincent Valentine."

Cloud nodded and prepared himself for another stressful hour, he sulked in silence, staring past Cissnei at the wall and ignoring her completely, though not on purpose at all. His mind was with his dearest Tifa and sweet Marlene and tough Denzel, all of them had been through so much… where were they now? Where they safe? Could he save them? What should he do?

"Cloud, I would really like something to drink," Cissnei said after a quarter of an hour, Cloud looked up at her face and saw that the blue circles underneath her eyes had reappeared and that a faint reddish glow was returning to her cheeks. Cloud had thought that she had looked bad when he had come in… now she looked as if she was dying again. He quickly jumped up and ran towards the bar, filling a glass with water and wishing that Tifa had taught him how to care for a deceased girl.

"You need to go back to bed and rest, Cissnei," Cloud said while he gave her the glass, which she drained in a second.

"No, Cloud, I can't, I want to stay here, I want to know what has happened and what will happen," she said and looked at Cloud with pleading eyes, "and I need to watch you, so you won't run off without me to do something stupid." A faint smile played around her lips, a sign that she was mocking him, but she was serious as well, and so determined that Cloud was sure he couldn't argue.

"You need to go to bed… but I will stay within your sight if it makes you happy." He sighed, Cissnei bit her lip as she considered that.

"Fine…" She eventually said gruffly. She tried to stand up and walk upstairs, but halfway on the way to the stairs, she collapsed and nearly hit the floor. Cloud saw what happened and was with her in a second, catching her before she hit the ground.

"Guess I am weaker than I thought," Cissnei said slowly.

"I guess so" Cloud answered sheepishly. He had planned to get her upstairs, wait until she fell asleep and then go after Tifa, but now he suddenly realized that he couldn't leave Cissnei. As much as it troubled him to have her here, and to be a link with his past, as much as he hated her to be the bringer of all the bad news and that she caused so much trouble at such a dangerous hour, he knew he could not leave her alone. Because even though she had come at an annoying time, she was still an ill, weak human under his protection and he could not stand losing another person who stood under his care.

He sighed heavily, dropping his plans of leaving and ignoring the aching stabs in his body that all directed him to Tifa and the kids and then he picked up Cissnei. He was surprised at how little she weighed. She was such a strong-willed woman, and he hadn't expected her body to be that fragile.

He looked at her face, her eyes closed and her lips slightly parting, breathing with difficulty, he shouldn't have been fooled by her stubbornness. She could pretend to be healthy all she wanted, but eventually her body would win. Eventually, her strong will wouldn't be enough to keep herself running. She needed rest, and whatever she was thinking, nobody could ever think that she was weak. Then why was she so determined to stay awake? It couldn't be because she enjoyed Cloud's presence so much, because he was stressed and grumpy all the time. Then why, why didn't she just sleep until she got better? It was not like the entire situation involved people she knew or cared about.

He carried Cissnei upstairs and laid her in bed, then picked up the chair from behind the desk and put it next to the bed, he sat down and waited until she woke up.

------

Vincent hid behind the bushes while the persons were coming closer. A part of him hoped that it would be the one who had called just half an hour before, but of course he knew that Lucrecia would never show herself to him, if it was true that she had miraculously escaped from the crystal. He had tried to think of a million ideas of who had called and how and why, but every time he came up with something, his former idea of the caller being Lucrecia came back into his mind. He would recognize that voice anywhere. He heard that voice in his sleep, and he saw the person who belonged to the voice before him when he closed his eyes.

Why had Lucrecia Crescent resurrected? Did she decide that she had atoned for her sins enough and that she could now start living again? But she had locked herself into the crystal forever, right? She was extremely depressed! And, if it was true that Lucrecia was alive again, why would she call him? And why now, when all these weird things were going on? Was her resurrection somehow connected to the kidnap of the kids? Did she have something to do with that?

Vincent didn't know the answers, the only thing he knew was that it had been Lucrecia who had called… and that he was dying to see her.

There were two men walking towards the place where he was hiding, and Vincent's hand silently moved towards Cerberus, ready to shoot anyone who came too close.

"So, what do you think about all of this?"one of the men asked the other.

"Well, if the boss says we must do this, I just do this, I never ask questions. I just do my job and receive my money, I've got four children to feed, you know," the other man answered.

"Yes, I know, but doesn't it ever bother you that we just kidnap children now?"

"Nope, it's for the good cause."

"It was at first, I believed in the ideals… but kidnapping children? How can that be for the greater good?"

