Ten minutes later, Cid had landed the Highwind on a little island near the one the temple was in, and everybody waited for Shimmer to catch up. When she finally did, Cloud could see she was very tired and had bags under her eyes. Her hair was a mess and she still wore her long and heavy coat, even though all of them were sweating.
Shimmer dismounted the Chocobo and, without saying a word, dropped to the ground, arms and legs stretched. “Oww…” She grunted.
Cloud, Reeve and Cid approached her, although she seemed not to notice them. Instead, she remained lying on the ground, her eyes closed and her lips mouthing some kind of song.
“Shimmer?” Cloud said. “You okay?”
The young girl opened her eyes and stared at him. “Sure! Just tired, that’s all.” After that, she turned her gaze towards Cid and Reeve, and she hastily stood up. “Whoops!” She said, scratching the back of her head. “Excuse me, guys! Hadn’t seen you!” She bowed slightly, “I’m Shimmer Oroke, it’s nice to meet you, Cid.” She shook Cid’s hand. “And… It’s nice to see you again, Reeve!” She hugged Reeve.
“It’s nice to see you, too,” Reeve said, after they let go. “What about your brother? Is he okay?”
Shimmer shook her head. “Never found him. And maybe it was because I never looked for him. I was busy with the White Materia and… and some other stuff.” She finished, rather lamely.
“So,” Cid said. “Are we ready to go?”
“Sure!” Shimmer said. “Red’s Chocobo and I need some rest, though. Don’t we, buddy?” The Chocobo warked happily, even though it looked awfully tired.
“Then go and sleep in the ship’s bedroom,” Reeve said. “We can have all the explanations later on.”
“It’s fine with me. What about you, boys?” Shimmer asked. Cloud and Cid both nodded.
Five minutes later, all of them were on their way to the City of the Ancients. Shimmer and Elmyra were asleep on the bedrooms, while everybody else was running and walking all around the ship. Yuffie had tried to steal Reno’s money for the third time since they had set out from Cosmo Canyon, and he was chasing her all over the place with his nightstick out.
“Come here, you <beep> brat!” He yelled.
“Catch me if you can, old man!”
Cloud just shook his head and tried to ignore them, but Yuffie almost knocked him down and Reno nearly beheaded him with his electromagnetic rod. Finally, Yuffie slammed herself against Barret, and Reno fell on top of them. Obviously, Barret was less than pleased with this, and got them both by the collar.
“Okay, you <beep> brats! You betta stop running around like <beep> or I’ll beat the stuffing out of ya! Ya hear me?” Reno and Yuffie nodded. “Very well, then. Now, behave or I’ll have you pinned to the wall.” With that, he let them go.
Once they were out of Barret’s earshot, Yuffie said, “Whattsamatter with that old timer?”
“Yeah,” Reno said, “I mean, it’s not like we hurt him, is it?”
“Of course not! He’s a human wall, nothing can hurt him!” Suddenly, she stopped dead on her tracks, as well as Reno. They eyed each other suspiciously, and then backed away.
“Why am I talking to you!?” They both yelled in unison. Then, each took a different path.
“Jerk,” Yuffie whispered.
“Brat,” Reno said.
Shimmer was in the City of the Ancients, near the shell shaped house. She walked towards the lake to see her reflection on its surface. She was about to reach it, when her heart beat as if wanting to get out of her chest, making her fall on her knees. She clutched her chest, and then she began to lose her breath. Soon after, she heard someone approaching her from behind, someone who was laughing.
“I told you I’d be here in no time, Shimmy darling.” It was the doppelganger’s voice, and it was clearer than ever. “What’s the matter? Why don’t you talk to me? ” He asked mockingly. “Well, I want you to be able to answer me, so I guess that this doppelganger-detecting thing can be turned off, can’t it? ” And with that, Shimmer’s chest stop hurting and she could breathe again. “That’s better, isn’t it? ”
“What do… you… want… from me?” She asked, breathing heavily.
“I already told you that I’m gonna kill you. That’s my job, I was sent to look for you for that very reason. ”
“Who sent you?” She demanded. “Why do you have to kill me?”
“I’m going to kill you because you’re our enemy, an Observer. As for who sent me, that’s not of your concern, because you’ll never meet them. Now, it’s time for me to leave. We shall meet soon enough, though. So, see ya later.”
Shimmer woke with a start, breathing heavily and her heart racing. She looked around, and found out that she was alone in the bedroom. Then, a knock came on the door.
“You awake?” Vincent’s harsh, deep voice. Shimmer couldn’t help but to think that it was a voice very similar to that of the doppelganger. “Shimmer?”
“Yeah, I’m awake.” She said. “Are we there yet?”
“We arrived twenty minutes ago. We’re going out as soon as you’re ready. We’ll wait for you at the cockpit.” Shimmer heard his footsteps echoing away from the dormitory.
She took her backpack and brushed her hair before going up to the cockpit. Then she took her cloak off and put her jacket on. While doing so, she remembered her silver gun. She took it out her backpack and read the inscription in its barrel.
“S & V,” She whispered. “I’m sorry, Vince, I really am…” She took the gun and hid it in her jacket’s inside pocket, then left to join the others.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said. “I’m ready when you are.” All of them stared at her. “What, is there a spot on my face?”
