Rose of Mideel Chapter 20

Reunion and a Quiet Moment

By Chocobo Goddess

The clearing was silent, save for Jared's pitiful blubbering. He had seen two demons rise up out of the very forest, right out of thin air! The red creature terrified him, and the pale one was no better.

The red one stood beside him, staring down dispassionately with eyes the color of blood. Jared swore that he could see the very depths of hell within them. The pale one held Aerith close, its green eyes like a river of burning Mako. He could feel the fury coming off the pale one in waves, though it was somewhat reined back. Aerith wept and clung to the demon as if he was a long-lost lover.

"Hush, Aerith," Sephiroth murmured for her ears alone. He brushed her hair back from her face, a gesture that had somehow become natural for him. "I have you. You're safe now."

"Is it really you?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Her fingers curled about the lapels of his coat. "Are you really here?"

"I am. Are you all right?" At her wordless nod, he glared furiously at the wretched boy.

Vincent looked at the two and then he, too, stared at Jared, his fiery eyes boring through him. "What should we do with this one?"

"Kill him..." Sephiroth growled, but Aerith cried out.

"Please—" Jared started, only to be cut off by Vincent.

"Was I asking you?" He looked to Aerith. This was old hat to him. One of the first thing Turks learned was how to get a confession from a frightened target. It was almost enough to make him want to be part of the world again.

"Vincent, please..." She looked uncertainly at Jared, then buried her face against Sephiroth's chest. "I don't care what else you do, but please don't kill him."

Vincent pulled out the Death Penalty and cocked it. "Well, that can be more fun in the long run..."

Jared whimpered. "What—what are you?"

"We're the stuff of your nightmares, boy," Vincent walked around the sniveling Jared. "Anything you want to ask him, Sephiroth? Aerith?"

Sephiroth's hands tightened around Aerith. The very thought of Jared hurting her..."I want to know what he thought he'd do...afterward."

Jared worked his mouth but nothing came out. Finally, he managed, "I—I—didn’t do—"

"How were you going to silence her?" Sephiroth barked. "What were you willing to do?"

Vincent nudged Jared with his boot. "Talk, dammit. I really hate whimpering."

The words came out in a rush, almost inaudible. "I was going to tell her to be quiet or leave town. I didn't think she would even be staying and—" Jared’s voice left him again and he shook, afraid to look at the ex-Turk behind him.

Vincent sent a glare at Sephiroth that plainly said he had heard enough. "While his discourse is certainly stimulating, can I shut him up yet?"

Sephiroth felt the same way. His fingers itched to pull Masamune free and lodge it in the boy's body someplace painful. "I won't stop you from killing the little bastard."

"NO!" Aerith cried. "You can't!"

"Aerith," he murmured placatingly, "You heard him. You know what he was going to do."

She shook her head fiercely. "I know, but it doesn't matter. I gave myself to the Planet two years ago for a reason."

The boy whined. "Please, don’t—"

Vincent cuffed him roughly on the back of the head. "You will speak only when spoken to." He fixed his red eyes on Aerith. "Very well, I will not kill him." …Unless I can get him to beg me to.

"He isn't worthy of your compassion, Aerith," the General spat. He gave the impression of being held back, barely, by Aerith's hand on his chest. She possessed more power than she knew.

Vincent spun the chamber of his weapon, causing Jared to shake more. Closing it and cocking it again, he looked up to the two lovers. Aerith had drawn her bodyguard’s attention to her again, and now they were lost in each other’s eyes. He crouched behind Jared, motioning to Sephiroth. "Do you have any idea what he would have done to you if we hadn’t caught you at just this moment?"

Afraid to speak, Jared shook his head.

"Well, I am certain that you would still be alive. However, I doubt that you would want to be so."

Jared trembled.

"Then, I would have gotten a hold of you." He laughed. "And we would have had some fun. I don’t take kindly to my friends being harmed." I haven't felt this alive in years…maybe I really should come out of retirement. "Anything else, you two?" Vincent asked, standing. "I hate to interrupt your little reunion, but you said I couldn’t kill him. So what do we do with him now?"

Sephiroth rumbled, "I still think we should kill him. He's a waste of good air."