"Well, the boss says so… If I were you, I would watch my tongue."

The two men walked past Vincent without noticing him, they were carrying weapons, but they didn't look strong or well-trained at all.

Vincent frowned. So these men were from the secret base behind him, were they here out of free will, or were they forced, like some others? Were their minds played with? Was their will taken away from them, like from many others? And did they know anything about that base? It didn't seem likely, because of the low rank they had, and because they hadn't talked about anything they knew, but this might be the best chance for him to get some information.

Vincent walked out of the bushes in the Vincent-way, slowly, carelessly and perfectly threatening and at ease.

He didn't say "hands up" or "drop your guns," and he didn't come up with some fancy one-liner, all he said, was: "Who do you work for?"

He pointed his gun on them, and looked threatening enough to make even Sephiroth hesitate. One of the men, the one who had talked about his family and his good job, dropped his gun and held his hands in the air. The other man, the one who had doubted his boss's motives, held out a short blade and a little gun, his hands firm but shaking.

"W-what do you want?" he asked.

"I want information, and if you will give it to me, I will be friendly to you. Now, who do you work for?" Vincent said and scowled at the men.

-----

"Let her go! Let her GO, I tell you!" Denzel screamed at the man who was holding Marlene. The soldier was holding her tightly because she was trying to break free of his grasp and therefore he squeezed her arms so hard that it hurt Marlene. She didn't cry or gasp or anything like that, she only started to kick harder, trying to hurt the man that was holding her.

Denzel was held by a man as well, but he was more reserved, he was older than Marlene and he saw that the harder he tried to break free, the more men would come to guard them. And, his arm, where the wound was, hurt so much that if he would try to kick someone, it would hurt so much that he would faint or something like that. He cared for his own safety, of course, but right now, he had forgotten about himself for the moment. He saw the guards hurting Marlene and it made him so angry, he loved Marlene as a little sister, she was the girl whose boyfriend he would have to punch when she would be fifteen. She was the girl who he didn't want to play with anymore because she was a girl and then everyone thought he was in love with her. (Which he wasn't) he loved her as a sister, and he wanted to protect her properly, like a brother was supposed to do.

"Marlene, stop fighting, please," Denzel begged, "And please, sir, stop hurting her! You are hurting her! Stop it! NOW!" He screamed as loudly as he could, and he begged when it turned out that screaming didn't work. And when the men eventually started to pull Marlene's hair out of frustration, it became too much for Denzel, and he pulled free of his guard, ran towards the two men who were holding Marlene and punched the closest one in his guts, then wanted to turn to the next, but Marlene was faster and punched the guy on his nose with her small fist as hard as she could.

The two guards were hurt, but they were older, stronger and better trained than the children. One of them was bleeding, and the blood spat on the clothes of the two children, while they held them so tightly that it hurt a lot.

"You will come with me," the man who was holding Denzel said angrily, "and say goodbye to the little girl, I am fairly sure that you will never see her again."

------

"Cloud, is there any news?" Cissnei asked as soon as she opened her eyes, "did Vincent Valentine call?"

"Nope," Cloud mumbled, feeling stressed and depressed, "no, he hasn't."

"You are still here!" Cissnei said, wondered, "I thought you would leave when I would fall asleep, but you stayed with me!"

"Yeah, I thought about leaving…" Cloud said, "but I had to make sure that you wouldn't die, right?" Cissnei smiled weakly and nodded. They were both silent for a while, both staring at the cell phone on the desk as if staring would make it ring. The moment went on for so long, that eventually Cloud broke the uncomfortable silence.

"Tell me about your journey here, Cissnei," Cloud said. His voice was flat, toneless and tired, but he sounded genuinely interested, "I need something to make the time go faster, and I am really curious about what happened to you."

"Okay," Cissnei said, and she sighed deeply before beginning, "After I let you escape and Tseng ordered me to help you, he eventually gave me this box that contained letters, they belonged to Zack, but they had never reached him. We both knew that the letters were from Aerith, because all of us had seen them together a lot. I really liked Zack and I wanted him to have those letters, and Tseng really thought of Zack as a friend and he wanted Zack to have them too, though Tseng must have had other reasons for giving them to him."

"What makes you think that?" Cloud asked.

"Well, Tseng is Tseng, he would never risk his job and good reputation if it wasn't for something special, right?"

"Well, he did fancy Aerith, perhaps he sent her letters because he wanted her to like him?" Cloud asked.

