A/N: I decided to post up a couple of side-stories taking place within the "Ripples" timeline. I may also post one up about Tifa and her starting life over in Midgar. We'll see. : )
WARNING: This story will not make any sense unless you have read my first story "Us & Them". I suggest you read that first if you haven't already.
Just one word was music to Sephiroth's ears. It had meant that his ultimate nightmare hadn't come to pass.
Aeris was alive again, thanks to the doctors' frantic efforts to revive the clinically dead girl. She was by no means, out of the woods, they had told him, but she had been somewhat stabilized.
It had been pandemonium when the swordsman had arrived suddenly through the gateway carrying two dead bodies. Upon arrival, Sephiroth had discarded the blue-skinned body he'd carried in one arm, and ordered the shocked technicians to forget about that woman, begging him to save the other one.
The people of Cetra blood had panicked and run off at the sight of the first woman, whose blue skin was the tell-tale sign of a deadly illness, known in this world as Id's Death. He knew all too well the reason why: there was no vaccination available to the Cetra, and at best, the illness would render them incapacitated for at least a month. At worst, they would either die, or mutate beyond recognition, turning them into savage monsters with no recollection of their previous life as a sentient being. It was the same virus that had all but eradicated the Cetra from his home planet.
He had passed through the gateway, his usual stoic demeanor present, even after he'd nearly broken down upon discovering that Aeris had slipped away.
However, he'd completely lost it when he decided that the workers weren't working fast enough getting Aeris to a hospital. He had screamed at them, sworn at them, and threatened them with the Masamune. He'd then watched helplessly as the doctors at the hospital they'd reached finally wheeled her into the ER.
He'd been in a semi-dazed state when Professor Gast and Ifalna burst into the waiting room with an escort from the Cetran Galactic Government. He'd absently let them embrace him, and answered their questions about Aeris as best as he could. Then the doctor had come out and let everyone know that Aeris was breathing again.
That did it for Sephiroth, and for the first time in his life, the swordsman had passed out from complete mental exhaustion. He'd been moved to his own bed in the hospital, where he'd stayed in for no more than a couple of hours before he'd tried to see Aeris. He was stopped by the same doctor, who gently explained to him that while Aeris was alive, she was still in bad shape. For now, the girl was in a coma. How long it would last, no one could say. As it was, it was practically a miracle she was even alive again at all.
Eventually, Sephiroth was allowed to see Aeris. The teenager had been hooked up to various pieces of machinery, and was breathing with the aid of a respirator.
There he sat for a good five minutes, staring silently as the respirator and heart monitor provided the only sounds in the room.
"I'm sorry…" he found himself saying.
He took a good look at Aeris. The girl who loved to just run in a field and soak up the sun was now as pale as the sheets on her bed. Her skin and hair were soaked with sweat, and her partially open eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling, blinking involuntarily from time to time.
"I let her get the best of me when you needed my protection the most," Sephiroth continued, "If I'd been in top form, I could have stopped Jenova from piercing your shoulder and infecting you. But I let her get to me…"
He glanced at her still form.
"You wouldn't think it now with all those tubes you're hooked up to…" Sephiroth found himself saying, "But it's hard to resist temptation...it's why I left you in the first place to go to Midgar.
"I've always prided myself on my self-control. But with you…I always felt as if somehow, I could lose control. And this is why you're here. Because I was afraid I might do something terrible. Maybe it was the virus threatening me, since I felt much better after the vaccination…before that…had you kissed me before that…I don't know what would have happened…
"I'm sorry I have to be telling you this when you're unconscious. I know it's being rather cowardly…but I'm…just…worried that I might never get another chance,"
He paused for a moment, and then stood up.
"Please…" he pleaded softly, "Don't leave me…"
Cursing himself mentally for acting so vulnerable, he left the room.
"Fries?" Professor Faremis Gast offered a small basket to Sephiroth.
