Evolution of Innocence Chapter 15

By Janet Monstwillo

"This place looks scary." Daphne shivered.

"You think it looks scary now? You would've shit your pants a few months ago then."

"I doubt that Cid. I'm very clean." She gazed down over the summit of Gaia's Cliff. "I see something."

"So do I. A big hole."

She turned pleading eyes to Derin. "Can you help me out a little here, Zack?"

(There it goes again. Sometimes I'm Zack, sometimes I'm Derin.) Then he chastised himself for his attitude. (Gotta try to remember that she can't see what I see, feel what I feel. If only they could have sent me as a mortal soul...) "What, hon?"

"Look over there." She pointed. "What do you see?"

He peered into the distance. "A helicopter that says 'Junon Police' on it."

"Shit!" yelled Cid. "That's one-a my fleet!"

"Well, guess we know that Kayley's probably here, right?" Daphne bit her lip. "What should we do?"

"I think going after her would be a viable option," said Derin.

"No sarcasm. First, we should probably call the others on the PHS. Next, we should go look at the helicopter...judge the snow around it. The way the wind is up here, it would begin to be buried in no time."

"So?" Cid gave her a look of utter boredom.

"So...if it's still pretty clean, or if there are footprints, they didn't land too long ago. Which means, we have a decent chance of catching up to them before..."

"I understand." Derin reached in his pack and brought out the PHS. "You guys go check out the 'copter...carefully. I'll call the others."


Daphne walked towards the helicopter, with Cid following closely behind. She was becoming aware of the fact that while Cid was an excellent fighter, a good pilot with years of experience, and a very true companion, he was also very irritating and easily annoyed.

The pilot paused before the vehicle and, turning to the side, spat on the ground.

She shook her head in disgust. (Why do I feel this way about him? I don't remember ever disliking Cid.) In all honesty, as Aeris, she never had disliked Cid, nor had she noticed any jealousy from Tifa, though there were a few signs. (Have I lost something...something important that I had? Once upon a time, when I wore pink and sold flowers and laughed?) Daphne doubted that she had laughed, without forcing it out, since she realized who she really was.

"Tracks are half-filled with snow." Cid spat again. "Judging by these winds, the two have about an hour, hour and a half lead on us. Think we can cut it?"

Mustering up a statement that did justice to her former self, Daphne gave him a weak smile. "Of course we can. We have no other choice. Right now, we have an easy job. If we fail..." Something in her eyes hardened. "It's on our own heads."

He paused to give her an odd look before he waved Derin over to where they stood. "Looks like we're gonna go in."

Derin nodded. "We're going to head into the crater," he said softly into the PHS. "We'll talk to you when we've finished." Turning it off, he placed it back into his pack and looked at the duo standing in front of him. "We're all prepared for battle, right?"

There was a nod from the grim-faced pilot, and a moment of deliberation from the raven-haired girl. "I never got any materia," she said softly.

"Easily remedied. I manage to carry more than I can equip." Derin held out a small plastic box.

Daphne took the box and opened it. Both she and Cid gasped to see the rows of neatly arranged materia.

"I gotta get me one of those," he said emphatically.

She peered in the case, concentrating hard. Try as she might, she could barely remember what each materia did, let alone any important facts about their stats. She held up a yellow enemy skill and slipped it into her staff, then followed with random materia.

Derin studied her face and her selection. "If you need any help, Rissy, I can pick some good ones... It's hard to remember everything so quickly."

Daphne gazed at him coldly. "I'm just fine. Zack."

He closed his eyes and turned away from her, towards the crater. "Fine then. Let's go in."

The group made their way down into the crater, picking the beginnings of a trail from the collapsed caverns and hollows inside, while Derin remembered something. Something from long ago.


"The world never seemed to touch you Rissy. You could have been a drug dealing whore, and still have been just as innocent as when you were born."

Aeris smiled warmly at him. "I doubt that. If I were that innocent, I wouldn't have any use for the drug dealing." A pause. "Or the whoring," she added.

"Maybe I exaggerate a little." Zack grinned. "But I know that no matter what you would be doing, you were always innocent. Always sane."

"I had a gift. If I was evil, it would have been a curse."

"What is that?"

"My mother was always watching me, giving me advice. No matter where I went, I could hear the Planet. And...even through all its pain and suffering...it knew I was its child...it knew that I could hear it. Know its pain, feel its pain... How could I ever be petty or wordly when I had that knowledge with me. I carried it every day. I knew when someone I cared about hurt or died."

"Did you really?" The young man's brow furrowed. "Rissy," he said softly.

"I never betrayed you in my heart. I knew you had long returned to the Planet. I would never have let even a mere thought stray in my mind." She met his inquisitive glance. "But I couldn't let my heart die with you. I was still alive, and needed to at least feel some thrill. Even if I never got to know him..." She closed her eyes. "I know I love you and I never really got to know you on the Planet."

"You love me?" he asked softly. Zack knew the answer by heart, but grasped at an escape from the slightly painful conversation.

"Of course. Not a moment goes by that I don't think of you now. Things are different down there though. They always are. He's in such pain...he blames himself for my death. And I represent more than myself to him. I'm the first person who even tried to see him for himself, and by the time he found himself, there was no way for him to share it with me. He cared deeply, Zack."

"Someday he will forget." A bitter tone snuck into his voice.

"He didn't experience a death as I did. He is haunted, Zack. And I want to fix that. I don't want to leave you, but--"

"You don't want to leave me? Aeris, you don't have a choice. Not for another century, at least." He grabbed her hand. "Don't even bother yourself with this. The years begin to slip quickly and quietly. You can talk with him like this in the blink of your eye."

"Not a blink of his eye. Does he deserve the pain?" She stood. "I wanted to get your blessing before I spoke with Eldor."

"My blessing?" His words seemed empty. "Even if you were sent back, do you think that I would send you with my blessing? Bless you leaving me?" He stood up quickly. "Aeris," he said suddenly, clasping her hand. "You can't tell me that he means more than me."

She turned away. "Of course he doesn't. But you wouldn't suffer like he did. You told me yourself that the time seems like nothing at all. So take your nothing and let me buy what would be forever to him..."

"Even if they let you back, it wouldn't be as Aeris. You know that."

"We shall see. They owe me," she said with a sudden fierceness.

Zack saw that there was a hidden part of Aeris, that had never been put to flames before. But now that it had, it flared with the intensity of a thousand stars. Even the embers of it could put ordinary passion to shame. "But if you weren't Aeris," he said sadly, "you'd lose the part that kept you sane before."

"That's the chance that I would take. But I will go back as myself."

"Would I even know you if I saw you in that place?"

Aeris stepped closer and kissed him softly. "If you knew who I was, but not by what I did...you'd know enough to...realize...that the cloud had surrounded me. Whatever happens in the paths that we are put to, remember Zack, that I do love you."

As she walked away, into the light that led to the Masters, Zack did not yet know that it was the last time they were to meet on that side, for a long time. He also had no idea that if he returned to life, he would remember the sweetness of the kiss...taste it on his lips, with every step he took; with every glance at the girl who had once lived before as Aeris; and with every step towards another man who she had said before--that she was going to buy happiness for. Buy Cloud's happiness, with the price being his own.


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