Disclaimer: We do not own Naruto and Final Fantasy VII

Co-Author and beta: Etheral-23

Final Prequel: Setting the stage

As the elevator chimed and its doors opened, Tseng gave a deep sigh as he started his way through the 49th floor of the Shinra building. SOLDIER HQ where for the most part 3rd and 2nd class SOLIDERS resided while 1st class did the most dangerous or black opt missions throughout Gaia. Which it came no surprise to him hearing a slight buzz from new recruits, 2nd and 3rd class lively chatting about the 1st class who showed up several hours ago.

By their tone however, as Tseng could overhear as he passed the lounge, she was not in a very pleasant mood currently. Tseng knew quite a bit of her exploits. One would think gaining such a powerful asset against the unknown ninja protecting Aerith would be a boon for their efforts. But the leader of the Turks only felt a deep knot in his stomach growing more and more.

He had had dealings with her before; during that terrible incident with Zirconiade and the WEAPON she had been sent as a much needed reinforcement.

Going through the hallway, he found his destination as dual metal doors automatically opened. The SOLIDER training room, with every piece of equipment one could dream of, right up to the cutting edge holographic simulation room.

Shifting his brown eyes upon hearing light grunting, Tseng looks at his newest 'member' and another SOLDIER he recalled being around Zack's training often. "Runa Michaels," he called as he walked into the massive room.

Landing several strikes on a punching bag, a fairly well-built young man with short brunette hair and glowing emerald eyes wearing only sweat pants and tapped fists, stopped his exercise hearing a familiar voice. "Tseng," the young man spoke up with some surprise.

"Luxiere, you look well. Enjoying your promotion to 1st?"

A husky feminine abruptly spoke up; "He's still a greenhorn with a lot of growing to do."

Though average in stature, the woman currently at the bench-pressing machine had a strong lean athletic build with toned muscle that blended nicely with her feminine figure. Magenta colored hair in a bob-cut style, wearing only a black sports bra and shorts, her glowing ruby orbs stayed focus to ceiling while the Turks leader wondered just how much was that woman benching; "Miss Runa."

Runa said nothing as she kept at what she doing. Luxiere only gave Tseng a placating expression which spoke volumes of everything the raven haired man was possibly expecting.

His newest agent was not very thrilled of her transfer.

Tseng really couldn't blame her. And in all honestly it was a mark of shame for his section to require outside aid, it spoke of how badly they were performing their duties. Runa was currently the top 1st Class SOLDIER, the people of her rank had worked themselves hard day and night to be where they were. To reach the top of the board and be given the best equipment, best assignments, all which carried the greater responsibility entrusted to them.

To someone like Runa, this must have been like a demotion.

...That, and Tseng was aware she had been called in from her vacation.

With the barest of sighs, she set the bar in place and sat. Rolling her neck and enjoying the feeling accompanied by that popping sound. Her red eyes bore into Tseng, apathetic and uncaring.

"I trust that you've been briefed?" Tseng kept his tone professional.

"I was" She replied as she stood up, placing a towel around her shoulders. "But I wanted to go over them with you, seeing as you and your outfit has first-hand experience"

Fair enough. With a conceding nod, Tseng pulled out a device the size of large cellphone. Pulling at the sides of the device, it extended to reveal a moderately wide screen, which lit up as he turned on his pad.

Tapping the screen images began to play; "As the report said, he showed up three years ago."

Runa paid close attention to every detail of images and vids from cellphones and cameras; "three years and you haven't found anything on this guy? Not even a name?"

"There wasn't a single background that remotely a match to him, all we know is he is a professional and very good at what he does."

"Making asses out you guys, he's not even taking you seriously," the 1st class spoke dryly seeing a few pranks the blond had done to practically everyone in the Turks. "Honestly" She scoffed. "You guys helped take down something called the 'World-Burner' and a freaking WEAPON and you can't deal with one man?"

"Circumstances are different" Tseng explained. "This is Midgar, we're not allowed the same amount of material and equipment to apprehend him, the collateral would be too much"

He still remembered those horrible battles against those monsters. He and his team had used so much material, far more than what was considered safe, and it was the only way to stand a chance against such beings. It wasn't without consequences though, afterwards they regularly submitted to medical checkups and treatment. They weren't SOLDIERS; they weren't made to handle that much energy.

But Runa was, and she had been the game changer in those fights.

Luxiere lightly snorted; "Hearing about Reno getting the brunt of it. Some of it was funny," He chuckled till seeing the blank gazes from both Runa and Tseng. "Never mind," he went back to his punching bag.

"Shuriken and Kunai," Runa commented looking back at the screen; "Wutai?"

"Down to the ninja techniques, everything would point to Wutai" The leader of the Turks agreed with her, but there was a problem to that reasoning. "Unfortunately, we have no confirmation from our contacts in the ninja village"

"You've been dealing with an unknown for years, I'm surprised the company put up with your abyssal success for so long" The SOLDIER didn't even bother hiding the contempt from her voice. Making Luxiere clear his throat uncomfortably while Tseng's eyes narrowed ever so slightly in irritation.

"President Shinra feels that recent events have... called into question the company's ability to maintain stability and control"

She snorted. "With your clowns unable to get their act together it's no wonder why he lost his patience" Runa sarcastically said.

Alright, this was getting out of hand. Regardless of their feelings on the matter, they WERE going to be working together as per their orders instructed. It benefited nobody if the SOLDIER was going to keep this aggressive attitude towards him and his subordinates.

"I would appreciate it if you put the proper teamwork when working for us" He firmly said.

Luxiere let out a distressed 'Ohhhhh', and slowly turned away. When Runa closed her red eyes, took a deep breath and closed the pad, Tseng knew he had made a mistake.

"Listen now" Runa replied; anger lacing her words as her fiery eyes bore into Tseng's once more. "I. Don't. Like. This" She made a point of emphasizing each word. "I don't like being called away from my vacation, removed from my future assignments, my place in the corps, and told to play babysitter on your little group because you can't fix your own damn mess" Her tone was filled with cold fury.

Tseng felt like he was between a sword and a wall.

"So I'll just make it clear. I'm not your teammate, I'm not your subordinate, and I don't work for you. I am going to do your job for you so I can get back to my real job, so I don't want your goons getting in my way, nor you thinking you can give me orders" She got into his face, and those glowing red eyes looked like raging fires. "You do not order me, you give me suggestions"

Luxiere really had to hand it to Tseng, he kept that professional face even when having a 1st class SOLDIER glaring you down; "Agreed," the leader of the Turks said simply.

"Good," Runa leaned back as she started walking for the doors; "Let's get this over with so I go back to my real duties." the door opened and quickly closed as she left the room.

The newly minted 1st class let out a deep breathe; "She has been like that since returning from her vacation."

"I'd don't blame her honestly," Tseng retorted as he adjusted his tie. "But it does have me worried."

"Worried that she won't be able to take on this 'ninja'?" The SOLDIER rhetorically asked. "Cause I gotta tell you; I've seen Runa take on giant monsters with barely any effort on her part"

"The full extent of the ninja's capabilities is unknown, yes. But that isn't what worries me" He shakes his head. "I worry that if she fights, she won't hold back. And just thinking of the collateral..."

