Atonement Chapter 2

By Faye Locke

I suppose that it is about time for me to slip this in, for my more sensitive and younger readers - if I have any. The story, from point soon, gets a little, well, mature. Nothing graphic or gory, but there are matures themes that will be starting. If you think that this might offend you, well, you have been warned. But, since I don't really want to give away the plot, I guess I can't really tell you much about what is going to happen. What I will say is that madness and domestic violence are going to play big roles. If the movie commission was rating this, I think they would give it a PG-13, so it's probably still OK for everyone. I just wanted to let you know what was going on.

Now that is over, hang on, cause things are really going to get interesting from this point on!

Update: Alright, I just finished Chapter Two and I didn't get to where I meant to, so the advisory doesn't necessarily go in affect for this chapter, but it will, eventually.

Faye Locke

Jyleth awoke slowly, coming out of a hazy dream. She had dreamed that Sephiroth had. . . then she realized that she was feeling - breathing - and she knew it hadn't been a dream at all.

In sending her back to her body and keeping her alive afterward, Sephiroth had accomplished the impossible. Or what they had thought impossible. How had he managed to keep this from her for so long? He had to have monitored her every waking thought to keep her unaware of his plan.

But, he had succeeded! She had been given her life - and body - back. Jyleth's exaltation was cut short by a tight feeling in her chest. Her next breath induced a heavy coughing fit that took many long minutes for her to recover from. All of her body felt cold and sore. Well, she told herself, you didn't expect to stay frozen all that time without paying a price, did you?

A loud popping noise startled her, and she opened her eyes to find the source. A fire, merrily burning in a well-groomed hearth quickly explained the sound. She recognized the room she was in as the main room in Sephiroth's retreat in the Dream Forest. She lay on the divan, the closest piece of furniture to the fire, covered by a heavy blanket. Awkwardly, she moved to a sitting position, finding it difficult to control the motions of her body she used to take for granted after so many years existing bodiless. She gathered the blanket around her while gazing blankly at the first, shivering still with the cold of the ice.

"Are you still cold?" Sephiroth's voice made her jump and nearly fall off the couch. She had not noticed him coming in the room - or had he been there all long, hidden in the shadows? She tried to think of a response, but she found that she couldn't remember how to speak. She was saying "yes" in her mind - the way they had communicated for years, by sharing thoughts - but the words weren't making it to her mouth. She suppressed the panic the rose at her inability to speak, knowing that it was probably a momentary lapse, much like the difficulty she had had moving.

Sephiroth moved to her side, standing by her expectantly. She glanced up at him, for a moment indulging herself by simply taking in his still very attractive features. He had washed the dye from his hair, and it now shone its former brilliant silver. The length was nearly returned to its original form as well, for he had not cut his hair again after the first time. For now, he had bound the silvery locks back in a loose thong at the base of his neck, a style he had adopted for its functionality in the last several years. A few strands were escaping the binding in their usual fashion, and they now framed his face in an almost contrived manner. His eyes widened a bit at her scrutiny, and she turned away, hoping the fire would hide her blush.

"Closer to the fire, I think," he said, offering his hand to her. She nodded, carefully placing her hand in his while not meeting his eyes. She started to rise, but her legs gave out and she fell back to a sitting position. "It will be some time before you fully recover," Sephiroth said, not seeming surprised at her weakness. He bent down and gathered her in his arms, then carried her to the rug that lay before the fire. He set her down carefully, sinking to the floor with her so that he was behind her. He arranged himself behind her so that she might sit up without having to rely on her own strength.

This much closer to the fire, Jyleth could feel the heat penetrating her limbs, driving away the chill. Sephiroth wrapped his arms around her, more of a protective measure than the embrace of a paramour, but she found comfort in his touch, for it had been so long since she had been able to feel at all. Sephiroth raised his hand to her eye level after a few minutes of silence, showing her a vial he held. Firelight shimmered through the contents, casting a dazzling array of sparkles across the room. An elixir. He pulled the cork, the offered the vial to her, placing the lip of the vial against her mouth.

