Chapter 22

Cloud came down to find that the group had assembled at the bottom of the stairs.

"Is everything all right?" Tifa asked.

"How much did you hear?" Cloud looked with anger at the group.

"We heard it all man." Cid said

"What...? Why... Why where you listening!" Cloud's eyes flashed dangerously at Cid, who looked at Cloud with a cool, nonchalant demeanor.

"We where worried." Said Red Xlll.

"So now you know?" Cloud asked, not wanting to believe that his friends had been listening to his private conversation.

"We agree Cloud. We will back your effort to save Aeris from a horrid fate. She does not deserve to die." Vincent spoke softly to Cloud, his eyes gleaming in an odd way.

"Pal, we're with you. You just tell us what to do, and we'll follow it to the letter." Barret rumbled.

"I hate to say this, but I am hungry." Intoned Cait Sith, with a serious look on his small feline face.

"Now is not the time Cait!" warned Red Xlll.

"When will we be going then?" Yuffie posed.

"Well, she said one month... But I don't know if she really meant it." Cloud replied with uncertainty reflected plainly in his voice.

"We will go immediately, if she should leave without our knowing it, so we should be ready." Vincent stated.

"Go idea Vince." Cid gave Vincent a smile, his large teeth gleaming in the hall light.

"Don't call me Vince." Vincent declared, his voice slightly acidic, though he hadn't intended it to come out that way.

"Did I do something wrong?" Cid pleaded, shocked by the tones of anger and pain in Vincent's voice.

"No. I'm sorry I snapped so suddenly. But that name brings back hard memories for me, and I was responding to the memories. You could not have known." Vincent's tone had returned to its usual somber and morose inflection.

"No need to become depressed man. I was just shocked by the resentment in your voice." Cid replied, feeling better that he had not been the one to cause such anger in a usually calm man.

"So, I guess that means that we will be leaving within the month?" Yuffie inquired.

"Yes. Maybe sooner." Cloud said.

"I'll be going too." Cait Sith said, waving his small paws in the air.

"Why would we bring fricken traitor like you with us?" Barret growled at Cait.

"Well... uhh... cause I can tell the future?" Cait said, scrambling to find some reason for them to bring him.

"Bullshit!" Barret said, waving a fist at the cat riding on a moogle doll.

"Barret. That's enough." Cloud graced Cait with a slight look of apprehension.

"I'm not working for them anymore Cloud! Please let me go!" Cait Sith cried, clasping his paws together like a person might.

"You can come, but don't interfere."

"I won't." Cait said, a look of relief filling his eyes.

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Mean while, Aeris had woken up from her emotional slumber her eyes opening, as she stretched.

Then she heard voices down stairs, arguing about something, so she eavesdropped.

"Yes. Maybe sooner." Came a voice that sounded like Cloud

"I'll be going too." What sounded like Cait Sith said.

"Why would we bring fricken traitor like you with us?" Was Barret's obvious reply.

Cait's reply was too quiet to hear, and Aeris cocked her head to try and hear it.

"Bullshit!" Barret said.

"Barret. That's enough." Cloud said as a reprimand to Barret's outburst.

"What're they arguing about?" Aeris thought, getting up to go to the bathroom.

Then it donned on her.

"They all know that I'm leaving! Oh, what am I going to do? This could be a disaster!" She worried, running to go down stairs.

"Maybe I should leave earlier..." Was her last thought before she left her room to go down stairs.

When she appeared at the top of the stairs, the argument quickly died.

"Why's everyone at the bottom of the stairs?" She asked innocently, trying to put a look of curiosity on her face.

"We where... talking." Cloud said, scratching his head.

"About what?" She hazard to ask.

"About... About you."

"Why?"

"Well..."

"Yes?" She said, enjoying teasing Cloud as he tried to come up with an excuse.

"I..."

"You where telling the group about how I was leaving, right?" She smiled with a guiltless smile.

"Yes."

"So, I suppose you've told them that I might not come back?"

"Actually, we heard it while you two where talking in your room." Vincent said, his red eyes gleaming in the light.

"Oh... You listened to our conversation? So... What are you going to do then?" She asked them, her eyes staring at them almost defiantly.

"We plan on following you." Cloud intoned.

"Oh... But I... I asked you to... You shouldn't follow! You need to keep going! Please don't..." Aeris cried, her face full of sadness as she watched the others band together with Cloud.

"We can't let you die Aeris... You're part of the group." Vincent said, his somber voice carrying a slight tone of sorrow in it.

"NO! Please don't come... You're all too stubborn to know what's best... I'll ask you one last time, please don't follow me." She said, her tone going form sadness to defiance.

"We can't let you die! You aren't going to die! You a fool to think that you're going to die." Barret said vehemently, punching his fists toward the ground.

"None of you understand what this is... I have one purpose in this life, and I'm going to fulfill it, whether I die or not! Please understand." She pleaded, her voice trembling as if she where on the verge of tears.

"Yeah! No one's dieing here! I won't allow it!" Yuffie said, pointing an accusing finger at Aeris.

"But..." Aeris began, but Cid interrupted her.

"Little Missy! We, Avalanche won't let you die. As long as the sky's above us we'll be there to protect you."

"You don't under..." Aeris tried again, but Tifa interrupted her this time.

"Of course we understand! You don't want us to feel like we where responsible for you... But we're here for each other, and the group has decided that you're worth saving! So of course we'll help you, even if you might not want it."

"I agree with Tifa... We can't let you go off on your own, and let you get hurt. It would make us feel even more responsible for you if we did... At least if we're there, we can attempt to help." Red said, nodding to Aeris for emphasis.

"Let me explain..."

"Damn it Aeris! Don't you get it? We're here to stay!" Barret growled, hoping that she'd finally see that she had help.

"You don't have to do this alone." Vincent added.

"Will you let me speak?" Aeris almost shouted, but managed to recover before she did.

"Okay, but I don't think that you're going to change our minds." Yuffie said, her tone skeptical, and her eyes full of determination.

"Okay... I was chosen back before time began, to unearth Holy against Meteor. Now, I know that I must go to the Temple, and summon forth its powers to stop the giant rock in the sky from destroying the planet. The thing is that the final part of the Ceremony is to shed the blood of an innocent over the Life Stream... I don't know if death is a requirement but I know that Sephiroth is going to try and stop me... I don't wish to die, but I will if it ensures the safety of the world from Meteor." Aeris replied, trying to explain the situation to the others.

"But you don't know if death is the answer... We should go with you to ensure that you make it to the Temple." Red said, sincerity burning in his eyes.

"I can handle it myself. Really, I'm not as fragile as you all think I am." Aeris chuckled, her sour mood dissolving into her giggles.

"That's not the point Aeris... We're trying to help you get through this, preferably alive." Cloud said.

"But..."

"Really... We want to help." Tifa said.

"I know... But I think it is in your best interest to keep going..."

"We're going, and that's final." Cloud said decisively, ending the argument quickly and efficiently.