"Well, then, there are two votes for killing him, but Aerith disagrees."

Shouts drifted up from the path. Challam's voice could be heard over all of them, "Find the boy! We'll try him in the morning! And don’t get in the way of her friends!"

"Oh, here comes the cavalry." Vincent patted Jared on the shoulder. "I do hope I run into you again someday, in private…"

Jared slumped over in a faint, unable to withstand any more.

Noting the look that Aerith gave him, Vincent shrugged. "I didn't do it."

She breathed a sigh of relief. "The villagers will deal with him." The pain was coming back to her wrist and ankle again, making her sag against Sephiroth. He looked worried and picked her up carefully. In a weary voice, she said, "It's good to see you, Vincent."

"You. as well, Aerith." He looked at Jared's prone form and walked over to his friends. Death Penalty disappeared once more into the folds of his coat.

"I'm all right, Seph, Vincent. Really." Her head drooped against Sephiroth's shoulder. "Honestly."

Vincent snorted. "Oh, just let him carry you."

She smiled at him. "All right. If you insist."

Challam burst into the clearing, with what appeared to be every father in the village behind him. Two of the men raced forward and caught Jared up in disgust. One of them grunted. "Coward, can't even face his consequences like a man."

The farmer strode up to them as the men dragged Jared away. "Every man was out for his blood the moment the girls started talking. Seems he’s tried to do this afore." He sighed, then hid a smile when he noticed Aerith being held lovingly up off the ground. "Sephiroth, sirrah, my wife took yer little girl to our house, if that’s all right. She's been put to bed there."

Sephiroth barely heard the man speaking. He only nodded without looking away from the woman in his arms. Their eyes met, and instinctively he pulled her closer.

Challam leaned over to Vincent. "They didn't hear a word I said, did they?" he chuckled.

"No, I don’t believe they did." The dark man shook his head. "Tell them I say good luck, and to be careful."

"Ye are leaving?" The farmer asked, looking surprised.

Vincent had already turned around. Remembering what Gally had told him, he cracked a smile. "I have an appointment."

Challam watched him go, then looked back at the couple. "Sirrah, perhaps ye should get her to her home. That leg doesn't look good."

Aerith managed to drag her eyes away from Sephiroth's. "I—almost don't notice it," she murmured, leaning her head on his shoulder.

Seph blinked. "Yes, um, lead the way?" She didn't weigh anything to him. Hell, he himself was floating.

"'Tis down this way." Challam recognized the look on Sephiroth's was the same look he himself had once worn when he'd met Lerna, years ago. "Follow that path, and ye'll see my house. Miss Aerith has rented the cottage next door. I have to go see that they don't kill that boy out of hand." He gestured in the direction and smiled. "Miss Aerith knows the way."

Sephiroth nodded and took off in the direction Challam had indicated. He loved the way Aerith snuggled into his arms, amazed at the turn of events. "So, what have you been up to?" he said softly as they walked, "That is, other than worrying me?"

"Have you been worried?" She sighed. "I'm sorry."

He nuzzled her neck. He couldn’t help himself. "How could I not be worried? I finally got to the point where I was well enough to come for you, only to be told you had run away. And no one knew where you’d gone."

She blushed and held him tighter. "I thought I was alone. I didn’t want to stay in Kalm anymore. How was I to know you were even alive? I thought..." she shuddered. "Gods and Planet both, I thought you were dead." The memory of Cloud standing before her, dripping with Sephiroth's blood, brought tears to her eyes.

"Vincent found me and healed my wounds. I wanted to come for you sooner." They reached the bottom of the path and left the forest for the road into town. "I left the moment I was able."

It felt so good to be in his arms! Aerith never thought she'd be so happy to see anyone in her life. "I'm so glad to have you back, Sephiroth," she whispered as they headed toward her house.

"So you promise to quit running off from me then?" Gods, she was here, she was safe. That was all that mattered to him.

Aerith’s arms tightened around his neck. "I promise. If I'd known you were looking for me, I'd have gone to find you, too. But since I didn’t know, I've been trying to find a place to settle. Cloud—" he couldn't miss the way she tensed, "—and Tifa wanted me to stay with them, but I hated him so much..."

