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[personal profile] foxysquidalso
Title: Past & Present
Universe: Final Fantasy VII
Characters, pairings: mainly Sephiroth/Reeve, but also features Cid/Vincent, Rude/Reno; hints of Rufus/Tseng and Zack/Sephiroth; Elena; Cloud
Rating: PG
Warnings: none, other than spoilers for FFVII as a whole.
Word count: 9,957
Summary: Sephiroth has returned the the world, but he is not the man he was.
Notes: This is the first FF7 story I have ever written, and it may well be the last, but I had to pay tribute to Reeve/Sephiroth (or Reeviroth, as it is referred to by those "in the know", aka doofuses). Written for [livejournal.com profile] armistice_day as a cheer-up/holiday gift, so of course I had to put our most favorite pairings in it. Set not too long after Advent Children. AU. It is a bit open-ended, but I thought my recipient might like it as it is.


I: Vincent

When he became aware of the abnormality, Vincent's first thought was that it felt like loneliness. It was more an ache than an awareness, yet it was not an ache that belonged to him: identifiably alien. That was troubling. He sat up in bed. He hadn't been truly sleeping, only resting. He seldom slept. In the dark beside him, Cid lay in true slumber, not quite snoring, but rumbling.

Vincent examined the feeling he'd discovered within himself. It was not solely an emotion. There was an undeniable pull to it, a faint tugging on the end of his nerves. He couldn't ignore an urge like that. The direction it urged him in was north: cold, bleak. The home of winter.

He rose to his feet, quietly. He had to go. It was not the first time he had left in secret, in the night. Cid would not find it unusual. Vincent was being called. He could not ignore it, but he would not endanger others by asking them to accompany him.

It was a long trip to take alone. The chill air whipped up against him as he went, but it did not hurt. With so much emptiness and distance before him, he felt he could go on forever. He felt he should be alone. It was a sorrowful feeling, but again, it was not his feeling. It steadily intensified as he made his way farther north.

When he arrived and saw the still body with its crown and mantle of ice, he was not surprised. By then, his suspicion had been worn down into a certainty. Things went away, and things returned. The past and the present were not so different. Faces changed, and some disappeared, but if one could view time from the outside, if only for a moment, one saw the repetition, the turns and returns, and time no longer seemed like a straight, simple line, but like a labyrinth. Why should he be surprised to see Sephiroth again?

Vincent could sense that Sephiroth was alive, sleeping in the snow. There was a deep wound in his body, but it was not bleeding. The body had managed to heal itself, and the ice had preserved it.

Vincent found himself faced with a choice. He could kill the man now, which would be the easiest way of dealing with the problem. Perhaps it would be best to kill him, but the man's face was soft in sleep. His hair appeared darker in the shadow of the ice. Vincent found himself looking for a resemblance that was not there, then stopped himself. He could not allow himself to be distracted. If Jenova was gone--or very nearly gone--from the Lifestream, then Sephiroth would be far less dangerous. At the moment, he was helpless.

It seemed wrong to kill a sleeping man, but that was not the only reason he hesitated. Many factors stayed his hand, but in the end, perhaps it was the fact that the sight of the man's strange sleep stirred a sympathy in him. They had things in common.

If Vincent was not going kill him, he would need to call for help. The question, then, was who would he call? At times, he was unsure of where, ultimately, his loyalties lay. Would his choice provide him with an answer?

No, it did not. He made two calls: one to Rufus Shinra, and one to Cloud Strife. Vincent had recently obtained his phone, and he found it irritating to handle, but he was glad he had thought to bring it with him.

Once the calls were placed, there was nothing for him to do but wait. It was a cheerless wait, and a long one. His only companion was a ghost.


II: Cloud

From a great distance, Cloud spied the bright red slash scarring the otherwise barren landscape. He didn't need to see it. At this proximity, he could feel where he was supposed to go. That feeling was why, when Vincent had called him, he'd already been much farther north than he usually traveled. Something had drawn him there. Not a a sight, a sound, the weather, or anything definite. More of a restlessness. He'd rolled out of bed in the morning and done what he usually did when he felt restless: he'd gone for a ride.

Vincent stirred when Cloud pulled up, like someone awakening from sleep, although he was standing up. Instead of a spoken greeting, he nodded as Cloud climbed off his motorcycle.

Cloud nodded in reply. He kept his gaze on Vincent, looking at him instead of at the reason Vincent had called him here.

"Shinra will be here soon," said Vincent.

"What? Why did you call them?"

"I did what I felt was best. They have the means to study and contain him, but I knew you would arrive first. You must make your choice."

"Choice?"

"Yes." Vincent nodded toward the form that lay at his feet. Cloud had not wanted to look at it, but he could no longer delay the inevitable moment.

He felt less than he'd expected to feel. A moment of revulsion, a flicker of hatred, briefly hot, then a low, muted anger. Mostly, he wanted to know why. Why did this man keep coming back? As if he couldn't die. He should stay dead. There were far better people who had died and could never come back. The world didn't need this man.

"I faced the same decision, but I stayed my hand," said Vincent. "It is fair and right that you have the final say."

Again, Cloud wanted to know, "Why? Why didn't you do it, I mean?"

Vincent shrugged. "I made my choice," he said, which wasn't an answer. Cloud almost thought that was all he had to say, but he added, "The darkness in him is less. He's faded. He may yet be mad, but I cannot say."

Cloud frowned. The problem was, Sephiroth wasn't doing anything. He was lying on the ground, motionless. Could Cloud just--lift his sword, bring it down, and kill a sleeping man? He didn't like the idea, even if the man was Sephiroth. "It doesn't seem right."

"No."

"What do you think he'll do, Vincent?"

"I can't answer that."

It was hard to remember that he had once admired the man lying before him. He had to remind himself that Sephiroth had been a different man once. Who was he now? He couldn't be the general he had once been, but was he the monster Cloud had known? It was impossible to tell.

Part of Cloud wanted to kill him. If he hurts anyone, it'll be my fault. Yet he didn't sense any malice from him, as he had when facing Sephiroth before. He felt an emptiness. He felt cold. That was all. "I can't kill him like this."

"I didn't think you would."

"Then why did you call me?"

