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Don't Play With Fire

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fter watching bodies rain down from the peak of the Sister Ray earlier, I'm not too keen on climbing to the top, but I leave the headquarters anyway. This may be my last chance to get some answers before all hell breaks loose. I take off running through the streets and I don't stop until I reach one of the staircases built into the scaffolding on the edge of Sector Eight. I tip my head all the way back to see the groaning hunk of metal, flinching when a raindrop splashes onto my cheek. Don't stop now. You've only just begun.

"This is stupid," I huff, hurrying toward the stairs.

The rain begins to fall quicker, making the steel steps slick and dampening my uniform. Mako's pungent scent burns my nose, making my eyes water and my skin break out in a film of cold sweat. Still, I persevere, pulling my rod free and checking that my Lightning materia is still in place. Thanks, Re. I know my gun is loaded and I can feel the dagger on my leg shifting with every step I take. Hojo is known for being insolent and I don't have much time. If I have to resort to violence, I might let Mother take the wheel. I'm not sure how much more bloodshed I can take.

I turn a corner too quickly, gasping as I slip face-first onto the platform. My fingers grasp the edge just as I'm about to slide over, my head spinning as I stare down at the street below. ShitTaking a deep breath, I drag myself back onto my feet and keep going. This is a long way up for a lab rat. I step off the stairs and cling to the flimsy rods along the edge that form a shoddy rail, willing my feet to remain planted on the slick metal.

As I go, I wonder what I'll ask him. I don't have every piece of the puzzle, but I have most of them. Will he be willing to explain why he and my father did what they did? Will it make any sense or will I spend my last moments listening to the rambling of a madman? I'm not sure how he'll react to seeing me again. He tried to pretend he didn't care when in the helicopter, but he was watching me the entire time. We didn't speak. Maybe he knew I'd been looking for him.

By the time I see the hunched scientist's lab coat whipping around in the wind behind him, my stomach has twisted itself into knots. My palms are sweaty, providing little to no grip on the rail. I let go, standing straight as I step down into the command center.

Hojo's fast for a crotchety old weasel, I'll give him that. He whips around, gun in hand and trained on my head.

"Do you know what happened to the last Turk that meddled?"

"Valentine?" I raise an eyebrow, refusing to acknowledge his weapon.

"What do you want?" he demands, beady eyes narrowed through his thick glasses. "I have work to do."

"I have questions," I admit, shrugging. "And, seeing as you were directly involved in my experimentation, I figure you have the answers."

"I haven't got all day," he snaps, waving the gun to prod me on.

"Sector Two. Remember me?"

"Of course. Daughter of Jonathan McGrail." McGrail? Was that our name?

"Good." I sigh, feeling my confidence wane. What am I doing here? "The voices… They're really just one, aren't they? She calls herself Mother." Hojo frowns, standing taller and stepping away from his computer. "What does that mean?"

"You really should have checked your family history before approaching your father's nemesis." Nemesis? What is this, middle school? A deafening bang startles me from the thoughts and I grit my teeth with a strangled cry, clutching my chest. The blood oozing between my fingers thaws my freezing hand, the heat from the bullet sending shivers down my spine. "The voices?" Hojo raises an eyebrow, touching his glasses.

"Before you were born—conceived, even—I worked in the same laboratory as Professor McGrail. When I discovered the power of Jenova's cells, I formulated a way to strengthen members of SOLDIER beyond natural human capabilities. Your father jealously stole my trial batch and attempted to use himself as a subject." Hojo turns back to the computer with a low chuckle, setting his weapon down within easy reach.

"He started to hear a voice in his head. She would tell him things about the future that frightened him. Hallucinations came soon after." I frown, wincing when the slightest movement of my arm radiates the pain of the bullet wound throughout my chest. "He almost killed one of the students training in the lab, driven mad by the control she had over him."

"What does this have to do with me?" I demand, wincing when the pressure in my chest moves the bullet.

"Are you a moron, Miss McGrail?"

"No." Something about hearing him say that name makes my blood boil, and the reason is right on the tip of my tongue, but it refuses to come.

"Jenova was passed to you genetically. At six, you were taken to me by your father who demanded to know if I could fix you." He laughs quietly, shaking his head. "Fool. I may work miracles, but I can't cleanse your filthy blood. It's a shame you're only learning now of your power. You're the living embodiment of all the problems in this world." Jenova… She's not the problem here.

"It's you that's the problem."

"Me?" The gun goes off again and I grit my teeth, squeezing my eyes shut as another circle of blood forms on the other side of my chest. You have bad aim, old man. "My dear, you don't seem to realize who you're talking to."

"You're a goddamn freak!" I force out, coughing when the pressure in my chest builds up too far.

"Am I?" Hojo presses one more button before wandering closer, hands clasped behind his back and eyebrow quirked. "Dearest Annabelle, you seem to have forgotten already." I shiver, grimacing. Anna… The voice hisses something in my ear, but I can't hear it over the pounding of my heart. Hojo circles me like a vulture, black eyes piercing into mine. "I hated your father for his sabotage, and you stole my chance for revenge. It would be wise not to test my patience."

