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Even Demons Can Be Saved

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Chapter 1

Evelyn looked out the balcony door of her hotel at the white sand below.  The day was just getting started and there were very few people on the beach.  It was made even better when she remembered the beach was just for the people staying at the resort.  She was looking forward to spending the day in the water.

Her attention was drawn back into the room when one of her best friends came out of the bathroom.  She looked at him with a smile.  “Good morning sleepy head.  I wasn’t expecting you up until after Mara.  Did she kick you out of the bed?”

He scowled at her teasing but didn’t say anything.  Instead he went straight for the tray sitting on the tiny dining table.  After he poured a cup of coffee and downed half of it he finally spoke.  “I’m not entirely sure how you were the first one up.  I am almost certain you drank more than either of us last night.”

She laughed at him as Mara finally joined them.  She looked freshly showered.  She snuggled up to David’s side and poured herself a cup of coffee as well.  “You shouldn’t be surprised.  You know she still gets plenty of practice.  You and I on the other hand are becoming old fogies.”

Evelyn smiled at her two friends as she poured herself another cup as well.  They looked adorable together, even with them both looking wore out from the previous night’s activities.  David and Mara had been her best friends since their high school days and that hadn’t changed even after they got married.  They didn’t go out with her as often, but they never made her feel like she was a third wheel.  It helped that they had been friends for years now.

This trip had been Evelyn’s idea.  She had found a killer deal on a two week stay at a resort in Maui.  She didn’t have quite enough to book the trip herself, so she convinced her two friends to take the leap with her.  So far, none of them regretted it.  They had already explored some of the inland attractions, but today was a day for relaxing on the beach.

She smiled at her friends again as she set her cup down.  “You two are far from old fogies.  I’ll consider it when you have a full head of grey hair each, and even then, I’ll only agree if you can no longer walk.”

Mara nearly spit out her coffee as she snorted at her friend’s quip.  When she caught her breath, she noticed that her friend already had her swimsuit and cover on.  She raised a brow before she spoke.  “I see you’re all ready to hit the beach.”

Evelyn nodded as she moved to grab the bag with her sunscreen and music.  “I was just waiting for the two of you to get up.”

“Have fun then.”  Mara waved her towards the door.  She spoke up again before Evelyn could walk out.  “Oh, Evie!  Make sure you’re careful if you get in the water.  The guide said there aren’t many people down there since it’s off season.  The water is likely to be rough too.”

Evelyn shook her head at her friend’s tendency to worry.  “You know I might reconsider my evaluation of your age status.”

Mara gave her friend a mock frown before speaking.  “I’m serious you know.”

Evelyn laughed.  “I know, I know.  I’ll watch for strangers and pay attention to the waves.”  She waved once more before she closed the door behind her.  She could hear her friend calling out another warning even though the door was closed.  She laughed under her breath as she walked out of the hotel.  It was nice that they cared, even if she didn’t always listen.

There were only a handful of people on the beach when she made it down.  She appreciated that fact as she was able to find a covered chair easily.  The sun was bright even if the temperature was low for Maui, a chilling 80 degrees.  She put one headphone in and leaned back to soak up the sun.

She laid there until she felt herself start to sweat a little.  With a sigh she put her iPod back in the bag and headed toward the water.  It did look a little rough, but a lot of the large waves were tamed by a natural break some distance from the beach.  It didn’t extend all the way across the little inlet, but it was enough that a good portion of the beach was peaceful enough to swim.

When she first stepped into the water she had to pause while she got used to the temperature.  The water was much colder than the air, but not so much that it was uncomfortable, just shocking at first.  She finally decided that it would be all or nothing.  She dove in head first and swam for a short distance before surfacing with a gasp.  The chilling water had electrified her.  She no longer felt the lethargy that had gripped her when she was lounging on the beach.  With a grin she dove again and headed toward the break.

She didn’t really have a destination in mind.  She just wanted to swim.  It was one of her favorite pastimes.  She finally slowed a short distance from the natural barrier.  She sighed as she remembered Mara’s warnings as well as the ones from their guide the day before.  She turned back to the beach and was surprised to see how far out she had come.  With another sigh she started back toward the beach.  She decided to take a different route this time and swam at an angle.

When she got closer to the beach she started to encounter waves that were lifting her, so she tried to get closer to where the water was not heaving as much.  She remembered a moment to late that that didn’t necessarily mean safer.  She had already reached the point of no return though and panic filled her mind as the strong current instantly pulled her under.

Her eyes widened with fear, even with the salt water stinging she refused to shut them as she tried to fight her way back to the surface.  Her lungs ached, and she was having a hard time identifying which way was up.  She wanted to cry at how careless she had been, at the fact that there was probably no one out there that would notice her missing.  There was no telling how long it would be until she was noted as missing.  Her vision started to darken, and her last thoughts were of the friends she knew would be so worried at her absence.

Her vision darkened completely for a moment, but she was still conscious when a gloved hand came out of nowhere.  Despite the fact that she had little strength left in her limbs, she reached out for it and grabbed on.  She was quickly lifted out of the water and onto solid ground.  She instantly started coughing up the liquid she had swallowed while she had been immersed.

She barely noted the large hand that was patting her back as she forced everything up.  She was having a hard time catching her breath still and she noticed her vision started to dim again.  She finally sat back and noticed it was cold.  It was cold enough that her bikini was already starting to stick to her skin painfully.  She tried to look around, but her vision was blurry.  She noticed a large black blur right in front of her but couldn’t make out what it was.  As hard as she was fighting to remain conscious her brain couldn’t keep up.  She never even felt herself hit the ground as she passed out.


 

Sephiroth had been dispatched on a simple monster patrol near Modeoheim.  There had been several of them around the world in the last six months, but most of the time it would have been one of the Thirds.  It had been Angeal that had suggested he go this time.  Lazard had agreed that the General had been cooped up at headquarters for too long and insisted that he take this mission.

Although he appreciated their concern, and it was nice getting out, this type of mission bored him out of his skull.  It wasn’t until he managed to locate one of the beasts fast enough to evade him that his interest was peaked at all.  He chased it down a trail he never would have noticed if he hadn’t been after it.

His attention was snagged when he ran into a small clearing.  There was a small natural mako spring that was bubbling up from the ground.  Some of it had crystalized and it made the place nearly blinding.  Between the snow and crystals, the sun had plenty of surfaces to reflect from.

It took him a moment to realize the surface of the small pool was being violently disturbed.  He walked to it warily.  His first thought was that the monster had fallen in accidentally.  His eyes widened when he could make out the top of a human head.  He didn’t think twice before reaching into the liquid to try to pull the person out.

He felt somewhat relieved when the person grabbed onto his hand.  He barely noted it was a woman as he helped her find solid ground.  When she started regurgitating the liquid she must have swallowed in the pool, he patted her back to help her expel it.

After several moments she finally sat back, but her eyes were wide.  She was looking around wildly, but he doubted she was able to see much.  Her eyes passed over him several times before she faced him and squinted.  He was not surprised when her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell over.  He was able to catch her before she fell but that brought his attention to what she was wearing, or rather what she wasn’t.

Her hair and clothes were still soaking wet and starting to freeze, what little of them there were.  She had started to shiver violently, and her lips were already losing color.  He laid her down gently before he removed his own coat and wrapped her up in it.  The cold didn’t bother him nearly as bad, even without a shirt.

He had completely forgotten about the beast he had been chasing until he was back on the main trail.  Once he was on the way back to town he realized he would have to come back and track it later.  Saving this woman was his first priority.

There wasn’t really a doctor in the town, so he took her to the inn where he had a room.  When he walked in shirtless and carrying an unconscious woman, everyone stilled.  It took the innkeeper several moments to approach him.  The woman looked nervously between him and the girl before speaking.  “General, what happened?”

He was used to this type of treatment.  He didn’t have Genesis’ charm or Angeal’s ability to instantly put people at ease.  Most were terrified of him.  Pulling from his years of practice he was able to keep his face straight as he responded.  “I rescued her from drowning in a natural mako pool in the woods.  I’m not sure what she was doing out there, but it looks like she swallowed some.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she were suffering from mako poisoning.  I need a room for her for now until we can find a doctor.”

He had to repress a sigh when his calm tone didn’t work to ease the innkeeper.  He wished the man he normally dealt with was in.  At least he didn’t quiver.  His thoughts were interrupted by a man approaching from his left.  He looked nervous as well, but he managed to speak up.  “I’m a doctor.  I came up here for a little R&R, but if you can get her laid down I can at least do a basic exam.”

They both turned back to the innkeeper again.  The woman was wringing her hands as she looked back and forth between them.  She had to try twice before she could make her voice work.  “I’m sorry.  We don’t have many rooms to begin with and it’s the tourist season here.  Even with the monster attacks we’re full.”

If his hands would have been free, Sephiroth would have pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to keep calm.  As it was he counted to ten quickly before responding.  “Fine.  I will use my room for now.  Let me know if one comes open.”

She gave him a nod as he swept up the stairs and into the tiny room.  With him in there the room seemed even smaller than it really was.  The doctor had followed him up but was standing nervously in the doorway.  Sephiroth motioned him over and closed the door.

The man took over as soon as Sephiroth laid her on the bed.  His gasp when he saw the state she was in was audible.  He turned to Sephiroth with a frown.  “What happened to her clothes?”

Sephiroth only shook his head. “That is how I found her.  There is no telling what she was doing that far out into the woods in the first place, especially with the monsters around.”

The doctor turned back to her with a frown.  He checked her pulse and lifted her lids to look into her eyes.  Once he finished that he turned back to Sephiroth.  “I carry a few basics with me in case of emergencies.  Let me go get them from my room and I’ll be right back.”

Sephiroth nodded and let him out.  While the doctor was gone he moved to get a better look at the woman he had saved.  He hadn’t had much of a chance when he was trying to get her to warmth.  She had long auburn hair that was currently drying into stiff strands.  Her complexion was darker than most people that he had ever met, except those that spent most of their time outdoors.  She had a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks, but they were barely visible against the darkness of her skin.  He found he was surprisingly curious to know what color her eyes would be.

His exam was interrupted by a knock on the door.  He turned quickly to let the doctor back in.  The man had a small case that he opened to pull out several instruments.  The first was a thermometer that he placed under her arm while he put on his stethoscope.  He listened to her heartbeat and lungs for a moment before he stood and pulled the thermometer up to look at it.  He turned to Sephiroth with another frown.  “Her temperature is too low.  We need to get her warmed up quickly.  Her heartbeat is fine, but I can still hear a slight rattle in her lungs.  Hopefully her body will expel the last of the liquid soon.  Don’t be surprised if she goes into coughing fits, even if she’s asleep.  It would be best if someone could stay with her until it is all cleared out.  She could choke if she’s asleep.  Also, I can’t determine if she has mako poisoning without blood work, but your assumption doesn’t seem to be far off.  I can arrange for things to be sent over from one of the neighboring towns, but for now the only thing you can do is keep her warm.”

Sephiroth nodded to him.  “Thank you.  I will compensate you for your efforts if you can get everything you need quickly.”

The doctor gave him a nod as he started to walk out.  He paused before he closed the door.  “I’m Doctor Branscum.  If you have any questions and I’m not around, you can ask for me.”

“Thank you.”  Sephiroth gave him another nod as the man walked out.  Once the man was gone he looked back down at the woman in his bed.  He made sure she was tucked in and grabbed the other blanket to cover her with as well before he turned to place another log in the fireplace.

Once that was done he sat with a frown.  Now that she was mostly taken care of he had time to speculate on the circumstances.  He wondered how anyone could have made it that far into the woods only wearing what she had on.  Had she been wearing more than her underwear and took them off somewhere?  Why was she out that far in the first place?  He knew that there were those that harvested natural springs like the one he found, to sell the materia they could find.  If she had stumbled upon someone like that accidentally then her circumstances wouldn’t have been too surprising, but he hadn’t noticed signs of another person.  He hadn’t noticed her missing clothes for that matter.

He knew that it really shouldn’t matter to him, but she had made a boring mission interesting.  He found that he was hoping she would wake soon, even if he was afraid she might not at all.  Mako poisoning could be fatal by itself if it were bad.  As he sat and considered all the options, he found that he didn’t even mind the fact that he would have to stay up with her for the night.  His only hope was that she would wake soon, at least before his questions turned from interesting to annoying.  Something that could very well happen if he couldn’t find answers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

By the time the sun started to shine into the tiny window, Sephiroth was no closer to finding any explanation for his guest’s predicament. He also found that he was slightly worried.  The whole reason he stayed up was to watch for choking or coughing.  He had checked several times to make sure she was still alive, and she was still breathing, but she had not made any movements.

It was as he was checking on her once again that a knock sounded.  He opened the door to find Dr. Branscum waiting.  He gave the man a nod in greeting and stepped back.  The man didn’t hesitate to head toward his unexpected patient. 

After another quick exam the doctor turned to Sephiroth with a frown.  “Did she finally cough up the last of the liquid?”

Sephiroth’s brow drew down as he answered.  “No, I checked several times, but she has made no movements.”

The doctor gave a heavy sigh.  “I was afraid you were going to say that.  Her temperature is fine, but there is no longer any sound of liquid in her lungs.  With the fact that it had been mako it seems as if her body absorbed it instead of expelling it.  It isn’t unheard of, but it’s a rare reaction.  It is still uncertain what that could mean for her.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Sephiroth’s brow drew into a frown as he looked to the woman in the bed.  He didn’t say anything though.  Instead he gave the doctor another nod.  “Thank you for your help.”

Once the man was gone Sephiroth looked to the woman one last time before leaving the room.  He could not put off his mission, not even for something as interesting as his guest.  He didn’t want to leave her alone for long, so he quickly made arrangements with the innkeeper to have someone sit with her while he was out.  The man had been flabbergasted by the request, but once Sephiroth promised to pay whatever fee was necessary, the man quickly had one of his staff upstairs.

Once that was settled Sephiroth left with the intent to find the beast that had evaded him the previous day.  He found that he hoped he would run into a challenge.  Despite the fact that he looked like he could fit in completely with the icy landscape around him, his irritation was building.


 

By the time he made it back to the inn, he was much closer to his normally calm self.  He hadn’t been able to track the monster from the previous day, as the tracks had been completely buried under new snowfall. He did however find the den of monsters that had been reported as terrorizing the area.

He didn’t bother asking the female innkeeper how his guest was as he was sure the conversation would only irritate him again. Instead he headed straight up.  He paused with his hand on the doorknob though.  He could hear several voices on the other side of the door.

He opened it to find a young girl cowering near the door and Dr. Branscum trying to speak to the woman that had been sleeping.  She was awake and currently trying to open the window.  He caught the last of what the doctor had said.  “-mako poisoning.  You need to lie back down for now.  We will have plenty of time to figure out what happened after we are sure you will be alright.”

The woman turned to the doctor with a scowl.  “Look, all I know is that I was swimming and got pulled under.  I am positive that my friends are frantically looking for me.”  She looked down and to the side as she mumbled the rest.  “I was so stupid.  What the hell was I thinking.”

Sephiroth’s brow rose at those words.  He doubted anyone else in the room had heard them.  He also realized that no one had noticed him yet, so he stepped further into the room.  The woman caught the movement and looked up.  When her eyes landed on him they widened, and she took a step back, putting her back up against the window she had been trying to open.

Sephiroth was momentarily stunned as well.  It wasn’t the slight glow to her eyes, as that had been expected, but her eyes were the most unusual thing he had ever seen.  One was a bright electric blue and the other was a deep green.

He recovered from his shock quickly enough that no one else in the room even noticed it.  He took another step into the room before speaking.  “I am glad to see you awake.  We had feared you might not with the mako you were exposed to.”

At his words her face showed confusion before the scowl quickly came back.  “The other man said something about mako as well.  What the hell is going on here?  Was I saved by a bunch of crazies?  Why the hell are you dressed like Sephiroth anyway?”

His brow rose at her questions.  From what he could understand she believed him to be someone else pretending to be him.  It was almost humorous.  “While I am sure there are many that want to emulate me, I have not seen any so bold as to try.”

She gave him a confused look before shaking her head.  “What?”

He gave her a smirk as he answered.  “I am saying that I am dressed as Sephiroth because I am Sephiroth.”

His smirk was erased at her next caustic words.  “I had assumed that was what you meant.  My question was, why the hell do you believe that?  Sephiroth isn’t real, so it’s kind of hard to really be him.”  Again, he heard her muttering.  “This is just my luck.  Why the hell didn’t I listen to Mara.”

He had no idea how to respond to what he had just heard.  He was used to people being afraid of him, and of avoiding him, but he had never had someone refuse to believe that he was real.  He couldn’t fathom why she thought that in the first place.  Instead of trying to force the issue he looked to the doctor who was still standing near the bed.  He vaguely noted the young girl had already slipped out before he spoke.  “Have you been able to examine our guest now that she is awake?”

The doctor gave him a frustrated look.  “No, she will not allow anyone close to her.”

The woman spoke up in a harsh tone at that.  “Of course I won’t.  I don’t know you.  The only things I do know is that you’re all talking crazy and somehow, I wound up where I’m surrounded by snow instead of on the beach.  How the hell does that happen anyway?”

Sephiroth once again found himself at a loss.  Either her memory was faulty, or there was more to this than he assumed.  It was not unheard of for a person to fall into mako and wash up elsewhere on the planet, but the cases were so rare most people never heard of them.  It was also unusual as none of the recorded cases had survived the ordeal.  It was still worth exploring though.  He concealed a small smile as he realized this mission just got even more interesting.

He didn’t answer her question; he instead turned back to the doctor.  “Thank you for your assistance Dr. Branscum.  For now, we will put off an exam until our guest is more comfortable with us.”

The doctor realized he had just been dismissed and gave Sephiroth a nod as he walked out.  Once he was gone Sephiroth turned back to the woman, who was eying him even more warily.  He felt his irritation spike at the look, but he was used to that kind of treatment, so he was able to conceal it before he spoke.  “It is not my intention to make you uncomfortable.  I will help as much as I am able as I am sure you will need some assistance.  When I rescued you yesterday, you only had what you are wearing.  For now, would you at least be willing to share your name?”

At his words she looked down.  She hadn’t thought about the fact that she was still in her bikini.  That was a fact that normally wouldn’t have bothered her, but she was in a room alone with a strange stranger.  She quickly reached down and snatched one of the blankets to throw across her shoulders as she answered.  “You can call me Eve.”

He almost wanted to chuckle at her reaction to realizing she was still mostly undressed, but his irritation at her short answer kept it from forming.  It was obvious she was not going to make this easy.  “Fine, Eve, you said you were at the beach, so I assume you were swimming and got swept away. You also said your friends were probably looking for you.  Why don’t you tell me where you were, and we can reach out and see if they are still there?”

Evelyn eyed him warily.  She was already fighting a panic attack and the fact that she was cooped up in this small room with such a large man was making it worse.  It had started when she had opened her eyes to see a strange man touching her and had only gotten worse as the weirdos kept coming out of the woodwork.  She wanted to try and bolt for it, but two things stopped her.  The strange man was still standing in front of the door, and he was big enough to block the whole thing.  The other was that she didn’t even know where here was.  Since she had absolutely nothing on her at the moment, it would be difficult at best to even get in touch with Mara and David.  She finally gave him a scowl and tried to hide her increasing heart rate behind her sharp tone.  “What exactly do you want with me?  Why am I here in the first place?  Where is here anyway?”

 Sephiroth was taken aback by her accusatorial tone.  He was quickly finding that although the idea of something to cut the boredom had appealed to him, actually dealing with this strange woman was irritating.  He still only showed a calm face when he spoke again.   “We are in Modeoheim.  I found you drowning in a pool of mako and brought you back to this inn to recover.  There is nothing that I want from you, except to assist you in finding out what happened.”

She snorted at his words.  “Why?  It isn’t like you know me, so why would you offer to help for nothing?”

He couldn’t help the slight furrow between his brows when he answered her.  “It is my job to investigate all unusual circumstances.  You were found in the middle of nowhere, nearly dead and exposed to mako and all the while in only your underwear.  So, if you would not like my assistance in trying to find your friends, you will answer some questions.  Why were you in the woods to begin with?”

She was shocked by his hard tone, but more than that his words were unbelievable.  “I’ve already told you!  I was swimming just off the beach in Maui when I got caught by a riptide and was pulled under.  I thought I was going to drown until a gloved- that hand was yours?”

Her tone had finally softened as she looked down at his black gloved hands and remembered that was what had saved her.  That still didn’t explain how she got to wherever here was, but it did make her feel slightly bad for yelling at him.  So far, the worst these people had done was say strange things and in this guy’s case, he seemed to have an issue with a bad case of cosplayitis.  That was enough to make her wary, but she wasn’t getting anywhere by being bitchy either. 

She sighed as she looked back up to his face.  He was giving her a contemplative look.  She realized his offer might be the only way she was going to figure anything out.  Before she could ask him though, he spoke up.  “If it would put you at ease, I can show you where I found you.  I’m sure it would be no problem to find appropriate attire.  It might also allow us to find clues.”

She thought about the option for a moment.  It would allow her to try to figure out where she really was.  It would also give her the chance to see if it was as desolate out there as it looked from the window.  She could see other buildings, but everything looked like it came out of the 1800s.  She hadn’t seen anything motorized at all.  It really made her wonder what kind of backwoods place she had been taken to.  She finally gave him a nod.  “That seems like as good a place as any to start.”

With her consent, he quickly pulled a phone out of his pocket and dialed a number.  She was glad to see that this place was close enough to civilization to support cell signal at least.  She noted he was asking for a change of clothes for her, but it was a short conversation.

When he hung up, they stood in an awkward silence for a few minutes until there was a knock on the door.  The man opened it to allow the girl that had been there earlier to enter with a bundle in her hands.  She shot the tall man a scared look as she walked passed.  When Evelyn saw it, she felt her blood boil again.  She wondered what had been done to make the girl cower like she had.  When she was handed the bundle, she made sure to catch the girl’s eye and thank her.  She smiled when she received a smile in response.

She had planned on asking the man what the deal was with the girl’s fear, but he followed her out.  She glared at the door for a moment before looking to see what she had been given.  She was surprised to find a long-sleeved dress made of a heavy material along with socks and boots.  There was also a jacket.  She hated wearing dresses, but for now it would have to do.

Once she dressed, she went straight for the door.  She knew it was likely that the man was waiting in the hallway, but it wouldn’t hurt to check and see if she could leave anyway.  She wasn’t surprised to see him when she opened the door, even if she was disappointed.

He had been leaning against the far wall, so when she exited he stood.  “If you are ready, we can go now.  It will be dark in a few hours and it would be best to get you back before then.”

She gave him a nod and followed him out.  When they made it downstairs she noted that all talking immediately ceased.  She looked around warily and found that the dozen or so people in the room were looking at the man with barely hidden fear.  The sight made her hackles rise as she realized it wasn’t just the girl; everyone here seemed to be wary of the large man.

When he moved to exit without speaking with anyone she halted and gave him a hard look.  “Are you not planning on taking anyone else?”

He looked back with confusion.  “I will be more than enough protection from any issues we might run into.”

There were several gasps around the room when she spoke up again.  “It isn’t the animals I’m worried about.  I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to go anywhere alone with you.  Especially not out into the woods!”

He gave her a shocked look that quickly turned into irritation.  By the time he spoke most of the people that had been in the room had already scrambled to leave.  “I am a Soldier.  You have nothing to fear from me unless you are an enemy of Shinra.  If we are going to get this done while it is still daylight we need to go now.”

His tone brooked no argument.  She looked around the room to see if there was anyone that might stand up to him as well but found that all the remaining people avoided eye contact.  She huffed in irritation before turning back to him.  “Fine, you’re a Soldier.”  She snorted as she said that.  “I would not feel comfortable being alone with any male.”

He walked back to her and took her arm to force her to start moving.  Before she could protest he spoke up in a hard tone.  “I have already told you I am investigating these circumstances.  It would be best for you if you would cooperate, but if you refuse I have no compunctions about taking a more drastic approach.”

She started to struggle against his grip when she realized that she was no match for his iron grip and there was no one that was willing to help her.  It took every ounce of her training not to fall into a panic attack.  That was the last thing she could allow to happen at the moment.  As he pulled her towards the door she looked around frantically for anything she could use.  As they passed close to a table she grabbed a large stoneware mug sitting on the empty table.  She wasn’t sure how much good it would do her against him, but she felt a little better at having something with a little heft.

She allowed him to continue to lead her out of the town and towards the forest.  He finally let her arm go when they reached a tiny trail that led off into the woods.  She probably would have missed it if it weren’t for the fact there was still a trail through the snow.  When he let go of her he pointed to the trail.  “I’ll follow right behind.  You’ll know when we reach the clearing we are looking for.”

She noticed he raised a brow at the mug she was still clutching but he didn’t comment on it.  She moved to the path and tried to keep from looking back every few seconds.  The one time she did look she found that he was behind her, but far back enough that she felt a little better.

They had traveled down the trail for maybe half an hour when she stepped into a clearing and had to cover her eyes with her free hand. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust from the darkness of the tree line to the blinding brightness of the clearing.  When she was able to see clearly, she gasped.  In front of her was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.  There was a small spring that was filled with a slightly green water.  She briefly wondered what kind of algae was growing in it as she had never seen that color.  She also wondered how it could grow in the snow. 

When she realized it could be a hot spring she moved to dip her hand in it.  Before she could kneel, she was brought up short by a hand on her arm.  “You have already woken up after being exposed to mako once, but it would be best for you not to push your luck.”

“What?”  She shot him a confused look at his words.  She was getting more than a little tired of his acting.  He was certainly in character, but it was starting to get on her nerves.

He answered as if she had asked a real question.  “The spring.  Mako is easily absorbed through the skin as well.  I am already saturated enough that it poses little risk, but for you it could cause complications.”

She pulled her arm from his loose grip and moved to the other side of the small pool where she had seen a crystalized rock formation.  She ignored the way he was watching her warily.  When she reached the formation, she found that she was fascinated with the strange crystals.  She had never seen any that grew into round formations.  If it weren’t for the fact that they were imbedded into the rock around them, she might have thought they were artificial.  She finally reached out to touch one and was shocked when it fell off into her hand.  She was further shocked when she instantly heard several voices and a flame shot up around her hand.  She dropped the orb with a scream and fell backwards.

He was at her side in an instant.  She barely even noted him helping her to her feet as she looked at her unblemished hand.  She finally turned to him with a glare.  “What the hell was that?”

He was giving her a contemplative look.  “It would seem you have an unusual affinity with materia.  Was that your first time handling one?”

The look she shot him would have had most people backing away, but he merely looked curious.  “Seriously, what was that?”  She walked away from him and looked around carefully before turning back to him.  “Were those voices a recording?  How did you fake the flames?  What is your goal anyway?”

His look finally turned incredulous.  “I have already told you why we are here.  I will state I have never seen a reaction like yours to materia.  Normally it takes people quite a bit of training before they can produce the smallest result.  I know someone that might be interested in meeting you.”

She gave him a look of disgust.  “I really wish you’d drop the act.  I don’t care if you get off dressing like a fictional character or not but quit trying to drag me into it.”

He only shook his head at her adamant refusal to believe him.  He was no longer surprised at it.  It was still irritating, but not shocking.  He only wondered what it would take to make her stop.  When she bent to pick up the materia again he started to stop her.  He had no desire to deal with it if she accidentally burnt herself.  He couldn’t reach her in time though. 

When she picked it up again, the reaction was nearly identical to the first time.  The only difference was that now she wasn’t taken by surprise.  Instead she tilted her head as if she were trying to hear something better.  She looked closely at her hand before walking around the pool of mako.  He had to admit that he was fascinated as well.  He had never seen anyone with the level of control needed to keep a flame burning in their hand for so long without getting burned.  Genesis was the only person he knew that had better control.  He imagined the warrior mage would be interested in knowing he wasn’t the only one.

She had made it to the other side of the pool and Sephiroth just watched as she walked around looking for Gaia knew what.  He realized it was a mistake to let her get out of arms reach when she tripped and started to fall towards the pool.  He was too far away to catch her before she splashed into the mako.  He instantly moved to try to grab her, but she came up spluttering.  She took his hand gratefully, but her eyes were widened.  The look she turned him was full of surprise.

Evelyn had been looking for the source of the voices and had become completely distracted.  When she tripped she had been unable to catch herself.  When she hit the water, she realized instantly it wasn’t a hot spring. The liquid was nearly as cold as the air.  That was her last coherent thought as she was instantly inundated with many more voices.  She kept it together long enough to grasp onto the hand that was offered to help pull her out, but after that she was overcome by the sheer number of voices.

She barely noted when a large leather coat was draped over her shoulders and she was lifted.  Despite how hard she tried to make sense of what she was hearing she couldn’t.  It started to feel like her head was going to explode before all the voices finally receded and a single sweet voice took over.  “Evelyn, sleep now.  You will need your strength for what is to come.  Rest for now and know I am watching.”

She knew she shouldn’t listen to random voices, but she found that she didn’t have much choice.  No matter how much she tried to focus she found her consciousness slipping from her.  By the time she slipped into unconsciousness she didn’t even realize that the man she had been with was running to get her back to the inn.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Sephiroth hadn’t wasted any time once he was back to the inn.  Dr. Branscum was already examining Eve again, but he still called for his pick-up.  He had already taken care of the monsters he had been sent to find and she was going to need more help than they had available in Modeoheim.  He was also thankful that Tseng had been the Turk that had accompanied him.  He hadn’t stayed in the town while Sephiroth worked, but that meant they could quickly start a true investigation into what had happened.

He briefly wondered why he was bothering to help the girl, but he decided since he had already started, he couldn’t leave it half finished.  Once he hung up with Tseng he sent him a picture of Eve as well as sending as many details she had mentioned that he could remember.  He knew the Turks had ways of finding out information that he didn’t want to question.  At least in this instance it might come in handy.

While they waited for the helicopter to arrive he asked the innkeeper to send someone to help clean the girl up.  Dr. Branscum had insisted that she not be allowed to soak up any more mako than she already had.  They knew it was too late to keep it all out, but they could prevent some of it.  The innkeeper sent up two girls that asked if he could carry the unconscious girl to the bathing room downstairs.  Once she was moved they shooed him out, so they could do what was necessary.

It was nearly an hour later that they exited the room and allowed him to carry her back up.  Once she was covered again, he looked her face over.  She looked to be having intense dreams if her eye movement was anything to go by.  He wondered what they could be about before he sighed and took a seat across from the bed once again.  He knew he didn’t necessarily need to stay up and watch her again, but he doubted sleep would be easy to find.  At least the helicopter would be back by morning.


 

It wasn’t even daylight yet when Tseng sent him a message that they were almost to Modeoheim.  Sephiroth stood with a slight frown.  He had not been able to find sleep, but he had also not been able to find any answers.  He held back his sigh of frustration when he moved to pick the girl up once again.  He only hoped that Tseng had started to investigate her at least.

When he moved downstairs, the room was mostly empty, thankfully.  There were a couple of patrons, but the innkeeper wasn’t busy.  Sephiroth gave him a nod as they walked out.  He had taken care of the bill the night before.  He ignored the fact that there was complete silence until the door closed behind him.  It was something he had long become accustomed to.

Sephiroth frowned slightly when he saw Reno accompanying Tseng.  He wasn’t sure when or why the red-head joined them and he wasn’t going to ask; although he wished it had been any other time.  The younger Turk had a way of getting under everyone’s skin.  His frown deepened when the red-head spoke.  “Wow looks like you found a hot one.  What’ll your fans say when they find out you’re bringing stray women home with you.  I might have to reevaluate your nickname, yo.”

Thankfully Sephiroth didn’t have to respond.  Tseng spoke up before he could.  “Reno, make sure the back seats are laid down and secured.”

The annoying Turk gave Sephiroth a grin before he turned back to the helicopter and gave Tseng a mock salute.  “On it boss man.”

Once Reno was gone Tseng raised a brow at the woman in Sephiroth’s arms.  “General, I will admit that I find this unexpected as well.  I have investigated the information you gave me, but so far, I’ve found nothing.  It would be faster if we had her full name, but I have another agent looking through the files in Midgar as well.  It will not take long for us to identify her.  Do you have plans for her once we get back?”

At Tseng’s question, Sephiroth frowned again.  It was a reminder that his curiosity about the circumstances around her arrival was the only reason he was going as far as he was.  As he remembered how she handled the materia he realized it might be best to have her back at headquarters anyway.  That level of mastery would be worth looking into, if she ever woke up again.  He shook off his thoughts before he responded.  “At the moment the only goal will be to have her looked at.  She has been exposed to mako twice that I know of.  She woke up after the first time, but there is no guarantee she will again.  The best doctors are in Midgar though.  If she wakes up again we can address the rest.”  Tseng gave him a curious look but didn’t say anything.  Once they were onboard Sephiroth made sure his unusual guest was strapped down well before settling in for the trip back to Midgar.


 

The trip back was uneventful which didn’t help to lessen Sephiroth’s growing irritation.  Reno didn’t help with that either.  The irritating Turk seemed to find continuous enjoyment in the situation.  Sephiroth could admit that it was unusual for him to show interest in a stranger, but if she truly had been carried through the lifestream from another part of the planet she would be the first to do so and not die.  That was only one of several things about her that made it worth his interest.  Her eyes were intriguing as well, although he wouldn’t admit that out loud.

He had just managed to push back a retort to another of the red-head’s jibes when his attention was drawn by movement from the girl that was still strapped down to the makeshift bed in the back of the helicopter.  His shock at seeing her open her eyes unexpectedly was quickly overtaken by a sense of urgency when she suddenly started thrashing and screaming.

He was instantly by her side to try and calm her, so he could release her.  When her eyes landed on him, they widened farther, and her struggles increased.  It seemed as if she couldn’t hear his words at all, even though he was speaking loud enough to be heard over the rotors.  He growled under his breath at the fact that he was going to have to force her to stillness.  He didn’t want her to fall if she was still panicking when he released her.  He was finally able to still her arms and force her chin up, so she was looking in his eyes.  He tried to smooth his face and keep his voice calm when he spoke.  “I can release you if you calm down.  You may fall if you don’t.”

Her gaze didn’t immediately clear, but it finally looked as if his words got through to her and he felt her relax against his grip.  Once he was sure she was no longer thrashing about he moved to undo the straps that had held her down.  She sat up with a glare, but she wasn’t fighting him any longer.  He had to grit his teeth against a sharp reply when she finally spoke.  “Why did you have me tied down anyway!”

He took a deep breath before he answered.  “You weren’t ‘tied down’.  We had you secured so you wouldn’t fall if there was turbulence.”

At his words she looked around for the first time.  He barely heard her mumble before she stood.  “A helicopter?”

He stood to try and block her way to the closed door.  Given her unpredictable behavior up to that point, he didn’t want to give her a chance to do something stupid.  She shot him another glare.  “Am I not allowed to see where you’re taking me?”

He paused.  If all she wanted was to look out, he had no reason to stop her.  Given the fact that he had already discerned that she was uncomfortable, it might help to soothe her if she realized they were already near Midgar.  At least she could no longer claim they were in the middle of nowhere.  He stepped aside, but not so far that he couldn’t grab her if she went for the handle.  She gave him another glare but didn’t say anything before she moved to the window.

He watched as she looked out and around.  His brow rose when her body stiffened before she slowly turned back to him.  His curiosity was only peaked when she finally whispered.  “That’s Midgar!”  She swayed slightly and looked like she was about to fall so he moved to steady her.  Her eyes widened farther as he gripped her arm.  She wrenched away from him.  “Holy shit!  Does that mean you really are Sephiroth!?”

Sephiroth had no idea how to respond to her question.  The fact that she had refused to believe him until she saw the city made him wonder about her even more.  As irritated as he had been at her insistence that he wasn’t real, the fact that it was such a shock to her, made him wonder why.  When he reached out to her again she backed even further away, this time with fear clear in her expression.  The extra step took her right into Tseng’s grasp.  When he took hold of her arms, her eyes widened further, but she dropped and swung back without looking.  Both men were stunned at her reaction, which caused Tseng to be clipped by her elbow before he released her.

She quickly turned around to see who had grabbed her.  When Tseng stood up wiping away a trickle of blood from his split lip, she finally dropped to her knees.  They watched in confusion as her breath started to speed up to the point they thought she might pass out.  She finally seemed to make herself move.  She sat and lowered her head and covered her face as she tried to force herself to take deep breaths.  Sephiroth was completely confused until Tseng stepped up to him and spoke just loud enough that he could hear.  “She is having a panic attack.  Let her calm, but don’t touch her again until we figure this out.  It seems our presence is what caused it.  I can have her taken to an interrogation room as soon as we land.”

Sephiroth gave him a strange look.  “I never said she was a threat.  She was nearly dead when I found her.”

Tseng gave him a hard look.  “Why would she panic at seeing a Turk?  It needs to be investigated at least.”

Sephiroth shook his head.  “It started when she saw the city.  It may have nothing to do with Shinra at all.  I will admit that questions do need to be asked, but she also needs to be examined.  Why don’t we have her taken to the infirmary and we can proceed from there.”

Tseng frowned and took a moment before answering.  “I will agree, but I plan on speaking to her as soon as they are finished.”

Sephiroth gave him a nod.  “I will go with you.  We can proceed from there once she is examined.”  Neither of them said anything else.  They watched as the woman finally brought her breathing under control and sat back.  She still gave them wary looks and seemed as if she were fighting another panic attack, but she didn’t say anything as she moved to sit back on the cot she had been laid on previously.


 

Eve had barely managed to push all thoughts away long enough for her to calm her breathing to keep from passing out.  When she sat back and saw Sephiroth and Tseng once again, she nearly gave in to another panic attack.  She had to take several deep breaths before she could move to sit again.  Her mind was going a million miles a minute as she tried to figure out how she managed to get into a helicopter above Midgar.  Those thoughts collided with everything she said to Sephiroth before she realized he was telling the truth as well as what they might be planning for her next.

There was also the thought that if these men were really who they seemed, and she was stuck in a game, then did that mean she didn’t survive?  The thought that she had been ripped away from the life she had fought so hard for had the bile rising into her throat.  She was also fighting tears at the thought of David and Mara being left behind.  Her chaotic thoughts hadn’t calmed when the machine finally set down.  If anything, they were worse when the door was opened, and both men turned to her with drawn looks.  When she noticed Tseng’s split lip, she started shaking.  Not only was she in a strange land that she barely remembered, she was now at the mercy of some of the most merciless people in that world.  It took several deep breaths before she could manage to stand.

She still managed to keep her head up as she stepped up to them.  It took all her will power not to try and jerk away when Sephiroth took her by the arm to help her down.  He didn’t let her go once they were on the ground either.  She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from saying something else she might regret.  She walked in silence as they led her into the building.  She tried her best to keep up with the twists and turns they used.  Her resolve to not fight was tried when they pushed the button for the 67th floor.  She couldn’t remember which floor the science department was, but she knew it was in the 60’s.  She couldn’t remember anything else that might be up there that made sense and the thought of why they were going up there made her falter.

Sephiroth gave her a curious look when she stumbled but didn’t ask as she quickly righted herself.  Her mind was once again going crazy trying to figure out whether she should risk trying to bolt or wait and see if it was what she was thinking it was.  She instinctively knew that no matter what, they couldn’t find out she wasn’t from Gaia.  There was no telling what they would do to her whether they believed it or not.  It was as she nearly gave in to her panic again that a sweet voice cut across the chaos.  “Evelyn, you cannot think if you do not stay calm.  You are needed here.  I will do all I can to ensure you are not harmed, but you must not panic.”

She jerked her head around at the voice causing both men to give her worried looks, but neither of them seemed to have heard it.  She started when it rang out again.  “Child, you are not imagining this.  It is imperative that you stay calm or you will end up in a situation I cannot help you out of.”

When neither man showed any signs of hearing the voice again, she tentatively focused and tried to think an answer.  ‘What is going on?’

She nearly jumped when the voice answered.  “You have been saved in order to save the world.  You are needed here.”

She had to take a few deep breaths before another thought came unbidden.  ‘Hearing voices is a bad thing.  What the hell am I doing!’

She had the impression that the voice sighed before responding again.  “You are not hearing imaginary voices.  I understand that this is difficult for you, but you must let go of your preconceived notions of what reality consists of if you are to survive.  I can only help so much; the rest will be up to you.”

Eve had been concentrating on the voice enough that her panic had finally started to fade.  She was still terrified and trying to figure out what was going on, but at least she was able to think clearly.  She realized that if she could somehow wind up in a game, then a voice in her head giving her advice wasn’t the weirdest thing she had seen that day.  She only hoped that it wasn’t all some strange dream brought on by nearly drowning, even though a small part hoped it was.  If it was just a dream, that would mean she could wake up.  She knew it was a delusional thought though.  No matter how realistic her dreams could get, they were nothing compared to the grip of the man that still held onto her.

As her thoughts continued to ramble in an effort to find coherence, the voice broke in again.  “I am glad to see you are calming.  Remember that I will be here, but you must keep calm.  I will send help so do not panic.  I will try to answer any questions you have after you succeed in clearing this challenge.”

Eve nearly growled in frustration.  Even if she chose to believe the random voice in her head, it really wasn’t doing her much good other than to help her focus.  As she realized that, she felt a twinge of guilt at her anger.  She needed to focus now more than ever, so it really had been a help.  At that thought she looked back up to the tall silver haired man that held her arm.  At least he was not being rough. 

He must have felt her gaze as he turned to her when she didn’t look away.  She tried to make the most of it.  “I apologize for freaking out back there, and before I fell into the pool as well.  All I can say is that I never thought I would ever have the chance to meet you.  Given that, I was more than a little wary.”  She paused and looked passed him to Tseng as well.  “I need to apologize to you too.  I… I don’t really like to be touched and you surprised me.  It was instinct, but I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Tseng raised a brow at her apology, but his voice was even when he spoke.  “If that is your first instinct, then you must really hate to be surprised.  I will keep that in mind.”

She tried not to blush at his matter of fact statement.  The truth was, had she not been so surprised she probably would not have lashed out like she had, but she did hate to be touched; she usually dealt with it better.  Hopefully she hadn’t already dug her own grave.  She remembered enough to know the Turks were not to be messed with.  “I wouldn’t have normally reacted like that.  It’s just that I never expected to see Midgar in person, much less General Sephiroth.  Finding out this is all real was a shock.  I am calmer now, so it won’t happen again.”

Tseng raised a brow at her explanation again.  “Finding out it is real?  You didn’t believe Midgar or the General were real?”

Eve wanted to kick herself for the slip, but she kept an iron grip on her calm.  The voice had been right in the fact that she would be much worse off if she couldn’t.  She managed to find a reply, even if her mind was still frantically searching for a plausible reason.  “Yes, it’s a long story though.  I assume we are going somewhere I can answer your questions?”

Tseng paused at her question.  He was surprised at not only how much calmer she was, but by the fact that she already had a firm understanding of the circumstances.  It made him all the more curious about her.  “Yes, we are taking you to be examined.  After that we can sit down and discuss what has happened.”

She swallowed hard before giving him a nod.  At least that would give her a little time to figure out what to tell them.  Whatever it was she had to make sure she didn’t lie.  Something told her Tseng would be able to figure it out quickly if she did.

Her resolution to keep calm was sorely tested when they got off the elevator and walked into a hallway with many rooms and several people walking around in white lab coats.  Normally her first thoughts would have been that they were doctors, but knowing she was now in a fantasy world, she immediately thought of Hojo.  No matter how long it had been since she played the FF7 games, Hojo had made an impression on her young mind and he was the last person she ever wanted to meet.

Her thoughts were derailed once again when a tall red-head stepped out of one of the rooms.  He had been scowling, but his expression changed to surprise when he saw the three of them.  He only paused a moment before walking over to them.  Sephiroth spoke up as soon as he reached them.  “Genesis, I’m glad you are here.”  He paused and looked at Eve before speaking again.  “There is something I wanted to discuss with you, but I am busy at the moment.  Would you please come by my office in two hours?”

Genesis gave him a nod, but his eyes were fixed on Eve.  He completely ignored Tseng as he grabbed her hand and placed a kiss across her fingers before giving her one of his winning smiles.  “It is always a pleasure to see beauty grace this dreary building.  Might I have your name?”

It took all of Eve’s self-control not to jerk her hand away as soon as he grabbed it.  As it was she took it back as quickly as she could, and her face was a blank mask when she answered him.  “I am Dr. Evelyn Marx.  It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance Commander Rhapsodos.”

All three men gave her looks of surprise.  Both because she was claiming to be a doctor and because she recognized Genesis.  It was Genesis that recovered first.  His flirty smile had not dimmed.  “I hope that means my visits here will no longer be so depressing.”

He wasn’t given the chance to continue before Sephiroth spoke up.  “Genesis, not now.  Remember to come by my office later.”

Genesis’ brow furrowed slightly at Sephiroth’s tone, but he gave him another nod before giving Eve a quick bow.  “Until next time.”

She shook her head at his retreating form.  She had been trying to remember as much as she could and seeing Genesis still at headquarters at least gave her a point in the timeline to reference.  She didn’t know if he had been injured yet or not, but at least it was before he deserted.  She pushed those thoughts back as the other two led her into one of the rooms.  Sephiroth pointed to the bed.  “Have a seat.  One of the doctors will be here shortly.”

She did as she was told but once she was seated Tseng turned to Sephiroth.  “I will be back later.”

Sephiroth gave him a nod as he walked out.  Eve had to push back her panic again.  She was positive that Tseng was going to see if he could find her in their databases now that he had her name.  She knew he wouldn’t find anything and wasn’t sure how to feel about it.  She briefly wondered if she should have lied about her name but realized it wouldn’t have mattered either way.  At least this way she wouldn’t have to worry about trying to remember a fake name.  Her attention was drawn back to Sephiroth when he spoke.  “You are a doctor?  What do you research?”

She shook her head at him with a frown.  “I don’t research.  I am a medical doctor, specifically a psychiatrist.  I just started my residency, but I still earned the title.”

His brow drew down slightly as he looked her over once again.  “You seem incredibly young to be a doctor.”

She huffed at him.  “You seem incredibly young to be a General.”  Now that he wasn’t trying to touch her, and she had space to think, her naturally sarcastic attitude was coming out again.  She almost wished she had better control over it when she was irritated, but only almost.  She had to admit the look on his face was slightly satisfying.

It only took a moment for his look to clear and she found herself smiling for the first time in this world as his lip quirked up slightly.  “I suppose that is true as well.”

She relaxed at the sight, but they were interrupted by a knock and then a man in a lab coat entered.  Eve tensed at the sight but relaxed when she realized it wasn’t Hojo.  The man gave Sephiroth a nod before he turned to Eve.  “I am Doctor Kramer.  I understand you were exposed to mako.  It would seem you are handling it well if you are up and lucid.  I will give you a basic exam to make sure there is nothing we are missing.  I will also need to take some blood samples.”

She gave him a nod to indicate she understood and focused on her breathing while he checked her over.  Once he finished the basic exam she held out her arm when he brought the phlebotomy kit over.  She was thankful that he was skilled and was able to get the blood needed with minimal effort.  Once he had everything he turned to Sephiroth.  “General, she seems to be doing fine.  I would recommend that she stay somewhere she can be observed for a day or two and if the blood work checks out fine she can be cleared.  I would like to see her in two days to check again.  Otherwise, she’s free to go.”

Sephiroth gave the doctor a nod before the man left.  Once he was gone he turned back to the mystery woman.  He may have learned her name, but there was so much more to find out.  He stood and motioned her to follow suit.  As they were walking out he spoke.  “I will arrange for you to be put up in one of the spare apartments for now.  I will advise you that there will be a guard, so please do not try to leave.  For now, please follow me to my office.”  She motioned him to lead the way.  She was proud that she was able to keep her continued fear and confusion off her face as she followed him back to the elevator.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Once they reached his office Sephiroth indicated for Eve to take one of the seats in front of his desk.  She sat and watched him warily as he moved to the seat behind it.  Once he was seated he looked at her for a few moments before he leaned forward and steepled his fingers together before speaking.  “I have quite a few questions, but the most important all deal with why you reacted the way you did when you saw Midgar.  You said you didn’t believe in the city or me; why is that?”

At his question she had to bite back a curse.  Of course, he had to start with the hardest question to answer.  At least she had an answer, of sorts anyway.  Hopefully it would be enough.  “My father used to share stories with me, about Shinra and Soldier, as well as you, Commander Rhapsodos, and Commander Hewley.  There were a lot of things he said and most of them were pretty fantastic so I assumed they were nothing but tales meant to entertain.  I never thought they could be real.”

He sat back with a contemplative look and took a moment before he responded.  “And who was your father to know all these tales?  How did he come by his knowledge?”

Her face drew into a blank mask before she answered him.  “He was a simple carpenter.  He built cabinetry mostly, although he would occasionally help build homes.  Honestly, he was no one special if that is what you think, at least not special in the way you are insinuating.”

He watched her eyes for a moment before he spoke.  His voice was softer.  “He was special to you though.  And he’s gone now?”

She looked away from him before she spoke.  “Yes, he’s been dead for some time now.”

He gave her a few moments.  He could tell that talking about her father had upset her.  When she finally looked back to him again he spoke.  “I apologize for bringing up a painful subject.  I can understand how you might think he was only sharing stories if it was something he shared with you in that context.  That doesn’t really explain why you were surprised by the sight of Midgar.  This is essentially the capital of the world.  Surely you learned about it as you grew up?”

She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep in a curse at his question.  She didn’t have a good answer, but she had to tell him something.  She knew she couldn’t take too much longer either or he would get suspicious.  She needed to remember that most of the people in Shinra were not stupid by a long shot.  She finally blurted out the first thing that she could think of.  “Of course, I have heard of it, but I never expected to come here.  Not knowing how I ended up in the snow and then seeing Midgar was more than a little bit of a shock, especially as I had been at the beach.  It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

He didn’t answer right away.  Instead he sat back and looked at her intently for several moments.  She had a hard time not showing how nervous she was under his intent gaze.  Whatever he was thinking was interrupted by a knock on the door.  He looked up and she barely caught a look of irritation before it cleared, and he called out.  “Come in.”

The look of irritation returned when it was Genesis that walked in.  Sephiroth wore a slight scowl as he spoke.  “I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour.”

Genesis had already noticed Eve however and he ignored Sephiroth’s sharp remark in favor of addressing Eve.  “Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess.  It seems as though the Goddess is smiling on me today.  It is a pleasure to see you again so soon.”

Eve had to work hard not to match Sephiroth’s scowl at the red-head’s schmoozing.  She managed to give him a level look as she responded.  “I’m certain it was no coincidence as General Sephiroth did ask for your presence.”

She only realized how condescending her response must have sounded when Genesis frowned slightly.  He wasn’t given the opportunity to reply however as Sephiroth spoke up.  “Genesis, that’s enough.  I suppose it won’t hurt that you are early.  Eve does have something to do with why I asked you to come.”

Genesis looked at Eve with a raised brow before taking the seat next to her.  He gave Sephiroth a curious glance before speaking.  “While I would enjoy any opportunity to get to know the pretty Doctor, I don’t see why you would need my presence.”

Eve rolled her eyes at his comment but bit back a remark.  Sephiroth only scowled at him before answering.  “Eve is here for medical observation, but while she is here I thought to ask your opinion on something.  While we were still in Modeoheim we had the opportunity to observe a natural mako spring.  She accidentally touched one of the natural materia and it instantly activated.  She was able to hold the flame in her hand for several minutes and did not get burnt.  Since you are the only person I know to have similar control with materia, I thought to ask your opinion.”

Genesis’ turned wide eyes back to Eve before Sephiroth was even finished speaking.  “Beautiful and talented, and intelligent if you are a doctor as well.  It makes me wonder if it was not fate that allowed us to meet.”

Eve didn’t bother hiding her scowl at his remarks, although she did manage to keep a civil tone when she responded.  “Commander Rhapsodos, whether we meet again after today or not, I would like to kindly ask that you stop trying to hit on me.  I will tell you right now I am not interested.”

Genesis’s gaze dropped into a scowl, but it ended up being turned to Sephiroth as there had been a suspicious sound from his direction.  When Eve looked at him, she found that he was barely able to contain a smile.  She nearly rolled her eyes at the sight although she managed to hold it in.  It didn’t take the General long to bring himself back under control.  “I will second Eve’s request.  Now is not the time for that type of behavior anyway.  Do you have any input on this situation?”

Genesis was still scowling slightly, but when he turned back to Eve it was with an evaluating gaze.  When he took the time to pay attention to her eyes for the first time his own widened slightly.  His tone was surprised when he spoke.  “You have been enhanced!?”

Her brows drew down at his question.  It took her a moment to understand what he might be referencing.  When she did her eyes widened in surprise as well, but she didn’t get a chance to respond before Sephiroth stepped in.  “She hasn’t been enhanced in the way you are thinking, but she has been exposed to mako.  She nearly drowned in the pool I spoke of earlier and then fell into it a second time.  Against all odds she is still alive.  That is the reason she is here for observation.”

When Genesis looked back to her again, it was with open curiosity.  He looked over her again before he sat back and turned his wrist over.  He pulled a small green orb from a slot she hadn’t noticed in his bangle and started to reach out to her with it.  His action was stopped by Sephiroth.  “Don’t.  Genesis that is your mastered firaga.  If you want to test it, I’ll let her use one of mine.”

At his words he flipped his wrist over and pulled a different green orb from the bangle on his wrist instead.  Genesis scowled slightly at the motion.  “That is your mastered ice.  If your worried about the reaction, that one won’t be any better.”

Sephiroth shook his head before he stepped around to the front of his desk and moved to stand between them.  He turned to Genesis first.  “At least it won’t blow my office up before we could interfere.  Unless you have one that isn’t mastered this is the better option.”

Genesis’ scowl only deepened.  “You know I don’t carry any that aren’t mastered.”  He glared for another moment before waving his hand in a dismissive gesture.  “Fine, if we are going to do this than let’s get it done.”

Eve could tell that even though his tone was dismissive, his eyes still held excitement as Sephiroth turned toward her and held the tiny orb out for her to take.  She hesitated.  Now that she knew that she had actually been casting fire when they were in Modeoheim, she wasn’t sure she wanted to touch another materia.  She hadn’t done it on purpose which made this prospect unpredictable.  She understood the fact that at least Sephiroth was expecting some kind of reaction, but she wasn’t sure how to take the fact that she could make ‘magic’.

Finally, she decided they weren’t going to let her not touch it anyway, so she tentatively held out her hand, and he dropped the materia into her palm.  She wasn’t sure what to expect but whatever ideas she might have had, it was not what actually happened.  As soon as it hit her skin, she instantly started hearing several voices all at once.  She immediately remembered the same thing had happened back in Modeoheim, but they were much louder and clearer this time.  Almost as soon as the voices started, she began to understand that they were explaining how to channel the forces of the planet, most of the voices anyway.  There were a few that whispered about their experiences with the one that normally held the materia.  Not only was she inundated with the things he learned and then passed on through his experience, she was forced to feel his state of mind through the years he held it, as they all tried to inundate her at the same time.  It was a harsh mix of pain and dragging loneliness with a drive to prove his worth, all held under tight reins of willpower and determination.

She had lost all sense of the room around her, so she didn’t realize that she had nearly doubled over.  She had a death grip on the edge of Sephiroth’s desk to hold herself up but from that point a rime of ice had started to spread.  It happened so quickly that neither of the Soldiers had been able to stop it.  When Sephiroth finally moved to take it back, Genesis grabbed his arm and stopped him.  Sephiroth looked back to see Genesis watching her with rapt attention as the ice quickly spread to cover the desk, the floor around them, and started up the walls.  Sephiroth was glad to note that at least the warrior mage had enough sense to cast something to keep the ice from them as well.

It didn’t take long for the ice to make its way up the walls.  When it started to cross the ceiling Sephiroth pulled his arm from Genesis’ grasp.  “Enough!”  He didn’t hesitate to reach out and grab the hand that held the materia.  He had to bite back a curse as the cold bit into his fingers.  He had to fight the cold and her tight grasp, but still managed to pull the orb from her fingers.  As soon as it was out of her hand the ice started to retreat.  He barely noted that however as he had to catch Eve.  When he finally got the materia away from her, she started to collapse.

He helped her to sit back as she was fighting to catch her breath.  Once she finally had her breathing under control she opened her eyes and looked into his with a pained look.  She started to reach out to him but stopped short and clasped her hand into a fist.  She started trembling as she tried to stand and get away from him.  She stumbled and nearly fell before Genesis was able to catch her.  She scowled at him and tried to wrench away, but she nearly fell again, and he didn’t let her out of his grasp.  He was watching her with tempered enthusiasm, even though she had tears streaming down her face.

She didn’t lose her scowl until he finally spoke.  “You heard them, didn’t you?”

She looked to him with surprise.  “I heard… something.  It was like the voices were telling me how to use the forces of the planet, and…”  She stopped and looked back to Sephiroth again, but she shook her head and didn’t bother continuing.

She didn’t need to as Sephiroth spoke up with a confused voice.  “You heard voices?  Genesis, what are the two of you talking about?”

By that time Genesis had guided Eve back to her seat and helped her steady herself.  Once she was seated he turned to Sephiroth with an excited smile.  “As you know, materia is the condensed knowledge of the Ancients.  There isn’t magic in the orbs, they just allow you to tap into the forces of the planet.  I have discerned through the years that most people hear the instructions on a subconscious level.  They can use the knowledge, but they can’t hear the instructions.  I can, and it seems as if Dr. Marx can as well.  I have never seen another reaction like hers.”

Sephiroth showed open shock before his brows drew down.  “Why have you never mentioned this before?”

Genesis waved off his concern.  “It isn’t something I have ever shared with anyone as it seemed irrelevant.  If no one else would understand what I spoke of there was no point in discussing it.”

Sephiroth shook his head at the arrogant statement but didn’t bother asking for further elaboration.  He knew there was no point.  Instead he looked to the woman in front of him.  Her mystery continued to grow, and it made him glad that he had decided to bring her back to Midgar, despite his initial misgivings.  He wondered briefly at what she had stopped herself from saying, but he didn’t press her.  He could tell that handling the mastered materia had taken a toll on her mana reserves.

She was still avoiding looking at him, which was another thing he wondered at, since she had not shown any fear or aversion for him since her initial reaction.  It did bother him slightly, but it didn’t show when he turned to Genesis.  He noticed his friend was still looking at their guest with excitement, but he was glad to see even Genesis could tell now was not a good time to keep bothering her.  His voice was low when he spoke.  “I need to speak to Director Lazard, but I am sure we will have another opportunity to speak about this further.  For now, if you can think of anything else that might be relevant please send me a report.  I will set up another meeting with you tomorrow.”

Genesis frowned slightly at the obvious dismissal, but he didn’t argue.  The red-head paused before walking out the door.  He gave Eve a slight bow before he spoke.  “There is no hate, only joy, for you are beloved by the Goddess.  It will be my pleasure to speak more about this on the morrow.  For tonight, I wish you a good rest.”  He gave Sephiroth a nod as well before he swept from the room.

Once he was gone Sephiroth sat again.  “I can tell you were drained by that.  Allow me to contact the Director and we will have a place for you shortly.”

Eve didn’t bother responding.  He had been correct in that she was drained.  It wasn’t just the fact that she was tired, but she also felt like her emotions were raw.  She hadn’t felt so emotionally destroyed since she had been in high school.  She still had a hard time looking at Sephiroth.  She had no doubt the things she had felt had been from him.  The fact that they all struck her at once had her trembling still, although she was able to control it mostly.  She hoped she was allowed to be alone soon; she wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold it together.  She still felt tears on her cheeks even though she was trying to focus on her happy thoughts.  She vowed that she would never accept a mastered materia from another person.  She had a feeling she wasn’t going to get away from this easily and if she stayed then handling materia might be necessary, but she never wanted to feel another person so completely.  Even being a therapist was hard at times.  She had no desire to have everything confirmed in that way.

She hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation Sephiroth had been having with Lazard, but her attention was drawn back to him when he called out to her.  He was scowling slightly, but it faded when his eyes caught hers.  She hoped he didn’t ask, as she never wanted to explain it to him.  It was a violation as far as she was concerned, and she hoped he never found out.  She tried to focus on what he was saying.  “I apologize.  I have been told we cannot allow you to stay on your own anywhere in the building since you are not a Shinra employee.  I can see if there are beds in the infirmary where you can stay until you are cleared.”

Normally she would not have reacted so violently to his words, but with her emotions still so raw, her terror at being left anywhere near Hojo was visceral and immediately apparent on her face.  Sephiroth paused and gave her a quizzical look before he asked.  “Is there some reason you would not like to stay in the infirmary?”

She shook her head, but he didn’t look convinced.  Finally, she had to speak up and tell him at least part of the reason.  “I am uncomfortable around strangers, especially if there is no way to even ensure my privacy.  Staying in a place like we were earlier would mean I would not be able to rest while I was there.”

He nodded slowly and leaned back with a contemplative look for a moment.  Finally, he nodded slightly before leaning forward again.  “I can understand.  However, we are limited in options.  I can offer to let you stay at my apartment for the two days you will need to stay for observation.”  She started to object but he cut her off before she could.  “Please listen before you give me an answer.  I cannot allow you to leave yet, so the options are the infirmary or my apartment.  I can allow you the bedroom where you would have some privacy.  Those are currently the only options.”

She paused and gave him a hard look, but she didn’t answer right away.  Finally, she nodded.  “Fine.  I would rather stay with you than in the infirmary.  I at least trust that you have no ulterior motives.  You don’t have to give up your bed though.  As long as the outer door locks I will be fine.”

He gave her a curious look at her words.  He seemed to be fighting his curiosity, but he finally spoke.  “I am glad to have that settled, but what makes you trust me over the doctors in the infirmary?”

She almost bit her tongue at his question.  She really didn’t want to explain why she trusted him as it was a mix of things she remembered from his personality from Crisis Core as well as the things she had felt about him.  Neither of those was a good thing to share.  She finally managed an answer.  “So far you have shown me nothing but respect, even when I was being a total pain in the ass.  If I’m going to be stuck with strangers for now, I would rather it be the stranger I am familiar with and am pretty sure won’t attack me in my sleep.”

He smiled slightly at her snarky response.  “You don’t modulate your feelings, do you?  Nonetheless, you can trust that I will not ‘attack’ you in the night.  If that is your decision, why don’t I go ahead and show you the room, so you can rest.  I am sure you need it.”

She stood without waiting for another prompt.  He stood and opened the door before leading her down the hall.  It didn’t take them long to make it to a long hallway full of numbered doors.  He walked all the way to the end before opening the last door on the right.  Once it was open he stepped back and allowed her to enter.  She walked in far enough to allow him to enter behind her before she turned to him.  “If you have any extra blankets, I would be fine taking the couch.”

She hadn’t bothered even looking at it, but she wanted to make as little trouble as possible, but that thought was scrapped when he spoke again.  “I am not sure how you are still standing after that display earlier, but I know you need rest.  The day is still early for me and I would rather not interrupt you.  Take the bed for now, it would be easier for me as well.”

She bit her tongue to stop her snarky reply.  She knew what he said made sense, even if she didn’t like kicking him out of his bed.  Finally, she nodded.  “Thank you.  I appreciate everything you have done for me.”

He paused before he nodded back.  “I took responsibility when I decided to assist you.  It is the least I can do.”

She gave him a small smile before she answered.  “Still, not everyone would go as far as you have.  You do have my thanks.”

He paused at the smile.  He had seen it only once before, but he only just realized how it softened her features.  He had no problem believing she was a doctor, despite what he said to her, as she projected the confidence and air that every doctor he had ever known had possessed.  However, when she smiled, he realized that she was not just a doctor, or a mystery; she was beautiful.  He suddenly understood why Genesis had made such an ass of himself and he only hoped that she never thought of him in the same light.  He wasn’t sure why exactly, but he didn’t want her to think of him as the jerk that kept pressing his own agenda.

He was brought out of his internal review by her question.  “Is the bedroom down the hall?”

He gave himself an internal shake and a reprimand before answering.  He had no reason to care what she thought, as long as she was taken care of and not a threat, that was his only concern.  He couldn’t stop his gaze from drawing into the look he normally reserved for misbehaving cadets.  It softened slightly when she took a step back, but his voice was still level when he answered.  “There are only two doors.  The one on the right is the bathroom if you need it, the other is the bedroom.  You can use the phone here to call me if you need anything.  All you have to do is press 1.  I will need to lock the outer door when I am not here, so please do not hesitate to call.  Otherwise I will see you in the morning and we can discuss our next steps.”

Eve gave him a nod.  She didn’t particularly care for being locked in, but it was better than it being unlocked so anyone could walk in.  “Thank you again.  I doubt I will need anything, but I appreciate everything.”  She paused and waited for him to move.  When he didn’t she turned to the short hall.  She resisted the urge to look back over her shoulder.  She was relieved when she shut the bedroom door and listened for him to leave.  Once she heard the door click she made sure the door could lock before throwing herself on the bed.  Now that she was alone she finally let out the tears she had been holding in.  She found that it wasn’t just for the emotions she had been inundated with, but she had been forced to think of her father again and everything else that went with his death.  She had no idea how long she laid there sobbing, but she ended up crying herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

When Eve woke up she was disoriented at first.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that her head ached, and her eyes felt like they were full of sandpaper.  She sat up and tried to look around.  Her heart rate increased when she didn’t recognize anything in the dim light.  She instantly went for the door and felt her heart nearly stop when it was locked.  It was as she looked down at it that she remembered she had locked it herself.  She also remembered where she was.