"As I said, it was your choice to make. You've made it now. We'll wait for Shinra to arrive."

Cloud didn't like the sound of those words, but he trusted that Vincent knew what he was doing. He hoped. Sephiroth was sleeping in the snow. Maybe he wouldn't wake up? That would make things easier, though the things that would make life easier weren't the things most likely to happen, in his experience.


III: Reno

Reno had gotten a lot of terrible phone calls in his life, but this one was up there with the worst of them. "Come on. No way. Really? Is this a joke, Rufus--I mean, sir?"

"Does it sound like a joke?"

"Guess not." The president didn't make a whole lot of jokes, it was true. He wasn't a comedy kind of guy. "Let me get this straight. You want me to fly back to the terrible crater, pick up some big scary dead guy and bring him back here."

"That's not how I would have phrased it. In fact, that is not how I phrased it."

"Yeah, but--" He knew it was dangerous to start an argument with Rufus, especially when he was all stressed out. "--do you think that's what you'd call a good idea?"

"It's not your place to question my decision."

Reno didn't like the sound of Rufus' tone, so he decided to go with a stock response. "Okay, you're the boss!" He said it with a smile, but he scowled as he hung up. "Ought to just bomb that crater or something. It's giving me a headache."

When he reached the helicopter, Rude was already there. Reno sighed loudly for Rude's benefit. "Ugh, can you believe this? We almost died last time. Along with everyone else. So this is great, right? What a fun trip. Can't wait!"

Rude shrugged.

Reno punched him in the arm. "Hey, give me a little support here, partner! I could use it."

"Yeah, it's gonna be fun."

"You're no help, you know that?"

"What do you want me to do?" the man asked, his eyebrows rising over the top of his sunglasses.

Reno took a step closer to him. "How about you give me a kiss in case we die?"

"That's real optimistic, Reno."

"Stop messing with me. Just kiss me, okay?"

Rude kissed him. They weren't supposed to kiss on the job, but no one was around, and at the moment, Reno didn't care. He threw his arms around Rude's neck. It was hot and good, and by the time it was over, Reno kind of wished he hadn't started it. Now he was frustrated and anxious. Rufus should have at least given them time to do it before they had to leave. Stupid president.

Tseng and Elena showed up a few minutes later, and it was too much like last time. He didn't like it. "Let's bring back more stuff from the crater. That never goes wrong," he muttered.

He hated the trip to the crater. There was nothing to see on the way, unless you liked rocks, and the whole time, he kept remembering the last time he'd flown that route. He found himself glancing out at the ground below more often than he needed to, looking for something strange--maybe a figure dressed in black or a flash of white hair.

Vincent was waiting for them. Reno saw his red cape blowing in the wind, a bright flag telling them where to land. The site wasn't inside the crater itself, but a short distance to the south. Good. That was a relief.

He sighed as he flew closer. Vincent wasn't alone. A shorter, blonder person was standing next to him, glaring up at the helicopter. Great, Cloud. Oh well, it could have been worse, and if there was trouble, at least Cloud had that big sword of his.

Vincent didn't glance at the helicopter as it landed. He kept his gaze fixed on something at his feet. Reno didn't have to wonder what that something was.

"Hey guys." Reno jumped out of the copter first. Even if it was his funeral, at least he'd be the first one there. "How's it going?" Rude was a step or two behind him, and the other two a few steps behind Rude. Reno found himself hurrying, suddenly eager to see what they'd come there to find.

Sephiroth looked pretty dead. He didn't seem to be breathing, though the ice around him was partly melted. Otherwise, he didn't look much different than he used to look. "Okay, let's load him up."

"Your frankness and simplicity are refreshing," said Vincent.

"Thanks," said Reno, though he knew Vincent was being sarcastic. "I don't want to have Mr. White Nightmare in my copter any longer than I need to, so let's get this over with."

Unfortunately, he was the only sensible one. It wasn't as easy as that. Cloud had to have a big talk with Tseng and Vincent. He and Rude stood guard over the corpse, in case it woke up. Reno resented getting corpse duty. Tseng thought he wasn't any good in a debate, even though Tseng didn't have a single bit of evidence to prove that.

"I wish I could kick him," Reno said, splitting his time between eying the frozen man warily and looking at almost anything else to spare himself the sight.

"Go ahead," said Rude.

"I'm not gonna really kick him, are you crazy?"

"Could be your only chance."

"I know you're messing with me." Reno gazed down at the man again. "If he opens his eyes, I'm going to freak the fuck out. I'm seriously running back to the copter and taking off right away. I mean it."

"Sure, Reno."

"Fine. Then I'll hit him with my stick. Right in the face."

"You do that. It'll go over real well with the president."

"Sure it will. I can save the world too, y'know."

"Way to go, hero," said Rude.

"Yeah yeah," said Reno. It was a crazy thought, kicking Sephiroth, but now that he'd said it and thought it, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Maybe it was the hysteria. Whatever the case, as he stood there, waiting, he kept shifting his weight from foot to foot. Finally, he settled on a center of balance, raised one foot, drew it back, and kicked. The sound of his boot against the ice was unexpectedly sharp, ringing out in that quiet place. The ice cracked.

Rude instantly grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. "Reno."

Tseng, Vincent, and Cloud had broken off in the middle of their conversation. The combined force of their glares made Reno take another step back of his own accord.

"I didn't mean you should actually do it," Rude hissed.

"I know you didn't." As scary as those three glaring at him were, even scarier was the thought of looking down at Sephiroth again. What if he'd opened his eyes? Reno didn't want look, but he had to. He made himself do it, stared full into that white face. The eyes stayed closed.

"Idiot," said Rude, but Reno knew he was only worried.

"It's okay," Reno said. "I'm fine." He did feel better, calmer. All he'd had to do was kick a dead guy. Funny how that had worked. He wouldn't have thought that it would. He let out a breath and let a smile spread across his face. Standing at attention, he felt like himself again.

Tseng turned his back. Reno knew he'd have to hear about it later and get reamed out by Rufus, but for the moment, he was happy to be alive. The three serious guys finished their talk, and they decided that Sephiroth would go up in the helicopter. Vincent and Cloud would follow. Nice. Not the best idea he'd ever heard, but he'd do what he was ordered, like he always did. They put Sephiroth in some kind of fancy restraints, and they said there weren't any weird readings coming from him, which was more reassurance than nothing at all.

