[Shattered] Children 26

Chapter Seventeen- Crashing on the Shore

Pen scribbling over paper. Hand swiping over his brow. Palm digging into his eyes to stay awake just a while longer. And the phone rang again. Reeve reached for it without looking, tilting his head to notch it between his ear and shoulder.

“Tuesti here,” he answered crisply, and dully listened to the voice on the other end. More reinforcements, more supplies, more dead bodies, more destruction. He wished he could be surprised.

Every member of WRO had been called to active duty, pulled from all over the globe. But they couldn’t get here fast enough and Reeve had innocent citizens dying in the street because he couldn’t get the help to them in time. Cid was putting the Valenwind through its paces just to pick up and distribute the forces, but it wasn’t enough. Still, Reeve tried.

He ended the call several minutes later, the news only allowing him a brief breath. The reinforcements from Cosmo Canyon had arrived, spilling into Junon and hopefully, helping to tend the wounded. He was still waiting on those from Wutai that Yuffie and her cabinet had promised. But they had a longer journey to make.

And papers spread in front of him. Stacks upon stacks of reports. A good portion of the buildings were merely rubble, nothing salvageable except perhaps after months of digging. It had rained everywhere, reports of Geostigma being pulled in from the entire world – his one saving grace. And through it all, three men sat in cells in headquarters because no one was quite willing to decide what to do with them yet.

The phone rang again. Reeve blinked to add some moisture to his parched eyes, and reached for the jangling noise filling the silence. Someone else’s hand got their first and his fingers touched warm skin, jarring him from his rhythm.

Reeve blinked again, looking up to see Reno watching him, his own expression as tired as Reeve’s must have been. “I’ve got it,” was all he said, and Reeve let him answer the phone, Reno unsurprisingly reliable. He never would made it as second-in-command otherwise.

His husband’s voice soothed straight through him and Reeve drew a breath, glancing down at the papers in front of him. The words were starting to blur again. He rubbed his palm over his eyes. There was a click as Reno returned the phone to the cradle.

“And?” Reeve asked, fingers tightening around his pen. The second he’d gone through in the past day? Two days? He wasn’t even sure anymore.

Reno shrugged dismissively. “It stopped raining.”

“Did it?” Reeve lifted dull eyes to the window, where indeed, the sight of falling water had ceased.

It rained for quite some time, but then, there were many people infected with Geostigma. Reeve didn’t know what the weather had to do with fixing it, but decided he’d just go with it. Stranger things had happened.

Reno inclined his head and placed his palms flat on the desk, lowering himself until he was eye to eye with his husband. “Reeve, when was the last time you slept?”

The president paused, tapping the end of his pencil against the desk. “When did the rain start?”

“Twenty-four hours ago. At least, the third times anyways.”

“Then sometime before that,” Reeve responded, and shook his head, glancing down at the blurring numbers again. “I honestly can’t remember.”

Reno rounded the desk, and his warm arms coming down around Reeve from behind felt like a blessing. “Have you even given yourself time to grieve?”

“Would that I had time,” Reeve responded, and unwound cramped fingers from his pen, letting it clatter to the desktop. “But there’s too much to do. Too much to take care of. Too much-”

A hand covered his mouth as Reno pressed against him, all hard angles and heat, smelling faintly like rain and gunpowder and blood. “Come to bed with me. And don’t give me any bullshit about havin’ too much to do, yo.”

Reeve knew that his husband was right. The tensions running through his body ached, and he couldn’t concentrate anyways. He’d been staring at the same piece of paper for twenty minutes, unable to decipher the writing on it as it faded in and out of clarity. His head pounded with his skull, his stomach so empty it no longer complained. He would collapse soon, by choice or not.

He lifted a hand, placing it on Reno’s arm, and squeezed. “I can’t get up if you won’t let me.”

“Just a minute,” Reno mumbled, his face pressed against the back of Reeve’s shoulder, his arms tightening in their hold.

Reeve understood. Reno hadn’t had time to grieve either. And losing Elena was like losing a sister to him, a piece of his family. Marlene’s death had also struck particularly hard, as she was young. So very young. And they had all failed to protect her, every last one of them. Reeve couldn’t even imagine what Tseng suffered.

