Prayers For Rain
Final Fantasy 7
Genre--Day in the Life Drama
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
--John Lennon, Imagine
Rain poured from the sky in vast, hungry waves. Large wet drops fed the ground and wetted it till it could soak up no more. It reminded her of the flood that so many religious texts spoke of, and she smiled sadly, noting how the plants seemed to turn their leaves up to meet it. Perhaps it wasn't so bad as all that. How much greener the world look during a rainstorm, it almost fooled her into thinking that the planet wasn't dying.
The soft sound of the rain rattling against the roof filled the small living space with a constant, soothing rhythm. It pattered against the windows, leaving long trails that were almost like tears. Maybe the planet was crying. Sometimes she felt like weeping with it but not today.
Ifalna sat in the living room knitting and watching the rain. It was a blessedly quiet Saturday afternoon, with nothing to do. Again, she smiled but this time happily, gazing down at her now two-year old daughter, Aeris. She lay sprawled out on the carpet, drawing on a large sheet of paper with their weekend visitor, humming contentedly. For the last year and a half, Gast had allowed the young boy to spend his weekends at their home. It was Ifalna who'd convinced him of the importance of human contact for the boy, who was too often regarded as a research specimen rather than a human child. Despite the taint within him and her fear of it, he was still a little boy and Ifalna pitied him for the circumstances he'd been born into. The boy didn't ask for this. Her ancestors could howl at her and moralize all they wanted, but he was an innocent in all this. A child.
As if he knew she was thinking of him, the silver haired boy looked up and regarded her with wide jade eyes. She gave him a warm smile, which he returned shyly before turning back to his work. He was laying on the floor next to her daughter, coloring the other half of the large sheet of paper. They seemed to be drawing some kind of forest scene. Large pink trees filled the page; Ifalna guessed they were drawing a cherry orchard. They hadn't said a word the entire morning and she wondered how they had both decided to draw the same thing. It was eerie but sometimes she swore that their minds worked together. As if one could read the other's intentions, a kind of odd telepathy existed between the two of them. She realized the idea was ridiculous. Cetra could only communicate that way with one of their own and the boy was most certainly no cetra.
Still, the cooperation she observed in their play was uncanny. She had never seen two children play together with so few problems. They never fought, never once argued as normal children did. True, they weren't exactly normal but children, no matter the heritage, were still children and like most children, should have been prone to occasional bickering and disagreements. Especially considering the age group. Aeris being two could be willful and stubborn, and Sephiroth at age five should have tended to be bossy and commanding. They defied all the books she'd read about children. Sitting together, him drawing one side of the picture, her drawing the other. And though their skills weren't matched, they were obviously drawing the same thing, him with the more sure hand of an older child and her with the shaky strokes of a youth just out of infancy.
She had been afraid at first to allow the child tainted with the crisis near her daughter. And then she met him; it was hard to hold onto fear when the boy hid behind her husband the entire time. It was a good twenty minutes before he was brave enough to peek from behind his legs to say a quick hello. Sephiroth was a sweet child, extremely shy and very gentle. It had taken a long time but he'd finally warmed up to her. Trust didn't seem to come quickly for the boy and she understood more than he knew. Ifalna was patient and he slowly came out of his shell day by day. Though when it came to physical contact he was still wary. There were times when she wanted to give him a hug or an affectionate pat and he'd nearly jump out of his skin. She had to accept that he would only allow himself to be touched when he wanted it and that offering affection only made him uncomfortable. So she contented herself to wait until he asked for it, and he did, eventually. These rules didn't seem to apply to Aeris, the only one he'd allow to show him affection without his explicit permission. And she was a very affectionate child. Prone to spontaneous hugs and kisses, she was the kind of child who loved to be held. Sephiroth's almost polar opposite. Yet somehow, they got along.