When the man finally opened his eyes, Reno knew it at once. It wasn't like he'd been expecting. They were already flying, nothing surrounding them but wind and sky. A tension ran through the copter, as if everyone had shuddered at once. No one said anything, so it was up to Reno to glance over his shoulder and see for himself.

Sephiroth's eyes were green like a cat's. Focused on nothing, they stared into the distance. They gave Reno the creeps.

"Keep your eyes on the sky, partner," said Rude.

"Yeah, I know what I'm doing." Reno turned around. "Who's the pilot here?"

He tried not to think about it, but for the rest of the trip home, he was aware of those eyes, open behind him, staring at nothing. On the bright side, at least he wasn't sitting in the back.


IV: Rufus

The decision to bring Sephiroth back to Midgar had been a difficult one, but the mission had been a complete success. There had been only one instance of misconduct, which was not bad for a mission involving Reno.

Where the Jenova Project was concerned, perhaps Rufus should have "learned his lesson" by now, as some might have put it, but the potential value of Sephiroth and his knowledge was limitless. Rufus had deemed it an acceptable risk, as he had received certain reassurances.

I'd prefer he not be killed, Valentine had said, speaking calmly on the other end of the line, from so far away. If it can be avoided.

Since then, Rufus had read the reports, the endless results of endless tests. Those he hadn't read personally he'd had Tseng summarize for him. The information was reassuring enough. The readings matched those that had been taken years ago, when Sephiroth had been one of Shinra's most valued assets. This man was no construct of Jenova, although he was not human either.

The reports said that he barely moved, not even to blink. He remained still, sometimes staring, but more often with his eyes closed.

Among all the reports, there was one note that had stood out to Rufus, more than any other. It wasn't an official part of a report. It was a single phrase someone had written in pen on someone else's report. There were few copies kept of any documents relating to Sephiroth, for security reasons; this one had been read by someone else before reaching Rufus' desk, probably while it was still in the lab, waiting to be sent to him.

The note read: Appears unhappy in a laboratory environment.

Rufus knew that the author of the report was not the same person who had written the note, because the handwriting was familiar to him. It was the clear, even handwriting of a person who often wrote out things he was thinking without fully realizing what he was doing.

Years ago, Rufus most likely would not have noticed this particular note. If, by chance, it had happened to catch his eye, he would, at most, have chuckled at it, then forgotten it. The world had changed. Now, he was more likely to pay attention when Reeve Tuesti spoke--or wrote, in this case.

In cooperation with the WRO, Rufus had allowed the man access, if not full access, to materials relating to the subject in question. Reeve himself had not sent Rufus any reports, as he was not involved with the project, merely allowed into the lab a few times as an observer. Reeve had undoubtedly filled out some impersonal paperwork regarding what he'd witnessed, but all Rufus had heard directly from him was this single line of handwriting.

When Rufus first received that particular report, he read it and put it aside, but he did not file it with the other read reports. He took it out again later. Appears unhappy. Who would write something like that?

Reeve, of course.

Rufus tried to put it out of his head. One couldn't allow oneself to be led by sentimentality or fanciful notions. He admired Reeve, but the man could be more compassionate than wise. How could anyone say whether Sephiroth appeared happy or unhappy? According to all other reports, he had no emotional reaction whatsoever to his surroundings. He appeared barely conscious of them, although his brainwaves were normal, so he was aware of what went on around him. Aware, but not concerned.

Though Rufus had only read the reports.

"I can't go to see him," he said. "That would be absurd." Then he became aware he was talking to himself.

Rufus exhaled sharply, frustrated. He picked up the phone. There was no need to offer a greeting when his call was answered. "Tseng, I need you," he said.

"Yes, sir."

The laboratory was sterile and gray, though not so bleak as the Shinra labs had been in his father's time. He didn't believe that visiting Sephiroth was particularly dangerous. If the man did take it into his head to harm him, his chances of doing so were not greatly increased by Rufus visiting him, considering the fact that nowhere in the city would be safe, if there was a problem. Yet there had been no problems, and he doubted his presence would agitate the man, if he hadn't been agitated already by the tests and his confinement.

Sephiroth's enclosure was a miniature fortress, as formidable and reinforced as Shinra technology could engineer. Its walls were transparent. The man was lying on the bed that had been provided for him. He did not stir as Rufus approached, flanked by Tseng and Rude. His eyes were closed. He appeared to be sleeping, but this appearance was deceptive.

Noise would not pass through the walls of the enclosure, but there was an intercom. Rufus activated it. He had already decided how to approach the situation, so he did not hesitate. "Sephiroth, this is Rufus Shinra."

The man did not react in any way. Even like this, still and silent, his long hair cut, his body dressed in the pale, soft clothing that had been given to him, he was imposing, more so than the technological citadel that enclosed him. Undaunted by either the sight of Sephiroth or his refusal to reply, Rufus continued. "You must be wondering what we intend to do with you in the long run. That is why I'm here. To discuss the matter. You have a choice. You can remain here, indefinitely, or I can have you moved to a medical facility."

This earned a response. The man's eyes opened.

Rufus tried to see what Reeve had seen, the unhappiness, but he saw nothing of the kind. Those eyes were blank and cold. Rufus neither flinched nor wavered. "With a view to releasing you on a probationary basis, if your treatment and rehabilitation are successful."

The man sat up. Another few minutes passed, and Rufus began to wonder if he was going to sit there staring at them until they left. Then the man drew a breath. He spoke, his voice low and a little slow, but not labored. "That isn't necessary."

Tseng and Rude tensed at the sound of that voice, but Rufus remained calm. He was satisfied that he had chosen the right method to elicit a reaction, pleased that he had succeeded where his best scientists had not. "Necessary or no, I would prefer not to confine sapient life forms in our labs."

"Is that so?"

The pointedness of this question did not escape Rufus' notice. "Shinra's policies regarding scientific ethics have changed in these past years."

"I see."

"Make no mistake, you will not be allowed to join the general population, and you will remain under observation, but if all goes well, I see no reason that you shouldn't be granted some limited freedoms."

"I will remain Shinra's property."

