Fandom: FFVII (Marriageverse AU)
Characters: Aeris/Sephiroth, OCs, Cast.
Previous: Prologue | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2
Notes: This chapter was getting too long compared to the rest so I had to split it. One more plus epilogue to go.
Summary: Sephiroth and Aeris try to hold their marriage together after a devastating loss.
They went through the motions of a life together. He cooked dinner. She washed his shirts. He left for work in the morning. She taught Ella and tended her garden by day. They slept in the same bed at night but stayed on their own sides. The first night, after he had finally gotten Ella wound down and tucked into bed, he had come to the door and looked in, wondering if it would be an invasion of space. He was used to couches by then so it would have been no bother. But Aeris looked so confused, almost hurt, if he dared to call it that, when he asked permission to come in and get his pajamas. The way she shut the door behind him settled it. He spent the night on the very edge of the mattress watching her sleep, and it had been like that almost every night since.
The house was too quiet, almost noisy in its silence. Everywhere he looked there was a memory. Ghost images played before his eyes. Echoes with no source followed his steps. He would find himself just beginning to stoop when he came home from work, ready to scoop up a little boy who would no longer come toddling at him. Ella played by herself at his feet in the evenings, quieter at it for being by herself. She was learning to read now. Had learned actually. Learned as fast as he had. Now she sat on the floor with her storybooks, lips moving without a sound, still using a finger to track the words, while the building blocks and the puzzles she and her brother had played with together lay abandoned in their chest. She was adjusting well to being an only child again, Sephiroth thought, though the blue circles on the calendar reminded him that it was only temporary. Hopefully. Those blue circles would decide.
The weather went from brisk to crisp to cold. The flowers retreated into the earth. The grass died outright. Chilly as the mornings became, Sephiroth began to look forward to the snow, for anything that would cover the cracked and broken earth. The morning after Aeris’s feet brushed up against his own in the bed, seeking warmth, she brought out the winter bedding, thick flannel sheets and a heavy down comforter. Sephiroth stifled his sigh and went back to longing after her form, still slender, wrapped in her blood red satin robe with the green fuzzy socks peeking out beneath. It was the kind of ensemble he would have playfully teased her about some other time, when volunteering to remove those socks would have done them both a world of good.
One night as he lay in his perpetual half-sleep, eyes not quite closed, mind not quite still, he saw her turning in her sleep. Tossing. Twitching. He closed his eyes against the sight. She moved in her sleep quite a bit these days. But then she always had said she slept better in his arms. He was considering for the millionth time the possibilities of reaching out when she began to speak. He thought she had woken but her eyes were still closed.
“Sorry,” she said, “I’m sorry, baby. Mama’s so sorry.” Over and over she said it, till the whisper became a cry and tears ran down her sleeping face. Sephiroth lay frozen across a wide ravine. Then Aeris began to glow. Rivulets of her inborn grace, her own lifecurrent enhanced by the ties of her blood to the Planet streamed up under her skin in a familiar swirl, as if she were readying herself to cast. Tendrils of Lifestream enveloped her body, gathered for a storm.
“Aeris!” Sephiroth could not wait anymore. “Aeris, wake up!” He grabbed her shoulder and shook her. “You’re dreaming, Aeris! Wake up!” It was nearly the longest half-second of Sephiroth’s life. Aeris shot up under his grasp, blinking into the dark. The holy glow of Lifestream lifted away and dissipated. Sephiroth’s hand trailed down her arm. “Are you okay? You were dreaming.”
Aeris put a hand to her head and tried to catch her breath. She glanced at him once in the dark and burrowed her way slowly back under the covers. “I’m okay,” she said. Her eyes peered out over the edge of the comforter. She looked younger than her years, hiding from her demons like a child in the dark. “Did I say anything?”
Sephiroth could tell that it meant a lot to her. “No. You were getting ready to cast though.” There was no hiding that. She nodded at him and slid further under the covers. His hand was warm where it had touched her. “If you need anything, anything at all” he said, “I’m here.”
“I know.” Her voice bore the strain of a throat gone tight.
“I mean it,” he said. “Pickles, chicken wings, exotic fruit, you know the drill.”
She made a sound that could have been a laugh. “Thanks,” she said, and was soon quiet again, falling into an uneasy sleep under his watchful, wondering eye.
He liked to think things had eased between them a bit. Routine was comforting. He slept on more than three inches of mattress. One of his favorite shirts returned to its position in his wardrobe, mud and grass stains laboriously removed. They sat in bed together at night, usually reading. Conversation was sparse and light and superficial, but it was closer to normal than they had been in weeks. Though their bedroom remained a strangely silent place, the cold outside grew stronger than the one inside and Sephiroth began to feel a little less like he was missing a part of his soul.
One night while they sat reading, Sephiroth heard a scuffle at the door. “Ella?” he called, feeling her mind lurking just outside their door. The handle turned violently and Ella stood in the doorway in her nightgown, hands on hips, glaring at the bed.
“You two are so NOISY!” she screamed and stormed off before anyone could stop her.
Sephiroth stared at the empty space in the hallway. “Um, I didn’t say anything. Did you?”
Aeris looked just as stunned. “No.”
“Then what was that about?”
Aeris shrugged. “She’s your daughter,” she said, picking up her place in her book again. “We have to expect things like that now and then.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sephiroth asked. Aeris wouldn’t answer, hiding her mouth behind hardcovers, but he didn’t mind. Somehow, he knew, he’d made her laugh.
The date in blue came around and he took the day off. There was little more than an ultrasound and the usual tests to be done at this point, though he was sure there would be more later. So much more. The air was cold and the sky was grey and Aeris took his hand as they walked up to the hospital doors. Sephiroth marveled at the feel of it, through his gloves and hers.
She led him through a detour he did not know, up the stairs in the back, away from the wards. He gathered from the dim light and the general state of disrepair that the general public was not meant to pass that way. Which left the question of who was responsible for all the cigarette butts on the floor, but he decided not to pry. When they entered the hospital proper again, they were on the third floor, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Sephiroth knew why she had passed up the back way instead of risking the crowds of the elevator. The second floor was the pediatrics department. Sephiroth squeezed Aeris’s hand in his and let her lead him to the clinic waiting room.
He kept his eyes where they needed to be, on his wife, on the receptionist’s desk, on the paperwork. Looking around only encouraged the eyes that tended to fall on him, and there were plenty now, not nearly as surreptitious as their owners might have thought. But at least they felt sympathetic, he thought, under the curiosity that bordered on nosiness. It had made the news of course, their loss. This would make the news too.
Aeris busied herself with one of the old magazines and a large bottle of water while they waited. Sephiroth sat with fingers laced instead of arms crossed, deliberately trying to look less imposing, because it simply would not do to terrify a roomful of pregnant women. It was just like the other times. He supposed hospital waiting rooms never really changed. They smelled the same, sounded the same and but for a fresh coat of paint now and then, looked much the same all over. He thought of Aeris and the new little one and kept the rest of his medical memories at bay.
He pretended not to notice the eyes on him when ‘Mrs. Sephiroth’ got called in. He pretended that it all had nothing to do with him. Honestly, what could he do? Nobody was doing an ultrasound on his belly. Aeris and the ultrasonographer, a middle-aged woman (“Call me Mae”) seemed acquainted, greeting each other warmly enough and content to simply acknowledge then ignore him. He held Aeris’s hand as she exposed what needed exposing, bore the squeeze when she hissed at the cold jelly and tried to make sense of the grainy image on the screen.
He was not trained in the ways of reading these things, couldn’t tell a heart wall from a womb unless he was told beforehand what he was looking at. But there were things this could see, warning signs it could pick up, before they resorted to the needles and the sampling and the tests and the violation that Aeris would willingly put up with if it meant making sure this one was healthy and strong. His heart began to pound and he could not hear a word Mae said. Aeris squeezed his hand, drawing his attention away from the screen. Her thumb caressed his fingers and though she looked away from the screen for only a moment, he saw that she knew exactly what he feared.
