Yes, it is true. I am not dead, and this is, in fact, an update. Told you I'd come back... eventually. I should be back for a good while now seeing that the play I was in is over (extra 2 hours a day), I'm finished with my senior paper, the family internal warfare following the death of my grandfather has died down somewhat, and I've been accepted to the college I wanted to attend, so may the slacking commence! Now I can blow off schoolwork and write Fanfiction! Happy day.

If they use the name "Costa del Sol" (Coast of the Sun,), I wonder, does Spanish exist in the world of FF7? If so, would it be called Spanish? What do they call their own language if Japan doesn't exist? So many questions for those prone to over thinking.


Thank you so much for the wonderful reviews, even after I was gone for months. Leah is extremely happy. So happy that she is speaking in third person. Or maybe it's a symptom of writing 20 chapters of fiction in 3rd person. She should probably stop doing this now, because this is strange even for her.

LastOrder1, I'm thinking I'm going to have to lighten up a bit for a while to keep from depressing people too much because I've kept it dark for quite a while.
To quote The Monstrumologist (in reference to the monsters in the book) "We are very much like them: indiscriminate killers, ruled by drives little acknowledged and less understood, mindlessly territorial and murderously jealous - the only significant difference being that they have yet to master our expertise in hypocrisy" It's a very cynical view, but what I've taken away from it is that your DNA isn't what makes you human.

Riku Uzumaki, I was wondering if anyone would notice my blatant Seinfeld reference ^_^. I'm now picturing a Chibi version of Tifa with giant sad eyes crying as Zack takes her soup away yelling "No soup for you!"

XxOngakuxX, Hate is a strong word, but I understand. I certainly favor the guys. I'm trying to keep the girls from being useless props, but it takes a fair amount of conscious effort to not let Zack and Cloud run the show pretty much on their own.

This... this is genius. I was actually working out a similar idea, but it just wasn't quite coming together. I'm not sure exactly when I'm going to be able to work it in, but that's a great idea. I have a plan for bringing out a much darker, heavier side to Zack, although it has little to do with Hojo, but this would make a great addition to the plot and drama. Thank you!

Chriscro165, Lol. I'm evil like that. Glad you're interested enough to hate me for the cliffhanger ^_^

OhJay, Hahahaha! Allison and I were trying to count the stares we got while in the handcuff-goth-get-up, but we lost track somewhere around 40. But even better than the shocked stares and the double takes! I didn't know they happened in real life until that day. If our cosplay all works out (a lot of my friends don't have much money, so getting the outfits will be a bit complicated) I'd love to send you a pic! I'm Hawkeye ^_^ (Winry annoys me for some reason. I've tried to like her, but I just can't)

epmire14, you've restored my writing motivation! I'm so sorry I left this with a cliffhanger and took so long to update. Thank you for your wonderful review!

I know I didn't reply to all of the reviews that came later. I'll put them in the next chapter because my head is killing me.


Cissnei reached for her shuriken, but the lightening was not on her side. Just as she turned, another flash illuminated the room; he could see her, and she had her back turned. Her fingers brushed the edge of her weapon as she was pulled back as a hand covered her mouth, stifling her screaming.

"Shut up, Ciss or you'll get us both killed."

She stopped fighting and tapped the hand covering her mouth three time, the same tap out signal they used during years of practice. The man released her and she spun around to confirm her suspicion.

"Reno? How did you-?"

"I'm amazed you haven't been caught yet," Reno flicked on the dull lamp on the desk, emitting a soft, orange glow, "The huge guy with a gun for an arms doesn't exactly blend in. Zack and Cloud with their glowing eyes are hardly any better."

"I guess you get an easy job today, then," she couldn't have cared less about smalltalk, "So are you hear to warn me or arrest me?"

"Neither. I'm here to give you and Fair your next assignment."

"That's a cruel joke," she muttered spitefully.

"Nah, I think you're really gonna like this one," Reno argued lightly, "Even if you don't, I'm sure Fair will."

She glared at him, attempting to smother her slight curiosity in ferocity. The mere suggestion that Zack carry out an assignment for Shinra was enough to make her blood boil.

"Don't look at me like that," Reno smirked, "You haven't even heard me out yet. We're going to Nibelhiem-"

"Nibelhiem," she scoffed. Of all the nerve.

"-To rescue the Ancient."

Cissnei froze, completely forgetting she was trying to be menacing, "Aerith? How long have they had her?"

