Kingdom Hearts II
Angels Among Us
Notes: The characters from the games are not mine, the other characters and the story are! The idea for this story came to me in a dream, but so far I am not entirely certain where it will go. Also, the title is from the Alabama song and it was also part of the dream, as the image song. I am keeping it as such. It is a definite follow-up to God Help the Outcasts. Thanks to Lisa and Kaze for plot help, and to Manders1953 for pointing out about the Restoration Committee needing to be more involved!
Winter in Hollow Bastion could last for months on end, beginning early and ending late. It was not uncommon for there to still be snow in April. As it would melt, tulips and other early flowers would poke up with steadfastness and curiosity. Trees laden with blossoms would also bear a dusting of powder.
It seemed that winters had been even more severe of late, after the Heartless attack. Perhaps that meant the climate had not entirely recovered. Or maybe it was an alteration that would be permanent. Some residents complained. Others did not care. As long as Hollow Bastion was theirs again, and not property of the Heartless, what did it matter if there were harsh storms? Even those who complained did not actually intend to leave the land.
But now the snow was gone, save for the white mountains in the distance. The temperature had warmed to a comfortable degree, prompting many to shed their coats for more lightweight jackets. The days were growing longer, bringing more sunshine and scattered afternoon rain showers.
Spring was coming to Hollow Bastion.
Aerith was busy tending the flowers in Merlin's yard, as well as the public gardens. She was in charge of all things environmental, which suited her perfectly. Trees all over the city were budding, their many tiny feathered occupants chirping in delight as they hopped and flew among the branches. People were at work on their own gardens, for food as well as flowers.
The buildings destroyed by the clones were almost all built up again. The townspeople had rallied to their neighbors' aid, working with diligence to repair the damage to workplaces and homes. Many looked more pleasing and well-kept now than they had before they had been decimated. Overall, the damage could have been worse, but it had been plenty bad enough. The clones had taken out a good chunk of the marketplace. Not to mention that apartment complex. It was still standing, but it needed a lot of work before the tenants could move back. And there had been other locations, even homes, that Sephiroth had not known about until after the fact.
Sephiroth still enjoyed his walks through the city, and indeed, happened to be taking one now. There was a sense of unity and peace that he had not felt in some time, and it was somewhat of a surprise. He did not feel hatred from the majority of the people any longer. They were used to him, and while some ignored him, others nodded in politeness when they met. Very rarely, someone smiled. Whether they believed him to be the former General was debatable, but some seemed grateful for his part in recent battles, at least. They had accepted him as a resident of Hollow Bastion.
As he turned the corner, a strange object tottered across his path. He frowned, stopping to wait for the enchanted broom to pass. Instead of water, it was carrying two buckets of nails and other tools. Across the street was one of the restoration crews. Merlin was there, directing other brooms as well as humans in how to position the beams on a house that had been almost altogether demolished. There were some men Sephiroth did not recognize who were working on the roof. And Tifa seemed to be helping as well. Sensing eyes upon her, she turned and then blinked in surprise.
Sephiroth himself was surprised when she began to walk over to him. She had never been especially fond of him, and though she had not approved at all of the cruel way the townspeople had treated him, she and he had not spoken much on the subject. Or on any other.
"Sephiroth," she greeted. "Hello."
He gave a slow nod in return. "You're making good progress," he said.
She looked pleased. "We are," she agreed, half-turning to glance back at the house. ". . . If you'd like to help, we could use your strength."
Again Sephiroth was surprised. Tifa would not have asked for his help several months ago. Despite knowing of Cloud's softened feelings and friendship with him, she usually seemed to appear standoffish and coolly polite when they spoke. He had wondered if she had suspected him of setting the fires before the truth of the clones had been revealed.
He looked back to the near-skeletal building. The men on the roof were attempting to hold one end of a heavy beam in place while the other side was being secured, but it was getting the better of them. It was starting to slip, and the other workers were involved with their own assignments. Either they did not notice or they could not get away to help.
