He jerked upright, the people around him scrambling away so as not to get hit by his sudden rise. A hand immediately rose to his smothered head only to realize it felt smothered due to the visored helmet encasing it.


A quick second look at the people revealed a whole squad of young, Shinra infantry uniforms.

Since when did Reeve let Rufus put WRO recruits in old Shinra uniforms?

"What the hell Strife?" A much taller man in the uniform of a Soldier Second Class pressed through the crowding infantrymen. "Did you think it would be funny to collapse and get up in less than two breaths? Were you practicing a fainting spell for some Loveless rehearsal?"

Everyone stared. No one gave him any kind of hint what the joke was. He glanced around again, looking for perhaps Tuesti with a video camera or Yuffie and Reno ducking around a corner. If he didn't know any better, he'd say he was on the old Shinra army training yard. But that was impossible. He and Sephiroth had made short work of the remnants of the Shinra complex when they fought there.

"Yes, you, Strife! Get off your ass and back in formation!" He spun on his heel and pushed back through the troopers.

The two nearest Shinra impersonators swooped in and hauled him to his feet by his arms. In simple shock, he let them. No one, not even his closest comrades and teammates during the Sephiroth crisis had manhandled him quite like this.

"Hurry it up," the one on his left hissed. "None of us want any more extra laps than we've already had this week."

On sheer instinct, he shifted to fall in line in the middle of the block of troopers. He kept his movements subtle only because he didn't want to give whoever was responsible for this farce the satisfaction of seeing him flustered. He'd faced off against monsters and sadists and evil aliens, in real life and in his head. He could certainly keep his cool with someone trying to convince him he was an infantryman back in the Shinra army.

He fidgeted again, waiting for some kind of instruction, wishing the culprits would have gotten him clothes that fit instead of what he'd probably worn when he actually was an infantryman. He wasn't the tallest of men, a little below average perhaps, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in demonic strength and mental baggage.

But that wasn't the point. The waist was tight on his pants, the belt practically cutting into his bones. The boots would leave blisters on his toes and heels if he had to wear them that tight for long. And though he did prefer formfitting shirts, to keep any material from getting in the way when he swung his sword, the one he had on was a bit ridiculous. If he even tried to wield a sword he'd rip the seams.

A shrill whistle ripped through the air. A memory shoved its way to the surface, though somehow it was Zack's, and he remembered being on the blowing end of the whistle. It meant that the infantry ran. The formation leapt into motion and he kept pace. The Soldier Second Class impersonator didn't immediately start screaming at them so he took the opportunity to get a better idea of where he was. The sooner he figured out the prank, the better. He was going to perhaps cast Toad on the culprit. Toad and Slow and drop them in the middle of downtown Edge to see how many times they got stepped on.

Dozens of infantry impersonator squads littered the practice yard, each with their own bellowing Third or Second Class impersonator. It was a ridiculous waste of resources to reconstruct the area and make all these uniforms for the impersonators. Edge needed those funds. If it turned out to be Reno then he'd hunt down all the remaining Turks and strangle Shinra for not keeping his dogs under control.

They weren't even a third of the way around the yard before half the troopers around him began breathing heavily.

He scowled within his helmet. Something about this situation tickled his memory. He ran along with the troopers but let his attention wander. With the battlefield experience he had, he didn't have problems multitasking.

The set he'd been dumped in was certainly elaborate. It had to be some kind of simulator. The Shinra building, whole and pristine, loomed just over the far wall. Simulator or not, that still meant the lot of troopers around him could be real or fake.

When they swung past another squad, he caught the glow of mako-bright eyes giving a bit of shine despite the sun. That was a twist. Whoever it was really did want to convince him he was a teen back in the Shinra army.

On completing the first lap, everyone around him was breathing heavily. Three more laps and he was getting bored. If he had chosen to prank someone with a scene from their past he would make it more interesting than this.

