Gongaga was a little southern village right in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect. My mother and father raised me pretty well, and I was always a wild child. I always wanted to be something more than anyone else, not out of greed, but more out of curiosity and for the sake of broadening my horizons. I dreamed of going places and doing things no man had done before.

I wanted to be a hero.

Everyone knows about General Sephiroth. Even when I was very small, he was a General in Shinra, and in my teenage years, that had not changed. I wondered what it must be like to be in his shoes, to have all those wannabe cadets practically worshipping you, to have the world praise you and admire you for your grace and profficiency on the field. I wanted that too, but not for the power or the fame. I wanted the strength. Strength to break free from this cage, go see the world, be a man.

I guess I got my wish.

When I was fourteen, I joined Shinra. In the recent years before that, I had already been training, from pretend sword fights with my friends in our backyards to target practice. I was always horrible at target practice; a blind man would have better aim with any sort of projectile.

Reguardless, my swordsmanship was top-notch. Even Sephiroth was impressed. At sixteen, I was already a 2nd Class SOLDIER, zipping through every task and mission Shinra could throw at me. I was a little cocky, and sometimes had overconfidence in my abilities, but was nonetheless a pretty damn good fighter.

I shouldn't forget to mention my mentor, Angeal Hewley. He was a great man, who valued honor and pride above all. He advised me to grasp my dreams and work for them, always strive for them and protect my legacy with everything I have. Under his tutelage, I became a 1st Class SOLDIER.

At that time, though, Angeal had gone missing. Things were happening that I couldn't comprehend. Things like Genesis Rhapsodos, a once well-respected 1st Class, suddenly going rogue. I couldn't bear the thought of Angeal having something to do with it. For a while, I shut the world out. I waited for answers. They didn't come.

Meeting Aerith was an accident, really. I guess I have Angeal to thank for that.

I had mistaken her for an angel. She was perfect; so clean and bright and lovely. That day's theme seemed to be just that: angels, feathers, wings. Monsters. Dreams.

Angeal thought he had become a monster, and in turn, I'd met an angel.

She lived in a big old church full of really pretty flowers. We discussed mundane affairs, like normalcy and Heaven, and the sky. That's what normal people talk about, right?

We spent a long, glorious day together before departing with a promise of days to come.

It wasn't my fault the plane crashed, I swear! We were ambushed. Everyone always blames that incident on me, but in fact, I was trying to fight the monsters off. Sheesh. Always blame Zack.

Nonetheless, Modeoheim was still really cold, and the mountains were still really steep.

Maybe meeting Cloud was an accident, too. He's a country boy, like me. Plus, he seems like a good kid. He's trying hard. It was nice to see a cadet's face for a change; I wish they didn't have to wear those stupid helmets all the time. I hated wearing them. When I was a cadet, I used to just take that thing off and carry it around with me. I always got yelled at for it, too.

As it is, Cloud isn't very strong, but like I said, he tries. He tries so hard.

Watching my mentor and closest friend die, at my own hand, even if it's what he asked for, is by far the hardest thing I ever had to do. I don't cry much, but for quite a while after Angeal's passing, I cried all the time. Shinra was not sympathetic. In fact, I got twice the amount of missions since they were short one man.

Aerith helped me through that the most. I confided in her like no one else, and she listened. Sometimes I just loved talking to people, joking around like some bratty little kid, always having a story to tell. It felt so good. Aerith laughed at all of my jokes, with that pretty church-bell laugh of hers, and she held my hand when I talked about more serious matters, like Angeal. I talked about Cloud. I talked about my childhood, all my friends and enemies and hobbies, family, all those things. She really seemed fascinated with everything I had to say.

Those days changed me. I was no longer a cocky teenager, but a man. A man of dreams and honor; pride.

But I wasn't a hero yet.

Selling flowers with Aerith was the most fun I'd had in my life, and I had some fun times in my young days. They were all blown out of the water. Even though we had some trouble negotiating prices, I enjoyed myself, and I'm sure Aerith did, too.

Then a phone call had to go ruin it.

Something swelled in my gut and told me I'd never see her again. If only I'd listened.

Cloud's hometown is really cold. It's up in the northern mountains, a place called Nibelheim.

General Sephiroth was with us on this mission. We were only sent there to check the status of a haywire mako reactor. Cloud looked so small, so insecure beside the General. He was obviously very self-concious standing before him.

To the General, Cloud was a faliure. He'd flunked the SOLDIER exams twice. Getting the chance to go on such an important mission was probably a decision Sephiroth made when he was in a really good mood...Or when he realized Cloud grew up here.

The things I saw in that reactor were not natural beings. They were pureblood monsters.

And from there, the end began.

Sephiroth was aparently convinced that one of these monsters - or maybe it wasn't a monster at all - was his mother. He went absolutely berserk. He injured out guide, set Nibelheim on fire...Cloud...

Cloud had texted me about the fire. That's how I even knew anything about it at all...

Overwhelmed with adrendaline, with so many questions and no answers, I attacked. I was not successful. Angeal's - my - Buster Sword was left sticking out of the ground while I tumbled to the staircase behind me, bruised and defeated.

Then, Cloud came.

I had no doubt that seeing his home in shambles must've angered him more than Sephiroth's betrayal did me. Though Cloud was still just a cadet, not even a SOLDIER, he had enough heart to finish the bastard off.

He collapsed beside me, with a gaping hole in his abdomen where the Massamune must've struck him. I reached out for him, praised him, before my world went blank.

Needles. Chains. Cold hands, colder words, broken glass, a hurt friend. Nothing to do about any of it.

Mako didn't hurt me; I was a SOLDIER, and my body had grown accustomed to its effects. But Cloud...His poor body was far too weak to handle such strong doses. I was barely concious through it all myself, but I heard him scream. He always screamed, always squirmed when he had the energy, but lay pliant and helpless when he didn't.

I had to help him. Help us.

I had to haul Cloud around everywhere. He was an absolute vegetable; his body couldn't support all of the mako that had been ruthlessly pumped into his system. I still didn't know why that had even happened, nor did I know how much time had passed or why Nibelheim had been rebuilt...

Maybe we could go to Midgar, I think to myself. I needed to see Aerith. Maybe she'd like Cloud.

Though Cloud couldn't respond to me, I thought that maybe he could still comprehend my words. So, I talked to him, for that reason, and also so I didn't go crazy. SOLDIERs get lonely, too.

Our journey had been interupted by so many insignificant things. Shinra was after us; we were considered fugitives now. The Turks were tracking us down, and I had a couple of interesting exchanges with Genesis, but by far, the worst off all was finding Aerith's letter to me. Her eighty-ninth letter.

She was losing faith in me...

Midgar is in sight. My bones ache with accomplishment and excitement. I ask Cloud if he considers us friends.

I take my last stand for Cloud and for Aerith, in the name of the honor Angeal has passed on to me. In the name of the people I've lost, of the betrayal and hardship and places and people I will never see again.

I learn the hard way never to bring a sword to a gunfight.


My eyes snap up, and I smile. Cloud's awake! If I had resembled anything less than a well-used sniper target, I would've hugged him. My muscles ached with exhaustion, the chilling rain seeped into my wounds like salt, and the end was inevitable.

I entrust Cloud with all I have left - my honor and my dreams - and close my eyes. The arms of an old friend embrace me, and I become a hero.