Mikari
by on May 16, 2015
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Sephiroth mysteriously comes back to life with nearly complete memories and almost no insanity. He goes back to Shinra and it's up to the Turks to reintegrate him into society, unless Reno drives him crazy all over again. Told in Sephiroth's perspective.

Reintegration

Step 01: An Invitation to Hang Out

Everyone deserves a second chance, that's what she told me when she saw me leaving the life stream. I didn't really see Aeris in the life stream often, she must have been in a completely different area than where I was at; that makes sense. She sounded pretty forgiving despite the fact that I vaguely remember stabbing her on the back, literally. However, I can almost imagine her laughing evilly right now, 'you're getting what you deserve Sephiroth', she must be thinking.

No doubt about it, this is a divine punishment worse than ten thousand deaths. But then, who am I to judge, I'm only the fallen legend, yet I have no intentions of remaining as such. Whatever happened in the past, whatever crazy ideas I had, which were mako induced I'm sure, are gone now. I am sane, for now at least, but I cannot guarantee my mental state for much longer if Reno doesn't shut up.

"So are you coming, you are coming, right?"

I massage my temples and sigh, tempted to give him a negative reply. Reno has been asking me to join him and Rude at the Seventh Heaven tonight and quite frankly I do not feel up to it. Never mind that Cloud Strife, whom I'm certain hates me with a good reason, and Tifa Lockhart, who perhaps has even more reasons to hate me, are both going to be there. "Yes Reno, I'm going."

"Awesome!"

I'm an idiot. Surely my time in the life stream has washed away every shred of common sense I ever had. I know this will end badly, but I simply could not refuse. Needless to say, my sudden return, though not exactly a movie worthy entrance, has left everyone who knows of it so far in shock.

There were no crashes of lightning, no darkness in the sky, no roaring thunder, no harsh wind, nothing to indicate the coming of... well, anything. I simply materialized at a church in old Midgar in my usual clothes, with my usual sword, simple as that, and I walked around, unsure of where to go. One cannot be expected to know what to do immediately after recovering one's mental health and being mysteriously resurrected.

I am certain however, that I am not a ghost, nor am I an insane super villain bent on destroying the planet, or using it as an odd sort of rocket ship. Nor do I believe that the fossil of a very old alien, who was probably already dead before my grandparents existed, could possibly be my mother. At least, that much is clear. This does not mean I understand my origins, but modifications aside, I'm sure I'm not a mere laboratory experiment. I should have, must have, had parents at some point, I just don't know who they were.

Gast could have been my father, but I don't know for sure, as for my mother, I'm at a blank. But let's get back into the main topic; my forgotten family tree should be the least of my worries right now. As I was saying, I walked around without a set plan of action, and of all the people in the world, it was Reno of the Turks who found me.

That carrot-top fool landed his helicopter and, holding his electrorod ready, he cautiously approached. I rolled my eyes at his incessant pouty-faced glare, then he asked who I was and I told him the truth. I accepted going to the new Shinra where several tests were conducted to prove I was who I said I was. My DNA matched their data, so they were finally satisfied.

Then Reno went on a speech about how he found me, exaggerating several unimportant details. I only half listened while I wondered about my uncertain future and disastrous past, until it was decided that I would be given the opportunity to participate in Shinra's efforts to fix what was done wrong, but until they knew I could be trusted, I would have to be guarded by the Turks.

If I wasn't in the center of all this, I would have been amused by their little argument, where Reno made me sound like a stray puppy he found on the street and should therefore be allowed to keep since he saw it first. I wanted to reach out, smack him on the head, and tell him I am not to become his pet. Instead I made myself calm down and mentally counted to ten, I couldn't blow things now if I was planning to live a decent life now that I have been mysteriously brought back to life.

Though I will emphasize the fact that Reno is annoying, in his favor I must admit I'm glad that he's too stupid to fear me. It's not that I am planning to harm him or anyone else, but rather, I would understand if my presence is alarming. Nevertheless Reno seems to find it easy to make an effort to help reintegrate me to Shinra and perhaps society, even if he is going at it in a most inappropriate way. In that sense I feel compelled to accept the offer to go 'hang out' with the Turks at the Seventh Heaven, and even if I know I'm a fool to hope that tonight will end without bloodshed, I will still hope.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 02: Reminiscing

They say that reminiscing about old times can be both good and bad. It can bring back negative ideas of monstrous origins and alien mothers telling their sons to remodel the planet into a spaceship as payback for things that supposedly happened long before said son's real grandparents even existed. However, looking back on one's beginnings in this world, or one's second beginnings, or third, can sometimes bring many revelations, such as the fact that I brought this upon myself and I'm going to have to face it.

I was confused when I came back. There I was, in the world of the living, not in the life stream, wondering what got into me. One minute I was on a mission and the next I was reading a multitude of old books, trying to find out who I was, the rest is blurred by insanity. I supposed that knowing I was more than just a little crazy back then proves that I am sane now.

Even so, even if I was supposedly sane when I came back, I could still hear a voice in my head, though only for a short time and it wasn't the imaginary voice of Jenova. I don't mean to disrespect the dead, but I don't know what caused me to think that I was related to that being. Back on topic, the voice in question I'm fairly certain belonged to Aeris, she was bidding me farewell from the life stream and wishing me good luck in reforming my life.

My mind could have been racing with thoughts at the time, and for a short while it was, but then it went blank and my many thoughts ran through my subconscious. I walked and walked, drowning in confusion, until I was picked up by him, Reno, the foolish man who landed a helicopter in my path and faced me armed with an electrorod, miraculously living to tell the tale.

Reno didn't attack, I'm not sure I could have held back if he did. When he saw that I had no intentions of attacking unless it was in self defense, he had asked, "who are you?"

"I am Sephiroth," I did not hide my identity.

"Oh..." Reno tilted his head to the side and put the electrorod away, approaching me curiously. Then he extended his arm, index finger outstretched, and poked me on the shoulder, quickly retreating and jumping back. He repeated the action several times, until he trusted me enough to poke me without immediately retreating.

"Are you satisfied?" I was annoyed, but I tried to be lenient with the foolish creatures of this world after all the trouble I caused. Besides, not everyone is as irritating as Reno.

"Are you coming back to Shinra?" The half question, half invitation surprised me but it shouldn't have.

"I suppose so," Shinra was all I knew, it was my logical destination, I had no where else to go.

That was how it all began, this new life of mine. During the helicopter ride, Reno nearly chewed my ears off talking, not literally of course. He was full of questions and I didn't always know the answers. I was aggravated and it took a tremendous effort to stop myself from decapitating the Turk.

xoxox xox xoxox

Hearing Reno later dramatize the encounter with the Legend, me, was both annoying and amusing, though I'll admit mostly amusing. "Can we keep him?"

Tseng shook his head at the question; we were in Shinra HQ then, in the Turks' office to be specific.

"It's okay, I'll take care of him," Reno had insisted, making me sound like a stray animal. "I'll feed him, keep him out of trouble, I'll make sure he's alright."

'Who will make sure the rest of the world is alright?' I'm sure Tseng wanted to ask, but instead he continued to shake his head and finally voiced, "we'll have to ask the president."

xoxox xox xoxox

Rufus was neither trilled nor stressed to see me when Tseng, Reno and I entered his office. The president took the matter with relative ease and offered me a job, "we can reinstate you into Shinra if you don't cause trouble. We're working on creating a new image here."

"I assure you I will not bring any problems," to say this felt odd, my record had been impeccable before the entire Nibelheim incident and I filed no report after that, so this was my first time seemingly making an excuse along the lines of 'it won't happen again,' only worded differently.

"Very well then, since we have no Soldier department anymore, you will be working with the Turks, everything will be reported to Tseng. Other than that, try not to cause a commotion." Rufus seemed to have grown up a lot, while he still stayed Mr. Spoiled Rich Boy, but I was very glad to be working with the new president instead of old man Shinra.

"Yes, sir," was all I could think of replying.

Tseng had looked stressed; he kept glancing at Reno and me as if he couldn't handle both of us at the same time. Though I'm sure he must be feeling better about my presence by now, since Reno has taken to sticking to me like glue most of the time, leaving him with far less time to pester Tseng. Is this how it was for Aeris when she was under surveillance? Oh yes, she must be enjoying her revenge from the life stream.

xoxox xox xoxox

My thoughts come full circle into the present. I live at Shinra, I work at Shinra, I spend my free time at Shinra, and I see more of the Turks than I ever thought I could handle. However, this is not so bad, what will be bad is my upcoming appointment to go to the Seventh Heaven. How did I let Reno drag me into this? Regardless of what strange power of persuasion he might have used, I will not go back on my word.

I exit my room, located in a well secured basement of the new Shinra building, and proceed to feel utterly silly standing at the main entrance, waiting for Reno to show up so we can get this over with. People pass by heading towards the cyber cafe that was opened as part of a community help or to shop at the Shinra stores. Some give me odd looks, but they continue on their way. I'm feeling quite uncomfortable standing here and an attendant has come twice to ask if I wanted something. I politely told her I was waiting for someone and she finally went away, but that did little to relive my discomfort.

I am tempted to retreat back to my room, or maybe explore the city of Edge alone, but given the situation, I'm sure that will not be well received. It can be seen as an attempt to get away from Shinra's custody, which I'm sure is the only thing keeping me from being sent to jail, and consequently breaking out of jail. I'm sure the only reason I'm even allowed to leave this building without a fuss is because I'll be leaving with a Turk.

Surely Reno must be neck deep in paperwork just to get me out of here, signing a sea of documents making himself responsible for my actions. I'm sure that's what's keeping him, so I should be patient and wait, I just wish he would hurry.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 03: Patience

"Look mommy, it's Sephiroth!" I knew something bad was to come when the child called out those words.

I am still standing here in the lobby of Shinra, near the entrance, not daring to go out. If I am to make amends, I can't misbehave, or give the impression that I am misbehaving. Reno hasn't shown up yet, he must be having a hard time with the documents to get me out of here, I really wish he would hurry.

"Oh, yes, it's Sephiroth, we better be careful or he'll throw a bomb at us!" The child's mother is clearly amused and I am not.

I never planted or threw bombs; I manipulated an ancient fossil that I thought was my mother and tried to cause a meteor to collide with this planet so I could use it as a vessel to travel the cosmos and... Oh, never mind. It all sounds too crazy when I think about it now. The point is the ones playing with explosives were the Turks and Avalanche, not me.

"I'll get you, villain!" The boy is hitting me with his miniature plastic buster sword.

I look at the child's mother waiting for her to call him back and scold him, but she is actually laughing. "Ma'am?"

She nods, interpreting my silent request in a completely different way from how it was meant. "Keep an eye on him then. I'll be back after I'm done shopping." She walks away, abandoning me with the little brat.

"Oni slash! Oni slash!" The boy keeps hitting me with his sword as I stand frozen in disbelief. The child's mother assumed I was some kind of child care taker employed by Shinra, who was merely dressed as Sephiroth, but I am Sephiroth.

I take a deep breath and hold down my temper. I did say I was making amends and living peacefully. I do wish to honor the reputation I used to have before the Nibelheim incident, but there are some things that I cannot overlook, "it's omnislash, not oni slash."

"Nu-uh, Sephiroth! You're just trying to trick me!" The boy continues hitting me with his plastic sword. Reno, where are you?

xoxox xox xoxox

An hour passes before the child's mother finally returns carrying several shopping bags. "Thank you for taking care of him, it's so nice of Shinra to have someone to play with the children like this."

"I can't go, mommy! I need to defeat Sephiroth!" I can't believe this; I need to get rid of this brat, without hurting him. "Oni slash!"

I pretend to fall over, I feel like an idiot, but the kid might throw a tantrum if he leaves without defeating the villain, that will give Shinra a bad image and I will get blamed for it. "I will never be a memory..."

I dramatically pretend to die and the boy cheers, running around his mother. "Did you see, mommy? Did you see? I beat Sephiroth!"

"Yes dear, I saw, you're quite the hero. Come now, let's go home." Before leaving, the woman thanks me again and gives me some gil, "your costume is really good." I assume the gil is a tip.

After the mother and child are gone, I look around to see the normal flow of people; no one cared too much about the show. They don't believe I am the real Sephiroth; I'm just a man in a villain costume. What ever happened to the legendary hero? Is that who Cloud is now? I can't help it but to feel bitter jealousy.

My PHS suddenly rings, getting me out of my thoughts. I see Reno's name on the screen and immediately answer it, "hello?"

"Where are you?"

"I'm waiting in the entrance to headquarters." Finally, I can leave!

"Why? Who are you waiting for?" Reno's questions take me by surprise.

"You," I answer simply. Has Reno not been filling up papers to get me out of here all this time?

"I thought we were going to the Seventh Heaven, I told you that, didn't I? For how long were you waiting? If you forgot where we were meeting you should have called me, or Rude." Reno is missing a very important point.

I try to illustrate the point he missed, but instead end up asking unsure, "don't you need to fill up a lot of paperwork so I can leave the Shinra building? Don't I need to be escorted by a Turk at all times?"

Laughter erupts at the other end of the line. When Reno finally regains his composure enough to speaks, he voices between muffled laughs, "I'm not your babysitter!"

I can only stare at the PHS dumbly, "what do you mean?"

"I mean I don't have to keep an eye on you, no one does. You're not going to do anything wrong, are you? You don't need babysitters or guards; you're not a kid or a prisoner. Sure you're under watch, but it's not that strict. Besides, I knew you were coming and told the other Turks, if we lose track of you, we'll call you, and if you reply, everything is fine. Just don't disappear without telling or we'll have to track you down and won't be able to clock out until we hear from you. Anyway, you can still head on over to the Seventh Heaven, the party's just getting good!"

"I've been waiting," I mutter into the PHS, "I've been waiting..." I've been waiting for nothing, while Reno, whom I thought was braving a sea of forms and questioners, was out drinking with his friends.

"Then stop waiting and get over here, if you wanted a ride you should have said so. C'mon, just walk over here or take the train; you're missing all the fun!"

I don't care how rude it was, but I hung up without saying goodbye. I feel utterly ridiculous as I walk down the streets of Edge. No one is frightened and I know I should be happy, but I'm frustrated. I better not walk too fast, because right now what I really want to do when I get to the Seventh Heaven is smash Reno's face against the counter repeatedly until they both break.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 04: Friendly Gathering

When I arrived at the Seventh Heaven, I was breathing heavily. It's not that I'm tired or out of breath, I was trying to calm myself. However, my attempt at relaxing deep breaths came out as heavy panting.

"Wow, I never thought I would see you out of breath," Reno looked at me curiously. "Have a seat buddy, rest up and have fun," then he attempted to push me into a stool in front of the bar, after having the audacity to call me 'buddy'. He pushed me gently at first, then with all his strength when that didn't work. I didn't move an inch, my eyes were closed and my breathing had stopped, as I mentally counted to ten and summoned the willpower not to kill Reno.

Finally, I opened my eyes and sat down. To my left, there sat Reno and next to him Rude, then Elena and Tseng in the far corner. To my right, there sat Cloud Strife. I looked at Cloud curiously from the corner of my eyes, half-hidden behind my hair. It was ridiculous, hair doesn't really hide anyone, but I created the illusion of being invisible by partially covering my face like a school girl would do, as if that would make the act of passing notes impossible to detect. The thought made me shudder and sit straight.

Cloud looked at me curiously, his eyes were hard at first, but then he seemed to remember something and his look softened. Why is it taking him this long to bring out his sword? I thought he would pick a fight the second a set foot in here. "Nice costume."

My mouth hung open for a few seconds before I finally muttered, "thanks." Cloud thinks this is a disguise. I glance at Reno who gives me a knowing grin. Maybe he's not so stupid after all; it looks like he did prepare Strife for my arrival. "Do you hate me, him, Sephiroth?" I hate how the words came out all mixed up, but I can hardly articulate a coherent sentence in my state of shock. That was a very stupid question.

"Of course not!" I stare at Cloud in shock, "not you I mean, I hate Sephiroth, everyone knows that, but I don't hate you. I know what it's like needing a job. I've taken on a few troublesome deliveries myself. I'm not going to judge you by the character you play. Acting out the part of the villain doesn't mean you're evil; it's just another character that someone has to represent. There's not need to be embarrassed, it's an honest job."

I nod at Cloud's words. I'm not going to burst his bubble and tell him I'm the real Sephiroth. That would be a very foolish action, which would surely bring about the chaos I've been trying so hard to avoid.

"Hi! What can I bring you?" The Seventh Heaven is packed with people and it took Tifa a moment to free herself enough to ask. I order a drink and suddenly I find myself remembering my time with Angeal and Genesis. I haven't thought about them in a long time, but I realize that I miss them.

Tifa placed my drink on the counter in front of me and I think she said something, but I was too lost in memory lane to notice right away. Ridiculously enough, the image of Angeal, Genesis and I starts to shift and I see myself laughing like old times, but my companions are Cloud and Reno. This is indeed ridiculous.

The chatter around me continues and I finally notice how noisy this place is, but I suppose I can't expect a bar to be quiet. I finish my glass and order another drink, the effect of alcohol is lost on mako, I've never been drunk, I don't think I'm capable of that regardless of how much I drink.

"You know, he wasn't always so bad," I'm not sure what possessed me to suddenly speak again. "Sephiroth, I mean."

"Oh," Cloud's attention was captured by my statement. "I know, I heard and I know; it's complicated." He paused as if trying to find a way to explain something that a regular person wouldn't understand. "My friend Zack knew Sephiroth, I know him through Zack."

This isn't a simple matter of meeting a person after being introduced by a mutual friend, there is something more, but I will not question it. With Soldier and mako, the possibilities are endless and I know first hand that it is possible to end up with a reality that is not one's own, fictional or borrowed. I simply nod unsure of what to say, I don't want to push the issue too much or Cloud and the eavesdroppers, bars are always full of them, are going to think I'm defending a villain too much and I am trying to avoid fights.

Nevertheless, I can't help it but to hold on to that memory of me before I lost my mind, my true self, the person I am hoping to restore. Yes, I want to go back to that, though I know it should be impossible. For now I'll just focus on staying out of trouble, which shouldn't be too hard since no one believes I'm the real Sephiroth. That also bothers me a little, how can I clean my tainted name by being someone else? Should I attempt to prove I changed before revealing myself? That appears to be the wisest course of action.

When I snap out of my thoughts, I find Cloud staring at my eyes with an unsure look on his face. "Your eyes," he mutters in a nearly inaudible whisper.

"Contact lenses," I'm quick to make up an excuse for the unnatural glow in my mako eyes.

Cloud's laugh suddenly rings out, causing all the people around us, the Turks and Tifa included, to look at him.

"How did you do that?" Reno questions. "I've been trying to make Mr. Emo laugh for ages. I thought he just didn't have a sense of humor!"

Tifa smiled widely at the scene, while Cloud calmed his laughter. "For a second there I thought you were the real one. That's impossible, the real Sephiroth wouldn't just sit here drinking and talking. He would be trying to kill me and destroy humanity or searching for traces of Jenova leftovers or something. I've been listening to too many of Reno's 'three soldiers walk into a bar' jokes."

I force myself to laugh, but it comes out somewhat bitter.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 05: Psychology

Last night was not so bad. I stayed at the Seventh Heaven until late at night. The Turks were there late as well. Reno started telling jokes and I think I should have been offended, but I let it pass, Strife didn't seem to care too much, he just rolled his eyes. I remember some of Reno's stupid 'three soldiers walk into a bar' jokes...

"So these three soldiers walk into a bar and each of them gets two drinks, one free for each. Everyone wonders about this and then the bartender points to a sign that says it's a special ladies' night so women get their first drink free. So this random guy says, 'but there are only three men there, no women.' So the bartender says, 'it's one drink for them and one for their mother.' Then the guy goes, 'where's the mother? And that would still be two extra drinks,' so the bartender goes, 'they're soldiers'!"

I remember there was a pause when Reno finished his joke and nobody laughed so he elaborated, "don't you get it? It's because they each have their mom with them, Jenova cells, get it? Okay one more, three soldiers walk into a bar and ask for drinks, but the bartender refuses saying 'you're already too drunk,' but the soldiers say they haven't had any drinks, then the bartender goes, 'you're drunk I can see it in your eyes!' Get it? Mako, they're drunk on mako!"

There was a multitude of stupid jokes after that, but I chose not to remember them. Reno says the most ridiculous things when he's drunk. Admittedly, it takes a lot of drinks for him to become drunk enough to start telling his 'three soldiers walk into a bar' jokes, but when he starts, he doesn't stop. I bet he won't remember any of that today, lucky him.

So far my tasks for today have consisted of training, training and more training. I've been at Shinra HQ; it is the only place I know. As I swing my sword and battle holographic monsters in the simulator, everything suddenly goes dark, the lights come on again and the simulator is empty, somebody interrupted my training.

Normally I would be annoyed, but I have been trying to control my temper. "Yo Seph!" Reno is not making that task easy. "Do you know what kind of mission Leader just gave me?" He doesn't allow me to reply, "he told me to tell you something, me, a messenger boy. But that's okay, it's still a lot better than Rude's job, he has to hand out flyers for some Shinra sponsored event. Man, can you believe the lack of interesting missions since Shinra turned goody-goody?"

I stop to give the situation some thought, while Reno chatters about, then I speak, my voice silencing his, "it's admirable."

With a "huh?" and a puzzled expression, Reno stops talking.

"What Rufus is trying to do, he is restoring Shinra to be once again seen as a force of good. The world still needs heroes and Shinra will have to provide them once the people's trust is reestablished in full. Things are a little shaky right now, but I think we're making progress." I pause to realize I am including myself as a part of Shinra, speaking of 'us' with more unity that I ever have before. This time 'we' includes all of Shinra, not just my elite best friends.

"Eh?" Reno is still confused.

"You have always worked as a spy, haven't you? Back then soldiers were the public heroes and Turks worked in the shadows. Maybe one day we will all be seen as heroes," when I had such a reputation I didn't care for it and now I want it back, not for the fame, but for the proof of redemption.

"Back then..." Reno tilts his head curiously, then wrinkles his nose in dislike. "You sound like an old man, and here I thought your hair was naturally silver, is it from age?"

I shake my head, "you need to learn to be more responsible." I have a feeling telling him this is a lost cause; he doesn't hold the burden of being the world's greatest villain. Then I recall that I am assigned to work with the Turks, as explained by Rufus, because there are no soldier units anymore. "Since you've been assigned to the task of messenger boy, please inform Tseng that I am on standby, awaiting orders." Reno merely blinks and I remind him, "I was assigned to work with the Turks remember, I report to Tseng."

"Oh! That's right, I almost forgot, there's this report you have to write," I thought I caught a hint of mischief in Reno's eyes, but I'm not sure why. "It's kind of a psycho exercise."

"I do hope you mean psychological."

"Yeah, yeah, that! All you have to do is type up a report of what happened in the bar last night, how you interacted with people and stuff, but it has to be in my perspective. Just write it as if you were me; it's part of the exercise, putting yourself in someone else's shoes and stuff."

I should be bothered that I am being reported on as an experiment, I was seen as an experiment for far too long and thinking of myself as such drove me to the extremes. But was fully expected to be reported on given the situation and I'm still surprised I can move around the city in relative freedom after all that happened. Perhaps I am being reported on more as a mental patient than an experiment this time around, yet I can't really blame them, I'll just have to prove I'm sane and I'm certainly not stupid. "Reno, you just want me to do your paperwork for you."

Reno looks like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Aw c'mon, you're not doing anything! Besides, I'm asking you to do this for your own good. I'm just trying to help; it really could be a good psycho exercise!"

I sigh and massage my temples, "alright, I'll do it, but please stop abbreviating the word psychological."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 06: Email

I logged into a terminal to type the report Reno requested. It was an odd feeling, I didn't often use the terminals in the old days, save for a few occasions when I needed to do some research, but when I sat down in front of it, I typed my ID number and password automatically and hit enter before I realized how ridiculous the action was. Why would I still be in their database? Even if they had a backup and managed to restore everything into the servers of their new headquarters, why would my account be active here? Surprisingly, it is

I check the status of my account and see that it was reactivated a day after I returned to Shinra. Apparently I also have new emails and didn't realize it. Here's one from Reno, it has a forwarded message and a document attached.

"Leader told me to tell you this!" Was the only line in Reno's message.

I scroll to read the forwarded message below it, which is from Tseng, "Reno, have you told Sephiroth how to set up his new PHS with the Shinra database so he can access his account and view emails?"

I shake my head, how was this message supposed to reach me if Reno sent it through a network that was yet to be synchronized with my PHS? I opened the attached document and followed the step by step instructions. I am now able to view my Shinra database account and emails through my PHS.

I scroll to another message and see it is from the financial department. I skip the formal greetings and get to the point, "your pay has been deposited automatically in your account at the Bank of Shinra. We did not receive a request for a change in your bank account information, so we assume that it has not changed as of your return to the company. If this is correct, you do not need to reply to this message. If your account information has changed, please contact the financial department immediately. Please note that this first payment is significantly less then your normal paycheck, that is because it includes only the days from the time of your reinstating until the regular payment date. Your next paycheck will be in full."

"I'm getting paid?" I can't help it but to state the question aloud to no one in particular. I thought I would have to pay a fee to the world, yet somehow, I'm getting paid to be at Shinra, even if I'm not doing much. Is Rufus trying to guilt trip me? If he is, I feel horrible, it's working. With vast curiosity I check my bank account information and find that my savings are still there and they have earned interest during my absence. I can only stare at the screen in disbelief.

"Wow, you're loaded!" Anyone else would have jumped at the sudden voice, but I felt the presence behind me and caught a glimpse of who it was from the reflection of the screen protector.

"If you're here for the report, I still haven't finished it," actually, I haven't started it.

Reno nods, "I wanted to see how it was going to make sure you really make it sound like me. It's okay, no rush, I never turn in reports on time anyway."

I continue to stare at the number on the screen, "all that money..." I feel undeserving.

"You know, I always heard Soldiers were poor. Well, poor compared to Turks anyway. I guess you must not spend a lot if you saved that amount."

"I do not care to have many material posessions." I can't help it but to picture the old Midgar slums in my head. Sure those times are gone, but there are many people who have less than me, because they can't afford it, rather than by lack of interest.

Reno completely misses the guilt in my voice. "It's going to be your turn to invite us one of these days, we do that all the time, a different Turk invites the others somewhere each weekend."

I don't mind paying for the group, the same was done for me at the Seventh Heaven, but Reno's disregard bothers me, "you gamble, buy unnecessary things and travel first class, don't you?"

"Well sure, doesn't everyone? Except for the part about buying unnecessary things, goggles, video games and helicopters are very necessary!"

"You collect them?" I assume, though it comes out sounding like a question, when the second part was supposed to be the only question, "helicopters?"

"Yeah, and electrorods too, Rude collects sunglasses, he has a zillion of them, he also likes to work out, his gym's packed with stuff. Elena collects the strangest things, I hardly call it art, but she says those paintings and sculptures are elegant, what an eye sore. Tseng doesn't like clutter so aside from buying a new house or apartment now and then, he doesn't spend much."

I am feeling an irresistible urge to bang my head against the keyboard, but I somehow resist it anyway. Shinra's new image, huh? They're still swimming in money, but if they give too much at once it would be too sudden for anyone to notice the change. It had to be done slowly and with the guise of anonymity for flashy modesty and the belief of nonexistent sacrifice. Shinra couldn't look like it was giving away their extra change, they had to look like they were struggling. I note that I have dropped the 'we' for a 'they' now, but I am still part of Shinra and I will try to make it better, even if I am unforgivable myself. "Let me guess, there's a huge mansion underground at Healin Lodge with all sorts of luxuries."

"How did you know that? Shh! Keep it quiet, it's a secret, Taichou's gonna be mad if anyone hears about it! We were planning to tell you later, honest, we just had to wait a bit and if everything went well, you could come over."

I sigh exasperated, if anyone is going to teach Shinra the true meaning of kindness, it will have to be me, despite the fact that I shouldn't be one to talk. I take a deep breath and go through several ideas in my head on how to properly spend my savings. Admittedly, the first thought that floats into my mind is selfish; I want to move out, if that's possible. "Reno," my tone indicates a change in subject. Am I truly required to live at headquarters?"

"I don't think so, as long as you don't drop off the radar."

"Can I move out?"

"Sure! I'll tell Tseng about it, he has all the latest information in real estate!" Before I could say anything, Reno ran off to inform Tseng.

I have a feeling that this will get expensive and I don't want to spend too much on myself. I try to get distracted by reading the rest of my emails.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 07: Uniform

I finished going through my emails pretty quickly. Tseng had emailed me some links to the Shinra database and instructed me to read the updated company policies. I did, making sure to study them well. In the past, I wouldn't have paid such close attention, just skimming over the documents if I looked at them at all, but now I feel the need to try my best at everything; yet I somehow feel that I'm still lacking. I suppose that's the weight of a dept to the planet.

Elena had emailed me as well; welcoming me to the Turks and warning me to beware coffee machine number eight, because that's the one Reno uses for his practical jokes. I'm not sure which one is number eight, as they are not actually numbered, but I will be extra careful around coffee and around Reno, because I fear my self control will not last if he plays a practical joke on me. Perhaps I should feel thankful to be included if that happens, but I doubt my focus will be easy to maintain... I never doubted myself before, but I guess many things are different now.

My written report is done and I have already emailed it to Reno, he replied a while later while I occupied myself in the further studies of Shinra's rules and regulations, with a message of "thanks pal!" I have a feeling he didn't read over my report and simply forwarded it to Tseng, or Rufus, or both. I could have sent him any attachment and he would have sent that to them.

I was still at the terminal when I felt a presence behind me. Maybe my senses are not so dull after all, or maybe they are. I cannot precise for how long Rude had been standing behind me before I realized he was there. "Hello..." I voice a neutral and hopefully polite sounding greeting.

Rude nods and hands me a box.

I take the box, confusion obvious on my face. I won't hide the fact that I don't know what this box is; maybe Rude will notice and say something, from what little I know of him, he's very quiet, but I heard he's observant.

"Uniform," Rude's reply was simple and to the point, then he left me alone with the box.

I examined the box's contents to find a black suit, tie and shoes and a white shirt. This is a Turk's uniform, is it my uniform? The realization suddenly sinks in. There is no soldier division; I'm reporting to the Turks now, naturally, I should wear their uniform.

It's strange to think about wearing a uniform. I didn't used to wear a uniform in Soldier and neither did Genesis. Our clothes were acceptable for the job and similar to the Soldier uniforms, but they were not the full standards. Angeal used to wear a uniform though.

xoxox xox xoxox

I made sure to log out before I headed to the locker room with the new uniform; I assume I am expected to change right away. It feels odd to remove the armor I put on every day, thinking that I won't wear it again, at least not while working. I suppose it would be wise not to wear the clothing people remember me with as a villain if I am to reintegrate myself into society and live a new peaceful life. Yet I want to wash that reputation along with the armor I used during the good old days, going on missions and training with Angeal and Genesis.

I shake my head and set my old clothes aside. It's time for a new beginning. I put on my Turk uniform and find discomfort. It's not that I am opposed to the idea of being a Turk; this is physical discomfort due to the size of the uniform. The pants, the shirt and blazer are all tight and short, the pants showing my ankles. The shoes are a lost cause; I simply cannot get my feet into them. If I wear my boots the pants don't look so bad and my shirt is tucked in with the blazer over it so the size problem isn't too obvious, it is the blazer that is being difficult.

After battling with the blazer, I finally manage to get it on, but it is most unpleasant. I keep shifting my shoulders, but I can't seem to get comfortable. I miss my armor, it doesn't feel heavy at all, though I imagine it would be heavy for most people, but it gives me a certain familiar comfort in the way my clothes feel.

My PHS sounds off with a message from Tseng, which I read right away, "report to the president's office immediately," did I do something wrong?

I pause and analyze my own thoughts, I'm like a child who got into mischief and fears anyone finding out about it. I used to get messages like this all the time, though I usually had to report to Lazard. In any case, there is no reason to assume the worse.

xoxox xox xoxox

To say the president's expression is dreadful would be an understatement. We are lined up in front of his desk, clock-wise, Tseng, Elena, Reno, Rude and me. Rufus is looking at me with absolute disapproval. Was I supposed to wait for an official confirmation before changing into this uniform? Was it truly meant for me, or is the mismatching size an indication that I was supposed to simply hold on to it for whatever reason.

"Rude?" Rufus finally spoke. Rude only nodded in response and the president continued as if he spoke a full clear answer to Rufus' mysterious question, "schedule an appointment." Again Rude nodded at Rufus' words, what is going on?

I looked at the faces of each person in the room, Rufus still has that look of disapproval, Rude's expression is neutral, Tseng doesn't appear to hold the situation in too much importance, it seems Reno pities me and Elena looks rather cheerful and gives me a smile I wonder if I should return.

I didn't smile often in the past, I might look strange doing so and it would inevitably be a forced smile since my natural expression right now is of puzzlement. Never mind, she looked away, it's too late.

Rufus continued his speech about where the Turks should go that day, maintain the peace here, spread goodwill there, etcetera. I wonder if it is half as nice as it sounds, though I admit it's hard to imagine the Turks doing volunteer charity work. Will I do that too? It might be awkward but if it makes me feel that I am accomplishing a portion of redemption, I will look forward to it.

"Elena, do you want to go instead, I know Rude won't enjoy this, but I believe you would," Rufus offered.

Elena's face lit up, "yes sir!" At the same time, Rude's neutral expression had the slightest hint of relief for a second, though it was easy to miss. What's this about? I feel as if someone is talking behind my back right in front of me.

"Alright, that's all, make sure to turn in your reports electronically at the end of the day," once Rufus concludes, all the Turks, myself included, leave his office and head to the elevator.

xoxox xox xoxox

When we reach the first floor, Tseng, Rude and Reno walk away with Reno complaining and Tseng cautioning him; Rude retained his neutrality. "This way," Elena called my attention, noting that I just stood there in front of the elevator wondering if I should follow someone and who I should follow.

