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Everything happened in a blur.

One moment, he was descending the steps alongside Sephiroth, the younger man suddenly picking up speed and Angeal followed him until they were out in the open.

There was a gunshot.

And then, there was Genesis…

The brilliant little kid he grew up with; always looking for trouble, always up for exploration and mischief. The same Genesis that smuggled the books and toys the Rhapsodos bought for him to their house, so they could read together, play together; tried to persuade Angeal to keep them, all the time, but to no avail. The same Genesis who’d come to their house one summer night with a backpack on, tried getting consent from his mother and father so they could go on an adventure together only for his parents to come and drag him away kicking and screaming to take him on some cruise the redhead didn’t want to go. Genesis who was equally as excited when Angeal showed him the recruitment posters. Genesis who stayed up with him all night when they had that ridiculous exam on Theories of Materia which was put aside from the curriculum right after they passed the course. He was the very same Genesis he had sixteen years worth of memories with.

And Genesis was falling, eyes wide, and bloodied and battered and broken…

And Sephiroth was lunging forward, heedless of the guns that were pointed in his direction, heedless of the dark-haired First calling, begging after him…

And Angeal almost dropped to his knees, staggered forward only for a hand to reach out and grab his arm; vaguely he knew it was Zack, but right now he had one purpose, to get to his childhood friend’s side, so he swatted it away only for more hands to come grabbing at him.

His eyes never left the scene in front of him as those pale fingers left crimson trails across Sephiroth’s face only to flop lifelessly to the unforgiving ground… and then Genesis smiled, and there were just so many things wrong about it on so many levels that the strangled noise that escaped him simply couldn’t be contained.

And Angeal did drop to his knees then, because this couldn’t be happening… This shouldn’t be happening… Not like this… Not by the hands of a mad scientist who was cackling maniacally as the silver-haired man begged, in front of so many people… and those were the same words he wanted to utter but instead suffocated gasps of pain left his lips because Genesis was like a brother to him, an older brother that was in essence younger than him which he never had… which he’d always looked after… and if Angeal had gone to Wutai, if he had insisted, if he had refused the President’s direct order, this might have never happened…

It took approximately one minute from the moment Genesis died, for the guns to start firing. It took thirty seconds after that for the first bullet to hit Sephiroth’s left shoulder, and already the room had turned into a bloodbath. Some of the bodies fell to the ground in headless heaps, while the others were pushing against the gashes ranging from their necks to their torso and as low as their hips, but to no avail as blood gushed freely in vivid crimson sprays. And Angeal was already up and running, Buster Sword raised and swinging, heedless of the tranquilizer darts and the bullets that were scratching the heft of his blade as he made his way toward the silver-haired man who was now swinging his sword from where he was kneeling over Genesis’ lifeless body. The raven-haired First didn’t even notice the pain that ripped through his side, cutting down the very same soldiers who might have been his students, once.

It took two minutes from when Genesis died, for Masamune to clatter to the ground, for Sephiroth’s head to loll sideways, before he, too, crumbled beside his lover, his body riddled with tranquilizer darts and bullets here and there. Judging by how his own movements had gotten sluggish, Angeal knew that he, too, was soon going to join them.

To his far right, Zack was squirming against the throng of Seconds that had escorted them here.

As he fell, Angeal was thinking about how he’d never used Buster Sword before, and how it was oddly fitting… His voice was a slurred thing as he tried to tell his protege to stand down, making a lax motion with his hand before gravity shifted…

The raven-haired First jolted awake.

Cradling his haggard face in his hands, Angeal tried to chase those images away but to no avail.

It’d been a month since Genesis’ death.

To add insult to injury-or maybe it was the other way around in their case-Shinra confiscated his childhood friend’s body. There was no funeral. They didn’t even make a public announcement, and that was the cherry on top. No emails were sent to the personnel either.

Sephiroth, too, had disappeared after that day. Angeal had walked all the way to Hojo’s lair. And it had been odd and awkward; because the raven-haired man had kept looking over his shoulder for a worried redhead who’d come here with him last time to search for the very same green-eyed First. In the end, he had a mental breakdown before he’d even reached those double doors that opened with keycard access, and promptly decided to leave because he simply couldn’t face the murderer who was given free reign despite all the heinous actions he’d committed.

He’d tried the younger man’s apartments, both the old and the new one; but no one had answered.

The blue-eyed First hadn’t stood around to let them add to the list of how they’d wanted to tarnish and disparage his deceased friend.

It seemed so wrong to put Genesis and dead together in one sentence even now, so far away from the place he’d last seen him. He was on a chopper from Banora to Junon. Based on the information Turks had provided him, Hollander had been sighted in the harbor.

After his childhood friend had deserted, the scientist had seemed rather nervous. The Commander had heard him talk about leaving Shinra here and there before, but he’d always assumed that the man had been joking. There must have been a reason the professor had disappeared right after his best friend’s defection. Angeal didn’t know if the redhead had contacted him and asked him to leave, maybe for Hollander to continue treating him; because as far as the raven-haired man knew, the wound hadn’t healed and the scientist was the one still trying to remedy it before everything went to shit.

The blue-eyed First was sure there were things the professor knew that could at least help him understand what had happened to his childhood friend for him to leave everything behind like that, for him to almost kill himself that day in his bathroom. And if a certain silver-haired man had been around, Angeal would have definitely gone to him first, but he seemed to be out of luck these days.

