Evolution of Innocence Chapter 23
By Janet Monstwillo
The late morning sun shone on Daphne's face. She sat up, lazily stretching her arms above her head. Crawling out of bed, she gazed out the window.
She answered without turning around. "It's gorgeous outside. Only a cloud in the sky." She peered at the strange spot near the sun and shrugged a bit.
Joel yawned loudly.
"Long night? I hope I didn't wake you when I came in last night."
"Nah. I'd just gotten off, actually. Running the bar alone has been killing me."
"I'm sorry for taking off," she apologized.
"It's all right. Helping me wasn't even your job anyway."
"It can be. Tell ya what. Give me the keys and I'll open."
"What if Strife comes back?"
She smiled. "I'll look into hiring some security." Daphne had thought up an interesting idea while sitting at the convention.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Still wear blue suits, huh?"
Rude peered at the stranger above his sunglasses. "You are going to complain about neat presentation?"
"No, I'm happy." Daphne shook her head, ebony hair swishing gently. "Three guards, ready to go, they even come with a uniform."
"We're more than just security guards...shit..." Reno leaned back into his chair. "What the hell are we doing here, guys, we're the Turkselite forces."
"Elite forces that can't get a job," Elena reminded him. "Well, at least, you can't."
"She's right. You're the one who's been holding us back from all the other job offers we've had." Rude was probably glaring behind his shades.
"Hey, just 'cause they're missing out on a great thing, don't mean it's my fault!" the disheveled man protested.
The blonde rolled her eyes. "So when do we start?"
Reno raised an eyebrow. "Short notice there, babe."
Daphne crossed her arms. "Look I have my reasons."
Elena and Rude shot pointed looks at their inept comrade.
"Fine, fine...we'll do it." He threw his hands up in the air.
"Great!" She hopped up from the table. "One of you should stand near the door, and the other two should stay inside and make sure no one causes trouble." She began walking towards the storage room in back. "Oh, and one more thing. If anyone from Avalanche comes in...feel free to toss them back on the street immediately."
Reno's eyes appreciatively followed her out of the room. "My kinda girl."
Elena gave another pointed look to Reno. "It's a secure job. Just promise you won't do anything stupid."
"Have I ever"
"Yes," answered his partners in unison.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Red XIII paced around the sandy shore impatiently. (Damn Cloud and his irrational mind. There are more serious problems on our hands then whether or not his girlfriend would like some alone time.)
"It's just as we thought." Reeve caught up with the big cat, Yuffie trailing a few footsteps behind him.
A grimace. "No Daphne," he growled.
Reeve sighed and plopped himself down on the beach. "Of course not."
"This is very annoying." Yuffie bounced up and down impatiently.
"The last thing we should be doing is going on wild goose chases such as these. It was bad enough back when we were chasing Sephi" Red XIII was interrupted by the ring of their PHS.
Grabbing the portable phone, Reeve held it up to the feline's ear, figuring that way was easier than waiting for him to sit down.
"This is Derin."
"Do you feel like picking us up yet?"
"We're on our way. Finally. We just barely managed to convince Cloud not to haul us back up to the crater."
Red XIII rolled his eye. "That's a relief, at least. How is Jenova?"
"I'm very surprised at her behavior. But her story seems to be checking out. She's rather weak and tired at the moment, since she hasn't slept. I've been keeping watch on her, mainly because I think she's going to jump out the window."
"Guilt for her crimes. Living as one of us. May actually have to start respecting the powers-that-be for that little decision."
"I'm more worried about these creatures...that you all say that you've seenand destroyedbefore."
"Somehow, the delicate balance between life and death has become upset. Not only is it disturbing, but I fear that it will place more strain on the Planet than it can handle. It has only begun to repair itself from the damage of Meteor."
"I wonder what is causing it."
"At the moment, I don't even want to ponder it. Even though Cloud's erratic behavior has been slowing us down...we may need to figure out what the cause of that is before we continue. That is how things were before."
"As we said in my Soldier days, a group is only as strong as its leader. I'm gonna let you go, seeing as the island chain Mideel is on just came in sight."
"We will continue this discussion soon." Red XIII nodded to Reeve, who put up the phone. "The Highwind will arrive shortly." His furry brow was knitted with fierce concentration. ("As we said in my Soldier days..." I hope I have not been speaking foolishly. Derin and Daphne could very well present the key to Cloud's behavior. Not with their presence, but because of their pasts.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Walking along the cobblestone street, Vincent gazed at the sleepy little village around him. (Nothing is different than it was five years agoor twenty-five.) The rebuilding feat was truly a marvel, for nothing in this town had seemed to age. (No wonder I awoke and thought only a year or two had passed. Imagine my surprise to know that the child and woman I'd failed to protect...had grown, decayed...and now, have died.)
Of course, everything except for the mansion had stayed the same. There were even a few spots along one of the corners of the wrought-iron fence where the Shinra renovators had neglected to fix the paint that had been blackened by lapping flames. The house itself lay dilapidated. Even from the street, the smell of rotting wood would waft over to the nose of a curious passer-by.
The dark figure turned, fixated on some distant sound that human ears would not have picked up at such a distance. Walking down the square opposite his crypt-site for the past quarter century, he entered the second house. Once inside, the sound became clearer. Piano music, the tones a simple tune, uplifting and haunting at the same time. He walked up the stairs, following the song to a bedroom door, which he quietly opened.
Tifa sat in a replica of her former room, hands gliding over ivory and ebony, playing from the sheet music that had been left behind.
"I thought you might be here."
She stopped, a bit startled, and turned to gaze at her interrupter.
"The Shinra duplication of this village was remarkably accurate."
Tifa poked a key. B flat. "They left a piano that's out of key, though." The note rang clear at first, but slowly the tone sounded more and more warped. "Big no-no."
"I received a call earlier, via PHS. Red and I were discussing the reemergence of past foes. He believes that these revived monsters are a crisis for the Planet." Vincent looked at her entreatingly.
"What do you want me to say?" She laughed a bit. "A crisis for the Planet? Why wouldn't it be? Generally speaking, after we kill things, we expect them to be dead."
"I am sure that's what Sephiroth expected."
"You can't possibly be suggesting..." Tifa's voice trailed off as she examined the expression on his face. "Look, I have a reason to be picking trouble with Aeris, but even I think it's preposterous to suggest that she's at fault for the rebirth of monsters."
"My idea did not come about because I begrudge the girl anything, certainly not. I respect what she did, giving her life for ours. I would not give any more time to the concept, except for the fact that it still remains logical despite scrutinizing it from every different angle I can find."
"Things can't work like that." She shook her head. "She gave up so much before...she's only getting what she deserves. This can't be her fault...it's impossible...it's not fair!"
"Was it fair for Sephiroth to be mutilated in utero, raised in a cold unforgiving laboratory, trained to kill, and then deceived by an alien being from beyond our star system?" Vincent placed a hand on her shoulder. "I couldn't even bring up my idea to Barret. Please respect my confidence."
Tifa nodded a bit, her eyes damp. "It can't be Aeris though...there must be something we're missing..."
"The Airship is coming to pick us up shortly...I think I will have to call a group discussion for this."
"Cloud won't like your idea," she whispered.
"Cloud," Vincent said quietly, "has not had a rational outlook on this subject at any point in time. For him to take one now would be more than out of character, it would be miraculous."
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