Black and White Chapter 4
The Eyes in the Mirror
It was a small, remarkably cozy little room. Painted a pale sort of blue, it was long and narrow with a significant lack of any extra space. Straight across from an old creaky door was a window, with clear white drapes that floated in a gentle early-autumn breeze. It wasn't particularly marvelous, but it did manage to radiate a very comforting sort of warmth, that easily transformed it into a picture of beauty.
In one corner rested a single bed, with plain red sheets and two colourless flowered pillows. Beside the bed was a small redwood chest, which inside held the things a young lady might have: a small kit of make-up and other cosmetics, a few magazines, some jewelry, and a scruffy grey teddy-bear. Across the room sat a lanky, oak- colored armoire, home to several dresses, skirts, and then of course some more comfortable wear.
Atop the afore-mentioned bed was a very dark looking man. His hair a bizarre pitch- black, it resembled that of a panther more than it did a human's. It was a perfect contrast to his somewhat pale skin, that these days simply seemed to refuse to attain any further tan. He was blatantly injured, as the dark crimson stains of blood on his clothes, which lay atop the chest, indicated several serious wounds. Needless to say, he seemed ridiculously out of place in what was obviously a pristine image of peace. And peaceful, he was not.
He opened his eyes, and let them adjust to the colours he thought he'd never see again. After letting it all sink in for a moment or so, he sat up, tearing the sheets off of him as he tried to give an explanation to the sense of deja-vu this place gave him. He stood himself up, and paced what few square-feet were available, a throbbing head-ache haltering the inspection of his surroundings.
It didn't take long for lightning to strike his brain. It was his angel's room. How he had forgotten for even a second was beyond him. As soon as a reminiscent smile made its way to his lips, it was immediately shut down by his foreboding guilt. He felt dirty as the severity of a certain deal loomed over his head.
He twisted his neck towards the left and found a pair of golden eyes glaring back at him. The eyes were his own. He was staring at a five foot long mirror, littered with pictures of a mother and the occasional shot of a good friend. He couldn't help but notice an absence of any photo featuring himself.
His reflection had changed quite a bit since the last time he had seen it. On his body were countless scars, some still fresh. Many held painful memories of deception or devastation, while others were utter mysteries, leaving his imagination to guess what horrible experience had given them to him. It wasn't much fun looking in a mirror and not completely recognizing the face staring back at you.
He watched his own eyes carefully for a moment. They were a gold that he found to be an ugly color, piercing and haunting any poor soul they happened to fall upon. He turned away in disgust. There once was a time when they had been beautiful, able to charm just about anyone. But not anymore. They were dark, weak, and appalling. He did not like the imitation of dignity they were trying to emit.
Just past the mirror stood the door. Just past the door were the stairs. Just down the stairs were the kitchen and the livingroom. There would sit Aeris, waiting on the edge of her chair to see his face. She would wrap her arms around him once more and yet again he would feel his heart melt as he starred into her deep green eyes. He knew it.
But what would she do when she saw the shame in his eyes? What would she think when she saw the shadows in his soul? Could she ever forgive himself for all the wrongs he could never right? Could anyone?
He felt an unpleasant numbness shake his body as unanswerable questions plagued his brain. He had to sit down. One stride to his right and he found himself back at the edge of the bed, using one hand to steady himself before taking a seat. He longed for the days past when his nerves were made of steel and his mind was as sound as can be. Unceasing horrors had stolen most of his once unfaltering strength of character, and he found himself nothing but a shell of what he had strived most of his days to become. Five years was apparently more than enough to destroy a lifetime. It didn't seem fair.
A small coffer to his side caught his eye. He remembered that it was where Aeris kept her personal keep-sakes. He knew he shouldn't, but curiosity tickled his senses, and he soon found himself pawing somewhat distractedly through his angel's belongings, rummaging for whatever it was that was drawing him to the chest.
It was a silver necklace that finally grabbed his attention, with a single pendant that looked like a two-dimensional, slightly curved-towards-the-right teardrop, made of pearl. At the larger end, in the middle, sat a miniature dark green crystal, and the whole thing was wrapped in a thin golden frame. A vague memory of a promise both kept and forgotten filled his head as he looked down at it, a chilling sort of emptiness in his eyes.
<Hey Aeris, I've got a present for you...>
Elmyra sat in her chair at the dinner table, calmly sipping a cup of tea, basking in the subtle elegance of her home. She had a good life. She was by no means rich, but she was comfortable. She had everything she needed. It was a very cozy rut she had dug herself. Today, however, she feared she would lose it all.
