...and then EVERYTHING just unravels.
They had gone to Mideel to find the Soldiers who were having problems, in the chance that the symptoms would give a glimpse into the illness. No such luck.
is...no...freedom...while... alive..." Ruther mumbled in his delirium.
Three other ex-Soldiers were also writhing and mumbling. This is what the rebuilt health clinic had become. A sanctuary for sick Soldiers.
Red XIII walked over to Yuffie, Vincent, Tifa, and Barret. "I've checked all of their medical records. It seems that they have nothing in common...except this. There are also many different symptoms between the four of them. They have little in common. However, it all seems to be an affliction due to the Jenova...and perhaps some minor Mako poisoning as well. Hojo played with fire, and these men have gotten burned. We'll need to find some of Hojo's original experiment files to even hope to be able to determine the cause and/or the cure. And if we don't do it quickly...there will be few of us in shape to do research. Vincent, Cloud, Legolas, myself, Raieyana...all of us, and even more...we have been exposed to Jenova. We may be the next to fall."
Tifa hit Red XIII with a barrage of questions. "But what decides? Why is it that you are standing here, fully competent, while they are out of their minds and sick? How much longer do you have before your turn? Do you even have an idea?"
"Tifa," said Vincent gently, "maybe our downfall is not going to happen with our bodies. Red mentions Cloud. How do we know that his...instabilities do not arise from the Jenova? Perhaps this was Sephiroth's downfall. From what I have heard, it seems he was born with a human mind, with fragilities and even some compassion. Maybe the monster killed the man. I go so far as to suggest Sephiroth as a human being died years before Cloud ran him through with his sword in the Northern Crater. And Ishmael...I sense Raieyana never told us the whole truth about his death. Or Blane or Denmae's, for that matter. I had a dream...it said that only those of strong body, will, and mind will pass through the fire... I don't know exactly what that means, but..."
"These are obviously an example of the weak-bodied," said Yuffie, "and Cloud...maybe has a weak will...open to suggestion. But I don't know where we could find proof for the weak mind part."
"Doesn't matter," said Barret, "Cloud's dumb ass ran off. He was still mumbling about the blossom...and some legacy...and how he's failed Aeris and everyone who'd given some great gift... I tried to get 'im to explain that pile of horseshit, but he wandered off blankly. Weak will, ha! What he needs is a great big can of 'Wake Up, You Moron! We Need You Again, You Bastard!' And Vince, you and Legolas are looking fine...nothing to worry about."
"What about Raieyana?" asked Yuffie. Powerless to answer her, the rest of them fidgeted in the uncomfortable silence.
A week had come and gone without any sign of death, destruction, or Shinra in Junon. Ignoring her protests, Reeve dropped Raieyana off at Reno's place. "I have to work. He took the day off and is going to show you the sights. Maybe he'll take you to the zoo."
"Reeve," she said, "that would only excite me if I was still a kid. I thought I wasn't a child. Why can't I just sit around your office?"
Reno opened his door and smiled. "Hey, Ray. Ready for a fun-filled day jam-packed with..."
"Fun, I bet," said Raieyana with mock excitement, "whoopee."
He turned to Reeve. "I can't believe nothing has happened. No one has even been mugged since you can back. Oh, and Lavs is takin' a week off."
"A week! My God, am I going to have to work my ass off today. I'm so glad I came back early, Jack. So glad. But," Reeve said, turning to Raieyana, "if all goes well, I'll pick you up for dinner at five. Bye. Love you."
Reno found their good-bye kiss a little lengthy for his taste. "C'mon kids, you're gonna see each other again in about...eight hours. So save some for tonight, eh?" Reeve shook his head and went out the door.
Raieyana sat gingerly on Reno's filthy couch. "Well, I'm waiting," she said, "entertain me."
"What do you want to do?" he asked.
Raieyana was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea. "Where's the bathroom?" she asked.
"Down the hall...second door on the right..." By the time he finished, she had the bathroom door shut behind her. (I knew she didn't like me. I had no idea I had that kind of effect on her.)
After being safely sick in the bathroom, Raieyana rinsed her face and checked herself in the mirror. (That's funny. I don't think I've been sick like that since, since...) She tried to think back to the last time she had even felt the slightest bit sick to her stomach. (Oh God, no. Not that.) Her memory flashed back in a horror. (It can't be that. It's not that. It's too soon after to possibly be...) Her attempts to calm herself down rationally were killed as her own words came back to her, however.
"Accelerated growth...caused by Mako and Jenova...I have both of them in me by the metric ton..."
(And so does Cloud. My dream.)
"A child will be born...more things than you realize are inevitable."
(Stop thinking crazy things. There's no way to know for sure. But if I am carrying a child...the danger is great. Not to my own health, but maybe even the health of the Planet itself.) She emerged from the bathroom.
"Are you okay?" asked Reno.
"Yeah," said Raieyana, "and I even have an idea of what to do. Could you take me to the drugstore?"
He gave her a strange look. "I hope there's nothing wrong with you."
When they arrived at the drugstore, Raieyana tried to convince Reno to wait for her outside.
