Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy.

Thank you for your patience – this is the final chapter..! (-smiles nervously-) I had so many things to write I didn't know where to begin... The chapter was being mean to me.

To Fear, Understand and Heal

"I think, I... uh, have some Jenova cells." Her voice was strained and ashamed, and she did not seem like her usual self. But it couldn't be helped - she did not exactly look like she was able to muster a facade at the moment. He could tell why from her flowers. She had been on her way to the graveyard.

...Was this what Hojo had been doing to her from the beginning? He had given her Jenova's cells, then waited for a while before giving her Mako – which made Jenova's cells able to interact and interfere with one's body? Then, if that was really the case, how come Sephiroth had been absolutely unable to sense her before now? Normally, even when he was far away from people – in the Lifestream – he was able to sense every being that walked upon the Planet holding Jenova cells. While presumed dead, he had carefully chosen which of these hosts he would use when he returned. In other words, it was not likely that she had Jenova cells at all. If she did, they were not functioning properly.

"Reach out your hand," he said, looking rather cold, which made her hesitate. But she reached out anyway, thinking come what may come. Heck, if he really couldn't stand it if she had Jenova cells and left her in a heap of miserableness and tears, she would just hurry and call Reno as fast as possible to make him force herself to stay alive. After all, if Sephiroth left, the redhead and Rude were the only ones she had left.

Then, with his right hand, he removed his left glove and reached out as well.

The mood was oddly strained and serious, all of a sudden – it was as if they were doing something extremely dangerous, only she didn't know what. They were only inches apart, and she held her hand still while his extended towards her. Before he touched her, something tingled within her and she made a face, but didn't move away. Sephiroth maintained his straight face and seemed absorbed watching their hands – as if not wanting to miss anything that might happen.

As they touched, what felt like a powerful spark coursed through her and she hastily withdrew, only to have her hand seized by her wrist and pulled closer. The surge continued to flow from him to her in inconsistent waves, making her twitch as she waited for her knees to buckle. It felt like a stream of electricity - convulsing through her, it felt like it was moving her guts around and rearranging everything until it was all as distorted as Reno's office.

"Stop..." she managed, feeling as if her arm was curling the more of the energy ran through her. Even through the continuous pain, she could feel something like a division between two different energies. As if something was colliding. There was her hand and his – these were only mediums, it seemed – something that functioned as a connection between Sephiroth and and herself. And within herself, she felt a growing, concentrated force that wasn't her own – one that she couldn't control, so to speak – which moved on its own accord. It fought whatever coursed from Sephiroth's hand until her arm went numb.

Then he let go, and she stepped back while gripping her wrist, walking until she hit the fence framing the graveyard.

"That is not Jenova."

It was a simple statement, spoken without particular emotions while putting his glove back on. The red beanie that had been on her head minutes ago was on the ground. Sephiroth was neither pleased nor angered, but Rimm had definitely felt better. Tiny sparks still stung her, and even though her hand looked all right, it felt like it was swelling into a very bad case of malformed buns with too much yeast in them. When she moved her fingers, they trembled fiercely.

"...Then what was-"

"Stand still."

The voice, which was confusingly rougher than Sephiroth's, bewildered her for a moment. In front of her, Sephiroth's mouth turned down in a snarl as he looked past her, his eyes fixed on the source of the male voice.

"Kurai..." sounded the Sephiroth's voice, instantly making Rimm frown deeply as she felt her heart drop and her anger warm her inside.

Sephiroth could see and hear that the man was somehow different from how he had been earlier. Though not exactly insane, his leer conveyed obvious stress and unease. To tell the truth, his current look fit him much better than his old facade. With slicked back white hair and eyes wider than usual, Kurai approached Rimm (who stood still, as Kurai had ordered) from behind while keeping his gun aimed at her. Whatever he decided to do, Sephiroth would not be able to get to Rimm – or Kurai, for that matter – fast enough if Kurai shot. The best thing to do at the moment was undoubtedly to stand still and hear the man out.

"If you use magic, I will make sure to shoot her before the spell gets to me," Kurai spoke.

Really, Sephiroth was not that incompetent. What was more, there was strictly no need for Kurai to go this far – charging in and meddling like this only confirmed that he was losing it. Frankly speaking it seemed to Sephiroth that it would only be a matter of time before Kurai buckled under the pressure.

"Whatever happened to your men?" Sephiroth queried, and a look of confusion crossed Rimm's eyes as Kurai gave a hollow chuckle.