At that memory, she nearly crawled back into the bed, so she could cry more.  It was only the fact that she had been awoken by the need to empty her bladder that made her pause.  She took a few deep breaths to calm herself.  There was no point in letting herself fall back into senselessness; not if she had any chance at surviving.  Once her heart was beating closer to normal, she opened the door as quietly as she could.

She was glad the bathroom door was just a few steps away.  She slipped in and closed the door behind her before she ran her hands over the wall looking for the light switch.  Luckily, it didn’t take her long and she had to squint and blink several times before her eyes adjusted to the bright light.  She looked around quickly before she moved to take care of business.  She was glad to see it was mostly familiar.

Once she finished she turned the light off before she opened the door.  She started to head back to the bedroom, but something made her pause.  She knew Sephiroth had told her the door would be locked, but would it be worth it to try it and see?  For all she knew he could be back already, and it would be a moot point.  Even if she could leave where would she go?  She stood there indecisively for a few minutes before she decided to go ahead and look.  Even if she didn’t leave, it would be better if she was familiar with her surroundings anyway.

She walked into the tiny living room and tried to look around.  It was dark enough that she could barely make out the vague shapes of the furniture, but she knew where the door was.  She was taking small steps to make sure she didn’t run into anything as well as to be as quiet as possible.  She didn’t make it halfway there when her gaze was caught by a flash of movement.  She quickly turned her head and was shocked by the sight of Sephiroth asleep on his couch.  He must have turned over and what little light there was flashed on his hair and caught her attention.

She froze and held her breath as she watched him.  When he made no other movements, she allowed herself to breathe again.  She finally noticed that he was too tall for the couch.  His head was on one arm and his feet were propped up on the other.  She knew from experience that sleeping like that was a sure-fire way to wake up with a crick in the neck, but she didn’t know if waking him to have him move was a good idea.

Despite her better judgement she found herself moving closer to get a better look at him.  Her sight was finally starting to adjust back to the darkness, but she still couldn’t see much.  She stopped a few feet away and watched as he slept.  His face was peaceful, something it hadn’t been even when he was calm and awake.  She vaguely remembered what his childhood had been like, enough to know what she had felt was probably only a portion of what he dealt with.  She felt tears on her cheeks again at the thought and angrily wiped them away.  The last thing she needed was to be worrying about another person.  She had enough to deal with just trying to figure out her own situation.

It was at that moment the same voice that had spoken to her earlier in the day rang out in her head once again.  “Child, he is one of the reasons you were given another chance.  The Champions must be kept from falling.”

Eve couldn’t hold in her scream at the unexpected voice.  She instantly stuffed her fist into her mouth and quickly looked to see that Sephiroth was already up.  His long sword was already in his hand and he was looking around to see what the issue was.  When his gaze landed on her he relaxed slightly but he didn’t dismiss the sword.  “Is there something wrong?”

She shook her head at his question as she didn’t yet trust her voice.  She had been startled by the voice, but the speed with which Sephiroth went from asleep to awake, alert, up, and holding a sword was unnerving.  He must have realized how uncomfortable she was as he finally allowed the sword to wink out of existence.  That caused Eve to look at him even harder.  She had to give herself a mental shake.  She reminded herself that magic was commonplace here.  A fact that still made her cringe just thinking it.

She still hadn’t moved so he finally took a step toward her.  He didn’t try to touch her, but he did give her a concerned look.  “Why did you scream?”

She managed to shake off her stupor and tried to form a coherent answer.  “I woke up and had forgotten where I was.  I came out here and noticed you and was thinking about waking you because if you slept like that all night you would get a crick in your neck, but before I could say anything, I thought I heard something.”  She realized it all came out in one quick breath, so she tried to calm herself more.  She was still shaken up at how close his long sword had been to her.  She logically knew he wasn’t the raving maniac he was in the game yet, but that didn’t mean he was any less frightening while holding that sword.

She was glad to see that he didn’t look upset, even though she had woken him.  She was finally calm enough to speak again without babbling.  “I apologize.  I’m sure you need your rest.  If you would like to take your bed back, I don’t think I can go back to sleep right now.”

He frowned slightly as he looked over her shoulder before looking back to her.  “It is barely after 03:00.  You might be able to sleep if you lay back down.”

She shook her head with a grimace.  “Not any time soon.  My heart is just starting to beat normal again.  I really do apologize though.  This will take a little getting used to.”

He paused again and gave her a contemplative look.  It seemed as if he wanted to say something but was debating on if he should.  He finally must have come to a decision as he pointed to the couch when he spoke.  “Why don’t you have a seat.”

She wasn’t sure where he was going with his request but felt it would be worse just standing there and staring at him.  She sat on one end of the couch while he went to turn the light on.  When he moved to sit at the other end of the couch, she stiffened slightly.  She knew he was giving her as much space as possible, but between how big he was in general, and the fact that he was only clad in pants, she could barely contain her urge to run back into the bedroom and lock the door.

He must have noticed her discomfort as he leaned back slightly before speaking.  “Since you cannot sleep, would you mind speaking with me?  We didn’t get to finish earlier.”

She tensed at his question.  She had not had any time to try and figure out what was going on, much less how she would be able to navigate his questions to keep from being killed, at best.  She doubted he would allow her to try to go back to bed at this point either.  It would look suspicious to even ask.  She managed to give him a nod.

When she did he tilted his head slightly as he looked her over once again.  When he finally spoke, his voice was calm.  She could tell he was making an effort to put her at ease.  “You seem uncomfortable with me.  I will assure you that I have no ill intentions.”

She managed a small smile to try and reassure him that it wasn’t his fault, not really anyway.  He couldn’t help being intimidating, but it was the circumstances that really bothered her, not him.  “I know.  Please forgive me since it isn’t you that has me on edge.  These circumstances are difficult for me to deal with.  I’m trying not to let them get to me.”

His eyebrow raised slightly at her response.  “I’m glad to hear it.  I will confess that it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been my presence.”

At his confession she managed a real smile.  “I’m sure you can, and do, intimidate people, but you have been nothing but kind, and I am thankful for it.  Without it I am sure I would be a much worse mess than I am now.”

He paused again before he finally responded.  “I can understand how you might be upset at finding yourself somewhere without knowing how it happened.  Would you mind telling me the last things you remember before you woke up in Modeoheim?”

She cringed slightly at his request but managed to control it mostly.  She hoped he chalked it up to remembering how stressed she had been.  She had already mentioned Maui and she was positive he remembered, but he hadn’t asked about the location yet.  Hopefully that meant he was more concerned about other things.  If that was the case, she wasn’t going to mention it again.  She decided to give him as accurate a description as she could, just leaving out any identifying details.  “I went on vacation with my two best friends.  It was off season, so the beach was pretty much empty.  When I went out in the water, on my way back I ran into a rip tide and thought I was dead.  I remember my vision going dark, but it cleared right before you pulled me out of the pool of mako.  I’m not sure how I got from one location to the other though.”

He looked to be mulling over her answer for several moments before he finally answered.  “Do you know if there were any open chasms of mako nearby your location?”

She didn’t catch herself before she snorted.  She tried to quickly cover it up and answer him though.  “None that I am aware of, but the island still had an active volcano.  Anything is possible I suppose.”  She really did not want him to start to suspect that she had actually died and been brought back.  Although she was sure now, that is what happened, it would lead to a whole line of questions she wasn’t prepared to answer.

His brow drew down at her answer.  “A volcanic island?  There aren’t many of those and I didn’t think many people inhabited them.  They are dangerous.”

She cursed herself for not thinking about what that might have sounded like.  She knew the world of FF7 and Earth had similar climates, but that was just about all she remembered.  She almost panicked as she knew the more questions he asked, the worse it would get.  If his look was anything to go by, then he wasn’t sure what to think about her answers already.  She tried to tell him something that made sense.  “It can be if you get close, but there is an isolated culture there.  I suppose it is becoming a new tourist spot.”

He still didn’t look entirely convinced, but he changed the subject again.  “You said you were with two of your friends.  If you give me their names I might be able to contact them.  I’m sure they would like to hear that you are safe.”

At his request, she felt tears prick her eyes again.  She was trying not to think about what and who she left behind.  She had to clear her throat before she could speak.  “I don’t know that you can track them down as we were all pretty isolated, but their names are David and Mara Kline.”

He looked shocked for a moment.  “And you consider both siblings friends equally?”

She nearly laughed at his assumption.  She understood it though and shook her head.  “They aren’t siblings.  They have been married for a few years now.  We have all been close since high school, although I grew up with David.  He was like a brother to me.  They make the perfect couple really.”

“Was?  You speak as if you will never see them again.”

She had to look away at his question.  She was positive she wouldn’t be able to and just thinking about it ripped her heart out.  She wouldn’t be who she was if it hadn’t been for David and his parents.  They were the only family she counted, even if they weren’t blood.  She jumped when he tentatively touched her hand.  She jerked back but gave him an apologetic look before wiping at her tears.  She hadn’t realized she had started crying.

She didn’t get to apologize though.  He beat her to it.  “I apologize.  I forgot you do not like to be touched.  I am not sure what has you so upset, but I have already committed to helping you.  Don’t let it bother you.  I promise I will do what I can.”

She gave him a nod.  “I apologize as well.  I know I don’t need to react that way with you, it’s a reaction I have had to work for years to keep under control.  Under most circumstances I can handle it better.”

He gave her a curious glance again before speaking.  “Have you always been that way?”

She stared at him incredulously for a few moments before she remembered that given how he was brought up, he probably had no idea how rude a question that was.  He had been so polite up to that point that she hadn’t thought about it.  She shook her head at him before she answered.  “No, but I really would not like to talk about it if you don’t mind.  It’s… painful.”

She watched as his look closed off.  She felt a little bad for making him feel like he had done something wrong.  She didn’t blame him, but she wasn’t going to share either.  She tried to make him feel less uncomfortable.  “I apologize if that came out harsh.  I know you are just trying to figure me out, so I don’t hold it against you.”

“Still, I apologize for bringing up another painful subject.”

She shook her head.  “Don’t worry about it.”  She paused and looked back to the clock that he had glanced at earlier.  “I know there are probably a million questions you have, but I am also sure your duties as General keep you busy.  Would you please think about taking the bed?  I will try to rest as well, but this way if I can’t then I won’t keep you awake.”

He didn’t answer right away.  He looked like he wanted to object, but he finally stood.  “I have some tea that might assist you, if you don’t mind waiting a moment.”

She was surprised at his offer but gave him a smile.  “A cup of hot tea sounds wonderful.”

She followed him into his small kitchen/dining area and sat at the table while he prepared the water and pulled out a tin.  She smiled at the unexpected fact that he had everything necessary to make a cup of loose-leaf tea.  Given who he was she had expected it to be prepackaged.  She was surprised again when he only poured one cup.  She gave him a questioning look when he handed it to her.  “Are you not making one for yourself?”

He shook his head.  “I am going to take your advice and sleep.  If you do need anything, please do not hesitate to ask.”

She didn’t know what to say, but she managed to give him a nod.  “Thank you.  I will make sure not to wake you.”  She tried to give him a smile of thanks as he walked off.  She gave it a few minutes and carried the cup of tea back into the living room.  She started to sit and finish it, but she was moved to check the door out of sheer curiosity.  She hesitated before she reached out and tried the knob.  She was unsurprised to find that it wouldn’t open, and she didn’t see any way for her to unlock it.  That was probably the reason he was alright with taking the bed and allowing her to remain in the living room without supervision.  She had no doubts that he still had a lot of questions for her, even if he was being polite about it so far.

She was surprised to find that by the time she finished the tea, she was starting to get sleepy again.  She managed to go rinse out her cup and put it in the sink, but by the time she laid down, it was only a matter of minutes before she was asleep again.


 

Sephiroth laid in bed and found that he regretted his decision to not take a cup of tea with his guest.  He had only declined because he could tell she was upset.  He knew he had limited experience in social interactions outside of his fellow Soldiers, so he didn’t always know how to best handle awkward situations.  When she had started crying he wasn’t sure how to react, but her words made it worse.  It wasn’t that he blamed her, but once she said something he understood how uncomfortable she had to have been when he asked.

He turned over and tried to push his thoughts about his guest aside.  She was correct in that he did need the sleep, especially since he had not had near enough since he found her.  When his head shifted the pillow, the slight smell of the soap that had been used when she was cleaned drifted up from his pillow and he quickly turned back over.  He also hadn’t thought about the fact that she had recently vacated his bed before he agreed to take it and allow her to take the couch.  When he first saw the rumpled sheets, he thought about going back out and telling her that he had changed his mind, but he clamped down on the urge.  He refused to run away from his own bed because the thought of her in it made him uncomfortable.  He ended up having to resort to breathing exercises, but he finally managed to drift off.


 

It was early morning when Tseng set out for the slums.  He had been up late, but he had too many things on his mind to be bothered by one night of missed sleep.  He had spent several hours going through every database they had looking for any trace of a Dr. Evelyn Marx and had been unable to find anything.  That didn’t necessarily mean it was an alias, as there were still many remote locations where they only had minimal presence.  He had thought to take a break and check back with Sephiroth, but by the time he had, the woman had already been taken to the General’s apartment and was presumably asleep.  The fact that Sephiroth had been the one to suggest it made him pause.  He wondered what the man had seen in their guest that had him so curious and generous.

He was able to get the report that both Genesis and Sephiroth had contributed to.  He felt like there was something left out, but what was left in was interesting enough to make him keep looking for her.  He couldn’t believe that simple mako exposure would grant a level of materia control that rivaled Genesis’.  Even though he continued to look, he had not found anything.  He finally decided to continue the search later and went to bed in the early hours of the morning.

His mood hadn’t improved when he woke and remembered he had an observation shift in Sector 5.  Normally he enjoyed his trips to Sector 5, even if he never shared that fact.  That didn’t stop him from being aggravated still as he got off the train.  It was only a matter of minutes until he reached the outskirts of the area where Aerith Gainsborough lived.  There was almost always one of the Turks watching her when she wasn’t in her home.  Tseng refused to admit it, but he made sure she was always protected.  He wasn’t sure what it was about the young girl that made him want to help her, and he never let it show.  He was positive there were a couple of the other Turks that suspected, but as long as no one said anything he wouldn’t ask.

He was pulled out of his review when Aerith came running from her house.  Her enthusiasm wasn’t unusual, but the fact that she was running for his location made him turn to find a better spot for observation.  He tried not to let her see him.  He was stopped when she called out his name.  He paused before turning to her with a blank look.  “Good morning Aerith.  I hope the day finds you well.”

She shook her head and didn’t bother answering him.  He could tell she was worked up about something.  “I’m so glad you’re early!  I wasn’t even sure it would be you today, but I have something important to talk to you about!”

This took him by surprise.  He didn’t let it show, but he gave her a polite nod.  Of course, what can I help you with today?”

Again, she shook her head before she grabbed his hand.  “It’s something that I can help you with.  Come on, come inside and we can sit and talk.  You are going to want to hear this.”

He allowed her to escort him into her home.  He had never been invited inside before, but he was familiar with the layout.  She took him to the kitchen table and sat across from him.  He noticed Elmyra at the foot of the stairs and gave her a polite nod.  She didn’t hide her glare, but she gave him a nod in return.  She didn’t leave them alone either.  Not that he blamed her.  It was no secret that Shinra had an interest in Aerith.

His gaze was drawn back to Aerith as she started to speak excitedly.  “I know you are aware that I am a Cetra.  I also am pretty sure you are aware that I can communicate with the planet even though I’ve tried to hide it.”

It wasn’t a statement, but she still gave him a moment to respond so he gave her a nod.  He didn’t see any reason to deny that she was correct.  She accepted his nod and kept going.  “Well, with that being the case there shouldn’t be any doubt with what I’m about to tell you.  Starting a few days ago I was suddenly able to hear the planet better than I ever could before.  It didn’t make sense at first, but just yesterday I received the clearest message I have ever received.  I was told there was a woman that just arrived that is important to the planet.  She has somehow become tangled up with Shinra, but she must be protected.”

Tseng stiffened at her words, but he didn’t let his face betray anything he was thinking.  He managed to respond in an even voice.  “Who is she and why do you think I would bother trying to protect her?  If she has become ‘entangled’ with Shinra, it is my job to make sure the Company is protected.”

She glared at him before she spoke.  “I know you do some questionable stuff, but you won’t harm someone just because.  I don’t think she’s done anything to harm Shinra, but she can’t be lost in the labs or something like that.  I don’t know her name.  All I know is that she has red hair.  You have to make sure no harm comes to her.  The fate of the planet depends on it.”

At her last statement he raised a brow.  “Is she a Cetra that we didn’t know about?  Why else would her existence be important to the entire planet?”

Aerith paused and finally started to look a little concerned.  “I… I really don’t know.  She could be, but I don’t know.  All I was told was that she had a task that she had to fulfill, and it’s important enough for the planet to reach out to me to try and help her.  Please, don’t do anything until you at least try to see what she needs to do.  I will do whatever I can to help.  This is too important to not pay attention to.”

He gave her another curious glance.  “You speak as if you have an idea what her given task is.  If so, it might help me to know as well.”

She finally stood and turned away from him.  Her voice was small when she finally spoke again.  “Honestly, I don’t know what she is supposed to do, but I was shown images of what will happen if she fails.  She can’t fail.”

He stood as well and took a step closer to her.  He stopped before he got close enough to spook her.  “What did you see that has you so shaken up?”

He was surprised when she turned to face him with tear streaked cheeks.  “I don’t want to say it all.  It was too terrible.  I will say that if she fails, the whole world will be destroyed.  Humanity will survive, but it will not last long.”

He took a step back and his face showed shock for the first time.  It only lasted a moment.  He wasn’t sure how much of what she said he could believe, but he did know the timing was too coincidental to not merit following up.  He wasn’t sure what his ultimate course of action would be, but he had no doubt that he would be having an in-depth conversation with the General’s guest.  No matter if she is a savior or a threat, he had no doubt she was more than a doctor that got lost on vacation.  His face was blank again when he spoke.  “I will make no promises other than I will wait to make my judgement.  If I even find her, I will at least speak to her.”

She glared at him slightly.  “I know you already know who it is, that is one of the reasons I was told to ask you specifically.  Please at least keep an open mind.  If you don’t, then nothing else you ever do for the company you are loyal to will matter.  The destruction will not spare anyone.”

He paused before he headed to the door.  “I will keep your warning in mind.  For now, stay inside until I can have someone else sent over.”

She looked like she had something else to say, but she just gave him a nod.  “Fine.  Could you please let me know what you decide?  I can’t allow that future to come to pass, even if that means I have to take care of it myself.”

Elmyra made a noise at the girl’s statement, but she didn’t move. Aerith gave her a sympathetic look, but her gaze was hard when she turned back to Tseng.  “Please.”

He had never seen her act like she was now.  Usually she was sweet and mellow.  The fact that she was so adamant told him more about how serious she was than her actual words had.  He finally gave her a nod.  “I will speak with her and let you know how it goes the next time I’m down.”

She stamped her foot at his stubbornness, but she didn’t say anything.  He gave her a nod before turning to Elmyra.  “Thank you for your hospitality.”  He ignored the woman’s glare as he turned and left.  His mind was full of everything Aerith had said as well as all the possibilities of what it meant, if anything.  He absently pulled out his phone and called to have a replacement sent down quickly while he headed back up to headquarters to confront the mysterious woman the General had found.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Sephiroth glared at his alarm and turned it off with more force than was necessary.  He had not managed to get much sleep and to make it worse, he found he was still disturbed by the conversation that had been cut short a few hours earlier.  In an effort to push those thoughts away, he quickly moved to gather his things for the day.  He paused outside his room before moving to the end of the hall.  He could see that his guest had managed to finally drift off.  She was curled up and he found himself smiling despite his mood at the image of her taking up such a small portion of the couch he could barely fit on.

By the time he was finished with his shower and dressed, he found that he was in a better mood.  At least enough so that no one except maybe Angeal and Genesis would be able to tell.  The thought of the redhead made him frown slightly, as it reminded him there were still many things that needed to be discussed with Eve, but he pushed it back for the moment. 

She was still sleeping, and he saw no good reason to wake her.  He quickly wrote out a note and left it on the small table next to the couch.  Once he locked the door, there would be no way for her to leave as it was coded to his fingerprints, so he wasn’t worried about her leaving.  He knew they would need to talk further, but for now he still had duties to catch up on.  Although his absence was scheduled, it never failed that there would be things waiting for his return.

He gave his guest one last unreadable look before he headed out and to his office.  It didn’t take him long to get absorbed in paperwork which pushed all thoughts of his guest to the back of his mind.


 

Evelyn woke up calm and clear headed for the first time since she arrived on Gaia.  She sat up and ran her hands through her hair a few times before she stood.  She had slept better than she thought she would after that wonderful tea finally allowed her to relax.  After a good sleep she was finally able to focus.

She realized a few things as she walked around the tiny living room.  The first of which was that Sephiroth was no longer there.  She glanced up to the clock to see that it was nearly 09:00, so she wasn’t surprised he had already left.  She tried the door and found that it wouldn’t open, which didn’t surprise her either

At that point her stomach reminded her that she had no idea when the last time she ate was.  She had been so focused on everything else that food had been the last thing on her mind; however, it was starting to feel as if her stomach were trying to burrow out her back.  She didn’t hesitate to head to the small kitchen.  She wasn’t surprised to find it nearly bare, but at least there was enough to make toast and eggs.  That would have to work for the time being.  It was even better that it didn’t take long to cook.  The hardest part was finding the cooking and eating utensils.

Once her hunger was sated, she let her curiosity take over.  She respected her host’s privacy enough to stay out of his room, but she took a few moments to poke around his living room.  Not that there was much there.  If she didn’t already know he actually lived there, she might have wondered if it was an apartment ready to rent.  The only concession to individualism was a small display of weapons across from his couch.  They were in a glass case, so she assumed they were only ornamental, although with Sephiroth, there was no telling.

She finally found the note he had left as she walked back to the couch.  She felt a little chagrined that it had taken her that long to find it.  He had left it practically next to her head.  When she read it, she felt both relieved and embarrassed.  He had let her know she could help herself to anything in the kitchen.  He also reiterated that the door was locked, but he would send someone to get her when she was ready.  She just needed to call him.

She wasn’t looking forward to talking to him again, but she decided there was no point in putting it off.  Her thoughts were interrupted as she moved to pick up the phone he had previously pointed out.  It was the voice that she had heard several times since she had arrived.  “Evelyn, I have tried speaking with you several times, but you have been distracted.  You need to understand what is needed.”

She froze where she stood and looked around once more, just to make sure there was no one nearby.  Now that she was rested and fed, she was able to think more clearly and had an idea of what was going on.  She started pacing as she spoke.  “Are you… Minerva?”

“Yes child.  It is good that you are finally thinking clearly.  There is much that needs to be done and there is not much time before everything begins.”

Evelyn sat down heavily on the couch and put her head in her hands.  Once she thought about it, it was clear that it had been the Goddess speaking, although she hadn’t wanted to admit it at first.  Given her circumstances though, it was the most logical conclusion.  Finally, she stood again and started walking from one end of the small room to the other while she tried to organize her thoughts.  Minerva spoke again with a soothing voice.  “You cannot lose yourself to panic again.  We do not have the time to waste.”  Evelyn continued to pace without speaking as her mind raced and filled with all the questions she could no longer put off.


 

It hadn’t taken Tseng long once he was back to figure out that the woman had not yet left the General’s apartment.  As far as he was concerned, that was probably for the best.  He could get passed the security and with everyone out of that wing during the day, it would give him an opportunity to speak with her with little to no interference.  He still wasn’t sure what to make of Aerith’s words, or her determination, but he wasn’t going to let that show when he confronted the Dr.; if she really was a doctor even.

Tseng had finally reached the apartment and he reached out to bypass the security, but the sound of speaking stopped him.  He quietly leaned in and trained his attention.  He was surprised to hear the woman talking, seemingly to herself.  It only took him a moment to figure out that she was having some sort of conversation.  He could only hear her end though.  He wondered if she might be on the phone, even though the one in the apartment was only for interbuilding calls.  He realized that this was a good opportunity to see if she let something slip while she thought she was alone, so he concentrated on listening.

“I understand how you brought me here, or at least the gist of it, and I don’t want details.  Not now.  It’s hard enough keeping it together without thinking about that.”

There was a pause before she continued.  “Fine, I gathered that was the mission from what you said previously.  Why it has to be me though is a great question.  You do know that I barely remember what happened.  I haven’t touched those since…”

Her voice trailed off and it sounded like she growled before she fell into silence once again.  “What is that supposed to mean?  I have no idea how my skill sets can help the Soldiers.  It just doesn’t make any sense.”

He could tell that whoever she was talking to was irritating her.  She paused again, this time for much longer.  Her next words caught him off guard.  “Well shit!  Of course, that would be the case.  How long?”

She only paused for a moment before speaking again, louder than she had been.  “Tseng, I know you heard most of that, so you might as well stop creeping.  I can’t open the door, so you’ll have to if you want to talk to me.”

He was suddenly glad that the door was between them.  He normally never showed his emotions, but his shock was too great to hide.  It didn’t take him long to school his expression back to normal, and even less time for him to crack the security and let himself into the General’s apartment.  When he stepped into the door, the woman was standing near the couch with her arms crossed.  He only raised a brow at her scowl and subsequent tone.  “You know it isn’t polite to eavesdrop, but I suppose it is what you do after all.”

He only paused a moment before speaking.  “You act as if you are well versed on my job.  As far as I knew, we had not even been introduced properly.”

She actually snorted at him before pacing across the room while she spoke.  “As much as you might like your wordplay, I have zero reason to pussyfoot around.  I know you were already told that I have a purpose here and I know Aerith is the one that told you.  It would save us both time if you just ask what you really want to.”

He felt his brow draw into a slight scowl before he could stop it.  He didn’t speak right away.  Instead he moved to where she was standing and walked around her once.  He was surprised when her only reaction was to glare harder.  He raised a brow at her irritation before he spoke.  “Fine.  Let’s get down to it then.  Why are you here?”

She rolled her eyes at him before she spoke.  “You were already told I was here to stop the destruction of the world.  That is the only reason I’m here.  If you want more than that, you’ll need to ask something more specific.”

His gaze hardened at her attitude.  She may know some things, but she obviously had no idea that baiting a Turk would be bad for her health.  His voice was as hard as his look when he spoke again.  “It would be in your best interest to not withhold information.  I can promise that you will not like the alternatives.”

She started to snort again but paused and took a deep breath.  “Look, I apologize if that came out bitchy.  I hadn’t planned on being the one sent for this and I really don’t want to be here at all.  Since I’m here though, I will do what I can.  I am assuming you were clued in so that I would stand a chance.  I really am here to stop a disaster, and not for any nefarious purposes.”

His face had already drawn into his normal mask again and he started to speak, but he paused when he saw her eyes lose focus for a moment before she scowled again.  He had never seen Aerith look so irritated at the Planet, but he recognized the look.  His eyes widened slightly as he realized that must have been who she was talking to.  If she could here it clearly enough to converse, then the thought that she was an unknown Cetra was even more viable.  It could also explain the way the Mako had little to no ill effects on her.  The idea had his mind racing, but he didn’t let it show when he finally spoke.  “Despite the fact that it is easy to see there is more to you than meets the eye, I cannot simply accept your word that your presence doesn’t bode ill for the company.  If you know Aerith, then you know there are many questions I still have.”

Her glare came back full force.  “Look, I will tell you up front that I am not what you think I am.  I can see your gears turning, but I’m not Cetra… at least I don’t think I am.  I will also tell you straight up that Hojo’s bid for the Promised Land is a pipe dream.  He may not have gotten far with Ifalna or Aerith, but it’s because it is a promise for rest, a metaphorical location where weary souls can find solace, not a physical location with unending mako.  That is the least of that madman’s follies though.”

The disgust in her voice was evident, but she paused and looked at him thoughtfully before continuing.  “I apologize for getting carried away.  I know this is probably a lot for you to try and swallow.  Hell, it’s a lot for me to swallow.  If it weren’t for the fact that the ‘planet’ keeps talking to me and the fact that this is way too real, I might think it was all a dream.  I don’t know what you have planned, but I will ask that you don’t lock me up right away.  I really do need the opportunity to help.  It’s my only reason for being here in the first place.”

Tseng didn’t say anything right away.  He looked her over carefully, noting the fact that she still had her arms crossed tightly.  Despite her apparent confidence, it was easy to see by her body language that she was upset.  She also moved away from him every time he stepped closer.  She may not be as oblivious to his job after all.  That made him wonder what else she knew.  He wasn’t sure how she didn’t know that she was a Cetra, but it was obvious she was.  Not only that, but more powerful than Aerith as well. 

He also realized that both she and Aerith had stated she needed his help, but if it hadn’t been for the General finding her, then she would not have even been in Midgar.  He narrowed his eyes as he wondered if it had been a set up.  He knew the General was not a stupid person, but he was very straightforward.  He didn’t always do well with subterfuge.  He was almost to the point that he was ready to take her into custody and work out the details later when another thought struck him.  Even if it had been a ploy to get the woman into the Shinra building; the fact that Aerith was so adamant about the issue being dealt with made it a much larger problem than he was thinking.  There was no way his team would not have noticed the woman approaching Aerith previously, so he knew it could not have been pre planned.  He also remembered that the woman had refused to believe that she was with the real Sephiroth.  None of it made sense, at least not if he tried to think of it logically.  The fact that her claims sounded closer to truth made his head hurt. 

He realized that this was not something that could be explained away or dealt with in a single conversation.  He knew that she was supposed to stay for at least another day before she could be released, but he would need more time.  He repressed a groan as he realized he was going to have to help her, if for no other reason than to find out the truth and keep an eye on her.  He doubted he could keep her locked up without Aerith finding out, since it seemed as if the planet was actively speaking to both of them.  He would rather keep the girl hidden if he could, so at least going through the motions of helping their guest would be the most prudent course of action for the time being.

He held back another sigh before he spoke.  “I told Aerith I would give you the benefit of the doubt.  For now, I will agree to help on the condition that you tell me the whole story once we get you settled.”

She started to nod but paused and gave him a questioning look.  “When you get me settled?  What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I plan on keeping a close eye on you until I can determine what your objective is.  In the interest of making that happen quicker, I will not lock you up unless I determine that you are a threat to Shinra; however, the best way to make that happen is to sign you up as a trainee in our Department of Administrative Research.”

Her shock was evident, but it didn’t last long.  Her glare was back full force and her voice was sharp when she spoke.  “I am a doctor, not an assassin.  I save people, not kill them.  I have no interest in becoming a Turk.”

His eyes widened as he realized she did indeed know more about his job than he had previously thought.  He wondered if it was because of her inherent information flow or if there was something else that hadn’t come to light yet.  Either way, he planned on finding out as soon as possible.  He knew they couldn’t stay in the General’s quarters discussing it though.  There was no telling if he would send someone to check on the girl.  He kept his voice calm when he finally answered.  “Your opinion on the matter is of little consequence.  You can come with me and we will finish your paperwork, or you can come with me and we will find you a nice comfortable cell to occupy.  I am sure you would rather it be the first option and I would also rather it be that one for my own reasons.  This is not a battle you want to start.”

Her glare didn’t leave her face, but she stepped back and took a moment to reply.  “Fine.  You said it was temporary anyway.  I don’t plan on killing people though.  You can shove that.”

As he fought to keep his expression blank at her words, he realized he was beginning to wonder what he was really getting himself into, but he knew leaving her to her own devices was not an option.  He only hoped the General didn’t dig to much into her addition to the company.  He had already shown an unusual amount of interest in the doctor.  He knew it would be best if they at least stopped by his office to let him know, or he might actually cause issues.  With that thought in mind he stepped back and motioned to the door.  “Follow me.  We will stop and tell General Sephiroth that you will be moving into the Turk apartments and then we will process your paperwork and get you set up.”

She was still scowling, but she followed him out.  He only hoped the rest would be easier to discover, although he didn’t believe that would be the case.  It never was for a Turk, which is why they were always paid more.  He smirked at that thought as he led his newest recruit down the hall and toward the Soldier offices.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

It wasn’t far between the apartments and the offices, so they walked in silence.  It was also not empty, and neither of them had anything they wanted to share where others could hear.  Eve’s only concern was a hope that whatever story Tseng came up with was believable enough to get Sephiroth to go along without too many questions.  Since she knew it was only the day before when they were all trying to get info on her.  It was something she probably should have asked about before they left the apartment, but she couldn’t now.

It didn’t take long for them to stop outside of a nondescript door along a hallway filled with them.  Tseng knocked once and when the baritone on the other side answered, he opened the door and motioned Eve in first.  She only took a couple of steps into the office though before she froze.  The room already had several other occupants, but it was the one that was barely standing still next to the door that had her attention.  All the others in the room disappeared from her thoughts as she slowly walked over to Zack.

He gave her a nervous smile when she stopped in front of him.  He didn’t get to say anything before she reached out and lightly touched his arm.  She quickly pulled her hand back but looked up to him, and his eyes widened when he saw the tears shimmering in her eyes.  He barely heard her speak.  “You… you’re… oh god!”

Zack panicked slightly when the small woman in front of him swayed slightly.  He didn’t know why she was so upset, but he wasn’t one to not help if he was able to.  When she swayed again, he reached out and grabbed her, so she wouldn’t fall.  At that motion, she surprised him by wrapping him in a crushing hug.  He was at a loss until he felt her shaking.  His eyes flew over to his mentor in confusion when he realized she had started crying.  He didn’t push her away though.

He tried to comfort her while he silently pleaded for someone to come to help him.  He nearly panicked again when he realized that everyone except for Angeal was giving him looks of shock.  Angeal looked just as lost as he felt.  When Genesis’ shock turned to a scowl though, Zack nearly pushed her away, so he could run.  He had no idea what was going on, but he never wanted to cross Commander Rhapsodos.  The man had a reputation for a scary temper.

He was saved when both the General and Tseng spoke up at the same time.  It was Tseng’s voice that seemed to get through to her though.  “Dr. Marx.  Dr. Marx!  Would you please release Soldier Fair?”

She suddenly seemed to realize where she was again and moved back so fast it was almost comical.  She wiped at her face, but he was even more confused as her face reddened, and she spoke.  “I apologize for that.  I didn’t mean to grab you like that.  I just wasn’t expecting… well never mind.  I do apologize again though.”

Her face turned even brighter when Sephiroth called out to her again.  “Eve, what- why are you here?”  He had so many things going through his mind, he wasn’t sure where to start, but finding out how she got out of his apartment without him was the first thing that he wanted to know.

She was saved from having to answer when Tseng spoke up.  “I retrieved her.  We were only stopping by to let you know that we have a place for her to stay so you will no longer need to worry about her imposing.  I will get a full report over to you later.”

Sephiroth wasn’t sure what to think of Tseng’s announcement, especially not with Eve’s strange behavior.  The fact that she had not only touched Zack but hugged him, already had his mind reeling.  He knew it wasn’t just him that she was afraid of, as she had reacted poorly to both Tseng and Genesis touching her as well.  She had also been uncomfortable with the doctor.  There had to be a good reason she was alright with touching Zack, but he knew if the Turks were involved now that it would become much harder for him to figure things out.  He wasn’t surprised that Tseng had managed to get approval to investigate her, and she looked like she was with him willingly.  However, he also knew the Turks were not known for their honesty.  He would just have to make it a point to keep an eye on things as much as possible until he figured out what was really going on. 

For now, his brows lowered slightly when he spoke.  “It doesn’t surprise me that you were able to retrieve her, but I expect to know everything.”  He paused and looked at Eve.  “My door is still open if you need anything.”

At that statement, Zack and Angeal gave him a look of surprise before looking back at Eve.  Genesis was still wearing a glare, but he hadn’t said anything yet.  Eve managed to give him a nod at his reassurance before she found her voice again.  “Thank you.  I really apologize for causing a scene.  We’ll get out of your hair now.”

With that, she turned back to Tseng.  He raised a brow at her abrupt actions but moved to allow her to walk out.  He looked back to the stunned faces of all the Soldiers and had to bite back a smirk.  His newest Turk was already causing a commotion, and she hadn’t even signed the paperwork yet.  He really hoped that she kept it to other departments though.  They already had enough shenanigans with certain members of their team.  They didn’t need any more.  He gave the silent Soldiers a nod before he turned to follow her out.  He finally let his smirk loose as he turned.  He knew it would aggravate them and was pleased when he saw the General frown before he closed the door.

Once they were gone all three of the Firsts finally turned to Zack.  The Second still looked a little shell-shocked, but he jerked to attention when his General addressed him.  “Soldier Fair, have you met Dr. Marx previously?  Do you have any idea what that was about?”

Zack scratched the back of his head and gave him a confused look before he responded.  “Uh, sorry sir.  I have never seen her before.  You said she’s a doctor?  Is she new to our Science Department?”

Angeal turned to his friend at that question.  “That’s a good question.  Both you and Genesis seemed to know her, but I’ve never seen her either.  What happened while we were gone?”

Sephiroth let out a nearly inaudible sigh before he took his seat again.  “I was planning on going over it after you gave me your report.  While I was in Modeoheim, I rescued her from drowning in a pool of mako.  I brought her here because she needed medical attention and she was alone.  It also didn’t hurt that she has potential with materia to rival Genesis.  I’m not sure what is going on now, but I imagine the Turks have their own plans for her.  Either way, she is not part of the Science Department.  She told me she was a psychologist.”

At that Genesis gave him a curious look.  “A psychologist that doesn’t like to be touched, but apparently has no problem touching the Puppy?  What do we really know about her?”

Sephiroth shook his head at Genesis’ hard tone.  “Not a lot.  I plan on finding out though.  I did authorize her to be brought here, so it is my responsibility to make sure nothing happens.”

Angeal gave him a sympathetic look.  “I know you thought you were helping, so don’t get too worked up over it.  If the Turks are involved, then I am sure they can handle it.  Later though, I want you to tell me the whole story about how in the world this all happened.  For now, Zack and I will leave you to it.”

At that, he stood and headed out.  Zack gave both remaining men a salute before he followed Angeal out.  They could hear Genesis’ raised voice as soon as the door was closed.  Angeal shook his head at his friend’s temper, but they had better things to worry about then getting in the middle of whatever that was all about.  He did give his pupil a smile and clapped him on the back as they took off down the hall.  “You handled that fairly well, but I would recommend the next time a woman puts her arms around you unexpectedly that you don’t panic.  You looked like you were about to faint.”

Zack blushed a little at his gentle ribbing, but he managed a smile back.  “That was weird ‘Geal.  I wonder if she thought I was someone else?”

“I’m sure Sephiroth will get to the bottom of it, so don’t worry.  We have training to get back to, now that we’re back at headquarters.  Focus on that instead.”

Zack’s smile turned into a full-blown grin as he responded.  “Yes, sir!  What protocol will we be running next?”  Their conversation finally faded at that point as they turned the corner to head toward the VR room.


 

Both Tseng and Eve were silent until they reached the elevator.  Once the doors were closed and they were alone, Tseng turned to her with a questioning look.  “Care to explain what that was all about?”

Her face heated slightly, and it took her a few moments to figure out how she wanted to respond.  She had to explain it partially at least, even if she still knew she couldn’t tell any of them how she knew the things she did.  “In some of the things I have seen, Zack was killed, violently and needlessly.  I logically know those things haven’t happened but seeing him there and whole was shocking.  It shouldn’t have been, and I am aware that I need to watch my reactions better, but…”  She shrugged and hoped that he didn’t dig too much more into it.

Tseng’s gaze did not clear though.  Instead, his voice became a little edged.  “Your ‘visions’ were clear enough for you to know the names of the people killed?”

If they had been walking, she might have stumbled at his quick comprehension.  She nearly panicked as she realized she could not afford to slip up around any of these people and she already had several times.  She managed to shake her head though.  “Not all of them, no.  Zack’s role was bigger though, more than you might think given his current position.  Everything ends up going to hell, and a lot of people died though.  I don’t know them all by name.”

Tseng’s gaze was still evaluating, but the elevator opened, and his next question was cut off.  Instead, he gave her a warning.  “Once we finish your paperwork, I will need to introduce you to our Director, Veld, before it can be made official.  That won’t be a problem with my recommendation.  However, once that is finished, you and I will be settling in for a nice long chat.  I don’t care what time it is.”

She wanted to roll her eyes at his tone.  The only thing that stopped her was the fact that she wasn’t entirely certain that the ‘chat’ wouldn’t involve something she was bound not to like.  Coming from a Turk, that was a definite possibility.  Instead, she followed him down the hall and into a large room filled with several desks.

Her attention was drawn when a drawling voice called out.  “Oh hey!  What’s the General’s hottie doin’ up here on our floor, yo?”

Her eyes widened when she saw Reno, and it took her a moment to realize he was talking about her.  Her first instinct was to get offended, both at the fact that he referenced to her as ‘the General’s’, and also that he called her hottie.  She pushed the feeling aside quickly and gave him a smirk instead.  This was the one place that could prove most problematic if she couldn’t stay on her toes.  “What’s it to you, Firetruck.”

Absolute silence descended on the room for several heartbeats.  Reno’s confused expression nearly had Eve laughing, but she managed to hold it in.  At least until he stood and gave her an incredulous look.  “Did you just call me Firetruck?”

Her smirk widened.  “Yes, I did.  You got a problem with it?”

“Why?”  His confusion was still evident as he leaned over his desk, although it looked to be changing to anger as he spoke.

“Why did you call me hottie?” 

Her retort had him standing up straight and smirking back finally.  “So, it’s like that huh?  Well, don’t complain if you can’t keep up, doll.”

She did roll her eyes at that point.  “I’m not the one you should be worried about, Gingersnap.”

She chuckled at him as his mouth opened and closed a couple of times.  He didn’t have the chance to find a retort though as Tseng spoke up.  “Enough.”  He gave Eve a hard look, but she thought she saw a tinge of humor in his eyes.  If it was there, it was gone quickly.  “We have things that need to be done.  Follow me.”  He didn’t say anything else before he turned and headed to one of the doors along the far wall.

Inside was a small office.  It was non-descript with several monitors on one of the sides of the L-shaped desk.  Tseng immediately went to sit behind it and gestured for her to take one of the seats in front of it.  As he reached to turn the machine on, he gave her a hard stare.  “You shouldn’t encourage him.  It will get much worse if you don’t concede the next time you speak with him.  And you will have to work with him at some point.”

She only grinned.  “I’m only giving as good as I get, or better actually, but the point is that he could use someone to bite back a little.”  As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized that she had spoken about something she shouldn’t have once again and quickly tried to cover it.  “At least, that’s how he seems to me.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced, but he let it slide for the moment.  “He is the third in command of the Turks.  I am sure you realize that means disrespect will not be tolerated?”

She snorted at his unspoken threat.  “You’re right.  It won’t be.  I realize that respect is something earned, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up and take being insulted.  That seems a bit counterproductive if I’m going to be trying to earn their respect, don’t you think?”

He sat back with a contemplative look, but he didn’t say anything right away.  He turned to the computer and was typing for several minutes before he said anything again.  “I will have everything you need to become a valid part of Midgar society.  You will need to sign a few things, but the most important thing is for you to know your history.  Obviously, with what you are we will keep the truth silent for now, unless I find a reason not to.  That means that at least part of it will be a… bending of the truth.”

She gave him a surprised look.  “You would be willing to do that given the fact that you know nothing about me?  That sounds about as real as a jackalope.”

He gave her a confused look.  “A what? Never mind.”  He shook his head and turned back to the screens.  “Do not mistake my actions.  I am not doing it for your benefit.  If I am to keep an eye on you outside of a cell, then this is my only option.  You obviously don’t have the paperwork on you, and somehow, I doubt that your true origins will be easy to explain away if they came to light.  This is a convenience for my own peace of mind.”

She smiled at his dismissal.  “Still, thank you.  I know these circumstances are extraordinary, but I’m glad I have a direction at least.  Not that I’m thrilled to be a Turk, but at least I’m not-”  She stopped herself at that point.  She was about to mention Hojo and his labs but thought better of it.

“Anyway, what history are we bending to suit your needs?”

He barely looked at her as he was still typing, but the look he gave her was dry.  “First off, are you really a doctor?”

She found herself scowling just a little, but it didn’t show in her voice.  “In so much that I finished all my schooling, yes.  I was only about nine months into my residency before I went on vacation.  Technically, that means I am not allowed to practice on my own, but I am fully capable of diagnosing patients.”

He finally paused at that and gave her a contemplative look.  “I do not understand some of what you have said, but I get the gist that you are a medical doctor?”

She should have realized things would be different on Gaia, but at least he understood her, mostly.  “Yes, a psychologist to be specific.  I treat issues of the mind to put it very simply.”

His look was still contemplative, but he changed the subject.  “Give me some facts about yourself and we will build something around them.  Without training, it will be the easiest way for you to not make mistakes.”

She wasn’t sure what to think of the fact that his thoughts mirrored her own from earlier, but she wasn’t going to mention it.  She also wasn’t sure what she should share, but she started with the basics, like her age, birthdate, etc., and allowed him to ask for more if he wanted it.  She still wasn’t sure how she could share anything with the cold Turk and have him believe enough to help, but she knew Minerva was urging her to try so she focused on what she could, and allowed the rest to be addressed if and when it came up.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

It was a surprisingly short amount of time later that Tseng finished typing and started printing.  He handed several of the items to Eve that he claimed she would need to establish a life in the city, including an ID that he stated she should keep on her at all times.  She was glad the mini interrogation was over, but she didn’t let her hope get too far ahead.  She hadn’t forgotten that he had stated they were to have a ‘chat’ after she met Veld.  She only hoped the director wouldn’t grill her as much.  She didn’t know anything about him other than his name, so she had no idea what to expect.  She didn’t have to wait long to find out though. 

Once Tseng finished putting everything he had into a folder, he escorted her back through the main office and to another door across the room.  She was partially glad to note that it was nearly empty and all the Turks that were remaining only silently watched them as they passed through.

He knocked once on the office door and waited until a gruff voice called for them to enter.  Eve was shocked when they walked in and she saw the man sitting behind the desk.  He looked completely out of place.  He was grizzled and had a prominent scar across his face, but even more shocking was the fact that he was missing an arm and in its place was a gun.  She had to shake away her confusion when she realized he had quirked a brow at her obvious staring.  She felt her face heat slightly at how rude she had been, but she didn’t get the opportunity to apologize.  Tseng had passed her and impatiently motioned her to take the other seat.  She bit her tongue and sat without saying anything.

Her gaze was drawn to Veld when he spoke.  “Tseng has told me he believes you would make a good addition to our team.  I will say up front that we have several members on our team that have shady pasts, although most have some past that can be found.  I won’t hold the fact that you don’t seem to have anything against you.  What I do want to know, is what you think you can contribute?”

She hadn’t been expecting his question and apparently neither had Tseng.  The man was hard to read, but she did have some experience cracking tough nuts, so his unease was clear to her.  She guessed he hadn’t expected Veld to dig that far into her past.  She pushed the worry back though.  This was just the first of many hurdles and she couldn’t afford to get tripped up at the beginning.  Her tone was calm and just a tiny bit hard when she finally answered.  “I have several skills that could come in handy, not the least of which is the fact that I am trained to understand people at their worst.  I’m sure you have already found that I am not trained in combat, but I have found that I have an unusual amount of potential for materia handling.  I could continue, but honestly, wouldn’t it be better for you to see for yourself?  I don’t imagine that you just hand me a gun and say have at it, correct?”

At her obvious challenge, he leaned forward slightly and leaned his chin down on his hands, or what passed for them.  The motion was meant to intimidate, as it brought his gun into clear view.  She only gave him a slight smirk and relaxed back.  She could tell he was testing her, and she had no plans on failing.  There was no way she was going to let herself fall into Hojo’s hands and that could very well still happen if she couldn’t convince these men to let her stay.  She knew it was probable that both men could read her as well as she could read them, if not better, but she wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

When she visibly relaxed after he tried to intimidate her, Veld sat back with a slight smile.  He could tell that part of it was a front, but not all of it was.  She knew what he had been trying to do and reacted in the exact opposite way of what he had been expecting.  Even if she was more nervous than she let on, her reading of the situation was on par with their best operatives, and this was just the beginning.  He finally leaned back again but kept his voice hard.  “You are correct.  There is a probationary period.  I will allow it but remember that you will have eyes on you even when you can’t see them.  If you really think you can hack it, I’ll let you try.  Don’t expect it to be easy though.”

Eve was slightly shocked that he had given his approval so easily, but she knew this was not the end of the real test, only the beginning.  She didn’t allow him time to dig into her reaction though.  She forced a smirk and a slight chuckle.  “Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting a ton of privacy, but that seems excessive.  I suppose it’s a good thing then that I don’t embarrass easily.  I only hope none of your ‘watchers’ mind what they end up finding.”

Once again, she went in a direction he wasn’t expecting.  She might be interesting to keep around, if only for the entertainment.  He had already heard about her brief exchange with Reno and was pleased to find that it had not been a one-off situation.  In their line of work, more than combat experience, it took someone that could keep their head under pressure and turn the situation to their advantage.  She obviously had the skill of throwing others off balance down pat.  He finally gave her a nod.  “I’m sure Tseng can handle the rest of your onboarding paperwork.  You will not be taking any missions solo until you have been approved to become a full-time Turk.  In the meantime, I expect you to work on any skills you lack.”  At that he turned to Tseng.  “Also, make sure she gets trained on how to handle materia.  Natural talent is nothing if she can’t control it.”

Tseng stood and gave Veld a nod.  Eve followed his example and nodded to Veld as he waved them out of the office.  Once the door closed behind them, Veld sat and watched it for a few moments.  Their lives were either about to get much more interesting, or more dangerous.  His bet was on both.  He trusted his second in command enough to let it go for now though.  He hadn’t been kidding when he told her she was going to be watched.  With a shake of his head he picked up the phone to make arrangements of his own.


 

They were both silent as Tseng led her through the offices and to another portion of the floor.  She was surprised when he opened a door and they stepped into a large room filled with enough weaponry to help free a small country.  Eve was no weapon connoisseur by any means, but she recognized a few things.  There were still many more that she had no idea what they did.  Tseng let her look around for a few minutes before he walked over to the closest rack and pulled out a few things.  When he brought them over, she gave him a quizzical look that he ignored.  “Every operative has their own preferred weapon.  Given what you have already told me we will need to find the one that suits you the best.  We will start in earnest tomorrow.  For now, is there anything that you think you might be better with?”

She didn’t bother hiding her grimace.  “I’m pretty sure I made my opinion clear earlier.  If I have to learn something though, it would be best if it were something easy to learn.  My strengths are more of the academic type.  I don’t exactly have bad hand eye coordination, but I’m not really athletic either.  I do just enough to stay healthy.”

He didn’t say anything at first.  He finally moved to hand her one of the items he had picked up.  She looked down at three small knives before giving him a quizzical look.  She didn’t get to ask her question though.  He spoke before she could.  “I would like to see if you have an instinct for aiming.  That is something you will need to learn no matter what weapon you use, for materia as well.  See that target?”  He pointed to a spot about 20 feet away.  “I want you to try and hit it from here.  I don’t expect you to make them stick, just reach the target.”

She could feel a scowl forming at his imperious tone, but she forced it away.  She knew things were not going to get easier.  She didn’t say anything before she turned to the target.  She knew she didn’t have experience, but she was good at calculating angles and trajectories at a glance.  It was one of the reasons she was so good at pool.  She hadn’t played often, but it hadn’t taken David long to put his money on her when they did go out.  With that in mind she pulled her arm back and threw the first one.  She frowned when it stopped short of the target by nearly five feet.  She didn’t hesitate to throw the next two.  None of them even got close to the target.  They were on the right track, but none of them made it from the distance she was standing.  She huffed and moved to go retrieve them all but was stopped by Tseng calling out.  “Don’t bother.  I wasn’t looking to evaluate more than your aim tonight.  Your strength needs improvement, but your aim is better than I expected.  For now, we need to talk.”

She froze at his words.  Even though she hadn’t forgotten his earlier words completely, her concentration over the last several minutes had pushed her thoughts about it to the back of her mind.  She still managed to turn back to him with a nearly straight face.  “You did say that earlier as well.  I suppose you have a place we can talk and not be interrupted?”

Tseng could tell that she was fighting her nervousness, but like Veld before him, he also noted that it didn’t take her long to get control of her emotions and project what she thought would be the best front.  That was a skill, that with a little cultivation, could be one of the best in her arsenal.  Most people would never be able to tell that her front was not real.  He didn’t bother answering her question though.  He simply nodded and walked back out of the room with a motion for her to follow.

They walked in silence as he took her to another area of the floor she hadn’t seen yet.  She was surprised when Tseng finally opened a door and led her into what was obviously an apartment, and a well-appointed one at that.  It was bigger than Sephiroth’s had been.  She didn’t bother trying to hide her shock when she turned to him.  “Is this your apartment?”

He smirked at her question.  “No, this one will be assigned to you for now.  If you make it past probation, it will be yours as long as you remain with Shinra.”  His smirk grew as her shock became more pronounced.  “You didn’t think Soldier were the only ones to have housing at headquarters, did you?”

It took her several moments to find her voice again.  “I hadn’t really thought about it, to tell you the truth.  It’s just that… well, this is much more than I expected.  Will I be staying here alone?”

Tseng’s smirk twisted a little, but it went back to normal when he answered.  “I wouldn’t say that any Turk ever stays alone.  Although it isn’t official, I can tell you that all Turk apartments here at headquarters are riddled with both hidden cameras and mics.  That is one of the reasons that most decide to stay away from headquarters.”

She couldn’t stop her eyes from widening slightly and looking around furtively.  She managed to bring it under control quickly, but her voice still waivered slightly.  “I suppose that makes sense given what Veld said.  Does that mean that everything we say here will be recorded?”

At her question Tseng moved to the couch.  “We have maybe two hours, less if Veld is really watching, before they are all activated.  I never assigned you a room, so he had no idea which one I would bring you to.  This one isn’t officially assigned yet either, so we have as long as it takes him to find out which one I have taken you to and activate any devices here.”

It didn’t take her long to understand what he was saying.  If she didn’t want his questioning to go beyond the two of them then she needed to get through it quickly.  She didn’t hesitate to take a seat close to him and turn to him with a grim look.  “Alright, if that is the case, what do you want to know?”

He was no longer surprised by her quick change of her state of mind, but he was still slightly impressed.  He didn’t dwell on it though.  His voice was near his normal calm tone when he answered her.  “First, you can explain in a little more detail why you reacted that way to Zack.  That wasn’t just because of a vision.  Why were you comfortable touching him?”

She knew this was coming.  Given her general lack of control earlier, she knew it had to come up.  She wouldn’t be surprised if both Sephiroth and Genesis ended up asking as well.  She would worry about what to tell them later though.  For now, she decided to tell Tseng the truth, or at least as close to the truth as he would be able to understand.  “This may not make much sense, but I associate Zack’s death, the one I told you about, with my father’s.”  There was a very good reason why she did, but it wasn’t one she could really get into.  For now, she hoped he would at least be able to accept what she was about to say.  It was truth, just not all of it.

She didn’t get to continue before he interrupted her.  “Why would you associate a vision with his death?  That is the least plausible excuse you could come up with.”

She scowled at him slightly as she responded.  “I don’t care what you think is plausible.  You asked for my reason and that is it.  If you’ll shut up for a few moments I can try to explain.”

She realized how harsh she had been when he barely covered his shock.  She didn’t stop though.  “These visions are not new to me, but they only recently gained relevance.  I have seen most of them before, but I wrote them off.  It wasn’t until I met General Sephiroth that they gained any semblance of realism.  Even though that is the case, the sight of Zack’s death first happened at a pivotal point in my life.”

At that point she finally had to pause and swallow a few times to keep the knot that was forming from developing completely.  She had never talked about what she was about to with anyone other than David and her therapist.  It took all her willpower to keep going.  Thankfully Tseng gave her the silence she needed to gather herself to continue.  “I lived with my father for most of my life.  My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother never wanted to be around.  My father became my whole life.  If he wasn’t working, he was spending time with me.”  She paused again as her emotions were becoming harder to hide.  She managed to continue after several moments.  “The only reason I tell you this is so you can understand my reaction.  I was fourteen when my father was murdered.  It happened very soon after I saw Zack’s death for the first time.”

She couldn’t hold in a sob at that.  She forced it down though and took several breaths so she could keep going.  She hadn’t looked at Tseng yet, and couldn’t bring herself to.  She was baring some of her darker secrets to someone that wasn’t just a stranger, but someone she knew was unsympathetic.  It was probably one of the hardest things she had to do in years.  Somehow, she managed to find her voice again.  “I was the one that found him.  I came home from school and he was in the kitchen.  Someone had… they shot him several times and left him to bleed out.  I was too late.  He had already passed by the time I got home.”

To say Tseng was shocked to silence was an understatement.  He had expected many things, but this was not one of them.  Even though he knew that she was good at controlling her reactions, he doubted this was a farce.  The emotions that she was struggling to hide, and failing at, were far too raw to be faked.  He had seen broken homes many times.  His work as a shadow in the darkness of the slums had made sure that he was desensitized to this type of thing, but it was still something he had more experience with than he ever wanted to.  Fortunately, that experience gave him what he needed to get the conversation back on track.  “I can understand how that could traumatize you.  That only barely explains the fact that you claim there is a connection in your reactions.”

She wasn’t surprised by his lack of empathy, but it still twisted like a knife in her gut.  She had to take several moments before she could speak again.  “I told you Zack was killed violently and needlessly, but he was shot down, riddled with bullets and left to die by people he should have been able to trust.  It wasn’t just the fact that I first saw that within weeks of my father’s death, but I have reason to believe my father was killed by someone he trusted.  The parallels have haunted me since then.  I cannot see the vision of Zack, without seeing my father’s lifeless body in a pool of his own blood.”

At that point she finally looked to Tseng.  She knew her look had to be hollow, but she managed to continue.  “I am sure that you have seen your fair share of death, and there is the possibility that it could have been people you loved.  If that is the case, then I applaud your ability to cope with it.  The feel of my father’s skin, how it was stiff and waxy, like it was a play with props that I couldn’t find a way to escape from, that feeling haunts me still.  I know it may not make sense to you, but associations like that rarely do to anyone except the person experiencing them.  Still, that is the reason I reacted the way I did to Zack.”

Tseng found, for the first time in a long time, that he didn’t have an immediate response.  It wasn’t that he was moved to pity, but he did understand her reactions.  He knew without having to ask that there was much more to her story, and that if this was an indication, that the rest would be much worse, but for now, he wouldn’t continue to push.  They were nearly out of time anyway.  His voice was low, but not cold when he finally spoke.  “I will tell you that stories like yours are common enough that I have seen the like before, but that also means I have a basic understanding of what you are trying to say.  I will not push on the subject further for today, but do not think that this will be the end of our conversations.  There was much more that Aerith mentioned that I will need answers to.  For tonight, I will allow you to become acquainted with your new rooms.  You will find uniforms in the closet.  At least one of them should fit.  I will send an operative to fetch you in the morning.”

Eve was still so raw that it took her a few moments to realize that Tseng had completely changed gears.  When she did, she could barely contain her grimace.  It wasn’t that she expected anything different, but she still felt exposed after her confession and it took a lot for her to pack it away again.  She finally stood and faced him with as blank a face as she could muster.  “I suppose I should thank you for this chance.  Don’t think that I don’t know that this conversation is far from over.  Don’t worry. If I am to accomplish what the planet is pushing me to, then I have no choice but to share the rest with you as well.”  At that she felt a surge of anger at the entire circumstances, but she managed to nearly hide it when she continued.  “I won’t lie to you and tell you I am happy about any of this, but my drive to survive is more than strong enough for me to do what needs to be done.”

Tseng raised a brow at her last statement.  He didn’t understand all of it, but he did understand the will to do whatever it took to survive.  It was part of what brought him as far as he had managed to come.  In an uncharacteristic move he decided not to push further, at least for the moment.  His voice was nearly neutral when he spoke.  “I am glad you understand that this is far from completed.  We will continue after your assessments tomorrow.  For tonight, I will bid you goodnight.”

Eve was so drained that she didn’t’ bother saying anything as he walked out.  It took a few moments, but she finally moved to look in the other rooms.  It didn’t take her long to find the bedroom, and she didn’t bother looking for anything else.  She had locked the door after Tseng left, but that was as far as she had bothered before she found her bed and collapsed.  She lost all sense of the world around her as she finally gave in to her emotions again and laid there as her silent tears finally ushered her into sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

The next morning, Eve was woken by a rhythmic sound.  It took her hearing it twice before she realized it was knocking.  She was rubbing her eyes on the way to the door and managed to run into the wall going out of the bedroom.  She gave it a glare as if it had jumped in front of her and took a few steps into the living room before she realized why the place looked so unfamiliar.  At the realization that she was in her new assigned apartment, her brain suddenly went from groggy to high alert.  She cursed under her breath at the fact that there was probably an irate Turk standing on the other side of her door.  She knew she couldn’t put it off though, so she moved to open it.

Her eyes widened when she recognized the person standing on the other side.  “Cissnei!”

The girl raised a brow at her exclamation, but that was the only concession to her surprise before she moved past Eve and into the apartment.  She looked around once before she turned back to Eve with a slight smile.  “Tseng told me not to be surprised if you were a little… odd.  I suppose that falls into that category.”

She didn’t wait for an answer before she moved into the kitchen.  She did call back over her shoulder on the way.  “I doubt you have coffee yet, but I’ll check.”

When Eve followed her into the room, she saw her going through the cabinets.  The girl caught her looking and gave her a frown.  “You should be getting dressed.  Especially since you don’t have coffee here.  If you want to get some before we get started, we need to leave in five minutes.”

Eve was unsure how to take what had just happened but realized Cissnei wasn’t joking when the girl tilted her head and gave her a pointed look.  Eve quickly moved to get dressed.  It took her a few minutes to find one of the suits that would fit her.  She was only glad that they obviously had operatives that were close to her size.  It only took her a few moments to throw the clothes on once she found it.  The hard part was finding a brush.  They had the basics in the bathroom already, but they were all hidden in the lowest cabinet.  By the time she was ready, Cissnei was already standing next to the door.

The girl gave her a frown before she spoke.  I suppose that was quick since I just woke you, but not nearly fast enough.  You’re going to need to learn to either be a lighter sleeper or how to move faster.  I would suggest the former.  You’ll have a better chance of staying alive.”

Eve narrowed her eyes at Cissnei’s tone but held her tongue.  She realized her irritation was probably because they didn’t have time for coffee, although it could just be a type of initiation into the Turks.  It wouldn’t surprise her, as she was aware how harsh the job could be.  She chose to go with the former when she finally responded.  “I apologize we won’t be able to get coffee.  Why don’t I agree to buy you the largest one we can get the first opportunity we have?”

Cissnei raised an eyebrow at that, but she didn’t respond at first.  She smirked before she opened the door.  As she was walking out, she turned to Eve and shook her head.  “I’ll hold you to that.  For now, we need to head to weapons.  Tseng wants to see if you had a fluke with the knives last night, or if you actually have good aim.  It’ll help us find the best weapon for you while we’re at it.”

Eve wasn’t thrilled that was the first part of her day, but she wasn’t surprised.  Her irritation was pushed back when her stomach gave her a reminder that she hadn’t had much to eat over the last few days.  She caught up to her guide so she could question her.  “Cissnei, about breakfast-“

The girl gave her another raised brow.  “I ate already.”

Eve bit back a curse.  She knew without having to ask that meant they would not be stopping.  She didn’t say anything else about it.  She knew it was probably another subtle way to remind her that she was supposed to be up and ready when Cissnei got there to pick her up.

The rest of the walk to the weapon room was silent.  Once they were in the room, Cissnei turned to her with a smirk.  “First things, let’s see if you can handle a gun.  That will be the weapon assigned to you until you find one better suited to you.”  She already had a small handgun in her hands before she walked to a mark on the floor and motioned Eve over.  She held the gun up and started speaking.  “How much do you know about handling guns?”

Eve gave her a shake of the head.  “Enough to know that if I had my way, I would never touch them.”

Cissnei actually chuckled but otherwise ignored the statement.  “Alright.  When you are handed a gun you didn’t load yourself, you want to see if it has bullets and if a round is chambered.  Make sure you never point any gun at anyone you don’t plan on shooting.”  Once she was finished speaking, she went through the motions, step by step, of what she had just explained.  Once she was finished, she handed the gun to Eve.

She hefted it a couple of times before she gave Cissnei a curious look.  “Now what?”

The girl gave her a blank look and didn’t speak for several moments.  Eve’s eyes widened when she realized she was expected to do exactly what Cissnei had just done, even though she had watched her.  She quickly pointed the gun towards the opposite wall and went through the motions again, though not nearly as smoothly as the younger woman had.  Once she was finished, Cissnei pointed to one of the targets that were nearby, about 10 feet away.  “Put every bullet in that target.  They don’t have to be perfect, but you should be able to hit it.  Don’t pause too much between shots.”

