Fandom: FFVII Crisis Core
Characters: Aerith/Sephiroth, Genesis/Angeal, OC
Chapter Rating: PG
Story Rating: M
Word Count: 3796
Summary: When Genesis and Angeal make the risky move of leaving the company, Sephiroth takes a risk of his own, revealing his deepest secret.
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3
"I brought more dried beans," Sephiroth said, reaching down to the bottom of his pack.
"Thank you," Aerith said, busy with onions on her cutting board. "Could you…?" Sephiroth nodded and took the sack to the door under the stairs. Three short steps down led to the cool larder. A sliver of moonlight came through the high window.
Sephiroth searched for the right spot, setting the beans down next to the peas. He took a look around the scrupulously organized shelves, assessing the stores as he always did to prepare for his next visit.
Visit. Visits were temporary things. Still, the powdered milk was past the halfway mark, Aerith could use a new wheel of cheese and he had learned that there was no such thing as too much flour. A quick glance at the vegetable baskets below showed that Aerith's uncanny luck with her winter garden had continued. He filled a small tray with what he thought she might need.
"You still have a lot of that cured meat I brought you," he called out, ducking strings of hard sausage.
"I can't eat it all on my own," Aerith said, "and Elle's only just started on soft foods."
Sephiroth straightened so fast he hit his head on a ham. He chose a spicy sausage to flavor the stew and stumbled back into the kitchen. "She's eating solid food?" Had it been that long since he'd last come?
"Not hard food," Aerith said, smiling over her work, "but she's getting teeth. She won't nurse forever."
Sephiroth bent down to Elle's makeshift cradleswing. The baby lay there, quiet and uncomplaining. She stared up at him with eyes that were slit-pupiled, like his own. Sephiroth frowned at her. She frowned back. Sephiroth sat back on his heels and frowned some more. "She won't let me see."
"What, her teeth?" Aerith turned and laughed. "Smile at her, she'll smile back."
Sephiroth turned back to the cradle and tried to crack a grin. Elle kept her frown. "It's not working."
"Don't rush it. You're bound to see them in action sooner or later."
Sephiroth reached into the cradle and tickled Elle the way he had seen some parents do with their own young. She kicked the boards of the crate. Sephiroth sighed and rose to give Aerith the ingredients for the pot. He still had some unpacking to do.
"I brought more soap," he said.
"Lovely!" Aerith said, genuinely pleased. The short lists she gave him were infinitely practical, for things he might not have thought of on his own. Yeast, for instance. He still thanked the stars that Aerith had known how to make a variety of flatbreads to tide her over.
"I brought another blanket." A deep, rich green this time, to surround her with as much color as possible in the cold, white north. Aerith nodded her appreciation. Sephiroth cleared his throat.
"I brought some things for Elle."
Sephiroth nodded. "A bit big, like you said, so she can grow into them." He placed the bundle on a chair. "I got her this too."
Aerith glanced up. "Another chocobo plushie?"
Sephiroth hid behind his hair. "This one has the little mage hat."
Aerith smirked. "You're getting her quite a collection."
"I got her something else too, not just toys." Sephiroth reached hastily into the pack, rooting around on the bottom.
"What is that?" Aerith's attention was immediately drawn to what he pulled out.
"It's… uh, a book." It was a thick volume of children's stories he had picked up on a whim. He had seen it on the street sale table of a tiny neighborhood bookshop in a back alley in Kalm, and it had occurred to him that storybooks were a thing children were supposed to have. He had picked it up without a second thought, paying with cash rather than his company-issued card.
"Fairytales?" Aerith walked over to it, her hand touching the cover with reverence. She opened it to one of the bright illustrations. "Look, Ella, dear," she said, walking over to the cradle. Her dark skirts swept the floor as she knelt. "Daddy brought you a pretty book."
Sephiroth tried hard to swallow the lump in his throat and ignore the urge to rub his arm. "I brought you something too." The way the stove light lit Aerith's face when she looked up made his chest tight. He refused to let the feeling grow. He had no right.
He dug around in his pack for the final gift. His hands shook as he held it out. "What is it?" Aerith asked, eyes on the soft wrapping. She held the open book close to her chest. Sephiroth could only hold the small bundle out further. His tongue refused to move.
Aerith set the book down and took the gift from his hands, feeling gently for the contents and letting the cloth unfurl when she realized there was nothing inside. "Oh!" She held a shawl in her hands, a deep rose pink with a swirling pattern in gold. "It shimmers." She swirled it around her shoulders. The fringed peak reached almost to the floor. "It's beautiful."
Sephiroth looked away. "I thought it would be something warm for you," he mumbled, "since Elle took your grey one for a blanket."
"It's lovely," Aerith said, reaching behind to tie the ends in a knot. "Thank you."
