Chapter 45: A Second Chance

Silence reigned in the Forgotten Capitol, and the seven who made their way down the crystalline staircase into it had no desire to change that. Aeris and Sephiroth led the way, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, down to the smooth stone floor.

Aeris wondered if Sephiroth found their state of dress ironic. Over her golden dress she wore her long black coat, while Sephiroth wore the white healer's cloak Nanaki had found for him. Despite all her words, he frequently thought of them as opposites, she the light and he the darkness. Yes, he probably did think it ironic.

Sephiroth helped her across the stone pillars to the altar, and the others hung back, remaining on the platform below. It had been explained to them that none of them save Lucrecia would be able to comprehend the full goings-on during the quiet ceremony. Aeris had asked the Planet to marry them, feeling that it would bind them more closely than any human's words. It had been more than happy to oblige her.

They stood in the center of the altar where Aeris had prayed and Sephiroth had killed her, and they faced each other, deep green eyes locked with pale blue.

You have brought yourselves here to reweave the threads of Fate, threads that first brought you here in opposition and now will be made to bind you. Neither of them had told the Planet why they had chosen this place, nor had they told it what to say. It simply knew.

It is not an easy thing, breaking Fate's bonds. You both followed them exactly in your first lives, and you were rewarded and punished with death. But second chances abound for those with such strong wills. I was glad that you could be allowed those chances, and glad that you used them to change what Fate had decided for you.

You, Aeris, chose to forgive your killer and greatest foe. You chose to overcome your fear and save him from himself. You supported him through every twist and turn.

You, Sephiroth, chose to live and atone for the wrongs you had done. You chose to aid those who had been your foes, those who hated you, and to destroy those who once had absolute control over you.

I am very, very glad to be able to join you in this way. My two greatest friends, my two greatest protectors. It hesitated. I know there are promises that you wish to make and that you wish to keep...

"Yes, there are many, Planet," Sephiroth agreed, smiling softly as he held Aeris's gaze. "I promise you, Aeris, that I will never hurt you again, and I will do my best to repair what damage I have done. I will protect you always, but I will remember to look after my own life as well. I will never leave your side, in life or in death, and I will fight to keep that privilege if I have to. And most importantly, I will always love you."

She wanted to kiss him right then and there, but she restrained herself and kept her voice calm. "And Sephiroth, I promise you that I will never let you sacrifice yourself for me again, nor will I do the same for you. We will face everything together from now on, not separately. I will stand by every decision you make. I will help you to atone until you realize that you don't need to anymore, and then I will help you to be the healer that you are. And through everything, I will always love you.

Oh yes, you two have learned from your mistakes, the Planet remarked fondly. Such bright children of mine. I doubt my intervention will be necessary, but I will make certain that you keep these vows of yours. You are bound by them as surely as your souls are now bound. They have been bound. Set against each other by Fate, but now set together by me.

It paused. Oh, what is it? 'I now pronounce you man and wife'?

Aeris laughed. "Yes, Planet, that's it."

Yes. I now pronounce you man and wife. Sephiroth, you may kiss your bride.

Sephiroth smiled and bent down to kiss her as she slipped her arms around his neck. Their lips met, and he pulled her closer, one hand at her waist, the other against her face.

As they stepped apart, their small audience down below applauded, and Aeris started, having forgotten their presence entirely. She smiled and lifted a hand to wave when Sephiroth suddenly swept her off her feet and into his arms, carrying her down to join the others. He set her down gently, and she looked up at him, surprised and pleased that he would do such a thing.

"That was the truest wedding I've ever witnessed," Lucrecia declared.

"I didn't even hear all of it, and I agree with her," Elmyra remarked.

"That was really sweet, you guys," Katrina told them with a grin.

"Congratulations," Vincent said simply.

"I am glad you have at last found your answers," Minerva said, bowing her head and then finding each of their gazes with a knowing smile.

And I am glad you're not alone anymore, Ifalna murmured in her mind. It certainly took long enough.

"Thank you, everyone," Aeris said aloud. "And I'm sorry about you all not being able to hear most of it. The Planet is really so wonderful."

"It's all right," Elmyra assured her. "It's nice to see you being so open about these things."

