Someone makes a conscience-clearing sacrifice, and a "hero" gets the girl.
Reno glanced at Reeve. "If they're coming like that lunatic says they are, Raieyana and them should be here pretty soon, you would think."
Reeve shrugged. "I don't know. I daresay they may have tried to hit Edinborough and are lost now that they found nothing there."
"Why wouldn't they just know where we are? They say there's this sort of mother-child bond. Can't Raieyana just sense where her baby is?"
Reeve tried to slap his forehead, but remembered his hands were restrained. "They're probably coming, Reno. I completely forgot. The whole Jenova thing links minds. Raieyana can probably tell where Shelding is, too."
"I wish they'd hurry their asses up already!"
"I don't know. Maybe it would be better for them if they didn't find us."
Red XIII sniffed. "If this isn't the place, then we must be fairly close."
Raieyana nodded. "Yeah, we're close all right." She glanced at Cloud. (I wish I could go into this battle and have complete faith in him. Yet, he is to blame for this to begin with.)
"What the--" Barret ducked down and motioned for the others to do the same. "Look, they're all up there. Just sitting there. Shelding and his people. I can see Reno and Reeve."
Raieyana gasped. Even from such a far distance, she could tell that they had been pretty roughly treated. (All this...surrender...just to get Elena out of Junon and save me. And then Elena... I am not worth all this. No one is.) "What the hell are you doing, Barret? We came to fight them. Why are you hiding?"
"Umm... Ray?" said Yuffie, "there's this...skill used in fighting...called the 'element of surprise.'"
"We can't surprise them. What do you think they're waiting for? We can't surprise them if they're expecting us. They've probably prepared for every situation...except... I have an idea."
"So do I," said Cid, "ambush their fucking asses."
"No," she said, "walking up there like we're walking into a peaceful little meeting."
Tifa glanced at Cloud. "This plan is bullshit..." she sang lightly.
"Actually," said Vincent, "when you consider our reputation of surprising violent attacks, this will probably surprise them a lot. Then we attack."
"Damn, Vince," said Cloud, "that's just redundant. By not doing a surprise attack, we can do a surprise attack? You're talking silly."
Then they watched in amazement as Raieyana walked straight into the midst of the Shinra. It seemed like everything on the entire world had paused, her presence was so commanding.
Reeve felt like slapping her. (Ray, you're handing yourself over. What the hell is wrong with you?)
"I believe," she said, "that the person that I have business with is a man by the name of Lucas Shelding."
Lucas smiled at her. "The person you are looking for was a man by the name of Lucas Shelding."
"Well, who should I look for now?"
"I think the person you want is called Hojo."
Raieyana laughed. "Actually, I would love to speak with him, but unfortunately, he died seven years ago."
"Yes, but now he breathes again."
"That's not possible."
"How can you, Raieyana Amine, tell me that it is impossible to bring back the spirit of a soul gone from the Planet?"
She paused, wondering how much he knew. (This is, undoubtedly, the person I'm looking for. So he thinks he's Hojo.) "I'm not saying that it's impossible. I highly doubt that the spirit of Hojo was allowed to rest seven years and was not assimilated into the Lifestream."
"Ah, yes, your religion tells you no, but science will now tell you yes. You are such an ungrateful child, doubting the scientific skills of your creator. I can see Gast's suspicion in your eyes."
"His discrimination created a child who was the savior of the Planet and Hojo's lack of it produced a child who was the would-be destroyer of the Planet. Tell me, who is the greater man?"
Lucas stood up. "I am, because it is Hojo who stands before you now. All that is left of Gast is probably heating homes in Edinborough."
Cloud emerged from his hiding place and stood next to Raieyana. "I don't know about life after death, but I don't believe what you say about Gast, because all that is left of Edinborough is smoldering ashes."
He shrugged. "Believe what you want to believe. If you really are Hojo, then damn, why did you have to come back to prove your incompetence? We already knew about it the first time we killed you here."
"And as you say you will destroy me, I say that you will sit down and slumber. Who is right?"
Cloud fell over, in a sudden deep sleep.
"Who is in complete control?" He turned to Raieyana. "Why do you insist on continuing this farce of resistance?"
"I will continue until you drop your own farce. All I ask is that you give me my son and free my friends. This is no threat towards you. I came in peace, and all you ask for is battle."
