Through the Looking Glass Chapter 17
By Lucrecia Marionette
"Oh. you awake?" Cloud asked as softly as possible in case he was wrong.
Eventually the woman held in his arms began to stir with more purpose than she had before. Her face lifted and her burgundy eyes gazed towards his iridescent blue irises.
"Yeah," she whispered in return. She wrapped her arms tighter around his waist and ran a hand up his chest. "I'm sorry. Did I wake you up.?"
He shook his head. "No. As tired as I am, I just can't sleep."
He couldn't quite recall how long he had been sitting like this; still and silent, staring into the dark as though his eyes could pierce it like Vincent's. No, he'd remained in bed, half lying and half sitting, utterly blind save for the dim dusk light from outside. His head and back resting upon a ramp of pillows pushed up against the head-board.
His brow furrowed as he struggled to remember exactly what had been going through his mind for the many hours he had remained in his statue-like guise. Meaningless images which undoubtedly meant nothing in the long run he reasoned. That was all that seemed to be occupying his brain recently.
As he dwelled on this thought he started to recollect that this was precisely what he had done during the Meteor Crisis. Some of the things he'd seen, some of the things he's said and experienced had no place in the soul of a young man. It was so much easier to occupy himself with other, random and pointless thoughts. They kept him busy and prevented him from sitting down and slowly going crazy, his mind eaten away by the very insanity of what he had gone through. Double lives, spilt personas and of course the very fact he didn't have any idea who the hell he was.
Surely that was excuse enough for him to allow himself to drift? Didn't he deserve his moments of numbness and idleness of the mind better than any other man? Well. more than most at least. .
"It's weird isn't it?"
"What? That you can't sleep? Or this whole situation?" Tifa asked quietly.
He seemed thoughtful. "Both really," he shrugged eventually. A weak smile touched his visage. "I wonder if we'll ever be allowed to grow old, huh?"
A smile on her delicate, rose tinted lips matched his own. "At the moment it seems not," she responded with a faint touch of humour. "I think there are a few more things we can do to make the world a better place before we move into a retirement home."
His smile broadened marginally until it showed genuine warmth and happiness. "Why couldn't our calling have been something like making sure there were enough speed signs in the Midgar city centre? Or why couldn't we campaign against chocobo racing?"
She let out a chuckle. "'AVALANCHE, protectors of chocobo rights across the globe'! It somehow doesn't have quite the right ring to it."
"And 'AVALANCHE, Defenders of the Universe' does?"
Her chuckle became a laugh and he joined her. After the entire Meteor Crisis they had indeed been seen as 'gods' in their own right, protectors of the weak and innocent; saviours of the human race.
In their own eyes whereas, they'd selfishly pursued a suicidal goal that had brought death and pain to all of them. The only thing they believed that they'd ultimately protected was their own honour and sanity; something they would have lacked if they'd simply sat back and allowed their foes to continue their merciless reigns.
The aura in the room suddenly went cold however as they found all humour and contentment sucked from their souls to feed an unseen predator. Tifa gave a shudder and Cloud pulled her closer to himself. Despite their laughter and warm talk, something wasn't right and probably never would be again.
"I miss Cait," Tifa breathed after a while and Cloud realised what was so wrong.
She snuggled up closer to him and her head rested on his chest as he ran his fingers through her long, silky hair. A single tear rolled down her cheek and onto his skin, died silver, bronze and gold from the colour of the evening outside the window. It soaked into the sheets and disappeared from view.
Their flight from the decimated remains of the building which had once been 'Tifa's Seventh Heaven' had left them little time to sit back and allow the events of the night to sink in and take grip. He had been holding back the inevitable, dismissing the memories of the cat from his mind with other, less relevant images. But now there was no escaping reality.
Cait Sith was dead.
Aeris had been the first member of AVALANCHE to succumb to the fate of their quest. And now the irrepressible, fortune telling and utterly caring Cait Sith had been consumed by the same dark summon.
