Heaven is Place

A place where nothing

Nothing ever happens

--The Talking Heads

The bright summer sky stretched over her as a welcoming breeze rippled through the sun-dappled field. The long grass bowed its head in reverence as this simulacrum of life did its best to give peace. For the departed, this illusion was a way station because most mortal souls had a hard time giving up life, as they knew it. It was normal to spend some time in the in-between and after a time the departed would adjust and move on. There was more happiness to be had as a pure soul, without the constraints of mortality. It was supposed to be heaven but for one soul it held no joy, no peace. All it held was emptiness. Aeris Gainsborough was not happy and consequently, she had not moved on.

It had been three years since she'd given her life to save her home, given up all she knew and loved to save the planet. Three long, bitter years...in the world of the in-between it seemed much longer. Her death had been a willing sacrifice. Aeris knew very well what she'd be leaving behind but she still did it because it was the right thing to do: The life of the one to save the lives of many. Aeris had thought she'd made peace with her decision and she was more than ready to accept the consequences.

Once she'd ascended, she'd found out how wrong she was. There was too much of her life she'd left unlived, her hopes and dreams lay unfulfilled. She had tried so hard to be happy, to find away to ascend but it eluded her and, as time passed, she became more and more reluctant to find a way to leave the illusion behind. This allowed doubt to take hold of her.

The Promised Land was filled with such peace and contentment; the powers that be were baffled by the former flower girl's behavior. For the average soul, they welcomed heaven's gift and lost themselves in pure joy, leaving behind their earthly form to float aimlessly through the ether. Aeris was not an average soul and she had not let go. She steadfastly refused to move on and by her will alone, resisted the temptation to ascend to the next level. She was waiting for the one she'd left behind: Cloud. His name evoked sweet memories and regret. It would not be heaven without him and she was determined to stay in the in-between until he came.

Unable to contact him from heaven and without any of her earthly possessions, she used her memories of him as an anchor to give her own physical manifestation strength. Everyday she would wander the in-between and recount all that she could remember about him. His eyes, the way his lips would curl up so fetchingly when he smiled at her, the even sound of his voice, and that unruly mop of blond hair. She'd often tease him about using more hair care products than she did. The memory made her smile sadly. And so, Aeris wandered the fields of the Promised Land, attached to these memories and unable to fully integrate into her new reality. The joyful girl her companions had known was a shadow of her former self. She was lifeless and incomplete; nothing more than a wandering soul.

The other cetra around her flitted in and out to check up on her, as they had the benefit of being able to switch between realms, unlike human souls. Aeris too would have this gift, if she had accepted her place in heaven, as she should have. Her mother, Ifalna was especially concerned and became increasingly worried about her daughter's stability. Aeris could not remain a wandering soul, not without unpleasant consequences, and Ifalna had used all her resources to try and convince the girl to move on. Ifalna understood the power of love, but it did not behoove the young girl to wait needlessly. Aeris had much of her father in her, like him she could be stubborn and immoveable when it came to her desires. Having given up so much, Aeris felt that there should have been more of a reward than... this.

Her reward would not come. At least, not the one she really wanted. Heaven rarely resurrected those who'd given their lives to serve it. The only gift Aeris was to receive was an honorary spot in the highest choir. It saddened the elder cetra to see their youngest and most blessed member suffer so. There was nothing they could do, the planet had not failed in its duty to their daughter-- she did not want to receive its gift.

It was more than just her determination to wait for her lost love, but the hate she held in her heart for the one she felt did this to her. He'd forced her hand. If it hadn't been for him, she wouldn't have had to sacrifice herself in the first place. His name was hateful to her and she refused to say it out loud but it was always behind her lips whenever she counted her regrets. He had taken her life in more than one way. He had taken everything from her.

Deep in her heart she knew it was wrong to place all the blame on one head, but she was still human. A broken heart needs a reason for its grief. A focal point that leads to the source of its sorrow and for Aeris this was Sephiroth. She had always prided herself on being a forgiving person but he what he had done... it would be asking too much, even from her. Her hate for him had become a scar on her heart, a twin to the one she bore on her body.