"It's not that I want a battle. I can't expect anything better from organisms of such low intelligence."
Raieyana shook her head. "All I want is peace. All I ever wanted is peace. If you are Hojo, don't you understand that you make this world a living hell for everyone? Can't you comprehend what tragic things you create?"
"The comfort of one person should not stand in the way of science."
She clenched her fists. "How about every person living on the Planet?" She stepped closer to him.
"Do you think you can kill me and save your friends? Your child? My men are instructed to carry out executions if you lay a hand on me."
"I don't need to lay a hand on you."
"Neither do I."
Raieyana was knocked down by a blast of energy. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see everyone else attacking Shelding's back-ups. Everyone but Cloud. He was still sleeping. And then Vincent fell.
"Vince!" Yuffie screamed as Shelding's guards restrained her. She twisted and tried to wrench herself free, but her efforts were futile. She strained to get a glimpse of her husband. (He's breathing...wait, he's not even injured. He's just sleeping like Cloud, like...)
Tifa realized what was happening as both Legolas and Red XIII became unconscious. She moved to attack Yuffie's captors when she found herself also held by Shelding's men. "Let go of me, you low-life bastards! Damn you to hell!"
Raieyana scanned her surroundings. All of her allies had either been restrained or rendered useless by Shelding and his men. (Such a short battle. Why is it that I stand? Is he saving some sort of torture for me?)
"Raieyana," Lucas muttered with scorn, "I guess Tseng was an emotional sap, just like any other weak mortal. I heard that he worshipped you. Raieyana, such a silly name. It suits you, though. I suppose you're wondering why you're the only one left standing. I'll tell you why--I want to see you surrender."
"Never," she swore.
"What if I said I would free your two 'friends?'" he said, emphasizing the quotation marks.
Reno burst out. "It's all bullshit, Raieyana, don't fall for it!"
Lucas smiled. "And to emphasize my point, I'll give you a preview of what I'll do to them if you try to keep this stalemate up." He raised his arm and pointed towards Reno. He made a motion as if he were grasping something and throwing it.
Reno flew into the side of his cell. He fought to breathe. "None of this fucking matters," he said, choking, "just get your son and go."
Raieyana looked into his eyes. (Earnest.)
Lucas shook his head. "That is not one of the options. Either surrender and save your friends or resist and destroy them. It doesn't seem like a hard decision. I will have my specimen!"
"You are bluffing," said Raieyana. "You will not harm me, and you will not harm them because that will leave you without a bargaining tool. We are safer here than anywhere else."
"Believe it if it makes you feel better," said Lucas in a low voice.
"Why do you insist on saying things about my father, of whom you know nothing?"
"Why do you insist that I cannot be Hojo, even though the proof lays right before your eyes?"
"There is nothing you do that I haven't done or am not able to do."
He smiled. "Is that so...is that so... Then tell me, oh, great and powerful Cetra, why is it that I am able to direct your life from beyond the grave while you cannot, even though it is your life, and you have been trying to control it from the realm of the living?"
"Assuming you are Hojo, what have you done since your all too wonderful demise to control my life?"
"You could say that I am solely responsible for the existence of that child that you seem so eager to hold in your arms again. Jenova-path communication has its power."
"You expect me to believe that?"
Lucas shrugged. "The other alternative is that Cloud Strife willingly and purposely rape--"
"Don't say that! He wasn't in control of himself!"
Lucas smiled excitedly. "I know. I was."
Reeve banged on the walls of his cell, enraged. "Rot in hell, Shelding!" He was flung into the wall of his cell "telekinetically."
Raieyana concentrated on Lucas' face. His nose snapped back and blood spurted out his nostrils.
"Pretty good for a beginner."
"You fucking bastard."
"Take out the 'bastard' and your sentence is correct," he sneered.
Her eyes blazed.
"Yes," he said, "let's see it all. This is what I've been waiting for. The last of my theorems. The Jenova/Rage connection. I've seen it in all specimens, save you, although that Gongaga incident aroused my suspicion. Give into it. Rip me limb from limb. Give into your madness. Feel your power."
"I have no rage, just disgust towards you!"
"Come on, Raieyana. You enjoy it. Anything and everything with Jenova does. The rush off power gets most specimens off. Does it turn you on? I saw the Gens go through multiple orgasms as they trashed Rocket Town. I guess it felt really good when you tortured Rude."