For the first time since they met her, they could see what she was wearing. She had black ankle boots, black leather pants, a navy blue blouse with dark red roses and a leather jacket with two pockets on each side. She had a couple of tattoos: one on her neck, which was the Observers’ symbol, and one they couldn’t see, for it was on her shoulder. That last one was a violet S interlaced with a dark red V over a green leaf. She wore two different earrings, one was a little pearl and the other was an earring with a cross hanging from it. Finally, she had a golden chain with a little angel pendant.
What amazed most of them was the fact that, without the cloak, she was a completely different person: she looked younger and happier, so to speak. Reno gazed at her up and down, and down and up again.
“Guys, what’s wrong? Quit staring at me like that! I should’ve brought my cloak…” She whined.
“No!” Reno snapped. Shimmer raised an eyebrow. “I mean, you look prettier this way, even…”
“Say ‘sexier’ and I’ll kick your butt, Reno,” Reeve snapped. Reno gave him a kinda angry look, which he ignored. “But, you do look better like this, Shim. And I’m not flirting, Elena.” Elena was giving him a surprised look, but then she looked away.
Shimmer blushed and stared at her boots. “Uh… thank you, guys… hehe, it’s been a while since anyone said something so nice to me… it really means a lot.”
“You look really nice, Shimmer,” Cloud said. “And… you look even cuter when you blush.” That remark made her blush even more. “Haha. Hey, don’t get me wrong. You’re cute and all, but I’m not flirting with you, although it may seem the other way around…” He laughed a bit more.
“Hey, I said that first!” She said, laughing. “Whatever. I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Then, let’s go. I wanna get there before night fall.” Cloud said.
“That’s all well and good,” Reeve said, “but how are we gonna bring Aerith back? You didn’t tell us everything back at the canyon.”
“How much do you know?” Shimmer asked.
“We only know that we must retrieve Aerith’s body from the lake and that’s all,” Tifa answered.
“After that, you have to pray, while I recite the Cetra Prayer to join both Aerith’s soul and body.”
“Shimmer, you never mentioned the prayer to us,” Red exclaimed.
“I know,” Shimmer said. “And I’m sorry, but Aerith asked me not to mention it until now, but I don’t know why.”
“Aerith?” Elena said, “But, she’s dead. How did she tell you so?”
“That’s part of what we’ll explain to you once this is over,” Cloud said. “Right now, the only thing you have to know is that Shimmer has already retrieved the White Materia and Aerith’s soul is in it. So, now that you have the important details, we may go on.” And with that, he and Shimmer began to walk through the Sleeping Forest towards the City of the Ancients.
Red and Reeve followed them, as well as Cid and Vincent. Elmyra went with them along with Rude and Elena. Barret, Reno, Tifa and Yuffie stayed behind, trying to decide if they should trust Shimmer, much like Red had done before.
“This whole thing is senseless. I mean, we’re following a complete stranger into hell knows where, without any evidence that proves she’s not our enemy,” Barret said. “But, of course, what did you expect from Cloud? That spiky headed brat would do whatever to bring her back…”
“Wouldn’t you?” Asked Yuffie. “I mean, if you found a way to try and bring your wife back, wouldn’t you take it? Even if it seemed pointless or hopeless?”
“I agree with both of you,” Tifa cut in. “If I were in Cloud’s position, I too would try to bring Aerith back. But, on the other hand, it is true we don’t know anything about this girl… For all we know, she could be our enemy or after Aerith’s back, she might even try to get advantage from it.”
“She won’t. I do know her, and she’s not like that. You’re all worrying for nothing, as always,” Reno said. “If I were you, I’d be more worried about bringing that Ancient back to life and then, I’d the ask questions. But, of course, you won’t follow my suggestion. So, I’ll leave you here with your little dilemma, I’m gonna see if my boss needs me.” He bowed slightly, and then disappeared into the darkness of the Sleeping Forest.
“We should do as he says, and I know that it sounds weird coming from me… but he’s right,” Yuffie said. “Cloud said it’s okay to trust her, and he’s the leader. So, let’s trust him, as we used to. After all, he got us out of the Northern Crater alive, didn’t he?”
“He did, and he guided us well in our journey… let’s do him a favour, for a change.” Barret said.
Tifa bowed her head, thinking and pondering all this. She wanted Aerith to come back, after all, she loved her as a sister… but, in a way, she was jealous. Jealous that Cloud had made her aside for almost two years, only to try to revive Aerith. And now, she was afraid that he’d make it, because if he did, he would certainly choose Aerith over her, like he had done in the past. But, why couldn’t she feel happy for them? They were her friends, she loved them both, so why? Why was she jealous? After all, didn’t they say: if you love somebody, set them free? And what about: it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
“Teef?” Barret called her.
“Huh?” She said. Then she realized she had been thinking and drifting. “Yeah, let’s… let’s do him a favour.”
“Keep Vincent away from me.”
“Just do it, please.”
Cloud gave his companion a puzzled look. They were sitting near the lake in the shell like house. Cid, Red and Reeve were talking softly in the house entrance, while Vincent leaned against a tree, away from them, as always. The rest of the group hadn’t arrived yet.
“Why do you want to be away from him, Shim?”
“It’s just a hunch… maybe it’s nothing to worry about, but I’d rather not risk this chance to get Aerith back.”
“I told you I’m gonna help you if I can, but I can’t keep Vincent away from you if you don’t tell me all that’s going on.”