Aeris lay on her back, face to the sky in the midst of the Elysian Fields. The day was warm, as it always was; the flowers were bright and blooming all around. Beauty surrounded her but she felt nothing. Her fingers curled around tangled bits of grass as she thought; nails digging deep into the dirt as she closed her eyes and sighed before getting up. Her mother had lectured her about getting on with it. Move on, Aeris. How could she move on? Just forget about how much she loved Cloud? Forget her friends and their time together? She wouldn't, she didn't care if she rotted away into nothingness. She wouldn't betray her friends that way. Cloud had remembered her. They had remembered her and she would remember all of them.

If she couldn't have life, then she'd hold onto what she did have: this strange in-between world and her own ghostly body. It was her new home and she had accepted that. Aeris had always made the best of bad situations. With sudden determination, Aeris strode through the field, angry that she'd been over-thinking things again. It happened whenever she was still, which was much of the time. There wasn't really that much to do in heaven, surprisingly. Dwelling on the pain wasn't doing her any good; it made her chest ache and her head hurt, if indeed they even could anymore.

The only thing that would cut through the onslaught of sorrow was mind numbing repetitive activity; walking, skipping stones in the nearby pond, sometimes swimming, running until her body ached, just to forget about the pain.

Putting one foot in front of the other, Aeris moved soundlessly through the long grass. Despite being here for three years, she was still disconcerted about the lack of wild life. The fields seemed so dead without the song of the birds or the chirping of crickets. Perhaps she'd have been less lonely if she had something to keep her company, even if it was only one little bird. Surely paradise held a place for birds or perhaps birds had their own version of heaven.

The thought amused her and she smiled genuinely for the first time in three long years. Yes, she decided there must be a heaven for birds. It would of course be devoid of humans, with plenty of bugs and seed to eat and lots of high trees. Carried forward by this happy thought, she walked a little faster. She remembered back to when she first came here. Her body had been so weak she could barely walk a mile without getting out of breath. The fact that she no longer needed to breathe was not lost on her but her memory of life was strong. Now she had little difficulty walking long distances. She no longer struggled, her body trained by her repetitive walks as she explored the Promised Land. Cloud would be very proud of how far she'd come, as she'd been quite the burden on their journey. She'd been so weak back then.

The day before she'd gone farther than she'd ever gone before, towards a series of rolling hills that piqued her interest. Today she hoped to go beyond those hills. Exploring had been the one thing that had kept her spirits up. She looked forward to finding some new wonder just over the horizon because it helped her forget her sorrow, even if it was only for a moment.

As she walked, her heart lightened, her gait becoming less a determined march and more of a lazy stroll. There was something over those hills and she was eager to find out what it might be; perhaps a lofty mountain ridge or maybe a waterfall? Aeris grinned; she hoped it was a waterfall, one of the really big impressive ones. She'd never had the chance to see one when she was alive, and she'd guessed that even an imaginary one would be better than nothing.

Whistling, Aeris skipped down the well-trodden path, occasionally stopping to look for flat skipping stones. She'd have to find something to do after she found out what was over those hills. With determination, she made her way up the first hill, her legs straining at bit as the incline increased. Aeris didn't mind the mild discomfort; it was worth the effort because she was sure over these hills lay something new, something that would change the dull canvas of the afterlife, turning its muted pastels into sweeping strokes of vibrant color. Her pessimistic side chided her: Why be so hopeful? The Promised Land had been nothing but one big disappointment; there was little point in hoping that it would have anything else to offer. It had been three years after all, if there was something new she would have found it already. Aeris had let that side rule her heart and her mind for too long; with a pout she banished those thoughts. She had no need for negativity, adventure and an end to boredom was at hand and once she'd made up her mind, nothing could stop her.

The trail that led through the hills was endless or at least it seemed that way. Mile after mile of rolling expanse, topped by long green grass that shifted in the wind, leaves whisking together to form a whisper. It urged her on, despite being a bit fatigued at this new exercise. She was used to long walks, but the demanding nature of walking in hilled areas was new to her. From time to time when she was out of breath or felt like she might be over heating, she'd stop and sit. Sometimes she'd go picking through the grass to look for stones. She'd already located quite a few smooth, flat rocks that she looked forward to skipping later on. The others she'd found had just caught her eye. Having a particular color she liked or an unusual pattern that had intrigued her. She'd found so many that she found it hard to carry them in her hands.

