Rose of Mideel Chapter 18

Night on the Road from Junon

By Chocobo Goddess

The third day found them halfway between Junon and...wherever Aerith supposedly was. Neither Gally nor Zack was particularly forthcoming on the location, but they'd seemed to work out their differences after the first day or so, and were now talking again.

After the dinner dishes had been washed in the nearby stream and the bedrolls had been laid out, Vincent stood and drew his coat around himself. "I’ll keep watch tonight."

"Are you certain?"

The dark-haired man nodded. "I need some time to think. You get some sleep. I won't be far."

Sephiroth watched him melt into the darkness beyond the fire, then went to check on Gally. Of COURSE she had nothing, no supplies, no sleeping bag, so he'd been lending his coat to her for a bed. Once sure she was settled, he lay down and closed his eyes.

It was easy to slip into dreams when he had the Planet to lull him to sleep. He could feel the warmth of Aerith's body, just as if she was there, could smell the scent of her hair. He had the same dream night after night. Always he held her in his arms, only to wake in the morning to find himself curled around nothing but air.

The moon climbed through its path in the sky as the hours passed. Gally began to whimper in her sleep, kicking her legs until she woke suddenly, screaming so harshly she made no sound. The coat beneath her was wet with her tears. She crawled over to Sephiroth and poked him in the shoulder.

Immediately he sat up. "What is it?" He was still groggy, pulling himself out of the dream-Aerith's arms. "Gally?" He looked at the little girl's tear-streaked face.

She shook as sobs racked through her tiny body. "Sephy? C-can I sleep with you?" She managed to say between the broken and silent cries.

Automatically, instinctively, he reached out and gathered her into his arms. "What is it?" he asked again, gently, idly stroking her hair.

"I had a bad dream."

"What about?" It was so natural to do this, this is what one did when a child cried.

She buried her head in his shirt and mumbled something inaudible.

"It's okay." He hugged her. "Tell me. It might make you feel better." He didn't even notice how he began rocking her back and forth, soothingly. Her normal personality made it easy to forget that she was still a very, very young child.

"I’m a bad girl," she sniffled.

"No, you're not. Come on."

She shook her head and looked into his face, then it all came out in a rush. "I don't wanna hear people like Zack. I don't wanna! They aren't all nice. Daddy left cause I’m—I’m…" She tried to force the words out, but they seemed to stick in her throat.

Something clicked in Sephiroth’s mind. It was as if she’d been beaten into hiding her misery, as if crying aloud hadn't been permitted. He brushed one of her tears away with his thumb. "Go on."

"H-he said I was bad. Wrong...bad luck. Mama left him and now she’s with Zack.." She began to quiet down. "I wanna be right. Not like this. I don’t wanna hear them anymore, Sephy. I want it to be quiet."

"HE's the one who was wrong." He hugged her tighter. "You're not bad luck." Back me up here, Zack.

Silence from the voices.

Planet? he sent, wondering why the garrulous Zack had seemed to leave him alone. Don't make me do this on my own, you two.

As if she heard his thoughts, Gally hugged her arms around his broad chest. "They never talk when you want them to." She continued to sob quietly.

"Of course. I noticed that. And then they talk when you want them to be quiet."

She looked at him again, tears still flowing down her face.

"Tell me what happened."

She shook her head fiercely, sending the brown curls flying.

He sat up properly and set her on his lap. It was a strange sensation for him to be comforting a child; he, the very man who had killed children without a thought. He wrapped the blanket around both of them. "Then what do you want me to do?"

She was immediately sorry for bothering him, it seemed. "I’m sorry..."

"Stop saying that." He tilted her chin up. She really did look exactly like Aerith would have as a child. More gently, he continued, "You have nothing to be sorry for. I just can't help you if I don't know what's wrong. Do you think I would punish you?"

"I—I—don't know," She replied, "My Daddy didn’t wanna hear me cry. He used to get mad at me."

