Tranquility, from within and without. Things had become a clear spiral pinpoint of light that illuminated her final purpose on this earth. She'd made peace with all the things she'd left undone in this life. Cherished all the things she'd managed to do as fate's clocked ticked and her final bow came closer and closer. Her only regret in life was that she had never truly loved someone, never had her loved returned in the same fashion. None of it mattered in the end. She would die and in dying, sacrifice herself to save the planet. The words were so easy to utter. The thought so simple and neat but it wasn't. She didn't want to die, though she had accepted its inevitability. In her heart of hearts though, she wished that there was a different end to her story. An alternate path for her to take, a solution that she'd not yet discovered, anything but her martyrdom.
She opened her eyes, which were glassy with tears. God, she wanted to cry, to let loose a scream of rage at the unfairness of it all. Take it away... just take it all away... it's too big for me, she begged the planet, hands clasped. Why does it have to be me? Why? I don't want to die... please... The planet hummed back to her, sending her not words but feelings. It sent her images and thoughts of all the beings that crawled over its surface. You aren't a normal girl, it hummed. You are my shepherd, my last caretaker and the only one who can heal me. You must do what is asked of you; else all those who live upon me will suffer. It makes me weep to think that you must do this, but it is the only way. In her mind's eye, she nodded her understanding, finally accepting her role in this play. Fear was set aside, and she prayed: Prayed for absolution, to purge the great sin from her world, and for the healing of an old wound.
A crash came from above, glass shattering as something large broke through the ceiling of the temple. She could feel the glass remnants hitting her shoulders and head. He had come, the man who would murder her. The girl opened her eyes, gazing up lovingly at her friends who could do nothing but gape in horror. She felt the wind as he swooped behind her, his shadow covering her as he raised his sword high. The sharp tip pierced her flesh; gods above it hurt so much. She could feel the pressure of the blade as it entered the small of her back, the steel pushed through exiting through her midsection just above her breast; how easily it slid through her, as if she where no more solid than water. Her thoughts were overcome by the pain. It was all she could see, all she could feel.
It was hard for her to breathe because the strike had punctured at least one lung, if not both. She didn't let it show; somehow the planet gave her enough strength to choke back her own pain. She wouldn't scream, wouldn't cry... not in front of him. That would bring him too much pleasure, he wanted her to. She intended to deny him his moment of triumph. She wanted him to see her face painless and strong, and she wanted it to haunt him. He was the weak one, not her.
The world became a cacophony of sound and blurring lights. Whatever force that had held her companions in silent, horrified limbo released its hold on them. They shouted, someone screamed. The voices were too loud and she had found it too hard to focus on comprehending the words. She could feel his boot on her back as he pushed her off his sword. More pain shot through her body, but it only seemed to serve as an equilibrium. Sliding off the weapon, she slumped and was only saved from hitting hard ground by the quick rescue of one of her friends. His arms were so warm. It'd be okay if she could just die here. In the arms of a friend, though they'd never gotten close enough to be anything but, it didn't matter to her though, he was a friend...a good friend. One regret gone. She had friends at last. No longer was she alone in the world. They might not have understood her, but at least they loved her and accepted her for who she was.
She looked up at him. It was so hard to see. Her other friends had gathered around him, she could feel their presence all around her. She could feel the warmth of the love and care for her radiating outwards, beyond the confines of her mortal body. Everything was tainted black and she could feel her life ebb away, her consciousness slipping from her body and merging with creation; sweet and warm. She was suddenly pierced again, by those cold jade eyes. The cruel sound of his laughter dying away until all was darkness.
Aeris woke with a start, tears streaming down her face. It was that damn dream again. God how I hate it... More precisely, it was a premonition. She knew it. It was a vision of her future and her eventual death, a reoccurring nightmare that had retarded her sleep for years. Aeris wiped at her eyes. Today was her birthday, she turned sixteen if you counted by human years. But she wasn't human; she was Cetra, a shepherd of the planet, guardian of the life stream and the last of her kind. In the years of her people she was quite old, her soul having lived for thousands of years, only born into this shell to serve one purpose. Being the last left behind, she had a sacred duty to perform. To rid the planet of a mistake her people had made before this new race had crawled from their caves.
