A Warrior's Redemptionby Artiles
MEMORY SEVEN: DEFEATED WINNERS
Varlus lighted another cigarette as the sun began to rise over the Corel mountains. Steering the wheel of the truck they had stolen after docking near Rocket Town (and subsequently being chased by a Shinra helicopter), the warrior tried not to revive the last hours' painful events.
Yet, lucky charm though he may consider it, Krianna's pendant (now tilted slightly over Varlus' wolf tattoo on his chest's left side) was of no help in this matter. It wasn't heavy, but as far as Varlus was concerned, it felt as if made of pure lead.
He couldn't help but replaying it in his head. He had to admit, for a moment he thought she was going to join him in his desperate run home. Varlus had hoped their past shared adventures and assignments would tilt the odds on his favor, the fact he left her on her own notwithstanding. Funny how love can drastically change someone's decisions.
For his mind had been nagging him with the same thought ever since he dozed off in that Shinra boat: Had he made it clear before with Krianna that he would never see her as what she wanted him to see, would she have joined him instead of fight him? Did he had to add another mark to his already long list of personal failures and mistakes?
Jack shrugged at his side. Varlus paid no attention to him, still focused on himself.
Should he have lowered his sword instead of stabbing through Krianna's opening? Ok, maybe not lowered (no sense in getting killed that easy), but... rolled out of the way, perhaps? He had enough time to evade her lunge. Was striking the best decision?
"A warrior must not hesitate, no matter who the enemy might be."
Yes, those were his Father's words. But Varlus had been questioning those quotes lately... Surely, surely his Father wouldn't have said the same when put in that position.
But what about Krianna herself? What an amateur's flaw, that opening... Even Jack wouldn't have made that mistake...
And then it struck him: what if Krianna left that opening on purpose? What if she wanted him to kill her, as Jack had said?
The private snored, face glued to the window.
What an irony. To kill his best friend, not wanting to do it, and his kill was only possible because she laid his path with red carpet and a couple of candles. For now that he recalled that scene, it became clearer and clearer: nobody with a slight training would have left its left flank so unguarded.
Varlus shook his head, picked up the cigarette and squeezed it between his lips. He was going fucking crazy, and he knew it. But, then again, who wouldn't lose one or two screws after what happened?
"War is hell alright" he whispered harshly. The sun kept crawling its way upwards through the sky. And just like the dawn before he stroke at Wutai and all this madness began, he remembered Ifalna and Aeris... and his guilt became stronger. What would Ifalna think about this?
"Oh, no. You're not getting THOSE ideas in your head now" he said to himself. "She always backed you up, she knew what you were and how you made yourself a living before you proposed, and she accepted it."
This sure was a break point, though.
"Whatever. She loves me, I love her, and that's that."
And what about Aeris? How could he explain Daddy had-- no, wait a second. She didn't have to know about this. Not yet, anyway. So no point in worrying about it. Period.
Finally, his mind became silent. Varlus could felt nothing but thankful about it. Jack stretched in the little space he had, and looked at him.
"You look tired. Want me to drive for a while?" he asked sleepily.
"I'm alright" answered Varlus. No, he wasn't. But he didn't have to know about it. "Besides, you're still logy, and I don't fancy throwing all the effort we'd made up 'till know because of you crashing the truck."
They laughed briefly. Then Jack yawned, checking the truck's clock. 05:52 AM. Ifalna is getting up, thought Varlus.
"You know, when I was back in boot camp, I had no real trouble shooting those targets. But as I stood on that battlefield, facing those Wutaians... well, it was tough at the beginning. I was thinking "man, this is all so fucked up. I'm... killing people. Live, breathing people. This isn't right.""
"Killing is a habit" said Varlus, sight still on the road. "The more you do it, the easier it gets."
"That's awful" said Jack.
"You didn't seem to think the same as you shot those Shinra sentries at the dock" replied Varlus. Jack faced him, mildly pissed off.
"Those were Shinra troops" he said. Varlus gazed at him for a second, then refocused his eyes on the pathway.
"So what if your target is Shinra, Wutaian, Midgarian or whatever the hell it is? It's still a human being" the warrior said, adding: "Killing is always bad, no matter who your target is."
"Strange to hear that from a hardened veteran like you" replied Jack, facing away.
"I'm neither a veteran nor a hero. I'm just a survivor. A man who chose a way of life that involved killing: well, it comes with the job. The fact I've overgrown it doesn't mean I think it's okay to kill. Do you think I approved of this damn campaign?"
