[Shattered] Dreams 68

Chapter Sixty-Eight : Frankly, My Dear

Finding Tseng was easier said than done, Sephiroth discovered with some annoyance. He knew very little of the Wutaiian’s habits so he didn’t go straight to the roof as he would to find Zack, and was forced to simply wander around the whole of Fort Condor. He asked a few people as he passed, but no one seemed to know where the Turk was. Nor could Sephiroth find either Rude or Elena, both of whom he could assume would know their commander’s location.

He had already searched the kitchens, the sleeping quarters, the meeting room and all of the upper levels, leaving him with very few options left. Neme had told him of the mostly abandoned lower levels and with some irritation, Sephiroth had reluctantly chosen that as his next destination. Either that, or he would have to admit that Tseng had simply disappeared off of the face of Gaia. Which was even more unlikely.

He had passed Archer and Nanaki about twenty minutes ago, but neither man had been any help either. They were heading towards the kitchens but promised to let him know if they saw Tseng. He didn’t suspect that they would. For some reason, Tseng was hiding and doing a damn fine job of it. Why, Sephiroth couldn’t be sure. By all accounts, Sephiroth was the one who had the right to hide considering what had happened. Only, he didn’t have that luxury.

With an aggravated sigh, Sephiroth pushed open the door to subbasement B and stepped into the long hall. Luckily, despite the fact they weren’t being used, they kept the main lights on. Not that he feared the dark and the mako certainly helped him see better than most people. But he didn’t fancy stumbling around in shadows searching for a missing Turk. It was akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

He peered into every empty doorway as he passed, flickering on lights and calling out for Tseng. He felt the fool each time he was meant with silence as well. It wasn’t until he came out of the fifth empty room that he found himself approaching two very devious looking woman. He wondered what in the hell they were doing on the deserted lower levels as he passed a few rooms to greet them in the middle of the hall.

“Sephiroth,” Shera greeted warmly, flashing him one of her kind smiles. She was the type of woman that he had hoped his mother would be like. “You’re looking well.”

Inwardly, Sephiroth winced. Yes, he probably looked much better than the last time anyone had seen him, half out of his mind and saying insane things. He knew that she hadn’t meant it the way it sounded, but it was like a stab to his pride nonetheless. He brushed a hand through his hair, feeling suddenly as if he was in disarray.

“Yes, I’m feeling much better,” he responded with a neutral nod before his eyes flickered to Elena. As one of those present at the meeting, he wondered what she thought of him now. Yet, he could discern nothing in her gaze except perhaps curiosity. Lingering signs of hatred and disgust, if there were any, were carefully hidden. Either Tseng had taught her well or they were never there to begin with. Sephiroth wasn’t about to conjecture.

“Is Zack doing any better?” Elena queried, her voice entirely neutral. Sephiroth couldn’t discern anything from her tone.

The former General sighed, his emotions deflating at the reminder. “No change,” he responded quietly, his gaze falling to the floor. “The doctors are doing the best they can but… they don’t know what’s wrong so they cannot fix it.” He needed no reminder as to who the blame should fall on. Yet, another something he was certain wasn’t intended but had the effect nonetheless.

Shera nodded sympathetically, one hand patting her belly comfortingly. “It is a terrible event,” she commented, brown eyes compassionate.

“I’ll have to go see him then,” Elena inserted, hastily changing the subject when the tension between them grew noticeable. It was obvious Sephiroth was still bothered by what had happened. “We are looking for Rude, have you seen him?”

Sephiroth shook his head, raising his gaze as he struggled to regain control of his emotions. “Sorry, no. I have been trying to find Tseng. You wouldn’t perhaps know where he is?”

Elena huffed, placing both hands on her hips as Shera giggled quietly beside her. “No. He’s been unsurprisingly invisible since the meeting.” She shook her head as her voice grew, clearly irritated. “That man is the best at disappearing. I know he’s hiding.”

Sephiroth’s brow furrowed. “Hiding?” he repeated, intrigued by her deduction since it was so similar to his own. “What from?”

Both women exchanged glances at his question, sharing a conspiratorial grin that made Sephiroth feel as if he was missing part of the conversation. He regarded the two curiously as they seemed to have a completely silent conversation and waited for them to speak. Suddenly, a prickle raced up his spine, seconds before a heavy weight draped across his back, putting his entire body on alert.

The scent of something spicy and mysterious wafted to his senses, a scent he recognized, as a chin settled on his shoulder. Before he could react, an arm curved around his waist, pulling him backwards against someone’s body. A muffled sound of protest escaped Sephiroth’s lips but it was interrupted by a voice.

“You’ve been looking for me?” a voice purred, sounding suspiciously like Tseng.

Sephiroth froze as the heat of the body behind him permeated through his clothes, almost as if by magic. The scent of some alcohol joined the strange spice, and every nerve in his body turned vigilant. He could feel breath ghosting across his throat as the head on his shoulder turned towards his own and the hand at his waist teased at a strip of bare flesh between his shirt and pants. Tseng’s other arm slipped around him, over his shoulder to drape across his chest and pull him tightly against the Turk’s front.

“T-Tseng?” he stuttered, barely managing to keep his voice above an embarrassing squeak. He felt like a teenager all over again for Kami’s sake. In front of him, both Elena and Shera were gaping in surprise, their eyes wide with a mixture of shock and amusement.

“Umm-hmm,” Tseng murmured teasingly, sounding not the least bit like his normal self. “You guessed right.”