Thoughtlessly, she reached for the eggs and bacon seething atop the stove. It was his favourite breakfast, she remembered. She gazed up at the staircase that lead to the second level of her house. Any minute, a face she thought and even hoped she would never see again would come crashing down those steps. With him would come unlimited trouble and anguish. It was as if the two followed him wherever he went. She knew he didn't mean to cause her daughter all the pain that he had, but deep down, it was impossible for her not to still harbor resentment.
Honestly, she didn't even understand why she had taken him in when she had found him in Bill's little shack. She could have very easily just left him there to die, and she would never have to think about him again. She simply could have lived her life without ever mentioning it. Unfortunately, she wasn't that kind of person. She could have found Pr. Shin-Ra himself in that room, and she still probably would have tended to his wounds. Compassion was more of a weakness than an attribute these days.
Light, careful footsteps pierced the silence. She looked over her shoulder, and he was already standing in the middle of the room, freshly dressed in black clothes she had provided and his own brown cloak. He simply looked past her, searching for something- or more accurately, someone- that obviously wasn't there. Quietly, she sat back down at the table. "Good morning." She greeted almost haphazardly, sipping at her tea as she slid a plate to the seat opposite of her. "You hungry?"
Soundlessly, he sat down, absently picking at the meal as still he scrutinized the little room.
"You really should eat." She told him after a moment or so of silence, lifting herself onto her feet and pouring another cup of tea, all the while stealing fleeting glances at him. "You're not well."
"I'm not hungry." He rebutted, standing to face her sternly. "Where's Aeris?" It was more of a demand than a question. He had never been all that subtle with her. Always right to the point.
"Why would I tell you?" She threw back over the crackling of the frying pan, the frustration of seven years of disdain she held for this boy finally apparent although well hidden by dignity. "Why should she know about you..."
"I need to see her..." He muttered, through some miracle managing to remain patient with the old woman.
"What makes you think she ever wants to see you again?!" She barked at his stoic face. There was just something about him that annoyed her "You think she's going to welcome you with open arms?! You left her without even saying goodbye! You broke her heart! You think I'm going to let you charge back into her life, just because five years latter you happen to fall into my lap?!"
"I don't have time for this..." He stated it monotonously with a shake of his head as he stood up to bypass her. She cowered a bit staring into his eyes, but she hoped it hadn't showed. She immediately shut her mouth. "Tell me where she is..."
He looked different somehow. She supposed he didn't have the presence that he used to. He barely seemed alive anymore. The vividness in his eyes was gone. The colours on his face that had once made him seem so animated were faraway. He seemed horribly bleak. His pride, smile, and spirit were all shattered by something she knew she could never hope to understand. He was utterly corrupted, his heart poisoned with dread and soaked in the weight of trauma. Admittedly, she hadn't realized who he was until a couple days ago. There was just something about him that made him seem like someone else it.
A somewhat awkward silence filled the place, each of them waiting for the other to say something. She was too timid to ask, and he was too reluctant to tell.
"Zack," She asked, her urge for knowledge finally reaching a boiling point. He looked up at her expectantly, his arms crossed. "Where have you been?"
He stared at her for a good long minute, trying to decide whether to tell her everything or nothing. "Hell." He finally answered, brief as it may be.
It might have been a joke had he said it half a decade ago, but Elmyra couldn't help but swallow the gravity in his words. She watched him watching her. His eyes were so desperate and tormented, despite his best efforts to hide it. She had never seen him look this way. It wasn't right. After all, this was Zack! He should have had an insensitive smirk on his face, not that horrible pain.
It was depressing just to look at him. This wasn't Zack. It couldn't be. Zack had left her daughter for some street-corner hussy. Zack had abandoned Aeris once he had gotten what he wanted. Zack was a womanizer; nothing but a sleezebag. He hadn't tried to come back. He had never wanted to see Aeris again. He had no heart.
"Zack," Her careful voice once more pierced the silence. "Why didn't you come back?"
He squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. "I tried to..." There was a withheld shame in the way he carried himself.
His sincerity was unquestionable. "She waited a long time for you," she explained, tip- toeing through the emotional mine-field surrounding her. "But you just never came back..."
He said nothing for the longest time, only unconsciously glaring at his boots. She played the story she had told herself and everyone over for the thousandth time in her head. Lies. Looking at him now, she realized that none of what she had made herself believe was true. Nothing but lies.
