Final Fantasy VII

The Flow of Life

He landed his namesake silver airship just outside of the town. He walked out to the deck and rolled down the ladder. He climbed about halfway down, and then jumped the rest. The middle-aged pilot's boots landed on the grass with a soft thud. It didn't look the same with its most distinctive feature gone. It seemed like such a plain village without the rocket.

He had finally achieved his dream by riding that same rusty rocket into outer space. It hadn't been under the circumstances he had hoped for- the rocket was intended to blow up the frightful Meteor with Huge Materia from Mount Nibel's Mako Reactor, which failed- but he cherished it all the same.

Cid Highwind wasn't sure if he'd ever get the opportunity to go back. Shinra had been the only company with enough money to even consider a space program, but it was finished. Along with it were his chances of a return voyage.

He sighed sadly. After a long, reminiscent gaze, Cid entered the borders of Rocket Town. Other than the rocket missing, it hadn't changed a bit. The people were the same; the houses were the same; everything was the same. It was exactly was he was hoping for. He wanted to come home to something familiar.

Even the old man, Rodin, still stood at his usual perch, where he would stare at the old rocket all day long. Cid smiled, and decided to go talk to him. "Hey Rodin!"

The old man turned to face him. "Cid, you're back!" he said with pleasant surprise.

"Yep, sure am. Good to be back, too."

"Glad to hear it. You goin' to see Shera?" Rodin inquired.

Cid paused briefly before responding. "…Yeah, I guess I will."

"She'll be happy to see you. She's been worried sick about you, wonderin' how you've been since Meteor," the old man informed.

He didn't know what else to say, so he walked off silently. He stopped at the door of his house, where Shera would be waiting inside. Could he really go face her now after all that had transpired between them? He had treated her like crap for so long, and she had put up with it the entire time without a single complaint. Then she saved his life and helped him escape the rocket before it rammed into Meteor.

Aeris had always told him he should treat her better, and he'd ignore her. Now Cid pondered long and hard about those words. "I wouldn't do this for anyone but you, Aeris," he mumbled to himself.

Shera had always hating his smoking habits, although she'd never confronted him about it. With a slight hesitation, he put out the cigarette. Then he slid off his flight goggles as he opened the door. It creaked faintly, and he closed it behind him.

Shera was sitting at the table with her back turned to him. She spun around to see who the visitor was. She was elated to see Cid and leaped up from the table. She ran over to him and hugged him tightly. He didn't reciprocate. "Hey, hey, hey! Get off me!"

She quickly backed away. "…Sorry," they said simultaneously.

"Don't be sorry," she said meekly.

"But I am! I've treated you like crap all this time for no good reason! I mean, you ruined my dream of space travel, but now I've done it! Here I am still doin' it and you did nothin' to deserve that. I…I'm sorry," Cid apologized.

She was astonished, but overjoyed at his words. "So, are you here to stay?" she asked curiously. Cid nodded.

"Oh, I'm so happy!"  Shera hugged him again, but this time he didn't resist. He returned it warmly as his mind trailed back to the memories of the Ancient, and uttered his gratitude quietly.

He had returned to the place where he had spent so many years of self-imposed deep sleep. He stood at the gate of the old Shinra Mansion. Its gothic appearance really stood out on a dark, cloudy night like it was.

As it was for Cloud and Tifa, Nibelheim was a place full of painful memories for Vincent Valentine. This was where Hojo's experimentations on his lost love, Lucrecia, had taken place. Sephiroth was born here, mixed with Jenova's cells, injected into the womb during the pregnancy.

The part that pained him the most was that he'd just stood by and watched it happen. A Turk at the time, he had tried to talk her out of it once, before it all started, but not very persuasively.

Afterwards, he never attempted to intervene. He had told himself that he didn't mind as long as she was happy. Vincent frowned now, realizing how naïve he had been then.

Lucrecia was convinced that Hojo loved her, and decided to marry him. He knew all that the raving lunatic wanted was a human guinea pig for his deranged experiments. That was the only reason he married her.

