[Shattered] Children 02

Chapter One: Falling Inside the Black

The helicopter rumbled noisily around them, the steady whirr of the blades a very comforting sound. The cold wind beat harshly against the chopper, seeking to knock it from the sky. Only Sion’s firm hand on the throttle kept them from instant death. If she didn’t have complete faith in the scientist’s abilities, Elena might have been tempted to take the helm from him.

She leaned towards the window, her eyes scanning the rugged ground beneath them in an attempt to find a somewhat safe place to land. It was difficult to see, however, thanks to the blanket of mist that covered the terrain. She could barely make out the dim glow of the Lifestream from where it pooled in the center.

“There’s relatively flat ground to the north,” Zack suggested, his voice coming in clear through the headset. He sat in passenger’s seat behind Sion and Elena, also searching. “We’ll have to hike but it shouldn’t be a problem.”

The blonde pursed her lips, following his directions and finding said site. “Looks good to me. See it?”

Sion nodded,dark grey eyes sliding to glance out the window, reddish hair slipping into his face. “That’ll work. Hold on, I’m taking her down.” He steadied his grip on the throttle, carefully angling the helicopter towards the tract of land.

The wind buffeted at the side of the chopper, putting up a good fight. Elena couldn’t help gripping onto her armrest, gritting her teeth against the uncomfortable shaking. She didn’t fancy plummeting to her death. Therefore, she was thanking the gods when they finally landed safely, though not without a noticeable jerk.

“I’ll have to leave her running,” the technician announced as he took off his head set and hung it on the peg in front of him. “Otherwise the rotors will ice up and then we’ll never get out of here.”

Zack nodded in understanding as he shifted forward in his seat and slid the door open, a blast of cold air whipping him in the face. “I doubt there’s anything here that will steal her,” he said, sliding out of the helicopter and touching down on rocky ground.

He groaned, stretching his arms above his head. The noise of cracking bones floated to his ears, along with two doors slamming shut as Sion and Elena joined him outside the helicopter. The technician was weighted down with more machines, receivers, and technology than Zack could even identify, looking as if his slight frame would topple over at any moment.

Elena grinned lightly, ruffling the younger man’s hair. “Need some help, Sion?”

He shook his head, dislodging her hold and trying to move his hair from his eyes. But the wind made that near impossible. “I’ve got it, Miss Elena.”

Reaching back into the chopper and pulling out his sword, Zack quickly shrugged it into place. “Come on, ‘Lena. You know better than to question a man’s pride,” he commented with a grin, teasingly.

Elena rolled her eyes. “You have none,” she countered, slipping a hand into her pocket and pulling out a rubberband to tie her hair back.

“So says you.” Zack smirked and turned away, his gaze sweeping over the sloping rocky ground as it dipped down into the crater. He could barely make out the churning green mass of the Lifestream pool a short hike away.

“I see,” Sion muttered to himself, his words attracting their attention.

Zack and Elena turned towards the scientist, finding him kneeling a good distance away and examining something they could not see. They headed his direction, picking their way carefully across the ground.

“What is it?” the Turk asked, crouching down next to him.

The technician lifted up a device, covered in rust. “It’s been corroded,” he explained simply. “I don’t know how. Doesn’t look like water but something else.” He frowned, shifting to the side to shove the broken instrument into his pack. “I’ll have to take it back to the lab to really figure it out.”

Elena sighed, her brow furrowing. “That doesn’t sound good,” she mumbled before rising to her feet. “What do you think, Zack…?” her words trailed off as she caught sight of her lover, seemingly entranced by something. She followed his gaze, which was locked on the glimmering green of the mako pool.

“Zack?”

“What is that?” the former SOLDIER murmured to himself as he headed towards the glow, stumbling slightly on the rocks.

Concerned, Elena followed after him, trying to peer through the increasingly thickening mist. “Zack?”

He acted as if he didn’t hear her, moving swiftly down the slope. Within seconds, he was standing at the edge of the Lifestream. He knelt and reached for something in the shallows, fingers wrapping around an object that seemed to be surrounded in a darkish light. Zack shuddered, a malevolent feeling ghosting across his skin as he tugged the strange item towards him, bringing it closer for inspection.

And then he heard them, sibilant whispers on the edge of his mind.

My children… my son… come to me.

His eyes widened and he abruptly dropped the item, scuttling away from it almost immediately, an unmanly noise threatening to escape from his mouth. He recognized that voice, had learned to block it from his mind. He knew that pleading tone. And he was certain, that his best friend had heard it all too much.

“Zack? What the hell’s the matter with you?” Elena demanded, frowning at her lover’s strange behavior.

