Renegade Hearts
Chapter 9: Aerith's Ways

The woman stood quietly at the train station, watching as the train departed. As it disappeared from the horizon, she finally turned her green gaze to the rest of the scenery. Dust blew along the red cobblestones. A desolate place…


She turned, pink dress whipping in the wind about her slim body. When she saw the object of interest, she smiled and raised an arm in greeting. "Yuffie? Hello!"

The ninja who'd called her name sprinted up to the woman, practically attacking her. "You're here! You made it! But… why'd you come on the train? I thought Cid was flying you here – cheap bastard. He didn't bother, did he." Yuffie narrowed her eyes. "I should've known…"

Aerith laughed, and gently slapped the girl's hand as an admonishment for her language. "Actually, he took me here. He just had to check on Merlin, had some unfinished business or something-"

"Unfinished business, eh…" Yuffie scowled. "Drinking partners more like. So… he ditched you at Merlin's?"

"Yeah. And Traverse is so big now it was easier to get the train here than walk all the way." Glancing around, the girl's eyes widened as she took in the appearance of Yuffie's companion; but somehow, Riku felt that she'd already known he was there, and was simply biding her time for the right moment. "Who would this be?"

Yuffie smiled, one that reached those indigo eyes for the barest moment, then the spark fled – obviously still irritated with him. He stepped up, trying to ignore the pain in his leg, and held out one leather-clad hand. "I'm Riku. Hello."

"Riku? Ah, you're Sora's friend! How are you?" The girl smiled brightly, and kept up the small chatter, and it all felt so, so false as they exchanged greetings and walked from the platform.

Yuffie ran to put a kettle on to boil as soon as the three of them were standing in the hall of her tiny house, calling behind her cheerily to 'make yourselves at home', as though Riku hadn't been doing any such thing these past weeks. So he shrugged off the long leather coat he'd worn against the icy wind, accepted Aerith's red one, and turned to hang them both on the brass hooks just inside the door. Dimly, he noted that that showed she used to get a lot of company, and company that wasn't Cloud – the blond swordsman hadn't bothered hanging up his jacket, instead dropping it to the floor wherever he sat before the fire. This was only a passing thought, however, as he felt those large green eyes boring into his back, calculating and coolly in control.

Limping into the kitchen area, he made a brusque movement with his hand without looking at Aerith; he didn't need to, she followed after a moment with just the signal. Somehow, he didn't feel comfortable talking to her. Maybe it was the way she kept looking at him, judging him…

"Your leg's hurt."

Riku winced. Really. "Yuffie's mostly fixed it." He managed to force out awkwardly, cursing all attentive women and angry young girls, however unfair it might sound. The heat had stung a little when he first walked into the room; odd, but he supposed the cold had numbed it.

"Could I take a look?" The woman asked. She was obviously a healer, and was homing in already on his leg.

He flushed. She just asked to look at my leg. More specifically, the upper part of my leg. "Oh, dear, I don't think I'm quite ready for that – we just met!" He declared with a flourish, dramatically passing his hand over his eyes.

"Ouch. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow." Unbeknownst to the silver-haired youth, the resident ninja of the house had just come up behind him. She'd also obviously developed psychic powers, and had taken the liberty to cleanse his head of those thoughts using physical force.

Yuffie scowled darkly at the flirting boy. "Just let her take a look. It'll only be a minute. And it's not like you'll have to strip or anything – Aer's too professional for that."

Cornered. Drat. So he stood, and let the woman approach him, and watched Yuffie out of the corner of his eye, noting the flush that had settled over her cheeks until the newcomer called his attention again.

Green eyes held him in place with their tranquility, somehow – that was how it felt, anyway. And she did a funny thing with her hand, and some weird green light glowed, and he still found it strange even though he'd experienced and cast Cura a thousand times before, but still –

It seemed this friend of Yuffie's healed slightly differently to other people he'd fought with; or maybe that was the difference, that he'd never had enough time in battle for the healer to lay cool, calming hands on either side of his head. But Riku was pretty sure that he'd never actually been talked to during the process…

Hmph. Seems more like you need to forgive yourself first.

the hell?

