In the End
"Gentlemen," she said, smirking, to the two men behind her also carrying firearms. He might have survived a single shot, but three bullets would fell him like a bookcase. "General Sephiroth is our prisoner. Take him!"
"So…this is your thanks for my efforts to rescue you?" Sephiroth grunted as the two disarmed him. Due to the unwieldy nature of Masemune, the hijackers had some difficulty in carrying it. Sephiroth felt some small satisfaction in that. A part of him itched to grasp her hilt and ram her thin blade through their ribs, but the pragmatic part of him noted how foolish that endeavor would be.
Besides, why not allow them to lead him to their lair?
Her back hand caught him on the cheek, a delayed reaction to his acidic comment. It stung and the SOLDIER glared at her and she at him. "You're one to talk, General." Kathleen teased the title on her tongue as she teased his neck when her hand lowered. "How many have you killed to appease Shin-ra…or your own bloody desires?"
"I am a solider, Kathleen. I stab a man in the front—which is something you can not claim yourself!"
A second slap. "Shut up." She drilled the gun into his temple. A test of his nerve. Not a particularly effective scare tactic. Sephiroth cared nothing for his life—why value something of no value? It was the knowledge that any whimsical action of his might spell death for others, others in his charge, that kept his tongue behind his teeth.
Kathleen's hand dropped to the small of his back as she directed him to go on ahead of her. As an automatic reaction, the general stiffened, his mind swirling with unpleasant memories of contact. "Don't try anything, Sephiroth," she whispered by his ear, her breath hot on his skin.
Failing to favor her with an answer, the general commenced his trek down to the ship's hold. Corridor after corridor, the four marched. As they came across some body-length containers, Sephiroth's brow furrowed. Though the general didn't frequent many establishments, the odd time he did rumor indicated that some wild experiments had been conducted by Shin-ra, usually some outlandish alien claims.
Not that Sephiroth believed them entirely, of course, but he conceded that every lie contained some truth to the matter.
As they at last happened upon the correct chamber, Kathleen threw open the door. The commander had to blink to dispel the flashes created by the bright light emanating from within. All through the short distance he'd marked up the ship's interior in the back of the mind. Should they manage to escape, they'd still need to disable Miranda in time…
How much time remained? How much?
All his thoughts vanished as the SOLDIER stepped in, his eyes taking in the sight. Michael lay crumpled, face down, in a pool of his own blood. Dead? Probably. Dale mauled a half-lucid Lanine, who'd had her wrists manacled. Her clothes littered the floor, torn as to be no longer worn. Other bodies lay in the darkened corners.
This was not the glorious rescue mission he'd envisioned.
A shove from behind, likely Kathy, sent Sephiroth stumbling into the chamber. He righted himself gracefully, shooting daggers at her with his stare. That was paid no heed, as she instructed the two men to drop his sword. They did so swiftly, glad to be rid of its weight. Sephiroth's gaze drifted to her hilt, gleaming with several materia orbs.
Then those mako-green eyes flashed and his hand drifted to his belt, inching for the single untaken materia. Before the general could act, however, a prism of multi-colored light surrounded him and he recoiled from the heat. There was no where to recoil to and so Sephiroth bore the brunt of the searing pain.
"I told you not to try anything!" Kathleen stamped her foot, holding a materia orb. "Try again and I'll make that pyramid so hot it'll burn the eyeballs right out of your head."
Growling, Sephiroth stood down.
Having noticed their arrival, Dale ceased his assault on Lanine to hover around Kathleen and her prisoner. They shared a quick kiss, then his former subordinate muttered, "You see, Sephiroth, good does win out in the end. All of your evil efforts are for naught—Miranda will destroy Junon Harbor and, thanks to your assistance, kill Shin-ra's senior military staff."
Realizing the futility of negotiation, still Sephiroth attempted, favoring that over what he imagined was about to occur. "I told you before, Dale—committing an evil to smite another does not equal good….it only makes the original evil grow. How do you think Russell will react when he learns who did this? You condemn yourself and your loved ones to a fate far worse than that you seek to inflict on anyone. Evil is evil even if it disguised as good."
