*I don't own Final Fantasy VII or any of their characters. I also don't own 'The Steward of Gondor' from the Return of the King OST.
Aerith awoke to the smell of breakfast being cooked. Stumbling through her morning routine, the last Cetra moved robotically until she finally managed to wake herself up enough to greet the rest of the world.
Her first surprise of the day as she left her bedroom, however, was to see her step-mother coming out of her own room. Elmyra, too, seemed to be surprised to see Aerith. For a minute, the two Gainsborough women stared at each other with questioning looks, confused as to who would be cooking the morning meal.
Suddenly, the young Cetra remembered the strange woman from yesterday- Grace Lunaria, also known as Katlyn Lune. Quickly walking towards the kitchen with Elmyra close behind, the two paused when they suddenly heard music. It was very dramatic-sounding, uplifting yet with a sad tone. As suddenly the music quieted, Aerith and her step-mother peeked into the kitchen.
"Home is behind, the world ahead/ And there are many paths to tread," Katlyn sang alongside a male voice as she scooped scrambled eggs onto three plates, wearing the same clothes she had worn yesterday. "Through shadow, to the edge of night/ Until the stars are all alight."
Curiously, Aerith glanced around the kitchen trying to find the source of the strange music. The only thing that could qualify was a strange rectangular thing that was all lit up, its tiny screen displaying something that unfortunately she couldn't tell from this distance.
"Mist and shadow, cloud and shade/ All shall fade, all shall… fade," Katlyn finished softly. As the music played its final soft notes, she looked up from where she had been plating the bacon. "Oh, hi! I woke up early and thought I'd make breakfast this morning," she chirped in greeting upon noticing the other two. Placing the pan that had once held the bacon into the sink, Katlyn walked back over to the strange rectangular thing and seemingly pressed a button on one of its sides. Sure enough, the music (which had changed into something that was more upbeat and bouncy) shut off, and Katlyn promptly stuck the device into one of her pants pockets.
"You have a beautiful voice," Aerith couldn't help but comment as she sat down in her usual seat.
"Indeed," agreed her step-mother as she, too, sat in her usual spot, "it's been a while since I've heard a quality voice like yours."
As her cheeks lightly tinged with pink, Katlyn replied, "Thank you. While you're not the first to have said so, it's still nice to hear." Quickly grabbing the last of the toast that suddenly popped out of the toaster, Katlyn cut each slice in half and placed them onto one of the plates. Seemingly pleased, she finally brought the finished plates over to the table and placed one in front of the two seated women.
"I have to ask, though… what is that device that was playing the music?" Elmyra inquired. Aerith, curious about that herself, turned towards her future teacher.
Sitting down with her own plate in front of her, Katlyn paused, as if considering how best to answer the question posed. "A gift, and nothing more," she finally answered. "And don't ask who it's from, for I won't answer that quite yet."
Aerith debated on whether to respond to that, however the expression on Katlyn's face as she began to eat discouraged her. Instead, she asked, "What was that song, then?"
Chewing on a piece of bacon, the brown-eyed girl had a look of fond remembrance filling her face. Swallowing, Katlyn answered, "It's known by several names amongst its fans, however the official name is 'The Steward of Gondor'. I'm rather fond of the song, truth be told."
"Gondor? What kind of a name is that?" came Elmyra's rhetorical question.
That didn't stop Katlyn, however, from rebutting good-naturedly, "What kind of a name is Midgar?"
Aerith giggled. She knew that this was only the start of a beautiful friendship.
After they had eaten, the two Gainsborough refused to allow Katlyn to help clean up, stating that since she cooked they had to clean. While she gave a token protest, Katlyn was still happy simply because it gave her an opportunity to observe just how to work various items and compare them to what she had once known. Once they had finished, they sat back down at the table.
Predictably, it was Elmyra who asked the inevitable question. "So, Miss Lune, what are your plans? How are you going to accomplish everything you need to do?"
As Aerith glanced up from the PHS that had just delivered some mail to her, Katlyn leaned back in her chair as she contemplated Elmyra's question. "I'm not sure, Ms. Gainsborough," she answered slowly. "I mean, I know I have to gain some level of influence to even begin to interact with the ones in Shinra that I need to, and I would prefer that I don't have to join the company if I don't have to. However, other than that I have no idea. I am open to suggestions, however."
There was silence for several minutes. Then… "Would becoming the lead singer for a popular band work?"
Snapping her head towards the Cetra, Katlyn sputtered, "What?"
"Well, The Gift just recently lost their lead singer and head of security to a monster attack, and they just announced to their fan club that they'll be holding auditions to replace them," explained Aerith, holding up her PHS.
"You know, the band that played at the infamous Ball, thus making them one of the most famous bands in the world?" Cocking her head in inquiry, Katlyn raised her eyebrows for Aerith to elaborate.
Elmyra, however, took over as she added, "She's talking about the Ball that all of the fangirls of the top three SOLDIERs are obsessing over due to that dance that the General shared with some girl that nobody had seen before or seen since."
Katlyn was stunned to hear this. The Silver Elite, Keepers of Honor, and Red Leather… were obsessing about the dance she shared with Sephiroth? She couldn't stop the surprised laughter from bursting out even if she wanted to.
"What are you laughing about?" inquired Aerith.
It was through sheer force of will that Katlyn stopped her laughter enough to respond, "Do you know the name of the girl that Sephiroth danced with?"
"Well, according to some of my friends down here, supposedly her name is Kat—" Aerith shut up as the implications set in. "That was you?!"
Snickering at her expression, Katlyn nodded. "Sephiroth is quite the dancer," she admitted shamelessly. "So, what's everyone saying about me?"
"From what I've heard, they've been searching for more information about you and that's it," came Elmyra's reply. As the two younger women looked at her, she responded, "What? One of the cashiers at the local grocery store is a member of Silver Elite and loves to blab on and on about the General."
"Well, that's not going to happen. If these fangirls are anything like the fangirls I knew of back home, letting them know who I am is the last thing I want to do," Katlyn snorted. "In fact, that's part of the reason why most of the time I'll be going by Grace Lunaria."
"What's the other part?"
"I escaped from Hojo's lab rather spectacularly."
"Ah… that makes perfect sense," Elmyra nodded.
"Anyway, back the original topic. So this band is looking for a new lead singer? Can you tell me more about them?" inquired Katlyn.
"Well, I first became a fan back when I received their second album as a gift," began Aerith, "They play pretty much any type of music, and the band is currently the reigning champion of the Battle of the Bands. In fact, that's how they ended up playing at the Ball you and Sephiroth danced at."
"Hmm… who're the members?"
"Well, the lead singer was called Michael Lee, and his younger sister Heavyn plays any string instrument they might need, although her favorite is the violin. Until she announced the auditions, I actually thought that she'd quit thanks to the monster attack but it seems Heavyn's determined to continue on.
"The lead guitarist is known as Riku Willeth, and together he along with the Lee siblings created The Gift. He and Michael used to trade off when it comes to writing original songs, however he's probably going to do all the work now. In addition, he was the one who began the tradition of The Gift singing Wutaian songs in honor of his mother, who was Wutaian herself. While he mostly plays the electric guitar, I personally think his talent truly shines when he plays the acoustic guitar. There are rumors that he and Heavyn are in a relationship, however I'm not sure just how true they are. They are certainly good friends, however.
"Ah, wait, there's a member of the band named Tom?" Katlyn whined.
Looking towards her, Elmyra asked, "And what's wrong with that?"
"My ass of an ex who cheated on me with his ex was called that. We… didn't have the best break-up," came the explanation, along with a wince.
The other two women winced in sympathy. Elmyra half-pled, "Please tell me he got what he deserved in the end…"
"Um… maybe? I'm actually not sure what happened to him," mused Katlyn aloud.
"Will he ever come around here?" Aerith asked with a hint of worry. From the look on her face, she definitely didn't want someone like him around the local children…
"Definitely not," came the reassuring answer.
"Oh, good. Last thing we need in this neighborhood is another potential recruit to Corneo's goons."
Katlyn stared at the Cetra with shock. "You mean all of Corneo's goons treat women badly? I would've thought some of them would treat them at least halfway decent thanks to the Honeybee Inn…"
"Yeah, well, it doesn't work out that way," frowned Aerith as her face took on an obvious tone of remembrance. Katlyn frowned herself as she considered how this seemingly unimportant information would work in her overall plans. After all, she knew that President Shinra himself was a patron of the Inn, and if he was known to treat women badly…
Shaking her head minutely, she put the information to the back of her mind. "Anyway, you were mentioning a member named Tom?"
Recognizing what Katlyn was trying to do, Aerith continued with a grateful, "Yes, Tom Suliman is the drummer. By himself, he's not the best drummer, yet somehow when he's with the rest of the band he becomes a genius at his chosen instrument. Even he is confused by this phenomenon. Luckily for you, he is known to be a very nice guy.
"David Granger is the keyboard guy, and the most mysterious member of The Gift. He takes extreme measures to stay out of the spotlight, which has fans constantly guessing as to why. Personally, I say he just doesn't want fangirls constantly hounding him about his admittedly good looks."
Either that, or he's gay and doesn't want everyone to know, Katlyn thought to herself with a bit of amusement.
"Finally, there's the newest member Ken Lossinger. He's the bassist, and a known bad boy. Beyond that, though, something tells me that if there was ever someone who would cause trouble for you, it's him."
Oho, what's this? "You really don't like Ken, do you?" Katlyn teased.
Scowling slightly, Aerith replied, "Something about him just… doesn't sit right with me. While I can honestly say that I don't know him at all, every time I see his face something in me just screams to stay away from him, that he's dangerous."
Eyebrows raised, Katlyn sat back in the chair. This was quite the interesting development… "Tell me… would you say your reaction to Ken is similar to the one that you get whenever Sephiroth is mentioned?"
Elmyra looked at her adoptive daughter with interest as the Cetra tilted her head in thought. Finally, Aerith answered, "It's similar, but not as strong. If I was to best describe it, the reaction I get from Ken Lossinger is like a soft whisper while the reaction I get from the General is like an extremely loud shout."
