A Promise Kept Chapter 5
A New Ally?
"The decision is yours, Cloud." (Tifa)
"No, absolutely not!" Cloud clenched his fists in rage, as he stood opposite a weary Vincent.
"Sephiroth is no longer a threat, Lucrecia wanted him to "
"I don't give a damn what his mother told him!" Cloud said icily: "Look, I'll give you the benefit of a doubt that he's changed, and he can go on his separate way, wherever it leads him, I don't care. But I will not travel with him!"
Tifa nodded, standing beside Cloud with determination: "I agree. I do not want a killer in this group!"
"Ta beat the crap outta Jenova is hard enough, I don't wanna havta watch my back 't same time." Barret muttered.
Vincent glanced around almost helplessly. Sephiroth would come soon, and this was not looking good at all. The only ones who hadnt spoken yet were Red XIII and Aeris. Red XIII sat by Aeris's bed looking after her, clearly not interested in getting involved. Aeris lie limply on the bed, eyes closed and looking very pale. She might not have heard the conversation at all. Even if she did, Vincent had little hope that she would speak for Sephiroth and go against the wish of her friends.
"Please Cloud "
"No." He said flatly.
The room fell silent. Suddenly, a knock on the door was heard, and everyone tensed up.
"There he comes." Cloud said quietly. Barret moved forward to open the door, Tifa edged closer to Cloud, both of them ready for an assault. Even Red lifted his head warily, as if defending Aeris.
Sephiroth stood at door, Vincent saw all traces of emotion had disappeared from his face, he once again wore the mask of a cold SOLDIER, the only difference was that the insanity had left his Mako eyes.
"Yeah, what do you want?" Barret sneered, trying to sound as brave as possible, although his palms sweated.
"I came to talk." Sephiroth said evenly, there weren't a trace of emotion in his voice either.
Cloud only glared at him, barely able to suppress the hatred in his eyes: "There's nothing to talk about."
"There is." Sephiroth said, suddenly sounding very much like the general Cloud used to know before the Nibelheim accident, "For one thing, Jenova is much stronger than you could imagine, and Shinra is up to no good I came to offer my help, and you need help, Cloud Strife, you know it."
Cloud gritted his teeth: "Maybe. But I certainly don't need any help from you, murderer. What are you going to do? Help me get gutted while I sleep?"
Sephiroth's eyes flashed with anger: "My mother asked me to look after your sorry ass, and I agreed, but don't think I can't kick it myself."
Tifa took a step forward: "Oh yeah? Then why don't you give it a try?"
"Tifa please " Vincent tried to interfere.
"You are welcome to test your luck." Sephiroth mocked.
"F*&^ you! I'd blow up your f*&^ing ass and shove it in your mouth!" Barret shouted in rage.
"Barret! This is really not the place to " Red XIII said.
Sephiroth advanced a step: "You've been warned "
"I can say the same thing to you, you "
Everyone turned in surprise. Aeris slowly climbed out of her bed, barely able to support herself.
Cloud, Tifa and Barret averted her eyest. They completely forgot about Aeris. If they start a fight right now, Aeris would surely be harmed in her weakened state. Seeing her, even Sephiroth loosened his grip on the Masamune, if only a little.
Aeris walked straight up to Cloud: "Cloud, please control yourself I need to ask Sephiroth something."
"Aeris, he's a "
"Cloud, I have to ask." Aeris ignored his protest and advanced forward, standing right in front of Sephiroth calmly: "Sephiroth, I want to know something."
"Jenova What is her plan? What exactly is she going to do?"
Sephiroth shook his head slowly: "I don't know the exact plan I don't remember." He looked at Aeris, and she, she alone detected a great pain in his eyes: "My mind had been in a chaotic state for the last five years, I'm no longer able to put the pieces back together "
Aeris suddenly wanted to hug him and comfort him like she always does to others, but a part of her remembered what he did in the Shinra headquarter and was still very afraid of him. Therefore She didn't make a move, only did her best to smile at him comfortingly: "Give it time, you will be fine."