Hojo's experiment with Jenova cells on their unborn child tortured her. Vincent had watched her suffer, and he hated that he was unable to ease her pain. After Sephiroth was born, she had fallen ill. He was certain that it was because of Hojo and confronted him.

In the middle of his outbursts, the scientist had pulled a gun on him and placed a bullet in his skull. Then he scientifically altered him, and revived him. However, he was not the same person anymore. Vincent would transform into deadly creatures uncontrollably whenever he reached his limit. That was when he had begun his deep sleep, deciding he deserved it for what he believed to be his sin.

Cloud and the others had awakened him many years later. He joined them for a chance for vengeance on Hojo. In the end, he had his revenge. Hojo was now dead, as was his son Sephiroth.

Vincent looked at the metal claw that had replaced his left hand. It was a constant reminder of his curse, and his sin.

He opened the gate and entered the abandoned mansion. He immediately headed for the secret passage that led to the basement. He went into Hojo's old laboratory, surrounded by shelves filled with thousands of scientific documents. This was where it had all begun.

Vincent became outraged just thinking about it. He went into a rampage, destroying tables, chairs, and anything else he could get his hands on. He tore apart the old books. "No one must ever discover the secrets hidden here, or use this place for evil ever again," he said to himself.

Then he left the Shinra Mansion. As he exited, it began to rain heavily. Vincent didn't mind at all. He leaped up to the top of what used to be Cloud's house with incredible agility. He observed silently as flashes of lightning streaked across the night sky.

His wet black hair was swept back by the strong winds, but other than that, he remained still. Even when deafening roars of thunder echoed along with the brilliant flashes of lightning, he was motionless. Nothing fazed him.

Vincent thought of the Ancient who had given up her life to save the Planet. He never got the opportunity to know the gentle soul well. She would try to talk to him many times, but he would rarely say a word.

Now he regretted that he had never made an attempt to get acquainted. He wished for a second chance. He had come to enjoy being with the others, and they all spoke so highly of her.

This situation was quite similar to the one he experienced with Lucrecia. Once again, he had stood by and watched a brave woman sacrifice herself for what she loved and believed in.

Before, he had let it burden his life, but not this time. He wouldn't allow it again. Vincent convinced himself that it had been for the greater good of the Planet, unlike before. "Rest in peace, my friend."

He stood at the bottom of the steps that led to the Chocobo Square. He gazed around at the extravagant lights of the amusement park, Gold Saucer. This place technically belonged to him now. As the highest executive of Shinra still living, Reeve Mitchell was in charge of the corrupt corporation.

They owned the largest tourist attraction on the Planet, which only added to the outrageous sum of money the company raked in. At least up to that point.

Shinra was ruined, not only due to the loss of many executives, but also because all of the Mako Reactors had mysteriously malfunctioned. Reeve knew why though. It was Holy that had done it. Its purpose was to eradicate all that was harmful to the Planet. That definitely included the reactors, which sucked up the life energy and condensed it, transforming it into power that would be used to run households and the like. It prevented the energy from serving its purpose, and was slowly killing the Planet.

Reeve wasn't concerned with the financial future of the company. Matter of fact, he was actually glad to see it go after witnessing the evil deeds it did. He didn't dwell on it, and began to think of other things.

At the place where he stood was where his treachery had been revealed. Controlling Cait Sith at the time, he had stolen the Keystone, the key to the Temple of the Ancients, and turned it over into the hands of Shinra.

Cloud and Aeris had chased him all over Gold Saucer until Tseng had arrived in a helicopter and the exchange was made. He had thought he wouldn't get caught, but he took precautions just in case. He had taken the Ancient's adoptive mother, Elmyra, and Barret's daughter Marlene hostage.

It was at that moment, when he was being confronted by Cloud, that his convictions began to get to him. Reeve had originally decided to spy on them to prove he wasn't as soft as the other Shinra executives thought he was, especially Heidegger.

