The Fight

[02.23.02] » by Jerome Anderson

Zell's fist smashed into the locker, knocking the offending hunk of metal across the training room with a discordant clang. His fist hung there, motionless, and his chest heaved with his hard breathing. A trickle of sweat ran down his face, he slowly closed his eyes, then let out a long, hard sigh.


"What did you say?" he asked, his voice very calm, though his body shook with very slight tremors. He was quite obviously upset.


"W...Well, it's just that this girl is fighting..." the boy, stammered, quailing visibly whenever Zell rounded on him, brandishing his fist before him.


"A girl?! Fighting?! Why do I care?" he shouted.


"She's strong, really, really strong. She's issued a challenge to all the strongest hand to hand fighters in the land.

Everyone that's gone has been beaten and she heard about you, and that you haven't answered and called you..." the bespectacled boy spluttered, jumping back whenever Zell took a menacing step forward.


"I heard what she called me!" Zell roared, slamming his fist into the ground. The resulting shockwave knocked the boy off his feet. He lay there dazed while Zell fumed up and down the training room, knocking things over, punching holes in the wall.


Finally, Zell walked over, picked the boy up by his shirt, lifting him up and dusting him off. "Well, it's decided. There's only one thing to do."


"Ummm...what would that be, Zell?"


"A fight of course. Guess I'm just gonna have to show this Tifa girl some of my moves so she can see that I'm no chicken."


                                                            * * *


Squall looked up to see Zell striding towards him, a veritable tide of human bodies in the wake of fighter. Squall rolled

his eyes. He could already tell this was going to be bad.


"What is it, Zell?" he asked, as Zell opened his mouth.


"There's gonna be a fight, Squall. Get everyone together. I can't have this CHICK disgracing the best fighter in all of

Balamb Garden, can I?"


Squall rolled his eyes again, Zell glared. "Oh, alright, fine. Who do we have to go fight?"


Zell huffed, "No, not we, pretty boy, this is all about the Zell-Meister and his Fists o' Destruction!"


Squall smacked his forehead with his hand, "Ugh. I'm feeling ill all of a sudden. Can't you do this on your own?"


"You know, I don't recall feigning indifference with you when you were hanging from a rope in midair getting the crap

clobbered outta you by some reject solider."


Squall glowered, "Where is this going to be?"


Zell grabbed a scruffy kid with glasses by the front of his jacket, hauling him out of the crowd. "You heard the man.

Where's this shindig gonna go down at?"


The boy stammered, pushing up his glasses as he scrabbled for a piece of paper in his pocket, "Well, uh, Sir,she's uh,

been seen last at, um, the Sorceress Monument."


Squall growled, "There's a lot of monsters there, Zell. Sure you want to do this? I mean, that's a long way to go to get

your butt kicked by some girl."


"I'M NOT GONNNA LOSE!" screamed Zell, hurling the boy bodily back into the crowd.


Squall considered for a moment longer, then nodded slowly, turning on his heel and walking away. He'd never seen Zell

so worked up as this. It was like he was something seriously? What an odd concept. Hmmm.


Squall went to the bridge and called for Rinoa and Irvine to join Zell and himself at the Ragnarok in half an hour.


Afterwards, he went to his room and belted his scabbard for his gunblade and changed to his leather jacket. It would be

interesting to see where this whole ordeal would lead.


Half an hour later, leaning against Ragnarok with Rinoa on his arm, Zell and Irvine came parading down to the ship

followed by whistles and cheers.


"And so the gladiator goes to battle, hmm?" asked Rinoa, squeezing Squall's arm.


"I guess. Lets just go. I want to be back for dinner."


"You're no fun! This could be a good fight!"


"Or it could be over with the first punch. Whatever happens, happens. Not my problem either way. I just hope he

doesn't bleed all over the place."


"Squall! That's a terrible thing to say!"


Irvine and Zell finally reached them, grinning like Cheshire Cats. Zells studded gloves gleamed, and Irvine kept reaching

under his duster to stroke the black oak stock of his rifle.


"Well, lets get this party started!" cried Zell, doing a standing backflip and landing in a quasi-damtic pose that made

Rinoa giggle.