"I'm sure you'd think that," Dale sneered, flashing his half-missing teeth. "You'd say anything right about now. The great General Sephiroth, captured by a single woman and slain in a ship of his own people…Thank you for helping to fulfill my wildest dreams."
All that effort…and in the end…it wouldn't even matter…
His hand slipped to his belt, caressing the green materia orb. Eyes of like color lifted to spy his beloved Masemune shining on the floor like a shaft of distilled starlight. Those eyes trailed to the two 'Shin-ra troopers', shifting to Kathleen, who currently flirted with them, then to Dale who groped the semi-consciousness Lanine. Then, to the porthole…
Junon Harbor…So near!
Fate take me in your hands!
Swiftly speaking and tapping, Sephiroth deactivated the shield. In a fell swoop, he seized Masemune and elbowed one of the guards. Then, he dove for Dale and Lanine, intent on severing the head off his traitorous former subordinate.
Something under his feet caused Sephiroth to stumble.
His head hit the floor, momentarily disorienting him. The general's gaze landed on the implement of his falling—a tiny ring with TOUPH enscripted on it. In the corner of his vision, Michael rose and leapt at the nearest guard. Someone else rushed past, but Sephiroth ignored it for now, seeking to aid his heroic-foolish subordinate.
In swiftness no naked eye could view, Masemune cleaved straight though the other guard's skull, splattering his blood and brain matter on the general's fine clothing. Wiping his face, Sephiroth saw Michael strangling the other guard. The man gave a last pathetic gurgle, then his eyes rolled up in his head.
Like a razor on skin, Kathy's voice tore into the silence. "No, Dale! What have I done..? No, it…it wasn't me…It was…Sephiroth! How could you kill such a good man! You bastard, you'll die for this!"
His hair swirling like a silver waterfall, Sephiroth spun around. He fully expected that when his eyes reached his stomach blood would be pouring out of hole lodged there by a bullet. Yet, when the general glanced down, he remained injured. His gaze flew up to see the swooning figure of Kathleen.
A voice…"I…I loved her but—but I could not allow her to kill my commander."
"Terry!" Mike's shouted, as the dark-haired lieutenant emerged from a side door. His expression stony Terrence stepped over the bodies, including that of his professed love's, to reach his superior. "Commander, sometimes you have hard choices in life. That was mine and I made it."
The general laid a hand on his shoulder. "And you made the right one. I see a promotion in your future."
Shrugging away the comment as he shrugged Sephiroth's hand off his shoulder, Terrence stepped over to a console. The Commander walked to Michael, sweeping up his blade as he went. His fears for Michael's health were unfounded; the lieutenant squirmed to a sitting position. Raising a hand to forestall his superior's words, Mike asked for him to tend to Lanine.
"As you wish," Sephiroth said as he rose to cross the distance to his other lieutenant. He stooped to her prone form. In an uncharacteristic gentleness, the general brushed her cheek with his hand. Her eyelids fluttered and she gave a groan. Sephiroth could afford no more time in rousing her politely and so shook his subordinate hard.
"Wha…What…Sephiroth?" Lanine eyes focused and she smiled. "You came…for me."
"Of course. You are in my service. I am charged with the protection of my subordinates."
A chuckle issued from her bloodstained lips. "Oh, Sephiroth…You never change."
Before the commander could take her in his arms, Terrence hovered, an ill-favored look on his face. Sephiroth nodded, indicating for his lieutenant to speak. "Commander, we must depart. Someone has tampered with the controls and the ship is on auto-destruct. I can't even steer her course away from the harbor. Miranda must be shot down."
Lanine stirred. "What…what about…the other…passengers?"
Yes, Sephiroth, what about them? The many for the few? Or the few for the many? Could he gamble further with the lives of thousands in hope of salvaging a dozen? Had he truly believed that his 'heroic' jaunt on the doomed vessel would affect the outcome? Why…Why had he hoped when all that remained was despair?
In the end…it didn't even matter.
"Commander, we have less than fifteen minutes!"