The little boy would shy away if she attempted to hug him but he seemed to welcome it when Aeris did the same. His oddest habit and one that amused her to no end, was the way he'd kiss her daughter goodnight. He'd kiss his fingers and then press them to the back of her neck, just over the rose wine birthmark at the edge of her hairline. When asked about it, he simply shrugged and explained that she had a kitty on her neck, as if that was all the clarification anyone needed. Indeed, the birthmark did sort of resemble a cat but why he kissed it like it was something that deserved the utmost reverence, she'd never know. In a way, she enjoyed the mystery more.
Aeris absolutely adored the boy and spent the majority of the week talking about what they'd do when Sephiroth came or asking anxiously how long it'd be. On Friday evenings, when Gast would arrive home, Aeris would be a bundle of nerves. Dancing around the house excitedly, when not peering out the window with anticipation waiting for the car's lights to appear in the driveway. And the minute the door opened, she'd brush past her father and embrace the boy as he came in the door. It was quite cute to watch her, jumping up and down and jabbering in her child's voice to the older boy. She'd pull him along, into the playroom, telling him about everything she did that week as best she could with her limited vocabulary. And he would listen quietly, a rare smile on his face as he let her lead him. Aeris had given him his nickname. Calling him Seph because his full name was too hard for her young palate to form.
Ifalna looked up from her knitting to regard the small voice that interrupted her thoughts, "What can I do for you, sweetie?"
"I think it's time for Aeris's nap." He replied, his high voice was soft and unusually self-possessed for a five-year old child.
Sure enough, when Ifalna glanced at her daughter, she was yawning widely. Her head bobbed up and down as she struggled to stay awake. Ifalna set down her knitting, capping the ends of the needles so the sweater she was making wouldn't unravel. She went to her daughter, bending down and picking her up gently. The little girl tried to struggled in vain before settling into her mother's embrace. Yawning again, she nestled into Ifalna's neck, absently tugging on one of her curled pigtails.
"I 'on't wan go 'leep, ma." She whined fussily, still playing with her hair.
She rubbed the little girl's back, "Of course not, Munkin. But it's naptime."
"Mun naht 'leepy."
"Yes you are, silly girl."
Ifalna chuckled, letting the little girl fuss a bit until she was too tired to complain. Aeris had never been the kind of kid who argued too hard or long when tired. Soon she was quiet, her emerald eyes closed in light sleep as Ifalna shuffled down the hallway to her room. Smiling serenely, she watched Sephiroth rush ahead of her, entering the first door on the left, Aeris's room. Ifalna entered shortly afterward, he'd already pulled down the covers on her small bed, looking up at her expectantly as he waited.
"Missus Gast, may I please tuck her in?"
She looked down at him kindly as she set Aeris down in bed, "Of course, you may." She paused, "You know, you don't have to call me Mrs. Gast if you don't want to. I'm just Ifalna."
"I know. I'm sorry...Miss....I mean, Ifalna."
She laughed then, kneeling down to look at him in the eyes, "Call me what you want, Seph. This isn't the lab, okay?"
He nodded and she took a chance, ruffling his hair before standing up again. The boy didn't seem to mind this time, accepting the gesture without complaint. Sephiroth wasn't concerned with her; his attention was solely on Aeris. She was half-asleep, her eyelids opening and closing drowsily as she gazed at him. The little girl started to make a fuss again, not wanting her friend to leave so soon. Upset that he got to stay up, while she had to sleep and she fought her tiredness to stay awake. He patted her hand to console her and pulled the covers over her shoulder. As if to say, it's okay to go to sleep, I'll be here when you wake, completing the ritual with his usual devotion. Ifalna watched him carefully, noting how he tenderly stroked her hair, giving her comfort he so infrequently received and gazing at her with a little half smile. How could a child so mistreated be capable of such great affection? She could only guess but she was grateful to see actual humanity in man and prayed that this boy would be able to keep that gentleness and carry it over to adulthood.
"Come on, Seph. We should let her sleep."
