DISCLAIMER: Yup, it's all Squaresofts.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Umm.. SORRY for the wait, I've been an extremely lazy writer!! Anyways, about my confusing paragraphing: check out my website for the improved version of this story. I will fix these chapters too, in due time but.. right now I'm just way too busy to bother with the paragraphing. I NEED to finish this story first. ^_^
are breaking in my head
Their fragments are crumbs of despair
The food of the solitary damned
Who await the the gross tumult of turbulent
Days bringing change without end.
- David Gascoyne -
Aeris Gainsborough's brown leather shoes kicked the light powder snow as she walked. Her eyes were slowly drooping shut, but time after time her feet amazed her by continuing to function. Up in the sky, the sun was already sinking to the welcoming embrace of the sea, dying the white scenery into shades of pale red that almost matched the pink of Aeris' dress. Always a fashionable gal, she grinned to herself, and stopped her walking to rest her feet for a while. Suddenly sencing someone's gaze upon her, Aeris turned around, only to see a familiar trail of footprints stretching to the horizon, towards the dark figure of the Northern Crater. Regardless of what the Shin-Ra believed, there was something evil about that place. Aeris could feel it, even after Jenova's defeat. Walking in the shadows the Crater cast, it was impossible for her to deny the feeling of being observed. Whenever she glanced over her shoulder, she was reminded of Jenova and all things related to her, which was more than enough to give Aeris the heebie jeebies. She wished she'd reach her destination soon.
And have all this over and dealt with.
Trying to distract her mind from the Crater, Aeris spent a moment just admiring the scenery that spread around her. If not for the gloomy figure of meteor on the sky, she'd have thought the sight beautiful. Icicles that dangled from branches of spruces and other trees sparkled like rubies in the little remaining sunlight. Only a faint breeze blew in the air, shuffling the snow as it went. The air was brisk with just a hint of resin scent in it. Aeris lowered her emerald gaze to the footprints already vanishing under a fresh layer of snow. Watching their figure slowly fade into the surrounding white, her wistful smile was soon replaced with a look of sorrow and despair. Perhaps, somewhere deep down in her heart, she had been waiting for someone to catch up with her. And now that someone would lose track of her. He wouldn't be able to follow.
"It's getting dark soon. We should find a sheltered place and set up camp." Aeris' ears caught the sound of Cloud's voice, and her eyes reluctantly left the trail of footprints and turned back to look at her travel-companions. Cloud, Tifa and Red were standing in the lead of the group, hunched over a piece of paper that looked like a map. Their group had split up again, to avoid getting detected by Shin-Ra. And in case the other team got caught, the others could develop a rescue plan. Both teams kept in close contact though, and talked over the PHS every now and then to avoid getting lost in the snowfields.
"How about this mountainside here.." Tifa pointed at the map, while Cloud battled to hold the paper still in the pull of the wind.
"Yeah, it looks like there could be a cave or something there.. Is it like two miles northeast from here?" Cloud asked, his eyes briefly meeting Tifa's. They smiled at each other; a small secret smile such only lovers shared.. Aeris watched them, feeling a pang of jealousy in her heart. It wasn't fair; that something others took for granted was so forbidden to her now. She turned to look at some spruces that grew on the side of the road, as if they had suddenly become the most fascinating things on earth.
And she tried not to think about him. Sephiroth. The word formed itself on her lips, however, and she found herself reaching within her memory to find some piece of him to wrap around her trembling shoulders like a security blanket. Nothing frightened her more than to discover how few the memories of him were, in fact. How bleak and dull her recollections were in comparison to reality. Just being around Sephiroth had made her pulse quicken, and the mere sound of his voice had stolen most rational thoughts from her mind. Her soul still kept reaching out to him as though he were a phantom limb, severed from her body. It refused to believe in the loss of something she no longer had. Perhaps it was her way of clinging to whatever threads of sanity she had left. Everything had happened too soon and too fast. Their falling in love, even. It had been a thundering storm of emotions to love someone like Sephiroth. And despite Tifa's 'You'll get over him'-speach, Aeris couldn't picture herself with anyone else. How could she not compare every future relationship to Sephiroth, and see them pale in comparison? Even if the price were her sanity, she wasn't sure if she could let go of the dream she had begun to believe. Aeris sighed deeply, and quickened her pace to keep up with the others.
