Atonement Chapter 1

By Faye Locke

Sephiroth surveyed the snowy landscape. It was truly majestic, and standing on the high plateau, he felt that he ruled the quiet snowy land. The effect was ruined completely when he sniffed, then sneezed.

"Damn," he muttered, grabbing the harness of his black chocobo to keep it from shying at the sudden noise. Ever since Aeris had returned him to life, his life had been filled with one misery after another. The first night, he had nearly frozen to death in the cold northern climate. A hermit had saved him, brought him in, and cared for him. Then Sephiroth had contracted pneumonia from the exposure. He had spent many long months with the hermit, recovering from his illness. Yet the time did not bother him, for he felt more at peace at the isolated hut than he had ever felt his life, and was far better prepared to face the world as a less demanding Sephiroth.

Four years had passed since he had left the old hermit. A great deal of the time had been spent restoring his materia collection, for while Aeris had given him life, she had not given him all the materia he had mastered. He also found that he could no longer remember several of the skills he had learned and utilized in anger. It took many battles for him to regain the skills he had taken for granted as a SOLDIER.

Nothing had been simple during his travels. The first thing he had realized, while still living with the hermit, was that he would have to change his appearance. Far too many people would remember the silver-haired SOLDIER who had wreaked havoc on the world. So he had changed. His black body armor, with its conceit of the unprotected chest, he had buried and replaced with simple tanned leather of a faded brown. But, when he had looked into the mirror, he had found it was still Sephiroth staring back at him. With a knife, and no small amount of dye, he had fixed that. Afterwards, the mirror had given him an image so foreign he was shocked to see his own Mako green eyes staring back at him. He had cut his hair to his shoulders, leaving just enough so that he might pull it back in a tie. It now shone a burnt copper color, much like Jyleth's hair. When he looked into the mirror, Jyleth spoke to him for the first time since he had come back. She had laughed at the color, asking him why he had chosen it. In truth, he had wanted black, but that dye wouldn't stick to his hair, much to his chagrin. He had allowed his hair to grow long again, though he continued to dye it.

After his change in appearence, Jyleth spoke with him frequently. Instead of pestering him with her usual witty sarcasm, as before when he had been under Jenova's control, she had given him comfort when misery seemed determined to grip him, advice at times when he felt lost. Without truly realizing he was doing so, Sephiroth found that he came to depend on her more and more with each crisis he encountered, minor or no. And obstacles seemed to never be in short supply. At first he struggled with dealing with monsters he had used to be able to dispatch with little thought. He was hurt several times, grievously so, before he realized that he needed to approach these fights with more caution and thought. Then he had had difficulty treating simple wounds - which Jyleth had helped him with, after a teasing admonishment for his lack of knowledge.

Other difficulties came across his path, each one arising just as he had conquered the last. But he had faced them all down; won each battle until he had once again regained his former strength and power. Acquiring the black chocobo had been a terrific find for him. The animal had been housed at a chocobo farm. Billy, the man who ran the farm, had a whole herd of black chocobos, all descended from a black chocobo stud previous owners had abandoned. Now he happily sold the animals to travels who had the funds. The animal had been a blessing many times over. Jyleth had approved his ownership of the creature.

Only once Sephiroth questioned Jyleth why she had tried to help him during the first night that he had nearly died of exposure. Only once because she had refused to even address the question, and something about the manner of her refusal had told him she would not - or could not - speak of it. Sephiroth had suspected Aeris's tampering, in one form or another, for the result of the sickness that night, the time spent with the hermit, seemed like something that the Ancient would find appropriate.

Why are we here? Jyleth now asked him. Are you determined to get sick again? Why aren't you wearing that other cloak you have with you?

Sephiroth chuckled. She sounded so much like a mother.

I do not!

"Will you stop reading my thoughts? It is rude not to respect my privacy." Sephiroth had found that keeping secrets from her was nigh near impossible, since she resided in his mind, any thoughts he had she was almost instantly aware of. At least, they had been until he had learned how to control his line of thought. He had found that he could keep a few things hidden from her, but not easily. Invoking his need for privacy also helped him in harboring what few secrets he could.

He glanced down at a gloved hand, as if to see the stone that was hidden there. He finally felt ready to try to do something about its color - and that was the secret he had to keep her from knowing.

You still haven't told me why we are here, she reminded him, unaware of his current line of thought.

"I haven't been here in a while. Thought that I might try my skills against these creatures," he lied to her. "Also, I am hoping that I might find some new materia."

What's your big deal about materia anyway? I spent years without it. I don't see why everyone thinks it's so important

"You didn't travel that much, and--" he explained while trying to stifle a laugh. She bristled at his words.

