Rose of Mideel Chapter 17
By Chocobo Goddess
The city of Junon.
It rose up out of the water on the other side of the channel, a stark, dirty mark on the landscape. It was a change from the beautiful terrain the two men had left; with its soaring cliffs, green, rolling plains, and skies that seemed to stretch forever. Sephiroth wondered why hed never noticed how lovely the world beyond the cities really was. It amazed him now how oblivious hed been.
He stood on the bow of the ship that still crossed the water between continents, waiting for it to land. He wanted nothing more than to race straight through Junon and go after Aerith NOW. He didnt want to miss her, especially now that shed seemed to find a place to settle.
Seph, Zack's voice murmured, You're almost there. Remember, you said youd stay here
Right, he sent, until I meet this mysterious person. This had better be good.
It will be, the voice said, then Zack was silent.
Vincent regarded Sephiroth as if he knew something. Or perhaps that was how he always looked, like he was thinking of ways to kill you.
"What is it?" Sephiroth growled irritably.
The dark man just watched him with that unsettling, penetrating gaze. What are you hiding, oh son of Lucrecia? He had enough voices in his own head to know when there was a conversation going on. He cracked a half-smile and settled his red cape about his shoulders more securely.
Sephiroth turned back to the city before them, ignoring the unasked question. He owed Vincent no answers, indeed, he hadn't even invited him along. It didnt matter, anyway; as they drew closer to Junon, Sephiroth felt less and less comfortable. I need to find Aerith. Dammit, I need to find her. I can't tarry here. His knuckles grew white on the rail.
SHE IS SAFE FOR NOW. The Planet sent a swirl of blue for peace. Sephiroth relaxed, if only slightly.
The ferry reached the other side and began to unload its passengers. The two men picked up their bags and joined the throng, stepping down onto worn asphalt that was slick from the sea air. Grey towers of steel and concrete rose like dead trees from the damp streets. The windows of most buildings on the lower levels were broken or covered by steel grates.
Vincent followed his companion somewhat uneasily. Since the day AVALANCHE had stumbled upon his resting place, he had avoided the big cities whenever possible. The last time hed been to Junon, ShinRa hadnt built the huge military base yet. Strange how it was already starting to crumble, as if echoing the weakness of the company that had created it.
They moved through the streets of Junon with a purpose, Sephiroth in the lead. "With any luck, we'll be out of here by tomorrow. I used to live here, so perhaps we can stay at my old apartment if its still"
SEPH! GO LEFT! Zack's voice cried.
He stopped. "Wha? Left?" An alleyway stretched beside them. "We need to go left."
Vincent halted, Chaos hissing softly at the back of his mind. The dark alley seemed to be filled with nothing but garbage and shadows, but there was something
A clang made both men reach for their weapons. Then, with a rustle, a small, frightened face peeked timidly from behind a trash can. A girl, no more than four or five years old, slowly walked toward the two armed men. Sandy brown hair was coming loose from a braid that must have been done days ago, and dirt smudged her pink dress. As she neared them, Sephiroth could see that her eyes were a familiar dark green. With those eyes, he thought, she looks like Aerith. Or Aeriths child, if she were to have one.
The girl went right over to the fearsome General. "Seph?" She almost squeaked, with uncertainty in her voice.
He glowered down at her. "My name is Sephiroth." He found himself at a loss. He had never really dealt with children before, and they were still a mystery to him.
Childish delight broke like dawn over her face. "SEPHY!" She laughed, latching onto his leg and hugging it tightly. She barely reached his knee.
Sephiroth didn't know what to make of this. "And you are?"
"Im Gally, silly!" She said, as if he should know.
He tried to shake his leg a bit. Children were fragile creatures, he knew, and he was unsure of how much force he could use against her. "Would you please let go?"
"Nope." She clung tighter.
Bemused, Vincent tucked his gun away. "Found a new friend, have you?"
Sephiroth scowled at him. "This isnt funny, Valentine. We're supposed to be looking for someone."
The child seemed to notice Vincent for the first time. "Oh, hullo, Uncle Vinnie!"
The former assassin blinked. "What?"
It was Sephiroth's turn to grin. "Seems I'm not the only one she likes."
"Indeed." Vincent looked askance at her. "What an odd child." He was about to say more when he sensed someone else coming toward them from the alley. Automatically, he and Sephiroth adjusted their stances, ready for anything.
