A/N: Revamped. I think I managed to weed out everything that was in a dire need of fixing, but if you still catch something, let me know. The only thing I failed to fix was the inexplicable absence of Loz. I could not, for the life of me, incorporate him into this. (Okay, so maybe I didn't try too hard. Get off the case, plskthnx.) I'll make it a point in my A/N for the next fic that the challenge was about writing a pairing in a certain set of environments, but for now let's just pretend that Loz is sleeping or gone to gather firewood or... something.

Written for a LiveJournal 10settings community challenge. And before you ask – no, I don't have a life. If I had, I wouldn't have decided to partake in so many challenges. Besides, I always wanted to write about these two, so leave me be and let me play around in this sandbox.

Warnings: Slash. Approach it from whichever way you want to. It's nothing too explicit, though. And now that I squint... Sibling cutesy. Also: Self-beta, all screw-ups are my own fault.

Huh? What's this? I've written a male/male fic that's not M rated or higher? What is this world coming to?

Disclaimer: I know it, you know it, we all know it. And I'll be damned if Square Enix still hasn't been informed that they own the most amazing piece of work my eyes have seen in this century.


Cherished moments

World was slowly lighting up. The hitherto grey and shadow-filled world gained more and more colours as the sunrise neared. It was silent for no birds ever disturbed the peace of the Sleeping Forest where trees emanated a faint silver glow, the place being too sacred for something so worldly to be permitted entrance. Small ripples played across the clear, pale-green water even though there was no wind to disturb the surface of the lake. It seemed as though the whispering voices of the Ancients once inhabiting this place still lingered behind even if none of them remained in this world. Some people thought the place was haunted and avoided coming near the Sleeping Forest, but the duo that lay sprawled on the holy ground, with their bodies half-submerged in the chilly water of the lake, did not care much about the echoes of beings long since dead.

The two young males had no reason to fear those whispering shadows of ethereal presence. They had far worse echoes already haunting their minds. However, their personal ghosts were keeping silent at the moment, giving the two a time to rest. Lately, such moments had been very seldom and they chose to cherish every last one of them, not knowing when the next opportunity would come along.

"Brother?" a silent voice whispered to his right and Yazoo turned his head to regard his brother. Kadaj had stopped calling him and the other clone, Loz, by their names few months prior to arriving at the borders of Midgar, and he would never once admit that it hurt him somehow. It meant that Kadaj, the youngest of the trio, was slipping further and further away from him, heading somewhere he could not follow. Somewhere his arms could not reach to hold him through the darkest hours, keeping him safe from the nightmares that haunted his mind more than the minds of the older brothers.

"Do you think Mother hates me?"

The question took Yazoo by surprise. He turned on his side, carefully studying the younger's pale face, taking notice of the delicate frown on his forehead and the slight furrow of his silver brows. Kadaj had his eyes closed, denying him a further look into his thoughts, which he had really wanted to see. It worried him greatly because the teen had started avoiding eye-contact with his brothers.

"What makes you think that, Kadaj?" Yazoo thought it was important to keep using his name lest the teen forgot he was something else than just a 'Sephiroth Remnant', as they were called by their enemies and everyone else who happened to see them and live to tell the tale. He wanted to remind him that they were more than just three pieces of one whole. They were, whether one chose to acknowledge it or not, separate entities, complete in the way they were.

Kadaj did not answer his question. He did not even know what had prompted him to ask something like that in the first place. Yazoo was not the person who knew the answers he was so desperately seeking, so why had he expected his older brother to reply with anything more than a countering question? The teen shook his head and for a moment debated inching closer to his older brother to feel his warmth because a sudden chill had crept up his spine. He blamed the cold water and his own obscure wish to sit in the lake instead of just sitting beside it, but he had been feeling feverish all day and hoped the water would chase it away.

Yazoo noticed Kadaj shiver and frowned. He had to admit that the water was rather chilly. He could handle it, but the teen was a different story altogether. "You are cold," he stated, watching the body beside him shiver again.

