Shinra had decimated the Wutain Empire and took their materia as spoils from the war. Having defeated such a steadfast opponent was a mighty victory for them and thus, they returned home proud. Shinra was now the mightiest force in the world, with not a soul to stand in its way.

--

There was revelry to be had in Junon and Midgar. The troops had come back home to their families with heads held high. Ceremonies were going to be had honoring the soldiers who fought hard and sacrificed harder. Promotions and medals would be presented, new and better lives offered. The stairway to fame and fortune would be served on the back of humbled Wutai.

But for Sephiroth, it wasn't about the recognition and it wasn't about the money. It wasn't even about the triumph which he helped clinch for Shinra in the Great War. It wasn't about anything. Life was still the same; he still drifted thoughtlessly from day to day. The world felt like a machine, routine and systematic to the bitter end. But he didn't care. All Sephiroth could do was live his life and do what he did to the best of his ability while waiting for nothing in particular.

Junon was unseasonably alive with plans for the festivities to come. The streets bustled almost crazily with preparations for the homecoming and victory parades. Countless streamers and banners were dangled off the sides of buildings, lampposts were adorned with humongous ribbons, and flags emblazoned with the infamous Shinra Weapons Manufacturing logo were raised to half-mast. Military personnel scrambled here and there, mapping out the upcoming parades' courses. Soldiers in and out of uniform were drilled persistently in the streets.

Yet Sephiroth was not among them. He had been called to the Junon branch of Shinra Weapons Manufacturing HQ rather hastily. He was neither given nor had a clue as to why he was summoned but never questioned the higher authority, as a good soldier shouldn't, and allowed himself to be escorted there. A jeep awaited him as soon as he exited the barracks. Salutes were given, and then he was immediately whisked down the street through town. While the two privates that accompanied him chattered proudly amongst each other (and tried to usher the other into conversation), Sephiroth barely uttered more than two words. The men were unnerved by this but, otherwise, let their enthusiasm flow onward.

The midday sun basked in the golden sky above Junon and the ocean that separated the Eastern continent from the Great. The strong rays beat against the windows of the high sloping building that was the Junon branch Shinra Headquarters. The bronzed exterior was befitting of such an industrial port city. Ever since his teenage years in training, Sephiroth knew this environment all too well, almost down to the last detail, or rather, every last detail that he was permitted to memorize.

"Here we are, Colonel. You are to report to the head office, ASAP."

"Understood." Sephiroth entered the complex that preceded the corporate building and boarded the elevator to the interior.

He couldn't help but wonder all the while. There was a sneaking suspicion that whatever the higher ups wanted him for, it likely couldn't have been in his favor. Treatment regarding his person in the past had been unusual, and perhaps if he were a regular human, cruel. But he was not a regular human. He was a soldier of Shinra. Men of sound body and mind that showered in the Lifestream's energy and thusly, were enhanced. But beyond that, there lied the unspoken goings-on. Confidentiality between doctor and patient, as Hojo, that greasy, shady scientist, had once uttered. Of course, his word was more often than not a load of bull. But Sephiroth behaved like a good little boy, a good obedient soldier, and gave no protest. He spoke not a word.

In the midst of his ponderings, Sephiroth just barely noticed that the elevator had stopped.

The main lobby. Here, too, it was busy, more than he would've liked. But the silver haired soldier maintained a straight and steady posture, a smooth wooden face, and made his way to the stairs that would take him up to the head office.

Eyes longingly spied on the man from afar. No one heeded her presence, and for that, she was glad. She jumped from her seat and quickly ran towards the elevator, and from there on, into the busy streets of Junon.

"Welcome, sir. You are cleared for entry."

Sephiroth bee-lined his way past a pair of armed guards standing outside some steeled double doors. He pushed through them into the chambers beyond.

The air smelled heavily of cologne, cigar smoke, a faint hint of leather. The head office was awash in the glow of the sun, with slanted patterns of light cast down on the Oriental rugs (one of the more luxurious spoils taken in the war). And from a brief scan by the ocean green eyes of the soldier, book shelves and glass-covered displays of fancy items flanked the walls. It was the perfect atmosphere for a fat cat of the Shinra Weapons Manufacturing Company.

