In two weeks, Reno had gotten stronger and Rude had gotten madder. It seemed that he didn't dare pull a move until someone showed up. Of just who that happened to be, no one was certain. Day by day he grew more tense and irate, more threatening. Meager rations grew even more meager. Raieyana never ate a fraction of her share. Until today, she had managed to hide that fact from Reno. Until today.
"That's the last straw, Raieyana. Just tell me, how long have you been starving yourself? No more. Today you are going to eat every last crumb of that bread. And...you will tomorrow, too."
"Reno, you're insane! After all this time, there is no way I could eat it all if I wanted to! You'll have to be satisfied with a noble attempt to eat my half...and I give you no promises at that."
They heard a doorbell ring. They heard Rude leap for the door. "It's about time you showed up! Where the hell's the kid?"
To Raieyana's surprise, she recognized the voice that replied. "You know very well I wouldn't bring her here even if I was dying and you were the last cognizant person alive. I just came to tell you to stop calling me. I don't want to hear from you. I don't want to see you." She heard Reno approach the stairs to the basement.
"Maybe," he said smugly, "you'll change your mind when you see what I got my hands on."
Tifa never expected to see Raieyana locked in Rude's basement, or Reno. She hadn't known of Raieyana's disappearance because no one besides Cloud, Vincent, or Yuffie had been told.
"So," said Rude, "here she is, the quote 'bitch you cannot stand.'"
Tifa gasped. The one-night stand with Rude had been a major release for aggression. She had never expected the thing to come back and haunt her in so many ways. She met him in a bar after Cloud had refused her...for the last time, she had vowed. If Cloud didn't want her, somebody else must! And her jealousy of his affection for Raieyana had slipped into the conversation. There was something seriously wrong with Rude to make him do this. Terribly wrong. Tifa raised her hand and clocked Rude.
Tifa somehow managed to unlock the cell door before Rude knocked her out. Reno instantly was on top of Rude, and payback was sweet. Blood poured from Rude's broken nose.
Reno glanced at Raieyana. "I'm sorry. I know that it's just uncontrolled aggression, and I should overcome it..."
He was rendered speechless as she lifted Rude's gun off of him. Worries and frustrations had been mounting in her as she lay confined in this basement in Gongaga. Hopes and fears had been exposed plain as day. Rude had made her hurt. He had hurt Reno. He was going to auction her off like a prize heifer.
Raieyana kicked him, disregarding the fact that this man was already down. Reno watched in silent astonishment as she calmly put a bullet into Rude's shoulder. His eyes bulged as the blood gushed from the wound; Raieyana knew her major arteries. She had a major brainstorm. Picking up the half-full bottle of iodine that Rude had given her to bandage Reno, she cruelly poured it directly onto the raw flesh. She contemplated using her own mind-controlling powers to make Rude end it all himself, and then decided to let him bleed. She walked out of the cell, leaving a stunned Reno. "I hope you can help Tifa out of here," she said. Rude groaned.
There had never been a greater change in expression as the humanitarian Raieyana realized what the angry Raieyana had done. Knowing her damage was too great to repair, she shot Rude in the base of the skull, ending the suffering she had caused. For one painful moment she stared at the lifeless body. She threw the gun against the wall.
"And I thought I was strong," she whispered, "I thought I was different. Me, who had never, ever taken a human life. I was wrong!"
"You are human," said Reno, prepared to follow that up with a statement on making mistakes. He, after all, had taken more than one human life, not entirely without remorse, but he realized that the past was irrevocable.
"I thought I was human. But I am a monster."
"You are not a monster!"
Raieyana gestured to the pool of blood on the floor. "I made this," she cried, "I am no more human than you are a woman than Sephiroth was sane!"
He grabbed her and held her tightly. "What does that make me, Raieyana? I am far worse than you. If you are inhuman, if you are the monster, then I am the slime the monster treads underfoot. You got angry. Perhaps Rude's better off this way."
Raieyana broke away. "Tifa needs to be cured. We find our stuff upstairs, phone Cid, and get picked up and taken home. I want to see my kids... I want to..."
"See Reeve," said Reno bitterly.
"I said nothing about him," said Raieyana angrily.
"You don't need to say it out loud. I can just tell," retorted Reno, "you want to see Reeve. You had your fun with me, you're not guilty anymore. You're sick and tired of me and this whole hell-hole and you want to go home to your perfect white-bread existence and I don't blame you one bit. Hell, I'm probably the reason Rude's dead on the floor right now, not a few mutated cells floating around in your bloodstream."