"Someone's going to be hurt if that beam isn't steadied," Sephiroth frowned. He walked past Tifa, heading in the direction of the house. As he drew nearer, the beam slipped further, in spite of the men's attempts to hold it in place. Sawdust and splinters rained onto the floor below, and a man working on the floor looked up in horror as the wood tore free. He was right in its path, with no chance to move out of the way.
Sephiroth caught the end of the beam just in time. He gritted his teeth, spreading his wings for added balance. Even he could not hold onto it for very long. But it was long enough for the man to scramble to safety.
The men on the roof relaxed in relief. "Here," the first called, sending down a cable. "If you can get this around the beam, we'll hoist it back up."
The person whose life had been saved hurried over to assist. While Sephiroth held the beam, the other fastened the cable around it. "Alright!" he called. "It's ready!"
Sephiroth released his hold on it as he watched it rise again. "It will take more than two people to hold it in place for as long as it needs to be," he frowned.
"Will you come up and help us?" asked the second, peering down through the opening.
It was not especially how he had planned to spend the afternoon. But he did not have anything against the idea. If they wanted his help, he was willing to give it.
"Alright," he said.
The man next to him gave him a grateful look. "Thank you," he said. "I'm sure you saved my life a few minutes ago."
Sephiroth gave a single nod. "In the future you shouldn't work underneath unsecured beams," he remarked, his tone flat as he turned to walk outside and fly up to the roof.
He remained for over an hour, assisting them until the last long rays of the sun diminished and twilight began to fall. They had succeeded in getting done a good-sized portion of the reconstruction and considered it lucky that they were now at a good stopping place. Sephiroth did not believe in luck, but he was relieved by the development anyway. He was growing anxious to be on his way.
Tifa hurried after him as he prepared to leave. "Thanks for your help," she said, obviously feeling awkward.
He nodded. She had been right, that they had needed his assistance, but he was not about to say that.
She shifted. ". . . The Committee is having a get-together tomorrow night at Merlin's," she announced. "Will you let Cloud and Zack know? It's sort of a celebration of Spring and of the progress we're making on the homes."
"I will," he responded. Though no longer part of the Restoration Committee, both Cloud and Zack were still friends with at least some of the members, mainly Tifa, Aerith, and Leon. They would appreciate the invitation, even if they could not attend.
"If you want, you're invited too," Tifa added.
Sephiroth was not certain whether that was true or if she was saying it now to be polite. He and Cloud did not like parties. But if Cloud and Zack were going, Sephiroth might come as well, if he thought he was welcome.
"I'll keep that in mind," he said, beginning his walk up the path to the street.
That had been an interesting, if not uncomfortable, experience. Tifa had not been certain how to react around him at all. And while he was not sure what had been responsible for her more congenial attitude, it had been a nice change. He had had enough of thinly-veiled hostility after the Kala-Ansa fiasco.
His mind began to wander further as he strolled up the street.
Zack had vastly improved in the last weeks. Both Sephiroth and Cloud had seen that his limp had decreased. He was using the cane less, and he was very ecstatic. Sephiroth certainly did not blame him. Soon he would be able to return full-time to his active military duties. Though, during this time of relative peace, there was not much he needed to do other than to organize patrols of the city and the surrounding area. But that was alright with him. He was still easing into the task of being the high commander.
The men who had been wounded during the first attack on the castle were healing well. Zack had been right there whenever possible, helping them with what he could. Deep down, he still blamed himself for not having fought with them that night. And though Sephiroth longed to take that burden off of his dear friend's shoulders, it was a near-impossible task. He himself carried such burdens, too. They did not lighten easily.
Nothing much had changed with Cloud. His wing had at last healed well enough that he had again been able to take flight, and while he still did not care to do so, it was a relief to at least know he had the option. He still enjoyed the way he and Sephiroth had come to make sarcastic and pessimistic commentary on what was happening around them. Zack still protested whenever he heard them, but he was overjoyed that they had altogether accepted the truth of their friendship and felt comfortable enough to bounce sarcasm off of each other.
Sun had been by to see Sephiroth at times. Sometimes she was alone. On other occasions William came with her. It was good to see that they were both doing well. William had been adapting quite well to normal life. He enjoyed the responsibility as well as the freedom to do as he pleased. Hojo had not returned for him, nor had he sent any clones. William hoped that they would be left alone to continue their existence as a family.
In some ways, Sun had blossomed. Her friendships with Sephiroth and William had brought out a more happy side to her personality, which she showed more often. She did not have much to do with the neighborhood children, save Billy--whose attitude had continued to improve. Sephiroth hoped they were fighting less.
But there was still a lingering sadness as well. He had seen it in Sun's eyes. She was still hurting from her mother's death, though she had started to heal.
"I wish she could have seen how people are accepting anyone with wings now," she had said.
Sephiroth could imagine that Kala-Ansa would have been furious, to say the least.
He never had told Sun the extent of the woman's madness, that she had even lusted after Sephiroth and had tried to claim that he had placed a spell on her. And he never intended to. Everyone who had been present at the planned execution had witnessed her audacity, but so far none of them had said anything to Sun. It was not really something that she needed to know, as far as Sephiroth was concerned. He was pleased that the townspeople seemed to agree.
Would Sun and William be coming to the celebration tomorrow? No doubt they would have been invited. And while Sun was not terribly fond of parties herself, she did like the Restoration Committee. As for William, Sephiroth was not certain if he had ever been to a party before. Knowing him, he would be fascinated.
He froze, just as he had been about to turn a corner. General? No one called him that anymore, save for the men in his old unit. And this was a woman's voice. Vaguely familiar, too, when he thought of it.
He turned to face the one who had addressed him. The young woman standing before him was dressed in a fancy uniform, not like what was worn in the military. Golden epaulets decorated her dark green shoulders, and several medallions were over her heart. Her blonde hair was cut short, with only a wave passing over her face. Her eyes lit up upon seeing him.
"I'm sure you don't still remember me, General," she said, clasping her hands in front of her. "My name is Andréa Duncan."
"The name is familiar to me," he answered. "But I'm not a general any longer. Some don't believe I ever was one."
She shook her head. "You'll always be the General to me," she said. "When . . ." She ran her tongue over her lips. "When my brother was killed in action, you came right to the house to let the family know. I never forgot that."
He gave a slow nod. In spite of himself, he was touched that she remembered and still thought highly of him because of it. He recalled going to speak to the families of the deceased whenever he had been able. The normal procedure was to call, or to send someone else, depending on how far away they lived, but Sephiroth had preferred to go in person. It had seemed more real and more kind.
"My brother and you inspired me," she went on, "and I decided to pursue justice as well. Now I'm the high prosecutor for Hollow Bastion."
"I see." Sephiroth crossed his arms. "You've done well for yourself."
She nodded, then hesitated. Suddenly she was shifting her weight, the discomfort clear in her eyes. "Sir, the last thing I want to do is to impose, or to dredge up unpleasant memories," she said, "but the truth is, I'm faced with a very difficult problem and I was wondering if you could help me. I had been going to your house to find you."
An eyebrow raised. "You want me to help you?" he repeated. "Of what use could a former general be to the high prosecutor?"
Again she was hesitant. "Actually, sir, it's a problem involving the late millionairess Kala-Ansa," she admitted. "But it could take a while to discuss it. If you would be willing, will you come to my office so I can explain?"
Sephiroth frowned. He had heard that the police had been investigating Kala-Ansa's affairs for the past weeks. Considering all she had done and had tried to do to himself and to Cloud, it did not surprise him in the least that the police had been uncovering countless treacherous and illegal activities for which she had been responsible. And he was certainly willing to do whatever he could to bring such crimes to light. Who knew how many others she had oppressed in her misguided quest to rid the worlds of darkness.
"I'm willing," he said then. Others in the building might not appreciate a winged man coming inside, but he could care less about that. If the high prosecutor had requested his help, he would give it--just as he had assisted those at the reconstruction site.
Andréa smiled in relief. "Thank you, General," she said. "Please, come this way." She turned, heading in the direction of the city square.
