Appointment With Destiny Chapter 23
"When Sephiroth brings his pregnant Cetra to me . . . "
Hojo was Sephiroth's father? Aeris' sat waiting for the floor to open up and swallow her. She shook her head refusing to believe it. This had to be more of Hojo's madness. He couldn't possibly be Sephiroth's father! What about Heidegger? Aeris wanted to tear the page to bits but her hands wouldn't obey. They shook as she read the next lines.
"With Sephiroth by my side, Heidegger can stop pretending to be a father. President Shinra and his miserable offspring think I'm helping them obtain more power, but they're wrong. My son and I are the heirs of the greatest being this planet has ever known. We aren't going to let a couple of bugs rule over us. We're going to sweep them under our feet."
"Sephiroth will clear the way by impregnating the Cetra with his child. The combination of Jenova's blood and that of his bride will be the beginning of a new race. Once I've determined the child has been born with her powers and his, I'll put the Cetra in my lab and produce their children artificially. Mass production! I have the means to make her body supply an abundance of egg cells for our needs. Sephiroth will continue be the donor, but we'll need women from the village to carry his children to term. We chose a village at random. We'll kill the men and keep the women. Sephiroth will be the father of an unstoppable army!"
Aeris felt sick to her stomach.
"As I did once with his mother, Sephiroth will make the Cetra believe he loves her. She won't know his true plans until it's too late."
Aeris tugged her hair as she read.
"We'll wait till she conceives, then move her to a quiet place. The mansion in Nibelheim will do nicely. I'll drop by from time to time on the pretext of visiting my library. That excuse will come in handy when she goes into labor because I have no intention of allowing the Cetra to give birth in a hospital. Sephiroth will slip something into her food and she'll go into labor early. I'll deliver the child myself. I can hardly wait."
Aeris didn't know if she wanted to laugh, cry or scream. Her eyes went from one thing to the next, but they focused on nothing. Filled with horror, Aeris dropped the papers on her bed and paced back as forth. She walked faster and faster until she was panting for breath.
She stopped at last, leaning against the bedroom door. Tears streamed down her face. A wave a nausea sent her running to the bathroom.
After she'd leaned over the toilet bowl for a while, she splashed her face with cold water and rinsed her eyes to ease their redness. She straightened up and looked at her reflection. If she tried not to cry again, the redness would be gone by the time Sephiroth came home.
Those are Hojo's words, she told herself. They were written a long time ago. Sephiroth isn't in this with his father. His father! Aeris shook her head. No. That was a lie. Hojo was sicker than she thought. He'd spent so much time with Sephiroth during his experiments, he had come to think of him as his own. That had to be the answer. There was no way Hojo could be Sephiroth's father.
It was difficult to stay calm, but somehow Aeris kept herself focused. She hid the pages beneath a book in the night stand on her side of the bed. Sephiroth was looking forward to the birth of his child, she told herself. He wasn't going to turn her over to Hojo.
When Sephiroth walked through the door that night, Aeris threw herself into his arms and held him as close as she could.
He pulled free and held her out at arms length. "Whoa! What's all this?"
"I missed you," she said.
His mouth twitched. Did he find her comment amusing?
Sephiroth pulled her back in his arms. "Have I been leaving you alone too much?"
Warm against his chest, Aeris closed her eyes in contentment. "It would be nice to have you home sometimes."
Sephiroth ran his fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry. The monsters are keeping me busier than I expected."
Aeris snuggled closer. "I know you have to do your job. Maybe you'll have more time to spend with me when the reactor is repaired."
Sephiroth stiffened for a second, then relaxed.
"You just reminded me," he said. "Hojo is coming to visit tomorrow night."
It was Aeris' turn to stiffen. She pulled away from her husband. "Why? What does he want?"
"He's not coming alone," answered Sephiroth. "The President and Rufus are coming with him."
Aeris tried not to look as scared as she felt. "Why?"
"The President and Rufus are going to inspect the reactor." Sephiroth didn't seem to notice her distress. "Hojo wants to get into his library."
Aeris heart sank. "Why?"
"The leak is causing mutations in wildlife around the area," he said carelessly. "Hojo wants to look up some of information he gathered on the negatives output of malfunctioning reactors."
"Doesn't he keep any of that stuff at headquarters?" asked Aeris. "Isn't it on computers or something so he doesn't have to come here?"
Sephiroth shrugged. "Who know what kinds of records Hojo keeps and where? He doesn't tell me anything."
He sniffed the air as he pulled off his gloves. "What's for dinner?"
