Chapter 2

Shera knew that Cid's departure would have otherwise left her alone, and she didn't surprise herself by asking Lucrecia to stay. What surprised her was that Lucrecia did.

Lucrecia was a strange houseguest. The concept of time seemed foreign to her: some days, she wouldn't get out of bed, while other times she never seemed to sleep. Shera could have named that much as depression, but it was more than that. Sometimes she would catch Lucrecia standing still, staring at nothing. Always, she stared north.

The house didn't have any north-facing windows.

Once or twice, Shera asked what she was thinking of, and the question was like breaking her out of a trance. She grew agitated, and wouldn't answer.

Shera changed the bandages on Lucrecia's arm fewer times than she expected to. The wound healed too quickly and left no scar. Shera didn't ask about the scars she did have.

There were a lot of things she didn't ask. Maybe she should have. Desperate for someone's company besides her own, she'd let a perfect stranger into the house.

Maybe it was a bad habit. Her life with Cid was a state of limbo. Nothing she could do would repay the debt she owed him, and sometimes she felt even trying just served as a reminder. They didn't talk much, as a result. Or rather, she didn't talk much, not wanting to take up any more space in his world than she already had in being the thing that destroyed his dream.

What was it that dominated Lucrecia's world? The question tugged at her, but she never pried. She told herself that Lucrecia wouldn't have answered anyway, but that was only part of it. Shera felt an affinity with the woman that was, at times, uncomfortable.

She knew precisely when she'd allowed her world to become so small, but seeing it in someone else made her question her decision. Whatever Lucrecia's mistakes, did they merit her efforts to erase herself?

Did Shera's?

They passed weeks in their own sort of limbo, but even so, it wasn't quite the same. Lucrecia never seemed to find her presence unwelcome, though Shera would be hard-pressed to say it was enjoyed. Shera was never in the way, and even that was enough of a change that she found herself relaxing. She hummed in the kitchen. She opened the curtains when she liked. She moved the radio she'd been tinkering with into Cid's workroom, where the light was better.

Lucrecia never remarked on it, but Shera caught the woman watching her more often. There was something placid about her attention, like sharing company with a cat. It was enough to be acknowledged.

And then one evening, Lucrecia suddenly sank to the floor. Soundlessly, she buried her face in her hands.

"Lucrecia," Shera began. She dropped the pot she was washing back in the sink and shut off the water, but as she approached the other woman, Lucrecia flung up a hand to stop her from getting too close.

"Don't," she said. "You don't... You don't know what I am."

Not knowing what else to do with her hands, Shera reached for the dishrag to dry them. "What do you mean?" she asked. "What's happened?"

"He's done something terrible. And I'm the one who put him on this path. I put poison in his veins, and for a while I thought that maybe... maybe he was stronger than I am. Maybe it wouldn't ruin him."

Shera crouched down in front of Lucrecia, careful not to touch her. "Ruin who?" she asked.

Lucrecia didn't look up at her, her head in her hands. "Sephiroth," she said softly. "My son..."

Shera knew the name. He'd been in the papers many times during the war, and more recently... yes, Rufus had mentioned him. Shinra had come here following his trail, but they hadn't explained why.

"...did you follow him here, too?" Shera asked.

"I'm a fool," said Lucrecia. "It wasn't for any reason. I just couldn't help myself. Isn't that how I've always been...?"

Shera hesitated. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know there's a lot I don't understand, but... I'm sorry for what you're going through."

Lucrecia inhaled sharply and got to her feet. "No," she said. "Don't you feel sympathy for me. Once you see what's coming... I'm sorry."


After that, Lucrecia confined herself to her room and locked the door. Shera fretted outside it. She continued to make meals for the two of them, but each time she knocked at Lucrecia's door, there was no answer. She started to wonder whether it would be easier to pick the lock or to climb in through the window.

What if Lucrecia had hurt herself again?

After a few days, she stepped outside to find Dana standing stock still in the street, staring upwards. Old man Lan was staring, too, but not at the rocket. Shera turned to follow their gazes.

A faint red disc hung in the sky, like a second moon.