"Where are we going?" I finally asked, it seemed everyone knew except me.

"To the tailor," Elena was smiling from ear to ear, surrounded by a foreboding air.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 08: Normal Man

I follow Elena with mounting dread. I do not wish to go to a tailor, but it seems I have no choice. I suppose it is a requirement that I wear a uniform and they simply do not have a Turk uniform in my size. I guess they didn't expect to hire a Turk who required bigger clothing than Rude.

I'm still lost in my gloomy thoughts, imagining myself being instructed to stand straight and extend my arms, while the tailor stood on a chair and measured me. It will be terribly boring I'm sure, yet I know it's nothing I have the right to complain about.

"Sephiroth?"

Elena's voice wakes me from my thoughts and I realize that I am standing in front of a slick black car, I do not recognize the model, maybe it is custom made as a vehicle to be used by Turks, I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. Upon further inspection I realize that Elena is standing there holding the door open as if I am some rich and spoiled movie star, who must have the chuffer do such a trivial task before getting into the car.

"Are you coming?"

I nod, not wishing to waste any more time, and get in. Elena walks around the car and climbs into the driver's seat. I've never had any doors held open for me before and an odd sense of awkwardness hands in the air.

I noticed that Elena put on her seat belt and quickly put on my own. She breathes deeply and pulls out of the garage, which is cluttered with various vehicles, including a few cars identical to the one we're on, some unmarked and others baring the Shinra logo.

"Just relax, we'll be there in no time," Elena stomps on the gas and makes a sharp turn soon after.

A normal man would have screamed in fear, and it is in moments like this that I am thankful for all my training as a Soldier.

"Do you like music? Of course, who doesn't like music, right? I think I left a flashdrive around here. Where did I put it?" Elena starts fishing for it under the seat, while we rush down the highway.

A normal man would have all the reasons in the world to scream. Thankfully, I am far better trained than a normal man.

"Found it!" Elena holds up the little flashdrive, with a moogle keychain attached to it. "Here we go," she plugs it into the radio's usb outlet and the screen lights up with a list of songs. She then navigates through them on the touch screen, selects the desired playlist and cheerful pop music invades the atmosphere.

Elena looks towards me as if searching for any hints of approval or disapproval for the sound in my expression and I force myself to smile.

She laughs, "you look like I'm taking you to an evil dentist to drill your teeth, you need to relax!"

I knew my smile would come out unnatural, but at least Elena wasn't offended by it.

"You were lucky that I got assigned to this. Rude is really nice but he hardly talks. You would have been bored to sleep during the car ride, but he's a pretty good driver though and so is Tseng, he's always pleasant company. Reno is an awful driver, I swear he's going to get himself killed one of these days!" This is coming from someone who has not released the accelerator since we left and is currently checking her makeup in the rearview mirror instead of paying attention to the road.

I digress, a normal man wouldn't scream, because a normal man would have died of a heart attack before being able to do so.

The car comes to a screeching yet perfect halt and the tires smoke. "Here we are!" Elena reaches out to hold her ID card near a sensor on the tall marble pillars of the entrance and the heavy silver gates open.

We drive in slower now, until Elena stops in front of a mansion, with a wide smile on her face. I do not attempt to smile back this time when we exit the car.

"I hate Darla," Elena suddenly declares, "she's the designer and tailor," this statement puzzles me because she appears to be quite happy to be there. "She likes Tseng, but Tseng likes me!" Elena's smile became wider.

Suddenly, I understand, there was a rivalry between these two women for Tseng and in the end, Elena was chosen as the victor. Most likely, she enjoys rubbing it in.

The mansion's door flies open and there stands a woman, a man in a suit a few steps behind her. It seems the woman rushed to the door before the butler could open it. "You!" The woman pointed an accusing finger at Elena.

"Hi Darla!" Elena smiled deviously and I gave Darla an incredulous look, this was Elena's rival? That woman was in no condition to be anyone's rival with that ridiculous attire.

I am no fashion expert, nor do I care to become one, but even I know that a lime green tank top, a purple feather scarf, canary yellow pants and fuchsia platform sandals do not go well together. Actually, I'm pretty sure not one of those items goes well with anything. I cannot imagine Tseng, or anyone else I know, ever holding an interest for her. Then the reality hits me, this woman will be in charge of preparing my uniform. Is this some cruel joke?

After Elena and Darla exchange some snide remarks and fierce glares, we are led inside. The mansion is littered with abstract paintings and sculptures to suit Darla's unusual taste. It is all far too excessive and extravagant for my approval.

The studio is an eye sore with a multitude of brightly colored and absurdly patterned fabrics all over the place. In the center of the chaos, which would make a normal man's eyes become teary and pained, there is a barrel made of polished wood, with two golden rings around it.

"Okay, darling," Darla addresses me, "take off all your clothes and stand on the stage," she points to the barrel.

"Oh no you don't!" Elena steps in, "I know you're heartbroken and desperate and will not let you take advantage of this poor defenseless man!"

A poor defenseless man; is that how I am perceived? A poor defenseless man who deserves a second look only out of desperation? I suppose I should think it's better than being seen as a monster or an insane homicidal maniac, but I still find Elena's chosen description to be unpleasant and I should hope inaccurate.

"Now listen here! I am the designer, and I am the one who makes clothes for Rufus Shinra himself, and I am the one who owns this studio, and I am the one who will make Mr. Hot's clothes, and the one who decides how I will work!" Darla stomped her feet, the exaggerated platform shoes making loud noises.

"And I'm the one with the gun!" Darla threw her arms up as Elena aimed the gun at her face. "Just give Sephiroth some measuring tape and tell him what to measure, keep your distance or I'll blow your head off!"

I should advice Elena to be less violent and remind her that the Turks are not supposed to be this way anymore. However, just this once, I will ignore the voice of redemption in favor of the voice of survival, at least I won't have to deal with Darla and for that I am thankful. If by a miracle a normal man had managed to survive this far, he would be insane.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 09: Bang your Head

I find myself having trouble fighting the irresistible need to bang my head against the dashboard as Elena speeds away, driving like a maniac. From what I've heard, Reno's driving is worse and though I find that hard to believe, I will make a mental note never to get on a car if Reno is driving. If his driving truly is worse than this, it could even kill a Soldier.

I survived the tedious task of measuring myself, it was very annoying, but I took it like a Soldier, or I should say Turk. Fortunately, Elena assured that the uniform would be the standard design for the Turks, so that puts me at ease in terms of the possibility of it being influenced by Darla's taste in her personal attire. Rufus really needs to get a new tailor.

"It was a really good thing that I was assigned this mission," Elena rambles on endlessly. "Because I don't even want to think about poor Tseng being near that woman. Rude would have the best chance of survival from the three of them, but I could almost see him twitch last time he had to deal with her, I'm sure he nearly had a nervous breakdown and that's saying a lot for Rude. I bet Reno would get distracted by some random thing or only try to save himself and he wouldn't have protected you properly. But don't worry, you're safe with me."

That dashboard is looking more and more tempting by the second, attracting my head like a magnet. I force myself to look away from the dash and to Elena, then mutter a barely audible, "thank you." Apparently I'm a fragile creature who needs to be protected because I haven't been through Turk training.

"I heard you were moving out of the basement, good for you. Tseng is helping you pick a place and I volunteer to help you pick the furniture. We should all go shopping together; it'll be so much fun!" The desire to bang my head continues to increase.

xoxox xox xoxox

After we arrived at headquarters we went to see Rufus, who was working on some accounting. I took the opportunity to mention my concerns. "Sir, if I may ask, is there a reason to withhold the funds Shinra has been providing?" I've always been told I should cut the small talk and be direct.

Rufus barely looks up from his desk, "I thought you might notice something. It's being done how it needs to be done, there's no need for you to worry about it."

"But the people need this help and it's not fair that you are living in riches while others are..."

"Shut up!" I fall silent; it seems I hit a sensitive spot. Rufus glares, "listen carefully, I'm trying to do the right thing and make it so people are not dependant on Shinra, history will repeat itself if they are. I can't save them, they have to save themselves and the only way they'll learn to be independent is if they need to be independent. The economy won't prosper if everyone sits down to wait for the next paycheck from good old Shinra to arrive. They have to learn not to count on us so that they can count on themselves."

I'm starting to see the logic behind this, don't give me a fish, instead, teach me how to fish; as the old saying goes. Maybe accusing Rufus was my own cheap excuse to find faults in someone else and by comparison reduce the gravity of my own flaws.

Rufus takes a deep breath, "don't do that! Don't give me that sad look, it's annoying. Go away, you look pitiful!"

Did I truly look that sad just now? I suppose the realization that I am in a league of my own in terms of vast need for unattainable redemption does feel quite harsh. "Excuse me, sir."

I exit the office, walk down the hall and proceed to bang my head against the wall. I continue the motion until I feel a hand pull my head back and do not resist. I turn to see Rude, the only one tall enough to reach the top of my head if he stretched his arm. He shakes his head in disapproval then speaks a firm, "no," as if he were scolding a puppy.

I step back from the wall and study Rude's expression; it's as unreadable as ever, though I'm fairly certain he must think I'm insane. I hate to think I gave him a good enough reason to come to that conclusion. For a second I snapped and the truth is I'm worried it will happen again with worse consequences. "I..."

Rude nods, then gives me a supportive pat on the shoulder. Does he understand? He is Reno's partner after all; he must know what it's like to be driven to the edge of his sanity. I can't tell if Rude is only pretending to be supportive because that's part of his job and he truly believes I'm a lost cause, or if he actually understands where I'm coming from.

"Coffee," I mutter, then walk past him and head towards the coffee machines. Rude doesn't try to stop me.

xoxox xox xoxox

I find my anxiety subsiding when my mind is occupied in the simple task of making coffee. The scent becomes more noticeable and I find it calming. I remember drinking coffee with Angeal and Genesis after training in the winter. I close my eyes and take in the scent, tuning out all senses except that one and basking in the memory of my last winter with my two best friends.

That was a mistake. I'm harshly thrown back into reality when the coffee machine blows up, soaking me and the surrounding area with scorching hot coffee which actually makes me yell, more so in surprise and frustration than in pain.

Albeit it has no number on it, I realize that this must be coffee machine number eight, the one Reno tinkered with, the one Elena warned me about. I lowered my guard and it led to disaster. If not because Rude came and guided me to the locker room, I would have started banging my head against a wall again.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 10: Trapped

I feel claustrophobic. Ironically, the sensation isn't due to the enclosed space of the small shower, or the icy cold water raining upon my head. I feel trapped in my own body; I'm a prisoner of being me.

I don't know how long I've been in here, I lost track of time. Nobody has come to occupy the neighboring showers. I can picture Rude standing at the door, shaking his head at anyone who approached the locker room. I'm thankful to be alone, but at the same time, I feel guilty to be considered dangerous. I'll just try to tell myself that I'm not being avoided, I'll delude myself into thinking that coincidentally, no one needs to take a shower or get anything from the locker room right now.

I hear footsteps, followed by the sound of a locker door. There are two distinct sounds, a pair of shoes being thrown aside. There is silence, though I catch the faint sound of fabric, which normal people would miss; more footsteps, softer than before, barefoot. Another shower comes to life and I don't know who is in it, but I'm relived to know I'm not considered dangerous enough for the showers to be closed off.

I take a deep breath and decide to leave. I shut off the shower, take my towel and dry off, wrapping the towel around my waist. Thankfully, though the showers are still quite small, the door opens towards the outside. When I was in Soldier the shower doors opened towards the inside, making it difficult to close them and even harder to get out.

I dress and I'm ready to leave before the unknown man is even out of the shower. I hold no curiosity for his identity, thus I head out and find that, unlike I had expected, Rude is not guarding the door. For a moment I wonder if that was Rude back there in the shower or if he has truly left me unguarded. I pace around unsure of what to do next.

"Yo Seph, have you seen Rude?" Reno emerges from the locker room.

"He was here before..." I should be glad he didn't feel I needed constant surveillance from a Turk, but at the same time I feel uneasy. Maybe I do need to be constantly watched.

"He always hears about stuff first. He's quiet but he has all the information," Reno sounds as if I should already know what he is referring to. He takes my silence as a lack of knowledge about whatever he is alluding to and elaborates, "did you see it? That hole in the wall? I thought it was weird and since Rude always knows what's going on, I was going to ask him. Unless you know what that's about."

"A hole in the wall," I repeat incredulously, this can't be happening. "At the end of the hall from the president's office?"

"Yeah! What happened?" Reno is full of curiosity and I don't feel like sharing the earlier occurrences.

"I'm not sure," this isn't entirely a lie.

"Maybe it's just some small renovations," I'm relived Reno actually managed to come up with a reasonable theory.

This will hopefully signify the end of the topic concerning the hole I made on the wall with my head, without even realizing it. I don't even want to think about whoever might have been at the other side of that wall witnessing the event.

Just as Reno is walking off somewhere and I'm thinking about hanging out in the training room for the rest of the day, I notice something odd. "What is that on the floor?" I cannot stop myself from asking.

"Huh?" Reno looks back at me, then at the floor. "It's cookie dough." He is completely casual when saying this, yet the cookie dough footprints are anything but normal.

"Cookie dough?"

"Yeah, Shinra sends someone to help make cookies every week and it was my turn. I tripped and fell into this huge tub of cookie dough."

I'm starting to realize that maybe the Turks are not so normal after all. If Elena's violent episodes and Rude's absolute silence didn't give it away, Reno's odd ability to be amused by troublesome things should. I wonder if Tseng has some normalcy in him.

I shake my head hopelessly, "one more thing... Do not tinker with the coffee machines or I might have to kill you."

"This I have to see!" Reno has the audacity to laugh, then bolts towards the data room, seemingly determined to obtain the security video depicting my unfortunate catastrophe.

"Reno, if you don't delete it I really will kill you!" He's not listening to me and I wonder if it's good or bad that my threat isn't taken seriously. As much as I want to change my ways, there are certain limits that shouldn't be crossed. I decide not to chase after him, let him seal his own fate.

I see Tseng walking in my general direction. He glances at the cookie dough footprints disapprovingly. "Why couldn't he take a shower before giving his report?" I assume he is muttering about Reno. Then he looks at me and searches for signs of something, I'm not sure what. "Good to see you made it back safely," if he recognizes the danger of Darla he insane tailor and Elena's crazy driving, then maybe Tseng is the normal one of the group. Then he gives me the news, "we will be having a group training session in fifteen minutes. All Turks are to report to the training room."

"Yes, sir," it comes out automatic, but brings along a strange sensation. I'm a Turk now; it's just barely starting to truly sink in.

Tseng could have just sent me a message with this information, so I can deduce that delivering the message in person had other purposes. I wonder if he really wanted to know if I am in good health after my trip, or if he was wondering if I am sane enough to train with the other Turks without causing any accidents. I suppose I should get used to people being cautious, perhaps they should be.

To be Continued

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Reintegration

Step 11: Training

I childishly place my hands over my ears and hum loudly to myself. I do not wish to hear Reno's voice in his one way gossip with Rude, if the redhead is talking about me and my coffee machine incident, I might kill him.

Tseng taps me on the shoulder and gives me a look that says he suspects I'm insane all over again and in all honesty, I can't blame him. I rub my temples with my fingers and mutter, "headache," as a feeble excuse for my strange behavior.

"If you're not feeling up to it, you don't need to participate in the training," Tseng assures.

"It's alright, I think it'll make me feel better," despite my situation, I refuse to run away from a challenge. The challenge here isn't the training itself, but the possibility of having a training battle and being paired up against Reno, he would be especially hard not to kill.

"Alright, everyone inside the training chamber," Tseng commands and Reno's chatter ceases as he, Rude and Elena follow after Tseng and me into the training chamber.

There is no artificial landscape or display of advanced holographic technology, all we see is the chamber as it is in reality, then I feel it, the pull of gravity. It's strange and at first I assume I'm imagining it, until Reno's goggles slip off his forehead and on top of his nose, triggering the start of a story about how one time he dropped his goggles while training and accidentally stepped on them, so he will wear them this way now, since there is less of a possibility of dropping them.

With the broken silence a torrent of comments is unleashed as Elena speaks of how gravity makes her hair flat and proceeds to finger it. Tseng fished around for an item in his pockets, which is revealed to be something to hold back his hair with, when he finds it he ties his hair in a low ponytail.

The gravity really is stronger here. "Okay, let's do the usual warm up exercises." Though it looks like they're not paying attention, as soon as Tseng makes the announcement, the other Turks are stretching their limbs to the limit and bending at impossible angles.

I watch what Tseng is doing; he is the leader after all, and try to mimic the movements, only to find I lack the mobility to do so in this small suit. With an indignant ripping sound, my pants give up and I fall in a sitting position, feeling the full effects of the enhanced gravity. Needless to say, this is terribly embarrassing and the Turks are making an inhuman effort not to laugh their heads off at my predicament, all save for Reno who is just about choking with laughter and if he doesn't, I might choke him myself.

Tseng clears his throat and Reno clasps both hands over his mouth in a futile effort to silence his amusement. "Maybe you should wear your Soldier clothes until your new suit is ready."

I nod in silence, eyes fixed on the floor. When I peek up wondering if the right moment will arise when I can get up with minimal humiliation, I catch a glimpse of Tseng making a circular motion with his finger in the air. Then all the Turks obediently turn around with their backs to me and I make my swift escape, hastily dashing to the locker room.

xoxox xox xoxox

Though I would much rather go hide, having lost a considerable amount of the pride I used to have in the old days, as if the shame of having threatened to destroy the planet while crying for my mother wasn't enough to obliterate it completely, I returned to the training room with my Soldier clothes.

The warms up was resumed, apparently they waited for me, aware that I am not familiar with the routine, thus wouldn't know what exercises I'm required to do. I find this to be quite a challenge and though I don't feel weaker, I start to fear that I am.

Perhaps it's not that I've lost my strength, but rather I am used to using strength for the most part, with skill handling the masamune and a good amount of speed. Flexibility and the agility to swiftly crawl through anywhere unnoticed was not part of my Soldier training.

Soldiers make their presence known; they were in the past the destructive force of Shinra, though I didn't see it that way at the time. Turks are sneaky and secretive, quiet and lethal, instead of noisy and threatening. The arrival of a soldier, once the battle starts, becomes obvious and the enemy may retaliate but would be overpowered.

The trick to being a Turk, I think, is that their arrival and departure is never known and the enemy, even one capable of overpowering the Turks in physical combat, wouldn't acknowledge their presence until their mission has already ended.

Somehow I'm fascinated at the prospect of gaining new abilities and skills. Though I tell myself not to be tempted, because I do not trust myself to be capable of prudently handling too much power. I once heard someone say, I think it was Angeal, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

Then I hear a loud crack and though I feel no pain, the noise makes me wince. My clothes are not torn this time, but my bones are noisier than they should be, as if they're not used to being twisted and stretched this way, and they're not. I stand up straight ignoring the sound, despite a few giggles escaping Elena; she had been fighting with her laugher since the unfortunate incident with my pants, unable to eradicate it completely. Reno lets out a loud laugh, but I'm not surprised so I manage to ignore it.

"That's a good warm up everyone," Tseng concludes, "now let's turn the gravity up and-"

"Play?" Reno inquires, in a tone similar to that of a child who has been promised a trip to the park.

"Yes, we'll do that exercise," Tseng goes to the controls and turns the gravity up, while Reno runs off, returning after fetching a volleyball.

I feel the pull of gravity increase considerably. I had no idea the Turks' training was this rigorous and it sinks in that despite my strength, I barely have the flexibility to keep up. This is a challenge, I have room to improve, something to focus on. Perhaps despite all the difficulties, I will enjoy being a Turk after all.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 12: Memories

Even if it's a simple game of volleyball, it feels productive; the required fast movements combined with the increased gravity, will no doubt have a beneficial effect. I'm actually having fun with this training.

After the game, it was time for some serious training, as Tseng informed. "The president wants to know if you have maintained your previous Soldier level, so if you're feeling ready, all of us will fight you at once. If you want to stop, just say so."

"Alright..." Is Tseng trying to tell me, 'stop before you kill us'? It's not like me, but I'm worried and nervous. Then again, I suppose I do have my reasons to worry, though there will be no weapons involved in this combat exercise.

We all take battle stances and the Turks suddenly go on the attack, wasting no time. Reno runs towards me as if to punch me, but he misses terribly and my eyes automatically follow his false attack, only to turn around too late to avoid Tseng and Rude's dual kicks. I step back, Elena trips me as I do, and I fall flat on my back. This was all part of their plan and each of them played their part. Good team work, trustworthy comrades... I feel odd.

All four Turks continue on the attack, beating me like a punching bag, it's annoying. I push them away as I feel the anger rising. They get up and run towards me again. I see fire that isn't truly there, it's burning all around me, I see Nibelheim reduced to ashes and I freeze up.

I feel pain, I don't know if it's physical or not. I hear voices, false voices of terrors of the past and real voices of the Turks, but I can't tell them apart. Suddenly my vision blurs and I no longer see the fire, just darkness and cold silence.

"Stop it!" A voice rings out crystal clear and I open my eyes. A blur pushes the other four blurs away. "You call this training? The poor guy probably can't even stand up in this gravity. Just because he looks like Sephiroth doesn't mean he's as strong as Sephiroth!"

"Why are you here?" Tseng's voice remains collected.

"To deliver this disk, it's a report from the WRO. I heard something and was curious; it's a good thing I came," is that Strife?

"Reeve could just email this stuff; he just wants to give you work." No one confirms nor denies Reno's comment.

"We may regret granting you access to this floor, though our training sessions have been mutually beneficial in the past; you are not to interrupt Turk business."

"Don't give me that, Tseng," I think that is Strife, it sounds like him. "I never thought you would allow everyone to pick on the new guy at Shinra and especially not participate yourself. If you're planning to train this guy to be a Turk, you have to keep him alive and in one peace."

Just as everything comes into focus, Cloud pulls me to my feet, throwing my arm over his shoulder as one would help a person who cannot walk on their own, and gets me out of the training chamber. I'm so shocked I remain limp. That idiot, if I were a normal man, he could have just about killed my spine. Even I know not to move a person who has been supposedly injured.

"Are you okay? C'mon say something!"

I've been placed on a chair outside the training chamber, my numbness fades away and I clench my fists and glare at Cloud, fighting a losing inner battle against the need to kill him.

Tseng quickly jumps into action. "Elena, take care of Cloud, Rude, we'll handle him," by him I take it Tseng means me. "Reno, just stay out of the way."

"Wha... hey!" Reno's complaint is ignored as Tseng and Rude drag me away. Reno follows against Tseng's wise order.

"We're taking him to the infirmary," Tseng lies.

"I'm going too," Cloud is feeling suicidal.

"Wait, you can't!" Elena frets, unsure of what to do.

"I'm going!" Cloud steps around her.

"No!" Elena rushes in front of Cloud and the last thing I see, she's launching a surprise attack with her ice materia at the unsuspecting Cloud. The Turks probably all had their materia just in case. Of course they wouldn't take the risk of being completely unarmed with me around.

xoxox xox xoxox

"Kill Strife..." I break free from Tseng and Rude's hold and punch a wall, leaving a hole in it.

"Kill! Kill! Kill!" I can't control my words or my actions. Why am I even trying so hard? It's not like I can clear my name anyway, this is all useless.

"Seph, calm down! You don't have to throw such a tantrum!" Reno interferes. I grip his forearm, as if to lift him and throw him, but then I stop when someone else arrives in the hall where we stand.

"Sephiroth!" A loud scolding voice, there stands the president, no doubt lured over by the commotion I'm making. "Stop that, this is no way to deal with your frustrations!"

There he is, Rufus Shinra, but he looks like someone else. Those words trigger something in my memory. I wasn't destroying walls back then, but Director Lazard scolded me in the same way. Genesis was ill and I didn't understand what was happening, I didn't know why I couldn't help him. Even before the incident in Nibelheim, I questioned my existence.

The happenings at the Nibelheim reactor alone couldn't have pushed me over the edge. I suspected I was different; I was just waiting for the confirmation. I was waiting for the proof that would make it impossible for my denial to continue.

Back then, Lazard told me that blaming myself wouldn't do any good. I couldn't take it anymore and told him how frustrated I was that I couldn't help Genesis, that I was treated differently, that I didn't fully understand what I was. But he told me to stop it, because blaming myself wasn't going to help me deal with life's trials.

Then his voice softened, he said I should see him as a friend too and that it was alright to speak of what I thought and felt; that I shouldn't keep it bottled up. I suspected that Lazard had his own set of problems, questions and mysteries, I should have asked, but I was too absorbed in my own thoughts. In the end I couldn't help him either.

Even with his own burden to bear, Lazard smiled reassuringly and said, "it'll be alright."

"Lazard?" I woke up from my daze and realized that this was not Lazard standing in front of me. It was Rufus echoing his words. I shook my head. Lazard is dead, just like Genesis and Angeal. "Rufus Shinra," I had to say the name to convince myself of his identity. "I..." my head hurts, "I'm sorry about this."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 13: Stressful Envy

Tseng, Reno and Rude let out a collective sigh, while Rufus massages his aching temples. I wonder if he was bothered by me calling him Lazard, there is a resemblance and I have heard the rumors of Lazard being an illegitimate Shinra. Either way, it seems Rufus has decided to ignore my little slip off in terms of the name, though my behavior I'm sure is inexcusable.

"Get off me!" Cloud's cry makes us all look towards me. His sword is absent and Elena is riding on him piggyback, covering his eyes with one hand and pulling his hair with the other. "Get off!" He hops around like a wild rodeo horse, trying to throw Elena off, but her legs are firmly wrapped around him and she doesn't fall.

At least I'm not the only one being humiliated today and despite Cloud's good intentions I still think he deserves worse. Just who does he think he is playing Mr. Hero, going around helping people, I don't need help and I could do more to help those who do need help. I frown and glare, clenching my teeth and fists, but before my anger breaks lose, Tseng and Rude are at my sides, prompting me to walk with them.

We must look silly walking side by side, arm in arm, with me literally shaking with the rage that's so hard to control and the Turks struggling to keep me walking in the right direction, pulling me along. We look like three drunken buddies, leaning on each other for support, but the reality is quite different.

I vaguely hear Reno say something about a green eyed monster, my eyes are green indeed and I know I became a monster after I was convinced that's what I was, but I try to ignore him. I close my eyes and let the Turks guide me, trying to make my body pose no resistance, though I don't feel I can make it completely listen right now.

The next thing I know I'm being pushed down and I open my eyes. Regardless of my past, I'm not ready to be strapped into a bed in an infirmary, or hospital, or mental facility. I growl and throw Tseng and Rude off. Then I notice where I am, this isn't the infirmary, nor is it a detention facility. This is the relaxation area, and they were trying to push me down on a massage table.

I raise my hand as a signal for them to stop, then take a deep breath and count to ten. My head is pounding, my eyes are irritated, my mouth is dry, my ears are ringing, and though I do not have a mirror to see my face, I assume my expression must be frightening. The massage therapist stares at me for a long moment before she bursts into tears, as if she's seen a nightmare come to life before her eyes, and runs away.

My harsh breaths even out, my face turns serious, my eyes no longer sting and my ears stop ringing. Mmy mouth is still dry and my throat aches, my voice coming out rough, "sorry."

Tseng shakes his head, "she's gone."

"She's not coming back, is she?" Reno inquires the obvious. "Aw man, I could have used a massage."

Rude stares at Tseng, as if communicating a message I cannot perceive. Tseng understands and shakes his head, but Rude nods, then Tseng sighs, "alright."

"Coat," Rude requests and I take off my coat and hand it to him. Are they getting another massage therapist, one that's not terrified of me? "Lay down."

I do as Rude says without question, laying on the massage table. I think I heard Tseng grumble, "I can't believe I'm doing this," then a pair of hands are on my stressed shoulders. I stiffen at first, then force myself to go limp until I relax.

I've never had a massage before, I never liked letting people touch me. Even now it's odd, very odd, but I guess Tseng is just trying to help. I wonder if he does this for all the other Turks or maybe just Elena. I wonder how far their trust goes and how deep their friendships are. Are the Turks that much closer to each other than Angel, Genesis and I were? Probably...

xoxox xox xoxox

There is a crunching sound that brings me back to the world of the conscious. I must have dozed off or at least I think I did, unless Tseng pushed a pressure point on the back of my neck and knocked me out. No, that can't be, it only works on movies and I would have noticed if he tried, even if I was distracted.

It's dark and when I sit up and the coat over my head falls, I realize that someone had put my coat over me, blocking the bright lights. I put the coat back on and stare at the source of the crunching sound with curiosity. I'm still tired, mentally exhausted, even if I'm physically rested. "Reno, why in the world are you eating burnt rice?"

"It's not burnt, it's just crunchy." There is a pot on the floor next to him, an electric pot, its long cord plugged to the wall. A bowl and spoon are sitting atop the lid. "Do you want some? It's an exotic tropical dish called pegao." Reno puts down his bowl and starts filling mine before I can refuse. "It's supposed to mean sticky, or something like that."

I look at the crunchy rice in the bowl Reno handed me, "this is not sticky." All the opposite, it's dry and crunchy, yet it has a singular taste to it that is, "good..."

"Isn't it? Do you want to put ketchup in it?" Reno picks up the bottle that had been behind the pot and offers it to me.

"I suppose," I should be open to try new things and if I focus on experimenting with my food, I might push away the stress that's still eating me.

"That's cool, Elena always complains because I put ketchup on everything. Like it's any of her business, I'm the one eating it and I never say anything about her mustard obsession."

Hearing Elena's name reminds me of the scene with Cloud and I have to ask. "Is Strife gone?"

"Yeah, he's gone. He came in here and made a fuss, but you were passed out at the time. We told him you were just relaxing and he believed it. Elena ripped out some of his hair though, it was priceless! I caught it on video, do you want to watch?"

"No," even if he's being humiliated on the video, I simply do not wish to look at Cloud's face right now. I don't know how I managed to control myself before or what's come over me now. "What do you mean I was passed out?"

"Unconscious, Leader freaked out because he was giving you a massage and you suddenly went limp and cold, but your pulse and breathing were normal, so we figured you were okay, just stressed."

I nod, but I am not okay and for someone like me, being stressed is far too dangerous.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 14: Regret

It's a new day and though I was informed I could take the day off if I was feeling indisposed, by that I'm sure Tseng meant to say mentally unstable, even if he's far too polite to word it so directly, I decided that I will report to work after all.

I am greeted by Rude when I enter the Turks' office, who instead of saying hello, simply nods quietly and hands me a box. The box contains my new Turk uniform; that was fast. I thank Rude and give a polite greeting to the other Turks, who answer with a variety of replies ranging from "good morning" to "yo", then excuse myself to go try on my new uniform.

Fortunately, the suit fits perfectly and I find it surprisingly easy to move around in it. I still feel a bit odd without the weight of my armor, but it's alright, I can get used to this. I am no longer a soldier who stands firm and breaks down walls, I'm a Turk who moves fast and jumps over walls. It's like going from samurai to ninja in a way, though I'm not sure the comparison fully fits, given Shinra's history with Wutai, which reminds me of my days as a Soldier and... I'm not going down this path of thoughts again.

I focus on the present, Tseng is explaining something about community service and I am assigned to help Reno. At first I am in disbelief, though I do not protest, as I believe it's not my place, I thought Tseng had more sense than that. Then I realize the arrangement is inevitable. Reno got the easiest job with the least media coverage because he's such a clumsy troublemaker and I was given the same assignment because I'm... well... not fully myself sometimes. It can't be helped; I'm stuck going with Reno to paint a building at Kalm.

While I'm contemplating my terrible fate, though I still dare not complain, I finally realize Elena had been talking to me, I had been too focused on imagining the bad day that awaits me to notice before. I'm not sure what she was saying, but I nod and she smiles, directing me towards a chair where I sit, wondering what in the world did I agree to do.

My worries ease when I realize that I didn't agree to anything too terrible. Elena simply wanted to brush my hair, which I suppose I could endure, though I do not particularly enjoy it. She ties it into a high pony tail and smiles proudly. "Your hair is so pretty, now it won't get in the way when you're painting."

I mutter a "thanks," and leave it at that.

xoxox xox xoxox

The sun is shining in the town of Kalm, my work has barely started and I'm already having trouble putting up with it, not because of the work itself but because of my assigned teammate. I wonder if Tseng was secretly trying to test my patience, I also wonder why Rufus allows me to continue being with the Turks, why Tseng agrees to it and why Reno can't be less sloppy. He talked non-stop on the way here by helicopter, then continued talking when we unloaded the equipment and started painting, he is still talking now.

No one in Kalm recognizes me as anything more than a Turk, at least that's one less problem to worry about, but Reno is problem enough. We're painting his building, of a purpose unknown to me, red, a very bright and irritating red which matches his hair as well as the drops of paint that are all over my new suit and my previously clean face and hair, thanks to Reno's sloppy painting next to me. "Why don't you paint the wall on the other side?"

"Cause then you'll have no one to talk to on this side," Reno acts as if he firmly believes his presence is a good thing, yet he is far from pleasant. He's a nuisance that I wish the ground would swallow up, though I'm sure Aeris will kick him right out of the life stream pretty soon.

I take a deep breath and count to ten, then take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves as I would have done from the start if I knew Reno was this clumsy with paint.

"Good idea," Reno decides to copy me, though I'm sure his jacket already needs a miracle to be saved with the amount of red paint stuck to it.

Then I notice something when he rolls up his sleeves, there's a bandage on his forearm and a flashback invades my mind. x x x "Seph, calm down! You don't have to throw such a tantrum!" Reno interferes. I grip his forearm, as if to lift him and throw him, but then I stop when someone else arrives in the hall where we stand. x x x Rufus arrived just on time, I would have thrown Reno and hurt him if Rufus hasn't calmed me down, but it seems I already hurt him. My grip must have been stronger than I realized, did I fracture his bone? "I'm sorry..."