In heaven she was given her own heavenly robes, despite the fact that she had expressed interest in keeping her old clothes from her time on earth. But her heavenly watchdogs had insisted that as a denizen of heaven, willing or no, she'd have to don heavenly robes. It was tradition or something. Annoying, but Aeris had relented. Today she'd worn a lavender tunic which was slit on either side near her hips. It had long sleeves, and, when worn properly, they hid her hands from view entirely. Aeris had rolled them up because she was a bit warm and it made picking up rocks much easier. The high mandarin collar was unbuttoned so that it exposed a bit of her chest and much of her neck. Once again she had dared to disobey dress code in favor of comfort. Not like anyone was there to nag her about it anyway. Underneath the long tunic she wore a pair of matching loose fitting pants. So she felt quite safe when gathering the ends of the tunic to use it as a makeshift bag to carry all her rocks. Surely any of paradise's guardians would disapprove of her behavior. She had met only two and they seemed fairly fussy about such things but Aeris hardly cared. Let them come down and lecture her about how she ought to hold herself as a self-respecting member of heaven. She had no compunctions about flinging one of her rocks at them if they did.

Left hand clutched around the end of her dress, she scaled the tallest hill. Walking was now more difficult with a dress-ful of rocks but she wouldn't part with one of the only things that gave her a measure of happiness. The climb up was tough and once on top, she paused for a minute to take in the view. It was in a word: breathtaking. Eyes full of wonder, Aeris turned around to take in the full view. Behind her lay the Elysian Fields, rolling out like an endless green carpet. Before her the same field unfolded, however unlike Elysium this field had a definite end. Not long after these very hills ended, the grass died and in its place was cracked, grayish earth. Growing green withered to dead brown as it was choked off by the barren dust of a great desert and between the end of Elysium and the beginning of the desert lay a wide river, its water so dark it looked almost black.

Aeris stared in open curiosity as she'd never seen anything like this in all her time here. It looked so desolate, very unlike the pleasant comfort of the Promised Land. She found it odd that something like a desert would exist in a land of peace. Who in the world would consider a barren plain heaven? Aeris shrugged, different people like different things. She paused, if there was a desert maybe there was another person like her. After all, she had created this version of heaven -- wouldn't it be possible that perhaps she had run into someone else's?

Scanning the horizon, Aeris searched for anything that might approximate life. A sudden movement caught her attention and her heart leaped. She squinted her eyes, barely making out a flicker of movement in the desert beyond. Straining her eyesight as much as she could, she had to be sure she wasn't just dreaming it. Yes, something... No, someone was moving down there. She could faintly see the form of another person down there; it was too hard to accurately guess gender from this far. Aeris didn't much care if it was a man or a woman, she was just glad to finally see someone else.

Souls came and went so fast in heaven that she hadn't really spent much time with anyone. Only her mother visited, but very rarely. No one had ever stayed with her for any length of time in the three years she'd been here. It was a vain hope to think that there might be another who was just as stubborn as she. It was so lonely. She'd never admit that to her mother or anyone else, but she couldn't help but feel it. Aeris at heart was a people person and she realized that she might have been drowning on sorrow because she was alone.

"I knew something would change", she whispered silently to herself.

Clutching her dress so that the rocks inside wouldn't spill out, Aeris made her way down the hill as fast as she could. Her heart pounded with every bobbling step, long ponytail banging against her back as she went. Trotting to a stop as she came to the bottom of the hill, Aeris once again surveyed her surroundings. Her heart that, moments ago, was filled with hope turned to trepidation and fear. With great effort, she willed her feet to move forward, her slippers crunching softly on the ground as they moved from life to death.

The desert beyond seemed more ominous now that she was closer to it. Even the river she'd spotted from above was tainted with menace and ill omen. Her instincts were screaming at her to leave this place. There was something not quite right about it, something fearful that was best left alone. Heaven's creatures did not belong here. Turning back seemed like a good idea, a logical idea. Aeris had never been much for logic, but she'd always trusted her instincts. They had very rarely led her astray. They led her to Cloud and out of Midgar.