"Hehehe" Luxiere rubbed his nose. "Yeah, Runa's on the wild side. Nothing is left standing if it is between her and her target"

The leader of the Turks let out a tired sigh. "Wonderful..."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

The stars shined brightly in the heavens above as the lighthouse outside of Nibelheim glowed like a beacon in the night. His boots crunched on the sand as Zack looked out at the ocean before him. He sighed deeply as he rested his hands on his hips; "Now what," speaking to himself as his glowing blue orbs looked upwards; "What should I do now Angeal?"

'What I want most is to be with you...'

Zack closed his eyes as he lowered his head; "Hope Aerith isn't too mad at me." He lightly chuckled as he felt someone trying to sneak up on him. He smiled as he already knew who it was; "Hey Cissnei, been a while."

The petite redhead couldn't quite describe her emotions at present. "Zack," her voice nearly a whisper with a tone of relief and surprise. She thought he had died, even Tseng said so; "You were Hojo's fugitive test sample?"

"Yeah" He rubbed his neck. "Think I got off easy, and that's saying something with what that creep is into..." They could have ended up so much worse; Hojo's experiments would involve a fate worse than death.

"But the reports..." She didn't understand.

Zack did though. "Ah, they hid what happened at Nibelheim. Hmph ain't really a surprise though" Shinra would stop at nothing to hide the dirty little secret of their best operative going mad and slaughtering an entire village.

"Sephiroth is responsible, I know" Her words surprised him. Shinra didn't hide Sephiroth was responsible. "But... they say you died there too"

Now it was clear. They couldn't hide what Sephiroth did, but rather than rescue him and his friend, they felt they served as better 'assets' if they were to be turned into Hojo's lab rats. All those years of service, all that dedication and training... their lives, their loyalty. None of it had meant anything to Shinra.

"Ah..."

He had seen the true colors of the company, witnessed the dark abyss that was the beating heart of the corporation. The lies, the secrets, the dark deeds committed in order to preserve 'peace' and 'prosperity'.

What a bunch of bullshit...

Now it was clear to him, even if he dealt with Genesis, he and his friend would never be safe from Shinra.

"You here to take me in?" Zack turned to look at his friend; least he hoped she was still a friend.

Cissnei lightly bit her lip as she turned her head, the wind shifting her red locks. Why, why did it have to be Zack? She made peace with that fact he died when Sephiroth went crazy. But now, seeing him standing in front of her, alive!

"Please," she gasps as he spoke again making her look at him; "just walk away. Shinra's army I knew we would have no trouble with, but if the Turks after us..."

The redhead slowly looked to her feet. She was still a Turk, she had a duty. Didn't she? Her left hand lightly trembled as she slowly reached behind her back. "Zack... I-I'm sorry..." The former SOLDIER looked shock as Cissnei pulled out her Rekka; "But I... I am a Turk and I have a duty."

She threw her shuriken, barely at her usual strength and was easily deflected by Zack's buster sword.

"Don't come any closer" The warning was delivered by a soft pleading tone. "I don't want to fight you, Cissnei. I don't want to..." He couldn't even bring himself to say the words. Instead, he continued with his newfound resolution; "I'm done with Shinra. From now on, I'm doing what's right. I'm gonna stop Genesis"

Cissnei's hand tightened into fists. "And then what?" She asked, her voice nearly hissing. "Are you going to fight Shinra? Fight everyone?"

He sighed. "Haven't thought that far to be honest" He sounded so carefree like always. "Figure I'll take care this and then I'll see what I do. I'll make it up as I go"

"Zack..." As stubborn as always.

He gave her one last look; the wind blew softly as their eyes meet, carrying the salty sea breeze.

Zack kept the Buster Sword pointed at her as walked away, once he was far enough he broke eye contact and turned to full sprint, leaving her behind.

Cissnei did not attempt to follow him.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Running back to the hillside beside the lighthouse, Zack took a breath seeing his blond spiky haired friend still sitting catatonic against the boulder. "Never was much of a planner," Zack mumbled. "But we stop Genesis, and get back to Aerith. I'll think of something then."

He sharply turned seeing Cissnei standing a foot away. Neither said a word as the former SOLDIER hand went for the hilt of his weapon till the petite redhead lifted her hand and took out her cellphone and started dialing. Zack almost spoke till she silenced him with a finger; "Tseng, no target sighted."

His glowing electric blues were wide as Cissnei closed her cell and put it back. Her eyes shifted to the blond figure sitting; "He was also Hojo's..."

"Yeah."

"He has Mako addiction."

Zack nodded slowly; "I know, who knows what that lunatic did to us. But I got to get him out of here." He blinked as the Turk walked up to him pulling out some keys. "Cissnei."

"I made my choice, there's an old garage not far with what goes with those keys." She placed them in her friend's hand. "If you trust me enough." She said no more as she turned and walked away.

"...Thank you. Cissnei," Zack said quietly.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

With his unbandaged hand, Naruto wiped the steam off the mirror in the bathroom. The now twenty-four year old Uzumaki takes a long look at himself. Not much has changed for the blond since he was twenty, benefit of being an Uzu.

The only real difference was the letting the back of his hair grow out. While not too long, going just below his shoulder blades, the former Anbu quite liked the new look. His way to remember that old perv Jiraiya.

For a while he had contemplated on cutting his spiky lock to something shorter, but that idea ran out the window. Even Aerith said it sounded just not him, and he agreed.

His thoughts drifted momentarily to his old mentor, it had been a while since he last thought of him. He remembered the pranks he'd pull on the old pervert, how much Jiraiya would get on his nerves with his cheapness and perverted behavior. They would drive each other nuts, pushing each other's buttons while sharing just as many close and heartwarming moments.

Naruto still smiled whenever he remembered Jiraiya praising him, ruffling his hair whenever he got a technique right at last.

After his death, not long before the war, Naruto would get the shock of his life when he met a beautiful white haired swordswoman, with a magnificently colorful and stylish attire, and an attitude that remind him of Jiraiya so much.

It was only natural he supposed, she was his daughter after all.

'My old man loved you like a grandchild' she had said. There was no judgement in her voice, no rage filled accusation of Naruto having let Jiraiya die. She had smiled as she lightly shook the sake cup in her hand while leaning back on her seat, fondly sharing with him her own memories of the man so important to them both. 'Supposed that kinda makes me your aunt. But forget about that' She winked at him mirthfully. 'From now on, just call me "Big Sis"'

Yuma, he could safely say his 'big sis' got him into more mayhem then he could whenever he went on a mission. And naturally being the daughter of the self-proclaimed 'SUPER PERVERT' she also took into that habit maybe even more so than her old man.

Drying out his hair with a towel he heard a light knock at the door; "Mom's got breakfast almost ready," Aerith's voice coming from the other side.

"It was my turn to cook;" the blond lightly pouted.

He only heard the beautiful brunette giggle; "I swear you two."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

After a good breakfast and light training for Aerith, the duo made their way through sector 5. The tall blond wearing a simple shirt and jeans while his companion had on her pink dress and jacket. Both were greeted by a few waves and brief exchanges, while the sector still was not completely safe.