"What for?" I feel cruel now for criticizing Reno. It's true that he is an annoyance, but he's very forgiving.

"For that," I point at the bandages.

"Oh this, you don't have to apologize, it's not your fault," though Reno assures me that I am not to blame, the possibility of his injury having taken place at a different time, in an event that does not involve me, is something I am not considering.

It has to be my fault, because it seems that every catastrophe in the world is my fault. Though I have come to dread Reno's frustrating presence, I should be thankful that he's not running away from me after what I've done and I should do something to properly apologize. I came back to the world to repay my debt, to make up for what I've done, to clean my name, to find redemption, yet so far I've only caused trouble for the Turks and Shinra. It's time for me to earn my second chance.

xoxox xox xoxox
Reintegration

Step 15: Painting Kalm Red

"What are you doing there, boy?" While I paint, I listen to the old man from Kalm talking to Reno.

"Nothing," it's the first time I've heard Reno give such a short and precise answer, I wish he would do that more often.

"I can see that, son, and let me tell you I don't like it, you should be painting with your friend over there. Isn't that what you Shinra people came here to do? Instead I find you sitting there not doing anything, that's no way to get things done, boy."

"Sir," I intervene as politely as possible, "Reno is injured."

"Reno is his name, eh? And what's your name, boy?"

"Seph-" I pale and fall silent, I can't believe my near mistake.

"Listen here Seph, your friend looks perfectly healthy to me, son. I think he's just taking advantage of your kindness to skip out on his chores. Reno is lazy."

I shake my head, "Reno is injured."

"Reno is taking advantage of you."

"Reno is very kind and forgiving," I argue, as if it was my sworn duty and it is; I was revived to atone.

"Reno is tricky."

"Reno is nice."

"Reno is irresponsible."

"Reno is a good friend."

"Reno is careless."

"Reno is considerate."

"Reno is thirsty," that last one, was not spoken by the old man or myself.

"Just a moment, I'll be right back," I'm the one who hurt Reno, so I'm the one who has to make it up to him. Just like this, one by one, I'll earn everyone's forgiveness. "Mister, please don't bother Reno, he needs time and rest to recover."

The old man shakes his head and leaves, then I leave as well, retuning with a cold drink. "Is this alright?"

Reno nods, accepting the can of Pepsi, "Thanks Seph!"

"If you need anything else, let me know," then I resume my painting.

xoxox xox xoxox

The sun is setting and I'm exhausted, having spent the day painting Kalm red. I can proudly declare I managed to finish all my and Reno's work. I didn't take time to rest or eat, pausing only when Reno requested another cold drink, lunch or a snack.

It was at that time when Elena arrived to see how we were doing, after having finished her own work for the day. "Wow, I see you finished the job, well done."

"It wasn't too hard," who am I kidding? Doing chores is more exhausting than taking down an army.

"Seph's my new best friend," Reno happily declares, "he offered to do my work and brought me snacks all day."

"So I heard," Elena shook her head in disapproval, "the rumor reached me as soon as I arrived in town, that the red haired Turk has enslaved the silver haired one. Stop picking on him!"

"Elena, it's fine, I don't mind. I injured Reno and it's my duty to make his life easier until he heals," I try to explain what I think is the truth.

"When did that happen?" Elena looks at Reno, but doesn't appear to find what she's looking for, though the bandages on his forearm are in plain view.

"I don't know what Seph's going on about, he keep blaming himself for this," Reno points at the bandages, "even if I told him it's not his fault."

"Of course it's not!" Elena is upset, "it's your own stupid fault. Tseng, Rude and I are always telling you not to lay on your balcony's veranda like that, but you never listen."

"There was such a nice breeze!" Reno argues, and I analyze their argument.

"Oh yes, it must have been really nice and relaxing if you fell asleep and fell off!" Elena's revelation makes my blood boil.

"All this time, your injury was not my fault." Is this karma, a punishment from the planet itself, in the shape of an annoying red head?"

"I told you so," Reno smiles and I want to knock his teeth out.

I make chocking motions in the air, imagining Reno's neck breaking between my fingers, but I suppose if I murder him and use his blood to paint the rest of Kalm red, I'll have something to feel really guilty about later. "Reno, get away from me before I kill you," I warn.

"But I thought we were best friends!"

"Now!"

Reno wisely scurries along to the helicopter, I guess this means I'll be getting a ride back to Edge on Elena's car. Can this day get any worse?

xoxox xox xoxox

Ah, the weekend, why did it take so long for it to get here? Today, on this glorious Saturday, I slept in, which is something I never do, but I thought it would be good for me if I am to survive keeping whatever shred of sanity I might have left. I had some microwave lunch and sat around in the tub full of warm water in my little apartment in the basement of the Shinra Headquarters.

Then there was knocking on my door, followed by Tseng's voice calling my name. Surely the leader of the Turks would not disturb me unless there was an emergency. "Coming!" I dry myself as fast as possible, thrown on my extra uniform, which I found in a box at my door yesterday, and rush to open the door, while still hastily towel drying my hair. "What's the emergency, sir?"

"Emergency?" Tseng laughs, "there is no emergency, did you forget? We were supposed to go look at houses today." This must have been arranged by Reno after my comment about leaving the basement. I stood frozen, the damp towel slipping out of my hands. A minute passed, neither of us moving, until Tseng picked up the towel, "you dropped this."

"Thank you," I managed to mutter. I am not in the mood to go out, but I did say I wanted to move out of Shinra's basement, and I do, so without further ado, I follow Tseng out of Shinra HQ and to his car.

xoxox xox xoxox

I feel uneasy getting into a car after my experiences with Elena, however, I remind myself that this is Tseng and fortunately I really didn't have anything to worry about. The drive is so smooth that I don't even feel like I'm moving, despite the speedometer steadily remaining in the triple digits. If not for the rapidly passing scenery, I would guess it's wrong.

We come to a smooth stop in front of a tall wall and Tseng reaches out to scan a card through an electronic reader, then the tall gates open and we drive in. "We'll start with the economical options and work our way up until you find something you like. Don't worry, I have some experience in buying houses, I can tell when the architecture is good."

This is a private neighborhood in the richest part of Edge, but I don't want an expensive house. If this is the most economical option, this is going to be a long day.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 16: Living Space

Tseng and I have gone from one large house to another, to tall elegant buildings and mansions of all sizes, making me conclude that Shinra once controlled the economy of the entire world and possibly still does. Their goal in the past had not been taking over the world, but rather slowly and as smoothly as possible, showing the world that the take over had already happened and making them accept it.

That has changed to slowly letting go of the world. Setting it down gently to walk on it's own like an inexperienced toddler, without letting go of its hand abruptly, because that would cause a inevitable fall. I surprise myself with the metaphor, maybe it came from the fact that I feel like a child being dragged around town accompanying his father on boring errands.

"I want to go home," I express simply and calmly, sharp but not harsh. Then it occurs to me that I do not know for sure where home is for me, if it even exists. The Shinra basement is the closes thing, but that's not exactly how most would define a home.

"One more place, all of them have been good, I can tell you for sure, but if you didn't like them..." Tseng paused, then continued reassuring me, "Rufus owns houses-"

"Mansions," I interrupt.

"Mansions," Tseng concedes, "in all those neighborhoods, and in the smaller ones that actually have houses, either he or I own a place. Let's visit one more building; I have a small apartment there, not as spacious as the other places, but it's nice. I'm sure you'll like the apartments in this building."

"What I really want is..." I pause, all thoughts of my ideal little house exiting my mind to make room for thoughts of my needed residence. I should have known this isn't about what I want, but about what I need. The Turks or Rufus, and consequently the Turks, have connections with all the places we have visited. They can be there, keeping an eye on me, stopping me from setting the place on fire if I lose my mind, they can guard me.

"Yes?" Tseng encourages me to continue, looking a bit concerned with my sudden silence, the look on my face, I imagine, must be blank, and anything other than a calm and focused look can be taken as a bad sign.

"Of the places that you are familiar with, is this apartment you speak of the smallest? Is it close to Shinra Headquarters?" I inquire with growing interest. For a moment, I think it might be easier on the Turks if I stay at Shinra, but then I dismiss the thought, if someone must be on stand by, guarding me, they might as well do it from the comfort of a nice apartment, instead of staying at Headquarters.

"Yes, you'll have no trouble walking to work and it's a very quiet and calm place. There is this apartment that's unoccupied, the second to last floor in the building. I own the apartment on the last floor and the one below is owned by Reno," I frown at Tseng's words, "but don't worry, he's never there. He lives somewhere else and only uses this apartment as storage space for his collection of video games. He comes and goes to leave games he finished and take games he wants to replay, but he doesn't stay long enough to be noisy or annoying."

"In that case, I want to see that apartment."

xoxox xox xoxox

I am now the owner of a portion of empty space in between spaces owned by Tseng and Reno, though if the first had not assured me that the latter would not be my neighbor I wouldn't have agreed to it. Furthermore, Tseng proved his point by making use of the spare key Reno left with him incase he lost or forgot his own key, to show me the inside the Reno's apartment.

The place was full of boxes stacked on top of each other. Some were tossed aside, the contents spilled on the floor, a multitude of disks. I imagine Reno must have been trying to find a specific disk and his lack of organization made it difficult. In short, there was simply no space left to live in, despite the apartment being larger than a regular house. Reno would have to find another place to store future additions to his collection of video games soon.

The fact still stands that my new apartment has no furniture, thus I cannot move into it right away. I have been using borrowed furniture at Shinra, some of it small and uncomfortable, other spacious but old and worn.

My little apartment in the basement of headquarters was thrown together quickly with the things they found in the storage room. Let's just say they were put away for a reason, not in bad enough conditions to be thrown away without Shinra being called wasteful and not good enough to keep around, yet also not flashy and attention-catching enough to donate.

xoxox xox xoxox

After a long day, Tseng gave me a ride back to Shinra Headquarters. I thanked him for the help and tried to take some time to relax. I was sitting in my room at the basement, reading the Shinra newspaper, when I heard someone at the door. At least this time I didn't need to run out of the bathroom, with dripping wet hair, so I simply set the paper aside and hurried to open the door.

"Hi!" Elena greeted me cheerfully.

"Hello," I wondered what she was doing here.

"Tseng told me about the apartment; I'm here to help you pick some furniture, decorate it and all that fun stuff. Let's go, let's go!" Elena tugs on my arm and absorbed in dismay filled shock, I go along with her.

"You don't have to," I try to get out of this. I am not looking forward to Elena's driving and I dread to imagine going shopping with her. I haven't known her for long, but I've known her long enough to know how talkative she is. I have a feeling that this furniture shopping trip will traumatize me.

"It's okay; I want to help and guess what? Cloud and Tifa are coming!" Elena didn't actually give me the opportunity to guess, not that I would have guessed something like that anyway.

"Cloud?" Tifa isn't a problem as long as she doesn't find out who I really am, as I clearly remember burning down her home town and vaguely remember injuring her. However, Strife and I have a certain history that is not easily forgotten and I'm still frustrated about what happened the last time I saw him.

"Yeah, Barret is visiting and the kids are staying with him. Tifa said she really needed a new dresser because hers is old and falling apart. She's bringing Cloud along to help her pick, but if you ask me, I think she's just using it as an excuse to spend more time with him because everyone knows she has a crush on him. When she heard I offered to help you pick your furniture, she suggested that we all go together, I called her after Tseng called me to share the news of your new apartment."

What can I say? Gossip travels fast and it seems Elena and Tifa are the main information links when it comes to news traveling back and forth between Shinra and the former Avalanche, though I have no doubts that Reno has a big mouth as well. I also have no doubts a disaster is rapidly approaching.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 17: Shopping

"I can't..." My voice is ignored as Elena finally releases me and runs to an upset Tifa. I go from thinking about what fate is about to befall me, to thinking about what fate befell Cloud. Maybe he died and that is the reason why Tifa is so upset, despite the fact that I realize I shouldn't be so happy about this. Cloud Strife is a nuisance, but a human life none the less.

I only catch bits and pieces of the conversation as Tifa growls and sobs, sad and furious at the same time. I didn't think it was possible for such conflicting emotions to show simultaneously in this great magnitude. "He's such a jerk!"

I expectantly wait for Tifa to dramatically declare 'how dare he die on me!?' in her impersonation of the tragic maiden who has lost her personal hero. I would feel sorry for her, I do hold a lot of guilt for what I put her through, but I cannot pretend I would be sad if Strife passed away.

"I agree, he's an idiot, whining so much about helping you pick out a dresser," Elena fueled the fire.

"He kept asking why I needed him to be there if the store would deliver it and it all got worse from there. Couldn't he understand that I just wanted to spend more time with him?" Tifa pouted.

"Forget him, let's go get the furniture, you don't need Cloud," Elena encouraged.

"Yeah, you're right, let's go," Tifa paused, taking a deep breath and composing herself. Then her mood did a 180 and she smiled cheerfully, "hi Seph, how are you?"

"I'm fine..." I lied and decided not to return the question because the answer had already been made clear to me.

None the less, Tifa replied as if I had asked how she was, "me too, well, let's go, Elena and I will help you find some nice furniture." I never understood the point of automatically claiming one is fine, when one is not, what's the point of asking if the answer is so predictable? Albeit I do realize I did that as well.

xoxox xox xoxox

Tifa is unaffected by Elena's reckless driving. At least I know what to expect and I'll admit I feel a little better in the backseat, while the two women sit in front, ignoring me. Tifa's mood took a sour turn after a few minutes and she began to complain about Cloud, with Elena making no efforts to contradict her. In fact, Elena has been encouraging the criticism and adding some of her own. I would like to contribute, but for several reasons, I feel it is not my place, thus I have chosen to remain silent.

Elena and Tifa's conversation shifts randomly from criticizing Cloud, to criticizing men in general, but I am too busy enjoying the Cloud bashing to feel offended by their general words of disapproval. Among such expressions, they pointed out how men are incapable of telling the difference between azure, cerulean and cyan, though I do not know where the statement came from.

Out of lack of anything better to occupy my mind, I thought about it. Tifa's tone indicated those three words were related but different. Azure is a color, a shade of blue and cerulean I think is a synonym, though I might be wrong, as for Cyan, it was the name of a knight I remember reading about in a history book long ago... except that is not related to the other two.

Maybe Cyan wore blue clothing, frankly I didn't pay too much attention to that history book and don't even remember why I was reading it. Possibly, I was trying to pass the time while being transported to a mission site.

The comments from the two women become more malicious as the car ride progressed. It makes me wonder if all females are sadists by nature. I know the seemingly innocent Aeris is, just look at what she's putting me through, because I'm certain somehow she is to blame for my return.

When we finally reach the large furniture store, I am relived by the sweet sound of silence, the talk of slavery and torture chambers was becoming disturbing, especially when Elena and Tifa began to randomly shift from sounding evil and malicious to giggling like school girls, it makes no sense to me and I desire no explanation.

I trail along, following the two women who soon start another conversation, thankfully a much more civilized one, centered around the topic of cooking. I don't know what brought that up, unless I link it to their earlier discussion of poison, other than that, it was a random topic.

As we walk down the long aisles of the store, crowded with various styles of furniture, I begin to wonder if Elena and Tifa are even aware of my presence, maybe they forgot about me. To test my theory, I step out of their shadow and start down a different isle, but I am only a mere few steps away when Elena calls, "over here Seph, this way," and makes a hand motion for me to follow.

I pause and look at them, then Tifa encourages, "c'mon let's stay together," repeating Elena's same hand gesture and I start walking towards them.

When they see me coming, they resume walking down the aisle, talking among themselves, continuing the discussion of the previous recipe where they left off. I feel like a dog being walked, one smart enough to follow his master without a leach, or perhaps too stupid to run away.

xoxox xox xoxox

Time passed slowly as we looked at one dresser after another, with the unspoken agreement that Tifa's errand would be taken care of first. The day has gone by between my earlier venture with Tseng and watching Elena and Tifa try to find the ideal dresser. Hunger became apparent as my stomach started to make loud noises, until finally, either Tifa or Elena, I was too out of it to realize who, suggested we should get something to eat.

We ended up driving to a restaurant that was a little far, because they decided they wanted wutaian food, I just wanted food, even if I wasn't asked. The three of us entered the restaurant, a few people giving me sour looks, which made me wonder if they knew who I was.

A man, some kind of yakuza by the looks of it, passed on his way out with two girls, one on each arm, a red head and a brunette. He nodded to me as if I was one of his own and I noticed how much my uniform stood out when I wasn't with other Turks or near areas frequented by business workers in suits; Elena wasn't wearing her uniform today. I shook my head instinctively, but he was already gone.

We were led to a table were I sat in the middle of the booth, with Elena and Tifa left and right, despite there being a whole other empty booth opposite to this one.

I opened my mouth to speak but Tifa cut me off, "don't worry, the atmosphere is not the best and neither is the crowd, but the food is really good."

"And perfectly safe," Elena added, "they can't afford to pick a fight with their customers.

I was left to realize in silence that the seating arrangement was apparently for my protection and I wondered what kind of place we had truly walked into.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 18: Yakuza

Dinner was good I'll admit, everything was delicious, but the feeling of relief that came with a well fed stomach didn't last long. After the bill was paid, by me, as I automatically presented my Shinra credit card, just as automatically as the waitress handed me the bill, Elena, Tifa and I headed out, back to the car. We were stopped just outside by the same man I saw when we arrived, though his red haired and brunette female companions were absent.

"Over here, Mr. Omally..." He was referring to me and when I looked, before I could speak, he continued, "Clay was right, you were easy to find, light hair, dark suit and a pair of pretty ladies."

I opened my mouth to speak and in that split second, Elena and Tifa exchanged glances and simultaneously jammed their elbows into my ribs left and right, under the pretence of linking arms. "What do you want with the boss?" Elena played along.

"Be calm little lady, it doesn't concern you," the strange man replied, "come on, Clay is waiting."

Elena and Tifa led me to follow the man and I went along with it, wondering what was going on. We rounded the restaurant, entering the building from the backdoor and following some dark stairs to a basement. There, we were left in a dimly lit waiting room and the man disappeared behind a door.

Once we were alone, I finally asked, "what's going on?"

"He got you mixed up with Jay Omalley. Jay used to deal with Don Corneo in the past, but went into hiding after Corneo died. He has just recently reemerged to deal in various illegal activities. This guy is in Shinra's blacklist, he's a slippery one. I can't believe our luck that we have a chance to get a lead on him," Elena revealed. "Reno would scold me for working when I'm not on duty, but this opportunity is too good to let it slip away, besides, who cares what Reno thinks anyway, if he even thinks."

"I heard this guy is causing a lot of trouble for the city so I'm all up for ruining his plans," Tifa declared.

"I'm with you, but we need to keep a low profile until we know were the real Jay Omalley is, then we can break some bones," Elena agreed.

I was once again left without the chance to say anything, as the man from before returned. "The ladies can wait here."

"If the boss is going, we're going," Tifa insisted.

"Yeah, we're staying with him," Elena emphasized.

The man looked at me, "let them come," I tried to sound like a gangster and I believe I failed miserably.

We were led into the next room where two tall men stood left and right of the door like motionless statues. One of them dark with the shadow of shaved black hair, the other contrasting, dirty-blond hair in a low ponytail, both wearing dark sunglasses and gray suits.

There was a leather couch where we sat, facing a polished wood desk, behind which a man, wearing a matching gray suit, sat with a hard expression. A woman in a red dress with long platinum hair stood by his side, her delicate hand resting on his shoulder.

Behind them, on one side stood the average sized man who led us here, his pale green eyes watching us behind his long dark bangs, and on the other side stood another man in a gray suit, less built than the two at the door but armed with a machine gun.

The man sitting at the desk, who I assumed was Clay, spoke, "I know it's my first time dealing with you Jay, and I got some pretty good recommendations, but I won't be giving you any credit until you prove yourself to me directly."

The conversation was interrupted when someone knocked on the door. One of the guards looked through a peek-hole and glanced at the other, who looked as also and nodded to the one who led us there. Clay waited while his underling went to look as well and finally opened the door, allowing three more visitors to enter.

"Sir, it seems we might have had some confusion," he apologized.

Clay looked at the new arrivals, there was a man with pure white hair, though it was not due to age, he must have been in his mid-thirties. Two women with short black dressed and ridiculously painted faces stood left and right from him. "Interesting, who is the real Jay, I wonder."

"Get down!" Elena jumped on the desk, pushing me forward to bang my head against the surface, while Tifa, in her haste, stepped on my head. Elena shot a beam of ice, freezing the man with the machine gun so that he couldn't use his weapon. Tifa went for the man who had led us there and knocked him out before who could even aim the gun he had pulled out of his suit.

"Seph, capture Jay, alive," Elena ordered and I realized that when it comes down to the Turks, she is my senior in rank.

I easily disarmed and detained the white haired man, while his air-headed companions screamed and run around in circles, finally running into each other and bumping their heads together, being knocked out on impact. When I looked towards the two guards, thinking about how to fight them while preventing Jay's escape without killing him, they already laid crippled on the floor, their limbs twisted in unnatural angles.

Elena and Tifa were interrogating Clay, paying no mind to the frightened woman in the red dress who was crying in a corner, her long platinum hair covering her face. There was something strange about her; she gave me a bad feeling, an instinctual warning of danger.

"Mercy! Mercy!" The frightened Clay begged.

For a moment, my eyes traveled away from the crying woman, towards the man begging for his life and when I looked at her location again, she was gone. I looked towards the door, still holding on to the squirming Jay, resisting the temptation to snap his neck to keep him still. There she was, the platinum haired woman in red, her expression malicious. Then the truth hit me, she was the real leader of the operation, Clay was only there as a decoy.

The yakuza woman produced a small switch, which she had hidden in her dress and pressed it. My eyes went wide as I heard a beep from the desk, "look out!" I jumped towards Elena and Tifa, shielding them from the explosion originating from the bomb hidden in the desk.

When the smoke finally cleared out, I saw that Clay, Jay Omalley and the others were dead. The walls had been damaged, the building had caught on fire and there was a panic in the restaurant area above with the sudden explosion that made a hole on their floor. "Are you two alright?" I received most of the force from the blast, but other than the damage to my suit, I'm alright, I'm still a Soldier, even if I work as a Turk now.

"Yes," Elena looked around, taking in the situation.

"I'm fine," Tifa replied as well, "you saved us, thank you."

"Yeah, I owe you one Seph; let's get out of here quick," we all agreed with Elena and hurried to the car, soon the situation was out of hand and our presence would only create a greater disturbance.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 19: Suspicions

I feel a strong sense of satisfaction having protected Elena and Tifa from harm. This must be why I'm here alive, to save people.

"That blast really came out of nowhere," Elena commented, sounding frustrated, "but it shouldn't have been like that, I should have noticed.

"I didn't see it coming either," Tifa admitted, "I'm sure the guards were unconscious and that other guy too. We had Clay surrounded and Seph had Jay."

"It was the woman in red, the one who was pretending to be scared and crying," I revealed.

"That rat," Elena growled as if her pride had been hurt. She looked so scared we didn't even think of her as a threat, but it was all an act!" The car jumped forward violently as Elena recklessly increased the speed.

I was thrown back against my seat and became concerned about the car's speed. Tifa was too busy grumbling insults about the woman in red, to pay attention to the impending danger of Elena's wild driving. "What happened to her anyway? Did she get away?" Tifa finally asked.

Tifa's words made me think, the woman was at the door, but she couldn't have made it out on time before the blast. Even if she closed the door, it was blown apart; it certainly wasn't enough to shield her. Yet the fact remains, her body was not there, she was nowhere to be seen. "I don't know."

"At least we know who our real target is now," Elena concluded, and the rest of the terrifying car ride progressed in silence.

xoxox xox xoxox

We arrived at the Seventh Heaven to see a truck parked in front, the driver and a helper getting ready to leave. They were from the furniture store; I recognized the logo on the truck. They must have been delivering the dresser Tifa purchased, which reminds me that I never got around to buying any furniture.

As Tifa got off the car, she stopped, leaning down to look into my window, gesturing for me to open the door and I did. "I just wanted to say thanks again for protecting us from that blast, your back must really hurt, you must have been burnt badly," she looked at me with concern.

"It's alright, I'll heal," I assured her, though only my uniform was damaged.

"Come by some time when you're feeling better and I'll cook something really delicious for you," Tifa gives me a kiss on my forehead, as one would kiss a child. I later realized that from Strife's point of view on the second floor window it could have looked different, not that I particularly care about upsetting him.

xoxox xox xoxox

After returning to Shinra, I exchanged my goodbyes with Elena and she suddenly realized, "we never got your furniture!"

"It's alright," I was upset about the day's ordeal before, but now that it's finally over, I feel relieved that I can rest and glad to have been able to help.

"I guess there's always next time, we can look around tomorrow," I'm not looking forward to that, but I nod anyway. I know there's no talking Elena out of this. "Get some rest; I'll take care of writing a report about what happened with Clay, Jay and the others."

"Thanks..." For that, I am sincerely grateful, as I didn't even think a report was needed and would certainly not enjoy having to write it myself.

"No problem, I'm the one who's grateful to you, I'll also have another suit delivered, see you tomorrow, have a good night!"

"You too," I watched Elena skip away to her car, her mood much lighter now. She drove off recklessly but not furiously like before, I don't know how, but I can differentiate them.

I went back to my temporary basement home, took a shower and went to bed, falling asleep easier than I had in a long time.

xoxox xox xoxox

The next day I was up early, not knowing when to expect Elena. I found a box with a suit at my door, which is great because I don't have too many clothes. I should buy some while I'm out today. However, instead of changing my pajamas for the suit, I changed into my Soldier clothes, leaving the suit to be used the next day. It doesn't matter if I look like me, no one will believe I am me anyway.

It was later that morning that Elena arrived along with an angry looking Tseng. If looks could kill, I would be back in the life stream demanding to know why I was revived in the first place. I don't know why Tseng is so upset and I'm sure that he won't tell me if I ask him directly. Elena appears to be aware of Tseng's sour mood but is purposely ignoring it. We did little more than exchange greetings and went on our way.

xoxox xox xoxox

As I hoped, Tseng is driving today, which is a calming thought and hopefully with him around and no ideal dresser side quest to tend to, we'll avoid distractions and I'll actually get around to buying the furniture I need to move into my apartment.

The car ride to the store was smooth and safe but quiet and tense. Elena looked nonchalant the entire way, sitting in the passenger seat and looking out the window at the passing scenery. Tseng looked serious and upset, glaring at me through the rearview mirror. This bothers me greatly; there is no reason that I know of for the usually calm leader to be angry at me. Whatever is wrong, I have to find...

At the store, we walked around swiftly, stopping to look at some of the furniture. I found several that I liked and the choices were soon made. Everything would be delivered later that day, through their speed delivery service. We finished faster than I thought.

"Do you need anything else?" Tseng asked sharply, his eyes cold.

"No," I was going to buy some extra clothes but that can wait, I have something to wear tomorrow, and I don't want to further upset Tseng.

"Alright, I'll take you back to Shinra then," the car ride back went in the same way as the ride there.

xoxox xox xoxox

I was dropped off at Shinra Headquarters and Tseng drove way with Elena. I packed up the few possessions I have in the basement and wondered how I should move the boxes to my apartment, then quickly decided to carry them. There were not many boxes anyway, just two, and I could easily carry them and walk the short distance to my new apartment, there is no need to ask anyone for a ride.

I was in my empty apartment, save for the two boxes and myself, when I heard someone at the door and opened it. Tseng was there, "I thought you came here," maybe he went to look for me at Shinra after dropping off Elena. I have a feeling I'm about to find out what has Tseng so upset.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 20: Jealousy

"Do you like Elena?" Tseng's question came so suddenly that I hardly had time to think.

"Like her?" I don't understand, I didn't think I offended her in any way that would make her think she is disliked, "of course I do, I like all the Turks," except Reno, but I think it's best to just leave that out.

"No, not like, I mean like-like," Tseng clarifies and I finally understand.

Despite never being too involved in the playground language, I still know that there is a big difference between like and like-like. "Not like that."

"She's been really nice to you..." As Tseng goes on, I see a figure sneak behind him, finger across the lips in a sign for silence. "I just can't help it but to wonder."

I look right at the person behind Tseng, but he seems to take my apparently avoidant gaze as a bad sign. I'm only trying to warn him of our new arrival. "We're just friends," I tilt my head and finger my hair, eyes on the eavesdropper, I shift and try to think of a way to make Tseng look, but I think my gestures are being misinterpreted.

Tseng glares, "I care about her and I won't let you steal her!"

"He's not trying to steal me," Tseng jumps and turns to face Elena, who snuck up behind him in absolute silence and stood there listening.

The leader looks at me, as if accusing me for not saying anything, then finally he understands that I wasn't trying to hide a secret crush, I was trying to tell him his crush was here.

"Elena... I..." Tseng pauses, unsure of what to say.

"I like you," Elena confesses, "a lot, like-like."

"You do?" Tseng seems surprised, but he shouldn't be, Elena's liking for him is a well known fact.

"I thought you didn't like me because you didn't notice I was trying to tell you I like you," Elena admitted.

"Reno told me you liked me," Tseng recalled, "that's why I thought you didn't, because he's never right about anything."

Elena shook her head, "Reno's an idiot."

Then the romance flowed, I wish I could give the kissing couple some privacy, but they are standing at the door to my apartment. I resolved to go to my empty bedroom and wait there until they're done.

I'm sitting on the floor when my PHS rings and I answer the unknown number. "Stay away from Tifa!" The angry voice of Cloud Strife demands. He hung up before I could say anything. Given the recent happenings, I would guess that Cloud got the wrong idea and is jealous, but I don't care, I might let out some stress watching him worry. I'm going to the Seventh Heaven.

xoxox xox xoxox

I walked to the Seventh Heaven as soon as Tseng and Elena got out of my doorway. I arrived to find the place occupied by an average crowd and headed towards the bar, glancing in amusement at Cloud, who was playing waiter for one of the tables. I sat at the bar and Tifa cheerfully greeted me, my presence still unknown to Cloud.

I was making polite small talk with Tifa, hoping Cloud would look at us and get jealous, when Reno popped out of seemingly nowhere, "yo, Seph! You're not -hic- still mad at me, right?"

I am still upset by the red haired nuisance, but I decide to let it go. "No, Reno, I'm not mad at you."

"You don't sound too happy, but you know what? -hic-I got into trouble for messing up a WRO job," I don't know why Reno is telling me this but I do know why he started laughing like an idiot at the end, he's drunk.

Tifa shakes her head, "it was on purpose, so I heard, he messed up the deliveries and the WRO had to get all the materials to the right places, of course they were late. What an annoying and stupid joke, the WRO is trying very hard to help people."

"Not my fault, I'm not a delivery boy, but Cloud is, you know what the president told me? -hic- You know?"

"No, I don't," but I know he's going to tell me even if I don't care to hear it.

"He said that the WRO's like our little brother and we have to be nice to it," Reno laughed as if it were the most amusing thing in the world.

"That's a good analogy," Tifa agreed.

"But that means I can pick on them!" Reno argued.

"That's not nice," Tifa disapproved. "Would you pick on your little brother?"

"Don't have any younger siblings," Reno laughed again, as if that made it all alright.

"You know what else the president said, he told me not to pick on the WRO and I asked if I could pick on Cloud instead and he said -hic- he said... he said I could if it kept me out of trouble," Reno grinned like an idiot, not realizing that telling all of this to Tifa is a very bad idea.

"Rufus said that?" Tifa frowned, "I need to have a word with him..."

"So Seph? You want to join the fun? Tseng and Elena are not cool, they don't want to help me play jokes on Cloud, Rude wasn't sure, but I think I can talk him into it. I always talk him into doing stuff, ever since we were little kids. Rude's been my best friend for a long time... -hic- Anyway, are you going to join the fun? Are you? Are you? Are you? Cause you know, it'll be fun and stuff," Reno continued drabbling incoherently.

"Best customer or not, I won't let you hurt Cloud," Tifa pouted.

"Come on Tifa, Reno's just drunk, I'm sure he doesn't mean it, and Rufus must have been kidding, if he even said anything. Besides, Cloud is a capable adult; he can take care of himself. If anything, he might lighten up," I give Tifa my best innocent smile. I don't want her getting in the way of Reno making Cloud's life a miserable chaos, he deserves it.

Tifa dwells on it for a moment then finally agrees, "I guess you're right." For now I'll pretend I refuse to join Reno in his plans, but later, when Tifa is no longer a witness, I'll tell him to count me in.

To be Continued

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Reintegration

Step 21: Ninjas

It's another day at Shinra, we do some training exercises and missions are assigned, my mission is to guard the president. I'm not sure why I'm trusted to do this if he should perhaps be guarded from me. Maybe Elena put in a good word for me after the incident in that restaurant's basement, or maybe Rufus is just curious about me.

My tasks for the day were simple; I stood guard and brought several things to the president, such as coffee, donuts, lunch, and so on. He was busy going over documents, reading and typing, occasionally talking on the phone. It was all very uneventful.

"I should have you as my guard more often, you'll take Reno's shift and he can be assigned to do something else. He gets bored and won't shut up," Rufus had told me at the end of the day.

"Thank you, sir," I muttered between gritted teeth, I was bored too.

xoxox xox xoxox

After my duties were finally done I almost headed back to the basement, only to remember that I had an apartment now and the rush delivery had finished bringing all my furniture earlier that morning.

On my way out of Shinra HQ, I saw Reno and decided it was as good a time as any to ask him about his plans with Cloud. As annoying as he can be, he's not so bad when the one receiving that annoyance is Cloud. "Reno!"