He took an old toy he had made, a small black cat with a megaphone perched atop a stuffed Mog, and put his plan into action. He masqueraded it as a fortune-telling machine at Gold Saucer, expecting the group to pass by. He purposely made it to give a strange fortune, and pretended to be interested in discovering the meaning behind it so he could join them.

He would see and hear what they were planning to do, and report it to Rufus Shinra, who would act accordingly. After he had been found out, he was ridden with guilt as they headed to the temple.

His conscience finally got the better of him after a trek through the temple, and he volunteered to get the Black Materia from the temple, sacrificing the toy's artificial body.

His turnaround was complete. From then on, he would spy on Shinra and tell the group, hoping to regain their trust. It would not come easily, but he didn't expect it to. Now Reeve finally believed he had it after he had followed them into the depths of the Planet and helped defeat Sephiroth.

While Cait Sith fought, the man helped everyone in the Midgar slums take refuge. Then he ran off to check on Marlene and Elmyra. He had watched the whole scene unfold from there.

Being with them had changed them for the better, and he was grateful. Aeris affected him most of all. Her selfless sacrifice had made it all possible. They couldn't have done it without her. Reeve felt awful for deceiving the kind woman, and never getting the chance to tell her how he felt.

Suddenly, fireworks began to go off, exploding with bright, lively colors. He watched the display silently, as they lit up the night sky. A single tear fell from his eye, and he sighed.

Then he looked down at the spot where he vividly remembered her standing, the look on her face, and her words that night. He would never forget them.

"…I trusted you. I can't believe you!"

"I'm so sorry, Aeris."

She stood at the base of the mountain where their Dachao had been carved in her hometown of Wutai. She looked up into the face of one of the rock statues at the top and grinned. "I guess I'll take the hard way up. It won't be tough for someone like me," Yuffie Kisaragi arrogantly said to herself.

She had returned feeling like she was on top of the world. Sephiroth and Meteor were both gone. The adventure was over. Best of all, Cloud had let her keep the three Master Materia orbs as a reward of sorts.

However, as usual, her father Godo had found a way to burst her bubble. "Don't be too cocky, daughter. You're still young. You are not that great yet," he had said.

The wide smile that had been on her face at the time faded. Yuffie couldn't believe he had said that. Even after she had helped save the world, and even after she had beaten him one-on-one in the Pagoda, he had the nerve to call her weak.

"How can you say that?!"

"But it is true. I bet you couldn't even climb to the top of Dachao!" he had challenged.

"I'll show you!" she had said and stomped out of the room.

So here she was, ready to head up. Her pride as a ninja was at stake. She couldn't fail. As she started to climb, she thought of her friends.

Yuffie had originally joined the crew to steal a little money and materia to aid Wutai's struggling economy. She thought she had finally succeeded when she had persuaded them to head for Wutai after Cid's Tiny Bronco had crashed into the ocean.

During a skirmish with a couple of Shinra soldiers, she stole their materia and snuck off to home. However, they followed her there and chased her down. Then Yuffie had tricked them again with a trap and managed to get away.

She had been chuckling to herself when she was kidnapped by the sleaze that was Don Corneo. He had also kidnapped Elena, one of the Turks.

As she kept climbing, she began to feel fatigued. She decided to take a brief rest, jumping off onto one of the carved hands. Then she smiled as she recognized the area.

It was where Cloud and the crew confronted Corneo, working with their enemies the Turks to find him. As they fought the monster Rapps, her feelings for them started to change. Yuffie felt like maybe they actually cared for her.

Then her mind flashed back to when they obtained the airship known as Highwind. She had hated riding in it. Her motion sickness took over, and she was rendered useless. She could never shake it off.

She shuddered and then resumed her ascent to the top of Dachao. She gritted her teeth as the pain began to affect her. "Gotta take it! I have to make it!" she said.

Her mind began to wander again. This time, she thought of Aeris. She had developed a quick friendship with her. She was so nice. It seemed impossible not to like her.

She was the only one whom Yuffie felt didn't treat her like she was a brat. It irritated her so much because she felt misjudged by the rest. It wasn't like she was intentionally acting snobby; it just came out wrong sometimes and sounded that way. The Ancient knew that.