"So he did fancy Aerith, didn't he, I had always suspected a thing like that. But I don't think that is the reason. You don't know Tseng the way I do, and I am really positive that he had other motives for delivering those letters to Zack. You know, by that time, Zack was a national hero, he was the world's hope. If Tseng needed something to be done or someone to be saved, Zack was the perfect person to ask for help. He wouldn't say no, and he wouldn't fail." Cissnei's was fond of Zack, Cloud could hear that, her voice was kind and warm and her eyes were staring into the past, seeing people and situations that Cloud could not see.

"I see…"

"Anyway, Reno, Rude and I set out to find Zack and deliver him the box, unfortunately, we were attacked by someone, I don't know who it was exactly, and I fell out of the Helicopter, while Reno and Rude could get out of the tumult and flee. That was six months after we had left Tseng, I had the box with me, so I decided to continue the mission on my own, hoping that Reno and Rude had survived the attack."

"They showed up very soon after, fighting AVALANCHE" Cloud said.

"Yeah, I heard that afterwards, so I tried to find Zack on my own, I had lost his trail though when I fell out of the helicopter and I was completely lost. My mobile phone was running out of batteries and so I couldn't reach Tseng anymore, eventually, I reached Gongaga,"

"Zack's hometown!"

"Indeed, but there was no one there, seemed like the civilians had fled after the Nibelheim incident, afraid that it would happen to them as well. There was one old man who told me that First Class SOLDIER Zack had died after being attacked by men of Shinra. His own men, for crying out loud!" Cissnei nearly screamed those last words. "I lost all hope in ever finding Zack again, and I decided to quit the mission, but…. I had never quit a mission before, so I eventually decided not to do that this time either. I had seen you, Cloud, many times with Zack, and I knew that he would have wanted you to have the letters, so I didn't give up, but I went to look for you."

"When was that?"

"I think… around the time when Aerith died, I heard that many months later, and it made me so sad. All the work, all the effort, all the hope… It was all for nothing, because everyone was dying around me. In the meantime, I was attacked by various people I didn't know, but I managed to survive and keep the box. It took me some time to realize that it was the box that everyone wanted, that was when I realized that there was something special about it."

"What was it?"

"I don't know, Aerith was the last Cetra, of course, so anything she did was considered important. Anyway, eventually I had heard from someone that there was a 1st Class SOLDIER who had worked for a group called AVALANCHE and the stories I heard were so much Zack… I got hope that he hadn't died."

"I am sorry, I genuinely believed that I had been the 1st Class SOLDIER…" Cloud said, "It was Sephiroth who told me that, and I believed him, he was a good mind-tricker."

"I know. I found out about that when I spoke to someone named Jessie one day. She was a member of AVALANCHE, if I am right, and she had a huge crush on you. She told me that it was you who led them, then I understood."

"Jessie died..."

"Oh, I am sorry… really sorry, It seems like… everyone is dead" She was silent for a while, thinking, "anyway, I then set out to look for you, but fate didn't want me to find you. First, Meteor and all the Weapons made it dangerous to look for anyone on her own, then, two years later, Kadaj and his men hunted me down, and it cost me four months to lose them. After that, Weiss tracked me down and Dr Hojo wanted to experiment on me, and they both wanted the box."

"And you were never captured…" Cloud said, awe in his voice.

"No I wasn't, but I nearly died in the process, Kadaj gave me this wound, and I wasn't strong enough to make it heal, so I never healed properly, therefore it is still infected, even after all this time. So. Eventually, I found Midgar, but I had to flee when Omega came. And then, the last two months, I was finally without attacks. I heard about your quiet life in Edge and your life as the next national hero, I heard about what you have done… wow."

"Yeah, well, you see…"

"No, don't be modest, Cloud! You killed Sephiroth twice. You know… you became who Zack wanted to be, I am sure that Zack would have been extremely proud of you!"

"I had said… that I would live both of our lives," Cloud mused.

"You did," Cissnei said, looking up at Cloud and smiling, "you did," Cloud smiled in return, feeling better all of a sudden.

"Thank you, Cissnei, for everything. You have risked your life for me and Zack more than once, and I owe you a lot, thank you a thousand times."

Cissnei wanted to reply, but then the phone rang, they shortly looked at each other, and then Cloud quickly jumped up, ran towards the bar, and picked up the phone.

"Tifa?" he yelled into the phone.

"No, it's me Vincent," Vincent's voice answered, and he sounded darker than normal.

"Oh, hi, is there any news?" Cloud asked eagerly.