Rufus sniffed. "You are Shinra's responsibility."

"I should not be here." What sounded like weariness crept into the man's voice. Was that the sadness Reeve had written of? Empathy was not one of Rufus' gifts. His first impulse was to ask himself why it should matter to him how Sephiroth felt, but the wisdom of experience quickly checked that thought. It did matter, because this man's feelings had been a great part of what had led to so much suffering. It had not been his strength or his brilliance or his pride that had caused him to go mad. It had been the emotion that strength, brilliance, and pride had not been able to contain. The knowledge that he was not human had driven him mad, but ultimately, madness had been a human reaction to that knowledge, hadn't it? Reeve must have realized that.

Rufus himself had never been a specimen in a lab, but he knew what it was like to be kept in isolation, forcibly removed from the world. Perhaps he could not empathize, but on some level, he could understand. "Yet you are here," he said.

Sephiroth had no response to this. He lay down and closed his eyes again, and Rufus, to his annoyance, sensed that he was being dismissed.

"Very well," said Rufus. "I will see that you are moved."

Having reverted to his motionless and silent state, Sephiroth did not respond again. Tseng glanced at him, asking wordlessly, Are you sure?

He was sure. If Sephiroth had wanted to destroy the city, would he not have attempted to do so by now? The greatest danger lay in the possibility that his madness would return. Leaving him to rot in a lab did not strike Rufus as a viable route to Sephiroth's metal stability.

"See that it's done," he snapped, once they'd left the reinforced enclosure and its occupant behind.

"Yes, sir," said Tseng. Whatever his personal feelings on the matter, Tseng did not voice them. The man knew when to follow orders. Rufus found that reassuring. A tension that he'd not realized had gathered in his limbs relaxed itself, bringing him a feeling of relief that spread in a warm rush through his limbs. How funny: he had not realized he'd needed reassurance until he'd received it.


V: Reeve

"It's a pleasure to see you again, Mr. President."

"Thank you for coming so promptly, Reeve."

Reeve nodded and smiled as he sat down across from Rufus Shinra. "I'm happy to be of service, sir." As usual, one of the Turks was in attendance: Elena in this case, which made Reeve more nervous than he would have been otherwise. She stood behind the president, at attention, and he smiled at her, too, which earned him a slight nod.

"Oh, no," said Rufus smoothly. "It's nothing like that. My apologies if I was unclear on the phone, but as it is a fairly sensitive matter, I preferred to discuss it in person. I am not asking you for any favor or service. On the contrary, I'd like to provide you with something you may find very useful."

"Ah. I understand." Reeve had wondered why the man had offered him so little explanation over the phone. Though in many ways the company had changed, Shinra continued to guard its secrets closely, and they still had those who would prefer to see them fall.

"You've mentioned the fact that the WRO has a marked lack of scientists," Rufus began, "and it's true that there's a paucity of scientists in general these days."

"Yes." Reeve nodded, trying not to mind the man's cold allusion to the deaths of so many people. Rufus had an unusual way of expressing himself. He would make light of the most appalling events, but he didn't seem to intend any harm. If Rufus' coldness masked his grief, then perhaps he was a caring person deep down. He was clearly not entirely callous. He'd given an extraordinary amount to aid in the rebuilding effort. "That is unfortunately true."

"That's why I am offering you the assistance of Shinra's finest scientific mind."

"Finest scientific mind?" Reeve asked. That didn't strike him as a characteristic Rufus Shinra decision. Though the man had been generous with his money, he had been less so with his manpower. Not that Reeve couldn't understand. People were the most valuable resource these days. "That's a very kind offer. I could use the help."

"There is, however, a catch."

"Yes?" Reeve asked, unsurprised.

"This particular scientist is somewhat problematic. He would need to be monitored at all times, although I believe his contributions might ultimately prove invaluable."

A problematic scientist. Reeve decidedly did not like the sound of that. He glanced at Elena, seeking commiseration or information in her eyes, if only the barest flicker of support, but she was loyal to the president, and her expression remained closed.

"But there's no need to let you wonder," Rufus went on. "The scientist is Sephiroth. I am assigning him to the WRO."

Reeve was struck speechless. He had been informed of Sephiroth's retrieval, and he had been allowed to see the man. After a few visits to Shinra Laboratories, however, he had heard no more about the matter, Shinra predictably shutting him out after a goodwill display of disclosure. He hadn't heard there had been plans to remove Sephiroth from the lab, let alone allow him to work as a scientist. "Sephiroth--at the WRO."

"What better place for him?" Rufus seemed altogether too pleased with himself.

"I appreciate the poetic justice, as it were, but do you feel that that's wise?"

Rufus folded his hands, regarding Reeve over them. He did not answer the question, instead asking one of his own. "You knew him, didn't you? Before his collapse."

What a way Rufus had of putting things. "I knew the general, if not well." It felt strange to speak of him as a general again. Reeve had felt like the general had died a long time ago. It had been hard for him to believe that the fantastical, horrifying, brutal murderer who had swept through the world had been the same person as the imposing yet polite man who had nodded and very respectfully said hello whenever they'd passed in the halls at Shinra HQ.

In some ways, he supposed they weren't the same. Alike, yet not. Was it really the general who had been found at the crater? Perhaps it was, since so long had passed and there had been no problems. If he had reverted to his old personality, he was probably suffering. It was easy for Reeve to conjure in his mind the image of Sephiroth in the laboratory, because he had found it a haunting sight. In spite of the things Sephiroth had done, Reeve hadn't liked to see the man like that: motionless, desolate.

"You'll find him more like his old self, I think," said Rufus. "If not entirely."

"That is good," said Reeve slowly, trying to decide what do. He was not working under Rufus anymore, so he was not obligated to accept the offer of this most unique new employee. He wasn't thrilled by the idea, but he himself was the person he would most trust to look after Sephiroth in that capacity. He wouldn't attempt to harm him, and he wouldn't use him to do harm. It was absurd, and admittedly alarming, but if he was the best person for the job, then it was his duty to take it. "I accept your generous offer, sir."

"I'm happy to hear it. Because I care about your safety, I'll assign one of the Turks to the WRO for the time being, for your protection."

Reeve glanced hopefully at Elena.