More of her colleagues came out of their homes on various errands and stopped instead to stare. All of them understood what it meant, but Shera went back inside and switched on her radio anyway, as if anything Shinra might announce would reassure her.

They didn't try to hide the impending horror, for once. Shinra estimated two weeks before Meteor hit. Two weeks before all life on the Planet ended.

Was this the highest pinnacle that human civilization would reach? Shera looked around the quiet, empty kitchen of the house that didn't even belong to her. It didn't seem like much.

She went through her tools and found the right one to bump the lock on Lucrecia's door. Inside, the other woman lay atop the covers facing the wall, but Shera could see the faint movement of her breathing. In spite of the news, one small knot inside her eased.

"How did you know?" she asked.

Lucrecia didn't respond right away, but Shera waited. At last Lucrecia shifted, and pulled herself up. She didn't meet Shera's eyes.

"I can feel him. Hear him, in my dreams. We both carry something malignant inside of us. Sometimes, I don't know if it's really him. I don't know if it's real. But this... It's the end, isn't it?"

Shera nodded slowly. "They're saying two weeks."

"Two weeks," Lucrecia repeated. "I'm so sorry. You deserved longer."

Shera cautiously sat down on the bed beside her. "What do you mean by saying it's your fault?"

Lucrecia's thumb traced one of the old scars on her wrist. "I was never a mother to him," she said. "You might call me his creator, instead."

"You were a scientist," Shera ventured.

Lucrecia's hands stilled. "Yes. A biologist. And more than thirty years ago... I signed on to Professor Gast's Jenova Project. He thought--we all thought--that he had discovered the cadaver of an Ancient. It was so well-preserved, we thought that we could use it to carry out the process of de-extinction."

"You used your own child?" Shera asked softly.

"Yes. Can you imagine anything more arrogant? I told myself I'd be birthing the first member of a new Cetra race back into the world."

Shera sat quietly for a moment. She had never thought much about having children of her own. The idea of experimenting on one unsettled her, but as a woman of ambition, she could understand it. Not only had she been willing to sacrifice her life to put humanity into space, but she had urged Cid to become complicit in that choice. At the time, her conscience had been clear. She'd seen nothing but the remarkable achievement ahead of them.

And wouldn't it be a remarkable achievement, to bring back the Ancients?

"But what you found... it wasn't an Ancient?"

Lucrecia shook her head. "I wonder, was it just showing us what we wanted to see, or did we do that to ourselves? I think back on all our preliminary research, and I don't know how we didn't see it. But to blame it on the Jenova seems too simple. It infects your mind, but only once you let it in."

"You don't seem mad, to me," said Shera.

"Hm. No excuses then."

"And Sephiroth?" she wondered. "They called him a hero, during the war."

"Maybe he was then," said Lucrecia, "as much as there are ever heroes in war. But something happened to him, five years ago. I heard that he died, but the Jenova never lets that happen. It has him now. It has him thinking he can become something no one has ever seen... I wonder lately if I infected him with that idea, while he grew inside me. That he would be something unique, glorious and terrible."

"I don't know," said Shera. "But I do know that you didn't want him to summon Meteor."

"Didn't I? If the world ended, then I, too, would have to end, finally."

"If you wanted that, then why did you react the way you did?"

Lucrecia finally looked at her. She hesitated before she spoke. "You're too forgiving," she said.

Shera smiled wryly. "Well... My biggest mistake led to the end of the Space Program."

"Somehow, I don't think that's quite as damning."

"Isn't it?" Shera glanced towards the window, but the curtains were drawn, hiding Meteor from view. "The one piece of technology that might have had a chance at stopping Meteor has spent the past four years collecting rust."

"You really think anything could stop it?"

"It would have been worth a try, wouldn't it?"

Lucrecia looked at her for a long moment, her brow furrowed as she seemed to weigh something in her mind. "How bad is the rust?" she asked.

Two days later, when the order came from Shinra to prepare the rocket for launch, Shera had already rallied her colleagues to the work. She didn't know what Shinra was thinking--Palmer was the sort of coward to leap to escape, however futile--but Shera looked up at that red disc in the sky and she thought, maybe they had a plan.

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