Notes: Many thanks to everyone who has been following this story! I've loved writing it, and I'm leaving it open for a follow-up, because there are still misadventures that could be had in Wutai and because the plunnie is starting to form. I hope everyone will stick with me for it!

Chapter Ten

It has been three days since Emperor Kisaragi's youngest adviser Koseki was taken into custody. He has confessed to the attempted murder of the emperor and the murder of chief adviser Ryuuzaki, as well as being instrumental in the burning of Ms. Akemi Shidou's orphanage. He has admitted to his intentions to kill all inside, Wutaian and SOLDIER alike, and says that those with him had the self-same goals. He will not identify the other arsonists.

According to him, he deliberately released the blue chocobo from the stable and rode it into the woods. When he caught sight of the truck, he got down from the bird and scared it to make it run into the road. He had wanted to cause an accident and kill Commander Fair, but when he saw that he had failed, he decided to bring the commander back to the palace. It would keep up his ruse of being a nice person, as well as enabling him to oversee his enemies' activities as much as possible. It proved his undoing.

Chief adviser Ryuuzaki was originally part of his plans, concerned that the emperor was no longer fit to rule. However, when Ryuuzaki heard about what had happened concerning the near-poisoning, he decided that he did not want to be involved in the plot. He met with Koseki and told him to give up the idea, but the younger man was unreceptive.

Apparently he had already planned to murder Ryuuzaki, having determined that he was unfit for the tasks at hand, and the previous night he had cut part of financial adviser Takamisaki's drape rope in preparation for the crime. During the meeting the following morning, he choked Ryuuzaki to death and pushed the body into the pond. An hour later, as he walked with social adviser Aoyama, he feigned horror and shock at discovering the corpse.

He said that Takamisaki is innocent of all crimes and that he had no knowledge of the rebellious plot, which Takamisaki still insists to be the truth. There is not a reason to disbelieve it at this point, and he has been released and restored to his duties.

Today Koseki was presented before the people, his hands bound as loyal Wutaian guards stood on either side to prevent an escape attempt. Commander Fair and I attended. Emperor Kisaragi spoke publicly about the man's gross crimes and said that in spite of them, he would be given a fair trial. He also emphasized the fact that Commander Fair and I refused to end Koseki's life, in an effort to show that not all SOLDIERs are bloodthirsty barbarians.

Emperor Kisaragi also took the opportunity to give the finalized version of his proclamation, which has been heavy on his mind for the past few days. If anything, Koseki's arrest only intensified the emperor's desire to speak out against all crimes of hate and neglect in Wutai. The most important points addressed in his speech will be recorded here, if only for later reference as the people's reactions become known.

He said that Koseki was a young man who began his quest with an honest desire to save the land of Wutai from its oppressors. Over time, his views became fanatical and dangerous, with his hatred and his lust for power triumphing over and swallowing any good motives he had once possessed. Anyone vaguely associated with SOLDIER was an enemy in his eyes, even small children. But now his crimes had caught up with him and he would suffer the consequences.

The next aspect on which Emperor Kisaragi focused was that he intended to see that the same thing would happen to all who exercised views similar to his former adviser's. Anyone found committing violent crimes against another living person or neglecting to give help to those in need will be punished.

He mentioned his disappointment regarding the fact that I was turned away from many Wutaian homes after I sustained my injuries. There is never a good excuse to not help someone, he said, and that included the idea that the gods will punish any who assist so-called enemies of Wutai. The gods would be angry by such unkind behavior. I will not comment on whether such deities could exist, but the image of any just supreme being punishing their people for helping someone is ludicrous.

Following these remarks from the emperor, a loud cry was heard from the people. A few were in favor of these ideas, but most—or at least those who numbered among the most audible—demanded an explanation as to why they should want to show humane feelings towards the country's enemies.

Emperor Kisaragi then declared that Wutai's most formidable enemies are blind intolerance and apathy; they cannot afford such behavior if they truly wish to once again be Gaia's greatest land. He concluded with the statement that he was ashamed of a good many of the people and that he had started to believe that it was for the best that Wutai lost the war. "Until her people can learn unconditional kindness and forgiveness, we are no better than those at Shinra who are self-absorbed and filled with greed."