The tiny, innocent member, who although had at one point been AVALANCHE's most hated target had quickly redeemed himself to become one of the most loved. His light-hearted antics and complete child-like love of his friends had won him a firm place in their hearts.
Who could not help but love the small, furry figure?
The evil bastards who struck out and took his life without a second thought; that's who.
Although tears now streamed down Cloud's own face, his fist clenched in deep fury.
Tifa once more looked up and met his stare with tear-stained eyes. "Why did he have to go?" she whispered and Cloud shook his head, his bottom lip trembling.
Looking into that beautiful, heart shaped face with eyes that constantly questioned the evil in the world, he felt his heart break. He wanted nothing more than to give her an answer, but his fluttering heart could do nothing except tell him over and over again that he had lost yet another of the people he had dared to let into his psyche.
Another... yes another.
He couldn't let it happen again. Not while those eyes still looked into his own and searched for answers he couldn't give. Not while he knew that his own fragile soul would shatter at another loss.
He bent his neck down until his lips brushed against her cheeks and he proceeded to kiss away the tears that marred whilst enhancing her beauty. She closed her eyes and started to sob quietly, but she did not move her visage from his own. She allowed the outward signs of her distress to be taken away by one of the only things she felt she could ever care for.
As his mouth drew away yet another salty droplet, she moved her face and tilted it upwards so that mouths met. They kissed full on and she could still taste the saltiness of her grief upon his lips.
They pulled away and looked into each other's eyes. Every time they did, it seemed as though they caught sight of a new part of the soul they peered into.
Tifa reached up and lightly brushed away the tears that ran down his own face. She put her fingers to her lips and wiped the wetness away. They leant forward and kissed again. This time their grief was mingled and joined until now they not only shared their love, they also shared their remorse.
As they both matured and progressed in life together they knew that they would learn to exchange many things. But as they tasted the sorrow and pain upon each other's lips they knew that they had somehow gone further than they had ever dreamed they would.
The strength of their kiss intensified until Tifa felt she could no longer hold herself back. She continued to lock her mouth against his, their hands entwining clumsily in the heat of the moment. Their grip separated as their lips did not, and Cloud's hands moved smoothly up her back, pressing her closer and closer to himself until she felt as though she couldn't breathe. In reality, it hurt, but it was a beautiful pain.
The situation in that second of time was so heavenly and divine, if it hadn't been for the delicious ache she would have thought it simply a dream. A sweet, wonderful dream like many she'd experienced before.
But wasn't she supposed to wake up now?
Their relationship in real life had never progressed beyond sharing the same room and bed platonically and so her mind could never take it any further.
Now though. Now it was so much different.
She knew that, as their lips unlocked and she sank down onto the bed next to him. She knew that, as their lips met once more and she fell into the type of utter bliss she had only read about and envisioned in fantasy stories.
Was love as true as this possible?
.Right then, at that moment, she knew it was. .
How long.? How long had it been.? Such a long, long time surely. . How long had it been since he'd slept so heavily? How long had it been since he'd been able to close his eyes without the images of blood stained corpses strewn across his vision? No children screaming out to him. no mothers reaching out with pleading eyes and bloody hands. How long.?
How long since he had been so tired?
Sephiroth stirred as the first silvery shafts of light that penetrated the darkness indicating the smothering night began to push through the blinds over his windows. He stretched without opening his eyes feeling his body crack and joints pop in a sickly satisfying fashion. His lips turned upwards in a morbidly content expression.
Slowly, heavy lids lifted over aqua eyes which focused on the ceiling above his bed.
It had been a long time, hadn't it? But the entire question was based on the belief that there had actually been a time before now when he had felt so comfortable and without any emotion bar contentment.
The very pondering and searching for an answer to such a depressing question slowly started to eat away his initial comfort until now he was left as before. Hollow, remorseful and unable to forget the past no matter what Vincent had accused him of during their shared vision. Their vision of the Vigilante.
What was It? What had been deemed so important that the two remaining instruments of Jenova had been summoned to witness?