"No," he said, "too dangerous. If you're recognized from seven years ago...or as a friend of Reeve's...hey, shit happens. I won't be embarrassed by anything you have to buy. Hell, I'll even pay for it." He was surprised, however, when she bypassed the feminine products aisle and went towards the back of the store. He looked at the shelves around him. (Condoms? No wonder she didn't want me following her.)
Raieyana followed his stare and blushed when she saw what his attention was focused on. (He thinks I...) She left him gawking at the contraceptives and quickly chose one of the e.p.t.'s from the shelf above them. She quickly headed to pay for it.
Reno didn't catch up with her until she was going through the exit. "Hey, don't be embarrassed. It's not like I've never had to buy condoms before. What kind did you get, huh? Are they a nice color?" He grabbed her bag from her and looked into it. "It didn't take you and Reeve very long to get back into the swing of things, did it?"
"Just...just...you don't what you're talking about. You don't understand." Raieyana snatched the bag back and swiftly started to walk away.
"Wait," Reno said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry."
She wiped a tear from her eye. "I'm not crying," she said stubbornly, "and you're not sorry. You don't give a damn about anyone. You insult me, you insult Reeve, and even though she deserves it, you insult Lavana. And he...Reeve left me with...you, of all people! And after what happened."
They had reached Reno's place. He unlocked the door and they walked in. "Look, Raieyana," he said, "I don't want to know what that thing tells you. Whatever it is, it's your business and Reeve's. When I grabbed the bag, I wasn't expecting to find anything like that in there."
Silently, she went to take the pregnancy test. But Raieyana knew truly in her heart what the result would be. She was pregnant with Cloud Strife's child. A child that, more likely than not, would truly be a monster. Why had the voice in her dream warned her? And how many more of the things she has seen while dreaming would become reality?
All emotion had left her. She was an empty vessel, made only for the purposes of a sadistic god. A thousand trials were not enough for this ungrateful deity. (How much humility do I have to show to this terrible being? If there was an omnipotent god, I would not need to have gone through any of this torture. Create an apocalyptic being from dust. Why did you need me?)
Raieyana flung the pregnancy test across the bathroom which she had locked herself in twenty minutes ago. (Two lines if you're pregnant; one line if you're not. There should be another classification: three lines if you're carrying the child of a psycho-lunatic, and you're the daughter of another psycho-lunatic, and your sister turned into a psycho-lunatic.) She heard a light knock on the door.
"Raieyana, how're ya doin' in there? You okay?"
She opened the door and stared Reno in the face. "Just peachy. Call Reeve. I want to talk to Reeve."
"I can't," said Reno, "he'll bitch me out. 'Sides, you should tell him the news in person. Can't tell your lover that you're pregnant over the phone."
"Please. I have to talk to someone who knows about this...whole situation."
Reno scratched his head. "Whole situation? Tell me, I won't say anything stupid, I promise. It'll make you feel better."
They were interrupted by a harsh rapping at the door. Reno looked through the peephole. "Hey, you. Come on in. It's funny, last time I saw you I wanted to beat your ass and..."
Raieyana paled as Cloud Strife walked into the room and stood before her. "So what's new?" he asked.
She looked at him. "I think you know."
"Raieyana, sometimes I lose self-control and blank out. The only thing I remember for sure about that night was...the last words I said to you...and Reeve throwing me out the room."
"That's easy for you to say, I have to live with it."
He cut her off. "I have to live with myself, and that's a hundred times worse. Now tell me, Raieyana, for the love of God, what the hell did I do that was so fucking awful?" His eyes were pleading with her, daring her, attempting to convince her, to prove the haze of his burdened memory wrong.
"Think," she said, "think about the worst crime ever committed...what you did was worse."
He winced. "The worst? It was just one time...you never have to do it again, forget about it."
She shook her head. "One time? One time? Every time I look at your baby I'm going to see that one time. And every flutter I feel until then will remind me of your cold touch. And every time I hear that child's voice I'm going to remember your voice as it taunted me. One time. I'd rather you'd have killed me."
"It's not like I have no remorse. But I cannot change what happened. I...I didn't want it to happen. But it...it's always there...and... My child? It's a little too soon to know about that, isn't it?"
"Somehow I think that's what that night was all about. Not pent-up feelings of any kind. Whatever caused it to happen received the pleasure of seeing me humiliated and will watch me suffer for the rest of my life. Why did you come here? To rub it in? If Reeve finds out you came, you won't see another sunrise. And he will know, when I see him tonight. You better leave while you still enjoy the exquisite ecstasy of breathing."
"If Reeve attacks me," Cloud said, "he'll have it on his conscience. I threw my sword into the sea. I will not perform any more violence. I'm sorry I didn't see the error in my ways in time to save you from...this eternal pain. I'm sorry I broke from the force of this...rage again. But, just remember...I saved the world from Sephiroth. This isn't who I am."
"Who'll save the world from you, Cloud? Who'll save the world from you?" Raieyana was all too glad to see him go. Too glad.
