Redemption Chapter 20

By Janet Monstwillo


Dirk turned around and glanced at the groveling employee. "What is it?" he growled.

The man's only response to his vicious look was a frightened stare.

"Well? If you're going to interrupt my scientific work, at the very least, it should be some matter about my corporate takeover." He peered at the terrified man. "Aren't you in charge of the whole 'Ryald' business, anyway?"

He nodded, trembling. "He still hasn't returned."

Rolling his eyes, Dirk turned away. "Well duh. After a week or so...for his mission, not turning up means he's dead. Pity. The boy had such a sense of revenge in him."

"You made him well, sir."

"Of course I did! Although sending Jack Reno's clone after Reeve was actually more of a distraction for his wife."

"His wife?"

Dirk smiled. "There once was a Turk named Rude. When the Turks were involved in a kidnapping attempt on a woman named Raieyana, Rude decided to get all the money for himself. His attempt at this involved locking her up in a cell...with Reno. Happened to have a surveillance camera on them, too." He tossed a videocassette on a nearby lab table.

The employee picked it up after Dirk's gesture. "What is this?"

"A most interesting videotape. Reno meant a lot to Reeve's wife, apparently."

"Why do you want me to look at it?"

"Because your new job is to knock off Reeve's wife, and that's the best picture you can get on her." A cruel grin highlighted his face. "Besides, I've found that watching the president of Alcor's naked wife is a most enjoyable experience."

"May I just report my message to you before I leave then, sir?"

He yawned. "Might as well. Go ahead."

"The Highwind II has been spotted outside the city limits."

"Good." Dirk rubbed his hands together. "Let them try to get this place back."

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

Aeris sat at her window, watching the sun rise. (The days seem too long and too short at the same time. Too short to help Mom, but too long to have to wait through. Can anything better come in the morning? Even with all we know now...?)

She stood up and got dressed quickly, absentmindedly putting on a tight pink dress before braiding her blond hair. Grabbing her bag, which she hadn't bothered to unpack, and her sabres, she tripped down the stairs and into the kitchen. She was hoping that a nice little cozy breakfast might improve everyone's mood.

The soft sounds of Aeris bustling in the kitchen met Cloud's ears and he soon felt like he had to open his eyes. Tossing off the light throw blanket he used during the night, he got up and walked in. His inquisitive eyes enjoyed the sight of the soft morning light glowing around the girl's lithe form.

She looked up as he walked through the doorway and just froze. (Why is he wearing next to nothing?) Apparently, her two brothers had been rather discreet of the fact that cute pajamas were really for girls, and guys just liked their underwear. An egg slipped from her hand to the floor as she gawked at Cloud in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.

"Sorry to have startled you," he said softly. "I'll clean that up." He grabbed a towel from the counter and bent over to wipe off the floor.

(Common sense would say he can't be that hot and be his age.) She thought for a moment. (Well wait a minute...Yuffie got together with Vincent when he was older than Cloud, chronologically. And she was sixteen! So there's nothing wrong with enjoying his body, right?) A slight blush crept over her cheeks at that thought. (I mean enjoying the look of his body...) Her brain skipped a beat. (...right?)

He saw the reddish tinge on her face and misjudged the reason for her embarrassment. "Don't look like that, I'll just be louder next time I sneak up on you."

"I wouldn't care what snuck up on me, if it looked like you do," she said softly. Her eyes widened. (Did I say that out loud?) "Umm...I mean..."

Cloud stepped a little closer. "What do you mean?"

She shook her head.

(I think I should probably leave her well enough alone, anyway.) He glanced at the eggs she had cracked. "I though Lia had imposed some sort of vegetarian regime over this place."

"Well we have softened her over the years. We can use milk and unfertilized eggs we at least have some variety." She smiled. "So I can show off with my cheese omelets."

"Your mother was always a pretty good cook, if my memory serves me right."

Aeris nodded and went back to work, calling herself foolish for thinking that any bit of Cloud's attraction had lasted through the night.

"I'm not that hungry though," he said regretfully.

"No?" She bit her lip. "But I was making this for you."

"Nothing for yourself?"

A grin crept to her lips. "I'm not that hungry."

"And the others...?"

"Neither one of them likes eggs too well." She glanced at the window. "Hmm..." She picked up the bowl and tossed its contents out the opening onto the grass below. Sticking her head out, she examined the ground where it had landed. "Phew. No one was walking and got it on their head."

Cloud looked at her incredulously. "Most people check for that before they toss things out the window."

She turned a bright shade of red and sat down at the kitchen table, her head in her arms. "Oops," she groaned, embarrassed.

"Don't take this the wrong way. But you don't seem to be all here this morning." He lightly placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's very early, you know. You could go back and have another hour or so in bed if you want."

"But I already got dressed!"

"Well we can easily take care of that--"

Aeris looked up and met him with an astonished expression. "'We' can take care of that?"

"Oh...uhh...I didn't mean it like that," he stammered.

"Too bad," she said lightly.

His eyes widened.

She stood up. "Well you better get dressed. It won't do if the others come down and see you in your underwear."

Cloud stood up after her, a light shade of pink still touching his cheeks.

