Redemption Chapter 17

By Janet Monstwillo


"I know it must sound presumptuous of me to just outright say it, but..." Aeris' voice trailed off. (Oh no. What if I was wrong?) She slowly took a deep breath.

Cloud realized she had been upset by his reaction. (Oh no, oh no...not again. Can't I do anything right without hurting someone?) " was just surprising to hear someone say it. I don't know if I've heard anyone say it."

"So it is true," she mused softly.

"Of course." He shook his head. "Of course you'd find out...because the idea to hide the truth was my idea."

"That's not why." A smile. "Believe me, Cloud. I know because the time has come. We can't hide the truth anymore."

"So you know the truth? All the truth?" A realization suddenly hit him. "I didn't want to do it, I swear I didn't--" He gasped as fourteen years of pent-up emotions overtook him.

"Shh...don't." (I've never seen anyone in so much agony before...he...he hurts so bad because of how the grand scheme of things got skewed by her.) She did the only thing that she could think of, taking him into her arms. "It's all right now...I know it. Everything will be fine..."

"It's not all right, it's not. You wouldn't act like this if you knew how it happened." He laughed bitterly. "I would run a sword through any man who did the same thing. Planet forbid I ever work up enough balls to do it to myself."

"No. The Planet told me. I know. I know everything. Everything."

Scared blue eyes peered into her face. "How much do you know?"

The sadness and hope intermixed inside her, and she raised her eyes upward. Though she knew both his pain and that of her mother, she also knew the opportunity that had been offered up to all that lived on the Planet. "All anyone could know about you. Things that played out for you during years' worth of time...the knowledge...the memories...have suddenly bestowed upon me."

"You know everything in the Planet?"

She shook her head. "I know everything in Cloud." Placing a hand over his heart, she managed a small smile. "It's been a long time since you've had someone willing to vouch for you, isn't it?"

He looked away. "It's bad enough for the Planet to treat me as I've been told it has. Why should it curse you so?"

Aeris stood up and shrugged. "Hey, I've been trying to think of all this new knowledge as a gift from the Planet. Though I'm just guessing that the powers-that-be want some kind of agent here for their own purposes." She glanced down at the man. "It's weird though. I'm beginning to think that they're doing something else to me."

He stood up next to her. "What is it?" he asked with concern. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Oh yeah." She gave a little laugh. "It's the funniest thing. First they give me all this knowledge and understanding so you have a friend with you."

"There's more?"

She briefly nodded, then leaned in closer to him. "For some reason or another..." A wink. "...I just want to do this."

Every fiber of Cloud's body tingled in surprise as Raieyana's daughter brought her lips to his, in a deep kiss. Intensity surged through his mind, willing him to withdraw from what he knew would be a mistake. (No. Even if it's selfish, even if it doesn't mean anything at all, let me have this moment. If one other person can feel it inside to have mercy on my soul, I know I can go on.) He cautiously returned the gesture, prolonging it as long as he could. (If only this one moment would never end...)

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

The man with the axe inched closer. "Get back," growled Patrick.

Daniel shook his head and prepared a spell. Closing his eyes, he gathered the energy it would take to cast. (Please work. I don't want either one of them angry at me.) "Sleep-All!"

Azura gasped as her protector fell to his knees in slumber. "What's wrong with you guys?" she fumed.

Daniel suddenly saw the ribbon on the girl's arm. (Oh shit.)

Benjamin smiled and prepared to go after Patrick. He jumped back as a bolt of lightning struck the ground in front of him. "Ow! Fuckin' hell?!" He dropped his weapon; apparently, a bit of the electricity had conducted through the metal in it. "How'd the bitch cast so fast?"

She tossed her head. "I'm not fast, you're just slow."

"Oh really." He dusted off his weapon and prepared to cast something on her. (Something good. Make her pay.)

"Ben!" Daniel shook his head. "Status stuff only."

"Screw that, she shocked me. Obviously she's not the helpless babe that everyone suspected. She's that freak's slut."

"Esuna," said Azura softly.

A blue light flashed and Patrick stood again. "Don't you come nearer," he swore at the two warriors.

"Dan? Put him back to sleep, she's not strong enough to keep waking him up."

Unfortunately for Benjamin's plan, Azura had a mastered Heal materia. She hadn't bothered to check on Patrick after the Esuna spell; she was too busy working on her next. Her eyes flashed green as she cast Resist on him.

