A Promise Kept Chapter 10
"Oh little Cetra bitch, life is full of ironies isn't it?" (Jenova)
Sephiroth's eyes snapped open when he felt himself being watched.
Immediately, he spotted Vincent leaning against a tree nearby, looking at him with rather emotionless bloody eyes. In the same instance, he noticed that it was almost dawning.
Vincent met his glare with an unreadable mask and spoke quietly: "I was just taking a walk and saw you two here. What "
"Nothing happened." Sephiroth cut him off coldly, but his voice was quiet, and he remained where he was, still holding the sleeping Aeris in his arms.
Vincent nodded indifferently: "Well, you better get her back to her tent, before anyone else wakes up."
Sephiroth wasn't going to argue with that. He slid one arm under Aeris' legs and kept the other around her back, and then lifted her effortlessly and carried her toward her tent.
His movements were so gentle and graceful that Aeris never stirred.
Vincent watched after Sephiroth with thoughtful eyes. He reminded there alone, for a very long time.
Aeris woke up from her deep sleep, staring into the ceiling of her small tent. She yawned and stretched, then suddenly remembered the things that happened last night.
Blinking twice before she sat up in her sleeping bag, Aeris ran a hand through her hair, trying to recall her conversation with Sephiroth. He had been upset, he was angry and lonely. She didn't know whether she was jeopardizing her life when she embraced him on impulse. For a moment there she wondered if she would live to see the sun rise again. But then he returned her embrace and strangely it brought her comfort too.
Aeris' face flushed a little when she recalled the way they sat together under the tree. When he wrapped those strong arms around her and told her not to be scared, she felt warmed to the heart, and not lonely anymore.
How surprising, that she should find comfort in the arms of a man who is considered the most dangerous person alive.
Lost in thought, she got dressed and went outside to meet her teammates.
As the group traveled toward the Ancient temple, Aeris and Sephiroth walked in silence, just as the rest of the group did. They never started a conversation, but for the first time, Sephiroth was not trailing behind.
He stayed close to Aeris, occasionally holding branches out of her way for her, or helping her cross the narrow streams that ran through the forest. That was something he hadn't done for anyone before. And on those occasions, the warmth in Aeris' eyes and her smile were unmistakable. It was a warmth which only Vincent, besides Sephiroth himself, had detected.
Looking at the two, Vincent wondered what possibly had happened last night to draw them together. He had sensed a sort of attraction since the very beginning, and he was almost certain that Aeris had won a special place in Sephiroth's heart.
It was a discovery that both thrilled and disturbed Vincent. On one hand he was glad Sephiroth was learning to care for someone, but on the other hand he couldn't help but think Sephiroth would get hurt in the end. Aeris was a very compassionate person, her smile was radiant and she never hesitated in giving it to anyone.
What if Sephiroth falls in love with her, only to find that she thinks of him as nothing more than a friend, or even less than that, just an acquaintance? He wasn't sure someone like Sephiroth could properly deal with that kind of emotional torture
But now, Vincent was sure things were turning out better than he thought possible. Aeris must have feelings for Sephiroth too. Although always caring and friendly, she was not the kind of girl who would allow herself to fall in sleep in the arms of any man, friend or not. And the way Aeris looked at Sephiroth now the way her eyes seemed to lock with his whenever they exchange a glance, convinced Vincent that there were more than friendship between the two. He couldn't for the life of him, imagine how that had happened, but he was glad, very glad indeed.
Soon, they approached an old, weathered stone building. Aeris stared at it for long moments, her face a mixture of awe, shock and anxiety.
"The protective seal is broken. Someone is already inside." She whispered.
Cloud's jaw tightened: "Alright, let's hurry."
Once inside the temple, more than one member of Avalanche gasped that the scene before them.
Blood. There was blood everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, even on the dais at the center of the room.
"^%$#! What the hell happened here?" Cid looked around in disgust and alarm.