The city and county building was old, but it served the townspeople well. The bricks caught the last remaining light from the sun , and several stories above, the clock tower had a mysterious aura that drew fascinated children and adults alike. Every quarter hour the bells chimed, heard by all in the immediate area. Andréa walked up the cement path, barely glancing at the well-manicured lawn on either side. Sephiroth, walking beside her, likewise focused on the goal of the doors at the top of the concrete steps.
The last time he had been here was when he had come to rescue Cloud. But that incident had not cast a lingering dark shadow on how he viewed the edifice. Or at least, he had not thought it had. That was over and done with now. The window Cloud had broken jumping out of had been repaired weeks earlier. Sephiroth was not quite sure which one it was now, only that it was on the fifth floor.
But it did give him a feeling of disgust when he glanced over the grounds. Kala-Ansa and her supporters had set up the stake right there in the streets. The crowds had yelled and cheered. Some had not agreed with what was happening, but they had not been able to do anything about it. He had hated that feeling, of being on display unfairly and not being shown justice. He had only barely been able to get himself and Cloud free, too. If Zack had not come when he had, distracting the mob, Sephiroth might not have been able to succeed.
He turned away, concentrating on the steps they were approaching.
As they arrived at the entrance and stepped inside a moment later, two employees were descending a set of stairs just inside. They blinked in surprise at the sight of the winged man being escorted by the high prosecutor, but neither commented. Instead they politely nodded as they walked past.
"Good night," Andréa called after them.
One of them responded in a hurried tone as they disappeared through the front doors.
Sephiroth flicked a wing as he went up the stairs leading to the main floor. The prejudice was not as stifling, but it still did exist.
As he and Andréa approached the elevator, he received similar stunned looks from people anxious to end their workday. Andréa simply set her expression, as he had done, and ignored the shock, giving cheery "Good nights" instead.
Sephiroth was relieved that the elevator was empty.
Andréa's office was fairly close to the elevator on the fifth floor. As they emerged, she crossed the hall to a door just to the left. Pushing it open, she switched on the light and stepped inside. "Please, sit anywhere," she said, clearing a stack of folders off of a chair and plunking them onto her already-crowded desk. Then she sat behind it. Finding her view somewhat obstructed, she frowned, shifting the folders to the side.
Not reacting, Sephiroth sat on the chair she had freed, spreading his wings enough to be comfortable. But being a man of meticulous organization, it was hard to comprehend how the woman could do anything amid such disarray. It would drive him mad.
"What is the case?" he asked.
She reached for a folder that had been on her desk before they had come in, flipping it open. "During the years following the Heartless attack, there were several strange disappearances," she said. "It was thought at first that these people were killed by the Heartless. But then family members and friends began to come forward, insisting that they knew the missing had been at the refugee camps. These people were never found."
She passed the folder to Sephiroth. "According to this, Kala-Ansa was funding research to find a way to stop the Heartless. But the project was a failure."
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed as he accepted the thick document. Attached were grainy photographs of grotesque humanoid forms standing, sitting, or crouching in near-darkness. Some turned away, not wanting to be photographed. Others were lunging forward, as if to tear away the camera. And yet others allowed it, resigned to their fate.
"What is this?" he demanded.
Andréa clasped her hands on the desk. "The names on the backs of the pictures," she said, her voice far away. "They match the names of the missing."
Disgust filled Sephiroth's heart. "Human experimentation?" he deduced, slipping the report out from under the paperclip. It documented the fates of all who had worked on the project. Any who had been directly involved had become grossly mutilated. Only Kala-Ansa, supporting the research and not having been in the laboratories during the tests, had escaped such a horror.
"It sounds like the equipment they were using malfunctioned," Andréa said.
Sephiroth frowned more. "It still doesn't make sense," he said. "Most of those missing were not scientists, according to this. How did they become involved?"
Andréa shook her head. "That's one of the mysteries," she said. "There is nothing about it in the report. Nor does it say what happened to them after they were disfigured."
Sephiroth shook his head. "I knew nothing of this," he said, replacing the papers under the paperclip and setting the folder on the edge of the desk. "What use do you think I would be?"
"Kala-Ansa's daughter Sun seems to be very close to you, sir," Andréa said. "If you asked her, maybe she would remember something."