And Aerith hated no one.

At the mention of his rival's name Sephiroth scowled. "Don't worry. I am here now, and I promise I won't leave you again." NEVER again…you wait till I see you, Strife.

"I know," she murmured, pulling away enough to look into his eyes. It was something she thought she'd never be able to do again. Her fingers brushed along the side of his face. When had he become so important to her? She remembered the way she'd seen him last, the way he'd kissed her before he leapt over the side of the Highwind to follow Cloud.

It had been months, but right now it felt like only moments had passed. He was not the same man who had led them on a chase all over the world, two years ago, not the same man who had killed her without a second thought. For the first time, Aerith was glad to be alive once more. For the first time since they'd been separated, she thanked her Cetra ancestors and the silent Planet for bringing her back.

"What are you thinkng about?" He had been watching her, how her face moved, how her hair waved, how the lashes over her tired eyes fluttered. He was totally oblivious to their surroundings; she was all that he could see.

They had reached the pair of houses on the edge of the village. Challam and Lerna's whitewashed farmhouse stood proudly beside Aerith’s little stone cottage. Lerna came out to meet them, looking worried.

Aerith noticed the woman approaching them, and moved up to nuzzle him back, whispering, "I'll tell you later."

"Sirrah, is she all right? Aerith, child, are ye well? Jared did not hurt ye?" Lerna wrung her hands on her apron.

"My friend and I got there in time." Sephiroth still wanted to kill the little whelp. He would have loved to see Vincent torment him more, at the very least. "Challam went into the village to make certain they took him into custody. He mentioned they would try him in the morning."

Lerna breathed a sigh of relief. "Ah, well then. I have half a mind to go punish the boy myself!" She looked indignant. "But I am glad to see ye are well. And sirrah, yer little girl is asleep in our house, if ye don't mind. I will bring her over in the morning after breakfast." She grinned at Aerith, who blushed again. "Ye two need to talk, I think. This young woman would never complain, sirrah, but she has missed ye so."

Aerith blushed harder. "I made no secret that I had lost someone dear. Besides," she asked Sephiroth, "What is all this I hear about you and a little girl? And here I thought you didn’t like children."

He had to force himself to respond. It was just so easy to get lost in studying her face, or in the warmth of her body in his arms. "She latched on to me," he snorted. "I was advised to take her along and so I did."

Lerna laughed. "She could be yer child, Aerith dear. She looks just like ye. But go, I'm keeping ye here, and ye are not getting any rest. I will talk to ye on the morrow." She turned with a wave. "Go, go. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," he replied in a distant voice, already refocused on Aerith.

"Goodnight, Lerna." Aerith looked up at Sephiroth, meeting his intense gaze. She cleared her throat nervously. "Umm...That's my house there. I was going to live there and become a healer for the town."

"Then I will bring you back here when we’re done. But first, I’m afraid we have some traveling to do." He set her down reluctantly as he opened her door, only to scoop her up again to enter it. "Where is your room?"

"Up the's the one on the left." She buried her face in his shoulder. "I know I said it already, but I'm so glad to have you back, Seph."

"It’s good to be back. You know, it’s funny. It always seemed to me that you were with me the whole time. Now that you’re really here, it’s even better." He spoke softly as he carried her up the stairs, then put her down on the bed. He checked her injured ankle for swelling, and finding none, said, "It looks like your leg will be fine. You just wrenched it. Stay off it for the rest of the night, and you'll be fine come morning. Do you want me to get you anything?"

She shook her head, twining her arms about his neck. "Only you."

"You couldn’t pay me to leave." He resisted the urge to push her shoulders down into the feather mattress, to kiss her with all the longing he had felt for the past months.

She touched his face and brought it close to hers. "Don’t leave me again," she whispered.

"I won’t." His eyes held hers, the same promise within them.

Her breath hitched. "Then kiss me."

He did so, gently touching his lips to hers. He was afraid to hurt her, afraid to rush her heart. Of their own accord, his arms slid around her, and before he knew it, he’d pulled her onto his lap. Their tongues brushed against each other, their fingers catching in each other’s hair as the kiss deepened. Her light moan was echoed by his own when he finally did push her gently back to the bed.