Aerith was happy in seeing the few warmest residents of the sector treated her friend kindly.

"While the monsters are still a problem, least the bandits seem to leave this place alone for the most part," the young Cetra smiled.

The blond snorted; "Never could call a bandit smart."

They were but a few meters away from the church Aerith frequented so much. Aerith called that place holy, and it was why the flowers grew so strong inside. And Naruto agreed with her, it was one of the few places in this damn city where he could actually feel some natural energy. It was a place that brought him comfort; there was definitely something... spiritual about the place.

Aerith said she could 'talk to the planet', but not in a sense people understood. It wasn't a conversation, not like how two people communicated. Aerith would fondly say she could speak with her deceased mother there, once again taking the time to explain to Naruto that; No, she couldn't speak with the dead.

She had giggled when she saw his expression upon being told of her 'abilities' could do.

It was hard to explain, but Aerith felt a presence in the church, warmth, love. A gentle feeling embracing her and filling her with joy. She knew it was her mother.

Naruto knew exactly how she felt, though their circumstances had been vastly different, he understood.

The doors were open as usual, but when they entered they were surprised to see someone else inside.

Sitting in front of the flowers was a beautiful young woman. Her hair was wavy and wild, thick strands framed her face perfectly, covering most of her forehead and staying close to her cheeks. It was held up in a high ponytail, telling the dark locks cascade down over her back.

Her attire was one designed for utility and combat. A sleeveless reddish leather vest over a white shirt. Leather leggings over dark pants protecting her legs, along with dark boots designed for travel. Leather armguards around her forearms, fingerless gloves on her hands. Around her waist was a long waist cloak.

She lifted her heart shaped face, and was greeted by what had to be the softest and yet strangely the strongest shade of blue eyes they had ever seen.

"Oh" The stranger smiled at the sight of them. "Hello there"

"Hello," Aerith returned the greeting with a tilt of her head; "are you from the slums?"

While the woman did not give off any malicious intent, that could be hidden. But Naruto kept himself alert as the woman got to her feet. "I roam pretty much anywhere, I'm a wandering adventurer you could say, call me Evelyn. Hope I wasn't intruding."

Aerith shook her head; "Not at all, this is a church after all, I just have never seen anyone but me and my friend coming here."

"The flowers are beautiful," Evelyn looked back to the garden. "Out of everywhere in Midgar this is one place that grows anything."

"So why come to the slums of all places," Naruto finally speaking up. His brunette friend eyed him curiously; "family?"

Evelyn smiled at him; "You're being cautious, I can respect that. And right now I know my word can't be taken at face value since we just met, but I mean no ill will to either of you."

Naruto reached out with the ability to sense emotions Kurama provided. There was no malicious intent coming out from this woman, she felt sincere. But he still had this nagging feeling at the back of his head, something he couldn't quite place.

'What do you think?' He asked his tenant.

"Feels like a regular human to me" the fox replied. "It's good to be cautious, but I don't think this person means you or the girl any harm"

'Nothing odd you can pick from her?'

"Hmm" Kurama pondered for a moment. "Her energy is definitely above average, large even. But she said she's an adventurer, must have traveled a lot and had a lot of training and experience"

Naruto's lips pursed, he still wasn't sure. Why did he feel so... odd in the presence of this woman?

"Stop being so paranoid, kit" the fox drawled with a roll of his eyes; "Not everyone is out to kill you"

'Ninja training for all my life' He conceded. 'It sticks to you'

Kurama snorted as Naruto cleared his throat; "Sorry, didn't mean to sound like an ass. You just can't be too careful in the slums."

"Oh I agree," Evelyn chuckled; "ran into at least two bandits and a weird little imp monster."

"Hedgehog pies they're called," Aerith clarified as she walked over.

"More like annoying pest that breathes fire," Naruto grumbled earning a giggle from his beautiful brunette friend.

"He actually got into a yelling match with a dozen of them."

The wandering adventurer gave the man a long look; "seriously?"

"They started it!" He defended himself. "Thought I'd give the little bastards a taste of their own medicine"

"It was so funny" The flower girl laughed. "They just stood in a row in front of him, shouting rather than attacking. He did well enough at first... but again, there was a dozen of them so he got tired faster trying to catch up with how loud they were shouting. He ended up with a very sore throat and couldn't speak for a week"

The blonde gave her a long, deadpanning look. "...Why did you say that? I don't go around telling embarrassing stories about you"

"I'm sorry" Her tone indicated she wasn't sorry in the least. "But when you get into a yelling match with little monsters, willingly, you are pretty much asking to be embarrassed"

"I realize your first opinion of me must be that I am pretty dumb" Naruto quickly said to the wild haired woman.

"Just about, yeah"

Who the hell has a willing to have a conversation with monsters!?

"And they set you pants on fire" Kurama added chuckling.

'Thank you for reminding me,' Naruto grumbled before shaking his head; "Anyways, welcome to the slums."

Evelyn giggled; "Interesting place so far. Not the strangest place I've seen but interesting."

"You've been all over Gaia?" Aerith asked as she tended to her flowers.

"From the Cosmo Canyon, Wutai, Mideel, to even places rarely seen by humans. Even meet a village of Moogles in a deep forest. Very polite folks."

That made the former Anbu blink; "I've seen kids with stuff toys of them. They're real?"

"They prefer living in the forests, they are friendly, but keep to themselves and rarely get visitors."

"Ohhhh I had a plushie of them as a child. They're so cute!" The flower girl couldn't help herself. Those plumb tiny bodies, those big noses and tiny wings. They were just the most adorable thing in the world.

"Oh aren't they?" Evelyn gushed as well. "Try telling one that to their face. They get so defensive about it, but that makes them all the more cute"

Maybe he should just leave and let them have a girl talk, Naruto thought with a roll of his shoulder. He never quite understood what the deal was with girls and cute things.

"So," Evelyn gave smile to both; "What do you two do?"

"Aerith usually sells flowers either in the slums or the upper plate," Naruto commented as he sat down on a pew.

"Naruto works as blacksmith in Sector 7, but he also does a lot around the slums. Fighting monsters, bandits. I swear he does not know the meaning of the word sitting still."

The blond gave a dry look to his friend only smiled back; "I do meditate you know, I am a sage thank you."

"So says the man who wakes up at four in the morning and trains till seven."

Her lips curled up in interested. "Sage huh?" There was something in her voice they couldn't quite place.

Naruto and Aerith exchange a look. "Something wrong?"

"Oh nothing. Just a... Interesting way to present yourself" Her smile grew a bit. "People say lots of things about sages. I wonder if they are true..."

"I like nature" He left it at that, no reason to give this stranger any more info.

"I think we have that in common" Evelyn said, pausing for a few moments before stretching. "At any rate, I gotta go now. Maybe I'll stick around; this place seems to have a lot of interesting things going on"

Dusting her hands, Aerith stood up smiling; "it was good to meet you Miss Evelyn."

"Just call me Evelyn or Evie," She saw Naruto stand and extend his hand to her. She shook it hardily; "Hope to run across you two again."

"Stay safe," the blond watched as the woman walked out of the church. Looking back he saw his brunette friend with her hands behind her back leaning forward looking at him.

"You don't like her?"

