Tifa closed the door silently behind her, grimacing at the soft click emitted in spite of her attempts to be stealthy. Carrying two enormous bags while tiptoeing wearing high heels proved to be quite an adventure, but she finally reached the car without making too much excessive noise. After putting the bags in the back seat, she sank down in the driver's seat, breathing slowly to calm down. She'd made it, so far. 'Yuffie is suspecting something. I wish I could tell her. But she'd think I'm crazy. And who's to say I'm not?' Well, after tonight she'd find out if all of her and Sephiroth's planning were for naught. Tonight they would revive Aeris. She hoped that Cloud's opinion of her would increase a few notches - but on the other hand, getting his precious Aeris back would probably cause him to forget about everything else.
It was peculiar, how previously so strong feelings could change so rapidly. The thought of Cloud together with Aeris didn't hurt her anymore, just the fact that Aeris was the only thing that mattered to him. What does a life-long friendship mean compared to a passionate, overwhelming love such as theirs? No matter that nothing ever had happened between him and Aeris, of course. It simply was their Destiny to be together. 'So I guess Destiny and Sephiroth knew nothing of each other then.'
Oh, yes, Sephiroth. What would she do about him after all this was over? Would they still be... friends? Tifa still felt a little uncomfortable spending time with him. Not so much for the fact that he was the cause of so much pain. That fact had simply disappeared into oblivion when she started to realize she enjoyed his company more than she maybe should. 'Yeah. Right. I sound like a lovesick teenager. But I... I love Cloud... Don't I?' As usual, there was no one to answer her questions.
After a moment lost in thoughts, she started driving towards Sephiroth's hiding place. 'We'll just get Aeris back, and afterwards I'll decide what to do next.'
* * * * *
The muffled sound of muted footsteps outside Yuffie's door caused the young ninja to smirk. 'So, Teef, you still believe nobody's noticed your small escapades? Trying to sneak away from the master thief, huh. You'd hafta practice a little longer for that, wouldn't ya?' After four nights of Tifa's mystical disappearances, Yuffie knew what to expect. Tifa didn't disappoint her, but, as she'd done the previous days, climbed down the basement stair to pick up a few bags she'd hidden there earlier this day. Meanwhile, Yuffie sneaked out, far more silent than Tifa would ever manage - since after all, Yuffie'd done this all her life.
Timing her actions precisely, she secured herself in the trunk of the car. She carefully closed the lid above her, just as Tifa shut the front door. 'Ugh.. This place smells worse than Barret's used socks. I really hope Tifa's secret is worth all this trouble.' If it wasn't, she would.. Probably do something really evil. Like renting out a room in Tifa's house to an ex-Shinra employee - no wait, she'd already done that. Yuffie had never figured out who was the most surprised at finding out who else lived in the house, Tifa or Scarlet. Nevertheless, the first breakfast was quite an adventure, though. 'I didn't know orange juice could be a deadly weapon... heh. Ouch!' Laughing while folded double was not to be recommended. Something sharp was poking her shoulders.
Her attempts to shift to a more comfortable position failed miserably, and so Yuffie found out exactly how much her language had improved since getting to know Cid.
* * * * *
Since Sephiroth wasn't too eager to show himself to the world - and the 'sect', if it could be called that, he didn't allow the door to open more than necessary to let Tifa in. He seemed to be calm despite his worries, as usual, while her heart skipped and fluttered whenever she permitted herself to think about what they were about to do. 'What will it be like, to see her again after all this time? What will she think when she wakes up to see me with Sephiroth?'
Assuming, of course, that it wasn't simply impossible to resurrect her. Her body would be all bloated and swollen up after all that time immersed in water and.. 'Eww... don't think about that, now.' The thought made her shudder. Oh well. If magic could wake Aeris up, magic certainly would be able fix such details too.
They sat down in the living room, and discussed the details of their trip one final time. Just another hour until total darkness, and they would leave.
* * * * *
It was difficult for Yuffie to stay hidden even for a few minutes after the car had finally stopped. Her legs ached to be straightened out, but she would have to be absolutely sure that they had reached their destination before she could allow herself to get out. At last she was satisfied that the car weren't to leave again for a while, and so she pulled the lid open and stepped out, silently cursing every move her poor battered legs had to make.
'What the...? Ramuh!' Her eyes were almost popping out of their sockets at the sight awaiting her on the other side of the window. If anyone had seen Yuffie now they would've believed that meteor was back or something even worse. With a start she came to her senses again and instinctively reached for the Conformer. Which lay where she had left it - under her bed. 'Yeah, that's a great place to keep your weapons, idiot.' She smacked herself mentally for being so incredibly stupid, and tried finding another solution. Panicky thoughts kept filling her mind, though. 'He must be blackmailing Teef, or he's kidnapped someone close to her, or she's under his control, or.... Shut up.' As she saw it, she had two alternatives. She could bash through the door at take Sephiroth by surprise, or she could hang around a little longer and see if this place had any weaknesses that she could exploit. The second option did seem a bit safer.
