On the fourth day after Cid's departure, the sun did not rise at all.
It was one of those things you took for granted, the sun coming up. It could no more cease to shine at its appointed time than Shera could cease drawing breath. Never the less, here it was, somewhere between three or four in the afternoon, and the sun had not yet peeked her face over the horizon. The power had long since been snuffed out by a rising, hateful wind that blew and blew and brought no relief from the stifling heat of the preternaturally warm day - the only light at all was an eerie red glow that leaked in through the open windows and seeped underneath the crack of the barred door.
And yet Shera found herself strangely unafraid. The brave woman did not fear death; she had faced down Death at least two times before in her life, and each time Death had passed over her by a hair's breath. After the failed rocket launch absolutely nothing could phase her, save the Captain's ravening anger. That and his own mortality were the only things Shera truly feared in the entirety of creation.
She sat at the kitchen table in the darkness of the house with a bottle of rum clutched in one hand and a small rock-crystal glass in the other. To some Shera's consumption of alcohol would have been considered a gross violation of character, but those were the ones who only knew her as a passing acquaintance, Cid's pretty little maid. They only saw the timid mouse, the shy creature whose life started with Project 26 and ended with the aborted launch, never even beginning to think she might have a history beyond the rocket and the pilot. No-one ever bothered to ask about Shera's past, and that is exactly why they would never know of Shera's sea-captain father, her beautiful, quiet mother, or of the shipwreck that left her an orphan. They would never know how harsh the struggle had been to get into a good university programme, or how diligently Shera had studied those four years, or that she had come out at the top of her class when graduation day finally arrived, although they might guess at the latter.
They might also know of her hard work on Project 26 and how she had been appointed Head Technician in charge of Life Support Systems, but this was only because it was connected to Cid Highwind's story. On her own she was merely a supporting player, and no-one ever asked about the lives of the supporting players. If they had, perhaps they would have known that Shera liked her rum, but only during either very happy or very stressful times. There were hidden depths to Shera Stargazer that not even her beloved Captain could have delved.
The Captain ... Shera had been trying not to think of him, but in these final hours it was useless to try and stop. Was he dead out there, destroyed by Sephiroth? Was he hurt somewhere, trapped under rubble or crushed by the weight of a giant boulder? Had the Highwind crashed in-route, killing all passengers and crew? With a grim certainty, Shera realized something about herself she never had taken into account before.
If the Captain's dead ... I don't think I want to live anymore either. He's all I have.
There hadn't been much rum in the bottle to begin with, and very soon the last small drop was gone. Shera sat in the dark for a very long time staring moodily at the glass before finally rising to her feet. Very quietly and very steadily, she walked through the living room, unbarred the door, pulled the handle, and stepped outside into the teeth of a raging storm.
The wind was so powerful it nearly took her breath away; it was all Shera could do to keep on her feet and continue forward into the gale-force blasts that seemed determined to knock this mousey interloper head-over-heels and back into the house she had just departed. The door behind her was very nearly ripped off its hinges, banging against the doorjamb with violent force, but Shera never looked back. She left it like that, slamming crazily in the wind - if anyone was bugshit enough to try and rob a house in the middle of Meteor's arrival they were welcome to everything in the damned place, as far as she was concerned.
Onward Shera pushed, labcoat flapping wildly in the breeze. It was an unnatural wind, sticky and warm like the kind that blew on days when tornadoes were threatening, but with an added air of menace the scientist couldn't quite place. Shera had taken classes on meteorology and atmosphere in addition to engineering and rocket science and she knew all about downbursts and microdrafts and fronts and supercells, but this was like none of that. This felt wrong; if Shera hadn't been so deeply rooted in rationality, she would have almost said it felt /evil/. But that was silly superstitious nonsense. She shook the idea out of her head and continued to walk slowly into the windstorm, towards the prairie that bordered the back of their property.
The Nibel Plains unofficially began at their fence-line and ended at the foot of the mighty Nibel Range, and from there you could see the earth and sky unfurling endlessly for hundreds of miles. It was the perfect place to go if you wanted to see a meteor shower or an eclipse or some other celestial display, and that is exactly what Shera had in mind when she stepped out her front door. It was easy enough to see the lay of the land from the backyard, but for some reason she didn't just want to observe today. She wanted to be out in it.
It took an agonizingly long time to work around to the back, but Shera put her head down and with a will eventually made it there, holding on to the fence for support when the wind threatened to bowl her over completely. When she finally managed to open her eyes and lift her head against the gusts, the sight that greeted the engineer made her audibly gasp in horror, hand raised to mouth.
The earth, the plains, the clouds, the distant mountains - everything was awash in the red glow from the sky. It was like a vision of Hell on earth, the field and everything surrounding it painted with crimson blood. It was such a stark contrast to how she had seen the prairie four nights ago with the Captain as to be completely unbelievable. Above it all rode the Meteor, so close now it filled almost half the sky with its bulk, looming larger and larger with each second Shera watched. It was coming so fast that no human eye could calculate the speed of it, on a collision course with the Planet. If Avalanche had failed - if the Captain truly was dead - then this was the end of everything. Stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye, because, as the Captain might have put it, there wasn't going to be shit left once that puppy landed.
