Appointment With Destiny Chapter 16
She woke up lying on the sofa with a damp cloth on her forehead. Scarlet sat in a chair she'd brought in from the kitchen.
"You're awake at last," she said with relief in her voice. "You scared the heck out of me Aeris."
"I'm sorry." Aeris pulled the cloth off her forehead and struggled to sit up.
Scarlet moved forward. "Are you sure you want to do that? Maybe you should just lie down."
"I'm okay," said Aeris sitting all the way up. She lowered her feet. "How did I get here?"
"Why, Tseng carried you of course." Scarlet raised an eyebrow.
"Tseng?" Aeris turned her head to see Tseng approaching the sofa from the back. She squealed and shrank against the arm rest.
Tseng stopped and looked down at himself. He looked up at her and ran his fingers through his hair.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "Am I growing horns?"
Aeris was not amused. "You were chasing me!"
Tseng moved around to the opposite arm of the sofa so Aeris could see him better.
"I was trying to get to you yes, but not in the way you think." He nodded toward Scarlet. "Scarlet tells me you think we set you up, then tried to punch your ticket when that failed."
"Didn't you?" Aeris stared at him. Tseng was doing his best to look and act friendly but she could feel danger rolling off him in waves. He was not a man to be played with. Aeris had a feeling Tseng could kill a man, woman or child without the slightest sign of remorse.
"No." He waved at the other end of the sofa. "May I sit?"
Aeris didn't really want him to, but to say so would appear discourteous She nodded. Tseng sat down.
You passed one of my people on the street when you first left the building," said Tseng smoothly. "You've never met her, so you didn't realize it. Her name is Elena. Security is our job, so she was concerned when she saw you leaving without an escort. She followed to you to the train station. When she found out where you were going, she called me right away. We went after you to take assume the role of escorts. I didn't think you would feel comfortable knowing we were shadowing you, so I hired three men we've worked with before to watch you for us. We would still be around, but they were three extra sets of eyes.
"Escorts? They had a lot more in mind than that," said Aeris bitterly. "They wanted a whole lot more."
I know and I'm sorry," replied Tseng. "As I said, we've worked with them before and they always follow orders. If I'd have known what I know now, I would have never have brought them into it."
"What about those other four?" asked Aeris. "They were going to do the same thing."
"I'm ashamed to tell you we were caught off guard on that one," said Tseng looking sheepish. "I pride myself on doing a good job. It was bad enough the hired help went renegade on us. We dropped the ball when those other men stepped in and we thought AVALANCHE was holding you against your will. We had no idea they were trying return you to the Shinra building. That's unexpected, coming from a bunch of terrorists."
Aeris blinked. "Why didn't you say that when you were chasing Cloud's motorcycle?" asked Aeris.
"A stolen motorcycle," corrected Tseng. "We were trying to rescue you and take Cloud into custody."
"Well you certainly went about it the wrong way! Aeris didn't believe him for a moment. "I could have been killed if we'd fallen off that thing! Why did you let that man in the back seat point a gun at us?"
Rude was only trying to get Cloud to stop," answered Tseng. "He couldn't shoot at Cloud as long as you were onboard."
"He looked like he was itching to pull the trigger to me," countered Aeris. She decided not to mention the conversation she'd heard in the alley. "I think you were trying to kill me."
Tseng showed emotion for the first time. His dark eyes looked startled.
"Why would I want to kill you?"
"You tell me."
"Don't be silly Aeris," said Scarlet. "Tseng has no reason to kill you."
It looked that way to me, thought Aeris, but she kept her opinion to herself.
"Besides," said Tseng. "We were hoping you'd use your powers to stop him."
"You're a Cetra," answered Tseng. "You could have stopped those men in the alley too. Why didn't you?"
They stared at Aeris as she tried to think of something to say.
"Well?" Scarlet was watching her closely.
"In all the excitement," said Aeris slowly. "I forgot I could do anything. I guess that was silly of me huh?"
"No worse than my blunder of hiring thugs to keep watch over you." Tseng actually smiled. "We both made mistakes tonight. You really shouldn't go into the city alone. It could be dangerous. Look how close you got to AVALANCHE. Sure Cloud took you home, but it could have been the other way around."
"What other way?" asked Aeris.
"Cloud could have raped and killed you." Tseng's expression was serious again. "Don't let his innocent expression fool you. I'm telling you Aeris, AVALANCHE is dangerous. They've killed a lot of Shinra people who were trying to stop them from committing acts of terrorism. If they acted friendly toward you tonight and went out of their way to make us look like the bad guys, you should be worried."
"They may have plans to use you in some way," added Scarlet. "They could plant a bomb on you so that it would explode when you came into the building. Cloud doesn't like Sephiroth. He could detonate a secret bomb to kill both you and your husband."
"No!" Aeris put her hands over her mouth.
"They could also take your life to get back at Sephiroth," added Tseng. "AVALANCHE would say or do anything to get your trust. They lie about all of us. Ask yourself why they're trying to befriend the wife of a man they hate so much. If you don't keep away from them, you're going cause a lot of people to die, including possibly yourself."
Aeris looked down at her hands. "I guess I didn't think."
Scarlet got up and touched her shoulder. "It's okay, but you shouldn't sneak out of the building anymore Aeris."
Aeris sighed. "I guess I have a lot to learn about this world."
"Cloud and his friends are dangerous," said Scarlet. "We're trying to save your life."
"If you want to go into the city," said Tseng, "Reno, Elena, Rude or I would be happy to escort you around. No one messes with the Turks. You'd be safe."
"I'm sorry I caused so many problems," said Aeris. "I guess I've learned something today."
Tseng looked at his watch. He stood up.
"I've got to be going ladies," he said. "Duty calls. Goodbye Aeris, Scarlet."
"Goodbye Tseng," said Aeris.
"Bye." Scarlet waved.
After the door closed behind him, Aeris let out a sigh. "I hope Sephiroth won't be too mad at me when I tell him what happened today."
Scarlet looked alarmed. "You're going to tell Sephiroth?"
"Sure I am." Aeris sighed. "Boy, is he ever going to be mad at me! He told me not to go out alone."
"Don't tell him anything."
Aeris gave her a strange look. "Why?"
"You made a mistake you won't make again," answered Scarlet. "If you tell Sephiroth what happened today, he'll post a guard outside your door."
Aeris hesitated. "You might be right."
"He'll be furious!" said Scarlet.
"What about Tseng?" asked Aeris. "He knows."
Tseng would never breathe a word of what happened," replied Scarlet. "He isn't in any hurry to pick a fight with Sephiroth, but if will make you feel better, I will talk to him about it to make sure."
"Thanks." Aeris stretched. "I should take a nap. I'm exhausted."
"I don't doubt it." Scarlet paused at the door and turn to look at Aeris. "Do you want Hojo to look at that cut?"
"No thank you," Aeris. "I'm going to take a shower first, then take a nap."
"All right," said Scarlet. "I'll talk to you later. And Aeris?"
"I'm sorry I said bad things about your drapes," said Scarlet. "It's my big mouth that got you into trouble."
"Don't worry about it Scarlet," said Aeris. "She yawned.
Scarlet smiled. "Bye Aeris."
Scarlet closed the door. Aeris wasn't sleepy. She didn't believe Tseng's story and she couldn't help but wonder how much Scarlet was involved. Should she still tell Sephiroth? How convenient he was gone while all of this was happening.
Stop it, she told herself. Don't let anyone make you doubt your own husband. After all, you're the one who went out of the building. Sephiroth told you to stay put. He didn't know you'd leave anyway.
What about AVALANCHE? Were they really the terrorists Tseng and Scarlet said they were or were they really fighting to save the Planet? Had they helped her only to gain her confidence or were they sincere?
"They took me to their hideout," she said out loud." If they were trying to hurt me, they wouldn't have taken that risk."
Besides she thought, if you didn't trust them, you would have told Tseng the truth. It was Shinra she would keep an eye on. Why were they so afraid of letting her out of their sight? Did someone spy on everyone left the building or was it just her? If so, why? For the first time Aeris started wondering just what they really thought she was capable of.
* * * * *
"Do you think we convinced her?" asked Scarlet as they stepped on the elevator platform.
Tseng didn't answer immediately as they started to rise and she looked at him sharply. His dark eyes were as just as expressionless as ever. Scarlet wondered how they would look if he ever fell in love. He could fake an emotion and look believable, but most of the time it was impossible to imagine was going on in his head.
"I don't know," he said at last. "She seemed convinced, but I think she has her doubts about us."
"Us? She never saw me out there." Scarlet looked indignant.
"It doesn't matter if she saw you or not," said Tseng. "She suspects you too."
Scarlet pressed her lips together in annoyance. There was no sense in arguing with Tseng. He was usually good at reading people. If he thought the Cetra suspected her, she probably did.
"If those damned fools hadn't dropped that blood vial, we'd have what we wanted," she complained. "Where did you find those idiots?"
"I've used them before," said Tseng. "This is the first time they've ever failed me."
Scarlet snorted. "Back to the drawing board. I'll get a sample of her blood if it's the last thing I ever do."
The platform stopped. The door opened and Scarlet stepped into the corridor. Tseng gave her a humorless smile.
"If Sephiroth ever finds out this was your plan, it will be," he said.
The doors slid shut. Scarlet set her teeth and strode down the hall.
* * * * *
The few times Aeris left the apartment during the week was for food supplies or more items for redecorating. She avoided Scarlet whenever she could. She didn't see any sign of Tseng or the Turks and that was fine with her. When Sephiroth opened the door Friday night and stepped inside Aeris practically bowled him over when she jumped into his arms.
"What's this?" he said prying her loose and holding her at arms length. "The last time I came home I made you cry. Now you're strangling me."
"I'm just happy to see you," she said. "We haven't spent a lot of time together since we got married. You're always gone."
"Then you'll be happy to know I've taken leave from SOLDIER. I'm going to spend the next few weeks with you alone. Starting now."
"Really?" Aeris looked up at him eagerly. "Can we spend it together away from this place?"
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "You've got something in mind?"
"How about the house on the glacier?" asked Aeris, Or some place where it's warm. I just want to be anywhere but in this building."
"Not that that's a bad idea," he said. "But why? Did something happen while I was gone?"
Aeris hated lying to him but she shook her head. "I'm just tired of being cooped up in this apartment. I want to go somewhere open and free."
"That's reasonable." Sephiroth took off his masamune and laid it on a table. "Anything else?"
"Yes." Aeris had a serious expression on her face. "I want you to teach me how to fight."
He gave her a strange look. "What?"
"Teach me how to fight," she repeated. "I'm sure I'm safe in this building and I'm safe with you, but if for any reason I was forced to fight for my life, I want to know how to do it. Teach me how to use materia."
"What brought this on?"
"I'm supposed to have powers, right?"
"I don't know how to use them," she said. "If anyone ever finds out how helpless I really am, there might be problems."
Sephiroth's expression changed. "With who?"
"Hojo asked Scarlet to take me to his lab so that he could apologize for upsetting me at our wedding, said Aeris. "While I was there, he offered to take a sample of my blood so he could see if I'd picked up germs that could hurt me later on. I didn't let him."
Sephiroth's gaze hardened. "I told Hojo to leave you alone. I'm going to talk to him first, then I'm going to see Scarlet."
"No!" Aeris blocked his path. "I want them to think they did something sneaky. I want to learn to fight, so if I have any problems with them while you're gone, I can protect myself."
Sephiroth hesitated. He wanted to tear Scarlet and Hojo up one side and down the other. Aeris' wishes won out.
"I would feel better about leaving you alone," he said. "All right. We'll go away, and I'll teach you how to defend yourself."
Aeris hugged him gratefully. "I'll get dinner on the table."
When she came back into the livingroom to tell Sephiroth dinner was served, he was just hanging up the phone. She looked at him curiously.
"Just making some arrangements,"he said. "We'll leave in the morning."
Aeris smiled at him.
The next morning, a Shinra helicopter left them near a house on the outskirts of Mideel. Aeris was thrilled with Sephiroth's choice. It was fully stocked and ready for occupancy. They spent two hours settling in before Sephiroth took her around to the shed in the back of the house and introduced her to two gold chocobos.
"This is Storm Chaser," he said rubbing the tallest chocobo's head. "You've met him before."
He turned the other. "This is a female. You can name her whatever you like."
"Is she mine to keep?"
Sephiroth nodded. Aeris' face lit up. "She's beautiful. You'll have to teach me how to ride her."
"I intend to," he answered. "First you learn to ride, then you learn to fight."
"Her name is Serena," said Aeris, stroking the female's back. "Because my best friend's name was Serena. This Serena and I are going to be best friends too."
"Serena it is," said Sephiroth. "Come on, I'll give you your first riding lesson."
* * * * *
"I can't have AVALANCHE interfering with my plans." President Shinra puffed angrily on his cigar as he stalked back and forth in front of Rufus, Scarlet and Heidegger. "We have to get rid of them. Did you send the Turks back out to look for them?"
"The Turks set the 7th Heaven on fire, but only the bar was damaged," said Scarlet. "There are no repairs in progress at this time. Tifa and her friends have vanished to parts unknown."
"Damn!" President Shinra crushed the cigar into an ashtray. "Do you think they are still in Sector 7?"
"We think so," answered Heidegger. "Should I send in troops to flush them out? We can search every building in the area."
"No good," said Scarlet. There are tunnels everywhere. If you sweep the surface, they'll just go underground."
Then we've got to find a way to hit them fast and hard," said Rufus. "It has to be sudden. We can't give them a chance to escape."
"The question is, how do we do that?" asked the President. "How can they not escape?"
Scarlet's eyes lit up. "Give me a little time to think about it sir. I'm sure I can come up with a plan."
President Shinra turned to her. "You have something in mind don't you?"
Scarlet gave him the whisper of a smile. "I'm not sure yet. I have to check out a few things first."
"Do it fast," said Rufus.
Scarlet turned her back so the President wouldn't see the smile she gave his son.
"Some things are best done slow Rufus," she said. "Slow and carefully."
Rufus turned bright red. Heidegger looked at his feet. The President looked at Scarlet sharply.
Scarlet turned back to the President with an innocent look..
"Slow and careful," she repeated. "If we rush into this, AVALANCHE will get away."
"Oh." The President didn't press the issue. He walked around his desk. "Get to it then. Report to me when you're ready."
"Yes sir." Scarlet turned toward Rufus and winked. He blanched.
"You're both dismissed." The President sat down.
Scarlet sneaked another glance at Rufus, then left with Heidegger.
The President turned to Rufus after they were gone.
"What's going on between you and Scarlet?" he asked.
"Nothing!" Rufus moved closer to his fathers desk. "She's been chasing me like crazy. I haven't given her the time of day but it doesn't matter. She just won't quit."
"Are you encouraging her? The President watched him closely. "Have you fallen in love with her?"
"In love with Scarlet?" Rufus made a face. "I can't think of anything more disgusting."
The President looked relieved. "I don't know about that. I think she's very . . . talented given the right circumstances."
Rufus blanched. "YOU and Scarlet?"
The President lit another cigar before he answered. "Yes. Me and Scarlet."
"How could you bear to touch her?" asked Rufus. "All I can think of is how gross it would feel to have all that makeup smudged on my skin. Yech!"
"Scarlet is looking for power," said President Shinra pulling an ash tray closer. "She wants me to marry her so she can get it. Maybe she's tired of waiting. She might be looking to you as an alternate means of achieving her goal."
"She's wasting her time," Rufus pushed a lock of hair out of his face. "I don't want her."
"Good." The President leaned back in his chair. "As long as she lets me have my way, I'm going to use her. If you don't fall for her charms, I won't have to replace her for a while."
"She'll give up before I ever fall for HER charms." Rufus pushed his hair back again. "I'd have more fun firing her than suffering any "talents"she's willing to share."
"Can't fire her." The President blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling. "She's too damn good at her job."
"Don't I know it?" Rufus straightened his clothes. "Maybe we can get rid of her after the Cetra does what we want. I'm sure we could find someone with enough talent to use the information we get from the other side."
"That could work." The President looked interested. "That's a good way to get rid of her when she starts to bore me. I'll keep that in mind."
* * * * *
"You really ought to stop chasing Rufus," said Heidegger. "You're treading on dangerous ground. You started with the President, you ought to stick with him. It may pay off in time."
"The President is boring," answered Scarlet. "Besides, he won't be around forever. I need to ensure my position with Rufus."
"I think you are wasting your time, but it's none of my business," said Heidegger.
"Remember that," said Scarlet. "It's none of your business. And keep your opinions to yourself.
They headed back to their offices.
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