A Promise Kept Chapter 9
A Little Closer
"Are you people moving or not? I think I'm getting mosquito bites." (Yuffie)
Aeris stood alone on the deck, unable to sleep. She had to admit, she was frightened by the vision she had, so frightened that she was unable to go to sleep.
She thought about the Meteor and shivered. After sitting in her cabin for an hour, she was finally able to put the pieces together, and somewhat figured out the whole picture.
The Black Materia was the source of dark forces. When falling into the wrong hands it could be used to do devastating deeds, such as summoning a Meteor to destroy the Planet. From her previous visions and her mother's words she knew, once that happened she must summon Holy using her White Materia, the counterpart of the Black Materia.
However, if she summoned holy, like she did in her vision, what awaits her was death.
If it becomes inevitable, she would summon Holy, she would give her life, if that's what it takes to save the Planet. But she did not want to die.
A cold tear tolled down her cheek. To think that she should perish soon the idea pained her tremendously. She didn't want to leave, not yet. There was still so much to see, so much to do, so much more to experience.
If she dies now, what would become of her dreams? Her dreams of living in a place where she would be able to see a clear blue sky everyday, dreams of finding a love and getting married, of having kids and watching them run around in her garden
If she was to die soon, she would have nothing.
Aeris bowed her head. She might be a Cetra, but she was still a woman. Like every other woman on this planet, she too, had dreams she wish one day would come true. But, was she already a little too close to death to expect a long life?
"It's really late now, you should go to sleep." Suddenly a voice intruded into her thoughts.
Aeris shifted her head and smiled at her friend: "I'm just taking some night air, Red."
The lion-like creature looked at her for a moment and declared: "You are troubled."
Aeris wanted to deny it but found that to be pointless. Red XIII was simply too intelligent and observing to be fooled by whatever excuse she might come up with. She sighed and admitted almost in a whisper: "Yes. I am troubled."
"Because of the Black Materia?" He asked, sitting down next to her.
She looked down, again surprised by just how intelligent he was. She nodded: "Yes, I I am really worried, scared. The power of the Black Materia is terrifying, it mustn't fall into the hands of Shinra or Jenova."
"We will try our hardest to prevent that from happening, all of us." Red said, rubbing Aeris's leg, "Don't worry, all of us are here for you. We are in this together, remember that."
Aeris knelt down and hugged him: "Thanks Red. I guess... I needed to hear that."
He nodded: "The boat is going to reach that island soon. Get some rest Aeris, you are going to need your strength."
"You are right." Aeris stood up. No use to dwell in it now. If something was meant to happens, it would happen. Right now she should build as much strength as she could in order to prevent the Black Materia from falling into the wrong hands.
"Good night Red." She smiled softly and walked back to her cabin.
They reached their destination in the afternoon of the next day. Once they set their feet on the island, almost everyone got a sense that something was very wrong.
"The barrier was broken ." Aeris whispered almost to herself.
Tifa frowned: "Already? Damn, Shinra moved fast."
Red looked at Aeris expectantly: "Can you feel anything else?"
"I give me a few seconds." Aeris replied, focusing all her power, "I I think the Black Materia is still in the temple, but the barrier is deflected, and and " She shivered.
"And what?" Cid asked impatiently.
"Jenova is close by." Sephiroth said quietly.
Everyone turned to stare at him. "How do you know?" Tifa asked suspiciously.
He replied flatly: "I have a connection to Jenova, I know."
Time seemed to freeze once those words were uttered. Cloud stared at Sephiroth, as if not sure whether he should attack. A large part of him believed that he should kill Sephiroth right now or the man would surely betray them later, but Whose side would Vincent, Red, Cid and Aeris be on if he chose to fight Sephiroth now?
Finally, it was Yuffie who broke the silence: "Are you people moving or not? I think I'm getting mosquito bites."
A muscle in Cloud's jaw twitched. Finally he turned around and headed for the woods icily: "Alright, let's go."
The group moved through the woods silently. No one was in the mood of conversation. Occasionally Yuffie would whine about the mosquitoes and gain a "shut up" from Barret or Cid, but other than that, the group traveled in almost complete silence.
