Flowers Grow
by Prometheus

2 years have passed since the defeat of Sephiroth.

Cloud's life as he had know it for so long was over, had passed to its' rest within his full view.

Since the group had parted all those months ago having saved the planet from the crazed Sephiroth and his planned cosmic disaster life had seemed better... for everyone else.

Tifa had gone back to rebuild her home in Midgar with Barret and his daughter.

Last he had heard she had raised funds to rebuild her bar, the 7th Heaven and work had begun.

Cid, the crazy foulmouthed sky-pirate had returned to his home in Rocket Town and settled down with Shera. If he still persued his dreams to go into space again Cloud never knew for it had been some time since the two men had spoken.

Red XIII had gone home to Cosmo Canyon to take his place as the leader of the community.

It was a puzzle to Cloud. What was worse, being the last of your kind or living with the burden of guilt and anguish that he wrestled with every waking hour?

Yuffie had gone to who knows where. No-one ever knew where she was, probably stealing Materia somewhere. Not so much as a letter in weeks.

Vincent was doing something, none of them knew what. For that matter what does a genetically modified Shinra vampire do when he finishes helping to save the world?

It often saddened hearts to know that contact had fallen into such obvious disrepair especially given the adventure they had all shared together. It could not be helped though. Times change as do people. One chapter begins as another ends.

This is the way of the world.

So what was Cloud doing? He often asked himself that. Had someone come up to him

only last year and told him he would now be working as a help on the Chocobo Ranch he would probably have laughed.

Cloud could not laugh anymore. He could not even manage a smile.

He needed something to fill the time up and mercenary work could no longer cut it. When he thought of the suffering that his old profession brought to others it brought him face to face with his own agony.

He occasionally thought of the people he had travelled with and he did miss them.

He fleetingly thought of Sephiroth and when he did some deep and compassionate crevice of his mind hoped that his tortured soul would find its' peace in the life beyond. He couldn't blame him for what he did forever, could he? It was very difficult and only the smallest fibre of his being could hope or wish for kindness towards him.The greater part could not bare thinking of Sephiroth and the rage and hatred towards him burned so hot that it needed to be repressed.

How much longer could this hatred last when Cloud knew so little about the powers or madness that Sephiroth had secumbed to as he listened, like a child to a story, the poisonous whisperings of an alien?

Was he even human by the time that he committed his awful sins?

Did he even know what he was doing when he jumped from the sky Masamune in hand or was his human mind dead already by that time?

For the most part it was too painful to think of Sephiroth, the man that once had seemed almost godlike to an impressionable young Cloud. Fallen god. After what he did he deserved it.

Hatred was not so easily quelled with logic in Clouds mind when he thought of Sephiroth. His crimes were to great even for a madman. Too great even for that alien thing to drive him to.

Most of his time he thought of only one person, the person he had laid to rest all those months ago in the quiet lagoon in a lost and timeless city. The gentle and beautiful creature who's smile could bring sunshine to the darkest of souls.

Often he caught a tear falling from his eye as he thought of the gentle and beautiful woman.

In the grand cosmic timescale he had barely known Aeris, the time they spent together although many long weeks to them was as brief as the batting of an eyelid in the universal timeline. No time at all.

Despite this he missed her more than he could ever describe in words.

Her passing left an unquenchable void in his soul, a gaping and ravenous mouth in his being that cried out for her to nourish it with her sweet smile, her lips, her embrace.

Despite what he had tried to convince himself when she was still here, he did love her. He loved her more than he loved life itself and now she was gone and this knowledge was ripping him apart, tearing him up and burning the pieces of his broken spirit on the grim flames of endless, insufferable lonliness. Why did he not admit what he felt when he had the chance? Why? Why had he not held her in his arms and refused to let her go? Why had he not saved her? Surely, with all his strength he should have been able to keep her safe? Couldn't he? Why had he not been able to?

A million questions, no answers. So much pain and anquish washed around his devasteted mind like whirlpools of water in the bathtub slowly being sucked into a black drainpipe of self-hatred and aching, unbearable lonliness.

Even here on the quiet planes where the ranch sat it was hard to find peace or answers to the questions that burned like nuclear fires in his mind. Would he ever find his peace? Would his questions ever receive an answer? Would he be sucked into the drainpipe never to re-emerge?

* * * * * *

Chapter 1: Memories

Cloud pushed his plate away without having touched the stew that sat in it.

"What's wrong with it Cloud?" Choco Billy asked. A slightly hurt twinge in the voice drawing Cloud back to his senses.

"What? Oh nothing."

"Then why you leaving it?" He persisted.

"I just don't feel like eating it that's all. I'm sorry."

Cloud stood up and went over to the back door, opened it and went outside.

Choco Billy's wife sighed and cleared the plate away.

"He doesn't eat, he wakes up screaming. Something has to give Bill, the poor boy's not right."

Billy frowned as he shovelled a generous spoonful of stew into his mouth, chewed it and swallowed.

"He is a good worker, never late, always curteous to customers. As long as he stays that way he is welcome in this home."

Billy's wife wiped her hands and sat back down at the table.

"Poor kid. You'd think he would be on top of the world after saving it. His friends don't even come any more."

Billy sat back and sighed deeply.

"He went through a lot you know. His former friend went crazy and tried to kill him not to mention everyone else and he lost some dear friends in all this. Some very dear friends."

Billy's wife sighed again and picked up her spoon, playing absent-mindedly with her food.

"I just worry about him that's all, the nightmares and all that."

"He'll be fine." Billy said into his bowl.

"He's tough."

A cool evening breeze flowed across the endless planes stirring the lush marshland grasses. To the west the great red orb of the sun began it's nightly descent into the horizon. Orange light covered the belly of the sky and washed forth over the calm lands lending to it some of its'cosmic tranquility. Far to the west, obscured by a curl of mountains that encircled the Ranch and miles of surronding Marshland sat the grand and revived metropolis of Midgar, the glow of lights from its' buildings and houses competing for supremacy over the sun in the great battle for the colouring of the sky.

Even to Cloud the sight was wonderous, conjuring up happier memories of times when he and all his friends had sat and watched this magical scene together. And Aeris, she was there too with him. No more though.

He sat on the cool grass of the meadow and looked out into the world and the ocean of the sky and wondered if she could see him. He had once thought himself to proud to cry, to feel the bite of his emptiness but his pride was fast becoming another casualty. It too had received its' fatal blow from the cold hard steel of the Masamune. The lonliness was killing him, ripping him up piece by piece and consuming him and his attempts to stem the flow of burning tears met more often with failure now.

He would have given anything to have her with him now. How she had loved sunsets, how her smile had shone when she saw them.

She was so close sometimes that he could almost feel her next to him, could almost reach out and touch her and in his momentary excitement he stretched out his hand only to be greeted by the vacant caress of nothingness.

Never more would she see the sun set.

He rose to his feet, seething and embittered by sudden uncontrollable anger and hatred. He could see in the eye of his mind the life draining from her face, the crimson gleam of the Masamune as it hung from her chest, the clicking of her white materia as it rolled towards its' watery resting place and finally the vicious green flares of light in the eyes of her murderer.