He grunted as a reply, glancing at her, his face an expressionless mask. Walking calmly out the door, not waiting for her to follow. The boy was a mass of contradictions sometimes. Going from hot to cold in a matter of seconds. She supposed he just didn't want to leave and that explained the change in demeanor enough. Though it was hard to deal with the mood swings, as subtle as they were. She walked back into the living room, finding him picking up the crayons and paper they'd laid out earlier without having to ask him. There was also the unnatural maturity she had to contend with. She felt that she was often dealing with a child much older than just five when with him. Then he'd betray his actual age, and so it was hard finding a single way to treat him. Not really a child, not really an adult but somewhere in between. She sat down on the couch and picked up her knitting, pulling off the covers to begin work again. Shortly thereafter, the boy was finished with his task and sat down next to her, his slight weight shifting the cushions a bit. He looked at her inquisitively; his eyes were sharp and bright. This was the side to him she never had a problem with. The one that asked so many questions, wanting to know everything about the world and then some.
"What're you making?"
"A sweater...for you actually."
"For me?" his voice squeaked a bit in surprise.
"Mmmhmm." Ifalna smiled bemusedly.
She was curious; normally he never started a conversation. In the two years she'd known the boy, he rarely talked and always waited for someone else to begin speaking before he said a word. The only time he would ever speak voluntarily was when it was necessary. He wanted something.
"Because. I think you could use one. Gets cold in the lab."
He blinked, clearly baffled by what she said but unwilling to question her.
"Would you mind if I measured it against you? I'd like to see if it'll fit..."
"Okay." He said slowly, jumping off the couch and shuffling over to her, "What do I do?"
"Just stand there." She replied, holding up the knitted cloth to his chest. Stretching it one way and then the other before she was satisfied. "Alright, all done."
Ifalna smoothed the cloth before positioning the needles before she began knitting again. Now, he was even more curious, crawling up next to her he watched her like a hawk. His eyes trained on her needles as they clacked together, glinting in the light like some bright beacon that sailors used to communicate at night. Her skilled hands guiding the implements as she looped and hooked yarn over them, each time making the cloth that much longer. Sephiroth looked from it to her, tilting his head ever so slightly.
"Can I touch it?"
She stopped working and held out the weave welcomingly. He reached out tentatively and touched it. Smiling slightly as he moved the fabric between his fingers.
He looked up at her with a wide grin, wonder evident in his features. She almost laughed at his innocent admission but held it back. No sense in making him feel bad or stupid for being surprised at something so simple. His frame of reference for such things was rather limited. All of the clothes Shinra provided for the boy were simple cotton medical scrubs. He hadn't any real clothes. Probably had never seen a sweater made for someone his size until now. Ifalna had taken it upon herself to properly clothe the boy. The long sleeved sweat shirt and jeans he wore now were her doing.
"....Yes, it is soft. Wouldn't be very comfortable to wear otherwise."
"Yeah...." He agreed, stopping to glance at her with a look of worry, "Nobody's ever made something for me...."
He was asking if it was okay that she was doing this, as if he didn't deserve gifts or kindness because of what he was. She could see it in his eyes. Hojo disapproved of their treatment of him but Ifalna did not care.
"Another reason why I'm making it...just for you..."
Sephiroth stared out into space for a moment, thinking, trying to comprehend her kindness. She began to hum quietly and the noise brought his attention back to her. Ifalna smiled warmly at him, telling him with her eyes that it was alright. There was nothing to worry about. She wouldn't make something for him if he didn't deserve it. Sephiroth reluctantly smiled back at her, still taken aback as he was unused to such compassion from others. He fidgeted for a moment, continuing to watch her knit and on the verge of saying whatever it was he had to say. It seemed he was having trouble broaching the subject. Ifalna solved this problem for him.
"So, what would you like to do today?"
He didn't react with surprise or excitement. Not even relief. Coolly accepting her smooth transition without a word.
"May I please look at those art books again?"
"That you may." She said cheerily, setting down her knitting and getting up from off the couch. Walking over to the large bookcases that framed either side of their wide sliding glass door in the living room. "Which one did you want to look at?"
"Ho-h-hoku...Hokusai..." He stuttered, having a bit of difficulty pronouncing the name.
