The Road We Choose – Pt. IX
Author: The Magic Rat
Pairings: Numerous. Some even make sense.
Warnings: Kittens, zombies, whiskey.
Word Count: 7,061
Website – Ex Libris: www.winter-wood.net/ex-libris/…
Live Journal: delaese.livejournal.com/profil…
If you are new to the Rabid Tiger story arc, you can find the entire thing either on my website here:
Or the Rabid Tiger Gallery on Deviant Art here:
Just start at ‘Porcupine Love’ and go from there.
Disclaimer: All Final Fantasy Seven characters, places and situations are the property of Square Soft/Square Enix and are used without permission and without intent of plagiarism or profit. Metalocalypse, the members of Dethklok, and lyrics to Dethklok songs belong to Brendon Small, Cartoon Network and Turner Music. Copyright for all stories and original characters such as Badger the Roadie is with the author, and may not be published, copied, distributed or archived without the author's prior written consent.
Summary: Lukis is in trouble, Sephiroth faces defeat in battle, Vincent gets the vapours, and Aeris learns a secret.
Author’s notes: Special chapter! For both Mirien and DethklokBabe, each of whom made special requests. You may blame the Kittens and Cupids on them.
Well folks this is the last chapter of ‘The Road We Choose’, hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned, same Rat Time, same Rat Channel, for our next miniseries!
Lukis had never lied to Darren’s father a day in his life, and he could not think why he had now as he sped along the road leading from Costa del Sol to Shinra Manor. All he knew was he had lied, and lied big, to the only real father figure he had ever known, lied to his boyfriends, lied lied lied lied LIED. He wasn’t pregnant. He didn’t have a nanite to call his own, he’d never been exposed to so much as a whiff of nanites or
mako or any
of the stuff that went into a genetically engineered warrior. All he knew was the nanites had to come from Sephiroth, because those were the only nanites that could create the egg, and the plasma that had the nanites was in Rufus’ office. So – break into the office, get the plasma, drink the plasma… WHICH BOYFRIEND TO HAVE SEX WITH?! It would have to be Pickles; Darren would be too busy worrying himself sick and harassing Dr. Gaywell for information to be any good as a stud for at least a week. Pickles tended to perform better during times of stress. So… Pickles. Good. Okay. Pickles. That worked out fine. Pickles was tiny. Darren was not. A tiny baby would fit better. That was assuming Darren didn’t go alpha-male and pin him to the mattress. That
had been known to happen in the past. Sometimes Darren liked to assert the fact that he was the dominant male in this merrily dysfunctional little trio. Pregnant!Lukis may just bring out the Pack Leader in him.
Lukis reached up one hand to wipe at his eyes as he fought back the tears. “Lukis Sheppherd what the ding-dong buggery-fuck were you thinking?”
He hadn’t been thinking. He’d been scared, he’d been angry, and he just wanted Michael Morgan Senior to get his head out of his ass and think about how much hurt he was causing. Okay, so a three-way relationship with a major rock star wasn’t the brightest move of his life. But it was hardly the first dumb thing he had done and it sure as hell would not be the last. Furthermore he was bound to do things way more stupid than that in his life. Like, say – break into Rufus Shinra’s office to toss back a load of Sephiroth nanites to get pregnant so his father-in-law didn’t find out he’d lied to him. Yeah. That topped “Meet my rock star” by a long shot. Especially if the Turks caught him.
Oh god please don’t let the Turks catch him.
Lukis pulled up before the house and leapt out of the roadster. He ran across the wide stone car-yard to the steps leading to the house, looking like a grey ghost made of mist and cobwebs. It was late, and Shinra Manor was silent, but Lukis had spent enough time here to know that Turks were everywhere. He looked around, but the house was eerily silent. He of course had no idea that most of the Turks were at a reactor behind Midgar. He simply assumed they were elsewhere in the house.
Lukis ran up the stairs to the second floor, the delicate grey silk of his outfit fluttering silently. He ran to the door of Rufus’ main office, slipped silently inside, and closed the door behind himself before going to the cabinet where the bottles of rare and expensive booze was kept. He opened it, and stared inside, dismayed at the sheer quantity of bottles. Lukis hadn’t realized there were so many types of clear liquor in the world. Pickles mostly drank beer or those dumb umbrella drinks. That was the difference between Pickles and Rufus – Pickles was a boozer. Rufus was a connoisseur.