"Fuck your patience!" I prop myself up on my free hand to get a better look at his ugly face. "How does killing me pay for his crimes?"

"You're the closest thing I have. You're the last one of his line. You saw the light leave his eyes, not me." Hojo cackles, turning his face upward into the pouring rain. "What other reasons shall I provide?"

"You tell me, Crazy. You're the psycho here."

Glowering, he turns back and fires into my knee. Fucking hell... I can hardly gasp for air around the agony building up in my lungs.

"I don't have time for this now," he mutters, checking his watch. "But it'll be sure to find you after the show. My son needs my help." You have a son? "I suggest you run while you can."

"I'm not afraid of you."

"No?" He eyes me with disdain before turning back to his computer. "Then you'd best fear bleeding out here."

Pressing my lips together, I take a deep breath and reach for the railing to my right. It's excruciatingly slow because of my injuries, but once I'm upright, I try hobbling away, using the railing for support. My bleeding knee slips and I swallow my cries, tears streaking down my cheeks and mixing with the rainwater. I won't die here.

I've hardly taken four steps before my unsteady legs give way, feet slipping in the water and hands too full to catch my fall. I slide under the rail, the curved edge of the cannon carrying me toward the ground stories below. My heart plummets into my stomach. Blindly, my hands grasp for anything to break my fall. They catch a rod on the scaffolding, the force of the stop tugging at my chest and tearing a gritted cry of pain from my throat.

"Shit!" I shout, my fingers burning and my body trembling. I throw my head back to see how far I fell, alarmed by how close Meteor's ominous glow is. Even through the rainclouds, it illuminates the world with its eerie light, reminding us of our imminent end. Would it be better to go now without them?

"Hey, kid!" I gasp, biting down on my cheek to distract myself from the pain of the reaction. "What the hell're ya doin'?!"

"A Turk?!"

"Shut the fuck up, Barret, I know 'er." Cid shields his face with a hand, scowling up at me. "We'll getcha down!"

"How teh fuck…" I mutter, squeezing my eyes shut. It'll take too long. I glance toward the ground. Time to hedge my bets… Ready to have this agony end one way or another, I let go, closing my eyes as I plummet toward the ground. At first, it feels too long, as if I've gone straight through the Planet and into the atmosphere on the other side. Then comes the jarringly painful landing of my wounds hitting Cid.

"Gods, what the hell happened to you?!" he demands. "Yer crazier than I remember!"

"Hojo—"

"He's up there?" Cloud demands, turning toward the cannon. The enormous sword on his back shifts and I can't help but grimace remembering where all this began. Me and Reno, dropping a plate and killing hundreds of innocents. What a life we live.

"If you set me down…" I'm cut off when my throat tightens. I swallow the lump and continue. "I can get back—"

"Bullshit," the pilot snorts. "There ain't no way in hell yer walkin' on that leg."

"Cid, we don't have—" Cloud starts. He's cut off by someone screaming nonsensical words at the top of their lungs. Frowning, he frees his sword and cuts off whoever was running at him with such an irritating war cry. "Lay off, Reno. You retreated."

"Let her go!" Reno shouts, scrambling back onto his feet and stepping around Cloud's sword. Cid raises an eyebrow and hands me over willingly, though he scowls at the bloody stains on his white scarf.

"Sher's gonna kill me…"

"Oh hey," I puff out, shifting uncomfortably against Reno. "Glad you could make it."

"Holy shit, Kat," Reno snorts, staring down at me. "You're still heavy as fuck."

"Thanks."

"Good luck," he says to Avalanche, turning tail and hurrying back to the Shinra Building. "Keep those eyes open, Kitty. Docs can't ask questions if you're asleep."

"I don't want to answer any— Shit!" I can't help but scream when my foot knocks against a light pole. The wound pulls and my knee feels ready to rip apart at the joint.

"Shit, sorry."

I shake my head, wishing I could scrub at the tears dripping down my face. "Reeve…"

"I got him out, don't worry."

"What the hell happened?" Rude demands, stepping around a member of the lobby's staff.

Tseng reaches us first, frowning as he tugs my hand away from the pool in my chest. "It's a wonder she's still breathing," he says stiffly, pressing a hand to Reno's shoulder and pushing him toward the medical personnel that have gathered to treat those who were harmed in the Sister Ray's blast. "Over there."

"Don't bother them if they're busy," I insist, trying to sit up to see my uncle's face better.

He shakes his head, solemn. "This is life or death, Kat. Don't be foolish." Quickly, he turns to Rude. "See if you can find Tyler Marx. If not, return to evacuating the city."

Reno hurries across the lot, careful not to slip on the slick pavement. One of the medics steps away and quickly takes me from Reno, his hands rough and rushing. I grit my teeth, eyes heavy and body exhausted.

"Fuck, man, be careful with her leg!"

"Sorry, sir, but we have to be quick." The medic sets me on a nearby stretcher, his colleagues joining in once they realize I'm one of the Turks. Should it even matter?

I take a deep breath, wincing as I turn my eyes up to Reno's. "Do you think they'll fix it?"

"What, you?" Reno laughs nervously, clutching one of my bloody hands in his. "You're indestructible, Kitty Kat. It'll be alright."

"You think?"

"I know."