The flight to the Sorceress Monument was over fairly quickly. Selphie tagged along with the group to fly, bouncing at the

prospect of seeing Zell get pummeled into the ground. Squall sat back in the co-pilot's seat, arms crossed over his chest

as he watched the land and water pass underneath the swiftly moving ship.


In the cargo area, Zell was doing one-armed push-ups with Rinoa sitting cross-legged on his back. Irvine sat and

cleaned his rifle, whistling to himself as he eyed Zell.


"So, what do you think's gonna happen?" he asked.


"Nothing...201...I'm gonna...202...beat her...203...and say good fight...204...then we're gonna...205...come home 206,"

Zell panted in between push-ups. Rinoa giggled and started tickling causing him to collaspse in a heap beneath her.


"Hey, no fair!"


"Who says this girl will play fair?"


Irvine sighted the barrel of his rifle on Zell, he snapped the lever action back and folded the gun neatly into his

trenchcoat, "The girl's got a point."


"Yeah, yeah. I'm not worried," Zell huffed, shrugging Rinoa off and standing up to strech his legs.


The intercom crackled, "We're here! Oooo! I can see them. Hey, there's three of them!"


Irvine scowled, but Rinoa frowned at him, "There are five of us, remember? It isn't like spectators aren't allowed or



"Yeah, I guess."


The Ragnarok touched down a distance away from the three people standing out on the barren plain. Squall got out

first, checking the gunblade at his hip as he watched everyone else depart the spaceship. Zell grinned at him and Rinoa

started tugging him along towards the three strangers.


Wind rolled over the dry land, kicking up dust devils that whirled away and then suddenly dissapated. The sun was high

in the sky, beating down and casting glaring white light over everything.


A girl walked forward as the group from Balamb Garden approached. Zell stared openly at her. Selphie smacked him in

the back of the head when she saw what he was staring at.


"Don't do that, it's rude," she chided.


"Yeah, but look at..." he whined.


Then Rinoa slapped him in the back of the head, "No buts, and that's not what you're looking at anyway."


Zell frowned in her general direction, "That's not very fair."


She smiled, "I know."


A muscular man wearing light armor stood at the girl's shoulder. His odd, icy blue eyes never once left the group, and

almost as a nervous reflex he kept fingering the hilt of the massive sword that he wore strapped to his back. Almost

instantly he locked eyes with Squall, neither of them blinking, mutely appraising.


The other person with the small group of strangers was another man, swathed in blood-red and black leather, he wore a

black-barreled rifle at his hip, and he kept his metallic arm stiffly at his side, even though his other hand clenched and

unclenched rhythmically. Irvine recognized the motions of a gunfighter that was used to drawing and firing from the hip.

People like that were either really good or relied on luck. From the cold, steady stare of his gray eyes, it was easy to

see which he was.


For a long while the two groups appraised each other, then, finally, Rinoa stepped forward, clearing her throat, "This is

Zell," she indicated the fighter, who nodded his head. "Are you Tifa?"


The girl nodded, "Yup, that's me. So, this is the famous fighter who everyone's talked so much about?"


Zell grinned, "Everyone's been talking about me, really?"


Irvine leaned over and whispered in his ear, "She's trying to boost your confidence, make you too cocky. You already are,

but any more and it could be really bad."


"Oh, right..." Zell stated thoughtfully, then he walked up to Tifa, his hand out. "Nice to meet you. I've heard that you've

beaten pretty much everyone, so here I am to challenge you."


Tifa nodded, smiling, "Good, I'm glad you came. These are my friends, Cloud and Vincent." The two men bowed in turn.


Zell waved to them, "These are my friends from Balamb Garden. Irvine is the guy with the gun, Rinoa's over there next

to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Silent, who's Squall by the way, and Selphie and Irvine over there."


Everyone smiled and waved, except for Squall, who stood impassively, his eyes never leaving Cloud. One hand rested on

the grip of his gunblade.


"Well, I suppose since you flew all the way out here, we should get started."


Zell nodded and everyone backed away from the two fighters.


"What are the rules?" Selphie asked Vincent, who was standing close by.


"They fight until one submits," he growled at her. Selphie shied away from him, uncomfortable with the way his eyes

seemed to shift from normal gray to something darker, more sinister.