"…But the people…the children…"
In the false stillness of the moment, Sephiroth shut his eyes, blocking out their voices. He reached deep within himself for the answer. He'd often overheard people telling one another that delving within often lead to the solution…
An image of Junon Harbor, wreathed in flames, bodies in the streets, flashed in his mind's eye.
Then that image contorted to passengers roaming Miranda's decks just to hear the sound of torpedo.
In the wake of his internal torment, Sephiroth took refuge with the one thing emotions could not dispute with—logic. The numbers did not match up; a dozen did not equal thousands.
As if turning off a facet, the general shut off his guilt. Collecting Lanine in his arms, Sephiroth faced Terrence with steely eyes. "Lieutenant," Sephiroth extended a hand. "Your PHS."
As Terry sighed audibly and Lanine groaned, their superior activated the device, ignoring both. As it bleeped to life, Sephiroth tapped in Baron's code and spoke, "Captain, this is General Sephiroth. Code Platinum. A1B2C3D4E5. Torpedo Miranda in five minutes. Do you copy?" Every humane cell in the general's body screamed at him to halt, but his voice remained firm.
Seconds passed, then…"Copy. Five minutes, shoot down Miranda. Over."
There. Just like that. He'd done it. Ordered the death of perhaps several dozen innocent people. Again, the general put his emotions on hold to tend the pressing crisis awaiting him. Stuffing the PHS in his pocket, Sephiroth snapped his gaze to Terrence, "Lieutenant, help Michael stand and follow me."
Immediately, Terry threw Mike's arm over his shoulder, acting as a crutch to lean on. Sephiroth lead the way out through the many corridors and antechambers. Given their numerous injuries, they moved far too slowly for Sephiroth's tastes. Irony played a large part in the general's life, and he enjoyed none of it. Appearing on the deck of Miranda just as torpedo struck it wouldn't improve his temperament toward irony, especially.
If I just call the Baron to hold off a few more minutes…No! Sephiroth cursed his own empathy. How ever am I going to be able to safeguard the harbor if I keep playing hero?
Hero…What an amusing notion…
Though Sephiroth's photographic memory detailed the ship's interior, progress was slowed due to the contaminated areas. Fortunately, Terrence piped up with a short-cut. Considering the time remaining (or lack thereof), and how often he'd proved his worth, the commander grunted an assent.
As they neared a corner, the lights flickered out, quenching all sight.
"Up here, Commander."
Like fresh blood, light from a red material flashed in the chamber. It illuminated Terrence's face with a chilling effect. That did not hold Sephiroth's attention, though. The sight of a hatch did. The lieutenant rapped on the steel, and it popped open. More light, from the sunlight rushed down, eating up the darkness.
"Well done, Lieutenant. Proceed."
Assisting the hazy Michael up the rungs of the ladder, then Terry pulled himself up. His hands reached down to grasp Lanine's wrists as Sephiroth lifted her. Once that was completed, the general heaved a sigh and leapt up into the afternoon sunlight. He'd not a moment to lose, the commander knew and so instructed Terrence to summon the helicopter. As time expired, his fear of his foolishness intensified, but that was shortly dispelled the noise of chopping propellers.
A rope ladder dropped down.
Omega A1. To Sephiroth, despite the grime on masking her Shin-ra logo, she was a beautiful sight. "Up, now!" he ordered. Again, Terrence assisted Mike up but the going was slow. Concerned for Lanine, who was slung over his shoulder, he dismissed normal protocol to wait until the rope ladder was free before ascending and grabbed the end. He barked up a command to the pilot to make haste. Propellers cut through the air viciously as Omega A1 swiftly swept up.
Not a moment too soon, either. A loud boom followed by shockwaves prompted Sephiroth to glance down. As in his mind's painting, Miranda burned, smoke pillars reaching high into the sky. Though it would take several hours for the entire vessel to disappear under the waves, that same morbid mind had little problem imagining its descent. His gaze quickly shifted to Junon Harbor…untouched.
A sacrifice…was it worth it, though?
