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***^@^***SECOND CHANCES chapter 7***^@^***

The Final Chapter...



*looks at the title* Oooo, how dramatic!!! Here's the 'long awaited' final chapter of my stories. I've known exactly how it would end before I finished the first chapter, sadly.

I had recently been told in another review that I had been spelling Elena's name wrong!!! I've been spelling her name wrong in all of my other stories and never noticed!!! My apologies, and a ***LARGE*** thanx to Anya for pointing that out to me! And later on you'll hear of a 'secret path,' but there's not a cheat for the game that I'm aware of. I made that part up. =)

DISCLAIMER: None of these charactors belong to me. They're locked up in Squaresoft HQ, but I slip in through the vents to play with them whenever I want.


Ok, enough rambling, hope you enjoy Second Chances and I expect reviews!!!!!!!!



***^@^***
He cursed the rain. He cursed the stupid town they were in now. Heck, he cursed everything. Reno picked a small rock and threw it up into the air, not caring when he heard a cry of pain when i collided with some innocent. He cursed that person too.

Rude didn't reply. He hadn't said much more than he usually does since they arrived at the Temple. It didn't take Reno long to ask where good 'ole Tseng had gone, but only to be greeted by uncomfortable silence.

They were told that he had died in Elena's arms, telling Rufus to give them a message, which he never got to finish. Curse Sephiroth, and his stupid materia and his stupid sword and his stupid hair...

He was mid-way through curse when Tifa sat beside him. They were sitting just outside whatever hole they found in Gongaga under a covering. "You ok?" she asked him.

No answer.

He was obviously not in the mood to talk. She turned her head to look at him. He looked even more torn apart than usual. His normally wrinkled shurt under his open vest was unbuttoned, revealing a few battle scars. His hair looked even more tangle than usual, and his eyes colder than Sephiroth's.

Speaking of whom, they weren't even aware of Aeris' dissapearance until much later, and it had taken Barret a while to restrain Rufus, whom-

Elena suddenly stepped out from the entrance, and the trio looked up at her, interrupted Tifa's train of though with two simple words, "Rufus' escaped."
* * * * *
Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Rufus was running from the peaceful town of Gongaga. It had taken a while to slip out of the robes that Cloud had decided to tie him down with. Yeah they sure worked, failure, he thought angrily.

He had tried to leave in order to get to Aeris in time, but no one would believe him. They started to slowly pack up, but all voted to rest and gain their strength back. When they realised he wasn't going to listen, they restrained him.

His shoulder ached. It still hadn't healed completely and was making it more difficult to run. "Hang in there Aeris," he whispered to himself. "I'm coming."

"Rufus!" called a voice from behind. He spotted abruptedly and spun around to see Tifa, running up to him. She wasn't at all surprised to catch up with him. Sure, he was strong, but the rich live easy, and you have to be in top condition to live in the slums.

He stared at her for a minute, both of this oblivious to the rain. "Are you in this?"

She nodded. "Aeris is my friend. Besides, I've got to make sure you don't pull anything on her or I'll kick your butt-"

He waved to silence her and continued running, her right behind. "We've got to go to the Sleeping Forest." he called over his shoulder, and she nodded in aknowledgment.
* * * * *
They finally reached Bone Villiage after 'bribing' a boater to take them across. The poor guy didn't get his end of the bargain, though. Rufus had dropped a few hints that he'd give Tifa to give, but Tifa had a few other ideas and threw the boater into the sea.

They stood side by soaked, soaking and exhasted from running, and stared in disbelief as Cloud and the others were already there.

"But how...?" Rufus asked to himself.

<<Why, fate of course.>> hummed the Lifestream to him. He mentally rolled his eyes and shrugged it off.

"Have you found the harp yet, Cloud?" he asked. The younger man glared at him with dark eyes, obviously blaiming him for Aeris' dissapearance. Rufus had decided to take this as a 'no' and walked off to hire a few diggers of his own.