Another three laps and two puking infantry impersonators later, he was really bored, and getting heavy flashes of familiarity. And he was less convinced that the environment was a simulator the longer it went. He'd never seen a simulator, even the fancy ones in Zack's memories that Shinra used to have, that replicated things like bird shit on the running track and the smell of puke and pillars of pollution from the plate reactors.

But that left him with the theory of an incredibly elaborate set.

Another sharp whistle ripping through the air startled him to a stop.

"Alright grunts," the Soldier bellowed, "head to the armory to check out your weapons for tomorrows, get in whatever practice you think you need, and don't forget to eat. You lot had better hope you get through the Soldier entrance exam tomorrow because its remedial lessons before you're allowed a third try."

His eyed widened behind his visor as a name floated to the forefront of his mind. Second Class Soldier David Brenholt. That one name seemed to open the floodgates and names of the infantrymen around him blossomed within his mind.

With a growing sense of anxiety, he readjusted his assessment of reality to "hallucination". It certainly didn't glow like it did when Aerith or Zack pulled him into visions. However, it didn't have the sharp edges his mako-induced coma hallucinations bore. He racked his brain trying to figure out if he'd told anyone about this particular day.

The group broke formation and he ambled with the ones headed toward the armory. He felt rather naked without a sword.

A knot formed in the pit of his stomach as he forced himself to consider that this might actually be reality. He'd seen his fair share of spine tingling horrors but the thought that he might be back in Shinra's army unnerved him more than he would ever openly admit. Army life was tough the first time around and didn't think he'd fare much better this time round, though for an entirely different set of reasons. He knew without a doubt that he still had all his mako and Jenova enhancements, not to mention his height, weight, and muscle. That would explain why his clothes fit poorly. Of course he could probably be grateful that he didn't grow much after actually being in the army. But that could possibly be the fault of being trapped in a test tube and experimented on for years.

He shook his head ruefully. If this was real then that would mean –

His pocket vibrating interrupted those thoughts. He froze. The PHS in his pocket continued whirring.

He pulled it out slowly, eying the caller ID. Zack.

He took a deep breath and flipped the PHS open. "Strife speaking."

"Whoa, Spiky, what's with the new phone answering technique? I got used to that soft little 'hello'."

He swallowed hard, squeezing his eyes shut as hope flared inside him. He'd know the voice that generally existed only inside his head anywhere.

"Zack," he whispered.

The silence stretched a little too long. "Hey, Cloud, what's going on?" Zack's voice turned serious.

Rapidly recalculating, he decided it best to play along before he could determine what to do. "No, it's nothing Zack. I just finished drill. I'm heading to the armory to pick up a sword for the first of the exams tomorrow."

"Great," Zack piped, all seriousness gone. "I can meet you in the mess afterward."

He cringed. That certainly wouldn't work. His best friend would certainly notice if he was several inches taller with a swordsman's musculature and mako bright blue eyes. "Sorry Zack. I really have to study tonight. I'm not failing the exams this time. I'm just going to grab some rations and eat over my books."

"Aww, that's no fun Spiky. You'll make yourself sick with the stress."

"Please Zack. I just need to study."

He heard his friend blow a raspberry into the PHS and couldn't help the upward twitch of one side of his mouth. "You've got to promise me we'll head out for some fun your first free day after the exams then."

"Only if you don't have a mission."

"You can bet I won't. I can't have myself working too hard now can I? I still haven't taken you down to that church I found yet." Zack's voice took on a softer tone that he'd only heard once in his life. "I know you'll like the people there."

Aerith was here, too. "If they like you, Zack, then they're probably great."

"Aww, Spiky, you're making me blush." Contrarily, the man burst out laughing afterward.

"I'll see you later, Zack."

"Later, Cloud."

He snapped the phone shut and dropped it back in his pocket. Folding his arms, he scowled at the Shinra tower.