The crisis from the sky -- it had been her people's down fall. Jenova was the name the Cetra had given it. They had offered it friendship, showed it what they had learned and it had used that knowledge to its own perverse end. Driving her people mad, and nearly destroying all existence. Jenova was a virus, the darkest of entities that envied the light. The Cetra were the source of that light, givers of life. It was only natural that such darkness would be drawn to them, like a moth to a flame.
It gave only death. It took delight in snuffing that flame out and it had taken all the power of the remaining Cetra to stop It. Too weak to destroy the crisis completely, they bound it with the planet's lifestream and buried it deep within the earth. In the end, the planet was saved but at great cost. It seemed Jenova's cruel game had been played quite well. In the deep places beneath the planet's crust, the creature laughed quietly as the line of the Cetra began to dwindle and their power over her prison began to fade. In the end, the crisis had accomplished its mission. The Cetra faded, their power spent and it only had to wait for the moment it would be freed.
It didn't think much of the last remaining descendants of the race that defeated it. After all, there were only two left. Shinra had taken care of the mother and all that remained was her half-breed daughter, a young girl who was ill equipped to wield the final hope – a young girl, who at this moment, shared Jenova's view of the situation.
She understood the dreams were given to prepare her for the times that lay ahead, but she wasn't exactly ready to accept fate as it had been planned. After all, her soul might have been ageless but in mind and body she was still only sixteen.
Aeris sighed, looking out the window at the choked gray sky. Slivers of light were all that managed to get through the giant plate that hung over the Midgar slums. Midgar, was the largest city on the planet, a city of dualities. The view that Shinra, the military rulers of Midgar, liked to promote was the shining silver sections on the top.
The slums underneath this top plate were never discussed. The slums were what allowed the privileged rich to live so well. The slums produced all the products used on top, all the menial workers and servants came from the slums, and the large and dangerous Mako reactors that powered the city were housed in the slums. People below the plate suffered to serve the rich and the only gratitude given to the workers were the piles of garbage that the rich dumped on them in heaps. In Aeris's eyes, Midgar was an eyesore, an abomination that she longed to escape from, but she was only a mere slip of a girl, and the world outside was just as hostile as the world she lived in. She barely held her head above water here, what chance did she have outside?
Aeris looked at her clock, ten after six; it was time to go to work. She slipped out of her night gown which was old and worn, as most of her clothes were. Once disrobed, she quickly dressed for the day. It was early February, and though it had never been very cold in Midgar, it was still chilly enough to layer clothes for warmth. She pulled on a simple cotton dress, its sleeves slightly longer than she liked. Being poor the choice between fashion and comfort was a luxury she couldn't afford. Comfort always won out. Still, there was a slight bit of vanity on her part; after all she was still a sixteen year old girl, despite her odd situation. She buttoned up the dress, looking in the mirror to confirm that she didn't look too horrible.
The dress was pink, her favorite color, as most of her clothing was. Most in the Midgar, particularly slum rats like her, wished to blend in, wearing dark colors that suited the very darkness of the city itself. Aeris did everything in her power not to blend. She was determined to stick out, to be an ocean of hope in the midst of despair. Besides, brighter more hopeful colors suited her better and brought out her bright green eyes.
Satisfied, she strode over to her dresser, digging through her drawers until she found a pair of socks. Plumping herself onto the floor she slid them on one foot at a time. She hopped up, stretching a little to get any remaining kinks out as she looked herself over one final time. The last touch was to brush her hair, pulling it up in a simple pink sash. The sash was special because it had belonged to her real mother. She'd given it to Aeris before she died, and it had a piece of materia attached to it. Her mother had called it the last hope, the white materia. She said it was the only one of its kind and that it was meant for something very special. That it would do great things, just like her brave little girl. Aeris had never understood what her mother had meant by that.