"Should I ask what all that was about? Or would I draw the wrong conclusions?"
Raieyana looked at Reno, and shrugged.
"Well," he continued, "correct me when I'm wrong. You're pregnant, Cloud is...the father, and from the sound of things...you didn't have much choice in the matter."
"He raped me in my own bed," she said matter-of-factly.
"If it were me," he said, "I would have killed him the instant he stepped through that door. The instant."
"You're not me. I've seen enough people die in my time. I couldn't bear to cause another death." She checked the clock. 4:30 P.M. (Reeve will be coming soon. A day has never been so long.)
Reno's cell phone rang, almost as an answer to her thoughts. "Hello. Yes, this is Jack. What? God, that sucks ass. Are you sure? She won't want to hear that. It's gonna make her cry. This hasn't been the best day. Fine. Yeah, I'll see you whenever. Bye." He looked at Raieyana. "That was Reeve. He's not getting off tonight. He wants you to spend the night here, for safety's sake. And with Strife loose in Junon, I agree with him you'll be safer here."
"I'm so tired," she said, "I just want to sleep now. Even though it is early. Sleep until I wake up and realize that this nightmare of a day is finally over."
Reno led her to his spare bedroom. It was decorated with lace curtains and a pretty velour bedspread. She gave him a questioning look. "My mom visits once a year. She sleeps here. No biggie."
Raieyana walked over to the window. "Boy, the sunset looks funny. Glowing...almost flaming. Strange. Well... 'Night, Jack Reno."
Reno walked out to the living room and turned on the television. (Poor kid. She has gotten the short end of the stick more than once. But she hardly shows it. Except for that one time she cried, she has kept an absolute cool. She was doing the "Tseng" thing. He never showed his feelings, either. He handled Aeris Gainsborough in a completely professional manner, even though he was in love with her. And his daughter is so beautiful. If she were with anyone else but Reeve...)
Lavana entered the lobby of the Shinra building, and went right up to the counter. "I'm here to see Laida Quinn," she said.
The Soldier on duty checked his lists. "What's your name?"
She straightened her shoulders. "Lavana Earlham."
He checked off her name. "Go right up. Ms. Quinn's been waiting for you."
She sauntered over to the elevator.
Lavana got off at the thirty-second floor.
"Lavana, so you did get out of Junon." Laida motioned towards a chair. "Have a seat. My agents in Junon were supposed to set the fire at about...five o'clock. From my monitors, I can see they were successful. And the winds are blowing straight towards the Alcor building. We've got some damn good luck."
Lavana shrugged. "I don't care; I just want to get paid. And I hope you haven't forgotten about my bonus."
Laida smiled. "Don't worry. You'll have full access to Reeve when we have him in custody. We'll even allow you to make him an offer he can't refuse."
"All I want," said Lavana, "is full control over him for a moment, at least. After I have my time, you can do whatever the hell you want with him. He's just another conquest to me."
"What about your other pursuit?" asked Laida.
Lavana laughed. "That egg is almost cracked."
When Raieyana woke up, the sky was still dusky. She would have rolled right over and went back to sleep, but she was distracted by an orange glow coming in through the window. She peered through the curtains. (That's not the sun...something's on fire! And this looks huge.) She ran into the living room.
Reno was watching a porno, with a bored expression on his face. He hurriedly turned off his VCR. "What do you want, Raieyana?" he asked.
"There's a really huge fire outside," she said. She grabbed the remote control and turned the television to the local broadcast station.
"Channel Six here, live from the scene. Although we don't know the cause of the fire, it has been spreading through the main streets of Lower Junon and has started on the bottom of the Alcor building. So far, we do not know if anyone has been injured by the fire, but if anyone is inside the Alcor building, it's going to get hotter than Hades itself inside there..."
Reno was on the phone instantly. "Reeve, you jackass, answer the damn phone." He looked at Raieyana. "There's no answer," he said.
She opened the door. "Then we're going to the Alcor building."
Reno was not in bad shape, but he was having trouble keeping up with Raieyana as she hurried down the streets of Junon. They didn't see the full brunt of the fire until they passed through the tunnel connecting Upper and Lower Junon.
She shook her head. "Shinra must be in some way responsible. This may cause me to lose my faith in humanity."
"I already did," said Reno, "a long time ago. My motto: live only for yourself."
"And then you die by yourself. I'd like to think that some people would care if I died."
He looked at her. "I would. For every loner like me, there needs to be five of you to keep this world together."
"Nonsense," she said, "you're just imagining five of me in bed with you."
"I had an image, but I'd be satisfied with one of you...really."
Raieyana chuckled at his frankness. "Well, suddenly I feel less threatened," she muttered sarcastically.
Reno looked at her. She was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants; she had been sleeping in them. The shirt fit her kind of tightly. He could tell she wasn't wearing a bra. And he knew that there could be some major repercussions if her didn't keep his eyes off her. After all, he wasn't made of stone. (I wonder what she sees in Reeve...he's not bad looking or a bad guy or anything...but she could probably have any man she wanted on this whole planet. And walk all over him if she wanted to. Damn it, Reeve has no idea how lucky he is. I wouldn't have left her with another guy for an entire day...and then that night...even if it was my best friend...even if I thought she couldn't stand him.)