"No, not that," the blond shook his head; "I'm probably just being paranoid."

"You can be a bit jumpy at times," A teasing smile came from the flower girl.

"Ha-ha..."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Closing the church doors behind her, Evie made her way down the dirt path of the slums. "A sage, hmm. While a bit of an odd man, I have no reason to distrust his words" she spoke out loud to herself.

She walked down a more hidden path, away from prying eyes and ears.

"He doesn't appear to be a threat"

...

"He isn't evil. I saw into his heart. His life forged him into the man he is"

...

She sighed. "You make a good point. I'll keep a close eye on him"

...

"Don't worry, there is still time. Mother Gaia will be saved"

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Sitting at his desk, Tseng gazed blankly at the monitor of his computer; 'So you finally woke up. I wondered when you would Zack.'

It had been the knot in his stomach for years after the incident at Nibelheim. When Sephiroth went insane, he told those close to Zack he had died in the fire. Lying to those closest to him, Cissnei took it the hardest.

Perhaps death would have been preferable than to whatever Hojo did to him with his experiments.

...And from the sounds of it, that was going to be the outcome.

Already Shinra was mobilizing a lot of their armed forces. Their mission was a simple one; Search and Destroy...

Tseng rested his elbows and let out a long pained sigh filled of frustration and regret. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say that would change things. Zack was going to die.

The last few years had been the worst in the company's history. And that was no lie. Genesis and Angeal going rogue, Sephiroth going insane, once loyal soldiers defecting and spreading chaos and destruction. Failure after failure after failure.

President Shinra had had enough. There would be no mercy.

"...Gods damn it, Zack"

No, it wasn't fair. Zack was a victim of events beyond his control, used and discarded by the company. Tseng's mind wondered to all the people that had suffered because of poor foresight and lack ethical code on Shira's part.

...But he had no right to complain about ethics no didn't he?

"Veld... what should I do?"

XxX ~ several years prior ~ XxX

"Duty and loyalty..."

"Sir?"

A much younger Tseng stood in front of the desk at the Turks office. Sitting at the desk, was an older gentleman with short brown hair with hints of grey in them. A short goatee with a scar on his cheek. His brown eye cast steely at his young agent.

"How do you define duty and loyalty?"

"To Shinra sir," Tseng answered simply.

"I didn't ask who you are loyal to. I asked how do you define duty and loyalty?" Veld asked once more.

The Young Turk pondered on his answer for a moment. "Loyalty is to be commitment to our obligations, our superiors and our cause. Duty is commitment to those to the task we've been given"

"So the two are one and the same?"

Tseng looked at him in confusion. "I'm afraid I don't understand, sir"

"I believe the Turks must uphold their loyalty with the company, for we work to serve the greater good" The chief of the Turks explained, his mouth hidden behind his interlocked fingers. "But our duty is to the people and our ideals. We must fulfill the missions given to us, but we most also not forget that we do it to serve the people"

"Why are you telling me this sir?"

"Because" There was glint in Veld's eyes, there was old pain and regret. "Sometimes your loyalty will call your duty into question. Your code, your morals" He closed his eyes, and held back a sigh. "You must uphold both. The mission and your morals"

"But if they come into conflict like you said sir? If I have to choose between one and the other?"

"Then always remember the mission must be fulfilled first, after that is up to you what to do"

XxX ~ present ~ XxX

Tseng sighed as he leaned back on his chair; "You were a far better Turk than I could be Veld..."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Through the natural mountain passes that resided around Cosmo Canyon, the roar of the motorcycle engine deafens the natural and bestial noises usually heard. Driving through the rocky terrain, Zack eyes the still motionless passenger in the sidecar; "See if I can find a doctor in the slums, or you wake up soon Gods willing."

The former SOLDIER had half a mind hunting Hojo down for whatever he did to him and his friend. But that won't help his friend, and in truth he'd rather get back to Aerith. Turning a corner, Zack slowed the bike till coming to a stop; "Well I'll be damned," he grinned as he got off the bike taking a few steps. His glowing blue orbs taking in to what was below the cliffs.

"Gongaga..." Surrounded by a dense forest, a mid-size village could be seen at its center. Close-by was the ruins of the Mako reactor which had exploded ages ago. "We actually made it to my hometown."

Zack's smile slowly thinned as he looked back to the bike. Without another word, the raven haired man got back on and made his way down the mountain path and towards the ruins of the Mako reactor. Parking and turning off the bike, "You should be safe here," Zack spoke as he got off the bike.

This area of the village was still sealed off, it was too near the reactor and fears of Mako poisoning were still on everyone's mind after all this time. Most of the people lived at the center of the village, so it's no surprise this area was pretty much deserted.

He strutted about, taking in the sight of the run-down buildings. It's been some time since he's last been here.

Zack's thoughts went to his parents. He didn't know how this 'quest' of his was gonna end, but... if the worse came to past he just... he just wanted to see them again, just one more time was enough for him.

So entrapped in his own thoughts he was he completely missed the presence of a figure standing right behind him.

"Hey"

He turned around immediately; his hand swiftly grasped the handle of the Buster Sword, ready to strike without a second's hesitation. Zack sighed and relaxed once he saw who it was.

"You should have known this was the first place we'd look" Cissnei reprimanded him with mirth in her voice.

The former SOLDIER let out a disgruntled sigh; "Of course you would."

"Still can't plan ahead for anything can you?" Zack lightly glared while Cissnei only gave a teasing grin in return. "You came to see your parents?"

"...I was worried; mom was probably terrified something happened."

"It's okay," Cissnei walked over to Zack's right; "I told them you've been on a long-term mission. Due to its classified natured, you really couldn't send messages to them."

"You spun that off from the top of your head?"

"Yep."

Zack snorted before looking to the petite redhead who looks back; "How were they?"

"They're fine. Though your mom is worried you might never find a wife." Cissnei faintly giggled at the sight of Zack blushing and getting flustered. "But I also came here on sightings of another target." she paused as her friend turned to her; "Angeal."

Zack crossed his arms looking to the sky; "I see."

"You killed Angeal, Zack, and you're not surprised hearing he might be alive?"

"How do you think I got out of Shinra manor?"

The petite Turk paused before conceding with a nod; "Of course he would. You were his student."

"What are your orders?"

"...I don't feel like following them," she walked around her friend who looked shock at hearing that; "I'll give you ten minutes, then I rejoin the Turks."

The SOLDIER gave her a long analyzing look, which made Cissnei uncomfortable. Made her feel like he could see right into her thoughts, into every single Thing that went on in her head.

"You've been... awfully kind lately" He said, and soon held up his hands. "Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it a lot but. Well... given the circumstances I didn't expect you to be so lenient"

"...You make it hard to follow orders sometimes" She admitted.

"Heh" Zack smirked. "I'll take that as a compliment"

"Don't let it go to your head" The shuriken wielder frowned. "You own me, several times. And I'll remind you we're still hunting you"

"Yeah, yeah," the raven haired man waved his hand before pausing; "Think you can look after my folks?"

"Sure," Zack blinked at how causally Cissnei replied. "Your mom even invited me to join the family," she walked away smirking.

"WHAT?!" Zack gawked; "Cissnei!"