"This should help," he said, as she drank, bring her hand to cover his to control the speed of the elixir entering her mouth. Once it was empty, she let her hand fall away and Sephiroth tossed the vial into the fire. The vial quickly burned to ashes, turning the residual elixir into a ethereal fragrance that filled the room. Jyleth breathed deeply, feeling the tightness in her chest beginning to loosen even as the elixir she had swallowed began to work its recovery in her tired body. The healing spread completely over her, but was not able to completely restore her. An elixir's purpose was to restore a exhausted warrior, not bring a body back from death, yet it would still help her. The soothing effect of the elixir faded away, taking the chill with it but not her soreness. But the weight had lifted from her breathing, and Jyleth knew the harder part of her recovery was passed.

"I have a change of clothes for you," Sephiroth said a few minutes later. Jyleth stirred a little in his arms, trying to rouse herself from the sleepiness induced by the elixir. "You will not stay warm in the clothes you are wearing now," he continued. Jyleth didn't argue with him. She was just a little surprised that he hadn't changed her clothes for her when he had first brought her to the cottage. Surely he wasn't that worried about modesty? After all, he had changed her shirt once before, when she had worked for him as a guide, when she had taken the arrow. She didn't think that there was any difference now. Perhaps Sephiroth thought there was.

Jyleth stared to rise, knowing that if she didn't move soon, she really would fall asleep. Sephiroth rose with her, supporting her without making a show of it. Only then did Jyleth notice that he was carefully avoiding meeting her eyes, and that he was strategically placing his hands where his intentions would not be misread. What was he worried about. She had lived in his mind for nearly six years, if one counted the time when Jenova had still lived. She could not help but feel that there was very little that they had not shared between them. Then again, he had managed to keep his intentions of bringing her back a secret, so it was very possible that there were more secrets hiding in his mind, darker ones, perhaps, that he did not wish her to know.

His arm wrapped comfortably around her waist, and Jyleth realized that there was something she was not allowing herself to admit. She cast a quick glance at his face, but looked quickly away before he could noticed. She was definitely attracted to him. Of course, he was a very handsome man, and during the time she had resided in his mind, they had been nothing more than friends, knowing that nothing could happen... but now... the possibilities were wide open, and perhaps it was that that made Sephiroth so uncomfortable. It was making her slightly uncomfortable. They were on new ground. She was no longer under his hire, nor was she under his control. She knew things about him that no one had ever experienced, yet there were still areas in his mind that she couldn't fathom. And, in the past several years, he had come to trust her, to count her as a friend, something he had never allowed himself to do before. Now that she was in her physical form once more, he was completely unsure how to handle their relationship. She supposed that his inexperience was natural; he'd never had anyone whom he'd depended on like he had come depend on her.

Jyleth smiled a little sheepishly as he led her to the back of the house, were the bathroom was located. Not that that she had any idea how to proceed either. If he was not so damned attractive, it might be easy to discard the closeness that had grown between them as mere friendship. Or if he was so still damned irritating, she might have dismissed him. But his arrogance had faded over time, its last vestiges that still clung to him enhanced rather than detracted from his personality.

They made it to the bathroom without incident, and Jyleth found that she could keep herself standing now that she had moved some. Sephiroth had drawn a bath earlier, and it still steamed from the depths of the tub. Jyleth smiled, thinking how nice the bath would feel now. Sephiroth glanced at her, returning her smile shyly before turning to the counter, where he lifted a bundle.

"I believe these should fit you," he said, hefting the bundled of clothes before setting them back down. "I thought you might like to wash... you can manage this by yourself?" Again, he avoided meeting her eyes, looking just above her shoulder. Jyleth did keep her smile back this time, not wanting him to see her amusement. She nodded, indicating that she would be all right. Sephiroth seemed relieved, and quickly exited the room.

The bath warmed and relaxed her as much as the elixir, and she quickly set to scrubbing herself vigorously before the bath lulled her to sleep. She really wasn't all that dirty, but the bath made her feel much better somehow in the mysterious way of hot baths possessed.

