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Parenthood'z Nightmare

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Hojo stormed down the long halls of his Laboratory in Junon, furious as his concerned assistant chased after him, their white coats billowed behind them.

“A week! A week!” Hojo cried. “IT’s most likely expired by now!” He stopped at a metal door bolted shut with six locks and three keypads. “Give me those cards Rachna!” He out-held his dry hand, scowling as his nervous assistant rummaged through her pockets.

“Y-yes Professor!” She trembled and handed him the three cardkeys.

“A week! Sephiroth is due to arrive at any moment!” He threw the cards back at Rachna and then demanded the six skeleton keys.

“The message was never received because of the War.” Rachna explained, attempting to save her own skin. “The Lab’s been abandoned because they thought the Experiment was discarded, they were going to allow IT to expire—”

“Silence!” The bolts snapped open, releasing steam as the mechanics mobilized swinging the door open on creaking hinges.
A rancid stench emerged as a small dark room was exposed. It was a bitter January and the room’s brick walls glittered with a layer of frost.
Had it not been for the weak movement in the corner as two eyes hid themselves from the light after days of darkness both Scientists would have thought the stench was rotting flesh rather than the human waste surrounding the thin grey blanket where a small emaciated child, wrapped up within it, huddled into the corner, face cast downwards as trembling hands clutched a split plastic water bottle, empty.

Arranged at the Child’s blackened feet sat a metal bowl and spoon, scraped free of the mould that had been devoured in a desperate attempt to survive.

“IT’s still alive!?” Hojo exclaimed, pushing Rachna into the room.

She grimaced; there was nowhere to tread without having something squelch beneath her heels. She pulled a face and grunted unhappily as she crouched down and pushed the matted dark hair from the Child’s face. The Child whimpered and weakly turned away. “IT’s trembling.” She announced.

“Quickly, clean IT up before Sephiroth arrives!”

Eyes shielded for a week burnt beneath the artificial lighting as Rachna carried the Child into the hall.
“OW…!” A screech escaped the Child’s throat, croaky screams of pain as small grubby hands covered large green eyes.

“Quiet!” Hojo barked as he walked ahead, leading them into a sterile room where an examination table stood in the centre. “Have IT treated for dehydration; I’ll have this mess cleared up.”

Rachna wondered where to begin; the Child was dehydrated and sick from malnourishment which had stunted IT’s growth and the healing of old wounds. How could this be explained to the SOLDIER?

She gave the Child a bottle of water and fussed as the liquid was hastily consumed. There was no time to prepare a shower sterile enough to clean the Child, Sephiroth had already arrived.
Rachna panicked as she looked at the screens lining the laboratory walls, camera footage of Sephiroth and his accomplice at the gates sent her running before the intercom bell could sound. “PROFESSOR! HE’S HERE!”

Green eyes lined with dark circles tiredly stared at the computer screens, fearfully watching Hojo and Rachna appear on the monitor camera to greet the SOLDIER.

The Child gasped when the bottle of blessed water fell from frost-bitten fingers.
The Child sought to follow it, falling to the floor and crying out at the impact, unable to produce tears as there was not enough water to spare.

Two large deep cuts on the sole of each foot re-opened, so the Child crawled back to the darkened room; left open unattended and wet, having been hosed down by the Professor in a cleaning attempt; but the room had become colder and the waste on the floor became a brown watery sludge.

The Child crawled to the grey soaked blanket and sobbed miserably.

“Hey… what’s wrong with you, huh?” The Child whimpered and gasped upon hearing the strange voice and backed into a corner.
A young 3rd Class SOLDIER with spiked black hair was crouched before the Child. Regardless of how kindly he’d spoken, bitten nails fearfully dug into the frosty wall as panic clouded sore eyes.

"G’ 'way…" The Child croaked between shrieked sobs and turned into the wall, attempting to hide.
The young man, although horrified, continued his attempts of comfort, rubbing the spiny back as he stared at living flesh-coated skeleton.

