Redemption Part 7
Part 7- Firestarter
Aeris cheerfully stepped inside Tifa’s house, oblivious of whatever somber moods that may have been lurking inside. Cloud, however, moved a bit more carefully as he followed her. Perhaps he was on the lookout for her father.
Raieyana looked up from the kitchen table as they entered the room. She had been munching on a bag of roasted seeds, a very Undorian habit she had picked up from Lia years ago. “Thank goodness you’re finally here, Rissy! Tifa sent your father out looking for you nearly an hour ago.”
“I was just outside. What’s the reason?”
“Zuri has some ideas about finding Patrick. Since she was so eager, I figured we should start as soon as possible.” Raieyana shrugged a bit. “It’s not life or death right now, as far as I know. Either way, I got to looking at this prophecy more while I was waiting.”
“Does it really apply to anything?”
“Very much so. But, before we get into this, there’s something I need to tell you–about Patrick.”
“Besides the fact that Cloud is his father?”
“Cloud is–” She paused and looked at the man in question. “Did you say something?”
As he shook his head, Aeris answered. “No, Mom, I just knew one day. It’s been happening for awhile now...this thing where I just realize the truth...maybe since the time you got sick.”
Raieyana glanced down at the translated text. “Then you must be the ‘one who sees’...”
“According to this, Patrick has some important role to play, and there are four others to help him: ‘one who sees, one who burns; one who grieves, and one who learns.’”
“Makes you wonder about your free will, doesn’t it?” Cloud said.
Aeris nodded. “This is quite freaky.”
“I suppose it would be. This isn’t new to me.” Raieyana smiled sadly. “I think those four helpers–or the three others, rather–are probably in our group.”
“I would think so.” Cloud looked thoughtful. “Fate should know that a stranger is useless the way we’re holed up here.”
“Besides, some of us are strange enough as it is.” Yuffie walked in with Azura and Tifa.
“You guys are here...finally.” Azura rolled her eyes.
“Hey, I haven’t been in my room since this morning, though.” Aeris stuck out her tongue, figuring it was best to act normal around her.
“Are those translations any help, Ray?” asked Tifa.
“Oh, lots.” She smiled. “You did a great job,” she said earnestly.
Loud voices burst into the room, preceding their owners. “I am not a lightweight!”
“Sure you are. How many drinks did it take last Friday...? Three and you were dead drunk.”
Sean walked in, annoyed. “I didn’t even buzz... Well, maybe a little.”
Ishmael snickered. “Kati had more than you.”
Jumping on her brother’s back, Kati giggled. “Maybe I outweigh him or something.”
The three of them suddenly realized that they had barged into what appeared to be a serious discussion; they quieted down, with sheepish looks on their faces.
Amazingly enough, Red XIII strode in, with Marta in tow. “I hope this doesn’t mean there is nothing left for my late-night snack,” he said gravely.
“Yeah,” she piped up. “Is this the thanks we get for seeing off Barret and Marlene?”
“Wow...this is nearly everyone. We should have an impromptu meeting, I guess, and fill Reeve and Vincent in with the details whenever they come back,” suggested Yuffie.
Raieyana hesitated, then nodded, and the group gathered around her. “The target is Jenova. Our battle is the ultimate one–”
A tall figure burst in suddenly. Vincent viewed the group’s stares with a slight apprehension. “I’m...getting water. I had a bit much to drink.”
“Did Reeve go to his room?” Tifa asked softly.
“What? I haven’t seen him since he left the bar with you.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Utter darkness and silence were his companions. Nearly fifteen years...he had never paid any respects at the Undorian monument Raieyana had built. Every step he took was still tainted with jealousy, it seemed.
Reeve wasn’t quite sure what had caused him to run off on Cloud’s chocobo, then pick his way through charred ruins, to the spot where a dead friend had given him his life.
Years of insecurity tore at him. He had never known if he had his wife–merely because he was the one who had survived. Why did it mean so much to get Cloud’s son out of his house?
(Why did I feel so much relief when I saw Strife with my little Rissy? What kind of father just walks away from that, feeling relieved? ...just because it meant that he didn’t want Ray.)
So there he was, paying homage to the moment that still grieved the woman he loved most. Turmoil filled him. It rattled inside his head and brimmed out his eyes and ears. He neither felt nor saw nor heard anything else. (I would sell my soul to Hojo to get Reno back. Would he make you happier, Ray?)
Reeve paced the ground where he stood. (I’m close to the place...I can feel it.) All around, he could see a slight glow. The years-old blast of Lifestream still lingered over the ruins of the place which had tried to kill the Planet.
His foot kicked something. Shiny metal glimmered as the object moved a little ways in front of him. Bending down, he picked it up and examined it.
