A Promise Kept Chapter 6
"I'm all yours, baby." (Reno)
By the time they started to set up the camp, it was almost dark. Red XIII and Barret went to hunt, Cloud went to fetch water, meanwhile Aeris was busy setting up their tents for them. Vincent and Sephiroth were setting up their own, Sephiroth set his in the furthest corner of their campground that it was almost out of sight. Certainly he was aware of the fact that he was not exactly welcomed by others.
"Aeris, you don't look so good, are you sure you are alright?" Tifa asked her with concern.
She laughed: "Hey, thought I should be asking you this question! I'm fine, really, just a bit exhausted."
By then Vincent finished with his tent and came over: "Aeris, need any help?"
"Yeah, could you set up Cloud's and Barret's tents for them? They should be back soon, and I need to start the fire."
He nodded and went to work immediately. Aeris gave him a smile and walked over to Sephiroth.
He was leaning on a tree looking passive. His face was blank, but Aeris could sense an aura of painful loneliness around him. She approached him gingerly, still a little bit afraid but not as scared of him as before: "Hmm Sephiroth?"
"Yes?" He turned to her, his voice cold and emotionless.
Aeris spoke softly: "I'm preparing dinner now, could you maybe help me gather some woods please?"
He nodded, and went off without saying a word.
Aeris watched him go and muttered to herself: "I'll take that as a yes?"
With a soft sigh, she gathered some rocks and started arranging them into a circle. Barret and Red XIII should return soon, she would be ready by then.
When Barret and Red XIII returned with food, they were surprised to see Aeris kneeling in front of a small stone circle. Sephiroth was on his knees right next to her, putting woods in the center and helping her light the fire.
Red XIII grinned and whispered: "Hmm He surprises me again. Now I'd say he's a pretty nice guy. Gloomy, but nice."
"My ass." Barret gave him an evil look before approaching Aeris.
Cloud returned last. It was hard to find a stream in the mountain, but luckily he did found one and got everyone sufficient water supply.
They ate dinner around the campfire in silence. Although Sephiroth sat further away from the fire than anyone else, his presence itself was like a shadow hanging overhead. No one was in the mood to speak. In the past when they were down, Aeris would try to cheer them up, but today she was really exhausted to the point of nearly collapsing, she barely had the strength to keep her eyes open.
Red XIII noticed that and moved closer to her, touching her hand lightly with his nose.
"Huh? What?" She blinked.
"Go get some sleep Aeris, you look like you are going to double over." Red told her.
She yawned: "I believe I am. All right, I'm gonna " She froze in the middle of her sentence when she heard a howl in distance. "Err What was that?"
"Shit!" Cloud jumped, "A wolf pack! Quick, we have to "
"Too late." Vincent told him, listening intensely, "They are heading this way!"
"*&^%$#%&$^!" Barret got to his feet all the while swearing fluently, "Now what the hell do we do?"
"We deal." Cloud said, grabbed his sword and walked over to Tifa to protect her, who sat there looking annoyed with herself.
Sephiroth remained a distance away from the group, although he pulled Masamune out of its sheath.
The wolf pack was upon the group before they had much time to prepare.
Cloud swung his heavy sword with ease, instantly wounding two vicious beasts severely, but the others seem unimpressed, for they leapt at the party eagerly.
Barret and Vincent shot at the pack with massive bullets, Red XIII leapt onto a large wolf's back and began to attack with his claws. The three of them were under the heaviest attack. Aeris stood slightly behind as three wolves cornered her.
She didn't give them a chance to get too close. "Bolt!" Lighting struck target, instantly killing one that was about to leap onto her. The others growled and advanced toward her with sharp claws. Aeris dodged their attacks, swinging her staff the main time. Her staff smacked one in midair, sending the beast flying to the side. She quickly dodged again, as the other wolf's claw tearing through the rim of her dress, barely missing her flash.
Aeris winced and brought her staff around, delivering a heavy blow on the creature's head. It growled, swaying for a moment then finally fell, unable to move anymore.