He shook his head, crystalline eyes locked on the darkly glowing object. “Jenova,” he muttered, hating how shaky his voice was.

He didn’t like the idea of voices in his head. He had only a small amount of Jenova in him, his body hadn’t accepted them during those experiments. But even he had heard her clear as day. He couldn’t imagine what Sephiroth was forced to endure.

Elena’s eyes widened as she looked down at the small object, its true shape barely visible beyond the glow. If not for the dark coloring, it would almost be innocuous, like a fallen star or something similar. It was hard for her to believe that it was Jenova but she knew that Zack wouldn’t be mistaken about something like that.

“What should we do with it?” Sion asked, having come to investigate when he noticed their odd demeanor.

“Destroy it,” Zack uttered, sounding slightly strangled. “Get rid of the bitch.”

The technician shook his head, in immediate disagreement. “If we do that, we may be getting rid of our only chance to cure the Geostigma. What if it is caused by Jenova? We can’t afford to lose this opportunity,” he reasoned.

Sion shrugged,letting a bag slip from his shoulder. He crouched to dig around in it, finally producing a small, black box with ‘Hazardous Materials’ printed plainly on the sides. A quick twist of his wrist and one end of the box opened up, swinging aside to show that it was empty.

“I can preserve it, no problem,” he added, scooping the glowing piece into the box and rapidly screwing the lid closed atop it.

Zack visibly tried to regain control of himself as he rose to his feet, swiping a hand over his suddenly sweaty face. “It would be better to just destroy her now,” he argued, his other hand already creeping towards the sword on his back. The road to hell was paved with good intentions, and the bodies of far too many good men.

Elena was hedging between the two. Both had valid points. In the end, however, it wasn’t their decision to make. It was Reeve’s. And she knew he would always vote for the people. She could count on her boss to destroy Jenova in the end, but only after exhausting all resources to find a cure for the Geostigma disease. She trusted Reeve not to perform terrible human experiments.

“It doesn’t matter,” she remarked with a sigh, knowing Zack would hope that she would take his side. “It’s Reeve’s decision, not ours. You know you can trust him, Zack.”

The former SOLDIER looked as if he might argue before stiffly nodding his head in agreement. “Then let’s get the fuck out of here. There’s nothing left to do.”

Sion thought it wise not to comment further and moved quickly to stuff the Jenova remnants into his pack. He froze, however, when a voice suddenly emerged out of the fog.

“Put her down.”

Zack and Elena whirled towards the voice, taken by surprise since they hadn’t heard anyone approach. Three forms were stepping out of the mist, dressed in black attire but the rest of their features still hidden by the fog. Immediately, the two fighters closed ranks, Sion shouldering his bag and putting himself nervously between them. He was a technician, not a fighter.

“I said, put her down,” the same voice repeated, the sounds of booted feet crunching over stone now audible.

Zack gritted his teeth, hand moving to the hilt of his sword to draw at a moment’s notice. “Who’s there?” he demanded, eyes trained on the approaching figures.

Moments later, it took all of his self-control to stop his jaw from dropping. The three men that stepped out of the mist could have been Sephiroth’s younger brothers. All had the same pale skin, gleaming silver hair of various lengths, and shimmering jade eyes. They were dressed in black leather, and the weapons visible did not look to be for show.

Elena gasped, her fingers curling around her Flare Gun. “What the hell?” she demanded. “Who the fuck are you?”

The one in the middle, shorter than the others and with layered hair brushing his shoulders, smirked. “Those who are about to die, have no need to know,” he responded, completely self-assured.

An uncertain feeling crept up Zack’s spine. He did not like the madness glinting behind the gaze of that one. He drew his sword, the metal whisping from the sheath with an evident hiss. “Sion,” he uttered lowly, never taking his eyes off the new arrivals. “Take the sample and run.”

Brown eyes darted his direction. “We fight?” Elena stated, flicking the safety off.

Zack nodded. He only hoped they weren’t as skilled as the man they resembled. Otherwise he and the Turk wouldn’t stand a chance. Against one Sephiroth, Zack could barely handle his own. He didn’t dare think of the skill involved in surviving against three.

“What do you think, nii-san?” one of the males murmured, his voice a silken purr. Long strands slid off his shoulder with a flick of his hand. “Shall we kill…”

“… or play?” the last finished, taller and broader than the others.

“Don’t mock us,” Elena spat angrily, irritated that their opponents obviously weren’t taking them seriously.

The middle one tilted his head to the side, eyes narrowing slightly. “Let Mother go and perhaps we’ll make your deaths quick.”

Zack growled low in his throat. “Sion! Go!” he ordered before abruptly darting forward,

First Ken raised in a broad slash aimed for any one of his three opponents.