The petite redhead kept walking; "That's not my real name. Five minutes Zack..."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

"67... 68... 69" Tifa huffed, her face twisting with strain. "70... 71" She loved some good training, feel the burn on her muscles as she pushed her limits. "72..." Her teeth clenched with exertion. Problem was there was a decent place in this gods forsaken district to get a good workout.

Naruto had the brilliant idea of using the train graveyard. Alright it didn't seem brilliant to her at first, after all she couldn't really picture herself getting anything done here that could improve her skills. But the ninja had pointed out the place was deserted, and if any monster popped out then all the better, it meant practice and more experience against those creeps.

Currently, the barkeep was curling a simple yet rusted iron tube that had been lying around. One would find the sight of her lifting an item like that with so much effort put into it to be downright comical. That she was really weak or was outright faking it.

But if one were to take a closer look, they would see the exhaustion in her face, the strain in her biceps as they flexed and rippled, the sweat rolling down her neck were all very much real. That mere tube she was curling was 'very' heavy.

Another benefit of this little personal training place was that Naruto with those little seal thingies of his were helluva lot useful to turn old pieces of rusted metal into far better equipment than anything she could ever find or afford. Like right now, a single seal on the tube and suddenly the thing was several times heavier than it should be.

"87... 88" She grunted and heaved, so close, so very close. Her eyes closed as she struggled to finish. "89..." The makeshift weight bar was proving to be very defiant in its ascent. "Come on, come on!" Tifa pretty much growled as she lifted the tube to the desired height. "90!" She gasped and dropped it.

The tube fell to the ground with a loud crushing sound, the concrete beneath it breaking and lifting up dust with the impact.

There! She had broken her personal record. Tifa gasped for breath, letting her arms fall limply to the sides. They burned like hell, her muscles felt like jelly...

"Not bad" Her training partner congratulated. "Broke your record" He smiled down at her from his spot on a train car's roof. The blond wearing his burnt orange pants and black muscle shirt.

Red eyes looked up at him as she flashed a proud smirk. "'Not bad'? I'd say that was awesome" She boasted by lifting an arm and flexing... she immediately regretted it because as soon she made a muscle her arm was suddenly in agony. "Ow, ow..."

Rolling his eyes, the blond pulled out a small object from his pocket; "Your muscles are going to hurt for a while, here." Tifa caught the object seeing it was ointment; "My mom made that for me when my muscles got overly sore."

"Thank you," Tifa smiled as she opened the lid and her nostrils winced. She quickly closed it.

"Not the best smelling stuff but it works wonders."

Putting the ointment aside, the busty brunette looked up at her friend; "Care for a spar?"

"We keep it light, best not to over-strain."

Ther spar this time consisted of a slow trading of strikes as so Tifa wouldn't overwork herself. Just refinement of technique and movement. It gave Naruto time to ponder as this wasn't really a spar in which they both had to put effort and anticipate the other's movement.

Every time her flesh made contact with his whenever he blocked a punch or a kick he could feel it, like a flare or energy coursing through her limbs... which was exactly what it was.

Energy. Not from Materia, but hers, her own energy coming from the depths of her body.

It was almost like chakra...

It had been bothering him for a long time now. Well, more along the lines that it was driving him nuts. Using the sensory abilities provided by Kurama he could feel it, the energy in her body. She had energy that was so similar to Materia it almost didn't make sense for him.

It wasn't just Tifa, humans here had it too, and Tifa's was just more obvious doing all the training she did. The Turks too had it.

But why didn't they use it then? Did they even know HOW to employ it?

Aerith was another case; her race was different from humans. She could draw out not only her own energy, but also draw IN the energies from nature like some in-born sage-like ability that came naturally to her. It reminded him of the animals back home and their greater connection to nature chakra.

Naruto wondered how it was possible the humans of Gaia didn't know about it.

"Perhaps they did know once" Kurama suggested.

He had a good point. Maybe all they needed was to learn how to access that energy.

Hmm, that gave him an idea. Could he? Well the bigger question was 'should he'?

Well, Tifa he knew would handle it properly.

He made up his mind. "Stop" He called out their fight.

"What's wrong?" The barkeep asked him.

"I... wanna try something" He slowly said. "Do you trust me?"

That made the brawler look at him with concern. "Is... everything alright?"

"Yeah, yeah. Just... It's hard to explain. I think you are capable of a lot more than you think possible. For that I need to make sure of something" He tried to explain. "I'm gonna place use seal on you, don't worry, it's just to 'analyze' your body you could say"

She slowly nodded. "Um... Okay. I'm curious where you're going with this. Go head"

Naruto placed a hand on her head, a single seal formed on his hand; it began 'grasping' the structure of the body under his touch. He closed his eyes for greater concentration as a thin wave of chakra moved over her body.

Tifa shivered, it felt so weird...

Naruto let the seal guide him through the intricacies of her body, every muscle, tendon, bone, nerve; it went deeper and deeper until...

...There, a glow, surging and flaring like flames inside of her.

Energy. Almost like chakra yet not, he thought on what he had heard on his travels through his own world, how other cultures called it, chakra, chi, ki, prana, and mana. Many names for the same spiritual-physical energy present in everything. There weren't chakra pathways, at least not those of a design ninjas would possess; her biology was different in that regard.

He guided his own chakra through her body. Wrapping a single 'strand' and pulling it forward.

Tifa's energy came alive.

She gasped, this strange new feeling was so sudden, so... invigorating. She stepped back, looking at her hands as she swore she could see circuitry-like lines temporarily glow underneath her skin, banishing in an instant.

"What..." She gasped. "What was that?"

"Where I come from they call it chakra, the lifeforce energy that exist in all beings. Feels weird channeling it huh?"

Tifa couldn't describe it, she could not form the words to the feeling she felt. It was like she had been wearing blinders, or submerged deep in the oceans. And for the first time ever she hit the surface. Everything felt different, everything looked different.

"Ever since we started training together I've felt something, I felt a lot of it. Call it whatever you like, mako or whatever, but you have a hell of a lot of chakra."

"This how you been using those weird powers," the beautiful barkeep said breathlessly. "By Gaia I feel so..."

"Alive?"

A million thoughts coursed through her mind, her mind tried to reel itself and reestablish some semblance of order and control them. Yet all she could do was stare at her hands and sputtered half-finished questions at rapid succession.

"I-I don't- How did you- I mean, why hasn't anybody-?"

"Calm down" Naruto held up a hand, partly amused by her current reactions. "You always had it inside you, I just used a bit of my own to 'tug it out' you could say"

The barkeep took long deep calming breaths.

"How do I do that on my own?" She wanted to experience it again so badly. It felt so different than using materia, while the invigorating feeling was there this felt so... so personal, like it was a part of herself she never knew existed finally awakening after a long slumber. Probably because it was.

'Hmm, would trying jutsu help,' Naruto mentally comments to Kurama.

"While she has chakra, her biology is different. You felt it when you were searching through her; her pathways are very different than those of our world. Chakra exercises would still work to help her harness her energy, but I would not recommend Jutsu."

The blond ran his hair through his blond locks; "Well I can teach you exercises to harness your energy. May help you use materia a lot better in the long run."