Just as Aeris breath out a sigh of relief, she heard Tifa scream her name. A flash of metal caught the corner of her eye, she turned around in alarm, just in time to see Masamune claim the life of a huge wolf that was about to jump onto her.
Aeris gulped. She didn't hear it coming at all. If it got to her she would at least be knocked unconscious and she didn't even want to think about what could have been worse.
"Th Thank you." She stammered. How many times had he saved her already? Three? Four?
Sephiroth nodded and looked around warily. They killed about half of the pack; the rest started to retreat and soon were out of sight. He sheathed his Masamune.
Red XIII looked around, exhausted: "We've got some cleanup to do."
"Damn it! The hell with those f*&^ing *&^%!" Barret groaned.
Cloud walks over to Aeris: "Are you all right?"
"I'm alright." She grimaced, looking at her tattered dress, "I think I need to get new clothing once we get to town."
He nodded: "No problem. Hey, you and Tifa go to sleep, we'll take care of the cleanup."
Aeris was too tired to protest, she agreed: "Thanks See you tomorrow then, I guess. Good night Cloud."
"Good night." He watched as she walked over to Tifa, helping the other woman into her tent. Moments later Aeris walked out, waved at him and then dodged into her own tent. Cloud stared for a moment, then turned around to start working on cleaning up.
It was the first time in many years that Aeris had slept without a single dream. The deep sleep restored her energy, she woke up very early the next morning, feeling refreshed.
Aeris yawned with a long stretch, then she sat up and put on her jacket and boots. As she walked out of her tent, a rush of morning wind chilled her, sweeping away the last trace of sleepiness. Aeris wrapped her jacket around her a little tighter, and then finally noticed the lone figure sitting by the dying fire.
It was none other but Sephiroth. Apparently the ex-General had already finished a morning exercise, judging from his sweaty forehead. He seemed to be deep in thoughts, as he stares at the dying sparks, his green eyes glowed in an almost eerie way. Aeris stood there, not sure if he was to be disturbed.
Suddenly he lifted his head, turning her way with a questioning gaze. Realizing she had been staring at him unconsciously, Aeris blushed in embarrassment and stuttered: "Um Good morning Sephiroth I'm sorry I distracted you."
"It's all right." He told her and turned his gaze back to the ashes.
Aeris hesitated for a moment, then walked over and asked softly: "May I sit down?"
He looked at her for a moment and then nodded with a light snort. She took a seat beside him, but with enough distance between them so that he wouldn't feel being invaded. Noticing she shivered from the morning chill, he threw some woods on the ashes and with a fire spell brought the flames back to life.
Aeris was surprised by his act of kindness, but she didn't voice it, instead thanked him with a bright smile.
After a moment of silence, Aeris didn't feel nervous anymore. She had heard about Sephiroth's murderous deeds from Cloud and Tifa, she had witnessed the brutal deaths he caused in Shinra Headquarters. She was very scared and disgusted by him at one point, not very long ago. Yet now sitting beside him, she felt no danger. Aeris remembered yesterday, when she helped Lucrecia battle Jenova to free Sephiroth, he touched her hand In that brief moment she was granted an entrance to his soul. She found anger, despair, horror, loneliness, confusion, honor, pride but there was no evil, free from Jenova's control, the man himself was not evil.
Aeris closed her eyes as her body gradually relaxed. She opened up her mind, and allowed herself to dwell in the eternal wailing of the Planet.
Sephiroth looked at her, drawn by her expression. She just sat there, eyes closed, as if listening to something only she could hear.
It was the first time he really looked at her, and he realized just how beautiful she actually was. Yesterday when she helped him brake free from Jenova's control, in his half-delirious state he thought she was an angel
He was amazed and confused by the peaceful expression on her delicate face. He could tell that she was completely at ease, and that puzzled himall the more. When he was a general, people respected him and feared him; after he went insane, the looks he received were much nastier, although mostly were still in fear. He found it completely beyond comprehension why this young woman beside him just closed her eyes and dwelled in whatever she was thinking, not even slightly wary.
When the clouds in the sky turned red and orange, Aeris opened her eyes and smiled. She met his gaze almost cheerfully: "The sun is about to come up. I got up early because I want to watch it rise."