"Yo, Seph!"

"Are you really going to pick on Cloud for fun?" I wonder if it was just a drunken thought or if he will really do this.

"Sure! But how did you know? I don't remember telling you about it, I didn't think you would want to join," Reno admitted.

"You did tell me about it and you told Tifa when you were drunk at the Seventh Heaven!" I reminded him.

"I did?" Reno looked a little surprised, but at the same time not really doubtful, as if he knows it's something he would do. "Are they waiting to ambush me?"

"I don't think so, I'm pretty sure Tifa thought you were kidding, or that if you did anything it would be an innocent prank that would make Cloud cheer up."

"I suppose I could do that..." Reno mused.

I don't like where this is going, but I may be able to use it to my advantage, "why don't you let me help? I think I know what Cloud's problem is..."

"Awesome! Okay, let's do this. I don't think Rude will join in today, but give him some time and when he sees how much fun we're having he'll want to join too."

xoxox xox xoxox

Two shadows blend in with the night... I am reminded of the Wutai battles back when the nation of ninjas was resisting Shinra. I remember having a mission with Genesis one day, we were ambushed by ninjas, not that it affected the successful outcome of our mission. They snuck around, hiding in the darkness and attacked us when we let out guard down.

Genesis had been saying something about Loveless, discussing his favorite parts and I was poking fun at him, in one of my rare least serious moments. Genesis wasn't angry, he knew I was only joking, he kept repeating what he was listing something, though I seemed to have forgotten what it was. I think he was listing things that could be the gift of the goddess, but he wasn't seriously analyzing it as he often did, he was just listing things he was thankful for; yes, that was it.

If I look deep into my memories, I can remember a little of what Genesis said, the end of his long list. "...chocolate, strawberries, swords, the color red, Shinra's paychecks and my friend Angeal... Am I forgetting something? What was that other gift? I think it started with an S and ended with a y. Oh yes, I remember, there were more than one, Saturday, Sunday and Sephy!"

Then the ninjas attacked and the conversation was never continued, we were busy. Soldiers don't sneak around; they charge in strong and imposing, we don't need the element of surprise as others might count on it. But in this situation, it is imperative that we remain unseen.

I feel like a ninja attacking a soldier, dressed in black, my face half covered revealing only my eyes. It's a silly and useless disguise that Reno insisted we should wear when we climbed up the walls of the Seventh Heaven and snuck in through a second story window. I find that climbing walls is more difficult than knocking them down, though I'm sure Reno would disagree and I wonder if all Turks are this cat-like and if with training I'll turn more feline than wolf.

Either way, the point is trying to escape with our identities a secret will be pointless if we are seen, even in disguise, so we must be quiet. Sure we're wearing ninja clothes, which Reno got out of a storage room at headquarters, there's a lot of junk there, but the clothes do not hide our identities, only our faces and that may not be the easiest way to identify Reno or me anyway. It's the hair, the unmistakable flow of silver and red. Even from afar it's easy to see in the darkness of the night by the faint light of the crescent moon.

This must be why most Wutaian ninjas have black hair, it serves their purposes. However, I don't feel the willingness to wrap my hair in black to hide it, and I am certainly not dying it. We'll just have to be extra quiet, careful and sneaky, since we are the most easy to see ninjas.

Bright hair aside, we managed to make our way inside the Seventh Heaven's living area and sneak into the bathroom to sabotage the shampoo. Cloud will have brightly colored shiny hair too, but I don't think he'll like this color. Still, I assured Reno that it was for Cloud's own good, even if he was upset at first. Reno was quick to agree that blond was a dull and boring color, though he did realize that was something that Rufus should never hear.

When we sneaked back out, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had participated in causing mischief for Cloud Strife, though admittedly Reno could have accomplished this on his own just as well. Even so I was there, I witnessed it firsthand and was apart of it, a part of a silly revenge, a childish prank. I feel an odd sense of satisfaction and then I realize that this relief isn't necessarily because of our prank, it's because I have stopped guilt tripping myself.

Ironically, I feel a little guilty about not feeling guilty, but before I can further evaluate the oxymoron, my attention went to the moron. Reno had insisted that we sneak away through an alley shortcut and he clumsily tripped over a trashcan, knocking it over noisily and scaring a stay cat who meowed loudly before running away.

A light from a near by house turned on and we made a run for it, although I'm fairly certain we got away fast enough not to be discovered. As I ran, all thoughts of guilt were forgotten and I once again looked forward to seeing the results of our ninja mission.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 22: Hair

If there was a time when I resented Aeris or whatever force revived me, that time has been forgotten. The day came to take up Tifa's offer to cook for me, I didn't even ask, she offered to cook me a free meal as soon as she saw me arrive at the Seventh Heaven. She didn't even give me the chance to politely say 'you don't have to...' in an obvious indication that I really did want the food. Tifa left Cloud temporarily at the counter and I smiled, I never thought I would be smiling at Cloud, yet I am.

"If you laugh, I'm going to separate that Sephiroth look alike head of yours from the rest of your body," Cloud growled through his teeth.

Either Cloud was louder then he intended or Tifa had excellent hearing. Her voice came from the kitchen with a warning, "Cloud, if you threaten the customers you'll be in serious trouble!"

"I was only joking," Cloud's angry response sounds like anything but a joke. He leans over the counter and glares at me with his mako eyes, whispering threateningly, albeit it only sounds amusing to me. "Stay away from Tifa."

"Why should I?" I challenge.

"Because if you don't, I'll-"

"Cloud Strife, you behave!" Tifa called from the kitchen, surprising both Cloud and I. I didn't think she could hear him this time. It's almost as if she doesn't need to hear or see what's going on, maybe she can somehow sense the tension.

Cloud remained silent from that point on, glaring at me, the effect of his glare lost due to his pink hair. Now that I have witnessed the aftermath of that childish prank, I can't help it but to be glad I agreed to it. It was silly, it was out of character for me, it was something I probably would have refused to do in my previous existence, but it was so good.

Another good thing is Tifa's cooking, this has to be the best steak I ever tasted and the side of cheesy potatoes matches it perfectly. "Delicious!" I make sure to give my compliments to the chef, because it would be impolite not to and also because I know it will annoy Cloud.

"I'm happy you like it," Tifa smiles and I can feel Cloud's glare increasing in intensity considerably. Although I came back hoping to no longer be hated, being hated by Cloud is fun.

I savored every bite of the meal, slowly, prolonging my presence at the Seventh Heaven until my stomach was satisfied, "this has been the best meal I've ever had, thank you very much."

"You're welcome, you should come more often, I would be happy to cook for you," Cloud doesn't look pleased with Tifa's offer.

"Tifa..." the sudden whine that escaped Cloud preventing my reply, was most comical, from my point of view at least.

"Stop being so cranky," Tifa gently patted his shoulder, "I kept telling you not to buy that cheap shampoo, but you wouldn't listen. Look on the bright side, you learned a valuable lesson and at least you're not bald. Look at Seph's hair, it's so shiny, maybe he can give you some hair tips."

I'm fairly certain that for once I must be agreeing on something with Cloud, even if neither of us voices it: discussing hair would be weird.

Guiding the subject away from me, but still on the topic of hair, Cloud begins to throw out accusations, "it has to be Reno's fault!" Did he see us? Did he only see Reno and not me?

Tifa shakes her head, "you shouldn't jump to conclusions, how would it be Reno's fault? It was just some cheap expired shampoo."

"When something goes wrong, it's always Reno's fault," Cloud insists. I am surprised to find that I agree with him again. At least this time I wasn't in the center of the disarray.

My PHS starts ringing while Cloud and Tifa have their little discussion and I discretely answer it. "Hello?"

"Hey Seph, it's me!" Yes Reno, I saw your name on the PHS screen before I answered. Though you are terribly annoying, you're not so bad when your chaos is directed at Cloud. Furthermore 'me' is not a very informative way to identify yourself.

I decided against voicing any sarcastic reply, frankly I don't even know where it came from, instead I inquired, "is something wrong?"

"No, everything's fine, there are no meteors in the sky," Reno joked, and I'm surprisingly, not bothered by it. It might be a sensitive subject but even if it sounds like a contradiction, I'm relieved it's not being treated as such, as if it's 'no big deal'.

"That's good to know, why are you calling?" I glance at Tifa and Cloud who are still discussing the shampoo incident, absorbed in their little argument.

"Whenever I play a joke on Cloud he assumes I did it, even if I'm totally sneaky and don't leave any proof behind. It's like I'm public enemy number one when it comes to practical jokes. Tifa's the only one who defends me, but that's probably because I'm her best customer, or because she's secretly my fan girl," Reno theorizes.

"I believe the former, ratter than the latter, is true." With Strife sponging off her, it' no wonder Tifa has somewhat of a soft spot for her biggest source of income.

"The form, later, what?" I should have known Reno would be confused.

"Never mind," I lower my voice to a whisper, "Strife is fuming and throwing accusations, keep a low profile."

"Gotcha, I wouldn't want to be decapitated," and as much as I wanted to decapitate you myself before, you might be worth keeping alive if you can terrorize Cloud. "Hey Seph, take a picture for me, will you? I can't go there now so send me a picture of the mission results, thanks a lot, bye!"

Reno didn't even give me a chance to refuse, not that I would, everyone in Shinra will see this picture and the occasion is perfect to take it now that Cloud is distracted. I've decided that I am quite fond of my discrete yet high resolution little PHS camera.

I take the picture and pocket my PHS as a voice echoes in my head, "such a naughty boy..."

I have to stop myself from jumping in surprise, fortunately, I showed no significant signs of being startled and no one noticed anything. There's no one here save for Tifa, Cloud and myself right now, and the one who spoke those words wasn't Tifa, though it was a woman.

A sudden 'ding' makes me focus on the here and now again, rather then the voice in my head. "The cake is ready!" Tifa interrupts her little hair product argument with Cloud and looks at me, "you'll try it, right?"

"I would be honored," I watch with satisfaction as Cloud's expression sours even more.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 23: Punching Bag

I've been eating at the Seventh Heaven lately, much to Cloud's annoyance, though not for free anymore, I insisted on paying since I wouldn't want to take advantage of Tifa's kindness, I am still trying to redeem myself after all. I have realized that I'm more human than I thought, which is comforting but at the same time challenging.

I can't be only a legendary hero, I'm a person too and while epic heroes may be just and fair, I as a human, am allowed to have one little flaw, I hate Cloud Strife. I'm not justice, I'm not perfection, I'm not the hero who loves everyone, I'm a human and I can have negative emotions. I find that it's easier to deal with the world when I'm not trying to force myself to like everyone.

As I enter the training room, I see something quite strange and ugly. "What is that?" I stare in disbelief at the life size inflatable toy of Cloud Strife, though a chubbier version.

"A punching bag!" Reno cheers, "isn't it awesome? I got it off the internet! Apparently some random fan girl made it, said something about having moved on to fan girl someone else so she was auctioning her Cloud collection."

"People can get the wrong idea if you buy things like this from fan girls," I pointed out.

Reno shrugged, his carefree expression still present, "who cares, you worry too much about what people think. If you keep worrying you'll get gray hairs... oh wait, you already have them."

"Silver, Reno, my hair is silver!" I clarify.

He laughs, the nerve, "touchy!" Then he gives the Cloud toy a gentle push, it bobs back and forth.

I watch the Cloud toy, following it with my eyes like a cat, then give it a small punch, just enough to make it go back and forth again. This is strangely amusing, I repeat the action, I feel a little stupid but maybe I do worry about what people think too much. I shouldn't worry so much about what people think, especially with Reno as the only witness, he doesn't think. I hit the Cloud toy again, and again, until I hit it too hard and it flies away, crashes against the opposite wall of the training room and deflates indignantly.

"You broke it," Reno gives me the sad kitten eyes.

"Sorry about that, I'll get you another one," I'm not looking forward to browsing online for Cloud fan made merchandise.

"It's okay, we can still fix this one," Reno goes over to the deflated toy and observes the rip on its face, like a scar from the forehead down over the nose. "I think there's some tape around here, you know the thick gray one, not cheap beige stuff." Finding the tape is easy enough and Reno fixes the toy with it. "There, now we just need to blow it up again... I just thought of something, could you start blowing it up for me? I'll be right back."

"How convenient," I know Reno is just using me to get out of emptying his lungs, but since I broke his toy, I'll go along with it, "fine."

"Be right back!" Reno runs off, leaving me with the task of restoring the Cloud inflatable.

I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with oxygen and start blowing up the toy. I repeat the action once more then stop, Reno blew it up before me and some strange girl blew it up before him and I'm touching this thing with my mouth? "Ew, gross!" I wipe my mouth furiously and the air I had managed to get into the toy escapes when I drop it. There has to be another way to do this. I search in a near by utility closet and find my answer in the form of an air pump of some sort. I start trying to fill up the Cloud toy with air, but the pump is too fast and strong, I can't stop it on time and the inflatable explodes.

"What was that noise?" Reno returns to find the rubber pieces of his Cloud toy all over the floor.

Here I stand in the middle of the mess, with the accusing air pump in my hand. "I broke it," I confess, "by accident," I add in case there were any doubts, "I'm sorry."

Reno pouts, "I'm not letting you borrow my toys anymore."

"I'll replace it," I offer, though I'm really not looking forward to that.

"Never mind, look what I printed," Reno shows me a print out of Cloud's face with pink hair, increased in size to the proportion of the real one, taking up the whole paper. "I was going to stick it on the inflatable but I guess I'll put it over there." He walks over to the punching bag and tapes Cloud's face over it.

"Good idea," it's completely silly and I know it, but I still think this is strangely amusing. "Let's print more." Pretty soon, I'll have plenty of Clouds to punch and kick.

xoxox xox xoxox

A little later, Tseng, Rude and Elena arrived, with the leader inquiring, "Reno, why is the training equipment covered in Cloud pictures?"

"Sir," I start out a little embarrassed, okay, maybe more than just a little. Being stupid around Reno is not so bad because he will always be more stupid, but I don't feel so great about being stupid around the more serious Tseng, even less around Elena and her overactive imagination. Rude is okay, he's there, but it's like he's not there, he hardly makes his presence known so it's easy to pretend he didn't witness anything. "This is my fault."

"You don't have to take the blame for Reno," Tseng replied, certain that it was all Reno's fault and Reno's fault alone.

"Why is everything always my fault?" Reno pouts.

"It's true, it was my fault this time," I insist. I feel like a goody-goody little boy confessing his mischief to the teacher in hopes of being accepted to hang out with the bad boys, except it all backfires when the teacher won't believe him.

Tseng gives it some thought, "really?" I nod and he gives it some more thought, "well, that's alright, I suppose everyone needs a way to let out their tensions."

Tseng walks over to the controls of the training chamber to get things ready for today's session, Rude stands to the side blending in perfectly with the inanimate objects and Elena pokes the pink haired Cloud face on a nearby punching bag. Reno pouts, but his eyes show amusement and a hint of mischief that worries me, "dude, you can get away with anything."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 24: Monster

Cloud's hair is white; it's a very dull and boring white. He tried to bleach off the pink, which he stills believes was Reno's fault alone, and failed to recover his blond. I think he plans to dye his hair again, I wish him he worse of luck.

That voice I heard in my head hasn't come back, maybe I just imagined it. Things are relatively calm at Shinra, which is a welcomed change. Then again, maybe nothing changed at headquarters, maybe I was the one who changed, becoming more tolerant of Rufus being spoiled, Tseng being a workaholic, Elena being too talkative, Reno being more insane than I ever was and Rude being... well... rude.

"Seph, look what I have!" I should say that Reno can be very rude at times, but it sounds like an ironic contradiction given the sharp contrast between Reno and Rude.

"Reno, do not shove things in people's faces," I scold as firmly, but at the same time, as gently as I can, I don't want him to throw a tantrum.

"Things?!" Great, he's throwing a tantrum anyway. "My baby is not a thing."

This catches my attention, though I'm certain the blur of red I saw was not a human child, perhaps a sort of pet. Summoning all my patience I take a deep breath, maybe I'm not used to Reno's insanity after all. "I apologize to your... baby."

"He forgives you," Reno merrily declares.

I identify the creature he's holding as a little red bird, "is that a chicobo?"

"The best chicobo in the world, he's the same color as my hair," though I'm certain Reno knows nothing about chocobos and chicobos, he sounds very much convinced that this little one is the best. "Isn't he cute?"

I stare at the little red blob, tiny enough to fit in the palm of Reno's hand. This one is quite puny, even for a new born. It stares back at me and chirps in a high pitched voice. It's very loud for such a miniature creature. "Yes, cute..." I have little knowledge of what cute is, but in general terms, I think a brightly colored, microscopic, squeaky, baby animal should fit the profile.

"I need to name him, I've been asking around for ideas, but no one has come up with a name I like and I have name block right now," Reno rambles, he does that often. "I want to name him soon; I wouldn't want the little guy to have an identity crisis."

I freeze; an identity crisis? It's not like the chicobo will grow up to be a very strange, mutant chocobo who thinks he's a monster. It's not like he'll question his existence wondering if he was created in a laboratory and mutated by mako. It's not like he'll believe he's the child of a fossil, it's not like he'll try to take over the world, it's not like he'll summon meteor. That chicobo is not a monster, but what am I? Who am I?

There's fire, there's fire everywhere, in the town and even in the reactor. There isn't supposed to be fire there. There are capsules with monsters, they're breaking out, is this truly a memory from Nibelheim? Those monsters, they look like me, they're coming towards me, but there's fire, they're catching aflame, but they keep walking towards me. No, don't come any closer, don't come, they're burning, I'm burning! "Fire! Flames! Blaze!"

These images, why now? I was fine a second ago. There's something wrong, there's something here, in this building. I can feel it, something bad is here. The president is in danger, I'm a Turk; I need to protect the president. I'm Sephiroth of the Turks, that's all I need to know, I'll focus on that. I grip my sword and run.

"Seph, come back!"

I need to get to the president, why is Reno trying to stop me? He's a Turk too; he's my ally, isn't he? Unless he's someone else in disguise; I raise my sword and the little chicobo chirps curiously, there's not a single hint of fright in his tiny feathery face. I can't hurt him.

My head hurts, I run again, I need to get to the last floor. Reno is yelling something, "emergency!" Yes, that's right, there's an emergency, a big emergency; tell the others that the Turks are needed. We have a mission, we have to protect Shinra, we have to protect Rufus, protect him from danger; protect him from the monster.

The monster, where's the monster? I made it to the last floor and kicked the door open, I'm in the president's office; he's in danger. Where's the monster? Is that it, straight ahead? I raise my sword, my eyes glowing with fury, "die!"

"Stop!" Their voices echo, Rufus, Reno, Tseng, Elena and even Rude.

Then there's another voice, a woman's voice, "please don't kill me..." She has brown hair and green eyes, watery green eyes, she's crying. "Please, don't..." She's wearing pink. "Monster, don't kill me, you terrible monster!"

I must exterminate the monster, if I don't kill him, he'll kill her; the monster will kill Aeris. I'm trembling, why? I can't hesitate, I need to kill the monster, but I'm the monster. I feel pain, a sharp stab. I look at myself, there's blood and a sword, a long sword, my sword, my Masamune. Why did I do this to myself? Is it because I'm a monster? Everything is turning dark...

xoxox xox xoxox

When I open my eyes I still feel pain, "don't move," Reno is the first to speak, they're all here. He picks up that same little chicobo from before and holds him protectively, "he made a nest with your hair while you were sleeping; I hope you don't mind."

I don't reply, my eyes go from one person to another, Reno, the chicobo, Tseng, Elena, Rude, Rufus, "Aeris?" My eyelids feel heavy, is this anesthesia? Am I tied up?

The woman retreats, "Miss Talic, please wait outside," Rufus suppressed his evident stress, trying to sound as calm as possible.

"Sir, I... Is it safe? Is it really alright to have him here?" The woman questions. She's not Aeris, not Aeris at all, but she has brown hair and green eyes and she's wearing a pink dress shirt and she has a choker with a pink rhinestone covered letter A, is that her name's initial too?

"We'll handle this," Tseng assures in Rufus' place before the president loses his cool. "Please miss, wait outside; Elena, go with her." They probably want to bribe her into silence, she's lucky this isn't the old Shinra.

Elena nods; "yes..." she gives me one last glance of sympathy before leading the other woman out of the infirmary.

My head hurts; I don't know what came over me. I almost killed that woman and I don't even know who she is, probably an innocent secretary delivering some documents to Rufus. My head really hurts.

Rufus takes a deep breath like a father scolding his child for his own good, except I don't know this from experience, because my childhood was anything but normal. I just imagine that it might be this way. "As of now, you are suspended from the Turks till further notice." I remained quiet, my eyes focused on Rufus, I'm not going to argue with his decision. "You are required to complete a special training and if your performance is satisfactory, I'll consider reinstating you to the Turks." I don't think it's a good idea for me to be around people, or to be a Turk, but I don't argue.

"I understand..." My voice is barely audible and it's a lie, I don't understand anything. Things were going well and I was finally relaxing; I was actually enjoying my life. What came over me? There was danger, I sensed it, there was definitely something wrong. Was it all just me? Is the only real problem in my head? I closed my eyes and drifted back into a nightmare infested uneasy sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 25: Human

My luggage is packed, though it's not much, just some clothes to wear while I'm away. I put the suitcase in the chopper and take one last look at Edge from the roof of the new Shinra Headquarters. Tseng will be coming with me to train. I look at the Turks quietly, Elena is trying to look supportive, Rude nods as if to reassure me, Reno is late, but even Rufus is here. The president's stress seems to have gone away, his expression much more serene now; somehow, he's not angry at me anymore. I'm guessing the business with the secretary went well.

"I'm here!" Reno always makes his arrival known, unless it's a secret mission, but if it's not, he assumes the world wants to know when he gets there. "Oh good, I didn't miss you two leaving. Blaze wants to say goodbye," Reno holds up the little red chicobo, its blue eyes focused curiously on the helicopter. "Seph, you're he's godfather now, because you named him."

I stare at the tiny chicobo for a long moment, "I named him..." Reno called him Blaze, but I wasn't saying those things to suggest names. I suppose the name matches the chicobo's color.

"You really need to get your work done, don't play with your pet all day," despite saying this, Tseng gently pets the little chicobo. He kisses Elena then goes in the helicopter; everyone knows they're together so there's no need to hide it.

Feeling completely silly I raise my hand and very gently pet the little bird's head. "You don't have chicobo phobia, do you?" Reno curiously asks; the question is completely serious.

"Of course not," I just don't want to hurt the little guy. I suppose this is what it's like for something to be cute, no one can bear to hurt it and everyone adores it instantly. "Goodbye..."

"See ya later Seph, I'll send pictures if anything cool happens," which means that Reno will try to play pranks while I'm gone, though he might not get too far since everyone expects it from him.

"Have a nice trip!" Elena calls out as if we're heading out on vacation. Rude watches silent and unreadable.

Rufus smiles slightly, I don't know if the president is happy to be rid of me or convinced that this training will be a success and expecting the good news soon. It's probably the second because for a fleeting moment I see Lazard reflected in Rufus, his expression confident, knowing the mission will be accomplished.

xoxox xox xoxox

As the helicopter flies I find myself staring at the ruins of old Midgar as they become more distant. "You don't have to be so gloomy," Tseng breaks the silence, "this training isn't so hard and we can take breaks if need be, there's no time limit."

"It's more complicated than that," I admit. "I don't know who I am; I thought I was okay with that but apparently not. It was as if something was controlling me through my doubts."

"You're Sephiroth of the Turks, you're a human being with Jenova cells and mako, but a human being none the less," Tseng assures.

"Can you be sure?" I further inquired; I wish I could simply accept his words.

"Yes, we have been investigating, we know your past, your origin, you're not a monster, though you were modified while still in your mother's womb, you are still human, she was human," Tseng reveals.

I pale, my eyes losing their focus on the miniature ruins lost in the distant horizon. I stare at the distance, at nothing, then I close my eyes and time passes, I don't know how much time. "My mother," I whisper after a while, "was not called Jenova."

"That was not her name," Tseng admits. "Your past was unclear, but I understand it now, all the pieces. It's not easy though, we wanted to tell you later, you have the right to know, but you shouldn't stress about it now."

"I'm human," I repeat it as if to convince myself, "mother was not called Jenova; that was a lie, I was born of a human, I was experimented on, but I was originally a human..."

"You still are," Tseng emphasizes.

I want to know more, I want to hear the whole story, to know the truth, "tell me more."

"Later..."

"Tell me!"

"Sephiroth!" I stare at Tseng; my full attention on him, his voice went from relaxed to firm; then took on a friendly reassuring tone. "You will know, you won't be lied to, but I can't tell you now, I won't give you a false excuse. The truth is the situation was difficult and there's nothing that can be done about that past now."

I take in Tseng's words. I once went very far to get revenge in the name of the one I thought was my mother. For Jenova I wanted to take over the planet and use it as a vessel to travel the cosmos after crashing a meteor into it. A crazy plan indeed, a plan of vengeance, for my mother, for my rights, for what I thought was stolen from me. Perhaps Shinra did take something away from me, the old Shinra that is. Maybe I would seek revenge again, in my real mother's name this time, but that won't lead anywhere, just to more destruction, more mistakes, more things to make up for, more regrets.

"I understand," I may long to know, yet I might not be ready to know. "I want to hear the story one day, but for now, if you can be certain that I'm human and that who ever my mother was, she was also human; that's enough."

"I assure you," Tseng's relaxed tone returned, he seems both pleased and relieved to have been able to reason with me.

"What of my father? He was human too, right?"

My question brings an unconscious frown to Tseng's face and his features harden, "yes." He seems uncomfortable with the subject, perhaps bitter. "He was a human too," he almost sounds as if he has his doubts.

"Are you sure?" I further inquire.

"I'm certain that both your parents were of the humans species, their biology was originally no different from that of a normal human," Tseng seems very uncomfortable with the subject now; he wants to end this conversation, that much is clear.

I want to ask more questions but I don't want to complicate things, just knowing I'm not a monster is enough, "is a human who has been modified truly still human?"

"Biology isn't important, it is rational thought that counts, hold on to that," Tseng replied.

Rational thought, I wonder if I can hold on to it, "I'll try." I see Cosmo Canyon in the horizon, or at least I think that's it, "Cosmo Canyon?"

Tseng seems pleased with the change in subject, "yes, we'll be there for a while, to relax, meditate and get away from everything."

"How did we get here so fast?"

"We've been flying all day, we even stopped to refuel; the sun is setting now, see? You fell asleep, remember?" Tseng spoke slowly, as if not to startle me with the information that I should have been able to gather on my own.

When I felt time pass, I didn't realize it was this much, when I closed my eyes, I didn't notice that I fell asleep. When I woke up, without realizing I was waking up, I asked about my mother as if only seconds have passed, continuing the same conversation from before. "Right," I yawn, just for show, as if to convince Tseng I'm disoriented because I'm drowsy not insane. I don't think it worked, "that was a good nap," I'm such a bad liar. I've never really been drowsy unless it's chemically induced, as for insane...

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 26: Vacation

I feel like I'm in a weekend camping trip, except it's a weekday. Tseng and I had dinner with a red wolf-like creature called Nanaki, who also used to be known as Red XIII. I only vaguely remember him traveling with the former Avalanche and their allies.

Nanaki, number XIII, is not a human, though he is very much sane and his speech is better than that of some humans I've met. Though he has a number, he seems to be doing quite well. The extent of the experiments performed on him are unknown to me, and possibly to him as well, though it's not something I would inquire about.

He's a remarkable being, supposedly the last of his kind, or at least the last that he and Shinra know of. It's easy to see he's been through many battles, but he doesn't let it get to him, so calm, so relaxed. I wonder if I was brought here to follow his example.

This doesn't feel like training at all, we sat around a fire and roasted marshmallows while Nanaki proudly told stories of his parents' bravery, mentioning that his father had fought to the end until he was turned to stone. I wish I had a heroic story to tell...

The view from Cosmo Canyon is very nice, the skies are clear and the stars shine brightly. It's a very quiet place at night when the archeologists have turned in and few people remain awake.

We stayed at Cosmo Canyon for two days. I didn't black out or go crazy during that time and I didn't hear any strange voices in my head. During our stay, we went out during the day to hunt monsters. I hesitated at first, wondering how much in common I had with those beings, but then I realized I was being paranoid. Monsters are not capable of thought like I am. Rational thought is what makes people, people, Nanaki included despite not being human.

After the light training at Cosmo Canyon, which was more mental than physical, was done, we headed out to Nibelheim. I stood at the entrance to the rebuilt ghost town, that somehow doesn't entirely feel like a ghost town and waited for something to happen, for my past to catch up to me, but there was nothing.

"How do you feel?" Tseng asked. "We can do this later."

I have to face my past sometime, I should have known this was coming, "surprisingly," I can't deny it is unexpected, "I'm aright. I mean, I have regrets, but I'm not about to go insane over it."

"Good, you may explore as you wish, the others are here, you'll run into them if you go into town," Tseng encourages, though I'm certain that they'll be watching each other's backs.

"Alright..." I walk into town and look at the water tank, then walk around it, observing the surrounding buildings. I go to the inn and find Rufus reading in the lobby. I'm surprised to see him there. He looks up from his book a little, still hiding behind it, as if he wants to pretend he's not watching. I nod reassuringly and move on, exploring upstairs.

It's amazing with how much detail the town was restored. I can almost hear Zack's footsteps running energetically up the stairs. I enter the guest room where I had stayed; everything was the same, even the color of the sheets. Deciding that I've seen enough of the inn, and thankfully none of it alarmed me beyond the understandable feeling of deja vu, I headed out again.

Tseng has gone somewhere; he's not standing guard at the entrance anymore, though I see the helicopter is still there. I examine the surrounding area again and notice another helicopter I haven't seen before, hidden behind some houses. I then choose a random house to explore.

I feel like I'm in a video game, for only there is the protagonist allowed to walk into people's private property without permission and take things, albeit only the things conveniently hidden in treasure chests can be claimed.

This house holds the scent of cookies and I follow it to the kitchen were Elena is taking a fresh batch out of the oven. She sets the new tray on the kitchen counter to cool and gets to work decorating her previous batch with frosting. "Want to try them?"

Elena had been so absorbed in her task that I thought she didn't notice my presence, "yes..." I could hardly find my voice, this situation, being in Nibelheim, a Nibelheim populated by Rufus and the Turks, is odd, yet not as alarming as I would imagine and that is the most shocking part. I take a perfectly round cookie, covered in bright yellow frosting with chocolate chip eyes and a chocolate smile; I take a bite off the top, leaving it with one eye. "Thanks..." it almost looks as if I'm talking to the cookie, thanking it for being so delicious.

"You're welcome, is it yummy?" Elena smiles; completely carefree.

"Yes, very," I truthfully reply and finish the cookie, "I'm going to look around some more..."

"Okay, have fun," Elena returns to her task of decorating the cookies with colorful frosting. I feel like a child who was given permission to play, though I'm certainly not as enthusiastic as one.

I leave the house and look around, Shinra Mansion looms as if beckoning me to approach it, challenging me to go in. I turn away from it and look towards the mountains; I don't want to go there either. Yet this is about facing my past, not hiding from it.

I approach the mansion and taking a deep breath I cross the gates and walk to the door, it's unlocked, not that it surprises me. The loud chirping from inside gives away the identity and position of the Turk in the mansion, who brought his little chicobo along. Unfortunately I can't go around Reno, since he is in my path to the secret passage leading to the basement.

"Yo!" Reno greets me casually; I expected it from him. My godchild, the chicobo named Blaze, chirps as if he recognizes me.

"Hi..." I stand there for a moment, then glance at the passage leading to the spiraling stairs.

"Going exploring? Don't read too much, books are evil," Reno is being Reno, the carefree role suits him in any situation, so it doesn't look like he's acting at all. Then again, Rufus didn't look stressed, just curious and Elena was relaxed enough.

"I'll remember that," scientific books written in such confusing ways, full of outdated information, mistaken conclusions and recordings so complex that they can be easily misinterpreted, are a danger indeed.

I head down to the basement and walk around the library, but I'm not interested in reading, I'll wait until the answers come to me, those books are just confusing anyway. I spend a few more minutes in the library, then head up again. The entire time I heard the echo of Blaze's distant chirping becoming closer as I moved back up. I wonder if it was set up on purpose to keep me in the present.

"The reactor..." I voice uncertain.

"Did you forget how to get there? It's not hard to find," Reno's reply makes me conclude that I am meant to explore the reactor after all and I need to go there alone, perhaps so that I have to rely on myself to willingly get there and so I don't feel pressured to walk at anyone else's pace.

"I'm going for a walk..." It's pretty obvious where I'm going, I don't need to say it. Reno nods and watches me go. I exit the Shinra Mansion and head to the mountains.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 27: Deception

As a get closer to the reactor my heart starts to pound. I have a bad feeling, there's something wrong. Is Rude there? I haven't seen him yet; maybe he's waiting in the reactor. He's in danger, I can feel it. Not again, I got this feeling before when I went crazy at Shinra. I also remember it from another time, from that occasion wit the yakuza, but I attributed it to the situation then and managed to control it somehow, plus it wasn't as strong, as if this force was only testing the waters.

It's strange, that time with the yakuza was being near danger but only being subconsciously aware of it. At Shinra the instinctive alert was screaming in my head and now it's different again, I'm alarmed, but I feel as if it's too late. I also know I'm being followed, but that one following me is an ally. "Tseng, are you there? Come out!"

Tseng must have read the urgency in my almost pleading voice because he wasted no time in coming out of hiding. "What's wrong?"

"Danger, in the reactor... I need to... I have to..." I feel an irresistible need to run into the reactor, but I fight against it. This isn't good, why now? Is it the place? I was fine in town.

"You don't have to do this, calm down, we can leave," Tseng tries to reason with me again.