* * * * *
After an hour of searching for a campsite in the thick, sinking snowfields, the AVALANCHEr's had finally settled into a small cave that had a small ledge above it's entrance. The cave provided them cover from the wind, that had suddenly become rather fierce. Outside, one could hear how the wind howled as it passed over the mountaintops, pushing light snow down it's rocky sides. Barret, Red and Tifa had already rolled out their sleeping bags, and judging by the steady rhythm of Barret's snoring, they were all soundly asleep. Cait Sith, Yuffie and Vincent sat around a flat stone, playing with cards. Cid stood slightly apart from them, staring out at the snowstorm raging outside.
And then there was Aeris. She stared into the flames of the campfire, adding small twigs to it every now and then. She had wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, and placed another on the ground to sit on. She felt tired, but couldn't bear to close her eyes. The storm raging outside would only keep her awake, or invoke nightmares she'd rather not see. Hearing the soft thumps of approaching footsteps, Aeris turned her head and saw Cloud was walking over to her from outside.
"I couldn't find any more firewood.. We'll just have to hope this is enough to keep the fire going through the night." He told Aeris, and pushed his frozen hands dangerously close to the fire.
"Umm.. Yeah." She smiled weakly in return, and continued staring into the flames.
"Uh, Aeris.. You mind if I sit here?" Cloud asked, very politely, just as he sat down next to Aeris on the small patch of blanket.
"Umm." Aeris mumbled her response, and threw a branch with one dead leaf still clinging to it in the middle of the fire. She watched as the leaf curled black at the sides, as the flames rendered it to ashes. The wood kept crackling quietly, and Aeris poked the logs with a stick. It was a distraction, and she was completely wrapped up in the task she'd been entrusted with. Looking after the fire gave her something to do, and sitting by it kept her warm.
"Is that umm Yes, or umm No?" Cloud joked lightheartedly, and dropped the fathom of wood he had been carrying to the cave's floor.
Aeris glanced at her companion, but didn't answer him.
She continued to twiddle the stick she held, nervously as though she was expecting for the sky to fall on her shoulders any moment now. And quite frankly, Cloud had to admit, she wasn't exactly wrong. A lot was counting on her success. If she wouldn't be able to stop the meteor, he wondered if anyone could. "Aeris.." Cloud began with a sigh, and turned on the blanket so that he could grasp the nervously shivering fingers of his teammate. "Talk to me. If there's something wrong--" He tried. And the only reply he got from Aeris was a quick frightened glance that almost urged him to stop with the pressure. She wouldn't open up to him unless she was ready to do so.
"I.. wanted to save him so badly." Aeris finally answered, biting her lip so hard it nearly began to bleed. Despite the voice in her head that said Cloud would never understand, she had to talk. Even if he wouldn't want to hear what she had to say, she needed to say this.
"You mean Sephiroth?" Cloud checked, trying to sound neutral, but Aeris didn't miss the way his hold on her fingers tensed.
"Yes.. I.." Aeris tried to force the words from her lips, but something held them in her throat; it was as though some invisible fingers were trying to pull the words back inside, too stubborn to realize that simply not saying them outloud would not erase the truths behind them.
"You really loved him." Cloud interpreted the grief-distorted expression on Aeris' face. There was a disbelieving tinge in his voice; a part of him still refused to believe Aeris could have any real feelings towards the ex-General. Not if she knew his true nature..
