The Aurora Project Chapter 3

New and Old Companions

By Seventh

Cloud Strife awoke to the sound of the PHS phone ringing in his ear.

Quickly moving away from the others, he fumbled with the little controls on the phone. "Ya?" His voice was muffled by sleep.

"Mornin', Cloud!" Yuffie's unmistakable voice rang through the tiny speaker. "You sound awake."

"Mmpf." Cloud rubbed his hands across his face. "What can we do for you, Yuffie?"

There was an intake of breath. "I'm not gonna be able to come out to Midgar," she said. "There's a lot of stuff for me to take care of in Wutai ...and my father insists I work more on training as well..."

"That's alright," Cloud said, his voice still not fully awake. "Our plans have ...well, they've changed a little bit."

"Alright, then!" Yuffie said. "I just wanted to make sure you all didn't miss me tons and tons. We'll party down in Midgar at some other point, ok?"

Cloud rolled his tired eyes at the chipperness of youth. "Sure thing, Yuffie. Thanks for calling." After hearing an almost squeaky "Bye!" he turned off the phone as fast as he could.

Being the first one awake, he automatically headed to start the fire - only to find Vincent next to a nicely burning blaze.

"Morning," Cloud said without an ounce of cheerfulness in his tone.

"Yuffie?" Vincent asked knowingly. Cloud nodded, surprised to find Vincent sympathetic. He waved the PHS knowingly before tucking it away in his pocket. He watched as Vincent's eyes migrated across the room, through the fire, and onto the sleeping, still gently shimmering form of Aurora.

"What do we do with her?" Cloud asked. Vincent was silent, then finally shrugged and stood up.

"Vince, please." Cloud gestured to the seat beside him on the makeshift bench. "Listen. You know the most about this girl, not only through your lucky research, but through your own past experiences ...I know it's hard for you, but please, help us deal with her. I never thought it was possible to inject Materia into someone's blood until yesterday. I still find it hard to believe that she's related to Red. We need you and your knowledge, Vincent." He gestured at the sleeping form. "She needs you. For a little while at least."

Vincent closed his red eyes for a moment, thinking hard. I do not want to go back ...every glance at her hurts! Not only in memory, but for her, and what she has known ...I only had months of it, and then years of solitude. She has had an entire lifetime. Abruptly, he sat down beside Cloud and gave the blond man a ragged grin. "Alright, Cloud. Perhaps caring for this girl will lighten some of my burden as well."

Cloud grinned, looking him directly in the eye and faintly sensing a change that he hadn't noticed in the past month, in Nibelheim. Is he getting over his guilt, now that he's found someone worse off than he? "Thank you. Now, what do you propose we do?"

Vincent thought for a second. "I think we need to wake her now, before everyone else is here. She needs to hear that Hojo is dead and not coming back. I don't know what reaction that will produce inside her. She seems to have no emotion." I almost envy her that.

Cloud nodded. "Right." He craned his neck over the fire, looking at the prostrate form. "Aurora?"

The reaction was astounding. The silver glow abruptly faded, sucked back into her skin. She sat bolt upright, immediately awake. Her golden eyes focused first on Cloud, moved briefly to Vincent, then back to Cloud. "Yes?"

Cloud blinked. "Good morning."

She nodded. "Yes."

Cloud moved a bit on the bench and patted a place beside him. "Aurora, can we talk?"

"Talk?" She looked a little confused, but came obediently over and sat beside him. "Go ahead."

Her machine-like, programmed responses were beginning to get on Cloud's nerves; the early phone call from Yuffie hadn't helped. "Aurora, we have something very important you need to know." Her golden eyes met his. "Aurora ...Professor Hojo is dead."

She simply looked at him. "Hojo is dead?"

"Yes, Aurora." Vincent's voice was strangely kind. "Hojo is not coming back to the labs at all."

She looked away for a brief second. "And you have come to take me to my new home?"

"No, no, Aurora." Cloud took a deep breath. "We didn't come looking for you. We didn't even know you were here. And now ...we don't know what to do with you."

"Where will I go now?" The expression on her face was changing, slowly. It looked a little like fear, though it was still so far away from true emotion that it was hard to tell.

"We don't know," Cloud said patiently.

"I've never been anywhere but here. And ...I've never done anything else."

