A Promise Kept Chapter 4
Take My Hand
" Yes, I promised." (Cloud)
Cloud led his party through the grassy fields, walking a steady pace as if the huge sword on his back weighs nothing. They've traveled two days in the mountains and now, Nibelheim is but ten miles away. Soon soon he would be home.
His face darkened as he remembered the fire that reduced his town to mere ashes.
It's all coming back to him now, as he came closer and closer to this place. The fire, the rage, the fear and pain
I hate Sephiroth; I will hate him for as long as I live.
He thought bitterly, glancing over his shoulder to look at Vincent. The other man brought up the rear of the party, as he always did. He wore a blank expression on his pale face. Again Cloud wondered just how trustworthy Vincent Valentine was. The mysterious man hardly talked to anyone, sometimes Cloud felt as if he was a shadow following them, merely existing. Plus, the only reason Vincent traveled with them was because he was on a mission to help Sephiroth change as if Sephiroth would repent.
Keeping his eyes ahead, Cloud smiled bitterly. Deep down inside he wished Sephiroth would not feel remorse, therefore giving him the justification to kill that freak. In fact, he would much rather march into battle and get it over with, if he had not promised Aeris.
Aeris Cloud's thoughts drifted toward the slim girl walking behind him. He sighed to himself. No matter how much he hated Sephiroth, he couldn't bring himself to deny Aeris's request of giving Vincent an honest chance. When she looked at him with her soft emerald eyes, he knew he couldn't refuse her request, because of the position she held in his heart and because he knew it was the right thing to do. Still, he wish he would have the chance to run Sephiroth through with his sword
A hand touched his arm lightly. He turned to see Tifa now walking beside him with a concerned smile on her beautiful face: "How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay." He replied, taking his eyes off her, suddenly a bit nervous. He had no idea why it happened, but every time he gets close to Tifa he would have mixed emotions he didn't even understand.
Tifa lowered her head: "I'm worried." She confessed, "It's been five years, but still To remember it, it's terrible."
Cloud nodded. For a moment he wanted to reach out and hug her, like they used to do when they were children, but he checked himself: "It'll be alright." He told her in a gentler voice, "But I do expect to fight Sephiroth."
Tifa adjusted her gloves, her eyes shining brightly: "I'll be ready."
" Nothing. We're almost there." Cloud walked faster.
Tifa fell in behind and sighed. She almost got him to open up to her again, but he withdrawn too quickly before she could grasp his thoughts. What really happened to him these years? She wondered, or was it simply time that set them so far apart? Something like regret filled her heart. If she paid him more attention back then, he would probably have been different now. After all, he opened up to her when they were young
"Tifa, give it time." Aeris now walked beside her, and told her gently.
She smiled weakly and whispered: "Time won't help with anything when he's avoiding me like that."
Aeris shook her head: "That's not true. Tifa, you have to be patient with him, that's all. It's a bit hard for him to open up."
"He doesn't seem to have a problem talking to you."
Aeris simply look at her, astonished.
Tifa felt herself turning red as she quickly apologized: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way "
"No, it's alright." Aeris held up a hand to stop her: "I know how you feel I really do. Tifa, you have to understand Cloud is avoiding his past. He felt easier talking to me, probably because I'm not in anyway associated with his past. I believe deep inside, he cares for you very much."
"Aeris " Tifa hung her head, comforted and feeling guilty, "Thank you."
"I've done nothing." Aeris smiled, glad that their friendship was not damaged. After all, Tifa was a very generous and caring person, she'd be very sad if she were to lose such a friend.
Up ahead, Cloud suddenly came to a stop, as if some unseen force had hit him.
"Cloud!" Tifa was alarmed and ran to his side, "What is it?"
"Look." Cloud's voice was almost a gasp.
Tifa looked, and she too, was unable to move, not believing her eyes.
The town of Nibelheim, now clearly visible, stood proudly under the sun, not a trace that it was ever destroyed.
"I Impossible " Tifa murmured, "The houses the market even the well is here! What's going on Cloud? They were destroyed! I saw with my own eyes!"
"I know." Cloud told her quietly, clenching his fists, "I'll never forget that day as long as I live."
"This must be Shinra's doing." Vincent said calmly behind them. The pair turned around quickly, staring at him.