“What happened?” His head turned when Hojo’s parrot-like voice sounded and he shuffled in, closely followed by Sephiroth a few steps behind.

Sephiroth looked at the Child curiously with his feline eyes, she, he was only assuming IT was a she, was the size of a small toddler. A tortured soul with bones defined under a tight layer of battered skin and an old green dress that was far too big for her.

In his youth Sephiroth had been ordered to work in Wutai’s Death Camps and the sight of this skeletal child recalled the cruellest of memories, all of which passed through his eyes in no more than a second before they evaporated and left an expression of sorrow and anger. Unhappily, he turned aside.

"When I came in the room the little angel was crying." Zack began as he forced the girl into a hug. "I asked her what was wrong and she went all hysterical." He stroked her matted dark hair, his fingers tangling in the knots.

"Stand up Zack." Sephiroth muttered, irritated. "Is THIS what you wanted me to see?" He scolded Hojo as he pointed at the child.

"This girl could have some of your unique Soldier enhancements, as well as other rarer traits. The reason I called you here was to request that you train this girl to the best of your abilities."

"Ridiculous..." Sephiroth mumbled. "That is absolutely... ridiculous." He glanced towards the little girl. "This is pitiful."

"Then you won't do it?" Sephiroth said nothing but wore a thoughtful expression.
"Then you know what that means; don't you Alice?" Hojo taunted, using her name for the first time, his words drove her into a fit of instant panic as she wailed and chewed her knuckles, pulling at the flesh like a wolf with a corpse, sobbing incoherent words.

"Is this really what you called me here for?" Sephiroth stressed, Hojo simply grinned.
Receiving no affirmative answer Sephiroth frowned and turned to walk away, stunned that Zack was already stood there, determined with his arms outstretched either side of the doorway.

"Come on Seph!” He pleaded and leant in to whisper. "She's only small! And you don't want to leave her in this place do ya'?"

Sephiroth gruffly sighed. "Come here." Alice didn’t move. "Don't make me come to you." The shaky toddler crawled to him, refusing to stand on her sore feet.

"I think we best leave and get you ready for what's to come." Hojo grabbed hold of her matted hair struggling to tug her passed Sephiroth. Alice screamed and reached her hands up to her head, fighting with his hand as her feet left the floor.

Sephiroth prised Hojo’s hand from her hair; she fell to the floor and crawled under his coat to hide by his legs.

"Zack, look after the girl,” His tone darkened “Hojo, a word."
Hojo followed him into the hall, stopping when they were a few feet from the room.
"First,” he grabbed Hojo’s collar and pushed him against the wall. “Who is she?"

Hojo's eyes filled with a sinister look, and the corners of his mouth pulled up into a cruel smile. "Your daughter."

Sephiroth tripped over his words. "…Wha’… I…How?"

"That Cetra girl you were so fond of." He began laughing again. "Rumour has it that she left you! You always have been quite hopeless with people-URK!" Hojo’s laugh was cut short as Sephiroth’s hand closed around his throat forcing him to stare down into the Soldier’s raging hurt eyes.

“How did Posie come to be here? She was found dead in the Slums last month!”

Hojo began to gasp for air. The look in Sephiroth’s eyes was frightening, and he wished he hadn’t dropped his clipboard so he could note the sudden change of temperament and swirl of Mako in his eyes.

“The last time I saw her alive was four years ago! How can we have such a young child?” He dropped him and enjoyed the sight of Hojo clutching his throat and gasping for air.
He knelt before him and scowled as he whispered in his ear. “Don’t even try to fob your failures off on me.”
Rachna stood nearby, worried as Sephiroth turned his cold gaze upon her and stood. "What are you going to do with the child once we're gone?"

Hojo leant against the wall as he adjusted his collar and caught his breath with a smile. "She knows what's going to happen to her. She watched it happen to her beloved pet, I still have its remains if you care to view it?"