"I don't know what Jenova is planning to do, but I do remember one thing: She wants you dead, Ancient, she asked me to kill you."
She heard sharp gasps behind her, and she could sense the alarm and rage of her friends, but somehow the news didn't surprise her very much. She only nodded, still looking at Sephiroth in the eyes, she asked quietly: "Why didn't you? You had the chance."
" I didn't want to. I told her I would wait." Sephiroth replied evenly, "I don't know why, but I didn't want to kill you, Ancient, and I will not harm you in the future. My mother asked me to protect you."
Cloud sneered behind her: "The only protection she need is for you to stay away from her, killer."
"What did you "
"Cloud!" Aeris turned to face him almost desperately: "I think we should sit down and talk this over."
"There is nothing to talk about. Aeris, you don't understand." Tifa said icily.
"No Tifa, Aeris is right. We will need all the help we could get." Surprisingly, it was Red who spoke up this time.
Vincent nodded, it was clear whose side he is on.
The room fell silent. Although they didn't know each other for that long, everyone had come to respect Red XIII's intelligence, not to mention their trust in Aeris.
Aeris's emerald eyes focused on Cloud's face. Their gazes locked in an intense contest of will. Finally Cloud looked away: "Alright, we'll talk about this Us, not including him."
Aeris nodded and turned back to Sephiroth: "Will you please excuse us for a minute?"
Sephiroth shrugged indifferently and walked out, closing the door behind him.
"Aeris, this is too dangerous, I can't agree to your suggestion." Cloud said in a tight voice.
"But with Jenova and Shinra, we do need all the help we can get." Aeris reminded him softly, "And you have to admit, Sephiroth would be a strong ally."
"If indeed he would be an ally." Tifa raised a brow, "But I don't think so. He seems more like an enemy in disguise to me."
"Looking wicked as ever." Barret added his opinion.
Vincent shook his head: "He is changed. I was there after you left Lucrecia made him promise to fight Jenova."
Cloud snorted: "I'll be damned if I trust his words."
"I don't think you are being fair, Cloud." Red XIII said, "We didn't stay until the end, but I saw the way he acted when Lucrecia talked to him. Personally, I think he deserves a chance."
"Maybe, but I'm not taking my chances." Cloud shook his head, his blue eyes shone brightly with hatred, "He burnt down my hometown and killed my family!"
"Physically, he is responsible, but I'd say you have to settle that score with Jenova and Hojo." Red shook his head, "How would you feel if you grew up wondering who you really are, and one day you found out all your life had been nothing but a lab experiment, a damned lie?"
"But he "
"He didn't handle his problems too well, I agree, but it's hardly his fault."
"Not his fault? Then whose fault is it?" Tifa clenched her fists, "I suppose my father deserved to die because he was stupid enough to step in Sephiroth's path?"
"Tifa " Aeris put a hand on her shoulder. She tried to snatch away, but Aeris won't let her go: "Tifa, I know how you feel, my parents were killed too, and I hated Shinra ever since. But Jenova controlled Sephiroth; he was a victim too. How do you think he feels right now? He had been a puppet all these years, did murderous deeds, all for a monster ultimately responsible for the death of his real mother. If you were in his shoes, wouldn't you wish for a chance to pay back too? Wouldn't you want a chance?"
"I " Tifa found it hard to deny. She hated Sephiroth, hated Shinra, those were the reasons why she joined AVALENCHE in the first place. But today she was there she saw with her own eyes how Sephiroth struggled desperately to fight Jenova and to reach Lucrecia. She saw the way he broke down in Lucrecia's arms and she found it hard to hate him the same way she hated him before.
Vincent spoke quietly: "Cloud, please consider. I give you my word Sephiroth is sincere, you can take my life if he isn't."
Cloud looked around. Red XIII nodded to him, Barret averted his eyes, Aeris smiled encouragingly at him, and finally his eyes fell on Tifa. She was a direct victim of Sephiroth's actions too, and he felt she had just as much saying in this as he did.