"About a week. Tseng's been fighting Hojo for custody, but in our current position, he's doomed. And it's not like I've got anything better to do, being blamed for the President's murder and all."

"What?"

"Gaia, Cissnei, don't you watch the news?" he shook his head. Cissnei was about to defend herself, telling him she'd spent the last week jumping off trains and camping in the godforsaken corners of wilderness, but he cut her off, "Nevermind, I'll fill you in later. Right now, we need to move. You've already been reported to Shinra. You're just lucky I found you first. I give you about ten minutes to get out of here before you're all dead."

"They're coming now?"

"You're a bit slow when you first wake up, aren't you?"

She ignored him and turned to Tifa, amazed the light sleeper had remained unaroused through their conversation. A closer look told her she hadn't. It was a good fake, but not good enough to fool to keen eye of a Turk. Tifa was awake, but remained motionless, likely for Cissnei's sake, allowing her a conversation with her once brother-in-arms in privacy. She decided to pretend she genuinely thought Tifa was still asleep, when Reno, tactless as usual, spoke, "We both know you're awake, so you might as well get up."

"Can you at least try not to be a total jerk?" Cissnei shot at him.

"Can't. Niceness damages my soul."

Cissnei rolled her eyes and turned back to Tifa who was now sitting up, clearly wide awake, "We need to go."

Tifa nodded and leaped to her feet, barely making a sound as her bare souls touched wood and silently headed for the door. Tifa would ignore Reno with ease, Cloud ignored practically everyone, and Zack was used to hotheaded Turk. Her only concern... Barret. Hopefully the explosions would be contained enough they would alert only half the country to their presence.

Cissnei lead as the three of them silently crept through the hallways toward Zack and Cloud's room. She would put off Barret's involvement as long as possible. She held out her hand to stop the other two. It was likely only the storm, but she wasn't taking any chances, "Listen"

Only silence answered her. She slid soundlessly a few feet toward the window down the hall, back pressed against the wall as her only guide. Her blood ran cold as the faint sound of quiet breathing filled her ears. They were not alone. A flash of lightening illuminated the form of a man before her. In that brief instant, she took in his stature to be nearly a foot taller than herself and thickly built, holding a gun pointed in her direction. In pitch darkness, she dodged beneath where she estimated his aim to be, lunged forward, and sprung back to her full height, grabbing his wrist. As she swung his arm away from her, a shot cracked through the night. She was suddenly quite grateful for the thunder. A sharp yelp echoed behind her, followed by Reno's angry exclamation, "Cripes, Cissnei, you're trying to kill him, not me!"

She had no time to answer. She swung her elbow back, aiming for his nose, catching what she guessed from the choking sounds he made to be his throat instead. It worked just as well, as his grasp on the gun loosened enough for her to rip it from his hand. Mind running on pure adrenaline, she spun around and fired four shots into the blackness. A dull thud told her she'd hit her target.

"You know, you should probably look at who it is before you shoot them," Reno recommended, "That could easily have been me."

The gun slipped clumsily from her hands as she reached for the wall to steady herself. He was right. That could easily have been one of the Turks coming to help her, or worse, Zack or Cloud coming to investigate the presence of Shinra. Who's to say it wasn't someone she knew? Heart pounding, she kept her eyes fixed in the direction of the man she had just shot, waiting for the next burst of lightening. A flash revealed blank eyes staring up at her, almost luminescent as they reflected the lightening, that were fortunately set in an unfamiliar face. Relief washed over her, but the blank stare remained unnerving. Just because she didn't know him didn't mean he deserved to die. Not long ago, they'd been on the same side. She had killed so callously for years, and now it suddenly bothered her. A hint of doubt in her own justifications was all it took to break years of immunity.

"Looks like Jones bit the dust," Reno mused, "Never liked him much anyway."

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Cissnei muttered as she felt around in the darkness for the gun. Her conflictions were no excuse for being this far off her game. Thunder would cover a single shot, but not four. More troops would appear any moment. Just as her hand closed around the grip, footsteps rushed around the bend in the hallway, only a few feet from her. She straightened, gun pointed in the direction of the sound, ears strained as the steps quickened, advancing toward her right. She turned to follow the sound, but too late. The next flash revealed a flurry of brown hair and glint of bright blue eyes as the gun was knocked from her hand, and that of her opponent's wrapped around her neck. The last bit of air left her lungs as the back of her head slammed into the wall behind her. Her feet left the floor as she fought dizzily to pry the iron-like fingers off of her throat. Her head was slammed into the wall again as the edges of her visions darkened, then again, and a fourth time. Suddenly the pressure crushing her windpipe released, and she fell to the floor, slumped against the wall. All she could see was darkness as a distant voice was yelled frantically, but the words were indiscernible. A pair of hands lifted her from the floor as the words became clear, "Cissnei, come on! Get up! We've gotta move, now!"