Light brown eyes blinked. “Boss, have you been drinking?” Elena asked in a curious tone, a hint of something behind her words.

“Just a little,” he responded, turning his face towards Sephiroth and rubbing his nose against the slightly paler flesh of the former General’s throat. “You smell good,” he added, speaking directly to his captive. Sephiroth could feel the tickle of Tseng’s hair against the side of his neck and he unconsciously shivered. Why, oh why, wasn’t he trying to get away?

“Um, thanks,” Sephiroth responded tentatively, uncertain of what to do in such a situation. He inwardly cursed his lack of knowledge and his self-imposed celibacy that made every touch feel like electricity racing down his spine. And that damn hand wouldn’t stop caressing his stomach, making his skin tingle. Was he supposed to encourage Tseng or push him away, he wondered, all the while wishing that Zack were there to help him. He felt completely out of his league, trying to balance on a beam of ice while juggling balls of fire.

Elena sighed and placed a hand to her forehead. “Tseng,” she groaned. “I thought you were over this,” she continued as she shook her head before shifting her eyes to Sephiroth, suddenly seeming very devilish. “We’ll go get him some coffee and sober him up. Can you take him into a room so that he doesn’t hurt himself?” she requested.

Sephiroth felt his face flush before he could stop it. “I… what?”

Shera smiled however and simply patted him on the shoulder before gesturing to the room just behind him. It was the one he suspected Tseng had emerged from. “Don’t worry. I’ve heard he’s a pleasant drunk at least. We’ll be back quickly.”

“But I…” Sephiroth trailed off as Tseng rubbed against his back, a self-conscious flush spreading across his cheekbones in a very embarrassing manner. His normally pale flesh began to take on a scarlet tinge.

“I promise,” Elena assured him with a grin that did not seem the least bit heartening. “We’ll be back before you can miss us.” With her hands on Shera’s shoulders, she skillfully steered the pregnant woman down the hall, leaving Sephiroth alone with Tseng. Suddenly, he was at a complete loss as to what he was supposed to do.

A tongue snaked out and licked around the curve of his ear. “I thought they would never leave,” Tseng murmured, tracing the wet appendage around the shell.

The former General jumped in shock and skillfully eased out of Tseng’s hold. As pleasurable as that felt, he didn’t believe now was the time. “I think that you’re just a little bit drunk, Tseng,” Sephiroth stated, raising a slightly shaky hand to his head and brushing some hair out of his face.

“You’re just saying that because Elena said it,” Tseng responded, his voice dangerously close to pouting as he brushed down his white shirt, which had been untucked from his pants. Sephiroth hadn’t been able to see before but he noticed it now. Tseng was dressed down, his pants hanging loosely from his hips and the top three buttons of his shirt undone, displaying a tanned collarbone. The former General’s eyes seemed inexplicably drawn to that exposed flesh and he had to force himself to tear his gaze away.

Sephiroth sighed as his eyes flickered to the open doorway. “Maybe you should sit down,” he suggested, gesturing towards the door. He was truly at a loss for options. “We’ll wait on them to bring the coffee. I must ask you a question anyways.”

“Oh?” Tseng raised a brow, sounding mildly interested. “What kind of question?”

He was leering, the damned Turk was practically leering at him, Sephiroth was sure of it. He never thought he would ever see such an expression on the usually stoic man’s face. Then and there, Sephiroth made a vow to never drink so much himself. He had no urge to become so intoxicated that he no longer behaved rationally.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and grabbed Tseng’s arm, directing him into the room. “I’ll wait until you’re sober,” Sephiroth said as he flicked on the light, wondering why in the hell Tseng was drinking in the dark.

Tseng followed him inside as Sephiroth’s eyes swept around the room, taking in the rumpled bed and the table with an almost empty bottle of some unidentified alcohol perched on it. Tseng’s jacket was draped across the back of a chair. It truly looked as if he was hiding from something… or someone. Sephiroth frowned as he stepped towards the table, intent on examining the bottle to see what Tseng had been drinking.

“I’m not that drunk,” the Wutaiian mumbled petulantly from behind him. His booted footsteps echoed on the floor as he stepped further into the room. Sephiroth was hyper aware of Tseng’s presence, still able to feel the Turk’s breath lingering on his skin.

Sephiroth’s fingers wrapped around the bottle and he drew it closer, his eyes scanning the label. Vodka… and pretty strong stuff too, by the look of it. It wasn’t that he really knew much about it. Again, Zack was more of an expert. He frowned in thought, wondering just how much of it Tseng had consumed and why.

Arms slid around him again while he was contemplating as Tseng pressed himself against Sephiroth’s back. “We’re finally alone,” the Turk practically purred, his hands busying themselves by running all over Sephiroth’s muscled abdomen.

Sephiroth swallowed thickly, a shiver spreading through his body. He turned around in Tseng’s hold, feeling his ass pressed up against the table behind him. He had nowhere to go and reluctant to actually harm Tseng, he relented. Besides, there was a part of him that wanted it. The tingles racing across his skin and the definite arousal were all the proof that he needed. His heart beat rapidly in his chest as he broke out into a fine sweat.

“Alone?” he repeated, brain going into overdrive.

Tseng hummed appreciatively as his hands settled on Sephiroth’s hips. His silver eyes appeared to glow in the room as he leaned forward, nearly sharing the same breath as Sephiroth. “You know,” he began, breath ghosting across Sephiroth’s lips and causing the former General to unconsciously lick them. “You have really pretty eyes.”