"You blew up the car, and I thought the Restore materias were all ruined. But one of my subordinates had apparently borrowed some of them before all of that happened."
"...So you left them." At that, Kurai gave a single nod, whereas his lopsided grin widened.

"Indeed I did. In their state, they would have gone out of their way to kill me off – for simply being left unharmed by you."

Kurai's grin faltered a little and he blinked as if contemplating something.

"You know, when I think about it... I should have just stayed away from here. With you two meeting like this, my mission is finished." Kurai stopped and shook his head as if trying to get rid of something. Still, other than a darkening bruise on his forehead, there was nothing unusual. For a moment he was quiet, gaining the attention of the other two, despite the fact that Rimm could not actually see him.

"...I did as that Hojo told me to. And I do not regret it the slightest." Kurai glanced around, his eyes stopping briefly at some of the huts, and he gritted his teeth and pushed Rimm forward.

"Go," he ordered, pushing her with his free hand. Sephiroth watched the overly confident man, entertaining the thought of getting rid of him, but judging from his words he knew something that Sephiroth did not. The fact that he held Rimm 'hostage' meant nothing – if Sephiroth wished, he could kill the man either way, without even touching her. Then there was the question of morale – would he murder the man while Rimm watched, and if such a case occurred, what would she think of him? ...Did it at all matter? It was only a matter of time before he would make Kurai release her. But the man had some ulterior motives, surely.

Sephiroth watched them walk away and slowly followed, calm, but far from content.

Speaking of which, Kurai had spoken of a mission he had completed: "...with you two meeting like this..." His mission had been to make sure Rimm and himself, Sephiroth, would meet for some reason. If he took into consideration his venture earlier – when he determined that Rimm was not hosting any of Jenova's cells – matters were becoming complicated. He had Jenova's cells – obviously. That was because Jenova was his mother. Rimm's mother was not Jenova, and she did not have any of the presumed-to-be dead cells of Jenova. But still she had grown silver locks. Surely, her mother – or father – was not an Ancient, like Jenova. What had Hojo done? Given her cells from another Ancient? In that case, that was why Hojo wanted the two of them to meet; To ensure the future of the Ancients, no matter how strong the measures.

"Here," sounded Kurai's strained voice, and Sephiroth realized they were in the middle between Gongaga and the plains surrounding it. In other words, they were in a small forest, shielded from view by trees and foliage on all sides.

"Why here?" asked Rimm, her voice not lacking a vexed tinge. Kurai was gripping the neck of her white shirt with his free hand, and the other held the gun in her back. Sephiroth watched from a distance, oddly calm – a fact that made Kurai all the more uneasy.

"...I could have just left you both. My mission is over, after all," he muttered, repeating himself while staring down Sephiroth and ignoring Rimm's question. If he only paid attention to Sephiroth, it could definitely not hurt for the winged man to inquire about a few matters. The white-haired man was more likely to answer him than Rimm, apparently.

"Tell me about your mission."

"Heh," responded Kurai. He was keeping Rimm as a shield of some sort, and lowered behind her until his head was level with hers, behind her shoulder.
"Hojo had me agree to keep Rimm until your return. Then I was to arrange a meeting between you." His voice was flat as he eyed the silver-haired Sephiroth, who said nothing and waited for the other to continue.

"And because no one was supposed to know other than those directly involved, I sent the guards to silence your parents, Rimm," he murmured, turning to Rimm for a moment.

When he spoke those words, Rimm blanched, and for a moment she seemed to be torn between despair and fury – a clash of feelings that ultimately led to the victory of what would satisfy her the most in the current situation: Fury. She frowned and kicked up behind her, and Sephiroth tensed, ready to lunge forth as well. In his mind was the gun Kurai still carried. Kurai growled upon impact – Rimm's aimless kick hit a truly disadvantageous place, he dared venture – and Sephiroth stopped in his tracks for a moment. The weapon was still aimed at her, but Rimm proceeded by turning around to face him and gave him an solid fist in the jaw, which sadly only distracted him for a second before he gained control again, without falling.

And before Rimm was grabbed hold of by a man who had made advances on her in the past, Sephiroth intruded by seizing the hem of Kurai's jacket. Rimm stopped and stared at Kurai, her eyes betraying hurt, then glanced at Sephiroth. She seemed unable to decide what to think of it all.