"And anyway," added Katrina, "I thought I could almost hear someone singing." She hesitated, as though thinking over her words and wondering why they were relevant.

"Then maybe you heard the Planet's song," Aeris suggested.

"Do you think? But... I'm only human."

"Human's aren't all completely deaf," she told her with a smile. "Now let's head back to my house. It's warmer there."

She reached for Sephiroth's hand and found it easily. Found it gloveless. She loved to be able to hold his bare hand in her own; it felt so intimate somehow. She recalled, vaguely, that his hands had been bare when he had killed her.

Shaking her head slightly, Aeris smiled up at her husband and led the way back up the crystalline staircase with him at her side.

Leaning against a railing, Aeris watched a crew of seafarers unloading crates from a ship that had just come in. Vincent stood silently beside her, leaving a polite distance between them. This was the tiny coastal village to the south of Bone Village which had sprung up with the flood of refugees from Midgar who had found their way here.

Few lived here, but the woman at the local general store had told them that the little town was growing. This seemed to be the case with so many towns, even so long after Meteor had torn Midgar apart. Life on the Planet flourished. People no longer had to worry about Shinra troops or reactor explosions or Mako-mutated creatures claiming lives. Children rarely died young, and when they left home, there was no great city of Midgar to swallow them up.

Lucrecia had wanted to talk to Sephiroth alone, and now Aeris and Vincent waited at the docks for the other two to join them. The others had taken earlier ships home, and the four of them would take the ship to Costa del Sol, from where Vincent and Lucrecia would return to Nibelheim, and she and Sephiroth would take another ship bound for Wutai.

"So, what's Nibelheim like these days?" Aeris asked of her silent companion.

"Quiet, as usual," he replied. "But at least now it is a pleasant sort of quiet."

"Mm. That's good. I remember it felt so edgy there, like everyone was peering suspiciously out of their windows and all the doors were locked."

"It is no longer like that. No one goes out of their way to be friendly, true, but they will exchange greetings and small talk. They are no longer afraid of me, even."

Aeris glanced at him. He had long since cut his hair short again, and while he still dressed in dark colors, his clothing was casual and certainly did not make him look as intimidating as that bloodred cloak. Aside from his crimson eyes and his claw, he looked much as he had as a Turk.

She smiled slightly. "I don't see why they should be, Vincent. Now that you dress like any normal person and smile every now and then, you're really not so scary-looking."

"Hmph. They should be afraid of me, and not because of this." He lifted the claw, displaying its sharp digits, and then lowered it again.

"'re worried about Chaos, aren't you?" she asked softly.

"Yes. I've told Lucrecia about these demons in my head, but she only smiles and tells me I shouldn't worry so much. I suppose she thinks me in control, but I am not so certain. What if Chaos did break free? What if it hurt her?"

Aeris frowned thoughtfully. "Chaos only grows belligerent when you're angry, right?"

"...usually, yes."

"What reasons do you have now to get angry or call on it for aid, if Lucrecia is by your side? There's nothing left in this world that you'd need Chaos to protect her from, and you certainly won't get angry at her. You should be fine."

He nodded slightly, and there followed a lengthy silence between them. "Lucrecia... is aging now. Perhaps you've noticed..."

Aeris shook her head. "No, I hadn't. But... why do you mention it?"

"Because I am not. I remain the same, always, and..."

"And that means that she'll grow old and die, but you won't," she concluded with a sigh. She shook her head again and offered him a smile. "You shouldn't worry about that now, not when it's so far off."

"Aeris, I do not wish to live forever. I do not wish to live without her. When she dies--"

"You won't go back to your coffin, Vincent," she told him firmly. "I won't let you."

"Then what? You expect me to continue on without her? She is my lifeline. Without her, I do not belong in this world, and yet I am unable to leave it."

"You'll have to learn to stand on your own."

Vincent met her gaze, his crimson eyes searching. "...will you help me?"

"If I'm still around when that day comes, yes. I'll help you to move on, though I can't imagine what it'll be like for you, to live forever..."

"I wonder if there is a way for me to die," he mused, looking out at the ocean. "Perhaps Hojo knew, since he made me this way."

" could ask Minerva," Aeris suggested quietly. "Although, I don't think... Vincent, please, if there turns out to be a way, don't give up on life until you truly can't go on."