Yes, but they also led you to the Ancient City and your death, she thought to herself bitterly.

Instincts would get her nowhere and what did she have to fear? She was already dead, not like she could get any deader and coming this far only to turn back was not only cowardly but downright silly. There was nothing for her to be afraid of and if she left she'd never know what was beyond Elysium.

Summoning all her courage, Aeris plodded forward until her feet stopped right at the edge of the river. Her eyes scanned the shore, looking for something that would allow her to cross. She was disappointed when she found nothing. No rock, no tree, nothing. In fact there was a terrible lack of vegetation surrounding the river. The water itself wasn't just dark -- it was black and the surface had an oily sheen to it. Aeris got the disturbing impression that it wasn't normal water at all; that it was something else entirely; something she probably wanted nothing to do with. Swimming was out of the question. With no way to get over, Aeris frowned pacing in frustration while she figured out what to do. Each stride took her farther down the bank.

A short ways away she spotted what looked to be a vase or jar. It was decidedly out of place. Curious, Aeris walked over to it. Squatting down, she examined the jar. It was a medium sized and made of red clay, with a wide neck that tapered and bulged towards the base. The mouth was wide enough for her to clearly see the contents and Aeris couldn't resist the urge to peer inside.

The inside of the jar was full of small golden coins the likes of which Aeris had never seen. She carefully reached a hand in, eager to get a better look at the new mystery in front of her. Her fingers just brushed the coins and she was about to grab one when something like an electric shock made her draw her hand out. Rubbing her fingers, she looked at the vase with apprehension.

"What in the..." she whispered quietly, her eyes widening as letters wrote themselves across the surface of the pot, effectively answering her question. Cocking her head, she read them out loud. "Do not take what is not yours. If you wish to cross, drop in a coin for the ferryman."

Aeris looked around for a source -- the power behind those words -- but found none. The Promised Land was a strange place and she'd gotten used to some of the things that would happen here. Entire views transforming at will, the disappearing souls, but nothing like this had ever happened. She wondered briefly if she'd gone mad. Shrugging her shoulders, she decided to go for it.

"I don't have a coin! And where's the ferryman?" She queried loudly, her voice sounding thin and raspy from lack of use.

But the words on the pot had disappeared and no new ones had taken their place. Aeris was about to lose her temper when she felt a mist wrap around her hand, and when it disappeared she felt an extra weight in her palm. Uncurling her fingers, she held up her hand to examine the gold coin that shone in the very center of her palm. Rolling it forward, she held it up for further scrutiny.

There was very little in the way of decoration on the coin, so unlike the gil she'd used in her own world for money. One side of the coin depicted a pomegranate that had been opened as if someone had prepared to eat it. Next to the open fruit were three of its seeds. Above the image was there was inscribed text that Aeris could not understand. Nevertheless she mouthed the words silently. Sic transit gloria mundi. Tilting her head and wrinkling her nose, Aeris wondered what it meant. Perhaps she'd ask her mother the next time she saw her. Turning the coin over, she examined the other side, on it was a death's head and Aeris shivered.

Licking her lips, she pondered what she ought to do. Obviously she now had a coin and the pot had said to drop it in to pay the ferryman. But she saw no ferry and for that matter, she saw no man.

"Hell, what could it hurt?!" she said to herself, a little surprised that she said it out loud.

With a shrug, Aeris tossed the coin inside the jar and waited. Before her a translucent platform appeared, hovering just above the river. Aeris wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. The pot had said to pay the ferryman, and truthfully she had thought that perhaps a boat would appear. At least, that's what she had expected.

"Get on."

She jumped at the sound like a frightened chocobo. Her eyes were wide and once again, she looked around for the source. Should she trust it? What if she got on that platform and it dumped her into that awful river? The thought of having that oily water touch her skin sent waves of revulsion through her. For a moment she argued with herself, finally deciding that she just being childish, reminding herself that she had nothing to fear. Trusting a voice and the strange words written on a pot was a dangerous proposition, but at the same time, she had no reason to think it was lying to her. Nothing in the Promised Land had hurt her thus far; therefore what harm could come of a little faith?

