Chapter Two: Poisoned Rationality
It was quiet, unnaturally so. Aeris sighed softly to herself as she stood in the doorway, watching Denzel and Marlene. It was the children’s room, but it was quiet. No sounds of play, no joyful laughter. Only a desperate hope that perhaps this time it had worked. That Reeve’s scientists were actually useful for once. But Aeris knew better than that. Even the children did. But that didn’t stop them from trying.
They should have been celebrating. They should have been happy. Instead, Denzel moped for a Sephiroth that was hardly around, battling on his own against a crippling disease that was killing people worldwide. Marlene lived in constant fear of losing her best friend to a sickness she couldn’t help cure. And Aeris worried that her delicately growing family would shatter.
In the room, Marlene shifted worriedly in her seat at Denzel’s bed as the small boy moaned in pain, rolling over. His eyes fluttered open, the bandage that was lying on his forehead slipping off to the side and revealing the blackened bruise of the Geostigma. It made Aeris’ heart leap every time she looked at it. There was nothing she could do. No materia, no herbs, none of her healing powers would work on it.
She had never felt more helpless in her entire life than when she looked at that incurable disease. Aeris wholly wished that she could speak with Hephaestion. But the part of her mind where he usually resided was markedly empty, complying as always with his Lord’s orders. He had promised to come if she called, however, but she still missed his wisdom and his calming presence.
“Did it work?” the brunet asked sleepily, one hand rubbing at his eyes to clear out the grime from having slept too long.
Marlene’s brown eyes darkened with sadness as she shook her head, tears glistening no matter how much she tried to hold them back. “Don’t worry,” she choked out, somehow managing to be brave despite it all. “I’m sure Uncle Reeve will find the cure soon.”
Aeris shifted and the floor creaked despite her attempts to remain silent. Instantly, the young boy’s eyes shot her direction, always hopeful that his adoptive father would be standing just beyond the threshold. She hated to see the disappointment clouding his gaze when he realized it was only her. She wondered if Sephiroth truly understood how much he meant to Denzel.
Denzel’s eyes fell away from her when he realized that their visitor wasn’t whom he hoped it would be. Aeris didn’t let that get to her. He cared in his own way, but she simply wasn’t the man who had saved him from the monsters and pulled him from being forced to survive in the streets. It was a bond she couldn’t replace.
“How are you feeling?” Aeris asked, plastering a light smile on her face as she stepped into the room.
“Tired,” Denzel said weakly, shifting slightly under the covers. His eyelids fluttered but he didn’t immediately drop back into sleep. “Maybe hungry.”
Hunger was always a good sign. It meant he hadn’t yet succumbed to the more worse symptoms of the disease. It meant he still had time.
“Anything in particular?” she asked, forcing herself to keep her voice pleasant. She needed to be strong for them, no matter how hard it was.
He shook his head, curling under the covers and burying himself deeper into the thick comforter. “Just food,” came the muffled response.
Marlene frowned slightly, just a twitch of her lips before she twisted to look up at Aeris, the flower girl having laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “How about macaroni and cheese?”
“Simple enough.” Aeris brushed her palm over Marlene’s hair, smoothing it down lovingly. “I’ll go make dinner. You keep an eye on Denzel, okay?”
The little girl nodded, her eyes falling back on the bed and the boy she considered her brother. It broke Aeris’ heart to see her that upset. But she didn’t have any answers or words to comfort her. It made her feel so useless.
Biting back a sigh, Aeris turned and left the room, planning to head back downstairs. However, she didn’t get two steps towards the stairs before she heard Midori give a cry of protest. She altered her course and headed into the room on the left. She didn’t have to force the smile on her face when she saw her daughter looking up at her from where she clung to the side of the cradle, reaching with one hand.
“Hey sweetheart,” the widow murmured, reaching in to pull Midori into her arms. “Why so noisy?”
Midori gurgled happily and reached out, grasping onto a strand of Aeris’ hair and tugging gently. One eye, the same color as Cloud’s, and the other, the same shade as her own, stared back at her. Midori was also pale as her father, with hair like the sun. Aeris couldn’t help but wonder if it would darken with age.
Sometimes her daughter looked so much like her father that it hurt.
Shifting Midori’s weight to her hip, Aeris turned and took toddler with her downstairs. Her daughter was such an attention hog. If she wasn’t in sight of her mother, then she would make enough of a fuss that someone would come eventually. Aeris had gotten used to the weight of Midori at her side. She didn’t mind it too much. It kept her from feeling too lonely.