She attempted to steady herself, but the dark world around her seemed to spin. Someone shouted her name as she fell back into unconsciousness.


Cloud awoke from yet another dream of syringes and fire to the all too familiar darkness of night. As this one had been particularly vivid and sleep was guaranteed to evade him for at least another hour or so, he sat up restlessly and swung his legs over the side of the bed, undecided of his destination. Then, through the darkness he saw two glowing, mako blue eyes watching him. He jumped, losing his balance on the edge of the bed, and became closely acquainted with the hotel room floor. Familiar, semi-stifled laughter quickly transformed his panic to embarrassment.

"What are you doing up?" he demanded once he'd caught his breath.

"I could ask you the same thing," Zack replied, letting only a slight bit of his amusement at Cloud's plummet from the edge of the furniture show. Cloud scowled, widening Zack's half-suppressed grin.

"Shut up," Cloud muttered as he picked himself up.

"I didn't say anything," Zack threw his hands up, pleading innocence.

"You were thinking it"

"Guilty as charged"

"You know," Cloud started suspiciously, "I'm more concerned by you not harassing me"

"You seemed to be in the middle of a pretty intense dream, so I thought I'd cut you some slack," Zack said, then a mischievous glint appeared in his eyes, "And how could I blame you? That pillow looked pretty vicious. Many a brave man has been petrified with fear by it's mere presence. I would keep an eye on it if I were you. It could strike at any moment."

"Shut up," Cloud repeated, hurling said pillow at his head, then searching the area he believed the nightstand had been in, "Since we're both up," Cloud flicked the bedside lamp on. He'd had enough of darkness for a lifetime. He liked it when no one could see him, but when there was nothing to see in the present, his mind filled the empty space with the past. Light was the lesser of two evils. He hadn't been thinking about which hand he reached for the switch with, but soon realized he had chosen incorrectly. Zack grabbed and briefly examined his outstretched palm.

"Bite marks?" Zack eyed him quizzically. Cloud's avoidance only confirmed his suspicions, "I thought you were done hiding things from us."

"I told them the truth about Shinra and the Geostigma because I felt obligated, that's all."

"That's all? It's not even a little bit of a relief?"

"No," Cloud wasn't sure if he really meant that or not, but he was not admitting to needing outside support. Not when he was this fatigued and agitated, "Not at all"

Heavy silence fell over them. Zack stood and paced a few leisurely steps away as Cloud's thoughts returned to his initial question. Why was Zack up? Unintentionally waking Zack up with his nightmares, was a unfortunately common even, often multiple times a night, but then Zack always shook him awake and calmed him down, then they both went back to sleep. Why was Zack already awake this time? And what was on his mind that he was too lost in his thoughts to notice Cloud's trembling until he was already waking up? He considered repeating the question when Zack's pacing brought him back to his starting point, apparently mid-epiphany, removing one of the gloves he hadn't bothered to take off even to sleep.

"Hey, we match," Zack placed his nail marked palm next to Cloud's.

Although both were on their hands, the injuries themselves weren't nearly as similar as how they'd acquired them. They were even caused by the same memories, through from different points of view. Cloud smirked humorlessly, "We're a twisted bunch, aren't we?"

"I prefer to say we have personality," Zack shrugged.

The lights flickered, then went out, returning them to total darkness. Although the mako in Cloud's system allowed him to see vague outlines, even on a nearly moonless night like this, he was still impaired to the point that his hearing was more useful than his sight.

"Great," Zack muttered, "I thought today went too well to end without something going wrong," then all joking fell from his voice. "You know, you're kind of infuriating sometimes. Look Cloud, if you don't want to tell me what's going on, then say that. But don't lie to me. Believe me, there are few things more exhausting than perpetual lying, and I don't think you have that kind of energy to spare."

Cloud shook his head, almost laughing, "When did you get so smart, Fair? What happened to that obnoxious puppy I used to know?"

Zack leaned back onto the bed with his hands behind his head, "Honestly, I think he's been dead for a long time. At least the naive and blissful ignorance. The hyperactivity and need to annoy you at every given opportunity lives."