She heaved a great sigh, tentatively placing a foot on the platform. It sunk with her weight a little, but after that it held firm. Satisfied that there was no trick to it, she stepped onto the platform without a trace of fear. From beneath her, the platform gave off a sudden burst of purple light, causing Aeris to gasp in alarm. As the glow subsided, she noted a strange symbol that wasn't there before she'd stepped on the platform. It looked like one of the mandalas she'd seen while she was in Cosmo Canyon -- a circle made of ancient writing with a cross inside of it. At each point of the cross was a heart shaped point, and when she squinted, the hearts almost looked like hands.

"Follow your heart, daughter of life," said the voice, as if expecting her to be confused about what to do.

Aeris bit back a sarcastic response and looked back down at the platform. It was obvious the voice was referring to the hearts on the mandala. It wouldn't move until she'd select which way she wanted to go, the hearts weren't just decoration. They were arrows. Now the real question was, how in the world did she select a direction? The platform had been activated when she'd put both feet on it, perhaps she steered the thing in the same way. Cautiously, she placed both feet on the heart that pointed directly across to the other side of the river. The heart glowed brilliant green and suddenly the platform moved across the river with soundless ease.

Aeris found it disturbing to look down and see the surface of that river so closely. The black water rippled slightly as the platform made its way across. The smell that came off it was like death itself and reminded Aeris of the carrion she'd seen in the desert surrounding Gold Saucer. Her stomach roiled and just when she thought she might lose it, the trip ended and she gratefully retreated to solid ground. She was not looking forward to the ride back. Shaking out the nervous tension, she put as much room between herself and the river as she could.

The desert wasn't nearly as ominous as the river had been. It was certainly desolate; without flower or tree, bush or grass. All around her was an endless plain of cracked earth. Aeris plodded forward, determined to find the figure she'd seen on the hill despite her mounting fear. Mile after mile she walked and still she found nothing but earth. Occasionally she would see a glint of light in her peripheral vision but when she turned around, there was nothing. It alarmed her, angered her and scared her all at the same time. Her imagination was getting the best of her and she knew it, but it was hard to stop herself from jumping at shadows. This place was unlike her heaven.

Her hair and clothes were caught by a sudden gust of wind. It buffeted her with sand lifted from the ground. Aeris stopped to turn her head away, protecting her eyes and exposed skin from the rasping wind. It passed and Aeris opened her eyes, brushing the stray strands of hair from her face. It struck her once again how terribly barren the place was and she couldn't help but wonder what kind of person would have such a bleak version of heaven as this. She began to think that this might not be a part of the Promised Land at all.

Heaven had been a place of limitless views. Anything you desired to see that was within its grasp to give you, it gave without fault and without flaw. If Aeris had wanted to see a desert, the Promised Land would gratefully oblige. It would produce a perfect copy of any desert she pleased, real or imaged. It could be as alive as Cosmo Canyon or as dead as the Corel Valley. But always there was a sense of peace pervading it. True, she didn't always want to feel the comfort that Elysium offered but it was always there. Though she'd never admit it, that sense of peace and tranquility was all that kept her from going crazy.

This place held no serenity. There was only emptiness; true emptiness. No matter how unhappy her afterlife had been, what she felt in her heart could not compare to the isolation she felt while in this desert. It was full of fear and pain, none of it from her -- it surrounded her like a cold, wet blanket. With each step, it became increasingly obvious that this was not a part of the Promised Land; this was no one's heaven.

She felt that urge to shrink away and her inner voice told her once again that she did not belong. This was no place for her, no place at all. She had been walking already for forty-five minutes and had found no sign of the figure she'd spotted on the hill. Something was wrong; terribly, terribly wrong. Common sense finally kicked in and she resolved to leave. There was nothing for her here. Despite the loss she felt over her former life, the warm fields of Elysium suited her better than this wasteland.

As she was about to turn around a ripple of multicolored light danced just in front of her, not three feet away from where she was standing. Aeris rubbed her eyes and blinked, hoping that she was just seeing things. Then it happened again. The light was entrancing, one color and many all at once; a vibrating rainbow that seemed beautiful and deadly all at once.