Finding Genesis’ men hadn’t been too hard. It certainly took them long enough, but from what he knew of the former First Class, a reconnaissance mission in the Mideel area was enough for the sable-haired soldier to find the massive encampment. It had been hard to deliver the news of their leader’s death to the men, harder still to persuade them to return to Shinra, but Angeal had promised them, on his honor that he wasn’t going to let the blood that had been spilt go to waste. He had sworn an oath to make things right, had told them that he needed their help if they were going to bring about a change in the way things were done; because right now, those men were all the Commander had.

A ding brought him out of his reverie. Flipping his phone open, a message greeted him.

Time: 0653 Sender: Zack

Got promoted to 1st… Alwys thought itd feel bttr, uno?

Angeal didn’t know what to tell him.

The boy had definitely given it his all, especially in the Fort Tamblin mission about a week ago. The Commander hadn’t been there-neither had Sephiroth from what he’d heard-but he’d read his protege’s report and he’d also asked from the squadron assigned with the Second. And when Lazard had prompted for his A-okay, he’d given his recommendation. Though to say that it’d been an easy decision to make, considering the circumstances, would be a lie. It was hard to be a part of the whole ‘substitute Commander Rhapsodos quickly and efficiently’ process, but for what Angeal had in mind, he needed all the help he could get, and that meant having Zack up there with him as a First.

New message To:

And the first person on his recommended drop down menu made him take a good two minutes to compose a message that otherwise would have taken thirty seconds maximum: Genesis.

New message To: Zack

Don’t let the circumstances ruin it for you. You’re a step closer to your dream, huh? Celebrate it while you can, we have a rough ride ahead of us.

Flipping his phone closed, Angeal looked out the window to the vast ocean that expanded below, hoping against hope that Sephiroth would be marginally alright.

A pessimistic voice inside him told him that it was a fool’s hope. Or was it realistic, the Commander didn’t know.


A field.

Sephiroth was in a field...or a meadow...he didn’t think the definitive details particularly mattered. Grass was spread as far as the eye could see...greener than emeralds...like the depths of a dappled forest flung forth and brought down to the earth in thin, swaying fronds. The sky above was dark; lit up with thousands of stars, glittering like cold, distant diamonds in their astral sanctuaries. They sparkled bitterly...almost resentfully in the navy-blue velvet expanse of the cosmos...as if resentful of his presence beneath them. The moon was high and bright; like an exorbitantly large, faceless coin...lunar rays spilling onto blades of grass and edging them in platinum luminescence. The air was warm...though it was hard to tell; his entire body felt incorporeal, as if he wasn’t there at all...as if he were a phantom encroaching upon a world entirely unknown to him.

Ahead of him was a tree.

There were no others save for it; and its presence was like a bolt of lightning thrown down in the blackness of a storm. Leafless; it stretched perhaps eighty feet high...like a noir stain against the dappled crystalline sky. Bare branches grasped like gnarled limbs; upward, outward...shivering in a breeze that seemed to come from everywhere at once...rushing inward and upward and away…‘till it was impossible to discern its true source. Its presence seemed somehow...off...somehow discordant with the scenery around him. Because while the tree was obviously dead, everything around it was clearly very alive. Achingly, Sephiroth was reminded of his own strangeness...of the pervasive emptiness that had haunted his soul for as long as he could remember.

Moving took a great amount of effort.

It was much like trying to walk under several feet of water; the crush of gravity was nearly suffocating in its intensity...inexorable in its pervasive weight. It took him ten minutes to traverse a space of perhaps ten feet, and the tree was only marginally nearer. From this distance, it was like a lone scarecrow in a low-cut field with nothing to defend. Empty...bereft...synonymous. Its solitary presence was so adhesive with his own it made him want to run in the opposite direction, but he was drawn inexorably forward. And Sephiroth was not the type of person to make symbolistic comparisons between himself and stationary objects but something about this was...different...his thought process was different...freer, more open.

Ten steps, twenty, thirty, two-hundred…

There was a figure beneath the tree. Swathed in red leather, with a shock of scarlet hair and a rubicund sword at its waist. The silver-haired man’s chest tightened as he approached...as he drew level and turned his head to the side. The branches above them creaked in the sourceless breeze like so many bones, as if whispering a necrotic, somnolent graveyard tune to the star-strewn sky. Genesis was...whole. He was more than whole; this Genesis was the Genesis he remembered from before their relationship began. Fiery locks, glittering sapphire eyes and pearlescent skin…like ivory damask. The earring dangling from his ear glittered against the ingress of a beam of starlight, highlighting the graceful slope of his throat, the contour of his jaw.

Sephiroth felt hollow.

It was a feeling much akin to the sensation of sitting on the examination table in Hojo’s laboratory. Every facet of his physicality was super sensitive...but the components of his psyche were vacant, responseless and listless. He felt like a creature unmoored, set adrift in a sea of lassitude...clutching waves of cognizance only to have them slip from his fingers like formless ghosts. The silver-haired soldier could sense every element of his visceral existence...but the emotionalism that came with it was absent; swallowed in the depths of nothingness like a rock falling into soundless, fathomless depths...descending for eternity. It was an alien feeling. If he thought about it hard, it was somewhat frightening, because he didn’t know when he’d find that mental ground again.

Genesis didn’t look at him.

Really, it didn’t seem like the redhead knew he was there. Again, Sephiroth was accosted with the feeling of being corporeal, of being nonexistent. He could see the light from the stars reflecting off his skin, and the sensation of the wind fluttering through his hair...but it didn’t feel like he was truly there. And maybe he wasn’t. Maybe this was death...and maybe this was where Genesis had chosen to go but didn’t want him there. The idea hurt him more than he thought it would...because the idea of spending the rest of eternity alone was terrifying. Even in his numb, semi-emotionless state, there was still a part of him that wanted to be close to his former lover. At the same time, he accepted that such a decision wouldn’t be strange, nor would it be cruel. The scarlet-haired individual next to him likely would only wish for peace...and Sephiroth had certainly never given him peace.

