Appointment With Destiny Chapter 6
"Aren't these the most beautiful tomatoes you've ever seen?" Elmyra leaned over to pick out the ones she wanted.
Aeris sighed and tightened her hold on her basket. The open air market was busy and people wandering around looking at all the merchandise available. She was three weeks closer to her wedding, but it hadn't improved her mood any. Once they were done here, she would have to endure the final fitting of her wedding dress.
She'd finally come to terms with the fact that she wasn't going home again, but it was still hard accept the fact that she was going to marry a stranger. Aeris hadn't seen or heard from Sephiroth since he'd dropped her off at Elmyra's.
In a way she was glad he was leaving her alone, but on the other hand, his absence deepened her concerns about the wedding. She was glad when Elmyra made her final purchases and they were on their way. Elmyra's friends were waiting at the door. Aeris took off her clothes and tried on her wedding gown. The women fussed over her, while they tucked it in here or let it out there.
Aeris tried to be pleasant. She smiled at their jokes, but what she really wanted to do was run out the door and keep on running. She sighed in resignation. Once Sephiroth found out she was gone again, he'd just track her down and lock her up until the wedding. Elmyra caught her eye and gave her a sympathetic smile. Aeris smiled back and went on pretending she was looking forward to her wedding.
Two hours later the sewing group hurried with the wedding dress tucked in a box. Aeris sank down on the couch in despair. Elmyra came and sat next to her.
"It'll be all right Aeris," she said. "Really it will."
Aeris gave her a half hearted smile.
They were startled by a knock at the door.
"I'll get it," said Aeris springing to her feet. "One of them probably forgot something."
She opened the door and froze.
Elmyra saw her expression and stood up in alarm. "Who is it?"
Aeris stood aside. Sephiroth walked into the room.
"Good afternoon Elmyra."
Elmyra paled a little.
"General Sephiroth," she said flustered. "We weren't expecting company."
"That's quite all right," he said. "I won't be here long. I came to pick up Aeris. I'm introducing her to my father today."
"Y-your father?" Aeris paled. "Now?"
"Now is as good a time as any," he said, taking her by the hand. "She won't be back tonight Elmyra. I'll have her back sometime tomorrow."
"Oh but I can't!" said Aeris trying to pull her hand out of his. "I'm not dressed properly to visit anyone and we've had such a long day already. Maybe some other time."
"He's expecting you," said Sephiroth, tightening his grip. "You're invited to dinner tonight."
"Not tonight!" she said still pulling away.
"I hope that won't become your favorite line."
The puzzled look on Aeris' face gave way to comprehension. She flushed deep red. Forgetting herself, she swung her free hand to slap him.
"Aeris!" cried Elmyra.
Sephiroth caught her hand before it reached him. His eyes and voice turned cold.
"That's not a good idea Aeris." He tossed her hand away from his face. "I said, we're leaving now!"
"I don't have to go with you anywhere!" she braced her feet against the floor and started fighting against him.
"I brought a squadron of men to escort us to Midgar," he said, not giving an inch. "Do you want them to see me carrying you out of here over my shoulder or tying you down on my chocobo?"
Aeris turned pale. "You wouldn't dare!"
Sephiroth pulled her closer. He brought his face close to hers. "Are you sure about that Aeris? Are you absolutely sure?"
They stared at each other. Aeris looked away first.
Sephiroth turned to Elmyra. "Until tomorrow Elmyra."
He took Aeris by the hand and led her out the door. Elmyra watched Sephiroth mount his chocobo. He leaned down and pulled Aeris up in front of him. Elymra expected tears, but when Aeris turned to look up at Sephiroth, there was only anger on her face.
Sephiroth whispered something and Aeris gave him a withering look before her expression went neutral. Sephiroth grinned at her. He turned the chocobo around and raced off followed by his men.
Peas in a pod. Elmyra shook her head. Where had that thought come from? She watched Sephiroth's group growing smaller in the distance. Peas in a pod. Were they? She closed the door.
"I thought you said I was going to stay with Elmyra," said Aeris. "You said I didn't have to go to Midgar."
"Correction," said Sephiroth. "I said you could live with Elmyra instead of being locked in a cell at Shinra Headquarters. I never said I wouldn't take you there for a visit before we were married."
"So now, you're going to parade me around in front of your friends and family?" she asked.
"Of course I am," he answered. "Why not?"
"Like a trophy?" Aeris' voice rose a little.
Sephiroth felt her body tense.
"Don't hit me Aeris," he warned.
"I won't," she said. "But I was thinking about it."
They rode for a time without speaking.
Now he's mad at me, thought Aeris. He probably won't speak to me again. She was wrong.
"After this trip, you'll have something else to think about besides our wedding," he said.
"A divorce?" she said hopefully.
Sephiroth ignored her remark.
"I was thinking about our apartment, actually," he said. "I live the officers section of the barracks right now, but I've just been assignment a suite of rooms in an executive area of the Shinra building. "While we're visiting Headquarters, I'll show it to you."
"I'm sure I'm dying to see it," she muttered under her breath.
"Well I thought you might want to decorate it to your tastes," he said. "If I do it, it's going to be done military style. If you don't mind an apartment that looks like my office, I don't mind either."
"I'll sleep outside with the monsters if you do."
It wasn't funny to Aeris. I still can't believe this is happening to me, she thought.
"There are two bedrooms," he said. "One is-"
Aeris looked up at him eagerly. "Mine?"
He frowned at her. "It's meant to be a nursery."
Her body tensed again and she turned her face away from him.
"There's also a living room, den, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area and a balcony."
Aeris didn't say anything.
Sephiroth frowned at her again. They were entering the desert area that surrounded Midgar. The city loomed in the distance. He wanted to point it out to Aeris, but he didn't.
"Where am I staying tonight?" she asked suddenly.
"I said, Where am I staying tonight?"
"In one of the guest rooms," he answered. "What did you think?"
She didn't answer and her silence made him angry. He urged the chocobo to go faster. In view of the first Cetra's escape, he'd expected some resistance, but he hadn't quite expected this much. His dreams about their encounter always ended when they met on the battlefield. They had never shown him if he'd win, or what would happen if he did. Somehow, he'd expected his bride to accept her defeat and wedding a bit more gracefully. Aeris wasn't following the script. By the time they reached the city, neither had spoken for awhile.
Once inside, Sephiroth more or less expected Aeris to stare straight ahead and ignore everything just to show him how angry she was. To his surprise, she was alert and curious.
Is that Shinra Headquarters?" she asked when the building came into view.
"Yes," he replied. "It's also our home until I'm assigned to the Junon Training Center."
He climbed off the chocobo and reached up to help her to the ground. The troopers saluted rode off with the chocobo in tow. Sephiroth thought about giving Aeris a lecture on how to behave, but changed his mind. He led the way through the double doors.
"I've never seen a building this big," she said turning in a circle to take it all in. "I never thought a something like this could exist."
"It has seventy floors," said Sephiroth. President Shinra has the top floor to himself.
"It's not that it's tall," said Aeris. " It's just so wide! It's enormous! President Shinra must be very rich
"He's the richest man on the Planet," said Sephiroth. "And the most powerful."
A laser cannon floated by on a platform that hovered a few inches above the ground. Aeris stared at it in fascination.
"Guns that move by themselves?"
"It's just a sentry," answered Sephiroth. "There are various types all over the building. They are programmed with the identity of anyone who has authorization to be in the building. They attack anyone who doesn't."
Aeris moved closer to Sephiroth. "What about me?"
"As long as you're with me, it assumes you're supposed to be here," he said. "If you were alone, it would fire."
"Do me a favor," she said. "Don't walk ahead of me."
Sephiroth led her to a bank of elevators. "We're going up."
The elevator itself was a huge platform. Through clear walls, they could see into an elevator across from their own. A huge robot with threads sat on the platform keeping pace with them as they rose. It's huge barrel was pointing in their direction.
Aeris jumped behind Sephiroth.
"It's a Hundred Gunner," he answered. "If an enemy manages to escape into the elevator, the Hundred Gunner will take care of him."
"I can see I won't be making any trips to the grocery store," she said. "What kind of place is this, that it needs so much security?"
"It's the biggest and only electrical company on the Planet," replied Sephiroth.
"An electric company needs this much security?" asked Aeris. "Why"
"The President has a lot of enemies." Sephiroth turned to look at her. "You don't have to hide. It won't shoot."
"It makes me nervous." Aeris looked at the weapon doubtfully. "I'll bet getting power from Shinra isn't cheap. Is that why he has enemies?"
"Among other things," answered Sephiroth. The doors opened. "We're here."
Aeris stepped out of the elevator, glad to get away from the Hundred Gunner.
"My father's office," he said. "Come on."
She followed him down the hall. Sephiroth stopped near an elaborately decorated door and looked back at her.
"This is it." He waited.
Aeris looked at the door then back at Sephiroth. He didn't say anything. She couldn't read his eyes. She sighed.
"Let's go meet your father."
Sephiroth hesitated than opened the door. Aeris walked ahead of him into a posh office. There were several people sitting in chairs near a desk.
One of them was a short barrel chested man wearing a uniform with medals. Intelligent dark brown eyes appraised Aeris from a heavily bearded face. She wondered how such thick brown hair could have produced the silver hair in Sephiroth. The bearded man rose from behind his desk and came toward them. Sephiroth saluted and he saluted back.
"We can forgo the formalities for now son," he said smiling. He looked at Aeris. "Is this the young lady I've been hearing so much about?"
"Yes father," Sephiroth turned to Aeris. "This is my bride-to-be Aeris Gainsborough. Aeris, this is my father, General Heidegger."
Aeris held out her hand and General Heidegger took it in his own and pressed it gently.
"It's a pleasure to me you, Miss Gainsborough," he said. "My son is very lucky to have such a beautiful bride. He never stops talking about you. I'm looking forward to having you in our family."
"Thank you General," she said in return. "The pleasure is mine. I'm sure I'll feel right at home."
General Heidegger smiled. She was a beauty this one. A wave of envy passed over him and fled.
"Let me introduce you to everyone," he said turning to the men behind him, who were standing now. "This is President Shinra, the head of this whole corporation."
A stout, grey haired man with no-nonsense features came forward with outstretched hand. His pale blue eyes didn't reflect the smile on his face. Aeris could sense the power in his demeanor. This was a man who got everything he wanted, no matter what he had to do to get it. She smiled as she let him take her hand and she held that smile when he raised her hand to his lips to kiss it.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Aeris," he said in a deep voice. "I've heard so much about you. Here at Shinra, we consider Sephiroth and his father as part of our family. We'd like to welcome you into it."
"Thank you Mr. President," said Aeris as he released her hand. It seemed to tingle where his lips had brushed it. She resisted the urge to wipe his touch off on her skirt.
"This is Rufus," said Heidegger, as the President stepped back and a red-blonde young man stepped forward. "The President's son."
Rufus was dressed all in white. His cool blue eyes swept over her, gauging her appearance. Like his father, there was no smile in his eyes. He's even worse than the old man, thought Aeris. I can feel it. There was something about him that made her uncomfortable. Arrogance hung around him like a thick fog. He took her hand in his and squeezed lightly.
"Welcome to our family, Miss Gainsborough," he said.
"Thank you." His touch, though not as repulsive as his father's was just as unwelcome. She gave him a cheerful smile.
"And last but not least," said Heidegger as Rufus moved back, "This is Hojo, the head of our Science Department."
Why do I need to meet him? wondered Aeris.
His hair was long thin, dark and greasy. The eyes that studied Aeris through thin rimmed glasses were more than just appraising. They studied her with an intensity that made her feel very uncomfortable. The smile in his eyes matched the smile on his face. Neither struck Aeris as pleasant. Instead they brought to mind the vision of a greedy man wringing his hands in anticipation of coveting a prize long desired. She'd seen a similar look in Sephiroth's eyes, but not to the extent she was seeing now. Aeris' smile faltered.
Hojo reached out and took her hand. Aeris wanted to snatch it away. She glanced at Sephiroth. His lips were pressed together and the look he was giving Hojo was less than friendly.
Hojo ignored him. "I'm pleased to meet you Aeris."
She wanted to scream at him to get away from her, but she forced a smile on her lips.
He was still holding her hand. Aeris was nearly overcome with the urge run to the nearest restroom and scrub till her flesh felt raw. Hojo hadn't missed the fact that Aeris had left out saying she was glad to meet him. He gave her hand a squeeze.
"It will be a pleasure to have you in the Shinra family," he said. "I hope to see more of you in the future."
He still hadn't let go of her hand. Aeris pulled it away from him with a little resistance. She looked into Hojo eyes and saw him enjoying her discomfort.
The President saw the look on Sephiroth's face.
"Let's get back to work Hojo," he said. "We've still got a meeting to finish and I'm sure Sephiroth wants to show Aeris around."
Hojo gave Aeris a final smile and went back to his seat.
The President smiled at Aeris. "Enjoy your tour. We'll see you at dinner tonight."
Aeris gave him a faint smile before Sephiroth nodded and whisked her out the door.
The President turned an angry glare on Hojo.
* * * * *
"Urggggh!" said Aeris rubbing her hands. "He gives me the creeps! Where's the nearest restroom?"
Sephiroth pointed. Aeris rushed across the hall and pushed her way through the door. When she came out, her hands were still a little damp.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I couldn't help it. I just had to wash my hands."
"I understand," he said. "Hojo affects most people like that."
"Why was he there?" she asked. "Is he coming to dinner too?"
"I was told to interrupt the meeting to introduce you," answered Sephiroth. "And unfortunately, he will probably be at dinner. Don't worry. I won't let him bother you."
"Why was he looking at me like that?" asked Aeris. "He made my skin crawl."
"Hojo doesn't know when to stop being a scientist," answered Sephiroth. "The Cetra were aliens and you're the only one left."
Aeris looked alarmed. "Is he going to study me?"
"I'll kill him if he touches you."
The venom in his voice was shocking.
Aeris looked at him closely. "You don't like him very much. Why?"
"Having Jenova for a mother made Jerin half alien too," answered Sephiroth. "Though Hojo seems to think otherwise, his bloodline wasn't weakened by marrying humans. When I was young, Hojo convinced my father to let him study me. He said he was looking for ways to help me win our battle. I had to endure his "treatments" for years before I became a man and put an end to it."
"Why didn't your father stop him?" asked Aeris. "Didn't he know how much you hated it?"
"He knew, but he also knew I was the last hope my family had of ever bringing you here. It was a matter of pride." Sephiroth looked grim. "My father let it go on, because he thought Hojo was helping me. After I rebelled, he finally listened and helped me put an end to the tests. He asked me to forgive him."
"Did you?" asked Aeris.
Sephiroth nodded. "I did. But I never forgave Hojo for the tests he put me through."
"Why didn't your father volunteer, if he thought Hojo's work would be able to help you?" asked Aeris. "He has Jenova's blood too."
"For some reason my father lost his powers. He can't manipulate materia or use magic anymore. He didn't want that to happen to me."
"I still wish he hadn't let Hojo experiment on you," said Aeris. "I can imagine how you must have felt."
Sephiroth looked at her in surprise and she felt her face turning red.
"You care about what happened to me?" he asked.
Aeris turned her face away. "Hojo is too creepy for words. No one should have to bear his touch."
When she looked back, he was still watching her.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he answered. "But I do want to thank you for not embarrassing me in front of my father and President Shinra. I know you don't really want to marry me."
The color in Aeris' face deepened.
"The subject of our wedding is between you and me. I didn't want air our problems in public."
Sephiroth nodded. "Are you ready to see the apartment now?"
"As ready as I'm ever going to be." She sighed. "Let's get it over with."
An expression passed over Sephiroth's face too fast for Aeris to decipher before it disappeared.. He turned away from her.
"This way," he said walking away from her.
She felt a rush of shame. Had she hurt his feelings? He already knew how she felt. What did he expect? Aeris followed him silently. Sephiroth didn't speak to her in the elevator this time. The Hundred Gunner was noticeably absent from the elevator shaft opposite them. When the elevator stopped again, Sephiroth walked out of the elevator without waiting to see if she followed him or not. Remembering his words about the sentry robots, Aeris hurried to catch up.
The hallway they took this time had a thicker carpet. The doors were more decorative and the walls more expressive. Sephiroth took her down the hallway to a huge brown door with the raised numbers 489 set at eye level.
"This is our apartment," he said opening the door. He pushed it wide and stood back waiting.
Aeris looked into his expressionless eyes, then walked inside.
In the back of her mind, she was seeing what would happen in a cartoon. In a cartoon, he would spring into the room, slam the door shut, block it with his body and leer at her. Then he'd tilt his head back, open his jaws and swallow the key. She'd hear it rattling all the way down to his stomach. Then he'd start rubbing his hands together and advance on her with a gleam in his eyes. Aeris walked a few more paces, then turned to look at him.
Sephiroth walked into the room, allowing the door to shut on its own.
"What do you want to see first?" he asked.
"Just give me a guided tour," she answered. "If I have any questions, I'll ask."
"This is the living room," he said with a wave of his hand. "But I guess that's obvious."
There was a large chandelier in the middle of the room and one of the walls was made of solid glass sheets at least ten feet tall. The furniture was the nicest Aeris had ever seen anywhere.
"Does it come furnished already?"
"Yes, but you're allowed to change it," he replied. "I've always had my meals brought up from the mess halls and used my military allowances. My salary has been collecting in my account with interest for years. There should be more than enough for you to use as you please to turn this place into something you'll find more comfortable."
Aeris blinked. "You'd let me spend your money anyway way I want?"
"As your husband, I'm supposed to take care of you and see to your needs," he said. "Why not?"
She didn't answer.
Sephiroth led the way to the den. Wrapping her arms around herself, Aeris went out on the balcony and stared down at the city below. Sephiroth wondered if she was thinking about jumping and placed himself close enough to be ready for any sudden moves. She looked so lovely standing there with the wind blowing loose strands of hair around her face. He wanted to hold her in his arms as he had many times in his dreams, but he was sure she would reject him if he tried. His heart was filled with longing, but he dared not show her what he felt.
When Aeris turned away from the balcony, he let her go back into the room ahead of him. He took her though each room, avoiding the bedrooms and until the end. When the time came, he took her to the nursery first. A queen sized bed dominated the room.
"This bed will be gone by the time we move in," he explained. I asked that the entire room be left bare. I want you to do whatever you feel is best for it."
Aeris stared at the room for a moment, then dropped her head and went back out into the hall. Sephiroth walked up to the door of the master bedroom and stood aside.
"This is our room."
Aeris came to the door with the hesitant steps of a condemned man. She stood looking into the room with expressionless eyes. Sephiroth went into the room and opened a door.
"This is the second bathroom," he said. It has a bathtub and shower stall, like the one in the hall."
He went to went to a set of double doors. He opened them on the largest closest in Aeris' memory.
"One of these is yours," he said. "The other is mine. By the way, you can go shopping for clothes whenever you like. Buy what you like and charge them to me."
Aeris never left the doorway. She stared into the large room for a moment before she looked at him.
"What happens if I don't show up at the church or if I say I don't when I should say I do?"
"You don't want to do that." Sephiroth's voice was quiet.
"I suppose you have a good reason why I shouldn't?" Her tone was challenging.
Sephiroth came toward her stopping a few steps away.
"Jerin cast the last part of his spell on his own descendants," said Sephiroth. "Then he made a decree that will be followed to the letter. If the Cetra refuses to marry the one who wins her in the battle of spells, the Cetra's adoptive family and the village she comes from will perish as her punishment for breaking the rules."
"What?" Aeris' face turned white.
"I'll lead an army against Kalm," he said in a flat voice. "I'll kill Elmyra personally, and I'll allow my troops to kill every man woman and child in the town. When they're finished, Kalm will be burned to the ground."
"You wouldn't!" Aeris stared at him in horror.
"Oh my own, I have no wish to hurt Elmyra or your village, but I won't be able to resist the spell on my line. I had to grow up waiting for the day I could pass through the portal. I had to defeat you in battle and bring you here. Though I have no objection to doing so, I have to take you as my wife. What makes you think I'll fare any better against his command to take avenge myself if you defy me? Under Jerin's spell, Elmyra will die on my blade, then I'll order my men to destroy the village. I'll be there right in the middle of them, cutting down men, children and women with babies."
"Stop! Stop!" Aeris covered her ears with her hands. Sephiroth moved closer. He reached out and pulled her hands away, forcing her to listen.
"And after all that death and destruction, Aeris I'll still have you!" He watched her eyes grow wide. "Whether you marry me or not, I'll still have you and you're still going to raise my children!"
"Your father and the President will stop you!" she cried. "They'll never let you destroy Kalm!"
"Yes they will." Sephiroth released her hands. "They know about the spell. Everyone does. But no one knows what would happen if anyone tried to stop me. I might turn on them too and I have the power of Jenova to help me."
He shook his head.
"What's losing one village compared to what I might do?"
Aeris' face was a picture of shock. She stared at him a moment, then walked down the hall to the living room. She sank down on the sofa staring at its upholstered surface with eyes gone dull.
Sephiroth came into the living room. With her back to him, Aeris couldn't see the pain in his eyes.
"You won't be sorry Aeris," he said softly. "Marry me and everything will turn out all right."
Aeris closed her eyes. When she opened them and turned around, there was a haunted look on her face.
"All right Sephiroth," she said, in a voice that didn't seem like her own. "Jerin wins and so do you. I'll be your wife and I'll raise your children if that's what you want. Are we coming here immediately after the wedding?"
He looked at her face and hid his own pain.
"I inherited a small house in Icicle Village from a man who used to work here," he said. "I go there sometimes to be alone. I thought we could learn more about each other if we wee someplace where we wouldn't be disturbed. Icicle Village is basically isolated by its location."
Aeris nodded. "All right."
She stood up and looked around the living room once more.
"I may not change the furniture immediately. I need time to think."
"Take all the time you need." Sephiroth went to the door. "You'll want to freshen up before dinner. Shall I show you your room?"
"Thank you." Aeris stood up. "What time is dinner served?"
"At six," answered Sephiroth. "It's a quarter to five now."
"I guess I'd better freshen up then," answered Aeris.
Sephiroth took her back to the elevator. At the door of her room in the guest suites, Aeris paused.
"Will you come for me?"
Aeris nodded in response and went into her room. The door shut quietly behind her. Sephiroth touched the wood with his fingers wanting to knock and say something that would take that sad look out of her eyes, but nothing came to mind. He turned slowly and walked away.
Aeris stood inside the door staring at nothing. This wasn't a dream at all. No one was going to wake her up and scold her for sleeping so late. She was going to be married in a week no matter how she felt, to a man she didn't know. Why had she been so weak? Why hadn't she stayed home instead of going to England? Why had her aunt sold the chest? Why hadn't her mother broke the rules and warned her? What had she done to deserve any of this?
She walked over to the bed and climbed on top of it. She curled into a ball and thought of the small room in her aunts house. Feeling lost and alone, she cried.
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