A/N: Whoa, caps lock. Okay, I saved this document last on September 1. I wrote nothing but the Kudos section, which is outdated, the editor, and the critic. So, using my awesome powers of deduction, I can surmise that I planned on writing almost three months ago, as it is now Christmas Eve. Herp-a-derp.

Kudos: Dreylen, SrgntDrew, S. Voltaire, Blue Fire Lily, Yuleen75, WHOEVER. I am not psychic, future reviewers. Also, I have no Net so I can't check my e-mail to see who reviewed past that. I are sad.

Editor: Irish-Brigid—Rabid Cloud Fan-Girl Extraordinaire. "And you have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen! ;-;" Do you even remember that? It seems like so long ago D:
Critic: Yuleen75—I love you like Genesis loves Angeal. FIRA TO FACE, LAWLS! (It falls under that "shooting someone in the face is the universal sign of friendship" law I established last chapter.)

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of the movies I reference with miscellaneous quotes. I do, however, own this plot, Saan, Jerry, Ronnie, and a zoo. I also love how the chapters I think are going to be relatively short turn out to be the longest ones… -stares at word count- I didn't mean to, honest! I promised to get you out of Kalm…



It would appear that Jerry's plan wasn't the only one to not have been thought through. My plan was to leave his house, find him and Ronnie, and then inform the two that I needed clothes before I could cleanse my body of whatever rank germs were still clinging to it from the Mako tank, fighting for half a day, and bleeding all over myself. After purchasing clothes, I would return to Jerry's house, shower, and then perhaps find something to eat. And then, I would crash on his loveseat because I had absolutely no desire to return to the Inn and get jumped by Cloud, Tifa, and or Aerith. Add in cleaning that bloodstained couch somewhere in that plan.

However, I did not take into account a lot of variables that were slightly important. For one, I had no idea where the weapon shop was. Two, I had no wallet on me, thus no money, thus no way to pay for clothes. I'd checked my pockets after making it about ten feet from Jerry's door, which was shortly after I'd realized I had no idea where the hell I was going. Three, should I find the weapon shop, there was the possibility that Jerry and Ronnie would have already departed from the building to go to the clothing store. Four, I had no idea where the clothing store was; therefore, if Jerry and Ronnie were to leave before I got to them, I'd be lost again.

Pausing in my stride, I grabbed at my cheeks and proceeded to try and slowly rip them down my face.

"I am fuckin' re-tard-ed," I growled to myself. Throwing my arms into the air, I exclaimed, "Where the hell do I think I'm going? I don't know where I'm at. I don't know where to go. My friends abandoned me. I'm going to pretend one part of my brain did not just tell me that was understandable, all things considered."

I tightened my grip on Jerry's coin and held it in front of my face. I shook it angrily, the metal chain flopping around, beating the back of my hand and knuckles, only serving to make me more irritated.

"What good are you?" I glared at the offensive object. "Hah! Wonder twin powers activate! Hoo-wah!" I tossed the necklace in the air, watching it with manic delight as it twisted and turned before landing on the stone streets. I stared at it for half a minute before jerking violently, "You're supposed to point me in the right direction, you useless piece of shit!"

"Ma'am, are you alright?" Some random, masculine voiced asked me.

"No-ho-ho!" I replied with a whine, falling to my knees, my staff clattering against the stones as I grabbed at the ground. Beating my head against the road twice, I came to the conclusion that the blue rock under my face was very intriguing at close proximity. "I've lost my mind," I continued lamely.

I paused for a second, remembering a quote from my childhood, and then glanced up quickly to look at the concerned citizen. He was a young man, with chestnut-colored hair and brown eyes. Very Average Joe. Those were the types that usually gave a damn, when I recalled my past dealings with randomly concerned citizens. No bishonen types ever gave a damn. They'd stare at you, judging you, make a snappy comment about how you're lower than dirt, or even lower than an ant, which for some reason was always lower than dirt, and then walk off, leaving you to your despair. Yes, I was thinking about a certain silver-haired man.

"You haven't found it, have you?" I asked the man.

It was amusing how his face scrunched up in confusion, "What?"

"My missing piece?" I asked, poking the back of my head. "My primary memory circuit?"

"Uh. N-no?" He replied, taking a small step backwards. A very small step. I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for it, waiting for it to happen.

I had to get out of there. For some unknown reason, I was abnormally manic, especially since I had just finished reliving a nightmare about three times in a row. I don't think I was handling it well. I was one stage away from twitching and running around like a squirrel. If the man thought my behavior was strange now, he hadn't seen anything yet.

"Right-o!" I shouted, clapping my hands together. "Such a pity, but I guess it can't be helped. Can you point me in the direction of the weapon shop?"

The man was shocked by my sudden request, but he smiled politely and straightened back up, having been stooped over a little in case he needed to help me to my feet. He pointed with his right hand back under the archway, the way Jerry, Ronnie, and I had come from.

"Oh, sure! It's just under that archway, up the first flight of stairs you come to, and is the first building on your right. The Materia and weapon shops are in the same building. Saves space and most Materia are used for fighting, right?" He laughed merrily, rubbing the back of his head.

"Right," I agreed, a little too readily. "I'll just be on my way now."

I hopped to my feet as quickly as I could, making sure to grab Jerry's necklace off the ground as well as my staff. The kind, young man gave me a little room, but he was still looking at me somewhat expectantly.

"Are you sure you're okay, Miss? I can tell you're new here. If you need help, I can—"

I turned on my heels and bolted for the archway. Despite his best efforts to be civil, and kind, and that friendly neighborhood whatever, that was the last thing I needed during one of my "spastic" moods. Though, it was refreshing to be met with hospitality from a stranger on the streets, as opposed to Midgar's strangers who generally helped you because they wanted to get laid or they simply mugged you. I think I've covered those two scenarios before.

"No, thank you! Kthxbai!" I shouted to him as I began sprinting.

If I ran, I was certain I could catch Jerry and Ronnie before they left the weapon shop. No way would Ronnie be able to pick something that quickly. Generally, when we went shopping, he would get what he came for and then spend another hour or more dicking around, which drove me insane, and no amount of my griping would make him cease and desist. It was even more annoying when he had no money and, yet, he persisted to look at everything.

Plus, perhaps running would cool off some of the steam that was powering me faster than a locomotive. I doubted it, but it was worth a shot.

In a few short moments, I had passed under the archway, up the stone steps that were nothing compared to Shin-Ra's, and had made it to the weapon shop. I briefly saw the exterior of the building, two doors, on either side, each with corresponding signs hinting at what product was sold within, before I turned sharply towards the door with a sign that had swords on it. I somehow managed to turn the doorknob before smacking into the door, swung it open full force, and took a little satisfaction in the surprised yelps that came from within.

The Materia lady was standing behind her counter, her hand to her chest in surprise. She was staring at me with wide eyes. I stared back with equally wide eyes. A short glance at my surroundings let me know that they kept the Materia behind the counter and in a storage room directly behind that. The weapon shop was a little more lenient with its protective measures against thieves, but then again, the man standing behind the counter did have a shot gun easily within reach. He was also frowning at me, his bushy, greying eyebrows knitted together in annoyance. A shorter glance let me know that Jerry and Ronnie were not within sight.

"What do you want?" The man grumbled. "Bargin' in here like ye own the place."

The arm I'd used to fling open the door I finally dropped to my side. I tried to reply calmly, "Jerry. Where'd he go?"

"Oh?" The old man asked, leaning his head over to one side as he stared at me suspiciously. "And why ye want ta know?"

I brought my head forward, blinking in disbelief, then shook it slowly. I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came to mind. I pretended to be a fish for a second or two, and then stood back, brought my finger up, only to let it drop in defeat.

Stepping a little ways into the room, I gently closed the door behind me and gave the old man the most polite smile I could manage, trying my best not to look like the Joker. Then, I calmly wrapped both hands tightly around my staff, strangling it along with Jerry's necklace.

"Let's try this again," I breathed. "Jerry. Orange hair and eyes. 'Bout half a head taller than me. Came in with a dark-headed fellow in an almost-black suit. His name's Ronnie. Where did they go?"

"Please, stop interrogating my boss."

My eyes snapped to the blindingly orange-headed fellow stepping out from the back room, a box of miscellaneous pointy objects resting in his arms. I grinned widely.

"Oh, there you are!" I chirped. Removing my left hand from my staff, I chucked his necklace at him as hard as I could. "You forgot something."

Jerry caught the coined jewelry easily, blinking in slight surprise at the speed of with which I had thrown it. I was a little surprised myself. Guess all that running didn't help burn off the energy after all. Well, at least I knew where Jerry was. But where was the other one?

"Where's Ronnie?" I asked quickly, vaguely aware I was still smiling.

There was a pregnant pause before Jerry's eyes widened substantially and he dropped the box of pointy things to the ground. The shopkeeper exclaimed and yelled something at Jerry. I wasn't paying attention. Then again, I wasn't concentrating on much of anything.

"Oh, God, you didn't," Jerry muttered.

"No!" I replied happily. Then paused before asking, "Didn't what?"

"Oh, God, you did," he said slowly.

His attention quickly jerked from me to his boss, who was still yelling at him about how clumsy he was and what if he'd injured the merchandise. It figures that he wouldn't be worried about his employee's well-being. Typical business man.

"Boss," Jerry said loudly in order to be heard by the yelling one, "I need to leave for the rest of the day."

"What?" The old man screeched. "Where do ye get off asking for such a thing after ye just dropped gils worth o' stuff on the floor? And ye just got off yer break! Ye ain't goin' nowhere. Yer cleanin' this up and gettin' back to work."

Jerry stared at the man, blinked, took a deep breath, then replied, "Yes, well, my friend over there is in desperate need of help—"

"I'll say!" Jerry's boss interjected. "She almost broke down me door, she did! I'll expect ye to be payin' for it if she put a 'ole in the wall."

Jerry kindly took the man by the shoulders and gave a not-so-gentle squeeze. "Look," he began, "I will gladly pay for any damages caused by me or my friend. But I cannot stay. She honestly needs a little help right now. Have a nice day, Boss."

The old man sputtered indignantly, but Jerry didn't seem to care as he quickly maneuvered around the counter. He walked briskly towards me, pocketing his necklace as he went. I remained where I stood, smiling at him like I had good sense. Which, I thought I did even though he was giving me a determined, yet concerned, stare. It's funny how more than one emotion can be given with just a look. Did you know that ninety-percent of communication is non-verbal? I can't tell you where I heard that last, but for some reason it stuck with me. Even if I couldn't remember much of anything else at that moment. Or perhaps I could remember and I just couldn't think properly.

