Atonement Chapter 10

By Faye Locke

Jyleth sat on the small bunk in the cabin of the boat, picking at what the ship's cook had given them for lunch. She was fairly certain it was some sort of fish, but she couldn't discern the size and shape from the preparation. The more she poked at it, the less she felt like eating it.

"Are you going to eat that?" Sephiroth had finished his portion with his usual speed. He sat on his bunk across from her, meticulously polishing the Masamune. Every few swipes, he would glance at her while she made patterns on her plate with the mushy meat.

"No," she said with a sigh of disgust. She hadn't been able to eat much during the trip, and this day didn't seem any different. She handed her plate to Sephiroth, but he shook he head, indicating he wouldn't finish her meal this time.

"You are seasick," he said, amusement coloring his voice. Jyleth narrowed her eyes at him, jumping up from her bunk and walking to the tiny porthole that served as a window. She turned from the window and strode to the door, which was exactly two cramped steps across from the porthole. Sephiroth sighed heavily as she began to pace back and forth between the door and the porthole.

"I don't get seasick." Her reply was strained. They had gone over this before. This was not her first voyage across the sea. When she had fled the Northern continent years ago, she had not suffered any duress during the trip.

"People who don't get seasick their first trip can often get sick their second," he said, repeating the same argument. "Or their third, forth, fifth…" He trailed off when she fixed her glare on him once more. Shrugging, he put the Masamune away and stretched out on the bed, closing his eyes. "Why don't you go for a walk?" He suggested, not opening his eyes. "Your pacing is about to drive me mad, and I can't leave. You can. Fresh air might help your…queasiness."

"Fine," Jyleth retorted, instantly regretting the sharpness of her tone. She didn't apologize, however. The hunger that pained her stomach, yet rejected nearly all food, was fraying her patience thin. And Sephiroth wasn't helping. In fact, he seemed determined to mock her every weakness, making her spend most of her time out of the cabin. Since had agreed before they had left Bone Village that Sephiroth should keep his identity aboard the ship a secret, he had confined himself to the small room. Boarding at night, under heavy cloaks, no one had guessed their true identity. The villagers hadn't spoken a word to the ship's crew about the mysterious passengers, having been bullied into silence by Allic. Allic had also made the arrangements for the voyage, so that they did not have to have any contact with the crew. Jyleth had laughed at that, stating that no one knew who she was, but Allic had still insisted on helping them.

Allic had given them two letters upon their departure. The first was a letter entreating graduated members of the Academy to come take residence in Bone Village to form a local militia. The second contained all the information Allic had been able to gather on the artifacts that had been taken from the Ancient's City. The information was varied and not all necessarily reliable; Allic had put hearsay he had picked up while bartending as well as information that he was certain of. He hadn't indicated which information came from where, so they had to assume it was all legitimate. The logistics of their search was thus very complicated, and Jyleth had decided to let Sephiroth take care of that angle. She had the letter to the Academy, as neither of them thought that Sephiroth would be able to deliver it himself.

Jyleth quickly left the cabin, heading for the main deck. Once there, she found an unoccupied spot by the rail and tried to relax, watching the ocean go by. She had only been standing there a few moments when a slight figure shrouded in a heavy cloak suddenly lurched to the railing beside her, leaning dangerously over the side before heaving out the remains of their past few meals.

"Uh…" the person said in a soft woman's voice as she shakily pulled herself back over the rail. Jyleth reached out to steady her, carefully placing her hands on the woman's shoulders. The woman pulled away instantly at the touch, giving Jyleth a wild-eyed stare.

"I was just trying to help," Jyleth said, holding her hands out placatingly, palms up. "I didn't mean to scare you, I thought you were going to go over there for a bit…"

"Wish I could go over," the woman replied, relaxing and trying to appear casual as she leaned on the rail, as if her earlier tension at Jyleth's touch had been nothing. Jyleth could tell that the woman was still weak from the ordeal, but she didn't offer to help again.

"Seasick?" Jyleth guessed.

"Yeah," the woman answered, tossing back the hood of the cloak to reveal glistening blue-black hair held in a loose braid at the nape of her neck. "Hate boats. And airships, for that matter."

"You've been on an airship?" Jyleth asked incredulously. As far as she knew, there was only one airship in operation, and it was owned by a member of the Avalanche crew who had defeated Sephiroth.

"Yeah, well, uh…" the woman turned her gaze to the sea. "Ain't that a dolphin out there?"

Jyleth shook her head with a smile, turning to look in the direction the woman was pointing, wondering why the woman didn't want to answer the question. The thought occurred to her that this woman could be a member of Avalanche, or perhaps family to one of the members of Avalanche. Jyleth didn't want to get to friendly with her, worried that the woman might somehow discover Sephiroth's presence on the ship, which would probably lead to a great deal of trouble.

"So where you headed?" Jyleth looked back at the woman, surprised that she had instigated more conversation. On the other hand, Jyleth thought, befriending someone related to Avalanche might help us later on.

