A Promise Kept Chapter 2
Chance and Choice
"I'm resolved to talk to him first." (Vincent)
They raced with incredible speed until they were only a few miles away from the Kalm, the nearest town from Midgar. There they dumped the Shinra motorcycles in the woods, and headed for Kalm.
"Look Vincent, why are you helping us?" Cloud asked, still not trusting the man although Aeris seemed to think it's perfectly safe around him Then again, Aeris usually acted as if it was safe around anybody and everybody.
Vincent was silent for a moment, focusing on the road ahead, then he finally replied: "Because I want to know more about Sephiroth, what he did, what happened to him, why is he so full of hatred I made a promise to his mother, and I keep my promises."
Cloud fell silent, then nodded: "And we'd like to learn about the Jenova Project " He suddenly stopped in his track, as the others gathered around him and faced Vincent: "But I'll be straight forward with you, we want to kill Sephiroth."
Vincent stopped as well. His face slowly filled with sadness and he finally sighed: "I would not let her son go bad That was my promise to Lucrecia. If things become inevitable I will help you to stop him."
Cloud nodded, visibly relaxing. Aeris grabs his arm with one hand and lightly touched Vincent's with the other: "C'mon, we have time to talk when we get to Kalm. But before any of that serious business I want a hot bath and some decent food."
Vincent smiled with a rare sense of humor: "I see, you've had first- hand experiences with Shinra rations."
Aeris laughed, her musical laughter filled the air with a sense of happiness. Barret couldn't help but grin. With Aeris around, things just seemed to have a way of getting better.
They reached Kalm before midday and lounged in an Inn. Cloud and Tifa went shopping together, to get some new clothes, equipment and accessories, as well as medicine for Aeris. The others rested, and ordered food.
After taking the pills and a hot bath, Aeris seemed infinitely better, and some color returned to her cheeks. They ate a decent lunch together, and after that, gathered in their room to have a long talk.
"Sephiroth kept mentioning about Jenova being an Ancient so who is she anyway?" Tifa leaned against the window, and asked Aeris, who sat on the bed.
Aeris shook her head: "No, she was not a Cetra. Our people called Jenova the Crisis from Sky. She was an alien being that came to this planet about 2000 years ago. She plagued my kind with a deadly disease, and my people almost perished " She lifted her head to look at Vincent directly in the eyes: "What I don't know is the details of this Jenova Project. I felt a strong bond almost a form of kin bond between Jenova and Sephiroth, but if Sephiroth was human, how was that possible?"
Vincent sighed: "Thirty years ago, professor Gast, along with Hojo and Lucrecia, started the research on Jenova. They knew little about the Ancients, so they assumed Jenova to be an Ancient because of her rare cell structures Hojo was fascinated with the possibilities of this research, so obsessed that he developed an insane idea. Lucrecia was his wife, and she was pregnant at that time. Hojo convinced her to participate in his plan, and injected Jenova's cells into the fetus... which is Sephiroth."
Aeris clapped a hand on her mouth to prevent a gasp, and the others all looked disgusted. They knew Hojo was a freak But never thought he'd be so crazy as to run experiments on his family.
Aeris recovered from her shock, and whispered softly: "What happened then? Vincent, you said it was thirty years ago, but you look What happened to Lucrecia? To you?"
Vincent smiled bitterly: "It was Hojo." He took a deep breath and continued without much emotion in his voice: "Gast, Hojo and Lucrecia were assigned to Nibelheim to do their research, and I was a Turk, assigned to protect them. Hojo was always busy with him experiments, and Gast was very much occupied as well, Lucrecia was well, she talked to me more often than the other two so after awhile we became friends and then we fell in love "
"What happened?" Tifa asked as tears began to fill her eyes.