Eve took a deep breath before she turned to the target.  Even though she didn’t like guns, she knew she should be able to do as requested.  She held the gun up with both hands and pulled the trigger.  She was surprised when it jumped slightly, and the bullet barely hit the top of the target.  She didn’t hesitate though and by her fourth shot, they were all much closer to the center.  By the time she was done with all the bullets in the magazine, she realized two things.  First, she hated herself for not remembering that it was a good idea to wear earplugs and was not exactly happy with Cissnei for ‘forgetting’ as well.  Secondly, she realized that she had potential with ranged weapons, even if she didn’t like them. 

She turned and remembered at the last moment to point the gun away from Cissnei.  The girl was looking at the target and turned to her with a smile.  “If that was your first time holding a gun, then I can say Tseng was correct.  You still need work, but you have potential.”

Eve gave her a nod.  It was more than she expected on her first day, but she knew things were only beginning.  “What will we be trying next?”

Cissnei held up a shoulder holster at her question.  “Put this on.  It goes under your jacket.”

Eve’s eyes widened as she took it.  “Already?”

Cissnei smirked once again.  “You’re already wearing the uniform.  It won’t matter to someone trying to shoot you if you’re new or not.  You’ve shown you have enough control not to shoot too many bystanders.”

Eve stood and stared at her.  She knew she probably looked like a fish out of water as she couldn’t find the words to even begin to describe how wrong she felt that whole statement was.  She finally managed to find her voice.  “That has to be the most irresponsible thing I have ever heard.”

Cissnei only shrugged.  “This isn’t exactly the safest line of work.  You either get good quick or get dead.  Tseng says you have something you need to survive for, so I suggest doing what you can to stay alive.”

Eve stared for a few more moments before she moved to set the gun down and take her jacket off.  She had been doing her best to accept things as they came, but she felt like she was taking a trip through the twilight zone.  She knew Cissnei was right about one thing though.  She had to survive.  That was what prompted her to buckle the holster on.  Once it was on, she turned to Cissnei as she was putting the gun in its spot.  “Now what?”

Cissnei held out two magazines that were fully loaded.  “There is a spot for those.  I would suggest switching one out for the empty one and getting that filled as soon as possible.  I’ll show you where we store the ammo.”

At that, the girl turned and headed to the door.  Before they walked out, she pointed to a row of shelves that Eve hadn’t noticed when they first entered.  They were all full of every type of ammo Eve could think of, although she knew that wasn’t much.  Her attention was caught when Cissnei spoke again.  “This is the beginner’s supply.  You can come in here any time and restock.  Once you are ready, I’ll take you to the large armory.”

Eve could hardly imagine what an armory larger than the one they were already in would be like.  She shook her head as she followed the girl out.  She would take it one day at a time for now.

She was surprised when Cissnei led her from the armory to Tseng’s office.  She thought they might have spent more time on weapon’s training.  Cissnei only knocked once and a voice quickly bid them to enter.  The girl held the door open and motioned Eve to go in.  Once they were in the room, Tseng gave her a quick once over before he spoke.  “I see you passed the gun test.”

Eve looked down quickly before she gave him a curious look.  “I didn’t realize it would be that visible.”

He gave her a smirk before he answered.  “If I weren’t a Turk, it might not have been.  There are some tricks to hiding it better, but even then, I would notice.  Call it years of practice.”

Eve shrugged.  He had a point.  She briefly wondered if she would have time to learn either of those things, but she didn’t get to voice that thought before he spoke again.  “I have a field exercise planned for you this afternoon, but this morning we need to set up your materia training.”  At that, he gave Cissnei a nod to dismiss her.  She waved at them both when she exited.

Once the girl was gone, Eve moved to take one of the seats in front of Tseng’s desk.  He raised a brow at her but didn’t comment.  Instead he turned to his computer.  “There are only a few of our operatives that use more than the rudimentary materia.  As much as it goes against the grain, it would probably be best if we can convince Genesis to teach you.  From what I have seen of the report, you nearly froze the General’s office before he could stop you.  With that being the case, it would be unwise for you to practice without competent supervision.”

Eve gave him an incredulous look.  “I am a danger to others with materia, but it’s ok that I have a gun and today was the first time I shot one?”

His face was blank when he looked at her.  “Cissnei would not have given you the holster if she thought you couldn’t at least hit a target within 10 feet.”

Eve closed her eyes and shook her head.  “Whatever.”  She gave him a hard look, but she changed the subject.  “You said you were going to need to convince Commander Rhapsodos.  Does that mean you haven’t asked yet?”

He ignored her tone when he answered.  “Yes.  I planned on going directly to the General.  It would carry more weight if it was an order.  Genesis will still complain, but at least he would do it.”

Eve paused for a moment before she hesitantly spoke up.  “If you are going to ask Sephiroth, would you mind if I be the one to go?”

Tseng raised a brow.  “Why?”

She shrugged slightly and looked away before she answered.  “I owe him an apology.  He really did help me, and I’m sure the way this all went down just made him confused.”  She looked back at that and gave him a self-depreciating look.

Tseng’s gaze hardened a little.  “Until I have things clear, I don’t think it would be a good idea for others to know anything.”

She gave him a confused look for a moment, but it soon cleared, and she laughed.  “Don’t worry.  For now, the fewer people that know anything the better.  There will come a day that he will need to be told something, but that won’t be anytime soon.  I’d rather not end up on the wrong side of his temper, thank you very much.”

Tseng’s gaze was evaluating at that tidbit, but he pushed his curiosity aside for the moment.  He was sure most of it would make more sense after their trip that afternoon.  Instead he turned and flipped through several sheets of paper on his desk before he pulled one out and handed it to her.  “This is the official request.  I take it you can remember the way there and back on your own?”

Her eyes widened.  “You trust me to go alone?”

He huffed a quiet laugh.  “Not at all, but I can ensure you will not leave the building.  It would be odd if you had a constant visible escort.”

Both her brows rose at that and she nodded slowly.  She hadn’t forgotten that they had told her she would be under constant observation, but she hadn’t thought about it either.  She didn’t say anything about it though.  Instead she stood and took the paper from his outstretched hand.  “You said you had a field exercise for me this afternoon, what time do I need to be back?”

Tseng raised a brow at her switch.  He found he was a little torn.  With what he knew, or rather didn’t. he knew he wouldn’t be able to install her as a full Turk, unless things changed, but he had to admit she had what it took to make one.  He didn’t voice his thoughts though.  “Be back before 11:00.  That should give us time to get where we need to be.  Make sure you take care of everything you need to before you return.  We will be gone for several hours at least.”

She gave him a nod and turned to leave but paused when he spoke again.  “Your ID should get you up to the 61st floor.  There is a cafeteria there.  You can use your ID and they will add your meals to a tab against your future pay.”

Eve gave him a smile at that.  She had wondered how she was going to get lunch but was too distracted with thoughts of facing Sephiroth after her last time in his office to ask.  That was one less thing to worry about.  “Thanks.”

When she exited the office, she was glad to see that Cissnei was the only Turk in the large shared office.  She gave the girl a nod as she headed to the elevator.  It didn’t take her long to navigate to the Soldier floor.  She ignored the glances she was getting from most of the men she passed.  She knew it had as much to do with her ‘uniform’ as anything else.

When she made it to Sephiroth’s office, she paused outside the door and took a deep breath.  She still had no idea what she was going to tell him, but she also knew it would only get worse if she waited.  Especially if he found out she was now a Turk from someone else.  She finally reached up and knocked firmly.  She felt her palms sweating slightly when she heard his voice tell her to enter, but she didn’t hesitate to open the door.

He gave her a surprised look as she entered, but his eyes widened further into shock when he took in what she was wearing.  His eyes narrowed when he stood.  He didn’t say anything right away and Eve couldn’t find her voice.  She felt like her feet were glued to the floor by the door.  Finally, he motioned to one of the seats.  “It seems you have more than I expected to tell me.”

She chuckled nervously but moved to take the seat.  Once she was seated, he returned to his desk and continued to give her a curious look.  She could hear a slight tremble in her own voice when she managed to finally speak.  “I know this probably seems sudden, but I wanted to be the one to tell you.  I owe you a lot and I know I haven’t shown you near the gratitude I should have.”

He didn’t speak right away.  He gave her another evaluating look first.  “I don’t require your thanks.  That is not why I saved you.  What you could give me is a reasonable explanation as to how you went from half dead refugee, to armed Turk in the short amount of time that you have been in Midgar.  How much of what happened was happenstance?”

She cringed at his hard tone, but she knew it was warranted.  She steeled her nerves to answer the best she could.  “I don’t have a reasonable explanation that I can give you right now.  I can tell you this much.  There is more going on here than I realized.  I doubt it was coincidence that you were the one to save me, but please believe I had nothing to do with it.  There is more at work here.”

He gave her a disbelieving look.  “You admit that it wasn’t coincidence and that there are things you refuse to tell me, yet you ask that I believe you?  Who are you?”

She stood at that point.  She couldn’t sit still under the weight of his leashed anger.  When she looked back, she found he had stood as well.  Her breath caught at the sight, but she somehow still found her voice.  “I am Dr. Evelyn Marx.  A psychologist that got swept away while on vacation and found myself in a nightmare.  I know you have less reason to believe me now than ever, but I haven’t lied to you.  I’m sure if you think about it, you will understand that Tseng wouldn’t have put me here without reason.  I will also promise that I will eventually tell you everything.  I need to figure it out myself, but somehow, I think you, more than anyone, deserve to know.”

He had moved to the edge of his desk, so when she was done speaking, he leaned against it and crossed his arms.  He didn’t speak right away, instead he looked her over carefully.  She knew he was looking for any sign that she was lying.  Despite the fact that he was a Soldier, she had no doubt that he was as well versed in reading body language as any Turk.  She doubted he would have made his rank as young as he did without some of those skills.  Being a general was more than combat experience.

Finally, he stood and stepped until he was close enough to touch her if he reached out.  She had to crane her neck back to look him in the eye, and she was sure he knew it was intimidating, but she locked her knees to keep it from showing too much.  His voice was low when he spoke.  “Tell me one thing.  Whatever it is that you will tell me, but cannot yet, does Tseng know it?”

She found she couldn’t look away from his intense gaze.  “He doesn’t know everything yet, but he knows enough to realize what’s at stake.  I hope he does anyway.”

His eyes widened slightly at her last statement.  He hadn’t been expecting that.  He wouldn’t have put it past the Turks to have been behind the whole thing, even if he couldn’t figure out why, but he realized with that sentence that there very well could be more to the whole situation than met the eye.  This woman was a growing mystery, and one that had managed to find its way under his skin somehow.  He wasn’t sure if he was more irritated at that fact or intrigued.  It wasn’t often that he came across something that he couldn’t figure out quickly.  He didn’t let any of that show when he spoke.  “I don’t know what to believe but know two things.  I will expect a reasonable answer, soon.  Also, know that I will not be idle.  I didn’t bring you to Midgar to allow you to cause problems within Shinra.  While I am sure Tseng has his reasons, I cannot accept this so easily.”

He resisted the urge to take another step forward.  He knew he was already intimidating her, but with her aversion to touch, his presence that close could cause her to break down instead of breaking and telling him what he wanted to know.  As much as that made him want to ask about her reaction to Zack as well, he knew he was unlikely to get a satisfactory answer.  He watched her quietly for another moment before he turned and went back to his desk.  His voice was nearly neutral when he spoke.  “If that was all, you are dismissed.”

Her eyes widened slightly before she spoke.  “Actually, I almost forgot.  That wasn’t the main reason I came here.  Tseng had a request and I asked him if I could deliver it so I could apologize.”

He blinked at her a couple of times.  He hadn’t expected that.  The fact that she had volunteered to speak with him, knowing he was likely to be unsettled by her quick assignment as a Turk, was odd.  She had to have known he would be untrusting at best.  Why would she voluntarily walk into that.  It made him reevaluate what she had already said.  He shook his head slightly.  It was not the time to think about it.  If Tseng had sent the request, then it had to be important.  His voice was still neutral.  “What is his request?”

She pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside of her jacket and laid it on the desk.  His brow quirked when he read it.  He gave her a surprised look before he spoke.  “You want Genesis to teach you to use materia?”

She gave him a mirthless laugh.  “Do I want him to teach me?  No.  But he does make the most sense.  Especially since he seems to be the only one that understands what the voices are all about.”

Sephiroth paused at that and gave her another evaluating look.  “You know that if you had asked him directly, he would have happily agreed.”

She couldn’t manage to hide her grimace.  “I am certain the Commander has many excellent qualities, but I will never be one of the fawning fans that falls into his bed.  I have no intention of ever giving him the idea that I would be.”

Sephiroth could not contain his smirk.  He knew Genesis often felt that their fans were far too obsessed with himself, but all the Firsts knew that Genesis was the one that somehow managed to seduce his way into the bed of nearly any female he set his sights on.  Sephiroth had even seen him manage to do so to one of the Silver Elite.  It was a point of pride for the fiery man.  To know that this mystery that had caught his attention, rejected that idea so vehemently, somehow gave him a feeling that he couldn’t quite name, but it made him smile.

At the sight of it, Eve felt herself relax slightly.  She knew it probably had nothing to do with her, but at least he wasn’t so intimidating with that slight upturn of his lips.  As a matter of fact, it reminded her that he had always been one of her favorite parts of the game, especially once she had her theories about his personality confirmed when they played Crisis Core.  She shook the thought off quickly though.  The last thing she had time to think about was how incredibly sexy the man in front of her was while she was barely navigating the way to survival.

She knew her face had to be a little red, but she hoped he didn’t say anything about it.  Luckily, when she looked over, she found that he was looking at the request again.  She managed to get herself back under control by the time he looked back up.  She resolutely tried to ignore the slight smile that he still wore when he spoke again.  “I understand that Tseng felt it would be better if it were an order.  I will speak with him and see about setting up a schedule when he is here at headquarters.  Know that we are gone often, so you will need to make your sessions count.”

She gave him a nod.  “Thank you.  I know it is an odd request, but I’m glad you understand.”

They both sobered at her statement, but neither brought up the reason why.  Sephiroth was sure he wasn’t going to get any more information with brute force and Eve couldn’t share more, no matter how much she felt he needed to know.  She also knew that now was not the right time.  He gave her a nod finally and she understood it was a dismissal.  She thanked him once more before she left and headed up to finally find food, despite the fact that she was no longer that hungry.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Once Eve was done with her breakfast/lunch, she headed back to Tseng’s office.  When she looked at the clock on the office wall, she smirked slightly.  She still had more than a quarter hour.  Her attention was drawn when she heard a drawling voice behind her.  “Yo, cupcake, nice uniform.”

She barely kept from cursing at the sound of Reno’s voice, but she was wearing a smirk when she turned to him.  She looked him up and down before she replied.  “I wish I could say the same to you, flame face, but I’m afraid stretching the truth that much would break it.”

She felt a tiny shiver run down her spine when his grin only widened.  He walked until he was right in front of her and looking down before he said anything.  “I think this is gonna be fun.  I look forward to workin’ with ya, doll.”

He started to reach toward her, but before he could touch her face she stepped back and knocked his hand aside.  She was no longer pretending to smile.  “I’m not sure if fun is the word I would use, but I’m certain you won’t like what happens if you try to touch me again.”

He gave her a confused look but didn’t get to say what he obviously wanted to when Tseng’s voice rang out.  “Evelyn, you’re late.”

She glared back at him before looking up to the clock.  It was still ten minutes before the hour but when she looked back at his half smirk, she clamped her jaw shut on the retort she was itching to throw at him.  She shrugged before she managed to find her voice again.  “The lines in the cafeteria were long.  I’ll try to remember that for the next time.”

Tseng’s smirk tilted a little more, but her attention was drawn by a strangled noise behind her.  She turned to see Reno giving her a strange look.  She knew it was probably a bad idea to provoke the redhead, but she couldn’t help herself.  She gave him a smirk and a wink before she turned back to Tseng with a straight face.  “You said you had an assignment for me?  Are we ready to go?”

It took all her willpower not to grin when she heard Reno burst into laughter behind her.  Tseng looked between them with a raised brow, but he didn’t ask.  Instead he pointed back to the door.  “I will explain on the way.”  She followed him out while she resolutely continued to ignore the sound of laughter they were leaving behind.

Once they were on the elevator Tseng turned a curious gaze to her.  “Care to tell me what that was about?”

She shrugged and shook her head, but she answered anyway.  “It would seem that Reno enjoys being picked on.”

Tseng’s eyes narrowed slightly before he spoke.  “I did warn you that it will get worse.  You should not provoke him.”

Eve lost her smile when she turned to face him fully.  “You can put it on record that you warned me, so everyone knows.  That doesn’t mean I am afraid of any words he might fling at me.  They are only words after all.  Unless he decides to come after me with that electromag, then I think I’ll be alright.”

Tseng gave her a contemplative look.  “Even words can hurt.  No one is immune when they are the right words.”

Her look lost all mirth when she answered.  “I won’t even bother asking if that means you too.  Just know that despite what you may believe about me, I am quite well aware that there are far worse things than harsh words.”  She paused and made sure he was looking her in the eye before she continued.  “There are even worse things than death, so a little verbal sparring isn’t going to hurt.”

Tseng’s eyes widened slightly.  He was reminded once again that he could not afford to take this woman lightly.  Despite the smirk she often wore, he knew there was much more than met the eye.  The thought that he didn’t have enough data to make a full assessment of her irked him, but none of that showed.  He didn’t say anything else until they were out of the building.

He led her to the train station in silence.  He was gratified to see that she didn’t argue when he told her to take a seat and stay silent until he gave her the all clear.  At least she wasn’t stupid.  He ignored the looks they received from some of the other passengers as he watched his newest subordinate out of the corner of his eye.  He hoped several gaps would be filled in after their mission that afternoon, but somehow, he had the feeling that he was going to walk away with more questions than answers.  The feeling didn’t sit well with him either.

Once they got to the station they needed, he motioned her to disembark.  When she saw the number, she gave him a curious look with a raised brow but didn’t ask anything.  There were still several others around.  It was obvious she would have had something to say if that had not been the case.  He resolutely ignored that fact as he motioned for her to follow.

By the time they made it to where there were fewer people around, they had already arrived at their destination.  Eve was shaking her head when Tseng approached the old church and opened the doors slowly.  She followed him as they walked into the building and stopped just a few steps inside.  Even though she was sure it would irritate the Turk, she stepped around him and faced the girl that had frozen near the middle of the room.  She was eyeing them both warily, but Eve took another step forward and called out to her.  “Aerith, I’m really glad I have the chance to meet you.”

Aerith’s eyes widened but Eve’s attention was drawn by Tseng’s slight gasp.  She turned to see his blank face, but she gave him a knowing smirk.  She knew her recognition of the last Cetra on sight was something he wasn’t expecting, although, she felt he should have.  It only showed her that he still was not convinced about her yet.  She mentally shrugged and took another couple of steps, although she still held her hands up to show the girl, she meant no harm.

She was stopped after a few steps by a gasp from Aerith.  The girl looked her up and down before she spoke.  “It’s you.  You’re the one.  But I wasn’t expecting you to be with Shinra.”

Eve gave her a self-depreciating smile.  “I wasn’t expecting it either, but this was Tseng’s solution to keeping me close.  If it makes you feel better, I am not an official Turk yet, I believe they said I have to finish a probationary period and since I just started yesterday, I doubt I’m close.”

Much to her surprise the girl did relax a little.  She still eyed Tseng warily, but she took a few steps toward Eve.  “Why are you here?  Is there something you think I can help with?”

Eve sighed slightly at that.  “I’m not really sure.  Tseng told me we had a mission this afternoon and then brought me here.  I’m as clueless as you are.”  That wasn’t exactly true, as she was pretty sure he wanted to watch them compare notes to see if he could find any holes in her story, but she didn’t voice that.  She didn’t get a chance to say anything else either as Tseng spoke up.  “Aerith, after we spoke yesterday, I was hoping we could talk with you and get a clearer picture of what we are facing.”

Eve had to fight back her grimace at the confirmation of her fears, but she turned so she could see them both when Aerith answered.  “I don’t know what I can do, but if you think it can help, I’m okay with talking.”

Eve’s eyes narrowed slightly at the tremble in the girl’s voice.  They then widened when she realized that the planet must have shared more than she expected with the girl, especially as it was her prompting that had set Tseng to make her a Turk.  She suddenly found herself moving to embrace the girl.  Aerith stiffened at first, but relaxed and hugged her back tightly when she whispered to her.  “You don’t have to recount the details.  I can tell him, and you can confirm it.  Don’t worry.  I do not plan to ever allow that future to come to pass.  It’s why I’m here after all.  Nothing will happen to you.  I promise.”

At her last words the girl finally started crying.  Eve mentally cursed at the planet for showing the girl too much.  From her reaction it wouldn’t have surprised her if the girl had seen her own death.  She was shocked slightly when Minerva sent her thoughts that confirmed it, but it only made her angrier.  Minerva’s voice was calming when she answered.  ‘It was unavoidable.  She had to see everything to the end, and her part even after her death was not small.’

Eve’s jaw clenched but she didn’t speak out loud.  She continued to hold the crying girl when she answered.  ‘I understand.  That doesn’t mean I like it.’

Minerva’s voice took on a harsh tone.  ‘It is not for you to deem appropriate or not.  Your duty is to prevent it from happening.’

Eve couldn’t stop a growl.  She barely managed to hold in a curse.  It wasn’t that she didn’t understand, but the thought that the planet was using them both like tools as surely as Shinra did their people did not sit well with her.  She managed to take a few calming breaths when Aerith pushed back at the sound she made.  She gave her a confused look, before her eyes widened.  “You can hear the planet too!?”

Eve grimaced, but quickly wiped it away at Aerith’s shocked look.  She shook her head before responding.  “I guess you could call it that.  I don’t think it’s the same way you do, but Minerva speaks to me.”

Aerith grabbed her hands and Eve felt like kicking herself at the girl’s hopeful look.  “Does that mean I am not the last Cetra?”

Eve couldn’t bring herself to dash the girl’s hopes the way she had Tseng.  She gave her another brief hug before she answered.  “I really don’t know.  I never was as far as I was concerned, but Tseng seems to believe so as well.  Maybe I am.”

Aerith beamed at that and Eve had to force a smile.  She really believed the only reason she could hear Minerva was because the Goddess wanted her to, and not because she was a planet herder, but she knew it would help lift the girl’s spirits if she believed it and that was something that was sorely needed.

At that point Tseng interrupted finally.  “I see I was right to bring you here.  If you are both done, we have little time before we need to leave, so I would like to talk to you both together.”

Eve shot him a glare, but Aerith grasped her hand and pulled her to one of the pews closest to Tseng.  The girl didn’t release her even after they were seated.  Tseng didn’t mention it when he joined them though.  “I would like to hear the whole story.  Explain to me the reason you need my help.”

Eve could feel Aerith trembling next to her and gave Tseng another glare, but she spoke anyway.  “You aren’t going to like this, but I will promise this is the future that will come to play if nothing is changed.”  He raised a brow at her harsh tone, but only nodded for her to continue.  She sighed before she looked at Aerith.  “I apologize now.  I know this won’t be easy for you.”

Aerith gave her another wide-eyed look, but she finally nodded.  “I’ll be alright.  We can’t let it happen and listening is the least I can do.”

Eve wanted to sigh again, but she swallowed it and turned back to Tseng.  “Fine, let me start by telling you that if for some reason you think that Shinra will be able to ride this out and rebuild then think again.  If that future comes to pass the entire company will be at the bottom of the rubble with everyone else.  No one will be unscathed.”

His eyes narrowed slightly before he spoke.  “I am uncertain if that is a threat or a warning, but know that I have no plans to let anything happen to the company, or any of its employees.”

She only gave him a nod.  She knew his irritation now was nothing to what he would be feeling once she was done.  She steeled her resolve against it and started.  “It all starts with Genesis.”

His eyes finally widened at that.  “Commander Rhapsodos defects?  That is a harsh accusation for someone that continually strives to become the poster boy of Shinra.”

She shook her head and ignored his questioning tone.  “You’re right, but it still happens.  I suppose you could really say that it started before any of the Firsts were even born, as that was when Hojo and Hollander started experimenting on them all, but I can’t change that now.  I can only try to change the things that are yet to come.”

Tseng’s eyes widened before his look turned contemplative.  “I had suspected that Hojo had been experimenting with Sephiroth since he was a child, but I did not know he was involved with the other two as well.  How was that possible?  They did not come to Shinra until they were old enough to enlist.”

It was Eve’s turn to raise a brow.  “As a Turk I thought you would have better information.  The entire town of Banora is made of Shinra employees, or ex-employees.  They were all placed there to keep an eye on the two ‘failed’ experiments.  Angeal was raised by his birth mother, Hollander’s ex-assistant, but Genesis was adopted by the town’s mayor.”

Tseng stood at that point and paced several feet away.  He stood there for several moments before he turned back to her with a frown.  “Are you trying to tell me that your ‘visions’ were so detailed as to give you secrets that even Turks are not privy to?”

Eve nearly cursed again.  She should have known better and made her retelling much vaguer.  She still managed to look him in the eye when she answered.  “It is up to you to believe it or not, I can only tell you as I know it.”

Tseng turned to Aerith at that point and the girl shrank behind Eve.  He still addressed her.  “And you?  Do you corroborate her story?”

Aerith looked to Eve, who gave her a slight nod, before she turned back to Tseng.  “My visions were not that detailed, but I did see fighting around Commander Rhapsodos.  Some of it didn’t make sense as I saw many of him all together.”

Eve grimaced at that, but she spoke before Tseng could.  “You saw multiples of him, but it was because Hollander leaves with him.  He and Genesis form a small army from a group of Seconds and Thirds that leave as well.  Hollander turns them all into Genesis clones.  He does the same for most of the townspeople in Banora.”

They both gave her shocked looks at that.  Aerith’s with tinged with disgust and Eve could understand why.  No one spoke for several moments before Tseng finally spoke up with a harsh tone.  “Are you suggesting then that we assassinate the two top Shinra scientists along with Genesis?”

Eve’s eyes widened before she glared at him.  “I may find Commander Rhapsodos annoying, but he doesn’t deserve to die.  He had no control over what was done to him while he was still in the womb.  All three of the Firsts need to find out the truth about what was done to them.  Being fed lies and half-truths is the main cause of all them descending into the madness that causes them to go down the path of destruction.”

Tseng froze at her words.  “They all desert?”

Eve snorted.  “I suppose you could say that.  Genesis deserts and starts a revolution.  Angeal follows him but doesn’t join him.  His biggest sin is how he dies.  As for Sephiroth, he doesn’t desert so much as descends into madness and starts a path of destruction that nearly destroys the world a couple of different times.” 

She wanted to laugh at Tseng’s look of absolute shock, but she managed to hold it in as he finally managed to speak.  “I can understand now why you did not want to tell the General any of this yet.  I imagine he will not take well to being told he will leave Shinra and try to annihilate everyone.”

Eve wanted to laugh at his sarcastic tone, but she felt Aerith trembling beside her again.  She gave the girl a soft look.  “He isn’t that person yet, and it is my job to make sure he never will be.  I already told you I won’t let anything happen to you, so please don’t let that nightmare bother you.  Once we are done, that is all it will ever be, a scary dream that will eventually fade back into the nothingness dreams come from.”

She hugged the girl again when she started to cry.  Nothing else was said until Aerith managed to quit and sat back while she wiped her tears away.  “I won’t say that I’m not still scared, but if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.”

Eve gave her a smile that she hoped would help bolster the girl’s spirits.  “If things work out the way I hope, then this won’t be a battle in the traditional sense.  We will have to work on disseminating the truth and exposing the lies.  Your part will be to back me up when Tseng refuses to believe me.”

The girl giggled finally at the way Eve was eyeing Tseng.  She squeezed Eve’s hand and gave her a smile.  “You know, you never even told me your name.”

Eve’s eyes widened when she realized they had gone through all that and she had not introduced herself.  She gave the girl a lopsided smile.  “My apologies.  I am Dr. Evelyn Marx.”

Aerith’s eyes widened slightly.  “Doctor?  Really?”

Eve’s gaze softened.  “I’m a medical doctor, not a scientist.  You will never have anything to fear from me.  If I have any say in it, you will never have anything to fear from the others either.”

Aerith finally smiled and gave her a nod.  “I trust you.”

Eve’s brow raised at that, but she gave the girl a smile.  “I will not let that trust down.”

At that Tseng spoke again.  “It is time that we return.  I have enough to look into for the moment and you have training to start.”

Eve wanted to roll her eyes at his tone but instead she gave Aerith another smile.  “I hope I get to return soon.  I would like to talk about less stressful things next time.”  Aerith gave her a nod and stood.  When they left, she waved to them from the door before she turned to go back to her flowers.

Once they were a short distance away, Tseng stopped and turned to her.  “Will Sephiroth kill Aerith?”

Eve looked at him in shock.  She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised that he worked that out from their conversation, but she still was.  Finally, she shook her head.  “Yes and no.  It will be his form that kills her, but not truly himself.  He really does lose himself.  Once his mind breaks, it is invaded and then used by the one he believes to be his mother, Jenova.  After that happens, he is no longer himself, ever again, not even after his death.  Stopping him after that happens will be too late.  We need to prevent him from ever losing his mind in the first place.”

Tseng raised a brow at her, and she gave him a shocked look before she glared at him.  “That does not mean we should kill him!  He is just as much a victim here as anyone else.  He didn’t ask to be experimented on and he certainly didn’t ask to be lied to.  They all deserve the truth.  Anything else would make us monsters.”

His brow was still raised when he finally responded.  “If you know what a Turk is, then do you truly think we are not already?”

She clenched her jaw and had to keep it that way for several moments before she could respond without a string of curses.  “I understand what you are saying, but there is no need to jump to that conclusion right off the bat.  You should know that there are better alternatives.  I’m sure even you don’t jump to killing right away.”

He shrugged slightly before he turned back to the train station.  “I still haven’t said that I believe you yet.  I have no plans to jump to any conclusions.”  She glared at his back for several seconds before she finally moved to follow him.  Their trip back to headquarters was a silent one.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

They had almost reached the Shinra building when Tseng stopped and turned to her.  “If I do choose to believe you, how much time do we have until Genesis leaves with Hollander?”

She gave him a contemplative look.  “That depends.  What day and year is it?”

The look he gave her was incredulous.  “How can you not know the year at least?”

The look she gave him back was flat.  “I know the General had to have made a report when he found me and there is no way you haven’t seen it yet.  Given that, you shouldn’t be surprised.  It was no lie that I nearly drowned somewhere in the ocean and somehow went from there to that pool in Modeoheim.  The fact that I was still wearing my bikini should have told you all something.  With that being the case, I can’t make assumptions on the year.  There is no telling how long I was actually out.”

The look he gave her was contemplative.  He had read the report, but at the time had discounted her words as confusion or straight up lies.  Now that he knew a little more, he had to reevaluate.  If she really had been swept through the lifestream from one location to another and survived, that opened up a whole new set of questions.  He frowned at her slightly before he spoke.  “I will not say that I can believe that you survived something like that so easily, but I’ll play along for now.  It is August 3rd of 2000.  Now, when will he leave?”

Eve’s eyes widened at his words and she couldn’t hold back her curse.  “Well shit!  She wasn’t kidding when she said we don’t have much time.”

“She?”

Eve ignored his raised brow and waved away his question.  “Minerva said I had to focus right away as we didn’t have much time left.  Genesis is going to be injured some time in the next month and that will be the catalyst to the whole ordeal.”

Tseng could tell she was lost in thought, but noticed she was so absorbed that she was answering without much deliberation.  He wondered how far he could push before she noticed and clammed up again.  “What day will he be injured?”

She gave him a frown.  “I don’t know exactly.  All I know was that it will be sometime in late summer.  That is why I said sometime in the next month.  It could be tomorrow for all I know.”

Tseng finally frowned as well.  He wasn’t sure how far to believe her, but if she was telling the truth, he really didn’t have much time to dig for the answers.  “He leaves after he is injured?”

She shook her head.  By that time, she had finally realized she was blabbing without much thought, but it wasn’t anything Tseng didn’t need to know.  Even if he didn’t believe her for now, if he was armed with the truth, he might have a better chance of helping her figure out how to stop it.  “No, his injury leads to him finding out the truth about his birth, but Hollander only tells him enough to control him.  He ends up leaving sometime in October when he is deployed to Wutai.  If we can keep him from getting injured, or at the very least, keep him from being deployed, we have a better chance of making changes.  He won’t be happy, but we can’t let him leave.”

Tseng was still confused about the connection.  All the Firsts had been injured many times, even severely, but none of their injuries caused the type of behaviour she was listing.  “Why would he desert after being injured.  That makes no sense.  His superior healing should make short work of anything that potions and cures can’t fix.”

  The look she gave him at that was almost haunted and he found that he had to work to supress a chill.  Something he had not expected, and her words did not help to stop it.  “It will be unlike any injury he has ever received.  Something about it will be a catalyst that causes his body to start rejecting his very cells.  He will not be able to heal and will basically start rotting alive.  His degradation will be what causes him to believe and follow Hollander.  Not that the crackpot has any real clue how to stop it, but Genesis will be desperate.”

Tseng froze at her words.  All the pieces finally fell into place and he understood with sickening clarity why someone that was so devoted to Shinra would start a revolution.  If she was telling the truth, killing the man now might be a mercy.  That wasn’t something he would jump to yet though, and certainly not something he would tell his newest Turk.  If that was the decision, he was certain she would interfere.  He didn’t let those thoughts show when he started walking again and motioned her to follow.  “I will have someone keep an eye on him for now.  That doesn’t mean I accept everything, but I have learned it is better to be safe than sorry.  For now, you have other things to worry about.  Like the fact that you have training to finish.”

Eve wanted to roll her eyes at his continued insistence that she train.  She thought that now that he knew a little more, he might be more inclined to have her focus on things that would be more productive.  She found she was tired of the farce already.  “I am not a real Turk, so why do you insist that I be trained?”

He paused again and gave her a hard look.  “First, you should not be questioning orders, but if you need reasons, there are many.  Right now, you are a target, and targets end up dead without some form of protection.  You won’t get that from me, but I will arm you with the skills to take care of yourself.  Besides, unless you want to let everyone know that you are not what you seem, then it would be best to follow the same protocols that everyone else has.”

She grimaced at his blunt statements but didn’t argue.  They were both valid points, even if she hadn’t considered them yet.  Instead she just gave him a curt nod.  “I’ll try to remember not to question your authority going forward.”

Tseng didn’t miss the fact that she had accepted his reasoning, and still managed to sound disrespectful when she answered.  He found that he had a hard time concealing his aggravation.  Had she been a normal recruit he would have taken her to task.  He could already see that something would need to change, or her cover would be pointless in front of the other Turks.  “If you don’t want the rest of the department to realize you were not recruited under normal circumstances, then you need to remember your place.  You don’t question, you obey.”

Eve desperately wanted to snap back.  She wasn’t a dog, but she knew his desire to not deal with her insubordination was secondary.  Neither of them wanted anyone else to find out about her connection to Minerva for now so she took his words to heart.  She knew it would not be easy for her to keep her mouth shut, as that wasn’t something she had ever been good at, but she would try.  Even if her main reason was survival and not because she felt she was obligated to.  She managed to give him a nod and keep her jaws clamped shut as she followed him back up to the Turk floor.

On the elevator, Tseng pulled out his phone and told someone to meet him in the training room in five minutes.  The conversation lasted all of fifteen seconds at the most, but it made her wonder who he planned on pairing her with now.  The thought that she didn’t know of many of the Turks made her wonder how many of them she would end up meeting.  She knew there was another game that was based on the Turks, but they had never been able to find it, so she was pretty clueless besides the four that were a staple of the compilation, plus Cissnei.  She had been wracking her brain to try and remember everything she could but there were still a lot of details that were fuzzy at best.  At least she remembered the big things.  That was saying a lot considering it had been more than ten years since she had played the games.

She didn’t have long to wait to find out.  Tseng led her to a large room she had not yet seen.  Waiting near the door was a tall man with dark hair that was almost slate colored.  She thought he might have been an older Turk she had never heard of before until he turned to face them.  She nearly stopped when she saw his face.  He was one of the most handsome men that she had ever seen.  He even rivaled Sephiroth almost, but where the General was a pretty masculine, this man was a little more rugged.  The tattoo he had down the side of his face only added to his appeal.  She shook herself out of her stupor when he raised an eyebrow at her continued evaluation.  She was glad that Tseng spoke at that point.  “This is Two Guns.  He is one of our best marksmen.  He will be able to teach you how to hone your natural talent with firearms.  You will work with him until he clears you.  Unless I instruct you otherwise, you will be working with him each day until then.”

She gave him a nod in understanding before she reached out her hand to the other man.  “Dr. Evelyn Marx.  Pleased to meet you.”

At her introduction, the man looked her up and down a couple of times before he smirked and finally took her hand.  “Pleasure’s all mine sweet cheeks.  This looks like it’s gonna be more fun than I thought.  Feel free to call me Ruluf if ya want.”

Eve had to resist the urge to roll her eyes.  Instead, she looked him over once more with a critical eye before her eyes widened.  “You’re from the slums originally?”

The man’s eyes narrowed.  “Yeah, what’s it to ya?”

She could tell her question was probably a bit offensive, so she smiled to try and make up for it.  “Nothing really.  It makes no difference to me, I only asked because I was wondering if there was something about it that meant you are allergic to ties, or buttons for that matter.”  Despite her smile, her tone was sarcastic. 

Much to her surprise the man grinned at her.  “I’m glad to see that tongue of yours ain’t reserved for the red-headed moron.  It’d be a shame.”

She raised a brow at his reference to Reno but didn’t get a chance to say anything before Tseng spoke up.  “These are to be formal lessons, so don’t forget that.”  He turned to Eve at that point.  “You have an appointment in the morning with Dr. Kramer.  I will send another operative with you.  Be ready by 07:30.”

Eve had to work hard to not allow her sudden gut-clenching fear to show on her face.  It still took her a moment to respond.  “Understood.  There is an alarm in the room, correct?”

Tseng nodded.  “I’ll leave you to it.”

Eve didn’t wait for him to walk out before she turned to the man that would be teaching her.  “Where do we start?”  She wanted to get her mind off her upcoming trip to the labs.  She was still uncomfortable with the thought of running into Hojo. 

He was still grinning, but Tseng’s warning must have reminded the man that this was an official assignment.  He immediately started with his instructions by pulling one of his own guns out of its holster.  He held it so she could see it, but made it clear she wasn’t allowed to touch it.  “You can see the slots in the grip?  Those are for materia.  I was told you have some potential there, so as soon as you can show me your accuracy, we’ll start with some basic materia too.  That’s the fun part, when you can shoot flaming bullets and such.”

Eve wasn’t sure how to feel about his announcement.  She realized already that she needed to learn materia given her circumstances, but she was still a little apprehensive after the last time.  She didn’t bother hiding those feelings when she answered him.  “You have been told that I am taking special lessons for materia handling, right?”

He laughed as he holstered his pistol.  “Yeah.  I heard you nearly froze two of the Firsts.  I’m looking forward to seein’ it.”

The look she gave him was confused.  “Does that mean you want to experience being flash frozen, or that you like the idea of getting one over on Soldier?”

He chuckled at her quip but didn’t really answer.  “We’ll save that for another day.  For now, show me what you know already.  There are five targets at different distances.  Can you hit all the stationary targets?  I want you to get at least one bullet in the two center rings for each one.”

She turned to the far wall where he was pointing and saw what he was talking about.  There were several human shaped targets with circles around the left side of the chest.  She raised a brow at the reminder of what she was being trained to shoot, but she didn’t comment.  Instead she walked to the line and started.  The first two targets she hit close to center with one shot.  The second one took two, but the two that were farthest away took several shots before she was able to figure out the way the distance affected the trajectory and get one near the center.

She was wearing a frown when she turned back to Ruluf, but he was shaking his head.  “They weren’t kiddin’.  If you’re half as good with moving targets, my jobs gonna be easy.”

She was still frowning.  “What?  It took at least five shots to hit the one farthest away.”

He raised a brow at her evaluation of her skills.  “How long you been practicing?”

She still hadn’t lost her frown.  “This is only my second time shooting, but I’m good with trajectories.  This shouldn’t have been so hard.”

He chuckled at her assessment, but he was giving her an evaluating look.  “So, it’s brains, not instinct.  That’s good to know.  It’ll help me give you tips.”  He paused at that and walked back to the table. 

She watched him with confusion until he pushed a few buttons in a panel she hadn’t seen previously.  She turned back toward the targets when she heard a whirring noise.  Her eyes widened slightly when she saw that there were several more targets added across the distance, but they were all either moving side to side or up and down.  Ruluf’s face had finally settled into a serious cast when he rejoined her.  “Normally we wouldn’t start with movin’ targets for a few weeks, but that much practice won’t do you any good.  Hit each of ‘em, just like the last ones.”

She raised her brow at him, but he just tilted his head toward the targets.  “This’ll help with two things.  You gotta keep track of the ones you hit already, plus it’ll give ya the practice you need to hit somebody that’s runnin’ from ya.”

She still hated the reminder that she was going to be shooting at humans, but she had already made her decision and there was no point in bringing it up again.  She gave him a nod and switched out her magazine before she faced the targets once more.  She again started with the ones closest and worked her way back.  Keeping track of the ones she had successfully hit wasn’t too hard but hitting them was more difficult.  If she took too long between shots, Ruluf would yell at her with a reminder that she wouldn’t have time to stop in the field.  Every time he did, she grimaced, but still followed his directions.  He would also occasionally yell out tips to better figure the way the distance and movement affected the shots.  It meant that it took her much longer than she thought it would to hit every one of them.  She had to stop halfway through and refill her magazines.  She ended up going through all three again before she was finished. 

By the time she was finished, she felt that her ears were numb, as were her hands.  She had never thought of the effect the rebound would have on her hands.  She swore that she would take a long bath before sleep, as well as remind her instructor that he should have provided earplugs.  Once she was finished, she holstered her pistol without thinking and realized a little too late that she should have waited.  It was still uncomfortably warm, but the leather managed to keep her from being burned at least.  Her grimace didn’t escape her mentor’s notice either.  He laughed.  “It won’t usually be that bad.  If you’re shootin’ that much in the field, then a little burn’ll be the last thing on your mind.”

She only shook her head at the reminder.  “I would suppose so.”  After she buttoned her jacket, she gave him a questioning look.  “What’s next?”

“You want more?”

She could tell he was surprised that she asked, but she just shrugged.  “Not really.  My bed is calling my name and I still need a bath, but my wants don’t always jive with what needs to be done.”

He grinned at her again.  “Another time I might ask if you’d be interested in company for that, but for now, you’re dismissed.  I’ll see ya tomorrow at 10:00.  You should be done with the eggheads by then.”

She ignored his less than subtle come-on and laughed at his reference to the Shinra scientist.  She still couldn’t let it go without a quip of her own.  “You do realize I’m a doctor as well, right?”

He tilted his head and raised a brow.  “You don’t look like any scientist I ever seen.  Definitely not like Hojo and his cronies.  Didn’t figure you for wanting to be compared to them anyways.”

She laughed again and shook her head.  “No, not really.”  At that point she held out her hand again.  He gave her a curious look before she spoke.  “Thank you.  I know this is an assignment, but I feel like you’ve really helped.  I’m looking forward to the next lessons.”

He pushed her hand down instead of shaking it.  “No need for thanks.  Turks help each other.  Besides, I ain’t done much yet.  Thank me after you surprise the shit out of Tseng.  I wanna see him ruffled a little.”

Eve had to clap her hand over her mouth in order to not laugh out loud.  When she finally felt she could talk, she lowered her hand, but she was still grinning at him.  “Tell you what, if you can teach me well enough to make that happen, I’ll owe you one.”

His smirk took on a glinting edge at that.  “Don’t think I won’t hold you to that.”

She paused as she took in his meaning, but she just shook her head.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”  He gave her a nod as she left, but he was still grinning.  As she walked out, she could hear him chuckling still.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

The next morning Eve grumbled at her alarm, but she didn’t waste time getting ready.  She still didn’t have any kind of food yet, but she hoped she would have the chance to get things before the end of the day.  She should have time to get breakfast after her appointment, as long as nothing went wrong.  She grimaced at that thought as it almost guaranteed something would.  She tried to push the negativity off as she surveyed the rest of her apartment to see if there were any other things she would need.

She had almost finished her inspection of the bathroom when there was a knock at her door.  She quickly answered it and found another Turk she had not yet met.  The blonde woman held out a hand as soon as the door was open.  “I’m Gun.  Tseng told me you should be expecting me.”

Eve shook the proffered hand and gave the woman a quizzical look.  Something about her looked familiar, but she couldn’t quite place what it was.  She shook it off when she responded.  “Yes, I am ready if you would like to lead the way.”

The Turk stepped back so she could exit her apartment and waited for her to lock it before she headed down the hall.  She was silent as she led the way to the elevators, so Eve took the opportunity to try and figure out what it was about the woman that was familiar.  Finally, she realized what it was and couldn’t stop herself from speaking.  “You look like Elena, but not quite.”

At that, the woman suddenly stopped and turned to her with a glare.  “How do you know my sister?  She hasn’t been stationed here for some time.”

Eve cringed back at the woman’s harsh tone.  She should have realized how it might look and kept her mouth shut.  It was an issue that had already caused problems, and she needed to work harder to control her actions.  Luckily it didn’t take her long to come up with a response.  “I have been trying to familiarize myself with the team that I will be working with.  I didn’t realize you were her sister though.”

Gun’s glare didn’t lessen, but she finally turned away.  She barely looked back over her shoulder when she spoke.  “Tseng did warn me that you were already well versed.  I wasn’t expecting you to know our reserves as well though.”

That was the last thing spoken until they reached the 67th floor.  The blonde Turk stepped back while they were escorted to a room and kept silent throughout the exam.  Eve barely paid attention to her, as she was still trying to not show her nerves during the examination.  She had a feeling that she had been lucky so far not to have run into the resident megalomaniac and wasn’t sure how much longer her luck would hold.

With that thought in mind, she tried not to curse when she saw the man in question when they stepped out of the room.  He was talking to another scientist down the hall and Eve tried to quickly turn and head the other way.  Her luck broke at about that time when the man looked up from what he had been doing.  He was wearing a glare that disappeared when their eyes met.  His widened in shock but Eve didn’t wait around to find out why.  She didn’t bother waiting for her escort before she moved as quickly as she could without raising questions as she headed for the elevator.

Once the doors were closed, the Turk she was with finally spoke up.  “I don’t blame you for being wary of Hojo, but next time you might not want to be so obvious about it.”

Eve couldn’t hold back a sigh.  She knew it was too much to ask for it to have gone unnoticed.  She shook her head before she looked to the woman next to her.  “You’re right.  It is one of many things I need to work on.”

At her unexpected admission, the girl finally gave her a slight smile.  “At least you know enough to admit it.”

Once they were off the elevator, the blonde turned back to her and held out her hand again.  “You can call me Emma.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other.”

Eve didn’t hesitate to smile back.  “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

When Emma turned to head back to the offices Eve quickly checked the clock that was over the door.  She was thankful to find that she still had a little over an hour until she was supposed to meet Ruluf.  That gave her plenty of time to head up for a quick breakfast beforehand.

She had gotten her meal and was ready to find a seat when she was stopped at the sight of Sephiroth standing from one of the tables close by.  She was so stunned that he spotted her before she had a chance to do more than stare.  When he approached her, she wanted to kick herself for being so oblivious.  It wasn’t surprising that he ate at the company cafeteria.

Her mental berating of herself was cut short when he spoke.  “I’m glad I ran into you this morning.  I had something I wanted to speak with you about.”

Eve was uncertain how to take his request after their meeting the day before, but she glanced down to her tray before answering him.  “I don’t have much time to finish breakfast.  Is it something we can discuss here?  If not, I can come by your office once I am finished with my training this morning.”

He frowned slightly, but it was cleared away so quickly Eve almost didn’t see it.  He looked around before he answered.  “I can join you for a moment.  Why don’t we sit over there?”  He nodded to a spot across the room in an area that was near the wall and far from anyone else.

She raised a brow at his suggestion but followed him to the table.  She noted that many people were watching them both with ill-concealed interest.  She was glad that none of them decided to get any closer though.  It would be bad enough that he was seen asking her to sit with him.  Just thinking about it made her head hurt.  She could only guess what his fan club would have to say about it.

Once they were seated, neither of them spoke right away.  Eve felt slightly awkward since she was the only one with food.  He finally noticed that she was waiting for him and motioned her to eat.  “Please, don’t let me slow you down.”  She still felt odd about eating while he spoke, but she knew she really didn’t have much time, so she went ahead.  Once she was eating, he started speaking.  “I wanted to begin with an apology for my attitude yesterday.  After I had some time to think about our exchange, I realized you didn’t have to tell me what you did.  You didn’t even have to be the one to come to me.  Knowing that, I wanted to let you know that, although I am not happy to know things are being kept from me, I will take you at your word and wait for you to tell me.”

Eve was so shocked by his turnaround that she stopped and stared at him.  She didn’t get the opportunity to recover and respond before he continued.  “As a way to apologize, I was to-“  He cut himself off at that, and his eyes widened before he recomposed himself and he continued.  “I believe that an invitation to dinner would be an appropriate apology.  Would you be interested?”

Eve was further shocked by his request.  A large part of her brain seemed to have short-circuited and was playing his words back on a loop as she tried to make sense of it.  She finally managed to find her voice.  “Are you asking if I would like to have dinner with you?”

It was his turn to look discomfited and Eve was uncertain how to take it.  He finally nodded.  “I felt it would also be a chance for us to talk further.  Are you not interested?”

She quickly shook her head.  “That isn’t it at all!  I simply wanted to make sure I heard you right.”

She realized how bad that probably sounded when he frowned slightly, and she nearly tripped over her tongue in an attempt to speak before he could get upset.  “Please ignore that.  I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful.  It’s just that it is unexpected coming from you.”  The words were barely out of her mouth before she realized that statement wasn’t any better than the last one.  She groaned and put her face in her hand before she spoke again.  “Please ignore me.  I really am not trying to be an ass.”

There was a pause of several seconds while she tried to keep her face from heating.  Her head jerked up quickly when she heard him chuckle.  He was shaking his head at her when she looked at him.  She could still hear the laughter in his voice when he spoke.  “I understand what you were trying to say.  Please don’t feel that I am pressuring you for information, or to accept even, but if you are interested, I can get back to you to make arrangements later today.”

She felt herself relax finally and shook her head at her behaviour.  She should have known better than to act like that.  She gave him a smile with her response.  “Thank you, and I would love to.”  She paused at that, and her brows drew down before she continued.  “Is that a good idea though?  I don’t want to make it sound like I would not appreciate the gesture, but I doubt the fact that you would be seen with me in public could be good for you.”

His gaze drew into a slight frown at her words.  “I… had not considered that.”

She found that she felt bad at the sight of his frown.  An idea struck her though, and she found herself grinning as she spoke.  “Honestly, it might be better this way.  I owe you an apology as well for the way everything happened.  Why don’t we compromise?”

He gave her a curious look and motioned for her to continue.  “If you are not opposed, you could provide the ingredients and I could cook.  We can use my apartment if you do not want to use yours.”

It was his turn to look shocked, but he recovered far faster than she had.  “That is a wonderful idea.  Is there anything, in particular, you are thinking of?”

She wondered briefly at the possible differences in what was available on Gaia as opposed to what she was used to but realized that everything she had seen so far had been similar enough that she could make it work.  She finally gave him a quick nod before she spoke.  “I can make a mean chicken risotto with spinach and mushrooms.  If that sounds good, I can send over a list of things I would need later.”

His eyes widened slightly before he smiled.  Eve was so stunned at the sight that she barely heard him.  “Then it is decided.  Make sure you get the list to me before 15:00 so I will be able to get them.  I look forward to it.”  She was still staring at him in shock as he left her to eat the rest of her breakfast in peace.  It took her several minutes to remember that she still had to make it back to the training center before 10:00.


 

Luckily, she had not been late to her session with Ruluf.  As soon as she got there, he tossed her something with a grin.  She barely managed to catch it, but when she inspected it, she looked back up with a frown.  “What is this?”

He shook his head at her before he took it back.  “With as good as you shoot, I forget that you’re still clueless about everything else.”  He then motioned toward her holster.  “Lemme see your gun.”

She raised a brow at the request, but still pulled it out and handed it to him.  When she did, he quickly screwed the piece to the end of her barrel and handed it back to her.  She eyed it curiously before he answered her unspoken question.  “It’s a silencer.  I’m sure you’re already tired of ringin’ ears.”

She chuckled at his little aside.  “I was.  So how does this affect the shot?”

He grinned even wider at her question.  “Sure is nice not havin’ to explain every little thing.”  He then turned back to the targets she had been using the day before and turned them on before turning back to her.  “You’ll know immediately what you’ll need to do to adjust your shot, but the main thing to remember is that a suppressor heats up fast.  You can mess a gun up quick if you don’t watch yourself.  No more than ten shots before you have to give it a rest.  Think you can hit all five targets with that many?”

She frowned at his request.  She had emptied three magazines trying to do the same thing the night before.  She finally shrugged as she answered.  “I can try.  At least I can use last night as a baseline.”

“Nuh-uh.  Trying ain’t acceptable.  You do it.”

His face had hardened slightly at her seemingly nonchalant attitude.  She stiffened slightly as she realized that even though it wasn’t as hard for her as she had expected, it was still training.  She didn’t have the option of not trying her hardest.  Especially since she already knew what could happen if anyone found out who she really was.  She gave him a stiff nod before she moved to the targets. 

He didn’t say anything else as she started shooting.  Her first shot hit the first target, but barely.  She had adjusted for what she felt would be the extra movement of the barrel and was surprised that it hardly affected the shot at all.  She quickly retook the shot and grinned when it found the center of the target.  It didn’t take her long to hit the other four as well, and she had only used eight shots.  The last two targets required two shots each.

She turned to Ruluf with a smirk.  “I know I may regret this later, but please don’t hesitate to push me.  I guess I work better under pressure.”

He grinned at her again.  “There ain’t no maybe about it.  I can guarantee you’ll regret askin’ for it.  I’ll make sure not to forget.”

With the way he was grinning, Eve found that she wasn’t entirely certain if he was talking about her lessons or something else.  She didn’t plan on asking though.  She shook her head and looked down at the gun in her hand.  “I’ve only seen these in cheesy movies.  What can you tell me about them?”

After her question, Ruluf spent the rest of the morning explaining the intricacies of guns in general as well as showing her how to disassemble, clean and reassemble her gun.  She was almost done putting it back together for the second time when they were interrupted.  Three men walked into the room, and one of them did not look happy, at least not until his eyes landed on Eve. 

As soon as Genesis was at her side, he bowed slightly and gave her his best charming look.  “Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess.  I am pleased that I have the opportunity to work with you.  I have come to set up your lessons; hopefully starting this afternoon.”

Reno gave the man a sour look when he and Rude joined the little group.  “Hey, hey Commander Cranky.  You know us Turks are like family, and as her family, I gotta say I ain’t cool with that shit, yo.”

Eve was conflicted.  As much as she wanted to tease Reno, she found that she was glad he spoke up.  Genesis had gotten on her nerves from their first meeting, but since he was going to be teaching her, she didn’t want to alienate him.  She settled for giving the obnoxious Turk a grin.  “Aw Firecracker, I didn’t think you cared.”

He grinned at her, but it was Genesis that spoke.  “Firecracker?  Is that supposed to reference his hair?”

Eve couldn’t have asked for a better opening and didn’t bother holding back her smirk.  “Yes, it is.  Would you like to join our little club as well?  I have plenty of nicknames, so there’s more than enough to go around.”

Genesis looked taken aback and didn’t speak for a few moments.  He frowned slightly when he finally did.  “You do realize you have red hair as well, correct?”

Her grin got even wider.  “How did you think I have such a plethora of nicknames?”

Reno was grinning again when he broke into the conversation.  “Hate to burst your bubble Commander, but I was bringing Rude here to discuss her hand to hand training.  Not sure what her schedule’s gonna be yet.”

Eve had to work hard to suppress a groan at his words.  She should have known it would be a thing, but she didn’t like hearing it.  She quickly came to a decision though.  “Reno, let me talk to Tseng.  Both are skills that I need to learn, but I think gaining control with materia might be more important.  Maybe we can alternate days or something.  The sooner I can start the better it would probably be though.”

He didn’t look happy with her request, but he didn’t argue either.  “Nah, I’ll talk to the Boss Man.  You’re right.  We’ll figure it out and let you know.”  At that point, he turned to Ruluf.  “You done with her this morning?”

When Eve turned to look at her instructor, she found him standing with his arms crossed lightly and wearing a cold look that she had never seen.  When he spoke, she had to repress a shiver.  She hoped she never had to see that face again.  “As soon as she’s finished reassembling her gun and checks to make sure it’s in working order, she is free to go.”

At that point Reno grabbed Rude, and they headed to the door.  He waved to them as they were walking out.  “I’ll talk to Tseng for ya, Shortcake.  Have fun with Commander Cranky, yo.”

Eve glared at his retreating form, but it fell into confusion when she turned back and saw that Ruluf still had the same cold look on his face.  She didn’t say anything as she finished what she had been doing.  It wasn’t until she went to take a few shots that she realized it was because Genesis was still leaning against the wall near the door.  Apparently, the rivalry between the Turks and Soldier was a bigger deal than she had thought.

She managed to hit all five of the targets with one shot each and turned to Ruluf.  He gave her a nod and a small smile.  She was relieved to see it, even if his words were still more formal than she had gotten used to.  “Ya did good today.  We may start field training soon.  Let me talk to Tseng.  I’ll let you know tomorrow.  You’re free to go.”

She gave him a nod and her thanks before she turned to the red-head by the door.  “I know you came to retrieve me for lessons, but I need lunch first.  Will that be a problem?”

His sombre look melted into a smirk as he stood and opened the door.  “It would be my pleasure to escort you.”  She barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes as she followed him out and up to the 61st floor.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Eve did her best to be polite to Genesis during lunch.  It involved a lot of pretending she didn’t hear half of what he said.  If he wasn’t talking about his own accomplishments and skills with materia, then he was trying to ask her out.  At least he had resorted to doing it subtly.  It helped her pretend she didn’t understand what he was getting at.  After fifteen minutes of it, she was getting to the point that she knew it would have to end quickly or she was going to throttle him.  With that in mind, she finished and stood.  He gave her a questioning look, but she just motioned toward the door with her head.  “I thought it would be good if we can go ahead and get started.  I didn’t want to waste more of your time than necessary.”

He scowled slightly, but she was glad that he was too much of a gentleman in all the other ways to call her out on it.  She wanted to roll her eyes when he offered to take her tray.  She politely declined before they left, and she followed him back to the 49th floor.  She wasn’t thrilled that the lessons had to take place on the Soldier floor.  At least not until he took her to a large room with one big door.  She wasn’t sure until he pulled his phone out, but once the room started to change, she couldn’t have hidden her awe if she wanted to.  She tried to reign it in when he gave her a knowing smirk.  She had a sneaking suspicion that he brought her to the VR room to try and impress her.  She ignored it like she had everything else.  She really hoped he would eventually get tired of it and stop.

He had brought up a program that simulated several different types of monsters.  Luckily, it must have been designed for beginners, because none of them moved, other than a tail twitch or yawn here or there.  It made them seem more realistic. 

She was pulled out of her contemplation of them when Genesis handed her a small cloth bag.  She gave him a questioning look, and he smirked at her before he explained.  “There are four basic materia in that bag that have been assigned to you to use during our sessions.  Once you learn the basics, you can talk to Tseng or Veld about procuring different ones.  For now, I don’t want you touching any of them with your bare hands until I give the say so.  Do you understand?”

She had to fight not to roll her eyes, so she settled for giving him a nod.  At that point, he removed one of the green orbs from his own bangle and held it up for her to see.  Her eyes widened, and she took a step back.  The last thing she ever wanted was to touch one of his mastered materia.  Genesis didn’t seem to notice the distance as he started speaking.  “For most people, they need to work to develop enough spiritual energy to push their will into the materia to produce results.  For me, that is not an issue.  The materia tells me how to shape each spell, or at least that was how I started.  It should be the same for you, but you cannot let it consume you.  No matter what, you are still the one in control.”

She nodded her understanding, and he pointed to the bag.  “I want you to roll them all out onto the grass without touching them and then try to identify them by their feel.  You should not need to touch them to do so.”

She knelt and dumped the contents of the small bag out.  Luckily the VR setting was in an open field, so the grass kept them from rolling far.  She held out a hand over the closest one and closed her eyes.  It helped her concentrate on what she was hearing.  She smiled when she realized that if she held her hand close enough, she could still hear what the orbs were saying.  After a moment, she looked up with a grin.  “This one is fire.”

He nodded and pointed to the rest.  “Identify the others now.”

She gave him another nod and proceeded to identify a lightning, ice, and cure as well.  Once she was done, she stood.  “What’s next?”

He pointed down again.  “Start with the cure.  Listen to it like you just were until you can understand the instructions.  Once you feel comfortable, I want you to pick it up and show me.”

She couldn’t deny that she was nervous.  Neither of her experiences with holding materia had been precisely pleasant, but she knew she had to start somewhere.  This time she sat next to the one that she had identified as the cure materia and held out her hand again.  It took her several minutes to work through the voices and understand they were all saying the same thing.  They explained how she could use her own energy and merge with that of the planet to make the spell work.  Once she understood, she reached out and grabbed it before she could second guess herself.

The voices were suddenly louder, but she had been listening to them long enough that they weren’t as overwhelming.  She had to fight her body’s urge to let the energies merge, but she was finally able to stand with the orb in hand and no drain on her mana.  Genesis grinned before he moved so quick, she could barely see him.  He grabbed her hand and sliced across her palm.  It happened so fast; it took a split second for the pain to catch up with his action.  When she realized what he had done, she gritted her teeth to keep from yelling at him.  She forced herself to look at the cut instead.  Luckily it had been shallow and was barely oozing blood.

Once she was satisfied that it wasn’t a grievous injury, she turned to him with a glare.  He spoke up before she could say anything though.  “Heal it.  Show me that you can control the materia and not the other way around.”

She growled at him before she concentrated on the orb instead.  She could already tell that with his method of teaching, one of them was going to end up hurt badly and at the moment, she wasn’t entirely certain which one of them it would be.

She had to work to push her anger back before she could concentrate on merging her energy with the orb again.  Once she had, it was only a matter of directing it to her hand.  The flesh knit together in seconds, and she had to admit that it was a fascinating sight.  The doctor in her was marveling at how thorough the healing was.  She wiped away the blood and found that there was no mark left behind.  She looked up at him with a bit of awe.

He smirked at the sight but didn’t mention it.  Instead, he pointed at the others.  “Each of those monsters is weak to one of those elements.  Show me that you can choose the correct element and use it effectively.”

She wanted to yell at him.  He wasn’t really teaching her much.  It was more like he was throwing her in the fire and telling her to figure out how to put it out before she got burnt.  At least she remembered enough to know that the bomb was weak to ice and the machine one was weak to lightning.  By process of elimination that meant the last one was weak to fire.  The hardest part was touching the materia without it activating in her hand.  It took her full concentration, but it wasn’t long until all three of the monsters were dust.

By that time, she couldn’t hide the fact that she was exhausted.  She realized at that point that the majority of her materia training would be learning to access the spells more efficiently and building up her mana reserves.

She wanted nothing more than to go to bed, but Genesis had her put all of them back in the bag before he turned to her with another smirk.  “You did well enough for a beginner.  I will see if we can have these sessions each day to build up your reserves.  If for some reason we cannot, I want you to spend at least an hour each day casting.  It would also benefit you to start wearing them next to your skin as soon as you can without letting them run away with you.  It won’t do you much good to have the talent if you can do nothing with it.”

He had deactivated the VR program by that point and Eve moved to lean against the wall near the door.  She really hoped Tseng didn’t have something else planned for her that afternoon.  She needed a nap.

She had closed her eyes and didn’t realize that Genesis had moved closer until she heard his lowered voice almost right next to her.  Her eyes snapped open at his words.  “Building up your reserves is a necessity; otherwise you may find yourself in a position you can’t get out of.”

She wasn’t given a chance to react before he had her pinned against the wall she had been leaning on with her arms immobilized.  Her shock wore off quickly, and her rage at his action worked to keep her panic down.  She growled at him before she spoke.  “Let me go.”

He gave her a smirk but didn’t say anything right away.  He also didn’t release her.  When he did finally speak, it was a good thing her arms were pinned, or else she might have decked him.  “Tell me, why is this so awful for you and yet you nearly crushed Soldier Fair?”

Eve froze at his words.  She had expected he would bring it up, but this was going too far, even for Genesis.  Her voice was cold when she responded.  “It is none of your business.  You will let me go right now, or I swear you will walk away nutless.”

His eyes widened at her bold statement, but once his shock wore off, he had the gall to laugh at her.  “And how would that be possible?  You can’t even move.”

Her glare only intensified, and her voice dropped an octave.  “You have to sleep sometime.”