"Shut the fuck up!" she yelled.
"Why are you so afraid to hear this? It's your nature...it's who you are..."
Raieyana's head spun. She heard the words. (My nature...who I am? Who am I? What is it that I'm missing? What... Wait...I think I understand.) "I know who I am," she said.
Lucas took a step closer. "Then you realize what you must do."
She nodded. "I understand."
He lifted his hand and caressed her cheek. "Why did it take you so long?"
Reeve was bewildered. (If he is who he says he is, then this is really sick and wrong. Has he got her brainwashed?) He met her eyes, briefly. (No, she has a plan.)
She smiled weakly. "I had to sift through false accounts, false information. Some of the people closest to the original situation had gotten the facts wrong. Now I realize where they were wrong."
Lucas' hands closed around her waist.
Raieyana's hand closed around his throat. "The only person Hojo ever injected with Jenova cells was himself." She twisted his head around, trying to break his neck.
He threw her back with an astonishing amount of strength. She had almost forgotten about her injured ankle; now, she struggled to stand.
"Lucas, you lied to me." A voice that came from above. Laida stood on top of the old Mako cannon. "You told me it would make me immortal." She sneered at him. "You were only trying to make yourself immortal."
"Laida," he begged, "I never lied. You will never die."
"Yes, my body will live on, but not me. Not my soul. And now, it's too late for you. He told me the truth. Your son."
"You killed your own child and made him into a clone of yourself. A manifestation of your own hatred for mankind, who had made you an outcast. Just like they had made Jenova an outcast. You had heard the legends. You knew that if you tried, you could make a perfect engine for revenge. Jenova was willing; the hatred was filling her frozen cells to the brim. You needed a strong body for your purpose, and that's when you chose Lucrecia. If you had offspring with her, they would be physically stronger than you yourself."
Laida looked at him. "I have always been selfish, and I have never thought of anyone but myself. You lied to me, Lucas, and I think he is inside me. Sephiroth. The real Sephiroth. The one that was never born because you replaced his cells with your own through your injections while he was in the womb."
"Nonsense," said Lucas, "everything I have done is for science."
"It was a nice false cover, but I see through you now. I agree, this is too much to take. You've gone too far, even for immortality. I...I have to kill you now, Lucas. I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize. You wouldn't be able to go through with it, even if you really wanted to." His words were cut short as a facsimile of the Masamune Blade tore through his back and exited through his stomach.
"No," said Laida, "I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner. Damn you, you destroyed Shinra. Now I have to commit suicide before someone lynches me."
Lucas coughed up blood. "Raieyana," he murmured, "this will never be the end. As long...as your child...breathes...I breathe... And you will save him..." He pushed a button. "Because the plate falls...in fifteen minutes..." His eyes shut, and Lucas Shelding, or Hojo, returned to the Planet.
Raieyana turned and saw Laida slit her own throat with a small dagger. She winced, and then checked the timer on the center column. (He was wrong. This plate doesn't fall in fifteen minutes...all of the Midgar ruins left standing above the slums will crash.) She saw the keys for Reno and Reeve's cells. She grabbed them and dashed over.
Cloud and the others who had been put into a forced sleep awakened groggily. He glanced around and saw a figure huddled over...where Raieyana's baby was. Then he recognized the figure. (Lavana.)
As Cloud approached, Lavana held a small pistol to the head of the child. "If you come closer, I'll kill him," she warned. He grabbed the gun.
Lavana set down Patrick and ran after the gun discharged into Cloud's shoulder. She raced past the bewildered guards, heading out of the ruins of the city.
Cloud withdrew his sword. (You're not getting away that easily, bitch.) He cast Ultima on her. He caught up with her and decapitated her with his sword. Or he attempted to. He had thrown the Lowlellean into the ocean and the Ultima Weapon just did not have as strong of a blade. Instead of making a clean cut, the blade glanced off the bones of her neck, merely severing her jugular vein. Leaving her to bleed, he limped back to his son.
Meanwhile, Raieyana struggled with the locks on Reeve's cell. (I have the key...why won't it open?)
Someone approached her from behind. She whirled around. "You cannot open these cells without swiping a Shinra keycard," said Martin softly. "I will use mine."
"Why are you helping us?" asked Raieyana.