Cloud stepped forward, drawing his sword, "The fight!" The air rang as he brought the blade crashing to the



The clear ringing made by Ultimate Weapon hung in the air for a moment, and the whole valley seemed to hold its

breath, waiting. Under Squall's boot, a rock crunched suddenly as he shifted his weight and Zell and Tifa flew at each

other like enraged falcons.


They covered the distance between each other so quickly that Selphie gasped. Tifa ducked low as Zell rushed her,

throwing a punch at her head. As she came up with an uppercut to his exposed jaw, he twisted his body to the side,

letting the punch sail past his face as he whipped his foot around in a tight, viscious circle that tagged Tifa's thigh.


Tifa danced back lightly, rubbing her thigh. Zell flexed, grinning. "This is gonna be better than I thought!"


Squall, watching from the sidelines, shook his head in dismay. Lionheart seemed to be an insistant weight on his hip,

and even without meaning to, he kept glancing towards the muscular blonde young man across the fight from him.


A loud thud drew his attention back to the fight and he saw Zell land on his back, hard, skidding along the ground from

a punch that had sent him flying through the air. Squall felt Rinoa's fingers tighten on his arm, but he didn't move,

merely watched Zell.


Zell, on the other hand, was cursing, spitting grit from his mouth as he got up. He settled his stance, glowering at the

girl who stood across from him, bouncing lightly on her toes. "You're pretty strong, but you're too slow!"


"Slow, huh? I'll show you slow," Zell growled, and he took a step forward and vanished from sight. Suddenly Tifa was

knocked to the side, seemingly propelled by nothing until Zell suddenly reappeared, his kick finishing its rotation.


The blond warrior, Cloud, took a step forward, his hand reaching for Ultimate Weapon that was again strapped to his

back, but Vincent laid his metallic claw across his shoulder to restrain him.


Tifa coughed, blood flecking her lips as she stood up shakily. "Wow...that was impressive...but..." she dashed forward

without finishing, now seemingly unhindered by the hit. She came to almost a dead stop in front of Zell who took a full

punch at her, but she was expecting it and ducked under the blow, then sprang upwards, kicking her feet up and

backwards as she backflipped under Zell, kicking him in the chest and chin which sent him flying into the air again.


Instead of landing hard as before, Zell recovered, landing in a crouch away from Tifa. He was still grinning. "Let's turn

up the heat a bit, shall we?" His arms began to flame, shooting off gouts of fire, then he slammed his fist into the

ground, the searing flames racing across the dry ground, scorching it black.


Tifa seemed taken aback, then performed an axe kick that struck the ground with a resounding boom, a tremor shaking

everyone in the area. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere a wall of water sprang upwards in front of the flames, causing

them to hiss and steam as the two neutralized each other.


As the steam cleared, both Zell and Tifa stood there, panting, watching each other. With a shout, Zell jumped at Tifa,

bringing his fists down hard enough that, as she jumped out of the way, they smashed the ground to shards where she

had just stood. When she landed, she whirled, spinning on the ball of her foot and caught Zell across the face with a

kick that sprawled him out on his back.


He lay there, still, and Tifa walked over to him cautiously. She nudged him with a foot and he still didn't move. She

looked over at Cloud, shrugging, and failed to see Zell's eye open, a manic gleam in them. His legs scissored, taking

Tifa down hard. The back of her head cracked against the ground, as Zell sprang up, his fist help up, the metal studs

along the glove glinting in the light as he held Tifa under him.


"Do you give?"


Tifa's vision swam as she shook her head slowly, trying to clear the cobwebs that hung over everything in her mind. Zell

came into focus above her, and above that, his fighting gloves, Ehrgeiz. She felt his hand pinning her down.


"Do you you yield?" he repeated, looking down at her with hard eyes.


Tifa opened her mouth, then closed it suddenly when she got an idea. She struggled a bit under him, until he pushed

down on her chest more firmly, "Could you get your hand off my breast, please?"


Zell looked down suddenly, "Wha?"


His face flushed red when he saw where he hand had landed, but in his distraction, failed to notice Tifa's right hook that

took him across the jaw, knocking him off her and to the side.