Commander Fair asked me what I believe will happen due to these words. I answered honestly, that it's too soon to tell for certain, but that I don't feel that it will change the hard-hearted.. Maybe some of those who reacted out of fear and not hate will have listened, but fear is a strong and often unrelenting master. I do believe that some will change their ways, but considering the long-term effects, I doubt the emperor's approach will be remembered fondly by most of those who are in positions of power.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the current state of the country. Yes, it is being built up again, but there are those willing to tear it down. Until this threat is fully eradicated, Wutai cannot begin to prosper as it once did.

For now we are leaving the country while I recover. Two other SOLDIERs have been called in to commence the investigation into the identities of the others who were involved with the destructive fire. They have arrived and been briefed.

My next communication will be from Midgar.


SOLDIER First Class

General of the Armies

Sephiroth sighed to himself as he leaned back. At last, the final section of the report was finished. With a scroll and a click using the touchpad, the document was saved and sent. He closed the laptop, at the same time reaching to remove his glasses with his free hand.

Part of him wanted to stay and continue the investigation himself. This was a case very closely connected with himself and Zack. Somehow it did not seem right, to allow someone else to take the reins. But if and when new information was found, they would return. Both of them wanted to see the madmen responsible be brought to justice.

The other part of him wanted to get away from the political intrigue, the terrorism, and the curiosity of a certain princess. He desired a relaxing break during which only he and Zack would be present. His long-term recovery had been delayed by the recent activities. One of the wounds in his arm had reopened and had needed additional stitches. And his back was strained. It would not do at all.

Zack slid open the door, peeking into the room. "I'm all set, Seph," he chirped. "And Jono's here with the truck. Are you ready to go?"

Sephiroth looked up, giving a slow nod in response to his friend. "I'm ready." Placing a hand on the edge of the table, he began to ease his body upright. Once he was standing, he moved slowly over the floor with the table as his support until he came to the wheelchair. He lowered his body into it with a sigh, then carefully reached for the electronic device and brought it onto his lap.

In a moment, Zack had come over and was pushing him to the door. To avoid the problem of the stairs, they were going to exit from the back and go through the gardens to reach the truck. Then the only dilemma would be getting into the vehicle.

"How does it feel to be going away?" he mused.

Sephiroth shrugged. "A relief in some ways. An annoyance in others."

Zack nodded. "Yeah, same here. It's frustrating because we wanna catch the rest of those creeps." He smirked. "But it's a relief, because you won't have to get into any more weird situations until you're better."

A grunt. "That's debatable."

"Don't jinx us, Seph!" Zack whimpered in reply.

Now he sobered. ". . . Those hours right after the fire were awful," he confessed as they went down the long hall. "I thought you were gone, and I'd be going back without you." He gripped the handlebars, his knuckles going white. "I didn't know how I'd stand it."

Sephiroth gazed into the distance, not speaking. He had believed that he would perish, when the flames had carried him through the wall and down the rock-strewn path. There had not been time for many other thoughts, but he remembered wondering what Zack would do, and how he would react if he found the body. They had not needed to find out.

"You would have gone on," he said at last. "That's all you could have done."

"I know, but . . ." Zack looked up at the stenciled walls and the murals. Some were of creatures in Wutaian mythology, such as a fire dragon and a golden lion. Others depicted detailed scenes of battles and glory. The one that caught Zack's attention showed a fallen soldier's spirit being escorted to the afterlife. He looked away from it.

"I don't want to lose you, Seph."

Sephiroth glanced up at him. "Everyone will die sometime," he said. He shifted, looking ahead again. "But as far as 'losing' me, you won't."

Zack smiled a bit. "Yeah, I know." He smirked. "You're too stubborn. If you died, you probably wouldn't end up part of the Lifestream. You'd hang around on earth and haunt me."

"Heh." Sephiroth leaned back. There was no way of knowing whether or not one could avoid relinquishing their individuality in the Lifestream—except, of course, until one was dead. But Sephiroth was stubborn, indeed. He did not have any intention of ever not being his own person.

Emperor Kisaragi and Yuffie were waiting outside when the SOLDIERs arrived. While the emperor was standing in place, Yuffie was rocking with impatience, her hands behind her back. Neither person's actions were unexpected.

"Well," Zack said as they approached, "we're heading off now. Thanks for everything!"

Godo nodded. "You will both be welcome any time you wish to return," he said, bowing to them with graciousness. Without their assistance, the palace could be in all manner of dire straits. Yuffie could even be a prisoner of Koseki's. There was much for which to be grateful.