The clothes Sephiroth had provided were standard for the Northern climate. She selected only the thermal undergarments and one layer over them for now. The layer consisted of milk-white loose flowing trousers and a matching long-sleeved blouse that lace at the neck and wrists. She didn't tuck the shirt in, feeling too tired to deal with appearances. The rest of the clothing - a long, heavy tunic that was split for movement, and assorted bits and pieces to cover her extremities, she left on the counter, having no use for them at the present. She wondered for a moment why Sephiroth had even put them there, but dismissed the question as a triviality that had no purpose. He had probably purchased all the clothing in one trip to the supply store and had not opened the package since.

She left her hair tied up in a towel, not wanting to deal with it until she had the fire to warm her once more. There was no sign of Sephiroth when she opened the door and walked back to the main room, but the fire was still going strongly, so she shrugged off his absence and sat down on the divan. As she took the towel off her head and began to methodically work her fingers through the snarls in her hair, she tried to ignore how odd it was to not know what Sephiroth was doing. To not be with him. She had grown so used to his constant presence that, in being separated from him now, she felt like the had left something behind. Or lost something she could never get back. She shook off the feeling, hoping that it would fade in time. She had lived before he had taken her spirit. She could live again without knowing his every waking thought. It just felt so strange, so unusual. She sighed, now realizing there were other problems to contend with.

But what was she going to do now? The world of opportunity was open for her once more, perhaps more than it had ever been. Before, when she had left the North, she had had the specter of death hanging over her, when the names of Shin-ra and Sephiroth looming largely as part of the specter. She had hidden her past away, discarding everything she had made for herself, making her identity obscure to hide herself. Now that she didn't have to hide, she didn't know what she wanted to do.

Would she leave Sephiroth? She couldn't answer that. Not just yet. She wasn't ready to answer that question. Even being parted from him for just a short time now made her feel very nervous and incomplete. Perhaps she would have to leave him for some time in order to wean herself off his presence. What did he plan to do now? He had never really followed any set plan, just setting small goals for himself to attain, never really putting his feet on a definite path. It was like he was crossing a river by jumping from stone to stone, never considering what he would did when he reached the other side. Now that had her out of his head, did he want her to leave? Did he plan on living as a recluse the rest of his life? Jyleth knew of the stone in his hand, and what Aeris had told him about it. It had taken her some time to get the information out of Sephiroth, for he was loath to admit why he had been sent back. Jyleth had not been present during his conversation with Aeris, even though it was his connection to her soul that had allowed him to travel back. He had told her much later about the task Aeris had given him. Sephiroth still did not know how to approach that task, and Jyleth knew he was very frustrated that he had not managed the slightest change in the stone's color during his journeying. She couldn't help but wonder what color the stone was now? Surely it had changed to red? Surely the taking of her soul had been the horrible deed Aeris had mentioned? She would have to ask Sephiroth - for he always wore gloves to cover his hands, and, thus, the stone. Jyleth wondered what he planned to do next, how he planned to finish his task.

A particularly thick snarl brought her attention to the present. She grimaced as she tried to pull her fingers through the knot.

"Darn it," she muttered under her breath, without thinking about her previous incapacity to speak. Her voice sounded somewhat hoarse, but she far too pleased that she could speak to worry about it. Soft laughter made her open eyes and glare at her observer. Sephiroth stopped laughing the moment she looked at him. The smile, however, didn't leave his face.

"Here," he said, offering her a comb, "this might help." Jyleth continued to glare at him as she snatched the comb from him. He sighed softly and sat down beside her, watching her comb her hair. He reached out and took a strand between his fingers, making a show of carefully examining it. Jyleth did not notice until the comb was suddenly stopped as it came against his hand. She turned and looked at him, puzzlement fighting a more obscure emotion for control over her features.

"What?" she demanded, sounding harsher than she intended. Controlling her newly found voice was difficult. Sephiroth shrugged, still not releasing her hair.

"It is . . . different, to have you here," he said after a long moment of silence, "I haven't really … been around anyone." He shrugged again, as if trying to shrug away his discomfort. "It's weird."

Jyleth laughed at that, tossing her head to pull the hair away. He let it slip from his fingers. The fire crackled loudly, and the logs shifted, throwing sparks up the chimney. Sephiroth rose and added another log, then mumbled something about getting her some food as he walked out of the room.