Raieyana, however, was completely and totally oblivious, even to the men she had passed on the street who turned around to give her a second look.
"Raieyana," he said, "over the past couple of days I've had a temptation to kiss you. You're Reeve's, I know. But that doesn't mean you don't attract me."
Raieyana caught her breath in surprise. Sure, this man was grungy, but she had to admit to herself that she had been feeling some slight attraction to this former colleague of Tseng's. He was still a womanizer, but there was a fire that burned in him more brightly than in most people she had ever known. And even though she was fully aware of the consequences, she let her lips meet his. She allowed herself this for one fleeting moment. One electrifying moment.
She broke away, confused. "J...J...Jack. Look, maybe we...we coulda been. Under different circumstances, maybe, you know. But...I love Reeve and we have to find him."
"If that's what you want...then..." Reno turned to go on.
"Hold on, there. You're going the wrong way. You're heading towards the fire."
Reno looked at the annoying policeman. "I know that, dipshit. We have to find someone."
"Well, I can't let you do that. Now just come with me, and you can go stay someplace safe."
"Look," Reno said, "go pour water on the fire or something. I have some business."
"I'll have to arrest you if you don't cooperate..."
Raieyana drew her sabres. She had grabbed them before leaving Reno's place. "Maybe you should go pretend you didn't see anything here," she suggested in a soft voice.
"Little lady," said the cop, "don't try to threaten me."
"I'm not trying to threaten you. I am threatening you. And if you don't want me to prove how many pints of blood are contained in the human body by demonstration, it would probably be a good idea to get your ass in gear."
His eyes widening in fear, the policeman scurried off.
"I love Junon's cowardly police force," said Raieyana with a sigh, "home sweet home."
"Holy shit," said Reno. The Alcor building was engulfed in flames.
"How do we get up there?" asked Raieyana.
He looked around. (Service tower...but that would only get to the twentieth floor. Wait, there's some wires up there that go to the top. If they're phone lines we can use them. If they're power lines...) "Raieyana," he said, "look up there." He pointed. "Are those wires phone or electric lines?"
She squinted. "Phone lines."
"How'd you know that?" he asked, surprised.
She shrugged. "They're connected to that 'Junon Bell' telephone pole."
He grabbed the wire and started pulling himself up it. "Can you climb it?" he asked.
Raieyana looked at it. She nodded.
"Well, then," he said, "here we go."
They had climbed steadily upwards. Reno estimated they were around the height of the nineteenth floor. Suddenly, his cell phone rang. "Who is it?"
"Reno. My God, there's a fire."
"Reeve, I know. Where are you?"
"Trying to find the stairs, but it's dark and the sprinkler system is on up here, and Yorlain has gotten us lost. Wait...Yorlain's found the stairs. We're heading up to the helicopter launch pad on the roof...but it'll take us a while. Where are you?"
"As we speak, Raieyana and I are climbing up to meet you."
"No shit. I think Shinra did this. I've been on my other cell phone, calling all the police. There's been emergency evacuations. They've been fighting the fire...with a lot of effort...but the winds been blowing and somebody cut off the hydrants in our block. Whoever's behind this really wanted to get us...bad. Either that, or we've got damn bad luck here. But the rest of the city is looking like it won't get hit too bad. And, if anyone dies it's gonna be Yorlain and I because we were on the phone so long trying to save everyone else."
"Just hurry up and get to the roof. We'll meet you there."
Raieyana had been waiting patiently while Reno talked to Reeve. But just as he hung up, she slipped. "Reno!" she screamed as one hand slipped off completely.
Not wasting a moment, he grabbed her wrist and half-pulled her up to him. "I thought you said you could handle this," he said.
"I didn't know I'd be stopped to a standstill while you blabbed on the phone. I have plenty of strength, but my endurance ran out."
"Well," he said, "we can't go back down. The place where we first climbed up is probably an inferno. You'll just have to trust me. Here. Put your arms around my neck." He wrapped an arm around her waist and held her tightly against him. Using a combination of his feet and his other hand, Reno slowly climbed up to the top. They finally reached the roof of the Alcor building, a mere forty stories high.
Even with both feet firmly on the roof, Raieyana still hadn't let go of Reno. "You saved my life," she said.
He tried not to pay attention to the sensation of her body against his. "It was...nothing, really."
"Thanks," she whispered.
"Ray." Reeve ran over to them. "Ray, you all right?"
Embarrassed, Raieyana broke away from her embrace with Reno. She nodded, trying to hide the guilt she felt at being seen with Reno by Reeve.
Reeve hugged Raieyana. He looked at Reno. "We've got two helicopters. I'm taking Yorlain; he can't pilot a helicopter and I know you two don't get along."
"The guy's an idiot," Reno muttered.
Ignoring him, Reeve continued. "Ray, you don't mind another hour or so with Reno, do you?"