Their eyes met for moments, finally Tifa looked away first and said quietly: "I will not object if you let him in. You are the leader, the decision is yours, Cloud."
Sephiroth sat downstairs in the bar, with his hand on Masamune's hilt, his fingers tracing it mindlessly. He had to fight hard to calm down his raging emotions, forcing himself to resume coolness in front of Cloud, but he knew it would be days before he could recover or perhaps he never will. There were too much chaos, too much confusion and insanity occupying his mind for the last five years, Jenova had torn his life to worthless shreds but then again, he never knew himself really
He heard footsteps coming his way. Sephiroth lifted his head warily to see Cloud coming toward him, with everyone else behind him.
He stood up.
Cloud came up to him: "All right, Sephiroth, you can come with us. But let me make this clear: I don't trust you we dont trust you. One false move and you'll regret ever tricking us Its a promise."
Sephiroth only snorted at the younger man.
Cloud glared at him: "All right, we are moving out. If you didn't change your mind, come with us." He starts to lead them out and muttered under his breath: "But I wish you wouldn't."
Sephiroth didn't say anything. Instead he quietly picked up Masamune and followed. He was a bit surprised when the Ancient girl slowed down to walk beside him, and she gave him a warm smile: "Welcome to the party. We appreciate your help, Sephiroth."
"Doesn't look like it." He said flatly, but his tone wasn't harsh.
Aeris sighed softly: "Give Cloud and Tifa some time Sephiroth, it's hard for all of us, but I for one do appreciate your being here."
" Thank you." Finally he said, looking away.
Aeris sensed that was the end of their conversation. She nodded and quickened her pace to catch up with Cloud and Tifa, leaving Vincent and Sephiroth to bring up the rear, each silent and dwelled in their own thoughts.
"Cloud, where are we going?" Aeris asked him quietly.
"Rocket Town. When you were resting at the inn, we overheard a conversation. Shinra is up to something in Rocket Town, and I dont want to miss it."
Tifa sighed: "I wonder what Rufus is up too. When we were in Midgar, we knew how his pop thinks, which made it easier to do our job But Rufus was in Junon all these years, he's still hard to predict right now."
Cloud wore a troubled expression: "From what we saw in Junon. I'd say Rufus seems to be fond of using military means Which means he probably won't use money to buy people's loyalty like his old man did, he's more likely to demand loyalty."
Aeris nodded: "I think you are right but it's Hojo who I'm really worried about."
Tifa sound surprised: "Hojo? He's a freak, but he is only the head of the science department, what are you worrying about?"
"I don't know, but I have a feeling he's up to something something big." Aeris lowered her head and swallowed nervously: "I've been to the lab I was in the lab, and what Hojo does over there I think even the President was not aware of some of the things he did."
Cloud nodded thoughtfully: "I did notice the lab had some quiet unusual equipment, and we did meet a Hojo clone and his lab monster in Costa del Sol."
"When I was captured, they fed me drugs and injected me with virus to give me a fever, so I wasn't really as observing as I intended to be, but I did overhear and saw some of the things they were doing. Jenova cells and cloning weren't the only thing Hojo was playing with, he was also cross breeding monsters and animals and and " Aeris suddenly seemed very upset, as if she wanted to cry.
Tifa was alarmed: "Aeris, what is it?"
Aeris stole a look at the rest of the party, the three of them are quiet ahead of the others. Red XIII and Barret were about fifteen feet behind them, and were talking, Vincent and Sephiroth walked further behind. It was impossible for them to overhear anything. Turning back, she whispered: "I heard Hojo Red XIII and I were both the last of an extinct race, and he wanted to breed our our " She covered her face, not able to utter another word.
Tifa gasped, hugging Aeris's shoulder tightly with pity and disgust on her face: "That god damned son of a "
Cloud's face went pale with rage, his expression murderous: "I swear, I'll tear that bastard up with my own bare hands!"