Shimmer sighed heavily, and then bit her lower lip. After a while, she said, “remember I told you that a doppelganger contacted me?’ Cloud nodded. “Well, there was a part of that dream –or vision– that I forgot, and I recalled it when Vincent went to wake me up in the Highwind.”
“What is it?”
She sighed again. “Before the doppelganger appeared, I saw Vincent. Then he transformed into the doppelganger, although the correct thing to say is that it recovered its original form.”
Cloud pondered this for a moment, after which he said, “So… you think Vincent’s the doppelganger?”
“It’s just a hunch… a feeling I get when I’m around him. It’s as if my heart wanted to jump off my chest, but it is faint when the doppelganger is not in his original form. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, maybe I’m falling into some sort of trap… The truth is that I don’t want to risk any of you, so… would you please keep him away from me? At least until I’m sure.”
It was Cloud’s turn to sigh. “I really don’t think Vincent’s a fake, but you know more about this stuff than I do. So, yes, I’ll keep him away from you, and I’ll keep an eye on his movements, too.”
“Then, you’re not gonna have much work, are you?” She said, obviously referring to Vincent’s lack of movement and speech.
Cloud let out a soft laugh. “Yeah, I guess you’re right!”
“Look, here come the others.” Shimmer waved to them. “Took you long enough, slowpokes! Well… slowpokes and Mrs. Elmyra!”
Elmyra laughed. “At least one of us can still joke around… I appreciate it, Ms. Oroke.”
Shimmer walked towards her and took her hands. “Call me Shim, and I’ll call you Elmyra. Is that okay with you?” Elmyra nodded. “Good! Now, let’s get on with this! It’s getting late, and some of us are falling asleep.” She said, looking towards Cid, who was nodding with his eyes half open, half closed. Most of them laughed, but obviously, Vincent and Cid did not.
“Okay, then. Yuffie, give, I mean lend me the Underwater Materia, please.” Cloud said.
Yuffie reached into her pouch and got out a purple Materia. She handed it to Cloud, and then he equipped it in his armband, and dived into the lake.
He swam, and swam, and kept on swimming. The lake was deeper than he had imagined, and he thought that it had been a very good idea to bring the Underwater Materia with him. Finally, after some time, he finally saw her. She looked exactly the same as she had two years ago: resting peacefully, as if nothing had ever happened. But Cloud knew it wasn’t like that. She was dead.
“But, not for long,” he thought, “not for long. That’s a promise, and I won’t break this one…”
He swam towards her and lifted her lifeless body from the soft sand, and then took her by the waist and swam towards the surface. With the burden of Aerith’s body, the journey seemed longer and wearier. But, finally, he saw the light of the surface. When he got out, Cid and Reeve helped him with Aerith’s body, and they laid her over one of Shimmer’s blankets while she dried her face.
Cloud knelt next to Aerith and began to push away strands of hair off her face. Then, all of a sudden, he fell apart. He began to cry all the tears he had held back since she had died. Shimmer told the others to get inside.
“But, we can’t leave him like this…” Tifa said.
“He doesn’t want you to see him like this, so please get inside.” Shimmer replied.
“How do you know he doesn’t?” Tifa asked defiantly. “What do you know about this? You never met her; you don’t know what if feels like!”
“I do know what if feels like! And I don’t want you to see him like this! So get inside! Now!” She had stood up and faced Tifa, so she could see Shimmer’s tears flowing and her cheeks reddening. “Tifa, get inside, please… all of you, please go inside…” Her voice choked with those last words.
Barret walked towards Tifa and took her to the house. Everybody else followed them, except Elmyra. She went towards them, and she crumbled too. She and Cloud sat there, next to Aerith’s body, and then he began to cradle her in his arms, crying harder than before.
“Sorry… I’m so sorry… please… forgive me…” He said between sobs and tears. “I’m sorry, Aerith…” Then he looked towards Elmyra. “I’m sorry ma’am, I’m so sorry… I… I failed her, I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t… couldn’t protect her…”
Elmyra shook her head. “I’m sure she never thought that, she knew you did the best you could, as well as I do. So, don’t torture yourself Cloud, please.”
“Still, I… oh, Aerith, I’m sorry! Please, please forgive me… please.” His tears began to flow steadily, but his sobs grew less and less.
Shimmer wiped her eyes and knelt next to him. “She has nothing to forgive, because you did nothing wrong… The only thing left for you to do is bring her back, so… let’s get inside.”
Cloud nodded and wiped his face. “Sure, let’s get inside.” He stood up and lifted Aerith’s body in his arms.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Shimmer said. “Put her down again… we have to close the wound first.”
Cloud did as she told him and put her on the blanket again. Then, for the first time since he got her out of the lake, his gaze fell on the two-inch long gash on her midsection. He took his trembling hand and covered the wound with it, hoping against hope that when he put it away, the wound would not be there anymore. But, obviously, it remained there. He felt tears flowing down his eyes again as he moved his hand to her back and found the corresponding gash there.
“Shim, how are you going to close the wound? Materia won’t do, nor will any kind of items, so… how?” He asked.
“With the White Materia,” She answered. “If we take a regular Restore and expose it long enough to Holy’s radiance, then the Restore Materia will be able to close the wound.”
Elmyra stood up. “I’m going to ask Yuffie for one, I won’t be long.”