He felt anger towards this man he'd never met, welling up within him. "He was wrong. Did you know my...father...was the same way? He would hurt me if I cried." Why am I telling her this? Since when did I care what a child thought? The answer, of course, came to him immediately: Since I started this new life, and got to experience the things I'd passed over in my old one.

She wiped a red-rimmed eye, "Really?"

"Yes." He smiled, just the tiniest bit, and brushed her hair back from her face. "He stopped when I grew strong enough to fight him, but until then, I wasn't allowed to make a sound. It was very, very hard to do." His eyes glowed softly. "I promise I won't hurt you, Gally. Besides, Aerith would be angry at me if I did. She's just as nice and pretty as Zack said, but...I wouldn't want to make her mad. She's strong." He chuckled at the image of Aerith hitting him over the head with her staff.

She laughed, momentarily distracted. Then her chin trembled again. "But I tried to listen and he—he—he didn't just hurt me..." She had stopped crying but seemed on the verge of starting anew. "I told him to go away once. I begged, but he locked me in my room. And he hit Mama...She would pretend he didn't but I knew."

His arms curled more protectively around her. Bastard, he thought, ignoring the voice in the back of his mind that said, you were worse even than he.

She looked over her shoulder to the trees beyond, "Mama got a friend, he was nice. Daddy came and they fought two nights ago."

"Did you ever hear her friend's name? If it was two nights ago, he might still be nearby."

She seemed to watch something that frightened her. As if looking to him for protection, she clung close to a man who had terrified millions.

"I'm here, Gally," he whispered into her hair, "Don't be afraid."

She nodded, "They were looking for him. They hurt Mama, and then they chased me."

"Who? The men who we saw in the alley?"

She nodded. "Mama’s friend said he would be back, but now we have to go to Corel for him. Daddy wants to hurt him. Mama said that we were going to run away. But I love my daddy. I just want him to love me back. But he can't ‘cause I’m different. He said only people like Mama's friend could like me. Crazy people." Those tears seemed to want to come again, but she was cried out.

"Gally..." Sephiroth wished the man would appear so he could throttle him. How could someone be so cruel to a child? Someone other than Hojo, at least? "I want to have a nice long talk with your daddy someday. He should never have said anything like that to you." Inside, he seethed. He was already dreaming up creative ways to 'talk' to her father when they met...for he was quite certain, they would meet indeed. "Listen, we have to go get Aerith, and then we'll go to Corel and see if your mother's friend is there. All right?"

"Uh-huh." She sighed, snuggling closer to him. She appeared to be feeling better. "Uncle Vinnie is gonna go away for a while."

"Oh?" he frowned. "Where is Uncle Vin--I mean, where is Valentine going?"

She gave the General a knowing look. "He has an appointment."

Sephiroth's brows raised in question. "Really, now? Then he'll have to keep it. Is he coming back?"

"Yeah. He’ll have a friend with him, too."

Sephiroth gave her a blank look. "Ah."

She yawned, "I'm sleepy…" Then she looked around and bit her lip. "W-would you stay up till I fall asleep? You—I mean, you can put me back on the coat, but it’s wet...and—and—and—"

He smiled weakly. "Of course, I'll stay up. You can sleep here, it's all right." He brushed her hair back again. "You know Aerith does that, too? She bites her lip whenever she's worried, or thinking. I think you're going to like her, you know that?"

She nodded wearily. He lay down on his side, letting the child curl up against him. It was like having a cat sleep beside him, she was so small. He pulled the blanket over them both, hoping his coat would be dry by morning. "Goodnight, Gally."

But she was already sound asleep.


Vincent perched on an outcropping of stone, thinking. He held his PHS in his metal claw, watching it curiously. Gally had said he would be receiving a call soon, from someone who needed his help.

He sighed. He’d only wanted to withdraw from the world, once he’d helped defeat Sephiroth. And yet here he was, running all over the place with the formerly dead son of his lover and a small girl who spoke to the dead, going to rescue another formerly-dead friend who wasn’t in danger yet, but she would be, according to Gally…he sighed again and went to put the PHS away.