“Hey,” Mae said. “Look at that.”
“Look at what?” Sephiroth felt his heart leap into his throat, beating hard enough to stop his breath.
The little cursor moved on the screen. “There’s just the one sac that I can see,” Mae said, frowning at the screen, “which can get tricky sometimes, but there’s one head… and there’s definitely another.”
“The baby has two heads?” Sephiroth was floored. Mae tittered, and to Sephiroth it felt like glass breaking. Aeris herself was smiling, mostly in her eyes, waiting for official word before it reached her lips.
“No, Sir,” Mae said, grinning wide. “You’re having twins.” Sephiroth was glad he was already in a chair because it was the closest to blacking out he had come in recent life.
“Hey,” Aeris said softly, pulling on her coat. “Are you okay?”
Sephiroth looked up. He had taken a seat in the common waiting area next to the elevators, almost out of sight beside a vending machine. He held the empty water bottle in loose hands, tapping its side in no particular rhythm to give his fingers something to do. “I’m fine,” he said. “Surprised, but fine.”
Aeris stood in front of him, fluffing her hair out from underneath her scarf. “I’m surprised too. But it’s good, don’t you think?” He turned tired eyes her way.
“Three pregnancies, three children?”
Aeris’ face went ashen. “That’s not what I meant.” Sephiroth could have kicked himself.
“I know. I didn’t either. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Aeris looked down at him, coat undone, scarf hanging, gloves in one hand. “I’m sorry too, Seph,” she said, reaching with her empty hand to stroke his hair. “About everything.”
His eyes fluttered shut at that touch, his entire world shrinking for a moment to lithe fingers brushing against his scalp. He reached up and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close so he could rest a cheek on her stomach. The soft warmth of her pressed against his face. He could feel the swell of her breasts moving as she breathed. He would have stayed there all day, to hell with being seen, but Aeris set her hands on his shoulders and pushed him away.
“I have to pee,” she said, looking at the empty bottle Sephiroth had set down beside him.
“Ah, yes,” he said, rising. “It begins again.” He dared to swoop down and kiss her forehead. “I might go down to the cafeteria and get us some tea in the meantime. Want anything else?” Aeris wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“Grape juice, please? The tea here is too strong. And a cheese pie! They make nice ones here,” she said. “Meet you back here?” Her smile was real as she turned to go, reaching both eyes and mouth. It did not hit him until the elevator how she knew so much about the cafeteria food.
The white-haired gentleman who embarked from the second floor looked familiar. He made a start at seeing Sephiroth that was more than the usual kind. “General Sephiroth?” he asked.
Sephiroth looked closer. “Doctor… Knutty, was it?”Knutty, Alfred P. according to his hospital ID badge.
Knutty gave him a wry laugh. “Yeah, should have just gone into psychiatry, eh? But I didn’t think I could take all the jokes.” He sobered. “How’s your wife?”
“She’s fine,” Sephiroth said. “Pregnant.” It was probably hitting the social networks already anyway.
“Really! Congratulations!” The doctor made to offer a congratulatory handshake. Sephiroth only missed half a beat before he took it. The doctor looked like he understood. “Having a full panel of tests done, I take it.”
“It was just the preliminary ultrasound today,” Sephiroth said, exiting on the ground floor. The doctor followed, more of out coincidence than design.
He got in line behind Sephiroth and ordered the biggest coffee the place offered. “Ring his tab up with mine, Jerry,” he said to the cashier, although Sephiroth already had his wallet out.
“That’s not necessary,” Sephiroth began.
“You can still pay your share,” Knutty assured him, “but I can get you the staff discount.” Sephiroth acquiesced silently, knowing that he would have to make up the deficit anyway. It began at the creamer counter, while the doctor sugared his coffee to sludge to make it palatable. “This stuff will kill me one day,” he muttered. Sephiroth made the sound he had learned to make because it could be interpreted any number of ways, agreement being one of them.
“I don’t mean to intrude,” Dr. Knutty said as they walked away, Sephiroth shortening his stride to match the other man’s. “I know it’s no business of ours anymore, but for what it’s worth, I’m sorry we couldn’t save your boy.”
“You did your best,” Sephiroth said, because it was the proper thing to say. His tea was too hot for sipping but he drank anyway, relishing the momentary burn on his tongue.
“And it wasn’t good enough.” Knutty sipped his clouded brew. “It happens,” he said, staring into his cup. “We can’t save them all, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.”
“Doesn’t stop you from trying, though,” Sephiroth said, attempting to sound appreciative of what he was sure were as much legal requirements as medical procedure.
“We didn’t try half as hard as your wife. She’s a tough woman,” Dr. Knutty said, eyebrows up over his glasses, hand rubbing his neck. He stepped in closer, almost an invasion of personal space. The scent of his coffee mingled with a faint trace of nicotine. Sephiroth edged back but bent his head to hear. “Now, I don’t want to pry,” the doctor was saying, “but she’s a little… like you, in some respects?”
Sephiroth shook his head, mentally stamping and trampling on the suggestion. “She has strong healing affinity.”
“Strong grip too.” Knutty stepped back and sipped again.
“Grip?” It was Sephiroth’s turn to arch one eyebrow.
“Yeah, she tried to throttle me when I made the call,” Knutty said, swirling his coffee. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said, spotting Sephiroth’s appalled expression. “She’s not even the first, lots of people react strongly in the department when it happens. Dying children, you know, especially when they’re in pain…” He sighed and stared into his coffee. “She really gave it her all though, even after I called it. I thought it was restore materia at first, don’t see too many people walking around with those anymore. But I know regular materia flares. I was a field medic during the war.” He raised his eyebrows at Sephiroth, who nodded once, only to encourage the man to find out how much he had seen.
“She kept casting and casting, over and over. It was like the Lifestream itself was rising up around her.” Nutty sighed, shaking his head. “Thought she would collapse, the way she was going at it. She hadn’t slept the whole time she was here.” Knutty rubbed his neck and waited till the elevator doors closed on them again before he said anything more. “We never had access to the fused stuff back in the day. Didn’t know anybody was still making it. I guess if even military grade materia couldn’t do anything, there wasn’t much else to be done. I’m sorry.”
Sephiroth sipped his tea, masking a smile of relief with the cup. “I trust you’ll be discreet about what you’ve seen.”
“Oh, of course! Doctor/Patient confidentiality. And if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion…”
“I know the Military Base doesn’t exactly handle a wealth of pediatrics, but given your… makeup, maybe you can get your own health personnel to see to your children now and then? They’re probably more familiar with certain things.”
Sephiroth frowned, careful to turn his face away from the man so as not to be too intimidating. The idea had some merit. He avoided the medical wing like the plague but there was that doctor Aeris was on good terms with there, the one who had delivered Ella. The genotyping had been done in the MilSci labs, under strict protocol and secrecy. Any samples taken at the hospital would be forwarded there for actual analysis too. “I’ll take it under consideration.”
Knutty raised his coffee cup in salutation and bid Sephiroth a good day. Sephiroth rode up to his floor alone, tea and bagged pie in one hand, bottle of grape juice dripping condensation onto the floor. Oh well. If anyone slipped they were already in the right place. Aeris was waiting for him by the vending machine, all dressed and ready to walk.
“Long line?” she asked, taking her juice. She rose so easily despite bulk of her coat. She was barely showing yet, though with twins Sephiroth was sure it wouldn’t take much longer. He thought of that perfect body, heavy with his children, stripped and scrutinized down in the labs to satisfy curiosity. Tea spilled from his cup as his fingers tightened.
“I met that doctor on the way,” he said, ignoring the burn. “Knutty.”
“Oh.” Aeris’ eyes widened. “Oh!” She nibbled at her lower lip, brows furrowing, and Sephiroth knew she was contemplating that viciousness, that beautiful raw fury that was as much a part of her as her green eyes and the glowing life currents that swirled beneath her skin.
He put an arm around her shoulder and steered her to the stairs. “His neck looked fine.”