"Lucrecia didn't live long. The Jenova cells in her body slowly poisoned her, she became very weak and the moment she gave birth to Sephiroth, she died Not able to hold him for even once " He paused for a moment, absorbed in his past, "Right after Lucrecia's death, I lost control. I bolted into Hojo's lab, wanting to have revenge on him, but he tricked me and trapped me. He locked me in a safe in the basement of Nibelheim's Shinra mansion. Of course, before he locked me away, he had his fun " Vincent raised his claw: "I became the... being that I am now."
There was a long pause after that, but finally Red XIII spoke: "How did you get out?"
"Someone freed me, not very long ago A young ninja from Wutai if I recall correctly. She said she was looking for materias and accidentally freed me." Vincent shook his head slowly: "I was shocked to learn that thirty years had past since I was locked away. Shortly before Lucrecia's death, she made me promise to take care of her son, make sure he won't turn bad but looks like I'm late again. Not only I failed to protect Lucrecia, I failed her son as well "
Aeris walked over to him, and placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder. She looked into his eerie red eyes as if he was a long time friend: "Vincent, it was not your fault Lucrecia would know."
Vincent only smiled sadly. Lucrecia would not forgive him Aeris was only trying to comfort him. Still, somehow he felt friendly toward this young Ancient maybe because of her ability to see through a human soul. He could see the understanding in her emerald eyes. She alone understood the sins he committed, and seemed to accept him for who he is.
Another pause, then Cloud spoke: "I guess it's my turn now. I will tell you what Sephiroth has done to me, to my family, to my hometown "
"When I first joined Shinra to be a SOLDIER, Sephiroth was my model. I looked up to him, I guess everyone did. He was always precise, collected and damn good at fighting Then five years ago, I was assigned to accompany him to Nibelheim on an investigation, and that was when he went insane "
Everyone listened silently, as Cloud and later Tifa, described the tragedy in Nibelheim. Aeris listened, as tears rolled down her cheeks, and then she sobbed into her hands softly. She felt extremely sad, for Cloud, for Tifa, for Vincent and strangely, for Sephiroth.
True, he was a man everyone hated but he was also a child never loved. Although Ifalna passed away early, being an Ancient gave Aeris the ability to communicate with her mother frequently, not to mention that she had Elmyra whom loved her as her own child. But Sephiroth He never knew who his mother was, and his father was a man sick to the heart who never cared for his mental wellness. Aeris wondered as a child, had he ever cried himself to sleep seeking his mother, as she sometimes did.
How much pain he must've felt, when he learned that his whole life was nothing more than a research and a lie. Tragically, even now as he thought he found the truth, his truth was still nothing more than a twisted lie.
Things could have turned out different, if someone had been there for him
Someone wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Aeris quickly lifted her head, to see Tifa looking down at her, with concern and sadness in her puffy eyes. She cried too. Aeris smiled at her, and opened her arms. Without a word the two friends hugged each other tight, weeping together and comforting each other.
Barret rolled his eyes and muttered: "Girls." But his voice was tight, as it was filled with emotions.
Red XIII walked over to the two young women and rubbed their legs lightly. The two broke their hug, and patted him affectionately. Normally he'd dodge away pretending he doesn't like it, but this time he remained, letting them pat him on the nose, and he even licked their hands.
Tifa giggled and wiped away her tears: "Red If you are not so overly large I would have attempted to cradle you."
"Tifa, I'm older than you." He replied solemnly as solemn as he could be anyway.
Aeris smiled: "But you are still a kid for your kind, aren't you?"
"I'll tolerate the word young adult, but I'm not a kid." He groaned, embarrassed. Then he suddenly became serious: "Now, we still have business to settle."
"Yes we do." Tifa agreed, looking around at everyone: "Sephiroth said he would be waiting for us at Nibelheim, what do we do?"
"Vincent, the cave you mentioned you are planing to take Sephiroth there, aren't you?" Aeris asked him gently.
He nodded: "That's where I used to meet Lucrecia I can't prove to him that she is his mother, but at least I can show him that she existed. I I still wish him to know his mother, and I hope he will change."
"Sephiroth? Change?" Cloud shook his head slowly, "Vincent, I hate to say this, but I don't think you will be able to change Sephiroth, he is insane and dangerous."