"Reno," said Rufus, with a trace of smugness.

"Thank you," said Reeve, and at least the pang of disappointment he felt was slight.

"I'm pleased to accommodate you. You are doing Shinra a favor, and I will not forget it."

Reeve hoped he would not come to regret this "favor". The rebuilding effort already presented him with more than enough to worry about. He did not need an additional source of strain. Yet he did not voice his doubts. "It's my pleasure," he said. "As you said, he has a great mind. I'm sure I can put it to use."

"I'm counting on you, Reeve. I'll arrange an interview with him. You should speak with your prospective employee beforehand, at least."

Most of Shinra's top medical facility was admirably devoted to helping the sick, often for little or no cost, but there was a high security wing for special cases. His escort, a polite if silent man in uniform, led him through the clean, echoing halls to where the hospital proper ended and the special section began.

"Heya, Reeve," said Reno, who was leaning back against the wall outside the door to the wing. "Been waiting for you."

"Hello, Reno. It's good to see you."

Reno narrowed his eyes, searching the corridor behind Reeve. "Your kitty's not with you today?"

Reno and Cait Sith did not exactly get along. "No, I saw no reason to bring him."

"Good. Then let's get going."

"You've spoken to him?" Reeve asked Reno once they were through the heavy security door and it swung shut behind them. He didn't say Sephiroth's name. Only a few people were aware of the fact that he'd returned, and it didn't seem wise to mention it any more than was necessary.

"Oh, sure. I think Rufus put me on Big S detail to punish me, but the joke's on him. We get along great."

"Really?" asked Reeve, and then, "Big S?"

"Big S is my own personal code name," said Reno. "And yeah, he's not a bad guy." The man laughed at his own words, then turned to wink at Reeve. "Hey wait, he is! But he's been behaving himself, and that's all I care about right now."

"That seems sensible of you."

Reno shrugged. "Just doing my job." He frowned and appeared thoughtful for a moment, which was unusual for Reno, but whatever he was thinking, he did not say it, instead falling silent until they arrived at their destination: another security door. "Here we go," Reno said, leaning in so the scanner could get a look at his retinas. The door clicked open. "I'll wait for you out here. Shout if you need any help."

That was not the most reassuring thing Reno could have said, but Reeve nodded. "Thank you very much."

Sephiroth was waiting for him, seated in a chair placed next to his hospital bed. He looked very different, dressed simply in black slacks and a white shirt, like a Turk without the jacket and tie. His hair had been cut shorter in the lab, but now it was even shorter, chin-length. Most surprisingly, it had been dyed brown. It made sense that they wouldn't want him to look the same, but it was jarring.

"Good afternoon," said Reeve. There was a second chair not far from the one Sephiroth was occupying, and Reeve sat in it. Reeve was trusting to Rufus now. Rufus had told him this would be safe.

"Good afternoon," Sephiroth replied, in that polite general's voice that Reeve had almost forgotten the sound of.

What did one say to someone in Sephiroth's utterly unique position? That was quite a puzzle. Reeve did his best. "The president has told me you'll be coming to work for the WRO. I'm sure your expertise will be useful. We're working on a variety of projects at the moment."

"I will work on whatever you'd like me to work on."

"I don't doubt that I can find something you'll enjoy."

"That is not necessary. Tell me what to do, and I will do it."

"If you prefer."

Their gazes met. Years ago, when he'd happened to pass the general in the hall, Reeve had generally been pleased, if a little nervous. Today, he felt what he could best describe as a thrill of terror. If Sephiroth saw his fear, he did not react to it. Neither his gaze nor his expression so much as flickered. Reeve assumed Shinra was going to do something to disguise those eyes of his before he left the medical facility, but they hadn't done so yet. "That is what I prefer," Sephiroth said. "I will do as instructed, and I will not trouble you or your staff."

"That sounds ideal," said Reeve. Although the situation was not actually ideal, he felt he could make it work.

As it turned out, Sephiroth was a model employee, if not a highly social one. He kept to himself and did his work. Reeve placed him in one of the more isolated offices, and happily, no one paid him much mind or asked too many questions about him. In the past, people might have been more curious, but after everyone had suffered so much, a person who didn't want to talk about himself did not seem so unusual. Silence was more respected now than it once had been.

Sephiroth had been given company housing to live in. Reeve assumed he was living near the Turks, considering the fact that Reno was keeping an eye on him. He didn't speak about where he lived or what he did after work. He worked a great deal, although he was not allowed access to sensitive equipment or materia, and most of his what he did was theoretical. Every morning, when Reeve came in, he found something from Sephiroth waiting for him, as the man apparently did not stop working at night. He must have had a terminal at home.

Reeve read through all his figures and found them flawless. Sephiroth was a fine scientist. Perhaps he was Shinra's best scientific mind, as Rufus had said, but perhaps he wasn't. His work was sound and at times brilliant, but it was not particularly imaginative.

When Reeve spoke to Sephiroth, the man listened intently. He did not offer a great deal of input in return, but Reeve later saw the things he'd said reflected in Sephiroth's work, responses to his suggestions worked out in numbers and formulae. It was nice to be listened to like that.

At first, it seemed that Sephiroth was settling in, but as time passed, Reeve had cause to be worried. Sephiroth began to speak less instead of more, and his volume of work continued to increase, in quantity if not in quality. When Reeve finally noticed an error in a calculation, he grew alarmed. It was the first definite mistake Sephiroth had made. The man might have had less successful ideas or have taken his research into unproductive areas, but careless errors were unusual coming from him.

Reeve could have reported the error to Rufus, but he decided to talk to Sephiroth first, hoping that that was the wiser course of action in this case.

The man appeared almost at once when summoned.

"Please, have a seat," said Reeve.

Sephiroth sat.

"Here you are," said Reeve, handing him his own calculations. "Could you please look this over for me?"

Sephiroth noticed the error almost at once. Reeve saw it on his face, a shift in his expression. "My apologies," he said. "It will not happen again."

"No need to apologize." Reeve knew what was about to come out of his mouth, and he tried to stop it, but the platitude slipped out before he could catch it. "Everyone makes mistakes."