Elmyra watched, an air of sustained surprise as she observed Zack nearly throw himself back onto his feet, storming out of her home with a furious frown on his face. She knew that he could tell she wasn't going to be honest with him. He had always been a human lie-detector. She felt guilt rain down on her as she saw the obvious aggravation in his eyes. But she simply couldn't bring herself to welcome him back into her life.
Zack rather juvenilely kicked a cloud of dirt into the air as he stood outside his angel's front door, rage and disbelief boiling his blood to a fevered pitch. Could fate had been anymore cruel to him? Was Lady Luck on some sadistic mission to screw him over? A resounding yes was the only answer that managed to make its way through the haze that was his fury.
"Hey mister," A mouse-like voice squeaked from somewhere below him "You okay?"
He looked down to his left, and found this little girl, staring up at him unabashedly with big, starry blue eyes.
She couldn't have been much older than 5 or 6 years old. Her hair was shoulder-length and a dark brown, a very conservative style that a fretful father probably would have decided on. She wore a simple white shirt under a purple pair of overalls, cut and sewn at the knees to form a skirt. She was a cute kid, and as he assessed by the dirt on her clothes, she had probably been playing in the yard.
"I'm fine." he answered briskly, an unintentional twinge of sharpness to his voice as he rubbed at his eyes with the palm of a black glove.
"Are you sure?" The girl giggled softly as she leaned down a bit as to look up at his face. "You don't look so happy. Here," She handed him a yellow rose. "Let a flower brighten up your day." She smiled sweetly as he kneeled down to accept the gift.
"Thanks." He said politely. He couldn't stop himself from grinning back at the girl. It had been a long time since he had been met with anything but hostility, and the stranger's yet-to-be- jaded innocense was refreshing. As far as he was concerned, prejudice and mistrust were things that came with age. "I'm afraid I don't know you. What's your name?"
"Marlene." She answered with a darling curtsey.
"That's a nice name." He extended a hand and she shook it firmly with her own "I'm Zack. How did you get here, Marlene?"
"The Flower Lady brought me here when my daddy said there was going to be trouble." She answered as she skipped off back into a batch of flowers, and plopped right down in the middle. "Now I live here with auntie Elmyra."
He followed her until he reached the tip of the patch. He didn't want to trample over what his angel had worked so hard on. He let his gaze span around the entire garden. It was a sea of comforting yellows, whites, pinks and greens, all living off the sunlight from a convenient hole in the dome-like upper plate. How something this natural and beautiful could exist in the dead soil of Midgar was beyond him. He supposed Aeris just had a magical touch.
Carefully tip-toeing around the picture-perfect flora, he sat down in a small clearing next to the little girl. "How long have you been here?" He asked, indirectly gathering important information from the girl.
"Twelve-and-a-half days." She answered, plucking the pedals from a silky daffodil
"How long have I been here?"
"You've been here for three days, silly." She giggled again. "You came back with auntie after she went to get Bill's stuff."
Bill? The name sounded familiar.
"Who's Bill?" He asked yet another question, a hint of worry slipping into his voice.
"He's your friend." She kind of looked at him as though he were playing a game. "He was the one taking care of you when you were hurt."
"Really?" Zack mentally recorded that little note. He'd have to thank the man "Where is he now?"
"Auntie Elmyra said he's gone to the Lifestream..." There was a bit of sorrow as she absently fingered the empty stem. She knew very well what that little phrase meant. It was where her mother had gone.
"These flowers sure are beautiful." Zack swiftly tried to move away from the subject. Death was not something he wanted to discuss with such a young child. "Do you know where the lady who made these is? I wouldn't mind knowing how to grow daffodils."
"She left with the SOLDIER guy." No longer amused by the daffodil, she reached for a richly coloured rose. "She said she wasn't going to be back for a long time."
Zack did his best to hide the slight twitch of his eyebrow. "What did he look like?"
"Oh! You should have seen him!" Marlene excitedly threw the flower aside so that she could use her hands for emphasis. "He had the BIGGEST sword I've EVER seen! And he had WICKED blonde hair and REALLY pretty eyes. They were a lot like yours, but blue."
Cloud. "Thanks." He said as he lifted himself to his feet, and walked towards the gate that separated this haven from the rest of the world.
"Hey!" Marlene shot herself back up, pouting and putting her hands on her hips. "Where are you going?"
"I've got a favor to repay." He called over his shoulder, not slowing for a second. "Oh, and by the way, tell your aunt 'sorry' for me."
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