Her heart beat faster as she realized that something was trying to lure her farther into the desert. She tried in vain to back away, the rational side of her mind urging her to run but she could not tear her eyes away from the vision. She was transfixed and her feet moved without her order. Devoid of her own will, Aeris walked towards the light in a trance. She didn't gain control of her body until she stood right in front of it, eyes blinking slowly as she continued to take in its radiance.

Curiously, she found that it wasn't a light at all but the midday sun, glinting off the slick surface of a wall which had remained invisible to her until she was close enough to it to discern the illusion. It seemed it had been camouflaged to mimic its surroundings so well that she could barely tell the difference between it and the landscape even now.

Lifting a trembling hand, Aeris touched the wall uncertainly. The surface was cold and smooth as she ran her hand across it. She stared at it wonderingly, a million questions bombarding her open mind. Who would make such a wall and why? Eyes narrowed in thought, she traced the surface with her finger. Walls were meant to keep things out... or to keep things in. So it was a question of what they wanted to hide from her. Was the wall meant to keep her out or was it meant to protect her from something?

Either way it angered her.

She was no child, no china doll.

Her appearance had always worked against her. Tifa had called her a girly-girl. It was a compliment and an insult at the same time. She knew her friend meant no harm but it silently irritated her. Sure, she liked to wear dresses and preferred not to get dirty. She did her hair and always tried to look her best, but that didn't mean she wasn't tough. Sometimes, she had envied Tifa and Yuffie for being able to fit in with the guys better. No one worried about them because everyone knew they could take care of themselves. They had the fighting skills, they had the stamina to keep up with everyone, they wore practical clothes. The mental list was endless.

Aeris had tried hard to pull her own weight but found it difficult. And every time someone had to help her out of a scrape, she cursed herself. The only possible advantage she'd had over anyone was her own stubborn will and her talent with materia. She was better at casting magic than the lot of them. That, at least, was something to be proud of.

Even so, she resented the special treatment she received on earth, and she resented it even more in heaven. It was as if she couldn't escape the aura of girlish innocence, even in death. True, she was not physically strong but it was not always bodily strength that mattered. Sephiroth had been strong -- stronger than all of them. But without her help, he wouldn't have been defeated. She intervened and made it possible for Cloud and the rest to seal his fate. She had called holy and it had destroyed Sephiroth. Her mind got sidetracked, thinking on the last moments of that monster's life. She hoped it hurt. She hoped he was burning in hell right now. Better yet, she hoped holy had destroyed him altogether.

This grim thought settled in her soul and she let the anger overwhelm her heart for a brief moment. Aeris felt a wash of guilt at thoughts that were once so foreign to her. She was sure she'd never have the strength of character to completely forgive the man who killed her but that didn't mean she should abandon all she held dear. He was the pitiless killer, not she.

Laying aside her hatred, Aeris hoped that wherever her killer was that he had found the peace so obviously denied him in life. It was the right thing to do, she thought as she closed her eyes in a small, silent prayer. Sudden warmth blossomed beneath her fingers and the smooth surface of the wall rippled. First the waves were small but soon they gathered strength. The barrier was now alive as the surface undulated mercurially. As the waves broke and fell, the area of wall under her hand began to become clear. The camouflage disappearing where her flesh touched, so that what lay behind was slowly revealed. In circular waves, the barrier was lifted though the surface of the wall remained, though now it was more like glass than stone.

Aeris was too busy being amazed at what she'd done to bother with what lay behind the wall. She was able to affect something, finally. Magic was another thing of the past, one more pleasure she had to give up. She had always enjoyed practicing spells and learning new ones. It was something she was good at and it had made her feel useful. So she was elated to learn that perhaps it wasn't something relegated to her former life. It was something that was still useful here in heaven. She wouldn't be coddled anymore, that was for sure. Whatever lay beyond this wall was of no concern to her. As the planet's savior she had nothing to fear; she had not lost her edge as she thought she had.

Her eyes were fixed on her hand and the illusion that hid the wall disappeared by her will with lightening speed. The barrier was down and Aeris paused to breathe. She'd expended quite a bit of energy on that little trick and it had exhausted her. It had been too long since the last time she'd used magic and she was woefully out of practice. Her concentration was still divided and it wasn't until she noticed a flicker of movement that she remembered why she'd cast the spell in the first place. To find out who or what they were hiding from her.