They both froze as a shot split the night, ears straining for any other sounds. Only the soft patter of rain answered.

"Maybe it was thunder," Zack suggested, although he didn't sound particularly confident.

"What were you just saying about not being naive?"

"It's not naivety, it's optimism"

"Same thing"

"I disagree, but now isn't really the time to debate this."

Cloud nodded in agreement, "Should we split up? One of us get Barret and the other get Tifa and Cissnei, or stick together?"

"I think we have a better shot staying together. It sounded closer to the girls room, so we'll head there first."

They'd made it to the stairs when four more shots fired on the floor below them. Zack sprinted down the first flight, then jumped down the second, Cloud following close behind as a dull thud resonated through the building. He skidded to a stop as they rounded the next corner to avoid crashing into the unknown form racing toward them.

Zack raised the huge sword over his head ready to strike, then paused in confused recognition, "Reno?"

"Hey, Fair," he replied casually, "Never thought I'd see you alive again."

Zack's guard returned quickly when he noticed the unconscious, auburn-haired woman in his arms, "What did you do to her?"

"Wasn't me"

"Give her to me. Now." he didn't raise his voice, but every syllable implied abundant death threats.

"All yours," Reno handed her off, clearly unconcerned by Zack's murderous tone, "Although your time might be better spent helping your dark haired-friend. She stayed back so I could get Cissnei out."

"Tifa," Cloud breathed.

Zack started, "Cloud, don't- CLOUD!"

He was already gone. He hardly heard Zack shouting after him as he sprinted down the hallway. Tifa was fighting alone. And she couldn't even see.


It's only a little blood, Tifa told herself for the umpteenth time, to ignore the deep gash in her left arm, It's just a little cut. No big deal.

By hearing alone, she dodged a blow from her unseen opponent that send air rushing past her ear. It struck the wall behind her with enough force to send splinters of shattered wood across her shoulder; she was clearly not dealing with an average grunt. The next blow she heard coming, but misjudged the distance. Pain burst through the right side of her head as she was sent plummeting to the ground.

Her opponent began swinging again, but not at her. She could hear the two fighting, but was too lightheaded to observe much else. One went down just as it occurred to her that Reno might actually have come back for her.

"Tifa"

It wasn't the voice she had expected, "You're not Reno" she mumbled through her daze.

"I would certainly hope not," Cloud replied, "You alright?"

"Just- just a little lightheaded," she stood up, trying to look steady and confident. She may not be able to see him, but he could probably see her. And she was not about to faint like a nineteenth-century-based chick-flick heroine. Tifa Lockheart carried herself, "I'll be fine as soon as invisible Shinra employees stop trying to break my skull"

"I'm afraid you're going to have to find some new friends for that to happen," Cloud commented somewhere between joking and dejected. She nodded, giving him the best reassuring, I-am-not-about-to-fall-on-my-face smile she could conger. When they reached the stairs, they discovered Reno waiting for them. Or more, Cloud discovered and Tifa was left in the dark, literally, until he began to speak.

"Fair says to meet him at the bear's room," Reno informed them, then turned back up the stairs without another word to either of them.

Tifa could only imagine what fun having Barret and Reno in the same room would be. Reluctantly, she and Cloud followed Reno up the stairs, not entirely convinced he was on their side, but confident that she and Cloud together would be able to debilitate him without much trouble if such action proved necessary.

"You alright?" Zack asked them when they appeared in the doorway of Barret's room. Tifa was grateful to find they had located a flashlight

"How's Cissnei?" she asked.

"She'll live, I think," Zack replied, less than comfortingly, "If she doesn't wake up soon, we're going to have to look for a medical clinic of some kind. She must have at least a concussion. If you're out for more than a minutes, there's usually brain damage." He lifted her petite form easily.

"So what the escape route?" Cloud asked.

Zack nodded in the direction of the window and wordlessly leaped from the edge of the sill to a branch of the tree outside. Rain drenched the outside world as a soft hum manifested somewhere far off, but she didn't have time to think about what it could be as the of them quickly followed suite. Their decision to remain on the edge of town was clearly correct, as the protection of the forest lay only 50 meters away. Then 40... 30...

As she ran, she finally consciously identified the humming as it swooped toward her and blinding light flooded her vision. She stole a glance behind her to see it's source. Beyond the glow laid the silhouette of the helicopter.

20... 15...

