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By Any Other Name

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“Chunky monkey, huh?” Aeris said.

Sephiroth shrugged. “Thought I’d try something new.”

“Suits you,” Aeris said, digging into her own scoop. “You’re nuts and bananas.”

Sephiroth rolled his eyes and licked his spoon clean. “What did you get, Missy?”

“Rocky Road.” Aeris sighed. “Want some?”

“What, and trade spit in public?”

“Nobody’s watching.” Aeris waved a spoon of chocolate temptation before him.

Sephiroth shook his head. Eyelashes flickered in the direction of the shop window. “Paparazzi across the street.”

“Ugh.” Aeris let the spoon drop. Sephiroth shuffled his chair around, putting his back between her and the window. A wave of small, snappy movements rustled through the shop as patrons became studiously interested in their splits and sundaes.

Aeris bowed her head over the waffle bowl. “I did not put on enough makeup for this.”

“Neither did I,” Sephiroth said. He poked his spoon into the melted portion and swirled it around for a bit. They sighed.

Aeris leaned to one side in her seat, sliding into Sephiroth’s shadow. “Anything new at work?”

“No. You?”

“No.” She nibbled on the end of the spoon, replacing the savor of marshmallow on her tongue with a metal tang. Sephiroth was thinking of saying something. She could see it in the way he took his time swallowing.

“I found something,” he said, excavating his ice cream scoop. “In the papers and personal effects.”

“Hm?”

He exhaled, setting his spoon down on the napkin. “Apparently the birth mother wanted to call me ‘Grimoire’.”

Aeris blinked. “Okay, that’s terrible.”

“Isn’t it?” Sephiroth shook his head and played with his ice cream some more. “I mean, what would people have called me for short? Grim?”

“Yeah, your face already has that covered.”

Sephiroth scowled and shoved some ice cream into his mouth. “What I can’t figure out,” he said around the almonds, “is why. Why would anybody do that to a child? Bad enough you already signed me up for medical experiments.”

“Maybe we should just be glad they chose otherwise,” Aeris said, shaking her head.

“Yes, thank Gaea for small mercies,” Sephiroth said, carving the chunky monkey into a convoluted swirl. “I’d chuck the whole mess into storage if I could afford it. The only thing I’m getting out of this is confirmation is that the woman had no sense and less taste.”

“Pretty mean way to talk about your mother, Seph,” Aeris said, looking away.

Sephiroth huffed. “She hasn’t done me any favors.” He stabbed the ice cream right down the middle and shoveled such a heapful into his mouth that he gave himself an ice cream headache. Aeris took dainty spoonfuls until he was done gripping the table and scrunching up his face.

“You know,” she said, “my mother thought about calling me ‘Nyneva’.”

Sephiroth looked up. “Isn’t that a face cream?”

“No,” Aeris said, scowling at him. “It’s a very meaningful and traditional name among members of my Clan.” Sephiroth waited. Aeris sighed. “I’d have been teased like heck in school. There’s some Nynevas in the Stream right now who confirm it.”

“I think you got a nice name in the end,” Sephiroth said, tilting his cup for the very last nut.

“Thanks,” Aeris said, looking aside. She knew Sephiroth was watching the expressions on her face, and if she sat up too straight, every tabloid addict was going to see them too. She set her spoon down and buried everything else deep. “Want piece of my waffle cup?”

“No. Yes.” They broke it together and munched away. “We should do this more often,” Sephiroth said. “I like ice cream.”

“Yeah, but the weather’s turning soon,” Aeris said.

“They have hot drinks. Or we could find someplace with pastry instead.”

Aeris rolled her eyes. “Next you’ll say we should go out for dinner.”

“Why not?”

“Saving money.”

“Oh. Right.” Sephiroth straightened up. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, I guess.” She pretended not to notice how he stood when she did, how he angled himself between him and the worst of the rubberneckers. He didn’t offer his arm as they went through the door, but he put himself on the outer part of the sidewalk, blocking her from traffic and any sneaky camera view.

“Are they still there?” she asked.

“Yes. I can hear the shutter clicking.”

“Hm. Straight home then?”

“Agreed.”

She rolled her eyes at him but it was more and more for show these days. He kept between her and the cars, matching his pace to her shorter stride. They didn’t hold hands, they were still ‘just friends’, no point making this whole thing harder to live up to. But his fingers brushed against her hand a few times as they walked, trailing against her wrist.
Holding hands wasn’t a big deal, was it? Nothing unexpected at this point, really.

But it was a warm day. Maybe later, when the weather turned.