Appointment With Destiny Chapter 13
Aeris tried to scream as she felt hands moving over her body. The hands stopped when they found the wallet in her pocket. They took it. The men dropped her on her feet and pinned her arms behind her back. Aeris felt something sharp pressing against one of her arms and tried to scream again but her voice was muffled.
"Shut up!" snarled the owner of the hand.
There was pain, a rush of wetness and something pressing against her arm. Tears welled up in her eyes. Struggling wasn't getting her anywhere but Aeris fought anyway.
The hands holding her loosened suddenly and she was dropped unceremoniously on a pile of flattened cardboard. One of her arms was bleeding. Aeris grit her teeth and tried to press the wound closed with her fingers.
"Scream and I'll kick you right in the teeth," said the shortest man, putting something in his pocket.
They stood over her while the leader opened the wallet. He laughed as he pulled out her gil and stuffed it into his hip pocket.
"She's packing," he said to the others. "She's even got credit cards."
"Let me see!" The second man snatched them out of the leaders hand. He held them up to his face. "Shit!"
"What's wrong Bacci?" asked the leader.
"Look at this Stretch!" Bacci glared at Aeris and held up one of the cards for Stretch to see.
"Shit!" Stretch narrowed his eyes at Aeris.
"What's wrong?" asked the third man.
"Take a look at this Norl," said Stretch showing him the card.
"Shit!" Norl glared at Aeris. "This is Sephiroth's bitch! I thought she looked familiar!"
"He'll kill us when he finds out what we've done," wailed Bacci. "We've been had! What do we do Stretch?"
Stretch grinned. His teeth were yellow and crooked. "We're going to get the hell out of here and forget what we've got coming, cause it sure as hell ain't money."
"What do you mean?" asked Bacci.
"I mean help me hold her down," said Stretch. "I'm a dead man anyway, so I might as well have some fun before I go."
Bacci grinned. "I'll get one foot Norl. You get the other."
Aeris opened her mouth to scream but Stretch pounced on her knocking her breathless, flat on her back. He straddled her body. Norl and Bacci tried to grab her kicking feet.
"Stop struggling bitch," said. Stretch. "You're going to entertain us."
"We'd rather she didn't," said a voice behind them.
The three men turned to look behind them. Four rough looking men in well worn clothes stood watching them.
"Who the hell are you?"asked Stretch.
"We're the guys that are going to rescue that lovely young lady from you dirty minded creeps," answered the foremost man.
"You and what army?" snarled Stretch. He rose to his feet with Aeris' blood on his clothing.
"We don't need an army. Just us."
Bacci and Norl stood up. Aeris rolled to her feet and tried to run past them, but Norl turned swiftly and shoved her down on the cardboard again. His move served as a signal for the fight to begin. Aeris cowered in terror as seven men swung their fists each other. One of the four pulled a knife and ripped Stretch across the throat with it. Stretch staggered across the alley and collapsed gagging. Bacci and Norl broke free and fled down the opposite end of the alley. The four men did not follow. They turned to look at Aeris.
The leader grinned. "Hi. I'm Aaron, and these are my friends Poke, Alex and Weasel."
She stood up trembling. Stretch lay partially propped against the dirty wall of the building across the way. His shirt was drenched in blood. His eyes were open and staring. Aeris turned her eyes away.
"Thank you for helping me," she said to the four.
They grinned at her.
"I'd better get back to the station," said Aeris looking at the cut on her arm. It wasn't bleeding as much as before, but there was blood all over her hands and clothes. "I made a mistake coming here."
"I'm afraid you've made two mistakes," said Weasel.
"Yep. Two." Poke had three golden teeth in his smile.
Alex gave her a knowing look.
"What mistake?" asked Aeris.
"We didn't fight those guys to stop them from taking what they wanted," said Aaron, advancing slowly. "We stopped them so we could take it first."
This can't be happening thought Aeris. She screamed as they fell on her.
Hiding a short distance away, Reno smiled and turned to his companions. "She must be putting up quite a fight."
"They ought to give the signal soon," said Elena. "Right Tseng?"
"We'll intervene in three minutes if they don't," he answered.
"Let me go!" cried Aeris, but Aaron and his friends pulled her down on the flattened cardboard and started pulling at her clothes.
"Shut up!" Alex slapped her.
"Damn it!" snarled Poke. "Be still you stupid bitch!"
"Get the knife Weasel!" Alex slapped Aeris again. "I said shut up!"
Weasel ripped her blouse up one side with his knife.
"Leave her alone," said a quiet voice.
The men froze.
Weasel stood up and faced the spiky haired man before him.
"Who the hell are you?"
"My name is Cloud Strife. Get off that woman and leave her alone."