With heavy footsteps Sephiroth surged back into the cell. The results of a Scientist comparing animals to humans were always macabre and Sephiroth wouldn’t let it happen to anyone.
Not again.

“Professor, are you alright?” Rachna exclaimed.

Hojo managed a laugh. “That boy was never able to ignore a creature in distress; he has too much compassion for his own good! It’s no wonder he was named a Hero.”

Rachna looked confused as it became obvious that his neglecting Alice was part of an elaborate plan to have Sephiroth cooperate. “Is it wise to use him like this though? He just buried his wife… a man like that, if you push him too far who knows what he’ll—!”

“Silence!” Hojo scolded. "Yes, in order to keep a man with the temperament of Sephiroth under control and to have him act accordingly I must use his emotions as strings to navigate him.”

“Like a marionette?”

Hojo grinned. “Exactly, and familial ties have always been his strongest and weakest string.”

"We're leaving!" Sephiroth announced as he passed them. "We're taking the girl with us!"

Alice began to fuss as they left the room. “No OW!” (Don’t hurt me!)

“Shh, you’re okay.” Zack hushed, comforting her again as he followed Sephiroth.

"You're actually going to take this girl? That will be the first time you've changed your mind." Hojo exclaimed.

Sephiroth stopped to answer. "No I’ll not have her, but I’ll not leave her here either."

Hojo outstretched his hand, holding a yellow piece of folded paper. “You’ll want this.”

Sephiroth snatched it from him and unfolded it. It was a birth certificate; everything was filled in, confirming that Alice was thirty-one months old. He was listed as her father, his deceased wife; her mother and the place of her birth typically left blank. Without a word, Sephiroth continued walking.

Zack broke the silence as they walked down the metallic stairs. "What made you take her with us?"

Sephiroth sighed. "Hojo can be very cruel to his test subjects. That's why."

"So we're rescuing her?"

Sephiroth hesitantly nodded as they stood by the automatic glass doors with the Shinra logo marking them.
"Yes. I’m taking her to a Nunnery; there she'll be taken care of." The doors opened and they left.

Zack frowned. "Do her parents know she's here? You'd think a responsible parent would look after his kid."

"I know what you're implying, Zack."

"Going?" (Where are we going?) Alice winced as they exited the building and the sunlight hit her face.

Zack smiled at her. "I promise I’ll make your dad to let you live with him."

"Wh' da’…?" (What is a dad?) She asked in a quiet voice, her throat raw and dry as she struggled to repeat the ‘new word’ Zack had spoken, testing its measure on her tongue. “D-Da… Dap—”

"You don't know what a dad is!?" Zack hollered.
Her bottom lip began to quiver, startled by Zack’s tone and amplified voice. "Uh... It's alright Alice!" He struggled to calm her, hugging her tightly. "I wasn't angry! I was just… surprised!"

"Stop crying." Sephiroth sternly but softly demanded. "You're away from him now so there's no need to cry."

"Now you see Alice, that's a dad." Zack smiled; pointing to Sephiroth. Alice glanced at him as he stood before the black Company car, holding the door open.

As she stared at him he watched her closely, her appearance intrigued him as he noticed her bright green eyes unmistakably resembling those of her acclaimed mother, Posie, and maybe, under all that grime, she bore some likeness to him. He snorted at the thought, ‘Impossible.’

With a scared look in her eye Alice lifted her head and gazed at her surroundings, shrieking when something small and furry approached. "Dat dat!?" (What is that!?) She anxiously hid her face in Zack’s shoulder again.

Sephiroth dramatically sighed. "It's a cat. Didn't Hojo teach you your basic zoology?" Alice stared at the cat and nervously chewed her knuckles, a nervous habit.

“What’s Zoo~loo~ghee?” Zack asked.

“…Animals.”

"Your dad will teach you all about animals later. I'm SURE he'd L~O~V~E to."

"They'll teach her in the Nunnery." He retorted and unlocked the boot of the car but watched with interest as Alice crawled to the cat which had probably escaped from the Lab.

