A/N: This was written off of one of the first drafts of "Eyes of Clay," if you can believe it. I ended up liking some of the scenes so much I saved them and then developed this story around them. I think that these longer, AU oneshots are my favorite things to write (though I ended up dividing this one into parts, and it got rather weird and dreamy). Thanks for reading, and as always, enjoy!
Disclaimer: Nothing herein belongs to me. Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix, and the subheadings are bits and pieces taken remixed from the writings of one of my favorite poets, Kahlil Gibran. I recommend listening to "Let it Die" by the wonderful Feist while reading this; that's what I did while writing it.
And When the Earth Claims Your Limbs
I. Let me sleep, for my soul is intoxicated with love / and read what the hand of Death has written on my forehead.
"—and if you don't go with me, Aeris, the other guys will start up again, sayin' I made you up and I don't really have a girlfriend!" Zack finished, sitting down on the front pew decisively. Her pink-clad back, which was all he could see of her, didn't respond.
Zack groaned. He'd known it was a bad sign, when he first introduced the idea of their attending the annual ShinRa ball and she didn't look up, didn't hesitate for a moment in weeding and pruning her flowers. It meant that she had deduced what he wanted and dismissed it almost immediately. His heart plummeted. Why was she still not saying anything?
With utmost care, Aeris finished patting the soil around a sickly-looking daffodil, leaning down to whisper something into the dying petals. She still does that, Zack thought. She never told him what she said, but he knew it was in a foreign tongue, something heavy and ancient, like river water tumbling over rocks.
Her skirts rustled as she stood up and turned to face him, finally. Her expression was painstakingly neutral, though her emerald eyes shone as brightly as they always did, a shine less artificial and harsh than the mako in his. She was wearing her white and blue dress today, he noted absently. Though he personally thought she'd look great in pink, he liked this dress, especially the thin string that tied around her neck and that just barely managed to keep her top up…
His thought spiraled away into hormone-drenched depths. It took a sharp tug on one of his spiky forelocks to bring him back to reality.
"Zack." Aeris's voice, while still managing to sound perky, also sounded annoyed. She'd been trying to get his attention for a full minute now. "I said, how in the Planet could you even ask this of me? You know about the Turks. I haven't spent all these years running from them to hand myself over now!"
"But Aer, you've even got one of them on your side now!" Zack said. Aeris put her hands on her hips.
"I wouldn't exactly say that Tseng's on my side," she said. "If he had to choose—if Hojo was standing right behind him—he would take me in. I'm sure of it."
"It's a masquerade ball—they wouldn't recognize you. No one would!" was what he said. What he wanted to say was: I love you I love you I want you to be with me always why can't you do this for me?
"The Turks would. They've picked me out of crowds before." She quirked an eyebrow at him. Motes of sunlight streamed through the hole in the church, fell like fireflies into her hair. His expression must have dropped, because hers softened and she placed a warm hand to his face.
"I'm really sorry, Zack. I wish that I had a normal life and could do normal girlfriend stuff like this with you. But you can't ask me to go into ShinRa."
He captured her hand with his, and with a sigh, used his secret weapon. "The General will be there. It'll probably be the best opportunity you ever have to speak with him."
"A chance to talk with the General?" Aeris's voice hoarsened; her eyes misted over and grew distant. Unseen, Zack frowned.
Despite her continual protests to the contrary, she always acted a bit funny whenever he mentioned Sephiroth. Sometimes she would become animated, overeager, prodding him for more information about Sephiroth. Other times, she would spiral into a black pit of depression that he was helpless to stop. Aeris was never shy about showing her emotions, but this was just different. Odd.
Zack was convinced that, like so many other girls, she had developed a crush on the man. But whenever he mentioned it, she would just look at him sadly and say that he didn't understand, that it wasn't like that, and then she would press a kiss to the corner of his mouth like a child might do.
Zack wasn't normally a jealous guy—and he'd had more than his fair share of girlfriends, to be sure—but it was hard when your competition was ShinRa's rich, handsome, five-star general, the most sought-after bachelor on the Planet.
She gnawed on her lip, whispering, more to herself than to him, "It's just...it's such a risk to enter that place."
What will you do if you fail?
Would it be better to not even take the chance?
"Can you tell me why it's 'such a risk' yet?" Zack asked. Aeris drew a pattern on the skin of his hand, gentle loops.
"You already know the important parts," she said. "ShinRa sees me as their property, and they want me back. It's probably better if you don't know anything else, Zack." That way, if they ever do capture me again, you'll never know that I was something other than human.
"Then can you at least tell me why you're so damn set on speaking to the General?" Aeris looked surprised at his tone, but he couldn't help it even as he felt his emotions swell with the rise and fall of his chest.
It was just...she was so secretive; her glowing green eyes could be as shuttered as an abandoned house when she willed them to be, and he wanted nothing more than to tear off the boards, fling open those drapes and let sunlight pour in. Zack felt chagrined, but swallowed and pressed forward, his concern and love fueling him.
"I mean, sure, every woman on the Planet wants to be picked as his wife, or even just his fling for a night, but you've never been like that. You say you just want to talk to him. Sephiroth is my friend, but Aeris, he is the coldest man I've ever met in my life. I don't think he's ever said more than ten words at a time to anyone other than me." He sighed, sounding tired. "I just think that if you are trying to get something meaningful out of him, or something, I don't know, life-affirming...you're going to be disappointed. I hate seeing you disappointed."
Aeris smiled carefully, eyes half-lidded. The urge to cry suddenly, urgently, pressed down on her breastbone. She inhaled.
For an irrational moment, she wanted to scream out, Zack, I want to convince him not to kill me! and collapse in his strong earthy embrace and leave salt trails on the dark blue of his uniform. She wanted to tell him everything: about her being a Cetra, and her fear that he would go on a mission one day and never come back, and the recurrent nightmares, about a silver-haired man with a thin sword and mad stare who, for some reason, killed her every night. But as always, the warm hum of the Planet's song and her own iron will reeled in the despair, packed it neatly into a box and stowed it deep, deep within her heart.
"Don't worry, Zack!" She said cheerfully. "I'm not that foolish, and you know I've got my hands full with you as it is. I'd just like to meet him is all, after hearing so much about him all the time on the news, introduce myself, that kind of thing." She paused. "I didn't mean to upset you..."
"It's okay, I didn't mean to snap either." His lavender eyes twinkled mischievously. "Buuuuuut you'll have to make it up to me somehow." Back to his old self again.
Aeris groaned in mock-exasperation, but quickly clambered onto the pew next to him. With a stray beam of sunlight illuminating them, they kissed. His mouth tasted like peaches and cream, and happiness. She hoped that he couldn't taste her own fear and uncertainty—he didn't need to worry about her more than he already did.
She pulled away from his lips a fraction of an inch, her eyes still closed, eyelashes casting deep shadows on her cheeks. "I'll go with you," she whispered.