Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Characters: Sephiroth, Hojo, Aerith, Genesis, Angeal.
Word Count: 4197
Contents: Offscreen violence and abuse.
Notes: A take on 'Sephiroth frees Aerith from the lab'.
He was quiet when he entered the church, but he knew she heard him. There was a pause in her movement, a stiffening of her spine as she bent over the flowers, the slightest break in her wordless tune. She bent her head to her work again and paid him no mind.
She didn’t look like trouble. He was prepared if she was. The light shifted as he drew nearer, down her hair, to her busy hands, to the flowers drooping in their patch of earth. She spoke before he did.
“Have you come to take me away?”
He paused. “You know?”
She buried her fingers in the grass and still did not turn. “You’re not the first they’ve sent.”
“First SOLDIER, though, I believe.”
She sat back on her heels and drew her hands into her lap. Small hands. No reason to fear them. No reason the Turks should have such trouble bringing her in. No reason for him to be sent in their stead. He was still pondering his orders when she spoke. “I could run.”
“You won’t get far.” He tightened his grip on his sword. “Won’t last long, either.”
“I know.” She sighed, so softly, and rose.
He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. Certainly not someone so… ordinary. She was young, but everyone started early in the slums. But she didn’t look the least bit hardened by her life there, certainly not enough to be the criminal or terrorist he supposed she was. There was always something, some giveaway, usually in the eyes. Hers looked only sad.
With one last look back at her drooping flowers, she approached. “I’ll come quietly,” she said, dusting herself off. “The Planet says you’ll do the right thing in the end.”
“I heard you finally brought in that Cetra girl,” Scarlet said. She had caught him in the elevator, on the way down for the day.
“Cetra?” He blinked. “You mean… an Ancient?”
Scarlet leaned forward with a near-scandalous grin. “What, they didn’t tell you?” She shrieked with laughter. “They don’t tell you anything, do they?” Sephiroth bristled at that, but held his tongue.
“Either way,” Scarlet said, catching her breath, “good job there. I think that young Turk Tseng is sweet on her. That’s why he never could bring her in. The pres was getting antsy. Well, this is my floor! See you around, hot stuff!”
He didn’t watch her leave, turning instead to the smokey view outside. The sun dimmed in Midgar long before it set, and the light soon disappeared into the fog. Sephiroth stepped outside in the near darkness. The guards’s sharp salute faded into mako hum of streetlights. He walked the short walk to the executive residence in no time at all and took the stairs up to his midfloor apartment because he did not feel like stopping.
His routine was simple, mundane, and he followed it, unthinking and mostly in the dark. Then he sat alone in his little living room, flipping through the coffee table book that he had been given as a housewarming present until the silence made his ears ring.
Solitude, true solitude, was still new to him, and he was finding himself no good at dealing with it. He had no hobbies to speak of, no outside interests. Life had always been about orders, in the lab, on the field, taking them, giving them. There was always some task set before him, some deadline, something to keep him busy. He had never had the time to consider what he would do with himself without that. And here he was, without that, in a still-new apartment that would always be too cold.
His mind wandered, replaying the day, sealing it into memory. He had not thought to question why the girl needed to be brought in, or what would be done with her when he did. It had warded off boredom, certainly. But there was that look in her eyes, when she finally turned to him, that half-sad look and her cryptic words.
Cetra. Ancient. Was she really? Did she know something he did not? Was that what her odd remark had been about? It didn’t matter much what she was, if she had ties to the underworld, or was wrapped up with that Avalanche group.
But Scarlet had seemed to think that it did matter. That the girl had been selected for what she was, not for what she might have done. Oversight, then, on his part, to not have asked for more background. He’d had no reason to at the time. The mission had seemed simple enough.
He shut the book with a sigh and went to bed. Sitting in the dark was getting him nowhere. He could make himself sleep whenever and wherever he had to, and in sleep one wasn’t bored at least. He sank down into his pillow and tossed and turned over sad eyes and the thing he was supposed to do, if he only knew what it was.
He wasn’t one for office small talk in the break room, ordinarily, but then he wasn’t usually one for the coffee either.