"I can't believe I failed. He needed me, and I wasn't there. Just like before.. I couldn't help him." Aeris lifted her tear-gazed eyes to Cloud. She quickly wiped away the tears that threatened to roll down her cheeks. She looked utterly sad and defeated, given up somehow. The sight disturbed Cloud, for he was so used to dealing with a completely different, vibrant Aeris. The girl before him now, seemed like the wrecked ruins of her former self, and Cloud had difficulties thinking of anyone else to blame than Sephiroth. Still, he wanted to cheer Aeris up to the best of his ability, and kept his opinions to himself.
"Hey, maybe it's not too late.." Cloud began, wrapping his arm around Aeris' shoulder. She eagerly accepted his embrace, probably too weary to even think otherwise. But even as he spoke his comforting words, Cloud silently wished this was the last they'd ever hear from Sephiroth. Just wistful thinking, Cloud snorted at his thoughts. "From my experience, Sephiroth's pretty resilient - it could be he'll turn up somewhere." He continued, disliking the truth he felt in his words. After all, this wasn't the first time Sephiroth had ever fallen into gigantic amounts of Mako.. The ex-General had an unfortunate tendency to survive things others couldn't.
Aeris just shivered of cold, in spite of the fact that she sat just next to the campfire. "You don't understand. How could you?" She said bitterly, and leaned deeped against Cloud's shoulder. Her emerald-green eyes stared blankly ahead, blinking every now and then.
"Everything will work out, you'll see." Cloud sighed reassuringly, casting new logs to the fading flames. Charred pieces of wood glowed blood-red against the dark stonefloor of the cave, that was now covered in ashes.
"I don't think so, Cloud. Not anymore." Aeris whispered her reply, just as a sudden draft fanned sparks to soar from the campfire.
* * * * *
A colourless leaf rolled along the surface of a slowly flowing river, bouncing off the tall banks that edged the stream. The water was clear, and revealed a rocky bottom less than five metres below the surface. As the leaf reached a cluster of stones, the current picked up it's speed and hurled the leaf into a spinning motion. It flew across the water, twirling like a spinning-top until it bumped into a figure that lay sprawled over an icy treetrunk. The black-clad man held his head above the water with great difficulty, somehow maintaining his hold on the slippery tree. He was shivering, too frozen to move a muscle - yet hypothermia that brought with it the blissful illusion of warmth had not yet struck him. Grunting from the effort, the man pulled himself further up from the stream. His cloathes were soaked, and did nothing to keep his bodyheat from escaping into the cold winter's air.
Slowly, the man's eyes opened up. The first thing his vertical pupils reflected, was a row of leafless, bare trees, that leaned over the river towards the other side. Their trunks weren't straight like those of ordinary trees, but bent and bulgy. Layers of black mushrooms grew on their sides, only now they were hidden under a coating of snow. The ground was mostly bare, apart from the dry leaves and small twigs that formed a blanket over it. "..Where am I?" The man whispered to himself, needing to break the grim silence. The quiet surrounding the forest seemed tangible, like some sinister deity was muffling out the sounds of animals and wind.
The man opened his mouth to call out to someone, but a tinge of annoyance passed over his brow and he merely took a few deep breaths instead. He was hardly in any immediate danger. God forbid he should call out for help if he weren't in danger, he smirked. And who would be there to hear him anyway? Quickly glancing down, the man sighed in relief when he saw his long-bladed sword was still in place in it's sheath. He might need it, if not for fighting monsters that were lurking somewhere out of sight, then perhaps for chopping firefood. He would need to get a fire started soon, to get his clothes dried again.
Forcing his quivering body to move again, the man climbed out of the rivers path. The relatively small effort drained his body, and he rolled to his back from exhaustion. A voice in his head was whispering him to give up and fall asleep; to welcome the warm caress of death. But at that exact moment he closed his eyes - just for ten seconds, only for a while, to rest - he remembered her laughter. How his name used to roll of her tongue in that breathy way that was so uniquely Aeris; "Sephiroth.." He could almost hear it now.