His chuckle was slightly bitter at that.  “Spoken like a true Turk.”

Eve wasn’t given a chance to respond as the door opened at that point and Sephiroth walked in.  He froze when his eyes landed on the two of them and frowned before he spoke.  “I apologize.  I didn’t realize I would be interrupting.”

It didn’t take Eve long to recover from the shock of seeing him, and she wanted to curse Genesis until he was black and blue for putting them in this situation.  She settled for speaking up before he could turn and leave.  “You aren’t interrupting anything.  Genesis was just demonstrating why I need to work on my mana reserves.  It won’t do me much good to learn materia usage if I’m vulnerable afterwards.”

Genesis had stepped back at that point, and both males were frowning.  Eve completely ignored the irritating redhead and moved to join Sephiroth.  “Was there something you needed?”

Sephiroth was still frowning, but it was smaller as he nodded.  “Yes, I simply wanted to confirm with you for tonight.  I never received a list from you.”

Eve wanted to facepalm.  With Genesis hovering over her all afternoon, it had taken all her willpower not to set him on fire.  She sighed before she answered.  “Of course.  I apologize for getting busy and forgetting.  Do you have something to write with?”

He pulled a small notebook from an inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to her.  It only took her a moment to write everything down and give it back to him.  “That is everything I need.  If you need to substitute anything, let me know so I can be prepared.  Also, I wrote down my apartment number.  What time will you be over?”

“Is 17:30 acceptable?  I should be able to be done with work by that time, and it will allow you time to prepare the meal before it is too late.”

Eve grinned at him.  She tried not to think about it as a date, as those thoughts were dangerous given who it was.  That didn’t mean she still wasn’t giddy at the thought that it was really happening.  Even if it were business, she would have to be blind to not be affected at all by the fact that the man was gorgeous.  “That sounds perfect.  I’ll see you later then.”

He gave her a nod before he faced Genesis.  “I also wanted to confirm you will be there tonight?”

Eve had done her best to block the irritating man out, but when she heard a hard tone to his voice, she turned to see him frowning when he answered.  “Of course.  Even if the morrow is barren of promises, nothing shall forestall my return.”  She had to fight not to roll her eyes.  She had no clue how Sephiroth managed to listen to it all the time and not do so.  He just gave the redhead a nod and turned to leave with a small nod to her as well.

Once the door was closed again, Genesis immediately turned to her with a slight glare.  “I refuse to believe you have not understood the fact that I have been asking you to dinner all afternoon, and I find that you have already accepted Sephiroth?”

She glared right back at him.  “Not that it is any of your business, but you are making it out to be something it is not!”

Her explanation didn’t mollify him, and he looked like he was going to keep on about it.  Eve sighed and held up a hand to keep him from continuing.  “Look, I don’t dislike you, Genesis.  I don’t know you well enough to make an opinion.  If you are really dead set on getting to know me better, I won’t object under two conditions.”

He took a step back and raised a brow at her request.  She apparently had caught him off guard.  “And those are?”

She took another deep breath before she continued.  Something told her she was going to end up regretting her next words and they weren’t even out yet.  “I will agree to go to dinner with you soon if you a) let me pay for my own meal as it will not be a date, and b) quit hitting on me.  It is annoying and not conducive to us actually becoming friends.”

Much to her surprise, he actually took time to mull over her request.  After a moment he nodded.  “I can understand your desire to get to know me better, so I will agree to the second request.  I cannot agree to the first, however.  I asked you, so it is up to me to pay.  It would be that way no matter who I asked.  You can confirm that with the General if you would like.”

Eve wanted to growl again, but she realized it was the best compromise she was going to get from the temperamental man.  She gave him a nod before she changed the subject.  “I will follow your instructions about the materia.  It might be best if we can continue this every afternoon you aren’t busy.  Perhaps you can use the time to actually give me pointers or something.”

She knew there was a bit of a bite to her request, but the man just smirked at her.  “That was my plan.  I will see you back here tomorrow at 13:00.”

Once it was set, Eve didn’t waste any time.  She gave him a nod and headed straight for the door.  As she was leaving, she thought she heard him quoting Loveless again, but she blocked it out and made a beeline for the elevator.  It was barely after14:00 and she was already done with the day.  She hoped she had enough energy to make it through the evening.

She tried not to dwell on those thoughts as she made her way back to Tseng’s office.  She knocked once before he called out for her to enter.  She barely managed to suppress a yawn as she walked into his office.  It didn’t go unnoticed.  He pointed her to a seat before he reached into his desk and tossed her something out of one of the drawers.  She gave him a questioning look at the bottle she held, and he answered her unspoken question.  “It’s an ether.  Given what you were just doing, mana drain is the most likely cause of your fatigue.  That should help.  If not, there is always coffee in the outer office.  As a Turk, it will become a staple.”

Eve hadn’t thought about the fact that she had been casting magic like a mad woman, but mana drain made sense.  She quickly tossed back the ether and was surprised at the general lack of taste as well as the fact that she could feel her energy levels pick up nearly immediately. 

While she was drinking the ether, Tseng had pulled out a folder and handed it to her.  “I spoke with both Ruluf and Rude earlier.  You have many things to learn, and we are working to escalate the time you have to spend on them.  If you are correct, time is a luxury we do not have.  That folder contains several things, including a tentative schedule for the next several weeks.  You will be alternating your mornings between hand-to-hand training with Rude and ongoing firearms training with Ruluf.  Your afternoons will be spent working on materia unless something comes up.”

Even though Eve felt better than she had when she first walked in, she still wanted to groan.  The man was a slave driver.  She didn’t even have the weekends off.  She wasn’t convinced Genesis would be willing to give up his free time, but somehow, she already knew if the redhead didn’t have time for her, Tseng would just find something else for her to do.  As she went through the folder, she also found other forms that were blank.  She held one up.  “What are these?”

Tseng didn’t need to look to know what she was asking about.  “Even though you are not in the field, you will need to send in regular reports on your progress.  I will be getting them from your instructors as well, but at the end of each day you will need to have one of those over to me on how you feel you are progressing.”

Eve did groan that time.  She was already wondering if getting Tseng involved was the right path to take.  She forcefully reminded herself that at least she was far away from Hojo as she put the forms back in the folder and gave Tseng a nod.  “I’ll get the first one to you shortly.”  She started to get up at that point but paused.  “By the way, are the desks out there assigned and if so, do I have one?”

He gave her a nod again.  “Yours is the one outside my door to the right.  I would recommend putting some form of encryption on the machine after you sign in for the first time.  If you choose not to, be prepared.  Turks are nosey by nature.”

She gave him a bitter laugh.  “Tell me about it.  If the desk is ready for me, then I will get this done right now.”

He gave her another nod but stopped her before she could leave.  “Oh, I understand you have made plans for this afternoon.  I will allow it this time, but going forward, do not make plans without first verifying you do not have something scheduled.”

Eve grimaced at the reminder that she was under constant surveillance.  It served as a prompt to warn Sephiroth as well.  She hadn’t considered that when she offered to use her apartment.  Not that it mattered in the end.  It wasn’t like they would be doing anything that required privacy. 

She gave Tseng a nod before she walked out.  She didn’t take long to set up the computer that was assigned to her, including a password that she hoped would be sufficient, and finish her report.  As soon as it was emailed, she headed to her apartment.  She wasn’t as tired as she had been, and she knew it wasn’t really a date, but she still wanted to be able to freshen up a little before dinner.  She only wished she had something besides her uniform to wear.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

When Eve got to her apartment, she checked the time.  She was relieved to see she had about forty-five minutes.  It gave her enough time for a shower at least.  Once she was clean, she felt much better.  Not that she had been dirty per se, but it had helped her relax.  She had barely gotten dressed when she realized that she wasn’t even sure if she had cookware.  She didn’t bother with her shoes before running into the small kitchen.  She was relieved to find that all the basics were in the cabinets, including plates, and oddly enough, wineglasses.

She brushed that off as she gathered everything and made sure it was in working order.  She finished just in time to hear a knock at the door.  She brushed her hands down the front of her uniform to smooth it out.  When she realized what she was doing she rolled her eyes at the nervous gesture and went to let her guest in.

When she opened the door, Sephiroth lifted up a small bag with a smile.  “I believe this is everything you asked for.”  She took it from him with a smile, but he held up the other hand as well, before she could let him in.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I also brought a bottle of wine.  I thought it would go well with risotto and I didn’t think you would have had time to get anything yet.”

Eve found herself grinning at his thoughtfulness.  “Of course I don’t mind.  Please come in and I’ll chill it until dinner.”

She took everything into the kitchen and motioned him to follow her.  He was still looking around as she pulled out the ingredients to check them and get started on their meal.  She gestured toward the small table.  “Please have a seat.  We can talk while I cook if you would like.”

He took the seat she offered and shook his head.  “I knew that Turks were paid better than Soldier, but I never realized their apartments were better as well.”

At his humoured observation, she turned to him.  Her face was slightly red at the discrepancy, but it had also reminded her that she needed to give him a warning.  “I’m not sure that better is the right word.  It may be bigger, but I have it on good authority that all of the Turk’s housing at headquarters is, how do I put this, less than private.”

He raised a brow.  “You are under observation in your own home?”

She grimaced but nodded.  “From what I understand all the apartments are.  They didn’t make any point of hiding it either, so I haven’t bothered to check.  I just work under the assumption that I’m being watched.”

He looked around before looking back to her with a questioning gaze.  “We can always use my apartment instead.  You haven’t started yet.”

She laughed lightly as she turned the stove on and started heating the broth while she cut up the onions.  “I’m not that worried about it.  I have nothing to hide.  It just means I can’t get up to anything naughty.”

She had been caught up in the familiar actions and hadn’t thought much about her words until they were already out.  She instantly felt her face turn red as she spun around.  “Oh god, please just ignore me.  There seems to be something about your presence that makes me constantly put my foot in my mouth.”

There were several moments of complete silence as he processed what had just happened.  Eve was shocked when he started laughing.  It was something she had never expected to see, and she couldn’t find her voice before he finally calmed enough to speak.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’m just glad to see you are comfortable enough around me to speak openly.  I don’t see that often.”

Eve felt the heat drain from her face as she realized what he meant.  Given his normal disposition, his job, and how he was raised, his interactions with others outside of Soldier were probably on a need to communicate basis only.  She forced the melancholy back and gave him a smile.  “Still, I will make an effort to try not to make an ass of myself any more than necessary tonight.”

He shook his head with a smile.  She let the subject drop as she turned and started preparing the chicken to bake.  She was surprised when she saw him approach the counter.  He stopped a couple of feet away before he spoke.  “Would you mind if I watched?  I don’t cook often, and I would like to see how this is done.”

Eve gave him a smile and moved so he would have room without crowding her.  “Of course not.  It took me some time to figure out how to do this right, but it’s one of my favorite dishes.”  She put the chicken in the oven and started cutting up the vegetables while the onions cooked. 

Sephiroth watched her for several minutes before he finally broke the silence.  “While I am here, I would like to apologize for Genesis’ behaviour.  If you would like, I can arrange for someone else to take the lessons.”

Eve barely stopped a sigh, but she gave him a half smile anyway.  “You do not need to apologize for anything.  Besides, we’ve come to an agreement, so it won’t happen again.”

Sephiroth nodded slowly, but his brows were drawn down.  “So, he was acting inappropriately.”

Eve did sigh that time and shook her head.  “Like I said, I handled it.  Even if you are looking at it as his commanding officer, I would ask that you let me take care of it.  If I can’t do that much then lessons with him would be difficult, and we both know there really isn’t another option.  It’s fine.”

His lips drew into a thin line at her insistence, but he didn’t press further.  Instead he shifted the subject.  “I will take your word for now.  Can you at least tell me what he was doing?”

It was Eve’s turn to scowl.  She hadn’t really thought about bringing it up, but when he questioned her, she realized it wouldn’t hurt to tell him.  “He wanted to know why I didn’t like to be touched, but I was alright with hugging Soldier Fair.”

Eve hadn’t looked at him while she spoke, but she wasn’t surprised that he didn’t say anything right away.  She glanced back at him when he did, and almost wished she hadn’t.  His look was still drawn, but it was also contemplative.  He caught her eye before he finally decided to speak.  “While I do not condone Genesis’ methods, that is a question that I will admit to being curious about myself.”

Eve nodded to one of the chairs while she pulled one in front of the stove.  “This part takes a while.  Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll try to explain while I do this?”

Eve knew she couldn’t explain it to him like she had to Tseng, but she felt that after everything he had done for her, he deserved some sort of explanation.  “Let me start by saying that there is a connection between my father’s murder and something I saw in Zack.  I can’t get into the details as to why but seeing him made me think of my father.”

“Your father was murdered?”

Eve knew that with her refusal to explain why, he had to have had many other questions, but she was grateful that he didn’t push.  Even if the question he did ask was a painful one.  She nodded before she continued.  “Yes, he was shot.  I was the one to find his body.  The police never could find the weapon, so the case was never solved.  We all had our suspicions that it had been a man that used to work for him part time, but no concrete evidence was found.”

Silence descended after her statement.  Eve couldn’t bring herself to look back at him, even when he spoke.  “I realize there is some connection there that you cannot share, so I will not push for it.  I am to assume that was why you hugged Zachary but was that the catalyst for your aversion to touch as well.”

Eve could already feel her nerves trying to take over, but she had already committed to finishing her tale and didn’t blame him for asking.  She had been the one to tell him she would share after all.  She shook her head before she continued.  “Yes and no.  His death wasn’t the cause, but rather what happened afterwards.”

She had to take a deep breath at that point and Sephiroth spoke up before she could.  “You do not have to share if it bothers you so badly.  I am not entitled to any of your personal history.”

Strangely enough, his offer to allow her to stop seemed to be all she needed to get herself back under control.  She looked back and gave him a smile.  “I know I don’t have to share, but I do feel like you deserve to know this much at least.  It will explain my actions.”

At that point Sephiroth looked around and raised a brow at her.  “Are you certain?  You did say that nothing in here is private.”

Eve grimaced at the reminder, but she nodded anyway.  “Honestly, I’m sure Tseng would end up wheedling it out of me anyway, so it might be better this way.  At least I don’t have to look at his cold face while I try and explain my eccentricities.”

Despite the sombre nature of the conversation, her characterization of her boss made Sephiroth smile.  She had been aiming for a little levity anyway.  She felt it was better to start off on a good foot going into those types of conversations.  She turned back to her stirring once again.  “Once my father was killed, I was forced to move back in with my mother.  We didn’t have any other family besides her parents that were still alive, and they were both in a nursing home.  To say that she was less than thrilled about it was an understatement.  She had never hidden the fact that I was nothing more than a burden to her.”

“She already had a man that was living with her when I moved in.  It was tense to say the least.  After I had been there for maybe three months, my mother left to run errands one day and it just happened to work out that her boyfriend stayed behind.”  Eve couldn’t bring herself to look back, but she had already started, and she knew she needed to keep going or she would bottle it up again.  “I won’t get into details, but he… attacked me while she was gone.”

Eve was shocked when Sephiroth stood and took a step closer.  She glanced back and saw him glaring.  “You don’t have to tell me what happened.”

She wasn’t sure if she was more shocked at his anger on her behalf, or that he was obviously distressed.  She shook it off though as she knew she had to at least clear things up.  “It could have been worse; much, much worse, but my mother ended up coming home before it went that far.”

His glare disappeared at that point, but he didn’t move as he spoke.  “So, your mother stopped him?” 

She had to admit that she was a little touched.  They were still strangers for all intents and purposes.  She shook her head though.  “Not so much.  It was just her presence.  That was when things got bad though.”

His eyes widened again.  “They weren’t bad before?”

She gave him a mirthless chuckle.  “Not in comparison.  Before I could tell her what he had done, he told her that I had thrown myself at him.  I mean, I was sporting bruises and scratches, but of course it had to be me that started it.”

A bitter note had crept into her voice, but she barely noticed it.  Thankfully, Sephiroth didn’t interrupt again.  “I think it was just the excuse she had been looking for.  She literally beat me and then tossed me and all my clothes into the front yard with a warning that if I tried to come back in, she would call the authorities.  I was in too much shock to realize that she couldn’t have without getting into trouble.  When I finally came to my senses, I was so ashamed of what happened that I hid.  It was the middle of the night when I went back and gathered up what I could.  I suppose I should be thankful that she didn’t pick it all up and burn it while I was gone.”

Eve was so caught up in her memories that she had forgotten to keep stirring.  When she heard the rice sizzling, she cursed and added more broth.  By that point Sephiroth had moved to lean against the counter.  His look was sympathetic, and Eve almost couldn’t stand it.  She shook her head at him.  “Don’t feel sorry for me.  Those days were hard, but it was the catalyst that made me who I am today.”

He raised a brow at her insistence to not pity her.  “I can understand how something like that could reduce the amount of trust you place in others, especially strangers.”  He paused at that point and looked up at the ceiling with a slight glare.  It was a couple of moments before he continued.  “I would like to apologize for my actions when we first met.  Given what you have told me, I was far too forceful.  It is no wonder you refused to trust me.”

At his apology, Eve felt the last of her nerves pass and she laughed when she turned to him.  “I understand why you did, so don’t apologize.  You had a job to do.  I’ve learned to deal with it over the years, so you didn’t cause any lasting trauma.” 

Her grin wiped away the last of his worry.  His tone was much lighter as he moved to watch her again.  He pointed at the pot of rice that was nearly done.  “It seems as though I have been distracted and didn’t see most of what you have done.  I suppose I will have to wait for the next time.”

Eve paused at the thought of what his words meant.  She raised a brow and turned to him.  “When that happens, I will have to make sure to keep you on task.”

Even though she hadn’t pointed it out, she could tell by the widening of his eyes that he finally understood the weight his statement held.  He didn’t recant it though and gave her a smile.  “I believe the wine should be chilled.  Would you like a glass while we wait?”

She pulled two glasses out and handed them to him.  “This is almost finished.  Could you set the table please?”

He took the glasses with a smile and a nod.  He poured them both a glass and put hers beside her on the counter before he turned to find the plates and do as she had asked.  It wasn’t long after before Eve pulled the chicken from the oven and served everything.  Sephiroth gave it an appraising look before he gave her a nod.  “It smells good.”

She laughed as she took the seat across from him.  “I hope it tastes good too.  I apologize if my distraction adversely affected it.”

He waited until she took the first bite before he started on his own.  His brow rose as the flavor crossed his tongue.  “I know someone that would probably love to share notes with you.”

She laughed again.  She knew he was probably talking about Angeal, but she didn’t ask.  Instead they fell into a quiet conversation about other unusual skills they each had and other inane things.  They kept the conversation casual and before Eve realized it, they had finished the meal and the bottle of wine.

It wasn’t until she tried to stand that Eve realized she must have had most of the bottle by herself as her head felt very light.  She giggled at the feeling as she cleared up the plates and put them in the sink.  Sephiroth had tried to help but she waved him off and he had taken up a position leaning against the far wall while she finished rinsing them all.  Once she was done, she turned to him with a grin.

He smiled slightly at the sight of her flushed cheeks.  He had not meant to get her drunk, but at least she was relaxed.  He still didn’t know exactly what to think of her refusal to tell him certain things, but the fact that she was up front with him about her refusal gave credence to her claims that she would eventually tell him everything.  A liar usually didn’t tell you up front that they were lying.  He felt his smile widen slightly when she put one hand on a hip and gestured toward him with her nearly empty wineglass.  He was shocked at what she said though.

“You know, you have a really pretty smile.  I think I want to make sure you keep smiling.  If I’m going to have to deal with this mission, then that is a great side effect.  What do you think?  Will you keep smiling for me?”

He had been blindsided and had no clue how to respond.  The thought that she felt his smile was pretty was not unexpected.  He was not so clueless as to not know how the fairer sex saw him, but her forwardness took him aback.  Not to mention the rest of her statement.  He blinked a couple of times while he tried to think of the best way to respond.  Finally, he stepped forward and plucked the glass from her hands. 

He raised a brow when she gave him an exaggerated pout.  He still took a step back with it in hand as he responded.  “I believe you have had enough of this.”  When she looked like she was going to object, he smirked and continued.  “I am a male.  If you had told me my smile was handsome, I might have considered letting you keep it.”

It was her turn to look shocked.  In her inebriated state it took her longer than it should have to process what he had said.  When she finally did, she nearly doubled over in laughter.  He was smiling again when she managed to stand straight finally.  She wiped at the corner of her eyes as she shook her head.  “Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you are too stoic again.”

Her grin softened into a smile as she continued.  “You are not what I expected at all.  I mean, I figured that there was more to you than the personality the public sees, but I’m really glad I got to see it.”

She had taken him off guard again.  She seemed to be good at it.  He was quicker to recover that time.  His smile was small, but genuine as he rinsed out the glass and turned to the door.  “I am also glad to have gotten to know you better.”  He looked at the clock across the room and had to fight a sigh.  “Unfortunately, I have another engagement that I cannot be late for.  If you do not object, I would like the chance to do something like this again.”

Her grin nearly split her face as she gave him a nod.  “I think I would like that too.  I’m sure I’ll talk to you again soon.”

He let himself out, but he paused in the doorway.  “I’m sure you will.  For tonight, sleep well.”

She gave him a nod as she closed the door behind him and leaned against it with a goofy smile.  For at least the last hour, she had been able to let go of her worries and fears about her situation and just enjoy herself.  She hadn’t planned on getting drunk, but she found she wasn’t too upset about it.  She gave another sigh and headed back to the kitchen to finish cleaning, but she hadn’t lost her smile.


 

As Sephiroth made his way to the VR room where Angeal and Genesis were probably waiting, he found that he was still smiling.  He had tried to take everything Angeal had told him to heart, but found that he had ended up letting things flow naturally once they had started speaking.  Despite that fact, he was not disappointed with the way the evening turned out.

Eve seemed to have an uncanny ability to get under his skin and bring out a side that he usually kept hidden.  Not even Angeal or Genesis saw that side of him often.  He wasn’t going to waste much time thinking about it though.  It was unexpected, but not unappreciated.  He could admit to himself that he liked spending time with the feisty doctor, even if there was still more to find out about her.  That thought wasn’t unpleasant either.  It meant that he would have to spend more time with her to figure it out.

When he reached the VR room, he was surprised to be the first one there.  He went ahead and started the Junon program and walked to the end of the large laser.  He looked out at the false sunset with a small smirk.  He heard the other two arrive but didn’t lose it as he heard Genesis start with Loveless once more.  As irritating as he normally found that habit, he found that he was still smiling.  Part of it was due to thoughts of the spar that was about to start, but some of it was still lingering from the evening.  When he finally turned back to Genesis and Angeal, he was in a better mood than he had been in for a long time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Reno was sitting in a darkened room and dealing out another hand of solitaire.  This was an easy assignment, but it was mostly boring.  The fact that Tseng was insistent on making it happen was the only thing that made the redhead okay with taking it and not complaining.  He knew all the apartments were bugged, but it usually only ever came up if they had to go back and check the recordings after an incident.  Tseng’s persistence in keeping their newest arrival under surveillance was enough to make Reno want to dig a little.  Unfortunately, he hadn’t found much.  He also realized that unless she was with one of the others, she was pretty boring.  All she did when she was alone was stuff most people did. 

He had barely been paying attention until he heard a knock through the speakers and looked up to the monitor.  When he saw the Silver General walk into the girl’s apartment, his cards were forgotten.  No one mentioned to him that she had a date.

He spent the next couple of hours glued to the monitor.  Nothing much was happening, but the fact that it was the Ice Princess in there laughing still had him stunned.  He cursed when she explained why she didn’t get too close to others and thought about the one time he had tried to touch her.  He cursed again when he realized he would have to be careful around her.

His worry was forgotten as they sat down to eat.  The conversation was boring, but the fact that Sephiroth laughed more than once had him floored.  He didn’t think the man was capable of it.  When Eve started flirting, Reno nearly fell out of his seat.  The woman had to have some serious balls if she wasn’t too petrified to do something like that.  Even if she was drunk, most women were either too tongue tied or too terrified to even speak to the General, much less flirt with him.

He did fall over when Sephiroth flirted back.  He realized that it was a good thing all the monitoring was automatically recorded.  If not, there would be no way he could convince anyone of what happened.

As Sephiroth secured a promise for another date when he left, Reno concluded that he was definitely going to have to find a new nickname for the man.  It was obvious that the Ice Princess front was only an act.  He rubbed his hands together as he started thinking about what he should start calling him.

He had stopped paying as much attention to the monitors when Eve went to start the dishes.  He thought that the interesting stuff had passed, but his attention was yanked back when he heard her start to sing.  He had to turn the volume up to make sure he was hearing correctly.  What he heard had him instantly working to get a copy of the recording.  This was the type of thing that Tseng would want to know right away.


 

Eve had not stopped smiling even when she started washing the dishes.  Part of her mind knew she would be a little mortified the next day at how forward she had been, but she couldn’t bring herself to care at the moment.  She was still in too good a mood.  She unconsciously started humming one of her happy songs as she washed and rinsed.  When she realized what she was humming she stopped and laughed out loud.  Of course, it had to be a song that made her think of Genesis right after her date with Sephiroth.  That was a fact that she vowed no one would ever learn.  She didn’t care that it made her think of the redhead as visions of the silver haired man quickly took the forefront of her thoughts as she started singing out loud.

Ai shitemo ii kai? yureru yoru ni

Aru ga mama de ii yo motto fukaku

Kuruoshii kurai ni nareta kuchibiru ga

Toke au hodo ni

Boku wa...kimi no...vanilla

She tried not to let herself get too carried away with those thoughts as even in her inebriated state she knew they were dangerous.  She stopped after the second chorus and tried to settle down.  She could already tell that sleep would be hard to find for at least another hour, but she also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving if she didn’t at least try.  With a sigh she tossed the small towel on the counter and walked into her living room.  Her gaze was instantly drawn to the figure leaning against her door.

Even though it was late, Tseng was still in his office working on the reports for the day.  He also had an algorithm running in the background to pull out any data that could be found concerning the past experiments that both Hojo and Hollander had run.  It had taken him time to crack into their databases, but he wanted to make sure no one found out he had managed it.  So far, the things that had been pulled up were enough to disgust him, as well as make him worry.  Even if he refused to admit it.  They were already pointing to the truth of his newest Turks warnings, and he was not happy about it at all.

He looked up with a scowl when his office door was flung open.  It only deepened when he saw that it was Reno.  “Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere right now?”

The redhead was winded and had to take a few gulping breaths before he could speak.  He held out the small recorder in his hand before he managed to find his voice.  Tseng took it with a raised brow as Reno finally spoke.  “Ya gotta listen.”

As irritating as Tseng found his subordinate, he also knew the man was a good Turk.  He wouldn’t have rushed if it wasn’t important.  When he hit play his eyebrows rose almost immediately.  He recognized the voice, but it was the words that really caught his attention.  He was speechless for a few moments and his eyes widened at the nature of the song.  It was unexpected to say the least. 

He was called back to the moment when Reno nearly yelled in his excitement.  “Come on Boss Man, what’s she singing?  It’s gotta be good if it surprised you.”

Tseng managed to recover and gave Reno a glare.  “You are relieved for the night.”

At those instructions, Reno wanted to object so badly, but he rarely saw his boss wear that look.  He knew he didn’t dare try to listen in if he wanted to stay whole.  He didn’t try to hide his disappointment though as he sighed and headed back to his own place.  Even though he knew better, he still called out to Tseng’s retreating form.  “You gotta tell me what that was later.  It’s killin’ me.”  He chuckled when he noticed Tseng’s shoulder twitch at his request.  His boss might not have many tells, but Reno had been pushing long enough to recognize them when they did show.  He whistled to himself as he left.

Tseng didn’t need to put much effort into ignoring Reno.  His mind was almost wholly occupied by this newest revelation.  The nature of the song aside, the fact that Eve had been singing in near perfect Wutainese opened up a whole new set of questions for her.

He didn’t waste any time letting himself into her apartment.  He could hear her still humming to herself in the kitchen, so he closed the door softly before leaning against it and waiting.  Something told him this was going to be an interesting conversation.

When she exited the kitchen, she stopped short at the sight of him, but it didn’t take her long to recover.  She was grimacing slightly as she approached him.  “Please don’t tell me that I am required to report on my private life as well?  That is going too far, even for you.”

Tseng didn’t show any outward signs of his thoughts when he spoke.  “Anata wa wakarimasu ka?”*

Eve froze at his question and blinked several times as she tried to process what he had just said.  Finally, she nodded.  “Hai**, but you have to know that’s odd coming out of nowhere like that.”

Tseng barely held in his sigh as he stood and pointed to the couch.  “Sit.  You are going to explain to me how you know Wutainese.  Especially since we have been at war with them for nearly eight years.”

She gave him a confused look.  “Wutainese?  But that’s no-“  She cut herself off at that point and glared out at nothing in particular.  He heard her cursing under her breath as she took a seat and gave him an exasperated look.  “I suppose that makes sense.  There isn’t much to tell though.”

Tseng raised a brow at her and gave her a cold look.  Despite all the proof that he already found that corroborated her story, he could not simply dismiss this fact away.  Wutainese was not an easy language to learn, so she would have had to have had a good reason to learn the language of their enemy.

She sighed at the look he gave her and shrugged.  “I want to make sure you understand something.  My father has been gone for nearly eleven years.  So, all the things we did together and plans we made were years ago.”

Tseng’s brows drew down in confusion, but he didn’t get to ask her to clarify before she continued.  “It was something he had always told me we would do together once I was done with high school.  We were going to take a trip a year and Ja- I mean, Wutai was our first chosen destination.  We started taking lessons together years ago.  I didn’t learn more than the basics and didn’t pursue it again until a few years ago.  I still am rusty at best.”

Tseng sat back.  He hid his shock as he contemplated what she said.  She was continuing to surprise him at every turn.  He also didn’t miss the note of melancholy in her voice.  He realized that her father must have meant more to her than he first assumed.  He filed that thought away for later as he spoke.  “Why would you choose Wutai?  And what was it that you almost called it?”

Eve didn’t bother hiding her rolling eyes.  It was too much to ask for him not to have noticed her slip.  At least she had an explanation already.  “Japan.  I was about to call it Japan.”

His look turned confused, but she shook her head and continued.  “That is how I was originally taught the name of the country.  I guess it was just a horrible mistranslation.  As for why, there was something about the culture that appealed to us.  I suppose it had a lot to do with the way history is still a living thing and the fact that family ties are important.”

Tseng let his face fall back into his impassive mask.  He was starting to see a pattern in the things she felt were most important and it all revolved around family.  That was another thought he filed away for later as he stood.  “Learning Wutainese could prove to be useful.  I will rearrange your schedule so we can work lessons in.  If you already have the basics it shouldn’t take much for me to make sure you are fluent.  Can you read it as well?”

Eve scoffed at his statement.  “You really like to make sure I don’t have any spare time, don’t you?”

Tseng frowned slightly and she waved it off as she stood as well.  “I learned hiragana, but that was all.  I still don’t know the rest.”

He gave her a nod as he walked to the door.  “Meet Rude in the morning as planned.  I will have your adjusted schedule to you before your lessons are finished.”

Eve wanted to toss something at the door when he walked out after his decree.  It was at that point that she realized she never put shoes on either.  She threw her hands up in frustration at the way her perfect evening ended up but didn’t do anything more than grumble as she got ready for bed.


 

As she made her way to breakfast the next day, Eve vowed that she would somehow figure out how to get groceries so she wouldn’t have to rely on the cafeteria every day.  The fact that the food was barely palatable was no small part of it.

In the notes she had been given, she was told to meet Rude at 08:00 in the smaller of the armories that she had already seen.  When she arrived, she found both Rude and Reno standing near a set of mats on the floor.  She rolled her eyes at the sight of the redhead.  She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised since he was technically Rude’s partner.  Still, she hoped he didn’t cause issues.

When she drew even with them, Reno gave her a grin and a wink.  She didn’t even want to contemplate what that was about, but she ignored it as she turned to Rude.  “I understand that you are to teach me hand to hand?  I wanted to let you know that I’m a complete newbie when it comes to that stuff.”

Rude raised a brow at her statement, but it was Reno that spoke.  “Newbie?  Is that like a baby, but new?  Which is kinda redundant if you think about it, yo.”

Eve rolled her eyes at his snark.  “Newbie is a term I grew up hearing, but yes, it refers to a person that is just beginning in something.”

She didn’t give him a chance to keep going before she turned back to Rude.  “I have taken some self-defence, but that’s it.  Start as if I don’t know anything and we’d probably be better off.”

They both ignored the snide remarks coming from the redhead as Rude pointed to the mat.  She took off her shoes and followed him out.  She didn’t know what to expect with him as a teacher, as she remembered he didn’t talk much, but she was pleasantly surprised when he instructed her on the basic moves he was going to demonstrate.

He walked her through them several times in slow motion before he then moved to real time.  Despite how confident she had been that she understood, she found that was not the case.  Once he started throwing punches, her eyes widened, and her instincts took over.  She dodged them all, but that had not been the point.

After a couple of attempts, he stopped and frowned at her.  She didn’t need him to explain what the problem was.  He instead had her walk through them again.  The second time he sped things up, she was able to mostly do what he had instructed her to, but each hit she blocked made her teeth rattle.  She could already tell that her arms were going to be sore the next day and she would have bruises.  She was suddenly glad that their uniform had long sleeves.

By the time he called a halt for lunch, Eve was barely able to keep from wincing as she gathered up her shoes and put them on.  She did release a groan when she stood and found Tseng was waiting with Reno.  She had forgotten he said he would be there.  She managed to keep her face straight when she walked up to him.  Although that resolve was hard pressed when he spoke.  “As good as you may be with firearms, you are inversely horrible at hand-to-hand.  We may need to rearrange things again if we don’t see some improvement after your next lesson.”

It was only the fact that Reno and Rude were both watching that kept her from uttering the string of curses running through her head.  She hoped Tseng realized how lucky he was; that is if he hadn’t provoked her on purpose.  She wouldn’t have put it passed him.

She didn’t get a chance to do more than that before he continued.  “Your materia lesson has been cancelled this afternoon, so we will get started with your Wutainese when you are finished with lunch.  Report to my office at 13:00.”

Eve wasn’t quite sure how she felt about his announcement.  On one hand, that would mean she would have at least a little bit of an opportunity to recoup after the rough lessons with Rude.  On the other she would have to spend her entire afternoon with Tseng, and as his student as well.  She wasn’t sure if they would both walk away from something like that unscathed.  She didn’t let those thoughts show though and gave him a nod.

He didn’t wait for further response before he turned and left.  Eve had the overwhelming urge to beat her head against the wall but was refrained when Reno let out a low whistle.  “Man, what did you do to deserve personal lessons from the boss?  I hadn’t heard of any trouble that big lately.”

She glared at him from the side of her eyes and shook her head tiredly.  “It’s not technically a punishment.”

Reno laughed.  “Yeah, yeah.  You keep tellin’ yourself that, yo.  Maybe it’ll make you feel better when his cold ass stare makes you break down.”

Eve finally turned her head to look at him at that.  “I think I can hold my own.  Maybe you should be more worried about being lazy all morning.  I am pretty sure you have something more productive to do than watch me get my ass kicked.”

Reno faked a shiver before he busted up laughing again.  “Yesh, you’ve got that cold ass stare down too.  But nah, watching you get roughed up has been the highlight of my week.”

Eve could feel her fingers itching to smack him upside the head, but she managed to control the urge.  Her voice didn’t hide her irritation though.  “Maybe you should find a better hobby.”

He laughed at her again before he went and clapped Rude on the shoulder.  “Come on big guy.  Let’s leave before she decides to share the bruises.  Somethin’ tells me, in a real fight she don’t fight fair.”

Eve didn’t bother retorting as they walked out.  She was too worried about making it up to the cafeteria and back down.  Not that she didn’t have plenty of time, but the soreness she was expecting had already started as soon as she stopped moving.  By the time she made it back down, even she was impressed with the number and variety of different curses she had created for her ‘boss’.  Her only disappointment was the fact that she wouldn’t get to share with him.  At least not during their training.  The evil thought occurred to her that nothing could be said if she were venting in the comfort of her own home.  And she had no doubt he would hear about it.

Tseng raised a brow at the wicked smirk she had on when she walked into his office, but somehow, he knew better than to ask.  Instead he pointed her to a folder he already had laying out.  “I would like you to go through those and translate them for me.  This is not a test, so much as an evaluation for me to understand what level you are already on.”

She took the seat and managed not to hiss, but she should have known Tseng would notice.  His voice was dry when he spoke.  “You do realize that potions are a standard part of any Turk’s gear.  If you need them, you can find spares in the armory along with most other staples.  If Rude’s report is accurate, I imagine you will be needing them for the next several weeks at least.  He went easy on you today, but you can expect it to get worse.”

Eve ran her hands down her face roughly before she turned back to him.  “And no one thought to mention that before lunch?”

Tseng smirked.  “I did tell you that I wouldn’t be holding your hand.  They weren’t hidden.”

She glared at him harder and swore to herself that one day, she was going to find a way to wipe that smirk off his face.  For the moment, she would just have to learn to deal.  She shook her head and tried not to sound too pissed.  “May I please go get one.  If you expect me to sit here without moving for the next several hours, you may have to help me back to my room otherwise.”

She could tell by his face that he was debating on whether she was bluffing or not, but he finally gave her a nod.  If she had only known what he was thinking, she would have cracked up.  He agreed because he realized that even if she had been bluffing, it was highly likely that she would force the issue to make a point anyway.  He was quickly finding out that there were whole new levels of irritation he hadn’t yet discovered before working with the obstinate woman.

By the time she was back from the armory, she was blissfully mostly pain free.  She hadn’t wanted to go overboard as it wouldn’t hurt for some of them to heal naturally, but the worst bruises were now faded and looked days old.  She could handle that.

She didn’t wait for instructions when she got back.  She took the folder out to her desk and filled out as much as she could.  Thankfully it was all written in hiragana and she was able to read most of it.  At least Tseng had remembered that much.  Once she was finished, she went back into his office where he had her wait until he looked over the folder.  His gaze was evaluating when he finally looked up.  “You are better than I expected.  We can move right into teaching you the other parts of the written language.  Read these first ten sentences out loud for me.”

She didn’t argue with his assessment before she picked it back up again and read the requested lines.  There were a couple of times she had to repeat a word because she slipped up on the pronunciation, but overall, she did well.  Or at least she thought she had.

When she was done, Tseng nodded and took the folder back.  “I will also give you lines at the end of each lesson to use for vocal practice.  The goal is to get you as close to a native accent as possible, so I will not be accepting less.  For tonight, I want you to practice the lines I marked.  They all have words with the ar sound.  You seem to be struggling the worst with those.  Show me tomorrow and we can correct as needed.”

Eve was already so done with Tseng and his training.  She knew a large part of it was the fact that this was training she hadn’t asked for but had to do anyway.  If it had been something she signed up for, she very well might have asked for more.  She shook her head at the thought and gave Tseng a wry grin.  “I suppose that means I’ll see you tomorrow.  Please at least try to refrain from thinking of new ways to torture me.”

There was a slight tightening around his eyes at her quip, but she just smiled.  She waved as she walked out with the folder in hand.  She knew that it would be best for her to quit pouting and just focus, but she was still sore enough that she wasn’t quite ready to let go yet.  She sighed as she realized it wouldn’t be long though.  She still had too much to accomplish and she knew she was running out of time already.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

The next morning Eve was headed to her meeting with Ruluf when she ran into him in the hallway.  She raised a brow and looked up to find a clock. When she noted it was still early, she gave him a curious look.  “I know the Turk motto is be early or you’re late, but this is excessive isn’t it?”

He chuckled at her question.  “I figured I’d catch you on the way.  After our last lesson, Tseng told me to drop it down to twice a week.  You’ll be workin’ with Rude instead.”

She didn’t bother holding in a groan as she looked up at the ceiling.  She was scowling slightly when she looked back to him.  “Thanks for passing on the message at least.  When will our next lesson be?”

He shook his head with a smile.  “You know it could be worse.  Rude has a hidden soft spot for pretty girls.  I doubt he would do anything that would permanently scar your face.”

She raised a brow and rolled her eyes at him.  “If that was supposed to be reassuring, you suck at it.”

He laughed at her before patting her shoulder.  “You’ll be fine.  I’ll see you the day after tomorrow.”

She scowled and watched him walk away until he turned the corner.  She sighed as she made her way to the smaller room where she had her first lesson with Rude.  She was thankful when she found him there alone.  She stood in the doorway and watched for a few minutes while he used one of the large punching bags.  She repressed a shiver at the thought that with the way the bag was moving, Tseng had been correct in that Rude had been going easy on her.  She raised a quick prayer that he would keep doing so as she moved to catch his attention.

After a few brief explanations, he quickly had her running through several drills again.  By the time they were done, she definitely needed a potion again.  She felt better about that fact when he told her that she was already improving, but she needed to work on her speed.  For the rest of the morning, he had her working with learning to throw a proper punch and increasing her speed.  They used the punching bags for the rest. 

By lunch time, Eve was already exhausted.  She knew she didn’t have the luxury of taking a nap, so she hoped Genesis wouldn’t push her too much.  She was afraid that if he kept up with his normal stunts that she might actually try to do him harm, and that would not end well for either of them. 

She thanked Rude and waved as she headed to eat.  When he gave her a small smile, she had to repress a grin.  The memory of what Ruluf had told her came back at that moment.  She realized that he must have been on to something as Rude never did aim for her face.

By the time she made it to the Soldier floor, she felt better than she had.  Eating and taking a short rest had helped with her energy levels.  She was surprised to see that Genesis wasn’t waiting by the elevators, but she knew where his office was and headed that direction.  He surprised her when he was coming down the hall as she turned down the corridor.  At least she didn’t have to track him down.

When he drew even with her, he gave her a polite nod before he spoke.  “You did bring your materia, correct?”

Eve gave him a curious look, since his greeting was succinct.  It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate it, but she hadn’t expected it.  Not even after their talk.  She found herself smiling at the thought that he finally listened as she responded.  “Of course.  Learning materia usage without it would be difficult.”

Her expression turned back to a frown when he merely gave her a nod and turned toward the VR room.  She shook her worry off.  He was being professional, and that was exactly what she had asked of him.

They started with a recap of what she had already shown him before he pulled out a half dozen different materia and had her identify them without touch.  They then went back to casting.  Before they were halfway through, Eve was glad that she had thought to grab an ether.  He gave her a sharp look when she downed it but didn’t reprimand her.  She knew he wanted her to build up her reserves instead of using the quick way, but that would take time and he would just have to deal.  He must have realized the same thing since he didn’t say anything to her.

By the time they were through, she really was ready for bed.  When she remembered that she still had the Wutainese lesson to return to Tseng she almost groaned.  This was as bad as med school ever was, especially when she was cramming to finish her thesis.  It almost made her want to go find a bar.  Unfortunately, she knew that it wouldn’t help.  Plus, it was likely to not be allowed anyway.  She would just have to suck it up.  Besides, she didn’t have David or Mara there to ‘kidnap’ her and make sure no one bothered her while she unwound.  She had to push the thought away quickly, since it brought up memories she still wasn’t ready to face.

It didn’t occur to her that Genesis had not hit on her once during their training, until after she was nearly back to the elevator.  She was too tired to worry about it too much.  She figured if it was his injury then he would have probably been in a temper or cancelled their lessons altogether.  She was glad that he had taken their talk to heart.

She was pulled from her reverie when the elevator doors opened and Sephiroth stepped out.  Her fatigue became a distant thought when she noticed him smile when his eyes found her.  His gaze dimmed slightly when he caught her eyes.  She found the corners of her mouth turning up further when she heard the note of concern in his voice. 

“You look tired.  Are you well?”

She laughed slightly before she answered.  “First, you should never tell a lady she looks bad, even if she does.  And secondly, it’s just the training.  Between Rude knocking me around and Genesis being a sadistic instructor, I’m just wore out.  Nothing a little sleep won’t cure.”

Eve wanted to kick herself when his face drew into a blank mask.  She quickly continued before he could even try to apologize.  “Sephiroth, please don’t think I meant that I was upset.  I was just teasing.  Feel free to tell me I look like shit anytime.  Not that I’d like hearing it, but I know you don’t mean anything bad by it.”

She was relieved when his shock quickly turned to a chuckle.  He shook his head and, much to her shock, gave her a small smirk.  “I don’t think those words would ever be applicable to you even at your worst, but I’ll try to remember your advice.”

It was Eve’s turn to look shocked.  She was almost certain that the nearly god-like being in front of her, just said she was pretty.  She didn’t get a chance to dwell on it though, as he was still talking.  “I am glad I ran into you though.  I am not sure what your schedule is like, but I have a half day off the day after tomorrow and would like to ask if you would like to do something.”

Eve couldn’t find her voice for several moments.  She knew that they had both agreed to have dinner again sometime, but this request could not be interpreted as anything other than a date.  The thought that he might really want to go on a date with her had her mind short circuited.  When his look started to change back to his mask again, she quickly spoke up.  “I am not sure if I can get the time, since Tseng has my schedule full, but I can ask.”

His smile was instantly back, and he gave her a nod.  “You can let me know tomorrow.  If you find that you can get off, we will discuss everything further then.”

Eve could barely contain her enthusiasm.  She had to forcefully remind herself that it was highly likely that Tseng would refuse.  It helped to keep her from making a fool of herself.  She managed to give him a nod without squealing.  “Sounds good.  I’ll give you a call tomorrow.”

He nodded back.  “I hope you rest well.”

She waved as she finally got on the elevator.  She was barely concerned when she thought about the fact that she still had practice with Tseng.  Now, the only thing she could think about was the fact that she could use the opportunity to ask for a little time off.

When she made it to the Turk floor, she stopped and pulled her work from her desk before she knocked on Tseng’s door.  When she didn’t hear anything, she decided to see if the door was locked.  It opened easily when he turned the handle.  She frowned when she stepped in and found Tseng behind his desk, scowling at his monitor.  He didn’t look her way until she stepped closer.  The heat of the glare he shot her, had her stopped in her tracks.

His voice was hard when he spoke.  “Did you know that Hojo has plans for Aerith?”

She sighed and ran her hand down her face before she gave him a nod.  “I’ve already told you that man is insane.  He views everyone and everything as potential experiment subjects.  I am not sure there is anyone in this company that he hasn’t screwed over in some way or another.  He even had Gast killed.”

At her last sentence, Tseng sat straighter.  His shock was evident.  It only took him a moment to recover and his mask slipped back into place.  “That is a harsh accusation.  Did your ‘visions’ tell you this?”

She didn’t bother hiding her rolling eyes at his tone.  “Yes, they did, but this is something you should be able to prove with some field work.”

He raised a brow at her claim.  “You can prove it?  How?”

She started to launch into the tale but paused when she realized what else would come to light if they found the videos.  She nodded to herself anyway.  It wouldn’t hurt for Tseng to know the full truth about Aerith.  “When Professor Gast left Shinra, he took the last Ancient with him.  They settled in Icicle Inn, or I suppose the town is Modeoheim.  Anyway, the point is that they ended up married.  Less than a month after their daughter was born, Hojo found them and had Gast shot.  He then took Ifalna and Aerith for experimentation.  Aerith was younger than five when they escaped.  You know the rest.”

Tseng suddenly felt ill.  In the file on Aerith, he had already seen the fact that Hojo had her in the labs at one point.  If she was indeed Professor Gast’s daughter and Hojo had him killed, then this situation was more precarious than he thought.  He also realized that if they investigated and found what she claimed in Modeoheim, then it was one step closer to proving her story.  He did not like the implications of her offering verifiable evidence.

He shook those thoughts off as he gave her a nod.  “I will take your ‘facts’ into consideration.”  He ignored her disgusted expression as he continued.  “I know this was not why you are here though.  What do you need?”

She tsked at him as she tossed her ‘homework’ on his desk.  “You asked me to get this back to you today.  Remember?”

Tseng blinked at the folder a couple of times before he picked it up and looked through it.  When he put it back down, he pointed to the seat.  “Recite the given lines.”

Eve started to roll her eyes at his imperious tone again, but she stopped herself.  She remembered that she had something to ask him and didn’t want to piss him off more than he already was.  She didn’t need to look back again to be able to recite the lines he indicated.  She had practiced them the night before like he had asked, and she felt she had them down.

Once she was done, he gave her a nod.  “You have improved some, but you are far from the level we need.”  He pulled a thicker folder from a drawer and handed it to her.  “Take one sheet per day and practice writing and saying them all aloud.  They are all in katakana, but the hiragana is next to it for reference.  I will look forward to your results.  You can show me when you are finished with them all.”

Eve found that she was slightly relieved.  It was a lot of work added to everything else, but at least he was showing her that he trusted her to get it down at least.  It was better than being micromanaged.  When she thought about it, that was probably one of the things that had irritated her most about her training.  She gave him a nod as she picked it up and stood.  She didn’t leave right away though and he raised a brow at her obvious hesitancy.

“Is there something else?”

She gave him a nod and sighed before she launched into her request.  “Yes, I would like to see if I can have the afternoon off the day after tomorrow.”

Tseng sat back and gave her an evaluating look.  “Why?”

She bit back a curse.  It wasn’t any of his business why, but she knew he wouldn’t give up until she told him.  Not to mention, he would find out anyway.  “I have been asked to join someone for recreational activities.”

He snorted at her bland response.  “The General asked you out again?”

She could feel her face flush, but she managed a nod.  “Yes, not that it’s any of your business.”

At her tone, he sat forward with a hard look.  “It is my business.  Have you forgotten why you say you are here?  From what you have told me already, he is one of the most important persons of interest in the future you are trying to avoid.  It would be best not to get too close to any of them.  If I find you are telling the truth, things could get messy at best.”

Eve sat back down hard, as she realized the implications of what he was saying.  She hadn’t forgotten why she was there, but the man that had just asked her on a date was the furthest thing from the man she had first seen more than a dozen years prior.  It was easy to forget what he could become if she didn’t watch what she was doing.

It took her a few moments to get her racing thoughts back under control, but once she did, she gave Tseng the same hard look.  “I am aware of what I have been asked to do.  More than you probably.  That doesn’t mean I don’t see him as a person.  He is a victim in this, and I refuse to treat him differently because of what could happen.  As a matter of fact, isolating him would only make it worse.  I didn’t expect to like him, but I will not act like he is less than human.  He deserves better.”  Eve was breathing slightly hard.  Her voice had nearly risen to a yell by the time she was finished.

Tseng sat back at her impassioned response and gave her a contemplative look.  It was several moments before he finally responded.  “You will not tell him anything.”

It wasn’t a question.  Eve wanted to rebel at the fact that he expected her to obey with no hesitation, but she couldn’t.  He was right.  “I hadn’t planned on it.  Not yet at least.  I don’t know him well enough to decide if the truth would break him at this point, and that is the one thing we need to avoid.  I will tell him everything eventually, but not until I know he is ready.”

Tseng glared at the fact that he knew she planned on telling the General whether he gave the go ahead or not, but it was something that he had time to deal with.  The budding friendship between them was another matter.  “What would you do if I told you to not see him again?”

Eve’s eyes widened and her heart sped up.  She tried not to think of what that meant as she narrowed her eyes.  “Speaking hypothetically, I would tell you to go fuck yourself.  My personal life is none of your damned business.”

Tseng sat back with a sigh.  It wasn’t anything he hadn’t expected.  “Fine.  I will caution you to be careful with what you share.  Don’t forget that for the time being all of your interactions are being watched, no matter how private you think they are.”

Eve’s heart was finally slowing from his implied threat, but she managed a smirk anyway.  “I’ve already told you that I don’t care.  If they see something they don’t want to, it isn’t on me.”

Tseng wanted to growl at her obstinance.  He refrained with a reminder to himself that she was provoking him on purpose.  She was proving to be as bad as Reno for trying to purposely push his buttons.  His voice didn’t betray that fact though.  “Be that as it may, I am certain there are things you don’t want anyone else to hear yet.  Just be careful.”

She gave him a nod as she stood.  “I understand.  Does that mean I can take the afternoon?”

Tseng was ready for her to be out of his office already.  He waved her off.  “Go.  I will allow it if your lessons with Rude improve.  Otherwise, you will be working with him instead.”

Her face turned serious as she gave him a nod.  “Look, I know I have been bitchy when it comes to my training, but I understand why.  No matter what you might think, I am taking this seriously.  Don’t worry that I’m slacking.  I may not have a natural aptitude for hand-to-hand, but I won’t back down either.”

He looked at her for several moments.  His face didn’t betray any of what he was thinking.  He must have finally found what he was looking for, since he gave her a single nod.  “I have already seen that you will do what needs to be done.  I will only caution you to not lose sight of your goal.”

She still wasn’t sure that he believed her.  Hell, she was pretty certain that he wasn’t sure what to believe, given what he had asked her when she first came in, but at least he was willing to give her a little more leeway.  She nodded back as she turned to leave.  “I won’t.”  As happy as she had been earlier, her heart was now heavier.  She didn’t plan on backing away from Sephiroth, but she had to keep reminding herself that nothing was ever easy.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

When Eve first told Sephiroth the conditions for her being able to agree, she had been embarrassed by his response, but now that she was cleaning up after her lessons with Ruluf that morning, she looked back and laughed.  He had told her the conditions were within her control, so he expected her to meet him by no later than 17:00.  At the time, she had tried to tell him that it would have to be approved by Tseng, but he insisted that she could handle it.  He told her that he would tell her where they were going when she met him. 

Now that she was getting ready, she realized he had been so forceful as a means to give her confidence and push her to do her best.  She should have known he would understand that much psychology at least.  Being a General meant he had to know how to keep his men motivated.

She finished drying her hair and put on another suit.  She wished she had anything else to wear, but she still hadn’t had a free moment to get groceries, much less find additions to her wardrobe.  As she looked at herself in the mirror, she wondered if she would have a chance to take care of that while she was out.  That might be a strange request though, ‘oh, by the way, I need groceries, would you mind shopping with me?’  She laughed at the thought as she pictured his face.

She decided she would have to work with what she had.  She left off her tie and decided to take a page from her instructor’s book and left the top button undone as well.  When she looked over her image, she gave her reflection a nod.  It didn’t show much, but it hinted at her femininity.  She also decided to do something different with her hair as well.  The thick curls were a pain to work with, so she didn’t usually bother, but since they had provided her with the means to put her hair up for work, she decided to go ahead and try it.

She checked the time and saw that she only had a half hour until she was supposed to meet Sephiroth.  She gave her reflection one last look and shrugged.  It would have to be good enough.  She grabbed her keys and headed toward the elevator.

Even though she was nearly fifteen minutes early, Sephiroth was waiting when she got off on the 49th floor.  She couldn’t hold in a smile when she saw that he had swapped his regular leather duster for a button-down and jacket.  He tried to keep the look casual by not wearing a tie.  He had pulled his hair back and up as well.  Eve had to shake her head to stop staring.  He was mouth-watering, and she was making a fool of herself.  She was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice that his eyes had widened in surprise at the small additions to her own clothes.

It took them several moments to pull themselves together, and it was Sephiroth that spoke first.  “I’m glad to see that you were able to make it.”

She gave him a smirk.  “Weren’t you the one that said it was completely in my control and there was no reason why I couldn’t?”

“Indeed.”  His answering smirk had Eve’s insides squirming.  She had to forcefully remind herself to act like an adult when he pushed the button to call the elevator.

She raised a brow at his actions.  “So, is it time for you to share where we are going?”

He gestured into the elevator and waited until the door was closed before he spoke.  “I have reservations later at a place that caters to Shinra employees.  It will be more discreet than any others.”

She raised a brow when she answered.  “Later?  What are we doing in the meantime?”

His smirk softened into a smile.  “I thought we might walk there.  It isn’t too far, and it goes through the theatre district.  I have noticed that you aren’t much of a fan of listening to Genesis quote the play, but Loveless Avenue is one of the loveliest spots in the city.”

Eve grinned.  “Despite minor annoyances, I have actually wanted to see an opera someday.  I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be a real experience.”

He raised a brow at her confession.  “An opera, not a play?”

She shrugged.  “I think I would like the right play too, but I’ve never been moved to take the time out and go see one.  I figure if I’m going to waste my time, I should at least waste it on something worthwhile.”

He frowned slightly.  “Wasting your time?  If you don’t enjoy it, then why would you want to in the first place?”

She sighed at her mistake.  “I apologize.  I thought you might have realized by now that I have a bit of a flippant tongue.”  She looked away for a moment, and her brows were drawn down when she looked back.  “I didn’t mean that I actually wouldn’t enjoy it.  It’s just that I have so many things that I have committed to do that occasionally I forget to do things just because I enjoy them.  It feels like I am wasting time that would be better spent getting something else done.  It has been a bad habit of mine for years.  I… I had a friend that used to make sure I took the time even when I didn’t feel like I had it to spare.”

Sephiroth stopped walking at that point and started to reach out to touch her arm.  He stopped himself before he made contact and quickly pulled his hand back.  That didn’t stop him from speaking.  “I believe I understand what you mean.  There are many times that I have been told I need to take more time for myself.”

Eve had noticed the gesture and felt terrible that he thought he couldn’t touch her at all.  She had to show him that it wasn’t always as bad for her as it was when they first met.  To do that, she reached out and briefly squeezed the hand that he had reached out with before she let go and responded.  “I can imagine as General for all of Soldier, you don’t have a lot of free time.  I’m glad you have someone that can remind you though.  Maybe we can help each other with that too.”

His eyes had widened when she squeezed his hand, but when he took in what she said, he smiled.  “I believe that is something we can accomplish.”

He started walking again, and it was only a few moments before they entered a brightly lit area.  There were billboards and neon lights, but they didn’t detract from the beautiful facades around them.  There were also throngs of people.  Eve took an unconscious step closer to Sephiroth as they merged with the foot traffic.  She did notice that anyone that caught sight of them immediately moved out of the way and let them pass. 

Sephiroth noticed the fact that she was sticking closer to him and thought about taking her arm, but he wasn’t sure if it would comfort her or not.  When one of the passers-by got close enough to make her step even closer to him, he decided that he would try.  If she gave any indication she was uncomfortable, he would let her go.  His grip was light, but it was enough to keep her close and to keep them from being separated.  When she looked back and gave him a smile at the action, he was once again inundated with a feeling that he was unfamiliar with, but it was a sensation he enjoyed.

When they made it to a space that wasn’t so busy, Eve looked up at him with a smirk.  “You were right.  This place is beautiful, but it’s also a bit busy.  If you were going for discrete, I don’t think this will help.”  She looked down at his hand on her arm with a smirk before she looked back up to him.

He hadn’t considered that part when he decided to bring her through the theatre district.  He had only remembered it was something that Genesis told him every woman loved.  He had thought that the Commander might have been biased, but Angeal agreed that it was a worthwhile place to take a date.  He hadn’t been sure if this could be counted as a date, but he did agree he wanted it to be a pleasant experience.  He took a few moments before he finally answered.  “I had not thought about it.  If there are any repercussions, I will deal with them.  Honestly, my fan club will find something to write about no matter what I do.”

She laughed at that last part.  “I bet they do.  Well, hopefully, it won’t be too bad.”

By that time, they had made it to their destination, and he tugged lightly on her arm to stop her.  He opened the door and followed her in where the hostess didn’t hesitate to lead them to a spot near the rear of the dining area.  Once they were seated, Eve laughed.  “I suppose being famous does have some perks.”

He raised a brow and looked around.  “I suppose, although there are far more days that I find I wish I could just do my job without all the hype.”

She nodded.  “Well, I must say from what I can tell, you handle it well enough.”

The waitress came at that point and took their orders.  They were quickly served their drinks, and their conversation fell into a comfortable exchange.  They picked up where they had left off in getting to know each other.  At least to a point.  They both had many things they didn’t want to share about their pasts, but their presents had enough to keep them occupied.

Despite the setting, Eve did try to do her best to stay as inconspicuous as possible.  She could already hear Tseng’s reaction to whatever was printed, and she didn’t want to deal with it after the last conversation that had to do with Sephiroth.  His reminder was still playing through her head at random times during dinner as well, but she still couldn’t relate the confidant man across from her with the lunatic he could become.  She could no longer picture it happening.  It was close to the end of the meal that she started to realize part of why that was.  It wasn’t just that she was attracted to him, because she couldn’t deny that if she tried, but it was more.  She knew she had a deeper insight into how he really felt than probably anyone else.  It wouldn’t have surprised her if she now knew him better than even Angeal and Genesis.  The way she obtained that information still bothered her, but she couldn’t deny that it was a large part of why she was so comfortable with him so quickly.

When the meal started to come to a close, she forcefully pushed those distracting thoughts aside and hoped he hadn’t been bothered by her occasional distraction.  She had no doubt he had noticed, but he was proving to be conscientious.  She wasn’t sure if he was putting in extra effort to make her comfortable, but she appreciated it.

He stood at that point and seemed to hesitate before he spoke.  “I am unsure what your schedule is like tomorrow, but I thought we might have a nightcap before we head back if you don’t mind.”

Despite her distractedness, he still wanted to spend more time with her, and she wasn’t too surprised to find that the idea appealed to her.  She gave him a smile.  “Where were you thinking?”

He realized that her question was an agreement, and his smile showed it.  He turned to look to the back of the restaurant.  “There is a connected bar that is part of this establishment.  We can go there if you would like.”

She returned his smile.  “Lead the way.”

He gestured to the back and allowed her to walk next to him without crowding her.  There was a bouncer at the door, but the man only nodded to Sephiroth before he opened the door.  Once they were inside, she looked over to him.  “Do you come here often, or another perk?”

He grimaced slightly.  “I don’t come on my own, but I am here often enough that even if they didn’t recognize my face, I still wouldn’t have any issues.”

She had noted his grimace and gave him a concerned look.  “If you don’t want to come here, I’m sure there is something else we could do instead.”

He shook his head.  “Not at all.”  He looked to her and chuckled.  “It’s just that it is usually Genesis that drags both Angeal and me here.  I am not opposed to it at all, though.”

Eve had to catch herself from rolling her eyes.  Leave it to Genesis to drag them to a bar.  The only reason she didn’t say anything was that it reminded her how David would do the same for her when she was too wrapped up in school to take care of herself.  It made her feel just a little softer towards the Commander.  She didn’t say any of that though.  Instead, she gestured to the bar.  “Well then, why don’t we find a seat.”

He smiled and started toward the bar, but they were stopped when an obnoxious voice broke into their conversation.  “Hey, would you look at that.  It’s Princess Pattycake and Dollface, yo.”

They both turned to see Reno sitting with several other Turks.  He didn’t hesitate to leave the table and walk up to them.  He looked to Eve with a grin.  “You know doll, if ya needed release that bad you coulda kept the Soldiers outta it, yo.”

Eve noticed Sephiroth tense from the corner of her eye, so she turned to him.  “Would you mind giving me a moment, please?  If you find a seat, I’ll join you shortly.”  He raised a questioning brow at her request, but she shook her head.  “Please?”

He nodded once and left her to deal with her co-worker.  “Look Carrot Top, this may be a hard concept for you to understand, but my personal life is no one’s business but mine and whomever I like to spend time with.  I would appreciate at least the illusion of privacy.  That means, please stay on this side of the bar and I’ll go over there.  We can both enjoy ourselves, and all’s good.  Please.”

Something flashed in Reno’s eyes, and for a moment he seemed to sober up before he lowered his voice.  “Just watch yourself, babe.  You never know what a Soldier’s up to.”

She felt conflicted.  She knew there was a rivalry between the departments, and it was sweet in a weird kind of way that Reno thought to warn her, but it really was her own business.  She was an adult and didn’t need the interference.  She shook her head at him.  “I appreciate the warning, but I don’t need it.”

Reno shook his head before he stepped back and smirked before he raised his voice.  “All right, but if ya decide it ain’t good enough, come to me.  I’ll treat ya right.”

The lascivious wink he gave her at that erased the rest of her goodwill for that night.  She took a step closer to him and smiled evilly.  She lowered her voice so that it wouldn’t carry.  “Let me remind you that I can, and will, set your ass on fire.  Please quit being obnoxious.”

She wasn’t sure if it was her calm tone of voice as she delivered her threat or the smirk that accompanied it, but Reno took a step back.  He stared at her for several seconds before he busted up laughing.  “Maybe that rumor that you’re related to the Commander ain’t such bullshit after all, yo.”

She stepped back in surprise, but quickly recovered and shook her head.  “Just make sure I don’t talk to you again before tomorrow, please.”

She didn’t wait for a response before she turned to find Sephiroth seated across the room.  She tried not to roll her eyes at the laughter she was leaving behind.  When she sat down, Sephiroth raised a brow and smiled.  “I am certain you may not like to hear this, but Reno did have a point.  While your temper isn’t quite as destructive, I have never heard anyone else threaten to set someone on fire and mean it.”

Eve started to get a little offended that even Sephiroth thought she was like Genesis, but the last part of what he said registered, and she finally burst into laughter.  It took her a few minutes to calm down, but when she did, she saw he was smiling at her.  It made her insides squirm again, but she pushed it down and tried to explain.  “I don’t think Reno realized I meant it.  If he did, I doubt he would continue with his attitude.”

Sephiroth shook his head.  “Oh, I am sure that he does believe you.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  Genesis has tried to set him on fire more than once.  He is surprisingly agile for someone that is unenhanced.”

