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A Tortured Soul
by Daphne Sy
(This is supposed to be written completely from Aerith's point of view, so not all information is going to correct. This is just how she perceived the events. Also, I wrote this story without the use of the FF7 script, so there may be some inaccuracies. Thank you for understanding!)
I trudged my way through the long winding stone pathways of the City Hall, eyes downcast, with thoughts overflowing my fragile mind. It was really too much for one soul to bear... so I tried to block it out. No 'heritage', no 'destiny'... I am but a woman. Entering a long forgotten chamber, I came across a tiny inland lake, its sparkling depth so blue... Almost as if it wasn't really water at all. As if time could not age the room, leaving it untouched by its greedy reaching fingers, same as it was when the Planet was born. Cerulean tinges swirled gently with the periwinkle streaks, with the slightest tint of Lifestream mixed in, giving it an eerie green glow...
The lake was as blue as his eyes.
I watched as my worries sank in the calm pool, pushed away and surpressed along with so many memories... The water glimmered gently, almost sympathetically... I could hear its gentle breezy whisper in my ear, offering me another chance at life. One last chance to turn back. But with a tired sigh, my mind refused it.
Why?!" my heart pleaded. But I already knew why, even though I was too stubborn to believe it at first.
"Because... Because I love him," I answered myself gloomily, my own voice comforting to my senses in the deadly silence of the city. The last syllables ricocheted off the quiet waters and the stern rocks of the cave walls, forever to remind me...
We had met under the dim lights of the corrupted city of Midgar one day long past. He was an Ex-SOLDIER, and I... I was a lowly flower peddler. There was something about him under the lamp that night... something I couldn't identify from just that lonesome fateful glance. Well, he was handsome and I could tell he had gil from the sharp and cunning way his eyes darted about, coupled with the fierceness of his attitude of suspicion as I approached him, fragrant basket held neatly in the crook of my elbow. For the first time in my life, I had been timid with a stranger. No, I was flat out afraid. But not because of the huge sword he carried sheathed swung over his back... or was it...? But all I could do was gasp softly:
"Oh, Sir, won't you buy a flower? They're only one gil!!" I had managed to blurt out, embarrassed.
I will never forget the look on his face as he turned towards me, staring at me with such a deep burning suspicion... and then satisfied in my harmlessness, nodded in agreement.
My cheeks were burning furiously as I handed him the silken peach rose, my favorite amongst the flowers I had picked and brought for that morning's sales. I had always felt a special attachment towards that blossom. It once sprouted on the bush that had sprung from the original sprig, which had been found tied in my mother's hair ribbon the day she passed away. She had slipped it off from where it hung, knotted on her wrist, and handed the matted silken bundle to Elmyra to pass to me some day, for it contained the Holy materia wrapped carefully inside its travel-stained length. The glowing charm had been pressed against the base of the cutlet's stem.
Perhaps that was why the flowers seemed so magical. I took the budding stem outside one day and planted it at my mother's memorial in Elmyra's garden. It sprang up quickly and healthily, to our surprise, the only living flowers that grew in the slums of Midgar... under I discovered the church where I left another sprig from the original bush. Hah, I remember how Elmyra used to tease me that flowers sprang up wherever I went...
>From the original rosebush blossomed only two tiny buds a year. Though fragile, they were the most beautiful of the entire garden, which had been magically supportive of flowers as soon at the roses took root. Each would blossom into a tiny crimson sunburst of magnificence... then fade and die suddenly, almost fitfully...
On this morning, I had felt a sudden urge to pluck the last of the roses form the bush. It was that frightening feeling again... a prickling sensation across the spine... sometimes even voices I couldn't properly understand. It was almost as if someone was watching my every movement with sharp and cunning eyes... But now I know this: you cannot escape your destiny, for if you run it will hunt you down. I know only now what it was... the power of premonition, warnings from ancestors. It is a pain like this that the Ancients must endure... and alone.
Anyway, the man snatched the flower as I held it out to him and dumped the gil roughly into my outstretched hand, taking off like a rocket, leaving me behind helpless but to watch and stare... Yet I had seen the fear behind those deep blue sapphire gems, far beneath the dazzling surface, and straight into his troubled soul.
The next time I saw the man was a few days after the first encounter in the streets. It was those few days in between that got me to thinking. About Tseng and Zack... and of course, the stranger.
Tseng had come to visit the church just a week before, begging me to come with him to the Shinra, for my own safety of course. "I don't want anything to happen to you," he pleaded of me. I persisted with my stubbornness, asking him haughtily since when he'd been so concerned about me, and then he did something that caught me completely off guard.
He admitted it. He took my thin cold hands in his own warm ones and stared at the ground shyly.
"Because I love you, Aerith."
As if I hadn't heard that enough times before! All the same, I felt sorry for him and I told him gently that I couldn't leave. I just couldn't. Outraged at my refusal, he began to yell at me in a tone that I've never heard from his normally gentle soul. I had snapped angrily back at him, saying that Ancients are born to suffer, made to bear the crosses of the miserable human race.
I regretted that remark as soon as it was uttered from my lips.
Infuriated, Tseng stomped out of the church angrily at that retort. As he stood under the broken arches of the rotting pews, he whirled upon me, promising me one thing:
"You can't run, my dear. Shinra will get their hands on you... one way or another."
His menacing remark grated harshly on my ears that entire night as I lay in my bed, waiting impatiently for the coming of a new dawn. A deep depression settled mercilessly upon my mind and soul, beating me with its stinging whip at every available opportunity, never relenting, no matter how hard I begged and cried for relief...
It was a sleepless night.
The next morning, I rose reluctantly from my bedroom and left early for the church. Zack dominated my entire mind, filling my soul with the unshed tears of the past. His specter was my food, my drink, and my rest. He had been one of the few people who had the power to make me truly happy...
Did he leave me? Why? I thought he loved me...
Traitorous fools, men are! They are but pain and sorrow to a woman's heart. The day he left was the day part of me died...
He claimed that he was heading west to some remote country town to quell an uprising of monsters for the Shinra. I could remember that he told me he was going to be a 'hero' like the great Sephiroth by visiting some Mako reactor deep in the mountainous terrain of the far-western continent. And with a bright and humored smile, I saw him off to the train, waving frantically like the common overexcited youth. At that point, he leaned over, kissing me on the lips, a surge of joy rising from deep within the both of us. The last time I heard his voice was from the train as he sped off:
"Aerith, wait for me, I'll be back! I love you!!"
Lies, all of them!!
It was then that I realized why I felt so strangely when I set eyes upon the stranger. I saw Zack in him, from the sturdily built form and the rather apathetic attitude to the massive steel blade that he carried with ease strapped to his back. I had seen him again through the stranger. And it was then that I came to a painful realization:
I still loved him. Zack was still in my heart, prodding the tender organ mercilessly, pain coursing through my soul... never ceasing. Mercy hadn't been a word in his vocabulary then, and I knew that he would never stop tormenting me, never cease his haunting, day or night...
And so it went for an entire week. There was never any rest for me, even in my dreams... I fled to the church for refuge, to hide from the sorrow and pain... but not even the sweet perfume of flowers could break the depression. The same topics were running their course again through my mind when the stranger decided to drop in.
It must have been that sixth sense of mine that forced my half-conscious mind to leap back in time. It was a quiet and peaceful afternoon, yet my thoughts were still utter turmoil. I sat calmly, unsuspectingly, watering the blooming flowers before I headed for home after another awful and tiring day. Before I knew what was happening, my legs forced me to fly backwards, and an earth-shattering boom sounded, along with a violent earthquake. I fell roughly backwards, lying completely stunned on my back and without a shred of my dignity remaining intact.
It took a few seconds before the dust cleared enough for me to see what happened. I shook myself out of the daze and jumped deftly to my feet, dusting off the thin pink skirt as I mentally retrieved pieces of my shattered pride.
There he was, lying amongst the flowers.
The stranger with the magnificent eyes...
He sat up slowly, obviously as confused as I was. Looking about cautiously at his surroundings, he came to a sudden and embarrassing realization that he was sitting in the midst of a garden. With a leap of shame and a murmur of apology, he landed away from the rubble and dusted his thick baggy pants off with a gloved hand. He smiled ruefully at me as he saw me standing off to the side, gawking awkwardly at him.
"I'm sorry about the flowers," he mumbled. I smiled, beaming forgiveness at him, attempting to ease his obvious discomfort.
"Hey, it's ok. Do you remember me?" I asked anxiously, a strange feeling of hope budding up within me.
His eyes narrowed for a minute, trying to match my face in his mind. "Oh, I remember! You're the slum drunk!" The eyes glowed with triumph, which quickly subsided as his glance met my distressed frown.
"No, that's rude! You don't remember? You bought a flower from me only a few days ago!" I was stern in my disappointment at first, but at seeing his downcast expression, all I could do was shrug and burst out laughing. He seemed to relax slightly when he apparently decided that I had a good sense of humor.
"So what's your name? I'm Aerith." I said cheerily. I could almost hear the echo of my voice in his mind as it attempted to trigger some faint, far away memory... But he shook his head, unable to think of where he heard the name.
"I'm Cloud," he said shortly. The sound of his name... his voice... I stopped the memory from continuing, wrenching my thoughts away from that first day as we fled the church from the Turks, sent by an infuriated Tseng...
"He could've cared less what my name was," a mocking laugh escaped my throat unwillingly. "He had no interest in me at all. Not from the beginning. Not even now." A deep sigh breathed past my lips as I remembered the last time that I attempted to be alone with him.
We were staying in the Gold Saucer, a game area notorious for its revelry and wild activity. After winning the keystone to the Temple of the Ancients, we were all completely exhausted, especially Cloud himself. He had triumphed marvelously in Battle Square, stunning Dio and the bloodthirsty audience with his amazing fighting skills. With that victory fresh in our minds, we decided to settle down into our rooms in the inn that night.
I just couldn't sleep... something was weighing heavily on my mind, and that something was Cloud. I had begun to realize that night that he was more to me that just a hired bodyguard. He had captured my heart in his marvelous stride, whether he had noticed or not. My remaining love for Zack had transferred itself to Cloud... they were so much the same I couldn't help but fall for him again. Yet Cloud was always so cold... Zack had always been such a joker and a ladies man.
I wanted to talk to him alone this time, without Tifa or anyone else hanging onto his arm relentlessly... I had to say something. I had to tell him how I felt, for then I hoped that maybe my soul would get some peace from the torture. So I took a deep breath and left the darkened room silently, hearing Yuffie turn in her sleep as I squeezed through the slight opening in the door, bathing her in a thin stream of light.
I froze momentarily... nothing.
I exhaled in relief. Tiptoeing quietly near the room that Cid and Barret were sharing, I paused cautiously... hearing nothing but snores in the silence. And so I fled quickly past, squeezing my eyes shut fearfully as I dodged into the shadows just outside of Cloud's quarters. My chest heaved anxiously, uncontrollably... this was the moment. I held my breath to calm myself, but the blood was already rushing to my brain in a frenzy of nervousness. And so I turned the corner into the room apprehensively, heart throbbing wildly in my chest... and quickly jumped back with a frightened gasp.
What was she doing there?!
"Well, I had a great time tonight, Cloud..." Tifa smiled, sidling up to him and leaning her dark head against his shoulder. Cloud shrugged uncomfortably, obviously uncertain of the situation as Tifa stroked his spikes gently. "Well, time to go to bed then before one of the girls wakes up and sees that I'm gone! Even though we will have to report the loss of the Keystone..." she sighed. "Goodnight!" Tifa smiled brightly, triumphantly... mocking me as if she knew that I was standing there, awestruck and heart-broken, hiding like an unwelcome ghoul in the darkness of the archways...
I saw and heard no more. Broken completely, I dashed off, out of the hotel and into the star-studded night. Tears flooded my vision, distorting and blurring the brightness of the sites of the Gold Saucer. I ran blindly, bumping heedlessly into people and objects during my flight.
And suddenly... there was nowhere more to run.
So I just stood there, looking over the balconies at the sandy prisons so far below. An idea clicked in my mind... stirred deep within my soul. I could do it... I could end it all right now. Run from destiny, from life... I wrenched my thoughts from the thought. No... it was just too easy. In fact, it was cowardly. And so I ripped myself from the balcony, utilized my entire willpower to take the step away from the ledge... and ran full force back to the inn.
All of this I saw and thought as I sat listlessly, glaring hatefully at the images conjured up by the living waters... More pain... All life ever was was just more pain!
Without even uttering a sound, I gather my staff automatically, fixing my wind ruffled hair coolly in the reflection in the water. I stare, horrified at the sunken and swollen lids, the lines slowly creasing the face that stares back at me...
A single tear drips slowly into the image, distorting it with the ripples that formed in the water.
The radiant seashell building stands monolithic in front of me as I rise unsteadily to my feet. I can't help but limp drunkenly as I enter the eerie light of the colorful staircase, barely even noticing the vivid colors that fly around my head as I descend swiftly...
A person can only take so much... of life, and... of love.
The altar lays ahead... my mind can't stop racing... I can't even control my legs as they skip accurately over the pedestals, landing gracefully upon the lighted platform, the bright sun framing my face as I gaze upwards... and back into the world. I can't turn back... not now... not ever.
My knees fold, shaking uncontrollably as I collapse roughly onto the smooth marble, pain coursing through every inch of my being... I pant, gasping for the breath that is being choked out of me... There is only one thing left to do-
As I kneel, my hands fold over my stomach, my head bows... the light thickens, bathing me in warmth...
A prayer for salvation...
A prayer for mercy.
Sounds echo faintly through the hallways... footsteps! I can hear his voice... ever so faintly, yet there. He came... My heart leaps slightly. I knew it was him... the heavy clunking of his boots against the fragile marble of the carefully carved floor I knew instantly to be his... The volume of the steady rhythm increases slowly... then stopped. I hear a faint whispering. So they saw me.
So let them come.
I pretend not to notice; it'd all be over soon anyway. A single pair of boots resumes its journey, its echo seemingly loud against the silence of the hall as he leaps the pedestals cautiously... I can feel his presence in front of me, the shadow of his sword as he lifts it over my head... the cry of shocked voices calling his name. A smile spreads across my face.
Perhaps it is only fitting that I die by his hands.
The shadow recedes and I can hear him shouting to the sky. Surprised, I look up at him... meet the calm and expressionless gaze with my own eyes...
I can feel the darkness descending.
Mentally, I utter one final goodbye.
I loved you, Cloud Strife.
The sword passes through me, the shroud of darkness thrown over my body.
Mercy granted from the darkness... at last.
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