When Elmyra was out of earshot, Cloud looked towards Shim and said, “Thanks.”
“For telling them to get inside… I was never really good at showing my feelings, and I guess that when I saw her like this… well, it all just came out. I really didn’t want them to see me like that, but I just couldn’t hold it back.”
“Hey, it’s okay…” she said, a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I really meant what I told Tifa. I know how you feel, so… you have nothing to thank me for. I should be thanking you for your trust, although I already did that!” She was trying to sound cheerful, so he wouldn’t feel depressed anymore. But the truth was that she wasn’t very happy, either.
Just then, Elmyra came out of the shell house with one small orb on her hands.
“Here it is, Shim.” Elmyra handed her the Materia. “Yuffie gave it to me willingly, such a nice girl.”
“I wish she was like that always and not only when we need her help…” Cloud said. “Well, Shim, do what you must and let’s get this over with.”
Shimmer nodded and produced from her backpack the wooden box that contained Holy and took the Materia out, holding it near Restore. Soon after, Holy began to shine intensely, giving some of its power to the other Materia. After a few seconds, Shimmer put Holy away and gave Cloud the Restore Materia. He accepted the tiny orb, but gave her a puzzled look.
“What?” She asked. “I can’t use Materia, I’ve never known how. You should do it.”
Cloud shrugged and knelt next to Aerith. He put the Materia in his armband and cast Cure on his fallen companion. Much to his and Elmyra’s surprise, the wound began to close slowly, and after a moment that felt as an eternity, no sign of the gash was there.
Cloud sighed heavily. He was one step closer to getting her back, and he couldn’t wait any longer. His almost two year long quest was about to end and, for the first time since Aerith’s had died, he felt happiness all over his heart… “But we still have to pray…” he whispered softly. Then, he lifted Aerith in his arms and began to walk towards the shell house, with Shimmer and Elmyra close behind.
“About time!” Reno was the only one to greet Cloud and the other two when they got in the house. But this greeting won him a smack on the back of the head, courtesy of Yuffie. “Why you!” He was about to yell at her, but when he met Yuffie’s serious gaze, he shut up. “Sorry…”
None of the others spoke, nor moved. Shimmer and Cloud went ahead, but found themselves with the weird fish blocking the way. Shimmer kicked it and it disappeared.
“There ya go!” She announced cheerfully.
“What the heck!” Cid said. “We tried to open that <beep> thing while you were out, and all you needed to do was kick it?”
Shimmer blinked. “Uh… I’m lucky, I guess… that and the fact that I have Holy with me.”
“Oh.” Cid replied.
Cloud shook his head, the hint of a smile playing on his lips, and then he began to walk the crystal steps towards the Forgotten City. Each step echoed all around them, and more than once the eerie sound sent chills down Shimmer’s spine.
The steps seemed to go on forever to Cloud, as it had seemed when he got Aerith’s body out of the city to deposit her in the lake. Back then, he was full of sorrow and felt downright hopeless and helpless. But now, with Aerith’s in his arms and Shimmer walking beside him holding the key to his redemption and happiness, he was filled with joy and excitement. He couldn’t help but to smile for good this time, while in his mind the same thought kept on coming: “Just a bit more, Aerith… just a bit more and we’ll be together… forever.”
His thoughts were interrupted by Shimmer’s words, “Here we are, Cloud. The Forgotten City of the Ancients.”
Cloud and the others stopped and beheld the crystal city that lay before them. Cloud and the members of AVALANCHE had already been there before, but their breath was taken away as if this had been their first time there. It was a place like no other: All the buildings were constructed in the same fashion, but each one was completely different from the one that stood next to it. It reminded Cloud of the way in which all humans are equal, but at the same time, each is different from the other. And, for some unknown reason, he thought that maybe that was the idea the Cetra wanted to transmit to everybody else. He felt it just like he felt the Cetra’s’ voices coming from the houses in the outside level. This made him glad, although he ignored why. Maybe it was because he loved Aerith, or maybe because he felt safe in there.
While Cloud pondered all that in his mind, a sparkle on of the houses drew his attention. For the first time since he had been there, he paid attention to the buildings’ material. All was crystal clear, just like the lake that surrounded the water altar where Aerith had fallen to Sephiroth’s blade. The vision that had haunted his dreams almost every night since Aerith’s departure had taken place in that same spot. He wondered if all would end there as well.
As if reading his thoughts, Shimmer said, “Cloud, we must take her to the centre of the altar to start the, uh… ceremony, if you really want to call it that.”
“I don’t care what it is called, as long as it brings her back.” He replied.
Shimmer nodded, and then turned to the others. “All of us won’t fit up there, so Mrs. Elmyra and Cid, could you come up with us?” Both of them nodded. “As for the rest of you… Barret, Yuffie, Tifa, Reeve and…” Her gaze fell on Vincent, and a shiver ran down her spine, followed by a sudden heartache. “It’s him,” she thought, “he’s the doppelganger… too late to worry now, I’ll just make sure this goes right.”
“… Vincent, each of you stand in one of the pillars that lead to the altar. The rest of you, stay down here. I mean no offence, I assure you.”
“What will we do?” Elena asked. “Don’t tell me you brought us here just to watch you, guys.”
“No, as I already told you, you will pray.”
“How?” Rude asked. “What are we supposed to say or think or whatever?”