Their newest addition to the group, Yuffie, at first appeared to be a mature, strong leader-type, but now after spending sometime with her the rest of the team realized that the young ninja was not at all what they thought she would be.
Like any other spoiled teenage girl of sixteen, she was immature and sometimes whiny. Aeris wondered briefly just what made her hatred toward Rufus Shinra so strong. It couldn't be because of the war with Wutai, because although Yuffie made it clear she didn't like Sephiroth, she didn't exactly glare daggers his way every minute.
However, her thoughts soon turned to other more important matters. Drown in her own thoughts, she almost jumped when Tifa, who walked beside her all the time, suddenly asked her quietly: "What do you think Shinra wants with the materia?"
"I'm not sure." Aeris replied in a equally low voice, but loud enough for the others to hear: "The ultimate use of Black Materia is to summon a meteor that will destroy the planet, probably would destroy it completely. I don't think either Shinra or Jenova want that to happen. Besides, summoning the meteor is an extremely difficult task that required abnormal strength and endorsement, I don't think anyone in Shinra is capable of finishing that task."
She paused a moment to brush a branch out of her way, and then added: "But in a way the Black Materia can be called the materia of dark. I'm sure Shinra would find a use for it."
Cloud pondered her words for a moment, his icy blue eyes suddenly narrowed: "Aeris, would Jenova be able to use the Black Materia herself?"
"Theoretically she could, but in her stage right now, I believe it would be highly risky for her." Aeris frowned thoughtfully, trying to recall everything that the Planet had told her, "But if I'm not mistaking, people in top physical who possess a Cetra or Jenova blood " She abruptly stopped, realizing she said too much.
But it was too late. Cloud already understood. He glared at Sephiroth: "So someone like Sephiroth has the ability to do that, correct?"
Aeris stuttered and looked at Sephiroth almost apologetically, "Y yes "
Cloud reached for his sword.
Sephiroth decided that he had enough. He withdrew Masamune: "You have a problem with me, Strife?"
"I definitely have more than one problem with you, you murderer!" Cloud shouted, readying his sword.
Tifa and Barret looked like they want to join the fight, but Vincent, then Aeris, interfered.
"Step aside." Cloud said in an almost commanding tone, "Aeris, you said yourself he has the ability to use that Black Materia. He must be eliminated."
"I'll show you elimination " Sephiroth replied coldly, energy seemed to be gathering around him.
"Sephiroth, control yourself!" Vincent grabbed him, holding him back.
"Out of my way!" He threw Vincent to the side with abnormal strength and marched toward Cloud.
"That's it! Prepare to die!" Cloud, Tifa and Barret all readied for a battle.
"Cloud, please stop!" Aeris cried almost desperately, "I can use the Black Materia too remember? Does that mean you are going to kill me too?"
"He's a maniac Aeris!"
"Don't push your luck Strife, then I might consider giving you a painless death."
"Oh yeah, well I was about to say the same thing, you "
"SHUT THE &^%$ UP!"
Everyone turned around to look at Cid, startled.
"That's enough, children, you act like a bunch of ^%$# brainless fools!" Cid spat in disgust, "Now, if I'm not mistaken, Shinra is getting their hands on that ^%$# materia this very minute. Are you gonna do something about that, or just &^%$ stand here and bite each other's head off?"
Everyone fell silent. After a moment Red XIII spoke: "I agree with Cid. We may not even get to the Temple of Ancients before dark, so let's not waste what little time we have on our side."
"So," Cid glared at Cloud, Sephiroth, Tifa and Barret each in turn, "Are we all gonna go on, or should we leave you people here to kick each other's ignorant ^%$ asses?"
" Let's go." Cloud said stiffly, sheathing his sword, and walked ahead without looking back.
Sephiroth stood like a statue, staring at Cloud's back. This was all pointless, he realized. They wouldn't ever forgive him, wouldn't even give him much as a benefit of doubt, no matter how hard he tried He should have died in the Shinra Mansion, he should've killed himself right after he learned the truth. But it was too late now, he made his mother a promise. No matter how painful or unwilling, he had to keep his words.
Sephiroth started to follow the group with a cold and dark mask. Jenova was close by, waiting for a chance to tear down his defense.
