The Second Incarnation Part 18
By Shelly Ichishita
The Highwind raced through the clouds towards Nibelheim. The sky flashed past in blurry patches of blue and white. Yuffie was so worried about Shera that she didn't even have time to regurgitate the small amount of food left in her stomach. She sat next to Aeris in the conference room and watched over Cloud and Shera. "Aeris?" Yuffie's pupils were large and dark, Aeris was afraid that the young girl would go into shock. Yuffie prodded her again. "Shera's not going to die right?"
"She won't die," Aeris comfortingly stroked Yuffie's small hand. "Cid will get the cure." Cloud tossed and cried out Tifa's name in his sleep. His words twisted a knot in Aeris' gut. She picked up the blanket that he had kicked off and tucked him in again.
"Will Cloud be alright?" Tifa walked in and came to stand behind Aeris.
"He'll be fine," Aeris assured her. "He just needs to sleep. I wish that I could help him but I can only heal his body. Ellie really screwed up his mind." Aeris bit her lip and clenched her fists in anger, "I can't believe that there's someone out there with my face doing these things."
The Highwind came to a sudden stop. Tifa looked regretfully at Cloud. "I need to go now."
Yuffie stood quickly, "I'm coming with you."
Tifa shook her head. "We need someone to stay here and watch Shera and Cloud. Vincent and Reeve and staying to guard Lucretia. I'm going into Nibelheim with Cid, Barret and Red. The less people that go in the smaller our chances are of being detected."
Yuffie opened her mouth to argue, but Tifa cut her off, "We don't have time to argue. I have to go." She opened the heavy door, "take care of them okay?"
Aeris nodded. Tifa ran out the door to join Cid, Barret and Red on the deck.
"I don't understand why I can't go," Yuffie started pacing. "I can't just sit here and do nothing!"
"Me too, but they're all going for a reason. I doubt we'd be much help."
"But I've fought Elena before. I know I can take her down."
"Cid, Barret and Nanaki have fought the creatures too. Anyway Cid has a personal stake in this, Barret is the strongest guy in the group besides Cloud, Nanaki can locate and remove the gland and Tifa can lead them through Nibelheim blindfolded," Aeris stared Yuffie down. "Now do you understand why they're going and you're not?"
Yuffie sighed, "yeah, but this still sucks."
"Why don't you make something to eat then?" Aeris grinned mischievously.
Yuffie stuck her tongue out, "good idea, then I can throw up on you." She walked to the door, "but seriously, I'll make some beef consommé. I thought that I saw a few cubes in Tifa's bag."
"Can you make enough for Cloud and Shera too?"
"Sure thing." Yuffie ran out of the room. She was glad that she had something to do. I just can't stand there and watch Shera die, Yuffie thought. She rounded a corner fast and ran straight into Reeve.
Reeve reached out to steady her. "Where's the fire?"
Yuffie tossed her head back, "no fire, just nervous I guess. How's guard duty?"
Reeve's brow furrowed, "guard duty?"
"Yeah, aren't you supposed to be keeping an eye on Lucretia? You know, making sure she doesn't do anything?"
"You don't even know what you're talking about," Reeve shouted at her. He hated not being able to tell his friends the full story. He hated it almost as much as he hated everyone using Lucretia as a scapegoat. Yuffie walked away in a huff. Reeve wanted to call after her but he realized that even if he did he couldn't explain his actions to her. He sighed as he leaned against a wooden crate.
"You look depressed," Vincent approached Reeve. "Isn't that my job?"
Reeve laughed. Vincent making a joke? Maybe the situation wasn't so bad after all. "I hope you can cheer me up."
"I can attempt to. No guarantees."
"Just try to be kinder to Lucretia okay? She doesn't deserve to be treated like this."
Vincent was incredulous. "I haven't been treating her badly."
Reeve shook his head. "Everyone's been treating her like a leper, including you."
"What about Shera?" Those three words made Reeve pause. Vincent stared at him over his tightly wound scarf.
Reeve stuck his hand in his pocket and touched his lucky dice. "Shera will be alright. And Lucretia isn't responsible for that anyway."
All traces of humor and contentment were gone from Vincent's voice. "Without her help Hojo would never have been able to create those 'Necro-Arachnids.' Lucretia made her choice, and I've made mine. I will always love the woman she was, but I can't love the woman she's become." Vincent cleared his throat and turned away from Reeve. "If you need me I'll be on the deck. Lucretia is in the stables, watch her."