"The sun rises and falls everyday." He commented indifferently, although he was surprised that he was actually conversing with Aeris. He usually didn't talk to people unless it was absolutely necessary.
Aeris laughed: "Yes But I've lived all my life in Midgar, I've never seen the sun in the past twenty one years of my life, so it still brings me awe."
"I traveled around on assignments ever since I was fifteen, but I never took notice of such things. Sun is just a sun." He told her quietly. Usually he felt awkward in such casual conversations, but with this woman it seemed almost natural.
She chuckled: "Well, I guess girls tend to get more sentimental over things like that "
They silently watched the rising sun for a minute, then Aeris said in a whisper: "When I was little, no one would talk to me except my stepmother. Everyone thought I was well, weird. But mother always comforted me. She told me all kinds of stories about life outside Midgar. She told me one day I would be able to get out there, and see the sun " Aeris smiled in content, "She was right, it is beautiful "
Sephiroth stared at her face: "You were lonely when you were a child?" It was hard to believe. She seemed to be one of the most talkative in this group.
Aeris laughed, but her voice was a little sad: "Back then I didn't know how to be diplomatic, I told people whatever that came to my mind, talked about the Planet and everything, so people stayed away from me." She looked at him shyly and ventured, "What about you, Sephiroth? How was your childhood?"
He shrugged, his gaze turned a little bit colder than usual: "There's nothing to talk about. I grew up in Shinra Headquarters, life was always the same everyday."
"I'm sorry " Aeris said softly, "It must've been awful."
"What do you " Before he had a chance to finish, footsteps were heard from Cloud's tent, and Sephiroth fell silent.
Cloud stood in front of his tent, glared at the scene for a minute, then finally walked over: "Aeris, go wake up Tifa please, see if she's able to travel today."
She nodded and got up to her feet. Cloud turned without looking at Sephiroth, he approached Barret's tent. Yelling in a voice louder than usual: "Barret, stop snoring and get up!"
After sometime, it was Red XIII and Vincent who walked out of their tents first, then Tifa came out of hers, with an arm around Aeris's neck for support.
Cloud rushed to her side: "How are you feeling?"
"I'm ok, a little stiff I guess, but I can manage." Tifa assured him with a smile.
Cloud nodded: "Good, then we'll head for Rocket Town as planned."
Looking around, he frowned as snorts continued from Barret's tent: "Barret! Get your lazy ass up, now!"
"Shut da f*&^ up spiky ass! The hell with your *&^%$ "
Cloud shook his head and walked away, ignoring Barret's comments that followed. He stood beside Aeris and told her: "Just west of here is a cavern, it leads to the base of the mountain, we'll head for there after breakfast."
Inside the cavern it was dark and moist. The group traveled quietly. Sephiroth took the lead since Cloud wanted to help Tifa. Aeris walked beside Sephiroth, holding a green materia in her hand, the dim light coming from it illuminated the way for them. Cloud and Tifa were next in line, followed by Barret and Red XIII and finally Vincent brought up the rear as usual.
"It's quiet in here." Aeris whispered. She tried to keep her footsteps light, but it still produced a hollow echo as she walked.
Cloud replied evenly: "It's quiet, doesn't mean it's safe."
"There might be monsters waiting for us in the dark." Vincent added from the back.
Barret grumbled: "Lovely. You are such a pleasant company to keep."
After a few turns, they came to another opening where they suddenly heard a low humming. To the right was a s door where dim green lights escaped.
"What is that?" Aeris asked.
The moment she asked that question, she sensed a tension building around both Sephiroth and Cloud. Finally Cloud answered her: "That's a Mako fountain. I've been here five years ago."
"Oh " She lowered her head, knowing she just asked an oversensitive question.
"Watch out!" Sephiroth suddenly grabbed her wrists and without warning, pulling her with such force that she stumbled and landed on the floor. She let out a small scream as a ghostly white wing brushed past her, shrilling angrily as it missed its target.
Sephiroth brought his sword down oh the creature before it had chance to make another sound. Masamune sliced the creature in half; it struggled for a minute longer than finally dissolved into thin air.