With that, Tseng closed the few millimeters of space between them and kissed Sephiroth, pressing their lips together. Sephiroth let out a muffled sound of surprise, but didn’t push the man away. He relented to the feel of the soft lips against his and Tseng’s tongue teased along the seam of his lips, encouraging him to open his mouth.

The Turk stepped forward, positioning himself between Sephiroth’s legs and moving his hands until they were braced on the table on either side of the former General. Pushing closer, he let their lips slide together, wondering if this was perhaps the first time Sephiroth had ever kissed anyone. The moment Sephiroth parted his lips, Tseng’s tongue slipped inside and gently coaxed Sephiroth’s tongue to join him in the kiss.

Sephiroth’s mind completely shut down, one hand landing on Tseng’s hip and squeezing as if he needed something to hold onto. The other dangled limply and uselessly at his side, unsure of what he should do with it. A moan slipped from his lips, to be absorbed by Tseng’s kiss before he could stop it. Tseng’s tongue slid along his, caressing and consuming his thoughts with the taste of pure vodka.

One of the Turk’s hands left the table, moving to slide around Sephiroth. It laid first on his back and then slid down until it rest on the curve, just above the swell of his ass. He pressed forward, nearly molding their bodies together. The rigid line of his arousal pressed onto the inside of Sephiroth’s thigh, causing the General to freeze, his eyes popping open in surprise. Until Tseng’s tongue swallowed him, continuing to kiss him, slowly but not without an element of need, a slight hint of desperate passion.

A groan escaped his lips before he could stop it, muffled by Tseng’s mouth but present nonetheless as his heart beat a rapid rhythm in his chest. How often, when he was the man before Nibelheim, had he wondered about this? How often had he found himself daring to dream of better things than nightmares, things that involved lips and tongue and especially with the man presently before him?

It seemed very much like a dream and Sephiroth feared that it was. Because men like him weren’t supposed to celebrate the success of imaginings. He wondered when lightning was going to strike, or the world to shake, anything that would put a stop to him receiving what he had always wanted. Tseng’s mouth was soft and warm, sending every nerve in his body on edge. His thoughts seemed to be limited to one word, ‘more’, yet, on the periphery of his senses, rationality lingered.

Not only was Tseng just a bit drunk, but there was a war going on just beyond those four walls. And that was when Sephiroth realized this was his terrible event, that something such as this would happen when it couldn’t. Because there was a war, people were dying, and Zack! How could he forget about his best friend lying in an undetermined coma just several floors above him! He didn’t deserve such rewards.

With much reluctance, Sephiroth raised his hands to Tseng’s shoulders and gently gave him a push, to put some distance between them. He panted softly, as silver eyes raised to his. “We can’t do this,” the former General whispered, wishing he didn’t feel so much like a virginal schoolgirl even if it was half-true.

The Turk blinked at him as he allowed a few inches of space between them, backing up but not truly far enough to put Sephiroth’s spiraling thoughts back on balance. “Why not?”

“Because you’re drunk,” Sephiroth explained as he lowered his eyes, feeling as if he were being drawn in by Tseng’s silver orbs. He sighed, “And Zack is-”

“What about Zack?” Tseng interrupted, a strange note to his voice. “You’re not lovers,” he protested stubbornly, licking his lips as if to recover all lingering traces of Sephiroth’s taste.

He felt the force of the blush creeping into his cheeks no matter how hard he tried to fight it back. “No, but…” he paused and took a deep breath, attempting to regain control of the situation. “Maybe we should skip the coffee and go straight to a Heal.” In an effort to educate Sephiroth, Zack had once informed him that inebriation could be cured with a Heal. Of course, at the time Zack himself was suffering from a severe hangover and they were about to go on a mission. It was somewhat of a necessity that he be clear-headed.

“Then I don’t see why not,” Tseng stated as if that made all the sense in the world, pressing closer and shortening the small distance Sephiroth had made. It felt as if heat was radiating from his body, enfolding around Sephiroth and wrapping him in an cloak of desire. “I like you. I’ve liked you for a long time.”

Sephiroth felt a strange flutter in his heart at those words. “It- it’s just not a good time,” he whispered, already feeling his restraint fading away. He wanted to give in, he honestly did.

Those pale pink lips approached him again, fingers stroking along Sephiroth’s spine in an arousing fashion. He arched into the touch subconsciously as Tseng pressed closer, practically leaning the former General backwards across the table. Why couldn’t Sephiroth seem to form a coherent thought? By the gods he wanted to surrender.

“You are not attracted to me?” Tseng whispered, his breath a warm puff against Sephiroth’s lips. His tone was thick with need, silver eyes darkening with desire and a certain level of clarity. If Sephiroth hadn’t been so drunk by the new sensations, he might have noticed.

A low groan escaped Sephiroth before he could stop it. “Th- that’s not what I said,” he admitted desperately, not wanting Tseng to misunderstand. And was that his voice stuttering like a horny teenager? “I- I am.” His resistance was beginning to crumple if there was even anything left of it at all.

“Good,” Tseng purred before finally closing that millimeter of distance between them and kissing him once more. The Turk’s tongue slipped into Sephiroth’s mouth, a bit more dominating this time, a bit more needy, as he pulled their hips together. He began a slow grind, wanting Sephiroth to know just how badly he had been wanting to do such a thing.

The slightly taller man released a sound that was a cross between a whimper and a moan as one of his hands slid up to Tseng’s hair, tangling in the long, dark strands. His other hand clutched at the table top, needing something to steady himself as a fire began a slow burn through his body. All those urges he had forced into dormancy began to awaken.

Sephiroth unconsciously pulled Tseng closer, losing himself to those wonderfully arousing kisses. He had never imagined that a true kiss would feel anything like that. He loved Zack dearly but this was nothing like that one pity liplock he had gotten so long ago. It just didn’t seem right for a man’s lips to be that soft, for his mouth to taste that damn good. He could see himself getting addicted to Tseng’s taste and he couldn’t help but wonder why he had put it off for so long.

Yet, he couldn’t simply push aside the truth in the circumstances. With much reluctance, he somehow managed to pull together enough coherence to draw back from Tseng. He was panting slightly however, fighting against every urge to simply latch back onto those moistened lips.

“We shouldn’t,” he gasped, even though he really, really wanted to. Why was fate so against him that such a good thing would happen now when he couldn’t let it?

Silver eyes gleamed with desire as they regarded him thoughtfully. Inwardly, Tseng was arguing with himself. He needed it; he needed something. All of the memories and such from Sephiroth were still lingering in his mind and he had run out of alcohol long before it dulled the pain. There was nothing left to drown it out. But… he had chased after Sephiroth far too long to ruin anything.

“What do you want?” he finally asked, sounding surprisingly sober. He raised his other hand to pluck out the hem of Sephiroth’s shirt and slide his fingers beneath the fabric. “Don’t think about what we should or can do. All that matters is this second.” Immediately, he encountered warm, soft skin and he glided the exploring digits and his palm smoothly over a shuddering abdomen. Sephiroth sucked in a sharp breath as Tseng repeated, “What do you want?”

The former General hesitated, the words on the tip of his tongue to agree. Until his eyes shifted past Tseng to the doorway. His entire body seized up, freezing over completely as his eyes widened in unrestrained shock. A warm blush spread across his cheeks, almost turning his face brighter than Reno’s hair.

Feeling pretty certain that he knew who was behind him, Tseng reluctantly released his hold on Sephiroth. He hadn’t even heard the damn door open. He turned around, irritation causing his eyebrows to twitch. Sure enough, Elena was standing in the doorway, a coffee pot in one hand and a cup dangling from the other. The brown pot steamed, bringing with it the sharp scent of coffee.

“That was fast,” Tseng commented, not at all embarrassed by the situation. Behind him, Sephiroth made a strange sound which could have been a squeak if he were any other man.

Elena regarded her boss with some amusement before gesturing to him with the pot, liquid sloshing about inside. “I’m wondering if this coffee is going to be enough,” she said, cocking her hip to the side. Her eyes flickered briefly past him, landing on the furiously blushing Sephiroth. It was rather cute.

“My thoughts exactly,” Sephiroth gasped out, sliding out from in front of the table and easing his way free of Tseng’s hold. “I’ll just go get that Heal materia,” he finished, blushing furiously. He basically fled from the room, leaving the two Turks alone.

Once he was gone, Tseng turned away from his subordinate and rubbed a hand across his brow. He took several deep breaths to calm the raging arousal in his pants, inwardly cursing circumstance and his own foolishness. Of course, he didn’t spare Elena in the slightest either. He had been so close, so damned close.

“No, you weren’t,” Elena stated as if she had read his mind when she finished entering the room, shutting the door behind her with a bump of her hip. “You’re not that drunk.” She moved to stand beside him, setting the cup and pot down on the table. Her eyes flickered to the alcohol, which had fallen over and rolled on its side. “There wasn’t that much in the bottle to begin with.”

The Turk commander reached for his shirt, redoing the buttons that had been undone and making himself look more presentable. “Just drunk enough not to give a damn,” he muttered.

The blonde sighed. “And what did you think you were doing?”

Tseng shifted towards her, raking a hand through his hair and resituating the disturbed strands. He half-imagined he could still feel Sephiroth’s fingers entangling them. “Following your advice,” he remarked with a bit of sarcasm.

She threw up her hands in exasperation, stalking over to the other side of the room where she plopped herself down in a chair. “Now you listen to me!” she declared with some vexation. As Tseng poured himself a cup of the coffee and slowly sipped at it, she leaned back in her seat, eyeing him. “Why were you drinking?” she asked, already having half an idea as to the answer.

The older man’s hand paused halfway to his mouth, mid-sip. “Why do I ever drink?”

It seemed she hadn’t been so far from the truth. “Why don’t you try listening to them for once, Tseng?” she suggested. “Or at least talk to Aeris. You have that in common.”

Tseng shook his head. “That wasn’t it this time.”

Elena frowned, her brow furrowing as she tried to remember current events. Something would have had to set her boss off then… her eyes widened in sudden recollection. “Sephiroth?” she questioned disbelievingly, recalling what had happened in the conference room. After she had fled the premises, it was only later that she realized Tseng had not left with the others. He had been acting rather strangely.

The dark-haired male nodded, his eyes lowering and taking on a dark glint as he swallowed thickly. “I don’t know what happened to him in the past but I received enough feedback from what ever he was going through that I have a pretty clear impression that it was something no child should ever have to endure. I couldn’t block it no matter how hard I tried.” He paused, wincing as an arc of pain raced across his head, the price of trying to block it out. “I couldn’t understand most of it but… the emotions were enough.” They were more than he thought he knew how to deal with.

“And you thought the alcohol would help, as usual?” Elena asked, eyeing him curiously.

“If there’s enough, it drowns them out, mutes all the flashing images and voices but…” Tseng trailed off, a slight shudder running through his body as he sipped at the coffee. He didn’t know if there was enough alcohol in the world. Perhaps it was just fall-out from Sephiroth’s panic attack… but he felt tainted, dirtied… ashamed of himself. Even if he hadn’t done anything.

The female sighed as she shook her head. “You idiot,” Elena snorted. She paused then, tilting her head to the side as she recalled Sephiroth’s expression as he literally fled out the door. It was both a mix of embarrassment and desperate need.

She propped one hand on her chin, her elbow resting on her knee as a slow smirk spread across her lips. “Then again… maybe not.” In her mind, she knew that with only a bit more prodding, she could get the two together. Her plans were coming together perfectly.

Meanwhile, a good bit down the hall and hurrying faster than his pride thought respectable, Sephiroth was thinking along completely different lines of thought. He took deep breaths, trying to control himself and soothe down the rampantly running libido.

He had nearly given in. If Elena had never shown up… Sephiroth didn’t know how far he would have ended up taking things. But one kiss from the Turk and he had been lost, floating in a sea of desire and desperately seeking more. Of what, he had no clue, he just knew he had to have it. He wanted something. He wanted everything. And it was wrong because he wasn’t supposed to ask for privileges or rewards, he wasn’t supposed to be allowed to see his dreams come true. Not for men like him.

Men that Jenova most likely still had her grip on. He didn’t want to pull Tseng into that web, into the madness of his life. The Turk had enough to deal with without Sephiroth adding his problems onto him. It wouldn’t be fair.

With a final, resigned sigh, Sephiroth swallowed down any lingering traces of desire and immediately turned his thoughts onto more pressing matters. Such as finding the Heal so that he could cure Tseng and ask the man a rather difficult favor. And if he recalled correctly, Nanaki and Reno had been the ones to carry the small, restorative material.

Loath to disturb the somewhat volatile Reno, he decided that Nanaki would be his best bet. And in his earlier search, he had passed by both the demi-human and Archer heading to the kitchen. With that in mind, Sephiroth stopped and backtracked a little, heading to a hall he had passed in his earlier haste to simply get away. He only hoped that they were still there, otherwise he would be stuck hunting down yet more of his so-called crew.

Minutes later found him stepping inside the kitchen, which was actually warm and pleasantly scented. It was mostly deserted, understandable given that it was approaching midnight, but he could plainly see Archer and Nanaki standing at one of the counters, their backs to him. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, but the demi-human’s tail was twitching noticeably. Strange how he had never really paid attention to it before.

He cleared his throat to get their attention as he crossed the floor towards them. And when they turned, their eyes widened before they exchanged glances.

“Sephiroth,” Archer greeted, a strange note to his voice as he cast the other man an odd glance. “Were you looking for us?” One eyebrow twitched as amethyst orbs took in Sephiroth’s appearance.

Normally perfectly composed, the former General’s streaked hair was in complete disarray and one side of his shirt was untucked. His lips were swollen and slightly glistening, and lingering traces of a red blush were slowly fading from his high cheekbones. Plainly put, he looked as if he had just emerged from a mob of groping hands.

Sephiroth nodded at Archer’s question, still feeling somewhat off from his whole encounter. His veins thrummed in his body. “Could I borrow your Heal materia, Nanaki?”

The demi-human blinked at him before nodding, putting down a knife that Sephiroth belatedly noticed he was holding. “Sure,” he agreed, reaching with his free hand for his armlet where he kept the Heal. As he did, his eyes slid to Archer who was preparing to slap mustard on the sandwiches. “No, don’t do that,” he inserted hastily, bopping the other man with his elbow to prove his point as he picked out the small green sphere.

“Yuffie hates mustard.”

Archer chuckled lightly. “Know her that well, do you?” he teased, winking at Nanaki who dipped his head, trying to hide a faint blush. Amethyst eyes then flicked towards Sephiroth. “Is everything all right?” After all, it wasn’t often that Sephiroth came asking them for a restorative materia.

Unconsciously licking his lips as memories attacked him one right after the other, Sephiroth was forced to look away from the surprisingly probing stare. “Yes. Tseng just… had a bit too much to drink.”

The engineer’s brows rose nearly to his hairline as he reached for the stacks of yellow cheese without even looking. He was much more interested in Sephiroth’s current state. “Any idea why?” he asked while Nanaki tossed the Heal materia towards their leader.

“He was thirsty?” Sephiroth suggested on a mumble as he nimbly plucked the green sphere from the air and slipped it into his pocket. “Thank you, Nanaki.”

“No problem,” the demi-human chimed as he returned to Archer’s side, slapping the lunchmeat on the sandwiches and finishing them up. Behind them, Sephiroth turned and left without so much as a ‘goodbye’, his boots clomping on the tiles and quickly growing faint.

The two men left in the kitchen exchanged glances. “He went from having a panic attack to looking like he was mugged,” Nanaki commented as he reached for a plate and piled the sandwiches onto it. His tail swished behind him.

Archer smirked as he slid past Nanaki and opened up the fridge, grabbing up two bottles of water and two bottles of some unknown type of juice, he suspected Rabluberry. “Or laid,” he suggested.

The demi-human raised a brow. “Interesting. Very interesting.” He held up the plate. “Now let’s get these back before two ravenous females skin us alive.”

Archer laughed, already heading for the door. “Wise choice, my friend. A very wise choice indeed.”

He stood outside of the door, feeling both incredibly stupid and slightly nervous. Strange how easy it was for conflicting emotions to reside inside him. He didn’t know whether to turn and run, or curse himself for his foolishness. The door itself wasn’t intimidating, but the man inside, and his delicious tongue were. He wanted to go in but he didn’t. It was quite the quandary.

An amused chuckle teased along the edges of his mind. ‘A man of your strength, intimidated by a little kiss?’ Gilgamesh mocked in his usual teasing tone, which Sephiroth had found himself quickly growing to dislike. ‘Truly you are just a child.’

Sephiroth’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t ridicule me,” he hissed, shooting ocular fire at his anima. He hadn’t even realized he could do that in his mind until that moment. “I am going in,” he countered somewhat testily.

And just to prove the deity wrong, Sephiroth promptly raised his hand and knocked. After all, Elena was in there, wasn’t she? There wasn’t much Tseng would do with his subordinate standing right there. At least, that was what Sephiroth hoped. Gilgamesh just laughed all the louder, noticing that his animus had not denied being anxious, though he didn’t comment again.

The door slid open seconds later, revealing Elena’s face. She smiled when she saw Sephiroth, though it was more of a devious smirk. “We’re in luck,” she declared as she held the door open and gestured him inside. “The coffee seemed to be enough. He’s perfectly sober now.”

Sephiroth nodded, swallowing down any traces of nervousness, and stepped inside. Tseng was sitting on the bed, seemingly glaring at the ground as he sipped on a cup of coffee. He no longer looked as if he wanted to ravish Sephiroth before he could take two steps. The former General didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing. Had the attraction only been the alcohol?

“You wanted to speak to me?” Tseng asked, without even looking up from the mug.

“Yes.” He left it at that and the tension in the room went up another notch until it was nearly palatable. It left a strange taste in Sephiroth’s mouth, a tension that was a combination of both sex and trepidation.

From the door, brown eyes darted between them before Elena groaned and shook her head. “You two are hopeless,” she declared, startling both of them from their staring contests with the floor (Tseng) and the wall (Sephiroth). “And here I thought you had made some progress.” When the eyes of both, mature and grown adults turned to look at her, slightly perplexed, she waved them off. “I’m going to see if Shera’s found Rude yet and peek in on Zack. I’ll catch you later, Tseng.”

With that, she sauntered out of the room, the door closing with a quiet click behind her that sounded all too loud in the tensional silence of the room. Especially to Sephiroth. He wasn’t any good at this.

Tseng sighed, an annoyed, blustery sound as his subordinate finally made herself scarce. “She never stops,” he muttered, somewhat to himself. He sipped at the coffee, swallowing down the bitter taste of the black liquid.

Feeling incredibly awkward, Sephiroth wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do or say next. He shifted uncomfortably in his stance, cursing as he heard Gilgamesh laughing at him in the back of his mind. His eyes flickered to Tseng briefly, remarking at how quickly the man sobered up. He had only been gone for twenty minutes at the most unless…

Tseng rose to his feet suddenly, distracting Sephiroth’s thoughts as he turned towards the former General, his face back to that unreadable, impassive mask. He set the coffee cup on the table with a slight clunk, the cup only about half-empty. It was mostly for appearances sake anyways.

“I won’t ask about what happened in the conference room,” Tseng began slowly, his gaze carefully noting Sephiroth’s attempts to hide the sudden stiffening of his body at the reminder. “That’s not my place or my right.”

Sephiroth struggled to regain control at the statement that seemed pulled out of nowhere. “Very well,” he replied, uncertain where this game was heading since that’s exactly what it seemed to be, some sort of speaking game where they said everything they wanted to say without using the right words. “I suppose in return you don’t want me asking about the alcohol.”

The Turk commander flinched visibly before he could clamp down on it. “It’s not important anyways.”

“I see,” Sephiroth responded, shifting again.

‘You are terrible at this,’ Gilgamesh chuckled in the back of his mind. ‘And you’re doing a wonderful job of skirting around every issue of importance.’

Indignation flared up before he could stop it. (Quiet!) Sephiroth hissed inwardly. (If you don’t have anything useful to say, then just don’t say anything at all.)

Gilgamesh merely laughed again but did disappear into the background. ‘I’ll just watch the show from here,’ he murmured, sitting quietly in the far area of Sephiroth’s thoughts, leaving his presence a very faint trace.

Biting back another sharp reply that would have been superfluous, Sephiroth decided to just dive right in. The situation couldn’t get any more tense, after all. “I need you to use your abilities, Tseng,” he finally requested.

The Turk immediately whirled to face him, his mouth slackening with surprise. “Pardon?” he asked, blinking. “Could you repeat yourself? Because I don’t think I heard you right.”

Sephiroth regarded him levelly, wondering if perhaps that might have been the wrong method. Too late to go back now. “We need to find Balaam,” he explained. “None of the other anima can locate him because he is cloaking his aura from them. You’re the only one that can. And before you ask, no, Valentine can’t sense him either.”

Tseng’s jaw set rigidly. “Have you conveniently forgotten that I can’t use them?” he demanded sharply, a cold trickle of fear racing down his spine. Of all people, Sephiroth was the last he expected to demand something like this from him.

“It’s not that you can’t but you won’t,” Sephiroth retorted and Tseng glared, in his eyes a mix of fear and apprehension. He sighed and amended his words. “Gilgamesh tells me that your other, your anima, could help you control them, if you would only let him.”

The Turk stared. “You don’t understand what you are asking of me,” Tseng said after a moment. He turned away from Sephiroth and reached for his abandoned coffee cup, needing something to hold on to. “I can’t just push aside years of building up walls.”