Eve started laughing again.  When she calmed, she shook her head.  “That is enough talk about them.  Have you ordered drinks yet?”

He shook his head before he called out to the waiter.  Once they had their drinks, they both settled into quiet conversation again.  It was not as relaxed as it had been over dinner, but they mostly ignored the rowdy bunch on the other side of the room. 

It was later than either of them had expected when they finally left.  Sephiroth started to hail a cab to take them back, but Eve stopped him.  When he raised a brow at her actions, she gave him a contemplative look.  She then surprised him when she stepped forward and took his hand.  “Would you mind walking me back?  It’s a beautiful night, and I would like to appreciate it.”

Sephiroth froze when she took his hand.  Not only was it unexpected because of what he already knew of her, but it wasn’t something anyone had ever been bold enough to do.  When she started to pull back, his fingers reflexively tightened just enough to keep her from releasing his hand.  He was broken from his shock and gave her a smile.  “Of course.  I agree that it is a wonderful night and worth enjoying.” 

Her smile was brilliant when they started back to Headquarters.  Neither of them cared about the looks they were getting as they simply enjoyed the walk.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

The next several weeks were both better and worse for Eve.  She had finally decided to quit moping and give everything she had been tasked with her full attention without complaint.  It made things more manageable, and she found she was cheerier.  At least when she didn’t have to deal with her boss.  He had not directly reprimanded her after an extensive article had been published by the Silver Elite, but he did take every chance he could to remind her that Turks were supposed to be discreet.

Tseng also took advantage of her newfound drive and started having her go on missions.  Most of them were to the slums.  Eve hated those, especially after there was an incident on her second visit.  They had walked in on their informant in a compromising situation.  It wouldn’t have been bad if the girl he had been with hadn’t been crying.  Reno and Rude were the two that she was trailing, and it took a lot of effort from Reno to convince her to leave without shooting the man.  They ended up having to take the girl with them.  Reno walked them outside and kept Eve distracted while Rude finished gathering the information needed.

After that, Reno was always the one she was assigned to.  No one really understood it, but even though the two of them talked to each other in a way that would have most people drawing weapons, they seemed to get along.  Some of the Turks that knew them best even went so far as to call them friends; though it was the strangest friendship any of them had ever seen.

That part of her life was what was trying to drive her crazy, but it was balanced by the fact that she and Sephiroth saw each other at least once a week.  That wasn’t counting the many times they would ‘accidentally’ run into each other during meals or in the halls.  After the debacle with their date, they both agreed that it would be best for them to not go back out in public.  At least not for the time being.  That meant that the evenings they did spend together were often having a dinner that they made together; usually, they were in Sephiroth’s apartment too.  Eve was surprised at how quickly he was able to pick up cooking, although she realized it shouldn’t have shocked her that much.  He was good at anything he put his mind to. 

When Eve started going on missions, Genesis agreed that her materia lessons could be cut to twice a week, as long as she practiced every day.  That wasn’t an issue since she had started using it in her other training as well, especially with firearms.

Eve was still shocked at the drastic change in Genesis, but he was polite and never shirked any of his duties.  When she did a little digging, she found that he was still completing everything the same as always.  Still, she had a funny feeling that there was something else going on.

She had very little time to worry about the Commander, though, so she rarely thought about it.  It wasn’t until Tseng called her to his office one day that the feeling grew into outright worry.  He had her take a seat before he began.  “I am still investigating everything you have told me.  More and more, I am finding that the things you have shared are correct.  I am not ready to act yet, but given that fact, there is something you have shared that bothers me.”

Her brows furrowed.  “I’ve shared a lot.  Which thing are you talking about?”

Tseng turned to his computer and pulled up a file to read directly from.  “You stated that Commander Rhapsodos was to be injured in late summer and desert in October.  It is now the end of September, and I have seen no signs that these are his plans.  Do you have any input?”

Eve once again felt her apprehension explode inside her chest.  Had his changed attitude been because of his injury and he was biding his time to throw off any questions?  He hadn’t been active around her during their lessons, so she wouldn’t have known if he was in pain.  He always just stood and watched.  She gave Tseng a worried look.  “I’m not sure.  He has changed the way he acts towards me, but I thought it was because I threatened him.  It’s possible that he’s hiding his injury.”

She paused and chewed on the corner of her lip while she concentrated.  Finally, she looked up with a grim expression.  “There is the slim possibility that they never had the spar, so he would not have been injured.  It is more likely though that he is biding his time.”

At that point, her eyes got a faraway look in them, and Tseng sat forward.  Since their first meeting, he had asked her often if she had any ‘special’ input, but it seemed that the planet was content to let things play out as they would most of the time.  At least now that plans were being put into motion.  However, he could recognize the look.  When she refocused on him and grimaced, his voice was hard.  “What did the planet say?”

Eve sighed.  She knew she couldn’t hide it from Tseng of all people, but it still irked her.  “She says that I need to confront Genesis.  She didn’t give me any straight answers, but she did show me…something.  I think I can use it to find out what’s going on.”

Tseng’s look grew colder.  “That is not very specific.”

As frustrated as Eve was by his attitude, she was still too focused on what she had been shown to care.  She looked at him and shrugged.  “I can’t explain any better.”  It wasn’t as if the Goddess had given her verbal instructions.  She had just been given a vision.  The images were many and overlaid.  It was hard to explain without showing him, and that would be impossible.  Although, she was pretty sure she understood what she was supposed to do and the thought of it turned her stomach.  Still, she looked back to Tseng with determination.  “I have a lesson scheduled this afternoon.  Let me try this before we do anything else, please.”

Tseng sat back and didn’t say anything for several minutes.  Finally, he sighed almost inaudibly and gave her a nod.  “Whatever it is that you have planned, I want a full report this evening.”  She gave him a nod before she left. 

Once she was gone, Tseng put his face in his hands and sighed again.  This whole mess was spinning out of control.  He had verified the fact that Hojo had Gast killed, but he wanted to gather more evidence against the man before he decided to move.  As it was, the President was still too blinded by Hojo’s promises to kill the man outright.  

It didn’t help matters that Hojo had put inquiries out about Eve.  Tseng had been able to keep her occupied any time it came up, and Hojo wasn’t pushing yet, but he was working on getting the whole mess resolved before the maniac started putting his influence behind the request.  Tseng was afraid that if he did, things would end up coming to a head prematurely.  Plus, he had found that Hojo had another database that wasn’t part of the network.  He had a feeling the worst atrocities would be there, and he needed to figure out how to access it before he went to Veld with his discoveries.  He could already tell this disaster was going to put him in an early grave.


 

Eve left early to head to her lesson with Genesis.  She still wasn’t quite sure how she was going to bring it up, and if she were honest with herself, she was more than a little apprehensive.  Genesis’ politeness was probably just a front.  She could only imagine how he would take the news that she knew more about his situation than she should.  Not only that, but if for some reason he wasn’t yet injured, she didn’t want to tell him something that would set him off.

The Commander had managed to reserve the VR room for most of their lessons, so that was where Eve went.  She was glad that it was unoccupied even though she was more than fifteen minutes early.  She didn’t have the means to start a program, so she started mindlessly casting low-level spells while she waited.  She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn’t notice Genesis walk in until he called out to her.  “While I am glad to see you so enthused, there is such a thing as being overzealous.”

She jumped slightly and whirled to face him.  She hoped that his enhanced hearing wasn’t enough to pick up her erratic heartbeat.  It only took her a moment to calm, and she gave him a smirk.  “Keeping occupied to stave off boredom isn’t zeal.”

He returned her smirk but didn’t say anything.  Instead, he tossed something at her.  When she caught it, she looked down to see a deep red orb.  Her eyes shot up to him with surprise.  Her questions were temporarily forgotten.  “A Summon?”

He nodded and pulled out his phone to start a program for that day before he spoke.  “Yes.  You have all the basics down with no problem, so I thought we would move to something a little more advanced.  Normally, summons can only be called, and they will carry out their most common tasks before they disappear.  With your talents, you should be able to call forth a summon and keep it active while you direct it.  There is a world of difference between that and normal casting.  It takes quite a bit more concentration.”

Despite how much she knew she needed to speak to the man, the prospect of learning this particular skill was fascinating.  She pushed back thoughts of confronting him and listened to him explain what she would need to do.  She was familiar enough with the concept of using her spiritual energy that it only took her a few tries before she had a summon that stayed past the initial casting.  She quickly found that was the easy part.  Learning how to mentally send commands to a being that was technically a piece of a godlike creature was a different matter entirely.

When she started to feel herself tire, she remembered that she couldn’t afford to drain herself.  She reluctantly let the iteration of Ifrit that she had summoned fade back to wherever it came from.  When she did, she heard Genesis stand from where he had been watching.  “I know you are not drained yet.  I also doubt you would give up, so please explain why you have decided to end your lesson early?”

Eve had to swallow before she found her voice.  She hadn’t been this nervous in a long time.  “I wanted to speak with you.”

He raised a brow.  “You speak with me every time we have a lesson.”

Eve wanted to roll her eyes.  Even when he was polite, he could still manage to be an ass.  Her irritation helped to push her nerves back some.  “I know I haven’t said it before, but I wanted to thank you for listening.  I really appreciate you treating these lessons professionally.”

His brows furrowed.  “You are welcome, but I do not think I am mistaken to think that is not all.”

She was clueless as to what to do, so she just decided to wing it.  “How are you feeling?”

He looked taken aback by her question, and his voice showed his confusion.  “I was under the impression that my welfare meant little to you.  Especially as it is no secret that you prefer the company of our great General.”

Eve didn’t bother hiding her derisive snort.  “Just because I like him doesn’t mean I can’t have other people that I like as well.  Friendship is a thing, I promise.”

He was not impressed with her sarcasm.  “And you are saying you consider me a friend?  I find that unlikely, given our interactions are limited to this room, and you have made it abundantly clear you would like to keep it that way.”

Eve regretted not trying harder before.  She hadn’t wanted to tip the balance of their truce, so she had allowed the distance between them to grow.  She could see now that she only made her job harder.  It wasn’t just Sephiroth that needed to be saved. 

She sighed and shook her head.  “No, I suppose you are right.  That doesn’t mean I wanted us to stay strangers.  I only wanted it to be less tense.”

He was giving her a confused look again.  “Be that as it may, my wellbeing is none of your concern.”

He was right, of course.  With how she had treated him, it shouldn’t be her concern.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t.  She was at a deadlock.  She had to figure out for sure if he had been injured but realized that he wouldn’t tell her if he had.  She looked down to the orb in her hand while she wracked her brain for options.  It was as she tossed it up and caught it again that a thought occurred to her.  She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but she realized Minerva would not have told her to confront him if he was uninjured.  The thought made her insides squirm with guilt.  She should have known his behaviour had nothing to do with her request.

He was still eyeing her when she looked to him with a solemn expression.  “I apologize that I let my own concerns get in the way when I should have been worried about helping you deal with your degradation.”

His eyes widened in shock, but it didn’t last long.  Eve barely saw him move before she found his hand around her neck and pinning her to the wall.  “How did you know!”

She panicked at first and wrapped her fingers around his wrist, but she fought it down.  When she did, she realized that he wasn’t choking her, she also realized her predicament could change quickly if she didn’t convince him.  She forced herself to relax her grip on his wrist and gave him another somber look.  “There are a lot of things I know, but we won’t get anywhere like this.”

His grip tightened momentarily, but he relaxed enough that she could still breath.  His voice was harsh.  “If you know so many things, why are you just now speaking of them?  Have I been under surveillance?”

His accusation didn’t surprise her.  It would be the thing that made the most sense, given the fact that she was a Turk.  She tried to shake her head and grimaced at the fact that his grip was so tight, she could barely move.  She tried to keep her voice even despite her growing panic.  “No, this has nothing to do with the Turks.  Or any other department for that matter.  I was sent here to help you.  All of you.”

Confusion flashed through his eyes, but it was so brief she almost missed it.  His scowl deepened and she could feel the fact that she was going to have bruises if she made it out of this in one piece.  “So, you are saying no one else knows?  And what do you mean you were sent?”

Eve could tell all his carefully constructed fronts were gone.  She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, given her circumstances.  Still, the one good thing was that she wouldn’t have to try to get close to him for the next part.  “Tseng knows at least part of it.  But only because he was asked to help me.  As for who sent me; let me show you.”

She didn’t give him time to react before she laid her hand on his bangle where he held his materia, and gave a mental push.  By the time he realized what her intent was, magic had already exploded around them.  It wasn’t a spell like any he had ever seen, but he didn’t have long to contemplate it.  He was suddenly inundated with images that were piling on top of one another.  He could no longer see the room around them and at that point could not have let go of Eve had he wanted to.

Eve’s stomach gave a lurch as she felt the power of the Goddess surge through her.  When Minerva had shown her what she needed to do, she had a feeling she would not like it, but this was far worse than she had anticipated.  Not only was she drowning in the emotions that had accumulated in Genesis’ materia over the years, but she also saw each vision as they passed through her and into Genesis.  It wasn’t her memories of the events in the games either.  The Goddess was using her as a conduit to send Genesis visions of the possible future if nothing changed.

It seemed to go on for hours.  With the amount of information that was passed on, it wouldn’t have surprised either of them if that was the case, but it was only a matter of a few minutes later that the wave of images finally ceased, and the power faded.

Some of Genesis’ energy had been spent, as he was part of the connection, but most of it came from, or rather through, Eve.  When the last image faded, she almost collapsed.  The only thing keeping her upright was Genesis’ hand around her throat and her tight grip on his wrist.

It took them both a few moments to collect themselves.  Genesis recovered far faster than Eve did.  When he came back to his senses, his look was a cross between awe, fear, and disgust.  He released his grip and nearly tossed her away from him.  There was no way she could keep her feet, and she hit the ground with a thud.  She barely noticed as she was having a hard time focusing.  Her gaze was drawn upwards when she heard Genesis hiss his next question.  “What are you!”

She glared at him but it had no heat.  She barely had the strength to respond.  “You’re welcome, you prick.”

His eyes widened for a fraction of a second, and he took a step toward her.  “What was that?”

Eve had to blink a couple of times to focus on him.  “It was the future if you follow Hollander.  There is another way.”

At that, he took a step back and scoffed.  “Impossible.  I don’t know what you did, but do not come near me again.”

He turned to leave, and Eve tried to stand and stop him.  “Wait!  At least try not to be a stubborn ass.”  She didn’t get far, and Genesis completely ignored her.  She barely made it to her knees before her body gave out finally and she collapsed with one arm outstretched toward the exit.


 

Eve didn’t know how long she had been passed out, but she was awoken by the sound of a concerned voice and a light pat on her cheek.  “Dr. Marx.  Dr. Marx, are you alright?”

She opened her eyes with a groan and was greeted by the sight of Angeal giving her a worried look, and a fretting Puppy looking over his shoulder.  She tried to push herself up into a seated position, but her arms gave out, and she fell back.  She huffed a bitter laugh.  Angeal helped her up and had to keep a hand on her arm because she nearly fell again.  Eve noticed his eyes kept drifting down to her neck as his expression grew more and more worried.  She tried to ease it a little.  “I’ll be fine.  I think I drained my mana and then some.  An ether and some rest should be all I need.”

Angeal hesitated and gave her a grave look.  “Are you certain there isn’t anything else?  I can take you to the infirmary.”

Eve remembered how her encounter with Genesis went and was sure the Commander was referencing the bruises she could feel on her neck already, but she shook her head.  “No, it’s fine.  I just need to get an ether, and I can make it back upstairs on my own.”

He didn’t look convinced, but he gave Zack a look.  The younger Soldier quickly jumped and started rifling through his pockets.  It wasn’t long until he pulled out a small bottle and handed it over.  Eve took it with a grateful, if weak, smile.  Once it was down, she gave it a few minutes and was able to stand on her own.  She looked around for any sign of Genesis but didn’t expect to see anything.  She repressed a sigh as she turned to the two that had helped her.  “Thank you.  I apologize if I delayed your training.  I’ll be on my way now.”

Angeal looked like he wanted to object, but she didn’t give him a chance.  She gave them both a nod and headed out.  She could hear Zack’s whispered questions before the door even shut.  She knew how it must have looked and given that she had no idea what Genesis’ next move would be, she had to admit she was worried.  It was out of her hands until she found something out though, and at the moment, she barely had enough strength to make it back to her apartment.  Tseng’s report would have to wait.  Although she was sure he had been watching, so it wasn’t that he didn’t know.  She could hear his complaints already.  Under different circumstances, the thought might have made her smile.  As it was, she closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the glass elevator wall while she tried to focus on how she was going to handle the fallout of whatever might happen next.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

When she got off the elevator, she sighed at the sight of Tseng waiting for her.  He lifted a brow when he took in the bruises that were already turning purple and the dark circles that were under her eyes.  He shook his head when she drew even with him.  “You are lucky that I was the one watching the cameras.  I have already altered the audio and some of the video.  I had to leave enough to explain why you were passed out.”

She sighed again and shook her head.  “I should have known he would react like that.  I had hoped after I showed him what would happen that he would at least try to listen.”

They had made it to the offices by that time, and Tseng motioned her to join him.  Eve wanted her bed, but she knew there was no getting out of this conversation.  She nearly fell into the seat when he closed the door. 

The look he gave her was disturbed.  “You were not lying when you told him that you showed him the future?”

She leaned her head back against the chair and closed her eyes before she responded.  “No, I don’t know how to explain what I did, but Minerva used me to pass along some of the same visions I have already told you about.  That was what she showed me earlier.  It was not quite what I expected, but he is armed with the truth now.  The real truth and not the lies Hollander has been feeding him.”

She lifted her head with a grimace.  Moving her neck like that was already a chore, but she ignored the pain as she continued.  “I know he said to stay away from him, but I will have to try to talk to him again sometime soon.  It may take him time to sort through everything, but once he does, I’m sure he will be less likely to try and kill me on sight.”

Even though Eve was partially joking, Tseng gave her a hard look.  “You may have started something that will blow up in our faces.  I have already told you that information should be limited until we know more.”

She shook her head.  She was too tired to fight with him, but she still tried to explain.  “First off, it was a suggestion directly from Minerva.  I doubt she would have me give him that information for no reason.  Secondly, you have a point about the uncertainty.  I know what I did was a gamble.  I can’t regret it, though.  I have to find a way to see this through.”

Tseng sat back and watched her as she leaned her head back again.  He had seen her exhausted after some of her training lessons, but never to this extent.  He was sure it was more than just mana drain.  The lurid marks on her neck were a potent reminder that she had initiated something that he still did not understand.  He had no room to worry, though.  What was done was done, and it was his job to figure out how to mitigate any possible damage.  He repressed a sigh again.  He thought, not for the first time, that this woman would be the death of him.

He got her attention once more and nodded to the door.  “Get some sleep.  I will see where Commander Rhapsodos is and keep an eye on his movements.  If I need to act to preserve peace, I will.”

She sat forward again and glared.  “Killing him will not make this better.  I know he is an unknown, but there has to be a better way.”

Tseng’s face settled into a cold mask.  “I have heard your request before, but I will do what needs to be done.  That is my job.”

Eve wanted to throw something at the obstinate man, but she could barely move.  “Please at least contact me before you make that choice.  I need to try.”

Tseng could tell she was nearly asleep where she sat, but he knew she was too stubborn to give up and go rest already.  He stood and leaned over his desk.  “You will sleep now.  You are of no use to anyone like you are.  Even an ether was not enough.  You cannot expect to take any action like this.  If I have time, I will contact you before any action is taken.  That is the most I can promise.”

Eve groaned at his stubbornness, but she knew that given Genesis’ reaction, they might not have any choice.  She sent up a quick prayer that it wouldn’t come to that, mostly because she wasn’t in any shape to try and stop it.  Tseng had been right about that.  She cursed under her breath at how weak she felt, but she still managed to stand.  “Please let me know as soon as something happens.”

He only nodded. It was the best she was going to get.  She grumbled again as she walked out.  She ended up having to support herself against the wall before she made it to her apartment.  She was just glad that any observers she had were still hidden, so she could at least pretend to keep her dignity.


 

Eve hadn’t done more than kick off her shoes before she dropped into bed, so when a loud knock woke her from sleep, she was a little disoriented.  She had a crick in her neck, but when she tried to rub it out, her fingers brushed over the painful bruises on her throat, and she winced.  At that, everything came back, and she suddenly felt so tired she almost wanted to go back to sleep.

It was at that point that the knock sounded again.  She groaned as she shoved herself up and out of bed.  She grumbled the whole way to the door.  She had assumed it was either Tseng, or another Turk he had sent for her, but what she found when she opened the door, had her frozen.

Sephiroth didn’t seem to be faring any better at the sight of her.  His eyes had widened, and he was staring fixedly at her neck.  Eve didn’t know why he was there, but she could guess.  The way he was staring didn’t look surprised either, so Angeal had probably told him something.  She sighed as she stepped back and opened the door wider.  “Why don’t you come in.”

He followed her in, but he didn’t say anything right away.  Once the door was closed, he lifted a hand and lightly brushed her neck.  When she winced at the action, his brows drew down into a frown.  “Sit down and let me heal this, and then I want you to explain what happened.”

She had been so exhausted the night before that she had never considered this as a possibility.  She wasn’t sure which she was more worried about; what Sephiroth might do when she confirmed the marks were caused by Genesis or his questions about why she had them in the first place.  She didn’t say anything though and allowed him to lead her to the couch.

It only took him a few moments to cast a curaga that had her pain free.  She rubbed her palm over her throat with relief.  She gave him a small smile.  “Thank you.”

He still hadn’t lost the frown, though.  “Those marks were caused by a hand.  Angeal also told me he found you passed out in the VR room alone, so I watched the video feed.  The audio is unclear since you are both whispering for most of it, but it looked like a spell went out of control, and he tossed you out of it.  That doesn’t make sense, though.  Not with those marks.”

He paused and gave her a searching look.  “Why would he attack you?  What happened?”

Eve could recognize that he was as angry as she had ever seen him, even if it would be hard for most to tell, but he was keeping a leash on it.  At least for the moment.  She briefly wondered if he had come to her first, to keep from hurting a person he considered a friend.  She wanted to scream in frustration, but she held it in and worked to keep her voice even when she responded.  “Did you not speak to Genesis already?”

At her non-answer, Sephiroth stood with a frustrated noise.  Eve watched him pace for a moment before he turned back to her with a pronounced glare.  “He’s gone.  No one knows where he went or when exactly, but we have narrowed it down to him having left after his lesson with you.  As far as we know, you were the last person to speak to him before he disappeared.  I hear that and then I find out that it seems as though he nearly killed you.  Explain to me why two people I care about are suddenly so at odds with each other that it comes to this?”

Eve cursed aloud at that news.  She had been unsure how to handle it if Genesis continued to avoid her, or worse, start something, but she had never thought that he would run away.  Another thought occurred to her, and she cursed again before she turned to Sephiroth.  “Is he the only person that is missing?”

His eyes narrowed before he spoke.  “Why is that your first question?”

Eve froze and tried to keep her sudden nerves from showing.  She wasn’t sure how, but they were suddenly very close to things she wasn’t ready to share yet.  Her mind started running over everything, trying to find something to tell him.  She shook her head at his growing glare and tried to answer.  “Genesis didn’t try to kill me.  Yes, he was angry, but not because of anything between us.  I consider this an accident.”

Sephiroth took a step closer to her, and his eyes had started to turn cold.  Eve blanched at the sight of it.  The situation was quickly spiralling out of control, and she could not tell him everything.  Part of it was the fact that she was still unsure of how to tell him and make him believe, but she had to admit, at least to herself, that it was more because she couldn’t bring herself to hurt him that badly.  After their first real date, a subtle shift had started in her way of thinking.  Instead of trying to figure out how and when to tell him, she was trying to figure out how to keep him from losing his mind without ever telling him about the might-have-beens.  If it wasn’t going to happen, why did he have to suffer through the knowledge that he could have destroyed so many lives, including ones he cared for.  The thought of doing that to him made her physically ill. 

When he took another step closer, she knew something had to give, though.  She turned to face him fully and managed to hold his gaze.  “Do you trust me?”

He froze at her request and confusion took over.  She could tell that he was trying to figure out why she seemed to be jumping from one subject to another, but at least it looked as though he was considering her request.  Finally, he let go of a soft sigh, even if his glare was not gone.  His voice was gentle when he spoke.  “I want to.  Very badly.  And yet, I am finding it harder to continue to dismiss the fact that you seem to continually find your way into the middle of things that you shouldn’t.”

Eve felt his unspoken rebuke like a slap to the face.  She took a step forward, and she could feel the words on the tip of her tongue, but a slight mental push, a gentle warning to caution, had her biting the words back.  She stepped back again and wrapped her arms tightly around herself.  She wasn’t sure why the Goddess felt the time wasn’t right yet, but a part of her was glad.  She felt miserable at that fact, but it was a fact, nonetheless.  She could feel tears pricking her eyes as Sephiroth’s started to cool again when she stepped away.

She felt as if she were being torn apart.  She was almost ready to confess anyway and let things sort themselves out afterwards, but another knock shocked them both out of the pall that was settling between them.

It took Eve a moment to back away from the cliff she had figuratively been standing on.  When her breathing was returned to as normal as it was going to get, she turned to the door with a glare.  She was halfway tempted to send a message to Tseng that he could get stuffed.  At least until she figured something out.  The words died on her tongue when she opened the door.

She was frozen until a voice broke the silence.  “I was told I could find Sephiroth here, and I am quite glad that you are in.  I have wanted to meet you for some time.”

Eve had to wrap her arms around herself again to keep from shaking violently.  She was filled with a horrifying mixture of rage, fear, and revulsion at the sight of Hojo’s obviously fake smile.  She couldn’t find words to respond, and she was fighting the urge to vomit.

She was broken from the whirlwind of her thoughts by Sephiroth.  He gently took her arms and moved her slightly before he let go and stepped in front of her.  When Hojo was blocked from view, she finally felt her shivers take hold.  She closed her eyes and listened to Sephiroth.  “Now that you have found me, what do you want?”

Eve was sickened at the falsely sweet voice of the maniac scientist.  “We can get into that soon enough.  This is a perfect opportunity for me to meet Dr. Marx.  I was shocked to find a fellow physician working for the Turks.  It is something I would like to speak to her about.”

Eve suddenly realized that this was probably not the first time he had asked about her.  Not if he knew she was a doctor.  She had to wonder if Tseng was keeping that information from her.  Even if that was the case, she wasn’t going to complain.  Never would have been too soon to be confronted by the monster standing outside her door.

Eve was pulled back to the present when Sephiroth shifted in front of her.  She caught a flash of Hojo’s curious eyes before Sephiroth was once again blocking her from the man’s view.  It was at that point that she also realized that somehow, Sephiroth also knew that Hojo had some sort of interest in her, and despite how angry he was with her at the moment, he still refused to give Hojo the satisfaction of fulfilling his curiosity.  The realization caused her stomach to give a flip.

Sephiroth’s voice was colder than she had ever heard it when he responded.  “Now is not a good time for a social visit.  There has been a bit of an emergency that we need to deal with.  I was here to question Dr. Marx.  If you don’t need anything else, then allow us to get back to it.”

He started to close the door, but Hojo stopped him once again.  It was harder for him to continue to hide his growing irritation.  “I have already heard about the one that left.  I am sure you have already done all you can for the morning.  A few moments of your time will not make a difference.”

Eve saw Sephiroth’s shoulders tense slightly as his voice dropped into an even colder tone.  “Every moment counts.  I will be happy to come by later and answer your questions, but now is not the time.”

Eve heard Hojo give a disgusted noise, but the man was not allowed to say anything.  For the first time ever, she was thrilled to hear Tseng’s voice.  “Professor, is there something I can assist you with?  Normally, any visits from the Science Department are planned and coordinated through me.”

She heard Hojo growl again.  His growing temper was barely contained when he responded.  “No.  I already have most of what I needed anyway.”  He paused, and Eve assumed he turned back toward Sephiroth.  “Come see me this afternoon.  I have something I would like to test.  Be prepared for a couple of days off.”

Eve’s sense of relief was profound when she heard him walking away.  It was only enhanced when she heard Tseng offer to escort him.  She filed away a brief thought that she was going to have to thank him later.  She knew his interference was no coincidence.

Sephiroth stepped back and closed the door before they were even gone.  As thankful as Eve was for his actions, all her thanks died when their gazes locked.  She could see disappointment in his eyes, and it was ripping her heart to pieces.

His voice was low, and she could tell by his tone that he didn’t like what he was saying, but that didn’t stop him from saying it.  “I am unsure what you are hiding, but I can no longer pretend that it is of no consequence.  I will not continue to push you today, but I would like to ask you to think about what is most important to you.  If I do not hear from you soon, I will be forced to assume that it is not what has been growing between us.”

He opened the door to leave but paused and turned back to her once again.  She watched a flash of pain cross his eyes, but he hid it quickly.  It took him a moment to find the words he wanted.  “I will continue to hold out hope that this was not all my imagination.”  He didn’t wait for a response before he walked out and closed the door firmly behind him.

Eve stood and stared at the empty space where he just was for several minutes.  Finally, she could no longer hold in her pain and frustration.  She dropped to her knees in the middle of the room where she had been standing and let her sobs break free.  She realized that despite knowing everything, despite the warnings, both Tseng’s and her own, she had somehow come to care intensely for Sephiroth.  The recognition of those feelings now that the end between them was a real possibility caused her physical pain.  She wrapped her arms around herself again in a vain attempt to keep from falling apart as her sobs continued to wrack her body.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Eve didn’t move from the floor of her apartment until the door opened again.  By the time Tseng had come to look for her, she had been there for several hours.  He sighed at the sight of her sitting despondently before he held out a hand to help her up.  Once she was on her feet, he frowned slightly.  “No matter what has happened, it is no excuse for you to shirk your duties.  You have missed your lessons with Ruluf, and I expect you to make it up.”

Eve grimaced for a moment, but it soon fell into a blank mask.  She eyed him for several seconds before she responded.  “I know you aren’t as heartless as you act.  You may have decided to hide behind that mask after your first real slip, but you are still human.  You care.”  She gave a mirthless laugh.  “Maybe not about me so much, but I know you understand more than you let on.”

She wiped at her face before she gave him a nod.  “I will do as you ask, but I want to warn you right now, that I almost told Sephiroth everything.  I plan on coming clean at the first available opportunity.  Now that Genesis has left, he needs to know why, so he doesn’t feel like it is a personal betrayal.”

Tseng was shocked.  He already knew that she had knowledge of many things, but never had he considered his own life would be among them.  He could tell by her eyes that she knew.  She knew of his own refusal to follow orders in the past, and despite how much he had tried to bury that, he understood.  He didn’t like it, but he could sympathize.  Still, he didn’t plan on letting her off easy.

“It is presently a moot point.  He was admitted to the Science Department and is anticipated to be there for the next several days.”

Eve felt like she had been punched.  She remembered Hojo’s parting remarks, but until now, she had been too devastated by Sephiroth’s last words for it to register.  She tried to fight it but ended up having to rush to the bathroom.  She didn’t have much on her stomach to begin with, but the last of its contents refused to stay down.  It was several minutes before she was able to rejoin Tseng.

He was still standing near the door where he had been.  She thought she saw something like sympathy pass through his eyes, but his voice didn’t show it.  “If you are done, Rude is waiting for you.”

She glared at him, but only nodded.  She could already feel her hysteria creeping back in and slugging it out with the large Turk was as good a way as any to release her frustration and impotent rage at Hojo and his sick whims.


 

The next three days passed both too quickly and too slowly for Eve.  She wanted to lay eyes on Sephiroth, to be able to see for herself that he was not broken by Hojo’s latest urge.  She was also worried about what she would tell him.  She had already decided that she was done keeping secrets, at least from him, but she still had no idea what to tell him.  There was a small part of her that was terrified that he would reject her completely when she finally told him everything.  She tried to ignore it as she knew that telling him was now unavoidable.

The afternoon he was expected to be released; Eve was barely able to concentrate on her Wutainese.  She felt that she was already fairly good, but Tseng insisted that she continue to practice her pronunciation.  After trying to read the same line for the tenth time she sighed in frustration and threw the offending paper on her desk.  She ran her hands down her face before she looked up. 

She caught Reno’s concerned gaze and nearly grimaced again.  The red-head had been after her for the last couple of days to spill whatever it was that was eating her up.  She had to find inventive ways to keep from being cornered.  She had to admit that she was touched that he cared, but she still almost raised a prayer of thanks when Tseng stepped out of his office and asked to see her.  At least she didn’t have to worry about Reno.

He gestured to a seat once the door was closed.  When Eve caught sight of the look he was giving her, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.  She preempted him.  “What plans do you have now?”

He grimaced before he could catch it.  He shook his head at his slip before he pinned her with a hard look.  “In different circumstances, I might applaud your observance.”

She snorted but wanted him to get to the point, so she didn’t say anything.  He didn’t hesitate to take the opening.  “I have recently learned that a group of Soldiers is being assigned to take Fort Tamblin.  We already have a group of reserve Turks in a small town in the northern part of the Western Continent that have been monitoring any communications.  I am assigning you and Reno to rendezvous with them.  You can translate anything they could not.  Once you have everything, you will head to the forward base of operations in Wutai and continue observing.  Your skill in Wutainese should make your presence invaluable to detect counter attacks or other operations.”

Eve was frozen.  She instantly had several things running through her head as she tried to figure out what was the most important.  Not only that, but she still needed to speak to Sephiroth.  As that thought flitted through, she narrowed her eyes at Tseng.  “When am I scheduled to leave?”

“The helo is leaving in two hours.  That should give you sufficient time to prepare.  Make sure you gather any materia you believe could be helpful as well.”

Eve stood in a rush and put her hands on the desk in front of her.  She pinned her boss with a heated glare.  “You are not going to prevent me from talking to him.  I will find a way.”

Tseng was unfazed by her display.  He merely pulled a sheet of paper from a neat stack and handed it to her.  She stood with a confused look, but that didn’t last long.  Her stomach was suddenly clenching in fear again as she read through it.  Once she was done, she sat back down heavily.  “He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”

Tseng shook his head.  “I am surprised the Professor waited this long.  I believe the only reason he has not insisted previously was because he had Sephiroth.  Now that the General is due to be released, you have all his attention.”

Eve closed her eyes with a sigh and tried to fight past her nausea.  As she was concentrating on her breathing, another thought occurred to her and she sat up with a concerned look.  “If they will be sending a contingent of Soldiers, Angeal cannot be the one to lead them.  With Genesis disappearing alone, there is no telling what his plans are, but it would be a good bet to assume he would try and contact the Commander if he knows he’ll have the opportunity.”

Tseng gave her an evaluating look and nodded.  “The same had already occurred to me.  I have talked to Veld about the situation, at least in part, and given the close nature of their past friendship, he has already spoken with Director Deusericus.  It didn’t take much to convince him that the General should be the one to go.  It is estimated that they will be two weeks behind you.  You should be prepared with any information at their arrival.”

Eve felt her heart rate speed up at that news.  She had already resigned herself to not seeing Sephiroth before she had to leave and the thought of it had left a hole in her heart.  Hearing that she would still be seeing him again soon had her in turmoil.  The inevitable conversation had only been put off and relocated.  She hoped they would be able to find a place private enough, as she hoped to get it over with quickly.  It also occurred to her that they would have to work together, no matter how things turned out.  She swallowed and sent up a prayer that it wouldn’t be as bad as she feared.

Tseng watched as her thoughts flitted across her face.  He wasn’t entirely convinced about telling the General everything yet, but he recognized that it was only a matter of time at this point.  He knew that the incident with Genesis had been a catalyst and forward was their only option now.  He raised a brow when she turned to him with a nearly frantic look.

“Do you have some spare paper?”

He wasn’t sure what to think of the request, but he quietly handed her a small notepad that he kept nearby.  She quickly jotted something down before she ripped the sheet out and folded it.  She handed it to him with a grimace.  “I know you still aren’t sure about me, but would you please make sure Sephiroth gets this.”

He took the piece of paper without comment and slipped it into a drawer.  He was aware that she knew he would be reading it and wondered why she didn’t care.  It was a brief thought though as she stood and gave him a nod.  “I’ll be at the landing pad within the next hour and a half.”

She didn’t wait for a response from him before she turned and headed to make the necessary arrangements.  As soon as she was gone, he pulled out the little slip of paper and read the single line she had written.  He shook his head at it.  The contents didn’t surprise him.  He just hoped it wouldn’t mean more work for him in the end.


 

The trip to Junon had been a quiet one.  Reno was piloting the helicopter, so he didn’t have much time to harass Eve.  Not that he didn’t at all, but her continued silence made it hard for him to keep at it.  He had a feeling he knew what the problem was anyway and wasn’t sure what to think about the whole deal.  He had found out enough to know there was way more going on than he originally though.  He liked his newest co-worker though, so he hoped it got worked out soon.

During the trip across the ocean, he didn’t have anything better to do than bug her.  After she had rebuffed his questions for at least the dozenth time she finally sighed and glared at him.  “Look, I know you have enough curiosity for a dozen cats, but it’s nothing.”  She paused and had to fight a blush at what she was about to say.  “I miss Sephiroth.  It’s that simple, so don’t worry.”

Reno grinned at her confession.  Everyone knew the two of them had been seeing each other, but this was the first time he had been able to get her to confess.  His grinned widened when he caught sight of her glare at his attitude.  “I knew that much.  Hell, everyone knows that much.  At least you finally have the balls to admit it.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to the rail.  “If I did have balls, it might be a little awkward, don’t you think?”

He laughed at the fact that he had managed to get her to use her sarcasm again.  He leaned against the rail next to her and grinned.  “Nah, you’re both pretty.  Honestly, I can’t say which of ya is more feminine.”

She rolled her head to the side and gave him an exasperated look.  “Gingersnap, you don’t have much room to talk.”

He only laughed again but he was satisfied to leave her to her thoughts.  At least she wasn’t brooding still.  At least not as much.

When they finally made it to the small house that the reserve Turks were using as a base, Eve found herself surprised once more.  She was greeted by the sight of another familiar face.  This time she was able to restrain herself from blurting out her knowledge.  She shook Elena’s hand when they were introduced.  The woman was younger than Eve had anticipated, but she was still serious to a fault.  The rumor that the two sisters were always competing to see who was the better Turk didn’t seem that far off the mark now.

They only spent a day there.  The Turks didn’t have that many communications to begin with, and the majority of them had already been translated.  Although, when Eve looked at them, she could tell that it would probably be a good idea for her to go back through them.  There were a few glaring mistakes that she caught right away.  She spent the next few days working through those as they headed to Wutai.  It helped keep her mind occupied and not thinking about the man that she had been forced to leave behind. 


 

When they arrived in Wutai, Eve was almost immediately sent to work with the Captain in charge of the forward base.  The man was severe, but he didn’t sneer at her or her uniform like some of the Soldiers had.  She completely ignored those.  She quickly found that she had more than enough to keep her busy.  They had a stack of intercepted messages that they had no one to translate.  It took her the better part of three days to get through them.  By the time she was done with that, more had been brought in. 

As soon as the regiment found out that they had a translator, everything headed her way; from intercepted transmissions, to overheard conversations that the scouts had recorded.  She barely had time to eat, much less worry about anything.

So far, the only thing that had been discovered was the fact that the Wutainese army was aware that Shinra’s next target would be Fort Tamblin and were bringing in as many troops as they could to bolster the defences.  The Captain didn’t seem fazed by that knowledge.  Of course, he wouldn’t be the one leading the troops to take it though.  That would fall to Sephiroth when he arrived.

Eve grimaced at that random thought.  She spent most of her days, trying not to think about him.  When she did, she ended up remembering the last look he gave her, and her heart clenched painfully.  It was distracting and she couldn’t afford it.  She reminded herself that she needed to make sure they were armed with as much information as possible, if only to ensure that nothing happened to the General when he walked into the battlefield.


 

It had only been a few hours after Eve had been deployed that Tseng’s office door was slammed open.  He looked up with a bored expression.  He had expected Sephiroth to make an appearance at some point.  “General, what can I do for you?”

Sephiroth glared down.  “Don’t play dumb.  We both know why I am here.  You know what Eve is hiding.  Did the two of you concoct this deployment to keep her from speaking to me?”

Tseng knew things could go very wrong if he did not handle this correctly.  Despite his tendency to keep people in the dark, he felt that at least partial honesty might get him farther this time.  It was a gut feeling, and he rarely ignored those.  Instead of answering right away, he handed the fuming man the same sheet of paper that he had given to Eve several hours earlier.  He waited for Sephiroth to skim it before he spoke.  “As far as Hojo is concerned, she was deployed before I received those instructions.  This is ,of course, a temporary reprieve unless something is done.”

Sephiroth crumpled the sheet and took a few moments to reply.  His glare had not disappeared, but it had shifted to give the Turk an evaluating look.  “I didn’t think you cared much for Eve.”

Tseng gave him a mirthless laugh.  “The woman is nearly as bad as Reno for trying her damndest to get under my skin, but she is still a Turk.  A good one at that, despite my initial misgivings.  Turks take care of their own.”

Sephiroth didn’t say anything for several moments.  When he did finally speak, his voice was hard once again.  “You did not deny that you know what she has been keeping from me.”

Tseng shook his head.  “No, but that is something that is best left between the two of you.”

Sephiroth nearly growled in frustration but didn’t bother arguing.  He knew he would get nowhere with the Turk’s second in command.  He shot the man another look, before he turned to leave.

He had barely gotten the door open before Tseng called out once more.  “Oh General, I almost forgot.”

Sephiroth turned to see Tseng had stood and was holding out a small piece of paper.  At his questioning look, the Turk gave a simple explanation.  “She left this with me to give to you.”

Sephiroth eyed it suspiciously for several moments, before he finally reached for it.  He read the single line several times before he looked back up in shock.  Tseng smirked and shook his head.  “As much as I hate to admit it, I cannot control everything.”

Sephiroth absently nodded as he looked down once again.  The single sentence had his mind whirling and his heart doing something that he couldn’t understand, but he recognized that relief was part of it.  He touched the words before he finally turned to go.  He knew he had other things to worry about as well, but that one line was now occupying the spot closest to his heart.  ‘I know what is most important.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

It was nearly two and a half weeks before the small contingent of Soldiers arrived in Wutai.  Eve heard a commotion outside the command tent but was in the middle of trying to listen to a conversation that had been brought to her.  It was a lost cause when the flap opened, and Sephiroth strode in.  The Captain stood and saluted.  Eve stood as well, but she could only stare.  She looked him over several times to verify both that he was really there, but also that he was unhurt.

Sephiroth had not taken his eyes off her either.  They were both pulled from their silent greeting by Captain Hawl’s awkward address.  “General.  I was glad to hear you would be the one joining us.  With you here, this war should be brought to an end quickly.”

At the other Soldier’s comment, Sephiroth finally gave her a slight nod before he turned to speak to Captain Hawl.  Eve could feel her heart jumping around as she tried to refocus.  She wasn’t sure if he was still angry, but it hadn’t seemed like it.  She knew they were both busy, but she also knew that their next personal conversation wasn’t too far away.  The anticipation had her feeling lightheaded, even if she was still nervous.

Even though they were both busy, Eve found that just the sound of his voice worked like a balm on her nerves.  There were also a few occasions where one or the other of them would look up and catch the other’s eye.  The looks didn’t linger, but each one fuelled both the worry and joy that were warring within her.

Eve had lost track of the amount of time she had been working on the latest batch of missives, but she had to reread the last one several times before it clicked.  She only realized it was because she was exhausted when Sephiroth called out to her quietly. 

“Eve, it’s after midnight.  Go get some sleep.  It will still be here in the morning.”

She stood and stretched before she gave him a nod.  “Tomorrow then.”  As tired as she was, her heart still lurched when he gave her a small smile.  It was tinged with the hurt that lingered, but it was the most beautiful thing she had seen in weeks.


 

The next morning, she was back at the command tent early.  She had barely been able to sleep.  She couldn’t stop herself from looking around before she went to the small desk she had been assigned.  When she didn’t see Sephiroth, her brow drew down.  She wiped it away when Captain Hawl grinned at her.

“I am pretty sure it was only a few hours ago that he found his way to his cot.  Don’t worry, he’ll be here soon enough.”

Eve felt her face heat slightly at the knowing look he gave her, but she managed a nod.  “Thank you.”  She disregarded his chuckle at her admission that he was correct in what she had been looking for.  There was no point in denying it anyway.  She ignored her nerves and got to work on a couple of recordings the scouts had brought in the night before.

She frowned at what she was hearing, but it wasn’t until she heard the words Silver Demon for the second time, that she realized why the moniker sounded so familiar.  At her realization, she jumped up so quickly that the tiny table was almost knocked over.  Her abrupt action caused the Captain to look at her with a start.  He didn’t get to ask what it was as she pinned him with a nearly panicked look.  “Where is Sephiroth?”

He shook his head, confusedly.  “I already told you that he’s probably sleeping.  What’s going on?”

She ignored his question and pressed on.  “Where is his tent?”

He started to frown.  “Look, I know what the two of you have going on is none of my business, but he needs sleep sometimes, the same as all of us.”

She huffed at his refusal to answer and headed toward the exit.  He stopped her before she could exit.  “Jeez, if it’s that important, he took the tent next to this one, in case something came up.”  She gave him a nod and rushed out.

She didn’t pause before she flung the other tent’s flap back and entered it.  It was only a moment before she was back out again.  She grabbed the nearest Soldier with a frown.  “Where is the General?”

The man sneered at her.  “I don’t know.”

She ignored his hostility and turned to find another person to ask.  She ended up asking several more, and her panic was starting to get the best of her.  None of them knew, or they weren’t telling her.  She had made it toward the outskirts of camp before she was stopped by Reno.  “Hey, hey, what’s the commotion all about, yo?”

Eve turned to him with a frown.  “You didn’t happen to see the General this morning, did you?”

Reno grinned when he realized who she was asking after.  “Don’t worry doll, I’m sure you’ll get to see his pretty face soon.”

Eve growled at him and gave him a glare.  “Not now Reno.  I need to find him.”

His eyes widened at her use of his real name, and he sobered instantly.  “I think they were sayin’ he went to go do that sword swingy thing he does sometimes.”

Eve’s brows drew down.  “His katas?”

“Yeah, those.”

She gave him a nod.  “Do you know where?”

He pointed toward the north of camp.  “I think there is a clearing up that way he decided to use.”  She barely waited for him to finish before she sprinted off in the direction he pointed.  She ignored his calls for an explanation as she sent up a prayer that she was wrong.

She didn’t know how far the clearing was, and she hoped that she was going in the right direction as she pushed her way through the underbrush.  She was hurrying as fast as she could through the tree roots and such but stilled when she heard a sound that made her heart freeze in her chest.  It was the sound of at many rifles being fired at the same time.  They sounded as if they had suppressors, but Eve was familiar enough with the noise that even though they were muffled, she had no doubts as to what she was hearing.

Even with her heart in her throat, she quickly changed directions toward the sound.  When she heard it again, she nearly stumbled.  By that time, the trees had started to thin, and she got her first glimpse of something she was sure would haunt her nightmares for the rest of her life.  Sephiroth was in the center of a circle of Wutainese troops that all held their weapons toward him.  She could see where he had already been shot multiple times, and his bright blood was splattered across the grass.  He had one hand on his side, and the other was holding up the Masamune to defend himself.

Eve realized that somehow, they had managed to get close enough to fire the first round without him detecting them. She felt sick when she realized it wouldn’t have been too close since they were using long range rifles. She knew he was superhuman in so many ways, but the number of holes she could count at a glance, even from her distance, were enough to turn her stomach.  She was too far away to take any of them out with her pistol yet, but she took off at a sprint.  She wasn’t fast enough to get there before they all fired once again. 

Sephiroth was fast enough that he was able to deflect many of them, even with his injuries, but he was surrounded.  He was not able to avoid all of them.  When he coughed and fell to a knee, Eve saw red. 

By that time, she was close enough that she fired off three shots in quick succession.  Each hitting the three closest combatants.  She hadn’t aimed to kill, but she was sure they would remember the encounter.  At that point, all the weapons turned toward her.  She ignored them as she switched to casting and quickly threw up a protect and shell.  It wouldn’t be enough to keep everything out, but it gave her the time she needed to break through the space she had made in their circle and stand protectively over Sephiroth where he had finally fallen.

The materia she had on were already straining to be released.  She wasn’t sure if they were reacting to her fury, or if Minerva was helping for some reason, but for the first time since her initial training, she found that she had to fight to keep them back.  As a result, she could feel the lightning crackling around her, and she was sure if she looked down the ground by her feet would have been blackened.

All the enemy soldiers had taken several steps back when they took in the sight of the woman that had just appeared in front of them.  Had she been able to see herself, she might have understood their mumbling.  The slight glow that her eyes usually held was gone, and its place was a brightness that rivaled many of the Soldiers.  The air around her was eddying with the magical currents and caused her hair to look more like fire.  When she caught the word akuma*, she swallowed her rage and tried to speak.

I don’t care what you think I am.  I do not want to harm you, but I will annihilate every one of you without hesitation if you do not leave now.”

Many of them jumped when she spoke, and several of them lowered their weapons.  She could tell they were surprised that she addressed them in Wutainese, but more than that, they seemed to be unsure if it would be worth it to try to attack.  As scared as they had been of Sephiroth, they had been confident because they had attacked him with stealth.  None of them would have wanted to face him at full health and in close quarters.  This woman was different altogether.  She had not cast any spells, other than protective ones, and yet the pressure from the magic surrounding her was felt by them all, even at the distance they were standing.  All it took was for the first one to drop his rifle and run for the rest to quickly follow suit.

As desperately as Eve wanted to drop and check on Sephiroth, she knew she couldn’t afford to without putting them both at further risk until she was sure the enemies were all gone.  When the last of them disappeared, she sent up a prayer to Minerva to watch over them, because she couldn’t wait any longer.  She turned and dropped to her knees next to him and choked on a sob.  His usually pale skin was sallow and almost grey.  She had not been bothered by the sight of blood since med school, and yet, she was currently fighting nausea.

As panicked as she was, she still reached for his wrist with shaking hands.  She could barely see through her tears, but she bit her lip to keep from sobbing while she held his wrist.  Finally, she felt a flutter against her fingertips.  It was slow but steady.  She nearly fell on him at that point, but her training had her wiping her eyes so she could try to see how bad the damage was.  He was bleeding from multiple wounds, but the flow of blood was slowing.  She wasn’t sure if it was his fast healing, or if he had lost too much blood already.  She knew there were likely bullets still lodged in his body, but they would have to be taken care of later.  She needed to stop the blood loss.  As much as she didn’t want to make it worse for him, she cast a curaga to at least stop him from bleeding out.

Once that was done, she checked his pulse once again.  She wasn’t sure if it was slower now or not, and she had to fight back her fear.  Her tears were streaming as she grabbed his face, ignoring the fact that she now had his blood all over and was smearing it further.  She could barely see, but she still pleaded with him.  “Please open your eyes!  I can’t carry you back alone, but if you don’t wake up, I’m going to damn well try!”

When there was no response, she nearly shook him.  It was only her ingrained training that kept her from losing it entirely.  She ended up dropping her head on his chest and sobbing.  She was shocked out of her misery when she finally heard his voice.  “Do you mind moving a little.  I am certain there is still something lodged there.”

She sat up and stared at his face.  He was grimacing in obvious pain, but he was awake and alive.  She forgot everything at that moment and flung herself on him with heaving sobs.  She didn’t realize how tight she was holding him until he reached for her shoulders and tried to push her back a little.  “I thought doctors were supposed to be gentler with their patients.”

She sat up with a sound that was part laugh and part sniffle.  She tried to wipe her eyes and looked him over again.  “You’re alive.”

His grimace softened, and he reached up.  He hesitated, but finally cupped her cheek and used his thumb to wipe away her tears that were still falling.  “I’m not that easy to kill.”

She laughed wetly and leaned into his touch for a moment.  She didn’t let it linger as, despite his assurances, she knew he still needed medical attention.  She sat back and tried to help him into a seated position.  He ended up doing most of the work, and she paled considerably at the sight of all the blood.  She had to force herself to not think about it being his, or she was going to lose it again.

Once he was seated, she tried to see if there were still any open wounds.  When she tried to pull the lapel of his duster back to check, he gently grabbed her wrist.  “I’ll be fine.  I need a moment, and then we can make our way back to camp.”

She grimaced, but let her hands drop.  They watched each other in silence for several moments, before Eve had to look away awkwardly.  Now that the emergency was passed, everything else came crowding back in.

She nearly jumped when he lightly touched her hand.  She looked back to see all his questions in his eyes, but he didn’t get to ask them.  They both turned to the sound of clapping and watched in shock as Genesis walked out of the woods.  “What a wonderful performance.  Heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time.”

Eve was instantly on her feet and glaring at the man.  “You saw him being attacked and let it happen!?”

She felt Sephiroth get to his feet but ignored it in favor of glaring at Genesis.  He sneered at her but shook his head.  “Not at all.  I only caught the last act.  Your despair was quite touching.”

Eve nearly snarled at him, but they were both shocked when Sephiroth moved past her so quickly, she barely saw him.  It wasn’t until Genesis went flying that Eve realized the General had punched the man so hard that he was lifted off his feet.

Sephiroth was glaring at Genesis as he slowly got back to his feet.  Genesis sneered again.  “I was uncertain about how you would react, but I suppose I have my answer.”

Sephiroth’s voice was cold when he responded.  “I don’t know why you left, and that is something we can discuss, but you nearly killed Eve.  Using your strength against an unenhanced person is never acceptable.”

Genesis’ eyes widened for several moments before he huffed a bitter laugh.  “Your little Cetra nearly burned this forest down, and you are worried that I abused her?”

Both Eve and Sephiroth froze at those words.  Sephiroth slowly turned to her, and she could see the confusion in his eyes as he spoke.  “Cetra?”

She shook her head.  “No,  I’m… I don’t think I’m Cetra.”

They turned back to Genesis when he scoffed.  “No?  Then explain how you were able to channel the force of the planet.  Not a measly spell, but the power of the Goddess herself.”

Sephiroth’s eyes widened when Eve didn’t deny that she had done such a thing.  She could only shake her head in denial.  Before she could say anything, a voice resounded in her head.  ‘Peace child.  I know you have been afraid to ask, but my Knight is not incorrect.  Cetra and Human are not so different.  You are my Avatar on Gaia, thus by your nature are you Cetra as well.’

When Eve refocused on the men standing in front of her, she grimaced.  Sephiroth was still staring with confusion, but his scowl was growing as he took several steps back toward her.  His voice was low, and she could hear his pain again.  “How many secrets have you been keeping?”

She shook her head and swallowed the lump in her throat.  “I do not want to keep anything from you.  I meant what my note said.  I will not hold anything back.”

His eyes flashed for a moment, but she didn’t get to continue when Genesis laughed bitterly again.  “You nearly scrambled my brain with all of those visions, and yet you have told your lover nothing?  How ironic is that.”

She glared at him and tried to speak through gritted teeth.  “Stay out of this.”

Her gaze was drawn back to Sephiroth when he spoke.  “I hate to admit it, but he has a point.  Is that what happened?  You told him what you have been hiding from me?”

Eve vehemently wished that the Crimson idiot was anywhere other than staring at the two of them.  She didn’t have the luxury of putting it off, though.  She briefly wondered if she could show Sephiroth the same way she had Genesis.  She was shocked when Minerva spoke up again.  ‘It could be possible, but it will not be easy.  My Knight had the means to open a channel, even if it was instinct only.  For the one known as the Calamity’s child, your bond will need to be strong.’

Eve felt both hopeful and worried.  She knew how she felt for Sephiroth, but she was uncertain if he felt the same, especially now.  She hardened her resolve and answered.  ‘If we can even try, then I will do it.  I want to show him everything.  As much as I don’t want to hurt him, he deserves to know.  He has to know that I will not hold anything back.’

Eve could feel Minerva hesitate before she finally answered.  ‘Everything?’

Eve gave a mental nod.  ‘Yes, everything.’

She felt the affirmation from Minerva as her eyes refocused on Sephiroth.  His look was drawn, but she steeled herself.  “I have been told that I should be able to show you in the same way.”  She paused and eyed the blood that was still drying on his chest with a grimace.  “I don’t want to put you through too much yet, though.  It might be best to wait until you are looked at.”

He moved to stand right in front of her, and she nearly flinched at his cold voice.  “I am unsure why you have told me several times now that you will tell me, and then keep delaying, but my patience is running out.”

She clenched her jaw to keep from saying something she would regret.  As unfair as she felt his assessment was, she could understand.  She tried her best to clear her frustration from her face as she looked up to him.  She had to swallow a couple of times before she could make her voice work.  “Sephiroth, when I first met you, I had no idea what was going on, and once I did, I have tried my best to do what was asked of me.  In that time, I was surprised by what I learned of you, and despite warnings, I ended up falling in love with you.  I love you, and I do not want to hurt you.  That is part of what has delayed this for so long, but I will not hide anything from you anymore.”

His eyes had gotten wide at her confession, and Eve was frightened that he was going to turn and walk away.  It was several tense minutes later that he finally reached out.  He clenched his fist back to his side before he made contact.  His voice was strained.  “You love me?”

Eve took a deep breath and nodded.  “Yes.”

She watched as he swallowed several times before he spoke again.  “How?”

She shook her head, and her gaze softened.  “Easily.  You have shown me that you are more than what people assume you to be.  You are kind and patient.  You are funny, in a dry sort of way, and there is so much more.  The question should be how could I not fall in love.”

His eyes roved over her face several times before he turned.  Eve felt her heart shatter as she watched his bowed head and his fist clench several times.  Tears had instantly sprung up, but she gasped when he turned back, and she saw hope.  He walked back and took one of her hands without hesitation.  “I am unsure of how to respond.  I will admit that I am still confused.  How can I believe this is real when there is so much I don’t know.”

Eve felt like she had been slapped, even though it didn’t look as though he were rejecting her.  She tried to get her emotions under control again.  “Let me show you.”

His eyes narrowed.  “How?”

She reached out and took his other hand.  “If you will allow it, I can try to show you everything I have seen.”

She saw a brief flash of confusion again before he masked it.  He looked deeply in her eyes for several moments before he nodded.  “If you are willing to share everything, I would like to know.”

She nodded once and moved her right hand to his wrist where his bangle was.  She looked in his eyes.  “This may not be easy.”

He raised a brow at her admonition.  “What ever is?”

She almost laughed at his quip, but took a deep breath and pushed her energy into his materia.  There was resistance at first.  Something seemed to be pushing back.  It was several tense moments later that she was able to overcome whatever it was.  She felt as if her consciousness passed through an oily barrier.  She wondered briefly if what she felt was Jenova’s presence in his mind, but all thoughts were washed away under the deluge of images that came rushing up through her.

She distantly felt Sephiroth’s grip on her wrist tighten when the visions started pouring into him, but the sensation was soon lost.  She felt like her entire existence was being ripped to shreds as she watched the possible future play out in agonizing details.  It was made even worse when aspects from their individual pasts were added.  The sights of him being tortured as a child made her want to vomit, and she might have if her body wasn’t frozen in the grip of the Goddess’ power.

When her own past started pouring out as well, her mind frantically tried to shut the images out.  She didn’t want to relive them, and she never wanted to subject Sephiroth to them.  Despite her mental struggles, all of her painful past rushed through them, from her father’s death to the days she spent alone and ashamed in the streets before she was finally found by David and his family.

When Eve’s mind was stretched until it felt like it might snap, the images finally slowed and came to a stop.  As soon as the power left her, she felt her knees give out.  She was shocked when a pair of strong arms caught her and pulled her up until she was cradled against Sephiroth’s chest.  At that point, he fell to his knees, but she was barely jostled, he was holding her so tightly.

Neither of them moved or said anything for uncounted minutes.  Eve could barely keep her eyes open, she was so exhausted.  She finally managed to look up, and she saw Sephiroth’s eyes closed, and tears were on his cheeks.  She reached up and touched his face, which caused him to start.  She could see the pain clearly in his eyes, but when they landed on her, there was wonder as well.

Eve could barely make her voice work, but she managed a whisper.  “No matter what, I love you.”  She barely saw something flash in his eyes before her body gave up and she blacked out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Sephiroth lost all sense of time as he tried to understand what had just happened.  He hadn’t known what to expect when she said she could show him what she had seen, but the visions that he was still trying to sort through were visceral and terrifying.  He saw himself committing atrocities that made him physically ill to consider.  The reminders of his childhood that were also shared left him feeling raw and shaken.  The only thing that was keeping him in one piece was the woman that was nestled against him.

He had seen visions of her past as well.  Many things he saw did not make sense, but the images of what was done to her, how badly she was treated and the abuses she suffered made a murderous rage well within him.  The fact that, somehow, he was able to feel her made everything both worse and better.  Her terror for him, not of him confounded him.  The fact that he was overwhelmed by a feeling coming from her throughout it all that cradled him and tried to comfort him while it raged against the visions was part of what caused his tears, but not all.  He was devastated by everything he had seen.  As stoic as he had learned to be, it felt like he was a child again, being subjected to whatever whim that had struck Hojo and punished severely if he let any of his fear or pain show.  Until he had learned to control it, there had been many times he had waited until the labs were quiet before he crawled under his cot and cried as silently as possible so he would not get caught.

If what he had been shown was the future, then he could not understand.  He had known since he was a child that he was not ordinary, but what he had seen was monstrous.  If she had known all along that the future held such a bleak outcome, how could she ever care for him?  Even though he could not believe it, he could not deny that what he felt showed she had not lied to him.

When his head finally cleared enough to notice that her breathing had become shallow, he looked down in concern.  She was covered in blood, which was shocking now that he was paying attention, but more than that, there was a pallor underneath her sun-kissed skin that worried him.  When he started to stand, he caught sight of Genesis still standing on the other side of the clearing, watching them with interest.  At the sight of one of the few people he had ever called friend, his gut twisted again.  The visions showed that those closest to him had suffered the worst at his hand, and he had to fight back nausea again.

Once he was on his feet, Genesis approached with caution.  “Back to yourself, I see.  That is one process that I can say is fascinating, but having been both the receiver and an observer, I much prefer the latter.”

Sephiroth stilled as he realized what Genesis was talking about, both currently and earlier when he had said Eve had channelled the power of the Goddess.  He kept his voice low to keep from disturbing the woman he held.  “This is what happened before you left?  She showed you these visions as well?”

Genesis quirked a brow, but he sneered as he answered.  “She showed me my destruction and my salvation.  I hope never to repeat the process.”

Sephiroth was still shaken, but a thought occurred to him that he could not set aside.  Part of him knew it should not be noteworthy, but he had to know.  “Did you see and feel her as well?”

Genesis scoffed.  “Unless your experience differed from my own, I was unable to see anything except the visions until they passed.”

Sephiroth frowned at the relief he felt.  He did not understand why it pleased him to know that Eve had not been exposed to anyone else in such an intimate fashion.  He did not understand why, but currently, it was one of many things he did not understand.  When Eve moved and groaned, he was reminded that they needed to return quickly.  He sighed and gave Genesis as open a look as he had ever given the man.  “I cannot condone what you did to Eve, but I understand.  There is much that we need to discuss, but we need to return quickly.  Come with me.  Given what I was shown, we have a common goal.”

Genesis took a step back but quirked his head.  He watched Sephiroth for several moments before he spoke.  “My friend, the fates are cruel.  There are no dreams, no honor remains.  Although, hope may still prove me incorrect.”

He turned to walk away at that point, but he paused and called back over his shoulder.  “I will meet you here again tomorrow.  If you are still interested in speaking.”

Sephiroth frowned at the man’s retreating form.  He still wasn’t sure what to think, but his instincts were telling him that everything was about to change.  He only hoped that whatever changes were instigated would lead them away from the horrors he had seen.

At that moment, Eve shifted again and curled closer to him.  His heart clenched at the motion.  He was also reminded that she needed medical attention.  If he was honest with himself, he did as well.  His body would eventually expel the few bullets that had lodged themselves under his skin, but it would be quicker and far less painful if he had them removed.  With that thought, he headed back toward camp.

He had not made it all the way back before he was greeted by the sight of a small contingent of Soldiers and the Turk, Reno.  When he drew even, Reno stepped in front of him.  He frowned at the man when he pointed the electromag at him.  “What the hell happened, yo?”

Sephiroth glared at the man before he stepped around him to continue on.  “We can discuss it after we are back at camp.”  The Soldiers had already moved into formation around him without having to be told. 

He nearly growled when the Turk stepped in front of him again.  He was wearing the most somber look Sephiroth had ever seen the man use.  He started bouncing the electromag on his shoulder and nodded to the woman passed out in Sephiroth’s arms.  “Nuh uh.  We are gonna stay right here until you explain why she’s covered in blood an looks like she was trampled by a rampaging behemoth.”

Sephiroth’s glare deepened.  He started moving again as he spoke.  “Fine, move and talk at the same time.  She needs a medic.”

Reno moved into step beside the General and gave him an expectant look.  Sephiroth frowned, but he explained.  “The blood is mine.  I was attacked by a large group of Wutainese assassins.  Had she not come when she did, I would have been in dire circumstances.”

