[Shattered] Children 06

Chapter Four: Embrace Nothing

“Sephy!” Marlene shouted as she pushed open the front door of the ShinRa Mansion, Denzel edging past her to enter first. Her voice echoed in the silent stillness of the creepy building.

There was no answer save the soft swaying of cobwebs in the high ceiling and the creaking of a building that was old and mostly abandoned. The young child’s lips pulled into disappointment but Denzel wasn’t going to be swayed just yet. They hadn’t checked anywhere yet and he knew that if Sephiroth were below, he wouldn’t be able to hear their calls anyways.

Tseng followed the children at a more sedate pace, keeping a careful eye out for monsters but more or less letting them run free as they wished. He wasn’t a babysitter, the best he could do was ensure their safety. He left the discipline up to Aeris.

It was more of a favor to the widow that he was doing this anyways. On his way back from Wutai, he had stopped by Rocket Town looking for Sephiroth. Since the former General wasn’t answering his phone, he hoped to catch the man and talk about what happened the last time they were together. Unfortunately, Sephiroth wasn’t there when he arrived. However, Denzel and Marlene were under the impression that he could be found in Nibelheim.

This was news to Tseng. He hadn’t even known that his lover was frequenting the ShinRa Mansion but apparently, Sephiroth had been found scouring the basement on occasion. No one knew what he was looking for, just that he had been a man possessed – no pun intended – searching for some clue or some bit of research that held the answers.

The children, Denzel especially, had begged to be taken to Nibelheim but since Aeris had Midori to look after, she couldn’t take them. And Tseng found it increasingly difficult to say no to Marlene when she gave him those eyes. Not to mention he wanted to find Sephiroth for himself.

“Mr. Tseng!”

Marlene calling his name snapped him out of his thoughtful fog. He looked up to find both children waiting for him at the top of the stairs, practically dancing on their toes as they paused for him to catch up. Placing a hand on the hilts of Tenken, Tseng quickly climbed the steps.

“Did you find something?” he asked, cresting the last stair.

Denzel nodded, pointing towards the bedrooms to the left. “He’s been sleeping here,” the boy said quietly. “The bed’s rumpled and there are wrappers on the table.”

The Turk lifted a brow, following the child’s directions and striding down the hall. This was also news to him. He lifted a hand, laying it gently on Denzel’s head as the two children trotted beside him.

“You could be a Turk,” he commented, knowing that in many ways, Denzel was already looking up to his adopted father and wanting to be just like him. “You’re investigative skills are great.”

In his quiet way, the boy preened under the attention.

Marlene grabbed Tseng’s other hand, not wanting to be left out. “What about me, Mr. Tseng?” she asked. “Could I be a Turk? Like Elena-aneki?”

Despite himself, the Turk commander chuckled. “I hope you are nothing like Elena,” he responded with a shake of his head, thinking of the fate of the world if there were two of his dear subordinate. Then, noticing Marlene’s crestfallen expression, he clarified.

“What I mean is, you would be better.”

The sunny smile on her face was worth the exaggeration. Tseng sincerely hoped that it would never come to that for either child. He didn’t want them to have the kind of life he had lived. They were children of war, that was true, but he hoped that the time coming meant learning to fight for their lives, their very survival, had passed. He was sick of seeing blood on the faces of young ones.

Denzel slipped out from under his hand, trotting a few extra steps in front of him and darting into the empty room on the left.

“Wait for me!” Marlene shouted, pouting visibly as she released Tseng’s hand and chased after the boy. “No fair, Denzel!”

The Turk shook his head. Children had so much energy. His childhood had been nothing like that. It was almost enough to make a man jealous. Almost.

He followed the two young ones into the room, casting his eyes over the space. It did appear as if someone had taken up a brief residence. The bed was rumpled like Denzel had described, the top comforter thrown to the side and the sheets bunched. The nightstand had a few wrappers, mostly energy bars or trail rations. But the drawer itself was hanging slightly open, enticing Tseng into curiosity.

Marlene poked and prodded at a pile of loose odds and ends, likely belonging to the previous owners of the mansion while Denzel moved to the nightstand, pulling open the drawer. His face drew into a frown as he reached in, withdrawing his hand to reveal what he had found within.

“Is Sephy hurt?” he asked, anxiety filling his tone as he looked up at the Turk.

Tseng felt his mouth go dry at the sight of the bandages, more of a familiar sight than he wanted them to be. He crossed the room, reaching out to pluck the linen wrappings from Denzel’s hand.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly, hating that he had to lie to them. But he couldn’t bear telling them the truth either. “If he is, I wouldn’t worry. Sephiroth is strong.”