Aeris forced a smile: "I'm alright. You guys came in time, Hojo didn't have a chance to do anything yet and now knowing how Red understands human language, I'm certainly glad he was unconscious at that time."
Cloud nodded, his expression still icy: "I'm glad I made it in time. I'm your bodyguard, if anything happened to you I "
Aeris gently placed a hand on his arm: "I knew I could count on you, I trust you."
The hardness in his eyes softened a bit: "Thank you, Aeris I'll make Hojo pay, I swear."
Tifa murmured an agreement: "I can't wait to go back to Shinra and beat the crap out of that asshole."
Aeris smiled, feeling glad she had friends like these two. Looking at the road ahead, she asked curiously: "How far do we have to go?"
"Quiet some distance. The Nibel Mountains are just ahead, " Tifa pointed, "but I hope we can get to the other side before dark."
"Why such a hurry?"
"Nibel wolves." Cloud told her, "If we camp in the mountains, we might bump into a pack, besides other things."
Aeris swallowed visibly: " Wolves?"
"Don't worry too much, even if we have to camp in the mountains, they shouldn't be too hard to deal with, just bunch of overgrown dogs." Tifa said.
"Overgrown dogs with sharp claws and bad temper, or so I've heard." Aeris muttered.
Tifa laughed: "Aeris, you are not afraid, are you?"
She blushed slightly: "No, of course not! It's just I've never seen wolves before. They don't exactly live anywhere close to Midgar."
"I forgot, you've been in Midgar all your life." Tifa shook her head, "I don't know how did you manage to do that, I'd go crazy. In fact, I'll never go back to live in Midgar, ever again."
"I guess I don't mind that much, as long as I'm with the people I care about." Aeris said softly.
"You are way too idealistic." Tifa sighed, "Then again, I guess you can manage it fine. For one thing, you got flowers to grow in your garden, pretty amazing."
"I had help." Aeris smiled warmly, remembering how surprised she was when Tseng came to the church to see her, bringing soil and flower seeds with him. She remembered hugging him and kissing him on the cheek, overcame by joy. Ever since then her life brightened up as the flowers started to bloom.
She never told anyone about her friendship with Tseng, this was the only secret she kept from Cloud and Tifa. He was very special in her heart, for some reason she didn't want to share this with anybody. True ee was the leader of Turks, and they hunted her down, but she never blamed Tseng. He was only doing his job, besides, in Midgar slums where the sun never shone; he brought sunlight into her life.
Aeris sighed softly, hoping she wiould see him again someday. Hope by then, they wouldn't be forced to stand on the opposite sides anymore But wiould she live that long?
"We are here." Tifa said, glancing at the mountains. It was just the way she remembered Nothing had changed, nothing except her life. She felt insignificance overcame her heart: How fragile and mere human lives really were!
Aeris looked a bit intimidated: "I wish they sold mountain gears and ropes back there."
"They used to. But this new Nibelheim " Tifa couldn't help but shot a cold glance toward Sephiroth before she continued, "Apparently Shinra doesn't want people to get near the mountain area."
Cloud nodded, surveying the area expertly: "I think I still remember the easier way up. That one has only one dangerous section, but if we stay close to each other, it should not be a problem."
Aeris nodded, looking at her staff with a slightly amused smile: "Someday I have to thank Ts my friend. He convinced me to choose staff as my weapon. Yeah, it sure does help we I travel on road but this is really gonna be fun when I have to climb!"
Cloud gave her a smile: "Want me to carry it for you?"
"No, I can manage. You would look pretty silly with a Prism Staff." She chuckled, "C'mon, lead the way."
"Alright, let's go." Cloud gestured for all of them to follow.
After an hour of climbing, Aeris felt as if her knees are turning into water. She was never very athletic, and the battle earlier with Jenova had drained her almost completely.
Securing her footing, Aeris stole a look at the black figure down below. Sephiroth was climbing seven or eight feet behind her, the whole thing did not seem very difficult for him, his movements were easy and graceful.