Reno’s eyes widened at the General’s confession, and he stopped to stare.  The rest of the group didn’t, so he was forced to jog to catch back up with them.  He took in Sephiroth as well, and he finally noticed all the holes in the man’s clothes, as well as the haunted look in his eyes.  He wondered briefly if the feelings he knew his co-worker had for the General were more mutual than he expected.  Despite seeing them flirt with one another, he had never thought the cold man to ever be able to care.  It had never happened before. 

He left the General alone after that.  At least until they made it to camp and Sephiroth headed straight for his own tent.  Reno looked like he was going to object, but Sephiroth gave him a glare before he turned to Captain Hawl, who had been waiting for them.  “Captain.  I will be sending a medic to look at Dr. Marx.  Until they arrive, I would like you to post a guard, and no one other than the medic is allowed in until I return.  Understood?”

The Captain looked at the woman the General held before he looked back up and saluted.  “Yes, sir.”

Sephiroth ignored Reno’s grumbling as he ducked into his tent and gently laid Eve on his cot.  He brushed her hair off her face before he stood and watched her for a moment.  Her breathing had evened out again, but she was still pale.  Part of him wanted to sit there and watch her until she woke, but he knew that his knowledge of what could be wrong was limited.  She needed a professional.  He repressed a sigh and headed back out.  He nodded to the guard that was already in place before he headed to find the medic.


 

Eve was floating in a comfortable blackness.  It was warm and inviting, and she had no inclination to leave it.  A small part of her mind was still shouting that there was something important to do, but she couldn’t make sense of it.  She was vaguely aware that she wasn’t sleeping.  She was too lucid for that, but she wasn’t quite awake either.  It was that pleasant space where dreams still seem real, and the harshness of awake was still distant.

In that state, she felt cool fingers brush her hair back off her face and then ghost through the strands after gently running across her scalp.  It was soothing and familiar.  It caused a distant ache.  She wasn’t sure why, but it was like it had been too long since she had felt it.  Her brain finally grasped onto the memory that accompanied the feeling, and she smiled.  “Daddy?”

She hadn’t realized that she had spoken aloud, but at that one word, the fingers suddenly froze and then disappeared.  She wrinkled her nose and frowned at the loss of contact.  That was the catalyst that caused her to finish waking.  She opened her eyes and froze.  Sephiroth was sitting next to where she was laying and was currently giving her a look that she couldn’t understand.

As the last bit of fog lifted, she realized what must have happened, and she could suddenly feel her ears burning she was blushing so hard.  She tried to explain.  “I’m so sorry.  It’s just that-“

The memory was suddenly in the front of her mind again, and she couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat.  She was shocked when his gaze softened, and he spoke.  “It was something your father used to do when you were a girl.  It soothed your nightmares.”

She couldn’t speak, so she just gave him a nod.  She could feel tears pricking her eyes again, and when the first ones fell, he reached out and wiped them away.  She was suddenly unsure of what to say to him.  With what they had shared, he now knew her better than anyone ever had.  There were dark secrets she kept that not even David had ever been able to coax out of her.  She felt like a floundering child again.

  Sephiroth didn’t seem to be faring any better.  They both knew they had to speak, but the scope of everything was so vast that a suitable place to start did not readily present itself.

After a few moments, Eve finally realized where he was sitting and her brows furrowed.  “How long have you been sitting on the floor?”

He nearly smiled at her question after the weighty atmosphere.  “I haven’t been back long.  The medics insisted that they run a thorough scan to make sure no bullets remained.”

Eve winced at the reminder of nearly finding him dead.  Her mind rejected those images.  It was still too soon for her to process that particular nightmare.  She shook her head instead.  “How long have I been asleep?”

He gently brushed aside a strand of her hair that had fallen across her face when she had turned to speak to him.  “Sixteen hours.”

She tried to sit up at that, and her head instantly started spinning.  She groaned before she laid back again and closed her eyes.  She could hear his concern when he spoke.  “Are you alright?”

She managed a nod as the dizzy spell passed.  She finally turned to him with a frown.  “I am in your cot.  Did you sleep at all?”

She was shocked when he looked away before he answered.  “I slept enough.”

Even if she hadn’t known him as well, she would have been able to recognize that lie for what it was.  She scooted as close to the far edge of the cot as she could manage before she spoke again.  “Why don’t you get up here with me instead of being miserable on the floor.”

His head shot back up again, and his shock was evident.  “With you?  Are you sure?”

She gave him a soft smile and reached out to touch his face.  “You and I just shared something more intimate than most couples that have known each other for years could boast.  If I can’t trust you to touch me and not hurt me, then there isn’t another person I ever could.”

He still looked unsure, so she leaned forward slightly and grabbed the lapel of his duster and pulled.  He didn’t resist for more than a second and stood.  It took them a bit of effort, as the cot was not large, but they finally settled with her tucked under his chin.  He had to resist the urge to pull her closer.  He could hear her breathing and heartbeat, but he wanted to feel it.  To feel her heat against him.  To know that she was real and not a dream.

They laid there for several minutes, with Sephiroth protectively curled around her.  Despite his uncertainties and questions, this felt right.  It was frightening how right it felt.  It was something he had never expected and, in all honesty, was unprepared to handle.  Even with that being his predominate thoughts, he didn’t move as she relaxed further into him.

He almost thought that she had fallen asleep again before he felt her shift so she could look up at him.  Her face was red, but she was giving him a soft smile.  “I never dreamed that this would be the outcome when I first came here, but I wouldn’t change it.”

He froze at her words as they reminded him of a question that had been growing as he worked through all the images he had been given.  He kept his voice soft.  “You are not from Gaia.”

She sighed and shifted slightly so she wouldn’t have to crane her neck to look him in the eyes.  “No, I am not.”

He took a deep breath at her confirmation.  He knew he should have been shocked, but for some reason, he wasn’t.  It explained many little things that he had observed through the time that he had known her.  It was several moments before he spoke.  “Can you explain?”

She shrugged as much as her prone position would allow.  “I am from a planet called Earth.  Honestly, it’s very much like Gaia, and still very different.  I am unsure of how the worlds are connected, but-“

She cut herself off at that point.  She still had never admitted what she was about to say, even to herself, but it was a fact she could no longer deny.  “I am nearly certain that I drowned.  For some reason, Minerva decided to have pity on me and give me a second chance.  That is how I ended up in Modeoheim.”

Sephiroth’s arms reflexively pulled her closer at her admission.  The thought of her death made a flaming pain rage through him.  He had to push the feeling back before he could respond.  “No matter what else I find out, I will forever be grateful to the Goddess for that.”

Eve felt her cheeks heat at his admission.  When she had said she loved him, she wasn’t sure how he would respond.  He hadn’t given her a response yet, but knowing that he was thankful to have her in his life was enough to make her heart soar.

Her attention was dragged back to the present when he started speaking again.  He was hesitant, so she stilled and allowed him to find the words he needed.  “I am still unsure of what to think about everything that has happened.  I can understand why you were hesitant to tell me anything.  I doubt I could have accepted this easily without seeing it.  I still cannot accept it logically.”

He paused, but she could tell he wasn’t finished, so she stayed quiet.  He finally met her eyes.  She could see pain and confusion, but the hope she also saw had her squeezing him slightly where she had one arm wrapped around him as well.  He smiled slightly at the gesture.  He brought a hand up and cupped her cheek before he continued.  “Your belief in me gives me the strength to strive to change what was written.”

She felt her tears start again as she gave him a bright smile.  She was shocked when in the next moment she felt a warm softness pressed against her lips.  She froze at the contact.  It took her brain several moments to realize what had happened.  By the time she could do more than blink, she felt him stiffen under her hand and start to pull away.  She wasn’t about to let their first kiss end like that.  As he pulled back, she pushed forward and pulled him by the waist.

He stilled against her for a moment, but it wasn’t long before the pressure increased.  It was a chaste kiss.  He didn’t push or intimate that he wanted more.  It went on for several moments before he pulled back far enough so that they could look in each other’s eyes.  They were still close enough that their shared breath was all that was between them.

Eve felt herself blush at the look in his eyes.  She knew that no one had ever looked at her with such care and passion.  Not that she had ever been this close to another, but still, the sight had her heating in unfamiliar places.  She tried to ignore the feeling when he finally spoke.  “I have never known what love was.  I had always believed that it was either a fabrication of those that used it as an excuse for passion, or something that I would never understand, but I think I am finally figuring out what it means.  Feeling your care and passion for me, knowing that you would put your life before mine, even if the idea drives me crazy.  If that is love, then we share it.  I cannot say how things will change, but I cannot picture going through them without you.”

Eve knew it would probably confuse him when she started crying in earnest, but she hoped that he understood what she couldn’t say.  She grabbed his face once again and returned the kiss that he had first given her.  When they finally parted again, they both wore soft smiles.  Neither of them expected that everything was solved, but at least they knew where to start.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

They laid together like that for a while longer, and Eve had started to doze again, before Sephiroth stood.  Eve almost protested at the lack of warmth until she saw that he was removing his overcoat and abdomen plate.  She felt her face heat and her eyes widened before she called out.  “Uh, Sephiroth?”

He looked at her with curious eyes until he caught sight of her blushing cheeks.  He could not refrain from giving her a smirk.  “I felt that if we are going to sleep, it would be far more comfortable without my armor.”

“O-oh.”  Eve felt better at his explanation, but her cheeks only got hotter when he headed back to the cot. 

Since her expression had not changed, he stopped and gave her a worried look before he knelt beside the bed.  “I do not want you to feel that I am pushing your boundaries.  If I do anything to make you uncomfortable, please speak up.”

Eve didn’t stop blushing, but she gave him a smile.  “It isn’t that at all.”  She had to look away before she could continue.  “It’s just that… surely you are aware of how… how attractive you are.”  She nearly buried her face in the pillow at that point.  She couldn’t believe she had managed to say that to him in the first place, much less without combusting on the spot.

When he didn’t say anything in response for several moments, she finally worked up the nerve to look back to him.  When she caught his eye, she suddenly realized that she wasn’t the only one affected.  She had never expected to see that expression on his face, and it was fascinating.  At least until she had to laugh at how awkward the whole thing was for both of them.  She finally shook her head and held out a hand.  “You’re not going to make me uncomfortable.  Why don’t we save the discussion about the rest until we are not in the middle of a war zone?”

He didn’t move at first.  Apparently, he really had not been thinking about how much more intimate his actions would make their sleeping arrangements.  When she started to stand, he finally moved to stop her.  “If you are certain?”

She shook her head with a smile.  “You won’t hear me complaining, if that’s what you’re asking.”

If Eve had been standing at that point, she might have fallen from shock when she saw his cheeks dust with a slight blush at her admission.  She tried to push those thoughts back as they settled back together again.  As much as they both thought their new positions would make things awkward or uncomfortable, it wasn’t long until they had fallen asleep.

It was several hours later that they were woken with a raised voice outside the tent.  “General, I apologize for the interruption, but we have intercepted a message to the Wutainese Capital that seems to be about the attack yesterday.  Is Dr. Marx up to help with the translations?”

Sephiroth had already sat up, but Eve was still groggily mumbling and trying to finish waking up.  The General called out for Captain Hawl to enter.  He regretted that instantly when Reno was on the Captain’s heels.

“What did you do to Dollface, yo?”

Eve sat up when she heard his voice.  She had previously been hidden from their sight by Sephiroth’s body on the cot in front of her.  She didn’t get a chance to say anything as Reno whistled as soon as he saw her. 

“So that’s how it is, huh?  Ya know, if I’d of known ya were only doin’ this, I woulda already been in here.”

It didn’t take Eve’s confused expression long to clear and she glared at Reno.  “Firecracker, get the hell out of here and quit being a perv.”  Eve smiled when his only response was to laugh and walk back out with a wave.  She knew that was his way of showing he had been worried. 

Sephiroth had already stood and was near the tent entrance talking quietly with Captain Hawl.  It didn’t take long for them to conclude and the Captain left.  Sephiroth turned back to her with a sigh.

“I had hoped to have time to ensure that you were well rested, but this will have to be enough.  Not only do we have the issue with the attack yesterday, but there is something else that I would like you to accompany me with as well.”

Eve had already gotten up and ran her fingers through her hair to get the worst of the tangles out.  She gave him a nod.  “I am pretty sure I have slept enough to last for a few days.  I’m good.  What did you need my help with?”

Eve felt her heart flutter with a touch of worry when he frowned.  “I asked Genesis to return with us yesterday.  He didn’t decline, but he didn’t agree either.  He asked that I return today and speak to him.  I believe he wants to ensure that we will not be going back into the same situation.  With you being injured, we did not have the time to go over anything yesterday.”

Eve frowned.  She had not thought about the current situation once she and Sephiroth had shared the Goddess’ visions.  Reality was finally intruding again, and there was much that needed to be done.  She gave him a nod.  “There is a lot that we need to discuss as well.  I know you were shown many things, but I am sure you could use some context for some of it.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Genesis is in the same boat.”

Sephiroth had already put his armor back on and held out a fresh suit jacket to Eve.  She hadn’t noticed that she had been stripped of hers until they got up.  She took it with a smile and realized that someone must have cleaned her up while she slept.  All the blood was gone.  At least in the spots she could see.

Once they were both dressed again, Sephiroth held the tent entrance open and followed Eve out.  Both Captain Hawl and Reno were waiting.  Sephiroth was still frowning when he spoke.  “Captain, Dr. Marx will be able to translate that missive, but there is something we must do first.  We will be back in a few hours.  Until then, please have all the Soldiers brought back to camp and on standby.  Post a double guard and stay on alert until we return.”

The Captain saluted and turned to carry out his newest orders.  Reno wasn’t as eager to listen.  “Where’re we headed?”

Eve frowned at her co-worker.  “We aren’t going anywhere.  The General and I have something important that needs to be done.  We shouldn’t be gone long.”

Reno’s gave her a smirk.  “If you think I’m gonna let you go anywhere alone with the Princess here after what happened yesterday, you must be crazy, yo.”

Eve nearly growled.  “You know he will not allow anything to happen to me.  This is something we have to do for everyone’s future.”

Reno looked like he was about say something snarky, but Eve cut in first.  “This isn’t a personal request.  I know you have your doubts about Soldier, but this is me.  Trust me.”

Reno’s eyes widened slightly before he smirked and shook his head.  “Yeah, I suppose I do.  Just don’t go startin’ nothing crazy.  If Tseng finds out, we’re both toast.”

Eve chuckled.  Despite how they talked to each other, Reno was probably the person she trusted the most after Sephiroth.  She knew he was aware that there was more to her being a Turk than the official line, but he never pushed her.  She was nearly certain he was one of the ones assigned to watch her anyway, so she wasn’t surprised by his knowledge.

Once that was solved, Eve followed Sephiroth back towards the woods and the clearing.  She briefly sent up a prayer that somehow the site would not be as grisly as it had been when she last saw it.  She wasn’t certain she could handle the reminder of how close she had come to losing the man she loved.

She was pulled from those thoughts when Sephiroth spoke as soon as they were some distance from camp.  “I am aware that you and that Turk are friends, I suppose, but I cannot stand the way he speaks to you.”

Eve quirked an eyebrow at him.  She wasn’t sure if he was defensive because he felt she was being insulted, or jealous that Reno held some affection for her.  Neither were true though.  “It’s just the way he is.  I don’t take it personal, and neither should you.  Besides, you have heard how I usually respond, right?”

She could barely see him, but she could tell he still didn’t like it.  He didn’t negate her though.  By that time, they had reached the forest.  It was not daylight yet, as they had been woken early.  Eve grew frustrated when she kept tripping over roots that she couldn’t see.  The first rays of light that had touched the area around camp, were not yet bright enough to break through the trees.

After hearing her curse under her breath for the third time, Sephiroth stopped.  “I can carry you.”

Eve knew he could see much better than she could, but his offer both surprised and embarrassed her.  “That’s okay.  It will be light soon, and I wouldn’t want to bother you.”

She couldn’t see his face well, but he hadn’t moved, so she wasn’t surprised when he spoke up again.  “It isn’t a bother.”

Eve could feel her cheeks heating again, and tried to ignore it.  “Still, I don’t want you to think that you have to take care of me all the time.  I can handle myself.”

She was shocked when she felt his hand on her face.  “I know you are capable.  If not for you, I might not be here now.  That doesn’t mean I would object to helping when it is clear that it would make it easier for both of us.”  He paused and Eve drew in a shocked gasp when she felt his breath tickle her ear.  He had bent and was speaking in a near whisper.  “Besides, it is something I want to do anyway.”

Her brain failed her at that moment.  When she didn’t respond with further objections, he stooped and lifted her.  She buried her face against his chest to keep him from seeing how bright her cheeks had gotten.  Luckily, it was faster.  Since Sephiroth knew exactly where he was going, it didn’t take them long to get back to the clearing.

When he set her back onto her feet, Eve noticed a dark patch on the grass and was suddenly very glad that the sun was not all the way up.  She almost felt clammy at the reminder, but she was drawn from her thoughts by Genesis as he walked into the clearing as well.

“All that awaits us is a somber morrow, no matter where the winds may blow.”  He sneered as he looked between Eve and Sephiroth before he continued.  “After the impressive showing yesterday, it should not surprise me that the two of you are now inseparable.”

Eve had to try very hard not to glare it the man.  She was aware that the coming conversation would try her patience without the added benefit of antagonizing him from the start.  She swallowed her irritation.  “Our personal life aside, we all have many things to discuss.  We are aware of what will happen if we don’t do something about the future that was shown.”

Genesis sneered at her again, but Sephiroth broke in before anything else could be said.  “Genesis, I would like to start with an apology.  I knew your injury was not healing properly, but I never considered it was so bad as to make you desperate.  While, I cannot claim to fully understand with your pain, I will state that you are one of very few people that are more than strangers to me.  I even believed us to be friends once.”

Genesis took a step back, and despite how hard he was trying to hide it under a snarl, it was easy to see that the General’s confession had startled him.  Before he could come back with a snippy remark that would only strain things more, Eve stepped in.  “Look, I know you have every reason to turn your back on all of us, but I promise you are not alone.  Do you really think Minerva would have had me seek you out if she didn’t think you were worth saving?”

At her mention of the Goddess, Genesis turned his back on them, though he didn’t walk away.  It was several tense moments before he turned back again.  “And what would you have me do?  I still cannot understand all that was given to me.”

Eve could tell that admission had cost him, but she didn’t point it out.  “Neither does Sephiroth.  I can go over what I know with you both, but it will take some time.”

Sephiroth chose that moment to interject.  “We can go back and discuss it.  With us all together, there should be no reason why we cannot find a solution.”

Genesis still didn’t look convinced.  Eve hoped her next argument would convince him to at least consider working with them instead of in his own.  “Right now, both Hojo and Hollander continue unchecked with the full support of the President.  Starting a revolution is one way to handle this, but I don’t believe it is the best way.  Instead of trying to swallow the tiger, why don’t we let it swallow us and cut it into pieces from the inside.”

Sephiroth gave her a curious look at her analogy, but Genesis’ finally turned contemplative.  After several moments, he quirked his head and smirked at her.  “You sound as though you have a plan.”

She gave them both a nod.  She had only just considered it, but it was a good place to start.  “The beginnings of one anyway.  We already know that we need to take down the current Science Department and President Shinra is also an obstacle.  I do not believe that toppling the company will be feasible, or rational.  The world still relies heavily on their employment and resources.  That doesn’t mean it has to stay as it is now.”

She looked between the two men and took a breath.  She knew her next statement was going to cause an uproar, but she hoped they would hear her out.  “In order to make those changes, we need to hold onto their trust until it is time to act.  I think our best course of action right now, would be to reach out to Emperor Godo.  Shinra is expecting us to end this war, and that is just what we will do.  If we can convince the Emperor to work with us, we can present a false treaty to the President.  Once he is lulled into thinking he has everything he wants, then we can topple the hierarchy.  We have to have something ready to take it’s place though or it will be the world that suffers.”

Neither man spoke for several minutes.  Finally, Sephiroth frowned at her.  “I understand what you are saying and why, but I have only ever known Shinra as it is.”

She took one of his hands in hers and squeezed it.  “You have me now, and I’m sure we won’t be alone.  I’m not suggesting we kill everyone, but even if we didn’t know what the future will hold under the President’s rule, you can look at the world and see that his practices are unsustainable.  Eventually, either there would be massive revolts, or the world would simply collapse into chaos since the planet would no longer be able to sustain life.  Something has to give, and I would rather see it happen before irreparable damage is done.”

He shook his head but gave her a small smile.  “I know I can trust you.  I need time.  If we do decide to contact Godo, how do you plan to get close without getting killed?  I doubt they would simply allow Shinra Soldiers and Turks into the Capital unfettered.”

“Well, I thought we could start by getting back so I could translate that message.  If it did have to do with the failed attack on you, it might be possible that it holds something we can use as a bargaining chip to gain an audience.”

His brows drew down as he considered her words.  It was only a few seconds before they flew back up and he was giving her a curious look.  “That reminds me, what happened yesterday?  I had assumed you killed them all, but if there was a message sent that isn’t the case.”

She looked away uncomfortably at the reminder.  “I didn’t kill any of them.  I told them if they didn’t leave I would though.”

She turned back when he made a shocked sound.  “They simply left when you told them to?”

Eve hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but he was correct.  She didn’t get to respond before Genesis did.  “I didn’t understand what she said, as she was speaking Wutainese, but they nearly wet themselves before they ran away.”

She clenched her jaw and shot him a dirty look before she turned back to Sephiroth.  “All I told them was that I didn’t want to kill them, but I would if they didn’t leave.”

His shock only looked to be growing.  “And they listened?  Just like that?”

She shrugged self-consciously.  “Yes.”

They both looked to Genesis again when he started laughing.  “You make it sound as if you didn’t have the power of the planet at your fingertips.”

She gave him a confused look.  “I wasn’t thinking about anything other than making sure Sephiroth was alive.  Everything else was irrelevant at that moment.”

Sephiroth pulled lightly on her hand and she turned to him.  “I don’t understand.  I have seen you wield magic, and you are quite talented, but them leaving without a fight is preposterous.”

Genesis scoffed.  “Dear General, do not let her fool you.  While you and I have might, and I am beyond talented with magic, I still believe that she could stand against either of us if the need came.  At least for a short time.”

At that, both Sephiroth and Eve gave him shocked looks.  He raised a brow at Eve.  “Don’t tell me that you did not notice the way the very air around you crackled.  They ran because the magical pressure you gave off could be felt even where I was standing.  I have never seen the like.  I was not exaggerating when I said I thought you would burn this forest.”

Sephiroth looked back to her with widened eyes and Eve suddenly wished she could disappear.  She hadn’t thought about it at the time, but she was sure that if they had attacked, none would have lived.  She could tell Sephiroth needed to hear it from her though.  She shook her head.  “Like I told you, I was only focused on saving you, but I will admit that if they had not run, I know I could have killed them all before their rifles were raised to shoot.”

She saw something flash behind his eyes, but it passed quickly.  He gave her a small smile.  “I suppose then that the Goddess chose well.  Just remind me to never make you angry with me.”

And just like that, all the tension ran out of her.  She grinned at him.  “I’ll do that.”

She then turned to Genesis.  She was still wearing a smile, but it was subdued.  “I know Sephiroth has already asked you, but I will too.  I did not handle things with you very well, and I apologize, but I believe that together, we can all change what fate had in store.  I don’t want any of you to fall to that.  Besides, I think we can figure out something to help with your degradation long before Hollander could even find a clue.”

Genesis frowned at her reminder, but he finally gave a nod.  “Even if the morrow is barren of promises, nothing shall forestall my return.”  He then gestured back toward the camp.  “I believe we have much to discuss, and it has been some time since I had a proper bed.  Even the camp cots would be welcome at this point.”  Eve chuckled at his priorities but turned to head back.  Her head was already full of possibilities.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

Reno was waiting at the north edge of camp when they came back, and for the first time since Eve met him, he was shocked speechless.  She tried not to grin as she stepped up next to him.  “I told you we wouldn’t be long.”

It was several seconds before the redhead tore his eyes off Sephiroth and Genesis chatting with Captain Hawl.  “I guess you’ve been busy, huh?”

Eve sighed as she looked to the Firsts as well before she turned back to her friend.  “Reno, a lot is going on, and I can’t keep hiding it.  I’d like to think I can trust you.  What do you say?”

He gave her a curious look, but she could tell it was edged with both worry and cunning.  She spoke up once more before he could respond.  “Tseng already knows.”

He quirked a brow at her and grinned.  “So, ya finally gonna tell me the big secret that he’s been coverin’ for ya?”

Eve wasn’t sure how she felt about his response.  It could mean that others also knew something was going on, or it could just be that Reno was a nosey git that was good at ferreting out secrets.  Plus, she had already figured he was supposed to be observing her.  She finally gave him a nod.  “I know you have been watching me since the beginning.  With that being the case, I’m sure you have lots of questions.  I’m not exactly subtle unless I need to be.”

He laughed at her reasoning.  “At least ya know it.  Better than bein’ clueless, yo.”

By that time, both Genesis and Sephiroth had finished with the Captain and had joined the two Turks.  When Reno saw they were both glaring at him, he shot them both a grin before he put his hands behind his head and started whistling.  Eve wished he wasn’t always so obnoxious, but she had already agreed to include him.  “Reno will be joining our discussion.”

Genesis started to rant, but Sephiroth gave her a worried look.  “Are you sure that is wise?”

She shrugged.  “No, but since Tseng already knows we can’t keep him in the dark.  Besides, he has been watching me this whole time.  I am certain he has already figured out that I am not normal.”

Reno cackled at that point.  “Ya can say that again.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen a person less normal, besides the Princess here.  Maybe that’s why the two of ya work?”

Eve rolled her eyes at his jibe but didn’t bite.  Instead, she focused on Sephiroth again.  “I’m going to need to find a secure way to communicate with Tseng anyway.  This should help us be prepared.”

He did not look happy at her insistence, but he nodded reluctantly anyway.  “I am learning to trust your judgement.  Forgive me if it doesn’t always come easily.”

She took his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “There is a lot on the line.  I would be worried if you weren’t cautious.  Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”  She hadn’t let go of his hand, so when they turned toward the innermost part of the camp, she pulled to stop him.  “Oh, did you get the message that was intercepted as well?  The sooner I can start on the translation, the better it will be.”

Sephiroth gave her a nod, but before he could respond verbally, Reno was standing between them and pointing to their joined hands.  “I wanted to ask about that earlier too.  Since when did you become okay with touchin’ people, yo?”

“Not now.” 

She shook her head and ignored him, or tried to.  He reached out to grab their wrists, but before he could touch either of them, Sephiroth had his hand in a tight grip.  Even Reno had sense enough to stop dead still as the Silver General glared down at him.  “I know you are her friend, and as such, you should understand that she decides what is acceptable.  I will only ask you once to not attempt that in my presence again.”

Reno swallowed and gave him a nod.  Once Sephiroth was sure his point was made, he released Reno and turned back to Eve.  “I have the recording here.  You can start as soon as we are in a quiet area.”

Eve caught Reno’s eye and gave him a ‘what did you think was going to happen’ look before she turned back to Sephiroth.  She knew that what Sephiroth meant was when they were somewhere they could talk and not be overheard.  The four of them headed toward the command tent.  Sephiroth had already given orders to Captain Hawl to organize a party to be ready to head to the Wutai Capital as soon as the word was given.  He also had asked that the main tent be cleared so they could strategize.  If any of the Soldiers felt the request was odd, none of them thought to confront the General about it.

Once they were in the tent, both Reno and Eve did a sweep to check for any recording devices. When they were sure they really did have privacy, Eve gave the Soldiers a nod.  Genesis had already made himself at home and had commandeered a flask that he found.  Eve shook her head at the sight, but she wasn’t worried.  She had seen Sephiroth drink enough to know that it would take far more than that to get a Soldier First drunk.

Her attention was drawn back to Reno.  He had already sat down and thrown his feet up on one of the desks before he drawled out his first question.  “So, Dollface, what’s the big secret?”

She wanted to roll her eyes at all the men when she caught sight of Sephiroth glaring, but she didn’t get to say anything before Genesis spoke up as well.  “Indeed.  You have shown me the supposed future, but it is still a jumbled mess.  I am no nearer to a clear understanding than I was weeks ago when you first tried to scramble my brain.”

Reno sat up at that statement and raised a brow at her.  “Huh?  The future?  The hell is goin’ on?  This is way weirder than I thought.”

She gave both men a glare.  “If you will shut up for ten seconds I’ll tell you all everything.”

“Tch.”  Reno leaned back again and gave her an expectant look.  “Well then get after it, yo.”

Eve shook her head at his antics but still turned so she could see them all.  “First, for the record, I suppose I am actually a Cetra.”

Reno was instantly on his feet and staring at her with wide eyes.  “Woah, really?  I knew ya were different, but that’s nuts.”

She had to take a deep breath so she wouldn’t lose her temper.  “Yes, really.  Now sit down and shut up or we are never going to get this done.  Ask questions later.”

He sat down again with a huff.  “I thought I was the senior officer here.”

She rolled her eyes but ignored his commentary.  “That fact is how I was able to show both of you the future that I have seen.”  She paused and looked to Reno.  “And before you ask, no, I cannot show it to you too.  These two are special cases.”

He huffed again but didn’t say anything, so she continued.  “I first saw those visions when I was a girl.  I didn’t know at the time that they were a reality until Minerva reached out to me and commandeered my help.” 

She was close enough to Sephiroth that he reached out and gave her hand a squeeze at that admission.  He knew what it had cost her.  She gave him a soft smile before she took a deep breath and started again.  “So that we are all on the same page, I can give everyone an overview of what those visions showed me.  This will take a while, so just let me get it all out, please.”

Neither Genesis nor Reno looked happy about her request, but they both gave her nods.  Once that was decided, she sat next to Sephiroth and launched into the tale.  She held tightly to his hand the whole time, and neither of them was sure for whose comfort.  In the end, it didn’t matter as they each drew strength from the other.

By the time she was done, both Sephiroth and Genesis looked sick.  Genesis had started pacing at some point, and Eve could occasionally hear him ranting under his breath.  Sephiroth hadn’t moved, but his head was down, and she could feel how tense he was next to her.

It was several minutes before anyone else spoke.  Reno stood and gave the two Firsts a long hard look.  He then glared at Eve and where her fingers were still intertwined with Sephiroth's.  His voice was low and hard.  “Please don’t tell me you knew this before you fell in love with this asshole.”

Eve was on her feet in an instant, and Sephiroth was not far behind.  Genesis had stopped and was glaring at Reno as well.  She tried to keep her temper in check as much as possible since she knew Reno wasn’t actually trying to be a dick.  “Neither of these men have done anything wrong.  I refuse to hold them accountable now for something that will no longer ever come to pass.  That is why I’m here in the first place.”

Reno made a disgusted noise and took a step forward.  “Yeah, but if you’re tellin’ the truth, then both these men could go crazy psycho killer on everyone.  Why do you trust they won’t?”

Eve took a step toward Reno as well and almost laid into him.  She paused when she noticed that Sephiroth hadn’t said anything in his own defense yet, so she turned to see he was standing with his head down and his fists clenched.  Her heart felt like it was being squeezed when she realized he wasn’t saying anything because he agreed with Reno.  They hadn’t had much time to talk about it, but his actions told her all she needed to know.

She turned back to Reno with a renewed glare.  “There are many reasons I trust them both.  To start with, neither of them has shown me they are anything other than honorable Soldiers.  They are also armed with the truth now and not a shit-ton of Hojo’s lies.  Obviously, we will need to find a way to keep Jenova from reaching out to them permanently, but I have no doubt that they are both more than capable of fighting her influence as long as they aren’t broken and alone.  That would be hell for any person.”

Despite Eve’s vehement defense of the two Soldiers, Reno was still glaring.  “Nuh-uh.  I believe that you saw the future, and I ain’t interested in seeing it come to pass.  We need to eliminate this threat now.  How the hell could you care about a monster like that!?”

The words had barely left Reno’s mouth before a loud slap rang out.  All three men were staring at her in shock as she was practically shaking, she was so angry.  None of them ever thought she would be capable of that level of rage, and Sephiroth got to see for himself what Genesis had been talking about as the air around Eve started swirling and crackles of electricity were sparking around her.

Even Reno knew he had crossed some line and started backing away from her slowly as she fought to regain control of her breathing and temper.  It was several seconds before she managed to speak through gritted teeth.  “If you want to talk about future disasters that need to be eliminated, then why don’t we get into a little more detail.  I left it out because it wasn’t relevant to what we needed to tackle, but we can talk about how you ‘only followed orders’ and destroyed the Sector Seven pillar, killing untold thousands of people, just for a chance to wipe out Avalanche.  You didn’t know if they were present, but it didn’t matter.  The President said jump and the Turks said how high.  If we are looking at this as a done deal, then you personally have just as much innocent blood on your hands as either of them.”

When she was done talking, there was absolute silence.  No one moved as Reno stared at Eve like she had just stabbed him.  He finally started shaking his head.  “No, I couldn’t ever do somethin’ like that.”

By that time, Eve had gotten control of herself, but she was still spitting mad.  “Yes, you would be capable of it.”  At that point, she seemed to deflate as the last of her anger drained from her, and she sighed.  “But you won’t now, will you?  Knowing that you could be put into a position to be forced to do that, you plan on taking what steps you can to never be faced with that choice, right?”

Eve had never seen Reno look so off, and part of her wished she hadn’t said anything.  She knew that it was something he needed to hear, though.  She wasn’t sure how the Turks went from outlaws wanting to help Zack, to destroying lives a few months later, but given what she personally now knew of them, she figured there had to be a reason.  They were killers, yes, but they weren’t heartless.

Reno gave her a plaintive look.  “What could ever make that okay?”

Eve’s eyes narrowed, but her voice only held concern.  “Nothing could ever make it okay, but I know you, and I know you had to have had a reason.  I don’t know what it would be, though.  All I know is that the order came directly from the President and you were the one to follow through with it.”

Reno was staring out in space trying to come to grips with what he had been told, but he wasn’t allowed long.  Genesis stepped up.  “Are we quite done outlining how all Shinra employees are apparently monsters waiting to happen.”

Eve glared at him.  “You aren’t monsters.  None of you are monsters.  The whole point of my presence here is to arm you with the truth, so those events never happen.  That is why we are here trying to discuss what our next steps should be, remember?”

Genesis returned her glare, but Sephiroth finally spoke.  Eve wanted to cringe at his voice.  It was monotone and nearly lifeless.  “But we are monsters.  At least Soldiers are.  No matter what we might do to stop those disasters from happening, we are not human.”

Eve growled at him in frustration, but she quit trying to tell them the same things over again.  Instead, she walked straight up to Sephiroth and wrapped her arms around him.  She buried her face in his chest to hide the fact that she had started crying out of her frustration and pain at his opinion of himself, so her voice was muffled.

“You are all victims of Hojo’s crazy, and I suppose Hollander too, but that doesn’t make you monsters.  Those two men are the monsters.  Your actions will define you, and none of you are monstrous.  You have just as much potential to use what you have been forced into for helping instead of destroying.  Not to mention, the planet felt you were worth saving.  If a Goddess can look at you and see something worth redeeming, why can’t you see it for yourself.”

She loosened her grip just enough so she could look up into his downturned face.  “I know you.  I have seen you.  You are stronger than this.  Don’t let despair break you now when you finally have the chance to prove that the future I saw was nothing more than a nightmare.”

He hadn't moved when she first grabbed him or for several moments after she looked up.  Finally, he hesitantly reached up and wiped away her tears before he pulled her in tightly.  “I never want to see your tears again.”

She laughed wetly into his chest.  “That sounds like a caring man to me.”  She didn’t see as he closed his eyes, and a pained expression crossed his face at her words.

She didn’t allow the embrace to go on for much longer.  She pushed back and looked around again.  “We can debate the philosophy of this all day, but in the end, what matters is that we have a plan in place before we go back to Midgar.”  She turned to Reno at that point.  “Tseng knows most of this already.  Currently, our plan includes trying to find a way to talk to Godo and see if we can bring an end to the fighting.  After that, we will head back Midgar with the good news and take it from there.  I am sure Tseng will have ideas for that part.  Could you find a way to talk to him securely?”

Reno stood and gave her a mixed look.  She could tell he still wasn’t completely sold on everything, but he gave her a nod.  “I can’t say what’ll happen, but I can have a secure line for you soon.  When do you need it?”

She nodded.  “Unless you can make it happen in the next few hours, then I would say when we get back from the Wutai Capital.”

Sephiroth turned her toward him and gave her a hard look.  “We still don’t have a plan.”

She shrugged.  “It won’t take me long to translate that report.  Once I do, then we can get started.  The sooner we get this over with, the better.  I have a feeling that it won’t be long until we start running out of time.”

Genesis scoffed.  “A feeling?”

She glared at him.  “Yes, a feeling.  Don’t forget that it was your Goddess who brought me here for this.”  She ignored his widened eyes and turned back to Sephiroth.  “Can you have everything ready for us to go as soon as I am done?”

He did not look happy at her request either, but he finally gave her a nod.  “We will be waiting once you finish.”  He pulled the recording out but grasped her hand when she tried to take it.  He looked deeply into her eyes for several moments before he spoke again.  “We will discuss the strategy on the way, but know that no matter what happens, I will not tolerate any person trying to hurt you, not even the Emperor himself.”

Eve felt her face flush all the way up to her scalp, but she gave him a nod and managed to speak.  “Hopefully, I can figure out a way for that to not be a problem.”

He looked at her for a few seconds longer before he leaned down and kissed her forehead.  She was frozen as he walked out.  She was so distracted that she didn’t even hear Reno’s teasing as he followed the two Soldiers.  It was several moments before she was back to herself.  She got to work right away on translating, but still caught herself touching her forehead several times while she worked.  Despite how upset she still was at the men’s continued insistence in believing the worst, she smiled every time she caught herself with her hand up.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

The troops assigned to accompany the two Firsts were finishing up the last of their preparations while Eve talked to Reno.  Both Genesis and Sephiroth were with the soldiers.  It wasn’t that they felt they needed them for this mission, but Captain Hawl insisted that if the two highest-ranking officers were going to be headed into the heart of enemy territory, they did not need to go unescorted.  Eve was just glad that so far, none of the Soldiers picked to go had given her any issues.  Some of the others hadn’t bothered hiding the fact that they did not care for a Turk being attached to their General in any way. 

Eve had taken Reno off to the side and out of earshot, even for the enhanced Soldiers, so they could talk privately.  “I know you aren’t thrilled that I’ll be alone with all those Soldiers, but you know that Sephiroth won’t let anything happen to me.  I'm not exactly defenseless either.”

He scoffed at her and shook his head.  “I still ain’t convinced that they won’t go bonkers.”  He put both his hands up when she glared.  “I know, I know!  I’m not stopping ya.  I’ll be talkin’ to Tseng shortly.  Anything you want me to tell him?”

“Just what we went over.  I hope to have a cease-fire when we come back, at least one that will hold until we can figure out our next steps.  I will give you fair warning that he probably won’t be happy that I’m taking action without orders, but now that the truth has started to come out, I don’t see anyone being able to stop it.  It’s better to make the most of it.”

Reno shook his head at her, but he was still grinning.  “It ain’t like I’ve never pissed him off before.  I know how to handle that much.”

Eve chuckled.  “Yeah, I bet you do.”

She gave him a nod and started to turn away, but he called out and stopped her.  When she turned back, his face was as serious as he could make it.  “Hey Dollface, stay safe, yo.”

She smirked and nodded.  “You too, Gingersnap.”

Eve was still smiling when she made it back to the transports.  Sephiroth was doing last-minute checks and smiled when she drew even.  “We are ready to leave.”

“I have everything as well.”  She paused and looked between the two vehicles.  “Which one are we in?”

He stepped to the side and held a hand out.  “This one.  The driver will be the only other Soldier in this transport.  The other three will be in the other truck.”

She nodded absently as she watched Genesis have the two Thirds and a Second load up.  She frowned back up at Sephiroth.  “Will we have the opportunity to talk?”

He nodded but didn’t say anything as Genesis had joined them.  The redhead smirked at her as he jumped up.  It was at that point she realized the back had no steps.  It wasn’t necessary for men that were all over six foot and could jump higher than they were tall.  She sighed as she grabbed the back and started to pull herself up.  She let out a little screech when she was suddenly lifted and set down inside.  She whirled around to see Sephiroth had already followed her up as well. 

He frowned down at her.  “I apologize if I startled you, but I thought you might have problems without steps.”

She put a hand over her heart and shook her head.  “It’s alright, but next time at least warn me first.”  She shot a glare at Genesis when she heard him snicker, but nothing else was said until they were on their way.

Once Eve was sure their driver couldn’t hear, she pulled out the transcribed sheets and gave a copy to both men.  “So, the report was pretty simple.  Just a brief overview of how things went, but what was interesting was the eye witness accounts.  The man that sent it was obviously not there.  From the sounds of it, he didn’t really believe what his troops told him, so he included their own words separately.”

She turned to the second page and continued.  “From these, you can see the opinion is split.  With only one exception, most of the men either thought I was a summon that you managed to call before you passed out, or your… a… um, well a demon too.”

Both men had been reading along while she spoke.  Genesis started laughing before she was even done.  She gave him a glare that he completely ignored.  “His demon mate?  They actually believe the two of you are demons? “

“That isn’t the point.”

Sephiroth had started glaring as well.  Genesis ignored him too, but his laughter slowed to chuckles as he raised a brow at her.  “It is an apt enough description.”

Eve rolled her eyes.  “Anyway, the point here is that they didn’t include anything beyond what we expected.  My main worry was that they would have sent something that would cause them to act out of fear when we try to approach.  We can work with this.”

Sephiroth closed the packet he was holding.  “You sound as if you already have a plan.”

She gave him a nod.  “Yes.  It’s simple, really.  You are one of the most recognizable people on the planet, and it would be fair to say that the Wutainese would be able to recognize Commander Rhapsodos on sight as well.  With this, they are sure to at least have an idea of who I am too.  If we leave the trucks some distance from the city and have the rest of the troops stay with them, we have a better chance of being allowed in.”

Genesis scoffed.  “You mean we have a better chance of being shot as soon as we are close enough.”

Eve glared at him, but Sephiroth spoke in his defense.  “Genesis is right.  If it is just the three of us, we raise the odds of an attack before we can even state why we came.”

She raised a brow at him.  “Do you think I hadn’t thought about that?”  She stood so she wouldn’t have to keep looking up at the two men and grabbed an overhead strap to stay on her feet.  “Look, it will be a balancing act.  We need to go in with a show of strength, so they will think twice about killing us, but we don’t want a show of force so large that they think we are trying to invade either.  My thoughts were that Genesis and I could both have a summon out and be directing them to cover our approach.  We can both manage to hold them out and direct them long enough to be effective.”

Genesis gave her an evaluating look.  “And you are so confident in me going along with this?”

She gave him a confused look.  “Why wouldn’t you?  You are the one that taught me, so I know you are more than capable of it.  Is there something else you object to?”

He stood with a slight snarl but turned away when Sephiroth stood as well.  It was several moments before he turned back to her with a glare.  “Perhaps I simply do not wish to.”

She gave him a confused look.  The idea that he was being spiteful was absurd, but she didn’t see why else he wouldn’t want to help.  It was at that point, a reason occurred to her, and she glared back at him.  “You haven’t been degrading long.  You still have control over your mind, and your magic is still more than enough for this task.  It’s not like I’m asking you to have ten summons out and blow up the city.”

He took a menacing step forward but was stopped when Sephiroth stepped in front of Eve.  His voice was calm, but there was a hard note to it.  “Now is not the time for this.  Your degradation will be one of the first things we tackle once we make it back to Midgar.  Do not take your frustrations out on Eve.  She is the reason we are all looking for a solution in the first place.”

It was an incredibly tense few seconds later that Genesis turned with a huff and threw himself back into one of the seats.  “There are no dreams, no honor remains.  However, I will do this.  If we are effective, it will give us a window of opportunity to leave if things do not seem to be working the way you expect them to.”

Eve scoffed.  “I expect things to go to hell quickly, but I’m still hoping we have a chance.”

Both men gave her an odd look at her quip, but she ignored it and started trying to list possible contingencies and what they could do about them.  They spent the next several hours trying to get everything that they could think of lined out.

It was just after nightfall when the truck finally stopped.  They had finally reached the point that was appointed as far enough away to not give the Wutianese fits.  After a short debate, it was decided that they would camp and leave in the morning.  As much as they wanted to get the whole thing over with, it made more sense to approach the city in the daytime, especially if they were banking on their appearances having any leverage.  It also made sense for them not to try to hike there at night.  The two Soldiers were more than capable, but it would make running into something nasty before they even got to the city a little less likely.

They ended up sleeping in the trucks and setting a watch.  It was a little awkward for Eve, but Sephiroth sat by her side until she was asleep.  She tried to convince him to sleep as well, but he told her he would take first watch and sleep once Genesis was rested.


 

The next morning was even more awkward than the previous night had been.  Sephiroth had followed through with what he said and had finally gone to sleep at some point, but when Eve woke, it was to his arm curled around her middle.  She had a brief moment of panic until she recognized his duster and gloves.  When she realized their predicament, a part of her didn’t want to move.  At least not until she heard someone walking closeby.  The reminder that they were far from alone had her gently shaking his arm to wake him.

Apparently, he had not gone to sleep wrapped around her because he looked just as shocked as she had felt when he first opened his eyes.  She made a point of not saying anything about it though.

It didn’t take Sephiroth long to leave orders for the troops that stayed behind.  None of them looked happy with the decision, as they had not been told they would be staying with the vehicles, but none of them thought to argue with their General.  Once that was settled, the two Firsts and Eve headed toward the Capital.

It was the better part of three hours before they arrived.  They might have made it more quickly, but the two Soldiers slowed to accommodate Eve’s pace.  It was already well into autumn, but the speed they initially set was still hard for her to maintain.

They stopped a short distance from the city, while they still had some tree cover and went over the high points once more.  Once they felt ready, Genesis summoned a Phoenix and Eve summoned the Ifrit he had given her.  With the two summons out front, they made their way into the city.

Eve cringed at the number of people that ran from them screaming in Wutianese.  What she could understand didn’t sound good, but the three of them stuck to the main path that went straight to the palace.  It wasn’t long until they were approached by several units of soldiers.  Despite Sephiroth’s unease, both Eve and Genesis were in front.  As soon as the troops raised their rifles, Eve held up a hand and made a sweeping motion.  Genesis mirrored the action to her right.  That was their cue to their summons and the two fire elementals each put up a wall of flames that overlapped.

Sephiroth tried to call out and let the Wutianese know their intentions, but the sound of a rain of bullets filled the air.  Sephiroth’s sword hand twitched, but they had agreed that the Soldiers would remain unarmed within the city.  Each of them was essentially a living weapon anyway.  If the need was dire, they could both summon their swords to themselves if necessary, but that would be a last resort.

After several minutes the noise finally died down.  The wall of flames had worked to keep any bullets from getting through.  Sephiroth waited a few moments longer and tried again when the silence continued.  “We are not here to fight.  We would like to speak with the Emperor about a possible mutual objective.”

His voice caused murmurs on the other side of the wall of flames.  Neither Genesis or Eve moved to lower them though.  After several moments, one of the men finally called out.  “What would Shinra dogs have in common with any of us!?”

So far, it was not any worse than they had expected.  Sephiroth was frustrated, but no one besides his companions could tell.  “More than you might expect.  We want to end this war, but there is more.  We believe we have information that could be beneficial to the Emperor.”

The man that had spoken scoffed.  “If Shinra believes that sending the Silver Demon will make us cower in fear and surrender, you are mistaken!”

Sephiroth nearly growled, but Eve held a hand up and spoke in his stead.  “We are not here to ask for your surrender.  It may be hard to believe, but we are here unarmed as a show of faith that we want a mutually beneficial solution.  We are not here on Shinra’s behalf.”

There were more murmurs after she spoke.  While they were whispering, Sephiroth leaned forward.  “What did you tell them?”

“Later.”

The man’s voice was still hard when he finally answered.  “You say you are unarmed, yet you cower behind summons.  Why should we believe you!?”

“I know you are honorable men.  If you give your word that you will not shoot us as soon as our shields are down, we will agree to release them.”

The chattering at her response was loud enough that they could catch snippets of it over the sound of the flames.  None of them moved, though until the man called out once more.  “I am the Captain of this unit, and you have my word that as long as you cooperate, you will not be harmed.”

Genesis glared at Eve when she lifted her hand, but she just glared back and mouthed the words ‘do it’ before she waved her hand in the opposite direction.  Genesis hesitated, but when Sephiroth gave him a glare as well, the Commander huffed and followed suit.

When the summons were gone, the unit that had confronted them was standing there with rifles raised, but no one fired.  The man that was the speaker stepped forward with a glare.  “If we are to even consider allowing you into the palace, we must know that you are entirely unarmed.  You will submit to a search and will hand over any weapon or materia on your persons.”

Sephiroth stepped forward at that point and snapped one of his bangles off.  He didn’t hand it over right away, though.  “I agree to your terms, but we need a promise that everything will be returned to us when we leave.”

The Captain gave him an edged smile.  “You have my promise that everything will be returned if you leave.”

Genesis growled at the implied threat, but Sephiroth handed his bangle over without any other requests.  Eve followed suit.  Her pistols had been left with the trucks.  They both turned to Genesis, and he huffed before he did the same.  He added a glare as he handed everything over. 

When no one moved, Sephiroth gave them a slight scowl.  Eve realized what the issue was and stepped forward with her arms raised.  She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth when the Captain stepped forward to pat her down.  When she heard Sephiroth’s growl, the man paused, but Eve looked over her shoulder and caught his eye.  She shook her head before she closed her eyes again.  Much to her relief, the man was professional and finished quickly before he moved to Sephiroth.

The General gave the man a glare, but he allowed himself to be patted down as well.  Another man had moved forward to take care of Genesis.  Once that was over, the Captain stepped back and gave them a confused look.  It passed quickly, though, and he motioned for them to follow.  The rest of his unit fell into step around them.

As they walked through the city, many people stopped and stared.  By the time they made it to the palace gates, there was a large group that was following them.  Eve wasn’t sure what to think of it.  She understood that they made quite the spectacle, but she had no idea how it would impact their mission.  She shook those thoughts off as they were led to a large empty room and left with several guards.

Once they were alone, she turned to the two Firsts.  “I didn’t think about it before, but if the Emperor agrees to see us, it would be best if we give him a show of respect.  I don’t have time to explain it, so please just follow my lead.”

They gave her curious looks.  It was Sephiroth that spoke first.  “What will this entail?”

She shook her head when they heard footsteps outside.  “We don’t have time.  Just do what I do.”  She paused and glared at Genesis.  “That means that for the moment, you will need to swallow your pride and just do it without question.”

He looked like he was about to argue, but he didn’t have the chance before a group of soldiers walked in surrounding a man.  The group stopped in front of them, and the man in the middle stepped forward.  “Why have you requested an audience with me?”

Eve looked him over and tilted her head to the side.  When Sephiroth looked like he was about to speak, she held out her hand and spoke in his stead.  “We have asked to speak to Emperor Godo.  I am not sure who you are, but the information we have will be beneficial to him.  We are content to wait if need be.”

There was a shuffling of feet at her words.  It was several moments before the man spoke again.  “And Shinra is so well informed to know my appearance?”

She shook her head.  “Not Shinra.  From what I have heard, he has kept himself out of sight.  I am sure it was at his advisor's insistence given some of Shinra’s tactics.  I personally know what he looks like because of my own connections.  I understand the vetting process and the need for a body double though.”

Again, several of the men shifted, but the man in the middle was giving her a contemplative look.  “What connections are you speaking of?”

Eve raised a brow.  “My connection to the planet.  I would be happy to go into more detail with the Emperor.”

The man raised both brows at her claim.  He then looked at both Soldiers closely before he raised a hand, and another group of soldiers entered.  When they joined the first contingent, they all raised their rifles and a tall man with long dark hair stepped forward.  When he approached, Eve got on her knees and leaned forward before she allowed her forehead to touch the floor.  Sephiroth quickly followed suit.  He had to pause and give Genesis a glare before the redhead huffed and did the same.

With all of their heads down, complete silence fell over the room.  None of them noticed the shocked look on all of the Wutianese except for the man in front.  After several moments the man finally spoke.  “I am unsure whether I am more surprised that you are aware of the proper greeting, or the fact that I see Shinra’s elite bowing to me in respect.”

Eve did not raise her head as she spoke.  “Please understand that we are not approaching you on behalf of Shinra.  You are the leader of a sovereign country, and as such, you deserve our deference.”

It was several more moments before he spoke again.  “You may rise.”

The three of them stood, and the Emperor looked them all over closely before he turned to Eve.  “You are the demon that made my best assassins cower and run.  Since when have demons learned to employ respect.”

Eve heard Genesis laugh under his breath and Sephiroth growl, but she ignored them both as she squared her shoulders and looked the man in the eye.  “Your Majesty, I understand that Shinra’s motives for starting this war were uncouth, but Sephiroth’s actions have always been honorable.  He fought combatants only.  His attention passed over civilians as they had no part of this.  He may have the strength of a demon, but his heart is that of an honorable man.”

Godo laughed at her defense.  “I asked of you, but your instinct is to defend your lover.  Your actions do not show you to be a demon, yet that does not prove you an ally.  Why should I listen to you?”

Eve’s cheeks heated at Godo’s claim, but she didn’t refute him.  She didn’t get a chance to respond either, as Sephiroth spoke instead.  “I understand why you have no desire to speak with me, but surely you would want to listen to the voice of the planet.  The Cetra want what is best for all, and Eve has consistently proven herself to continue that tradition.  She has sacrificed much to ensure the survival of all Gaia’s peoples.”

Godo raised a brow.  “Are you claiming she is Cetra?  That one with such a connection to the planet would choose to ally with you willingly?”

Eve spoke up at that point.  “Yes, and yes.  I may wear the uniform of a Shinra employee, but my allegiance is to a brighter future for everyone.  That includes helping these men throw off their painful history and start over.  They are not evil.”

Godo laughed again, but this time the sound was edged with a tone of derision.  “Why should I believe anything you say?”

It was at that point that Eve got a faraway look in her eyes and paused.  All the men were watching her with interest.  When she finally lost the look in her eyes, she was smiling and shaking her head.  “I understand why you don’t believe me, as it is a hard thing to understand.  That doesn’t negate the fact that it is still true, and I can prove it.  Minerva speaks to me, as it was she that pulled me to this place to help her.  She just gave me some information that I do not think you have yet.”

He gave her a look that said he was humoring her.  “And what would that be?”

She gave him a nod.  “Have you seen the Princess Yuffie in the last couple of hours?”

At her question, most of the soldiers stiffened.  Godo frowned at her.  “Why do you ask?”

Eve shook her head at the look he was giving her.  “Please do not take it that way.  I have no intentions of ever doing anyone here harm.  I ask, because Minerva has shared some interesting information that I think you might need.”

The look he gave her was still skeptical.  She could tell that she still had not convinced him, but he hadn’t ordered them shot yet either, so she continued.  “I have been told that you and the Princess had a bit of an argument this morning.  She asked to be allowed to climb the Pagoda of the Five Mighty Gods once again, and you refused since she is still too young.  From what I understand, she has taken it upon herself to climb it anyway.”

He scoffed at that, even if Eve could tell he was disturbed by her knowledge of the argument.  His voice was hard when he answered.  “I do not know how you found out about our discussion, but I can assure you that none of the others would allow her past the doorway.”

Eve shook her head.  “You misunderstand.  She has decided that if she cannot climb it your way, then she would climb it her own way.  She is currently stuck on the roof and cannot manage to get herself down.”

Everyone froze at that point.  Several seconds later, Godo lifted one hand, and several soldiers ran from the room.  Nothing else was said.  The Emperor was watching them all with interest.  They all realized that if Eve’s information turned out to be correct, there was more to her claim than they had expected.

After nearly fifteen minutes of silence, a flustered guard came running into the room.  He didn’t say anything out loud.  Instead, he ran straight to Godo and whispered something in his ear.  Both Genesis and Sephiroth must have heard anyway as they both gave Eve an evaluating look.  The most surprised expression came from Godo, however.

“There is something that urgently requires my attention.  Please enjoy the hospitality of my household until I can return.”  He gestured for several of the guards to follow him while the rest moved to escort the three Shinra employees.  The Emperor paused at the door and turned back to them.  “As unlikely as your tale sounds, I will be willing to listen.”

Eve gave him a bow as he turned and walked out.  As precarious as their position still was, it seemed as though the impossible might become possible.  Getting the Emperor to listen was the hard part.  With a satisfied smile, Eve followed their escort out and to a set of rooms reserved for guests.  A guard remained at their quarters, but it was a better start than any of them had expected.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

As soon as they were alone in the room, Sephiroth pulled out his phone.  He checked in with their troops and advised them to hold their position.  He also let them know they expected to be negotiating for several days.  Eve gave him a curious look but didn’t have to wait long to find out why he told them what he had.

“I want to ensure that they do not act out of worry.  If we are back before the deadline, all will be well.”

It made sense.  Eve put it out of her mind and turned to more pressing issues.  “Now that we have an audience at least, how much should we share?”

Genesis gave her an evaluating look.  “That would depend on if you have any more clever tricks up your sleeve.”

Eve rolled her eyes.  “There is no trick, and you know it.”

Sephiroth cut them both off before it escalated.  “As well-timed as your information was, we cannot rely on another situation arising to benefit us.  It would also be wise to keep things to a minimum.  There is no need to go into detail about a future that will not come to pass.  Current events should be our focus.”

Eve and Genesis nodded in agreement, and the three of them sat down to discuss their next steps.  It was nearly an hour later that a knock sounded at the door.  The three occupants looked up with curiosity when a woman entered the room.  She gave them a bow before she addressed Eve.

“My Lady, I have been asked to help prepare you for the feast tonight.”

They all looked at each other before they looked back to the woman.  Eve took a tentative step closer.  “I was not aware there would be a feast.”

The woman looked slightly scandalized.  “It is only proper.  It is not every day that we receive such distinguished foreign dignitaries.”

“Oh.”  Eve understood.  It was a bold move on Godo’s part.  It acknowledged their plea to speak to him and gave the impression of respect.  It would also allow him the time to feel them out to see if it would be worth it humor them.  The only drawback was public opinion.  It could sour quickly if the public believed Godo was only pandering to prevent an invasion of the city.  It would be a fine line for the Emperor to walk.

Eve turned back to Sephiroth.  “I should be fine.  I imagine that they will have something for both of you to change into as well, though I don’t imagine it will take as long.”

Sephiroth gave her a worried look but didn’t get to voice it as the woman spoke again.  “The gentlemen’s clothes will be here shortly.  An assistant will remain if they require aid.”

Genesis sneered, but Sephiroth spoke up before he could say anything.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  We are looking forward to speaking with the Emperor tonight.”  He paused and glanced over at Eve before he continued.  “Will you be bringing Dr. Marx back to this room?”

The woman gave him a slight smile.  “Unfortunately, there will likely not be enough time.  You have all been given seats at the head table, so it will be no problem for me to guide the Lady to the dining hall once we are finished.”

Sephiroth raised a brow.  It was barely mid-afternoon.  Eve didn’t seem shocked, however, so he hoped it was just a woman thing.  He gave them a nod, and Eve made a point of grabbing his hand and giving his fingers a quick squeeze before she followed the woman out.

Once they were down the hall a short way, the woman gave her a sly smile.  “If this is inappropriate, I beg your pardon.” 

Eve raised a brow when the woman paused.  “I don’t let most things bother me.”

The woman smiled again.  “It is just that, we have so many stories of the Silver Demon, but the latest are the most humanizing.  We were told he had taken a lover.  I never expected it to be a woman of your standing.”

Eve nearly stumbled.  “My standing?”  She was fighting a blush at the rest of the question, so she tried to focus on the part that wasn’t causing her to feel lightheaded.

“Of course.  The Emperor himself has stated that you are to be afforded anything you desire.  He would not do such for anyone unworthy.”

Eve was struck dumb again.  Maybe her impromptu plan had worked better than she expected it to.  She shook the thoughts off and tried to focus on the task at hand instead of what was to come. 

When they got to the room, there were no less than a half-dozen young women waiting.  It was a little daunting when the first thing they tried to do was bathe her.  She finally had to be firm and let them know that she did not like to be touched by other people.  It was going to be bad enough for them to work on helping her dress and the rest.  She was more than capable of bathing herself.  None of the women seemed to care for her response, but they left her alone.

As soon as she was out, the women swarmed her again.  Eve grimaced at their proximity, but she had to admit they were conscientious of her request.  Each of them asked before they touched her in any way to make sure they had her approval.  She sighed when several of the women held up yards of fabric for her to chose from.  She knew it had been a possibility, she just wasn’t sure how much she would care for the traditional dress.  It seemed confining.  She finally decided on a navy kimono that had cresting waves along the trim and bottom with a silver obi.

They did not put the dress on right away.  Instead, they gave her a robe and had her sit so they could do her hair and make up.   She refused to allow the full face make-up.  Just the thought of it on her skin made her feel like she was suffocating.  They compromised and only added the accents.

When they were drying and putting her hair up, Eve heard several of the women murmuring and asked if there were any issues.  The girls giggled, and the woman that had brought her in spoke up.  “No, my Lady.  It’s simply that they find your hair unusual.”

Eve wasn’t sure how to take that.  It definitely stood out.  She tried to be careful with her response.  “I guess it is different.”

One of the girls decided to speak up finally.  “It reminds me of flames.”

The girl next to her shook her head.  “No, more like embers with an occasional flicker of a dying fire.”  She then looked Eve in the eye.  “It is lovely.”

Eve could tell the girl meant it too.  She smiled.  “Thank you.”

Once they managed to get her hair up and pinned with combs, they took her robe and started to dress her.  It took them longer than they expected since Eve had never worn anything like it.  There were several times that she almost tripped them all up as they were working.

By the time they were done, several tendrils of her unruly hair had fallen from the elaborate updo.  The woman in charge sighed at the sight of it, but it didn’t take her long to tuck most of them back.  She went ahead and left some of them down.  With Eve’s hair, it was likely that they would have fallen again anyway.

They did not have a full-length mirror for her to check herself.  They gave her a hand mirror and what she could see looked exotic to her eyes.  She felt almost like she was a girl playing dress-up again.  She just hoped that was not the impression she gave when she met up with the rest of them.  She was going to need every advantage she could get when it came to trying to convince Godo to work with them.

The woman then led her to a set of double doors.  Eve had to concentrate on how to walk in the sandals.  It was nearly like wearing heels, but different enough that they would take some getting used to.  Being distracted almost caused her to run into the woman when they stopped.  She apologized, and the woman waved it off as she opened the doors. 

Eve wasn’t given long to wonder why the woman closed the doors as soon as she entered instead of walking the rest of the way with her.  As soon as they were shut, most of the talking in the room ceased, and she had to fight the urge to blush as she felt the gazes of the crowd on her.  She squared her shoulders and headed to the only table that was raised above the rest. 

Before she got there, the occupants of the head table all stood.  It was then that she noticed Sephiroth.  He had been given a haori and hakama in black and silver.  His hair was also pulled back into a partial top-knot with the rest flowing down his back and Eve froze at the sight of him.  When she heard a couple of giggles nearby, she realized what a spectacle she was making of herself and forced her feet to move.  There was no stopping her blush, though.

As Eve started walking again, Sephiroth was reminded to breathe.  He had stood as soon as she came in and had to blink several times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.  She was a beautiful woman in all circumstances, but the way the tendrils of hair framed her face, the perfect accents in her accessories, and the way the colors she wore seemed to accent her natural tone, all combined to give her an ethereal look.  He didn’t see how anyone could behold her at that moment and doubt that she was otherworldly.

When Eve made it to the head table, she gave the Emperor a bow.  He returned it slightly and motioned for her to join the others.  She was given the seat to his right.  A petulant Yuffie was sitting on his left, and the two Soldiers were across from them. 

Eve tried to not look at Sephiroth directly.  The last thing she wanted to do was make a fool of herself.  The keep her mind off it, she tried to address the girl.  “Princess, I am glad to see you were unharmed.”

The girl glared at her and crossed her arms.  “I don’t speak to Shinra dogs.”

When Yuffie looked away pointedly, Eve tried not to laugh.  It was so typical a response that she found it adorable instead of offensive.  When Godo noticed her ill-concealed smile, he raised a brow.

“I would apologize for my daughter’s behavior, but you do not seem bothered.”

Eve shook her head.  “It is understandable.  She’s only ten, and this war has already been going for nearly eight years.  It would be shocking only if she didn’t resent those she believes to be associated with Shinra.”

Godo gave her a small smile before he spoke.  “Your nature continues to shine through.”

Eve blinked a couple of times as she tried to get the meaning behind what he had said.  It only took her a moment, and she shook her head.  “That has nothing to with my nature and more to do with my job.  I am a doctor.  Specifically, a psychiatrist.”

His eyebrows raised.  “I thought the uniform you wore was that of a Turk.”

Eve couldn’t stop her grimace.  “Yes it was, but that is only a recent development.  I’ve had my doctorate for over a year now.”