Continuing on with my inner monologue, which traveled at speeds approaching the sound barrier, I scowled. I didn't know whether or not I should have been worried that there seemed to be a loose connection somewhere in my brain, or that I was pretty sure the meaning of life, the universe, and everything was indeed not forty-two.

Before I could open my mouth and protest this discovery, and the fact that I had left my traveler's towel in Jerry's bathroom, the young man had firmly grasped my elbow and was leading me back out the door.

"Wait, where are we going?" I asked quickly. "We still have to find Ronnie!"

"I pointed the clothing store out to him before I went back to work. He went there first. Said it would be too obvious to folks if a Turk purchased a new weapon that wasn't standard issue," Jerry replied.

"Well, that's oddly insightful of him."

He was leading me back towards the archway. I couldn't go back under the archway! I was supposed to do something first! What was it? Towels. Meaning of the universe. Ronnie. Turk. Still hungry. Getting a little thirsty. Oh, that's right! I needed clothes.

Frowning, I halted in my steps and tried, and failed, to pull my elbow from Jerry's grasp.

"Wait, I need clothes. And a weapon. No, I have a weapon. Ronnie needs the weapon and clothes. I just need clothes so I can shower. Which you ordered me to do." My frowned worsened as I looked at Jerry. I was vaguely aware that he seemed apprehensive. I continued, asking, "Do you even have the rank to order me around?"

"Yes," he deadpanned. "I have the rank to order you around. Now be a good little cadet and follow me back to my house. We'll just wait there for Ronnie to get back and everything will be fine. You need to get out of the streets and sit down somewhere."

My jaw dropped, "I am not a cadet! I was never in the Army." I squinted at him, "You're lying. There's something you're not tellin' me. I can smell it—see it—sense it. Something. Am I talking abnormally fast, or is that just me? Wait. It would have to be me either way, in that case, wouldn't it? I mean, if I was talking abnormally fast, it sure as hell couldn't be you, right? Ha ha ha! I make sense!"

I nearly jumped out of my skin as I felt Jerry's hands slap me on each side of my face. I hadn't even seen him move.

"What?" I squeaked.

"You are high," he replied, staring intently into my eyes.

I tried to do the same, but for some reason, my eyes couldn't sit still in their sockets long enough to accomplish that task.

"I am not!" I shouted indignantly. "I most certainly am not! I've never been drunk once in my life. Wait, you said 'high.' I've never been high once in my life, either! Quite proud of that running streak, if I do say so myself. Ronnie can't say the same, though. He likes drinking. Only, when I'm not around. He knows I'll pummel him if he does. Drink with me around, I mean—"

I kept talking, but I couldn't hear what was coming out because Jerry had placed one of his hands over my mouth. I had half a mind to lick him, but then again, I had no idea where his hand had been. So, instead, I kept mumbling.

"Good, God!" He sighed in exasperation. "I think that's obvious considering your tolerance level. There was a glass of…something…on the kitchen table. How much of it did you drink?"

He removed his hand, placing it on my shoulder. His other hand joined its fellow on my remaining shoulder. I blinked, squinted, thought about his implications, and didn't particularly care. I didn't particularly care about anything at that moment, though.

"All of it," I replied shortly.

"All of—!" Jerry stuttered. He bowed his head and groaned. He looked back up at me, making a point to try and make eye contact, and explained, "That was not a drink, Saan. That was a drug. It wasn't meant for you, Ronnie, hell, it wasn't even meant for me. It was meant for a friend of mine who actually needs it…And you drink all of it. Normally, I'd be upset over having wasted something that is expensive and kind of illegal to possess as a civilian, but I'm more worried about your well-being right now."

"D'aw," I cooed. "Ain't that sweet." I frowned suddenly and accusingly asked, "Why are you dealing in drugs?"

"I'm not dealing in— Okay. Let's try this again, starting with the facts. …Even though you probably won't be able to understand anything I say in your current condition. The drug you so effortlessly consumed was meant to be used by SOLDIERs. It helps with the effects of Mako. Think of it as a very strong pain reliever. I mixed it in soda. Easy way to conceal it. My friend is an ex-SOLDIER who's recently quit Shin-Ra and needed the medicine for withdrawals. He was going to stop by while I was at work. Did you get all that?"

I nodded vigorously, "SOLDIERs get pain relievers for having glowing liquid shoved in them and there's a secret organization of underground ex-SOLDIERs running around who need the stuff. This is getting interesting. Do we get spiffy uniforms for joining? I want one. At least I'll have clothes ready for after I take my shower."

"You are so far off the deep end right now, it's not even funny," Jerry mumbled. His hands dropped from my shoulders. Rubbing his eyebrows, he went on, "As I was saying, the drug is only supposed to be used by SOLDIERs."

"I'm a SOLDIER," I interrupted.

"No. I mean those that have had Mako injected into them. You never had that. So, that wonderful little concoction that you drank earlier is having interesting effects on your body."

I gave an exaggerated gasp and quickly covered my chest with my arms.

"Brain," Jerry quickly corrected. "It's having interesting effects on your brain."

"Damn," I swore. "And here I was hoping I'd give Tifa a run for her money."

Jerry raised an eyebrow and deadpanned, "Tifa? Really?"

"The girl that dressed like a cowgirl in a climate that suggests you dress up like anything but? Yes. You know, growing up where I did, I think it's understandable that I have a certain hate for all things stereotypically Southern. I mean, so what if I lived in-between two cow fields, and the school had a creek that would flood the parking lot, and we had a Tractor Day, and one of my best friends owned a farm with cattle, horses, and goats, and I think he said he found a car when they mowed one of the old fields? …No one I knew wore cowboy outfits, or hats, or boots, or butt-less chaps!"

After I finished my tirade, I finally looked back at Jerry, having somehow spaced out while looking at a spot over his left shoulder. He was obviously confused and a little scared.

"Right. I'm glad no one you knew wore butt-less chaps?" He half-asked. "I think we need to get you to some place far away from people and now before you do or say something we'll all regret later."

"Like what?" I asked, bouncing in place, "That I'm an ex-Turk, ex-SOLDIER who's now working with—Mmf!"

"Yes!" Jerry shouted, grinning despite the fact he'd just silenced me with his hand once again, "Like that! It's amazing how agreeable you are when you're under the influence. Amazing and really annoying. Go back to being an ass, please—"

I always was an ass. An ass and a bitch. Sometimes I took great pride in my personality. Other times I wondered why people ever put up with me. At that moment in time, while I was being extremely agreeable, I decided to pretend to be that rank under Jerry's. And it did sound as if he'd just given me an order. I had to obey orders, right? Can't go against a superior's orders, or you might get court-marshaled or something!

I quickly saluted Jerry. Then, I opened my mouth wide and chomped down on his hand as hard as I could. Well, as hard as I dared. I didn't particularly want blood squirting into my mouth and running down my chin. That'd just be disgusting.

Jerry actually screamed.

"Shit!" He screeched, trying to wriggle his hand out of my mouth.

I always found it fascinating to watch people bend and twist when trying to free themselves from something. They move their arms, shoulders, torso, but never the appendage that's snared. What part of evolution triggers that?

Jerry slammed his free hand against my forehead and tried to push me away. He managed to push my head back at an uncomfortable angle, but I didn't let up my relentless assault. Growling, he slipped his hand down to my nose, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger.

"Let go!" He shouted.

"Mo!" I muffled back, bound and determined I would win.

"You have to breathe sometime!" He hissed.


I lashed out with my right hand, letting my staff drop, and grabbed a hold of Jerry's nose. Ha ha! Two could play that game. But, I also had an advantage. I had one extra hand, what with one of Jerry's in my mouth and the other on my nose. He couldn't win!

"D'eh! W-what?" Jerry stuttered in disbelief. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me. You can't be serious! I can still breathe through my mouth, you dumb ass!"

I slammed my left hand over his mouth. Not anymore!

Jerry growled lowly in his throat. I imitated him around his hand. He licked me.

Immediately, I thought of all the germs that had just transferred themselves onto my hand. And that made me realize Jerry's hand had germs on it, too. Then I remembered I had thought of that before, and that's why I hadn't licked him in the first place. What the fuck was I thinking? I'd contaminated myself! Abort, abort!

"AUGH!" I cried out, consequentially letting go of Jerry's hand.

Before I knew what was happening, Jerry had me. Using his left hand, he grabbed my left wrist, spun me around, grabbed the back of my neck with his right hand, and down I went. I stared at the blue road of Kalm for the second time that day, up close and personal. I blinked a few times, aware of Jerry's knee in my back, my left arm wrenched up behind me.

"Well, that was unexpected," I chirped. "Though, you're going easy on me. If you mean to keep me here, you might try turning my arm just a bit so that it feels like it's about to pop out of socket. Just some friendly advice, Sir."

"Oh, trust me, Cadet," Jerry replied nonchalantly. "If I wanted you injured, you would be."

"Ooh. That sounds like something I would say." I turned my head to glance at Jerry from the corner of my eye, "I like it."

"I'm gone for, like, fifteen minutes and you kids can't play nice?"

Hearing Ronnie's voice, I turned my head the other way. He was standing a few feet away with his arms crossed, an eyebrow raised in amusement and a small smile on his lips. My eyes traveled down his attire. An open, white button-up shirt, with thin, grey, vertical stripes, its sleeves rolled up to his elbows. That was over a plain, black undershirt. His pants were well-fitted, not too baggy or too tight, and a faded brown. Lastly, peeking out beneath those was a pair of brown loafers.

My eyes traveled back up to his face.

"You look horrible," I said.

Ronnie frowned, "Gee, thanks, Saan. I'm so glad I have you around to criticize my choice in clothing. You make me feel so good about myself."

"Why, thank you, Ronnie. If that's how you feel, I'll keep going and point out where you went wrong. First, you paired brown with black. No one who's anyone pairs brown with black. I guess they think they look like shit, literally, if they do so. Second, why the hell would you choose loafers? They're uncomfortable as hell, they look expensive, and we're going to be walking everywhere on our little quest because none of us has a mode of transportation. Before we even get halfway to where we're going, you're going to be complaining nonstop that your feet are killing you and you've ruined your shoes by stepping in mud. Though, since your shoes are brown, maybe stepping in mud won't bother you as much as it would if they were black, or some other horrendous loafer color like light purple."

"Uh-huh," Ronnie nodded, slowly, his eyebrows knitted together.

I felt Jerry's weight shift on top of me. His knee remained on my lower back, however. I was momentarily grateful that he hadn't slammed it into my little wound when he threw me to the ground not a minute ago. Before I thought to thank him, I was side-tracked by the thought that I'd left something out when diagnosing Ronnie's fashion sense.

Jerry sighed, "Can you please help me with this?" Out of my peripheral, I saw him motion to me with his hand with a nice sweeping motion. Vanna White would have been proud. Only Jerry wasn't wearing a dress. That would be amusing. Right! Dresses.

"Help you with what?" Ronnie asked the orange-headed man. "Why are you sitting on her?"

"Oh!" I interjected, "There is one thing you did right, however. You chose a shirt that, though long-sleeved, can easily roll up. That will come in handy depending on what weapon you choose. Don't want blood or monster guts getting on that spiffy white shirt, after all. Oh! And it helps with changes in the weather and climate. It'd be bad to have long sleeves in the desert or short sleeves on a mountain. You don't think we'll be going to any of those places do you? I remember seeing some of those areas on different continents."

The look on Ronnie's face was priceless. His eyes had widened a bit, his lips pressed together to form a small line. He was obviously shocked and more than little apprehensive. He was quickly approaching a tad bit scared.

"What is she on?" He asked anxiously, pointing at me with his finger.

"Oh, so you noticed?" Jerry asked jokingly. "Good! Because she didn't."

"Nope!" I agreed heartily. Grinning, I explained, "I drank some magic potion, and now…I'm sexy!"

The corners of Ronnie's mouth twitched.

"No, you're not," Jerry replied. A strangled noise came after that, followed by, "No, you didn't!"

Ronnie's eyebrows raised, "Oh?"

"She drank something, yes. But it definitely was not a magic potion—"

"And it did not make me sexy; my breasts are still the same size."

"Yes, they are," Jerry agreed. Another strangled sound followed momentarily by a deep breath and quick exhale. "She's doing this on purpose, isn't she? She's trying to make me look like a fool in front of everybody? Because, so far, she's not only used a drug I was going to administer to a friend, but she's nearly knocked a hole in the wall at my job by throwing open the door, interrogated my boss, probably made me lose my job, and then chowed down on my hand."

Ronnie, who had been biting his bottom lip for some time, finally asked, his voice cracking a little, "Is that why you have her on the ground?"

"No," I replied eagerly. "First of all, I would like to clarify that he ordered me to be an ass, so I was just following orders. But, after I bit him, he pinched my nose in a futile attempt to make me release his hand. I refused to give up and then pinched his nose and covered his mouth in retaliation. That's when he threw me to the ground. Then you walked up all, 'Yo!' and here we are!"

Ronnie suddenly burst into laughter. I think he'd been holding it in for a while. He laughed so hard that he doubled over, tears streaming down his face. I pouted. There was nothing funny about me losing to Jerry! The little bastard…

"Great. Nice," Jerry commented. "Laugh it up. I'll just…continue to sit on her. Not like I had other plans or anything."

"I'm sorry! I-I— Bwah hahaha!"

"No, no," Jerry replied. He looked away from Ronnie for a second and then looked back. "Take your time."

"I can't breathe!" Ronnie whined, wiping his eyes with the heels of his palms.

Ronnie finally calmed down after a few minutes. A few minutes I spent on the ground with Jerry still kneeling on me. I found it odd that he would keep me like that, what with pedestrians stopping to look every now and again. I think the only reason they didn't say anything was because Ronnie was about to piss himself from laughing. They all probably thought we were just joking around. Plus, I'd give the strangers the best grins I could to put their minds at ease.

"Oh, oh," Ronnie breathed. "This is better than that time she took a sleeping pill instead of her morning vitamin just before school. Or the time she took a sleeping pill just before we went skating."

"What about that time you took three pain relievers and two nausea pills at the same time because you thought you had to catch up on your dosages?" I asked. I looked back at Jerry, "He'd had dental work done and the dentist gave him pain pills. But they made him throw up. So he gave him stomach pills, too."

Jerry was frowning down at me.

Ronnie wiped his tear-soaked hands on his pants, "Well, I can't remember much of that day past falling out of my chair on the bus, so I can't compare it to that. Besides, that's stuff I've done. You, on the other hand…"

"You don't still take those sleeping pills, do you?" Jerry asked, concerned.

"Nope," I answered. "Doctor said they'd mess me up if I kept taking them. So, I stopped. That was years ago, though. Like, almost twelve years ago, I'd imagine."

Jerry breathed a sigh of relief, "Good. I'm not sure how the Mako drug reacts with downers."

"You're not supposed to take uppers with downers," I explained happily. "Or downers with depressants. Wait, aren't downers and depressants the same thing? I just know you're not supposed to drink with sleeping medication because it can kill you. And taking a stimulate with a depressant makes your body freak the fuck out. Basically, don't take downers with anything. Better yet, don't take medicine. Problem solved!"

"This…is awesome," Ronnie said, grinning from ear to ear.

"No, no it's not." Jerry glared at Ronnie. "Unless you've forgotten, you two are on a quest to save the world from the evil Shin-Ra, or something that sounds equally fantastical and ridiculous. Your little group will no doubt be leaving, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, from the Inn early tomorrow morning."

"You don't think the drug will last that long, do you?" Ronnie asked with a frown.

"No, it won't," Jerry replied. "However, what goes up must come down…"

"Oh," Ronnie deflated. "You don't know how long the crash will last."

"No. Especially since her body's not as strong as a regular SOLDIER's."

"You lie," I snapped. "I'll have you know, I was a First. So what if I couldn't dodge bullets or morph into some weird griffon thingar? I killed a Behemoth, you know. And a Nibel dragon. I am plenty strong!"

Jerry was silent for a moment, staring down at me blankly, before replying, "We killed the dragon."

I stuck my tongue at him childishly, "I've also handled a Black Widow and Sephiroth program in the Training Room."

"Programs, Saan. They don't count."

"I have a scar under my left eye that says otherwise, thank you very much."

"I hate to interrupt your quarrel, but…we're starting to draw a crowd," Ronnie mumbled. "Maybe you should stop sitting on a skinny, little girl and restrain her like a civil man. For the masses. Before we get arrested. Or worse, AVALANCHE sees you and does something…drastic. Or something. Yeah."

Jerry and I looked around. Sure enough, a few pedestrians were staring at us. Most were curious, but a few concerned faces here and there. I wiggled a little, weighing Ronnie's words. Yes, I didn't particularly want to get arrested. I'd only been in jail once in my life, but I did not have plans to go back. Can't take me alive, Turks! Neither did I want to be seen in my position by Cloud & Co. That would be more than a little demeaning to my reputation.

My orange-headed captor quickly brought me to my feet. I wobbled a little, but had nothing to fear. Jerry had a firm grip on my left elbow. I grinned to the audience. They needed to be shown that everything was all right.

I waved with my arms, "Oh, don't worry about me, folks. I'm fine!" Draping my arm over Jerry's shoulders, I leaned on him and continued, "We're old pals."

A small, feminine gasp caught my attention. Looking over my shoulder, some little woman had pointed at me. The man beside her was frowning.

"Are you sure, Miss? You appear to be bleeding."

Oh, that was right! I still hadn't changed my shirt after taking my shower. Not that I'd taken my shower, of course. One thing at a time!

I chuckled lightly, waving my hand in dismissal, "Oh, that! That happened before I got here. I flew into a truck. A friend of mine healed it for me." I reached around behind me and grabbed a hold of my shirt. Pulling it up to expose my back, I asked, "Wanna see?"

Ronnie jaw actually dropped in a look of horror. "Saan!" he shouted in surprise.

"What?" I asked innocently.

My shirt was yanked out of my grasp. Jerry had pulled it down, you see. Then I was swept off my feet and being whisked away. At first the feeling of shifting gravity was exhilarating. Kind of like the hair-pin turns I used to pull in my fighter jet. Lord, rest its soul. But then I remembered I was afraid of heights. I yelped and started to flail.

"O-kay!" Jerry grunted, tightening his grip around me as he walked briskly away from the crowd that had gathered. "That's enough out of you."

"Put me down. Put me down. Put me down!" I gasped loudly, remembering I'd dropped my staff. "My baby!"

I struggled enough to free my arms. Like a squirrel, I clambered my way up Jerry's chest, not-so-accidentally kneeing him in the abdomen as I did so. Next move: Launch self over shoulders. I didn't make it far. As I tried to jump, Jerry regained control and wrapped both his arms tightly around my knees. I fell without dignity, catching the image of Ronnie scooping up my staff just before gravity won.

"Oof!" I breathed as my stomach slammed into his shoulder. I blinked, watching my hair dangling towards the street. Pouting, I quipped, "Well. This is a nice a view of your ass."

"You like it?" Jerry asked. "Good. Because you're going to be staring at it until we get to the clothing store."

Ronnie was chuckling somewhere behind us. I couldn't see him, my hair veiling my view of everything but it, the road, Jerry's legs—left, right, left—and, of course, his ass.

"Don't fart," I added as an afterthought.

Ronnie snorted loudly.

"Ooh!" I shouted suddenly. "If we're going to get clothes now, that means I can take my shower! Well, if that was the case, you should have just let me take my shirt off. I can't take a shower with my shirt on. Or maybe I should, that way I can wash my clothes at the same time. That sounds like a brilliant plan! I'm glad I thought of it."

"Saan," Jerry groaned. "The shower is in my house, you were in the middle of a street. Taking your shirt off there would have been pointless."

"She does have a point about showering with your clothes on, though," Ronnie muttered. "Well, you wouldn't get as clean as if you were naked, but it would save on water and laundry detergent."

I felt Jerry look over his shoulder, "Do not encourage her."

"Oh, by all means, encourage me," I said as I tried, and failed, to puff out my chest. That's a little hard to do when you're upside-down and bouncing into someone with each one of their steps. "As for the pointless thing, I would have gotten to your house eventually. I would have been prepared."

"I'm not even going to humor that line of thought. I really am not."

"I can feel the blood pounding in my eyeballs, just so you know."

"That's great," Jerry responded. "Maybe with all your blood in your brain, those cells of yours will fire more rapidly and bring you to your senses."