"Am I to take it that both of us have the cells of Jenova?" Sephiroth asked mockingly, shoving away the man and stepping between him and Rimm. In his left hand, Masamune was ready – still covered with blood from his encounter with Kurai's subordinates.

Grabbing the gun, Kurai stood up. He laughed quietly – a hollow sound. For a moment he looked completely like his past self, with half-shut eyelids and a faint smirk, his stance confident.

"No. You have Jenova's cells, and Rimm has been given Nova's cells."

Sephiroth frowned, Masamune twitching in his grip. Nova? As in Jenova? If such were the case, there was a possibility that this Nova of which he spoke was also an Ancient. Not allowing himself to display surprise or question, he kept his face and his voice level.
"...I take it that Nova is an Ancient as well," Sephiroth said, wanting his suspicions to be confirmed.

"Hah, see, that is what they all think!" Kurai exclaimed, grinning and frowning. Rimm, at Sephiroth's side, remained quiet - all ears.

"You see, Hojo told me that both Nova and Jenova are something far more interesting. Both of them are... 'extraterrestrial beings that long ago descended upon the Planet in order to take control of it and use it as a vessel to travel the universe'. That was what Hojo kept repeating. Then the Ancients, which people bring up every so often, actually battled these two and won. Later, the humans got rid of the Ancients. The humans won, so to speak."

...At some point during Kurai's speech, everything in Sephiroth's mind had blackened.

He could sense no traces of this all being a lie.

She could only see his back, yet had no problems whatsoever sensing the building pressure. She wasn't sure if it was the atmosphere or Sephiroth's own energy flowing, and she wanted to speak, but wasn't sure if that would just make everything worse. By saying what he did, Kurai had claimed that Sephiroth's mother was an alien. Stepping to her left, Rimm tried getting a glimpse of Sephiroth's face to see if he was still calm. She couldn't see, though, but judging from Kurai, she doubted Sephiroth looked too pleased.

"And Hoj-"

"I never did find that despicable man in the Lifestream," sounded the calm, icy voice. From where she now stood, Rimm could barely see Sephiroth smirking, taunting Kurai. Most of all she wanted to tell him that his mother was a human – like the cloaked man in Nibelheim had claimed – but something prevented her from doing it; Masamune was stained with blood that was slowly starting to dry. Kurai's men had been injured, they had said earlier, but when, and why? Were they dead?

"...Despicable man? Him? ...In the eyes of most people, you are a lot worse. Many do not even know of his existence."

Did Kurai really want to die that badly? What was he thinking?
Sephiroth lifted his sword and pointed at him, but remained still.

"Sephiroth-..." squeaked Rimm, and he turned to her abruptly, his face a dark frown.
"I-... went to Nibelheim, and there was a man... He said your mother was a human," she tried, watching him apprehensively. Only then it occurred to her that Sephiroth might not believe her words after what Kurai had said.

"Whoa. You researched it and all? Sure enough, his mother was a human," Kurai spoke, turning more arrogant by the minute.

Because of Sephiroth's reactions to his words, the white-haired man was beginning to feel powerful. Blinded by this power that was sure to lead to his defeat, he continued spilling things he had kept hidden from Rimm and Sephiroth:

"See, her name was Lucrecia Crescent, a professor. Jenova's cells were injected into her womb before you were born," Kurai continued, now oblivious to Sephiroth's anger as he gladly continued his ranting – thinking he could break the stronger man with his words.

And however briefly, Sephiroth's face lit for a moment. That was not to last.

"I encountered Hojo long after that, tough, so all I could do was help out. I did look up to his patience, and I still do."
Rimm pulled back until she was a fair distance behind Sephiroth, then shook her head vigorously to make Kurai stop. He had committed countless crimes and unacceptable things that she would never ever forget, yet she still shook her head to him. He was not Hojo.

"Hojo was killed by Avalanche. Too bad. He was hoping to see you two again."

Though Sephiroth said nothing, Rimm was sure he wanted to meet the professor, too. To get revenge. High on the effects his words had caused Sephiroth so far, Kurai was in no hurry to stop:

"After all, he was you father."