“I’m sorry.”

It took-if possible-even more effort to speak than it did to walk. His voice felt like it was stuck in his stomach, and when he tried to move his vocal cords to elucidate what he was saying...it required every iota of his concentration. For a moment, Sephiroth was frustrated, because if there was ever a time he might get a chance to talk to the man next to him, it was now. And even if this wasn’t real, it was still an opportunity. An undeserved opportunity, but an opportunity nevertheless. Stronger than his desire to speak was his desire to touch. This he knew he couldn’t act on; because he didn’t deserve to touch Genesis, didn’t deserve to run his fingers through that fiery hair and bury himself in that strong yet somehow giving and comforting chest. He had betrayed that privilege, dashed it to pieces. And it might hurt to admit it, but it didn’t make it any less true.

The tree trembled, groaned, and Sephiroth ripped his gaze away from his fellow First to watch as a branch fell to the ground with a sickening crash. For some reason, the descent of the limb felt like a personal affront; as if someone had ripped off his arm and dashed it to the ground only to leave it there...broken and bleeding. Glancing downwards proved otherwise; his limbs were still intact, but the sensation of loss was still very real. A velvety chuckle reached his ears, and the silver-haired soldier whipped his head to the side. Genesis still wasn't looking at him, but his head was now tilted upwards as his own had been. It was hard to discern the emotions on his face...mostly because he was too busy drinking every facet of his features in...but if Sephiroth could venture a guess, his best estimation would have been disdain coupled with a kind of bitter melancholy. Crimson brows pulled together as coral lips tugged themselves into a wan smile.

“You motherfucker.”

He didn't take it personally. Partly because he deserved it and partly because Genesis seemed to be speaking to the tree and not him. Though he was starting to get the feeling that the tree was some sort of metaphysical extension of him. The younger man startled as his companion shifted, and suddenly those ocean-blue irises were on him. Sephiroth was abruptly weak-kneed, and an ache had begun in his chest that was so painful he wanted to reach into it and rip his heart out. Because the expression on the redhead's face was tortured, grieving, and tender all at once. That graceful neck arched backward, lips curled back from teeth as they spread into an expression that was half-joy and half terrible pain. The edges of familiar eyes crinkled somewhat as he tilted his head. A red leather-clad hand rose; fingers curling just before his face as if grasping for something that wasn't there.

“You motherfucker.”

And, again, he let it go. Because Genesis grasped his hand and pulled him forward. And despite the fact that it seemed to take him ten times longer than it usually did, the redhead didn't complain. Instead, he returned his gaze to the 'fore...tugging him without comment. Up close, the tree was truly massive; a dead, washed out husk of a thing. Those slender fingers yanked at his own, pressed them against the trunk, which groaned again before all the branches began to shudder around them...and then they fell. The area where his hand was splayed crumbled into so much dust, and the rest of the massive trunk followed suit...until they stood among a mottled, rotten-smelling heap of wood that seemed to be disintegrating before their very eyes.

“You motherfucker,” Genesis repeated, and this time, his voice was thick with grief. When he turned his gaze towards Sephiroth again, his eyes were filled with tears. “I loved you.”


Angeal was drowning in an ocean of agony. Standing so high up on the mako cannon of the Sister Ray seemed to make no difference at all; he could as well have been a hundred feet under the turbulent surface of the deep expanding below him.

Hollander’s words had hit him like a Dual Horn. A pained gasp escaped him, because that was what Genesis used to say… The redhead had said it so many times that Angeal couldn’t help but pick up on the phrase, continued using it even when its originator had dropped it.

The raven-haired First couldn’t fathom what his best friend must have gone through before…

The former Commander had been degrading, his body turning against him and he hadn’t even uttered a word. A part of him was angry at the redhead because how could he keep all this information from him, especially when it concerned his mother, Gillian? How could he have been so selfish…

No.

The scarlet-haired man knew him just as well as Angeal knew Genesis. His childhood friend knew the news would leave him wrecked… as it did now. Probably a hundred times more because he was still grieving, still disbelieving.

How did they end up like this?

Again… like that day, the Banoran dropped to his knees; because the burden of this knowledge was too staggering… to know that his mother had been part of some gruesome experiment devised to create the perfect SOLDIER, was tearing through his psyche like a Dark Nation on a rampage. The very same mother who had taught him about honor and dreams along with his father … the same father who had worked so hard he’d fallen ill just to make enough money to get Buster Sword for Angeal… the father that probably wasn’t his biological sire, but had never made him feel like anything was amiss… cared for him like the dark-haired First was his true son… and Gillian… the very same woman who had refused Shinra’s hush money and decided to live through the products of their own labor than to continue being a pawn… But still…

Why?

All this time… he had been fighting for a company who would stop at nothing, who knew no bounds in their avarice for power. Angeal had had no illusions about war when they’d joined SOLDIER. He’d known his hands were going to be dyed with so much blood… But he’d believed that it was for a greater good at the time. Besides, it wasn’t out of a desire for bloodshed that he’d joined. He’d wanted to learn how to protect the ones he loved, to become a worthy warrior that could help the others do the same. He had wanted none of the limelight that came with it, none of the money… because if he had wanted for money, wanted for the material, his mother wouldn’t have been living in the same fashion she had since Angeal had left their hometown .