"Go... the reactor, go!" I insist, but Tseng doesn't leave, "please go..." I focus on staying awake, staying in control, staying still.

Tseng nods, "I'll go check," he hurries in and doesn't come out.

"Tseng!"

"Rude is injured!" Tseng yells back, "stay there, I'm calling the others."

Am I too incompetent to be trusted in helping an ally? It is because I might become a threat rather than help. I involuntarily make my way to the reactor and see Tseng tending to the unconscious Rude. "Who did this?" My head hurts, it hurts so much.

Reno and Elena rush past me and I watch the scene helplessly, gripping my sword, the sword I shouldn't have been trusted with. Tseng returned it to me when we went monster hunting during our stay in Cosmo Canyon and let me keep it since then.

I throw the sword out the door, suppressing the need to go pick it up and stab someone. "Stop it... stop it! I won't let you, you can't control me!" Once again, it all went dark, but I didn't pass out despite losing my senses, I could feel my body moving, running away. I needed to get myself away from the Turks; I don't want to hurt them.

xoxox xox xoxox

Something is wet and something is shiny. I'm in a puddle near materia in its natural state. I'm pretty sure I'm somewhere in the mountains near the reactor. I couldn't see before, or hear anything, I couldn't even feel anything. I'm bruised and sore, maybe I ran into some rocks, maybe I fell or maybe I started banging my head against the cave walls. I don't know, but my senses are back now at least.

"Sephiroth?" Who's talking? She's out of my view, or is the voice in my head? "My son..."

"Mother?" That can't be, I don't even know who my mother is, but why would she be talking to me in my head?

"Poor boy, you're so confused."

"Mother!" No, she's not, she can't be. "What's happening?"

"They're trying to trick you, they're brainwashing you, to use you for their purposes. Don't let them turn you into a weapon." I remember my days as a soldier, I remember the old Shinra. "It wouldn't be the first time, right?"

"It's different," I want to believe it is.

"Have you forgotten me, forgotten what they've done, what they took away? Avenge me, son!"

"I don't want to, I don't want to take revenge on the planet anymore, ask me for something else..."

"I ask you to save yourself, save yourself from Shinra..."

"Yes, mother," I closed my eyes, there's nothing interesting to look at in this cave anyway, and I dozed off.

xoxox xox xoxox

I wake up to find a ceiling that I've seen before long ago. I would wake up to this ceiling every morning when I was in Nibelheim, before I locked myself in the basement of Shinra Mansion. Except it's not really that same ceiling, because the original was burned down. My sword is propped against the wall opposite to me, but I have no temptation to reach for it at the moment. The chirping of a chicobo tells me Blaze, and most likely Reno, are near by and I turn my head to look at them. "How long was I out?"

"Oh, hey, you're awake! Everyone, Seph's awake! You were asleep for a whole day!" I watch Rude cringe at Reno's loud voice. He looks like he has a headache, but he's going to be alright, I somehow know. Rude's currently resting on the bed next to mine, with Reno sitting on a chair in between.

"Reno, you shouldn't yell so loud," Rufus entered the room accompanied by Tseng and scolded the redhead, then turned his attention towards me. "How do you feel?"

"Confused," I admitted, "I don't want to be used by Shinra and you are keeping a lot of secrets from me."

Rufus sighs exasperated, "there's no avoiding it; you're our responsibility."

"I'm not your child," I don't know whose child I am, but certainly not Rufus'.

"Of course not, but that's not the point!" Rufus is clearly frustrated. "Do you know what it's like when everyone starts seeing you as the villain even if you were the hero before? You must know what it's like and I do too. Shinra used to be good, Shinra used to be admired, Shinra used to be seen as the hero back when it wasn't. Now that we're trying to set things right, that past is all people see, even if it's over. Whatever you do, it will be blamed on me, that's why I should call Cloud Strife right now and make you his problem, but that's also why I won't. Because I know what it's like to go from hero to villain and to have the past shoved in your face. I will offer you Shinra's protection and information from your past. If you choose to believe it that is up to you. If you leave Shinra, you'll have to deal with the world on your own because we won't cover for you, there's too much at risk."

"So I'm just a mistake to clean up?" I argue back.

"How many times have you been unconscious? If I was like my father," Rufus is full of bitterness with that one word, "I would have ordered the Turks to take those opportunities, it would have worked and you know it. That's all the proof I can offer you of my sincerity."

"And if I leave?" I inquire, not losing the fire in my voice.

"Seph of the Turks will be declared dead and we will deny ever knowing anything about Sephiroth's latest return, I won't add more blame to the mountain I already have for covering for you," Rufus admits. "We'll ignore you if you don't cause trouble, but we'll have to interfere if you do. Shinra owes you, it's not completely my debt, but part of it is and I've inherited the rest, yet I also inherited a debt to the world, which I need to take care of too. If you turn into a mad man, I'll just have to stop you from staining the name of the old Sephiroth."

"What do you know about me?" I retort bitterly, though in contrast Rufus seems to have calmed down, as if he's getting all the pressure out of his system after keeping it bottled up for a long time.

He hands me the book he had been reading earlier, I didn't really pay close attention to it before. It's a medium sized dark blue book with a plain title-less cover. The pages are handwritten in black ink; it's a journal of some sort. "A tragic memento from the brother I never really knew."

I recognize the handwriting instantly; I've seen this before in notes and reports, "Lazard..."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 28: Mystery

Lazard was more aware of certain things than I imagined, and more confused about others than anyone noticed. Albeit he was uncertain of what he needed to do, he had a lot of fate in us, Genesis, Angeal, Zack and I. He kept that faith even after all the things that happened with Genesis and Angeal, though he was unsure of what part he should be playing, which led to certain actions, that ultimately brought forth his end.

Back then I was the hero, I was admired and respected, but so many things were happening. I remember I didn't know what it was but I felt frustration and perhaps fear. Fear of not being able to help, fear to face the hidden truth, fear for their well being. Maybe my state was more fragile than I cared to realize and that's why I fell apart at Nibelheim back then.

I close the journal, which was left unfinished, but everyone knows the general way the story ended, though the specifics are lost. Lazard held on to one thing when everything was lost, hope for the future, even if he didn't expect to live to see it.

One would think he would be bitter towards Rufus, but though they were never close, Lazard was hopeful of the day Rufus would become president. He was hopeful that despite everything, I would remain a hero in everyone's eyes, until I found the path to become a true hero.

I hand the book back to Rufus who had been patiently waiting for me to finish reading it. He holds it like a precious treasure; something to be cherished, Lazard's wishes, his legacy, proof that he existed. "What happened?" I inquire.

"We're not sure," Tseng replies, then looks at Rude.

The usually quiet man finally speaks, "a fake," though he doesn't say much.

"Rude was attacked by a copy of you," Tseng elaborates.

"A copy?" This is alarming news, but I try not to show it, "a remnant?"

"Possibly," Tseng admits.

"How could I lose control of my own body of thoughts? I don't feel them, those parts of me, I should sense them." This is too complicated, it doesn't make sense.

"Right now we know very little, it could be someone else entirely, a Sephiroth clone, we don't know who. One thing is certain; they were trying to frame you. If you had gone ahead to the reactor, the scene would have been incriminating," Tseng revealed.

I nodded, still confused and lost in thought, "what now?"

Elena comes in with a tray of food, which she sets quietly on the nightstand. "Rest," Tseng insists, but I shake my head. "Eat," I shake my head again, "Sephiroth, if you're not strong, the enemy will take control of you again; that is what we believe will happen."

"Alright, I'll eat something, but I can't sleep like this," albeit Elena wasn't here during the latest portion of the conversation, having left to prepare some food, she seems well informed, without a single hint in her expression of wondering what we're talking about.

Maybe it was my impatient glances, or the need to seek more information, but as I ate the chicken soup Elena had made, Tseng spoke again, after receiving a nod from Rufus, a silent approval. "Why do you think you came back to this world?"

The question caught me off guard, "for redemption?"

"How did you gather the strength to appear as you are, rather than as a body of thoughts?" Tseng continued.

"I don't know," I have to admit; the specifics are still a mystery to me. "I thought that somehow Aeris brought me back."

"If Aeris has such a power, why didn't she stop you from coming back the first time? Why isn't she bringing back anyone else? Why doesn't she come back herself?" Rufus continues with the questions.

"I don't know..." Could it be that Aeris didn't bring me back? "If not her, then who? Somehow, I feel that this is not something I did by myself."

"That's what we need to know," Tseng continues, "if we gain that piece of information, we could find a lot of answers."

"The voice," I almost regret mentioning it, but I can't take it back, everyone is looking at me expectantly.

"If you have any clues..." Elena gently encourages.

"It's just that I heard a voice, telling me to take revenge and to not let Shinra turn me into a weapon. The voice was, it was pretending to be Jenova, or maybe I just imagined it," I feel foolish for mentioning it, but it seems the Turks and Rufus see it as valuable information.

"It's possible that someone may be communicating with you, trying to control you," Tseng theorizes, but it's more than just a theory, someone or something did control me. "Stay strong, you were able to fight it, you ran so that you wouldn't be a danger, right?" I nod and Tseng looks reassuring, "that means you can fight it, don't let your guard down."

A moment of silence passes, Blaze must have been bored with our conversation because he fell asleep in Reno's arms, leaving it up to the redhead to break the silence, "so gloomy."

"I don't think you've been quiet for this long ever before," I had almost forgotten Reno was in the room.

"I don't like it when things are gloomy, let's cheer up!" Reno's energetic loudness wakes Blaze, who starts chirping contently, blissfully unaware of the current situation.

Rufus massages his temples in exasperation, Blaze's constant chirps must be adding to his stress. "Tseng, you may proceed with your investigation."

"Yes, sir," Tseng exits the room with determination; it makes me wonder what his mission really is.

Rude gets up, "are you well enough?" Rufus asks when he sees this.

"Yes," Rude's response is short and to the point, as usual, I'm surprised he didn't just nod.

"Alright, you're on guard duty; make sure no one suspicious approaches the inn, alert us if you see anything," Rufus assigns Rude's mission then looks at Reno with impatience, "you are on patrol duty, go out for a walk, now."

"Yessir!" Reno bounces away along with his pet, silence taking over the room once they're gone. I'm not going to say anything, but I kind of miss Blaze, his incessant chirping was annoying, but it was better than this choking silence and Rude isn't one for conversation as he stands looking out the window like a statue.

"We'll be downstairs, reading," Elena nods, not too eager with his mission, though Rufus himself doesn't look very enthusiastic about joining the investigation.

"Too much reading is bad for you," I speak before I can stop myself; I'm the living example of that.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 29: Visions

Things have calmed down lately. Rufus and the Turks investigated all the records in the old Shinra Mansion, finding many contradictions, but no new clues. Rufus had a look in his eyes, as if wondering about something, but he must have been uncertain because he didn't say anything.

Tseng was away for some time, I never heard about what he was doing and I didn't see him again until we returned to Shinra. Rufus decided it was best to reinstate me to the Turks so that I would have something to focus on and though he didn't say it, it must have been more so to make it easier for the Turks to keep an eye on me.

We trained as we always did and it effectively kept me occupied. Once on my way to Rufus' office, I saw that secretary again, the one whose name starts with an A, the one who likes to wear pink and reminds me of Aeris. At least I didn't scare her badly enough to make her quit, but when I walked past her in the opposite direction I got a really bad feeling. I suppose I must have been worried I would snap again and traumatize her further, though she didn't look scared, she appeared to be angry, albeit I understand it's natural to hate your almost murderer.

Reno has been being himself, dragging me into playing pranks on Reeve whenever he is send to help at the WRO, though I don't think he's very helpful. I'm not supposed to be in the WRO missions, but I've been tagging along anyway, trying to help out, seeking redemption. Reeve saw me and I gave him a scare, until Reno started saying that I was the real Sephiroth back to destroy the world, which convinced Reeve that I had to be a look alike playing a prank on him.

However, the WRO practical joke season was short, since Rufus caught on thanks to complaints from Reeve and Reno was scolded for it. I tried to take the blame for him, feeling responsible because I didn't stop him, but I was seen as an innocent scapegoat being used.

It was then that Reno came to a conclusion, "I thought it was a good thing that you could get away with anything, but it's not good if it gets blamed on me!" I had thought it was the end of the pranks, but my incorrect conclusion only lasted a few seconds, "let's stick to picking on Cloud from now on!" It was as expected from Reno after all.

xoxox xox xoxox

One night, I was enjoying the peace and quiet of my apartment, telling myself not to worry as I fell asleep, when the familiar chirping of Blaze woke me. I grudgingly got up and opened the door, but there was no one there.

I thought for sure the sound meant Reno was coming over to invite me to another practical joke ninja mission, which involved vandalizing Cloud's property, or sabotaging his personal hygiene products. Reno has been frequenting the Seventh Heaven again after Tifa forbade Cloud from killing him; that would really bring down her profits, it has made him become overconfident playing pranks.

I stood there, listening to the sound, I know that's Blaze, maybe Reno is visiting Tseng, but that can't be, the sound isn't coming from above... No, not that... Fearing the worse, I make my way to the apartment below and knock on the door.

It doesn't take long for Reno to open it, "yo, Seph, what's up?"

I twitch, "Reno, wasn't this apartment your video game vault?"

"Yeah, but everyone kept complaining about the noise where I used to live, they were getting annoying so I moved here... and left some goodbye gifts," I have a feeling he means explosives, but even if it sounds careless, that doesn't concern me now, I am too worried about my own predicament.

As politely as I can, I hint that I want silence, "isn't it time for Blaze to go to sleep?"

"He's not sleepy, he has a lot of energy; he's going to be super fast when he grows up!" Reno is completely missing the point.

I try to spell it out for him, "I can't sleep."

"You have insomnia? Me too! We'll stay up all night playing video games, it'll be awesome!"

I don't know how I get dragged into these things, though the games will be fun if I pretend the enemy I'm beating up is Cloud... "Fine, until Blaze falls asleep, then I'll got back home and finally get some sleep," the sun came up and that didn't happen.

xoxox xox xoxox

The next day I headed to my apartment to shower and change after being awake all night, but I didn't leave for Shinra right away, it was still too early.

Later, at Shinra HQ, I wondered why Tseng hasn't complained about all the noise, it was certainly loud enough to reach the apartment above mine, but my question was answered when I found out that Tseng wasn't there the previous night. This is not the only home he owns so it should come as no surprise, besides, everyone knows he and Elena stay over at each other's places now and then, but it seems Tseng was out working last night.

I only caught pieces of the conversation as I headed to Rufus' office for today's briefing and stopped at the door. The other Turks were already there, though I was certain I was on time. Curious about why they were called in earlier than me, I continued listening.

"He does know about the past, but he's being cautious, he doesn't trust us. He was acting suspicious so I followed him and that's when I found her," that was Tseng's voice.

"We'll have to proceed carefully, this is a delicate matter. Try to talk to him again, convince him by any means necessary, this is an important step in the process if we're going to make this work," Rufus spoke.

"Yes, I have thought of a way," Tseng assured.

"Good, I'll entrust this matter to you," Rufus replied. "As for everyone, this is to remain a secret, we can't allow Sephiroth to find her before everything is ready."

I back away from the door, I don't want too hear any more of this, I don't want to stop trusting the new Shinra. Shinra made me a hero in the past, even if I was nothing more than a war general. They are trying to fix their past mistakes now, we have that in common, the way to being a hero, a real hero this time, to find redemption, is with Shinra, or so I like to believe. But they haven't told me anything and they're hiding things, plotting behind my back.

"Sephiroth," I turn around and stare in shock, there's a woman there, with silvery hair, rosy skin and glowing golden eyes.

I blink and she's gone, "mother? Jenova?" My head hurts and I rush into Rufus' office, all eyes turning towards me. I pause compose myself and try to act natural, "sorry I'm late."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 30: Cheer Up

The Turks, Rufus and I are currently in the president's office at Shinra HQ. Rufus is going on about something or other while Blaze pecks his paperwork after Reno set him down on the desk, but I'm not really listening. Maybe it's sleep deprivation, for which I blame Reno, or maybe it's the feeling of being lied to, but I'm feeling very cranky and impatient today.

I turn away and walk, I can faintly distinguish the sound of Rufus' voice in the background, which pauses as I mutter, "not Lazard," reminding myself that the director's brother is not the director, he's not a trusted friend.

"Sephiroth," I think it was Tseng who called me, but I blocked out their voices and kept walking. I walked until I was out of headquarters; only faintly aware that I was being followed, yet knowing it to be true.

xoxox xox xoxox

I kept walking until I reached the Seventh Heaven and sat there. "Welcome, it's unusual to see all of you here at this time," Tifa greets; Tseng, Reno, Rude and Elena are with me.

Cloud seems to be out, a fact for which I'm thankful; I'm not in the mood to see him. "Have you ever felt like you can't trust anyone, that you're living a lie and you can't even trust yourself?"

Before Tifa can reply to my random angst, another voice does, "I have."

I turn slowly, I recognize the voice but do not wish to see him, "I thought you hated me," I glare at Cloud who had arrived just in time to hear me.

Cloud looks apologetic, much to my annoyance, "I don't, I just misunderstood something, thanks for helping Tifa that time. It would have been bad if she got hurt, I should have been there to protect her, if I haven't refused to go, then Tifa wouldn't have been in danger and you wouldn't have gotten injured helping her."

Great, it looks like Tifa and Cloud made up, worse yet, Cloud is sympathizing with me. Things just keep getting worse. I decide that it is best not to dignify him with a response.

He takes my silence as a plea for comfort and continues, "I get really depressed sometimes too and frustrated. But you just have to keep moving forward even if it's hard."

I can't take this anymore, but I manage to remain silent, fighting the urge to rip Cloud's head off with my own hands. "Oh no, not you too," it is Tifa who speaks next. "I don't want anyone moping around here; that goes for both of you, cheer up, you're healthy, you have a nice place to live, you have friends and the world is at peace, look on the bright side!"

I'm not healthy, my mind is haunted by delusions and my body is contaminated with mako, I don't have a nice place to live because Reno is my neighbor, my so called friends lie to me and if this keeps up, the world won't be at peace for much longer.

"I never noticed before, Seph," Tseng comments, breaking the Turk silence, "how much you and Cloud are alike."

I glare at Tseng so intensely, I almost expect him to burst into flames. "We are different."

"Nah, you're both emos," Reno joins in and I can't decide who I want to kill more, Cloud or Reno.

"I am not an emo and I have better hair," I glance at Cloud's sour expression, his hair is white from trying to fix his color so many times only to have Reno sabotage it over and over. It's dull, full of split ends, unlike my hair which is long, shiny and perfect.

Cloud growls at me, then directs his anger at Reno; it would be magnificent if they would kill each other, it would certainly save me a lot of trouble. "You're somehow behind my hair troubles, aren't you?"

"I didn't do anything!" Reno pleads innocence, as any guilty person would.

"Cloud, we went over this and you promised to stop blaming Reno for everything that goes wrong in your life," Tifa reminds. "You just have a hair condition, it's nothing to be ashamed of, I'm sure it can be treated."

"Yeah, listen to Tifa!" Reno grins victoriously, while Tseng shakes his head, Elena sighs and Rude remains silent. "Since I'm here, I might as well have a drink; give me the usual, extra strong!" Reno places a generous amount of gil on the counter, which no doubt includes a big tip.

"Later," Tseng takes Reno by the ear, just as Tifa sets his drink on the counter and drags him away, "we're going back to HQ. Elena, give Seph the needed information." He throws a meaningful glance at Rude as if telling him to watch her back, then leaves with a loudly complaining Reno in tow.

I can only imagine what kind of excuses Elena has for me, but even so, my mood has definitely lightened. I don't want to be like Cloud, I need to stay optimistic. Besides, even if the Turks are a bunch of back-stabbing liars, they still amuse me. Maybe one day, I'll truly be one of them, a Turk a mean, not a back-stabbing liar, and I'll have the link that they have with each other, like the bond I had with Genesis and Angeal. I miss that more than I'll admit, having someone to trust.

Perhaps that's why I'm still here, putting up with Shinra, it's the key to recovering what I lost and it's also the only place I know, it's as close to a home and family as I'll ever have. I take Reno's untouched drink and drain the glass, no one seems to mind. My throat feels like it's on fire, the drink is stronger than I imagined, but along with the burning sensation I detect the taste of "strawberry?"

"Yes, Reno likes his drinks super spiked and with a hint of strawberry. It's tricky, preserving the burn of the alcohol and getting that sweet strawberry aftertaste," Tifa smiles proudly, "it's a bartender's secret."

"It's good," I commend, while out of the corner of my eyes I see a pouting Cloud, though his eyes hold no true anger towards me, just a faint warning. "Can you make something that's just as strong as this and has an apple aftertaste?" I can't ask for a dumb apple drink, Bonara's apples are extinct, so regular apples will just have to do.

"Of course!" Tifa confidently assures, "do you want to try it now? Two of those might be too much if you're going back to work, they're really loaded."

I doubt I'll get drunk so easily, but a normal man would, not counting Reno because he's too much of an oddball to be normal. "You're right, I'll try it later, thanks," I leave a tip despite Reno having already paid, just to bother Cloud, though in a way I'm indirectly helping him since he has been freeloading in Tifa's property and everyone knows it. Even so, I don't care, I have decided to cheer up and if my will alone is enough to save me from becoming a mere memory, it shall be enough to prevent me from being an emo. "We should head back now."

"You're welcome," Tifa smiles, "see you later everyone."

"Bye!" Elena looks eager to leave, she's clearly looking forward to revealing the information Tseng spoke of and I'm ready to not believe a word of it. Rude is so quiet as he nods his farewell, it's a wonder I noticed he's still there.

As we walk back to HQ I feel I should be thankful for what I have after all. I may be a bit troubled, but I can still move around with agility and think straight, despite my stress sometimes getting to me. I suppose I could ask Tseng to let me borrow one of his houses, it's not like he can be in all of them at once, so I won't really be invading his privacy. That will do for now, everything else will have to come later.

To be Continued

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Reintegration

Step 31: Partial Truth

It was a meaningful occasion and it took place in an elevator. I wasn't expecting Elena's revelation to have such an effect one me, but somehow it did. It was as if something deep inside me was unlocked.

The elevator started going up then halted, Rude had stopped it; my reaction would decide when it would move again, how far and in which direction.

"We didn't want to tell you yet because we're still investigating and giving you only a little information might leave you feeling uneasy until you get more," Elena is putting it gently, that's for sure. "We also wanted to make sure we had our facts straight... Anyway, for now, this is all we can give you." She reached into her pocket and took out a plain small white envelope which she gave me.

Truthfully, I wasn't particularly in a hurry to open it. I even considered nonchalantly putting it in my pocket and moving on with my day, but Rude might have tried to prevent me from touching the elevator's controls until I saw the envelope's contents and admittedly I was curious.

The envelope had some weight to it, which I was surprised I could perceive. My sword is by the definition of most people very heavy, though to me it feels light, and the envelope was certainly light enough to be carried with ease by a normal person. However, considering how small and thin it was, it shouldn't weight at all.

A part of me was proud of the perception, but I quickly disregarded it and focused on finding the cause of the weight by shaking out the envelope's content out into my open palm. With a glimmer of gold, the weight was revealed to belong to a necklace, a golden chain with a heart attached to it. It appeared to be a locket, but it didn't open and I don't want to break it and look like a brute.

I looked at Elena with puzzlement, waiting for her to tell me what the connection was between the locket and my past. My guess was correct as she soon revealed, "it was your mother's. It looks like a locket but it doesn't open, the two pieces were soldered together on the sides, it's a false locket, the kind she must have spent hours trying to open only to find that it wasn't a locket at all, just a charm."

Perhaps Elena had a similar experience with an article of jewelry much like this one, but try as I did to picture the scene with my mother in place of Elena, I could not. I couldn't imagine mother doing anything, simply because I couldn't imagine her at all. If I tried too hard, I would get the picture of an alien fossil stuck in my head and it would all go downhill from there.

I pocketed the golden heart chain and noticed that there was something else in the envelope, one more thing, a picture. That's when the world felt like it came to a stop. I can't describe what it was, but somehow I knew that the woman in the picture was my mother. I could suddenly imagine her trying to open the heart charm thinking it was a locket and no alien fossils came to mind.

I don't know for how long I stared at the picture but when the reality finally sunk in I voiced a barely audible, "thank you," and inquired about her name. By then the elevator had started moving up again, though I didn't immediately notice, distracted as I was by my fascination with the picture.

"Lucrecia," Elena replied.

"Lucrecia..." I repeated it, not Jenova, Lucrecia; that was her name. "Lucrecia," I voiced the name again, committing it to memory, then the elevator doors opened and Reno received us on the top floor with his usual ramblings.

"Do you know what Blaze did just now? He jumped on the keyboard when Rufus was typing, it was so funny, it's like he wanted to help; he's such a good little chicobo. Rufus got mad because something was deleted, but he didn't get mad at Blaze, he got mad at me. Why do I always get blamed for everything? I mean sure Blaze is too cute to stay mad at, but why can't he just not be mad at anyone?" Reno continued rambling and the chicobo he carried chirped in unison, Reno is a bad influence on that bird.

We went into the president's office where Tseng casually asked, "is everything okay?"

To which Elena replied with a cheerful, "everything's fine."

"Sephiroth," Rufus spoke, calling my attention and receiving a discrete warning look from Tseng that would have escaped the untrained eye. "When you were leaving you said 'not Lazard', what did you mean?"

"I was just reminding myself that despite the physical similarities you're not him," there's an edge of bitterness in my voice that I didn't intentionally included.

"Good, because I don't want to be in anyone's shadow. I'm sick of always being Shinra, as if I'm the company and not a person, as if I'm nothing but my father's successor." It sounds like hit a sensitive spot.

"You're not..." you're not Lazard's shadow, not Lazard, not my trusted friend... But I don't want to say that, not now that I feel I might have misunderstood the earlier conversation. Not now that I have started to believe what I want to believe.

"I'm not trusted, I know that," Rufus finishes. "Maybe trying to say things gently isn't the way to earn your trust, I'm tired of this running around, either you forgive Shinra or you don't, but you can't stay in-between forever; running off and coming back, changing your mind."

"Then don't say things gently, don't sugarcoat it, I want to know. What do you think I'm expecting, a happy past that I somehow forgot? I know the details of the truth will be unpleasant. I was raised to be a weapon, that's what I am a weapon..." Something clicks into place, but it doesn't feel wrong, it feels as if I'm staring right at the truth without realizing that' it's the truth, but at the same time, I feel that I can face it if only I could understand it. My conclusion is that "I'm ready to know."

"Then I will tell you," Rufus sounds truthful and determined, I sense I can believe him. "I think I finally understand why I let you join the Turks, I thought it was due to Shinra's debt to the world, but that's not it. The reason is because I somehow felt identified with you. We both carry the burden of our fathers. Your father was a scientist at Shinra, the old Shinra..."

A scientist... could he be? "Why didn't he tell me?" I don't expect to hear an answer, "he had countless chances to tell me that he..." then the answer came to me, "of course, he couldn't tell me; it was the old Shinra full of blackmail and threats. He must have wanted to tell me, but he couldn't. It must have been difficult, but I won't hold it against him, I'm just glad to finally know who he was." Rufus and the Turks are staring at me as if I'm insane and the strangest thing is that they didn't even stare at me this badly when I was. "What?"

"You don't hate him?" Rufus manages to push the words past his shock.

"No," I assure firmly, I truly don't feel anything negative towards my father. "Even if I never knew he was my father, Gast was still a great man."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 32: Information

The president's office remained silent for a long time. "What's wrong?" No one dared to answer. "What is it?"

"Gast..." Rufus began to speak but stopped, Tseng looked at the president, then at me, then back at the president and nodded. Rufus continued, slowly and gently, almost as if he was apologizing, "Gast wasn't your father."

"Oh..." I realize that I was jumping to conclusions, trying to believe what I wanted to be the truth. I wanted the brilliant scientist to be my father; I wanted a father figure I could look up to, perhaps to make up for the absence for all these years. "Then who was my father?" Again there is silence. "It's okay, I don't care if he was at the very bottom of the science department, I don't care if all his experiments turned out to be failures; I just want to know who he was." How bad can this piece of information be?

Rufus sighs, "this doesn't mean anything, you're nothing like him and we all know that."

Was he a tyrant, some kind of crazy, cruel mad scientist? If that's the case, how in the world did the gentle looking woman in the picture end up with him? My nose wrinkles in disgust, "it can't be, not him..." The solemn expressions on the Turks and Rufus' faces hint that if my guess is bad, it's probably right. "Hollander?"

"Not him," Rufus shakes his head.

I let out a breath of relief; it would be most unpleasant to think any trace of Hollander's DNA resides in me. "That's just about as bad as it gets, whatever the answer is, you can be direct, it can't be that terrible." I'm getting impatient.

"It's worse..." Tseng admits.

"Who could be worse than Hollander?" Maybe he was some no name scientist who did many terrible things while remaining anonymous. If that's the case, perhaps my lack of knowledge about him will make the situation easier to deal with, though I would want to know the full story eventually, no matter how many horrors it may carry.

Rufus gives me the worse response possible, the answer that I would never guess, the name I could never imagine, because it's just too terrible, "Hojo."

"You're lying..." There's no reply, no hint of untruthfulness, no hope. "The walking mass of complexes... Out of all the men in the world, why must it be the walking mass of complexes?" I massage my temples, feeling a headache coming on.

"It doesn't matter, let's just leave it in the past," Rufus is quick to insist.

I nod, "yeah, the past..." I grip the edge of his desk for support, an action that doesn't go unnoticed.

"Are you alright?" Rufus inquires as one does out of habit, despite knowing the obvious negative answer.

"I'm fine, just a bit light headed..." I'm lying, I'm wide awake, but I want to skip out on everything today, I want to take a sick day and it's working.

"Maybe you should rest," Tseng is quick to suggest, while Elena glances at me worriedly and Rude nods in agreement. I nod weakly, feeling ridiculous, and agree to let Reno walk me to the infirmary.

xoxox xox xoxox

Blaze is chirping cheerfully as usual and Reno is grinning from ear to ear, "man you're good, you deserve an Oscar!"

"Pardon?" Did Reno see through my act? Did everyone else?

"Your sick act was first class, I should know, I used to do that all the time in school," Reno commends.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I try to feign innocence.

And fail miserably, "sure you don't..."

I stop half way to the infirmary, "can I ask for a favor?"

"Shoot!"

"Can you keep it a secret if I sneak off to the archives? I want to know who Hojo was. I knew him as nothing more than," I search for the right words, "a very lame loser." My chosen vocabulary feels odd coming from me, but I think the term fits him perfectly. "Maybe he had better days."

"You don't know, no wonder you're not throwing a fit!" Reno has a big mouth.

"You mean it gets worse?" Now my curiosity is growing even more, inquisitiveness is cruel.

"Ah... well..." I think Reno has finally realized he succeeded in inserting his foot in his mouth, metaphorically speaking of course. "Tell you what, we'll go to the archives and take a look around, alright?" Reno makes his way to a vending machine and casually buys a chocolate bar, honey bread that's more honey than bread and a can of Pepsi, neither of which he opens.

I feel like I'm walking straight into a trap but I agree none the less, "let's go."

xoxox xox xoxox

In the deep basement, the gentle hum of multiple servers can be heard. The place is decked with technology, in racks reaching to the ceiling. The air conditioner is cold to prevent the equipment from overheating, but the machines generate heat, turning the atmosphere into a thermal contradiction, an antipode of hot and cold.

"Who dares to invade my territory?" An ominous voice is heard, the woman sounds commanding and firm, resembling a being from another plane of existence judging the mortals of this world and choosing who is worthy.

"It's just us," Reno responds in a very ambiguous way.

"Who are you?" I address the figure behind the glow of a computer screen, the light reflecting off her silver glasses, making it difficult to look at her in the eyes. Her messy dark hair makes her white skin look even paler.

"Information comes at a price," for a moment, the woman's resemblance to a reaper is too close for comfort.

"I got your payment right here," Reno deposits the food and drink he bought from the vending machine into her desk.

Her tone changes, "what? No fan service?"

"If you bring her back," Reno tilts his head towards a picture frame on the desk, but the image changes constantly, so I'm not sure what picture he's referring to, "and I'm drunk enough to forget your other identity."

"Too much effort," she shakes her head with an air of superiority and Reno pouts, while I find myself missing the essence of their exchange.

The picture on the frame automatically changes again and I see many happy faces, save for one, in a familiar background. It's the Seventh Heaven, Reno is there, obviously drunk, I'm sure he would be on the floor if not for the two women standing left and right from him. He has an arm around Tifa's shoulders and the other around an unknown woman wearing black and blue to match her hair, and that's what's keeping him on his feet. Cloud approaches from behind, as if to pull Reno away.

Tseng and Elena are in the picture too, next to the unknown woman, with Tseng looking only slightly drunk, but still sober enough to walk in a straight line and Elena appearing to be very drunk, her face resting against his chest, arms tightly wrapped around his midsection, face red. Rude stands quietly to the side, next to Tifa, I'm guessing he drank the most but is the least drunk. The picture changes once more before I can make any additional observations.

The unknown woman speaks, "what information do you seek?"

"Seph here wants to know about Hojo," Reno reveals.

"Sephiroth," she speaks in that portentous voice again, I do not think you will approve of what you find," I finally comprehend that this woman knows who I am, not just my real identity, but also my past.

Then it hits me, of course she's aware, she's the keeper of Shinra's databases, she knows more than anyone. All the locked records, she has access to them. "I want to know the truth, please unlock the database for me. I don't care how bad it is, I want to know."

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 33: Control

I try to ignore the fact that the keeper of the database keeps playing with my hair; she won't stop even when I tell her to. I try to focus on reading from the computer screen, one of them anyway, there are ten and the other nine are displaying complex codes that give me a headache just looking at them. This is probably more dangerous to my sanity than locking myself in a basement to read from books for days without food or sleep and that's saying a lot.