"Do it!" Gods she couldn't keep the smile off her face. "Let's start, right now!"

"Woohoho!" He held up his hands as his own smile grew. "Easy there, that's the excitement talking. And the rush for the first time of flaring your own energy. Don't think I need to remind you you're physically tired from all the training today" He patted her in the shoulder. "Rest. We'll start tomorrow proper"

She huffed. "But I wanna learn now!" Great job sounding so mature there, Tifa.

Naruto chuckled. "Yeah, I remember when I was like that. Trust me, it'll be worth it"

The brawler threw her head back and groaned. "Fine... But can you at least tell me how to draw it out on my own?"

"Ah..." He scratched his head. That was complicated, for him it had been an instinctive thing since he started the academy, he wasn't quite sure how to explain such a concept to her. "At first it's all about concentration I guess. Like... feeling like you have this pool of water inside you and you try to make it flow through your body with... with your mind and your senses, I think"

"...How does that even make sense?"

"It will make sense tomorrow," How the hell does a woman make a pout look so damn sexy. Shaking his head the blond cleared his throat; "we can talk about it later tomorrow after I'm done working for Sheamus, beside Marlene is probably wondering where you are."

The blond had met the little girl that Tifa took care of while her dad was working. Naruto always found it weird he never met the guy yet, but waved it off as working hard for his daughter.

Although being called Mr. Whiskers made his eye twitch every time.

"Alright, alright," Tifa grumbled before smiling and giving her friend a hug; "thank you."

The blond chuckled as he hugged her back; "What friends do."

Letting go, the buxom brunette makes her way out of the train graveyard. "Enjoy that hug," Kurama snicker.

'Oh hush.' the blond did a light stretch; "Think I'll train a little then head home."

"Glad to see you settled in well," Naruto froze before slowly turning and looking up. "Hello~"

There it was, the face of the person who had saved him when he was at death's door, sitting atop one of the abandoned trains.

Long black hair like waved out of the starry night itself, it gave the effect of almost looking at that dark sky dotted with stars. Beautiful mocha skin on a figure so perfect it had to be impossible. A very low cut dress, one half red and the other purple.

And those eyes, one silver and the other golden... eyes that glimmered with power far beyond any mortal's ken. Eyes filled with nothing but pure, chaotic, madness.

"Thought I'd drop by and check up on you" She smiled so widely at him from up there. "See how you were doing. Been a while, kid"

Just looking at her... Unlike before when he was nearly dead, it was almost like his own mind wanted to scream out in terror and abandon any notion of sanity he had. So powerful...

"Don't... do anything, that could set her off" Kurama wisely advice. "She is... something great"

"You'd be wise to listen to your partner" The woman casually, standing right behind him and checking up her nails. "He sounds smart"

He turned around sharply with a gasp, one second she had been sitting on the roof of train and then at his side. Naruto felt a cold drop of sweat fall from his forehead. She had heard Kurama, which meant she could most likely hear his own thoughts.

"Cat got your tongue?" She lifted an elegant brow. "Those usually go well with brain pie"

"...Who are you?" WHAT was she?

That seemed to please her, if the cheek-splitting smile was any indication. "Ahhhh, how I love my introductions" She paced around. "I am called many things, boy" She had a happy skip to her steps. "The Mantler of the Old Mad One. The Lady of the Never-There"

Things were... shifting, around them. Shapes became distorted, space itself seemed to warp and objects were replaced with... colors. A thousand sounds roared all at once from everywhere and nowhere.

She twirled around and laughed. "I am called Mad Star, the Mad One, and the Chaos-Shaped whole of creation" She danced in that myriad of colors, it was so bright Naruto's head felt like it was splitting due to the horrible headache they induced.

Thought and ideas became physical, so warped and twisted, yet so creative and wonderful, so free, just contemplating them was too much.

"I am the Fevered Dream, and the Crazed Inspiration. I am the shadow in your psyche, those dark things you want to keep hidden. My lands are the Shivering Isles, and my domain is the beautiful and horrid places the deranged minds wander to" She smiled at him. "My name, the one I inherited, is Sheogorath," her named thundered around him and throughout the area.

Then, it stopped. Reality popped back into place and suddenly he could breathe again.

"But call me Sheo for short" She casually waved it off in good nature. "Or Raven if you want"

Naruto gulped, feeling like he was witnessing Kaguya once again.

"...You're a god" Kurama had never honestly given him a real straight answer about her in the years since they came to Gaia. It was the rarest of times he ever saw true genuine terror in the old surly kitsune when just mentioning her.

"Yeeeep~" She popped the 'p' at the end. "It's a family thing. Pass it down from me to myself every few thousand years"

"You brought me here"

"Right again!" He heard the music of a slot machine play in the background. "If you get the third one right you win a lifetime supply of CHEESE~!"

"...Why?"

The 'loser' music was heard, along with a flare of red light coming from... somewhere.

"Ehhh!" She gave him thumbs down. "Not an answer, kid. That's a question. Did you even go to school?"

He tried again. "Why did you save me? Why did you bring me?"

"Well, honestly" Sheo shrugged. "Cosmos explicitly told me not to. So I decided I REALLY wanted to do the opposite of that just to annoy her"

Nothing of what she said rang any bells for him. In fact, little of what she said made sense. Period. "Who?"

"Eh you wouldn't know her, isn't relevant right now. Bit stiff, could really use a holiday. Always tell her she needs to get laid. Probably why she never visits"

Probably safer for his sanity not to ask while Sheo hummed and skipped around him; "Can you tell me anything about what going on here on Gaia?" The goddess stopped with her hands behind her back and slowly looked at him.

Again he hears Kurama silently pleading not to piss this 'being' off in any way.

"Ah Gaia, interesting place isn't it? Full of wonder, mystery and a giant pizza tray right above our heads! Oh wait that's a city," Sheo shook her head as she clicked her tongue; "You'd think with all that wealth Shinra would get creative with it. Nah, 'let's build one big giant ugly city that is killing the planet, Magnificent!'"

"So... uh, why are you here?" Naruto asked before hastily adding. "Uh, your eh... liege? Highness?" Better play it safe around a god.

"I was bored and sometimes I like to check on how my pranks are going" He felt insulted at being labeled a 'prank'. "Honestly, I'm disappointed. Hoped that by now you would blow something up and spread chaos and mayhem. Buuuut you're playing things too slow for my liking."

"Sorry to disappoint, I guess" He sheepishly rubbed his neck. "But, you didn't answer my question?"

"Don't push her, kid..."

"Oh I know" She replied earnestly. "And I won't tell you! I don't like spoiling things for people, it's like that jackass who always spoils the end of a movie. Ugh, don't you just hate that guy?"

He did, but that was beside the point; "Figure it out on my own?" Soon victorious fanfare seems to play in the background around him.

"DING, DING! More fun when you get to the surprises," she leaned in smiling; "and you might make some surprises of your own. Now, have to go, being the goddess of madness is very serious work," Sheo said tiredly before giving Naruto a stern look which made him stand ramrod straight; "Be good boy and cause some mayhem around here okay. I'll be seeing you again, if not Haskill will. OH you'll love Haskill, utter wild-man. He brought a whole castle down with nothing but a fork! Ta-ta!"

