A/N: Hey guys, chapter 2 for you. Also, I must apologize for the lack of question marks where they were suppose to be. That isn't the first time that's happened. They don't seem to make the transition from the Document Manager. I'll have to look into that. Thanks for all the reviews, they're great. I can only hope this lives up to the expectations as I have had a lot of trouble with this story for some reason. There's been lots of rewrites in this chapter and I feel this was the best one so I really hope everyone will be happy with it. Enjoy.
Leo couldn't sleep.
The emotional blow up that happen just a few hours ago was still fresh in his mind. He knew that he had every right to be angry with Aeris. What she did was uncalled for and unfair. Leo would be lying if he said he didn't feel a form of justification with his outburst. But despite all the facts, he just couldn't shake that feeling of guilt.
He was never an angry person, always making a joke or laughing it off if he ever felt the need to vent. Raising his voice only really occurred when frustrated with an RPG or when playing against button mashers in Mortal Kombat. A fight with Aeris was nothing new but it was the first time where he actually wanted to hurt her feelings.
It made him feel sick.
Leo curled up on his side and rubbed his eyes tiredly. Aeris was the most important person in the world to him and the last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her. Even if she did deserve it.
Leo sat up and looked at the clock on his dresser that read two thirty in the morning. He scratched his head and swung his feet over the sides, staring at his lap.
He hated that he felt guilty about this and that he knew he was going to apologize for it when he knew he shouldn't. He hated it even more that he had pretty much thrown out an empty threat with his tirade. But it was just an inconvenient truth that that's just how things are going to be with them.
Maybe if he wasn't such a coward and told her how he felt about her than maybe things would be different.
Leo shook his head at the thought. It was ridiculous. If he told Aeris how he felt, she would either laugh in his face or put a fist in it. Her rejection would be more hurtful than any beating or insult she could throw out. She had also made it painfully clear that their friendship was solely based on some stupid deal.
The grey colored feline sighed hard and brushed his hair out of his eyes. Why did things have to be so complicated? Falling for his best friend who also happened to just put up with him for what? Paying bills? Someone who she could pound in gaming? It was a horrible relationship that could barely even qualify as a friendship and Leo should just walk away from it because it wasn't going to get better.
But he couldn't.
No matter how bad things got or how much of sham their friendship has turned out to be, Leo couldn't leave her. She had become…everything to him. He thought about her every minute he was away and when she was near he felt as if time had slowed down just so he could enjoy her presence for as long as he could. Video games were Leo's addiction and he thought he would always be hooked. But sometimes you find something else that gives you a high greater than what you ever could have imagined. Aeris was his high and he didn't think he could kick it.
Even if it meant being nothing more than another warm body for her to abuse.
Accepting the cold hard truth of the situation, Leo stood up and hiked up his pajama bottoms before heading out of his room. He walked through the darkened hallways, his ears twitching at the sound of the rain slapping against the windows of the house. Leo came to Aeris' room and paused in front of her door. A sudden feeling of trepidation began to well up in his stomach as he envisioned what the female cat was doing behind that barrier. She was up, probably thinking of some sort of fitting punishment for him. Pinching the space between his eyes, he took a deep breath and softly knocked at the door.
He stood there for what seemed like hours, awaiting the door to be ripped open and a fiery wrath unleashed upon him. Only it didn't come. Leo shifted on the balls of his feet nervously. Over two minutes passed and there was still no response except the pattering of the rain outside. Curiously, he knocked a little louder and spoke this time.
"Aeris?" He called out, his voice just above a whisper.
He waited again, his muscles tensing as he was sure to receive the greeting he was expecting. Yet after another uneasy series of minutes, there was still no reply. Frowning, Leo opened Aeris' door, something he would never do without her permission and peeked inside. It was dark and even with his unique night vision, he could not make out much.
"Aeris?" He called again, louder this time. Leo was greeted by nothing but silence and he felt his fear now converge into that of worry. He reached over and pawed at the side of the wall, searching for the light switch. When he felt the switch brush his fingertips, Leo flicked it up and he had to shield his eyes from the blinding onslaught of light. Once his eyes had adjusted, he discovered why Aeris had not answered him.
She wasn't there.
Her bed was empty and undisturbed which meant that she hadn't slept in it at all tonight. Leo left her room and checked the bathroom to find that it too was empty. That feeling of worry started to rise and he hurried over to the staircase.
