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Heartless no more, chapter 2


"Sasuke, wake up! You're going to be late!" Mikoto Uchiha called cheerfully up the stairs to her slumbering son.

Sasuke cracked open an eye to be greeted by his dark room. Groggily getting up, he walked over to the window to pull the curtain open then slumped into the washroom.

After washing up, he inspected his reflection; or more specifically, his cheek. It returned to normal colour before school even ended, but the sting was still there.

Who does she think she is? Sasuke glared at his reflection, thinking of that ghost of a girl that appeared yesterday. From what little he knew about her – or anyone knew about her – he could tell she didn't stand out if she could help it. She was apparently the top of the class, but almost no one talked to her.

Heartless

Sasuke shook his head and went back to his room. He slipped his uniform of black pants, a white shirt, and red vest with school logo stitched on the left. He left his school jacket behind; if it wasn't a cold day, he wasn't required to wear it.

He went downstairs for breakfast, fixing his tie and slipping the red 'class representative' armband on. The table usually had an air of good mood that Sasuke tainted with morning grumpiness as he stuffed whatever food was put in front of him.

The table had gotten quieter over the years. Sasuke glanced at the forever empty chair and felt a pang of want in his chest. He got up and announced he was leaving early for school, once again turning down the everyday offer of being driven.

OoOoO

Hinata was greeted in the morning by a maid knocking politely and urging her out of bed. Hinata went about her morning duties with the servants keeping an eye on her.

She changed into her uniform of a white blouse, black plaid skirt, dark opaque tights, the red school vest with the school logo stitched on the left, and the red jacket with the same logo. Rain or shine, Hinata had to wear this. It was sweltering in the spring and summer but she convinced herself it was for the best.

I only have half a year left of this, she thought as she ran downstairs, hoping to spend breakfast with her father for once. But she entered the lavish dining hall with a grand breakfast platter set out for one; Hiashi must have headed to the company early.

As usual.

OoO

Deep breath in...Deep breath out...

Hinata tried to calm herself as the car travelled through the streets. She had no idea what exactly she was thinking yesterday, slapping Sasuke Uchiha of all people; now the whole school was probably mad at her. She meant every word of what she said to Sasuke, the guy was cruel. But not everybody saw it the way she did. Sakura was the only friend she had at that school and Hinata hoped she wasn't mad at her as well for hitting her 'beloved'.

It was silly, really, to get so worked up over it. I just need to get things cleared out of my head.

The car stopped, signalling their destination had been reached – one of the only places Hinata found solace anymore. She nodded to the driver as he opened the door for her.

Before school, on most days Hinata would request the driver to stop by the local cemetery for a little bit. Hinata liked to visit her cousin, sister, mother and all other family she had lost.

She wound her way through the tombstones, humming gently to herself and enjoying the serenity of the area. That shattered as she spotted the one person she didn't want to see right now, walking up the path.

Sasuke Uchiha.

Before she could think, she flitted to the nearest tree to hide and only prayed Sasuke didn't see her and would just pass by.

Her heart was beating fast as questions buzzed through her head. What's Sasuke doing here? Did he see me? Oh please, don't let him see me! Is he visiting someone? What's he doing now?

Hinata breathed deeply again to calm down and paused. Sasuke would have passed her tree by now, right? Hinata debated over peeking to see if he was still there or just waiting until he did pass by or running for her life and reaching her ride before he killed her.

Maybe I should-

"You didn't seem so afraid of me yesterday" A voice muttered in her ear and Hinata recoiled in horror to face the one that it belonged to.

There he was, standing on a root, looking down on her with his mocking eyes. Hinata steeled herself; after all, no one else was here.

"I-I'm not a-a-afraid of y-you" she stuttered out, looking at his shoes more than anything else.

Look up! She ordered herself to strengthen her nerve but it was in vain. She was like a mouse in front of an owl.

"Right" Sasuke replied sarcastically. "What are you doing here anyways?"

"I-I-I can be here if I want" Hinata's fist clenched but she could only lift her eyes high enough to see his neck tie.

"It's a cemetery. Unless you're just that depressing, this isn't a place normal people usually go."

"Well, y-you're here."

"I never said I was normal."

There it was; that ego again. Hinata pondered over her options now. Running to the car or continue making idle remarks with this guy until he left. She was really favouring the former.

"You're weird." Hinata's head snapped up at the sudden statement said by the boy. He was frowning at her.

"W-what?"

"It's the middle of spring and you're dressed in your winter uniform. That's weird."

"I-I just get cold easily." Hinata tugged her sleeve further down her arm as Sasuke just shrugged.

For a long time, no one moved. Is he waiting for something? Hinata thought as she searched for something to say to either drive him off or excuse herself. Before she could though, Sasuke just began to walk past her. She released a breath.

Sasuke's footsteps faded until Hinata couldn't hear them anymore before she turned around to look where he had disappeared. Sighing, she walked back down to the parking lot. She wasn't going to visit everyone today, not when her mood was so sour.

OoO

Hinata did manage to lighten up as the car pulled into the school driveway, despite knowing she'd see Sasuke again in homeroom. Her small smile dropped when she exited the car. The whole courtyard had gone quiet as soon as she had entered. Little whispers here and there between people along with a canyon of staring eyes really unnerved the girl.

"That's her."

"I heard she's mega rich."

"Look at her, being driven to school in a fancy car."

"Are you sure she goes to this school? I don't think I've ever seen her."

"I thought she wouldn't show up after yesterday."

"Why's she wearing the winter uniform? It's freaking hot!"

Hinata's eyes fell down and her breath sped up as she was suspended by the stares the entire way to the building. Hoping this wouldn't last, Hinata bound up the stairs and through the doors.

OoOoO

As the first bell rang to signal everyone should get a move on, Hinata walked into class and was tripped. Her books sprawled forward, she manage to bring her hands up to stop her face from hitting the ground. Looking up, she saw a shock of flaming red hair that belonged to Karin, an extremist from Sasuke's group of admirers.

"So you actually have the nerve to show your face today?" she sneered above her. Hinata groped around for her books, not wanting to look at any faces.

"Hey, I'm talking to you! Are you deaf? Or just mute?"

Hinata flinched, but couldn't even open her mouth to speak. Luckily, another voice did.

"Stuff it Karin, go ruin someone else's morning."

Hinata looked to where another person stopped beside her and picked up some more books. She was shocked to see her pink-haired friend Sakura, glaring at Karin.

"S-Sakura..."

Sakura turned to smile at Hinata and Karin huffed off at being ignored. "Hey Hinata, you alright now?"

Hinata nodded slowly as she got up and moved towards her seat, Sakura following. Everyone in class who was watching the commotion at the front now moved to go back to whatever they were doing before. The homeroom teacher was late, as usual.

"Sakura...d-d-did you hear about yesterday?" Hinata asked carefully, not wanted to invoke her wrath.

"Yeah, you were so sweet to defend me, Hinata."

"You're...not mad at me?"

"Well, you're my friend, aren't you? I came to you first, before anyone else. I was a little mad at first, but I got to thinking. I'm not sure what I'm going to do now, but don't worry. Like guys say, 'bros before hoes', eh?"

After she saw Hinata's hesitation, Sakura sighed and leaned closer to whisper. Hinata leaned forward to hear.

"I've gotten into fights with friends over guys before. I promised myself I wouldn't make that mistake again. So really, I'm not mad at you Hinata."

Hinata nodded and smiled at her friend. It really meant a lot to her that she was making an effort to stay friends. Hinata decided to aspire to be the same as much as she could.

The door to the room was thrown open and most students straightened in case it was the teacher. But it was the apple of their eyes, the apathetic messy-haired teen Uchiha. His entrance demanded the spotlight that many were oh so willing to give.

Hinata breathed slowly; she wasn't going to acknowledge him, not like everyone else. But she did so in her own quiet way.

As soon as Sasuke sat down, he was flooded with friends and merriment that he cast aside like every other day.

OoO

"Your cheek still stinging from yesterday?" his blonde best friend Naruto joked, poking his face. Sasuke slapped his hand away.

"Miss Priss" he teased, sliding into his seat. When a shadow fell over him, he looked up to see the fellow blonde Ino, standing in front of him awkwardly; almost shyly.

"Can I talk to you?" she asked, not looking him in the eye. Naruto blinked.

Normally, girls would be asking Sasuke this. If anyone needed to talk to him, it was to ask for a good flavour of ramen to buy, or what game was a good one to play after school. Naruto shrugged and got up as Ino indicated a corner of the class.

Sasuke's other friends Kiba, Shikamaru, Suigetsu, Juugo, and many others peered at the two while trying not to be obvious. They could only figure out what was going on with expressions.

First, Naruto was looking dumbfounded and Ino angry. She put her hands on her hips while Naruto went into panic and looking like he was trying to convince her of something. They froze, went red in the face, said a little here and there, and then left to go to their respective seats.

Naruto sat down, still red and looking dazed. "I...think I just got asked out on a date..."

"By Ino? Dude, I thought she was into Miss Priss here" Kiba jerked his thumb towards Sasuke while looking at Naruto.

"Guess he's losing members of his club" laughed Suigetsu. "One slap in the face and everyone realizes he's not God."

"If you guys haven't realized, I'm sitting right here" Sasuke scoffed, tired of being mocked.

"Hey, check it out" Juugo nudged Suigetsu and pointed to the girl of yesterday. Juugo's prompt caught the attention of everyone else in the group. Sasuke turned his head to see someone approach Hinata.

OoO

Hinata had looked up curiously to the person that had arrived at her table. It was her classmate, Sai, who she knew was a quiet boy that sat at the back of the class drawing.

"Good morning, Hinata" he said with a smile. Hinata was taken aback – not many talked to her in the mornings. "G-Good morning" she returned.

"I was wondering, Hinata, if you would be so kind as to accompany me to a movie on Saturday." He said smoothly.

It took Hinata a full minute to comprehend what Sai had just done. He had asked her out.

Blushing crimson, she looked at her hands, which were fiddling with each other. What should she do? She couldn't accept, but if she rejected she'd be defying what she had accused Sasuke for. I can only be honest. He deserves as much.

"I-I apologize, but I can't go. My father wouldn't appreciate my going out with anyone."

It was Sai's turn to look at her curiously. "And why is that?"

"Well, because I'm engaged." Hinata explained calmly.

"You're WHAT?"

Sakura, who had been sitting beside Hinata and heard everything, was suddenly shocked. And her voice tended to project.

"How can you be engaged?" she shrieked causing other classmates to turn their heads and even cluster around her. Ino and a couple of other girls even came up to her desk and started to ask questions. And Sasuke's group in the corner all turned their heads sharply towards her.

"Aww, who is he?"

"What does he look like?"

"Is he cute?"

"Is he rich?"

"Hey, she could be engaged to a girl."

"No way, I think he's rich hottie."

"Tell us Hinata!"

Hinata blinked; trying to digest the questions she was being fed.

"Why...is it so interesting?"

"Are you kidding? How many girls are engaged in high school?"

Hinata looked down. "I didn't know it was so...unheard of...I thought it was normal" she whispered.

Sakura wrapped and arm around her shoulders.

"Don't worry about that; tell me, who is this mystery man?"

Hinata looked up. "He lives in another country. His family is one of the aristocrats there."

"What does he look like?" Ino asked impatiently, eyes shining.

Hinata frowned. "I don't know; I've never seen him. My father arranged it."

Silence.

"You don't know?" was the group reaction. Hinata flinched.

"What if he's old?"

"Or a creep?"

"Or a pervert?"

"Why'd you agree?"

"If he lives in another country, you can still go to a movie."

"Sai, stop asking her out!"

Once again bombarded with questions with not being saved by Sakura since she was part of it, Hinata glanced around for something else to save her. Lucky once again, the door slid open and their homeroom teacher walked in.

"Everyone in their seats; settle down" he commanded. The groups dissipated and returned to their individual seats. Hinata breathed a sigh of relief.

For now.


Heartless no more, chapter 1

Title: Heartless no more
Fandom: Naruto
Pairing: Sasuke/Hinata
Rating: T
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Family
Summary: AU "You really shouldn't be so heartless." To choose between the only one you love in this world and the only one you have in this world.

Unforgivable!

How could he? She poured her heart out to him; they all did! And he spared them nothing but an apathetic glance, as if he was too superior to acknowledge them!

Hinata's uniform skirt bounced with every angry stride she took. Her only friend Sakura came to her, crying her eyes as another girl shot down by that oh so mighty Uchiha, Sasuke. Was he sadistic, was that the reason he caused so many girls so much hurt? He didn't reject their feelings gently, he didn't humour them; he didn't even try to look sorry or sympathetic.

She just didn't understand how someone could be so cruel!

Hinata turned the next corner; he always sat in the same place at lunch, surrounded by all his friends.

He doesn't deserve them!

Pure red rage built up in the normally shy girl; she was absolutely fed up with how many girls she knew he shot down. She had seen how he did it; he made it sound as if they were pathetic and desperate and weren't worth his time. He had the nerve to make fun of them!

No more! She screamed in her head, her frown now turning into a glare as she didn't notice all the students she passed by looking at her as if she was a rampaging beast.

There he was, standing there being admired and envied by her fellow classmates; it was ridiculous! She walked straight up to the gaggle of people she normally shirked away from; not many people noticed her, she was barely talked to besides Sakura, and even she didn't talk often with Hinata because she had so many of her own friends. Hinata never liked attention, but she didn't care if she was about to catch the eye of every single student and faculty member. She was just so angry!

"Hey Sasuke, you've got two for two today, and before lunch is over!" one of his friends cackled.

"I wonder what she's going to confess?" another one wondered in amusement.

"Hey does she even go to this school?" two of them discussed.

She didn't care. She didn't care. She didn't care!

She walked right up to him.

Sasuke gave her a tired glare, expecting the same thing every time, and straightened to regard her at his full height.

"Look, don't you have something better to do? You're wasting-"

SLAP!

He stopped his sentence when a white chock blinded his vision as the girl's outstretched hand was still at her side and Sasuke felt the full force of her hit burn his cheek; he moved his head from looking to the side back at her. He still had that damn bored look on his face.

How dare he?

She screamed everything, every frustration of having her only friend shot down; every single time a fellow classmate was plagued with the sadness that Sasuke spread; he was a virus for the heart.

"How dare you? How could you? Every day, you get hoards of girls that adore you and you can't even say one nice thing? Everyone admires you! Everyone loves you! Everyone wants to be you and you can't even acknowledge it because of your super-inflated narcissistic ego! Your devoid of empathy and kindness and anything else that's human! You're heartless!" She shrieked.

Her last words echoed throughout the hallway as every person stood frozen in place, staring at her. Sasuke's friends just stood there with their mouths wide open. Hinata had felt something emerge from her anger; her eyes began to sprout new tears. Why am I crying? Am I really so weak that I can't even be angry at him?

Damn him!

She started shaking, but she wouldn't back down. She looked up to stare him straight in those deep black holes he had for eyes. And she only got a cruel blank stare back.

"You insult me, and you end up crying?" he mocked quietly. Hinata clenched her fists.

"Well, a-at least I f-f-feel something! At least I have e-emotions!" she shot back.

It seemed like eternity that she stood there, in front of his scornful gaze, trapped in the icy abyss.

The silence was broken by the bell that signified lunch was over at it seemed to wash the old Hinata over the new. With burning cheeks, she turned without a word and stalked off. Slowly, the life in the school returned to normal.

"Wasn't expecting that" a boy muttered to the rest of the companions as they gathered their bags.

"Ready to go Sasuke?" a blonde clamped his hand on Sasuke's shoulder, who was still watching the direction the girl had walked away in.

"I forgot a book in my locker. You guys go ahead." Sasuke waved lazily, turning the opposite direction and walking towards his locker. The blonde shrugged at the rest of his friends and they walked to class.

OoO

Sasuke's hand was shaking terribly as he tried to pick up the heavy English textbook.

Damn! He cursed as he gripped his right hand with his left, trying to stop the shaking. The burning in his cheek hadn't stopped, but it was nothing compared to the tightness he felt constricting in his chest.

That one word that girl had screamed at him, her label for him, rang in his ears.

Heartless.

Heartless.

Heartless.

~Really Little Brother, you shouldn't be so heartless~

Damn her!


Children within the walls of Shinra

Title: Children within the walls of Shinra
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: None
Characters: Aerith, Rufus, Tseng, Sephiroth
Rating: K+
Genre: Friendship
Summary: Semi-AU; 4 children within Shinra have a little ridiculous conversation.

Tseng rubbed his temples; the normally stoic teen Turk was reaching his limit on the senseless arguing two children could engage in.

He was assigned the task of watching over the younger Ancient specimen Aerith. An energetic girl, she usually wanted to find another child to play with when Tseng refused to. Unfortunately, the only other child around her age within Shinra was Rufus. And the boy had little experience dealing with others his age; since he had a private tutor he met no children in school and was usually treated like a prince since his father owned the company. So dealing with someone who treated him as an equal was not his forte.

At the moment, they were sitting with Sephiroth, a SOLDIER prodigy about Tseng's age, on the upper levels of the lobby, just sitting around. Aerith was arguing with Rufus, trying to convince him to get real flowers to replace the fake ones around the building. Rufus explained things about the cost of care-taking and allergies people have to them, but Aerith continued to rebuttal with how they made the building look. Both Sephiroth and Tseng hoped the two never meet when they grow up.

"With all the money this place makes, you can get sprinklers that do it automatically."

"Why should we waste that money anyways? It's pointless."

Tseng turned out towards the lobby and spotted 3 figures down below. He recognized two as Shinra scientists and the other as a Turk.

"Hey, Sephiroth, aren't those your parents?" Tseng spoke up. The other teen looked over, glad for the distraction as it stopped Aerith and Rufus from their spat. They all looked down to see Professor Lucrecia Crescent, Professor Hojo, and Vincent Valentine conversing with one another, but were too high up to hear what about.

"What do you think they're talking about?" Tseng asked.

"Custody arrangements" Sephiroth answered with a shrug.

"Do you always assume that?"

"I'd rather think that's what they talk about than anything else."

"Wow, Sephiroth, I didn't know you had three parents" Aerith spoke up, looking at Sephiroth in awe.

"One of them is my step-dad" Sephiroth explained.

"Still, you have two dads. I wish I had just one" she whispered wistfully. Tseng and Sephiroth exchanged glances with Professor Gast's image appearing in their minds. Then she brightened and asked "Can I borrow one of yours? Just to see what it's like to have one? Please?"

Sephiroth scoffed. "You can take both for all I care." Sephiroth did not hold either Hojo or Vincent in high regard.

"Wow, really? Well, I don't want to leave you without a dad so I'll choose one" she declared, scrunching up her face deep in thought.

"Che, you can make my dad if you can't decide" Rufus offered as he turned away from the adults.

"Oh, thanks Ru-Ru!" she cried.

"Don't call me that!" he snapped back.

She seemed to have not heard, but turned to Tseng instead. "What about you, Tseng?"

As Rufus muttered under his breath about Tseng not given a nickname while he was, Tseng only said "I've been a Turk for most of my life; I never knew my father."

"But do you remember him?"

Tseng only shrugged, not wanting to lie or tell the truth.

Aerith looked back at Rufus. "Um, my mom says she doesn't like your dad, so I can't pick him" she said before turning back to the task at hand.

"That makes two of us then" Rufus muttered.

"Aren't you going to go down there?" Tseng asked Sephiroth. He hoped that once he left, the kids would get bored and venture somewhere else and not argue.

"I'd rather wait for them to call me down" Sephiroth answered back.

"I can't decide" Aerith announced. "The new one is pretty but...Hojo has a funny laugh."

"Guys can't be pretty. That's only girls" Rufus informed her.

"Guys can be pretty."

"No, only girls can. Guys are supposed to be handsome. That's the way it is."

"Girls can be handsome and guys can be pretty."

"No they can't!"

Rufus did not like it when 'The natural order of things' was disrupted.

"Yes they can."

Before Tseng could intervene, Aerith shot a "You're pretty" at Rufus.

Flustered and taken aback, Rufus was red in the face as he opened his mouth with a retort.

"Tseng is also pretty" Aerith continued, cutting him off. Tseng pinched the bridge of his nose.

"And Sephiroth is really pretty."

Sephiroth smirked before a voice from below called his name.

"Sephiroth, it's time to go!" Lucrecia beckoned to him from the lobby. Hojo looked up and spotted them.

"Tseng, put that back to the lab before it gets contaminated!" he barked, indicating his precious specimen.

The kids got up from their spot and headed towards the elevators. Once the one going down appeared, Sephiroth got in with a short "Bye" and kept his back to them.

"Bring Angel and Gen-Gen next time!" she called to him. Sephiroth lazily raised in arm in acknowledgment, not bothering to correct the names before the elevator doors closed.

Their own elevator opened and Tseng directed them to Floor 67 for Hojo's lab and Floor 62 for the library; Rufus had a tutoring session soon.

Rufus held a scowl as they zoomed up. "What's wrong, Ru-Ru?"

"How can Sephiroth be really pretty and I just pretty?" he asked with a glare. Rufus could not play second fiddle to anyone he considered beneath him.

Aerith shrugged. "I think it's his hair...or maybe his eyes. His eyes are very beautiful." She emphasized with pulling at her cheeks to make her eyes seem bigger and exposed the reds. The result only caused Rufus to back away with a look of mild disgust.

Aerith stopped and asked if they could play with Dark Nation next time. For the second time, Tseng saw an utter look of horror cross the boy's face, the first being when they saw what the bubbly girl had done to the poor creature previously. Rufus shook his head as the elevator chimed to let them know they reached Floor 62.

"No way! Dark Nation hated the bows you stuck on her!" Rufus stepped out of the elevator and Tseng made a beeline for the button that closed the doors.

Aerith blinked back then scowled and stuck her tongue out at the boy. In an uncharacteristic move, Rufus stuck his own tongue back at the girl. Tseng pressed even harder on the close button before they finally shut and resumed their journey up.

Tseng made a mental note to talk to Veld about babysitting not being in his job description and hoped he wouldn't be there when the children reached their later years.

For the love of God, they'll age me faster than my work.


Chapter 6: Aquaintences and preparations

 

The trek through the rest of the forest went without another incident. Aerith was slumping in her seat, but demanding she was fine, wanting to get everyone to Nibelheim fast so their safety would be insured.

The forest rang with her voice and Nanaki's, as she hadn't stopped asking questions. Seemingly pleased with the attention, Nanaki answered all of the inquiries about his red fur and feathers and bangles while asking his own questions about the others.

"How did you get that tattoo yo?" Reno turned in his seat to regard his rival in hair colour. It was a topic everyone was curious about. "I mean, the villagers said something about a "Gi tribe", and so did you, but I haven't heard of it."

Nanaki looked down in shame before lifting his head back up. "My father was a part of the Gi tribe in his youth, a rebellious and barbaric group of my kind. They tore through villages, doing what they pleased, and disobeyed the council of Elders we hold so high in regard. They killed many humans and feasted on whatever livestock they found. They humiliated my entire race; I have not seen any of my kind besides those of the tribe and my father. It was believed they were driven into recluse.

"My father left the tribe though, when he met my mother and had me. They brought me to the one I call my grandfather, where many of us used to reside. It was many years before they found him and came back. We lived in such peace, but they slaughtered my parents and threatened my home after my father refused to unite with the tribe. So to keep them away, I offered to go in his stead and was given his number: XIII. Our names were based on the colour of our fur and the number we were branded with. So I became Red XIII to protect those I cared for. But since joining the tribe, I have done nothing but slaughter and pillage and grew disgusted with myself for what I had become."

"What happened to the tribe?"

"They all died; age finally caught up with them and slowed their once nimble movements. I could not face my home and family for all the things I have done, and have wandered alone for some time now. People have every right to believe I am dangerous, but I have grown weary of it. I wish to have my name cleared and my honour restored. I wish to be forgiven. I seek redemption."

"I think you've already done that. You've done the wrong things for the right reasons, and didn't really have a choice in the matter. I'd forgive you from all you've told me." Aerith smiled at the jogging feral and received a grateful nod in return.

"Perhaps you can forgive me, Lady White Mage, but I cannot forgive myself so easily. Not yet anyways."

Vincent stared at Nanaki's fiery tail as it swayed from side to side and contemplated that last thing he said.

OoOoO

They camped on the mountain side that night, taking every precaution possible to keep their location secret. Their fire burned dimly, the driest twigs they could find not giving off any smoke.

Aerith was finishing smearing dirt onto Nanaki's shoulder; she had asked if she could since she didn't want anyone to attack him again because of his tattoo. He agreed with much enthusiasm; the tattoo was not something he wished to carry on his body anymore so hiding it was a good option.

"Hey Nanaki, are you the same as both cats and dogs?" Aerith asked with a curious smile as she sat with him resting beside her, dusting her hands off.

He nodded. "Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering if you'd enjoy this" she giggled and started to scratch behind his ear. His rough mane tickled her fingers. His eyes closed as his throat started to purr and he put his head down on his paws in contentment.

"You ask a lot of questions" Nanaki mused after a while.

Aerith giggled. "I've been told that before. I sometimes can't help myself; I ask questions when I find someone interesting."

"I qualify as interesting?"

"How many people can claim to meet one of you in this day and age?"

"About as many as have met your kind I suppose."

Aerith stopped scratching. "You...know who I am?"

"'Child of the Planet' is not a common name given to most." Nanaki chuckled. "My home used to be a great circle of the Cetra, bringing their knowledge of the Planet to add to our own collection. I spent much time with them in my childhood before I realized less and less came by. I haven't seen one since my forty-seventh birthday."

"How old are you now?

"Age is but a number."

"But the Cetra haven't been populated for so long; you must be at least one-hundred."

"More than that, I can assure you" Nanaki teased as he closed his eyes again.

Aerith sighed then brightened and reached for her pack and pulled out a blanket.

OoO

Vincent closed his eyes, every sound suddenly amplified in his ears; the crackling fire, the crickets in the grass, Nanaki's purring, and the banter between Shotgun and Rod over a can of beans. His leg began to twitch; why, he was trying to figure out.

I'm waiting for something...he realized.

~Or someone

It's just too quiet...

"I hope I didn't catch you sleeping."

Vincent cracked open an eyelid and saw Aerith standing there with that blanket, silhouetted by the fire he kept away from this time.

"No, you didn't."

She smiled brightly at his giving a response this time and laid the blanket on his lap, sitting next to him.

"You're done your interrogation?" he blurted out, the silence beginning to crowd on his mind.

She laughed. "I'm lucky today. I get my life saved, a question, and some humour from you."

Vincent grunted and scowled at her. She noticed, but didn't let it faze her as she struck up a conversation.

OoO

Nanaki looked over to the one Aerith had taken her blanket to. Her scent of lilies was not as strong with her presence far. He turned to the girl next to him who was challenging another boy over watering the Chocobos.

From the long talk he had with the white mage and her closer companions, he gathered this was Elena, the youngest one of the group, and the redhead was Reno.

"Excuse me, Lady Elena?" Nanaki spoke up politely. Elena stopped arguing with Reno to look at him. "Yeah?"

"Aerith...does she talk to that fellow over there often?"

"Who, Vincent?" Reno joined in. "Yeah, she does. I dunno why she tries though – he's an intimidating guy. He doesn't talk to anyone if he can help it."

"Is she...courting him?" Nanaki asked hesitantly.

"I think she's just trying to be friendly." Elena told him.

"I can't see what she'd fancy in him, to be honest" Reno confessed. "He's so dark and secluded; doesn't look like a lot of fun. He's not easy to talk to, so I give Aerith points for that."

Reno paused to look at Nanaki, then to Elena. "Is it wrong that talking to an animal's easier than talking to that sourpuss?"

"Reno!" Elena scolded.

"It's true" Reno shrugged.

Elena huffed and went to talk to someone else. Nanaki turned his head back to the two with the one-sided conversation.

There was a...glint in Vincent's eye; perhaps it's just the fire Nanaki told himself as he slipped into a nap uneasily.

OoOoO

"Oi!" Rod called to two station guards outside the pass entrance they reached next morning. Their helmets were steel and shaped over their head, three glowing red lights embedded in the front. Their uniforms were heavy blue cloth and brown suspenders, with wide green collars that obscured their chins. They swivelled their heads towards the entourage, grabbing their weapons on instinct.

"SOLDIER grunts guarding the pass? They must've heard of the blue attacker" Rude mused quietly.

"Don't speak of it to anyone; it's after us so there's no need to cause panic for the rest of the people in the area." Tseng ordered before going forward to address the troops.

Aerith peered at them curiously; these were the famed SOLDIERs that challenged Wutai's military strength once upon a time. But they looked like young boys, barely reaching manhood; training for combat at such a young age, she mused sadly.

"Tseng, leader of the Turks. Stand down; we only need to pass to Nibelheim. Which squadron do you belong too?" Tseng stated professionally.

The grunts stiffened into salutes before answering him. "Squadron one, spread into position over the Central Western Area, sir!" one of the grunts recited shakily.

"Where is your General and how far is his designated station?"

"He's in Nibelheim now and stationed over the Nibel and Corel areas sir!"

Tseng nodded. "Good, resume you position." He indicated to the rest of the group to follow and spurred his Chocobo forward.

The blue Chocobos cried in dismay, not liking the heights of the Nibel Mountains, but the green ones chirped happily for their preferences. It didn't matter to the black ones or Boko though.

OoO

Through the well-worn pass of the Nibel Mountains at the base was the town of Nibelheim. A small settlement primarily industrious, they scavenged into the mountain caves for ores, precious stones, and coal. Most things were made with wood, very little was steel other than important structures and special heavy Empire machinery built for the mines.

The tallest building in the vicinity was the local water tower – and this was the first thing Aerith saw as the entourage travelled around the last rocky crag. The town was rough and rugged, with very little greenery around besides tall evergreens. It was very different to the girl.

There were many SOLDIER troops like the ones guarding the pass milling around, and a few with the same insignia on their clothes but a different uniform that defined their rank.

The first place they went was to an inn; they had to brave the mountain the next day and Tseng needed some information on the general covering the area.

"With any luck, he'll be here for us to hire" Tseng explained, as he told them he wanted to hire SOLDIERs for as far as they would go. After a run-in with that blue beast, no one objected.

After a little questioning with the innkeeper, he found that the General was in fact in town, but he went up into the mountains often.

"Maybe he's in the market; SOLDIERs like to be in less sleepy areas" the innkeeper suggested.

So they left for the market after establishing the birds in stables for the night. They asked various shopkeepers and wandering grunts about where the General could be found; the only ones not asking were Nanaki, to appear as an outrageously dressed pet and prevent surprise (much to his dismay), and Vincent, who was glancing every which way and avoiding eye contact with everyone. He seemed too distracted to ask anyone anything, not that most people would answer him anyways after seeing his cold scowl or clenched claw.

"Well, if it ain't the redhead himself, Mr. Big shot Turk" a voice boomed behind most of the group and they turned to see a grinning young man with unkempt black hair and a scar on his cheek. His eyes shone with an eerie green-blue glow. Reno gave him a sheepish grin and bumped fists with him. "Yeah, I still owe ya, but I spent most of my last pay at Gold Saucer yo!" Reno greeted the guy.

"So you on another mission now?" he asked, looking over the group with a low whistle. "Who could afford to hire all ya Turks?"

Then his eyes fell on Aerith and he sauntered over to her with a smile. "You must be the one; allow me to introduce myself. The names Zack Fair, First Class SOLDIER and local hero, at your service!" he announced with a bow. Aerith blushed as Reno grabbed him from behind and wrestled him into a headlock.

"Too late Fair, already set my moves and got the first date; you'll be hearing wedding bells before you get your chance!"

"Not likely, with your rep" Zack shot back with a smug grin and managed to worm himself out of Reno's grip.

"Zack, could you help us?" Cissnei spoke up, instantly grabbing the boys' attention.

"Sure, what do ya need?"

"Where is General Sephiroth?"

"Ah, he went up the mountains; some travellers from North Corel were suspicious looking and we've been hearing about slave drivers recently going up to Gold Saucer to 'sell'. What do you need him for?"

"We...need some protection for our client while travelling through the mountain."

Zack frowned. "With so many of you guarding her, you need more? Why?"

"It's a matter I would like to discuss with General Sephiroth specifically; do you know when he'll be back?" Tseng cut in.

"He went up with a mountain guide a couple of hours ago and should be back soon; follow me, I'll show the path he'll come back down."

They followed Zack through the mountain to an open area right up against the slab. Wagon wheels carrying heavy goods left many tracks on the trampled ground as people carried their things for selling and buying.

"So what's with the scary red dude?" Zack whispered to Reno, quietly but not enough for him to realize he could be heard by others.

"Someone else hired along with us. He doesn't talk much, but I guess he's OK. Not the most exciting guy around though" Reno shrugged. Zack let the subject go and changed his pace to fall into step beside Aerith.

"So, can I get the name of the angel guarded by the red dragon known as Reno?" Zack asked, receiving an angry "I heard that Fair!" from said redhead.

Aerith laughed. "I don't know any angel being guarded by Reno, but my name is Aerith."

"Aerith, huh? It's a beautiful name, like you." Zack complemented, which made Aerith blush once more.

"Are you a Shinra White Mage? Because I think I would have seen you around Midgar if you were."

"Nope, I live in Wutai."

"I see; how much black magic do you know?"

Aerith looked down. "None."

"Really? That's rare! They tell me learning white magic is hard, although easier if you learn black magic to learn how it works. First destructive magic before reconstructive magic, y'know? I can't even use black magic without Materia though, and white magic is even harder for me to understand. How'd you do it?" Zack looked at her in awe.

"I don't know; I could never understand how the destructive arts worked. Healing came so naturally to me. I wasn't exactly easy, but I understood it." Aerith explained.

"Not tainting one's hand with the destructive arts and only healing other people's mistakes is a blessing in my books." A new voice joined them, along with a tall man with flowing silver hair and uniform of black leather. His eyes were a defined bright green. Behind him was a pretty girl wearing a short leather shirt and skirt, with a matching broad hat and boots. She had long dark hair and wine-red eyes.

"General Sephiroth sir!" Zack straightened and saluted his superior. Sephiroth nodded to relieve Zack. Aerith looked at Sephiroth curiously; epic tales had reached Wutai about the hero, he was supposed to be the best there was among warriors and he certainly looked the part. He had a powerful air around him, and her eyes caught the glint of his infamous long katana, Masamune.

"So you were seeking me out?" Sephiroth asked Tseng coolly. Tseng nodded. "I need to hire yourself, Zack Fair here, and any other SOLDIERs in your platoon that you absolutely trust. I need you to take us across the mountains to as far as you're stationed."

Sephiroth frowned. "That's a heavy request, especially with all you Turks around. What is this threat you face that requires such caution?" he asked as he indicated to the girl behind him to leave. She nodded and trotted out toward the market.

Tseng hesitated, glancing around before indicating a couple of boulders where they could sit. The two went over and Tseng quietly explained the situation as best he could.

As they discussed, the others walked around aimlessly, waiting. Zack went back to talking animatedly with Reno and Cissnei. Nanaki sniffed at the ground idly. Vincent was leaning against the side of a building, closing his eyes and glowering heavily. I just want to leave this place.

Aerith walked here and there, looking at the shops that were in the area. As she turned the corner of a stall, a running figure knocked into her, common market items falling out of a paper bag as they both toppled over.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" the figure, turning out to be a woman with long brown hair tied back with a gold ribbon and soft brown eyes, gasped as she helped Aerith up.

"No, I must apologize; I should have been more careful with where I was going" Aerith replied, stooping down to scoop up some fruit.

"Thank you," the woman replied, smiling as she held the paper bag up for them to put the food back in. Within minutes, everything was back in the woman's arms. She seemed to take a closer look at Aerith.

"Are you the travelling White Mage I've heard about?"

Aerith blinked. "I...I guess so. How'd you know? I just came into town today."

The woman laughed. "Nibelheim is a small town. Word travels very fast...especially of you travel with a hoard of Turks as bodyguards."

Aerith giggled. "I think I'm becoming famous." The woman smiled warmly. "Are those all your guards there?" she asked, glancing behind Aerith.

"Yup."

The woman's kind eyes suddenly widened in fear and Aerith turned to see who she was looking at; it was Vincent. "He's...!"

"Oh Vincent's not-" Aerith stopped short when she was the look in the woman's eyes. Fear, hurt, guilt, and who knows what else shone in those russet orbs.

"I fear for you, child" she whispered before bowing curtly and hurrying away with her produce. Utterly confused, Aerith watched her stalk off.


Chapter 5: Some new arrivals

 

It had taken them from the morning they left the small village until sunset to reach the forests that blurred the horizon in a lush green. The air got cooler as they neared the mountain and Aerith still could not see the tops of the great peaks as the clouds obscured them.

With every passing minute towards Nibelheim, Vincent felt more and more agitated. He never wanted to step back into that town if he could help it. He never passed through that town since...since...

~Since you were human? You're pathetic~

Vincent shook his head and focused on the black feathers of the Chocobo in front of him, concentrated on the sound of the various items in the packs clinking with every trot.

As soon as the sun met the earth and the sky was vibrantly painted in pastels, Tseng directed the heard towards the sound of a trickling stream. He sent Knife and Katana to scout for a clearing while everyone else lead the birds to drink. They were extremely happy for the drink and chirped merrily as they lapped at the cool water. Elena and Aerith riffled through the saddlebags for some small sacks and pulled out stout plants; the heads of several birds snapped up at the sweet scent of the Gysahl Greens and nipped affectionately at their fingers as they ate the plants.

Aerith smiled widely as she fed Boko the Greens before felt a burning gaze that seemed to give her chills all over. Casually turning her head to observe her surroundings, Aerith's eyes caught Vincent's ember ones as his frown passed over her. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Aerith turned back to her bird quickly, cheeks heating up. The prickling sensation did not subside though.

Vincent himself felt agitated about the girl, not knowing the exact reason why, but the turmoil in his mind seemed to increase exponentially when she glanced at him. He stared at his hand, a burning feeling lingering since the time she had held it.

To distract himself, Vincent glanced at the rest of the group. His eye caught Tseng's agitation that he did not voice but broke through his calm mask; something wasn't right. No time was spent dwelling on it as the two dark-haired guards came back with a mild report and led them to their resting place for the night.

OoO

The fire crackled warmly and brightly in the dark forest as everyone rested after travelling in the hot sun. The birds that carried most of the load tucked their heads under their wings and warked softly before nodding off.

Leaning against a tree, Vincent's smoldering eyes were staring into the equally smoldering fire as everyone finished the last bites of their food. A blanket suddenly obscured his vision as Vincent realized that infernal blanket that smelled like lilies was back, along with the girl with the same scent.

"I thought you might be cold, sitting here on your own" she explained; Vincent knew she longed to ask him a question, tripping over her words constantly anytime she tried to speak to him so she would keep her promise. Vincent removed the blanket and glared at her; where his anger had come from, he wasn't sure, but it burned brightly.

She sat down beside him, clutching a pear in her hands; Aerith felt that creeping chill come over her again. To shake it off, she started up another one-sided conversation with him. Without questions to answer, Aerith had lost the one thing that could keep Vincent talking at least for a little bit.

She sighed as he seemed not to hear her voice as she spoke of the little things in the forest and peaks she saw compared to the forests and mountains back in Wutai.

And Vincent wasn't listening; he was distracted. He continued to stare at the hand she placed at her side while the other one brought the pear to her lips. That hand...the hand that had sent such warmth through him...he was suddenly very wary of it. His own human hand opened and closed, suddenly cold and seemingly drawn to the contact he was so deprived of.

Would she allow it once more? Would she take his hand? The moment Vincent realized he was reaching for her, he withdrew. He was monster. He was a disgusting creature in the presence of this mocking angel, this naive angel. His gruesome deformity would scare her away.

Anger flared within him along with resentment and he grunted something to excuse himself. He needed to take a walk and clear his head.

Aerith herself was bewildered, not knowing why Vincent just left. She smiled sadly to herself, trying not to feel bitter about being left so suddenly, and joined the others in their contentment.

OoOoO

Rising early the next morning, the group continued towards the mountains. It was a difficult journey, because there was a small pass that led specifically to Nibelheim while the rest of the peak was just harsh terrain. To avoid the creatures that crawled all over the place, they needed to find it soon.

They were stuck in the forest for two days, the peak now towering so high it blocked the sun for a good portion of the day. Tseng often sent someone to scout ahead and see if any indication to the pass could be seen. Now and then, they'd get an indication to go in a general direction.

The prickling feeling continued to follow Aerith; at first she thought it was Vincent's angry glances, the cause of them in the first place she was still confused about. But it proved false when she awoke earlier than him the previous morning and realized the feeling was still strong and he was asleep. She didn't say anything about it though.

Tseng was also agitated even more, and gave constant reminders to be on alert. He sensed a presence, although threat or not he wasn't sure of. But its aura was vast and distracted Tseng to no end.

OoO

The day seemed to be dark despite it being only noon – surprisingly the forest thickened as it got closer to the mountain, which meant the pass wasn't far now. The trees block most of the light with their branches, when the mountain didn't obscure it completely.

Tseng's own Chocobo trotted lazily over a branch and he kept his calm demeanour up as much as he could but a sudden jolt roused him; it wasn't a physical one, like a bump or a trip, it was a mental one, like knowing nearly unstoppable danger was approaching. A dull boom could be heard in the distance.

In the blink of an eye, Tseng's mind began to whirl through all the signals his heritage was sending him and he acted on his instinct; Tseng urged his Chocobo a little bit faster until it flanked Aerith and hers in front of him and he sent a kick to its hind. The bird screeched and dashed forward in surprise, an expression similar on its rider's face. Tseng then pulled back his reins and stopped the Chocobo in its tracks; a hairsbreadth away from its beak passed a mass of blue, striking the empty space Aerith previously occupied.

The mass slowed, and Tseng glimpsed a positively horrifying creature; towering up like a bear even in a crouch, the man-beast had a mop of blue hair that went down its back like a mane; its arms and legs were long and thick, rippling with muscle; it glared at him with hazel-blue eyes and twitched its pointed ears but its most striking feature were the blue veins that ran all over its skin and glowed in pale light.

Most of the others were slow to react, which gave this monster time to clear out from the area. Two-Guns and Shotgun shot at it with their firearms and Cissnei threw her Shuriken with all her strength after it but they only bounced off its back like the twigs that were raining down due to its earth-shaking steps. It seemed to disappear behind a massive tree trunk.

"Cissnei, Reno, Vincent; go after Aerith! She's the target! The rest of you, search and round up that thing!" Tseng barked his orders and began to pursue of the creature. Those who weren't issued to Aerith followed him with renewed adrenaline, rounding up Chocobos to catch up with the beast.

Two birds were left, since someone had taken Cissnei's green one and she quickly mounted Reno's while Vincent spurred his borrowed one towards his client. A scream rang through his head at the thought of the monster and he steeled himself against the sharp pounding of it.

~No! My reunion! My brethren! I curse you, Vincent Valentine! ~

OoO

The trees seemed to blur too fast for Aerith to comprehend where she was going exactly before she managed to calm Boko down. When he finally slowed, Aerith dismounted and stared back the way she came; why did Tseng send us away? What's going on?

Deciding it was better to find a way to park so she could watch for dangers or rescuers, Aerith pulled a still anxious Boko to a thick root and sat on it, alert for sounds.

It wasn't long before she heard the snapping over several twigs in the distance, but before long, they grew louder and louder and Aerith realized it wasn't twigs, it was branches. Thick branches that hung above her head; something big was coming!

Quick as she could, she mounted Boko once more and dug her heels into its side. It screeched again and set off into a run. Aerith only hoped she could escape whatever was hounding them.

Boko abruptly tripped as something pulled its leg back and Aerith was flung forward off the bird. She tucked her arms in preparing to meet the hard ground and forced herself to roll once she reached the impact to absorb the shock. Getting up shakily, she saw the giant blue beast, its massive hand around Boko's angle, looking like it'd snap the limb in half. This must be what's been attacking the travellers she thought with terror.

A scream got caught in her throat and she only managed to choke out a sob. The beast turned its head in her direction, staring at her with bright eyes, sniffing at her and pulling its lip back to reveal its fangs. Aerith glanced around and saw her staff, which had been placed in a loop between her saddlebags, had also been flung off. She ran to grab it, facing the creature in a defensive position.

It seemed to sneer at her challenge, and let the bird go, losing interest in the shuddering creature. Boko managed to stand, ruffling its gold feathers before scampering off. Now Aerith was alone, and she felt fear take over the bravery from when she was ready to fight for Boko.

The beast now grinned like a maniac and slowly approached the trembling girl; Aerith was too scared to move, frozen in place under its burning gaze.

A triple gunshot rang throughout the forest and the monster roared and staggered back as oily black blood began to drip three new holes in its shoulder; Aerith turned to see that Vincent had ridden out of the shadows, red cloak flapping behind him and a triple-barrel ancient gun poised to shoot again.

"Run!" his voice, the loudest she'd ever heard yet, called to her and seemed to break her from her trance; Aerith sprang towards a different direction, hearing another gunshot from Vincent's weapon and heard Reno and Cissnei's voices, joined by some of the other group.

Hoping her bird was safe, Aerith pushed off the roots that covered the ground and ran as fast as she could, blood pounding in her ears, using her staff for support. She hoped everyone would be alright against that thing.

Trying to create a zigzag path that could not be followed, Aerith ran around a tree and screamed at the towering shadow of the creature from before, smirking down on her. It lunged forward but Aerith had already begun to move and ran away. She turned around several other trees and yet again met the sight of that monster.

Fleeing once more, Aerith placed her hands on a nearby tree trunk to propel herself forward when she staggered and dropped; one of her boots had gotten caught in some gnarled roots. Feeling like screaming once more but not wanting to alert her pursuer of her presence, Aerith struggled as quietly as she could to free her boot but it remained stuck.

Her panic turned to dread as she heard the dull thud of the creature's steps towards her. She pulled back the hem of her robe and tried to undo the laces but her foot was still stuck. It seemed hopeless!

"The lamb has finally succumbed to its fate, and the lion shall triumph over its prey" a deep growling male voice emitted from the creature's mouth and Aerith realized that he spoke. Several wounds could be seen all over his body from where Aerith's guards had attacked but none seemed to hinder him.

Breathing hard, Aerith struggled with her boot again, trying to pull the root hard enough to break but it was no good. Her panic covered her hands and head with sweat and made her clumsy. She couldn't escape.

When the creature was in front of her, smiling triumphantly, he stretched his hand towards her. A blur of red sprang up seemingly from behind Aerith and she saw a glimpse of a black "XIII" on it; it was the creature from the village she defended!

Its bared fangs closed onto the surprised man-beast's throat and it howled in agony; the red lion-wolf spat the thick black blood as it descended with its back to Aerith, facing the creature with an arched spine and ready to pounce. To Aerith, it seemed like this red creature was defending her from the blue one.

The blue beast shuffled from side to side as it clutched the opening of its neck, trying to catch the creature off guard from its blind right side but a quickly swivel of the head. After a few minutes, both creatures' ears pricked up at a distant sound and a clatter announced Vincent, Reno, and Cissnei's arrival.

"It seems the child of the Planet is well protected" the blue creature grunted, clearly taking the toll of his wounds now, and began to back into the shadows of the trees. He gazed at Vincent with his entrancing eyes.

"Late as ever, Brother" he chided before dashing out of sight. Vincent glared at his retreating back.

"I'm gunna go after that thing with the others, yo; keep a hold of things here Cissnei" Reno ordered as he let the brunette off the bird and spurred it forward. The girl nodded as the redhead dashed off and faced her client along with Vincent. They were wary of the red lion-wolf of before and had their weapons barred; it had sat back on its haunches, keeping its piercing gaze on those in the area, tail twitching. It turned his head to look at Aerith, who was closest.

After managing to calm down, she struggled out of her boot and pulled the boot from the roots. Jumping down from the trap with her staff, she met the red creature's gaze, the same chill from the past days washing over her.

"I trust you are not hurt." A male voice, although deep and wise, was laced with youth and passed through the red creature's mouth. Aerith smiled. "No, I'm not, thanks to you." She paused before saying "So you do talk."

The creature nodded. "You've defended me from an entire angry village though I'm not sure you fully understand their fury as I do; yet I am still grateful for all you've done."

"So you followed me?" she asked. The creature padded his front paw shyly in front of himself. "I merely wanted to make sure my debt would be paid. Another kind soul on the Planet would do it some good."

"Well it's paid in full now. So, may I get the name of my saviour?" she asked as she crouched to his eye level. He blinked back. "I have been called Red XIII since my joining into the Gi tribe...my previous name is one I am not worthy of anymore since the crimes I have committed."

"I think you are worthy; will you tell me?"

The creature hesitated before replying "Na...Nanaki..."

"Nanaki; it's a wonderful name." Aerith smiled again before a heard of Chocobos led by Tseng and the others arrived and she caught sight of Boko safe. She then remembered Cissnei and Vincent and turned to them; their faces were cautious but more reserved. Vincent's eyes seemed to burn into her.

"The blue creature has fled and the pass has been found" Tseng reported before stopping at the sight of Nanaki.

"Don't worry, Tseng; it's ok. He won't hurt anyone" Aerith persuaded, although she knew the Wutain man could tell where Nanaki intended harm or not.

"Would you allow me to travel with you?" Nanaki looked up at Aerith hopefully. Aerith in turn looked at Tseng. Tseng paused then looked at Nanaki.

"Whether you follow Aerith or not is of your own free will; I have no control over that. However, if you endanger Aerith or her cause, I must deal with you as I see fit." Tseng informed. Nanaki stood as tall and proud as he could. "I wish to protect her." Nanaki declared, and Aerith placed her hand on his snout affectionately. "It seems like no one can hurt me now."

Aerith got up to heal any of the Chocobos that got hurt during the fight while everyone else gathered to see what they could make of their assault.

"He called Vincent "Brother" before he left" Reno commented, looking pointedly at him. The rest followed with their eyes, all now looking at Vincent.

"What do you know about this?" Tseng asked coolly. Vincent stared hard at all of them then closed his eyes.

"...Nothing."
 


Chapter 4: Towards the peaks

 

Rocket Town's lowest buildings began to merge with the horizon and the glittering ocean could no longer be seen as Aerith and her entourage began to cross the well-worn path around the farmlands that were sprinkled over the area. The highest towers of ShinRa Empire could still be seen though for miles around and the giant ship being built was silhouetted against the sky.

Many of the farmers and farmhands that were working in their fields stopped for a moment to wave to the travellers. Aerith waved back but her guards remained stoic, ever alert.

"Gosh, the Empire is beautiful. I never knew it could be so flat here." Aerith mused about the land. Growing up in Wutai, mountains were everywhere and forests and marshes in between any of the cities. The flattest it got was the beach and the ocean. Her father had told her about these flat lands, though it didn't prepare her for the sight. She felt very exposed with little walls of trees or rock around her, and sky so large above.

Besides Rocket Town, the only other thing rising high up into the sky were the Nibel Mountains, few but giant peaks spearing the clouds. They dwarfed the size of Wutain mountain range even from afar.

"Well most of the forests grow close to the east side of the Empire, closer to Kalm and Junon, but we'll be coming up to some forests soon as we get closer to the mountain" Cissnei explained, pointing to a green blur on the horizon in their direction. Aerith nodded. "Will we be camping tonight?"

"No" Tseng answered. "We're close to a village that's outside Rocket Town; they're used to tourists passing through so we can stay at the inn there."

Aerith nodded again and concentrated on the little music box that Vincent had bought for her. Slowly, she pulled the small key out and twisted it in the box. The top opened once more and the little roses inside shone brilliantly in the sunlight. The little tune began to play and as Aerith was humming, Elena looked over at the source of noise.

"Wow, where did that come from?" she asked with awe.

"Back at Rocket Town; I think the merchant got it from Icicle."

"How do you know?"

"Look at the flowers" Aerith tilted the box towards Elena and explained "There are faint white patterns on them. Only jewellery made up in Icicle has those because the stones are cut in the cold frost caves. And the tune it's playing is the song that's sung during the winter solstice up there. My mother used to sing it to me when I was a child."

"It's so pretty. I don't think that merchant knew what he was selling, because that looks priceless." Elena commented, as Aerith pulled the box closed and pocketed it once again.

"Maybe" Aerith replied as she gazed towards the mountains once more.

OoO

The sun was beginning to sink slowly to the horizon when they reached the small village. Short buildings were squeezed together while the various villagers bustled around them, going through their daily activities. Men of trades were tinkering away in their workshops and children ran around with each other, playing before their mothers would scold them and pull them away.

They had managed to find a large inn and tavern, where many of the guards went straight to the bar. Any leftover picketed the Chocobos and dragged the packs in to the rooms.

Aerith waited outside the tavern, the smell of the alcohol already suffocating, and sat on a barrel; stroking the gold chocobo Boko that was hers and watching people go by. She smiled at the bird; Emperor Godo's gold Chocobo gave birth to twins, Choco and Boko, and Yuffie kept the sleek black Choco while Aerith was given tiny Boko. Boko had always been smaller and weaker than the other birds, but he was fully grown now and his feathers were the most radiant gold.

Some children were staring at her with big eyes and eventually a little girl shyly stepped forward, tugging on her sleeve. Aerith got off the barrel and crouched to the girl's level.

"Excuse me, Miss, are you a white mage?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, I am."

"Are you a Shinra white mage?" a little boy behind the girl asked, looking suspicious.

"Well, no...Is there a difference?" Aerith asked. However she seemed to be half ignored as the little girl boasted being right before tugging on her sleeve again.

"Can you heal my dad? The Shinra white mages can't come to help him" the little girl requested, starting to pull her in a direction.

"Why won't they come?" Aerith asked, trying to stall the girl so she could let someone know where she was going. Boko just blinked at the scene.

"Because they don't think he's important enough to come and heal him." The little boy explained, now joining his sister in pulling Aerith along. They didn't get far though, because Vincent seemed to appear out of nowhere and blocked the way. His tall stature and glinting gold claw frightened the children and they let go of Aerith to bury their faces in her robe while she tried to assure them Vincent wasn't going to hurt them.

As they slowly peeked up at him, Vincent asked why they were pulling Aerith away. His voice scared them once again and they looked away.

"They just wanted me to heal their dad" Aerith explained for them.

"If you stop to heal every person that gets hurt, you'll never get this journey over with" Vincent stated coldly.

"I know that, but while I'm here, why not help some people along the way?" Vincent only shook his head.

"Well, since you're here, can you come with me? I don't want Tseng or anyone to worry about me."

Vincent only grunted as Aerith urged the children to lead them to their father. Extremely wary of Vincent, they led her to a small house closer to the edge of the village. The rings on her staff jingled the entire way. A thin fence outlined the small patch of farmland that must have been theirs. On the porch in front of the house, an old man sat on a wooden stool, stroking a pale yellow chocobo the size of a dog. The children called out to her, getting him as 'Pappy' but the man didn't seem to hear them and only continued to stroke the small bird and gaze to the horizon.

The children seemed to take no notice, and only shoved Aerith along into the house. Vincent was hesitant to enter the house and decided to stay on the porch, deciding there wasn't much these people could do to her.

As he stood there, he inspected the small bird and from this close, he could see it was shrivelled with age. The old bird chirped hoarsely as it looked at Vincent and blinked its beady black eyes at him. The man stopped stroking him and turned slowly to face Vincent. If he noticed anything about Vincent, he didn't say it. Instead, he passively looked past him to the front door and turned back to the horizon.

"Is the white mage yours?" he presumed in a whisper.

Vincent wasn't sure how to answer, and decided to nod even though the man couldn't see. But the man seemed to know anyways. "A white mage not in Shinra is a true white mage. Collin's been suffering for a long time now; an injury in his leg that's just gotten worse and worse. He's a farmer and those Empire bastards just look down on people like him." The man shook his head and stroked the chocobo again. It chirped happily, glad for the attention once again.

"She's nice" the man continued. "Beautiful; reminds me of my dear Grace...Gracie, everything right in this world...never should have let you go..." The man sighed, lost in his own memories and the chocobo warked loudly as if moaning, and nuzzled the man's hand.

"Heh, you remember, don't you girl? Remember Grace; remember the night she left..."

Aerith appeared on the porch, looking winded but happy at helping the family and a woman followed her outside of the house. The woman held Aerith's hand tightly and was thanking her over and over again. A man came out from behind them, limping on his leg, and had begun to thank Aerith as well. When they finally stopped, they glanced over, just noticing Vincent. The woman nearly screamed before Aerith explained his presence.

"I didn`t expect anyone to be out her with Dad and Goldie" the woman said breathlessly, giving Vincent a wary glance. The children then came out and each wrapped their little arms around Aerith's legs in farewell. Aerith said goodbye for the day. They shouted blessings to her as she walked down from the porch and up the path, Vincent trailing behind her.

He glanced back once at the old man rocking back and forth, who in turn looked up at Vincent with an amused glint in his eye before turning back to the horizon. Goldie released a hoarse cry behind them.

OoOoO

Back at the tavern, those who hadn't gotten lost in their glasses ordered some dinner, which the tavern owner's daughter cooked up.

When Aerith returned, she was immediately pulled aside by Rod and Knives and Shotgun and Reno to try some drinks of the sort. Vincent, left behind in the dust, wanted nothing more to go up to his room and stay there. However, since Aerith was awake and down here, none of her guards could do that. So he settled for joining Tseng and Rude and some more of the sensible ones for a meal at the quiet end of the bar.

Tseng had asked what had went on when he saw the kids drag Vincent and Aerith away, and Vincent gave a very brief account of the little trip.

"Have you encountered any trouble on the road?" the innkeeper asked from behind them as the barman set some plates in front of them. "We've been getting a lot of rumours from travellers recently about being attacked by some blue beast."

"I did not sense anything before we got here." Tseng replied.

"Huh, well with your Wutain magic mind power, I guess you'd know."

"Wutain mind power? I thought that was just superstition" the barman spoke up with a frown.

Tseng closed his eyes briefly and Vincent could tell it wasn't his first time explaining.

"It's not magic. Wutainese people are born with a very spiritual sense of the planet and all living things. We can feel the aura of the people around us and determine if something is" (he glanced at Vincent out of the corner of his eye for just a second) "human or not."

The innkeeper and barman didn't notice the glance at Vincent but just shrugged and went on their way.

Feeling quite sour, Vincent stabbed at his potatoes with his fork without feeling hungry.

OoO

The night came and went. Reno had drunk a bottle of ale and had begun to dance and sing on the table as the tavern filled with the locals. The others beat their hands on the table and clapped as people all over the place added their voices in, before Tseng managed to pull Reno down and sent Cissnei to escort him to his room. It wasn't long before Aerith decided to turn for the night and Vincent followed her up and swiftly departed to the solitude of his own room as soon as he could.

OoO

Morning brought bleary-eyed troops but they all put discomfort aside as professionals and went around their assigned tasks as they all prepared to hit the road once again.

Vincent was left to load last minute things into the saddlebags with Tseng and Elena. As he slipped some flint away, he happened to glance back at Tseng and saw him with his attention focused somewhere in the distance, his eyes narrowed.

"Do you sense something?" Vincent asked cautiously. Tseng only frowned harder.

"Possibly; there's a non-human presence in the area, but it doesn't feel threatening."

"Should we alert the village?" Elena asked with a worried tone.

"No; we're the next travellers out of here so if it's going to attack, we'll be next. We can dispose of it far from the village and they'll still believe it's a rumour. Telling them now would only cause panic."

"And if it attacks Aerith?" Vincent challenged; although he could probably take on whatever was out there, he still did not like being attack, nor the fact Tseng was placing a client in open danger.

"We're a large enough group so her chances are slight. We surround her with the birds, the attacker will be preoccupied with them and Aerith can escape." Tseng explained.

Vincent grunted and fell silent, while Elena looked in the same direction as Tseng with worry still apparent on her face.

As soon as the rest of the entourage returned, they departed, bidding farewell to the innkeeper.

They made their way through the village and reached the other side, which Vincent realized was the area near the farmer from yesterday.

"Watch out!"

"After it!"

"That's the one!"

A bizarre commotion was attracting attention nearby and got louder and louder. Looking to her left, Aerith saw a horde of villagers, wielding various tools and chasing after what appeared to be a large red wolf or lion.

A limp in its step told Aerith the poor thing was injured, despite the lithe it was displaying to escape the angry people. Immediately, her conscious told her to leap of Boko and stop the throng from chasing the creature, which she followed through, snatching her staff.

She ran as fast as she could, ignoring the yells from her guards and focusing only on the victimized animal.

By the time she was close enough to do something, the men had begun to form a way to corner the being. It ran to the side, and was surprised with three men jumping from around him; as she got closer, Aerith realized its right eye was scarred and narrowed its vision.

More details of the creature could be seen now, and it was no ordinary wolf or lion; its body structure seemed to be a mix of both animals, and brighter than the red of its fur was the blazing orange of its flickering tail; a shaggy long mane of maroon swayed on top of its head, neck, and shoulders; some metal accents glinted on its head; a patch of black was blurred along it's right forearm.

After wheeling away from a small group, the creature ran and with a glance back, tripped on its paws and stumbled forward. Its jaw met the ground but it moved its front paws quick enough to recover from the fall. Unfortunately, the mass used the opportunity to close in on it.

The fall also gave Aerith enough time to move between some farmers and ran towards the animal. Coming up on its left side so she wouldn't startle the creature, Aerith set herself up so she was standing between the majority of villagers and kept her eyes moving from face to face so she wouldn't miss anyone and planted her staff into the ground.

The creature blinked up at the girl in confusion before sweeping its head from side to side to check on its attackers.

Among the horde that came to a standstill was the one that Aerith healed yesterday, Collin. He approached Aerith first.

"Lady White Mage, please step aside; that monster is dangerous! It's the one that's been attacking the travellers!"

"You know her, Collin?"

"She's the white mage that healed my yesterday."

"Regardless of that, she's gotta move! That thing will terrorize the village next!"

"You're the ones terrorizing it!" Aerith protested.

"This isn't your fight; now move it or we'll have to make you!"

"I'm not moving! Your 'monster' is supposed to be blue and it attacks groups of travellers! This creature is red and is only avoiding you all! If I hadn't stepped in, you would have killed an innocent being!"

"There ain't a thing innocent about that thing! A number 'XIII' tattoo on its shoulder; it's a member of the Gi tribe! Those vicious beasts only know how to kill! Move it!" The famer waved a pitchfork at her but Aerith stood her ground, holding her staff in defence.

When the famer saw she wasn't going to move, he began to stomp forward to her. Collin tried to dissuade him but he wouldn't listen.

"I won't say it again; move!" he roared. Aerith flinched, but stayed still.

The farmer moved his pitchfork to an attacking position, but before anything could happen he was stopped by half a dozen clicks of firearms pointed at him. Aerith's guards had caught up and were now surrounding the farmer. Vincent walked from behind him and snatched the pitchfork from his hands.

The man stalked off slowly, side glancing every now and then and simmering with anger and fear. The rest of the villagers began to disperse.

Aerith took a breath of relief as the guards lowered their weapons and turned to the creature. It was watching everything with critical eyes and now it fixed her gaze on her. It took a limp step back in caution as Aerith crouched to its eye level.

"I don't expect you to trust me, but you're hurt and I can heal you" Aerith explained. The creature stayed still, alert to everything, and made no indication that it heard her. Not sure if it understood her or not, Aerith brought her hand up slowly towards it. Her guards wanted to stop her, but wondered if they should risk surprising the creature.

When her hand was an inch away from its snout, the creature snapped its head forward and closed its fangs around her fingers in a flash. Her guards moved in surprise but Aerith's other hand went up to stop them in their tracks. She looked closely; the creature had captured her fingers between the larger fangs and although her hand was scratched and pricked, it was still in one piece.

She moved her other hand on top of his snout on the other side slowly, and began to reach for the white magic to heal. The green glow warmed the animal and with realization, it opened its jaws and released her hand. Aerith had finished healing in a moment, the wound not being serious enough to sap her strength. The creature pressed its formerly wounded leg against the ground and stretched it out.

Aerith could almost see the joyous grin that glinted in its eyes before it sniffed at Aerith's hand. As she held it out to it, it licked the cuts with its rough tongue. Its saliva seemed to block the blood from bleeding out. She looked at the creature and hesitantly said "Thank you."

It stepped back and for a moment, Aerith thought it would run off. It didn't though; instead, it quickly moved forward and pressed its brow against Aerith's own brow. A deep rumbling was heard within its throat before it bound off, its fiery tail blazing behind it.

Aerith got up and dusted off her robe, moving to the Chocobos they left behind, and the others followed her, asking her if she was alright.

"I'm fine, really. Sorry for running away; shall we continue?"

Tseng nodded and got the group to reform and they mounted. Aerith felt a gaze boring into her and she turned to see Vincent's scrutinizing eyes.

"You're unsettled" he said it more like a statement.

Aerith stared at her hand then back to the direction the creature left before looking back at Vincent.

"Just for a moment there...I thought he said 'thank you'."


Chapter 3: Splendour of Rocket Town

Aerith had been able to sleep very well with the rocking of the ship. She stretched out on her sleeping blanket and looked around. Most of her guards were already up, they're supplies packed and standing by the Chocobos who were still asleep. Reno, Rod, and Katana (two other young men; most of the younger guards were named after their weapons) were still asleep.

Aerith got up to prepare herself for the day and yawned as she stepped onto the deck.

"Morning, Sunshine" a booming voice called above her. Aerith's head swivelled up to see the ship's captain grinning down at her in humour. She smiled at the captain and greeted him. He called her Sunshine as a sort of joke, saying sunshine was the best a sailor could hope for on the open water.

"You'll be glad to know we caught a good wind and will be at the Rocket Town harbour soon!" he informed her. She nodded to him and went to the galley to see if she could get some breakfast scraps.

As she entered the small room, she saw Vincent standing by a window, looking out and barely chewing on a chunk of bread and some dried fruits. He moved his stoic gaze from the window to herself.

"Good morning, Vincent" she greeted quietly. He nodded to her before going back to the window. She was able to get some fresh fruit and munched on it slowly as she glanced over to Vincent every now and then. He looks like he's not even seeing the water, but something else she mused silently before deciding to go on deck instead of staying any longer in the stifling silence.

As she climbed up the stairs, Aerith was knocked forward slightly by a running crew member. He yelled an apology behind him before continuing his marathon. When Aerith reached the deck, he saw the man talking reverently with the captain. The captain's face became grave with worry.

"Is something wrong?" Aerith asked as she came up to the two.

"Nothing you need to concern yourself with, Sunshine. Just an injury my son is dealing with" he tried to convince her as he muttered some more things to the other man.

"If it's an injury, perhaps there's something I can do" Aerith offered, indicating the robe she wore.

The captain regarded her for a moment. "How experienced are you?" he questioned.

"Experienced enough to help someone in need" she assured firmly. The captain thought for a moment longer before barking orders to the other man. "Make a bed up here where he can get some air and we'll have Sunshine take a look at him."

The man nodded and rounded up some of the crew to help him. In a few minutes, a young man about Aerith's age was brought up and placed in a nest of blankets. He was breathing heavily and his face was beaded with sweat. Removing the bandage on his right thigh revealed a large flesh wound, spread out with burn marks encrusted around the edge. Dried blood dotted his legs and pants.

"He got caught in the back-fire of a cannon a while back. Doctors couldn't do much for him. Is there anything you can do, Sunshine?" the captain explained as he looked hopefully at the girl. By now, most of those on the boat were surrounding the area, watching closely.

Aerith inspected the wound for a moment before nodding up to the captain. She rolled her sleeves back and let her hands hover over the injury. Her eyes closed and her brow furrowed in concentration as she began to work through her teachings.

She searched for the pool of energy within her, and immersed her mind in it. Then she created an opening for the energy to flow through her arms; she felt the warmth radiate as it reached her fingertips. She opened her eyes and let the energy flow past her hands, casting a green glow over the man's injury. Keeping the flow steady, she moved her hands in circles, slowly spreading the energy evenly.

The tissue began to sew itself together and the burn marks started to fade away. The man's breathing became easier as the pain waned. Soon, the entire wound had disappeared and the man sat up, marvelled. Aerith sat back in slight exhaustion and asked for some water to be brought for her.

The man stood up carefully, his fellow crew surrounding him in worry. He tried supporting his weight on both his legs; then happily began hopping on his previously weak leg. "This is incredible! It's as if the wound was never there!" He stopped and bowed to Aerith, thanking her.

She nodded and smiled as a bucket of water with a ladle was brought and she took a long draught. There were cheers and praise thrown at her as she stood up and received it all modestly.

Vincent watched silently from the upper deck as all the merriment went down below.

OoOoO

"Sunshine!" the captain called her over as she stood on deck, conversing with Elena. She turned to see him returning from his quarters, a long item that was as tall as himself in his arms and wrapped in some cloth.

Aerith blinked in confusion as he held the item towards her. "I wanted to thank you for helping my boy; there's no way we could've seen a white mage before returning to the ShinRa Empire. Please take this."

The item was unwrapped and Aerith gasped as she saw the most beautiful staff she'd ever seen. It was made of a strong light birch wood and stained brown, with an intricate gold hoop attached to the top. Smaller dangling gold rings and a ruby the size of a fist were embedded in the wire designs and a gold cap set with a ruby covered the bottom of the staff. Runes ran all over the length of the wood.

"I-I can't accept this! It's too valuable; surely you have someone else you'd like to have it!" she cried, abashed.

The captain threw his head back and gave a hearty laugh. "Sunshine, no one's patient enough to be a white mage these days; you'd be doing me a favour taking it from me" he chuckled. "My grandfather was the last one to use that staff, and everyone else in my family works in the merchant business. The only thing that this was good for was a spoil for a thief. I'd rather see it used by you instead of cooped up in some snooty old man's stuffed up parlour."

Aerith looked at the staff in awe before shaking her head vigorously and pushing it back to the captain. "I really can't, I-"

The captain cut her off. "Take it, Sunshine, before some pirates raid us of it" he joked. He pushed the staff in her arms and patted her head before walking off. Aerith stared at it before yelling her thanks to the captain and running her fingers over the carved runes.

OoO

As they neared the dock, the group herded the packs and Chocobos on deck. The ship slowly parked by an empty dock and customs guards lifted a gangplank to the deck as the anchor was dropped. They checked the boat over to make sure it was safe before letting the passengers, crew, and cargo off. Several dock workers ran on board to help load off the goods delivered.

Aerith stepped of the plank and took a good look at the Rocket Town harbour front.

Rocket Town was the first city built under the ShinRa Empire to govern the western land in its control. During a time of war, Rocket Town was the frontline against Wutai before a truce was made between them. It was filled with scholars, artisans, scribes, musicians, poets, merchants, philosophers, magicians, and scientists ready to share their trades or knowledge as they contributed to the rapid growth of technology invented there. Already, machines were created to produce light without fire, carry items or people across land with Chocobos, and travel under water. All the machines were expensive and only few were made for the time being. Many people trafficked through the Town to see what new marvel was invented and as a result, many businesses were opened and smiths and tradesmen were high in demand. The Town's development skyrocketed and houses were squished together with narrow side streets running around them leading to more open city squares. Large lavish buildings were erected for religious practices or knowledge exchange; the churches and libraries were adorned with carvings and turrets and statues. The largest building was a tall tower, overlooking the entire city, and housed the ruler that came from the ShinRa Empire. Its design was that of a palace.

Recently, the newest feat of phenomena was a ship that flew through the air by itself. Construction could be seen from the busy docks, which were covered with the merchants and tradesmen, fishermen, and business owners all trying to deliver or collect their goods as soon as possible.

The group managed to lead the Chocobos through the thicket and into the heart of the city. Aerith gaped at the beauty of the town, only seeing such grandeur in the city capital of Wutai. And here, while they used the same materials of polished stone and marble, the designs and layout of everything were drastically different. Aerith found it all confusing and wonderful, gazing at everything with awe.

"Have you ever been here before, Aerith?" Reno asked her with some amusement, seeing her twist around to see as much as she could.

"No, I've lived in Wutai all my life. This place looks amazing, who knew ShinRa could build such extravagant buildings" replied Aerith.

"Then it's too bad we won't be going to Midgar, yo. Everything there is ten times more than what it is here."

"My mother's told me about Midgar; she says it's a filthy city with rude rulers and no consideration for their own people."

"Then she obviously hasn't seen the nightlife; I'll take you there after all this is over if you'd like" he added with a wink. Aerith giggled and looked him in the eye. "Alright, I'll take you on that offer."

"Cool, yo." Reno gave a grin with a raised eyebrow before watching his step to avoid being run over by a horse-drawn carriage.

"Reno, stop flirting with her" Elena scolded. "Hey, I'm not gunna stop if she likes it" Reno shot back as red creeped over Aerith's cheeks and she prodded her Chocobo to walk a little further.

"See, you scared her off Elena," Reno accused. Elena huffed while Vincent hid his smirk behind his cloak.

~Careful there...you almost cracked...~

OoOoO

"Reno, would you stop teasing the Chocobos?" Tseng snapped stoically at the redhead poking the bellies of the birds and causing the birds to squawk in surprise and kick whatever was near them.

"Well, what am I supposed to do while you make your plans?" Reno retorted, sticking his bottom lip out in mock frustration.

"If you're that bored, I'll give you something to do" Tseng shot back.

The group had stopped in one of the calmer city squares, parking their Chocobos to the side. Tseng had sent most of his subordinates into the several market squares for various supplies that could defend them against local creatures or to hunt for cheap deals they could take advantage of. Nibelheim was a long trip; the Nibel Mountain stretched far into the sky to mark where the town was from miles around but its sheer size disproportioned the distance it took to reach it. At the moment, only Rude, Reno, Cissnei (from what little Vincent knew, she was a more experienced shuriken fighter), Aerith, and Vincent had stayed behind with Tseng and the birds.

Tseng had given him the task of looking for a good tanner to see what their leather was like. Reno didn't conceal his frown at the petty quest, but stayed quiet as he strode towards an archway to see what the northern farming area had.

"Tseng, could I walk around a bit?" Aerith asked sweetly. She was also getting bored; so many were gone, and those with her weren't much for talking.

Tseng thought for a moment. He usually didn't let his clients wander off and they were supposed to leave in an hour if they were going to cover the distance he had planned.

"I suppose...if you take someone with you." Tseng said after a while. Aerith nodded politely and looked to the other three there. Cissnei's Chocobo was snuggling close to his owner, smothering her with his feathers. Rude was impassive against the wall, watching every passer-by with a careful eye. Vincent was sitting with his back against the wall, but his eyes were closed and he seemed almost tranquil, receiving many stares and points from the locals. Is he asleep? Aerith wondered as she stepped towards him. When she stopped in front of him to shield the sun shining on his face, his eyes flashed open.

"Hello, Vincent. Would you like to accompany me into the city?" she asked with another smile, shyly scuffing the tip of her boot against the ground.

"The others can't go with you?" he asked coldly. "I want you to come with me" she bent forward, grasping his wrists in her hands. She tugged to get him pulled up and with a heave, he stood up.

"While you're going" Tseng spoke up, "I was thinking you could pick up some salted down meat or jerky; anything that won't spoil after one day." He produced a pouch and put it in Aerith's hand.

"And you couldn't send the redhead to get it just now?" Vincent scowled. Tseng just replied calmly, "I trust Reno with my life, but not my money; a lesson you might want to keep in mind as long as you're travelling with him."

Aerith giggled as she nodded and began to trot to a southern market area, beckoning Vincent to follow. Grudgingly, he complied.

She ducked under the many stalls to see the new goods being sold that weren't offered in Wutai. With each new discovery, her eyes widened in delight and she continuously pointed it out to Vincent. She would gaze at items longingly, but put a hand protectively over the pouch of Gil to reassure herself she hadn't spent it and continued on her way. If she wasn't looking at the stalls, she was gazing at the architecture or machines being built. Everything seemed to capture her interest.

Her hand suddenly reached out for his and she soon began tugging him close to her. Warmth shot up and down his arm once again; someone had voluntarily touched him again. The warmth and sensation of just the contact began to cloud his mind before he tripped over a stray dog. Its whine brought him back to his senses and he rushed to be released of her grasp. His hand felt awfully cold after that.

~You almost slipped there...Damn mutt...~

Once she had her fill of sightseeing for the moment, she began to search for the meat. After asking a shopkeeper for some directions, she led the way to a street more crowded than usual.

Her hand just floated there, all alone, and Vincent had to summon self-control to keep his own hand away from hers. I already shirked away from her touch; she would just deny me the luxury of the contact he thought bitterly.

The street was lined with shops that had barrels and wagons of fruits and vegetables displayed outside. Women walked from one store to the other, some of them dragging screaming children along with them, others struggling to carry their filled up baskets. Young boys were rallying anyone they could to buy from their father's shops, yelling out deals and flattery to those around them.

Many of those boys had tried to stop Aerith and anyone could see how much she wanted to help them; they probably stood outside for many hours in the sun every day to bring in business. But she politely refused each time and kept a determined expression set on her goal. It's was quite comical to someone like Vincent, to see someone with such enthusiasm and emphasis in their every move. It wasn't long before the smell of fish – freshly out of the ocean or sitting in stuffy shops – reached their noses. Butcher shops and fishing business were laid all around and in no time at all, Aerith had a wrapped pack of salted-down fish and jerky hanging over her shoulder.

She led them through another busy street of more general and oddball merchandise. Forges and workshops created the most noise with their constant hammering or sawing.

"Hey, missy; yes, you over there" an elusive voice had called out to Aerith and Vincent saw a lanky bearded seller in front of a stall of mismatched merchandise. "Can I help you?" Aerith asked, blinking in confusion.

"Actually, I wanted to help you. You seem like a girl who loves to chance upon treasure" he mused to her beginning to step back towards his stall. Vincent's hand flinched towards his concealed weapon.

"Ah, yes, I'd love to see treasure!" Aerith exclaimed brightly. She moved to stand on the other side of the stall. Vincent trailed closely behind her, his eyes never wavering from the salesman.

"Then I've got just the thing for you to see" he assured and brandished a tiny jewelled box with a flourish. No bigger than a fist, it was black with swirling silver vines and leaves cut from a deep jade. On the top sat a large emerald, a rose cut into it with a keen designer's eye. Silver wire wrapped around the base to keep it in place. The man produced a tiny silver key from his pocket, the little bit of metal also silver with its own jade leaf and a long chain linking though the top. He inserted the key into a small opening in the side of the box – one that could've been easily overlooked – and gave it a twist. The little box opened up to reveal many tiny roses cut from various precious stones, sparking in the sunlight. Little clicks hummed within the box and soon a tiny melody barely audible over the street noise began to play.

Aerith's hand flew over her mouth as her eyes seemed to sparkle at the treasure. She began to hum to the tune before the man pushed the lid back down, stopping the song, and pulled the key out.

"I take it you like it?" the man asked slyly, pitching the sale.

"It's unbelievably beautiful; how much are you selling it for?" she asked in a hushed tone.

"Well, normally I don't let these things go for so little. But since such an angel is humbly gracing my presence, i think I can be lenient. How about 1000 Gil?" he clapped his hands in anticipation. Aerith jaw dropped. "1000 Gil! I-There's no way i can afford that at the moment!" she cried, dismayed at losing the box so soon. The man frowned for a moment before smiling again. "Perhaps your...friend there can help pay?" he gestured to Vincent, although with a hesitance he was sure.

Aerith shook her head fiercely. "I cannot allow him to pay for me, no matter how small it may be" she said with clenched fists.

"A woman who knows how not to spend a man's money; I'd keep a hold onto her sir" the man said with a good nature before returning his attention to Aerith.

"How about that fancy staff of yours, my dear?" the man proposed, indicated the present she just received equipped to her side. Aerith shook her head again. "This is a special gift dear to me; I cannot trade it. I'm sorry sir; I guess I can't buy this treasure from you." Aerith whispered as she straightened herself and began to leave. The man scowled at not making the money and moved to lure others to his stall before a sack of Gil was dropped hard on his table. Both the seller and Aerith looked to see Vincent's hand above the sack, looking like he dropped it there.

"There's 1000 Gil; give me the box." Vincent rasped as he held his hand out to receive the trinket. The man scooped up the bag and quickly counted through the money as Aerith just stood there, dumbstruck.

The man smiled widely and relinquished the key and box to Vincent as he waved "good fortunes" over them. Vincent strode away with his prize and pushed it into Aerith's hands as they continued back to the Chocobos.

"V-Vincent, I can't accept this; that was your own money, please don't feel obligated to spend it on me!" she cried after him, running to catch up to him.

"Then consider it a trade" he muttered darkly as he now led her back, not stopping for any distractions. "A trade for what?" she panted, now matching his strides.

"Never ask me questions again" he coolly demanded. Aerith's eyes dropped down in hurt as a sad smile spread on her face. "Am I...I mean, I must be annoying you then. Very well, I shall stop." She bowed her head, placed the key around her neck, and tucked the music box in her pocket.

She turned to the way of the square before quickly spinning to Vincent and wrapping her arms around him. "Thank you, Vincent" she whispered in his ear as her embrace made him stumble back in surprise. As quick as her hug came, it went all too soon and Vincent felt everything slightly blur around him, very conscious of the small fingers encircling his own. His arm seemed to burn as hotly as his face.

~She'll be you're doom...~

Vincent closed his eyes at the thought. I know.


Chapter 2: Crossing borders

 

Aerith woke up the next morning and saw she was the first one awake other than Rude, who was probably the last one keeping watch last night.

A former monk, Rude was a tall, quiet, bald man who was quite young despite his appearance. He fought with his fists only when the situation called for it and was usually the one to stop Reno from...being Reno.

Rude gave a nod of acknowledgement to the girl before going assuming his previous stance. Aerith herself got up and walked over to one of the containers containing the water they had cleaned the night before. She took a long sip, briefly wondering why she woke up so thirsty, and stopped when she downed half the bottle. She took a look around; Most of the group were still in their tents, some of them sleeping outside because of the heat that gathered in the tent. The Chocobos were napping peacefully together. The fire was down to just small embers, the remains of the food they had eaten last night littered here and there.

Well, almost all of them ate. Aerith couldn't remember if Vincent had eaten last night. He was the only one that she hadn't got know because he barely even looked at her. She guessed he was shy around other people which was why she only visited him briefly, but after speaking to him – or at least, getting a few sentences out of him – she figured he was more anti-social than anything. She also wondered how he got that claw that he wore, why it gave him the title "Chaos Apprentice", and thought maybe it was the claw that made him hostile around people.

Or perhaps his title made him believe anyone who showed him kindness only wanted something from him or pitied him because he had to wear that claw. She had never seen him take it off. And she knew many people treated her kindly only because of her social standing in Wutai.

She looked over to Vincent, and smiled. He was still awake and looking at the sky when Aerith decided to go to sleep but he was lying down now, using the blanket she brought him as a pillow.

OoO

Vincent awoke to the smell of lilies filling his nostrils. It was very strong for his heightened senses. He shot up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He had a headache from the sudden scent.

He looked at what had caused him to smell like the flower and realized it was the blanket he had rested his head on. Vincent growled as he tried to crush it in his claw, which was futile, and got up. Looking around, he saw a few other campers coming out from their tents and milling about, waking everyone else up. He cursed himself for sleeping late, immersed in the scent, and began to prepare for their departure.

He left the blanket in front of her tent while she was washing up.

OoO

"Mr. Valentine, if you come here for moment," Tseng called. He was the only one other than Aerith who addressed him with that name. Everyone else just didn't speak to him.

The Chocobos were all packed and the camp ground had been dismantled after everyone had eaten a light breakfast. Tseng, Reno, Rude, Elena (a feisty young girl, barely older than Aerith, which usually argued with Reno and looked to Tseng with admiration) and Aerith herself were gathered around what seemed to be a map. He came over and crouched with the lot of them.

"According to a scout, we are here, on the border of Wutai. We can find a boat in a village nearby to get to Rocket Town, get through Nibelheim, have a guide take us through Mount Nibel to North Corel, and catch a boat to Bone Village from Costa De Sol." Tseng mapped out the route as he mentioned it. "Then it'll be a quick journey to the Forgotten Capital. We can backtrack after that and get to the Temple with a boat from Gongaga. This is the route we'll take for this journey, so there shouldn't be any side trips to keep us behind."

"Geez, you're no fun; at least we'll be making a small visit to Gold Saucer on our way back" Reno said with a grin, rubbing his palms together.

"We're on a mission, Reno. Don't spend it all away in one night" Elena snapped.

"As he usually does" Rude muttered humorously.

"What can I say? Women love men with money" Reno shamelessly shrugged and got up.

"What do you think, Mr. Valentine?" Aerith asked, looking at him. The others had suddenly turned to look at him, somewhat surprised.

"Sounds fine" he replied stoically, getting up as well to retrieve his pack. Aerith watched his back retreating and felt as if she failed once again at getting him to say more than a few words.

I guess he likes being lonely she mused sadly before getting up and mounting her Chocobo.

OoOoO

"I guess I could take the whole lot of you, for a price."

They had found an old fisherman finally after searching for a long time for someone who had a boat big enough for the group and their belongings.

Tseng nodded to him as he signalled to the rest of the group. "Name your price; I'm sure we can pay it."

The old man opened his mouth, and then closed it abruptly as his eyes fell upon Vincent.

"If he's coming aboard, then forget it. I'm not taking a demon on my boat." The man was stern and sharp, eyeballing Vincent carefully. Tseng sighed and opened his mouth, but Aerith beat him to it.

"Then we'll increase the price. He comes with us, and he won't do anything to the boat, I'm sure."

"You don't get it, missy; Demons like him are bad omens. One of them on the ship and you've bought a one-way ticket to the bottom of the ocean." He glared at Vincent. "I've been with this boat too long to lose it to the sea. I'm not taking that thing, so ditch it or find yourself another boat."

Aerith brow furrowed into a deep frown and it looked like she was about to yell at the man before Tseng placed a hand on her shoulder and wordlessly indicated finding another ship. She huffed, but didn't fight back.

"The nerve of that man!" Aerith spat as they continued to walk down the deck. "How can a person be a bad omen? They don't cause waves or storms; that's the water! He speaks as if he's married to that ship; he must be insane!"

"Lady Aerith, perhaps a ShinRa Empire ship would be better, even if a little more expensive. I doubt they believe in omens" Elena suggested, trying to get the girl to calm down.

"I suppose so." Aerith said, sighing. She was still upset, but a little less now.

All the while, Vincent just watched. He had met Wutainese sailors before who had all believed the same thing. He knew if he was with them, they wouldn't be getting on a Wutai boat. He only got to Wutai on a ShinRa boat. He just didn't understand why Aerith was trying to defend a lost cause.

OoO

"All aboard!"

A ShinRa boat that sold cargo internationally had agreed to take the lot of them to Rocket Town.

"We're restocking there before heading south anyways. It'd take a day or so but we definitely got space for all of you," The captain had assured them. He was wary of Vincent, but only as much as the strangers they passed by.

Now they were all on the deck, their belongings and Chocobos stored on one of the lower decks. Aerith walked around the ship in wonder. Vincent was told to watch over her by Tseng; all the other group members were speaking with the crew so there was nothing else for him to do.

He had no idea how one person got so fascinated by the ropes holding the sail up or the rudder and wheel steering the ship. Vincent sighed.

"Are you bored, Mr. Valentine?" Aerith asked as she gazed out to the water.

"No."

"I'm sorry if babysitting me isn't what you had in mind when coming up on deck."

"It's what I'm paid to do." he said shortly.

"I suppose." Aerith was silent after that, just staring out to sea.

"Mr. Valentine, May I ask you a question?" she said after a moment.

"Depends on the question." Vincent replied gruffly.

"Well, I was wondering how you got that metal arm..." she trailed off.

"That's not a question." He stated.

"Well, would you mind telling me, Mr. Valentine?" she asked, although she was looking at her hands.

"Yes, I would mind. This arm does not have anything to with you or this mission directly so it's a personal matter I'd like to keep to myself."

"Oh...Mr. Valentine, will you tell me how you got your title, the Chaos Apprentice?"

"That is also a personal matter. You do not need to know that either."

"...Mr. Valentine-"

"Vincent." Vincent cut her off with a snarl.

"...I-uh, what?" she asked.

"My name is Vincent. My father was addressed as 'Mr. Valentine'. I'd rather he not bear an affiliation with me."

"No affiliation? Do you hate him?" Aerith asked, bewildered.

"...My father should not carry the scars of my life through our name."

Aerith blinked, not really understanding. She figured it was something else to do with his past, a personal matter he probably wanted to keep to himself. Aerith smiled to herself for repeating him but turned back to the sea and said nothing.

OoO

Night fell before they saw the jagged black peaks along the horizon, mingling into the clouds. "That's Mount Nibel. We're still a long way from the land." Tseng explained to her as they descended into the galley for dinner. The captain had invited all of them to eat dinner with the crew for the night instead of relying on their own rations.

It was very crowded in the small room but it was filled with laughs and drinks and just the pure enjoyment of someone else's company.

It was very stuffy in the room though so Aerith excused herself and her half eaten food to go back up on the deck. It was a clear night with the moon shining high above and the water reflecting the silver light, casting a glow on everything on the deck.

There, she found Vincent, staring out at the night sky once again, and all alone.

She decided to approach him again. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?" she asked as she clutched her loaf of bread. Only a grunt was a response from Vincent.

"You can come down to the galley to eat. There are lots of people down there. It's fun."

Vincent only shook his head. "I'll go down later when everyone's left" he assured her, trying to get her to leave.

"...Vincent? May I ask you another question?" she whispered, hoping he wouldn't turn her away again. After a moment, Vincent slowly nodded.

"Do you like being alone?"

It was a few minutes before Vincent responded. "I am always alone. It was how I was supposed to live my life. The way nature intends it."

"But do you like it?"

"...I've never had anything to compare being alone to. I've always been alone. Such is the life of a beast."

"You're not a beast, you-"

"Are you really that blind?" Vincent yelled suddenly, turning for face her. "Do you not see what I am? This is why that man on that boat wouldn't let us on. This is why every person I pass on the street turns and runs in fear. I am a beast; I am not human!"

Aerith just stood there, shocked. She dropped her food when Vincent thrust his metal arm in her face, trying to emphasise his point.

"You really believe that..."

"It's a fact of life. Not something I nor you can alter." Vincent turned away from her and leaned forward on the side of the ship.

"Vincent..."

A touch was felt on Vincent's shoulder and he immediately felt heat shooting up and down his arm. He turned abruptly, holding his claw out in a defensive pose, but Aerith caught that arm and just held it. She gazed at the glinting gold before looking back at him.

"You were angry just now. That's something you and I share. We feel anger. Humans feel anger. They feel emotion, Vincent, and I know you do too."

"Beasts also feel emotion. They feel pain when they are hunted." Vincent reasoned as he pulled his claw away. "I am starting to doubt whether you really are fit for the title 'white mage'. It's supposed to be reserved for the intelligent."

Aerith was taken aback but just smiled sadly as she went to the rail and gazed at the sky.

"I met a blind scholar who came to Wutai to study under my father. I mocked him, telling him he couldn't truly be a scholar if he couldn't read books. He said that for a while, he told himself the exact same thing. But he realized something then. He was focusing on his differences from everyone else. He said he still had two hands and two feet and a nose and mouth and two eyes, even if they weren't working. And then he could see he wasn't so different from those people who ridiculed them. He taught me a lot after that. And I learned to look for similarities instead if differences."

"...I have nothing in common with any person on this ship."

Aerith sighed. She turned around to him and took his hand in her own. Heat now shot through his other arm and throughout his entire body. This was the first time any person had come into voluntary human contact with him.

She spread out his fingers and placed her palm to his. "5 fingers" she said before dropping their hands. The heat was still there though.

She pointed to her eyes with her fingers, and then pointed to Vincent's face. "Two eyes," she said. She placed a finger on her nose, and then gently flicked Vincent's. "A nose" she giggled.

She placed a finger on her mouth, then moved it and pressed it against his lips and smiled. "I think you get my point."

She took her finger off but heat still swelled where it left off and it made Vincent feel very uncomfortable. "I'm still different." He mumbled.

"Sure you are; everyone's a little different. It sets us apart from everyone else. Just...don't hate yourself for that difference."

Vincent grunted in response, but stayed stoic.

"Vincent?" Aerith asked cautiously. Vincent didn't respond so she decided to speak as if he acknowledged her. "Can you ask me a question?"

Vincent frowned at the request. "Why?"

"Well, I'm your client, yet you don't seem to know much about me. Are you the same with other clients that hire you?"

Vincent just grunted again. "I always research my clients before I take a job" he replied stiffly.

"But you don't seem to want to get to know anyone on this trip" she pushed.

"As soon as it's over, I will never see any of you again. There is no point."

"But...then this trip will be lonely..." Aerith trailed on and muffled her yawn, excusing herself.

Vincent figured she was reaching the end of her rope and would leave soon if he complied so he thought of the first on that popped into his head.

"Why do you live at the palace?"

Aerith smiled. "Well, my father and mother were both scholars in Midgar when they met each other; they were very young. Then my mother went on this trip when she reached my age, and my father decided to accompany her. They travelled a lot and my father eventually married her in the small town of Icicle up north. They had me and went to Wutai shortly after to study again. Since my father was a professor, Emperor Godo wanted him to teach at the capital's university. My mother was asked to teach Yuffie and I've grown up with her there ever since. They...kind of feel like family."

Aerith finished but Vincent realized he was only half listening, distracted by the continued heat that ran through his body when she touched him. He grunted once more when he realized she answered the question and she smiled and excused herself for the night.

Vincent paused as he lapsed into the silence. It was very unsettling; everything that made a sound seemed to amplify in his ears now. He guessed he was just tired and decided to retire for the night.

As he was leaving, his foot brushed past the food she spilled when he screamed at her. After pausing for a second at the food, Vincent shrugged off whatever was picking at him and descended towards their temporary sleeping quarters.
 


Ok, I don't know how to make this on that white page instead of a journal entry so I'm going to put it here until I learn how ^^;;

Title: The thin line between man and beast, chapter 1: The angel I hate
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing:  Vincent/Aerith, one-sided AerRed
Rating: T
Genre: Romance/Adventure
Summary: AU Vincent, the chaos apprentice, a demonic man who is paid to escort Lady Aerith, a Cetra Scholar, to the Land of the Ancients. Her kind heart makes him feel human for once in his lonely life. She sees the human within the beast.

Wutai was a beautiful country, filled with ancient buildings and rich with history. The land was filled with merchants and scholars exchanging foreign silks, academic books, or exotic treasures.

One man walked the merry streets, casting a spell of fear or suspicion to anybody who glanced at him. He was garbed in a deep crimson cloak, black leather Wutainese clothes, and thick gold boots. He wore a red head band, keeping his unruly dark hair off his pallid skin, and sported a menacing gold claw on his left arm. What was most striking about his appearance were his eyes; ruby red that glowed like embers, they held much sorrow if anyone cared to look into them without feeling scared.

But he was a frightening stranger, and anyone near him stepped as far from his as possibly, avoiding his gaze. Mothers wheeled their children in the opposite directions, casting him apprehensive frowns. Young men and women averted his eyes and sometimes stared at his strange claw.

He was used to this treatment from the world. He was not human; no human had a claw for a hand, or had seen the horrors they only dared dream about in nightmares. No, to them, he was a monster; threatening and ready to pull their hearts out of their throats if given the chance. No one had seemed more alone, and by his appearance, he seemed to deserve that isolation.

He made his way through the nation’s capital, winding his way to the magnificent palace that stood in the centre. He walked up the marble steps and straight to the giant front doors. The guards immediately held up their spears, and he could see the shock in their eyes from his appearance. He reached into the pocket of his trousers and fished out a piece of decorative paper with a shining gold seal on it. He was an invited guest in the palace of the Kisaragi.

The guards inspected the seal closely before deciding to let the stranger in, but sent a guard to stay near, just in case. The man strolled into the main chamber where a he was told to wait while an attendant was sent to the higher council.

It wasn’t long before three people made their entrance into the embellished chamber room. An older man and woman in their early 50s, and a young girl about 19 walked up to him.

“You must the Chaos apprentice, Vincent Valentine.” The young girl presumed. Vincent inwardly cringed at his title but nodded in acknowledgment.

“I am Princess Yuffie Kisaragi. I apologise for the Emperor’s absence but the high council needed him. On behalf of the Kisaragi family, I welcome you to Wutai.” She spoke grandly; you could tell she was trying to live up to her title. The young princess continued.

“These are your clients; Professor Gast Faremis and Lady Ifalna Faremis.” Yuffie stepped back and allowed the couple to speak. Vincent turned to them and waited. He saw them look at his arm fearfully but once again ignored it to listen. He had come there for a job offer.

“Mr. Valentine, sir...we would like you to be a guard for our daughter” Gast spoke uncertainly. “Her name is Aerith and she is a Cetra scholar. We want you to travel with her to the Forgotten Capital so she may fulfill her Cetra duties.”

It was Ifalna’s turn to speak. “On the day a Cetra turns 21, she is sent to travel to the Ancient forest to immerse herself in Cetra Lifestream, then climbs through the Temple of the Cetra and pours that sacred liquid through to the calamities Meteor and Holy. If done properly, she gains her full Cetra abilities and can continue to keep the balance on the Planet. If not, she will lose her connection with the Planet. Aerith is fully aware of everything she will go through and has been preparing for it for years now. No other Cetra may journey with her, but we will be sending a small group with her to acompany her. The reason we want you to go, is because we’ve heard of the Chaos Apprentice’s immense power and would like that to protect our daughter from any danger. She is the last Cetra left to do this until another one is born and more than one person would want to venture into those temples to use the vast knowledge.”

Ifalna finished with a stern expression and waited for Vincent’s reply.

“And my payment?” he asked in a low, raspy, and cold voice. Gast signalled to a servant and he ran up to them, carrying a sturdy carved box with Wutainese symbols all over it. Gast took the box from him and opened it for Vincent to see. It was filled to the brim with Gil.

“This is half of your negotiated price. The other half will be given when the mission is complete.” Gast replied.

“And what if I come back and your daughter has failed?” Vincent asked.

“Aerith will not fail. And if she does, by some miraculous horror, the group is ordered to send a messenger and you can come here and collect the rest of your payment. Are we in agreement?” Ifalna asked rigidly as she sent a menacing look towards him.

Vincent gazed at the amount of money being offered. The amount in Gast hands would be doubled and all he had to do was walk some girl around to the north, then the south. It shouldn’t take too much effort with his power.

“Very well. I shall agree to this mission.” Vincent muttered and pulled off his glove. Another servant brought a scroll to the princess and she opened it up. The entire mission, as the Faremis’ had just stated, was written down. Vincent was given a small knife and with it, he nicked his thumb and pressed it to where his name was written. A thick black substance oozed as it created his print and everyone had to hold back their shock and disgust at the sight.

As Gast handed Vincent the money, he told him to meet outside the city gates at dawn the next morning, with his things packed.

OoOoO

As the sun was just peaking through between the mountains, Vincent made his way down through the city and waited at the gates as instructed. He was carrying his small pack, filled with the items he carried while on his travels and now heavy from the Gil packed in.

He waited patiently as some people trickled by, carrying large packs for the journey or herding Chocobos. It wasn’t long before they had all straightened and stood in a line as someone came towards them from the city streets. Vincent guessed it was the Cetra and straightened from leaning on a tree to have a glance at her.

His eyes fell upon an angel.

She had a beautiful face, long caramel locks caressing her cheeks, and was wearing the robe of a white mage, a title given to intelligent healers. Her hair was tied up into a high braid and her stunning green eyes sparkled. She walked with an aura of gentleness as her steps were light across the ground. Her smile was warm and graceful as she regarded everyone kindly.

Vincent suddenly felt more like a monster than he had ever felt before. And he detested her for making him feel like that.

When she spoke, she spoke with a caring voice.

“Thank you all for accompanying me on my journey. I will try not to be a burden to you. If it’s all the same, I’d like to get to know you all as well.”

She smiled once more as she picked up her pack and everyone followed suit as they readied to depart. Her parents and the princess came out to see them off.

“Take care, Aerith. Remember all that you’ve learned and use it to your advantage at the Temple.” Ifalna advised as she hugged her daughter dearly.

“I’m very proud of you. Happy birthday dear” Gast whispered as he took her in his arms.

“When you get back, we’ll have a big party ready to celebrate for you” Yuffie squealed as she pulled her into a bear hug. She had lost all formality and suddenly seemed her age. “If, Yuffie, if” Aerith reminded her. “You’ll get through it, I know it!” Yuffie smiled a toothy grin and Aerith smile back in comfort.

“Thank you for your faith. I won’t let you down” Aerith said as she smiled to her family and mounted her Chocobo, ready to leave the city.

OoO

The journey was uneventful for the first day. The only thing that happened was constant chattering and Vincent found out the names of the ones he was going to travel with. The girl had stayed true to her word and tried to get to know everyone. She approached Vincent a couple of times but he guessed it was because she didn’t want to seem rude. He didn’t want to be pitied though. At the very least by her.

 They made their way out through most of Wutai and stopped at the border, resting by the seaside for the night.

“Well camp here, and find a ship to take us across the sea tomorrow.” The leader of the small pack (as he seemed) was a young Wutain man, Tseng, who seemed to have a past affiliation with the Lady.

“Got it, mon capitan!” Reno said, holding a mock salute. A ... interesting man, he had a head of fiery red hair and was lazy and cocky. He wasted no time flirting with every single woman on the team, including the Lady. He began to unload the bags from the Chocobos.

The others began setting up a camp for themselves, starting a fire, collecting water, and putting up tents. Vincent saw nothing he was needed for and knew they would rather he just back off. He walked over to a giant rock where he laid his pack down and began to gaze at the sinking sun. It wasn’t long before it completely disappeared over the horizon.

“They won’t let you do anything as well, Mr. Valentine?”

Vincent flinched as the Cetra girl came and stood by him, looking to the stars that had begun to shine.

He only grunted in response and slowly shifted away. She seemed to take the hint and promptly excused herself.

OoO

“Are you cold, Mr. Valentine?”

Vincent looked up once again to see her hovering next to him. She knelt down and sat beside him. Everyone else had set up the fire and focused on keeping in burning while cooking food or heating water. She had come by a couple of times to check on him but Vincent just wanted to be left alone.

Vincent didn’t answer again, and only kept his gaze focused ahead.

“Well...I brought you a blanket.” She said, holding it in front of him. “It should be thick enough, but why don’t you come near the fire and-”

“What do you want?”

She stopped and blinked in surprise. Vincent didn’t know why she was surprised though; he was supposed to be alone. He was only supposed to protect her from dangers on the road. Any other association was meaningless.

“Want...?” she asked slowly.

“You’re speaking to me; you want something from me, or what?”

She stared out to where he was staring, a thoughtful expression on her face as he saw she was thinking hard. Does it take so much time to process such little information? If she’s really that slow, how is she a healer?

The girl stood straight up and brushed off some dirt off her robe. With a smile, she turned her back but said “Do you always take kindness shown to you to be greed or pity?”

She didn’t stay to hear a response nor did he give one, but that one sentence continued to play over again and again in his mind. Vincent looked over to where she had sat down and saw the blanket she had left behind. After a moment, he turned back to the sky.


Hello!

My first entry (besides the customary journal posted by LJ) so...yeah.
I'm on Deviantart and Fanfiction under the same name. I'm thinking of putting those things on here too...

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