With a last tug, Aeris felt ready to meet the world for another day. Trotting down her stairs, she grabbed her coat, simultaneously putting shoes on while pulling her arms through the sleeves. It had been a habit that her adoptive mother, Elmyra, had always taken delight in. She'd swear to Aeris that one of these days she'd fall over and wallop her head real good. Despite her conviction, it never happened. Aeris seemed gifted with an uncommon grace, which she guessed came from her Cetra heritage. Not that she knew all that much about her ancestry. Her mother died before she could tell her anything. All that she knew had come in were snippets from dreams and nightmares sent to her via the lifestream, and what little information she could glean from the planet's song.
Exiting the small dwelling, Aeris picked up her basket before setting off to gather the flowers she'd be selling for the day. She sighed heavily. It was hard holding the fate of the world on slender teenage shoulders, especially since that duty was so far-reaching and overwhelming. She was so small and her task so big. Aeris tried not to think about it, tried to be positive and not let it bother her, but it did.
Her steps echoed in the quiet morn, crunching on the frost covered ground beneath her feet. Bending down, she began to pick her flowers carefully. Her home was hidden, not many came this far into Sector 5. It was best that it remained so. Being the last of her kind meant she was hunted. Shinra had long been experimenting in areas it had no business digging into.
The legendary power of the Cetra were one, amongst many, they wished to exploit for their own purposes. They'd learned about her existence around three years ago, god knows how they'd found out. Perhaps it was the unnatural field of flowers cultivated in such a barren place. Her flowers bloomed, year round, no matter what the weather. She could grow any kind of flower she wished, from hot house beauties like the orchid to the most common hardy mum. Perhaps it was the stories the locals bandied around about her "knowing" things, speaking to voices that weren't there and healing wounds without materia. When she was younger, she hadn't exactly been careful in hiding some of her innate abilities and people couldn't help but talk, especially when a month's pay was dangled in front of them.
A band of Turks, Shinra mercenaries, had been sent after her so many times she'd lost count. The man they had sent to kidnap her had taken a liking to her right from the start and she hadn't been able to shake him since – stating that she reminded him of someone he once knew. It was disconcerting. His name was Reno, and for one reason or the other, he managed to let her escape each and every time he came after her. She was unsure, to this day, if it was good luck or bad luck to have his good will. Idly twisting a bloom between her fingers, she noted there hadn't been an attempt in some time. She was probably due for a visit any day now.
Slim fingers deftly picked out individual blooms. She smiled as she looked over the riot of flowers that greeted her, heads bowing in the early morning light. Being the steward of the planet had at least a few perks. Her flowers were the only thing that brought her any real joy, though she'd never let her mother or the few acquaintances know it. Her troubles were beyond their care. They were unable to help her, unable to ease her pain much less understand it. If she told them, they'd just call her crazy or offer her comfort and sympathy that couldn't possibly help her, all the while denying the truth of her words. Sixteen year old girls predicting their own doom weren't often taken very seriously, and considering the nature of her peers, she could somewhat understand.
All the same, she tired of the doubt in other people's eyes when she spoke of things she knew to be true. The girl who talked to the planet. The girl who had the uncanny ability to know the future. A freak... and she wondered briefly if there was anyone else in this vast city that felt as miserably alone and misunderstood as she. Probably, Midgar was a city of lost souls. It beat you down, till you had no hope left at all. She suspected it was the atmosphere of this damned city that had been getting to her. Still, she felt a terrible, cloying isolation. Sometimes, she couldn't be sure if it was her own feelings, the planet's or those around her that she felt. Sometimes, she was convinced it was echoes of all three.
She tried to suppress the rising tears and failed. Aeris wept soundlessly as she finished gathering her flowers, clumsily placing them in her basket. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she rose and wiped away her tears for the second time that day. She wouldn't let despair win. It had her by the boots, but damn it all she would fight it, kick out at its clawing fingers. She had to. Each day was a gift and she would enjoy it. Enjoy every last bit of life she had left. Her days were numbered. Enjoy it, while it's yours to live. She smiled, putting on her game face.