"Aeris? Are you down there?" He hollered. The house's empty silence was all that answered him. Leo trotted down the stairs and found both the living room and kitchen barren, neither a plate nor a controller touched for hours. Leo wandered back into the living room and began to pace anxiously.
This wasn't like her. Aeris was always so stringent when someone left the house. She always wanted a note left behind or a phone call whether it be him or herself. His eye caught a small red cellphone sitting on the coffee table which only confused him more. Aeris never left the house without it. Where could she have gone to in the middle of the night, in this weather no less? Leo racked his brain searching for answers but only came up with more questions.
Did she go for a walk? Was she at the all night gym? Did she go to the store for some feminine hygiene products? Was there a midnight release of a new game? Was she out there planning some horrific form of revenge against him? What if she was hurt?
That last thought made him stop in his tracks and he could feel a cold icy sensation grip his heart.
Panic striking his mind like a lightning bolt, he raced back upstairs and into his room. Throwing off his pajamas and hurriedly dressing himself, he bolted back down the stairs, nearly tripping over his own tail. He ripped open the front door and out onto the front lawn. The rain poured down on his head which was always something that annoyed him to no end but that was the furthest thing from his mind. Leo saw that the car was still where it was parked and he reached into his pockets, grabbing hold of the keys. He wasted no time in jumping into the front seat and firing up the engine. The car sped out of the driveway in reverse and he gunned it down the puddle filled streets.
Leo was gripping the wheel so hard that he could feel his knuckles ache and hears the pounding of his heart in his ears. He looked down and saw that he was going well over eighty in a residential area which probably wasn't the best idea in the middle of rain stricken night. Taking a deep breath, he eased off the accelerator and slowed down to more appropriate speed. Once he felt his heartbeat return to its regular rhythm, his mind began to assess the situation again.
"Okay, okay. Where could she have gone? Work maybe to finish some projects? No. Aeris would never give up her weekend gaming hours to go into work, no matter how much she loved her job."
Leo shook his head as he turned down a street, wipers whining as they cleared away water from the window. What was he going to do? He had no idea where to even start looking. He couldn't drive around all over Toronto. Leo stopped at a stop sign but did not move forward. The car sat there, idling in the rain.
"Think you idiot. You didn't do much of that at Shaw's so start making up for it now. Come on Leo, try! Aeris was upset. What do you do when you're upset? Like when we had that fight in eleventh grade about that stupid JRPG. God, what a terrible game! I can't believe she liked it! Focus Leo, focus! What did you do to feel better? I was so mad at her stupid insults I practically stomped down to…"
That's when it hit him.
It was a long shot but if Leo knew anything about Aeris, it was that she often partook in the same form of mind numbing activity to escape the pains of reality. And sometimes the games at home weren't enough. Leo turned right and drove down the streets for almost ten minutes before he came across an old outlet center. He pulled into the barren parking lot and shut off the engine. Stepping back out into the rain, he jogged across the lot and came to a long strip of stores. He passed by each one, all of them dark and deserted, closed for the night except for one. The damp furred feline saw the rays of light that shone out from the windows and stretched along the night covered lot for but a few feet. Leo picked up his pace until he was at the door, glancing at the words stenciled on the glass door he hadn't read in years.
Voltor's 24 Hour Arcade.
As he opened the door, Leo was instantly greeted by the same view he remembered when he was younger. The arcade had a tacky outer space theme with aliens, planets and spaceships covering the walls in colors so bright that they gave you a headache if you stared for too long. There was a corner to the side that held all sorts of vending machines that sported all the latest soft drinks and candy from the nineties. In the center of the arcade were the games themselves, dozens and dozens of them scattered around the place. Most of them were classics like Street Fighter, Tekken, Bubble Bobble, Tetris, Alien vs. Predator, Contra and just about anything else you remembered as a kid. There were a few new ones around but they looked a little out of place in such a retro atmosphere.
Leo spent a lot of time and a lot of quarters here and he smiled at the thought slightly. But it dissipated quickly when he remembered that reminiscing was not the reason he was here. He slowly walked through the arcade until he saw the front cashier. He was an older looking gentleman with long graying hair and a thin weathered face. He was reading a novel of which Leo could not see the front cover and adjusted his glasses as he turned the page. Leo approached him and asked,
"Excuse me but has anyone else been here tonight?"
The man didn't even look up from his novel but gave a small amused chuckle. "Son, there's only been one person here all night and she's still here. I think she's near the back playing one of those zombie games you kids are so obsessed with."
