Cruel Chapter 2

Saviors and Avengers

By Firey Femme

Love, the most hated of all plagues.

Thoughts echoed throughout Cloud's mind as he aimlessly wandered the The sky gleamed with stars; all those glistening stars, burning with their radiant torches, lighting up the sky. Their purpose was so clear, their existence so simplistic it was spellbinding. Nothing so simply beautiful existed in the world which humanity called home. That was, all except her. Her. Thoughts of "her" called to him throughout his mind.

He always referred to the one he was bound to by the heart, by love, in this way. His heart called out for someone to fill the void that was in it - the void that had always been filled by Sephiroth, and his hatred of the Shinra. His confusing past; what had always haunted him. He remembered that fateful day in Nibelheim. Shrieks of metal burning, the shrill screams of dying mothers and their children. He was only a teenager when he had seen his hometown burnt to the ground. What was really burning back then? What did he really have back then? All those people he "grew up with" despised him. They had blamed things on him that he couldn't control.

He had been so different...

Sephiroth babbled on about the Ancients, Jenova, the insanity that had made him what he was today. Dead. Sephiroth was dead, along with Cloud's reason for vengeance.

Cloud had a hard time remembering what exactly had happened that day in Nibelheim after the first time he left Midgar with Aeris, Tifa, Nanaki and Barret and had tried to explain his memory to them. When they had arrived in Kalm, they wanted an explanation about his link to Sephiroth, and he lied. Things were clearer now, but along with that realization of what he really was and how things really were, came a horrible memory and a clearer image of other things that had plagued him in life.

"Cloouuuddd..." his mother called at the back of his mind. He hadn't even said goodbye.

He had run out of that mansion, that place that held so many traumas. The Shinra mansion was one of the most horrible places on the Planet. Lucrecia's soul had died there, Vincent had been shot and mutilated to a merciless sleep for tedious, long years, Hojo himself had resided there, Cloud and Zack had been experimented on, Lost Number had dwelled there, and that's where Sephiroth and found his so-called destiny with Jenova and the Promised Land. Such a beautiful place housed so many horrors. It was reminiscent of Midgar. A wonder to behold but a terror to live in. It all came back to that day... he had run away from one horrific event to another, into the burning town... He heard his mother screaming, dying with the flames. He remembered the wail of innocent children clutching their mothers who knew they could not escape. He had heard one thing that day, one thing out of all the wails. Lullabies.

Sweet melodies of young mothers trying to lull their dying children to sleep before the flames licked at their tender skin.

All the death, it was everywhere he turned. Was that final "solution" to everything? Sephiroth killed a part of his soul, his family and his future. He had done away with Sephiroth. He had sought revenge and gotten it, but was he happy yet? The rhetorical question echoed throughout his mind.

He stopped walking, the rain pouring by then. He had to come to grips with his raging mind. It was as if there was three of him. One, in love. The other, always a vengeful mercenary striving to not be weak. The third, was the cold side he tried to avoid, the side that had no regard for human life. Why couldn't they merge, and just let him be him? Cloud Strife. Any name that anyone cared to call him, any memory he had ever existed in, he was still him. He had to find his true persona and live within it.

He was ripped back to reality when he heard a terrible riot coming from where the old Shinra elevator used to be.

"Heeelp.." wailed a breaking voice.

Cloud looked around vigorously for the source. He ran down the street, the Ultima Weapon strapped to his back, thudding against him as he went. The clear edge of the powerful sword reflected the strangest lights that only the cosmos could emit. Cloud came upon what he had heard; the street lights of the night reflecting in his glacier like blue eyes. His face wet with droplets of water, running down through his sunkissed hair. His boots thudded on the stone road, and his breathing grew rapid as he braced himself for any oncoming battles. He could smell the mild scent of the rain cleansing the dirt covered city. He gazed into the darkness around him, circling, he watched for any sudden movement. Suddenly, a figure issued itself from the darkness. A man stared at him, wild eyed, in apparent disorientation. He looked at Cloud, not even a flickering recognizance passing through his eyes of another human being present. Cloud strained his clear eyes to look closer.

He mumbled to himself as if he had seen a poltergeist. His bright blue eyes bulged from his head, registering no feeling whatsoever. He started around Cloud, not even noticing his presence there. He mumbled uncontrollably.

"No, noo, hey, c'mon...I know...yyeeah...I'll, I'll get him...yeahhh..I, I, I willl...I pppromise..," he babbled, not stopping for a breath of air.

Having a solitary conversation with himself, he ignored everything around him. Cloud wondered what was wrong with him. The man's situation reminded him of when he had mako poisoning. Mako poisoning? No, that was done with. He had to stop living in the past. He started off. The babbling man had subsided to sit down on a step, quietly muttering to himself. Cloud began to walk down the street, back to his temporary residence. He continued walking quietly as if he didn't want to make a dent in the world, the only sound coming from a light squelch or thud from his heavy trodden boots. He was just about ready to return to his prior thoughts when a question struck his mind.

What was that cry for help? Oh, of course. It must have been the mutterings of that strange man. Cloud almost laughed at his hopeless show of heroic bravery. Yeah, right.

Going to the cry and not recoiling did make him feel better about himself somehow though. At least he was not weak enough to ignore a desperate plea for assistance, even if it was from a lunatic.

His head hit the ground hard. The muttering man on top of him had smacked him down. The lunatic glared at him, looking down into Cloud's startled face. His eyes where bulging even more than before, ridden with red veins of insomnia.

"It's you, you,," he rambled in a fit of insanity. Cloud pushed him off and stood up, drawing his weapon. He brandished it in front of him, letting the materia orbs catch the light before proceeding to warn the raving man, not that he thought it would do much good.

"I'll have to subdue you if you don't stop."

"Hahahahaha...haha...I'll get 'im for ya...I wi..will....yeahh.." Just as the man was getting ready to rush at Cloud again, he looked deeply into his materia.

"Confu," he whispered in his head.

Hitting himself in the face, the man cried out in a kind of weird laughing pain. Faltering, trying to regain any kind of dwindling thought process he had in the first place, the man attempted to focus on Cloud again.

"Stop," Cloud looked calmly into his mastered Time materia and concentrated once more.

The lunatic was frozen in place, unmoving.

Cloud didn't know how long the spell would last, so he picked up the man, threw him over his shoulder and started walking to a part of the city where he could put the man down and leave him on a step. At least he could do it near a shelter. He contemplated this however. He felt empathy for this man, for he reminded Cloud of himself at one time.

"That could've been you, Strife," a voice in his heart told him, "you could've been the one stark raving mad, muttering about vengeance. This very man could have walked right past you, sane as could be, and you would've been the lunatic."

Cloud stopped, abruptly turning and headed towards his apartment. As he walked, a few wet strings of electric red hair fairly glowed out of the darkness of the night as they fell out of the black jacket which was slung with the rambling man over Cloud's shoulder.


Cloud stood in the dark doorway after kicking open the door. Fumbling for the light, the man over his broad shoulder still hadn't moved. As he finally found the switch, light flooded into the formerly pitch black room. Cloud tossed his keys onto the table next to his door; they hit making a loud clinking noise that disturbed the silence considerably. The man stirred. Cloud realized the spell was going to wear off very soon, and if he didn't do something the man would turn into a lunatic with his maniacal outbursts again.

He set him down on the couch gently so he wouldn't come to. "Well, I guess I'll call you Fire until I know your name," Cloud proclaimed absentmindedly to the frozen body.

He plodded out of the room with his heavy wet boots and into the bathroom. Searching the cupboard for some kind of sedatives to calm the man for the night, he caught a glance of himself in the mirror.

"How could she love me?" he thought of himself spitefully as he turned to face his wet reflection.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. He wondered what had persuaded him to bring this vagrant home.

"Hah. Home?"

This cold dingy place was not what he would call a home.

Cloud wrenched himself away from his dreary thoughts as he returned to the other room and the task at hand. As he walked, he rationed about how to keep the man under control until he could take him to a doctor.

Upon entering the living room, he glanced at where he had laid the man. There was nothing to look at however, because the stranger's presence on the couch was absent. Cloud stood, fully alert now, at the front of the hallway. His eyes dodged carefully around the empty room. He heard someone breathing behind him as the lunatic got ready to bolt to the door and straight into Cloud. As he charged, Cloud easily sidestepped the man in an agile calm action. Swiftly drawing his sword once again, he looked deeply into his crystal orbs.

"Mini," he whispered hastily and concentrated in his mind on his Transform materia.

The man shrunk drastically in size, and any attempt made to hurt himself or Cloud was wasted energy.

"Stop," Cloud used his Time again to keep the raving lunatic still. In the last exercise of his Time materia, the spell had lasted a very long time. This signified that this man was considerably weakened to have magic last so long.

Cloud took a moment to regain his composure as he looked down at a miniature version of his former assailant. He finally cast "Ensuna" and "Stop" directly after again before the normal sized dazed man could come to his senses, if he was the recipient to any in the first place.

Cloud reconsidered his former stance and decided a doctor could not wait until morning. This man needed help. From the looks of his clothes and well-kept appearance, it was obvious this stranger was not a common tramp. Besides his rumpled and extremely wet suit, he looked somewhat normal. Cloud turned away and heaved himself down onto a chair.

His thoughts soon resumed to where they had been unexpectedly derailed. They turned to "her" once again.

"Did she even love him at all?" That question mulched Cloud's mind, not to mention his heart, to a grinded pulp.

"Aeris, where are you when I need your wise guidance?"

"And where are you when Tifa requires your presence Strife?" his heart beat guiltily in his chest. Cloud had gone off to Junon shortly after Sephiroth's defeat, telling Tifa he needed to find himself so he could be a whole man. He still hadn't admitted his love for her however... What if she never forgave him? Worse yet, what if she forgot him? Tifa had begged him not to go at first, but he had to find his true identity so he could stop living in Hojo's lies. He couldn't coexist with love and be peaceful unless he was whole. Tifa had understood, and she had seen him off with a hopeful smile. It was obviously hard for her to accept, but she knew he needed time.

He had cut himself off from humanity on purpose in order to stop hurting his friends, what had become his family. Actually, he wondered if his very loneliness was what had caused him to bring this strange man home.

The whole team had been split up for most of the last year. They knew how to lead a normal life off the road. Most of them had returned to their former lives and friends if they ever had any. Yet Cloud was different. He had no one to return to.

The only individual that no one had seen was Vincent Valentine, ever since the day of Sephiroth's death. He had simply left to visit Lucrecia's Cave and no one had come in contact with him since. He was always so dark and silent...writhing in his horrible nightmares and personal agonies. Cloud wouldn't have been surprised if he had simply desired to cease existing, he could disappear into the face of oblivion without really going anywhere. At least oblivious to human nature, but no one was immune to that.

Hell, Cloud himself had done it. His friends often passed through his mind. In actuality, it was on a daily basis. He missed Cid's ranting curses, and Barret's mumbling rage of the Shinra; Red's constant calm observations which pissed everyone off. Yuffie sitting in the hull of the Highwind, irking her vital organs out...well, no, maybe he didn't miss that part so much...

He laughed to himself. His thoughts soon returned to "her" however, his mild humor quickly subsiding, and he thought of Tifa. Her long silky hair hanging down her back, the way her smile could light up the worst of any day.