Vincent leaned forward. "You don't want to go back into someone else's lab, do you?" She turned to him, luckily missing Cloud's face of shock and disgust.

Her eyes fixed on his, then turned away as she thought slowly. "No," she said, finally, "I don't think so. But I don't know anything else to do."

Vincent nodded encouragingly. "We're not going to send you back into the lab. But it's up to you to figure out what you want."

Cloud was amazed at the calm, straightforward tone Vincent was taking with the girl. He gathered his thoughts and spoke. "Aurora. Would you come with us?"

She turned and nodded immediately. "Of course," she responded.

Cloud shook his head. "No, that's not what I mean. This isn't a command. Would you like to come with us?"

Aurora tilted her head; her black hair fell into her golden eyes again. "Would I like ...? I will come with you, Cloud," she said, nodding briefly.

"No, Aurora," Cloud began.

"No? I will not come with you?"

Cloud sighed and stood up. "I don't want to make you come with us. No one can make you do anything anymore! I'm offering to help you get used to the real world. But if you want to stay here, or head out on your own, you are allowed to. What I want, most of all, is for you to decide." He turned suddenly and left the small room.

Aurora stared at the fire. "He was yelling, Vincent Valentine," she said softly. "Why did Cloud yell?"

Vincent looked at her in wonder. "He was frustrated."

She nodded. "Hojo got frustrated a lot. When things didn't go as he wanted."

"Cloud's not Hojo, Aurora. Hojo's gone."

She bit her lip, then tilted her head again. "Vincent Valentine ...I want to ask you something."

"Go ahead." How does she know my whole name? Does she remember me from that long ago? How old is this creature?

"Have you ever had pictures in your head?" He stared at her, his jaw dropping slightly. "Ones that come when you are asleep?"

"Oh," he said. "Yes, I have had that happen." I have had too many of those.

"Are they memories? They are like memories, but I don't think they really ever happened..."

He smiled slightly, hiding it behind his long hair. "No, they're called dreams. They're images coming from your head when you sleep."

She touched her forehead briefly; startled, she ran her fingers over it, before remembering. "When you took ...when you took Hojo's crown, did that make me have these dreams? I have never had that happen before. I have had pictures in my head from that thing -" she pointed as Vincent drew the crown from under his cape "- but never as I sleep."

"Do you know what this is, Aurora?" He took a breath. "This is what Hojo used to control you. My guess is, after we removed it, your mind was freed, allowing you to dream."

She leaned back, closing her eyes. "Do you want to hear my dreams, Vincent Valentine?"

Again, my name. My full name. "Yes, Aurora. Please tell me."

From behind, Tifa covered her mouth to hide a giggle. Vincent had said please! She had never heard him so talkative. Sitting down on her bedroll, she began combing out her hair, listening all the while. Perhaps he's connected with her because they both knew Hojo. And their eyes glow. Whatever it is, at least he's not being such an enigma!

The girl's eyes opened, landing their full golden gaze suddenly on Vincent's face. He stared back at her, surprised. "My ...dream ...was of a woman. She and I stood in the middle of a waterfall that glowed like the Mako Hojo has ...well, used to have. She looked at me and touched me on the forehead and whispered things, but I could hear her, even over the water. She said, ‘I am inside you,' and then smiled. She was very beautiful. ‘Come to me,' she said. ‘Come find me.' And then she left. Do dreams mean things, Vincent Valentine? I thought it was a memory, but I have only seen the girl once before, and it was not in a waterfall."

Vincent was completely caught off guard. First, her eyes! They had met his bravely like no one had since ...his transformation. And his name ... but that could wait. Second of all, her dream had reminded him of something...

"Wait." A voice behind her broke his thoughts. Tifa came forward and stood beside the fire. "Aurora, what did this girl look like?"

The girl tilted her head in the same old fashion. "She had very bright green eyes, almost glowing like ours." She gestured to herself and Vincent. "She had long, brown hair that she wore in a braid down her back ..."

"Aeris?" Tifa's worried eyes met Vincent's. He shrugged.

"Could be. Aurora, did you know her?"

"I knew her from the lab," the girl replied. "Hojo had her for a brief while."

At this point Cloud came stomping in the room. "Morning," he said. He came over to Aurora and took her hands.