The technician swallowed down a squeak and nodded, shifting his heavy bags before abruptly taking off as fast as he could scrabble across the ground. Fear was pulsing heavy in his heart and he didn’t dare look back.

“Loz!” the one who seemed to be the leader barked.

Tall and Broad jerked his head in acknowledgment, grinning as he moved to follow Sion. Until a gunshot went off at his feet, sending a blaze of fire exploding in front of his face. Green eyes whipped Elena’s direction, narrowing in anger as she calmly aimed again, determined to allow Sion time to get away. The sound of metal clanging on metal floated to her ears as Zack encountered the shortest man.

“You want to play?” Loz asked, sounding far too young for his size.

Elena’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed off another round, her other hand already creeping to her back where she kept a second gun, this one charged with something a bit more powerful. Her opponent deftly avoided the shot, seeming to disappear before reappearing again, this time closer. He closed his fingers, making a fist and cracking every knuckle in a very intimidating noise.

It was like facing down Sephiroth and Elena didn’t like it one bit.

On the other side of her, Zack gritted his teeth, his blade meeting his opponent’s strange sword with a ringing shriek. The slimmer male smirked and twisted away, performing a fluid movement that he had only ever seen Sephiroth use. It was beyond the scope of normal human abilities. An uncertain feeling of worry began to settle in Zack’s belly and in that moment, he was glad that his best friend was currently AWOL.

“Who are you?” Zack demanded again, fingers tightening on the hilt of his sword. ‘And why the hell do you look like Sephiroth?’

His opponent merely smirked and came at him again, quick slashes that Zack could only block as he was pushed steadily backwards. From the corner of his eye he caught movement.

Without thinking, he threw out a Bio in the direction of the third male he had nearly forgotten about. The purplish-green slammed into his body but surprisingly, the brat just shook it off, raising a weapon that mysteriously resembled a gun and sword combination. A bullet slammed into Zack’s shoulder, throwing him off balance. He grunted and faltered, giving his other opponent enough time to strike the First Ken from his hold. It scattered across the ground far from his reach.

Blood dripped down his arm, plopping scarlet onto the misty ground. Zack huffed, surprised at his shortness of breath as he clutched the wound and glared at the two men who were likely brothers. They had the same seductive and snide smirk.

He heard a cry of pain and Zack whipped his head to the side, watching as Elena was punched square in the stomach, her breath whooshing out of her in one big huff. Her guns clattered to the ground from nerveless fingers as she dropped, the tallest man standing over her victoriously.

“Elena!” Zack shouted, already turning to head to her side. In the distance, he heard the sound of rotors whipping through the air and was greatly relieved to learn that Sion had escaped. One less thing to worry about.

Then one of the brats suddenly appeared in front of him, almost as if he had teleported in a split-second. He caught a glimpse of overly-bright and catlike green irises before pain flared across the back of his head. He saw stars and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He slumped to the ground, lost to the world of darkness.

Zack’s unconscious body struck the rocky soil harshly and his opponents stood over him, calmly returning their weapons to their sheaths.

“What should we do with them, Kadaj?” Loz asked, cracking his neck after the short battle. He hadn’t even broken a sweat, nor did he have much fun. It was very disappointing.

The third male – Yazoo – crouched down next to Elena’s prone body, fingering her blond hair. “Kill them?” he asked, tilting his head to the side in consideration.

Kadaj frowned, examining their fallen foes intently. Something pulsed in his brain as he stared at the dark-haired man, making him wince. “No,” he decided. “They know where Mother is. We’ll make them tell us.” Putting a hand to his forehead, he walked away. “Tie them up. We’ll take that ShinRa scum back to the camp.”

Yazoo smirked as he accepted the rope his elder brother handed to him. “It sounds like fun,” he commented, deft hands knotting the restraints around the woman.

“Maybe I can play with this one, ne?” Loz asked, nudging the unconscious Zack with his foot. The former SOLDIER didn’t stir.

Both of them snickered.

Boots crunched over rock and the two looked up to see their youngest brother returning, control back in his expression. “After we find out what we need, you can do whatever you want.”

Kadaj smirked.


Useless…”

Failure…”

Get rid of him.”

He felt as if those words were etched into his brain. Kadaj knew they weren’t speaking about him, of course. No, those hateful words were for his eldest brother. It wouldn’t be long before they would be repeated for Yazoo as well. And then Kadaj would be all alone with the needles and the tests, and the cold eyes staring at him behind harsh, reflective lenses.

There wouldn’t be anyone to wipe away tears that never made it past the tip of his chin, or to comfort him when he sobbed in the dead of the night. Silent weeping that wasn’t allowed to be heard beyond the small cell he had called home from the moment he was born. A simple square chamber with cot and toilet, much like a prison. Only this one didn’t hold criminals but test subjects.

Failures, many, many failures.

It was for that comfort, that emotion, that Loz had been evaluated as a complete and utter disappointment. He was too expressive, too quick to smile, too quick to cry. He cared for his brothers, and in the eyes of the researchers and the scientists, that made him too weak to be their next Sephiroth. But they had already sensed their impending failure and Yazoo was in the process of receiving his next round of treatments.

ShinRa wasn’t wasting any time in capitalizing on what they considered to be a valuable resource.

Kadaj knew, however, with the eagerness they threw his direction, that it wouldn’t be long before Yazoo was tossed away like trash. Never mind that he was human, or as close to it as they could be with their alien cells and the mako and endless tests. Never mind that they had given him life. They thought it meant that they had the right to take it away.

If he was meant to be so strong, Kadaj wondered why he felt so powerless now.

The youngest brother, the youngest son of Alice and Euphraim Hojo, drew his knees up to his chest and huddled on his cot, pressed into the furthest corner of the door. The very young part of him thought that if he made himself tiny, maybe he would become invisible. Maybe he would even disappear. To the Promised Land like their predecessor had once believed in. To somewhere happier. An existence without pain. He was too young to have such thoughts.

A scream, thin and strangled echoed out of the vents and Kadaj’s blood began to run cold. He was selfish to be glad that it wasn’t him making that ragged noise. He felt guilty because he recognized the voice. His very own brother, his flesh and blood. His own body ached in sympathy and he clenched his eyes against the cry.

It wouldn’t be long before Yazoo was trash as well. He didn’t know how to bite down against the pain. He didn’t know how to pretend that it didn’t hurt.

Yazoo wasn’t as strong as Kadaj or Loz, but he had brother’s beauty. That seductive charm that could make an army fall in love with him, maybe even to its death. He had the grace and the intelligence, but not the speed or skill. He didn’t have the strength either.

And Yazoo had inherited Sephiroth’s dependency. While ShinRa thought they could use that to manipulate that to their advantage in the beginning, they were now viewing it as a definite imperfection.

Kadaj could see it in their eyes. They weren’t satisfied with Yazoo either. And now that they had him, the newest and possibly last child, there would be no use left for the other two. He hadn’t seen Loz in a week, since they locked him in his own room. They never could figure out how he kept escaping.

His skin prickled and the youngest Sephiroth clone shivered, his flesh pimpling. It was always cold and sterile, an endless sea of harsh white light that was probing and bright. He hated it, hated them. There was something burning inside of him, both hot and cold, building in the pit of his belly. He was certain it was hatred, it was a desire to destroy. It was pure, unadulterated loathing.

He didn’t tell them that he heard the whispers, heard her whispers. And his brothers didn’t either. It wouldn’t have made a difference for Yazoo or Loz but Kadaj knew, there would be more tests for him. More needles and mako and nights spent curled up in a ball underneath his bed, trying not to vomit everywhere. Hiding from the boogeyman in the form of his mother.

No, that was wrong. That woman wasn’t his mother. She birthed them, she carried them in her womb, but she wasn’t his mother, their mother. She didn’t murmur to him in the quiet, promising and giving comfort. She didn’t speak of what theydeserved. She didn’t talk about fire, burning bright and cleansing.

Butshe did. That alien, that Jenova

Kadaj supposed that the researchers thought they could prevent another Sephiroth if they made the knowledge clear exactly what he was. They didn’t hide anything. He knew that Jenova was ingrained into his body. He knew that he was the product of a science experiment. In fact, most of them seemed to delight in explaining in great detail exactly what method of torture was on the menu for the day. He never showed his fear, though. That might have disappointed them.

In any case, there was only one reason he spared Alice Hojo a vicious death in the back of his mind. It was because of her that their father, their sperm donor, hadn’t touched them. She hypothesized that Sephiroth’s madness might have been part and parcel to Hojo’s games; she wouldn’t let the mad scientist ruin their new clones. She didn’t want them broken irreparably. Malleable, yes. Broken, no. So Hojo wasn’t allowed to touch them.

It was a small comfort.

Voices floated to his ears. Kadaj cringed, pressing himself more firmly against the cold stone of the small room. His eyes darted towards the door, able to see shadows dancing in the small gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. A very childish, frightened part of him didn’t want to look. But he also knew it was better to be prepared.

This room?” The voice was female and not one he recognized. Slightly alto, actually rather soft and kind almost. Or perhaps that was just the lingering traces of hope that they still hadn’t been beaten out of him.