"Damn you Sephiroth!!!" He screamed at the sky

He fell to his knees, the tears flowing freely now. All attempts to stop the anguish leaking out had failed and his pride, finally, was dead too.

He sobbed and agonised.

"Why?" He pleaded
"Why did you do it Sephiroth?"

No answer came. The sky could not hear him yet still he tried, sought desperately for the answer.

"There had to be a reason. Why did you kill her?"


Overcome with his sudden grief and sorrow his head bowed and he wept silently under the stars.

Choco Billy and his wife sat quietly for a moment before the need to break the deathly silence overcame them.

"Did you hear that? He's screaming and shouting again Bill."

Billy sat quietly.


"Yes for cying out loud! I heard him." He moaned

"They probably heard him in Icicle Inn! What are we going to do Bill?"

He sighed again and held his head in his hands.

"I don't know. I just hope he is strong enough to get through this."

She frowned.

"Just a minute ago you said that he was."

A worried laugh pierced her husbands silence.

"Of course I said that but I don't really know him. I don't really know!"

silence broke the noise again.

Billy's wife gazed worriedly out of the window before speaking again.

"What happened to him? How did he get like this?"

Billy got up and walked over to the window with his hands in his pockets.

"All he will tell me is that he lost someone special when he was off adventuring."

"Who? A girl? One of those people he came here with?"

Billy shrugged.

"I imagine so. I noticed that that girl in the pink dress has never come back to visit, all the rest of them have"

"None of them have come here in months Bill."

Billy sighed and rubbed his cheeks with his hands.

"Maybe that is part of the problem."

"Well we need to do something Bill I am sick with worry."

Billy laughed quietly.

"What is so funny?" She asked

"Nothing. I was just thinking that if I had only known what lay ahead when we saw him that first time, would I have had second thoughts about taking him on?"

Billy's wife sat and sighed as she reminisced.

"He certainly has changed from the young man who came here to buy materia. He was so full of life then and now, well he is like a zombie."

They fell silent again.

Billy yawned.

"I think I am going to go to bed." He announced

"What about Cloud?" His wife asked.

"Just leave him. He will feel better in the morning."

Trying not to notice the concerned look his wife was giving him Billy headed for the door. He grasped the knob in his hand and turned it. Stopping before leaving the room he turned to his wife and spoke.

"Listen, I am going into Midgar tomorrow to pick up some supplies, do you think that I should find that Tifa woman?"

His wife frowned.

"Is that a good idea Bill? You know how private and secretive he is."

Billy frowned and swung against the door.

"Maybe you're right. I just don't know what to do with him."

She smiled thoughtfully.

"He is young and time is a good healer. Things can only improve dear."

Billy smiled.

"I suppose. Good night darling."

"Night." She said.

Billy swung around the door and closed it behind him leaving his wife sat at the table alone.

"Time....." She whispered to herself.

Chapter 2: Recollections and Acquaintances
2 weeks later

A smile cracked Tifa's face followed by a giggle as she read the neatly written words of the letter. Barret looked up from his breakfast and frowned.

"What's so funny?"

Tifa looked up and smiled

"It's a letter from Shera, she's trying to get Cid to give up smoking again."

A big smile cracked across Barrets strong face as he finished another mouthful of orange juice.

"Sephiroth or a nicotine deprived Cid? Gimme old Sephiroth any day!"

Tifa put the letter down and smiled. Barret swallowed another huge mouthful of juice, emptying the tumbler.

"Have you had anything from Cloud recently?" He asked, his big brown eyes full of concern.

Tifa's smile faded and she gave an exasperated sigh as she sat back in her seat.

"No. Nothing for months."

Barret gave one of his trademark sighs as he refilled his tumbler and drank from it.

"He still on that chocobo ranch?"

Tifa nodded, taking a dainty sip from her tumbler. She put the glass on the

table and stared at it absent-mindedly.

"I am really worried about him Barret he has been so messed up since she died."

"Yeah, I know but he's Cloud, he can handle anything."

Tifa sighed and ran a finger along the rim of the glass.

"I hope so Barret."

Barret cocked an eyebrow as he took another swallow of juice, preferring not to continue with the darker line of conversation he started a lighter one.

"Well why don't we go and see him? Maybe he could use some company."

Tifa smiled a little as she sat forward.

"Yeah, ok we'll go and see him, he'll like that won't he?"

Barret smiled

"Yeah." He smirked.

"When do you want to go?" She asked.

Scratching his head with his hand, Barret frowned.

"We could go this afternoon I suppose, the workmen don't need us around to

finish building the place do they?"

"You got enough fuel in the van?" She asked

"Sure. Filled the old AVALANCHE mobile up last night."

Tifa smiled as she thought of the old AVALANCHE crew, Biggs, Wedge, Jessie. She remembered what good people they had been. Fought hard, played hard right up until..... the end.

"Ever think about Biggs or Wedge or Jessie?" She asked.

He was quiet for a moment as he drank before answering softly.

"Yeah, all the time. They were good folks."

All that remained of AVALANCHE was a battered old truck that Barret had stashed over in Sector 12. As long as it still ran, which it did, Barret saw no need to replace it. Too many memories. Besides, the van had come out of the whole Meteor disaster pretty much unscathed and it would not be right for it to survive that just to be scrapped for a newer model.

"We sure got those Shinra bastards though." He announced with conviction.

"With a little help from Diamond Weapon." Tifa added.

Barret chuckled, lifting the glass to his lips.


Tifa yawned and stretched. Slowly she rose from the chair and headed over to the window. Midgar was quite a beautiful sight now, like a phoenix reborn from the flames of Meteor. The upper plate that once had blocked the sun from view was gone. The slums were no more, regenerated into wonderful parks and gleaming glass buildings. The air, once foul and stinking was alive and fresh and birds now soared through the streets and chirped in the trees. It was wonderful. Of course, there was much work to be done. Most of the sectors were only half finished. Meteor had caused terrible damage and had it not been for the lifestream and Holy there would have been nothing left at all.

Tifa's 7th Heaven was itself nearly finished and she smiled as she thought of getting back into the business. She had missed the simple pleasure and the hapless banterings of her bar and it would be good to get back to old ways, to let life truly begin to return to normal.

She let out a sigh.

"'Sup?" Barret asked

"Nothing. It is just amazing to see how much this place has changed that's all."

Barret nodded and stood up. He let out a loud groan as he stretched.

"I am goin' for a shower." He announced with a chuckle

"Still can't get used to havin' running hot water!"

Tifa smiled as he left the room.

All was quiet.

Marlene was staying with Elmyra whom she had grown quite attached to but it left a deathly silence in the house when she was not there. The relationship that Marlene had developed with Elmyra was remarkably strong and Tifa couldn't help but wonder if it was because she saw Aeris in the young girl or whether the young girl saw her mother in Elmyra. Either way it was comforting to know that there was a dependable person whom Marlene would be safe with and there was no-one kinder or more dependable than Elmyra.

Marlene was growing up fast and she was the jewel of her fathers eye. 'She is so like her mother' he would say with barely concealed pride as he watched her.