He sighed. She was absolutely the height of beauty, externally as well as in the soul. He wanted so much to be with her always, but he had to sort his own twisted life out before he could find that manifested happiness.

He stood up slowly, putting his head between his hands, and dejectedly stared at the cold bare floor. He was alone.


Tifa Lockheart stood, looking out into the warm sunshine. The evening in Costa del Sol was beautiful, clear and bright. She gazed out toward the deep blue ocean, the waves crashing in a frenzy on shore. The lulling sound was so soothing though...yet glancing at that familiar blue color made her cringe. The air was sweetened by the scent of the ocean, letting all its life come to rest in her lungs as she took a deep breath of the gusty air. Tifa stood out on the deck of her bar, looking over the huge expand of water. The sea was calm today, and little white fishing boats could be seen, dotting the horizon. It was so peaceful, a wonderful break for a warrior such as herself. No blood stained the sand, no soldiers plagued her to destroy a sector of her town; everything was at bliss.

She despised it all.

What a cruel joke life had played on her.

Cloud had left her to go across this great expansion of life, to journey across the water to Junon. The point? To be away from her and anything he knew.

She always thought she loved him, and he loved her. In a way, she had always believed they were united. That day when she had gone into Cloud's sub-conscience, that was the day she knew she had a place in his mind.

But what about his heart? She wondered why Aeris hadn't appeared in that twisted array of memories.

Memories... that's all she was to him. A collection of memories that meant nothing now; only something in the past. If Aeris wasn't in his mind along with his memories, she must be somewhere else. Though she had died on Sephiroth's blade, she lived on in Cloud's heart. Tifa reconsidered her position, not meaning to sound so bitter in her thoughts of Aeris.

The martyr Aeris lived on in all their hearts, yet Cloud refused to let the fact go that she had died. She assumed it probably pounded in his weary mind constantly.

She didn't even know if Cloud still lived though, much less thought of Aeris. She hadn't seen his face in over six months. At first, she had been optimistic. She had seen him off with a smile, wishing him the best of luck. She had hoped for him to recover whatever it was that he sought, for she did not have the wholly perception of what it was. Only Cloud knew that.

As the weeks passed, no letters arrived, no calls. Soon the weeks turned into months. The PHS stayed silent, its solitude haunting her. She had once been vibrant, so full of life. 5 months, 1 week and 3 days ago she had died. Cloud had been reported missing, and she went on a silent rampage within her soul. She locked herself inside her room in Midgar, refusing to come out. Almost all of the team had come, trying to coax her out. She barred the door, refusing to answer anyone. For a week, she ate nothing, lay in bed and drank only water.

Barret finally blew the lock off with the Missing Score and barreled through in his huge form. He found Tifa, lying on the floor, with tight, callow skin and cuts all over her face. Her eyes held a dim cold light as she had opened them, seeing his face. She had begged him to let her die, at least then she could be with Cloud. These were the frenzied epiphanies that had raced from her lips.

She had an aberration. All the feelings that had welled up over the years and finally come rushing out. Since Cloud wasn't around, she had no need to hide them anymore.

Barret had vowed to never forgive Cloud after that. At one time, after Sephiroth's defeat, they might have been called close friends although neither of them would ever admit it. After Cloud left Tifa however, Barret's opinion of him was overturned. He had the utmost faith in Cloud, until that time. Although there was still a part of his heart that desired to forgive Cloud, trying to think of some kind of excuse as to why he would do such a thing. Then it had hit him, Cloud wouldn't do anything like that.

He left Tifa with Shera; having Cid fly him to Junon to search for Cloud. Cid had also aided the best he could, but they had uncovered nothing. They both grew worried themselves. It was like Cloud to go a little crazy, but he would never intentionally hurt Tifa by abandonment or neglect.

They left Junon in despair, figuring Cloud must have either died or disappeared never to resurface. They had done such a thorough search, they figured that no one could have escaped it.

"Who's gonna tell her?" Cid asked in dismay as Barret accompanied him back to Rocket Town onboard the Highwind.

"Dunno, but I ain't gonna be the one to break her heart," but Barret continued, abruptly changing his mind, added slowly "but I can't ask you to do it neither."

"Shit! Why'd he have to go and run off on her? What a dumbass bastard."

"Something must've happened. Cloud ain't like that. He don't run off on people he cares about," Barret replied in Cloud's defense, "he proved that when we finished off them damned Shinra."

"Yeah, you're right," Cid added gruffly, "I didn't mean to get down on the kid, but I don't want to be there when Tifa hears the news..."

"Neither do I man, neither do I."

Barret had told Tifa the following day, and she had lapsed into the state she was in now.

She ran a humble bar in Costa del Sol with friendly tourists and an unstressful environment. Her friends had finally persuaded her to move here. In a sense, she was relieved. Every where she had gone in the Midgar reminded her of the past.

Tifa tried to ignore her pessimistic thoughts, and returned to her bar, the only thing that brought her any bittersweet happiness.

She was desperate, Cloud couldn't be dead, and she would run to the ends of the Planet to find him. He had disappeared before, and ended up in such a remote place as Mideel. This time, she wasn't sure he wanted to be found though. She had to keep hoping. Hope was the only thing she had left.


The bar was a smelly place, filled with drunkards. The heavy odor of stale ale wove its way around the cramped room, weighing down upon its inhabitants.

Rude stared into space as he took a sip of his third scotch. The alcohol had woven a web of numbness around him, protecting him from his own thoughts. He didn't want to think about Elena and the Turks. He drowned his stress in his nearly empty glass, not bothering to think. He knew he couldn't avoid his contemplation for long however.

He looked around, feeling lightheaded.

"Drunk yet?"

"Huh?" Rude turned around, his hazel eyes narrowing behind his dark glasses. Who dared to disturb him in his only time of peace during the long days when he did shit jobs like protecting workers on their way to the mines? His eyes shifted around, trying to pinpoint his annoyance. His gaze met with hers almost immediately, and he almost choked on his drink. Embarrassed by his lack of control over his reaction, he quickly composed himself. His skills must be getting blunt.

"Ms. Lockheart."

"Hello Reno."

"It's Rude," he said, annoyed but not letting her know.

"Oh, sorry. Hello Rude," she returned indifferently.

She couldn't believe she had run into this person in her own bar.

"What are you doing here? Or aren't you going to tell me."

"Well, I'm here to drink. Now if you'll kindly leave me to my own devices, I'm sure I can get drunk enough for us both to forget one another is here..."

His voice dwindled off as he looked at her again.

This was Tifa? The woman in Avalanche that had helped destroy the Turks? He remembered her well least to the same extent he remembered the other rebels.

And he thought Elena had changed. This woman had always struck him as being annoyingly optimistic. Falling in love with a lunatic like Cloud Strife, that said it all. Yet this person had a cold ice in her eyes, an obvious hatred of the world in general, and indifference to everything that surrounded her written across her face.

"Do I disturb you Rude?" she asked in a voice that was almost a whisper with a hint of cynical pleasure.

Tifa almost laughed. She disturbed anyone that had seen the contrast to her now and how she appeared 10 months ago.

"Yeah, but only because you bother to speak to me."

Rude did not let his eyes or face betray his observations of her. He really wanted to sit and just drink his troubles away, by himself.

"Oh, well I am terribly sorry Mister Re..I mean Rude. I hope you'll forgive me," she said in a mock apology.

Rude didn't respond. He just hoped she'd go away. He'd had enough of old encounters for one day.

Tifa stopped herself quickly before she let a string of cursing insults escape her lips. She looked at Rude with obvious despisal. She had never cared for the Turks, nor did she now.

"Enough of this. I need to have a word with you."

"Here we go," Reno thought annoyed.

To his surprise however, something he never expected was said to him. "I have a job for you, Turk," she said in earnest, though spitting the word "Turk" out as though it was some foul taste in her mouth.

"What kind of job?" Rude said coolly, acting as if he could see right through whatever she was going to ask of him, though he had absolutely no idea.

"I'll pay you a decent amount to find Cloud Strife, unharmed for me." This time Rude just stared at her. Sephiroth's destroyer? The leader of Avalanche?

"Let me get this straight. First of all, you're asking a Turk for help. Then, you ask me, an ex-Turk, to find the person who destroyed Shinra Inc. And you want the people who were supposed to hunt your own rebel group down to find your leader again?"

"Yeah, that's right," Tifa responded with a light shrug. From the look in her eyes, Rude could already tell that this was not a yes or no request.

"How much?" was the first question out of his mouth.

Hell, why not. He was getting bored of Corel anyhow.


Elena lay inside of the Inn at Corel that she had recently returned to, sprawling herself onto the bed. By the time she had started to leave town, dusk had already began to paint her red and yellow hues over the sky. She had seen no harm in resting after her injuries she had sustained that day, so she checked in at the Inn. Now lying half-asleep in her bed, her gun was snuggled securely under her pillow where she always slept with it, her left hand tightened around it pointing towards the door. As she drifted off, her fingers eventually loosened a little, but the grip remained throughout any night she had ever spent anywhere.

Suddenly a noise cut through the murmur of people walking in and out of the hallway. She sprang up from her drowsy state, fully alert. The dark hid her body as her heart fluttered in anticipation. A pounding on the walls had ensued as someone thumped down the hallway towards her room. She jumped off her bed silently with as much agility as a cat, landing to crouch low behind it. The only whisper of sound came from Rude's suit. Being two sizes too large for her small frame, it annoyingly rustled anytime she moved, hindering her discretion.

The noise had stopped at her door, and a thud hit the ground. Elena, sensing there was not a danger as she could hear people calmly socializing with one another outside and continuing past, tucked her gun into the folds of Rude's oversized jacket.

She opened the door a crack, and there sat Rude himself, half asleep in the hallway. He had obviously been occupying himself in a bar, and had settled to thump down here, drunk out of his mind, judging from the way the whole of his attire reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. Elena rolled her eyes. This was another characteristic of Rude she knew all too well.

"Rude, wake up," she said, as she lightly slapped his face.

"C'mon Tifa, cut it out," he mumbled.

Elena's eyes widened. Tifa? Wasn't that the barmaid of Avalanche? What exactly had Rude been doing that night?

"No, more than that. You know I cannot accept that amount..."

Elena's jaw dropped.

"Rude, wake up! I'm not Tifa."

It was no use, he was gone. The slumped, pathetic figure in her doorway mumbled some more inaudible things before dropping off to sleep with an obnoxious snore.

Elena dragged Rude into her room and sat him on the floor against the wall. She couldn't just leave him out there. The least she could do was help him retain some of his dignity by keeping him out of the open instead of leaving him for the whole world to gaze upon in that pitiful state.

As she made her way down to the front desk, she wondered why Rude had come up to her room at all.

"Can I please have the room number for a Mr. Rude?" she asked impatiently, obviously exhausted.

The clerk avoided her gaze nervously, eyeing the bulge of her gun. "Uh, why uh..y, yes," he coughed, "Yes, of course."

He scanned through his list of names.

"I'm sorry ma'am, but we don't have a room in that name." Elena looked at him, confused.

"Well, did you happen to see a man stumble in here a few minutes ago mumbling about a woman named Tifa?"

"Y, yes ma'am. He asked for a woman named Tifa Lockheart, and I told him we didn't have that name. Then he mentioned the name "Elena" and we do have a listing for that. I had a bell boy escort him to her room."

"I'm Elena."

"Oohh, my humble apologies miss, I didn't know he was disturbing you... I'll have the drunk removed right away..."

"Drunk? Are you implying that my colleague is a drunkard?" Elena interrogated the clerk angrily.

Rude may be a hopeless indifferent man who didn't care about anything except himself, but he was still a Turk at one point, and this lowly bell hop wasn't going to insult any ex-comrade of hers.

"No, no, nno. Not at all!" the clerk muddled on quickly, stumbling over his words, "I'm sorry miss. He only said your name and I gave him your room number. I'm just doing my job..."

Elena turned away in disgust.

As she made her way back up to her room, Rude's jacket shifted around her uncomfortably.

"Just how broad is his frame?" she muttered to herself, annoyed with this whole situation.

She wasn't going to leave Rude in the middle of the hallway snoring, so it looked like it was either her room or the street for him.

As the door creaked open, for once surprise didn't greet her. Rude still sat in the corner, sleeping soundly.

"He must've had one hell of an evening," Elena thought silently to herself. Luckily for her, the room she was staying in was the only one left and had two single beds.

"Okay Rude, just shut-up and snore," she told the silent figure as she began to hoist him onto her back. She dragged him over to the bed and dropped him onto it. His sleeping face didn't even twitch.

Elena pulled his shoes and sunglasses off, wrapped a sheet around him and retired to her own bed. Shaking her head, she fell off into a weary sleep.


Rude awoke in the middle of the night. Where was he?! The last thing he remembered was Tifa...ooww, his head. He looked around, spotting an alarm clock.

"3 a.m."

"Oh man, where the hell am I now?" he thought uneasily. He started to get out of the bed but collapsed back in as his head erupted in pain.

"Oooh..." he moaned quietly. He bit his lip as he tried to harness the stabs that had consumed his mind.

He looked to his left side, and froze. A figure lay sleeping in the bed across from him. Holding his head carefully in his hands to shelter it from any sudden movements, he got up and slowly crossed over to see what stranger the bed held.

Suddenly a horrible pain leapt into his head as if lightening had struck as he wrenched his body to the side. A noise had issued from the sleeping form silhouetted in the darkness; the figure had merely stirred, but the pain had Rude on the floor in a matter of seconds. As he fell abruptly to his knees, the whole room shook and the small desk in the corner clattered with the vibration.

Elena awoke with a start.

"Oh, what now?" a tired voice in the back of her mind demanded. Elena's grip on her gun immediately tightened and she brought it up fluidly to follow her gaze as her eyes looked carefully around the room, flipping to the darkest parts of it. She happened to miss the figure lying on the floor however, holding his head in agony. She flipped on the lights.

"I'm blind!" Rude shouted in pained terror.

Elena rolled her eyes.

"Rude, what are you doing?" she asked in exasperation.

"Elena?!" Rude simply replied in disbelief, "what are you doing here?"

"Hey, you're the one that collapsed outside my room mumbling about Tifa Lockheart, drunk as all hell."

Rude tried to conceal his surprise but couldn't. He faltered as Elena stared at him reproachfully.

"Rude, just get back into bed, try to retain whatever dignity you still harbor, and we'll discuss this tomorrow."

Rude's face would've turned a hue of bright crimson had it been allowed, but his skin, pale from the pain, denied it from escaping. "Uh, Elena, I..." he faltered in humiliation.

Being drunk was one thing, but showing your drunkenness to an associate or even a former one without prior consent was mortifying. He had permanently damaged his pride.

"I'll go now...," then he remembered he didn't have a room. It didn't matter. He'd rather freeze to death on the street than stay here after what had happened.

It was obvious that Rude was completely losing his dignity, and Elena didn't want to see that. Wasn't that the main reason she had brought him in here?

"Rude, it doesn't matter. Let's just forget this ever happened," she said as her face softened and those pretty features he had always admired about her were allowed to emerge for a split second. Her face immediately resumed its frostiness again, but her voice remained calm.

"So, may we continue sleep?"

For the first time in his life, Rude looked at Elena gratefully.

"Um, yes. Pardon my...disturbance."

He composed himself as he walked back to his bed, his facial features tightening to keep himself from crying out at the pain in his head the rapid movement caused.

"We'll continue this discussion tomorrow," Rude said, once again full of his usual arrogance.

But it fell upon deaf ears; Elena was already asleep. Rude flipped off the lights, but not before noticing the gun perched in her right hand. He let a small smile escape him before tethering his emotions infinitely. Some things never changed.


Tifa sat with her solitary drink, her solitary soul, at her bar. Thoughts streamed through her head so rapidly she felt as if she could scream with the adrenaline. She thought of Cloud, and her unlilting love. She was so damn foolish, sick of being caught in love's lying trap. She knew it was all a lie, all the things she had ever believed had been an injustice to the truth. The Planet, the Lifestream...Aeris. Those were the only true things that existed. Hah...the bloody Promised Land. That's exactly what it was, blood on anyone's hands. Hojo's, Sepiroth's, the Planet's itself. It took too long to act, it had taken too much precious time into its own foolish accord, and had ended up decimating some of humanity with Weapon.

"Some promise that had turned out to be," she thought sarcastically.

She took a forceful sip of her drink, slamming the glass down in anger. It shattered, breaking the skin on her hands. Rage welled up in her throat, and she had the urge to scream. She was exhausted of the deceivance. The voids, the insanity that claimed her heart.

Going through life with that false belief that love would come and touch her, give her hope to live again. When Cloud had left, she knew she had died. Her heart had ceased to beat with any meaning... Yet she realized now all that consumed her was rage. Life had passed her by. Cloud's despair, is that what haunted him? His utter loneliness.

For once in her life, she wanted to know about her own needs. What about her sorrows, her own misfortunes? Did anyone really care? She almost slapped herself, "Stop whining."

She knew he loved her, deep in her heart, but now there so much frustration burning within it, the hope was almost wasted. Yet it was determined not to fall into the flames, not to be tarnished by the heated infuriation that gnawed at her weary soul.

Tifa stared straight into space, a new resolution had filled her eyes. Her fury lagged off just as it picked up, for she began to wonder where Barret was. She had called on him to come and see her, for she needed to convey her plans to him.

She was going to Junon with Rude.

There was a time to wait, a time in that long series of fate to hope. A time to burn, and to be calmed. It was her time now... It was her time to snatch the love that had been lost to her the day he had left. She was sick of being weak, and as she vowed to bring her own feelings to justice, to seek Cloud in all of the Planet's glories and agony, the plague of vengeance settled into her heart with new resolve.


Elena awoke to find Rude lying in bed, staring at the blank white ceiling. His eyes looked almost melancholy.

She ignored her observation as she pretended she had not seen and rolled over restlessly onto her side, facing the door. Her gun was still gripped firmly in her hand, and it bit at her as it touched her warm body. She gasped and threw it out from under her. It had grown absolutely freezing throughout the restless night. The heavy weapon landed with a thud to the thinly carpeted floor.

Rude had heard her reaction and glanced over in her direction.

"I didn't know you were awake...," he said nonchalantly, though he wondered if she had looked upon him thinking in the stillness of the early morning.

"Yeah," was all she replied in a simple informative statement. Rude's look had abruptly changed from one of deep contemplation, going to bear his usual careless exterior. Elena slowly pulled herself out of bed. She remembered she still wore Rude's old suit. It was so familiar to wake up with her fellow Turks at an Inn, to be clothed in this notorious blue suit that was so known for keen cold was so ordinary, or at least it had been before their downfall. Now the whole suggestion was just unsettling. That pride was all part of her past, and the conceit she had felt, that undying idea that she was immortal; that was gone. She knew just how mortal they all were now. One bullet, a bang from a gun, a stab to the heart...and she was dead.

Rude turned his hazel eyes back to the ceiling and resumed his gloomy thoughts minus any outward emotion after not hearing anything else out of Elena.

Elena threw off Rude's jacket and headed for the bathroom. He didn't even flinch as she practically slammed the door in unforeseen annoyance for some unknown reason that he was not the source of. Let her have her strange outbursts, it was none of his business. Rude just shrugged his shoulders to himself as he resumed his thoughts.

Soon he could hear water running as the shower was turned on, however about five minutes later a shriek emerged, followed by cursing. "....shit!" Elena stumbled out, numb from the burst of ice cold water that had just engulfed her.

Rude sat up hastily as the bathroom door was angrily flung open immediately after that disturbing scream had been issued. Elena looked extremely irritated. All she wore was a towel, and looked humorously ridiculous. Standing drenched in the doorway, looking around the room, her eyes filled with acerbity as she just dared Rude's to look at her. Her deep brown hair hung in wet strands around her moist face. As droplets of water clung to her eyelashes, she shook her head in annoyance to rid herself of it. Freezing water sprayed everywhere, even on Rude.

He then did something very uncharacteristic of him. He buried himself under the sheets and moaned. He could barely stifle his laughter. "Damn, I haven't laughed in so," his mind said to him as he subconsciously analyzed the situation. Elena just stared at his body shaking from silenced hilarium under the sheets, stunned that Rude was capable of feeling laughter. Her mouth almost dropped for the second time in two days.

Rude finally emerged from his sea of bedsheets, his laughter under control. He looked at her without blinking, and just shrugged.

"Water too cold?"

"Oh, shut-up," Elena said in annoyance as she stormed back into the bathroom.

That exchange of emotion was so rare. It had astounded Elena, but she had not shown it. This was a side of Rude she had never seen. He was so different without his uniform on...though he was still cold and indifferent 99% of the time. She wondered if he knew how he acted when he was drunk...


Cloud had grown weary in his ongoing quest to keep the raving stranger under control.

By the next day, his eyes, though still retaining their deep blue color, had grown horribly tired. He yearned desperately for rest. That night, he had sat up all the long period of darkness thinking, visiting those forbidden places in his mind reserved for times when his tapestry of dreams and nightmares would not be disturbed. When the unsettling silence of the night reigned, darker places of Cloud's mind awakened from its sheltered slumber.

Though Cloud's unsurmising desire for rest ran amuck, he dreaded his sleep. The horrible secrets his sub-conscious held...His slumber was not sanctuary, but sanity's end. He didn't how many more nights of wakeless horror he could endure alone.

"What must Tifa think?" he wondered drowsily.

He was temporarily dead to the world. Tifa had barely understood what he went off seeking, much less how to answer the question, "Why?"

Cloud's cold side emerged at that particular moment in the early Junon dawn, his eyes permanently affixed to the frozen Fire which lay drugged on his couch. Who cared anyway? Love was just one more weakness to stop him from achieving strength and control of himself. A simple weak point. . . NO.

His mind would not stop rambling on in his frenzied thoughts of revelations that had no sense of reason or compassion. He would not let himself think like that. His love of Tifa was more significant. He let his mind wander other places.

Cloud had been surprised when he heard the cause of the man's temporary insanity. Fire had been delirious after obtaining alcohol poisoning and a bad reaction to what the doctor guessed to be as some medicine for a temporary condition like a cough. He had given Cloud some pills to calm the man with, which he had gratefully accepted.

At the outcome of all this, Fire sat up, pitifully moaning on the couch. It was strange not seeing him yelp out in madness, and to look upon his haggled eyes. They were still clear puddles of blue, but sagged in fatigue. The man began to become aware of his surroundings however, and his senses began to exercise themselves again.