"I doubt they'd appreciate it as much as I do," she added as she walked up the stairs. "I better wake them up now. Might as well get an early start."

Cloud watched her ascend slowly, then shook his head and went to his sack. He pulled out a dark blue shirt and a pair of pants that he had purchased the day before. (At least I bought something slightly presentable before coming here. I wonder what she would think if she knew I usually don't even sleep in boxers?)

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

It was hard for Azura to believe that his face, so troubled when awake, could look so peaceful in sleep. But whether Patrick was at peace asleep, or more because of what happened before he went there, would remain unknown.

She had been awake since a little before dawn, watching him, as the light from the sun crept through the sky, descending to illuminate his features. As much as darkness suited his personality, the light did wonders for his looks. Her fingers had crept to stroke the stray strands of his hair, which could not decide whether to reflect silver or golden tones back, first at the moon, then the glowing sun.

He stirred and blinked his eyes at the soft morning haze surrounding him. Right in front of them was the girl he loved, the golden sunshine forming a smooth aura around her head.

"Good morning," she murmured softly.

He gave her a small smile in return. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Best ever."

He smiled a bit more. Then a thought came to him and a bit of worry crossed his face. "Are you--" he began.

Azura silenced him with a quick kiss. "I'm fine." She emphasized the two words, giving them heavy meaning. "Perfect," she whispered.

Patrick stroked her cheek softly and was about to say something to her.

There was a soft knock at the door.

"Yeah?" said Azura, without thinking. (Oh no. This is Pat's room.)

Aeris' voice sounded confused indeed. "Umm...can I come in?"

Patrick checked to make sure they both looked decent enough before answering. "I suppose."

The door opened and Aeris walked in. "Did I interrupt something or wake you?"

"We were just talking."

"I was going to wake you up so we could get an early start. I guess you beat me to that. How long have you two been up?" There was an invisible question in her words. It happened to be "will you tell me you've been up for a long time already, so I can assume the best of this situation?"

Patrick was never one to run from a confrontation. "I've only been awake for a moment or two. Zuri was up a little before me, I think."

She nodded.

There was a bit of "older sister reprimand" in Aeris' eyes as she continued. "Well if you want something to eat, I can make it for you." She slowly said the next part, because it honestly disturbed her. (I find them like this...she's sixteen and he's just fourteen. It could be totally innocent, yet not innocent at all!) "You should probably get dressed and come down."

"All right," said Patrick. "I'm not hungry."

"I can just have some fruit or something." Azura's words were soft, but contained no embarrassment.

From this tone, Aeris deduced that the situation must be completely innocent. "Okay," she said, her voice gaining more cheer, "Cloud and I will discuss transportation. He has a chocobo, but I doubt either of you two should try to borrow from the Undorian stables." She trotted down the stairs, her conscience about a ton lighter than it had been a minute ago.

"I'm glad that wasn't your mom," said Azura, giggling.

"Mother's pretty cool, actually." Patrick grabbed another pair of boxers. "It's Reeve I would have worried about. Or your parents."

She nodded in horror. "Anyone but my father."

"I'm going to take a shower."

"Okay. Good thing I took mine late last night. My hair takes forever to dry."

Patrick smiled as he remembered her middle-of-the-night trek to the shower, and how he had waited for her to come back...just to let her curl up against him, damp locks and all. "I should only be a few minutes. That should give you time to 'innocently' change."

"Yay." Azura giggled once more as he walked to the bathroom.

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

"I think we've found a solution," said Aeris to Patrick as he came downstairs twenty minutes later.

"Oh really," he said coolly.

"Yep," said Azura cheerfully. "But there's only one stipulation."

"What is it?" he asked warily.

"Well..." She coyly met his eyes. "You wouldn't mind me riding behind you on a chocobo, right?"

He sighed and sat down. "No, of course not. For a second you two had me worried."

"You two can take mine," said Cloud, very business-like. "Then Aeris and I will each borrow an Undorian one, or share one, depending on whether or not there are enough black or gold ones available. Those should get us to Junon quickly."

"Yes." Patrick nodded. "It's about seven a.m. now. When do you think we'll reach Junon?"

"Hmm." Aeris thought for a moment. "Well, I suppose you and I will want to do a little more packing, and then to get the chocobos...we won't leave 'til eight thirty at the earliest, probably. So we'll get there at eleven?"

Cloud nodded. "That sounds pretty accurate. Maybe a little sooner if we all get golds, but I doubt that they'll enthusiastically lend us one."

Patrick shrugged. "I killed a bunch of 'em a few years ago. I guess they'd be more eager to lend to you than to me." He wrapped an arm around Azura and gave a small smile to his sister. "Rissy...why don't you and Cloud go ahead now? Zuri and I will pack the supplies, okay?"

"Okay. And then when we get back, off to Junon it is."

"I just pray we don't cross paths with Reeve," muttered Patrick.

Azura shivered a bit and cuddled closer to him. She did not want to see another confrontation between Reeve and Patrick. After the past few days, she had sensed a bit of rage developing within Patrick. No matter how much she loved him, no matter how much she tried to kiss the pain away, this rage remained; it scared her, horribly.


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