Shimmer thought for a moment, then said, “Think… think about her when she was alive. Think of the time she was still with you…”
“She was never with us,” Reno said. “Well, not in good terms, anyway.”
“Then, just picture her anyway you remember her. But, try and make it a happy and decent vision, please.” This she said to Elena and Reno… exactly in that order. “Now, let’s get on with this.”
Cloud, Elmyra, Cid and Shimmer climbed to the altar, while the others took the positions Shimmer gave them. Once in the altar, Cloud laid Aerith’s body in the centre, her head resting in his lap. Cid knelt to their right and Elmyra to their left. Shimmer remained on her feet behind them, an old piece of parchment in one hand and the wooden box that contained Holy in the other.
“So,” she said, “are we ready?” Everybody nodded. She then walked over to Cloud’s side and took the White Materia out. After a moment’s gaze at its bottomless centre, she put it in Aerith’s hands and laid her arms across her chest. Seeing her laying there, with such a peaceful expression upon her face, she remembered something the other Cloud had told her before coming back to this world:
‘It’s like having an angel by your side every single day…’
‘You love her very much, don’t you?’ Shimmer had asked.
‘I’d die if something happened to her.’ Cloud answered simply.
Remembering that, a tear threatened to escape her eyes, but she held it back. ‘This is no time for tears, you silly girl. If you can’t be happy, at least let them be…’
She stood up and said, “Okay. Now, close your eyes and begin to recall the time when Aerith was alive, recall all the happy memories you have, everything she said to you, her cheerfulness, and her kind personality, everything…” She walked in front of Cloud and knelt there, and began to whisper the Cetra Prayer Aerith had given her:
From deep inside us,
The light of hope is shining
A prayer to guide you
The stars are crying a tear
Let all the hurt inside you die
Take the pain away, leave the sadness behind
Find a way to bring back yesterday
Forget how fragile we are
Trust love… believe in it
May our spinning prayer reach your distant soul
May it guide it to your earthly body
And if the darkness is to keep us apart
Our hopes will lead you with their light
The echoes bound a joyful sound:
Have hope, have faith, have love
It’s all over now Aerith,
You may come back now
She repeated it over and over again, while everybody else recalled the moments they had spent with Aerith, and all the things she had told them in the short time she was with them. Soon after they started to pray, the entire city was filled with her voice:
‘Don’t give up, never give up hope.’ / ‘I want to meet… you.’ / ‘That’s a quick change of heart.’ / ‘I’m all alone now.’ / ‘Let’s go… bodyguard!’ / ‘I feel safe just having it.’ / ‘It would have to be Cloud.’ / ‘Don’t worry. I’ll put her somewhere safe.’ / ‘Let’s see how compatible Cloud and I are.’ / ‘It’s full of people and noisy.’ / ‘I knew that Cloud would come for me’. / ‘I’ll be back when it’s all over.’
It’s all over now Aerith,
You may come back now
While she repeated the last sentences, Holy began to shine. But not only that; it began to fade and unite with Aerith’s body.
Cloud kept on praying, oblivious to the faint light emanating from Aerith’s body:
“Please come back, please come back to us, come back to my side… I need you; I want you back… I… I… I love you, Aerith.”
It’s all over now Aerith,
You may come back now
“I love you…”
As if magic words had been spoken, the light emanating from Aerith’s body began to grow stronger, until everyone opened their eyes to witness a miracle:
Aerith was surrounded by white light and by the Lifestream that emerged from within the lake, which were merging with her body, finishing with a blinding flash of light that made them close their eyes again.
“Cloud… Cloud, is that you?”
The soft voice came as an angel’s whisper to his ears. He slowly opened his eyes, wishing and hoping that the past few days were not just a dream, but something real.
The first thing he saw were her emerald green eyes, filled with a tender glow as he hadn’t seen in anyone else. After that, came her delicate nose, and finally, her rosy lips. He ran his fingers through her chestnut hair, then caressed her cheek and softly touched her lips. He felt her hand reaching out to his face, and trembled at her touch. Then, a couple of tears escaped his eyes.
“Don’t cry…” she said softly, her head still on his lap. “Crying means you’re sorry…”
“I am…” he choked.
“Well, don’t be. I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to be happy to have me back, because you did nothing wrong… and I’m happy to be back with you…”
“She’s right, Cloud,” Elmyra said, tears flowing freely down her face.
Aerith sat down, glancing at her adoptive mother for the first time. “Mom… thank gods you’re alright!” They hugged each other, both of them crying now. “I missed you…”
“Hey…” Cid said, he was choking too. “W-we missed you too, ya know?”
“Oh, Cid…” Aerith let her mother go and hugged him too. “I missed you too, grumpy.” She giggled.
“So, I guess I’m done here…” Shimmer said, standing up. “I’m… I’m going to… uh…” Aerith was giving her a sisterly look, filled with thanks. “No, you… you don’t need to…”
Aerith stood up, stumbling a little, but Cloud helped her out. “I do. I’d feel terrible if I didn’t thank you, Shimmer.”
“H-How… how do you know my name?”
“You were in the Lifestream, and I heard everything from inside Holy. So, thanks Shim, for bringing me back to Cloud and mom and all my friends. I owe you everything.” She walked over to the other girl and hugged her tightly. “If there’s anything I can do to help you, just… just name it.”