"Do you want me to go?" she asked softly.
Tifa moaned. Reno avoided the subject. "We gotta get her some medical attention."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was a pretty little living-room congregation. Cloud, Tifa, Vincent, Yuffie, Reno, Reeve, Raieyana, and Legolas. Legolas had come bearing news of the giant weapon terrorizing the eastern hemisphere. Barret, Cid, Red XIII, and himself had been battling it. He had come for help and found himself in the midst of Raieyana's disappearance. Lia was complacently at home in Undor-Hai, watching Marlene and Daniel. She had been knitting something that looked suspiciously like a pink baby blanket.
Tifa shook her head. "Rude was more dangerous than any of us ever knew."
"It was probably the Jenova," said Vincent. "You all know," he added casually, "that Raieyana isn't safe anymore and neither are the kids."
"What do you mean?" asked Reeve warily.
"Shelding wants her as a specimen, and the kids more likely than not, that's what he means," said Reno.
Reeve glared at Reno. Reno glared at Reeve. Raieyana glared at Cloud. Tifa glared at Cloud. Yuffie started folding origami butterflies.
Vincent cleared his throat. "I suggest we find places to hide them."
"Places? Plural?" questioned Reeve.
"In the slight possibility," Vincent said, "that the Shinra find one hiding spot, there remains another where one of them is hiding. You can't put all your eggs into one basket. I think the kids should go with Legolas to Undor-Hai and Raieyana..."
"Where's Raieyana gonna go? She's pregnant," said Reno.
"I will take her to Lucrecia. She is the only person on this Planet who has experienced anything similar to Raieyana. No one knows of the cave, and Raieyana will be safe there, I think."
"What if she gets sick?" asked Reeve.
"I'll leave a PHS there for her. We'll be able to get her out of there if need be."
"And if that's not a satisfactory answer?"
"Would you rather have her in a lab with Shelding? He'd probably make sure she didn't die," said Reno.
Reeve stood up, fists clenched. "You do understand this whole mess is your fault!"
"Silly me. I thought Cloud had something to do with it. And Hojo. But no, I see now, this is all my fault. I'm the bad guy."
"You're going to shut your mouth right now or else I'll..."
"No!" said Raieyana. "You're going to sit down and stop threatening people who are trying to help us. And Reno's going to stop mouthing off before somebody loses it and beats him."
"Why should you go and hide? We can take care of Shelding now. We can't let ourselves be afraid of Shinra."
She sighed. "Reeve, it's not that simple. And that Amber Weapon. Somebody has to kill it. If I go into hiding for a little while to save a few lives, I think it'll be worth it."
"You just got back."
"I know. This is more difficult for me than you realize. I'm not just being unreasonable."
"So now I'm unreasonable, Ray?"
"Don't you care a little bit about anyone but yourself? Don't you understand that we have to make a few sacrifices for the best outcome?"
"You're always making sacrifices."
"Reeve, everything I've ever done has included some sacrifice. Haven't you figured it out by now? I never get off easy."
Vincent stood up. "Unless there is a major amount of objection from someone, I'll take her to Lucrecia tomorrow."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Lucas Shelding checked on the new Soldiers. Soldiers was a loose term, anyway. The next generation of Sephiroths... (Unfortunately, I only have inferior specimen samples. Except for my one, prized...) The Soldiers would be ready for release tomorrow. (That's why the next experiment is so important. What use are Soldiers without a leader to guide them?) He walked into the next room.
(I shall go down forever in the history of Science. Not as first, but as second to only the great Hojo. Unless the experiment succeeds beyond my wildest dreams, in which case...) He uncovered the apparatus. He checked on the precious sample. The blood. The blood of Hojo. (...I will become Hojo, rise above faithful servitude. And these two great minds shall rule over the entire Planet. Jenova...Mako...Science...all that is power, I bow to you. I am forever indebted to you and remain now, as ever, at your mercy. You are my god, and I will ever praise you. I have sought you in daylight and in the shadows of night. I have followed the path you have made for me. You hath led me to the place I had only dreamed of, this moment of triumph. The only truth I follow, the only torch I need, guide me as I accomplish the hopes and dreams of every man who has ever dared to contemplate absolute knowledge and absolute power.
Omniscient, omnipotent, and ever-present, Hojo, let me see the world through your eyes. For though you have beckoned to me, I have yet to see the glory of the realm of your knowledge. Show me...Let me see. Know it at last...feel it at last... If there is any god I may pray to, let it hear that I give my soul unto you to know that which has been denied before to many. I feel it now...this is my time...)