"Or she'll go blind," Ronnie commented, slightly amused. "Whichever happens first."

One second, I was looking at the backs of Jerry's feet, and then the next I was falling heels-over-head to the ground. I grunted as I landed flat on my back, the world above me spinning a little. Jerry's head soon popped into my line of sight, joined shortly by Ronnie's.

"Wow," Ronnie said. "They are a little bloodshot." He looked across to Jerry, "You do realize you probably just re-opened that wound on her back, right?"

Jerry made a face at him, "Oh, please. She's got a mastered Restore Materia in her staff. I'm surprised she hasn't used it yet."

Ronnie blinked in recognition, "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that." He pointed my staff at me.

"No!" I shrieked, holding my hands in front of me for protection. "No medicine!"

Ronnie smirked, "Materia isn't medicine."

Against my will, he cast Cure on me. My back became warm, the stiffness erased, and I knew the wound had been sealed, most likely without a scar to show my run-in with our escape vehicle. I gasped in horror. And I had been trying so hard not to use that stuff! If I got accustomed to curing myself, I'd become accustomed to hurting myself. Because, you know, who cares if you injure yourself if you can just make the pain go away with the swish and flick of a magic wand?

"You bastard," I breathed.

"You're welcome," Ronnie chirped. "That reminds me. I still need a weapon." He handed my staff over to Jerry, "Here. Make sure she gets the most ridiculous outfit they have in there. Oh, and if they have any video cameras, make sure you get the tape."

"Why?" Jerry asked suspiciously as Ronnie began to walk away.

"Because…" Ronnie replied. "The Turks might find out we were here and we need to get rid of the evidence."

Jerry frowned, "And you're sure you don't want the tape just to use as blackmail?"

I heard Ronnie feign a gasp, "No! I would never do something like that."

"Don't let him lie to you," I whispered loudly to Jerry. "He'll show it to Cloud and the others. I know how he works."

Jerry finally looked back down at me, "They don't have cameras. This is a tiny shop in Kalm, not the Shin-Ra Building in Midgar."

"But they do have clothes, right?" I asked with a frown.

He was silent for a moment, blinked, and then replied, "It's a clothing store."

I breathed a sigh of relief, "Oh, good. It would be weird for a clothing store to sell shoes, wouldn't it? No, wait. Shoes are clothes, too. Technically. Now, if they sold vacuums, then something would be wrong. Don't you think so? What kind of clothes do they have?"

"Everything from dresses to hiking apparel. Why are you still lying on the ground?"

I was still lying on the ground because it was comfortable. Or should it be called the floor? Ronnie's mentality was that anything covered with some type of pavement or stone, regardless if it was outside or not, was to be called, 'floor.' Now, why he, on rare occasions, called the sky a ceiling was beyond me.

Ignoring Jerry's question, I grinned mischievously, "I know what I want."


My first waking thought was, "Why am I waking up in the first place?" I was having difficulty thinking. Well, I could think, at least. That was a refreshing change of events. But everything was coming slowly. I felt as if I'd slept for days. Which I knew was impossible, but still. My mouth also felt as if I'd swallowed a cotton ball.

At least a minute passed before I recognized the scent wafting into my nostrils. It was vaguely reminiscent of Jerry and old house. With a groan, I managed to raise my head up a little. Squinting, I made out the texture of fibers and what appeared to be the color white. I let my head drop back down. Whatever my face landed in was soft. A pillow. I hoped it wasn't the cause for the cotton-ball feeling.

"She liiives!" Ronnie's voice rang out from somewhere near my head.

It shocked me so bad that I jumped. Or should I say that I would have jumped if my body was cooperating with my brain. Instead, I got a nice rush of adrenaline and stayed as stiff as a corpse. I also swore silently to myself…because my face was in a pillow and couldn't do so out loud.

"How are you feelin', honey?" Ronnie asked merrily.

With as much strength as I could manage, I used my forehead to push my mouth off the pillow and growled, "I. Can't. Move."

"Oh," he replied.

I heard him shuffling. He walked over to me, knocking into the coffee table as he wrapped his hands around my arms. If my memory served correctly, I was lying on the couch and he'd have to have been sitting on the loveseat. With a gentle tug, he had me up and sitting in no time. I squinted because of the light coming from the lamp on the end table. Through the windows in front of me, I could tell the sun had either already set, or it was about to. That meant it was late. I might not have slept for days, but I had slept for hours. Oh, boy.

"That better?" Ronnie asked.


The sound of footsteps on the stairs alerted me to Jerry's arrival. Slowly, I turned to face him. He had changed into what appeared to be his pajamas: a plain, black t-shirt with light-grey sleeping pants. Was it really that late? Looking down at my wardrobe, I noticed I was still wearing the same thing.

"Feeling better?" Jerry asked me as he made his way to the kitchen.

"Am I supposed to feel like shit?" I asked, wobbling a little.

"That depends. What does shit feel like?"

"Hardy-har-har," I grumbled irritably. Letting my head droop so that my chin was almost on my chest, I replied, "None of my muscles want to move and it feels like I ate your pillow."

The sound of running water echoed in the kitchen as Jerry replied, "The muscle thing seems about right, all things considered. Not sure about the dry mouth. You're probably dehydrated. Did you eat or drink anything before coming here?"

I blinked a few times, realizing, "I haven't eaten or drank anything since Nibelheim."

The water in the kitchen stopped. Ronnie flinched a little.

I kept forgetting the Incident was a touchy subject for most folks. Especially since, for Ronnie and Jerry, five years had gone by. For me, it seemed like it happened only yesterday. I hadn't had to wait for someone to come back. I hadn't had to wait for so long. I didn't regret. I wasn't sad or angry that I should have never left, that I could have done more.

I would feel all those things I was sure, given time. But I hadn't had time. Not yet. I was still in denial. I was still trying to keep myself on my feet. Chasing after Jenova, Sephiroth, and Shin-Ra was something I needed. Something I had to do to remain myself. Maybe that's why Cloud was fighting so hard. We were trying so hard to keep moving on, that we couldn't move on.

Funny, I always thought you were supposed to be amazingly introspective when you were high, not crashing. Hmm.

"In that case," Jerry said, coming back into the living room with a glass of water, "I'd say you're probably very dehydrated." He handed the glass to me, "Don't worry. This one doesn't have any foreign substances that might alter your brain chemicals."

"Damn," I mocked as I took it from him, slowly so as not to drop it. "And here I thought I was going to see sound and taste light."

"Funny," Jerry mused. "Is that what it does? Because I could have sworn that it made you act like an idiot instead."

"And face-plant the floor while you were shopping," Ronnie added as he plopped back down on the loveseat. He made an amusing face when he accidentally kicked the coffee table.

I paused mid-sip. Swallowing, I slowly removed the glass from my lips and stared into space. I shamefully replayed the day's events in my head. I remembered all the way to the point where I told Jerry that I knew what I wanted to wear. At that point in time, I had only really agreed with myself that I wanted some form of military or hiking boots. They needed to be big, ideal for kicking and stomping, and waterproof. An added bonus would be if they were well-insulated.

But that wasn't important. No, what was important was that I definitely did not remember face-planting the floor. Though, that would explain why I woke up on Jerry's couch.

"I don't remember that part," I mumbled, taking another slow sip of water.

Jerry frowned worriedly, "How much do you remember?"

"Heh heh," I chuckled humorlessly. "Trying to use your necklace as a dowsing rod, threatening your boss, having a childish fight on who could hold their breath the longest, flashing an entire street of innocent bystanders, climbing up you like a rodent, making a comment about your ass, being dropped unceremoniously onto the ground, not floor, being healed against my will, and then telling you I had decided what I wanted to wear while still on the ground."

"You know," Ronnie commented, "that's actually pretty impressive. I can't remember half the shit I do when I'm drunk. …I'm glad I get drunk alone, now."

Jerry turned from facing Ronnie to look back at me, "Yes, well. After that, you got off the ground. We went in the store. You forced me to sit in a chair outside the changing room because that way it'd be 'just like the movies,'—" here he used air quotes, "—and after that you left me there to go shop. You came back with only one outfit and one pair of boots. You changed into them. You came out of the dressing room wearing a small, dark-green t-shirt, a pair of tan, camouflage cargo pants, and black, military-issue boots. I said you looked fine."

"As all clever men do," Ronnie nodded.

"You went back in and changed back into your old clothes. You brought the new clothes to the shopkeeper. I paid for them because someone claimed to have left their wallet in their other pants, which were not the pants they were buying. And then, as I was getting the change, you finally passed out."

I cringed a little, "Did I actually face-plant?"

"No," Jerry replied. "You just sort of…crumpled."

"And I missed it," Ronnie grumbled. As an afterthought, he added, "And there was no tape."

I shrugged, "Well, at least I have good fashion sense even when I'm off my rocker."

"You'll look like a military nut."

"I am a military nut."

"But we're supposed to be incognito!" He whined.

I took another sip of water and swallowed, "Says the man wearing loafers and a dress shirt. Give ya a gun, and you'd still look like a Turk. Speaking of which, did you ever get a new weapon."

Jerry looked away from Ronnie, "Oh, boy." He walked over to the chair by the bookcase and sat down, "Here we go."

With mild curiosity, my eyes traveled from Jerry to Ronnie, who grinned like the dork he was before he hopped off the loveseat as quickly as he could and disappeared up the stairs. I looked uneasily back at Jerry, who shrugged knowingly. It wasn't long before Ronnie was thundering back down the stairs.

At first, I didn't see his weapon. However, when he turned to walk towards me, I caught sight of some sort of vambrace-looking object on his left arm. I frowned.

"So help me, if that morphs into a suit of armor, I'm going to stab you," I warned.

"Haha, no," Ronnie replied, still grinning. "It just does this."

He held his arm out in front of me. The vambrace seemed plain enough. It had a bronze-colored metal casing on top that was adorned with beveled runic symbols. I had no idea what they said or meant, but they looked fancy. It was tied to his arm using thick leather straps, a fabric cloth under that to keep the straps from rubbing and chafing. There was a thin, cylindrical piece of metal on top of the casing that ran perpendicular to the rest of the vambrace. Three grooves ran from the metal cylinder almost to the end of the vambrace, hinting that all was not as it appeared to be.