"Meatloaf and a few other things I tossed together." Aeris took his gloves and watched as as he removed his sheath and sword.
Sephiroth dropped the masamune on the sofa. He kissed her on the forehead, and went down the hall to the bathroom to wash his hands. Aeris was waiting in the kitchen when he came back. Sephiroth eyed the food hungrily as he sat down..
"You're a wonderful cook Aeris, " he said as he sampled a piece of meatloaf. "I heard stories from the men about wives who can't boil water without burning it. I count myself lucky to have a wife so talented in the kitchen, but I'm worried about you being on your feet so much. The more I think about it, the more I think we should go ahead and hire a full time crew and cook."
"I'm all right," said Aeris. "They don't leave me anything to do but the kitchen and the few times I get to make the bed."
She was watching him as she spoke. Sephiroth was too busy cutting another piece of meatloaf to see the look in Aeris'eyes as she realized, except for the color, his eyes looked just like Hojo's. She willed her hands not to shake as she took a drink from her water glass.
"If you want, I'll leave things as they are." Sephiroth glanced at her. "It won't be for long though, I'm taking you back to Midgar before the baby comes."
Aeris felt more and more chilled as she saw more of Hojo's face in Sephiroth's features.
"I could bring your doctor out here and use the facilities Nibelheim," he replied, "But I'd rather place my trust in a larger hospital."
Sephiroth missed the look Aeris sent his way.
"My doctor won't object to delivering our baby in here," she said barely keeping the tremor out of her voice. "He can bring whatever he needs."
Sephiroth shook his head.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist," he said. "The hospital ward in the Shinra building is better than the hospital here. That's another option. We could have our baby at the Shinra clinic instead of the hospital. They're equipped for it and it's closer to home anyway."
Home? You mean your father will be that much closer to taking me and the baby prisoner! Aeris felt a rush of shame. "When Sephiroth brings his pregnant Cetra to me . . . " She clenched her teeth to keep from screaming. Does Sephiroth know about Hojo? Had he been faking dislike for his father all along?
"My father will be happy to see us." Sephiroth picked up green beans with his fork. "I spoke to him today. He can hardly wait to hold our child in his arms."
I'll just bet! Aeris turned pale.
Sephiroth looked up with a smile, but it faded when he saw her face. He put his fork down.
"What's wrong Aeris?"
Aeris saw the resemblance even more. Change the color of his hair, make his face a little thinner, give him glasses, make him older and my God, she thought, he IS Hojo's son! How did I miss that before? There's not a trace of Heidegger on him. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
"Aeris?" Sephiroth stood up and came around the table. "Are you all right?"
He reached out to touch her. She flinched away.
Sephiroth looked startled. They stared at each other.
He reached out slower this time. Aeris took a deep breath and clenched her fists to keep from knocking his hand away.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked.
Aeris willed herself to relax.
Her eyes were bright with the threat of tears. "Do you really love me Sephiroth?"
"How can you ask me that?" Sephiroth dropped to his knees in front of her. His eyes searched her face. "What brought this on? Don't I tell you how much I love you everyday?"
"You do . . . but," her voice caught.
"The way, we met . . . " Aeris wracked her brains for the right words. "You don't feel obligated to me do you? You . . . you said once, you resented the thought of having your life planned for you. Are you just making the best of a bad situation?"
He took her hands. "Can't you look into my eyes and see how much you mean to me? I love you Aeris. You and the baby are my life!"
"You don't think you'd want to be rid of me someday do you?" She prayed silently, hoping the shocked look in his eyes was for real. "I mean, you could always give me to Hojo. He acts like he wants to study me anyway. . . "
Sephiroth's eyes flashed. "I'd kill him if he tried! What happened today? Has he called here and said something to upset you?"
She shook her head. "I just don't want to have the baby anywhere near him."
Sephiroth hesitated before he answered. "I don't blame you for that. I'm not so fond of him myself."
"Do you think our baby might give people ideals? Like the President and Rufus?"
Sephiroth's look was guarded. "What kind of ideals?"
"You have amazing powers," said Aeris. "I'm supposed to have them too, but I don't know how to use them. Do you think that may make people interested in what kind of baby we'd have?"
"What's going on Aeris?" Sephiroth narrowed his eyes. "You were fine when I left this morning, now you look as if you're afraid of me and you're talking nonsense. Why?"
"I-I don't really know." Aeris turned away from Sephiroth, but he caught her shoulders and turned her back around.
"What aren't you telling me?"
Aeris hesitated. Should she tell him about the books in the basement library and the papers in the drawer upstairs? Before she could decide, the phone rang. Sephiroth didn't move. He kept watching her face. The phone rang again.
"You'd better get the phone." Aeris squirmed under his scrutiny. "It might be important."
Sephiroth held her a moment longer, then released her and went to answer it.
"General Sephiroth." He listened for a moment, then his eyes darkened in anger.
He listened to someone speak. When he spoke again, the was a sharp edge in his voice.
"I want the survivors rounded and up and held under guard until I get there. I'll deal with them myself!"
His jaw set as he listened again. The expression on his face wasn't too far from the one Hojo wore when he was offering to give her a checkup. It was a calculating look. He noticed her watching and turned his back. He spoke in an low angry voice, then slammed the phone down. He turned around and looked at her.
"I have to go," he said with an effort to keep his voice down. "There's an emergency at the reactor. We'll finish this conversation when I get back."
Sephiroth grabbed his gloves and sword and hurried toward the door. Aeris could hear a heavy truck stopping in front of the house as he opened it.
"They sent a vehicle for you," she said.
Sephiroth didn't say anything. Aeris felt a flush creeping up her face.
"Go to bed if I'm not back soon. I think we need to talk, but it can wait till morning if necessary."
"I guess you think I'm being silly."
He shook his head. "Something is bothering you. You've been different the last two days and I want to know why."
Aeris dropped her eyes.
"I'll be back as soon as I can."
He gave her one last look before the door closed behind him. Aeris wrapped her arms around herself and tried not to cry.
She was still awake when Sephiroth came in later that night but she pretended to be asleep. Keeping her breath deep and even, she knew he was standing in the door watching her. She could feel his eyes.
"Aeris?" His voice was soft.
He stood there so long, she wondered if he knew she was awake and was going to call her on it, but Sephiroth turned away from the door. Aeris heard him going into a guest bedroom down the hall. She wasn't sure why she climbed out of bed and followed him. She heard him moving the telephone as she eased down the hall. She stopped outside the door as he pressed in the number he wanted.
"Hello. It's me. I'm sorry to be calling so late, but it couldn't be helped. I had to call now, because I won't be able to reach you in time tomorrow."
He listened for a while.
"You were waiting up? Good. I've been going over our plans in my mind all day."
Aeris heard him sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I think we should make some adjustments. Aeris was acting a little strange tonight. You don't think she knows what we're planning to do, do you? I hope not. We've worked a long time to pull this off. I don't want to ruin anything at this stage in the game. Why don't we put our surprise until the day after tomorrow? I need to find out what's bothering her and put her at ease."
He listened, then Aeris heard him chuckle.
"I agree. The day after tomorrow it is," he said. "Everything will work out just like we planned. I'm going to deliver her personally. She won't suspect a thing. All I have to do is tell her I'm not going to work that day because I want to visit an old friend of mine,. Have you got everything ready? Good!"
Aeris' heart sank.
"Don't worry about the baby. At last report, it's healthy and strong." He laughed. "We're both going to get what we want and my wife is in for the surprise of her life."
Aeris didn't wait to hear anymore. She slipped away from the door and tiptoed back to the bedroom. Crawling into bed, she arranged the covers and herself to look as if she hadn't moved. A tear slipped down her cheek. She wiped it away and tried to concentrate on breathing slowly, like a sleeper.
Sephiroth came back five minutes later. He stood in the doorway looking at her then entered the room. Aeris forced herself to go on taking deep rhythmic breaths. Sephiroth undressed in the dark and put on a pair of pajama bottoms. He slid next to Aeris and put his arm across her body. By sheer will alone, she held back a scream and the urge to fight her way free of him. Sephiroth curled his body around hers.
"Goodnight Aeris," he whispered.
He must have been exhausted because he never noticed her quickened heartbeat. Though it seemed like a lifetime to Aeris, he fell asleep less than five minutes after his head touched the pillow. Aeris lay beside him quietly drowning in despair. She'd heard it with her own ears. Sephiroth was working with Hojo. He was going to give her to him the day after tomorrow. What was she going to do?
* * * * *
Aeris didn't fall asleep until just before dawn. She would have slept past nine o'clock but she rolled over in her sleep into an empty space. She opened her eyes to confirm what she already knew. Sephiroth was gone. She struggled to sit up in bed.
Memories of the night before flooded back and she held in a sob. Aeris eased out of bed and put on her robe before going to the bathroom to wash her face. The cold water made her skin tingle. She blotted her face with a soft towel and looked at herself in the mirror. Tomorrow night at this time, would she be locked in a cell or strapped to one of Hojo's tables?"
Overcome with emotion, a bout of morning sickness consumed her. Aeris leaned over the porcelain bowl but there was nothing in her stomach. She dry heaved a couple of times, then rinsed her mouth. When she turned to the door, she almost ran into Sephiroth. Aeris screamed and staggered back.
Sephiroth moved forward quickly, taking her by the shoulders. "What's wrong with you?"
"You-you scared me!" Aeris ran a shaky hand over her face. "Why didn't you make a noise or something?"
Sephiroth pulled her close. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew I was there. I was talking to you before you turned around. Didn't you hear me?"
Aeris shook her head. "No I didn't. I'm sorry. I had my mind on something else. I guess I overreacted."
"It's my fault, " he said. "I should have known you didn't hear me when you didn't react to my voice. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's all right."
Aeris pulled away from him and stepped into the bedroom. She stopped when she saw a steaming tray of food sitting on the foot of the bed. She turned with a questioning look in her eyes.
Sephiroth looked sheepish. "I made you breakfast. I hope it's edible."
He looked so eager to please her, Aeris wondered if she hadn't dreamed what she'd heard the night before.
"I'm supposed to serve it to you in bed," he prompted.
Aeris walked back toward the bed feeling his eyes on her back, but he didn't move until she was under the covers. Sephiroth helped her adjust the pillows behind her back then turned and picked up the breakfast tray with a flourish. He set it across her lap. Aeris took a sip of orange juice.
"Did you squeeze this yourself? It tastes too fresh to have come from a carton."
Sephiroth looked pleased. "I know my way around a juicer. I took out the pulp. Is that okay?"
"It's fine." Aeris took another sip then reached for the toast and butter.
"Aeris," Sephiroth sat down at the foot of the bed. "Something is bothering you. I'd like to help, but I can't if I don't know what's wrong. Why have you been acting so strange toward me lately?"
Aeris thought about the journals.
"I'm sorry," she answered. "I guess I've been concerned about the future."
She sought out a neutral answer.
"I wonder what's going to happen to us when the baby gets here," she said.
Sephiroth looked puzzled. "I don't understand."
Aeris looked down at her hands.
"We've been getting along so well," she said in a soft voice. "A baby in the house can change things."
Sephiroth considered that. "I suppose it could, but I still don't understand the problem."
Aeris looked at him. "This is going to be a baby like no other. Our child and our marriage are going to be under a spotlight. We've created an entirely new species, Sephiroth. Part human yes, but alien too. Your ancestor was an alien and from what I've learned, so were the Cetra. We're going to be the parents of a whole new race. Are we going to be able to handle that?"
"We're going to raise a baby, Aeris," answered Sephiroth firmly. "Our flesh and blood. I've never been happier about anything else in my life. If you're worried about being a good mother, don't beat yourself up about it. I have every confidence that you'll be the best mother ever. I've never been a father before, but I intend to be the best father I can be, no matter if it's a girl or a boy. Don't be afraid of the future Aeris. Don't be afraid of life."
Aeris felt her fears roll away with his words. Whatever Sephiroth had been talking about on the phone, she'd misunderstood him. She held out her arms and he stood up and moved closer to hug her carefully over the tray.
"I love you," she said.
"Not as much as I love you."
He kissed her and her heart thumped with joy.
The phone rang. Sephiroth turned around and picked it up.
His eyes flicked over to Aeris and he turned his back on her.
Aeris looked at him in surprise.
"Thank you," he said. "I appreciate the information."
She was spreading jam on her toast when he hung up and turned around again.
He hesitated a second too long.
"We may have discovered where the monsters are nesting near the reactor," he said, not looking in her eyes as he spoke. "We can wipe them out and be done with it."
Aeris put down her butter knife and held the toast with both hands for a bite. She hoped her hands were steady. She chewed quickly and took another sip of juice.
"That's good," she said at last. She smiled at him. "If you wipe out the nest, you'll have more time to spend with me."
Sephiroth barely hid his relief at her answer.
"I certainly hope so," he said. "I'll be right back. I have to put the rest of the orange juice away. Do you think you'll want another glass?"
Aeris shook her head.
"All right." Sephiroth went to the door. "I'll be right back."
Aeris gave him a head start, then set the tray aside and went after him. He didn't hear her foot steps on the carpet. She hid, peeking around the corner as he went downstairs. Sephiroth picked up the living room phone and punched in a number. He tapped his foot impatiently. Aeris had a brief shock when turned in her direction. She ducked back and held her breath. Had he seen her?