Fire carelessly replaced his head back on the couch, attempting to ward off any attention he had drawn to himself by involuntarily moaning. Maybe if he could deceive whoever was here into thinking that he was still numb to any sense of clarity he could escape this place. Where ever he was, he did not register a negative or positive feeling, which was usually drastically a more dangerous situation than either one.

Cloud merely watched to his entertainment and interest as the man pretended to lapse back into unconsciousness.

"Since you're already awake you might as well talk to me," Cloud said, losing any prior interest in this sherade.


Tifa sat next to Barret Wallace, cringing as he shouted in unsuppressed rage. Not at her, but just in his anger over the total situation.

"You hired the damned Shinra to find Cloud?!" he said in absolute irate disbelief, "they killed Myrna and everyone else! What would make them help Cloud?"

Tifa had the strong desire to roll her eyes.

"They're not the Shinra, Barret. They're cold professionals, not backstabbers. They may be my last hope..."

"And what makes you think they're gonna save Cloud and bring 'im back alive?!" he demanded.

"A great deal of gil," Tifa replied in frustration.

"Tifa...," Barret tried to argue with her, but the pleading look in her eyes stopped him. She had already been hurt enough.

"A'ight, but if they harm you or Cloud, it's to be made clear that I'll single handedly kill 'em myself."

Tifa nodded, feeling very grateful for Barret's support, and for such wonderful friends. They had incredible empathy for the suffering soul, while at the same time could care less for the whining.

As Tifa sat back in cold comfort against her stool, Barret stood up, getting ready to leave.

"Are you still angry?" she said in an injured voice at Barret's look and apparent hasty departure.

"No. Ya know I ain't like that Tifa," he said, choosing his words carefully, "I'm just worried about you."

Tifa managed to call up a smile to sooth Barret's weary soul.

"I'm fine. I just miss Cloud."

Yet she obviously wasn't fine. Her broken heart plagued her every day and night. She hated every star born and despised every blooming flower. She had found such a bitter distaste in the world that she had forgotten how to feel.

Barret could plainly see the despair in her eyes no matter how many times she falsely smiled. He knew she was breaking.

"Alright," he said finally, knowing deep in his heart there was nothing he could do but be there for her. "I'll call you on the PHS in a few days, you just be careful 'round them Shinra."

"Bye Barret!" she said in fake optimism.

He could see right through it, down to the deep desperate sorrow that ate at her soul.

"Cya Teef," he replied, and trapped her in a huge bear hug.

He turned and left; Tifa wondered if she would ever feel Cloud's warmth again.


Cloud Strife sat on his uncomfortable chair, looking at the stranger, or "Fire" as he now referred to him due to his brilliant fiery hair.

Fire had recently awakened and Cloud was now burning with curiosity to know who he was. After assuring him that he wouldn't come to any harm, Fire had finally given in and spoken to him.

"What's your name?" Cloud asked quietly, unsure of how he would react to human contact out of his former senseless state.

"Uh...," Fire stumbled over his words, unsure of what to answer. "I'm not quite sure, but what am I doing here with you?" he asked with an air of arrogance.

"You were muttering like a tramp in the street last night, completely oblivious to your location or surroundings. I took you to a doctor and he diagnosed you with having some odd reaction to a medicine," Cloud said as he gave a short undetailed summary of the chain of events.

Fire just looked at him in confusion.

"The last thing I remember is sitting in a bar...," he added to Cloud's analysis. His voice trailed off as he attempted to remember whatever had happened.

Cloud had the strong suspicion that this man was not being completely honest with him.

"Do you have a name, Fire?"

"Yeah," the flame said in a final defiance, "but I'd assumed you knew it when you saw me."

Cloud looked closer, inspecting his dirty face.

"I've never seen you before in my life," he replied in a final conclusion with a shrug, "but with all the dirt covering your face and hair who could recognize you?"

Fire rethought this point.

"Hold on...," he said as he snatched up the blanket he had had used in the night to wipe off his face somewhat.

"What about now...," but Cloud's eyes filled with surprise along with a hint of rage before he had even finished speaking.

"Cloud Strife," he said with a cocky grin in sarcastic formality, "Reno."


Rude sat perched on Elena's unmade bed. Ever since his outburst of laughter he had remained silent up until then. Elena emerged from the bathroom, looking fresh and annewed despite his overly large shirt and blue pants she wore, but returned into it just as quickly; leaving to comb out her hair in front of the mirror as she spoke to Rude.

"Why Tifa?"

Rude looked up, masking his surprise well.

"What do you mean?" he asked indifferently, turning his gaze back to the floor.

"That's who you were babbling about last night, saying you couldn't accept a certain amount...of something..."

Elena listened in interest for his response. When there was none, she merely continued.

"What Rude, you want Tifa Lockheart or something? Judging from the way you were talking, it sounds like you did a hell of alot more than talk...," she asked him, her tone plainly mordant.

No response.

Not even Rude was this silent. Just as she started walking out of the bathroom, she heard a door slam. Uh oh, she had pushed it this time.

"Damn you Elena! You always manage to annoy someone away as soon as you're just getting them to actually interact with you." She wondered what had made her interrogate him like that.

"You're jealous...." her mind echoed.

"Oh shut-up!" she said aloud to the empty room.

She pushed that ridiculous thought from her head. Should she go after him? Without giving herself any more time to think, she grabbed the door and flung it open.

As she hurried down the empty hallway, she let an anxious breath escape her in a whoosh. Why did she want to get him? How come she was in such a dramatic rush?

"You know why...." her mind laughed at her again.

She just ignored it.

As she turned the corner, she saw Rude waiting for the elevator, a confused look written across his face.

"Rude...," she started.

He looked up, his face automatically going blank as soon as his hazel eyes met her brown ones. They stared at each other for a moment. It was a moment that seemed to last for years. However, he quickly looked away before Elena could delve into his soul.

Elena looked down in obvious embarrassment. She gathered her strewn emotions and rushing heart back into order before speaking.

"Rude, I'm, uh...," she looked at him for help. He just looked back, his face indecipherable, his intense hazel eyes narrowly avoiding her gaze.

"I'm sorry," she finally exhaled.

He looked at her in bewilderment.

"For what?"

"For what I said about Tifa. It obviously annoyed you because you left so quickly and slammed the door behind you."

Rude looked at her. No emotions were reflected in his cool distant eyes. In actuality, he had never even removed his sunglasses for her to see his eyes for this amount of time, and seeing them quite clearly now, she was quite surprised and couldn't help but notice their intensity.

"So?" he said simply.

Elena looked at him in confusion.

"You didn't do anything. I just felt like going." He arched one eye brow, though no other portion of his frozen face moved.

"You actually think I give a damn about Tifa Lockheart, or for another matter...," he said, slicing through Elena, "you and your opinion?" She didn't say anything, just stood staring at him in shock at this sudden outburst. Partially at his harshness, but more, simply marvelling at the sheer fact that Rude had just said more than one sentence to her in a breath.

"No offense Elena, but did you really think you meant something to me once? Let's get this straight right now before you get hurt..." But Elena already was hurt, and he could see it in her eyes. Nevertheless, he continued.

"I hardly know you, nor did I ever. Your existence means nothing to me except that you're an ex-Turk," he said, his voice almost at that venomous hiss she was so used to hearing when dealing with their assailants.

Elena could feel the tears well up in her eyes even before he had finished. Shit, she hadn't cried in years. She maintained a grip on her pounding heart, her soul begging to cry out in pain, but she refused still.

He knew he'd hurt her, but he didn't care.

"Do you though?" the question surfaced indeniably. Before he could answer himself, Elena turned and fled. She wouldn't show weakness, especially not to him.

"I can handle it," she thought to herself forcefully as she tried to slow the flood of angry tears in a militant action. Somehow Rude had disintegrated that ice around her heart, but she had to freeze herself again. She must remain abstemonious to love. Love? Where had that word come from?

She sat, staring at the wall of her room dejectedly. Her throat tightened, and her eyes threatened to spill over. She just couldn't keep it up.

You have failed. WEAK, Weak, weak.

She finally let a small, quiet wail escape her lips. It was a wail of years of pent up emotion, of sorrow and deaths, of murders and traumas. She let loose one sob, and that simply broke her tedious concentration to keep her ravaged emotions under her restraints. She was alone, desperately alone in the unkind world that had bore her angst and heart ache.

She threw herself down, her body racked with tidal waves of abysmal sorrow. Tears trickled down her already soaking face. Her shoulders heaved with sobs as her heart barely managed to beat, disappointed with her abjecting form of weakness.

"You are my weakness," she thought abhorrently of the pulsing organ in her chest.

She could feel the wall she had built around herself so carefully slowly deteriorating.


She closed her eyes and cried for anything that she'd ever hid inside herself. For anything that hurt. She lay there, her face hiding the piteous spectacle in the pillow.

"Stop it Elena," she told herself roughly. She finally didn't have the energy to wail anymore, and her body went limp though it still rocked with tears. She kept her face hidden, a strong desire to be dead to the world.

Suddenly she felt a strong, protective pair of arms enclose around her. She fought them, but they wouldn't let go. Finally she just collapsed. Silent tears still streamed down her face. She slowly turned her head, and found a concerned Rude looking at her. She heaved a sigh and quickly brushed her tears away.

As he let her go she snapped at him bitterly. He would not gloat to see her in a time of prone weakness.

She gathered any amount of strength she had left to get Rude away from her.

"," she heaved with the effort, somehow forcing the words to issue out of her dry lips, but that was the end of any control she had over her actions. She collapsed back into her own agony, flooded by tears, sobs and hurt, though most of all, pure and utter shame. Finally she just lay shivering, turning herself away from Rude, not allowing him to see her as he sat near.

Unexpectedly, she felt Rude's warm grasp enclose around her again.

"Ssh..." he shushed her attempts to break free, and she finally complied.

"Don't do this, you know what happened last time...," every fiber in his body screamed.

By this time, Elena hung limp in his arms, her drenched eyes staring off in shock. He gently set her on the bed and lay down next to her, pulling her closer to him. Her eyes roved his face in astonishment, to which he avoided her questioning look. She was about to go into another fit of uncontrollable sobs when he pressed his body closer to hers, instinctively kissing her forehead. He brushed a few stray locks of damp hair out of her face in a gentle gesture.

"Sleep. Rest'll feel better...," his voice stopped working as he looked for an excuse to get her to stop crying. He slowly brought the back of his cool hand up and gently stroked her hot cheeks, wiping any remaining tears away.

"Please stop Elena..." he beseeched silently.

And then he realized she had. She was fast asleep in his arms. As she slept, he reprimanded himself over and over again. What a fool he was.

Two years ago when Elena had become a Turk, for some reason she had an astounding effect on him and he had become enamored with her. He ignored his feelings however, for the past had inculcated him to avoid his emotions.

No one had known, not even himself at the time. He almost smiled as he thought of when he, Tseng and Reno used to discuss which member of Avalanche they liked, mostly to annoy Elena at Reno's preference.

He had told Reno he liked Tifa at one time, which he probably had. It didn't compare to the things he felt when he merely looked at Elena...but he had seen the stoic expressions she had when Tseng spoke of the Ancient. They were looks of hurt, and she just pretended they weren't. He had simply denied his feelings to himself.