It was Shimmer’s turn to shed tears. “The only thing I’m missing is the only thing you can’t give me, so… let’s leave it like that. You owe me nothing, it was my pleasure to help you all.” She let Aerith go and took a step back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna get some fresh air and let you catch up. I’ll... I’ll see you out there.” And with that, she leaped over to the nearest stone pillar.
“I love you…”
The words still echoed in Tifa’s head. He had chosen Aerith over her, after all. And, somehow, it didn’t feel as bad as she thought it would. She felt happy for both of them, especially for Cloud. He deserved it more than anybody in the team, he had suffered so much: first, his father died when he was very little, then came the problems with SOLDIER, soon after Sephiroth burned Nibelheim to the ground, then Zack and his mother died. And, finally, Sephiroth took Aerith’s life away. Ever since then, Cloud focused all his time and effort into finding a way to bring her back. And now, thanks to a miracle, some strange girl had come into their lives bringing a solution to their grief.
Tifa was happy about it, and when she heard Aerith’s voice coming from the altar, her heart jumped with joy. Soon after, Shimmer came down, almost falling into the water when landing over the stone pillar. Tifa steadied her and saw Shimmer crying.
“What, is something wrong?” She asked, her voice full of concern. “Is Aerith alright?”
“Huh?” Shimmer said. She seemed scattered, as if she didn’t know where she was. However, when her eyes met Tifa’s, she seemed to return to normal. “Oh, Tifa… sorry.” She dried her face with her sleeve and shook her head as if wanting to get rid of some nasty thought.
“Shim? Is something wrong with Aerith?” Tifa asked again.
“Umm, no, Aerith is just fine. Everything went fine. I’m gonna go outside, so you can talk as long as you want. See you later. Oh, and thanks for not letting me fall.” She smiled faintly and jumped to the next pillar, where Barret stood.
After a short chat with him, where she told him that everything was fine, she tried to leap to the next pillar, where Yuffie was sitting with her legs hanging and brushing the water surface slightly. She couldn’t jump without knocking Yuffie over, so she had to call her first.
“Hey, Yuffie! Would you mind standing up? I need to go out.”
“Sorry,” she said while standing up. Shimmer jumped over and landed next to her. “Say, is Aerith alright?”
“Of course she is! I think they’ll be heading down soon, but I have to go outside.”
“Oh, sure. And, thanks.”
Shimmer nodded and jumped over to where Vincent stood. He said nothing, and she tried to get past him without touching him, but she tripped and he steadied her with his right hand. Shimmer trembled at his touch, and tried to keep going, but he held her hand tightly.
“Let go… Vincent,” she hissed. Still, he didn’t move. “You’re hurting me Vincent, please let go off me.” He just kept staring at her with his expressionless eyes. She felt anger and fear welling up inside her, until she couldn’t take it anymore. “I said let go!” She shouted against her will.
Reeve, who was in the last pillar, looked up at them with concern. Shimmer was staring at Vincent with a mixed look of anger and fear, while he remained expressionless. He was about to ask them what was wrong, when Vincent finally let her go. Then, she jumped to the next pillar and, without pausing to talk with Reeve, leapt to where Red and the Turks stood, finally making a run for the staircase. Reeve jumped after her and caught up with her a couple of feet away from the bottom of the stairs.
“What’s wrong?” He asked her.
“Let me go, please!” She half pleaded, half demanded him.
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong!” He was holding her wrist near the spot where Vincent had touched her, and he noticed a mark that looked like a burn. Reeve frowned and said, “What did he do to you?” His voice was full of concern again.
“Nothing, I’m alright. Just let me go outside…”
“What do you mean ‘nothing’?” He seemed not to hear her last words. “This... this looks like a burn! What are you hiding from me?” Shimmer shook her head, not looking to Reeve’s eyes. He pulled her closer to him, and with his free hand, turned her face towards him. “Hey, I’m your friend. You used to trust me, I ask you to do it again… please.”
Shimmer turned her gaze away from him, but said, “I’ll tell you… but we gotta go outside.”
Reeve was about to agree, when Reno came over to them. “Ahem… am I interrupting something?” He was trying not to grin, but he was having a hard time.
Shimmer and Reeve gave him a strange look, and he gazed at Shimmer’s waist. While Reeve asked her to trust him, the arm that was holding her wrist slid to her waist, and he kept on holding her chin with his hand, their faces dangerously close. Both of them turned red and let go.
“So, you busy?” Reno asked. “Cuz if you are, then I can leave you alone.” He was grinning widely now.
“Don’t be silly,” Reeve snapped at him, his face still faintly red. “What do you want?”
“Nothing, really. El got suspicious about you two, and sent me over to ask. So, anything we should know, boss?”
“No, Reno,” Reeve answered. “Shim and I got something to discuss, so we’re going outside. Alright?” Reno nodded. “Okay, you’re dismissed.” Reno saluted him and left. Reeve turned towards Shimmer. “I, umm… I’m sorry about the… uh, you know.” Shimmer nodded. “So, you still wanna go outside?”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
They began to walk up the steps, without realizing they were being followed.
Halfway up, Shimmer’s heartache began again, making her fall to her knees. She clutched her chest and had difficulty breathing. Reeve was concerned and knelt next to her.
“Shim! You okay?”
“Get… me… out… now…” She said, breathing heavily.