"Sometimes," he said, "although very rarely, the powers that be will allow the soul of a person on the Planet to exit into the Lifestream before their time in this plane is completed. The soul willingly departs and trades places with a soul in the Lifestream. Another soul is allowed to use that body--for a purpose."
"You want me to believe that you're not the Shinra scum that used to inhabit that body?" she asked in disbelief. Then she noticed something...about his eyes. She could almost see the longish red hair, the aquamarine eyes... But she could see the love. Her mouth formed the name, but she made no sound. (Ish...?)
"Hey, the bitch that started this is over here," called one of the few remaining guards.
He placed a finger to her lips and nodded. "Free them now. I will occupy the guards."
"All of them? But you'll..."
"I know, Ray. This is destiny. I have to do this. Before, I took the easy way out. When today is over, Reeve won't have lied to my parents." He stepped out and started shooting the guards.
Raieyana turned to the lock. It opened easily. Reeve crawled out. "Go get Reno," he said.
"Are you okay?"
"Get him out!"
This time, the battle was going in the good guys' favor. The distraction allowed Raieyana to dash over to Reno's cell and open it.
"Raieyana," he said, looking into her eyes, "is what Shelding said true? About the plate?"
"You gotta get the hell out of here! Why is everyone fooling around, trying to kick those guards' asses, when they should be hauling ass back to the damn Airship before they get crushed when the rest of this fucking city falls down?"
"I don't know."
"And you can't leave Shelding's body there. What if a wacko scientist tries to clone him or something? I don't want some dumbass parading around saying he's Hojo III."
"I don't know how to stop that, Reno."
Reno ran his hand through his hair. A faint smile tugged at his lips. "I do."
Barret shot the last guard. The Shinra side had gone down completely under casualties. There was a casualty among the party, but only Raieyana would know. Martin Black's body lay in the pile with the guards, but it was the only one filled with bullets from the Shinra guns.
Legolas checked the clock on the pillar. "Ten minutes to detonation," he said.
"We don't have enough time to get to the Airship," said Vincent. "But we've succeeded in our goals, at least."
"How the fuck can you sit there and say that?" asked Reno. "We don't all gotta die here. I can override the bomb sequence."
"Then why don't you shut your ass up and do it?" said Barret.
"I can't stop it from exploding. But I can rig it up to start another countdown. One for a Mako explosion."
"Oh God... Not a Mako explosion," said Yuffie.
"It's the only override code I know. Shinra never taught me how to save things, only how to destroy them. But if I wait until the countdown on this clock gets really low, like one minute, I can enter the override command and get you fifteen more minutes."
Cid breathed a sigh of relief. "You're pretty damn awesome, Reno, that's all I'm saying."
The group started making a hasty backtrack through the path from whence they came.
Raieyana stared up at Reno. "You can get out in fifteen minutes, right?"
He just looked at her.
"Dammit, Reno, answer me!"
"I don't know if you guys can get out in twenty-five minutes... Raieyana, if you don't leave now, you're gonna die."
"How can you let them leave when they don't realize that you're doing a suicide mission? I don't care how much you've fought with them, they'll feel guilty and it will tear them up inside if they knew they left you behind to die."
"Raieyana...how many people have I killed? If I don't do this, it's like I killed more. By not saving all of you. After Sector 7...I'm just trying to make up for it."
"And you weren't going to tell me? You weren't even going to say good-bye?"
"You have to go, now!"
"I can't leave."
Reno shook her. "They'll all come back for you in a few minutes. You'll kill them all if they think they have to try and save you."
"I thought you loved me."
"I do. I wouldn't be doing this otherwise. Once, you gave your life willingly to save the people you loved. It's my turn." He drew her close and held her tightly. "No tears. It might tip the others off. No matter what, all of you have to get into the Airship and fly as far away as possible. The Mako blast will scorch the ground all around Midgar." He kissed her on the cheek.
Raieyana hurried to join the others. She called back to Reno. "I..."
"I know, Ray, I know. You gotta go now."
She ran as best as she could on her bad ankle, holding back her tears. (But I made a decision...and it's too late. I waited too long, and now it's being made for me.) She saw Yuffie up ahead, lagging behind as usual. "Come on," Raieyana said, "we have to hurry!"