Gally must have known something was amiss, too, for she yelped. "Make em go away, Sephy!" she cried, her happy demeanor gone. She made herself very small, hiding her face against the calf of his boot. "Theyre gonna hurt me! I dont wanna be like Mama!"
Vincent's hand went back to the Death Penalty. He glanced at the girl, then at Sephiroth. "Were two of the most frightening people Ive ever seen. Whats so bad that a little girl runs to US for protection?"
Masamune slipped from its sheath with a whisper. "I dont know. But shes cutting off the circulation in my leg." Without taking his eyes from the alley, he reached down and caught a handful of the little girl's dress. "Let go, and get behind us."
For once, she instantly obeyed, scrabbling behind him and seizing Vincent's cloak. She hung on and peeped around him apprehensively.
Three men appeared out of the shadows, armed with former military-issue assault rifles. The leader smirked, looking Sephiroth and Vincent up and down. "We'll take her off your hands, thanks," he quipped. "What is this, cosplay?"
The blond man to his left chuckled. "Dude thinks he's Sephiroth or something."
Vincent could have laughed; these thugs thought they were dealing with a fake? Poor things.
The one on the right brushed his dark brown bangs aside, pointing at Vincent. "Dunno who he's supposed ta be, though. A vampire, maybe?" He snickered.
Gally moved closer to Vincent, whimpering and shaking slightly.
Sephiroth spared a glance for the girl, then calmly looked back at the men. "She doesn't want to go with you."
Vincent had been an assassin, he had been a murderer and a thief. But even he had been above chasing down small children. "I agree. I think you ought to go."
The leader shook his head. "You guys just don't get it, do you? We're here for her, whether she likes it or not. Dress like your little heroes all you want, doesn't mean you can take us on." He leveled his weapon at them. "Sorry, guys, this isnt personal. Its just business." The other two laughed.
"Go away! Make em go away, Sephy!"
"Hush, Gally," he muttered. He looked at Vincent and sighed. "This wouldnt even be a workout for me."
The ex-Turk shrugged. "Ill do it then. Here, take this back..." He nudged Gally back over to Sephiroth. She needed little coaxing, turning her viselike grip back to the Generals leg. As she moved, he took advantage of the distraction and fired three times.
Three sets of weapons clanged to the alley floor. In the blink of an eye, three unarmed men were looking down the business end of the Death Penalty, in the hand of the most deadly Turk in history. "Now, I beg your pardon?"
Sephiroth grinned. "Id join you, but I seem to be anchored. Send them over here, Valentine. When you're done playing with them, of course."
Vincents red eyes blazed from one man to the other. "Or I could just kill them now."
Sephiroth shrugged. "Whatever suits you."
The leader grew angry. How dare they mock him? "What the" he began, cutting off abruptly as the barrel of the Death Penalty touched his chin.
"Leave now," Vincent warned. "You aren't worth the ammo Ive already spent on you."
"Come on, man," the one on the left said, stepping back in fear. "We'll find her again later."
The one on the right did likewise, grabbing the leader's arm and trying to pull him away. The leader balked for a moment, ready to stay and fight.
Vincent fired once more, clipping him in the arm. "Leave faster."
The man hissed, clutching the burning wound. It hadnt quite pierced his skin, but Vincents superb control caused the bullet to merely graze his bicep. It left a red welt where it had passed. "You win," he said angrily, "But Ill be seeing you again." With that, he turned and fled with his two friends, the ex-Turks words ringing coldly in his ears.
Vincent didnt feel threatened in the slightest. He chuckled and turned to study the girl who was once again attached to Sephiroth's leg. "You seem to have acquired a growth there."
Masamune went back into its sheath and Sephiroth resumed glaring at the girl. Her spirits seemed to have recovered remarkably. "All right, they're gone. NOW will you let go?" He shook his leg again. The girl held on, laughing delightedly.
This time, Vincent didnt even bother to mute his laughter.
"That is IT!" Zack, your friend can come find me. I'm getting out of this damned city NOW.
The girl let go abruptly, nearly causing Sephiroth to lose his balance. She walked a few paces and cocked her head from one side to the other. "Okay!" she said into the empty air before her. "Yeah, hes funny!" She turned back to them, hopping from foot to foot. "Cmon, Sephy, we gotta get Aerith!"