“Do… it! Get… me away…from… Vincent… I’ll die if… you don’t… help me… Reeve…” She began to feel light-headed, and the last thing she knew before fainting was that Reeve took her in his arms and began to make his way up the stairs again.
“Shim, Shim are you listening to me?”
Reeve’s voice came from far away, or so it seemed to Shimmer. His voice was full of concern and alarm, but as much as she wanted to answer him, the doppelganger’s presence was too strong and her body didn’t respond to her commands. She opened her mouth and tried to tell him something, but all that came out were some gagging noises.
“What?” Reeve asked.
“V… Vin… take him… away…”
“I, I don’t get it… what do you want me to do?”
“She wants you to take me away from her, you silly.”
Reeve’s head whirled from Shimmer, who was lying next to a tree, to Vincent, who was standing in the doorway of the shell house. He had the same impassive face of always, and he was leaning on the doorway, as usual. But, suddenly, a change came upon him. He was… smirking?
“What’s wrong, Reeve? You… scared of me?” He began to walk slowly towards them.
“What do you want, Vincent?”
“All I want is her life, and then I’ll be gone.”
“W… what? Vincent… what’s wrong with you?” Reeve was both alarmed and scared. He stood up and took his gun out, and although he didn’t aim at Vincent, he walked a few steps towards him.
“Oh, that’s right!” Vincent said, trying to sound as if he had just remembered something. “You know nothing about me, do you?”
“Okay, now I’m confused! What the… the hell are you talking about? Who… who are you?”
“He’s… he’s a shape… a shape shifter…” Shimmer had managed to sit down and she whispered those words between coughs.
“A… shape shifter…? You mean the… the ones… that hunt you people down? But… h-how?”
“Come on Reeve, it’s not that unconceivable. But, I’ve got work to do, and I have nothing against you, so… would you mind getting out of the way?”
“You crazy? Of course not! I’m not gonna let you hurt her, whatever you are!”
“Whatever I am? Wait a second, does that mean you don’t believe I’m a doppelganger? Well, then I guess we need a little demonstration, do we not?”
“Stop…” Shimmer had now stood up, and leaned against the tree. “You want… me, so leave… Reeve al… alone…”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! You’re so not giving me the is-me-that-you-want, leave-my-friends-alone speech! You know? If there’s something we hate, is the fact that people don’t believe in us. Well, I’m gonna show your goody two shoes friend the proof he needs.”
“No… AH!” Shimmer’s heartache came stronger than before and fell to the ground once more.
Cloud, Aerith, Cid and Elmyra reunited with everybody else at the bottom of the crystal staircase. Everyone was so happy and joyful, that none of them noticed Vincent’s absence. Suddenly, Aerith began to look for him, and when she told Cloud that he was missing, he went pale.
“What? He’s… he’s gone?”
Then, realization came upon Reno. “Oh, right! He left soon after Reeve and Shimmer went upstairs. They said that they needed to discuss something and they just left. Then Vincent went after them, but he said nothing.”
“What? That something new for you?” Elena asked mockingly.
Cloud, on the other hand, was very worried and began to think furiously. Then, “We gotta go outside… now.”
“What’s wrong, Cloud?” Aerith asked. Somehow, she knew something was very wrong, she felt it since she noticed Vincent was gone. “Is everything alright?”
“No, nothing’s alright… damn, how could I forget?”
“Okay, spikes. Calm down and tell us what the heck is going on here.” Cid said.
Cloud quickly explained them what Shimmer had told him about Vincent possibly being a doppelganger and, after that, Red explained them what a doppelganger was.
“So,” Tifa said, “the Vincent we became friends, fought and travelled with is a fake? And… he’s after Shimmer? Why?”
“She wasn’t sure about him being a doppelganger, but she said that whoever it is, he wants to kill her. But that’s not important now! We have to help her!” Cloud said.
“And Reeve.” Rude cut in.
“Then what the hell are we waiting for? Let’s go get ‘em!” Barret said, more than a little excited.
They all went ahead, but Aerith and Cloud stayed a little behind. “So much for having a peaceful life, huh?” He said.
“What fun would that be? Maybe it’s our destiny to keep helping people. And… and that’s just fine, as long as we’re together.” Aerith said, hugging him.
“Yeah,” he answered hugging her back, “you’re right. Besides, we owe her. Come, let’s go.”
“It’s… it’s too late… run Reeve…”
Reeve ran back to her and found her sweating and barely breathing. “Shim?”
Then, it happened. A noise like that of an explosion came from behind and deafened them for a while. When Reeve finally dared to look back, he found himself staring at one of the most hideous things he had seen in his life. He had seen many horrible things, especially during the time he was with avalanche. But, what stood in front of him right now was totally and absolutely…
“Gross…” Reeve muttered.
In the very same spot where Vincent had been standing a minute ago, was a tall ‘man’, completely white except for his hair, which was jet-black, his yellow cat eyes and blue and red marks all over his body. He had a smirk upon his lips, and a mocking look upon his eyes. He was simply freakish.
“So…” His voice came out like a snake’s hiss. “…do you believe me now, Reeve?” his gaze then fell over Shimmer, who was facing him, a sickish expression on her face. “Well, I guess you’ll want to defend yourself, but I won’t let you off the doppelganger detect thing, not until we’re safely away from here… we’ll have to go someplace where nobody interrupts us, won’t we?”
Reeve stood up again, his gun aiming at the doppelganger. “You won’t touch her, you… you freak!”