Weasel grinned and rushed toward Cloud. Cloud met him swinging his sword. Weasel's upper torso flew in one direction, his legs collapsed in the other. Alex, Poke and Aaron rose their feet. Aaron reached into his waist band and grabbed for his gun. A blast of ice blew him off his feet. Alex turned to look at Aaron then turned toward Cloud in time to die as the sword sliced horizontally across his chest.
Poke ducked Cloud's next swing and ran for his life in the same direction as the first three men. Aaron stood up. He'd dropped his gun. A large stone was clutched in his right hand. He threw it at Cloud. Cloud ducked the missile and closed in slashing to kill. His next blow almost severed Aaron's head from his body.
Aeris stared at the carnage in shock, her mouth and eyes wide open. Cloud slid his sword back into his sheath. He grabbed the wallet and credit cards Stretch and his friends had dropped and stuffed them into a pocket. He went to Aeris and pulled her up roughly by her uninjured arm. She tried to pull away and he shook her roughly.
"Stay here and you'll probably be killed!" he said urgently. "If you don't want to die, come on!"
Aeris nodded numbly. He could run much faster than she. Half dragging her, they followed Pokes retreat down the alley. There was too much happening too fast and her mind was refusing to absorb it all. Cloud pulled her around a corner and looked back to see if they were being pursued. There was no one there. He looked at Aeris and noticed the blood on her arm for the first time. Snatching a handkerchief out his pocket, he bound the wound.
Aeris was panting for breath. "Who are you?"
"A friend," he said. "Come on. We've got to keep moving."
He took her by the hand and led her deeper into the slums.
"They've had enough time," said Tseng. "We're going in."
Guns drawn, the Turks came out of their hiding place and rushed into the alley. They stopped in surprise staring at the bodies of Aaron, Stretch, Weasel and Alex.
"What the hell happened here?" asked Reno.
Elena looked around in disbelief. "Who killed all these people?"
"Never mind them," said Tseng. "Where in the hell is the girl?"
"This way," said Rude pointing at a trail of blood leading up the alley. "She's wounded and on the run."
The Turks followed the bloody droplets around the corner where they ended.
"Now what?" asked Reno.
"Get the car and let's find her," snapped Tseng tossing Elena the keys.
Far up ahead, Aeris wondered briefly if it would be better to snatch her hand away from Cloud and run off on her own. She decided against it. You've done enough stupid things for one day, she thought.
Cloud seemed to know where he was going. They passed a few shabby businesses and dimly lit homes. Aeris was just beginning to get worried when he pulled her toward the stairway of an old tavern.
"7th Heaven" the sign read. "Tifa Lockhart, owner."
Aeris pulled against Cloud and stopped. He stopped and looked back at her. She stared at the sign.
"I've heard of this place. A woman gave me a card with her name on it."
"That was Tifa," said Cloud tugging at her hand. "Come on, you're not safe yet."
He pulled her up the stairs and through the door. The woman Aeris had seen at her wedding stood behind the counter with a dark haired little girl. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw them come in.
"Aeris!" She looked at Cloud. "What's going on?"
"I don't know yet," said Cloud, "But we'd better hide her because I think we've got problems. The Turks should be here anytime now."
Tifa rushed around the bar. "Get her downstairs quick!"
"Come on." Cloud pushed Aeris toward a pinball machine. "Stand here."
"Why?" asked Aeris. "I don't play pinball."
The floor shuddered beneath her feet. Aeris screamed and grabbed onto the game table as she dropped slowly into the basement. She jumped off the platform just before it touched the floor. She staggered away from it. The platform rose again.
Aeris heard a noise behind her and turned. She screamed when she saw a huge black man standing there holding the barrel of a huge gun. Another look told her it was attached to his arm. He frowned at her piercing cry. A woman sitting at a table nearby stood up and rushed toward her.
"Aeris!" She smiled. "Aeris is that you?"
Aeris looked at the smiling face and sank to the floor in relief. "Jessie!"
Jessie crouched on the floor near Aeris and put her arm around her. "You're all right now. Come on stand up."
She helped Aeris to her feet.
"What are you doing here?"asked Jessie.
Aeris finally gave into the stress she'd been through so far and broke into tears. "Scarlet came over this morning and insulted everything you helped me buy, especially the drapes. She made me so mad, I sneaked out of the building and took the train here to find that lady you said makes lace by hand. These three guy dragged me into an alley and cut my arm. Four more came and made them leave me alone, then they attacked me too!"
"Oh my goodness!" cried Jessie. "How did you ever get away?"
"I found her before it was too late," said Cloud stepping off the platform.
Aeris brushed at her eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't thank you."
"Don't worry about it," he said. "What are you doing in this part of town?"
"She came to look for the lady who sells lace," said Jessie, giving Cloud a meaningful look.
Cloud returned Jessie's look then glanced at Aeris. "Oh."