He started. "What?? What did you just say?"
Vincent stared at the little girl, completely surprised for once.
"How do you know about Aerith?" Sephiroth demanded.
She rolled her eyes in true five-year-old fashion. "Zack told me. He said shes really pretty and nice, and she has a chocobo. I wanna ride a chocobo."
Sephiroth just blinked at her. Irritated, he sent, Zack? What in seven Hells is going on?
Vincent glared at Sephiroth. "So. Exactly HOW many voices do you hear?"
The General ignored him. ZACK??
I was gonna tell you. His friend sounded apologetic. I just didn't get a chance. Shes the one you were supposed to find.
Gally stomped her tiny foot. "Come ON!"
Sephiroth finally addressed Vincent. "Apparently, when I came back to life, I was able to communicate with more than just the Planet. My former lieutenant, Zack, is in there, too." He stalked after the little girl, calling to her. "And just where do you think you're going?"
She put her hands on her hips. "Im going to Aerith. Shes gonna need help." She started to walk away.
Vincent crossed his arms. "ANOTHER voice, Sephiroth? This is where I get off, then. There is nothing you can say to make me continue this idiocy any further."
"As I recall, I didn't invite you along, Valentine," Sephiroth grumbled over his shoulder. He reached the girl and stood in front of her. "Now, you, wait for just a minute "
She halted and turned those large, innocent eyes up to him pleadingly. "Oh, no, Uncle Vinnie's just gotta come, Sephy!"
The ex-Turk sniffed. "I think not. This is getting out of control." Vincent reholstered his gun. "I dont want to be in on this any more. Youve got more than one voice telling you to do things, and now were following a child who talks to herself? Count me out."
The little girl mumbled. Again, her head was cocked to one side as if she was listening to something. "Uncle Vinnie?"
"What?" he snapped.
"Lucrecia says you have to stay with us."
The dark man's mouth hung open.
Gally walked back up to Sephiroth. "Can we go get Aerith now?"
Even Sephiroth blinked. "Yes, we can go get Aerith now." His look to Vincent said, Come with us and we'll figure it out.
She stood in front of him and lifted her arms to him "Up."
He raised a brow at her. "Pardon?"
She sighed as if she was saying something VERY obvious. "Up."
"You expect me to CARRY you, now? Certainly not." I'd kill you if you weren't already dead, you do realize that, Zack?
Aw, Seph, she likes you. Wouldn't hurt ya to pick her up and carry her, would it? You're so much bigger and stronger than she is...
Vincent was still in too much shock to be amused at this. Lucrecia? She knows about Lucrecia?
"UP!" Gally insisted yet again.
Just do it. Otherwise you'll be slowed down.
"Why me?" He sighed, defeated, and bent to pick the child up off the ground.
"YAY!" She cheered from his shoulders. "Zack said that you need the practice."
"What?" His expression was priceless. Practice for WHAT??
A snicker from Zack, in the back of his mind, but nothing else.
"Aerith is that way." She pointed in front of the General. "We have about a week or so."
"A week or so until what?" He started in the direction she pointed, unerringly south. It was exactly the direction in which hed sensed Aerith.
She giggled from Sephiroth's back, "You have pretty hair."
"Oh, good, I'm SO glad you like it." He tried to remember she was just a child and only a hint of sarcasm tinged his words. "A week or so until what?" he repeated.
"Til he tries to hurt her." She urged him on and began to play with his hair.
"Until WHO tries to hurt her?" Sephiroth stopped. Aerith's in trouble?
"The man, silly." She happily tugged on the silver locks. "In the village. He thinks hes so hot."
Seph, she knows things I don't even know. Just trust her.
The child laughed. "We have time. She hasnt even met him yet, Sephy. Stop being scared." She undid his neat braid and took two handfuls, making them into a clumsy smaller braid.
Vincent had managed to recover, meanwhile, though he vowed to find out more about the girl and what she knew about Lucrecia. "Make a bridle, Gally, and you can pretend hes a big chocobo," he offered as he followed behind them. He chuckled to himself. I take it back about this not being worth it. Looks like this will be VERY entertaining.
Sephiroth frowned. "Shut up, Valentine." As they went, passing through the city, he thought about the events that had led to this...child's appearance. He ignored Vincent's obvious pleasure at his discomfort. "Why were those men after you?"