I traveled a great--

"-most of your journeys were in areas that you knew the predators," he continued, ignoring her interruption. "And," he added, trying to soothe her ruffled ego, "you were an exceptional warrior." She huffed silently at his words, but stopped her questioning of his travel to the Northern Continent.

Finding the exact spot was very difficult. The constantly shifting drifts and continual snowfall provided him with endless confusion. The landmarks he had thought would be so easy to find had alluded him for several weeks. And keeping his true reason for seemingly wandering aimlessly from Jyleth grew increasingly difficult. However, he had finally managed to find it.

The place where he had entombed Jyleth's body. Luckily, she didn't recognize it. What it represented of his past still colored his thought with shame. He hoped that it represented a new avenue of his future. His frame of mind when Aeris had first brought him back had drastically changed. He found that the desire for power had simply disappeared. While fighting was still something he enjoyed, lately it had only been in the hours of endless practice that that he had found himself relaxing and actually enjoying life; his emotions overwhelmed by a feeling of deep satisfaction. Quiet life called him strongly now, but he had to finish the task he had been given first.

Leaving the chocobo tethered to a stunted tree at the bottom of the slope, Sephiroth examined the slope before him. When he had come here before, he had approached from the air, so altitude had meant little. Looking up the steep climb he would now have to undertake, Sephiroth wished he still had the power to fly. But that, like the rest of his powers from Jenova, was also gone. He spent a good hour climbing up ice rocks to reach the top, after an unsuccessful search to find anything resembling a path.

Once he had regained his breath, he began the incantation for a powerful fire spell. Directing the spell was difficult; he had to cut her from the ice while not burning her with the spell. He also had to control the intensity of the spell, for if he allowed it to waver, the ice could melt and drown her before he started. However, difficulty was never something he had shied from, and he did not expect any problems as long as he stayed focused. After what seemed like hours, but was actually only a few minutes, he stood before a grave-sized hole in the ice. Steam floated around him, creating tiny ice crystals on his clothing as it cooled. He glanced in the hole, almost afraid of what he would see. But she looked exactly as he remembered, lying in the same position he had placed her. Jyleth's presence in his mind stirred uneasily as he jumped down in the hole and gathered her cold body in his arms. The impossibility of what he was trying to do loomed before him, but he pushed his doubts aside, knowing he did not have time to waste. He raised her to the surface of the snow, lying her gently there, then jumped up beside her.

What are you doing? Jyleth's voice was panicked, and for a good reason. Once the two of them had discussed the possibility of returning her to her body. At that time, both had agreed that it meant death for her. She had barely been alive when he had placed her in the ice. The loss of blood, combined with the cold of the ice, made her chances of survival so remote that Jyleth felt it was certain death to leave the shelter his mind.

He began the second incantation as he knelt by her side, ignoring her demanding question. This spell he had had to develop himself. Without Jenova to guide him, he had relied on his memory of the original spell to find a way to reverse the effects. He wasn't sure it was working until he felt a tug in his mind. It was the spell pulling Jyleth out, he realized. And she was violently fighting against it.

"I'm trying to give you life," he said aloud, knowing she could hear him, "not take it. Stop fighting me." He poured more energy into the spell, and it ripped her away, casting her back to the frozen body. The trail of anger and betrayal she left behind as she was pulled away burned deeply in his mind.

Immediately, he took a vial from his pocket, an elixir, and poured it into her mouth. Rubbing her throat to make her swallow the liquid, Sephiroth realized that she was still too cold. Lack of warmth was the greatest danger she faced now. He pulled a thick cloak from his pack that she had questioned him about earlier and wrapped her in it. As he finished tying the cloak around her, she suddenly started coughing. He started to help her to a sitting position, gathering her in his arms. She swallowed several times, still gasping for air. A moment's concentration brought a blaze to a nearby stone, nearly scorching his skin. The heat soaked into the cloak, slowly seeping into her body. He only lingered for a few minutes, for the blaze was melting the snow as well. Not wanting to find himself submerged in ice cold water, Sephiroth doused the flame and rose to his feet, still cradling Jyleth in his arms.

He headed down the slope, surprised when he found a path he had not been able to perceive on the way up, to where he had tethered his black chocobo. Carefully, he swung his former guide up in the harness, then mounted up behind her, holding her carefully while gathering the chocobo's reins. He turned the chocobo south, toward the small house he had found along the fringes of the Dream Forest and now called home. During the past few years when he needed some time alone he had rested at the house, restoring while he was there. As he had recovered there, he also hoped for Jyleth to recover.

If she lived. Looking down his hand holding the reins, the one with the stone, Sephiroth knew that this task was one in which he must succeed.


Go To Chapter 2

Return To FF7 Fanfic