"Not real sure," Jyleth answered, steadying herself with the rail as the ship suddenly lurched and tipped slightly to one side. The woman did the same, looking green for a moment, but recovering quickly.

"Well, I'm headed to Nibleheim," the woman said. "Have some friends there I haven't visited in a long time. If you are heading that way, I wouldn't mind the company."

"I don't think so," Jyleth said, shaking her head. "We'll probably stay in town for a while before we get things figured out."

"We?" The woman looked around, looking for the other members of Jyleth's "we."

Damn, Jyleth mentally berated herself. Oh no, let's not make her curious. Just inform her you are traveling with someone who no one has seen!

"There's someone I'm meeting in Junon," Jyleth quickly said, using the first lie that came to her.

"Oh." The woman cast one more look across the deck. " I see." A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed.

"My name's Sari," the woman said, trying to pick up the conversation once more.

"Jyleth," answered Jyleth, giving her own name. No sense in hiding my name from them. The boat lurched again, taking a longer time to settle than before. Jyleth's stomach protested strongly to the strange rolling motion of the ship, and she wondered for a moment if she was going to have follow Sari's example of leaning over the railing to relieve the churning contents of her stomach.

"You seasick, too?" Sari asked, observing Jyleth clenching her teeth and turning slightly pale.

"I'm not seasick," Jyleth answer in a steely tone. "I think I might have eaten something…"

"Ah…" Sari said, smiling a little. "Of course. The food, it's… well, not first class."

Jyleth didn't answer. The conversation had passed the point of tedious some time ago. She had been considering giving Sari the letter Allic had given them for the Academy, but she decided against it now. The woman seemed… too nosy, for one. In any case, Jyleth wanted to see the Academy for herself.

"If you will excuse me…" Jyleth said, stepping away from the rail.

"Of course," Sari replied, "Perhaps we can talk another time?"

"Perhaps," Jyleth said, moving away. She returned to the cabin, ignoring a long look from Sephiroth, and dug through her pack, looking for travel rations. The bland bread seemed perfect for her to eat, but she only broke off a tiny portion, not wanting to test the limits of her stomach. When she had finished eating, she glanced at Sephiroth, only to find that he had returned to a semblance of sleep. Sighing, she decided that he probably had the best the idea of how to pass the time of the voyage, and she settled down to sleep as well.

The ship docked at Junon the next day, a noisy and chaotic ordeal. Jyleth had originally thought they might immediately disembark to avoid the crowd, but one look at the mass of people on the dock told her waiting would be more prudent. Sephiroth would wait in the cabin until she fetched him, no doubt polishing the shine off the Masamune. She smiled to herself, suddenly amused at having the ability to make him fret and wait until she decided he could come out.

The unloading process continued long into the evening, until long shadows stretched across the dock and obscured most of the ship. Jyleth had watched from the railing all day, occasionally moving to stay out of the way of the ship's crew. No one had questioned her for not disembarking immediately, as had most of the rest of the passengers. She wondered fleetingly if the crew's quiet acceptance of her continued presence had something to do with Allic. She wasn't truly concerned, however, as long it their ignorance served her needs, it didn't matter why.

Sephiroth opened the door before she had a chance to touch the knob, standing ready to depart shrouded in the heavy cloak they had boarded the ship in. The Masamune was sheathed across his back, hidden except for the long hilt that rose behind his head. He pulled the hood over his head, obscuring the hilt completely. He tossed her cloak at her as he strode out of the cabin, not saying a word. Jyleth quickly donned the cloak, pulling the hood up over her head. Her twin swords were also strapped across her back, and they appeared to be strange growths growing from her back when under the cloak. She smiled, thinking of what other people thought of them when they saw them in these cloaks.

Mutants, perhaps. Left over from those crazy Shin-ra days.

Sephiroth led the way off the ship, deftly avoiding crew and cargo alike. He didn't speak a word to her until they had gained the relative security of the darkness of the dock.

"The closest artifact is in Condor," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I know that," she hissed back, frowning. It seemed with each passing day, their relationship was becoming more and more distant. They were almost as friendly at this point at they had been when she had been his guide. At this rate, we're going to try to kill each by the end of the month! Yet she couldn't think of a solution. She knew Sephiroth's cold attitude stemmed from his anger at himself. Anger for being human, really. He seemed to hate his need for her, yet he was angry at himself for hating that need. It was a vicious circle of self-accusation, one that would likely only find a violent end unless she could find another alternative.

She started out of her thoughts suddenly, realizing Sephiroth was watching her closely. They were huddled beside a large warehouse, close enough for him to easily touch her if her wished to. Something in his eyes told her that he was fighting down the need to do just that. She sidled away a few steps, trying to appear as if she were moving to get a better look at the dock. She stopped moving when she heard him quietly cursing behind her. Turning back, she saw him standing very tensely, his fist clenching and unclenching fiercely in the pale twilight.