"We should get out of the water." He made a move to get up, but Kadaj shook his head and reached out, green eyes snapping open and staring up at him imploringly. Yazoo stilled and dropped his gaze down to regard the hand that had latched onto his wrist. It had been a while since Kadaj last touched him. Lately, he seemed to be fleeing any kind of contact – physical and emotional alike – with his older brothers as if fearing his touch would do something to them, harm them in some way.

"Stay."

Yazoo did not find it in him to argue the order, silent as it was. The moments when he was allowed to be this close to Kadaj had grown so seldom that he cherished even the smallest and most insignificant things that involved just the two of them. Tentatively, he reached out to brush aside the silver strands falling in his brother's face, expecting to have his hand slapped away the minute Kadaj guessed his intention, but it did not happen.

Mesmerized, Yazoo watched delicate silver sliding through his leather-clad fingers, wondering at the contrasting colours and materials before his eyes met the identical green ones of Kadaj. He could see his own reflection in them, so very similar to the image of the other.

Their gazes had crossed before, but it was always during a battle or before it. The small child that had eagerly sought contact was gone, no trace of him had remained in those eyes that had once smiled and sparkled with joy. Sometimes, Yazoo felt sadness and regret of not being able to preserve at least something, some small part of that child. Despite the misleading aura of innocence, his little brother was changing more and more, and just as much as Yazoo was, Kadaj, too, was afraid of those changes. None of the three brothers knew where they were going to end up, considering the speed in which all the events were progressing in lately, but the ending could be nothing good, no matter what they forced themselves to believe in.

Yazoo decided to break the silence first, since Kadaj was starting to shiver non-stop now. "You will freeze if we stay like this."

Still, the younger one did not want to leave. "Then let's go deeper."

Yazoo gave his brother an incredulous look, but the hand on his wrist tightened its hold and Kadaj sat up, making water ripple from his movement, determination hardening the expression on his face. "Come."

Kadaj knew that both his brothers would follow him no matter where he led them, he knew Yazoo would never protest and always oblige, even if sometimes it drove him mad. Even if sometimes all the youngest of the clones wanted was the middle brother rebelling against him, snapping at him, and knocking some sense back into his head. But he never did. He never would. An unreadable expression plastered on his handsome face, he would just always tilt his head in that curious manner and follow along with his leader's wishes.

Just like it was happening now.

Kadaj tugged on his brother's arm, leading them deeper into the lake, walking backwards and keeping his gaze locked within the older one's eyes to make sure he had complete control in this situation. He liked to be in charge of everything that happened, preferred the role of a catalyst, and relished in the knowledge of being the cause and the reason and not just an obstacle.

Suddenly ground disappeared under Kadaj's feet and he was falling. Eyes widening in surprise, he managed to notice the distraught expression on Yazoo's face, the obvious concern for him, before he got pulled along as well. They were both sinking, but Kadaj felt no fear. His brother was with him. His brother would never let anything bad happen to him. Unbeknownst to himself, the younger clone was smiling while Yazoo was overcome by an emotion close to panic.

Silver hair floated in the water, obscuring the view on Kadaj's face, and Yazoo reached out with his free hand, taking hold of his brother and bringing their bodies closer in an attempt to pause their descend. He more felt than saw Kadaj's glowed hand tangle in his long hair, pulling them together until their lips met and they were sharing one breath in a kiss impossibly slow and as sweet as sin.

They did not know when their ascent had started, but suddenly they broke the surface of the lake, lips immediately parting in desperate gasps for air. Water dripped down their hair and faces as they held on to one another for dear life, refusing to let go of that small sliver of freedom they had just felt, but it was already slipping away and out of reach. They were never free. They were never their own.

"Brother," Kadaj whispered, letting Yazoo hold him and keep him afloat. The Remnant mourned the moment of silence he had experienced underwater – the complete absence of Mother's voice and the disappearance of the infinite reins of control someone else had had on him all this time. Mother was never pleased with his small breakaways, no matter how rare they were, and always struck back by whispering things in his ear. Things he did not want to hear, things that chilled him to the bone, things that he wished to be reality, things that were supposed to be his memory, but were not, and, most of all, – things that promised his rising above everyone else. "Brother..."