Lukis turned on a small desk lamp, and quickly and carefully went through every single bottle; holding each to the light. Some had faint golden tones, or red, and one was even faintly orange. Then he found what he was looking for – a clear bottle of transparent liquid with tiny flecks of gold floating in it. This had to be it, it just had
Lukis put the other bottles back, feeling scared and sick and frantic. Then he opened the bottle with the flecks of gold in it and sniffed. There was a warm, faintly sweet smell, a little like almonds. Were nanites and plasma supposed to smell like almonds? How much should he drink? Wouldn’t Rufus notice if some was missing? Maybe he could top it up with water…
Lukis picked up a crystal shot glass, filled it with the liquid, and, not wanting to taste this, tossed it back.
The fluid was like a hammer of the gods. It burned everything it touched, setting his throat and guts on fire. Within seconds he was seated on the floor, dazed and a little lost. Was it supposed to be like this? Was this how the nanites affected a person? He felt disengaged from his own body, and seemed to be watching himself from across the room as he rose to his feet and stumbled to the bottle on the desk. He poured himself another glass, carefully topped the bottle up with tap water, replaced it in the cabinet, and made his way to his room. He knew Pickles and Darren would be close behind. He didn’t have a lot of time…
Lukis stumbled into the room he shared with Pickles and Darren, feeling ill and dizzy. He made his way to the bed, sat down on it, and tossed back the second glass. Then everything went black.
The next time Lukis was aware of anything, Darren was holding him up while Pickles poured something into his mouth. Lukis struggled weakly, but was unable to break away. Somewhere in the room he could hear Darren’s father arguing with someone, quietly but intensely. Was that Rufus? Oh boy, he was really in it now, wasn’t he? Then he heard Badger’s voice.
“Lukis! Lukis baby can you hear me?”
Oh he could hear him just fine. He just couldn’t respond to him. He was boneless and far away, someplace between waking and dreaming. Or maybe life or death.
“What’s that on the floor? Is that a glass?” said Darren.
“Smells like almonds,” said someone. Gretchen? Was she still here?
“Let me see that,” said Rufus. There was a brief silence as presumably Rufus sniffed the glass.
“Do you know what it is?” asked Badger.
Rufus swore. And he did not merely swear; he cut loose with a string of obscenities only a man who is well and truly pissed could come up with. Cid Highwind could not have done better. Rufus stalked out of the room, swearing, bitching, and growling in a manner that suggested Lukis had better
live because Rufus was going to kill him. Pickles sighed and poured a few more drips of soup into Lukis.
“Lukis, baby,” said Darren, “you don’t screw up often, but when you do, it’s memorable.” Darren kissed him softly. “I’m proud of you.”
Down the hall, there was the sound of a very large piece of furniture being pulled over, and a scream of pure wrath.
“Whoops,” said Pickles.
“Damn he’s mad,” said Darren. “He’s madder than you were the time you threw the table at me.”
“He WHAT?!” said Michael.
“If I recall,” said Badger, “our little bunny was the cause of that ruckus, too.”
“What’s this about Pickles throwing a table at my son?!”
“I didn’t throw it at
him,” said Pickles, “I just threw it.”
Vincent crept into the room, moving fast and silent, quietly pushing the door closed. It was odd to see him in his black and silver Turk uniform.
“I’d leave him alone for a while if I was you,” said Vincent.
“No shit,” said Badger. “What’s going on?”
“For reasons as of yet unknown, Lukis helped himself to one or two shots of something he found in Rufus’ liquor cabinet, and tried to hide it by topping it up with water, effectively destroying the contents.”
“Okay…” said Darren. “So… we owe Rufus a new bottle. What did Lukis take?”
Vincent drew a steadying breath. “A two hundred and thirty year old whiskey distilled from certain ice-flowers that only bloom once every 27 years and was worth about two and a half million gil.”
Jaws dropped almost audibly.
“WHAT?!” exclaimed Michael.
“So he’s drunk,” said Pickles.
“He’s consumed a near-lethal amount of this particular distillate for his size,” said Vincent. “Lukis doesn’t drink so he has very low tolerance for alcohol, and he frankly could not have picked a more powerful one. I don’t know what he was doing but he just very nearly missed committing a very expensive accidental suicide.”
“What’s that going to do to his baby?” asked Darren.
“It’s not going to do anything to his baby because he’s not pregnant,” said another voice.
Was that Dr. Gaywell? Oh lordie, please let me die, I don’t wanna sober up and face how much of an idiot I’ve been….
“Well duh, he’s a boy,” said Gretchen.
No one responded to her. Dr. Gaywell kept speaking.
“No nanites, no indicators of hormones present in early pregnancy, none of the base chemicals needed to feed the nanites… He’s not pregnant, he never was pregnant, and without a dose of Sephiroth-nanites he never will be.”
“So that’s the reason for all this,” said Badger. “He lies and says he’s pregnant, for what reason we don’t know, he charges back to Shinra Manor, slugs down what he probably thought was the nanites so he wouldn’t get caught out in a lie, and nearly kills himself drinking rare whiskey.”
“Why would he say he was pregnant in the first place?” asked Vincent.
“Who cares why he would say it?!” said Gretchen. “The question I wanna ask is why would you people believe
“Long story,” said Pickles.
“I bet I know,” said Darren quietly. “He said it so Dad would back off with this bullshit about getting rid of Pickles. At least for nine months. At least until the baby was born and we knew who the father was. Except that would just be a new load of shit, wouldn’t it? It would go from ‘Pickles is a drunk, you can’t trust him around Lukis
’ to ‘Pickles is a drunk, you can’t trust him around the baby
.’ So Lukis freaks out, lies his ass off and trashes Mr. Shinra’s two million dollar bottle of booze trying to buy a little time from the stress you have him under with your constant self-righteous bullshit.”
“That’s not fair,” said Michael, his voice quiet but loaded with tension.
“Look, Dad, until you get your shit together, I can’t have you around my family. Mom, Mikey, Ashley and Gretchen are still welcome but I think until you can be trusted to have your behaviour under control then you can’t be here.”
Michael left. The room was very, very quiet for a long moment.
“What do we do with Lukis?” Darren asked.
“My suggestion is put him on the bed and spoon-feed him soup and cold oolong tea,” said Badger. “Seems to work on little red-haired drummers. Lord love a fucking duck, Lukis, never let it be said you don’t know how to cause a scene.”
“So… he’s really not pregnant?” said Sylvia Morgan, rather wistfully.
“Sorry Mrs. Morgan, no grandbabies,” said Dr. Gaywell.
“Will someone please explain to me why people are treating this as if Lukis could ever actually be pregnant?” demanded Gretchen.
“Come on, honey,” said Sylvia. “I’ll explain to you the recent amendments to the “birds and bees” speech. It’s a real lulu.”
Sylvia and Gretchen left. Badger put Lukis on the bed, and Pickles and Darren got him out of his costume and stage paint and under the covers.
“Has he ever done anything like this before?” Badger asked quietly.
“You mean freaked the hell out and done something incredibly stupid?” said Darren. “Oh yeah. He’s like a deer on the highway; you never know how he’ll jump. He gets stressed and he just starts looking for exits, and he’ll go out the nearest one even if it’s ten stories up. Kept him alive as a kid. Not so sure it’s a good thing as an adult.”
“Not when two million dollar bottles of booze are involved.” Badger looked to Vincent. “Is Rufus going to kill us?”
“No,” said Vincent. “He’s far more likely to have
you killed than do it himself.”
“Well that’s reassuring,” grumbled Darren.
The bedroom door opened, and Rufus walked in, dishevelled but reasonably calm.
“You will be happy to know the urge to have Lukis Sheppherd drawn and quartered is passed.”
“I’ll replace the whiskey,” said Pickles softly. “Get someone to find another bottle and I’ll buy it.”
“Thank you. Now why did he drink it in the first place?”
“We think he believed it was Sephiroth-nanites,” said Badger.
“Lovely,” said Rufus. “Look… Darren… your personal life is your own, and I have no interest in interfering with that, but as of right now my ‘enough’ button has just been hit in a very spectacular manner. I have been playing host to a rather large number of people for quite a long time and I would like my house back.”
“Can’t we just stay until Lukis is okay?” asked Darren.
“Of course you can,” said Rufus softly. “I’m fond of him too. But he has just caused me to have my very first tantrum since I was five.”
“Yeah he’ll have that effect on people, all right,” said Pickles.
“Just look after him,” said Rufus softly. “Now if you will excuse me, I have an early-morning play-date with my niece that I simply cannot miss.”
Rufus left, Vincent accompanying him. Badger, Pickles, and Darren looked down at Lukis.
“So small, so sweet, so cute…” said Badger wistfully.
