A few puzzle pieces start clicking into place...
"This is something I have to do." Aeris stared at all the faces in the room. "Doesn't anyone understand?"
"I do," said Tifa. "That you want to do this out of concern for your mother, but seeing Patrick probably wouldn't be the best thing for her right now."
"How do you know?"
A shocked silence hung over the room. Red XIII chose his words cautiously. "Riss...? Tifa has studied for a great period of time..."
"And she has told us she has practically no idea what can be done for my mother. I think my hunch would prove more accurate, considering I've got Jenova in me, and I'm part Cetra." She glared at Tifa. "I have more insight than she'll ever have, and everyone's fighting /my /ideas, not hers!"
Ishmael stepped toward his sister. "Aeris, Dad says..."
"He's walking around like his own son is the ultimate spawn of darkness! I don't give a shit what he says about this anymore!"
"You know it hurts him to see Mom like this."
"And he's venting that pain out on our brother. God, Ishmael, you know Patrick would never raise a hand to her. He might have the potential to kill everyone else on the Planet, but he'd protect Mom. Until it drove him crazy. Holy shit, does that concept sound familiar or is it just me?"
"You don't need to curse at us to make your point," said Kati, half-defensively. She was holding Ishmael's hand and planned to back him all the way on the decision he made about this.
"No, I don't. Not to prove my point, anyway." Aeris lifted her head. "It's how I vent my pain. And look, no one gets exiled in my method."
They were interrupted as Marta trotted into the room. "Reeve, Vincent, and Cid are coming back from the Airship. They have some news."
Tossing her head, Aeris glanced around the room. "Bring it on," she whispered.
The three men entered the room with grim looks on their faces.
"What is it?" asked Barret, catching their mood.
"As you know," said Reeve, "I gave up running the operation of Alcor years ago. Well...it appears a few people had a problem with the way my C.E.O. was running things. There has been a takeover of Alcor, and many of the top employees, including Yorlain, have disappeared."
"What do ya mean by top employees?" asked Barret carefully.
"My informant barely got out of Junon with his own freedom. Not much is known yet, but..." He looked at the older man. "Barret, no one knows what happened to Marlene. She was a member of the executive board, so it's very likely the people considered her an enemy."
"What th' hell?!" Barret stood up, enraged. "I gotta go save Marlene! And rip those muthafuckers a new one!"
"I figured that would be your reaction," said Reeve. "So far, the signs have been good. If these guys were looking for total scare tactics, the bodies of the executives would have turned up somewhere. Since they haven't, my bet is that someone unlocked the upper-level floors that have been off-limits since the building belonged to Shinra."
"What would that mean?" asked Tifa.
"Basically, that there are a bunch of prisoners up in the prison cells that we all remember storming back in our anti-Aysta days."
"Oh yeah, them," said Cid. "Stupid Shinra sons-of-bitches. Even now, their buildings haunt us."
Reeve continued. "So, we need some people to go to Junon to check things out. As much as I'd love to stay with Ray, I can't help but think I'd be of some help in the building of my own company."
The room was silent for a moment, then Barret broke in. "Well, I be damned if I ain't gonna go help get Marlene's ass out of that prison!"
"I have to stay with Raieyana," said Tifa softly. "I need to do some research on our texts here. I'd love it if you could stay and help, Red."
He nodded his affirmation.
Marta looked at her mother. "Can I go to Junon?"
"No, honey. You don't know how to fight."
She pouted. "That's cause you wouldn't let me learn."
"I'll go." Ishmael looked at his father. "You'll need some young blood to add speed to the battles you might have."
"Me too." Kati wasn't about to be left behind by her fiance. (Well, we are engaged, even if we haven't gotten the chance to tell anybody else. So there.)
Vincent was deep in thought. "Do you need me? For I'd rather stay here and look in on Ray's condition. Also, I'd like to be here if any news comes in about Zuri."
"Same here," said Yuffie softly.
"I'll go," said Sean.
"You want to go, too?" She winced. "All my babies will be in danger."
"We're not babies any longer, Mom."
"It just worries me so much, I can't stand that I'd have to have you all out at risk...at the same time."
Vincent placed a hand on her shoulder. "If he feels he needs to go, then don't hold him back."
Cid sighed. "And I'm going to be everyone's fucking chauffeur, right?"
Reeve smiled weakly. "Looks like it, Cid."
Aeris looked up at her father. "I'm going home."
He raised an eyebrow in reply. "Oh you are, huh? Whatever for?"
"To find my broth--"
Reeve interrupted her. "Lia and Legolas sent out many of the best warriors to look for both him and Zuri."
"Did it ever occur to anyone that sending a bunch of soldiers out to find him would make him just a tad defensive? Or does that matter? That this is a time when we need to pull together as a family and he might need someone who cares, not a person presenting him with the cold, metallic gleam of a weapon?"
"He killed a man!"
"Well until Mother is herself enough...to testify to the truth..." Aeris glared at him. "In civilized places, the law is 'innocent until proven guilty.'"
Reeve sighed. "Rissy, sometimes I think he was proven guilty before he was born."
"Perhaps." Her eyes narrowed. "One could say the same thing for you. I believe you killed someone for revenge on your family, long ago, no?"
"It's not the same--"
"You don't know if it's the same! You never gave my brother a fucking chance! And even if I wasn't the most vocal about stating that I cared for him, at least I didn't make him think I hated him. He would not have been forced out the door had I been there. If you even tried," she spat out, "you would have had to kill me first." She started to walk out of the room. "I'm going to the Airship now. If Cid refuses to drop me off at home, I'll walk there on my own damn feet."
The group watched the spirited girl storm out in silence. Red XIII cocked his head to one side. "Such a fiery spirit," he remarked. "Just like her mother."
Fathoms beneath the surface of Junon bay lays the Underwater Reactor. About twenty years earlier, the reactor had been shut down and sealed off. Alcor kept the submarine fleet to look for more places where Mako broke at the surface, for new Mako springs were the very best place to build their thermal plants.
However, looking at the reactor, one could see that it was alight and buzzing with activity. A black submarine, with an advanced system for jamming the local radar signals, descended down to a small door in the side of the reactor. The airlock.
One man in a uniform walked from the submarine into the reactor. He turned down a hallway and towards the main entrance. The sign on the wall read "Earlham Lab: named in honor of the late, great Lavana Earlham for her contributions to Shinra." The man sighed and thought of his sister. (She was so great at getting ahead in life. She cared about no cause but her own cause. Such a shame she disappeared fourteen years ago with the rest of Shinra. But she left me with access to this hidden building, and the things I wanted most. Hojo's last few samples.)
Dirk walked into his lab and breathed in the filtered air. He was most at home doing intricate work, and he believed his hand was touched by the will of the divine. A sweet precious voice spoke to him, guiding his work to near perfection.
The lab assistants scurried out of his private room as soon as he entered. They knew he must work alone; though they were punished if things were not in top shape, they could only straighten up when Dirk Earlham was not working.
A steady glow in his eye was a tale-tell sign announcing to the Planet that he had once been a Soldier. (But I did not go crazy like the weak failures did so long ago. I remained strong, and soon discovered my true passion. Science.) One day fourteen years ago, the voice had come to him. It gave no orders back then, just gently convinced him that he ought to be a scientist. However, after Shinra was obliterated, there was little demand for experimental science. So Dirk funded his own research, but was discouraged by new laws in every area, prohibiting Mako experimentation.
When he first learned of these laws, he laughed for a long time. (Mako experimentation? I wonder what they would say if they had known then that I had Jenova samples...pure Jenova samples, the ones that Hojo injected himself with long ago.)
Azura was tending the campfire, watching the setting sun. She glanced at Patrick, who was cleaning some animal or another. The animal which would be their dinner. (I asked him why he had to be hunting. He told me that we might as well leave our supplies to times when we'll need them more.) She thought about how the little animal would have been hopping if not for their needs. (I'd rather save hunting 'til the times when we were starving.)
"Sit tight and watch the pro." Patrick leaned forward, setting up a spit on which to cook the meat. He caught her concerned look. "Wouldn't you rather live off this than rationed power bars?"
She gave him a small smile. "I guess."
"This isn't the life for you...you can't stand causing anything pain."
"But I'm here anyway, so it must be." Her eyes drifted away in thought. "Don't you believe in fate?"
"I suppose I have to. It keeps you from thinking about the grimmer possibilities, when you can just explain life away as doing the things it was meant to do."
"Don't you ever want to think that you might actually have a purpose in life though? Maybe that your specific soul was placed in your specific body for a reason?"
"It seems too well organized. Wouldn't there be no pain, no hurt if that were true?"
"Maybe," Azura said softly, "we feel pain here in order to learn things. Besides, on our Planet, there was a lot that couldn't have been planned. Even if some force controlled our Planet, could they have foreseen Jenova?"
"Does it matter?"
"It matters a lot. Many people live with the effects of her cells inside them. We deal with it okay, probably because we were born this way and our parents who lived with it, had even stronger amounts..."
"Zuri." Patrick looked at her. "I've been having dreams lately that I'm not quite sure I understand. And they scare me, because Mother always said she was told many important things in her dreams. I hope with everything inside me that these are wrong."
"What have you been dreaming of?"
He lowered his voice. "That Cloud Strife is my father...and...and... I'm not positive what else I've seen, but it doesn't look good."
Azura turned the meat roasting on the fire. "Cloud? But from what I've heard, your mom never liked him very much."
"I know." There was something in his voice that made her rethink pressing him for more information.
"Well, Pat." She paused and glanced at him. "I've been having dreams too. About the things that happened after Jenova came to this Planet. They scare me so much..."
"They're just dreams, Zuri--"
"But they're so true. So true to life. That's the reason why they frighten me. Not because they're excessively terrible. They are terrible, but only because they easily could have happened."
"You sure this is the way you want things?"
"Will you disown me or something if I go down there?" Aeris glared at her father.
"He probably won't welcome you even if you find him, you know."
"I have a better chance than you do."
"That's not difficult." Reeve looked down. The Highwind II was floating above the foot of Mt. Crist. Aeris had insisted on climbing up the trail herself, hoping to maybe find a trace of either Patrick or Azura along the way. "It's getting to be dark."
"I've done it in the dark before."
"Well with you mother as she is, I feel extra cautious about you kids--"
He ignored her and continued on. "I have to think twice as hard about things as usual, and..."
"Dad? I have two comments. One, I'm twenty-one years old, and I am plenty smart enough to make my own decisions. Okay? If I die out here, it's all my fault. Two, I am feeling some strain from Mom's illness also. Maybe she's trying to connect to me or something, I don't know. But I feel responsible for Patrick being out there by himself."
"We're gonna need as much help as we can get in Junon, Riss, if you'd just..."
"If you had any foresight at all, you might have realized that Patrick just might be the kind of person you want on your side in a fight like that. Now you're short two warriors, and two children. Funny how life is."
Reeve sighed deeply. "I just can't get over this change in you. You've always been happy and bubbly like, well like Aeris, your grandmother. But now you sound like..."
She tilted her head to the side and gave him half a smile. "Mom?"
"I always thought that attitude was something she picked up from Tseng."
"I just picked it up from her. She's not able to keep you in line right now, so I've got to do what I need to do. I'll be careful. You know I'm not stupid. But just trust this knowledge that I have deep inside, that we need him. This new game that's going on...it's bigger than what happened in our living room. Bigger than Sephiroth, even if it's going to be far quieter and spill less innocent blood."
"You see that?"
Aeris nodded. "And Patrick is the most important player of all. We could all fall off the face of the Planet tomorrow, but if Patrick remained, it would keep its course."
We're all players in a deadly game
While the world keeps spinning
Soon none of us remain--
The darkness keeps on winning
Of all the times that come to pass
Never again shall these stars align
The most important cycle is the last
Just takes time to find the sign
You can pass the torch along again
But the runner stays the same
In this one event, that's always been
Immortalized--in despair and pain
Cloud looked at his surroundings. The haze of dusk held a filter over his vision, but what he could see matched the scene in his mind's eye. He slowly made his way up the trail to Undor-Hai, wondering what the response would be to his return, after he'd seemingly fallen off of the face of the Planet.
(Will they hold me in scorn still? Or will time have dulled the sharp edges of the knife I placed in their memories?) His dreams, if they could be called such, had become over-whelming as of late. He had come to a certain conclusion; that this time, the voice speaking to him was pure and unmarred. It was as if Jenova had given up and concentrated all effort on someone who would actually be somewhere besides Round Island.
The hidden island was the perfect place for Cloud to live away from society. He brought a few of his prize golden chocobos with him, making sure he always had some way back to the mainland. He had only left a few times in the past years; his island way of life was surprisingly self-sufficient.
He was clothed in the tan color which was the trademark of Gysahl fibers. Even though the greens weren't quite the best thing to feed chocobos, the plant was a source of tough fibers which Cloud wove into cloth and made into his shirt and pants. He really only left to buy shoes, and he bought enough of those at a time to last him a good while.
Since he hated the idea of growing old, he practiced his battle techniques still. This habit, along with the Jenova and Mako inside him, had put up a stringent defense against the effects of aging. So while his self-induced solitary confinement had brought more years' worth of wisdom than would be expected, his body was as fit as that of someone who had only neared thirty. There was still a youthful tinge to his face. Maybe the powers-that-be had something in store for him yet, either that, or were allowing him that privilege to compensate for the aged look within his eyes.
As he climbed Mt. Crist with his Ultima Weapon in hand, he couldn't help but remember that day, so long ago, when he had thrown the Lowlellean from the very peak, vowing off violence. (It didn't work out quite as well as I had hoped. I found that I owed it to Raieyana to keep her safe after I hurt her so terribly. I tried to save her from the Turks, from Shelding, but I failed. The only thing I ever accomplished was saving my son.) He bowed his head. (I hope life has dealt him a hand easy enough to where he thinks his life has some worth.)
He continued upward with the trail, unaware that close behind him, the girl with Raieyana's eyes followed. Their goal was very close; they both wanted to find Patrick and tell him what they had felt inside, what their souls told them. But Aeris knew a fact that Cloud did not; that they were heading towards a home abandoned, with the occupants scattered. And that the key to everything was hidden in the forest, cutting himself off from contact, an idea conceived by an attitude remarkably similar to that of his father.
Aeris sighed as the air around her slowly converted to the steady doom of darkness. (I have no idea where to look for him at all. Maybe this plan of mine wasn't quite as well thought out as I thought it was. Back on the Airship, when I could still see the sun.)
She wasn't about to give up, not at all. However, she was beginning to have doubts about whether Patrick was still anywhere near Undor-Hai at all. (And what about Zuri? She's either here in the wilderness, all alone and afraid, or she's off with Patrick...whatever place he is right now.)
She was proud of the good time she had been making up the mountain, even though nightfall had passed. She peered through the shadows and, with the last gleam of daylight, saw a blond-haired man farther up the trail. For a split second she wondered who it was, then she decided that it had to be Patrick. If his hair looked too dark, or the clothes a little odd, it was just a trick of the night air.
Cloud heard someone approaching from behind him and discreetly glanced over his shoulder. (A young woman, blond...wearing pink...running towards me?) He turned to face her and cautiously held his sword in front of him, as a precaution.
"Who's there?" he asked slowly.
"I could say the same thing to you," replied Aeris. (This is definitely not Patrick.)
"I'm here to visit someone. Raieyana Amine...and her family."
"Amine? She hasn't had that name in years. You must mean Raieyana Jordan." Her eyes narrowed. "That is, if you mean anything at all."
"Jordan..." he said softly to himself. (That was Reeve's last name, wasn't it? Of course. I was just being a little stupid.)
"So what business do you have?" A tinge of hostility crept into Aeris' voice. "There have been some...problems here as of late. If you cannot come up with a satisfactory answer, I'll have to destroy you."
Though the girl raised her weapon like she had been born with it in her hands, Cloud was troubled little. He could easily overpower the girl. Even if she was almost as tall as he, she was rather slender. He met her eyes with a look that proved he was not intimidated by her at all. "I'm Cloud Strife."
"You can't be!" Her eyes slowly examined him in wonderment. (But he looks...so.../good/.) "I thought Cloud Strife was older than my mother!"
"Who's your mom?"
"Raieyana," she said softly. "I'm Aeris."
On impulse, Cloud took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. "From a noble line. The Cetra." He released it, realizing that he had probably stepped over his boundaries. "When I learned your mother named you after..." A pause. "I wondered if it couldn't possibly be bordering on the sacrilegious. But it suits you."
There was something in his eyes. Even though Aeris had long known about the battles with Sephiroth and Cloud's noble actions then, there was something in her father's tone whenever he spoke of the one-time leader of Avalanche. A certain spin of knowledge began to circulate her mind.
Cloud saw the conflict in her eyes and mistook it for emotion. "I didn't ever mean it as an insult to you, it's just hard to see someone named after a person you knew well."
(The way Dad talks about Patrick...and then the way he always talked about Cloud... They're similar.) She glanced at Cloud. "No, that's not it at all. I've just got a lot on my mind. What brings you to Undor-Hai?" She motioned for him to start walking again, and they continued up the trail.
"Well," he answered slowly, "I'm here to visit someone I should have a long time ago."
He shook his head. "Don't ask me for my reasoning right now, but I need to see Patrick."
"So do I." Her eyes trailed off to a distant point somewhere. She was avoiding his clever gaze; she did not want him to see the emotion in her eyes. "There really have been problems around here lately."
"Can you tell me?"
"All I know...is there was an incident where a strange man came to our house in the middle of the night. I was in Kalm at the time, but apparently, Patrick killed the stranger...and Mom just kind of went into shock. Dad blamed it on him, and Patrick fled from the house." She sighed. "Seems the world just started crumbling that night. Next day, Vincent and Yuffie's daughter ran away into the woods around here, even though she's defenseless. Someone took over Alcor and locked up the executive board."
Cloud was quiet. "That seems like a lot to have happened in such a short period of time."
"That's not all," she said. "The night this started, Red XIII told us he sensed negative energy here. When I went to bed..." (No, I can't say this.) Her voice trailed off.
"Was it a couple nights ago?"
The girl nodded cautiously.
"Don't take this the wrong way...but have you been
Aeris was stunned. "How do you know?"
"That's why I'm here, now. Because I was told to be...in a dream."
Tifa raised her arms above her head, stretching in her chair. Reading ages-old scripture was taxing; she yawned as she stood up to make another trip to the shelves in the next room. Cosmo Canyon had long kept an extensive library of old scrolls, many of which had Ancient origin. For centuries, the Elders of the Canyon had guarded this library with their lives. But now that Tifa had direct exchange with Undor-Hai, there was a program going on. For every piece that Tifa let Lia and her scholars use, a scroll new to the Elders would be traded. Partly for collateral, partly for good reason.
It doesn't make sense to gather all the Planet's knowledge in one place; now the Elders at Cosmo Canyon knew about the Khazed scriptures that had foretold Raieyana's death and resurrection. In return, Undor-Hai now knew many things about the Calamity from the Skies and Gast's discoveries. There were many pieces that the Elders at the Canyon had long regarded as worthless. Even though the later dialects of the Cetra were easily discerned by the people at Undor-Hai or the Elders, the most ancient scrolls were still undecipherable, to most.
Tifa remembered the day about five years ago. That day, she had made up her mind that she was going to be able to read every single glyph written on every piece of scroll that Cosmo Canyon had. She had trekked up to Undor-Hai and learned the art of translation at Raieyana's feet. After a few weeks Tifa had been satisfied, and she returned home. She read a lot of simple mythological scrolls that were interesting, but not of much use to anyone. She used them to compile a simple book. She decided that the early Cetra civilization had not made any innovations worth discussing until later days.
Reaching back on the dusty shelf, she pulled off a large scroll of myths, wondering if they contained a hidden meaning that would help, or mention some ancient remedy that could help Raieyana. She turned to leave but suddenly something caught her eye.
The shelf was high in the air, and supposedly only contained a single row of documents for that reason. She was not tall enough to get a closer look, so she pulled a tall stool over beneath the shelf. Stepping onto it, she peered into the murky darkness. There was a small scroll that looked like it had been shoved to the back. She looked at the glyphs written on the outer part of the scroll. /Teilenma'ar avid Jenn o' Vahh et Khazed. /"Prophecies beyond Jenova and the Sacrifice."
Tifa studied it in disbelief. (This just might be a little helpful, now. I should get down and have me a look.)
"It's early. But if you're going to be up at dawn to train every day, I suppose we had better turn in."
Azura looked at Patrick. "The sun's only been down about an hour or so."
"Well, the days are lengthening now. We're having a real spring."
"I've never seen this before."
He smiled. "Neither have I. It's strange sometimes to think there is a lot that we missed out, isn't it?"
"I haven't totally minded the easy things."
She studied his face; she had begun to know him so well that she could tell--just by the dull look in his eye--that life at home had not been quite like her life at all. Giving him a little smile, she moved over close to him.
No thought was needed; this response was second nature now. Patrick wrapped an arm protectively around her as she rested her head on his shoulder. Looking deep into her eyes, he whispered. "/My trade was worth it/."
At this, she wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her face in his chest. His strong arms clutched her tight against him, like she was a precious jewel, fallen from the sky. He did not utter the thought that echoed through his head. (I just hope, that for all that has been and will be, yours was worth it, too.)
"Pat?" She was looking up into his face. Her eyes shone like the stars.
He softly tilted her face up a little before he brought his lips down to hers. They clung tightly to each other. The world stopped for Patrick as she deepened the kiss, running her hands down his back.
"Hey, look there." Daniel pointed to a gleam in the distance.
"That's a fire." Benjamin grinned. "I think we've found something that we've been looking for."
Daniel stopped the young man as he prepared to charge on the spot. "Wait. You know what we're supposed to do, right?"
"Yeah. Use status-changing magic on the girl so we can bring her in stopped, sleeping, as a frog, whatever." He gave his partner a cocky smile. "I can do whatever the hell I want to the damn murderer."
"You know you can't. I won't let you either."
"You'd stand before a killer to save his life? His isn't worth more than yours."
"That's not the point, Ben. My mother would have my head if I bore witness to something like that. Patrick is the son of her best friend."
"He's nothing to me. Got it? Stay out of my way." Benjamin stormed through the trees, axe drawn.
The pair in front of the fire broke apart at the startling noise. Patrick patted his hip sheaths for his sabres, and Azura slipped back a little so her staff was at arm's reach. They were both stunned to see an Undorian warrior standing before them.
"What d'ya know, Danny?"
Daniel came up behind Benjamin and was just as stunned by the sight before him as his partner was.
"Two birdies in one bush. This works out. You get the girl, I get the killer." He leered at Patrick. "What were you gonna do there, huh? Rape 'er or something?"
The couple slowly stood. Patrick could reach his weapons in a split second, and Azura concealed hers behind her.
"Just who do you think you are?" demanded Patrick.
"Hey now," said Daniel, "our piece isn't with you, okay? We were sent out to find the girl."
"Maybe she doesn't want to be found."
"Maybe we should ask /her/." Benjamin raised his axe, in preparation for a battle.
"I /left/," she said softly. "It's not your business."
"We have our orders," said Daniel.
"Do you think I /care/? This is my life. The only way you'll get me to go with you is if you kill me first."
Patrick stepped in front of her. "If either of you touches her, it will be over my dead body."
"Goody." Benjamin smirked. "You just gave me permission to kill you."
Both sides prepared for battle. The two warriors were merely fighting for orders, however; Azura and Patrick's fight was for freedom.
"No, that's not an acceptable plan." Reeve tossed the papers down angrily. "The last thing I need to do is hand myself right over to them."
"I thought you entering the codes would be a good idea," said Ishmael defensively.
"What are the chances that these guys left the security codes as they are? And then, what are the chances...that Yorlain hasn't changed them since I was working there? Dammit, the guy isn't stupid!"
"He must have done something dumb to get his company taken over." Kati folded her arms across her chest.
"I agree," said Barret. "Reeve, you shoulda stayed with them."
"Excuse me for wanting to spend time with my family. And let them live in a peaceful place!"
"Well, we have two basic options." Sean looked at him. "I know you've done this before, so enlighten me if I'm wrong. Are there any other ways besides either storming the building or sneaking in?"
"I'm not against sneaking in." Reeve sighed. "But there are extensive computer defenses set up, and I don't know if we have any way of getting around them."
"I told you I could hack into it if you could get me to the security room."
"Ishmael, can we afford to take that chance?"
"Dad. Can we afford not to?"
"If ya take any longer, I'm gonna get myself in there and get Marlene freed on my own!" Barret was finished arguing.
"Well don't go in the dead of night, that's just fucking stupid," said Cid, as he came down from the bridge.
"How d'ya think to do it, then?" he demanded.
"Uhh, how about daytime?" suggested Kati. "As long as we are properly disguised. Well, you guys, at least."
"Us guys?" Cid scratched his head.
"You're kinda famous for saving the world a few times and all."
"Oh yeah, that," he muttered sarcastically. "I hope this time goes fast, I promised to build Baker a damn airplane. Can't have a Highwind who doesn't know how to fly!"
"Okay," said Reeve, "any objections with this? Kati and Sean...plus Cid, go to the front desk area and create a diversion."
"What kind of diversion?" asked Sean.
"Don't worry kiddo," Cid reassured him. "I'm a pro at diversions."
"I bet," muttered the nineteen-year-old.
"While that happens," Reeve continued, "Barret, Ishmael, and I will head to the security room. There may be some forces to go after us on the way, but I think they'll probably all be deployed after Cid and company. Ishmael will hack into the system after we get rid of the personnel in the room."
"Oh yeah." Ishmael grinned at his fiancee.
"Hopefully it won't come to killing them, if they are my own employees. If they know me, they'll probably give up. Then after Ishmael's disabled security, the three of us will head up to the prison floors and release Yorlain, Marlene, and the others. If they're up there."
"What do we do during then?" asked Sean.
"Well, after you create your diversion, you'll probably be fighting security."
"It's too late now to go shopping, but first thing in the morning, a couple of you kids go buy some disguises for us in Junon. We head to Alcor..." Reeve thought for a moment. "Eleven a.m. sounds good, doesn't it?"
Red XIII was keeping watch over Raieyana. (She's finally sleeping, peacefully too.) Most of the time, Raieyana had been awake, but unaware of her surroundings. (If I didn't know better, I would say she's acting like those Soldiers did about fourteen years ago.)
The problem with that diagnosis happened to be that no cure had ever been discovered for the Soldiers' ailments; they reverted back to normal after the Reunion. (Her condition may be a marker for events yet to come.) Some little voice within him hoped that maybe this was true, and also, when the time came, that these events could be handled without her aid.
Green eyes fluttered open and looked around the room, resting on Red XIII's face. "Hello," he said softly, expecting a nonsense answer, if any at all.
"How is he?" she whispered.
"Who?" he replied, wondering if his words were in vain.
"Pa'at Rich..." she murmured.
Raieyana nodded. "The son of the sun."
He was startled at her words, her seeming recovery, but he wanted to give her an answer that would not be upsetting. "He's in Undor-Hai, I believe."
She closed her eyes. "Good." Sitting up suddenly, she grabbed him by the mane and looked deep into his eyes. Hers were filled with worry. "He must not go to Junon yet. It's not time, he doesn't know what he has to do."
"I'll try to tell him that."
Casting a frantic look at the lion, she threw herself back down on the bed. A tear slid down her cheek. "He has to stay with the girl until she's strong enough..."
"What girl? Azura?" Red XIII was hit with a sudden awareness. No matter if Raieyana was better or not, she was revealing things that could become very important later. (The sick Soldiers muttered words about the Reunion. "Drawn to the beacon, she comes." And Raieyana called Patrick...son of the sun? There is some connection...)
"Asula..." Raieyana muttered. "Pa'at Rich...Kal'od..." A sniffle. "I miss them." She turned to him. "If you see them, tell them...that Riana wants to see them again."
He watched as she closed her eyes and fell unconscious once more. A knock came at the door. Startled, he turned around quickly. "Come in."
Marta stood at the door hesitantly. "You were talking to her?"
He nodded. "A little bit. She's sleeping now."
"Good." She looked at him with wide brown eyes. "She scares me sometimes."
"You must tell me what she says, then. But you are going to watch her now?"
"Yes. Mama told me to come get you. She said she found a scroll that you are going to find very interesting."
"Really." He stood up on all fours and stretched his legs. "I suspect our conversation will prove to be most informative."
"So you've been living away from it all for almost fourteen years?" Aeris looked at Cloud incredulously.
He was almost as surprised at their conversation. Sitting in the living room of Raieyana's house with the young girl, somehow he had wanted to open up to her. So there he was, cross-legged on the floor in front of the fireplace. Lia had removed the body that had been there and thrown out the carpeting. The cleaning had been done so well that the two did not suspect the events of two days before had occurred on the wood beneath them.
"I thought living here was like being away from it all. I get restless here."
He smiled at her. "I suppose everyone gets restless when they are young."
"Don't talk like you're some ancient sailor spinning yarns to your grandchildren. I won't allow it!"
"Why not?" He studied her pretty face. "According to you, and I quote, 'Cloud Strife is older than my mom.'"
The sound made his heart stop. Perhaps her family had been unaware--neither Raieyana nor Reeve had ever met Aeris Gainsborough in person--but this Aeris' laugh sounded like a carbon copy of the original's.
"Mom isn't old. Give me a few more years and people will think we're sisters. She barely ages at all. I think it's the Mako, or that Jenova, or something. Hope I inherit it." She grinned. "Looks like your Soldier treatment delivered the same favors to you. You look great."
"...for my age. That's what you're supposed to continue with."
She blushed slightly. "No, you just look great." She stood up, a little too quickly. "Do you want something to drink or something?"
"No, I'm fine. You go ahead though. I'm sure you got sick of listening to me talk." Cloud leaned back, stretching out his body before the warmth of the fire.
Aeris swore to herself that she knew it was rude to stare. But sitting right in front of her was a legendary hero, who looked better than she had ever imagined, and here was the kicker: she had never seen him before, so he wasn't "Uncle Cloud" in her mind.
He looked up at her. (Do I look that weird to her? Maybe she thinks I'm some strange crazy hermit, and she's thinking of the best way to throw me out.)
"I'm trying to be a good hostess. You sure you don't want a drink, cause I can go and--" she turned to leave.
Catching her arm, he looked up at her. "Do I bother you or something? 'Cause I can go camp out somewhere if you'd rather..."
"No, it's not that at all...it's just..." Aeris plopped down next to him. "I've never been just alone with someone before. I'm either with Ishmael and we're hanging out, or I'm by myself."
"So I make you uncomfortable." He shook his head and sighed. "I should have guessed."
"No, not at all." She smiled. "I'd love to sit and listen to all the wonderful stories you must have."
"Aeris." His mouth didn't even falter as it formed the name that once belonged to a flower girl, long since passed on to the Promised Land. "There are many, many horrible stories mixed in with those, too. I haven't been alone in my life without a reason."
"Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps you had to leave everything to get to know yourself." She reached out and touched his hand.
Cloud shrank back. "You're young. You don't know what you're saying."
"I'm not that young--"
"I'm twice as old as you. That should count for a lot."
She stubbornly grabbed his hand again. The words slipped slowly from her mouth.
"Tears of sorrow and pain, remorse and shame.
You see the curse of the damned, placed in your hand.
Time slips slowly by; transgressions hidden in a lie
Now you must let it go, learn what you need to know
That one deed not done in hate; but born of grace
All trouble will be gone, if the son of the sun
Is born this time...the Planet stays alive."
He was transfixed.
"I see an aura of sadness, shadowed in sorrow." Her hand reached up and softly stroked his face. "You hide from the light of day, because of him."
He turned from her. "Who?"
The spell was broken; her connection with Cloud and the power within her had stopped. "My father," she said in her everyday voice. "I saw it. Something...some trouble between you and him, because of..."
"What do you see, Aeris?"
"I need to ask /you /the questions, Cloud."
"No. You can see things, you have a gift...is this some thing given to you by the Cetra?"
"Perhaps." She looked into his eyes. "But this is important."
"So is the fact that you can touch me and start to utter prophetic poetry." He shook his head. "I couldn't believe it unless I heard it myself."
"Well you did. How do you think I feel?" She shivered. "I'm scared that all of a sudden I see things. It's more than voices. Half the time, I just realize something. Like I had been taught this in school and merely forgotten."
He placed a hand on her shoulder. "You have a gift."
"I don't like it." She placed a trembling hand on his. "Can you just try to see how terrifying it is?" She rolled her eyes. "And then, I get to have an emotional breakdown," she muttered, "in front of the sexiest guy I have ever seen. The last few days have been just so great for me."
(Me...sexy?) He looked at her with new eyes. It was true that he had noticed she was gorgeous...and he saw parts of Aeris Gainsborough in her...but he was too wise now to go after anyone he had interest in. (I just cause pain. Besides, the timing's terrible on this. It would have been nice half a lifetime ago.) If she had interest in him, however...could he...could they? Then he realized something very important. (I doubt I'd live through even sharing a kiss with her. She's Reeve's daughter.)
"There is one problem with this, though."
"With what?" Cloud asked.
She blushed. "My interest in you...see...I told you I've been realizing things."
"Yes?" he prompted.
"Well." Aeris looked him straight in the eye. "Don't you dare deny this, either. I know."
Suddenly, he knew what she was going to say. That he was--
"You're Patrick's father."