Patrick grinned. (I gotta give her a kiss for that later.) "So what d'ya say boys? Are you going to leave a grown girl by herself, or should I let her fry you guys?"

"We saw her measly Bolt3 spell." Benjamin grinned. "So she can cast. Big deal."

Shoving her way past Patrick, Azura gave Benjamin a once-over and laughed. "Right. And I've never seen a grown man get so worried over a simple Bolt spell. Level one, honey, and you couldn't even take it."

Patrick held out an arm to hold her back.

"Pat? Can I cast something on him? I won't kill him--quickly."

He cracked a smile and waved a hand. "Ladies first."

Daniel and Benjamin looked at each other warily. She pointed to Daniel. "Step back, Danny-boy. I'll handle you next." She winked at Benjamin. "Here's to never seeing your ugly mug again."

He rolled his eyes, and decided to cast something on her while she prepared her spell. (Cocky bitch. If I ever get my hands on her when that Danny isn't around...)

Unfortunately for him, he had no idea that she was nonchalantly gathering her magic power during the conversation. She cast Frog Song on him while he was still in mid-eye roll.

Patrick laughed. "Zuri, that has to be the best thing I've seen you do yet."

She bent over and picked up the sleeping frog. Handing it to Daniel, she said, "You're lucky he was with you. Otherwise, you would be the toad."

He sighed. "What am I supposed to do now? My dad told me to come get Azura Valentine."

"Tell Legolas that Azura doesn't want to be found. And the next time he sends a toad after her, it'll come back squashed." Patrick crossed his arms.

"You know you can't stay out here, Patrick."

The blond boy nodded. "I'll leave the area." After seeing the glance sent his way, he rephrased his statement. "We'll leave the area. Me and Zuri."

"Will you have enough to live on until you can get someplace else?"

"I'm not sure. Dan, you couldn't do me a favor, could you?"

"Depends on what it is," he said slowly.

Patrick looked up. "I'd like to get some more of my things from my house. Is there any way you could get everyone out of it?"

"No one is there, Patrick. They took your mom somewhere."

A brief look of worry crossed his face, and Azura noticed it. She decided to take over for him. "Can you help us get back without having to face any more of these 'warriors'?"

Daniel thought for a moment, then nodded. "Follow me." He left the toad sleeping in the grass as he led the two back to Undor-Hai.

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

He broke away, breathing heavily. "This isn't right."

Aeris cocked her head to the side. "I am an adult, you know. I can kiss whomever I decide to."

"You don't know me."

She laughed. "Actually, it's you who doesn't know me. I got mega-brain integration by some floofy angel up there. I got to see every side of you."

"That's what I don't get. You say that...and then you know I'm the father of your brother..."

"Little brother."

" that makes it any better."

"It helps a little." A small smile brushed her lips. "Besides, look at how you're reacting. Have you ever been kissed before?"

"Of course."

"Your mother doesn't count."

He turned away from her. "And you're just a child."

"You're just saying that to me because I was right!" She grabbed his shoulders and turned him so he was facing her. "Cloud, have you ever been in love even?"

"Have you?"

"No. But I'm a child." She smirked.

"I thought I was...once. But I never got the chance to find out. I was your age...she was a sweet little thing. Then again," he continued bitterly, "I only seemed to notice how special she was...after she was gone."

"It still hurts?" Aeris looked at him.

"No. Well, a little, but I came to terms with it many years ago. One of those things that 'had to happen.'" He lowered his head. "Anyway, I didn't even get a kiss from her, and then...someone loved me once, but by the time I saw, she was done with me."

"Life isn't a storybook."

"We all know that deep down, but you haven't really seen that yet. That's why you shouldn't even bother trying with me. I burned the book back when you were still just a child."

She touched his arm. "A kiss isn't going to bind me to you with chains of steel. It could be the first link, though."

The fire had begun to die; a husky twilight had descended upon the room. "Do you even want a link to me?" asked Cloud.

"No...I wouldn't settle for something so small. Somehow, I do know you, though. This is very soon, too soon for anything. But I need the time for you to learn if you want a link to me. If you can trust me..." Green eyes fell on his blue ones. They were the third of their line to do so.

This time, the lips that reached over were his own. This kiss was an answer to her question; even a friendship could not be built in a day, but the chemistry that seemed to spark in the very air between them was hard to ignore.

Suddenly, the door flew open as Patrick and Zuri entered the house. The sight that greeted the boy's eyes was that of his sister, in the arms of the man who had once hurt his mother, long ago.


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