The Airship waited on the ground, the occupants looking for their last member to emerge from the ruins of Midgar. The others had chatted a little earlier, when they were waiting for Reno, all except Raieyana. Now they all stared towards the city with a growing feeling of dread.
"If Reno implemented the new countdown when the old one reached one minute, we have precisely two minutes and thirty seconds before detonation. And we have to be some distance from the city to withstand the blast. We must leave within the next minute," said Red XIII softly, hoping he could not be heard by Raieyana.
"We aren't leaving without Reno," said Reeve harshly, "he risked his ass out there and we can't abandon him."
"I'm not going to have everyone here die because he could not get back on time," said Tifa, "when our time runs out, we have to leave whether he's here or not."
"If we leave, we'll all be fucking murderers!" yelled Reeve. "Don't you realize that? Raieyana, don't you have anything to say about this at all?"
Her shoulders sagged a little bit more. "We better leave now," she said softly, "we've probably waited longer than we should have." She looked away so no one could see the tear roll down her cheek.
The Airship took off, towards Kalm.
Reeve grabbed Raieyana by the shoulders and turned her around. "Why the hell did you say that? What the hell is wrong with you?"
She shook herself loose from his grasp and turned so she was once again facing Midgar.
"What is so damn mesmerizing about Midgar? If he comes out, it'll be too late, because you decided to leave. If..." His voice died.
Reeve touched her hand. "He wasn't planning to make it out, was he?"
Her eyes glittered with tears, but Raieyana did not remove her gaze from the ruined city.
He checked his watch. (Twenty-five seconds.) The Airship was still moving away at a steady speed. "Ray..."
"It's not my fault...I tried to talk him out of it."
"You did all you could..."
"But at the same time, it is my fault. He told me he wouldn't have done it if he didn't love me. So it's my fault."
"It's not your fault. He made a decision. It'll be hard, but you have to realize..." (...it's mine.)
Reeve's words trailed off as he recognized what he was trying to tell Raieyana. The exact same things she had tried to tell him...about her own death. (...it was destiny. Maybe if he hadn't met Ray, he would not die today...but if he hadn't met Ray, there is probably no chance that he would ever reach the Promised Land. At best, he would float along eternally in the purgatory that is the Lifestream.) "Ray, you can't have love without pain. It always hurts. That doesn't mean that love is bad. But pain is unavoidable. You gave him something special. You gave him something he thought he'd never know. You gave it to me, too."
"All I give people is death."
"Everyone who's born dies."
"It wasn't his time," she whispered.
"Who are you to say that, Raieyana? You didn't even know your own time."
"Ten seconds," said Vincent softly.
Midgar was no longer in sight, but Raieyana stood transfixed as a green glow burst through the sky and swallowed up the horizon. As the blast died down to a glowing tinge, devoid of all emotion, she silently walked into the Airship from the deck.
Everyone else on board was silent. Then Patrick, in Cloud's arms, began to cry.
Epilogue: Three months after the explosion
"Many years, many theories, but at that moment, everything just seemed to click. Why I was the way I was, and why history had decided to repeat itself. All the skills attributed to 'Jenova' were manipulations of DNA that Hojo had created when he started his clone project. He injected Jenova cells into himself and received some of the alien's innate powers, such as telepathy and telekinesis. Unbeknownst to almost everyone in the entire world, Hojo's first project was not Soldier, or the creation of Sephiroth. His first project was the creation of Lucas Shelding.
"Lucas Shelding was the perfect clone. He was 'his own person,' but Hojo implanted messages into his mind so that on the event of Hojo's death, Lucas would awaken the memories of Hojo inside of himself and Hojo could continue his life. Unfortunately for Hojo, there was something awry in his plan, and Lucas did nothing for over seven years following his death.
"Red XIII was correct when he said that Mako energy (or the Lifestream itself) speeds up the growth of cells, and that has something to do with the increased strength and endurance of Sephiroth, members of Soldier, and other experiments, including myself. When Laida mentioned that Sephiroth was really a 'clone' of Hojo, it reinforced the ideas that had begun to form in my own head. Hojo and Sephiroth were oddly similar, odd even for a father and son. The truth was, they had the same personality. Sephiroth was just raised to be a killer, raised without love.