Hojo is far worse than I thought. He wasn't just a nerdy mass of complexes, he was bad, evil, rotten, low, disgusting, traitorous, cruel, horrible, creepy, disrespectful, lying, repulsive, deceitful, malevolent, awful, malicious, atrocious and... and... and he probably smelled bad too. "Why did I have to read this?" I lift my first in frustration, but stop when I feel a firm tug on my hair.

"Hit the computer and you're dead," I'm not in the mood to have some girl sink her claws into my face or sabotage my hair.

Instead I get up and glare at Reno, "why did you let me read that?"

"Isn't that what you wanted?" Reno inquired with genuine confusion.

I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again like a fish. Finally I let out a breath, "you're right," saying that to Reno felt terribly wrong. None the less, the point is I shouldn't ask for the truth and complain when I get it. I didn't want to be protected from the truth like an ignorant fool who can't handle it, but now that I got the information I wanted, I think they were right to think I couldn't handle it. I would much rather be the child of a fossil than that man.

"Seph?" I feel terrible and I deduce my appearance must be bad, because Reno is staring at me as if he were looking at an agonizing man on the brink of death.

"Maybe you should take him to the infirmary," the keeper of the databases suggests.

"Yeah, c'mon Seph, let's go," I follow Reno mindlessly.

xoxox xox xoxox

I'm tired of looking at the white ceiling as I lie in bed at the Shinra HQ infirmary. At some point someone checked my vitals signs, but I wasn't paying attention. I don't think they found anything physically wrong with me that they didn't already know. Just when I thought I couldn't get anymore mentally scarred.

Blaze chirps at me and I could have sworn I sensed concern in him, but he's just a chicobo. "Blaze..." I look at the little red bird, ignoring the irritating redhead holding him. "You're not afraid of me, are you?"

Blaze chirps and I decide to interpret it as no, extending my hand to take him. Reno pauses and reluctantly deposits the little bird into my open palm. Blaze looks at me curiously without a hint of worry.

"Congrats!" Reno finally speaks, and I don't quite understand what he means.

"Who are you congratulating?" I inquire in puzzlement.

"You."

I look at him as if he's more insane than I was, or am. "Why?"

"Because you didn't go berserk, so I won't get into trouble," Reno explains.

I pause and think about his words, it's true, I'm not going crazy. I'm utterly disgusted with myself, I'm nauseous and I have the chills, but I'm not going on a killing spree. I can even hold Blaze without worrying, which I'll admit I was a little afraid of doing before since he's such a tiny fragile creature. "I feel sick, I mean really sick."

"Not just an act? Wow, I guess karma does exist, I'm glad it hasn't caught up to me," if it ever does, no doubt Reno will die a very painful death.

"I need to do something," but I don't know what. What I do know is that if I don't let out my immense frustration right now, it will push me to insanity all over again and I'll burn down the whole city of Edge. It's either that, or I'll turn into a bigger emo than Cloud, both of which, specially the second, are absolutely unacceptable.

"What do you mean?"

"About all of this, I can't keep it bottled up."

"You could yell at the top of your lungs!" Reno is quick to suggest.

I shake my head in disapproval, "I would feel ridiculous."

"I'll yell with you," he takes a deep breath.

"No! I don't need a bigger headache!"

Reno makes a face as if swallowing the scream he build up. "Cry like an idiot?"

"I don't feel like it," frankly I can't imagine it and I'm glad I can't.

"I know; you should drink yourself silly!" Reno grins at the idea.

I shake my head, "that won't solve anything," besides, it would take too long for me to get drunk, if I'm even capable of getting drunk.

"I'm out of ideas..."

After a moment of silence, I finally come up with something, "I'm going to train."

xoxox xox xoxox

A normal man would have been crushed hours ago, but I've been training in high gravity for a long time now. The machine is set much higher than the Turks usually set it, up to full capacity at 999 times normal gravity. I've been smashing training equipment with Cloud's face on it the entire time and though it helped a little, I know I need to find another way to deal with my past. I think I'm so shocked it just hasn't sunk in yet and I dread to think of what may happen when it does.

When I finally come out of the gravity room, after the machine overheats and automatically shuts down to prevent further damage, I look at my audience, now consisting of all four Turks, Rufus and Blaze, instead of just Reno and Blaze as it was when I started. "Why do we wear these suits?"

"They make you look professional," Rufus replies automatically, at least no one appears to be upset about my outburst in the training room, though I did hear Reno getting a scolding in the background when Tseng first arrived.

"Sorry about the training room..."

"It's alright, it's good that you trained instead of," Rufus searches for the right words so as to not sound offensive, "letting things get to you," and burning down Edge I'm sure he would mentally add.

I nod, not knowing what else I can say and see myself reflected on the bulletproof glass around the gravity and holographic training chamber. "My hair is flat," I observe, feeling rather dumb. Am I that desperate for a distraction? Never the less, my hair really is flat.

"You can go home and fix it, it's late anyway," I appreciate the calm in Rufus' tone, as if he's been reassured that things will be alright. It makes me wonder why I lost control before if I can handle the shock I received today, at least for now, maybe I became stronger.

It's the evening and now that my stomachache has subsided, I feel hunger catching up to me, "I'll see everyone tomorrow." I head to my apartment, blocking the identity of a certain loud mouth neighbor out of my mind. As I left Shinra that day, flat hair and terrible traumatic origins aside, I felt remarkably normal.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 34: Cars

I wonder what the Turks talked about after I left. Tseng, Reno and I live in the same building, but they didn't head for the building after work. Tseng hasn't been in his apartment lately, which is understandable with a noisy neighbor like Reno, then there's that secret mission he's been working on, which I have certainly not forgotten about.

I'm sure Reno isn't home yet, I can tell because it's quiet. I'll enjoy the peace while it lasts. I took a shower, changed and fixed my hair, blow-drying it and brushing it with more patience than an average man would have and it recovered its previous splendor.

"You're such a narcissist," I nearly jump out of my skin at the sudden voice. I don't know if what made me miss the presence was the fact that I was so focused on my hair, or that I've tuned out my senses in an effort to relax, maybe it was both.

"Reno," my voice carries an understandable amount of irritation, "I didn't hear you come in." Furthermore, I thought the door was locked. Something doesn't feel right.

"I just came to visit, don't mind me, just keep doing when you were doing," he hangs around in the background suspiciously.

I turn towards the mirror again and brush my hair, watching Reno's reflection stand perfectly still for a long moment, observing my suspicious look reflected in the mirror; then he walked out of the room. I decide it's best to follow him. He makes his way to the kitchen and opens my refrigerator, which is something that Reno would do, except he's just too quiet, "where's Blaze?"

Reno pauses, as if thinking about his answer, "at home."

"Who are you?"

He stops the pretend search in the refrigerator and looks at me, "I'm Reno, do you have amnesia?"

"Liar, you're too quiet to be Reno. The door was locked, how did you get in? Who are you? Why are you here?"

He grins evilly, this is not the look of mischief Reno gets when he's plotting to play a prank on Cloud; this expression is much more sinister. Before I know what's going on, he punches me, which sends me flying through the kitchen wall, causing me to land in the hall, stamped into the opposite wall, leaving an indentation in the shape of my body. That was definitely not Reno, but he was amazingly strong.

I recover as fast as I can and rush back to my apartment through the same hole I was thrown out. I searched the place inside out but found no signs of the false Reno. I concluded it was best to alert the Turks of the recent happenings immediately.

xoxox xox xoxox

We haven't been able to find any clues about the false Reno, but the damage to my apartment shows that this wasn't my imagination and I'm glad the Turks didn't think I did that myself, though they were reluctant to believe I could get thrown around like that. I don't want to believe it either, what kind of enemy is this who can disguise himself as someone else so physically accurate, though the lack of acting skills gave him away. Whoever this enemy is, he's strong and dangerous; we're on full alert.

The weekend arrived and though I feel terribly uneasy and have been plagued by nightmares lately, the Turks insist that I must try to relax and they said they were taking me shopping to help accomplish that. I really don't see how that could possibly help, it might make things worse.

xoxox xox xoxox

It's the afternoon and we're at a Shinra vehicle dealer, which sells a variety of land transportation devices. We're going car shopping, apparently the Turks thought it would help me relax if I got a new car to drive around, and obsess over. I had tried to tell Tseng that "there's a dangerous being on the loose and this is no time to go car shopping. The world could be inches away from destruction!" I went on to insist we took security measures in the city, but Tseng disagreed.

The leader of the Turks calmly replied, "the world is always in the brink of chaos and the only way the people of Edge can lead peaceful lives is if they don't know." I received a flood of information after that; the Edge mafia world is very active and if we make an obvious move, it would cause unnecessary tension that could bring a lot of casualties. That's why it's so important for the Turks to keep the balance, move in silence and walk in shadow.

Rude is quietly looking at the cars while Tseng is taking notes on a clip bored. Rufus is busy going over the specifics of a show that will take place soon; life goes on even if we know there's a dangerous enemy out there. I suppose there really is always some kind of danger out there. If people lived thinking of the risks, they would spend their entire lives in constant fear.

Elena was standing to the side looking bored and grumbling about men being slow shoppers a while ago, but she found a rather elegant little shop selling rearview mirror jeweled ornaments and appears to be entertained by it. She and a brunette woman are discussing which decorations are the best, I've never seen her before, albeit I get the impression Elena has. Judging by their conversation, of which I caught a few bits and pieces, they must not see each other often and are catching up on the regular occurrences of their daily lives.

Reno is talking to someone else, a blond man with goggles, they seem to be focused in their conversation using engine related technical terms I have seldom heard before. I never knew Reno could voice such big words. As for me, I'm left to baby-sit my little godchild, Blaze, and look around, seeking to find the ideal car, despite still not having a driver's license.

xoxox xox xoxox

Time passed and I finally found some cars I liked; I was torn between two different models, one black and the other silver. Rude's input was, "both," but I didn't even need one car, let alone two, yet the Turks insisted that I would feel better if I got myself a treat and reminded me that my Turk salary had not been suspended regardless of my temporary leave of absence, to put it nicely, so I could afford it. Feeling somewhat guilty, I purchased both cars and arranged for them to be delivered to the apartment building's ten story parking lot, reserving two spaces for them.

As we regrouped to leave, I learned that Reno had added a new car to his collection of vehicles, this time a red sports car and it was while he made the announcement that the blond man with goggles noticed my presence. "No #$%& way! That's Sephiroth!" I became paralyzed on the spot, realizing that I had seen him before; he was with Cloud's group long ago.

"Don't freak out Cid," Reno laughs it off, "this is Seph; he only looks like Sephiroth."

"So he does, had me worried for a second there. I'm Cid Highwind, best pilot ever."

"I'm Seph, nice to meet you," it amazes me how easily I can get away with this false identity, but I suppose the facts that I don't have my sword with me and I'm not destroying things are proof enough.

"Best pilot my foot," Reno argues, "that's my title!"

"You have a long way to go Turk," Cid argues. The exchange continues between them until we are joined by Elena and the brunette woman who I find out is Cid's wife, Shera.

xoxox xox xoxox

The afternoon went by, giving way to the evening and Rufus and the Turks, myself included, plus Blaze went out to have some dinner. Nobody was worried about getting Blaze into the restaurant, because we knew no one would dare say no to Rufus Shinra. Dinner was delicious and thankfully peaceful.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 35: Transportation

Learning to drive was... chaotic. Reno, the self proclaimed all purpose pilot of the Turks, offered to teach me how to drive. How in the world he get licenses for such a variety of vehicles? I'll never know, but he does have quite the collection. He's certified to drive everything from cars and motorcycles to jets, helicopters, ships and submarines.

I wasn't the only one having driving lessons that Sunday; there was a boy, just barely old enough to drive, very eager to get his license. For a split second I imagined Reno being the same way as a teenager, then I concluded that the image was wrong, because he wouldn't wait until he had a license to start driving all sorts of vehicles. Maybe they gave him all those licenses because they knew he would drive and pilot anyway.

The boy is familiar with Blaze and seems to get along with him quite well, referring to himself as the chicobo's uncle. He does seem to have a sibling-like relationship with Reno and if they didn't look so different I would have assumed they were brothers.

This boy, who introduced himself as Chika Akatsuki has ivory hair with black highlights and golden eyes. He's just as talkative and energetic as Reno and has been getting driving lessons from him because "bro doesn't freak out like the ferryman and my old man." By listening to Chika's chatter during the driving lessons I found out that he is a student, holding several part time jobs, one at a convenience store and the other at a loan office, he lives in another city but sometimes comes to visit Edge.

The old man he mentioned is in fact his father from what I could gather, and the ferryman is his boss at the loan office. He didn't say why they called him ferryman and I didn't pry, people get the strangest nicknames for the most random reasons sometimes. Besides, between Chika and Reno's headache inducing incessant chatter, I couldn't get a single word in.

Reno drives like a maniac, though he is surprisingly capable of driving like a human being while explaining how to drive during the driver's test, as opposed to how to drive in real life. I have no doubts the styles are indeed different, one must be ready to get creative with maneuvers to survive the highway, but I don't think it's really necessary to take things to the extreme.

Headache aside, driving can be harder than it looks. It took a moment to get the hang of getting the car to do what I wanted it to. If the car is an extension of myself, it lacks the reflexes of the rest of me, but I adapted remembering the principals of video games. In games, you must adapt yourself to the responsiveness of the controls, it's not the same as being there in person; you need to work with what possible movement you have, just like in driving, except it's not as easy to see when it's not a in a top view camera angle.

Overall, after a lot of stress and plenty of annoying teasing from Reno and his monochrome haired mini-me, I finally felt that I knew how to drive well enough to pass the test, until we went off to practice the specific things needed to pass. It wasn't as simple as going from point A to point B, a lot of twists, turns and technicalities stood in way and every tiny detail had to be performed in the right order even if the outcome wouldn't be affected and you no one would ever need any of that in real life. I decided it was best not to schedule my test for a while.

xoxox xox xoxox

When Monday came, Rufus merrily informed me that I would be required to get my license soon, as all the Turks are supposed to be able to drive various vehicles should the need arise. I take it Reno shared the story of my driving lessons and for once the president found his antics amusing.

Rude was assigned as my instructor and I would be allowed to count the lessons as Turk training. On the bright side, Rude is a skilled driver, the down side being his perpetual silence. I had to keep guessing if I was doing things right and often remind him that I'm not a mind reader. None the less, I think my driving skills improved.

xoxox xox xoxox

My nightmares worsened, it got so bad I actually welcomed the noise coming from the floor below because I didn't want to sleep. Then, one night, it was miraculously quiet and I wondered if Reno and Blaze were even there. For a moment I feared they were murdered by the shape shifter.

I imagined the fiend disguising himself as someone else, a pizza delivery boy who randomly came uncalled in the middle of the night, Reno would take the pizza without explanations and become distracted enough to be killed. Albeit such a strong enemy wouldn't require a distraction, maybe he disguised himself as me and snapped Reno's neck before the Turk could even say "hey Seph!" and he would die thinking I went insane ran off to burn down Edge.

I panicked and rushed to the floor below. "Reno! If you're alive open the door!"

A very sleepy Reno opened the door, he was wearing red pajama pants and his goggles, why he would wear his goggles to sleep is beyond me. Blaze was cuddled in his arms, quickly falling asleep again. His hair was an even bigger mess than usual; something I didn't think was possible, yet somehow confirmed his identity, because he's a box of surprises, most of them chaotic. "Hey Seph," he yawned, "what's up?"

"Nothing, it was quiet and I thought..." you were dead. I know Tseng has been rarely staying in his apartment in this building lately, going off on secret missions, staying in one of his other houses, or going to Elena's place. Tseng can come and go quietly, leaving behind the feeling that everything is okay, but Reno always announces his plans even if no one asks him about it and wouldn't leave without saying anything.

Reno doesn't reply; he's no longer listening to me, having fallen asleep leaning on the doorframe. Somehow, he managed to hold on to Blaze in his sleep and the chicobo remained in slumber land.

"Reno!"

He jumps awake, "What? Where? Who?"

"You fell asleep standing, you should go back to bed."

"Oh yeah... good idea..." He yawns again, "didn't you have something to say?"

I shake my head but throw out the truth anyway, "just making sure you're alive."

He laughs, sounding much more awake now, "I'm a Turk! Don't worry so much and get some sleep. Staying up late has caught up with Blaze and me, I thought you would be really tired too, you sure look it."

"Yes, I'll get some rest, sorry to wake you..." I was lying; I didn't get any rest at all.

xoxox xox xoxox

Due to some urgent business concerning the mafia, I had no time to take my official driver's test for a few days, instead spending my time sneaking around and participating on several stake outs like a mix between a secret spy and a renegade police officer. The platinum haired yakuza lady was on the move and the balance of power in the mafia had shifted drastically. This information was gained from an individual, old enough to be a man but small enough to be a boy, who I caught when I was partnered with Reno and Rude.

He ran away and we cornered him, taking our separate ways and blocking all his possible escape routes in the alleys of the least friendly parts of Edge. He must have recognized Reno and Rude, yelling insults directed at Turks in general, accusing us of siding with 'her', except we didn't know who this 'her' was at the time.

The boy chouse to face me in favor of Reno or Rude, he must have recognized them and thought he could get past the new Turk. Needless to say the most challenging part was definitely not the fight; the hard part was restraining him without killing the fragile brat.

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Reintegration

Step 36: Nightmares

After some intimidation, threats and a few electric shocks for our captive, we found out that the Platinum Witch, as the platinum haired yakuza woman is known, has been integrating several gangs into her own and it was rumored the Turks were doing her dirty work.

The boy was a low ranking messenger so he didn't know much. Reno and Rude made sure he spoke of everything he knew and later informed me, I didn't feel like staying there for the entirety of the interrogation, it reminded me too much of the old Shinra, traces of it still exist, too many fragments, more than just small pieces.

Elena tried to tell me, when she found me pacing around outside the questioning room, that she too was bothered by the situation when she was new and even now, but countless innocents would be lost if the mafia wasn't kept in check. "If we cut all ties, we lose control. We can take them down if Shinra shows its true power, but at what cost? The city must be cleaned slowly and those who clean it will have to get their hands dirty." It was a reality I had to face, but I was getting tired of all those harsh realities and my inability to temporarily escape them in my nightmare filled sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

After the interrogation drama calmed down, we regrouped to discuss our strategy, sitting in a conference room that might have been occupied by President Shinra, Heidegger, Scarlet, Palmer and Reeve if this was the old Shinra. In the new Shinra, it is occupied by President Rufus Shinra and the Turks, Tseng, Reno, Rude, Elena and myself. Blaze was left with a babysitter for his own safety, though I'm not sure with who, I have a feeling Reno would be picky about that, he does seem protective of the chicobo, so Blaze should be fine.

The conference room feels more like a classroom really, though I wouldn't know, having received my basic education from Shinra in a rushed home schooling process, so I could hurry up and focus on training. None the less I felt quite satisfied with my marks, despite being pushed to complete the curriculum as soon as possible.

However, if I had been in a classroom, I imagine it would be like this. Tseng and Elena are passing notes, though knowing Tseng, they most be more work related than they appear, organizing information and keeping a record of the discussion for later reference. Whenever Rufus, our would be teacher, asks something, Tseng replies, usually without even having to look at the report Rude wrote, which Tseng has already studied. He would be the know it all, favorite student, who has everything organized and always answers all the questions.

Elena might have been assumed to be the day dreamer who doodles on her notebook, but I don't think that's accurate. She seems to be more like the one who tries too hard and takes notes of every last detail, probably even what the teacher was wearing and who replied to each discussion question. The student who is competitive deep down, but too focused on overachieving to shine as much as she could.

Rude is the quiet one in any situation, the tall boy who sits in the back and goes unnoticed. He might have been wrongly marked absent several times even if his attendance record was most likely perfect. The boy who never said a word, but had good grades, the who one dared to approach, except the class clown, Reno.

I imagine Reno would arrive late to every class and sit next to a window to look outside. He would set up a wall of books around him to hide a handheld video game and play all through class, then ask Rude for help with his homework, meaning having Rude do it for him. He would end up in the principal's office often due to a variety of practical jokes and when he finally graduated, everyone would wonder how in the world he managed to accomplish that.

I yawned and folded my arms on the table, resting my head on them. I'm so tired, but I'm not sleeping. I wouldn't be the kind of student who sleeps in the classroom; Reno might do that, but not me. I would be diligent and pay attention, but I certainly wouldn't be a teacher's pet or a know it all, just a good student. Yes, that's it...

xoxox xox xoxox

"Sephiroth!" I jolt awake at Rufus' voice, the images of my nightmare still fresh in my mind. There was Hojo, Jenova and a big tank with green liquid and a silver haired baby inside.

My breaths are labored, my puffy red eyes wide in alert and I'm looking in every direction, searching for the hiding place of a monster who is waiting to attack me. I close my eyes and cover my face with my hand for a moment, then take a deep breath and look at the worried expressions that surround me. "I'm sorry, what I did was inexcusable, falling asleep like that..."

"What's inexcusable is allowing yourself to reach this state. Sephiroth, don't think we haven't noticed you look like a zombie lately. Your eyes are red and puffy with purple lines under them and you look like you're constantly suppressing yawns. If you're suffering from and insomnia this severe, you should see the doctor," Rufus scolds.

I shake my head, "It's not insomnia, I just can't sleep," then I realize how stupid that sounds.

"Insomnia means you can't sleep," Elena clarifies.

"Even I knew that!" Reno laughs.

"I know," I think they believed I knew what insomnia meant; they probably assumed I was too out of it to speak coherently. "It's not that I can't sleep, it's just that I can't..." I'm not making any sense, not even to myself, but I can't help it, this is difficult to put into words.

What am I supposed to say? That I'm too frightened to sleep? I'm not a child, I shouldn't be afraid of nightmares. What else should I tell them? That I hear strange noises from under the bed and in the closet when I'm alone in my apartment? I wasn't afraid of monsters as a child and it would be ridiculous to fear them now. If i say that, they'll conclude I'm crazy and I probably am.

The Turks look at me expectantly, waiting for me to explain what this is about. "Nightmares," I finally confess and decide to leave it at that.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 37: Facing Reality

After my confession about having nightmares, it was decided that something had to be done. "There's a dangerous enemy out there and the mafia situation is getting worse. We don't know if there's a connection or not, but regardless of that, both problems need to be dealt with. We need you at your best, sorry to say it, but there's no time for you to learn how to deal with things step by step. This will either make you stronger or break you, but I believe that if you ever had the potential to overcome your past, you will do it regardless of how hard it is." From a certain angle Rufus might have sounded harsh, but his words also showed that he does have faith in me.

I'm reassured now that I've gone from being the issue to being part of the resources that are needed to solve the current issues. I nodded tiredly, "I will handle things," even if it means facing the monsters in my sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

I didn't know where Rufus and the Turks were taking me; I just followed them like a zombie and got in the car, where I dozed off for a while and woke with a startle. I had more nightmares and they were even worse than before. Lucrecia transformed into Jenova and Hojo murdered her, in the background there was a silver haired child crying helplessly, unable to do anything or even move.

When I got out of the car along with the group, the six of us traveling in two cars, I noticed that we were in front of the Seventh Heaven. Maybe facing Cloud is their way to make me face my past and hopefully learn to deal with it.

We enter the Seventh Heaven and occupy the stools in front of the bar, which suspiciously became available as we came in. Tifa greets us with her usual cheer, but Cloud looks uneasy. He glares at us, mostly at me, and shares his theory, "I suspect you really are Sephiroth."

The entire establishment falls eerily silent; the murmurs of random customers in the background have died down so suddenly it feels like someone hit the pause button during the noisiest part of a movie.

"Alright, I confess," I hope Rufus knows what he's doing. I have a feeling I might understand what's happening better if I had been awake during the meeting. "The rumors are many, but the sources are not reliable," does he mean that the rumor originated from the mafia and spread to civilians? Is the mafia trying to reveal my identity aside from spreading rumors of the Turks working for the Platinum Witch? "This man is Sephiroth's long lost twin brother, Seph. He was declared a failed experiment and never permitted to join Soldier. His health was very fragile until recently, in an effort to make up for Shinra's past deeds, we provided him with medical treatment until he was cured and now he's even healthy enough to be a Turk."

Suspense hangs in the air as people deliberate if Rufus is telling the truth or not, then Reno decides to support the president and reassure everyone by putting me in a headlock and messing up my hair. "Would the real Sephiroth let me live after this?" I want to kill him, but the fact that I miraculously manage not to has cleared me of the suspicions of being... me.

It seems a poorly made Sephiroth clone, a failed experiment, isn't as interesting as the real Sephiroth, so everyone goes back to their business, resuming their previous conversations as if the pause had never occurred.

Cloud looks thoughtful, solemn and supportive? "It must have been hard, to be treated as a failure, to be left in a fragile state of health and to be accused of being like Sephiroth." I don't know what to say so I remain quiet as Cloud continues. "I can relate to what you're going through, I'm sorry I doubted you."

I am speechless and Cloud is an idiot. Watch out Reno, someone is trying to steal your title of biggest idiot in the world. I can only accomplish a silent nod and instead focus in the effort of fixing my hair with my hands.

"I would let you borrow my brush, but with my bad luck with hair, it's probably jinxed," Cloud comments. I don't want his brush touching my hair anyway.

"You have a hairbrush?" Reno laughs. "Brushes are for girls, real men don't need them, right Rude?" Reno runs his fingers through his hair as if to prove a point and does the opposite.

"Don't listen to him, you can borrow my brush," Tifa offers before I can say anything and disappears up the stairs to retrieve the hairbrush, arriving with it seconds later. "I'll help," she starts to brush my hair. Elena played with it, that geeky girl from the databases played with it and now Tifa.

xoxox xox xoxox

How did I get myself into this? What was Rufus thinking? "Trying to clean your name?" I growl through my teeth.

The president smiles, "of course, and it's also a test."

I can read between his words very clearly. If I can survive tonight without killing anyone, I can survive just about anything. "You're taking a big risk..."

"Have some confidence," Rufus is either cocky or desperate and despite the carefree mask, I have reasons to believe it's the second one.

I sigh, then yawn, taking the air I threw out back into my lungs as if it were my worries, I try to get rid of them but can't help it but to keep them. It's late and the Seventh Heaven is closed, but we're still here, we're having a sleepover.

The boys, because it doesn't feel like we can be called men given the situation, are crowded in Cloud's small room. I don't know when Tseng had the time to pack pajamas, but he did and he retrieved them from the car's trunk and handed them out as if we had all planned this together, now we have changed into them, to put ourselves in the sleepover mood.

I can still clearly picture Cloud's face when Rufus suggested having a friendly sleepover to help them all become better friends and Tifa exclaimed delighted "that's a wonderful idea!" I suppose the idea of Cloud being annoyed does make it more pleasant.

It was revealed that Blaze's babysitters were actually Marlene and Denzel, Blaze is with us and so is Denzel since it was decided that all the boys were sleeping in Cloud's room despite the confining space, and the girls would sleep in Tifa's room. I never imagined Tifa owned this many sleeping bags but she dug out one after another from various places, closets, from under furniture and so on. I suppose she's used to having the former members of Avalanche stay over.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 38: Sleepover

"Listen up men, we have to be ready!" Denzel is pretending to be some kind of army general, which reminds me that I was once a general, but I can't reminisce about the old days with the present capturing my full attention, it is rather amusing. "This is our base," he points to a square drawn on a paper, which I assume represents Cloud's room. "This is the enemy base," he points to another square, most likely Tifa's room, "and this is the war zone," he signals to the area connecting the two squares, the hall. "We need a battle plan." He's wearing the most normal looking pajamas out of all of us in a shade of blue that's not too dark and not too light.

"I have an idea, general!" Reno's pajamas match his hair, he mentioned they were glow in the dark, as if the massive red isn't bright enough as it is. Rufus warned him that he better cover his glow in the dark pajamas when it was time to go to sleep, but Reno laughed, reminding him that no one sleep in sleepovers. Personally, I'm very tired, but I don't want to have nightmares or doodles on my face, so I will try my best to stay awake.

Blaze chirps and Denzel nods, "Lieutenant Blaze is right, you're far too reckless, soldier!" It's strangely amusing to hear a Turk being called Soldier, when in fact the role change was the other way around for me.

"You didn't even let me tell you about my idea!" Reno pouted, "I think we should sneak into their base and steal their cookies!"

"That is too reckless!" Cloud argues; he's wearing sky blue pajamas with pictures of fluffy white clouds. "I've tried that before, with Cid, Vincent, Nanaki, Barret and Reeve and we walked right into a trap. Even if Yuffie and Shera aren't there, Tifa and Marlene are merciless enough on their own, plus now they have Elena to help, who knows what new ideas she'll bring."

"It is best not to try to steal cookies from Elena," Tseng is wearing royal blue pajamas with red triple sevens all over.

I vaguely recall Reno telling me a story while I was trying to ignore him one day. The Turks had gone to a casino and while Reno gambled none stop, Tseng remained an observer. Reno teased him so much about being 'too chicken' to gamble that he finally gave in and won the triple seven jackpot from the slot machine on his first try, but refused to gamble anymore after that. Maybe that's why it was decided that those pajamas suited him; maybe they were a gift from a Secret Santa or something.

"We'll have to come up with a strategy," Denzel mused.

"Why don't we just stay here and not pick a fight," Rufus spoke for the first time in a long while. His pajamas were probably a gag gift too, light green with dark green gil symbols.

"Are you giving up already? Have hope, soldier!" Denzel encouraged.

Rude remains a shadow in his black pajamas, blending into the darkness of the room, which is lit only by the flashlight in the center of our circle sitting on the floor. He would make a good ninja.

In contrast, I am used to a more direct approach, "why can't we just charge in? We outnumber them; we would win in a pillow fight." I'll admit I was feeling silly in my silvery silk pajamas with pictures of little chocobos in every color chocobos come in, a gift from Rufus and the Turks. I don't really care anymore, I've decided to focus on our cookie mission and forget about the rest.

"They'll take you down before you can even get a good grip on your pillow," Cloud warns.

"They're girls," Denzel reminds us as if it were something terrifying. "They hide horrors that we can't even begin to imagine," cooties perhaps?

There's a knock on the door and we all fall silent and wait, all eyes on the door, which is closed but not locked. "Is it a trap?" Reno inquires impatiently.

"It could be..." Denzel theorizes. "To your battle stations, ready your weapons!" By that he means pillows, there are also a lot of extra pillows in the Seventh Heaven. "Someone will have to look outside the base."

A long moment passes and no one volunteers. Is the situation truly that scary? I guess this is my chance to be the hero. "I'll go."

"You're a brave soldier!" General Denzel commends, "alright men, get ready to defend Seph, we won't abandon our comrade!"

After the dramatic speech, while everyone is holding their pillows ready to save me should the need arise, I open the door and find a plate on the floor with a cupcake on it and a little card. I pick it up and place it in the center of the planning circle, reading the card, which contains only one word, "peace."

"A peace offering? Looks like there was nothing to worry about after all," Rufus concludes too soon.

"Or maybe it's poisoned!" Reno looks at the cupcake suspiciously.

"Do you think they were hoping we would fight over the cupcake?" Tseng theorizes, "divide and conquer."

"Sleep," Rude finally speaks, causing Reno to remind him that no one sleeps in sleepovers, but Rude is not one to need reminders. He doesn't say much, but when he does, it's best to listen.

"That smell," Tseng looks alarmed.

Taking Blaze into his arms, Reno leaps towards the door, "it's sleeping gas, abandon ship, I mean base!"

In a sudden incomprehensible panic, we all rush out of the room. Reno is out, but Rufus and Cloud are stuck in the doorframe trying to get out at the same time and the rest of us are still inside our compromised base.

I look out, over Rufus and Cloud, and see that Reno is surrounded. "Hang him over, Blaze is coming with us," Marlene commands, I didn't know a little girl could sound so intimidating.

"No way, I'll never give him up!" Reno sounded determined, but his determination faded when Tifa held up a plastic glass over his head.

The glass' white color hid its contents and Tifa grinned evilly, "If I pour this on your hair..."

"I give up!" Reno pleaded for mercy, "I'm sorry Blaze, I'll rescue you, I promise!" Blaze was handed over to Marlene, who took him away to safety, out of the line of fire.

"If I pour this on your hair," Tifa spilled the contents of the glass on Reno, "it will be wet." What was in the glass was revealed to be just water.

Before Reno could complain, he was forced to retreat along with Cloud and Rufus who were also caught by the cold liquid of Elena's water gun.

We closed the door to the base, but we're exhausted from the sleeping gas and fighting against its effects is difficult. "I know this scent, there's an antidote, Elena has it," Tseng recalls.

"Traitor," Rufus collapses into a deep sleep, pushing Cloud along with him.

"Get off, Shinra!" Cloud complains, but is too sleepy to push Rufus off.

"Throw the cupcake out the window!" Reno frantically tries to open it, but it won't budge.

"It's sealed, because I thought someone was breaking in and sabotaging my shampoo, so I kept it in my room, locked the door and sealed the windows," Cloud explained. Here comes karma to get its vengeance and take everyone down at the same time.

"Bar," Rude speaks again and for a moment I wonder why he's stating the obvious. There is a bar downstairs, but it's not like we can flee there, we have no escape route. Then I realize he means we should bar the door, Tifa probably has a spare key so locking it won't be enough. Unfortunately, by then I'm on the floor, collapsed in exhaustion and sleep is claiming me.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 39: The Morning After

I'm dreaming, somehow I know this is a dream while it's taking place. I wish I knew it's not real when my nightmares come, but I guess that even if I knew that, I might still believe it, because it might have been real in a distant past, or at least similar to the harsh reality.

