Evolution of Innocence Chapter 27
By Janet Monstwillo
The bar was still closed when Joel arrived to take on the night rush. The occupants inside peered at him with curiosity and he, them, as he unlocked the door and entered. "What does this all mean, Daph?" he asked. Then, suddenly, he saw Tifa, Yuffie, and the newest arrivals Red XIII and Vincent, eyes blazing with recognition. "Why can't you all leave that poor girl alone? Just because Cloud Strife decides that he wants something"
Something else stayed his words, though, a look in Daphne's eyes that he had never seen before. "There...are a few things that you don't know about me," she said miserably. First though, she nodded to the blue suited group across from her in the booth. "These are the bodyguards I hired. The Turks."
"Sir," Rude spoke up immediately, always having a knack with those in authority, "we can assure you that Avalanche means your friend no harm. We've been in here for a few hours...discussing some matters."
"What matters?" He looked around the room half-crazed. "This seems like a dream. What matters would any of you have with a young girl from Mideel?"
"I lied to you, Joel. I said that they thought I was Aeris...that part was true...but the lie is..." She looked up at him. "Promise me that you won't think I'm nuts."
With a dubious frown, he nodded.
"I am Aeris. Reincarnated, I guess you could say. Daphne was strong, Joel, but...things were too much for her." Part of her knew Daphne inside and out...part of her felt Daphne inside and out. There was still some love inside of her for Joel. She reached out, placing a hand on his arm. "She's resting now, in the Promised Land. I'm sure she's with her family...and I know that she and Rachel are happy." She began to cry.
"So what? You took over some girl's life to get your own back?"
"It was a willing trade. I would never ask a soul to sacrifice what I did."
He didn't know what to do. Daphne was sitting there, right in front of him, saying that she wasn't Daphne. Yet, yet...he felt... Pain built up inside of him, and before he could stop himself, he had run his fist straight through the wall. "Now there's a hole in the bar to match the one in me," he stated matter-of-factly. "I loved her and you took her away!" He strode towards this hollow shell, this sick and twisted...
Joel met a barrier in Derin. "Do not blame her because you did not tell the woman you loved her in time to make her feel less lonely."
"Out of my way."
"The masters would never force a soul out of their body. If they released your precious Daphne, it was only because she was about to release herself."
It was beginning to look like the soul avatar would end up on the wrong end of a fist when Daphne spoke. "Stop this, please! I don't mean to hurt you, Joel. This is very hard for me...I'm not the same Daphne you grew up with...but I still remember everything about her life." She sighed. "I think it was their intention that I live a life thinking I was her. But the convention revived my memory partially, and time has begun to restore other things."
Daphne's childhood friend took a deep breath. "When?" he asked. "When did you...switch?" The last voice was barely a whisper.
"The girl you took home from the shelter next to the hospital, the day my mother died, was I. Before that..." her voice trailed off.
His spirits rose a bit. This girl then, was the one he'd spent time with and the one he had fallen for. But she had another past, with another group of friends, and perhaps even. His eyes slid to the floor as he recalled the protective friend who'd blocked his path.
"Are we...are we friends?" she asked timidly.
Joel looked down at her. "Of course," he said softly. "I meant it when I said I'd always be here for you. I still will miss the way you used to be, of course...but that seems like a long time ago." He gave her a queer look. "So...you remember everything?"
Smiling, Daphne was about to open her mouth, probably to relate some sort of childhood anecdote, when interruption suddenly burst upon them.
Cloud, Barret, Cid, and Kayley walked into the bar. Well, Barret and Cid stormed, Kayley slunk, and Cloud dejectedly shuffled inside.
"The gang's all here," muttered Reno. His partners silenced him with glares.
"Hi." Daphne peered at them all guiltily.
"No time for none a' that shit!" Barret swore in anger. "That damn Meteor is closer to the Planet than it was a few hours ago. We all gonna be toast by next week, at this rate."
Kayley managed a weak smile before slowly walking over to Daphne. She began to breathe quickly, nearly hyperventilating. Eventually, she was able to spit something out. "Everything that happened since you died is becoming undone because you're alive again."
No one had dared say such a thing, not so plainly, and not in front of more than a few others. But she had just announced it to everyone, even the Turks!
"This isn't my fault," the raven-haired girl protested. "Why you're the one who forced herself back. You're an alien! You belong neither here nor the Promised Land."
She shrank back as if wounded. "That's what my life here is to determine. You forget that the masters decided I should be alive. I think the person who broke the rules was you!"
"No." The first word was feeble, but soon her insistence grew. "No, no, no!" Daphne sprung from her seat. "I'm here to save the Planet again! Zack, tell them about our mission. Tell them why we're here." Her eyes were bright, expectant, and filled with fear.
Derin gazed at her face with compassion and love. But he could not lie. "I was sent here so that there could be a mediator between the Planet and what the masters intend. Without an Ancient alive, there would be no other way to make sure their messages were interpreted correctly."