"She wouldn't have discussed this with her daughter," Sephiroth grunted.
"But Sun could have heard or seen something she shouldn't have," Andréa persisted. "Please, if you could ask her, it would be a big help. I'm sure she would accept it better coming from you."
Sephiroth crossed his arms. "You can't have brought me here just to ask me to speak with Kala-Ansa's daughter," he said. "What else do you want?"
Andréa turned a pencil in her hands. "I was hoping that maybe, sir, you knew of someplace we could look for these people, or for the research base itself. Kala-Ansa was such a bane to you and Mr. Strife, and I thought she might have indicated some possible hideout, even if it was just while she was talking to her minions and you accidentally overheard."
Sephiroth shook his head. "I don't know of anything," he said. "When she took Cloud Strife prisoner, he was brought here."
"Yes." Andréa frowned. "It was a horrible desecration of this building meant for justice. I wasn't here then, or I would have never allowed it to happen."
She hesitated. "Do you think Commander Fair might have any ideas?" she asked. "I know he's had the military trying to seek out and discover more of Kala-Ansa's treachery, just as the police are doing."
"I could talk to him," Sephiroth said, "but if he had any idea that something such as this happened, I would have heard about it. He would have been livid."
Andréa nodded. "I'm certain of it. But if you could talk to him, sir . . ."
"I will." Sephiroth looked to her. "How long after the Heartless attack did this happen?" he asked.
She bit her lip. "Six years ago, sir," she admitted. "That's when the first missing persons report came. Actually . . ." She hesitated, suddenly uncomfortable.
"What is it?" he frowned.
"It was shortly after you yourself vanished, sir," she said. "Some people are wondering if you were there."
Sephiroth grunted, crossing his arms. "What do you think?" he queried.
"It doesn't seem the same, sir," she said. "What has happened to you, I mean. These people . . . well, they're hideous, poor things. But you . . ." She turned red. "You're still very handsome, sir. The wings haven't detracted from that at all."
Sephiroth did still pride himself on his good looks. But he only gave a nod in reply to the last comments. "You're right," he said. "I wasn't there. I'm telling the truth when I say that this is the first I've even heard of these abominations."
"I believe you, General," Andréa said in earnest. "I . . . I wanted to hear you say it, but I already was certain it was true."
She stood. "I have an extra copy of the report," she told him. "I had it photocopied earlier today. Would it be possible for you to take it home and study it more?"
Sephiroth rose as well. "I was going to ask you if you had an extra," he said.
She smiled, relieved, and lifted up the top folder from the desk. After flipping it open to make sure it was the right one, she handed it to Sephiroth.
"It's such a relief to have your cooperation, sir," she declared. "I feel more confident that we may get somewhere."
"Don't put all your faith in me." Sephiroth tucked the folder under his arm before walking to the door. "I'm just as confused as you."
Andréa nodded. "I realize that, sir. But you always did so well solving cases in the military. And bringing this one to a close may enable us to put Kala-Ansa's ghost to rest for good."
Sephiroth had to wonder if that would even be possible. Kala-Ansa's ghost would likely always linger, especially with her daughter missing her. But he was too tired to debate such a point.
"I'll call if I learn anything," he said instead.
"Thank you, sir," she said, crossing to the door as well. "I'm going to stay here a bit longer and see if I can get some more work done. Unless I could give you a ride home," she offered. "My car's in the parking lot. I was just taking a walk earlier when I found you."
"No, thank you." Sephiroth could teleport if he wanted. And he might. The gangs and thugs tended to come out after dark, and though it would not be problematic to defeat them, he did not want to deal with them now.
"Alright then. Good night, sir," she smiled.
"Good night." Sephiroth stepped into the corridor.
Strange, that even though he did not feel that whatever ghost Kala-Ansa had left could be put to rest, he had thought that at least he had put the spectre behind him. Now it was haunting him again.
Closing Note: I don't think I should have to put this, but after I got asked about Kala-Ansa and Sephiroth a couple times, I decided maybe I should. No, Sephiroth and Andréa will not be a couple.