Sephiroth cleared his throat. "I should have gotten you a new dress instead. You've had that one since before Elle was born."
Aerith smoothed the dark brown skirt. "It's soft and warm, and I managed to make it fit," she said. "Thanks for the sewing kit, by the way." Sephiroth saw neat lines of stitching running down her regained form and grew painfully aware that he was looking too long. Elle began to fuss in her cradle.
"She needs feeding," Aerith said, picking her little girl up and settling down on a chair near the stove. There were buttons down the front of the brown winter dress. Sephiroth saw why Aerith kept wearing it. He had seen her breastfeed before, she had no shyness about it, but he always tried not to watch too closely. Tried and for the most part succeeded.
It was almost idyllic, the pretty young mother smiling at her nursing child, lit by the fire's glow. It could only happen here for them, far away from the world. Sephiroth resisted the urge to sigh at the thought. It was what it was. Aerith seemed content enough, Elle was safe and they deserved their peace, after everything. Sephiroth cleared his throat.
"I'll help you chop," he said. "I know how to slice and dice at least."
"Thank you." Aerith smiled, though her eyes never left Elle.
He busied himself with the turnips and carrots and dark winter greens that Aerith had somehow managed to grow. She had tamed the abandoned cottage garden outside, blanketed it with fir boughs and coaxed her harvest from the hard ground. Sephiroth's eyes strayed to the herbs growing on the windowsill. She had asked for the seeds and he'd had his doubts, but they grew in the dim winter light from the window all the same. She had a magic touch. Sephiroth had never dared ask where she got it.
"Does it hurt?" he asked. "Now that she has teeth?"
"Not so much," Aerith said. "She's not a biter." Not a biter, not a screamer, not a crier. It occurred to Sephiroth again that Elle was probably an odd little child. He wondered if he had been the same. The few who know were not inclined to tell. He buried the thought in the thunk of the knife on the thick wooden cutting board.
"There now," Aerith said, "Is that okay?" Sephiroth looked up to find her working at the buttons of her dress with one hand.
"I can take her," he said, holding his hands out.
"I need to burp her," Aerith said, "just to be on the safe side."
"I can do it. I've done it before."
Elle accepted the handover without fuss, resting her chin on Sephiroth's shoulder as he began to walk, rubbing her back. She was definitely growing. She felt heavier than she had before. Her hair was longer, wandering into Sephiroth's eyes as he circled the table. He wondered if he had been born with such a full head of hair too. It was the first thing he had noticed about Elle, all the hair. It had taken a while for her to open her eyes.
"Your friends are taking a while with the wood," Aerith said, clearing her cutting board. "Do you think they're okay?"
"If they chopped off a foot, we would have heard it."
Aerith laughed and adjusted her new shawl. She tilted her head to one side in a way Sephiroth had become familiar with. "Biscuits would be good with the stew gravy. I'll go get the flour."
It was one more thing he never asked about. While Aerith was down in the larder he held Elle up, as if she had an explanation to share. She put a fist in her mouth. Sephiroth sighed.
"We're back, milady!" Genesis announced, swinging the door open wide. "Look what we brought!"
Aerith emerged from the larder with a basin of flour under one arm. "We were wondering where you were."
"We took a little run," Angeal said.
"And we brought fresh meat for the pot," Genesis said, holding up the neatly cut haunches of what was probably a northern deer. "Don't worry, we did the butchering away from the house so the predators won't come skulking. Is anything on the stove yet?"
"We just got most of the cutting up done," Aerith said. Her smile showed off the smudge of flour on her cheek.
Angeal held up the rest of the meat. "Would you happen to have a place we can store the extras?"
Aerith nearly hopped, delight plain on her face. "There are hooks in the larder and an icebox in the far corner," she said, nodding towards the door.
"You have an icebox, milady?" Genesis said, collapsing into a chair. His cheeks were flushed and the rest of him looked pale. Sephiroth felt only a little sorry at how hard he had pushed them earlier. If Genesis was inclined to push himself, it couldn't have been all that bad.
Angeal came back from the larder, smirking and shaking his head. "It's an icebox, alright, Gen. It's packed with snow."
"Oh, an icebox." Genesis looked around the cottage. "You really do have something here, Miss."
"Just Aerith is fine," Aerith said, up to her wrists in flour. "I hope you take to the plumbing just as well." Genesis looked stricken.
"Relax," Sephiroth said, rubbing Elle's back. "We've all had to haul water on missions before, and the snow is clean here." Angeal nodded and dragged Genesis over to the sink to wash up.
Genesis fussed a little at the cold water but he was soon slumped back in his seat. He frowned. "Seph, what are you doing?"
Sephiroth paused in his stride. "I'm burping the baby."
Genesis looked pensive. "Can I try?"