Just on the off chance that he had somehow wound up in the past, either Aerith and the Planet were responsible or Sephiroth was. If it was Aerith, she had some explaining to do. If it was the Planet, then Aerith could get the explanation for him. If it was Sephiroth, then he desperately needed to figure out what was going on before the whole world went to hell in a hand basket years earlier than it was supposed to.


He half turned to see Brenholt.

"Get going. You've been dismissed. And requisition a new uniform. It's good to see you're finally filling out but that uniform is way too small now."

He turned without a word and headed off the yard.

But first things first, he had to get out of Shinra. If he was doing anything, it wasn't sticking around to act out the exact same scenario of violence that started with Sephiroth burning down his hometown and culminated with Sephiroth trying to knock the planet out of orbit with a meteor, thereby leaving the entire world vulnerable to further calamities like Deepground and Geostigma. And he was definitely not going to spend another four years as a lab experiment. No doubt it would be even worse the second go around because Hojo would be trying to figure out how he got his enhancements in the first place.

No Shinra, no sir. He'd been a pretend Soldier long enough. He had no desire to be one for real.

"You sure you can carry this sword, infantryman?"

He took the blade by the hilt and gave it a quick spun. The Third Classes overseeing the armory flinched. He bit down a smile. It had decent balance and about the same weight as First Tsurugi from his fusion sword. It would have to do until he could get the funds to travel to Bone Village or Wutai for a better weapon. He couldn't even think about having something custom made yet. At least he could do harnesses on his own and carry several blades as he gathered more.

"No problem," he said.

"Good. Just be sure to keep it clean while you have it and check it back in promptly after your tests this week."

"Yes, sir."

He slung the sheath and belt harness over his shoulder and set the blade hanging against his back just the way he liked it.

"You'd like to be discharged?" Both Third Class Soldiers behind the administration desk paused in their work to stare. He probably looked exceptionally odd.

He changed into the clothes he'd stolen from the free day laundry and had a bandana tied across his forehead to force his unruly hair to lie flat over his face and obscure his eyes. Of course, they still glowed so he decided to be a bit more creative when it came to covering it up.

Among his survival gear, he'd found a headlamp. He reasoned that if he could con a bunch of touchy feely men in a public bath out of their special underwear and then cross dress convincingly enough to make a mobster believe he was a woman, he could walk around Shinra with a headlamp angled to shine on his face without destroying his pride. If it meant he didn't have to be tortured again, he'd be more than willing.

"Yes. Turns out this soldiering thing is a bit too much for me. I'm going to find something else to do that doesn't involve army rations or calculus."

With his enhance hearing, he heard one whisper to the other, "Damn country coward."

He almost chuckled aloud. That Soldier would be a coward, too, if he had to face losing his best friend and spending several years being tortured.

"You do realize that if you withdraw, it's the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge and you'll never be able to work for Shinra?"

"Yeah," he said wistfully, or at least as regretfully as he could, "I know it ruins a lot of chances but I just can't take it. At least pulling out looks better than being kicked out. I don't think I'll be able to pass the Soldier exams this second time around anyway."

Chilly, one Soldier demanded his ID. He dutifully handed the card over.

"Looks like you've got a sword checked out."

"I'm turning that in next. Once that's done, I'll clear out my bunk and leave."

"You really sure about this kid?" His hands hovered over the keyboard. "Once I save this there's no going back."

He smiled. "I'm sure."

He ambled through the slums like he belonged. Gone was the headlamp and in its place, a pair of riding goggles hid his eyes. A bandana contained his hair as best it could. It stuck out the back and tickled his ears but at least it didn't stick up in that recognizable crest. The sword rested comfortingly against his back, already feeling like a part of him and keeping the locals from bothering him. He'd already been pleased to use it to take out some low level vermin and get several thousand gil and some items. Nothing particularly useful but it was enough to get him a place to stay if he needed it.

When the church came into view, he smiled to himself. This had the great potential to be very interesting. If anyone had the potential to either know what was going on and explain or believe him when he told the story, it would be the flower girl.

