It's yet another reunion, of sorts. And everything comes down to a question of what's in control, like it always does.
Raieyana checked on Ishmael and Aeris before heading to bed. (Asleep. And so peacefully, too.) She had startled herself with her reaction to Reeve's words. (He wants a life with you, Ray. With you--still. And you...I'm just pushing him away again. Because I'm too proud--because I think that I'm so strong that I don't need anyone. Ever.) She slowly started changing into a T-shirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants. Then she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
(The collarbone is extremely pronounced, the shoulder blades and ribcage easily seen...and I think I'm strong?) Raieyana shuddered involuntarily. (I'm weaker than someone on the verge of death. Because I'm having delusions that I am so strong. But I'm not. And that could kill me. More easily than Sephiroth ever could have.)
The funny thing was, in the conversation, she could tell that Reeve had anticipated her self-reliant stance towards their relationship, or lack of such. There was no suspicion of her own personal motives in the fact that he had been misled to come a day earlier than the others.
(Maybe I could have tried harder to tell him...but then, maybe a chance to break the news alone was what I wanted, deep down inside. After all, "Hi, how's it been? By the way, you have two six-year old kids..." is not the way to break the ice of seven years of silence.)
She climbed into bed and lay down. She closed her eyes as the rush of emotions overcame her. (He's here, just right next door...here, after all this time...) She clutched her blanket and pulled it tighter around herself. (He's here, from way back when...when he used to hold me...when he loved me...)
The voice held her. Back from what seemed like a thousand years, and it still held her, now. The voice which she had believed belonged to Sephiroth, and that was now grasping at her like a blind man stumbling in his unique darkness... And it hurt, and threatened, narrating a web of horrible tales as it spoke of the future. Her future.
/"It all comes down to power," /it said, "power and the desire for power. The craving that leads the men who are able to handle it, and some who are unable to handle it, to search for it. And although few find it, the hunt destroys those lost along the way. Those who find this precious power, those worthy of it, become their own end through it.
"Some find their end through the very means used to accomplish their goals. Who alter their physical being, on account of their enslavement to this desire, for power. They have had use of the power without paying the price set for it. If you take out a loan for ten thousand gil, eventually you must pay it back. If you take out a loan from the physical world for physical power, you must pay it back. But if you have nothing remaining in the physical world, perhaps this debt is paid from the spiritual frame...
"Do no pity the Soldiers in suffering now for their desire of power in the past. They have reaped the rewards, and now must pay back that which is owed. Everyone has this desire for power: me, Reeve, Cloud, all those former Soldiers, and even you yourself. Some of us overcome the desire. Some aren't allowed to fulfill their desire. Some are given the power as a birthright. Most of them squander it and pay dearly in the next plane. A few have payback in the physical realm, suddenly losing the gift that they were born with.
"And those given the Mako, Jenova, for strength and excellence, will find out the penalty may be unbearable. But those born of strong body, will, and mind will pass through the fire, but not unscathed, and pay their debt to power... And what of you? See your future through my eyes..."
Raieyana pulled suddenly from the abyss of her dream. She closed her eyes, as if to ward of the flashes of scenes of horror that she had seen. (I am...I am in all of them. What price do I have to pay? I've been murdered, beaten, seen most of the people whom I love die, yet still I have a debt to whatever decided in the beginning to give me physical power? And what now? I'm weak, frail, closer to death now than I was moments after I returned to life. But I owe? Why, because some scientist created me in his twisted image of a human woman? He is dead, he died quickly, and I will be penalized for his lack of foresight? He tried to bring me above humanity; will that attempt drag me below humanity, into the agony of those sick men? And other good people, too, like Cloud, Legolas, and Vincent? My children, my innocent children?)
Raieyana tried to hold back tears as she thought of her plight, and that of her children. (What is going to happen to us? And whose fault is it? But most importantly, can it be stopped?)
Morning brought more visitors to Lia and Legolas' house. First to arrive were Yuffie, Vincent, and their three kids: Kati, 7; Sean, 5; and Azura, 2.