They would leave her in Midgar when they went to see Cloud. Tifa was concerned that Marlene, a very adventurous girl would get bored in the tranquil and rustic setting of the Chocobo Ranch so it would be kinder to her to leave her in the city with all of her friends and the hussle and bustle and excitement. Besides, Tifa wanted serious words with Cloud and didn't want the extra worry of wondering where Marlene was. Barret agreed.

To say that Tifa had remained unshaken by the events in the City of the Ancients would be a lie. Many nights when she lay in the darkness unable to sleep she saw Aeris in her mind, saw the platform in the City of the Ancients where she had fallen. She could see the blood. She could see Sephiroth with his emerald eyes glowing brilliantly in the gloom.

Tifa had never realised how deeply Cloud had come to love Aeris. She didn't think Cloud even knew, it took her death to make him aware of his love for her. But awareness came too late and she worried what the consequences of that might be for her friend.

She couldn't begin to understand how Cloud felt or what he was going through all she wanted was too see him, to touch him and to make sure he was alright.

He had changed after they had gotten back. Slowly gotten more subdued and repressed. He had never said why she could just feel it when he looked at her.

She could see it when she looked into his eyes, he was crying out, begging, pleading for Aeris to come back but she never would and he knew it.

That was the problem and there was only one solution for him if he really wanted to see her again and Tifa shuddered to think that he would even consider that.

She was called back from her dark thoughts by the sounds of Barret shouting from the shower.

"Where are all the fucking towels?!!"

Sighing, she raked through a pile of fresh laundry and found a towel. Folding it gently she went to the door of the bathroom and opened it slightly.

"Here you go Barret." She said, pushing the towel in through the crack.

"Thanks." He grunted as he snatched the towel and closed the door.

She smiled and returned to the kitchen.

Sun beamed in through the window. Tifa stood in the clean ray of light and let it bathe her. It was warm and felt so good against her skin that she would have been happy to stay there all day, basking in the warmth of the daylight.

She could not wait to see Cloud.

* * * * * *

Tifa's heels clicked on the fresh new sufacing of the pavement. It was a nice sound, better than what used to be the squelching of mud or the dry rasp of dirt. Barret as usual managed to make a stomping sound as he walked. Mud, concrete or dirt, it did not matter, Barret stomped. She was convinced he could stomp on thin air if he wanted to.

"Why did you park the truck so far away B?" She asked

Looking exasperated, he flashed her a glance.

"Because there was nowhere to park near the house!" He cocked his eyebrow as he glanced at her.

"You armed?" He asked.

She looked at him and frowned.

"No. Why?"

"There are still monsters out there you know!" He grumbled.

"I know but the numbers have sure reduced."

"No need to take chances." He said, backing his statement up by cocking the weapon attached to the stump of his right hand.

"I brought some materia though." She added.

"What ones?"

She looked into her bag.

"A mastered Restore and a Level 2 Ultima."

Barret laughed.

"You been keepin' an Ultima materia lying 'round all this time?"

She smiled and nodded

"I was using it as a paperweight."

Barret laughed his reserved mighty laugh and smiled at her.

"A paperweight." He chuckled.

The two crossed a street and turned left into a car park. The battered truck was in the second row of cars.

"I'll drive." Tifa chirped.

Grumbling, Barret tossed her the keys and got into the passenger side.


Tifa brought the engine to life with a mighty roar and shifted the gear stick into Reverse as she manoevered the truck out of the space. She completed the manoever and shifted into first gear as she nosed out of the exit.

"Clear." Barret shouted.

The engine roared again as Tifa pulled away, the tone dipping and rising steadily as she moved up the gears.

"Goin' for the sector 8 gate?" Barret asked.

"No. It isn't finished yet we will have to go for the Sector 9 one."

"Well you want to take the next turning on the right and then straight on and it should be the 3rd left. I think."

They drove in silence for a few minutes. Surprisingly, Barret's directions were accurate and they came to the sector 9 gate. Beyond they could see the countryside and the one double lane road that cut through it. There were not many cars around. Under Shinra only a handfull of people could afford them so there was no congestion on the roads and little damage to the countryside. Even after the fall of Shinra, they had never really taken off so the roads were still quiet.

They got out into the open country. It was a glorious day. The sun beat down on the land and the clear blue cloudless sky was like the sunkissed ocean of the Costa Del Sol. In the distance the Mithril Mountains lay, the Midgar Swamp at the foot of them and just out from the edge of the swamp lay the Chocobo Ranch.

"How far is it again?" Tifa asked.

"About 20 miles or so." Barret replied.

"It's no wonder we got ambushed by so many monsters out here."

"Yeah. If there is one thing that old Sephiroth did it was keep us fit chasin'

his mad ass all over the place."

"We couldn't get you to walk 20 miles now eh Barret?" Tifa giggled.

"Dunno. Wait for another derranged goon to start stirrin' shit and we'll see."

They chuckled.

Within minutes Barret was snoozing. They drove in silence for the rest of the journey.

It really was a beautiful day.

Chapter 3: Friends re-united

Choco Billy and Cloud were in the stable tending to the chocobo hatchlings. Funny to see a hatchling that was as big as a watermelon but then again, they were big birds.

Neither man had spoken all morning so Billy took the initiative.

"So, Cloud where was it you said you found those Zeio nuts?"

No sooner had the words left Billy's mouth when he realised that he had just uttered the lamest excuse to begin a conversation in the history of the world.

Cloud finished feeding the hatchling and turned to face Billy. He could not have failed to pick up on the conversation starter if he had been deaf. He decided it would just be best to humour Billy rather than shun him.

"Zeio nuts? Oh, um, we found them on Goblin Island, stole them from goblins. I don't know where they got them from though."

Billy sauntered over to Cloud. He had started this poor conversation so he might aswell try to continue it.

"Have you got any left? I'll make it worth your while."

Cloud shrugged and sighed in his commonplace disheartened way. He wanted to get it over with, conversing that is.

"Sorry Billy we used the last one breeding the gold chocobo."

Billy sighed and kicked dust.


Cloud forced a smile more for Billy's sake than his own as he turned and began to leave the stable.

"Cloud....." Billy called

He turned and looked at Billy with his sad eyes.


Billy moved as if to say something but lost his nerve. Cloud would never talk about that.

"Nothing Cloud. Sorry to disturb you."

Without a word he turned and left the stable.

"Nothing at all....."

Billy sighed and went back to feeding the chocobos.

Cloud sat outside the house on the pretty whitewashed bench that overlooked the fields and the distant mountains and gazed at the sky. He barely felt the ice cold water as it slipped down his throat, taking a long drink he sat and looked at the glass, the whorls of rainbow light that flared within it as the sun caught the imperfections. He sighed and set the glass down on the ground as he reached into his pocket and removed the materia orb. Without his gloves on he could feel the orb he could feel its' smootheness, far smoother than the glass. The green colour and the radiant glow as the sun caught it. Truly it was a marvel, a beautiful thing to behold, a level 3 Destruct materia. The only materia he had kept when they had gotten back, the rest went to Yuffie. This was the only one he would ever have any use for now, the power to see her again lay in his shaking hand. All he had to do was chant the words and his misery would end. He could hold her for all eternity but there was still some part of him, buried deep that would not allow him to do it, probably the same part of him that still felt sorrow for that murdering bastard Sephiroth. He wished he could take his Ultima Weapon and cut that part of himself out, throw it away and end his suffering, begin his eternity with her. He smiled in his grim mood, the green light from the materia orb shined in his eyes. That part of himself could not resist the urge forever. Soon he could defeat it and then it would stop, the sadness that is, and the happiness would begin again.

