Evolution of Innocence Chapter 22

By Janet Monstwillo

It was nearing daybreak when Derin stumbled into the alternate hotel room, off of his late watch. "Cid, your turn," he said.

The pilot rolled over and swung at the source of the voice. "Already went...don't wanna get up. Have Aeris do it."


"Whatever..." his voice trailed off into incoherent mumblings that were most likely cursing.

Scratching his head, Derin thought to himself. (I only need a couple hours of sleep...maybe she can handle it.) He looked around the room. (Okay, that yellow spike has to belong to Cloud and then...) Two empty beds. His first conclusion led him to scrutinize Cloud's bed, but the guy was alone, snoring pretty loudly to boot. (The bathroom?) No, that was empty. He slowly walked back over to where Cid was sleeping. "She's gone."

"Good riddance...Shera was a dumbass."

"No, Daphne's gone!" He raised his voice so loud there was a stirring across the room.

"Daphne left? Maybe she's just at the store or something."

"At four in the morning?"

"It was never like Aeris to take off to be by herself."

Derin shrugged. "If you find her here, then I'll believe you. But she may be in danger, and then we definitely need to find her."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dying moonlight shined down on an unlikely trio sleeping outside the inn at Mideel. Two humans curled together comfortably and were using a fire-red creature as their pillow.

Reeve blinked awake, taking a moment to gather his surroundings, before remembering what led him there. (First, the "no vacancy" sign. No compassion from the innkeeper, not even for the exhausted people who had prevented a second trashing of his town.) Eventually, he had managed to convince a growly Red XIII to keep those of his friends not graced with a fur coat cozy and warm.

He had just laid down next to Yuffie, covering them both with the cape of the Sephiroth costume and voila--warmth.

As if on cue, the restless ninja tossed off the makeshift blanket. Reeve waited until she stopped stirring, then placed it back around her. (I know she stole materia and everything, but this kid still gets a bum rap. I'm more accepted by these guys, and I was privy to the Sector 7 plate drop! She's not that bad. It's just unfortunate that any niceness or attention on my part encourages her crush on me...but someone has to show her kindness.)

Suddenly, the silence about them was broken by the ring of a PHS. Reeve grabbed it and held it to his ear as his companions awoke, grumbling. "Hello?"

"Reeve?" Cloud's voice wavered. "She's gone."

"Who's gone?" Yuffie and Red XIII exchanged concerned looks.

"Aeris. She's vanished. Last time this happened, she--"

"Have you checked all around Icicle Inn?"

"No trace. It's been snowing, and...she took my gold chocobo. That's why I'm calling. She could be anywhere."

"Yeah, that's probably true." Reeve covered the mouthpiece and addressed his wide-eyes friends. "It's Cloud. Apparently Aeris--Daphne--got on his chocobo and took off. He's pretty distraught." He went back to the conversation. "Well, what do you want us to do?"

"Look for her! Daphne lived in Mideel."

"Okay. If she asks about you, we'll let you--"

"Wait. You have to bring her--"

"Could. She's obviously going through a complicated time right now. She has a right to privacy--"

"I don't know why I bothered calling here. The cat's a stoic, Yuff's a brat, and you're just Shinra."

Reeve heard a click as the line went dead. "I think he hung up on me."

"He must be pretty shaken up," remarked Red XIII. "I'll call Cid later to confirm our time of departure in the morning."

Yuffie was more reactive to this news. "What a jerk! If I was Aeris, I'd run away, too."

"It must be pretty overwhelming for her."

"I bet, Red." An odd look crossed Reeve's face. "Maybe she's torn between Daphne's life and her old one. We have no idea how long she lived as this girl."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Joel rested his head on his pillow, sleepily musing about his life. He liked having his own place; he'd been there about a month, ever since Daphne convinced him to get out from under his parents' roof.

(I can't believe I was foolish enough to think she told me to move...because she wanted to get me alone.) Before, there had been a huge age difference. Before, he hadn't wanted to be tied down...

(She's shown me such strength. I'm in so much awe at her resilience. Losing everything but...me. I was stupid enough to think that would keep her here.)

It had been three days without a word from Daphne, and Joel was worried.


A soft knock came at the door of his studio apartment. Standing up, he went to unlock the door. "Come in," he said, stepping back to prepare for anything.


His eyes widened in surprise, and, without a word, he had his visitor locked in a tight embrace.

"I guess this means you're glad to see me?"

"Daph." His voice was barely above a whisper. "I--why didn't you tell me you were going away?"