Denzel smiled up at him, small but managing to brighten his eyes. “I know.” He shoved the drawer shut with his hands, trapping a few other stray bandage bits in the seam. “He’s the strongest in the world.”

The innocence of a child. If he only knew.

“Denzel! Look what I found!” Marlene called out to her playmate, beckoning the boy over.

The child trotted over to examine whatever Marlene was excited over, leaving Tseng to stare at the bandages in his hand. They weren’t used yet, but he knew eventually they would be. That was always the case.

He was the only one who knew, of course, because he was the only one who had opportunity to see Sephiroth undressed. But the children didn’t need to know – Denzel especially – that the man they looked up to also suffered from Geostigma. Or that his case was the most advanced Tseng had seen while the person still lived. The vast quantities of mako and Jenova in his blood were probably to blame.

Denzel didn’t need to worry and Sephiroth had specifically asked him not to say anything to the boy. Even when he found out that Denzel was afflicted, he still didn’t want the child to know. He was counting his days, wondering when the disease would consume him. Tseng knew that it was pure luck Sephiroth still lived, perhaps a testament to how perfect ShinRa had tried to make him.

The Turk’s fingers tightened as they enclosed around the bandage. Sephiroth had never meant for Tseng to find out either, even if it was inevitable. That night, nearly a year ago, had purely been an accident.

The elbow to his side had been the first thing to wake him, and the moment his brain lifted from a fog, the emotions hit him. Strong enough to cause him to double over, stomach twisting and churning with disgust. He wanted to get up and run to the restroom, spend the next five years bent over the toilet, but his legs simply wouldn’t move.

Revulsion. Hatred. Pain. Disgust. Loathing. Shame. Guilt. Humiliation. Fear.

They cycled, one on top of the other, crashing into his brain and sending sharp stabs of agony through him. Tseng gasped, sucking in a sharp breath as he tried to ascertain what had caused the lapse in his shields. It took a moment for him to concentrate through the sensations and feelings that were so strong, they tried to mesh with his own, simply to share the pain and shame.

…no… not again…”

Low murmurs filtered to his ear, sounding terrified, the pitch that of a man’s but the tone that of a child’s. Sephiroth. He had nearly forgotten, having not yet grown used to sharing his bed, that the former General had stayed with him that night.

… can’t… don’t… please

He was begging someone, that plea enough to cause Tseng’s heart to stutter. He had never heard such loss, such desperation. Even from his own memories of begging to go home, begging his mother not to leave, he hadn’t sounded that despairing.

Tseng tried to swallow down the acid churning in his gut, the nausea that was nearly eclipsing as he turned over, finally laying eyes on Sephiroth. The man was tossing and turning against the sheets, eyes squeezed shut and face pinched with distress.

… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

The last, sounding like a broken record of pleas, was what broke Tseng, shooting him out of his own pain and into action. He couldn’t stand to hear it, the urge to tear off his ears if only to cease listening rising up within him. Broken. He sounded so damned broken.

Tseng rolled over and grabbed Sephiroth’s shoulders. “Sephiroth!” he called loudly, shaking him perhaps a bit too violently. But he couldn’t deny that there was an edge of fear on his own heart as well. Not for himself but for whatever past his lover was currently suffering to relive again.

Mako green eyes popped open as Sephiroth abruptly awoke with a start, and quite violently. A fist shot into the air, Tseng barely dodging the blow as he shoved Sephiroth back down to the bed with all his strength. Beneath him, the former General was struggling to breath, drawing in heavy and harsh pants like a man recently saved from drowning.

His eyes were wide, full of fear and something else, something a bit more terrifying that the Turk never, ever wanted to bear witness to again. He received a glimpse, in that moment, of the madness that could burn down a town and slaughter a best friend.

There was such a thing as knee-shaking, blood-curdling terror, as a piercing agony that one would rather die than experience. Of a fear so beyond your imagination that just the barest mention of it was enough to make you lose your bladder and run screaming until you were hoarse. There were nightmares that stole your soul and crunched it to pieces, chomping all too hungrily on what might have been left of your person.

Whatever reflected in Sephiroth’s gaze had been worse than that. Whatever caused his emotions to turn to solid fire raging with destruction and death was so foul, so rancid that for the briefest of moments, Tseng felt himself gagging. His own eyes widened with fright as he swallowed thickly, feeling himself cringe just the slightest.