Yuffie was torn up when she had died. She had never cried so hard for anyone or anything else.

Then her thoughts were interrupted by the revelation that there was no more left to climb. She had reached the top. She laughed happily, breathing heavily. "Take that, Dad!! Shows what you know!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.

Then she looked up at the sky seriously. "I'll never tell anyone else what I'm about to say right now, but when I came back to the Highwind to fight Sephiroth, I did it for you, Aeris."

He had returned home to Cosmo Canyon, having completed part of his mission in life. He had helped keep the Planet alive for a little longer by defeating Sephiroth. Now he was going to protect his homeland, as other members of his race had done. They guarded it ardently, even at the cost of their own life.

The lion-beast, known as Nanaki by the Cosmo Canyon villagers, and Red XIII by his friends, thought of his father, Seto. He had gladly given his life to save their village. For many years he had thought he was a coward and abandoned them. He had been ashamed to be called his son. He refused to even mention his name.

Then his grandfather Bugenhagen had led him on a journey through the Cave of the Gi. They were enemies of Red XIII's tribe, but now were extinct. At the end of the cavern, he saw his father, encased in stone. The poisonous arrows of their adversaries had done it.

It was there that he learned Seto had single-handedly prevented the Gi from taking even one step into Cosmo Canyon. He realized that his father had been a brave warrior, not a cowardly scoundrel as he once thought. That was the first time he had been proud to call him his father.

Red XIII stood at the entrance of that cave now. He walked over to a small object near the sealed door. He had remembered Bugenhagen opening the way by pushing a small button on the top. A camera would then verify his identity and unlock the door.

It hadn't responded to Cloud when he had tried it. He wasn't sure if it would react to him now. He wished he could call on his grandfather to assist him, but he was gone. He had died shortly before their excursion to the Northern Cave. He was so devastated that he had lied to the group about it, saying Bugenhagen was simply going away on a trip.

He sighed, and then rose up awkwardly onto his hind legs. He pressed the button with his paw, and the camera popped out. It scanned his face and the door raised up.

He cautiously entered the cave. The red-furred lion made his way through the dark cavern, the small flame on the end of his tail providing the only light. He encountered none of the ghosts of the Gi. Apparently, they had all vanished after they defeated the Gi Nattak.

He reached his destination, and looked up at his father Seto, perched on the cliff above him like a statue. Red XIII leaped from rock to rock until he reached his father's location.

The expression frozen on the stone beast's face was one of pain. The poisonous arrows had stuck in his body and turned to stone as well.

"Father…I have saved the Planet from Sephiroth, but my mission is not over yet. Now I vow to protect Cosmo Canyon as you once did. I only hope I can live up to your noble name and reputation," the battle-scarred lion said.

He closed his one good eye for a moment, and sighed quietly. "I'm sorry for all of those things I said you were…I didn't know what you had done for us then."

He thought of Aeris, who had gladly given her life for the Planet. He hadn't known what she had done for them until much later either. He missed the Ancient, as he did his father.

She used to pat him on the nose. He hated being treated like a pet and a child, but loved the attention. Red XIII then gazed up at the full moon above him and howled.

She entered her hometown of Nibelheim soaked. She had tried to seek shelter from the storm, but by the time she had, the brief torrent had subsided. "Just my luck," she had muttered to herself. Then she had continued her voyage home.

Her long brown hair was sticking up everywhere. She shivered due to the cold weather and still being wet. Tifa Lockheart entered the small Gramps' Inn. "May I use your restroom?" she asked politely.

"Yes, it's right over there," the clerk said, pointing to its location.

"I know where it's at," she whispered to herself.

As she sauntered over to it, she pondered on past events. She was treated like she was a stranger here, even though she had grown up here. It wasn't the same Nibelheim though. Hers had been burned down by Sephiroth five years previous.

When Tifa had returned a short while ago, it had been mysteriously rebuilt, exactly the way she remembered it. Cloud and she had been shocked.