The sound of an approaching vehicle snapped his grim concentration on the materia orb. He looked around and saw the familiar sight of the battered AVALANCHE van. It screeched to a halt and the passenger door opened.

Barret got out laughing his reserved hearty laugh. Tifa got out of the drivers side with a concerned look in her eyes.

"Oh god please tell me it didn't dent the van." She groaned as she inspected the front of the vehicle. Barret chuckled and knelt beside her.

"That was funny." He grinned

Choco Billy's wife came out of the house and walked over to them.

"Tifa, Barret, is something the matter?" She asked them, sending Barret into a fit of laughter.

"No, no everything is fine." Tifa said.

"Barret?" Choco Billy's wife said with a slightly quizzical tone in her voice.

"What are you laughing at?" She asked

He stopped laughing and smiled.

"One of those Custom Sweeper things walked right out into the middle of the road, dumb bastard tried to ambush the van, she must have knocked it for about 300 feet!" He said with a chuckle.

Tifa stood up.

"The damage is not bad, just some scratches and a dent. Nothing serious, more than can be said for that Custom Sweeper."

She turned to face Choco Billy's wife.

"Is Cloud still here?

She did not speak, merely pointed them to Clouds' direction.

He hastily stuffed the Destruct materia back into his pocket and stood up, gently ambling over to his friends.

He stood facing them. No words sprung forth from his mouth as his weary, saddened eyes observed them with reserved and practiced coolness.

"Hello Cloud." Tifa said.

"Hey buddy, how ya been?" Barret added.

Cloud remained silent for a few seconds.

"Cloud?" Tifa whispered.

"Hello Barret, Tifa. It is good to see you both."

The forcedness of Clouds responses was obvious, wiping the smiles from the faces of Barret and Tifa.

"Good to see you too." Tifa quietly answered.

Cloud shook Barret's hand and nodded at him before wandering into the house and closing the door behind him.

Tifa, Barret and Billy's wife stood awkwardly for a moment. Barret followed Cloud into the house with his eyes and shook his head dejectedly.

"Me and Billy had hoped that he would cheer up if he saw you." Billy's wife said disappointedly.

Tifa sighed, worry etched into her face.

"How long has he been like this?" She asked.


A gust of warm easterly wind buffeted the three as the planet breathed a sign of sorrow.

"Can I ask you what did this to him?" Billy's wife asked quietly.

Tifa sighed and gazed off into the distance for a moment before bringing her worried brown eyes back to face Billy's wife.

"It happened when we were in the City of the Ancients, Sephiroth appeared and....." Tifa trailed off as she recalled the grisly events. Barret sighed hard and picked up the sentence."

"...killed Aeris." He finished.

The three stood in silence.

"Oh." Billy's wife whispered

"Were she and Cloud...lovers?"

"No. She was in love with him." Tifa said

"An' he was in love with her, just had a problem admittin' it that's all." Barret added.

"He loved her so much, I can tell." Tifa added in a quiet voice, her gaze fixed on nothing particular in the distance.

"Her death has destroyed him."

The three stood quietly again. Chirps and squarwks of the chocobos were carried on the wind across the planes and hung in an almost ethereal fashion in the ears of the group.

"We will try to help him." Tifa finally said, bringing her gaze back to Billy's wife

"Oh thankyou Tifa, you and Barret are both welcome to stay as long as is necessary." Billy's wife said in an obviously relieved fashion.

"I'll go and tell Billy." She said

"Yeah, I'll go and say hello to him too." Barret said, the look in his eyes signalling Tifa to go into the house.

Tifa stood and watched Barret and Billy's wife go round the corner of the barn and head for the stables. She sighed and kicked dirt as she slowly wandered into the house.

* * * * * *

Inside, the air was cooler and carried the faint smell of something cooking. It smelled good but she didn't notice, her thoughts concentrated only on her friend. She passed through the kitchen and into a large sitting room where she found him, sat in a chair with his head in his hands, his long blonde hair tied into a ponytail.

"What happened to the spikes?" She asked in a forced chirpy tone as she sat down opposite him.

He looked up, his sad eyes devoid of the sparkle they used to carry.

"Can't be bothered standing all that time arranging my hair. Too much hassle."

He said in a flat and lifeless tone.

"Your hair is still nice." She lied.

She was shocked at how much he had actually changed. The old Cloud would have never said that. He took great pride in his appearance back then, the hair being the pinnacle of careful preperation each morning.

He sat back and crossed his legs trying his level best to look casual. He would have passed it off had she not looked into his brilliant blue eyes. Something flared in them, something disturbing. Loathing, wretched self hatred and such terrible anger glowed like fires in his eyes.

"Why have you come here Tifa?" He asked calmly.

She remained fixed on the flaring emotion in his eyes as she spoke.

"I wanted to see you. I was worried."

A crack of a smile pierced his face.

"I'm touched. How are things in Midgar?"

She looked away from him, the things in his eyes too much to bare now.

"Don't change the subject Cloud. What is going on?" She demanded.

He was quiet for a moment.

"Nothing. I am fine." He said, the flatness and emotionlessness returning to his voice.

Her head snapped round, glaring and angry she shouted.

"You are not fine! Don't lie to me Cloud, we have been friends too long."

Cloud leaned forward, eyes narrowing as he tried to contain the eddies of hatred and anger that flowed through him. Rage flared in his eyes.

"You say that you are my friend, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THAT BASTARD TOOK FROM ME?!!" He roared, tears welling up from his eyes.

The sudden shouting scared her briefly until she saw his face, the face of the same anguished boy whom she had befriended all those years ago in Nibelheim. She looked at him, her pitying look watering the flames of hatred that burned within him.

"I'm...I'm sorry. I did not mean to shout." He sobbed.

It disgusted him, crying. He felt weak and vulnerable yet he could not stop, hatred, rage and the vacuum of lonliness fuelling the torrential floods from his eyes. Gods themselves had not the strength to stop his tears any more.

She reached out and held his hand. He grasped it tightly.

"I'm so sorry..." He howled over and over again.

She felt tears bubbling up inside herself as she looked at him, the great Cloud sitting broken and defeated before her very eyes. She suppressed them and began to speak again.

"You loved her so much, didn't you?"

He sobbed and nodded his head, too choked to speak.

Tifa sat and thought for a moment.

"Cloud, there is something I think you should know."

He sniffed a few times and raised his head to look at her.

"When I saw what her death had done to you, I...I felt guilty."

He sniffed again and cleared his throat.

"Why?" He asked in a shaky voice.

Tifa looked away as she spoke.

"I felt as though I should have jumped in front of the blade. I wished I had let Sephiroth kill me."