“Director,” he said, “that girl you sent me to get yesterday….”
“Yes, Hojo sends his gratitude.”
Hot coffee spilled over the rim of the styrofoam cup but Sephiroth did not wipe it away. “Hojo,” he said. “Not the Turks? Was she not Avalanche?”
“No,” Lazard said, absently stirring in creamer. “She made off with a lab specimen, from what little I could gather.”
Sephiroth took a small sip and wondered how a slum girl could possibly make off with something from the Shinra labs. Maybe she really was Avalanche. “Where is she now?”
“In a holding cell, I’d imagine,” said Lazard, “awaiting interrogation.”
“From the Turks?”
“Most likely.” Lazard raised an eyebrow at Sephiroth. “Why the sudden interest, General? Your part’s over.”
Sephiroth stared at the wall, scowling. “I just want to make sure the job is finished right.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Lazard said. “Pity, almost. I thought for a moment she had caught your eye.”
Sephiroth scoffed. “Hardly.”
“Shame. Someone should, you know. Catch your eye. Give you something to do on your days off.”
Sephiroth sipped his bitter brew. “I finished the book you gave me yesterday.”
“Oh, did you like it?” Lazard had half a smile on his face. “I can’t say for certain why I thought birds suited you, but it’s good photography.” Sephiroth made a non-committal sound. Lazard shook his head. “I have something for you over in Wutai,” he said, turning to go. “I’ll send you an email when your mission packet is ready.”
“Sephiroth, get down!"
Sephiroth rolled his eyes and crouched beside Genesis. “I’m down. Stop fussing.”
Angeal joined them in ducking for cover behind the rock. “Seph, what was that about? You’re completely zoning out up there.”
“I am not.”
“Like hell, you aren’t,” Genesis shrieked, ducking shrapnel. “You’ve been shot!”
“Oh, really?” Sephiroth looked down at his arm. “Oh. Really.”
“Hang on, I’ll put pressure on it,” Genesis said, covering the spot with both hands.
“Don’t bother. It’s a flesh wound. It’ll heal.”
“Of course it’ll heal, Seph,” Angeal said, handing over his canteen to wash the spot. “But the question is why are you getting shot in the first place?”
“It’s no big deal,” Sephiroth said. “We’ve all been shot before.”
“Two ranks ago,” Genesis said, struggling as Sephiroth shifted his arm. “When we were young and dumb and didn’t know how to duck. Hold still, you’ll bleed out.”
“No, I won’t.”
Angeal sighed. “You got him covered here?” Genesis nodded. “Good. I’ll take them out, you cast a cure. And Seph, get it together, man!”
He did his best to ‘get it together’ on the chopper ride back. The wound had only bled long enough to extrude the projectile, and had healed up without a trace like any proper SOLDIER injury. He returned to Midgar and filed his reports, went over his troop movements, made supply requisitions and reported to the lab for a post injury work-up like the good little General he was. It gave him something to do.
“Looks as good as new,” Hojo said, looking over the spot. “Still, I’d like to run a scan or two to make sure no fragments got left behind. Don’t get up, I’ve got a new portable I want to test out.”
Sephiroth said nothing. One did not converse with Hojo. The man busied himself setting up, calling for the equipment to be wheeled in. Sephiroth stared straight ahead. He preferred not to watch the process. His mind wandered.
The sounds and smells of the lab were the very first in his living memory. He knew all the beeps and hums, the astringent tang of cleaning solution, the squeak of leather-soled shoes on the floor. He could close his eyes and map the terrain by sound and smell alone.
“Sephiroth!” Hojo called. “Are you listening to me?”
Sephiroth blinked, coming back to himself. “I hear you.”
“Put your arm up this way,” Hojo said. “Honestly, it’s no wonder you got shot, if you’re blanking out like this. Are you taking your vitamins?”
“Vitamins?” Sephiroth scowled.
“Yes, your vitamins,” Hojo said, strapping on some protective shielding. “I don’t want you coming down with some sort of nervous ailment, and I don’t trust those SOLDIER rations.”