Lucas Shelding strapped himself into his invention, praying to the false god of the world of technology. He had been a long-time admirer of Professor Hojo; in fact, his worship was far past the point of being sacrilegious...it was border-line delusional. When you think about it, sometimes the demented are less dangerous than the sane. That is, when you're talking about people who commit atrocities. Crazies never see beyond the edge of the horizon. Rational people can look ahead...therefore, if they are truly evil, they can see consequences and are harder to defeat by means of their own stupidity. Which brings a question to ponder: If Lucas Shelding is psychotic, and Hojo master of his own mind...doesn't that make Hojo a more dangerous foe? Isn't Shelding's plan more gruesome than at first glance? Did Hojo ever realize the implications of his actions? Did he know the inevitable end?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Cell memory is a scientific theory suggesting that the cells of a living thing can remember and retain knowledge possessed by that living thing. According to this theory, a clone would possess the same knowledge as the original. The only question is how to awaken the stored memory..."
Hojo understood the essence of this theory, but never completely succeeded at restoring knowledge held in cell memory. Lucas Shelding read Hojo's reports on cell memory and the experiments on the Jenova clones. He soon became obsessed by it. Unlocking the mystery of cell memory is the key to true immortality. Grow a clone, have it ready to be "awakened" at the death of the old body. If only it were that simple...
Raieyana stared out the bedroom window at the sunset. (It is not a question of fearing death. I have no fear. That is not the problem. The worry is, has always been, what will happen to my loved ones if I die... Aeris and Ishmael, Reeve...) She choked back the tears, but one slipped softly down her cheek and landed on the windowpane. (...Reno.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Reeve stood on his back porch, looking at the sunset. He lit a cigarette. The door opened behind him. Cloud stepped out next to him. "Don't worry, Reeve. This is good for her. She'll be safe...and the baby..."
Reeve's eyes blazed. "Yeah, your baby!"
"I can't change the past. I wish it never happened, she wishes it never happend, and you wish it never happened--but it did, so now it's up to you to be a man and accept it."
"You don't understand, Cloud. Your actions are what're tearing me and Ray apart. I'm no use to her anymore. Hell, I don't do a damn thing for her, right? I kill her--you save her from the Turks...I try to build a life with her--Reno kidnaps her and somehow manages to kindle tender feelings..."
"Don't blame me for that."
"I was going to ask her to marry me."
"It's not like you still couldn't, Reeve."
"She doesn't want me anymore. I'm boring. Maybe it took seven years for her to realize that, but she finally did. Why did she wait so long?"
"I need her so much."
"...wait a minute and try to see..."
"Sometimes I wonder if I can go on..."
"Look!" Cloud startled Reeve out of his self-pity. "You do realize that if she didn't want you, Raieyana would have up and left. She's strong enough for that. You have to see she doesn't even know what she wants. And if you're willing to shove her away from you to quote-unquote 'make sure she doesn't get hurt,' she'll go. Because the only person's feelings that you care enough about to spare are your own. She can make it by herself. Besides, you said yourself she cares for Reno. She'll just go to him..."
"You'd shut up if you knew what was good for you, Cloud..."
"...maybe not because she loves him more, but because you drove her to him."
"I don't want to stand in the way of her happiness. If I coaxed her into staying against her will, we'd both be unhappy. If I let her go if she wanted to, at least one of us would be happy."
"She's unsure right now. She could love both of you. It's possible, that's for certain..." Cloud closed his eyes. "...I know personally what that's like."
"I can't stand staying in a love triangle until she decides."
"Then you're gonna lose her. She's spent so much of her life waiting for you. I don't think it's too much to ask for you to wait a little while. You'll be gambling, I know, but...you can't win anything unless you place a wager. If you walk away, they'll never call your ticket number. You could lose; but if you don't try, you'll never win."
"What if I don't think I can compete?"
Cloud shrugged. "That sounds like a personal problem."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Reno took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. He couldn't help staring at Raieyana as she opened the door; the way the light from the dusk caught her hair, glimmered in her eyes...
"What is it, Reno?"
He shook his head to clear his mind. "I want to talk to you. Can I come in?"
"Oh, of course. Who'd want to have a conversation in the hallway?"
He looked at her and smiled a little. "Reeve said I could go back to Alcor like nothing happened. Same position, same everything. Lavs even put in her two weeks' notice."
He interrupted her. "I don't know if I'm gonna accept."
He glanced around uneasily. "I know Reeve's being generous, but I also know that I don't deserve it. I was a traitor. I put Alcor in danger and I nearly got you locked up with a madman!"