Like that the mad goddess vanished in a flash of light. Looking down, the blond saw a wheel of cheese in his hands; "Well... That was something."

"Trust me kit," Kurama looked cautiously at the gigantic wheel of cheese was sitting in front of him in Naruto's mindscape; "It can get way more strange than you can imagine."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Banora Village, the only other area of civilization in the region besides Mideel, on a small island near Junon and Fort Condor. Or was; the Shinra bombers scorched earthed the village from the map upon learning it was used as a base of operations by the rogue agent.

As Zack stood at the edge of a cliff, there was nothing left that showed a village existed here at all. Nature had retaken the area. "How long were we in that mansion?" he mused quietly to himself. But he shook away the thoughts. He knew he was waiting for him here.

Genesis...

Going through the village ruins the former SOLDIER soon came to an entrance of what looked like a large mine. Which he found interesting cause he never even saw or knew of a mine at Banora. Traversing the tunnels and dealing with monsters or Genesis copies, the raven haired man found a table with several pictures and journals. The pictures being of Angeal and Genesis, from when they were children to adults.

Zack only frowned as he skimmed through a journal; "Project G and Project A. It was never a real village but a damn lab." And Genesis and Angeal were the subjects; it made the former SOLDIER sick to his stomach.

But there was still a chance, there had to be. For Angeal, Zack could least try and save Genesis.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Going through the tunnels it was becoming less man-made and more natural cave network, a big one. But his patience was rewarded as a figure wearing a black SOLDIER'S outfit like him, but with his usual red long coat. His short red hair nearly turned white now. His crimson bladed rapier in his right hand.

"Genesis," Zack spoke quietly as he stopped a few feet behind the man who has his back to him.

The rogue SOLDIER stood in front a large statue of female figure that Zack had no idea who that was. But he knew what was behind it. This had to be the biggest summoning materia he had ever seen.

"I'd knew you'd come, that you would find this place," Genesis spoke while gazing at the statue. "With Sephiroth's cells within you, and Angeal's buster sword, the three friends are reunited again."

"It's not too late to end this" The wielder of the Buster Sword pleaded.

Genesis ignored him; "'My soul, corrupted by vengeance'"

Once again he was quoting that damn poem, blindly guided by a vague piece of flowery poetry which had no real meaning or purpose. He didn't know why, but it just made Zack so damn angry...

"'Hath endured-'"

"Enough!" Zack shouted, his voice echoed throughout the caverns.

The winged SOLDIER relented his quoting, silenced by the outburst yet still did not deign to look at him.

"No more poems, no more of your damn 'prophecies'! Just... Just stop it Genesis!" He took one step forward, "Do you have any idea how many people you've hurt because you wanted revenge?! How many innocent people caught in the crossfire?!"

Genesis still didn't look at him.

"...You think your 'goddess' will give you her favor?" Zack scoffed in anger. "Or will she turn you away the moment she sees all that blood in your hands?"

"...I make no illusions of being a saint," Genesis finally commented after a minute of silence; "could a person truly call themselves such a lofty title when they killed their own parents? Banora village was a lie, but there were good, happy memories here. Many I shared with my parents and Angeal."

Slowly Genesis finally turned to him, "And I shattered all of it by forcing the truth out into the open."

Zack took a long look at Genesis's face. No facade or bravado of arrogance came from the rogue SOLDIER. Only deep pain, regret, remorse. "Angeal and Sephiroth... Because of my actions, they spiraled into the same madness that consumed me," the man let out a bitter chuckle; "it would be easy to blame all that I have done one my degeneration, but that be a lie."

"Then why continue?" He couldn't understand, he just couldn't...

"Because Zack" Step by step, Genesis walked closer. "I. Have. Nothing. Else"

The younger SOLDIER gasped softly.

"My past was a lie. My work in SOLDIER was a lie. My existence, my very nature, all of it was a lie. Just... one sick experiment" His voice was filled with cold hate, and self-loathing. "All I've done up until this point was to finally get the answers I wanted, to find a purpose for my existence"

He was lost, he had nowhere to go, no one that could possibly understand him anymore. Genesis was alone.

"Everything I've been through, everything I've done must have meant something!" He seethed through clenched teeth.

Zack now saw clearly. He was desperately seeking for the lie that his life had been to have meaning. And answer that could give justification to the pain he was feeling, the sheer despair he had fallen into, something to make him believe his life wasn't empty. That he was more than just a lab experiment.

"And maybe then," Genesis spoke quietly; "just maybe I can find a small measure of redemption." He points his rapier towards Zack; "Find my real purpose, and penance."

A red glow covered Genesis as the massive summoning materia began to resonate; "What are you doing?" Zack yelled as the glow brightened over the rogue SOLDIER.

"Seeing this final act to its climax!" Soon Genesis roared and enveloped but red light with the summoning materia vanishing.

Genesis screamed, the sheer amount of energy... it was just so vast, so overwhelming. Like trying to fill a mere cup with a turbulent river. The mako in his being reacted to it, violently.

And so he began to change.

Zack gasped as the light waned to reveal the form of the former SOLDIER. The sheer amount of mako had changed him into a monster. He was now several feet taller, a giant covered in a sort of metallic carapace akin to armor, blade-shape edges sprouting from his legs, which here buried or attached to the ground. He looked like a twisted monstrous version of a knight as he held his now larger crimson blade.

This transformation... the result of mako going wild inside his body, just like he's seen in those experiments. It mutated him, just like his SOLDIER cells had mutated others.

In that moment of horror, Zack could only ask; "What did they do to us...?" The implications of what had been done to him to become a SOLDIER had never been more terrifying.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Zack's body felt like it was on fire as sweat dripped from his face. The armor monster visage of Genesis glowed and the rogue SOLDIER returned to his human form. Going down to one knee his rapier planted into the ground keeps him from falling fully on his face.

His body felt weak, passed the point of exhaustion, yet Genesis kept his steely gaze at his late friend's former apprentice. "You surpassed Angeal," the red haired man spoke breathlessly; "He'd be proud."

Genesis coughed into his hand, drawing it back he saw his glove stained with blood.

'This is it...' He thought. 'My body has reached its limited; the degradation of my cells is at its zenith...' The sheer mako he took into his body had not helped either.

There was no despair in his thoughts, no sadness nor anger. Just... acceptance. There was nothing more he could do about it, he was going to die.

Strange... knowing that had sent him into a crazed frenzy, desperately looking for a way to stop it. But now he stood at death's door and he felt relieved. It was so odd he couldn't help but let out a soft breath of a laugh.

He had failed with all his objectives, but looking at the determined brave SOLDIER before him, he felt no shame in his defeat. He could die content knowing that the man before him was a greater, more honorable warrior than Genesis himself had been, than any of them, Sephiroth and Angeal, had been.

He only regretted that he never saw the end of Loveless's prophetic poem... if there was any prophecy in the first place. He most like had just imagined things in order to give himself some manner of hope.

Oh well...

At least he would die in a sacred place.

He gazed back at the statue of the goddess... and then he was suddenly standing among a field of stars.