"I'm sorry, but we had to bring them along," Vincent apologized, "I wasn't about to leave them alone in the care of Godo."
Yuffie glared at him. "He is my father, you know."
Vincent shook his head. "He's drunker than Cid, and you know it!"
Lia smiled. "It's okay, I can get someone to watch all the kids. But first, meet Danny." She softly coaxed Danny out of his hiding spot behind her. She glanced around. "Hey Reeve," she said, "go find Ray and her kids, would you?"
He nodded, but the words cut him like a knife. (She said go find Ray and her kids. Her kids. Not your kids. Because they're not mine. As of now.) He went to find Raieyana and her kids.
"So how is Raieyana doing?" asked Yuffie in a low voice. Yuffie and Vincent were the only ones in the group who had remained in close contact with those in Undor-Hai except for Ruther.
Lia shrugged. "She's getting stronger...but she's still not well. At least not as well as she thinks herself to be, at any rate. I'm afraid for her. Especially now that these Soldiers are having all these problems. Afraid for her, her kids, and, of course, Legolas and Danny."
"I have often wondered," said Vincent, "whether or not Hojo's alteration of people's physical states would have any adverse effects. I just hope it's not too late to prevent them from happening to everyone who has been changed."
"Hello." Everyone looked up and saw Raieyana.
"Hi," said Yuffie. (Raieyana, girl, you're still so painfully thin... It scares me.)
"Hello," Vincent said. (She is so weak now. And there was Hojo's attempt to make her super-strong. But it did not prevent this. Soon, she may be plagued also by the side-effects of Hojo's rashness.)
"Aww, your kids are so cute," Raieyana said.
Yuffie shook her head. "These little monsters? Come on," she said, "so are yours. Cute to the extreme." She cast a side-long glance at Reeve. (They take after their parents... I wonder if he knows.) She caught the pained look on his face when he looked at Aeris and Ishmael. (He knows.)
The group was interrupted by the outcry of a very familiar voice. "I don't got no invitation! Don't need one, 'cause I organized the meeting! And if you don't get your white ass up there and tell Lia or Raieyana that I'm here, I'll help it out, if you know what I mean!"
Lia's eyes opened wide. "Be right back," she said, then hurried outside to see what problem Barret was having.
"Lia," wavered Tonia's frightened voice, "I tried to tell him you said..." She was close to tears.
Barret showed no sympathy, however. "I ain't comin' to take over the joint, and that's so damn obvious! Hell, I have my daughter with me! Tell her, Marlene! Marlene?"
Marlene emerged from behind a tree. "God, Dad, why are you always embarrassing me? She's just doing her job, and, like, could you use language that was any more profane?"
Lia intervened. "Look, Tonia. Be on the lookout for a few more people. Let them up without such a hassle. Barret," she said, addressing him, "she's just doing what I told her. Remember, it's not so easy to get up here. I mean, I threatened you all the first time you came up the trail. Finally, Marlene, he could use more profane language. I know from experience."
"So," said Barret, climbing up, "who all's here?"
"Only Reeve, Vincent, and Yuffie. Well, and their kids..."
"Whose?" asked Barret, confused.
"Just come in and you'll find out," she said simply. (I have no idea what the hell Ray and Reeve are going to tell people about their kids, but I'm not going to screw up and say something that they don't want me to.)
Everyone had arrived at last. No one had actually expected everyone to come. Reeve was probably the most likely candidate anyone would have picked to blow off the meeting. But he was the first one there. And they all had a stake in this, whether through a grudge to the Shinra, or through the knowledge that they themselves or someone they cared about may soon be afflicted by the Soldiers' ailment. And Shinra's uprisal could affect them all; Reeve had money riding on it.
A lot can happen in seven years. Everyone looked older. Some showed the effects of time more than others. Some came with their children. Even Tifa. That was a mystery to everyone. Barret, and Cloud to an extent, had kept in touch with her, and neither one had known she'd had a child. Or been in any relationship, for that matter. But there was sweet little Marta, with her brown curls, only two. Tifa didn't speak a word about Marta's father, and no one pried. That's not what they were there for.
