It took months to prepare, but honestly, that was less time than he thought it would initially take. They gathered her together, putting all the remains and cells and clusters they could find into a tank, and then let Reunion happen.
Cloud hated how satisfying he found it, watching the different conglomerations masses merge together. Sometimes he didn't know how long he'd stayed there, watching it, somehow fascinated. Part of him worried that he could hear her voice getting stronger, but he refused to give in. He even told her outright that he was in charge, and the moment she felt she could challenge that, she was welcome to try. And try she did, a couple of times.
She didn't succeed.
He stayed in regular contact with the remnants, even setting up a sort of hierarchy system. He had a second-in-command, and then some commanders under them, mostly consisting of those who had had the bravery to speak up back at the site of his last battle with Sephiroth.
Some even asked if Sephiroth would return. Whenever they did, Cloud would just shrug and say that if he did, he'd simply join the Reunion too, and he would answer to Cloud just as Jenova would.
He spent most of his time in back rooms of the bases they'd taken over in the abandoned (conquered?) towns planning, and he finally did come up with a plan. One of Shinra's rival companies, called Matiroot, had more or less taken over anything dealing with space exploration. Building off of the schematics that Cid had pioneered, they now had several rockets, one of which would be powered by nuclear fusion. With the other remnants' help, he found that with just a couple small modifications and a combination of some of his mastered materia, they could create a weapon that could rival meteor. It would simply have to be delivered to the planet from orbit. Once they damaged the planet deeply enough, they could simply return and all of them could absorb the planet's energy. Then they could start spreading across the universe.
They began work on their modifications, quietly acquiring all the material they would need, assembling and modifying it as needed. Eventually, the work got to a point where so many were needed, they had to make a choice as to who would go and collect Jenova cells, and who would stay behind and work.
Eventually, Cloud declared that few enough clusters remained that it would take more of a specialized team to get most of the rest of them back. So he set the remnants to building or otherwise helping with their weapon and went off with only a couple of particularly skilled individuals. He may not have been in SOLDIER, but he still had Zack's memories of the training, and that worked well enough to direct them.
More often than not, Cloud was able to get whatever they were after, and the other remnants began to see why Sephiroth and 'Mother' had wanted big brother on their side.
He wasn't perfect, though. There were times when all of them felt him leave their little, mental network, and that worried all of them. When confronted, he reluctantly confessed that his body, enhanced though it may be, still needed sleep to function, and apparently, unlike them, he couldn't always keep the connection up in his sleep. Yet, even with that weakness (that would be cured when they absorbed the planet's energy), he had little problem proving that he could remain in charge and that the Reunion would happen on his terms only.
One of those terms was that he wanted to be the one flying the space ship. After all, he'd known Cid and had actually been to space before, albeit shortly. That, and it was still his project – his Reunion. Once he (rather sullenly) explained this, the remnants accepted his plans with little fuss and managed to steal the instructions to the rocket ship, which Cloud kept and studied with a fervor he hadn't felt in decades, often taking them out while on the road, studying until he knew the make-shift manual (it was more of a summation of notes) backwards and forwards.
Eventually it got to the point where even the most sensitive among them could no longer sense any significant gathering of Jenova anywhere else on the planet. By that time, their preparations were approaching completion and it was time to put their plans into action.
Quietly, they began to move the fruit of their labors – the mechanical parts, the undead mass of cells that had become Jenova and the extra fuel – to the rocket. It wasn't a difficult trek, although it did take a few weeks with the transportation they'd acquired.
Once at the base housing the rocket, they'd overrun the security and made straight for the space ship, Cloud in the lead.
After all, who could stand up to him?
Apparently Nanaki and Cait Sith.
He and his remnants had practically overrun the base and were taking their preparations to the rocket when a slightly winded, very large cat-like animal, and a Cait Sith doll landed in front of them, haunches raised and ready to attack.
"So, it is true," Nanaki practically growled.
Cloud stared at them, stoically. Around him, the remnants got ready for a fight, but the blond held up his hand and sent a mental message: This is my fight. The remnants backed down.
"You shouldn't be here," he said to his two former companions.
"What happened, Laddie?" Cait Sith asked sadly. He rode on Nanaki's neck, grabbing tight to the fur as he couldn't walk. This doll's leg had frozen years ago and while they'd replaced it multiple times, it had never seemed to work right. He could still cast spells, though, and he had his limit break which, if they were lucky, could cause instant death to even him.
Cloud knew the remnants were adding their fuel tanks to the rockets and that it would take a while to get it all installed as well as Jenova situated. He wanted her there – had told everyone how he wanted her to witness his success when she had failed so often and prove to her, once and for all, that he deserved his place in the Reunion.
They had time, so he humored his former friends.
"We found Sephiroth," he said.
"He returned again?" Cait Sith asked, sounding appalled.