Red XIII nodded an agreement with Vincent: "It makes sense. Sephiroth was Shinra's most renowned general; if people knew he was responsible for this, more would have turned against Shinra in fear. Shinra must have rebuilt the town to cover up any evidence left behind. And with their power and money, they could do that easily. You read the newspaper, they said there was an accident in the reactor and Sephiroth was killed."
"Bastards." Tifa whispered in hatred, her eyes burning with tears, "How dare they! It happened! All these people, all these lives! My parents lived and died their lives, their existence A few million gil is all it takes to erase everything!"
"Tifa " Aeris hugged her in an attempt to calm her down, "It's alright. We know the truth, we all know it "
"Tifa." Cloud placed a hand on her shoulder. Aeris released her at once as she turned to look at Cloud. For the first time since their reunion in Midgar, Tifa saw a familiar shine in his blue eyes, "We have other things to do now, but we'll deal with Shinra, it's a promise."
Tifa nodded, wiping away her tears. When she's cool again, she gave Cloud a smile: "Let's go."
As soon as they stood at the entrance to the town, Aeris tensed up, gripping her Prism Staff tighter than usual: "He's here."
"Who?" Barret shot her a puzzled look.
But the others seem to follow, Vincent frowned: "Already? It's still two days away from the time he said he would be here."
"He is here." Cloud reaffirmed quietly, his Mako eyes seem to glow brighter than usual: "I don't know why, but I somehow feel he is around."
Aeris's brows creased as if she was in pain: "Jenova is here with him inside him. It will be hard to get rid of her." She looked at Vincent: "Do you still want to do it?"
He nodded: "I have to try."
Aeris smiled in understanding: "Follow me, I know where he is."
Cloud unsheathed his sword. Vincent gave him a dark look, but he ignored it. He would not interfere with Vincent's plan, but he would not allow Sephiroth to have an easy target either.
Aeris stopped in front of the old, dark mansion. It looked gloomy even in bright sunlight. She turned around to look at her companions, her green eyes remained peaceful and her voice still calm: "He is here. Shall we?"
Vincent nodded, gave her a look of gratitude. He knew Aeris couldn't possibly be as calm as she looked, she must've summoned up a lot of strength in order to comfort the others, including him.
He took several steps forward, leading the way with Cloud, as Aeris, Tifa, Barret and Red XIII followed them close behind.
Cloud forced himself to remain calm as he walked through the dusty entrance. The floor squeaked under his feet, he held his sword in front of him, looking around warily. The strange feeling in his heart was growing stronger as he walked. Sephiroth is definitely here. More than that, he felt they are being watched this very moment
"So, you've finally arrived." A chilling voice startled everyone. They moved closer to each other, as Sephiroth emerged from the shadows, coming into their view, his silver hair shimmered in the light.
"I've changed my mind." He spoke without emotion, "My mother asked me to clear you out of her way, and I will do that."
Cloud raised his sword in alarm as Vincent shouted desperately: "Jenova is not your mother!"
"Shut up!" Sephiroth raised Masamune angrily, but Vincent was not intimidated. He took a step forward, his bloody eyes shone brightly: "Your mother's name is Lucrecia and I'm not lying. Are you manly enough to accept the truth or are you just a coward hiding behind Jenova?"
Sephiroth suddenly stopped moving. His eyes glared, and air seemed to be ripping all around him: "What did you say?"
Vincent stared back: "I said, you are a coward! You think Jenova is the answer to your questions? How long do you think you could run? How far? I'm offering you a chance too see the truth, accept it if you still have common sense left in you!"
"Shut up!" Sephiroth snapped angrily, "I have found my truth, I have read the notes right down here, and I know the truth! As a Cetra, I have the right to take back what belongs to me, and my mother!"
"You are not a Cetra." Aeris took a step forward, trying to look calm although her heartbeat was louder than thunder. She barely managed to keep her tone even: "We Cetras have the duty to protect this Planet, if you are a true Cetra, you should have heard the Planet's pleading."
Sephiroth's cold stare turned on her, he smiled cruelly: "I see that you are a Cetra, but you are a traitor. I will take care of you."
"No, let us take care of you." Tifa took a step forward, clenching her fists, as Cloud readied his sword in Aeris's defense. Both of them burned with raw hatred: "You destroyed my home, Sephiroth, prepare to die."