The cat halted its bathing process as Alice approached, then unhappily wagged its tail as she fearlessly reached out for it.

Sephiroth snorted in amusement as the cat warbled unhappily while Alice investigated its tail, seemingly wondering why she didn’t have such a furry appendage too.

“Wha’dis?” (What is this?) She asked, tugging on the tail. The cat hissed and fled under a nearby car, leaving Alice stunned.

“A tail!” Zack laughed.

Alice rolled onto her back to stare at the sky, it was a clear pale winter blue, and what might have scared her, as she was seeing it for the first time, made her gaze in awe instead.
“Dat dat?” (What is that?) She asked, pointing up at the vast blue.

“The atmosphere surrounding our Planet, more commonly referred to as ‘the sky’.” Sephiroth tilted his head. “You’ve never seen it before?” Alice didn’t reply; her eyes became tired as she drifted into sleep.

"Did we travel all day and there was no real mission at the end?" Zack wondered.
Sephiroth nodded.
"That’s not cool!" Zack complained, lifting Alice off the floor.

A lowly but promising Third-Class Soldier, Zack was privileged to begin his career accompanying Sephiroth on a mission. It was all thanks to Angeal of course; exhausted from Zack’s relentless energy he had Sephiroth repay a previous favour by taking him away with him.

When he heard he was invited to Hojo’s Lab, Zack imagined fighting a top secret experiment for which he would be named a Hero... Instead; he found himself babysitting… watching with unconcealed horror as Sephiroth pulled a black bin liner from the car boot.
“You can’t put her in there!”

Sephiroth narrowed his eyes. Zack may have been Angeal’s student but he was as stupid as he was hyperactive.
He closed the boot and opened the back door, using the bin liner to cover the seat closest to him.

“Oh.” Zack realised. “That’s a bit mean isn’t it? I mean, she’s dirty but the car can be cleaned right?”

“It’s a Company rental. Strap her inside."

“Uh… yeah! Come on Alice.” He marched to the car and looked inside. “Oh… that’s not good.”

“What isn’t?”

“No child seat. That’s illegal isn’t it?”

Sephiroth frowned. “Child endangerment, child neglect, false imprisonment and multiple accounts abuse are the allegations this particular department of Shinra could currently be charged with. I highly doubt we’ll be stopped for lack of a child seat.”

Zack blindly nodded at the long sentence, seating Alice in the car on the bin liner he buckled her in.
“How long will it take us to get back to the dock?” He asked, climbing in the front passenger seat whilst Sephiroth sat in the drivers.

“About three hours.”

Zack looked in the mirror and noticed Alice shivering behind them. Her lips were grey and pulled tight as she crossed her arms, resting her wrists on her chest to produce some body heat. “You got anything to wrap her up in?”

“There’s a blanket in the boot.”

Zack stepped out and opened the boot, surprised to find the blanket was the most shocking shade of pink he’d ever seen. He wrapped it around Alice and gave her nose a flick as she began drifting into sleep again. “I didn’t know you liked pink!” He slammed the back door to climb in the front again.

“It’s complementary from the Company.” Sephiroth defended and then wound the windows down to air the smell that Alice carried. He turned the engine on and drove away from Hojo’s department of horrors.

They’d been driving for almost an hour. Alice remained well-wrapped and slept peacefully despite shivering.
Sephiroth would curiously turn his vision from the road to the mirror, observing her as a whirlwind of confused emotions filled his heart and questions filled his head, not help by Zack who wanted to know every secret Sephiroth might be keeping from him while Sephiroth struggled to control his temper.

"Did you know you had a daughter?"

"No."

"You must've had a hard life to want to put Alice in a Nunn—" Sephiroth spun the car against the pavement. As it came to a stop, Alice tumbled onto the floor, sliding out of her seatbelt she hit the floor.

"Zack! Enough! Alice is going and you can do NOTHING to change my mind!"

Zack silently reached around and pulled Alice from the back and onto his lap, patting her hair which stuck to his glove like Velcro.

