Notes: This part is dedicated to NoBuddy. I was going to write this conversation anyway, at some point, but I decided to get it done quickly and make it a second chapter. It may not be exactly what was hoped for, but I hope it will deliver some level of satisfaction and present the possibility of a happy future for these characters.


"Genesis."

Was it a dream? He could hear Sephiroth's voice calling to him from afar, through the midsts and fog drifting over his mind. And he was laying on something soft and warm, unlike the cold ground where he had fallen unconscious. Maybe . . . maybe he was not dead, after all?

His eyes cracked open. Sephiroth was standing over him, his stance clearly displaying his awkwardness with the situation. A couple of cleaned scratches were visible on his face, but otherwise he bore no evidence of the battle they had come through. Albeit he was favoring his right leg, and he looked as though his right arm was paining him, too.

"How are you feeling?"

Genesis was silent as he contemplated. "I . . . have felt better," he said, testing his voice.

"I don't doubt it." Sephiroth's voice was dry. "After the amount of stitches you required."

Genesis gave him a questioning look. How had they been found, anyway? No one had been around on the cliffs. He recalled partially wondering how they would survive, even if the wounds and the weather did not kill them.

"Zack insisted that Cid take the Shera up to look for us," Sephiroth said. "He and Cloud and Angeal found us."

Genesis was silent, contemplating that. "They must have been frantic," he decided.

"Of course."

Sephiroth would not mention that he had regained consciousness before help had arrived, and had found Genesis's body laying next to him. At first he had thought the other was dead, and a myriad of emotions had crashed through his heart. He had not been able to determine what he thought on the matter, other than that he had not wanted Genesis to be dead. He had struggled to stop the bleeding once he had realized the truth of the other's continuing existence.

Hearing the Sheraoverhead had been an indescribable relief.

". . . It's strange, to see the phoenix here," Genesis commented.

Sephiroth came back to the present. ". . . Angeal was with you most of the night," he said, guessing at what was meant. "I offered to take over for him so that he could sleep. . . ."

Genesis let his gaze travel around the room. It was his own room, at Sephiroth's home. There were the wine-colored drapes, and the smooth hickory desk, and the bookcases. And the open book on the desk.

"The phoenix must find an excuse for coming?" he said at last. It was tiring to speak. As he was becoming further aware of himself, it was obvious that his side was paining him. Under the covers, he moved his left hand over the offending spot. The gauze was generous in that area.

Sephiroth stiffened, the discomfort flickering in his eyes. "I . . ."

Genesis smirked. "He finds it awkward."

". . . Yes." Sephiroth crossed his arms, looking the other in the eyes. "We've both been uncomfortable since you came here. There isn't any point in denying it."

Genesis gave a slow nod. "Is there no way for us to co-exist?" he mused.

"I don't know." Sephiroth hesitated. "You know I've forgiven you for anything you did when your mind was failing."

Another nod. "You, better than anyone else, understands what that is like," Genesis said.

Sephiroth hesitated again. "But it's hard for me to fully trust you or relax in your presence," he said. "Our problems began long before your deterioration. And I can sense that you're still envious of me."

"I am," Genesis agreed. "The Goddess has always blessed you with so much, Sephiroth. And are you even grateful for any of it?" Instead of sounding antagonistic, as usual, he was posing an honest question. He looked up at the former General, his eyes displaying an earnest desire to know the truth.

Seeing that expression encouraged Sephiroth to give an honest answer in reply, instead of ignoring the query or making a vague remark, as he had previously done. "It's true that I can do without the fame and glory that has sometimes followed me," he said. "But that doesn't mean I'm not grateful. In a position of power, I have the most doors open to me in order to help my friends." He shook his head. "I never wanted it to become a barrier."

He had also found that being at the top was often very lonely. After Genesis had left, and Angeal had started to drift apart from Sephiroth as well, Sephiroth had had no one. That had continued for some time, and had been what had prompted him to later tell Zack that generals did not have friends. But Zack had proved him wrong. And now, in the present, Zack, Cloud, and Angeal were all at the top with him.

". . . You know I would offer you a position at the company, if you wanted it," he said.

Genesis shook his head, his earring jangling with the motion. "It isn't for me," he said. "I am still a ronin, a wanderer." And the rest of his thoughts hung in the air, unspoken and yet so loud.

"And you wouldn't want to work under my direction," Sephiroth finished.

Genesis smirked. "No, I would not."

Another long pause. "There's something I've wondered for years," Sephiroth said then.

A shrug. "By all means, ask," said Genesis.

"Were we ever friends, and on equal ground?" Sephiroth bluntly asked. "Or was I always a larger-than-life idol for you, someone you looked up to and gradually began to resent?" He gripped his arms. "For my part, you were my friend and I treated you as such. I once believed you felt the same." And the hurt flashed through the bright green eyes.

Genesis leaned back. He had anticipated that inquiry. He had often asked it of himself, attempting to sort through his immensely conflicted feelings to discover the answer.

"Yes, I idolized you," he said. "But I wanted to work with you, to be your comrade and ally. I wanted so much to impress you. Yet so much of the time, you rejected my ideas during our missions." He held up a hand when Sephiroth moved to speak. "I realize now that my ideas were reckless. You were right, as usual." A melancholy smile played on his lips.

