a/n: Well well well... guess who's the masochistic writer back for more! Okay, so you don't have to guess (you probably already know), but I'm back again for more self-pain and -anguish! This one... I could have decided to not do... but something just ate away at my soul until I penned it down... which I did.
This one's the fourth story in DOLL (the other ones are sort of weird and could never have anything to do with FFVII... whatsoever...). As usual, the storyline belongs to the Great Mitsukazu Mihara and the characters to Square-enix/Squaresoft. Most of the dialogue is kidnapped from the book, but some things (like Cid's accent) were self-invented. Cloud/Aeris this time, with a spice of Cid/Shera for kicks. I could have made her Tifa... but, well, I like Aeris better, so what the hell.
Also - it just came to me why I haven't been hunted down and exterminated yet due to my "plagarism"! Well, it could be because of slacking officials or the unattractiveness of my summary, but I do believe it's because this is exactly like all those video game novelizations! Whoa! Imagine that! You know, the fics that do exactly what I'm doing (well, not exactly) but with video games... they just don't replace the characters, change the dialogue, add some quirks to said characters, and add some of their own stuff to it. And they haven't been hunted down like dogs yet! Ha!
I've found a loophole in the system! Eureka!
He pointed to the bright yellow blooms.
Then to the petite pink ones.
"Tell me, Aeris... what do they remind you of?"
A young woman with long, flowing chestnut hair stared at the sky, lost in memory. The candy in her mouth crunched as she bit it.
"No answer?" The blond man kneeled down beside the seated woman, smiling warmly. "Well, they remind me of a young man wooing his lover with teasing gifts of summer blossoms... each bud loaded with subtle scents and unspoken promises."
He tried to get her to look at him, but she kept staring ahead. He sighed and opened his mouth to speak.
"Hey, mister! Mister!!"
A four-year old girl ran up, tears in her eyes. Her sister, the one who had been calling, looked slightly older and out of breath. "Hey... mister..."
"My doll's stopped moving! She's all... broken inside!" The four-year-old wailed.
The man's eyes crinkled up a bit in the corners. "Oh? May I see?"
"I heard you were some kind of genius, a magician!" The older one gushed, then reddened. "Oh, I'm sorry. My name's Priscilla! And this here is-"
"Marlene!" The younger's grin took up her entire face, tears all but evaporated. "I'm four!"
The blond man laughed softly. "Well then, Miss Marlene, Miss Priscilla, let me see our patient."
"You fix things, right?" Marlene smiled with all the confidence she could muster.
The man's eyes frowned, but he hid it well with a perfected smile. "Mm... sometimes." He held up the small cloth doll. The mechanisms were primary and far from high-tech. "Give me some time. She'll be as good as... good as new." His eyes flickered from the doll back to the woman, and then back to the girls.
The woman stared up at the clouds.
The garden was so quiet, he could hear the "krk" sound the chocolates made in her mouth while she chewed and searched for memories that weren't there.
It was just a few isolated incidents at first, nothing major. Even I didn't see what was coming...
The grizzled man waved his cigarette in the air. "Aeris! I'm missin' a final summation of July's batch testin'! Cough it up, girl!"
"Are you?" The woman in the light pink lab coat looked puzzled. Confused emeralds turned upwards as she thought about the said summary. "That's odd. I certainly collated the response data. I could have sworn I drew conclusions..." A thick chestnut braid bobbed as she nodded to herself. "Hmm..."
The older man laughed and shook his head. "Nah, it's okay. You must have just forgotten or somethin'. It's easy." He nudged her forearm with his elbow and raised his eyebrows suggestively. "Must be demandin' an' all, being a newlywed doc. Busy days... and busier nights!"
"Oh, Cid!" She shoved him and giggled. "You are a terrible person, you know! Corrupting my innocence with such activities!"
He took out his cigarette and laughed. "What, so you're still as pure as the day you were spawned, eh?"
Aeris blushed and looked away. "Well, I didn't say that..." Cid laughed heartily.
A young blond man walked down the corridor to the blushing scientist and the grizzled smoker. His eyes were bright like rays of intense turquoise light as he turned to his wife, smiling.
"Cloud! Hi!" Aeris smiled back cheerfully while Cid rolled his eyes and muttered, "Speak of the devil..." with a smirk on his face. "Well, don't let me trouble you lovebirds in your... ah... 'together-time'!" He winked roguishly at the slightly blushing pair and strode away from them.