Aeris' heart pounded in her chest. Reno said it was Tseng who was sent here Is this his blood? Is he hurt? Where is he? Frantically her eyes searched the room, suddenly, she caught a glimpse of something shiny on the floor.
Yuffie saw it too, the young ninja walked over and picked it up: "Hey guys, look."
Cloud examined it closely: "Strange object Aeris, what do you think?"
"This might be the keystone." She replied, her voice tight, "Try the dais, Cloud."
Everyone gathered together and walked toward the center of the room. Cloud put the keystone on the dais. In a blinding flash of light, they were transported to the depths of the temple.
Walking down the confusing passages, everyone looked around warily, as if expecting enemies to jump out of the shadows or from behind the massive green vines anytime. Yuffie rubbed her arms and muttered: "This place gives me the creeps "
Aeris said nothing, but deep down she was struggling against an ominous feeling that threatened to consume her. She hadn't felt anything like before in her life. It was terrifying; she almost had the urge to run back the way she came from. Why did it feel like her live would be ruefully shattered, if she pressed on? Why did it feel like her whole life was about to be turned up side down, then ripped to shreds? Her steps faltered a bit, her hands clenched into fists.
Walking close to her, Sephiroth noticed her distress first. She was looking very pale and her eyes had a haunted look in them. He came up to her side and whispered: "Aeris, is there something wrong?"
She appeared not to have heard him. He placed a hand on her shoulder. To his surprise Aeris jumped, tearing away from his touch. She stared at him with her frightened emerald eyes, but only a second later awareness flooded back to her eyes, she inhaled and exhaled deeply: "Sephiroth sorry, you startled me."
The others had stopped walking and were now watching them suspiciously. Cloud had his hand on the hilt of his sword, expecting to rescue Aeris anytime. But Sephiroth hardly paid any attention to them, at the moment his only concern was Aeris.
"Are you alright? You look pale."
Sephiroth's deep voice brought her a strange comfort. Suddenly tears flooded her eyes, Aeris hastily brushed them away, but more spilled down her cheeks: "I I'm just scared Something is about to happen, I don't I I can't "
She let out a cry of distress and threw herself into his arms, clinging to him and weeping, never noticed the astonished looks of her teammates.
Sephiroth was surprised by her action, his shoulder blades tensed instinctively when she put her arms around his neck, but he forced himself to relax and completed the embrace, rather awkwardly.
"Aeris, what's wrong?"
She shook her head: "I don't know, but something had happened, I it feels like I'm about to know what exactly it is, and I will not like it And it feels like I don't know! I I'm just scared " She embraced him tighter, shivering, "I can't help it I'm so scared "
Sephiroth just held Aeris in his arms, unsure of what to do. He felt Cloud's hostile eyes on him and glared back at the younger blonde with a smirk. Cloud was outraged, but when Tifa put a hand on his arm worriedly, he forced himself not to say anything.
Sephiroth was not looking at him anymore. He tightened his arms around Aeris' waist, drawing her closer, hoping to comfort her with his presence. "You will be alright Aeris." He said quietly, "You are not alone, I'm here we are all here "
Aeris didn't know why she felt so relieved hearing those words. Pressed against his much taller, much more strong and muscular body, she calmed down quiet a bit, feeling protected and at peace.
Slowly she became aware of her surroundings. Realizing everyone else had been staring at them, she blushed a little and withdrew her arms. He let her go. She smiled at him: "I'm okay now, thank you "
He nodded and held her gaze for a moment longer, then turned away. Aeris turned her eyes to look at Cloud, silently pleading him not to act. Cloud's fists clenched and unclenched several times, before he finally nodded, ever so slightly.
"Let's go." He said in a tight voice and almost stormed off. Tifa cast a questioning and worried final glance at Aeris, before hurrying to catch up with Cloud. The others looked everywhere but at Aeris or Sephiroth, only Vincent gave Sephiroth an approving nod. Without saying anything else, the group moved on in silence.