The raven-haired First had come to realize early on that his notions about the Wutai war, what he’d told himself to justify it, had been nothing but falsities, especially as the years wore on. But he’d stayed true to his own beliefs...even if they clashed with the dogma...because there was also the slim hope that if there was no changing Shinra from without, maybe he could do it from within… that’s why he’d stayed… he’d persevered... There was also the fact that there was no going back… there was no way they could wash away the blood that was on their hands even though he’d thought about it on the many sleepless nights he’d had. And again, there was no escaping Shinra even if he deserted, just like his late friend. The friend he’d sworn to stay with until the very end… sworn that to reach the top with, together… sworn to protect no matter what…

Angeal scoffed at himself, grimacing. Because he had failed to keep his promise. He’d failed utterly and miserably.

Truth.

It must have been what had spurred Genesis to defect. The knowledge that he’d been dying had probably been the reason the sable-haired soldier had found the redhead like that in the bathroom of his living quarters. The blue-eyed First had known that his childhood friend had always been rebellious, always wanted for more freedom. The redhead too must have known that there was no respite for those who decided to turn against Shinra; that either he’d have to live like a fugitive, always on the run and living in the shadows, or stand and fight. Knowing the older man, it was glaringly obvious he’d choose the latter. But that choice, that decision had cost him his life… and maybe, just maybe, he was free now, finally at peace…

While it had taken the form of a bullet for his friend, truth served as a blade for him; cutting through the veils that had been covering his eyes for far too long. Angeal could see it all now. And the promise he had given Genesis’ men served as a purpose to drive him forward, his will in bringing about a change from within the company solidified tenfold.

Because there was no denying that Shinra was corrupt. It was a certainty. He’d come to know that when they put a bullet inside the very man who’d brought them so many victories. He’d come to know that when they brought their finest, the General of their army to their knees in front of so many subordinates, reduced him, his authority, to the barest minimum, to nothingness… He just hadn’t known how deep their dishonorable, vile ways ran.

His hands balled into fists.

Things couldn’t stay the way they were. Removing the company and its supremacy from the planet wasn’t feasible. Because it would just throw the whole world into a state of chaos and mayhem. He needed to talk to Sephiroth about this. Angeal was but one person, and the younger man knew Shinra’s ways more than he did; had lived with them since the day he’d been born. And if there was one person who could bring the President to his knees, it was the silver-haired soldier. They just needed to crop Hojo out of the picture.

Standing up from where he had fallen took far more strength and willpower than was necessary, exerted him enough that the urge to collapse yet again was almost too hard to overcome. It felt like the weight of the whole world was on his shoulders, making him want to stagger, to take out Buster Sword and lean on it, but he stood tall. He would not falter.

As much as it all had seemed overwhelming-and maybe it was-as much as it had seemed like it would’ve been enough to overthrow his foundations, it hadn’t.

Although his origins were questionable; although he’d been born and bred to be an unfeeling unthinking killing machine, Angeal was his own person. The knowledge that he’d been an experiment-that he still was, but probably one gone awry-wasn’t going to change the fact that he would still go to the slums on his weekends to teach people how to defend themselves. It wasn’t going to change the fact that he would spend most of his stipend on the lower plate renovations, as slow as it had been progressing, but making headway nonetheless. He was still the very same person who’d told Zack to follow his dreams and honor; who would still continue telling him that, however, to pursue them in things not tainted by Shinra. His belief in SOLDIER hadn’t been affected by this revelation. It had only served to make it unshakable; to make him more determined to open their eyes, to help them see and choose the right side.

He was still the same guy, the same Angeal. Genesis had been his friend, murdered because he’d wanted to be free. Sephiroth was still his friend. Gillian was still his mother, despite all the things she might have done in the past…

That was just how much he loved her.

So, instead of going back to Banora, he was going to head to Nibelheim.

Hollander had dropped the name as he’d confessed; his tongue tripping over his words as he’d sweated profusely, constantly begging for his life in between sentences. Once the scientist had told him everything, despite the impotent rage that had been suffusing him back then, Angeal had wanted to send him to Modeoheim, where the rest of Genesis’ men were still stationed, hopefully unbeknownst to Shinra. But he couldn’t have done that without the Turks knowing. After setting foot in Junon, he’d been tailed by them, constantly. So, he’d just let them detain the professor, told them he’d need to go to Nibleheim because there was a possibility that a portion of the former Commander’s army might be there.

Honestly, Angeal just wanted to go and meet Jenova in person.

The extraterrestrial entity that seemed to be as much a part of them as their own humanity.


Sephiroth woke.

Except it wasn't anything like waking up normally. Instead, the General felt like he was tugged from sleep while someone beat him over the head with a shovel. The silver-haired man gasped and shot upwards, one hand grasping at his chest as vertigo hit him like a ton of bricks. Immediately, he recognized that he was weak, though why he didn't exactly know. Staring straight ahead, the green-eyed First acknowledged that this was his apartment, his old apartment. ... Except that everything was the way it had been what felt like months ago...when he'd returned from Banora. The floor was devoid of blood, spotless, as he'd always preferred it. His sheets were-by all appearances, equally clean. The rucksack he'd taken to Mideel was slung over a chair, semi-unpacked and still a little bit dusty.

Pressing his palms to his eyes, Sephiroth tried to rationalize with himself. Because this didn't make any sense. Genesis was dead. He himself should have been dead because he'd drawn Masamune and gone straight for the President. He remembered the hail of bullets hitting his skin, the number of men he'd killed...the body lying on the floor under him. Shinra wouldn't have moved him back here regardless. It would-essentially-be suicide; because there was nothing stopping him from ascending a floor to separate the President's head from his shoulders. Glancing to his right, he frowned as Masamune winked innocently at him from its wall-mounted perch.

Someone moved in the bed next to him.