Stepping off the train onto the top plate, Aeris shivered, pulling her threadbare coat closer to her tiny body. Selling flowers had never made her much money, just enough to squeak by. With an adoptive mother who'd taken ill and herself and no health insurance, money had been tight. It was lucky that because of her natural gifts as a Cetra she could use her skills to help heal her mother. Medical care was expensive, besides the fact that she put little faith in Shinra's doctors. None of them were as good as her. Not arrogance on her part, only truth. Her magic would never cure her mother's illness, but neither would the doctor's care. It had seemed the last few times she'd used her skills that her mother had gotten incrementally better. It did her good to remind herself of positive things like that.
She walked the streets with purpose, determined to keep her spirits up. There were few people on the streets yet, only a few early risers, like herself, milled about. Once the morning formally started these same streets would be choked to bustling with people.
Aeris let her mind wander while she people watched so she wouldn't dwell on unpleasant thoughts. In a big city like Midgar, it never did well to look at others the way Aeris did. It unnerved people, but this certainly wasn't why she did it. Denizens of the city liked to keep to themselves, staying detached from one another. It was easier and safer. Looking garnered attention and attention was not always what one wanted, especially if it was from the wrong person. Looking was an invitation for the wrong people to mess with you.
Aeris never really cared. Fate had already determined when she died and it was not at the hands of some petty criminal. Fate protected her. At least, that's how she saw it. So she looked and watched and smiled, deciding to be the one friendly face in this cold, lost city. People much busier than her bustled past her, perceiving themselves to be so much more important than a pauper from the slums, like her, and that they knew so little of their place in the universe was enough to make her smile.
The city dwellers blurred, tones of gray and blue and black melding together. A sudden flash of silver caught her eyes. She slowed her pace, staring wide eyed at a young man who passed her, walking in the opposite direction from her own path. He was a little older than her and quite a bit taller, very handsome, with long, shimmering silver hair that caught in the bitter February wind. His unkempt bangs fluttered over skin as colorless as his hair as his gaze turned toward her. She looked at his eyes, cold, hard little lumps of glowing blue-green set in face made of stone. Mako eyes. She ceased movement, her heart hammering in her chest, coloring draining from her face. Her blood turned cold as their eyes met, her face frozen in unadulterated fear. She gasped, dropping her basket in the process. One thought struck her mind, running across it as fast as lightening: "It's him!" The man that had haunted her dreams -- the murderer of her future self. In the moment, all she could do was stare at him, his cold eyes burning into her as she shook in fear. The man eventually broke contact with her, his face reflecting a brief flicker of disdain at her reaction, his long platinum hair still fluttering behind him as he turned away. Unable to help herself, she froze to the spot like a chocobo caught in headlights, only moving once she was sure he was gone.
He left. Thank god, he left, she thought, her body quaking with unrepressed fear.
Tearfully she bent down to pick up her flowers, throwing them back into her basket as quickly as her shaky hands would allow. As the adrenalin high wore off, she realized how silly she must have looked. Having learned long ago that feigning humanity was easier than trusting instinct, she pushed away her fear. There was no way it could have been him. That dream had always been vivid and had often left her shaken for hours afterwards; it was just a natural product of her overactive imagination. Besides, in the dream she'd been older. She just knew it. It wasn't her time yet, even the planet told her so. It couldn't be him. Brushing the encounter off, she picked herself up, dusted herself off and started off towards her destination without putting another thought to the young man who so resembled the murderer in her nightmare.
Though she couldn't see it, the young man had stopped and doubled back. He was an expert in stealth, watching the odd girl curiously as she picked up what was lost and hurried on her own way.
Aeris had managed to keep her emotions in check. She hurried as fast towards her destination, unconsciously trying to put as much room as possible between herself and the man she most definitely hadn't seen. Her destination was Fennyman's Drug and Grocery on the corner of Prairie and 44th. For the last three years she'd sold her flowers there. She had become great friends with the owner, Mr. Fennyman himself. He allowed her a small display space in front of his store. It was an arrangement that was mutually beneficial. People liked her flowers, they were so rarely found in a place of iron and steel. The pretty little girl who sold such lovely flowers had attracted more customers, good for him, good for her. Besides the fact that he thought she was just plain sweet, a quality that many city dwellers lacked. Aeris arrived just as Mr. Fennyman was unlocking his store to start his day. She was still visibly shaken, though she somehow managed not to cry and kind Mr. Fennyman took notice of it. He knew it was unlike cheerful Aeris to look as upset as she did now.