"Hey, babe." smirked Reno as he tossed Tifa a wet coat. She caught it and nodded slightly in thanks. "Have fun in the rain?" She resisted the urge to kick him in the groin. This was his way of getting Tseng off his mind. She picked up a nearby shovel and began to help him dig.

"How did you beat us here?" she asked.

He shrugged. "We ran into some blonde dude with a plane of his own. With that and the copter we made it with no problem, cutie."

She looked up into his eyes with a comment on the tip of her tongue, but when she saw the look on his face, but for some reason forgot to talk and nearly wanted to swoon...

She shook her head and went back to digging.
* * * * *
"Are you alright, Elena?" asked Rufus as he entered the tent the Turks had put up. She shook her head and tried to hide her tears.

"No, sir. I'm fine."

"Don't lie to me, girl." he scolded mildly. "But don't worry. He's in a better place now. It's best to move on."

The tears returned, and her glaze grew darker. "Don't YOU tell me about the pain of loss, mister! You've never known what it's like to lose someone dear to you!"

Deja vu? he thought, but decided against hurting her. "You are a Turk. I believe Tseng gave you that lecture many times. 'Never let your opponent know your fear.' is what I believe is a perfect quote. You can't fight against Sephiroth if you're crying over something you cannot help."

He left the tent feeling her glaring daggers at his back. "Have you found the harp, yet?" he asked a common digger. The young man looked up at him, covered in mud.

"N-no sir, not yet, sir."

Rufus clenched his fists. At this rate, they'll never get to her in time. Then an idea came to him. Never in any of his dreams had he used the harp. He had taken a secret path off to the side. He didn't require the harp, it was useless to him. Without a second thought he took off, his trenchcoat flying behind him in the rain.

Catching sight of this, Tifa dropped the shovel and followed Rufus' trail, leaving Reno behind in slight confusion. The redhead shrugged and wandered off to find a beer.
* * * * *
Strange, it was not raining here in the Sleeping Forest...

Rufus was forced to slow down to a walk as the trees' branches made it too difficult to run. Almost instantly he heard steps behind him and found Tifa standing behind him. "Well," he said with this trademark smirk. "Looks like you're a survivor!"

"Well, I have to made sure you don't pull anything." she said with equal snobiness. He gave her a knowing look and returned to his walking.

"What did you tell her?" he asked out of nowhere.

"Huh?"

"Areis, you told her everything, didn't you?"

She looked down guiltly and nodded. "Yes, but I didn't think anything would happen. I didn't think she would run off."

"Then you obviously don't know how to think, do you? Do you know that she is going to die again?" He kept his back to her, refusing to meet her eyes.

"Again?" she asked softly. "You mean you've been through all this before? What happens?"

"You don't want to know, but I refuse to let Sephiroth end her life again." Finally, he found a small pathway wide enough, and he took off without warning, Tifa close behind.

He didn't even remember emerginf from the forest nor finding his way through the Forgotten City. When the alter came into view, he and Tifa could see Cloud stepping up the pillars.

It was fate, of course, that allowed Cloud to beat him once more. As he ran up the pillars himself, Cloud raised his sword above his head and prepared to strike...

He would've killed her if Rufus hadn't pushed him aside with one hand, and the younger blonde fell and hit his head against the stone wall, knocking him onconscious. Rufus payed no attention, and froze in awe at Aeris' beauty, wondering why he had never told her love loved her before.

Then the feared shadow appeared from above, and time itself slowed. She looked up in mid prayer and smiled in greeting. A sword appeared in the corner of his eye, and Sephiroth grinned madly as the blade met flesh...
* * * * *
Aeris' eyes widened momentarily.

She was sitting against the wall, safe from him. Rufus must have pushed her aside in time. The blonde's arms went limp and Sephiroth pulled his sword free. He had not gotten his target, but his hunger for blood had been fed.

