The Fallen Chapter 23
I still dont understand... Clouds head
was in his hands, much as they had been for the last hour or so, with one
specific change. Earlier, it had been before the pains in his neck from the
knockout blow he had taken that had been absolutely wracking his neck, even
with Aeriss healing contributions. Now it was sheer frustration, as
one more layer of his life had just been piled on that he didnt comprehend
in the slightest.
Nothing, Aeris explained again, searching her mind for a way to phrase it that anyone who hadnt heard it directly from the planet could understand. besides the power of the Planet itself can restore life to what has none. It doesnt matter what chemicals, elements, or substances are mixed to any degree in any situation. Hojo was not real, though he didnt know it himself.
Not *real*, Barret interrupted, snorting in indignation. His dignity was still smarting from the almost comical way Hojo had managed to dispose of him, and his skin was smarting from being half buried alive by rubble and stone. I think we both know that some of the hits we took were real. I dont think anything that didnt exist could do any of that shit!
I said wasnt real, Aeris corrected, not that he didnt exist. Hojo was very much in this plane of the universe, but he just... well, he wasnt Hojo. Hojo died in the Meteor explosion in the core of Midgar, but his works, and his legacy, lived on.
His legacy? Cloud asked, his mind absolutely blown, who, Sephiroth?
Not quite, Aeris said, Hojo was quite possibly the most self important and self presumptuous man ever on the face of this earth. He thought that he would blow away every philosopher, every scientist, every revolutionary who came before him. Even in college, he kept memoirs of himself, recording some of the most painstakingly inane aspects of his day as if they would be plastered on billboards for all the future generations of the Planet to see. He continued these memoirs until a few hours before he died, actually spent his time recovering from your attack on him mumbling into the same tape recorder as always, refusing to let his death go unexplained.
So how did all this *happen*!? Cid couldnt take the hints and the riddles anymore. Every bone in his body ached, and he hadnt had a decent cup of tea in weeks. His breaking point was very, very close. Are you trying to say we got our asses kicked by some tapes?
A microchip, actually. Aeris held it up, cleaned of the blood it had been stained with when first retrieved. Vincent had handed it to her after waking her up, and had promptly disappeared, but the small metal chip had told her all she needed to know. He stores his memories by him at all times, in his pocket, in case anything remotely noteworthy happened, he would be ready to record it at a moments notice. His Jenova transformations didnt remove his clothes, they absorbed them, simply taking them into his body, the microchip included. And then came the explosion...
Aeris cleared her throat, doing nothing to clear the tension. Gathered around her in a half circle was Tifa Lockheart, Cloud Strife, Barret Wallace and Cid Highwind, her old companions in battle, looking absolutely baffled, the mystery of what theyd had to do still a riddle even after they had done it.
Im not exactly sure what it was... perhaps the mako, the Jenova cells, or most likely some mix of both. It read the microchip, absorbing the data from the silicon, taking down all of the aspects of Hojos life that he ever deemed necessary to remember- and he felt almost everything that involved him was necessary as such. Essentially, Hojos entire mind was swimming around inside that substance... and all a mind needs is a body.
And that just happened to be Hojos... Cloud said, taking them to the next obvious but necessary step. So he *was* reborn, and he *was* real!
No! Aeris insisted, her voice raising higher than shed wished. You dont understand. Hojos mind had been destroyed beyond repair, and no microchip in the world is powerful recreate to take the place of an actual brain. He was a recording, simply the thoughts and wishes he had experienced in his past, all the different wants and whims of twenty years blended together in an organic machine. Perhaps more powerful than any real body, but the mind was limited and always would be, no matter what it thought of itself. So in the end...
...so in the end, it lost. Tifa finished for her. But all the work you did... gathering us all together... all the lives that the Planet restored were useless, and would have failed in the end- even the Legacy weapons- if it wasnt for Vincent and Red.
