Chapter Twenty-Four: Temptation at Every Turn
Reno sighed as he kicked at a piece of debris. It connected with his foot and shot against the far wall, clattering as it did so. It came as no surprise when he found that still didn’t satisfy him. He was both annoyed and angry.
There was nothing there; it had all been cleared out. No dark-haired bitch and no brainless henchmen. Tifa and her goons must have disappeared elsewhere once he escaped. He regretted not doing something to detain them at the time but knew that saving Wutai had taken precedence. Some things were just more important.
After the battle against Daunte and the hordes of monsters, which he only drove away and did not kill, Reno had been celebrated as a hero by the surviving population. Godo made him an ‘honorary taijo’, whatever the hell that was. Reno was just glad that he had survived. The Wutaiians seemed to share the same feeling.
After a meal and some much needed sleep, not to mention several futile attempts to make a phone call, Reno decided to return to the underground building where he had been held. As expected, it had been abandoned. It looked like the red-haired Turk would have to find them again for his revenge. They hadn’t even left any clues behind as to where they had gone either, making things even more difficult than before.
The small contingent of Wutaiian soldiers that had been made to accompany him poked around restlessly obviously bored. There were only about seven or eight of them, most looking as if they were newly recruited. Some had already started to talk in low voices, undoubtedly spreading more rumors as those in groups tended to do. The newest topics seemed to be the attack, himself, and even a few rumors about one Miss Yuffie Kisaragi.
Reno agreed wholeheartedly that it was boring and was about to call for everyone to return to Wutai when he heard his name being screeched along the walls of the abandoned base. The words bounced along the hall, gaining in volume as they reached his ears and rattled within his ear drums. He recognized the tone almost immediately and unconsciously gulped.
The Turk winced and sighed, momentarily wishing there was a rock for him to crawl under or that the ground would just widen and swallow him whole. Anything was better than having to deal with what was coming around the bend. He felt his aggravation level spike up another notch, but alas, there was not another rock in sight to kick. Along with fame and high regard, the Turk had also received an unwanted bonus… if that was what it could be called.
“Reno-sempai! Reno-sempai! News from Wutai!”
The ranks easily parted for the young woman as she rushed to where he stood. Iliana was his biggest fan and followed him around starry-eyed; she had yet to take any hints. She was beautiful with her long, dark Wutaiian hair and big, brown eyes, but his heart belonged to Reeve – no matter how tempted he was. Not to mention, Iliana was best friends with Yuffie. If anything that was a definite turn off. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the little ninja, she was actually quite a spunky female, but she did have the tendency to be quite annoying.
He waited patiently until the younger woman ran to his side, looking as if she had sprinted all the way from Wutai to him. He wouldn’t put it past her. In her hand, she clutched a communications sheet from the old radio tower that was receiving some sort of signal. It had been restricted to business communication, however, and not even Reno could get in to use it, no matter how sweetly he spoke or flirted. He couldn’t help but be worried for Reeve, knowing in truth that the attacks had not been limited to Wutai because otherwise his attempts at communication would have been more fruitful.
“Lord Godo gasp message gasp for you,” Iliana managed to get out before collapsing on her ass to the floor, panting heavily and handing him the sheet of paper. Her face was flushed although her brown eyes sparkled happily. She was ecstatic to get to be around her ‘sempai’ once more. Reno had to fight down a sigh.
He flashed her one of his charming smiles because she had worked so diligently to bring him the message. “Thank you,” he said simply before taking the missive from her hands. She beamed up at him, still somewhat panting. He hoped that he hadn’t inadvertently encouraged her.
Aquamarine eyes scanned quickly over the short yet effective words. His heart couldn’t help but pick up a beat from what he read. He had been extremely concerned when communications were down. The Turk worried that other places had been attacked as well. He knew Reeve could take care of himself but knowing how things were when he left…
Reno feared that they wouldn’t be able to see each other again, that the final words they had shouted would be the last they ever shared. He wasn’t normally that cynical, but something about the events brought out the negative in him. Yet, reading the missive, he found he could breathe a sigh of relief.
Reeve was coming to Wutai.
The executive was actually coming after him. The message was simple and obviously addressed to Godo and not himself. Perhaps Reeve wanted to surprise him? Then again, his helicopter had crashed, and he was held for ransom in some random underground base. Hell, he would have been worried, too. So was the amber-eyed man only coming because he was concerned… or because he truly understood why the Turk had left in the first place?
