Evolution of Innocence Chapter 16
By Janet Monstwillo
It had seemed as though the Northern Crater had been in existence for time immemorial. However, the eyes of the Masters remembered a time when the surface of the Planet was unscarred. Yet in those times, Mako actually flowed more freely to the surface than it did at the present.
Perhaps the lack of Lifestream hotspots was a blessing in disguise. After all, if not for that fact, Kayley would have had a much shorter journey to reach her destination. This blessing became irrelevant as she entered a cavern with Cloud, a cavern that flowed freely with Lifestream.
She bade Cloud sit down, and sit down he did. Turning her attention to the greenish mako-fall cascading immediately in front of her, she scrutinized the material. (This is it?) Her thoughts had expected the precious giver of all life to look a little more...extraordinary.
Part of the mako flowed into a pool, with a shore lapping at the rocky floor beside her. Kneeling down to meet it, Kayley slowly brought her fingertips to the glowing liquid. A rush of...something...met her instantly. Her eyes widened in excitement and surprise. (I never knew that I could learn so much, just by touching this stuff.) An odd feeling was traveling through her, surging within her veins, and Jenova, within the human body, began searching the memories of the girl's brain.
(I do not feel that I was given power. Yet.) A small frown furrowed at her brow. (But I was given something...I know more now.) Indeed, the mind belonging to the extraterrestrial being from eons ago had just experienced something completely new to her. Somehow, through a miracle of the Masters, or even just the Lifestream itself, the soul of Jenova had gained knowledge.
The type of knowledge that can only come from being one with the Planet; it can only come to a person who cannot do the Planet harm. Some eager sort of human curiosity was beating within Kayley's breast, and she did not know the implications of what she had seen.
Images of peace, not power--but for some reason, she ached for more. Step by step, she waded into the pool. The Manipulate materia slipped from her simple weapon as she dropped it; the crystal shattered on the floor upon impact.
The first memory Cloud had was seeing the last glimpse of Kayley's rusty locks, as she disappeared completely into the Lifestream.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"I hope Barret meets us soon."
"What does it matter? Cid has the Airship, and he went into the crater."
Tifa looked at the ground. "It doesn't matter, in terms of the mission."
Vincent watched her fidget, with a knowing look in his eye. She would never look up and see it, that time. "I make you uncomfortable."
The brunette shrugged.
"Of course," he muttered.
(I wonder if he thinks I heard that or not.) As honest as Vincent was with his "observations," Tifa was still far from having any idea about what went on in his head. (It's unfair, the way he can say the right words...to make me break down my guard. It took me months of trying to be subtle with Cloud. To tell him. Simple words were what I said. "You're more than a friend to me." They held years' worth of thinking, months' worth of debating. A lifetime of pain, I had told myself. But Vincent got it out, he got it all out. Yet I know no more about him than I thought I did. Except he eventually warms up enough to people to be sarcastic as hell.
Maybe his close ways were enough to earn his confidence. He cared for Lucrecia, I saw the pain in his eyes...but...but...what he had there... Is it enough for him to even understand my pain?)
She raised velvet eyes to his. "No. But somehow I feel uncomfortable that any one of us would be out alone. I'll be relieved to see Barret all right."
"So, if I were to whisk you off in the dead of night, no problem?"
"Why would you have a reason to do that?" She raised an eyebrow, calling on herself to meet his questions with equal strength of will. "Why would I have a reason to go?"
Vincent was as unmoved as a pile of stone. "None of that matters. I just marvel that any of this group could trust me, after seeing me...knowing how I failed someone important to me, long ago."
"I have trusted you with more of my insides than I have to anyone else," she said softly. (Though I still don't understand why, I wonder...could he understand me...what things mean to me?)
"Don't give me credit for that. Or blame yourself. You just acknowledged when my observations rang true or not."
"They always seem to ring true. Vincent."
It seemed to him that centuries should have passed before he heard his name roll off from a tongue again in that manner. Softly, with concern. Two syllables seemed to hold both trust and patience that he thought were far beyond his deserving.