Cloud and Aeris walked down to the cafeteria, hand in hand, chatting all the way. When they got a table, Aeris immediately pulled out a tube of chocolate candies.
"You back on the chocolate again?" Cloud smirked at his wife, spiked blond hair moving as he cocked his head with a grin. "If you keep it up you're going to be fat..."
"Hush, you!" She swatted at his shoulder and missed. "Besides, don't you know it's the best way to beat fatigue?" She opened the tube and gestured to him. "Want some?"
"Err, thanks." Cloud opened his hand and received a torrent of brightly colored candies that clattered in his hand and on the tabletop. "Oops!"
Cloud chuckled. My Aeris... smart, funny, and, sometimes..."...a complete scatterbrain!"
"What did you call me?!" She rose from the table, mock fury in her eyes. "Just you wait, Cloud Strife!"
He ran from her to the haven of his office, dodging flying candies and laughing the entire time.
"The 'Shiva' project prototype is ready. It'll be the most advanced doll on the market – way better than Shinra's model 'Phoenix' and even Jenova Co.'s model 'Kjata'!"
Cloud stood at the head of the table, gesturing excitedly to Aeris. "I like to think of it as our... as our baby, Aeris. Yours and mine." He touched a hand to the doll's cold face. "A doll so close to human it's almost impossible to tell the difference. Quite an achievement, don't you think?" He turned his head to Aeris. She stood on the other side of the bed, her arms crossed and her mouth a line.
The mechanical doll lay in front of her, covered only in a blanket. It had been modeled after her, and Aeris shivered whenever she saw it. At first she'd been flattered that they wanted their perfect doll to look like her, but now she was regretting that. It was like looking at herself, only dead and without blood. And looking at a dead image of oneself is not particularly enjoyable.
"Yes. Quite an achievement. But... I'm still worried about the long-term implications." She looked across the doll's body to Cloud, his deep blue eyes honed in on her, taking in every word she said. Aeris tried to restrain a blush. "...We're playing God here, aren't we?"
He looked at her solemnly, and she tore her eyes away and focused on the pale face that so eerily mirrored her own. "Creating something that's no longer quite a machine... something more human than human." She grappled for words, then finally said, "It's quite a step, and I'm worried... I'm worried that in taking it... we're opening a whole can of worms."
Cloud looked at her eyes, focused so deeply on the doll, and sighed. He too turned to the doll. "Imagine..." he said, softly. "The world's finest minds, preserved, even after death, in a perfect body." He took his hand off the table and put it on Aeris's own fisted hand. "Yes, we're playing God... but only for the betterment of mankind."
She twisted her eyes away and onto him. "Listen! It's just... in science... as in life, there are just some lines you shouldn't cross. We... we're dangerously close to a huge moral crossroads! Remember our own credo: Never-"
"Never create in the image of a living person. Never blur the line between human and doll." Cloud cut in, sighing after his recitation. Aeris looked at him worriedly. "Yes, I know. Okay, okay! I'm only the research assistant, after all." He tried to smile, but only a weak curve showed on his face. He forced it to broaden. "But sometimes you can be so conservative in your thinking!"
Aeris giggled. "Yes, I know... and you are obstinate, high-handed, and obsessive." She leaned across the table and pecked him on the cheek. "But I still love you."
He smiled a real smile then. Walking around the doll, he embraced his wife from behind. "And I... love you, Aeris."
Soon, though...others started to see the signs.
"Tell me somethin', Shera..." Cid scratched at his head while a woman with a light brown ponytail examined some reports. "...have you noticed Doc Aeris actin'... well, I dunno... strangely, or anything?"
Shera shook her head, still scanning the typed lines. "No, I don't think so. A bit forgetful, maybe, but nothing too serious. One or two mistakes here and there..."
They were still working when Aeris came by. "Hey, Gainsborough..." Cid waved his clipboard in the air, his cigarette crammed in the corner of his mouth. "I'm still missing a final summation of October's batch testing. Got it on ya?"
"No!" Aeris's laugh was half a giggle and half a gasp. "Surely you're mistaken."
She held a hand up to her chin, her green eyes thinking and trying to remember. "I distinctly remember doing it! At least... I think I do..."
Cloud walked up behind her a couple minutes later. He squeezed her shoulder, then looked over at the annoyed expression on her face and the giggles Shera was trying to suppress. "Uhh..."
"It's getting worse, Cloud!" She dramatically wailed. "I'm too young to be going senile!" Cid snickered at that.
Cloud held up his hands in his traditional shrug. "You're worrying about nothing. It's just overwork – you're tired." He snagged her hand in his while she smiled warmly at him. "Look, why don't we take some time off? Go up to the house in Kalm. It's the weekend of the 7th, after all. We should be celebrating!"
"Oh?" She looked at him over her coffee cup. Cid snarled when he realized that it was his precious mug that had been thieved while Shera giggled harder, poking him in the stomach.
"Why? What's so special about the 7th?"
Shera froze in mid-poke as Cid suddenly stopped. Cloud stared at her, blue eyes dark. Aeris looked back at him, confused, then at Cid and Shera, who were gaping at her in disbelief. "What? What'd I say?"
Aeris... it's your birthday...
"Whee!" Aeris giggled in her hospital gown. "Jeez, look at me! A patient in my own research clinic! I feel like such a fraud!" The nurse laughed and turned around, still smiling at the brown-haired doctor. "I'm not even ill!"
"Just relax and get some rest." The nurse said, fluffing out a curtain in the ward. "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about."
Down the hallway, the nurse couldn't have been more misleading.
"I'm afraid it's bad news." Cid said grimly. He even had the respect to put out his cigarette – it lay extinguished in the nearby ashtray on his desk. He looked away from Cloud's shocked blue eyes and picked up some papers.
"Apparently, poor Aeris is sufferin' from a degenerative mental condition, similar to Alzheimer's." The grim line on Cid's grizzled face sagged until it became a frown. His voice became gruffer to hide the sadness. "But it's somethin' I've never seen before. Frankly, I don' even know if it's treatable."
He put a hand to his forehead, his fingers trying to smooth out the wrinkles on his face. Shera came up behind him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder, her own face already lost to grief.
"Are you... are you telling me..." Cloud's voice was slowly beginning to rise in volume. "...that there's nothing to be done for her?! Here, in Midgar's foremost neural hospital?!?" His tone was beginning to border on hysteria.
Cid lifted his hand to some diagrams pinned to the billboard in front of his desk. "The problem is, her brains scans aren't showin' any abnormalities. It may not even be a clinical illness, or somethin'. It might be stress-related, or even..."
"Well, we have to do something!" Cloud waved his arm frantically in front of him. You can't just give up!" He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "I didn't save her from that bastard just so she could get this...this..."
"Shut it, Spike." Cid's bass voice was so gruff that it seemed to echo in his rib cage. "Of course not. We ain't givin' up on her that easily! We saved her once, we kin do it again!"
Cloud stared at his own kneecap, remembering Aeris and her stalker, the creepy Sephiroth guy. That had been when he and Aeris had just been getting to know each other at their medical university at least six years ago. To make a (really) long story short, he, Cid, and couple of other people (a/n: such as Yuffie and her emotionless doll, Vinnie! Hehehe...) had ended up jailing the bastard and he and Aeris had started their relationship.
"However..." Cid cut into his reverie. "I gotta be honest wit' ya, Cloud... the long term prognosis ain't doing so damn good."
Cloud nodded curtly. "Thanks, Cid. Please... keep working. For Aeris."
He turned and left the small office, heading down the corridor to Aeris's room.
"Oh!" Aeris looked to the door as soon as he stepped through. He tried hard to smile. Very, very hard.
But nothing came. "Hi, Aeris."
"What's going on, Cloud?" She smiled mysteriously. "What are all these tests for?" She rubbed her arm – it was cold in the wing. "I'd really like to get back to work soon. I'm bored in here!"
A small grin crept onto his face, though it didn't touch his eyes. He winked playfully at her. "It's just a routine checkup, Aeris. All employees have to have it." He pinched her nose, catching her by surprise and making her giggle. "Personally, I think the doctors are enjoying studying your MRI scans just a little too much. Not often do they examine a slice of true genius!"
Aeris scratched the back of her head and chuckled in embarrassment. "Oh, Cloud. You do make me laugh... even though it's not really a laughing matter!"
He watched her laugh a bit longer, his smile fading into a grim line.
Soon, though, even these light-hearted evasions were no longer necessary. Within one month...