Vincent stood in between, refusing to give up, "Sephiroth, put down your sword and "
"I told you to shut up, now looks like you need a little help on that!" Sephiroth brought his sword down at him.
~No, stop!~ A female voice cried out suddenly, ~Stop this, stop!~
Everyone, including Sephiroth, turned in alarm to search for the source of the voice, but Vincent's eyes widened in disbelief. Couldn't be, Couldn't be her! She is dead! " Lucrecia?" He whispered.
A pale blue light glowed out of nowhere as a form began to visualize. It was the image of a delicate woman, wearing a white dress as her long waves of brown hair flowed all around her.
Vincent stared at her, unable to utter a word. Was he going insane? Was he seeing illusions? It couldn't be yet she was as beautiful as he remembered; she even wore that familiar expression which haunted him many days and nights.
"Lucrecia!" He exclaimed, taking a step toward her, completely forgetting where he was.
Sephiroth allowed the man to move. He'd have killed him, but curiosity won over. "Who are you?" He demanded of the ghostly woman, "Why are you here?"
The woman turned to face him, tears began to stream down her pallid face: ~Sephiroth ~
"Who are you?" He demanded again, for some reason, his heart began to beat faster.
The woman extended a thin, almost transparent hand toward him: ~Sephiroth, I'm your mother ~
He took a step back in shock: "No! Can't be!"
Lucrecia sobbed, looking at Sephiroth through tears: ~Sephiroth, my dearest child, look at me, look at my eyes ~
Sephiroth stared into her eyes Green, her eyes were almost the same shade of green as his was, only not infused with Mako. He saw so much he never imagined possible for him to see in another's eyes, he felt a strange sense of warmth surrounding him, calling him. Spell bounded, he took two steps forward and hesitantly took Lucrecia's hand, as her other hand cupped his face
Cloud and his friends simply watched, awestruck. This is something none of them expected; none of them came here to witness a surging bond form between a mother and her lost son.
"Stop it!" Suddenly Sephiroth pulled away, anger flashed in his eyes, and he wore a grim smile that made Tifa swallow nervously.
Sephiroth hissed: "You have no right to touch me! You betrayed me, just like everyone else!"
Cloud tensed up again, and Aeris gasped. She saw a figure on top of Sephiroth's body Not on top exactly, but sort of overlapping with his body, smiling in triumph: Jenova!
The pale blue light surrounding Lucrecia's body grew brighter, her eyes burned with determination behind glasses.
~Monster. You will not take my son away from me, not this time.~ Lucrecia clenched her fists as rays of light swirled around her, she shouted mentally: ~Ancient, help me!~
Aeris felt something seeping into her mind some kind of knowledge, a key to awaken her hidden abilities. Compelled, she stepped forward with her arms wide open.
"Aeris!" Cloud reached out to snatch her, but an invisible wall blocked him out of her path. Terrified, he saw Tifa and Barret trying to do the same thing but failed.
Aeris walked toward Lucrecia, rays of golden light emerged and swirled around her body. Her light joined with Lucrecia's, Lucrecia opened her mouth, so did Aeris, and a song filled the air.
A melody of Life and Love It was powerful touching and holy.
Sephiroth's body shook violently; he simply stood there, with an expression of pure horror on his face.
"Stop! What are you doing to this body? Stop!" He cried in anger, but now even Cloud and Tifa could recognize, what they heard was the voice of Jenova.
~Sephiroth, my son Come to me ~ Lucrecia's voice was just as moving as the music, full of love, ~Come to me, my son ~
The image of Jenova overlapping with Sephiroth's body began to twist, Sephiroth cried out in pain, fell down on his knees.
~Sephiroth take my hand, I'll help you ~
Through blurry eyes, he saw Lucrecia looking down at him, extending a thin hand. Her green eyes were full of love and care. He gritted his teeth, ignoring the bolts of pain as he reached out to take her hand: "M Mother "
Their hands touched, a wave of warmth washed over him, his pain began to fade But the black shadow over his heart refused to give up, as he struggled to brake free. A little more, only if he had a little more of that warmth
"Take my hand too."
Startled, he saw it was the girl standing right next to his mother. She offered a small, glowing hand to him, her eyes closed as her hair danced wildly in the wind. She looked heavenly almost intimidating.