Cloud found himself chuckling humorlessly. "Of course, he did. As long as Jenova exists either she, Sephiroth or the Remnants will return." His chuckles took on that vaguely hysterical edge that he'd been unable to control lately. "It took me years and the deaths of far too many people to realize it.
"We were naive in thinking we could stop her," he finished.
"So if yeh can't beat 'em, join 'em?" Caith Sith shot back, sounding incredulous.
The blond cocked his head to one side, as if he didn't quite understand the question – or, perhaps, the point of the question. "I have her cells in me." Along with Sephiroth's, but semantics. "But her power… isn't that difficult to control. I don't know why I didn't attempt it before."
"Maybe because you weren't crazy before?" he heard the little doll mutter.
Nanaki looked annoyed as he shook a little, causing the doll to cry out and clutch at the fur again.
"Crazy?" Cloud asked, then found himself chuckling again. "Crazy… You know what is crazy? Watching her or him come back again and again and again, picking off anyone who can stand up to them until only those longest lived are left standing. And even then…"
He took a slightly hitched breath. "I watched Sephiroth kill Vincent. Sliced him right in half… and I was too weak to stop it! Too weak to keep going against them on my own…"
"You're not alone!" Cait Sith and Nanaki said at the same time, both sounding a little offended.
Cloud shook his head. "For how long? I can't be the only one left standing against her… but I can be the one to bend her to my own will. If Sephiroth could do it, so can I. Except I'll do it better."
"Do you hear yourself, Cloud?" Nanaki asked, almost pleading. "You're not making sense! This isn't like you! She's gotten to you! Don't listen to her!"
The blond actually scoffed at that, looking amused. "No one is controlling me. I chose this path on my own, and I will see it done… no matter who gets in my way."
With that he lifted his sword. While he had hoped to avoid this, it was obvious they wouldn't bend. And if they would not let them finish their plan… they had to go.
"Are you sure you want to do this, lad?" Cait Sith asked, his voice low.
"I'm not that wishy-washy brat who crawled out of Midgar all those years ago. Once I make up my mind, I follow through."
Nanaki looked as if a great weight had been placed on his back, but he stared back at Cloud defiantly.
"Then so be it."
And the battle began.
They couldn't win. He suspected they knew it, but they fought anyways. He should have expected that reaction, really – again, he'd been a little to naive to think they would just let him go on. But as experienced as Nanaki was and as fast as Cait Sith could cast, neither of them could stand up to a class of SOLDIER that only two people had ever held.
It took some effort, but in the end, he stood above where he'd knocked Nanaki into the wall, sword at the feline's throat. Around him, the remnants jeered and cheered and laughed.
"Don't do this, Cloud," Nanaki said.
"Finish him off, Brother!" one of the remnants called out. Shouts of agreement met the statement.
"You're better than this, laddie," Cait Sith, now armless, sat a couple of feet away, looking every bit as pleading as Nanaki did.
"Cut him! Run him through!" another remnant yelled.
Cloud cocked his head, considering it. Then he retracted his sword and turned partially to the remnants.
"No. No, I want him to see what he's failed to do. He will watch as we absorb the planet's energy and know, that even if he called Porel and asked for all the reinforcements in the world, he still couldn't stop us."
Were those tears in the feline's eyes as he struggled to get to his feet again?
"Cloud," he said.
"Laddie," Cait Sith echoed.
The blond reached forward, fast as lightning, and had Nanaki's pink ribbon in hand before they could blink. Then he simply took out his time materia and cast stop on both of them. Cait Sith's had been on his arm, now lying next to him. They froze.
"Finish the preparations," he said to the remnants. They began to scurry away. A couple of seconds later, he mentally called to one of the lackeys and handed him the stop materia. "Keep casting this on him until your MP runs out, then call someone else over. Our vengeance won't work if they aren't alive to see it." He frowned, thinking.
"Actually, take him to the protected area so he can watch us leave."
The remnant, a short-haired one with a perpetual smile, nodded. "Of course, brother."
Cloud nodded. Then he turned from his old friends' horrified faces and walked away.
As soon as they had everything on board, Cloud began the launching sequence, instructing those who were putting the new mechanics in to keep doing so while they flew into space.
He knew it was an impossible task to keep doing anything under those forces.
Somewhere along the line, he'd stopped caring.
They'd gotten rid of all non-essential weight, which (for this particular case) meant more or less everything that wasn't nailed down… and some that was. They wouldn't need food or rations in space – not when they would be able to accomplish their goals within hours (or, if they were lucky, less) of reaching orbit. So the remnants strapped in where they could and waited for the sequence to finish. Except those who were working on the weapon, of course.
Finally, Cloud spoke over the intercom, announcing the launch.
He didn't even wait for a count down. He simply throttled the ignition and then sat back, grimly bracing himself against the forces. It started low, but came on quickly. Within a few seconds, he was pressed back against his seat, resisting the G-forces as best he could as his eyes scanned the instruments.