Lead riddled the muddy ground around them as the copter closed in.

10... 5...

A bullet rushed past her ear, grazing her cheek.

The safety of the trees engulfed her. Never before had vegetation seemed so welcoming. They continued to sprint, to outrun the firing as well as whoever may be sent in after them. By the time they stopped, she had lost all sense of time. Time was measured only by the pain in her chest and the heaviness of her breathing, not some calculated device. The concrete measurability of time was grossly overestimated.

"Everyone... here?" Zack huffed. She's forgotten he was carrying Cissnei. How he had managed to stay in the lead, she had no idea.

"Present," Tife managed between gasps.

"Bear, Chocobo, and Ginger?" Apparently the neither the run nor the rain soaking them through the tree had stripped him of his sense of humor. Shockingly, none of them responded.

"Teef, you're arm," Cloud said suddenly. She looked down; no wonder she felt so lightheaded. It was deeper than she thought, leaving a trail of red, mixed with the rain the trees only partially shielded them from, running down her arm, soaking her glove.

"I'm okay," she lied, then pulled a knife out of her boot (something she's learned from Zack was always a good idea) and cut a strip of cloth from the bottom edge of her shirt. That was the day she vowed to invest in longer shirts. Too stubborn to ask someone else to make the textile sacrifice, she would just have to be a little more careful of her movements for a while. After a few attempts to wrap up the wound herself, she gave in and allowed Cloud to do it for her.

"It's not that big a deal," she announced, determined not to flinch as he worked the cloth around her forearm, "Just a scratch, really. It doesn't matter." Cloud remained silent for a moment, analyzing her words.

"I know Zack and I usually take center stage for problems," he tied the ends of the strip together tightly, "But you matter too, Tifa. Don't forget that."

Her cut arm mattered when Zack and Cloud had been trapped in a basement for year with a madman? She doubted it. "I think we have a lot bigger things to worry about."

"I've met enough martyrs, Teef. Don't be the next."

With that he left to help Zack with Cissnei, checking her pulse, making sure they weren't going to loose her before they could find any kind of help. Martyr, he'd called her. Well, he was right about one thing, he had plenty of experience with the type. Zack's entire personality was centered around it. His hero complex was usually a good thing, but he would throw himself away in an instant for Cloud, or practically anyone else for that matter. It's a heavy burden to be required to be alright, not because you want to be, but to avoid letting someone else carry you. But however codependent the two may have become in their years of leaning on each other to survive, the pros outweighed the cons. Zack was Cloud's rock, his anchor to hope, and for that she could never thank him enough.

"What's the closest town?" Tifa asked.

"City," Zack corrected, "Junon. We can be there in about two hours."

"Isn't that crawling with Shinra troops?" Cloud inquired.

"Do you have a better idea?"

He had none, "Junon it is"


Junon. Where the land met the seas; where worlds converged. Zack hadn't seen it in over five years. When he'd first seen it, Shinra had already moved in, but remnants of the pleasantries of rural life had lingered. Not anymore. The scape he saw before him was reminiscent of Midgar, only smaller with greater liquid content. It seemed everything Shinra touched turned to ash. Instead of dwelling on the latest bout of destruction, he turned his gaze to the clouds floating over head. What he loved most about the sky was that it was the one place Shinra couldn't touch. No matter what atrocities befell the planet down on the ground, the sky remained unchanged.

"Great, we've made it all the way to the most Shinra infested city on the coast," Barret declared, "All they've gotta do is look for that damn Turk's bright red beacon of a head."

"Oh, yeah, because you're so inconspicuous," Reno shot back, "You're powers of anonymity are unparalleled. If this were Grizzly Man, even we might loose you."

"Would you two shut up," Cloud groaned, his forbearance reaching it's end.

"I'm sorry about this," Cissnei said miserably, "I came along to help you, not slow you down." She had woken up shortly after their escape into the woods and clearly had a concussion. She insisted on walking in her own, so Zack was always a few steps behind to catch her when one of her dizzy spells hit.

"Remember when you told me how ridiculous I was to apologize for being injured in sector seven?" Zack reminded her, "Same rules apply."

She smiled, only a little sadly.

"This way," he directed, leading the others to the water's edge, "If we stay where we can see the ocean, we'll know..." he trailed off, "Child alert."

Tifa was the first to step forward, Reno's eyes following her intently as she passed. He leaned over to Zack and whispered, "I think we should go swimming while we're here. You know, loosen up a bit."

