Evolution of Innocence Chapter 26
By Janet Monstwillo
Cloud walked through the streets of Kalm, deep in thought. Barret and the others were still at Elmyra's house. The kind woman had gone into shock once she had learned the reason for their visit.
(Aeris hadn't even left word with her own mother.) A light breeze rustled the green grass around him. (I just don't understand it.) An image of kind green eyes flashed in his mind; kind green eyes peering at her mother with concern.
(She just isn't being herself at all.
That's got to be the key to everything, right? The reason why she'd run from all her friends, ignore her mother... Is she even the same person that we all knew once?
I've been so caught up in my own hopes and dreams and ideas of how things were supposed to be. But...she'd been dead and gone for months. The world has passed on without her...so why wouldn't she have passed on without it?)
He began to argue with himself. (Then wouldn't she be better? More selfless, more eager, more adaptable, more...more like Derin.) Cloud admitted bitterly that the new incarnation of Zack had been not only a bit more agreeable than the original flavor, but also much, much easier to deal with than Daphne.
His own mind was confused with what to call the trio of dual personalities. Derin...he was easy. The more mature, grounded version of his old friend was different enough to warrant the name change. His insistence at referring to Kayley by name, and not by her former alien self had set a decent example for Cloud.
Though he hadn't so much as spoken to her since the disappearance, his thoughts had changed from volatile and derogatory to tolerant. Kayley was Kayley in his mind. There was no doubt, now, that she was quite separated from the actions of her slimy self.
That left him with one more person to contend with. The new Aeris Gainsborough, former flower girl, once-time girlfriend and the Rissy of Zack, what was she now? The other personality she had put on like a pair of old socks, and worn when she'd first met Cloud again, didn't seem that much like the old Aeris or the one who'd taken off into the depths of the night.
(She's not the girl I loved. And she's not the girl who used to be in that body.)
"Who are you now, Aeris?" he whispered to the wind. There was no response.
Only one person could answer his question, and she was nowhere to be found.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Daphne peered at two of her new employees. "I'm waiting."
Suddenly, two figures appeared in the doorway. "Then wait no longer, and maybe you can give us an explanation for a few things while you're at it." Derin tried his hardest to keep his face calm, composed. He peered into her eyes, searching for a glimpse of... If only there was a single spark of...
She shrank back. "You know, you were hired to watch out for this sort of thing," she half screamed at the two Turks in front of her.
Gingerly, Tifa pushed her way past Rude and Reno. "It's a shame that you didn't learn much of anything in the Promised Land, or you would have known that...well...we've beaten these guys up and down the tracks a few times. Thanks to you, our duties have been held up for the time being. I don't think telling us what the hell you were up to is out of the question."
A bit panicky, violet eyes danced around the room, trying to coax her security into action. Reno, who always had his head set against authorityany authority, crossed his arms and scowled a bit. "Actually, I think we're a bit curious with what's going on here. I never cared much for Avalanche, but I'd love to know your connection with them."
"They're on our bad side because they keep kicking our butts," Elena chirped from the booth where she'd been gathering up the cards for another game. She was dissuaded from any further explanation by two matching glares from her partners.
"Hey! What are you guys doing" Yuffie had interrupted the chaos, only to find that her friends had completed the mission.
Reeve, close behind her, blinked back his surprise at seeing his old Shinra co-workers gathered around Daphne as well.
"Good thing we stood our ground," Reno muttered to Rude. "I dunno how good Jordan is at combat, but four against three would not be my idea of easy money."
Yuffie turned around the open/closed sign with a mischievous grin before walking over and plopping herself down on a stool at the counter. "So, lovely Aeris, why the hell did you run off without us?"
"You welcomed our enemy in with open arms. How can I feel any comfort next to my murderer?" Daphne's voice was full of spite.
"Funny thing," Derin replied, "that same person was responsible for my death but I understood that above all, the Planet's motives were above my personal feelings." His words were laced with poison.
The venomous dart hit its target. She blinked back tears, vaguely remembering her dreams of the Promised Land. "I guess...the Planet took my life, your life..."
He shook his head. "Yes and no. Jenova was unnatural...but...Sephiroth and his sword were of this Planet. She has to answer for the blame, while we still are bound by this Planet's rules."
She glanced around the room timidly. "I'm not the same person I was," she said softly. "I can't be the same. I barely remember you all." Her words ended with a muffled sob, and she sank down into the booth across from Elena.
Tifa felt a pang of guilt. She'd blamed a dead girl for Cloud's disinterest and continued to do so even after her return. (She's not the same any more...and Cloud's feelings are his own business.) It must be admitted, however, that she might have had a little more trouble with forgiveness if she did not know there was a tall, dark semi-stranger who was more than willing to try and see what feelings came up.
Yuffie was a bit more amiable, hopping up and sliding in next to Daphne. "Cloud's been going nutso on us, trying to find you."
"He really worries, huh?"