"Reno, everyone makes mistakes. You even told me that."
"I think there's a limit to that, eventually. Besides, how could I stand... I can't work with Reeve if he's with you."
Raieyana grabbed him by the shoulder. "Why do you think..."
"Why shouldn't I think that? There are four bedrooms in this house. Your kids are in one, the Valentines in two. Does Reeve sleep on the couch?"
"It wasn't like it is now before I left. You were gone...I had to make a life with my kids."
"Do you think I'd believe you're willing to give it all up? You chose Reeve. I accept it; so should you."
Raieyana looked out the window. "Do you think I was lying back in Gongaga?"
"You were trying to make me feel better. You were trying to make yourself feel better. If it's just physical attraction between you and me, then stop trying to make it something more."
"Fine then, go. Isn't that what you want me to say?"
"What do you want to say?"
"Ray." Reeve stood emotionless in the doorway.
"Reno says you offerred him his job back," she said lightly. (I don't know how much he heard. It started as arguing over that, and the last few pieces sounded like a continuation of it, so...)
Reeve relaxed a little. "Oh." He glanced at Reno, and fingered the box in his pocket. ("Make sure you two are alone--so no one else's presence would sway her decision either way."
"If she loves me, she would say yes in front of everyone else in the world." And now I will see.) "Ray, I have something to ask you."
"What is it, Reeve?"
Reno watched him intently. He was hit with a sudden realization. (He can't...he's not...he wouldn't...not now...)
Reeve took Raieyana's hand and slowly got down on one knee. "I had a lot of nifty things to say, but they all mean the same thing... Ray, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Those seven years were hell. Marry me."
She looked into his eyes. (Earnest.) "What?" she whispered. "What?" Raieyana suddenly felt sick. She shook her head and ran out of the room. She locked herself in the bathroom.
"Damn it. Damn it all to hell!" Reeve threw the box with the engagement ring against the wall. He glanced at Reno. "Guess you won, huh? How did you do it? What did you do that meant so much? Were you there for her when she had bad dreams? Were you there for her when the crater collapsed along with her dreams and her precious memories? When you were without her did you feel a raw ache slowly spread down your throat and into your chest and then linger? Maybe it was something I didn't do... Let's see...I didn't force her to come here with me. I didn't kidnap her for money. I didn't make rude comments the first time we met, but hey, isn't that what all women look for in a man?" He looked directly at Reno. "Even though you've got my one and only treasure, my hope, and all my dreams, I'd rather be me than you. Because you have to answer for it."
"I don't deserve it."
"Then why do you have it? I guess it's because my life has to be sheer pain from one moment to the next. How come the people I think are my best friends always end up destroying my little bit of happiness?" He grabbed a cigarette and stormed out of the room.
Reno was alone in the dark.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
(Why couldn't I say yes? I wanted to say yes. Nothing ever turns out the way it's supposed to be. A person can't make themself do what they want to do. Mix in other people, and the world is just hell.)
Someone lightly tapped on the door. "Raieyana," said Vincent, "do you want to go now?"
She took a deep breath. "Yeah, sure. I said bye to the kids... Reeve's taking them to Lia, right?"
"I think Legolas has got that job."
"Are you going to go fight the Amber Weapon?"
"They need all the help that they can get."
"I wish I could help." Raieyana opened the door. "Just let me get my bag." She walked back into her room.
Reno jumped as the door opened.
"Reno, you're still here?"
He shrugged. "I was getting ready to leave."
She picked up her satchel. "What's this?" She bent down and picked up the ring box. "Oh..." She opened it. Inside was a thin, plain gold band. Reeve didn't buy it because he was cheap; he just thought if Raieyana wore anything else, it would clash with her simple style.
"You goin' now?"
She nodded. "I have to."
"Reno," she said softly, "I'm the only one who has to be sorry for anything."
"I'm sorry that I love you when I can't be the right man for you. Marry Reeve. It's the best thing for you."
"Do you have anything else to say?"
He shook his head. (I wish I was a person who could marry someone like you. I wish I was good enough for you.)
Raieyana couldn't help herself. She had been prepared to leave without a word to anyone. Now, standing here with Reno, she couldn't bear to go. She hugged him.
He pulled her closer in and kissed her.
After a little while, she pulled away. "I have to go now. I..." (...love you.)
He caught her hand and looked into her eyes. "I know."
Raieyana picked up her bag and walked out the door. Vincent was waiting for her. "Come on," she said, "let's go."