(Yes!) Her inner voice screamed. (I don't want to find out what he's really like. I'm afraid of myself. I don't want to spend another moment with him!) "I'll survive," she whispered.
Bored with the images of flames on the screens, Lavana got up. "I want to see if I can make any progress," she said to Laida.
Laida laughed. "Good luck."
Lavana walked out of Laida's office and took the elevator to the forty-fifth floor. Pausing in front of Scarlet's office, she unbuttoned her shirt another couple of buttons and tousled her hair. She slipped in the door with hardly a sound.
"Look," said Scarlet, "I specifically said I didn't want to be disturbed. Now go..." Scarlet stopped in mid-sentence when she saw it was Lavana. "Oh...I didn't know it was you...but I kind of want to be alone."
"Fine," said Lavana. She went and locked the door. "Now we're alone." She walked closer to Scarlet.
With her breath coming more quickly, Scarlet tried as hard as she could to keep her eyes off of Lavana. (A spy for us at Alcor...nothing more.)
Lavana stared at Scarlet.
"What... what is it?" Scarlet asked.
"Oh, you just have a piece of hair in your eyes. Just right...here." She reached over and brushed it from Scarlet's face. "I'm ashamed to admit it; but I'm attracted to you, Scarlet."
Lavana leaned down and kissed Scarlet passionately, and Scarlet took the bait.
About an hour later, Lavana returned to Laida's office. "I have Scarlet where we want her," she said.
"You really have no inhibitions, do you?" asked Laida in astonishment.
Lavana shrugged. "Scarlet was a better lover than most men. And she enjoyed it. I could tell from the beginning she wanted me. She started panting the moment I walked in the door."
Laida smiled. "Well, sis, I think we'll probably be running Shinra in no time."
"And how is Heidegger comin' along?"
Laida made a face. "I finally found a guy that was willing to be paid for providing... services to Heidegger. And to think, in the beginning, we thought they were sleeping with each other! But now they're distracted...so we can put our plan into play."
Cloud didn't understand the reason why he had gone to Junon. He didn't understand how he could have said those things to Raieyana. (It...it...made me do it. I ought to go find a sword just so I can plunge it into my chest and end the misery I've caused everyone. But I just can't help but hope that I am here for some reason...to do good.) He remembered Tifa's words. And there was nothing else in the world he wanted more than to be able to love Tifa. Because she deserved it.
(But she deserves someone better than me...and so would Aeris, if she were alive.
"Aeris...poor girl. Well, she served her purpose. In time you will realize that everything has its purpose. Your purpose...is to serve me."
No! I've already done too much. I cannot go on. You will not always control me.
"God made good and God made evil. Aeris was the good before, and her enemy--the evil--was Sephiroth. Raieyana is good. You are her evil. Nothing remains unchecked. Not even the righteous things."
Why can't the righteous be allowed to let live?
"Let live? Hardly. The righteous are burned along with the evil, because nothing is fair. Bad things happen to the righteous, the meek, the pure, the deserving; while the evil, the braggarts, the hypocrites, the corrupt, reap the rewards and pleasures of this earthly plane."
No, that's not the way it happens. Good triumphs, and finally the wretched get theirs. Angels may burn, but they will know peace.
"But you won't...puppet."
I am not a puppet!
"If you aren't a puppet, then everything that you have done was out of your own free will. If there is a heaven, you will never see it; if there is a Promised Land, you will never know it. If there is an afterlife, there is still no way you and Aeris will ever be reunited. Because all of this was...of your own free will."
Never. And you can't control what will happen. You do not decide what I do.
"Beware your destiny. You will lead the reunion. And with your son at your right hand, you will open the gates of hell. It was arranged long before you existed. And you cover your ears, and cower, but this is the future. Maybe you would be more open to the idea if I revealed to you that Raieyana will be at your left hand...ready and willing...at your disposal..."
Don't tempt me. I am truly ashamed of what I did. I swear to you, I will never follow your plan...willingly. And though I may walk through your valley, surrounded by the shadows and shades of the blackest night and the most horrific turmoil...I will fear no evil. You have no power over me.
"/The only thing you have to fear is yourself. You are the evil and the evil is in you, and you cannot change that. The only way you'll ever be truly happy is if you accept it and understand: The evil is there, everpresent. The evil lives...it lives in you."/)
It was nearly a war in the sky. As soon as they had left the roof of the Alcor building, the two helicopters had been attacked by a barrage of Shinra aircraft. And the helicopters weren't armed very well.
"You're crazy, Reno."
He looked at Raieyana. "We have to do something," he said.
"I seriously don't think hanging out the window with a machine gun is going to do us any good. You'll just end up being killed."
"Well, honey, you just take over the controls like a good girl and keep us in the air."
She glared at him. "I ought to crash right here and now just to spite you. But I really don't want to die."
Reno fired out the open door at the Gelnika in front of them. (One propeller gone. I need to take out the other one, and then it'll go down for sure.) He took out the Gelnika, but was hit in the arm by a stray bullet. "Shit." He sat down on the floor of the copter and held his hand over the swiftly bleeding wound.