He reached out for her hesitantly, not sure if a creature like her was to be touched But she smiled and extended her hand a bit, and their fingers met.
The moment that happened, golden rays enveloped him. He closed his eyes and felt something leaving his heart He felt light.
Jenova shrilled in rage and hatred as her figure was twisted and violently torn apart.
~No! You can't do this to me! I'll kill you, Cetra bitch, I will kill you! No ~
Jenova's image faded away as she cursed violently, but she finally disappeared. Everything start to quiet down. Aeris's glow grew faint, finally died out, and the song stopped. She let go of Sephiroth's hand, the man collapsed in Lucrecia's arms.
"It is done." Aeris whispered, swaying from exhaustion. Vincent, who stood faithfully in the corner, leapt forward to catch her. She leaned against him, smiling but looked very pale.
~I thank you, Ancient.~ Lucrecia hugged Sephiroth tight, ~Thank you for helping me reclaim my son. I wish to talk to him now, if you will leave us.~
Aeris nodded: "Of course."
Vincent looked at her eagerly but uncertainly: "Lucrecia "
She looked back at him sadly but lovingly: ~Vincent I've missed you so. Stay here, my love, if you wish to.~
Aeris used her staff for support. After making sure she could stand by herself, Vincent let go of her, and she whispered: "We'll leave you alone now. Come to find us at the inn when you are ready."
Slowly she walked over to Cloud and others: "Let's go."
"Cloud, you promised." She smiled weakly.
" Yes, I promised." Cloud finally nodded, and scoop her up in his arms despite her complains.
"Let's get you to the inn." Cloud took one last look at Vincent, Lucrecia and the half-unconscious Sephiroth, and turned to lead his friends out: "C'mon. Other things can wait."
~Sephiroth, my son ~
He opened his eyes, dazed and overwhelmed: "Mother "
Lucrecia cried in joy: ~My son All these years, I finally get to see you, finally ~
Sephiroth eagerly gazed into Lucrecia's eyes, said in a quiet voice: "I searched for you, mother, I searched for you day and night but you were never there "
~I'm sorry I wanted to reach you, to hold you so bad but I was trapped here between worlds. I had to wait for you to come, and I almost lost hope ~ Lucrecia sobbed.
Vincent put a hand on her shoulder hesitantly: "Lucrecia What happened to you? Are you a spirit?"
~No I'm more like a phantom, I believe. The Jenova cells inside my body did something to me; I couldn't die completely, but couldn't reclaim my life either. I was trapped between worlds. The Cetra she has a special aura around her. If she didn't come with you, I wouldn't have been able to appear, no matter how much I wish to.~
Vincent was shocked beyond words, but so was Sephiroth.
"Jenova's cells? Mother, who am I really? How was I who am I?"
"Lucrecia, it's time to tell the truth." Vincent said softly, "It hurts, but I'm here with you."
~Vincent ~ Lucrecia took a deep breath, finally nodded: ~Sephiroth, listen to me, and listen well ~
~I was a scientist working for Shin-ra, and so was your father. Shortly after we were married, Shinra dug up Jenova's body from deep under. We were such ignorant fools! Unaware the Cetra sacrificed almost the entire race to trap Jenova underground, instead, we thought she was a Cetra, and brought the body back to the lab for further research.~
~Professor Gast was leading the research at that time, but your father became very obsessed. He didn't want to wait, he want to know the results right away. To do so, he convinced me to take injections of Jenova cells That's when I had you...~
Lucrecia's beautiful face was overflow with guilt as she sobbed quietly. Sephiroth stared at her, with disbelief and pure horror: "Then my father is "
~Hojo, your father is Hojo.~
"No!" He pulled away from her embrace, shocked and completely disgusted, "No, you are lying! He is not my father, can't be my father!"
"No " Sephiroth shook uncontrollably, as he recalled the pale, sickly looking man running tests on his body. He had always despised, even hated Hojo and he is his father.
"I hate you " Sephiroth whispered, glaring at Lucrecia, "I hate you all "
~I'm sorry ~
Her eyes begged him desperately for forgiveness, but he refused to look her way. Slowly he got up to his feet, stood facing the wall; he allowed rage to overwhelm him. He could almost see a reflection of Hojo's face on the wall, mocking him with that thin, cold smile. Of all men, why him?