"Yes, Kadaj?" Yazoo queried silently, as if almost afraid to ask. He was trying to understand what those things, those thoughts flashing through his brother's eyes with lightning speed were, and yet he feared to understand. He dreaded to know the full extent of what was haunting his beloved brother, concerned that he would not be able to help him, that the youngest of their small, distorted family would leave him and Loz behind and go to a place where the older brothers would never be able to follow...

Relishing in the undivided attention he was getting, Kadaj grinned and shifted closer to his brother, intrigued by the warmth emanating from his body. "I'm not cold anymore," he announced in a hushed whisper, his eyes following a droplet of water rolling down Yazoo's ivory cheek. He let his gaze wander over his brother's face, taking notice of how wet strands of hair were sticking to his forehead and how water droplets had gotten caught in his eyelashes. Suddenly he desperately wanted to touch him and make sure that the image he was seeing was not just an illusion, but he did not reach out. He grinned at himself for the strange urge and wondered what Yazoo would say if he voiced out his thoughts.

A small smirk tugged at Yazoo's lips in response to the expression of devilish happiness on his brother's face, and all the concern was wiped from his mind, if only for a moment. Kadaj always looked that way when he had won a fight against someone, when he had gained something he had wanted, no matter how insignificant the goal had been. To him, every small victory counted. This, coincidentally, was also the expression he got when he was about to do something reckless, confident that nothing and no one would get in his way.

Without a warning, Yazoo found himself getting dragged underwater again, his brother's mouth pressed against his, seeking to control and dominate the way the youngest was used to. Lips against lips, bodies pressed together, and then they were sinking for a moment as long as eternity and as short as a heartbeat before resurfacing again. Kadaj had his hands tangled in his brother's silver hair, now wet and darkened to ashen grey, and his eyes searched the identical emerald-greens of his brother for any trace that would ask him to stop or plead to continue, but was met with a twinkle of curiosity instead. Yazoo reached out to brush his brother's damp hair away from his face, revealing the side he was always hiding from view. He did not think much of the moment, of his brother's actions, being more concerned about his health that had seemed to deteriorate in the course of the past few weeks. He was still not convinced that Kadaj was feeling better, no matter what their leader was insisting on.

"Brother?" Kadaj queried uncertainly.

"Yes, Kadaj?" Yazoo was going to use that name over and over again until his brother understood that he belonged only to himself, that he was not just a part of someone else. But it all seemed to be in vain, and he was starting to feel desperation creeping up.

"Do you hate me?"

Yazoo studied his younger brother, his leader, his reason to live, for a long while. The silence extended between them, turning Kadaj more and more sullen, making him draw further back in his shell before the other chose to pull him out of it once again, even if for a second.

The words came surprisingly easy. "No. You are my brother. I would never hate you." He paused, looking deeply into the other's eyes, making sure he would be heard and understood before proceeding. "But do you hate me, Kadaj?"

Kadaj looked taken aback for a moment. He had expected many things; perhaps even outright loathing from his brother. He was used to disappointments, used to losing things he held dear. It was the reason why he always strived so hard to get his way, to have things done the way he envisioned them, convinced that it would be for a greater good, that, in such a way, he could ensure that no injustice was done, ever.

He had never expected to hear anything close to what Yazoo had just said, and it made him wonder...

"Why? Why would you ask that, brother?"

Yazoo smiled serenely as he toyed with a wet strand of Kadaj's silvery hair, feeling a small stab of regret for not being able to get his brother to call him by his name even after such a shocking question. "You never use my name anymore. Did I do something that angered you, Kadaj? Did I somehow upset you, my brother?"

Kadaj inclined his head slightly, carefully thinking over his answer. He was not upset with his older brothers; he could never be, regardless of what they did. The only exception would be their betrayal, which would hurt him deeply, but the young leader knew they would never do that to him. Thus, the answer was not very hard to find. "No, brother. Never."

"Then why won't you call me by my name?" Yazoo pressed on, determinate to receive a direct answer. "Am I not worthy having my name spoken by your lips?"