Aerith responded to him with more vehemence than he expected. She reveled in the feel of his mouth on hers and the way he cradled her against him, as if he was holding a precious, breakable object. This wasn’t one of the lonely dreams she’d had, it wasn’t a fantasy brought on by reading Lowell Barron’s poetry. It was real, HE was real. She had the proof, right there in her arms.

He broke their kiss to look at her again. "Gods, I dreamed of this every night."

"Oh, Seph..." Her hands cupped his face. "I love you."

He paused. No one had ever said those words to him before. He had only allowed himself to think it once, back on the Highwind, and he had said it aloud to Vincent when he made the decision to search for Aerith. But did he have the courage to say it to her, now? With her eyes deep and gleaming in the darkness? With her hands around his neck, tracing through his hair? With her lips parted invitingly, waiting for the next time he would meet them with his own?

"Aerith, I—" he began, haltingly.

She smiled. "Yes?"

TELL HER, the Planet urged.

Go on, Seph! Zack chimed in.

Will you both please SHUT UP? He nearly growled aloud, eyes closed. He opened them to find Aerith regarding him with amusement. "I’m sorry. There were voices in my head."

She chuckled. "I know."

"I was going to say before I was interrupted," he said softly, dipping his head to kiss from her jaw to her ear, "that I love you, as well." His breath fluttered across her neck as he spoke.

She arched up to press her body against his. "Stay, then. Please?"

He smiled. "As you wish."


Sunlight poured through the bleached muslin curtains, bathing the whole room in white.

Aerith stirred. This was her favorite part of the morning, before she opened her eyes, before she found herself alone, again. This morning, however, the sensation of being with him was stronger than ever. She snuggled closer to a warm, smooth chest, her head pillowed on what felt like a strong arm. She could swear she heard him breathe, felt his heart beat. When she inhaled, the scent of wood smoke and man filled her awareness. The dream was becoming more and more real every time she woke. With a sigh, she realized she'd need to get up sooner or later.

She opened her eyes, only to find that it wasn't a dream this time.

His arm tightened around her as he mumbled in his sleep. Strands of silvery hair splayed out over the pillow, his long bangs drifting over his face. He looked peaceful and comfortable with his arms protectively holding her, and the hint of a smile curling his lips.

Tears sprang into her eyes. He was really here! After all those nights of wishing, all the months of being alone, her bodyguard had come for her when she needed him most. She couldn't resist touching him, though she didn't want to wake him just yet. Aerith reached up a hand to trace his jaw.

Bright green eyes snapped open, then closed halfway. "Good morning," he said, his voice deep with grogginess.

Breathless, she tried to keep her lip from trembling. "’M-morning." If last night hadn't happened, she would have said that this moment was the happiest in her life.

"Are you all right?" His glowing eyes searched hers for the reason for her apparent sadness.


He sat up slightly, brushing her hair from her face. "You look troubled.."

She shook her head, burying her face against his broad chest. "No, I'm happy. I thought...when I opened my eyes, you'd be gone. But you're here. You're really here!"

"What do you mean?" All this time he had felt almost childish about how he kept dreaming of her. Was she really feeling the same way?

"It was always so real. I would dream about you...Sometimes, I could smell the camp fire, or feel your breath on my skin. But when I'd be gone. It happened all the time. I would cry some mornings, it hurt so badly."

You know, someone could have told me this, he thought to the Planet.


"I had that same dream." He hugged her. "But you are here now. "

"And so are you." Her own arms tightened around him. "Kiss me."

He readily obliged, caging her within his arms and letting his mouth find hers. She was so sweet, so responsive to him! Sephiroth chuckled low in his throat. "You are so beautiful," he said reverently, moving his hands over her skin to rest on her hips. He pulled her against him, grinning wolfishly. "I want more."

The loud bang of a door opening downstairs broke their reverie. "Gally," he breathed, "Dammit, she couldn’t sleep in this once." He sat up with a great sigh. "You’d better cover up."

Footsteps ran around, clomping on the wooden floor of the cottage. A high-pitched voice drifted up to them, shouting enthusiastically.