No that wasn't right. . There was only one instrument of Jenova. Him. Vincent was free; he had been since his fitful slumber in the basement of the Shinra Mansion.
The ironic thing seemed to be that whilst he was still a part of that virus although she had been terminated, he felt little shame for what he was; only what he had done in the past. Vincent whereas hated every little thing about himself and he was free.
Free from control? Or free like the animal which has been contained all its life only to be released into the heart of a harsh and savage world?
He shrugged to himself. Who was to know? Questions like these were ones that great philosophers of past times would spend much of their life contemplating. These were the kinds of dilemmas that Cetra scribes wrote hundreds and thousands of tomes all about. The musings of a man whose mind is still bleary from sleep is no more likely to discover the answer than a lunatic.
Perhaps even, they were the most likely to understand and realise. .
But the Vigilante. What is its purpose? Who is it and where has it originated from?
He shook his head in answer to his own questions. He had no idea; was he supposed to?
A demonic serpent in the middle of a hellish landscape. It had made its purpose to kill and destroy all living things, but to what aid? It had stated that all life upon the planet drained and weakened it. It had likened all living creatures to leeches; blood sucking leeches which stole the life energy from others in order to survive.
So was this Vigilante a WEAPON? One of the monsters created by the planet in order to defend it
(when I tried to destroy everything)
in a time of crisis? Or was it something more?
It certainly didn't behave like one of the giant, mythical monsters. For one it seemed to have an intelligence, which although very aggressive and violent was of the same level as any human he had spoken with. It spoke and justified its methods and purpose in a crude fashion, but did so nonetheless.
But why would a being of such power and mentality feel a need to defend the planet; especially now that any crises were over? Perhaps It was some kind of a hindrance tool; prevention generally was better than cure. Why wait for a problem to start before healing it?
What better method of asepsis was there than eliminating all life? Doing so would remove all possibility of pollution, harming by unnatural methods and of course, permanently putting a halt to any or all creatures that sought godhood and command over the Earth.
But the Planet wasn't that cruel, surely? It had thrived during the time of the Cetra when man and his earth worked together in harmony. Now people were finally starting to understand the importance of things like the Lifestream; how vital it was for them to protect the environment and land by looking after themselves and fellow creatures.
Why would the Planet suddenly decide to obliterate all it had created when man was finally understanding and learning?
Sephiroth rubbed his temples. All of this thinking and seeking answers he knew he could not provide was giving him a migraine.
He sat up in bed and smoothed down the covers either side of himself. How long had he been asleep? He turned his head to look at a clock which stood on the cabinet by the side of the comfortable cot. It read "7:15pm" in flashing, red LED's against a digital, black screen.
Although he hadn't paused to read the time off any clocks before he had fallen asleep, he knew it had been around Six o'clock in the morning. He'd slept thirteen hours and still felt as though he could sleep for thirteen more.
What would his SOLDIER training commander have said now if he knew that his 'star student' had spent over half a day in a bed?
Sephiroth suppressed a grin that threatened to touch his thin lips at the thought. He would have been given fifty laps of the HQ building, night watch for two months and worst of all, porridge for every meal, every day for the rest of his life.
God, how much had he hated that entire period of his life? He mused that it was probably due to the fact that it was one of the few times which had any relevance to who he was.
Before the age of fourteen, when most young boys aspired to work for the Shinra, he remembered nothing. Blurred images, white-hot pain and visions of Hojo filled his brain as he sought to recall his past. Things that dissuaded him from being overly curious.
He shook his head to dispel the loathed thoughts and swung his legs off the side of the mattress. As his feet touched the soft, carpeted floor he stood and walked over to the window of his room.
He had fallen asleep in the attire he had hiked through frozen Midgar in the night before. His black trousers and knee-high boots. He felt oddly exposed and naked. Maybe it was due to his remembrance of the nightmarish trip coupled with the knowledge that every citizen in Midgar
(no, the world)
was calling for his death. That was if they didn't already presume him eliminated.