"I'm sorry if I yelled. I don't like the mornings very much. But I would like it if you would accompany us somewhere."

"Huh?" A sleepy Cid emerged from the tent. "What the hell?"

"Oh, great. Have some coffee," Tifa said. "In fact, have a bunch."

Cid sent her a sleepy-morning glower as he crouched over a mug. He nodded to the girl seated between Tifa and Vincent. "Mornin', Aurora."

"What is your name?" she asked almost timidly.

He perked up a little at the attention. "Didn't meet me yesterday? I'm Cid."

She nodded. "Does Cid not like mornings either?" she asked Cloud.

Cloud burst out laughing, as did Tifa; poor Aurora seemed startled at the outburst. "No, Aurora," Cloud said once he could talk, "Cid hates mornings more than I do." Cid grumbled into his coffee mug.

"What's on your mind, Cloud?" Tifa asked, reading his face with that intuition she seemed to have.

Cloud arranged himself carefully on the ground, removing the great sword strapped to his back. "Well ...a lot, actually. I had planned on taking this morning and asking you all to do me a favor and act on something I've been thinking about for a long time. But I don't know how Aurora's presence will change everything..."

"Act on something?" Cid asked. "Are we going somewhere?"

Cloud simply stared into the fire for quite some time, arranging his words. Finally, he looked up - at Cid, at Tifa, Vincent and Aurora, and a nod at Barrett, who approached from behind.

"I want to go find Aeris," he said softly. Tifa looked up at him, her eyes full of concern. Vincent opened his mouth to speak, but Tifa cut him off.

"Cloud, Aeris is gone," she said.

He sighed. "I know that. But ...I still swear I could hear her speaking to me. After Sephiroth. Through Holy and Meteor and everything. I could hear her voice." He bowed his head, staring intently at the fire. "I want to go find her and have her speak to us one last time. I want to make sure we can't bring her back in any way. We all have things we never got to say to her." He stood. "I was going to ask you all to come with me to look for a place where we can contact Aeris in the Lifestream. But now ..." He looked at Aurora. "Now we may have something else to take care of."

Aurora was still staring at him, trying to digest the emotion in his words, when Vincent spoke.

"Aurora needs to come with us to see Aeris." He brushed long dark locks from his face; looking at Cloud, he said, "She dreamed of the Ancient last night."

Cloud gaped. "What?"

Vincent prodded Aurora: "Tell them about the pictures."

Aurora nodded, obeying instantly. "I've never had this happen before - any of it - it felt like - there were pictures in my head while I slept. I was standing with a lady in a waterfall that glowed like Hojo's Mako. She told me to come to her and touched me on the forehead." She absently rubbed the crown of her head where until previously the metal band had rested. "I said what she looked like, and Tifa thinks she knows who it is."

"Damn." Cid whistled. "This is getting spooky."

Barrett turned. "I'm gonna go wake up Red."

Vincent stood. "Excuse me," he said, directed mostly at Aurora, and walked away.

"Cloud," Tifa said. "Let me talk to you."

The two entered the next room. Cloud sat down on an upended table, while Tifa stood before him.

"Cloud, you know I will back you up on anything," Tifa began, "but ...I wanted to make sure that you understand what happened to Aeris." She ran a hand through her hair, slightly embarrassed. "I know that you and she were very close, and that you regret her death and wish it didn't happen. But that's no guarantee that you can undo it."

"What are you saying, Tifa?"

She sighed. "I want to tell you: there may not be a way to bring Aeris back. I will still go with you and look for her. But I don't want you to get your hopes up. She may not be coming back to life."

"I'm sure there's a way," Cloud said. "She's an Ancient. They could do anything."

"Yes," Tifa said, "but can we? No. And I don't want you to be heartbroken if we fail."

Back inside the room, Cid and Aurora sat around the dimming fire, as morning poured into small chinks in the walls and ceiling. Finally, Cid broke the silence. "Dammit, girl, don't keep staring. We can talk."

"What do we talk about?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. Tell me about yourself."

"Everything I know about myself I told you yesterday." Her voice was clear and smooth. Cid was a bit startled. "You can tell me about yourself," she repeated his phrase.

"Alright." He grinned at her suddenly. "You ever been flying?"