Sephiroth shifted where he stood, a frown beginning to mar his features. “Have you even tried?” he coaxed. “Because if not, then this world might as well start sending in its last prayers. We can’t stop Balaam if we don’t know where he is.”

“Oh, no pressure,” Tseng sniped, silver eyes flashing. “Either I turn into a screaming wreck or the world goes to shit. What a choice.”

Green-grey eyes narrowed as annoyance gradually swelled. “If there was anything else I could have done, I would do it,” Sephiroth returned. “But there’s not, Tseng.”

The Turk shook his head, feeling his body begin to trembled as he sipped at the coffee cup, though he doubted the caffeine would ease his nerves. Already he could hear the whispers in the back of his mind, the tears and the pleas. He could see images of lives he hadn’t lived, hear the low murmur of someone elses’ conversation. It was too much. Fear gripped him.

“I can’t,” he responded, barely above a whisper. “I just… I can’t.”

Sephiroth stared at his back, his gaze raking over the lines of tension yet he gritted his teeth nonetheless. “You would rather we all die? Is that it, Tseng?” he demanded, hands beginning to steadily clench and unclench at his sides. He wasn’t willing to accept that it would end just like that. “You want to give up now and wait for death to claim us?”

“That’s not what I said!” Tseng snarled, whirling around and sloshing coffee all over the place. Black liquid splattered to the floor but he ignored it, squeezing the cup so tightly that it almost cracked. “I’m telling-”

“What?” Sephiroth interjected, cutting him off as he took a step forward. “If you’re not even going to try than there’s no point in hoping for anything else.” He slashed a hand through the air, an irrational anger with the stubborn man burning through his veins.

“I can’t!” Tseng roared, a bit of anguish and fear peeking through in his voice. All measure of calm vanished as silver eyes darted around as though he were looking for an escape. “I can’t control them! I can’t even fucking listen to them! You don’t know what it’s like!”

Jade eyes flashed. “I don’t know what its like?” he repeated frostily. “Have you forgotten who I am?” Sephiroth clenched his teeth, turning violently away from the Turk as his body began to tremble without his consent. His own memories were beginning to crop up inside of him.

“You’re not the only one! My madness destroyed Cloud’s home and tried to kill you. My madness is barely under my control. I fear every damn moment I am here that I might lose my tenuous grip on sanity. But at least I’m trying. At least I’m not a coward!” The last was punctuated by the sound of Sephiroth’s fist slamming into the wall, splintering the concrete as easily as if it were mere cardboard.

He yanked open the door, jerking it open and storming outside before Tseng could even say another word, slamming it in his wake. The Turk blinked, his breathing ragged as he tried to control his surging emotions. The coffee cup crashed to the floor, falling from nerveless fingers as he struggled to find his breath. Widened eyes stared unseeing at the far wall.

Sephiroth was right, dammit. And Tseng had been trying to deny it. Yes, he was scared. Yes, he didn’t even want to try. It wasn’t that easy, to push aside all his efforts to conceal something as strange as his abilities. Lingering memories of his mother were constantly raging in his mind. He feared that if he even dared let go of his own tenuous hold, that nothing would ever be the same again.

He could still hear echoes of their accusations in his ears, could still recall his mother’s weeping and the dead look in her eyes. He would never forget what it felt like to be alone, forever marked by the damn jewel on his forehead he refused to remove. The old echoes would never fade, and he felt like he would never stop seeing himself in a broken mirror.

Yet, without him, there was little chance of locating Balaam. The world would fall to ruin because of his cowardice. Could he live with that on his conscience? Would he even be alive to regret his mistakes or Balaam quickly slay them all on principle alone?

He could already feel them, the million voices screaming in terror and pain, wondering what they had done to suffer their cruel fate. His head rang and Tseng winced as his knees buckled, hands automatically pressed to his temples as if to hold his shattering head together.

‘I would help you, my animus, if you would but let me.’ The voice slithered into his mind, taking advantage of his moment of weakness. It was deep and resonant, irretrievably kind, but the pain it always brought, the fear, made Tseng feel as if he were speaking with a demon.

He gritted his teeth and tried to force himself to stand up straight, shutting his eyes against the slow throb. “No,” he denied, though he could already feel himself caving. What was one more insanity? What was one more pain?

Yet, the voice refused to leave this time. ‘You know me,’ the demi-deity continued. ‘When the shadows spoke, where did you turn for comfort, Tseng? When your mother passed… who did you whisper your fears to?’

The Turk’s mouth went dry as he stiffened, memories stalking his mind and invading every shadow quickly. Alone… he had always been alone except for his one comfort, the one item he had never been able to get rid of. The ratty old toy had been his treasure, despite the fact that it was missing one eyes and the stuffing kept trying to emerge from stitches Tseng just couldn’t ever fix well enough.

‘I’ve always been closer than you think,’ his animus finished, tone gentle and soothing.

Tseng inhaled swiftly, not even realizing he hadn’t breathed. “O-Orthrus?” he whispered, voice barely able to be discerned as a question.

Something surged through the room, a burst of power that emerged as a gust of wind, fluttering across Tseng’s face. “That’s right,” a voice announced, the same tone as the one in his head.

The Turk opened his eyes, getting his first glimpse of the demi-deity that had claimed to be able to help him. Dark hair, grey robes, a spell-caster’s build… but it was in the eyes that he found the most recognition. Dark eyes, blacker than coal and darker than night, locked on him. And that same feeling of calm, the strange aura that his stuffed animal always seemed to radiate when he needed comfort was there.

He had had it with him all along. And all Tseng could do was gape.

“It took you long enough,” Orthrus said with a huff, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared at his animus. “I thought I was going to have to watch the battle from the sideline.”

The human swallowed thickly. “I didn’t want it,” he responded quietly, a subtle trembling beginning to radiate throughout his entire body. “My whole life… all I could do was hide it and push it aside.” He shook his head, dark hair swinging into his face. “I didn’t want to be like her.”

Orthrus’ harsh gaze softened at the helpless expression that came over his other’s face. “I know,” he replied gently. “I was there the entire time, watching but unable to do anything. It is our law. Until we are acknowledged, we must stand idly by.” He frowned slightly. “It is one of many that I am beginning to disagree with.”

Tseng shifted uncomfortably on the floor. “You said you would help me?” he asked, somewhat tentatively. “Because I can never understand them. And Sephiroth was right.”

The demi-deity nodded. “It’s all a matter of instinct really. You’ve spent so long trying to block them out that they are garbled because of it. Once you actually open your senses and actively seek out your ability, they should come easily… perhaps too easily. You have to be careful.”

It seemed simple enough. Tseng nodded as he listened, chewing his bottom lip in thought as was becoming a bad habit for him to do. His eyes wandered to the floor as he began to concentrate, for once in his life poking at the small throb of voices at the base of his skull, the dull roar of a constant litany of voices that was always present but he ignored. He did so somewhat tentatively, half-afraid of the pain that he knew would come as well as the consequences.

It was irrational, that belief that his ancestors would burst out of some corner the minute he did and declare him a witch. Then again, what more could they do that they hadn’t already done. He could never return to his homeland… his parents were dead. He had spent most of his life denying a part of himself to simply remain anonymous. All that could be taken was his family, the Turks, and they seemed quite determined to stay.

Tseng took a deep breath, that knowledge made it easier, and closed his eyes. Orthrus’ explanation washed over him as he gradually, and ever so slowly began to expand his senses. The walls he had built up began to crumble into pieces, dust carried away on the wind to leave behind this rhythm and rock of noise. He dimly felt a pulse of something echo around the room, power or something, the Turk commander couldn’t quite be sure.

And then he heard them, first quiet and mumbled, indistinct and hazy as they had sounded when lingering at the edge of his conscious. Blurry faces joined each tone and his head flared with a light pain, but it was not something he couldn’t handle. Gritting his teeth, Tseng clenched his hands at his sides and probed with his powers once more, each word and face gradually coming into view.

There were so many of them though. Literally thousands of people and their words, cycling through his brain faster than he could latch onto them. Complaints, expressions of love, quiet murmurings, soulful cries of anguish, each murmured or shouted phrase was another fan to the fire, another strike of the hammer to add to the pounding in his brain. But Tseng was determined to endure it. They couldn’t win this battle unless they knew where Balaam was.

Orthrus’ presence was becoming little more than a vague outline on Tseng’s senses as the Turk tried to concentrate on finding just one individual among the multitude. He focused on surges of power, on males, on anything that would leave him remotely close to the demi-deity. And then he felt it, a tiny blink of something that did not usually belong on Gaia. A feeling of presence that was far too ancient to be alive and then he knew, there could be only one that could make that feeling… a demi-deity. He felt the same radiating from Orthrus at his side.

The pain was beginning to escalate, from a dull throb to a radiating spike. His face burned, his skin tingled and crawled but that didn’t stop him in the slightest. He was so close, even if he felt like his head was going to explode. His knees buckled beneath him, shaking for a few precious seconds before completely giving out on him and Tseng crumpled to the floor, only half-wondering why Orthrus hadn’t caught him before concentrating solely on that pulse of presence.

Then he felt hands on his shoulders. “Tseng!” Orthrus demanded, his voice barely piercing the Turk’s concentration. “Stop! You’re taking on too much.”

The Wutaiian panted and shook his head, refusing to even open his eyes lest he lose his tentative hold on that presence, that voice that was far too old. “No…” he managed to gasp out, feeling as if every breath was a struggle. A strange feeling of pressure settled on his chest. “I have to… find him.”

He clenched his fingers, nails scraping against the floor. Somewhere to the south… a bit to the east… he centered in on that blip of tone, slightly mocking and condescending, filled to the brim with age. He deafened his ears to Orthrus attempting to make him stop. If he didn’t find out now, he might not get another chance. More pain radiated through his mind and he gasped before could pull back, yet he was also unerringly latched on Balaam.

Only a few more seconds…

A tropical island, to the northeast of Mideel, a new place where the lifestream was welling up, Tseng was certain of it. His arms started to shake but pressed on nevertheless. He had never heard of this island, as far as he was aware it had no name. Then there! Like a clarion trumpet call he heard him, loud and clear as if he were speaking and standing right next to Tseng.

Something about… Apocalypto? That the seal was nearly broken? And Vincent? Tseng squinted, trying to ignore the knocking on his brain and the encroaching blackness. And then, as if sensing that someone was there, a strange look crossed over Balaam’s face and he turned and stared, directly towards Tseng’s invisible eyes. Dark orbs seemed full of madness, determined for destruction and a shiver of uncountable dread overtook Tseng, causing his body to shudder uncontrollably.

It all seemed lost in that moment, and he was filled with such a surge of hopelessness and despair that it made him grow nauseous. He lost what little control he had over his ability and spiraled, letting the approaching blackness take over his mind as his head throbbed. His last conscious realization was the sound of the door pounding and Orthrus repeatedly calling his name in a worried tone.

And then the darkness came.


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