Reeve watched Vincent march up the stairs. He needed to convince Lucretia to tell Vincent the truth. If he couldn't convince her he was going to have to tell Vincent himself. Reeve looked in the doorway before entering the stables; Lucretia was alone, stroking Katsu's downy golden feathers. Reeve knocked on the side of the wall. "Lucretia," he stuck his hands in his pockets. "Can we talk?"
Lucretia pushed an errant strand of hair back into place. Katsu warked softly, she patted him on the head and moved toward Reeve. "What do you want to talk about?" she inquired.
"I want you to tell Vincent the whole story. I think that he'd rather hear it from you, but if you don't tell him I will."
She turned back to the chocobo, almost like she was using Katsu as a shield against Reeve's words. "Why are you doing this to me?" she barely managed to choke the words out. Katsu was aware that Lucretia was upset and he spit at Reeve.
Reeve sidestepped the spitball. "I'm not trying to hurt you," he tugged on his ponytail. "But you need to tell Vincent. He thinks you went to Hojo of your own free will."
"But I did."
Reeve stuttered, "you did? Why?"
Lucretia looked down at the straw. "Because Hojo told me that he would help me die."
"But why would you want to die?"
"I just can't stand to live anymore. I have nothing. Hojo took away my dignity and my self-worth. And when he showed up in Nibelheim he took my dreams and hopes for a future with Vincent. The worst thing about it all is that I let him. I let him take my child. When I finally realized what he was doing I wanted to die, but he had taken that away from me too." Glistening tears streamed down her pale cheeks. "And now you want me to tell everything to Vincent? I look at him now and I see contempt shining behind his eyes. I don't want to see disgust there too."
Reeve tried to move closer to comfort her but Katsu lashed out with his beak. Reeve decided that maybe it'd be safer to stay where he was. "Vincent won't be disgusted. He's only angry because he thinks you went to help Hojo harm innocent people. If you tell him the truth he'll understand." He started to turn and leave, but instead he faced Lucretia again. "Just think about it, you'll see that I'm right."
A few minutes later, Lucretia was still crying. No one could ever understand why she had done what she had. After she created the anti-venom she would leave, it was better for everyone involved that way. She still wanted to be with Vincent. But you have no right to want anything, she told herself. Least of all him.
The hinges on the gate were rusty, and Tifa expected its loud clamor to announce their arrival. Surprisingly, the iron gate barely even made a squeak. She slipped between the small opening and stepped aside to make room for Barret and Cid. Nanaki had gone in first and she waited for his signal.
The call of a great horned owl filled the twilight. That was the signal. They cautiously approached the dilapidated mansion. Cid was fidgeting nervously and he was wearing a watch for the first time in a decade. He adjusted the band on his wrist. "How much time do we have?" Barret asked.
"About an hour and a half."
Tifa smiled reassuringly. "We'll be out of here in fifteen minutes. The Shinra mansion isn't too hard to get around."
Nanaki stepped out of the shadows. "It's clear. I hope this is the right place."
Cid ached at the thought that Elena might not be here. This is the only lead we have. She has to be here or Shera dies. He opened the door. They all stepped inside, with Barret in the front. The double doors locked securely behind them. Nanaki turned at the sound of the deadbolt engaging.
Hojo's mocking voice rose out to greet them. "I see that you've made it. Pity about Shera. She really was a talented scientist. I suppose that's what happens when you get mixed up with aviators though."
"Shut up you slimy bastard." Cid turned purple with fury.
"Now, now. The preliminaries are out of the way. So how's about I introduce you to my darlings." Hojo chortled and snorted loudly.
Seven of the Necro-Arachnids emerged to confront them. Nanaki blinked in disbelief. Hojo had been a very busy boy. Cid grinned happily, Elena was one of the seven. Barret and Tifa primed themselves for the battle that was about to erupt.
A talon reached out to rip Tifa to shreds. She jumped to avoid it and closed in to pummel the creature's head. Its skull split apart like an overripe cantaloupe, the brains dousing the staircase in behind it. The mechanical spider still stood though. Tifa called out to the others, "go for their heads."
Barret obliged, grunting as he shot at the zombie heads. He took out another three. Cid wished that he could call the Highwind on his PHS and have his crew deliver a volley of missiles but he didn't want to take the risk that the missiles might destroy the gland. Nanaki hit the mechanical spider parts with his strongest lighting materia. The bolts shorted out the creature's circuitry.