He had never let on that he loved her. Reno had made a joke once about how Elena was "a first class piece of meat," though only in partial jest since she had pissed him off that day. Rude had realized just how strongly he felt when rage had flared up in him, though it went unknown to the jester who he had been friends with for years. Tseng hadn't even come close to realizing either. He himself only finally put it all together when he realized how incredibly jealous he was of Tseng, though he never even remotely showed it.

When Tseng was murdered by Sephiroth, Elena hadn't slept for days. He remembered how horribly concerned he had been, but being ambeyant at the time, he had simply tried to do whatever he could without being unprofessional toward her. He had felt the ecsessive blow of Tseng's death as well, and it plagued him that he had felt such intense jealousy of him; then he died. In time, he had learned to forgive himself since Tseng never knew, and it really didn't effect their strong bond to one another. His abstruseness of his deep love of Elena had gone unnoticed for then, and then by the time Shinra was destroyed, he ran off to Corel.

He thought he had gotten over her. But he had proven himself wrong.

Elena stirred in his arms. It felt wonderful to hold her, just let him hold her and stop her sorrow that he had so shamefully triggered. To his surprise, as he glanced guiltily over her face, he found a pair of brown eyes gazing straight back at him.

"Rude...?" she murmured in confusion to his actions.

He put a finger to her lips.

"I'm sorry...," he started. This was going to be more difficult than he thought.

"Elena, what I said back there about not caring was a lie."

Elena looked at him as if he had crushed her, though he could also tell it was mixed with drastic porportions of surprise and disbelief at the compassionate note in his even softer than normal voice.

"So you do care for Tifa...," her voice trailed off.

She weakly pushed him away and stared in the other direction, waiting for her betrayer to leave.

He took a deep breath.

"No...," his voice faltered.

"Damn it Elena, it's you I care for. It's always been you," his voice did not crack, but he felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of him.

Elena still did not move.

Rude stared at her back. Finally, the hurt resettled on him, and he got up to leave. She didn't want him, it was so damned obvious. He almost laughed in denial at himself.

As he started to walk away, he looked to catch a last glimpse of Elena. To his startled eyes, she was crying again. He slowly stopped and lowered himself back onto the bed into a wary sitting position.

"How could you lie to me?" she asked in disbelief.

"Elena, I wasn't lying," he said as gently as a broad shouldered man of more than 6 feet and a looming form could, finally understanding why she was denying what he had just confessed to her.

She looked up at him, her eyes glistening with tears. Damn, he hated to see her cry. Come to think of it, he never had seen her cry up until now. It was obvious that she couldn't easily cope with this confession at the moment, for she supposedly didn't even believe him, though he knew she did. She was very distraught however. He finally lay back down next to her, replacing himself where he had formerly been.

"This was Rude?" Elena thought to herself in wonder. Could she believe him? Or more, could she handle this right now? An infinite number of insecurities raced through her head, though she knew she felt the same way that he claimed to. It had come to her with a slap the first time that door had slammed and he left. Now she knew why she hurried after him, why she had apologized, and finally, why she was sobbing uncontrollably right now. Rude. It all came back to him. She couldn't stop crying. She just had to let it all go. She was still holding so much in, so she let herself loose. She put her defenses down for the first time in her life. She didn't care about hiding anymore, even if it was in front of him. She just didn't care.

Rude could tell the iciness from her eyes had melted, for they held the same frightened, ravaged look an animal has just before it is shot and killed. Did she even remotely trust him? It wasn't like he had earned alot of credit in that area the way he'd just verbally attacked her.

As tears still escaped her eyes, her body tremored. Again Rude slightly pressed himself to her, drying the tears from her face. This time she did not fight his embrace. She even seemed comforted by this action at least a little. He wrapped his arms around her and stroked her back. Her body slightly trembled under his touch, and he knew that at least she felt a physical attraction to him as she let a watery sigh escape her, though it was more an exhale of comfort than sorrow. Before Elena knew what she was doing, she found her legs entangling with Rude's. She hesitantly kissed his cheek, and allowed her hands to wrap around his body. She could tell this was extremely difficult for him.

Rude had never felt such exhilaration. He was so in love with one had ever had this disarming effect on him before. He wasn't sure if it was a positive or negative thing, but that was not something being considered at the time. He knew how he had always felt though, and he remembered the pang in the deepest cavity of his heart when Elena had looked at Tseng.

She snuggled herself closer to his warmth and slowly ran her hands down the length of his body until they reached the small of his back, tracing his shoulder blades. He kissed her neck delicately in return, and drew away to have his eyes lock on hers, though quickly looked away. He couldn't believe this was happening.

Finally he kissed her. His lips lightly touched hers in a contiguous motion until they melted together as he passionately embraced her. He let out all the angst, all the stored up emotion into that kiss.

Finally they stopped, his eyes met hers, and for the first time he did not look away.

"Elena, please tell me the truth," he whispered, no longer attempting to conceal any emotion at all for he knew he couldn't. His face contorted as he pleaded with his eyes for her love.


Elena looked away, averting her eyes from the intense hazel gaze that Rude was probing her with. She knew what he was going to say, and he knew she understood.

"No....," his heart screamed in agony.

What a fool you are Rude... What a naive fool..... he squeezed his eyes closed in torturous pain as he started to draw away. Just as soon, she looked back however. As she did, she brushed her finger tips gently over his face and tightly closed eyes, and he opened them expectantly.

"I care for you, Rude," she finally managed a smile as contentment spread over her face, adding, "deeply."

"You just always seem so cold. I didn't know if I could bear getting my heart broken...again," she said as she reassuringly stroked his hand. When she had finished talking, she brought his fingertips up to her lips and lightly kissed them.

Rude looked upon her as though she had saved him from a fate worse than death, for she had.

She had saved him from himself.

Elena put his hand down, and placed her head on his chest, falling asleep against him almost immediately with his arms locked around her securely. He closed his eyes, and for the very first time in his entire lonely life, he felt loved.


"Reno?!" Cloud stared at the ex-Turk in disbelief. Out of all the people he could have picked up, he had to pick up this man?

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Well, you brought me here. I'd like to ask you the same question," Reno replied smugly.

Cloud just looked at him. Reno shifted uncomfortably under the silence, and decided to break it.

"I'm in Junon on a job."

Cloud just shrugged in disinterest.

"I don't know why I picked you up, but I felt sorry for you. You were in the middle of the street babbling uncontrollably."

Reno kept the same quizzical look plastered on his face.

"Do you remember any of last night?"

"No, not especially," Reno answered a matter of factly.

"Where are Rude and Elena?" Cloud asked expectantly.

Reno shrugged. Who knows?"

Cloud thought he saw a bit of bitterness flicker over Reno's face, but he could've been mistaken.

"I don't work in groups anymore. I'm a loner, I do the same job however. You'd be surprised how many dirty bastards you can find in Junon that need the garbage taken it in savior or murder." He laughed.

Cloud rolled his eyes in disgust. Reno's steely gaze looked upon him as if he was some kind of vermin. He wondered why Cloud hadn't asked who he was sent out to kill yet so that he could try to stop him, or maybe he just didn't care.

"Sometimes you want to be stopped..." Reno shut his mind out.

"What an ungrateful bastard," Cloud thought to himself angrily. Reno didn't even show any kind of thanks after Cloud had just practically saved his life. Oh well, he didn't expect much from a Turk.

Reno looked on calmly as anger flashed through Cloud's brilliant mako infused eyes.

"Insane freak..." Reno muttered in his mind.

"Well, since you helped me out, I'll do you a favor," Reno replied to Cloud's angry response.

"Anyone you want killed?"

Cloud's look changed. Reno almost laughed to himself, that should set him off. This was the man that had destroyed his life...

"Yes, actually there is."

A look of malice had settled over Cloud's unflinching gaze. Reno stared at him in disbelief, but his face did not betray his feelings.

"I don't need you to kill someone. I need to find someone, and I want you to bring them to me, untouched," Cloud instructed the former Turk. "And I'll pay you."

Reno just stared at him.


"Vincent Valentine," Cloud supplied the name.

Reno did a double take. Wasn't Vincent Valentine a member of Avalanche, not to mention an ex-Turk? Oh well, it wasn't his job to ask questions...that's something he had been doing too much of lately.

He reshaped his former solace of indifference.

"Any idea where I can find him?"

Cloud nodded his head. On the western continent, near a place called Lucrecia's Cave.

Reno almost gasped. Lucrecia...Hojo's Lucrecia?

"Sure," Reno replied coolly. But he wasn't sure. The last time the Jenova Project had surfaced...well, that was the whole reason for the Planet's almost immediate destruction, and to take it on by himself...

"I'll do it."

"Stop thinking Reno," he chided himself.

"Any necessary information?"

Cloud thought about it for a minute.

"Yeah. Be careful he doesn't crush you to death with his robotic arm." Cloud almost laughed when he saw the look on Reno's face. Reno could see that he was trying to intimidate him. He wasn't going to.

"He'll be here within 5 days," and with that Reno turned and left the apartment.

"Vincent, out of anyone I know you're the most sorrowful," Cloud thought to himself, as if Vincent could hear his thoughts, "but I need your help."

If Reno didn't find Vincent, he would die. If he did, and he survived, then Cloud could speak with Vincent. Either way, it didn't really matter. The world would be a better place without Reno in it anyway.


Vincent Valentine stood in the shallow valley. Depressing and dark, it suited his disposition very well. Anything was better than that coffin he had slept in with ceaseless unmerciful dreams for thirty years. Vincent's deep sienna eyes burnt out of the darkness, and his tall, menacing shape with that horrific robotic arm loomed maliciously out of the night. Raven hair fell into his pale face as the wind picked up. Such a startling contrast, this man's face looked as if the pale white moon had invaded a velvety blanket of darkness. He looked up at the stars, and thought of Lucrecia.

"When am I not thinking of my lovelorn agony?" he asked himself thoughtfully.

He glanced at the room behind the waterfall where Lucrecia had perished once Jenova had been destroyed. She was different from all of the other people that was mako infused, or had the evil cells that blackened their souls. She was Sepiroth's mother, Jenova's heir. She had a mental attachment to them. She had loved Sepiroth, probably the only person on the Planet who had. She could love Sepiroth, the attempted destroyer of the Lifestream.

She could love Hojo in a sick, twisted kind of way, the mutilator. He had ruined so many lives, and Vincent now sought his long awaited vengeance. And yet it wasn't vengeance. It was a deep seated raw sorrow that had converted his entire soul to seek its destiny in order to somehow avow his sin to Lucrecia.

She could love Hojo, and she could love Sepiroth.

"I'm lower than either of them...even they were worthy of some kind of love...," Vincent wondered where he was placed on the Planet's list of murderers.

He had ruthlessly killed so many people, had betrayed Lucrecia. If someone from Shinra had asked him to kill a new born baby, an innocent, when he was a Turk, he would have fired his gun without a second thought.

He was a plague to humanity, the kind that was not supposed to withstand for long.

And yet he had. Hojo had made sure of that. Vincent was not a person, but a tool, used to gain Hojo's revenge on humanity.

His eyes never shed tears. His face hadn't changed expression in 15 years. He would live on this way forever, until someone ended his life. Oh, whoever that merciful person may be, come and claim me to my peace...