"They’re upstairs!" Those feet pounded up the stairs and ran unerringly to Aerith’s room. The door was flung wide, and a little brown-haired figure barrelled into the room, launching itself at Sephiroth. "SEFFFFEEEEE!"

The last thing Aerith expected was to see him catch the blur, pry it off his neck, and set it down on his lap. "Who," he admonished, "ever taught you to barge into people’s rooms without knocking first?"

"Aww, you were up." The child pulled on a lock of his hair. "Wow, your hair is messy, Sephy!"

Sephiroth brushed the girl's own hair back without thinking much about it. "Yours is worse, so don’t criticize mine, little one."

Aerith looked in surprise at the little girl. She was even more amazed at how Sephiroth acted with her. "Good morning. And who are you?"

"I'm Gally." The child smiled brightly. She cocked her head to the side for a second. "You’re really pretty."

"Hi, Gally. I’m Aerith." Her own smile grew wider. "And thank you. You're very pretty yourself." She opened her arms and let the girl climb over to them. "I hear you’re traveling with Sephiroth."

She received an uninterested nod in reply. There seemed to be more important issues on Gally’s mind. "You have a chocobo?" She asked excitedly. "Can I ride him? I wanna ride a chocobo."

Aerith laughed. "I do indeed have a chocobo. His name is Deicacos. He's probably out in the paddock with Nitta. If you go down there and wait for us, I'll introduce you."

"Can I pet him? Can I ride him? What color is he?" Gally bounced with each question.

"Yes, yes, and he’s a black choco. I will be happy to let you meet him, but you have to promise me you won't go INTO the paddock, okay? Wait for me."

Sephiroth, watching the exchange, shook his head in surprise. Gods, they look more alike than I thought. "Are you going to listen to Aerith, Gally?"

The little girl nodded. Again she cocked her head and giggled. "Nuh-uh. You tell ‘em." She scampered out of the room, the front door shutting behind her. "Hurry! I wanna pet the choco!"

Aww, Sephy, you’re so cute! Zack teased in a knowing voice.

It’s a good thing you’re dead, Zack, because I’d kill you otherwise.

Right. Want me to tell her you don't like her then?

NO. I do NOT like kids. Just that one is acceptable.

Aerith raised an eyebrow at Sephiroth, unaware he was conversing with someone else. "How sweet, you brought me my very own child! And here I never knew you liked children."

Suddenly aware of how this looked, he balked. "Not at all! I can't stand them!"

"Right. I could see the hatred in your eyes as you hugged her." Aerith giggled and snuggled up to him for one last hug before hopping out of bed.

"You don't have to get up, you know."

Aerith grinned playfully. "Catch me, then." She winked as she pulled on a sweater and jeans.

He jumped up. "Oh no, I just traversed half the planet for you."

She let him pick her up in a powerful hug. "Half the planet, really?" Her fingers wove into his hair. "I suppose this means you won't let me go again?"

"Never." He nuzzled the side of her neck. "I suppose Gally will get tired of waiting and run right back up here if we're not down there in a minute."

She sighed. "I think you're probably right. We'd better go." She twisted her hair into a messy bun and secured it with a ribbon. "Later, though, we have more catching up to do."

Sephiroth smirked and got dressed.

Aerith felt wonderful. She felt refreshed, alive, for the first time in months. Knowing that Sephiroth had NOT died had gone a long way to making her feel better. Last night hadn't hurt, either. She wondered how she was managing to keep all her happiness inside. He had been...wonderful. Nothing she'd dreamed had prepared her for the amazing tenderness he'd shown her. He had taught her what to do last night, guided her toward ecstasy and back down again before they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms. Now she looked forward to the next time...She skipped down the stairs of the cottage and grabbed a sweet roll from the kitchen before running lightly out the door.

Sephiroth followed her at a more sedate pace, watching her amusedly. Munching on a roll of his own, he studied her form as she ran ahead of him. He'd never seen her in jeans before. He made a mental note to see her in them more often in the future. Out of them, too.


Oh, be still. His thoughts were tinged with humor, though, and the Planet laughed.

Aerith trotted ahead, turning around and walking backwards for a few steps so she could look at Sephiroth. She wore a mischeivous smile on her face, a knowing look that promised something for him later. Then she winked at him and spun on her heel. They found Gally waiting impatiently, just outside the pen.