"Ah, here he is, our shining star."

"Sir." Sephiroth instantly jumped into salute of his superior seated at the desk before him. The short, burly uniformed man rose from his leather backed chair and waddled around the corner of the desk to meet face to face.

"Gyahaha. At ease, soldier."

Heidegger had long been the commander of Shinra's military power and the minor, developmental Public Safety department of Midgar City. He was rotund, gruff, and frayed about the edges. The man even sported a telltale scar over his left eye, which gave him something of a sinister air. But to Sephiroth, he was hardly sinister as much as eccentric. It was a fitting description to accompany his incompetence; it was a wonder he managed to keep this job of his.

"Now, you're wondering why you've been called here today, yes? Heheheh," Heidegger chuckled as he drew near to Sephiroth's side. He stroked his bushy, dark brown beard and nodded to himself as if in triumph of creating a masterpiece out of the lofty, silver-haired young man before him. "As you may or may not have known, during the war, we'd been observing certain soldiers whom we thought deserved a little more out of their military lives. Heheh."

"What Heidegger is trying to say is that you happen to be one of those men…of course," a voice arose.

Hojo.

Sephiroth had, no doubt, seen the weasly looking scientist standing off to the side, but he hardly gave him any more thought than a fly. His view of the particular lowlife had not changed ever since his childhood. Hojo was not worthy of his attention, but merely his contempt, instead.

"Gyaha, indeed, he is." Heidegger slapped a heavy paw upon Sephiroth's armored shoulder, beaming a toothy grin stained sickly yellow from years of smoking cigars. "You, my boy, are going to be promoted because of your masterful efforts in the war, offered one of the highest positions available. Your salary will upgraded to top tier, all personal expenses, healthcare, and lodging are taken care of. Anything you desire. You'll be a general, m'boy. There's nothing greater…below President Shinra and I, of course, gyahaha. What do you say to that?"

"Sir, it is an honor, sir," Sephiroth replied in his soldierly tone.

"Of course it's an honor, Sephiroth," Hojo interjected with a sneer of sorts. "I'd be overjoyed were I in your shoes. For being the best of the best…"

"Gyahaha! Ceremony for promotion takes place a week after homecoming, where everything will be moved to Midgar."

"Heh, it's obvious he can hardly contain his enthusiasm, though nevertheless, he's doing a good job," said the scientist. He pushed his spectacles further up upon his hawk-like nose and then folded his arms over the other in thoughtful hauteur.

--

Sephiroth had been returned to the barracks, or rather, less than halfway. He hopped off the jeep as it began to slow to a crawl when the two privates noticed he was going to jump during motion. They watched him nervously as he strode away in the opposite direction of the north end of Junon.

The sun was slowly setting, though still high above the waters' horizon. Sephiroth approached the enclosed stone balustrade that separated the street from air and gazed down at the beach below. The polluted beach. He could see as well as anyone what Junon was doing to the poor fishing village upon which it was built. But of course, it wasn't his problem. Nevertheless, deep down, it did come as a shame to the young soldier.

"Hmph…"

There was a tug on his leatherbound arm.

Sephiroth spun around in alarm to see who had the gall to sneak up on him, of all people.

At first his eyes only caught on empty space, which faintly confused him. But then a movement that flickered below his line of sight caused him to step back, his back pressed to the barrier.

It was a girl.

Just a girl. It made Sephiroth scoff derisively at himself that such a whelp of a thing could get the better of him. By something of an impulse, he glowered darkly at her; but just as soon as that look crept across his face, it faded to wonder. He tilted his head to one side and made his feline eyes like slits against the frame of the little girl that stood there. There was something familiar about her. And it wasn't just her appearance, with hair and skin not unlike his that she possessed.

"You… I've seen you before…somewhere."

A big, wide smile beamed out of her face.

"…what do you want?"

The girl waved at Sephiroth, unfazed by his suspicion of her. She made a reach for his gloved hand. But he quickly withdrew it out of range in half disgust and half surprise.

You don't remember me? Has it been that long since we last saw each other?

"…Who said that? You?"