* * * * *
The sleepless nights had taken their toll on Tifa. Closing her eyes, she tried to listen to Sephiroth's calm voice describing his latest additions to the plans, without falling asleep. She didn't quite succeed.
* * * * *
Yuffie had almost fallen asleep too. After checking all the possible entries to the house and finding none satisfactory, she settled underneath the window through which she first saw Sephiroth. She tried listening to what they were talking about, to be able to find exactly what Tifa was doing there. It didn't seem like she was held against her will, though. More like the two former enemies were planning something. After a while she noticed that Tifa was sounding more and more sleepy in her replies, and shortly thereafter she was not talking at all. 'I knew it! He cast Sleep on her, and now he's going to do something horrible with her!' She bounced up, knees squeakingly protesting against the maltreatment, and prepared to throw herself through the window in a cool (not to mention impressive) ninja-esque way to save her friend.
Once again peeping through the window showed something extraordinary. Instead of performing terrible, unnamable experiments on Tifa, Sephiroth pulled a sheet over her, with a gentle smile on his lips. After that, nothing even remotely interesting happened, and Yuffie found herself obedient to the signals from her brain. She drowsed off, content that no one was currently in danger.
* * * * *
Someone carefully shook her shoulder. Not being used to such a tender treatment, Tifa sleepily smiled, forming familiar words that slipped past her lips before she had time to wake up and consider them. 'I don't wanna go to school today, mum. I'm tired, and it's boring.' She yawned noisily, mouth wide open, only then noticing Sephiroth who were laughing quietly. Her eyes popped open, a blush rapidly spread over her face. 'Umm.. Sorry.. I.. umm.. Is it time to leave already?' 'And Tifa scores again. What's the matter with you, girl?' She jumped up from the couch, vaguely acknowledging the sheet she left behind. 'Did I really get that before I fell asleep? I must have. I don't think Sephiroth would do something like that.'
Sephiroth was still laughing, probably at Tifa's dazed expression this time, but she skillfully ignored him. Spending time with Cloud had its downsides, but she had had time to practice - and master - the art of ignoring. Um. That one would probably count as a downside too.
* * * * *
So it all started again. Giddily perceiving that Tifa and Sephiroth seemed to be on the move, Yuffie stumbled over to the car again. 'Please please please let this be a short ride...' As usual no one was listening to her prayers - or anyway no one cared to answer them. As the doors slammed shut, Yuffie once again tried doing the best of a situation that couldn't possibly be improved. When the engine started roaring, all other noises were cut off. Including the interesting discussion just started by the other travelers. The one thing she had managed to hear made her groan. Destination: Midgar. With this car, the trip would take most of the night. 'Can't even cast Mini on myself, 'cause I didn't bring any materia. What has happened to me? The old Yuffie wouldn't go anywhere without a full set of materia. I've gone soft! I'm a wimp!'
Well, she did bring one materia. Only by accident, since she had been fiddling with the white one while waiting for Tifa. That one didn't seem to do anything, though. Obviously, she had to be lying on it as well, just to make her day complete.
* * * * *
After the most boring six hours of Yuffie's young life, including the time spent listening to Cloud's demented rantings about Aeris And Their Undying Love, the car finally stopped again. She groaned at a sudden though. 'Is this to be my life? Cars starting and stopping and starting and stopping, me lying hidden in the trunk all the time? No way! If they start that car once more, I'm walking home, no matter if I've found out the secret or not. I'll never complain about plain old motion sickness again.' Fortunately, it seemed that if the pair were going to travel further, they'd at least leave the car. Tifa was talking to someone about long time parking, and then everybody left.
A few minutes later, Yuffie opened the lid, peeking out. The sun was slowly rising, coloring the sea red. In the far distance, a motor boat was speeding northward, and Yuffie could just make out the contours of Sephiroth's characteristic bangs. 'Where are they going now? Oh man.. Where would I find a motor boat out here?' Searching the nearest surroundings yielded nothing but an old rowing boat, which caused the now extremely annoyed and exhausted girl to initiate a cursing storm that would have impressed even the uncrowned expert Cid.
Ultimately accepting her inevitable doom, she pushed the boat down to the beach, never even considering leaving something as payment for it. Alternating between rowing and pouring out water, she slowly advanced towards the north continent, fervently hoping that Sephiroth wasn't heading for the crater.
* * * * *
Upon arriving to Forgotten Capitol, Tifa found that nothing major had changed since her last visit even though several years had passed. Perhaps a building had collapsed a little more since last, and she thought she'd spotted tracks of a Vlakorados near the entrance to the city. The air was thin and cold, yet Tifa felt as if it clamped her chest, bringing back so many forgotten emotions. Maybe life was more interesting back then, when she still had a purpose - even if it was such a melodramatic goal as saving the Planet. After such a feat, what was left?