It didn't all go the way they planned though. Barret hadn't been fast enough to avoid a claw and was nursing a gaping wound on his side. Tifa had almost been poisoned as she dolphin kicked a Necro-Arachnid. Three of the monsters still stood, including Elena.
Cid went after Elena with everything he had. He speared her five times before her flashing claws forced him to back off. His blue eyes were steely with determination as he leaped in the air, the Venus Gospel aimed at Elena's rotting head.
His friends turned to help him. Elena was the only creature left, she turned to run but Tifa drop kicked her, severing three of her legs. Nanaki and Barret immobilized her lower half with lighting bolts. Cid let out a whoop of exultation. They ran up to the creature's deteriorated body.
Nanaki directed Cid in the removal of the gland. Tifa held out a jar for Cid to place it in. Their mission had been completed, Shera would recover as soon as Lucretia completed the anti-venom. Cid cradled the precious jar in his hands, he would protect the jar with his life if necessary.
The main doors of the mansion wouldn't budge. Barret tried shooting out the hinges but the door seemed to be shielded somehow. Cid glanced at the face of his watch. The battle had cost them forty-five minutes. He threw himself into the door desperately put it didn't help. Barret joined him but all they had to show for it were two bruised and battered shoulders.
"Stop that." Tifa admonished the guys. "I think I know another way out. There's a service entrance in the kitchen."
Barret and Cid each took a potion to mend their bodies. They followed Tifa through the mansion. True to her word there was a service entrance. Cid was frantic though, the trip through the mansion had cost them another fifteen minutes. The group raced through the town, but it seemed that all the monsters had come out of hiding to slow them down. The two hours were up. "I'm sorry Shera." Cid said mournfully as he climbed up onto the deck of his airship. "I'm so sorry."
Yuffie entered the room juggling four bowls of soup. Aeris got up quickly to help her. "Would you believe that there isn't a single tray on this ship?" Yuffie griped.
"I'm thankful that you could find the bowls." Aeris set the soup down on the table. "Where did you get all of this anyway?"
Yuffie smiled innocently. "From Tifa's bags."
Aeris giggled. "She's gonna kill you. You really should have asked permission before she left."
"I know." Yuffie looked a little embarrassed. "But I was too busy trying to convince her to let me go with them."
Aeris leaned over to breathe in the steam. "It smells great Yuffie."
"Thanks." She looked around the room. "You wouldn't happen to have the time would you?"
Aeris knew that the question she was really asking was how much time did Shera have. "I don't know the time." She took a spoon and tried to feed Shera. "Why don't you ask Reeve? He always seems to know."
"That prick. No thank you. I think I'll see if one of the crew has the time." She picked up her bowl and began to drain it. "Ah, I'm such a good cook." The empty bowl rattled on the table and Yuffie had left the room before Aeris had a chance to ask her what she meant about Reeve.
Aeris had just finished feeding Shera and had moved over to Cloud's cot when Reeve hurried in. "It's been two hours." He looked like hell. "Is she..."
Aeris shook her head. "No, the tourniquet Lucretia put on her delayed the spread of the poison."
"That's a relief." They jumped at the sound of someone crashing onto the deck. "That's probably Cid now. I'll go tell him she's still alive."
Cloud stirred next to her. Aeris realized that she had spilled a little consommé when she jumped. She was so relived that Cid was back. Shera could hold on for another half hour Aeris estimated. But she was still very glad that they had finally come back.
Aeris turned her attention to Cloud. The soup had retained a lot of its heat and she didn't want the liquid to burn him. She lifted his sleeveless black top over his head and mopped up the spilled soup with a terry cloth towel. Cloud raised his head and smiled up at her. His cerulean eyes were hazy and Aeris knew that he probably was delirious but when his lips touched hers she pushed the thought out of her mind. She had waited for this for a long time. Aeris recalled the night they shared together at the Golden Saucer. She had thought he was going to kiss her during the play, but instead he had kissed the dragon. She had been really disappointed but the kiss they shared now made up for it. His mouth was open and the warm broth swirled on her tongue. His hands came up and he touched the sides of her face. Her knees felt rubbery and she could feel a pleasant tingling in the palms of her hands. Then he moved his lips from her mouth and whispered in her ear. Aeris jerked away but Cloud was too out of it to notice. She smoothed her palms down the sides of her dress and hoped that no one would notice that her lips were swollen with his kisses. She turned, and came face to face with Tifa.
Tifa ran from the room. Aeris raced after her; Tifa needed to know the words Cloud had whispered in her ear. He had whispered, "I love you Tifa."
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