Cloud's eyebrows raised in alarm and a shocked expression asserted itself over his face.

"Why? Why would you think such a thing?"

A tear rolled down her soft cheek.

"So that you could stay with her. You didn't need me anymore but she was your love. It should have been me."

Tifa broke down and began to sob uncontrollably. Cloud, reaching over brought her into his arms and held her tight, comforting her.

"How could you think that? I will never stop needing you. Sephiroth is to blame, he is the killer. I would still have hated the bastard if he had killed you, any of you."

She looked up and tried to smile.

"But you loved her Cloud."

He thought for a moment and sighed.

"I loved her more than life itself but that is not a good enough reason to sacrifice yourself. Not for me."

She sniffed and hugged him tight.

He swallowed hard and cleared his throat.

"Tifa?" He whispered.

She looked up, her cute brown eyes wet and full of emotion.

Cloud knitted his brow into a pensive expression, sighing he began to speak.

"I am glad that you and Barret came, you have no idea what these months have been like."

Wiping tears from her face with her hand, she smiled and hugged him.

"What are friends for?"

"I thought that if I came out here, escaped from it all then the pain would go away but it didn't. It followed me. Being out here alone just made it worse."

She sighed.

"I'm afraid things don't work like that Cloud. The only way forward is to face what happened."

"But it hurts so much, I cannot bare to think about it Tifa."

She hugged him and then pulled back, facing him and smiling.

"I know, it will take a long time but it will happen. Me and Barret are not going anywhere, we are here for you any time, day or night, rain or shine."

A tear rolled down his face as he smiled. For the first time in as long as he could remember it was a genuine smile, a smile that he actually wanted to smile.

"Thankyou Tifa."

They sat in silence for a moment just savouring each others company until the familiar sound of stomping feet pierced the silence. Barret entered the room huffing and puffing from his run from the fields.

"Yo Cloud, Billy says there is a big-ass storm coming in over the hills, wants you to help bring in the birds."

Cloud let go of Tifa's hand and stood up, breaking for the door in a purposeful jog and stopping just as he was about to leave the room.


The big man turned and looked.

"'Sup bud?" He asked.

Cloud managed another slight smile as he spoke.

"It's good to see you again. Glad you came."

Barret gave a broad smile and his eyes sparkled in relief.

"Any time man."

Cloud nodded and headed out of the room, the back door slamming shut behind him.

Barret sat down in the chair and wiped sweat from his mighty brow.

"See, told ya he'd be fine." Barret boomed in a confident voice

Tifa sighed and knitted her hands together as she stared at the floor.

"He is not fine Barret." She said in a scared little voice.

Barret stopped grinning and concentrated his powerful gaze on Tifa for a few moments.

"How's he really doin' then?" He asked.

"He is really depressed Barret. I am glad we came who knows what he might have done if he was left here alone any longer."

Barret frowned.

"You think he would have done somethin' dumb?" He asked in a concerned voice.

Tifa nodded.

"He has a Destruct materia Barret."

Barret's big eyes widened.

"How do you know that?"

She sighed.

"I saw him putting it into his pocket when he came over to us outside."

He shook his head in disbelief.

"What level was it?"

Tifa flashed a contempting look. It was a dumb question.

"He obviously has Death on that orb Barret."

Barret sighed explosively and stood up holding his head with his hand. He quietly stared out of the window for a moment and watched the first few grey clouds begin to form in the previously unblemished sky. He swore quietly under his breath and then turned back to his companion.

"Then it's settled, we do not leave this ranch until that boy is sorted out. Agreed?"

Tifa nodded, bringing her worried eyes to look at her formidable friend.


Chapter 4: A familiar face

It really was a depressing night, the rain lashing like a million tiny whips against the water splattered windows of the ranch house. Periodically the heavens above opened, unleashing a vile forked tongue of lightning that illuminated the house and the grasslands for miles around.

Clouds, various shades of grey and black sat in the leaden sky and weeped softly onto the land.

Inside the ranch house the faint sounds of the chocobos squawking and cooing in the barn could be heard.

In the living room the group sat quietly and drank from various cups and glasses. None of them spoke simply because there was nothing worth speaking about, drinking being the only sensible thing to do on so miserable a night.

Choco Billy and his wife sat at a small table at the back of the room and played a card game. Barret and Tifa sat on a couch and Cloud sat in a big padded armchair with his glass in his hand admiring the majestic amber liquid within it.

Barret sighed and placed his glass on the mahogany finished coffee table in front of the couch as he stood up. He grunted as he stretched his gigantic arms and then slowly ambled over to the window.

"Sure wasn't like this when we drove out this morning." He announced.

Tifa took a sip of her drink and replied.

"No, it was a glorious day. Not a Cloud in the sky."

Cloud gave a sly chuckle and spoke without taking his gaze off of the fluid in the glass.

"Get used to it, weather can change really quickly out here in the marshes."

"You can say that again, we had to replace the barn roof twice last month."

Billy added from behind his fan of cards.

Cloud sat forward in his chair and took his gaze off of his beverage, fixing it instead on Tifa.

"So, how are things in Midgar? How is the rebuilding going?"

Tifa played with a wisp of her long brown hair and sat forward.

"Things are going fine, the work on the bar is nearly finished." She chirped

"You really should see the city Cloud, really has changed since we were all saving the world and stuff. It is amazing." Barret chipped in from over at the window.

"The slums are gone, there are new buildings and parks. It is so alive now. We even have piped hot water!"

Cloud nodded as he took a mouthful of his drink and swallowed it leisurely.

"And how is Marlene? Why did you not bring her?" He asked.

"She's fine Cloud, still a little terror at times but other than that she is ok." Barret boomed

"We did not bother bringing her because she is so used to the sights and sounds of the city that she would find all this peace and quiet really boring. Besides we were worried about you and wanted to concentrate on you while we were here." Tifa added

Cloud smiled.

"I'm touched. Is she staying with someone?"

Barret flashed Tifa a wary look and then went back to staring out of the window.

"She is staying with Elmyra." Tifa revealed quietly.

Something momentarily seemed to flash in Cloud's eyes as he heard the name.

"Oh. I did not know they were so close."

"Yes. They got friendlier after Elmyra took her to Kalm during the whole Meteor thing." Barret added.

"Well, tell her I said hi." Cloud said, something in his voice wavering as he spoke.

He up-ended the glass into his mouth, draining its' contents and swallowing them.

"If nobody minds I may go to bed." Cloud said, stretching.

Choco Billy looked up from his cards and nodded.

"Sure, you go on. We have had a long day."

"Good night Barret, Tifa. See you all in the morning." Cloud said as he went for the door.

"Night Cloud." Barret and Tifa chorused as he left the room.

It was quiet again save from the faint chuckle from Choco Billy as he won a round of whatever game it was that he and his wife were playing. She sighed and sat back in her chair.

"Best out of 10?" She asked.

Billy chuckled and finished his drink.

"No chance! First time I ever won at this so I think I will leave while luck is on my side."

He stood up and took a deep breath, exhaling in a mighty yawn.

"You coming dear?" He asked his wife as he headed for the door.

"One minute." She said.

Billy nodded and left the room.