The stairs creaked as she descended but before she could even turn into the kitchen, the sound of a ringing phone distracted her. Midori gurgled, waving a fist in the direction of the device. With a sigh, Aeris shifted her path and reached for the phone sitting on a stand in the hallway.
There was a slight crackle of static before Shera’s voice clearly came through. “Hey Aeris, how is it going?” she asked, sounding inexplicably energetic considering she had a toddler the same age as Midori and was already pregnant with her second child.
Aeris smiled tiredly, though the engineer couldn’t see it. “It’s going,” she answered. “Is everything all right? Nothing’s wrong with Dominic is there?”
“Oh no,” Shera assured her. “Nothing like that. I just know that you’ve been a little stressed lately and thought you might like a night off.”
“A night off?” the flower girl repeated in question, bouncing Midori a little on her hip. The little girl giggled and cooed, clutching tighter to her mother’s hair.
Shera hummed into the phone. “Want to bring the kids over for dinner? I’m making Macaroni and Cheese for them and something a bit tastier for us adults.”
A sigh of relief escaped Aeris before she could stop it. “How did you know?” she countered, glad that the daunting task of cooking followed with cleaning was not to be hers for at least one night. Elmyra and Barret would be back in a couple of days but until then, she was on her own. “You are a life saver.”
“Nothing as grand as that,” Shera responded in her light tone. “Come on over. We can make Rude watch the kids while we sit back and relax.” Aeris could just imagine the other woman winking at her conspiratorially. And the others thought that she was the mischievous one.
She smiled. “Thanks, Shera. Let me get Marlene and Denzel dressed and we’ll be over in a minute. See you then.”
The phone went dead in her hands. Shaking her head, Aeris replaced it on the receiver and shifted Midori’s weight. “Ready to visit Aunt Shera?” she asked her daughter, pressing a kiss to the toddler’s forehead. She received a giggle in response. Half the time, Aeris swore that that the little girl understood more than they thought.
Her heart eased by a child’s smile, Aeris turned and headed right back up the stairs. “Marlene. Denzel,” she called as she stepped back into the room. “Get up and put on some clothes. We’re heading next door for dinner.”
Two pairs of eyes turned towards her, Denzel nodding tiredly. “Okay,” Marlene chirped.
Inwardly, Aeris felt weary as she left the two children and moved to change as well, into something more appropriate. She missed Cloud, she commented to herself. But she hadn’t the time to dwell on that now. There were children to feed and Geostigma to worry about.
She didn’t have time to be lonely.
It was too quiet, unnaturally quiet, Vincent noticed. He remembered all too well the silence of the forest and its counterparts the first time they visited in what seemed like so long ago. But this was a different sort. Almost as if anything that might have lived there had vanished in the wake of an impending storm. Even the wind had gone.
Vincent was concerned, and with great reason.
He had gone to the Northern Crater first, because that was usually where all the trouble started. But had found nothing. The glowing pool of life stream was lying there innocuously, not even bubbling. It was slightly chilly from the strong northern winds, and his keen sight had caught a few blood drops scattered here and there but they could have belonged to anything. An injured animal most likely. There was not a single sign of disturbance to explain the unsettling feelings and the pressing siren of Jenova in the back of his skull.
He had learned to block her now, adept considering all his practice with Galian Beast and the others before the Chaos war. Not to mention her words didn’t work on him. Nothing she could promise him was worth it. He had everything he needed and his vengeance was long complete. She could keep crooning in mind ear as much as she wanted, but it would fall on deaf ears.
Frowning at his lack of discovery, he moved his explorations to Bone Village and beyond, questioning the inhabitants to see if they had noticed anything out of the ordinary. They hadn’t, not that he was surprised. They rarely noticed anything beyond their continuous and useless digging. So he had headed to the Forest of the Ancients, Aeris’ former burial ground and the lost city beneath.
Amongst the trees that looked as if they were carved from ice itself, though he knew that wasn’t the case, he again found nothing. But that was more telling than before because where there had always been the steady and quiet cacophony of life, there was now dead silence. The wind barely stirred the stiff branches above him, and the unnaturalness of it all made his spine cringe.
Vincent pulled his cloak tighter against the chill, reassured himself of the Cerberus at his side which had been a gift from Cid, and headed deeper into the forest, planning to stop by the pool where Aeris had once been laid to rest. They had taken to calling it the Reflections Pool, though he wasn’t entirely sure why.
His feet crunched across the ground since he was making no efforts to move quietly. He half hoped something would attack him just to prove that everything wasn’t dead in the forest. A chill air had set in, cold and still. Unnerving.
The former Turk made it to the pool not but a few minutes later, a smile finding its way to his lips at the picturesque view the scene always presented. A large towering structure curving towards the sky, crystal-clear waters at its base. He could almost see to the far bottom, though it stretched for feet below him. But there was nothing there to indicate the reason for the unsettledness of his senses.
It was odd, though. Gazing down into the water, overcome by a sense of nostalgia, he could have sworn blue eyes were looking back at him. Not in an eerie sense but more of a… protective sense, he supposed. Or perhaps he was imagining things or simply paranoid, it wouldn’t be the first time.
There was nothing to explain a reason for the disquiet however. It was another dead end. A bit annoyed, Vincent moved to walk around the pool, heading towards the entrance of the spiral building. He would see if the pathway had opened to the beneath or not and go from there. Perhaps he would find some clues in the crystal city.
Before he moved two steps, a sound made its way to his ears. He froze on instinct and listened again. There. Behind him. Voices. They were too far for him to distinguish words but they were definitely voices, and laughter as well. His eyes narrowed into grey slits of interest.
Wrapping his cloak further around him to tone down on the swish of fabric and make himself look smaller, Vincent crept in the direction of the voices. This time, he had made sure to keep his steps silent, Turk silent as he had been trained more than forty years ago. He eased his way through the trees, on high alert so that he wouldn’t be caught guard, and drew closer to the source of the voices.
It wasn’t long before he found them and his jaw nearly dropped in surprise. He looked around for somewhere to hide and observe quietly, finally deciding to leap up into one of the larger trees and hide among the thick and empty branches. From there, it was easy to see into the clearing completely ringed by trees and bushes.
He counted five people, only two of whom he recognized. Both Zack and Elena were there looking very worse for wear with only the woman clinging to consciousness. Zack was out for the count, his head hanging between shoulders strung up very uncomfortably. But he wasn’t dead, that much Vincent could see from the ragged rise and fall of his chest.
Standing over them were three men who could have been Sephiroth’s brothers. Or at least, Vincent thought they were all men. The one in the middle looked as if he could be a woman with all that long hair and curves. Every single one of them was covered in black leather of varying designs and their silver hair was a perfect compliment to their outfit. From the distance, he couldn’t make out the color of their eyes but he had the feeling that if he could, he would find them mako green.
What the hell was going on? And why were Zack and Elena there, bloody and covered in wounds?
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, glancing over it. Full service and battery. Vincent planned on calling Reeve as soon as possible and letting him know what was going on. The President probably didn’t know his employees were out here getting their asses kicked by Sephiroth look-a-likes.
A cry of pain attracted his attention and he looked back down. Elena was coughing as she spat out blood but somehow managed a glare of anger at the three men, one of whom was crouching down to look her in the eye. This one seemed younger than the rest, at his side a strange sword that Vincent had never seen before. He couldn’t tell what the other two wielded but they looked to be two of the same, another weapon he couldn’t identify.
“Tell us where she is,” the younger of the three demanded, his voice deceptively light though it was tinged with anger.
Elena spat in his face. Vincent felt a surge of pride. That was the pride of the Turks right there. No amount of torture could ever make them reveal anything. He might have hated it at one time, being a Turk, but the lure of being feared, of being better than anything you might come across had always been something that pulled him right back in.
“Leave it alone, brother. She’s not going to speak,” said the long-haired one in a bored tone. He flicked hair over his shoulders and turned away, heading towards a pile of weapons that Vincent belatedly recognized as belonging to Zack and Elena.
He kicked aside Zack’s sword, revealing a small leather pack likely belonging to the former SOLDIER and started rifling through it. “There’s nothing here, either. Not even a materia or two. They are useless.”
“Not entirely,” laughed the largest of the three with a hairstyle that made Vincent cringe. “We could play with them some more.”
The ex-Turk had the feeling that his definition of play was probably what got Zack and Elena in their current predicament.