Colors, more colors than he ever thought existed, swarmed in a gentle stream all around him. They felt... alive, each tendril of such pure energy, carrying with them an echo of what was and what would be.

He followed the trail... and felt his eyes water at the most beautiful sight he had ever set his eyes on.

A woman dressed in white and blue two piece formal attire with a respectable neckline and bellowing skirt. Long flowing blond hair, fair skin that was utterly flawless, an hourglass figure that was divinely perfect, and finally with a blue gold and silver circlet that adorns her head. Her eyes a shade of blue that he had no words to describe them.

Her blue eyes gazed upon him as approach; "You are real…" he extended both his hands to her.

She spoke not a single word to the rogue SOLDIER as he stopped a foot from her. No words were said between either as the tendrils of energy soon entered and engulfed Genesis.

Zack gasped as a green light had enveloped his fellow SOLDIER but soon faded as Genesis collapsed onto the ground.

The wielder of the Buster Sword could not believe his eyes. Genesis's hair, previously a ghostly white as it had turned during battle had returned to its former vibrant red. His skin which had degraded due to his decaying cells now had a healthy tone befitting a man of his age once more.

Any wounds he had acquired during the battle were gone... And so were his now that he realized.

Zack walked over his form, looking at him solemnly. "Did you see her?" He softly asked. "Did your goddess show you compassion?"

Genesis did not reply, he couldn't, as his consciousness had yet to return to him.

The SOLDIER gently held him in his arms, and carried him away from the cave.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Sitting around the flowers behind the cottage Naruto, in a simple shirt and jeans idly gazed at a photo in his hand. Going through one of his scrolls he found it, the blond did not even realize he had put them in there.

"There you are," Aerith's soft voice making the former Anbu turn to look at her, seeing her wear on of her white dresses; "What are you doing out here?"

Naruto faintly smiled as he turned back; "just looking at something. I didn't even think I put them in one of my scrolls."

Coming to her friend's side she sits on her knees beside him. Her emerald orbs gaze at a picture of a sixteen year old Naruto hugging a sixteen year old teen girl from behind with short rosette hair and jade green eyes.

"There were days I felt like I was dreaming, but it was during the Chunin exams and after the invasion from Oto and Suna things changed," the blond's voice being distant, lost in memories as he looked at the picture.

Aerith remembered the story, a surprise attack from two ninja villages lead by a man in her opinion even more scary than Hojo. And during that invasion Naruto lost a person he loved like his own grandfather.

XxX ~ nine years ago ~ XxX

Walking through Konoha's cemetery Jiraiya remained quiet as he finally saw who he had been looking for throughout the village. Standing in front of the grave of Sandaime Hokage, a thirteen year old Naruto stared at the tombstone.

"I was pathetic," the blond said quietly.

"How so," the toad sage asked seriously; "can most people say they stopped a Bijuu from destroying their village? You saved a lot of lives, hell you saved Konoha. You should be proud."

Clinching his fists, the blond narrowed his eyes; "I am, but I feel only got by the skin of my teeth. And not just the invasion, but during the Chunin exams too. Jiji always told me to really take training more seriously. But I never listened to him most of the time."

Crossing his arms Jiraiya tilted his head; "what you getting at gaki?"

Naruto sharply turned given the older man a strong steely gaze he remembered a certain redhead to have; "can you train me, not jutsu. Well more than that, can you make me into a real shinobi?" The blond's gaze softened as he looked to the ground; "I owe Jiji that much…"

Quiet for moment, Jiraiya grunted; "you got it kid."

XxX ~ now ~ XxX

"Things changed after that," Naruto said quietly before chuckling; "not sure how or what it was. But things just became different. Sakura and I started to hang out more little by little"

Aerith gazed between her friend and the picture; "Sometimes it can take something small to make something great."

"…When Sasuke fled Konoha to join Orochimaru I had thought Sakura would beg me to bring him back. Instead she made me promise to come back alive." The blond lightly chuckled; "the mission failed and I ended up in the hospital bandaged from head to toe. Sakura came every day to see me. Mostly to make sure I didn't try to escape," the brunette giggled. "And then one morning she had a sit down with me."

XxX ~ nine years ago ~ XxX

Sitting in his hospital bed, the bandaged Uzumaki looked wide eyed at the rosette sitting at the foot of his bed. "Wha-"

"I never apologized for how mean I was during our academy days. And when our team got formed, hell I never thanked you for saving me when Gaara was crushing me to death during the invasion."

Naruto only waved a hand dismissively; "It's alright, I mean when you think about it I was acting like an idiot. And I was just glad you were alright."

The rosette gave him a stern gaze; "that doesn't excuse my behavior, hitting you for the simplest things. I was a total witch."

Again the he waved it over; "Really I had it coming. You kept me in check more than anything."

Sakura only stared at him; this boy was really the most forgiving person she had ever met. "O-one other thing," she lightly stuttered having a faint blush to her cheeks; "Seeing as you constantly pestered me for a date, I decided to reward you for all you've done. S-So take me somewhere nice"

The blond Uzumaki's cheeks almost turned bright red.

XxX ~ now ~ XxX

He had moved on, Aerith could see that. The wound of losing Sakura had long healed, but the scar was deep in both his heart and soul. Without a single word one of her dainty hands slipped into his free one. Fingers interlocking as both simply found solaces in the other's company.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

After thanking the man for giving him and his friend a lift, Zack carried his spiky haired comrade through the rigid cliffs around the city of Midgar. "Didn't think it'd take us two months from Mideel to get back here. Then again didn't count on our ride breaking down either."

He grinned as he stood at the edge of a cliff looking over to the massive metropolis. "Bet Aerith will punch me when she sees me after being gone this long. Then we can start doing work as mercs earning some honest Gil." Or something, he really needed to plan ahead more.

Zack's senses didn't miss the approaching danger coming their way. Without a single word he placed his friend in a well-hidden place under some boulders; "Have to go to work." He smiled, promising he'd be back.

Turning his back he did not see a gloved hand slowly rising up to him.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Humming a small tune, Aerith in her pink dress and coat tended to the flowers in the church with Naruto beside her. "If I could found some seeds I'd put some roses or other types of flowers to grow here," the former Anbu muttered.

The brunette giggled before both heard the sound of thunder. Shifting around, they could see storm clouds through the holes of church's roof. Soon rain poured through down, the blond Uzumaki shrugged it off till noticing Aerith.

Her emerald orbs were wide as she soon stood up and walked a few feet away. "Aerith?" she did not answer Naruto as she clasped her hands and closed her eyes. Standing up, he quickly came over as she let out a sharp gasp and looked upwards.

"Zack…" her voice soft as the tall blond froze seeing light tears in his friend's emeralds.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

The rain hadn't let up as Cissnei found where the platoon of Shinra soldiers had gone near the outskirts of Midgar. But honestly she had not even notice it. She had not known how long she stood there; the Shinra soldiers were already long gone before she came.

She had not known how long she stood there as she was soaked from head to toe as she stared down at the bullet ridden body lying motionless at her feet. Her body was numb; her mind was numb as she simply kept staring at Zack's lifeless body. Only the lightning that flared showed her tears that ran down her cheeks.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

That's a wrap.

Runa is based off Bazett from Type-Moon