Following Shera's course in the eight days leading up to, during, and after Meteor. Complete.
Every morning was exactly the same as the one before it.
Get up. Hastily locate glasses on bedside dresser. Stumble half-blinded by sleep into the living room, stoke the dying fire with a poker swung dangerously about due to aforementioned sleepiness, throw open the curtains to hopefully drive sleepiness away/. Meander drunkenly back into kitchen, pour hot water into kettle, place kettle on stove. Pray to Bahamut sleepiness has been banished effectively enough to prevent another incident like the one involving the local fire brigade, a nice nap on the couch, and one surprisingly-flammable teapot. Take kettle /off hob. Combine hot water, teabag, sugar, and honey in cup (sleepiness now securely routed by introducing part of hot water to foot, although this is not normally part of routine), take a sip, enjoy the familiar burning tannin-caffeine combination scalding your throat.
Notice the empty chair across the kitchen table, the chipped mug hanging forlornly by the sink. Proceed to miss the Captain like fucking hell.
Shera's mornings had settled into a routine that could not altogether be called comfortable. The tea was delicious; the overpowering loneliness was most definitely not.
Occasionally she received letters - terse, short things jotted down in the Captain's surprisingly beautiful copperplate writing and mailed from distant lands. They never contained too much information worth mentioning, but to the one left behind every single sentence and aside was precious.
Yuffie was puking her fool head off over the railings as usual yesterday when we hit a patch of rough air. Stupid little cow would've gone clear over the edge and into the Mideel Sea if Red hadn't caught her by the breeches in mid-flight and hauled her scrawny ass back on-board. Problem was, that also took a large chunk outta the fabric coverin' her backside. Did you know Vincent was capable of blushing? Because I sure as hell didn't.
Found a dress in Cloud's pack. Ain't Tifa's. Ain't Aeris's (may she rest in peace). Quite frankly, I'm inclined to not fucking ask and erase the fact from my memory if it takes borrowing one of your shotguns to do so.
And so on, and so on. Frankly Shera felt privileged that even this much information reached her; she knew as well as anyone what the team was up against, how busy they must be, and what the odds of them actually succeeding were. She had seen their rocket crash into that bloody hunk of fiery rock in the sky and make not a scratch, and if that wasn't a sign that everyone on the Planet was royally and liberally fucked, she didn't know what was. The ever-loyal engineer had faith in her Captain, to be sure she did, but the rational scientist inside had carefully calculated their chances of survival and was gravely, deeply afraid.
Still, she refused to be cowed by fear or despair, taking every single day in its stride. Many of the other citizens that lived and worked in Rocket Town had packed up and left after the shuttle made its final flight, wanting to spend their final days with distant family or loved ones. The few left generally kept indoors as much as possible, the grim spectre of Meteor cowing and stifling the once-bustling little village until it resembled a ghost town. Weeds sprouted up in lawns and gardens that only weeks before had been lovingly tended, threatening to choke out all the carefully cultivated flowers the residents had planted over the years to try and make their settlement seem more permanent, more homely.
No goat-weed would dare to poke its leafy head around Shera Stargazer's door though, this was an absolute certainty. The more decrepit the rest of the town became, the more desperately she attempted to keep her own homestead neat and tidy, working in the garden with spade and trimmers from sun-up to sun-down until her nails were black and her palms were streaked with burning scratches from prickly weeds and grasses. Kneepads and heavy leather gloves were for more delicate flowers than she; the engineer sported dirty knees and scabby hands as badges of honour, much as she had grease burns and oil smudges several years before. Shera was as equally at home fixing a combustion engine as she was delicately pouring a cup of tea or offering a plate of dainties to house-guests, and neither side of her character lessened the other.
On this bright fall morning it was neither engines nor narcissus that had attracted her attention, but the white picket fence that surrounded their little house, wood fast becoming warped by the unnatural gales that had sprung up more and more frequently with the appearance of Meteor. Shera sure as hell wasn't having /that/, and had set out to mend the pretty little barrier armed with a bucket of whitewash, an armful of fresh planks, and a toolbelt swiped neatly from the Captain's empty bedroom. The most difficult part had been retrieving the tools; even after the smell had faded from the rest of the house almost completely the sharp tang of tobacco smoke clung persistently to every article in the Captain's room, causing a lump to build in Shera's throat until she made her hurried escape from that place and out-of-doors.
Damn him for leaving her all alone. Damn her for being so damned attached. And god-/damn/ that fucking Meteor and the raging bastard who had summoned it for taking him away. She had a good mind to pull out one of the rifles, hop on her black chocobo, and go hunt the pisshead down herself if it'd make the Captain come home quicker.
Shera was a quiet woman, but that sure as hell didn't mean she never got angry sometimes.
Sephiroth's head was sadly not within range, however, so she determined to take her frustrations out on the row of innocent pickets instead. The rocket scientist rolled up her sleeves, pushed her glasses back from their precarious slipping spot halfway down the bridge of her nose, and shot Meteor a hale and hearty middle finger before settling down to the arduous task of jerking the rotten slats out of the ground and erecting new ones in their place. It was sweat-popping work and she'd have enough splinters to fuel the Cosmo Flame for two hundred more years lodged in her hands before the day was through, but it had to be done. There was no other option, someone's got to do it, chin up, etc etc.
Anything to delay having to go back inside the house.
The sun was setting the western sky aflame with oranges and pinks and reds and the first stars were beginning to dapple the cobalt when Shera finished hammering in the last of the new pickets and reluctantly turned her attention to the gaping maw that was her front door. Exhaustion took the sting out of having to return indoors, and wearily she stumbled through the pitch-black interior, flipping on each light and noise-making electronic item in the house as she came across it. The darkness and more importantly the silence at night in the empty cabin unnerved the lonely woman more than she would have ever cared to admit, and she had taken to leaving every light blazing and the television on for company when she even bothered to stay indoors at all. Most nights of-late had been spent on the wing of the earthbound /Tiny Bronco/, sitting and staring at the menace in the sky until either her rear went numb or she dozed off and rolled onto the ground below with a painful thud. It seemed better somehow than locking herself away indoors and ignoring the Meteor like her neighbours had taken to doing, at any rate.
Tonight though she was far too tired for star-gazing, and the only thoughts in her head involved hot water, soap, and possibly curling up on the couch afterwards with a plate of biscuits and a good novel. The reality of taking the hot shower meant by the time she stepped back out and toweled her long brown hair dry she was so sapped by the humidity all she wanted to do was sleep. Still, Shera was a very stubborn woman, and she clung to her previous plans with a tenacity previously reserved for checking oxygen tanks on large, space-bound rockets. /I am going to have a good time tonight. Ha ha ha. Fuck you, exhaustion/.
She tried to occupy her mind by reading the aforementioned novel, but tales of faraway places and heroic deeds held no luster for her on this night. The plate of sugar cookies she had baked herself the previous evening were good, but her appetite seemed to have been washed down the drain along with the dirt and other debris of the day's work. She flipped the TV to a news channel and attempted to distract herself with /that/, but all the coverage was of the Meteor Crisis, Weapon attacks, and other subjects she'd have rather not dwelled on at the moment.
"Sources say the team known as AVALANCHE may or may not have been in the path of WEAPON when it made an attempt on Midgar this afternoon, but whether or not--"
The television was very quickly shut off and the house returned to silence. Even quiet was better than the hyperventilating speculation of the newscasters, feeding off destruction and death like well-coiffed vultures. But what to do now? She would go crazy sitting on the couch in this silence, thinking and panicking and wondering where the Captain was, and if he was safe ...
A thought came unbidden to Shera's worried mind, and her legs obeyed the order without her ever consciously registering that they were doing so until she had wandered through the kitchen and was already halfway down the hall. By the time she noticed where the hell she was, it was already too late and her hand was reaching to push open the closed entrance to the Captain's room, for reasons she could not for the life of her explain. Her unconscious wanted to be there, and by god when Shera was this tired her unconscious got whatever the heck it wanted.
The door opened with a squeak of protest, the smell of cigarette-smoke and a draught of warm air from the uninhabited room enveloping her like a warm, fuzzy security blanket. She swallowed the lump that had once again managed to push its way up into her throat like a stubborn pill, took a deep breath, and fully entered Captain Highwind's inner sanctum, flipping the light-switch on as she did so.
Nothing had been touched, moved, or otherwise disturbed in the Captain's room since he left all those months before; Shera had been careful to not shift anything in her weekly dusting of the place, possibly out of some irrational obsessive-compulsive belief that to change things from how he had left them would mean he would never come back to put the belongings right again. It was inane and (of course) irrational, and she tried to push the superstition out of her head before going any farther, lest worrying about it drive her mad.
A spare pole-arm lay propped in one corner, within arm's reach of the bed. Papers diagramming various flying machines and other projects cluttered up the Captain's desk, held fast to earth by a paperweight shaped suspiciously like The /Highwind/. An unemptied ashtray sat alone and unloved next to the bed, its contents now broken-down by time to little more than ashy compost. A hand-stitched quilt - the only thing Shera knew of that that Captain had inherited from his much-loved mother, other than perhaps her Wutanian eyes - neatly covered the bed, a cigarette burn or two on the pretty coverlet showing he had NOT given up the bad habit of smoking in bed like he had sworn blind to her he would.
His old blue flying jacket was draped unceremoniously over the back of a chair. It was as if he had just left it there for a minute while he stepped out and at any moment he might come back, swearing at her affectionately while demanding his tea ...
Shera could feel the tears burning her eyes before they ever began to leak traitorously out onto her cheeks and fought them bravely, but it was a losing battle and she knew it. Picking up the battered old leather jacket from its resting place, she shook the dust from the raggedy thing and clutched it to her chest, burying her face in the comforting folds. It smelled like tobacco, of course, but it also smelled of leather and machine parts and not unpleasantly of aftershave, although this last aroma was growing fainter and fainter with time. It smelled like /him/.
The turncoat tears were now smudging her glasses and dripping off her chin, the battle with grief finally surrendered. She wiped them away with a disgusted hand, but more came to fill their ranks as soon as the old troops were removed from the battlefield - it was no use. Still clutching the jacket, Shera lay down on the Captain's bed and curled into a neat ball, suddenly feeling closer to him than she had in months. She only meant to stay awhile in this place, and in a moment she'd get up and go find a proper place to sleep. Just a moment in this comforting spot ... one minute, and no longer ...
And so the night passed in this fashion, without Shera ever waking out of her peaceful slumber on the Captain's bed. Her hands were still wrapped tightly around his flight jacket even in dreams, faded fabric pressed close to her heart.
The morning sun throwing a square of bright light through the window and directly onto her resting place was the first indication Shera had that she'd overslept gravely. There really was nothing worse than waking up after a crying jag; her head was throbbing, her eyes felt puffy and sore, and her glasses were so streaked and caked with dried tears she could barely see through them. What a bloody useless weakling she was.
The scientist stirred and reached to remove the useless spectacles, stiffly moving to a sitting position as she did so. A voice from the doorway froze her hands before they made it halfway to her face.
"Damn woman, if you wanted to get in my bed all y'ever had to do was /ask/."