"There are weird things going on, Cloud, really weird things like… things that can't really happen…"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I just caught a glimpse of Tifa… armed and dressed for fighting, fighting…you."

Cloud nearly dropped the telephone, and gasped.

"Why would she do that?" Cloud asked, horrified, "to save the kids?"

"I don't know, Cloud, I am going to find out about it right now, I will report back to you in an hour. Just be careful and keep an eye out for Tifa, oh, and the kids are still alive, but that is all that they are right now… I have to go." The line disconnected, leaving Cloud scared and sad with the phone in his hand.

He stood there for a couple of minutes, until he remembered Cissnei in the other room.

"What happened?" Cissnei asked, as soon as she saw Cloud's horrified face, Cloud explained her what Vincent had said and then put his head in his hands in despair.

"Oh, Cloud, I am so sorry," Cissnei said compassionately, "I am so sorry for coming here in the first place. It is like I have a bad influence on everything! Like everywhere I come, bad things happen."

"It's not you, Cissnei, it is just that stupid box, it attracts evil," Cloud answered to make Cissnei feel better.

"I am sure that if Aerith had known what danger that box would cause others, she would never have written them… She was such a good person, so in a way… it is good that she doesn't know what happened to them and what the letters caused others," Cissnei said, biting her lip again as she was thinking aloud.

"Or…" Cloud said, lifting his head as everything fell into place all of a sudden, "or, she did know about it."

"What do you mean, Cloud? What did Aerith know?" Cissnei answered. Cloud stared past her as he remembered all the things that Tseng had said to him, then all that Aerith had said in those first eight letters that he had read…

"Yes, I am sure that Aerith was completely aware of what would happen," Cloud said, his voice becoming louder with every word, "think about it… I knew Tseng was keeping something from me, but when I was leaving, he told me that I could find information at a place that I wouldn't expect. Aerith wrote in those letters that Reno, Rude, Elena and occasionally Tseng were guarding her, and that she was not allowed to say whatever she wanted. She knew something that she wanted to tell Zack about, but she couldn't, because Reno was reading what she was writing all the time. Then, today, Reno told me something about that 'we people' are always so mysterious, that we never told him anything. And I think he was referring to Aerith. Aerith never told him what he wanted to know. Aerith knew something that was important…" The logic hit hard, and he was flying high because of his discovery.

"Cloud," Cissnei answered, hesitating, "Aerith knew a lot of important things, everybody knew that. How can you know that the things she knew are in those letters and that they concern the kidnap of the children? She might have known other things than that. And, even if she had known something about what is happening now, you will never know what it was. Because, indeed, Reno never found out about it, even though the Turks read Aerith's letters before they were sent. If Aerith wrote to Zack about something important, the Turks would know."

"Well, Cissnei, first of all, the letters are important, otherwise they wouldn't have been hunted down so many times. You are the –though barely- living proof of that. So Aerith did put some information in there. You don't know Aerith as I did, Cissnei, and I know that Aerith always got her way. If she wanted Zack to know things… She would find a way to tell him. So you Turks would never have had to find out. Then, secondly, I know that it concerns our problems now, because the moment you came here, trouble started. The box is the thing that attracts so many problems… up until now. And Vincent knew that something bad was going to happen, and he is always right… Yes, I am sure that those letters are important. We need to read them to look for codes!" Cloud said, enthusiastic.

"That will take ages!"

"I know," Cloud answered, "but it is the only thing we can do now." He stood up, smiled at Cissnei, full of confidence now. He touched her hand briefly, but quickly pulled back, startled, and went to his room to get the box.

He knew that his logic wasn't perfect, but his instinct told him he was right. He would find a solution in those letters. A message to Zack, with an explanation of what was happening now. It was his last hope of finding out what to do. And he would find out.

With a smile, he entered his room, to get the last hope he could hold onto.

There was still a trace of that smile on his face when he saw the man in his room, he was pointing Cerberus, the gun with three barrels at Cloud's chest and, which was even more disturbing, he was holding the box of letters.

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This was the end of chapter three. I hope you, or at least those who managed to read this far, enjoyed this chapter. I have already started on chapter four, so that won't take too long either.
If you want to know what I am working on, when new stories will come out and if you want to read little previews of coming chapters and stories, check my profile regularly, for I will keep my profile up to date on what I am working on.

In the next chapter, there will be romance, there will be more Cissnei in action, more Vincent, more members of Avalanche, more Turks, more letters of Aerith, more discoveries, and, of course… more enemy Tifa!

Thanks for reading and reviewing! It makes me happy and makes it worth writing more!
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