It wasnt my work, Aeris said, the ultimate corrector on this occasion, it was the work of the Planet. I was, am, and always will simply be its messenger, chosen most likely because I had relationships with the men and women it needed to have its will be done. But I was not its only messenger. Nanaki is perhaps closer to the planet than any non Cetra should be, the blood that runs in his veins more ancient and nature based than any human. He heard the Planets call, and did its work, finding Vincent.
...where was he, anyway? Cloud asked. We searched for him for months after Meteor, but hed disappeared without a trace.
A second penance, Aeris said, her voice sad. Hed killed the son of the women he loved, and he simply couldnt live with it. He went back to her cave and stayed their, living off the land, hiding from any who came to find him. You were all there several times, I believe, but he simply receded into the shadows again. I believe he saw you as people who had driven him to his sins.
But Red? Cid asked, perhaps the closest thing to a friend Vincent had made on the Highwind, and even the grizzled old pilot sounded a bit wounded. Red found him?
Yes, Aeris said, Nanaki went to the caves and offered aloud the two things that Vincent was always in search of. A final revenge against Hojo, even if in body only, and a chance to amend those hed hurt by once again saving the world. It took him a while, but Nanaki was patient, and after a while Vincent emerged.
Did we? Cloud asked, save the world, I mean? Is this all good and safe for now?
Aeris looked around, a small smile on her face. Yes, she said, I believe it is.
And with that, the Cetra stood, smoothed out her dress, and with a small wave good bye, she left.
Tyler was cold... he hated the cold. Normally he would have put his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, but that wasnt really possible at this point, as his arms were in very tight knit white sleeves and wrapped around his shoulders, and he honestly didnt have the effort in him to break his way out of the strait jacket. He stared blankly at the wall, wondering if he should be shivering, wondering if he was even really cold.
Outside the door stood Reeve, looking furious at the pair of orderlies and the doctor who stood in front of him. He was roughly a split second from smacking the clipboard out of the arrogant fucks hands and then beating him to death with it. What do you mean I cant take him home!? he demanded, You always said he could come if he wanted, and he does now!
Im sorry, Mr. Lucia... the doctor placated him. But with what youve told us since his return, and what weve managed to get out of him, he is a far more disturbed and dillusional boy than we ever had imagined before.
What the hell are you talking about!? Reeve was practically screaming.
Well, sir, are you aware of the several on going law suits from the family of murders people towards companies that produce, say, violent video games? the doctor asked.
Sure... Reeve said, suddenly baffled about where this was supposed to be going. They say it desensitizes the killers. What does that have to do with anything?
As far as we can tell, Mr. Lucia, your son may be one of the very few cases where those law suits would succeed without question, was the only answer he got from the doctor.
I dont understand! Reeve hissed. My son didnt murder anybody! They had, of course, concealed what happened under the mountain at Fort Condor, despite the knowledge that while it had been necessary for the fate of the world, because it would be hard to make anyone understand why a child with a history of mental illness had needed to go ballistic with a pair of gatling guns.
Do you know why, Mr. Lucia, your son passed out on your travels? Reeve was really getting fed up with the way the doctor kept speaking in essentially the exact same sentences, with maybe two or three words changed around when the context of the question was different.
No! Why dont you tell me?
Because he suddenly came into the recognition that what he was doing was real.
What? Of course he... Reeve blinked. What?
It explains so much, the doctor said, the difference in his psychological tests, his erratic behavior, his seemingly multiple personalities while the tests picked up no sign of any such thing...
In a sudden movement, Reeve seized the front of the Doctors jacket, well aware but uncaring of the suddenly tense orderlies. Youd better tell me something I can understand about my son, Reeve growled, or you might find out that going crazy on someone is a genetic thing.
Surprised, but relatively unshaken- he did work with mental patients, after all- the doctor put it into plain English. Your son is not sure when his life is real, and when the things he is doing are part of an elaborate video game.
Reeve let go of the mans jacket. Excuse me? he said, his voice quiet.