Inside the ladies' room, she looked into the mirror. "Ahhh! My hair looks awful!" she exclaimed, horrified. She frantically began to fix it.

She still remembered that day five years ago, and knew she'd never forget it. Sephiroth had murdered her father, and she had followed him into the Mako Reactor. Then the silver-haired warrior had cut her open. Cloud had come to her rescue, garbed in a Shinra soldier uniform.

That was the last thing she remembered seeing before waking up in Midgar. Tifa wondered how she had gotten there. Soon after, she met Barret and the rest of AVALANCHE. She listened to their plot against Shinra, and immediately joined.

She would meet Cloud later at the Sector 7 train station. He looked pitiful, barely able to even hold his head up. After talking with him, he told her he was going far away. Tifa didn't want that, so she offered him the job with AVALANCHE.

By the time she had straightened her hair, it had dried out, as had her clothes. She thanked the clerk as she left.

The clouds had parted outside, revealing a sky filled with stars. It was simply amazing. She sat down on the old well in the center of the town square, and gazed in awe.

Before he had left to join SOLDIER, Tifa had met Cloud here on the well. She had made him promise to come rescue her if she was ever in trouble. She wanted to experience her knight in shining armor coming to save her at least once.

Cloud had reluctantly agreed, and delivered many times. She would not have wanted it to be anyone else to come to her rescue. Tifa loved Cloud, although she would never admit it to anyone.

She wondered how he felt about her. "Probably just a good friend," she said to herself.

He was probably in love with Aeris, she thought. She felt like she was no match for the Ancient, as far as capturing Cloud's heart was concerned.

She wasn't mad at Aeris though, nor could she blame him if he really loved her. She was a wonderful, caring person. Tifa bonded with her like a sister. She felt as if she had lost a family member when she died.

She hadn't let her death be in vain. Aeris did her part, and the rest did their part. The Planet was safe for now, and all she wanted to do was relax for now. As she looked up into the heavens, she uttered quietly, "I miss you."

He used his key and opened the gate that would allow him to enter Sector 5 in Midgar. Much of the dark city had been ravaged by Meteor. Enormous holes were ripped into the plate.

Barret Wallace had once said the city had no day or night. Now light could come into the slums through those gaps. Hand-in-hand with his adopted daughter Marlene, they entered Midgar.

It had been too long for him since he had been able to spend some quality time with her. He had fought a lot to save the Planet, meaning he had to be away from her for extended periods of time. He hated that. Now Barret hoped he'd get to spend a lot more time with Marlene.

During his adventure with Cloud and the others, he had left her in the care of Elmyra, the adoptive mother of Aeris. They had grown quite attached to each other, and his daughter pleaded to let her stay with them. It was her decision, he had told her. Elmyra agreed, since she had nothing to go home for anymore.

Barret had said he would go get her things from her old house because he knew how painful it would be for her. He took Marlene with him, and here they were.

As they passed the old church, she spoke up. "Look, Papa! It's the flower lady's church!" she said, referring to Aeris.

He looked over at it. Other than the hole in the roof, it remained intact. It seemed that Meteor had not gotten to it. "Is that so? You wanna go in?" he asked.

She nodded eagerly and he just smiled. They went inside and approached the small flowerbed. Barret picked Marlene up with his left hand and sat her on his shoulder. He regretted not being able to use both arms, but the gun grafted into his right arm prevented it.

Then he thought of his best friend Dyne, Marlene's real father. He had lost the use of his left arm in the same incident and had replaced it with a gun as well. He had thought he was dead for a long time until they met again in Corel Prison.

However, Dyne had gone insane. He was bent on killing Barret and then Marlene, so she could be reunited with her mother. He didn't want to fight, but he had no choice.

Afterwards, it seemed Dyne was coming to his senses. He invited him to come see Marlene with him, but he refused. He had said she wouldn't even recognize him anymore. Plus, his hands were a little too stained to carry her anymore.

His hands weren't any cleaner, he thought.