At that, an excruciatingly long second passed. Masamune, still covered in blood that was now dry, was dropped to the ground and spun a little before stopping. Shocked by the revelation, but not nearly as much as Sephiroth must have been, Rimm could only watch as the winged man closed the distance between himself and the disturbed Kurai. With a move too fast for their eyes to see, Sephiroth shoved his hand into Kurai's chest with such force that instead of merely knocking him off his feet, Sephiroth's hand went all the way through Kurai's chest and out on the other side, tearing through fabric and bones alike. The white-haired man staggered and gasped. Sephiroth pulled his hand back halfway back and rummaged in Kurai's chest, then swiftly retracted his entire arm from Kurai's chest, which produced a horrible squelching sound. For a second blood coursed through the air in flying rivulets, and then a lump in Sephiroth's gloved hand became visible – one that by all appearances was his heart, and that was still partially connected to Kurai.

By then Rimm was on the ground, curling up against a tree while grasping her mouth to keep herself from making any sounds. Watching in horror, she saw Sephiroth throw the lump aside, then she looked away, now gripping her stomach as well. By her side was Masamune.

"Bring Hojo my greetings."

After uttering his frigid words, Sephiroth coldly observed Kurai's already dead, sitting body until it fell sideways limply. If the ground was not still damp from yesterday's rain, it was now. The blood continued running from the hole in his chest, dyeing some of Kurai's hair red, and eventually reached Sephiroth's boots. Kurai's vividly colored brown eyes were wide open, already not reflecting any light whatsoever.

Then Sephiroth muttered a silent spell, one that must have been a small earthquake spell, because the ground started shaking. She still wasn't looking his way, but hearing the ground crack and feeling the smell of damp mud, she guessed the ground was parting. She risked glancing over her shoulder. Sephiroth and Kurai were both on an elevated platform of crumbling dirt, but not for long, because Kurai quickly toppled over the edge and fell into the crevice below, his limp body hitting the earthen wall several times on the way as he rolled deeper. Then Sephiroth once again muttered the same spell, controlling the earth so it crashed together again – leaving no holes or crevices, only uneven ground. The only trace left behind was Kurai's blood, and that would disappear as soon as it started raining again.

To her horror, when Sephiroth turned in her direction, his face was awfully cold and the corners of his mouth were turned down in something akin to a snarl, his intense eyes burning jade. His right, blood-covered arm twitched as he looked down on her from all the way over there, and she found herself struck with eminent fear as he started approaching with graceful strides. He looked as if he was blaming her as well, with every last fiber of his being. Kurai was not Hojo, yet Sephiroth had done such a thing – then, what difference did it make that she was his past friend? She had told him his mother was a human, which was a good thing, but he probably thought she knew all along that Hojo was his father, too. Which she did not. But... with the way he looked now...

Rising to her feet, she pushed away from the tree and started running away, at loss of what else to do. She had no idea if Sephiroth posed a threat or not - his angry face may as well have been because he had let her see him commit such an act.

The same morning, he had embraced her, something he would never have done in the distant past – but now everything was so startlingly different.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw that he was standing where she had curled up moments ago. He was holding his sword again, in his left hand. Blood was still dripping from his right. But at least he wasn't following her.

"Hah..." she uttered, maneuvering between trees that shrunk in size, yet carried more foliage and leaves the farther she ran. The small trees were very soon accompanied by equally large bushes. Rimm welcomed this, thinking that it would take longer for Sephiroth to find her if he decided to come after her. Yet, even when she was running like this, she couldn't help but feeling her chest ache of something else than just lack of air. She felt bad just escaping like this, without saying anything or hearing Sephiroth say anything. Now he probably thought even worse of her. If he weren't angry with her in the beginning, she had messed things up a lot by running like this.

"What am I doing..." she mouthed without any sound other than her partially stifled heaves for air. Now was not the time to hesitate. She had to run as fast as she could for as long as she could, or else she might come to regret it thoroughly.

Turning up the sloping ground when she got close enough to on of the tiny mountains surrounding Gongaga, Rimm hurried forward. Heading up, she pushed branches out of her way and stepped over broken twigs and protruding roots at her feet. While rushing up towards the sun-bathed peak of the mountain, she tried thinking of what to do next. Should she hurry downhill on the other side, back to Gongaga? Or would Sephiroth find her there? Would he go back there to search for her? Or should she find a hiding place in the forest and stay there, hoping he wouldn't be able to pinpoint her whereabouts when he searched for her presence or something?

She glanced over her shoulder, expecting to see bushes and branches billowing in her wake.

Instead, though a fairly long distance behind her, she saw the silver-haired, winged man that was Sephiroth, whose Masamune was on his back and whose face held no signs of playful smirks. And she could really not afford to think about whether his lack of a smirk was good for her or not. He was chasing her - as fast as he could.