“Che,” the younger male said, rising to his feet with a disgusted sniff. “They weren’t even worth a few hours of entertainment. But it wasn’t entirely useless.” He held up his fingers, something pinched between two of them. They looked like cards but from a distance, Vincent couldn’t figure out what.
The largest of the men nudged Zack with his boot, the dark-haired man not making a single sound though Elena growled angrily. “Leave him alone,” she rasped, managing a glare despite the blood dripping down her face and the one eye puffing up. “You’ve tortured him enough.”
Zack’s tormentor laughed at her.
Vincent felt just a little sick on his stomach. There wasn’t anything he could do at the moment. He had the feeling that one shot wouldn’t take these bastards out and if they were even half as strong as Sephiroth, he couldn’t take on all three at once. He had plans to rescue Zack and Elena as soon as possible, but he needed to come up with something better than leaping in, guns blazing.
Though he hated to do so, he turned and crept away, slithering silently down the tree and slinking into the forest away from the scene. His hand was on his phone the whole time, already scrolling through the numbers for Reeve’s that Cid had plugged in for him a long time ago. Once he felt he was a safe distance away that those boys couldn’t hear him, he doubted they were even aware of anything other than their little torture session at the moment, he pushed the button for the call to go through.
It only rang twice before Reeve picked it up. “Tuesti here.”
“Reeve,” Vincent began quietly, his eyes on constant alert. “I’ve found something that I think you should know about. You wouldn’t happen to be missing any employees?”
There was the sound of startlement from the other end as Reeve likely knocked over his coffee cup onto the floor. “Zack and Elena?” he responded hurriedly. “Where are you, Vincent?”
The ex-Turk sighed. “Around the Reflections Pool. I don’t know what the hell’s going on but they are in the hands of three men who look a lot like Sephiroth.”
“Damn,” Reeve cursed, sounding very worn. He exhaled sharply. “Then Sion wasn’t mistaken. This does not bode well. What about Zack and Elena?”
“Alive,” Vincent responded curtly. “For the moment anyways. It looks like they’ve been tortured for information but they haven’t given anything away. I can’t say for how much longer though.”
There was the sound of papers shuffling. “They were after Jenova.”
Grey eyes widened. “What do you mean? Jenova’s gone.”
“Not entirely,” Reeve corrected, his tone very weary. “There is still a piece of her alive. And it’s enough, it seems.”
Vincent felt a headache beginning to pulse at his temples. He rubbed his forehead and surreptitiously glanced around, ears straining for any sign of having been discovered before continuing. “Remnants of Hojo’s experiments most likely then. Have you looked in any of the remaining documents?”
“We’ve tried. But Hojo wasn’t exactly a coherent or sane man. His records are incomplete and a lot of it was destroyed in Midgar. I have both Sion and Misaki working on the ones at Junon but still, we’ve found nothing.”
Hojo was screwing them over from the grave. It figured that bastard would find a way to not be forgotten. If it wasn’t the monsters that were still breeding endlessly, spewing out all kinds of horrific combinations, then it was remnants of human-Jenova research come back to haunt them. Vincent couldn’t help but wonder what ills these three boys had suffered at Hojo’s hands, if it were anything like what Sephiroth had been forced to endure.
He didn’t even realize he had fallen silent.
The ex-Turk gritted his teeth on a wave of anger and sighed again. “Keep looking,” he finally responded, one hand already moving to check his materia supply. “I’ll keep a watch on them from here and at my first chance, I’ll rescue Zack and Elena. That’s all I can do at the present moment. Don’t send anyone else in. This requires stealth.”
“Understood.” There was a pause as Reeve considered something before he added, “What do you think of them, Vincent? Are they sane or…?”
“Jenova-influenced?” Vincent finished for him, recognizing the unvoiced question. “I don’t know at this point. I will call you again when I find out more. Reeve, be careful.”
Once off the phone, he had plans to return to his perch and continue his surveillance. He would have his chance eventually. He was certain these men weren’t planning on remaining in the forest, torturing their captives for long. He only wished he knew what their plans were or where they were headed next.
Reeve made a sound of agreement through the phone. “You, too,” he responded before Vincent clicked off his cell phone and then promptly shoved it into silence mode. The last thing he needed was for someone to call him and give away his position.
Back in Junon, Reeve replaced the phone on its cradle and groaned, rubbing his aching head with two fingers. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. He was relieved that Zack and Elena were alive but the news of the three men who resembled Sephiroth was not good. His hope had been thin at best, that Sion was mistaken, but now it had completely shattered.