"What's wrong?" asked Aeris. "Didn't I come to the right place?"
"You came to the right place all right," said Jessie. "But in Sector 7, there is no lady who makes lace."
Aeris stepped back. "But you said . . . "
"I know," said Jessie, "And I'm sorry. That was just a lie I told, to get you to come with me."
"What?" Aeris backed away from her. "Why would you lie to me like that? I wouldn't have come here if I'd known you were lying. I could have been killed listening to you!"
"Take it easy," said Cloud.
"Take it easy?" Aeris' voice rose. "Those men were going to rape and kill me. I wouldn't have come down here if Jessie hadn't lied to me!"
"She's right," said Jessie. "I'm sorry Aeris. I had to leave when Scarlet came. You would have found me easily if I had told you everything you needed to know."
"What are you talking about?"
"Asking for the lady who makes lace was a contact phrase you would have had to tell someone in particular, when you needed to get in touch with me," explained Jessie. "The contact would have arranged a place for us to meet and made sure you were safe till I arrived."
"Contact?" Aeris moved as far away from any of them as she could. "This is an AVALANCHE hide out isn't it? I heard about you people. Sephiroth says you're dangerous. What are you going to do to me? Ask for ransom? Am I your prisoner?"
"You're not our prisoner and we're not going to hurt you," said the black man speaking for the first time. "By the way my name is Barret. You've met Jessie. The man who brought you is Cloud. We're members of AVALANCHE, but we're the despicable terrorists you've heard about."
"That's what Jessie told me," said Aeris.
"She told you the truth," said Cloud quietly. "AVALANCHE is trying to save the planet, not destroy it. Shinra is the real danger and they're hoping to make you part of it."
"No one has asked me to destroy the Planet," said Aeris. "And why would I want to?"
"Maybe they won't give you a choice," answered Barret. "Shinra has ways of getting what they want."
"That's what you say," retorted Aeris. "Sephiroth told me AVALANCHE blew up reactor number five just before I came to this world. You cost the company millions of dollars!"
"And we'll do it again the first chance we get!" said Jessie passionately. "I'll do whatever I can to stop Shinra from killing my world!"
"You keep saying that!" said Aeris, "But no one is telling me what they're doing wrong!"
Cloud moved closer. His blue eyes were abnormally bright. They reminded Aeris of Sephiroth's eyes and then she remembered Sephiroth saying Cloud had been a SOLDIER once.
"Sephiroth said you didn't like him because you washed out of SOLDIER," said Aeris. "He said you joined AVALANCHE to get revenge."
Cloud looked surprised. "That's what he said?"
Aeris nodded. "What did he ever do to you?"
"Sephiroth has never done anything to me personally," said Cloud. "And I have nothing against him. We don't see eye to eye because he's working for the wrong side. Before I told him that to his face, we were friends."
The pinball machine had come down while they were talking. A short heavy set man jumped off the platform and pressed the button to send it back up. He hurried over to Cloud.
"Keep it down," he said urgently. "The Tseng and the Turks are just outside the bar."
He pointed at Aeris. "They're looking for her."
"Tseng?" Aeris stepped forward with a look of relief on her face. "I should tell him I'm here."
Cloud barred her path. "I wouldn't advise that."
"If you don't move I'll scream." Aeris tried to step around him again. "They can take me back to the Shinra building."
"Why would they do that?" asked Cloud. "They're the ones who set you up."
Aeris stopped. "They did what?"
"You're lucky I came along when I did," answered. "I saw them talking to a group of thugs and sneaked as close as I could to see what they were doing. I only caught the last part of the conversation when Tseng was telling them, something about a female belonging to someone who'd be unhappy if they hurt her too much and how he'd track them down if he could. They were to make sure they didn't do anymore than mug you."
"They could have been talking about anyone," answered Aeris. "What makes you think they were talking about me?
"I didn't know until I saw you coming down the street. They hid so they could take you by surprise," replied Cloud. "When they dragged you into the alley, I had to move slow to keep the Turks from knowing I was there. That's why it took me so long to get to you. Tseng hired those first three guys to grab you for whatever reason. I think the last four were unexpected. The Turks couldn't see them approaching from where they were hiding. That's also the reason why we got a good head start."
"I don't believe you!" Aeris backed away from him. "Tseng doesn't have any reason to let anyone hurt me!"
"They saw you being dragged into that alley just as well as I did," said Cloud. "Why didn't they come to your rescue then? You did scream you know."
Aeris had no answer for that.
"Sh-h-h-h!" said Wedge.
A glass broke on the floor overhead. Cloud moved toward the controls for the pin ball machine but Barret touched his arm and shook his head. Cloud looked up with a frown.
"If you've seen her, would you tell me?" asked Tseng looking down at the label on the bottle in his hand.
"After what you just did to my bottle, probably not!" said Tifa glaring at him.
