Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and its characters belong to Square Enix and many others. Sadly, I'm not one of them.
Author's Note: These will be moving forwards and backwards through time as well as POV, covering a series of moments rather than a linear storyline. They're snatches of a history.

Revised and edited January 7, 2007.
-----------------------------------

Metathesiophobia or, Moving Forward
By Lady Calliope

Part One: Tocophobia

-----------------------------------

He was there.

"You okay?"

She knew it was him before he even opened his mouth—no one else smelled of cigarette smoke and engine grease. Plus, those clunking boots weren't exactly the footwear of choice for sneaking around quietly.

"Yeah, I just needed some air."

Keep it casual. No sense in telling him the truth—who was she kidding? He probably already knew anyway. He was much more perceptive than most gave him credit for. Behind the gruff voice and "maim now, ask later" attitude was one of the most intelligent men she'd ever met. Not that she'd ever tell him that: he'd most likely find it an insult. She knew that, when it came to taking charge of a situation, his apathy towards playing leader was the result of something more than lethargy or impatience. It came from a deep-seated inclination to let someone like her handle things rather than be held responsible for the wrong decision.

He'd already suffered that mistake once.

"It's real fuckin' crowded in there."

Typical response. She found a kind of comfort in that. In the routine, in him—in the routine that became him. He'd been a commonenough presence for the past three years, but not until these last few months had he become an almost constant fixture in her daily life. And on the days that he didn't visit she had come to expect—and anticipate—the letters and packages he sent in his place.

"I never expected so many people to show."

That was the truth: the first bit of truth she felt she had spoken aloud all evening. The decision had been sudden, the planning haphazard at best, and despite her insistence that no one needed to break any dates to attend, every single person on the guest list had graced her doorway that evening.

At least, all the people that she had been able to send an invitation to, that is.

"Like any of 'em would miss this."

She smiled at that, glad that he couldn't see it, couldn't see the shadow that tainted the curve of her lips. For all the warmth and genuine gratitude she felt at the sight of so many people—so many friends and allies and once-upon-a-time enemies gathered together just for her—the absence of the one person who should have been there above all others cut her like lemon on steel. But she didn't want him, of all people, to see her melancholy on a night like this. She wanted to look brave, wanted to look like the warrior she used to feel like.

The wind picked up, a breeze caressing and lifting her hair from her neck momentarily. The last tinges of ice rode the gust, the breeze much cooler than the once-still air around her. Winter was fighting hard to stay this year, but the small seedlings of the white violets she had planted last year were already pushing their way through the soil. The battle was nearly over—for the time being, at least, spring was winning. Another chill whisper and she shivered, unconsciously wrapping an arm around her waist.

The seeds had been a gift from him, one of many that he'd sent to her during his travels as head of the Space Program. There were little bits of him strewn all about her home, and some even decorated the bar she lived on top of. She'd thought about moving and re-opening Seventh Heaven in Nibelheim, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. There were still too many ghosts and hopes holding her in this walled city.

"They care for you, Tif. This is just one of their ways of showin' it."

"I know, and I'm thankful. I just—" She couldn't stop herself. He had a way of undoing her. "I just wish he was..."

Dammit. She'd sworn she wouldn't shed a tear tonight. She was supposed to be happy and laugh at the non-alcoholic drinks people mixed for her and "ooo" at the handcrafted cradle and rocker Rufus gave her. She knew people must think it odd, a soon-to-be mother seemingly unfazed by the absence of her lover and the child's father. But they didn't, and wouldn't, ask questions. People were careful to avoid questions—even Yuffie never let her mouth run that far. Little did they know their tactful silence only emphasized the empty space next to her in her bed, made her touch her lips in an effort to recall the feel of his mouth moving against hers.

"Stop it, Tif. Not tonight. Don't let the bastard ruin this for you, too."

Her lips quirked at the brusque words. He never coddled her, for which she was grateful. He was the only one that spoke about him around her, even if it was just to call him names. She was probably supposed to defend her lover's honor, but she couldn't summon the energy.

"You're right. I know." Reigning in her sniffling, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and ran her hand through her hair a few times to regain some composure. "How do I look?"

"Like you've been crying."

Typical. "Thanks. Thank you. I'd be a mess without you around."

She moved to hug him, but he sidestepped her with a fighter's grace. "You should stay out here for a bit, make you're eyes not so puffy. Don't want people askin' me what I did and blamin' me."

He brushed past and headed inside, down the stairs, back to the baby shower. Despite the fact that what she needed right now, more than anything, was physical contact, he hadn't so much as twitched to hug her. In fact, throughout their entire exchange, he hadn't touched her in the slightest. Thinking back over recent years, she realized something she hadn't noticed until now.

She couldn't remember what he felt like: he hadn't touched her in nearly four years.