“They’re nutritionally balanced,” Sephiroth said, frowning, “and I am taking my supplements.”
“Good, good,” Hojo said, hand on the clicker and ready to go. “Hmm.” As an afterthought he grabbed a radiation shield and slapped it on Sephiroth’s lap. “Just hold that there.”
“For your balls, boy,” Hojo snapped. “Do I have to spell everything out?”
Sephiroth sighed and let the man take his little pictures. The sound of the new machine joined the ancient ones in his memory. He cataloged every click and hum and whine, adding them to the knowledge bank of his very first battleground, and wondered what quirk of the new machine made it sound ever so slightly like a woman crying.
He ran into Tseng in the elevator. It was the best option around, as far as sharing elevators went. Tseng was quiet. So much better than the last time he’d had to share the space. Tseng wasn’t likely to taunt him about things he didn’t know.
“Tseng,” he found himself saying, “Has Hojo’s specimen been returned to him?”
Tseng shot him a bitter look. “Yes.”
Sephiroth recalled Scarlet’s remark about Tseng and the girl and wondered if the interrogation had been rough. He chose not to press Tseng about it anymore. He went home, fixed himself a light meal and flipped through his book of birds again, taking time to actually read the captions this time before he fell asleep in his chair and dreamed of a machine that wept human tears.
The war in Wutai was picking up its pace and Sephiroth was loving every minute of it. There were cold, rainy nights in the field, stealthy troop movements through the mountains and even a siege or two. Months went by. His list of victories grew and with it, his bloodthirsty reputation. He cut a swath into Wutai, leaving a trail of bloodsoaked fields and severed heads behind him.
Which was why when word came that he was due back in Midgar for his yearly physical, he was mad enough to spit.
“It’s okay,” Genesis said. “We can hold down the fort for a while.” Sephiroth only grumbled.
He was surly and sullen all the way home. His growing fan club painted it as distant and aloof. The hours spent sitting in transport seemed so wasteful when he could be over there doing his duty. But this was his duty too, reporting to the labs. He bore the tests with rather less than his usual forbearance. He was so much more than a test subject now, and had better things to do than report to the labs for days on end, to sit still being pricked and pictured from every angle.
“It’s almost over,” Hojo snarled, mixing the mako for a booster shot on the last day of the workup. “Honestly, you get a medal or two and you think suddenly you’re above all this? This is what made you what you are, Sephiroth. There’s no escaping that.”
Sephiroth scowled and gripped the end of the bed. The mako burned, it always did, but he knew how to ignore it. He let his senses take in the whole lab, cataloguing every new scanner, every change in personnel. Someone wheeled a trolley past his examination room. Through the sliver of open door he caught sight of a leg barely covered by a thin sheet. A rather weak looking leg, he had to say, too undermuscled to be one of his SOLDIERs. Perhaps one of the lab assistants had taken ill. The trolley moved further down and he caught sight of a mess of hair a shade of brown he had almost forgotten.
There was a second when his stomach lurched. Then everything went cold. The mako mixing with his system gave everything a slight tinge of green. He barely felt the bandage Hojo slapped on his arm.
“And we’re done. You can go back to your war games now.”
Sephiroth stood to go. “Doctor…” he began.
“The specimen the Turks were supposed to bring back to you a while ago….”
“Oh, yes, I heard you’d had a hand in bringing her back in. Good job, boy.”
Sephiroth went back to Wutai and burned a town to the ground.
Lady Otoriko was known throughout the length and breadth of Wutai for her vast menagerie. She kept creatures from every corner of Wutai in fenced gardens built specifically for the purpose. Sephiroth set the whole lot on fire without a second thought.
“Dammit, Sephiroth, this is too much,” Genesis said, stripping off his gloves. Angeal was still running through the blaze, slashing latches and breaking gates, giving the creatures at least some chance of escape. “What did they ever do to you?”
“Nothing.” He freely admitted it. Genesis had caught him at the entrance to the aviary, poised to give the intricately carved building the same treatment as all the rest.