Sighing, Reno shook his head to clear his thoughts, looking up to see everyone in the base looking up at him expectantly, waiting for further orders. He folded up the paper slowly and shoved it into his back pocket before shooting them all one of his famous Reno smiles.
“Let’s get the hell out of here, yo,” he calmly ordered as he moved past most of them, heading towards the ladder that was the exit. “This place is boring as fuck.”
There was a general murmur of agreement as they began to follow him out. Pattering footsteps, the feeling of a presence, and Reno knew that Iliana now walked at his side, beaming up at him like some kind of stalker. He wondered how he could make her leave him alone without being rude or hurting her feelings. She was a sweet girl and really he was flattered by all the attention, but damn, she needed to move on and do something else.
There was a childish giggle in the back of his mind. (Hee! Kitty’s coming to Wutai. I told you he would.)
Reno gave the equivalent of a mental headshake at his anima. ‘Even you call him Kitty? Reeve’s going to be pissed.’
Asclepius laughed. (No, he won’t. He secretly finds the nickname cute.)
‘And you would know that how? He got all pissy when I teasingly called him it,’ Reno countered easily, resisting the urge to cross his arms and frown physically. If he did the Wutaiian soldiers and Iliana might think him mad. They were already awed by his control of his “summon” and didn’t know of the true connection the two shared.
The Turk secretly feared that if he were to reveal Asclepius in his true form, someone somewhere would get word and drag him off to be poked, prodded and tested on.
Reno had had enough of that when he had been ordered to help that damn scientist Hojo. Why ShinRa allowed him to stick whoever the hell he wanted with needles was beyond the Turk’s comprehension. The man was seriously sick and needed a good ass-kicking, which he eventually had received. Heh, good going Cid. The pilot deserved a pat on the back for that one.
(Seiryu told me,) explained the demi-god, as if that explained everything completely. (What are you going to do, yo?) The little summon snickered.
Reno frowned. ‘Do?’
Asclepius giggled again, the sound much like that of many wind chimes on a lazy summer day. Yeah, the Turk was somewhat of a poet at times. Even he had his days.
(You know what I mean… don’t act stupid.)
He was about to speak when another voice pulled him from his internal argument with his anima. He blinked and tried to focus on the sound.
“Huh?” he questioned, sounding very brilliant indeed.
“Was the message important, sempai?” Iliana questioned again, having no problems with have to repeat herself. “I didn’t read it. I thought it personal; was it about the battle?”
The scarlet-haired Turk turned his attention down towards the brown-eyed girl. She was looking up at him expectantly, an interested look to her face as she idly twirled a small dagger on her finger. She was quite adept with her hands, and Reno made a mental note to watch his materia around her. Iliana was friends with Yuffie after all.
“It was important,” he conceded and answered vaguely as he looked around. They had come out of the base and were slowly making their way back towards Wutai. A few of the soldiers were on alert, but most were calmly joking between themselves, already speaking of the food and drink that was hopefully waiting for them. Although most of the Turtle’s Paradise had been destroyed in the blaze, as well as many of the restaurants, a few had remained standing and were currently to full capacity trying to feed everyone.
“Oh,” the girl responded. “Then it was private?”
The Turk nodded in answer and turned away from her. She was a beautiful girl, yet to be unwed, and it was approaching that time for her in her life. Perhaps that was why she had attached herself to him? If he hadn’t already belonged to someone else… he might have been severely tempted. The old Reno wouldn’t have even waited – the Reno he was before he met Reeve wouldn’t have thought twice before giving her a try, but that was behind him now.
So what was he going to do? Wait patiently for the executive to show up? Would he demand an apology or just grab him and never let go? What if Reeve still didn’t understand? Those questions and more began to float in his mind; he found a small frown making its way to his face.
Asclepius shifted restlessly in his mind and made little coughing sounds, as if trying to get back his attention.
‘What?’ he questioned internally.
The demi-god sighed. (I know it seems that there is peace right now but don’t get too relaxed.)
Reno snorted within his mind. ‘Like I could right now. I’m so on edge, I’m probably gonna snap.’ It wasn’t a lie either. He was completely worried about Reeve, concerned as to why Wutai had been attacked, and Tifa was still missing, undoubtedly off planning some other dastardly deed.