"We all worried, Aer..." The ninja's voice trailed off momentarily, confused with the idea of proper reincarnated-friend-nomenclature. "We had to lose you once, and you are our friend. Even though you look different, and you are confused right now, there have to still be some Aeris-y parts of you, deep down. It's a bit too much to give up again."
An image arose in Daphne's mind. Yuffie, crying in the night for weeks. Even a babe born during the tumult of a war had yet to see a companion die right before her eyes, especially one of the few who had ever treated her with a speck of respect. Andshe thought she never could, but she finally didshe began to remember.
She smiled to herself, her pretty eyes shining. It was almost like discovering a long-lost secret. Daphne looked around. The concerned yet happy eyes of her friends, even the aloof amazement of the Turks, this was what she had come back for. (And I've been such a self-absorbed brat!) She made a declaration to herself. (Things will never be exactly the same as they would have been, I'm sure of that, but I must never lose sight again of why I needed to be here so badly, why I left the Promised Land. What I wanted was another chance with these people and)
Derin's eerily calm voice broke through her thoughts. "I'm glad you understand." His deep eyes were pools of uncertainty, mystery, fear, pain... She could lose herself in them, and this made her afraid. "We have a bigger problem here though."
"I know, I'm sorry for stalling your quest against the reborn monsters..."
"I don't think it's a matter of rebirth, Rissy." It was the first time he'd managed to use the nickname, his inner thoughts included, in many days. "It's a matter of time going back." Walking to the picture window of the tavern, he drew up the blinds, revealing the bright blue sky with its puffy white clouds. A picturesque scene, really.
But the dark blemish near the sun had grown a bit more prominent. Now, instead of reflecting sunlight, it cast a shadow on that part of the sky.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
The answer nearly killed him coming out. "It's Meteor, Aeris. But this time there's no Holy-wielding maiden in the Promised Land to save the world."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
She was not brave; she was stupid. And she admonished herself thus as she hurriedly cast down the airship's ladder and descended down into Kalm. Her captors, her saviors had kept her away from them, but this was not a time to stick to alliances or fear induced declarations.
Kayley had never been through Kalm, neither as her human self nor her former alien incarnation. Such a sleepy town was never anything that mattered much, especially in earlier times when Midgar overshadowed it. She thought for a moment of the charred, bent metal that loomed ever present in the distance. Even a dead Midgar overshadowed the quaint little village.
She stopped in the square, confused. How would she know which way to turn, which way to go? Luckily there were some locals milling about, and she vaguely recalled the last name of the woman the others had sought out.
"Excuse me?" Her voice was soft, her expression timid, and the man she stopped could hardly help being polite.
"G'day, missie." He tipped his hat.
"Could you point out where Ms. Gainsborough lives?" Kayley put on the same "innocent face" she had used while seeking out Cloud, and she hoped that it actually did look pure.
"Turn down Wallace Ave. over there and it's the third house on the right." The middle aged man smiled proudly, displaying a missing front tooth. "We named our main streets over 'gain to honor Avalanche for savin' us all from Meteor and that evil Sephiroth."
She tried very hard to hide her repulsion and, for the most part, succeeded. "Thank you," she said sugary-sweet.
"Well, I dunno about tryin' to head over there at the moment though. You sees, Miz Gainsborough is friendly with those Avalanchers and they're at her house this very minute."
Kayley narrowed her eyes. She was quickly losing all the patience someone in her situation could muster. "I understand, but I just came from the Highwind. I don't think they'll turn me away." (At least they better not.)
"Lor' a mercy!" he exclaimed. "Do you think you can handle getting a helpful body like myself an au-to-graph of the heroes?"
"I apologize, but I'm really in a hurry." Sick of stupid, moronic human frivolities, she turned on her heel and ran towards the house the man had described.
"Well!" he muttered to himself before making his way towards the tavern. "Jus' 'cause she's a mate of famous people, don't mean such a young brat should go putting on such airs."
Kayley's nerves were about shot, however, by the time she'd reached Elmyra's front stoop. Her actions had been quite bold as it was, and then the townsperson had been grating, in all honesty. Biting back fear, she decided to get things over with and deal with real consequences instead of imagined ones.
Her rapping at the door was answered promptly by a sweet-faced girl with nut-brown hair.
This did not faze Kayley at all, of course not. Just because Aeris was fairly grown-up did not mean that her mother did not have other offspring. She put on her best smile for the girl. After all, even the one-time slimy headless being could admit that the child was cute as a button. "May I speak to your mother please?"
Instantly, the girl began to wail with an awful racket. "What's wrong?" Her voice was soothing, but to no avail. "Please, I need to speak to Elmyra Gainsborough!"
A terse voice answered her. "Tryin' to destroy the Planet ain't enough for ya, y'all had to go and make my Marlene cry." Barret finished his growling and lifted his adopted daughter to his shoulder. Already, her sobs had quieted down to subdued sniffling.
"I had a vision." Kayley held her ground. "Your precious Ancient is in Junon, and the fate of the Planet lies on her head this time, not mine. I thought 'y'all,'" she continued scathingly, "would like to maybe do something about it before it was too late."
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