"Damn!" He slammed his fist on the wall, a hole appeared. Never before had he hated his strength so, he continues to hit it with all he got.
"Damn you, why did you do this to me? Why?" His voice broke.
A pair of cold arms wrapped themselves around his waist. He tried to brake free, but Lucrecia refuse to let him go.
~I'm so sorry, Sephiroth, so sorry But I love you, I really do love you, with all my heart.~
Sephiroth stopped slamming the wall; he stood there, a little breathless and stiff as he allowed Lucrecia to hold him.
Vincent walks over and said in a calm voice: "Your mother did love you, Sephiroth. I was there, Lucrecia, she died calling your name and her last request of me was to look after you."
Sephiroth felt a lump in his throat. "A fine job you did." He said through gritted teeth, "Look at me! What a fine job you did!"
Vincent lowered his head in pain, Lucrecia hugged Sephiroth tighter: ~No, it's not Vincent's fault! Sephiroth, please don't hate him, or me No matter what you have done, I will always love you; I love you, my son, love you with all my heart, until I'm no more.~
Sephiroth broke down in her arms. Tears streamed down his face, but he didn't care. No one had ever hugged him before No one had held him the way she did, telling him she loves him.
"Mother " He lowered his head, tresses of silver hair covered his face, but Vincent could tell the man was going through a mental onslaught: "I'm sorry too, for what I have done "
Lucrecia smiled, stroke his hair tenderly: ~Sephiroth, it was not your fault, I must share the blame but you have to stop now, before it's too late.~
Sephiroth clenched his fists: "I will never go back to Jenova! She tricked me, and lied to me! Mother I I never intended to do such things But I "
Lucrecia nodded: ~You made a mistake, my son, and a horrible mistake. It was not your fault, but you must take responsibilities for what you did. Sephiroth, will you make me a promise?~
He hesitated for a brief second, then agreed: "Anything, mother, anything."
~The people who came to look for you, they are trying to save the Planet. Help them to accomplish their mission, help them defeat Jenova.~
Sephiroth looked at her in shock: "But mother they hate me! And rightly so They'll never let me join them! No one will."
~Don't say that, it's not true. They will accept you, maybe not right away, but in time they will, and Vincent will help you Won't you, my love?~
Vincent nodded: "I will try my best, Lucrecia."
~Sephiroth? Please, I know it's hard, but I want you to be happy ~
Happy? He' never knew what happiness was, and he will never know, not after all these years, not after all he has done. But seeing the pleading in Lucrecia's eyes, he gave away to her wish: "I will help them, mother, I promise."
~Thank you, now my heart will be at peace My power will not hold any longer, I must go.~
"No, mother! I just met you! Please, don't " He clung to her tighter, but her body start to fade in his arms.
~I must leave now, but remember, my love for you is always there, Sephiroth, I love you, and you too, Vincent ~
The man took her almost transparent hand, his voice broken: "Lucrecia "
~Vincent, I have never blamed you for what happened, please know that I love you And Sephiroth, protect the Cetra at all cost. She is the last hope for the Planet, and she has the power to help you find your answers ~
Lucrecia's body faded with a peaceful smile: ~I'm so happy I have the two of you, and your love with me, I'll never be lonely now Farewell ~
"Mother!" Sephiroth stared at his arms. A moment ago she was there and the next she's gone.
"Leave me." He said evenly, "I will go to Cloud shortly, but leave me now."
Vincent silently retreated. He has his own grief to deal with, his own wound to heal.
Finally there was complete silence in the old mansion. Sephiroth stood rigid, trying to remember every detail about Lucrecia. Her eyes, her smile, her tears. He remembers how she extended her hand toward him to save him from Jenova: Hold my hand
He stared at his gloved hands, as they began to tremble He didn't even get to touch her skin Didn't even get to tell her
"I love you." Sephiroth whispered. He clentched his fists and his jaw twitched. He should be on his way now. He made a promise to help Cloud Strife and the last Cetra. He should go He should go now
Sephiroth took two steps and stopped. The room was empty No one would see him, he he just want to spend a little more time over here in this place where he finally got to meet his mother
Slowly and quietly, he sat down on the floor, buried his head in his hands, and shed many tears for a love lost only too soon.
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