When he pushed one door to the chapel open, he felt the squeak begin and immediately paused to circumvent the sound. He slipped inside with a wry smile. Sequestering ones brooding self in the ruins of a church certainly had its perks when one wanted to be quiet in the same church when one found themselves inexplicably back in time.

He paused just inside the building, quietly swinging the door shut behind him. Aerith knelt, back toward him, hair done up in the high ponytail he knew from Zack's memories rather than the braid he knew from his own. And the white sundress suited her just as well as the pink.

He strolled silently up the aisle, avoiding the squeaky boards, and took a seat on the front most pew. He watched her work, deft fingers churning the dirt and plucking away dead leaves and flowers. The one thing he'd never really gotten to do, as either himself or Zack, was simply watch this young woman work. Zack couldn't hold still long enough and he'd never been given the chance.

A handful of minutes must have passed before she caught sight of him with her peripheral vision. She actually jumped to her feet with a small shriek.

"What are you doing here?" she blurted, hand over her heart. Then she squinted at him. "Cloud?"

At least she knew something. "How much do you know?"

"You could at least say, 'I'm happy to see you Aerith. So glad you're not dead yet.', and make me feel somewhat valued you know."

Grinning, he moved forward in a flash and swept the lithe girl up in his arms. "I've missed you. I had no idea if you would even know who I was."

When he set her down, she slapped him on the shoulder. "So you came in here like a creepy stalker and waited for me to notice you? You look like a creep Cloud. Why are you wearing the bandana and goggles?"

He lifted the goggles to rest on his forehead. He quirked a brow and pointed at his eyes.

"Ohh." One of her delicate hands rested on his cheek. "How did no one notice these at Shinra?"

"I had my helmet on most of the time, and when I didn't I wore a bandana to force my hair into my face, and wore a headlamp to hide the shine."

He already expected the young woman to burst out laughing, he just hadn't expected it to bring her to tears.

As her laughter died down, he said, "I've already taken care of that and withdrawn from Shinra."

Aerith instantly sobered. "Why did you do that Cloud? The Planet has been whispering that you're not doing what it's expecting and you're making it very worried. You need to be in Shinra to stop Sephiroth."

"Do I?" He shook his head. "You look like you're eighteen Aerith. That means you've either just got your future memories or the Planet told you I was coming. You still look like you belong. I didn't just get memories. I've still got all my mako and Jenova enhancements. For Gaia's sake Aerith, I'm twenty-six. I'm about the same age as Genesis and Angeal. I'm older than Zack. I'm older than Zack was when he died. How am I supposed to explain to Shinra that a sixteen year old suddenly has enhancements that rival Sephiroth? How can I possibly be expected to pretend to be an infantryman?"

She sighed. "You have very valid points Cloud. But how do you expect to stop Sephiroth if you aren't in Shinra?"

He smirked. "Become a terrorist."

The comical widening of her eyes brought out his laughter.

"A terrorist? Cloud, what are you thinking?"

"I worked as a mercenary after I thought I was Zack and got scooped up by Avalanche right of the bat. They're eco-terrorists against Shinra. I thought I'd just start on that a bit early and form my own terrorist group because it's not like Tifa or Barret are there." The side of his mouth kicked up again. "I thought I'd call it Strife Delivery Service."

Aerith tried to scowl but couldn't help a few giggles. "You have a terrible sense of humor." Getting herself under control, she asked, "What are you planning to do first?"

His smile faded. "I figure I'll keep the first plan to myself so you can deny knowing anything just in case. But once it happens you'll know it was me. After that, I'll phone you and keep you updated."

After they exchanged PHS numbers, she asked, "Do you want me to call to keep you updated on Shinra news?"

"No thanks. I've got that covered. I've joined the fan clubs to keep up on the gossip, the conspiracy email lists to watch the other terrorists, and I rigged Zack's PHS to blind copy me on everything so I'll get any communication he does." He paused. "He gets a lot of weird stuff from Kunsel."

"How did you do that Cloud?" she asked incredulously.