Raieyana looked at him. "You're going to bleed to death."
"So, what? I got the bastards out of the sky, didn't I?"
She suddenly remembered that she had materia stuck in her sabres. She took them out and glanced at them. (One summon, and two yellow ones. I can't do anything with these. Unless...) She was relieved to find that her Enemy Skill materia did, in fact, have White Wind.
Reno's wound was closed almost instantly. He stood up, brushed himself off, and walked over to her. He kissed her on the cheek. "Now we're even," he said. Suddenly they heard a voice coming in loud over the two-way radio.
"That shot was courtesy of the Turks. You better believe now that Alcor will be dead by morning. We have a large amount of money wrapped up in this job from Shinra, even though we aren't employed by them anymore. But they offered the job, the money was good, so we decided to take them up on their offer this time... Shut up, Rude. Like it's dangerous for them to know we wised up and quit the Shinra gig. Or that we're doing the mercenary thing."
Reno raised his eyebrow. "I would know that information leak anywhere. That was Elena." He grabbed the microphone and shouted into it. "Yeah, Elena, well it's me you hit with that, you wench! Don't think for a minute now that your ass is not grass! Where is your goddamn helicopter?"
Raieyana spotted the bright blue Turk helicopter and motioned to Reno. "It's blue. It has to belong to the Turks."
He smiled and grabbed his machine gun. He was interrupted by Elena's response.
"Reno! I had no idea you were part of the Alcor losers! Well, if you get your ass out of here right away, we won't shoot you down..."
Raieyana grabbed the microphone from Reno. "Don't you guys realize that this fire could have killed thousands of people? Who do you think is going to get the blame for this? Well, it sure as hell isn't gonna be us. And if we split, then no one will be left to defend Alcor."
"Precisely," said Elena.
Reeve's voice came over the radio. "Ray, you and Reno get out of here. Yorlain and I will stay."
"The hell we will," shouted Reno, "you guys can't do jack by yourselves!"
The conversation was halted immediately by a large explosion. The largest Shinra plane went down.
"I'll be damned," said Reno, "it's the Highwind."
"You guys leave, now," said Cid, "try to make it to Undor-Hai. Reeve, you guys head to Ft. Condor. Being split up, you should probably be able to hold off anyone who follows you. I'll kick all the Shinra asses who stay here. No arguments, I don't want anybody dying on me. Over and out."
"What should we do?" asked Raieyana.
Reno looked at her like she was crazy. "We're going to fly to Undor-Hai before we run out of gas. But wait...Undor-Hai..." He gave her a funny look. "Cid Highwind is one crazy-ass drunk bastard! Undor-Hai's just a legend."
Raieyana shook her head. "Just try to make it close to the ruins of Midgar if you can."
They ran out of gas near Kalm. Reno landed the helicopter at the last possible moment.
Raieyana sighed. "We have a long walk ahead of us." She yawned; they had been up all night.
Reno couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful scene in front of him. She was silhouetted perfectly against the morning sunrise. He didn't draw his eyes away even when they met her questioning look.
She walked over to him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "We should probably start walking," she said.
"Aren't you tired? I can get you a room at Kalm...or you could take a nap here, if you want."
Raieyana shook her head. "No. Besides, I did get a little sleep already. You're the one running on empty."
Reno hopped lightly onto the grass and reached back to help Raieyana down. He didn't take his hand off of her waist after he put her down.
"Reno," she said, trying to sound like she was joking, "let go of me, so we can go."
"But isn't this nice, being right here...and the sunrise..."
She wrenched herself free. "Next time," she spat out, "when I ask you to let me go, you're going to take your hands off me as quickly as you can. I'm not just some stupid little girl who would let anyone have their way with me. Look, I made a mistake before in kissing you. But you have to understand, I'm..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he interrupted, "you're with Reeve. Wonderful, neat, clean, moralistic, conscientious Reeve, the boy-wonder. The only reason you're angry at me is you don't want to find out whether or not you love him as much as you think you do. You're not angry at me for anything I did; you're angry at me because you might actually feel something for me."
"If Reeve was really your friend, you would leave me alone."
"And if you loved Reeve heart and soul like you say you do, you wouldn't have put so much passion into that kiss we shared."
Raieyana slapped him.
"If that makes you feel better about it, then I don't mind," Reno said, "but if you were firmly set in your emotions, my words couldn't have bothered you at all."
"In one ear and out the other. You don't affect me in any way. You just have pissed me off."
He grabbed her hand as she raised it for another blow. "If I don't affect you, then why are you trembling? Tell me, why are you scared of me? Of my touch? Of..." Forcefully, he kissed her.
At first she struggled, but then she gave into the temptation. Her lips met his with an equal fury. One of her hands rested on his shoulder as the other entwined in his hair. His lips moved down her neck as his hands moved upward from her waist. It seemed that the fire lit by their heated words could never be extinguished.
But Reno broke away. "No," he whispered, "you're just confused right now and Reeve would beat my ass. And really, I am to blame." He moved away, leaving Raieyana flushed and breathing heavily. But he was breathing just as heavily as she was.