The girl glowered and stepped back. She shook her head, disheartened, and huffed at the soldier. Sephiroth looked down his nose at her in disbelief. The familiarity she displayed with him he found appalling. There were few, if none, that knew him on anything above the level of acquaintance.

"Who do you think you are?" The soldier snorted at her and started to walk away.

Wait! Don't go.

He didn't bother to answer the babylike voice that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Are you still so bitter? I thought you would've changed…if only a little bit.

Sephiroth's agitated departure had slowed, his tightly clenched hands loosening. There had been a time when he was called bitter. But he couldn't remember exactly by whom, or even when…until now. It had to have been this very same girl; he had no doubt now. It was her. But she hadn't changed in the….decade or so since he helped her escape from Hojo that one lonely Christmas. How could that have been? What a discovery if she were the fountain of youth so many sought after.

"What was your name…wasn't it Drana?" Sephiroth asked.

You DO remember? I'm so happy. I was afraid you'd forget me, even after what you'd done for me. Did you have a merry Christmas?

The memory was blocked.

"No."

I…I'm sorry.

"It wasn't your fault."

Do you wanna walk with me? I'd really like it…that is, if you aren't busy.

Drana's eyes were unusually large; perhaps it was just a common physical trait among children but it still unnerved Sephiroth to an extent.

The soldier's glare came harsh from his green eyes and their faint bluish glow. He wished from the pit of his gut that he knew everything there was to know about her. So that…within the core of his being, he wouldn't feel somehow threatened. If he knew this girl, he could face her head-on, face down those pure eyes like the sturdiest of mountains against the elements. Her small innocent voice couldn't faze him, her smiles couldn't befuddle him, and her frowns couldn't upset him. If only he were like a mountain, one of those great gods of nature. A god of immovable, insurmountable strength.

"Nngh."

Were that soft whimper a gust of wind, it would have knocked Sephiroth clear off his feet.

"You…" Sephiroth glowered down at Drana, as she clung to his arm. He didn't bother shrugging her off this time. "…what?"

You look like something's wrong.

"What do you know of how I look?" he sneered. Suddenly, his armor began to bear heavier on his shoulders. Or was it something more? He couldn't grasp it, though he wasn't really trying, not just yet.

You try to keep everything buried, don't you? But…it'll surface sooner or later, no matter what.

"Who ARE you? I have to know… Now."

Take a walk with me. Drana smiled warmly at the silvery haired colonel, who of course, dismissed it with little more than a turning of his head towards the golden sea. A light tug on his arm drew his attention back to the frail thing at his side. Please, just this once? Then I'll never ask again…okay?

"…make it quick."

Drana's mismatched eyes lit up like mysterious stars. She herself looked as if she would jump out of her skin and fly away in grand delight.

--

They looked very much a strange couple as they strolled, albeit rather forcibly, down the reasonably populated streets of Junon. Sephiroth couldn't help but dart his eyes about like a cautious cat, a stalker being stalked. Every person he and Drana passed was one too many that saw him with her. The girl clung to the soldier's stiff arm as if she were his child, or even worse, his puerile lover, and it appalled him. It was disconcerting to be seen with anyone so close to him as she was, but nothing could be done, short of physical harm. And even he knew better that that was best saved for the battlefield.

"Mnh." Drana gestured with her little hand towards the buildings that were steadily being decorated for Shinra's victory parade. Sephiroth only but shrugged in response. He had little interest in the celebrations that were going to be thrown in recognition of their triumph over Wutai. But the girl had yet to leave things at rest. She endlessly tugged on his arm, persistently trying to yank words out of him.

He growled under his breath.

You're so quiet, but you gotta have things to say, I know you do.

"I have nothing to say," he replied succinctly.

Don't you wonder anything? I do. I wonder about the people…the stars…everything. And it's fun to talk about them, too.

"But you can't talk. You use your mind instead, to let people know what you want to say…"

That's true…

"And people see you as a freak, because you aren't like them, because you're different."

Drana's head hung low, but her grasp on Sephiroth's arm never faltered. She felt like an anchor in the purest and simplest sense of the word but he didn't say it aloud. He merely thought it for a time then allowed it to recess in the back of his skull. Then the young man glanced down at the child beside him.

He said nothing. He gazed down at her almost longingly as she stood there in that simple white dress of hers. He vaguely recalled the days when he was younger and confined within the walls of Shinra Headquarters in Midgar. He saw her, too, imprisoned like a test tube animal in Hojo's private collection. Just like he had been, only given more privileges because he 'showed incredible potential.' But who knew what future lied in store for Drana if he never helped her escape from the mad scientist's clutches. Would she have ended up like him or some creature far worse? But they would never know now, lest she somehow wound up again as Hojo's personal guinea pig.

Questions other than what might have been began to form in the soldier's mind. Small ones, large ones; personal and impersonal. She was just a total mystery and he had to know. He had to know why she chose him out of so many people in the world to get attached to, whatever being attached to someone or something meant to her.

Sephiroth groaned quietly to himself. Walking aimlessly around with Drana practically grafted to his arm slowly became more and more frustrating. But there was no action without reason. She had to have been leading him around for more than just a good time. If in fact, she merely just cherished his company, that would have to be the day a star dislodged itself from the sky on a collision course straight for his body. But embellishment aside, it puzzled him to the core.

And soon he couldn't take it anymore.

But before he realized it, he'd been led from Junon down to the fishing village that resided miserably under its shadow. He thought it a miracle that he didn't notice the change in surroundings sooner. It was a possibility that he was so preoccupied with wonder about Drana that he allowed his external awareness to be compromised. On the battlefield, such an instance spelt doom for a soldier. The enemy would always take any and all opportunities to overcome the opposition.

What are you thinking about, Sephiroth?

"What business is it to you?" he questioned with a snort.

I was only asking…

"Speaking of which… What do you want from me? What are we doing here? There must be a reason why and you're neglecting to tell me." The soldier's sharp brow furrowed. He looked like a fair, green eyed hawk ogling its prey from a far-off perch. Drana shrank at the expression on his face, though contrary to her discomfort, never let go of his arm.

I…I just like you. You make me feel safe and warm. I just wanted somebody to be next to…

"You can't be serious. What do you see in me? That somebody like you could find…"

It's…just what I feel. I feel you're good.

Sephiroth scoffed at the girl's voiced but unspoken statement. She had to be a perfect judge of character in order to say something with as much conviction as she did just then. Or an ignorant one. He was good. The entire concept was laughable. If he didn't know where or with what he truly belonged, then why would this girl?

"Do you even know how naïve you sound… And I still believe you aren't telling me the whole truth," Sephiroth uttered, his eyes narrow and intent on slicing through Drana's supposed little ploy. She squirmed like an injured snake under his gaze, but it was hard to tell whether that was really because of him or not.

If anyone's naïve here…it's you. With that 'said,' Drana released Sephiroth's arm and raced through the village's dirty streets down to the shady beach. Bewildered and fuming, the young gray haired man stood there for what felt like an eternity. What a blow to his ego of unbending iron to leave him reeling inside the way he was. It was somehow hilarious the way Drana would switch from fragile purity to brazen insolence when trying to point out his faults. His bitterness, his naivety, which was the most amusing thing he ever heard, and so on. He could have wrung her neck. Her young, tender little neck…

"Young…young? I doubt it…why do you still look like a child after all these years…?" he muttered to no particular person or thing. He stroked his sharp chin in thought, all the while watching the girl from afar. Never had Sephiroth questioned anything in his life as much as he did now. For there had never been so many mysteries focused into one being that he'd crossed. It all struck him as interesting. In any other case, he would have never given this girl a single notion, not even a second bat of his eye in her direction. But he was fascinated; enchanted, almost.

It was out of his character.

Walking down to that beach was out of character.

Sitting down at the shore was out of character.

Looking into Drana's blue and green eyes was out of character.

"You make me mad, you know that?" Sephiroth said, his brow furrowed but devoid of tension. Drana's eyes widened steadily at him. They wavered over him hesitantly. "That's right. Don't deny it, you know you do. And that's the way you wanted it."

I-I dunno know what you mean. I'm just….

"You need me for something. Yes, I see… I see. Selfish."

No! I… It's all so hard to explain… I don't even know the right words, myself…

"Hmph."

I'll…I'll be leaving soon. Going home, to the only place where I know I'd be safe…

"…what's home?"