She fumbled around, her fingers going over the spines, as she looked for the name in question. Finding it, she pulled out the now familiar tome in its place on the very top shelf. Its spine was creased from wear and tear, the jacket was torn and dirtied and the pages had gone soft at the edges. It was a book that was dearly loved before the boy came and with his arrival, it became more so. He seemed to favor this book of rare prints by the famous Wutanese artist, Shiro Hokusai. The boy looked at this one volume almost every time he came here. Obviously admiring the simplicity of the works inside as well as their bright shapes and vivid colors. He could sometimes be seen tracing them with his fingers. On occasion, she had encouraged him to copy the drawings he liked the best. There were several of these drawings up on her refrigerator alongside her daughter's. Clutching the book on tiptoe, she brought it down for him, handing the thick book to the boy. Just as her fingers slipped from the cover, he dropped it, wincing and holding his right arm in his left hand.
"S-sorry." he said softly, reaching down to retrieve the book.
Ifalna was quicker, picking it up and setting it down on the couch.
"No, it's okay, hon." She bit her lip before holding out her hand, "May I see your arm?"
He shook his head, pulling his arm closer to his chest and cradling it with his other hand.
"....Is it hurt?" She asked, knowing the question was rhetorical. He just stared at her, wide eyed and frightened. "If it is....I'd like to help, if you'd let me."
Sephiroth continued to gaze at her warily, his eyes reflecting uncertainty.
"It's all right, sweetheart. I promise, I won't hurt you..." She said, her tone placatory as she tried her very best to radiate trustworthiness.
The boy looked at her for a beat and then at the sweater she was making him, as if it was an important component in his consideration of her offer. He stood there for a good ten minutes, staring blankly at the bundle of yarn on the couch. She watched him patiently, wanting so much to help the boy but forcing herself to wait until he asked for it. It was frustrating to not be able to reach out to him and watch him stand there in obvious pain. His eyes suddenly unglazed and he turned to regard Ifalna. The look on his face was that of intense concentration and his gaze was piercing, looking at her like he was trying to gaze into her soul. Those eyes were calculating what he found in hers, weighing the risk of trusting her against his dislike of showing weakness.
Slowly, he held out his right arm with a timid shake, moving closer to her with small steps. He looked at her through his bangs, which fell like silver rain over his face. His eyes poking out behind them, large and filled with fear. Gently, Ifalna took his hand and pulled back the sleeve of his sweatshirt. Several long, red welts ran up and down his small arm and she almost gasped. Licking her lips, she held back the horror she felt and smiled as warmly as she could. The last thing she wanted to do was frighten the boy further. This was the first time he'd allowed her to even see his mysterious injuries. She'd noted before when he'd come home limping or with cuts, but he never let her help him...until now.
It wasn't often she'd use her power, preferring to keep her true nature a secret. Her husband knew, but no one else. She risked her safety and that of her child in doing this, but she couldn't stand to see the boy suffer any longer. And there was little for her to fear, she knew she could trust the boy to keep her secret as he had just as many as she. Her lids hung heavy as she called out to the planet, holding her hand over his battered arm. Greenish tendrils of light twisted up from the floor, tinting the room the color of life itself. As green and growing as the plants outside. The light wrapped around his arm and the red welts disappeared wherever it touched. The boy watched in wonder, his expression changing from animal fear to wonder. Life swirled in the older woman's eyes, pulsing with the effort of her healing, repairing the damaged flesh with ease. She blinked languidly and as suddenly as the spell began, it ended. The glow in the room died down and the light returned to its rightful place, deep within the earth.
"How...how did you do that?" He queried, knowing she had no materia on her.
"It's a kind of magic." She stated simply, with a mysterious smile.
"Hojo says that you shouldn't use that word...that it's...un-sci...unsien...unscientific."
"Hojo speaks a great deal on things he has no comprehension of...He's a foolish little man and I wouldn't listen to him, if I were you."
This seemed to amuse the boy and he smiled wider and more genuinely than she'd ever seen him do before. Still holding his hand, she gave him a little squeeze, looking at him with a serious expression.
"You don't have to tell, if you don't want to...but...how did your arm get hurt?"
Reluctantly, he spoke, his words were halting and barely audible, "Sword practice....Sensei says I have to pay attention better..."
Sword practice. Sword practice for a five-year old boy. It made her blood boil. In the beginning, it had been decided that Hojo would be in charge of the boy's physical training and his medical examinations. Gast had been allowed to take over his education and the day-to-day care of the boy that Hojo disliked. Ifalna was glad for this, but at the same time, she wanted more than anything to get him away from Hojo. She'd prodded her husband on this and it had been a constant sore spot in the relationship. Hojo was a dangerous and unstable man who'd do great harm to this boy if allowed free reign over him. Bad enough that he sent a child to sword training, with an instructor that thought that pain was an adequate way to train a child in the art of war. Children shouldn't be taught war at all. This boy should be allowed to laugh and play like anyone else. He deserved his innocence; adulthood comes quickly enough to strip it away. There was no sense in accelerating the process. She would say something to Gast tonight, but for now, her attention belonged to the boy.
"How does it feel now?" She asked, knowing that no one had tried to heal it before her.
"Better." He whispered, looking down miserably.
For a long stretch of time they sat like this on the floor. Him staring down at the carpet and her, holding his hand and watching his face as the rain continued to flush the world of impurity, beating on the roof like a drum, or like the steady rhythm of their hearts.
"Why are you so nice to me?"
It was a simple question, with an easy answer and it broke her heart that he had to ask it at all.
"Because I like you...and I don't like to see someone I like in pain."
"But why do you care? Nobody else does..."
Ifalna smiled enigmatically, deep green eyes twinkling like distant moonlight on a dark sea. She said nothing as everything she had to say was in her eyes and they spoke to him a simple, silent soliloquy. In those eyes was warmth, in those eyes was love and the words they spoke to him were "I care because no one else does." His face went slack and the resistance he'd put up for two years was worn down to nothing. The walls broke and he fell blindly forward, into Ifalna's waiting arms. He began to sob, his face pressed into her neck, small arms embracing her so tightly they almost cut off her air supply. She ignored any unintentional discomfort and held him, pressing a soft kiss against the top of his head and smoothing his hair. How long she sat there with him, she wasn't sure. Eventually his cries tapered off and he quieted but didn't leave her arms.
Tilting her head down slightly, she saw that he was fast asleep, tears still streaking his pale cheeks. Very carefully, she stood, intending to set him down in his room. The minute she moved, he stirred and made a little grunting sound. His eyes just barely opened and he looked up at her with a soundless plea, his arms tightening around her neck. Ifalna understood completely. He didn't want to be alone. She shifted him in her arms as she stood, walking over to the reclining chair that stood in a corner of the living room, facing the view out the sliding doors.
Gracefully, she sat down and adjusted the seat and the boy in her arms until she was comfortable. They both settled in, Ifalna quietly watching the dwindling rainstorm outside as Sephiroth fell back asleep. She looked down at him, his small chest rising and falling in deep slumber. With her thumb, she wiped away the tears that had stained his face. Her gaze shifted away, looking out at her garden and wondering how long she'd be able to tend it. How long would it be before the earth was too tired to support such beauty? Absently she stroked the boy's shoulder length hair, her own eyes becoming heavy as she listened to the rain and the quiet ambience of this little piece of heaven called home. Hours later, her husband found her and the boy in the chair, both fast asleep in a completely dark and silent house.
I RUN DOWN THE STREETS BANGING POTS AND PROCLAIMING--I STOLE THIS DEVICE FROM ARDWYNNA!!
Long Hand: Approx. 1 hr., maybe less.
Typing: 2 to 3 Hours
Music: Imagine--John Lennon, No Woman No Cry--Bob Marley
Feet: A little tingly--the foot I bunged in the door is kinda wonky. I think I might lose my toenail.
Dedication: To my Mum--because I remember all those rainy afternoons with you and how much fun we had...thanks.
Author's Notes: This was actually a bit scheduled to appear in Purgatory, but it just didn't fit. It was too long and kind of pointless, and I just couldn't find a pleasant way to fit it in without losing my mind. So I decided it'd make a cute one shot.