"And I'll be sure to tell Tifa to where a one-piece," he replied, "Or maybe a wetsuit."

"Who's side are you on? You're supposed to aid your fellow man!"

"It's not teams, it's mutual respect."

"In theory, " Reno shrugged, "Just one question and I won't mention it again."

"Yeah?"

Reno returned his focus from Zack to Tifa, "Are... are those real? I mean, how does she keep her balance?"

"Oh, Gaia," Zack rolled his eyes, "Seriously Reno, we're dodging death on a daily basis and this is what you think about?"

"It's a legitimate question! They defy physics!"

Zack shook his head and stepped forward to hear how Tifa's friend-making was going.

"... No, no honey, we're not with Shinra."

"Then why do those two have the eyes? Just go away!"

Tifa sighed sadly, "Whatever you say," she turned to Zack, "She's not lost or anything, she lives near here. We should keep moving."

"Too late," Reno said, eyes wide, staring into the space behind them.

"Why?" Zack turned to see a huge, dragonfly-like monster hovering above the water, swooping toward them, "Everybody down!"

Wind rushed past him as the descending creature flew overhead. He drew his sword as it circled back around, snapping and blasting what he hoped was water in their direction.

It's next dive brought it back over the water. Zack's eyes widened as the water below it began to rise into a massive wave. His eyes met Cissnei's and he reached for her hand just as the water crashed over them. Up, down, left, right, directs meant nothing; all there was was cold and chaos. Then he suddenly found himself breaking through the surface, coughing seawater into his hands. Both of them; he'd lost his grip on the sword. He quickly surveyed his surroundings to see part of the handle sticking out of the water a few feet away and snatched it up before returning to the fight. Water splashed beneath him, lapping at his ankles, trying to drag him out to sea. He raised the sword and swung just as the monster swooped toward him. An gigantic appendage he couldn't quite identify landed beside him.

"Cloud, head's up!" he shouted and the monster flew toward him. Cloud launched himself into the air, landing a sharp swing onto the top of the monster's head, imbedding it nearly six inches. The creature crashed to the ground, oozing green something that might be blood.

"That's... really gross," Zack commented, "But good job, Cloud. You've slain an almost-dragon thing. I dub thee an official almost-knight thing."

"Thanks. I will from this point onward live only to uphold the sanctity of my title."

"Zack! Cloud!" Tifa shouted from off to his left. She was holding the limp form of the child from earlier.

"Priscilla. Priscilla!" Tifa's voice was more panicked with every repetition, "She's not breathing."

"Lay her down flat," Zack told her, his years of being a soldier coming back to him. He tilted her head back and breathed into her mouth, then began compressions. One hundred a minute. Or to the beat of Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, but in a real situation, it was just too ironic to use.

The girl coughed, water spraying from her mouth. When she finally finished coughing, she met the eyes of her rescuer, "Is it gone?"

"Yeah, it's gone," he answered, "You're alright."

"Um... thank you," she said turning to Tifa, her eyes slightly misty, "I-I'm sorry about earlier."

"It's okay," Tifa rested a hand on the girl's shoulder who in turned hugged her, shaking with a combination of cold and shock. Over all, she had taken things pretty calmly for an elementary aged kid. Still not letting go of Tifa, she spoke again, "My house is just up the hill and there's an inn across the street if you need somewhere to wash up and stay for a while."

The girl continued to shiver. Zack wished he had a towel to give her or something like it. All he could think of was Aerith's jacket, which he still hadn't allowed anyone to see he had. Pricilla's teeth began to chatter as she curled against Tifa. He sighed and removed the red jacket from his pack.

"Here," he draped it around her shoulders, "I want it back, but you can use it until we get you home."

"Hmm... that looks a little small for you, Fair." Reno commented.

"How do you feel about the current arrangement of your face?" Zack inquired, "Because if you're not happy with it, changes can be made."

"She's a pretty girl," Reno ignored him, "I'm sure she'll be happy to have it back."

Zack changed tactics. Threats were as useless against a Turk as they were a SOLDIER, so he decided to just ignore him instead and lead the way into Junon.

After they dropped Pricilla off at her house, they headed for the inn. It was small, but comfortable, and by far the nicest place they had been in months.

"Thank you for letting us stay," Zack said to the woman who had let them in.

"You're welcome," as she started to leave, Cissnei began

"Excuse me, do you have a phone?"

She pointed to a telephone on the wall.