No, he was not even worthy of death. Not deserving of an everlasting peace. He had killed people's souls, ravaged and prospered on sorrow. He looked at his robotic arm, the bronze metal glowing in the pale moonlight. He shoved it out of his sight in disgust. An ugly demon. A heartless hatred with no soul. He had no shame...

"I HAVE NO SHAME!" he screamed into the empty night as he fell to his knees.

"I have no shame," he whispered, and the one emotion that was evident in his voice, the one thing that could be clearly heard, was shame.


Elena awoke with a start. Where was she? Then she remembered.

"Rude....," Elena thought contentedly. This was one of the first times in her life that she had felt the coveted emotion of safety. As she lay in her warm place on the bed, she noticed one important thing was missing - Rude.

She refused to believe that he had left her...

"No, not after what he had said," she told herself.

She sat up and frantically looked around, not able to contain the nagging worry that it had all been a dream.

"Rude?" she asked the hollow room at a low decibel.

Suddenly the door opened, and there he stood, filling the entire doorway with his tall, menacing frame.

"Sorry Elena, I just had to tell the front desk that we would be leaving in a few hours."

Relief rushed over her in waves of great magnitude.

"Are you okay?" he asked, almost shyly.

Elena nodded. She couldn't help but smile a little at Rude's sudden change in personality. She realized the indifferent, frighteningly silent man she had known for the last two years was still there, and that was just a part of him. She also knew that he harbored another side that he let scarcely anyone know however.

"Um, I just wanted to apologize for what I said before about Tifa. I didn't mean to piss you off," she said as his expression turned to one of surprise.

"I didn't mean to imply that you two...," her voice trailed off.

"Because it's your business. Sorry I got into it."

Rude looked extremely confused.

"I just mean, I didn't mean to imply that you have any obligation to me...," Elena looked down.

Rude finally replied in an injured tone, "Well, if that's what you want Elena, we shan't have any obligation to eachother at all." The distant look had returned to his eyes. He wasn't getting away that easily.

"No, no. I don't want that...I mean.." she stuttered over her own jumbled words. Finally in frustration, she said, "I don't know what I want Rude! First I have to know how you feel."

"You know how I feel," he said with a monotonous tone, not allowing his eyes to meet hers.

"I want...I..." she couldn't spit it out. She knew she wanted to say that she needed him, that she wanted him near her, that when he held her she felt safe.

Finally, for lack of a better description, she said simply, "I just want you."

Rude looked up. His confusion faded. It was clear to him now that she felt at least something of the same nature that he did.

"Damn Elena, that's what I want," he said gruffly.

Elena stood up and embraced him. Rude didn't know how to respond. Comforting Elena was one thing, but when she tried to somehow ease his hurt, or confusion...he didn't know how to deal with it. So he held her. He'd never hugged anyone before, much less thought he'd ever be near Elena at all. When they broke apart, Elena found herself wondering about her prior investigation that had brought this whole thing on in the first place.

"So what did Tifa want?" her eyes flashed in surprise at her own question.

"Er...uh, not to get involved...nevermind," she kept forgetting she was talking to Rude, who never divulged anything to anyone that didn't directly involve them. She could not forget that it was still Rude that she was talking to, reguardless of their current situation. She turned away quickly and sat down on the bed that she had been sleeping on in deep embarrassment.

Rude walked over to her and sat down next to her.

"Elena, things are different now," and that's all that needed to be said for her to understand.

He gradually moved his arm until he could work up the nerve to put it around her, which he finally did. In response, she automatically leaned against him. It was amazing what a simple gesture like feeling her weight against his made him feel. He realized suddenly he was more than far from being over her.

"Ok Rude," she replied easily. She understood what he meant. That they both knew they harbored familiar love for one another now, that she could ask him anything, that he wouldn't act cold if she did; actually exercising the principle was something else entirely however.

"Well, um, I'll get my things and I...I mean we, uh I mean...I can go," she didn't know what to say.

Is it "I" or "we" now?

She jumped up, abruptly knocking Rude's arm off of her.

"She's scared of me," Rude thought self contemptuously.

"She doesn't even know how to act around me now...why was I so cold to her every time she saw me? Damn it."

Elena peered at Rude as he sat with a stoic expression, perched despondently by himself. She felt something for him that she hadn't felt in a long time, she was sure of it now...her heart ached when he was not near her. She didn't know how to act around him though. If she asked him a personal question, would he shrug it off or answer? Would he even be consistent?

Many thoughts rushed through her mind like a tornado, picking up every little bit of debris that happened to be floating around. He loved her though, and she...well, she cared deeply for him. That much she was sure of. Why not just let it all go?

"You have nothing to lose anyway," her mind reminded her. Pathetic as it may have been, it was true.

With that last resolution, she went back over to Rude and sat beside him.

He wouldn't allow himself to look at her for fear of what he might find there. He couldn't resist forever though, and when he finally did he saw something he didn't expect. Unconditional love that spanned the entire universe and made his soul quake with shock. Someone loves me. It just didn't sound right. Elena loves me. That sounded even more twisted.

Elena could tell he was pondering her change of heart. She slowly reached a solitary finger up and lightly traced the scars that marred his face from long past battles, some even with her along side, and finally kissed him softly on the lips.

"I know I'm probably acting strange," she said as she tried to explain, especially since his face had turned to one of complete shock at her actions, "but I've never met this side of you before."

You've never met the weak side of me before you mean. He didn't respond.

Now she was getting frustrated.

"Look you stubborn bastard, I care about you and that's how things are. Now whether you like it or not, I'm going to treat you like it," Elena practically shouted at him, addressing his insecurity in her usual tough way as she dropped her hand.

Rude looked at her in complete surprise. He'd seen her angry, but never would he have thought she would express it if she was frustrated with him. Back when they were Turks, she had followed his and Reno's orders without a second thought. She obviously wasn't a rookie anymore. She waited for him to do something horrific, for it was the first time she had ever voiced any annoyance at him.

A slight roguish grin merely spread across his face.


"Uh, well, that's better," Elena said in a strict tone but a rare smile was gracing her features, mirroring Rude's amusement. After a few minutes of silence and both of them thinking about what one another had said, the smirks finally disapearing from their faces. Rude turned abruptly to her as if remembering something important.

He twisted to look at her, any trace of humor was gone, and a deadly seriousness replaced it.

"What's wrong?" she asked quietly.

"Elena, would you be interested in an assignment as a Turk?"

Elena's eyes widened.

"What do you mean?"

"That's why I went to Tifa's bar. She sent me on job to find Cloud Strife."

Elena stared at him in disbelief.

"I accepted it, and I'm asking you to come with me. I'll split the gil half way down the middle."

Elena nodded.

"I'll do it," she replied in a daze.

"It's different now, Elena. There's no Shinra to run to. Are you sure?"

"Yes," Elena replied with new resolve. "If you're going, I will too," and added shyly, "I'll go anywhere you do."

Rude looked at her, and gently caressed her face. Elena was a little taken aback by this unforeseen show of affection, but she regained herself quickly. She would just have to get used to the new Rude. Rude saw the surprised look that flashed across her face. He dropped his hand as swiftly as it had come up and looked down, more than a little embarrassed.

"I'm sorry Elena, I didn't mean to be so forwa..." but before he could finish his lips were interlocked in a kiss.


As Elena gathered her belongings, or the few that she had with her, she thought about the trip to Junon with Tifa Lockheart. She knew that Rude had liked her once...

Or loved her once?

Furthering her uncertainty, suddenly the promise she had made to herself jumped into her mind.

"You will never be gullible again," she remembered angrily to herself. If Rude hurt her, she knew she'd never recover. She had been stabbed once by Tseng, and after that, she vowed never to be weak again. She could be such a fool sometimes. Just a year after that encounter with Tseng, and now here she was letting her guard down again. She almost had the urge to hit herself.

"Ughh!" she yelled at she pounded her fist down on the table in rage. Rude looked up at her.



The look in her eyes told him not to pursue this problem, so he didn't. He gave her the space she needed.

She needed to be more discrete with her emotions, even if she had let her guard down to Rude. She had let him into her heart, and he was free to do just about anything he wanted. Although this time it was different from Tseng. Apparently Rude gave a fuck about her.

"Ready?" Rude asked as he studied Elena's infuriated face. What was she thinking about?

"Yeah," she replied simply, the swelling anger smoldering out.

"Are you sure there's nothing?" he asked again. He had wasted too many years to ignore her emotions now.

"Well...," Elena glanced at his expectant face. She knew she could trust him now, but she didn't feel like discussing it at that particular moment.


Rude shrugged. "Ok..." He left out the rest of his sentence, as if to say "you know I'm here." He knew Elena understood.

As they made their way down to the lobby, Rude eyed her. She could feel his watchful gaze over her. It made her smile. No one had ever cared enough to wonder what she was thinking about.


As they reached Costa del Sol, they were both slightly winded. There they separated, Elena going to get some decent clothes and Rude to find Tifa.

As Rude's eyes roamed the busy city, they landed upon a beautiful young woman with incredible tumbling, sleek hair. This was Tifa. She was entering her bar with a look of pure determination on her face. He wondered what was going on.

As he drew nearer to Tifa's place, he instinctively gripped his gun. Upon getting to it, he walked up the creaky steps that went up to the beach house overlooking the ocean. The entire structure was made of wooden beams, and every time the ocean crashed on shore only 10 feet down he could feel it vibrate the tiniest bit. As the door creaked open with his entrance, he saw two men that were getting ready to brawl. A common sight for a bar.

He put his gun away and sat down to watch the fight.


Elena wandered the streets of Costa del Sol, endlessly searching for a clothing shop. Finally spotting one, she pushed her way through the noisy tourists and entered. A wave of air conditioning greeted her as she went in. The shopkeeper gave her one look and his eyes were already filled with unmasked terror.

"I must look great," she thought.

"Hello. Can I see something that would fit me?"

The clothes shopkeeper looked at her, and finally complied once he found his way out of his haze of indecisive action.

"Uh, Why yes, of...of course." He mumbled as he showed her to the back.

"Anything imparticular?"

"Yeah. No dresses. No pink. No skirts, nothing really feminine."

The vendor shrugged.

"Ok." He handed her some black pants and a halter top.

"Do you have anything else as far as a top goes?" she asked, starting to get annoyed.

"No, the only other top we have is very close fitting." That made up Elena's mind immediately, as he emphasized the word "very," as if picturing her in it.

She tried on the pants which fit a bit too snugly for her liking, but didn't look bad on her. The halter top just looked ridiculous, though from a male point of view, she assumed they'd probably take her for a street hooker. Oh well, it was only temporary. She decided to also equip herself with some accessories and such.

She pulled the Minerva Band out of her small bag which she carried with her and secured her gun in the waist of her pants.

"Hello, my name is Scarlet," she said to herself.

She laid the gil on the counter for the tiny top and revealing pants, and exited the shop. The number of male stares she got along the way to the bar was countless.


As Rude sat watching, the brawl was just getting started. Two huge men, both equipped with equally massive swords, were in the middle of the place. Tifa was standing menacingly in the doorway. The two rash males were arguing about something ridiculous. Rude merely looked on in amusement since Tifa hadn't noticed his presence yet. As both men drew their large blades, they stopped at the sound of Tifa's voice.

"I wouldn't do that," she warned them, her voice oddly even.