Billy's wife emptied her glass and stood up slowly.

Barret came back over from the window and sat back on the couch next to Tifa.

Billy's wife stood next to them and smiled a warming smile.

"I am so glad that you two came here, we were so worried about Cloud."

Tifa smiled. Barret frowned and spoke.

"No worries, we'll have his spikey ass back and bouncin' in no time."

She laughed vacantly, eyes brimming with fatigue as she spoke.

"I have no doubt of that, Barret. Sleep well both of you." She said as she stood up.

"Good night." Barret and Tifa again chorused as they followed her out of the room with their eyes.

"Nice folks." Barret mused.

"Yeah." Tifa agreed.

The two sat in silence for a time and listened to the sounds of the storm. It was a really horrible night, the rain rapidly turning the lush planes of the grasslands into one huge stretch of swamp and marsh. Barret and Tifa, exhausted from the day sat in a sort of limbo between sleep and consciousness.

Lightning flashed lighting up the interior of the room. Thunder rumbled accompanied by the unmistakable crack of gunfire.

Smothering tentacles of tiredness were flung off by the sudden and unexpected roar of a gun and the accompanying adrenaline from the shock ensured that Barret and Tifa were as wide awake as they ever were. They exchanged glances and rushed to the window.

"What the hell was that? Was that gunfire?" Tifa asked.

Barret squinted and peered out into the sodden lonliness of the planes.

"Dunno but it was fucking loud, must be one hell of a magnum."

Outside the gunfire roared again. Tifa shot Barret a worried glance and then turned to look out into the wilderness once more.

"Why would someone want to go out shooting on a night like this?" She asked

Barret did not answer instead he peered out into the lightning tinted lands. As he looked lightning flashed again illuminating a dark shape out in the grasslands.

"There's someone out there." He announced, urgency leaking into his usually steady voice.

"I don't like this."

"Me either." Barret agreed

"Who is it?" Tifa asked.

"Don't know but they are coming this way." Barret shouted, raw concern now flaring in his mighty voice.

Outside the dark figure was moving closer to the house, not running or jogging to escape from the dreadful storm but ambling as though it were a clear and starry night.

Barret and Tifa raced for the back door, Tifa grabbing her materia and Barret hastily shoving bullets into his gun arm.

They hastily prepared and flew the back door open and stepped out into the world of rain and shadows.

Wind howled and the rain lashed hard against the pair as they went out into the yard. Thunder growled furiously and the landscape was ignited by the flashes of lightning. Serpentine tentacles of sodden grass slithered up their legs and lashed around like agonised snakes. The usually picturesque landscape ruined and twisted beyond all recognition in this place like some evil mirror world.

The robed figure ambled casually into the yard, his grand cloak writhing and thrashing like so many dying dragons in the wind. Inside the folds of the phantom's robes its fingers clicked and flashed with the oily shine of steel the infrequent flashes of lightning revealing a wicked steel claw attached to each finger, rainwater glistening and running from them. Barret raised his gun arm and shouted through the wind at the approaching figure.

"Hold it right fucking there buddy."

Tifa stood behind Barret ready to assist with a devastating Ultima spell if necessary.

The robed apparition stopped, fingers sat motionless at its side. Lightning forked illuminating a familiar shape to Tifa. She squinted through the rain as the lightning flashed again and finally recognition came to her.

"Barret!" Tifa shouted.

"Hold it! Don't shoot!" She shouted over the deafening howl of the wind.

Barret glanced over his shoulder at Tifa and then back at the figure. Something clicked in his head, partial recognition came to him. In the gloom and the howling wind and rain something shined in the eyes of the man-shape, a soft crimson glow flashed briefly.

Recognition flooded back to the big man, memory became available to his conscious mind and he lowered the gun.

"Vincent?" He asked.

The man walked over slowly, lowering the hood. Black serpents of hair writhed in the wind as he exposed his familiar face. His eyes glowed again softly and then grew dim as he slowly came over to his friends.

"It is I Barret." He said.

"Vincent, you scared us half to death!" Tifa scolded.

She tucked the Ultima materia into her pocket and glanced at Barret, his gaze fixed on the dark shape of Vincent.

"Yeah man, whats the big idea? Shootin' and sculkin' around in the fuckin' rain?" Barret asked. More than a hint of anger in his voice.

"I must apologise for that, I was ambushed by some monsters and had to dispatch them." He said.

Thunder screamed and lightning flared. Rain pelted the three and the wind lashed hard from all directions. The storm was intensifying. The evil world in the mirror was pushing through the event horizon of fiction and into reality.

Rain pelted down from the black maw of the sky so hard that pain began to rage across their bodies. Wind, ethereal and souless tore through them, clawing and rending at their spirits trying to gouge them from their mortal vessels so they could be carried to whatever dark lands the evil blusts were going to.

"We better get inside." Tifa shouted over the maelstrom.

The three ran for the cover of the house, locking the door behind them and closing the curtains in a vain attempt to block out the sights and sounds of the natural bombardment going on outside.

They dried off and found some blankets to wrap themselves up in and then retreated to the comfort of the sitting room. Barret found a large bottle of imported whisky from the Costa Del Sol and three glasses. He set them on the table and sat down next to Tifa on the couch.

Vincent sat in the big armchair and placed his impressive looking handgun on the table. Barret cooed at it and picked it up.

"This your Quicksilver?" He asked.

Vincent nodded.

"With a few of my custom modifications."

Barret held the gun and looked it over for a few moments before returning it to the table.

"Nice. So, Vincent, what you been up to?" He asked.

"I have been researching." He said.

"Researching what?" Tifa asked.

"It has to do with the experiments that were conducted on me and others."

"Others?" Barret asked.

Vincent did not answer the question.

"Is Cloud still here?" He asked.

Tifa and Barret exchanged perplexed glances.

"Why?" Tifa asked.

Vincent shifted forward in his seat, eyes glowed softly as he began to speak.

"I am afraid that I have discovered something and it is of the utmost importance that I speak to Cloud before divulging any more." Tifa and Barret exchanged another glance, worried this time.

"What the hell is goin' on Vincent?" Barret asked in his deep voice.

Vincent sat back in his chair and cautiously inspected a small glass of the whisky. Finally deciding that it was probably not suited to his tastes he set the glass back down on the table and looked at his two companions.

"As I said, I will provide the answers to your questions in time but first I must talk with Cloud, it is imperative I tell him what I have learned."

Tifa and Barret sat quietly for a moment and thought. Vincent obviously had very important news to tell them and Cloud. What was it?

"He is still here." Tifa said quietly.

"Good." Vincent said.

"Can this wait until morning Vincent? We have had a long day." Tifa asked.

Vincent sat back and sighed quietly.

"It can wait. I too have had a long journey and rest would not go unappreciated." Vincent said.

"First thing tomorrow we will meet and discuss this, right?" Barret asked.

Vincent nodded.


Tifa nodded, trying not to look bothered by what she and Barret had heard.

"There isn't a guest room so we are sleeping here. Do you mind if me and Barret use the couch?"

Vincent shook his head.

"No, I will gladly take the armchair." He said.