Memories of the meeting with his mother was the only thing that kept his defense against that monster up, but he didn't know how much longer could he go on like this. What if he snaps again?
At this moment, Sephiroth admitted to himself quietly, he was very afraid.
To Aeris's dismay, they didn't make it to the temple before nightfall. No matter how much she wanted to go on, her knew it would be stupid to travel in darkness. Reluctantly she agreed to Cloud's decision of finding a cleared space and camp for the night.
As soon as they finished dinner, Aeris helped Tifa to clean up while the others set up tents in a semi-circle around the fire. Sephiroth set his further apart from the group and went in there as soon as he was done. The others pretty much did the same thing. Tifa and Aeris stayed by the fire a bit longer, talking quietly. But before long they too parted and called it a night.
Not long after that, Sephiroth walked out of his tent with Masamune in hand, looking annoyed. He headed for the dark woods without waking up anyone else. Finally he stopped at a small opening. Moonlight shone on his face and made his hair shimmer like a silver cape. He stood like a statue, and quietly demanded: "Come out Jenova, I know you are here!"
"Ah, such a rebellious tone. My son, you disappoint me greatly." Jenova's voice intruded into his mind.
"I'm not your son, don't you dare to call me that." Sephiroth said mentally, gripping his sword tighter, "Come out and fight me, you manipulative witch!"
"Ah my son, my dear son, you hurt my feelings." Jenova whispered softly into his mind, "Can't you see? I'm the only one who truly cares for you. Come to me my son, bring me the Black Materia. Together we will ascend into god-hood, you and me."
"Do you really think you could trick me still, after I learned of my true origins? I will come to you all right, Jenova, I will come to destroy you. As for the Black Materia, it belongs to the Cetra. I will do everything in my power to make sure neither you nor Shinra gets it!"
" I see what's happening. You are falling for the Cetra bitch, aren't you?" Jenova started to sound amused.
Sephiroth clenched his fists angrily: "Aeris has nothing to do with this. This is between you and me!"
Jenova laughed. Sephiroth could almost see her mocking him cruelly: "My son, my poor son Do you really think you will be able to win the Cetra's affections? Can't you see? That manipulative little bitch is using you!"
He gritted his teeth: "I think you are referring to yourself, Jenova."
"Oh really? Are you blind Sephiroth? Can't you see that the Avalanche hates you? They only tolerated you because of your abilities. Once you served your purpose they are going to turn on you and hunt you down, like an animal! Do you really think they'll befriend you? Do you really think that the Cetra will love you? Do you really expect her to love you?"
Sephiroth did not reply to that. He could not. Her words had hit the target.
Jenova snorted: "You are pathetic, my son. Why are you doing this to yourself? Come back to me, together we will become gods and rule the universe together. Forget those low life creatures Sephiroth, they are not worthy of you."
"For the last time I AM NOT YOUR SON!" He almost shouted out in rage, Masamune sliced through air, "Jenova, come out here and fight me, you coward!"
"But you are my son, whether you like it or not. Lucrecia might be your birth mother, but you know something? The moment you were injected with my cells, you became a part of me, me!" Jenova laughed in triumphal, "You are a part of me Sephiroth, whether you like it or not, and you are damned to remain a monster to those filthy humans, forever."
"Shut up!" Sephiroth yelled out aloud, slicing at the air almost blindly, "Shut up! Shut the &^%$ up!"
"Tusk, tusk, such temper, my dear." Jenova decided that she accomplished her goal, "I don't like to see you upset, my son, so I will leave you know. But think about it, we are destined to rule this planet, you and me. Forget those ungrateful low lives and come back to me, my son, I'll be expecting you."
Jenova's presence faded away from his mind, leaving behind an angry, battered Sephiroth to struggle with his emotions.
He gripped the hilt of the Masamune tightly, his heart burned. He began a powerful drill he knew by heart, slashing and parrying an invisible opponent.
I am not a monster! He thrust his sword forward with such a force that air seemed to be tearing wherever his sword went.
I will not go to Jenova!
My mother is Lucrecia she loves me
I AM NOT A MONSTER!
Again and again he charged at the invisible opponent, imagining that he was fighting Jenova, Hojo, Strife anyone.