Sephiroth stared at him. His eyes were masked somewhat by the contacts Shinra had given him, but there was a gleam in them that no artifice could survive. Reeve thought he might be about to say something, so he waited, but Sephiroth did not speak. He seemed to be waiting for Reeve to speak again.

"Correct it, that's all. That's what you do with mistakes."

Sephiroth nodded.

"Good," said Reeve. "That's all I ask. However--" He hesitated, not sure if he was actually going to bring this up, but he decided that he should, as awkward as the subject might be. "As this hasn't happened before, I'm concerned that there might be an underlying problem. Are you happy, working here?"

Sephiroth said, "I am satisfied with my position here."

"Yes, but--I know you've been ordered to report to duty here, but you're not the property of Shinra. You do have some choice in the matter, limited though it might be, considering the situation. Honestly, I feel very uncomfortable with the thought of someone working for the WRO against their will."

Sephiroth inclined his head the barest fraction. "I understand your concerns, but they are not warranted. This is the best situation I could hope for."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Reeve, but he wasn't satisfied. "Then--perhaps there's some other matter that's troubling you? You can feel free to bring up any issue with me. Your well being is of great concern to me."

"I am sure that it is," said Sephiroth.

His tone was mild, but Reeve did not doubt that the man must have been acutely aware of everyone's fear of him, everyone's acute awareness of the fact that he might go mad again. Reeve himself had been given a side arm to wear, as well as stern instructions from Reno regarding what he was to do in the event of any sign of mental breakdown on Sephiroth's part, instructions which boiled down to shooting first and not asking any questions. Reeve didn't wish to dwell on the possibility of having to do such a thing, so he nodded, as he would have done to any employee, and said, "Of course. I'm concerned with the well being of everyone on my staff. Even if it's something that's not related to work, perhaps something--personal? I'd be happy to discuss it with you."

"I have no personal problems."

"Perhaps that's part of the problem, in a way. I'm worried that you might be working yourself too hard."

Sephiroth's eyes widened a noticeable amount, if only briefly. "I am made to work. It is no hardship."

Reeve wanted to express his objections to the idea of someone being created to work, but he decided it was not a good time to bring it up. "Your work ethic is quite admirable, it's true. But I think it might improve your productivity if you took some time for yourself. Even if it's just to rest and meditate."

"I will keep that in mind. Thank you, Mr. Tuesti."

"No need to be so formal. Call me Reeve."

"Very well, Reeve. Will that be all?"

Reeve didn't say the man's name, but he had reason to avoid speaking it. "Yes, that's all. And remember, you can come to me with anything that's bothering you. Please don't hesitate to do so."

Sephiroth rose smoothly and prepared to go, but he hesitated in the doorway, as if reluctant to leave.

"Yes?" Reeve asked, hoping that Sephiroth would open up to him after all, if only a little.

Sephiroth did not. Instead, he observed impassively, "It appears your robot and Reno are engaged in an altercation at the far end of the hall."

Now that Sephiroth mentioned it, Reeve could hear their voices in the hall. He laughed nervously as he jumped to his feet and hurried around the desk. "Oh, don't worry about that. They like to joke around. But I'd better go and check on them--sometimes they take their jokes a little too far."

By the time he managed to separate Reno and Cait, Sephiroth had gone, presumably back to his office, without a word. Reeve took Cait in his arms and managed to calm him down. "Reno, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure, man. What's up?" Reno straightened his shirt and jacket, miraculously without managing to make his clothes any neater. In fact, he appeared more rumpled when he was done.

"You're friendly with Sephiroth, aren't you?"

"Yeah, we're kinda buddies."

Reeve could tell that Reno took a perverse pride in their association. Reeve scratched Cait behind the ear, eliciting a low purr. "Has he expressed any dissatisfaction to you?"

Reno scratched his head and considered. Reno was reckless and could be difficult to control if one was not Rufus, but he was clever and observant. "Sure. I guess. He's not a happy guy. Why would he be? He almost killed everybody."

"But you don't mind associating with him."

Reno shrugged. "I killed a lot of people, too."

"Does it bother you?"

Reno grinned at him. "You my therapist now?"

Reeve realized that had been impolite. "No, I apologize. I'm simply worried about him. It must be alarming to wake up and find yourself responsible for so many atrocities."

"I think you're the only guy who's so worried about his feelings, Reeve." Reno reached out to pet Cait, too, then scowled as the cat moved to nip at his fingers. "Hey, what's your problem?"

"I haven't got one, except for the redhead who keeps pulling my tail," said Cait.

"You pulled mine first."

"Oh, you've got a tail now, have you?"

"You know what I mean," snapped Reno. "My hair."

"Boys, please," said Reeve. "There's no need to fight."

Reno blinked, then laughed. "Ha. You sound like our dad."

Sadly, Reno's words were not far from the truth. The two behaved like disobedient children at times. "Yes, well, if you're good, maybe you can have ice cream," he said wryly.

"Very funny." Reno rolled his eyes, then took a minute to reconsider. "Can I seriously have ice cream?"

Reeve shook his head. "I suppose so."

Reno leaned in toward Cait, sticking out his tongue. "Yeah, and I should get all of it, because robot cats can't eat."

Cait sat up in Reeve's arms. "I can so!"

"But it's wasted on you, cause you're just pretending."

"I said you'd only get ice cream if you didn't fight," said Reeve, finding the whole situation absurd. He was using ice cream as leverage while mediating between his Cait and a Turk, while worrying about Sephiroth's well-being. Whoever would have thought he'd reach such a point in his life? He certainly would never try to guess at what the future might hold again, not when the present had turned out to be so bizarrely beyond all prediction.

Following their talk, Sephiroth's behavior changed, if not drastically. He fixed the error in his calculations at once and sent the corrections to Reeve. More importantly, he began to work from home less, and he made more of an effort to go out of his way and speak to Reeve, even if it was merely to say hello and ask how he was doing. Sephiroth had listened to him, much as he did in matters of research. That reassured him.

He felt he could try to be a little more friendly himself, as Reno had somehow managed to form a bond with Sephiroth, and Reno was--well, Reno. He was not the most empathetic person Reeve could have named.