“No,” he whispered. “No fucking way in hell.” Resting in the palm of his hand was a capsule on a ball chain, standard issue to Shinra combat employees. Nothing particularly special there, except for the fact that Reno had still made a habit of wearing his in the Alcor days.
Then there were the initials engraved on the side, J.R.. (No, no, that means nothing.)
He knew what was inside. A “last hurrah” letter, written for the next of kin, in case of a death in action. Reeve knew that if the letter inside was recent to the time Reno had died...then the letter was for Raieyana. He just wasn’t sure how to explain coming across it.
(How do I tell her? “Well, honey, I finally felt grief and decided to pay my respects to Jack. I never could do it in Undor-Hai, because that memorial made me insanely jealous for some stupid reason.”)
He knelt down, unconsciously clasping the capsule to his chest. (How do I explain to her, Jack, that it took me over fourteen years to feel sorry? That my remorse came slowly...)
“Can I tell her?” he said aloud. “That I let you do what you did...when all along, I knew the code that would have saved us all...including you?” A bitter tear escaped from Reeve’s eye and dropped to the dust. “I thought you’d make it out in time, but I hoped you wouldn’t.”
“I’m sorry Jack...so goddamn sorry.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“I want closure.”
The chief looked at Asula. “This is a very tall tale that you ask me to believe, oh stranger.”
“Father.” The chief’s daughter intervened. “It’s not outlandish, though. The woman she speaks of...her arrival preceded our own plagues and troubles. And her name does mean destruction from the skies.”
“Eritsu. Do you see anything when you look at this...Jenova?”
The girl lowered her head. “No.” She glanced at Asula, her eyes suddenly alight. “But I see white and purity...marred by sorrow. In this girl. If she is lying to us, then my sight fails us. And let the Planet destroy us as it intends.”
The chief paused, thinking gravely. “But why is it, that I cannot send a warrior after her in the night?”
“She killed all our warriors at once,” Asula answered. “If it were just a question of warriors, she would have never made it to your village.”
“Do you have any idea how to defeat her?” asked Eritsu. “There are some things that my eyes cannot see. I will not be able to help you in this.”
“Yes...I have an idea.” She looked to the chief. “Do I have your permission, my lord?”
He nodded soberly. “Yes, yes. I would like to keep to our old ways, moving about...but that life has gotten hard. So our group of Cetra decided to settle down in these plains. But I suppose that made us an easy target.”
“There is nothing you did wrong,” insisted Asula. “A wise friend of mine told me that Jenova is not from our Planet. This is no punishment from the elders beyond...this is no challenge to test those who wish to enter the Promised Land. It is our turn to protect the Planet that gives us life.”
“Then all I have is at your disposal. Will that be enough?”
“I hope so. If not...” Asula’s eyes glanced out the window to watch Jenova singing, dancing, and laughing with some young men of the village. “I wish quick deaths upon those we leave behind.”
Raieyana held up one hand to stop the commotion. “Look...I’m sure he’s fine. It looks like Reeve just took Cloud’s chocobo out for a little spin.” She stood up from the bird tracks she had been examining.
As she walked back to the house, Tifa turned to the others. “We should probably just drop it for now,” she said softly, “and worry about Patrick. If it’s what Raieyana wants, it’s her family...her decision.”
“What about Dad?” asked Ishmael.
“He’s all right,” said Aeris, “and I think he needs to be alone right now.” She met her twin’s eye and waited for his nod.
“Let’s go inside.” Ignoring his sister, he grabbed Kati’s hand and walked quickly inside the house.
As the others turned and slowly went back to the house, Cloud looked at Aeris. “You all right?”
“He’s never done that before.”
“I’m sure he’s under stress.”
She bit her lip. “He’s mad that I decided Patrick was in more danger–doesn’t matter that it’s the truth–and said Dad wanted to be alone. He wanted me to agree with what he felt and I can’t do that if I know otherwise.”
“Then don’t be upset. Just feel sorry that he can’t see things as clearly as you can. As long as you know what’s most important to focus on, the little stuff will fall into place.” He drew her close a placed a light kiss on her forehead.
“I’m worried about us...my family...and what this is going to do to us.”
“Your mom and dad have been through a lot,” Cloud said reassuringly. “Of course it will be difficult, but if they could survive your mother’s death and all, everything will be all right.”
“I’m not so sure,” she said softly. “We’ve been ignoring a lot of things. If they all come to a head at once, we’ll snap into pieces.”
“I’ll make sure no one tramples the Rissy piece.”
She smiled a little and wrapped her arms around him. “At least I have that...” She took his hand. “Let’s go inside.”
Azura was just inside the doorway, hands on her hips. “You guys...I can’t do anything without you here.”
“What are we now, sweetie, your support group?” asked Aeris.
“Yes.” The girl tossed back her black hair. “Well...” She lowered her voice. “I’ve been thinking about the prophecy. When I was supposed to be looking for Reeve.” She gave them a sheepish look and continued. “So, I was thinking...when you two and me...and Pat were all together, wouldn’t you say we bonded pretty well?”