Leo turned his head around to see but found that there were too many machines in the way. He thanked the cashier, who still hadn't looked up from his book yet and made his way through the maze of games. Leo felt himself grow nervous again as he bobbed and weaved, approaching the back of the arcade. Tonight had been a very tolling one on him emotionally and he wasn't sure he could take a beating after all that. He paused in between two machines, Time Crisis and a Star Wars pinball table to gather his wits. He could hear the sounds of shooting and eerie music not too far away which meant he was close. Leo knew he could just go home and deal with the punishment then but maybe if he offered her some quarters or a ride home, things wouldn't be as harsh.
"Yeah, cause that wasn't a stupid ass thought." He thought to himself tiredly. Sighing loudly and running a hand through his hair, Leo continued forth to just get things over with like he had planned when he left his room that night. He rounded a corner and that's when he saw her.
Her back was to him, her attention focused on shooting the walking dead that tried to attack her in House of the Dead. She fired rapidly at each enemy, all of them head shots then reloaded to the side only to go right back into her accurate style of execution. Leo was impressed. House of the Dead was a game he prided himself on beating and that was no easy task. Aeris, who was never a big fan of shooters, was actually doing a near flawless job.
It wasn't until a rather large and grotesque monster started to slash and hack at her did she start to get frustrated. Leo could hear her growling as she fired viciously at its face. It proved to be of little effect as the last attack from the creature killed her. With a cry of pure frustration and something else Leo could not identify, she threw the gun down, the plastic casing making an awkward clacking sound against the rail that holstered it. Aeris leaned against the machine breathing hard as the countdown to give her a chance to start again flashed on screen.
She clutched at her head and moaned softly in contempt.
"Why couldn't life be as simple as throwing down a quarter and getting to start all over again? Avoid all the screw ups and shit storms." She wondered. But as the numbers counted down, she already knew the answer.
Life wouldn't be life if things were that simple. There was no restart button. Just consequences for every action. And her actions may have cost her best friend.
She stood up straighter and stared blankly at her reflection in the panel's smooth glossy surface, her face mixing in with the horrific images of the monsters from the game. It was a fitting picture for that's exactly what she felt like.
An ugly, savage, unfeeling beast that hurt the one she cared for most. Aeris closed her eyes and looked away from the panel. Why did she have to be like that? Why couldn't she control her temper?
It wasn't the first time she had asked herself those questions. Aeris was stubborn, arrogant, pushy and occasionally rude. That's just the way she was and she accepted that. Others in her life however did not. She had a habit of pushing people away because of said traits. Men especially. They all couldn't handle her…attitude. Aeris snorted at the thought and bit her bottom lip. There was only one man in her life that accepted her for who she was and she pushed him away just like all the others.
She clenched her hands into fists and pounded them down on the panel, her mind focusing on the said individual. She often contemplated the results that would become if she ever told him about her feelings. It made her shudder.
Leo was no Einstein but she had learned as time went on that he was kind, understanding and generally took things with good humor. Despite those qualities, Aeris didn't think he could handle such a confession. They had never been anything more than friends. That's all she had ever known with him. Things would get just too weird and then…Leo would stop spending time with her...and everything would be gone…
But none of that mattered. None of that mattered because it was already gone. Gone because she couldn't stop being a bitch for one minute and screw up the best thing in her life. Aeris felt her eyes screw shut and she choked a silent sob. She was so caught up in her emotions, she didn't even notice the grey cat behind her.
Leo took a step forward, his stomach full of butterflies and softly called to her.
The pink feline froze at the sound of his voice but didn't turn around. Leo stepped closer, though still apprehensive and noticed that she was soaking wet. Her hair was stringy and damp and the long sleeved shirt that sported an image of Bowser in his 'I'm #1' pose was clinging to her slender body. She trembled slightly but Leo could not determine whether that was because she was cold or because she was enraged.
There was a moment of silence between them, the sounds of the arcade being the only noise. Leo cleared his throat and decided to speak first with what he knew he should start with.
"Aeris I'm so sorry about all those things I said. I…was angry and I shouldn't have yelled at you. I did a really dumb thing tonight and I…blew your promotion. I deserved all those things you said about me. If…you want to punch me, you can. I won't complain." He finished.
Leo stared at the back of her head for what felt like hours. No? What does she mean no? Shouldn't she be letting loose with her fists? Why wasn't she looking at him? Something wasn't right. Before he could even open his mouth to ask, Aeris answered him.