The red-haired Turk sighed softly and turned his attentions back to where he was walking, not wanting to trip on a random rock or something and make a complete fool out of himself. Wutai was just over the next rise. Most of the soldiers had gone on ahead, leaving Iliana and him behind. Hmph. No surprise there; it had been exceedingly boring searching that base. Reno even considered joining them at the bar. He could really use a shot of vodka.
“Is something the matter, Reno-sempai?” Iliana queried, placing a hand on his arm and pulling him out of his thoughts.
He shook his head negatively and slowly extricated himself from her grasp. “Shouldn’t you be going home? I mean, I’m sure your father is worried about you or something, yo…” The red head trailed off, trying to get her to leave him alone with hurting her feelings.
Her happy face fell for just a moment, and he swore he saw her eyes tearing up just a little. Reno sighed. ‘Ah, hell, I think I made her cry,’ he thought, somewhat annoyed.
“You don’t want me hanging around you anymore?” she questioned in a voice that was as pitiful as the look on her face, slowly twisting her hands together worriedly.
“Look,” began Reno patiently. “It’s not that, really. I just think your father might be worried, that’s all.”
(Lies, lies, oh the webs we weave.) Asclepius giggled. (She’s playing you like an instrument.)
‘Shut up,’ retorted the Turk internally as he returned his attentions to Iliana, surprised to find that her expression had changed once more from sadness to utter delight.
“I’m glad, because I really admire you,” she said, an honest look in her eyes. “I mean, you took on all those monsters all by yourself. I’ve never seen anyone braver in my entire life, except perhaps Miss Yuffie, but you know…” she trailed off, leaving the rest open to interpretation.
Reno flushed under the attention, which was uncommon for him. For a single moment, he let his guard down. “I appreciate the attention, Iliana, but… mmph!” His words were cut off when the young Wutaiian girl suddenly threw herself at him and into his arms, overtaking his mouth with her own and aggressively kissing him.
He was too shocked to do more than accept it for the brief moment that it occurred. She was soft against him, all curves as a woman should be and smelling faintly of gardenias… don’t ask him how he knew of flowers.
It was different kissing her than kissing Reeve. She was quite unskilled, almost as if she had never pressed lips with anyone before, and she kept biting on his lower lips.
Finally, she pulled back after what could have only been a second and looked into his eyes, a slight blush staining her cheeks. “I’ve been wanting to do that…” she breathed softly.
His senses struck him then, with all the force of a bullet and he quickly but gently extricated himself from her grasp and put a few feet of distance between them. She gave him a confused look with a bit of hurt mixed in.
Reno put his hand to his forehead, feeling a headache come on as he sighed. “You are a nice girl, Iliana, and I am flattered by your attentions, but I am engaged,” he said quickly, wanting to get it all out and explained before she had a chance to protest him. “I am in love with someone else.”
“But she can’t possibly be treating you right,” the girl argued. “After all, you are here alone, and you look sad all the time…” she trailed off. “You would make a great addition to my family, and we would celebrate you as a hero, and father says that it’s my duty to marry someone of great worth…”
The Turk rubbed his forehead with his fingers seeming very much like Tseng in that moment and exhaled slowly. “He… Iliana, he! I have been with Reeve for years, and I love him. Yes, I’m mad at him, but I’m not about to leave him.”
“Him?” questioned Iliana, eyes widening in surprise. “Yo… you’re gay? But you seemed so… straight?”
(I can’t believe she couldn’t take the hint before, yo.) Asclepius snickered laughing internally. The Turk attempted to ignore his anima, hissing internally at him to be quiet while he solved this mess.
Reno opened his mouth to reply when the angry roar of a monster interrupted. Immediately, his eyes turned towards the sky, and his face blanched. Five flying monsters were circling the town of Wutai as if deciding the best place to land. They were of a type he didn’t recognize though the very sight of them chilled him to the bone.
These creatures were much larger the dragons in the Northern Crater and he could make out claws and spikes that were definitely painful looking. And there was none to defend Wutai, but Asclepius and he.
“Wha… what are they?” stuttered Iliana, fear evident in her voice.
Reno shook his head. “I don’t know…” he trailed off, unable to think of anything else of worth to add.
The creatures continued to circle, occasionally taking nips at each other. He couldn’t help but wonder what they had planned and if they were going to attack. Either way, the Turk knew he had to act fast.