Still struggling for breath, she lifted her gaze from her hand to look beyond the barrier she'd just opened. Aeris let out a small gasp of surprise and quickly withdrew her hand. Inside the wall, behind a thin barrier of glass lay the vision of her nightmares.

The imposing figure had not noticed her. His eyes were closed and his concentration was focused on the slow and practiced movements of a kata. She could not help but stare as his hands swept the air with long graceful strokes. His feet followed the movement, looking to her eyes like a slow dance of death. Aeris could visualize those same elegant moves, only faster and with deadly intent. It wasn't hard to guess their use and the damage they could cause when used properly.

Her knuckles went white as she stared blankly at the monster beyond the barrier. She choked off the scream that was in her throat, covering it with one trembling hand. Somehow, Aeris managed to hold herself together, just enough to gather her wits and to think of how she was to escape. If she left quietly now, he probably wouldn't even notice that she'd been here. It didn't matter that he couldn't reach her and logically, she knew he couldn't hurt her anymore. Yet the barrier that separated them gave her no comfort, and he would find ways to hurt her. Aeris had clear recollection of his power, and was quite sure, despite lingering doubts, that if he wished to escape he could. His proximity to Elysium was discomforting. If he knew she was here, it'd be no trouble for him to follow her home. He'd find her heaven and he'd wreak his revenge on her.

Aeris tried to keep her mind clear, but thoughts like those kept assaulting her mind: visions of his bloody revenge and that awful smile of his. Her eyes stung and Aeris found it hard to keep herself from letting out a sob. She bit her lip, her hand slipping back down at her side as tears formed in her eyes. She clenched her free hand into a fist, her nails digging into the sensitive flesh of her palm. It left little half moon marks behind but she was beyond caring now. Her whole body shook as she backed away slowly, too afraid to turn her back on her enemy. She wanted to be able to see him at all times. Better to know when he was coming after her than to be attacked unawares.

Her heart beat so fast that she felt like it might just burst and though she tried to keep her breathing regular and even, it came out in quick desperate rasps. Setting one foot carefully behind her, Aeris tried to keep her composure though she realized it was a losing battle.

Without warning, her foot caught on a piece of upturned earth. Her ankle twisted badly as she tried to keep balance, her arms pin-wheeling helplessly in the air before she fell to the ground. The breath was knocked out of her and she landed with a grunt. The rocks she'd been carrying fell around her, some of them landing on her legs and stomach, the rest clattered to the ground, loudly. Aeris lay there for a moment, sprawled on the earth in utter shock. She quickly elbowed herself up, her face struck in horror as those jade eyes opened and pierced into hers.

Aeris was paralyzed as their eyes locked. Her mouth opened and closed in mute terror and she tried desperately to find her voice. Who would hear you scream? Her breathing was ragged and she tried to suck in air with frantic, pain filled gasps but all she could do was stare. He returned her gaze, seemingly as surprised to see her as she had been to see him, though his face wasn't set with fear, but wonder.

Sephiroth moved forward, platinum hair fanning out behind him with the movement. He tilted his head as he placed a hand on the barrier and the surface rippled. Gazing at the terrified girl, waves of emotion flickered through his eyes and Aeris was struck by the change she perceived in them. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something different about the man that stood in front of her. Her curiosity over this change would not stifle the ingrained fear that held her in suspension. All she could see was his hand, the recognition in his eyes, and the ripple he'd caused across the surface of the barrier. He was going to break out. The thought jump started her terror and produced instant panic. Her eyes widened and in desperation, she tried to scramble away from him. Rational thought had been obliterated until there was nothing left but animal fear.

Her attempt to escape was hampered by her own quick, rapid breathing. A voice in the back of her head warned her to slow down or she'd hyperventilate, but by the time she got the message it was too late. Spots danced in her vision and she felt light headed. Aeris fought the gray fog and the darkness it ushered behind it. She wouldn't faint. Not here, not now. Not while that man was so close. There was little she could do. The darkness took her. Her eyes rolled up into the back of her head and her body went limp as she passed out cold.