Her blank stare was an answer. "Guess not. What's the farthest place you've ever been in your life?"

She gestured. "I've always been in these labs."

His eyes bulged. "No shit? Well, girl, I have stories for you. You know outside the labs? Outside the building?"

She thought, and nodded vaguely. "I think I know what it looks like."

Cid leaned toward her. "Now imagine a machine - a huge machine - that can lift you off the ground and carry you over the world. Faster than anything can walk or run. It floats in the air, so you can go over mountains and water as fast as you please."

Her eyes had widened. "How high?"

"Real high," he said proudly.

"Higher than the Shinra tower?" she said, obviously referring to the HQ.

Cid looked at her and nodded. "Way higher," he said. "Sometimes higher than the Planet."

If possible, the look on her face became even more incredulous. "Higher than the Planet? Mr Cid, are you making this up?"

He laughed. "No, no. If you're lucky, and real nice," he said with a wink, "you'll get to go in that machine today."

"What do I have to do?"

Cid blinked. "Oh, never mind. Let me tell you about flying."

Cloud and Tifa watched from the doorway. Rough old Cid and small, quiet Aurora made a strange pair - although no stranger than her and Vincent, Tifa thought. Cid went on and on, describing to the girl his wonderful aerial exploits. His voice was eager and full of pride; her eyes were huge as she listened, asking just the right questions in that calm, emotionless voice of hers to push Cid on into the next tale. He had just started telling her about his rocket when he looked up and saw the couple standing in the doorway.

Cid's face turned an interesting shade of pink. "Yeah, we were just talking," he said.

"Barrett," Tifa yelled. "Is Red even awake yet?"

A little yip came from the tent. Red's canine face poked itself out of the tent, mane all messed, braids everywhere, sleep in the deep eyes.

"How can I sleep -" he yawned -"with all this racket?"

Tifa laughed. "Come on, lazybones. Time to get up!"

Red exited the tent, grumbling and shaking his mane. "You didn't run from Cosmo Canyon to Nibelheim the other day. I think I'm entitled to be sleepy."

Aurora turned back to Cid. "Are we going to go in the sky?"

Cid grinned a huge grin at the small girl. "You bet!" Then, with a slight afterthought: "You scared?"

She looked at him, a little confused. "I'm not sure what you mean."

Cloud interrupted the interchange. "Hey, Aurora." Her face swung immediately to meet his. "Where we're going, there might be danger. Do you know how to fight?"

She nodded. "Of course. I was trained." She pointed down a corridor. "My things are this way."

Tifa stood. "I'll go with her and get her ready." The two girls walked down the corridor. Aurora turned the corner into a small room containing a lab table, some cabinets, a bookshelf, and a tiny bed with buckles on the sides. Is this her room? Tifa wondered. Aurora opened a drawer and pulled out some smooth fabric. She took off the oversized lab shirt unabashedly - Tifa averted her eyes - and pulled it on. It turned out to be a dark-colored t-shirt of a tightly fitting material, over which she put a white tech vest. The next drawer held a similar pair of lab pants, which she changed into, fastening a belt overtop them. She then turned to the cabinets and flung the doors wide.

Inside were mounted a series of wicked-looking daggers. Tifa whistled. "Is that what you use?"

Aurora searched, finally pulling out two matching knives. "Twin daggers," she said. "I received training in most fighting styles, but Hojo said I was best with these." She twirled them around her fingers absently, then tucked them into two slits in the pants that must have contained scabbards. A drawer beneath the cabinet held two wristlets with the familiar slots for Materia. She fastened these around her wrists, and put a highly detailed silver band around her upper arm, over her tattoos. From another cabinet she pulled a pair of boots very much like Tifa's, and laced them, asking, "Is this all I will need?"

Tifa nodded. "You've got weapons and some defense and some space for Materia. That's pretty much all we use to fight."

"The wrist guards don't provide much defense," Aurora said. "But I have a built-in shield that will help me."

Tifa raised an eyebrow. "Shield?"

"Yes," Aurora said; closing her eyes briefly, she summoned the silver glow that coated her skin. "This is my protection."

Tifa nodded. "I think you're alright, Aurora."

She looked up at Tifa, and gave a tiny little smile - the first Tifa had seen on her face. "Thank you," she said.

Chapter 4

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic