Sephiroth felt exceedingly nervous, a feeling he had never really been acquainted with. Mortal fear, yes, thanks to one Cloud Strife, but at the moment, he doubted that he’d come face to face with it again in the foreseeable future.
He was currently on his way to see his real mother, Lucrecia Crescent.
When Vincent had first suggested the idea to him, he had felt great excitement at the prospect. For so long he had been deprived of a mother, and had even been deceived of her true identity, that the mere thought of a meeting threatened to send him on a high. He had agreed to Vincent’s suggestion promptly.
As the days drew nearer to the date that he and Vincent had agreed on however, the butterflies started to form and his habit of analyzing (overanalyzing, Genesis and Angeal would sometimes say) situations came into play. He didn’t know what to expect from the meeting. Vincent had informed him that while Lucrecia wasn’t really alive, sometimes, she could communicate with the living. How exactly that worked, Sephiroth didn’t know and Vincent was, as usual, closed-mouthed about most things. Further introspection on Sephiroth’s part only served to bring up more things for him to contemplate.
The most pertinent one being just why did his birth mother agree to let him be experimented on even before he’d been born?
It was conflicting. He truly wanted to see his mother; it was practically a need. Yet at the same time, he wasn’t too inclined to see the woman who had agreed to let her child – him – be experimented on. The truth was, after all, usually ugly.
Talking to Angeal had settled his nerves a little, especially since Angeal himself was very familiar with having a parent – a mother – agree to take part in human experimentation. Even Cloud had agreed to an impromptu, midnight spar two days ago without much fuss.
Sephiroth had the sneaking suspicion that it had been Cloud who had told Vincent to take him to see Lucrecia. It would certainly explain Cloud’s compliance with his, on hindsight, rather unreasonable request.
But presently, none of his friends were with him and the foreign butterflies were rioting spectacularly in his stomach. Right now, he actually wished that he could hear one of Genesis’ recitals of LOVELESS – even though he knew all of the acts by heart already – just to take his mind off the impending visit. Staring at the blue sky and watching wisps of clouds drift by did nothing in the way of easing his mind.
The more time passed and the closer they were to their final destination, the more Sephiroth worried. Would his mother acknowledge him? The him who had become what he was today?
Yet it seemed almost too soon when Vincent landed the ShinRa helicopter at the foot of the mountain and wordlessly exited the cockpit. Sephiroth followed suit. As they started their trek up the trail, Sephiroth found himself musing that if Vincent were more of a talker, he would most likely be less nervous. But Vincent wasn’t one for small talk or inane chatter (a trait that Sephiroth normally appreciated, but now wasn’t really a normal time for him) and neither was Sephiroth. So their journey was spent in silence.
When they reached the waterfall that Vincent had mentioned would lead to where his true mother now rested, Sephiroth’s nerves were at an all-time high. Had he been less nervous, he would’ve taken the time to appreciate the picturesque scene before him. But he wasn’t, and the beauty of the surrounding nature was lost before his eyes.
Was it strange for him to feel that his last fight with Cloud, the last real one when Cloud was truly out for his life, was far, far less nerve-wrecking than this?
There was a flicker of movement and then Vincent disappeared under the spray of the waterfall. Sephiroth took a second to steady his nerves and then walked through the curtain of water and into the cave beyond it.
It was a cave filled with beautiful crystals of mako, pools of clear spring water and all of which were dimly lit by the soft, green glow of natural, untainted Lifestream. Then at the far end of the cave, was a large pool of still water and in the middle of that pool, inside the largest mako crystal present, was a human woman with long brown hair and dressed in a pure white dress with her hands held up over her heart, as if in prayer.
“Lucrecia, I have brought your son to meet you,” Vincent’s voice was quiet and actually sounded gentle, but in the tranquility of the cave, it seemed to echo loudly and endlessly.
Lucrecia Crescent. His mother. Sephiroth almost did not realize that his feet had, of their own accord, taken him to stand next to Vincent, at the edge of the pool. He took in the sight of the woman’s face like a thirsty man gulping down water.
His mother. His mother. His mother.
He could tell, despite the closed eyes of the woman before him, that they shared the same shape of their eyes. Did they have the same eye color too? Perhaps, if he had never had JENOVA cells injected into him since before he had even been born, he would also have the same shade of honey-brown as his hair color as she did… Was it just his imagination that they seemed to also have the same facial structure, even if hers seemed a little more delicate…?
Was he just seeing things, willing non-existent similarities into his mind because of his deeply-buried longing to have familial ties?
Sephiroth started slightly, fighting the urge to look around wildly. He had heard a voice in his head, and for a moment, he had the sudden thought that JENOVA had somehow survived Genesis’ barrage of Firagas that fateful day in Nibelheim even though they had made sure that the being had been torched into nothingness.
But then he realized that this voice was different, very much so. It was gentle and soothing to his nerves, a far cry from JENOVA’s shrill shrieking and inherent insidiousness to its tone when the alien being had fought futilely against being eliminated. So… who did this voice belong to?
As if hearing his mental query, Vincent explained, “Lucrecia seems to be able to utilize the Lifestream to some extent to communicate with the living… You may be able to hear her more clearly; Lucrecia has some JENOVA cells in her too as a result of the Project.”
“…Mother?” he whispered, the word sounding awkward on his lips.
‘My son… Sephiroth… I’m sorry.’
Son. She had called him her son… Although Vincent had told him who his birth mother was, it was then that he realized that he hadn’t truly believed the other man until this very moment. Until it could really be proven. Then, there was a tidal wave of emotions surging up inside him, and they were in such a jumbled, knotted mess that he was having a very hard time trying to decipher what they were. His mother… She really was his mother…
‘I’m so sorry…’
Sephiroth opened his mouth, but could not find an appropriate response and so, shut his mouth. How should he respond? There was a sense of joy bubbling inside him at finally knowing his origins, at finally having his true mother acknowledge him. Yet… It was conflicting. So conflicting to know that although his mother regretted her actions of allowing him to be used as an experiment… her apology could never make up for the years he had spent in Hojo’s labs, the years that he had been lied to.
Had things not gone the way they had, had Cloud not appeared by chance in his life, it was almost guaranteed that things would’ve turned out like how it had been in Cloud’s previous timeline.
Gaia! What should he say to that? Did she want his forgiveness? For so long he had resigned himself to the fate that he would never see his mother – dead or alive, that he only had his own misfortune to blame for landing up in Hojo’s hands as a child… There was nothing to forgive, was there? Even if there were, it… just…
‘I love you, my son.’
He froze, feeling as if his heart had almost stopped there and then, before it began to pound rapidly. Those words… They didn’t make everything magically all right again, because reality just did not work this way. But the effect they had on him was… immense.
“Lucrecia never did get to see you again after you were born,” Vincent murmured. “Hojo wouldn’t allow her near you. I heard that she sealed herself away here soon afterwards, and regretted her decision to make you a part of the Project.”
It was yet another reason for him to despise and hate the deceased mad scientist, as if there weren’t enough already.
Suddenly, there was a scuffling noise behind them and immediately, both men were on the alert. They hadn’t had trouble with any monsters on the way up; the presence of the large amounts of mako in Sephiroth combined with Vincent’s inner demons had served to keep the monsters well away. Of course, it was possible that there were still some monsters that would wander unknowingly into the cave, despite how well-hidden it was.
Two pairs of eyes tracked their surroundings carefully, making sure to cover every single nook and cranny. Then, all at once, a streak of something dark but relatively small appeared from one side of the cave and then proceeded to run right into Vincent.
“Itai!” the dark shape exclaimed as it was knocked back to the ground.
Sephiroth blinked. That was a human… right? The fauna out here, as far as he knew, did not speak the human language, even if it was Wutainese. Well, upon closer observation, it appeared that it was a young girl. What was a child doing, unsupervised, all the way out in the wilderness here?
Vincent crouched down and very gingerly offered a black-gloved hand to the little girl. The girl looked up, already-large round eyes widening as she saw Vincent’s crimson eyes that seemed to glow even redder in the light of the mako crystals. The girl stared for a moment longer, as if fascinated by them, and Vincent blinked slowly, still awkwardly holding out his hand to her.
There was a stunned silence after that loud assertion, which reverberated for long seconds inside the cavern. Although, for reasons that he did not wish to acknowledge, Sephiroth had to fight down, and fight rather hard at that, an amused smile. The girl had just called Vincent a vampire. For Vincent’s part, he didn’t seem to be offended, although with how little the other man tended to express on his face, it was hard to be completely certain of that.
“Miss, you shouldn’t be in this area unsupervised,” Vincent finally spoke, voice still holding his usual calm. “There are dangerous monsters around.”
“Ha! All the monsters are no match for me! Don’t you know who I am? I am the Great Ninja Yuffie Kisaragi!” the girl proclaimed proudly and fearlessly, tilting her chin up defiantly. “I will defeat everything that stands in my way! Including you, Mr. Vampire!”
Sephiroth knew he was not the best at handling children, but that name… it was the same as Godo Kisaragi’s daughter, which would make her the Princess of Wutai. Furthermore, the girl had spoken in Wutainese earlier.
He approached the young girl too, though stopping a measured distance away, and then asked carefully, “Are you the Princess of Wutai?”
The child looked at him and then there was a sudden spark of shock in her eyes. “You’re from SOLDIER! ShinRa!”
In the next instance, her eyes narrowed in anger and she made to rush at Sephiroth and hit out at him with her fists. Sephiroth would’ve taken a step back, if not for Vincent’s lightning quick reflexes at holding down the girl’s hands firmly but gently. Her actions, however, was almost an answer in itself to her identity. Sephiroth was quite certain that this feisty young girl was indeed Godo’s only daughter.
It still did not answer the question as to why the girl was so far away from Wutai and without even a single guardian by her side.
“Miss Kisaragi, you are of no danger here. But I suggest that you return home and not wander around alone,” Vincent quietly said. Somehow, the dark-haired man managed to make his words sound vaguely reprimanding yet slightly concerned.
Yuffie opened her mouth, most likely to rebut Vincent, but the words were lost to them as a voice suddenly echoed in the cave, “Yuffie! Stop running, I know you’re in here!”
It also happened to be a very familiar voice, despite the slight distortions due to the echoes.
“Cloud?” Sephiroth murmured in confusion. Why would Cloud be here, and how did he know the Wutainese princess?
“CLOUD!” Yuffie then yelled, ear-piercingly loud and shrill, causing the other two men to wince slightly. “HELP MEEEEEEE!”
In a few short moments, the blond in question appeared with his sword in hand, looking like he was getting ready to charge at whatever monster that was threatening Yuffie. However, the minute he took in the scene before him, Cloud stopped short and stared. This was… not quite what he had been expecting when he had heard Yuffie’s cry for help.
Come to think of it, Yuffie rarely, if ever, called for his help (barring those text messages) even when she was stuck in the worst of situations. It should’ve warned him that something was up, or at least different from the usual scenario of being cornered by monsters that she was ill-equipped to handle.
Cloud sighed and then sheathed his sword as he walked closer to the trio. “Yuffie, you aren’t in any danger here.”
“But, but he’s a vampire and he’s from ShinRa!”
Cloud blinked at Yuffie’s description of Vincent. Leave it to Yuffie to say something that most people would’ve thought of at one point after meeting Vincent but would never mention about Vincent’s choice of clothing. Most especially not right in front of the said man.
“Yuffie,” he started patiently. “There are no vampires here and I’m from ShinRa too.”
The girl pouted but did not say anything more.
Cloud turned to Vincent and Sephiroth. “I didn’t expect to see you two here. Did Yuffie-”
He caught a glimpse of rapid movement from Yuffie out of his peripheral vision and opened his mouth to give a warning to Vincent. Cloud stopped short, however, when Vincent himself reacted.
“Miss Kisaragi.” This time, there was a definite steely, disapproving edge to Vincent’s tone. “Stealing is a crime.”
In Yuffie’s right hand was an orb of materia that had not been there previously. Vincent’s un-clawed hand was keeping a tight hold of Yuffie’s hand, while the other carefully extracted the materia from her fingers. Yuffie’s lower lip began to tremble and to Cloud’s now-experienced eye, he knew that Yuffie was about to burst into tears. Genuine ones or just crocodile tears to attempt to gain Vincent’s sympathy and then attempt to steal the materia again, Cloud wasn’t quite sure. He was curious, however, at how Vincent would react. Most people tended to get flustered when they made a young child cry, but Vincent wasn’t “most people”.
“B-but! But! I… (sniff) I n-need materia!” By the end of that proclamation, Yuffie – as Cloud had predicted – promptly burst out into loud, wailing sobs that echoed continuously in the cave.
Sephiroth winced slightly, as did Cloud, at the way the echoes were amplifying Yuffie’s already loud crying. Vincent, however…
“Stealing is not the way to obtain them.” Other than a gentling of his tone, Vincent did not seem otherwise affected by the sight of Yuffie’s tears.
It wasn’t as surprising to Cloud as it should’ve been. In his old timeline, Vincent had probably been the only person (well, perhaps the only male, since Tifa eventually learned the art and Aerith had been a natural with the Wutainese princess since the beginning) who could really handle Yuffie. Looks like it applied to this timeline and the younger Yuffie too. His attention was turned away from the duo when Sephiroth spoke to him.
“I presume that the Princess of Wutai is the reason you’ve been running all over the world outside of your official missions?”
There was a hint of humor in Sephiroth’s voice and a glint of that reflected in his eyes too. It was well known within their group of friends that Cloud responded to certain messages he got on his PHS with lots of cursing (usually mental, but they’d learned to spot the signs of it, and the few times the blond had actually cursed aloud… they were memorable to say the least) before hurriedly leaving to god-knows-what dangerous location.
Cloud managed to suppress a long-suffering sigh as he replied, “Yeah. Yuffie had always been a real handful.”
Sephiroth immediately noted the way Cloud had phrased his reply. “…another person from your past timeline?” he queried, although it probably was something that he could’ve guessed. Cloud wouldn’t be running across continents time and again for someone that he didn’t have any sentimental attachment to.
The blond nodded. “But I met her when she was a couple of years older… trying to steal my materia.”
That brought a slight quirk to Sephiroth’s lips, probably because he’d just seen Yuffie trying to steal materia from Vincent. “Vincent seems to be dealing with her well enough,” he observed.
Indeed, Vincent had somehow gotten Yuffie to stop crying even though she was still sniffling slightly. But she was definitely calming down. The dark-haired man was now sitting on the rocky ground, instead of crouching, next to Yuffie. The young girl also seemed to be listening to Vincent with rapt attention, materia-stealing habits seemingly all forgotten.
Cloud smiled slightly at the sight. It had always mystified him in the past how Vincent and Yuffie, two people with personalities on the polar ends of the scale, could get along as well as they did in his old timeline. Now, it just made this scene he was witnessing rather nostalgic and heartwarming.
“Vincent had a way with her back then too,” he offered with a little shrug. “I never knew how he did it.”
There were a few moments of silence between them, during which Cloud wondered if he should ask about the meeting before Yuffie had most likely interrupted. Judging from Sephiroth and Vincent’s behavior, he would guess that, at the very least, Sephiroth had not reacted badly to meeting Lucrecia for the first time in his life.
“So… I guess you’ve seen Lucrecia?”
“…I have,” Sephiroth replied quietly after another long silence that was verging on almost uncomfortable and awkward. Then in an even softer voice, he added, “She called me her son…”
“…you are her son.”
That statement was enough confirmation to Sephiroth that Cloud had indeed been the one who’d suggested to Vincent the idea of bringing him to meet Lucrecia. He was… grateful. He had needed to know for certain that he wasn’t a… a monster. Meeting his mother had done that for him.
“Thank you, Cloud.”
Cloud blinked again, looking a little bewildered.
“You suggested this to Vincent, did you not?”
“…it’s a little strange to hear you thank me twice in almost as many days,” the blond answered evasively and perhaps even a little embarrassedly.
Sephiroth was saved from replying when Vincent approached them, un-clawed hand holding on to Yuffie’s hand firmly. “I will be taking Miss Kisaragi back to Wutai.”
“Good luck with that,” Cloud replied.
He’d tried on more than one occasion, and even if he’d managed to not lose Yuffie before reaching her home country, her minders would lose her in even less time. But this was Vincent. Perhaps he’d have more luck.
“Will you be leaving too, Sephiroth?” Vincent then asked.
Sephiroth hesitated, looking back at the crystal-encased figure of his birth mother for a moment. He came to a decision.
“Yes. I’ll come back again another time.”
He still hadn’t sorted out the complicated knot of emotions he had felt upon meeting Lucrecia before Yuffie had made her appearance. It would probably take some time for him to fully come to terms with what he had learnt today, but he was going to do that, though not at this moment.
For the time being, knowing that he had a human mother – and that, by extension, certainly made him human – was enough.