ardwynna: (distress)
Title: After the Fall
Chapter: 1
Fandom: FFVII (Marriageverse AU)
Characters: Sephiroth/Aeris, Cloud, OC
Rating: PG 13
Words: 2691
Story: Prologue | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Epilogue
Summary: Aeris and Sephiroth have lost one of own. Time might heal the wound but meanwhile, they bleed.


It was almost midnight and Sephiroth could not sleep no matter how hard he tried, so he lay on the couch in his office and contemplated the nature of hell. This had to be it. Maybe Gaia would take him for good now. If this was the lesson She had wanted him to learn, he was learning it.

Although, it really should have hurt more, he thought. It hadn’t. A cold wave had washed over him when the news first broke and he had not come up for air since. He had gone through the motions since then, swimming in icy water, making the necessary phone calls and arrangements, hearing his own voice, too measured and steady for even him to believe.

No wonder Aeris was mad. He kept seeing her face, furrowed with pain, hearing the way she screamed at him. You should have been here.

Yes. He should have. Not that it would have done any good. His blood was the taint, not the cure. But he should have been there and he hadn’t and Aeris had beat her fists against his chest and clawed three lines into his cheek before Tifa pulled her away. The time he spent at the hospital bedside contemplating the small, shrouded form had been just enough time for Aeris to empty his closet onto the yard and put barrier spells up on all the doors.

He stared up at the ceiling, tracing the wood grain with tired eyes, waiting for the heaviness in his chest to drag him through the floor, through the dirt, to the only place he could ever really belong. He had fulfilled his duty to the planet. It was time to move on.

The knock on the door did not startle him, exactly. Everything came at him through a dense fog now, slowed too much for instant impact. He rose with effort to answer the door. “Aeris?” He stood blinking into the light in the doorway.

“Who else?” She pushed past him, Ella tagging close behind her. Sephiroth stood with one hand on the doorknob, wondering who else indeed.

“It’s late,” he said, voice rough, though not from sleep.

“Yes, it is.” Aeris did not exactly snap, but there was that edge there that he had not heard in such a long time. Always, always, he supposed, a part of her would be at least a little bit angry. She held it in reserve for particularly trying times. This was undoubtedly one of them. Aeris stopped in the middle of the floor and looked around at the modest wreckage of the room.

Sephiroth’s suit jacket lay crumpled over the high back of his executive chair. There was paperwork undone and slightly scattered. Photos were knocked over. A half-done cup of tea sat on the coffee table, cooling long enough that some had evaporated, leaving a dark ring on bone china. Sephiroth shut the door, fumbling with the doorknob. “I would have tidied up if I had known you were coming.”

“I’ve seen worse,” Aeris said and looked down at Ella. “Go tell your father goodnight.”

Permission granted, Ella ran towards her father and grabbed hold of his knee. Sephiroth wobbled a bit from the impact, reaching down to brush his little girl’s hair, and steady himself too. He did not trust himself to reach out and brush her mind, not with the state his own thoughts were in, but he could sense no turmoil on the surface. Poor thing. So small. She didn’t understand. He looked up at Aeris, aware that he looked no better than his office at the moment.

Aeris shrugged. “She wouldn’t sleep,” she said, turning away. She still wore her funereal black, sharp lines of a well-tailored suit drawing his eye down to her legs, to the heels that had clicked their angry beat across his floor. Sephiroth’s own bare toes curled against the tile.

Rather than say anything, he bent down to scoop Ella up. “Is my little girl giving her mom trouble?” he asked, amazed at the playfulness in his own voice. Ella gripped his neck as he walked past Aeris. “Do you want a story? Hot chocolate?” Ella shook her head and turned in his arms, looking for his chair. “You want a ride?” She nodded.

Sephiroth deposited Ella in his desk chair and spun it around a few times for her, making rocket sounds until she giggled and settled down on one side of it, setting her cheek on the arm rest, sleepy eyes looking out the large window. Sephiroth’s own cheeks hurt with the recent overuse. He tried not to look at Aeris when he stood. “She’s being quiet,” he said, coming over to clear his congealing tea.

Aeris nodded, distracted. “She hasn’t said much these past few days.”

The teacup clattered on its saucer as Sephiroth moved. “Do you think she should… see somebody?”

Aeris perched on the very edge of Sephiroth’s couch, balanced as delicately as a bird on a wire. She closed her eyes. “It’s still early. Give her time.”

Sephiroth nodded to himself and went to toss the cup in the sink. “Can I get you anything?”

Aeris rolled her eyes, wrapping her arms around herself. “Hard liquor?”

Sephiroth kicked open the mini bar, well stocked with ‘diplomatic gifts’ and ‘entertaining essentials’. Aeris shook her head. “I was kidding. Mostly.”

Sephiroth shrugged. “You can have it if you want it,” he said. “You know I only keep it for other people anyway.” Although losing himself in a gin-soaked fugue didn’t seem like a bad idea at the moment. It would help him sleep if nothing else. He grabbed two glasses and a random bottle, knowing it was a bad idea and not giving a shit.

Two shots apiece later and Aeris had lost her rigid posture. The fire in her eyes was still there, properly banked for the night. It could have gone either way, Sephiroth mused, lying back on the couch, one leg behind his wife and the other bent at the knee, planted on the floor. She could have lost the restraint she had been using all day and ripped into him again. And he would have let her. He would have let her use her nails, her teeth, her materia, anything she had a mind to if it could make him feel something beside this gaping emptiness and the seeping cold that spread down to his fingertips. Even the fanciful vodka hadn’t helped with that. He put an arm across his eyes to block out the light and waited for the dark to take him.

It might have been the liquor. It might have been grief. It might have even been her anger. That had been all they’d had between them once. When he felt her fingers fumbling at his shirt he made no move to stop her. He opened his eyes when he felt her tugging at his pants. Laid low by vodka and mourning, he made no move to help her, or stop her. He watched. It came through the fog in his mind that she was muttering at him, calling him a bastard, an asshole. He agreed.

She lost her jacket at some point, and if his mind was slow to respond, his body was not. His eyes were drawn to the slow fall of her hair, working loose from its neat coil. His hands found their way to her hips, pushing her skirt up out of the way. It almost, almost hurt, the way she gripped him with her thighs.

He spared a thought how strange it was, how wrong, for them to be doing this right now, when the loss was so fresh, when she was so angry, when Ella was right there in the room with them, thankfully facing away and hopefully asleep by now. Then he lost himself to the fact that this could be the last time for them, that he would never feel her warm heat around him like this, that when it was over she would take Ella and go.

That was exactly what she did.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-


“Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” Sephiroth said, pen hovering over the latest proposal for new combat gear. “Does your delivery need a signature?”

Cloud shook his head. “I just thought I’d drop by.”

Sephiroth barely glanced up from his papers. “I promise I’m not about to have another psychotic breakdown,” he rattled off. “I’m not going to set the base on fire and I won’t try to take over the world.”

Cloud frowned. “That’s not why I came.” He glanced around the office, taking in the signs of life. “You’re sleeping here?”

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. “I have a toothbrush here and the couch is big.”

Cloud perched himself on the coffee table, not wanting to disturb the man’s bed. Sephiroth, for his part, went back to reading his endless stack of reports. From the look on his face, Cloud guessed that the couch wasn’t actually all that comfortable.

“Are you eating?” Cloud asked suddenly.

Sephiroth looked up, confused. “What kind of a question is that?”

Cloud shrugged. “Just wondering.” Wondering how come Sephiroth’s clothes no longer fit the way they usually did. “Cafeteria food isn’t home cooking, after all.”

Sephiroth grunted. “I don’t have much say in the matter.”

Cloud looked at him then, hunched over his desk, cast in the shadow of his high, padded chair. “She can’t stay mad forever,” he said.

Sephiroth scoffed. “She’s a woman, Cloud.” He set his pen down and stared at the couch.

“Come on,” Cloud said, “She’s forgiven so much else from you. This one wasn’t even your fault.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Not deliberately.”

“Hm.”

Cloud shook his head. “There wasn’t anything you could have done anyway.”

“I should have been there,” Sephiroth said, rising. “I didn’t think it mattered if I took time to wrap up that last tactical assessment. I didn’t think it was serious.” He turned to the window. “I didn’t think a child of mine could get so sick.” The man’s shoulders drooped, triggering memories that were not Cloud’s. “I didn’t think… didn’t think it could happen so fast.”

Cloud watched him standing by the window, a rigid pillar of black in a patch of autumn sun. He had never seen a man look so utterly lost.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-


Sephiroth managed to find something of a rhythm in the next few weeks. It was just like being General back in the old days. Do the work and don’t have a life. Well, perhaps it wasn’t just like being General. He actually knew what a life was now. He was not having much luck forgetting. But he was remarkably good at pretending, and if his feet dragged somewhat when he inspected the troops, if his voice occasionally shook, if he couldn’t eat the sad excuse for cherry pie the mess hall served up one day, no one mentioned a thing.