Sephiroth froze and eyed his weapon a tad more enthusiastically. Because nothing in this scenario made sense. Turning around would offer him no answers because he had no memory to back them up with. He didn't particularly care who was in bed with him save for the fact that every facet of the current situation was bizarre. Green eyes strayed to the foot of the opposite side of the bed and beyond; to the right side of the door that led to the hallway. A rucksack was lying there too. A strangely familiar rucksack...a rucksack next to a flame-colored sword. Bundled next to that was a red-leather coat atop dark boots.

The General's brain was suddenly non-functional; because this was impossible. But then the bed dipped...there was the sensation of inexorable warmth at his back...the scent of musk and ridiculously expensive shampoo and cigarettes. The silver-haired man's breath hitched as a long-fingered hand snaked forward to slide over his abdomen and up...over his chest to cover his heart. The other rested on his shoulder, squeezing gently before crimson waves of hair replaced it; a forehead nudging his shoulder blades. The silver-haired soldier remained frozen...because that was all he could do. Warm lips closed over his pulse-point, the hand on his chest rubbing perfunctorily before retreating. There was a moment of stillness, and then a masculine, velvety voice cut through the silence.

“... Seph?”

It took every iota, every bit, each and every facet of his mental faculties and physical prowess to stay there on bed, motionless and disbelieving, instead of falling over the edge, or running out of the apartment screaming. And it wasn’t important at all that he was naked or people would think he was crazy; because right now Sephiroth was sure he was losing his mind.

It took those very same things not to deflate, not to crumble like the tree in his dreams.

Genesis flashed before his irises, azure eyes filled with tears and as the corners of the image started burning, catching fire, like a piece of parchment folding in on itself, he could see blood oozing from the seam of those perfect sanguine lips. The General gasped, a pained noise getting strangled in his chest.

And the silver-haired man didn’t need his eyes to know that very same face would greet him if he turned his head. He didn’t need his eyes to know worry was etched into the frown settling over those fine auburn brows. It didn’t take a genius to know that those elegant fingers would encircle his torso, and they did just that, drawing his back and a lean chest together somewhere in between.

Those luxurious lips settled against his neck, leaving soothing feather-light kisses, parting slowly for a hint of a warm tongue before closing against his skin once more that seemed to be burning, that seemed so ready to catch fire wherever the other touched him. How much he had missed it, this, them… but he really didn’t have the right. He didn’t have the right to miss, he didn’t have the right to receive these kisses and touches. He lost that privilege when he…

But those backpacks…

Dexterous fingers tangled in his hair when Sephiroth tensed, tugging gently, carding and brushing through silvery locks, and the younger man knew he couldn’t avoid those cerulean irises that had been gazing at him for what seemed like an eternity no more. Tentatively, he turned his head, the movement so slow that it wasn’t at all dissimilar to his dream but Genesis was patient with him, always… and when he looked up through fringes of platinum lashes Sephiroth’s breath caught in his chest… because this... was the Genesis he knew.

“It was just a nightmare.” The older man whispered, closing his eyes as he pressed the sides of their faces together, drawing him into that warm welcoming embrace even further than what was physically possible.

A nightmare.

The idea of it was so attractive. Because it seemed like exactly the sort of thing the silver-haired man’s mind would conjure up. A horrid, drawn-out phantasm of pain and destruction wrought out of despair. Because Sephiroth was-admittedly-desperately afraid of loss...of the loss of friends, of his honor and his stature. Something niggling in the back of his mind insisted that something was off...but the physical proof was here in front of him. The General was skeptical by nature, but there was nothing like the truth in plain sight. And Genesis was here, pressed against him...his body achingly familiar in its perfection. The scent of him was the same...the steady, soothing beat of his heart against his back was synonymous with the man he remembered and the man that was currently trying to pull him out of the pall of horror that surrounded him. Those blazing hot lips closed over his neck once again and the groan that escaped his mouth was half-pleasure and half agonizing pain.

Because it had been so long since he’d been touched like this. In the weeks- the dream weeks- leading up to his heinous deed, he’d ached to be touched. His time with Genesis in Mideel, and then Banora had caused him to become accustomed to affection...to physical closeness. During their falling out over Hojo, he’d struggled to fall asleep alone, to wake up without holding the older man close as the sun spilt over the coverlets. Dextrous fingers slid down his sides to fan out over his hips, pulling him closer still and Sephiroth felt his eyes grow heavy-lidded with desire. Because this… he wanted this...wanted it more than he wanted air to breathe. The redhead was murmuring something tender and affectionate into his ear and he felt his breath hitch voluntarily as he arched into the touch; naturally...easily. It had always been easy to give to Genesis...easier than it had ever been with anyone else. But still….

“You’re dead.” He muttered, stiffening and pulling back. “I-I hurt you, you’re not real. This is a dream.”

Everything was still and quiet for a minute before the mattress shuddered as Genesis flopped onto it behind him. There was a rush of breath, and despite the urge to look over his shoulder and see the older man stretching behind him, Sephiroth stared straight ahead, silver brows drawn together as he tried desperately to make sense out of this situation that was taking a turn for nightmarish by the second.

A sigh made his resolve crack, and the silver-haired First caught himself peeking through a curtain of platinum strands over his shoulder at his companion.

“They said this would happen.” There was a hint of anger in that voice, barely repressed. “It’s all Hojo’s fault, don’t you remember?” Now, the redhead was sitting up, blue eyes looking back at him with worry. “You were barely conscious when you came out… I don’t know what he gave you…” Genesis looked away, pale fingers carding through fiery tresses as he continued in a low voice. “I don’t know what he did to you, but you… you...”

It seemed like his fellow First was going to continue, but the silence yawned between them, tense and unwanted before being broken by a rustle of sheets and a barely audible whisper of ‘I’m going to kill him.’