“I suppose...” offered Cloud.
“If Rissy is the one who sees, I’ll give you guys a guess as to who probably is the one doing the burning.”
The two of them shrugged and pointed at Azura.
She smiled. “Precisely. I just don’t know if you’re grieving or learning, Cloud.”
His eyes widened and he cocked his head to the side in thought. “Well, to be quite honest, I feel like it’s a little bit of both.”
“But you’d fit into one of the categories.”
He glanced at Aeris, then nodded. “Most likely.”
“I just wonder who our fourth is...I don’t like anyone else as much as you guys.”
“It’s true, Riss. And I never really liked you before now.”
Aeris laughed and gently pushed the younger girl back towards the kitchen. “Come on, Miss Congeniality, it’s time to do what you were waiting for us to come back for.”
(They’re all looking at me.) Azura smiled nervously and addressed the room. “Lately, I’ve been having a real knack for using materia. The day at the Alcor building, I had used a Sense materia to peek inside from on the sidewalk.” She held up a yellow orb and slipped it into her armlet. “I’m going to try and see...if not where Patrick is, then the last place he left strong vibes.”
Yuffie gazed at her, not only in awe at her magic prowess, but at her maturity and grace. “She really is your daughter, Vince.”
“I know,” he replied, sipping coffee and gazing in wonder, as wisps of yellow energy surrounded her.
Aeris leaned on Cloud’s shoulder, almost bracing herself in case a group vision took her senses over again. (Zuri still has no idea just how strong she really is.)
Cloud had one arm clasped around her waist, and another hand bracing the two of them in the doorway. Hard dirt was not a place to fall on one’s knees.
But maybe Azura had harnessed her energy, for the others merely watched as she trembled, her eyes open and staring at sights unknown to them.
All at once, there was a brilliant flash, blinding the group for a moment. Vincent’s eyes recovered the quickest. He was just in time to see his youngest daughter collapse. Hurrying over, he knelt at her side.
“I’ll get her some water.” Marta, always helpful, scooted off.
The others watched as he shook Azura–gently–and tapped her shoulder, hoping to bring her back to consciousness.
Her eyes finally opened and she looked up at her father in alarm.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?”
She shook her head furiously. “I saw–” Her whisper trailed off into the hushed silence. “It couldn’t be. He wouldn’t...”
Vincent held her for a moment.
Marta offered the glass to Azura, who took it with shaky hands and managed to swallow a sip.
All of this happened at the same time Aeris’ eyes widened in horror and she staggered a bit backwards into Cloud.
“What is it?” he asked.
Vincent softly spoke to Azura. “What did you see?”
A tear rolled down Aeris’ cheek.
“Flame...ash.” Azura drew in a shuddering breath. “Wutai.”
Yuffie and Vincent exchanged horrified looks, as the eerie silence was interrupted by the sound of the Highwind II returning from Kalm.
Aeris ran to Azura and pushed Vincent toward the door. "You want to go," she insisted, in a low voice.
“Who else is coming?” He addressed the others, then turned and looked on in disbelief as the older girl comforted his hysterical daughter.
“I’m going,” said Ishmael. Kati was clinging to his arm.
“I’ve seen enough destruction,” declared Cloud. “I’ll stay here, with anyone who wants to, so those who wish to go can do it. No need to let the welfare of the rest of us weigh on your minds. You need to reach Wutai.”
All of the occupants turned to leave. Vincent and Yuffie, hand in hand; close behind were Ishmael, Kati, and Sean; Marta, her hands buried in Red XIII’s mane, followed closely by her mother. Raieyana paused at the doorway.
“They’ll need your level head,” said Cloud softly. She nodded and walked out.
A few minutes later, the whir of propellers announced the Airship’s sudden departure. Azura broke away, brushing tears from her eyes. “My heart hurts,” she whispered, “I need to sit a little while by myself.” She stood, shakily, and plodded to her bedroom.
Cloud stood silently, protectively, over Aeris. “My kid brother pulled another Sephiroth,” she muttered bitterly.
“If the situation is the same here...then we know Patrick isn’t evil, deep down inside.”
“I know he was told to do this...so the one person in this Planet who can reach the real Patrick... He was told to do this so Zuri would hate him.” Tears ran down her face. “Jenova can’t win this time. Otherwise my life...my children...will all be tainted, because of the cells in my blood.”
“Something I’m learning,” said Cloud slowly, “from your mother mostly–a bit from the first Aeris, long ago–is that you can’t throw hope away just because of fear. A full life is worth any pain you’ve risked. Don’t be a coward like me, Riss.”
“I can’t be...” She looked up at him. “Not if you’re here to say things like that to me.”
“I’m not the strongest, surest thing for you to lean on.”
“Cloud, please,” Aeris shook her head, then stood up to meet him face-to-face. “Just shut up and hold me.”
He felt silky arms circle around his neck and he obliged, placing his hands on her waist and drawing her near.
“Make me feel like there will be something left for me to hang onto...even if the whole Planet turned to dust.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Let the men of greatest courage come before me,” declared the chief.
Several young men stepped up into his hut, presenting themselves to the chief, Eritsu, and Asula.
“Eritsu shall choose the three of you most suited to my task. The others shall go back to hunting stag.” He nodded to his daughter.
Asula watched intently as the older girl stood before each man, placing her hand on his forehead and pausing, as if listening intently to words unspoken. When she finished, she tapped three men on the shoulder. They followed her up to her father.
“The rest of you are dismissed.” After the rejected hopefuls left, he gestured for the three to come closer, and they did so. “This is a simple mission. I think that it would be pleasing for you to take Jenova on a trip to the small canyon north of our city. I believe her presence there will bless the spring rains, making our crop bountiful. You must take her there while snow is still heavy on the ground, to make the Planet favor us. I wish to prevent flood and drought.”
“I thought you wanted us to treat Jenova with caution,” one of them said.
“I want to perform a ceremony at the altar when she is away. I am afraid that outsiders have never been permitted to view it, and I do not intend to break the rules of our Elders. Her grace will also be welcomed by the Planet during this lonely season.” He eyed the three men with severity. “Can I trust you, my tribesmen?”
They all nodded eagerly.
“Keep an eye on the weather and inform me of the best day to take her to the canyon without raising suspicion. Otherwise, I will not have the preparations complete for the planting ceremony.” He bowed his head. “That is all. Thank you for your service.”
“We serve you and the Planet, my lord,” the three replied, in unison, before exiting the hut.
“They know routine well,” commented Asula.
“Do you find this unusual?” the chief asked.
“No. Reassuring, in fact. I hope these men are up to their task. They seem very loyal and obedient.”
“Are you sure this is the only way?” A touch of sorrow filled the man’s face.
Eritsu nodded. “I cannot see any other way to subdue Jenova than with Asula’s plan.”
“As long as your men can get her there...I can make sure she never returns from that canyon. Her grave will be a frozen tomb of rock and ice. What was cruel enough for Erhiz, shall be mercy compared to what I wish I could inflict on her depravity.”
White. It glared and gleamed, hurting Asula’s eyes. Shielding her brow, she searched for four figures in the distance. They were as ants from her height. She squinted and focused on one form in particular.
(Your time is nearly up, Calamity.)
Remorse touched her slightly as she reflected on the three men, who were to be sacrificed as they faithfully served their tribe. (Better just those three now, then their entire village later.) She set her jaw; her mind firmly set upon the task in front of her. The time was approaching; the small group neared the narrowest part of the ravine. A weird energy began to flow through the atmosphere.
Closing her eyes, Asula called on the elements. With a few prayers uttered and a bit of focus pinpointed, the sun was covered with a dark thundercloud. All the while, she called on darker powers still.
Streams of fire flew from both of her palms, casting a torrent of ice and snow downward, creating an avalanche into the ravine. This sealed it off and buried the occupants.
Asula dropped to her knees, feeling quite drained. As she slowly caught her breath, she noticed the strange feeling hadn’t gone away. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and small shivers ran up and down her spine. Soon, she realized the problem.
(My job is not yet complete.)
“What else do you want me to do?!” she demanded of the sky. Her only answer was the gusting wind from the storm she had called. At a loss for her next move, Asula kicked a stone over the edge in frustration.
An idea came to her as she watched it land with a thud. It was comforting and disturbing at the same time. She closed her eyes and placed her palms upon the earth in front of her.
(Better four, than my entire race.)
Rock fell that day. If only once, this was a time when a person so small had the ability to bring down a mountain. Maybe only one part of the rock face collapsed, but that matters little in the scheme of things.
Even if there had been enough time to run, Asula had drained her last ounce of strength. That time does not matter. There is only one time that matters.
Asula brought two thousand years of safety to the Planet that day, but her name was lost in the rock that became her grave.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“These are just scientific notebooks, sir.”
Patrick let out a sigh of disgust. “You are dismissed.” He sat down in the lab of the Shinra mansion and gingerly opened one of the seemingly ancient journals.
“Permanently dismissed,” he continued, not even looking up. “Don’t take it personally, since I want you to take all of your men and leave.”
Inside his mind, Patrick watched the exchange that followed like a movie.
He heard his voice speak, though he did not control it. “Earlham is a fool. A simple puppet, while I am the only thing that the powers that be ever truly desired. His plans for conquest and armies are delusions, given to his simple mind so he could comprehend what I mean to this Planet.”
“Take the men and take leave to Earlham. These are my orders. I don’t think I shall need your help, don’t you agree?” He turned his bright Mako eyes to the trembling man’s face.
“I trust your judgment, sir.” The soldier saluted.
“Just leave the chocobo.”
The man nodded and left the room.
(This isn’t me.
“Of course it is...this is all you ever wanted to be.”)
Patrick held his head in his hands and moaned. (I won’t let you control me!
“I told you before. I am you and I’m completely in control...”
Then why are you looking for a huge piece of red materia?
“Because that will benefit me...you...greatly.”
You refuse to tell me why...yet if you and I are the same, then I should know what the materia is for, deep down. And you should know where it is!
“I never asked you or told you because you have no comprehension of such things. You’re only a monster. This is the better Patrick, the one who will have a meaningful role in history!”
I’d rather be a monster than a puppet...
“Silly boy, don’t you know you’re both?”)
Images flooded his head. Wutai burning, people dying, Azura crying, and Patrick smiling. (No...)
The little boy inside Patrick sobbed...and Jenova continued her work. His voice read an excerpt aloud: “It has been determined through much testing that the red-colored, so-called ‘Summon’ materia actually opens an inter-dimensional gate, essentially sucking creatures from other worlds into our own. After a certain amount of time, usually determined by the power of both materia and materia user, these creatures are returned home through a subsequent gate back home.
“No person has ever attempted a leap into one of these portals, mainly because few exist on the Planet who can exert that much control over the power of the materia to create a stable portal for two-way travel. The only other option would be to leap into the return door with the creature, which would not work out for obvious reasons.
“If any of the powerful ‘Huge materia’ in our company reactors happen to be of the red variety, this may be regarded as sort of an ultimate in summoning. If the right materia user could be found, this materia could be the key to creating portals between worlds. Summon materia could possibly be a key to the Promised Land.”
Patrick sighed. “Signed, Professor Gast.”
(“And to think, I used to think he was the useless one. This is a wonderful development.”) Patrick’s mind had fallen into the background once more, but not without leaving valuable information for the being controlling him. (“There is only one materia user on the Planet qualified for such a task as the one I have in mind. Will love make her blind...or will her thirst for revenge on Wutai lead her to madness?
“Either way...I will have her.”)
A twisted smile crossed his face. “My Zuri.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Reeve slowly walked into the front door of Tifa’s Cosmo Canyon home. (It looks pretty quiet. Everyone must be in bed, thank goodness.) Closing the door behind him, he tiptoed into the living room, only to find himself face-to-face with Cloud.
“You missed quite a bit while you were off on your field trip,” said the blond man with a twist of irony in his voice.
“I didn’t do anything that you haven’t done.”
“I know.” There was an awkward pause as the long-time adversaries gazed at each other.
“And I know about you and Rissy.”
A slight bit of panic crossed Cloud’s blue eyes.
“Relax.” Reeve shrugged his shoulders a bit. “We’re all under pressure. Riss is an adult. I would advise her against this, but as long as you don’t hurt her,” he said, emphasizing the last few words, “I can’t be concerned with it at the moment.”
His eyes softened. “Good... Zuri decided to look for Patrick, using that Sense-remote viewing skill of hers.” His voice trailed off and he swallowed the lump in his throat. “He destroyed Wutai. Everyone flew off there in a rush. Zuri’s resting upstairs, and so is Rissy.”
“Why is Rissy–”
“She got another psychic flash, and it was of the ruins of the city.”
“Oh god...” Reeve put his face in his hands and leaned on the wall for support. “What in this Planet have I unleashed?”
“We can fix this,” said Cloud.
“How?!” Reeve insisted. “Well maybe you can, but I sure as hell can’t. I destroy everything I build. I’m too weak, I was never cut out for this hero nonsense.”
“Even those born to be heroes can stumble along the way.” He gestured to the scroll translation sitting on the table in front of him.
Wearily brushing back his brown hair and perhaps even a tear or two, he picked up the paper. Reeve glanced over a few lines and laughed bitterly. “He’s the savior of the Planet, not the next Sephiroth, and I’ve been treating him like devil spawn.” He set the paper down. “It’s yet one more thing on my list of crimes. And Vincent thinks he has penances...”
“Daddy.” Aeris carefully walked down the stairs to them, her face pale and wan, green eyes blazing. She placed her arms around him before looking up at Cloud. “We’re in danger here,” she said softly.
“What is it?”
“The huge materia. Jenova needs it for some reason or another, I don’t know...but she has a link to Patrick now and he knows where it is.”
Reeve shuddered. “The Planet is doomed.”
“No.” She shook her head softly. “There’s still hope. That Wutai thing...was part of the search for the huge materia.”
“That means Patrick must be fighting her control.” Cloud was deep in thought. “And it’s buying us time to stay a step ahead of her.”
“If we leave now,” said Aeris.
Breaking from his daughter’s embrace, Reeve looked at the two of them. “The chocobo has been fed and stabled. He should be up for another spin tonight.”
“We can’t leave Zuri, Daddy...”
“Of course not. I will stay here and meet whatever may come.” His voice was resolute. “Azura can get herself out of here if the danger presents itself. You two should take the materia from here and flee.”
A tear rolled down Aeris’ cheek. “Dad...you can’t stay here, you’ll be–”
“Are you armed?” asked Cloud coolly.
“Rissy, go get the materia and stick it in my satchel.”
The tears flowed more steadily as she turned and ran towards the observatory.
“You don’t need to do this. Patrick is my son.” Cloud’s eyes were full of resolve.
“He may be of your blood, but I am the root of his exile, not only the physical, but also the mental and spiritual. If I can’t help him, I alone deserve what he may unleash. Not you, not my Rissy, and certainly not Azura.”
Aeris returned to the doorway, bag in hand.
“Take care of her, Strife.”
She began to shake her head.
Cloud walked to her side. “It’s the only chance we have. Only two of us can fit on the chocobo.”
“You need to hurry,” Reeve insisted.
It seemed a mere moment between the instant Aeris and Cloud rushed out the door to the last time Reeve heard a “Wark” resounding through the late night air. Shadows danced along the walls as the flame in the fireplace flickered its irregular rhythm. Glints of light reflected off the cold metal of the knives that rested in his lap.
He sat on the bottom of the stairs, guarding the passage to Azura’s room with the faithfulness that any guilty man gives to his penance. Seconds may have passed, or minutes, or hours, but all those measures seemed irrelevant.
The only thing that mattered was that Reeve was there to meet fate eye-to-eye, with the plans to leave his weapons behind for once. It was time for forgiveness, for Patrick and for himself.
He just didn’t know if the child he rejected for fourteen years had any ears left to listen to his apology.
Others may vanish in the depths of the night
Azura tossed and turned in bed, waking with a startle. Clutching the blankets up to her chest, she shivered in the darkness. (It was so cold...) Vivid images from the dream still hung in her mind. (Was I the girl in the snow? Did fire fly from my hands once?)
(Is that all I’ve ever been supposed to do?)
The chills soon passed and the desert heat soon slipped back. She threw the blankets off and stood, walking to the window. (Once, a meteor fell from the sky and scarred the Planet. But the true damage was caused by the thing inside.) The starlight twinkling in the sky held no more warmth than the bright snows of Gaea’s cliff.
(Life after life, for thousands of years...we’ve struggled. Struggled against one little creature. The Ancients thought it a plague, and the scientists thought it a deity.) Azura closed her eyes. (Every night for weeks I’ve gone to sleep only to learn the pain I knew two thousand years ago. I know what it’s like to be alone, without a homeland.)
(Wutai may be no more, but I refuse to be alone. I can’t let go of you, Pat, not until every speck of life has been driven from me.)
She clenched her fist and walked to the table, holding the huge piece of yellow materia from the observatory. (Jenova was not destroyed because Asula gave up. I once was weak, but now I am strong.) “I am...” A look of confusion crossed her face and she turned to the doorway. “...only going to tell you this once. Put him down.”
Patrick entered her room soundlessly, dragging an unconscious Reeve behind him. He held a pistol to his sleeping stepfather’s temple. “It’s not my fault he didn’t have the common sense to put on a ribbon.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
(The sun’s been down for hours. Yet it’s hot as hell here...but so dark.) Kati sat on the beach, about a mile or so from the limits of Wutai. (So, so dark.)
Few people had escaped the blaze. It seemed that Patrick’s forces had used materia to start the fire in several places at once. The paper thin, flimsy buildings easily became prey to the flames, and those that did manage to get out of their homes were completely surrounded by the inferno of the rest of the town.
The Valentines’ home and the five-tiered Pagoda were nearly the only structures that survived, and both bore the black, charred scars of their battles with the inferno. Yuffie had put on her leader façade to offer any consolation she possibly could to the survivors. Vincent and Sean were inside their house, seeing if any of their possessions could be salvaged.
The rest of the group, who didn’t even live in Wutai, seemed to be the most affected at the moment. They huddled at the outskirts, dumbfounded by the chaos in front of them. It’s almost as if they knew their sole purpose there was to comfort Yuffie and Vincent’s family once the numbness of shock wore off and reality hit them.
Kati gazed out at the ocean. It always had a way of soothing her, no matter what troubles were on her mind. There was always something eerie about being on the shore at night, though. The horizon disappears, when pitch black night meets the midnight depths of the ocean. No matter what is going on in the rest of the world, the only thing there to greet someone is the darkness.
(I feel like I’m on the edge of the world.)
“Kati.” A baritone voice stirred her from her reflections.
She turned and looked into deep brown eyes, so dark that the Mako glow was barely noticeable. She saw love and concern, but none of that seemed important at the moment. (Everyone here has lost so much, yet I’ve got all the important things right here. My family is safe. I don’t deserve to still have things to make me happy!)
“I’m here for you, sweetie,” Ishmael said, sounding a bit perplexed.
Looking back to the ocean, she sighed. “It’s unfair that you are still here for me. Patrick’s connection to us made him destroy Wutai, and we are all safe and sound. I’m sad the people in my home suffered, but no one I cared about is gone. Not one!”
He cautiously wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “That’s not really something you should complain about, at least within earshot of anyone else.”
“I just wish I felt bad. But the only thing I feel is an urge to get away from this place.”
“I understand that. Everything has been destroyed...there isn’t anything to hold you here anymore.”
“That’s not the way I meant it.” Kati looked at him thoughtfully. “I want to leave because I don’t want to see their pain. I don’t have any pain about this, none at all. Yeah, I had some stuff here and too bad it’s gone...but...” Her voice trailed off and she shrugged her shoulders.
Ishmael held her closer. “We all have our ways of dealing with this stuff.”
“You know what’s terrible?” A tiny laugh escaped her lips. “The first thing that came into my head, when we stepped off the Highwind... That this settles the argument about where we’re going to live after we get married.”
They stood there for a moment. The only sound carried in the air was that of the waves breaking along the shore.
“If we have kids...I won’t be taking them to that damn Pagoda to prove their ‘worthiness,’ and they won’t have to visit Grandpa Godo’s grave.” A little shudder passed through her body.
She continued quickly, ignoring him. “I won’t have to tell them to watch out for inflated prices at the Materia Shop...or to make sure the dirty old man behind the counter at the weapons’ place doesn’t leer at them too much.” A small sniffle.
Biting his lip, Ishmael just tightened his hold on her.
“They won’t try to bring home a new pet from the little shack full of stray cats.” The tears were flowing freely down her face now. “Ish?” She turned to face him, her face now tear-stained.
He softly kissed her forehead. “What, hon?”
She drew in a shuddering breath. “We’re ne-never gonna see Cid d-drunk off of Turtle Daiquiris again!”
Ishmael gazed silently at the ocean as Kati collapsed into his shoulder, sobbing.
“I hate him,” she swore. “I didn’t want to...I tried not to, but I can’t help it. Ish, I don’t want to hate him, for your sake...”
“Patrick hurt you,” he said flatly.
The only response was more sniffling.
“Don’t worry about me...” He stroked her hair softly. “I don’t need a brother that could do something like this,” he declared, raising his voice.
Raieyana and Tifa froze where they were standing, about to join the couple on the beach. Closing her eyes, Raieyana looked as if a blow had just struck her down.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it. We all know Patrick couldn’t have been himself.”
“I deserved to hear that.”
“What does that mean?” asked Tifa.
“I often wondered, silently to myself, when I was pregnant with Patrick and hiding in that cave... How Lucrecia lived with herself, knowing that she’d given birth to a cold-blooded killer.”
“Sephiroth was cold-blooded and calculating, a killer, before he was ever given a head job. He was raised to be that way. So I figured, no matter what the foreboding I felt within myself, the only thing I could do for Patrick was to raise him with love.”
“He knows love...” Tifa placed her hand on her shoulder.
“I know that.” Raieyana nodded. “I’m just saying now, that I get it. What Lucrecia must have felt within herself every day, since Vincent told her of Sephiroth’s life after his birth. She had to hope that without the interference of Hojo and Jenova, and deep down inside, he was a good person. I have one up on her. I know that Patrick is a good person. I know he knows love and feels love. Care, concern, remorse. If nothing else, Patrick is human.”
“Then we can’t lose hope. We have to have faith in those prophecies.”
She sighed and gazed once more upon her son and his fiancee. “It’s not the strength of my own faith that I’m unsure of.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“I must say, that’s a very different look you have there.”
Azura shrugged a little. “I could say the same about you.”
Patrick looked down at his dark shirt and black leather pants. “We do match though, Zuri.”
“Maybe a little,” she admitted, glancing at her own black tank top and leather pants. “But I don’t have a hostage.”
“Reeve?” He laughed heartily, filling the empty silence. “No, he’s not a hostage. I didn’t expect you to care about him one way or the other.”
“I just wonder why you care enough to hold onto him.”
Azura crossed her arms in front of her. “Look, if you wanted vengeance, he’d be dead by now. So it’s obviously something else.”
He cocked his head to one side, his eyes becoming cloudy. “Information,” he mumbled.
“What do you want to know?”
Shaking his head, Patrick’s voice gained strength. “I need the huge materia.”
“You know it’s in the observatory here. It’s been here since way before you were born.”
“It’s gone.” His voice turned to a low growl.
(I only took one of them.) Azura winced at the tone in his voice. “I’ve been asleep for awhile,” she lied. “I don’t know anything.”
“Toying with me, sweetheart?” Patrick slapped Reeve across the face–hard.
Blinking awake, Reeve found himself in a place different than the one he’d been put to sleep in. “Wha–?”
Pulling a knife from a sheath strapped to his arm, Patrick slid the flat of it along his stepfather’s neck. “Dear, dear Zuri...I know how you can’t bear to see pain. It would be a shame if your lies killed the man who pretended to be my father, wouldn’t it?”
Reeve gulped and glanced at the gray-eyed girl.
Azura shook her head. “Pat...I know you’re in there somewhere! Look, I believe in you and I know you don’t want to do these things...I love you!”
“You loved a lie. His love for you was a lie just like he was.” Patrick’s eyes narrowed. “I’m only repeating myself once. Where is the huge materia?”
“She doesn’t know.” Reeve’s eyes flashed defiantly.
He nearly dropped the knife. “You do,” he said, half-laughing in shock. “What, you actually did something pro-active for once, instead of sitting back and watching everyone else save the day?”
“I wouldn’t say that...I was foolish enough to put my life on the line for you...”
Patrick kicked him sharply in the stomach.
Reeve doubled over in pain, groaning. “Oh come on, the last time you used this trick it didn’t work, remember?”
“Are you going to tell me where the materia went?”
The only response was laughter. “Don’t you get it? I’m the one that stayed behind because I’m the only one that I could trust not to talk!”
Taking care to miss any vital organs or blood vessels, Patrick stabbed Reeve in the shoulder with the knife. Blood trickled from the wound, slowly staining the white dress shirt that he always seemed to wear.
Azura turned away in despair. (I can’t sit back and let this happen, not when I...) Her eyes fell upon the huge yellow materia. (Yellow means command...command means...)
“Patrick...I know some piece of you is still inside there,” Reeve said calmly. “I want to tell you that I was wrong and I’m sorry.”
“It’s...lies...” he mumbled. It seemed like he was trying to convince himself. (“He’s trying to trick you. He thinks you’re so simple-minded that you’d believe a stupid dinky little apology.”
No...what if he means it?
“He only said those things because you finally have power over him. You finally have him where you want him!”)
“You should leave him alone,” said Azura softly.
“Stay out of this–”
“Pat, don’t think about me. Forget about me for a second. What would your mother think?” She kept her hands wrapped around the yellow crystal, her eyes closed, channeling the manipulating energy towards Patrick.
This question was a mental stumbling block. “I...” He closed his eyes. “Mother,” he whispered. The knife fell from his hand.
Taking a sigh of relief, she removed her hands from the materia and concentrated on a Cure spell for Reeve. Green waves of energy floated about his body, slowly sealing the wound in his shoulder.
“So this is what you were hiding, my Zuri,” Patrick said.
She whirled around to see him holding the huge yellow materia. (Oh no! He recovered faster than I thought he would.)
“Stupid,” he said, as he walked to the open window. “You won’t do that again.” He threw the crystal out the window.
Azura winced, knowing that the precious thing had shattered into countless pieces on the canyon floor.
“Even more stupid, considering that’s not even the piece I wanted.” He paused, seemingly conflicted. “You were right though...Reeve is not worth my revenge.” He threw what was intended to be a withering glance at his stepfather.
Reeve looked into Patrick’s eyes and saw the intense battle going on inside him. The expression on the boy’s face changed between remorse and unfaltering, before he turned to Azura.
“There is still something here that I need.” Before she could even react, she in Patrick’s arms, in what seemed to be an embrace. He tore off her armlet and ribbon, then made sure she wasn’t carrying a weapon.
(He still thinks I need materia to use magic.) Her eyes lit up a bit.
Holding a pistol to Reeve with one hand, he managed to tie her hands back with the other. “She’s coming with me.” It was a direct order.
Reeve attempted to get up. “No...” He trailed off in confusion. Patrick had made a threatening gesture with the pistol, but... (Zuri shook her head at me. What is she thinking?)
“You can’t get hurt because of me,” she said with a little too much of a self-sacrificing tone.
Grabbing her arm with a wrenching grip, Patrick forced her down the stairs and outside into the night.
He hoisted her onto his golden chocobo before mounting behind her. “We can still be in things together,” he whispered. “Just the two of us. Nothing else matters.” Patrick brought a hand to her face, caressing her cheek.
She closed her eyes, a tear slipping down her face.
Firmly wrapping one arm around her waist, he leaned in close and whispered something so softly to her...before sending them off at a gallop into the last bit of the night.
Azura contemplated his words in confusion, wondering if some part of him had finally begun to break free.
“Forgive me, Zuri. My heart knew not what my hands would do.”