"What the hell was that?" Barret shouted.
"Garuda." Sephiroth replied calmly, offering a hand to the shaking Aeris on the ground: "Are you alright?"
"I I'm fine." She got up to her feet, a little dazed.
"Now just what the hell is a Garuda?" Barret demanded.
"A monster that attacks in its spiritual form, drains spiritual energy off living creatures, that's how they survive." Sephiroth sheathed his sword.
"Let's get the hell out of here." Cloud murmured, following Sephiroth and Aeris down the path. Seeing the Mako Fountain again brought back old memories the painful past. He felt his rage against Sephiroth rising again; he had to gather every bit of his reasoning ability to calm it down. Although he hated Sephiroth with all his heart, he had to admit, having him in the party had advantages. Deep down, he knew that he was not strong enough to confront Jenova, not yet
"Cloud, you alright?" He heard Tifa asking him softly.
"Oh, I'm fine." He snapped out of it, "I was just tired."
"I can see the exit now, it's just ahead." Tifa told him.
"Yeah, I see it too." He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He should concentrate on their current missions now, before he drives himself nuts with revenge
Once they got out of the cavern, the group took a brief moment trying to adjust to being in the sun once again. Sephiroth sat on a rock silently, his expression more troubled than usual.
Vincent sat quietly polishing his gun, when Aeris approached him with a smile: "Are you alright?"
He lifted his head in mild surprise: "Yes, why do you ask?"
"You are really quiet since yesterday." She hesitated for a minute, then asks softly, "Thinking about Lucrecia?"
He was stunned by how observant the young woman is. After a moment, he nodded slowly: "Yes, I've been thinking about Lucrecia.
I"'ve never stopped thinking about her actually But now it's different She forgave me Aeris It meant a lot more than words could express, and I've been thinking about my life "
"You don't know what to do?"
"No I don't." He admitted, "She told me she had never blamed me for what happened, and that she loved me. It's like lifting a burden but then I was left empty."
He had not spoken to anyway about his feelings not in a long time. But this Cetra woman was different. she was wise. Not to say she is the most intelligent person he had ever met, but she was wise beyond her years. He looked at her: "What should I do, Aeris? No matter what they say, I'm still a monster What is the purpose of me?"
Aeris smiled in her usual way: "That is for you to determine, Vincent. No one could determine who you are or what you live for, no one but yourself. If you keeping searching, you will find an answer."
"I don't think I'll ever be who I want to be "
"Well, who do you want to be?" She raised an eyebrow questioningly.
Vincent fell silent. Suddenly he realized, he had no answer to that question.
Aeris nodded: "Like I said, keep searching and you will find the answer. I'm on a search too, that's why I decided to join Cloud and get out of Midgar."
"Did you find it?" He asked quietly.
"No, but I hope I will."
"Aeris, Vincent, we are moving!" Cloud yelled at them, the rest of the group was already on their way down the path.
"Cloud is yelling a lot more these days." Aeris commented neutrally and quickened her pace to catch up with the others.
The way down was fairly smooth. Tifa and Aeris required assistance over a few ledges, but otherwise everyone managed fine, by midday they arrived at Rocket town.
It was a nice quiet town, there were only a few people on the streets, probably most were at work or enjoying lunch.
"Looks like we beat Shinra. They are not here yet." Tifa relaxed a bit.
Cloud looked around and frowned thoughtfully: "I wonder what Shinra could possibly want with such a small town."
"Whatta hell's dat?" Barret pointed at a tall landmark in the back of the town.
"A rocket. Yeas ago Shinra had developed this space program, but for some reason it didn't succeed. The town was named after the rocket." Cloud told him, and then addressed the whole group: "Where should we start?"
"I think we should talk to the authority over here. The townspeople may not know much, but surely the people who run this town should have an idea." Tifa suggested.
Cloud nodded: "Good call. All right, here's the plan: Tifa and I will ask around, the rest of you go to the inn and rent some room. We need a decent rest, and some more supplies."
"Talk 'bout it. Still got blood on my cloth." Barret looked at the blood sting from last night's fight with disgust.