When he returned with a bowl of hot soup and a steaming cup of tea, Jyleth had finished combing her hair and had lightly braided her hair back. Sephiroth watched her eat, not partaking in any himself. When she questioned him about it, he said that he had eaten already.

"What do you plan on doing now?" Jyleth asked him between bites. The hot soup had soothed her throat and made her voice sound nearly normal. Sephiroth shrugged, glancing at his gloved hand as if to see the stone.

"That was my question to you," he said. "Now that you don't have Shin-ra - or me - to threaten you, I thought you might like to finally get on with your life. Perhaps even start a family."

Jyleth's face whitened, and suddenly the meat was stuck in her throat. She picked up the cup and took several deep swallows, scalding her throat, but saving her from choking. Wiping at her eyes, Jyleth turned away from Sephiroth, trying to hide her reaction from him. He noticed anyway.

"Jyleth?" His voice held concern - it was odd for her to hear it from him. "What is it?"

Jyleth swallowed harshly, then turned back to him, giving him a faint smile while scooping up another bite of soup. A too-large bite, it turned out, as some of the soup spilled down her chin. She quickly grabbed up a napkin he had placed beside her and wiped the soup away.

"I thought you knew," she said finally, meeting his eyes briefly before turning her attention to the soup. This time, she took a more careful bite.

"Knew what?"

"The widow's breath - it's not properly named, but then again, most poisonous plants aren't."

"Jyleth," Sephiroth said, sounded perplexed, "what about the widow's breath."

"I thought I told you." She took another careful bite. "It makes women barren. I'm barren, Sephiroth. I will never have children - or a family. There is no life for me when it comes to men. After all, what man… what man wants a barren woman as his wife?" Jyleth brushed away another tear, drinking some more of her tea. Sephiroth thought that there might have be a man who Jyleth had been involved with, one who had rejected her on account of her condition. He didn't ask, however, for it was obvious the subject upset her. A sudden thought came to him, about what had caused her condition. He suddenly went very still, feeling all the blood drain away from his face. The air seemed to thicken for a moment, making breathing impossible. He forced himself to relax, to push the thought away. Surely he couldn't have…. that was not what he had intended… he caught Jyleth looking at him, so he turned his face to the fire, hoping she had not seen his sudden stillness.

"I really don't know what I'll do know," Jyleth said after a long, uneasy silence. "I got to see a great deal of the world while you were … training … but I don't know where I could call home. I don't think I want to go back to the frozen wasteland - I don't want to be a guide again. And I don't want to go back to Corel."

"There are many places in between," he said quietly. He didn't want her to leave. He wouldn't admit it, of course, but he couldn't imagine what he would do without having her companionship. But he didn't want her to stay to pay off some sort of unspoken obligation she might think she owed him. So he was offering her an immediate out, if that was what she wanted.

"If it is alright with you, I think I might like to stay, for a while, to recuperate… and regroup." Jyleth was watching him again, he could feel her eyes boring into his back, but he didn't turn around.

"That would be fine," he said, knowing he hadn't managed to keep all of the relief he didn't want her to see from his voice. Jyleth came to his side, holding an empty bowl and cup. He took them from her without saying a word, then headed back to the small kitchen.

"Where can I sleep?" Jyleth had followed him into the kitchen, stopping just inside the doorway.

"I prepared a room…" he started.

"So that's why you were making a `guestroom'!" she interrupted him, laughing. Sephiroth glanced at her, returning the amusement that showed bright in her eyes with a smile.

"It was impossible to hide that from you," he admitted, "so I had to make up something."

"I knew you were up to something with that - I just never guessed…" she trailed off, concealing a slight blush the crept into her cheeks by pretending to push back flyaway hairs from her face. Sephiroth quickly finished washing off the dishes, then turned back to her.

"Do I need to show you the way?" he asked. She jumped, realizing she had no reason to still be watching him, then shook her head and walked down the hallway, slipping into the "guestroom" and quietly closing the door behind her. Sephiroth stood a moment more in the kitchen, then banked the fire before going to his room to get some sleep as well.


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