A Labor of Love Chapter 3
By Meriko Robert
She drifted slowly to the surface of consciousness, gradually becoming aware of a sense of peace and comfort. How long since she'd been so warm? How long since she'd felt so comfortable...no, comforted. Held, and loved...had Ifalna held her like this in that far-off snowy cabin? She could almost feel those gentle arms wrapped around her now, mother and daughter snuggled down against the cold in one bed...
...actually, she could feel arms around her, but it was a sure bet that they weren't Ifalna's...
Curiosity overcame the urge to simply revel in the feeling of comfort, and she lazily opened her eyes. Finding herself facing the familiar curved walls and glowing orbs of one of the Forgotten Capital's shell houses suddenly brought her most recent memories crashing back to her. Midgar, Meteor, and calling the lifestream...the voice of the Planet, and...and crawling out of the lake that...that she'd been sleeping...no, that she'd been buried in!
Uncertainty and shock flooded into her mind, making her breath come in sharp, short gasps and her heart pound furiously. She unconsciously clutched the hands twined with her own to her chest, cringing slightly as if trying to escape the notice of Fate by making herself smaller. She had died. She could remember Cloud's expression turn to one of horrified denial at the same time that the fiery spark of pain had flashed through her body just before the darkness claimed her. She had died. Died, and been suspended in the lifestream instead of completely returning to the embrace of the Planet. Died, and then placed in limbo so that she might yet accomplish one last task in her life-long duty to aid her home.
...one more task...
A memory of the Planet's voice surfaced, bringing with it the final realization that tilted her back towards sanity instead of a screaming panic. Died...and then brought back by the Planet to accomplish a task. The last Cetra, not allowed to sleep until the obligations of her race were fulfilled. Died...and now lived once more. Her heartbeat slowed slightly, the stark fear slowly receding and being replaced instead by wonder and awe.
I'm not dead. I'm not dead anymore. The Planet brought me back...I fainted, I guess, and now...
Finally noticing once more the hands she clasped and the arms that encircled her, she squirmed around underneath what seemed like a foot of blankets to find herself brushing noses with none other than Reeve. Her movements woke him, and as she watched in stunned incomprehension, he sighed, rubbed his face into their shared pillow for a moment, and then blearily blinked open his eyes. Pulling his face back slightly as he tried to focus on her face, he smiled softly and reached up one hand to brush at her cheek...and then realized he wasn't dreaming.
"Holy..." he shouted - and Aeris assumed he wasn't trying to call upon the white materia - then jerked back violently as if he'd woken up to find a snake in the bed. Struggling to wade out of the woolen nest he'd created for them, he stammered out an incoherent explanation.
"I'm sorry! I didn't...I mean, you were cold, and I couldn't...I found you all wet, and cold...this was the only way I could think of...I mean, I thought of other stuff, but nothing worked, and I...you...uh..." With one leg still tangled in the bedding, Reeve finally threw himself off of the bed in something close to desperation. Jarring his knees on the unforgiving floor, he winced and cut off his monologue before he bit off his tongue. Absently rubbing his knees, he stared up at the wide-eyed angel and continued rather helplessly, "...I had to get you warm somehow. You were so cold...so cold..." His hand reached up towards her face once more, and this time made contact. Running careful fingertips over her cheek, he found himself overwhelmed with gratitude to find that the deathly chill and pallor were gone.
Aeris continued to stare at him in amazement for a moment, her shock at finding herself alive once more now competing with a new shock at having been found by Reeve, and the way he was now acting towards her. Always before in the labs, he'd been excruciatingly polite - chillingly so, in fact. She'd never been sure if his proper behavior perhaps had hidden as twisted a heart as most Shinra executives seemed to have. And later, when Cait Sith's ultimate identity had been revealed, his admirable loyalty to the people he cared for had been overshadowed by the kidnapping of Marlene to ensure their cooperation. He'd never tried to contact them in person; never tried to establish a relationship with them as friends...content, it seemed, only to do his part - using them as needed - in saving what was important to himself.
But now, there were actually tears standing in his eyes, and the hand that so gently caressed her cheek trembled. Searching his dark eyes with her own green gaze, she laid one slender hand over his and said his name quietly, "Reeve?" He bit his lip at hearing his name from her lips, and shook his head in surrender to the emotions welling up within him. "...so glad you're alive," he whispered. Emerald eyes widened a bit more, and she nodded slowly, unsure of what to say. "Um...thanks. Me too," she replied rather lamely. Her words struck her as strangely hilarious, and she giggled despite herself. Reeve's face lit up in an answering smile, and for a brief, suspended moment in time, they simply smiled at one another, resting in the reassuring expression of the face across from them.
"So," Aeris began, "what am I doing here? And what are you doing here?" Reeve explained about Cloud, Tifa, and his situation after filling her in on everyone else's lives, and then went on to detail the events leading to his journey here. "Oh, I totally forgot...I brought you flowers!" he exclaimed, remembering the knapsack still lying in the cavern entrance. "Flowers?" she responded eagerly, quickly looking around the bare room. Reeve studiously kept his eyes trained on the blankets he was folding, and explained, "They're not real; I had replicas of the flowers in your garden made from synthetic materials so that they'd never fade or die...I was going to float them across the lake for you."
Aeris turned to watch him as he continued to tuck and fold, his eyes still nailed to the blankets. He'd brought flowers. He'd brought flowers to her grave. She shook her head...this was going to take some getting used to. She wasn't sure if she meant her resurrection, or her incorrect evaluation of Reeve's character, but...walking over a few steps, she laid a hand on his shoulder and said simply, "Thank you."
He finally stopped smoothing out blankets and looked up at her. Still clad in his rumpled clothes, her hair a wild tangle of brown locks, she was somehow even more beautiful than he remembered. Perhaps even because of her disheveled appearance, which made her seem more human and less an ethereal being, Reeve felt the familiar stirring in his heart awaken into a new realization. He'd fallen in love with her.
Shaken by the revelation, Reeve stood up and turned away from her piercing green eyes, speaking casually, "Your dress seems to have dried overnight. I'll go and repack the chocobo. Why don't you get changed? I'll be waiting outside." So saying, he disappeared down the ladder into the entryway.
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