His fingers fold complacently under her touch; her hand is warmer than his, and the pure sincerity in her emerald irises only make them more striking. When was the last time he had seen eyes that colour in such close proximity? Ifalna had certainly passed the best of her…
You didn’t pull the trigger, the girl says - and behind the mask of humility Hojo’s eyes widen slightly, true surprise breaking through for the briefest of moments before he pulls the lines on his face back into place.
Was she trying to reassure him?
What a strange child.
Orphaned, hounded, living a pitiful existence among Midgar’s impoverished scum… she still has time to show consideration for the so-called catalyst to her chain of unfortunate events?
Mild discomfort settles somewhere in the back of his throat - a knot composed mostly of exasperation, mingled with threads of pity. A grimace tugs at the muscles in his cheeks, nearly makes him break character again before he stifles the urge with a sigh.
She’s not going to live very long in this cut-throat world with that personality.
Aerith’s footsteps linger; Hojo is a step ahead when her question is posed, and the pure distress in her voice makes him turn, gaze falling on her face at last in a seemingly reflexive response to that overwhelming emotion. The hand at her chest. The moisture in those downcast eyes. The rose lying at her feet, as dejected as its owner. The air around him seems to thicken suddenly; the pain of a whole world of living beings bleeding from the invisible wound she holds at her heart in a torrent, sweeping over him in waves.
In his life, Hojo had seen entire towns burn and felt nothing, sought to witness the most appalling grotesqueries of mankind just to test his strength of will. A whole career spent collecting human miseries, and yet- is he really now being affected by a few words and gestures from a little girl?
Beware, the voice of reason commands. Remember. Ifalna had this power too.
"That pain, I’m afraid, is a part of your heritage." Hojo bends down slowly, stiff in his joints, to pick up the bloom she dropped, holding it temporarily against the cream of lilies in his other hand. "You possess the blood of the Ancients, Miss Aerith - your people were the immune system of the planet, in-tune to its injuries because it was your responsibility - your privilege - to help it recover."
Gast’s words, in his mouth, tasted somewhat bitter. “But as your numbers dwindled and the insults to Gaia continued, it became increasingly difficult for the planet to communicate its distresses and have them eased. Historical evidence shows that the Ancients were once divided into groups - many separate populations - each dedicated to hearing and tending to only a few of Gaia’s specific needs. But now that that channel has narrowed down to one… all the signals must blend together, until all you feel is pain, while receiving no real distinct message nor indication on how to respond.
At least… that’s what your mother told me.”
He holds the rose out, expression appropriately sombre. “It seems… like a lonely fate.”
There is more to say… but this conversation requires patience and tact if it is to go in his favour, and he is willing to wait.
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