"I won't."

"Promise me?"

"I promise."

She nodded, satisfied, and joined him in watching the ways.

"You know," he began, surprising her that he was starting up the conversation again; he must have had a lot he wanted to get off his chest. "Most of the time, it feels as though she is serving my needs... I should be able to deal with my own problems and give myself to her, shouldn't I?"

Aeris kept her gaze on the waves, smiling softly. "Vincent, you have to understand something: she wants to help you. She finds joy in just being with you, and making sure that you're okay. I feel the same way about Sephiroth. The best thing in the world to me is seeing him happy. The rest doesn't matter."

He shook his head slightly. "But Sephiroth is helping you in return. He is healing you."

"As long as you listen to Lucrecia whenever she needs your ear, as long as you don't keep any secrets from her, you'll do fine. And I'm sure you're doing that."


"So stop worrying about being selfish. You're anything but."

Vincent nodded. "Thank you, Aeris."

"You're welcome."

They stood watching the docks and the ocean for some time longer before Vincent turned away from the railing. Following his gaze, Aeris saw Sephiroth and Lucrecia approaching.

She smiled and waved. "Hey, you two. Are you all set?" At Lucrecia's quiet 'yes' and Sephiroth's nod, she straightened and started for the dock. "Let's get going then."

Sephiroth stopped when Wutai came into sight, and he could feel Aeris's concerned gaze on him. When they had arrived at the small coastal town the day before, he had encountered some hostility there. Most who recognized him had warily moved away, but a few had tried to block his path and demanded why he was there. Aeris had managed to calm them down while he had remained silent.

The town of Wutai itself, however, would be a different story. Here were the people who had not moved on since the war, those whose lives had been destroyed by it, those who had buried their anger deep and never allowed themselves to vent it. The anger of one who lashes out often is nothing to be feared, but the anger of one who has never lashed out... an entirely different story indeed.

He turned to Aeris, who had been waiting patiently, if anxiously. "Let's go," he said simply.

She nodded, and together they started for the town.

The first soul they encountered was a woman with greying hair meandering the path along the river. She lifted her lifeless eyes from the water to look at them, and her gaping mouth slowly settled into a harsh frown, anger sparking in her eyes. She stepped aside silently, but grudgingly, an old wounded pride making her straighten her thin, slumping shoulders and lift her chin in a defiance given up long ago.

Sephiroth spared her a single glance. He could find no compassion in himself for this poor creature, only pity. Had he done this to her?

Yes, you did this to her.

They crossed a bridge over the river, and a little boy standing just outside the swordsmith's called for his father and pointed to the 'strange man with funny hair,' asking 'didn't he look cool?' The boy's father turned from his work to look out the open door. He met the swordsman's gaze with a glare, then called the boy inside and turned his back on this intruder.

Sephiroth did not look to Aeris for comfort. She was at his side, and that was enough. Had he inspired such hatred in that man's heart?

Yes, you made him hate.

Aeris had always said hatred was a terrible thing.

The crossed another bridge to the Turtle's Paradise, a building artfully suspended over the river. The drunkards whose lives he had destroyed glared sullenly out at him through the open doorway. The barkeeper seemed torn between watching in silence and snatching up something to attack him with.

One last bridge brought them to solid ground again, and as they walked by the general store, the woman sweeping the entryway lifted her head to watch them. She brandished her broom and cried something obscene and insulting. When Sephiroth failed to reply, she went back to sweeping, muttering under her breath in Wutain.

Yes, I killed this town... but perhaps even this wound can be healed. Perhaps I can make amends.

The face of the old man outside Godo's house told him otherwise, but he chose to ignore it and continued his determined pace up the steps to the house, knocking on the red-lacquered door.

Yuffie opened it, her bright, welcoming face dispelling the beginnings of the emotionless mask Sephiroth had begun to erect. He had no need of protecting himself from this friendly gaze.

"Hey, guys!" the ninja greeted cheerfully. "I've been expecting you. Come on in." She opened the door wide and held out a hand in a broad gesture that seemed to say the whole house lay open to them.

"Hi, Yuffie," Aeris replied, smiling as she stepped inside. "How are you?"