"Morning, Aeris, are you all right?" he asked, unlocking and pushing back the cage that ran across the store's entrance.
"Yeah," she answered airily, putting on her best smile. "Just ran into a really scary guy back there. I'm alright now though."
"Oh my, well, glad you're okay. You know I worry about you. Midgar is no place for a pretty girl like you. Ought to move out of this place and go somewhere better. Like Costa del Sol, or Nibelheim, I hear it's lovely this time of year. Yes, a nice little mountain town would do you good."
Aeris giggled lightheartedly, flattered that he cared about her though he knew she'd ignore his advice. "Sure sounds nice but I think Midgar needs my flowers more than anyplace else."
"Yes, I suppose it does need some color, eh? Well, you take care. Break my old heart if anything happened to ya," Mr. Fennyman sighed, turning back to his gate, his keys jingling as pulled them out of the lock roughly. "Enough chit chat. Gotta get to work. Have a great day, Aeris."
"You too Mr. Fennyman."
Aeris smiled turning her back as he went inside. Moments later she was setting up for the day, her lithe body moving in quick rhythm as the city woke around her. She sat down on her stool, her basket placed next to her for easy access. A small tiered table was in front of her, ready for today's newest displays. Picking out individual blooms, Aeris set about arranging them with nimble little fingers.
The streets began to fill as the day began. Business was slow in the morning, always was, picking up near the mid-afternoon. She liked it better when it was busy, exchanging Gils for flowers, smiling, saying thank you. Each step repeated time and time again, from sunrise to sunset. For some there was terrible monotony in the kind of work she did, but Aeris loved it. The interaction with strangers, making their day with the simple purchase of a bouquet, it was yet another positive reminder that there was still good in this world and it was worth saving.
With each sale her day brightened and not just because she was making money. She was doing good, giving the world hope. It lifted her previously dark mood and helped her to forget the morning's bad start. By the time afternoon came she'd entirely forgotten the dream and the encounter with a man who terrified her beyond measure. The weather was as beautiful as any day in mid-February could be and her customers had all been so pleasant, plus she'd made some pretty good money already. All in all, it was shaping up to be a pretty decent day. And so the time passed as she worked as swiftly as a multi-armed goddess, her smiling brightening with each sale. Unbeknownst to her, a pair of glowing jade eyes observed her silently from the shadows.
The sun set behind the clouds, casting amber shadows across the sparkling buildings of the upper plate. Workers filed out in droves, all heading for home. Days end was always her busiest time – nothing brightened a dinner table better than a nice bouquet of flowers which could also serve to soothe the frayed nerves of overworked wives and girlfriends. It didn't surprise her much that most of her customers at this hour were harried businessmen who looked like they were about eat the business end of a rolling pin when they got home.
She'd never had real concrete hours of operation, usually quitting when her sales started to dwindle or she ran out of flowers. If neither those things happened, she'd work until five thirty, when Mr. Fennyman closed up shop.
He poked his head out to see if she was there, smiling when he found she was. "Hey, I'm closing in a minute. Why don't you pack up, I'll help you when I'm finished."
She looked back, grinning back at him. "Kay!"
Happily she began to clean up, grabbing one of the leftover arrangements to put it in her basket. There were two left, a nice Jasmine and Rose bouquet that she thought Mrs. Fennyman would like. She placed it in her basket, turning back to the other remaining arrangement. The noise of an approaching customer bothered her not one bit. It was common to have stragglers at the end of the day. She felt bad that she'd have to turn him down, but that's how it went sometimes. Aeris continued her clean up, counting the day's profits without even looking up.
"Excuse me, Miss?" the stranger asked, his voice tersely authoritative. "I'd like to buy some flowers."