Now scared to death and fueled by fear and adrenaline, Rimm ran on, her eyes fixed on all the green, thick foliage ahead, through which the sun barely made its way. She steered between small tree trunks and chose the hard ways instead of open places – hoping Sephiroth's wings would slow him down. Feeling her knees threatening to give in because of her struggles to get up the sloping, small mountain, she only forced herself to go faster, feeling her heart throb and her lungs join in. She looked over her shoulder again, and Sephiroth was so much closer, so close she felt powerless and half blinded by her futile clambering. Again, she dove under the heavy branches of a leafy tree, and glanced over her shoulders again once she was on the other side. He appeared to have stopped – if only for a moment. And she kept climbing the increasingly steep slope.

If she could make it to the top of the small mountain, would there be any point at all in yelling for help? Would she even manage to force herself to do that, since that practically meant dealing Sephiroth another hit – on top of her running away in distrust?

But she never got far enough to find out.

Sephiroth grabbed hold of her left elbow from behind, and frightened, she tried breaking free by jerking her arm away from him, something that only made his grip strengthen. Not wanting her back exposed to him she turned to face him, fear gleaming in her eyes briefly as she tried prying him off. He extended his other arm to stop her from doing so – the arm still covered in blood – and her fear magnified. She was literally afraid enough not to see his face at all, and she only saw his arms reaching out, but that way she managed to free her elbow by yanking it out of his grip. She fell backwards to the slanting ground, but immediately started backing away on all fours. Staring at the blood-covered arm, she started feeling sick to her stomach again.

Just when she was about to get to her feet again to turn around and continue running up the slope, Sephiroth moved after her again, and she tried rolling out of his way. She wasn't fast enough – Sephiroth lowered above her and placed a clenched fist on both sides of her, thus forcing her to look him in the eye. She fixed her gaze on his face. He looked back with a humorless frown and equally intense eyes. His hard stare only made everything worse and she tried ducking down enough to slip away past his arms.

But then he'd had enough.

He let himself drop down and trapped her, restraining her as much as possible as his cheek brushed hers for a second. For the second time that day, energy coursed through her briefly – energy she now discerned as Nova's and Jenova's. Seeing no reason to fight after having lost so completely, she loosened up completely and remained limp with the exception of her heart and craving lungs. He was on top of her, weighing her down so much she couldn't breathe properly, but she was in no position to complain about it. No matter what she did or said, this was her ultimate loss. He pulled his head back enough to see her face, which was suddenly languid and powerless – not holding a trace of fear other than the fact that her pupils were about as tiny as they could get. As it were, she had absolutely no energy left. Physically and mentally worn out, she let exhaustion take hold of her.

It was almost ironic – Sephiroth, Jenova and Nova were obviously far more superior than herself, even though Sephiroth was only a human like herself. If he touched her one more time – skin against skin – she wouldn't be able to take it. And even if Sephiroth wished her no harm in the future, they would never be able to touch without that ghastly energy flowing through them. All her life, she had never experienced so many horrible things happen in one day.

"Why did you run," he demanded, his voice silent.

As a reply, she glanced towards his right arm and the blood she knew stained it. She could feel the smell of rust. Then she looked over his shoulder, where the hilt of Masamune showed.

"Did you think of me as capable of killing you as well?" he muttered, his head dropping so she couldn't see his face, his weight on her increasing.

"No," was her whispered reply. She was sure he would never have killed her. But she had escaped anyway – shocked by what he had done to Kurai and temporarily blinded by it. She was sure he could tell.
"Sorry," she whispered, fainter this time because she absolutely didn't trust her voice, but honest nonetheless. She wanted to be stronger – she really did – but it wasn't that easy.

"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, startling her.

"No!" she squeaked, cringing at the sound. She threw a glance at his wings, which were spread out on both sides of them. Surely, if Sephiroth wished her harm, he would have ridden himself of her long ago. But she was unharmed - only tired and lacking energy.

Then, with his right hand, he pushed both of them up from the ground; She was halfway straddling him, he was holding around her with his left arm. His wings followed, a move that didn't turn out quite as planned – the extra weight pulled him backwards, making both of them tumble downhill. Exclaiming as they picked up speed, Rimm felt Sephiroth's grip around her tighten considerably as he rolled them over. With a powerful thrust of his wings, soon followed by a second and third flap, they were in the air. Then, as soon as they had left ground, they landed again, both of them standing on their feet. Rimm was holding onto his upper arms as if they were life buoys, afraid that she would fall of she didn't.