He reminded Aeris of her own problem: "Oh, I need to get a new dress to replace this one, I'll meet you guys back at the inn."
"Be careful then." Cloud told her, "We'll see you later."
Aeris went to the only cloth shop in town. After a few minutes of browsing through, she picked out a light pink cotton dress that was similar in to the one she was wearing. Aeris examined it closer, satisfied with it, she paid the price and left.
She was only two or three blocks from the inn when she sensed someone approaching her from behind. She turned around warily, and let a small gasp escape her lips: "Reno!"
The red-headed Turks waved at her cheerfully: "Well, how ya doing?"
"Good until now anyway." She looked around for an escape desperately. She was this close to safety And where were Cloud and Tifa?
Reno grinned: "Oh, don't worry my darling, I'm off duty today."
Aeris let out a sigh of relief, returned his grin more sincerely: "What bring you here? Where's Tseng?"
"I got an assignment for tomorrow, and no, your sweetheart is not coming But I'm all yours, baby."
Aeris blushed slightly: "Tseng is not my sweetheart you crack-head!"
He laughed: "Of course not."
Aeris was about to hit him, but he dodged. She struck again with her staff; he parried easily and returned a blow. Aeris block it and the two of then went on for a few rounds. Fortunately they were in a dark alley, which helped to avoid too much attention. Those who noticed saw the laughter on both their faces, and decided it's only a play between the two.
"Not bad, not bad at all. You are improving." Reno said after they finally came to a halt. Aeris was a little breathless, but Reno didn't seem to be tiring at all.
She grinned: "Well that was a good exercise, thanks Reno."
"Anything for a pretty lady. I'm gonna go get more drinks . I presume you are staying in town?"
"Be careful then. Psycho woman and her Kya haha are coming tomorrow, you and your friends better watch out."
She gave him a puzzled look: "What psycho woman and kya haha?"
He grinned: 'You'll see what I mean. Tomorrow then, see ya."
Aeris watched him leave, then finally with a shrug, she turned the opposite direction and headed back to the inn.
"Where's Aeris?" Cloud asked when they got back.
Red XIII shrugged: "Not back yet."
Tifa smiled: "You know how long girls could stick around in a dress shop Anyway, we got some information from the Captain."
"The Captain?" Red XIII tilted his head curiously.
"Yeah, he's the mayor of this town, and he was a pilot he was the pilot that was supposed to lead the team into space."
Vincent nodded: "What happened?"
"Accident of some kind occurred, he was forced to abandon the mission, and Shinra didn't grant him enough funds to start over, eventually he became the mayor of this town."
Barret seemed suspicious: "The guy's friendly with Shinra?"
Tifa shook his head: "Not really. He doesn't like what they are doing, but he is interested in achieving his dream He told us Shinra is coming soon."
Every turned to see Aeris walk in, shutting the door behind her.
Cloud raised a brow: "How do you know?"
She shrugged: "Reno told me."
"Oh." He nodded, but after a second, it sank in, and he jumped out of his chair: "Who?"
Aeris giggled at his expression: "Reno of the Turks. Your jaw is dropping, Cloud."
"I thought they were after you?" Tifa asked dryly.
"Hum yeah, but he's off duty today."
Except Vincent and Sephiroth, everyone gave her the funny look. She dismissed it with a smile: "Anyway, we had a brief conversation. He told me Shinra's coming to town tomorrow, that's why he's been assigned here."
Cloud was still quiet lost at words, as he struggled to clear his thoughts: "Exactly who is coming?"
"That I don't know. Reno didn't tell me." She shook her head.
Red snorted softly: "Well, let's just wait for them, shall we?"
Cloud nodded: "Of course."
Aeris grinned: "Good, now you will all have to excuse me. I need to get to my room and change."
Barret stared at her back: "She seems happy. What a miracle, da Turk didn't ruin 'er mood at all!"
Tifa smiled: "She has a happy nature."
Cloud wanted to say something, but on second thought decided against it. He knew the truth, he knew Aeris is not as happy as she pretends to be, because twice, he caught her crying alone in the dark.
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