By Serena Gainsborough
"Oh, Vincent, this spot is lovely!" breathed the young woman standing beside him, the moonlight shining off her bound brown hair and glasses. Vincent, dressed in a navy blue suit and sporting short raven hair, joined his companion at the top of the sloping cliff that overlooked a tranquil lake.
"I'm glad you like it, Lucrecia," Vincent said, smiling. Lucrecia nodded and started down the side of the cliff, her arms outstretched to keep her balance. Vincent stared at her for a moment, his heart swelling with love and admiration for the young scientist. Since he had been assigned to Nibelheim to watch over the special group of scientists Lucrecia was a part of, Vincent had been unable to help himself when it came to her. Her keen intellect, beauty and schoolgirl shyness had attracted him almost instantly. The two had become fast friends, often sharing a cup of coffee in the small restaurant across from the old mansion where Lucrecia and the others had been assigned to work. It was just recently Vincent realized he was falling in love with her and chose tonight to tell her. He had come across this very spot while scouting the area for potential monster sightings a few weeks ago. Sneaking out of Nibelheim had been easy due to the hour, Vincent knowing Lucrecia was a night owl and spent most of her time studying the data she and the other two scientists had collected. Suddenly Lucrecia's gasp of surprise alerted Vincent from his thoughts. Lucrecia was leaning toward the lake, having lost her step somewhere along the way. Vincent wasted no time in hurrying to steady her before she fell. Vincent scooped her up in one arm and held her firmly to him as he carried her the rest of the way.
"Thank you so much, Vincent. I was afraid I was going to fall," Lucrecia said when they were on steady ground again. Vincent said nothing, simply gazed at her features. Lucrecia met his eyes and swallowed nervously, unsure of what was going to happen next. Vincent lifted his right hand and gently removed her glasses.
"You have such lovely eyes, Lucrecia," he whispered, never releasing his hold on her. Lucrecia blushed at his compliment, but then turned serious again as Vincent's face slowly drew closer to hers. She closed her eyes, angling her head to meet his kiss. Beneath the light of the moon and dozens of stars Vincent expressed his love for Lucrecia in that single union.
Vincent forced himself awake as the last remnants of the memory faded back into his subconsciousness. He lay on a sloping hill of grass outside Nibelheim, where he had been since leaving Aerith and Sephiroth alone at the cavern. Vincent had been plagued by his memories of Lucrecia before finally allowing himself to surrender to what used to be. Sighing Vincent sat up, crossing his arms over his knees and staring down at the grass. He had grown so accustomed to the welcome abyss of solitude but when that defense went down his memories always came back to haunt him. All he had to do was look at where his left hand used to be and everything would just play itself out in his mind again as if it were yesterday. Vincent figured that it would give him some peace of mind to stay away from Midgar for a while and to remain near the place where he last left his humanity. Another nagging feeling he could not explain was that he could not leave Sephiroth and Aerith alone now, not with Hojo still on the loose. Had Vincent allowed himself to take revenge against Hojo he would have planted a bullet in the madman's brain already, but all he had been able to do was sit back and pity himself for what he had been forced to become.
Suddenly he heard a person approaching, their breaths coming hard and fast. Vincent was on his feet instantly, his right hand on his gun. Turning, he cast red eyes over the landscape to seek out the stranger when he saw who he was looking for. Barely able to stand, the figure had in one hand a weapon of some sort that he was having difficulty holding. Vincent began walking in the direction of the figure, then broke into a run when the stranger collapsed. Upon reaching the stranger's side Vincent couldn't believe who he saw. Aerith lay before him, her Princess Guard beside her. She was trembling as she sucked in air, but Vincent couldn't help but wonder what had happened. He sighed inwardly. Perhaps Sephiroth had turned against her and tried to kill her, but she managed to escape. Kneeling beside her, he placed his gun down and took hold of her arm.
"Aerith? What happened?" he asked softly. Aerith slowly lifted her head, her mouth partially open. She couldn't focus on his face for a moment due to her exhaustion, but when he came in clear she furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Vin...Vincent..?" she rasped brokenly. Vincent nodded as he gently tugged on her arm.
"Come on, can you stand?" Aerith shook her head and gulped in some breaths of air before she spoke.
"It's...Sephiroth...he's...he's...de...dea...," Aerith's eyes suddenly fluttered and closed as she fell into a swoon. Vincent barely had time to catch her in the crook oh his good arm. Supporting her weight against him Vincent was plagued with new questions. Aerith had obviously run herself into exhaustion and it had to do with Sephiroth. If Vincent didn't know any better, he could have sworn Aerith was trying to say Sephiroth was dead. But if that were true, who could have bested Sephiroth in combat? No man alive could stand against the mighty SOLDIER, let alone best him. Vincent then remembered what Hojo had told them when they were being held hostage outside Nibelheim and swore softly to himself. It was Jenova, it had to be. Gingerly lifting Aerith into his arms, Vincent got to his feet and started walking in the direction of the cavern. The sensation of her weight in his arms as well as her head laying upon his shoulder made Vincent uneasy but he trudged on. It had been many years since he had held someone this close to him. Putting the nagging feeling behind him, Vincent walked on and vanished into the night.
Aerith slowly came around to the sounds of a crackling fire and the popping of sticks. She was on her side draped in a cloth of some kind, the grass beneath her warm from her body. She rubbed her eyes and yawned a bit but then yelped when a voice addressed her.
"Good, you're all right." Aerith turned surprised eyes to see Vincent sitting directly across from her, the red cape he usually wore gone. He didn't look as menacing in just his black pants and shirt, but the firelight glittered off his metallic claw. Feeling slightly uneasy Vincent hid his left hand and asked Aerith if she remembered anything. Aerith held the side of her head, her lips pursed as she tried to remember. Suddenly her eyes widened and she looked straight at Vincent.
"Oh dear Lord, Sephiroth...we have to help him! Now!" Aerith said urgently, getting to her feet. Vincent shook his head, his good hand raised.
"Not until you explain to me what happened. It's all right, just take it slow," Vincent said. Aerith stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering if she actually heard concern in his voice. Sinking to the ground and drawing the red cloak around her she exhaled.
"I was awakened by Sephiroth's whooping cough. He and I had fallen asleep in each other's arms, it was the sensation of being alone that woke me more. He- he was on his hands and knees in the far corner of the cave. When I went to see how he was doing he pushed me away! What scared me the most was how his skin was discolored, almost as if it were a green of some kind." Aerith stopped when Vincent suddenly got to his feet in alarm.
"Discolored?" Aerith nodded. Vincent's mind flashed with the time he was in Nibelheim and his revulsion at seeing what the Jenova Project had done to the unfortunate men. They had become grossly deformed and their skin had taken on a sickly green color. The early symptoms usually began as severe abdominal pain followed by coughing fits before the final stage. Vincent covered his eyes and shook his head. His claw clenched into a fist as the hatred for Hojo threatened to consume him.
"Damn that man...damn that man to HELL!" Vincent shouted, throwing his head back and spreading his arms. Aerith trembled at the sound of his voice, a cross between anger and sorrow. Vincent's arms slowly fell to his sides as he fixed red eyes on Aerith.
"We must help Sephiroth, the son of my beloved Lucrecia."
"Wait! What does Lucrecia have to do with this?" Aerith asked, her expression one of confusion. Vincent sighed. The time to speak of Lucrecia was at hand once more.
"She is Sephiroth's natural birth mother. Come we haven't a moment to lose," Vincent said hurriedly as he collected his gun, materia and items before kicking dirt onto the fire to smother it. Aerith agreed and retrieved her belongings before offering Vincent his cloak again. Vincent shook his head.
"The night is cold. You wear it." Aerith nodded, still in disbelief at his sudden change of mood. Where she once believed him to be cold and distant it turned out he was neither. He had been suppressing his emotions for thirty years. He reminded her of Sephiroth, but Sephiroth seemed to have been able to accept the new emotions Aerith brought on with little difficulty.
"Ready?" Vincent asked, casting a glance over at Aerith. At her nod they were off, two shadows merging with the night.
Groaning in unimaginable pain Sephiroth collapsed, barely managing to land on his hands and knees. The Masamune came to a stop beside him, its slender blade glowing as the moonlight caught it. Sephiroth's glowed hands dug into the ground, his teeth into his bottom lip as the pain ate at him like a spiteful parasite. He had already been forced to endure two similar fits but this was the worst by far. He knew exactly what was happening due to what Jenova had confessed to him. She was killing this body on purpose. Sephiroth would be damned if she forced him to reclaim the 'real' Sephiroth up in the Northern crater. The pain slowly faded away, leaving the mighty Sephiroth on his hands and knees panting. He felt fortunate Aerith was not there to see him like this.
"Insufferable being," Sephiroth muttered to himself as he slowly got to his feet and looked up at the sky. Stars twinkled back at him, the moon shed her light upon the landscape. Sephiroth was not making good time at all. He knew he was burning with fever but cared not. He had to find Aerith, make sure she was all right, confess to her what was in his heart before.....Sephiroth cut his thoughts off straightaway, frowning. He would not die. Taking a step forward Sephiroth made sure he had regained his full capacities before walking on. The Masamune was tucked neatly beneath his left arm as he trudged on, the wind fanning his long white hair behind him. Something inexplicable was drawing him toward the town where it all started, the town where surely Hojo was waiting to start up his dreaded Jenova Project. Walking back into the lion's den was not what Sephiroth had in mind, but the warrior pressed on. Hojo would answer to any questions regarding the curse Jenova left him with and if he refused, he would simply die. The sky was starting to lighten by the moment as daybreak ascended to take the moon's place while Sephiroth walked. He groaned softly as he reached over to hold his aching side only to discover he was bleeding. Cursing to himself Sephiroth clenched his fist. He could almost hear Jenova's taunting laugh. Stopping and looking to the north, Sephiroth considered going there to abandon this sickly body but quickly shook that thought away.
"Aerith," he whispered in a voice tinged with longing and sorrow. He continued on at a slow and steady pace, praying she was all right.
"Hey, what's wrong with that man?"
"I don't know. Is he dead?"
"He's moving!!" The three children who had surrounded the stranger quickly backed away as the man came around. Through blurry vision he saw the young faces all around. Their innocent visages suddenly took the form of demonic entities which caused his to reach for the long sword at his side and raise it menacingly. The children screamed and scattered, running toward the village that lay close by. Sephiroth, sometime during the early morning hours, had been overcome with another severe pain. Choosing to succumb to unconsciousness Sephiroth collapsed face first onto the grassy hills which surrounded Nibelheim. He frowned as he slowly got to his feet and secured the Masamune under his arm. His vision suddenly blurred causing him to fall down again. Sweat broke out on his forehead rapidly and ran down either side of his face before dropping onto the grass around him. Pain blinded him as he started to see things. The faces of his previous victims flooded his mind, causing him to scream and writhe. Jenova's distorted laugh resonated in his psyche as Sephiroth suddenly found himself standing in the heat of the fire he had caused all those years ago. He screamed at the heavens as his whole body jerked and arched forward before at last everything went black.
After realizing Sephiroth was no longer in the cavern Aerith became incredibly worried. She was practically running toward Nibelheim with Vincent trailing close behind. They hadn't said so much as one word to each other upon leaving the cave but when the sound of a scream echoed throughout the heavens it caused both to stop dead in their tracks. Aerith covered her mouth with both hands, her eyes wide in fear.
"I know that sound. It is the sound of a soul in agony," Vincent said softly. Aerith broke into a run suddenly, dropping her Princess Guard in her wake. Vincent followed her, pausing to retrieve her weapon before pressing on. A sense of dread filled Aerith as she raced on toward Nibelheim, her fears confirmed at seeing the body of Sephiroth laying on a grassy knoll.
"Oh no! Oh no!!" she cried as she hurried her pace. She fell to the ground beside Sephiroth, her eyes already very much tear-filled. She couldn't tell if he was dead but when she touched him she gasped, for his skin was burning. Reaching for his face, Aerith gently caressed his cheek before running her fingers across his lips.
"Please...please be alive," she whispered, bowing her head and closing her eyes as Vincent finally joined her. He looked solemnly down on Sephiroth's body and sighed deeply. Jenova was threatening to steal Sephiroth from this world.
"Vincent, what's wrong with him?" Aerith asked as tears rolled down her cheeks and splashed onto Sephiroth's slack face.
"Jenova, Aerith. This is one of the stages." Aerith grabbed Sephiroth's hand and pressed it firmly to her chest as she began to sob more. Vincent let her cry, not sure how to comfort her. She eventually let go of Sephiroth's hand and held his upper body in her small arms. Vincent gasped slightly when he saw Sephiroth's eyes flutter open. There was confusion within the Mako-ice blue depths and Vincent feared what Sephiroth would do if he felt Aerith was a threat. Sephiroth slowly lifted one of his hands and ran it down Aerith's back. She lifted her head and stared into his eyes, the hope she briefly had dying when she saw the pain he was in.
"Aerith," he said in a choked whisper. Aerith sat up, cupping the right side of his face as she gently smiled at him despite her tears.
"I was so worried about you. Sephiroth, why didn't you tell me?" she whispered. Sephiroth pulled her closer, their faces inches apart.
"I... did not...want you...to see me....in agony. You...have already done...so much," Sephiroth replied brokenly. Aerith's tears started to flow anew. She began to fear that Sephiroth was going to die due to Jenova.
"Aerith...I thought we...had all...the time in...the world...but forever...cannot be ours," Sephiroth added. Aerith shook her head furiously.
"No! Sephiroth, there has to be a way to save you! Please don't leave me!" Aerith sobbed before throwing herself onto his chest. Vincent knelt down and looked over at Sephiroth. Already the once great warrior was showing the final signs of the sickness, and it filled him with despair. Jenova, as far as he knew, could not be cured.
"Aerith, I'm sorry. There is no cure," Vincent said softly, but he knew Aerith didn't hear him. Aerith had her face buried in Sephiroth's neck, her tears mixing with his sweat. Sephiroth held her to him tightly. The three were silent save for Aerith's crying. Sephiroth reluctantly pushed her away from him so he could look into her tear-filled eyes. He held the side of her face tenderly, even managed to smile slightly at her.
"Do not...weep for me, sweet Aerith....perhaps this is...my fate. At least... you can go on...," he said. Aerith lowered her gaze as reality slowly hit her. This was the end. She then held his face in her hands and kissed him deeply, her tears mixing with his own. Vincent turned away to hide the tears that had formed in his eyes. Sephiroth returned her kiss with as much urgency and deep-felt passion that she had. Aerith finally pulled away to look into his eyes. She leaned closer to him once more and whispered in his ear the words he dared to wish for but never expected to hear.
"I love you," she said softly. Sephiroth clutched her to him with the last remnants of his strength and closed his eyes. A deep-felt sense of peace suddenly washed over him as he held her. He saw a woman with brown hair and dressed in a flowing white gown standing before an illuminated entranceway. She extended her hand for him, her smile sincere. Sephiroth took her hand without fear.
"He's gone," Aerith said after a few moments of silence. Vincent bowed his head. He knew that at least in the afterlife Lucrecia would have the chance to be with the son she never knew let alone held. But he dreaded how Aerith would cope with his loss. He placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke.
"I'm sorry, Aerith. You did a great honor to him by setting him free." Aerith ran her hand over Sephiroth's open eyes with a soft sigh. She brushed some of his hair away as she spoke.
"Now he is free. Free from Jenova," she said. Vincent nodded in silent agreement. Leaning over to kiss Sephiroth once more Aerith slowly, reluctantly got to her feet. Sephiroth's body began to glow slightly before fading away, leaving behind nothing save the Masamune. Aerith reached over and touched the sword, feeling as if Sephiroth were somehow within it. She gripped the hilt tightly and to Vincent's astonishment lifted it as if it were a feather.
"What are you going to do now, Aerith?" Vincent asked. Aerith shook her head and looked up at the sky.
"I don't know. I may return to the cavern or Midgar to be with Cloud and the others. But I-I just want to be alone right now," Aerith said. Vincent turned away and left, silently obeying her wishes. Aerith stood absolutely still, the Masamune at her side. He was still here, with her somehow. She looked toward the north for reasons she did not understand and sighed. His haunting words echoed in her mind. Forever could not be ours. Aerith closed her eyes as she placed the sword handle down on the ground. Her hands caressed the deadly blade, not caring as it cut into her hands. Her blood ran down the length of the sword as she remembered Sephiroth, the only man she had ever loved. She had no idea what she was going to do now. She was alone, and no doubt still pursued by Hojo. There was only one solution.
Aerith stood outside the house Cloud and the others lived in staring up at the sky. It had been two weeks since Sephiroth passed away and she had surprisingly managed to evade Hojo since the madman took his own life after Shinra cut the funds for his project again. Jack had stopped by a few times to support Aerith as she coped with her loss and was most likely on his way now. Cloud and the others all had been understanding, but Elmyra was so happy to have her adopted daughter back. Elmyra was making dinner for everyone now as Aerith stared, deep in thought. She sometimes still couldn't believe he was gone. Tears formed in her eyes as she recalled the special moments they had shared. Even now it felt like it was only yesterday that Sephiroth died in her arms. She kept telling herself that he was in a better place but it offered little comfort to one who wept every night before sleep.
"Aerith?" At her name Aerith turned to see Cloud standing in the doorway, the light from the kitchen giving him an iridescent outline. She smiled a bit at him before sighing. Cloud shoved his hands in his pockets, lowering his head.
"I- I'm sorry about Sephiroth. I didn't realize you had loved him so much," Cloud began.
"It's all right, Cloud. I miss him so much, but I will be strong. You all have been so kind to me." Cloud smiled.
"You're one of us, Aerith. A part of our group."
"You're also family," added Tifa as she joined the two. Aerith smiled, tears running down her cheeks at their overwhelming kindness. She embraced each in turn before stepping away, wiping her tears.
"Thank you again. I'm so happy for you both," Aerith said, taking note of Tifa's hand within Cloud's. The two giggled as Tifa nodded.
"Well, you can say that. Come on, I think Elmyra's got our food done," Tifa said, reaching for Aerith's hand. Aerith smiled at the brunette and accepted her hand. The three walked into the kitchen just as Cid began asking for three helpings.
Deep within the frozen catacombs lay a large crystalline deposit of Mako suspended in air by criss-crossed branches ages old. All was quiet within the cave before the crystal began to shake slowly at first then with growing intensity. It finally fell and shattered into a million pieces. A figure lay among the crystal shards, but it was only half a figure. As one drew nearer the figure was the exact duplicate of Sephiroth except it was only his upper torso. Suddenly the branches collapsed on top of the figure, burying it. An eerie silence followed as the mortal remains of the great Sephiroth finally left the planet. In Midgar Aerith was overcome with a sense of departure, a soft smile on her face as Sephiroth's voice sounded in her mind.
"I love you, Aerith Gainsborough." Then he was gone.
"So hard to move on, still loving what's gone....see life carries on....carries on and on...."
- 'Grieve', Peter Gabriel
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