His gaze turned evaluating, but the servers arrived at that point.  The group around the table remained silent until they finished and stepped away from the table.  Once they were gone, Godo turned back to Eve.  “Tell me, how does one go from a doctor to a Turk and then to scaring hardened warriors with simple words?”

Eve had expected this topic to come up at some point, but she had hoped it would have been after they had a chance to break the ice a little.  This was more like breaking the Arctic Circle.  She still managed to answer.  “My only thought at that moment was protecting Sephiroth.  I had not thought further than getting to him.  All I asked was that they leave.  I did not want to attack them.”

The Emperor’s brow rose.  “Yet you would have if they had not left?”

Eve could not stop herself from looking at Sephiroth across from her.  Her face blazed at the look he was giving her, and she nearly stumbled over her words as she tried to tear her eyes away and answer.  “Yes.  I know that answer may not encourage you to trust us, but I could not let him be killed.”

Godo chuckled and shook his head.  “On the contrary.  You were honest, and you were trying to protect your mate.  How could I hold that against you?”

Eve fervently wished that the evening would end already.  It made no difference that it had just started or that they had not reviewed anything pertinent yet.  She and Sephiroth had not even had the opportunity to discuss their relationship properly, and yet it was suddenly the most interesting topic of conversation for everyone else. 

Godo must have noticed her embarrassment and took pity on her with a slight change of subject.  “I have heard the tales of what happened, but can you explain to me what you did to terrify them so?”

Even though this was still dangerous territory, it was far safer as far as Eve was concerned.  She had no problem answering.  “I believe it was because of the sheer amount of magical energy around me.  I had to fight to contain it, and from what I have been told, the pressure from it was overwhelming.”

Godo looked at her in shook.  What she was talking about was unheard of.  People did not easily call upon the forces of the planet.  It took practice and concentration to produce results, not hold them back.

When Eve caught sight of his expression, she gave him an understanding look.  “I understand how crazy it sounds.  It was like that the first time I touched materia as well.  I had to practice to keep from accidentally setting them off.”

His eyes had only widened as he listened to her.  “How is that possible?”

Genesis finally spoke up at that point.  “If I may, I believe I have a valid theory about that.”

All eyes were suddenly on Genesis.  It was the first time Eve had noticed that he was also in hakama in the colors of autumn.  She had to admit that even if she found him condescending and annoying, she could understand why so many women fell to his charms.  That was a brief thought as she concentrated on what he was saying.

“I believe it is safe to assume that everyone here is aware that materia are simply the condensed knowledge of the Ancients, or rather the Cetra.  That would lead us to believe that they were inherently able to access the magic of the planet without the aid of the orbs we currently use.”

Eve’s eyes widened as she began to understand what he was getting at.  When Genesis caught sight of her expression, he gave her a nod before he continued.  “With the knowledge that Dr. Marx is a surviving Cetra, it would make sense that with training and practice, she could access that power as well.  I would wager that if she tried to, she could perform magic of any kind without materia.”

Eve was so shocked by his supposition that she didn’t even see the way several of the people from the closest tables were looking at her with either reverence or awe.  She finally shook off her stupor and gave Genesis an excited look.  “That actually makes sense.  I may have to try it sometime when we aren’t so pressed for time.”

She was reminded of where they were when Godo spoke again.  “That would be something to see.”

She swallowed and gave him a nod.  “I cannot guarantee that I am skilled enough yet, but that could be arranged before we leave if you are willing.”

He gave her an unreadable look before he turned back to the table and encouraged everyone to enjoy the meal before it became cold.  The conversation turned to lighter things afterward.  The only blemish was the fact that Yuffie rarely participated.  When she did, it was usually caustic.  None of the Shinra employees were bothered by it, which made the young girl pout even more.  Eve tried not to smile at her actions when the girl was looking.

It wasn’t until the end of the meal that Godo stood and gave his guests a nod.  “Please enjoy your stay while you are here.  I will send my men to retrieve you in the morning when I am free.  We can further discuss everything at that time.”

When he stood, so did the others.  At his announcement, Sephiroth gave him a nod.  “We look forward to the discussions.”

Godo gave them a final nod before he and Yuffie were surrounded by a bevy of guards and headed out.  Once they were gone, Sephiroth looked to the others.  “We should retire as well.”

Eve could only nod.  She blushed every time she laid eyes on him.  She knew they were still being watched, so she tried to keep her embarrassment to a minimum.  Even if everyone did already assume she was his.

When they made it into the hallway, the woman that had escorted Eve earlier was waiting just outside.  Eve’s curiosity didn’t last long as the woman intercepted them and gave her a bow.  “My Lady, I have been asked to escort you to a private room for your use while you are here.”

Eve froze and looked to the two Soldiers.  Sephiroth was frowning slightly, but he gave her a nod.  Her eyes widened, and she shook her head imperceptibly.  He gave her an incredulous look, but Eve didn’t wait for him to speak.  “I appreciate the offer, but we still have many things to discuss, and… I believe I would be more comfortable around people I know.”

When the woman frowned, Eve realized how that might have sounded and tried to smooth it over.  “Please do not think that it is because I mistrust anyone here.  It’s simply… well-“

She had no idea how to finish that sentence without making it worse.  She could already feel her face heating.  The woman’s eyes lit up, and she gave Eve a smile.  “I understand.  I was told to make the offer as the suites originally assigned to you only have two rooms.  If you would prefer to stay, I can have someone come and assist you with changing.”

Eve grimaced slightly when she realized that assistance would probably be necessary.  Not only was she scared of knotting the obi, but she had no idea how many pins it had taken to get her hair up.  She gave the woman a nod.  “That would be appreciated.”

The woman smiled.  “Of course.  I will send them shortly.  I will also send something for you all to retire in.”  She turned away to go tend to those duties, but she paused and turned back.  “My Lady, if you require anything during your stay here, please ask for me.  I am Meiri Kushiro.”  With a last bow, the woman hurried off and allowed the guards to escort them back to their assigned suite.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

Meiri was as good as her word, and the three Shinra employees had barely made it to their rooms before three women entered to help Eve with her dress.  Thankfully it didn’t take them nearly as long to remove everything.  They even helped her take the make-up off.  Eve was glad to be rid of it, even if she was a bit embarrassed by the robe they left her with.  All of their clothes had been taken for cleaning with a promise that they would have them back before they woke.

When they finally left and Eve rejoined the others, she found that they had also been given sleeping robes.  She had to do her best to not embarrass herself as they tried to discuss what would come.  Luckily, they all agreed that they needed rest soon after.

It wasn’t until she caught Genesis smirking as he walked into one of the rooms that Eve finally comprehended the full weight of what she had agreed to when she asked to stay.  She realized Sephiroth must have already thought of it when he had intimated that she should accept the offer.  Part of her agreed and thought about calling for Meiri, but she pushed that part aside.  She and Sephiroth needed to talk anyway. 

Their relationship was far from average, so it was understandable that what would normally work for other couples would need to be tweaked.  Eve had plenty of experience helping other people deal with these types of issues, but never had for herself, which made it worse.

She was drawn from her thoughts as Sephiroth gently took one of her hands after Genesis was in the other room.  Eve felt guilty at his first question.  “Is there something wrong?  I know you are the one that asked to stay here, but you have hardly looked at me all evening.”

She sighed and grabbed his other hand before she looked up into his eyes.  “The only problem I have is a general lack of self-control.  If I had looked at you in that haori any more than I had to, I might have ended up embarrassing us both.”

Eve knew her cheeks had to be blazing at that admission, but she also knew it had been the right thing to say.  Sephiroth blinked a couple of times and then smiled at her as understanding dawned on him.  He pulled her hands until she was close enough to wrap his arms around.  He held her loosely.  “Does that mean you like the new outfit?”

She grinned up at him.  “Do you think they would let you keep it?”

He smirked before he leaned down and brushed his lips across hers.  She could feel his breath on her lips as he spoke and had to fight to repress a shiver.  “I’m sure something can be negotiated.”

When he pulled her closer slightly and kissed her again, she leaned into him.  Eve had been kissed before, but that was as far as she had ever been able to allow, and then only after months of dating.  Not that there had been much of that in her life.  It was hard to become intimate with another person when you panicked every time they got close to you.  Kissing Sephiroth was entirely different.  She had no other thoughts besides his heat against her and how incredibly delicious he was.

She nearly sighed when he finally pulled back.  His eyes held concern when he looked down at her.  “While I am glad that you aren’t regretting your admission already, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.  If you were to call Meiri, I am sure she would be happy to find you another room.”

Eve hesitated.  She had no point of reference for what they were getting in to, and the timing couldn’t be worse, but somehow, she didn’t want to leave.  She shook her head.  “I won’t lie and say I haven’t thought about it, but I meant it when I said I think I would be more comfortable here.  I can’t think of a safer place for me to sleep than in your bed.”

She felt Sephiroth stiffen in her arms, and concern crossed her face.  She didn’t get to ask why before he started speaking slowly.  “Eve, Just the thought of that- it has my heart racing, but I do not want to rush this.”

It only took her a split second to realize what he meant, and her skin instantly felt like it was afire from her head to her toes.  Not all of it was embarrassment either.  She still managed to speak before he could feel like he had said something wrong.  “I didn’t mean to make it sound like I was rushing.  I only meant that I feel safe when I am near you.  If I am to sleep in this place where I know people might want any of us dead, then I would feel safer with you nearby.”

He sighed and pulled her closer before he rested his cheek on the top of her head.  It was several moments before he spoke.  “I am unsure why you believe I am the safest option, but I cannot deny that the thought pleases me.”

Eve pushed against his chest until he allowed her enough space to look up.  She was frowning.  “You are not defined by what was done to you or by the things that might have been.  You are no less than the wonderful man I fell in love with.  Every time I hear you say otherwise expect a reprimand.”  She stood on her tiptoes and managed to brush her lips across his.  “I feel safe because you make me feel that way.  It’s that simple.”

He gave her a half-smile and shook his head.  “I will keep that in mind.”  He hesitated for just a moment before he continued.  “It might be best if we turn in.”

Eve felt her cheeks heat, but gave him a nod and followed him into the other room.  They both felt a little awkward as they settled in, but as soon as Eve laid her head on his shoulder, she realized that nothing had ever felt more right.  It was not long at all before the scent that seemed to linger around him had her drifting off.  It was the slight smell of leather, mixed with the oil he used on his blade and his own pleasant musk.  Her last thoughts before she drifted off were of the man next to her.


 

The next morning, Sephiroth was awake before Eve.  He was usually one to be alert as soon as he was awake, but for some reason, just the feel of her soft body against his made him not want to even open his eyes.  He wasn’t even consciously thinking about it when he repositioned his arm and pulled her closer.  He froze when the way she shifted made him feel more of her skin than he had anticipated.  He opened his eyes and realized that during the night, the tie on the robe she was wearing had come undone, and it had fallen partially open.  She was now pressed flush against him, and war broke out in his mind.

There was a primal part of him that he usually kept a tight lid on that reveled in the way she felt against him.  Despite his thoughts on the matter of his status, he was convinced at that moment he was very much a man.  Even though he had insisted they should wait, that part of him was urging him to push the robe away entirely.

He nearly groaned at the torture when she cuddled closer and sighed against his chest.  The rational part of his mind knew it was unacceptable to even have those thoughts while she was still asleep.  If she were awake, it might be another story.

He reprimanded himself for that last thought and tried to figure out how to cover her before she woke.  He didn’t want her to have any reason not to trust him.  It became a moot point as she shifted again and opened her eyes.  He froze as she closed them and pressed one of her legs over one of his and tightened her arm around his waist.  Had she really woken up, or was there still a chance to redeem the situation?  He had his answer when she froze as well.  It was several heartbeats later that she finally tilted her head back and met his eyes. 

Hers were wide, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from groaning at the sight of the blush that dusted her cheeks.  It took her several moments before she could speak.  “I… how?... Did I do this?”

He took a deep breath and reminded himself that it was not something either of them had done on purpose.  “No, I just woke as well and I believe it must have happened while we slept.”

She nodded with a dazed look on her face, but to his surprise, she didn’t scream or yell, or even move.  Finally, her eyes brightened as did her blush as she spoke.  “Do you think it would be alright if we just stayed here for a little?”

He could not stop himself from pulling her as close as he could.  Neither could he hold back the groan that finally escaped him.  He could barely recognize his own voice.  “Eve, despite everything that I have said, feeling you here next to me, I find that I am hard-pressed to be a gentleman.”

He heard her swallow and his breath hitched when he felt her run her hand up his side and to the opening in his own robe.  She paused there, but only for a moment before she pushed the fabric back enough so she could see most of his chest.  He could hear her heart beating like a caged bird, but she still smiled up at him.  “It’s only fair.”

The look in her eyes made him lose all sense of control.  He barely realized they had moved before he rolled them both and was hovering over her.  He pressed down lightly and captured her lips.  Her robe had fallen the rest of the way open, and the feel of her breasts against his bared chest had his instincts taking over.  His kiss became urgent, and he traced the seam of her lips with his tongue.  When she parted them, he took all that she offered.

The hand that was not holding him up had moved to trace circles along her ribcage, and his thumb occasionally brushed the side of her breast.  Each time it did, she made a sound that was part groan and part purr.  The feel of it spurred him on.  He became bolder and moved to trace his lips across her shoulder and down to cover one rosy nipple.  Without him there to capture the sound, her cry was clear and like music to his ears.  He then moved to capture the other.  Her hands had already pushed his robe off his shoulders, and her nails were running lightly along his arms, leaving goosebumps in their wake.

His hands seemed to move of their own accord as they caressed down her sides to lightly grip her waist.  His mouth was close behind.  He made it all the way to her belly button before sense returned.  He had never been so driven by passion before, and he laid his forehead on the flat plane of her stomach as he tried to catch his breath.  He could not believe what he had almost done.

When he felt that he had better control, he sat back.  Eve’s eyes still looked slightly glazed, but he could tell that she was trying to rein herself in as well.  Despite his better judgement, he could not stop himself from looking at her nearly completely bared beneath him.  The sight almost drove him to pick up where he left off.  He curbed the urge, but he did pull her with him when he rolled back over.  He reveled in the feel of her skin against his but kept a tight rein on the impulses it caused while he tried to speak.

“I apologize.”  His voice was barely above a whisper.  Had he tried to speak louder, he doubted he could have kept it even.

Eve laid her head down on his chest and ran her hand across it as she responded.  “Don’t apologize.  I agree that it was probably wise that we paused, but it wasn’t just you.  I… part of me wished you hadn’t stopped.”

Sephiroth had to close his eyes and fight the fresh wave of desire her words invoked.  He only opened them when he felt it was safe to speak.  “I promise that we will pick up where we left off when the threat we face is no longer looming over us.”

He felt her smile before she placed a quick kiss on his chest and sat up.  He made a point to focus on her face as she grinned down at him.  “I’m going to hold you to that.” 

He returned the smile, and Eve suddenly realized how compromising their position still was with her straddling his waist.  She quickly jumped up and tried to fix her robe while she listened to him doing the same behind her.  Once she was reasonably sure it was safe to look back, she turned around.  She wasn’t entirely sure if she was glad to find his robe closed or not.  She shook the thought off as he gestured to the door.  “We need to get ready for our audience.”

The thought was a sobering one, and she nodded as she walked through the door he opened for her.  He nearly ran into her as she had frozen at what she saw.  An already dressed Genesis was smirking at them from across the room, and a group of three girls was giggling behind their hands.  Eve could not control the blush that ran through her.  She realized it was a damn good thing they had stopped when they did.  This was going to be embarrassing enough as it was.

She shook the thoughts off and finished walking into the room.  One of the girls stepped forward and bowed to her.  “My Lady, we have a selection of yukata for you to choose from.  We are here to assist you.”

Eve’s brow drew down at the thought of having to wear one of those.  They were pretty, but she doubted she would be comfortable in one all day.  “I don’t want to offend anyone, but would it be possible for me to just wear my normal clothes?”

The girls looked a little put-out, but another stepped forward and handed her the cleaned Turk uniform.  As irritating as she found it sometimes, she was glad they gave it back.  She gave them all a smile.  “Thank you.  I won’t need any help with this.”

They all bowed and started to leave, but the one that had spoken first stopped.  “If you would prefer something other than a yukata or your own clothes, please let Meiri know, and we would be happy to help.”

Eve smiled and thanked them again as they walked out.  She looked up to only see Genesis in the room.  She frowned slightly at the look he was giving her.  “Where is Sephiroth?”

His smirk widened.  “Oh, missing him already?  I thought you might have had enough of him for this morning at least.”

She glared at him.  “You know, you are really good at being an ass.”

He gave her a mock bow but didn’t get to say anything as Sephiroth walked out.  He glared at the redhead as well, but he spoke to Eve.  “We will leave as soon as you are dressed.”

Eve really wished it was at least occasionally alright to smack the irritating Commander, but she swallowed the urge and went back into the room to get dressed.  It was only a matter of minutes before she was back out and they let the guards know they were ready to see Godo.

They were led back to the same room they had initially been shown to and asked to wait.  They didn’t have to wait long.  When Godo arrived, he had a small contingent of guards with him, but they only took up positions around the doors and behind him.  He gestured to a group of chairs on one side of the room.  “Sit with me, and we will talk.”

Once they were all settled, he gave them a polite smile.  “I am pleased to note that so far, you have exceeded my expectations.  The only contact you have had with your troops is to tell them to stay away.  That was a pleasant surprise.”

Eve felt her stomach lurch.  She should have known that he would have someone listening to them.  Her mind frantically ran back over everything they had discussed and wondered if anything were said that would hurt their chances.  Only one thing stood out, but it was bad enough.

Her fears were confirmed when he spoke again.  “The only thing that bothers me is that you have already discussed what you should not tell me.  Knowing that, it does make me wonder how honest you had planned on being.”

Sephiroth was frowning when he spoke.  “We had not planned to keep anything that had already happened from you.”

Godo raised a brow.  “Anything that had not already happened?  You speak as though you have seen the future.”

All three of the Shira employees grimaced, and Godo did not miss it.  He gave them a shocked look.  “You have seen the future?”

Eve sat forward.  “I was shown the possible future years ago.  I did not know it at the time, but once I was tasked by Minerva to help, I was allowed the opportunity to share those visions with these two men to try and prevent it from happening.”

Godo didn’t say anything right away.  Finally, he pinned her with a curious look.  “And could you share those with me as well?”

Eve squirmed.  She could not, but she was afraid that he would take her refusal as something other than what it was.  She still shook her head.  “No.  Both of these men were special cases.”

When he just raised a brow at her refusal, she tried to explain.  “I was told that Genesis had a special connection to Minerva that allowed him to instinctively open the channel on his end when Minerva used me to pass the images on.  Under normal circumstances, I would not have been able to do the same for Sephiroth.”  She paused and glanced at him.  She looked away quickly at the frown he was wearing.  “It was only the fact that we share a strong bond that allowed it to happen.”

Silence had descended on the room after her announcement.  All three of the men were giving her incredulous looks, and she tried to avoid any of their eyes.  It wasn’t until Sephiroth reached out and took her hand that she looked up to see him smiling at her.  She felt her face blaze, but it was enough to prompt her to continue. 

“That is why I cannot share them.  It would be a moot point by now anyway. Things have already started to change, so that future will never come to pass.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t still things that need to be tackled.  The men that are behind the destruction are still at large and need to be dealt with.”

Godo didn’t say anything right away.  He took several minutes to try and digest everything that had been shared so far.  Finally, he looked at them all before he spoke.  “And what would you have me do?  Wutai has been able to hold off invasion, but we all know that it is a matter of time.  My hands are full here.  What influence would I have in the belly of the beast?”

Both Sephiroth and Genesis were still scowling.  Neither could understand what Eve meant when she said the men behind the destruction were at large.  They were well aware they were the cause, and it didn’t make any sense.  At least not until she spoke again.  “We plan to handle that part.  There are people within the company that need to be dealt with.  The only thing we need from you is time.”

Godo frowned.  He had a feeling he knew what she was going to ask, and it did not sit well with him.  “And what time can I give you?”

Eve tried not to cringe at his hard tone.  She knew that what they were asking was not an easy thing.  Even if it was only a farce.  Still, they had come too far to back down now.  “We would like to negotiate a cease-fire.  If you would be willing to give us six months, we will use that time to change the company from the inside out.”

Godo leaned forward slightly and gave her a glare.  “And why should I agree?  Who is to say that you are not here under false pretenses to achieve this very thing?”

Eve sat back with a sigh and looked to the two men she had come with.  Neither of them seemed happy to be there, and she knew that what they were here to share would be difficult for them at best, but doing so would ensure a brighter future for all.  It was her turn to reach out to Sephiroth and take his hand before she turned back to Godo.  “Let me tell you a little about what is going on, so you have a better idea of why we are motivated to make changes.  You can decide if it is reason enough once I am finished.”

He only deliberated for a moment before he motioned for her to continue.  At his agreement, she launched into a brief overview of the things that Hojo and Hollander had been up to for years and the President’s plans to find the promised land, along with the assurance that it was never a physical place.  Genesis had been unable to sit still through the telling and was pacing nearby.  Sephiroth had not let go of Eve’s hand, and she was glad that he was at least willing to lean on her, even if he still had doubts about himself.

Once she was done, the Emperor sat back with a look of disgust.  He did not speak for several minutes.  He finally stood and walked a few feet away before he turned back to them.  “What would you do if I gave you time?”

Eve looked back when Sephiroth stood.  His voice was hard when he answered.  “Whatever was necessary to keep those men from perpetrating their atrocities on any other innocent lives.”

Godo gave him an evaluating look.  “Does that include killing them?  Killing the President you have followed your whole life?”

Sephiroth barely paused.  “Yes.  It is not the man I follow, but the company.  Shinra has provided jobs and comfortable lives for many.  There is no reason why we should make any of them suffer by causing the collapse of the corporation.  That does not mean we should sit idly by and allow a few rotten men do as they please.”

Godo watched him closely to see if he could detect any lie.  When all he found was steely determination, he sighed and gestured back to the chairs.  “Let us discuss details.  I would like to know everything you plan before it is put into writing.”

With that, the group launched into possibilities and plans.  It was several hours before they broke for a meal.  Although none of them were particularly happy with everything, they all felt hope in that they might be able to accomplish what was necessary.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

The three Shinra employees ended up staying at the Wutainese capital for another two days before they were able to come to an agreement.  Godo had finally given them a surrender, of sorts.  They had to agree to keep the surveyors and military out of Wutai.  In exchange, he would provide them with the time they needed to do what they had to.  If things were not resolved after six months, he reserved the right to advance his military again.

Of course, that was not what was written.  The only thing that was the same between the actual agreement and the written surrender that was to be given to Shinra was the expulsion of the military and surveyors.

Neither party was completely satisfied as there were still many things that they couldn’t agree on, but they all knew there had to be compromise to reach a common goal.  Godo also reserved the right to tell his top military advisors of the reality, even though he had agreed to keep it from the public.  None of them wanted anyone to find out about the farce until it was too late to stop them.

The only other point of contention was when they were ready to leave.  Sephiroth had let slip the fact that Hojo had been asking about Eve and Godo nearly insisted that she stay in Wutai.  Sephiroth wasn’t opposed to the idea either.  If she went back to Midgar, she would be in danger.  She refused to allow either man to make that decision for her.  Godo knew when to quit pushing, but Sephiroth ended up walking away in frustration.  He logically knew that her arguments were valid.  There was information that only she knew or could find out since she communicated regularly with Minerva, but he did not like the idea.  When he finally spoke to her again, he vowed that he would not allow anything to happen.  She doubted that everything would be as easy as they hoped, but it made her feel tingly to know he cared enough to want to keep her safe.

By the time they finally made it back to camp, Eve was already tired of the continued efforts to get her to stay.  Despite what they wanted, she still needed to talk to Tseng and get things started on that end as well.  It wasn’t like she was gung ho about facing Hojo.  The thought terrified her.  At least she was reasonably sure that Sephiroth would keep her away from the man.

She nearly groaned when one of the first people to greet her was Reno.  “Yo, Cupcake, how’s it goin’?”

She shook her head and barely managed to keep from frowning at him.  It wasn’t his fault she was irritated.  “Have you talked to Tseng?”

Reno raised a brow at her brush off.  “You okay?”

She sighed.  She hadn’t meant to be so brusque.  “Yeah, it’s just been a long few days.  Sorry.”

“Uh-huh.  Well, I’d be happy to kick some ass if you need me to.”

She finally laughed at his solution to nearly everything.  “That’s okay.  No ass-kicking needed today.”  Her face sobered a little before she continued.  “We don’t have a lot of time, though.  Were you able to get a secure line to Tseng?”

He waved her off with a grin.  “Yeah, yeah.  Let me mail him an’ he should be able ta call in a few.”

She gave him a grateful smile.  ‘Let me know when he does.”

She left him to it as she moved to try and listen to the conversation between Sephiroth and Captain Hawl.  She must have missed most of it because he was saluting and turning to follow orders as she walked up. 

Sephiroth frowned slightly when he saw her.  She cut him off before he could say anything.  “Look, I know why you’re worried, I’ve heard it enough times, but I have a plan.  Trust me.  The last thing I want is to wind up in his hands either.  Let me talk to Tseng, and then we’ll go over it.”

Sephiroth ignored the looks the two of them were given as he pulled her closer.  He whispered so that only she would hear.  “I can’t stand the thought of anything happening to you.  I will accept this but don’t expect me to be happy about it.”

She grinned up at him.  “Fair enough.”

They were interrupted by a low whistle.  “Damn, I thought it was bad before you left.”

Eve turned a glare to Reno, but he just grinned and help up the phone.  She shot him a dirty look as she took it from him.  Tseng’s voice was clipped on the other end of the line.  “I have been told that you have been busy.”

Eve rubbed her temple.  She was sick of dealing with moody men.  Whoever said it was a trait reserved for women must not know the men she knew.  “It was unavoidable.  At least we have a signed treaty.”

The was a significant pause on the other end of the line.  “You convinced Godo to sign a treaty?”

Eve sighed as she walked to where she could have a little privacy.  “Sort of.  We have a signed treaty that is, for all intents and purposes, valid.  At least for the next six months.  He agreed to hold to it for that long while we work on cleaning house.  After that, he will do what he feels is best.”

Tseng paused again.  His mind was frantically going over all the things that would need to be done to pull this off, and it was giving him a headache.  He was pulled from his thoughts when she continued.  “There are a couple of other things I needed to talk to you about.”

Tseng nearly growled at her impertinence.  She still had no idea how to follow the chain of command.  He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he would handle it when she returned.  There were far more critical things for him to manage currently.  “What things did you need to discuss?”

Eve did not miss the touch of irritation in his voice and rolled her eyes.  He was always so testy.  She tried not to let him hear it, though.  “The most important thing is for you to not let Rufus leave.  The last thing we want is for chaos to ensue.  I know he was just named Vice-President, so having him there will keep things from going to hell, at least partially.  It wouldn’t hurt to fill him in on the stupidity that has been going on so he can see the wisdom behind the changes that are planned.”

Tseng froze at her request and was reminded again that there was more to her than a wayward Turk.  Despite his continued misgivings, everything she had told him had either come to pass or had been verified.  The fact that the announcement for Rufus’ promotion was just the day before only drove that reminder home.

He managed to make his voice neutral when he responded.  “I had already thought to make sure he didn’t leave.  Without knowing what was coming, it was the wisest course of action.”

“Good.  The only other part I needed to speak with you about was Hojo.”

Tseng grimaced at the mention of the madman, but he listened to her as she laid out a tentative plan.  His brows rose at everything else she wanted to accomplish, but he agreed that if she were to come back to Midgar, her plan stood the highest chance of success.  Not that he felt there wouldn’t be complications, but that never stopped a Turk before.  He left her with instructions to pass on to Reno as well before they hung up.

  Once the line was dead, he put his head in his hands.  Over the last two months, he had practically foregone sleep altogether, and he could feel it catching up with him.  He only allowed himself a moment before he stood to get another cup of coffee and continued to try and find a way into the database that Hojo had hidden.


 

It was nearly two weeks before the contingent that had been sent to Wutai returned.  Since all of the troops came back at the same time, they could not all be ferried by helicopter.  That meant the slower way by land.  It was late afternoon when they finally pulled into the garage, and Sephiroth’s frown turned into a heated glare when both Hojo and Tseng were standing there waiting.  It was also worthy to note that Reno had a somber look that was uncharacteristic of him.  Even Genesis looked subdued.

Hojo noted it all, but his gaze was still shifting around, looking for something that continued to elude him.  He didn’t stop until Sephiroth drew even with them and Tseng spoke up with a pensive tone.  “General, I know we have not always agreed, but I am sorry for your loss.”

Sephiroth gave him a look that most would have fled from.  Tseng merely gave him a sympathetic look.  Or at least as sympathetic as he was able to produce.  Sephiroth’s voice was low and dangerous when he finally responded.  “I thought you would have been happier.  At least it’s one less headache, right?”

Tseng shook his head.  “I told you once before, we take care of our own.  Despite our differences, she was a good Turk.”

Sephiroth bit back on a growl before he turned on his heel and stalked away.  Hojo called out to stop him.  “Sephiroth.”

The General stopped when Hojo called, but his fists were clenched by his side, and he didn’t turn to face the man.  “What do you want?”

If his terse response bothered Hojo at all, the man didn’t show it.  “Where is the rest of your contingent?”

Sephiroth turned and glared at the man.  “They are all here.”

At his response, Hojo finally frowned and looked around again.  He did not seem to find whatever he had been looking for as he huffed and walked off.  Sephiroth watched him until he disappeared into the doors.  There were few standing there that knew the interactions between Sephiroth and Tseng had been staged and fewer still that realized none of Sephiroth’s rage had been faked.  The only reason Hojo was still breathing was because it would not help their cause for him to be cut down in front of so many others.

It was several moments after Hojo disappeared that Genesis clapped Sephiroth on the shoulder.  He didn’t say anything, but Sephiroth still glared at him.  It was short-lived, however.  He sighed and shrugged the supportive hand off before he headed into the building.  He was followed by Genesis and a small contingent of infantrymen.  Both Tseng and Reno followed as well.

If anyone had been watching them, they might have wondered why the two Turks got off on the 51st floor instead of continuing up, but it would not have kept their attention for long.  It wasn’t that unusual as the two departments did work together often enough.  They probably wouldn’t have even noticed the infantryman that had continued up with them either.  That also was far from unusual.  The fact that all five of the people headed straight for the office of the Director of Soldier might have raised a brow, but otherwise, none of it seemed that odd.

It wasn’t until the small group entered the office without knocking that things got interesting.  Lazard stood as soon as the door was opened and pinned Sephiroth and Genesis both with a glare.  Having not seen Genesis in months, made him all the more surprised.  “What is the meaning of this?  Genesis, where have you been?”

It was at that point that the infantryman stepped forward and pulled off the helmet.  When her bright hair tumbled down, she let out a sigh.  “I am so glad to have that off.”  As relieved as Eve was to be out of the stuffy thing, she didn’t take long to step forward and address Lazard.  “Director Deusericus, I believe I can answer that question.”

His shocked gaze traveled over her before recognition finally dawned on him.  “You are that Turk that Sephiroth has been seeing.  Why are you in that uniform?”

Eve wasn’t sure if she wanted to be offended at the way he said that, or pleased that even the director knew they were a couple.  She pushed the thought aside and ignored that part of his statement.  “That is an excellent question, and one I will answer, but I believe we have more important things to discuss.”

Lazard covered his shock by looking to each of the other men.  Reno gave him a grin, but rest were all wearing impassive masks.  He realized that whatever was going on, they were all in on it.  He sat down and gestured for her to continue.  “So what is so important that you just barged in here?”

Eve set the helmet down on his desk.  “Let’s get right to the point.  We all know that you were planning to back Genesis and Hollander.  You wanted a revolution and were willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.”

He stood in a rush and leaned forward with his hands on his desk.  “That kind of accusation could be dangerous.”

She scoffed at him but didn’t get to continue as Sephiroth stepped to her side.  “Director, we are not here to accuse you of anything.  What she has stated is a fact.  Genesis only confirmed it, he did not share it.  There is more at stake here, though.”

Lazard did not know how to respond.  He looked to Genesis and saw that he seemed slightly bored, but did not appear to be concerned with everything that was coming out.  He sat back again, but his tone was careful.  “What exactly is at stake?”

Eve took that as an opportunity to continue.  “Why don’t we start with the destruction of the world as we know it.  Preventing that is our top priority.”

Lazard’s brows drew into a frown.  “I am unsure why you are spouting Avalanche’s nonsense, but that fear-mongering means little to me.”

Eve wanted to growl at the man, but reminded herself, that although he knew a little about Genesis’ condition, he likely didn’t know much else.  “I am not talking about the life Shinra is draining from the planet as we speak.  I am talking about a much more direct threat.  For now, why don’t I just lay everything out for you?  I know you want revenge against your father, so your goal almost aligns with ours.  The only difference is the fact that we are only targeting the man and not the whole company.”

Silence fell over the room for several seconds before several voices started at once.  Eve looked at Tseng and Sephiroth in confusion until she remembered that she had forgotten to share that particular detail with them.  Lazard simply looked shell shocked.  Tseng finally got Eve’s attention. 

“Don’t you think that would have been a pertinent detail to share before we came to talk to him?”

Eve had the grace to look abashed.  “Well, I would have, but there were so many other things that it slipped past me.”

Tseng’s look was close to being a glare, and Eve realized that was bad news for her.  He never let anyone see when he lost his temper.  She took a step back and nearly ran into Sephiroth.  She was saved from her boss’ tongue lashing by Sephiroth.  “We can discuss the importance of thorough reports later.  For now, we are here for a reason, and we don’t have much time.”

She cringed at the fact that her lover was reprimanding her as well.  Not that she blamed them both.  Luckily, they didn’t hesitate to move the conversation back on track.  Tseng glared at her once more before he spoke to Lazard.  “Despite the shock of the news that you are a Shinra, the fact that we do share a common goal is not untrue.”

Lazard finally pulled himself back together and gave Eve a strange look.  “If Tseng and the Turks did not find out, how did you?”

Eve took a deep breath.  This tale was getting more tedious with each telling.  She hoped the day that it wasn’t a big deal would come soon.  “That would be because I am a Cetra and Minerva talks to me, quite often actually.”

Lazard sat back and put his hand over his eyes.  He sat like that for several seconds before he ran it down his face; as if the motion could rub away his confusion.  “This isn’t a prelude to me being taken in, is it?”

Although it was a question, it sounded more like a statement.  Genesis picked that moment to speak up.  “Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess.  While I would have preferred that gift to be far less sarcastic, I have seen for myself that she does indeed have a connection to the planet.”

Both Sephiroth and Eve glared at him, but everyone turned back to Lazard when he spoke again.  “It seems there is much that I need to be caught up on.  Why don’t you find seats.”

Reno had been gleefully watching the whole drama unfold, but when he realized they were about to get down to business he piped up.  “I’ve heard this once.  I ain’t gonna stick around for it again.  Have fun.”  The redhead ignored Tseng’s glare as he walked out with a wave over his shoulder.

Once Reno was gone, the rest of the group settled in for a long and unpleasant tale.  Eve was just thankful that she didn’t have to go over it all alone again.  Both Sephiroth and Genesis had been able to work through the visions at least enough to add their own insights or corroborate Eve’s tale. 

Tseng was mostly silent, but he had known most of it for months already.  He wasn’t any more pleased to hear it though.  It was made worse when the Soldiers agreed with her.  He knew he had to finally admit that she had been telling the truth the whole time.  At least to himself anyway.  By that time, it didn’t really change anything.  Circumstances beyond his control had already been set into motion.  As much as he hated admitting that, he knew it would not do him any good to complain.  His goal now was to mitigate as much of the damage as he could.

Once the tale was finished, Lazard looked sick.  He knew his father had been backing less than ethical practices, but the extent of it was beyond his comprehension.  He had no idea how any person could be so callous.  He finally looked up and gave them a determined look.  “I suppose that means that Hollander is no longer part of this, but I will help in any way I can.”

Genesis glared at the mention of Hollander, but Tseng was the one to speak.  “I have no doubt that Veld is aware of some of these circumstances, but we will need to be careful.”

His words reminded Eve of something Minerva had mentioned once that she had never had the chance to ask about.  “Maybe not.  Can you confirm that Veld used to have a partner by the name of Vincent Valentine?”

Tseng’s eyes widened slightly before he raised a brow at her.  “The tales of the two of them are legendary among the Turks.  What do you know?”

Eve grimaced at the confirmation, but she nodded.  “Vincent is alive.”

Tseng stilled before he leaned forward slightly.  “What?”

Eve raised a brow.  “You heard me.  Vincent is alive.  He isn’t the same, but he is in Nibelheim.  Hojo shot him and then used him as a subject.  He then locked him up right before Sephiroth was born.  He is in the basement of the mansion there.”

Tseng stood so fast that Eve jerked back.  He stood still for a few moments before he pinned her with a glare.  “This is a dangerous game.”

She snorted at him.  “You may not want to say it out loud, but you know as well as I do that this is no game.  What this is, is motivation to prove to Veld that his loyalty isn’t being tried by what we are doing.  Our secondary goal is to maintain the corporation’s integrity for the sake of the people that depend on Shinra.  Taking out the monsters that are causing every’s grief is primary, and it would make sense to have Veld as an ally instead of an opponent.”

  Tseng looked at her eyes for several seconds.  He found nothing but determination and truth.  He bit back a sigh.  “I will talk to him.  He may want to see for himself, but if he is convinced, you are correct.  His help would be invaluable.”

She gave him a nod as he turned to leave.  He stopped near the door and turned back to her.  “You may have to stay in the female barracks for now, but I still expect a full report by the end of the day.”

Eve gave him an incredulous look and cursed as he ignored it and walked out.  Her attention was drawn when Sephiroth put his hand over hers.  “It would be best if you left soon as well.  We can discuss further details when we find out about Director Veld.”

Eve sighed and stood.  They were right.  The wheels had been set in motion.  Now it was just a matter of waiting until the right time and making sure everything was in place before then.  She ignored Lazard and Genesis as she leaned and kissed his cheek before she grabbed her helmet.  “You know where to find me.”

He smiled as she stood, but there was worry in his eyes.  “Be careful.  Hojo may no longer be looking for you, but if he finds any reason to doubt you died in Wutai, it will be dangerous.”

Her own worry was in her eyes, but she still managed to smile.  “Trust me, the last thing I want to do is wind up in his hands.  I’ll watch myself.”

She gave Director Lazard a nod and tried to ignore Genesis as she leaned over so she could get all her hair in the helmet.  Once it was in place, she placed a hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder for a brief moment and then walked out.

True to her word, she kept an eye out for any others as she made her way to the elevator.  She almost gave a sigh of relief when the doors opened, and she stepped in without having seen anyone.  Her relief quickly turned to fear when two sets of strong arms grabbed her, and something was shoved in her face.  She struggled to shake it off as she smelled something sickly sweet.

Her fear became outright terror when a figure in a white lab coat stepped in front of her with a tsk.  He pushed the helmet back off her head and gave her a twisted smile.  “Ah, Dr. Marx.  You know it is ill-mannered to make others worry about you so.”

She tried to yell at him, to scream, to do anything, but she was already feeling light-headed and weak.  The last thing she saw was the madman of the Shinra science department as he leaned closer to her and his smile twisted further.  “Don’t worry, I’ll let Sephiroth know.  Eventually.  After all, I will need both of you to make my grandest specimen yet.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Sephiroth had not stayed long with the Director.  Despite all the plans they needed to line out, they still had work to do.  Not only was one of their objectives to keep the company running as smoothly as possible, but they also needed to make sure no one suspected that all was not as it was before.  He also needed to distribute the tale they had concocted about Genesis’ absence.  He had told Captain Hawl that Genesis had been sent deep undercover.  It was a weak cover story, but it would have to be good enough.  Hopefully, it would work long enough for them to accomplish their goals.

He had not even been at his desk for an hour before his worry distracted him to the point that he couldn’t concentrate.  He sighed in frustration.  He had never been so lax, but he could not bring himself to regret the reason why.  He knew it would only put Eve in danger if he tried to see that she was settled, so he shut off his computer with another sigh and turned in for the night.  He just hoped that sleep would come.


 

Tseng was sitting at his desk with a scowl.  The previous night he had gone to Veld with the file that he had compiled on one Dr. Evelyn Marx.  It held everything she had ever shared with him along with notations on which things had played out after she shared and those things that he had been able to verify independently.

Veld had looked through everything in silence.  At least until he got to the last one.  The one about Vincent.  Veld didn’t show his anger often, but Tseng hoped to never have to live through an upbraiding like that again.  He grimaced at the memory. 

Veld had been livid that he had not only kept most of Eve’s personal history a secret but also that he had knowingly harbored a Cetra and not let anyone else know.  Veld was aware that Tseng knew where Aerith was and had not brought her in, but he didn’t hold it against him.  It was a standing mission, but the higher-ups had not really pushed for it to be completed yet.  Bringing a Cetra into the company as an employee was another matter entirely.

Luckily, Veld dismissed him before he lost it entirely.  He had also kept the file.  Tseng knew his Director well enough to know that the man probably wanted to calm himself before he read through it all again. Tseng had no doubt that once he did, he would come around.  Tseng was not an easy man to convince, but even he had to admit that Eve was what she claimed to be.  He didn’t like what that meant for his workload, but it was unavoidable.

He was drawn from his thoughts when his door burst open, and Sephiroth strode in with a frown.  He slammed the door shut and glared at Tseng.  “Where is she?”

Tseng was already in a horrid mood, and the last thing he wanted to deal with was an overprotective hormonal Soldier.  His voice was biting when he glared back.  “My guess would be that she is enjoying her opportunity to slack off.  She couldn’t even be bothered to get her paperwork in last night.”

Sephiroth leaned down with his hands on the desk, and his voice dropped into a dangerous tone.  “Soldier Fair was sent on an errand to talk to a certain infantry captain and found that there was a certain infantryman that never made it to the barracks last night.  Now, where is she?”

Tseng felt a sliver of worry crawl up his spine.  Despite his irritation at the position Eve had put him in, he had not been lying when he told Sephiroth that she was a Turk and Turks took care of their own.  His voice didn’t betray his thoughts, though.  “Have you checked the video feeds since last night?”

Sephiroth stood with a growl.  “Of course I have.  There is a large section of the feed missing from right after she left Lazard’s office.”

Tseng gave him a confused look.  “Missing?”

Sephiroth wanted to pace, but the office seemed confining.  He settled for pinning Tseng with another glare.  “Yes, missing.  It looked like whoever did it didn’t care that it would be noticed.  All they wanted was for whatever was on that section to not be seen.”

Tseng cursed under his breath.  Even the most unskilled Turk would not do such a pathetic job.  That didn’t mean there weren’t others that would be as thorough.  Despite the urgency of the situation, Tseng was grateful to whoever it had been.  If they had been that careless, then it might be possible for him to retrieve at least part of the information.  He gestured for Sephiroth to take a seat.  “What time was it?”

Sephiroth had no desire to sit down, but he realized Tseng already had a plan.  “What are you going to do?”

Tseng gave the man an irritated look.  “If you will stop bothering me for a moment, I plan to see if I can rebuild the missing data.”

At that, Sephiroth sat.  His sword hand was itching, but he kept it to himself as he watched Tseng turn to his computer and start typing furiously.  He watched with growing frustration.  He had never felt anything like the storm that was currently raging through him.  Part of it was irritation with both Eve and himself for her presence in Midgar.  He knew he should have just tied her up and left her with Godo.  The rest was rage at whoever took her and sick worry because he had a feeling he already knew where she was.  He was pulled from the whirl of emotions and thoughts when Tseng cursed.

Sephiroth felt like he would be sick when Tseng looked to him, and there was evident worry in the man’s eyes.  He didn’t say anything, though.  All he did was turn the monitor to show him the blurry picture he had been able to retrieve.  Sephiroth barely noticed the two men in black uniforms very much like a Soldier First’s.  All he could see was the face of the man that had been torturing him for years.  The confirmation that Hojo now had Eve made him lose the last bit of control he had been clinging to.

He almost summoned the Masamune and ran Tseng through when the Turk stepped in front of him to keep him from walking out.  His words were ground out between gritted teeth.  “Get. Out. Of. My. Way.”

Tseng gave him an impassive look.  “You may not be aware, but I have a good idea of where he might be keeping her.  If it is where I think, even you may need help retrieving her.  Do not go alone.”

Sephiroth blinked a few times as he realized Tseng wasn’t trying to stop him, but offering him help instead.  He took a deep breath to bring his rage to a manageable level so he could speak.  “Where is he keeping her?”

Tseng shook his head.  “We will go get backup, and then I will take you there myself.”

Sephiroth could not contain a growl.  Tseng did not move, though.  The General took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.  Even he was aware that if he took off in a rage that he could make stupid mistakes.  He chided himself for it.  He had used other people’s emotions against them for years.  His distance and impassivity had served him well.  With what was at stake, he could not afford to lose his head now.

Once he was calmer, he nodded to Tseng.  “We will go get Genesis and Angeal.  That should be enough?”

Tseng nodded and stepped aside so they could leave.  He was glad that the General had managed to get himself under control.  At least on the surface.  Not that he didn’t understand the man’s rage, but they both knew that high levels of emotion clouded men’s minds.  That was one of the reasons they had both learned to close them off when they had work to do.  He only hoped Sephiroth could manage to stay that way.  If they found Eve in anything less than perfect condition, he had a feeling that Hojo would not be the only casualty.


 

Eve woke with a groan and hurriedly turned to the side as a wave of nausea hit her.  She had barely made it so that her head was hanging over the side of whatever she was lying on before her stomach emptied itself.  A small part of her was disgusted at the fact that she had just thrown up on the floor, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.  Her head was still fuzzy, and everything seemed to be spinning.  It took all her power just to sit up once the nausea subsided.

The cot that she was on butted against a wall, and she leaned back gratefully while she tried to wrap her head around what was going on.  She groaned aloud and spoke into the silence.  “What the hell did Hojo do to me!?”

It was at that point that she remembered that she had been kidnapped by the maniac.  She jerked up and nearly vomited again at the sudden movement, but she pushed it down and forced herself to focus on the room around her.  The cot she was on was the only furniture in the room.  Three of the walls were metal, and the fourth was a solid glass pane.  Her thoughts on its uses made her cringe.

As she continued to look around and try to clear her head, she noticed two other important things.  The first of which was the fact that her uniform was gone and in its place was some sort of gown that was barely tied shut.  Many thoughts as to why that would be started crowding her head, but she knew now was the worst possible time for her to break down.  She brought her knees up and tried to take deep breaths to calm herself.  Panicking would not get her anywhere. 

When she was calm enough to move again, she looked up and locked eyes with the other important thing in the room.  In the corner across from her, a little girl was curled up with her arms around her knees and watching Eve with fear.  She froze as she tried to understand what she was seeing.  She knew Hojo was sick, but a child?  She grimaced when she remembered what he had done to Sephiroth.  The man had no sense of morality at all.

She slowly managed to get to her feet without taking her eyes off the girl.  Thankfully, her deep breathing had managed to get the worst of the fog from her mind.  She skirted the mess she had made and padded halfway across the room before she knelt and tried to smile at the girl.  “I’m not sure why you’re in here too, but would you mind sharing your name?”

The girl tried to push herself back into the corner even further, and Eve sighed.  The clearer her head was getting the angrier she was.  She knew that the others would probably find out eventually and come for her, but she couldn’t wait for them.  Any amount of time at the maniac’s whims was too long for her.  It only made matters worse that there was another person here.

Eve sighed and sat so she could lean on one arm.  Even though her head was clearing, her body still felt weak.  She looked to the girl again.  “My name is Evie by the way.”

When the girl realized that she wasn’t going to try and get closer, she finally relaxed a little and decided to speak.  “I’m Shelke.”

Eve smiled at her.  “Nice to meet you, Shelke.”

When the girl didn’t make any other moves or offer any more information, Eve tried again.  “I know why Hojo put me down here, but do you know why he has you?  Or why he put us in this cage together?”

The girl looked like she was about to start crying, but she finally spoke up in a tremulous voice.  “I think he put you here because the other places are full.”

Eve raised a brow and had to fight back a snarl.  “He has other people in here too?”

Shelke’s eyes had gotten wide as she shook her head.  “No.  The others that I have seen.  They would have probably eaten you before you woke up.”

Eve felt her stomach turn.  Both at the thought of being eaten alive by one of Hojo’s sick experiments and also at the fact that Shelke knew that was a possibility.  She tried to keep her voice even.  “I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re roomies then, right?”

Nothing else was said between them for an extended amount of time.  Eve got lost in thoughts of how she could escape.  She doubted it would be as easy as ramming the cot against the glass wall, if she could even move it.

Eve was drawn from her thoughts of crashing through the glass when Shelke finally moved.  She sat as still as possible as the girl scooted closer.  She finally looked to her with a smile when she stopped about two feet away and waited for her to say whatever was obviously on her mind.

“Hojo told me that I have a special ability.  I can access networks with my mind.  I don’t need a computer.”

Eve didn’t even try to hide her shock.  “That is a special ability.”  She paused then and gave the girl a reassuring look.  “I am sure it is something that can help you make a great life for yourself when we get out of here.”

Shelke’s eyes had widened.  “You think Hojo will let me go?”

Eve grimaced.  She knew lying to the girl wouldn’t help anything, but she hated the truth.  “No, but I don’t plan on waiting around for him either.”

Shelke’s face fell.  No matter how confident Eve sounded, Shelke knew escape was impossible.  When Eve saw the look, she tried to change the subject.  “Can you tell me a little more about yourself?”

Eve could tell the question hurt, but Shelke still launched into tales of happier times.  Eve felt her rage inching up with each passing moment as she heard how much was stolen from this child.  When a sister was mentioned, she promised to do everything she could to reunite them.  Shelke gave her a wan smile at her vow, but she could tell the girl didn’t believe her.

When Shelke finally fell silent, Eve leaned back on her arms and smiled at her.  She knew that when it came time to make a move, she needed the girl to be comfortable with her because there was no way in hell she was leaving her behind.  She decided to share a little about herself as well.  “Since you shared with me, I suppose I should share too, huh?”

Shelke didn’t answer, but she didn’t move away either.  Eve tried not to sigh and kept going.  “Have you ever heard of the Cetra?”

Shelke frowned slightly and shook her head.  “Well, they were a race of people that lived a couple thousand years ago.  Most think that they died out, but that isn’t quite the case.”

Shelke finally scooted forward a little more.  “Are you a Cetra?  Is that why Hojo captured you?”

Eve didn’t catch her grimace in time, but she nodded.  “Yeah.  I didn’t know about it growing up, but I have been assured that I am.”

Shelke gave her a curious look, but they were interrupted by a knock on the glass.  Eve’s eyes shot up to see Hojo standing just outside and grinning at them.  She felt sick again at the sight of him, but that didn’t stop her from pushing Shelk behind her as she jumped to her feet.

His voice was like nails on a chalkboard when he spoke.  “Ah, Dr. Marx, you have no idea how happy I am to hear you confirm that.  The blood sample we had on file from before was far too small to run extensive tests on.  The most recent, however, confirmed my hypothesis.  To hear you say it is simply icing on the cake, as they say.”

Eve could already feel herself shaking.  Part of it was fear, and she had to concentrate on her breathing to keep it from overwhelming her, but a large part of it was her growing rage.  She didn’t bother masking it.  “I get why you brought me here.  You’re still going to die for it, but I understand.  This girl doesn’t belong here.”

Hojo cackled, and it made Eve’s skin crawl.  “Quite the contrary.  Her DNA is far closer to your own than to an ordinary human.  Don’t you think it is fascinating that the regressive Cetra gene seems to come out occasionally?”

Eve froze at his words.  The implications of what he was saying could have far-reaching effects, or it could be a simple one-off mutation.  Either way, he was still a maniac.  She glared at him.  “It doesn’t matter.  She is a child, and you are a dead man walking.”

He smiled at her patronizingly.  “Such fire.  You are not at all like the other, what was her name.”

Eve gritted her teeth.  “Ifalna.”

Hojo nodded and smiled again.  “Ah yes, that one.  She was not nearly so vocal.”

Eve swallowed the bile she felt rising up, but Hojo didn’t seem to notice how the air in the cell started moving as he continued speaking.  “It’s no matter.  I can tell that you have the strength to withstand what we need.  It’s just a shame that Sephiroth has not already taken you.  It would have been a plus if you were already with child.”

He had started pacing in front of the cell, but he paused and shot her a smile that she guessed was supposed to be fatherly.  It didn’t matter, all she could hear was the fact that he had already completed a thorough exam and the blood that had started rushing in her ears.  She barely heard him continue.

“We can rectify that soon enough.  If you both cooperate, I might even allow it to happen the old fashioned way.  It is a bit slower, of course, but the end result is all that matters.”

He finally paused when he noticed the fact that the gown she was wearing had started whipping around as if there was a fast wind in the tiny cell.  He looked at it stupefied for several seconds.  Eve barely noticed that Shelke had backed away from her as well.  She turned to look at the frightened girl and barely had the presence of mind to tell her to hide.  Shelke didn’t have to be told twice.  She was underneath the cot with her arms over her head within seconds.

When Eve turned back, Hojo had stepped away from the cell, but she could still hear him.  “That’s impossible.  You have no materia.”

Eve gave him a wicked smile.  “You should know better than that.  It isn’t my fault you picked the wrong Cetra to fuck with this time.”

When lightning started to flicker around her as well.  Hojo jumped forward and slammed a button on the wall next to the cell before he ran.  Eve sprinted to the glass and banged on it.  “Get back here you coward!”

She wasn’t given long to rage at his swift departure as she noticed the room was filling with what looked like smoke.  She barely had time to realize that it was probably some sort of sleeping gas before she heard Minerva in her mind.  “Child, you must focus!”

Eve growled at the sound of her voice, but she managed to pull back on her rage enough to listen as the Goddess continued.  “You already know that you can access the power of the planet.  You must do so now.  Call forth that power, or you cannot escape.”

Eve felt her head getting fuzzy already and wanted to scream.  She knew that she could not afford to fall asleep again.  If she did, there was no telling what Hojo would do.  She was forced to focus again as Minerva called out once more.

“I can help keep you awake for a short time, but that is the extent of my power.  I cannot help the girl.  If you fail, she will most likely die, and you will remain captive.  Focus!”

Eve banged on the glass once more before she turned to see Shelke was already slumped over under the cot.  She wanted to curse, but she focused on taking shallow breaths.  She hoped it would help keep as much of the gas out of her system as possible.

She then closed her eyes and pictured each time the power had nearly overwhelmed her.  She had been livid those times too.  As she thought about it, she could hear the crackle in the air, but she knew it wasn’t enough.  It would take more than a little lightning to crack that glass.

Her mind was becoming overwhelmed.  Her thoughts were becoming fuzzy, and all she could picture was Shelke’s body and Sephiroth’s face.  Finally, a scream broke from her as she pushed the last of her strength out.  She was shocked when she felt a gentle warmth on her face, and the air around her cleared some.  She opened her eyes to see the blazing irises of a phoenix fluttering in front of her.  The sight was shocking, but a gentle nudge from Minerva reminded her they were out of time. 

Eve dove under the cot and yelled over her shoulder.  “Get us out of here.”

She didn’t watch as the bird turned to the glass, but she did hear it shatter.  She waited only long enough to sense the sweet scent of fresh air before she gathered Shelke’s limp body and managed to stand with her.  She almost fell and had to catch herself against the wall under the added weight, but she only took a moment before she headed toward freedom.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

Eve was still swaying dangerously, but she forced her mind to focus on one step at a time.  She couldn’t afford to worry about not making it.  She was so out of it that she had forgotten about the fact that there was a shattered glass wall she had to get passed until she stepped on one of the shards.  The sharp pain raced through her and allowed a little clarity as well as forcing a scream from her.  She grimaced as she stepped back and saw a bloody smear across the floor.  She also saw the floor littered with glass shards.  She cursed under her breath as she tried to pick her way through them.

She only made it a few steps when she was stopped by the sound of a low growl.  She looked up with her heart in her throat at an unimaginable terror that must have been released when Hojo took off.  She had the fleeting thought that Shelke had been right about her being eaten if this thing was one of the monsters in the other cells.  When the thing crouched as if it were about to pounce, Eve was shocked back to the present.  She screamed out of instinct.  Her cry brought the phoenix diving down onto the beast before it could move. 

Eve almost starting crying at the sight of it.  She had no idea how she hadn’t realized it was still out.  The drain on her mana was noticeable.  With a choked voice, she called out to the firebird.  “Help us escape.  Protect us!”

The bird had shrunk to a smaller size when the threat was dealt with and circled her head once before it shot back out of the room with a shrill cry.  Now that Eve was paying attention, she could tell that it had not gone far.  It was hovering just outside of the cell and waiting for her.

Eve didn’t notice the tears that had started falling as she continued to make her way through the minefield of glass.  She slipped once as the blood from her first cut was making her footing treacherous.  Her continued dizziness didn’t help, but she refused to give up.  When she slipped, she reached out on instinct to the closest thing to catch herself on and screamed when it was the jagged edge of the cell wall.  She didn’t even bother looking at the damage done, but she couldn’t hold in a sob.  She pressed her clenched fist against Shelke’s back to stem the flow of blood.  It was not ideal, but she had no time to stop and refused to relax her grip on the girl.  She was barely able to hold her and stay upright as it was.

When she finally made it out of the room, she wanted to drop where she was standing.  She was already exhausted.  She didn’t stop, though.  They were far from safe.  She felt a bit of relief when the tiny firebird circled her a few times, and she felt the stinging in her foot and hand lessen.  She also felt a little strength return to her limbs, and her head cleared somewhat.  She was far from healed and ready to take on anything, but it was enough for her to reposition Shelke against her shoulder and head the direction she had seen Hojo running.

As Eve trudged down the hallway, they ended up running into a few more monsters, but nothing the phoenix could not take care of quickly.  Eve had been following the bird for over half an hour since it seemed to be showing her the way.  She barely had the strength to put one foot in front of the other, and there were several times she had to stop and lean against the wall to allow a wave of fatigue or dizziness pass.  She was almost lost in a fog again when she was wrenched from it by the bird circling her head with screeches.

She stopped and looked at the thing like it had gone mad, but when it circled again, she realized it was trying to get her attention.  She noticed it flew to one side of the hallway and then back to her repeatedly.  She finally moved to see what it was trying to show her.  As she placed her hand on the wall, she nearly fell over when a panel slid back and to the side to reveal a hidden elevator.

Eve had never been so happy to see one in her life.  Even if it took her straight up to the 67th floor, it was a way out.  When she entered it, there were only two buttons.  One up and the other down.  She hadn’t noticed anything that would lead her to believe they were up, so she assumed they were in the bowels of the Shinra headquarters.  She was relieved when she hit the up button and felt the box move.  As much as she wanted to drop to the floor and wait for it to take them wherever it was going, she knew she still couldn’t afford to let her guard down.  She compromised by leaning against the wall to help support herself and the weight she carried.


 

Sephiroth had been able to find both Genesis and Angeal easily.  They had both been in Genesis’ office.  He barely noted that they had been in the middle of a heated conversation.  Genesis sneered at him, but his expression quickly changed when Sephiroth spoke.  “Hojo took Eve.”

Genesis stood and grabbed his sword and motioned to the door.  He didn’t particularly care for the doctor, and her insistence in throwing his attitude right back at him but even he realized that it was a horrible idea to let Hojo keep her.  Besides, there was a part of him that knew Minerva would never forgive him if he turned his back on the woman.

Angeal’s eyes widened.  He had no idea what was going on, but it was obviously something monumental.  He hadn’t thought Genesis cared much for Dr. Marx, but there was something in his expression that showed differently.  He had also never seen Sephiroth act like he was.  He almost looked like Genesis in the middle of a rage.  He didn’t have time to worry about it when Sephiroth looked to him too.

“I need your help.”  It was the most open Angeal had ever seen the man.  Despite his growing worry, he gave him a nod.  He was never one to turn down a friend in need.

Once he received confirmation from both Firsts, Sephiroth turned on his heel and headed out.  Angeal gave Tseng a shocked look when the Turk fell into step beside them with a frown.  He supposed it made sense for him to be there, as Dr. Marx was a Turk, after all, but the fact that Tseng had any expression on his face was almost disturbing.  He wondered what in the world could have happened to make the two most unflappable men he knew act like they currently were.

The only snag they ran into was when Zack saw them all rushing down the hall.  He jogged to catch up to Angeal and started asking questions.  He was cut off when Sephiroth growled and took him by the shoulder.  He pointed the boy in the direction they were headed and issued a low command.  “Don’t slow us down.”

Zack gave the General a terrified look but fell into step next to Angeal.  As much as he wanted to know what was going on, he couldn’t bring himself to ask.  He had never seen Sephiroth so angry.  He hadn’t even known the man was capable of that strong an emotion.  He never said it, though as he followed them up to the 67th floor.

When they arrived at their destination, they walked into chaos.  White robed techs and interns were running around trying to straighten papers, organize files or gather as much as they could.  None of the Soldiers had any idea what had caused the uproar, but Sephiroth tired of it quickly.  He raised his voice and called out.  “Stop!”

Most of the men and women froze and stared at him.  He was not an unusual visitor to their floor, but the look he was sending them all nearly made many of them wet themselves.  When it was a little quieter, he called out again.  “If any of you value your lives, you will leave now.”

His voice was not raised, but it carried, and the tone he used had more than a handful of them dropping whatever they had in their hands and rushing for the stairs.  None of them wanted to wait for the elevator.  Their mad scramble had hardly begun when Hojo finally showed himself.  He looked around with a frown before he spoke up.

“What do you think you are doing.  We have a mess to clean up.  Get back here.”

He had not yet seen Sephiroth.  The only reason for that, was because Genesis had motioned to Angeal and they each had a hand on either of his arms.  Not that they could have held him back if he fought them, but it was a reminder to the General that he could not lose it with so many people in the room.  Plus, he needed to find out where Eve was before anything else was done.

Several of the rushing people looked back and forth between the two.  They wanted to keep their jobs, but in the end, their lives were more valuable, and they ran.  When the last one disappeared through the exit, Hojo turned his glare to Sephiroth.  “Why have you come to disturb my work.  I haven’t called for you.”

Sephiroth had never been so angry in his life.  He could nearly feel himself shaking, but he had to find out where Eve was before he killed the man in front of him.  “You know why I am here.”

Hojo’s glare turned into a smirk.  “Ah, that was fast.”  He then waved the General off as he turned to tidy up a table nearby.  “I would have let you know soon enough.  I have her in isolation now until I have finished my tests.  Once I have verified everything I had planned on letting you see her.”

He then turned back around.  “She is quite the specimen.  Much stronger than the last one.  It’s unfortunate that I may have to keep her sedated until I have what I need.”  He walked to another table and absently picked up more files before he turned with them and continued.  “In the meantime, I have been stuck cleaning up after inferior scientists.”

Sephiroth’s first instinct was to grab the man around the throat and throttle him until he got the answers he needed, but when he tensed to move, so did Angeal and Genesis.  He swallowed the words he wanted to say to them.  It was only their worry that motivated them, and no matter how angry he was, alienating them would not help.  His voice was low when he answered.  “Evelyn is not a specimen.  She is human, and you cannot keep her locked up.”

At that, Hojo turned to him with a smirk.  “Ah, but is she really?”

Sephiroth growled in frustration, and his rage could be heard in his voice.  “It doesn’t matter if she is a Cetra or a human, she is still a person, and you cannot lock her up like an animal!”

At Sephiroth’s words, Angeal shot a shocked look to Genesis behind Sephiroth’s back.  His friend was grimacing, but when he caught his eye, Genesis merely nodded.  Angeal was floored.  A living Cetra.  Things just got a lot more complicated.  And dangerous.

He was pulled from his thoughts on the matter when Hojo cackled.  “So, you know.  I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me.  You are my finest specimen to date.  Although, maybe not for long.  I had hoped that you would have already impregnated her, but that will have to wait I suppose.”

In a flash, Sephiroth had the Masamune in hand and had shaken off the other Firsts.  The blade was laid along Hojo’s neck before anyone had a chance to do more than blink.  Hojo did not seem worried.  “Now, don’t be hasty.  How will you see her again if you kill me.”

Sephiroth didn’t move for several seconds, but with a growl, he lowered the Masamune.  “Don’t play games with me.  You will show me where she is now.”

Hojo laughed and turned away.  “All in good time.”

Sephiroth clenched his fist around the hilt of his sword so tight that his knuckles were white under his gloves.  A very large part of him wanted to cut the man down where he stood and tear the building down piece by piece until he found Eve.  He almost gave in to the urge, but before he could move, everyone was shocked by the sound of a shot ringing out and Hojo slamming face-first into the table he was in front of.

Sephiroth looked between Hojo’s body and Tseng where the man still had his pistol raised.  The Turk raised a brow at him when he spoke.  “I thought you were in a hurry.  We don’t have time to deal with his prattling.”

Sephiroth wasn’t sure if he was angrier that Tseng shot the man that was their only lead to find Eve, or that he hadn’t been able to kill the man himself.  That particular worry was eased when he heard Hojo laugh and turned to see him stand.