"Same here, if you guys ever want to come to Midgar," Zack responded.

"Let us know if there are any new developments," Sephiroth requested.

"Yeah, sure," Yuffie broke in before her father could answer. "And you'd better come back. I have a lot more questions for you." She looked to Sephiroth in particular. "You're a really weird general."

"Yuffie!" Godo scolded, frowning at her.

Sephiroth leaned back, regarding the girl with an unruffled expression. "And you ask too many questions," he said. "Listen more often to what your father says, and don't be reckless."

Yuffie rolled her eyes, mumbling something unintelligible.

"Bye!" Zack called with a wave, as he began to push the wheelchair down a garden path.

Sephiroth had to smirk. Only Zack would give such a farewell to an emperor.

It was not long before they reached the truck. Jono climbed out of the driver's seat and walked over to where the SOLDIERs were waiting. "You're both ready to leave, I see," he commented.

"Yes," Sephiroth nodded.

While Zack opened the passenger side door, the General began to push himself out of the chair. As he gripped the seat and the inside door handle, he was able to hoist himself up enough to get his foot onto the step. From there it was fairly easy to slip into the seat. He pulled the door shut, reaching up for the seatbelt. Crossing it over his chest, he settled back and waited.

Zack and Jono were loading the wheelchair into the back of the truck and securing it in place. Emperor Kisaragi had told Sephiroth to go ahead and take it with them, and to make use of it for as long as he needed. Of course, he hoped that would not be much longer.

The driver's side door opened and Zack climbed in, sliding into the middle part of the seat. "It's gonna be crowded," he observed.

Sephiroth just gave him a look. "I know." But at least he would not have to sit in the middle. That would only serve to frustrate and irritate him.

Jono now followed Zack, shutting the door after him. After affixing the seatbelt and turning the key in the ignition, they were on their way. There was one stop they needed to make before going to the airport.

Ms. Shidou was standing in the front yard with the children as the truck pulled up and parked by the house. Jono alighted first, and quickly went around to the back to unload the wheelchair. Zack hopped out as well, waved to the spectators, and walked to the passenger side. Seph was already trying to get out, that stubborn guy. Zack stood to the side, ready to help if he needed it.

As the wheelchair was brought over, Sephiroth eased himself back into it. This was bound to be awkward. He had such little experience around children as it was, especially in peaceful interactions. But this was something that needed to be done, as unsettling as it might be.

Jono stepped aside now, allowing Zack to get into position and push Seph over to the waiting orphans. "Hey, guys," Zack greeted, his tone cheerful and relaxed. Being around children was something he was quite familiar with, and he felt at home when talking with them. Now they were staring with wide, bright eyes, filled with many various emotions.

"We can't stay long, but we wanted to drop in and see how you're all doing," he continued.

Now they were starting to come over, fascinated and amazed by both the wheelchair and the one in it—the one whom they thought had perished. Sephiroth looked to them, giving a slow nod of acknowledgment and feeling uncomfortable.

"General Sephiroth's still getting better, so you need to be really careful around him," Zack warned.

Ellysa ran over, beaming at both SOLDIERs. "Hi!" she announced, grabbing Sephiroth's hand in both of hers. She looked up at him, displaying a missing front tooth as she smiled.

"Hello," he answered.

"Are you gonna havta be in that chair a long time?" she wanted to know.

"No," he said, determining that it would be true.

She gave a sage nod. "Commander Fair was really worried about you," she said. "He thought you died."

"I know."

"I'm glad you didn't!" She let go of his hand, stretching out her arms to Zack.

He grinned, lifting her into the air. "Hey!" he said. "How are you doing?"

"Great!" she chirped. "I'm really glad the General is okay, too!"

"That makes two of us!" Zack said.

Now Ryou was pushing his way through the children, his face split in a broad grin. "Gen'ral!" he exclaimed, running over the rest of the way. Climbing onto the shocked man's lap, he threw his small arms around the other's neck. "You're okay! We thought you not come back!"

Awkwardly Sephiroth placed a hand on the child's shoulder blades. "I almost didn't," he said.

Soon all of the children had come over, except one. Yuki was still standing by Ms. Shidou, stiff as a board and looking uncertain as to what she wanted to do.

The woman bent down to be at her eye level. "Yuki?" She spoke in a gentle voice. "Do you want to go say Hello to the SOLDIERs?"