"I picked up a few things from Reeve last time around. He likes talking about his toys."

"Are you leaving Midgar?" she asked, taking his hands.

He smiled. "In the morning. I'm going to patrol the slums and take out as many monsters as I can for the gil and items they've got. I've got enough for some basic materia and bangles. With my enhancements it's not like I need much."

"Do you want a mat in the back of the church?"

He nodded. "The fewer people who see me the better." He started backing toward the doors. "I'll be back pretty late in the evening."

Aerith smiled. "I'll leave a lamp for you even though I know you don't need it."

He smiled back and headed out of the church. He pulled his goggles back over his eyes and strolled toward the more slummy part of the slums. There would be slightly better useless vermin to kill there.

Midway through Sector 6, he spied a shock of red hair he did not want to be seeing. Even from this distance he could pick out the Turk's slightly nasal voice and irritating laughter. It wasn't that the man was entirely unpleasant, but it disturbed him to have to contemplate how someone could sound like they were purring nasally.

He kept his pace measured and gave Reno and Rude a cursory glance like other passersby so as not to look like he was ignoring them.

"Hey man," Reno said directly at him, lifting his chin.

He slowed but kept his motions smooth.

"Those 'er cool goggles. Where'd ya get 'em?"

"Wall market."

"Thanks." Reno mock saluted him and moved on with Rude.

He exhaled in relief and continued past them. He caught Reno saying, "Did that guy look familiar?" before passing out of hearing range.

"Aerith?" Zack called, jogging into the church. "I've come to visit," he continued in a sing-song voice. On reaching the flowers, he saw no sign of the lovely flower girl. He scratched his head and peered around.

His eyes narrowed at the rolled bedroll and lamp near the back wall behind some of the chapel pillars. He did a quick lap around the chapel to search for squatters. No one was allowed to stay in Aerith's church.

He was contemplating climbing into the rafters when the church doors squeaked open. He spun and sent the entering woman a blinding grin. "Aerith! Just the girl I was looking for. I came to visit. Do you need any chores done? I can help." He strode forward and pointed the direction of the bedroll and lamp. "You haven't been having trouble with squatters have you? I'll make sure they leave your church alone. Can't have them ruining the flowers."

She giggled, a hand covering her mouth.

"It's good to see you too Zack. I was just going to tend the flowers this morning. And no problems with squatters. I let a friend stay here last night. He left early this morning. He was going to stay in the inn in Wall Market but I insisted he shouldn't have to pay their prices."

"A friend?" he asked, suddenly suspicious of some stranger's intentions.

"Yes Zack," she said, soft smile widening, "a friend. He's sort of like a younger brother." She shrugged. "Or like an older brother depending on the day."

Grin returning, he said, "That's awesome. I wish I'd gotten to meet him. I have a friend who's like a little brother. I want to introduce the two of you. He's a great guy. He could do with a little more confidence but I just know he's going to be great. He said he'd meet you after he's done with his tests this week. The twerp told me to leave him alone so he can study. Can you believe that? I plan to take him under my wing when he gets into the Soldier program. It'll be great going on missions with him. And the kid reveres Sephiroth, wants to be a hero just like him. And you know what else he told me? He said that anyone who liked me had to be great and since I was talking about you that means he thinks you're great already. Isn't that awesome?"

"That's amazing Zack," she said with a soft smile. "I can't wait to make friends with him."

"And then you'll introduce me to your friend?" It never occurred to him that Aerith might have other male friends. He would hate having to compete for her attention.

"I'm sure he'd love you," she said.

"Sweet. I can't wait until Spiky is done with all these tests. We're going to have a party."

Cloud had to say he was getting quite used to his disguise now. It had been interesting in Junon. Apparently a bandana and goggles meant you were from Midgar. He'd gotten pretty decent prices on the bits of vanquished monsters he sold there. He'd even managed to get enough high level items and gil to get in on the pricier weapons and materia the stores had to offer. It had nothing on the rare materia and weapons he'd had before but a second good sword and leveled up materia were always nice. He felt better with two weapons anyway.

