There was pain before death. It hadn't really been something he'd wondered about, to tell the truth--but there was certainly pain. There was a great deal of relief too, however... it was not death in vain. It was not death with the taste of hatred on his tongue, with nothing but revenge running through his veins.
Only a total change of his DNA could have taken the Shinra out of him. That was humorous. Even as the physical fell away, that was... funny.
Voices. Shifting. He was sure he'd be judged for his sins and thrown away, his very essence vanishing. What awaited him was either nonexistence, or the peaceful rest that everyone sought.
And so he sank. There was no way to know for how long, time holding no meaning within these boundaries... but even for the eternal, it felt like an awfully long time. Falling slowly. Waiting. Waiting for what he could not be sure would come. Or maybe this was all there was... and if so, even here, perhaps he could convince himself to be at peace with the idea.
Only... there was no peace to be had. That knowledge was an intangible feeling in him as green rushed every sense, left him utterly alone with himself... but able to feel it. To hear it. He could feel Jenova's rage, having attached herself to the core of all things. Her scream was loud enough to shake the world--and his presence was known.
And if Jenova was here... if she was still hanging on...
He'd known hope shortly after he'd become an Angeal clone. It bore a distinctly bittersweet essence about it--and a distinctly, entirely bitter regret.
I've done... so many horrible things... He almost wished the Lifestream would destroy him, dismantle his being bit by bit and allow him to cease... but there was that damn hope again. Not Angeal's, this time. His own.
If Jenova was here... if she still had something to hang onto, then...
So do I.
It had been his fondest desire, when the light finally leaked into his soul, to save the world. Maybe that was too lofty... but there was one thing owed. One thing that would allow him neither rest or deconstruction until it was done. It didn't matter if he was granted mercy or complete destruction--this went beyond that much. So far beyond anything else.
He could feel the dead all around him. Familiar, a lot of them. Why they were gathering around, he could not fathom; but he was not yet ready for an end.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I don't mean to... I'm sorry. But there's one last thing I need to do.
To his sincere surprise... what followed was the knowledge of what had happened while he'd been sinking.
It was almost too simple, too easy to be able to follow the dark tendrils of negativity that lead him to exactly where he needed to be. Instead of stopping him... the poisoned Lifestream parted for his approach.
And there, at the center of that radiating darkness, like a jewel in the center of a dark rose, was the shadow of a man he knew above all others. The last remnant, the last tiny piece of what was being held onto. All of Sephiroth's pain, his hatred... his betrayal.
Regret tore through his chest like bullets, searing hot and leaving scars. But there was time for this regret later... this mourning. To absorb, accept and reflect on all of this agony that he'd been the last and most violent cause of. For now... what was perhaps his last act of existence was also his most sincere wish. If he could not save the world, at the very least he could try to make things right.
There was no fear shown as he stepped up to the nearly empty husk of a former hero. The former hero. His former... Even in death he could find no words. No description. The last act. The last time. And here, he would finally do the right thing.
There was only a laugh from the form, something cruel and vicious, something that reminded him of bones grinding together. It was not Sephiroth's smirk, but it was his lips that this creature smirked with. I do hope you don't intend to ask for mercy.
"I intend to wait." He corrected, nothing but confidence in his voice. "Here, unmoving, unblinking. However long it takes."
Then I hope you are very comfortable. You are waiting for something that will never come.
"I'd wait in the depths of Hell until the end of Eternity for you." He spoke only to that last piece of Sephiroth, that last scrap that Jenova clung to. That part that he needed to free. "It would be my rightful place. I owe you this."
It was not a pause born of fear, either of failure or judgment... but still he wondered if this was something to be admitted. If there was power behind it. If the man would even hear. "And this is exactly how much I love you."
Empires rose and fell in the span of silence between them. And still that hand remained outstretched. Still those once-beautiful eyes gazed at him like he was a filthy thing... but his only response was a knowing smile. If the bitch thought that he'd been kidding about waiting all of Eternity... she was wrong.
He simply remained there, hand outstretched. Hair as completely white as his wing, suit somehow matching... he waited. Supported by time, supported by the dead around him--supported even by the guardian of the Planet, who by all rights should hate them both. He would not give up.
He could feel them all at his back, could feel the hope rising like a slow tide. Like the sound that slowly built, over seconds or centuries; the chorus of the Planet itself, the music of Gaia that served as the rhythm of his own heartbeat.
For a long time, there was nothing but hope. Between one life cycle and another, between these distractions that Jenova found herself in--there was a crack. Something so minor that it seemed as nothing, just the mildest of blinks.
She was losing strength. All of this desire, this hunger, this hanging on and then this distraction, this challenge... the claws sunk into her "son" got minutely weaker. But this, he thought, was enough.
"Sephiroth." His voice was so soft, so quiet... gentle in a way it had never been in life, and longing. Pleading for that last shard of the man to come forward, to realize... He did not move, could not have breathed if he'd still been in a physical body... but he saw the eyes shift. He saw them, and it was all he could do not to sob at the lost look within.
No. He had to be strong, to stand his ground. For all of them, but... more importantly... "Sephiroth... come home." As delicate and fragile as a single strand of silk, all of his desperate hope cast at once in the desire that the man would catch it and hold on...
It was as though the whole of the Lifestream instantaneously froze and shattered all around them, a roar of rage from the alien infection--but the green remained. The voices faded to the distance, but that hope... perhaps he'd taken it upon himself. And ends were just beginnings, and this torment, this waiting... it had to end... please, Gods, it needed to end...
That long, motionless moment finally ended when Sephiroth shakily reached out and took his hand. Joy overwhelmed--at last, after so long...
He knew that what he held was precious. Treasure beyond anything he'd dreamed of in life, this was beyond all things. Trust. Love. Peace of mind... peace.
"Come home, Sephiroth." He whispered, eyes filled with tears even here; this, he realized, was everything he'd wanted: a world saved with a soul brought home. Their ethereal forms had started to blend, to fade... into and with one another. Back into the green from whence they'd both truly come, from where everything flowed from and back to again.
For such a long time, the shell of the general had been outside of that flow... they had all been, those with the strongest of wills. But then, in that moment when the Lifestream began to embrace them both... there was no fight. This was their will, to be part of the stream again.
"Home." Sephiroth whispered. It was a word he'd used, so long ago... but never meant, never understood. As leather fell away, as form and definition simply ceased to be... it was only he and this other. The one other... the only other... "I remember you."
"I remember you, too." He returned with a soft laugh. "I... could not forget."
"I remember... everything..."
"Sssh. It's okay now. Everything's okay now. Just rest with me."
"Rest... with you?"
"If you'll have me."
"Yes. Yes, forever."
"For as long as you want. I'm not going anywhere. Ever again."
There was only a sleepy sound of acceptance in return, a soft and gentle warmth seeping in, binding them both together. All else simply fell away.
"I'm... sorry. For... everything..."
"Everything's okay now." Sephiroth repeated, feeling peace and joy and... everything. Feeling everything. "Just rest with me."