I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.4

When she opened her eyes, the girl realized that she was in a very warm bed. Aeris (she *did* look like Aeris) blinked slowly for a few moments.

It's so quiet, she thought, and so warm.

She slowly sat up in bed, wondering where she was. Two thick blankets and a quilt covered her. She saw on the table next to the bed a white basin of cool water and a folded towel.

The room was dimly lit, but she could see that it was very small. A desk and a bookcase humbly occupied one corner, while the closet stood in front of the bed. Near the desk was a closed window overlooking the street below. It was getting dark outside and the snow fell quietly.

"Wh..where am I??" she whispered.

She immediately jumped out of bed, but froze on the spot when noticing something peculiar: someone had changed her clothes while she was asleep! She was dressed only in a black, long-sleeved wooly shirt that barely managed to cover her thighs. Also, the shirt was too big for her slender body; one side constantly fell off her shoulder because the collar was too wide.

She fingered it suspiciously. Even the sleeves were too long for her arms.

"Why, this is a MAN's shirt!!" she cried aloud.

Aeris turned red at the thought that perhaps a *man* had undressed her and clothed her in his shirt. Looking around the room again, she hoped to discover an answer, but found nothing.

Sighing in annoyance, she walked to the door. Aeris cautiously opened it, then peeked to see what was there.

An apartment, she thought.

She was, indeed, in an apartment, but the silence weighed on the place so heavily, Aeris dared not make a sound. Nevertheless, she stepped forward, determined to explore this strange place.

The apartment, as she soon discovered, consisted of only four rooms, all connected by a hallway stretched in the middle. Judging from the size of the apartment, Aeris guessed that only one person lived here, two at most.

She was particularly struck by the amount of books in the living room. The two bookcases that covered an entire wall were absolutely crammed with books of all sorts. Some were even placed on the table infront of the couch.

When she reached the entrance of the kitchen, Aeris stood at it, but did not enter. It was small, with a wooden table and two chairs placed in the center. Perceiving something on the table, Aeris walked up to check it, not without some uneasiness.

A disassembled gun lay on a white handkerchief, with several of its pieces surrounding it neatly. A bottle full of a yellow liquid stood near the gun.

Aeris picked up the gun, then examined it with extreme curiosity. She wondered who could own such a cold, grim weapon.

As if answering her question, a sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears. A sudden panic gripped her heart. She couldn't quite explain why, but this unreasonable terror made her listen intently as the footsteps grew closer and louder.

When the footsteps stopped, Aeris heard a slight rattle at the doorknob, as though a key was being placed in it. She dropped the gun and rushed to the hall, clasping both her hands over her heart in anticipation.

Vincent swung the door open and staggered in with a bag full of groceries. After removing the key, he shut the door again. Coughing a bit, he stomped his feet and brushed some snow off his black overcoat while still holding the bag.

On noticing Aeris standing in the hallway, he finally turned around. But Aeris jumped back in alarm when she met his eyes. It never occurred to her that *this* man who had pursued her in the alley was the one who brought her here. What struck her more strange was the fright she felt the minute that man noticed her.

"Oh, so you woke up, huh?" he asked calmly.

She wanted to answer, but her voice failed her. When she realized that Vincent had walked up to her and was touching her forehead with his hand, she sprang back apprehensively.

"Who..who are you?!!" she finally cried.

Vincent looked at her very thoughtfully, but did not advance towards her. She glared back at him with mistrust and confusion.

"Do you remember me?" he inquired.

"Y..yes..you're that man who shot those men in the alley."

"No, I mean do you remember me from before?"

She fidgeted at her big shirt nervously before making any reply.

"No..I've never seen you before..I don't remember.."

Vincent narrowed his eyes as he studied her face, which made Aeris blush in embarrassment. But he soon brushed past her and stepped into the kitchen. He dumped the burdensome bag on the counter and began unloading it.

Though she wouldn't dare come near him, Aeris curiously examined Vincent from the door. She remembered him fully now, but didn't recall his face clearly because it was so dark when they met.

He struck her as very handsome, but extremely cold. Furthermore, though his facial features were quite dignified, he seemed strangely out of place; almost as if he didn't belong here. His thick, long black hair contrasted sharply with his pale skin and bloody-red eyes.

He's like a monster..or some demon, Aeris noted as she observed him from the door.

She spotted his iron claw glitter as he threw a roll of French bread into the bread basket, and shivered in spite of herself. She instantly remembered how cold it felt on her mouth.

I wonder why he bothered saving me, she thought.

"Hey," he said, turning to her from the counter, "You want something to eat?"

Aeris blinked at him in surprise, but remained silent by the door. Vincent gave her an odd look, as if wondering whether she understood him or not, then turned his back to her again.

She didn't know what he was doing, as he began pouring water into a pot and turning some dial. He then ripped some packet open and poured its contents into the pot.

Not once did Vincent turn around, but Aeris knew he didn't need to; he could still see her behind him.

When he finally finished, Vincent placed a small, steaming bowl of soup on the table. He took off his coat, tossed it on the counter carelessly, then sank into the chair in front of the disassembled gun. Aeris looked at him mistrustfully.

"If you're hungry, you can drink that," he said coolly, indicating the soup. He picked up the gun and examined it carefully.

She remained near the door for a few moments, then stepped cautiously into the kitchen. Vincent, however, ignored her and squirted some of the bottle's liquid on a piece of cotton. He began rubbing the muzzle of the gun.

She stood facing Vincent, in front of the bowl of the soup. Despite the suspicious look she gave him, he continued to clean the gun. Sitting down, Aeris slowly picked up the bowl. Vincent glanced at her as he squirted more of the liquid on the cotton; but otherwise, he paid no attention to her.

"Mm! This is delicious!!" she exclaimed after she took a sip. She gulped the whole soup at once, and smiled delightedly. Vincent picked up another gun part and cleaned it silently.

"You're an excellent cook!" she praised.

"I only boiled the water," he replied, not looking at her, "anybody can make soup if it comes from a packet."

Aeris smiled at him more trustfully. He did appear frightening, but she felt sure he meant her no harm.

"What's your name?" she asked timidly.

"Vincent. Vincent Valentine."

"Vincent Valentine.." she repeated in a whisper.

He looked up at her significantly, and she felt her face turn crimson: she did not feel comfortable when he scrutinized her so intently.

"And...you called me 'Aeris'...right?"

"Yes," he answered, fitting a tight spring into the top of the gun.


"What's your name?"

"I don't have a name, really. Um..they sometimes call me 'girl' or 'A-25'."

"Who are 'they'?"

Aeris was silent for some minutes. As she bent her head thoughtfully, some of her loose, thick curls fell on her face and bare shoulder. Vincent was surprised he never noticed before how pretty Aeris was.

"The guards..and the Professor. They call me that.."

"What Professor?" he asked, assembling his gun indifferently. Aeris was impressed how easily and quickly he fitted the gun parts together; he wasn't even looking at what he was doing. She realized that Vincent was no amateur, but had complete mastery over that gun.

Vincent loaded the gun with a loud click, which startled Aeris. He looked her straight in the face, expecting an answer.

"I..I don't know him. I never saw him," she stammered, "but he does all these ...things to me. Things that hurt me. So, I just ran away last night.."

"Three days ago."

"Huh?" she looked up quizzically.

"It's been three days since you've escaped. You've had a severe fever for the last three days because you weren't dressed warmly, and went running around in the cold."

"Oh," she said quietly. She felt her cheeks flush red as she lowered her eyes bashfully, "then, I suppose *you* undressed me and put this shirt on me."

Vincent understood why she blushed, and turned his head away.

"Ah.." he answered, with a slight cough, "you must understand, Aeris, your clothes were drenched, so I had to remove them."