He had a hand covering a bleeding wound on one shoulder, but he was still grinning, or trying to through a grimace, at Tseng.  “I have always believed that the Turks were no better than animals, but I never expected you to be so stupidly impulsive.”

Tseng completely ignored the man’s taunting and spoke directly to Sephiroth.  “I have uncovered that he has a secret lab.  I am unsure exactly where it is, but I know that there is an entrance to it from this floor.  It is your choice.  We can waste time listening to him tell us nothing, or we can split up and find it ourselves.  It shouldn’t take us that long.”

It took Sephiroth a few moments to digest the new information.  When he realized what exactly it meant, he turned to Hojo with a glare.  When the scientist caught sight of the look, a sliver of worry entered his mind.  He realized for the first time that despite his superior intelligence, he might not be in control of the situation anymore. 

Those were his last thoughts as Sephiroth brought the blade up again, and his eyes flashed.  “You should have learned to keep your hands to yourself.”

It was only moments later that Sephiroth flung the blood from his blade and turned to Tseng.  “Where should we focus our search?”

Angeal was still staring at the body of the former Shinra Science Department Head in shock.  He could not believe that his friend had just cut the man down in cold blood.  When Genesis caught sight of it, he put a hand on his shoulder.  “My friend, the fates are cruel, no honor remains.  Trust me when I say that this was more than warranted.  We have our own story to tell as well.  In time, you will understand.”

Angeal knew that despite Genesis’ theatrics, he was not a dishonorable man.  Neither was Sephiroth for that matter.  If they both believed there was more going on here that warranted the death of Hojo, then he would take them at their word until they could explain.  He was drawn from those thoughts as Tseng answered Sephiroth’s question.

“It could be anywhere on this floor.  Between us, it should not take long to find.  Search for anything that might seem out of place or panels that don’t seem to join quite right.  With your sharp eyes, you should be able to pick it out quickly.”

Almost everyone immediately turned to search the floor.  However, when Angeal looked around, he saw Zack standing a few feet away and wearing a horrified look.  The First sighed and walked to his protégé.  Zack flinched when he clapped him on the shoulder, but he didn’t move away.  Instead, he lowered his voice and gave Angeal a pleading look.  “What just happened?  Did the Professor really kidnap the Doctor to use as an experiment?  Why would he do that?”

Angeal sighed again and shook his head.  “I have no idea why, but it was obvious he did.  We’ll find out everything later.  For now, we need to look for Dr. Marx.”  Zack still looked shell-shocked but gave him a nod before they both turned to start inspecting the walls.

None of them had gone very far from the place they had started when all heads turned at a voice that cut the silence.  “Hojo, you slimy bastard!  For your sake, I hope to hell that you are long gone.  If I find you I’m going to start ripping off pieces, one precious part of your anatomy at a time!”

Zack turned wide eyes to his mentor just a few feet away.  “Was that Dr. Marx?”

Angeal didn’t answer right away.  He had turned to where the voice was coming from and saw Genesis smirking.  Sephiroth had stiffened as well before he jumped up and called out.  “Eve!”

The voice paused in its ranting before it called back.  “Sephiroth?  Sephiroth!”

The General was off at a run with the rest of the group not far behind.  When Sephiroth rounded the corner, he nearly froze at the sight of Eve.  She was wearing nothing but a flimsy gown and was covered in blood.  The girl she was barely able to hold up hardly registered as he ran the rest of the way and caught her as she started to fall.

As for Eve, just the sound of Sephiroth’s voice made her knees weak.  She had been running on fumes as she pushed her body past its limits to make sure both she and Shelke escaped.  When she saw that it really was her lover, she finally let go and started sobbing.

Sephiroth supported her weight against him and tried to take a quick assessment of her injuries.  His blood was boiling as he saw the bloody footprints she had left behind.  He wanted to pick her up and carry her out of there, but the way she was holding tightly to the child in her arms made it awkward.

His attention was drawn when a flash of red crossed his vision before it rose with a screech and winked out of existence.  He barely had time to wonder what it had been as the others had reached them.  Zack’s voice was the first to be heard. 
“What was that?”

It was Genesis that answered, with a note of awe in his voice.  “It was a phoenix.  My guess would be that Dr. Marx summoned it.”

Sephiroth ignored them all as he gently lowered Eve to the floor.  Tseng had approached by that point and was frowning at the sight of her.  His tone was surprisingly soft when he spoke.  “Eve, what happened?”

Even though Tseng had spoken quietly, it cut the silence and caught her attention.  She looked to him, and he wanted to curse at the dullness in her eyes.  He could not understand why Sephiroth was so calm.  At that thought, he looked up and saw that the General was not as calm as he first appeared.  He was merely using all of his willpower to not rampage through the building.

The Turk raised up thanks for small miracles before he tried to address Eve again.  “Who do you have with you?”

That question finally got her moving again.  She relaxed her grip and allowed Sephiroth’s support to keep her from falling over as she looked down to the girl that was now in her lap.  She brushed the girl’s hair back and checked her pulse before she let her eyes close and sighed.  When she opened them, they held more of the fire he was used to seeing.  “All I can tell you is that her name is Shelke.  I don’t know how long Hojo has had her, but he kidnapped her and was testing on her.”

Eve heard a disgusted sound coming from behind her, but she didn’t have the strength to care who it was.  Tseng held out a hand.  “Let me take her, and we can get you both somewhere safe.  I’ll find someone to take a look at her.”

Eve only hesitated for a moment before she allowed Tseng to lift the girl from her arms.  As soon as Shelke was out of her grip, Sephiroth wrapped his arm under Eve’s legs and picked her up as well.  She had no inclination to complain.  Instead, she laid her head on his chest and closed her eyes as the small group of people made their way down the stairs to avoid any prying eyes.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

The next time Eve woke, she had an aching head, and her mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton.  She couldn’t remember having gotten drunk, but it sure felt like a hangover from hell.  She sat up with a groan.  When she did, she noticed that there were several people in the room that all sat up at her movement.

The first two people were standing next to each other, and right by her bed.  At the sight of Sephiroth’s worried look, everything came rushing back, and she laid back with another groan.  It was Shelke that spoke up at the noise.  “Evie, are you alright?”

Eve smiled over at the girl.  It had been so long since anyone had called her that.  She wasn’t sure why she had shared that diminutive with the girl, but it was nice.  She patted Shelke’s hand.  “Better now.  How are you feeling?”

Shelke was giving her an awed look, but she still managed to smile.  “You got me out.  You got me away from… from that place.”

Eve was still so tired, but she was happy to see the girl was already brighter than she had been when they were in captivity.  She also noticed the girl was holding Sephiroth’s hand.  She raised a brow at the sight before she looked up and caught his eye, even though she was talking to Shelke.  “I see you and Sephiroth seem to be getting along well.”

The girl giggled and looked up at him before she smiled at Eve.  “When I first woke up, I was really scared.  I didn’t know anyone or where I was or what happened, but he told me that you got us out.  He said that if I calmed down I could come see you, but you were hurt and needed rest.  He’s brought me here every day.”

Eve froze at that last part.  “Every day?”

Sephiroth’s eyes were stormy when he finally spoke.  “You have been asleep for three days.  You exhausted your reserves, and you lost a significant amount of blood.  When we went to investigate, we found a trail all the way back to your cell.  The doctors said you would be fine with rest.”

Eve laid her head back and closed her eyes.  No wonder she felt like shit.  At the time, her only focus had been on getting them out.  Her head had been too foggy to take in much else.  She remembered being injured, but being injured was far more preferable than being in Hojo’s clutches.  At that thought, her eyes shot open and she gave Sephiroth a worried look.  “What about-“  She cut herself off as she didn’t want to say the madman’s name in front of Shelke, so she tried again.  “How did you get me out of there?  The last bit is still foggy.”

She saw his jaw clench, but the worry was evident in his eyes.  She felt her heart stutter at how upset he had probably been.  She smiled when he knelt so he could face Shelke.  “Would you mind giving us a few minutes to talk?  Cissnei can take you to your room.”

The girl smiled and nodded to him, but before she turned, she threw her arms around Eve in a tight hug.  Eve patted her back as the girl's voice started to tremble.  “Thank you.”

When Shelke let her go, Eve grabbed her hand and gave her a smile.  “You’re welcome.”

Shelke nearly grinned as she turned to Cissnei, who had been waiting by the door.  Before they left, the Turk gave her a nod.  “I’m glad you’re feeling better.  I’ll let Tseng know.”

Eve groaned as the duo left.  Just the thought of having to deal with her boss gave her a headache.  There was so much already going through her head.  She was pulled from her torment when Sephiroth sat on the side of the bed.  He tentatively took her hand, like she might break.  It felt nice that he was so gentle, but the reason behind it had her pulling herself up and wrapping her arms around his neck.  Her voice was barely over a whisper.  “I don’t remember everything, but I do remember that you were there for me when I needed you.  Thank you.”

He stiffened in her embrace and pushed back, although he was still gentle when he did it.  “No, I was not.  I let him take you.  I knew he was not beyond being underhanded, and I left you alone.  He had you for nearly a day before I even knew it.  You got yourself out.  I was only there at the end.”

Eve hated seeing the pain in his eyes and cupped his cheek.  She ignored his flinch and smiled at him.  “Like I said, you were there when I needed you.  I am not defenseless.  I know you may want to, but I don’t need you to protect me every second of every day, and I don’t want you to.”

She paused at his frown.  She knew he probably did not like what she was saying, but she needed him to understand that none of it was his fault.  She was an adult and responsible for her own choices.  She used her other hand to gently rub the furrow between his brows before she continued.  “You can’t keep blaming yourself for other people’s actions, my own included.”

When he still frowned at her, she sighed before her lips thinned.  Her eyes flashed with determination and, despite his growing shock, she maneuvered herself into his lap.  She had to be careful of the lines that were attached to her arm, but she quickly made herself comfortable and wrapped her arms around his neck again.  His hands had instinctively wrapped around her waist to keep her steady.

Once she was where she wanted to be, she looked him directly in the eyes.  “I have some things to tell you that I know you aren’t going to like, but we need to deal with this now.”

His voice was hard when he answered.  “Eve, you nearly died.  I refuse to let it happen again.  I cannot imagine my life without you here.”

She knew he wasn’t angry at her, so she just shook her head before she laid it on his shoulder.  “We may have prevented the future I saw from ever happening, but we are far from finished.  There is still a lot to tackle.  As much as you may hate it, I will have to be part of it.”

He pushed her back slightly and cupped her chin.  Before he could say what she could see in his eyes, she continued.  “No.  You may be the best warrior in the world, but not everything can be defeated with a sword.  There are some things that only I will be able to do.  If we are to move forward, you need to accept that.”

She saw his eyes flash, and she almost wanted to cry.  She hated making him feel miserable, but it was better for them to deal with it now.  His voice was low, and she could hear his worry.  “I refuse to let you put yourself in danger again.”

She gave him a half-smile.  “Then be by my side.  Be there with me and help me take care of things.  I am not asking you to leave me to handle it alone.  I’m just saying that you can’t do it alone either.  Together, we can change the world.”

Eve felt cheesy as she said the last part, but it was true.  It also made the flash of a smile dart across his face.  It was gone almost before she saw it, but it was enough.  He laid his forehead against hers and took a deep breath.  He didn’t move right away.

Whatever he had been preparing to say, was interrupted by a laughing voice.  “Damn Cupcake.  You almost die and still can’t get enough.  I didn’t figure the Princess would be up for it as pissy as he’s been the last few days.”

Eve turned her head to the door, but the scathing remark she had for Reno died on her lips when she saw it was Veld with him and not Tseng.  He did not look happy either.  His glare was all it took to remind her of the information she passed along to Tseng the day she was taken.  There was more too, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to share.  Minerva had spoken to her often while she was out of it.  She hadn’t realized it had been days, but everything had jumbled when she woke.  She realized now that she didn’t have much time to sort it out.

She sighed as she disentangled her arms and tried to move off Sephiroth.  He gently helped her, but he didn’t leave her side as Veld spoke up.  She cringed when he got straight to the point.  “While you have been sleeping, the world has gone to shit.  The President is dead, so is Professor Hojo.  Hollander is missing, and in general, we have a mess to clean up.  Now that you have accomplished your goal, what do you intend to do?”

Eve’s eyes flashed, and she tried to stand.  When she swayed, Sephiroth gently wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  She reached up and squeezed his fingers in thanks, but her eyes were trained on Veld.  “I have not yet accomplished anything more than telling people the truth that they deserved to know.  We are far from out of danger yet and if you think I will stop because you’re pissed, think again.  Unless you plan on killing me here, I’m not ready to give up.”

She didn’t back down when Veld’s eyes flashed at her insubordination.  She barely saw Reno take a few steps back out of the corner of her eye, and she felt Sephiroth stiffen next to her.  Nothing was said right away.  She watched as Veld’s jaw clenched several times before he calmed and pulled one of the chairs up so he could sit.  He pointed to the bed.  “Sit.  You can barely stand, and I have a feeling this won’t be quick.”

Eve knew better than to think the worst was over, but she sat at his insistence.  She was grateful when Sephiroth sat beside her.  Veld took a deep breath.  “Is Vincent really alive?”

Eve sighed when she nodded.  She had more to add to that now as well, and she knew if Veld had been angry about Vincent, he would be livid about the rest.  She couldn’t keep it from him, though.  “That’s not all.”

Veld quirked a brow at her, and his tone dripped sarcasm.  “Why does that not surprise me?”

Eve bit her tongue and tried to remember it wouldn’t help any of them for her to let her temper loose.  She wasn’t entirely successful in keeping her anger from her voice, though.  “Look, do you think I like this?  If your answer is anything other than no, think again.  Not to mention, I am just one person.  There is only so much information I can be given at a time before my brain overloads.  I didn’t know this before, or I would have come to you with it a long time ago.”

Veld paused.  With the way she said that it made it sound like it was something important enough for her to bypass Tseng and come straight to him.  If that was the case, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.  He didn’t have a choice as she continued before he could speak.  “I was told that a girl named Felicia is alive.  I don’t know where she is, but I get the impression we might be able to find her when we go get Vincent.”

Veld froze at the name.  Surely the woman wasn’t talking about his daughter.  There was no way.  Felicia died with the rest of the residents of Kalm that had been caught in the blast.  When his eyes caught hers, he knew he was deluding himself.  The worry he found was unexpected and knifed through him.  He stood and paced across the room with clenched fists.  He was already aware that almost everything this woman had shared had already been verified.  There was overwhelming evidence that she was being truthful.  Even so, the thought that his daughter was alive out there somewhere made him see red.  It took him several moments to calm himself enough to not try and shoot her as soon as he turned around.  It wasn’t like she had done more than pass on the message.

He was still scowling when he turned back.  “You get the impression?  Do you know where she is?”

Eve shook her head.  “Not right now.  I do know the people she is traveling with are headed to Cosmo Canyon.  We may be able to intercept them there.”

He nodded once.  That explained her vague answer, but he needed more.  “Who is she with?”

Eve grimaced, and he did not like the look she was giving him.  “She is with Avalanche.  She doesn’t remember who she is.  Plus she is sick.”

Veld didn’t bother holding in his curse.  It had to be Avalanche.  They were new, but they had already become a thorn in Shinra’s side.  Still, if Felicia was with them, then they might be able able to take care of that thorn while they were at it.  He just hated the thought of her being caught in the middle.  He would have to figure it out soon though, as he planned on leaving as soon as Dr. Marx was able.

He finally stopped and pinned her with a hard look.  “Make sure you report everything else that you might have forgotten by tonight.  I plan to have you lead me to Vincent as soon as you are cleared.  We can stop in Cosmo Canyon on the way.”

Eve didn’t get to answer as Sephiroth stood.  “We cannot afford to simply toss her in the line fire.”

Veld grimaced at him.  “General, you have always impressed me as a man that knew how to keep himself in check.  Don’t ruin it now by going soft.  I have no intention of deliberately putting Dr. Marx in danger, but she has already proven that she can handle herself.  We need her, and I will not be leaving her behind.”

Sephiroth growled but Eve grabbed his hand before he could summon the Masamune.  When he glared down at her, she didn’t flinch from his gaze.  “The Director is right.  I have to do this.  It’s the whole reason I’m here.  Like I said before, we have a lot more to handle, and we are running out of time.”

Both men gave her curious looks at that, but it was Veld that spoke.  “Dangers from outside the company?”

She nodded and sighed.  “Yes.  Hojo may have spread her cells around, but Jenova is still a sentient organism.  The planet will never be safe as long as she is still out there.  Before we leave we need to figure out how to protect the Soldiers from her influence, but even after that, we need to figure out how to destroy her without contaminating the planet.”

Veld took a deep breath and looked at her for several moments.  If she was right, none of them could afford to relax.  “Do you have a plan?”

Eve looked up to Sephiroth again to see him still frowning, but she didn’t take her eyes off his as she answered.  “I hope so.  I will find out for sure as soon as I can walk without falling over.”

Veld grimaced at the moment between them.  He was among the many people that didn’t understand why a Cetra was so smitten with the General.  He had seen enough of the reports to know the woman should have run from him screaming as soon as she saw him the first time.  It was a moot point now.  With everything they had been told, even the pragmatic Turk knew that they couldn’t afford to have her against them.  For now, they would simply watch the Soldiers and see how it played out.  That didn’t mean they wouldn’t make plans to deal with them if it came to that.

Veld didn’t even bother to try and get her attention again.  He gave Reno a look when he thought he might tease them as they walked out.  The redhead grimaced but knew to keep his mouth shut and follow.  They had a lot of planning to do and not much time.


 

Once the two Turks were gone, Sephiroth sat again and gathered Eve close.  He placed a kiss on the top of her head and sat like that for several minutes before he sighed and sat back.  “I will not be able to keep you from going unless I restrain you, will I?”

Eve doubted he would really go that far, at least she hoped he wouldn’t, so she grinned at him.  “While I might like to see you try that at another time, no.  I already told you I have to do this.”

She saw his jaw clench once, but he finally nodded.  “I will be by your side.  Nothing will ever touch you.”

As much as Eve wanted to prove to him that she was strong enough to stand by him as well, the soft tone he used had her burying her face in his chest.  “I’m counting on it.”

They sat like that in silence while he stroked his fingers through her hair.  Eve let the feeling calm her.  When she sat back, her face was still serious.  “Within the next couple of days, I need you, Genesis and Angeal to come with me.  It might be a good idea not to let Tseng know about it until we are ready to go too.”

Sephiroth raised a brow at her and frowned.  “I thought you had realized that secrets are not a good thing to keep.”

She grimaced.  “You’re right, but this needs to happen, and if he finds out then I am sure he will do anything he can to stop it.”  She smiled at the thought of why and smirked at Sephiroth.  “Despite his calm Turk front, even he has someone that he would do almost anything for.”

Sephiroth gave her a shocked look.  He had no idea what she was planning, or why what she had planned might set off Tseng, but he did trust her.  More than anyone.  Knowing that, he simply nodded and kissed her forehead before he stood.  He looked down into her bright eyes and felt a pang at how close he had come to losing her, but he pushed the thought aside and brushed her hair back.

“Sleep for now.  I know you probably still need it.  I doubt they will clear you before tomorrow.  You can tell me more then.”

She caught the hand he had used and kissed his palm before she nodded and laid back.  “I’ll see you later then.”  As much as she was worried about the long list of things that needed to be done, he had been right.  She was asleep within the next fifteen minutes.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32

It was two days later that Eve and Sephiroth were standing at the sector 5 train station in the slums.  He had been able to persuade Angeal and Genesis to come as well.  That wasn’t the problem.  Eve had tried to convince them to stay in the market area until she took care of something first.  She needed to speak to Aerith and didn’t want to spook the girl.  However, Sephiroth was in no mood to leave her by herself.

They had stepped away from the station a short distance, and both Angeal and Genesis had walked away so they could speak privately.  Not that Genesis cared to give them that luxury, but Angeal didn’t give him a choice.  As for Eve and Sephiroth, they were both oblivious to the stares they were garnering as they continued their quiet, but intense argument.

“I am fine!  I have lost track of how many times I have had to work in the slums.  Besides, where I am going is the least dangerous part.  I’ll call you within an hour either way.”

Sephiroth clenched his jaw.  “You were cleared for light duty.  I have already told you that I will not allow anything to happen.  You cannot wander alone.”

Eve took a deep breath and reminded herself that he was only worried.  She took him by surprise when she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist loosely.  She looked up and gave him a soft smile.  “It’s not like I’m going far.  I just need you to give me time.  Please?”

His eyes still looked stormy, but Eve’s attention was pulled by someone calling her name.  She stepped back from Sephiroth but didn’t let go of his hand as she looked around.  Her eyes widened in shock when she saw Aerith walking toward her and waving.  “Dr. Marx!  That is you!”

Eve froze.  She hadn’t wanted Aerith to see Sephiroth yet.  She needed the girl’s help, but there was no way she would force her if she wasn’t comfortable with it.  That was why she wanted to talk to her alone.  She never wanted to hurt Aerith.  Her fear was brought to life when the girl finally saw who was standing next to Eve.  She was looking back and forth between them and down at their joined hands. 

Eve cursed under her breath before she looked back and gave Sephiroth a sad look.  He had recognized Aerith as well.  Her voice was soft.  “Wait here.”

He didn’t respond until she let his hand drop.  At the loss of contact, he glanced down to her with a haunted look.  She gave him a soft smile and tried to reassure him with her eyes.  He was no longer that man and never could be.  She didn’t have a chance to do more as Aerith had started backing away.  Eve quickly turned to her and tried to give her a reassuring look.  This was turning into a disaster.

Thankfully, Aerith paused when Eve called out to her.  She looked like she wanted to run, but when she saw Sephiroth was keeping his distance, she allowed Eve to approach.  Eve wanted to give her a hug but wasn’t sure if she would be allowed to.  She cursed herself and wondered if she should have had them wait at headquarters.  The only reason she had asked them to come was that they didn’t have much time.  Not only did she have a growing feeling that a storm was brewing, but Veld had made it clear that he would not allow more than a couple of days before they left for Cosmo Canyon.

It was too late to regret it now.  With that thought in mind, she sighed and tried to explain.  “I was actually on my way to see you, but they weren’t supposed to come with me unless you were comfortable with it.  They are the reason I needed to talk to you, though.”

Aerith didn’t speak right away.  She was still watching Sephiroth like a hawk.  Eve wasn’t sure if it was because she was terrified, or something else.  When the girl finally turned back to her, the look she gave was confused and maybe a little wondering.  “Are you… the two of you, are you together?”

Eve sighed.  She didn’t want to further frighten the girl, but she refused to deny Sephiroth, even to soothe Aerith.  “Yes.  I love him.”

Aerith’s eyes widened, but she didn’t speak right away.  It was several silent moments later that she stepped around Eve and walked to the man that was staring at her with wide eyes.  Aerith stopped a few feet away, but she gave him an evaluating look.  When their eyes met, he flinched slightly.  The sight of it caused Aerith to gasp.

Eve was further shocked when Aerith closed the distance to Sephiroth and took one of his hands.  She was still trembling slightly, but her voice was calm.  “I can tell that you have seen it too.  Eve promised me that she would never let that happen, and I told her then that I trusted her.  If she found something in you worth loving, then I trust that she has already fulfilled that promise.”

Both Eve and Sephiroth stared at her in shock.  When Eve had figured out that she would need Aerith’s help, she had not been looking forward to asking her.  The girl had every reason not to ever get near Sephiroth.  Even though he had not yet done anything, the fact that Aerith had been shown what might have happened, was enough that Eve expected her to want to stay as far from him as possible.  Seeing her accepting the man and trying to soothe his worry, was a stark reminder of how strong Aerith really was.

Sephiroth hadn’t moved, so Eve joined them and put her hand on top of Aerith’s where they still clasped his much larger one.  Eve gave him a loving look.  “See, I told you.  You are an amazing man.  I trust you, you should trust yourself.”

He looked back and forth between the two women in shock.  When Eve grabbed his other hand and squeezed it, Aerith giggled.  She had been shocked to see him, but it didn’t take her long to figure out that the man in front of her was far from the one she had seen in the visions the planet gave her.  This man was obviously just as besotted with Eve as she was with him and it made Aerith’s heart swell with hope.  If he were capable of love, then he would never succumb to the hatred that she had been shown.

Sephiroth finally spoke.  “I recognize you.  I am uncertain of the significance, but I apologize.  If you were shown what I was, then I cannot understand how you can accept the sight of me.”

Aerith smiled at him and then to Eve.  “You haven’t done anything to apologize for.”

He grimaced at her denial, and Eve shook her head before she turned to Aerith.  “Can we go somewhere and talk?  We are running out of time, and I need your help.”

Aerith smiled and nodded.  “We can go to my house.  I told my mom all about you, and I would like you to meet her.”

Eve nodded, but she stopped the girl before she could take off.  “I would love to meet her, but we have Commander Rhapsodos and Commander Hewley with us as well.  Would your mother mind?”

Aerith’s eyes widened for a split second, but she smiled again.  “It’s been so long since we had company.  I’m sure she would like to visit.”

Eve wondered if that would really be the case.  She hadn’t forgotten how much Elmyra Gainsborough had lost at the hands of Shinra.  If nothing else came from the visit, she at least hoped that they could prove not all of Shinra was horrible.  She grimaced at the thought that part of it might depend on how Genesis acted.  She reminded herself that he could be charming when he wanted to be.  Hopefully, this would be one of those times.

Eve turned to Sephiroth to ask him to contact the other two as they were no longer in sight, but he was already on the phone.  She smiled as he hung up.  They didn’t have to wait long until the other two Firsts came around the corner.  Once the two of them were even with them, Eve formally introduced them all.  She was thankful that Genesis gave Aerith one of his charming smiles.  Hopefully that meant he would be on his best behavior.

As they turned to follow Aerith to her home, Eve caught something flash through Genesis’ eyes and wondered if he might be able to tell that the girl was more than what she appeared to be.  Given some of the things Minerva had told her, it wouldn’t be surprising.  She already wondered if there wasn’t more to the fiery First than she had initially believed.

When they first arrived at Aerith’s home, Elmyra had greeted them with reserve.  She had immediately recognized the three Firsts and wasn’t sure how to treat them.  It wasn’t until Aerith bade them all sit while she flitted around getting everything together for tea and telling them about the flowers she grew that Elmyra relaxed at all.  If her daughter was comfortable with them enough to act like her usual self, then their presence couldn’t be all bad.

When they sat, Aerith gave Eve a smile.  “So, why did you need to talk to me?”

Eve had not spoken to the men about what she was about to ask, as she hadn’t been sure that Aerith would even consider it and she hadn’t wanted to get their hopes up.  She looked around at them all before she started.  “We are all aware of what is at stake, and we are far from done.  I know we still need to deal with Jenova-“ She paused when both Sephiroth and Aerith flinched at the name, but she didn’t let it stop her.  It might be an unpleasant subject, but avoiding it would not solve anything.

She squared her shoulders and continued.  “Our next mission will have us traveling to where I believe she is stored.  I would like to see if we can find a way to nullify her influence with anyone that might have her cells before we go.”

The three men looked shocked.  Eve had stressed that the visit would be important, but none had expected it to have anything to do with Jenova.  Genesis was the first to speak.  “Is that possible with just one person?”

Eve shrugged slightly.  “I cannot say for certain, but it would be the two of us together.  When I shared the visions with Sephiroth, I noticed a barrier.  If that was Jenova’s presence, then I should be able to isolate it with help.  I doubt I could handle taking care of all three of you by myself.  My mana was completely exhausted both times that I shared the visions.  This is likely to take even more effort, which is why I am here to ask Aerith for help.”

No one said anything right away.  Sephiroth was giving Eve a worried look that she tried to ignore.  She didn’t need to ask him to know that he did not like the idea of her pushing so hard when she just recently recovered.  However, waiting was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

Aerith finally spoke, but her voice was tentative.  “I was told there was something important I needed to help you with, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Eve nodded.  “I didn’t expect you to know.  I was only given an image of how to proceed, but between us, I think we can make it happen.  It is up to you, though.  I don’t want you to feel like you are required to help.  If you think that you cannot, then I will figure out another way.”

Aerith quickly shook her head.  “No, I want to help.  I guess it never hurts to try.”

Eve gave her a smile and nodded.  “Good.  The other thing is-“  She paused and looked to Elmyra.  She had a feeling neither woman would like her next suggestion.  “If we are to do this, I fully expect it to be difficult for all involved.  Especially you and I.  To make it a little easier, I would like to ask you to come back to headquarters with me.  You can stay at my apartment in between sessions.”

Elmyra glared at her and Aerith started fidgeting nervously.  That was a better reaction than Eve had expected, so she tried to ease their minds.  “I know you have been avoiding Shinra for most of your life, and for good reason.  However, the two men driving the directive to locate the Promised Land are both dead.  I am sure the President’s demise was announced since Rufus is now President, but Professor Hojo is gone as well.  Most of the unrest has been kept silent, but major changes are already underway.”

She paused and looked directly at Elmyra.  “If it would ease your worry, you would be welcome to come as well.  The only reason I ask is that we will need a place for everyone to rest afterward, and I felt it might be better to be close to people that can help if necessary when we are finished.”

Aerith put her hand on Elmyra’s arm, and the woman sighed before she nodded.  “Aerith trusts you.  She has been talking about you for months now.  If she is comfortable going, then I will not object.”

Eve was grateful.  She knew if Elmyra had asked her not to go, then Aerith may not have.  She turned to the girl at that point.  “If you choose to come, how soon do you think you can be ready?”

Aerith stood.  “I can leave now.  We don’t have much time, right?”

Eve could not hold back a sigh of relief.  She hadn’t known what to expect when she realized she would need the girl’s help, but she should have known that Aerith was both resilient and eager to help in whatever way she could.

When everyone stood to leave, Eve turned to Elmyra with a smile.  “I know this isn’t easy for you, but you know you have raised a wonderful child.  Thank you.”

Elmyra finally smiled at her.  “She has always been a wonderful child.  I’m just lucky enough to have been here for her.”

Aerith had to run upstairs and grab a few things before they could leave.  It wasn’t long until she was running back down and gave her mother a hug before she turned to the rest.  “I’m ready.”

The men all thanked Elmyra for her hospitality before they left.  Eve didn’t miss the evaluating looks both Genesis, and Angeal were giving Aerith.  Although it had not been explicitly stated, they had already figured out that the girl was also a Cetra.  To find two living Cetra in Midgar was shocking.  As interesting as that fact was, Sephiroth was lost in introspection.  He had a feeling he understood the vision of him killing the girl now, and it only made things worse.  How he could have sunk to killing anyone in cold blood was beyond him.  The fact that she was a Cetra made it worse.  He prayed he would never be able to understand what might have driven him to do such a thing.


 

When they made it back to headquarters, their small group was stopped by Reno and Rude.  Rude’s face was impassive, but Reno was grinning at her.  ”Ya really pissed him off this time.  I’m so proud.”

Eve rolled her eyes at his praise.  She had expected Tseng to be irritated.  “Where is he?”

Reno gestured behind himself with his thumb.  “He said to meet him at the top.  I think Rufus wants to talk to ya too.”

Eve hadn’t been expecting that.  She looked back at Aerith, and the girl was trying to hide behind her.  She didn’t get to ask anything else before Reno continued.  “He said to bring everyone.”

Eve gave him a confused look, and his grin widened.  “I think this has to do with your schemin’.”

Eve didn’t bother hiding her rolling eyes.  “Whatever.”  When she looked back again, both Sephiroth and Angeal were frowning slightly.  Eve wasn’t sure what to think about the fact that Genesis was smirking.  She tried not to think too deeply about it.  She was more worried about Aerith.  She took the girl’s hand and squeezed.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll be safe.  I’m the one that is likely to bear the brunt of it.”

Aerith didn’t look reassured.  Eve gave her a smile that turned just a little wicked.  “I am well versed in dealing with my boss.  Besides, he has a soft spot for you.  It’ll be fine.”

Aerith looked at her as if she had lost her mind and Eve wondered briefly if telling her was the wisest thing.  It was too late now.  Sephiroth finally stepped around them and looked back at Eve.  “What you have done is necessary.  You will not face the consequences alone.”

As touched by his care as Eve was, she was slightly irritated that he could dismiss Tseng’s worries so easily while still wanting to keep her from harm.  She didn’t say anything, though.  He was already upset with her insistence on pushing herself, and it wasn’t worth arguing over.

When they made it to the 69th floor, Ruluf was the one guarding the stairs.  He shook his head as the entourage exited the elevator.  When they drew even with him, he looked Sephiroth over before he gave Eve a crooked grin.  “I guess I shoulda moved faster.”

She raised a brow at his open flirting.  She saw when the meaning behind his words occurred to Sephiroth and stepped in front of him slightly to block whatever he was about to do as she answered.  “Is Tseng still here?”

Ruluf grinned at her subtle action and stepped to the side.  “Oh yeah.  Try not to die.  Even if I can’t have ya, just listenin’ to you thrash the moron is entertainin’.”

Eve paused as the others made their way up.  “I’m not the one to worry about.”  His chuckle at her attitude had her smiling as she followed the rest of the group up into the new President’s office.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 33

When the group made it to the top of the stairs, Eve paused at the sight of Veld standing next to Tseng.  They both stood at attention as Rufus Shinra leaned back in his seat.  When they came in front of the large desk, the young president looked them all over before his eyes landed on Eve and he gestured for her to step forward.

“I find that I am uncertain whether I should be thankful for your help or worried about what you have planned next.  Tell me, are you really content to be done with simply the death of my father and the collapse of the science department?”

Eve’s eyes narrowed.  She hadn’t missed the looks Tseng was giving her as well.  Despite both men’s glares, she kept her voice even.  “My goal this whole time has been to prevent the destruction of this world.  Part of the threat was due to their influence, which is why their demise had to be addressed.  That was not all though.  Surely you have been updated with the current situation and outcome if nothing else changes.”

Veld was surprisingly quiet through their exchange, but Tseng stepped forward with a frown.  “Do not forget that you are still a Shinra employee.  You are not beyond being tried for treason.  You have already pushed the limits.”

Eve knew that part of his irritation was redirection.  Despite his calm demeanor, she could tell that he was livid that Aerith was there.  She held tight to that thought as she ignored him and addressed Rufus.  “President, you are welcome to try me.  I am aware of the penalty for treason.  However, I assure you that killing me will not solve your problems.  With the way things were going, this company was headed toward disaster.”

 “That is only one of the problems still left, but let me explain so you can understand what we are facing long term.”  She looked around briefly and noticed a cup of water sitting to the side.  She nodded at it.  “May I?”

Rufus had been silently listening to her tirade.  His expression didn’t change until she asked for the water, but he nodded his approval.  Eve took the cup and stepped back.  “Gaia has a finite amount of energy to create life.”  She paused and poured a little of the water into her cupped palm.  “Normally, the planet uses this energy to create new life.  Let’s say that this handful of water represents a village full of people.  As they die, the energy is sent back to the planet, and then others are born along with plants and animals and so forth.”

She let the water tip back into the cup before she poured it into her palm again.  “Now, let’s say this is the amount of that same energy used to power this city for a year.”  She looked at the water in her hand for a moment before she tipped it and let it fall to the floor.  “Once it is used, it is no longer available to replenish the planet.  It will not be long at all before there is none left.”

Eve heard a suspicious snicker behind her but ignored it as she held Rufus’ gaze.  “This is not conjecture.  I am telling you facts.  In addition to that, the Promised Land that everyone’s plans were being hung on is a fallacy.”

She felt Aerith stiffen next to her and took the girl’s hand as she continued.  “As a Cetra, I have a choice when I die.  I can hold onto my consciousness even after death and use that to help mold the planet.  To continue to work, per se.  The Promised Land is nothing more than the choice to let go and meld with the rest of the planet.  To let go of that burden.  It is not a physical place.”

Eve had been so focused on Rufus that she had not noticed the fact that Sephiroth had moved to stand between her and Tseng at the first mention of her being tried for treason.  When she finished speaking, he stepped in between her and the men in front of them.  His shoulders were stiff, as were his words.  “Even if you cannot believe what she has said, I refuse to allow her to come to harm.  She has repeatedly stated her secondary objective is the continued stability and growth of this company.  Despite the need to deal with certain aspects, she has proven continuously she has no ill will toward Shinra Power and Electric.”

When Sephiroth stepped in front of Eve, Tseng had stepped in front of Rufus’ desk.  Eve could practically taste the testosterone in the air and had to fight to keep from rolling her eyes.  She was almost thankful when Rufus spoke up.  “Enough.  Will the two of you stop acting like territorial dogs and move.  The Doctor and I were not finished speaking.”

Both men were glaring, but they moved as requested.  Once they were out of the way, Rufus gave Eve an evaluating look before he glanced to Sephiroth and shook his head.  “It would appear that our greatest weapon is no longer ours.”

Eve bristled at the fact that he was referencing Sephiroth in such a way.  “Pardon my expression, but that is bullshit.  He is not a possession.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t loyal.  We do not have to be at opposite ends.”

She was shocked when he smiled slightly.  “Indeed, I hoped we would not be.  I have read all the reports and have no doubt that fighting this change would not only prove fruitless but could be disastrous.  I would much prefer to have you by our side instead of against us.”  He paused, and his gaze flitted briefly to Aerith before he continued.  “Even if the promised land is false, just knowing that a few Cetra still live, could prove beneficial.”

Eve had to bite her tongue.  She knew their objectives were different, but if they could work together, she hoped they could come to a better compromise.  She nodded.  “Was that all you needed?”

He sat back again and looked over the small group of Soldiers and the two Cetra.  “I doubt you went to the slums for no reason.  Please explain.”

Eve had expected to tell them anyway since their military heads would likely be out for at least a day each.  “It’s simple.  I am being told something big is coming.  We will need as much manpower as we can bring when we go to Nibelheim.  Part of it will be so that we can dispose of what remains of Jenova, but I have been told something else is coming.”

Veld’s brows furrowed.  “Something is coming?  Can you be a bit more specific?”

Eve grimaced.  “No.  Minerva speaks to me like I am speaking to you, but not often.  Most of the time, I am just given images or visions and expected to work them out.  For this, it is nothing less than potential destruction.  I don’t know who is behind it, but it does have something to do with the Calamity.  I was also given a sense of urgency.”

She glanced over at Sephiroth and tried to ease his frown with a smile before she turned back to Veld.  “The future I once saw will never happen.  That is a good thing, but that also means that whatever is coming is something new.  My visions are not clearer than that.”

Rufus nodded in understanding.  “We will have the troops ready to deploy.  What does that have to do with your trip this morning?”

Eve squeezed Aerith’s hand once more before she answered.  “I have already stated that I am nearly positive that the remains of Jenova are in Nibelheim.  That means that anyone that shares her cells is potentially at risk.  We have to nullify her influence before it would be wise to go there.  I doubt she will take her destruction without fighting back.”

Veld and Tseng froze.  It took Rufus several moments to respond.  “You said her remains are there.  We also know that the body has been used in numerous experiments.  How could remains fight back?”

Eve narrowed her eyes.  “You read the reports.  She may have been sealed for two millennia, but she is still sentient.  She cannot fight on her own, but her consciousness is still active, and her parasitic nature could prove difficult if we do not cut that line of communication.”

Rufus looked to the three Firsts with a frown.  “We cannot take the chance that our strongest warriors could become pawns of the enemy.”

Eve rolled her eyes.  “That is the point.  I am certain I have already felt her influence once.  Between Aerith and I, we can figure out the base of that connection and sever it.  Even if they were not going to Nibelheim, we need to take care of it before we try to destroy her.  I don’t really know how far her influence could reach if she were threatened.”

None of the men looked happy at her explanation, but after several seconds of deliberation, Rufus nodded.  “What do we need to do?”

Eve nearly sighed.  She was already tired of dealing with overbearing men.  At least they were making progress.  “Aerith and I will need to work together to figure out the best way to handle this.  Once we have an idea, I believe we should start with Commander Rhapsodos.  The only thing we need besides time is people on standby in the off chance that we drain ourselves or something else happens.  Otherwise, we should be fine with rest.”

All of the men were giving her confused looks.  Finally, it was Veld that asked what they were all thinking.  “Commander Rhapsodos, and not General Sephiroth?”

Eve gave them all exasperated looks.  “We will be taking care of all of them as soon as possible, but the Commander is in the worst straights.  I would not want to let him stay like that any longer than necessary.”

Sephiroth gave her an unreadable look, and she could hear Genesis shifting behind her, but she ignored it.  Everyone in the room besides Aerith already knew about his degradation, and the girl would find out soon enough.  Eve was thankful that Rufus spoke up before any further questions were asked.  “What do you need to get started?”

“Can we arrange for a spare bed in my apartment?  It can be temporary, but it might be easier than sleeping on the couch.  I hope that we can have everything finished within two, maybe three days.”

Veld did not look happy with her estimation, but he didn’t say anything.  Rufus waved them off.  “I’ll have it sent.  I expect updates as often as possible.  If you cannot succeed, then we need to be ready with alternatives.”

Eve did not miss the meaning behind his words.  If she couldn’t protect the Firsts, then they would be a liability.  Despite their abilities to defend themselves, they were not invulnerable.  She gritted her teeth and gave him a nod.  She couldn’t fail.

Once they left the presidential office, both Genesis and Angeal headed back to their offices.  Eve told Genesis to expect a call soon and advised him to clear his schedule for the rest of the day at least.  He grimaced at her suggestion but didn’t argue.  She supposed that would be good enough.  Sephiroth continued on with them, but she shooed him out once they got to her apartment.  The women would need to concentrate and having him hovering over her worrying would not help.  She did agree that he could come back later with Genesis.  She was finding it was all about compromise.

Once the women were alone, Eve had Aerith join her for tea while she explained how she had shared visions with both Genesis and Sephiroth and what she encountered both times.  Aerith had been rapt.  The whole process was something she had never heard of, and as intimidating as the link sounded, it was still fascinating.  Eve wasn’t thrilled at the thought of sharing feelings with the others, but she would suck it up and deal with it.  She did try warning the girl that it could be unpleasant, especially as they all had painful things in their pasts.  Even though the warning had sobered Aerith, she was still determined to go through with it.

After they went over everything, and Eve had answered all Aerith’s questions, the two of them settled into comfortable positions in the middle of the living room floor.  They joined hands.  They took several minutes to settle into an even breathing pattern before they both pushed their energies into a materia they held between them.

The resulting connection took both of their breath away.  Neither of them had expected the link to fall into place so easily.  Even so, that had been the simple part. Merely dealing with the flow of feelings that were rushing between them had both women clinging tightly to their composure.  After several minutes, Eve finally pulled back, and Aerith quickly followed suit.  Eve was nauseous at some of the things that Aerith could still remember, but they were not unexpected.  Aerith, on the other hand, had not anticipated how much pain the fiery doctor had hidden inside.  As soon as the connection was cut off, Aerith flung her arms around Eve crying.  Eve still felt raw, but she had learned to deal with it years before.  She reminded herself that she was no longer alone, and that helped.  She let the girl cry herself out before she pushed back.

“Are you sure you want to continue?”

Aerith wiped her eyes and nodded.  “I should be asking you that.”

Eve gave her a half-smile.  “I’ve had years to learn to handle this.  I don’t think the men will feel it as strongly if they do at all, but you will have to deal with it and the same from them or close.  It isn’t too late to change your mind.”

Aerith squared her shoulders.  “I am a Cetra, and the planet needs me.  I will not wilt before we even start.”

Eve felt admiration well up.  Despite her gentle demeanor, this girl was made of steel.  She finally nodded and stood.  “Let me call Genesis.”

It was only a matter of minutes before there was a knock at the door.  Eve wasn’t surprised to see Sephiroth, but she was shocked to see Tseng as well.  Although it made sense.  He had been protecting Aerith for most of her life.  If he thought this could be dangerous for her at all, he would want to be there.  Eve hoped that it wouldn’t turn out as bad as their test run had.

Eve directed Genesis to take a seat on the floor.  He sneered at her, but when all she did was raise a brow at his attitude, he complied.  Aerith sat as well, and Eve kissed Sephiroth’s cheek and gave him a smile before she joined them.  The two that were not directly involved took up spots close enough to help if needed, but far enough away for Eve to stop glaring at them.

Eve warned Genesis that it might get unpleasant as she joined them.  He huffed a bitter laugh.  “More than your previous attempt?”

She shook her head at his attitude and told him to try not to scream or set anyone on fire.  He didn’t appreciate her humor but held his tongue as both women took one of his hands and then clasped each other’s.  Eve nodded to Aerith and barely gave him a warning before she opened the channel.  It was easier than it had been the first time, and thankfully, both women were better prepared.  They also only had the materia between them, so the connection to Genesis was not as intense.

Eve was the one to guide the link as she had been the one to first have an idea of what they were looking for.  The longer the connection stayed open, the harder it was for both women to concentrate past the fear, anger, and arrogance coming from Genesis.  Thankfully, Eve was able to find what she had been looking for.  That same oily barrier was buried in his mind.  It was not as expansive or pervasive as it had been in Sephiroth’s, but it was still there.

Even though it was only a mental exercise, just trying to isolate the presence was difficult.  It kept slipping away, just like the feeling of oil slipping around water.  Finally, it took both of them to trap it between them, and they focused on purifying it out of existence.  By the time the last of it vanished, all three of them were panting with exertion.  Genesis had a fine sheen of sweat across his brow. 

As soon as the power faded, Eve and Aerith nearly fell.  It was only the fact that both Sephiroth and Tseng had moved to stand right behind them that kept them from falling.  Once the two men saw how much effort was involved, neither cared to keep their distance.

Aerith had started weeping again and didn’t care that it was Tseng holding her.  Eve wasn’t much better.  Despite her efforts not to let them, tears still fell.  When Sephiroth tried to stand with her she managed to stop him.  “Check… check on Genesis.  See if he is healed.”

Sephiroth’s jaw clenched, and he warred with himself.  He considered ignoring her request, but she frowned slightly, and he set her back down with a frown.  By the time he reached Genesis, the man was trying to stand.  Despite a growl from the redhead, he helped him up.  Once Genesis was on his feet, he shrugged his duster off and moved his fingers lightly across the shoulder that had not healed for months.  When he felt no pain, his eyes widened, and he pushed his sleeve up to see nothing more than an area of light pink new skin.

All three men looked down to the exhausted women with awe.  Genesis knelt in front of them, and his voice was low.  “There is no hate, only joy, for you are beloved by the Goddess.  Words will never be able to express how grateful I am for what you have done.  I had nearly lost hope.”

Aerith pushed away from Tseng and gave him a tremulous smile.  “There is more to you then you realize.  You are meant to do great things.  Don’t forget that.”

Eve knew what the girl was talking about.  There was something slumbering within the fiery commander that would finally be able to awaken.  It was only Jenova’s influence that had kept it buried.  She had a feeling that once it manifested, more surprises would shock them all.

That was an issue for another day, though.  Even Genesis could tell the two of them needed rest.  He gave them both a bow before he turned to find his own bed.  He was only marginally better off than the two women.

After he left, Eve allowed Sephiroth to take her to her bed, but only after she was sure that Aerith was tended to as well.  The General was aggravated with her insistence, but he understood the sacrifice both women made and couldn’t fault her.

When Eve was finally laid down, Sephiroth brushed her hair back, and she smiled up at him.  “Will you be here when I wake?”

He sighed and smiled.  “I do not plan on leaving until I know you are alright.”

She patted his arm.  “I’m already fine, but I won’t complain if your face is the first thing I see when I wake.”

Despite his worry, the corner of his mouth quirked up.  “Consider it done.”

She smiled once again, but her lids were already drooping.  She was asleep before she could even respond.  Sephiroth sat there for a long time and simply watched her rhythmic breathing.  It was a reminder that she was still with him and would continue to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

Eve had almost forgotten she had asked Sephiroth to stay as she opened her eyes and found him with his head on his folded arms near her pillow.  A soft smile lit her face as she reached out and brushed his hair out of his eyes.  He jerked up at the touch, but it only took a split second for him to realize what had happened.  His smile matched hers until she leaned forward slightly and brushed her lips across his.  He sat back with a start, and she chuckled.  “Thank you.”

His confusion only lasted a moment, and he leaned his head down to rest against hers.  “I stayed because I didn’t want to leave you.”

Eve laughed at his confession and brushed her knuckles against his jaw.  “That’s ok.  It just means great minds think alike.”

She sat up at that point with a slight groan.  She still felt a little like she was weighted down.  When Sephiroth gave her a concerned look, she shook her head.  “It’s nothing.  Just a little sore.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced but still stepped back while she got up.  She rummaged through her closet for a moment before she turned to him with a raised brow.  “I was planning on getting cleaned up.  Are you staying for that too?”

Eve had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at the sight of the pink that dusted his cheeks at her teasing.  It was far too cute to make him worry about not doing it again. 

“I’ll be in the living room.”  She gave him a nod as he rushed out.  She sighed.  As tired as she still was, part of her wished he had offered to help instead of leaving.

It was her turn to blush at her own thoughts.  Being around Sephiroth was bringing out a whole new side of her, and she wasn’t sure quite what to think about it.  At least she knew that she was justified.  The man was sex on legs.  It would be odd if she didn’t notice him considering the strength of her feelings for him.

Once she was showered, she walked into her living room to find Tseng had raided her cabinets for Aerith and the girl was currently making something that smelled delicious.  Eve offered to help, but Aerith waved it off.  It was only a matter of moments before she had everything on the table. 

As delicious as the food was, it was not long before Eve was lost in thoughts of how they would handle Sephiroth next.  If the barrier in Genesis’ mind had been hard to pin down, Sephiroth’s would be worse since he had the highest concentration of Jeneva’s cells.  The thought was daunting.  She didn’t let that show when she turned to the others.  “Now that we confirmed this works, and Commander Rhaposodos is finished, we need to get the others protected as well.”

She looked between Sephiroth and Aerith.  As much as she hated the idea of bringing this up with him, she knew Sephiroth needed to hear what she was thinking.  “I think we should try to help you next.  You have a higher concentration of Jenova cells, so it may be a little different.”

He frowned slightly, but it was Aerith that spoke up.  “I agree with Evie.  We need to try and handle this while we are rested.  Especially since Tseng has told me Veld wants us to deploy as soon as all three of you are protected.”

Eve froze and pinned Aerith with a questioning look.  “When we will be deployed?  When was it agreed that you would go too?”

Aerith frowned slightly.  “Tseng wasn’t happy with the choice either, but you saw last night how difficult purifying the Calamity could be.  We can’t afford to have you trying to do it alone.  I will be with you.”

Eve sighed and put her face in her hands.  The girl was right.  As much as she hated the idea of Aerith putting herself in danger, she knew that if she continued to object, it wouldn’t make her any better than the people she got aggravated with for doing the same to her.  She sat back and nodded.  “I understand.”

Eve ignored the incredulous look Sephiroth was giving her.  He couldn’t understand why she had given in so quickly, but he didn’t get to ask as she continued.  “Will you be available for us to start right after we finish breakfast?”

It took Sephiroth a few moments for his mind to shift gears, as he was still wondering about Eve’s about-face.  He grimaced slightly when he finally answered.  “Are you sure that would be wise?  Do you need to rest more?”

Eve sighed and looked to where Tseng was still standing and watching them with his mask in place.  She then looked to Aerith, and the girl nodded.  With that, Eve looked to Sephiroth and shrugged.  “Time is a luxury we don’t have.  We need to get this finished as soon as possible.  Especially after last night.  Jenova is probably aware of what we are doing, and I don’t think she will give us long before she tries something.”

Tseng stood at that point.  “I can have a few operatives on hand if necessary.”

Eve agreed with him and nodded.  “It might also be good to see if Genesis would be up to helping as well since he is already protected.”

Sephiroth frowned slightly.  “Do you believe this will be different than last night?”

“I don’t know in what way, but it will not be the same.  It would be better to be prepared for anything.”

Sephiroth did not like hearing her explanation any more than he liked the idea of Eve pushing herself so quickly.  He knew that he was outnumbered, though, and his objections would get him nowhere.  He nodded and pulled out his phone.  “We can start as soon as Genesis arrives.”

Eve stood as Sephiroth walked in the other room to call the Commander.  Tseng had also stepped away to call in a couple of other Turks.  While they took care of backup, Eve helped Aerith clean the kitchen.  It wasn’t long until they were settling in the same spot they used the previous night.

Genesis was even crankier than usual when he came in, but his objections toward Eve and Aerith were minimal.  That was something to be grateful for at least.  Both Ruluf and Emma were not far behind him.  Ruluf winked at Eve as he found a place to wait.  She ignored it as Emma got her attention. 

“Cissnei told me to pass on a message from Shelke.  The girl would like to see you before you leave.”

Eve smiled and gave her a nod.  “Of course.  It might not be today, but I’ll make sure to see her.”

That was the last thing said as the three that would be directly involved settled and clasped hands.  Both women squeezed Sephiroth’s hands in reassurance.  As much as they were worried about what might happen, it was evident that the General was even less thrilled to be there.  Still, he did as instructed as they opened a channel.

They were almost immediately confronted with the barrier in his mind.  Aerith recoiled slightly at the intensity of it.  Eve frowned.  It was more than just passively blocking them.  It was actively working to repel them.  Both women paused while they took stock of the best way to tackle the problem.

Given the fact that it was not trying to slip away, Eve guided them to try to start purifying it.  The presence was so massive that it couldn’t have slipped away anyway.  Almost as soon as they started trying to destroy it, it doubled its efforts to push them out of Sephiroth’s mind.  Eve gritted her teeth.  She could already feel the drain on her mana and knew both Aerith and Sephiroth had to be feeling it as well.  She had no plans to stop, though, and could tell Aerith felt the same.

Eve didn’t want to hurt Sephiroth, but she felt a spike of rage at the entity that was trying to force her out.  She pushed forward with all her power behind it.  When she did, the barrier seemed to give, and for a moment, Eve felt relief.  It was short-lived when it closed behind her and Eve found herself standing in darkness.

She knew logically that this was all in her head and tried to guard herself against whatever new trick the Calamity was playing.  Her resolve was soon tested when the darkness eased enough for her to see Sephiroth kneeling nearby.  His head was down, and his hair covered his face.

Eve’s heart clenched at how dejected his body language seemed.  She took a couple of steps closer and jerked to a stop when he lifted his head.  His gaze was fluctuating between the madness she had seen in the visions and unrelenting anguish.  He stood when she caught his gaze. 

Eve felt a sliver of relief when his eyes cleared in recognition, and he reached out for her.  She was still uncertain what was going on, but she couldn’t find the will to stop him from embracing her.  In his arms was where she belonged.

He had barely embraced her when a woman’s voice broke the silence.  “Child, does this not make you happy?  I could allow this.  My son is destined to rule this planet.  You could rule by his side.”

Eve’s head jerked up, and she took a step back.  Sephiroth’s expression turned pained again as she stepped away.  Eve tried to ignore it as she looked around.  It only took her a moment to find the source of the voice.  The woman had silver hair like Sephiroth and beautiful sable wings.  Her pale complexion almost seemed to glow in the darkness around them.  Despite the entity’s beauty, Eve had no doubt that she was seeing Jenova.

As their eyes locked, Eve felt a wave of white-hot rage rush through her.  This was the being that was responsible for so much destruction.  This was the being that was still trying to use the man she loved.  She hadn’t even realized she had reached into her jacket, but her gun was suddenly in her hand and pointing at the beautiful woman.

Jenova sneered at the sight of it.  “Are you certain this is the path you choose?  He is mine.  If you refuse my generosity, you will regret it.”

Eve snarled in response, but before her finger could tighten on the trigger, Sephiroth stepped in front of the woman.  His eyes were pleading.  “Don’t.  She has always been here for me.  Even when I was lost as a child.  She reminded me that I was never alone.  You can’t do this.”

Eve could tell that he meant it too.  She felt as though her heart were being ripped out.  She could not allow Jenova to stay, but the thought of hurting the man she loved was almost more than she could bear.  It was several moments later before she was able to stem her tears enough to speak.

“Sephiroth, I want you to remember that I love you.  No matter what happens, I will always love you.  I have never been able to open up to many, and somehow you were able to get past all my defenses.  You are my world now.”

New tears filled her eyes at the glimpse of hope in his.  She closed her eyes to block the sight of it.  “Forgive me, love.”  With her soft plea, she pulled the trigger.

Sephiroth’s pained cry filled her ears.  Even though it was not as loud as the screaming of the entity that had been struck behind him, his cries were the ones that shredded through her.  She opened her eyes to see Sephiroth on his knees again and holding the disappearing body of the other.  The wound on his shoulder was still bleeding, but it was ignored as he pulled the disintegrating body closer.

His eyes were filled with madness when he looked back to her.  The last thing Eve heard before the blackness engulfed her was his broken question.  “Why?”


 

Eve was lost in darkness.  There was a nagging insistence that she was missing something, but she couldn’t focus.  It wasn’t until a flash of silver crossed her thoughts that she was able to grasp onto her need and allowed it to drag her into consciousness.  She sat up with a gasp.  “Sephiroth!”

She looked around wildly, but all she found was a worried looking Aerith.  “Where is Sephiroth?”

Aerith approached her slowly and patted her hand before she spoke.  “I don’t know where they are keeping him.  Are you alright?”

Eve threw the covers off and jumped up.  She barely noted that she was only in her shirt and pants.  All she could think about was Sephiroth and what happened.  She headed for the door and was stopped when Aerith stepped in front of it.  She glared at the girl, but Aerith didn’t move.  “Eve, you were injured.  Are you alright?”

Confusion flashed through Eve’s eyes, but it didn’t last long.  “I’m fine.  Right now, I’m more worried about Sephiroth.  There is no telling how he is handling it after Jenova’s stunt.  I need to see him.”

Aerith flinched at her words, but she held out her hands.  “I was told he attacked you.  That was why they locked him up.  I was knocked out right after we started trying to help him, but when I came to, everyone was upset.”

Eve sighed in frustration.  None of what she was just told made sense, but she couldn’t hold back the urgent need to see him.  She didn’t know or care what everyone else saw.  She knew the truth, and right now, he needed her.  She gently took Aerith by the arms and moved her to the side.  “I appreciate your concern, but I need to see him.”

Aerith sighed at her continued insistence and finally opened the door.  “One of the Turks should be in the living room.  They should be able to help you.”

Eve managed to give her a smile before she rushed past her and into the living room.  Reno stood as soon as she entered.  “Yo, Cupcake.  Good to see you breathin’.”

She growled.  As much as she liked Reno, she was in no mood for his antics.  “Of course, I am.  Where is Sephiroth?”

Reno glared at the fact that her first question was about the General.  “Where he should be.”

Eve felt something snap and had to remind herself that Reno was her friend.  That didn’t stop her from getting in his face and grabbing his jacket lapels.  Her voice was low and dangerous.  “You have no idea what we just want through together.  I don’t give a shit what everyone else thinks happened.  I need to see him.  Right now.”

Reno had seen her livid before, but she was beyond that.  He could see it was tinged with desperation.  He gently took her wrists and pulled her hands back as he nodded.  “Tseng is gonna be pissed, but I’ll take you there.”  He paused and looked down before he looked back up with a raised brow.  “Ya might wanna put on some shoes.”

Eve’s anger and desperation broke against Reno’s refusal to get ruffled, and she started crying.  She still managed to nod before she turned to find her shoes.  Reno couldn’t hide his worry.  He had never seen her like this.  He managed to mask it when she turned back around.

It didn’t take him long to take her up to the 67th floor.  The cells there were the only ones in the building that they felt were strong enough to hold the General if he lost it again.  When they made it into the hallway, they were stopped by Genesis and Tseng arguing in front of a door halfway down the hall.  It didn’t take either man long to notice Eve.

Genesis glared at the redheaded Turk before he frowned at Eve.  “You should be sleeping.”

She returned the look.  “My place is here.  Open the door.”

Tseng was frowning as well.  “We cannot do that.  The General attacked you right after you tried to rid him of Jenova.”

Eve gritted her teeth.  “No, he did not.”

Genesis’ frown turned to concern.  The sight of it made Eve take a step back.  That look didn’t belong on the Commander’s face.  His words weren’t much better.  “Dr. Marx, I was there.  I had to pull him from you.  If you had not had the foresight to ask for my presence, he might have killed you.”

She shook her head.  “That was not Sephiroth.  I don’t care if it was.  He needs me right now, so open that damn door!”

They were interrupted by a low baritone.  Sephiroth must have heard them speaking.  “You cannot come in here.  I saw the videos.  I-“  His voice broke at that point and Eve wanted to scream.

“That wasn’t you, and we both know it.  Jenova is gone now!”

His voice still sounded broken.  “I do not want to take the chance.  I am here because I should be.”

Eve closed her eyes and clenched her fists.  She tried to rein it in, but her temper exploded from her.  “No, you did NOT!  I am sick to death of stubborn, closed-minded, obstinate men!  You will open this goddamn door right now, or I swear to god I will find a way to blow it open myself!”

Both Genesis and Tseng took a step back.  Her temper had her power flaring as well, and the pressure from it was overwhelming.  When neither of them made any other move, she nearly screamed again, but she ignored them in favor of placing both hands on the door.  “I would suggest you step back.  I’ve never tried this before, but I have a feeling it’s going to be messy.”

Tseng’s eyes widened as he realized she had not been exaggerating.  She fully intended to blow the door off its hinges.  He shook his head with a grimace and stepped forward.  “Wait.  I’ll unlock it.”

She didn’t move right away.  It wasn’t until he held the key up and confirmed he was not bluffing that she stepped away.  Once the door was open, Eve pushed past Tseng.  Sephiroth had moved to the far side of the room, and Eve felt her tears start again at the sight of the look he was giving her.  He was desolate, and it reminded her so much of the look on his face when Jenova disappeared.

Despite how much that memory was still tearing into her, Eve stepped forward.  When Sephiroth stepped back, she paused and glared at him.  “I will not tolerate anyone judging you for something that you had no control over.  That includes you.”

Eve had never seen him so close to breaking.  She wanted to wrap her arms around him and wipe that worry from his eyes.  She shook her head when he took another step back.  “Eve, how can you trust me.  I almost-“

When his voice broke again, she ignored his scramble backward and did exactly what she had been thinking.  He didn’t try to push her away.  In fact, he held his hands back so he would not touch her.  She buried her face in his chest and tried to talk through her tears.  “Sephiroth, I know you can tell she is gone.  I don’t remember what happened as she was disappearing, but we both know whatever happened, was just her last-ditch effort to get rid of me before I got rid of her.  You didn’t do anything.”

Neither of them moved for several minutes.  The longer he held himself back, the harder Eve cried.  She could not stand how much pain he was in.  She had to think of some way to prove to him that he was not at fault.  She was shocked from those thoughts as his arms finally lowered.  His embrace was loose, but it felt like heaven to Eve.  She pulled back enough to look up at him.

His eyes still looked torn, but he was holding her.  That was a good start.  She held his gaze as she spoke.  “How much do you remember?”

He swallowed before he answered.  “It is jumbled, but I remember darkness and a woman with wings that said she was my mother.  You were there too.”

Eve sighed and nodded.  “Anything else?”

There was a long pause before his brow furrowed.  “Did you really shoot me?”  After her fear and desperation, the look on his face at that realization was too much.  She started laughing and crying at the same time, but she managed to nod. 

Sephiroth had no idea how to handle the woman that still refused to let go of him.  Despite his terror at what had almost happened, the simple fact that she was still here despite how afraid of him she should be, made his arms tighten around her.

When Eve felt his embrace pull her closer, she placed a kiss over his heart and snuggled closer to him.  Her voice was tired when she spoke.  “I apologize for shooting you, but that was the only way to get rid of her.  I hope you can forgive me.”

He froze as he realized she meant it.  She believed she had done something worthy of needing to be forgiven.  The thought sliced through him, and he pushed her back slightly.  “I understand why you did it.  I wasn’t myself, and you did what you had to.”

Eve swallowed and reached up to cup his face in both hands.  “That is correct.  Don’t forget that.  You also need to remember that what I did, broke her influence on you.  Forever.  You are free of her.”

He suddenly realized she was telling him that either he accepted what had happened as necessary and forgave her for it, or continued to believe that he could be influenced by Jenova and thus, still a threat.  He couldn’t believe both at the same time.  For the first time since he had woken and been shown the footage of what he had done, he felt that horror loosen its grip.  She had done the impossible.  Part of his mind had already known Jenova was no longer in his head, but the pain of what happened at the end prevented him from admitting it.  Just the thought of the possibility that it could happen again nearly made his heart stop beating.

He cupped her hands around his face and pulled each around to kiss her palms before he kissed her forehead.  He returned her gesture with gentle hands and saw nothing but love in her eyes as he searched them.  He closed his own against the pain that washed through him.  His voice was ragged when he spoke.  “I do not deserve the love and faith you have in me.”

Eve’s eyes flashed, but her voice was soft.  “Love is not something you can earn.  I love you for who you are, not because of what you have or have not done.  I will always love you.”

Her words tore through him but gave him hope at the same time.  He pulled her closer and nestled her under his chin as he tried to accept the fact that her love was unconditional and never-ending.  Both were foreign concepts to him, but they were ones he hoped to learn.  The issues they faced were far from over, but he could not find the strength to keep trying to push her away.