Barret sat and sipped from the glass of whisky that Vincent had left untouched.

His mind was racing and he was reluctant to wait until the morning, he wanted to know now.

"Is this news bad or somethin'?" He asked.

"We shall discuss it in the morning." Vincent said.

Barret frowned.

"Right." He said, finishing the whisky.

"In the morning."

Sleep came quickly to the three, it had indeed been a long day. Outside, the storm raged and fumed all night long, its' anger at not being able to reach its' sleeping victims reaching deafening new levels. Sleep remained unbroken however and tranquility, or at least the illusion of it was preserved.

Chapter 5: Clouds dream

Sleep had not come so quickly to Cloud. He had had a tough day both mentally and physically. Tifa's revelation had concerned him greatly and it angered him that his state of mind was having so profound an effect on his comrades. It was selfish.

He had placed the glowing Destruct materia into the drawer beside his bed. His want to use it still burned within despite the knowledge that his friends had come to help him. No-one could help him with this but committing the final act in this tragic play infront of those he cared about was something even he could never bring himself to do. The Destruct materia would still be there when they left.

He had tossed and turned for a while until sleep finally claimed him. He rarely dreamed these days but this night something happened to him once his eyes closed.

The dream was empty. Blackness. Nothingness at first then voices. Many voices slowly becoming one, ringing out through the darkness.

Crazed laughter and shouting rang in his mind and he sensed that he was running.

From something? Towards something?

He could feel that the darkness in which he found himself had depth and dimension, like a room or corridor. He was heading towards something. A feeling of something familiar surged through his mind. He ran. Heart pounding, mind racing until he reached wherever it was he was going.

She stood there. A light shining out of the gloom. Her long brown hair fell about her shoulders and tumbled down across her naked form. She was stood with her back to him but he knew who it was. He had longed for this moment when she would come to him.

He called out to her as he placed his hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him. The feel of her skin in his hands, so long had he wanted to see her and touch her once more but something was wrong. She was different, quiet. As she turned the laughter from the darkness beyond flared and echoed in the nothingness. She turned slowly, features blurring and spinning until finally she faced him.

His mind raced and he let out a horrified shout as his hand recoiled, the fingers that had touched her gentle skin were uninjured yet burning.

Her smokey brown hair ran with silver and before his unbelieving eyes changed. A slick of siver hair washed down from her head crowned by two large curling spikes.

Her petite body changed. Ropes of muscle formed and she or rather it, grew.

Bright light flared in her aquamarine eyes engulfing the eyesockets in blinding energy which lasted mere seconds and then cooled off. Where once her loving eyes had been sat emerald green eyes, contracted into slits and concentrated on Cloud.

He collapsed onto the floor, he could feel tears running down his face as he roared and cried out in rage. Another familiar form stood before him now, clutching in his hand a huge sword.

Cloud screamed and shouted, his mind pulsed and surged with hatred.

"SEPHIROTH!! YOU'RE DEAD!!! YOU'RE DEAD!!!" He screamed.

Sephiroth's serpent-like eyes burned with unholy light as he knelt down, his hand wrapping around Cloud's neck as he lifted him off of the ground, suspending him in the air by his throat.

"But how can that be Cloud? Do you think that you could kill a God?" He asked, his face cracking into a smile, teeth shining like daggers in the darkness.

He let go, released his incredible grip and sent Cloud clattering to the floor.

"How can you be here?" He wailed.


Sephiroth's laughter roared through the darkness, he swung the enormous sword, hacking at the gloom and lunging at the ghosts of nothing before returning his knife-eyed stare to Cloud.

"What you killed was not me. What you killed was a mere shadow of a God for with power like mine, how could I ever truly die?"

Cloud raced to his feet.

"We stopped you, you did not achieve the power of Planet."

Sephiroth laughed again. His eyes widened and glowed viciously as he spoke.

"The power of Planet" He sneered, the glow in his eyes fading

"I am already one with the power of Planet."

"BUT I WATCHED YOU DIE!!!" Cloud wailed again.

Sephiroth's eyes again flared with light and he laughed.

"How little you understand now. Soon though, all will become clear."

His body erupted light, a grand and shining sun in the darkness of the dream world. Cloud shielded his eyes as the light grew and grew.

"Soon. Very soon."

As Sephiroth's words roared in the building light, Cloud covered his ears and screamed.

He woke with a start, the scream trailing off into nothing as he woke up. He was dripping in sweat and panting.

His eyes flitted around the room as the familiar surroundings came into sight, the dresser, the window. Finally his mind stopped racing and his heart stopped pounding. He sighed explosively and held his head in his hands.

'Just a dream' He thought.

Morning light poured in through the water splattered window warming Cloud's face and soothing the burning anger in his heart. He felt violated and haunted by the events of his dream.

He lay back down and calmed off for a few moments, waiting for the anger to stop bubbling before slowly rising and locating his dressing gown.

'Just a dream' He reassured himself.

He opened the door and went down the stairs into the kitchen. Choco Billy, his wife, Tifa and Barret were sat around the table drinking coffee and orange juice.

"Morning." They all chirped.

"Morning all." He replied.

"Bad dreams again?" Billy asked.

Cloud nodded, yawned and rubbed sleep from his eyes.

"You dreamed of Sephiroth, didn't you?"

The sudden unexpected voice startled Cloud and he turned to find it's source. In the corner sat the dark figure, his glowing red eyes fixed on the cup in his hand. Cloud squinted at the figure as he verified who it was.

"Vincent?" He asked.

Disregarding the question, he looked up at Cloud.

"You dreamed of Sephiroth didn't you Cloud?"

Cloud fixed his gaze onto Vincent. Nodding, he spoke.

"How did you know that?"

Vincent smiled.

"We have much to discuss. You will not like it." He warned, the smile evaporating from his face.

Billy exchanged a glance with his wife and the pair of them stood up. Neither felt the need for an excuse as to why they were leaving.

"We will leave you all to it." Billy said as he and his wife left the room.

Cloud sat forward in his seat, elbows resting on the table he fixed his gaze on the dark figure.

"OK Vincent, what have we to talk about?"

Chapter 6: Truth

Vincent sat and looked at Cloud, the enormity of what he was about to reveal to his friend shook even his nerve.

Cloud looked at Vincent, his cool blue eyes radiating patience.

Tifa and Barret also sat and waited for Vincent to begin his revelation. Tifa shifted restlessly in her seat. She was bothered by what Vincent had said and she was desperate for him to tell them what was going on, she did not appreciate the suspense whether it be deliberate or uncontrollable.

Finally Vincent sat forward and began to talk.

"As you are all aware, I underwent certain procedures at the hands of the Shinra with the aim of ehnancing my natural abilities. They failed and locked me away to hide the evidence."

He sat back.

"What I have only recently discovered after many months of research is that the experiments I was subjected to were part of something that they codenamed

'Project Gaea Soul'."

Barret, looking lost sat forward.

"Say what?" He asked in a confused voice.

Tifa glared at him.

"Barret, will you let the man finish?" She scolded.

He sat back and grumbled for a moment and then fell silent again. Vincent looked at him and then back at Cloud.