“Yeah,” said Darren. “So - which one of us gets to smother him with a pillow?”
“I’ll get the straws,” said Pickles.
The sun was just creeping over the edge of the hill, and Aeris felt as if she could sleep for a month. She rubbed at one eye with the heel of her grimy hand, then yawned widely before looking to Sephiroth. He was lying on his back in the deep grass, eyes closed, long hair fluttering softly in the light morning breeze like silk thread. She smiled faintly as she noticed how very long his eyelashes were. A little mascara and he would have lashes like a Hollywood actress.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Weak,” he whispered.
“I’ll get you some water.”
She rose to her feet and looked around, knowing that, if there was a reactor here, there had to be a stream too. The trick was to get the water before it reached the reactor, not after. She filled a water skin with clear, cold water, and brought it back to Sephiroth.
“The ghouls have all gone,” she said as she helped him to drink. “I want to have a look in that reactor.”
He shook his head. “No. Not a good idea…”
“I promise to stay away from the hanging chains. And I promise to not go too far. I just want to look around and see if I can find any trace of Tseng and the others. I promise I will not go far and I won’t do anything dumb.”
Then she was gone, not wishing to argue the point when her husband was missing. Sephiroth lay on his back, too weak to get up. He was effectively trapped where he was until his blood pressure was a reasonable level once more and his injuries were a little better healed.
He felt something tumble against him, colliding with his arm. Then four more somethings collided the same way. He managed to turn his head, and saw five sets of tiny eyes looking up at him mournfully. Kittens? What the hell were five kittens doing out here? These were not wild animals, these were clearly domestic cats. They were furry and fluffy, with pale grey fur and tiny snub noses. There were also the five saddest little kitties he had ever seen, and plainly were in need of care. He glanced up the low incline from whence they had come, but saw no indications there. He looked back down at the kittens.
“I have no idea what you are planning, but if you want my help then you won’t do it.”
Two of the kittens had discovered his long white hair and were pouncing on it, swatting at it as it blew in the morning breeze. A third kitten had rolled itself into the silver strands and was biting them as it held them between its paws, kicking them with its back feet. A fourth kitten joined it, and they began rough-housing in Sephiroth’s heavy hair. He stared at the sky.
“This cannot possibly get any more undignified.”
The fifth kitten marched up to his face to stare down at him, blue eyes in that tiny innocent face gazing at him with an intensity only a baby can manage. For a long moment, Sephiroth and the kitten studied each other. Then, without further ado, it sat on his face. Sephiroth sighed heavily and folded his hands across his flat stomach, too weak to move the wee beastie.
“I hate being a hero,” he mumbled around a faceful of kitten.
Meanwhile, as Rufus drove towards Cloud’s yellow villa, and Aeris crept towards the reactor, Vincent Valentine was coming home from a very long and hard night of work. He had not enjoyed being the only Turk on duty anywhere in the house, and the whole incident with Lukis left him frazzled. He should have been available to prevent Lukis from getting into the office, but between heating bottles for Ruskin, rounding up stray toddlers, and regular patrols… well he seemed to have overlooked one itty-bitty little disaster with big brown eyes by the name of Lukis Sheppherd.
He entered his kitchen, and heard Benji and Aiden shriek in glee at his return. Rhiannon was just shrieking in general. Serafina came into the kitchen to give Vincent a sour look as Benji leapt into Vincent’s arms.
“All night you stay out? You were off duty five hours ago. What is so important you cannot call you mama, tell her you be late? You know I worry.”
“Mom I’m nearly seventy.”
“And I am nearly ninety, does not mean you can misbehave. I bring you into this world, I take you out!”
She showed him a fist scarcely the size of an orange. Needless to say he was not intimidated.
“I had to do some overtime. The other Turks were busy.”
She rolled her eyes and walked over to the stove to tend to the pancakes she was cooking. “Busy! All the time men say they are busy. Such important things they get up to, too!”
“Daddy was bad,” Benji informed Vincent.
“And Teddy helped,” said Aiden.
Oh man, this could not be good.
“What did they do?” asked Vincent.
“Do not blame Teddy!” said Serafina. She always stood up for Teddy. Probably because he looked so much like Vincent. “All he did was draw the picture. He no tell Cid where to put it.”