"Don't hit the building," she said, guessing his intent. The wall they were standing next to didn't look like it could survive a hit from a frustrated SOLDIER. Or ex-SOLDIER. He glanced at the building, seeming to agree with her. At least, he didn't strike the wall.

"We can't go on like this," he said, echoing her earlier thoughts. " I can't…" The frustration was clearly evident in his words, even though he spoke in a whisper.

"Sephiroth," Jyleth whispered back, looking around the dock to make sure they were still unobserved. "This isn't the time, or the place. We'll discuss this later." She was growing increasingly uneasy, from both Sephiroth and their continued presence on the dock. They were bound to be noticed soon, and she'd rather the local authorities didn't question why they were loitering. She turned away from him once more, trying to discern if there was a good way off the dock and out of the city. She saw him lunge at her out of the corner of her eye, but she wasn't able to avoid his hands as they locked on her arms, shoving her roughly against the side of the building. He moved close to her, pinning her against the wall with his body. There was a certain mad glint in his eyes, combined need, frustration, and primal lust overpowering his usual cool demeanor.

"We discuss this now," he said, leaning closer to her. His breath, coming in short gasps, fluttered over her face. Rational thought fled, leaving only panic and the intense need to run. His lips brushed her mouth, a quick prelude to something much more. Fear mobilized her, and she managed to bring her arms up and shove him away fiercely.

"What is the matter with you?" Her voice was taunt, still a whisper, but it seemed very loud in quieting docks. "You can spend the whole voyage in the same cabin with me, yet now you can't control yourself even a few moments?" Sephiroth stood very tensely, his face a mask of indiscernible emotions. He didn't answer her, but he didn't try to move toward her again, either.

"Leave town, now," she said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the dock's exit. "I have to get more supplies, as well as get some idea what the boat schedule is to Costa Del Sol. I'll find you when I'm done." Sephiroth stood still a moment longer, then nodded once sharply, disappearing into the spreading darkness. Once she was sure he was gone, Jyleth leaned against the building, standing stone still for many long minutes until her hands stopped shaking and her heard beat at a more sane pace. She watched the ships in the harbor, how the crews hauled the massive sails across stout beams with thick twine ropes. She watched, and possible solution to their problem began to form in her mind.

Avalanche stood looking that the remains of what had once been a roomy cottage. Very little was left of the building, just some charred boards and a few feet of the chimney poking out of a large pit. Nearly three miles away, the whine of the airship's engines powering down could still be faintly heard.

"This is it?" Cloud asked, stepping toward the chimney. He laid a hand on the top level of bricks, carefully brushing away charred debris. "This is where you saw him?" He was addressing Vincent, who stood off to one side of the clearing, in the shade of the surrounding trees.

"This is where they were, yes," Vincent answered, his voice barely audible. His eyes were squinted against the glare of noon sun, so much that the red irises were almost invisible.

"Shit," Cid muttered in with his usual articulate manner. He tossed a spent cigarette butt down in the pit, pausing for only a moment to watch it bounce down the side before pulling another from his never-ending supply in his pocket. Barret, Red, and Tifa were arrayed around the pit as well, their amazement at the devastation showing in their faces. Gyrn had stayed with the airship at Cid's order.

"If this is the place," Cloud said, taking a step back from the chimney as he smoothly pulled the Ultima blade from its sheath, "then where is he?" The blade smashed down on the chimney, obliterating it to dust.

"Cloud!" Tifa cried, upset at his action.

"That make you feel better, boy?" Cid asked sarcastically, coughing a bit on dust from the chimney.

Barret muttered something under his breath to Red, who nodded slowly, keeping his eyes intently on Cloud. Cloud raised his sword, as if looking for something else to destroy. He turned to Vincent.

Vincent didn't move under Cloud's glare, nor did he show any uneasiness at the rest of the group also turning their attention to him. He was the only one who had not jumped at Cloud's sudden destructive action. In the distance, the whine of the engines finally stopped, and a heavy silence fell over the clearing.

"Well, perhaps he got kilt by whatever caused dis," Barret said lamely, trying to break the tension.

"More like he did himself," Cid answered, shaking his head. "Trying to cover his tracks. Probably. What do you think, Cloud?"

"He's still alive," Cloud answered, muttering something else under his breath that no one was able to quite understand.

"Well, um…" Tifa glanced at Cloud, and at the Ultima blade, which was beginning to show a red tinge around the periphery of the blue. "Perhaps we should go to Bone Village. Maybe they've heard something." She walked over to Cloud, resting her hand on one tense, muscled shoulder. He looked at her, meeting her eyes for some time. The tension seemed to drain out of his body, departing along with the red glow on the Ultima blade. He gave Tifa a lop-sided smile, the anger disappearing completely.

"Let's go to Bone Village," he agreed, sheathing the blade. The other members hid collective sighs at Cloud's return to his normal self. They headed back to the airship in a companionable silence.


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