Before my brain could process the significance of the grooves, two metal blades shot straight out of the metal casing so fast that I jumped. Actually jumped this time since my body was starting to respond to the impulses it was receiving. Trying to remember how to breathe, I focused on the blades that had scared me shitless. Also bronze-colored, though it was obvious they were made of a stronger metal. They were straight for the most part until near their end, where they curved out slightly and then back in. They reminded me a little of bull horns. Fitting, considering he was a Taurus.

"Pretty neat, huh?" He asked me, a satisfied smile on his face. "Tifa gave me the idea. Well, sort of. I've always liked punching things. I figured adding blades to that would do wonders. Plus, it's such a unique weapon, that I doubt anyone would mistake it for a Turk's."

"It's also a little impractical," Jerry commented, "if you haven't trained with it enough."

Ronnie frowned in annoyance, "Yeah, well, good thing I'll have plenty of time to train while we're killing the monsters out on the road."

"How did you get it to work?" I asked curiously. I grabbed a hold of the device and moved it around so I could see it at different angles. "And how do you make it go back in?"

"Ack! That's attached, you know!" Ronnie scolded, pulling his arm out of my grasp. He held it up for me to see it well. "It's simple, really." He rotated his hand over to show a metal bar that ran under his palm, "There's a button here that, if you press it, pulls on a wire that runs all the way back to this metal piece here," he pointed to the cylinder, "and some little doo-hickey back there releases. The blades are spring-loaded, so they fly out really fast. To put them back in," he grabbed a hold of the metal cylinder, "you just pull this all the way back. That doo-hickey grabs back onto it, and voila!"

Nodding, I looked back up at him, "You do realize that's not actually simple, right? That's actually a very complex machine you have strapped to your arm."

Ronnie nodded vigorously, "Oh, I know that. But explaining it was easy!"

"Yes," Jerry said with a mischievous tone to his voice. "We know all about those doo-hickeys."

Ronnie never once took his gaze off me, "You are a very bad influence on him. There'll be two Saan's running around some day."

"Muah ha ha ha," I laughed evilly. "All part of the plan. Anyways," I said, putting my glass on the coffee table, "that only gives you one arm to attack with. Unless you're careful, you might accidentally lose your right one, since you'll probably try and block with it out of instinct."

"Already thought about that!" Ronnie exclaimed. He spun and jogged back upstairs.

I gave another slightly worried look to Jerry from over my shoulder. He simply smirked. Ronnie came thudding back down the steps. This time, on his right arm, was some weird looking piece of thick metal that was strapped to his arm much like his vambrace.

"Is another pair of blades going to come out of this one?" I asked skeptically.

Ronnie smiled smugly. He clicked his tongue. Instantly, the piece of metal on his arm jerked. Not even in the blink of an eye did a sliver of the metal slide out from above the large bar. This was followed by another sliver, and then another, much like when an Asian fan opens, until a round, metallic shield had formed. The pieces joined themselves together with a quiet click.

"Okay, that was impressive," Jerry muttered from behind me.

Ronnie grinned with pride.

"Is that what I think it is," I asked, narrowing my eyes in suspicion.

Ronnie's grin dimmed a little, "You mean, was it made using the same processes and with the same metal composition of those little thingies I used to steal from the science labs? Yes."

"Wait, wait, wait," Jerry said, waving his hands. "Are you saying you stole that from Shin-Ra's labs?"

"No!" Ronnie defended. "Not exactly. And before you say anything, Saan, I'm serious this time. Hojo's little flunkies have been trying to replicate your armor forever. They weren't having much luck, but they did figure out how to make a thin, yet strong, metal. Combining it with tiny, like microscopic, computer chips, they produced things like this little shield here. This particular weapon was designed to activate in accordance with a sound. I pulled some strings, gave the scientists some ideas, and procured this little baby the good old-fashioned Turk way."

"You stole it," I replied.

"No! I gave them a fake name, pretended to be some hotshot buyer, gave them a fake bank account that looked real on the computers, and then made them mail the completed product to an abandoned warehouse."

"He stole it," Jerry said.

"Look, I swindled, okay? What I did was far more complicated than simply stealing."

"What have the Turks been teaching you?" I asked, more than a little disturbed.

Ronnie shrugged, clicking his tongue again. The shield broke apart and went back to its original state in the same manner as when it first formed: piece by piece until it was nothing but a strange looking piece of metal.

"You remember how I used to say I was nothing but a paper boy? A desk-job Turk?"


"Well, I was. I just didn't handle the types of papers you thought I did."

My jaw dropped to the floor, "You lied to me?"

"Hey!" Ronnie said, holding his hands up in surrender. "That's what Turks do!"

"I'm more creeped out that I didn't catch it!" I replied peevishly.

Ronnie stuck his tongue out at me. He walked around the side of the loveseat and sat down.

Jerking his thumb over his shoulder he said, "Anyways, you better take that shower if you're going to. Your clothes are already in the bathroom. I'll take one after you."

I smiled, "Ronnie. If I take a shower before you, trust me, you won't get to take a shower. It takes me roughly forty-five minutes to get clean and wash my hair. That's generally just enough time to run all the hot water out. If you want to take a shower, I suggest you do it before me. Unless you like cold showers, and then by all means, don't let me stop you."

Reaching for my half-drank glass of water, I caught Jerry's stunned expression out of my peripheral. I knew what he was thinking, I often thought it myself. How does it take someone so damn long in the shower? Well, there was one definitive answer.

"I have really long hair. Trust me, shampooing and conditioning it is no easy feat."

"Cold showers I can live with, it's the thought of not washing my hair that scares me more. Fine, I'll take one before you. I'll be back in a few minutes. Like, ten or fifteen. A reasonable amount of time," Ronnie said as he got off the couch, making his way to the bathroom.

I pouted, "I said it takes me a long time to wash my hair, not that it takes an entire bottle of shampoo and conditioner."

"I'm not taking any chances," he mumbled in response.

Rolling my eyes, I tilted back my head and focused on finishing off the water Jerry had given me. I placed the empty glass on the table. Leaning back on the couch, I looked out the front windows. The sun had set completely and there was barely any light left. Chances were, by the time Ronnie got out of the shower, it would be completely dark out there. I mused over how amazing it was that one could only ever really tell how fast the Earth was moving at sunrise and sunset. Well, Gaia.

I frowned. Depressing histories. Yay. They seemed to be everywhere.

The room was silent for a while. A very uncomfortable while, I might add. The only source of noise coming from the faint sounds of running water and the uncannily loud ticking of the clock on the wall to my left.

"I'd like to ask you something," I said suddenly, looking over at Jerry.

He frowned, "Ask what?"

"What happened to you after I told you to skedaddle from the Turks back in Nibelheim? How did you end up here in Kalm, of all places, working in a weapon shop?"

"Ha! I knew that was coming," he mumbled. Sighing, he asked, "You know what? Fine. You told me yours, I'll tell you mine. You want the long story, or the long story made short?"

I didn't have to think about that one much, "Long story made short. Ronnie tends to be very accurate on his shower predictions. Eerily so."

"Well, using the cover of darkness to my advantage, I somehow stumbled my way back down the Nibel Mountains without being seen by the Turks. Don't ask me how, I have no idea. I must have been lucky. Our paths never crossed.

"However, as I was leaving Nibelheim, I almost ran straight into Shin-Ra forces. They'd rounded up most of the people who had tried to escape. Some of them we'd helped ourselves. I figured they were most likely detaining them for questioning just like you had said they would.

"I was worried about you, but I knew it would be stupid to try and go back up the mountain. I'd have been caught for sure."

Jerry chuckled a little, "I didn't want to face your wrath if you had to save my ass again."

I smiled softly.

He continued, "Since I was clad in civilian's clothes—that innkeeper's husband's—it was easy for me to catch a ride with some strangers. They were out randomly hunting for Nibel Wolves so that they could get the pelts. They said the fur would be used for rugs and clothing. Said city folk paid a lot for stuff like that.

"I used the kindness of strangers to make my way back to the Eastern Continent. I knew it might be dangerous to return to Midgar. So, instead, I came here to Kalm. I didn't contact my family; I didn't contact Shin-Ra…not directly. I did take a risk in calling you, though. You never answered.

"After a month of no contact with either you or Ronnie, I panicked. Reports had come in that Sephiroth had died. There was no mention of Anubis. I knew something was up, that something was off. I risked a few trips to Midgar, to try and get information from some of my old friends, people I knew I could trust. But that proved fruitless. So, I chose to stay in Kalm.

"I applied for work at the weapon shop. I used the savings my parents had given me years before to put a down-payment on this house. At first, almost everything I made went into this house. But, over time, I began to take little odd jobs here and there. Mostly fighting monsters and things that had moved in too close to the city walls. Traveling merchants don't really like the thought of being ambushed while out on the road.

"I had a house, I had a job, I had a little money in my pocket, and I tried to eke out a living. A very boring, lonely living, but at least it was something." Tearing his eyes off the space he'd been staring at, he focused back on me, "That's about it."

"So," I began, "you've just been fighting monsters and selling arsenal all this time?"

"Something like that."

I frowned thoughtfully as I looked back out the front windows. Jerry had been fighting monsters for almost the entire time that I had been gone? Years of non-stop training… He would have to have at least gone up a rank in SOLDIER's standards. He used to be a Third. Though, I remembered one time how he had said he would have been a Second if it wasn't for Lazard's disappearance. Did that make him equal to that of a First Class?

Casting a sideways glance at him, I finally decided to acknowledge that he would be able to handle himself if he followed me. I knew he was going to. He'd been dropping hints here and there all day about coming with me. He couldn't come with us because of our group's size...but, maybe, he could tail us.

Before I could carry that train of thought any further, Ronnie returned from his shower. Taking a quick peek at the clock, he'd almost taken fifteen minutes. Seriously, that was creepy.

"Shower's free," he said, stating the obvious as he dried his hair with a towel.

I was just thankful that he'd chosen to put on his pants before exiting the bathroom for once. He had forgone his shirt, though. His copper necklace was resting just under his clavicle, still a wolf howling at the moon.

"Well, then," I replied. "I guess it's a good thing I'm feeling well enough to take mine then. I'll be back…eventually."

I pushed myself off the couch, making sure I didn't wobble or anything. I was fine. As I walked around the coffee table, Ronnie brought up the topic of food.

"I'm starving to death."

"I'll cook something," Jerry sighed, pushing himself out of his chair.

"What you got?" Ronnie asked as I began up the stairs.