This dream, although I know is a dream, is very real. Maybe it's wrong of me to call it a dream, it's more like a memory; an event that I know for a fact took place.

In my memory, I'm in Cosmo Canyon sitting around a camp fire with Tseng and Nanaki. We're roasting marshmallows and I keep worrying they'll burn, but I don't say anything.

"I've always thought people deserve a second chance..." Nanaki's words surface in my memories and though we didn't directly speak of it then, I was well aware that he knew who I was.

The scene of the peaceful star filled scenery of Cosmo Canyon is shattered by the buzz of a new day. I stretch, feeling stiff from sleeping on the floor and push myself to get up even if I'm still tired. I wish to go back into that peaceful dream; I haven't slept well in a long time.

I'm caught in the excitement of the morning; the girls are wide awake, I theorize they spent the entire night eating sweets and doing girl activities. Putting make up on each other, bashing men, plotting terrible evils or whatever it is females do when they are left to their own devices.

Denzel looks like a miniature Cloud, that's child cruelty if I ever saw it, but he seems happy about it. "I like it!" His hair is bleached blond and spiked.

"I don't like mine!" Cloud is trying to get his white hair to spike but it falls down on his face reminding me of a certain body of thoughts. I push the image away and focus on enjoying Cloud's misery. "What did you do?"

"I put some relaxer on your hair, miss Cloud," Tifa grins mischievously.

Cloud pouts, "I hope I can wash it off, you're cruel sometimes, you know that?" Not only has his hair lost its spikes, he's also wearing makeup. It's strange; it looks like someone transferred the head of a woman into a man's body.

"I know," Tifa sounds proud. Even more so when Cloud looks in the mirror and sees his hair is not the only problem. He appears to be horrified, as if some terrible memory has surfaced and he wipes the makeup off so harshly, I almost expect his face to be erased, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

Reno has occupied himself in making fun of Cloud, calling him various names, as if trying to find a proper female name for him, "How about Rain, because of rain clouds? Or Lightning, that could be a girl's name."

"Lightning yourself, or is it Rena," Cloud growled back.

Reno stuck out his tongue and continued trying to get himself untangled from the multitude of pink ribbons tied all over him.

Tseng was quietly removing the braids from his hair and cleaning off the makeup, taking his defeat with as much dignity as a man in makeup can muster. Rude is occupied washing his entire head, since he had makeup doodles all over it.

Rufus keeps grumbling and removing decorated hair clips, while complaining about how his face shouldn't be hidden by makeup. My guess is there are pictures of this that will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

"I don't like pink," Reno complained.

"Pink is light red," Marlene reminded, while petting Blaze, who was obviously spoiled.

"Okay then, I only like dark pink then," Reno threw out his counter, if you could call it that. "Seriously red is cool, but not pink."

"I'll bet you like red, that's why you're wearing that red lipstick and nail polish," Cloud tried to get back at Reno for all his teasing.

"Better than purple!" Reno retorts and I observe that while the redhead has red nails to match, Cloud does indeed have purple nails. Rufus' nails are golden, Tseng's are navy blue, Rude's are a bright orange that clash with everything else about him, Denzel was spared the nail torture, the little general seems happy with his Cloud hair, but I still say he got the worse punishment out of all of us.

As for me, after taking the time to notice the state my comrades were left in, I finally break out of my denial to realize that I'm not doing any better. My nails are perfectly manicured in a shiny metallic silver and my hair has beads in it. I don't even want to look at my face because I'm probably wearing makeup, I think I would rather wash it off without looking at it, but all I can do is yawn.

While Cloud and Reno's argument continues, at some point Reno throws out a point that catches my attention. "At least I didn't dress up as a girl to sneak into Don Corneo's mansion!" cloud looks both shocked and horrified, babbling unable to come up with a counter. "That's right, everyone knows about it."

What happened next was a little odd I'll admit. I started laughing uncontrollably thinking about Cloud's predicament. I don't think I've ever laughed that loud. As well as I could through the laughter, I requested pictures, which Reno promised to provide, in fact, he offered the entire security video confiscated from the mansion.

Leaving Cloud to threaten Reno's life, I yawned again and as if in a trance, I moved towards the first bed I spot. My mind doesn't immediately register the fact that this is Cloud's bed and by the time I come to the realization, I'm already too comfortable to get up. Once again, sleep takes over and time passes.

xoxox xox xoxox

I wake up sometime later and notice the colorful stains on Cloud's previously white pillowcase from the makeup they put on me being smothered all over it. I stretch and try to blink away any remaining sleep, rubbing my eyes and finding silver in my hand. Silver eye makeup, great, just great, but despite my humiliating predicament, I'm thankful I didn't have any nightmares.

I stumble out of the room, grabbing my clothes on the way, and head towards the bathroom, which is fortunately free. I don't ask or say anything before locking myself in and getting into the shower.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 40: Fragments

I'm clean now, having finished my shower, except I couldn't wash my hair because the beads won't come off. A woman weaved them into my hair and I'm afraid only a woman can get them out. Though I'm also glad I didn't try to wash my hair, Cloud's shampoo might have been sabotaged again and I don't feel like putting Tifa's fruity scented shampoo on my hair.

Now dressed in day clothes, without a speck of makeup left on my face, I shyly venture downstairs, ready to retreat if the area is too crowded. "Good morning, the breakfast rush just passed so this place will be quiet for a while." I go out into the open space of the bar. "Did you like the beads and decided to keep them?" Tifa giggles.

"I can't get them off," I confess. "And this," I show her my silver nails, "won't come off either," no amount of scrubbing with soap and water would work.

Tifa laughs, "Okay, I'll have some mercy."

"Thanks..." I don't know if I should be thanking her after she took part in this, but I would rather stay on her good side, so I quietly sit at the bar and let Tifa free my hair of the beads. "Where is everyone?"

"Rufus, Tseng and Rude went back to Shinra. Elena is helping me in the kitchen; she said she wanted to learn more recipes. Reno is upstairs with Blaze, Marlene and Denzel, playing video games, and Cloud is out on a delivery, with purple nails," she chuckled at the end.

"Do I have to wait until they grow out?" I suppose I'll be wearing gloves for a while.

"I can give you some nail polish remover," though I gladly accepted Tifa's offer then, I changed my mind later when I read the multitude of warnings behind the nail polish remover bottle. Flammable, toxic, acid, poisonous and a variety of other things, plus the substance smelled rather deadly, I'll just go with the gloves.

I have concluded that women are indeed very dangerous creatures and their cosmetics are radioactive weapons in disguise.

"All done," Tifa wasn't really all done; she didn't remove one set of beads, which I fingered as a hint. "It doesn't look girly with just one. It looks good; you should keep it. I knew that she wasn't going to remove it for me so I quietly nodded. "You were asleep for a whole day, its morning, but not the same morning when everyone first woke up."

"Really?" She nods and I know she's telling the truth, I somehow feel the passing of time. At least I'm not tired anymore and I didn't have any nightmares. Maybe torturing me with a sleepover did have a positive effect, it got my mind off my troubled past and sacrifices aside, I did finally get some rest.

"Would you like some breakfast?" Tifa smiles cheerfully.

"Yes, please," I find that I am quite hungry after sleeping for so long, but I soon regret my wish for food.

"Elena, bring out the experiment!" Tifa calls towards the kitchen in the back.

"Experiment?" I'm having second thoughts about this.

"Relax, I'm sure it's good," Tifa tries to reassure me, but it doesn't work.

"Here they are," Elena's experiment looks like normal pancakes to me, maybe a little ticker. Instead of being stacked on top of each other, they are set in separate little plates, which she brought over on a tray. They are also smaller than usual, but there are more of them. "Make sure you savor each one and give me your sincere opinion before moving on to the next."

I was relived to find that the experiment was not as strange as it sounded. Elena was simply trying to figure out what kind of filling tasted best and trying out different combinations. I must say that cream filling pancakes are quite delicious.

xoxox xox xoxox

Shortly after finishing breakfast, Tifa and Elena retreated to continue their culinary experiments and I decided to stay there sitting at the bar and enjoying the peace and quiet, for a little longer before joining Reno, Marlene, Denzel and Blaze playing video games upstairs. It was then that a dark haired man wearing a red cloak arrived.

The man looked at me as if he was expecting me to be there, almost as if he recognized me, but he was not alarmed. He then silently took a seat on the stool next to where I was and observed me curiously and quietly.

Sometime after Tifa and Elena left and before he arrived, I had taken mother's necklace out of my pocket where I carried it like a good luck charm and had been absentmindedly fingering it, running my thumb on its smooth surface.

"A locket," it wasn't until the man spoke that I realized why he looked familiar. This man was also with Avalanche, a gun wielder I believe.

"Just a necklace," he doesn't seem too alarmed by my presence, was I wrong to think he recognized me? I'm a bit concerned about someone seeing my silver nails, I haven't had the chance to find a pair of gloves yet, but this man isn't exactly normal looking so I don't really feel judged.

"It was the only thing he gave her and he didn't even tell her, he only left it for her to find." The man spoke in riddles, making it sound as if the 'he' was himself, but that couldn't be right, why would he refer to himself in third person?

"What do you mean?" He makes it sound as if this necklace is an important piece of some kind of soap opera mystery that is about to be resolved. "This necklace belonged to my mother."

"I spoke to Tseng," the man revealed, suddenly changing the subject.

"Who are you?" My curiosity increased considerably.

"He was quite insistent to hear my version, but there are things I rather not talk about too often." Suddenly Tseng's secret mission comes to mind and I remember the conversation I overheard that time. Whatever was being hidden from me, perhaps it really was due to a lack of confirmation and this man has the answers Tseng was trying to obtain. When he arrived looking as if he was searching for me and confident that he would find me, was it because Tseng sent him here?

"Who are you?" I repeat the question with further puzzlement in my voice.

"Vincent Valentine and that," he motions towards the golden heart necklace, "is Lucrecia's locket.

"It doesn't open," lockets open, but I don't know why I feel the need to correct him. I hold the two heart pieces between my left and right index fingers and thumbs, gently tugging them apart. "See? The two pieces are soldered together."

"I wonder if she thought so too," one of Vincent's hands is a golden claw; he extends the other hand, the human one, and I reluctantly place the necklace into his open palm after a short moment of consideration. He holds the heart between his thumb and index finger and presses it, causing something to click and the two heart pieces pop apart, remaining attached only on one side.

I had tried to pull it apart, giving up in fear of breaking it, no wonder it wouldn't open. The design of having to press the heart to open it is unusual, but I suppose it is convenient, it's easier to open for those who know how.

Vincent doesn't even fully open the locket, allowing the pieces to rest on each other, millimeters apart. He hands it back to me. I fully open it, wondering if mother figured this out and put a picture inside, or if the secret to opening the locket remained unknown to her.

I'm surprised to find that there are two pictures in the locket, one on each half. One picture is of my mother, Lucrecia, I recognize her immediately. The other picture is of a man who is not Hojo.

To be Continued

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Reintegration

Step 41: Past

The man in the picture inside mother's locket has black hair and from what I can make out on the diminutive image, he looks very similar to Vincent. Yet if this picture is old, then that man must have aged by now, he can't be Vincent. Yet I feel their resemblance is more than just a coincidence.

I can somehow sense that the man in the picture, whoever he may be, and the man sitting next to me, who said he was called Vincent Valentine, both hold links to my past; memories that were probably not recorded in the Shinra archives. "Who are you?" This time, I want more than just a name.

He looks at me strangely, he already answered that, but repeats his name anyway, "Vincent Va-" he stops, having caught sight of the picture in the locket.

"Do you know him? You do know him!" I draw a conclusion from his expression before he can reply. "Is he, could he be?" A theory forms in my mind. "Is the man in the picture your father?"

Vincent remains silent for a long moment before closing his eyes and breathing deeply, whispering, "why?"

"You look like him," I insist, "do you know him?" I press further, I need to find out what he knows, he must know something important, otherwise Tseng wouldn't have tried to find out.

"The man in the picture loved Lucrecia," he pauses as if letting a rush of emotion sink in, "even so, he couldn't save her..."

"From Hojo? He stole her away from that man? Who is that man, what's his name?" I feel that my life has become a soup opera of hidden origins. In my desire to have a father other than Hojo, I imagine the man in the picture to be my father. My mother would have been expecting me before Hojo stole her away, but no one knew. "Is this my father too?" Are we brothers, even if we don't look alike? I know I must owe my silver hair to the experiments; it might have been darker otherwise.

Vincent remains quiet for a long moment, almost as if it's painful to speak, "my father's name was Grimoire," he makes a long pause as if debating what he should do, "he is not the man in that picture."

"Who is he then, your uncle? Are we cousins?" I'm convinced that the man in the picture has a direct link with Vincent.

"It's complicated," it's clear that Vincent is having a hard time talking about this, and here I am pressuring him. "We're not blood relatives, I can at least tell you that, but..." He stops, unable to go on, powerless to find the right words, maybe because there are no right words for certain things.

I shouldn't be so selfish, I'm not the only one with a harsh past; maybe he has a complicated origin as well, or if not, a complicated history. "I don't mean to pressure you into talking about something that's hard for you. I just want to know more about my past. You know who I am, don't you?"

"Lucrecia's son..." he breathes, "you're Lucrecia's son."

"Yes..." It's almost as if that detail is more important than all my past deeds, but he does know who I am, I'm sure of it.

"Hey Vincent, when did you get here?" Tifa emerges from the kitchen and greets him.

"A few minutes ago..." Vincent is still a bit shaken from our conversation.

"Are you alright?" Tifa inquires, noticing his discomfort.

Vincent glances at me, then looks at Tifa, "yes," I suppose he expects her to hold a grudge.

Tifa shakes her head, interpreting Vincent's concern in her own way, "he's not Sephiroth, he's Seph of the Turks; you can relax."

Vincent looks as if an unknown irony has slapped him in the face. "Seph of the Turks..." He appears to be remembering something, if he would only speak of it. "Another Turk, a distant dream that never was," what is he talking about?

"I am a Turk..." I feel the need to emphasize.

Vincent nods, "I know, I believe you." Why does he look so pained? It's almost as if he had a dream and the dream came true, except he wasn't a part of it, even if it had been his dream.

I'm just shooting in the dark with these random guesses, but the fact still stands that I'm sure he knows about my past, he knows about mother, my real mother.

"Can I get you anything?" Tifa still looks concerned by Vincent's behavior, but not too much, as if mourning and speaking in metaphors isn't all that strange.

"I'm sorry, I must cut my visit short, I came here to meet Seph, we have a job to do," Vincent's explanation surprised me. I wasn't sure he was willing to continue our conversation, but this must mean he's willing to tell me what he knows.

"Shinra and the WRO are working together again? Well I'm glad Seph was assigned for the job this time, I think Reno was messing up on purpose," Tifa looks relaxed now, attributing any change in Vincent's behavior as being a side effect of the prospect of working with a stranger and one who resembles Sephiroth no less.

"I will do everything I can," Vincent assured before turning to leave.

"Me too," I blurted out in a rush, "see you later, tell the Turks I went somewhere with Vincent if they ask," I sound like a boy running out to hang out with a friend, and asking his mother to inform any other friends that might come looking for him of his whereabouts. I rushed out after Vincent, only to find he was standing at the door, "what is it?"

"We need transportation, aerial transportation."

xoxox xox xoxox

"I still don't understand why I can't do with you guys," Reno's complaint is followed by a chirp. "What is it Blaze, do you want to look out?" He holds the chicobo near the glass window, "we're really high up aren't we? Who ever said redheads can't fly? Blacky back there doesn't know how to pilot, that's why we're here."

"This is a private matter," Vincent insists, "if you follow us, I'll shoot you."

"That will just make him more curious," I point out truthfully. "Look Reno, I don't know where we're going," Vincent only provided Reno with some coordinates, "or why we're going there, but it will help me understand my past so please try to behave."

"Alright, alright... you're no fun!" Reno grumbled.

Vincent sighed in exasperation, "we should have called Cid."

xoxox xox xoxox

After more complaining from Reno and some threats from Vincent, who is clearly sensitive about whatever it is we're going to see, we finally land in... well... it's pretty much the middle of no where.

There's a water fall and Vincent is heading towards it, I follow him and Reno follows me, "stay."

He whimpers, stumps his feet and remains motionless. I know he'll keep following me as soon as I turn my back, but I hope that doesn't interfere with whatever Vincent is planning.

I rush past the waterfall and enter the cave behind it after Vincent; then I stare in shock, "mother!"

Reno arrives, shielding Blaze from the falling water, "what? Jenova?"

"Silence!" Vincent aims his gun at the redhead, who wisely decides to remain quiet, at least for a while. As for Blaze, he is silently looking at the cave scenery in curiosity, awed by the glow of the crystal encasing mother.

"Lucrecia," I correct, "her name is Lucrecia. Is this a statue? No, she's real, I feel it, but how? Is she... different?"

Sensing my worry, Vincent assures, "she is a human being," he still holds Reno at gunpoint.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 42: Mother

My life had certainly taken a surprising turn; Vincent let me to a cave where my mother, Lucrecia, is encased in a crystal, apparently alive.

Vincent's next revelation put some of the pieces together. "Tseng investigated my past and thought I might have information about Lucrecia. He followed me, I know he did, but he didn't come in here, although he kept finding me and trying to talk me into giving him more information. I think, he must have known what was here, yes, I'm certain he did. Perhaps he wished for me to tell you, maybe in hopes that I would feel better if I could do at least this much, if I could take part in helping ease her torment." He's not angry at Tseng, he's grateful.

"Torment?" I reach out for the crystal encasing mother and her voice flows into me.

"Sephiroth, my son... Sephiroth... I'm so sorry; I can never be forgiven for such a terrible thing... Sephiroth..."

I want to comfort her, "mother, it's alright, I'm here. Don't be sad, I'm not angry at you."

"My guilt is her and her guilt is you," I don't understand what Vincent means.

"Mother... please wake up." The crystal growls brightly and breaks, she falls out and I catch her.

"Lucrecia!" Vincent rushes to her side.

Her eyes are open, she's looking right at me, almost as if she's afraid I'll fade away any second, "Sephiroth?"

"Yes, I'm here, you're safe now, don't worry," I can't believe this, she's alive, she's really alive!

Mother smiles, "I'm sorry, for not protecting you," it seems being unable to protect is the source of guilt of many. "I'm sorry I let you be used, I'm sorry..."

She sounds so weak it worries me, "it's okay, just rest, you're alright now, I don't hold anything against you. I'll take you to a doctor, you'll get better, then you can live with me, we'll be happy."

"Thank you for coming to see me..." It sounds like she's saying goodbye and I don't like it.

She glances at Vincent who looks sad, "I'm sorry for what I told you before, and for not being able to-"

"Thank you Vincent," she cuts him off, letting him know that there's no need to apologize. "Sephiroth..." She lifts her hand weakly and I take it. "I love you, my son, even if I didn't show it like I should have."

I can feel her growing weaker, fading, "hold on, stay strong; don't give up now!"

"My time should have ended long ago," she smiles, as if seeing me is enough, but I don't want her to go. "You are hope..."

Those were her last words to me before her life faded away. "Mother? Mother!" She didn't answer, she didn't move, she disappeared...

xoxox xox xoxox

I exit the cave just in time to catch Reno's comment of, "it's so gloomy now."

Vincent had given me some time alone to compose myself; he's standing near the cliffs, looking at the horizon.

"Vincent," he turns to look at me but I say no more.

"Let's go," Vincent finally speaks and joins us to fly back to Edge.

xoxox xox xoxox

Vincent goes off on his own when we land on Edge. I'm still curious about what he may know, but I realized he really cared about mother, so her passing must be difficult. It's hard for me as well, even if I didn't know her for long, but she sounded so tormented calling out to me from the crystal as if she was morning my death. At least she's not suffering anymore and faded away with a smile on her face.

I hand Blaze back to Reno, I held him on the way back, finding comfort in the little chicobo. "What are you going to do now? Take a break?" Reno inquires.

I shake my head, "I would rather stay busy," besides, I'm calmer than I thought, it seems that even if troubled pasts are not so rare, it's how you deal with them that makes the difference.

"You could take your driving test now, it's been put off for a while, but I think there's time," Reno suggests.

"I think I will," I might as well, who knows when I'll have time again, plus it will give me something to focus on.

"Do you need a quick reminder lesson?" I do as much as I need a bullet through my head.

"No thanks, I think I can pass."

xoxox xox xoxox

Yesterday I did pass my driver's test, just barely but that's not the point. It wasn't out of lack of control of the car, but rather because of the silly things that get points taken off such as altering the order of certain details or looking left and right instead of right and left. Either way, the point is that I passed.

For the sake of increased security and keeping up with the entire Seph identity, a false profile was created for me and my medical history was forged. My real profile is accessible only to Shinra, while the fake identifies me as a citizen of Edge. My old accounts were terminated and the data and balances were transferred to new ones. As the name on my driver's license and Shinra credit card says, I am now Seph Crescent.

I know I live in walking distance of Shinra HQ, but I just got my license so I want to use it, thus I decided to drive to work. I drove around Shinra's large parking lot until I found the Turk section and recognized the cars there. I found my parking number and left my car in the proper space, then walked towards the main building, just a few steps away.

A butterfly flew by and I couldn't help it but to look at it, flapping its orange and black wings slower until in landed on the pavement. I made sure not to step on it and continued on my way.

"Sephiroth..."

I turned and faced the being that was now standing behind me. The platinum hair, the pink skin, the glowing eyes, "Jenova!" Where did she come from? There was no one there before, unless... of course, the butterfly, I wish I had stepped on it. "You're not Jenova, you're that shape shifter!" I swung my sword at her.

"Have you forgotten me, my son?"

My head hurts all of a sudden and it feels like I'm losing control, but I manage to hold a firm grip on reality. "You were behind this; you were trying to take over my mind. It won't work now, I have no more doubts!"

The being attacks, but this time I'm ready and put up a fight, slashing her horizontally in the middle, but the two halves put themselves back together. "Lowly creatures, you'll never win, this planet is mine!"

Regardless of her words, she retreated, jumping behind the line of cars and disappearing. I searched for her all over the parking lot and killed all the suspicious bugs I found, but I'm sure none of them were the shape shifter. To be able to put herself together that way, was it a reunion? The way she could speak to me as if the Jenova cells left in me reacted to her, is this shape shifter a being of Jenova's kind, another calamity?

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 43: Calamity

As I get into the elevator and press the button to go up, I'm pulling my PHS out of my pocket and setting it to conference call mode, calling all the Turks and Rufus at once. "We have an emergency, I just had a fight with the shape shifter in the parking lot, but it got away."

I hear Tseng shouting commands in the background before replying, "everyone go to the president's office right away."

xoxox xox xoxox

Rufus, Tseng, Elena, Rude, Reno, Blaze and I are in the president's office now. The glass windows are covered in metal, as if we were expecting a tornado to come any second, but this is worse. "It might be Jenova, another one I mean."

"What?" I don't blame Rufus for his alarm.

"It's only a theory, but I think that's what that thing is. It can shape shift into anything, it was a butterfly before and I didn't even suspect what it truly was. It tried to take control of me, but it didn't work." If that thing had simply attacked, I would have been caught off guard, I might not even be standing here now, I'll have to be more alert. "It's as if it's connected to Jenova somehow, that's why I think they are of the same kind. Besides, I cut it in half and it got back together, just like the reunion theory."

"This is worse than I thought; everyone needs to be on full alert. Tseng, contact Junon, we have to be ready!" Rufus pauses, his face invaded by shock once again, he's looking at the computer screen which was left on and ignored when the emergency meeting was called.

"Sir?" Tseng looks at the screen and I become curious about it too.

The screen is all black, save for the red letters that read, "connection terminated."

"This is not an error," Tseng concludes.

"What do you mean?" I urge.

"This isn't the message that pops up when the connection to the mainframe is lost because of an system error or a problem with the hardware or software," Tseng explains. "The connection was terminated on purpose, all of Shinra's networks are halted, even the satellites. Practically all of the city's services that require data transfers have been stopped. The only ones who know the access codes to do something like this are the president, Rude, Elena, myself and the keeper of the databases."

"I do too," Reno complains, "no, wait, I think I forgot," it seems that Tseng predicted that would happen. "What now?"

"Go, Sephiroth, you too," Tseng commands.

Reno leaves Blaze on Rufus' desk and runs out of the office, I follow him, unsure of where we're heading. "Reno, where are we going?"

"To the basement," he runs into the elevator and holds down the button to stop it, then presses a combination of numbers, like an access code on a secret panel that also serves as the elevator's controls.

"Just what does this mean?" I can tell it's serious.

"Remember where we went to get information? The place with the databases."

"Yes," I recall it clearly, I found out more about my origins and the girl who worked there played with my hair.

"There's another level lower than that floor and that's where we're going. There has to be a reason why she shut things down."

"Is she alright?" She was a bit eerie, but perhaps I only thought so because she was dressed as a scientist and I had a dislike towards scientists at the time, but I know they're not all bad.

"Who knows, our team would be incomplete if she's not. You know how it is," I don't have the slightest idea what Reno is getting at. "Every team of secret spies needs a leader," Tseng, "someone tall, silent and intimidating," Rude, "someone skilled in piloting anything and totally awesome," I wonder who that could be? "A rookie," I think he means Elena, but technically I'm the rookie. "Someone who's a little crazy," is that supposed to be me? "And a tech geek," that must be her.

"Wait a minute, those are mostly Turks," does that mean she was aiming to become one?

"She's one of the undercover Turks," there are undercover for the undercover? "There are more, I think you'll meet them soon, but not in the best situation."

I'm about to curiously inquire her name, after all I just found out she is our teammate, but before I can ask, the elevator doors open and we exit it to a devastating scene. "How did we not hear this?" It looks like there was some kind of short circuit and an explosion, or several.

"The president's office is too high up and it's sound proof," Reno looks around and I make sure to watch his back, he's too careless at times. "These aren't the real archives; it would be too obvious to keep everything right at headquarters. This place is connected to the archives but the real data wasn't lost."

"What about..."

I fall silent as Reno kneels, brushing his fingers on the debris covered floor, they come up red, "she got herself injured, even with all this. She has an affinity for electricity, like me, except in a much geekier way. She loves technology more than anything, she was surrounded by it, electricity was all over, that boosted her power, but it wasn't enough." He dug out a strange looking helmet, stained with blood. "This is used to connect to the computer directly by brainwaves; you have to be a real geek to generate brainwaves that are strong enough."

"Reno!" I found her, the injured girl whose name I don't know.

"Sephiroth?" I feel a cold chill; I don't think I can stand having another woman die in my arms.

She reaches for me weakly; her blue nails remind me that mine are still silver under my gloves. What a silly thing to remember now, but my mind is seeking distractions away from this scene. I take her hand to assure her, "be strong, we're getting you help."

She glances at Reno, he hasn't moved, instead staring at her, scrutinizing, "Reno, you came for me..."

"Yeah, I did... Calamity!" I drop the fake just as her blue painted nails extend inhumanly like knives directed at my throat. Reno unleashes an electric attack, which distracts her for only a split second, but it's enough for me to gather myself and attack with my sword.

The being screeches when I cut it apart and Reno keeps attacking the pieces with electricity, but they crawl away, like a dismembered monster that cannot die. The pieces put themselves back together no matter how much I cut them up and how much Reno tries to stop them.

Finally, the creature disappears into the debris, probably transformed into something small. We searched and searched, but it slipped past us. Our situation is definitely critical and the chaos has just begun.

"This isn't working, it must be gone, we need to leave too and meet the others," Reno heads towards the elevator and I follow.

"What about the girl? She's a Turk, our comrade," I remind him. "How did you know this one was a fake?"

"I knew because of her wimpy 'Reno, you came for me' line, the real one would say something like 'your timing sucks Red', she's gone," Reno replies.

I get into the elevator too, "gone? You mean dead? To say it with so little regard..."

"Not dead, Turks don't die easily," Reno corrects, "we found blood but not a body, she escaped, but we can't follow her. She must have taken the secret tunnel and activated the traps as she went along to make sure that thing didn't follow her. She's following the mission she was given if something like this ever happened, no one expected another Jenova, but in case you revived insane, there was a plan. All the Turks have a part to play, except you haven't been given a role yet, but I'm sure you'll be busy."

So the contingency plan designed for me has finally been activated for the calamity. Yet, I wonder if the girl is truly alright, having left so much blood behind. "Are you sure she made it out?" What if the creature turned into something big and ate her? I would hate to think of anyone suffering such a terrible fate.

"There are no damsels in distress in the Turks."

It's true, I have witnessed how dangerous Elena can be, I nod, finally convinced. "Right, so are we going to meet the others? The creature might be after them as we speak!"

"They're long gone by now," Reno assures. "The satellites aren't working so we can't contact them, but it doesn't matter, I know where each of them is." I suppose this is part of the emergency plan.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 44: Crisis

We're currently in Junon, that is Reno, Rude and myself; Tseng and Elena are off in Icicle with Rufus and Blaze. The network is back online now, the encoding was changed for safety and the core rebooted to connect to Junon in maximum security mode. Junon is now the false mainframe, while the real one remains hidden.

I'm almost afraid to ask for details about anything, least the walls should hear. Even a tiny insect could be the enemy, even if it sounds paranoid. Yet there is one thing that I must ask, "why did the enemy retreat?"

"I don't know, maybe we were closer to winning than it looked," I really want to believe Reno's assumption, but I know it to be false.

"We weren't winning, if the battle went on, we would have become exhausted and the creature would have overpowered us," it is the harsh reality.

"A secret advantage," Rude suggests.

I have learned to understand Rude's short replies by now and can read between his words. "That makes sense, she could have thought we were holding back," a million thoughts run through my head and memories from the documents of the Jenova Project come to me. "How did Jenova die all those years ago? The creature could have done research; she must know about Shinra's involvement with the Jenova Project and assumed that through it the secret to defeating her kind was learned."

"This sucks, I don't like relying on bluffs, it's not the Turk way!" Reno pouts.

"Then we'll have to turn that bluff into a reality, we need to learn how to defeat Jenova," but that information wasn't covered in any of the reports I remember. It was all about bringing out that obscure being's mysterious power, not about how to defeat it.

"How are we going to do that?" Reno inquires.

At first I'm at a loss for words, my mind goes from overflowing with information to completely blank when I focus on that one question. Seconds tick away, tension hanging in the air, then I speak one name, "Aeris."

"Aeris? The ancient? But isn't she...?"

I nod, "it may still be possible to communicate somehow, I don't think she faded away, she's in the life stream somewhere."

"Are you telling me that Cloud wasn't delirious when he said he could talk to dead people?"

I give Reno a puzzled look, "Cloud said that?"

"Yeah, a long time ago, I remember hearing him say something about talking to Aeris and Zack."

Reno's revelation should give me hope, but instead I'm filled with bitterness. "We'll have to," I hate this, "ask him," it's unbearable, why must he be the hero?

We informed the other Turks and the president of the new developments, left the Junon 'peacekeeping' troops in stand by and headed to Edge.

xoxox xox xoxox

The situation in Edge is grim, the streets are filled with fear and everyone runs away when they see Reno, Rude and I; save for a few who stay to insult us. I take it the rumors about Shinra helping the mafia have grown substantially and become very public.

We enter the Seventh Heaven and a man with a gun arm aims his weapon at us, Barret I think his name was. However, Vincent counters by aiming his own gun at Barret and Reeve intervenes by placing his hands on both men's shoulders and shaking his head, "calm down." The tension could be cut with a knife.

It looks like Avalanche has reassembled to face the current crisis. Reno, Rude and my PHS's receive test messages at the same time. News seems to flow fast, but not fast enough all the way to Icicle. It's a warning about some very incriminating news reports related to Shinra and the mafia. I take it everyone here has seen them.

Tifa is here, with Marlene and Denzel left and right of her, she looks alert and protective, akin to a lioness defending her cubs. Yuffie, the ninja girl, is pouting and grumbling hateful words towards Shinra. Cid is watching on impatient and next to him Shera stands with a look of reserved judgment. Nanaki is the most composed out of the entire group.

In contrast, Barret is the most tense, "you've got some nerve showing' your faces here!" After a deadly glare directed at us, he turns to look at Vincent for a moment, "just whose side are you on?"

Vincent shakes his head, "there's not need for bloodshed, let's give them the benefit of the doubt."

Reeve expressed his agreement, "let's try to understand each other. If they were as guilty as it seems, they wouldn't come here so openly."

"They're plotting something!" Barret accused.

I've just about had it, the world will be overtaken by that calamity if we don't stand against it and we can't do that unless we stop fighting amongst ourselves. "We're plotting to save the world from the calamity."

Reno and Rude stare at me; I know I've said too much.

"They're already in a panic and they will know eventually," I excuse myself. "Not only that, but they need to know." Both my Turk companions nod, understanding the urgency.

Our PHS's go off again and Reno checks his, "turn on the TV," he suddenly insists, "this is important, turn it on!"

Tifa reaches for the remote control and turns on the television, the channel doesn't matter, she switches but the same thing is everywhere. The screen announces the coming of an important message. They must be making certain it s broadcasted all over the world and assuring that everyone has time to turn on their TV.

The screen with the written message changes to show Rufus, "I know that the city of Edge is an a chaotic state right now and the world will probably soon be affected. This is not Shinra's doing, we are trying to fight against it and we need your cooperation. Please watch this report all the way through before passing judgment."

Another message appears on the screen stating when the following news report first aired on local TV in the Icicle area. The news report, which was not seen as anything big at the time, spoke of a meteorite that many of the inhabitants of Icicle claimed to have seen landing in the mountains, yet no one could actually find it. Researchers were out searching, in hopes of finding something of scientific value.

Rufus appears on the screen again, "we believe the supposed meteorite, which was never found, was the arrival of an alien life form. The citizens of Icicle have some testimonies to share with the world."

