It was strange how, no matter where you went in Midgar whether above or below the plate, you could never really see the sky. Clouds always seemed to cover Midgar, dark ones that blocked out the sunlight. In her entire life Aeris had never seen the sky, which she had been told was blue, but that had never really bothered her before. She had been told once that it was a vast unending expanse, and the thing she imagined in her mind scared her. Then she had met him, and he had promised that he would take her to see the sky. It was actually a really mean and inconsiderate thing to promise considering that she had told him how much she disliked it but not that she had never actually seen it. Still, she wished that he had kept that promise.
Something wet fell onto her upturned face. She hissed in pain and quickly wiped it away. More droplets hit her, biting painfully into her flesh where it was exposed. She yelped and looked around quickly trying to find cover. To her left something clicked loudly and opened with a sound like laundry being shaken out. The pattering of raindrops around her intensified but she looked up to find that she was protected from them by a large black umbrella.
"If you're going to be out in the streets you should at least be prepared for the weather," chided a familiar voice softly. She turned her head slightly to her left. He seemed even taller than the last time she'd seen him.
"Come on. Let's get out of the rain," He began ushering her down the street.
"You're getting wet!" she protested, halting them.
"Well what do you expect? You're under my umbrella."
"D...doesn't it hurt?"
His eyebrows knit together in confusion, "It's just water, Aeris."
"Just..." She turned her head to stare out at the falling rain. Hesitantly, she reached out from under the protective dome of the umbrella. Several droplets hit her hand and she hissed in pain, snatching it back to her chest. She looked back to Tseng, a confused look on her face, he seemed unfazed by the water that hit him. "I don't get it..."
"I'm getting soaked, Aeris," he informed her in an annoyed voice.
She clapped her hands over her mouth, "Oh no! I'm sorry! Come on let's go."
She tilted her head to the left, and then to the right, trying to examine him from every angle without making a big show of it. She could tell by the look on his face that he was growing agitated.
"What?! What is it?!" He finally snapped.
She bit her lip, trying very hard not to smile. Even though she'd just met him, she couldn't help but want to tease him. He had spent an inordinate amount of time putting the outfit together, and he just looked so cute. After a moment of wrestling with herself she schooled her features into something she hoped resembled a kind of scholarly aloofness and replied.
"Nothing, Cloud it's just that I couldn't help but notice that, for a boy, you have very delicate ankles."
She had gotten out almost an hour ago. It actually hadn't been that hard. She was small and people tended not to notice her when they weren't sticking needles in her arms. They had noticed by now though, she could hear them calling her name. Did they think she was stupid? She wasn't going to give herself up so they could stick more needles in her and lock her up in a tiny room and make her listen to her mother scream.
She threw up her arms to cover her face as light suddenly flooded the closet where she had secreted herself. Terrified, she blinked back the spots in her vision and pressed herself away from the figure in the doorway. However, her terror gave way to confusion as her vision cleared and the figure resolved itself into an equally confused boy. He was taller than her, had short silvery hair, and wore a white gown. The gown was the real tell. She had to wear them too whenever the scientists were poking and prodding at her.
"Who are you?" he demanded. She made a small squeak at the suddenness of his change in demeanor and didn't answer. "Whatever, move over."
He squeezed in with her and the cleaning supplies and shut the door tightly behind him. He braced himself against it as if his meager weight could stop even a single full grown man from pushing it open if they really wanted to. He stood in silence for a moment, poised as if listening to make sure he hadn't been followed. She suddenly knew that that was what he had been doing when he turned his gaze toward her and she recoiled because there in the darkness they gave off a strange faint glow. Their clarity gave her the unsettling feeling that he could see her even when she could not see him.
He blinked. It was strange seeing the little points of light wink in and out of existence.
"I assume you're Aeris." She swallowed thickly and nodded which immediately confirmed her suspicions that he could see her in the dark because he replied, "Yeah, I figured. I heard them calling."
"W-what's your name?" She finally ventured, though her voice remained unsteady.
"Sephiroth,” he replied nonchalantly.
"Are they keeping you prisoner too?"
His eyes winked in and out of existence again, "What? No. Well... Actually I've never thought about it before," For a moment his gaze wandered away. She shifted uncomfortably and his eyes snapped back to her. "What are you doing here? This isn't exactly the best hiding place."
Her hackles rose and she snapped indignantly, "Then why are you here?" She had thought it a magnificent hiding place.
"Because I usually choose more clever spots than this, they won't think to look for me here," his eyes winked out of existence but did not reappear and Aeris was at a loss as to whether he had closed them or turned his head.
"What were you planning to do?" The boy suddenly asked after a very long silence. Aeris started and frowned.
Sephiroth's glowing gaze quickly refocused on her and she bit her lip nervously, "You're hiding in a broom closet from Hojo and his lab rats. What are you trying to do exactly?"
"I-I..." she wrapped her arms around herself, "I don't really know. I guess I was going to wait until it got quiet and then," She thought of her mother and hugged herself tighter. "I don't know."
"You don't even have a plan," He scoffed. "How pointless."
"What do you know about it?!"
He shushed her harshly, "Quiet," he hissed, "you want them to hear us?"
Aeris clapped her hands over her mouth and shook her head. Sephiroth went silent again, listening for the doctors who were looking for him. He spoke after a moment, but he didn't look at her.
"I know you need a keycard to access any stairwell or elevator above the 59th floor. I know we're on the 67th floor. I know no scientist is going home tonight until both of us are found, and I know that if we aren't they'll probably bring up Turks."
"Yeah, Turks," Sephiroth paused and peered at her. She found she was growing accustomed to his strange eyes. "They look human,” he continued in a low voice, his gaze steady on her, “but they're actually not, they’re really monsters bred in the lab upstairs. They're ShinRa bloodhounds, with fiery eyes, and huge fangs in their mouths. When they get your scent they never stop chasing you until they catch you and-"
"Stop! Stop!" Aeris cried, clamping her hands over her ears and shaking her head furiously. Sephiroth began laughing. She looked up at him, "What's so funny?!"
"You! You're so fun to harass."
She gaped at him, "You mean that was all a lie?"
"Of course! Human looking monsters. Who would believe that?" He continued laughing at her.
"You-you're a big jerk!"
Aeris clamped her mouth shut and blushed furiously. He began laughing again. He was cut short when someone began banging on the door behind him.
"Sephiroth, come out of there!"
"God damn it," He glared at Aeris. "Good going he's found us."
She covered her mouth with her hands, a look of terror crossing her face unbidden.
"Hey are you okay?"
"Very well, Boy you leave me no choice."
The door was suddenly forced from the outside. Sephiroth, having been caught off guard by the look on Aeris' face, was flung forward into her. The two tumbled into a cluster of mops leaning against the wall. Their heads collided with a sharp crack and Aeris hit her elbow against the wall. Sephiroth immediately began attempting to untangle himself from her and the mops while she nursed her elbow. Then Hojo stepped in and they both froze to stare up at him in contempt and terror respectively. Currently though the scientist's displeased glare was focused solely on Sephiroth.
"You are beginning to try my patience, Sephiroth."
Sephiroth didn't say anything in reply, just glowered at the scientist. Another scientist peered in around Hojo.
"Oh," he said in surprise, "Aeris is here too!"
She shook her head furiously as if trying to deny the man's statement. Sephiroth pulled himself out of the mops and grabbed her by the upper arm to pull her up with him.
"So she is," Hojo muttered distractedly, only sparing her a cursory glance. "Take her back to holding. Sephiroth, you will come with me and you will not run off again or else. Do we have an understanding?"
Sephiroth nodded. Hojo turned sharply and left, fully expecting the boy to follow him without further complaint. Sephiroth muttered darkly under his breath and turned to Aeris instead.
"You keep on giving them the slip, Aeris. They don't deserve cooperation," then he turned and stalked off after the professor. Aeris stared after him until he disappeared around a corner.
"Now, now," fawned the scientist Hojo had left her with, "don't listen to him. Be a good girl and come along with me, okay?"
Aeris pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him before darting away down the hall.
"No!" She sobbed, "No! You're wrong!"
"Aeris, please calm down,"
In a fit of rage she flung out her arms, forcing the Turk to take a step back to avoid being hit.
"I'm telling you you're wrong! If he were dead-if he were dead I'd know!"
She wrapped her arms around herself and turned away from him to stare sightlessly at the flowers growing unperturbed in the center of the church. They were never touched by anything, those flowers, though they had seen it all. Joy and sorrow, and everything in between. Still they kept growing, reaching for the light. Oh, if only she could be like them. No worries or wants but for water and sunlight and a girl to tend them.
"Officially he's not dead," Tseng was saying softly. "He's been reported MIA, missing in action, along with an MP who was with the party, but everyone else has been reported dead, including Sephiroth. It's very likely that he is too, Aeris. You need to accept that," he paused and added in an even softer tone, "I need you to accept that."
She covered her face with her hands and after a moment crouched down by her flowers, her arms robotically assuming the motions they always took as she tended to them.
"Leave me alone!"
After a moment's silence she heard the echo of his footsteps against the wood floor and the creaking of the heavy oak doors as they were pushed open. They closed softly behind him and in their wake all was silent. She sniffled once, and then couldn't stop herself as she lowered her head and began sobbing into the flowers. They embraced her with their soft petals and held her as she cried, absorbing her sorrow into themselves and yet remaining unchanged.
Near the top of the mountain of junk she stood before was what looked like a long metal box. She wasn't entirely certain that's what it was since she was looking at it from below and it was pretty high, but she had to make sure. She had a wonderful idea to fill the front of her mother's house with flowers so that they could always be surrounded by the same beauty she had discovered in the church. She nodded her head and approached the junk mountain. Disgarded sheet metal, warped iron girders, and the mixed up parts of some large machine, or machines, made up the bulk of the debris. The sharp, thin, and jagged edges that protruded everywhere did not disuade her from reaching for a hand hold and hauling herself up.
She was maybe five feet up when the unidentifiable piece of metal she had grabbed to pull herself further up suddenly came off in her hand. She squealed and slid down, scraping her thigh. At the same time a loud crack issued from within the pile. Aeris regained her footing but only held it for a moment, because in that very instant the pile rumbled and began to colapse. The piece of sheet metal she stood on slid out from underher and she felt her heart leap into her throat as the rest of her plumeted along with it. The debris pile followed soon after. She hit the ground with a force that knocked the wind out of her. She tried desperately to suck in a breath but nothing came.
Oh god I'm dead.
The thunderous roar of falling debris surrounded her. She gasped in air and screamed in terror as a steel girder fell towards her. Instinctively she rolled onto her side and curled herself into a tight ball. The girder hit the ground so hard she could feel the impact vibrating in her very body. After that sheet metal, machine parts, disgarded lumber, broken concrete it all came crashing down on top of her. Slowly the rumble came to a stop. She felt numb all over except for the painful throbbing in heart chest.
She heard her name, but it was far away. The rumbling began again, she curled up tighter. The sound of scraping metal came from above her.
"Aeris! Aeris, are you okay? Aeris!"
Rough hands grabbed her and pulled her up, surrounding her with their strong arms. Aeris uncurled and wrapped her arms around the neck of her rescuer and began weeping openly into his shoulder. She cried until her throat was raw and he continued to hold her the entire time. When her sobs subsided he unwound her arms from his neck and pushed her back a little.
"Are you okay?"
Rubbing her eyes, she looked up at her rescuer. It was the ShinRa guy, the Turk, who had been following her around since she was ten. She hadn't even known that he knew her name. She certainly didn't know his. She nodded, suddenly feeling very bad at the way she had treated him the one time they had spoken. The relief that flooded his face was sincere, which surprised her.
"What the hell were you doing up there? You could have gotten yourself killed!"
"I thought I had," He frowned and she couldn't help but smile a little at the genuine look of worry on his face. "Thank you for saving me. I really did think I was gunna die... Thanks."
"You don't have to thank me. Just don't do anything like that again."
"Even if I do, you'll be here to save me if something goes wrong right?"
His face darkened, "You can't count on that. Contrary to what you think I'm not always around."
She bowed her head, looking properly cowed, "It won't happen again," She promised softly.
"Good," he sighed and his expression loosened a bit, though he still looked worried. "Let me take you home. You're pretty banged up."
He stood and offered her his hand. She took it hesitantly and, with his help, slowly got to her feet. He dropped her hand and began walking in the direction of her house, but she did not move. He turned and gave her a questioning look.
"What's the matter?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"If you want. I can't garantee an answer, but you can certainly ask."
"Wh-what's your name?"
He raised and eyebrow and then let out a short laugh, "Tseng."
"Tseng," she repeated and then smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Tseng. Thank you for saving my life."
He shook his head and held out his hand. She took it happily and allowed him to lead her away from the site of her almost demise.
"You are a strange girl, Aeris. A very strange girl."
"Who are you?"
The redhead sneered and crossed his arms, "That ain't any of your business now is it?"
He frowned, "What do you know about Tseng?"
"I know that he didn't say anything about a new Turk following me around."
"Hey," the redhead snapped. He looked insulted. "I ain't new. I been in the Turks for years, Lady."
"So you are a Turk!" She cheered happily.
"Damn it!" He narrowed his eyes at her. "Yeah, I'm a Turk. So what?"
She gave him an exasperated look, "So where's Tseng?"
He made a disgusted sound and shrugged, "Tseng got promoted. He's leader now, so I'm stuck babysitting you when I got better things to do. So don't go giving me any trouble, yo."
"You're not going to make me go back to ShinRa are you?"
"Look, Lady I'm just here to make sure you don't run off somewhere. When I got orders to take you in you'll know it, got me?"
She looked relieved. "Thanks, uh..."
"Reno," The man choked and glared at her. "How are you doing that?!"
"I'm just really good with people," she smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Reno. I'm Aeris. Would you like to buy a flower?"
"Well, you're scaring away my customers, so if you'll excuse me."
"Hey, I'm not the one who walked up to you-- Hey! Come back here I'm talkin' to you! God damn it."
She was ten years old when she first noticed them; men in dark suits who followed her at a distance. They never approached her or spoke to her, but she could feel them watching her. At first she was scared, but because they never came near her she soon learned to ignore, and even appreciate their presence. No one ever bothered her when they were around. At least while they were around she could get her errands done and spend her free time in the church without having to be afraid of any of the rougher characters that wandered the slums, but she wanted to find out who they were and wondered when she'd be able to.
She remembered now. The first time she had met him hadn't been on the day he had fallen through the roof of the church onto her flowers. It had been once, a long time ago, on a day that had been so extraordinary otherwise that she had forgotten the mundane bits, but she remembered now. It had happened on the same day that Zack had built her that horribly ugly cart that she had nevertheless treasured for years after. He had gone back to ShinRa in a rush after talking to Tseng, whom she had been ignoring for some time, and left her on her own to carry out the plan that he had come up with. Part of her was upset with him because it had all been his idea to begin with. She didn't know what she was doing, and he had left her all alone...
It was soon after Zack's hasty departure that he arrived, dressed in a ShinRa MP uniform, looking nervous and rushed. He looked like he was searching for something. She hurriedly pretended to look busy by tending to the flowers in her cart. She hated ShinRa, but was wary of them too. It was a small area and she didn't want to draw attention to herself by rushing away.
"Excuse me," Came a soft voice over her shoulder. She jumped and turned toward him with a soft cry of surprise. He backed away a step looking as started as she did. "I'm sorry," He babbled, "I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's okay," she muttered, looking away and back to her flowers.
"H-have you seen a helmet?" He asked. His voice was so soft she could barely hear him.
"What?" She asked, looking up. He was blushing and looking away from her face. The sight made her smile in spite of herself and she could feel the blush that blossomed over her own face.
He cleared his throat and straightened up, though he still seemed to have trouble looking straight at her. "A helmet," he said a little louder. "I lost mine, you see? I was here yesterday. I think I left it."
She shook her head. "No I'm sorry, I haven't seen one.
"Oh," he said, looking disappointed. "Well, thanks anyway."
He turned to leave and continue his search but she called out to stop him.
"Excuse me, wait!"
He stopped and turned back to her with a questioning look on his face. She smiled and blushed and indicated the flowers in her cart. "Would you like to buy a flower?"
He looked down at the cart with a bemused look, as if noticing it for the first time. "I would but I don't have the time to take it home."
"Oh," she hung her head, looking downtrodden.
"Um, why don't you just do this?" he leaned down and broke the stalk of a single flower away from its brethren. "Selling whole plants just isn't practical in such a busy city, and if you sell them like this you don't have to lug that ugly cart around, you know?"
She laughed, "It is ugly isn't it?" His laughter joined hers almost immediately.
He held up the tiny flower, "How much?"
"Well, since you've given me such good business advice, you can have it for 1 Gil."
He smiled and pulled a lose gil from his pocket to place in her outstretched palm. Her first sale! She closed her fingers around the coin and pulled it close to her chest.
"Oh man," he yelped suddenly, "I'm gunna be late, I gotta go. Thanks for the flower!"
The boy wheeled around and scampered out of the park. She watched him go with a smile on her face and a small jittery feeling in her stomach. She hoped he would become a repeat customer. With a smile she looked down at the coin in her hand and then up at the dark, metal underside of the plate high above. Somewhere up there was Zack, preparing to leave on his mission, if he hadn't left already. He would fuss at her for selling the flower for so little, but he would be proud. She couldn't wait to tell him.
He would have been proud.