Reeve kept a cot in his office. His job kept him so busy that he did sleep in his office sometimes, when he stayed at work too late, although he tried to avoid it. Cait didn't approve of the practice. Yet with or without Cait's approval, sometimes it could not be avoided. Sephiroth often worked late, too, to Reno's chagrin--until Reno's guard duty was reduced to a few shifts a week, once Rufus decided that Sephiroth had settled in at the WRO.

One night, Reeve was deciding between his cot and the journey back to his residence when he realized that he was not alone. Of course, the guards were there, but as Reeve walked from room to room, checking on results, he saw that Sephiroth's office was occupied, the light still on, the soft sound of typing identifiable within.

Reeve made his way to the office. By the time he reached the doorway, Sephiroth had paused in his typing and turned toward the doorway, waiting for him to arrive. Reeve supposed Sephiroth must always know when someone was approaching him.

"Hello." Reeve smiled and gave a little wave. "Working late, I see."

"Yes. I hope that is acceptable."

"As I'm working late myself, it wouldn't be fair of me to chastise you this time, would it?"

"No, I suppose not."

Reeve reminded himself to treat Sephiroth like a person. He forced certain unpleasant images from his mind. He asked himself what he would say in such a situation to someone who was not Sephiroth. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I have not."

"We could order some food, if you like."

Sephiroth did not so much hesitate as neglect to respond for a few moments. Reeve began to wonder if that was his way of refusing the invitation, but apparently it was not. "Yes," he said. "I should not neglect to eat."

"Excellent. There's this little Wutai restaurant down the street that delivers." Too late, he remembered the war in Wutai and asked carefully, "Would that be all right?"

"I would enjoy that."

After the city had been leveled, the restaurants had returned, almost before anything else. People would always need to eat, and they would always need comfort, community, a place to gather. That was the way of humanity. Reeve found it heartening, the way people could return to being themselves, even after the worst had happened.

Sephiroth actually seemed pleased by the prospect of Wutai food. He ordered something Reeve had never heard of and had specific instructions for the cook. Reeve relayed these uncertainly over the phone, but they seemed to please the man taking the order, who was happy to find himself talking to someone he believed understood his cuisine.

They ate together in Reeve's office. Sephiroth was as quiet as always, but his quiet enjoyment was plain enough on his face. Reeve was glad he'd managed to cheer him up. "If you ever forget to eat again, and you find yourself hungry, let me know. I can't have you starving on my watch."

"I don't need to eat daily."

"But there's no reason to deprive yourself."

"You're very kind," said Sephiroth. It was difficult to tell if the words were meant as a compliment. They sounded more like a simple observation.

"I'm simply--"

"--concerned," Sephiroth finished for him.

"Yes, that's apt enough." Reeve smiled.

"You need not make any special effort for me. It is preferable that I not socialize."

"Oh. I see. If you'd rather not, I understand."

"It is preferable," Sephiroth repeated.

Reeve didn't think that was the same as preferring not to. "What did you usually do with your friends? In SOLDIER, I mean." Reeve knew even as he said it that it was a risky and perhaps foolish question to ask.

Sephiroth answered him readily enough. "We sparred, often. I am no longer permitted to handle weapons."

"Nothing more--festive?"

"Sometimes. I was not as--festive, as you put it, as some of the other SOLDIERs."

"I know what you mean. I myself am not known for being festive."

"Yes. Not known for being festive is a fine way to put it." Sephiroth took another bite of his food. His gaze unfocused. He seemed to be thinking of something else. Reeve hoped he hadn't conjured up an unpleasant memory, but it must have been a pleasant one, because Sephiroth smiled faintly. "I was not known for being festive," he repeated at last. "Attempts to remedy that all failed."

Reeve smiled back, as that struck him as a joke of sorts. "You needn't worry. I won't be attempting to make you more festive."

"I appreciate your satisfaction with my current level of festiveness."

Reeve laughed. "Indeed, you're fine as you are." What an odd thing to say to that man, yet he had said it, and he wasn't going to unsay it.

Sephiroth studied him, then. Again, Reeve watched the gleam hidden behind his contacts. Cold. Inhuman. His scrutiny was impassive, and if it brought him to any conclusion, it did not register in his eyes. Sephiroth returned his attention to his meal. He spoke but a little after that.

Yet the overall mood between them brightened after they shared that meal, to the point where their greetings were warmer than they had been previously, warmer even than in the old days, when he remembered passing the general in the hall.

It was unexpected that he should get to know Sephiroth, finally, in these circumstances. As weeks passed, the horror he had associated with the man did not fade, but it began to disconnect from Sephiroth's current incarnation. Perhaps it shouldn't have. Perhaps he should have been more vigilant, less trusting.

He was tired of being so vigilant. Tired of not trusting. That was probably why he wasn't prepared for what happened.

Since they both worked a great deal, their impromptu meal together was soon repeated. It did not exactly become a regular occurrence, but soon enough, it was no longer unusual. Reeve found that he liked talking to Sephiroth, although it could be understandably awkward and was frequently difficult to get more than a few words out of him.

Unbeknownst to Reeve, one too many late nights and delivery dinners affected Sephiroth in unforeseen ways. He was taken by surprise when, one evening after they had eaten together, Sephiroth hesitated to leave his office. He stood in the doorway, watching Reeve's face.

That wasn't so unusual, so Reeve wasn't worried by it. "Is everything all right?" he asked.

Sephiroth touched his cheek, and Reeve found himself temporarily unable to speak. He did not say a single word as Sephiroth leaned down and kissed his mouth.

Sephiroth had a SOLDIER's directness. Before Reeve recovered enough to react, Sephiroth's hands were on him, touching him in ways that were decidedly unprofessional. Reeve felt--conflicted. His body and mind had different ideas. "No--I don't think this is a very good idea." He managed to pull himself away, took two steps back.

Sephiroth did not make any attempt to close the distance that had grown between them. "My apologies," he said. He turned away.

Reeve didn't stop him from leaving. Once Sephiroth was gone, he touched his own cheek, his lips, hardly believing what had transpired. He had not been briefed on what to do in such an eventuality. He wasn't the kind of man who expected to incite that kind of interest in others. Not that it was unprecedented, but he didn't expect it, especially not from that particular man.

If it had been anyone else, he might well have returned the kiss, but it had not been anyone else. It had been Sephiroth.

Reeve shook his head. How could such a thing have happened to him?