"…food? Why? Is there something specific you wanted?"

I snorted, as the last thing I heard before I closed the door was the two of them arguing over who was going to cook. Turning from the door, I surveyed the bathroom.

Sure enough, my new clothes were sitting on the edge of the sink. I would have complained that whoever had laid them there had put my new boots on top of my clothes, but since they were new, it wasn't like they had any mud on the soles or anything.

Ronnie had been kind enough to clean the shower some. No clogged drains or slippery tubs for me. Shampoo? Check. Conditioner? Check. Clean razor? Under the sink, check. Washcloth? Check. Clean towels? In the little hamper in the corner, check. Once everything was accounted for, I turned to face the shower while thinking, "Let's do this."

The shower itself was routine enough. Shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse, wash, shave, hop out of the shower hella fast because the water turned frigid near the end. After the shower was routine enough, too. Towel dry hair, dry self, clothe self, pitifully try to comb hair with Jerry's little comb and fail miserably at it, glare at image in mirror because hair is starting to curl, as usual.

"Why?" I begged my reflection. "Why do you curl? Why do you curl unevenly? I'm going to have annoying curls near my ears and underneath, and then the back's just gonna frizz out like Cousin It. Why can you not be consistent? That's all I ask!"

With an angry huff, I slammed my hands into my pockets. Only to blink in surprise as my right hand felt something foreign. Wrapping my hand around the object, I pulled it out of my pocket. Lo-and-behold, there was a black scrunchie. I stared at it in confusion. Odd. I knew neither Jerry nor Ronnie would have a scrunchie, so they obviously didn't put it there. And I didn't remember getting one. But, then again, I didn't remember the entire time I spent in the clothing store.

I slowly moved my eyes back to my reflection. "I stole a scrunchie…" After mulling that over for a bit, I said, "I'm not complaining."

It took me a minute to get the wet mop known as my hair in the damn hair-tie, but eventually I succeeded. Pulling the ponytail tight at the base of my skull, I looked at my reflection. I most definitely looked like a military nut. Though, I had to hand it to High Saan. She knew how to color coordinate. I was glad she'd chosen the pants she did. Tan camo went better with the dark green shirt than green camo. Too much green and I'd've looked like a walking tree. No, thank you. Plus, the pants were designed so that they were baggy at the top and got skinny near the bottom. Perfect for fitting in a pair of boots without annoyingly bunching up. I silently praised the designer.

"Much better," I said in triumph.

I piled my dirty clothes and the dirty towels in the same basket Ronnie's washcloth was in. With that done, I left the bathroom. Walking down the stairs, I knew immediately that dinner was done. I could smell it, and it smelled good.

Ronnie had moved to the couch and was wolfing down his plate of food. Much irony there. Jerry was back in his chair, lazily poking at some rice. A brief glance at both plates, aided with the smell, let me know we were having chicken with some sort of sweet-smelling sauce and rice. Mmm, Asian food. Although, there was no Asia on Gaia, so… Mmm, Wutaian food. Or was it Wutainese? Why did I never find that out? How many times did I pass Tseng in the halls and on missions, and each time, the question just slip my mind? Probably because all those times I was too busy either staring at that damn distracting dot on his forehead or admiring his appearance in general.

What? I was twenty-two and single! And Tseng was one of the few men I encountered at Shin-Ra that actually knew how to groom himself properly. There was no harm in looking. At least, that's what I liked to tell myself. Okay, so there were drawbacks to being the only female in an all-male group… Especially as a tomboy who didn't foresee what being considered 'one of the guys' meant.

Scanning the room, I noticed a third plate was nowhere to be seen. I frowned. I looked expectantly at Ronnie. He paid me no attention. I looked over at Jerry. My brow knitted with confusion. He wasn't just 'lazily' poking at his food, he seemed upset over something. His contemplative gaze was directed right at Ronnie. I glanced between them again. Did I miss something?

"Right," I said, ignoring my suspicions. "Food. Where is mine?"

"Since you decided to use all the hot water," Ronnie joked, "we decided not to give you any food. One less dish we'll have to wash in cold water."

I glared at him. Bring it on, little man. I'll roast you, how 'bout that?

"It's in the microwave," Jerry muttered. "It shouldn't need reheating."

Fancy that, my family wasn't the only one to hoard food in the microwave. That always led to interesting discoveries when trying to reheat coffee. I walked to the kitchen, found the microwave, retrieved my food, still warm, and went back into the living room. I sat down next to Ronnie. I was boycotting the loveseat since I still hadn't cleaned that little spot off. Oops. In my defense, I had no time to do that while lying, face down, in a drug-induced coma on the couch.

The sauce on the chicken seemed to be a very close recipe to sweet-and-sour. I briefly mused if there was an actual name to that, but then came to the conclusion that I didn't care. It tasted nice, what did it matter what it was called? The rice was a little mushier than that typically found in Chinese restaurants, but I had to give the boys credit. It tasted better than mine.

As I ate, I couldn't help but notice there was something in the atmosphere of the room. I just couldn't figure out what it was.

"If you guys want anymore, I suggest you get it now," Ronnie said, hopping to his feet and making his way back to the kitchen. "I really don't want to eat it all…and I will."

With Ronnie out of the way, I whispered to Jerry, "Are you alright? You've been mindlessly poking your food ever since I got back."

"I'm fine," he replied. "I'm just tired. I think I'm turning in." He stood up. "You can have my bed if you want it. It'd be rude to make the girl sleep in the living room."

I scowled, "Your couch is just fine, thank you."

He shrugged, "Suit yourself."

Jerry passed Ronnie on his way to the kitchen to put his plate in the sink. Without another word, the young man walked back through the living room. I watched him apprehensively as he walked up the stairs and disappeared out of sight. Slowly, I then turned to face Ronnie, giving him a hard stare. He pretended not to notice but the tenseness in his shoulders hinted that he was hiding something.

"What did you say?" I inquired.

Ronnie playfully smiled, "Nooo-thing."

I frowned, "You've teased him about something, haven't you?"


"And you're not going to tell me, are you?" I asked in annoyance.


"Figures. I'll find out on my own."

"Oh-ho, I bet you will."

Narrowing my eyes, I asked, "What do you mean by that?"

Ronnie shoved a giant ball of rice into his mouth so that he didn't have to answer. Sure, like I was going to let him get off that easily. Oh, no. Nuh-uh.

"I'll ask him, you know?" I threatened.

Ronnie gave a broad grin, rice sticking on his teeth as he did so. My mouth fell open in horror as I wiggled in disgust.

"Ugh! Eat your food!"

The rest of dinner would have been spent in silence if Ronnie hadn't stumbled upon the remote by randomly sticking his hands in the couch cushions. I have no idea why it was hiding there. We turned the TV on, making sure to keep the noise muted so as not to wake up Jerry. The channel we kept it on was some local station showing images about a festival. Using context clues, I figured that they were going to have a little festival soon, and it was talking about that. Everyone seemed excited. Too bad I wouldn't be staying around to take part in the festivities.

After we'd finished, Ronnie took up my plate with his. When he returned, he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket and handed it to me.

"My number's already in it," he said. "I ran into Barret while in the little shop down the road. It sells miscellaneous travel things. I guess cell phones fall in that category. Anyway! He gave me the lowdown on what the gang is planning. Both 'team leaders' are getting something called a PHS. Think that means Personal Handheld System. I can't remember, but at least the letters fit."

I nodded slowly, "That they do."

"The PHS is going to allow Cloud and Barret to stay in touch with each other, and it'll be a little more secure than just a cell phone. Shin-Ra won't be thinking to hack into such an out-of-date manner of communication. That and the frequencies are a little different. However, the PHS system needs the groups to be relatively close to each other to work properly. So, flying halfway across the world and then trying to call someone is out of the question.

"Me? I'm sticking to good old-fashioned cell phones. That PHS thing doesn't have any games. Besides, no one uses that anymore, how would I call anybody? Psh."

"With everything you've told me, wouldn't the PHS be the old-fashioned piece of technology?"

"Manner of speech, Saan. Stop picking apart what I'm saying. Also, I traded my Turk-issued phone so they wouldn't be able to track me that way."

He pulled out another phone from his pocket. Generic. Black. Exactly like mine.

"This one's not as good as my old one," he said, "but it'll have to do."

I chewed on the inside of my cheek as I digested everything I'd heard. A specific statement was running over and over through my head. Finally, I just nodded and decided to address it.

"You said you traded in your Turk phone so you wouldn't get tracked. Yet, you've been in possession of that phone since we left Midgar and, even though you don't have it on you, it now resides within Kalm."


"They've had all day to track that damn thing. Depending on when they started to trace the GPS, or whatever system they use, they know we're in Kalm, and they may have known for quite some time."

"Oh, please, Saan, you worry too much," Ronnie replied, dismissing me easily. "If the Turks had already used a trace, we'd either be dead or detained by now. According to you, we are allegedly responsible for demolishing an entire Sector of Midgar, murdering the President, threatening the new President, and dispatching an entire unit of the Army that came after us. They wouldn't just sit on their hands and do nothing as we twiddled our thumbs in Kalm. Though, now I do feel a little sorry for that store clerk…"

"Mm-hmm. And how did you pay for these cell phones? That money's not traceable, too, is it?"

"Give me some credit," Ronnie smirked. "I used that stash of money you'd been hiding in your room. I knew they'd be keeping tabs on the card I have."

My eyebrows rose, "You used my stash. I was saving that for a reason, you know." I looked down at his clothes, "So, not only did you buy two cell phones with my money, but you also bought those clothes. I'm going to kill you."

He frowned, "Well, we kinda needed them, Saan. Besides, there's still some money left."

"Enough to buy a car?"

"…no, not that much."

"I'm going to kill you." More than a little aggravated, I shooed at him with my hands, "Get off the couch, I'm going to bed."

Ronnie pouted, "Why do you get the couch? You should take the loveseat! You're smaller than me. If I get on the loveseat, my legs will be sticking off the side and my neck will bend at an uncomfortable angle."

"You're a heavy sleeper," I shot back. "You'll find a spot and pass out before you ever feel the first crick begin to form in your neck."

"Fine," he huffed. "Just know that we're leaving hella early in the morning and I wouldn't put it past AVALANCHE to just leave us here. I don't think they like us very much."


When I woke up the next morning, Ronnie had already left. And he hadn't bothered to wake me up at all. The little twit. So help me, if I'd been left behind, I was tracking them down, killing them all, and then I'd go after Jenova my damn self.