"I didn't know they had fries here," Sephiroth mumbled, "No thanks,"
"They've got another name I can't pronounce for the life of me," Gast chuckled, "I'll stick with calling them fries,"
Sephiroth nodded absently as he looked around the cafeteria they sat in. Leave it to the professor to joke in such a terrible situation. He remembered the day they all had to flee Icicle Inn after Hojo had tried to abduct the family. Gast had begun telling corny knock-knock jokes just to ease the tension in the plane, and wouldn't stop until his wife had given him a certain look. A look that Sephiroth had long-since figured meant that the professor had better shut up if he wanted to sleep in the bedroom that night.
"Okay, I have…something that resembles something between a casserole and a salad…if that's even possible," Ifalna Gast announced as she sat down with a tray of food.
She and the professor ate silently, while Sephiroth stared out into space.
The swordsman glanced at Ifalna.
"Tell us about her," the Cetra pleaded softly, "Anything. Bad, good, embarrassing, it doesn't matter. What did she do on her last birthday? What does she like to do for fun?"
Sephiroth closed his eyes and sighed. "Maybe I'll tell you what happened after Vincent saved Aeris and myself from Hojo's men,"
Ifalna's eyes were misty. "That's fine," she said, "Tell us…please,"
Sephiroth nodded and cleared his throat before he began to speak:
"Sephiroth, Aeris," Vincent said to the two children, "I'd like you to meet the Masons,"
"Hello, Aeris,"the woman said cheerfully as she knelt down in front of the little girl, "It's nice to meet you,"
Aeris smiled. "It's nice to meet you too," she said, putting her hand out, which the woman happily accepted and shook.
"You'll both be staying here with them for the time being," said Vincent, "I trust you'll both behave?"
"Yes, Mr. Valentine," Aeris said obediently.
Vincent cleared his throat. "Aeris…we've known each other for a few weeks now. Why not just call me Vincent?"
Aeris giggled. "Okay, Vincent,"
"I've got business to take care of,"Vincent announced, "I'll make sure to stop in and see how you two are doing,"
"We'll be fine," Sephiroth said irritably.
"I'll be the judge of that," Vincent retorted as he walked away.
"Bye, Vincent!" Aeris called after him, "Thanks for the slushies! My tongue's still purple, see?? BLEAHH!!" she stuck her purple-streaked tongue out.
Vincent waved back at her, not turning around.
"Hey, how about we go inside and we can show you your rooms?" the man suggested.
Sephiroth nodded, and he and Aeris followed the couple inside.
"Sephy, stop hogging all the water!" Aeris begged as she stood behind Sephiroth, watching the teen drinking water from a hose in the Masons' backyard.
"You can have it in a minute," Sephiroth told her, "You should be grateful that the Masons even have plumbing. Most families here don't,"
"EW!!" Aeris exclaimed, "Don't put your mouth on it! I don't want your cooties!"
Sephiroth rolled his eyes, but held the hose away from his mouth, attempting to catch the stream of water instead.
Aeris was beginning to lose her patience. Looking around impatiently, she spied the faucet that the hose was connected to. A devilish grin crept up on her face, and she quietly made her way over.
Grasping the handle, she turned the faucet all the way. Water began blasting out of the hose, spraying Sephiroth right in the face. With an exclaimation of surprise, the teen dropped the hose, spitting water out. He then glared at Aeris, who was shrieking with laughter.
"Oh, really funny," he said as he picked up the hose, "See how you like it!" He aimed directly at Aeris.
The little girl let out a squeal as the cold water hit her. Ducking out of the way, she kept running, but was unable to outrun the hose.
"No, Sephy, stop it!!" she begged as he kept spraying her.
"Stop what?" Sephiroth asked innocently.
"STOP SPRAYING ME!!!!" Aeris wailed.
"Will you let your big brother drink from the hose as long as he wants?"
"And who is the greatest swordsman on the Planet?"
"My big brother Sephiroth!"
"Right answer," Sephiroth said as he reached over and turned the water off, "Still thirsty?"
"THLPBLTTTT!!!" Aeris blew a raspberry at him and stalked off.
"Oh, we can dish it out, but we can't take it, is that it…?" Sephiroth teased as he followed her.
Ifalna smiled ruefully as she wiped her eyes with a napkin.
"I'm just glad to know she recovered well enough," said Gast.
"She was a bit depressed when her eighth birthday came," Sephiroth told them, "Fortunately, we'd made a friend while living in Cosmo Canyon. Oh- Professor…Bugenhagen sends his regards…"
"Ah, Bugenhagen," Gast recalled fondly.
"We became friends with his grandson Nanaki. When he saw how sad Aeris was on her own birthday, he was able to round up all of the local children. That evening, she had the wildest party an eight-year-old could ever have, right by the Cosmo Candle. Tag, hide-and-seek, kickball, and all the junk food you could eat,"
"That sounds nice," Ifalna said wistfully.
The three were silent for a while.
"How long?" Sephiroth said softly.
His former surrogate parents glanced curiously at him.
"It's been four days now," Sephiroth continued, "We come here, kill time, sit with her, listen to the doctors telling us there's no change, go back to inn next door, and sleep. How much longer are we going to keep this up?"
"Until she wakes up, Sephiroth," Ifalna told him.
"That's not good enough," Sephiroth growled as he stood up suddenly and left the room.
Ifalna began drumming her fingers against the table restlessly.
"Are you all right?" Gast asked her, "You've seemed anxious ever since we arrived at the capital,"
"How can you stand it?" Ifalna asked suddenly.
"You mean about Aeris?"
Ifalna shook her head. "No…it's just…this place is an artificial world. An incredibly large floating space-city, really. There aren't any actual planets around…how can you stand the silence? What were the other Cetra thinking when they first built this place?"
Gast looked at his wife, momentarily puzzled, until he realized what she was talking about.
"You can't hear the voices of any planets," he concluded.
"The one on Beud A'evori welcomed me," said Ifalna, "It actually took time out to welcome me. And the feeling I got from it…it was so different from our Planet, but comforting all the same. No matter what happened, I always had the words of the Planet to help me. And now…"
"I'm still here," Gast reminded her.
Ifalna grasped her husband's hand with her own. "I know," she whispered, "I know…if you weren't here…Faremis, I don't know what I'd do. Even if Aeris pulls through, we still don't know her. She's seventeen now. Sephiroth has changed…she probably has also. Sephiroth seems so…bitter now. He never was the most sociable kid, but at least he seemed to be at ease. Now, he's always on edge,"
"He's worried about Aeris," Gast reminded her, "Perhaps if the two had arrived here safe and sound, things would be different,"
"Maybe you're right," Ifalna sighed.
"Have a fry," Gast offered her the basket.
Laughing despite herself, Ifalna reached in and took one.
Sephiroth wandered the city streets aimlessly, glancing around him occasionally.
The Cetran galactic capital was certainly a melting pot if anything. People of all shapes and sizes moved about the streets, busy with their own daily lives. Some were Cetra; he could tell by glancing at their bright, shining eyes. Others glided about with two wings protruding from their backs- obviously Seraphim. He also noticed a few women with long, furry rabbit-like ears, and had encountered a shopkeeper resembling a giant lizard with dog-ears.
Aeris would probably incur the wrath of one of these people if she were walking here with me…Sephiroth thought…She'd stare at every one of them despite herself…
Sephiroth desperately pushed the thought out of his head, trying to find something to distract him.
He then stopped at a large bulletin board, noticing all of the flyers tacked on there. To his surprise, he discovered that he could read most of the notices posted, as they were in the original Cetran alphabet, which he and Aeris had both learned to read as children.
Personal ads, for sale ads…there really wasn't anything special as far as Sephiroth could see, until his eyes came to rest on one flier that seemed to have been recently posted.
Stop being so helpless and actually do something with your life! Job fair this week at Maduin's Marketplace! 2-6 p.m.!
Sephiroth read the date of the event, and stopped a young Seraph.
"What's today's date?" he asked the boy.
Staring uncertainly, the kid told him the date.
"You wouldn't happen to know how to get to Maduin's Marketplace, would you?" Sephiroth asked.
He listened carefully as the boy gave him directions. Sephiroth then thanked the boy and took off toward his new destination.
I think I will do something, just as the flyer said…he thought…if I can't help Aeris, I can at least help my sanity. Hard work has always done me a world of good in the past…I need to get my head together…for Aeris…