"I asked you not to call me on the mansion phone," he said in a testy voice when someone answered on the other end.
Aeris dared to peek. Sephiroth had his back to her again.
"What if she'd answered the phone?" he asked. "I don't want her getting suspicious. You could have blown our plans. What? Oh. All right. This time everything worked out fine, but don't do it again. You have my PHS number. It's set for vibrate in case you call when I'm with her. Use it."
He ran his fingers through his hair, forcing Aeris to duck again when he turned back to make sure there was no one behind him. Aeris remembered how good his hearing was and felt a second of terror. Her only hope lay in the fact that he was too agitated to hear anything beyond his phone conversation.
"I think it's okay now." Sephiroth was facing the other direction when Aeris looked back. "She's just having new mother jitters. We're going to pull it off without a hitch. I told you she wouldn't suspect a thing. I'm looking forward to turning her over to you. I'll find something else to keep me amused. There's a new platoon of women recruits back in Midgar. I'll head over there and look them over. I hoping there are at least four or five good ones in the bunch. It'll take me a while to decide which ones I want for myself, then I'll turn the rest over the other officers. By the time I'm finished with my choices, you should be done with her. Will that work for you?"
Aeris turned and hurried back to the bedroom. The doubts she'd pushed aside before rushed back to overtake her. She slipped into bed and pulled the covers up. She sat the tray back across her lap. The last thing she wanted to do was eat, but Sephiroth would notice if she had the same amount of food on her plate when he got back.
Resisting the urge to vomit. Aeris crammed eggs into her mouth. She chewed just enough to be able to swallow them. She finished off a whole slice of toast and one strip of bacon. She wiped her mouth and drank down half her orange juice. Sephiroth came back as she sat her glass down. He glanced at the tray.
"Wow," he said. "You were hungrier than I thought."
"And you're a good cook," she said with a smile, "But I can't eat anymore."
Sephiroth looked at the tray.
"Are you sure? You're eating for two you know."
Sephiroth took the tray. Aeris settled back on her pillow.
"I think I'll sleep a while longer before I get up," she said. "Are you home for the day?"
"No, I have to go and find that nest," he said, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. "Are you going to be okay here?"
"Of course I am silly!" She laughed. "Go to work and let me get back to sleep!"
Sephiroth kissed her again.
"I'll see you this evening," he said.
"I'm looking forward to it," she replied.
Sephiroth gave her a parting smile and left the room. Aeris waited a while, then climbed out of bed. She waited near the top of the stairs while he put the tray away. The cleaning crew was coming in today, so he didn't bother with the dishes. He left them on the sink. He left the house unaware that his wife was watching him every step of the way. Aeris waited till the truck was gone before going back to her room. She dressed herself and opened the hidden safe where she and Sephiroth kept cash for household expenses.
Aeris counted out a few gil for herself and put the rest back. She only wanted enough to get by on for a few days. She'd have to buy new clothes. There was no way she could leave with anything packed. The guards would call Sephiroth if they saw her with suitcases. Once she found somewhere safe to live, she'd figure out what to do.
Where would you be safe? Her conscience asked. You know he's going to come looking for you.
"I have no idea," she said out loud. "I'm making this up as I go."
Aeris checked herself in a mirror and decided, she looked as normal as she was ever going to get. She went downstairs and opened the door. The guard turned to look at her.
"Bring the car around," she said importantly. "I'd like to go shopping today."
"Yes Ma'am." The guard spoke into a radio. A white limo came around the side of the mansion and stopped in front. The driver, a guard himself, hopped out and opened the back door.
Aeris hated that car. It seemed so pretentious to drive around in a car that big, when she could walk, but the President had insisted on it.
"Wait here a moment," she said. "I forgot something."
The driver nodded.
Aeris went back inside and shut the door. She went back to the bedroom and took the loose pages out of the night stand. She thought about Sephiroth all the way down to the library. She opened the lock and went inside. Knocking the other books aside, Aeris put Professor Gast's journal out in the open. She opened the book to the back cover and put the pages in place.
"I just want you to know you're not as clever as you thought Sephiroth."
She turned around and left the library, not bothering to close or lock the door. She left the cellar door open too. She didn't look back as she went out to the car.
The driver helped her inside and closed the door. Two more guards were waiting with motorcycles. The driver turned around.
"Where to Ma'am?" he asked politely.
Aeris thought for a moment. Where would she have a chance of making her escape? She smiled as she found the answer. "Take me to Dancy's Baby World."
The driver touched his cap. "Yes Ma'am."
Aeris made her plans as the car pulled out of the mansion's driveway.
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