"Do you have everything you need?" the professor asked as Aeris, Sephiroth, Keter, and the three engineers stood near the entrance to Terra Cavern.
"We have all of our clothes and belongings," said Sephiroth, "And the oxyale will keep us safe. The boat should fit all of us, and Gregor will come back with the oxyale and let you know that we've made it safely to the surface,"
The oxyale given to the group by the faeries had been guaranteed to keep up to eight people completely oxygenated. To solve the problem of getting to the surface, a large rowboat was purchased. Sephiroth was confident he could drag it to the surface, lift it up, and empty it of any water. Once the group was safely aboard, Gregor, a talented swimmer in his own right, would swim back down to the gateway and report the group's success. Then, Sephiroth would fly, in a reverse-parasailing setup, and tow the boat east, hoping to get to Junon. From there, the engineers might be able to find a change of clothes, and take the next ship out to Bone Village, where they could purchase a Lunar Harp, and make their way through the Sleeping Forest, over to the old city where the first portal had been located.
Aeris, Sephiroth, and Keter, would travel to Midgar by foot if they had to, unless they could somehow hitch a ride. Hopefully they would be able to call Vincent, and he could pick them up.
Despite the practically foolproof plan, there were heavy hearts as the party prepared to say goodbye to not only the Gasts, but to Ingrid, Shelae, and eventually Gregor.
"It's been a real trip," said Ingrid, "And it's not over. We'll get this spaceship going, so don't write us off just yet!"
"When you get there," Sephiroth told her, "Look up a man named Cid Highwind. He'd be glad to work with you all on creating a transit system between the two worlds,"
He gave her a piece of paper with the pilot's name written on it.
"Come here, Aeris," Ifalna took her eldest daughter aside. "You have both the black and white materia on you, yes?"
Aeris nodded. "We're going to restore the temple with the black materia if we can,"
"Good," said Ifalna, "I see no reason why the black materia need ever be used. And as for the white materia, it might not be the only reason you're bound to the Planet,"
Aeris stared at her mother. "What do you mean?"
"Your true gifts are yet to manifest," said Ifalna, "Our ancestors told me, long, long ago that the mixing of human and Cetra blood was not a new thing. My grandfather also told me when I was a little girl, that human blood was a wildcard of sorts. Hybrids were very powerful healers. In fact, Cetra purposely bred with humans in order to restore the Cetra to their former glory. Unfortunately, it led to what little Cetra blood we had left in the world becoming very diluted. This only sped up the disappearance of our people. But I digress. What I'm saying, Aeris, is that your true powers have yet to manifest themselves, and the Planet knows it. You'll find out what they are, someday.
"But promise me," said Ifalna, "If you find your comrades and discover that Shinra's son has gone back on his word, or anything else that could put you and your family in danger, I need you to get to the ancient city, to the new gateway, and get out! Please, I don't want you to go through what I went through. I don't want the people who accompany you to be persecuted either. And I don't want to see you separated from your family, so please, promise me that!"
"I promise," Aeris said quietly, "But while I'm gone, you take care of yourself, all right? For your sake, for Papa's sake, and for Rockie's sake. I'm all grown up now, so you need to trust me, and be a good mother to that adorably annoying kid sister of mine,"
Ifalna laughed sadly.
Aeris hardened her expression. "I promise I won't cry if you don't,"
"I don't make promises I can't keep," Ifalna said in a wavering voice as she hugged her daughter.
They were soon joined in a group hug with Sephiroth, Gast, Keter, and Rakael.
"I guess we'll be going now!" Aeris said, forcing a smile as the group broke up.
"Let's do this!" Gregor cheered, trying to inject a bit of enthusiasm into the group as they disappeared into the cavern.
"Climb in," Sephiroth called out as he and Keter floated over the soaked, but still buoyant boat that he'd managed to flip over.
"All aboard!" one of the engineers joked as he climbed in.
"No- get on the other side!" Aeris said to the other two engineers, "If we all climb in from this side, the boat will flip,"
"Everyone all set?" Sephiroth asked when everyone was seated, "Perfect,"
He and Keter floated down to the boat and sat down. When he handed the boy over to Aeris, he looked over the side at Gregor.
"We're all set," he said to the youth, "How about you?"
Gregor nodded. "I'll miss you all, but like Ingrid said, I'll come back here. It's just a pity I can't check this place out now. But it'll serve as more incentive for me to work hard!"
"Good luck," Aeris smiled as she leaned toward him and extended her hand.
"Thanks," he said as he raised his hand and shook hers, "You too,"
He then hesitated, then swallowed hard before he lifted himself up out of the water briefly, and stole a kiss from Aeris. Before anyone could react, he disappeared under the water, the glow from the oxyale getting fainter as he swam downward and downward.
"That little punk…!" Sephiroth growled.
"Oh, forget it!" Aeris said dismissively as she wiped her face, "Go scout the sea! Shoo!"
Sephiroth shot up high into the air, eventually disappearing from sight. Then, about thirty seconds later, he quickly descended and pointed eastward.
"There's land over that way. I'll tow us over as fast as this boat allows us. It should take us less than an hour to reach land. Get ready…"
Nakajima sat in his fishing boat, his pole over his knee, not moving, with a glass of sake in his hand. Life was good.
He had already made his quota for the day, but it was such a beautiful afternoon out. Plus, he was in no mood to go back to the unpleasant vibe back in Wutai. Ever since the daughter of Lord Godo had run away, disgracing her father, and the family of her betrothed, everyone was in a tense mood.
And it would be a shame to not finish his sake and maybe even catch an extra fish for his own dinner that night.
The sound of excited cheers made him turn around. What he saw made his jaw drop.
A man with silver hair flew by, towing a boat carrying about half a dozen strangely dressed passengers. All of them looked ecstatic, as if they were on a carnival ride. The man had no expression on his face as he continued to pull the boat eastward. Within a few seconds, they had vanished from sight.
It was the last time that poor Nakajima would ever touch a drink again.
"The treasures we brought with us ought to yield more than enough money to buy a change of clothes somewhere," Aeris said to the three engineers.
"Once we do split up, you know what happens next, right?" Sephiroth prompted them.
"We pretend to be stupid tourists and ask for the best route to Bone Village," one of the engineers answered.
"Correct," said Sephiroth.
"Look!" Aeris exclaimed as she ran over to a road sign, "Let's see…oh wow! We're ten miles away from Rocket Town!"
"Maybe we'll find Cid over there," said Sephiroth.
"All right!" Aeris cheered, "Let's start walking!"
"I'm afraid you just missed the Captain," said an elderly woman, "He and his girlfriend had another spat, and this time, he took off on his own airship. He tends to stay away for a few days when that happens,"
"There goes our chance to get a ride…" Aeris sighed.
"Why not just buy a ticket from our airport?" the woman suggested, "You said you've been away for a few years. You can charter a flight to Midgar if that's where you said you were going,"
"Actually, they're going to Bone Village," Sephiroth gestured at the engineers.
"That might be pricier," the woman said thoughtfully, "But I wish you luck in your travels!"
"Well, let's pawn our treasures and see what comes of it," Aeris said to the group.
"I love your costumes," the old woman commented, "Are you a theater troupe?"
"Yes," Sephiroth said flatly.
"How charming!" the woman exclaimed as she walked off.
"We'd better pawn our stuff right now," Aeris giggled nervously.
The total amount of money the group was able to gain was enough for new outfits, and to send the engineers straight to Bone Village. However, it was not enough to get Aeris, Sephiroth and Keter to Midgar.
"Maybe we could stay here and wait until Cid gets back?" Aeris suggested as the group stood outside the airport.
"Did you say you wanted to find Cid?" an amused voice asked.
Aeris and Sephiroth looked and saw a pilot standing next to them.
"Do you know where he is?" Sephiroth asked.
"Ten-to-one, he's at the Gold Saucer," the young man said, "Whenever he wants to blow off steam, he always watches the Chocobo Races,"
"Gold Saucer, huh?" Sephiroth mused as he looked at the price chart. While he and Aeris were short on money to get them to Midgar, they did have enough money to go to the Gold Saucer and pay the entrance fee.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Aeris asked her husband.
"It's worth a shot," said Sephiroth, "And if we don't find him, we can at least take a vacation there, and when we're done, do some bounty-hunting, get a chocobo, and ride over to Costa Del Sol,"
"Makes sense to me," said Aeris.
"Hey, you three," another pilot pointed at the engineers, "We're about to take off, so you'd better board the plane now!"
"So I guess that means we're off, then," said one of the engineers.
"You have our number programmed?" Aeris pointed at the new PHS the engineers had bought.
"Yep!" another engineer said.