Fantasy and reality, the difference eludes him. Recent tests have confirmed it, tests so usually useless that they are almost never used unless called for... he suffers from an as yet unnamed syndrome. We believe it stems from dreams he has, visions so realistic that the afflicted is one hundred percent convinced when he awakes that they really happened. Living in two worlds, one where no rules apply and anything is possible, and another in his room, confined and helpless... it skewered the boys view of the world, divided reality to him into millions of fragments, some real, some not.
Reeve remained silent, staring at the man in wide eyed disbelief.
Its treatable, Mr. Lucia, but it will take months to know if the medications have been effective. When we are positive that his grasp on reality has been recreated, you can take him home.
At a loss for words, Reeve could merely nod. The doctor realized his role here was done, and turned to leave, not even pausing as Reeve fumbled out muffled thanks. The public relations director and father walked up to the glass that peered into his sons room, and pulled aside the curtain.
Tyler heard the curtain being drawn, and glanced over from his spot in the corner, eyes widening in surprise. He knows, Reeve thought to himself, that this is real. He understands that Im actually here, thats why hes surprised. When didnt he? When did he think it was just a game? The last time I came here? The killings? Or did they sprout from real hidden demons that were now just masked by a medical condition?
Tyler gave him a weak smile from his corner.
Taking a deep breath, Reeve waved, and pulled open the door to enter.
Vincent Valentine was in a hurry. He was too close to the others, and was in severe danger of being found. The last thing he needed was a sappy, soulful goodbye, and thanks for doing what he had absolutely had to do. What would he have told them? That if it wasnt for his penance, his obligation, he would have said to Nanaki that the world be damned, he was staying in his cave? It would be the only thing of mild interest hed even have to offer, and he doubted theyd like it very much. He doubted he liked it very much himself.
He reached out with his left hand to brush aside a vine that was strung across the forest path, only to stop dead. The shining brass was still covered with blood, that had earlier been red and sticky, but now had faded and dried to a dull, rust colored brown on his claw. He lowered his eyes and the claw at the same time, ashamed of something he refused to name. Remembering his hurry, he brushed aside the vine with his right hand, and went to continue on.
Leaving so soon?
Vincent froze and straightened his up, his spine locking as if frozen. The very sound of the voice sent his nerves blazing, like a thousand angry little fires in the deep pores of his skin. It was the voice of a dead man, a man he had killed, the voice of a man who had once been a child that should have been his. But it was not, instead it was born to a psychotic scientist, a man Vincent had also killed... twice, now. Sephiroth, last name of Hiroshima by all official records, but be damned if you could find those records on this earth anymore.
I have things to attend to, Vincent said, speaking without turning. His eyes glew faintly in the shadows cast by the trees that loomed around both of them, narrowed into mere slits.
You no longer have anything to atone for, Sephiroth said simply, laying it all out in the open, your penance was more than served, long before you even met the likes of Cloud Strike and Tifa Lockheart.
And what would one such as you know of atonement? Vincent asked coldly, angrily. Youve posed danger to more lives than Hojo ever had. Aiding in stopping him is nothing in the scope of the things youve done.
Thats where your wrong, Turk, Sephiroth said, using Vincents old, forgotten title. Upon hearing it, the pale skin manned whirled around, his red cloak sweeping out and brushing the air clean.
I stopped being a Turk the same day I stopped being human, Sephiroth. Vincent snarled.
Listen to yourself, Valentine. You speak to me as if I am the man I once was, the misguided Soldier bent on destroying all the things that had ever tortured him- and a word, everything. Sephiroths voice was quiet, and calm, but saturated with a noble sounding strength. I am that man no longer. I have become a messenger of the Planet, though you try not to hear its words. It is intentions that count more than deeds, Valentine, and your intentions have always been in the right places.
And my deeds always in the wrong ones! Vincent cried, Or can you not understand that? You killed the inhabitants of a city and burnt it to the ground, but could you even comprehend the weight of not killing something you love, but instead destroying it? I turned Lucrecia, your mother, into an empty soulless wreck, because of my inability to act! Intentions mean nothing when the consequences make you something less than, than...