The sunset over Midgar had always been a beautiful event as he recalled. He regretted missing it, now of all days. It felt as though it was the last time he would ever spend looking over such a view. Now, the moon hung high in the sky beaming down liquid silver across the metropolis. Dusk came early at that time of year, early February.
But the sight of the quicksilver-coated cityscape was enough to quench his thirst for something to drain all thoughts of monsters and threats from his mind. Now that Reeve had rebuilt this once poisoned mega-city it seemed more like a refuge than a polyp on the face of existence. It's beautiful streets with bustling markets; varied lifestyles and multi-cultural themes made it a Mecca of the new age. Midgar had always led the world forward in innovations and standards of life. Perhaps it was finally showing a good example; a shining beacon depicting the way of things to come.
Sephiroth hoped so. The world he had left behind the first time had been one of misery, betrayal, crime, cruelty and death. Now even the people seemed so much happier and content with life. The feelings were contagious. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't drudge up a point in his history when he had felt so. what was the word? Happy? Content?
No. he couldn't think of a way to phrase it. It somehow felt as though for once in his life he belonged. It was fate that had returned him wit the ominous message of 'destiny'. He was supposed to be there. It was his duty to be alive.
Not many men could say that, could they?
It wasn't an interesting ceiling by any means. Plain, flat and very, very white. She wondered if the bed she lay in had ever been slept in before. She wondered if the room had even been entered previous to herself last night.
Of course it has. how would they have built it if no one had come in? she reprimanded herself idly.
Such meaningless thoughts had been plaguing her for the past hour, much as they had Cloud. When people like them had the time to themselves they couldn't help but allow such pointless musings to control them. They needed action, adventure; just something to stop them from going mad. Unfortunately, staring at the roof of her room didn't fulfil any of the requirements.
Her mind went blank for a long, long time. She wasn't sure just how long exactly, but when she eventually snapped out of her meditations, the moon had replaced the harsh yellow disk of the sun. Silver light now dappled in the place of gold forming puddles of cold metal on the quilt that lay over her. It didn't mean anything though. In reality, nothing did any more.
A single word, no, name was all that flitted through her thoughts. Everything linked back to that and that alone. .
The ceiling was white. So was he.
The noise and chatter that drifted down the hallway to her room was loud and cheerful. So was he.
The sun that shone outside had been bright and warm.
"So. was he." Yuffie sobbed as she rolled over onto her stomach and buried her face into the downy pillow which her head had been resting on.
Except, he wasn't white any more. The soft white fur which had covered his stomach and chest was singed and black now. No longer pristine and white. No longer smooth and silky.
He was no longer loud and cheerful. His final words had been so wonderfully uplifting that her heart burst even to think of them now. But it was useless. could she ever feel happy again?
The brightness and warmth of his personality had been destroyed. Melted, disintegrated and swept upwards by the thick plumes of smoke that poisoned the sky.
No more would he make her smile, no more would she here his welcoming cry of 'Hi y'all!' when he dropped by in Tifa's old bar. No more could she plan in her mischievous way the latest trick to play on the 'old ones' or the 'boring people'.
Never again could she be a child. He had been the only thing keeping that alive. When he was around. When he had been around she had felt younger than she ever had before.
In Wutai, childhood was a nasty stage; it was a phase that all people had to go through. It could be eliminated by rigorous tome learning, Da-Chao worshipping and ninja training. Could anyone blame her for hating her father so much? The one who although she revered and respected, could never truly love?
She was young at heart and thought that no one could ever take that away from her no matter how many times she saw her town fall, no matter how many wounds she suffered and in turn inflicted.
But Cait Sith. Cait. the embodiment of all that made her the free spirit she was allowed to be when with her friends.. .
Cait. the one who sparked off that part of her which made her realise how good it was to be a child again.
Cait. the only who she felt could ever understand and relate to her.