"I'm sorry if I worried you." She lowered her eyes to the floor. "It's been a wild few days. You know that guy I met at the bar a couple weeks ago?"

"The blonde poky hair kid?"

"Yeah." Daphne nodded. "I saw him in town and we went out to the arcade. Turns out he's Cloud Strife."

Joel's eyes were as big as saucers. "The Cloud Strife? Of Avalanche?"

"There's been some trouble happening around the Planet lately. I managed to get myself mixed up in all of it."

"My Daph's been busy saving the world?"

"I like that." She smiled.

"Saving the world?"

Daphne shook her head. "No, the other part. But anyway... I'm in trouble."

"What is it?"

"I don't know how this happened...but for some reason or another, Cloud thinks that I'm his dead friend...that Aeris girl?" She shivered. "I ran away. I got scared...I don't know how to make him think I'm just me...normal me."

"Sounds like he's a little crazy." Joel's voice was cold. "Pretending you're someone else? When he could just have...you."

She wrapped her arms around him, drawing him even closer. "He might come after me," Daphne whispered.

"Strife'll have to go through me," he swore.

She looked up at met his eyes. "Joel...you don't have to..."

"Yes, I do." He was startled as he felt her lips on his, forceful and steady. He deepened the kiss and held her tightly, nearly crushing her body against his.

Breaking away, she looked up at him. "I've been up all night," she said softly.

"I'm sorry...are you all right?"

"Don't be sorry. And besides being tired, I'm perfectly fine."

He led her to his bed and tucked her in after she laid down. "All I have is yours. Everything will be okay. You're home now, Daphne."

Gazing up at the warmth in his eyes and the first morning light reflected in them, she snuggled down into the warm bed. (I'm home.)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Tifa pushed her scrambled eggs around the breakfast plate. Sighing, she set her fork down and took another sip of coffee.

Barret eyed her with firm judgment. "Aw come on, Teef, ya gotta eat something. `Specially after yesterday."

"I'm fine," she insisted.

"I woulda complained that you hadn't even buttered your toast...but since ya haven't even taken a bite outta it..."

"Barret, please. I'm trying my best." She forced a mouthful of eggs down just to prove her point. "Besides, I'm sure when Vincent gets off the PHS, he'll be telling us we need to hurry out of here to catch the Airship."

"Hardly." The two of them looked up from their meal to see the dark-haired man glowering in the doorway. "Cloud has decided we're not going to be leaving today."

"What the hell?"

"That was my thought, Barret. Apparently, Aeris, or Daphne if you will, has left and Cloud wants us to search the area for her."

"How would she have gotten here so quickly?" Tifa absentmindedly spread some butter on her toast and took a bite.

"She stole his golden chocobo. I doubt she's here, though."

"She probably went home," concurred the brunette. "I mean, just because we're used to leaving people at the drop of a hat, she never was. Besides, Aeris just learned she was back. Maybe she wants to visit other friends that she hasn't seen since she died."

Barret tossed down his napkin and stood up. "Well, I'll go look around just to satisfy spike-head." He walked to the door. "And you, eat something!" he yelled to Tifa, in parting.


"Seems like I'm not the only one concerned about you," remarked Vincent.

"Between you and him, I feel like an infant."

"I can cool it. Barret either cannot or will not, so that's not much help in terms of breakfast." He smiled slightly. "Besides, I think you took care of breakfast during our conversation."

Tifa glanced down and noticed that she really had eaten most everything on her plate. "Wow. I guess I just needed a little distraction."

"How are you?" he asked, his tone of voice changing slightly.

"Confused," she answered honestly. "You?"


"Then make it up to me," she said lightly. "Tell me how you feel."


"Don't shit me around, Vincent. We both know what I'm asking for. Let's just say I'll accept that in lieu of any sorrowful apology you may want to spit out at me." She drank the last bit of her coffee. "Let me know what's on your mind for once."

"I feel that you should not be in pain any longer. I would like to take it all away, but I don't know how to do so without causing more."

"How do you think you cause me pain?" Tifa asked cautiously.

He was silent for a moment. "I never make you smile. I make you frown or cry."

"You think too much. You don't make me frown, you just happened to be there when I had something to frown about. I caused my own pain."

"I want you to have joy."

"Then do something about it."

All he did was look away.

"Is that it, then? You're just going to give up? I guess I am better off without you trying to make me happy!"

"What do you want me to do?"

Tifa opened her mouth to respond but shook her head.


She interrupted him. "Kiss me."

They were motionless for a moment, both stunned by her frankness. Then Vincent silently walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over, and did what he was best at. He listened.

Chapter 23

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic