A/U: Once more, thank you for those who have read it again.
Team Wingless: Thank you for the comment.
LordofVermillion: Thank you. And yes Cissnei in the main storyline will make an impact.
Kaze: Do not worry, it's won't die easily in this story.
Enjoy the chapter!
Crimson leapt after Cloud, falling down lower and lower towards the slums at a deathly velocity. With her free hand, she reached for Cloud as he stretched his right hand out, the left one still holding onto his sword. She grasped his wrist as he grabbed hers, giving them a strong grip on one another, and then threw her Rekka with the wire attached towards a pipe as they fell past it.
The shuriken wrapped around the pipe and then pierced into the metal to anchor itself into place. The wire went taut and Crimson cried out as her shoulder was wrenched from its socket. The pain nearly made her blackout, a sharp sensation that grew worse as her arm had to bear with their combined weight and the heavy sword.
"Are you okay?" Cloud asked.
"I… I'm fine," she lied through gritted teeth, doing her best to ignore the agony as she looked for a way to land safely. Her mind flickered between the pain and lucidity, but she spotted a ledge that she could set them down on. She began swaying her legs to get the wire to swing, but another explosion shook the entire structure.
The jolt of the explosion wrenched her shuriken free while jerking her arm and threatening to tear it off. The additional pain became too much. Her vision went black as her mind blanked out.
So they both began falling once more, with Cloud pulling her close and embracing her against his chest as he fell first, intent on using his more durable body as a shield for hers.
The flower girl from before had seen her share of interesting things during her time at the Sector 5 Church.
The church itself was dilapidated and abandoned save for her, only a vestige of the humble place of worship it used to be. It had been her home away from home, as well as a place of solitude and remembrance. She had met with her boyfriend there, been attacked by a strange robot, and was even watched over by some kind of winged-wolf that remained with her until it delivered her final letter to Zack.
However, she never expected to see someone falling through the opening in the ceiling and landing on the flowers that she had cultivated there twice.
There was an explosion above that rattled the already decrepit walls, sprinkling dust into her hair. Then suddenly a body crashed into the soft dirt and flowers. It naturally got her attention and she rushed over from the pews she had stumbled into during the initial tremors.
It turned out to be the same young man she had met before, only this time he had a woman resting against his chest while wrapped in his arms.
The flower girl couldn't tell the extent of their injuries, but she could see that they were pretty banged up. It wouldn't do to simply let them die here. She kneeled down and began healing them with the materia she carried on her, containing the knowledge of healing from the planet itself.
Burns healed over, flesh mended, muscles knitted together, and bones shifted back into their original place. As their strength returned, they both stirred awake. The flower girl gave them a small smile and asked, "Are you both okay now?"
Crimson took a moment after waking to realize her positioning, on top of Cloud while embraced by him, and her face grew flush as she pulled herself away.
Then her embarrassment turned to displeasure when she recalled why she had been placed in the predicament in the first place. Namely that her charge had been working with terrorists… and just bombed a second reactor.
"What were you thinking?" Crimson said as she slugged him in the shoulder. The hit didn't hurt since she pulled her punch, mostly because she didn't know whether or not he had been hurt too badly.
"What was that for?" Cloud asked.
"What for?" Sitting astride of his waist, she grabbed his collar and shook him. "You were working with AVALANCHE! They're terrorists! How could you?"
"It was just a mercenary job," Cloud claimed, setting his hands on her wrists to stop her without squeezing too hard. "Besides, it was one of Shinra's reactors, the same company that tried to kill us."
"That doesn't make it better!" Crimson leaned down until their faces were a hair's breadth from one another, looking him square in his eyes. "People died in the first explosion, both the employees and civilians from the collateral damage."
He shook his head. "I—"
"And what about people who were relying on the power from the two reactors to survive?" she added, cutting him off before he justified it. "Hospitals needed that power to keep patients alive, food processing plants needed it to keep people fed, and the water treatment plants needed it to keep the water clean—you've made the lives of everyone even more difficult when SOLDIERs are meant to protect them! How was that any different from what happened in Gongaga!?"
Cloud looked down at that, a small frown on his face. She wondered if shame was why he kept silent. At least it showed he was capable of feeling something for the victims of his brashness.
"He wouldn't have done that," Crimson murmured as she released him. "Don't swing his sword around if you're going to ruin his memories."
"Excuse me?" they both heard, turning their heads at the same time to see the flower girl sitting next to them. "If you're done now, can you get off the flowers?"
"Sorry," Crimson said as she rose to her feet and stepped off the bed of flower, plucking her Rekka from the edge where it had fallen. She then extended her hand for Cloud to take and help him up.
He got up on his own and walked over to the center aisle between the pews, keeping his back to her and looking down to the ground.
"Fine then," Crimson said with a sigh. If Cloud needed a firm hand to drive the message across, then she'd be that hand so that he didn't tarnish the memories of Zack any further. She turned her attention to the young woman instead. "I'm sorry if we bothered you. Since I don't see burns on Cloud and my shoulder's fixed, should I assume you healed us?"
The flower girl nodded. "Thankfully your injuries were minimal. Then again, it's not every day that someone falls from that height into a bed of flowers, clinging to one another like something out of a fairy tale. You should go easy on him."
Crimson brushed her hair behind her ears and looked to the side, blushing slightly. "I'm grateful for what he did, but it shouldn't have come to that in the first place. I swear, sometimes he—"
"AHHHH!" Cloud's scream of anguish cut her off, leaving her to watch as he fell to his knees with tears in his eyes.
"Not again," Crimson said with all traces of her previous anger gone. Worry took its place and she hurried to his side. The best she could do was to help him up, but there was nothing she could do for the pain. "Cloud, just try to bear with it until it passes."
"I think I can help here," the flower girl said. Once more her healing spell brought peace to his mind, leaving Crimson with a question burning in her eyes. Before she could say anything, Cloud spoke with a hitch in his voice, looking at her the flower girl.
"I was here before, crying after Angeal died," he said. "Aerith, you were here to console me… It was you I was coming here for, wasn't it?"
Crimson watched as the girl, Aerith gave him a questioning glance of her own. Then it seemed like realization donned on her face. She sighed, her glance turning to a pitying expression.
"So that's what happened," she said. "I understand now. Seeing him die must've confused you…."
"What's going on?" Crimson asked as the doors to the church groaned while they opened, light spilling in around four silhouettes. As they entered into the building, the light dimmed to reveal that three of them were nameless troops. The last one Crimson recognized. "Reno?"
"Cissnei?" Reno's face scrunched up in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
"That's what I should be asking," she said, reaching for one of the materia she had taken from the outpost as stealthy as possible. A fight with an old friend was the last thing she wanted. "Why are you in the slums?"
"For me, I would assume," Aerith said to the pair. "I would really rather not end up in their custody."
"Sir," one of the troops said, pointing his gun to Cloud. "He matches the description of the suspect from the earlier assaults and bombings!"
And that was her cue. Crimson activated the materia and silently cast the sleep spell. The troops kept it on-hand for subduing suspects without lethal force in the city, but for trained agents like the Turks and SOLDIERs the effectiveness was lowered.
It was still enough to rattle Reno, leaving him shaking his head to clear the drowsiness. The few seconds was long enough for them to get a head-start, and they took it.
"We can get out through the back!" Aerith said, grabbing Cloud's hand and pulling him along.
Crimson gave Reno a parting glance before following after them. She had little doubt that he would come after her next time prepared to treat her as an enemy. The same trick wouldn't work twice.
Reno ran his hands through his hair and sighed. Then he reached for his phone and called his superior. "Tseng, we have a problem."
"Where did he go now?" Crimson said with annoyance clear in her voice.
Aerith was walking next to her as they combed the streets of the Wall Market to find Cloud after he had run off. They escaped and brought Aerith to her home, and her mother had kindly asked them to leave while she slept since she didn't want them to get her in more trouble. Crimson still had questions she wanted to ask, but the last thing she wanted was to cause trouble for someone who wasn't involved.
It proved to be a moot point anyway when Aerith had somehow beaten them to the Sector 6 Park. But before they could get any answers from one another, Cloud ran off chasing after that long-haired woman who had been in the reactor. She was on a cart heading here, so now they were looking for him.
"Did he forget that he's a wanted man?" Crimson breathed out a heavy sigh. "He carries a huge sword around on his back. It shouldn't be this hard to spot him"
"Speaking of that sword, can I ask where he got it?" Aerith asked.
"…a friend gave it to him," Crimson said, a noticeable hesitation in her voice. "He died recently, and Cloud's suffering from some problems that I'm trying to help him through."
"It's because he has Zack Fair's memories," Aerith said. "They're conflicting with his own, so that's why he has those headaches."
Crimson came to a stop and turned back to face her. "How do you know that?"
"That's part of the reason that Shinra was after me," she said. "To them, I'm known as an Ancient and can lead them to a promised land of free energy. The truth is a bit different—I can hear the planet's voice, and those who dwell inside of it after returning to the Lifestream."
Crimson was skeptical, for the most part. Dead was dead, or so she had been taught. But if the company was targeting her, then there must've been some truth to it.
"I waited for Zack to return for years," Aerith said as she touched her chest and closed her eyes. "And then I felt when he died a little while ago on the outskirts of the city. But it was only once Cloud told me about what happened in the church that I understood enough. Then, while I slept earlier, I heard Zack's voice telling me to help you both if I could."
Crimson wanted to dismiss it off-hand. It felt almost too good to be true, in all honesty. But part of her wanted to believe that Zack's voice could be heard, even after he had died. "Is that why you can heal his headaches?"