"You didn't deserve any of those things I said about you. You had every right to be angry with me about what I said…about what I've done to you."
Aeris' voice cracked softly at the end of her statement, a faint sound but Leo's ears twitched at the sound of it. His mind twirling around in confusion, he approached her again, this time from the side so he could look at her. Aeris, as if reading his mind, turned away from him again, not wanting her best friend to see her like this.
"Aeris…" Leo said gently and gripped her shoulder. She tensed upon contact but slowly relaxed as Leo pulled her back to him. When she finally faced him, Leo couldn't believe what he was seeing.
Aeris was crying.
Leo had never seen her cry in his entire life. Not when she broke her arm in High School, not when she got stood up at the prom or when she got into a fight with another girl and lost at a concert. Leo felt his heart ache at the sight of the tears streaming down her wet face.
"Aeris…please don't…I didn't mean…"
"Yes you did." She sniffed. "You meant every word of it…and you're right."
"No Aeris, I-"
"I've been such a shitty friend to you Leo." She choked, her hand covering her face as if trying to hide from him. "All those year of abusing you and ripping on you…I never…God, I'm such a fucking idiot!"
She pounded her fist on the game's front panel again causing it to shake. Her trembling increased as she let out ragged breaths, her hands leaning against the panel. She sniffed back a few tears and looked at him again, pain filled blue orbs locking with concerned green ones.
"You've always been there for me. Even after all the shit I put you through. You kept coming back and being friends with me. Best friends and…and I treated it like a joke."
"Aeris, please…you don't have to explain." Leo interrupted although a part of him wanted her to continue.
"Yes I do." She sniffed. "You didn't deserve what I said to you tonight. I don't deserve a friend like you." Aeris paused again and closed her eyes as if she was in a great amount of physical torment.
"If you want to leave like you've obviously been thinking about…I won't stop you." Aeris whispered the last part so quietly, he almost didn't hear it. Leo was beside himself. This was completely un-Aeris and it scared him. But what she was saying scared him even more.
Raising his hand and pausing for a moment, he placed it back on her shoulder. The feeling of her fur sending chill up his spine as he spoke.
"Aeris…I don't want to leave." He told her, his voice soft and comforting. She wiped away some tears with her sleeve and scoffed a disheartening laugh. "Don't bullshit me Leo. I heard it in your voice."
"I'm not bullshitting you." Leo stated firmly and his grip on her shoulder tightened. She faced him again and he relaxed his grip as Aeris shook her head sadly.
"Why? You have no reason to after all I've done."
"Because you're my best friend." Leo answered. "But-" Aeris tried but was cut short by the feline in front of her.
"You are my best friend Aeris." He repeated, a little louder this time. "You've beaten me, cursed me, stabbed me and tried to abort me from existence. If I still hung around after all that, do you really think a little fight is going to make me leave?"
"But you said-"
"I know what I said. I wish I hadn't. I never wanted to…make you feel this way." He said with a small frown. In truth, Leo felt some of the words he spoke to be a bit empty. He knew that his tirade earlier tonight was well over due and if it had an effect on her like it obviously did then he couldn't help but feel in the right. But to see her so hurt and sad, being in the right, no matter how much vindication there was, was not worth it to him.
It wasn't worth causing the girl he cared for an unbearable amount of grief.
"I know that we haven't always had the greatest relationship in the past but…I'll do whatever it takes for us to forget the whole thing and go back to how it was. Maybe I can start by trying to smooth things over with Shaw and get you that promotion. It's the least I could do after screwing that up."
"No you didn't. I was dumb to think that just because of that incident that it would affect me. It was just…we're so close, you know? And thought maybe Shaw would associate me with the whole thing and…" Aeris paused then shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I should have known better than to just assume that. He's been good to us and I should have believed him when he said it wasn't a big deal."
Leo just nodded as Aeris wiped away some remaining tears and looked to him. She studied him for a moment before speaking again.
"Leo," She began, her voice soft and gentle, "I want you know that…how things have been with us lately…spending more time together and having a stronger friendship…it had nothing to do with the deal we made. I mean, it was sort of like that at first but after a while…I did all those things because I wanted to. Because I have so much fun with you. Because…"
Aeris paused and she could feel her face fluster as she looked away from him. She couldn't bring herself to say it no matter how much she wanted to. Only Leo would forgive her after such a screw up. Only her Leo. And her heart swelled at his forgiveness, fueling a desire to confess to him. But she couldn't. She wouldn't screw this up again.
Leo found himself edging a little closer to her, his curiosity compelling him to hear what she was going to say.
"Because what?" He asked. Aeris didn't face him. She rubbed her arm in awkward shyness. Another very un-Aeris action. She was always so forward and confident. To see her reduced to something like that of a shy school girl was like watching some bizzaro world clone of her. The pink cat eventually met his gaze again and shook her head with an exhausted laugh.
"It's not important." She lied. Leo could spot her falseness. Aeris was a smart girl but never a very good liar. He wrinkled his brow in curiosity, his mind desperately trying to make him push her into telling the truth but decided that now wasn't the time. Aeris dried her eyes and smiled at him, picking up the gun that fallen to the floor.
"Care for a round?" She asked, her sapphire eyes reflecting kindness and relief. Leo smiled at her and picked up the other gun. His answer was that of plopping in a quarter and the game starting up again.
For the next half hour, the two cats hunted zombies and laughed and teased each other side by side as if nothing had happened. Leo felt good. To hear Aeris tell him that the pact they had made so long ago had nothing to do with the time they were spending together and the sincerity in her voice filled him with something. Something he felt for the first time since he realized his feelings for her.
If she could put up with him after all they had been through and really value and respect him like she did, then maybe it wasn't so farfetched to believe that something could happen between them. It didn't make the actual reality of trying to tell her any less difficult unfortunately. Why would she want anything to do with him romantically? He knew he wasn't the handsomest guy out there and Aeris had a few guys interested in her at work, all with higher positions than him. It didn't help that his IQ was a rather large elephant in the room either. What could he possibly offer her? He felt his gun droop a little as he fired a few bullets into an oncoming monster.
Perhaps his hope was nothing but a falsehood that belonged simply in the realm of fantasy.
But despite the rather disappointing realization, he couldn't help but stare at her from the corner of his eye. Even when she was soaking wet, she was beautiful. Her face was locked in a state of concentration but she wore a smile, the one where her right fang sometimes stuck out over her bottom lip. Leo felt himself lose total focus on the game, unaware that his character was taking heavy damage.
Leo broke out of his trance and noticed that Aeris was giving him a strange look. He looked to the screen and saw the continue option counting down on his side of the screen. He mumbled a sheepish apology, his face burning red and reached into his pocket to discover he was out of quarters.
"Looks like I'm done." He said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Don't worry. I'll avenge you." Aeris replied with a smile. He smiled back and leaned against the panel to watch her carry on.
She was doing well on her own just like before he found her but this time Leo was giving her hints and tips.
"Make sure you don't miss any items. There's going to be a guy at the top of the stairs. Make sure you hit him in the head."
Aeris blasted her way through the level with relative ease until she came to the monster that had killed her before. Leo stood up straight and pointed to the screen.
"Don't waste bullets on his head. You have to hit him in the stomach where that gross organ thing is." He said. Aeris nodded and followed his advice. She fired at where Leo had told her but was having trouble as the creature would block the attacks with its many arms. Aeris started to become frustrated again and narrow her eyes menacingly at the game. Leo watched in minor amusement and tried to guide her though it.
"You have to shoot his arms to keep him from blocking. No, no the top ones first. Here…"
Leo moved in behind her and brought his arms up underneath hers, gently cupping her hands with his own. Aeris felt her breath get caught in her throat as she felt his warm body press against her back. Ever so softly, Leo guided her gun to places she had to shoot.
"Just like that." He said softly into her ear. His warm breath tickled her neck and she held back a moan of comfort. Subconsciously, she closed her eyes and leaned back into him though Leo didn't seem to notice. Leo moved her hands to the right positions to fire but finally noticed that she was taking a lot of damage. He also noticed it was because she wasn't firing.
"Aeris?" He asked, leaning his head to the side to look at her. Aeris turned her head slowly to look at him, their eyes locking like two tractor beams. The game continued on in the background with Aeris' character dying but neither of them could hear or see it still frozen in place. All they could see was each other. Their best friend for so many years that had stuck around through so many trials, including tonight. Leo blinked, realizing that they were staring at each other in a rather awkward position. He moved his lips to say her name again but the word never made it out of his mouth.
It never made it out of his mouth because Aeris was kissing him.
A/N: Oh snap! Again, I hope this chapter was worth the wait and I'll have the final chapter up soon. Thanks a bunch guys, we'll see you in chapter 3!