“Iliana, go home!” he ordered quickly before taking off at a dead run towards Wutai, automatically calling for Asclepius as he did so. The air shimmered beside him as the human form of the demi-god began to take shape.
Behind him, the young Wutaiian was nodding numbly as she darted towards her home; all thoughts of ravishing Reno were gone from her mind in the wake of her fear.
“They are the Bandragores,” intoned Asclepius as his form finally became fully shape beside his animus. The green-haired teenager was easily keeping up with the red-haired Turk. “The guardians of the gate… I don’t know how they came to be on this plane. They shouldn’t even be allowed to materialize in this sphere.”
Reno just looked at him blankly, uncomprehending his words, as if they had been spoken in another language. He had never heard of the Bandragores. And gate? What kind of fucking gate was the demi-god talking about?
The Turk looked once more to the sky, eyes locked on the five circling creatures. They looked like a cross between a Dragon Zombie and Cerberus with two heads, a skeletal body, and covered in a slimy looking hide that was black and mottled with spines, which seemed to glisten with poison. He couldn’t help the shiver of mild apprehension and fear that traced down his back.
A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked to the west, his eyes widening in surprise as he paled even further. He stumbled in his step as his heart began to beat faster with fear.
It was the Highwind… heading straight for Wutai and the circling beasts above.
The building carried the heavy smells of antiseptic and sickness, underlain with the bitter, coppery scent of blood. Coughing and slight moans of pain filled the air. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging place, this abandoned building that had been hurriedly cleaned and turned into a makeshift healing center.
After the attack of the monsters on Midgar, many wounded were left behind. Reeve had roused what few soldiers ShinRa had left, as well as the Turks and gave them many tasks, including getting the injured some aid. However, that was over a day earlier and most had been treated or seen by a doctor. Most injuries ranged from the worst to simple cuts and bruises.
Throughout the pain and agony, a calming presence moved with soothing hands and a gentle spirit. She had a kind voice and words of encouragement. Her presence often brought a healing wave to those who received her care.
“Even though I can’t fight, I can be helpful in this much at least,” murmured Aeris as she gently retied a bandage around the leg of a child, who couldn’t have been more than eight. He whimpered in his sleep, nightmares most likely, and she pressed a calming palm to his forehead.
Although her flower shop had emerged from the battle unscathed, she had felt she could be more useful helping the wounded. She left it in the care of her employees, trusting them enough to be able to handle it. It’s not as if they really needed the money anyways, it was more of a spirit-lifter than anything else.
Cloud sighed from where he was standing behind her. “Is it such a terrible thing? To not have to fight?”
“It’s not that I want to,” retorted Aeris as she moved on to the next patient, an older woman with broken ribs. “I just don’t want to stand idly by. Have you spoken to Barret?”
The blond-haired man blinked for a moment at his wife’s sudden change of topic. “Eh… a few hours ago, but North Corel’s been left pretty much alone. If I can, I want it to remain that way.”
Aeris turned and eyed her husband, eye twinkling. “You want to fight, don’t you?”
He frowned slightly and shook his head. “What does that have to do with anything? You know I’m going to stay here with you.”
The auburn-haired woman sighed as she turned her attentions to the patient. “How are you feeling today, Mrs. Adams? Are your ribs still giving you pain?” Her cool and gentle fingers carefully pressed around the bandaging, checking to make sure that everything was still in place before she attempted a healing spell.
As the elderly woman spoke, Aeris allowed her mind to wander. Yesterday evening she had cast so many Cures and handed out so many potions that she had nearly passed out from exhaustion and magic depletion. Cloud had been forced to physically remove her from the hospital. She had wanted to stay and help them. There weren’t enough healers to go around, and so many people were still in pain. She couldn’t fight, not at six months pregnant and still going, but she was still a healer.
(I do not understand my animus. Why your heart is filled with sorrow?) came the soft voice of Hephaestion. He was one of the many constants in her life. She had always been able to hear her anima, even through the voices of the Ancients and the Planet. He was her first true friend.
‘He thinks I do not know how much he misses being a soldier. After all, it was all he dreamed of as a boy and all he knew after joining ShinRa. As if a life of peace would truly be what he wanted. He wants to fight.’
(He is also ignoring Iblion. We don’t have that much time. We cannot afford for any of the twelve to be unconnected.) Aeris conceded an agreement with her anima and sighed internally.