"We did it!" Mike shouted, gleeful. With his proclamation the silence shattered and the helicopter erupted into clapping and joyful cries. The rescued passengers patted each other on the back and embraced, weeping. Lanine sang, Mike cheered, the pilot bounced up and down in his seat and even Terrence managed a smile.
Everyone celebrated…save Sephiroth.
"Just one picture, Commander. For your fans."
Two mako-green eyes blazed.
"Another time, perhaps?" gulped the photographer. The stare Sephiroth set upon him could have melted the Nibel Mountains and he fingered his collar, stammered an apology and fled fast into the throng of people. The garishly-dressed guests shot him disapproving glances. They quickly turned away, however, as his gaze flashed on them.
The general weaved through the crowd. Ever so often an inebriated woman would stumble into him and knock his wine onto his fine military outfit. Then, with slurred words, she'd invite him to a upstairs room in The Harbor Hotel. Though Sephiroth coldly shot them down, they kept coming, forcing the general to concoct some wild tale of how he'd already had 'entertainment' for the night.
Suddenly another woman appeared in his path and the commander raised a hand to shoo her aside when she spoke.
The elderly woman grasped the crimson sash across his chest, her eyes hopeful. "I've not had word about my son…please, tell me, what has become of him?"
With a sigh, the general fished out the ring inscribed with TOUPH out of his chest pocket, rattling the many jewels on his red-and-black coat. The instant her eyes dropped to the item, Ms. McFerson gasped, anguished. In spite of that, Sephiroth maintained a cold posture. "I'm sorry, madam, but your son is dead." And good riddance.
Her words dropped as pins on his heart. "I made that for him when he was a lad—he carved the word in himself….he couldn't spell, you see."
Sephiroth stared blankly. Family bonding moments had meant nothing to one who didn't experience it. With a helpless shrug, the general opened his hand, offering her the ring but the woman wanted no part of it. Perhaps it remained too much of a reminder, but Ms. McFerson rushed into the crowd, bumping into several Shin-ra aristocrats along the way.
More damn irony…
Sighing a second time, Sephiroth pocketed the ring and then faced the voice's owner: President Russell Shin-ra. One of his arms slung around a woman's shoulder (not his wife's) while the other brought a cigarette to his lips. The smarmy sneer on his face boiled the blood in the general's veins.
"I bet you're thinking that I'm gonna bitch at you…but, I'm not!" If the President expected a thank-you he received none for Sephiroth remained silent, brooding. He continued anyway, "'Cause you did as you were told in the end." A plume of smoke climbed to the ceiling. Sephiroth coughed more to exhibit his annoyance than anything else.
"I guess there isn't much more fun than watching Miranda blow sky-high, huh?"
Seeing Miranda explode had been no fun, but seeing the President spin in the air and drop onto the marble floor was. After the initial shock, Sephiroth slammed his fit into the laughing face of Russell. Scarlet shrieked in a most undignified manner. As if frozen in time, the crowd of happy people halted, mouths agape, eyes wide.
Sephiroth flexed his wrist. "I can think of some things." Collecting his cape around his person, the commander turned on a heel toward the elevator. Behind him, the President fumed, but Sephiroth paid him no heed. Instead, he tapped the UP button on the elevator and leapt in the instant it opened, nearly bowling over a young couple getting out.
Up and up the elevator flew, not fast enough for Sephiroth. His eyes shut, as if block the dreadful memory of Miranda bursting apart and the imagined sounds of the dying. On cue they popped open as the doors themselves did. The commander crossed the distance to his room, slipped the keycard through reader and entered.
Considering his status, the room boosted a fine set of furniture and some of most beautiful tapestries. That made no impression at all upon the general. As his booted feet passed the lush violet carpet, his eyes stayed locked on a single feature—a curtainless window. He breathed a moment, then glanced out.
His long silver hair sweeping behind him, Sephiroth snatched a book from the many on his desk—the North Corel Disaster. Then he slumped into a tan-stripped chair. A finger flipped it open and the general leafed to the last page he'd read. Through the window's crack rose the noise of the party. As usual, he ignored it.
He remained that way until dawn.