Only he knew in the depth of his heart, that he was fighting a losing battle, against the crumbling of his own defense of the soul.
Aeris was tired, but somehow she wasn't able to fall asleep. Something didn't feel right, something bothered her greatly. She spent about half an hour tossing and turning, before finally sat up and climbed out of her sleeping bag, sighing in defeat. She put on her jacket and slowly opened her tent, quietly emerged from it without waking anyone.
She frowned when she saw Sephiroth's tent. It was open, he wasn't in there, he wasn't anywhere around the campfire either. Just then she heard a faint noise, somewhat like sword slashing, coming from the dark woods.
Aeris shivered. Now she knew what is it that bothered her: Jenova.
Is that monster trying to control Sephiroth again? Is that him taking out his anger? Or is he switching sides? Aeris gulped nervously. Much as she hated to go there alone, she thought it would definitely be better than waking up the whole team or just turn her back on him as if she heard nothing. Her curiosity and desire to help won over her fear. Taking a deep breath, Aeris headed for the source of the noises.
Before long, she saw Sephiroth. He looked like a mythical warrior under the moonlight, his movements so incredibly fast, powerful, and graceful.
"Sephiroth?" She whispered.
The moment she called his name, she found the edge of Masamune against the side of her neck.
Sephiroth immediately recognized the person through his blurry vision. He withdrew his sword and turned his back to her, trying to sound as emotionless as possible: "What do you want?"
"I came to see if you are okay." She said softly. He looked so alone. Aeris decided to venture a step further: "I I felt Jenova. She was here, wasn't she?"
She doesn't love you
"Yes, Jenova was here." He replied in a tight voice, closed his eyes and wished desperately for her to be gone.
She is only using you.
"Jenova tried to control me but I resisted. I'm not betraying you, if that's what you are worrying about."
She shook her head although he couldn't see. "No, I only came to see if you are okay."
"Did you? Do you really trust me?" He suddenly turned around and shouted angrily, "Stop lying Aeris! We both know the truth!"
She was caught off guard by his actions. Frightened, she let a small gasp escape her lips and stumbled two steps back.
Her fear struck his heart like a cold dagger, his voice dropped to a chilly whisper: "Go away."
Aeris couldn't tear her gaze away from his face. Why was there so much pain? So much pain that made her heart ache too. "Sephiroth "
"Get out of my sight."
"No " She whispered, "Tell me what's wrong."
He glared at her coldly: "Aren't you afraid of me Aeris? You know what I'm capable of doing aren't you? A thrust of my sword and you will be gone, and I will watch your blood spill like the monster I a---"
He never got to finish his sentence because Aeris walked straight up to him, her face wore a determined expression. For a moment Sephiroth thought she was going to strike and almost raised his sword. But he couldn't hurt her, no matter what she was going to do, he couldn't hurt the only person alive who ever showed him that much kindness...
Even if it was just all pretence
A moment's hesitation and he found himself in Aeris's embrace. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, and rested her head close to his heart.
"Stop it." She said evenly and softly, "Sephiroth, please stop it."
The anger, the hurt, the tension At her touch, the chaotic emotions began to drain out of his body slowly, leaving him to tremble uncontrollably.
"I I'm sorry Aeris " The Masamune blade fell to the ground as he shakily wrapped his arms around her small body, almost desperately, as if she was his last hope of survival. He buried his face in her hair and his lips quivered: "Oh gods help me "
"Shhhh It's okay." She whispered, pulling him closer to her. Their bodies were pressed together as she shared his tremble, his despair, his pain. Tears slowly welled up in her eyes as she spoke softly to him, "It's okay Sephiroth, everything will be okay "
Their embrace lasted for what could've been an eternity, before each's racing heart finally slowed down. Sephiroth released Aeris at last, looking considerably more calm and collected.
"I'm sorry for acting that way, Aeris." He apologized again, looking tired and almost ashamed.
She brushed a loose curl from her face and smiled: "It's alright. I don't blame you."
"I could've hurt you " He said quietly.
"But you didn't. That's all it matters." Aeris sat down against a huge tree and gestured for him to sit next to her. He hesitated for a moment, then picked up his Masamune and obliged.