Having gathered herself together, Aeris put faith into her instincts and guided them through the maze-like structure as if she lived her whole life there. After walking past a strange talking clock and some more passages, Aeris finally led them into a room full of murals on the wall and a dais at the center.
"This is in my dreams " Aeris whispered in a haunted voice, "If anyone uses the Black Materia to cast that spell, this is what will happen." She pointed to the walls, "Meteor will come, destroying everything in its path "
"And the planet, in a rush to heal itself, will release tremendous amount of energy." A chilly voice reached them from behind, "and I will harvest that energy!"
The group immediately turned around. Cloud unsheathed his huge sword: "Who is there?!"
"It is I." A figure stepped out of the shadows.
"Tseng?" Aeris gasped.
The tall, raven hair Turk regarded her coldly. A cruel smile touched his bloodless lips: "Ah, the meddling Cetra bitch."
Sephiroth narrowed his eyes and placed himself in front of Aeris protectively: "Jenova?"
Tseng threw his head back and laughed, then regarded Sephiroth with a twisted gleam in his eyes: "A son always recognizes his mother. I'm pleased, my son."
Sephiroth's anger flared. He was about to make a less-than-polite reply when Aeris spoke: "Sephiroth is not your son, Jenova, stop insulting him!"
Sephiroth turned in surprise. The young Cetra girl's face was calm but her voice lost its usual softness as she addressed Jenova again: "What have you done to Tseng?"
"Well, for one thing, he is dead."
Aeris inhaled sharply and went very still, very pale.
Jenova mocked her through Tseng's eyes, now vacant and devoid of any sign of conscious: "It was easy like taking candy from a baby, I wonder why I never thought of it. The Turk was stupid enough to let Hojo do what he wanted what I wanted."
"Tseng" glanced at Sephiroth and smiled: "He is perfect. Strong, agile, just like you. But he is more obedient. After all, he is already dead."
The smile on that face was chilling as he shrugged: "Of course, this body will mutate and then rot beyond use in about thirty days. But it doesn't matter, there is more than enough time to get what I wanted."
"You murderer!" Aeris cried out in anger, "Have you no respect for the dead?"
She clenched her fists as tears streamed down her face. Tseng, her friend, her mentor, the one who gave her flower seeds to grow in the church and taught her how to defend herself He was murdered, and his murderer was abusing his body and there was nothing she could do but watch
Jenova turned her attention back to Aeris and smiled at her cruelly: "Oh little Cetra bitch, life is full of ironies isn't it? You and that annoying ghost took my son away You turned my son against me! It's only fair that I return the favor, don't you think?"
Aeris was too choked with anguish to reply. Laughing, Tseng's body rose above the ground, then suddenly disappeared, leaving Avalanche to stare at one another, trying to comprehend with the situation.
Finally, Red XIII spoke: "I guess Jenova found a new vessel."
Tifa frowned: "But how? How could she have killed Tseng and taken his body? I thought she was physically too weak to do anything."
"Her cells. If he was recently injected with her cells, she could use them to kill him, before the cells adjusted to his body." Sephiroth answered quietly, without looking at her.
"%$#@!" Cid spat, "Hojo! He was the one responsible!"
Barret swung his fist in anger: "That &^%$ son of a bitch! I shoulda've blown his &^%$ head off while I had the chance!"
"We'll deal with him." Cloud spoke, trying hard to control his emotions and assume the role of the leader, "Aeris, let's get what we came for first. Where is the black materia?"
Aeris nodded and rather shakily, pointed to the dais: "That is it "
"This?" Yuffie reached out to touch the golden object floating above the dais, "Why didn't Jenova "
"Don't touch it!" Aeris cried in alarm. Yuffie immediately withdrew her hand, but it was already too late. The ground beneath them suddenly shook violently.
Aeris stumbled and bumped into Sephiroth, he immediately caught her waist, but was drove two steps back before he steadied them both.
"Shit!" Cid cursed loudly as a giant red dragon appeared in front of the surprised group.
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