Human, Sephiroth said, completing the words for him. The ex Soldier stood solemnly, his arms crossed over his chest, his features calm as he completed the final task that had been appointed to him. You say that once again, but the only one who believes it is yourself, though Bahumat knows you try to convince others... tell me, Vincent, why do you wear that? The silver haired warrior gestured towards the left hand of the man, where the bloodstained brass claw was poised.
Vincent followed his gesture to the metallic limb silently, and when he tried to answer, no sounds came out. Instead he merely raised the claw up to eye level, clenched it, wiggled the fingers. In the end, he merely shrugged, an apparent gesture of defeat.
The others think it is sewn on, you know, Sephiroth told him, they believe it is a part of you and always will be. But you know, and the Planet knows, much differently.
Slowly, Vincent lowered the claw into the grasp of his right hand, and seized the metallic, sharp clawed fingers. With a slow, solid tug, the claw came loose, pulling free from the black gloved hand that lay beneath, altogether whole. Vincent stared at it for a moment, and then looked up at Sephiroth.
You are more human than most people could ever hope to be, Sephiroth said with finality, and you are the only one who recognizes it not.
Wordlessly, Vincent dropped the claw to the ground, and walked away, leaving it lying in the mud.
So what now?
The voice was Renos, but the words werent typical of him. Thinking ahead was not exactly the running fashion of the Turk, just as strongly as dwelling in the past was almost entirely his fashion. And the present, well... the present was just a millisecond, and as soon as that millisecond was over it was the past, and Reno could begin to enjoy it.
Tseng glanced over from his spot at the round wooden table, where he sat between Reno and Elena. That depends, he said, on any number of things. He paused for a moment from his relatively cryptic remark to take a drink from his Scotch. His eyes flickered around the table, falling finally on Rory and Gabriel, who each sat to the right of Reno, slowly nursing the drinks Reno had bought them on terms of the bet. The warrior smiled slightly at the evident distaste on the face of the girl, yet she drank on. Such as membership, he said.
The two teenagers perked up suddenly, eyes raising from their drinks to meet Tsengs gaze. After all, he continued, they already have the jackets.
Yeah, thats all it takes... Elena snorted, trying to sound as good natured as possible. She genuinely liked the two teenagers, and had actually been the voice that helped soothe Renos raging fears that Rory ever go into the same line of work as her older brother, but her shoulder was still killing her, even with Aeriss care she would need to look seriously into learning to shoot with the other arm. As for now, she wore a sling around her neck that cradled the arm, trying to keep pressure from further damaging the joint.
Rory looked over expectantly at her brother, waiting for him to quickly brush off the idea, dismissing it as a simple joke even though shed read in Tsengs eyes that it wasnt. Instead he simply reached over as if to tousle her hair, and then remembering she absolutely loathed that action, instead put his arm around his little sister. You are so going to be a secretary, he said after a moment, a small smile on his face, but his tone serious. As if shed had any believe they were going to be sending her out onto missions.
And me? Gabriel asked quietly, his eyes locked firmly on the table a foot or two lower than Renos eyes. Hed been wondering since hed been awaken under the mountain, his wings long since receded, what he was going to do from then on. Any of the people and the places that hed known were long since destroyed, his entire world located in a Midgar that existed thirty some years ago.
Reno looked like he was going to answer him, probably with a comment on how he would be watching the door, but Tseng answered instead. Something, he said simply, youll get the job that you should have gotten thirty years ago if only you hadnt been so damn trusting.
At the word something, the confirmation that Gabriel did indeed have an immediate future, the young man had exhaled deeply and gone to take a gulp from his drink. By the end of Tsengs sentence, he had finished off the contents of the glass, but couldnt bring himself to put it down, instead staring at the man out of the cups glass bottom. After a moment that felt like an eternity, he put the glass down, his eyes wide and stunned.
You were Tex, werent you? he asked in a distant voice, the quiet one who never talked to any of us. Holloway had told me hed already gotten you, right before I put a slug in his chest, so I thought...