She stopped playing with his hair. "They were trying to find Mama's friend." She sounded sad. "Mamas with Zack now."
She's dead "Why? What happened?"
Gally snuggled into Sephiroth's back. "I dunno. Zack told me to find you, Sephy." She sniffled a little. "I don't wanna be like Mama and Zack yet."
"You won't. You're with us now." Sephiroth had no idea how he knew what to say to her, or where those words came from, but they sounded right.
She sat up suddenly. "Reactors?" She questioned. "Nuh-uh...I don't get it." It occurred to Sephiroth and Vincent that she wasnt talking to them. "Mama's friend is alive? But not here." Her voice faded into murmurs, her eyes closed.
"Zack mentioned something to me while you were healing me," Sephiroth said to the confused Vincent. "About how someones trying to start them up again." He jerked a thumb toward the mumbling girl. "Shes supposed to be able to help stop them."
Gally spoke aloud again. "In Coal? Core?"
Vincent blinked. "Corel?"
She looked over to Vincent as if he had interrupted her, but with useful information. "Yes! Thats it."
"It must be Barrett. He lives there, with his daughter and Elmyra Gainsborough." The gunman sounded intrigued.
The girl moaned in displeasure. "Zack isn't much help for someone that talks so much, Sephy."
Sephiroth barked a laugh. "Indeed, he isn't, is he?"
I resent that.
Resent all you want. She's got a point. PLANET is less vague sometimes.
"It isn't Barrett." The girl resumed eerily talking to space.
"Who then? A name?"
She seemed to get angry at the voices in her head. "No! I don't know any of those people! You said I could talk to Mama! No. NO!" She insisted. "Fine, YOU tell him. I dont wanna." She laid her head against the back of Sephiroth's, saying with the finality of one who is not in the mood to argue, "Sephy, Im sleepy. I dont wanna talk to Zack any more."
Sephiroth sighed. "Sleep, then. Ill talk to him."
Sorry, man. Zack sounded tired. You know, she really is a cute little kid.
What is going on? I thought we were meeting a man, not a little girl.
Well, you always were the king of assumptions.
Whatever. Now I have a child to take care of. Beautiful.
Not just any child; shes a Median. She can talk to people in the lifestream and see a little bit into the future.
But we seem to have confused her. And now she doesnt want to talk to me. He sounded amused. I never told her to grab on to you like that, you know. She honestly likes you.
Oh, I'm so flattered.
Aw, cmon, shes so CUTE.
So explain everything to me, if you're done confusing a five-year-old girl. Even if she DOES look like Aerith. Which reminds me...PRACTICE?
Heh. It couldnt hurt. You need to learn some SERIOUS patience. And its not like she hurt you or anything. You act like she cut off your circulation.
She did. Sephiroth was growing upset. I dont have time for this. I have to find Aerith.
Zack started laughing.
I fail to see what's so funny.
Actually, you have a whole week to think about it. Gally said so. And I find it HILARIOUS.
Aerith had better not be in trouble. I will KILL anyone who lays a finger on her.
Zack laughed again, then he was gone.
Sephiroth sighed and shook his head. "She's right," he said quietly to Vincent, "Zack is terribly unhelpful." For some reason, he didn't want to wake the child on his back. Not that he cared, of course.
Vincent nodded, glad he wasn't the only one who made faces at the voices in his head. "Where are we going then? What about the person you were supposed to meet here?"
"Youre looking at her." Sephiroth picked his way past an overturned dumpster. "We head South. Then we go back to Corel to find this friend of her mothers. I have the feeling this is the mission the Planet had in mind for Aerith. Funny how it knows when it needs her, even if it doesnt know why."
The dark-haired man paused, letting Sephiroth pass him with the child sleeping on his shoulders. It was true, this was such a different man than theyd known. He found himself liking Lucrecias son more and more as they went, in spite of himself. And I was one of those who helped bring him down before, he thought ruefully. I used to wonder if Id done the right thing, aiding in his destruction after Id promised to look after him I think, now, perhaps, I did.
He shook his head and followed the unlikely pair, his mind full of conflicting thoughts.
AN: Drakonlily is completely to thank for Gally's awesome dialogue. I've decided that she is probably the BEST person I could write with, and it's fun to have someone ELSE get into my characters' heads for a change. ~~CG *WARK*
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic