Well we know where
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowin'
But we can't say what we've seen
--The Talking Heads
Captured inside the ineffable world of dreams, she wrapped herself around the images her sleeping mind wrought. Sometimes they were blood-soaked and brutal. Sometimes gentle as a lamb. Sometimes image and meaning created a surreal dissonance that collided with her conscious mind so violently that she knew, even in sleep, that she'd only ever remember snatches of the dream that was a song.
This dream-song weaved its way through her, twining itself around all the most important parts of her that she couldn't untangle it, no matter how hard she tried.
Ecoute bien, mon coeur t'appeller...Nous pourrons si bien nous aime...
Slowly, ever so slowly, the feeling behind those words became clear.
My heart...it calls to you...and I'll await you here...I promise.
Through it all, an oath had been made. An oath that neither of them had fulfilled and their souls had gone into death with dreams that died young. Now, through the ether, they sent messages to themselves and if she could only interpret them, perhaps she could avert the messy fate that awaited them. And a name fell from her sleeping lips.
With a small, noiseless gasp, her eyes fluttered open and the world came back to Aeris slowly though the deep haze of sleep still stole a bit of her senses.
Sleep was a good thing. Deep, restful sleep, in particular was a very good thing, especially after the last four days of bad sleep and near constant stress. Her body and mind were completely exhausted and had shut down entirely to recoup all the energy they'd spent. It wasn't such a surprise then, that she'd slept like the dead last night and was so wrapped up in the blissful comfort of sleep that she didn't notice the guest currently sharing her sleeping bag. Sadly, even when semi-awake and quasi-coherent, she didn't notice him.
Her mind was cloudy and fuddled as she tried to piece together the remnants of the dream she'd just had. Blearily blinking, she tried to mumble the words or hum the tune, but nothing came out but a quiet, discordant buzz in the back of her throat. Yawning so widely that it brought tears to her eyes, noticing upon waking that her hand had fallen asleep. It was then that her bedmate made his presence known. She was shaking her hand violently, grunting a bit under her breath while using her other hand to try and stimulate blood flow into the numbed appendage. Fighting the terribly uncomfortable pins and needles feeling as she moved her fingers, her disoriented mind failed to notice the slight movement behind her until it jabbed her in the kidneys.
Awareness was immediate, and agonizing.
Aeris cried out, her hand immediately digging into the covers to smooth the pain over, while her mind worked.
"What in the hell..."
Shifting, she became aware that her movement was restricted by a solid lump just behind her. Her hand was already at her back, rubbing it, and she couldn't help but notice that there were appendages in her sleeping bag that weren't her own. It was an alarming realization and she froze before turning around slowly to see what the lump might be. A part of her already knew and dreaded the confirmation of her realization.
Her eyes widened.
Her mouth dropped open.
And she gasped, this time quite audibly.
The lump in HER sleeping bag was Sephiroth. Well, she'd sort of known already, but she just hadn't cared enough at the time to make a big deal about it. Being tired did that to you but now. Now, he lay there looking quite comfortable as he'd taken up the majority of space in the sleeping bag, his head pillowed on an arm. What made things worse was the fact that he was sleeping on the side with the zipper and he'd managed to cocoon most of the bag's material around him. She couldn't simply unzip the bag and get out. He'd have to get out first, or alternatively, she'd have to crawl over him and unzip it herself. Aeris scowled as he sighed softly and turned over a bit before going still again, looking even more peaceful in his repose than he had before...in HER sleeping bag.
She pouted, shocked at his boldness with rising anger that was partly fueled by this newest slight, and partly fueled by the events of the night before. No, she hadn't forgotten that. Every conversation was a battle with him and she needed her wits about her, therefore anything he said would be remembered so she was sure she could bring it up without error the next time they fought.
Dear god, she'd be glad to be rid of him.
Scowling, she propped herself up on a forearm and reached out, shaking him sharply.
"Wake up," she hissed indignantly, and when he didn't answer, she shook him harder, "Wake up."
His face contorted uncomfortably in his sleep. He looked displeased to say the least and letting out a small, annoyed moan, he turned completely over so that his back was facing her. Well, that wouldn't do at all. She poked him some more, which graduated to shaking which led to pinching, none of which worked. At all. Evidently, she wasn't the only one who could sleep like the dead when they wanted to.
Sighing heavily, she realized there was no choice. She'd just have to crawl over him and hope he didn't wake up. Worming her way over him, she tried not to think about what she was doing as she clambered over him. She tried not to think about the fact that she was dressed in nothing but a slip. She tried even harder not to think about the fact that he had no shirt on. She tried very, very hard not to think about the fact that he was very handsome and without a shirt and she was currently lying on top of him. She tried all those things and failed miserably. A heated blush rose to her cheeks and she tumbled out of the sleeping bag in an embarrassed heap.
Luck was on her side, though, as he hadn't woken up despite her apparent graceless exit.
Utterly mortified, she put it all behind her and quickly dressed. She thought briefly of waking him, her eyes darting over to look at him as she carefully re-braided her hair. Fussing with her ribbon, she was torn as to what she ought to do. She really should wake him; after all, it was the only way she'd get her sleeping bag back. But if she woke him, then he'd most likely follow her and she really didn't want that. Their alliance had been a temporary one. He knew it. She knew it. Her end of the bargain was sealed. Sure, he'd mentioned wanting answers from her, but honestly, did he care that much about them? He was free now. How could a few unanswered questions compare to that?
You made a promise.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Breathing in and out shakily, she scanned the room. Nothing. Aeris laughed quietly to herself and it sounded so empty but it gave her a bit of confidence. Places like this weren't meant to be stayed in and she'd lingered too long. Hastily gathering up her things, she stood and readied herself to leave when she felt the temperature in the room drop. Something tickled the back of her arm. She clapped a hand over her mouth and suppressed a scream.
A ghostly shape moved from the shadows, forming itself from nothing, appearing out of the darkness like smoke curling over water. It took the form of a pale woman with long, dark hair. There was a supernal sheen to the vision and though Aeris was a little afraid, there was an air of comfort surrounding the spirit. It meant her no harm. She knew this without a doubt. Shivering despite herself, she calmed down in hopes of seeing what it meant to show her, if it meant to show her anything at all.
The apparition walked through her towards a previously unopened doorway that led down. It stopped and turned its head over its shoulder to beckon her with its gaze.
"Follow," it said.
...Ne suives pas...
Aeris's feet couldn't help but obey and she followed her into the unknown deep. She knew now form of the apparition. She'd seen the woman in her dreams. She'd seen her slaughtered over and over and over again, and each death felt like her own. The spirit weaved lazily through the labyrinthine corridors beneath the shrine. Aeris struggled to follow. The tunnels underneath were oppressively black and she could see very little by the faint, eerie light of the apparition.
After a seeming eternity, the spirit stopped and disappeared through a pair of large stone doors. Aeris balked and her fear returned as the only light she had walked through solid rock. Before panic could set in, she calmly pushed on the doors and was happily rewarded when they nudged themselves open. After a few more pushes, the doors creaked open to reveal a large, open room. In the center of the room was a stone circle, surrounded by pillars and in between the pillars hung long, diaphanous curtains that breathed in and out as the air circulated through the room. The ceiling surrounding the circle was dome shaped and quite high, with an opening at the top to let light through.
Aeris looked around in wonderment that such a place could remain in tact and for a moment, she forgot how she'd come to be here.
Why had the spirit brought her here?
Aeris couldn't answer the question but was curious none-the-less. She'd dreamt of this place. This place was where the apparition's last moments alive had been spent. This was the place where it had died and now haunted.
Shivering again, she tried desperately to rub away the goose-bumps forming on her flesh. Someone had died here, violently, she'd felt it and dreamed it but nothing compared to being in the place that it actually happened. It was a terrible feeling. Overpowering in its horribleness.
Walking as quietly as she could, she pushed past the curtains and entered the circle. Bathed in light, she examined the floor as if looking for clues, for answers to all her questions. This wandering spirit had guided her here for a reason, if only she could…and just as the thought passed, she found it. There was nothing substantial on the floor that told her the room's purpose, but she didn't really need to venture a guess. This was a sacred circle and this room was obviously the main chamber for the shrine's inner sanctum where only the most sacrosanct and secret rituals were performed.
Aeris closed her eyes, the air of this place was still rather off-putting but she could feel underneath the discomfort, the power of this temple. Shuddering, she could hear the planet more clearly than she had before. This temple was a conduit that allowed for nearly direct contact with the lifestream and therefore the planet itself. She drowned in the planet's song for an unknown amount of time. It sang to her in joy that they could hear each other so well, but it seemed to be reprimanding her as well though it sang to her in words that were strange, yet familiar.
Again, those words...in the language of her people, long forgot. She couldn't understand them but their meaning was made clear by the reverberating hum of the planet.
"What did I promise?"
Ta promesse de sauver lui
"Who, to save who?"
L'ange du mort, Tu s'as laissé
At first she couldn't imagine whom the planet was talking about. She hadn't left anyone, well, except for Tseng but he wasn't really an Angel of Death…he was just…and then she paused and really thought about it. Yes, there was someone she'd left.
"Will you repeat the mistakes of the Past? Will you leave things unresolved, until you have no other option but to act in desperation, like the Chosen before you did? Will you face the storm or will you turn away? What will it be, child? What will it be..."
The planet's leaving was her answer. Its warmth filtered out of her, draining from her body like water from a warm shower. She opened her eyes, vaguely remembering her previous conversation with the planet. Yes, she'd promised to guide him, but what the planet didn't understand was he didn't exactly want to be guided. And she wasn't exactly fond of fighting lost causes, or at least, she wasn't fond of this particular lost cause. Her decision earlier had been based on what he'd been like while unconscious. She'd had sympathy for him then. Pity. But having met him and experienced his abrasive personality first hand, she wasn't keen on spending any more time with him than she had to.
Sure, she didn't like the fact that she was in a sense abandoning her duty and breaking her promise to the planet but…it wasn't like she was totally remiss to her obligations. She'd gotten him this far, keeping him from ShinRa had to count for something, didn't it? Plus, it wasn't like he was showing any signs that he'd been tainted by the crisis yet. Perhaps she'd caught things in time and now that he was free, maybe there was a chance he'd be able to live a normal life. After all, ShinRa had pieces of the crisis in their hands, and now that Sephiroth was out of theirs, he'd also be out of her reach as well.
At least, this is what she'd rationalized. The truth that she didn't want to speak was she didn't want to be near him. He frightened her but it was more than that. He was aggravating, he was rude and mean and bossy, pointlessly negative, violent and she just didn't like him. Everything about him annoyed her, and she had so wanted to be able to travel the world and enjoy herself. She wouldn't be able to do that with someone who'd constantly rain on her parade. And he would definitely rain on her parade big time.
Scoffing lightly, she straightened her dress and prepared to leave. Her eyes were drawn to her feet as she stepped and it was then that she noticed something. There was a dark patch on the floor and curious, she bent down to touch it, expecting it to be some kind of mold or rust. Her fingers came back sticky with a moist, dark red substance.
"Blood," she whispered hoarsely, trembling with confusion as she rubbed it between her fingers.
Disgusted, she looked down for a clear patch of floor she could use to wipe the blood from her fingertips but froze in mid-movement. There was a presence to the left of her. Something dark and cold, and familiar and unwillingly, she turned her head. Her breath caught and her eyes widened. She breathed in and out in slow, shaky gasps, taking one long exhalation in an attempt to calm herself. It came out in a single rush of air, sounding like the wind against her ears as it left her mouth.
Kneeling on the floor not a foot away from her was the apparition she'd followed, except...except it didn't seem aware of her as it had before. It wasn't leading her to places she didn't want to follow. It was just there, raw and real despite what her rational mind was trying to tell her. This spirit wandered no more. It was a solid vision and it was showing her how it had died.
The apparition looked right through her, as if she was a being of otherworldly illusion. It gasped for air that it couldn't breathe anymore, a ghostly pale hand clutching where its heart used to be. She could see it then. The spirit...no...it had been a woman. Was a woman still. There was a stain, a dark stain that was blossoming across the woman's eerily bright, white kimono. The stain spread and bled through the fabric, gushed between the fingers that tried desperately to hold it back.
It was blood and then she realized where the blood she'd just touched on the floor had come from. But it couldn't be blood, not real blood because this woman, this apparition was long dead. The breath she'd been holding back suddenly came back with unbelievable ferocity and the world around her seemed to shrink with the sound of her breathing. It felt like she'd entered a wind tunnel and all she could hear was silent howling as she stared into the dead eyes of the apparition.
And for a moment. Just for a moment. Aeris felt like the spirit had noticed her. That it saw her as she saw it and she felt a heavy knot of dread coil in her stomach. But then it turned away listlessly, training its cold, heavy gaze at the iron doors they'd just entered.
Brushing from the darkness like fine ink lines, another shade appeared from nothingness, leaving Aeris to wonder if it had been there all along waiting. It towered over them both, and although its attention was solely on the helpless form of the female apparition, Aeris too could feel the weight of its menace. Glaring at the other apparition, the shade was as still as stone, holding a blood covered sword carelessly in one hand.
He had been the one. He'd killed her.
She'd dreamed it...but to really see it. Was she seeing it? Was this just another dream? Her gradually numbing feet told her no. This was no dream.
"Tristan," the woman gasped, her voice raspy and halting from her injuries.
There were no words after that, only the quiet, glimmering emotions in the spirit's eyes. Why? Those eyes begged to know why, why had he killed her? Why, when she loved him? Why, when she had only tried to do what was right...when she'd only tried to save him? Why? His eyes were cold, hard and any emotion in them was as indecipherable as smudged writing on wet paper. They shut everything off, held everything within like the large iron doors that closed this room off from the rest of the temple. She breathed in a shuddering, trembling gasp that was thick and wet at the same time. It caught in her throat and she coughed, blood spewing from between her pale lips. Aeris could feel it, taste the bitter, coppery tang of blood on her tongue. Her chest felt heavy, like someone had stacked bricks on it and when the apparition let out a series of sharp barking coughs, Aeris had to stop herself from mimicking the action.
The coughs turned to sobs that turned into an ebbing scream as the spirit smacked the ground in apparent frustration. All the while, the shade watched her soundlessly, almost seeming bored with the display. The apparition's fingers curled into the hard, stone floor and she pulled herself up, arms shaking as she fought her steadily weakening body. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she looked up at the shade. Head lolling, eyes glazed, she apologized to him by quietly closing her eyes. She held out her hands, and cupped in her outstretched palms lay a single piece of materia. Its surface was dull and to Aeris's eyes it looked broken. A flickering luminescence erupted from the depths of the materia, engulfing the room in pure, brilliant light. Just before it became too bright to see, Aeris could make out the mournful spirit, so calm despite her sorrow, and the shade in front of her recoiling from the light.
When her sight came back, she could see the fading forms of both spirit and shade. Everything was different from the vision before. No longer was she the martyred and he the murderer. They were the two lovers she'd seen in her dreams. Star-crossed and ill met by moonlight, or so it seemed in the dim halls of the temple. He held the woman in his arms and wept as she whispered her last words to him. Her hand grazed his cheeks, leaving five horizontal smudges of blood behind, scouring his flesh. Aeris strained to listen, watching the spirit's mouth move but unable to hear the words. But they had begun to fade by then, and any lessons they had to teach were no longer relevant. She had seen what they'd wanted her to.
Yet, just before they disappeared completely, she heard the shade...no, the man, the man she'd called Tristan, whisper hollowly, "Isolde."
Recognition flooded Aeris, it was the name Sephiroth had uttered but before anything could sink in...the whisper died. And as it did so did Isolde, her hand on his cheek went limp and fell to the ground jostling the materia she'd held from her hand. It rolled away from them as they melted into the shadows, chiming as it made its way to Aeris. She watched, horrified, as it bounded towards her, stopping right at her knees.
Somehow, she managed to pick it up and make her way out of the large iron doors. The materia was still illuminated, for a time anyway. Too short, it seemed because just as she left the main chamber, it winked out and she was left in darkness. Unnerved and frightened by what she'd just seen, the sounds of shuffling in the distance alarmed her. There was something in the tunnels with her. Her eyes widened in the dark and she clutched the materia tighter and ran for her life.
Tearing through the tunnels, she could barely comprehend the planet's sudden return to her. It tried to soothe her, sending her calming images and feelings, trying to comfort her with its song. When it didn't work, it tried words but they were lost on her, so it had to settle for guiding her out of the labyrinth.
Flying from the temple's rear exit at a heart pounding pace, she became a blur in the forest. She didn't care how much noise she was making. Branches caught in her hair, slapped her in her face, and tore at her skin and clothes. None of it was enough to make her stop. It wasn't until she tripped and fell face first on the ground that she even considered the idea. Sore and trembling, she stayed on the ground until her breathing evened out a little bit.
With a groan she pushed herself to her knees and then to her feet to stand, albeit a bit unsteadily. Tiredly, she shuffled around before wandering off in no particular direction, stopping when she found a large fallen tree to sit on. Hopping up on the log, she tended to her wounds. Her elbows, palms and knees were all abraded and her face and arms were covered in small, stinging scratches. They were all sore but none of them were serious enough to require more than a thorough cleaning.
The glade she sat in had gone completely quiet and had she more experience with the outdoors, she would have understood the warning in that. Instead, she was happily re-bandaging the shoulder wound she'd taken the night before. It had started seeping again and she was afraid it might be infected. Just as she finished wrapping, she finally marked the unusual silence and the strange mechanical sounds that came just behind her.
Her head turned as if in slow motion, eyes widening almost comically in alarm. A hulking machine stood behind her, its gun-like arms jutting forward menacingly. Tseng had told her about machines like this, ShinRa had all sorts of them. Most were used to guard ShinRa tower, but some, like this one, was used in the field to locate and subdue whatever the company viewed as an enemy. Something inside the machine whirred to life, and its arms moved up and out. There was an abrupt click and then a high pitched whir before a light flicked on. When the light became a pinprick aimed straight at her head, she realized it wasn't a light at all but a guiding laser. Too stunned to do anything, she tensed, feeling the beginnings of mind numbing fear as it paralyzed her body.
Then something happened. It was so fast, she wasn't quite sure what.
One moment the machine was ready to fire at her and the next moment it was cut in half. On fire and sputtering smoke, she stared with pure, shocked amazement as the thing slid neatly apart. Coughing from the pungent smell of the electrical fire, she winced as she covered her mouth, eyes narrowed from the smoke as she tried to make out what had happened.
The smoke cleared, and through her teary vision she could make out a hazy figure. Stepping through the smoldering remains of the machine was Sephiroth, looking surprisingly unaffected by the destruction he'd just caused. He didn't even flinch when something within the machine exploded as he passed; he merely blinked, simply sheathing his sword as if such an occurrence was the most ordinary thing in the world. Stopping just in front of her, he breathed in deeply and gazed at her, cocking his head as if waiting for an explanation. Still slightly terrified and overcome by the smoke, she didn't say anything, mostly because she really couldn't.
After the longest ten minutes of her life, he finally became irritated enough to say something.
She answered by way of a violent coughing fit. After she gained some control over her own breathing, she gasped hoarsely, "Well, what?"
This earned her a severe glare, "Explain yourself."
Confused, she cleared her throat to speak, "Explain what?"
His lips thinned, and his brows furrowed barely concealing the dark glint of aggravation in his eyes, "Explain why you left."
"I owe you no explanation," which would have sounded more impressive had her voice not cracked and squeaked quite so much.
"Oh, but I think you do."
"I think I don't."
"Wrong. You and I, we had an agreement."
"What agreement? I don't recall..."
"Weren't you the one who asked me to follow you? And I hate to keep pressing a point, but I'm still waiting for an answer to my question. Besides, you've saved me...what is it now? Three times? I'm in your debt and as a man of honor I don't believe I could go on living without at least attempting to repay you in kind."
No particular word was emphasized and there wasn't really a tone to his voice that'd imply emotion, but she couldn't help but feel that he was mocking her. If she could read minds, she'd find that she was very right. He was mocking her in the most calculated, gentlemanly manner.
She drew in a breath before speaking without pause, "First, I only wanted you to follow to help you escape the ShinRa. Second, what question? Third, I wasn't counting how many times I saved you because I don't care. I didn't do it because I wanted to be repaid. I did it because it was the right thing to do, with the understanding that the minute this was all over we'd go our separate ways and as it IS over...now is the time for me to part from you and vice versa, never to see each other again."
Having finished, she pursed her lips, nodded her head and waited for him to leave. Because clearly, her little speech was his cue but being the stubborn, recalcitrant actor he was in the little play of her life, he didn't do what he was told at all. He stood there with a look on his face that advertised the fact that he wasn't planning on going anywhere and that her little display had sort of amused him in a tedious kind of way.
Cocking his head slightly, she shrugged his shoulders as if what she'd just said meant nothing, "Well, you should have said then. As it is, my honor isn't assuaged, nor my questions answered. And I don't particularly feel like parting ways just yet."
"Well I do."
"How wonderful for you," he countered dryly, motioning vaguely towards the perceived path ahead of them, "Shall we go?"
"We're not going anywhere," she replied, with a stomp of her foot, "You're going one way. I'm going the other and that's all there is to it!"
"Is that so?"
"Yes, it is so!"
Thoroughly frustrated, she reined in her temper just enough to glower at him balefully before turning her back to leave. She didn't take more than two steps before stopping. He was following her. She knew he was without even looking. Even if she couldn't hear his footsteps behind her, or the rustling leaves as he brushed past, she knew because for the short amount of time she'd known him, she had come to fully appreciate the horror of his outstandingly intractable disposition.
At that precise moment she felt like being exceedingly childish, holding back the urge to spin around and scream at him to stop following her. And then perhaps punching him right in that pretty little face of his but her temper wasn't so great, and as always, it was easily overcome. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he made her mad enough to throw things. Nor was she going to give him inkling that he was the most odious person she'd ever met and that if she never, ever saw him again it really WOULD be too soon, no matter how trite that phrase might sound.
No, she wouldn't lose her temper because if she did, he'd win even more than he already had. Instead, she stopped and without turning to look at him, she spoke calmly, "I thought I made things clear. I go my way. You go yours. I can't imagine you have nothing better to do than follow me."
"You assume I follow you. Has it occurred to you that my destination might be the same as yours? After all, I never indicated where it was I wanted to go and I want to go this way."
"Is that so?"
"Is it, then," she stated, an eyebrow twitching in annoyance, "Well, I guess I'll just have to go another way."
And with that she abruptly turned and unsurprisingly he followed her. She glanced at him sharply, not at all amused by the sudden lightness in his eyes. They stood facing each other at a standoff like a pair of gunslingers waiting to see who'd fire the first shot. Their hands over the trigger, it was Aeris who flinched and fired first.
"Well?" she asked impatiently.
"What?" he questioned right back, "Don't I have the right to enjoy the scenery?" He paused, callously enjoying her internalized fury as she fumed but made no answer. Smiling disingenuously, he made the pretense of actually drinking in the splendor of the forest around him before asking, "It is a beautiful day, don't you think?"
"Stop following me."
"You are so!"
Sephiroth smiled again this one being even less sincere than the first. It dared her to prove it, as if he thought she couldn't, and when he spoke again he did it slowly to emphasize his continued doubt of her mental faculties. Pointing out, oh-so-helpfully, "You didn't answer my question...again."
"It IS a lovely day but that isn't the point. You're following me and I've made it clear that I want you to stop. And if I hear one more thing about your 'Honor', so help me I'll throw my boot at you. Honor has nothing to do with it. You're playing some kind of stupid mind game that I want no part of. I saved you, you saved me. Your debt is repaid; your 'Honor' is in tact. So leave me be and go your own way."
"Ah, but you see, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum, as my way is your way."
"Really?" she challenged, elongating the word in a vocal demonstration of her disbelief, "I see. What business do you have in Kalm then? Because that's where I'm headed."
He thought about this for several minutes before replying smoothly, "Now that I'm free of ShinRa, I find myself lacking purpose and I hoped to find it in Kalm, as it is the closest town to our current location. Even if I don't intend to stay there, I will have to supply myself and find something less ridiculous to wear. Therefore Kalm is the most logical destination, wouldn't you think?"
"There are plenty of towns closer than Kalm."
"But you see, Kalm is a slightly bigger town with more shops and it's right on the main road. It hardly makes any sense for me to go elsewhere, all things considered."
"So, you're not going there because I am?"
"Of course not. As you said, I do have better things to do, you know."
"So, you're just following me because we're going in the same direction?"
"And it has nothing to do with the fact that I haven't answered whatever crazy question it is you thought I haven't answered?"
"Not at all but seeing as we're traveling in the same direction, I don't see any reason why it'd trouble you so much if I did seek answers to my questions," he said, enunciating the last word in the sentence with deliberate clarity.
"How convenient for you."
"Hm. I suppose it is. Shall we go?"
"Suit yourself," she said, simpering with obviously feigned sweetness that darkened almost immediately, "But get this straight. The minute...THE MINUTE we get to Kalm, this ends and we part ways, understood?"
He didn't say a word as he crossed his arms, looking down at her bemusedly like she was a clown entertaining just for him.
"I mean it! From here to there you can ask whatever stupid questions you want. I might even answer them, but when we get to Kalm I want your word you'll stop following me. Questions answered or not."
"You think I'd agree to something like that? Preposterous."
"Listen you..." she began, before he cut her off.
"All you have to do is answer one simple question, like you promised..."
"I don't answer to..."
"...What are you?"
"A human, just like you...just like everyone else."
"Liar, ShinRa wouldn't want you if that's all you were, "he stated, overtly amused at the anger in her voice, "What are you?"
"What. Are. You?"
For several minutes this cycle repeated over and over and over again. He would ask, "What are you?" and she would answer as evasively as possible until finally her temper snapped and she screamed loudly, "NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!"
The forest went quiet again, but for the sound of the birds as they flew from their purchases in somewhat of a hurry. Aeris instinctively looked up to follow their progress into the sky, ignoring Sephiroth for the barest of seconds. When she turned her attention back to him again, she'd lost her audience. His inattention should have been a welcome thing but it only infuriated her more. For Sephiroth's part, he'd entirely forgotten their argument. His keen hearing was focused on the sounds of the forest, or lack thereof. It wasn't just the girl's shout that had quieted it. In fact, it had been that way through their entire argument. Cursing himself, he searched the trees for a sign and he soon found it.
He turned, widened eyes noticing the angry look on her face though that wasn't what troubled him at all. Her mouth was opening to berate him and it would have concerned him mere seconds ago, though now he couldn't care less. Diving towards her wordlessly as a shot rang out; he grabbed onto an arm and pulled her into a controlled fall. Once coming to a stop, he rolled off the dazed girl and stood forcefully, his sword unsheathed.
It was another machine, just like the one he'd destroyed earlier. Scarlet, head of Weapons Development at ShinRa, had called them SIM25-A-types...whatever that meant. He had remembered she'd explained it but he'd also remembered that he'd purposefully forgotten. He'd never liked listening to anyone from Weapons Research, for obvious reasons. They were prototype robotic soldiers field tested to replace real soldiers in situations deemed to dangerous for humans.
All high ranking soldiers had been required to view the very first field test. It hadn't gone all that well and his second in command, a man named Zack, had quipped that the machines were no better than customized vacuum cleaners that'd be better used sweeping the halls than anything else. From that point on, they'd been referred to as "Custom Sweepers", and had generally been thought to be entirely useless. Apparently, someone had taken them out of storage and had improved their battle readiness. This didn't make them anymore impressive or formidable, to Sephiroth's thinking anyway.