The next part of the report was very intriguing. The people of Icicle shared their experiences of a series of unexpected events which threatened life long friendships and created many feuds. They claimed that people where doing terrible things that those who knew them never expected, thus they supported the theory, which we already know is true, of a being capable of shape shifting and taking another person's place.

Following the statements, there came a report from a forensic doctor, confirming the shape shifter theory, it was the only explanation. A woman who was with the search party looking for the meteor got separated from them, but promptly found, as per the testimony of the rest of the exploration group. She had been acting strange and disappeared from Icicle shortly after the disputes worsened.

That same woman's body was found dead in the snowy mountains and the forensic tests revealed without a doubt, that she had died on the day when the meteor fell, due to unusual puncture wounds. She was the shape shifter's first victim. Naturally, since Shinra was still seen as powerful despite trying to keep a low profile, she must have been attracted to it, or perhaps she sensed the cells of her own kind in Cloud. Comparing the dates, it was shortly after she disappeared from Icicle that I arrived, so maybe she sensed me.

She must have done her research, but the information she could access was limited and she probably relied on urban retellings of the past and rumors about Shinra holding the secrets to absolutely everything there ever was. She must have assumed that those high ranked in Shinra knew how to fight a creature like her, another of Jenova's kind, a calamity, and the ones with the higher rank had to be those closest to the president, the Turks. That assumption has made her cautions, but she's clearly growing impatient.

Rufus appeared on screen again, explaining more about the being and speaking of his suspicions that the creature had infiltrated and overtaken the mafia. The Platinum Witch, yes, it must have been her, I picture that woman's expression from when she got away at the restaurant and I picture the new Jenova. One looks like an obvious alien and the other like an exotic human, but their faces match perfectly, how did I not notice it sooner?

The report ends and the same message from before, the one at the very beginning, displays, though the word 'replay' is at the bottom. They must be playing it all again in case someone missed the beginning or was left with any doubts. Tifa mutes the TV and looks at us, her face terribly worried. "Cloud is gone and I can't reach him on the phone."

My eyes widen in realization, the Platinum Witch was frightened of Shinra knowing how to defeat her, that's why she avoided starting a fight for so long. She wanted to access the databases to find out what we would do against her to device a defense and counter. That is also why she investigated my history; she wanted a puppet to use as a bodyguard. She must have realized she couldn't control me and gone after Cloud. He must have left because he knew he was losing control and didn't want to hurt anyone. "We have to find him!"

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 45: Rival

The church in the Midgar ruins would be the most obvious place to search for Cloud according to Tifa, but he was not there. I did find a PHS with several missed calls, but no signs of where he could have gone. Yet the atmosphere itself gave me a clue, it somehow reminded me of the Forgotten City.

If my return is in any way linked to the arrival of the calamity, which it very likely is, then this is no time to start doubting my instincts, thus my destination is the Forgotten City. Even if Cloud is not there, maybe I can communicate with Aeries myself since it is her final resting place, though I try not to think of whose fault that is.

xoxox xox xoxox

It was Cid who took me to the Forgotten City on his airship, since the Turks are running around everywhere and getting things ready while trying to prevent a panic and a civil war, with help from the WRO and Avalanche, that how I talked them into letting me take this mission, emphasizing they were needed in Edge.

Next on my to do list after saving is learning how to pilot, then I will be able to get around just about anywhere on my own. Perhaps if I ask nicely, Cid will teach me, because I'm certainly not getting flying lessons from Reno.

I asked Cid to wait in the airship, he wasn't thrilled about it, but decided to let me go about my business by myself as requested. The Forgotten City is the perfect example of quiet and eerie, a deserted ghost city with such a strong atmosphere I almost expect a ghost to pop out any second. Hopefully it will be Aeris' ghost and she will have answers.

I made it to the exact place were Aeris was k-where she died. I wonder if she's shaking her head in the life stream thinking 'he's got some nerve going back there'. There's no sign of Cloud anywhere.

I call out for him, "Cloud!" No one replies and I call again, as loudly as I can, but there is no response. I look at the spot where Aeris was when I attacked her and feeling regretful I go on my knees on the same place and pray in an effort to communicate with her.

I hear a murmur, but I can't understand what it is. I focus on it and block out all my other senses. Is it working? Am I really communicating with the life stream, with Aeris? 'Behind you,' the voice is blurry but I can understand it.

My eyes open immediately and my senses become alert, finally perceiving the previously hidden presence of another. I turn and block Cloud's attack with my sword. It was close, but it would be too ironic for me to die this way. "Cloud!"

"Sephiroth! You're the one who's causing all the trouble, you and Jenova," his eyes are glowing brightly but his gaze is lost.

"Snap out of it, you're being used!" It was quite a struggle for me to become resistant to the mind control, I had times when I thought I was going insane all over again, times when I banged my head against the wall and times when I passed out. The voices, the visions, the nightmares, but Cloud should have already had some time of his own and there is no more. "Wake up, Cloud!" Aren't you supposed to be the hero? What guilt do you carry that holds you down?

"Don't stop, kill him, kill him now!" I jump away from Cloud and look at the one who is speaking. "You're Rufus' secretary!"

"Amy Talic? Oh no, my name is Aeris, Avenge me Cloud! Sephiroth wants to destroy my very soul!" Amy Talic... Calamity, how could she slip by with a name like that? That time when I thought I almost killed her, she was the one who made me lose control to weaken my mind so she could use me. All those times when I lost control, it must have been her all along, hidden in the shadows, trying to break me and turn me into her puppet.

"Idiot!" I yell at Cloud as he continued slashing away with his sword. If I ever fought him again, I never thought I would only defend; it's difficult to keep reminding myself that the one I have to defeat is not him, albeit the temptation of knocking some sense into him in a none too gentle way is ever growing. I wonder if pain will wake him up. "You really are nothing but a puppet!"

"Shut up! I won't let you... I won't..." He comes at me quickly, jumping and rushing down with his sword.

I block, he jumps back and slashes left and right, I back away and touch the water of the pond; then I hear that same voice again, the voice that warned me, Aeris' voice, but it's clearer now. 'Cloud is in despair, free him from it!'

How very ironic, I would rather give him despair, but it seems I have no choice, yet I don't know what to do. "How do I make him wake up?"

'Remind him he's a hero,' Aeris, you're not making this any easier. Either way, I came to get Cloud to communicate with Aeris and now I'm talking to her.

I focus my thoughts, instead of speaking, 'tell me how to defeat the calamity.'

Aeris replies in my mind, 'the protector of the planet, the one who has been given that mission after all the others were defeated, will know.'

"Who is it?" I say the next part aloud as I attack Cloud; I'm tired of only defending. Either way it doesn't matter, I don't think anyone else can hear Aeris anyway and that one question doesn't hint at much. Even if Aeris tried to talk to Cloud, which she must have, it seems he can't hear her. Maybe he came here to seek her help, but his mind was overtaken before he could.

'You will know...' why is she being so ambiguous? How am I supposed to know?

'C'mon legendary hero, can't you save your comrade?' That voice, I've heard it before. 'I've always looked up to you guys, so don't let me don't. I think I managed to become a hero, how about you become a hero again?' Angeal's little friend, Zack Fair.

'Cloud is not my comrade and I can't wake him,' I mentally reply.

'So the great Sephiroth is helpless, what a pity!'

"Shut up!" The battle between Cloud and I continues, "I can win, I can beat him!"

'He's not himself... is that okay? Besides, aren't you a hero? Aren't you supposed to save your comrades?' Zack is being very irritating right now.

"Fine, I'll do this the hard way," I put away my sword and focus on dodging Cloud's attacks, which only narrowly miss me. If he cuts my hair I'm cutting his head off, no questions, no excuses, no second chances. "Cloud, I'm not attacking you anymore, are you going to listen?"

Cloud's sword coming towards me is something I can only interpret as a negative answer.

"That's not the real Aeris!" I really hate this, "the real one said you're a hero," that left a bitter taste to say. "Would Aeris tell you to seek revenge? Don't be so weak, Zack would be disappointed," I make the connection, that cadet Zack hung out with was Cloud. I never really knew him; he was only the friend of a friend of a friend, but I think I'm getting to him. "That's it, stay awake, think of... Tifa, remember Tifa! She's your childhood friend, right? You protected her, like a hero," how long is it going to take him to come to his senses?

"I couldn't protect Tifa, my home town or anyone..." again with the couldn't protect guilt trips and this one affects me too.

"It's not too late, are you giving up? Is the past more important than the present?" I feel like I should have asked myself that question many times.

Cloud he yells in agony, drops his sword and holds his head, the sight is not at all unpleasant. "no... no! Get out of my head! I'm not your puppet; I won't let you use me!"

"Cloud! Are you abandoning me?" The calamity, still in the form of Amy Talic, or should I say Aeris, is desperate to regain control over Cloud.

"She's not Aeris!" I insist.

"Not Aeris..." I think Cloud is finally understanding.

Then the being changes into Tifa, "Cloud, be my hero, save me!"

"She's not the real Tifa, what kind of hero can't tell the difference?" I argue back.

"Tifa..." Cloud screams in pain, "Tifa!" He closes his eyes tightly, desperately holding on to his true self, then he finally opens his eyes, focused and determined. "Stop trying to control me!" The calamity takes this as her cue to leave and jumps away. Both Cloud and I chased after her, but she escaped.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 46: Despair

"Thank you," Cloud's words were sudden, breaking the silence of the Forgotten City as we walked back to Cid's airship. "If it wasn't for you, I would still be..."

I don't feel like saying anything.

"You're an inspiration, worthy of being admired; even after all the difficulties you must have gone through, you still went on. I know what its like to be weakened and trapped," I'm not like you Cloud. "In many ways, you and I are the same," no we're not.
"Can you really say that to this face?"

"I know you look like Sephiroth, but it doesn't matter, you're not him and I know it."

"And if I was?" I'm so tired of hiding.

Cloud shakes his head, "don't worry, I have no doubts. You can't be Sephiroth because he's a traitor, I looked up to him and he destroyed everything!" I suppose it hurts more to be betrayed by someone whom you admired, but you were only another cadet, another human to be jealous of when I thought I wasn't human.

"Don't take it so personally..."

"I know, it's not like Sephiroth knew I existed, that bothers me even more, he probably looked down on me all the time."

"He couldn't look down on you if he barely noticed you at all."

Cloud pauses and looks thoughtful, "you're right, he doesn't deserve to be given so much importance even in memories; he doesn't even deserve to be acknowledged." That's not what I'm saying at all, "thanks for telling me that," I didn't!

"Sephiroth was a hero before the Nibelheim incident. Do you remember Angeal?" He shakes his head in confusion and I continue, "the one who trained Zack, he must have mentioned him. Angeal and Genesis were both friends of Sephiroth, the high ranking generals who ended up disappearing. Don't you remember at all?"

"Angeal..." I can tell Cloud is searching deep in his memories, "Angeal, yes, Zack did mention him and I remember seeing all the generals from afar, Angeal, Genesis, Sephiroth, but why do you say this?"

"I don't even know where I'm going with all of that," this is the truth.

"Inspiration?" Cloud suggests, "the three top ranked soldiers and Zack, they all influenced each other I guess, but Sephiroth was... What ever happened to them?"

"Why would I tell you? You won't properly honor their memories," this conversation is over.

"I honor Zack's memory and I don't remember much about Angeal, but I will honor the tiny pieces I have, he was a good person, Zack said so."

"You don't even know their story..."

"How do you know it?"

"From," my brother? I can't believe I'm still lying, maybe it's best to say, "my other self."

Cloud's eyes widened, "Sephiroth? You and your brother were connected? I see, you got all the negative effects of the experimentations while he got stronger, the sacrificial twin. But that wasn't all; you also got memories from him."

"The twin who was sacrificed..." sacrificed to pain, to despair, to doubt, that's one way to say it. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if the different eras of my life are my other selves. I do remember having other selves, fragments that I feel have returned to where they came from, to me, so why not say it like that? "The part who was sacrificed, the part that existed, back then."

Cloud looks uneasy, and finally reassured, as if something that has been bothering him for a long time has been resolved. "I think I understand, the legend and the hero; that was you, the evil one was the other half, the half created by Shinra, by Hojo, if that half wasn't there, it would have been you, all the time, the good half... I don't feel so bad anymore, thinking that I once looked up to a monster, the one I looked up to was someone else, a hero, it was you all along." Great, that's just what I need, I want to punch him.

I shake my head, "I don't understand it," and neither does him, but maybe most if not all people have different sides to them, different selves. "Either way, I'm here now," and I feel like I have a mission to defend this world from the calamity.

"Are you two getting on or what?" Cid calls out from the airship; we reached it and just stood outside talking. We get on and he takes off.

xoxox xox xoxox

While on the way back to Edge, I communicated with the Turks and the news is bad. In the background I can hear Reeve blaming himself for wanting information, though it doesn't make sense until Tseng explains that the calamity attacked the WRO and obtained a secret list of the undercover Turks, which the WRO had previously demanded from Shinra. They were being hunted.

Edge had fallen to chaos so we regrouped in Nibelheim, hoping to find some form of clue in the data kept at the mansion, even if it had already been analyzed before.

I entered the mansion along with an uneasy Cloud, who was soon hugged by Tifa. We were all there, Rufus, Tseng, Elena, Rude, Reno, Cloud, Tifa, Vincent, Yuffie, Reeve, Barret, Nanaki, Shera, Cid and I. Blaze, Marlene and Denzel were there as well, seeing as Edge wasn't safe.

The girl from the databases no longer wore her scientist disguise, instead dressed as a Turk, her previously black hair now black and blue, she doesn't look scary anymore, though to any normal person the fact that she is recognizable as a Turk would make every mental alarm scream out 'deadly'. She seems to be doing alright and has made it here, so her mission at the secret core of Shinra's mainframe system must be over, or maybe she was called because we need all the help we can get.

There are also a few others here I only barely remember, I must have caught glimpses of them in another time, or should I say another life. Some I have forgotten, but some I recognize. The woman with red-brown hair who is tending to the children while Tifa is busy reassuring Cloud, I hear them call her Cissnei. She commented something about feeling the need to return; perhaps she left the Turks and didn't come back until recently.

There is a blond woman resembling Elena, but her expression is quite different, much more serious. Elena and her glance at each other as if holding some sort of sibling rivalry. I would guess they are sisters given the resemblance.

There's also a man with an electro rod having a play fight with Reno, I don't remember him, or maybe I never knew him, I can't be sure. It seems not all the undercover Turks in the list were hunted down by the creature, the strongest have gathered here, for I have no doubts they must be the best of Shinra to have made it here alive.

The army has gathered and if we do not head into battle soon, the number of casualties will continue to increase, but we don't have a battle plan. How are we going to defeat that creature? How will we even know where it went?

I feel a sudden pain and a cry for help, though many are speaking among themselves, none of them are crying. It sounded like the voice of a child, but the children are composed, though I can tell they are not ignorant to the gravity of the situation. This is no time to be hearing voices in my head, I thought that was over.

This voice, it's not trying to control me, it's calling out to me, crying for help, beginning for protection as if the child was in turn also protecting something precious, as if the fall of this child means the fall of the precious thing that is protected by the child and that is why the child cries so intensely for help.

'Sephiroth... please... help me, save them, that thing is killing me, it hurt so much, it hurts in the same place as before, it hurts so deep and strong!' This voice is not evil pretending to be helpless; it is not from the calamity. I feel it, I know it, I understand it; it is the planet itself. But why is it talking to me? I'm not an ancient, is it because I've been in the life stream before?

"Sephiroth..." That is not the planet; someone else is calling me, "Sephiroth!"

"Tseng..."

"This is no time to space out, we need to face that calamity, it's on the attack and it will hunt us down. We'll discuss the battle strategy now," Tseng explains.

"No, there's no more time to plan, the planet is crying out for help, I don't know how, but I can hear it. The calamity is injuring it, she's," in the same place as before. There was no huge crater near Icicle when the new calamity landed, so why is the Northern Crater there? I don't think the crater was created when Jenova landed, it must have been later, that must have been a wound she inflicted on the planet. If she gets to the center, the wound will be mortal, I just know it. "The Northern Crater, that's where the calamity is, she's digging deep, trying to kill the planet."

I don't really understand why, but everyone believed me, they had faith in this strange newly discovered ability to hear the planet. Maybe it's something that I could do since I was revived, but I was unable to focus enough to actually listen; I didn't know how to listen. Maybe it's because I understand myself better, and came to terms with who I am that I'm really discovering what I am, though whatever I have become is still in many ways a mystery.

xoxox xox xoxox

Reintegration

Step 47: Limit Break

Shera remained in Nibelheim taking care of Marlene, Denzel and Blaze, the rest of us, Turks and Avalanche, have come to the Northern Crater on Cid's airship. The group includes Rufus, who stubbornly refused to stay away from the action, though he promised to act mostly as a sniper.

The crater has become much deeper and an evil aura is in the air. We make our way down, careful not to fall, but as quickly as possible, until we reach the deep bottom. The calamity has noticed our presence and is ready for the inevitable confrontation. Eliminating those Turks must have been a provocation and a test, but we didn't respond swiftly enough, I think she knows we are unaware of the secret to defeating her, she herself most likely doesn't know what it is. A weakness that one is unaware of can be extremely dangerous, but it won't do the opponent any good if he is unaware of it himself.

"Lowly creatures, do you dare fight me?" She laughs mockingly. So this is her true form, she's not simply copying Jenova anymore, though they are definitely of the same kind. She has the same pink skin and her eyes glow brightly. Her hair is a shiny platinum color and it's much longer than Jenova's moving as if carried by the breeze, but there is no breeze down here.

There is a glow around her, maybe Jenova had that glow too when she lived, but she didn't include it in her Jenova disguise, possibly because she determined that we wouldn't know of it, since Jenova died so long ago. It cannot be denied that the sight is majestic, if her expression were serene instead of malicious; some might mistake her for some kind of angel.

Everyone stands ready and speaks their own oath of courage, but I am too focused on the coming battle to hear them and too distracted by myself to make my own. Then, in a split second, the fight begins.

We didn't have time to train together, Turks and Avalanche. I half expected people to start bumping into each other and accidentally cancel out their attacks like newbie cadets, but fortunately that's not the case. Rufus is shooting more and more as fast as his ammunition can be refilled. Vincent is doing the same, though instead of staying in one place where cover can be found if needed, he's moving around and jumping to shoot while staying out of he way of the calamity's attacks.

Joining them is Tseng, fast and precise without the theatrics of Vincent's jumps, but without staying in one spot for more than a split second. Elena's sister is following a similar strategy. Barret, the other gunner of our group, is rather amusing to watch, charging in full force firing away and backing out when overwhelmed with attacks, only to charge in again a second later, confident that next time he'll land the finishing blow for sure, but this is only the beginning.

The three Turks who have an affinity for electricity, Reno, the girl with black and blue hair and the man who was play fighting with Reno back in Nibelheim, all wield electro-rods and are focusing their energy in unison, creating a much more powerful electric attack.

Cissnei and the ninja girl, Yuffie, was it? Are surprisingly synchronized with their shurikens, though I sense it is Cissnei adjusting herself to match Yuffie's attacks from opposite directions. It's clear she has the most experience in terms of teamwork, making the best of numbers and being quick to fill in all the openings left by the others. Obviously, she hasn't neglected her training.

Reeve is not here in person, though he is on the airship, controlling Cait Sith from there. The robotic cat is riding on Nanaki, pounding away at the Calamity whenever Nanaki strikes, adding a little extra to the first's attacks.

Tifa, Rude, Elena and Cid are attacking from different directions but with perfect timing, as if trying to divert the enemy's attention before the next attack and all at once watching each other's backs.

It seems everyone has found their own little subgroup to work with, while at the same time supporting the overall team. "Ready? Let's get her from both sides," the sword wielders are stuck together, why must I be teamed up with Cloud? None the less we attack in perfect unison, I wonder if seeing how I use my Masamune, he'll figure out I'm far too similar to Sephiroth to be only a twin or clone.

The calamity's force is amazing. Whenever she is damaged in any way, and it takes a lot to do that, she heals instantly, she's serious now, it's a lot harder to cut through her in her real form. We have all noticed her tremendous strength and resistance and the unspoken notion to attack repeatedly hoping that we're faster then her healing powers is put into effect.

She no longer has the semi angelic appearance from before. Her skin has become red with anger and power and her previously ivory glow has turned dark. Her eerie eyes glow even brighter and her platinum hair moves like deadly tentacles. She has grown sharp claws and spikes, making it very difficult to attack her. Her skin has also become harder, akin to armor made of ruby. She truly is a terrible calamity.

Her attacks are not limited to the physical, she possesses a sort of telekinesis, moving large boulders at will and throwing them at amazing speeds like canon balls. Her strongest attack is that dark force. She threw it into the air like a dark sun made of negative energy and it exploded, raining deadly beams on us. Most were left in a near death state, knocked unconscious while others, barely alive and able to crawl, struggled to heal themselves and awaken their companions who would surely be crushed if they stayed still.

Hours passed and our energy is almost exhausted, our sanity and will to live being brutally tested. I feel it too, pushing my body to the limit and summoning energy to go on from a supply that's already empty. We had come equipped with materia, but the summons did not come to our aid. The calamity laughed at our attempts, she was able to block out Aeris from the life stream in the planet, she can easily block out communication with alternate dimensions much further away. Ice, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Comet, Ultima... even with he flow of Time itself on our hands and layers of Barriers and Shields, we cannot Restore ourselves as fast as she can and the effect of our materia is fading.

No one can carry an infinity of items into battle, no matter how small and concentrated they may be and no one can become truly invisible, no matter how well armed and how fast and often they are healed, even with materia to enhance our life, strength, speed and energy. Our preparations were hasty but strong, dare I say we could conquer the world if we wished, but it seems we cannot save it.

They're falling, all my comrades are falling. I can't let this happen, not again. I couldn't save my friends in the past, now that I feel I can make new friends, that I have made new friends, I can't let them die. Not this again, I don't want their lives to be stolen away.

Rufus has forgotten his promise not to be reckless, he along with Vincent, Tseng and Barret, despite being armed to take on the world, have run out of ammunition. They're charging in recklessly, putting all differences aside and striving together. The electric team led by Reno has no more energy left for such attacks and they charge in as well. Cissnei and Yuffie, their weapons broken, join them. Rude, Elena, Tifa, Cid, Nanaki and Cait Sith, they're all attacking as well. Each of them in the last of their strength, each of them desperate, each of them knocked away.

"Now!" Cloud calls out. They have managed to do some damage with that last effort, the calamity is healing slightly slower, though still fairly fast. We attack, over and over relentlessly, ignoring our pain and blood, I imagine my state must be as bad as his, as bad as all of us, but we're still awake, clinging to our last drop of life. It wasn't enough; the calamity threw us away like lifeless puppets with cut strings and recovered. "How can we beat her? This is hopeless..."

We can't retreat, if we do, she'll finish digging to the center of the planet and kill it. It might fall apart and even if we prevented that, even if we regrouped and won, if the planet died, where would we live? All the living beings in the world will no longer have a means to support themselves. "We cannot fall into the shadows..."

I attack once more, head on, the calamity fights back, but I don't change my course, jumping high while her long tentacle-like hair tries to hold me back, but I keep moving and slash down at her with the Masamune, her claws cutting deep into my flesh as I go. I want to knock her all the way to the legendary promised land where evil would disintegrate, to a distant place where she can't hurt anyone, I don't care if she drags me with her, but I will protect this world.

She screeches loudly, louder than ever, in deep agony. "That was reckless, suicidal!" Cloud scolds; it's as if he's afraid to be left alone to battle, afraid to be the last to fall.

"I'm not about to lose," I assure. "Her energy is not infinite, she's powerful but not immortal; her kind was defeated before." Though I should be terribly close to death, I instead feel a rush of calmness, because I'm not struggling anymore. I am doing what I must and I have decided to try my best until this battle ends. I am no longer focused on the outcome, I'm only thinking of the here and now.

I see the world from a new perspective, regardless of what I once was and what I am now, all that matters is that I'm here and what I wish to become is... a hero. Even being an unknown hero will do as long I as I do everything I can to protect, true heroes are not about glory after all, not about fame and being turned into action figures, it's about giving everything to protect. I call upon all my power, past and present and stand ready for battle once again, with a single black wing on my back.

"Sephiroth," Cloud whispers.

"You knew didn't you? Deep down you've always known, but you didn't want to believe it. Cloud Strife, stop clinging to a past villain to feel like a hero by comparison, there is no such a thing, because a hero is someone who shines so brightly that there can be no comparison."

"I..."

"It's not really for you to determine, ask your friends when this is over and they'll tell you." The calamity attacks and we fight, unable to speak any more. I know what I am, by accepting myself, including my flaws and past mistakes, I was able to understand it.

When Aeris said 'you will know' she was giving me the answer, but finding yourself is something you can only do yourself. Mother must have known; that's why she smiled and called me hope. That is also why it didn't feel so strange to be called weapon and why I can hear the planet after finally learning to listen.

This planet really is childish. It chouse the strongest out of those who were slain, assuming that would be enough for them to become heroes. It took the most powerful beings from the life stream and turned them into Weapons, the protectors of the planet. Yet those dragons didn't know what they were doing. At least this time the one who was chosen to be the next warrior of the planet can actually think and strategize. Well, Planet, I'll show you you've made the right choice.

Cloud has fallen, exhausted and injured. I move him out of the way quickly. He's still conscious, he says something, but I don't understand.

"Rest, I'll finish this..." I summon those three parts of myself that I might have suppressed in the past. They appear, coming from me. "Kadaj, Yazoo, Loz, keep her busy for just a moment so I can summon the planet's power."

"Let's go, we'll show her who's boss!" Kadaj leads the way into the assault with fiery courage.

"We'll put up a good fight!" Yazoo wisely strategizes searching for openings.

"And we'll make you proud!" Loz shows his power jumping into the action.

I summon the power of the planet, the power of hope itself and put my very being into one last attack, to break my limits, to break all limits and accomplish what must be done. Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz return to me, becoming one with me again and I charge forward, my sword glowing a pale green.

Even impaled, the calamity struggles strongly, clawing at me and throwing her dark energy. Her attacks are not without effect, but I know I must stay strong. I can feel her very being connect to mine as if our souls are doing battle. Every memory I ever had flashes before my eyes, both good and bad. I treasure the good memories and accept the bad ones as an inevitable part of who I am.

Then the green glow fades, and the calamity's life begins to disappear as well, but she still holds on. I'll have to finish her myself, she's stubborn, clinging to this world, changing her shape; mother, my real mother, what a cruel illusion, but she will not fool me. I am surrounded by a silver glow, my very soul. I'll dissolve this calamity's very last cell; there will be nothing left for history to repeat itself. Finally, with desperate rage, she faded away completely.

I remain in this world for only a few seconds, more. I see them waking up, the planet is healing them now that it has been freed from that creature that inhabited it like a disease. I believe the planet wished to help us more during the battle, but the calamity had held it back, now she's gone and the planet is free to heal, though it will take a very long time. They are awake, my comrades, all of them, I spread my wing as I feel myself fade away; I put my very soul into disintegrating the calamity after all. I smile, not wanting to be remembered looking grim and this time the expression doesn't feel so strange, "I will never be a memory..."

xoxox xox xoxox

"Some people are just so stubborn..." Zack?

"He doesn't know when to take a break; he's restless like a puppy, like you." Angeal?

"He might be mad if he heard you calling him a puppy... Wait, you just called me a puppy!" Zack...

"It seems it's not his time..." Aeris?

"There are some who might get lonely if he's not there; he's still needed in that world." Angeal...

"I guess this means you'll be on your way, give my brother my good wishes." Lazard?

xoxox xox xoxox

"Wark!" Of all the things to wake up to...

I open my eyes and see a room that is mostly white, an infirmary; the Shinra infirmary at headquarters. I remember fading away, I guess I must have reappeared somewhere and was brought here. The large red chocobo's color makes it stand out against the pale room, as if his size didn't already make him obvious enough. The chocobo looks at me curiously, his blue eyes glowing with... mako?

"Wark! Wark! Wark!"

"What is it, Blaze? Why are you..." Reno stops, it is one of the rare but pleasant occasions when he's left speechless, as expected, it doesn't last long. "He's alive! He's alive!"

"Blaze?" I stare at the chocobo, he's big enough to carry me and he certainly looks strong. He's nothing like that fragile tiny creature I remember. "How did he get so big? For how long have I been in a coma? Why are his eyes glowing?"

"It's been a whole week. You beat that evil alien, you're a hero!" I can tell he's avoiding my other questions.

"Reno, what happened to my godchild?"

"Um... well... I kind of lost track of him that one time and he might have eaten something radioactive..." Reno confesses. "But don't worry; the doctor says he's fine, except for the part of being a bit bigger than most chocobos and a lot stronger and faster. I entered him at the Gold Saucer last weekend and we won all the races!"

I laugh; I should have been prepared for these antics when I came back. "With you as Blaze's father, it should come as no surprise that something like this would happen." Blaze bends over so I can reach and I pet. "Good to see you again."

"I wonder why no one's rushing over... Hey, didn't you hear me? I said Seph's alive! He's awake!" Reno insisted.

"Shut up, I'm not falling for that again!" I know that voice...

"It's true this time, really!" I can definitely imagine Reno in the boy who cried wolf situation.

"I'm trying to read!" The other man argues.

"You read Loveless everyday!" Reno pouts, "is that more important than your comrade coming back to life for the billionth time?"

"You're drying my patience!" Genesis moved to white curtains around my bed away, his hand raised with his favorite book ready to hit Reno with it. He stood frozen for a second before yelling, "Sephiroth! Everyone! Sephiroth is awake!" One by one, they rush into the room while Reno pouts because no one believed him.

xoxox xox xoxox

Apparently it was Reno who found Genesis and brought him to Shinra, thus the Turks, myself included, took it upon themselves to help in the process of reintegrating him into society. Hopefully, I'll save him from being driven insane by Reno's antics, Elena's crazy driving, Rude's absolute silence, Tseng's workaholic ways and Rufus being well... Rufus, plus whatever new strangeness the other Turks may add, because no one is ever normal in Shinra. The president was surprised when I delivered Lazard's message, then smiled, knowing that Lazard continues to exist somewhere in the life stream.

Right now we're all reunited at the Seventh Heaven, Cloud and I are not exactly friends and I'm sure he'll never admit I saved him back then, but it doesn't matter. He knows who I am and accepts it well enough not to put up a fight. Tifa must have been shocked, but she too has come to terms with the truth, they all have. There will be no more hiding.

The reason why we're here at the Seventh Heaven isn't simply a victory reunion and it's certainly not for the sake of listening to Reno's 'thee soldiers walk into a bar' jokes. We're here because my new adventure in this world began with an invitation to hang out at the Seventh Heaven and I thought it might be good to have Genesis come here too.

"Next week," Genesis declares, "we're all going to see Loveless!" I know he will insist until we all do, Shinra and Avalanche alike.

End

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In the games, there wasn't a lot of interaction between Sephiroth and Reno, but in our role play at the Shinra Database, all those characters interacted in IC blog posts and comment on each other's posts about their lives working for Shinra. That is what inspired this story. Special thanks and credits to Cherri, who plays Sephiroth at the RP.

Cookies if you caught the reference in Step 01 to some of Jelanda's famous quotes in Valkyrie Profile. The power and responsibility quote in Step 11 is from Spiderman and the gravity room was inspired by Dragon Ball Z. The idea of painting Kalm red was inspired by the Shinra blogs where I play Reno.

More cookies if you caught the reference to Final Fantasy VI in Step 17, the answer was azure, cerulean and cyan are three completely different shades of blue. The part in Step 20 about the WRO being Shinra's little brother and Reno picking on Cloud instead, was inspired by Snow in the Shinra Database RPG blogs. Thanks to Kaarina Helvete for the Cloud punching bag idea on Step 23, the Cloud toy's 'scar' is a reference to Squall.

Again, credits go to Cherri, who role plays Sephiroth in the Shinra Database RPG, the scene in the beginning of Step 25 with Blaze was loosely based on the RP. Thanks to Soyna who suggested that Sephiroth be sent on vacation to hunt monsters in step 26. Also in 26, when Sephiroth mentions thanking the cookie for being delicious, it's a reference to Heroic Age, where at the beginning Age thanks the octopus creature he feeds on.

Step 31 has a reference to Axel from Kingdom Hearts. Step 32 has references to Chrono Trigger and Valkyrie Profile. Sephiroth's comment about the uniforms in Step 33 was based on a review from PhinalPhantasy. In Step 34, Sephiroth getting his own transport was suggested by Dragon Reverb, there is also a reference to Men in Black there. Chika Akatsuki, who appears in Step 35, is from Zombie Loan.

In Step 39, Cloud's girl name, Rain, is a reference to the Sweet Kiwi crackfic series by Snow, Cherri and myself; Lightning is a reference to FFXIII. In Step 40 Sephiroth's beads are a reference to Dissidia, because Snow and I make fun of his beads all the time. In Step 41 Reno's quote about redheads flying and blacky (Vincent) not knowing how to pilot is a reference to black chocobos being the flying type.

Step 47 had a lot of references. There were some references to Dissidia with Sephiroth's quotes about falling into the shadows and the promised land. When Sephiroth mentions fame and action figures, it's a reference to Hercules. A reference to Valkyrie Profile is when Sephiroth mentions choosing the strongest from those who were slain. Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz represent the three aspects of the Triforce from Legend of Zelda. Reno yelling "he's alive" is a reference to Frankenstein. The part about the 'dark sun made of negative energy' is a reference to the Gagharv trilogy, part of the Legend of Heroes game series.

Why does the planet sound like a child? Because in the original FFVII Cid calls it a child. Why is Genesis alive? Because at the end of Crisis Core it is hinted that Genesis survived and even if I didn't include the events of Dirge of Cerberus in this story, hence why Shelke isn't there, that game also hints at Genesis being alive.
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