Now, she'd finally found a worthy objective. No use thinking about what the next step would be - is there something bigger than resurrecting a deceased loved one? 'I hope Cloud will finally become happy.' The thought wasn't totally unselfish, considering Cloud's rough treatment of his friends the past years. Maybe he'd stop thinking about himself and his losses, if the one true loss would be nullified.
Deep in thoughts, Tifa didn't notice that they had reached their goal, and so bumped into Sephiroth. Once again she had to suffer his quiet laughter, and it struck her that the sound was so much different from the first time she'd heard him laugh. 'Yeah, this time he's sane,' she thought a bit sourly. 'At least... well, anyway he seem to be.'
'So this is where Cloud left Aeris?' the man in question innocently inquired, pretending not to notice Tifa's considering glances. When she nodded, he removed his boots and dove into the water, his silver hair spreading like a fan behind him. Though the water was very clear, it was so deep that Sephiroth faded from sight after a while. Tifa, left on the beach, was amazed by his extraordinary lung capacity.
* * * * *
Reaching the shore at last didn't improve Yuffie's temper a bit. Hands aching with blisters, arms ready to fall off from too extensive utilization - that wouldn't be anyone's idea of a good time. Add to that a night spent squeezed into the trunk of a very small car, and no one can blame Yuffie for being angry.
She found no traces of the others, which caused another outburst. Asking around in Bone Village pointed her further northwards, at which time Yuffie really started to worry. 'All right, Teef. I really hope you know what you're doing now.' The only places of interest north of Bone Village would be the crater - and the City of the Ancients.
There was no materia available in the whole village, so Yuffie settled for grabbing some freshly baked bread that someone had conveniently left on a windowsill. She gulped it down together with an old potion she found half buried in the ground. 'Yeeech!! That tasted like mould!' She threw away the now empty flask, which unfortunately crashed a window some idiot hadn't opened. It obviously couldn't be blamed on Yuffie - after all, she didn't tell anyone to close the windows - but to be on the safe side she accelerated to a jogging and kept the pace up until she was safely out of the village.
* * * * *
Just when Tifa was beginning to worry about Sephiroth, a tiny speckle of light came into view. It rapidly ascended towards the surface, and soon Tifa saw that Sephiroth indeed had accomplished finding Aeris' corpse. Tightly embracing her with one arm so he wouldn't drop her, he kicked his way upwards. He didn't seem to be in any danger of suffocating, though.
Breaking the surface in front of Tifa, Sephiroth ungraciously dropped the Cetra girl on the beach. He sauntered towards a tree, broke a branch off and returned to Tifa with it. Dropping it on the ground, a safe distance from Aeris, he cast Fire on it and tried to dry himself in the heat.
'This liquid is marvelous!' he exclaimed after a while, nodding towards the water he'd just emerged from.
Lifting her gaze from the dancing flames, she walked closer to the water. 'What do you mean? Isn't this just plain water?' Tifa scooped up some of it using her hands and tasted it. 'It sure tastes like ordinary water to me.'
'Don't you see? Look at Aeris. Her body is unblemished, exactly as when you left her here. And I was worried that... never mind. ' It seemed that Tifa wasn't the only one with bizarre thoughts, then. Switching to another subject, Sephiroth continued.
'I didn't even have to breathe during the time I spent searching for her. There must be something magical about this water. I should bring a sample of it to a laboratory and....' He appeared to be enthralled by the topic, and at the moment seemed so much like his father, a scientist with no concern for anything but his beloved research.
'Um.. Excuse me?' Tifa pointed at Aeris.
'What? Oh, right. The Cetra.' Snapping back to reality removed all parallels to the dead professor. Tifa didn't exactly grieve over that. Hojo hadn't been one of her favorite persons, and she didn't need to be reminded that his legacy lived on in his son. She sat down, silently watching Sephiroth prepare his magics.
* * * * *
Not a muscle quivered; Aeris did not flutter her eyelids open and wake up from her long 'sleep'.
No matter what Sephiroth tried, he couldn't seem to reanimate Aeris. Tifa had never felt so down in her entire life - including the day she realized that Cloud was never going to be hers. With every step of the plan that had succeeded, her hopes had increased. After getting Aeries' body back in that condition, she had been certain that the resurrection would work.
'I am exhausted,' Sephiroth announced, putting all materia back in their slots. 'We will get some sleep and I will try again tomorrow.' He lay down, closed his eyes and immediately fell asleep.
It wasn't as easy for Tifa. 'Oh Cloud.. I'm so sorry. I really hoped that I would be the one to make you happy, even if it would be through Aeris. Will I ever be able to tell you about this?'