He had the awful feeling that everything had only just begun.
Amber eyes flickered to the container sitting on the edge of his desk, looking deceptively innocuous considering he knew what it contained. The last remnants of Jenova. The very thing that the three men were looking for. He had been treating it like a controlled substance. No one was allowed to so much as see it without his approval.
He knew that the possibility for finding a cure for the Geostigma was better now that they had a piece of Jenova. He was only allowing certain of his scientists that he trusted, such as Shalua Rui, to take tiny samples for study. But no experiments. He refused to allow it. Reeve didn’t believe that he had employed anyone with Hojo like tendencies but he wasn’t going to take the chance.
Reeve frowned and sat back in his chair wondering what he was supposed to do now. He contemplated calling Tseng but the man was busy in Wutai. And Archer was inexplicably missing, as he had been recently. Reeve hadn’t bothered questioning his close friend about it because whatever he was doing was making him happy, or had been at least. That air of broodiness Archer had been attempting had all but disappeared, until recently anyways.
He didn’t know what put that smile on Archer’s face. He suspected that the other man had finally met someone but since Archer hadn’t gone around bragging or anything similar, Reeve had assumed he wanted to keep his new love a secret. There was no harm in that. He thought that maybe something must have gone sour since Archer was disappearing more and more lately and he was slowly starting to return to sadness. An aura of pinched worry was taking over his eyes.
In any case, Reeve knew that he couldn’t keep the current situation under wraps for long. He didn’t know when or how those look-a-like’s would make their move. He needed to be prepared for anything.
Which meant he had to call Sephiroth. He wondered if the man’s recent disappearances were linked to Jenova’s return. Zack had no idea what was going on either, nor did Tseng. No one knew. Reeve wasn’t worried that Sephiroth was turning on them, but he wished that the former General would come to them for help. They were all his friends but Reeve wasn’t certain that the other man realized that.
Reeve reached for the phone and dialed it quickly, holding it up to his ear and praying Sephiroth actually answered it. After about ten rings, he received the standard voicemail message and promptly hung up, choosing not to leave one. This wasn’t the type of thing he wanted to explain in a simple voicemail. It was best if Sephiroth heard it from Reeve himself.
With a sigh, Reeve returned the phone to the hook and contemplated his next move.
He felt the phone buzzing in his pocket, but as usual, Sephiroth ignored the device in favor of concentrating on his current fight. The monster was particularly dangerous, and he didn’t want any unnecessary injuries. It was another one of Hojo’s creations, a beast that resembled the demi-deity Doomtrain that he had fought during the Chaos War. Fortunately, it didn’t have the ability to copy itself but it was capable of producing an acid-like poison which it enjoyed spitting out at him.
His coat had already suffered a loss from when it had first attacked, catching him off guard.
The beast roared and Sephiroth leapt back, deftly avoiding another spit of acid. It sizzled the grass at his feet, charring it black. Twisting to avoid the spiny tail swinging his direction, Sephiroth blocked the attack with his sword, a gift from Tseng on his recent birthday. The metal screeched against the bone of the spine as Sephiroth added more strength and calmly sliced through it.
With a growl of anger, the monster retracted its bleeding appendage and crouched to pounce. Sephiroth waited calmly, sword lowered as he waited for it to attack. That was one thing about Hojo’s creations. They were indeed stronger, but also degrees stupider. It was pathetically easy to lure them into range.
The monster bared its fangs, poison dripping to the grassy earth, and promptly pounced, long claws digging into the hard-packed soil. Sephiroth stood his ground, green eyes impassive. It took only a quick flick of his wrist to decapitate the beast, the body falling to the ground in front of him and the head flying off to the side in the opposite direction. One down, only hundreds others out there, hiding somewhere. It was a never-ending battle at times.
With a sigh, Sephiroth wiped the blood off on the grass and sheathed his sword, ignoring the dark black mist that rose as the monster dissolved into nothing, as if it had never been there at all. He stepped quickly across the plains outside of the destroyed town of Midgar and headed for his bike, which he had hidden in a dip of the field.
His hand dove into his pocket, pulling out the slim phone that was never out of reach, and rarely answered. Four missed calls and two messages. No surprise there. He scrolled quickly through the calls. Zack. Aeris. Tseng. Reeve. Again, that wasn’t any different than usual.
Climbing aboard Odin, affectionately named for his former anima whom he hadn’t seen or spoke to since the Chaos War, he dialed the number for his voice mail service and stowed his sword, the Murasame, in its compartment. The first message played.
“Yo, Seph. Where’ve ya been?”
In seconds, he knew it was Zack. The message continued.
“Look, I know you aren’t gonna come home until you feel like it. I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be on a mission for Reeve and I don’t know how long it will take. If you do come home, don’t stay here. Go bunk with Tseng or something, you know what I mean. Catch you later.” It ended but not before Zack laughed in his usual way.
Sephiroth shook his head. He didn’t think his best friend would ever change. Despite the humor, though, Zack sounded worried. For him. It only increased the guilt that settled heavily on his heart. But he couldn’t just return like that. It wasn’t that simple.
The phone beeped before proceeding with the next, and the moment the voice poured out of the speaker, Sephiroth’s heart picked up a beat completely on its own accord.
“Sephiroth,” Tseng started, sounding somewhat hesitant. “I wanted to apologize for what I said last time. You are right. I did not mean to be so pushy and I will refrain from doing so in the future… if you’ll still have me.” There was a pause before he continued, carefully choosing his words. “I’ve waited six years for this, I’m certain another ten or twenty would not kill me. Just… think about it?”
The message ended with a click and Sephiroth pushed the button, ending the call and returning it to his pocket. He contemplated Tseng’s words, the incident the Wutaiian had been referring to fresh on his mind. He had known that starting a relationship wouldn’t be easy, but he hadn’t expected it to be that difficult either.
Tseng’s lips were on his neck, softly licking the pale skin over a mark that was already beginning to redden. Sephiroth gasped, his fingers tightening in their grip on the other man’s shoulder as trills of pleasure sped through his body. He could feel the smooth slide of Tseng’s skin over his, their bodies moving together in an age-old rhythm upon the bed.
The room was bathed in a dim light from the bedside lamp, casting a warm ocher glow on their flesh. Sephiroth barely paid that any attention, however, his interest completely gathered by the lips on his skin and the hands caressing his body. After more than a year of dating, he and Tseng were finally attempting intimacy.
Sephiroth was doing his utmost best to keep the memories, the nightmares at bay, but they were knocking at the inside of his skull, trying to rise to the surface with their vile poison. He didn’t want to think about the past but he felt so vulnerable, lying on his back with another man between his legs, their naked cocks brushing one against the other.
The Turk’s touches were gentle, caressing, far different than the ones he unfortunately remembered but he couldn’t seem to tell his mind that. It wanted to equate them to the nightmares, to the cold fingers that filled him with nausea and self-disgust.
Tseng’s mouth kissed up his neck, returning to Sephiroth’s lips and he greedily returned the kiss, entangling their tongues together. One of the Wutaiian’s hands cupped his hip, sliding along the curve of his ass to gently grasp his thigh and Tseng positioned himself. Sephiroth felt the head of the man’s penis nudge at his entrance.
He wanted it and had wanted it for the past year and it had only been that ever present fear that had kept them playing it careful.
But not anymore, not this time.
As if waiting for Sephiroth’s permission, Tseng nipped at the former General’s mouth and then gradually began to push forward, pressing into Sephiroth. Pale fingers tightened and a great sense of loathing rose up so swiftly that Sephiroth couldn’t clamp it down fast enough for it to escape Tseng’s senses. He only hoped that in the lust of the moment, the other man had missed it.
So beautiful… This power that is mine. Words that he didn’t want to hear skittered across the back of his memories. He gave a minute shudder of revulsion at the reminder.
Tseng abruptly stopped, his lips leaving Sephiroth’s mouth as he drew back and looked at the former General. “What was that?” he asked, voice thick with desire and concern.
The other man’s body trembled on the cusp of both disgust and need, entirely on edge. He looked up, furrowing his brow and pretending confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Tseng shook his head and put a little more space between them. “You’re not ready for this,” he responded after a moment as if listening to a small voice in the back of his head.
Embarrassed, Sephiroth chose to get angry, narrowing his eyes. “Excuse me?” he demanded in annoyance.
A hand cupped the former General’s cheek as Tseng searched his face, hovering over him. “What’s wrong?” he asked, trying not to be argumentative. “And don’t say nothing because I know better than that.”
“If you know so much then why bother asking?” Sephiroth muttered, growing defensive. He turned his head away, not wanting the sympathy.
Silver eyes searched his as Tseng took a deep breath. “Sephiroth…”
“Don’t,” Sephiroth inserted, cutting him off quickly. “Just don’t.” He moved to sit up, dislodging the other man’s hand from his cheek.
“All I’m asking is that you talk to me,” Tseng pressed, backing off a little to give Sephiroth some space since he was suddenly emitting “get back” and fearful vibes in all directions. Tseng’s senses were nearly swimming in all the feedback he was getting.
“And I want you to stop asking,” the former General very nearly snapped, feeling incredibly vulnerable given that he was both nude and losing his arousal. Not to mention the fact that Tseng was still perched between his legs. He wanted to grab a blanket and toss it over himself but didn’t want to show his unease either.
Tseng pursed his lips, trying not to allow himself to get angry. “I ask because I care Sephiroth.”
The Wutaiian blinked, a bit confused. “What do you mean?” he questioned, frowning.
“What about your secrets?” the other man demanded, going on the offensive if only to hide the lingering memories pressing in the back of his brain. Tseng was silent in his surprise, prompting Sephiroth to continue. “You don’t want to tell them anymore than I do.”
Somewhat stunned, Tseng shook his head. “No, it’s…” Words failed him however, and he trailed off, searching for the right thing to say.
Without waiting for a response, Sephiroth shifted on the bed, having it in his mind to move or get away or something. Before he even managed a foot, Tseng grabbed him and pinned him back down to the mattress. The Turk hovered over him, worry darkening his expression. That and something else. An emotion that Sephiroth couldn’t identify.
“You didn’t even give me a chance to say anything,” Tseng hissed despite himself, silver eyes gleaming. “I cannot just blurt out my life.”
The former General glared but Tseng had long stopped being afraid of that stare. He pursed his lips. “You never even asked,” he gritted out.
Sephiroth remained defensive, however, turning his head to the side and staring with determination at the wall. Tseng could feel the emotions emanating off of him in waves, and in the back of Sephiroth’s mind, a dark mass of something seethed and pulsed. It was something that Tseng had never prodded at, sensing that the truth behind it would be something he would be hard pressed to recover from.
“I was only five when I was exiled from my homeland,” Tseng finally began slowly as he lowered his gaze, clearly recalling a somber memory. He swallowed thickly, fingers tightening briefly on Sephiroth’s arm before gently releasing him. “And by the time I was eleven, I was an orphan. ShinRa picked me up not long after. I guess I am a lot like Reno in that regards.” He chuckled mirthlessly, his tone heavy with grief.
It was a grief that Sephiroth didn’t know how to heal, a memory from Tseng’s past that he didn’t know how to make lighter.
The Wutaiian opened his mouth to speak again but Sephiroth cut him. “Tseng,” he started, his glare fading. “I did not mean to force you into saying it. Especially since I hadn’t asked.”
He didn’t want to hear anymore. Not if he didn’t know what to say in return. He didn’t know how to offer sympathy. He simply didn’t know.
Tseng sighed and sat back, giving Sephiroth the room he needed to sit up and throw his legs on the side of the bed. It was effective enough to turn his back on Tseng. “I want to help,” the Turk said softly. “But I can’t if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
A moment of silence filled the room, heavy and palpable. Sephiroth rose to his feet, reaching for his clothes. “There’s nothing to help,” he murmured, pulling on his pants and zipping them carefully.
“That is a lie and you know it.”
He had nothing to say to that.
Tseng began to grow impatient. “Look. I don’t ask you the things I should because I keep thinking you’ll eventually tell me.”
“The things you should?” Sephiroth repeated curiously despite himself as he pulled on his shirt and searched around for his belt, unable to remember where it had been tossed.
The Turk lowered his tone. “Yes. I do not ask you why sometimes you look as if you’d rather vomit than kiss me. I don’t ask why you fear even getting close. And despite the fact that I can, I have never looked for myself because I want you to trust me enough to tell me.”
At his words, Sephiroth stiffened slightly, hating that Tseng had noticed these things about him. He thought he had been hiding it well.
Tseng sighed. “But I suppose after only a year, a little trust is too much to ask for.”
“Perhaps it is,” Sephiroth answered, pulling open the door to Tseng’s bedroom and promptly stepping beyond it. He knew he was being stupid but he didn’t know how else to respond.