Grumbling, I pushed myself up into a sitting position on the couch. I was briefly distracted by my ponytail. It had moved over my left shoulder. It infuriated me to no end that, whenever in a ponytail or braid, my hair gravitated to one side. What was the purpose of putting my hair up, if it was just going to get back in the way again? And again with the uneven factor! Well, fuck you, hair. You're staying that way!

It appeared that Jerry hadn't woken up, yet. Damn. I'd wanted to ask him what the hell Ronnie had said to him to get him upset. Oh, well, maybe it was for the best. I could sneak out and avoid more demands and awkward conversations.

I picked my new cell phone off the table and put it in my right pocket. My staff was near the door, just chillin' up against the wall. Getting off the couch, I made my way towards it. When I was about halfway there, I heard the top step creak. I paused mid-step. Shit. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Jerry staring at me. He looked like he'd just woken up. His hair was a little messy and he was still in his pjs, but I did notice his necklace was back around his neck. What was that cat creature depicted on it?

He merely blinked at me. As he walked down the steps, he never once took his eyes off them.

"Did you sleep well?" I asked, falling into that awkward conversation I was trying to avoid.

"I slept quite well. It's nice of you to ask."

I frowned. He seemed bitter. I almost scoffed. Of course he was bitter! I was trying to sneak out the door to disappear again for who knew how long.

As if reading my mind, Jerry asked, as he walked towards the kitchen, "How long do you plan to be gone this time?"

I schooled my features, adopting a blank face and uninterested voice, "I don't know."

"Ah, there it is," he said, pausing in his steps. He didn't turn. He kept his left side facing me as he stared at the ground. "That tone. You always act disinterested when you try to avoid things."

"Not always," I mumbled. "Sometimes I simply run."

"Are you running?" He asked.

I caught the hidden meaning easily. Jerry wasn't trying to hide it.

"From you? No. From Shin-Ra? Hell no. From Jenova? Definitely not. From myself? Most likely. In which case, you don't have much to worry about. I don't think I'll get very far."

"Heh," he finally looked at me. "How is it you can say something like that with absolutely no emotion? Are you trying to make it sound cool? Like you're making the right decision by chasing a nightmare?"

I shrugged, "Better to chase the nightmare, hunt it down, and destroy it before it has a chance to give more sleepless nights to unwilling victims…"

"Nice metaphor," he deadpanned.

"Thanks. You gave me good material."

Jerry closed his eyes and sighed in exasperation. When he reopened them, I could see the determination in those slightly glowing, orange eyes. I knew what was coming next. I'd been waiting for it the entire day before.

"I'm coming with you," he almost threatened.

"Like hell you are," I replied smoothly.

"You can't keep me from doing it!"

"No," I admitted.

Jerry leaned back in surprise, eyebrows drawn together. We both remained silently as we stared at one another. Jerry slowly narrowed his eyes.

"You've already planned something out, haven't you?"


He turned his body to face me fully and then crossed his arms, "And?"

"You can't come with me, obviously. We have seven people already. Even broken up into two groups, that's a lot of people to sneak around with. And you're right; I can't exactly stop you from coming with us," I replied cryptically. I wanted to see how long it took the gears to click into place.

After a pregnant pause, Jerry said, "You want me to follow you."

I nodded once, "I need someone to watch my back. I've tried to avoid Shin-Ra before, and failed. Where I failed, you managed to succeed. Plus, you said that you've been fighting monsters for a long time. You're probably stronger than most of the group I'm traveling with. I have no doubt that you'll be fine on your own.

"The Turks are following us. I had my doubts when we first left Midgar, but something Ronnie said last night got me thinking. As you know, AVALANCHE attacked Shin-Ra and Rufus directly. The Turks would have to be called once the Army and SOLDIER failed to eliminate us during our escape. Yet, I'd seen no sign of helicopters circling us. That doesn't mean the Turks weren't around."

Jerry frowned thoughtfully, wrapping his chin with his forefinger and thumb.

Looking to the side, he continued my train of thought, "Seven people walking out of Midgar, through the plains… even spread out, you'd stick out like a sore thumb." He cut his eyes back to me, "They want to know where you're going."

I nodded again, "That has to be it. Otherwise they would have shot us full of holes by now. Or sent the Army after us once we made it to Kalm. We've spent a long time here for people supposedly runnin' from the law.

"The others might think we've been lucky, but I know different. Rufus knows we're after Sephiroth. He wants him, too. For different reasons, I'm sure. Why waste us and try to find the General on his own, when we could do all the dirty work instead?"

Jerry let his arms drop. "But you said that Jenova was—"

"Yes," I interrupted. "None of the others, save for Ronnie, know we're chasing a mirage. But that doesn't matter. As callous as that is to say. Whether Jenova or Sephiroth, an entity that slaughters dozens of innocents and murders the President of Shin-Ra, only to vanish without a trace after spouting off that it isn't through, needs to be stopped."

"Is that why you're doing this?" Jerry asked, placing a hand on his hip. "To be the good citizen?"

I smirked, "Oh, that's definitely what I tell myself."

He smirked back. Then he shook his head and asked, "So? What? I'm to trail you, or do you want me to trail the Turks who are trailing you?"

Grinning, I replied, "Whatever you fancy, though the latter would definitely prove very useful. Also, any information you can retrieve from that SOLDIER underground thingy you're in on."

Jerry frowned, "I'm not in any—"

"Whatever you tell yourself at night."

Jerry let the comment slide and asked, "Do you know where you're going?"

"Like I've said before, no, but it definitely won't be back to Midgar."

"Might I suggest going south, then? Since you're not using vehicles, you could get some chocobos instead. I know there's a farm near here."

The blood in my veins ran cold at the mere mention of that damn farm, "I'd rather not."

Jerry blinked, a little confused as to why I seemed so reluctant to use chocobos. If he remembered the fact he near killed me after mine and Ronnie's first trip to Midgar, he didn't acknowledge it.

"Anyways," I continued with a shudder, "I have to leave now before I'm left behind because that would really suck. What with me trying to infiltrate AVALANCHE and all."

I turned from Jerry and walked the rest of the way to my staff. As I picked it up, I was suddenly grabbed from behind. My eyes widened substantially as Jerry hugged me. I could feel his lips on the back of my head.

"Don't be a hero," he whispered.

I was too stunned to reply for a few seconds. Then his words finally sunk in. I smiled a little.

"No," I mused. "That was Zack's job."

Jerry released me slowly. I looked at him over my shoulder. The look he was giving me terrified me. I think, at that point, it was safe to say the little hero-worshipping crush he'd had for me years ago had been replaced by something far stronger. And it took every ounce of my being not to think of that four letter word, lest I squeak pitifully and turn into a mushy pile of goo on the floor.

Right, Saan. Get out of the house. Get out of the house now, before your brain goes, "Haha, cannot compute. Bzzt!" and leaks out your ears. You can't help Cloud as a mindless zombie.

With the same smile frozen on my face, I gave Jerry a quick wink and then beat feet out the door. The blue stones of Kalm became very interesting after that, as I walked briskly towards the archway leading into the main part of town. The more I tried not to think about Jerry, the more I turned the color of a ripe tomato. Because, naturally, the more you try not to think about something, the more you're actually thinking about it.

I gasped loudly, suddenly remembering the day before, "And I commented on his ass!" I slapped my hand against my forehead with a loud smack, "Oh, gawd!"

Not to mention I'd flashed him, and whoever carried my new clothes upstairs probably saw my underwear. Dear God, please let the latter have been done by Ronnie. No, don't think about that. I had to be of sound mind when I met AVALANCHE again. I don't think they would have liked me coming back from who-knows-where giggling like a madwoman because of nervousness.

Somehow I managed to talk myself down into a calm state by the time I could see the Mako pump in the center of the Circle. That calm only lasted a few nanoseconds because then I spotted Tifa standing by it, arms crossed, with a scowl on her face which was directed at me.

Happy thoughts gone.

Now, I focused on keeping my mouth shut so that Tifa could say what she needed to say. And by the look, she was probably going to yell at me. I reminded myself not to stab her no matter how loud or violent she got.

She didn't open her mouth until I was standing a few feet directly across from her.

"I don't want you traveling with us," she said, quick and to the point.

I smiled politely, "Yes, well, too bad I'm coming anyway."

"I don't like what you did to Cloud yesterday," she continued, ignoring me.

"Oh, what I've done to Cloud?" I asked. "The only thing I did was try to tell the boy the truth."

"That wasn't the truth!" She exclaimed, throwing her arms to her side angrily. "Cloud never came back to Nibelheim!"

I grinned maliciously, "And yet you let him believe otherwise. We're all liars here, Tifa. Don't put all the blame on me."

She glared at me, her fists and jaw clenched tight in anger. She looked away from me, snapping her head to the side so fast that her hair swayed. I let her stew in silence, remaining where I was because I knew she wasn't finished. After a moment, her demeanor changed. Her shoulders slackened, her hands unclenched, and she frowned. She looked pitiful.

"He doesn't remember," she said quietly. "He never came back…but he remembers things that happened. He remembers things that didn't happen. Ever since I found him at the tracks in Midgar. I'd never seen him look so…so broken before. And then he acted like everything was normal, when it wasn't. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want—"

She went silent. Furiously, she turned on me.

"This is all your fault!" She yelled. "Shin-Ra. SOLDIER. All of it! If you'd never come to Nibelheim, none of this would have happened!"

I snapped, "Girl, you will NOT blame me for that!"

Tifa jerked back in surprise.

"I joined SOLDIER to help my friends. All I ever did was fight to protect them. That's all any of us ever did, and, by God, I will not stand by and let you demean their sacrifices with your petty blame and anger! Not for the actions of ONE MAN!" I took a steadying breath and growled lowly, "Now you listen here. I did everything I thought I could to stop Sephiroth that night. I helped your villagers escape. It was a SOLDIER that tried to save your life by stopping Sephiroth. And you dare disrespect him?"

"I—" Tifa stuttered.

"I'm not finished!" I roared. "Now sooner or later the truth is going to come out. Don't, for one second, doubt your pretty little head about that. Sephiroth was there. Sephiroth knows. And he will not hesitate to use that against that poor boy in there!" I thrust my finger violently towards the Inn. "He will decimate that child. He will rip him to shreds. And you goddamn better be there to pick up the pieces, Tifa, or so help me! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR!"