"Too bad." Tseng tossed the bottle away from him. It broke on the floor near the first bottle he'd thrown. He reached for another.
"Stop breaking my merchandise!" said Tifa.
"She'd be real easy to recognize," said Tseng, rolling the bottle in his hands. "You probably saw her on TV at her wedding. A pretty girl with long brown hair and green eyes. You sure you haven't seen her?"
"Why would Sephiroth's wife come to Sector 7?" asked Tifa. "Even if she did, she's much to fancy to walk the streets around here. You'd better start checking alleys and derelict buildings. Someone's probably left her body in one by now."
Tifa saw a brief look of uneasiness in Tseng's eyes before his eyes hardened again.
He set the bottle back on the counter. "If we find out you're lying, we'll be back."
"And if we find her here, your nice little bar won't be so nice anymore," said Reno in an icy voice.
"Maybe we ought to search the place anyway," said Elena. "Our witnesses say they saw Aeris running with a blonde man. That had to be Cloud."
"Not everyone drinks like the Turks," said Tifa angrily. "Cloud doesn't hang out in here, and I don't keep him in my pocket. Why are you in here giving me the blues instead of trying to find Sephiroth's wife? Isn't he going to be mad at you guys if you've lost her?"
"That's not your problem," said Tseng shortly. He went to the door followed by Rude and Elena. He looked back at Tifa. "We'll take action against anyone who hides her from us."
"That means if you're hiding her, you should confess now and maybe we'll leave your bar alone."
Reno picked up the bottle Tseng had set down. He glanced down at the label. He gave Tifa a flirtatious wink smiled. In one swift move, he hurled the bottle through the nearest window. Glass flew into the street.
"You! You-" sputtered Tifa.
Reno leaned across the counter, lowered his sunglasses and looked over the lens at her. His eyes sparkled with feigned innocence.
Tifa fumed and stared at him.
"I thought as much." Reno pulled his shades up and turned away. Tseng walked out followed by the others.
Reno was the last in line. Tifa glanced at a bottle on the counter and estimated the distance to the back of his head.
It was almost like he read her mind. Reno stopped and turned around. He raised his glasses. The innocent look was gone. The look in his eyes was life threatening. His jacket hung open just enough for Tifa to see the gun in his shoulder holster.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
His voice didn't have any particular inflections, but Tifa could feel the iciness in his words. She was certain Reno was fully aware of the way his words came across.
"It would be a most deadly mistake."
Time stood still as they stared at each other. Reno broke the tension by pulling his glasses down and walking out the door.
Tifa was shaking with anger. "Look what he did to my window! Look what Tseng did with two perfectly good bottles of wine!"
"I'll see if they're gone." The little girl came out of her hiding place behind the counter.
"Thanks Marlene," said Tifa trying to calm down.
Marlene went to the door and looked out. After a while she turned back to Tifa. "They just drove away."
Tifa nodded and reached for a broom. "Go tell the others it's safe to come out now."
Marlene nodded and hurried to the pin ball machine. She was familiar with the controls. The platform dropped slowly into the basement.
"It's okay now Cloud." She ran toward the blonde man. "They're gone."
Cloud ruffled the little girl's hair and hurried to the platform. He started the motor and the platform took him to the level above.
"What happened?" he asked when it stopped in the bar room. He rushed to Tifa's side. " Are you all right?"
"I'm okay," said Tifa brushing at the glass with her broom. "They were just trying to scare me."
"Who broke the window?" asked Cloud.
"Reno." Tifa swept the glass into a dustpan. "He thinks he's the scariest one of them all."
"Don't ever underestimate him Tifa," warned Cloud. "Reno is a very dangerous man."
"I know." She gave him a tired smile. "How's our guest?"
"Frightened," he answered. "We were just starting to talk when the Turks arrived."
Down in the basement, Marlene ran to Barret.
He scooped her up in his arms. "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "Tseng broke Tifa's bottles. Reno broke her window. They're mean!"
"They sure are honey," said Barret giving her a hug. "They sure are."
Aeris looked at them curiously.
"She's adopted," whispered Jessie in her ear.
"Oh." Aeris looked around. "Can we get out of here now?"
"After you." Wedge pressed the control for the pinball machine.
Aeris waited till the platform stopped and jumped on. She stepped off when
it stopped. She turned to Tifa.
"You were at my wedding," she said. "You gave me your card. Why?"
"I was hoping for a chance to meet you," answered Tifa. "But not under these circumstances."
Aeris moved forward cautiously. "Cloud said the Turks set me up."
"If he did, you can believe him," replied Tifa.
"But why?" asked Aeris. "Why would they do such a thing?"
"That's what we have to find out," said Barret, stepping off the pin ball platform with Marlene on his shoulders. "And it ought to be an interesting answer."
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