"There were times when you had excellent ideas," Sephiroth said. "I didn't always reject them."

"I know." Genesis sighed. "Over time, I did resent it, as well as other things you said and did. Thoughts would come into my mind late at night, unkind thoughts, that you put yourself above everyone else, that you were ungrateful for what you had, that nothing was ever good enough for you. I tried to push them away, but they always came back." He paused. "That one night, when I was drinking during our mission, I was trying to block out the cruel voices." A rueful smirk. "I seemed to have failed."

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. Neither of them had spoken about that night after it had happened. And Genesis had always denied remembering what he had said. Was that untrue?

Sensing his thoughts, Genesis went on, "I was telling the truth when I said I did not recollect what I'd said," he said, "though perhaps it was only a half-truth. I did suspect what I had said---the feelings that were building within me. I realized then that they had to come out somehow. And I became so confused.

"I grew to hate you, my jealousy and envy twisting my logic into something that I cannot decipher myself. And yet . . ." He gazed up at Sephiroth. "I still cared for you, underneath it all." He paused. "Yes, I have considered you a friend. I still do."

Sephiroth was silent for some time, gathering his own thoughts. If Genesis had said such a thing eight years ago, when he had spoken with such venom, Sephiroth never would have thought it to be the truth. Now, however . . . now it was different.

"I believe you," he said. "But . . . it's hard for me to know how I feel about that. Over the years, you have become a stranger to me. The Genesis who hated me, who was ripping Gaia apart, and working with a mad scientist . . . I never knew him." He hesitated. "I felt that the Genesis I knew had perished some time before, if he had ever existed at all. But I don't know what to think now." He studied the auburn-haired man. "I . . . I want to believe he did exist. And that he still does."

Genesis gave a grim smirk. "Maybe the ronin still has some surprises yet. Though he still feels that he knows the phoenix. But maybe he hasn't really known him for years. If ever." He paused as well.

"Maybe . . . we both need to begin again."

Sephiroth gave a slow nod. "I'm willing," he said, choosing his words with care. "But you have to understand, I can't suddenly trust you as I once did. It's something that has to be worked up to again."

"Of course. I wouldn't expect anything less."

". . . And we may never get back what we once had."

"How could it ever be the same, really?" Genesis mused. "When we now have so much more knowledge and pain? . . . We were so young in SOLDIER. So starry-eyed, filled with hopes and dreams and foolish fantasies."

"I didn't have dreams," Sephiroth interrupted, his tone flat.

Genesis smirked.

". . . I'm sorry for any time when I may have hurt you," Sephiroth said. "I never intended to . . ."

Genesis held up his hand. "No . . . it's alright. I am the one who should apologize," he said.

A frown crossed Sephiroth's features. "Strange," he muttered.

"What?"

He regarded the other in confusion. "It's almost as though I have a memory that you did apologize," he said. "But I know we haven't spoken about this before."

"Oh, I see." From Genesis's tone, he was not surprised by this at all. And he was also not planning to elaborate.

Sephiroth gave him a Look. Genesis looked back in calmness.

". . . Zack is your light, isn't he," he spoke after a moment.

Sephiroth blinked in surprise. Of all things Genesis could have said, that was what he had expected least of all.

"Your closest friend," Genesis amended.

Sephiroth nodded. "Yes. He is."

"He helped the phoenix to fly."

Sephiroth grunted. "Why do you always call me that now?" he asked.

A shrug. "The monster, reborn from his ashes as a good man once again. Just as the phoenix bird of legend dies and is reborn from the fire it creates. Besides . . ." He smiled. "A phoenix has wings."

Sephiroth decided to resist the sarcastic urge to say that he only had one wing. ". . . And Cloud is the lone wolf," he remarked instead.

"He likes wolves. And he's very aloof."

Sephiroth shook his head. "What is Zack, then?" he asked.

"Angeal called him 'the puppy,'" Genesis said. "But maybe golden retriever would fit better now. Strong, friendly, and very family-oriented."

". . . Do I even dare ask what Angeal is?"

Genesis shrugged. "I don't believe I've chosen a nickname for him," he said.

"That's probably a good thing."

Genesis gestured in the general direction of the desk. "Would you bring me that book?" he implored.

Sephiroth gave him a stern look. "You shouldn't be reading." There was still a definite pale cast to his face. And he looked ready to fall asleep again. Which was what he should be doing.

"I just want it here for when I wake up and there isn't anyone to talk to," Genesis smiled.

Sephiroth did not know that he believed that. But he stood, crossing the room to where the open book was and lifting it. "Shakespeare?" he commented idly as he brought it over and laid it on the nightstand.

Genesis nodded. "Of the Earth literature I've read, I find myself particularly fascinated by his works."

"Even Romeo and Juliet?" Sephiroth's tone had turned dry.

A smirk. "I do have preferences."

"Heh." Sephiroth straightened, turning to head for the door. "You should get some sleep."

"To thine own self be true," Genesis answered. Sephiroth looked ready to drop himself. Had he actually been awake for some time, perhaps worried about Genesis's condition? Sephiroth was notorious for doing that very thing, when someone he cared about was hurt.

Genesis smiled to himself as he settled into the covers.