And that was exactly something that Genesis would say.

Painfully, Sephiroth realized that they were back to the point when he’d come up from the labs...possibly as a result of their vacation lasting so long. He knew if he pushed the issue, the redhead would get angry. And really...he didn’t particularly care if Hojo died anymore. What was there to lose? A mad scientist who would gladly kill the man lying in bed next to him? That wasn’t worth getting upset over. Turning slightly, the green-eyed First observed the individual currently staring mulishly at the ceiling. It was...disturbing. His entire presence in the room was disturbing, the room was disturbing. Because everything in his mind in consideration of the past few weeks was so virulently different. And while his heart was eager to let everything go and simply accept it, the logical portion of his brain was kicking and screaming. He wanted to believe...because it was easier to believe. But did that make it right? Reaching out, the younger man took warm, familiar, slender fingers in his own...turned them over and over in his hands. These, too, were synonymous with Genesis...with everything that he was; large but graceful, pale yet somehow inexorably strong. He knew those hands, hands that had touched him...cupped his face and whispered love...brought him to the dizzying heights of pleasure only to bring him back down. Palms that were careful and at the same time passionate, artistic and deadly…

...Palms that were free of calluses.

Frowning, the silver-haired soldier acknowledged that the Genesis in his memory had heavily calloused hands. It came from gripping a sword so often. And while they’d been away from HQ for a significant amount of time, it wasn’t enough for the older man to be completely free of them. Sapphire eyes flickered somewhat at his touch, those cerise lips curled into a small smile and his unease fled. Because the Commander looked at him like he was the most precious of gemstones wrought before him, like everything about him was beautiful, unmarred and perfect. And when Sephiroth leaned down to capture his mouth he reciprocated with fervor, one hand rising to card through silver locks as the General sank into the coverlets to drown in the musk of his essence. A tense, panicked part of him retreated...grew lazy and somnolent even as the body next to him shifted to press close once more...until he was reeling with the headiness of it.

Someone was knocking on the door.

Pulling back, the green-eyed First waited impatiently for whomever it was to go away; because this was far more important. Scarlet brows arched in question and he huffed impatiently as the irritating noise continued. And couldn’t this wait? He’d just gotten Genesis back, after an extended time of thinking he was dead. Surely there was nothing in the outside world more vital than this. This vein of thought got him absolutely nowhere, because his ill-minded visitor was apparently extremely persistent.

“I’ll be right back.” He muttered, placing a hasty kiss on parted lips before getting out of bed to pull on a pair of sweatpants.

Vaguely, he was aware of the fact that his companion had risen with him, but he ignored it in favor of pulling a shirt over his head. This done, he stepped out into the hallway and nearly had a panic attack. Because everything was exactly how he’d remembered it. His furniture was there, along with his coat and gloves slung over an armchair. Pictures that had been previously dusty and neglected hung on the walls, and the carpets were just as spotless as they’d been in the bedroom. Crossing the immaculate living space, Sephiroth attempted to pull himself together. Firmly, he reminded himself that the ‘memories’ he possessed were not memories, merely vivid dreams borne from his subconscious. The knocking was repeated as he reached the entryway, and the silver-haired soldier considered just ignoring it, but he doubted it would do him any good. Punching in the manual access code, the General watched as the door swung open and he came face to face with Zack.

The Cadet in question gaped at him for a minute, as if he hadn’t exactly expected him to answer at all. Or, perhaps, that he was hoping he wouldn’t. Folding his arms, Shinra’s finest raised an expectant brow.

“...Can I help you?” Zack ogled him for a few more seconds before apparently realizing what he was doing. Closing his mouth, the dark-haired soldier popped off a salute. “At ease.”

Sir.” He said hastily. “Angeal asked me to check on you periodically. I’ve been up a few times before but you didn’t answer-” Genesis’ childhood friend’s charge fell silent again, and the look on his face was that of pure incredulity. Sephiroth acknowledged, with some consternation, that Genesis had joined them. Fair’s disbelief was quickly morphing into that of barely-contained hysteria. “What’s going on?!

The redhead pulled up against him from behind, looping an arm around his waist, a proud chin digging gently into his shoulder as a melodious voice spoke. “What’s going on Zack, is that you’re going to leave us in peace, thank you very much.”

The look on Zack’s face was like he’d just seen a ghost; like he hadn’t expected the redhead currently nuzzling his neck to be able to speak. The arm holding him rather possessively let go for a moment to push the spikey-haired First… First? Why was Angeal’s charge wearing a First Class uniform?

As he was busy concentrating on that, Genesis’ childhood friend’s protege went with the movement, staggering backwards with his jaw almost dropping to the floor.

“Bye.” The Commander muttered cheerfully before closing the door.

A mischievous smirk was playing on his companion’s lips as Sephiroth turned around to look incredulously at him; those cerulean irises glinting with the promises of things that made him go weak in the knees with. Something in his gut was still telling him that things were off, but his mind was refusing to go along with it. Not when that mouth was curling in a way that was oh so familiar, and not when those sapphire eyes were crinkled at the edges...inviting and warm. Putting his hands on naked hips, the silver-haired man exhaled shakily, his brows furrowing as he rested his head at the cleft where shoulder met neck. He closed his eyes as long fingers came up to card through his hair. He swayed slightly...captured within the moment, his mind a mess of memories both good and bad as Genesis crooned something unintelligible.