Oh this was sounding less and less good all the time…
Vincent set Benji down and left the kitchen, heading up the stairs to the second floor, walking down the carpeted hall to the room he shared with Cid. He opened the door and peered inside. Cid was still asleep, which mean he had been out drinking the previous night while Vincent had been chasing toddlers. Dammit, just once Vincent would like to go out and get loaded off his ass while Cid chased toddlers.
Vincent crept into the bedroom and over to the bed, sitting down on it, and looked at Cid. He was happily passed out cold, stinking of beer and cigarettes, his goggles still on his head. Vincent gently removed them, lowering his head to kiss Cid’s shoulder. Damn… how could he still be this sexy after all this time?
“I love you, Cid,” he said softly to the heavily unconscious man. “Now let’s find out what you did that I’m going to have to kill you for.”
Vincent slowly and carefully drew the covers back. Cid could go from dead asleep to on his feet and armed in a matter of seconds if something spooked him, and accidentally waking him out of a nightmare was not high on Vincent’s list of Fun Things to Do. He lowered the blankets, past the wide shoulders, following the curve of a broad, strong back, down to…
Was that a bandage on his butt? Why the hell would Cid have a bandage on his butt? Oh man, did he really want to know…?
Very, very carefully, Vincent picked the large bandage off, and stared at what he saw before him. It was a tattoo. It was a very nicely drawn, well-balanced and beautifully executed tattoo of himself, done in a very cute and cartoony, bordering on chibi-style manner. It took a moment for him to realize exactly what he was looking at, then groaned as he figured out he was Cupid. He was fluttering around with little adorable Chaos wings extended, holding a little adorable bow that looked a great deal like a crossbow version of Cerberus, in his leathers and cape and looking mindlessly adorable, surrounded by candy-pink clouds and little hearts.
Vincent reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose with one grey silk-gloved hand, wincing.
“I left the casket. That was the first mistake. Leaving the casket, definitely. I wonder if Tifa still has it? Maybe it’s not too late to go back. I’m reasonably certain this is something for which I must atone…”
Vincent replaced the bandage, covered Cid back over, and left the room. He encountered Teddy in the hall, who was wearing only a pair of blue flannel pyjama bottoms with little clouds on them.
“Teddy, about Cid’s new tattoo…”
“Dude, don’t blame me, he said he wanted something that shows you as he sees you.”
Vincent blinked. “Cid sees me as some sort of cheesily cute undead Cupid?”
“Well he was
“Thanks a lot, Teddy.”
“Hey, he sees you as something adorable that brings love and joy. What’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing I suppose. I still can’t believe you drew that thing though.”
Teddy shrugged. “I just drew it, he’s the one that asked for it to look the way it does.”
“Who did the actual tattooing?”
“David did,” said Teddy. “It’s kind of his fall-back job if he ever has to leave the WRO. Why? You want one too?”
Vincent thought about that. Did he want a tattoo? Lots of people had them. It was his birthday in a few days, he could use that as an excuse.
“Can you tattoo over scar tissue?”
“You can,” said Teddy, “but it will hurt.”
Oh gee, pain. Yeah he’d never felt that
before. Vincent raised an eyebrow and thought for a moment, then smiled faintly.
“Yeah. I think I do want a tattoo.”
“Cool!” said Teddy. “I’ll draw yours right after David finishes tattooing your mom.”
Vincent’s jaw dropped, and his red eyes became enormous. “MY MOM?! DAVID IS TATTOOING MY MOM?!”
“Dude, it’s just a tattoo. It’s not like that time she dragged Skwisgaar into the garden shed for an hour.”
“Whoops, gotta go.” Teddy beat a hasty retreat to the end of the hall as Vincent’s brain did the blue screen of death.
“MY MOM IS GETTING A TATTOO AND HAVING SEX WITH ROCK STARS?! MY MOM
Serafina’s voice rose from the lower level of the house. “How you think I meet you papa? Sitting home waiting for some prince to come rescue me?!”
“I’m going to faint!” said Vincent, his eyes enormous. “I truly do believe I am going to faint. Yes. I’m fainting. I’m doing it now.”
Teddy watched Vincent drop like a puppet whose strings have been cut, lying in a heap of black and silver. Downstairs, Serafina served Rhiannon her waffles.
“No sense of humour, the kid never had one.”
Rhiannon just smiled and stuffed waffles into her mouth as Serafina bent to kiss her forehead.