She sprang after him, a flurry of punches flying at him as he kept rolling to avoid being hit. He spun his leg outward,

trying to trip her again, but she jumped back out of range, giving Zell enough time to kipup to his feet.


Zell dusted his black shirt off, glaring markedly at Tifa. "You tricked me!"


"You fell for it," she replied, lunging at him, throwing a kick at his side, dropping it at the last instant to spin and let

her momentum carry a spinning backfist at his head.


"I was being polite!" He leaned back Premium Heart passing by his face, before he stepped forward slamming two hard

punches into Tifa's midsection. She staggered back, holding her hurt side.


"This is a fight, polite doesn't win. You'd do well to learn that," she shouted, dashing forward and slamming her

shoulder into Zell's gut. His eyes went wide as his breath was knocked from him. Tifa's arms circled his waist, and they

rocketed into the air before they suddenly started a horribly fast descent, Tifa holding Zell so he would take the brunt of

the force from the impact.


They landed hard, everyone that was watching the fight was buffeted by the shockwave of the concussion. When the

dust cleared, Tifa was standing away from the crater made by Zell's body, panting with exertion. Bruises from the hits

she had taken were starting to show, and she was favoring her right leg. Zell was struggling to his feet, disoriented and

bleeding. One of his eyes was swollen shut, but he turned, facing Tifa again, his one good eye locked on her.


"Well, I think it's about time to get serious, little girl," he spat, wiping blood from his busted lip. He planted his feet

wide apart, holding his fists out as he began to gather energy about him. The dust that still hung in the air swirled

away violently as the wind picked up around him, turning the air into a vortex.


Tifa assumed a similar stance, energy snapping in the air. Then both combatants began to glow, the light shimmering

from their bodies in waves. The sky began to darken, and a huge bolt of lightning smashed into the ground between the

two fighters. Almost at the same instant they lunged forward, fists raised, blazing like torches, they swung at each



The force of the blow, a palpable wave of energy, knocked Rinoa and Selphie off their feet, Squall, Vincent, Cloud, and

Irvine all had to lean forward against the blast, even so the shockwave pushed them backwards a few feet.


Squall and Irvine helped Rinoa and Selphie to their feet, watching the area where Zell and Tifa had stood intently. The

blast had turned the ground into a fine powder with its force, and everything was obscured in a brown haze.


Suddenly, a loud, blood-curdling scream went up from the center of the dust-obscured area. Rinoa raised her hand, and

a strong gust of wind blew across the valley and the dust was blown away, revealing Zell and Tifa standing together,

their fists touching, neither moving, but Zell's face was twisted in pain.


With a jerk, he pulled away from Tifa, who was staring blankly ahead, and then she fell forward, collapsing on her face.

Zell dropped to his knees, cradling his hand, a ruined, bleeding mess.


Tifa didn't move, and Zell only sat there, holding the wrist of his ruined hand. Across the field, Cloud looked stunned,

and Vincent stood impassively as ever.


Then there was a roar from Cloud as he tore Ultimate Weapon from his back, and charged Zell, who didn't even look up

to see Cloud's mad charge at him. Ultimate Weapon raised towards the heavens, Cloud's blue eyes burned like azure

flames, and Selphie screamed for Zell as the huge blade began its inexorable decent to the unprotected Zell.


Selphie turned away from the sight of the massive blade descending on Zell's unprotected body. She hid her face in her

hands, unable to bear the sight of her friends demise.


Squall and Rinoa stood, shocked. It seemed the air didn't move, that the whole world seemed to be waiting the

completion of the deadly arc of the most powerful sword in existence.


Squall's hand tightend on the grip of of Lionheart, but his feet couldn't move. He knew he couldn't cover the distance

before Zell was dead. He blinked once, watching that beautiful, silent arc so deadly in its perfection.


Then the silent air shattered around them, destroyed by a sound like the roar of an angry god. Cloud spun around with a

sudden jerking motion, Ultimate Weapon going with him and crashing into the ground behind Zell, who finally realized

his danger and began a stumbling, running crawl towards Rinoa, Squall, and Selphie. All three of whom were staring at a

motionless Irvine. He stood there, his short-barreled rifle still pointed at Cloud. He wore a kind of bemused expression,

wreathed in the bluish smoke from the barrel of his gun.