The doppelganger rolled his eyes, sighed and with a swift movement of his hand, sent Reeve flying over to the lakeshore, where he landed headfirst and lost consciousness.
“Reeve!” Shimmer was on her knees and hands, looking towards the place where Reeve laid. “No… please, don’t be dead…”
The doppelganger was standing next to her now, and lifted her up by her left arm. “He’s fine, I told you I had nothing against him. But you dear, are a completely different case. You up for a ride?”
“Let me go!” Shimmer tried to shout, but her voice came only in a harsh whisper. Then, she tried to reach for her gun, but the doppelganger was too fast for her.
“Nuh uh,” he said, shaking his head, “no toys allowed.” He tossed the gun and disappeared with Shimmer in an instant.
Reno and Red had reached the shell house door just in time to see Shimmer and the doppelganger disappear. They stood there, awestruck, until everybody else caught up with them. When they told them what they had seen, Cloud felt a knot at the pit of his stomach and leaned on the wall.
“Damn it…” he muttered.
He was about to blame himself again, when Elena, who had gone to investigate the area along with Rude and Reno, called them. They had found Reeve with a serious injury on his forehead, along with some broken ribs and a fractured wrist.
“Here, let me help him.” Aerith said, kneeling next to him.
“You sure it’s okay for you to do so?” Yuffie asked. “I mean, aren’t you weak or something?”
“No, I’m fine.” Aerith replied. She bowed her head and took Reeve’s hands in hers, then she concentrated and a white light from the sky fell over him, closing his wounds and fixing his bones. After a short while, he woke with a start and began to look around for Shimmer.
“Where is she? What happened to her?”
“Calm down, boss,” Elena said, then she explained him what had happened with Shimmer and the doppelganger.
“Oh gods, no!” Reeve fell to his knees and hid his face in his hands. “This can’t be happening, it’s all my fault… I shouldn’t have kept her so long downstairs! I’m such a fool!”
“This ain’t your fault, Reeve.” Cloud said. “I should have asked you to keep Vincent away from her, in fact, I should’ve been looking after her…”
“No, Cloud, it’s no one’s fault. Shimmer would never blame any of you.” Aerith said.
“The Ancient’s right,” Reno said, “you gotta stop blaming yourselves and we have to look for her.”
“Yeah, but the ‘Ancient’ has a name, you jackass,” Barret said, “and it’s Aerith. Don’t you forget it!”
“Hey, I could care less about her name, you big teddy bear!”
“Guys!” Aerith cut in. “This is no time to fight. Barret, I don’t care how he calls me, okay? I’m used to being called Ancient or Cetra, so there’s no problem. And Reno, try not to mess with Barret or anybody else. Do you understand me?” None answered. “I said, do you understand me?”
“Yes, Aerith.” Barret said. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry too.” Reno said.
“Good, now shake hands.” Both of them gave her a what-are-you-crazy look. “Oh, don’t be so childish. If we’re gonna work together, you need to call a truce. Now, please shake hands.”
Barret and Reno exchanged unpleased looks, and reluctantly shook each other hands, which they withdrew hastily and cleaned on their pants.
“What do we do now?” Elmyra asked.
“First, I’ll have Cid take you home ma’am.” Cloud said. “This might be dangerous, and I don’t think Aerith will want you to get hurt.”
“He’s right, Mom. Besides, Marlene’s going to need someone to take care of her, won’t she Barret?”
“She’s with Shera, but I’m sure they’ll like the company.” Cid replied. “And I don’t mind taking her there while you think of a plan.”
“Then, we’ll do that.” Cloud said. “Take Mrs. Elmyra to your house and then come back as soon as you can, we’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
After many good-byes, Cid and Elmyra left the city along with Barret - because he insisted in seeing his daughter - and headed to Rocket Town, while Cloud and the rest of the team tried to figure out where Shimmer and the doppelganger might be.
“He said that they needed to go someplace where no one could interrupt them…” Reeve said.
“That doesn’t help,” Tifa said. “That could be just about anywhere.”
“Anywhere except the big cities,” Red said.
“Still, that leaves lots of places where they can be, and I don’t think we have much time to visit them all.” Elena said.
“El’s right,” Reno said, “especially if he knows that we’ll be after them. And, there’s something else that’s bothering me…”
“What is it?” Aerith asked.
“Well… Reeve says that Shimmer was in very bad shape before he lost consciousness. That’s pretty bad by itself, but… what if he hurt her before leaving? What if she doesn’t have any weapons with her?”
“I think she has a gun,” Cloud said. “I saw some kind of bundle under her jacket earlier. I think it might’ve been some sort of weapon.”
“Maybe something like this?” Rude asked. He had been pacing around, trying to figure things out as well, when he stepped over Shimmer’s silver gun.
Cloud walked towards him and took it from his hands. He read the inscription: “S & V,” then thought about it for a while.
“Do you know if it’s hers?” Tifa asked.
“Yeah, it’s hers alright.” He answered.
“How do you know?” Reeve asked.
“It has an inscription: S & V. It has to be hers.”
“But, what does it—?” Elena was interrupted by a loud splashing sound that came from the lake.
It took a while for the water to settle down, and when it did, three tall men emerged from it. Two of them were familiar for Cloud and the others, while the third was only known by Reeve, the Turks… and Yuffie.