"Thank you," Cissnei began dialing.

"Who are you-" Reno began.

"Shhh!"

"Just tell me who-"

"Tseng, now shut up!"

Reno made claws and behind her back to signify her cattiness, then lost interest in the conversation.

"Hey, Tseng?... Yeah, it's me. I'm so sorry about everything. I didn't... Thank you. I was wondering, is there anyone watching the Fairs?... I thought they would assume that. Anyone who's met him knows he would never risk endangering them. Anyone tracing their phone? ...Okay. Do you think it's safe then?... Alright. Thanks..." her gaze briefly flickered to Zack, "Is Reno telling the truth?... Both. The president and the other one. Okay... Thanks again. I'll call you if anything drastic happens."

"Zack," she said warmly, "Isn't there a phone call you would like to make?"

"You mean my parent? I don't know... I don't want them involved in any of this."

"They've spent four years looking for their lost son. They're already involved."

"But..." Zack searched for a way to explain his hesitation when even he wasn't sure exactly why he was so against it, "What are the odds we're going to survive this? Why would I give them hope telling them I'm still alive, if I'm probably not going to make it back anyway?"

Zack was usually the optimist, so he understood why everyone looked surprised to hear him describe their circumstances so cynically, but it wasn't like they didn't all think the same thing deep down, "The best thing for my parents would be for them to move on and forget they ever had a son."

"They never will," Cissnei told him immutably, "They will never forget you. I saw them while you were on the run. They would give anything to hear from you again. Just make the call, Zack."

Zack reluctantly took the phone, "What should I say?"

"How should I know?" Cissnei shrugged, "They're your parents. Tell them you're alive for starters, then go from there. You can't tell me that after four years, there's nothing you want to tell them."

Zack dialed the number slowly. There were so many things he wanted to tell them, but so few that he could. The less they knew about the hell he'd been through, the better. The phone began to ring.

He could picture their faces, his mother's kind smile she always gave him before he left the house, and is father's superficially stern expression with a hidden playful sense of humor hidden just beneath it.

"Hello"

Zack froze. He had been expecting his mother to pick up; she always did every other time he called. He was even more unsure of what to say to his father than his mother. He had been a little closer to his father growing up, but that didn't mean he was easier to talk to, especially after something like this. Displays of affection from him were always somewhat underhanded. A slap on the back, or a punch in the arm were customary rather than the hugs he received from his mother and compliments were typically slightly backwards. "So you made it through the game without falling on your face this time? Good job, kid. High five." He took a deep breath.

"Um... hi, dad. It's Zack."

Silence met him on the other end.

"I'm just calling to let you know... uh... I'm not dead. ...Things are kind of crazy right now but-"

"Zack?" he choked in astonishment. Was that really his father? The man never got choked up about anything, "Are you really... Where the hell have you been?"

"It's a long story"

"Then let me get your mother before you start"

Zack was about to tell him he didn't have much time when he realized he was already gone. Soon, his mother's voice rang through the phone, "Zack? Zack? Is it really you? Oh, Gaia, we thought you were dead. Where are you?"

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you right now," Zack said, "But I'm alright. Whenever this is all cleared up, I'll come home to visit, okay?"

"Why? What's going- Oh, sorry Honey, you want to hear too, right? Do you know how to get speakerphone to work?"

So his parents had finally gotten a new phone. They'd had the same one his entire life. All it did was call, and nothing else, but they didn't know how to operate any of the newer phones anyway. It was only one small detail, but it made him wish he could see home again exponentially more. Just once, to know it was still there, and to see how much had changed. Maybe this was the real reason he had wanted not to call so badly. If he called home, he couldn't deny how much he missed it.

"Mom," Zack had to repeat himself a few more times to get her attention while she messed with the buttons, "Mom, I'm sorry it was so short, but I have to go."

"Alright," she said sadly, "Call us again as soon as you can, okay?"

"Of course," Zack knew it was a lie, but how could he say no? "I'll talk to you soon."

"I love you," his mother said, noticeably crying now.

"I love you, too," he said and was about to hang up when he hear his father's voice.

"Hey, Zack... Be careful out there doing... whatever you're doing."

"I will," there was a heavy pause before his father replied.

"Love you, kid"

Zack fumbled a little in surprise, "Y-yeah, you too, Dad"

"Bye"

He stared at the phone long after the call went dead.

"What?" Cissnei asked in response to his expression.

"Nothing," Zack said, blushing a little.