A low, frustrated breath escaped from deep in his throat, as he forced himself to sit up. Wrapping his arms around his knees, Sephiroth sat there a long time. His silver-coloured hair was wet and partly frozen; it lay flat against the back of his long leather coat. As great as the discomfort the soaked clothes caused, Sephiroth couldn't bear to dislodge his arms from around his knees to go gathering firewood. At least this way, he could momentarily stop the shivering.
A dangerous tune played in Sephiroth's head, lulling him to sleep. His eyes wanted nothing more than to close, but he knew should he fall asleep he would never wake up. The cold would get to him and by the end of the day there would be nothing left of him but a human popsicle for the local monsters to feast upon. This was no way for a SOLDIER to die.. Slowly the deathlock his arms had of his knees loosened, and his head drooped backwards. Before his back met the ground and the dead leaves, a deep and content sigh left Sephiroth's mouth. Suddenly he felt so warm, like sinking to a pleasantly warm bathtub. The wamth spread up from his feet, rushing over him as he fell. The leaves rustled as they accepted the dead weight of Sephiroth's body, and then the whole forest was quiet again. The white, translucent layer of mist that hovered above the ground slowly thickened, enveloping the trees, the river and a lonely crow that sat on a treebranch. The bird jumped on it's wings, and escorted the feeble breaths of a dying man towards the pale grey sky.
* * * * *
Aeris stood at the shoreline, watching the waves rush into shore. One after another they came, climbing up the fine white sand and over her bare feet. The water soaked the sand, dying it momentarily darker. As the foamy crest of the wave withdrew back into the ocean, the sand dried out again. She was wearing a white, ankle-length gown, and upon her head she wore a yellow straw-hat, that she held fast with her left hand. Sephiroth merely observed her, not wanting to disturb her thoughts.
Behind her, a few metres up the beach grew patches of tall grass, that swayed in the gentle breeze. A poorly constructed fence that cleaved through it, separated the sands from a flourishing meadow. It's endless green met the sky in the horizon.
"Aeris..?" Sephiroth suddenly called out to her, very quietly. She started at his voice, and turned her head quickly.
When she saw Sephiroth standing not far away, a smile lit up her eyes, and the corners of her mouth turned up to reveal a perfect line of white teeth. "I missed you." She said, closing her eyes in pleasure when the cool salty water of the next wave washed over her toes. The air surrounding her was so hot it made the scenery quiver. Bangles of Aeris' curly, chestnut coloured hair whisked to the wind behind her, reflecting a glimmer of gold as the sunlight hit them.
"Sephiroth?" She asked, her voice suddenly grief-stricken, "Where are you?"
* * * * *
"H-huh?" Sephiroth bolted up to a seated position, swallowing his frightened breath. Remnants of sleep - a sensation of falling towards something - left him shaken and disturbed. The air that had hurled past him as he fell had felt so cold, and he hadn't been able to see anything but an endless darkness. He had felt completely helpless and doomed, and he'd been sure he would die. His bones would've surely shattered from impact with the ground. Sephiroth's expression darkened, as he pondered what would've happened, should the dream have had time to end properly. A part of him a fascinated to find out.
"So.. You're awake then." A voice spoke up, startling Sephiroth. He turned his head, and saw a white-haired old man sitting in a rocking-chair by a window not far away from the bed Sephiroth was lying on. The man had a friendly smile on his wrinkled face, and soft grey eyes. His left brow drooped a little over his eye, and he could've stood to loose some weight. So this was the man who saved me from the woods, Sephiroth thought and gave a snort of contempt. It wasn't his proudest moment.
"You were barely alive when I found you.. I honestly didn't think you'd make it." The man spoke again, while trying to light the black pipe he held in his hands. "Why did you come here anyway? Didn't they warn you at Bone Village?"