Aerith opened her eyes and gave Crimson a warm smile. "Because of my connection with the planet, I can suppress the pain for a time. But I'm not sure what about his condition led to this happening, nor can I stop it from happening."
"I'll still need to look into treatment for him, but it's better than nothing," Crimson said. If she had to admit it, she was a little jealous. It seemed that Zack had been quite close to her, and she couldn't blame him since the girl was clearly special in contrast to her.
Aerith walked up to her and clasped her hands before she could stew on it. "I also wanted to thank you. It was because you gave them your bike that they had a chance at freedom, and that I could hear his voice once more. So thank you for everything."
Jealous of her or not, Crimson couldn't bring herself to feel animosity towards Aerith when she said things like that. "It was the right thing to do, that's all…."
"Hey, let me go!" they heard further ahead.
"Answer the question!" a familiar voice replied.
"That would be him," Aerith said. "Shall we go?"
Crimson gave her a nod.
"This is the place?" Cloud asked, standing outside of Don Corneo's Mansion with the girls.
He had learned that Tifa was apparently looking for work at a sleazy-looking place known as the Honeybee Inn. That entailed coming to this mansion. It set off some warning bells for Cloud.
"Not this sleaze-ball," Crimson said, rubbing the bridge between her eyes.
"You know him?" Aerith asked.
She nodded. "One of my missions was to investigate his place, hobbies, and other things. Any details that could be used against him should the company need to do so. He's… well, to be blunt, scum."
"I need details," Cloud said.
"It would be better if you didn't know," Crimson said, narrowing her eyes. "Speaking of which, who is she? She was with those terrorists earlier, so I can guess she's part of them. But why do you care if you only helped them as a mercenary?"
"…Tifa is a friend of mine from Nibelheim," he admitted. "I thought Sephiroth had killed her, but she managed to survive. I failed to save her then, when our home burned, so when she asked me to help her…."
"You decided to help make the lives of everyone else difficult," she finished for him. "Fine, I'll talk. Corneo claims he's looking for a bride, but really he takes the time line women up and then has his way with one of them, leaving the rest for his men to have fun with. Considering he has a dungeon that has seen use and a trap door leading down to the sewers where his pet monster is, you can guess what happens to those who aren't so willing or don't satisfy him."
"Oh dear," Aerith murmured, looking as though she had swallowed something bitter. "And they haven't arrested him yet?"
"Shinra allows him to remain in power because he's useful in certain aspects." Crimson looked ashamed at that. "Believe me, I don't like it anymore than you do."
"…I'm busting in," Cloud decided, reaching for his sword as he took a step forward.
Crimson stopped him before he could go further. "You're a wanted man, and he has a direct line to the Shinra's troops. You go in there sword swinging, and you'll make things even worse."
"Well, what do you suggest we do?" he asked, letting go of the sword. "Tifa is in there and that guy—"
"I'll go check on her," Aerith suggested.
They both turned to her and said, at the same time, "No, it's too dangerous."
"Okay, then Crimson will go with me." A mischievous smile appeared on her face when they both looked puzzled by the suggestion. "Only women are allowed in, and it's apparently too dangerous for me go alone, but she can come with me."
"Infiltrating is one thing, but extracting someone is a different story," Crimson said. "Plus, I'm not the type who could get inside."
"Non-sense, you just need the right clothes." Aerith grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the shops. "Cloud, wait here. We'll be back soon."
He watched as Crimson was dragged off, just as confused as he was, leaving him pacing in place alone. The minutes seemed to drag on until nearly an hour had passed. He was about to resort to busting in when Aerith came back, dressed in a red dress that was modest, yet suited her….
And joining her was what he presumed to be a goddess with red hair.
"H… How do I look?" she asked, not looking him in the eyes. "It's not too different than before, is it?"
It took him a moment to register the voice. "Crimson?"
She frowned at him. "Who else did you think it was?"
Cloud was speechless, only able to stare with a burning gaze as Aerith covered her mouth to stifle her giggling while Crimson's cheeks matched her name. She was adorned in a scarlet dress that hugged her hips and accentuated her breasts, wearing a silver necklace that stood out against her bare flesh. Her hair had been done up in a bun with two steel hairpins that crossed one another, high-heels decorated her feet, and a small purse was hanging from her shoulder on a spaghetti string.
Eventually, Aerith stopped her giggling and said, "It's rude to just stare and not to comment on how a woman looks when she dresses up for you, Cloud."
He rubbed the back of his head and looked sheepish at that. "You look beautiful… both of you."
That seemed to mollify Crimson, who handed him her small purse. "Go wait for us in the tailor's place. We left our clothes and weapons there. We'll meet up there once we've secured your friend."
He agreed and watched as she sauntered inside along with Aerith, swaying her hips as she did so.
P.S. If anyone want to know Cissnei new outfit, look at the image next to the title.