"...all this, to keep the Planet safe. Us, together," she said firmly. Her words may have been firm, but she looked pale and faint. A sudden blast of wind could have knocked her over in a heartbeat.
He closed his eyes in pain. "Rissy." His voice was delicate and precise, filled with restrained emotion. "Eldor...when he told me of what I was to do...and that I was to aid someone... You were never mentioned by name. Jenova was sent back the same time you were. It can't have been a coincidence. I...you...both of us, we misread the intentions of the masters. Like the imperfect souls we are."
The two of them stood, eyes locked together, for what seemed like an eternity. Slowly, the others began slipping out of the tavern in ones and twos until only they, Joel, Cloud, and Kayley remained.
All of a sudden, Daphne broke the silence. "...yyou don't have anything else left to tell me, do you?"
Shaking his head sorrowfully, Derin placed a hand on her shoulder. "I wish I did. By every deity that could ever have existed, I wish I did."
Choking back a sob, she nearly collapsed into his waiting arms. He silently held her quaking form as she wept into his chest. Almost like they were cued, Cloud and Joel slid towards the exit.
Kayley did not move to join them until she heard the subsequent whisper.
"Oh Zack...what am I supposed to do?" No cheer or hope existed in that voice; the girl sounded old and tired.
Not caring to reveal anything else at present, the redhead quickly made her way to the door. She was almost entirely outside when she heard Derin's cautious reply.
"I'm not sure, Riss."
But Kayley was, and she thought the same to herself, biting back tears of her own. Even for all the spite passed between the two women, even a life newly human could see the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow on the misunderstood girl's face. (...I know exactly what to do) she thought gloomily. She could not escape the declaration that the poor girl should die againit was too much to bear!and she began to cry.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Why did it have to be like this?" Walking along the shore under Junon with Vincent, she was not sure if she demanded an answer from her stoic companion or the sea. It didn't matter; any answer that could be given would be better than the emptiness she felt right then.
"I don't know." At least he was being honest. They passed the next few minutes in silence, and then he dared to speak again. "After...after the Jenova project began...and Hojo...changed me, I bitterly renounced any belief in any sort of divine power beyond our Planet. Aeris' death reinforced that."
For awhile, no sound passed between the two, aside from the roar of the storm-filled currents beyond them.
"But then we destroyed the foe. Sephiroth...misused, maligned, abused Sephiroth was finally put to rest...we emerged battered, not broken. And we all saw the very fabric of life itself rise up from beneath the ground, in waves and spirals, deflecting the one thing left that could destroy us all." He took her hand in his good one. "However small and insignificant, it did give me a spark of hope."
"They could have kept her from coming back! Those masters or whatever the hell Derin is always submitting to...they had the power to send her backknowing the havoc it would wreak on us alland followed the simple, foolish desires of one of the souls they are supposed to guide." Tifa shook her head furiously. "They could have stopped her."
"They could have stopped Hojo and Lucrecia from doing their experiments, even if they could not control Jenova's crash landing here. They could have destroyed the Shinra, too, but they didn't."
Tears fell from burgundy eyes, and Tifa Lockhart still denied comprehension. "What kind of divine power could cause its children pain?"
Vincent seemed to ignore her question. "I believe Derin has told us the purpose of our lives before. What did he say it was?"
She looked away, out...out to the vanishing horizon. (It will be a moonless night.) After awhile, she turned back. "We live our lives to learn all that we need to know. That's what he said."
He released his grip on her hand, bringing his own up to caress her cheek, brushing away a stray tear. "And when do we learn most? When we fly through easily, without a care or a worry..." His voice sunk into deeper cadences. "...or when we fail?"
"I don't know!" Her voice rose, almost accusing him of causing all of this. In her heart, she knew such an idea was ridiculous, but right now he was the only one opposing her frank mope about parity, and damn it...Tifa didn't want to know when she learned the most. All she wanted is for the hurt to go away for just a little while. To let life give her the gifts she felt she had earned...
...and suddenly, she understood Aeris completely. But still, she repeated, "I don't know."
Wordlessly, Vincent backed a few steps away from her, trying not to flinch at her expression of alarm. He reached his hand up and began to unwrap the scarf that had been a constant attendant at his neck for as long as any of his friends had known him. At the top of his throat, from one side of his jaw to the other, ran a deep, ugly scar. Poorly healed and very discolored, it was obvious that...it had been a mortal wound.
Tifa gasped in alarm and sympathy.
Blood red eyes became unseeing as the man traveled back into the lost reaches of his memory. "My commander, when I was in the Turks, used to have a little saying. `For every scar earned, a lesson learned.' I think you can understand the meaning nearly as well as I."
She nodded. They both knew if he dared to explore the region beneath her tank top, he'd find a gash down her chest nearly as ugly as the one on his neck.
"When we earn our scars, they hurt horribly, but they don't kill us. We patch up, but never the same. And we don't make the same mistake again." He began to wrap himself back up.
He walked back over to her, kissing her gently on the forehead. "Life hurts so much," Vincent whispered, "because we live to fail."
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