"Well, I'm going to go bring the firewood in," Angeal said and slid out the door before anyone could stop him.
Sephiroth put a hand on the back of Elle's head. "I don't know," he said, looking at Genesis. "Have you ever even held a baby before?"
"It's a fine time to learn."
Sephiroth looked reluctant.
"Let him try, Sephiroth," Aerith said, already rolling out her biscuits. "Ella needs to get used to people."
Sephiroth hesitated but eventually held Elle out. "Don't squeeze her, but make sure you have a good grip. She still a soft spot on her head." Genesis reached out and held on with all the care he reserved for his favorite copy of Loveless.
"If I'm going to hold her, you need to let go."
Sephiroth sighed and let his fingers slide off. He pulled a chair up close and watched Genesis like a hawk. Genesis ignored him.
"Hey there, little miss," he said, "I'm your Uncle Gen." Sephiroth snorted. Elle turned her head, seeking a familiar face. Genesis frowned. "Hey, I know your daddy's easy on the eyes, but give a guy a chance, will you?"
Elle turned back to him and wriggled slightly in his grasp. Sephiroth made a small start forward, but there was no danger. Then Elle reached out and grabbed a handful of red hair. "Ow, ow, ow, okay, I need you to let go of that." To Genesis's surprise, Elle let go. She stared at him and broke out into a happy baby grin and gurgles. Genesis had a grin to match. "Look at that, you have itty bitty baby teeth." Sephiroth crossed his arms and sulked.
Genesis settled Elle against his shoulder and began to rub her back the way he had seen Sephiroth do. "I think she likes me." Sephiroth tapped his foot.
Angeal came back in bringing a cold blast of air with him. "Sorry, sorry," he said, shuffling around to toe the door shut. He had enough firewood with him to add a whole new room to the cabin. He stepped out from under the loft into the cold, high-roofed portion of the house. "Let me see what I can do with this great big fireplace. Do you ever light it?"
"Only when Sephiroth's here," Aerith said, using a heavy mitt to pop her biscuit tray in the oven. "It's a bit much for just Ella and me. All the wood."
Angeal nodded and got to work, finding the hearth scrupulously clean. "I suppose it's a risk with a baby in the house too. No fire guard."
"Fire doesn't burn her," Sephiroth said.
"We found out when she kept reaching for hot things," Aerith said. "If you let her she'll roll right into the fireplace and the only thing she'll get is dirty from all the ash."
Angeal quirked an eyebrow at Sephiroth. "A chip off the old block, eh?"
Sephiroth shrugged. "One less thing to worry about."
"Is it 'Elle' or 'Ella'?" Genesis asked, looking back and forth from Sephiroth to Aerith. "You use both."
Sephiroth froze, looking stricken. "Does it matter? She answers to both." Elle kicked her legs out, in protest or agreement, no one could say.
Genesis rolled his eyes. "She's a kid, not a dog. What did you put on her birth certificate?" Now Aerith looked stricken too.
Elle chose that moment to emit a very dainty burp. "What was that? Oh, wait, I did it!" Genesis crowed. "I burped a baby! Angeal, I burped a baby!"
"That's nice, dear," Angeal said, busy with the kindling. With materia instead of flint, he had no trouble. "There," he said. "We'll have this whole place toasty soon enough." Already the room was brighter.
"How come you have a stove and a fireplace?" Genesis asked. "Did they come with the place?"
"The fireplace was part of the building," Aerith said. She had her head tilted, as if listening to something. Her hand hovered over the spice rack, stocked with mismatched glass jars full of dried herbs. She selected without looking. "Sephiroth brought the stove in when he realized how much work the hearth was."
Genesis looked at the ancient monstrosity that was the antique wood burning stove. Genesis looked at Sephiroth. "Couldn't you find the girl a nice hot plate?"
"There's nowhere to plug one in," Sephiroth said, trying to get Elle's attention with the new chocobo plushie. "We found the stove in one of the other old cottages. It was nearby, it was functional, it made sense."
"Waste not, want not," Aerith murmured, starting to braise the meat. Sephiroth knew how much they owed to that stove, stuck in the last crumbling corner of what had probably been an even bigger, grander dwelling once. It had warmed Aerith and Elle both one bitter night, before they found their home.
"You want to hold the baby, Angeal?" Genesis offered.
Angeal sat back. "I don't think that's a smart idea."
"Why not?" Genesis was just shy of whining. "It's not hard. Come on, just a little while."
Genesis would wheedle till he got his way. Angeal sighed. "At least let me sit down first." He chose what looked like the sturdiest chair, dusted himself off and took a deep breath. "Okay."
Sephiroth actually looked pleased to have his little one on Angeal's lap. Or maybe he was happy Genesis wasn't holding her anymore. Angeal kept his hands firmly around the little girl's middle, afraid to move them. She was so soft and tiny and he was large and capable of crushing rocks. But Elle was a sensible child, it seemed, staying very still. Angeal did not know what he would do if she started to bounce. "Huh," he said, "This isn't so bad."