“There’s nothing you or I could have done,” Reeve murmured, closing his eyes and letting Reno soak up the comfort. He could use some of it himself. “And I’m saying it because I actually believe it, not just for your benefit.”

“I know,” Reno said, his voice thick with unshed emotion. “Elena’s one of the best Turks we ever had. It’s just…” He broke off, unwilling or unable to finish his sentence, but Reeve understood all too well. That it didn’t seem fair remained unspoken. It was the same that had crossed their minds after losing Cloud to the Chaos War.

Reno sighed softly, tilting his head to press a warm kiss against the side of Reeve’s throat. The phone rang again, and amber eyes opened to glare at the offending object, the sharp jangling noise piercing his senses.

“Ignore it,” Reno urged. “The world can take care of itself for a few hours, yo.”

The president wanted to agree with him. Every fiber of his being ached, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed with his husband and sleep for the longest time. To bring his sister and his daughter home and to kiss Revan on the forehead and soak up the comfort of family.

He lifted his hand, his arm feeling like dead weight. “It could be important,” he muttered, and told himself that his fingers absolutely weren’t shaking. Even if they obviously were.

“Or it is probably just someone giving you another report about something you could stand to know in a few hours,” Reno corrected, grabbing his wrist and pulling it away from the phone. “Ignore it.”

Reeve considered listening to his husband and obeying, but the phone had the unique ability to penetrate into his brain, signaling its urgency. Phones and bad news had become synonymous in his eyes and ears. And a part of him didn’t want to know what else had gone wrong, or how many more bodies had been found, or what else was collapsing. His heart couldn’t take it.

The door to his office chose that moment to burst open without so much as a knock or a signal to the person’s presence, though admittedly there were few capable of getting to this level of headquarters. Reeve looked up to see his sister entering, burdened down with several bags of necessary supplies and one infant, who immediately gurgled on sight of her two fathers.

“I want to see him,” Reis stated without any hesitation, slightly out of breath, a hint of red to her cheeks. Her amber eyes were ringed in shadows.

Reeve rose to his feet, Reno at his side, as they helped relieve Reis of all her burdens. The president took hold of the mass of wriggling that was his daughter, tucking her into his arms.

“Who?” he asked, utterly confused. “And how did you get here?”

She waved a hand in dismissal, only to drag fingers through her slightly disarrayed hair. “Caught a ride on the Valenwind with Aeris and the others, but that’s neither here nor there.” Reis paused to take a breath, looking as if she’d run the entire distance from one continent to the other. “And by him I mean Yazoo. He’s alive, isn’t he? I want to see him.”

Several thuds echoed in the office as Reno dropped the bags she had brought in, casting her a stunned look.

Reeve, for his part, lifted his free hand and rubbed it against his forehead. He could feel the aching already, and hated himself for forgetting that brief phone call where Reis had revealed she knew Yazoo somehow. In the aftermath of the battle, and finding Elena and Marlene, he’d let it slip his mind completely.

“How do you know him?” Reno demanded, speaking when Reeve could not.

“Between you and Archer, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself,” Reeve added, more of a murmur to himself than anything else.

His family, his friends, hiding their associations to a bunch of Sephiroth-lookalikes. How could none of them see the danger in that? Reeve struggled to think of anyone else he knew that could possibly have a connection to Loz, but none came to mind. He supposed only time would tell to see what other secrets slipped out.

Reis shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. I want answers, brother, and I want them now. What’s going on?”

Reeve felt the sudden need to sit down and he wandered to the couch, plopping down on it as Revan made a noise of disapproval. His arm automatically took up a swaying motion to comfort her. “Yazoo is one of the three brothers who, under Jenova’s influence, tried to destroy the planet. He is one of Hojo’s last experiments.”

He told her the truth because she was old enough to understand. And because she had to know what she was getting into, how near to danger she had been.

“He’s not exactly stable,” Reeve continued, feeling something tug deep in his chest at the look on his sister’s face. “We don’t even know if Jenova’s completely gone from them, or what. Right now, he’s imprisoned in the lower levels.”