"I'm sorry Raieyana, I shouldn't have instigated anything...I... Look, we should go to wherever the hell Cid wanted to meet us." (Something in the way she used to look at me made me think she didn't feel even a pang of emotion towards me. Yet, now I'm even more confused than she could possibly be. If she was indifferent, then she couldn't excite me so much...)
"Don't worry," he said, "as soon as Reeve has you safely back in his hands, you won't ever have to put up with seeing me again. I can assure you of that." (Because I couldn't stand it. I want her so bad...and I can't have her. And I accept that. Just...I need to hurry and get her away from me. Before we do something we both regret. I don't want to be the guy who goes after his friend's girl. I want to be a decent man. That's why I quit the Turks. But I'm messing up again, in a different way.)
They plodded towards Midgar, and unbeknownst to Reno, Undor-Hai. Neither one of them had spoken a word since their...romantic outburst. Raieyana, however, had been stealing guilty glances at Reno, and he at her. Every time their eyes met, they would hurriedly look away, ashamed.
Finally, at the outskirts of the ruins of Midgar, Raieyana spoke. "I'm exhausted. We need to stop. I...I need to rest."
Reno nodded. "I'm beat, too. Let's just sit down for a little bit." They sat.
"You know," Raieyana said, "Reeve told me he hadn't even thought for a second about...about anyone else these past seven years. Neither had I. Why now?" She looked at Reno. "Why now? Why now, after we've finally gotten back together, do I meet somebody who makes me doubt myself? Why?"
"Look," he said, trying to comfort her, "I promise from now on I will stay away. Don't worry...I won't try to rock the boat anymore."
"Maybe that's not what I want! I don't know if I want you to leave. I don't know if I feel anything for you. I don't know whether or not I would let you...maybe I even want you to. But through all of this confusion, I still think I love Reeve. Reno...Jack, is it possible to be attracted to somebody when you're in love with another person?"
"You tell me, Raieyana. Is it possible?" She nodded, her eyes brimming with tears. "But I wish it wasn't," she whispered.
"Oh," said Reno, "don't cry." He took her in his arms and held her. (And slowly...maybe, this is becoming more of an attraction. For me, at least. Steady, Reno. Don't hold her very close. I won't touch her any more than this. She's with my friend...that makes her a friend, but nothing more. I won't try to get her to be more than a friend. She's Reeve's...)
That's when the rope ladder from the Airship unrolled right next to them.
Lucas Shelding walked over to the large Mako-filled containers that housed his latest Soldier candidates. He checked the stats on each one, satisfied at his results. He heard a noise behind him, and turned in time to see Laida enter his lab.
"I just thought you'd like to know that Junon has been burning," she said, "and our plan is now underway. Reeve and Reno escaped the Turks just as we thought they would."
He smiled. "Excellent. Do we have enough evidence to hang Scarlet and Heidegger?"
Laida grinned mischievously. "Yes, and we did it all with ease, considering we had them both...distracted. How are our warriors coming along?"
"They are coming along excellent," he said, "and there shouldn't be any...nasty side effects with these. No Mako poisoning...none of the 'Reunion' craziness...hopefully none of the inexplicable rage of some of the former Soldiers...these are coming along in tip-top shape."
"Perfect," she said, "so what's our next step?"
Lucas walked over to a computer and punched a couple of keys. A picture of a young woman slowly gained clarity.
"Raieyana Amine," read Laida. "What's the point?"
"She is the key," Lucas said, "to making the next Sephiroth. She has not to date exhibited any of the symptoms other Mako/Jenova patients have had...and she is the daughter of Sephiroth, as documented by Hojo. She is also part Ancient. To get our hands on her would be to get our hands on the future of Shinra."
Laida studied the picture. "She is quite beautiful."
"Well," said Lucas with a grin, "there may be a few personal motives involved here as well. Some scientists don't leave all their emotions at the door to their lab."
"Just remember what the goal is," she reminded him, "we want the Promised Land. The Mako our Macroreactor could extract... Money is the only thing that makes me happy. And that would be insurance for my eternal happiness. Especially since you have almost figured out how to solve that pesky little problem of mortality."
"This close," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger and breadth apart, "this close."
"Ray, I'm glad you're safe." Reeve kissed her softly.
Raieyana forced a smile.
"I'm just a little disappointed that our desperate rescue was thwarted by the fact that you guys were perfectly safe," said Reno, "I thought the whole 'climbing up a wire' for a 'daring rescue' thing was exciting. But you safely found a helicopter. Whoo-hoo! Exciting."
It hit her. In the past eighteen or so hours, Raieyana had almost forgotten about it. But suddenly, she remembered. And she remembered that however much Reno attracted her, Reeve was who she trusted...and loved. (I need to tell him...I need to tell him.) "Reeve," she said, "I need to talk to you ...now."
He smiled. "Sure, Ray."
When they reached the chocobo stable, the only place on the Airship where they could be alone, Reeve laughed. "You don't have to tell me how much you hate Reno. I'm sorry you were stuck with him for so long, but..."