But. he was gone now. Maybe off to the lifestream, maybe nothing more than a charred heap of wires and electronic circuitry.
Another sob wracked through her body and she pressed her face so hard to the pillow she could have suffocated herself.
No, it couldn't end like this! Cait had saved the planet! Cait had done so much to help AVALANCHE restore the world and better it. Cait had been her best friend. .
And Vincent. . Now he'd gone too. Drawn away by a greater force; maybe the force which Cait had believed so much in.
He was losing himself and she felt as though she was losing him. Hojo had done terrible things to him, and it was slowly stealing his mind, robbing him of who he was and what he loved. Had there ever been a being capable of such evil on the planet?
Jenova had acted out of instinct; like all viruses it was her purpose in life to conquer and destroy. Sephiroth had been deluded, driven by false promises and hatred.
Hojo though... Hojo was or had at some point in his life been human. He had loved, he had hated. But now no compassion existed until now he only lived for the pain of others. He didn't even revel in it or gain any satisfaction; it was as though he had needed suffering to exist.
Yuffie shook her head. She couldn't understand it; she wasn't even sure if she wanted to. Would being able to look into the mind of such a cruel and insane man drive her just as crazy?
Everyone was going; now she knew how Tifa felt.
Where had the carefree and wild side to her gone? She almost wanted it back. It was so much easier just to worry about herself. It was so much simpler not to think about pain and anguish; only where the next piece of materia was coming from.
Now here she was; red eyed and weeping into a pillow as her only comfort, longing after friends who had long since departed.
The thought only made her more upset. She started to crave even more for the feel of long grass whipping around her legs, fresh breeze blowing through her hair and the emotion of satisfaction turning her lips up in a happy smile as she felt a heavy sack full of materia on her back.
She let out another wail of depression which was cut suddenly short as there came a soft, barely audible knocking on her bedroom door. She froze, the expression of emotion dying on her lips through the shock of discovery. What if it was a troop of Office security men? What if they'd heard her cries all of the way down the corridor and had come to investigate. Had she let her friends down??
She choked back another wail which threatened to break free from her throat and hid it in a slight cough, muffling it in the pillow once more.
Despite her best efforts at silence, the knocking was repeated.
Before she could react, the door opened and closed quickly as a single figure entered. She dared a peek above the quilt and was surprised to watch Cid sit down on the end of her bed.
"You might want to keep your grievin' down," he said not unkindly after a few moments of thick silence had elapsed. "I could hear you in the next room along."
"Sorry," she whispered in return, her voice parched from so much weeping. "I'll try to be quiet."
He gave a weak smile. "I'm not saying you shouldn't be upset. It would just be a bit of a downer if we went an' got caught after all we've been through, huh?"
She nodded in agreement, still holding the quilt up above the bottom half of her face. She'd been so surprised to see the old pilot in truth that she hadn't thought to remove it.
He reached out gently and tugged it down so that it lay across her lap, covering her legs and the end of the bed. She still wore Vincent's old shirt, the same one that he'd lent to her the first night she had stayed in his apartment.
It was comfortable and baggy; it reminded her unbearably of him. And if she closed her eyes, she could still smell him on the black material despite the fact that she'd probably worn it more than he had. Faint scents of dust and old buildings which was not unpleasant; it made her think of old books and winter somehow.
Her shoulders slumped and her hands lay limply by her sides at the depressing reminiscence. Cid reached out again and ruffled her hair in a playful manner; he had done it to her during the Meteor Crisis often. They never had been close, not really; but he still had a way of making her smile in a gruff and 'mature' way. Unlike Cait who could tell her a childish joke or tell her the latest prank he had been working on just to bring a young grin to her features.
Cid's gesture made her give a weak smile, but the inevitable fact that her mind had wandered back to Cait brought fresh tears.
"Hey now," Cid frowned softly. "Where's that girl gone who used to pester and annoy me all the time? Hmm? Where has the kid gone that used to love putting paint on the buttons in the Highwind cockpit so that I'd have red, blue and green hands for an entire week?"