Vincent hung his head: " I have to try."
"I don't like this." Tifa murmured, "You could get yourself killed."
Barret nodded: "I agree with Tifa, I say we just go there and kill da god damned son of a bit "
He stopped abruptly, his dark skin burning crimson: "Err sorry, didn't mean it that way."
Vincent nodded without much emotion: "I'm resolved to talk to him first."
Cloud stared at him for a minute, then turned away coldly: "Do what you want, but I will kill Sephiroth."
"Cloud, I know how much you hate Sephiroth, but he was a victim too." Aeris spoke softly, "He didn't chose to be this way No one had given him another choice, another option in his life. I think if Vincent could convince him to change, then he deserves a honest chance."
"A chance? Aeris, you don't understand." Cloud snapped angrily, "Didn't my family deserve a chance to live? Didn't my hometown deserve a chance to survive? Aeris, it was not your mother who was slain, and it was not your hometown that got burnt down by that maniac!"
"Cloud!" Tifa glared at him. Cloud turned red, realizing his words were too harsh, and apologized: "I I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that "
"It's all right." Aeris sighed, she put her arms around Cloud and Tifa, looking at both earnestly, "Cloud, Tifa, I know you both hate Sephiroth, and you have every right to. But please, it was not all his fault People didn't always become who they are because they want to sometimes they weren't given a chance. Please give him a chance "
Cloud and Tifa exchanged a glance, finally, Tifa averted her eyes first, and Cloud sighed heavily: "Alright, Aeris." He turned to Vincent: "We will accompany you to Nibelheim, and you can talk to Sephiroth. If you can make him change, fine. But if you can't convince him, which is more likely to happen, then we will kill him." He looks around: "Does anyone object?"
No one made a noise, and the matter was settled.
Over the next few hours they laid out a plan: They would spend a night here, then head for Junon tomorrow morning. There they will try to sneak onto a Shinra ship that sails to Costa del Sol. Once they get to Costa del Sol, they will be able to reach Nibelheim in no time. The hardest part was of course, getting onto a Shinra ship, but hopefully with some luck they'd manage.
Now that everything was settled, Aeris bid everyone good night, and went into her room. She changed into a white night gown, and sighed as she laid down on the bed.
Aeris, it was not your mother who was slain, and it was not your hometown, which got burnt down by that maniac!
Cloud's sharp words were still ringing in her mind, and still makes her heart ache.
He didn't mean it, she knew but still, it hurts.
Her mother her family was slain too, he forgot. Perhaps not by Sephiroth but nevertheless, they were taken away before she had a chance to remember how their embrace felt like. True, she could still talk to her mother, but she could not touch her, nor be touched by her. Being an Ancient was a blessing, but it was a curse too, sometimes it pained her so much to talk to her mother, who was so close, yet so far away
And Cloud at least you had a hometown, where I had none. She cried silently. Elmyra was kind to take me in, and I loved her as much as she loved me but still I did't have a home, and I never will, until the day I die.
She didn't sleep very well that night, but being a morning person, she got up early anyway, washed herself and changed into her dress. She barely had time to brush her hair when Tifa knocked on her door.
"Morning Aeris, Cloud told me to wake you up, but I told him you are definitely up already." Tifa was chewing a bread stick and remarked: "You are always early, not like Barret."
She laughed, noticing Tifa already had a morning practice: "Well, not as early as you are. Here, will you help me braid my hair? I think that fever really got to me yesterday, I can't seem to do my hair properly."
"Sure." Tifa took the ribbon and began to tie her hair, "How are you feeling now?"
"Better. I'll be fine in no time as long as I don't go back there."
"Hojo is one god damned bastard." Tifa muttered.
"He'll pay in time." Aeris said calmly, "No one could play with nature's law and get away."
Tifa looks at her closely: "Why do I have a feeling you know something I don't?"