With one smooth motion, he snapped the rifle back against its lever action, ejecting the hot brass of the spent shell

and pushing a new one in the chamber. Then he calmly spun the rifle, then deposited it back into the holster concealed

beneath his duster. With a wry smirk, he tipped his hat at a gaping Rinoa.


"How did you..." she began, but he waved his hands.


"Hey, I am the best gunfighter around here, right? And besides, bullets are -always- faster than swords. Zell won fair

and square, no matter what Mr. Spikey and Angry has to say."


Rinoa gave him a silent nod of thanks, even as Zell finally made it back to the group and collasped in an unconcsious

heap in Selphie's arms. She was crying freely as she stroked his face and hair, looking over his wounds.


Cloud finally had gotten up, and his anger seemed to have increased. His eyes were like blue suns, burning through the

gray haze that the day had become. He didn't seem to notice Tifa laying there, still, seemingly lifeless. He only pointed

his massive blade at the unconscious Zell. "He killed her. He will pay for this with his blood!"


Rinoa looked up at Squall pleadingly, for Cloud was advancing. Squall's mouth set in a hard line and he slowly drew the

shining blue blade of Lionheart from its sheath at his side. He stepped forward between Cloud and Zell, pointing the

blade at Cloud's heart. "She knew the risks. Take her and leave. No more fighting."


Cloud's lips twisted in a cruel smile, "Then you shall be the first to suffer for her pain!" He leaped forward, clearing the

difference between he and Squall and the two mighty blades met, shooting off sparks.


Their eyes locked over the locked blades, teeth bared, both heroes pushing, straining, attempting to gain the

advantage. Even with Squall's spell enhanced strength, he was barely matching the unrestrained fury of the mako



Rinoa clasped her hands over her heart as they sprang apart. She had seen Squall fight for a long time, but even against

Ultimecia, it wasn't like this. His face was twisted in a bestial way as he charged back at Cloud, thrusting, slashing,

parrying the huge sword the blond fighter wielded with unnatural ease.


She knelt down next to Selphie who was casting healing spells on Zell, slowly repairing the extensive damage on his

ruined hand. Irvine still stood off to the side, neither watching the fight in front of him, or his friends to the side. His

eyes were locked with Vincent across the way. Ever since he had drawn his gun, Vincent had thrown back his blood red

cloak to reveal several guns at his side. His fingers clenched and unclenched, loosening the tendons. A kind of wry smile

tugged at his lips as his long black hair was tugged in the wind that was picking up as the pair or warriors in the centers

fight escalated in violence.


Squall blocked an upward slash from Cloud that cleaved the ground as it made its way towards him. The fercoity and

force of the attack knocked him into the air and he landed gracefully, yards away from where he had stood.


He dropped his blade a bit and lifted his hand, electricity gathering in his palm. Cloud's eyes narrowed, the blue light

from them seething out from his partially covered irises. He adopted a similar stance, holding Ultimate Weapon easily in

one hand while gathering lightning from the materia in his armor.


They unleashed their spells at the same time, huge bolts of lightning lashing from their hands like electric whips,

writhing like snakes as they collided, twined around each other and finally exploded. Squall raised his arm to protect

himself from the backlash, and he only was barely able to register the glowing edge of Ultimate Weapon cutting through

the dusty haze as it slammed into his side, lifting him bodily off the ground, throwing him through the air.


He wore no armor, but his magic protected him, and in spite of that that he felt as well as heard ribs shatter under the

blow. Blood flew from his mouth with a massive exhalation of air. He landed hard, bounced, lost his grip on Lionheart

and it skipped and skittered across the ground along side him as he rolled painfully over the rocky surface.


He rolled over, grasping his side with one hand. Cloud was advancing. He held Ultimate Weapon with murderous intent.

Squall closed his eyes, concentrating. Time. He had to have time. Footsteps crunching gravel. His own heavy, labored

breahting. Agony like razor wire cutting through his side. Lionheart was out of reach.


Cloud stalked forward like a wolf, his eyes never leaving Squall. Power surgred through him, the residue from the spell

he had cast earlier. This fight was over. He raised Ultimate Weapon over his head to deliver the killing blow...