Another voice responded as the click-click of heels stopped directly outside his door. “Yes. He’s the one being considered as a viable host with the capacity to become Sephiroth.”

Kadaj’s heart beat a faster rhythm, nearly choking him on the continuous pounding. He changed his mind. The voices no longer sounded kind, but more frightening than the prospect of hell.

He knew that tone, that hint of eagerness. It was the same that promised pain, that promised more experiments. It was the kind that hovered over him, smiles glinting and eyes hard behind goggles as needles were pricked into his skin. Cold fingers against his flesh and burning mako in his veins, so hot that it felt as if a flame had licked at him, turning his blood to boiling.

And the others?”

She was going to destroy them tomorrow.”

He breathed in sharply. Tomorrow… they were going to kill his brothers tomorrow? Then for what was Yazoo’s suffering today? A surge of helplessness attacked him again. There was nothing he could do. Nothing at all. If only he’d had his sword or some materia or something.

A foot began to tap on the ground outside his door. “Hmm. Let me in. I want to talk to him.”

If you say so.”

Keys jangled noisily and metal scraped in the lock, causing Kadaj to startle at the sudden jarring noise. He stared at the door, wondering what horror in the form of a human would come through this time. More dripping needles? More training sessions? More tests on his tolerance to pain?

The door swung open slowly, the movements no doubt hampered by the sheer weight of it. A shriek of protest emerged from the hinges and two bodies stepped into the corona of light, their identities hidden by the stream of brightness coming in from the hallway. Kadaj squinted, his pupils immediately contracting to small pinholes in the illumination.

He’s just a kid,” one woman commented, her voice slightly touched with horror. “How old is he? Twelve? Thirteen?”

They stepped further into the room, one slapping her hand against the outside wall to turn on the main light before she followed the other inside. Kadaj got a good look at them. He recognized one woman, though a bit belatedly. Rufus’ bitch. The other was one of the lab assistants. She usually ran the results of his tests. He hated her with as much of a passion as he hated everyone who worked for Hojo.

The lab tech shook her head, answering Tifa’s question. “Sixteen.”

Cherry-brown eyes widened, her gaze flickering from Kadaj, who had yet to unfurl himself from his protective corner, back to the assistant. “And the others?”

She held up a clipboard, which Kadaj tardily noticed having been in her possession. “Loz is twenty and Yazoo, seventeen.”

Tifa shook her head. “Unbelievable. That Hojo is a piece.” Her gaze hardened before she turned to Kadaj. “I’m taking them.”

The technician blinked. “What? But Dr. Hojo-“

– is dead and I don’t particularly care for that bitch of his either,” Tifa informed her dismissively. She flicked her fingers at the younger girl. “Get out. I’m shutting this place down and burning it to the ground. The last thing we need is another Sephiroth.” The last, however, was said so quietly that Kadaj almost missed it.

He was confused. What did Rufus’ whore want with him? And his brothers? After all, she had said ‘them’ not ‘him’. He knew next to nothing of the busty brunette, except for the information that Sephiroth had once burned down her hometown. Why would she care what happened to a bunch of lab experiments?

And Dr. Hojo was dead? Well, that explained the man’s absence. Kadaj hadn’t wanted to believe that it would last for a long time so he had only been waiting for the pin to drop. No more it seemed, would he be subjected to that piercing, hungry stare.

He watched in morbid curiosity, and a hint of fear he would never admit to aloud, as the lab tech gaped at Tifa for a long moment before hurriedly nodding. She whirled and escaped out the door, practically fleeing from the small room. With her gone, Tifa turned back towards Kadaj, watching the youngest brother virtually cower on the bed.

You want out of here?” she asked him plainly, taking a few steps towards the bed, hips swaying in a motion that was probably more habit now than a true attempt at seduction. “You want to stay here and be poked and prodded at? Watch your brothers die because they were considered failures?”

Kadaj’s eyes narrowed. “No,” he hissed, perturbed that she would even suggest that he enjoyed his life.

His body trembled with a faint fury and in the back of his mind, he could hear her voice, purring softly. Telling him to take this chance. That they could be together again, and nothing could stop them.

It was like the voice of an angel.

No!” he repeated, this time a bit louder, more for his benefit than the sake of Tifa’s hearing. He unfurled his limbs, bright green eyes swirling with determination.

She watched him for a moment, shaking her head. “Just like him,” she breathed, flicking a hand through her hair. “Well, come on then.”

It took only seconds for Kadaj to scramble off of the bed, shivering slightly as cool air washed over his skin when he moved from his warm huddle. He stood there, thin garments clinging to his lithe frame, watching Rufus’ whore warily. He still wasn’t sure what she wanted from him. He stood well over her height, even at sixteen, despite still having one or two more growth spurts to come.

Where?” the boy asked.

She smirked, one hand settling on her hip. “To rescue your brothers. And get revenge, of course.”

Revenge. He liked the sound of it. Jenova did, too. She stirred inside of him, basically purring in delight. She whispered of it, of burning and death. Jenova murmured to him, encouraging him with soothing words and brief, ghostly caresses across the edge of his mind. A subtle thrum of power vibrated through his nerves.

You’re going to use me,” he accused, hands balling into fists at his side though he made no move to attack.

She eyed him. “More or less. But if you’d rather stay here, then by all means.” Tifa gestured towards the bed behind him, and the thin window which barely let in a stream of greyish light from the stormy day beyond. “Keep your life in this cell. Let your brothers die if that is what you want.”

No, that was the last thing he wanted. His brothers were all he had. They were his family, his kin, the only ones that mattered to him in the world. Both Yazoo and Loz had spent their entire lives protecting him to the best of their abilities. Helping him to hide his true powers from the researchers and comforting him when he needed it the most. He had never been able to repay them.

Until now.

Kadaj tilted his head up, squaring his chin defiantly. “Then I am using you as well,” he countered with such determination that he could feel it strumming through his bones.

Tifa smiled before turning on her heels and stepping towards the door. “Follow me. I’ll take you to them.”

He didn’t spare another glance at the empty cell behind him, certain he wouldn’t think twice about the space that had been his prison. Kadaj squared his shoulders and moved to follow after the President’s whore. In the back of his mind, Jenova hummed with anticipation, cooing ideas and thoughts that settled all too right in the young boy’s heart.

Even if he had wanted to, he could not ignore her voice. It was simply too insistent and strong, too compelling for his young mind to disregard. She was sultry, whispering all too easily of deceit and power and she longed to be free once again, to bring calamity as had been her original purpose. Jenova was calling to her children, begging to be heard. She was…

… there now, in the back of his mind, like the subtle purr of a hallucinogenic, despite the fact that Vincent had never been one for drugs of any kind. Alcohol perhaps, even meaningless sex in his days as a Turk all those years ago, but he could honestly say that he had never tried any sort of illegal substance.

Vincent knew that in truth, he was lying in bed with Cid, the pilot cuddled close to his side and likely attempting to steal all of the blankets and space on the mattress. However, he was also locked within this dream world, trapped in an inescapable nightmare brought by her.There could be no other explanation. Her voice, once masked by the callings of the demons inhabiting his body, was now all too free to speak its dangerous seduction.

He was determined not to be fooled, however. Even if the scenes were all too real.

The scent of blood was buried deep under the sterility of the lab, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still taste it on his tongue. It was bitterly cold, the metal of the gurney harsh beneath him. He could feel it through the thickness of his clothes, black and red garments that he readily recognized. The bright white light was bringing back memories he longed to keep buried.

Vincent groaned, attempting to lift one hand to his aching forehead. The rattling of manacles hampered the movement. A quick check informed him that both feet were restrained as well. Lovely.

The last he remembered was the crater and Cloud disappearing after handing the Black Materia over to Sephiroth. He had a vague recollection of being forced onto Rufus’ airship before something struck him across the back of the head, sending him straight into unconsciousness.

Keys rattled in a lock and a door swung open beyond his sight, hinges squeaking noisily. Vincent lifted his head, craning his neck to glance around but it was futile. His ears picked up shuffling steps and low muttering, but nothing concrete. The person drew nearer to his position, feet sliding eerily quiet across the linoleum.

Vincent turned his head to the side, rage filling him to the core when the individual’s identity was revealed. Greasy black hair, slicked against his scalp and thick glasses, gleaming unnaturally in the laboratory light were only one of many memories he never wanted to relieve. A perpetual sneer set in sallow skin, white lab coat, and clipboard in hand, Vincent had been thrust back into the past, thirty years gone.

Hojo,” he hissed, loathing emanating from every syllable.

The scientist paused from where he was planning on simply shuffling by, pushing up his glasses with one finger. “So you’re awake,” he said. “How interesting. I would have thought the sedative to last longer than this.” He turned and tottered to Vincent’s side, looming over the former Turk. “You haven’t changed a bit since I locked you away, Valentine.”

His eyes narrowed. “I can’t say the same for you,” Vincent spat, baring his teeth furiously.

It was true. The scientist had changed for the worse, skin growing more and more yellow with time, wrinkles invading his skin. He walked with a more noticeable hunch to his shoulders and his hair was thinning, with a receding hairline that made Vincent want to point and laugh. Only, he didn’t because considering the situation, that would have made him look slightly crazed.

Hojo’s eyebrow twitched, a faint sign of his irritation. He didn’t speak however, one hand dipping into his pocket as the other tossed the clipboard onto Vincent’s stomach. His fingers emerged with a needle while his other hand calmly yanked the former Turk’s sleeve up to his elbow.

What are you doing?” Vincent demanded, horror replacing some of his anger. He began to twist in his bindings, desperate to get away. It was his worst nightmare, to be under Hojo’s influence again.

Hojo smirked, amused by his struggles. “You never could hide the small flashes of fear,” he commented before sticking the needle into Vincent’s arm. But rather than inject some substance that Vincent knew he couldn’t identify, it appeared that the scientist was merely drawing blood.

And here I’d thought I’d broken that ridiculous spirit of yours. Pity.” Hojo sniffed, unconcerned with his victims obvious loathing of his person.

Vincent snarled, jerking his body against the cold gurney. “I’ll kill you,” he spat, the promise reverberating throughout him. It was the only reason he had risen from his sleep.

The bespectacled male seemed unconcerned. “Tell me, Valentine, can you hear her voice?” Hojo asked, leaning closer to Vincent. “Their dark whispers? Can you taste the need for blood?”

He jerked his head away, disliking the feel of Hojo’s hot and foul breath washing over his face. It brought to mind more images he had tossed aside. Of hands squeezing his hips as he struggled to keep from retching again, nearly falling face forward into a pile of his own vomit. Of being torn apart over and over again, and more injections than he could count. Fire burning through his veins and watching his own hands spill blood through a haze of delirious madness.

Vincent’s hands curled into fists, his claw making a harsh grating sound against the table. That feeling of powerlessness had returned; yet, he longed for nothing more than to grab Hojo by the throat and squeeze. The metal of his restraints squealed as they bent slightly under his greater strength.

Hojo lifted a brow and straightened, his hand still clutching the needle of Vincent’s blood. “Interesting,” he commented, pushing up his glasses with free fingers. “I’ll need stronger manacles, it seems. And to think, I had grown bored of playing with you.”

His death would be easy, my child.

The voice invaded before he realized what it was. Vincent stiffened, a breath caught in his throat. He darted his gaze to the sides but no one was there except Hojo, watching him with rapt attention.

Won’t you let me save you?

An invisible hand brushed across his brow, a touch that he might have thought he had imagined. Vincent jerked away from it, his body leaping in surprise against the gurney. Enough that it rattled loudly, breaking through the sterile, sudden silence throughout the room.

He could feel her stirring, slow and sluggish, but gaining in strength.

The edges of his vision faded and throbbed, pulsing into it all swirled into darkness. He was floating in nothing, surrounded by emptiness. And then there was presence, overwhelming him, all around. A nonexistent something that he couldn’t deny.

And then arms were wrapping around him from behind, slim and warm. A body pressed to his, but it was more like a pressure than a feeling. It was warm, welcoming, more like family than a lover. There was breath against his ear, a soft puff, and a soft hand brushed against his belly, holding him close.

My childshe whispered into his ear. My son. You are a part of me.

His eyes widened with the sudden realization. “Jenova…” Vincent said aloud, his voice a harsh noise in the almost reverent quiet.

He felt invisible fingers tugging on his memories, a million, misty tendrils sifting lightly through his mind. Uncertainty pulsed in his heart.

Yes. Come to me, Vincent.

There was a flash of something. Images beamed directly into his brain, flitting across his eyes almost faster than he could identify. A pale white forest of icy trees, spindly and stiff. The sound of water splashing, a structure made of white stone, shaped like a cocoon. The Northern Crater, covered in an almost impenetrable mist.

Join with me.

Her voice was more insistent now. A purr that shivered down his spine. She was calling to him, calling him home. Her fingers slid from the left side of his abdomen, trailing around his side, to flutter against his lower back. He shuddered, wondering why he wasn’t fighting, why he wasn’t trying to get away.

I will heal you, and take away the pain. We will make this Planet pay for harming you, she hissed, anger darkening her tone.

Vincent jerked away, the change enough to crack the seductive spell she was weaving around him. But her arms tightened into an iron vise and in the formless dark, he couldn’t find leverage on anything to break her hold. Nor did his body want to listen.

Why do you fight me? She asked in a hurt tone, obviously contrived. Why do you continue to resist?

I am not your child!” he growled through clenched teeth, forcing the words from his throat.

Wake up! He told himself. Wake up, damn you!

You will come to me, just like my other children. Together, we will destroy everything.