Aeris chuckled: "I don't know half as much as you might think, but I do know that every life is a part of the planet. Hojo put himself above everybody else, so he will take the hardest fall."
Tifa rolled her eyes: "You are being uncanny again, my dear." She finished braiding Aeris's hair and grabbed her hand, pulling her up: "C'mon, let's get some breakfast, I heard that the pancakes they serve over here is delicious."
Aeris smiled and let Tifa drag her out of the room. When they passed by Barret's door they could hear the large man snoring, and Tifa frowned.
"Barret! I thought I told you to get up!" She yelled.
There was no response, Tifa kicked the door several times and yelled again: "Listen Barret, we are having breakfast now all five of us. So if by the time you wake up there's only breadsticks left for you, you know whose fault that is!"
She smiled mischievously: "This feels even better than a morning practice, let's go."
When they got to the breakfast hall, Cloud, Vincent and Red XIII were already seated at the table Well, Red XIII underneath the table actually. Knowing the girls' eating habit, Cloud poured two glasses of orange juice for them as they sat down.
"Thank you." Aeris and Tifa said there thanks to Cloud and good morning to everyone.
About three minutes later Barret came into the room with drowsy eyes, mumbling something about the "little evil witch."
Tifa lifted an eyebrow: "Say that again, Barret, and I'll shove a punch right in your mouth."
He ranted something unintelligible and sat down attacking the tray of pancakes.
To travel faster, they rented three chocobos. Again Cloud and Tifa shared one, Vincent and Aeris shared the other, and Barret get to have the third one all by himself while Red XIII travelled on foot.
"We are in luck that Red can manage fine by himself, or Barret's bird will surely be crushed." Tifa muttered to Cloud, "In fact, I'm not sure if the poor thing can stand his weight even now, with all the breakfast he had."
"Hey, I heard that!" Barret shouted after them, but Tifa only laughed as their chocobos started running.
They reached Junon late in the afternoon. As they stood before the town, Barret frowned: "It's too damn quiet over here."
Cloud nodded and pointed to the heart of the town: "Shinra military base. Ever since they built it over here, the town became this way."
"Freaking Shinra bastards " Barret cursed under his breath, looking at Cloud expectantly, "What do we do?"
"We have to get into the military base. That's the only way to get onto a ship." Cloud frowned in thought: "But I don't know how to do that "
Aeris smiled: "I'm not sure, but maybe I do. I used to know someone over here. If we are in luck, she could help us."
Cloud looked at her with surprise, but knowing the kind of person she was, it really shouldn't surprise him much, so he nodded: "All right, lead the way."
Aeris led them to follow a narrow path down the beach. Along the way, they could sense people looking at them suspiciously.
Things were not going well for people over here. Tifa thought with some sadness, Shinra must be hard on them, so hard that they lost their hospitality, along with trust in their fellow men that's the saddest thing of all
Once they get to the beach, Aeris squinted, looking around. She suddenly grinned, pointing to their right: "Oh, we are in luck, there she is."
Everyone followed her hand to see a little girl about ten years of age, playing in the shallow waters with a huge blue dolphin.
Aeris skipped down the path, calling the girl's name: "Priscilla!" But suddenly she froze in her track, and her voice raised high in panic: "Priscilla!"
Some sort of a sea creature broke into the air from the deeper water, flying toward the girl and the dolphin with tremendous speed, water waves rose from the impact, and swallowed the girl.
"What the *&^% is that?" Barret cursed.
"Let's go, we have to save the girl!" Tifa yelled, and ran behind Aeris, followed by the rest.
Priscilla was confused to find herself lying flat on the beach.
What happened? All she could remember was a huge wave washed her over as something gigantic surfaced from it and then she drowned?
"She's coming around! Cloud, you did it!" A female voice cried.
Cloud? What kinda name is that? Priscilla squinted harder, and saw a blonde man in blue sweater leaning over her, his icy blue eyes looking down at her with concern. There were more people around her, and she panicked a little, they were all strangers.