“Look,” Genesis said, stepping up beside him. “I appreciate the message wanton destruction sends in wartime as much as anyone, but there’s no need to go burning up mountain deer and tree frogs to do it. Wrecking the estate is more than enough.”
Sephiroth turned away. “Who’s going to complain?” Not the Lady herself. She was in no position to complain about anything ever again.
“I’ll complain, Sephiroth,” Genesis said, “and Angeal will complain when he’s done running.”
Sephiroth scoffed and made ready to cast a fire spell again. Genesis jumped in front of him, barring the way. “At least open the doors and let the birds go, Sephiroth. We can burn out the building afterwards.”
Sephiroth paused, hand poised for casting. He set it down again. “Help me drive them out, then, but I’m burning it afterwards.”
Genesis nodded and kicked in the door. The noise was enough to drive some of the birds out. Sensing the commotion and the smoke, they fled out the opening in droves, mussing Sephiroth’s hair as they passed. He thought he recognized some of them but they were out the door in the blink of an eye. “Now can we burn this?”
“Not yet,” Genesis said. “Let’s make sure it’s empty first.”
Sephiroth sighed and stepped inside. The floor was exactly the mess he expected. Genesis was complaining bitterly in front of him. It seemed some of the birds refused to fly.
“Maybe they just need a little motivation,” Sephiroth said, pulling out his sword.
Genesis scoffed. “Put that away. It won’t do any good here.” He bent low to the little green bird doing its best to hide in a corner. Sephiroth bent down too, sighing.
“It’s the way they capture them,” Genesis was saying. “They tie strings to their feet. Older birds might pick at the string and even get loose now and then, but catch them young enough, you can take the string off later and they never even realize they’re free to fly away.” He sighed and reached forward, scooping the little bird up into his hands.
“What are you going to do with it?” Sephiroth asked. “If it can’t fly, it won’t survive long out there.”
“Longer than it will in here,” Genesis said. “Fire away, Sephiroth. Get it out of your system.”
They called him back to Midgar to take care of some paperwork. That was the excuse, at least. He knew the real reason. He knew it, Genesis knew it and Angeal knew it. Reports of his growing savagery had spread and it unnerved them. They offered him a vacation, some time away from the front. He turned it down. They invited him to parties, distractions, events to see and be seen and be shown off. He declined.
He sat at home and filed his reports and over the course of one week tore his coffee table book to shreds. It was rather wasteful, he realized too late. But done was done. He tossed and turned in his bed, dreaming of little birds that wouldn’t fly.
He went to the lab when routine demanded. There were always checkups, tests to run. For once, he did not much mind. He kept his eyes and ears open for a sound that should not have been there, and found it, the too human sound of a woman crying.
He followed it as soon as he had a chance, finding himself near the cells where he had spent much of his young life. He no longer had cause to roam that way, but aside from the smug look from one of the exiting orderlies, no one much noted his presence. The cries were still quiet here, but there was no mistaking them for anything else now. Sephiroth followed them to the shower area and took a look inside.
She was sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around herself, under a stream of hot water. Her shoulders shook with the force of her muffled sobs. He stared at her back for a while, considering that she was thinner than when had last seen her. Cetra, Scarlet had said. He wondered if it was true.
He was about to leave when she lifted her head. Much as she had when they had first met in her church, she did not turn. “Did you come for your turn too?” she said bitterly. He was not sure what she meant. He stepped forward and turned the water off.
“You’ll scald yourself if you’re not careful.”
She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter.” Her skin was already rosy pink from the heat, where it wasn’t bruised. She rested her cheek on her knees and made no effort to move. He was about to leave when she spoke again. “I should have run,” she said. “I should have run as far as I could have.”
“I would have caught you,” he said. “I might have killed you.”
Her laugh was bitter. “It would have been easier than all this.” She sighed. “The Planet still thinks you’ll do the right thing in the end. Isn’t that funny.”
He went home wondering what the right thing was.
He was shipped out to Wutai again. He was needed at the front. It was easy there to forget what he had seen. Towns burned and fields became lakes of blood and he slept well at night from sheer exhaustion. He saw less and less of Genesis and Angeal. Rumor was that they had become lovers. He thought they were just avoiding him, and took on an entire temple’s worth of warrior monks by himself to pass the time.