No!” He thought if he yelled long enough, if he twisted his shoulders, he would somehow wake from this nightmare.

“Vince!”

My child, my son…

“Vince!”

His eyes flew open and Vincent jerked upwards in the bed, practically flying out from beneath the covers. His heart was beating an irregular rhythm in his chest, breath coming out in sharp pants and he swore he could still feel her arms on him, both freezing and burning hot. Her voice echoed in his mind.

My child, my child…

Hands settled on his shoulders and he reacted purely on instinct, striking out with a fist. Only the reflexes of having recently survived a battle kept Cid from being clipped in the face as he hurriedly ducked to the side.

“Vince!”

The ex-Turk blinked, finally realizing where, exactly, he was. He turned his head, looking directly into ice blue eyes.

“Cid,” Vincent murmured, shuddering slightly as he drew in a deep breath. The sound of the airship thrumming around them was a comforting background noise, further proving that he had indeed escaped his nightmare.

It had felt so real, and he couldn’t shake the unclean feeling from him. Damn Hojo, and damn Jenova, too. He could sense her calling inside of him, filling his body with an urgency to move, to go somewhere. To find her and complete the summons. To start the Reunion all over again.

Something was going on, Vincent was certain of it. Jenova was notdead, as they had wanted to believe. And she was calling for her children, for all those with the Jenova cells embedded within them. Which meant that their planet was facing another storm. Vincent could only hope that Sephiroth was not going to be the one to suffer in the end of it.

But he couldn’t say because he didn’t know. He had to find out; he needed to see what was going on. The flashes of the dream were at the forefront of his mind. The Northern Crater. The Forest of the Ancients. The City of the Ancients. He had to go there. He had to.

Cid’s fingers squeezed him comfortingly, drawing his attention. He sat crouched on his knees in front of Vincent, the light from the window illuminating the bareness of his flesh. He had gained some weight since the Chaos War, thankfully, and was finally looking healthy again.

“What’s goin’ on?” Cid asked earnestly, his eyes searching Vincent’s face for some sign. He didn’t like the barely masked fear he found there. “You were havin’ a nightmare of some kind.”

The ex-Turk shivered, wrapping him arms around himself. “Worse than that,” he explained, brow drawing together darkly. He closed his eyes, thinking deeply. “I have to go.”

Hand slid down his arms, rubbing them in an attempt to chase off the chill, despite the warmth of the room. “What the hell’re you talkin’ bout?” the pilot demanded, confused by his lover’s strange behavior.

Vincent shook his head, finally lifting his gaze back to Cid’s. “Jenova,” he explained simply. “She’s back, or something. I don’t know. I need to find out.”

The pilot was absolutely speechless for a moment. “Jenova,” he repeated, as if unable to fathom the consequences of such a thing happening. “I thought we killed that bitch.”

“So did I. Cid, I need to go to the Forest of the Ancients. I have to confirm something.”

The muttered curse was not unexpected. “Like hell!” the pilot argued, knowing his lover’s propensity to do everything on his own. “You’re not in your best shape!”

“Would you rather send Sephiroth into Jenova’s arms?” Vincent countered reasonably, knowing that the blond far out beat a mule for stubbornness. “I’m the only one who can sense her without having to worry about losing my mind.”

Cid stared at him for a moment. “You’re protectin’ Sephiroth,” he stated in sudden understanding. He had been aware of Vincent’s increasing feelings of paternity towards the former General, but hadn’t realized how strong it had grown recently. Not that either of them would admit to something like that aloud.

Before Vincent could answer or refute him, Cid continued, “Then I’m going with you.”

The gunman shook his head, his jaw firmly set. “No, Cid. I need you here on the Valenwind. I don’t know what might happen out there, or in the world for that matter.” Knowing that frustration was building a hefty steam inside of his lover, Vincent set his hand down on Cid’s, squeezing comfortingly.

“I’m not leaving you, chief. Jenova has no sway over me, no matter how much she tries.”

Cid sighed, reaching forward and suddenly dragging Vincent into his arms, the man’s personal space be damned. He was tactful enough not to mention that his lover was still shaking slightly. Vincent felt cold against him, reluctantly wrapping his own arms around the pilot’s abdomen.

“At least ya told me this time,” he replied gruffly. “S’better than sneakin’ off into the night.”

“I needed a ride,” Vincent responded after a moment, his voice muffled by the pilot’s chest. It was almost a joke, for him.

Blue eyes rolled. “Now ya choose to be a comedian. So… the Forest it is, then. And here I thought all the fighting was over.”

“It’s never really over,” the dark-haired man murmured, giving in to his need and wrapping his arms around Cid. “At least, not for us.”

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