The thing had stood there, motionless, for as many seconds while it warmed up for its next attack. Sephiroth used the time the machine lost regrouping to his advantage. He sprung, flicking his sword out lightly to deflect the laser blasts the thing aimed at him. They bounced of his blade harmlessly, refracting off its surface to hit the trees and bushes surrounding them. Before it could modify its attack, he was upon it and his sword imbedded deeply in its machinery. With a swift motion, he tore the thing nearly in half as he had the other one, splitting the metal like it was butter. Just before it exploded, he jumped away from it, satisfied in the thing's utter destruction.
Standing next to the sputtering pile of metal and wires, his eyes narrowed in thought. He was sure he'd destroyed that first one before it had relayed their position. How had the thing targeted them so fast? It couldn't have just been the girl's screaming. Fully intent on solving this mystery, he stalked over towards the girl. She had just gotten herself off the ground. By the look on her face she was reluctantly grateful but still irritated at him. He didn't care. Spinning her around, he wrenched her bag off her shoulders and proceeded to dig through it without explanation. She objected but he ignored her, throwing out her personal items looking for something...anything to explain why those machines were following them.
"How come you didn't sense it?" he asked curtly, still digging through her things to her eternal frustration.
"What...the machine?" she queried in response, continuing distractedly when he nodded, "I can only sense living things..."and then she pointedly paused before she spoke again, "...with souls. And would you mind telling me why you're pawing through my stuff and when you might stop?"
Ignoring her feeble protests, he held up the PHS and demanded, "Who gave you this?"
Aeris was dumbfounded, and her thoughts derailed as she shook her head and asked dumbly, "What?"
"This device. Who gave it to you?"
"The man from the chocobo caravan, I didn't catch his..."
He interrupted her words with abrupt action, crushing the PHS in his hand. She thought to demand answers of her own but swept the urge away when she saw him picking through the device's remains. After a short search, he found what he was looking for and held it up to her, looking at her as if she should know what it was.
"What is it?"
"This," he replied, dropping it into her outstretched palm, "is a tracking device, implanted factory standard on all ShinRa equipment. It's been transmitting our location to ShinRa all this time and the lead we thought we had on them is no longer quite as large as you and I might like. We have little time."
He took a deep breath, before divesting himself of his flannel over-shirt. With graceful ease, he made a makeshift sling to hold the sword across his back. Meanwhile, Aeris just stood there, completely flustered by his cold and imperious manner while gaping at her scattered belongings. She couldn't muster the words she needed and her irritation was further inflamed by what he said next, as she hadn't register that he was actually trying to save her life.
"I suggest you take only what you can carry." He paused when she didn't move to do what he said immediately, "Well? Get a move on. I did mention we didn't have much time."
Aeris flushed, and begrudgingly began to assemble only what she'd need. The large pack she'd taken would be too cumbersome, so she emptied the knapsack she used to hold all her herbal remedies. She packed only what she needed, just as he said, with the exception of a few personal items she refused to part with. Her fast compliance to his demand surprised him. She wasn't in the mood to feel any triumph over that.
Frankly, she was still irritated with him and a little scared of the machines he'd defeated. And if she were to believe him, more of those things were on the way. Shivering at the thought, she nearly jumped out of her skin when his hand clamp around her wrist. He twirled her around into his arms, holding her tightly as he took to the sky without a sound. In truth, she was far too afraid to be irritated with him and instead hung on for dear life, burying her face in the crook of his neck.
The way they were traveling was bone jarring, skipping from tree branch to tree branch as they were. And holding her like he was it was harder to execute a smooth stride, much less his usual effortless landings. Add to this the fact that they had to move quickly and decisively, it made for a very bumpy ride...for Aeris anyway. To his credit, Sephiroth's pace had put them far ahead of the ShinRa, though she could hear the whine of distant helicopters as they covered the glade they'd just left.
After taking several peeks, Aeris soon felt bold enough to lift her head a bit to gaze out at the horizon as she held onto her companion a little tighter.
Special thanks to my beta reader, Ardwynna Morrigu. As well as my French beta, Rhyein. Thanks for all the help guys! For real!