Yuki bit her lip. Now she was vaguely trembling. "Why?" she cried. "Why was the General saved when our parents weren't?" She looked up, her confusion and emotional turmoil visible. It was not that she was unhappy that Sephiroth was alive, or ungrateful for his sacrifice. But to see him die, after seeing her and Ryou's parents being shot to death, had frozen her ability to express her feelings. She had started to become accustomed to the idea that death would follow her like a curse. Now Sephiroth was alive and she could see that it was true, and her emotions were flooding.

Silence fell as all present began to process Yuki's earnest question. Ryou looked over at her, also confused. In his young mind, it was not something that he had wondered at all. He had only been overjoyed at the news that there was not another death, that the one who had tried to save him and his sister still lived.


The child started as Sephiroth spoke, looking over to him with glistening eyes.

"None of us have the answer. I don't know why my life was spared. I've wondered it myself, many times. Maybe there isn't even a reason. Sometimes those who are nearly dead are able to survive. But many people who should live, don't."

She launched herself at him then, falling at his feet as she sobbed into his lap. "It's my fault!" she choked out. "It's my fault that you're hurt, and it was my fault that Mommy and Daddy . . ." Her shoulders shook. "That awful man was there with his gun, and I didn't try to stop it. . . . I just watched! I watched . . ."

Sephiroth frowned, gazing down at her. So this was the burden she had been carrying—similar to the feelings he and Zack held, but much worse for one so young. It should not be that way.

"You couldn't have done anything," he said. "You would have only been killed as well. And where would that have left your brother? You need to be there for him.

"As for what happened to me, you couldn't have stopped the blast of fire."

She shook her head. "I could've moved faster. . . ."

"Hey." Zack stepped forward now, laying a hand on her shoulder. He had been staying out of this thus far, opting to let Seph handle it. But her pain was hitting too close to home, especially now. He still regretted his own inability to help Seph. In the end, he had not been able to do anything for his friend—except what Seph had wanted him to do by rescuing the kids. That was what he had to focus on—and the fact that he had done everything else he had been able to think of, once he had realized that Seph could have survived.

"Things turned out okay," he said now. "That's one thing we have to be grateful for. But when things don't go right, all we can really do is try to move on." He gave a gentle smile. "That's what your parents would want."

She looked up at him, the tears streaking her face. "It's too hard," she choked.

Zack's smile turned sad. "I know," he said. "See, the General and I lost someone really close to us, too. I was there when it happened, and I still hate that I wasn't able to save him. I keep thinking I should have, that there must have been something I could have done that I didn't. But I know that won't change anything. He wanted me to live, and to be happy."

She was staring at him, incredulous and amazed that someone could understand what she was going through. "How could you be happy?" she asked. "Wouldn't you miss him?"

"Of course," Zack said. "Every day." He smiled again. "But I've still got people here, too—like the General." He grinned at Seph before looking back to Yuki. "It makes it a lot easier when you don't have to try to go on all by yourself."

Sephiroth nodded in agreement. "Commander Fair is right," he said.

Ryou hopped down next to his sister. "It okay, Yuki!" he said, holding out his arms as he pulled her close in a hug.

She stiffened for a moment, seeming surprised. But then she reached out, returning the embrace. She shut her eyes tightly, clutching him as though she did not want to let go.

Ms. Shidou, who had been standing to the side, gave a quiet, relieved smile. "Since I've known her, she's always been so withdrawn," she explained, "even, or especially, around Ryou. It's worried me, and I've never been able to get through to her. But she hasn't opened up this way before. I think now she may finally be able to start to heal."

Zack smiled too. "I think you're right," he said. "That's great."

She looked from him to Sephiroth. "And it was because of both of you," she declared. "You could reach her when I couldn't."

Zack rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly embarrassed. "Hey, it couldn't have happened if you hadn't welcomed us," he said. "Most people weren't willing to let us anywhere near their places in peace."

She nodded in agreement. "Maybe someday Wutai and Shinra will be able to coexist without strife," she said, and looked around at the children. They were at ease, content with the current situation. They did not dislike these SOLDIERs, nor were they afraid.

"But for now," Ms. Shidou spoke again, "this is good enough for me."

Sephiroth relaxed, glancing at Zack. There would likely always be wars to fight and uprisings to quell. If not in Wutai, it would be in another country. Not that long ago, he had believed he would have to face the conflicts alone. Now he knew that it was not so. Whatever happened, they would face it together.