The trip across the ocean to Costa del Sol hadn't been much fun but he'd made sure to pick up buckets of motion sickness meds before leaving.

He passed through a thriving North Corel and picked up a third sword along with a pack full of dynamite. He hadn't stayed long as Scarlet was apparently heading their way. But rather than take the long way around via central Corel, he headed straight up over the mountains. He'd come up on the Nibelheim reactor from behind to see what sort of security he was looking at. Then he'd swing down to the mansion and see what was going on. Hojo should be in Midgar fiddling with Sephiroth and gloating over Hollander's imminent downfall. Or failure. He was still a bit unsure of how far back he'd been thrown.

He huffed in exasperation as he finally spotted the reactor. It was one more mountain over. Without all the mako enhancements he'd never have survived the snow or temperatures at these altitudes, but even still, it was cold. Not even the Nibel wolf pelt he was using for camouflage did much for warmth.

He'd swapped the bandana out for a white one to help hide his shock of bright blond hair. He wasn't sure he needed to bother. A little observation showed only six Shinra regulars guarding the reactor. They spilt the shifts in three and served in pairs, staying at the entrance and patrolling around the building once every hour. For being in such an out of the way place, he had to commend them for their dedication to regulations. That still didn't stop him from slipping in through the front entrance when they made a circuit around the building.

He slipped through the reactor like he knew the halls second nature. He worried for a moment about slipping past the cameras before deciding that by the time anyone looked at the video feeds he'd be long gone…along with the reactor.

In the core, he found exactly what he'd been expecting, pods filled with mutated soldiers and a vault housing the evil alien bitch responsible for the whole downward spiral of society. He sneered at her quietly floating in her tank and laid an extra couple of explosives around her specially. Thankfully, he didn't feel the slightest sense of awareness from her. He'd been hoping she wouldn't wake unless Sephiroth showed, despite all her genes he was carrying, and was pleased to see that seemed to be the case.

A bit of red caught his attention though and he picked up a summon. It stirred sleepily and he sensed fire. His eyebrows rose. Who just left an Ifrit summon lying on a shelf in a mako reactor.

On his way out, he laid enough explosives to do Cid proud and slipped out the next time the current pair of guards headed around the reactor.

His pace slowed as he neared Nibelheim. He had to keep a careful eye out for the town residents. Tifa especially liked to prowl the upper trails to practice her hand-to-hand.

But he encountered no children while coming up behind Shinra manor. He couldn't afford to wait long before getting inside. Even if the Shinra people didn't see him, Chaos would sense him and wake Vincent. He could already sense the Turk and his demonic companion from this distance and he couldn't expect Chaos to ignore his own powerful presence.

He shrugged off the wolf pelt and pulled the materia he'd picked especially for this mission and powered up. He'd managed to get it to level 3 and paired it with an All to cover the whole manor. He packed his very deep magic reserves behind the casting, the air quivering with green energy as he did so, and cast on the entire house. He pushed the spell farther than it was meant to go, into the basement to catch any scientists that might be loitering there.

Spell complete he sprinted forward and threw himself into the air and through the second story windows. Infantrymen sprawled sporadically on the second floor. On seeing each one, he stripped them of any protective accessories and cast Mini. He gathered them up in their shrunken forms and headed back outside. He deposited them on the back of the property and cast Stop. Then he sprinted back and covered the ground floor, shrinking scientists and troops alike and taking them out to the back of the property.

The basement was easiest to clear out, no troops and only three scientists. He ignored Vincent's room for the moment and headed upstairs. He pried up the floor boards in the hall and took the safe's code with him across the manor. He dialed in and stepped back as Lost Number oozed out of the safe.

He waited just until it cleared the safe before pulling two swords and hacking it to pieces. The neon colored monster was resistant to magic anyway but couldn't possibly stand a chance against such a powered up opponent.

