Evolution of Innocence Chapter 14
By Janet Monstwillo
Yuffie wrinkled her nose. "They haven't done anything to rebuild this town. What a bunch of lazy people!"
Reeve looked around Mideel. (Well, I wouldn't say they haven't done anything. They haven't done a lot...)
Not much in the way of repairs had been done to Mideel. The lazy southern town did not attract people full of initiative. Many people had left the town after the Mako eruption, and a lot of those people had gotten sick and died of Mako poisoning.
Mideel was hardly holding onto itself. A few more months like this, and it would officially be a ghost town.
Red XIII looked around the town. "Well, the Mako is flowing around here in the open. Any signs of Cloud or Kayley?"
"None at all." Reeve peered down into the large glowing pool. "What are the chances that they both just jumped in there?"
"I have no idea. Probably slim. I think she'd find what she was looking for fairly quickly."
"So what are we gonna do 'til then?" Yuffie's eyes darted about impatiently.
"I suppose we could have a look about the town. Why don't you go see if the materia shop is still around here somewhere?"
"Really Red?" She darted off towards the ramshackle buildings.
Reeve chuckled a bit. "Now, what are we supposed to do?"
Narrowing his eyes, Red XIII glanced into the pool. "How about some work? She'll probably be occupied for a little while, at least."
"You think they might be in there?"
He cautiously placed a paw on the flowing Lifestream. "I'm not sure. But don't you think there would be some clues to look for if they were? Let's get going."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Okay, who forgot that it would take about three hours to walk through the mountains?" demanded Vincent.
"All of us." Tifa gave him an antagonizing smile.
"Damn, I'm tired." Barret sat down to rest.
"We just rested five minutes ago."
"I think it was a little longer than that, Vincent. Besides, even though we're in a hurry, she'll have just as much trouble as we are. She's still in a pesky human body, remember?"
Tifa shrugged and took a sip from her canteen. "Not to sound too much like the proverbial hare, but I think her unseasoned body is probably going over these mountains at tortoise speed. Not only that, but we don't know exactly what Mako pools are left. Neither would she."
"We'll prolly find 'er next time we start up."
"Maybe, Barret." Vincent looked uneasy. "What if she used her Manipulate materia and forced Cloud to go look for the Mako pools?"
"She'd have to follow him a little ways behind. He can only get so far away from the materia before it loses effect." She glanced at Barret. "We should probably get going again, though."
He stood up and brushed off his gun-arm. "I'm good," he said.
The group continued up the trail. They soon came to a fork in the road. "Which way, Guide Tifa?" Vincent glanced at the brunette.
She thought hard. "Well, we have a problem here. My memory tells me that there used to be Mako pools if you followed either trail, but the fountain was on the right."
"We should probably check out both."
She nodded. "I wouldn't want to spread ourselves too thin though, so I don't know if we should do one at a time, or split up."
"Hey." They looked at Barret. "The fountain is more likely to still have Mako. You two go there, and I'll peek the other way. I promise I be quiet enough to sneak back der to you's guys if I see that Kayley."
"And if you see nothing, then you can call us on the PHS." Vincent held up the portable phone and switched the ringer off. "This will vibrate if you call. If we can't pick up the phone, it means we've found them and probably, that we are fighting them."
"We should be able to take her if we get to her before she goes in the Mako pool." Tifa bit her lip. "I don't want to think about the alternative, because she'll manipulate Cloud onto her side."
Vincent looked at her. "If we go quickly," he said softly, "we'll most likely prevent the alternative."
She nodded. "Are you sure you'll be okay, Barret?"
The big man smiled and patted his gun-arm. "Just fine. Y'all just take care of you'selves. Oh and Vince? I'm holdin' ya personally responsible for Tifa's welfare."
He glanced at her. "Sorry, Teef, but I can't help it. You a good friend and a good Avalanche member. You've been with me the longest and I feeled I had to protect you, always." A glance downward. "'Specially after Sector 7."
"I think we understand," said Vincent smoothly. "You have my word that I will protect her at all costs. Just like you would."
"Loyalty and all that stuff. I'm gonna get going down my way now. Good luck, y'all."
Tifa watched him walk down the left fork and barely suppressed a giggle. "How's that last bit of conversation going to work into his 'big bad good guy' persona?"
"He's just being a good friend to you, that's all." Vincent began walking down the trail without her.
"You're going to say that and start walking, huh? Barret's right when he says you're a 'cold one.'"
"He says that because he doesn't understand me." He turned to face her. "Are you coming or not? I thought you were concerned with Cloud's welfare."
Tifa suddenly realized that she had forgotten about Cloud. She had been too busy becoming aggravated at Vincent's actions. "I am concerned," she said, more to reassure herself than to convince Vincent. She began walking quickly down the trail, passing him silently.
He followed her quietly, for a bit. She continued her maddening pace, and it soon became obvious to Vincent that she'd be too tired to face any enemy at their destination if she kept on like that. "Tifa, slow down a bit."