Cloud's muscles tensed in that final split second where intent becomes actions, and then suddenly everything changed.

Squall's eyes flew open, blazing like suns and he opened his mouth, silently, but the world turned into a roar of fury

that buffeted the four winds themselves. Cloud looked around bewildered, as day became as night, inky black clouds

roiling across the heavens in mere heartbeats.


His grip on Ultimate Weapon slackened, and he stared up at the clouds in mute horror. Above Squall a vortex was

forming, the clouds twisting and writhing on top of each other, forming a hollow center. Then, from that hollow center a

comet fell, a spiraling oblong shape, wreathed in intense blue flames.


Cloud took a step back; his eyes darting quickly back to Squall who was frozen like a statue, his mouth open, and eyes

still giving a bright white glow. From above, the sound came again, earsplitting, terrible. It was a predator's shriek,

horrible in its finality. Cloud felt his knees shake. He knew that hunter cry anywhere.


"Bahamut, King of Dragons, Lord of the Sky, I summon thee to strike my enemy!" The voice echoed from Squall,

seemingly coming from inside him, yet at a great distance as though his body were a well.


The comet stopped its plummet with a flare of wings, spiraling out of the clouds and coming to an abrupt stop with a

sound like a thunderclap as his massive wings caught the air. Bahamut's tail lashed angrily between his legs, seemingly

of its own accord. Two baleful eyes, cold as artic ice locked on Cloud, watching him. The dragon snorted, smoke curling

from its nostrils.


Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine all looked on, stunned. The dragon seemed to fill the sky. The red of its underwings and belly

was the color of dried blood; the rest of the dragon was made up of iridescent black scales. The wingspan of the

creature seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. They had all seen this creature before, but only in the direst of

circumstances. Summoning one of the Guardian Forces wasn't something one did lightly.


"He's not gonna..." Irvine started. Difficult monsters were dispatched with summoned creatures, but another human

being? The dragon lifted his massive, horn-crowned head and roared so loudly that the Heavens themselves might have

shattered at the sound.


Cloud could only look up, watching this vision that filled his vision. There was nothing he could do. The beast was too

high to attack, and before he could cast a spell to even begin to -try- to do something, he would be killed. Either rent

apart by the sword-like claws, or sliced apart by the spear length teeth.


Bahamut opened his mouth, every fang in his mouth razor sharp and glinting dully in the dim light in the way knives are

wont to do on cold nights when the moon is barely there. Lightning crackled overhead, beginning to strike the dragon's

back and wings, curling around the horns like angry serpents. Blue energy began to gather in that dark void of his

mouth, being sucked inward to a core that was glowing brighter and brighter, growing larger with every passing second.


Bahamut, no matter how terrifying in himself, was of little consequence when put beside the awesome destructive

power of his breath weapon, MegaFlare. It was like a small sun hitting something. And now it was aimed at Cloud.


Cloud reeled back, desperate for something, anything. There was no place to hide. There was no way of making Squall

stop the attack. Even if he killed him, Bahamut would still unleash his terrible power on Cloud and it would all be over in

an instant. His arm dropped, Ultimate Weapon, useless for the first time since its creation, was slammed point down

into the ground. He knelt behind the cross guard, feeling the cool metal press against his forehead as he looked at his

reflection in the crystalline blade.


"Tifa...I'm sorry..."


Bahamut gathered the last of his energy and exhaled, the ball of condensed, burning energy hurtling towards the

ground. Cloud didn't look up, knowing what was coming. His world was flooded with blue light and intense heat as his

death approached.


"Aeris...forgive me for disappointing everyone..." Cloud's hand clenched over the hilt of Ultimate Weapon and he stood

up suddenly, brandishing the blade. Then, the orb of energy overtook him, burning, searing.


Cloud opened his eyes, wondering why he wasn't dead. The world had gone to a soft white glow, seemingly coming from

everywhere and nowhere at once. He gaped when he saw who was standing before him.




"You haven't disappointed me, Cloud. You never will. There is still much to live for. You won't die just yet. I've saved

you from the dragon's fire."


"How did..." he began, taking a step towards her. She raised a hand in warning, stopping his advance.