"I had realized a long time ago that Lucrecia had been damaged by some form of mind control in the past. I eventually reasoned that she only allowed Hojo's experimenting because she was under the power of his mind manipulation. It explains why she would leave Vincent for Hojo and subject herself to such torture. So essentially, Hojo raped Lucrecia. It has been stated before that Cloud was the only thing left in the world that was anything like Sephiroth or a clone; I, the last Ancient, had returned from the dead. If Hojo would manipulate any new offspring to use for his newest experiment, Cloud and I were the best pick for parents.
"My reasoning gets a little blurred at this point. I think I may agree when Red XIII states the first Reunion was summoned by Sephiroth, who, as is explained above, was essentially Hojo. The second Reunion was also summoned by Hojo, in order to cause Lucas Shelding to want to experiment with the 'legacy' Hojo left behind, that is, his DNA. I have two explanations for the existence of Hojo's spirit in the Lifestream for such a long period of time. First, the more powerful a person's spirit, whether for good or evil, the longer the spirit stays in the Lifestream. The second reason comes from Cloud. If someone still living obsesses over you and won't let you go, won't accept your death, it usually hinders a soul's progress to the great beyond. Shelding was obsessed with Hojo...
"And so, Hojo's rage and basically, his 'bad aura' account for the rage and violent sexual tendencies exhibited by members of Soldier and participants in his experiments, although I do not believe that these characteristics could not be brought out in people who did not personally have those characteristics to begin with. Basically, Hojo's weaknesses were brought out in people who already had the weaknesses, and his strengths were exaggerated to the same extent. Thus is the explanation for the demise of Sephiroth, the 'perfect' Soldier. And the explanation for the survivors of the so-called 'Jenova project.'
"And as a side note, all the ex-Soldiers who became ill as a effect of the impending Reunion have now made full recoveries. Shinra has been completely obliterated along with any pure DNA samples of Hojo, Sephiroth, or Lucas Shelding. All Mako reactors have been shut down, and essentially, all power is supplied in the form of thermal energy and provided by the Alcor company."
She looked up. "Yeah, Reeve?"
"I...put Aeris and Ishmael to bed." He squinted at the screen. "How's the book coming?"
"I just finished the rough draft. Wanna read it?"
Reeve smiled. "I don't need to read it. I lived it. So, am I the dashing, handsome hero?"
"I don't think I mention you. This book is entitled 'The Truth about Shinra's Jenova Project.' You're not involved in that aspect of it."
"Cloud sent a letter to you." Reeve reached in his pocket and withdrew an envelope. "Here."
"Thank you," said Raieyana.
"If you need me, I'll be in my room."
"Okay." Raieyana sighed. Life still hadn't returned to any bit of normalcy. They had all basically returned to their homes. Reeve and Raieyana had actually returned to their ransacked home outside of Junon, with the children. Cloud had vanished after the Mako explosion, without a word regarding Patrick. (That's probably what the letter's about...)
For Raieyana, life was odd. Reeve asked no questions when they returned, just moved his stuff into the one of the spare bedrooms and quickly went about turning the other into a nursery. There was no more talk about marriage, love; there was very little talk at all.
(I suppose he thinks that every last bit of my heart exploded with...with Reno. But I'm not living with him because Reno's dead. I decided...after the Amber Weapon, that I had to be with Reeve because he needed me and the kids needed him. And I loved him.) Raieyana tried to talk to him every night, but found herself speechless for the first time in her life. She opened up Cloud's letter.
I truly hope that you do not think I am deserting Patrick. I just realize, as you must realize, that life is hard enough for a child without bringing someone like me into the picture as his father. Not only am I not the best role model, it will make him feel odd if your two children have Reeve for a father, and if there are any future children. I still will come and visit you all, but only as a friend, or maybe even an 'uncle' to your children. Nothing more, Raieyana. Try to make sure that he doesn't find out about his conception until he is ready to handle it. And then tell him I love him.
(We have to make the right choice. We have to. I agree with you, Cloud, the truth will make him feel left out. I don't really want to lie to him, but few people know that Reeve is not Patrick's father. And I will keep it that way, Cloud, for your sake.) Raieyana folded up the letter and put it aside. She stared at the computer screen.
(The truth...a warning to the future...but it could hurt my son...) She removed the back-up disk and deleted all the hard drive files. She opened her drawer and took out a locked box. She placed the disk inside next to Reno's watch, which he gave to her before she fled Midgar. And she took out a small ring box.