"Yes!" Tifa screeched angrily, trembling a little despite her efforts not to.

She wasn't the only one shaking. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. My right hand was wrapped so tightly around my staff that I couldn't move my fingers, they were so stiff.

"And don't you think twice that I won't beat your skull in if you hurt him!" Tifa shouted, her voice cracking a little.

I smiled in relief. Opening my eyes, I looked at her, "Tifa. I have absolutely no desire to harm that boy. Nor will I willing allow him to come to harm. I owe it to an old friend of mine."

She frowned darkly at me. Before Tifa could come up with something else to throw at me the door to the Inn opened. Barret came striding out, yelling about something. We could hear him all the way at the pump.

Tifa gave me one last glare before wiping the expression off her face. She turned and jogged her way over to Barret and Cloud, Cloud having emerged shortly after the boisterous, gun-armed man. She greeted them happily enough. No trace of our verbal war lingered. I had to hand it to her, she was a good actress. Props to be given when earned.

Placing my staff across my shoulders, I walked towards the growing group as the AVALANCHE members filed out of the Inn, Ronnie bringing up the rear with Aerith. Cloud's attention was directed at me when I fell in line with the rest.

"Took you long enough," he commented.

I shrugged, "Had some loose ends to tie up. You find out which way we goin'?"

"Word on the street," Barret replied, "is some man in a black cloak, lookin' scary, and carryin' a killer sword headed east 'cross them fields."

Frowning, I asked, "Cloak? Sephiroth wears a coat."

"Maybe he's wearing a disguise," Aerith answered.

And yet failed to mask the Masamune? No. And…how did he have the Masamune if he left it in the back of the President? She. Since, it was Jenova. Well, the first sword was a fake. Maybe the second was, too? How many swords could she pull out of her ass?

"Coat, cloak, cape, it doesn't matter what he's wearing. That sword is what gives him away," Cloud said.

"If I remember correctly, heading due east will lead us straight into the ocean," I muttered. "Unless Sephiroth gained the ability to walk on water, I don't think he went that way."

Red XIII frowned. An interesting expression on a lion-dog. "I do not think our source was very reliable. He smelled of alcohol."

"Trust me, even when drunk, people generally don't have hallucinations," Ronnie said. "Maybe the direction he gave was all that was wrong with his description?"

"Well," Tifa replied in thought. "If he didn't go east… He couldn't have gone west, that would lead him straight into Midgar. North just leads to the ocean, too. What about south?"

I twitched, "Chocobos."

Everyone looked at me.

"What?" Cloud asked.

I shuddered, "There's a farm to the south of here that deals in selling and raising chocobos. It's near the swamp."

"Dammit!" Barret shouted suddenly, "I remember now! There's a cave system past that swamp. Runs right through the mount'ins. The west coast's where Junon's at!"

Cloud frowned, "If Sephiroth's planning to attack Shin-Ra again, that's probably where he's going."

"It's also a sea port," Tifa added. "He could probably hop on a ship without anyone knowing."

"I hate to say this. For personal reasons," I reluctantly interrupted. "But…if we're crossing the swamp…the only way to do that is on chocobos."

Again, everyone was staring at me. AVALANCHE because they were probably curious on how I knew so much about that damned farm, Ronnie because he was smiling wickedly at me.

"There's a giant ass snake in the swamp and the only thing fast enough to outrun it is a chocobo," I grumbled.

Aerith frowned a little, "I can't really picture Sephiroth riding a chocobo."

"He doesn't have to worry about monsters," Cloud replied darkly. "All right. I guess we'll have to go to that farm, then. Tifa, Aerith, Red XIII, you're with me. Barret, you take Saan and Ronnie."

Barret and I immediately started to protest. Of course, we were protesting at the same time, so we didn't make much sense. Cloud silenced us with a hard stare.

"Barret, I want you to figure out whether or not we can trust these two or not. If we can't, shoot 'em."

"Uh!" Ronnie whimpered, "That's a little harsh, don't you think?"

"No," Cloud replied evenly. "Besides, Saan has high-leveled Materia, and your group before, Barret, didn't. I'm trying to balance out the groups' fighting power."

"Awright, fine," Barret grumbled, crossing his arms. "If I get to shoot some Shin-Ra, I guess it's worth it."

"You sound like you've already made up your mind, big guy," I commented.

He gave me the evil eye. I resisted the urge to snort. Sometimes Barret looked intimidating and other times the poor guy just tried way too hard. Ronnie was pouting when he walked over to our side. Looking back at Cloud, I tried my best not to cut my eyes over to Tifa to glare at her. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought she'd planned this somehow.

"My group will take point," Cloud ordered. "Barret, you follow after us, but not too close. And don't fall too far behind, either."

As Cloud's group was walking away, Barret yelled, "Yo, Spikey, whazzat supposed to mean? You think I walk slow or sumthin'!"

Aerith laughed, turned, and waved at him with her arm, "See ya later, Barret!"

Growling, Barret shook his fist angrily at the retreating figures, "That lil', blond bastard! Who's he think he is, orderin' me aroun'?"

"The leader?" I half-asked.

Barret looked down at me, frowning in annoyance. He smiled suddenly and I knew I should be afraid.

"That's right!" He shouted, grabbing his gun arm, "And not only did he make me leader o' this lil' group, but I got permission to shoot ya if I don't like ya!"

"I thought he said if you didn't trust us, you were supposed to shoot us. Not that if you didn't like us, you were supposed to shoot us," Ronnie said, using his pointed fingers to try and illustrate his thoughts.

Barret pointed his gun-arm at Ronnie. Ronnie quickly shut up and put his hands in the air, staring down his nose at the giant barrel mere inches in front of his face.

"March, Turk!" Barret commanded. Ronnie happily obliged while I followed him in mild amusement. Barret continued, "I don't like your kind, and I shure as hell don't trust ya. You better be glad that I haven't shot ya yet. The thought's crossed my mind more than once. Now, you and ya little girlfriend are gonna stay in front of me and, don't you worry, I got yer backs."

Barret allowed us a few yards distance between us and him. I supposed it was so he could take us both out with relative ease. Or maybe he just didn't want blood splatter to get on him if he shot us at close range. Hell, he might have not wanted to be around us just because we were Shin-Ra and he'd catch cooties or something. Whatever the case, I was thankful he'd given us some room.

"How are you so calm?" Ronnie whispered harshly. "There's a psycho behind us and he's got us in his sights!"

"Because I've learned that Barret, for all his bark, has yet to try and bite," I replied. "Relax! He's not going to shoot us. I think it just makes him feel better if he can threaten people."

Ronnie stared at me, slack-jawed, "That doesn't help me feel any better!"

I smirked.

We walked on in silence for a few moments. Ronnie had actually broken into a sweat. I shook my head at him. For someone who worked for the most dangerous branch of Shin-Ra, he sure didn't know how to handle pressure. I was a little relieved he didn't have his gun on him anymore. Ronnie was a bad enough shot as it was, I didn't want to know what he could do with an itchy trigger finger.

"So," Ronnie spoke up. "What'd you think of Jerry?"

"It's a little disturbing to see how he's changed," I admitted.

"He grew a set," Ronnie agreed.

"That's definitely an image I wanted."

He chuckled, "You're the one that went in the gutter so fast." He paused before asking, "By the way, did you ask him about what we talked about?"

"No," I replied. "But, then again, I didn't need to."

"Really?" Ronnie asked, frowning a little in his curiosity. "How'd you figure it out?"

"When he hugged me from behind as I was leaving."

"D'aw," Ronnie cooed. "You'd make a cute couple."

"Gee, thanks, Ronnie," I smirked. "I'm so glad I have you around to approve my choice in men."

"Ha ha," he replied sarcastically. "I see what ya did thar."

My smirk grew. It then became a small smile as I remembered that last embrace—Jerry's warmth and the feeling of his lips against my hair. The smile disappeared slowly, however, when I suddenly realized that wasn't the first time Jerry had held me from behind.

My memory jumped quickly to the day before, when Jerry had seen me for the first time in five years. The time I fell into his arm after the dragon had released me. The time he had dragged me down with him to hide behind a crate during Genesis' attack in Sector 8.

Suddenly, I started laughing. Ronnie gave me a confused look. Shaking my head, I grinned.

"And I told him to watch my back. Ha!"

He'd been watching it all along.




A/N: BWAH HAHAHA! I typed "leeks out your ears". Don't think that's what's meant by vegetative state. And, I swear, if Word says "all your fault" should be changed to "your entire fault" one more time, I'm going to stab it. Also, this is what's in my notes: LEAVE THE INN, THERE'S A MAN OUTSIDE WITH REDDISH HAIR, TALK TO HIM, HE SAYS 'LISTEN TO ME! JUST NOW, SOME GUY IN A BLACK CLOAK GOES WALKED (goes walked? really?) EAST TOWARDS THAT GRASSY FIELD. AND HE'S GOT THIS KILLER SWORD, AND IS LOOKING REAL SCARY...' HMM. Ah, Game. This man are sick!

Tifa and Saan confrontation. Hopefully Yuleen is satisfied. You know, SOLDIER is like one big conga line. Everybody chases someone, for various reasons. Genesis chases after Sephiroth, Angeal chases after Genesis, Zack chases after Angeal, Cloud chases after Zack, Saan chases after Cloud, Jerry chases after Saan. Hmm...

Ronnie's weapons have been in the works since the Crisis Core arc. It was a little hard trying to make something that was originally just supposed to look cool sound functional. I tried my best. Ronnie's outfit brought to you by The Sims 3. Because the only thing I remembered him telling me was he wanted loafers and I looked at him from the passenger seat of the car and went, "Are you insane?"

Oh, and I didn't make that drug up. The novel mentions it. In two different areas. The effects of the drug are most likely fabricated in my fic, but if it was meant to numb Mako effects, it's probably similar to a pain reliever, and I know how I act on a strong pain reliever.

Title comes from The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani. See, AVALANCHE is escaping Shin-Ra, you all are escaping Kalm, and it ends on a sweet note. I SO SMAWT. It could also be known as "The chapter in which the OCs get updated in their appearances." Well, Jerry hasn't yet, per se. -smirk- You'll just have to wait for that one.

So. Yeah. Saan and Jerry. Have fun, fans. -pirouettes away- ... -pirouettes back- I don't know where that's going, either. :D (Wow, I spelled that right.)