When I get there…it'll become clear to me. My home, where I belong.

"Why haven't you grown?" the soldier asked suddenly. "Why are you still a child?"

Hehe…actually, I don't know. Maybe it's just not my time to grow up yet?

"What are you? Are you even human?"

Um-

"What are you? Why can't you speak using your voice?"

I-

"Why are your eyes two separate colors?"

Please-

"No more questions? I know you can answer them but you refuse. Practice what you preach, Drana. You tell me I have things to say but keep them buried. What about you, eh? …Hmph, you're a hypocrite, just like everyone else in the world."

You're right… I'm sorry. But, I really DON'T know anything. It's the truth. Or I would've told you, gladly.

"I think we're done here. For I no longer have the patience," Sephiroth said as he rose to his feet. Out of the corner of his narrowed eyes, he saw the slight girl slump into a frown. As much as it inexplicably pained him to see that expression, he could not sit by anymore and listen to her babble on about things that might have held no true purpose. He was annoyed, he was bewildered, and he detested the feelings that brewed inside him. It had to end.

I'm sorry I wasted your time. I know you have better things to do.

"…hmph." Sephiroth turned swiftly on his heels and marched from the beach. He didn't look back, although he was tempted to do so. To see that little girl sitting there, cradling herself on the dirty sand as if she was the loneliest thing in the world.

Can I just say…thank you? Thank you for giving me my life back from that bad man… I hope you have a better life after this, too, Sephiroth.

"…too high a hope."

Sephiroth returned to Junon, back to his favored element amongst the other soldiers. The evening was approaching upon the port city almost full throttle and the night life was rearing its head gradually but surely. The barracks were practically empty save for a few officers and Sephiroth himself, whom had decided time was needed away from the festivities.

The gray haired soldier occupied his own spacious quarters adjacent to the barracks. The room was darkly lit, save for the lamp on his desk casting oblongs of light onto the desktop and the carpeted floor. He stood away from the light next to a shelf at elbow's height, filled to the brim with books, medals and random trinkets that he collected over the course of his time in the military. One particular trinket that he pored over was like a miniature candelabra made of carved stone and sharded crystal. It had been a gift from the late Faremis Gast, a treasure he'd acquired from the ruins of the Forgotten Capital and given to Sephiroth at a young age.

Next, there was a worn brown box that he came to look down upon. Its exterior had been carelessly chipped at with many a sharp thing. He picked it up and stared at it through the darkness outside the lamplight. It was so plain looking, except for the single motif of a flower on the lid.

After all these years, he had bothered to keep this silly box, though he was in no way obligated to do so. But again, after all these years, he had been urged to keep it in his possession. As it might've carried a glimmer of hope that no one else saw in it. A hope for better days, more fulfilling days than those of a soldier who did nothing but fight day in and day out. Might've. He didn't find himself gullible enough to believe in such a thing, at least not long enough to have gleaned any real meaning from it.

What childish thoughts.

"Could I be thankful for anything?" he asked himself. "No. Not even this."

Sephiroth opened the lid on the box. A tiny, clay colored angel appeared, placed upon a pedestal that rotated as a faint melody filled the air. The hidden mechanisms that churned out the quiet music would skip and repeat, due to wear and tear. But it always managed to play through its short entirety.

"I'm not thankful for the days your melody helped me sleep. I'm not thankful for you being the first true gift I ever received. I'm not thankful at all. I'm certainly not thankful that your owner had to leave me behind without answers I needed so much… I'm not even thankful that…I could've made a friend. Because she left. As they all do. Selfish."

The soldier shut the lid of the music box home and squeezed it between his gloved hands.

There was a knock at the door.

"Yo boss! You in there? We got parties to go to! What's a victory without a celebration, ya wet blanket!"

Sephiroth continued to bear his palms down upon the box. The wood began to splinter, the flower motif popped out of its relief in the lid, the hinges clattered mutedly on the floor. Springs and little cogs bounced upon the desktop and rolled into the darkness far beyond the other edge. He dropped the mess on the carpet underfoot and stepped on it lightly, grinding the broken little wings well under his boot.

"Goodbye," he said and headed towards the door.