A/N: Aerith POV, vaguely pre-game. This is one of the very first FF7 pieces I ever wrote, and I'm pretty sure it sucks. Consider yourself warned.
I used to hate the church.
I was never here when it was all in one piece. No one living was, I'm sure, though it clearly didn't fall into ruin until long after it was built. It's a relic of the long-ago village, that grew into a town, that grew into a city, that became the slums beneath the new, clean, real Midgar, homesites starting at two hundred thousand gil for a house like a box on a scrap of chemicalized lawn and maybe, if you shell out extra, you'll get one of those Micklas pear trees, the kind that never bear fruit. The people who live there buy my flowers for five hundred gil each and don't think twice about it. They just want a rarity to show off to their friends. I don't know if they have churches up there.
But the ruins of the cathedral survive, crumbling but unprofaned. No one broke that stained-glass window, not in all these years. I remember looking at one of the art books in the tiny, grubby Sector 5 library up on the plate – the church is probably six or seven hundred years old, and back then, a simple pane of clear window glass cost more than a laborer could make in a year. The elaborate patchworks of colored glass in the church must have been, literally, a fortune. Not even a small fortune. A large one.
It drove me crazy. People were so poor, back then. Just like they are now. How could they devote so much money, so much time and effort, to building something for deities that don't even exist? What good would it do them? Why not use that money to feed their children, care for their sick? Could any deity possibly expect that kind of worship?
That was the other thing. I can hear the planet, the voices of the dead. I know what happens to us after we die. Their god doesn't take his believers back to him after the end. Their god is a figment of the imagination, a false name given to the Planet, to its knowledge and power. The church is a monument to futility. I found it when I was thirteen, and bubbling with an anger that I kept inside because I was a good girl. At first I was fascinated with it, with the mystique of ruins and the beauty of the place. Until I read more about the history, and then it just made me more angry. I was so angry all the time, at everything. But I hid there, one day, when Tseng came after me, and it calmed me somehow. I listened, and I realized the voice of the Planet was louder here, but more peaceful.
That's when I started ripping up the floorboards. I don't know why the idea struck me, but it did. The day after that, I came back with some flower seeds Mom had ordered from Kalm, and planted half of them in the area I'd cleared. I came back every day to water them. I watched the tiny shoots push through the earth, and I felt like dancing when the first buds appeared.
It took some work to cultivate them. I wanted to share the flowers with the world, but if I picked all the blossoms there would be no more seeds. When I picked the first three, all I was allowing myself, and started to walk home with them, one of the hookers near the station offered me fifty gil for one. Someone heard that, and people started bidding on them. I kept the price at 75 and gave them to the first three who'd bid that much. Then I ran straight home to tell Mom.
She ordered more seeds, so I could sell more of the flowers. I smuggled some back to her, too, so she could see them, but even when the last few flowers had wilted and I'd dried the seed pods, I continued to garden in the church. Really just a fancy term for loitering there and thinking.
Because whatever I thought of their religion, this place was holy. I could feel it, hear it in the Planet's voice and see it in the growth of the flowers. Nothing grows in Midgar, but the flowers had thrived. I experimented with taking soil from the church to our yard, with sprouting plants in the church and then putting them in pots – the latter was more successful, but really, nothing worked as well as growing the plants right there.
"It's like a miracle," Mom said, when I brought her there one day to see for herself.
"All of it. Even the church. Still standing, all these years later. People put in so much effort... it must have been wonderful, feeling like you were a part of something larger than yourself."
Shinra's employees feel that way all the time, I wanted to retort, but I didn't. Somehow, the church loosened my grip on the anger, allowed me to let it go sometimes. It wasn't until I met Zack, a few years later, that it started to seep out of me unbidden. He was only the second person I ever brought here, and I guess we turned it into our place in a way. It was the only place where I ever saw him let the cocky act go for five seconds. It had the same effect on him that it had on me, I guess. Or maybe I'm being too spiritual. Maybe it was just that he saw me, calm and at peace, and that made the difference. Or maybe he just liked flowers.
When he left and didn't come back, I spent more time in the church than ever, because even as it reminded me of him, it also soothed the hurt of his absence. That's when I started really listening to the Planet. Before, it had been white noise, though occasionally a voice or two would come through more clearly; my real mother's, or Mr. Gainsborough's. Once I let myself listen, I could hear so much, and I didn't feel so alone. I didn't let myself think that I was listening for Zack.
It's strange, given how I felt, but after I lost him I stopped being so angry at everyone all the time. It wasn't like I never got mad, but it wasn't always there, either. It was as though the Planet were telling me to understand. I'd never thought, before, that the men in business suits and the women with silk stockings might have been buying overpriced flowers because they missed the earth. It had never occurred to me that they might not realize what they were doing to the world. It had never occurred to me that maybe the long-ago cathedral-builders might have had the right idea after all.
It's not as though I had some real epiphany. I remember the way I stormed around when he didn't come back, angry and hurting and taking most of it out on Mom. I wasn't serene then. I'm not exactly serene now, but I'm closer than I used to be. I don't know what happened after, or when it happened. I don't know that the church gave me any special way of listening to the Planet. Maybe it just gave me a place to listen. Maybe that's all churches ever do.