“There are Soldiers in Cosmo Canyon.”
Sephiroth’s words were such a surprise to Ifalna that she dropped the shirt she had been mending, “What did you say, Sephiroth?”
Sephiroth closed and locked the door behind him, pulling the shades closed for good measure. He carefully unclipped his sword and hung it with the sheath in their proper place on the wall. His movements had an edge of tension that was obvious to Aeris and Ifalna, but only because they knew him so well.
“I was just down by the Candle and I saw Soldiers in the village.” Sephiroth ran his hands through his hair, “Why would Bugenhagen let Soldiers into Cosmo Canyon?”
Aeris put a hand on her mother’s shoulder to keep her from jumping up out of her chair, “He let a Soldier into Cosmo Canyon. One. He’s here to pick up something for his mother, who lives in Gongaga, before he goes home on leave.”
Sephiroth’s scowl was legend, even when he was a boy. It more than just the mako glow in his eyes or the knowledge that he could probably break your arm without expending any real effort. There was a raw power in him when he was angry that made him terrifying… to everyone but Aeris.
“His name is Zack Fair.” Aeris added with her sweetest smile, “He’s nice.”
Ifalna buried her face in her hands, “Dear Planet preserve me.”
“Are you out of your mind!?” Sephiroth hissed, striding across the room to go toe to toe with his adoptive little sister, “You know better than to talk to anyone from Shinra, Aeris. What possessed you-“
Aeris crossed her arms, “Honestly? The poor guy tripped coming off the platform around the Cosmo Candle. Went head over feet and landed square on his back. I went over to make sure he was okay- I didn’t realize he was a Soldier until he opened his eyes! He asked me if I was an angel and if this was heaven. Oooh… scary.”
Aeris spun to face Ifalna, “I cured his bruises… with materia! He wants to take me out to dinner tonight as a thank you. We’re going to go to the one restaurant in town to have a perfectly nice meal before he goes home to his parents for a week and back Midgar again after. I’ll never see him again and it’ll all be very normal. Please don’t make a big deal out of this!”
Ifalna held her hands up in surrender, “It’s been eight years. I think one dinner will a stranger be safe enough… as long as you’re careful.”
Aeris nodded, “Of course, Mama.”
Ifalna arched an eyebrow at her daughter, “How long have you lived here, Aeri?”
“My whole boring life.” Aeris said, echoing a game from the early days of their hiding out. Ifalna and Sephiroth knew how serious the danger was and they had no problem lying smoothly about their past when asked. It was Aeris who had needed repeated practice before the lies became second nature, “Grandfather was a scholar and Grandmother wove blankets and Papa died defending against the Gi attack. Blah, blah, blah. Even Bugenhagen says he wouldn’t know I hadn’t grown up here if we didn’t tell him. Some days he forgets anyway. If I have him fooled, I can handle myself against Zack.”
“So when is he picking you up?” Sephiroth asked, voice deceptively bland.
Aeris turned back slowly to face him, “He was just going to pick up his mom’s order and then he was coming here. Why?”
Sephiroth casually crossed the room to take his sword back from the rack. He picked up his weapon cleaning kit as well, “I believe there is a tradition regarding a young woman’s potential date meeting her father. Since the professor is not available, I believe I will meet with Fair myself. I will clean my weapon and sharpen the blade to pass the time.”
“Mom-“ Aeris turned back to where Ifalna had been and growled when she saw the woman had quietly escaped the room, “Traitor.”
“You should go prepare, hm?” Sephiroth murmured, the picture of innocence, “Don’t try to sneak out the back door or the window. I will hear you and then I will come retrieve you.”
“You’re a terrible person.” Aeris muttered, storming into her room and slamming the door.
Sephiroth really had intended to care for his weapon that night, even before spotting the Soldier. He set to work carefully oiling the blade and sharpening the edge. He and Nanaki worked hard to keep dangerous monsters from getting too close to the entrance of the village. Even with as young as he had been when he escaped Hojo and Shinra, he had been taught the importance of caring for a good blade or gun for that matter.
He had just set to work with his whetstone when a knock sounded at the door. Setting the blade aside, Sephiroth crossed the room and pulled the front door open. Zack Fair was indeed the Soldier he had seen before. They were nearly of a height, although Sephiroth was pleased to see he still topped the man by several inches. He looked to be older than Aeris, but not by much. His black hair was worn long and slicked back, but a few stubborn shorter pieces fought to hang over his forehead. The glow of mako was impossible to ignore in his blue eyes.
Zack held out a hand to him, “Hey, I’m Zack Fair. Nice to meet you.”
Sephiroth arched an eyebrow at Zack and made no move to take his hand. Zack pulled it away and awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, “I… uh, offered to take Aeri to dinner, as a thank you for helping me out this afternoon. Is this her house?”
“Yes.” Sephiroth turned from the door and headed back to his sword, “She is getting prepared for dinner.”
He heard Ifalna’s exasperated hiss from the kitchen where she had been hiding. She came in with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses on a tray, “Seph, you’re awful. Please come in, Zack was it?”
“Yes ma’am.” He shook her offered hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Ifalna paused at the edge of the table when she realized that she had no room for the tray. She kicked Sephiroth in the shin lightly. With a sullen frown, he moved his supplies over to make room.
“I know you’re on your way to supper, but you look like a lad with an appetite. Cookie and lemonade?” Ifalna held the pitcher up.
Zack chuckled, “I’m always up for a homemade snack. Yes, please to both.”
“Aeri mentioned that you were on your way home for leave.” Ifalna said, pouring glasses of lemonade for all three of them, “I’m sure you’re in for all the homemade food you can stand.”
“I do miss my mother’s cooking when I’m in Midgar.” Zack admitted, taking his glass, “I can’t cook to save my life, so this week will be a real treat.”
Ifalna and Zack both took a drink from their glasses of lemonade. Zack also tried a cookie with a hum of approval. Sephiroth ignored the drink and cookies, taking up his blade again for sharpening.
The effect was not quite what Sephiroth had hoped for, although he knew he should not have been surprised. Zack eyed his blade with the keen eye of an experienced swordsman, “Never seen a sword quite like that. Got some length to it like a broadsword, but thinner… almost katana-like. How does she handle?”
“Efficiently.” Sephiroth replied, “My style is unconventional. This blade suits it.”
He could see that Zack was eager to ask questions, just shy of bouncing on the seat. Sephiroth decided to head him off, “You are unarmed? That seems odd, considering your profession.”
“Someone obviously takes good care of the area leading up to the city. I didn’t see a monster for two miles outside of the road up.” Zack gave him a knowing look, “I figure I’m safe enough in the city itself and it’s unlikely that anyone here’s strong enough to lift my sword, let alone take it. It’s… unconventional, to say the least. A buddy came up with the design for me, it’s a thing of beauty.”
He shifted his sleeve to show a dull copper colored bangle on his wrist. Sephiroth could see four materia slotted into it, “I’m never completely unarmed, so Aeri’s in good hands… if that’s the problem. I just figured a giant sword doesn’t usually make a great first impression on a girl’s family.”
The door to Aeris’s bedroom opened and she stepped out in a dress that she usually reserved for festivals. Zack set aside his empty glass and immediately stood, “Aeri, hey!”
“Hi Zack.” She glanced at her mother and brother, “Has he been sufficiently interrogated?”
Sephiroth opened his mouth to reply, but Ifalna kicked him again to stop him, “Zack, you seem like a perfectly lovely young man. Enjoy dinner and be back before it gets too late, please.”
Zack flushed, pleased, “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
Aeris leaned down and pressed a kiss to Ifalna’s cheek, “I’ll see you soon, Mama.”
She flicked Seph’s bangs as she walked past him, “Bagrisk licker.”
“Halfwit.” Sephiroth grumbled without heat, “Don’t make me come get you.”
Zack laughed nervously, “I’ll have her home before that, promise.”
Sephiroth waited until the door closed before attaching his sheath to its strap on his back. Ifalna jumped up and blocked his way to the door, “Don’t even think about it, Sephiroth. Sasha already said she’ll watch them like a hawk. If anything seems suspicious, she’ll send Ani up to get us. Do you really think that one Soldier could stand up to us both, assuming that Aeris didn’t handle him on her own?”
Sephiroth knew she was right. Grudgingly, he removed his sheath again.
“That’s my good lad.” She reached up and patted his cheek, “Let’s see what we can scrape together for dinner while they’re gone.