The sound of swiftly retreating footsteps registered in the back of the General’s mind, but he ignored it in favor of focusing on the desirous nearness of the individual before him. Drawing back, he gazed hungrily into deep blue eyes, drinking in their depths as if it would be the last time he was privy to such an opportunity. The scarlet-haired soldier was uncharacteristically patient; allowing him to observe all he wanted before apparently deciding to take the initiative. The kiss he was drawn into he felt all the way down to his toes. Deep, open-mouthed and hot; Sephiroth breathed inward sharply through his nose, chasing the wicked tongue that teased his bottom lip and shuddering as it was captured and sucked. Genesis tilted his head to better fit them together and the room seemed to spin. When they came up for air again, the younger man pressed their foreheads together as he caught his breath.

“That poem.” He murmured. “The one you said to me in Banora...could you recite it again?”

There was a low chuckle as the Commander nuzzled his face, soft fingertips trailing his sides as heated lips found his neck again, and Sephiroth’ hold on the older man’s hips tightened minutely. “ Genesis?

When his fellow First just ‘hmm?’ed and kept at his ministrations, Sephiroth’s mind was yelling at him to push the redhead away, but the memory of the hurt swirling in ocean-blue irises held back his hands, slammed a wall on the synapses firing from his brain because as much as it might have been a nightmare, a dream, whatever Genesis wanted to call it, the silver-haired soldier didn’t see it in himself to be able to survive yet another separation from the man in his arms.

Probably sensing how he’d tensed, his companion had stopped whatever he’d been doing and was currently holding him in a tight embrace that was just too painful. Not physically, no. Because he had almost forgotten how perfectly the map of their bodies meshed together, like two pieces of a puzzle, returning an egress for an ingress, all sharp planes and lithe powerful angles. And it felt like having a limb torn from him when the scarlet-haired man pulled away, melancholy veiling gorgeous features as those eyes gazed at the floor.

“I…” The blue-eyed soldier paused, his lower lip trembling with barely held back words. And the amount of time it took for the redhead to speak up again was an eternity of agonizing intermission. Time and time again, Sephiroth wanted to open his mouth, to speak that very word he had spat in that spar at the pale face that was currently in front of him; to ask him this time what the ‘Ashayam’ Genesis uttered so reverently meant before it was too late again, before he lost that right again…

“I can’t...”

He rationalized it.

Distantly, he was aware that everything about the situation was slowly becoming more and more suspicious, but his heart was unwilling to relinquish hope. The scarlet-haired First was more than likely shaken by whatever Hojo had done to him, forcing him to step back and think about things objectively. Besides, it was ridiculously selfish to ask for poetry in a moment like this...when he’d been unconscious for who knows how long and the older man very obviously just wanted to be close to him. Sighing, Sephiroth let his head fall onto a well-worked shoulder, inhaling hungrily before placing a kiss on the jut of a collarbone. Minutely, he felt Genesis relax...as if he’d been anticipating something terrible. And why wouldn’t he? From what he could remember, he’d been tense and irritable upon their return. He was-effectively-angry with himself for being so insensitive, because the older man had discovered some terrible things about his past...about his parents, and he was here demanding sonnets like he had all the right in the world to dictate what could pass from his fellow First’s lips.

“It’s alright.” He murmured against pale skin. “You don’t have to.”

Genesis relaxed further and there were a few moments of nothing but blissful reunion; of lips and tongue and touch as the slow glow of desire became an all-consuming flame. That lithe body arched into him, undulated suggestively and Sephiroth barely held back the groan that threatened to spill from his mouth, crushing the redhead to him in a manner that might have been just on the side of too-rough if they weren’t so desperately aroused.

“I shouldn’t have asked.” He said raggedly. “I forgot the rule.”

Again, the body against him froze, as if thinking rapidly...and this time he couldn’t ignore it. Pulling away, he gazed into suddenly panicked sapphire eyes...eyes that looked like they were trying to recall something they didn’t possess. Frowning, the General felt himself go still...his mind drifting to the uncalloused hands he had clasped…hands that were usually combat-worn...never soft. He glanced at his wrist...which was devoid of the bracelet bestowed on him, which made sense, since their ‘date’ had happened far past this point but… Beryl irises landed on lips that couldn’t dictate the poem he’d so desperately requested…the crimson, wreathed head that couldn’t remember ‘the rule.’

“You’re not Genesis.” He whispered, horror encompassing him as he wrenched himself away.

If it was possible, cerulean eyes widened even further, and it wasn’t just panic inside them. They were reflecting the very same horror that was freezing in his veins.

This person that wasn’t Genesis but looked exactly like him doubled over, staggering backwards as long pale fingers tangled in short auburn tresses, pulling on them. “No… No… Not again…”

He wasn’t sure what was more painful; the fact that this was clearly not his dead lover, or the fact that the individual before him was acting as if this had happened before. Vaguely, fuzzy memories began to resurface; numerous recollections of the same scenario in different places around the apartment. ‘Genesis’’ eyes widening in horror as he uncovered the falsity of his identity, perched on his desk in his office. ‘Genesis’ pleading with him in the kitchen, ‘Genesis’ begging him to listen to reason as they lay in bed, hands reaching out to supplicate as Sephiroth lay there, paralyzed with fear. More prominent than that were the memories of faceless individuals running into the room whenever he lunged forward, determined to erase the flawless mockery before him; of his hands wrapping around that graceful throat only to have them pried away...of being restrained as the cold ice of an injection flooded his veins.

This was a nightmare brought to life, and it was unforgivable.

Because all evidence pointed to the fact that Shinra was trying to exact from him some sort of emotional neutrality. Via manipulation or trauma, he wasn’t sure. Hojo had to have been behind it, that much he was certain of, because no one else in HQ was so devastatingly cruel...so cunning. Sephiroth was positive that even the President wasn’t so blatantly heartless, because it felt like he’d begun to repair himself only to shatter all over again. The glorious, heart-stopping concept of his beloved returning to him was an illusion. A masterfully orchestrated illusion, but an illusion nevertheless.