Aeris had found something. She wasn’t sure exactly what, but something
. It seemed to be a ruin, buried partly under the reactor. She followed a rough, rocky path down a low incline to it, and stepped closer. It felt very very old, and was made out of some sort of white stone, now covered in dust and lichen. There were scars on the stone that indicated a heavy wooden door had once stood there, and a mark could still be seen faintly on the stone; an emblem of a serpent.
She slipped into what turned out to be a very small room, housing a second even smaller room, with what appeared to be a well in the floor. She knelt beside it, hearing the dirt crunch beneath her knees as she reached a hand out to touch the well… and screamed as she felt herself sucked into it. She kept screaming as she was yanked at speeds that were only just bearable to the human body, and suddenly found herself on her butt in the middle of a chamber. Yuffie began leaping and whooping.
“Told ya she’d fall into it too!”
Loz began to cry as Yazoo tried to comfort him.
“Don’t cry, Loz.”
“I don’t wanna be stuck here! It sucks!”
As Loz snuffled, Aeris realized grumpily that she’d been the subject of a wager as Yuffie, Elena and Rude exchanged cash. Tseng helped her to her feet.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she said, hugging him tightly. “But now I’m trapped too! And Sephiroth is alone!”
“How is Sephiroth?” asked Veld.
“Weak,” she said. “Very weak. But I got the chain off so he’s healing.”
“You got the chain off?” said Tseng. “How?”
“I noticed it went after things that moved,” she said nervously. “So I wiggled a branch near it and it went after the branch, and then I threw the branch back into the reactor.”
Tseng smiled at her. “Very well done,” he said softly.
“Well I couldn’t let him die,” she said quietly. “But now I have the same problem you all do. We’re stuck. We are we, anyway?”
“Mysidia,” said Tseng. “Or rather, what used to be the kingdom of Mysidia. We have had the distinction of being the first people to use the Serpent Road that led from the kingdom of Baron to Mysidia in several hundred years.”
“But the Serpent Road went both ways!” said Aeris. “There has to be…”
She stopped talking as she saw a form before her. She didn’t ask if anyone else could see it; she knew they couldn’t. She’d seen enough dead spirits to know a ghost when she saw one. Tseng stepped back, motioning for the other Turks to do so as well, giving her room to address the spirit. Aeris watched the ghost, cocking her head.
“Zack?” she said, confused. “Zack what are you doing here? And why… are you…?”
“Zack?” exclaimed Yuffie, distressed.
They all knew how delicate Zack was; it was not inconceivable that he had died. But as Tseng silenced Yuffie, Aeris stared at the apparition before her. It was Zack, there was no one else it could be. But he was younger, and wearing his uniform. That made no sense, if Zack had just died how could he be at least a dozen years younger and dressed in his uniform?
“Zack what are you doing here?” she asked.
He motioned for her to follow him, and she did, walking slowly after his translucent form. He led her to the back of the room, and around a fallen pillar too close to the wall for anyone to see what was around it. She had to squeeze and wiggle to get behind it, but once she had, she felt the same rush of speed as she was suddenly thrown into yet a third room.
“Oh great,” she said, coughing as she picked herself up. “Where am I now?”
She got to her feet, and looked around, then froze, her eyes becoming enormous as she brought her hands up to her mouth to stifle her scream. She was in a chamber; a ruined laboratory, standing amidst rows and rows of bodies. She recognized them as the ghouls she had seen the night before, which meant she was back at the reactor.
She looked around the dark and dirty room, hearing her boots crunch on the debris on the floor as she moved slowly through the chamber, finding a door and walking through it. She was in a Shinra Lab, she knew she was. They were almost cookie-cutter in design, and she had been in one before. As creepy as it was, she was glad to see it dark, and dead, and broken. That meant no one was here…
Or were they?
She saw Zack again, standing ahead of her. She hurried towards his specter, seeing it walk into a room at the left side of the corridor. She ran into the room, and this time she did scream as she saw what lay there. Bodies, four bodies, on slabs, frozen in time and silent as they had been for years. She found she was crying, and her hands shook as she held them to her mouth, staring at the corpses, recognizing each. She noticed movement, and looked, seeing Zack standing once more before her, tipping his head in that manner she knew so well.
“Why are you showing me this?” she asked.