VI. Sephiroth

Isolation was no hardship for Sephiroth. Years alone would not bother him. He was conditioned to withstand it.

The only times he had found it at all difficult to bear had been during the brief periods in which he had had a contrasting state of affairs to compare it to. Times in which he had known friendship.

Companionship underscored solitude.

The greatest loneliness had been madness. Madness itself was alienating. It set one apart. Once could have no partner in it. Two madmen in the same room would not share the same madness. Yet in his madness, he had not missed his companions, so he had not felt alone.

He missed them now.

He did not waste his time ruminating on their deaths. What purpose would that have served? He was unsure of whether he could grieve. Perhaps grief was too human for him. Perhaps he had been trained not to feel it. The result was the same, regardless of the cause. It was not necessary for him to feel grief, or to feel anything at all.

The absence of his emotions clearly suited those he worked for. He could not blame them for wishing he remained, for the most part, mute and mild. There was within him a certain undercurrent. It ran deep: unheard, but not voiceless for want of being heard, like an underground river. It was best to leave it where it was, unearthed.

Killing him would have been the wiser and far more logical course of action. They had not killed him, but keeping him alive had not been a kindness. He wished to be allowed to die at last. He would not end his own life, but if death came, he would welcome it.

They had not killed him, so he had done what he was asked to do. They'd asked him to sit in a lab, so he had sat as still as a living specimen could. Then, surprisingly, they had moved him to a hospital, and after that, they had given him his own quarters. His own home, his own job. He'd begun to work as a scientist, which he did enjoy. The data was cold, clean, easy to work with. He would not have expected to be accepted back into society, even in such a limited way.

Humans were surprising. It could be difficult for him to remember that he was human, too, if not entirely.

Of all the people he had been introduced or reintroduced to since his latest, quietest return, it was Reeve Tuesti who treated him the most like a human. He had never given the man a great deal of thought before. For a time, he had probably forgotten that Reeve existed. Yet upon reawakening, he had discovered that the man was a powerful figure in the new world government, and also an inventor who had created an impressively sophisticated AI--albeit one in the form of a cat.

It seemed he had miscalculated more than once. He had never taken the man for a force to be reckoned with, so consistently had Reeve been overshadowed by the other, more flamboyant executives at Shinra. Reeve had exercised stealth, camouflage, and restraint, all fine tactics which were necessary to adopt in hostile environments. It interested him.

He was surprised that he could feel something like interest for human beings again. He noticed the small details of their lives, the shifts in their emotions. He had witnessed Reno's fear turning to curiosity and then into a curious enjoyment of his company. Humans forgot so easily.

Day after day, as he worked quietly in his office, making his calculations and manipulating his data, Sephiroth found himself forgetting too. He hadn't thought he was capable of that. Perhaps he was human, too, or very nearly.

If humans were good at forgetting, they were also skilled at remembering, when they wished to do so. Sephiroth remembered. He had felt things once, things that he recognized in the people around him. When Reno stepped closer to Rude and tried to pull his tie askew. When Tseng lowered his head and did not smile at Rufus, in a way that was something like a smile. He saw it in the other men and women around him, the way they looked at each other. They were happy in each other's company.

He remembered what that had been like, a long time ago. In another lifetime. Youthful laughter and blue eyes that were quick to shift from joy to uncertainty. Closed now, those eyes. Sometimes the past caught up to the present, but that did not mean there was no such thing as loss. There was more loss in the world than anything else.

So many lost things would never be found again. If Sephiroth had not been found, he would not have minded. There were so many, more worthy of being found, of returning to life, but life was not bequeathed upon those who deserved it. It did not remain with the meritorious. It was treacherous, cruel. Fleeting, wasn't that what humans said?

Life, real life, made one warm. It made one foolish, weak, rash. In a moment of weakness, he forgot himself and kissed Reeve's lips. He had not decided to do it beforehand. It was no planned military maneuver, but a reckless exploit.

Reeve had pulled away and very politely refused him.

"My apologies," Sephiroth had said.

That night, Sephiroth did not sleep and he did not work. He sat alone and looked out the window at the stars. How human it was to look at the stars, not because they were cold and remote with vast expanses between them, but because they were beautiful.

Date: 2011-02-17 05:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] redvelvetaddict.livejournal.com
The stars are beautiful... a poetic ending.
This story is beautiful, too.

Memories, romance, and tears... So many gifts you give to the readers.


PS. WE'RE KINDA BUDDIES <3
I had to make this comment less tuna, more ~*~FESTIVE~*~

Date: 2011-03-26 06:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Hey, I didn't reply to this comment! What a jerk I am!

Anyway, thank you, baby. I'm especially glad you enjoyed the poetic ending. And also, you are my favorite Tuna.

WE'RE KINDA BUDDIES. <3 <3 <3

Date: 2011-02-17 05:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] armistice-day.livejournal.com
Appears unhappy in a laboratory environment.

Oh, how good you are to me, and how well you warm my DOOFUS HEART. Your recipient couldn't like it more.
It's all so lovingly, hilariously, touchingly, awesomely, quietly, heroically perfect. You give me the nicest gifts, baby. ♥

Haha, I could clutter up this comment with a ton of favorite bits, it's so hard to choose when the whole thing is my favorite bit!

When Reno stepped closer to Rude and tried to pull his tie askew. When Tseng lowered his head and did not smile at Rufus, in a way that was something like a smile.
♥ ♥ ♥

PS REEVIROTH 4VR

Date: 2011-03-26 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Aww, even though my reply to your loving comment is SHAMEFULLY LATE, I'm so glad you liked this! It was all for yooou. As you are my fellow Reeviroth shipper (ha ha), I had to deliver! I'm so happy it was what you wanted.

♥ ♥ ♥

Date: 2011-03-25 10:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kalong-chan.livejournal.com
Oh my, how I love your writing and this story. I hope you don't mind if I friend you, so I can keep updated when you post new fics?:D I love you ATLA and FF7 fics, hehe.<3

Date: 2011-03-26 06:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Oh, thank you so much! I'm really glad you enjoyed this. I really appreciate the nice comment.

I hope to have something else FF7 or ATLA to post soon, and I'm flattered that you friended me. *friends back*

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