You didn't need to say something like that. I said, before you can get someone else's forgiveness, which it's plain as Merlin's beard that's what you want, you need to get over your little infatuation with self-blame.

Easy for you to say. Her comment stung a little, in turn making him bitter – he sounded like a petulant child! You never turned evil.

Puh-lease. Somehow, the healer's mind-voice conveyed irony. Get over the obsession with darkness, and it'll make everyone a lot happier. Yourself included. Have you ever tried to simply walk in the light, leave all your troubles for a little while and enjoy life for what it is? And don't you dare, she added sternly as he tried to push into the odd conversation, try to tell me this is cheap fake happiness talk. It works. I know it does.

Give me proof, then.

Dimly, outside the recesses of his mind, he heard the brunette laugh a tinkling laugh, but he was more focused on what was going on inside his head. Just look at Cloud. Yuffie. Yourself, occasionally, but I didn't say that.

Abruptly, it was over, and he shook his head in sudden confusion. His temples where her hands had rested felt suddenly cool. "What just happened?" he asked Aerith directly, giving her a wary, sideways glance. There was some sort of muffled sound from Yuffie, but when he looked in her direction, her face was impassive.

Whatever. She's not gettin' her little healer hands on me again. I like my thoughts the way they are, nice and private and mine.

It was probably a good thing Riku wasn't in Aerith's mind, on the other hand, right now. He may have been very, very scared. Especially in the direction Aerith's thoughts were going, with him and Yuffie…

"Riku, pass the sauce, please."

The blond in question was simply standing before the Accessory Shop, blinking. Once. Twice. Three times –

"– y' mothafuckin' moogles, get yer lazy arses up that there ladder quicksmart before I take a bloody gummi to your behinds –"

"Oh, god."

Cid spun, nearly losing his straw. "Cloud! Mate! Haven't seen ya for ages!"

Cloud blinked again; he was quickly losing any semblance of intelligence he'd possessed. "You're back." He noted, and a moogle quickly shoved a small keychain into his hands – 'Mr. State-the-Obvious' was inscribed on it. He threw it at the creature's head with barely a withering glare and turned back to Cid. "You're back." He said again.

Cid raised an eyebrow as the moogle tried to return the keychain – "It's on the house, kupo!" – and spoke.

"Yeah. I'm back. Where's the Yuffsters?"

The Battle of the Eyebrows had officially begun; the Buster Blade wielder raised both his, one a little less than the other, giving him a very quizzical yet attractive appearance that was only slightly marred by the fact that one blond spike was currently sporting a curious little keychain courtesy of the moogles. "She's at her place. Where she always is. Did you come back for the anniversary?"

Cid waggled his own formidably expressive eyebrows and spat around his straw. "Hardly an anniversary. Aer's come to see her." He waggled his eyebrows so quickly they blurred, and Cloud blinked stupidly yet again.

"Right. Ah. Okay. Well. See you around, Cid."

"Right. Okay – Merlin! Get over here, Cloud, don't even think about walking away, go get some drinks, you've gotta stick around, you wouldn't believe the shit this guy's been through! One helluva tale, I'll tell you!"

Cloud's face was expressionless, still eyebrows and all; inner Cloud cried silently as he was bound with the ruthless fetters of obligatory free drinks and old men's tales.

Aerith blinked suddenly, going very still, hands folded in her lap. "Where does Cid usually drink, Yuffie?" She asked, deceptively calm tone signifying a storm brewing underneath and, perhaps, some extrasensory psychic powers picking up on a distress call somewhere.

Yuffie paused, mouth full with half a chicken barbeque kebab. "A' hish shed. Gummih sho'." She said uncertainly and more than a little incomprehensibly.

"At his shed, the Gummi shop? I see. Thank you." And with that, she rose and left the table regally.