Bullshit. Tseng said simply. You didnt want to kill the short runt who seemed so incompetent. You didnt realize that the short runt was just a very good actor.
And a very good shot... Gabriel added. He looked around the table, where the Turks- the other Turks- were looking at him and Tseng with various levels of belief and understanding. Slowly, Gabriel reached out and grabbed the tall bottle that sat between them in the middle of the table, and refilled his glass. Idly, he lifted the cup, and swished the brown liquid for a moment.
Well heres to that, he said, offering his glass for a toast. And heres to something.
Glasses clinked, and even Rory drank to that.
Yuffie waited outside the bar, listening to the sound of chemically fabricated joy inside, staring out into the darkened sky with an uneasy gaze. She didnt know why she was waiting, or until when, but she did know what she was waiting for- him. That bumbling, stupid, crass, lower class idiot. It was probably pointless, she knew, but she was going to wait until the Turks left the bar and she was going to grab him, and she was going to tell him to take her to dinner, or she was going to kick his ass.
After all, shed already slept with him. It was the least he could do.
It was like a giant, all encompassing mirror, nature painted in perfect detail and slapped onto one of the biggest canvasses in the world. And then, with one stone throw, Rufus destroyed it all, sending it into thousands of little ripples that would keep going even when they were too small to see, would eventually make their way to the oceans, cause waves, cause tidal waves, cause deaths. But Rufus didnt care about the ripples, or the reflection in the lake he had just taken out with stones toss.
You look cold.
The voice was soft, too soft, faint enough that in Rufus mind, it meant weak. Tenderness is one thing, acting like some sort of baby rabbit was an entirely different matter. Softness of that degree could only mean two things, pity or lying, or usually a blend of both. Men and women pretending pity while they were really reaching for the handle of the dagger in your back to give it one more good twist. He didnt bother to look backwards, the pink clad women was already shown perfectly in the reflection of the water.
Aeris. He said, an acknowledgment, not a greeting. Its about ten degrees out here, and were at lake side. Recently deceased or not, I think by the laws of physics that I need to be cold.
He grabbed another stone from the pile he had erected from his perch on the larger rock and whipped it side armed towards the water, where it hit the surface at too steep an angle and simply sliced into the water, disappearing from sight beneath the mirror image of some tries. Uttering an angry sigh, he grabbed yet another rock, and tossed it again. This time it managed to skip once on the water, and then disappeared once again.
You dont look very good at that, Aeris said softly, walking up beside him.
Out of practice, Rufus said with a weak shrug, tossing another rock, another sinker. I used to be able to clear an entire lake this size. Thats before more important things came into my life than adding stones to the bottom of a pond.
So why are you doing it now? Aeris asked, Trying to get in touch with your old skills?
This isnt a skill, Rufus informed her, its a trick. Anyone can do it if they know how. And if you must know, he added that second part quickly, cutting off Aeris as she opened her mouth to speak, Im doing it because now there *isnt* anything more important in my life than this.
You saved the world, Aeris argued.
I helped. Rufus said flatly, just a twinge of caring in his voice. I played nurse and then did some damage to Hojos fist with my jaw bone. Not exactly a heros role.
And you want to be a hero? Aeris asked, surprised.
No. He said, and then froze. Did he? No... I just dont want to be inert. I dont care if I was fighting Hojo or on his side, the role of a lackey doesnt appeal to me.
And throwing stones does.
Maybe... Rufus sighed, grabbed a whole fistful of rocks at once, and let them fly. A half dozen splashes popped up about fifteen feet out into the water, sending ripples going in every direction. Its all I have to do. My company has been taken over. Most of my old employees were killed, anyway. Everything I created is now considered evil by the people whos lives they saved. And now I cant even skip these fucking rocks!
With a shaky hand, he smacked the rest of his pile away, sending them cascading over the side of his boulder into the dirt. In a convulsive move, he seized his hair around the temples and gripped tightly, angrily lowering his head towards the rock and gritting his teeth. Im the only one here, he said, who was just as much use dead as he is now.