"See?" Genesis looked terribly pleased with himself. He knelt down beside the chair. "It's not that hard, is it, Ella? Worrying for nothing, that's what it was. Now that he's used to it maybe later Aunty Angeal will tell you a story."
"'Aunty'?" Angeal raised an eyebrow. Genesis blew him a raspberry. "Yes," Angeal said, with a pang of feeling for Sephiroth. "I can tell you're going to be a stellar influence on the kid."
"I think she likes you," Sephiroth said, staring at Elle, who in turn appeared fixated on Angeal's beard.
"You think so?" Angeal tilted his head this way and that, studying Elle's face. "Maybe she does. And I think she's peeing on me." He held her up and Sephiroth whisked her away.
"You change diapers, Sephiroth?" Genesis asked. "Can I try?"
Sephiroth snorted, taking Elle over to her cradle. "Watch and learn first."
Angeal stood and watched Aerith, busy over her pot and pans. "Could I help you cook," he said. "I'm pretty good at it, if you'll take my word for it."
"You can take my word too," said Genesis, leaning back to get his hair out of Elle's reach. "Look, your daddy brought a chocobo toy for you." He held the toy over Elle's head to keep her entertained while Sephiroth cleaned her up. She grabbed hold tight and passed the toy from hand to hand, examining every angle, then rather predictably tried to eat it. "Don't chew his butt, sweetie," Genesis said, pulling her hands away from her mouth. "All the flavor's in the neck."
Sephiroth sighed around the diaper pins in his mouth. It was going to be a long night.
Dinner was the loudest and brightest affair the little cabin had seen in recent existence. They ate by the hearth on two pew-like benches, their bowls on their laps and their cups near their feet. The meal was hearty, the flavors pleasing and the company divine. Angeal watched the pot cooling with satisfaction. Aerith assured him the leftovers would keep in the larder and he had to admit he looked forward to a second round. Aerith cooked like his mother did, turning simple, down-to-earth ingredients into a bowlful of heaven. When he asked about it, she bashfully claimed it was an old family recipe. He helped himself to another biscuit and wondered if being an honorary 'aunty' made him family enough.
Genesis was in his element, regaling the room with embarrassing stories of SOLDIER exploits and his own over-the-top charm. If his eyes were too bright and his skin too pale, only Angeal really noticed. Aerith seemed to be enjoying the company, initial concerns forgotten, not at all put out by the sudden SOLDIER invasion of her home.
Sephiroth alone looked glum, as if something weighed heavy on his mind. Perhaps it was how much attention Elle was giving her doting Uncle Gen. Angeal couldn't say he had given it much thought, but he supposed if he had been a parent he would worry about Genesis's influence too.
"I should feed her," Aerith said, collecting the empty bowls. "Does anyone want thirds? More water, maybe?"
"I'm fine," Genesis said. "I couldn't move if you wanted me to." He sat up as a thought occurred to him. "Do you need privacy to feed her?"
Aerith laughed. "It's okay, I nursed her already. She can have some of the stew now." She reached for a tiny bowl she had set aside earlier to cool and began to mash the contents with the back of a spoon.
"Ooh, hear that, Elle?" Genesis said. "You're getting big girl food. You like that?" Elle laughed her baby laugh and smiled her baby smile, all gums but for two little teeth on her lower jaw.
"Hold her still," Aerith said, blowing on a spoonful of stew gravy. "Here it comes." Elle ate the first two spoonfuls with no fuss but turned her head away from the third. "What's the matter, don't you like it?"
"What is that you're giving her?" Genesis asked.
"Mashed turnip," Aerith said, trying again with the spoon.
"Turnip? No wonder! At least give the kid a carrot or something. Who goes wild for turnips?"
Sephiroth frowned. "I like turnips."
Aerith smirked. "There, see, Ella? Daddy likes turnips."
Sephiroth looked down at his bowl, still lingering over the last of his meal. "Maybe they're too dry for her."
Aerith mixed the turnip in with a little more gravy. Genesis watched Elle eat two more spoonfuls. "May I try?" Aerith let him have the spoon.
Angeal was happy for Genesis. The man was clearly enjoying himself. There had been too little of that lately. Still, enjoyment did nothing to improve the root of the problem. Genesis was still sick, still visibly fading, and no isolated country air existence was likely to help. Angeal watched Sephiroth watching Genesis feed the baby and realized there were still so many plans to be made.
"Sephiroth, you want to help me with the dishwater?" he asked, acquainted with the 'plumbing' by then. "We can bring in more wood for the night too." Sephiroth nodded and rose, but his eyes lingered on his little girl.