He needed to end this.

The silver-haired soldier took one step forward, two, and the replica shrunk back, curled into himself. The face he knew so well was a mask of pain, but also...hope? Frowning, Sephiroth paused...closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Running the scenario over in his mind he acknowledged that the stranger before him was likely just as much of a pawn as he was. And while he might want to kill him...he couldn’t…and not just because he was innocent. Sephiroth would never again put his hands on Genesis...real Genesis or no…. with the intent to punish or harm. He couldn’t do that...was fairly sure it would destroy him twice-over to do that. Shaking with suppressed grief and rage, the green-eyed First balled his hands into fists and jerked his head to the left so he was staring at the wall.

“Get out.”

There was a moment of silence. Deafening, crushing and so tangible Sephiroth could pretty much cut it through with Masamune.

Out of the corner of the silver-haired man could see as the redhead straightened to his full height. “You don’t understand it still, do you?” Genesis or not, that voice was wrought with grief. “It makes no difference. They’re still going to sedate you. And Hojo is still going to use me for this.” Bare feet padded on the floor, and the green-eyed First had to close his eyes, pressing his lips into a tight line as the replica stood in his line of sight.

“I have no identity, no other purpose except for this.” There was a brief pause. Something shifted and although the younger man knew that the scarlet-haired stranger in front of him wasn’t going to, couldn’t do him any harm, his reflexes kicked in, grabbing the wrist that was retreating, its owner probably wanting to touch him only to have changed his mind mid-gesture.

“Don’t.”

Yanking his hand free, the other just gazed at him, rubbed an ivory wrist, his familiar yet foreign eyes determined and at the same time, full of a resigned anger. “I know you can kill me in a blink of an eye if you want to.”

For a moment, it was the cell in the solitary all over again. The spitting image of his real lover grabbing his hands only to curl them around a strong pale neck and squeezing as he’d dared him to try and see if he was an illusion before the memory shattered to pieces, a curt order ringing out.

“Just do it .”

Sephiroth reeled. Because that dark, insidious part of him wanted to do it. Not because it was angry, or because the deed would be somewhat justified. No, he wanted to wring that graceful neck simply for the sake of wringing it...for the sake of a means to an end. Because he could and no one would really stop him. His hands tightened minutely, and he watched as some of the color drained out of those aquiline features; as the individual before him arched into it willingly, as if death was a gift...a release. The silver-haired soldier’s eyes narrowed, his breathing growing ragged in tangent with that of the stranger before him...a black sort of hunger seared through his veins as the air passing over his cheeks grew stuttered and somewhat hesitant. Leaning in, he let his nose pass over the slope of a proud, familiar-yet-unfamiliar jaw...taking in the tachycardic pulse as he inhaled the scent of life...of the possibility of the end of life. His hands tightened even more and ‘Genesis’ made a choking sound as instinct won over willingness and his body attempted to resist…

No.

The green-eyed First wrenched himself away as if burned; stumbled back and covered his face with both hands. He couldn’t do this….couldn’t give in to this again; if he did, he wouldn’t be able to face himself...he could hardly face himself already. Blinking rapidly, Sephiroth fought against the downturn of his lips, sank to his knees and shivered violently. The self-hate that rose within him was venomous, it made him want to tear his skin off and crawl out of himself like the broken, ruined creature he’d become. The stranger with his lover’s face followed him to the floor; and he was distantly aware of the fact that he was cursing him, insulting him in that familiar, velvety voice. Growling, the General shoved him away, heedless of when he fell to the side...putting several feet of distance between them before dropping into a crouch and staring at the crumbled figure on the carpet. No, he was not going to do this...he was not going to fall victim to his own weaknesses again. He would die before he did that. Clearing his throat, the General spoke.

“I told you to get out.”

‘Genesis’ stood up from where he had fallen, not uttering a word as muscles moved in fluid motion. Sephiroth was left with his thoughts as the redhead lingered there for some agonizingly long minutes, but he really didn’t look up to see the expression on that pale face opting instead to stare at the carpet.

Finally those shapely legs started moving toward the door, and only then did the silver-haired man raise his head, watching as the man who was the spitting image of his dead lover walked toward the door; shoulders slightly hunched forward, that head of crimson hair hanging before the redhead came to a standstill a couple of steps away from the entrance.

Outside, the sound of thundering feet started getting closer and louder.

‘Genesis’ straightened, lifting his head and exhaling deeply just as the real man used to do, before looking over his shoulder through a fringe of short auburn locks. “I’m sorry that I’m not him.”

And whoever they were, a bunch of Seconds or techs, Sephiroth didn’t know, but it would only be moments before they came barging in.

“I’m sure he loved you very much.”

And the door swung open, the loud bang resounding in the silence that had settled between them. He resisted, though he knew he didn’t have much of a chance regardless; lack of exercise hadn’t made him soft, but it had made him slightly weak. The individuals sent to restrain him were fully prepared for any move he might make, anything he might try. It took eight of them to hold him down and while he struggled silently, he made sure his eyes landed on every face; memorizing features as he twisted and lashed out. They didn’t speak to him, kept their gazes averted to the very end. The General supposed that it was to their credit, they knew better than to try to soften him with soothing words; it wouldn’t work. And as the needle bit into his neck, his eyes landed on the redheaded, swiftly blurring figure at the door. Sephiroth felt his lips curl into a sneer as his vision grew dark, and he said the only thing that he could think of as darkness enveloped his mind.

I hope you rot.