The words had barely left his mouth before Reis was turning, heading towards the door. No doubt straight for the lower levels. She knew where to go.

Reno quickly caught her arm, stopping her progress. “Whatever ya think you knew of him probably didn’t really exist,” Reno said, the same that Reeve would have said if he didn’t feel so very tired. He wanted to stop Reis, he honestly did, but he also knew his sister and her stubbornness. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“I don’t care,” Reis said, in a tone of voice that implied there was to be no argument. “You don’t know him.”

“And you don’t either,” Reeve interjected quietly, ignoring the heated look his sister tossed at him, amber eyes flashing with fire. “It’s impossible to say what Hojo’s madness has created.”

She worked her jaw, letting out a harsh exhale. “If you treat him like a monster, then he’ll become one. But he’s the same as Sephiroth, Reeve. I’m sure of it. Let me see him.”

“I’m not trying to stop you. I just don’t want you to be surprised when you see him again.” He knew far better than to try. He could forbid until his face turned blue and his lips fell off, but she would just sneak in at the first opportunity.

Her eyes flickered to Reno, who finally released her arm. “Let us be a bit concerned for our precious sister, ne?” he said, with a tight smile. “It’s been a long few days.”

“And probably even longer for him,” Reis returned quietly. “Which room is it?”

“502.”

She inclined her head and was gone, before either he or Reno could say another word, the door clicking shut behind her. Reno let out a huge sigh and dropped down into the couch next to Reeve, reaching over trace a finger down Revan’s cheek.

“Hey sweetheart,” he murmured, Revan turning towards the touch and opening her eyes briefly, eyes the same shade as her reckless father.

Reeve leaned over a bit on Reno’s bony shoulder, feeling older than his years. “I think I’m ready to go to bed now,” he muttered.

His husband chuckled quietly. “Yeah, me too.”

Restless, Aeris put aside the book she had been reading and stared at the far wall, covered by a lovely painting. She had long since memorized the details of it, still feeling a restless urge inside of her. Midori was asleep finally, the emotions and stress of the day wearing thin on her infantile body. And with nothing to do, Aeris could only sit and think.

Her own emotions were frazzled. It had been good to see Cloud again, very relieving, but also bittersweet. It had been much harder to watch him leave for the second time, even if she could still feel him inside her. His warmth and kindness, his love, they resonated through her. She didn’t feel alone – honestly, with all their friends how could she possibly – but she missed him.

Aeris breathed out slowly, lifting a hand and rubbing at her temples out of habit alone. Grief hung like a heavy pall in the air, thick enough to breathe. Aeris herself felt numb, Marlene’s death spearing her through the heart. She had been responsible for the little girl and look what had become of it. And Tseng! She knew it had to be tearing him up inside. And Elena’s death had caused the WRO employees to walk around in a daze – Reno and Rude especially, who felt as if they had lost a sibling.

One of their family indeed. That was what they had all become. A group of former terrorists, orphans, intellectuals, soldiers – truly eclectic – and yet nothing meant more to them then each other. The bonds that war would weave.

Someone knocked lightly on the door, pulling Aeris from her thoughts. It could be any number of people, and she rose to her feet, easily avoiding furniture in the dimly lit resting room. She suspected it would be some time before she would return home to Rocket Town. There were things that needed to be done here.

Opening the door, Aeris had only a moment to recognize Sephiroth – and all his haggard appearance – before the man launched into speech without so much as a greeting.

“I need your help,” he said, shoulders slumped and eyes darkened an uncountable surge of emotion.

Aeris blinked. “I… what?”

Lifting his shoulders and spreading his hands helplessly, Sephiroth elaborated. “It’s Zack. I don’t… I don’t know how to help him and he needs it and there’s nothing I can do.”

In a moment, Aeris understood. She stepped aside, gesturing him within. “Let’s not talk about this in the hallway.”

He nodded and moved to enter, before looking at her hastily with a tip of his head. “Ah, I apologize for disturbing you at this hour.”

Her lips twitched, very close to a smile. “It’s three in the afternoon, Sephiroth.”

Inside, his gaze swept the room, truly a soldier’s habit, and he fidgeted as he stood in the middle of the clear floor. “Is it?” he murmured, dragging fingers through his hair. She politely didn’t notice that his fingers were trembling.

She let the door shut and flicked on the lights, though she used the dimmer to keep them low so as not to wake Midori. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Yesterday?” Sephiroth returned, obviously hazarding a guess. The room now lit, he located what was possibly the most uncomfortable chair in the room and lowered himself into it. “Or the day before that? I’m not entirely sure what day it is, to be honest.”

“Understandable.” Aeris returned to her chair, by Midori’s borrowed bassinet, and let her eyes wander back to Sephiroth. “You look as if you could use some rest.”

He sagged in the chair. “Probably, yes. But circumstances never make things so simple.” And Sephiroth fidgeted again, only proving his fatigue.

Aeris dropped a hand into Midori’s bassinet, gently stroking her fingers over Midori’s back. “No, they don’t, do they?” she responded quietly, thinking of Cloud in that moment. “You asked for my help?”

Inclining his head, Sephiroth rubbed a hand across his eyes, trying to wipe away a week’s worth of weariness. “What do I know about this kind of thing?” he asked in a roundabout manner. “I was made a soldier. How am I supposed to comfort someone?”

Sympathetic, Aeris listened, understanding Sephiroth’s dilemma. It was hard enough for the former General to come to terms with his own emotions, much less someone else’s. And to worsen matters, he had three grieving persons on his hands – his best friend, his lover, and his adoptive son. No wonder he was overwhelmed.

“I think you’ll be better at it then you know,” Aeris assured him. “It doesn’t take much. It’s enough to let him know you’re there.”

Dragging a hand through his hair – it was kind of cute that Sephiroth had such an aggravated habit – Sephiroth breathed slowly. “You might be right. But I’m only one person; I can’t help them both. And I can’t abandon them either.”

“What would you have me do?”

“I’m worried about Zack,” Sephiroth explained, leaning forward and placing his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. “He’s just bottling it up, taking it out on the equipment in the arena.” He paused, looking crestfallen. “He wouldn’t talk to me. He just wanted to be alone.”

To anyone else, it would seem unreasonable for Sephiroth to be upset about that sort of thing. But an outsider wouldn’t understand the connection between the two – how very close Sephiroth and Zack were, like brothers without blood ties, family members who loved each other wholly without the sexual connotations. Sephiroth was worried, and the helplessness showed. He wasn’t used to not knowing what to do.

Midori stirring, Aeris reached in and pulled her daughter into her lap, mismatched eyes blinking up at her sleepily.

“Understandable. Elena’s loss has hit him strongly and guilt colors his sorrow,” she commented quietly, feeling similar pangs in her own heart.

Elena was a dear friend to her, and Marlene like her own child. She only held her strength visibly because she couldn’t afford to fall apart. And there were others who felt the pain deeper. She needed to be strong for them, just as she had needed to be strong for Midori. Aeris would take her time to quietly grieve later. For now, she had to help the emotionally stunted soldiers.

Tucking Midori close, she continued, “Have you been to see Tseng?”

“I saw him briefly this morning, but we separated earlier,” Sephiroth answered, his hands clasping tighter.

“You should find him. He doesn’t need to be alone right now.”

Sephiroth’s head bowed, shoulders slack with defeat. “I know that. I…”

“Don’t worry about Zack.” Aeris rose to her feet, moving Midori to her shoulder where the infant stirred before murmuring something and settling again, no doubt disturbed by the emotion thick in the air. “I’ll try and lure him away from destroying Reeve’s important equipment.”

Relief and gratitude instantly shone in grey eyes. “I… thank you, Aeris. I really appreciate it.”

“I couldn’t go off and leave him on his own, could I?” she returned playfully, hoping to ease some of the tension for Sephiroth. “Besides, it is likely just that Zack doesn’t want to burden you.”

“I wish he would,” Sephiroth murmured, rising to his feet as well and stepping nearer, lifting a hand and gently stroking over the soft hair on Midori’s head. It always amazed Aeris how very gentle he could be with the infant. “I want to return all he’s done for me.”

She laid a hand on his shoulder, unsurprised by the subtle tremble his body had taken. “I’m sure he knows,” Aeris murmured, and gave him a comforting squeeze. “Now find Tseng. I’ll take care of the rest.”

An uneasy restlessness gave speed to her limbs and Reis hurried through the halls, a part of her anxious, a part of leery. She knew her brother was right. That Yazoo might not be the same. Even so, she could not abandon him. Something in him called to her, and she felt that if she didn’t, no one else would. They were friends, weren’t they? And Reis chose to believe in him.

The detention floor – a little more extravagant than an outright institution, but still, essentially, a prison – was guarded by two soldiers in WRO uniforms. Reis whipped out her name badge; it granted her access to pretty much anything in the building except for the higher laboratories, the weapons storage as she had no need for them, and the true prison cells. Flashing her picture, one guard nodded and stepped aside, pulling open the thick door and letting her through.

She heard the music before anything, confusion floating into her thoughts. Music? Here? Did they even allow instruments in the detention hall?

The door closed behind her with a loud and defining clunk, and she was treated to the sight of a hallway lined with doors, all with viewing windows. Each door had its own personal guard, who turned to look at her immediately. One door down the hall in particular had three guards clustered around it, talking to each other in low tones.

A glance nearby gave her a number. 512. Numbered backwards it appeared. Or, it was more likely she had simply entered on the wrong end of the hall. Reis resisted the urge to peek into the windows, not wanting to know who else might be in here. She had come for Yazoo alone.

A door to her left opened and she paused, blinking as Archer stepped out.

“Reis?”

She offered him a smile. “If you’re going to ask me what I’m doing here then I’ll have to turn the question back at you.”

Violet eyes shifted hesitantly as he pulled the door closed behind him. “Same as you. Visiting a prisoner.”

Reis lifted a brow. “And who would that be?”

A tinge of red flushed Archer’s cheeks. “Kadaj,” he admitted, though it was clear he didn’t really want to.

“The youngest brother?” she exclaimed, shocked. She knew enough thanks to Yazoo. “He’s like… twelve years younger than you!”

“Twenty, actually,” Archer said quietly. “And trust me, I’ve heard enough lectures from Reeve to last me to the end of my lifetime. I know how bad it looks. And I also know I’m not going to give him up.”

She had never seen such determination on his face before. Archer was serious. He would fight like hell if anyone tried to separate them. But… if Kadaj were himself, then perhaps Yazoo was as well. Though she did remember Yazoo always mentioning that his little brother was the strongest of them.

“I wasn’t going to lecture you,” Reis said. “I was just curious.” She smiled softly. “I am here to visit Yazoo myself.”

Archer blinked. “How did that come about?’

“My secret to keep.” Reis waved dismissively, and headed further down the hall. “We’ll catch up later, okay? There’s no telling how long I’ll actually get to talk to Yazoo before Reeve comes storming down here to rescue me.”

A short laugh escaped the engineer, dissolving the tension in the hallway. “You do that. Good luck, Reis.”

It would have sounded strange to anyone else, but she understood the gesture. “You, too.”

Archer was already gone, and Reis focused on her destination. The closer she drew to the cluster of guards, her ears detected a faint, soft noise. Like music, fingers elegantly moving over the keys of a piano. She passed by room 502, but was more drawn to the mournful melody.

“He’s been in there for hours,” one of the soldiers muttered to the other, shaking his head.

“I didn’t even know these freaks could do something like that,” the other commented, craning his neck to peer through the viewing portal.

Reis’ eyes narrowed. “Something interesting?”

In tandem, both uniformed soldiers startled and whirled towards her. She was pleased to notice that their hands immediately leapt to their weapons. Their reaction time was good, even if it was obvious their behavior wasn’t acceptable.

“Ah… you…?” One stuttered, trying to match her stern voice to her face, which wasn’t exactly recognized.

She flashed her card again, and was gratified in seeing both soldiers pale when her name was revealed. Tuesti. Pretty powerful stuff here. “Who’s in the room?”

“One of the rem- prisoners, Yazoo,” the second soldier corrected after an elbow in the side from the other.

Interested, Reis moved to the door, peeking through the glass. “It’s protocol to allow prisoners access to an instrument?”

“President Tuesti approved it.”

She smiled softly to herself. Her brother really was sympathetic on the inside, even if he didn’t show it. “Let me in.”

They hesitated, but remembering her name badge, drew out a keycard attached to a stretching chain. Soldier One swiped it through the lock, and a series of quick key presses later granted her access, and encouraged a spill of music into the hallway. The sound flowed through her and Reis briefly closed her eyes in face of it. Beautiful.

“Feel free to lock it behind me,” she murmured, already entering.

Reis didn’t give them a chance to answer, stepping quietly across the tiled floor. The room itself was empty, except for the piano. A large window allowed gleaming light into the room, casting it in an ethereal glow. Yazoo sat with his back to the door, hair drawn into a low ponytail by a familiar red band, his fingers moving smoothly across the white and black keys. The melody was haunting and soft.

He had to have known she was there. Reis was not skilled in walking silently and his senses were too militarily attuned. Even when they were just friends, before all this craziness, she had noticed that about him. So Reis made her way across the floor, and slid into the empty seat beside him. He tensed, ever so subtly, one note hitting a mite flat, before he continued without pause.

She watched him in silence for several moments, feeling the heat of his body next to hers, watching the elegance of his fingers as they pressed key after key. He was too talented a musician to be wasted as whatever Jenova had wanted to use him for. There was a shadow of a bruise on his face, but even it was healing quickly. By tomorrow, no doubt there would be no hint of it. And without the leather she was used to seeing him wear, he looked younger. More boyish.

Handsome.

Her cheeks flushed briefly with that realization. Well, that sort of understanding could come later. Right now, she just wanted to talk.

Holding her breath, Reis lifted a hand and gently laid it over Yazoo’s left hand, covering his fingers and halting his song mid-note. “I’m glad that you are not injured,” she murmured, her voice carrying in the soft silence as the last tone echoed.

Yazoo drew his right hand into his lap, but didn’t shy away from her touch. She considered that encouragement. “I apologize for not telling you.”

Her fingers curled around his, longer than her own, and very elegant. “I understand why you couldn’t,” Reis assured him, and her eyes raked over his features again. “Is she gone?”

“I don’t know.” Green eyes – a soft celadon rather than the vivid, ethereal jade – cast towards the ivory keys. “I can’t feel her anymore. But then, she had always been a distant voice to Loz and myself. Kadaj was the only one who actually heard her speak.”

“A blessing and a curse.” Her fingers carefully stroked over his palm, wanting to reassure him of her presence, and their friendship. “I will talk to my brother. I don’t know what he’s planning, but I won’t let him kill you.”

Yazoo subtly cringed and only then did he take his hand back, sliding off the piano seat and raking a hand through his hair. It was caught on the tie, and he jerked it free. “You shouldn’t bother. Whatever the president decides is probably for the best. We are not good people.”

She twisted around on the seat, watching as he paced slowly across the floor, agitated and trying to fight it. “Once upon a time, neither was Sephiroth. And yet, here he is. Alive with his second chance. And so are you.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“It’s as simple as you choose to make it,” Reis returned, hoping that her words would get through to him. She considered Yazoo a dear friend – perhaps even more. “I don’t want to watch you die.”

He paused mid-step, and for the first time, actually looked at her. As if seeing her for the first time. Loose strands of hair framed his face, softening his features. He really was an attractive man, but more than that, he was intelligent and talented. And he actually listened to her music, paid attention to it, valued it for a different reason than her parents ever did.

“You really think we’re worth something.”

“Every human life is,” Reis returned, the answer very personal to her in her occupation. She was never one to simply let a patient die.

She patted the empty seat beside her, offering him a gentle smile. “Play that song for me again?”

Yazoo gave her an odd look, probably confused as to why she would ask for something like that at this time. He moved across the floor, steps still silent, like some sort of graceful assassin, and lowered himself onto the seat.

“You actually like it?” he asked quietly, lifting his hands and running them over the keys without making a sound, just warming up his fingers.

Reis avidly watched his hands, wishing her own were as skilled. “Of course.”

The melody poured through the room, so familiar, but gradually shifting into something else. Even as she watched, he altered the tune, the notes easing from melancholy to an encouraging lilt. And he made the changes so seamless, without any real effort. Reis envied his talent.

He played softly, and she closed her eyes, losing herself to the melody. Reis leaned to the side, laying her head on his shoulder, felt the heat of him through her cheek. And though he briefly missed a note, Yazoo continued without protest.

And Reis couldn’t help but smile softly to herself.

Instinct and intuition had always served Sephiroth well. Now was no exception. In his search for Tseng, he headed to the Turk’s quarters, once shared with Elena. It seemed the last place Tseng would be, but Sephiroth had a feeling it would also be the first place he would go. Even if the memories were too strong, the memories were at least there, and Tseng would wallow in them.

He was even more sure of himself when he arrived and the front door was unlocked. Tseng was too controlled to forget – even in grief – so it had to have been planned. Sephiroth stepped in, throwing the bolt behind him. The apartment was darkened as though no one was home, but it didn’t feel empty. Tseng was definitely here.

Toeing out of his boots, Sephiroth stepped lightly down the hall, noticing that Elena’s room was tightly shut. The kitchen and main room were empty, the bathroom as well. Leaving pretty much only one place for the Turk commander to be.

Tseng’s door was open, and Sephiroth considered it an invitation to enter. His eyes already adjusted to the dark, he quickly spotted Tseng on the other side of the room, sitting in a chair before the window. A bottle of something sat on the sill beside him, but it appeared untouched.

The Turk turned his head towards the door as Sephiroth entered. “I’ve not touched it,” he explained quietly, voice lacking the slur of inebriation. “Elena wouldn’t approve.”

“No, she wouldn’t.”

One hand toyed with the bottle. “Denzel’s sleeping in her room. Elmyra brought him here when she couldn’t find you.”

Good to know. But Sephiroth couldn’t help but think it was a distraction tactic. If Denzel was sleeping, then he was fine. Right now, Sephiroth was more worried about Tseng.

“Why are you sitting in the dark?” Sephiroth asked, feeling as if he’d thrust himself into another situation where he didn’t know what to do. How did he fix things? He was a soldier, a fighter, known for tearing things down and destroying. Sephiroth didn’t know how to fix.

“Didn’t really need the light,” Tseng answered, and he rose to his feet, the chair creaking behind him. In the half-light given by the streetlamp pouring through the limbs, he was all shadows and angles, but behind his placidity grief grew stronger and stronger.

Emotions squeezing his chest, Sephiroth stopped trying to dance around it. He didn’t know, he wasn’t going to guess. “Just tell me what to do,” he murmured into the dark, drawing closer to Tseng. “What do you need from me?”

There was a creak as Tseng dropped down to the bed, raking a hand through his loose hair. Suit and tie had been lost long ago, buttons loosened, belt abandoned, shoes kicked off to the side. He set his elbows on his knees, back bowed under an imaginary weight.

“Gift and curse, this ability of mine,” he said softly, voice barely carrying through the dark. “I had a feeling. I think I knew it before everyone. I just didn’t recognize the feeling. I thought maybe it had something to do with all the worry. I didn’t realize it was time ticking down.”

Sephiroth lowered himself beside his lover, pressed against Tseng’s side. Though barely touching, he could feel the chill around Tseng. His face was shadowed by the falls of hair, but even emotionally-inept Sephiroth knew that he was upset. All Tseng had was his strength, and he clung to it, but the grief was stronger and gaining ground. No wonder he had retreated to the safety of his own room.

“Tseng, I don’t know what to say.”

“Words are useless anyways,” the Turk murmured, and his body gave a light shudder, the emotions breaking free before he locked them in again. “At least in this situation. If I have to hear one more “I’m sorry” or see another sympathetic look, I’ll shoot myself to save the irritation.”