He found Nanaki's Cosmo Memory in the safe, surprised that Shinra already had that bit of treasure. Then nabbed the basement key and Odin from inside the safe. The summon materia hummed for a moment and he sensed Odin stir, assessing its new handler. It seemed pleased enough as it gave a off a few red sparks and quieted. He huffed in amusement. Shiva hadn't been quite as pleased when he found it in Junon. It tried to freeze his hand off for stealing it from the dolphin.

Key in hand, he headed to the basement. He rifled through the library, skimming over passages of misinformed text declaring Jenova a Cetra and Sephiroth her biological son instead of just the experiment born of Lucrecia that he was.

He set more explosives than strictly necessary and steeled himself for the meeting with Vincent and Chaos.

When he opened the door to Vincent's proverbial prison, he saw all the coffins he expected, but what he did not expect was to see Vincent calmly sitting on top of his coffin. He supposed he should have taken into account that it might happen given the senses the former Turk and the demon had.

"Have they sent you to deal with me?" the gunman asked, voice deep and rough from years of no use.

"I don't work for Shinra." He pulled up the goggles to expose his eyes.

Red eyes narrowed at that. "Your mako glow says otherwise."

Measuring his tone, he said, "Then your mako glow says you work for Shinra too."

Equally cautious, Vincent asked, "What makes you so confident I don't?"

No real point in answering that. "I'm here to make you an offer."

"I'm not looking for a job," Vincent said, pushing to his feet. He turned and lifted his coffin's lid.

"Might you be interested in information on Lucrecia?"

Vincent froze.

He continued, "Or her son?"

Vincent turned, glare evident on his features despite the cape collar trying to mask them. "What do you know of Lucrecia?"

Unwilling to have this discussion in the home of his own torture and modification, he said, "I've cleared the manor. I'm going to blow this building up. I'd appreciate it if you evacuated as well."

At the hard look from the gunman, he said, "I'll answer your questions once I'm done in Nibelheim."

Vincent nodded sharply.

He nodded in reply and spun on his heel. In the hall, he didn't wait, he sprinted up the stairs and headed out the back of the manor. He leapt over the sleeping, shrunken, stopped Shinra personnel, scooped up the wolf pelts, pulled his goggles over his eyes, and headed straight up the mountain. He didn't aim directly for the reactor, but the mountain slope overlooking it.

He crouched on the edge of a cliff among some trees and pulled out his PHS.

"Are you blowing the reactor as well?" Vincent's voice next to him didn't startle him, though the gunman's silence often took him by surprise. Though he supposed he couldn't say it happened often as this was technically the first time they had met.

"Yeah. Gaia is no place for evil alien parasites." He couldn't help smirking at Vincent's speculative look.

He dialed a number on the PHS and hit 'call'. A bright flash shone from the edge of the town far below them. He hurriedly dialed the second number and waited. When the explosive boom rocked the air, shaking snow from surrounding trees, the two guards in front of the reactor lurched forward. They sprinted to the edge of the clearing to peer down the canyon at the town.

He hit 'call'.

The top of the reactor blew out in the multicolored fire of a mako explosion. The explosion threw both infantrymen to the ground where they slid down the trail. The nearest trees ripped right out of the ground and caught on fire. He cast ice at the trees to keep the mako flames from spreading but let the reactor burn. He enjoyed watching the remaining structure deform and melt under the heat of the fire.

"Lucrecia?" Vincent's voice cut through the relative silence following the blast.

He pushed to his feet and fished a plastic encased envelope out of a cargo pocket. He flung it like a shuriken, thank you Yuffie, to the clearing in front of the rapidly disappearing reactor.

"Do you mind if we walk while we talk?" He actually waited for an answer.

"Walk," Vincent demanded.

He turned, angling southeast. By the time he finished his story, they would probably be near Lucrecia's cave.

AN: Any and all comments, disclaimers, and notes are on my profile page. If I get asked a question enough times, its answer is there too.