"Let me try and explore Nova's influence," he said. He had already done so with Jenova – he could control Jenova, she was sure – but wasn't that because he was strong? She wouldn't be able to do such a thing.

She looked up, and stopped as his chin touched her forehead. She waited for the surge of energy to come.

But it didn't.

"That would be because as long as I tread carefully, Jenova can't use myself as a medium." Jenova would always be there, but would be unable to interfere if he remained cautious – unlike how he had been acting earlier today, on a number of occasions.

Rimm tilted her head up, looking incredulous.
"Then, what about Nova?" ...Hopefully, this 'Nova' would not pose a threat – Rimm was, after all, used to be careful. She thought of things a lot, whether they were of importance or not, and acted thereafter.

"Just guard yourself." The words came out much colder than he intended, but he ignored it.

"...Can you stay with me?"

An eerie, heavy silence ensued, bringing with it unavoidable questions and problems he had yet to solve. With Rimm alive and well and Kurai and his men taken care of, so to speak, it would not be dangerous for Rimm to return to Gongaga. But for himself, who was tinged with a past dark enough to put even the deepest of abyssed to shame, to stay with her... Such a thing was not something he could do easily. He could not simply turn back time and undo everything. He could not bring people back to life, nor did he have the means of atoning for his sins. They would trail behind him like they had always done – as a heavy veil that could never lighten. A burden he could never endure to share with Rimm. He would not let it obscure her.

"I would rather not have to-"
"Mum used to say that feeling true regret is the same as repenting. And once you regret, then it's time to forgive yourself." She sounded frightened when she spoke – not of him, but instead nervous that he would not listen.

Weren't her words much too simple? He always felt regret. It diluted him and weighed him down more every time he killed without a sensible reason. And there really was no such thing as a rational motive strong enough to justify the murders he had committed. If there was truth to Rimm's statement, he had already atoned in a way, and all that was left was to forgive himself.

"You..." he started, searching for appropriate words. All he could think of were – of habit the past years – sarcastic remarks that would only make matters worse.
"...had a kind mother." His words made her wince, and he felt something akin to pain as well, only different from hers, he was sure.

"Please stay." Her voice was tinted with something that almost seemed like anger – to hide her sadness. Rimm clutched him by his wrists and let her forehead rest against his coat.

...Surely, even if sins could not be undone, they could be forgiven. Somehow. But to do so...

"I shall have to take some sort of punishment upon myself for my sins," he mused monotonously.
"But you don't need to. You can't be punished for your sins, not when you've already been punished by them!" she said angrily, sounding as if she was trying to convince herself as well.

Forgive yourself. That was what she was saying. As if all others would forgive him when he did.
...Yet, when exactly did he start caring about what all the others thought of him? If Rimm forgave him and wished for him to remain by her side, then there really was no need to ponder matters such as these.

"...I seem to be thinking too much."

The statement earned him a bewildered look, one that of some reason gave him immense relief.

The rest of the day and the days following it were spent talking, clearing things up. Rimm was pretty sure that both of them were feeling as if they were beginning to heal, if only a little currently. Misunderstandings were corrected and memories were brought back up so as to get an overview and reach understanding. Sephiroth left out details he was sure she wouldn't like to hear, and she tried making him tell anyway, and both of them tried putting things back in place. The things she told were quiet and not of great importance, yet full of comparisons, all adding up to something that she hoped Sephiroth would remember nonetheless. Sephiroth told stories with great details, and a select few times he chose to add certain descriptions that made her cringe with fear, excitement and sympathy(and she was sure he only did so to see her react and make her forget all the most recent events).

And they had found a place to stay, far away from Shinra, Midgar, Avalanche and all the places that brought forth memories.

They had agreed that the villagers of Gongaga would manage better without them (especially with that old scythe lady guarding them at all times), and Rimm had only returned briefly – to leave flowers for her parents and Zack, and to go get some food and a change of clothes.