"I didn't" said Varlus, interrupting. "Never approved any of President Shinra's genocide plans and missions. Yet I had to do them. Why? Because that was my job. I was a Shinra employee and soldier. The pay was good. I was able to support my family with it, take care of my wife's needs, raise my little girl..." Jack seemed astounded hearing Varlus talking about his wife and daughter. He couldn't understand how the same man who shot and slashed Wutaians by the hundreds was speaking like an ordinary citizen. "That's why I told Krianna she wasn't a mercenary. Fact is... I was the mercenary. I was the one who lost his honor."
"Come on... don't be so hard to yourself. Look at me, dammit! I left my wife for good, with no one to be with her, just to fight in this god damn war" started Jack, now pouring his feelings out. "Everyone has to something awful from time to time." Jack seemed immensely interested in the truck's flooring, not removing his eyes from it. "She probably hates me now" he added.
"What d'you mean? She is your wife" said Varlus.
"Yeah, well... I left her all alone, you know."
"First of all, Jack, no one is completely alone in this world. There's always someone who cares for you, or waits for you to come back safely. The world's not the shithole some people think." He paused as he threw the cigarette's butt out of the window. "Secondly, did she know you were a Shinra private before?"
"Yeah. Since we dated."
"Then don't worry. If she knew what you were and married anyway, that means she copes with it and bears with it. She won't be pissed at you. Sure, chances are she doesn't agree with your line of work, but that doesn't mean she'll dump you or be mad at you."
Jack looked at Varlus, who was fumbling through the windshield trying to locate his pack of smokes.
"How can you tell?" the private asked.
Varlus looked back at him. "Because we're in the same train, kid" he said, pulling out another cigarette. "I've been a warrior for twenty years now, Ifalna knew it since we first met, back when we were nineteen... And not once did she even show a glimpse of anger or disappointment about it. So rest assured."
Jack smiled. "So... tell me about Ifalna" he said.
"What can I say?" Varlus smiled for the first time as he lighted the cigarette. "You know by now she's an Ancient, a Cetra. The last of them, that's what she told me."
"She must know a lot about Materia and Magic and all that stuff."
"Yeah, she does. But she never really cared much about it... Guess she wanted me to see her for the woman she is, and not for an Ancient. As if I needed as much" added Varlus, grinning.
"Sounds like a fine woman" said Jack. Varlus grinned again. Ifalna...
"And Aeris" Varlus continued..."My little princess. Four years old. Amazing how those little fellas grow up... feels as it if was yesterday when I cuddled her in my arms, listening to her soft breathing and gazing at her gorgeous blonde hair... and now she's talking about the boys she likes at Junon. Go figure."
Varlus laughed, shifting gears. Aeris...
"Those kind of things make you feel glad to be alive" Varlus was on a rant: it calmed him, comforted him. And he needed it. "It's always been like that... Any time I'm down some hellish war pit, I start thinking about them... the sight of Ifalna waking up in the mornings... lightly dressed, mind you," Both men laughed loudly. "and then she gets out and stands there, bathing in the sunrise light. Can't ask for much more than that."
"Right" said Jack, hearing his comrade, fascinated. He was probably imagining his own wife and his tender memories about her.
"Or I think about Aeris... rope skipping between the roses... always told the brat not to stomp over her Mother's flowers, but she doesn't listen. I'm a horrible father," said Varlus, though grinning, "can't deny her anything. She can buy me with just her smile. Hell, I'll be in trouble when she gets older."
Laughter filled the truck's cabin again. Varlus felt at peace with himself, stronger to carry on with the rest of the trip. God knew he was in need of it.
"I remember my wife waking me up in the mornings, with breakfast" splurted out Jack suddenly. "I always was a sleepy head: can't get up early no matter what I do. A damn lazy motherfucker, that's me." Varlus laughed loudly. "Then she'd go to the slums' shops, do the shopping, come back home and start cooking. Damn, she loves being in the kitchen."
"Which sector do you live in?" asked Varlus.
"Five" Jack snorted. "A hellhole, but the place's mine, and that's what it counts. I joined Shinra to raise my income and get us out of there, but..."
"Hey, better free down in the Slums than slaved upstairs" replied Varlus. Jack would never forget that quote in his life.
The sun was already up in the sky. Varlus and Jack were nearing the pass through the mountains to Costa Del Sol, and both men felt closer to home than ever.