"An' watcha gonna do about it lady?"

"I said, stop it."

"Or what?" they both sneered at her.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Or else I'll have to throw you out," she said a little too innocently.

Both men burst out laughing, and the tension between both of them ceased to exist until they realized they were having a laugh together. Rude pulled out his gun again, getting ready to come to his client's assistance. Tifa was either going to start yelling at these two and become part of the Lifestream in the process or end up retreating. They stopped and faced eachother again, one of them brandishing his sword getting ready to strike at the other.

Tifa had advanced a few steps, but went unnoticed to the brawlers.

"I warned you," she said simply.

With sudden astonishing force she charged foward, knocking both of their weapons to the floor with two fists. One of her legs kicked back, hitting a man. By now, she was in between them. Her opposite fist shot out and the other man slumped to the ground.

Within 2 seconds both of them were out cold.

She then proceeded to take one of them over her shoulder, and dragged the other, practically throwing them out the door. Her knuckle bore God's Hand, and she flexed it before going to toss the two swords along with other various weapons into the corner.

"Bravo," Rude said slowly. He holstered his gun which he hadn't even gotten cocked by the time the two men were gone.

He didn't know she was such a skilled fighter. As Rude glanced around, he realized his was the only body left sitting in the bar. Tifa looked at him, unknowing of his presence until then.

"You're late."


As Elena made her way to Tifa's bar, she wondered what she would find there.

Rude flirting with Tifa? Though she had to admit, Rude wasn't exactly the flirting type; that was more Reno's department. Only hours before Rude had confessed his love for her, and she for him. She felt like such a fool at her hasty decision. Did she honestly believe at one point that Rude was capable of not being condescending? She had rashly forgotten about the two long years sustained of being the little girl who the big men ordered around, trading in her wariness of it for an hour of his affection. How niave was she?!

As she entered the bar, tables and chairs had been overturned. Two large men lay discarded on the beach below and Tifa stood, talking to Rude very business like.

"Yeah, and then I trained with Zangan."

Ok, maybe not so business like.

"Really...," he said with an openly admiring gaze.

Tifa found to her surprise that this ex-Turk was decent to talk to, that is when he did talk. She may have hated them once, but wasn't it time for a change? She wondered this silently in her mind. Rude changed the subject onto the assignment as he saw Elena come in.

"Ms. Lockheart, would you care to tell me if you know have any idea where Mr. Strife is?"

"No, I haven't. I'm sorry...," her look was obviously full of pain. Rude could plainly see it, but kept his features neutral. He ached for her inside though. He knew how it felt...

"All I know is that he left for Junon 6 months ago."

"That information is substantial for now. I assume you will be accompanying us to Junon, Ms. Lockheart?"

He showed her respect as he did for all his clients.

"Yes, I'll be coming too..."

Tifa looked up as Elena entered the bar. She did a double take however at her outfit. Tight black pants and a halter top laced up the front adorned her thin shape. This was Elena from the Turks? The one who had accidentally let them know where Sepiroth was going the first time they'd ever seen her? She may have looked naive in that attire, but the cold icy stare in her eyes said otherwise.

Rude just sat there with his mouth hanging open. Tifa was even more surprised as she looked at Rude. In all the times she'd ever seen the Turks, he had never even taken off his sunglasses. He sat here now with a look of pure worship written on his face, and as he put his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose to get a better look at Elena, she could see a softness emerge in his eyes.

"Elena...uh...hi." Then he remembered he was in front of a client. He coughed a little, changed his tone of voice and said gruffly,

"Elena. You're late."

Elena just looked at him. This was the personality change she had been dreading.

"I'm sorry," she spat coldly back at him. She knew, even though his face did not move in any way, she had hurt him just by her tone of voice. She could play at this game too.

He didn't respond, and turned back to Tifa.

"Shall we go Ms. Lockheart?" he asked, politely extending his arm for her to take.

Tifa was surprised at the action, but she guessed this was how the Turks treated their customers, never having been one.

She shrugged.

"Yeah, let's head to Junon."

Elena didn't say anything, and lagged behind. As she tried to keep up with Rude and "Ms. Lockheart" through the crowded streets, she found she was eventually losing her way.

Rude and Tifa finally reached the harbor to which a ship to Junon was leaving soon. The evening painted incredible colors across the formerly blue sky, reflecting on the pinks and blues of the painted clouds. She frowned at the pretty soft hues that initiated the mood for love.

Love... she thought in complete disgust.

Rude turned around and looked for Elena. He saw no one in sight. After waiting, finally he saw her shape emerge from the crowds.

"Shit, she looks beautiful..."

Rude shut up his heart and didn't listen. This wasn't a time for love; he was on a job.


As she finally caught up to them, she saw Rude escorting Tifa onto the ship. He probably hadn't even noticed she was gone.

"Damn him, that lying son of a bitch. He just wanted a cheap thrill in Corel. Just wanted to mess with my head to prove how macho he is. Probably to go brag to Reno about it if they still see eachother. Bastard..."

She ran up onboard, her frosty exterior returning even more rabid than before. She thought that Rude had gotten into her heart. He hadn't. Only someone that cared about her could do that, and he obviously didn't. She didn't expect him to treat her with some undying love when they were working. In actuality, she didn't want him to. It would hinder the process of the kind of job they did. An attachment of the heart could mean death in their line of work. On the other hand, he could at least give her common courtesy. This was just a repeat of the older days when he and Reno had treated her like the rookie she was back then. Only difference was, she wasn't one any longer.

"You can't push me around anymore, Rude."

She finally spotted Tifa and Rude looking for their temporary room that they had booked for the 8 hour overnight trip across the ocean. After a few minutes of searching they found it, with Elena trailing behind them in the ship's hallway. As they entered, it revealed one double bed and one single.

"Oh great, now he thinks he can seduce me." She would be sleeping on the floor. It was going to be a long night.

"Elena," she heard a harsh voice say, "where the hell were you?" It was Rude. Of course, cold senseless Rude.

When they were Turks before, she would've apologized like a lowly inequal. Not now.

She didn't let her face flinch, and she looked straight into his eyes through the tinted glass, with the coldest look she had ever given anyone.

"Go to hell."

She knew she had wounded him as soon as she uttered the three simple words, but she didn't care. He wanted to treat her with with love in private and with no respect in the utmost degree in public? It didn't work like that.

For once he didn't know how to react to a situation.

With that, she turned and left him standing alone, dumbfounded.

As she made her way down to the bar, the only thought in her mind was to get as drunk as humanly possible.


Tifa came back into the room to find Rude sitting on the edge of a table, holding his head. No sounds emerged from his still shape.


"Oh, Ms. Lockheart..." his voice cracked. He hated being in love because this is what always happened to him.

"Just call me Tifa," Tifa told him warmly. She could tell this human being had emotion, even if he so very rarely showed it.

"Surely....Tifa," he said experimentally.

He put his head back into his hands. He had never cried, not once in his life, and he wasn't about to start being a spineless shell of a man now.

Tifa could tell he was in agony.

"Rude, can I ask you something?"

He gave her a slight shrug.

"Why do you dislike Elena?"

Dislike Elena?! Damn it, why do I always have to pull these bullshit acts with her...

"I don't dislike Elena."

"You were really horrible to her," Tifa stated as a matter of factly. "I just assumed you two didn't get along."

She could tell from the slight grimace on his face as she tried to reunite the two that he hated being treated with pity however, and even though it wasn't pity but empathy she felt, she added in a more authoritative voice, "You know, uh, because I wouldn't want it to jeopardize the umm, assignment."

Rude sighed. It was obvious he didn't want to ponder the subject out in the open.

"Well, if you think that you need uhh, help with some kind of Turk operations, she's down at the bar."

It was so obvious he was awestruck with Elena; Tifa could empathize. She wanted to help in anyway she could. At least if she couldn't be with Cloud, she could attempt to help people to avoid becoming the ruthless antagonist of life she had. She had hated these people at one point. It was different now however. They weren't enemies, though she wouldn't call them allies either. There was one thing she had never even comprehended however, one very obvious thing, so simple it was ridiculous. The Turks were people.

Rude's whole exterior was numb. He nodded dumbly and sat up.

"Thanks," he replied. The solitary word meant much more than it sounded on the surface.


As he made his way down to the bar, he didn't know what to say to her. I'm sorry wasn't enough. He had betrayed her trust. He knew that. After letting her guard down to him he had treated her like she assumed he would, and how he had assured her that he wouldn't. He knew how difficult it was for her to let her wall down with his affections.

He couldn't believe his careless actions. He stopped flat out in the hallway, purely disgusted with himself. When he finally entered the bar, he saw Elena sitting at a table with about five men crowded around her. A twinge of jealousy arose in him. He realized that if he didn't take advantage of her single status now, someone else would. She didn't exactly seem interested as she sipped her drink however, staring depressingly into space. Her eyes were half closed, and her lips didn't move except to consume the alcohol.

"C'mon, you know what I want," an especially obnoxious man said that had approached her. Elena ignored him.

"Am I going to have to carry you off to my room to get it beautiful?" the man accosted her again.

She could feel his eyes inspect every curve of her motionless body in the tight clothes.

"Go away," Elena said tiredly.

She reached for her gun in the back of her pants, but it was gone...

Oh shit...

She looked behind her, and a man sat, holding her gun just out of her reach with a smirk on his ugly face.

Her hand to hand combat skills had badly deteriorated since she had been using a gun, and she knew very well that it would be impossible to take all these men at the same time.

Damn clothing store can't carry decent clothing... She sighed and went back to sipping her drink. Maybe if she just ignored them they'd go away.

She was wrong.

The obnoxious man made a move towards her, and lifted her right out of the chair. The other assholes cheered as he proceeded to carry Elena kicking and starting to scream, off to his room.

He didn't get far.

"Put the girl down," Rude said icily as he blocked the man's path. The foolish beast just laughed at him. Elena scratched at him with her hands.

"What are you gonna do? Hit me to death with those sunglasses?" the man chuckled.

"No, but I could always blow your head off," Rude said calmly as he brought his gun around.

As the man was distracted, Elena kicked him as hard as she could and punched him in the face.

Being at least 6 feet tall, he dropped her with a thump to the ground. She could tell the minute she hit the floor that her leg was broken as it grotesquely went out in a very wrong direction. The pain was excruciating, but she did not cry out. Her face did not even flinch.

As her bone protruded an inch from her leg, she simply shut her mouth and clenched her fists.

It was even worse when the man kicked her. She still wouldn't let a noise escape her and give him the satisfaction of seeing her defeated. Her face stayed serene, but she gripped her fists so tightly that her hands began to bleed from her nails digging into them.

Before Rude could do anything the man had kicked Elena, knocking her leg into an even more contorted position. She didn't say anything.

"Stupid bitch!" the man muttered as he felt the blood dripping from his nose where Elena had just decked him.

That was when Rude realized just how much pain she could withstand, just how much emotion she could hide if she desired. It was her choice as to whether or not she let it escape. He also realized why she had become a Turk so easily.

She can withstand a broken leg without flinching, but a few words from my mouth and she goes off crying to her was then he realized that he had something very important. Irate emotion flared up in him. How dare this man hurt her...

Rude did not often become angry, but when he did, the effects were devastating.

Rude took two huge steps forward, bringing his gun up to the man's temple.