"Reno? No, he has...nothing to do with this. Reeve, I'm...I'm pregnant."
He shook his head. "You can't be...are you sure?"
She nodded. "I saw two lines."
"Well," he said, "am I correct in assuming that you're not going to have this baby? There is no way I would even consider letting you take the risks of childbirth again, after Lia told me about what it was like the first time. And not for Cloud Strife's child."
"I have no other choice," she said.
"And what if this was the purpose of the rape in the first place? Do you want him to degrade me again for the chance of another conception? You know the chances of it are supposedly, like, one in a million. How many more times? One? Five? Twenty?"
"You're being crazy," Reeve said angrily, "there is no way in hell that his intention was...this... No way that anything like that was planned by destiny. It was just a perversion of the sickened mind of his."
"I had a dream," she said, "and one of my nightmares has come true again. You don't have to believe me. You don't have to help me. God knows I got through my first pregnancy just fine by myself!"
"I didn't know! Don't blame me when you didn't tell me!"
She turned to leave. "And if I had, would you have suggested I aborted our children, too?"
Reeve softened. "Ray," he said, reaching for her, "I'm sorry I yelled. But you...it wouldn't be safe for you to have the baby."
Raieyana shrank back. "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we have changed since seven years ago. Don't you realize I have to do this? Maybe I was right seven years ago to keep my impending death a secret. You probably would have handled that by locking me up so I couldn't go to the crater."
He looked her straight in the eyes. "Don't say that! I know this has hurt you. I know that you're scared. But my concern is for your immediate safety. I swear to you I haven't changed; I love you as much as I ever did."
"I don't doubt you," she said, "I doubt myself. I know I said I still love you. But I've had to rely on myself for a long time now, and..."
"I swear to you," he said, his voice cracking with emotion, "that I will be there for you from now on."
"I can't come running to you every time I have a problem. Because some things I have to solve on my own. Maybe I was wrong in turning to you. This may be my own problem." She slowly walked out the door.
Reeve shook his head. (She doesn't need to prove to me that she can handle things. I never thought of her as a child. And I don't want her to get hurt.)
"Reeve?" Reno walked in through the doorway.
"Jack," Reeve said, "I just want to thank you for taking care of Ray."
Reno shook his head. "Don't. Believe me, you shouldn't. I have to tell you something now, because if I don't, I'll feel like I've lied to you, and we're friends. I made a pass at Raieyana."
Reeve shrugged. "You're human. It's not like no one has ever tried to come on to her before."
"No, Reeve. This is different. Nothing happened, but if we had waited one more second to get control of ourselves, something would have in the heat of the moment. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that you are my friend. Every other part of me was ready to go."
"What are you saying? Why," asked Reeve angrily, "do you bother to say 'we?' We both know she's not like that. Why don't you just tell me you tried to take advantage of her?"
"Because, Reeve, I truly think it was mutual, even though you may not believe it. And I need you to tell me--right now--to stay the hell away from that girl you're in love with...so I don't let myself do what I desire to do. I don't want to betray you, so make me leave her alone. And I'll leave and try to forget about her. But she's infected my blood."
"It's just infatuation, Reno, you'll get over it eventually," Reeve said.
"But maybe I'll end up acting on it before it burns out."
"Why can't you leave it damn well alone, Reno? Don't pester me about it. Fine, get the hell away from here if you can't trust yourself enough to keep your dick in your pants."
Raieyana was sitting on the deck when she heard Reeve's voice, yelling from down below.
"Actually, go ahead, friend, and do whatever the hell you want. God knows I never deserved her anyway. Mack on her all you want. It's just too bad you won't be able to handle her when she's upset. It's just too bad you don't give a damn about her!"
She ran down the steps and into the chocobo stable, where Reeve was screaming at Reno. One look at Reno told her he had confessed. "I heard you from on the deck," she said.
Reeve shrugged. "I should have seen this a mile away. The way you two were just now, when we picked you up, the way you were on the roof in Junon..."
"It was a mistake, I shouldn't have let him go on like that for so long," she said softly.
Reno gave her a shocked look, which she ignored.
"We were in a tense situation, and we got a little carried away," she explained.
Reno shook his head in disbelief. (Real tense, Raieyana. We were walking to Midgar, we argued, and I kissed you to rile you up more. You responded to it, and we almost did it right there on the grass. I thought you were attracted to me. For a split second, I wondered if maybe... For a split second.)
"I still love you," she said.
Reeve was positively beaming as her took her in his arms for a long kiss.
Raieyana actually prolonged the kiss, as proof to Reno that his caresses were long forgotten. But that's all she thought about as she kissed Reeve.
"Maybe you better leave, anyway," said Reeve, "if you still can't trust yourself."
Reno shrugged and walked out the door. The Airship dropped him off near Edinborough.
Raieyana soon realized what a mistake she had made, pinning all the guilt for what they both had done on Reno. After receiving a bum rap for being honest to his friend, he had returned to the one place where he didn't have to answer to anybody; Reno was rejoining the Turks.