"That isn't important. I don't have much time here with you. Just...I wanted to say I still love you, Cloud."


His eyes burned with tears, "Aeris..."


Suddenly a hand gripped his shoulder and spun him around roughly. Cloud found himself staring into the most perfect

face in the world. His hands spastically searched for Ultimate Weapon that wasn't there.


"Aeris, run, it's Sephiroth!"


"Cloud, I know...He's the one that allowed me to be here with you," she whispered softly.


Sephiroth smiled, that familiar cold smile. It seemed, however, devoid of its former cruelty. "Did you really think the

Promised Land was a myth, Cloud? Hmm? Not that it matters. You have a fight to get back to."


Cloud was at a loss for words, "!"


Sephiroth leaned his close to the blond warrior, his lips very close to his ear as he hissed, "For her sake, you had better

win. You defeated me, boy, and I will grant that you are strong. However, if you lose to this fool, I will take my revenge

on your soul when he pulls his blade from your heart!"


Cloud pulled back, too stunned for words. The glow began to fade as Sephiroth put his hand on Aeris' shoulder, soon,

Cloud could only see the twin fires of Sephiroth's eyes, so much like his own. He nodded a silent thanks to his old

enemy as he was cast back into the battle from which he was torn.


                                                            * * *


Vincent had his face turned away from the explosion caused by the dragonfire. Half the world had been whitewashed in

the intense glare of the explosion, the other remaining pitch black from the summoning of Bahamut. He heaved a sigh.

The fight, up until the dragon had come, had been going fairly well for a duel with blades. Swords were such barbaric

things, not like the cold efficiency of a gun...


He staggered, falling to his knees. In front of him, a pair calm, sea green eyes appeared, warm with compassion.

Slowly, two ghostly forms materialized from the gloom of the magically induced night. One was Tifa, and almost as a

reflex he looked back to the place where she and Cloud had surely been burned by the fire, and then back to the pair

before him.


Aeris gave him a tiny smile, "Vincent, take Tifa. She has been saved from the wrath of Bahamut, but she is not beyond

danger yet."


Vincent nodded slowly, reaching forward to take Tifa in his arms. His flesh, too, seemed to become ghostly as it neared

Aeris. He lifted Tifa easily and cradled her to his chest. She wasn't breathing.


"I can't cast any spells, I can't save her," he replied. The brown-haired girl seemed so tiny and light now, her flesh cold

and her eyes closed as though she were sleeping.


Aeris shook her head, "She's beyond this world's magic now. Feed her this," the flower girl produced a green apple for

the folds of her dress. She passed it to him through the intangible barrier between their worlds.


The girl began to fade, and as she did Vincent gave her a little nod of good-bye. He began to cut the apple up with

razor-like claws on his mechanical arm. As he started forcing tiny slivers of the fruit between her lips, her whole body

went tense and she spasmed, her eyes opening wide.


She started to cry, great wracking sobs, and Vincent wondered how he was going to explain what happened to Cloud.

Above him, the dragon roared and began to dematerialize, going back to the realm from which it had come. Vincent

closed his eyes bowed his head and kept feeding the fruit to the crying girl.


Squall stood up, using Lionheart to brace himself. Flare had demolished everything, blackening the ground for many

yards in all directions. The nature of the spell had stopped him from getting hurt, anyone else...the dragon was

devastating. Unfortunately the girl, Tifa, which Zell had fought, had been caught in the blast. He turned around to face

Rinoa, and found her staring at him mutely, her mouth hanging open.


He wanted to explain that it was a reflex, a purely instinctual reaction, but how could he erase the image of two people

being annihilated by his will? He looked into her eyes, and realized she wasn't looking at him...she was looking beyond

him. He whirled about, and there stood Cloud.


His armor was smoking, his hair burned close to his scalp. Angry red marks covered the exposed flesh of his arm. Yet it

was still he, still those same blue eyes, yet he was staring at the ground, unseeing. He dropped to his knees and threw

back his head and let forth a scream that shattered the air like glass.