Minutes later, the last sound to fill the silent apartment was the front door closing behind Sephiroth.
He had not spoken to Tseng since that night and Tseng hadn’t come after him when he left. It was only one more reason he didn’t deserve to have someone care for him like that.
With a sigh, Sephiroth pulled out his goggles and placed them over his eyes, a gift from Aeris at the same time Zack had given him the bike. He reached for the ignition and his bike rumbled to life. He struck the kickstand with a boot and gunned the engine, taking off across the field with a perfect roar. He had already selected his destination and turned Odin into a sharp circle to head off on the right track.
He had known he was being a coward when it came to Tseng. But there were things he simply couldn’t tell his lover. There were truths he didn’t want anyone to know, some that he even refrained from telling Zack. He just couldn’t bring himself to let Tseng know all the reasons he was afraid for the man to touch him.
Like the fact that Tseng resembled his molesting bastard of a father in certain lights. Or what exactly Hojo had done to him, all the things he had suffered at that man’s hands. It made him feel unclean and sordid. Nor did he want Tseng’s pity for it either. He just wanted to forget it, but his mind wouldn’t let him. He couldn’t seem to get away from the past.
There were far too many things on his mind on the moment, worries that kept him far from home as often as possible. As well as guilts.
There were times when he worried that the only reason he was attracted to Tseng was because he resembled Hojo. What if he was sick like that? Only wanting something because it was what he was used to. Tseng wasn’t a perfect match for Hojo but with his dark hair and greyish eyes, at a glance he was all too much of a reminder.
He wondered if there was a part of them that was just as sick as his father, just as twisted. It was why he didn’t allow himself to be alone with Denzel. Hojo’s treatment of him was all that he ever knew. What if it had infected him in some way, making him want unnatural things? He refused to take that chance.
Sephiroth knew that Denzel didn’t understand why his adoptive father wasn’t around. But he wasn’t going to make any mistakes. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, even if it meant being alone for the rest of his life. Denzel would be better off without him. It was likely Tseng would, too. He wasn’t going to tell the Turk any of the past that he had finally remembered.
If he had his way, no one would ever find out any of it. He didn’t want to face the pity or the comfort. He didn’t want anyone to look at him differently. He would rather lose Tseng by being a bastard then have the man leave him because of a past he couldn’t forget. It was easier to face that way.
Sephiroth eased Odin to a halt, the engine rumbling as he kicked out the stand and shut it down for a moment, making his final stop for the day. He was at a high bluff that overlooked the ruins of Midgar and it was the place he came to often. From there, he could see all the way to the shore of the ocean, and even the edges of Kalm, but most importantly, he a perfect view of a city he had failed to protect. And a place where the man who had once loved him died.
Aeris’ husband, Midori’s father, Zack’s other best friend… Cloud had trusted him and Sephiroth had paid him for that trust by failing him. Miserably. Sephiroth returned to this place to remind himself of that fact. Cloud’s memorial was outside of Fort Condor, but Sephiroth had created one for him here as well. It was the least he could do since he wasn’t strong enough to save anything.
All he was worth in the final battle was drowning in his memories. It made him ill just to remember his ineptitude.
A sudden buzzing in his pocket distracted him. He climbed off the bike and stood before the monument, nothing more than the Buster sword thrust into the hard-packed soil. It was starting to rust since it had been left out in the weather, but it was still suitable. Sephiroth glanced at the display, finding that the name ‘Vincent Valentine’ was being displayed.
He waited for it to quit ringing as he always did when someone called him. When the phone fell silent and no message was left, he shrugged and tucked it back into his pocket. It must not have been that important.
Sephiroth sighed and returned his gaze to the fallen city of Midgar. Some buildings on the far edge had survived through the explosion, but they were slowly sinking inwards, forever falling into the crater caused by the destruction of several demi-deities. All of the inhabitants of the once-glorious city had fled, either towards Kalm or to rebuild in a new city named Edge between Kalm and Midgar.
Some were even going so far as to call the abandoned Midgar the “cursed city”. Considering all that happened, he didn’t blame them one bit.
Sephiroth’s fingers ghosted over the hilt of the Buster sword before he turned on his heels and headed back towards his bike. Climbing aboard the cycle, he turned in the vague direction of Fort Condor where he planned to stop briefly before continuing to Junon. He supposed it was about time he made an appearance at his home.
It was the least he owed them.