The plain gold band was still inside. She took it out and for the first time saw the engraving on the inside:
"You will always be my Ray of light...forever. --Reeve"
Raieyana walked to Reeve's door. She took a deep breath, and knocked.
"I...umm... Cloud's letter, it was about Patrick."
"I thought that's what it was."
Raieyana smiled weakly. "Yeah. Well, he thinks that we should tell Patrick that you're his father."
"I agree with him. He's going to have such a hard time. I don't want him to feel like an outcast...from his own family. I want him to be happy, happier than I was. I want his life to be stable."
Reeve shook his head. "Being stable doesn't have to include lying to him!"
"How could you tell a little child that the reason he exists is because an evil man made Cloud rape me? Reeve...I...it was better for me to think Tseng was my father than to have thought my father some crazed madman."
"Tell me this first, Raieyana. Why are we living like this? You don't love me, you're not happy. Why don't you just go back to Undor-Hai?"
"If you want me to leave, Reeve, you should just say so," said Raieyana softly.
"You know what I want."
"And I've been trying as hard as I can to give it to you, but you won't take it."
"I'm not going to be your charity case. Take his leftovers."
"Is that what you think? That the only reason I'm here right now is because Reno's dead?"
"Raieyana, what the hell am I supposed to think?"
"You know what," she said, "the only thing you have ever thought about anything is what you wanted to think. Believe whatever the hell you want to believe, because nothing I say is going to change your mind."
"What can I think? You cried when he died."
"I cried when Ish died, too, but you had no qualms about fucking me that very night."
Reeve stood up and faced her. "What are you trying to say? ...imply." The hints of a glare formed at his eyes.
"That I won't live like this if you can't believe that I love you."
"You loved him."
"Yes, I did."
He shook his head and sat back down on his bed. "I knew it."
"Is there something wrong with loving someone?"
"You could have told me!"
"Yes, well," she said, "he knew I loved you and he still handled things very well."
"He had nothing to lose."
"At one point he lost everything. I'm sorry that you're too afraid you'll get hurt." She grabbed the ring box out of her pocket. "Here. I thought I could wear it someday. I guess I was wrong. Maybe you can pawn it and get your money back. Don't worry, I'll leave and get out of your life. Have fun playing with your money." She turned to leave.
"You...you kept this all this time?"
"Did you think I would throw it away?" She headed for the door. "I wonder how badly you think I treated you. I don't understand how you could have such a low opinion of me."
"Ray, don't go." He fingered the box nervously. "I...ah..." he started. He sighed heavily. "I can't answer your questions. Because I don't know why I always have to apologize. Because I don't know why I always treat you like shit. I love you and I would do anything you asked."
"Anything?" A coy smile tugged at her lips.
Reeve looked at her warily.
She walked over and lightly sat down in his lap. She grabbed the ring box. "I want a small ceremony."
"I haven't even asked you!"
"I never gave you an answer the first time. The hesitation had nothing to do with Reno. Honestly, I probably would have said 'no' anyway. You pick the most inopportune time to propose, right before I'm going into seclusion for a few months... I kind of would like to have a honeymoon and stuff."
"Honeymoon, eh? I think that could be arranged, right now."
She placed her hand on his shoulder. His hand closed over hers, and their lips met. "Love is a wonderful thing," she whispered, "you can give away as much as you want, and it never runs out. In a pinch, you can always make more."
Reeve pulled Raieyana close and held her. "I don't care if we just stay like this. We have all the time in the world."
She gave him an amused look. "You lie. For crying out loud, Reeve, you're acting like I've never had sex before. It's very odd, considering the first time you weren't cautiously holding back."
"Well, then," he said mechanically, "remove your garments and prepare for consummation."
She slapped him playfully and kissed him.
Reeve looked up into her eyes. (I see it. Love. Not the same as it used to be, because it will never be the same as it used to be. She didn't live in a vacuum, the Planet hit her again with its hardest blows. And she pulled through. But not without battle scars.) His finger traced the small scar left on her cheek from her fight with the Amber Weapon.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing. I'm just glad that everything's over. And...this'll end better than the last story. This'll be the true last chapter. I'll never leave your side."
Raieyana nestled her cheek on his chest. "Yeah, like I've never heard that line before..."
(January 1999-January 2000)