"..Bone Village? Is that where I am?" Sephiroth asked, while taking a look at his surroundings. It was a small cottage, with just two rooms. From the main room, opened a doorway to the bedroom. Next to it's king-sized bed was a door that was apparently the only exit. On the walls hung some self-made ornaments and a hunting-rifle. A fishing rod was placed leaning towards a shelve made of unpolished wood. The horizontal levels were filled with carved statues of chocobos, monsters and people. Beige rugs covered the plank-floor. A book lay flat on the night-stand; a single straw of hay was placed in between two pages as a bookmark.
"I was warned.. Many years ago. They said the Sleeping Forest would get me, but I didn't believe them." The man chuckled, and shook his head, "They said I wouldn't find my way out.." He went silent for a moment, to lift the pipe to his narrow lips. A small puff of tobacco-smoke soon rose from the pipe's nest. "But I was a young man then.. I thought such beliefs were old-wives tales. I ventured here.. nearly fourty years ago. And I haven't seen my family since." The man turned quiet again, and glanced out through the window. Frost formed flower-like patterns on the glass' surface, and not much more of the outside world was visible through it. One could pick out a river though, that wound it's way through a dark looking forest.
"This is the Sleeping Forest?" Sephiroth asked, not particularly interested in hearing his rescuers biography. He had his own problems to sort out.
"Yes.. My home now. And yours." The man sounded apologetic. "Unless you have a Lunar Harp, you cannot leave these woods."
"Where can I get one?" Sephiroth asked matter-o-factly, his gaze still travelling over the various items in the room. If this man had built this cottage with his own bare hands, one could only wonder where he had gotten hold of so many things. There were combs and tin-cans, and lot's of glass bottles filled with herbs. Even a small mirror hung on the wall, though it's up-right corner had chipped loose. Across the ceiling ran a string on which some mushrooms were drying out.
"You can't." The man sounded apologetic. "People of Bone Village suspected the Harp is burried somewhere within the village's soil, but where, none can say.."
"It's never been found?"
"No." The man answered, "Not as far as I know, anyway."
"Well.. Can't be helped. I can't stay here." Sephiroth muttered, and stood up from the bed. Immediatly he felt a dizzy-spell taking over, and took support from the mantle over the fireplace.
"Take it easy! You were pretty close to frozen solid when I found you!" The man rushed to Sephiroth's aid, but he sat back down on the bed before the man had time to reach him.
"I have to leave.. Soon." Sephiroth said bluntly, "I have somewhere to be."
He needed to get back to Aeris.. find some way of making up for all that he'd done to her. But would she want to see him? Could she bear to look at him anymore? The question tore Sephiroth apart, because he couldn't say for absolute certainty, that Aeris would still want him back. He couldn't help feeling angry at himself, and frightened that he might've blown his chances with her.
"Well.. I can give you a map, but I doubt it will do you much good." The old hand walked over to his shelve, and pulled out a yellowish piece of paper he then handed over to Sephiroth. A detailed guide of the forest was drawn on the map with ink. "It's my.. own design." The old man grinned, looking rather proud of himself.
Sephiroth merely snatched the paper from him, and studied it. He couldn't identify the place at which he'd first woken up, but at least this cabin was clearly marked at the center of the map. Figures, he snorted.
"You're not leaving quite yet, are you? It's getting dark.. It won't be safe outside." The man asked, but Sephiroth ignored his warnings. He couldn't rest here, anyway. At least if he walked, he could think, make some sence of this situation.. Figure out what to tell Aeris when he'd meet her. If he'd meet her, Sephiroth's expression darkened. There was the possibility Jenova had beaten AVALANCHE. He had to find out what had happened; he had to know for sure. But what if Aeris was dead..? Sephiroth turned his eyes to the flames, a sullen look on his face. Jenova would pay..
"I have to go." He stood up again, and this time he didn't feel as dizzy as before. Thank god for small favours, he thought, and paced over to the main door. He turned the handle and opened the door, stopping in the doorway. He looked behind him, at the man who'd saved him, and tried to force a word of gratitude from his mouth. After a moments silence, Sephiroth merely stepped outside and begun walking with a long determined stride. The sun was quickly setting, making the frost on the trees' branches twinkle in the late afternoon light. He could only concentrate on his destination though, unable to even notice anything else. He had to walk as far as he could tonight, camp out somewhere and then continue his journey at daybreak. The uncertainty and the anxiety that made his heart beat that much quicker, only gave him more energy to keep walking.
Aeris was waiting for him, somewhere. Of that, he was sure. But was she still alive?
* * * * *
So this was it, Aeris thought as she entered the City of the Ancients. The rest of the team followed in behind her, stopping to take in the view.
"Wow. So it actually exists." Tifa gasped, flicking back her long straight hair.
"Yeah.." Aeris sighed, her eyes doing a quick sweep over everything she saw. Large, biculiar shaped buildings were everywhere, connected to each other by narrow, stone-paved roads. Up ahead at the centre of the abandoned city, was a building in particular that caught Aeris' attention. It had been built to overlook a small pond. It looked important somehow, even familiar on levels Aeris didn't fully understand. Perhaps it had been an important site for the Ancients, and something in her blood-legacy recognized that.
"I think I should go over there." Aeris spoke up, and turned around to look at the others, who had sat down on a crumbling stone wall at the side of the city's main street.
"On your own?" Cloud jumped down from the wall, and walked over to Aeris.
She just smiled at him in response. It was sweet, how concearned Cloud was for her safety, but Aeris was convinced she would be safe here. After all, even monsters avoided this place. Everything around here seemed to resonate tranquility and peace, even to such an extent it made Aeris feel lightheaded and drowzy.
"I know.." Aeris gave Cloud a lop-sided grin, "But-" She continued, uncertain of how to explain herself. "I just have this feeling.. Like this is something I should do alone." Aeris finally answered, bowing her head down as she turned her back at her friends.
"Are you sure about that?" Cloud placed his hand on Aeris' shoulder, his voice betraying his concearn and dislike of her choise.
"Yes.." Aeris nodded quietly.
"Fine then. We'll just stay here and provide you with.. moral support." Cloud spoke, cringing at the words.
Aeris chuckled at him, knowing how hard it must've been for Cloud to utter those words. He mostly preferred to tackle whatever problem head on, rather than leaving everything to the hands of a girl who wasn't even a powerful fighter. In Aeris' opinion, trusting her to solve the meteor issue was a big vote of confidence, especially coming from Cloud. "Thankyou." She glanced at him, before turning to look at the rest of her friends. "Thanks to all of you. For coming this far." She added.
"No prob." Yuffie answered, looking at Vincent with a puzzled expression on her face. The dark-haired man answered her look with a inexpressive shrug.
"See you soon?" Tifa offered, and Aeris nodded at her.
"Yes. Soon." She answered, and began to walk towards the mystical building.
Aeris held her eyes glued to the building, studying it as she made her way towards it with a determined long stride. Circling around the deep blue-watered pond, Aeris noticed how still and quiet everything was. There were wild flowers growing around the pond; small yellow petals stood out from the green grass like miniature suns. Green moss climbed up the sides of stones, colouring up the scenery.
~..Aeris..~ A weak voice hummed, overlapsing several other voices.
"H-huh?" Aeris tilted her head slightly. It had been a while since she'd been contacted by the planet, so she'd almost forgotten about her special abilities. "Oh. You again." Aeris bit her lip sadly as she entered the building's courtyard. She climbed up a few stairs and opened the door leading inside.
~You're expected, child..~ A voice spoke, louder this time.
"I know." Aeris answered uncertainly.
There had been a time she had loved having her connection to the Planet. The voices had often assured her that her mother was in a better place, safe and sound and that she shouldn't cry for her too much - the Planet had meant everything to Aeris. It had been a source of light, purity and warmth for her; even in times her life had lacked all those things. Now the voices sounded demanding, even a little bit scared for what the future might bring. Everyone was counting on Aeris to help the Planet, and she wasn't sure if she could.
~Come.. Everything's prepared for your arrival.~ A voice whispered, as a stairway revealed itself from the end of the circular room Aeris had just entered.
"Everything..?" Aeris clutched her staff, carefully entering the dimly lit chambers below the building. Stairs made of crystal were entirely see-throughy, and Aeris' old fear of heights re-emerged, only this time Sephiroth wasn't there to hold her hand. Her legs felt like jello and with every step she took Aeris saw a mental image of herself falling endlessly, towards the floor hidden somewhere below the staircase.
A temple-like building was revealed from the bottom of the stairs. It looked ancient, far older than the buildings outside, under the sunlight. With it's archways and corridors, steps leading to upper floors, the temple looked ominous. Shadows scurried across the floor, as Aeris' feet took a cautious step forward. The anxiety in her veins wouldn't let her stand still for much longer, and she began walking ahead again. Aeris' fingers traced the rugged stone columns she passed, idly counting them to relax. She tried to swallow her nervousness as if it were a piece of food stuck in her throat, while her hands tightened their grip on her weapon of choise.
~Hurry.. For there is little time.. You must summon holy, before it is too late..~ The Planet continued it's demands, as the echo of Aeris' footfalls bounced off the walls and onto the endless night that spread around the building. As soon as she stepped out of the shadows, she saw a path of scarsely positioned stones, leading across a pond of Mako to a circular platform.
~You must know, what to do now?~ The Planet's voice whispered almost apologetically, just as Aeris' eyes met a familiar sight. A silver-haired man stood on the platform with his back turned to the entrance, staring into the endless pitch-dark. The ominous glow of Mako in his eyes matched the surrounding pond's dreamy shade of green. Aeris carefully skipped over the rocks, not wanting to slip and fall into the Lifestream.
"Hello Sephiroth." Aeris cleared her throat loudly, making sure he heard her approach before she spoke up. A part of her wasn't surprised to see him there - after all, thanks to his special blood Sephiroth would feel drawn here too. Aeris stood perfectly motionless, petrified almost, between the two marble columns that edged the entrance to the platform. Afraid to take the next step, Aeris only watched as Sephiroth spun around with a jolt, his ovial-shaped eyes doing a quick scan of her from head to toe. At first the look on his face seemed harsh somehow, a bit arrogant even, but as he had finished looking Aeris over, he turned sideways to avoid her gaze, hanging his head down in shame.
"Aeris.. I don't know what to say. I.. I'm sorry." Sephiroth finally spoke up, his voice filled with regret. Aeris just looked at him for a long time. This was the man who had summoned meteor, the man who had hurt her so much. He had tried to destroy the one thing he knew Aeris loved the most - this Planet. And regardless of the fact that he had been cheated to it, Aeris wasn't sure if she could just forgive him like that. But on the other hand.. She believed her heart already had. And that made this so much worse.
"You must know why I'm here." Aeris cleared her throat again, somehow maintaining the cool indifference in her voice. She stared blankly at the long-bladed Masamune, that Sephiroth held by the handle. Such a beatiful, deadly sword.. In her mind, a choir of a million voices screamed silent warnings, telling her she should beware of this man. Perhaps he was loyal to Jenova still, unaware of her demise. But Sephiroth just stood there in a rigid posture, soaking up the awkward silence. Only his hair shifted slightly as he glanced at Aeris from the corner of his eye.
"I won't fight you.." He spoke in a calm, refined voice.
Aeris took a cautious step closer, feeling a throb of energy at the back of her head. Reaching out her hand to investigate, Aeris found the orb of materia her mother had left her. It was pulsing with the most radiant light Aeris had ever seen. It had to mean she'd have to summon Holy soon.
"Have you ever had to make an impossible choise?" Aeris looked up at Sephiroth, suddenly tear-gazed.
Everything was so clear to her now, she could see all the options just by glancing at the materia, and didn't like the look of them. The Planet wanted her to choose. It was either him, or the Planet. They knew that for as long as someone of Jenova's bloodline was alive, the will of the Planet was weakened. Without harming the one who'd summoned Meteor, it would be impossible to destroy the meteor without causing at least some damage to the Planet in the process. Right now, it was up to Aeris to decide whether she wanted to take her chances. It was all up to her.. And even as she recognized her deep-rooted love for the Planet, her mind was already making up excuses for letting it get hurt. Perhaps the damage wouldn't be much. And the Planet would heal in time, wouldn't it? And there was no-one to gain from this. People would understand. Her ancestors would understand.. She needed Sephiroth to live. Things could be like they were before. He was better now..
"Many times. You'll survive." Sephiroth answered coolly, taking a step closer.
"Sephiroth.." Aeris sniffled, and lifted up her palm, "Don't." She shook her head as a silent no, stopping the silver haired man in mid-stride.
"Aeris.. Tell me how I can make this better." Sephiroth asked in a pleading tone.
"You can't!" Aeris sobbed, taking a step back from him. "God!" She cried out, circling as far away from him as she could.
"I wanted to hate you, god I wish that I could!" Aeris raised her voice, desperately trying to swallow the bitter lump brewing inside her throat. "..You hurt me so much.." She whimpered, in a small fragile voice. "And.. It's been too much. Everything.. I remembered. About us." Aeris continued, and made a vain attempt at picking herself up by smoothening out some wrinkles in her dress.
"I.. You didn't want to know? About the past?" Sephiroth asked Aeris, puzzled by her behaviour.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help you. I'm so sorry." Aeris' voice faded to a barely audible whisper. She stood still again, her petite body shaking with violent sobs that had apparently been waiting for an outlet for some time now.
"I forgot too, you know. It wasn't just you. And I've nearly killed you, several times. You have nothing to apologize for." Sephiroth's voice was harsh, and he turned around without so much as looking at Aeris.
She stared at the back of his black leather coat, struggling to find something to say. "How did this happen to us? Why?" Aeris formed her question, and waited for Sephiroth to answer. He was silent for so long Aeris began to doubt if he ever would.
"Perhaps it was our destiny.." He sighed, and shook his head nonchalantly.
"We were going to get married.." Aeris sniffled again, hating Sephiroth's stoicism. She wanted him to react, in any way. Lash out at her, if be it. Now it just seemed like none of this mattered to him.
"Don't.. torment yourself over this." Sephiroth spun around, finding Aeris only inches away from him.
She looked up into his eyes, and instictively reached her hand up to trace the delicate contours of his face. How beautiful he was, more precious than any flower on this earth. "How could I not? I love you.." She told him, her voice cracking at the last syllible. Her hands took forever to leave his skin again, hoping that by not moving, not thinking or saying anything, she could stretch this moment to last a while longer. Just a few more minutes.. So how could she ever do what the Planet was asking her to do? There was no way she'd have the strength, the brutality to do such a horrible, horrible thing? Especially to someone she loved, with as much fire and passion as she ever had.
Sephiroth pulled Aeris to him, wrapping his strong arms around her. "It will be all right.." He said, in a transparent attempt to soothe the young woman he held.
"Don't say that!" Aeris sobbed, "It won't be OK!" She protested, and tore herself from Sephiroth's embrace. "It will never be alright!" She shouted at him, banging her little fists against his chest. Sephiroth just stared down at her hysteric behaviour, before grabbing hold of her wrists with both hands.
"Aeris.." He merely whispered, and watched as Aeris slowly re-acquanted herself with his embrace, tears streaming down her pretty face. And finally, in the hands of her mortal enemy, the last Cetra cried.
This was such a difficult chapter to write.. It also took me, like, forever to finish! Anyway, I love getting reviews, so do send them!! ^_^ Oh and let me remind you, this story is not over yet and there are still a few chapters to be posted.. Just hope I'll get my mind set on completing them soon. Lot's of feedback should keep me motivated though! (hint, hint!)