...Aeris couldn't remember the name of the project that was once her pride and joy.
"I saw her at the hospital yesterday. She didn't... oh, Cid! She didn't even know who I was!" Shera hugged the man's arm to her chest as a few tears started their journey down her face.
Cid ruffled Shera's hair, trying to get her out of her misery. Though it was not every day one of Midgar's most prominent minds slowly lost her memories. He sighed. "Such a waste of a brilliant mind. And a wonderful woman."
Shera nodded in his sleeve. "It's such a shame. I mean, she was... truly a wonderful scientist, but she was a... like a ray of sunshine in the office. Like a candle."
Cid was suddenly overcome in a jolt of helplessness and annoyance. "Stop talking like she's dead, Shera." His tone was gruff and commanding. "Think about poor Spike! He looks damn tired."
Shera let go of his arm and turned towards Cloud's office. The door was closed. "Yes." She said softly. "He's probably in even worse pain than we are. He must be worried." Shera turned to Cid suddenly. "There's even talk of shutting down the project!"
"We carry on. We've come... come too far to stop now!"
Cloud stood up in his chair. It was a meeting of all the main doctors, scientists, and researchers on the 'Shiva' project – Cid and Shera among them.
"But... with Aeris gone..." Another doctor, a Professor Elmyra, stuttered.
"Stop talking about her like she's dead!" Cloud managed to remain calm during his declarations, though his voice was always dangerously rising. "This doll was her dream, her life's work. I... I still intend to make it a reality!"
Everyone noticed when his voice cracked half a decibel in his last statement, but no one said anything. They all understood.
The meeting ended and Cloud began working harder than ever on the doll.
He sat in front of a computer, the doll on the table in front of him. The doll with her face.
His face was beginning to grow stubbly and there were slight bags under his eyes. He acted like a man possessed, and quite a few of the staff believed that he was. No one bothered him (or dared to) except Cid or Shera, and even then it was only on mandatory reports for the doll or for Aeris.
Our child... would soon be born!
He walked down the hospital corridor, a broad smile on his face and a bouquet of sunflowers in his hand. He'd gone home and cleaned himself up nicely to see her, even though his face still looked a bit thinner than usual and it had hurt to stay so long in his empty bed.
"Aeris! The test this morning – for the doll – was an unqualified success! Those AI neuron fluctuations have disappeared!"
She smiled warmly at him, and Cloud felt like melting. She was still holding the candy tube in her hands.
"A few more simulations, and we can finally go public!"
He started to walk out to her from the doorway, the sunflowers clasped firmly in front of him.
"Excuse me, but... who are you?"
He felt the warmth inside his heart freeze into stone... then crumble, slowly... slowly... into dust...
He dropped the sunflowers.
Aeris... this is for you!
"Hey, Spike! How's it go-"
Cloud walked firmly past the grinning Cid. His smile quickly faded and he reached a hand out to his back. "Cloud... what...?"
Cloud continued walking upstairs while Cid just stared at his back until it disappeared. "Hmm..."
He reached the floor with the doll on it and walked to the computer.
Never create in the image of a living person
Sometimes, when we believe God has failed us...
Never blur the line between human and doll
...we have no choice but to take control.
The keyboard clicked as he typed in commands and words.
Forgive me, Aeris... but I cannot let you go!
He took the plugs out of the doll's head.
He brushed off the cords surrounding the doll. "Can you hear me? Open your eyes..."
The doll's eyelids slowly moved upwards... revealing eyes greener than emeralds.
She sat up and Cloud backed away a bit. "Do you... know who I am?"
She blinked, then smiled lazily at him. "...Of course. You're my husband. Cloud Strife."
He exhaled deeply, then said, "And you are?"
"I'm..." she looked at him quizzically. "Cloud, what is this? Are you unwell?""Please, Aeris..." he begged. "Just humor me. And you are?"
"Very well." She sighed. "I'm Aeris Gainsborough – though I could be Aeris Strife," she giggled, "project leader for the development of the 'Shiva' doll. My passions are gardening and chocolate."
"Perfect!" For the first time in months, a true smile spread across Cloud's face. He leaned forward and embraced his Aeris. "Aeris... dearest Aeris...please kiss me!"
She smiled. "As you command... master."
In science, as in life, there are some lines you shouldn't cross.
"What... what have I done...?"
He staggered to her door. Aeris Gainsborough, Rm. 501.
"He-Heaven help me..."
He traced his fingers over the type on her name. Aeris.
A streak of rain made its way down his face. "...what have I done?"
He walked into her room, leaning forward and struggling to keep moving. She looked bewildered by his presence, but she didn't ask, her green eyes puzzled and worried. "What's wrong?"
He leaned on the side of her bed to keep upright. He said nothing.
"Have you been crying?"
He looked up at her, his face level with hers. When he met her eyes, warm and alive even though you don't know me oh my sweet Aeris, another tear made its way down his cheek.
"Here." She spoke softly, like to a child. "Hold out your hand. The only sure way to beat the blues... is with chocolate. Trust me, I'm a doctor!" She took his open hand, uncapped the candy tube, and a rain of colored chocolates came down on his pale palm.
He stared at them, droplets of water in his eyes.
Then he clenched his hand, even more tears coming down his face.
This...this is the real you, Aeris, and no matter what happens...
"There, there." Her voice was soft, like summer clouds and spring rain, a comforting voice to a child chased by monsters under his bed. "It can't be all that bad." She stroked his head with one hand, the other on his cheek. She closed her eyes and began to hum a lullaby.
He choked as he smiled. She remembered their song.
...I will never leave you.
"I... I went too far." He took the hand on his cheek and held it gently between his two wet ones. The chocolates lay forgotten on the blanket. "But perhaps... it's not too late..."
"WHAT?! Are you insane, Spike?!"
Cloud calmly continued packing his briefcase. "All our 'Shiva' notes are at your disposal, Cid. I've already briefed the research team. They're all good people, you know them. I'm sure they'll manage."
There was a soft click of his briefcase. "My only stipulation is that no part of our work be used to create the likenesses of... actual people." He involuntarily shuddered as he thought of the Aeris doll's eyes – greener than emeralds and almost as cold. "And there will be no transplanting of human memories into a doll." He looked over his shoulder at Cid. "Whatsoever."
He sighed. "Yeah, yeah... I know... but, still – Cloud, this is your life's work Hell, this is Aeris's life's work!" Cloud visibly flinched but did not turn around. "Please, man – reconsider! You're a great scientist... you'd have been internationally famous!"
Cloud put some pens into his suitcase's pocket. "That... no longer matters to me."
Cloud turned around with his suitcase and walked past Cid, stopping with his hand on the doorknob. "Also... Cid. One last request."
The new head-of-research sighed. "Name it, kid."
Cloud smiled, his back to Cid. "Don't let Shera get away."
By the time Cid finished sputtering enough to think up a good comeback, he was gone.
"Miiiiister! Hey, mister!"
Priscilla ran up to the tree with Marlene sprinting behind her as fast as her little legs could carry her.
Cloud came out of the doorway with the small doll in his hands. It had been a simple machine – simple in nature and in mechanisms.
He looked over to where Aeris sat. He missed things that were simple to fix.
"Didja fix Marlene's doll, mister? Well, did ya?" Priscilla jumped up and down excitedly.
He smiled at her happiness. "Yes, it's as good as new."
"Wow!" Marlene embraced her newly working doll.
"See? Didn't I tell you?" Priscilla was grinning like it was she who had fixed the doll instead of the man. "He's a genius! A magician!"
His face darkened slightly as he bowed his face down. "No, sorry..." he whispered, half to himself and half to the world, "I've put away all my magic tricks."
The blond man pushed the wheelchair across the lawn. It was spray-painted pink, as she'd impulsively suggested one day. She wore a long pink dress with buttons all down the front and a small red jacket. Her hair was tied expertly with a pink cloth in a long braid down her back. She had not dressed herself – she did not remember how to.
The man in blue continued to push her across the lawn.
"Anyway... who are you?" She put her hand on her chin, warm green eyes looking up, puzzled at his face.
Cloud Strife smiled at his wife and closed his eyes.
"Me? Just someone who loves you very much, Aeris... very, very much..."
a/n: ...not really a happy ending there, eh kiddies? Unless, of course, you possess the mental depth to truly understand the beauty of love... and all that good stuff. Not as tragic as "A Nameless Doll", though, so I'm justified. Flames will still be used to power my PS2 because, oddly enough, the little man who powers it on his hamster wheel hasn't come back yet. His aunt must be very ill...