Aeris sighed, envying his energy. He went through the ordeal too, and he suffered more than she did, not only physically but mentally as well, yet he seems fully recovered.
Tifa, who climbed with her, heard her sigh and gave her a quick smile: "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Sure you don't want Cloud to hold your staff for you? It does seem a bit troublesome in a situation like this."
"I can manage, really." She looked slightly irritated, "Tifa, I'm not weak "
Aeris never got to finish her sentence. Suddenly, a shadow appeared overhead, approaching her with great speed. She didnt even have time to see clearly what it was, when a voice shouted Comet!
The next thing she knew, Sephiroth shielded her with his body, Masamune clashed with the powerful talons of a red dragon.
The others saw what was happening and immediately came to her rescue too, but it was unnecessary, for Sephiroth mercilessly threw one powerful spell after another on the dragon, soon it was at the end of its life.
With its last ounce of strength, the dragon swung its tail at the other Avalanche members, and then, letting out a horrible cry, it hit the ground and stopped moving.
Sephiroth sheathed his Masamune and turned to face Aeris: Are you alright?
Y yes, thank you. She looked at him with something close to pure awe, You saved my life
He shifted his gaze uncomfortable and replied curtly: Think nothing of it.
Mainwhile, Cloud's brows furrowed upon seeing Tifa sitting on the ground, with a look of pain on her face. Tifa?
The girl gave him a weak smile: Dammit, I think I twisted my ankle.
"Let me take a look." He bent down and immediately saw her left ankle was twisted into an awkward position. He grabbed it gently, "Damn, this is gonna hurt "
"Just go ahead." She said, smiling at him bravely.
Cloud took a deep breath and bent her foot into the right position. Tifa cried out in agony, Cloud's face twitched visibly at her scream.
"Here, let me help!" Aeris had recovered herself by then. She rushes to Tifa's side and cast Cure3 on her ankle.
"How do you feel now?" Aeris asked, looking equally pale as Tifa.
She smiled: "It doesn't hurt anymore. Thanks."
Aeris nodded, examining her foot which was no longer twisted in that awkward position: "I can stop the pain, but I can't heal it with my power You won't be able to walk for at least a day."
Tifa frowned, casting a questioning glance at Cloud.
"We'll camp on the top, which is only fifty feet away from here." He announced.
"It's alright. Rocket Town isn't going anywhere." He told her evenly.
She nodded and bit her lip: "I'm sorry "
Aeris smiled brightly at her: "No Tifa, I'm exhausted anyway. I'd rather face the wolf pack then climb down the mountain today."
Barret muttered an agreement, looking at Cloud: "Yeah, ya arrogant SOLDIER asses we ain't no trainees, ya know?"
Cloud shrugged: "I can understand why Aeris is tired but Barret You need more exercise."
He snapped: "*&&^%! Are you calling me fat you spiky ass?"
Cloud shrugged again with his face straight: "I didn't say that."
Ignoring Barret's swear, he turned to Tifa: "Here, climb onto my back, I'll carry you up there."
"W What?" She stuttered, blushing.
Aeris giggled lightly: "Well Tifa, you have to get up there one way or the other, don't you? And I think you are just a bit too large for Red to give you a ride."
Tifa sighed; realizing this was truly the only option. Red was not matured fully, she was just a bit too heavy for him. Barret had his gun-arm hindering the climbing already, Vincent's huge claw was equally burdensome. Aeris certainly wouldnt be able to support her, and she'd rather die than to let Sephiroth carry her.
Still blushing severely, Tifa climbed onto Cloud's back, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.
"All set?" He asked quietly.
She nodded, lowering her head to hide her burning cheeks as Cloud start climbing again.
Tifa laid her head against his shoulder gently, her eyes closed. This felt so much like their childhood . She remembered the young boy sitting beside her on the well, making a promise to protect her always. Now the boy has grown into a handsome man but it looks like he was still keeping his promise.
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