"I wish I could return the favor though. It appears to me that you are hard to read, and wish for things to stay that way. Such a shame." Tifa tried to make her tone lighter. "I'd like to put a spotlight on you for a change."
Neither smile nor frown passed his lips; he set his mouth and turned to watch the path for Barret. "Don't ask to open up Pandora's Box. I doubt anything inside of me should be held out in the light of day."
Vincent had a skill at making statements that shot straight into Tifa's psyche, like arrows of steel. For once, the favor was returned. "Then share them with someone who is unfaltering in the depths of the night."
He turned, searching her face with his eyes, but she stood up and moved past him, up the trail.
"I see Barret coming back. If we hurry on, we can reach Nibelheim before nightfall."
Tifa's happy-go-lucky façade returned as she chatted to Barret, speaking random encouraging words, about how Cid, Derin, and Daphne would most certainly save the day.
Vincent remained a little ways behind them as they backtracked down through the mountains. (It is not a question of whether I could find another who is strong enough to hear such things. More of whether I could hand them such a haunting burden, without adding to the chains and fetters already surrounding me.) A shudder went through him. (Simply killing innocence is one crime; but evolving it into something ugly is a multitude of them, and earns lifetimes' worth of repentance before salvation could even hope to exist.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
(How did I get here? The last thing I remember is...the observatory...)
Daphne sucked in her breath, marveling at the beauty of the Mako-filled cave. She gave a sudden start when she saw a blond man, kneeling and holding his head. Of course, the spikey hairdo gave him away-- "Cloud!" she exclaimed, rushing over to him.
Derin had been following right behind her, and watched as she fawned over her discovery. Cid brought up the rear and watched the exchange, with a slight disinterest in his eye.
"You are really Aeris?" Cloud murmured.
"Yes," she replied hesitantly.
"Then here, see the real me," he continued bitterly, "I can be a puppet even without Sephiroth or Jenova. Even when I don't want to pretend to be someone else."
"She had a manipulate materia..."
"Don't use that excuse, I was weak."
"Of course you were." She looked at him. "That's not always something to be ashamed of. You'll know better next time."
"If there is a next time for me."
"There will be." Taking his hand, Daphne smiled at him. "Where there's life...there's hope. Always."
Standing silent, Derin felt a bit of pain come over him. She sounded like she always had, just then. (It couldn't possibly be that...she's only different to me? When she told me she loved me...has she changed her mind now she's seen him again?)
He snatched his hand away from her. Ignoring her hurt eyes, Cloud took a deep breath. "I can only assume now that this girl is the enemy Red XIII had clues about. And I've screwed this whole damn thing up! Our enemy is probably calling back vicious disgusting things from the Lifestream, and it's all my fault!"
"Cloud! Don't say--"
"Don't say what? Don't say what? The truth, Aeris? That I failed my own convictions, and didn't do it for companionship, didn't do it to make Tifa happy, but did it because I was jealous?" He shook his head. "If I had cared about you, truly, then why wouldn't I have been ecstatic that you were happy with Zack?"
"Zack? But he was...well only then...and..."
"What?" A glance to Derin's shocked face was enough to back Cloud's hunch up. "You tell me that you have had no feelings for Zack since you were sixteen years old?"
Eyes filled with tears, and a soul tried to recall memories to help guide her, but there seemed to be shadows surrounding her. All Daphne knew at that moment was that she wanted something...could it be Cloud?
Fierce brown eyes watched the conversation intently. Blue mako eyes fixed on violet ones. A certain decision rested in them.
"No." The voice was firm. "Not since then."
He staggered back a bit. In all the time he had known Aeris, as a Cetra, a soul, or a human, never had she lied. There is a first time for everything. A pain that Derin had never known seemed to seep into every crevice of his heart, and it kept coming, flowing as endlessly as the Lifestream itself. It was a hard blow to take, for the avatar representing a young lady-killer who had been taught love through flowers and green eyes. (We knew the truth in the Promised Land...and if I still know it... How can it hurt this much?)
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