Aeris cried out and pulled Rufus into her arms. He reached his hand up and touched her cheek, and she held onto his hand, tears pouring down her face.
* * * * *
His stomach hurt. He looked up into Aeris' face, and flet relived. He had saved her. That was all that mattered. But why was he in pain?

His other hand touched his stomach and came back covered in blood. HIS blood. Weakly, he returned his gaze to Aeris. "Oh, Rufus," she sobbed quietly. "You didn't have to.."

He shook his head. He DID have to, this was why he was brought back. "I love you.." he managed to croak out. She mouthed the same words and kissed him, their first, last and only kiss.

A wet substance dripped down his face. Tears. He had never cried as a child, and always wondered if that made him a beast. Now, he knew he wasn't. "Don't cry, my angel." he whispered into her ear, and then everything went black...
* * * * *
"He's right." said Sephiroth with such a deadly calm. "Do not cry, child. His energy will return to the planet and will be reborn to aid me in my merging with the planet-"

but before he finished, Aeris angrily muttered an old ancient curse through her sobs and the clone behind her screamed in pain. Within seconds he dissapeared in thin air, but she didn't care. She pulled Rufus' body closer to hers and cried into his shirt.

Cloud, who had awakened a few seconds after he had been knocked out, couldn't find the words o speak. Tifa found tears in her own eyes and turned to see Reno. He was holding his arms out in a hugging motion, and she accepted it, crying in his shoulders.

Though he would've normally laughed at such weakness or have taken advantage of it, Reno felt....happy. His eyes wandered up to the alter, where a young brunette cried hopelessly and the ex-SOLDIER tried unsuccessfully to console her. "What now?" he asked quietly.

Barret looked at the redheaded Turk, hate no longer in his eyes. "We go after that foo' Sephiroth," he said, packing a punch into his other fist.

Rude nodded in agreement. "It is best that we put an end to this, before more undeserving people die. Sephiroth must be stopped."

"Yeah!" cheered Yuffie. "Let's go get his butt!"

They all nodded in agreement and Cloud carried Rufus' body down from the alter. He dropped him in the pond beside the shell house, Aeris right beside him. She kissed her finger and placed it on Rufus' cheek before Cloud released him. The former President of Midgar sunk slowly, a look of peace resting upon his face. Aeris watched until he was out of view, before slowly turning back and following Cloud out of the lake.

Reno looked at the lake, finally understanding the sadness of death. He had killed many people as a Turk before, but never felt any guilt. He frowned as he realised that the good guy DID die. "It didn't have to end this way," he said silently, almost a whisper "But maybe it was for the best."
* * * * *
He opened his eyes slowly, to see the same greenish-black color surrounding him. He groaned as he realised he was back in the lifestream. Had he not succeeded?

<<Congratulations, my boy.>> sang the lifestream in a pleasant voice he had not bothered to hear before.

"Congratulations, nothing." Rufus groaned. "I'm still dead." He obvously had failed, as he was still in the same dreary hole he was in before this had all happened.

<<But you took fate in the right direction and suceeded your father.>>

"I lived longer the last time."

A sigh. <<You do not understand, deary. You passed this time. You are permitted to enter the Promised Land. You certainly deserved it, after aiding with the destruction of Sephiroth.>>

He didn't understand, nor care. All that was on his mind was the last thing he'd seen, Aeris Gainsborough's beautiful face. It wasn't the look of skeptic she'd given him when they'd first met, but of love and need. At least he died with honour, knowing that the one he loved had felt the same for him.

The Lifestream giggled joyfully. <<The Planet's fate has finally been sealed. Welcome to the Promised Land. There you can wait for your love, when it is her time.>>

He nodded as the darkness around him faded away, and two wonderous gates opened to him. And as he entered, he saw the familiar face of his beloved younger sister running up to greet him with a hug.

Fianlly, after all these years of searching...

He was home.

~~~^~~^@^~~^~~~


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I'd like to thank everyone who've been reading (and reviewing!) these stories. You all know who you are. Without your feedback I'd probably have never finished this. I'm really glad I have.



-Casey


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