Still working, Aeris paid him no mind; after all, he wasn't really a customer. The officious tone of his voice told her as much. She huffed, silently slapping her city ID badge on the counter without looking. She'd been harassed by truancy officers before. They always seemed to like to pounce on her at the end of the day, asking for flowers just before whipping their badges out. Well, she was sixteen now and old enough to choose whether or not she wanted to continue with her education. Anyway, there wasn't anything Midgar's school could possibly teach her that would do her any good. Having been home schooled her entire life, not to mention the preternatural knowledge she had because of her Cetran heritage, she was most likely smarter than all Midgar's teachers combined.
The truancy officer must have not been impressed because he hadn't left. She could feel his eyes needling the back of her neck. It then dawned on her that he might actually be a customer. Pondering this thought, she turned to address him after he politely repeated his request. "I'm sorry sir, but I'm all out. All I have left is this really wilted Gardenia bouquet and I don't think--" She glanced up, and her heart stopped.
It was him. There was a moment she was sure she was seeing things. So sure, that she almost reached up and rubbed her eyes, but there was no mistaking it, he was really there. She hadn't imagined him, after all. Her mouth moved wordlessly, and she felt like she just might pass out, her stomach lurching uncomfortably in fear. He just looked down at her quizzically, as if he was sizing her up with those strange eyes of his; those eyes that seemed to bore holes into her very soul. Her fleeting glance at him in the morning hadn't given her enough time to measure his features. He was more than just handsome, he was gorgeous.
If she was a normal girl, perhaps she'd be enchanted by that face. If she hadn't dreamt of what he was capable of, then perhaps she could fall for that face. One look into his eyes, those eyes were empty, nearly without humanity. Nearly. Aeris looked closer. Yes, unlike the man of her dreams, this one still had a soul, his humanity neatly tucked away but there all the same. She shook herself, feeling silly and stupid for thinking such thoughts. This man would kill her, even now, if he felt like it.
Aeris quickly composed herself, tearing away her gaze. "I-I'm sorry. It's just, I have nothing left. Come back tomorrow..."
Idiot, why'd you say that, she cursed herself inwardly.
The stranger continued to watch her quietly as she tried to appear too busy to talk. What a strange girl she was. He'd gotten used to the stares and the mooning of fan-girls by now. At first he thought her just another star struck admirer, but something about the girl had seemed different. And she didn't quite strike him as the terrorist type, though appearances were often deceiving. It had piqued his curiosity. So he'd sat and watched her all day, observing people had been something he enjoyed. It was the only way he ever felt like he belonged, when he acted as if he wasn't part of the world at all.
At first glance she'd seemed quite ordinary, but in his observance he noticed that she was anything but. There was an ease in her manner, a gentle grace that seemed to beacon outwards and envelope anyone that touched it with warm light. He'd never felt such warmth, and though he wished to seize it, something held him back.
He had to feel her out first, find out more about this girl. Why did she stare at him this morning, dropping her little basket in surprise? Why did her face hold fear and not awe? Had she met him before and did he just not remember? And if they had met, what had he done to put such fear in her eyes? Gentle she might be, but she clearly had something to fear and he wanted to know what that might be.
Besides which, what better cover could a terrorist group ask for, then that of an innocent young girl...
"Have we met?"
His eyes narrowed at her answer suspiciously, he could see how her whole body shook underneath her coat. "Why are you afraid of me if we haven't met before?"
"I'm na-n-not afraid, only cold," she answered him, her hands shaking as she broke down her display for the night.
Her face twitched, his keen eyes detecting the deceit in her reactions. "You're lying."
Her green eyes flashed, stealing a glance at him before she set to "working" again. She was about to answer when Mr. Fennyman came to her rescue.
"Ready to go?" he asked, pausing to regard the young man who stood before her, "Evening sir," he said, tipping his head genially before turning his attention away. "Ready, Aeris?"
"Yes, I am." She looked from her friend back to the stranger. "I'm sorry I ran out..."
"Then I'll come back tomorrow, Aeris."
Her eyes widened and it took every ounce of energy in her not to cry. Now he knew her name, dammit. The stranger turned and left, walking out into the oncoming night, back to the shadows from whence he came. Shakily, Aeris helped pull in her display stand and stool, letting Mr. Fennyman lock it behind the gate.
"Oh, Aeris, the Missus insisted I give this to you," he said, handing her a small bundle.
