Five Meetings

1

She was sitting on one of Hojo's examination tables, crying. The brown-haired little girl was Aeris Faremis, daughter of the late Professor Gast, the man who had practically raised Sephiroth. That was, until he'd run off with some woman he'd been studying, leaving Sephiroth to the cruel mercies of his second-in-command, Hojo. To the silver-haired boy, this was the ultimate betrayal. So it was no surprise that he hated the woman and her daughter.

That didn't last long, however, and neither did Aeris's tears. Between the sunny smiles of the girl and the tenderness of her mother, Sephiroth slowly warmed to the two new occupants of Hojo's labs. The woman, Ifalna, told great stories of her people. Aeris loved to tag along after her new friend, asking endless questions about his SOLDIER training and "the outside" that she had never seen.

Sephiroth was actually, truly happy, for the first time in his short life. Until one of his routine examinations with Hojo ruined everything.

"It's a good thing that you and the Cetra girl get along so well. That will make the production of your offspring much easier."

Sephiroth narrowed his faintly glowing green eyes. "What do you mean, offspring?"

The scientist sneered. "Do you think that I was keeping them around for you, my boy? Those women are valuable specimens, as are you. In order to assure that my research continues, you will require a mate, as will the girl. I had hoped to mate you with the pure sample, but she will likely not be of child-bearing age by the time you reach maturity. Oh well, the girl will suit well enough. Your genetic material, mixed with hers, should be absolutely fascinating." It was the distant look in Hojo's eyes, along with the expectant smile, that made up his mind.

If there was anything Sephiroth hated more than being lonely, it was doing what Hojo wanted. Two weeks later he moved into the training barracks full-time, and was very careful not to run into either Ifalna or Aeris whenever he had to return to the labs. Two years later, he learned that they'd escaped – Hojo was furious, and the now-teenaged Sephiroth was secretly happy for them.

2

She was selling flowers in the slums, and he had blood on his hands. The war in Wutai filled his thoughts – dead soldiers piling up on both sides, killed for one man's greed, no light or hope anywhere to be found.

It was in this state that he saw her again, small and innocent, little more than a child, selling pieces of beauty for one gil each. She saw him, sadness in her green eyes, and she pressed a delicate pink bloom into one of his gloved hands. Whether or not she saw him as the solitary little boy in Hojo's lab or as a too-young soldier in a pointless war, Sephiroth couldn't say.

He looked at the pink flower in his hand and let it fall to the ground. His hands were made for holding steel and dealing death, not handling things that were delicate and beautiful. He headed for the train station, chin held high, not seeing Aeris's quiet dismay as she watched him walk away.

3
She was weeding a bed of flowers in a church, and he had no idea how he got here. He was pretty sure it had started with Zack saying something along the lines of "Seph! You have to meet my girl! She's amazing!" and pestering him until he agreed.
She was a young woman now, not the tiny child from the labs or the young girl from the slums. A certain holiness lingered in the air around her, augmented by the presence of flowers, growing in Midgar's barren soil. She smiled at him, brilliantly, and held out her hand. He stared at it and crossed his arms over his chest, unsure what to do.
Aeris gave him a quizzical sort of look and started chatting happily with Zack. They included him in their conversations as much as they could, but even Sephiroth knew what being a third wheel meant. He left abruptly, in the middle of something Zack was saying that was apparently quite hilarious. The smell of flowers and happiness was giving him a headache, and there was an odd pain in his chest. He'd have to go to the labs, make sure that he wasn't suffering any ill effects from his mako treatments.

4

She was praying, and he slid his sword through her chest like a knife through butter. She was an obstacle, the only one that mattered. And now she was gone, no matter how much it made him hurt in some secret, buried part of his heart, forgotten when he had absorbed his mother into himself.

She was smiling as she died, and he thought he heard a soft feminine voice say "I forgive you" but it was lost in his mother's jubilant laughter and Strife's anguished screams. The orb was green as it fell from her hands, and the part of him that was still Sephiroth and not Sephiroth-Jenova wondered if that meant anything.

5

She was holding out her hand, and he was finally ready to take it. The rain that she had called had soothed his madness, driven Jenova's whispers deep into the back of his mind. They were still there, of course, and in time they would drive him to try and finish what he had begun, but for now...

He stared at the hand offered to him. "Why? I killed you."

She shrugged and smiled enigmatically. "We're the only ones here, you know, now that Zack's finally gone. There's no point in holding a grudge against the only person I can talk to for eternity."

His gloved hand slipped into her small one. "I can't stay, you know."

She sighed sadly. "Yes, I know. But I will hold you here for as long as I can, and when you leave, Cloud or Zack will send you back to me. That is their fate – to be the heroes that the world needs, just as mine is to heal the scars of the planet, and yours is to push us to greatness. Without adversity, there is stagnation. The planet has taught me that. In your own way, you're just as crucial to humanity's survival as I am."

Sephiroth's lips quirked up in a small smile. "It almost sounds good when you say it."

"It does, doesn't it?" She smiled at him, green eyes crinkling in happiness.

He looked around at the endless field of flowers, the Lifestream's love song to its maiden. "I don't deserve this."

"The Sephiroth that tried to destroy the world probably doesn't. But the scared little boy at Hojo's mercy, forced to fight Shinra's wars? He deserves all the peace that I can give him."

Sephiroth felt a light hand on his cheek, lips brushing his own, her purity temporarily chasing away the hunger that had gnawed at him from the inside out.

"Welcome home, Sephiroth."