"You touch her again and I'll kill you," he said, his tone so murderous that just the raspy sound of it made the man recoil.

Rude suddenly grabbed Elena's knife from his jacket which she had forgotten from the room that morning and slashed the man's arm viciously two times, enough to pain him to great lengths.

"If I ever catch you near this woman again, I'll make sure personally that you have a slow and painful death," he hissed through clenched teeth, drawing his infuriated face an inch from his assailant's, though he had to slightly bend down to do so.

The man scurried of as did his other companions, still holding his gaping arm that was dripping the disgusting gore everywhere. Elena lay discarded like a worthless play toy on the ground, successfully keeping hold to consciousness.

Rude leaned down and gingerly picked her up, leg still grotesquely bent, and he began to carry her back to the room.

She was like a lifeless doll in his arms. Her body bent every which way as he walked. Finally she let out a small squeak of pain, though she rabidly fought to keep it in. On second thought, before passing the second entrance to the bar, he walked in. Hastily picking a table, he cleared off all the glasses which fell with a smash to the floor. He gently laid Elena down on it, preparing to use the Restore materia she had gotten to save his very life the first time they had shot at eachother.

Was it just 2 days ago?

"C'mon Elena, wake up..."

She wasn't subdued to begin with. Her eyes still roved his, blank. Every few seconds however, they would flash with such pain that it made even Rude cringe.

He gently smoothed back her disheveled hair, and turned his thoughts intensively onto the Restorative materia.

"Cure," he completely concentrated on healing Elena's bone.

As the nurturing green mists wove their way around Elena, they put the bone back into place and mended it.

She was now fully awake. As her leg mended, she could feel the pain almost disappear with a soft, misty hissing noise.

She tried to hop off the table, but her leg had been so badly injured that she collapsed. The cure had merely set the bone and mended it. Natural cure was the only way she'd actually regain physical strength. Rude caught her before she hit the floor, helping her to steady herself against the table.

"Thanks," she said simply.

Rude could've said, "no problem" or "just doing my job" or something equally as meaningless. That's just how the Turks were, and she'd expect nothing more out of him.

But he didn't.

He entrapped her into a tight embrace, and stroked her the back of her head protectively.

"If someone hadn't have been here you would've had something very bad happen to you Elena...," his voice trailed off, as if speaking to himself.

He couldn't bear the thought.

"I'm sorry I treated you like trash before," he said apologetically. "I'm just sorry," he looked at her, and for once he was showing his love in public. It may have been an empty bar, but to Elena it meant much more.

She managed a small smile.

"It's ok Rude, I would've gotten away."

But she knew that she wouldn't have, not without her gun at least.

"I should really touch up my hand to hand skills," she made a mental note to herself. She didn't like depending on a weapon that could be taken away so easily to protect her.

Rude set her on the table, and bent down to see her leg. He touched it in various places, asking her if it hurt.

Finally he placed his finger lightly right below her knee and she yelped.

"Well, no more walking for a couple days..."

"No way Rude, just leave me at an Inn...I'll be fine."

She wasn't going to jeopordize the operation.

"You can't defend yourself if you can barely walk."

"Rude, screw me and my disabled leg. What about the assignment?!"

"It can wait," and with that, he put someone before his work, something even he thought he would never do.

Rude picked her back up and headed down to their room. Once they entered, Tifa was no where to be found. Rude lay Elena very gently down on the large double bed, and after few seconds hesitation laid down next to her. Elena tried to maneuver herself back up, and with some difficulty moved her body on her good leg to stand. She pulled off her shoes and proceeded to climb under the sheets. It had been a long day, and it was already at least 11:00 at night. She buried her head deep into her pillow, but she couldn't bring herself to sleep.

Rude lay nearly 3 feet away from her and hadn't bothered to take off his shoes as he lay on top of the bedsheets.

"Rude, are you going to sleep?"

"Yeah," he said tiredly. He finally also pulled off his shoes, set his sunglasses on the table and climbed under the thin sheets.

"Um, Elena..."


"Where should I sleep?"

"Well, it's up to you. Tifa's gotta sleep somewhere."

"No, she's got her own room."

Elena pondered this. So he wasn't planning on what she thought he had been.

"Do you mind if I slept here? There's enough room so we wouldn't even touch..." his voice faded as Elena turned around to face him.

"Don't worry about it," she replied.

Rude didn't know how to approach this. He didn't want to make Elena feel like he was trying to do something indecent.

He decided to take the chance. He wanted to be near her in case anyone came back to get revenge on what he had done to the obnoxious rapist. He climbed under the sheets and switched off the lights. The room was enveloped in complete darkness.



"I never correctly apologized before. I realize you're my equal as a Turk now, and I will no longer treat you like a rookie."

Elena turned around to face him again.

She could see the outline of his form as his ribs moved up and down in his even breathing pattern.

"Ok Rude, but can I ask you something?"

".....Yes," he replied indefinitely.

"Did you think of me as an easy way to brag about how much of a womanizer you are when we were in Corel?"

She held her breath, her face still close to his.

She could hear him let out a sigh.

"No...I told you......."

"I've cared for you...for a long time."

"How long?"

Rude let another labored sigh escape him.

"...Two years."

Elena could feel her mouth drop open.

"I had no idea...."

Rude shrugged it off.

"Well, you and Tseng..." the old memory hurt too much to refer to it, and Elena could tell as his voice ceased in speaking.

She moved herself towards Rude as his face met hers. She kissed his lips and forehead, eventually moving down to his neck.

Rude sighed in pleasure.

"I've always loved you Elena," he said in an almost inaudible whisper, pressing his body firmly to hers.

He brought his arms around her, and eventually she let his hands explore her. Rude could feel her involuntarily tremble under his gentle touch.

His hands came to rest at her back, stroking her reassuringly. Elena continued to kiss Rude, overcome by passion.

She suddenly realized how long she had felt this way. She had never truly loved Tseng... or had she? Sure, she found him attractive, but Rude...she had never stopped to consider it back then.

She untucked his shirt and moved her hands underneath of it, letting them move up his back slowly. As her fingers ran over him, his muscles slightly contracted, and he relaxed in bliss, still silent.

She was overcome by her feelings for this man that she had so wrongly branded as being cold and uncaring. For one of the first times, she felt as if she belonged in someone's arms.

Removing her hands from his back, she slowly started to unbutton his shirt. As she did, he suddenly grabbed her hands and stopped her, the tension returning to his formerly relaxed body.

He doesn't want this? Do I want this?

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

Elena kissed his lips lightly in response, not wanting to speak. She felt his body relax again as she continued to remove his shirt. She took the front of his shoulders in her hands and gently massaged them, working all the way around until she reached his back.

He let a long, quiet sigh of relief as any tight muscles relaxed at her soothing touch, and he let his entire body fall back onto the bed in complete relaxation.

Elena had never felt such desire before. She never realized how much she cared for Rude. Whenever she needed help, they had protected eachother as Turks - at least in the physical world.

Tseng, he thought she loved Tseng. Tseng didn't even view her as a date much less a love in his time of life. Did he?

Well, it didn't matter anyway. She wanted to be with Rude right now, not Tseng. She desperately wished this night could last longer, afraid this side of Rude she was seeing now would never resurface again.

I want this more than anything else.

She peeled his shirt off, and lightly ran her hands over his torso. He had grown even more muscular in the past year. Rude's body shuddered under her passionate touch, and she kissed his neck again as he kept his arms tightly locked around her, as if he let her go he would wake up from this unthinkable dream of fulfillment.

"Mmm, Elena...," he mumbled in pure bliss, as if tasting something delicious for the first time.

He had thought this was impossible. Elena could never love him. It was always Tseng. Often times he just wanted to hold her, but he couldn't. She hadn't even looked his way. He always acted so cold and aloof with her in the past, and it was the exact opposite of how he felt.

He finally began to unlace her top, unsure of what she would do. He hoped she trusted him.

He discarded of her halter on the floor and pulled her on top of him effortlessly. She caressed his face as she gently kissed his lips repeatedly, not making any action to resist. He could feel the tender sensation of her skin in contact with his own, and it was unlike any feeling of lust or love he had ever felt for anyone.

Did she want to make love with him? He wondered desperately what he should do. His passion had overcome his rational thinking. Desire burned lustily in his body and love swelled in his heart. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this much emotion. In response to stop his ragged feelings of desire, he feverishly kissed her and finally moved down for his lips to carress her neck. At last he just couldn't stand it anymore, and his overwhelming feelings of desire overcame his attempt to ward off the question that was bound to come sooner or later.


"Yes?" she answered softly, whispering sensually into his ear, kissing his face gently as she spoke.

"Will you make love to me?" he asked, his voice in a low unsure tone. Nothing will ever be the same...

In an answer, she slowly began to remove his pants and kissed his lips again.


Hours later, Rude lay in absolute contentment with Elena at his side, her head propped lazily against his chest. She could hear his heart beating, and it reassured her of his presence. He absentmindedly stroked her short hair, remembering when he had dreamt of that crown of cornsilk. Though cornsilk it was no longer. Strange - love - the things it made him do, the person that seemed to emerge from him.

How he had waited for this moment, when he could just lay in peace with Elena, without having to worry about someone trying to kill him. He almost laughed as he thought of what Reno would say. Reno had only seen him smile once in his entire life.

He could tell Elena had fallen asleep, and he pulled the sheets more tightly around her. He closed his eyes in solitude.


Vincent sat in the darkness until morning, staring up at the sky until dawn came to light the new coming day. He dreaded the light for it engulfed him, and exposed what he really was. It showed people his haggled, tortured appearance. The darkness loved him; it concealed him and kept him safe from prying, hateful eyes.

Even the darkness could not hide him from his own abhorrence of himself however.

He closed his eyes and slowly brought his hand around to feel ice cold metal chill his fingertips. He ran his fingers lightly down the metal arm, down to the claw that came to frightening daggerish points. He dropped his metal arm, and it fell with a metallic clang to his side. His hand came up to his face, and he felt his pale skin, traced his horrible features.

Now he understood why Lucreica could never love him. It was not his frightening appearance, nor was it his being Turk. She refused to love him, because of his very disposition. It was then he realized something not even he had known before. Hojo...he had always blamed everything on Hojo. Hojo hadn't created this monster that he was, the monster that killed and didn't care about anyone or anything. The monster that was used to take an awful toll on the brighter side of human nature. Then he knew who had invented this monstrosity.

I created myself.

He had formulated the parasite which plagued mankind; this horrible indifference. The carelessness that invented hatred and disinterest. The thing that dwelled in every human soul, that cold part of it that they wished not to face.

Vincent was that cold element.

Lucrecia was the only one who had broken his indifferent shell without even trying. The only one who could make him flinch. The mere utterance of her name could make his soul writhe in agony. He was incredulous at her undying love for her son. Her son, who had ravaged the Planet and the people - burning towns, murdering human beings. He didn't care who it was. Children, mothers, couples, or greedy presidents. That was Sephiroth. Yes, it was he who killed people who had no name known to him, didn't care what happened. Then Vincent had a sudden revelation. It wasn't Sephiroth who was the murderer, the careless plague. It wasn't Hojo who had created this tool of destruction.

His demonic structure, his horrible murderous nature, simply wasn't to blame on anyone.

It was him.

He was the source of his own infinite denial.


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