One minute went by…
He didn't remember how intense these forces were.
He'd already had to make manual adjustments to some of the systems. He hopeed that wouldn't be reminiscent of the entire trip. They didn't need a mission failure last minute.
This was getting difficult… but only another minute and a half.
Eight minutes …
He forced himself to breathe.
Eight minutes and thirty seconds…
He couldn't really describe the relief and disorientation that one feels when the pressure finally released. He did take a couple of minutes to recover before he floated into the back. As he'd feared, several of the technicians who had been installing the weapon had taken damage. It was nothing that wouldn't heal, but they didn't really have time to properly take care of them, so they cast a few quick heals and then set them to the side. Others took their place and the remnants continued.
"How long will it take to reach the position, Brother?" Gorzo, one of his captains, asked him.
"A couple of hours," Cloud replied. "Now, let's make sure this is ready by that time." He went over to them, lending a hand where he could, and that was where he spent the next several hours. Occasionally, he'd head back to the front to make sure they were still on track and not burning too much fuel before coming back and working.
It took four hours for Cloud to deem it time. He looked around at the remnants, none of whom remained strapped into their seats. They seemed to be enjoying the zero gravity.
Nodding to himself, Cloud headed back into the cockpit of the rocket (he never did find out exactly what the room was called) and sealed himself in. He sent out a mental message: everyone to the weapon, then he turned on the cameras because he had to make sure…
Pressing the button was the single hardest thing he'd ever done. Honestly, he'd prefer to fight all reincarnations of Sephiroth together than do it. He felt like a coward and a liar and like he was betraying so many people… but it had to be done.
So he did it.
He pushed the button that opened the hatch then watched as every single remnant was ejected into space.
He felt every single person die, blinking out one by one.
He bore it. It was less than what he deserved for it.
Then he sat there until he could only feel one other life form in the rocket.
A mirthless smirk found its way onto his lips. "It's just you and me, now… 'Mother'." He added the sarcastic twist to the last word, and smiled at her mental screaming.
For the first time in over a year, he could project his true thoughts and intentions.
Betrayer! Coward! Murderer! You're just like me! Just like him! Monster!
He almost snorted. Almost.
All true. And yet..,
But I'm still stronger than you.
He'd earned that strength and wasn't about to give in now.
And he would end Jenova's threat once and for all.
So he strapped himself in and waited. It would take several days to get completely clear of Gaia's gravity well and after that…
He went over the coordinates Porel's people had given him. He'd contacted them not long after he'd finally pulled this plan together, almost a week after Vincent's death. It was the first time he'd figured out how to block himself from the others, just as they'd blocked their presences from him. He'd underlined his plan to the current head of the WRO, who had stared at him in horrified shock.
Initially, Cloud had wanted to try and save all the remnants – as they had with Kadaj – but, in the end, had come to the realization that any significant concentration of Jenova cells had to be taken off the planet (and preferably, utterly destroyed) to even give Gaia a chance.
That included him.
So Cloud had to last at least as long as it would take to get out of the Hill Sphere, then set the coordinates he was given… and then he'd see how long he could last without any food or water. The moment he started to suspect he might be compromised, he'd jump out the back himself.
Because Jenova was going straight into the sun.
He'd like to see her undead cells make it through that.
His mildly hysterical laughter returned…
Yes, this was definitely the best. For everyone.
Turned out that physically, he could last quite a while. It wasn't comfortable, but he knew he could continue on far past reaching the outer limit of Gaia's Hill Sphere. Mentally, he was doing alright, but he could feel himself slowly breaking down. Part of the problem was the fact that he only had himself and Jenova's mental screaming to focus on. That, and the occasional transmission telling him that, according to their sensors, the ship was on track, but due to distance, those came further and further apart, and he couldn't speak with them in real time.
In between that, he only had a crazy, undead witch tearing at his mental walls… walls that weren't all that sturdy to begin with. Actually, he was surprised (and more than a little impressed) that he'd lasted this long.
So, not a week after he'd left Gaia's atmosphere, he sent a transmission informing them of his intentions, took one last deep breath of the recycled air, and then opened the door.
Thanks to the SOLDIER enhancements, it took him almost 4 minutes to die.
But he did so knowing that he'd saved the planet.
Perhaps he wasn't the hero he'd wanted to be when he was a child (honestly, he didn't really consider himself a hero at all} but he was willing to do what was necessary to make sure life survived and make the needed sacrifices.
And that, he supposed, had to count for something.
AN: Had a couple of people competely guess what was going on. Guess I'm predictable. *ahem* But yeah, they need to either burn that thing to the ground or get as much of her off planet as possible. And Cloud is the kind of person who would martyr himself to do it. It's a bit short, but again, just had to put it up.
I actually have some GOOD FFVII stories that I've been working on the side for a while coming... when I, you know, have a bit more time...