Aeris ignored his second comment, focusing on his first. Idly, she reached into the pocket of his white lab coat, and slowly withdrew the flat metal disk he had taken days ago in the underwater Mako Reactor. A question he hadnt asked, but she knew what was on his mind, was why it had been of no use whatsoever in helping in the mission against Hojo. Gently but determined, she grabbed his wrist and pulled it away from his temple, and pressed the disk into his palm. He looked at her in uncomprehending surprise.
Skip it, she said simply, and took a step back.
He had a million questions, but he suddenly realized that he didnt really care. He cocked his arm back and side armed the disc, watching it jet through the air like a Frisbee. There is no way, he thought to himself, that is going to skip. It is at a horrible angle. But suddenly, it caught the wind, or the wind caught it, and it flattened out before striking the surface of the water, skimming it perfectly in small hops. Rufus watched it go, flying into the distance, until it disappeared from sight, and all he was left with was a broken reflection. His gaze lingered as the water smoothed, and the reflection pieced it back together: a girl, sitting on a dock, her legs dangling over the edge.
His nerves suddenly screaming, he looked up, staring in disbelief at the image across the lake.
A women sat their, on an old beaten down dock that had absolutely no place in the center of a lake. Her hair was black, long and shining, but Rufus could remember like yesterday when it had been short and curly, dirty in an almost pleasant way. Even in the darkness he could see the shimmering of her dark blue eyes, and could just make out the faintest hint of freckles on her pale skins.
Shea... he said weakly, breathlessly, barely able to hear himself. At an utter loss, he turned to Aeris for help, only to find that the Cetra was gone, disappeared without a trace. He looked back towards the dock, praying to all things holy that it was still there, only to discover that... it was, as solid as ever, strong in the moonlight. Fighting his lungs, which felt like they were burning with indescribable fire, he cupped his hands to his mouth. Shea!! his scream raced through the night, passing over the lake like wind.
In an almost unobservable movement, the women looked up from the dock, a small and shy smile on her face. She lifted her hand, in what could have been a greeting, and then slowly cocked her finger towards the dock, towards her. The unspoken message was clear.
The former president didnt hesitate. He could remember a time where he had refused to walk on such a dock in fear that his shoes would get muddy, and of course the girl with him had come up with the perfect solution- take em off, dummy. He leapt down from the rock, pulling his jacket off as he dropped, tossing it to the side when he landed. He ran towards the water, kicking his shoes off as he did, and dived in, ignoring the icy pinch that hit him on every square inch of bare skin.
He swum hard, conditioned by years of mandatory lessons from his father. Stupid, of course, as president he had never had less than five men who were registered scuba divers, who probably wouldnt even have let him touch the water. Theyd swim with him on their backs, or something. He kicked hard, cutting through the water like a trout, reaching the dock in a matter of minutes. He reached up from the water and seized the brim of the wood, and then hauled himself up with one energized pull.
He rolled onto the dock easily, and wiped the water from his eyes, half expecting that when he did, he would suddenly wake up in the Shinra Mansion, his father pounding on the door and screaming at him. Instead, he sat up to see a pair, *the* pair, of dark blue eyes staring at him.
Shea... he said again. Wha... what? You...
Im here, Rufus... she said, her voice sounding giddy but restrained. Like maybe she didnt believe it herself. Im here.
Almost taken aback for a moment at the lack of the lisp, Rufus suddenly remembered how long ago shed lost it. Would he ever stop remembering her as the homeless little girl who he met when he was just eight?
And then her restraint broke, and she grabbed him, and kissed him, and he kissed her back.
And he realized that yes, he would.
The fire crackled in the night, causing Zack to jump a little. His nerves were frayed, and he wasnt sure theyd ever be quite normal again. Hed gone through a lot in the last few weeks, maybe more than the others with almost being drowned in some god forsaken power plant. And now, here he was, alone in the middle of a forest near a mountain hed just nearly died under.
I guess Ill go home... he said quietly, staring at the flames. Idly, he glanced around.
Whichever way that is.