It was a scream of pure emotion, of unimaginable loss tinged with the madness of a realization come far too late to be

of any consequence. Squall's skull seemed to vibrate with the sound, the ringing of it echoing in his ears. His vision

blurred, and he looked away from Cloud. Some deeper part of his mind made a connection that his conscious mind

hadn't. The ground was empty. The girl was gone.


Tifa had vanished.


Cloud was still here.


And he was going to be very, very pissed.


Squall came to the realization as the wind whipped up blowing his hair across his eyes. Cloud was on his feet, panting

hard, Ultimate Weapon grasped in a death grip. He glared at Squall, death reflecting in his eyes.


"Om..." Cloud began taking a step forward. The wind howled and Squall gripped Lionheart tightly. Behind him, through

the cutting wind, he heard Rinoa call his name.


"Ni..." Another step, Ultimate Weapon lowered behind him, eyes burning with a lunatic frenzy.


"SLASH!" the wind stopped with that whispered word, carrying across the void of silence like hissing venom.


Squall wasn't even able to comprehend what happened next, only feel the agony of the repeated blows rained on him by

an enraged Cloud and Ultimate Weapon which glowed with a cold fire.


Cloud's second to the last slash came up under Squall, lifting him bodily into the air, and Cloud flowed through the

motions of his final technique, the thing that had sent Sephiroth to his grave. But as he completed his aerial rotation,

ready to smash Squall's body back to the earth, he caught sight of Vincent and he was holding...Tifa!


He dropped Ultimate Weapon to the ground and dashed forward through the air, catching the limp form of Squall in his

arms and landing in front of Rinoa. He looked up at her, but said nothing. The girl knelt and held Squall as Cloud ran

over to Vincent. Rinoa stroked her fingers lightly over Squall's face, wiping blood away from his lips.


"My Squall..." she whispered, a tear running down her cheek to splash against his blood-smeared skin.


As she cried, soft light flowed from her back, forming into the familiar angel wings. They wrapped around Squall,

embracing the two of them, protecting and hiding. Rinoa began chanting softly, running her hand lightly over the

massive wounds inflicted by the sword the blue-eyed warrior wielded.


Irvine watched Squall and Zell get treated helplessly. There was nothing left for him to do. He turned, checking to see

what had become of the man that had defeated Squall. Cloud was now holding Tifa in his arms, stroking her hair as he

listened to the red-cloaked man explain something to him. He knelt beside Selphie, laying a hand on her shoulder, "Is

he gonna be alright?"


Selphie nodded, the use of so much magic in such a short time had obviously exhausted her, "Yeah. He won't be able to

use his hand for a while, but he will eventually."


"That good," he stated, looking over at Squall and Rinoa. They were hardly visible, swathed in the soft light and

feathers that were created by Rinoa's magical wings. He could feel the waves of magic radiate from her, and figured that

if anyone could save Squall, it would be her.


Across the field, Tifa had woken enough to open her eyes to see Cloud and apologize for losing before falling

unconscious again. Vincent kept looking at Cloud, then back to the group across the field. "What are we going to do,



The blond haired warrior looked up, "We're leaving. No more fighting. Tifa needs rest, and so do I."


Vincent nodded slowly, looking back over at Irvine who met his eyes. He shrugged. "Whatever you say. Shall we?"


Cloud nodded and picked Tifa up carefully. Vincent went over and grabbed the hilt of Ultimate Weapon, unable to lift the

blade fully and only and to drag it across the ground back to Cloud. Cradling Tifa in one arm, he set the blade across his

back, and then they began to walk away from the other group.


"They're leaving," Irvine said. Selphie nodded, almost absently stroking Zell's hair like a child.


"We should too," she whispered.


"Yeah. I'll go get Ragnarok," he said, standing up. He looked around slowly, stretching.


"Irvine?" Selphie called.




"Did we win?"


Irvine frowned, "No, kiddo, we didn't. Neither did they. Both sides lost a little humanity, got hurt for nothing, and feel

worse now than before. Losers all around, I'd say."


Selphie nodded, "Ohkay...I was wondering if it was wrong of me to feel so empty on the inside."


Irvine looked down at the girl with pity in his eyes, "Look, I'll be back in a few minutes, then we'll go home, ohkay?"


She just nodded, a silent sob wracking her little body.


                                                     THE END

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