"Call us once you get to the old city," said Aeris, "You'll be able to feel it once you get close,"
"It's been fun," the third engineer said, "I wish you well,"
"See ya!" the first engineer said as the trio walked off.
"Bye!" Keter called as he waved at them.
"So you want to go to Corel, then?" asked the pilot, "I'd be glad to take you,"
Sephiroth handed him the fee. "Any time you're ready to fly us,"
"Go fly?" Keter was excited.
"Yes, we're going to fly," said Sephiroth, "To the Gold Saucer,"
"Wow, I haven't been there since I was a little kid!" Aeris exclaimed, "You think they still have that burrito place?"
"It's still here!" Aeris squealed as the three walked down the Gold Saucer's food court, "Yes! Can we go in, please, Sephy?"
"You know I hate Papa Yoyo's," Sephiroth groaned, "That food never agrees with me,"
"We'll get it to go!" Aeris yelled as she disappeared into the restaurant with Keter in her arms.
God, this woman…Sephiroth thought morosely, It's like she's seventeen all over again.
He sat down on a bench outside, looking around. They had already checked out the Chocobo Races, but Cid was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he was on his way back home already.
"Hey, come one, come all!" a strange-looking cat robot yelled as it danced by, "The battle tournament starts tomorrow, and is still selling tickets and accepting applicants! Come one, come all to the first annual battle tournament! Sit back and watch the fun, or enter to win up to 100,000 gil!"
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. That could be interesting.
He then sensed something, and his hand shot out, grabbing a wrist that was three inches from his coat pocket.
"Don't even think about it," he said coldly, not even bothering to turn around, "I'm going to let you go, since I'm on vacation and in a decent mood. Also, I can tell by your wrist alone that you're young, and possibly female. I don't hit women, or children. I'm going to let go, and I'm going to give you five seconds to disappear,"
He let go of the wrist, and could hear loud footsteps running fast as he counted out loud:
"Four!" Keter finished as he and Aeris came out of Papa Yoyo's.
"What are you counting for?" Aeris giggled.
"I'm feeling generous," said Sephiroth, "I decided not to thrash a potential pickpocket,"
"Oh, you are a changed man," Aeris kidded him as she sat down and opened the bag of food she'd brought with her.
"I saw something interesting while you were in there," said Sephiroth.
"Oh?" Aeris asked as she sank her teeth into a burrito.
"Mmm!" Keter said as he stared wistfully at his mother's food.
"If he has an accident from that spicy food, you can change him," Sephiroth warned her.
"One bite won't hurt him," Aeris scoffed as she lowered the burrito and allowed Keter to take a bite.
"Mmmm!" Keter said again.
"There's a battle tournament coming up tomorrow, right here," Sephiroth told Aeris, "And I think you and I should both enter,"
"What?" Aeris was surprised, "Why?"
"I think we could win some much-needed cash," said Sephiroth, "It's better than fighting monsters and selling their horns or whatever for little bounties here and there,"
"I don't fight for contests!" Aeris protested, "I work out with Muramasa and my staves to stay in shape, and to protect myself if I need to!"
"Aeris, we need money, and the contest is free to enter," Sephiroth argued, "We've got nothing to lose,"
"Who's going to watch Keter?"
"There's a daycare here," Sephiroth answered.
"He's never had strangers watch him before," Aeris said worriedly.
"For Odin's sake, Aeris!" Sephiroth exclaimed, "He'll be fine! There's never been a scandal at that place except the ones you're probably dreaming up in your head. Look, I'm confident I can win it. But there's a good chance you could end up winning one of the runner-up prizes too,"
"You really think we've got a shot?" she asked.
"Okay, then," she said, "We'll go register, and tomorrow, Keter can make some new little friends. How about that, Keter?"
"Wockie?" the two-year-old asked.
"Yes, Rockie is your friend, but you can make other friends beside her,"
"'Kay," Keter said, clearly uninterested in the conversation.
"Let's go," Aeris sighed.
"Chin up, my dear," Sephiroth said, kissing the top of Aeris' head, "You'll do great,"
Aeris watched as Sephiroth took the small four-sided room divider and set it up next to Keter's crib. He then took the clock radio from the dresser, and plugged it into the wall near Keter. Turning it on, he set the volume to a classical music station.
"Perfect," he said. The boy was already fast asleep. "If he wakes up, he will not see, nor hear anything. Nor has he ever been an escape artist,"
"Feels sleazy…" Aeris fretted as her husband sat down on the king-sized bed in the hotel room they had rented.
"Feels good…" Sephiroth said as he kissed Aeris, "That's why we're going to 'bed' early like Keter. We'll get nice and tired after a bit…" he kissed her again, "And then we'll fall asleep, and wake up nice and rested for the tournament,"
"So logical…" Aeris teased him as she playfully squeezed Sephiroth's chest.
"Don't worry," Sephiroth whispered in her ear, "I'm feeling good about this tournament. We've fought a lot of monsters before, and we've kept up our training. You will do wonderfully. Maybe we can get that motorcycle for second place,"
"Wait!" Aeris sat up, "That means I'd have to fight you! I don't want to fight you like that! You'll either hold back and patronize me, or you'll actually injure me!"
"Tell you what: we'll think of a secret move that will make me win the fight without really hurting you,"
"You could always throw the fight altogether," Aeris joked.
"I don't see that happening," Sephiroth said flatly.
"I think I should throw the last fight before you," said Aeris, "Neither of us know how to drive a motorcycle, and I don't know if the sidecar is safe for Keter. Third prize is more cash. Why not just go with that?"
Sephiroth looked thoughtful. "Yes…that makes sense. All right, fair enough,"
He then pulled his wife back down to face him.
"We've got three hours to wear ourselves out," he whispered, "Starting now…!"
Cid Highwind opened his bag of pretzels and began snacking away. The turnout for this event was huge, and he was glad he had gotten good seats.
He had just watched the lovely Pink Phantom wipe out the obnoxious Moogle Ninja. Good. He enjoyed looking at the Pink Phantom's figure. His own girlfriend would never in a million years dress like that.
Now the Silver Angel was up against some forgettable macho man in tight spandex. Cid looked around. Spandex? The crowd here was mostly male. Who on earth would get off on seeing a man dressed like that? He wasn't even like one of those teen heartthrob man-children on TV that the girls all swooned over.
Damn it! He'd missed it again! The Silver Angel was already standing over his defeated opponent.
The Silver Angel was making this tournament into a joke. His victories were of the "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" fashion. Still, the other contestants, such as the Blue Samurai, and of course, the Pink Phantom made the tournament worth it. Even the Moogle Ninja had promise, even though her constant showing off made you love to hate her.
Speak of the devil! The Blue Samurai was up again, this time, facing off against a man wearing a knight's helmet.
He finished his pretzels, and wished that he had a nice cold beer to go with them. Call it stereotypical, but it really was his favorite snack combination. Why couldn't these shows be like the ones in Midgar where alcohol was permitted in the stands?
He then felt his PHS buzzing. Annoyed, he checked it. Shera again. Was she afraid he would cheat or something? Cid may have enjoyed ogling the many beauties here at the Gold Saucer, but he was strictly a "look-not-touch" man when it came to other women. Shera was his sexy librarian waiting for him at home. But right now, she was his pain in the ass.
He shut his PHS off, deciding to keep it off for the rest of the tournament. At the rate things were going, it probably wouldn't be more than half an hour at best.
"Well, was I right?" Sephiroth asked with a smirk on his face.
He, Aeris and Keter came out of the Gold Saucer Credit Union. 110,000 gil was safely stored in a small lockbox, which was inside Sephiroth's duffel bag. Aeris wore the key on a chain around her neck.
"I didn't need to throw my last fight," Aeris marveled, "That Blue Samurai guy really took me out,"
"He seemed familiar," Sephiroth remarked.
Aeris looked at him. "You think so too? Do you think he was a member of Avalanche?"
"No…I can't put my finger on it,"
"Well, let's see what our next move is,"
Sephiroth and Aeris turned around to see a familiar face gawking at them.
"Aeris too!" Cid Highwind exclaimed, "Holy shit!"
"Hey- language!" Aeris scolded Cid as she pointed at Keter, who was holding her hand.
"You're alive!" Cid exclaimed, "Oh god, they said you only had a 5% chance of making it!"
"Yeah, I beat the odds," Aeris said with a smile.
"Where the hell have you been these past five years?" Cid asked.
"Trying to get back here," Aeris said as she covered Keter's ears, "Let's just say it was a long, long journey. With ogres, faeries, rocket ships and rabbit-eared women,"
"What'd Vincent say when he saw you guys?"
"We don't know where he is," said Sephiroth, "Do you?"
"Sure! He's still in Midgar, living in the bed & breakfast, except it's a boarding house now,"
"We tried calling, but the number was out of service,"
"Well, yeah," said Cid, "After the dust settled, reporters were calling, trying to get the scoop. Elmyra had to change the number,"
Aeris grinned. "So Mrs. G's safe too? That's a relief!"
"Actually, that's Mrs. V now," Cid corrected her.
"Mrs. V?" Sephiroth scowled, "Wait- you don't mean…?"
"Yes, she's Mrs. Valentine, and your new step-mommy," Cid answered.
"How about that?" Sephiroth marveled softly.
"Well, you like her, right?" Aeris asked, "I mean, everyone does,"
"She's probably taking good care of him," said Sephiroth, "I'm glad for them both,"
"We were actually looking for you," said Aeris, "Everyone in Rocket Town figured you'd be here watching the races,"
"I came to see the tournament instead," Cid explained, "And I wasn't disappointed either! By the way, congratulations!"
"You know it was us?" Aeris looked surprise.
"I recognized your kid from the award ceremony," Cid pointed at Keter.
"Holy sit!" Keter exclaimed.
"No, Keter!" Aeris scolded the boy, "We don't say those words!"
Keter pointed accusingly at Cid.
"Yes, he was being bad too," Aeris agreed.
"Technically, he did say 'holy sit'," Sephiroth quipped.
"Do you want a ride to Midgar?" Cid asked, "I'm still on vacation, and I don't mind bringing good news like this,"
"Would we ever!" Aeris exclaimed happily.
"Perfect," said Cid, "Let's catch the next tram out of here,"
"Hey, does Barrett still live in Corel?" asked Sephiroth, "We didn't see him around,"
"He does, but he's off doing relief work in Gongaga," Cid answered.
"Awwww…" Aeris sulked.
"Most of Avalanche is back in Midgar," Cid told her, "I'm sure Mrs. V still has most of the contacts, so you can let everyone know you're alive soon enough. In the meantime, you guys can tell me everything you've been up to,"
"Got time?" Sephiroth asked dryly as the four headed over to the exit tram.
Aeris sat on the bed in a cabin on The Highwind reading her new copy of "Melodies of Life". That Zidane was always up to some kind of mischief. Strangely enough, the villain, Kuja, reminded her a bit of Sephiroth. Maybe it was the physical beauty combined with immense power. Had Sephiroth stayed in the labs, and Hojo not been murdered, would he have turned out like Kuja, manipulating and destroying everything and everyone?
Great power tended to be destructive, and even Sephiroth had been destructive in his quest to do good for this world. He had said before that Aeris, and now Keter kept him in check, just as her father had done for him when he was little.
It all made sense, though. Even Kuja had the power to be redeemed, as shown in the book, which she'd read many, many times when she was younger.
Ah, who was she kidding? Kuja was a made-up character. Sephiroth was probably the only "bad boy" that had ever been truly tamed to any degree. She knew that in 99.9% of other similar cases, women who tried to "change" a man like that were idiots who wound up miserable for the rest of the relationship.
So how did she turn out to be so lucky?
"Where Mama?" Aeris heard Keter asking outside.
"We're going to go get her now," Sephiroth told him before entering the room.
"Are we there yet?" Aeris teased.
"Almost," Sephiroth told her, "Midgar's up ahead. Would you like to come up on deck and see?"
Aeris smiled and put her book back in her bag. She stood up and followed Sephiroth outside the room, down the hallway and up the steps.
"Over there," Sephiroth pointed.
Aeris ran to the front of the deck and saw the plate of Midgar approaching. She broke out into a big grin.
"Look over there, Keter," said Sephiroth as he pointed at the plate. The night lights were up as usual, illuminating the city in the nighttime sky. But the one thing Aeris and Sephiroth couldn't help but notice was the absence of the reactors.
"Pretty…" Keter cooed.
"Yeah, it is really pretty," whispered Aeris, "Especially without the mako reactors,"
"Was it worth it?" Sephiroth asked as he picked Keter up.
"Absolutely," said Aeris, her eyes welling up, "I can't wait to see Vincent. I can't wait to tell Mama and Papa that we did make a difference!"
"We're going to be okay here," her husband said confidently.
"Of course," Aeris said with a big smile, "We're finally home,"
A/N: FINALLY FINISHED! Now if you haven't already, feel free to start reading Spark of Sedition, which I will now be picking up again.