"Can I go in yet?" The child bounced from foot to foot.

"NO," Sephiroth responded, surprising even himself with this sudden parental protectiveness. "It’s dangerous if you don't know about chocobos."

Climbing in between the bars of the fence, Aerith said more gently, "No, Gally, wait here. I'll let you know when to come in. Okay?"

Gally only smirked as if she knew something. "’K."

Sephiroth leaned on the fence near Gally, one eye on her and the other watching after Aerith. He was just getting used to her in pants, and he very well liked it. Did I really tell her I loved her?

Took you long enough.

Sephiroth deliberately ignored his friend, letting his mind dwell more on the previous night. She was perfection, pure and simple. It would not have surprised him in the slightest to find that she’d been created specifically for him. He suppressed a shiver at the memory of her lithe body arching up beneath his, those long legs wrapped about his waist, her breath coming hard and sharply in his ear. The more he saw of her, the more he was determined to stay with her. Heaven and Hell help whoever would say otherwise.

Aerith flashed a knowing smile at him, as if she heard his thoughts. She walked a few yards into the paddock, putting her hands around her mouth like a megaphone. "Deicaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacoooooooooooos!" she called. An answering cry like that of a hunting bird echoed back, and the sound of rapid thumping footsteps could be heard.

Two chocobos, one yellow and one black, thundered up over the hill. It looked as if they were going to run her over, but they stopped abruptly in a spray of dirt and grass. The black was massive, with a fiercely hooked beak and heavy, clawed toes. He snorted and pawed at the ground, fluffing his glossy feathers.

Aerith threw her arms around the monster's neck and motioned for Gally and Sephiroth to join her. "Come on, meet Deicacos! The yellow one is Nitta; she's Challam's. They get along well."

Sephiroth's eyes widened at the huge chocobo. When Gally rushed out to touch it, he quickly pulled her back to him. "Aerith, where did you find that thing!?"

"I bought him in Sanford. Come on, he's really sweet." She smiled.

Gally struggled. "Awww, c’mon, Sephy! I wanna pet 'im!"

Reluctantly, he let her go. He hung back, then decided that he’d rather be closer to the girls if this beast decided to attack.

Aerith cuddled the big bird's head as if he were a kitten. "Here, Gally, put out your hand."

The tiny child was dwarfed by the massive creature. She chirped a friendly, "Hallo!"

Deicacos blinked his great blue eyes at her, then stretched his head down to her level.

"How are you today?" She asked politely. "Wow, he’s soft!"

He whuffed gently, nudging her with his beak. Gally giggled. "I am good, thank you."

Aerith's smile widened. "He likes you, Gally." She looked up at Sephiroth. "Come on, you too."

Sephiroth moved forward, ready for anything as the bird touched the girl. He put one hand on Gally's shoulder and glared at Deicacos.

The chocobo tensed as Sephiroth approached. Warily, he straightened until they were at eye level with each other. He snorted more forcefully, pawing at the ground. However, he did not make any threatening moves, merely waited.

Sephiroth put his arm around Aerith. The moment he touched her, Deicacos stomped a foot, clacking his beak.

"Aren't you going to pet him, too, Seph?" Aerith asked. She reached out her hand to scratch above the monster's eyes.

Sephiroth shook his head. What a huge brute. I suppose I’m glad she had something to look after her when I couldn’t be there. He extended his hand.

Without warning, the chocobo's head snaked out and his beak snapped, just close enough to Sephiroth's hand to graze it. Though the skin didn’t break, Sephiroth definitely felt the breeze of its passing. His eyes narrowed and he took a half step forward. "Why you—"

Aerith was scandalized. "Why, Deicacos! What has gotten into you?" She held Sephiroth back and took his hand. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"No," he growled, pride stung, "But I think he needs to learn who is boss..."

The chocobo reared his head back and squealed indignantly.

Aerith stepped between them. "I don't know why he would do such a thing. He's always been protective of me, though...perhaps he just needs to get used to you. He was sweet to Gally."

"Sephy?" The child tugged at the leg of his pants.