It was then that she heard Cloud shift behind her and come up to her side, his presence easily distinguishable from others behind her. She tucked the last bit of bandages around Mrs. Adams and carefully poured into her body a simple Cure before turning to address her husband.
“Why are you still ignoring his voice?” she questioned, locking gazes with her somewhat taller husband. His own eyes widened in momentary surprise before it seemed he shut down inside, and his gaze shifted away from her probing look.
“Ignoring who?” he mumbled, gathering up their supplies and preparing to move to the next patient as Mrs. Adams smiled up at them, already falling into a comforting healing sleep brought about by the calming effect of the Cure that Aeris had input into the magic.
The flower-girl sighed and absentmindedly rubbed her belly. “Hephaestion tells me your anima has been trying to speak to you ever since the crater… why haven’t you told me?”
Cloud shrugged off-handedly. “You should be able to guess. Voices in my head don’t exactly make me feel as if I’ve gotten rid of her.”
There was no need to say aloud who the blond meant when he said “her.” The name Jenova was like a curse on the lips of those who had fought against Sephiroth. That foul alien from the stars was behind all of their suffering, Hojo and her both. From the burning of Nibelheim to the battle to stop Meteor, all could be traced back to Jenova.
He sighed before she could respond and spoke again. “Besides… it’s all jumbled, and sometimes I would swear there was more than one voice…” His eyes looked somewhat haunted as he appeared to relieve the words that fluttered through his mind and heart.
The slight look of perturbation on Aeris’ face softened, and she grabbed her husband by the arm, quickly dragging him into one of the shadowed alcoves of the makeshift hospital so that they could speak away from the prying eyes of those patients that were actually awake. It was darkened there, only a bit of light shining in from a dirty, cracked window and partially hidden by a stone column that was once decorated but now a forgotten remnant of whatever the building had once been before Meteor.
Once hidden by the shadows and the column, the ex-SOLDIER drew his wife into his arms and held her close. She melted into his touch, his arms around her as comforting as they always were, and for an instant, she was reminded of that moment right before they left to defeat Sephiroth, lying on his bed in the Highwind when he gave her the promise ring.
“How do I know I can trust… it?” Cloud questioned softly, idly stroking her hair as he did so.
She heard the rumble of his voice and felt it in his chest as her cheek rested on his shoulder. “Instead of pushing the words away, listen to what they are saying. You might find you may have already known.” Her words were somewhat enigmatic, but that was the best way she could describe the feeling of learning to understand the anima. It was like that for her with Hephaestion when he first spoke. It was like coming home or meeting a friend she hadn’t seen in a long while.
“… I will try then,” he conceded, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head.
“I know you want to fight,” Aeris responded softly, bringing back the conversation to where it had been minutes earlier. “And I understand your reasons.”
He sighed. “I just want to protect you.” One of his hands moved to her belly, lying gently on the small mound. “And our future as well.”
“Things aren’t going to be simple anymore,” intoned the flower-girl. “The enemy must find it amusing to give us those six months of semi-peace before snatching it out from under us by complete surprise.”
The blond didn’t reply, having nothing to say in response. Instead, he chose to hold her closer and stared unseeing out the dingy and broken window, barely catching a hint of the sky above.
He had felt it, too, not long before the first attack. The restless shifting of the air in the world, as if something even more worrisome and terrifying than Sephiroth was about to occur. He had hoped for quiet after saving the world. He had wanted to see everyone he knew happy now that the threat of the former General was gone and done with. However, it seemed that dream wasn’t meant to come true.
“Oh!” exclaimed Cloud suddenly, a bright smile breaking out on his face. “She kicked me!”
Aeris laughed. “I think she’s trying to say that she agrees with you. Have you any ideas for a name yet?”
The blond nodded. “I was thinking Midori…”
“Anything special about that name in particular?”
He smiled faintly as he stroked his wife’s belly and shared a kiss with her. “It was my mother’s name.”
Jade eyes shone happily. “Then it’s perfect. Now how about we go back and help the rest of these patients before we stop by the orphanage?”
Cloud sighed exaggeratedly and acted the part of a weary slave. “I shall never rest. Always work, work, work… oh, my aching feet.”
Aeris laughed and shook her head. “And here I thought Yuffie was the dramatic one. Come on then, slave, there’s work to be done.” She took his hand and started pulling him back towards the lines of cots in the makeshift hospital. He went along without another fuss, content to just be in her company, no matter what it was they were doing.