I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.44

Darkness spread it's horrible wings across the vast sky, proving itself still ruler of the night. The pearly moon and a bright sea of diamond stars all swirled into this black void. Against such a dark canvas, they tried in vain to light the haunted, grim land below.

The city of Midgar remained silently humble under such a majestic canopy. Not a light flickered through any window; not a soul stirred anywhere. Emptiness re-echoed through the streets. Every shop lingered in bleak shadow. Darkness and tranquility, always the best of friends, wandered the city hand in hand.

The old bridge just beyond the city centre hung in desolate shadow too, even though the glass lanterns on opposite ends fought to light it up. A plain, stony structure, it overlooked an open train-tunnel down below. The stiff iron tracks ran under this bridge and straight through the open tunnel, where they then disappeared underground again. A huge signal gantry arched high over the tracks. Black cables and three orange lights, all dead, festooned this metal framework. Everything was quiet.

When all his strength had crumbled again, and most of the fury calmed once more, Vincent came, or rather staggered to a halt over this bridge. He tiredly slipped Aeris off his shoulder, then slumped back against the stone parapet.

That frenzic rush half-way across the sector had wrecked him. He had spent the last fifteen minutes racing like a madman through deserted streets, at the same time carrying Aeris, and wrestling his wretched illness.

Many times he had nearly stumbled over, or sometimes lunged into alleys he did not know, yet rushed on all the same. Finally, when he believed they had escaped far enough, he had decided to pause a minute on this bridge, if only to catch his breath.

Once Vincent had stopped, the exhaustion crushed him to the point of total unconsciousness. His body writhed against the stone parapet. He covered his mouth with his trembling hand, desperately hoping to control the coughing bout. Fit and fever reveled the delicious flavour of his pain. The poor man could not dispel this sickly giddiness from his head.

Needless to say, Aeris was by his side in a second. She rubbed his heaving chest to ease his breathing, or patted his hot cheeks to keep him awake. He couldn't lose conscious; not now, not when they seemed so close to safety.

The torture continued a few more minutes.

Dizziness had so entangled his battered senses, Vincent's wobbly legs suddenly failed him. The distraught man almost collapsed under his own weight, but luckily, Aeris caught his arm in time. She frantically tried to steady him again.

Yet much to her shock, Vincent angrily shoved her away, then turned his back in cutting resentment. A cold wall of silence immediately sprang up between them.

Aeris gaped blankly at him, bewildered to confusion by that hostile repulsion: he had pushed her away as if loathing her very touch!

Vincent struggled to regain balance by himself, while poor Aeris watched on without a word. He heavily leaned his side against the parapet, but still remained aloof to the anxious girl behind him.

Time dragged by. At last, the fit quenched its vivacious thirst for blood, and slowly receded to a dull pain again. Vincent eagerly smuggled a few breaths through his gasps, which soon died away with the trembling. His heavy head, bowed down up to now, gradually lifted itself up. Sweat poured down his face; blood dripped off his battered arm onto the cobble-stone pavement.

The violent storm had passed. Feeling a bit of strength trickle back into his sore muscles, Vincent finally steadied himself again. Though he stood on both feet now, his claw held onto the parapet for support. Indeed, he still felt slightly dizzy from the hellish fever (not to mention that bloody fight).

He did not turn around, not even a glance to ease the girl's anxiety. The unnatural silence stretched into a long, agonizing minute.

"Why didn't you escape like I told you?" the man asked dryly at last.

Aeris cast her guilty green eyes down. She said nothing.

"Aeris, when I ordered you to run away, why didn't you obey?" he repeated sternly.

More hesitation without a reply.

"Answer me!"

"..I..I c-couldn't..," she faltered, startled by his sharp tone.

There was another awkward pause. Both remained silent, one struggling against a turmoil of emotions, the other coldly detached.

"Do you want to go back to that laboratory?" Vincent asked bluntly all of a sudden.

Aeris started at the strange question, more at the vexed tenseness of his cool voice. She fumbled nervously.

"Do you want to go back to the Professor?"


"Then why did you come back?" he interrupted coldly, the irritation suddenly turning to restrained vehemence, "He almost had you, Aeris. He was going to return you to the laboratory...right back to the Professor."

"..but he..," she protested meekly, "..he promised not to kill you if..if I..."

"And you *actually* trusted his word?!" Vincent retorted aloud. Without warning, he swung around, and glared at the frightened girl straight in the eye.

Poor Aeris shrunk a step away, torn by grief and shame. She found his face unnaturally cold, especially in this bleak shadow: his eyes flashed like rubies under knit brows. An ominous scowl darkened his haggard face. Vincent towered over the guilty girl, his anger drilling right into her shaking heart. In return, Aeris hung her head without a word.

"There was no room for compromise..none!" Vincent scolded quite severely, "He would have killed me in either case, whether you surrendered or not. He'd never spare my life. He wants me dead, and ONLY dead!"

Aeris couldn't defend herself against this bitter rebuke, nor would the anxious tears stop from flooding her eyes. So many emotions tumbled inside of her, yet failed to turn to words.

"I told you to run away," Vincent insisted, "I said I couldn't protect you anymore. I left you back there, all that time sure you've escaped. But then not only do you return, you give yourself over to him! Why did you come back?"

Though his voice was neither loud nor wild, the girl could not bear his resentful tone any longer.

"Because I didn't want to see you die!!" she cried as she buried her misery into both shaking hands. Aeris turned slightly away, then sobbed out, "When...when Davoren said he'd spare your life...I didn't really believe him. I saw the lie on his face. But..inside of me, I hoped he'd keep his word. I'd have done anything he asked....I.. I just didn't..."

Rage seethed inside of Vincent as he listened to this woeful outpouring of tenderness. Without heed or pity, he cut her short by grabbing her arm, then roughly yanked her towards him, where only a few inches of air separated their faces. Aeris blinked confusedly back at him, her wild distress growing all the more obvious. Her arm trembled non-stop in his tight grip.

"You've certainly got nerve, little girl," Vincent murmured in such a low, cold voice as he studied her face, "You spend your nights crying in bed about how much you never want to go back...how badly you want to feel safe. And then, when you get the chance, you rush straight back to get captured."

"I DON'T CARE!!!!" she angrily screamed back.

A surprised silence followed.

She stood in his tight grip, breathless with her own passionate outburst. Vincent withdrew his face an inch away, then silently watched her fight a futile battle against tears. In truth, the violence in her voice had somewhat surprised him.

"..y-you had no right to push me away like that..," Aeris reproached him bitterly, feeling the misery pour from her bosom, "..back there in the forest..you had no right to shout in my face, and tell me to leave, when you knew I wanted to stay."

Vincent only loosened his grip on her arm as a response.

Aeris swallowed a heartful of sobs before continuing in a soft, quivering voice, "I..tried to run away like you ordered me..I really did.... but there were all these gunshots in the air..they were all so loud. And..and all I could see was Davoren murdering you...ripping you to pieces, with those horrible pink eyes of his just laughing at you.."

The vivid picture redoubled her wretched ordeal. Aeris suddenly looked up at the man, her whole face contorted with pain.

"That's all I saw...and I couldn't run anymore!!" She cried in anguish, "You were asking too much of me, Vincent! I had to come back!!"

Vincent said nothing. His expression was perfectly stoic, betraying not a twinge of emotion. However, his thoughtful eyes dwelled very keenly on the girl's miserable face.

"I don't want to go back to the Professor....I never want to go back there ever again," Aeris whimpered to herself softly, "But Vincent, I'd rather go back there than lose you.......you mean much more to me than...than anything else I...."

He did not let her finish. Vincent gently drew her closer, and embraced her all to himself. Aeris buried her face into his chest without any resistance. She immediately dissolved into hot tears.

Both Vincent's arm and claw pressed her dearly, with his head bowed down against her shaking shoulder. The more distraught she became, the more protectively he hugged her, until he could feel her pitiful heart pound against his. He even began to cradle her in hopes of soothing her tearful agitation.

"Shh...it doesn't matter anymore, Aeris," he whispered as he stroked her hair, "It doesn't matter. He's dead. He's dead."

Yes, Davoren was dead. It meant she could rest a bit easier now, knowing no white-haired monster would ever hunt her down again. It meant, at least for now, no one would try to drag her away. Davoren was dead, himself alive, and the girl here and safe.

Yet at the same time, some vague, troublesome feeling pestered Vincent as he beheld Aeris weep in his arms. His fingers paused midway through her hair; his eyes became engrossed in some obscure, gloomy contemplation. However, he soon shoved this ominous thought far away from his weary mind. They were safe now; nothing else mattered.

Though surrounded all around by ghostly darkness and death-like silence, the two lingered a long time on this lonely bridge. At last, when Aeris had calmed down again, Vincent slowly released her. The mollified girl rubbed her tearful, downcast eyes with many soft sniffles. She was exhausted, but nevertheless soothed after her cry.

Vincent checked her another moment just to make sure she was alright, then tiredly slumped sideways against the parapet again. He too felt wretchedly drained and tired.

"Let's go home," he suggested gently.

Aeris glanced up at him, then smiled in consent. She helped steady Vincent back onto his feet, who now found it painfully impossible to walk without her support. When ready, they turned around to finish the long journey homeward.

No sooner had they turned than they both froze solid, as if struck by lightning.

No words could describe Vincent's blank shock or Aeris' dumbfounded horror. There they stood rooted to the spot, gaping back at a vicious pair of pink eyes.

Not an illusion, not a ghost. Davoren stood at the very head of the bridge, only a short distance infront of them.

-End of Chp.44