And Ruther wasn't even really there. His wife Elsie had come. To say Ruther had fallen ill. That the problem wasn't only affecting the old Soldiers anymore.
"We were in Mideel," Elsie said, "and all of a sudden, he just got really sick. He's had a high fever, and he's been delirious. The doctor said...he said that he had recently been seeing a lot of this, with men who had been in Soldier. So I told him, that's what it probably was. And he suggested that I take Ruther to a Shinra hospital in Edinborough..."
"Edinborough?" asked Legolas.
"The city Shinra built on the island of the Temple of the Ancients," said Cid.
Elsie continued. "So I told them no, because I knew that the Shinra had no idea what caused this, and I couldn't trust them for a second. The doctor called me a fool. I told him it would be better for Ruther to be sick in Mideel than be sick and under the control of the people who made him sick."
"So," said Legolas, "why Ruther? We've been best friends since childhood. We joined at the same time. Why him first? Why not us both at the same time?"
"Why not me?" said Vincent quietly. "I was a Turk before any of you joined Soldier or were in the clutches of Hojo."
"Maybe he was weaker than you all," said Red XIII, "the Jenova and/or the Mako enhanced his abilities, made him stronger. Perhaps, perhaps, could this be the ultimate price for the knowledge of strength?"
"Come again?" said Yuffie.
"It's just a theory I've had," he said, "and it has been reinforced somehow...by a dream."
"'But those born of strong body, will, and mind will pass through the fire, but not unscathed, and pay their debt to power...' I think it's a question of who would have been strong enough beforehand," said Raieyana, "and the price we have to pay for trying to evolve into something beyond a simple human being. I have excelled past everyone I've known in the areas of strength and intelligence. Maybe Hojo's experiment succeeded. But maybe it has yet to fail. There was something he didn't know. You just don't play God. You don't play around with things you don't know, beings who fell from the sky--without any consequences. I mean, I seriously don't think he meant this to happen on purpose."
"I fell into the Lifestream," said Tifa, "what about me? I've grown noticeably stronger since I took my dip in the Mako pond."
"She's had no Jenova in her. I guess it has to be the Mako," said Legolas.
"There's something with the Jenova," said Raieyana, "I can sense it." (I remember some sort of bond between everyone in this group who had Jenova. And...and...the flash...of something...of It... But what can we have in common? Cloud, Vincent, Legolas, Ruther, Red XIII, and I? And Hojo, Sephiroth, Blane, Aysta, Ishmael? What links us? The similarity the Jenova accounts for? I can almost see it...)
Tonia came into the room. "It's pretty late, Lia." She had been watching the kids, with a little help from twelve-year old Marlene.
Cid checked his watch. "We've been talking for hours, and we've gotten nowhere. We just have these cute little 'theories.' Wake me up tomorrow when you talk about what Shinra's been up to. This Jenova shit does not affect me whatsoever." He walked off to his room.
Yuffie and Vincent got up. "Have to put the kids to bed," he said.
"Yeah," muttered Yuffie, "and we're really tired."
Lia got up and followed them. "I'll handle Danny and Aeris and Ishmael, but Reeve, if you'll help me... Everyone else sit tight and I'll get the rooming situation figured out. Oh and Tifa, I'll put Marta to bed, too."
"Thanks Lia," said Tifa.
Lia and Reeve passed Yuffie and Vincent in the hallway. They were each carrying a sleepy child. "I'll come back for Kati in a sec," said Yuffie.
Reeve swallowed. (She takes it for granted. Holding her child. I wonder if I'll ever get to hug one of mine. Since Raieyana hasn't warmed up to the idea of starting over. But I'm to blame for that.) He was about to walk into the room where the kids were playing, but Lia stopped him.
"Just for a minute," she said, "they're talking, so let's listen. They say the cutest things when they're little."
"Did you see my Daddy? He's tall an' big an' strong," said Daniel, "and 'sides, he doesn't look funny, like Kati's Daddy."
Kati smacked Daniel on the arm. "My Daddy might look weird, but at least I have a daddy," she said, smirking at Aeris.