Sephiroth left the car and paced on the pavement while Zack worriedly watched him until his temper eased and he silently climbed back in and began driving, hoping for a silent journey.

The remaining journey to the Docks of Mideel was a silent one. Docks once thriving with fishing boats were now filled with the pollution assisted by the current ship in the water awaiting Sephiroth’s return.

That was the beauty of being a First-Class Solider; Sephiroth noted as he boarded and made his presence known. As the Great Sephiroth, he was set apart from the everyday struggles of other Soldiers who had to hurry to the ship which had waited for him and only him, it would have waited until nightfall if needed.

Noticing Sephiroth’s arrival the Captain readied the Ship to leave. Sephiroth stood by the railing breathing in the open air. His facial muscles relaxed as he breathed his stress out into the polluted air.
The serenity on his face was abandoned when he felt something clutch his boot. Looking down he saw Alice struggling to stand, hugging his leg with one arm as she held onto the pink cover spread behind her as if it were her comfort blanket.

Not wanting want her to tumble under the railings and into the sea foaming below the advancing ship he clutched her hand firmly and searched the deck for Zack who seemed to have disappeared.
‘Perhaps he’s fallen overboard.’ Sephiroth sadistically smiled. He’d already decided that Zack had been promoted from irritating teenager to personal babysitter.

He pulled Alice along as he searched; she limped on her cold shuffling feet and left bloody footprints on the deck. “No! No!” She cried, hiding under his long coat and sobbing into his tall boots, hugging them and refusing to move as they neared the lifeboats.

“What’s wrong now?” Sephiroth complained.

“Don’t think she likes the bird.”

Sephiroth searched for the voice and noticed Zack sat in a lifeboat. The army green rain cover was tented over him; only his eyes were visible, peering out like a stowaway.

On one of the railing posts stood a Seagull, staring at them. Sephiroth knew many people referred to Seagulls as rats with wings, so it must have been natural for a child, sheltered from wildlife, to be afraid. “What are you doing under there?”

“It’s cold out there!” Zack stretched his arms out from under the cover. “Alice! Come join me!”
Alice stopped wailing and stared with her mouth agape, astonished as she saw Zack’s arms grow from the boat in place of the peering eyes, distracting her from the Seagull.

Sephiroth relaxed as she quietened and was almost brave enough to move towards the arms dangling limply over the side of the lifeboat until the Gull let out a call, as if it knew how frightened the toddler was.
Alice screamed; the Seagull stared as she scuttled back to Sephiroth, blubbering as she stood on his feet and wrapped her arms around his shins, crying into his knees.
Sephiroth exhaled unhappily and hefted her onto his hip. She hid her face in his chest and clutched the two belts crossing his chest, crying harder when the Seagull let out a call resembling Heidegger’s laughter.

Sephiroth held Alice out by her underarms and passed her to the lifeboats extended ‘arms’. “Here.”

Zack happily took her into the boat and Sephiroth left her with him, shaking his head as he heard him cooing at her.

“I know what you’re thinking.” A familiar voice said beside him.

He didn’t want to look; Posie had been appearing in his mind since he had viewed her broken body.
He felt angry, how dare his mind and heart rally against him and force him to hear the things he knew she’d say!
According to Angeal and Shinra’s psychiatrist this was a condition of the mind most grieving men longed to be inflicted with, too remain so close to your loved one even in death. But Sephiroth hardly viewed himself as lucky.

“Look at me.” She pleaded, sounding hurt as he ignored her.

Sephiroth had learnt to have these… domestic… conversations in his head, in private. So he dared to look at the woman only he could see.

She was small and pale, her wide eyes clouded blue and pupil-less with blindness accentuated by the long scar carved from ear to ear across each eye. Smaller scars littered her eyelids as if the cruel object of infliction had slipped many times, leaving her sclera and lachrymal forever bloodshot, a second scar travelled vertically from her right eye down her cheek resembling a tear. Old wounds never treated with care or accuracy.

Her blond hair was shoulder-length and choppy. She was dressed in a torn old dress, browned from years of wear and tear, its many layers hung like rags above scraped knees and bruised ankles. Her dirty hands were dressed with old gloves and her feet were as bare as Alice’s underneath the shredded black tights. Sephiroth was grateful for the missing bullet hole in the back of her head.
‘What do you want?’ He coldly asked her in his mind.

Posie frowned. “That’s not a nice thing to say.”

‘What do you want me to say? You know where I’ve been and what I’ve found.’

She smiled. “Where have you been and what have you found?” She asked him as gently as a mischievous angel. It made Sephiroth’s heart hurt.

‘Your child.’

“OUR child.” She corrected him.

Sephiroth frowned. ‘Everyone said you’d left me, I didn’t believe them. I thought you were dead and now I find this.’ He thought bitterly. ‘Did you run from me into the arms of a lover?’ He grasped hold of the railings and took a deep breath to steady himself but almost jumped when the ghostly hand laid over his.

“You know me better than anyone, Sephiroth. You know I wouldn’t do that.” She told him, staring blindly into his face. “Science may have found its one good use. D.N.A tests are wonderful things.”

Sephiroth closed his eyes and took another breath. “Posi—” He said out loud, but when he reopened his eyes she was gone.
The sound of the ships motor changed as they approached a shoreline, pulling into the dock on Midgar’s Plains. Had he really been staring into space for that long?

The ship pulled into the narrow shoreline where steps were carved into the cliff side, leading to the land above where the Turks were waiting near the old lighthouse. Cissnei waited at the bottom for them.
Sephiroth knew this Turk-in-training well, and she noticed the bewildered expression on his face when Zack handed Alice to him so he could breathe a breath of fresh air away from the evil stench she carried.

“Who’s this?” Cissnei asked, walking over the rocky pebble beach towards them, laying her hand on Alice’s head. She pulled her hand back at the hard and sticky feeling, reminding her of the rock candy Reno stuck in her hair as a child in the orphanage Sephiroth used to visit with Hojo and pockets full of sweets for them.

Alice bravely but tiredly gazed at Cissnei. Sephiroth adjusted the pink blanket she held, wrapping her tightly in it. “I know those eyes.” Cissnei continued.

Alice immediately turned away again; whining as she tried to sleep and Cissnei rearranged the blanket to cover her neck.

Sephiroth sadly shook his head. “You can tell her parentage just by looking at her eyes?”

“If you can’t tell then you can’t have looked at them. Where did you find her?”

As Sephiroth opened his mouth to reply a loud whistle sounded from the top of the cliff.
“Hurry up!” Tseng called down.
Sephiroth narrowed his eyes up at him but walked across the slippery ground all the same.

It was colder in the Plains surrounding Midgar. Snow clouds had rolled in and although no snow had fallen Sephiroth could smell it approaching.
The rocks and pebbles they stepped over were icy; the moss had become slipperier than usual, hardened with ice.

“Be careful on the way up!” Cissnei called over her shoulder as she approached the steep steps and began to climb them, the trail of Soldier’s following her. “We’ve already lost Rude down these steps!”
There must have been about two hundred steep steps; some of the Soldier’s clutched onto the next step as they walked up, crawling and daring not to look down as their feet slid about beneath them.

“Whew!” Zack wheezed, the final one to reach the top, and rolled onto his back when he finished the climb. He looked over the edge and grimaced at the vast drop. Rolling his head to the other side he frowned. “You couldn’t have taken the helicopter down there!?”

Sat in the helicopter Rude nursed a very bruised and swollen knee, silently rubbing the patch he had landed on when he’d fallen down the steps, Reno stared at it with an awe filled smile. They were like two children proudly showing off their cuts and bruises.

“I’m gonna ride with Sephiroth.” Cissnei told Tseng. “I’ll meet you back at the Shinra Building.”

“Why?”

“He has a story I want to hear.”

“You’re almost a fully-fledged Turk now, stories will have to wait.”

“Cheer up, Cissnei!” Reno laid a hand on her shoulder. “Stories from us Turks are way better than his! Believe me! Hey Rude!” Keeping his hand on her shoulder he turned to look at his silent partner. “Have we told her about Mrs Shinra’s corsets?” Rude smirked but then his expression paled. “Yeah… perhaps we shouldn’t.” Reno finished, understanding Rude’s silent demeanour.

Cissnei shrugged his hand off her shoulder. “This is a story even you’d want to hear.” She pointed at Sephiroth. “Look.”

Under the mass of dark hair on Sephiroth’s shoulder one bright sleepy green eye was visible.
Reno gave a low whistle. “Is she?”

Rude hopped off the helicopter, grabbing his knee as he almost toppled over. “She could be.”

“But she couldn’t be!” Reno added.

“But what if she is?” Rude suggested.

“I’ll call Angeal.” Cissnei said, pulling her phone from her pocket. “Sephiroth will need all the help he can get.”

As Sephiroth passed Tseng he hatefully glared at him. It was unmissable, and the Turk’s cringed as they observed it.

“Sephiroth,” Tseng said as Sephiroth strapped Alice into the car which had been waiting there for them. He slammed the door closed and challenged Tseng to speak. “I didn’t know about this.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Sephiroth growled, visibly restraining himself. He sat in the driver’s seat next to Zack and began the final part of their journey.

“Did you and Tseng have some sort of fight?”

Sephiroth huffed. “It’s a long story.” The answer didn’t seem good enough for Zack. “He killed two people I… knew.”

“Man that’s sad… Who were they?” Sephiroth ignored him and spent the rest of their journey in silence, pondering over Tseng’s statement that he hadn’t known of Alice’s existence, it was surely a lie… wasn’t it?

A veil of darkness threw itself over the world as night fell; Sephiroth randomly stopped the car, the engine still running, startling Zack who had been drifting into sleep and now wondered what was wrong. “I’m tired.” It was a strange confession that startled Zack. This Soldier, the living Superhero confessed to tiredness; and it was almost enough to break Zack’s image of him.

“Uh…yeah… me too.”

“Large monsters prowl the Plains at this hour. I don’t feel like fighting tonight.”

“Is it strange we haven’t crossed any yet?”

“No, monsters are absent from this road until late, they have learnt when to hunt. It’s only twenty-one-hundred hours; the winter makes it seem later. There’s a small Travellers Inn ahead, we’ll rest there.” He drove one more mile and stopped outside a large cottage hidden away in a valley off the road.
The windows were lit up with light, promising warmth and comfort inside.

Sephiroth parked the car and un-buckled his seatbelt. "She's asleep, isn't she?" He asked quietly, looking up into the cars mirror to see the sleeping girl wrapped in her blanket and slumped against the car door.

Zack looked behind his seat so he could see her. "Yeah… Hey, Seph, you sure you want to send her to a Nunnery?"

"Zack, I don't need a child." He answered, exited the car and opened the back door to retrieve Alice.

Zack climbed out and watched Sephiroth gently manoeuvre Alice, desperately trying not to wake her.
Her head rested upon his chest as she was sat on his arm and lent against him, his other hand placed on her back to steady her as he tried to pull the unravelled pink blanket up.

"But then again, you might enjoy being a father." Sephiroth ignored him and walked into the Inn, not willing to listen.

The small reception was domesticated and homely, lit with warmth that bounced off the wood floor and furnishings.

Sephiroth passed a cabinet of fliers and stepped across the small carpet laid neatly in front of the desk; the desk itself covered with papers and books.

There was a closed door leading to a dinning-room where guests could eat and there was another door leading to a lounge that doubled as a bar.

He rang the bell on the desk and only spoke when a young woman appeared. "Three rooms." Sephiroth ordered and placed the Gil on the desk.

"Sorry sir, we only have one." The woman apologized. "But it does have three beds."

"That will do."

The desk attendant nodded. "It’s room two," She handed Zack the keys since Sephiroth obviously had his arms full. "Please enjoy your stay." She said as a middle-aged woman arrived behind the desk.

"Will ya' need anythin’ for the girl?" She asked, with a strong country accent. "The poor thing'll freeze if ya' let' her go 'round like 'that." She told them, referring to Alice’s poor clothing.
"’N when was the last time she had a decent meal?" She put a hand on her hip and walked forwards. "Looks like she ain't eaten in days!"

"Don't criticize them mother." The younger woman hushed.

Sephiroth and Zack snuck away to their room. It was painted beige with some pictures on the walls, the floor was carpeted brown, a television was on the wall opposite the three beds, three very cosy looking beds.
Opposite the door was a window dressed with red curtains. It had started to sleet outside, the shadows reflected on the carpet.

"This is nice." Zack said contently, laying on one of the beds with his arms behind his head.
Sephiroth took Alice to the middle bed and tucked her under the covers. "You're not gonna undress her?"

Sephiroth glared. "No," He roughly replied, eyes red with exhaustion and another unidentified emotion. "I'm going downstairs." He had no plans to go to bed that night.

"And you're leaving her here?" He gawked.

"She's obviously used to being alone."

"Seph'…you can't leave kids in a strange place or anywhere.else.on.their.own." He stressed.

"Fine," Sephiroth turned and opened the door. "You take care of her then." He left to sit in the lounge on one of the soft red seats that circled the room with a tonic in his hand, rubbing his brow with the other. The room was abandoned, save for him… and the topless mermaid and dolphin statue supporting the glass oval table-top.

“Buy a girl a drink?”

Sephiroth sighed unhappily at the voice he heard and turned his tired eyes upon Posie who sat next to him smiling. Her elbow rested on the arm of the chair and her chin rested on her hand, her other arm rested on her crossed legs and for just one moment Sephiroth almost believed she really was there.
‘If I tried could I imagine us in a bar each with a martini? This place seems to have run out, or so they tell me.’

She hummed. “Probably not, but you’re welcome to try.”

‘What have you come to haunt me about now?’ He took a sip of his drink, hoping it would clear the hallucination from his mind.

Posie’s face fell and she turned away, folding her hands on her knee. “You know I love you, don’t you?” Sephiroth choked on the sip of his drink he had just taken. “Don’t be so shocked! I really do! I used to tell you everyday… and you me…”

Sephiroth released a burning breath. ‘I still do. It’s just been four years since I’ve heard that.’

Posie smiled and continued to stare straight ahead. “Do you still love me?”

‘You know I do, you’re a figment of Pathological Grief, you know how I feel about you.’

“Is that why you’re hurting?”

‘I’m just confused.’

“About what?”

‘You.’ Sephiroth stared down at his lap, deep in thought. He felt a ghosts hand on his once again and slowly looked up to see Posie knelt before him, blindly staring at him.

“There has to be something written about me, stored in one of those document rooms. You could find them, read them, and give yourself some closure. Then, one day, you and I can be together again. Remember?”

The corners of Sephiroth’s lips twitched as he remembered the stories she had told him of that place, the Promised Land, a place all the ones they’d loved and lost had travelled to, to begin something beautiful and new, surely Posie was there now. ‘You know I remember.’

Her hands reached up to touch each side of his face. “You and I will meet again, there’s one thing I need you to do first though. Something I can’t do.”

Gazing through a layer of tears, Sephiroth cleared the lump he carried in his throat from his mental voice. ‘Anything.’

For the first time in a long time, a loving kiss was placed on his lips. It felt so real it made the tear in his eye fall. He reached up to stroke the hair away from her cheek, but missed her as she pulled away. He stared into those large eyes with a sad longing as she gave him a sad smile.

“Take care of her for me.”

And with a single blink Sephiroth found himself sitting alone again, contemplating her words and feeling the imaginary remains of a soft kiss upon his lips.