"Hmm… sounds like it's only some people, rather than the Planet, who are warning you away from him then," Katlyn guessed aloud. "Perhaps some exes, or something. We're going to have to work on it so that in the future you can be able to tell the difference on your own."
"So you are serious about training Aerith, then," remarked Elmyra.
Nodding, Katlyn replied, "Of course I am. With the battles that are sure to be ahead, Lady Minerva definitely does not want the Planet's chosen race to die, and only Aerith can ensure that they don't. That's why I was given many of the same powers as the Cetra, although it takes more effort for me to use them than it would for Aerith."
"Why would it take more effort?"
"Another day, Aerith," Katlyn responded absently as she mulled over Aerith's idea. Yes, Oprah, Bono, Diddy, and many other celebrities had managed to pull off being political in addition to their normal duties… but could she?
Well, there was only one way to find out. Gail had always said she had the skills to become famous… so why not prove her right? However, she did have one small problem that, if left unresolved, could screw things up big time.
"Your band idea sounds like it could be a good one, Aerith. But before we get ahead of ourselves, there's something I gotta do," she said.
A sheepish smile filled her face as Katlyn replied, "I'm going to need to do some shopping. I need some more clothes besides what I have on, and since I'm chubbier than both of you…"
"Oh, right… I kinda forgot about that. Good thing I have some gil saved up that you can borrow," came the Cetra's equally sheepish comment.
"I better come with you two," Elmyra added. "After all, you're going to need some ID to look less suspicious, and luckily for you I still remember how from when I had to get Aerith's ID."
A big grin filled her face as Katlyn announced, "You know what this means, right?" When the two Gainsborough women looked at her with inquiry, she crowed, "Girls day out!"
The small kitchen filled with laughter.
Sephiroth sat in his office alone as he contemplated this sudden turn of events. Katlyn, having performed the rather spectacular escape that she did, was now wanted by Shinra. Luckily, the announcement mentioned that she was to be preferably brought in alive… but it didn't say that under no circumstances was she to be killed.
Which meant that once again, Hojo had manipulated the President in order to obtain what he probably thought was his 'lost specimen'.
The General wasn't surprised. After all, he better than anyone knew that Hojo saw people only as future specimens, and the fact that Katlyn had powers that she hadn't revealed before that moment meant that the bastard was probably after her for her cells. After all, one of Hojo's favorite activities was to inject his prized specimen with random things just to see how they'd react… someone else's cells would actually be tame in comparison.
However… the order left him with a problem he hadn't really ever dealt with before- a conflict of interest.
From their brief interactions, Sephiroth could honestly say that he liked the strange woman, and could see her joining his exclusive circle of friends. In addition, he was pretty sure that Katlyn liked him, too. However, he was the General of Shinra's troops, duty bound to obey all of the President's orders.
Which lead to his current predicament: who should he be more loyal to, his friend or his President?
If Angeal's Pup (or any of his subordinates save Angeal or Genesis, for that matter…) walked in at that moment, they would keel over with shock at the sight of the Silver Elite slumping over the desk with his head resting on his arms emitting a short confused groan.
As it was, the person who strode through the door at that particular second was Genesis.
"Now this is something you don't see every day," he commented as he carried a styrofoam cup of what smelled like hot dumbapple cider in one hand and the other in one of his coat pockets. "What's got you actually showing emotion for anyone to see?"
Looking up and seeing his friend suddenly made Sephiroth remember something important- he didn't have to make his decision alone. Genesis would always point out the folly in any of his General's plans (it was actually one of the reasons Sephiroth trusted him so much) and Angeal always would help with explaining why something was or wasn't okay.
"Genesis, is the VR room free?"
Blinking a bit, Genesis soon replied, "If it isn't I can probably scare whoever's in there out. Want me to grab Angeal, too?"
"Please," Sephiroth answered, standing up and leaving from behind his desk. "I need to speak with the both of you, and I'd rather keep it as private as I can."
"What about?" Genesis asked as he moved away from the door.
Giving a sidelong glance, Sephiroth only responded with one word, "Her."
"Ahh… I'll make sure that the cameras are out then, too."
As the train pulled in, the young Nibelheim native boy took a deep bracing breath. This was it… in just a few minutes, he would be beginning his journey of becoming a SOLDIER.
When the door opened, Cloud Strife was the first to exit. Hefting the bag that contained all the possessions he had dared to take, the blonde stared around with amazement. Pausing for a brief moment to give a hole in the wall a confused look, he shook his head and took his first steps towards his destiny.
He knew that from this moment on, there was no going back. Not if he could help it.
A/N: Yes, yes, it's an actual update! And I just realized that throughout this entire fic I have Genesis only quoting LOVELESS like, once or twice. I did search for an appropriate quote for him to use in his conversation with Sephy... but none really seemed to fit. Don't worry, though, he'll quote it in the upcoming conversation! Oh, and YAY, Cloud's finally arrived! Also, the song that came on after 'The Steward of Gondor'? I totally thought of Zack's theme song from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. I simply could NOT resist that one...