Riku stared after her, then turned to gape at Yuffie, who shrugged. "Dun' look at me. I didn't raise her." She told him petulantly, leaning over and grabbing a few slices of fresh bread.

The boy shook his head, understandably confused by the goings on of the past two hours or so.

Peace reigned that night, and the next day was a non-committal blur for Riku. He found that no matter what he said to Yuffie, she always responded in a neutral tone; a pleasant change from the vicious attacks of the previous days. While she never commented on his endeavours to do more about the house – ironing had never been his forte or his passion, and he believed that she'd better be damned grateful that he'd even bothered to try and only singed one tablecloth – her attitude toward him softened dramatically.

Aerith's almost sickening sweetness and understanding may have helped a few things along a bit. When Yuffie nearly blew her fuse at Riku for taking all the cereal that morning, it was she who stepped in with her brief words of wisdom and prevented what would normally have been an inevitable fight.

It was enjoyable, the young man thought, relaxing in the hallway that afternoon after a particularly difficult struggle with the mold in the shower. Aerith had gone out a little earlier, and Yuffie had confined herself in her room, no doubt rugged up and polishing the bloody shuriken yet again. Leaning back on the wall for a moment, arms crossed and brilliant eyes lidded in tiredness, he reflected that it almost felt like a family, almost felt like being back on the islands.

Footsteps sounded on the stone floor, and Cid glanced up to see Aerith enter his shop daintily, closing the door gently behind her.

"Hello, Cid. I see you've settled in again." She greeted the gruff straw-haired man with a sweet (but certainly vicious – something the man seemed to miss) smile which he responded in kind.

"Well, m'workers have kept the place up 'n going for me, Aer," he told her, wiping hands on a leather apron and coming out from behind the counter. He'd clearly missed his work. "I think I'll come back 'ere when I've flown you back to the Bastion." She inclined her head in acqueisance. "How's Yuffie?" He asked her.

"She seems to be okay; a little at odds with the youth she's taken in however," the flower-girl said, inspecting some delicate jewellry in a display. Green eyes met startled blue ones; he hadn't known of Riku.

Quickly she sketched in what she'd heard of the arrangement from Cloud, and what she'd deduced from a few hours in the house. "They just seem to be opposites. She says one thing, he'll go and do another. I think it's driving the both of them crazy. I know right now they hardly talk to each other." She finished up.

Cid grinned. "Tha's just Yuffie with anyone. Give 'em some time. You know," he winked, "Opposites attract, Aer."

They both laughed. Then Aerith sobered suddenly again. "That's true, but…"

"But what?" Somehow, Cid managed to miss all the warning signs of an impending explosion.

"They need to have sex, goddammit!" Aerith shouted furiously, all of a sudden.

Cid froze, eyes comically wide. His mouth worked but no sound came out.

Aerith blinked and glanced at him, smiling prettily. "What?" She asked of his stunned appearance.

The blond pilot shook his head jerkily, making a note never to cross Aerith, and never, ever to go against her plans. To do so would mean a cruel and inevitable death. She had rarely snapped like this before him, and he, shaken, hoped fervently that she would never do it again.

…I fall to my knees and beg forgiveness. Sorry, Ann. A thousand times sorry.

Kind of shitty, short, disjointed, out-of-character, comedy-slash-serious, bullshitting chapter. Next chapter I think I need some action – possibly romantic, definitely sparring. Someone needs to fight, to break up the monotony of life. Riku and Yuffie spar next? That sounds good to me. I'd love to see Aerith fight, actually, with her bo staff or sommat. Superwoman Aerith makes her appearance. As if Aerith never acts like that. Probably wrote one of my favourite scenes in this chapter – where Cloud notices that Cid's back. XD And I'll leave it up to your imagination as to what happened to poor Cloud. However was the obligated blond rescued? But, in my defence, I'm quite pleased with my editing of the previous chapters. For editing, it really does help to leave it for a while. Here's hoping this is liked.