"Project Gaea Soul, in essence is the next logical step after subjecting a human to Mako energy." Vincent continued

"Like the Mako showers that SOLDIER candidates are put throught?" Cloud asked.

Vincent nodded.

"Yes. Gaea Soul is the process by which actual Materia is combined with living human tissue."

Tifa and Barret gasped and exchanged amazed glances. Clouds eyes widened.

"Is that possible?" He asked.

Vincent did not answer.

"The only success that Shinra ever had was with one man, a member of SOLDIER. Sephiroth."

"Oh god...." Tifa said.

Cloud sat in stunned silence. Vincent sat forward.

"During the Wutai-Shinra war, Sephiroth was sent out to test his new abilities.

The results were startling. He could cast magic without using materia, he could manipulate people without having the correct command orb. He had the power of all materia at his fingertips."

"Is that how he could control Cloud?" Barret asked.

"Yes. That and the existence of JENOVA cells in Clouds body made his mind weak to the unbelievable power that Sephiroth could throw at it. The effect of his materia enhancement and the JENOVA cells in Sephiroth's own body gave him unbelievable powers."

Cloud banged his fist off of the table.

"But Sephiroth died in the war. He was killed, Hojo cloned him." Cloud said, anger tinged in his voice.

Vincent sat back and set a mellowing gaze on Cloud, dousing the fires in his friends blue eyes.

"What I will tell you next, I warn you, you will not like. Are you prepared?" He asked.

Cloud surveyed his friend and slowly nodded.

Vincent sat back and began again.

"Hojo was the leader of the Gaea Soul project. Believing that Sephiroth was dead he cloned him using Sephiroth's DNA with the hope of replicating the experiment but it failed. They did not know why. Hojo informed president Shinra and the project was scrapped due to escalating costs and poor results."

Cloud groaned and put his head on the table.

"I don't understand. The Sephiroth that we chased was the clone?"

Vincent sighed.

"The materia lent one final thing to Sephiroth, something so wildly unbelievable that it was never taken into account when research commenced and that was it's ability to regenerate. One further discovery was made before the project was terminated and that was that the character of the 'host' as it was dubbed, can be affected during blending of human and materia. Sephiroth, by the point of his death had accumulated such vast power that it began to change the human part of him."

"Power corrupts." Tifa sighed.

"And absolute power corrupts absolutely." Barret hissed.

Cloud groaned as the implications of what Vincent were saying began to hit him.

"When you say regenerate, what does that mean with the human element added to the equation? I saw his body break into lifestream and absorb into the Planet."

Vincent shook his head.

"You saw a body break into lifestream, not Sephiroth."

Cloud stood up and ran his hands through his hair before turning to face Vincent, confusion and irritation etched into is face.

"God damn it Vincent just tell me in plain speak what the hell is going on."

Vincent frowned.

"Sephiroth is still alive."

Barret and Tifa's eyes widened as they exchanged glances with each other. In unison, they turned to face Cloud. Shock and concern entrenched into their expressions.

Cloud stood, his big blue eyes wide with shock. He slowly turned and sat back into his seat eyes fixed on Vincent.

"I told you that you would not like it." Vincent said, red eyes fixed on Cloud.

Barret groaned and stood up.

"Can we go over this again Vincent?" He asked.

"It's simple Barret, it's like Sephiroth told me in my dream. We killed a shadow of a God." Cloud hissed.

Tifa sighed loudly and sat back in her seat.

"Did he die in the war or not Vincent?"

"Yes he did and then he was reborn." Vincent added.

Barret, beginning to understand what was transpiring chipped in.

"That was the reborn Sephiroth in the Northern Cave, wasn't it? The one inside that big-ass Materia crystal?"

Vincent nodded.

"As a result of the blending with Materia, he can only be reborn as Materia, or more accurately, encased within it."

"Then how come we chased him all over the place?" Barret asked

Cloud folded his arms and put his head into them.

"That was a shadow. By that point, Sephiroth was so powerful that his need for a physical body had vanished. In that crystal, the power of his mind was amplified so greatly that he could project a solid representation of his physical form to any point he desired."

Tifa sighed.

"This is all so confusing."

Barret nodded. Cloud remained still, head bowed into his arms.

"So that angel-thing we killed, was that Sephiroth or just another projection?"

Tifa asked

"That was Sephiroth. The power he absorbed from the Black Materia and the influence of the alien, Jenova, allowed him to leave his Materia casing."

Vincent answered.

"So he is dead?" Barret asked.

"He was killed again yes but the power he gained from touching the Black Materia is beyond imagination. It allowed him to regenerate his consciousness almost instantly."

"That is how he could cast Meteor single-handedly." Tifa said, sadness echoing in her soft voice.


Cloud sat up, eyes narrow and full of rage. He looked at Vincent calmly, rage directed at other sources.

"So when I went into the Lifestream and killed him, that was just another projection?"

Vincent nodded.

Cloud slammed his fist off of the table and swore under his breath.

"So where the hell is he now?" Cloud asked, barely controlled fury burning in his voice.

"He will soon be reborn as Materia, just like he was after his death in the war so he will be in a place abundant with naturally occurring Materia."

Barret frowned.

"Will he not already have been reborn as Materia?" He asked.

Vincent shook his head.

"His conscioussness will have reintegated but it takes time for the body to form from Materia."

Tifa sat forward a shocked expression asserted itself on her face.

"Could he form from the Materia Fountain in Mt Nibel?"

Vincent nodded.

"That is a distinct possibility. He could even reform inside the Crater in which case we would have great difficulty in facing him given the damage caused to the

Crater by Holy. It is impassable."

"Not to Sephiroth." Cloud hissed.

"How do we defeat a non-coporeal lifeform with the power of all materia and the ability to return from the dead as soon as we kill him?" Tifa asked quietly.

No-one answered.

Silence descended on the group. It was indeed dire news that Vincent had brought and it was a lot to take in all at once. All this time they believed that they had saved the world and all this time Sephiroth must have been laughing at their efforts, which, compared to the power he now wielded were truly pathetic.

Cloud bore the worst of the shock.

All this time he had taken small comfort in the fact that Aeris had died to save the world. That her death in some way meant something, it was meaningful but in actuality it meant nothing. Her killer was still alive despite their best efforts. The world was still hanging in the balance, bent to the whim of a derranged demi-god.

Choking back bitter tears of rage and hatred, Cloud spoke.

"OK Vincent, how do we kill the bastard?"

Vincent sat back in his seat and sighed.

"The path to kill Sephiroth lies deeply rooted in spirituality. To destroy him we have to banish his soul. That is the only way to prevent his rebirth and I do not know how to do this."

Cloud slammed his fist into the table, burning tears flowed from his eyes.

"Who does know?" He hissed through clenched teeth.

Vincent sat silently for a few seconds as he thought, collected his thoughts.

Finally he spoke.

"We must confer with Red XIII. He will know."

Cloud lept to his feet.

"Then lets go." He shouted as he left the room.

"We are leaving in one hour." He shouted from some other room.

The remaining members of the group sat in silence for a moment as they thought.

One by one they got up and followed Cloud out of the room.

It seemed as though another quest was on the verge of beginning.