When she returned, Sephiroth had suggested several places they could go to, including the Ancient Forest between Gongaga and Cosmo Canyon(which Rimm claimed was full of beetles, spiders and other suspicious creatures), the Cactus Island in the middle of the sea south-west of Gongaga(to which Rimm replied she didn't want to live on a tiny spot of sand), and the long islands north-east of Mideel(which Rimm disagreed with, because the fiends there were so strong she had to rely on Sephiroth all the time, and she really didn't want to be blackmailed). He also suggested the island holding the Temple of the Ancients, but that sounded too fishy. After that he had suggested the Goblin Island, which she flatly refused to even visit, because goblins were strictly not beings she wanted to meet at all(she described them as dogs the size of compact cars walking on two legs, who would easily wolf down chunks of solid human beef if given the chance). Then there was the oblong island directly north of Goblin Island, which didn't please her either("People with a decent head on their shoulders wouldn't stoop to settling down on a nameless island that could hold anything from hunormous dragons to gnomes selling broken pirate skeletons.").

"Then, dare I suggest Round Island?"

...And because she found the name of said island idyllic and beautiful – especially when he described it as a large island surrounded by imposing mountains on all sides, with forests and caves, rivers and whatnot, she had said yes blindly(whereupon he intentionally left out the fact that this island also had a significant number of fiends).

They had spent days getting there, having to stop several times along the way to eat and sleep and such, and then they continued the day after – even staying on the Goblin Island on their way, much to Rimm's chagrin.

And now, having stayed for some time on the Round Island – which was about as far north-east as one could possibly get – they were settling down more or less. The trees were old and big enough for them to live in, and Rimm entertained the idea of simply building a roof and some walls to turn one of them into a house. To do any such thing, however, Sephiroth would need to leave the island to get supplies and tools, and wouldn't return for days. Rimm didn't like that too much(she had noticed that there were fiends there, after all, but hadn't brought up the matter).

'Seriously. When winter comes... I'll turn into a...' she would mutter, then she would try to come up with something she might turn into once the cold got to them.
'...into...' she would continue, crouching close to the edge of a particularly large branch and fingering the old moss there. And Sephiroth would let her keep thinking, knowing it would be easy enough for him to light a fire once it got cold. The branches above – even in winter, without all its leaves – would undoubtedly keep them dry. For now, though, it was only early spring. If he wished, he could return to the mainland at any time to fetch things, but only if Rimm came with him.

The island was so deserted that Rimm was already entertaining the idea of the two of them living there for the rest of their lives, turning into gossiping elders with binoculars and arthritis on the way, but remaining friends. A word that, however comforting, was beginning to sound dull. Also, beneath all the optimistic talking about a new beginning, the memories still remained.

"Say..." Rimm muttered to him, pointing at him with a displeased face from where she stood in front of him. He, like her, was in an impressive tree. Resting against the trunk of said tree, far above the ground, Sephiroth looked up with no particular expression and observed her. She was wearing baggy black pants and a vivid, red t-shirt with black hems and a flashy logo across her chest. She had not discarded her beanie – even though none of her beanies hid her growing silver hair any longer(something she fretted about occasionally, though only jokingly, adding comments such as 'growing gray hair before her age').

"Do as you please," he said, and shut his eyes as she sat down next to him and leaned closer. This was becoming normal. She would sit down next to him – against one of his wings (he could make them appear and disappear at will, much to Rimm's enjoyment and also chagrin, since she had grown to like them) – and they would sit there peacefully, and if she wished she would tell him what was on her mind. Then he would share his comments if he felt like it.

"You're really stupid."

...But he had really not expected her to say anthing like that.

Turning to her with arched brows, he stared her down while wearing an incredulous look. Why she said such a thing was beyond him – unless she did it to take him off guard. And surely enough, she snickered and jumped to her feet when she saw his face, then jumped along the broad branch, thoroughly satisfied that she was able to say such a thing to his face without him being able to deliver anything in return. Looking over her shoulders and seeing that he was still somewhat taken aback, she could hardly contain her laughter, and her shoulders started shaking as she grinned and turned away. Not planning to let her off the hook that easily, Sephiroth rose to his feet and let himself levitate in the air, moving to her without a sound.

Then he shoved her off the branch, resulting in her giving him a thoroughly satisfactory look of disbelieving horror. Of course, he dived down after her and caught her, then steered clear of the ground and landed by a nearby tree root. As if on cue, their little flight triggered a memory:

"How did you get us here?" The question made him throw a glance at her.
"Levitation," was his honest-sounding reply.
"...Pfft," she uttered, followed by a single chuckle. He couldn't fool her that easily.
Sephiroth immediately read her expression. Every part of her face told him she was indirectly saying '
I don't believe you at all' or 'HAH! As if!' or even 'Duh. Yeah, right.'