It rang, and he nearly dropped it in surprise.

"Hello?" he said, gingerly putting it to his ear as if afraid it would bite him.

"V-Vincent?" Tifa’s voice trembled from the other end. He sat up straight.

"Are you all right?" he asked, worried. "What happened?"

She hesitated. Something was DEFINITELY wrong, he could tell. "Is—is he still with you?" She didn’t need to say Sephiroth’s name; the disgust in her voice was enough to let him know who she meant.

"He is," he replied evenly, "Tifa, what is wrong?"

She launched into a tirade, barely taking a breath between words. He caught something about Cloud leaving. "Wait, Tifa, what was that?"

"He left, Vincent. He said he had to go find her. Before S-S—before he could get to her." It sounded like something was breaking in the background. "He left. He decided that she couldn’t make it on her own, so he left." She sounded dangerously close to breaking down. "I don’t know what else to do, Vincent. He’s obsessed with finding her."

"Calm down. Tell me what happened." His mind began working furiously. Cloud was out looking for Aerith, too? That promised to be a mess. "And put down whatever it is that you’re about to throw."

She was quiet for a moment, then laughed ruefully. "You know me better than I thought." The sound of something heavy being set down came through the PHS. She took a deep breath, and he could practically see her centering herself. "Thanks, Vincent. I was just so angry at him. I know you don’t like to be bothered—"

"Tifa," he interrupted, "It’s all right. Now, where is he? When did he leave? Do you know what direction he started in?"

"He went North, toward Midgar first. I don’t know, I think he thought she’d go to her church when she left. After that, I have no idea where he plans to go. He left this morning, so he won’t reach the city for at least a few days."

"What kept him so long? She’s been gone a month." Three days to Midgar and a day to pick through the rubble…If I were Cloud, where would I go next?

"I tried to convince him that she wanted to be alone. He listened to me for a while, but we’ve been fighting about her ever since she left." Something that suspiciously resembled a choked-back sob came over the line. "I guess he got tired of talking about it."

Stupid Cloud, thought Vincent, You have someone who’s devoted to you, who stands by you through all that, and you throw it all away to chase after a phantom. "Where are you now?"

"I’m still here, in Kalm." She sounded resigned. "As usual."

"Then stay there. I’ll be a few days, but I’m coming out there. Will you wait?"

A small laugh, then, "I’m good at waiting."

"Stop it," he said warningly, "Cloud is an ass."

She laughed, for real this time. "You notice how I’m not arguing with you." There was another silence on the line, but one with less tension than before. "Vincent…you’re really gonna come out here? I mean, why?"

He stood and stretched. "Because I’m only staying with Sephiroth until he finds Aerith. I’ve decided to give up being a recluse, considering how people won’t leave me alone anyway. So, since I’m out and about, I might as well visit the one person other than Nanaki who made it worthwhile to wake up in the first place."

"Aww, Vincent, that’s so sweet." She was being sarcastic now. That was a good sign.

"Tifa," he began, then stopped.

"You don’t have to say anything. I—I think I understand. I’ll be here."

Relieved, he smiled to himself. "I know you will. I’ll be there in about a week. We should be meeting up with her in a couple of days. Once she’s safe, I’ll go straight to Kalm." And gods help Cloud if he crosses my path on the way.

"Thank you, Vincent." She hung up. One more thing Vincent liked about Tifa; she didn’t waste words when none were needed. He pocketed the PHS and headed back to camp. Sephiroth was sound asleep, arm draped over Gally like a father with his daughter.

Vincent raised an eyebrow, not really surprised at the bond that seemed to be growing between the two. He fed another log to the fire. So Gally had been right; someone had called him. And Tifa certainly needed help, even though she would swear otherwise.

He settled in for the remainder of the night, lost in his own thoughts.

Chapter 19

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic