I Know What's Beneath
the Snow Fields -Chp.78
Aeris hadn't anything anymore. In one single night, her entire world had caved-in upon her head. Now she drifted amongst the rubble destitute and forlorn. Above her hovered the vultures, squawking, pecking at her vulnerable mind.
He shouldn't have come here.
He shouldn't have come here.
It's all your fault.
It's not you.
It's never BEEN you.
Aeris had nothing to hold onto anymore. Nothing except "the truth" and these shards of emotions tearing her up like a storm. At the centre stood Vincent. It's always been him. He'd always occupied the centre.
But it's never been *you*
You have nothing.
You ARE nothing!
Aeris scoffed at her arrogance: fine of her to swagger about accusing others, screaming judgement without ever once studying herself. Huh! "Monster". What did that word mean anyway? What was a "monster"? Those who'd committed crimes in the name of orders, desperation, or pure blood lust? Those creatures conceived from evil, chained to evil, with no purpose but to serve evil.... like her?
But I...I don't WANT to serve this experiment!
You have no choice.
I don't want to bear this child!
He is your creator. He has every right to you.
You are his creation. You *belong* to him, body and soul.
She didn't even attempt to defend herself against such cruel mental bombardment. Matters appeared so much clearer now. In fact, Aeris saw justice in her punishment. Why hadn't she realized it from the start? It was her fault anyway. She'd been blind and stupid. She deserved what she got.
Then why was *he* here, risking his life, when she treasured it above all else? Why? There were no more mysteries for him to unravel. Only this ugly truth which hung plain and ugly between them.
Didn't he know? Ever since she spotted him from atop that crossbeam, held prisoner whilst he looked resolutely back up at her... even since then these feelings had tumbled unabated. As he waged wars on demons ten times stronger, did he know of the war raging inside of her?
And did he also know how much she...?
These agonies were not new. On the contrary, they'd long plagued her heart. Strong emotions. Emotions she'd always felt, always known even before she realized them. They burned at such intensity it frightened her. Still other emotions she couldn't recognize. Maybe she just didn't want to. Perhaps because they flowed from the deepest rivers of her subconsciousness, an uncharted territory very few ever dare explore. Or maybe because she despised herself, as if to accept, even entertain them, would contaminated her with sin.
She'd ample time to think about it. All that time she'd languished in the dungeon, all those hours of uninterrupted solitude, Aeris spent it grappling with a flurry emotions and contemplations. During the battle, amidst the gunshots and blasts, her thoughts had zinged just as loudly within her head. But especially afterwards, while Vincent carried her on his back. All the way, she'd listened to his harsh gasps. She'd felt those injuries and illness burden him under their heavy weight. All the way, she'd thought about it.
He shouldn't have come here.
He shouldn't have come here.
Die.. no, she couldn't bear the thought of watching him die...
Just like that night.
Davoren's sinister words seeped through like poison on her tormented mind. Many times she'd weighed those words against her emotions, trying so hard to balance Vincent in the equation. But it never worked out right. And now it was useless. "The truth" alone tipped everything out of equilibrium.
She'd thought about it. About her despicable origins. Her role in this nefarious experiment. About "Aeris", the girl whose identity she stole. About "monsters". About her life, and the different people who filled it: Cloud with his sunny smile. Tifa would embrace him from behind, laughing, playfully bossing him around. Davoren occupied a black corner over there, smoking a cigarette smugly. His eyes still made her shiver. Nearby hovered Professor Hojo...reaching out to grab her...his round specs glaring yellow...
And yes. Vincent. She'd thought a lot about him too.
As far as memory stretched, the laboratory had been her only world. Pain and degredation her sole companions. When she escaped that nightmare, she suddenly found herself running into another world, bigger, darker, and completely alien. She knew no one. She had no where to go. It didn't matter. Just run. Run before they catch you.
Then she crashed into him.
She was lost. He found her.
She was crying, cold and afraid. He dried her tears. He embraced her into such wonderful warmth.
She was alone. He offered her understanding and comfort, even hope.
Aeris bristled, frustrated by her own emotions. Didn't he know? With him only she'd felt true security, best of all when he pulled her into bed on that chilly night. During their time together, Vincent had wrapped her in compassion and protection. He gave her a sense of belonging. He made her feel safe. He made her feel happy. And she- fool that she was- built herself a little home around him.
Right now though, could he detect the fear inside of her? That terrible fear of losing him? Anger. Anger also seethed hot within her, at him, at herself, at everything past and present, truths and lies. Hurt. Aeris felt so hurt. All this bitterness she'd confined inside her bosom swelled the longer she thought about it... about him...
And then... then she felt all this.....
"It's her, not you! Not you!!"
Words sharper than daggers. Vincent had bestowed many gifts upon her. But if she had all that, why did she feel so empty and defeated right now? Sure. The one thing she yearned most from him, she knew she could never own.
"And do you hate Lucrecia for that...?"
Fool! What a fool she'd been! Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. This was wrong. Her running away- where was she going anyway? Where did she belong? His coming here, his fighting despite her anxious pleas, despite the odds- wrong! All wrong!!
She'd plenty of time to think about it. She had nothing anymore. Just emotions burning like cinders within her aching heart, and
"...'the truth'...," Aeris whispered to herself.
It's not you! Not you!!
It's never been you!
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
These feelings and ruthless obsessions revolved a hundred times per second inside her head. Many events marked her life- her escape, their chance meeting, Davoren, Vincent's illness, that cunning ambush in the park, and tonight's fiasco. Many secrets she'd learnt- the "experiment" in its grimmest details. Revelations. New insights. And in the end, Aeris had nothing. No strength to uphold her flimsy shack of falsehood. No more reason to hide among futile fantasies. She had nothing. She always had nothing...always will have nothing.
It's not you! Not you!!
It's never been you!
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Ridicule surrounded her, vicious jeers only audible to her ears. Upon the entangled metalwork, atop the tall glass towers sat an invisible crowd of snickering monsters. Different breeds, but all prisoners of the same caste... the same caste she belonged to. Indeed, Aeris felt an intense revulsion at herself; almost ready to claw off her own skin and flesh just to be free.
The mental torture churned over and over forever, though in reality it only endured an awkward minute, during which she forgot the external world, Vincent included. Far from mocking or disgusted, Vincent regarded her in a mixture of puzzlement and genuine concern. As she stood there, a solitary figure, he saw- no- *felt* her distress stir within himself, from the way tension held her stiff, to her sorrowful gaze cast downwards. Her demeanor was definitely not natural.
Still, he remained unsure what to think: had she gone into shock again? She didn't appear so. Rather, she appeared lost in conflict, dazed. There certainly was something burbling inside. Maybe she simply did not know where to begin or where it might end.
What was happening to her? He lingered just a short distance away. But in-between them stretched a wide gulf, his coast dark and rocky, hers stormy with trouble. Deliberately, gently, Vincent reached out for her, ".. Aeris-"
"DON'T CALL ME THAT!!!"
Her sudden shriek cracked like a whip. Just a name, but what a reaction. It struck Vincent stone still in amazement. The girl, now too aware of his presence, recoiled two steps back, impassioned to a hot glow. Her harsh glare spurned both him and that hateful name.
Just a name, but what violence. It confounded him. Never had Vincent beheld a face so distorted by wrath and pain, yet quite as beautiful as hers. Again returned that vague uneasiness, like the ground beneath them was crumbling fast. On one hand, he wanted to soothe her. On the other hand, Vincent dare not advance an inch for fear of provoking her further.
He needn't bother. Just the sight of him right now, bedraggled and pasty sick, fuelled her fire. "The truth, Vincent..," Aeris faltered, actually shaking until she exploded at him, " The truth is I've been so stupid! I never should have run away in the first place! You never should have met me! It's wrong! All wrong! You should have just let Davoren drag me back here long ago... back to the Professor!!"
Vincent was taken aback by these fervid "should's"- was this really "the truth"? Was she... accusing him?
"Do you think it makes me happy looking at you now... wh..watching you throw your life away... all for WHAT?!!" despair wrangled her voice louder as she exclaimed, "I didn't want you to come here! It's useless, Vincent! That's what the Professor said! You can fight him, but you will never change the truth!!"
But the vexed man would no longer tolerate this verbal attack. Vincent stated sternly, "He is wrong."
"No! Everything he said is true! I'm just a piece of garbage. You cannot change that! And I have no place but here! I belong to no one but the Profe-"
"Don't you *dare* spit his words back at me!" snapped Vincent, so sharp it cut Aeris to silence. Beaten under his authority, the girl fixed his eyes downwards again. She clenched her fists, just as fresh tears welled up.
It angered him to hear her- specifically her- repeat Hojo's rants verbatim. He continued, dropping his voice but not its firmness, " I did not come here to fight the Professor or change any truth. Neither means a thing to me," Vincent added even more softly, "I fought to take you back with me."
A tender declaration, followed by a cool pause. Aeris made no immediate response. Instead, she turned slightly away, giving him one side of her face. She didn't appear the least touched either, but contemplative and visibly pained, as though he'd rubbed salt into an open wound long burning upon her breast.
He'd spoken in earnest. She needn't look at him to realize that. Nor did she doubt his intentions. He'd sworn he'd let no one have her. It still struck her how he'd stood that miserable night, upheld by fury when no strength remained. He'd fought through Hell and hardships just to reach her. He came to take her back.
Her. Her. Her. Always her.
A spark of scorn lit Aeris' wet green eyes. She believed him. He had spoken sincerely, but not to her.
She was no longer angry. It didn't matter what she felt or thought anymore, only this one question. With melancholy calmness quite the opposite to her previous outburst, Aeris asked, almost mockingly, "And if I go with you, Vincent, back to that silly pink dream world...what then? Shall I continue pretending to be 'Aeris'?" Every word tasted bitter in her mouth, especially these: "Shall you push me into another woman's shadow and pretend you're protecting her now like you should have years ago?"
Her blunt question, posed so ruefully, received a long, long silence, heavy enough to crush sense itself beneath its weight. Aeris expressed no surprise. She'd expected this answer.
She stood in plain view of this man; Heaven knows how he alone evoked so many emotions within her by his sheer presence, nevermind his touch. The despondent girl waited for nothing to happen. Let it be whatever it be. That seemed the only way to end this fiasco, and she was too tired to go on. Both hands hung loose and empty. Her gaze, hard yet somehow betraying such vulnerability, remained riveted down towards the far side.
No need to speak either. This tranquility said far more. Again those lovely memories floated across her mind... precious memories of a world that now appeared a wild fantasy compared to this reality. Especially those he'd given her. To Aeris, no price could ever buy them. Or all those wonderful feelings. Warmth. Happiness. Compassion. Things she'd never known. Things he'd lavished endlessly on her. Yes, it was a dreamland in there. But none of it was ever meant for her.
Much time had passed since that delirious night. Many events filled the space in-between. Still, Aeris could hear those hurtful words. They cut her to shred more so now than ever before.
She wondered if he heard them too.
But Vincent had also turned slightly away from Aeris in apparent discomfort, her question having disarmed him where all his enemies had failed. Silence hung thickest around him. He bore himself rather stiffly. His head was twisted farthest aside. His avoidant face was shaded and quite morose, as if to look at this girl wrought some inner confrontation. Instead, Vincent compressed his jaw in private meditation.
During this agony of waiting, one could only guess what went on behind that frigid exterior. Did he feel threatened? Ashamed? Did his silence mean denial... or agreement?
The essence of the question couldn't have been new. Not at all. From a troublesome feeling, it must have surfaced several ways, in thoughts, in deeds. Strange though. Each time the actual words began to form, he'd stuff them in a closet at the back of his mind, along with other things collected across the years... things better left unspoken and unresolved. When did it start? This restless drifting between self-doubt and desperation... this obsession to rectify one sin no matter what it cost him or those around him.
The essence of the question couldn't have been new to him. However, to hear it spoken in plain language, and from her mouth no less, somehow sounded... "wrong", like there was still more to it. He must have recalled that terrible night he fell ill. He'd pinned Aeris flat to the floor, and shouted atrocities at her. He could've dismissed it as a madman's rave, called it "unimportant". But would he be deluding himself?
Truth was truth, whether blared in a fit o rage or admitted in perfect grasp of logic. Then why couldn't he answer the question? Was what she'd said... "the truth"? Was it too complicated to find... or so brutally simple that he just did not WANT to find it?
"And so, what will you have me do, Aeris?" Vincent wearily returned her question with another. He glanced askance at her for a solution. He for one didn't know anymore.
Aeris was quiet a moment longer. After all her thinking, she'd reached the way to conclude this night: with nothing. The placid girl didn't look at him- it hurt too much. She closed her eyes and stated clear and steady.
"..I want you to leave me."