"Great," she answered as she let the door fall shut behind Sephiroth and turned her gaze on him. "Come on, I've got something to show you."

He followed her down the hall and around a corner, where he saw caught sight of a shrine to the water god Leviathan beyond an open doorway at the end of the hall. A young man sat cross-legged on the floor, and he glanced over his shoulder when he heard them coming. His eyes went immediately to Sephiroth, and he leapt to his feet, moving to stand in the doorway.

Yuffie went to slide open the door to a room on the right, ignoring him until he cleared his throat loudly. "Yeah?" she queried, glancing at him.

"What, exactly, is going on here?"

"Shake, you must be blind," she replied casually. "These are two of my friends, and they're going to be staying here for a while. I'm showing them around."

"You're a friend of Sephiroth's?" he asked incredulously. "Jeez, that seems pretty low, even for you, Yuffie-chan."

She glared at him. "Get out, Shake. You will not insult any guests in my house."

"Okay," Shake said amicably. "But this is Lord Godo's house. When you get one of you of your own, I'll keep that in mind."

"This is as much my house as it is Dad's," she replied heatedly. "Now leave."

"Make me."

Yuffie growled in frustration, and almost looked as though she would drag him bodily from her home.

"Don't you know, Shake-san," Sephiroth interrupted, speaking in Wutain, his voice dangerously level, "that it takes a great amount of courage and insight to be able to forgive someone you once hated? You ought to be awed that Yuffie has been able to do so. I know I am."

The young man studied him for a long time, unable to think of a come-back. Finally, he shrugged. "Whatever," he said in Common. "I'll leave--I don't wanna be around when Yuffie and Godo start going at it." He pushed past them, trying to shove Sephiroth out of his way and not succeeding, though the swordsman then stepped back voluntarily.

"I really hate that kid," Yuffie muttered once he was out of ear-shot.

"I can't imagine why," Sephiroth remarked.

The ninja grinned at him, then turned into the room on the right. "Anyway, come on. You've gotta see what Aeris got you."

The swordsman glanced at Aeris with raised eyebrows, and she smiled, motioning him forward into the room.

It looked like Yuffie's bedroom, actually. The casual, almost-but-not-quite haphazard placement of the meager furniture and decorations, the lack of frills or presumptuous grandeur, and the subtle suggestion that she didn't need them to announce her importance. There was one incongruity, however, shoved uncertainly into a corner--a piano.

Sephiroth stared at it, knowing this had to be what he was supposed to see and failing to grasp the concept that it was his. It was hardly brand-new, but its worn appearance made it seem almost familiar, like something he had once owned. But he had never owned a piano, and he knew he had never set eyes on this particular instrument before. He looked to Aeris, silently asking for an explanation.

"I didn't expect to find it either," she admitted. "Especially not in Midgar. But there it was. The man at the shop said it'd been salvaged recently from the wreck of Sector 8, repaired, and given a fresh coat of paint."

He nodded, wondering how she could have afforded it but not asking. He decided he would rather not know. "I see. And... it's mine?"

"Yes, it's yours."

"I shall have to learn how to play," he decided, smiling faintly.

Yuffie looked at Aeris incredulously. "You got him a piano, and he doesn't even know how to play?"

"He knows," she replied. "He just can't read music, so he likes to think he can't play."

"Oh, I get it. Just Seph being Seph." She turned to him with a grin. "Why don't you play something for us?"

"...all right." He walked to the piano, set the bag he carried down beside it, and slowly settled himself onto the small bench. What could he play? he wondered. He cast out with his mind until he could hear the Planet's song, and as he laid his fingers on the keys, they began to play an accompaniment.

Sephiroth could sense the Planet turning its attention towards him in curiosity. He could feel the two women's eyes on his hands and the keys that they flew effortlessly across. He played until a loud, familiar voice demanded:

"What's going on in here?"

The notes died in the air. The knowing smile faded from Aeris's face. Yuffie's appreciative gaze gave way to anxiety. Sephiroth stood slowly and turned around to see Godo standing in the doorway.

The swordsman bowed his head. "I was only playing the piano, Lord Godo. I apologize if it was not to your liking."

"Not to my liking?" Godo repeated incredulously. "What does your piano-playing have to do with anything? What are you doing in my house?"

"I was invited," he answered calmly.


She did not flinch when her father's angry gaze turned on her. "Yes, Dad, I invited him. Both of them. This is Aeris," she went on, gesturing to her friend. "You remember, I told you about them."

"Yes, I remember," he replied slowly. "But I do not remember you telling me that they would be coming to my house."

"Well... I was worried that if I told you, you'd freak."

"You would rather I 'freaked' on finding them here unexpectedly?"

Yuffie fell silent.

Godo turned back to Sephiroth. "I have heard about all that you've done. I have also heard that you've changed. I know the war was a long time ago, but I want you out of my house. Leave, now."

"Wait a minute, Lord Godo," Aeris interceded. "Sephiroth's come to atone for what he did here when he was part of Shinra. You should know as well as any of us that he wasn't the one who started the war. He was only doing his job as Shinra's general, but--"

"He did not have to do his job at all," Godo interrupted. "Any man who worked for Shinra was no better than President Shinra himself."

She shook her head, frowning. "That's not true. Many good people have worked for Shinra because they needed the money, and most of them didn't know the terrible things that went on in that company."

"You mean to tell me that Sephiroth didn't know what he was doing?"

"No, but--"

"Aeris, please," Sephiroth cut in, glancing at her and conveying through his gaze that he wanted to do this on his own. "No, Lord Godo, I knew quite well what I was doing and of Shinra's corruption. I fought for them because I believed I had no other choice, that that was all I could do. I was created to fight for them. But I know this is no excuse, and I expect no forgiveness from you for what I did."

Godo raised an eyebrow. "Then what do you expect?"

"A chance."

"A chance? Do you expect any Wutain, much less the man who had to surrender to you, to be able to give you a chance?"

"Your daughter did," Sephiroth pointed out.

"My daughter can be irrational."

"I don't think so."

Godo snorted. "Then you're a fool. Especially for thinking you could come back here and enter my house. Get out."

"I am not sure you have the authority to order me from this house."

"What? What do you mean, no authority? What right do you have to defy me?"

"There is someone here whose authority outweighs your own, and she invited me here."

"You can't mean Yuffie," Godo said incredulously.

Sephiroth nodded. "I do. She is Wutai's leader now, not you. You gave up that title a long time ago, when you gave up on Wutai. I've seen the people of this town. I know I was the one who inflicted these wounds on them, but I know you were the one who failed to alleviate their pain. Your daughter, at least, has tried."

Godo's eyes had narrowed. "Get out of here!" he ordered.

"You have no right to order me from this house," the swordsman maintained.

"It is my house!"

"And you've given up the authority to command me from it. You are no longer Wutai's leader."

"Yes, I am! How dare you come here and denounce me? How dare you come into my house and insult me? Get out of here before I have to drag you out myself!"

Sephiroth stood his ground, calm and unimpressed. The two women remained silent, their expressions not unlike awe. "You are fooling no one but yourself. I will remain unless Yuffie tells me otherwise."

"You impudent bastard!" Godo cried, looking as though he might strike the taller man.

Yuffie quickly intervened, hurrying over to lay a hand on her father's arm. "Dad, calm down."

"Calm down? But he's--!"

"I know. I know what you think. It's hard hearing it from him, isn't it? But it's true."

He looked at her in horror. "How can you say that?"

"Look, it's been true. What have you done to help Wutai since the war? You sleep practically all the time, and when you're not sleeping, you just stay in your room anyway. I don't know what the hell you do in there all day, but I'm the one who's been trying to get this country back on its feet. And I've made progress. You know I've made progress."

Godo nodded in grudging affirmation.

"So I thought I'd earned the right to invite my friends into my home. My home. So what if one of them is the man who led armies against us? So what? That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years! Sephiroth's been through a lot since then. He has changed. He wants to help, and frankly, I think I could use his help. It's for Wutai, Dad. Is that so wrong?"

"But he... He's Sephiroth. I had to surrender to him. Do you have any idea what it will look like if it's known that our enemy is living in my... our house?"

"And do you know what it will look like if it's known that he's helping us?"

He fell silent.

"I know it'll hurt your pride. But he's not asking you to forgive him. He just wants a chance, and I think he deserves it. It's been a long time since he's stood up for himself, you know. That says something."