Lord Godo sent assassins. He sent them back, rather less lively than they had come. Lady Otoriko’s sons came, one after the other. He wondered if she had any grandsons to come after. He laid waste to every village, farm and town between the shore and the golden road that led to the capital. Victory was not far off.
It was the incident at Shikoro that made them call him home again. There were some things even Shinra couldn’t put a good spin on. The field medic gave him what she claimed was a vitamin shot before they put him on the transport home, but he knew the feel of a good sedative when he got it. He was getting too vicious for them. They were getting scared. He rather liked that.
The evaluation began as soon as he landed, fresh from the field, covered in grime, sword in hand. Hojo did not waste much time with it.
“Word is you’re terrifying your troops,” Hojo said. “You’ve got to learn to hold back. Find something to take the edge off.”
“I have found something,” Sephiroth said, tightening his grip on his sword.
“Something a little less destructive,” Hojo said. “I might just be able to help you with that.” And he shoved Sephiroth into the cell.
Sephiroth expected something to fight, but he had not been sent into a training ring, only an ordinary cell. Sleeping off the ugly thing seething inside him was not an option. He had already tried. Just as well. The bed was occupied anyway.
She turned around this time, when the door slid shut. She did not cry, or scream, or react much at all. She did not even try to pull the sheet around her. She stared. Sephiroth stared back, unsure what to make of it all.
“Well, go on, boy,” Hojo’s voice came on the overhead. “You know what to do, don’t you?”
Sephiroth glared at the ceiling. He knew. He was no virgin. That had been seen to in this very lab. The girl sighed. She was paler than she had been among the flowers. Thinner too, and sad.
“You came for your turn after all,” she said, closing her eyes. The knot at his core spread its cold chill through his whole being.
He sank to the floor beside her and did what he should have done from the start. “Why did they want you?”
“Didn’t they tell you?” she said, opening her eyes, looking right at him. “I’m the last Cetra.”
“I’d heard…,” he began, but could not finish. “What are they doing to you?”
She shut her eyes again. “Anything they want.”
He sat beside her for a long moment, for once frozen to indecision by the weight of expectations. She was the one to break the long silence. “Don’t you think you should do your duty, SOLDIER?”
He shook his head. “You can’t possibly… want me to….”
“I want it over with.”
He reached out slowly, and stopped to take off his glove first. She deserved better than the blood and grime and filth from the field. Her hair was not as soft as it might have been once, but her cheek was still warm and her eyes were almost mako bright in the light.
“It won’t hurt much, not for long,” he said. “I can make it so it doesn’t.”
She blinked at him, then nodded, what small consent she could give for what he had to do. He moved to sit on the bed beside her, brushing the hair from her face, doing his best to soothe her for what was to come. She closed her eyes and let him do as he pleased.
Her eyes flew open with the first sharp thrust. He met her eyes with a look of pure regret and pushed in further, slowly. Her breath hitched as he did and the pain in her eyes faded. She reached up one weak hand to touch his face. He caught it in his own and kissed her palm, his soft apology for what he was and what he had done. She smiled at him then, very slightly, and something inside him broke at how beautiful she was.
He held her long after it was over, cradling her head against his chest while the wetness pooled and cooled beneath them. He would have stayed there forever with her if he could.
“Are you done yet, boy?” Hojo’s voice came. “Even you can’t possibly go this long.”
The battle rage Sephiroth had forced away for the time being flooded back to him now, but he only smiled. “I’m done,” he said, “I’m coming out.” He retrieved his sword, prepared to unleash a fury even Wutai had not yet seen. When the door slid open, he was waiting.
“Did you have that much blood on you when you came in?” Hojo asked. “Never mind, go get cleaned up. If you need another round, you know where she is.”
Sephiroth smirked. “Not here.” He left the room and began the long march upwards, leaving Hojo to stare at the large pool of blood on the floor and the bed where his precious specimen lay, too pale and very still.