And then there was another:

When she opened the door and peeked inside, wearing a Santa hat and a cautious expression, Sephiroth was taken aback to find that he was no longer sitting - he was standing, bending only slightly forward, with his fingertips resting on his desk.

After both of them were done apologizing to the other of reasons he could recall at the moment, Rimm had been the first to speak:

"Goodness... Thanks..." was her sheepishly spoken reply. Sephiroth attempted giving a small smile and was rewarded with a genuine, lopsided smile from Rimm, whose cheeks were still red. That smile had been absent for much too long. The fact that she looked as relieved as he felt was, if anything, truly satisfying.

To add to this... there were times he did not wish to remember at all – especially things done to her by Kurai:

He had not expected the white-haired man to be capable of going this far. Sephiroth had never experienced his determination wilt as fast as this - to say that he was stunned would be an understatement. To him, watching the man touch Rimm was worse than touching her himself, with his tainted hands. Kurai was pinning her down, whether it was to the floor or the wall could not be decided at first glance. Rimm's expression was much too visible; She looked petrified, her eyes glancing to places that suggested she had lost control of her movement. Kurai, while Sephiroth watched, moved closer to her, parting her unnaturally exposed legs even more. Noticing Sephiroth, Kurai glanced at him and leered, then moved from her neck and proceeded to her face.
After a short, taunting look at her and a very brief widening of his open-mouthed smirk, his lips closed on top of hers roughly, grazing them as he did.

...And a result, he had most likely lost her first kiss.

"Whoa-" Rimm exclaimed as Sephiroth intently let his knees buckle. Rimm followed him to the ground, her surprised face soon replaced by one of genuine worry. On their knees in front of each other, she reached out and held his forelocks out of the way.

"Se-" she started, but stopped when he leant closer claimed her lips with his own, and stiffened considerably in his grip. His hands were at her back, not pulling her closer just yet. Then she smiled without pulling away, nudging his lips a little. Her hands played with the belts across his chest and he pulled her closer, her t-shirt wrinkling in his grip. When he pulled away for a moment, she shoved him off so he fell back, and he pulled her with him. His wings extended and he looked at her and saw her sit up, straddling him, wearing a grin and flushed cheeks.

"You're the underdog, you underbird," she said, unable to keep her face serious as she gestured at his wings and looked down at him. As a response, he feigned a look of complete end utter disinterest, something which led to the brutal end of Rimm's good mood.

"What... You..." she muttered, turning limp on top of him.

"You fail miserably at appealing to me," he taunted in a level voice, earning a darker shade of red from her cheeks. She crossed her arms and looked to the side very abruptly and tensed around him as she did, making him grope at the ground. She must have noticed a change as well, because her blush extended to her ears as she looked back.

"You big, bad liar." This time, her voice was level. And, rude and straightforward as she was, she went ahead to underline her point by grinding against him lightly.

The tables turned as Sephiroth used arms and legs to flip them over, and suddenly the scene was far more intimate than he had first intended. In her gray eyes (in front of which her hands and all her fingers moved erratically as if she was at loss of what else to do with her hands) he could only see surprise – no fear. Tilting his head and smirking, he made her – if possible – even more flustered. He was on top of her, with his hands on the ground on each side of her, with his large wings spread above them. To add to this – since she had straddled him moments ago and he had simply flipped her over – he was situated between her knees. An advantageous position, indeed. For many reasons.

"B-blackmail..!" she squeaked. Indeed, he was exerting pressure on her through unspoken threats.
"And you're enjoying it!" she added.

"Indeed I am." And when he lowered, he could not exactly hear her complain, either. She was submitting and he, as before, relished in the sensation of having the upper hand. He was in a place (and posture, he dared venture) of complete advantage and control, no matter how many rude or nervous yells she chose to utter. To Rimm, if he wished, he could do anything.

Only he would not. Not now.

He sat up slowly, cradling Rimm as he did, and left ground once more, this time only levitating rather than using his wings. Though flustered and confused, she looked truly happy just resting against him in his arms. She peered up at him with eyes that looked mischievous, yet very much pleased. They had plenty of time – he wouldn't want to break what they had started building. Doing what he did right now made him feel lighter. It felt as if his chest had been dipped into clean, chilly water only to be pulled back up swiftly, dried, then wrapped in something warm – which in his case was Rimm. He hoped she felt the same.

...And looking down at her beaming face, he could tell she did.

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