Paradise breaks, with darkness in the living room. There's misplaced blame and understanding...of course there is.
"Who are you?" asked Raieyana, half-frightened.
The man chuckled. "I had no idea I would be startling to you. I'm sorry. Your father must have been very detailed in his descriptions of his late colleague."
"Well, I admit, he was. I knew who he was before I ever caught a glimpse of him. Of course, I was very young at the time."
"Considering Jack Reno died fourteen years ago, I would expect so."
She folded her arms across her chest. "So you aren't pretending to be him. What is your agenda?"
"My agenda? Is...rather long. I will tell you though, if you let me come in to sit down. Unless you'd have to go ask your father first..."
"My father?" Raieyana scrutinized the caller's face. "My father has been dead for over twenty years." (Both my biological father and Tseng. What's up with this guy... I wonder how cautious I should really be...)
"What do you mean? Alcor hasn't even existed for twenty years yet, how could Reeve Jordan have died before it was founded?!"
"Well, that would be impossible. But Reeve Jordan is my /husband/! My father was Tseng Amine." No one outside of Avalanche and their close friends knew of Raieyana's real family ties, for the obvious reason of keeping her from any more public scrutiny than she received as the wife of a prominent businessman.
The man looked shocked. "My humblest apologies. I was not aware Reeve had taken a wife so many years his junior."
"So many? I know ten is quite a bit when people are younger, but now it seems as inconsequential as a week's difference."
"This is all very confusing. I had you pegged as Reeve's twenty-one-year-old daughter, Aeris."
(Pegged?) "If I invite you in, will you tell me why you were spying here?"
"Fine." Raieyana coolly met his eye. "If you tell me who you are, we can continue this conversation."
"My name is Ryald. Jack Reno was my father."
"Dark forces are converging on Undor-Hai once again. They began five years ago. I waited for any indication of trouble, but I have seen nothing." Red XIII looked at the group watching him. "There must be something there, though. Trying to tell us we can stop the problem before it starts." He had woken up Barret's entire household at 2 a.m.
"We probably couldn't figure out what it would be until it does start." Always the sensible businesswoman, Marlene shook her head. "I didn't spend years at the Junon Academy and even more in business school to run around after mystic problems friends of my father have."
"I have been feeling negative vibes at home for quite some time. I could notice a difference in the atmosphere of the landscape, as soon as I left the Midgar side of the continent," said Aeris.
"Dammit anyway," said Barret. "In my day, it always was the Shinra. Nowadays, no one knows the hell's goin' on!"
"There haven't been any problems yet, Dad."
Red XIII's head snapped up. "I have been alive for nearly thrice the time you have, child. For my species, I am barely entering adulthood, but for yours, I would seem elderly. I know when the presence of energy is a slight setback and when a crisis is brewing. Well, I see 'crisis' written in neon letters above Undor-Hai."
"What do you propose to do about it, Nanaki?" asked Aeris.
"What did you call me?"
"Uhh...Nanaki. That's your birth name, isn't it?"
The creature cracked a grin, which was only identifiable from a snarl by the way he rolled his eyes. "To tell you the truth, Rissy, I've been called 'Red' so long it startles me to hear 'Nanaki.' Even the youngsters in the Canyon call me 'Red,' or Planet forbid, 'Reddie.'"
"I suppose it's like how everyone calls me 'Rissy' so no one thinks I'm an Ancient come back from the dead."
"Precisely. My idea for right now is to call Tifa out here from Cosmo Canyon. She just became an Elder, and her area of expertise deals with positive and negative energy flow, as well as auras. She has a theory."
"Teef, an Elder at the Canyon?" Barret beamed with pride. "An' she's one of the original Avalanche, after Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie."
"A theory on auras?" sniffed Marlene skeptically. At twenty-six, she had definitely left all fairy tale possibilities aside. She hardly believed that materia could be used to cast magic.
"Don't make me do a disservice to her great effort by expecting an explanation. All I know is how it has to do with the energy a person projects, and how that energy works when groups of people interact with each other."
"Sounds like new-age-y bullshit."
"Marlene! Who th' hell told you to go and be sayin' shit like that to people?" spouted an embarrassed Barret.
He was met by three pointed looks.
"I suppose I'm not the best role model for propa English...but she's a girl and should talk more, y'know, lady-like."
"It's hard to be a lady when your daddy has a gun grafted into his arm," she retorted.
Patting his gun arm, he gave his adopted daughter a little smile. "Honey, if it wasn't for this, you'd have to go tellin' people 'I ain't got no daddy.'"
"True." She managed a smile. "Since Tifa probably won't arrive within the hour, can I go back to sleep now? I took time off from Alcor to go home, visit my dad and stepmother and all. But the most important thing on the agenda was actually sleeping."
Marlene's stepmother was Elmyra, of course. She and Barret grew quite fond of each other after spending so much time being neighbors. Marlene adored Elmyra after their time together during the battle versus Sephiroth and the prevention of his resurrection. This was all very fortunate, and the couple made it legal after they learned Elmyra was the only one who could manage Marlene in her wild teen years.
"Yes, of course," said Red XIII. "Let's all go back to sleep. I'm sure that's what Tifa's doing, and probably all of Undor-Hai, for that matter."
Poor Red XII was incorrect about the state of slumber in Undor-Hai. Raieyana let Ryald into her living room, barely suppressing her shock. "Reno never told me he had a son," she stated accusingly.
"Of course he wouldn't. He didn't know he had one. I was illegitimate, obviously, and my mother knew his reputation as a Turk. She'd rather be a single parent then let him have me murdered to escape child support. I suppose in your world, Ms. Jordan, having babies is always bliss." His whole statement was filled with bitterness.
"I understand perfectly how that could happen. My life, including birth and the related things, has not been bliss, but that's not really any of your concern. What is of your concern is how much I want to impress on you that your father would never have done such a thing as have you killed."
"Why not? Everyone in the world knows he let the plate loose on Sector 7 back in the days of Shinra."
"No excuse is enough for that incident. He had his orders. As my father was also involved with the plate release, and I know what a good man he was, I never faulted Reno for that, either."
"It was also part of his job to cut all ties, lose all responsibilities except to the Shinra."
"Who told you all of this foolishness?" asked Raieyana, puzzled.
"My mother. She knew how things in Shinra worked. She dated men from the company just to learn as many secrets as possible."
"Ryald. My father was a Turk, I knew Reno very well, and my husband was the director of public relations for Shinra. My cousin was Rufus Shinra's successor. My ties reach far out to the heart of the company, and I tell you she was mistaken."
"Of course you would defend them," he said.
"I gave the orders for the attack on Edinborough, and I gave the okay for the Mako blast to be set on Midgar. I infiltrated their building in the Junon days and released prisoners. I doubt I was their most favorite person. I had a warrant on my head at one point, and later, during your father's second stint at the Turks, he was given the offer of over a million gil to kidnap me and give me to the Head of Science."
The silence seemed to separate the two from connecting with each other. "I don't understand. You say Reno wasn't bad, though."
"He was my husband's best friend. They founded Alcor together. He took a knife in the chest to prevent my kidnapping. He and Reeve surrendered themselves to Shinra to buy Junon a time to prepare for attack and a woman named Elena to escape the city."
"You speak of him as if he was admirable."
"So I do, Ryald. The day he died, he saved the lives of my husband and my youngest son, my best friend's husband, and many of my friends. He also saved my life."
He shook his head. "Who are you to say that it wasn't all for personal gain?"
"He did it because he cared!"
Ryald stood up, disgusted. "Look, all I came here for was information on my father and whether or not I should be rightful heir to Alcor."
"This is information."
"Just because you were foolish enough to be taken in by him..."
"Tell me one thing, though. How'd you arrange his death to give your husband full control of the company? He had no connections, if he gave it to Reeve there would have been no question. You guys were so stupid though, making out a will leaving it to /you/."
"He wrote those words..." Raieyana turned away.
"Look at me and hear me out!" He grabbed her by the shoulders. "I'm here to get what's /mine/!"
She looked at him in surprise and fear. (I can't reach my weapon.) She had left it at the door, still in a confused state from Ryald's resemblance to Reno. (God, they have the same eyes.) She tried to look into them, see some piece of her lost lover, but the blue in these eyes were ice cold.
Ryald drew a knife. "Maybe I should leave your husband a present so he takes my message more seriously." He held the blade up, and it sparkled in the moonbeam that streamed in from the window. "Or maybe I should just leave him the message...written in your precious blood."
Patrick cocked his head in thought. (Sounds like there are voices downstairs...) He listened carefully. (Mother and someone I don't know...they sound angry. I better check it out.) He slipped his T-shirt back on and grabbed his weapon of choice, a huge sword. Heading towards the door, he paused for a second to glance at Azura. (For her sake, I hope nothing bad is happening down there.)
He had ears like a bat, that missed nothing, and eyes that saw too clearly what happened in the depths of the night. He silently crept down the hallway and to the stairs, not even letting a floorboard creak underneath him. Peering into the shadows, he saw what he had come looking for.
(That man has Mother by the shoulders and he's shaking her!) Readying his sword, he prepared to walk into the living room and ask if everything was all right. Suddenly he noticed a metallic gleam in the air near Raieyana's throat and he heard a few whispered words very distinctly: "...I should just leave him the message...written in your precious blood."
It seemed like Patrick's blood curdled, boiled over, then froze in his veins. The rage within him started a slow glow, but like the embers of a dying fire, soon flew into flames as his own thoughts provoked him more. He remembered the scene from his dream. (I'll burn in hell before I'll let anyone touch my mother in a hurtful way again. If I have to tear that man's arms off, I will do it!)
Anger dulls the senses in ways that a drug cannot. Patrick soon became seemingly deaf and dumb as his fury overtook all rationality. He always said later that the very last thing he remembered about the events that took place that night...was the look on the man's face as he pounced his attack.
Patrick's memory blackout ended several minutes later. Ryald's head was rolling on the floor, and Patrick was covered in blood.
The sound that Azura awoke to, just before the break of dawn, was of a single scream of complete horror.
"He's dead! He's dead!"
She turned over to see if Patrick had heard the cries. Suddenly, she became very scared. Patrick wasn't there.
Reeve was a heavy sleeper. Luckily, he was in mid-roll-over when he heard screaming come to his ears. (That's Raieyana!)
He jumped up as fast as he could, grabbing both a first-aid kit and a weapon on his way towards her. (Gotta be prepared for anything.)
Yuffie and Vincent were at the top of the stairs when they saw Reeve approach, followed by Kati, Sean, and Ishmael.
Vincent saw the first aid kit and said quietly, "I doubt that will help in this case." Seeing Reeve's weapon, he added, "I'm pretty sure the time of danger has passed too."
Reeve slowly walked down to where Raieyana was kneeling.
She was rocking back and forth, her arms wrapped carefully around herself. Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, the only time she paused was to wipe tears from her face.
She looked at him with empty eyes. "Patrick killed Reno."
Reeve fought the urge to be sick as he saw the head sitting in front of her, when the body was five feet away.
"I followed his eyes here. To see if the light in them went out."
He spoke gently. "Raieyana, Reno has been dead for a long time."
She looked at him as if he had revealed some terrible, startling truth to her. "No!" she moaned, and began to sob uncontrollably.
Cradling in her arms like a child, Reeve looked to the body and saw Patrick standing before it, bloody sword in hand. "What happened?" he asked, trying to give his stepson the benefit of the doubt.
"He touched her."
Noticing the look on Patrick's face, he wondered if he was in danger for holding his wife. "Touched her?"
"Like...the blond man."
Reeve's startled eyes met Vincent's. (Is it possible...that he could know?)
Suddenly, a teary Azura burst between her parents and ran down the stairs. "Where's Pat? Is he okay?" Then she saw.
"Zuri. Go back to bed. Now," ordered Yuffie.
She could not move; she couldn't even let her eyes stray from the bloody sword. "How?" she whispered. Then she raised her voice angrily. "Why did you do this?"
Patrick snapped out of his disorientation. "Zuri?" He suddenly noticed his bloody sword. He dropped it, and the clang echoed loudly throughout the house. "Where's Mother?"
"With me." Reeve's eyes narrowed. (This was all just an act. Pretending to lose control just like Strife.)
"Mother?" Seeing her condition, he stepped towards her.
"Haven't you done enough to her?!"
"I was protecting her."
Looking for understanding, he met contempt. "You did that so very well, too. Can't you do anything but destruction, Patrick? If this is what you call /protection/, you'd be better off anywhere but here in this house."
"You're telling your own son to leave?"
Reeve could only remain silent.
Patrick looked all around him and found nothing but unsympathetic eyes. Words echoed inside his head.
("He's violent..." said Lia. "I love you and your family, but I can't risk having him in my home."
"You can't see the Valentines because you won't stop killing things..." Reeve shook his head. "Wutaian wildlife is very delicate, if you chop up things and ruin them, they'd never forgive you."
"Honey, can't you just try to control yourself? For my sake?" A tear rolled down Raieyana's cheek. "Those chocobos didn't do a thing to you."
Azura was puzzled. "My parents wouldn't let me train here. And they told me to stay right on the porch..."
On the porch...
So we can watch him...)
"I think you wanted me out of your life even before I was in it," said Patrick to Reeve. "From this day forth, you are no longer my father. Since you never seemed to be quite sympathetic enough to be one to me, anyway."
"Patrick..." he said slowly.
"No! I asked for you to believe me, but I can see in your eyes you blame me. So I'll go get my things, and you won't see me again. Give my love to Mother. She's the only one in this family who bothered to return it."
Everyone's eyes were on Patrick as he hurried up the steps to his bedroom. Once inside, he started trembling. (My talk was big, but I'm still just a scared little boy.) This bothered him enough to return his strength to packing. He added orbs of materia and a few spare items and weapons to his sack, along with all the gil he had picked up monster hunting. (Good thing daddy didn't know about my little after-school job.) He shook the gil-pouch. (Full to the brim.)
Azura was at a loss at what to do. Reeve was silent, holding Raieyana as she cried and babbled. Her parents and siblings were visibly embarrassed to be viewing the family conflict that erupted from the grotesque scene in front of them. Ishmael looked as if his pain was about to cause him to pass out.
In the middle of all this, Azura started walking towards the door.
"Where are you going?" demanded Vincent.
"I-I wanna sit on the swing." She ran outside, sobbing.
Vincent started to go after her, but Yuffie held him back. "She wants to be alone, and she's very upset. We need to be careful of her feelings."
"I want her in my sight until he is gone."
"You think he'll leave? He's so young, and I'm sure he must have had some reason to have..."
"Yuffie." His voice was sharp. "I know you're a mother, and your mothering instinct tells you to be careful with Patrick, as he's a child. But we both know he had violent tendencies, and now it's been proven. Our main concern is to help Raieyana and she'd be better off if he went and dropped off the face of the Planet."
"How could you say that?"
"We know how he came to be here. Perhaps Raieyana loving him so much only delayed the inevitable. He was born to do this."
"You had pity on Sephiroth because of Hojo's treatments. You said he could have been normal if he had the chance."
"What I've seen tonight has made me think I was probably quite wrong. Anything with the mark of Hojo on it is tainted. Patrick was tainted many times over."
Patrick came down the stairs with his pack in hand. At the doorway, he turned and addressed everyone in the room. "You probably all think that this is good riddance," he said, "but you will never know how close you came to losing Mother. No one cares about that more than I. Yet I am blamed for this. If it's because I can't change who I am, I can't be sorry. I was born a certain way, but I have also become what you made of me."
He walked out the door just as the sun rose. Beams of light from the east radiated around his figure as he left them behind with their expectations.
Azura found herself back on the porch swing later that morning, while the adults asked for some privacy. (They think I can't handle them talking, but they let Kati and Sean stay. Why do they treat me like such a baby?)
She thought about dawn. Patrick had been startled to see her on the swing as he prepared to leave his home behind for good.
"Are you really going to go?" she asked sadly.
"I have no choice. I think maybe things had been building up to this point." He met her eyes with sadness. "I'm sorry though. I'll miss you."
"Then stay," she pleaded.
"Things will be easier for you this way." Patrick climbed down the ladder and began to walk away from the place he had lived his entire life. Unable to help himself, he turned back for one last gaze upon the house. He saw Azura watching him from the swing. He didn't turn away until he had burned the last image of her deeply into his mind.
(Long black hair, gray eyes glimmering in the first morning light, wearing a sweet little nightgown covered with flowers. Cherry blossoms.)
"I put her to bed, but I don't know what we can do with her," said Reeve softly. "She went into some kind of shock. And I can't help but think we have to call some sort of police here."
"You know that's impossible, Dad," said Ishmael. "This place is still a secret and this man was an intruder on our secret. Patrick would have to face the Undorian court for this, had he stayed, but he is gone."
"I suppose not much can be done then, but to have Lia arrange to cremate the body." He paused. "My main concern is with Ray, anyway."
"We should probably remove her from this place," suggested Vincent. "This memory would be most unpleasant to begin with, and in this case, very inhibitive to her recovery."
"We could take her to Wutai," said Yuffie.
"There is no one there who could possibly help her though. I think our best choice would be Cosmo Canyon. Peaceful and very non-hectic, with many intelligent Elders. Since she is in no state to travel in a conventional way, we should call Cid on the PHS and ask for his Airship services."
"That would work out nicely," said Reeve.
Yuffie looked over and saw her son and elder daughter exchanging glances. "What is it?"
Kati looked at Sean expectantly.
He rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll say it."
No one noticed Azura eavesdropping on the conversation. She had stooped under the open screen of the window and had been taking in all the planning.
"What's to be done about Zuri?" asked Sean.
"What do you mean?" asked Yuffie.
"Mom, she has to be very upset over everything, and I don't think dragging her around half the world would be the best thing for her right now."
"You're probably right," said Vincent. "I'll have Cid drop her off at Wutai before we all head to Cosmo Canyon."
Azura fumed over this. (It's true that I'm upset. Such a scary thing happened last night. And now Raieyana isn't well, and Pat has become an outcast. But, the last thing I want to happen is to be dropped off at Wutai like I was merely the toddler I used to be, back during the second Reunion.)
She knew that the decisions of her father were not anything for her to reckon with. The only person who ever dared do this was Yuffie, who was only successful part of the time herself. (So I will have to go along with things, be dropped off as a prisoner in Wutai, while they go fix things. And they'll never let me see Pat again!)
The thoughts almost brought tears to her eyes. But suddenly, for the first time in her life, a plan for disobeying began to form in her mind. (I've always played along with everything my parents wanted for me, and ignored my own needs and desires because I didn't want to be "in trouble." Yet, I never get any reward for it. This time, I'm going to do what my mind tells me to do.)
(I'm going to play along for as long as I need to. But I will not board that Airship. Not for all the silly parental promises in the world.)
A PHS in Barret's house rang at about ten in the morning. Red XIII, who was setting the table for a nice brunch, glanced at Aeris. "Could you get that, Riss?"
"Sure thing." She picked up the portable phone and pushed the button. "Hello?"
"Rissy, what are you doing answering Red's phone? And where are you?"
"Hi Dad. Red's here in Kalm and he's got his hands...umm I mean, paws, full at the moment. I was going to head home right after brunch. What's up?" She sensed the tension in her father's voice and was very concerned.
"A lot has happened in the past day. The Valentines arrived here for a vacation. There was an...incident here last night. Your mother isn't very well at the moment. We were going to arrange to take her to Cosmo Canyon to help her recover."
"You better call Tifa fast then, Dad. Red wanted her to join him in Kalm. He said there were negative forces over Undor-Hai!"
"I don't doubt it," Reeve muttered.
"Honey, just tell Red what I told you. And don't bother heading home. We'll have Cid pick you up too. I'll call Tifa. Bye sweetheart."
"You look worried, Aeris," said Red XIII.
"That was my dad. Mom's not well...something bad happened last night...and they want to take her to the Canyon. I told him to get hold of Tifa. I have to stay here 'til they get Cid to fly out on his Airship."
"Then this is something major."
"Yes it is. And they won't be able to get Cid to fly out there today."
"Well, I think this is the time of his annual fishing trip with Baker. You know, so it encompasses the anniversary of when he told Shera how he felt about her. The whole family goes fishing in Gongaga."
"Of course." Red XIII smiled. "That little rascal of his must be what, ten now?"
Aeris laughed. "Can't you keep track of our puny human years? He turned twelve two months ago."
The creature just shook his head. "I barely keep track of your parents' birthdays, child. Once you make them grandparents, I'll be lucky to remember which go to which family. It's the price of being old."
"You're not old, Reddie!" she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his neck. "You're the cutest widdle kitten I ever sawed!"
He growled. "Watch it, Aeris Aula Jordan." A smirk. "Too bad I remember your whole name, child."
"I'm so scared." She paused. "Well...actually, I wonder if my mom is all right?"
He thoughtfully nuzzled her shoulder. "We'll find out how she is as soon as we can. Until then, let's keep up our strength. Elmyra cooks very well...enough to make me hungry at the most unappetizing times."
"I'm very sorry for disturbing you," said Reeve soberly, "but Cid, this is very serious. We need your help to get Ray where she needs to be."
Five pairs of eyes watched the PHS conversation intently. One other pair, filled with anger, was peeking over the windowsill.
"I understand that. Tomorrow morning, first thing? Okay, we can manage to do that. Yes, there's a bare spot in the forest slightly east of the village where you can land. Well, this is an urgent matter, and we can hardly carry her over the trail... Thank you so much." Reeve hung up the PHS. "Tomorrow morning at dawn we take our things to this place in the forest. You might not want to take all your luggage, as we're in a hurry."
They all nodded.
"I'm going to go rest. We've been up for hours, and the amount of sleep I got was about zero last night." Reeve's game of PHS tag had lasted into the afternoon, and it wasn't until now that anyone felt the slightest bit of relaxation.
"I suggest we all do the same," said Vincent. "I'll be up in a minute," he said to Yuffie, "I'm going to go talk to Zuri."
Yuffie nodded and headed upstairs, followed by the others.
Stepping outside onto the porch, Vincent saw Azura sitting on the swing, as he expected. "Well, we've figured out what we're going to do."
"Good. Does that mean I can actually not be exiled from the rest of the people in this house?"
"You didn't need to be there, honey."
"I wouldn't have been alone if I was there, but you don't care about that, do you?"
"Look, Azura. Raieyana is not well, and she is our first priority."
"Patrick wasn't well and you let Reeve throw him out into the wilderness!"
"Young lady, I think you should shut your mouth and let them have their own family business without your input. I was right when I thought you couldn't handle this. Cid will drop you off at home before we go to Cosmo Canyon."
"Whatever, Father," she muttered as she stood up.
Vincent was startled. This was the first time she had called him anything besides "Daddy."
"Pretend this is a punishment if you like, but I doubt you ever would have given me the chance to prove I could handle it. In your mind, there's no way in hell 'baby Zuri' will ever be able to handle anything." She stormed into the house.
Vincent watched her and sighed. (I am sorry she is upset, but this is the best and safest way. Also, Wutai is one of the farthest places from here, which means the farthest place from Patrick if he should return.)
No one had noticed that Azura continued to stay in Patrick's room. She looked around. (If he was here, he could tell me just what to do to get away from everything.)
She sighed and lay down on the bed in the place where Patrick had been sleeping the previous night. Lost in thought, her eyes just wandered the room, looking at all the things that made this room belong to her friend. Suddenly, her eyes came to rest on the table next to her. There was a sketch pad lying on it, so she picked it up.
Flipping through the pages, she saw brilliant, lifelike drawings filling each and every page. Many were of local wildlife; she went "aww" over a baby cougar, and smiled at the thought of how Patrick would have to stay perfectly still for such a long time. All that, just to get a sketch of the timid creature before it ran away.
Every so often there would be weaponry designs, sketches of possibilities for moves to use while fighting. There was also one disturbing drawing called "My Two Faces." About half of it looked like a portrait of Reeve, the other was a blond man that Azura could not remember ever meeting in her life. The frightening part was the eyes; vacant, lifeless and glowing red. The date in the corner was for the night before.
She quickly turned the page, expecting to see the end of the pictures, but there was one last drawing, an incomplete sketch of a pretty girl asleep on a pillow. It was titled "My One Friend." Dated also for the night before, Patrick had scribbled a message at the bottom.
"This is my Zuri."
Azura, flattered, hugged the sketchbook to her chest. (He has made me into some beautiful nymph though, it's not like me at all though. I'm too plain for that picture.) As expected, the last few pages of the book were blank, and she closed the book and checked it over. (Such a treasure. I'm going to keep it for him... Well, more for me to remember him by.) Then she saw something intricate drawn on the back.
"My Special Place," it was titled. Azura recognized the itsy version of his house, even the placement of the trees around it. But the picture was very large and intricate, and an arrow pointed from the title to a place deep in the forest.
She suddenly realized she had indeed found a treasure. She held, in her hands, a map that showed the way to the most likely place Patrick could be found.
Patrick sat, perched high above the trees. He was at a part of Mt. Crist that was rarely traversed by the Undorians. His small hunting platform had developed into a refuge when he was upset or angry.
It actually wasn't unusual for Patrick to leave home for a day or two, spending the night in this platform-turned-treehouse. He'd leave to cool down and return in a better state of mind. However, the only person in the family who knew where he went and what he did when he vanished was Raieyana. She was in no state to inform them now that Patrick might not have left for good.
He sat and watched his house, recalling how no one had tried to stop him from leaving. (Correction. No one but Azura.) As hard and intently as he had stared at her before turning his back on the world he knew...he was still already beginning to lose the memory of her face. It is hard to recall something you only had the chance to look at for a day or so.
The sky was dark; night had come again, like it always did. (No matter what happens to its puny minions on the surface, the Planet keeps spinning as if that's the only thing that ever matters. The only thing we can depend on, no matter what happens, is that eventually the night will come again. Even at the polar caps where day could last for weeks in the summer, the night returns eventually. To all lives, some darkness shall fall. Even if it's only nature's darkness.)
There was only one light on at his house. (Who would be up so late after all that occurred last night?) He realized that he had never seen a light in that particular window. He became even more startled when he figured out that it was because that window was the one in his room.
(Are they going through my things, trying to discover what makes me tick?) He reached into his knapsack and pulled out his journal. (Where's my sketchpad?) A slight panic overran him as he remembered he had left it on his bedside table.
A sad quiet descended over him. (Now I don't even have my drawing of Zuri. From this day on, I shall be like someone dead to her, and I will never see her again. I can't even have the pitiful likeness my wretched hands scribbled out.) Patrick sat and watched the light in his window, vowing to stand guard until the precise moment it was gone and the sky was consumed by darkness.
Could you tell me what it's like on the outside
Were you really lost and out of control
Were you reaching for your freedom
When the gatekeeper called for the toll
-Styx, "What Have They Done to You" (verse 1)
Azura woke up at midnight, just like she had wanted to. Her shaky hand had managed to set the oil lamp alight, and, ignoring the phantom shadows on the walls in the hallway, she entered Patrick's bedroom.
There were still a few weapons sitting on the racks. Patrick had tried to become proficient in as many as he could. She paused and looked each one over carefully. Lifting the crossbow off of the braces, she remembered the archery events she had won in Wutai, lack of training aside. She grabbed the reserve arrows beneath it. (They're so small and sharp, like darts almost. So you can carry lots.)
Slinging her first choice over her back, she looked for another. (Hmm...a rod...and then a rod with a button?) She grabbed the second weapon and held it at arms' length, daring to push the button. Two blades popped out of either end, and she recalled that this particular type of rod was called a staff. She studied it carefully before deciding the button was the only way to retract the blades; she breathed a sigh of relief when she found out she was right. (Such a pretty weapon.) It had the gorgeous distinction of an adamantine, Undorian crafted staff. The blades were black stars encircled by a red circle.
She took a deep breath. Her next step was to go through Patrick's closet and drawers, which spooked her a bit. But she knew deep down that she ought to bring armor and materia for her trek through the forest. The top drawer in his larger dresser brought victory. Immediately, she tied one of the ribbons around her upper arm. The assortment of bracelets led to an internal debate, though. Patrick had everything from a Carbon Bangle to the good, all-purpose Mercury Bands that were unique to Undor-Hai.
(He told me that the one he always wears is the Ziedrich.) She couldn't decide which kind to use, though. (An elemental defense would be good, but I'd rather have something that would help me be strong.) A certain delicate armlet caught her eye, and she pulled it from the back of the drawer. "Mystile," she said softly, reading the engraving. (I like it. I'm drawn to it for some reason.) She slipped it on, admiring the way it sparkled in the lamplight.
She removed the large blue case from the drawer, finding row upon row of materia contained inside. Although most of them were of the basic kind, the ones that Raieyana mastered every other day in her training classes, Azura saw a nice collection of summons. Each materia had its own little foam holder and the type was written below the slot. She took the Cure with the most AP, and a Poison, Lightning, and Heal. Her eyes lit up as she found a Mime and a six-star Enemy Skill. She added a Master All and a summon called Hephaestus. Finally, she found a purple one called "HP Plus" that had her puzzled. Then she remembered her brother telling her that more HP just meant you could take more hits before you... (...died. I'm really doing something dangerous here. But I'd rather be out living than hiding in Wutai.)
She found a bag in his closet and packed up the sketchpad, along with some special battle items and a couple "disposable tents." There was only one thing left to do. She crept with the lamp into Aeris' room. (I'm sorry, Rissy, but being the princess doll back home has left me without proper clothing for this trip.) She found a pair of brown leather pants that the tall Aeris had long outgrown and a deep green sleeveless sweater. The shirt was rather loose on Aeris' slender figure, but fit Azura a little tightly in one certain spot.
Glancing in the mirror, she suddenly had two thoughts. (I look a lot like Mom...) Despite her gray eyes, which Vincent swore his own mother had, she had received the majority of her coloring from Yuffie, while getting a temperament from neither. (...and when did I get boobs?) She turned sideways and ran a hand lightly over her torso. (Maybe it's just the sweater.)
Azura felt both guilty and extremely lucky when she discovered not only did she have the same size feet as Aeris, but Aeris had left a pair of shoes that were perfect for running around and killing monsters. She took them and put the sneakers on her own feet, then paused to leave a very apologetic note to Aeris, leaving more than enough gil to replace what she took from the closet.
The note she left to her parents was much shorter and full of little apology.
"To Mother and Father:
I refuse to go back to Wutai and hide like a child, even though that is what you seem to want most for me. I have to go out and learn what life is like sometime, and if you won't let me live with your permission...
I'm just going out to have a life of my own. I offer no apologies and no regrets. I would only have regret if I went back to Wutai.
Take me, break me, hate me
Just try your best to make me
Lose my way, and go crazy all alone
Somewhere deep inside me
I'll try hard to find me
And someday, I'll have a life of my own...
...Let me die on my own terms, let me live and let me learn
Now I'll follow my own way, and I'll live on to another damn day
Freedom carries sacrifice, remember when this was my life...
--3 Doors Down, "Life of My Own" (Alt. Into, Chorus)
Time? For what?
"A promise was made unto you long, long ago. The time for you to receive the rewards of what you have sewn is very near. Do you still refuse them?"
What are you talking about?
"Your son has been cast out by the man whom he has been told to call 'Father.'"
My son? What has happened to Patrick? What has he done?
"He saved his mother's life. But eyes that were discriminatory viewed his brave actions as a crime."
He's only fourteen...
"Only? You've waited at least that long..."
Is this the voice of my tempter?
"Perhaps. The voice of your tempter was also the voice of your Savior. Cloud Strife, sometimes certain deeds have to be done. You must be addressed certain ways in order to cause you to go down the right path."
I hardly think Patrick's conception was the right path.
"All that happened is how it should be. The crime was only as bad as it had to be for you to know remorse, and for Raieyana to learn the lessons she needed to learn. In the scheme of things, all on this Planet are just playing pieces."
So why do you speak of this "reward" that was presented as a temptation?
"You have chosen to live your life as a hermit, an outcast. The time for your return to your friends is very near. This is part of the reward."
Reward? I'm finished with the "saving the world" bit.
/"That's what you think."/)
Don't let the world bring you down
Not everyone here is that fucked up and cold
Remember why you came and while you're alive
experience the warmth before you grow old.
-Incubus, "The Warmth" (chorus)
Azura stumbled for about the twentieth time and fell. A tear slipped down her cheek before she was able to stop herself. (I won't cry...I-I won't!) She closed her eyes. (I can't go back now, I'd look so foolish. Even if I get myself lost, I have to keep going. This is my fate, whatever comes, comes.)
She suddenly heard a low growl behind her. (Oh...shit!) She turned around and clumsily wielded the staff. In front of her was a dragon that was about eight feet at the shoulder. She cast Poison and prayed.
She felt an odd sensation course through her body. A bit of power seemed to surge forth from the green crystal in her bracelet and soar out from her hands. This stream flew forward and hit the dragon directly in the heart.
The dragon took damage and snarled. It cast a threatening eye on Azura, judging her size and strength. It reared back and ran towards her, ready to attack her head on. She turned and ran, but tripped over the same tree root as before and landed on her hands--hard. Holding up her staff in defense, a scream of terror escaped her lips.
A scream awakened Patrick from his sleeping bag. Unlike the last time he went to protect someone, a momentary lapse into debate coursed through him. He decided that since he was already banished, nothing worse could be done to him. (I still have my conscience to live with. If I am aware of my actions, then I must do the right thing.) He grabbed his spear and jumped right out the window.
He ran in the direction of the sound until he heard the distinctive battle snarls of a Sapphire Dragon. They had become very common after the Midgar explosion, but now only remained in this uninhabited area of the continent. The dragon slashed at its prey on the ground, and Patrick could hear a feminine whimper of pain. He set his teeth and carefully touched the materia on his armlet with the level 4x Cut. On a normal user, it sent forth a surge of adrenaline which would let them get anywhere from three to five attacks, but it would be random hits on anything in the general area.
People with no discipline at all would hit trees, rocks, and sometimes their companions when using this skill. Patrick had been practicing, and not only could he land all his hits on the same target, but on a certain area on the target. He let all his mental energy become focused on the heart of the dragon and ran forward for the kill.
His seventh and final slash actually cut the beast into two pieces, which flew off into the trees from the sheer force. He looked to the person who had been attacked, but she was still huddled in a self-preserving position. Blood freely flowed from her bare arm. She placed a hand to her armlet and touched a green materia. "Cu-cu..." she stuttered.
Patrick kneeled beside her. "Shh..." He raised his spear. "White Wind," he said.
A green, soothing breeze flowed from the tip of his weapon and enveloped them both. When the air cleared, the girl had him in a tight embrace.
"Umm, you're welcome?"
The girl released him and he finally got a good look at her.
"Zuri! What the /hell/?"
"I don't know where to start."
A protective anger surged into him. "You could have died just now!"
Though she was still not over the fright of the dragon, she met his eye calmly. "I'd rather die out here than just be shipped off to Wutai like an infant. Besides," she continued, "I was looking for you."
"Me? For all you knew, I could be anywhere now."
"I know. But you'd probably be in your 'special place.'" She pulled the sketchpad out of her knapsack. "You shouldn't leave maps to your hideout in the middle of nowhere unless you want someone to find it."
"You were the one in my room tonight!"
She nodded. "Duh. I'm wearing your weapons, armor, and materia."
He scrutinized her appearance. "Where'd you get the clothes?"
Raising an eyebrow, Patrick grinned. "Really!"
"I left gil to pay for what I took, and an apology note."
"You shouldn't have. Those pants don't fit her, she thinks that sweater makes her look flat, and she hates those shoes."
"This sweater makes her look /flat/?" Azura was shocked.
"She doesn't have the shape you do, Zuri." He blushed. "Not that I spend all my time looking at your shape." (Time to change the subject.) "What are your plans?"
"Step one was to find you."
"Which you managed to do pretty quickly and successfully." He smiled. "What after that?"
Azura looked at Patrick and took his hand. "Stay with you."
He did not allow another word to pass through her lips before he took her into his arms and held her close. "Is that what you really want?"
"I like being with you. When I'm with anybody else, I still feel...alone."
"Then we can keep each other from being all alone." He smiled.
She met his eyes and nodded. "That's 'the plan.'"
So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters
Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don't just say
And nothing else matters
-Metallica, "Nothing Else Matters"