This almost enraged the sensitive girl to tears, but Ishmael held out. "I think our Daddy's in heaven," he said, with the appropriate gesture upward, "that's why we don't have one. Same with our grandmas and grandpas. But they're all happy an' playin' together. So don't get Aeris upset. She really wishes she could see our Daddy."
Lia blinked back tears. (It's so sad.) She glanced at Reeve. (And he didn't know about them. He really doesn't deserve to hear this.) She put her hand on his shoulder. "It's not your fault," she whispered, "but you can solve the problem. But now, they need to go to bed."
So Reeve followed Lia into the playroom to put the children who didn't know he was their father to bed.
Raieyana stood up, with a noticeable effort. The action of standing up, however, gave her a dizzy spell.
"Whoa," said Cloud, standing up, "here, I'll help you get to your room." He placed her arm around his shoulders and held her at the waist.
"Thanks," she said. Halfway down the hall, she started to detach herself. "I'm feeling okay now. I guess the blood just rushed to my head a little." She felt a little embarrassed. (I can walk by myself, you know!)
"You don't look like you've been feeling too well lately," Cloud said softly, "but you're still as beautiful as ever..." A slight brush of her cheek with his hand, a slight lean closer on his part, and suddenly Raieyana felt very uncomfortable.
She stepped back. "I have to give you Brownie points for perseverance, but I still feel the same. Although I'm flattered..."
"What," he said, "because of what happened seven years ago?"
"No, I told you before, even if what had happened, hadn't, I still wouldn't..."
Cloud looked at her in wonderment. "Reeve and you have not seen each other in years. He's probably slept with twenty or thirty other women since you. Forgot about you long ago. But still, you tell me I never get a chance because of Reeve. Why is he so desirable? He left you."
Raieyana looked down. "I let him leave," she said softly. She glanced at Cloud. "Thank you for helping me to my room. Good night."
Cloud had just entered his room when a soft knock came at the door. "Who is it?"
A pause. "It's Tifa."
He opened the door and invited her in. "Boy," he said, running his hand through his hair, "it's been a long time since we've talked."
"A year and a half. And since then, I've done some thinking. We never know when something might happen to one of us, and I just want to tell you something...before...before it's too late."
Cloud looked at her. "Tifa...don't..."
"What," she said, "don't say something you'll regret you heard? Cloud, it's been so long. I can't deny what I feel anymore, I can't just sit back and be silent. I love you."
He shook his head. "Tifa, you don't know what you're saying."
Tifa stood up and looked at him mournfully. "What, you don't think I have enough of a clue to understand my own feelings? I know I've done things and made a fool out myself. Because of you. And you, look at you. You're a pretty damn big fool. Aeris is dead. Raieyana doesn't want you. And you blow off the one person in this world who truly loves you. You know what? I'm glad I didn't wait for you. Damn glad I didn't save myself for you. That I didn't stop living because of the jackass who I thought maybe cared about me--just a little."
Cloud looked away. "I can't love you, Tifa."
"Why? Because I'm attainable? Sometimes I wished that Aeris hadn't died. Sometimes I wish that I had died. Because then I would have been the one you pine for. And she would be the one going through this hell that you've made for me! But...you will start to realize how bad it's going to be to be alone. Because my love will fade, and when it's gone, it's gone. But at least I still have a reason to live for. And it's not you anymore." Tifa turned and started to leave. "Oh," she said as she left, "don't worry. I won't bother you with this again. I'm not stupid. You said 'no.' And no means no."
Reeve stood in front of Raieyana's door, took a deep breath, and knocked lightly.
"Come in," she said.
Reeve walked in. "Hey," he said, "I put the kids to bed. They're cute. Tell me Raieyana. When are you going to tell them who I am? When do I get to start doing what I'm supposed to as their father? I want to work out visitation, child support, anything, but damn it, these children of mine are not going to grow up not knowing me. I owe it to them and to you and to my own parents. I'm just not going to leave for Junon in a day or two and forget that I brought kids into this world. I..."