"Tell me, what was troubling you so much? Was it Jenova?" Aeris asked softly, almost afraid of upsetting him.
He leaned back against the tree trunk and nodded bitterly: "She is still after the Black Materia Aeris, she doesn't give up."
"I'm not surprised." She answered, gingerly reached out a hand to cover his. He tensed for a moment but then relaxed, closing his eyes.
"Are you alright?" She whispered tenderly.
"Yes I'm just tired, that's all." The warmth from her hand penetrated his glove and brought him a strange comfort. He opened his Mako eyes again, allowing some of his fear to seep through:
"It's just I don't know how long can I go on like this. Aeris " He looked at her seriously, and confided in a low voice: "I'm scared. Back in Nibelheim I made a promise to my mother that I will help Cloud, and that's the only thing which kept me going."
He sighed heavily: "I know Jenova, she will use every opportunity she has to try to penetrate my defense, and that promise was the only thing I have against her "
"Sephiroth " She squeezed his hand, feeling greatly for him. He had to deal with the enormous guilt in his heart, find an identity and at the same time engage in battles where he had no comrades
No, that was not true. Although it would take the others a long time, if ever, to trust him, he still had Vincent, and he had her.
She whispered gently: "I will help you fight Jenova, if you let me."
Their eyes met.
He was surprised to see that in her eyes there was only acceptance, no hatred, no despise, not even desire. She didn't ask anything from him, her eyes did not speak of a wish for something in return.
Acceptance, it was simple as that. She accepted him for who he was, and wished to help him establish his identity. To her it was just simple as that
All his life he had been taught to become isolated and emotionless, he was never used to dealing with people on a personal basis, much less asking for others' help. However, this time he could not do it alone
"Help me Aeris." He finally said with some difficulty, hated and almost disgusted with himself for being so weak. He looked straight at her, his conflicting emotions were all in his eyes: "Help me find a strength against Jenova "
There was so much in his eyes that made her own teary. It was not easy for him to ask, she knew, he really was suffering so much, up to the point that even a proud man like him was afraid that he couldn't handle it anymore.
"I will do all I can to help you." She replied, and shifted to wrap her arms around him. This time, he immediately, if not too confidently, returned her embrace.
A faint but pleasant scent filled his nostrils, and her body felt incredibly warm against his. He had never hugged anyone like it, it brought a strange feeling to his heart. But it felt rather nice.
It was then that he knew he truly was not alone. No matter how the rest of the world sees him, at the very least, there was someone on his side.
"I have you " It was not a declaration, nor a command or threat, but more like a question.
"You have me." She confirmed without hesitation. Suddenly she knew, her feelings for this man was more than pity, more than sympathy, even more than friendship.
She lifted her head, looked into his eyes and whispered softly: "Sephiroth, I will always be here for you, I promise."
He pulled her in closer, trying hard to swallow the lump in his throat: "Thank you, Aeris."
She smiled and laid her head against his chest again. With his arms around her, she was suddenly made aware just how tiny and frail she must seemed, compare to him. The legendary SOLDIER who was over six feet tall, who wielded a holy blade which only he could handle, who single-handedly defeated thousands If he wanted, he could take her life without even blinking an eye.
But that thought did not make her nervous. Instead, she felt comforted.
"I always feel safer when I'm with you "
She didn't realize she said it out aloud, until he looked down at her, smirking a bit: "Very few people think that way."
"That means I'm special, right?" She chuckled lightly, and then closed her eyes, "Can we stay like this a little longer? I to tell the truth, I'm afraid to be alone right now."
Sephiroth breathed a sigh of relief, for she just voiced the thoughts he did not want to admit. But at the same time, he was concerned and asked softly: "Are you worrying about the Black Materia?"
Aeris nodded and bit her lips: "That materia is too destructive If it falls into Shinra or Jenova's hands, who knows what will happen "
She shivered as she felt a chill down her spine.
Sephiroth immediately noticed and wrapped his arms around her tighter, suddenly feeling very protective. "Don't be scared Aeris." He said softly, "I'm here. I'll protect you."
She nodded, burying her face into his chest and inhaled deeply: "Thank you "
Neither talked after that. They stayed together under the tree, in each other's arms, for a very long time.
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