Reeve was falling, and just before he hit, he woke up.
He wasn’t certain where he was. He didn’t recall falling asleep, and the crick in his neck told him he wasn’t in his bed. It wasn’t a bed at all, for that matter—just a long, hard slab of wood. There was a strange, light scent in the air that he could only unsatisfactorily describe as ‘green.’
“Hello?” someone asked, her voice heartbreakingly familiar.
Reeve’s eyes opened, adjusting to the light. Aerith was there.
That was strange—he knew he shouldn’t wake up to Aerith’s voice. He sat up, groaning at the pain in his back. He had been sleeping on a pew in Aerith’s church, which he supposed explained both his back pain and why Aerith was there. Wait. No. There was still something wrong, something...
“Did you fall asleep?” Aerith asked, her hands swishing the hem of her dress back and forth.
Reeve scrubbed a hand over his face, getting his thoughts back in order. “I suppose I did.”
“I’m sorry I took so long. I wanted to make sure I looked nice for our date.” She twirled around to show off her dress, a pretty thing in white with a pattern of blue flowers splashed across the hip and hem. She was swearing military grade combat boots underneath it, of course.
“You look lovely,” Reeve said, partly because it was true, and partly to cover up the bit of him that wanted to ask ‘Date?’
The unspoken question seemed to get through, because Aerith tapped him on the nose. “Remember? You promised me one date.”
The memory finally clicked in Reeve’s mind. “As I recall, you owe me the date.” He chuckled at Aerith’s sudden consternation and got to his feet, brushing the wrinkles from his slacks. “So. Where are you taking me?”
Aerith bit her lip in thought. “I’ve never had to take anyone on a date before, so...” She moved to his side, her hand latching tightly around his arm. “...I suppose we should go to the places you like best! What do you like?”
Reeve laughed at that. “That, my dear, is cheating.”
They walked to the church door, pausing only when Aerith turned back to look at the flowers. “It is traditional....” she mused.
“Leave them,” Reeve said, patting her hand. “They’re prettier when they’re alive.”
Aerith ignored him and plucked one from between the stones. “I think they’re happiest when people appreciate them.” She cast an odd look at the tiny bare patch on the floor. “And now there’s space for another one to grow.”
“Thank you,” Reeve said, taking the slender flower from Aerith and spinning it slowly between his fingers. He lifted it to his nose and took a sniff, but the sharp smell of mako overpowered the flower’s scent. “It’s beautiful.”
Aerith latched back onto Reeve’s arm. “Shall we?” she asked grandly.
“Let’s,” Reeve returned, equally posh, and they strolled out into the slum’s streets.
The cobblestones were warm and round under his feet—he could feel the distinct, Midgarian roads even through the soles of his boots. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, savoring the mix of fresh and recycled air that always held a hint of mako tang beneath it. He breathed out with a sigh, wriggling his toes to better feel the stones beneath his feet.
Aerith was laughing. Reeve opened his eyes and cast a sidelong glance at her. “Yes?”
“Nothing. You just looked very happy,” Aerith said.
“Is that so strange?” Reeve rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand—the one not occupied with Aerith or the flower. “Perhaps it is. I can’t remember the last time I—“
“We’re here!” Aerith cheered, leading Reeve through the gates of the marketplace. “Come on! I’ll buy you anything you like!”
Reeve didn’t have the heart to point out that he could probably buy the entire marketplace without hurting his wallet, and he resolved to keep his desires to himself.
They passed a jeweler’s store, and a little hairclip with a blue, glass flower pasted on it caught his eye. It matched Aerith’s dress very well. “Oh no you don’t!” Aerith said sternly, ushering him away before his hand was halfway to the pretty hairthing. “Everything’s going to be my treat today.”
“I’m sorry. I probably make a very poor date,” Reeve said.
Aerith patted his arm. “You are doing fine. Much calmer than my last date.”
Reeve raised an eyebrow. “Is that a compliment?”
Aerith cocked her head to the side in thought. “Probably. Ah!” She stopped in front of a shop with little curlicues around the framework. She sniffed at the air and sighed with pleasure. “I’ve never been in here before! Would you like to go in?”
Reeve opened the door, a wave of heat hitting him, carrying the overpowering scent of chocolate and spun sugar. For a moment, his vision flashed green. “After you.”
“Ah, Reeve!” the woman behind the counter greeted in a thick brogue. “I haven’t seen ye in a Behemoth’s age! How have ye been doin’? Ye look far too thin to be proper.”
“I’ve been well, Ms. Magda,” Reeve replied obediently. “This is my friend, Miss Aerith.” Aerith curtsied primly.
“Pleased I’m shur. And how is yur mother?” she asked as she bustled about, rearranging the sweets on a tray.
“Her garden is growing well. Mother is,” something caught in his throat; he had to clear it to speak. “Mother is doing very well.”
“Isn’t that lovely?” Magda said warmly. “Now, what can I get ye today?”
“A small bag of honeyed pralines,” Reeve said, with a thought to the size of Aerith’s purse.
“Make that a large bag of honeyed pralines, a large bag of cocoa dusted crumbles, a sleeve of hot clusters, and an extra thick berry blend with two straws,” Aerith said, with a look that dared Reeve to protest.
“As you wish,” Reeve said placidly.
“This will do ye right good,” Magda said, filling the bags with practiced efficiency. “It will fatten ye up proper, it will. Best to yur mother.”
“Thank you,” Reeve said, arranging the many sweets in his arms as Aerith paid for the lot.
“You shouldn’t—“ Reeve said, and Aerith shut him up with a strategic praline popped into his mouth.
“Hush,” she said, and Reeve let the flavored sugar melt on his tongue before biting down on the nut. “She seems nice.”
“She’s quite the entrepreneur,” Reeve said.
“Oh!” Aerith tugged on Reeve’s arm and raced towards the station. “Let’s go to Sector Five! It’s almost time for the train to get here!”
“Right on time,” Reeve said as it pulled into the station. Aerith helped him shuffle the packages and flower around so he could grab his pass and flash it at the conductor. They sat across from each other, each next to a window, their knees sometimes bumping.
“It’s so fast!” Aerith said, her forehead pressed against the window. “And quiet! I always wondered how they did it.”
“There are magnera materia hidden in the train’s lifts,” Reeve said. “They let it actually float over the tracks, greatly reducing friction and vibrations. The trains can actually carry several tons in each car—I’m sorry, I’m being boring, aren’t I?”
Aerith shook her head. “No! Well, yes, but it’s not so boring when you talk about it.”
“You’re very kind.” Reeve turned his attention to beyond the tracks. “You know, originally, these trains were just used to transport materials and building supplies from the underplate. We thought there would only be storage and maybe some factories down there. We didn’t think anyone would actually live there.” He smiled fondly. “I never really believed it until I saw Magda’s sweet shop and all the little children around it.” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We managed to allocate some funds, enough to build the roads, some parks, a few public buildings, before they cut us off again.” He laughed and shook his head again. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I keep talking about this.”
“It’s okay. You like talking about Midgar. But...happy memories, okay?” Aerith popped a hot cluster into her mouth and crunched definitively, not making the slightest flinch at what Reeve knew was a very spicy treat.
“Happy Midgar memories,” Reeve repeated, munching pensively on a snack. “I’m sure there are one or two, somewhere.”
“Well, it’s no Junon, but I think it’s still nice,” Aerith said sweetly.
Reeve choked on his drink. “Junon? Junon? It’s built like a glorified parking grid! Just one concrete layer on top of another, like a—“
Aerith was laughing at him. He scowled at her for a moment. That was all he could do before he broke into a matching grin.
“Well played, madame,” he said grandly. “Well played.”
“We’re here!” Aerith cheered, hopping up from her seat. She shuffled all the packages back into Reeve’s arms and pulled him up with her. “A stroll will be nice. A dignified, gentlemanly stroll around the streets of the most expensive sector of Midgar?”