He didn’t say anything, simply pointing to the slabs. Slowly she walked forward to look at the bodies, staring down at them in disbelief. The first was Sephiroth, perfectly preserved, his leather coat slashed in two places where Zack and Cloud had cut him after he lost his mind. He had fallen into the Lifestream, and there were still clots of gelled mako in his hair. Beside him lay Angeal, and next to him, Genesis. Finally, there was Zack, shot into a near-unrecognizable pile of meat. All four, dead so long…
Aeris looked at Zack. “I don’t understand…”
Zack indicated a row of dusty notebooks on a broken and rusting lab table. She walked over to them and picked one up, reading what she found.
“It is as I feared – they used my experiments on humans. Worse – on infants and the unborn. What sickness drives these men? What need for power? I wished only to understand the secrets of life, not torment and distort it. In the time since I was rescued from my own prison, I have learned much of the tragedy that surrounds the death of many who were in SOLDIER, and of these four in particular. It is not too late. I can breathe life back into them, restore them, give them their memories back – all save one memory. That they were dead.
These men were never given a chance in life, and Rufus has volunteered to fund the research. Such a strong young man, it saddens me to see him struggle with his father’s sins. If all goes well, then tonight Sephir…
The page was stained with something that looked like coffee. She looked up at Zack, who was smiling at her in that typical “Zack” way of his.
“So you’re dead,” she said softly. “You’ve been dead all along. I wasn’t mistaken when I thought I saw you in Cloud, helping him, all that time ago in Midgar.”
He grinned and shook his head. She closed the notebook and slapped it sharply down onto the table.
“Zack Fair you are a five star pain in my bottom. Now why show me all this? There’s no need to tell anyone about it, is there? The man who wrote this notebook and brought you back, he didn’t want you to know you had died. He wanted you to live and be happy.”
Zack struggled to speak. With some spirits, it was not easy to communicate, and she waited patiently for him to get the words out.
“Take the notebooks and hide them, then lock this door. The key is with the notebooks. Burn the reactor. The secrets in here can’t ever be found.”
“Shouldn’t I burn the notebooks too?” she asked.
“No. Give them to Professor Ryu. He can use them to save my living self. He can use them to help Reno, and all of us. He gave us our second chance. But some don’t deserve one…”
He faded. He almost disappeared, but he seemed to have one last thing to say. He pointed to Sephiroth’s body. “In the inside pocket…”
“Oh, Zack, ICK! I mean no offense but… ICK!”
She looked at the body on the table, grimacing. “Eyew.”
Cautiously, she approached it, gingerly drawing the heavy leather coat open and reaching into the small pocket she found. There was a pendant inside the pocket, an odd little thing that showed a stone resting on the ground, surrounded by grass, with a bird overhead. Between the two was an outline of a person, whether male or female it was hard to tell. The human figure was the only thing not made of plain silver. Instead it bore some sort of enamel coating of black. She examined it, then looked up at Zack.
“Is this what you meant?”
He nodded, and pointed to Genesis.
She looked in the frock coat, and found another pendant matching the first. This time it was the bird that was coloured, and it was a bright red. She searched Angeal without Zack even asking, and found a third. This time the rock was coloured, and it was white.
“Well I don’t know what these mean, but I suspect Angeal, Genesis and Sephiroth will. All right, is there anything else
disgusting you would like me to do to your dead husband and his dead friends?”
“No. Just give the notebooks to Ryu, and burn the reactor. Ask Baby. He’ll understand.”
“Zack I can’t go out there and tell him your ghost asked me to burn the reactor, he’ll have a fit.”
“Then tell him someone is trying to bring it back to life. He’ll do it then.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
He faded away, and she gathered up the notebooks, moving hurriedly, not wanting to stay in this place one moment longer than she had to. She slipped the pendants into a pocket, picked up the key and left the room, turning to lock the door. She fitted the key into the lock, turned it, and then froze as she heard a voice from beyond the grave behind her; one she remembered much less fondly than Zack’s.
“Well well, it seems both the Ancient as well as the Nightmare have been returned to us…”
She turned sharply, and saw four faces she had hoped to never see again, and a fifth she did not know. Standing before her, resplendent in his red suit, fat at ever, was President Shinra. Beside him, also fat as ever, was Palmer. Slightly behind them were Heidegger and Scarlet, grinning, rotting, undead and hideous, their bodies torn and broken from Sephiroth’s wrath. Behind them, gazing at her with a coldness that made all the memories she had of being in the lab flood back, was a tall man with glasses, a long untidy blonde ponytail that seemed to be a trait of Shinra scientists, and dead blue eyes. She didn’t know him, and she didn’t want to. Then someone grabbed her arms, and she screamed.