"Priscilla, are you alright?" Someone else bent down beside the young man, and Pricilla recognized her immediately. She forced a weak smile: "Hey You are Aeris What happened?"
"Some sort of sea creature attacked you But you are all right now." Aeris smiled reassuringly, "Where's your dad?"
"Priscilla!" Just then an anxious voice cut in, and her dad pushed aside those people to get to her, picking her up with worry: "Good heavens! What happened? Are you alright?"
"Dad! I'm ok." She groaned and smiled, "Those people saved me, Aeris and Cloud?"
"Aeris?" the man looked at her and exclaimed: "Hey, you are that flower girl from Midgar!" He suddenly became more friendly, "You people saved my daughter's life Come with me, you are all welcome to stay at my house."
~Pray Pray, Aeris, pray ~
She knelt down, obeying the voice in her mind. Words she never heard before but somehow knew by heart escaped her lips as she clapped her hands in front of her, concentrating on her prayer.
~That's right, child, pray for Holy, we are all with you, pray for Holy ~
Peace surrounded her, she could no longer sense the environment around her. There's only prayer, peace, and eternity
Suddenly something cut through her senses, a shadow fell upon her, the next thing she knew, something cold stabbed her, went through her chest.
She began to fall darkness took over.
Aeris bolted up in her bed, her heart beating louder than thunder. For a moment, all she could hear was her own heart beating fast, as sweat drops slowly rolled down from her forehead.
Shaking uncontrollably, she climbed out of the bed. Reaching for her jacket, she hastily put it on and walked out the door.
Night breeze cooled down her burning cheeks as she sat on the front porch, wrapping her hands around her knees.
She gazed into the starry night sky, watching them glimmer from far above. Her vision starts to blur a tear fell, and another one
What she had was a vision, and her visions never went wrong
Is this the reason why Ifalna always spoke to her with sadness in her voice? Is this why? Is this what's going to happen? Did her mother know that she was going to die fulfilling her promise?
"Aeris " Suddenly she found Cloud sitting down beside her, "Aeris, is there something wrong? You are crying "
"Cloud " She looks at him, biting her lips. She wished that she could tell him, but if she did, he'll never let her do what she has to do And she had to do it.
She forced a smile: "No It was nothing. I just couldn't get to sleep."
Cloud simply stared at her, and finally she averted her eyes. Cloud sighed heavily: "Aeris What are you trying to hide?"
She continued to smile: "I'm not trying to hide anything. Cloud I want you to know, if one way I have to leave you, leave all of you it might not be my wish, but it will be my choice."
Cloud grabbed her arm: "Aeris! You are scaring me. I hate it when you talk like that."
She lowered her eyes: "I'm sorry, I never mind what I said."
Silence hung over them for a moment, as they sat side by side in the night breeze.
"You know, I really love my parents." Aeris suddenly whispered, "They gave everything they had, so I could escape the Shinra and have a better life. I love my father, my mother, and Elmyra But sometimes, I wish I was born differently."
She turned to him, and for the first time, he sees bare pain in her eyes: "Cloud, I wish I was different, but I was never given a chance to be different." She threw her arms around his neck and sobbed into his shirt.
Cloud was not used to such close contact with another person, but he embraced Aeris tight, and placed his head upon her shoulder. He felt a lump in his throat, closing his eyes, he let a tear escape him. He wanted to be different too, but all these years, was he given a chance to be different? Hardly. And at this moment, if Nibelheim wasn't his hometown, he could almost forgive Sephiroth.
People are the way they are, but perhaps perhaps very few of them choose to be the way they are.
They were so absorbed in their emotions, that a figure hiding behind them in the shadow escaped their notice.
Tifa clenched her fists, forcing them to relax and then she clenched them tight again. She thought about approach them to ask what's wrong But it looked like they are not to be disturbed.
So it's about chances and choices huh? She laughed silently and bitterly, as she turned back to climb the stairs, tears blinded her eyes. It was not her choice to fall in love with Cloud either, but her heart It never gave her a chance to resist.
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