She looked up at him, and thought she saw him blushing slightly too; but she couldn't be too sure.

"Sorry the shirt's too big for you," he apologized, "It was the only clean one I had at the time."

"It's alright," she smiled kindly," I still have to thank you for saving me and taking care of me. Thank you, Vincent."

She bowed her head gratefully. Vincent seemed slightly embarrassed as he scratched the back of his head nervously.

"No problem," he muttered.

"Now," she began after a slight pause, "can you tell me why you keep on calling me 'Aeris'?"

"Yes. About a year ago, I knew a young girl named Aeris. We weren't intimate, mind you. In fact, she barely knew my name."

"Hm..and this Aeris..she looked exactly like me?"

"Yes. However, she died about a year ago."

For some reason, Aeris kept her eyes downcast, even though she knew Vincent's eyes were fixed on her. She began feeling very uneasy.

"Maybe...," she faltered, "maybe she never died.."

"Impossible. A man stabbed her with a sword right through her chest. She couldn't have survived."

Suddenly, Aeris jumped out of her chair and stared at Vincent sharply. Something immediately struck her.

"I have a scar on my back and chest..is that where I got them?! Some man stabbed me with a sword?! You saw the scar when you were dressing me, didn't you?!!"

"Yes, I did," he replied calmly.

"Then..how come I'm standing here, when I should be dead? You..you say I'm dead..but I...."

Vincent got up and moved towards her, but she ran away to the far corner of the kitchen, giving him a dirty look.

"And how do I know you're not lying? How do I know you're not just trying to confuse me?" she glared at him. Vincent listened to her, but did not advance towards her.

"Heh!" she laughed nervously, "You could be with that Professor!! He's always saying things like that. 'Girl,' he'd say, 'it's such a shame you died..but never mind!' or he'd say, 'You're perfect..just like Aeris!'..I..I.."

She gasped for breath, but still fixed her eyes on Vincent with increasing suspicion. He had remained silently rooted to his spot by the chair, staring intensely at her face.

"I don't remember anything," she continued, "I don't remember having friends like you..I don't remember my parents..or what I did last year..Vincent, I couldn't even remember my name!"

"Aeris..listen to.."

"I'M NOT AERIS, DAMN YOU!!" she screamed.

"Yes, yes you are," he replied, "just listen to me.."

"Let me out!! I don't want to go back to that Professor!!!"

Sweat broke out on her forehead as she yelled. Despite the burning sensation on her face, her body felt very cold. She began shivering involuntarily and grew unsteady on her feet. Vincent looked at her in alarm.

"Let me go...let me go..." she whispered tiredly.

But Vincent was by her side in two steps and picked her up quickly. He carried her back to the bed then covered her with the blankets. Aeris steadily regained self-control, but her face still felt so unbearably hot.

"Aeris," he whispered, sitting near her on the bed, "you should sleep a bit now. The fever's worn off, but you could have a relapse." He soaked the towel into the basin and wiped it gently on her forehead and cheeks.

"I know you're feeling confused now, but you should realize that I'm not connected with this 'Professor', do you understand?"

Aeris looked at him wearily, but understood him.

"You hardly know me, so it would be unfair to ask you trust me," he continued, "but two of your friends will come here in a little while. Maybe they can help you find an answer. Now, go to sleep."

Aeris turned her back to him and shut her eyes. Picking up the basin and towel, Vincent walked out of the room. He closed the door quietly.

As she lay in bed, Aeris drifted into deep thought. She recalled that she ran away from the Laboratory...was pursued...and then this strange man claims he knows her...and that she died, or should've died, a year ago. But she couldn't remember any of that! Not one single memory from the past. It seemed to her she had always lived in the lab...but how when...

She threw the covers over her head, trying to stop all those thoughts from bombarding her brain. In one minute, she was fast asleep.

-End of Chp.4