“Strife are you throwing up again?”
Cloud could hear Rufus’ voice coming through the speaker system mounted onto the powerful shoulders of Rufus’ animatronic mount, Charlene. She was a massive creature, half Arabian, half panther, with gigantic black wings that could fly a man anyplace he needed to be, even across continents. That is, if said man did not get air sick.
“How on all Gaia did you ever make it into SOLDIER?” Rufus demanded.
“I didn’t, actually,” said Cloud, resting one hand on Charlene’s powerful neck to steady himself as he threw up for the third time. “I was an MP. I hadn’t made it past the entry exams. Then I tried out for the Turks but I failed the height requirement.”
Cloud heard Rufus physically hit the floor with laughter, and grinned despite himself as he heaved again. Crap. Motion sickness, air sickness, no wonder he never made it anywhere in the military.
“Quit laughing!” said Cloud.
Rufus couldn’t. At least, not for a long time. At last he managed to get himself together, still giggling and hiccupping. Cloud heard Kin’s little voice over the speaker.
“Wha’ so funny?”
“Your Daddy is short,” said Rufus.
Kin made a ‘tsk!’ sound that she could only have learned from Yuffie, then said “I know dat
Rufus was gone again, crying with laughter. Cloud just rolled his eyes and got onto Charlene’s back, taking hold of the reins.
“Come on, Charlene,” he said quietly.
She rose smoothly into the air, huge black wings beating. Barely four flaps into the ride, Cloud knew in just a short while he was going to be losing his lunch again.
He arrived not long after sun up. The day was warm, the sky was clear, and Sephiroth was lying on his back in the grass with kittens in his hair and on his face. Yup. Just another normal day on Gaia. Cloud dismounted rather shakily and staggered over to Sephiroth, sitting down heavily beside him on the grass.
“Cloud Strife reporting for duty,” he said, saluting. “Anything I can help you with, sir?”
“No…” said Sephiroth. “I was just musing on the fact that, until roughly an hour ago, I had no idea kittens farted.”
Cloud picked up a kitten and looked at it. Small, fluffy, silvery-grey… yeah it was a kitten all right.
“Where did they come from?”
“No idea, but I would like you to rescue me from them.”
“Do I get a medal?”
“You get a respite from me showing that tape of you and Zack singing ‘Barbie Girl’.”
“Right,” said Cloud, “kitten defensive measures it is.”
“Are you the rescue squad?” Sephiroth asked as Cloud liberated him from the kittens.
“Yeah,” said Cloud. “What happened?”
Sephiroth briefed him on what had been going on as Cloud tucked kittens into a compartment in Charlene’s belly that was supposed to hold food and wine for picnics, as well as small parcels. Currently it was holding kittens, who were now feasting on two tins of pâté de Foie Gras
. Cloud closed the bug screen rather than the sliding hatch to allow the kittens some ventilation, leaving Charlene with see-though sides displaying some rather interesting stomach contents.
“You should keep them,” said Cloud.
“Why would I want five kittens?” asked Sephiroth wearily.
Cloud grinned. “They’re Persians.”
“Oh fuck off. Just find the Turks and Aeris so we can all get out of here.”
“Are you all right?”
“No, I damn near bled to death, I’m weak, I’m starving, I’m pissed off, and I am now one of the few people on this planet subjected to kitten-sphincters and their emissions at close range.”
“I’ll see if there is anything stored in Charlene other than…”
The shot felled Cloud, and sent Charlene to the sky, following her programming that told her if she had cargo and was threatened, she should get it to safety. So five kittens were winging their way to Shinra Manor, as Cloud lay on the ground, blood soaking his blonde hair. Sephiroth struggled to get up, but was exhausted within moments. He collapsed, too weak to do anything to save himself; a feeling he did not care for at all. He mustered his strength, and tried to rise once more to defend himself as well as Cloud, but was unable. He watched, helpless, as President Shinra walked up to him, accompanied by a tall blonde man with dead blue eyes. The blonde man was holding a strangely designed pistol, with a long barrel. He pointed it at Cloud and fired once more, then looked to the President.
“What should I do with Sephiroth?”
“Cripple him,” said the President. “We don’t want him getting up until we have him in a position to deal with him. Get him and the Ancient into the ship, and then we will go north to the crater. Oh, and remember to stop off at Costa del Sol. I want to pick up my grandson. Since his father was such a spectacular disappointment, perhaps Ruskin will be an improvement.”