"Reeve." Raieyana broke in. "I never said you couldn't help. But this has to be done gradually. It'll be a bit of a shock to the kids. And seeing you again will be a bit of a shock to me. I've gotten used to doing things on my own." She shivered. She got up and got another blanket from the closet. "So," she said lightly, "tell me about Alcor. And what's new at Shinra."
Reeve shrugged. "Alcor deals in thermal energy from the Lifestream. We've just begun to turn a profit, but Shinra has reemerged with this 'Macroreactor.' I personally think they're trying to drive us out of business to buy out the land our power plants are on so they can get the Mako. Jack...Reno, he's really settled down. Actually does a pretty good job as my partner, considering the circumstances we're under. Maybe you can come see it all sometime."
She smiled. "Maybe I will after our little meeting with everyone is over."
He glanced at her. "Raieyana...I...(love you--still)...sleep well."
She hugged him softly. "Thanks. For what you've offered to do for the kids. No matter how you ever got involved with Cloud and the others to begin with...sometimes I think that you have the best intentions now of all."
(I just love money, Ray. That's all it is. And I want my kids. And I want you.) He turned to leave. "I'm next door. If you need anything...just holler."
Scarlet was irate. "Alcor would have been out of business long ago if I was the sole decision-maker."
Heidegger laughed. "I have a funny thought when I picture that. You know, Scarlet, you would have driven Shinra into obscurity if you were left alone. Who's responsible for Edinborough? The Macroreactor? I guess I'm not the ass you think I am."
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. "Shinra would be more successful if you thought I was more than a piece of ass."
"Dressing the way you do, you should be glad that I think my piece of ass has any mental functions at all. I'm amazed that Rufus ever appointed you to the executive board. As a general rule, the person you're screwing isn't your most intelligent acquaintance."
"Heidegger, Scarlet." The arguing co-presidents were interrupted by the Head of Science and Technology, Professor Lucas Shelding. Coincidentally, he was also the captain of the company softball team, area champs for three years in a row!
"Yes, Luke?" said Scarlet, gazing at him in way she thought was seductive.
"In searching in the ruins of the original Shinra building, I've found dome startling documentation of the late Professor Hojo's early experimental Soldier treatments."
"You're mixed up," said Heidegger, "Professor Gast did all of the original Jenova experimentation."
"Actually, no. Gast did tests to try and prove Jenova was an Ancient. Hojo assumed she was and immediately began experiments using her cells, genes, and DNA--involving animals and humans. He was encouraged by the president to find a way to make men faster and stronger for a new army called Soldier. Now the men who received the treatments are ill. Using his laboratory documents and diaries, I think I can figure out what's causing this...illness. And, of course, find a way to improve on the process. I may have in my hands the way to create another Soldier who can fight like Sephiroth...but without the danger of Sephiroth. Of course, I'll need some more funds."
"Will three million gil cover the first year?" asked Scarlet.
Lucas nodded. "Probably."
"Then get to it," said Heidegger.
"Sleep little Raieyana. Tell yourself you're strong. Think right now you're safe and sound, but soon those thoughts will be proven wrong. Life is what you make of it--however all lives are shaped by destiny. Some things have to happen, must happen, because it was kismet. Decided by fate long before your soul graced the Planet. Right now you regard me as the enemy. But your worst enemy can be the person closest to you. And Raieyana--more things than you realize are inevitable...
"You have been fooled by your belief that you have free will. Maybe you choose the person you are with, but sometimes that is chosen for you. And sometimes if you are unwilling...
"So listen now, and here my prophecy. You think I am evil, but every moment I name you in my prayers. A child will be born unlike any other this world has known. Unaltered itself, but born of parents changed and shaped by the hands of science and its false god. That child...your child..."
Raieyana awoke. (My child? Aeris, or Ishmael?) She suddenly realized the presence of someone else in her bedroom. She squinted at the dark form as it moved closer and stopped at the side of her bed. "Who are you?" she whispered. With a light pressure, he held her in place as he climbed onto her bed and straddled her. "What the hell are you doing?" she hissed.