“That sounds fine,” Reeve said. A passing couple smiled at Reeve—something that had never happened to him before, but he put it to Aerith’s influence.
They came to an intersection. Aerith paused. “Ah, which way is best?”
“Would you like my advice as an engineer, a citizen of Midgar, or a fortune teller?” Reeve asked. Aerith’s eyes lit up, but before she could respond, he said, “Sadly, it doesn’t matter. All the paths in this sector are designed in a roughly circular pattern, so if you walk long enough in one direction, you’ll end up where you started.”
“Then, let’s go this way,” Aerith said, tugging him to the left. “Though I’m a little sad I don’t get to hear your fortune.”
“It’s just as well,” Reeve said airily. “If I told your fortune, I’d have to do a silly dance.” He leaned in closer and whispered, “It’s very, very silly.”
Aerith giggled. “Now, let’s see, what should we do tonight? It should be something really special. Hm.” She stroked her chin. “I’m Reeve. What would I like to do? I’m a big shot from the upper part of town, here to impress a pretty young thing from the slums.”
“You’re making me feel like an old letch,” Reeve moaned.
“I’m old,” Aerith repeated, ignoring Reeve’s squawked protest, “and tired, and have been working very hard at a job nobody thanks me for, and I’m creative and brilliant and funny and...” She stuck her finger up in the air. “I’ve got it! Let’s go see a play. A comedy.”
“Aerith!” Reeve said quietly.
She turned to him. “No good?”
“No. I’m sorry. Thank you, that sounds perfect. Only...” He looked around. “The theaters in this sector only show Loveless.”
“I take it that’s not a comedy?”
Reeve snorted. “It’s a classical piece about three soldiers who are best friends, and who betray each other in search of the Gift of the Goddess, leading to all of their ruin. I actually quite like it.”
“Not a comedy, then,” Aerith said.
“Considering how most productions end with at least one of, if not all of, the main characters dead? No.” Aerith looked at him curiously. “The final act was lost, so most theater companies have to write their own ending. It’s part of what keeps people interested in the play. There’s the end where one of them kills the others, one where one of the soldiers gets between the other two’s fight and ends up dead, one where all three of them take each other out...cheery stuff.”
“Hasn’t anyone written them a happy ending?” Aerith asked.
“My favorite has them reconcile their differences, and they all run away together. Of course, they were soldiers on opposite sides of the war, so they were branded as traitors and were hunted down. The last scene has all three struck down by soldiers, but as their bodies fall, you see three birds fly off into the sky, free at last.”
“And that’s the happy ending?” Aerith asked incredulously.
Reeve shrugged. “The other acts don’t give them a lot to work with. It’s the happiest they can get.”
“So. No Loveless tonight?”
“No Loveless tonight,” Reeve repeated. He looked up at the sun, which was already hanging low in the sky. “It’s almost evening already? It feels like the day’s barely begun! I—“
A wave of dizziness hit him, a strong stench of mako, and when he closed his eyes, all he could see was a dim, green glow. He felt himself falling, falling, and he was on the ground, Aerith clutching at his arm, candies spilling around his feet. The stones beneath his palms were familiar, flat, slightly warm, worn smooth from years of foot traffic. They felt real, and they brought him back to himself.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me,” Reeve said, wiping at his eyes. He didn’t trust himself to stand just yet.
Aerith rubbed his back. “You’re probably just tired. You’ve been working so hard recently.”
“Yes, I’ve been so busy with—“ What had he been working on? “—with things lately.”
“You can rest soon,” Aerith said.
Reeve sighed. “If I rest, nothing will get done.” He flicked a cocoa cluster and watched it roll down the cracks between the cobblestones. “I spilled our packages,” he said stupidly.
“That doesn’t matter.”
Reeve scruffed at his hair, trying to ignore how badly he needed a haircut, and his hand came away with something soft and cool. “How long has your flower been in my hair?” Reeve asked.
“Since we boarded the train,” Aerith said with a wink. She stood up and offered him her hands. He took them and got to his feet, using Aerith’s help as little as he could. Aerith didn’t let go, and pulled him in closer, until they were only an inch apart and she was looking up at his face.
“Reeve,” Aerith said seriously. “If you could do anything, anything at all in Midgar, right now, what would it be?”
“Cheating,” Reeve teased.
“Reeve, please,” Aerith said, and the desperation in her voice made him pause.
Reeve thought for a moment, looked at the low-hanging sun again, and had an idea. “Come. If we hurry, we may make it in time.” He let go of one of Aerith’s hands, but held onto the other. He jogged down the streets, trusting Aerith to keep up.
He darted into Shinra headquarters, not even breaking step as they passed the security desk. His face was familiar enough to them, and he was high enough ranked to not need to bother with formalities. He wondered what the rumors would be tomorrow, him running through the lobby with a pretty, young girl, hand-in-hand like schoolchildren.
“Where are we going?” Aerith asked breathlessly, once they were safely in the elevator.
Reeve stuck a key into the slot and turned it, lighting the highest button. “To the top,” he said. The elevator rose up the building, past the highest floor, and stopped at the roof. The doors opened, and Reeve gestured to the small platform. “The Observation Deck.”
Aerith stepped out, he dress whipping about her legs in the wind. “I didn’t know this was up here. You can see all of Midgar from here!” She walked right to the edge, hands lightly resting on the railing, and raised herself fearlessly on tiptoes to see as far as she could. “It’s beautiful.”
“You sound surprised,” Reeve said. He pointed to Sector One. “Look, it’s going to start.”
As the sun lowered in the sky, the city grew darker and darker until, on cue, the lights came on. From the Observation Deck, the lights looked like green and blue fireflies, swarming across Midgar for their night’s flight. Sector One lit first, and then Sectors Two and Three grew bright, and they poured their light into Sectors Four, Five, Six, and at last, Sector Seven stood, gleaming, beautiful, and whole.
“This isn’t real, is it?” Reeve asked.
“No,” Aerith said simply.
“I should have known,” Reeve said. “Magda’s shop burned down years ago, and we never could get the trains to run on time, and Sector Seven fell, and—“ Reeve paused. “And Midgar’s gone.”
“Yes,” Aerith said.
“And you died.”
“And I—“ Reeve’s hands tightened their grip on the railing. “I remember now. I was stupid. They were attacking Kalm, and I brought in the WRO to stop them, and they... I never thought they’d capture me. Why they’d consider me pure, I don’t know, I—“
“But you are!” Aerith insisted.
“Thank you.” Reeve shook his head. “Am I dead?”
“No. You’re still in the train they put the prisoners in, but it’s falling now. When you hit the mako , you’ll be reabsorbed into the Lifestream. I’m sorry.” Aerith’s voice was very soft.
“Oh.” Reeve took a deep breath. “Did it hurt, when you died?”
“A bit.” She smiled sadly. “A lot. But it didn’t last for very long.”
“I’m sorry,” Reeve said. “I never got to tell you that, but I am truly sorry, Aerith.”
“For a lot of things. For Shinra. For Midgar, and how broken it was. For the mako reactors, killing the Planet. For stealing the sky from you. For not trying hard enough.” His eyes were lowered, not daring to look at her or Midgar’s lights.
“If it means anything, I think you’ve been forgiven.” Aerith’s hand covered his own, rubbing them gently. “When the Planet is grateful to someone, and if that person is close enough to the Lifestream when they die, the Planet can give them a gift. That person gets to be reunited with the one they loved most of all, someone they lost long ago and never thought they’d see again. It’s a precious gift given only to the ones the Planet truly wishes to thank.”
Reeve was flustered. “Aerith? I don’t—”
Aerith hushed him, squeezing his hand. “Thank you for sharing her with me.”
“Oh,” Reeve said, because what else was there to say? Together, they gazed at the glowing lights of Midgar’s night. “Will you stay with me, until the end?” he asked.
Aerith leaned her head on his shoulder. “Of course.”
Reeve was falling, and just before he hit, he had a dream.