Sephiroth blinked and abruptly shoved Tseng away from him, turning over and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. His feet hit the floor, planting solidly as the former General hunched over, elbows on his knees and burying his face in one hand. His hair curtained around his head, hiding his face from Tseng but even so, the Turk could see that he was violently shaking.

The Wutaiian was pretty sure he was shaking as well.

Taking a deep breath, Tseng stared at the back of his lover’s head. “Sephiroth…” he murmured, reaching out with the intention of touching the man’s shoulder.

Don’t,” Sephiroth rasped before his fingers could even brush a pale shoulder, his voice hoarse and frightened, more begging than requesting.

He dropped his hand, lowering it back to his side.

He hated the part of himself that was just a bit afraid right now. He despised the part of his logic that wondered how often this had happened before and if Zack knew about it. But most of all, he loathed the feeling his legs had to get up and run away.

The silence between them was palatable, bitter and rotten to the core.

Frustrated, Tseng focused his gaze on Sephiroth’s back, staring with determination. That was when he noticed it, the bandages wrapped around his lover’s upper torso were slipping. They revealed not claw marks as Sephiroth had claimed, but a darkening bruise, mottled and purple.

Geostigma.

Not a monster’s lucky strike.

Geostigma.

Sephiroth had lied to him. It wasn’t an injury caused by some beast escaped from Hojo’s lab. It wasn’t slow to heal because of a strange new saliva and anti-coagulate properties. It wasn’t an accident.

Geostigma.

Tseng’s blood began to run cold. He should have known better. There was no creature out there that could get the better of Sephiroth. There was no way a man as skilled as he could be that vulnerable. He should have known better.

He saw it now. The extent of the bruising stretched across Sephiroth’s upper back between his shoulder blades. And if that were any indication, then the bandages wrapped around his left arm also hid more sores from the disease. It was one of the most wide-spread cases that Tseng had ever seen.

You have Geostigma,” Tseng stated quietly. He couldn’t help but wince at the note of accusation in his voice, the feelings of betrayal, as his hands clenched into fists.

He would have helped, dammit. He would have done something rather than let Sephiroth suffer alone. Why did he have to be such a stubborn bastard?

Sephiroth remained silent, his position unchanging.

Why did you lie?” Tseng pressed, hating the heavy feel of the air surrounding them.

You don’t need to worry about it,” Sephiroth responded, the muscles in his back twitching. The dangling hand clenched and unclenched, causing the bandages on his arm to shift. “It’s my curse to bear.”

Tseng pursed his lips, taking a deep breath. He dared reach out again, managing to set his hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder without reproach. The former General shook beneath his touch, still violently, and his body was bathed in a cold sweat. The Turk chewed his lip, inching closer.

The bandages felt all too warm and soft beneath his fingers. “Sephiroth-“

I don’t want Denzel to know,” Sephiroth interrupted, something in his tone sounding too much like defeat. “I don’t want anyone to know.”

But Reeve-“

-can’t do anything,” his lover finished for him. “You know that as well as I do. They don’t have any more clue than I what’s going on.” His empty hand opened and closed. “Sometimes I can’t even move this arm.”

There was a pause before Tseng ventured, “Is that what you were dreaming about?”

Sephiroth visibly stiffened, keeping his silence.

Talk to me.”

…No.”

On the verge of frustration, his head still aching from the waves of dark emotions floating his way, Tseng pushed. “Sephiroth-“

A flash of complete and utter fear shot through the man, so strong it exploded through the Turk’s shields. Afraid. Sephiroth was afraid of him.

No, Tseng!” Sephiroth snapped. It was a tone that his lover had never taken with him before.

On instinct, Tseng recoiled.

The room filled with more silence.

Sephiroth sighed, shaking his head. “I don’t… I don’t want to remember,” he admitted in a quiet voice, barely loud enough for Tseng to hear. “I would be happy if these memories disappeared.”

Tseng furrowed his brow but before he could even ask anything else, Sephiroth abruptly stood and practically fled from the room, vanishing into the bathroom. The Wutaiian was left to ponder, his own hands trembling from what had just occurred.

A small hand grabbed Tseng’s empty fingers and tugged. “We should check the basement,” Marlene suggested, looking up at him with bright, alive eyes, forcing him out of his memories.

Tseng nodded mutely, his eyes lingering on the bandages in his grasp as she let go and trotted across the floor to recruit Denzel. That night, Sephiroth had returned to the bed but refused to say anything else. The next morning, he disappeared for a full month and it was after that when he began keeping longer absences. The last time Tseng had seen his lover, the sores from Geostigma had spread further, creeping towards his neck.

The Turk couldn’t help but morbidly wonder just how much longer his lover had to live.

“Why won’t you let me help?” he whispered to himself.

“Mr. Tseng! We can’t reach the switch!”

Marlene’s voice was loud as it echoed through the mansion, seeking him out with unerring accuracy as only children were capable of doing.

He let the bandages slip through his fingers to the floor.

“I’m coming!”


The heavy sigh sounded overly dramatic, even to Reeve, as it pierced the comfortable silence of his office. He lifted his gaze from the proposal he was considering, tapping the end of the line with his pen so he wouldn’t forget, and set his eyes on the perpetrator of said sigh. Archer was sitting in his usual chair, a stack of documents on his folded leg, but he didn’t appear to be looking at them as much as he was staring off at something only he could see.

Reno, who had been standing by the window, exchanged glances with his husband. With a sneaky grin, he crept over to the engineer, waving a hand in front of the man’s face.

“Yo, Archer! You in there?”

Amethyst eyes blinked. “What are you doing?” Archer demanded, slapping his hand down on his papers to stop them from sliding from his lap.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Reno countered, peering curiously at the older male. “What’s got you off in dreamland?”

Archer shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

“You’ve been sighing like that for the past two hours,” Reeve pointed out, having noticed it himself. “When you left for lunch you were excited. Then you returned melancholy.”

The engineer lifted a brow, turning uninterested eyes back towards his documents. “Did I?” he posed, mindlessly organizing the report.

Husbands exchanged glances with Reno taking up the interrogation once more. “You were getting laid, weren’t you?” he asked suddenly.

Archer stilled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come on. No guy looks like that unless he’s been getting some,” Reno egged on, pleased to have something to do other than stare out the window and wait for something to happen. Besides, Revan was taking her afternoon nap right now so he couldn’t go play with his daughter even if he wanted to.

“Reno,” Reeve began in exasperation, putting down his pen in the interest of stretching out the kinks in his neck.

His husband shot him a pretend innocent look. “What?”

Archer sighed and rose to his feet, setting his burden down on the seat behind him. “You are incorrigible,” he grumbled. “And impossibly nosy. There’s nothing going on.”

At his desk, Reeve shook his head, chuckling. “You only say that when you do have something to hide. You’ve always been terrible with secrets.”

The engineer rolled his eyes. “And you’re worse than he is. I’m beginning to think you would have made a great Turk.”

“Yes. It is such a pity that I put aside my ambitions for that and settled for becoming President of the WRO,” Reeve countered dryly, turning his eyes back towards the proposal though he had long lost interest in it. “It is not as if we are condemning you, Archer. We are merely concerned.”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Archer sighed. “I know,” he responded, turning away from both. “But it’s not exactly something I want to talk about right now.”

The door to Reeve’s office suddenly burst open, torn from its hinges by an incredible force. It teetered to the ground with a loud crash, causing all three men to turn towards the doorway in disbelief. Their eyes widened when a silver-haired young man, dressed all in black, stepped into the room.

“Mr. President,” the male drawled in an almost lazy tone that nearly mimicked Reno’s. “How nice for us to finally meet.”

A strangled sound emerged from Archer’s throat, attracting the stranger’s attention. Green eyes flickered his direction and for a moment, the boy was stunned solid.

Weakness,’ he told himself in a voice that suspiciously sounded like Mother’s. ‘This is the weakness that she always talked about.’

The President jerked to his feet, eyes narrowed in anger. “Who are you?” he demanded, fixing a fierce glare on the intruder.

But it wasn’t the boy who answered.

“K-Kadaj,” Archer stuttered, his eyes widening as he unconsciously took a step back. Confusion was writ upon his face, confusion and sadness swirling together.

Reeve and the stranger both glanced at him briefly before the young man continued as if Archer had never spoken at all. “I should think it obvious,” he announced, throwing one hand to the side in an idle gesture. “Even you know what I am here for.”

“Jenova,” the President hissed in understanding, his every sense on edge, waiting for Kadaj to make his first move.

Reno’s mouth dropped in surprise. “This brat is the one that took down Zack?” he asked, voice filled with disbelief.

The young man, who could have been Sephiroth’s younger brother, glanced briefly at Reno before completely dismissing him. “Nothing but a howling mutt,” he muttered with a lack of interest.

The Turk pursed his lips, anger causing high spots of color to darken his cheeks as he snapped the Electro Rod in his hand. “Bastard,” he hissed, darting towards Kadaj with the intent of taking the man down.

“Reno!”

But the redhead was beyond listening to any orders. He sprang towards Kadaj without fear, unwilling to let the brat even think about harming his friends. He swung viciously at the shorter male and that was when Kadaj seemed to disappear, his image becoming a faint outline. Reno stumbled, gaping in surprise and whirled just in time to feel his Electro Rod jerked from his hand.

‘That damn brat fuckin’ disappeared!’ ran over and over in Reno’s mind, disbelief etching onto his brain.

A fist slammed into his belly, knocking the breath out of him in one fell swoop. Reno gasped, attempting to twist away from Kadaj. He pivoted on his leg, aiming a kick at the younger man’s head. Kadaj ducked easily, slamming his own damn weapon into his side and activating the electricity with a flick of his thumb.

“Auuuuugh!” Reno screamed, his entire body seizing as jolts raced through his body, setting all of his nerves on fire.

His knees buckled and he collapsed, landing on his hands and knees, struggling to draw breath into suddenly closing lungs. Kadaj rounded on him, kicking out and slamming his boot into Reno’s soft belly. The Turk distinctly heard his own ribs crack and gasped, blood spurting wetly from his mouth as he toppled over, hacking harshly.

It all happened so damn quickly that Reeve barely had a chance to register it, staring in horror at the crumpled body of his husband, spitting up blood on the wooden floor.

The Electro Rod dropped to the ground with a clatter. “Pathetic,” Kadaj sneered with distaste, shoving Reno over with a boot before lifting his gaze to the other two men. One black gloved hand reached for his sword.

Archer forced himself out of his stunned daze, hating the fact that he didn’t have his Labrys. He searched his materia stores, throwing a Stop without delay. It struck the so-called remnant full force as Kadaj approached him and he paused but for only a moment. The young man shook it off as if it were nothing more than a sneeze.

Mako green eyes, so eerily similar to Sephiroth’s, flashed angrily as Kadaj swung a fist at the engineer. Archer threw up his hands to block the blow and was thrust backwards by the sheer force of the punch, his arms screaming in agony where he was sure to have a bruise later. Provided he survived of course.

Kadaj flashed forward, shoving through Archer’s defenses with ease and slamming his fist into the engineer’s face. The older man’s head snapped to the side, the impact knocking him into a crouch though his mind spun dizzily. Blood dribbled from his lip.

“I’m tired of games, Mr. President!” the remnant snarled, fingers pulled into another fist as he prepared to strike once more.

Reeve swallowed thickly, hating the fear that entered his heart. “Stand down,” he ordered, noticing that Archer was beginning to rise once more, wiping away the blood on his chin.

The engineer shook his head, something unnameable in his eyes. “Reeve-”

But amber eyes hardened. “Stand. Down,” the President uttered through gritted teeth. He flattened one palm on his desk, glaring at Kadaj as Archer reluctantly obeyed. “What do you want?”

The remnant turned away from Archer and smirked, raking a hand through his hair and not caring for the blood already spattering the leather. “Mother.”

Reeve felt his insides twist with fury. “She is not here.”

Kadaj shook his head, tsking lightly. “Boy, do I hate lies.”

“It’s not a lie. The object you seek fell from the helicopter while my subordinate was fleeing,” the President lied, knowing that there was no way in Hades he was going to allow Kadaj to get a hold of Jenova. “I’m afraid it was a careless act.”

The boy didn’t seem to be buying it. He tilted his head to the side, stepping around Reno’s gasping body. “Is that right?” he posed in an almost sultry tone, hand lingering near his sword.

“It is.”

Green eyes watched as he held up his free hand, something perched between his fingers. “Then explain these,” he retorted, flicking the items onto the desk in front of Reeve.

Twin clatters echoed in the office.

Despite himself, amber eyes turned towards the objects and Reeve stiffened, recognizing them both immediately. Elena’s ID and Zack’s earring, both covered in blood. Logically, he knew that the two were safe, currently being treated in the medical rooms a few floors below him. But the reminder of what they had suffered churned his stomach and incensed him all in the same moment.

He visibly pulled himself together, refraining from engaging in a fight before he could discern exactly what Kadaj had planned. “Why are you doing this?”

Kadaj’s lips pulled into a malicious smirk.

Only a few feet from the remnant, Archer was slowly rising to his feet, wincing at the ache in his jaw. He knew there had to be a bruise but was even more certain that had Kadaj used his full strength, he would be suffering from a broken jaw. There had to be something of his lover still inside, there had to be.

Archer didn’t want to believe that the past year had been nothing but a lie.

“We need Mother’s power,” Kadaj finally answered, straightening and lowering his hand from the hilt of his sword. “The Reunion is coming.”

Reeve frowned, something about the term niggling at the back of his mind as if he had heard it before. “Reunion…?”

The remnant suddenly laughed, throwing his arms to the side demonstratively. “Yes, Reunion. My brothers and sisters who all share Mother’s cells will all assemble, and together we’ll take revenge on the planet! We already sent out the invitations, but…” he paused, shaking his head and giving a dangerous chuckle. “You know, someone’s gone and hidden the guest of honor.”

The President couldn’t help but wonder if the crazed boy was including Sephiroth in their plans. “Invitations?” he repeated, wanting Kadaj to clarify.

Kadaj smiled coyly, approaching Reeve though he remained ever-aware of Archer slowly inching nearer. “The stigma,” he said simply. “But, you know all about that, don’t you, sir? Mother’s mimetic legacy lives on in the Lifestream and makes it happen.”

Reeve’s eyes widened. Had their assumptions been correct? Was Kadaj implying that Geostigma was caused by Jenova in the Lifestream?

“She does… so much for us,” Kadaj continued, beginning to sound as if he were on his way to a petulant pout. “And we… we don’t even know where to find her!” He crossed his arms over his chest, balancing one elbow on his hand as he gestured with empty fingers. “But what can we do? We’re just remnants.”

The President frowned, tilting his head to the side. “Remnants?” he asked, feeling like he was only parroting Kadaj’s words back at him.

But the boy was no longer really paying attention to him. His face twisted, for once looking every bit like a spoiled child not getting his way than a man possessed by Jenova. “Really. Remnants of Mother’s legacy.” He glowered, eyes darkening. “Until we find Mother and receive cells, we can’t be whole again. Geostigma and a legacy aren’t enough for a true reunion.”

The last was said in a shuddering tone, as his hand clenched into a fist, both suddenly dropping to his side. “And even then, we won’t be good enough.”

Somewhat startled by the change in Kadaj, the President forced himself to respond. “It is unfortunate. But as I said, your mother is not here.”

The remnant turned towards him, staring as his face lost all trace of mockery. “You lie, Mr. President. And I know, because I can feel her.” His eyes flickered to the door just past Reeve. “In there, I wonder?”

Reeve jerked, his heart trying to leap out of his chest in concern as he stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over his chair in an effort to place himself before the door. He knew that it would have been better if he pretended there was nothing of importance behind the door but his daughter was in that room. He simply couldn’t just stand aside.

On the ground, Reno coughed up blood and shakily tried to climb to his feet. “Stay away from there,” he growled, his legs feeling like jelly as he clutched his ribs.

“She is not here,” Reeve reiterated, his hand clenching into a fist as he physically blocked the door with his body. His entire body threatened to tremble with fear for his daughter’s safety.

Kadaj chuckled menacingly. “Now I have to look,” he purred, taking a purposeful step towards the door. Something flashed green and poisonous in his eyes.

The President wasn’t’ taking any chances. He flicked a dagger into his hand warningly, flicking his gaze past the so-called remnant to the others, Archer especially who had managed to creep close to be of aid. From the look on his face, he was preparing to cast something, hopefully debilitating.

“I won’t let you,” Reeve declared icily.

The corner of Kadaj’s mouth curled up into a smirk and Reeve’s muscles tensed, preparing for an attack that never came. Kadaj suddenly turned and grabbed Archer by the neck, shoving him against the wall with the strength of only one arm. His thumb dug into the man’s throat as he lifted the engineer clear off the throat.

Archer gasped, his hands scrabbling uselessly at the boy’s arm. “K-Kadaj,” he gasped, eyes pleading his lover.

His pleas were ignored. “I could kill him, Mr. President,” Kadaj threatened, leaning forwards and curling out his tongue, licking along Archer’s cheek to Reeve’s surprise.

The engineer choked, fingers digging into black leather. “W-what… are you doing, Touki?”

The silver-haired male paled.

Why do you call me that?”

I think it’s only fair, don’t you?”

His lover shot him a disbelieving look.

Archer chuckled and kissed the side of his neck. “Because you remind me of winter, cold and beautiful.” He dragged his hands down a pale side, fingers briefly dancing over pale and scarred skin. “Except you’re pretty warm when I do this,” he added, tongue flicking over an erogenous zone.

Hips surged into his touch as his lover moaned. “You’re positively evil, Kyle. Warmth makes snow melt. Or didn’t you know that?”