"Not now, Gally." Sephiroth glared at the chocobo.

She giggled as she skipped past the adults and up to the bird. Again she looked up. "Can I go for a ride?"

He lowered his head once more and whuffed softly, ruffling her bangs and making her laugh.

"I think that's a yes, Gally." Aerith grinned. She looked back up at Sephiroth. "It will be all right. I'll be with her."

Sephiroth snorted. "I don’t know how you trust that beast…"

If I didn't know better, I’d say you were worried for Gally. Zack sounded amused.

Well, I’m not. I couldn't care less. It’s Aerith I worry about, Aerith alone.


Sephiroth crossed his arms over his chest. "I should go see if there’s a place around here to buy another chocobo. We’ll need it." He looked down at Aerith, expression softening. "I’ll meet you in the house when you get back."

She put her hands on his chest and kissed him quickly, dancing away before he could get his own arms around her. "All right."

He threw a look at the chocobo before heading out of the paddock. That bird and I…we will most definitely have a discussion.

"Come on, Gally. We'll have a quick ride." Aerith touched a smug-looking Deicacos on the shoulder, commanding, "Down." He obeyed without hesitation, crouching low enough for Aerith to mount and pull Gally up in front of her. She showed Gally how to hold on to the thick feathers on his shoulders, since they had no saddle or bridle. They took off at a run, leaving Nitta to wander into the barn.

The little girl was a natural rider. Aerith took her around the whole paddock, the two of them laughing together as they splashed through the stream and leapt over a fallen tree. At one point, however, Gally became quiet. She cocked her head to the side as if she was listening to something

Aerith noticed the change in the child's behavior, and finally her curiosity got the better of her. She knew when someone heard a silent voice; she had plenty of experience in that. "Gally, who are you listenening to?"

The girl blinked. "Huh? Oh... uhm..."

"You can tell me. I used to be able to hear the Planet." Aerith spoke encouragingly, ignoring the pang she felt at not being able to hear it any more.

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Zack just talks to much. He says that you used to hold his mouth shut sometimes."

"What?" Had she heard right? "Z-Zack?" Her old boyfriend? The one who died years ago? Speaking to this little girl?

Gally nodded. "You're not mad, are you?" She looked is if she was afraid that would be the case.

Aerith realized Gally had spoken again. "Oh, sweet, of course not. I'm just...surprised. I knew Zack a long time ago." She thought about the book of poetry she still read every night, and the signature within. "And yes, I DID hold his mouth shut. More than once." She smiled at the memory.

"He also says he's happy for you."

"Why is that?"

"Cause you can put up with Sephy." Gally's spirits picked up quickly at Aerith's acceptance. "He says it isn't easy." Then she giggled, "But Sephy just pretends to be mean. Like Uncle Vinnie."

That made Aerith smile. "Uncle Vinnie? That's new. As far as Seph, goes, though, I don't think of it as putting up with him. He's just not used to being around people who care about him. Now, Zack...that was someone who could try the patience of a saint. You can tell him I said that," she added with a grin.

She giggled, "He says to do this." She stuck her tongue out and made a face.

Aerith laughed and hugged Gally close. "Does Sephiroth know you talk to Zack?"

"Yeah, he knows all about it. I talk to a lot of people, like my mama, and Zack, and, well…a lot of people. They aren't all nice like Zack. So he hangs around a lot."

"Well, you can tell Zack I'm glad he watches over you. For all his joking, he always had a good heart. I used to like him, very much." She sighed and turned Deicacos back toward the barn. As they began working their way up the hill, she said, "Are you often bothered by the ones who aren't so nice?"

She nodded. "If they want something."

"What do you mean? What would they want?" Aerith's delicate brow furrowed in thought.

Gally jumped, looking over her shoulder. "They want lotsa stuff. Some of them just like to scare me. But we gotta go, we’re late." Her own little eyebrows knitted together, "Zack lost track of time."

Aerith had a hundred more questions, but she said nothing as they rode back. She was unwilling to overwhelm Gally this soon after meeting her, and she wanted the child to like her. Instead, she kicked Deicacos into a swift lope back up to the barn. She could speak to Sephiroth about it later.

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic