"Your brooding hurts my head," Angeal groaned out in the room dimly lit by flickering candlelight as he shifted his backside a bit on the hardwood floor, "Among other things." Even with three mugs of ale in the Sergeant's body, he could still feel the pain of sitting there for far too long. After a couple of scoots, a frown still lingering, Angeal apparently gave up on being comfortable. His eyes closed as he titled his head back and rested it back on the blanket bunched up at the edge of the couch. "You're invaluable to the Order, to our King, and, most importantly, to God... As if you could honestly ever forget any of that."
Grand Prior Sephiroth huffed dryly, his eyes already closed, and murmured, his words slurred a bit just as his friend's had been, "It's not the king I worry about. It's the ones who whisper in his ear while one of his heads buries itself between countless legs. As for the Order and God…"
Sephiroth's words trailed off as his mind raced even more over what he was truly worried about. But he still didn't move his body beyond breathing as he laid along the full length of the couch. At least he didn't for several seconds, right before his thoughts began to make his head ache. Again.
Wishing to banish his mind to oblivion but knowing it was unfortunately impossible, Sephiroth opened his eyes, blew out a breath through mostly closed lips, and gazed up at the high ceiling. Not that he really saw it despite the draw of the colorful intricate design of the tiled mural that told the story of a great tribulation. Out of all the things Grand Chaplain Genesis had wanted memorialized on his ceiling... The mural just happened to be of the battle that had changed the tides for the people under their protection, granting them safe passage on their journey to the holy lands. It was of the very battle Sephiroth had skillfully commanded against the Turks at an admittedly young age. It'd been the first of many he'd commanded as Knight Commander before rising even more in the ranks of the Order.
The silver-haired Prior let his gaze fall to look at the head so close to his own instead, to someone who was far more interesting. "I know you see what I see, my friend. Every year, the lot of them only become more corrupt, driven by their own selfish desires. The lies that seep through their teeth... How can I believe a word any of them say anymore? Or follow their orders, for that matter?"
The Sergeant turned his head a bit, his eyes coming to search his superior's face. The way they sat together showed a relaxed familiarity. It also helped that they were both almost thirty years old and had the physical and mental scars to prove it. Their friendship itself dated back years as well and had survived much tribulation, conflict, alcohol, and even God. Considering their stations though, sitting together like this was in no way proper. But with no one else in the room, there was no one to give them a disapproving look.
Angeal smiled and shrugged bluntly. "Then don't believe them. Don't listen to them. Believe in and listen to God." His smile turned into a smirk as his half-lidded gaze continued to trace over Sephiroth's every feature. Then he pulled away to take a couple more gulps of warm ale, before resting his head again to murmur, "The last thing I'll ever be is jealous of you. The things those people make you do in the name of God, are abhorrent. They drag themselves, all of us, down to the pits of hell."
The words made Sephiroth grin. "The things that come out of your mouth..." He tilted his chin down enough to get a good look at the raven-haired man, his grin turning into a smile as the other man's smirk did things to his body. And he couldn't help that. He couldn't help any part of what he felt, even if he normally tended to hide it so well. "But I know full well you speak the truth. The question is, how do I get the rest of the Order to see that, that they're turning the Order away from our purpose?"
As those questions hung over them, Angeal's smile dropped away and his eyes closed as they breathed each other's breaths. The silver-haired man knew there was nothing Angeal could do. There was really nothing he himself could do. He wasn't a part of the council. His role was to take orders from the council and guide the Priors under his command. He had no more power than those under him when it came down to it.
Needing the distraction so badly, unable to resist the licentious temptation before him, Sephiroth then rolled onto his side and wrapped an arm around Angeal's head to just barely touch the other man's cheek with calloused fingers. Those beautiful blue eyes opened slightly at his touch before they closed again.
The Prior whispered, "I miss... I miss riding the countryside with our unit. More so every day. I miss..."
The Sergeant whispered back, "You drank too much again. You forget..."
"How can I forget?" Sephiroth drew his head slightly closer, breathing in the other man's scent. Then he huffed. "And you're practically sweating alcohol."
Normally, especially when not underneath the blanket of drunkenness, the Sergeant would have already backed away from his touch, his closeness. Instead, Angeal's breaths deepened into a siren's call. "Sephiroth... You don't love me and you know it."
Angeal's fingertips touched the back of Sephiroth's hand as he added, "As anything more than a friend."
There was a mix of emotions in the raven-haired man's voice that made Sephiroth wish the words weren't true. Truly, he did love Angeal but not in the way his body wanted. He wished he didn't know why.
A deep torture in his soul, there was someone who'd long ago claimed his heart. That consuming love still drew him in even on that warm summer night. Still made him see only him. It was a love that had come to possess him even when he hadn't truly understood love as a boy. Eventually though, as his body had matured into that of a man, that love had grown into something uncontrollable and merciless, not only for his mind but for his body as well.
And his clash with that unwanted, consuming love was endless because that love was absurd, insane. The love was for someone he couldn't even have. For someone he'd eventually come to realize wasn't a person. Who wasn't even real.
Who in their right mind loved a dream, a figment of their imagination?
No one. And certainly not the Grand Prior ordained by God to oversee the Order of Knights. Tell that to his pitiful, confused, hopeless heart.
Sephiroth shook his head slightly, desperately trying to force out the image of that ethereal creature from his mind. And since that didn't work and his friend had yet to turn away, the alcohol and lust doing their jobs, Sephiroth leaned forward and brushed his lips over his friend's. Angeal's lips were warm and still slightly wet from the equally warm ale.
Nearly against his lips, the Sergeant whispered, "We shouldn't do this. He'll kill you this time and for something that will gain you nothing."
The Prior knew the words to be true but that didn't stop him from saying, "Then perhaps he should touch you for once. And don't tell me he cannot," before leaning forward and claiming the man's hot mouth in a deepening kiss, becoming gratefully lost in it as Angeal kissed him back with a growing ferocity, the raven-haired man's arm reaching around Sephiroth's head as well to force their mouths together. Sephiroth moaned throatily as that hand tightened almost painfully in his hair.
Yes, there was far too much history between them. Far too much done and said. And they kept ending up back in this same position. One that, yes, was going to be the death of him because of the third man's barely concealed lust and jealousy sharpened with his church-led morals.
The low groan that came out of Angeal's throat spurred him on, drawing out another rumbling from Sephiroth's own chest. The sounds of their mouths devouring one another and their fervent moans seemed overly loud in the stonewall room. Despite his drunkenness, Sephiroth felt himself begin to harden. His hand shifted from his friend's cheek and caressed down the man's neck, over his collarbone and his trembling chest fed by the erratic draws of air through his nose. Sephiroth's fingernails flicked over the hardened nub underneath Angeal's thin linen undershirt and, at the same time, somewhere in the back of his thoughts, Sephiroth unwittingly heard out-of-place noises that made no sense to his drunken, pleasure-filled mind. The Sergeant moaned deeply, grinding his teeth against Sephiroth's, and pushed his chest out, encouraging his hand.
In the next moment, punishing grips seemed to cover the expanse of Sephiroth's body, yanking him off the couch by his legs, shoulder, arms, and fistfuls of hair. He called out from the unmerciful pain and landed ungracefully in a heap on the hard floor that bruised and tore at his limbs and cheek. The abrupt change in position had his head spinning and his gut heaving. It took all his willpower to not vomit all the alcohol he'd consumed onto the Grand Chaplain's floor.
The Prior's mind muddled, struggling to catch his breath, he managed to shove himself onto his knees but the hands, so many hands that Sephiroth had to wonder if this attack had been planned, grabbed him again and held his torso so close to the floor so that his chin almost touched it as he craned his head to look up but he couldn't see anything more than booted feet and legs, especially with his hair in his face. The grips bruised his already aching muscles, bringing forth grunts of pain. And the harsh treatment was smart and told him these people, whoever they were, knew full well what he was capable of.
Above him, Sephiroth heard more struggles before Angeal blurted out, "Your Grace, release him! It was me! If anyone is to be punished, let it be me! Please!"
The words were in no way true but Sephiroth wasn't about to say that. It was better to say nothing. Adding fuel to the fire would only bring them both to their knees.
Someone crouched next him. Hot breath hit his cheek and made him struggle to escape it. When he couldn't, he forced his head to turn against the grips in his hair instead, feeling strands getting torn out, until he saw his other friend.
Grand Chaplain Genesis whispered, "Sephiroth... If you think I can turn my eye away this time... You may be my friend, but in all truth, you've also long been my enemy and for this very reason. That you would bring Angeal into your depravity again and again... Your sins will be the death of you both, if I do nothing."
Sephiroth jerked his body once, violently, but the people holding him down in the awkward position only yielded by a fraction before holding him down with more force. He squeezed his eyes shut.
The Chaplain chuckled. "You'll never learn, will you? To think you 'devotedly' served God for so many years, cleared the path for the true devoted, shed blood for the Order... The blinders you've put over everyone's eyes, I'm going to remove them this day, Sephiroth."
Genesis' hand gripped Sephiroth's chin, forcing his head to turn farther, painfully. He opened his eyes to glare brashly at Genesis' cold ones. The redhead's eyes hardened further as his teeth gritted to the point that his jaw surely ached.
"Then again, would they truly do what must be done to their beloved, illustrious Prior?" The Chaplain sighed with an overly dramatic flair. "No, they wouldn't. And because they have no will to speak of, I'll have to take care of this myself." Genesis said the words as if it was an annoyance but, despite their years of friendship, Sephiroth was sure at that moment that Genesis wouldn't have had it any other way. That was only further proven by the smirk that appeared on the Chaplain's blushed lips.
They had long been rivals when they were younger, Angeal being caught in the middle and acting as a mediator and unfortunately an object of lust for them both. But where Sephiroth had eventually stagnated in his position of Grand Prior as the corruption of everything had eaten at him, Genesis had only risen in the hierarchy, flourishing in it, greedily taking on the role of Grand Chaplain, a position that placed him above nearly all in the Order and next to God's throne.
What so few knew though, and fewer still were willing to acknowledge with open eyes and unclouded minds, was the darkness that had long ago taken over Genesis' heart and soul. The man perverted his coveted role by being a longtime practitioner of black magics. The darkness of those magics had consumed him more and more year after year. In fact, if anything, his godly position had made his studies deeper, more obsessive.
Nonetheless, knowing how they'd started, the friendship and love they'd shared between them when they'd been younger, the silver-haired man had always hoped for his friend to be the person he'd once been. But now, Sephiroth wished he himself had had open eyes and an unclouded mind, a wish that had obviously come a day too late. And perhaps that was because, while he'd seen, wished he hadn't seen, and had come to deny the things Genesis had done to others, never had the Chaplain used his magics against Sephiroth. At least not as far as he knew. He was certain that was about to change.
And did. Genesis' hand dipped into the pocket of his robes and, for the first time, Sephiroth feared his friend. A slight, steady chinking resonated from the redhead's pocket, the distinct sounds of stones rubbing together. Genesis' grip on Sephiroth's chin tightened until it bruised and the Prior growled deep in his throat.
A low purr, Genesis offered, "I advise you to close your eyes, my friend."
The expression and words made the silver-haired man sure he wanted to do so, so he did. But he still jerked his body trembling, dampening with sweat, instinctively wanting to get away. As Genesis mumbled something, a great weight fell upon him, stiffening his limbs into immobility, and he was sure it was magic.
Sephiroth's necklace, his protection against such darkness, was laying on the chair with the rest of his clothing. He knew now he'd been foolish to remove it. But after a day of sweating under the harsh sun, he'd taken advantage of the sweet-smelling water in the basin and hadn't thought to put it back on in a place he considered safe. He hadn't thought his friend was turn on him that night. Yes, he'd been a lustful fool.
The former Knight hissed, "Don't do this. They'll find out what you've done this night. They'll figure out what you are. And you won't survive it yourself." After spoken, his mouth could move no more, literally.
"You've given me no choice when I've given you plenty, when I've given you chance after chance to redeem your wretched soul." The hypocrisy of the words wasn't lost on Sephiroth. But he said nothing more, couldn't since his jaw was frozen shut. "And honestly, do you truly think they don't know what must be done? Do you think they didn't have some proposals themselves concerning your fate?"
Genesis leaned even closer, his mouth almost brushing against the silver-haired man's ear, to whisper, "When you open your eyes, the first person's face you see shall be the one your heart craves above all other things, the one who owns your body and soul. And when this person dies, so shall your heart and soul as your body shrivels away into dust." His lips caressed the outer edge of his ear, before he added, "Of course, if this person is already dead..."
Genesis withdrew suddenly, standing in a rustling of layers of cloth. Sephiroth listened to everything over his heavy breaths through his nose as Genesis strode away, his hard-soled boots pounding the wooden floor. Some things fell to the table in the distance and then crashed to the floor. The feet returned and a coarse burlap bag was thrust over the Prior's head.
To the people still holding him down, the Chaplain said, "Tie him up and leave him in the catacombs."
Right after the words were spoken, something slammed into the Prior's covered head, twisting it violently to the side. Darkness overcame him in one heartbeat to the next.
When Sephiroth awoke again, he had no idea how much time had passed. But he did know the ground was unmercifully cold against his aching and numb body. Pain spiked in his shoulders as he tried to move and realized his arms were tied behind his back. He twisted his arms a bit at the barbed rope that bit into his wrists but that was no use. He tried to flex his fingers a bit at least but he couldn't even feel them.
A few seconds later, struggling uselessly, desperately, his head pounding, nausea in his gut, aquamarine eyes cracked open for a split second before Sephiroth caught himself and squeeze them shut again. Because, the moment he saw carved stone in front of him, he suddenly remembered where he was and why he was there. Before him laid at least one tomb of some nobility of the past. And surely along the walls laid the noble's lesser family. He only saw that because of the flickering, nearly extinguished torch somewhere behind him on the wall. Too soon he'd be plunged into complete darkness.
Sephiroth had never actually been inside the catacombs, but he knew of them, that they were a labyrinth of seemingly endless passages and dead ends into rooms that held the decayed dead. There were thousands of rooms like this one, some probably smaller, some probably far larger, and he had to assume he was in one of the farthest corners as he breathed in the thick musty smell of damp earth.
With his own life and death on his mind, his body trembling with pain, exhaustion, and cold, having no shame in his groans and panting breaths, Sephiroth fought with everything in him to get his bound hands underneath his backside and in front of himself. It wasn't until then, having nothing to cut the rope binding his hand, that he remembered his sword along with the rest of his clothing and armor. His throat constricted at the thought of never seeing the blade again.
There were few things he coveted more than that sword. The long piece of metal and leather was a part of himself, an extension of his arm. Without it now, it felt as if he'd been ripped asunder, the resulting wound gushing.
Other people though, they feared that blade. No other could wield it and not simply because of its unyielding length. No one who'd ever touched it ever wanted to touch it again. The fear he'd see in their eyes…
But even stranger was how he'd come about the blade in the first place. The day before he was to leave his family's estate to join the Order, it'd been lying on his bed, placed there by someone, but he'd never found out who'd gifted it. When he'd questioned his father about it, the man had demanded he take it out of his presence immediately. The abhorrence that had been in the man's eyes at the sight of it… And he'd thought his father had hated him…
Pushing the memories to the back of his mind as they would do nothing to help him at that point, knowing he needed to get off of the floor, Sephiroth eventually got to his knees as the whole of his body trembling with the strain of his efforts. By the time he was on them, his head wavering, his stomach heaved again and finally spilled out its contents. It took him a good minute to stop his gagging. None of this helped his pounding head which seemed to threaten death or, at the very least, another sleep on the icy stone floor.
After spitting onto the ground to hopefully get rid of at least a bit of the foul taste in his mouth, Sephiroth's shoulders heaved as he tried to catch his breath. The temptation to open his eyes was so forceful but Genesis' curse still echoed in his mind. Unfortunately, the only way he could find out if the curse had worked was to open his eyes. But he wasn't quite that desperate yet for a sure way out, for an end. Maybe later, if he found no escape, he would be.
Using his shoulder against the stone coffin next to him for support, he somehow managed to get himself up onto wobblily legs. No amount of muscle could have kept them from quivering. Cautiously, eyes clenched shut, he edged forward, trying to get closer to the lit torch some distance away.
...As if that was going to help him. If he couldn't open his eyes, then all the light in the world wasn't going to make a difference. But, then again, if he could reach it, if he could keep his eyes trained completely to the floor while avoiding looking at the bodies on shelves near the floor, at any fallen skulls, it might-
His bare foot connected with a jutting stone and caused him to stumble forward as pain spiked through his leg. His eyes almost flashed open before he squeezed them tight.
Without thinking, half-crazed, gasping for air, he called out in the empty room, "God, help me!" But just as God had never answered his prayers in his twenty-nine years of life, there was no answer now. If there truly was a god, Sephiroth had never known him, no matter those who'd insisted otherwise, and perhaps that was why he'd always feared God so little, even that day.
No, God wasn't there with him. So, he had to save himself.
Deciding the torch was a lost cause for more than one reason, including the fact that it would surely only last a few more minutes at the very most, heavy breaths trembled as he carefully pulled his undershirt off his aching torso. It stuck in places and he didn't know if that was from dried blood or sweat. Had he looked down though, due to the pain, he was sure he would have seen purpled bruises, reddened scrapes and cuts everywhere, and probably even a good number of splinters. While unconscious, he'd obviously been manhandled, carted away, and eventually discarded like trash.
When he finally got the thin cloth off his body, ripping it apart with the aid of his feet to get it off of his bound hands, he rolled it up blindly and then wrapped it about his head as tightly as he could manage to stop his eyes from accidently opening. That done, his feet shuffled forward again, trying to find the nearest wall. When his hands felt it, he released a shuddering sigh.
By the time he found the open doorway and made it down several corridors, the bottoms of his feet were bleeding and paining him so badly that each step was torture. With one more step, his eyes wept for the first time in so many years since the days of his first crusade. He turned around and hit the stone wall with his back before sliding down it and sitting on the chilly floor that leached his heat. The undershirt around his head was damp with tears by the time he pulled it off his head. His sobs wracked his body and he felt like he had no strength at all as he fought to rip the sleeves off with his bound hands and feet.
After he had his feet as clean as he could possibly get them with his eyes still closed, he carefully wrapped them in his shirt sleeves. Then he tore his undershirt open completely and covered his eyes again with it. Gritting his teeth, he fell forward onto his hands and tried to force himself upright again. But every limb he had trembled until he found himself in a heap on the floor, his shuddering breathing and thrashing heartbeat the only sounds he could hear.
Considering everything, it was probably a good thing when sleep worked over him again to calm him, claim him, and bring him into its depths. At least that what he thought as his mind drifted. In sleep, at least, he wouldn't feel so much pain.
The Prior's last conscious thought was of the one whom he endlessly loved and hungered for, the creature who haunted his dreams whether he wanted him in them or not. The one whom, years ago, Sephiroth had eventually come to term an incubus.
Such a demon, a thing of unimaginable beauty and the embodiment lust, was said to invade the dreams of women, to lie with them, to come to know their bodies, to overcome them with pleasure and, in turn, condemn to hell. Only relentless and admittedly obsessive studies of manuscripts had allowed him to finally name the creature for the only thing he could think him to be. Not that he believed in the things he'd read.
But if he had believed in such creatures, his experience was a contradiction of the basic facts. Why had the creature come into his dreams, a man's dreams? Especially since the demon had only ever tempted him to a point that was pure cruelty, had never touched him, at least not in a way that could have been considered sexual.
Well, if there was an answer to that question, the incubus had never told him why. And that was probably because Sephiroth's own mind itself was unwilling to answer him because, again, incubi weren't real. As such, could only ever guess the reasons his crazed mind forever wanted what it couldn't have, that reason most likely being that he was just plain too feeble minded to overcome his own desires.
But... if by some miniscule chance the demon indeed was real, well... Beyond the fact that incubus had never told Sephiroth why he came to him, the creature had also never even told Sephiroth his name. Not that the human blamed him. A name held power. And surely the last thing a demon would want was for a mere human to have power over it.
When Sephiroth opened his eyes again, the cloth gone as if it'd never been there, he came to him, a thing of breathless beauty, of indescribable terror for those not enraptured. Now, naked, warm, and free of any pain, the human noted that the bed he laid upon was more than large enough for them both. ...Not that the demon had ever lain with him as a lover would before, leaving Sephiroth to wonder, again, why he was lying upon one. Had he placed himself there? Well, obviously, yes.
With that acknowledgement in his mind, the Prior rolled onto his side, propped his head on his hand, and watched every one of the nude demon's effortless steps of his leanly muscled body as he walked towards Sephiroth from nothingness. Sephiroth's breaths shallowed underneath that heavy crimson gaze.
More a thought than words, although they did indeed leave his mouth, Sephiroth found himself saying, "I thought you might not come to me now," as his impending death floated around in the back of his mind.
The one he loved stopped at the side of the bed, brought one leg up onto the plush mattress to kneel upon, and looked down at Sephiroth's face. A hinted smile made his white skin glow. "Why would I ever abandon you," the creature's deep rumbling voice asked as his great leathery wings rustled and flexed behind him, the incubus himself apparently oblivious to what the Prior had been suffering a short time before. Just that voice alone sent tremors of welcome heat down the swordsman's body. "I'll always answer your call."
When Sephiroth said nothing, just closed his eyes to thrill in the being's closeness, satisfied with just that since he knew the incubus would never touch him, at least not in the way he wanted him to. The creature's clawed hand touched the human's cheek, scraping it lightly, drawing out heat from the thin lines the blackened talons created. Then the hand suddenly withdrew. Sephiroth blinked open his eyes and saw the raven-haired creature frowning at him.
Then the creature bared his teeth, his leathery wings flaring, his body overflowing with rage, all of which made Sephiroth's heart hammer as he shoved himself upright and tried to back away on the bed. He wasn't a fool, not a complete one anyway. He knew he could do nothing to harm a demon, whereas a demon could rip his soul out of his body and eat it, among other things. Or so he'd read. He especially couldn't do anything to his own dream. But his mind was nonetheless fearful because it all felt too real.
In the next moment, his body jerked on the floor as pain overcame him. The Prior's eyes flashed open but quickly closed again behind his dirtied undershirt. He called out into the hallway from the abrupt agony that consumed his body when only a moment before his body had felt none. It took him a moment to work past that blinding pain and realize someone had lifted him into the air and brought him to press against a large heated mass he could only describe as a strong, flexing body. Whoever held onto him didn't seem to feel his weight, the weight of a full-grown man. Wind chilled his skin as heavy footsteps with a long stride stalked down the blackened corridor. Each step wrecked his body, but that wasn't any fault of whomever held him. The pain was from damage already done.
It took a few steps before he could regain enough of his mind to fight. He fought with everything in him because he had no idea who this was. Whether it was one of Genesis' men bringing him back to the room he'd left him. Or if it was someone else altogether, either rescuing him or bringing him to a perhaps even worse fate. But no matter how much he moved, the limbs holding his body remained clamped over his arms and legs like iron vises. No one could be that strong. Or he was just far too weak.
Well beyond desperate, Sephiroth shouted, "Release me!" Or, at least, attempted to. His voice was cracked, abrasive, as if he hadn't spoken for weeks.
A deep voice rumbled back with an undeniable underlining rage, "Be quiet."
And Sephiroth instantly stilled. Not in fear. Rather, because he knew that voice and it shocked him to ear it with his actual ears. He knew that voice so well that it haunted his thoughts as well as his dreams. But...
But the creature in his dreams wasn't real! According to one unnamed author, the 'incubus' was a mere myth to make women fear their sexual desires, one created to tell them their bodies would lead to madness and even their death if they partook. The incubus had apparently also been used to explain unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse, even disappearances when the demon supposedly lured the women away.
Yes, he'd researched the creature in his dreams, put a name to him, because he'd had to. Because it'd been a compulsion that hadn't ended until he had. He'd had to somehow explain the countless times the creature had entered his dreams, for the sake of his sanity. But that didn't mean he believed any of it.
Of course, he didn't. How could he possibly believe in an incubus?
...Although, at that moment, especially at that moment, the Prior had no doubt such an idea suck in one's head could indeed lead to madness.
Sephiroth found himself fighting again, terror taking over, because he feared he'd finally lost his mind. And, if he hadn't, then he'd died and this creature was surely taking him to hell, something he supposedly hadn't believe in either, but now had to question that as well. He had to question everything he believed in.
A soft, warm rush of air blew over his face. He knew it was the creature's breath because it smelled of spices and not of decayed rot nor musty earth. In the next moment, his mind left him again. This time, no dreams came to him, not even the incubus whom he wanted to be his lover. And if that desire alone didn't prove insanity...
When he awoke again, early morning light just barely streamed in through curtained windows. He noticed that as he opened his eyes to figure out where the light was coming from. They were his curtains, in fact, he noted. And he wasn't supposed to be seeing his curtains at that moment although he wasn't exactly sure why.
Realizing he was lying in bed as well but still utterly confused, Sephiroth tried to push himself upright, only to cry out weakly at the multitude of pains and soreness covering him. With that finally came the memories of the night before. And the curse. He clamped his eyes shut.
How in the world had he gotten home? He tried to piece how he had ended up in his own bed, but the only memory he could come up with was of a dream, a dream of his incubus coming to the physical world and apparently saving him. But obviously that wasn't what had happened.
No, obviously, he'd somehow managed to crawl out of that crypt and through countryside and over dirt and cobblestone roads and into his home where his servants had obviously seen him to bed. Or someone, someone real, had indeed saved him and brought him here.
...Did they, any of them, realize the danger they'd put themselves in by assisting him, a condemned man? Thinking now about his household, for their sakes, he knew he should send them all away before the Order came to realize he'd survived their punishment.
…But the cloth about his head was gone. Had he looked at any of them? He didn't know. But he didn't feel any different, didn't crave another to the point that he could think of nothing else. So, obviously, he hadn't. Or Genesis' curse hadn't worked.
Sephiroth listened intently for a minute before he felt confident enough to open his eyes. Still, he kept his eyes trained to the ground, sweeping his gaze along the flooring until he was sure there were no feet on the floor or hanging from the chairs.
Mostly confident he was alone, he shifted off the bed, the sheets under him still made, but pushing off the blanket that had been laid over him, one that was normally folded on top of a chest at the foot of his bed. It was then that he noticed the cloth on the floor, his dirtied torn undershirt. He didn't know how or when it'd been removed, but at least he knew it'd made it to the room with him. The thing was dirty and beyond repair though, so he ignored it for the time being. The soreness of his body made his breaths ragged as he walked carefully to his dresser and searched through it for the sash his Order had gifted him years before. He put that over his shoulders, slipping it under his tangled-up hair, in case he needed to put something over his eyes quickly. Then, so that no servant would have to linger in his room, he also gathered up clean clothing for the day to come, draped the pants, robe, surcoat, and underclothes on his bed, and then pulled the cord to ring the bell.
A minute later, a servant entered the bedroom but the Prior kept his back to him. "Would you like your breakfast, My Lord?"
"Yes, and draw a bath."
"Yes, My Lord." Gunter sucked in a breath behind him and stepped forward on nearly silent feet. "My Lord, would you like me to fetch the physician as well?"
Sephiroth gazed down at his battered, dirty, half-naked body. The former Knight had been in worse condition over the years but, admittedly, it'd been a while since he'd been in such a state with most of his time spent within his estate, managing it, as well as directing the Order of Knights from the sidelines. Looking down at himself now made him miss his days as a Knight even more.
"No need. Boil herbs and prepare rose-water. The rest will take care of itself."
"Yes, My Lord."
When Sephiroth heard his servant hurry away, he second guessed his ambitions for the present moment. Considering what had happened the night before, his lack of piety and humility while being caught in a sinful act, there were only two choices: Face punishment or, in other words, his death. Or flee. Neither option really gave him the time to bathe and eat his fill. But he couldn't will himself to move. Neither one was an option he wanted to face. At that point, he didn't know which was worse.
It didn't help that he'd never truly been given a choice regarding his life. Everything he was and had been had been forced upon him by his father and then the Order, supposedly under God's guiding hand. Everything that made him himself, he had those two to thank.
…Although he doubted either of them had planned for him to embrace debauchery.
Nearly a half an hour later, when Gunter returned with word that the bath was ready, the Prior sent him away with the order to keep the other servants from being underfoot and then grabbed his clothing and hastened down the hallway, keeping his eyes downcast. By the time he got there, he made up his mind on the course of action:
He needed to confront Genesis and demand that he remove the curse. He couldn't live this way, under constant dread. Even if Genesis took the chance to strike him through the heart, it was worth the opportunity. He couldn't live like this, always being frightened of gazing upon another, unless...
Unless he cut his own eyes out.
The mere idea made him stare down at the scented water. Could he willingly do that to himself, live like that? He would become useless, deprived of all dignity, reduced to begging for scraps, doomed to die on the next frigid winter night.
…As if he wasn't already at that point. Any way he went about it, his life was over. Unless he could convince Genesis to change his mind. But Sephiroth already knew the hopelessness of that dream. His friend had obviously been waiting for years for this very moment to destroy his life. In fact, it was rather remarkable Genesis had kept the patience he'd had over the years.
No, to hope for a change of heart was pure foolishness.
His mind tired and numb with the thoughts of his fate, Sephiroth stripped down completely, dumped half of the bucket of pure water over his head that had been sitting next to the wooden tub, scrubbed his aching body, trying to get as much dirt, grime, and blood off himself as he could, and then finally dumped the rest of the water over himself. Gingerly, he stepped into the tub of pleasantly warm water that still nonetheless stung his wounds and settled down on the cushioning sponge inside. The water indeed smelled of roses and herbs, the calming scent and accompanying heat unwinding his aching muscles. With the morning so warm outside, the water was sure to stay warm as well for at least a little while. And as the bath enveloped him and made him drowsy, he forgot the outside world for a moment, rested his head back against the side of the tub, and closed his eyes.
When fingers touched his cheek, his eyes flashed open again and he stared up into crimson eyes. And then he knew he was dreaming again. He had to be. Because he felt no more and no less than he usually felt for this creature, a feeling which admittedly was consuming in its own right but not to the point where he could think of nothing else. Then again, an incubus wasn't human, wasn't even real. Did that matter to the curse? Apparently so.
Aquamarine eyes drifted closed again as he felt those fingers and fingernails scrape lightly over his cheek. He felt his length harden between his spread legs. That...
That he couldn't deny was real. Dreams didn't feel this way. They didn't truly feel like anything, at least not physically, since all of it was only in one's head. This…
He felt this. God, he felt this.
His mouth cracked open to let a soft moan from his throat escape. Then the hand left as if it'd never been. At the abrupt withdrawal, he jerked his head up, searched the room, twisting his body about. Upon realizing it was empty, blurted out, "Stay with me!"
As soon as he said it, he knew the absurdity of the demand. Incubi didn't exist. He'd been dreaming. He had to have been.
Tell that to the slightly stinging lines he could still feel on his cheek.
His head clunked against the side of the tub as he stared up at the ceiling and tried to relax his trembling breaths, his racing heart. Not for the first time, he had to wonder why he felt this way about someone, something he'd never truly met, never truly known.
Every single thing about all of it was absolutely absurd, insane. Seriously, why did he want this creature, this figment of his imagination, so badly? It didn't make any sense at all, especially when he otherwise felt so little for the rest of the world.
He knew his heart was broken and irreparable from the years of abuse he'd suffered as a child at the hands of his father. Never mind the countless other pains. He knew why his father hated him. The man blamed Sephiroth for his wife's death. But the boy he'd been and the man he was now had never believed it was because his father had loved the woman because he'd never once seen love in his father's eyes. Sephiroth had always known it had to be something else, something he'd never been able to put a name to. But at that point, he wasn't sure even his father truly knew why he'd done what he'd done, especially now, considering the lunatic the man had become.
Sephiroth huffed bitterly. "Like father, like son..."
The notion didn't surprise him in the least. It'd always felt inevitable to him that he'd lose his mind eventually in a world full of craziness. His only wished he didn't have to be aware of his madness, could instead live blissfully inside of it. Weren't lunatics supposed to be unaware they'd lost their mind? Well, he supposed, there were always exceptions to most rules, perhaps all.
Before the water got too dirty, he dunked his head and then worked the knots out while thinking about his journey into madness. The more he thought about it, thankfully, the less scary it got. It probably helped a good deal that he'd never had much hope for his mind anyway. Afterwards, he tossed the ends of his sopping hair outside of the tub. Almost meditative at that point, mechanically, he grabbed the sponge soaked with the herb-boiled water in the basin resting on a stool next to the tub and scrubbed his body, quickly turning the water red. Once he felt generally clean, he dropped the sponge back in the basin and left the tub, dried himself with a large linen towel. Then he walked to the side of the room, grabbed a small pile of clean dressings and sat on a different stool and wrapped what had to be wrapped. Finally, he dressed in layers of cloth.
When he found himself back in his bedchamber, he took one step inside and saw something that wasn't supposed to be there lying on his bed. Metal glinted under the sunlight streaming through the windows. His steps stalled out upon seeing it and he held his breath, thinking this was the end, again, waiting for an army to come out of the woodwork. But no one came. The room remained quiet outside of his panicking breaths.
It was then that he remembered who'd visited him only minutes before. If the incubus hadn't been a figment of his imagination… Then again, his sword could be just that, more proof of his lost mind. Or it could have been a sign. One from Satan or God, he didn't know.
Either way, taking the sign to heart, the silver-haired man stalked forward, slipping off his surcoat and robe in favor of the clean aketon hanging on a hook on the wall. After he fastened it on, he rang the bell again. Gunter appeared shortly after. At the sound of his footsteps, Sephiroth closed his eyes.
The Prior's hand lifted to point at the armor on the bed that had also been placed there next to his sword, the same armor that had been left in Genesis' chamber, as he said, "Help me dress."
Apparently, the armor was real because, a few minutes later, he was draped in chainmail and metal. Over that, he put on his white robe baring the symbol of God and his mantle. Through the whole process, his thoughts dwelled on Genesis and Angeal, particularly Angeal as well as the strong urge to go to him. Was his friend all right? Had Sephiroth bought irreparable harm to him because of his lusts?
The more he thought about the raven-haired man, saw his face in his mind, the more determined he was to find him and gaze upon him.
If I am to cursed to love someone until death, let it be him. With him, at least, it wouldn't be a curse.
...Although, perhaps, it would be to him.
The more he thought about it, the more he realized how selfish it was to bring this again onto Angeal's shoulders. The Knight had been nothing but a friend to him over the years. To bring uncontrollable pain and suffering directly to his doorstep...
No, it wasn't fair in the least. And that knowledge only made him feel all the more alone.
When his servant stepped back, Sephiroth turned his back to him so that he could open his eyes without worry and said, "Forgive me but I must release everyone here from their service."
"My Lord?" His servant took a step closer again. "I-I don't understand."
"I'm a criminal, Gunter. I advise all of you to return to your families. They'll be coming soon to reclaim what is theirs." He grabbed his belt from the bed and began buckling it about his waist so that he could strap on his sword. "As you know, this estate is not my own. It belongs to the church. If you do stay, perhaps you'll be offered a position but I cannot guarantee this. The risk is yours to take, but you should at least seek your family's guidance. Know though that I will not be returning."
"My Lord, I... My family is the church and God, my father. The Turks killed my family. Those heathens sought to destroy me as well. But they could not for God was in my heart. When the church found me, they provided me with a home, taught me to speak your tongue, gave me this position in your household. What you ask of me..."
Sephiroth nodded, the weight of what was happening greatly burdening his shoulders.
He knew what had happened to bring these people under his care, knew the story behind Gunter's life, that he'd been taken in during one of the first crusades after he'd been found wandering the hills, his family's estate burnt to the ground by Turks. The man was of noble birth, as all of the people in Sephiroth's household were. For such lesser nobles, it was a great honor to serve in the Grand Prior's household. But not anymore, not under Sephiroth's care, anyway.
Avoiding looking at his servant, Sephiroth grabbed his sword finally and attached it to his belt, saying wearily, "Then return to them. Flee from me and into their arms. Your master is cursed. To follow me would be to follow the devil."
"What you say cannot be true. Your devotion-"
"It is!" Sephiroth half-shouted, far more angrily than he'd intended.
If anyone had known of the unnerving questions that had been destroying the Prior's hope and morality over the years, the desires that gave him no place in the church, they wouldn't have been questioning him now.
A growled whisper, Sephiroth finally added in the quiet room, "Now leave me. Do what you must."
"Let no one on this earth take away your will to serve God, My Lord. No man is higher than God. Always remember that. May The Lord bless you and keep you," his servant said softly before he walked away and out of the room.
It took all of Sephiroth's will to not turn around, to merely let him go. His words were so right. And that only made it all so much worse because Sephiroth knew he'd already made his choice to turn away from God so many years ago. He simply hadn't had to truly pay the consequences until that day.