"And just what does it say?"

"That he's been able to forgive himself. You might think it silly, but that's a huge thing. He used to hate himself, more than I used to hate him, more than you hate him."

Godo scoffed. "How do you know?"

"I'm not blind," Yuffie replied, rolling her eyes. "Now, what do you say?"

Her father sighed, and he turned to look at Sephiroth. His gaze was no less hostile than it had been, but it was hostility held in check. "All right. You'll have your chance. But don't let me see you too often."

Sephiroth bowed his head. "Very well, Lord Godo."

Godo's gaze swept around the room, as though trying to establish ownership, and, failing that, he turned and left.

Yuffie let out a breath and plopped down in the middle of the floor. "Gods."

"Well," said Aeris. "He consented, and that's something."

"Indeed," Sephiroth agreed.

The ninja looked up at him. "Thanks, for saying what you did. He's needed to hear it for a long time, but I've been too scared to tell him."

He shrugged it off. "Thank you for helping me to convince him. I could not have done it on my own."

"Yeah, he's a stubborn old goat," Yuffie agreed.

Aeris laughed a little. "In any case, Sephiroth, it was nice to see you stand up for yourself."

He turned to her, a half-smile on his face. "Was it?"

"Yes. Because I know what Yuffie said is completely true."

He smiled more broadly and nodded.

"Anyway," Yuffie said. "He interrupted you. Finish the song, why don't you?"

"But Yuffie, he can't finish it."

"Why not?"

"Because the Planet won't stop singing."

The ninja tilted her head. "What does that have to do with... Oh. Well, play some more of it then. And end it better this time."

Shaking his head, Sephiroth walked back to the piano bench to comply.

If Sephiroth's arm had not been firmly around her, Aeris might have worried about falling. It was a long drop from where they sat at the highest point on Da-chao, but his strong hand on her shoulder let her forget her fear and focus on the view.

Wutai stretched out below them, a study of red-highlighted buildings against clear blue water. In the spring and summer, the green of the forests contrasted with this crimson, but for now the trees remained bare-limbed and fragile. Beyond the town, plains stretched out westward to meet distant mountains.

"It certainly is beautiful," Aeris remarked.

"Yes," Sephiroth agreed.

"I told Yuffie so, and she said 'wait until you see it in the fall.'"

He nodded slightly. "It is lovely in the fall."

"You've seen it?"

"Yes. Though I was not paying much attention to the view."

She did not reply to this. "I think things are going much more smoothly than when we first came. It's only been a week, but I can already feel the difference."

"That woman at the general store actually smiled at me today," Sephiroth told her.

"They'll all be smiling at you after a few months," Aeris assured him.

"You think so?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"They accepted you from the beginning," he said, almost fondly. "It does not bother them in the slightest that you are my wife."

"And why should it?"

"Some people do judge you by the company you keep."

Aeris smiled slightly. "I know. But not these people. And you know what? They seem so much more... alive, than when we first arrived."

"You must be having an effect on them," he told her.

"I think you're helping, too," she said.

"Oh?" Sephiroth wondered.

"Mmhm. You're not just reopening old wounds, you're a sign that those wounds can be healed. Anyone who isn't blind can see that just by looking at you."

"Well, that's your fault entirely," he told her, but she knew he was joking. You can't help someone unless they want to help themselves.

Author's Notes
THE END. Just so there's no confusion. X3

The arrival in Wutai scene makes this my favorite of the "extra" chapters, and probably the main argument in favor of keeping them. However, the very last scene in the story, actually in a separate pseudo-chapter called the Afterwards, got cut. I just couldn't justify keeping it because I'd tied up whatever loose ends it was supposed to address in earlier parts.

But, phew. Glad this is finally finished with so I can stop reserving brain power for it. Because I've kept going back to it, it's stayed in the back of my mind for months, but now I'll be able to focus more on my other projects. Yes, I've got some other fanfics in the works. I may put them up here, but only after editing them, I think. They won't require the extensive editing that LFA did because they're far more structured, but it might still be a while before I get around to doing it. I guess we'll see. In the meantime you can find them on my website. (Along with a fair amount of artwork for Fallen.)

Well, kiddies, it's been fun. :D