She couldn't help but giggle. That always had been one of Cait's favourites. .
She remembered how proud he had been when she first told him about it. .
"That's gotta be the best one yet! He'll never work it out until it's too late!" He'd laughed.
Cid lifted his hands to his face. It was obvious that he was as blind as she was in the dim light, but the happy smile on her face remained there, turning into another giggle as he spoke.
"I can still see some of the paint there now!" he said in mock irritation, the cigarette sitting in the corner of his mouth wagging up and down with every syllable. "Have you any idea how tough that stuff was to get off?"
"Why d'you think we chose it?" she asked impishly and this time her companion laughed.
"I should've suspected as such," he said with a grin. "I hope Alicia doesn't grow up to be a pest like you!"
Yuffie's smile remained and she looked to the window. Cid's gaze also fell to the outside world and out of the corner of her eyes she thought she could see his expression of happiness lessen. She wondered if he was thinking about his daughter at that moment in time.
"How is she?" Yuffie asked, speaking maturely for the first time since his entry.
Cid gave a drawn out sigh and turned to look at her. "When I left Rocket Town she was fine. Doin' really well, you know? She can walk now. Shera has to keep on remindin' me to look back whenever I go to the Highwind in case I have a stalker!"
Yuffie gave a bark of laughter. Alicia certainly was her father's daughter; there was strong resemblance between the two (but not in a bad way).
On the day she had been born, Cid had taken her up to the Highwind to show her around. Since then, the pilot's daughter had displayed an obvious love for anything technical; if it flew, then all the better!
"Did you know her first word was 'dada'?"
Yuffie said nothing but only nodded politely. Of course she did; they all did. The first day Alicia had said anything remotely coherent, Cid had jumped in the Highwind and stopped off at all the towns on the planet just let them know the good news!
The phone systems and PHS satellites had long been out of service since Meteor had appeared and destroyed all outer-world methods of communication. Of course phone lines could be reinstalled, but in a world which was only just picking itself off the floor once more, who had the time to do that?
The Highwind had become the main form of transport for any willing to pay enough for the privilege. But since few did that, boats had become so much more popular with docks and harbours sprouting up all over the world. The airship had become little more than a toy for Cid and occasional run-around for any members of AVALANCHE or friends of his family that needed a ride.
She suspected that he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think Shera was glad that it wasn't anything else." Cid's voice trailed off and Yuffie laughed again. This time it was long and clear, full of the joy inside her which had been suppressed so badly by her sorrow.
Cid's mouth was far than pleasant and if Alicia's first word had indeed been in honour of her father's foul manners, Shera would not have been the one to worry! Cid would probably have been banned from the house, prevented all contact with his daughter and the Highwind would have been reduced to a pile of scrap! Shera certainly wasn't a violent person, but when it came to anything threatening or upsetting her daughter then she could be more than a little protective.
Cid's laughter joined Yuffie's until they were both in hysterics. The relief felt so good, so welcome to their lips after such a long period of depression and unhappiness.
And Yuffie began to realise.
Mourning and sadness wasn't what Cait had wanted. Laughter, joy and contentment was what had had meant most to the cat, and now that he had gone, why should they stop feeling this way? If anything, wasn't it their duty to be even more happy? Even more in praise of life no matter how dire; finding the best in a bad situation?
As the understanding finally sank in, Yuffie laughed harder and louder, tears running down her face once more. But these weren't tears of lamentation.
No, these were the tears of joy which meant so much to their feline friend.
And as they rolled on the floor, clutching their stomachs and gasping for air to fill their laughter emptied lungs, Yuffie thought with the sharp taste of tears on her lips;
"Here you go Cait Sith! This one's for you."
Let not thy divining heart
Forethink me any ill;
Destiny may take thy part,
And make thy fears fulfil.
But think that we
Are turned aside to sleep:
They who one another keep
Alive, ne'er parted be."
'Sweetest Love, I do not go', by John Donne
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