She opened it carefully, inside was a scarf and a freshly baked loaf of bread. Aeris smiled. "Oh, I don't deserve this!! Thank you so much!!"
He grinned back sheepishly. "Nonsense. You do deserve it. I went home on my lunch break and told her how sad you looked this morning. Made her feel so bad. She'd been making that scarf for you anyway, but today's as good a day as any to give it to you. Anyway, just a small thank you from us to you."
"Thank you-- OH! Give this to the Misses..." Aeris pulled out the Jasmine and Rose bouquet. "It's a lovely arrangement and I'd hate to just throw it away. Tell her, when she's done with it you can dry it and grind it up for tea!"
"Thank you, Aeris. See you tomorrow?"
"Course, good night..."
They both smiled before going their separate ways. She could barely hold on to it, and once he was gone it faded instantly. How silly of her to think her troubles had been wiped away. They never were. That man, that damn man haunted her. Wasn't it bad enough that he'd eventually take her life, why'd he have to haunt her before he did it? What had she done in her previous life to deserve such punishment, she didn't know, but it wasn't appreciated.
She was no longer able to hold the crescendo of emotions at bay. Hot tears flowed down her face and she ran faster than she ever had in her whole life. The world became a tear streaked blur as her feet pumped beneath her. She had to get away. He was probably still here. If he followed her to her work, why not follow her further? Why not? Because haunting her was his new favorite job now. Running blindly, she knocked right into someone as she rounded a corner. Her first terrified thought was that it was him, and as she fell to the ground, she couldn't help the hysterical scream she let out almost without realizing it.
"Watch where the hell you're goin' you crazy bitch-- Oh... Hi, Aeris!"
She immediately looked up towards the now familiar voice of her most favorite wannabe nemesis. "Hello, Reno," she said, voice thick with grateful irritation.
"Hey, what kind of greeting is that?"
"Like yours was appropriate!" she snapped back, quickly changing the subject. "So what are you here for anyway?" Hoping against hope he wasn't here on official business. She scowled at him as he casually lit a cigarette.
He grinned innocently, cigarette balanced precariously between his lips. He had immediately taken note of her aggravated tone, knowing that there was no way just seeing him could have put her off so much. "Whoa! Someone's had a bad day! Don't worry, ain't here on business, only pleasure..."
Aeris rolled her eyes as she pushed herself up to a sitting position; she hated it when he tried to smooth talk her. "Dear god, what's that supposed to mean?" After asking it, she realized she really wasn't sure she even wanted to know.
"Means I have a day off and I'm gonna visit my favorite broad." She gave out an indignant gasp, her eyebrows knotting in disapproval. He ignored her, taking another long drag off his cigarette before holding it out and flicking the half smoked butt away with a single elegant movement. "What?! You know I only live to bug you. 'Sides, it's either that or try to get Rude to talk, and I'd rather run in front of a bus naked than that."
"Nice visual. Could you help me or something? I think I twisted my ankle," she intoned blandly, rubbing the area in question for emphasis.
"Sure, anything for my baby," he replied, quickly giving her a hand up. "So what's up with the bad mood?"
"Long day. Encounter with a creepy guy. Don't want to talk."
"Creepy guy? So that means you'll be needing an escort." He paused and when she didn't object he continued. "I'm your man! Lead on, Señorita!"
HELLO AND WELCOME!
Well, here we are, again. I'm not even sure where to start -- other than to say that a few years ago I wrote a story called "Tranquility". I wrote it and finished it, a real feat now that I think about it. In any event, I always thought about going back and revising it. There were parts of the story I felt that just didn't work. Characters that I completely misinterpreted and did no justice. Plus, it was one of the first stories I wrote, so it wasn't very good in places. But there was something there. Something good, that could be made better. And here we are.
This is the new and improved "Tranquility". Sure, it doesn't start out much differently right away, but a few chapters in and... well, those who have read the original will notice the difference. I've left the old version up, so y'all can contrast and compare. (I don't think that's against the TOC... if it is -- Mods, please give me a heads up so I can take the old one down myself!)
Anyway, enjoy this new version. Reworked, with better spelling and grammar (hopefully).