"Awww, come on. What is it?" Cissnei pried, nudging him with her elbow.

"Nothing"

Cissnei continued to stare, knowing that if she kept those amber orbs boring into him long enough, he would crack.

"Alright, alright," Zack muttered, "My dad said 'Love you'"

"I know I have nothing to compare it to, but isn't that fairly normal? It depends on your culture, of course, but it's not like it's totally unheard of."

"No, just unheard of for my father. I mean, I always knew he did, I just never expected him to say it," he scratched the back of his head, faking a smile, "Maybe I should have disappeared earlier?"

"You're really embarrassed about this, aren't you?" Cissnei teased, half surprised and half amused.

"Well, after a lifetime of 'man up and walk it off' I'm not exactly used to it,"

"Awww, ain't that sweet?" Barret said, jumping at the chance to pick on Zack as much as Cissnei.

"I hate all of you," Zack muttered.

While everyone else wore expressions of varying levels of amusement, Cissnei was audibly laughing, "We're not judging, just observing-"

"Right"

"-And carefully calculating said observations to form an impression upon which we base our opinion of you. But we mean it in the most non-judging of ways. Besides, aren't you a little old to be embarrassed about this sort of thing? "

As he began to try to think of some kind of witty retort, he realized he was the only one who still had living family or any kind of home to miss. Suddenly eager to change the subject to anything other than family, he finally decided on, "Aren't you a little too old to not know what a smore is?"

Cissnei let out an exaggerated sigh, "You're back on the marshmallow thing again?"

Zack grinned a moment, then stopped as he remembered their last conversation about parents, "You know, you still never told me your real name"

Her false agitation vanished, replaced by a somewhat uncomfortable demeanor, "I would tell you if I knew."

"What do you mean?" Zack asked, confused, "Don't you keep your real name until you join the Turks?"

"I was five when I came to the Shinra orphanage. At least that's what the records say. I'm not sure exactly how old I am; just somewhere in my early twenties," she crossed her arms and paced a few steps, "The facility I was sent to was a 'special' program for potential future agents. I was given the number 117 and was forbidden from ever speaking my real name. It was supposed to make us stronger, better soldiers, employees, whatever. Dehumanize everything we did. We were given strange lessons and were never to speak of home. Over time, I began to forget my family, my friends, and finally my name. I can't remember who I was before I became One-Seventeen."

Cissnei looked around to see if she should stop, but everyone was now intently listening to her story. With a nod of encouragement from Zack, she continued.

"Later, I was transferred to another orphanage where the rules were less rigid. We weren't supposed to say our real names, but we weren't really punished if we did. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until much later. A girl asked me what my name was, she said I should tell her so I wouldn't forget. Whether I had already forgotten, or was just too afraid to say it, I'm not sure, but she told me that if I wouldn't tell her my real name, she would give me a new one. That was the day I became Cissnei. When I joined the Turks, the only requirement was that the name you use couldn't be your birth name, so I felt no need to change."

"It's a little ironic that the only name I know is not mine is the one I choose to use. Then again, at least the certainty knowing it isn't my name is better than perpetually questioning whether it is or not. Over the years I've begun to wonder, does Cissnei not being my birth name make it any less real? What does it matter what my real name was if I can't remember anyone who called me by it? Everyone who I can remember that mattered to me called me Cissnei. As far as I'm concerned, Cissnei is my name. Does it even matter what my real name was?"

Her question hung in the air, those around her unsure whether it was rhetorical, or if she was expecting an answer. Apparently she wasn't, for she then turned briskly addressing her companions, "I guess we'd better get out of the way and quit occupying this poor woman's phone."

Everyone was quieter. The more they learned about Shinra, the worse it got. Zack briefly wondered if Reno had ever had a family either. How many Turks had been with Shinra from the beginning? It would explain their apparent undying loyalty. He wanted to ask them both if they knew anything else about the inner-workings of Shirna, but it seemed the wrong time to ask and he was too tired to do much investigating anyway. The moment they reached the rooms, Zack crashed onto the bed, exhausted.

"Wake me up and someone isn't dying, you will be shortly," he muttered into the pillow to no one in particular, but thinking of Reno.


Ahhh, it's good to be back, even if it is just a transition chapter. Next one is much better IMO. Should be up by this weekend. And I promise some Cloud POV because this chapter was seriously lacking in such. My goal is to update once a week. And please have mercy on this chapter as I am waaay out of practice.