The engineer made a noncommittal noise in his throat, lips busily tasting more of that delectable skin. “But it comes back when the seasons cycle,” he replied without missing a beat, one hand sliding around the outside of a thigh. “It always comes back.”

Kadaj jerked, pupils narrowing to pinpoints as his face appeared to soften. He looked at the man in his grip, those imploring amethyst eyes and for a moment, his grip slackened by just a fraction.

“Touki…”

The remnant flinched as if visibly struck and bared his teeth, fingers tightening and causing Archer to choke, feeling spots flicker behind his eyes.

“Let him go,” Reeve demanded, standing firm and attracting Kadaj’s attention. “His death will gain you nothing.”

“On the contrary,” Kadaj countered, staring directly into once-familiar eyes. “Death will gain me everything.” He looked over his shoulder at Reeve and smirked, dragging Archer by the neck and tossing him almost effortlessly, as if he were nothing more than a discarded toy.

The engineer flew across the room, colliding with Reno who had finally found it in him to cast a Cure and was making his way across the floor. They struck the floor, limbs entangling as Archer went limp, coughing and struggling to draw in a breath.

It was ridiculous, Reeve swore to himself. There was no way that thin child should have so much power. It was like standing and facing Sephiroth once again.

And then, Kadaj was suddenly there, perched right in front of Reeve where he hadn’t been before. He moved faster than a blink, less than a foot away from the President with that same sick smile and sadistic glee painted onto his face. Gone was the confusion and flashes of insecurity, leaving only madness behind.

“Let me be the first to show you,” Kadaj purred and reached up, grabbing the stunned President by the head with both hands.

Reeve wanted to fight back, present more of a challenge than dropping to his knees and screaming at the top of his lungs as what can only be described as pain rocketed through his body. It felt as if needles were shooting through his brain and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. On the edge of his conscious, he heard Reno call his name but it was lost in the images that suddenly blasted into his mind.

Sephiroth. Burning fires. Laughter, so much laughter and… pride? Blood dripping on a white, white floor and someone was crying in the corner. Begging with a child’s eyes for a reprieve.

He could feel his knees tremble as his hands fall uselessly to his sides, the knife falling from nerveless fingers with a clatter.

It was a melange of thoughts and memories and pain and sadness, all swirling and attacking him with a fury previously unrivaled. He saw Jenova, whole, as she was before Hojo began taking slices from her flesh. A blue-bodied woman, silver hair streaming from her rather dainty expression and cold green eyes.

He saw Sephiroth, masamune in hand and standing over a sea of roaring flames. But there were tears dripping down his face. Past or future, he couldn’t tell.

“Now,” Kadaj hissed, fingers digging into Reeve’s scalp. “Tell me where she is.”

But the President couldn’t form a word, much less even begin to comprehend the question. He teetered on the edge and gasping, struggled to remain conscious.

Kadaj sneered in disgust, fully prepared to dispose of the useless human in front of him. Mother was crying for his blood, viciously demanding to see it painting the white walls.

A sound suddenly blasted from behind him, causing him to startle and whirl, releasing his hold on the executive. Reeve toppled to the floor, losing the battle for consciousness, but Kadaj paid him no attention. His eyes were fixated on the baby monitor where an infant’s cry for care blared loudly.

The remnant flinched as if he had been stung, something all too human flashing in his eyes. He gritted his teeth, jaw visibly trembling to the surprise of the other two men.

Kadaj shook his head, suddenly grabbing his temple. “No. No. No!” He abruptly leapt over the desk, darting past both Reno and Archer and out the door without another word.

Though confused by what had just happened, Reno pushed it to the back of his mind. He rushed towards his crumpled husband. “Reeve!”

Behind him, Archer sucked in a breath, still turned towards the open door that Kadaj had disappeared through. He took in a step in that direction.

“Archer!” Reno snarled, stopping him in his tracks as he glared at the engineer. “Don’t you dare think of going after him!”

The engineer whirled on him, face drawn tight with a mixture of confusion and misery, an argument written on his features.

“I don’t care what the fuck is going on but-”

Reno abruptly cut off as Reeve coughed, eyelids fluttering as he awoke, one hand rising to his head which throbbed as if he had been spending the entire night in a bottle of tequila. “Reno…?”

The Turk breathed a sigh of relief. “Dammit,” he cursed, holding Reeve’s head to his chest. “You always fuckin’ scare me!”

The executive reached up, tangling his fingers in red hair soothingly. “Sorry,” he whispered.

Archer turned away from the couple, his eyes following the path that Kadaj had taken. He wanted to go after his own lover so badly that it swelled up inside of him, threatening to burst. Logically, he knew that Kadaj was so far ahead that he’d never catch up. But he had to know, he had to ask why.

He had known, from the moment Kadaj crashed through the door, that the boy standing there was not the same Touki that he had spent the last year with. There was a change in his eyes, once a soft green but now burning with venom. And for a moment, he could have sworn that he had the true Kadaj back.

It had to be that bitch, that Jenova, that was influencing him. Just as she had tugged on Sephiroth’s strings, she was now doing the same to Kadaj. And Archer couldn’t help but want to save him.

He took a step.

“Archer.”

The engineer paused mid-stride. “I have to,” he responded without turning to look at either of the two men behind him. He could guess that they were watching him now, though he couldn’t see them, and knew that questions were likely banking behind their lips. But he didn’t feel like he had the answers to give them, or the time to spare.

There was a moment of silence.

“He’ll kill you,” Reeve said quietly, his voice filled with sympathy. “Without a second thought.”

The engineer’s lips thinned as he shook his head, thinking of that one second, that one instance when Touki had looked at him and not that bitch. “No. He’s still human,” he responded resolutely. “She doesn’t have him completely. Not yet. She doesn’t…” he trailed off in frustration, wishing he could explain it better.

A bitter silence descended on the room, quickly broken by Revan’s cries through the monitor. She had likely woken from all the noise.

Reno sighed. “I’ll get her,” he said, turning away and padding to the door, disappearing into the back room with a last, “Daddy’s coming, sweetheart.” It would have been cute if weren’t for the situation.

Once his husband was gone, Reeve exhaled softly. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asked, picking his way to his chair and righting it before plopping down into it. He was rubbing his forehead where a headache still lingered, despite the brief Cure he had whispered for both he and Reno.

Archer breathed deeply, struggling to gain a hold of himself as he ripped his gaze from staring longingly out the door. “You’re the ones that said Sephiroth didn’t have any siblings. I thought it was okay.”

“Okay?” Reeve countered, voice thick with his disbelief as he gaped at his close friend. “In what part of your logic could it be okay?”

Archer winced but the President continued. “He looks just like Sephiroth whom we all know is the only person in the world with silver hair! And he’s just a kid! Not even half your age!”

“Like you’re one to talk,” the engineer snapped, whirling on his boss and friend as annoyance trickled into his emotions, mixing with the sadness and confusion and leaving him a certified, effusive wreck.

Reeve eyed the other man. “This is different,” he protested.

“How?” Archer demanded, stepping towards the desk and flattening his palms on it. “How is it different, Reeve? Sephiroth was just the same as Kadaj and now look at him. He’s not perfect but he’s trying. Who’s to say that Kadaj isn’t just like him, needing to be saved?”

Amber eyes widened in understanding as Reeve took in the earnest in Archer’s expression. Even with bruises already developing around his neck and face, with his feelings having been ground to dust, the engineer was still determined. He still believed.

“By Kami,” the President breathed in amazement. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

The other man paled, backpedaling quickly. “I-I’m not,” he denied in a small voice. “At least… I can’t be.”

It didn’t sound as if he believed himself, his words ringing hollow and untrue.

Reeve shook his head, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “You are,” he realized, wondering if the world had just gone mad when he wasn’t looking. “Between you and Tseng, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“About what?” Reno asked, suddenly appearing in the room with a bundle cuddled in his arms. He rocked Revan gently, his daughter gurgling happily as she received the attention she had wanted so desperately.

“Kadaj,” Reeve answered with a pointed look at Archer, refusing to reveal the man’s secret just yet. “He won’t stop until he acquires Jenova. I don’t know what made him stop this time but I can guarantee he’ll be back.”

Reno frowned, coming to a pause besides his husband. “Maybe Vincent knows something.”

“It’s possible,” the President responded. “But I have to wait until he contacts me. Until then… it’s anyone’s guess.”

Both men seemed oblivious to the fact that Archer himself was torn, caught in the middle of unsurety. He didn’t know what to do.

“What do you think will be his next move?” Reno put forth.

The President shook his head. “I don’t know. Jenova wants nothing more than absolute destruction and right now, she has three perfect puppets. We have no choice but to stop them.”

He lifted his eyes to Archer, amber full of sympathy. “Whatever it takes.”

The engineer sighed and looked away.

He didn’t want to admit that maybe, Reeve was right.

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