Then Dyne handed him a silver pendant, his wife Eleanor's memento, to give to Marlene. Then he had limped over to a cliff and jumped off, plummeting to his death.

The hurtful memories began to affect him, and it showed on his face. "What's wrong, Papa?" Marlene asked.

He paused before answering. "…N-Nothin'," he lied.

He would tell her the truth about her father later. She was too young to understand it all now.

Barret glanced up at the hole in the roof. It was where Cloud had crashed through the roof after falling from a bridge at the Sector 5 Reactor. Light shined solely on the flowerbed, as if it was divine light.

Then he looked over at Marlene, who wore the silver pendant. The most painful episode of his life was when he learned Reeve had kidnapped her. He found it extremely difficult to trust Cait Sith for a long while after that. Even now, sometimes it was a little hard.

Aeris had tried to console him that day before they left for the Temple of the Ancients. Her hands would have been clean enough to hold Marlene. Elmyra's were certainly clean enough. He silently whispered his thanks to the deceased Ancient. "Come on, Marlene. Let's go," Barret said and the left the church.

A day prior, he had paid a visit to the Forgotten City. He went to where he had laid her to rest in the pure azure waters. Cloud Strife sat at the edge, dipping his feet into the water. He sat there silently, thinking.

He had watched as Sephiroth heartlessly shoved his blade through her body. He had nearly done the deed himself, as the legendary warrior had somehow taken control of him again. If it hadn't been for his friends, Cloud might have been the one to kill her.

After that, he had wanted to quit the journey, but knew he couldn't. He knew he could never forgive himself if he did. He just didn't want to go crazy again, but he would.

If Meteor had destroyed the Planet, it would've been all his fault. Cloud had given the Black Materia to Sephiroth. On many occasions, he had been his own worst enemy.

He stared at the watery depths. Her remains were down there somewhere. He thought he had loved her. He first began to think so when he stood in front of the Shinra Building, preparing to go in and save her from their clutches.

For a long time, he wondered if she felt the same way. Cloud thought he received his answer when Aeris asked him to go on a brief date with her at Gold Saucer. Then he thought so again when she asked Cait Sith to see how compatible they were in the Temple of the Ancients.

But then she disappeared. He wouldn't see her again until her death. That was the first time Sephiroth had told him he was just a puppet. He had practically convinced him in the Whirlwind Maze. He was angry with himself for ever believing that.

Tifa had helped him resolve his past. She had stayed by his side during his bout with Mako poisoning. She cared for him deeply, perhaps greater than anyone else ever could. Cloud knew she loved him, but she tried to hide it, so he never spoke up. He wasn't always as naïve as they made him out to be.

He smiled. His mind made up, he rose and left the city, saying, "Goodbye, Aeris," as he went.

Now he stood at the gates of Nibelheim. He knew he would find her here. Tifa sat on the hold well where they had met a few times in the past. The one time that stuck out in his mind now was the last one, before he left for Midgar. Stars covered the sky that night, like on this one.

Cloud slowly and nervously headed in her direction. She heard footsteps and looked to see who was coming. Her countenance brightened at seeing her childhood friend approaching. "Cloud!" she exclaimed.

"Hey," he said with a wave.

"What are you doing here?" she inquired.

"Well, this is our Nibelheim, isn't it?"

Tifa smiled. "Yeah, it is. Care to have a seat?" she offered.

"Don't mind if I do," he accepted, hopping up to sit beside her. "I knew you'd be here."

"Oh, you were looking for me?" she asked with genuine surprise.

"Yep, I came to see you."

"What for?" she asked curiously.

"Well, I had something I wanted to tell you…I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all you've done. You've been so good to me. Plus, you wanted to meet the 'real' Cloud, right? So what better place than here?"

"That's sweet of you…"

"And one more thing…" He took her hand gently. "I love you."

Her heart melted with the words she had yearned to hear for so long. She hugged him tightly, shedding tears of joy. "I love you, too."

"Thank you, Aeris," Cloud whispered, looking up at the sky.

They embraced as a normally imperturbable Vincent Valentine smiled from the rooftop.