He placed his hand over her mouth and said softly, with an edge to his voice: "Be quiet, little Raieyana. This moment has been postponed for longer than it should have been."
She writhed in his grasp, but she was weaker than she was seven years ago. Then, she had barely defeated him, anyway. "Cloud. Let me go and leave now, and I won't say anything. I swear."
She saw him shake his head, even in the dark. "It's you who'll be quiet. A scream, or a loud noise would wake your children in the next room. And they would be the first ones to try and help Mommy. The less you struggle, the faster this will be over." He leaned closer. "Just pretend you're having a bad dream." A pause. "Or pretend you're with Reeve," he added, with a hint of sarcasm.
She got an arm free and slapped him across the face.
He ignored her and started pulling off her pajama pants. "I forgot that was a weak point with you," he said.
"Cloud, please, no," she pleaded. His blue eyes met hers and for a moment she saw the remorse in them. For a moment she thought he would come to his senses. She was wrong.
"It won't be too long if you cooperate," he said coldly.
With her last ounce of strength, she attempted to throw him off of her. He grabbed the bedpost and steadied himself. He grabbed her roughly and held her down, banging her head against the wall. Raieyana closed her eyes, prayed and let go. And then she started to sob. Cloud had finally succeeded.
Reeve had started slipping into sleep when he was awakened by a soft thud on the wall between his room and Raieyana's. Puzzled, he got up and put an ear to the wall. (I may be imagining this, but she's crying in there. And what was that bang?) Then he heard a piercing cry which was almost immediately muffled. Reeve ran out and stood outside Raieyana's door. He paused, and then threw it open.
Raieyana had tried to stay quiet. She didn't want to get hurt and she knew Cloud wouldn't be in her house much longer. But there was something involuntary deep inside her which had decided there was one more chance to prevent this. And the soft cry had escaped just before the deed was done. But Cloud muffled it and it had been so quiet she was sure no one had heard her. Besides, she had heard the soft moan from Cloud and knew she had tried too late. It was over. Mission accomplished. And he had enjoyed himself.
Still inside her, he taunted her. "This isn't so bad, now is it? Maybe next time, if you're more willing, there'll be some pleasure in it for you." His hands had been all over her and still they roamed freely, trying to get some response from Raieyana.
The door flew open. Somehow between the time Reeve started walking towards him and the time Reeve threw him off of Raieyana, Cloud managed to get his pants zipped back up and Raieyana covered by a blanket.
"What the hell were you doing?" asked Reeve. "If you come near Raieyana again, I swear to God, you motherfucking lunatic, I'll kill you! Got it Strife? You're dead. Leave her alone." He threw Cloud out the open doorway and shut and locked the door.
He gingerly sat down next to Raieyana. "You're okay, right? Did he give you another black eye? I heard the bang and came right over. Stopped him before he had a chance to do anything, thank God. Right, Raieyana?"
He looked at her. She was staring into space. He reached for her hand. She jerked away and started to cry again. "Ray?" Reeve had forgotten to use her proper name and reverted back to the old nickname. "Are you okay? What did he do to you?"
She took a shuddering breath, then exhaled. "He...well, what the hell did you think he did? What would he want to do? But it wasn't Cloud himself. We both know that..." she said, with a strange look in her eyes.
"God, Ray, I have no idea. Not with him. He's just nuts."
She looked him straight in the eyes. "Think hard. Cloud...he..." She shivered. "he...raped me."
He looked at her in shock. (Ray, I failed. I vowed to protect you and I failed miserably.)
She slowly leaned and rested her head on his chest. He placed his arms around her and held her; she didn't recoil from his touch this time. "I'm so sorry I didn't make it in time," he said.
"It's not your fault. More things than you realize are inevitable." She paused, and softly sighed. "I still love you," she whispered.
"You shouldn't, especially now. I've always failed to protect the ones I love. You were safer when we were estranged."
She shrugged. "I'd rather be happy than safe. I know what it's like to be happy. I've never known what it's like to be completely safe. I'd rather be here with you now than safe somewhere else."