Sephiroth winced, knowing that Tseng didn’t mean it. Or at least, hoping so.

He thought desperately of the words Elena and Marlene had left him in that strange dream or reality he had visited. Sephiroth wasn’t inclined to dismiss it too quickly. The planet and the Ancients worked in odd ways, and he wouldn’t reject their mercy. Seeing the two one final time had been a grace.

“They told me to take care of you,” he murmured, and gave a little sigh of disbelief, shaking his head. Something hot grew behind his eyelids. “Marlene made me promise to make you happy, though I had already carried that intent.”

Beside him, Tseng stilled imperceptibly and then his forehead fell into his palm, a bark of bitter laughter escaping him. “Sephiroth, I’m trying my hardest here not to fall apart. You’re not making it any easier.”

“I’d apologize, but I wouldn’t mean it.”

Tseng’s fingers tightened. “You want me to break?”

“No, I want you to grieve.” Sephiroth turned towards his lover, forcing Tseng to look at him. In the gloom of the room, the Turk’s silver eyes were pools of emotion. “I couldn’t help Zack. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to be useless here as well.”

He closed his eyes, dragging in a slow and steady breath. “We are soldiers. We are fighting, kill-”

“That’s bullshit and you know it as well as I do. Don’t spout that nonsense at me.” Sephiroth’s words were fierce, probably more than he intended, but even he knew that if Tseng bottled this up, it would only hurt more in the end. “They were worried for you, Tseng. Even in that dream world. Don’t dishonor their care for you with that sort of ShinRa bullshit.”

Silence echoed in the room and Tseng’s head bowed, no fight left in him. He didn’t even try to break free from the hold Sephiroth had on his shoulders.

Sephiroth sighed and let him go, rising to his feet. “Come on,” he ordered, moving to the head of the bed.

He pulled off his extra shirt, tossing it to the side, and throwing his belt atop it. Extra accessories joined the haphazard pile until he was clad only in a sagging pair of pants and his undershirt.

“What are you doing?” Tseng asked, voice thick, as he looked up.

Sephiroth crawled back onto the bed, stretching across the covers. “Join me?”

Confusion furrowed Tseng’s brow, but he followed Sephiroth’s example, and the moment he came close enough, Sephiroth snatched an arm and pulled him close. “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Sephiroth continued as Tseng made a small noise of protest. “It just seems the right thing to do.”

“Taking lessons from Zack, I guess,” Tseng muttered, but he gradually relaxed anyways, pressing against Sephiroth until his cold body shared Sephiroth’s heat.

“Aeris, actually,” Sephiroth returned, burying his face in long strands of black hair, a very familiar scent emanating from it. “Trust me?”

Tseng’s body gave a faint shudder, imperceptible if they hadn’t been so close. “Sometimes, I hate how well you can shield your emotions from me,” he murmured, voice thick with emotion. And for his sake, Sephiroth hoped he was allowing those tears free. “But right now, it’s a blessing.”

Sephiroth said nothing, his hold unconsciously tightening. He both felt and heard Tseng draw in several slow, hitching breaths. Struggling to hold onto his composure and failing in the wake of his emotions.

Silence filled the room, words unnecessary. And Sephiroth hoped that in the end, he had helped in some way. Watching his loved ones grieving so strongly made something inside his own chest squeeze painfully. As though the sorrow were his own as well.

Time dragged before Tseng’s grief was overcome by his exhaustion. He slumped into Sephiroth’s arms, giving in to sleep. And Sephiroth allowed himself to gradually relax. His arm was gathering pins and needles, but he didn’t dare move.

He was just beginning to doze when his soldier senses clicked to life at the sound of the door opening. He tensed, but recognized the tread of small feet across the floor. He said nothing as a small body crawled into bed on the other side of him, cuddling against his back.

Denzel needed the comfort, too.

And a part of Sephiroth was warmed by that need, cradled by two very important people in his life.

Small hands clutched onto the back of his shirt, a wet face pressing against him, but Sephiroth didn’t complain. If his presence were enough, he wouldn’t say a word. He would just be there.

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