"Can't handle it?"
"I'm fine. But you're tiring yourself out too much. What'll be left inside to fight Kayley?"
She paused and turned. "I have to get down there fast, to protect Cloud. If Kayley regains the powers she had as Jenova, that's it for him. He'd be a puppet again."
"He wasn't completely a puppet before. I believe he was able to stop himself from killing Aeris."
"Why do you mention her?" asked Tifa spitefully.
"Because she was an ally of ours, is one now, and any mentioning of her in passing should not anger you so."
"Well, it does."
"Have you ever stopped to wonder why?" Vincent caught her eye and she could not bear to turn from it.
"No." She closed her eyes. "Why should I think about it? I don't question my feelings for Cloud."
"What are those feelings?"
(Why is he asking me these things, looking at me like this? This is not the time!) "Look," she said, "we can do this later."
He rolled his eyes. "We both know that if Kayley had decided to come here, she would have found Mako by now and become Jenova. She had a head start." He continued. "If she had gone to Mideel, there would have been an almost-instant PHS call from that group." Vincent sat down on a rock. "So she went to the Northern Crater. That group must catch up with her. They probably won't, and they'll barely escape and then we'll all get back together for a classic showdown."
"You think you're so smart, don't you?" She glared at him. "What if Kayley comes around that bend right now, power restored, and rips off your head as you speak?"
"Then I guess I'd be wrong," he said. His eyes sparkled.
Tifa cracked a smile in spite of herself. Sitting next to him, a small laugh escaped from her lips. "You could have saved Barret the trip. And the speech."
"But it was so touching."
"For teasing Barret? Nah." He met her eyes. "For wanting a conversation alone with you? Perhaps."
"Alone with me?" she repeated warily.
"I'm not going to kill you, you can relax." His tone was serious. "And I'm still waiting for the answer to my previous question."
"What my feelings are?"
"Isn't it obvious to you, oh observer of humanity? I love him."
"It's not that obvious, is it? Otherwise he would know."
"He does know." Her voice was bitter.
He changed the subject. "When did you know? ...that you loved him."
"I don't know." She tossed her head a bit. "I guess I always did, deep down inside."
"Always? Like when you two were children and you ignored him?"
"After that, I guess."
"So," said Vincent slowly, "it was after he left town to join Soldier and you never saw him again?"
Tifa was annoyed. "Fine, it was--"
He cut in. "That time at the reactor when he avoided you the whole time? He saved your life and you didn't even remember he was there until you looked into his head?"
"What are you driving at here?" A tear slipped down her cheek. "Fine, it's when I first saw him in Midgar. Why does the time I realized I love him fucking matter?"
"Well, for one thing, when you first saw him in Midgar, he was living a lie. The lie was that his Soldier career was remarkably like Zack's."
She was silent.
"I'm not trying to upset you."
"Then what are you trying? To make me hate you?" She took a shuddering breath. "I thought we were becoming really good friends...I thought..."
"If I didn't care, I wouldn't bother with this. Don't you get it? I'm trying to make you see. You spend all this time, expend all this energy, pour all your heart into this conquest of a person. Someone you rejected for nearly all the life he can remember."
"I always thought I could make it up to him."
"Maybe you can. But not through pretending to be in love with him."
She choked back a sob. "I'm not pretending!" she cried. "Why would I do this to myself?"
"You felt Cloud's pain when she died," he said softly, avoiding the mention of Aeris' name.
"You saw his guilt for not saving her, his guilt for beating her, his guilt for nearly killing her. His guilt for giving Sephiroth the Black materia. Then he disappeared, and you didn't know what to do. Cloud was your link to the past, your link to each day one of your parents died. He'd led the group after Sephiroth; he led your vengeance on the man who burned your hometown to the ground."
"And I didn't know where to go without him there. I needed him to tell us where to go."
"You nursed him in Mideel because you needed him. When you were in the Lifestream, you were able to see inside his mind."
"So?" There was a slight hostile trace in her voice.
"You learned his most intimate secrets. Things that he perhaps would only tell to a lover? You feel close to him, you feel a bond. There's only one problem. The time you spent there awakened his consciousness, but he wasn't conscious during that time. You can't expect him to remember the things he said to you, and you to him."
"So he wouldn't know how close I felt to him then?"
"That basically would explain all of his coldness to you. There's still one problem with the closeness you feel to him. He acted most of the time you knew him as an adult...he acted like Zack."
"He became much quieter after he told the truth..."
"He spent quite a few years in that mansion in Nibelheim, Tifa, he probably feels like a teenager now. The shame of not making Soldier is still real to him. The pain he feels from how you treated him years ago is still with him."
"What does this have to do with my feelings?"
Vincent looked at her. "This is obviously news to you. And that's the problem. You keep saying all these things to me, to yourself. However, to anyone who takes the time to look at the situation... It seems to me that you haven't gotten to know the real Cloud at all."
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