Shera bowed her head, closed her eyes, and waited for the inevitable, the only noise the wind howling around her, seemingly angry at the lone intruder who dared to venture out into its very heart. How long would it take for the blast to reach her - minutes, seconds, hours? She wasn't sure, but to die unbent and unafraid was all the woman could ask for. I'll be back with the Captain soon, if souls can be reunited in the Lifestream somehow. I hope it's true, I really, really do. Lifestream ...
... Wait, Lifestream!
A thick, green tendril lightly brushed Shera's arm, making her jump back in surprise. Another fleetingly touched her back, several swirled past her legs, and still more twirled sinuously around her arms before hurrying onwards in the direction of Meteor. They were appearing from nowhere, seemed to be made of nothing more substantial than a heavy mistlike substance, and glowed the unmistakeable green of Lifestream. What could it mean, this happening now of all times? Was this the mythical 'Holy' the Captain had spoken of when last they had met? Shera racked her scientist's brain for answers, only to come up with nothing.
/Wait and see/, a gentle voice whispered in her ear, /wait and see/. She looked around for the source of the feminine voice (why did it seem so familiar?), but remained the only one standing in the field.
The Lifestream-tendrils were all but enveloping the countryside now, so thick and crowding one couldn't see the ground for them all. Each and every one was headed straight for the Meteor; some had already reached the horrible thing and were winding their way around its bulk, green versus orange-and-red in the sky.
There was a flash, so white and blinding Shera had to shield her eyes against it. When the blast of light subsided she lowered her hand, only to see ...
Not a thing.
Where seconds before there had been a Meteor taking up half the horizon, there was now blue evening sky, as calm and smooth as glass. In the field, where thousands upon thousands of Lifestream-tendrils had writhed and bunched mere minutes earlier, there was grass, waving gently as it had for a hundred years before. The gale had died down to a gentle breeze, the temperature had dropped refreshingly, and Shera knew for a fucking certainty there was no way she could be seeing this. Meteors did not just disappear. Weather did not just change. It was scientifically impossible. Things that large did not just stop and go away without disrupting the atmosphere in SOME fashion. There had to be fallout. And yet ... Here she was. Here they all were. A sudden thought graced her - Holy.
Good job, Captain.
They had succeeded, but what had it cost them? And where was her Captain now? As the other remaining inhabitants of Rocket Town began to venture out to stare at the sky in disbelieving awe, Shera made her way back to the house, stumbled through the open front door, and fell into an easy-chair, all the exhaustion and fear and worry coming down on her head at once. Her eyes closed, and she fell into a troubled and uneasy slumber.
In the dead of night - real night this time, not the clouded, unnatural thing Meteor had cast upon the world - Shera awoke to noises coming from the kitchen. With some disgust she realized she'd fallen asleep in the chair, and with even more trepidation recalled the back door had been left unlocked. Was there any way to get to her guns, if it really was an intruder? She mentally calculated her chances of getting to the bedroom without being spotted, then stiffened as once again a crash came from the back of the house. It sounded like it was getting closer ...
The slightly-built woman tensed and prepared to fight if confronted. She couldn't believe her bad luck; you would think that on the day the world had been saved from imminent death from the heavens burglars and thieves would take a damned break, but no. And she had left the door unlocked and all but put a flashing sign out front proclaiming EASY PICKINGS, CAPTAIN'S GONE, COME INSIDE! Shera mentally cursed her stupidity and crouched lower on the couch, hoping to not be spotted in the darkness of the house.
/Oh Captain, I wish you were here/.
In the dim illumination thrown through the windows by the waning moon, Shera saw a shadow darken the doorway that connected the kitchen to the living room. It hesitated, black against the blue moonlight, then took two more slow steps into the darkkness towards the cowering assistant engineer. She realized she had no choice but to flee and sprang away towards the doorway, stumbling over a footrest in her flight that fell over with a resounding bang. The intruder's head snapped upwards, and Shera knew it had spotted her.
With an eerily graceful bound, the shadow figure was after her. Two bounds, and it had caught up and grabbed Shera by the wrists, gripping them tightly in its own vice-like claws. She screamed and began to fight the assailant with every bit of strength left in her tiny body, but the mystery attacker had a grasp like tempered steel. The two grappled for several seconds in the dark, each trying desperately to gain the upper hand, before the creature finally managed to speak over the din of their ongoing battle.
"Sh--Sher--God DAMMIT Shera, it's ME! It's fucking ME!"
Dead silence for almost half a minute. Then a choked cry, and for the second time in eight days Shera was weeping into the Captain's chest. Huge, racking sobs shook the young woman's body as she clung to the man she loved. He held her close as tightly as his arms would allow, understanding for once what she was going through - Cid felt like crying himself, to be honest.
"God, I--Oh Bahamut help me, I thought I was never gonna get to see you again, Shera. It was so god-damned /big/, and ... and ... I love you."
And just like that, the words came out. It had taken the combined efforts of Sephiroth, Meteor, and the Grim Reaper himself staring the pilot in the face to drag them into the open, but there they were.
The two spent the rest of the evening together on the couch, holding onto one another tightly as they slept. No-one, not even grizzled Captain Cid Highwind, wanted to sleep alone that night. He doubted he'd ever want to sleep alone again, for that matter.