Kadaj shook his head hastily, small water droplets scattering around in the air before becoming united with the rippling water surface again. "No. No, brother. Never. You are very much worth it."

"Oh? Would you like to share your reasons, then?" Yazoo arched one delicate eyebrow, eager to hear his brother speak of things other than Mother and Reunion, which were so rare nowadays. Earlier, they had conversed about freedom and all those small and strange things they had encountered on their way, but the number of those talks had started to dwindle, and, eventually, cease altogether. Kadaj had stopped wondering about the world and had turned into the icy and ruthless being he was now. Truth be told, the youngest of the trio had never been naïve, had never been gentle, but he had, at least, questioned things, showing his interest in anything else but that inexplicable drive to find Mother. Now, it seemed, there was only one thing on his mind – the wish to be united with their creator again.

Green eyes narrowed in suspicion like they always did when Kadaj sensed something out of place, something that raised unnecessary questions. He had come to hate questions because not all of them could be answered and most of the time the answers he received would only create more questions. He had come to realize that he liked, to some extent, predictable things. He liked his steps being spelled out for him, he liked to know how the events would unfold beforehand, but there was always a line beyond which he could not see, and it irked him greatly.

"Kadaj..." Yazoo's voice was silent and smooth, but never gentle. He was demanding an answer in that subtle tone. If one was not careful enough, it was all too easy to get lost in that velvety smoothness of his voice, so mesmerizing and spellbinding that, from time to time, even Kadaj allowed himself to submit to the dangerous allure, addicted to the strange thrill of knowing that he was being led away from reality. But he was always safe, confident that his brother would keep him out of daring at, if it ever came that far, the expense of his own life.

Tentatively, Kadaj leaned in closer to his older brother's ear, almost brushing his nose against it, to whisper, "Maybe I just don't want anyone else to hear how I say your name. Yazoo." He was grinning now, having taken notice of that tiny shiver that had passed through the other's lean body. "Yazoo," he drawled again just to see if it would bring about the same reaction again.

"I wish you'd say it more often, Kadaj." Yazoo brought his hand up to twine his fingers into his brother's silvery hair; a gesture that had always comforted the youngest one back in the day when he had been more responsive to physical show of affection, of appreciation; a sign that someone else was there, next to him, always ready to defend and protect if the situation called upon it. Now, even a reassuring hand on his shoulder was not accepted as easily as it had been earlier.

Kadaj did not respond. He only shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and pulled away from his brother. The chilly water was starting to annoy him and he wanted to get out of it.

Yazoo frowned slightly at the sudden rejection. It was still hard for him to get used to his brother's unstable mood and constantly changing thoughts, even if it had started several months ago. Nevertheless, he followed Kadaj out of the water, taking notice of the small shivers racking his brother's slender form as he became more and more exposed to the crisp morning air. He had to bite back a chuckle, seeing the disapproving look on the younger one's face when he realized that, leather or not, sodden wet clothes were not a pleasant thing. Kadaj shot back a threatening look at his older brother, sensing his amusement, but could not resist a crooked grin upon noticing the twinkle of merriment in Yazoo's emerald eyes.

"Would you like me to keep you warm until the sun rises high enough, brother?" Yazoo arched one silver eyebrow, slowly emerging from the water as well, and Kadaj allowed that silky voice work its magic on him.

"Keep me warm," he demanded from the older clone, suppressing the shiver of anticipation as he already envisioned his brother's arms encircling him in a protective hold, keeping him safe even if there was no real need for it and he was more than capable of taking care of himself. With inexplicable eagerness he leaned in to his brother's touch, relaxing against the other's lean chest, and silently wondered why their bodies fit together so perfectly.

Yazoo's grip tightened, his chin coming to rest atop Kadaj's head, and he pondered why everything had to be so complicated for them when there were always other ways. But then again, – taking the easiest path was never meant for them. And even if they could, they would never choose shortcuts, preferring all the hardships that were thrown their way because it made them stronger.

Yazoo smiled faintly, unaware that Kadaj had leaned his head back, green eyes studying his face intently, and the older clone completely missed the small satisfied smile appearing on his brother's lips.