Vincent stopped by once but he did not have much to say. Yuffie, surprisingly, called a few times. Pregnancy did not agree with her, Sephiroth thought. Once or twice he spoke to Ella on the phone. Most nights when he called the phone just rang and rang. Otherwise, he had very little contact outside of work. It did not matter. He lived in the office now so life was all work. That was why he thought nothing of it when his latest secretary informed him that he had visitors. Always, always meetings. At least he made his office presentable in the mornings now.

Aeris was on his couch again, and Ella was in his chair, kicking his desk to launch herself into a series of spins. Sephiroth stubbed his toe on the door jamb as he went inside. “Aeris,” he said, “um, can I get you something?”

Aeris glanced at the bar. “No.” She looked around some more. “I see you cleaned up.”

Sephiroth nodded. “I kept misplacing things when I didn’t.” He went over to his desk, holding his arms out. Ella leapt into them as if none of the past month had happened. Her head settled into its customary place on his shoulder as if nothing had changed at all. He rubbed her back as he sat down, staring at her mother all the while. “How’s she been?”

Aeris sighed, leaning forward to ease off one shoe. “She’s a champ. Life as usual from the very next day.”

Ella fiddled with Sephiroth’s hair, unconcerned. “She doesn’t really understand, does she?”

“Who knows?” Aeris sat primly, even with bare feet, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Her wedding ring glinted against her dark grey dress. “Children are closer to the veil than the rest of us.” She turned her head to look at him then. He could barely meet her eyes. “I came to give you an invitation.”

Sephiroth was glad he was already sitting down. Something fluttered inside his chest but he did not trust it to be his heart. He barely had one after all, and without Aeris at his side it was good as gone.

“Next week makes it forty days,” Aeris said, looking straight ahead of her. “It’s when most souls are ready to move on. I’m going up there, to put a marker.”

Sephiroth blinked. Of course. His eyes roved to the cushion he used as a pillow now, and contemplated the long acquaintance he was going to keep having with it. “You picked one out already?” He had thought of polished marble or granite often enough in recent weeks. If this was one more thing he had no say in, he supposed it did not matter.

“Cherry,” Aeris said. “I’ll plant a cherry tree.”

Sephiroth blinked. He leaned over to hand Ella the stapler she was reaching for. “Plant?”

“Cetra custom,” Aeris said, and Sephiroth did not have to ask anything more about that. Aeris sighed deeply, wrapping her arms around herself. She was welcome to pull down the throw rug Sephiroth kept there and she knew it, but she did nothing. Sephiroth’s mind flitted unbidden to the last time she had been on that couch, how her tears had fallen burning hot on his chest in the end, how he had woken and found her gone. He stroked Ella’s bright hair and sighed.

“I got a copy of the report from the laboratory,” Aeris said, hunching forward, her head in her hands. “The final one.”

“Oh?” Sephiroth felt the weight inside him grow. The report could only be confirmation, after all.

“He didn’t have-,” Aeris began and choked and had to start over. “He didn’t have a few of my key genes.”

Sephiroth swiveled his chair back and forth, pretending to rock their daughter. “He wasn’t immune,” he said. Aeris nodded and closed her eyes, rocking herself so slightly. Sephiroth closed his eyes and wished for the ground to swallow him. What good, all this, if the very essence of what he was killed his children? “Ella….”

“She’s fine,” Aeris said. “Balanced.” Lucky.

Ella chose that moment to slip from Sephiroth’s lap. He let her go, almost afraid to touch her. She hummed a child’s tune to herself, chasing dust motes in the light. Sephiroth’s eyes went to the couch, where Aeris sat in the shadows, arms around herself. Her hair frayed out of its simple braid. He rose, wanting so badly to approach the couch but not sure if he should, or what he would do once he got there. He stopped at the coffee table and knelt beside it, eyes on Aeris all the while. He reached out, so close, fingers curling in the air the way they wanted to thread through her hair.

He set his hands back in his lap, sitting Wutai-style on the floor. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s my fault.” Aeris may have shaken her head at that, but it was probably wishful thinking.

She looked up at him then and her eyes were surprisingly dry. “I can’t feel him anymore,” she said, voice wavering but never, ever breaking. “I thought I did at the beginning, but he didn’t stay long. Not even forty days.”

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