Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.

Plot Synopsis: Genesis awakens, redeemed in the eyes of his Goddess, and is freed from his long slumber. His awakening stirs another. Sephiroth/Genesis. Sephiroth's POV.

Author's Note: Alright, back in business, with a new beta and an exciting (not) filler chapter ;). RL's been a bitch, but I won't bore you with the details. So. . .a special thanks to Kyra1, my awesome new beta, and to all of you who have stuck with me this far. I seriously couldn't keep this up without your encouragement. Now, on with the show:).

Final Fantasy VII: Angelic Threnody

Chapter 71

'My friend, your desire is the bringer of life, the gift of the goddess.'–Loveless, ACT III

Sephiroth shifted uncomfortably on the hard metal bench, repositioning his elbows on the table before him, his brilliant green gaze trained on the document in his hands. Reno had waited until he finished his breakfast—which was more of a late lunch, considering the time that he and Genesis had risen—to claim the seat directly across from him. He hadn't spoken, had merely slid a creased manila folder across the table, his aquamarine eyes holding an atypically somber expression that immediately set Sephiroth on-guard. And as Sephiroth had opened the file and began to read, he began to understand the younger man's solemnity.

Rufus had indeed come to regret his perfidy, as was evident by the concessions that he was—apparently—willing to make to lure Sephiroth and his lieutenants back to Midgar. Shinra Electric Power Company was going to announce a five-year plan to discontinue the use of mako energy, and replace it with fossil fuels. To that end, he wanted to present a united front to the world, one that included Sephiroth and his fellow Firsts. Rufus was offering to hire them as "outside contractors"—mercenaries, for lack of a better word—complete with furnished quarters in any city chosen, so long as it was on the Eastern Continent, as well as a significant raise in pay. He was also offering him, if he returned as SOLDIER's public figurehead, command of Deepground and all of its considerable forces, something that Sephiroth was fairly certain was not in his purview as President of Shinra, Inc..

Sephiroth didn't doubt that Rufus was eager to make amends, but he knew full well that it was not altruism guiding the young businessman's hand. After hearing Reno explain that Deep Ground's leader had awakened from his coma, Sephiroth was certain that Shinra's young President was feeling decidedly generous just about now, and perhaps a bit desperate as well.

He personally knew very little about Deep Ground, only what he had been told by Vincent and the boys. Of their leader, Weiss the Immaculate, he knew virtually nothing, save that he had once been host to Hojo's amoral consciousness. Reno's information on Deep Ground had been second-hand at best, as Shinra and The Turks had not been a part of the Omega incident at all. He didn't doubt that the Tsviet leader could potentially become a threat, but as of now, that threat seemed limited to Shinra, Inc..

Of course, should Shinra fall before the mako reactors were taken offline, it could become a problem. But Sephiroth believed that it would be best to wait and see how the situation unfolded. He truly did not think returning to Shinra was a viable option, at the moment.

But, that decision was not his to make, Sephiroth knew. There were others to consider here, people whose thoughts and feelings must be taken into careful consideration. Friends, family, and allies alike, their lives would be affected were he to make the wrong choice.

He flicked a quick glance at the end of the table, not at all surprised to find Cloud watching him with intently. Sky-blue eyes, brilliant in hue and shining with mako, were veiled as they moved to the file in his hands and back again, making it clear that Cloud was already aware of the file's contents. His inscrutable expression, however, made it impossible to tell what he was thinking or feeling. Did he want to return to Shinra? They had fled before he could be promoted to 1st Class, something that Sephiroth knew he'd wanted. Did Cloud wish to live out that childhood dream, or was he content to continue the unsettled, bohemian life they were currently living?

Vincent stood behind Cloud, his arms crossed over his chest, his golden claw glinting under the artificial lighting. As Sephiroth gazed at him through a concealing veil of heavy silver hair, he had no doubts whatsoever as to what his reaction would be. His father would simply refuse to go. Shinra had betrayed Vincent too many times for him to ever trust them again, in either of its incarnations. It wouldn't matter to him that Rufus was at them its helm, because in his past, Rufus had been just as ruthless—if not more so—than the former president of Shinra Electric Power company.

And as Sephiroth's gaze touched on Yazoo and his brothers, who sat only a few feet from the older man, he knew that Vincent would never do anything to risk his pretty one's safety. So, it had never really been a question at all. If the party made the choice to return, it would be without Vincent and Yazoo, and possibly Kadaj, Cloud, Loz, and Cissnei as well.

But it was all a moot point, as far as he was concerned, as he had no intentions of allowing Shinra so close to the boys. Professor Hojo might be dead, but Sephiroth wasn't sure that he trusted Dr. Hollander—or any other scientist—near his beloved remnants. They would meet eventually, when Hollander traveled to Wutai to begin Genesis' treatments, but it would be in an environment that Sephiroth could control. He would be there to monitor their interactions, and he would assure that nothing happened to his precious children.

His gaze moved to Angeal, who was sitting with his arms crossed on the metal table, watching both he and Genesis with a serious expression, and felt the tension rise up in him once again. Angeal had been completely unprepared for their flight to Junon, and so far as Sephiroth knew, he had been content with his life in Midgar. He had enjoyed a great deal of respect in his career as a SOLDIER, and he'd always taken pride in his many accomplishments, even when he disagreed with their employer's orders. Was he happy with their current lifestyle, or would he prefer to return to the comforting familiarity of his second home?

He thought of Aerith, and the love that he had witnessed blossoming between she, Angeal, and Zachary, and truly couldn't imagine her wanting to return. To visit her adoptive mother, yes, but not to live. She was Gaia's last Cetra. She deserved to be surrounded by The Planet's natural splendor, with which she shared such a deep affinity, not subjected to the dank, dark ruins that were The Slums.

As for Zack himself, Sephiroth knew that he'd been happy with his life in Midgar. He'd only accompanied Sephiroth only because Cloud had chosen to, and he hadn't wanted to lose his closest friend. Did Zack still hold his dreams of becoming a hero close to his heart? Would he prefer to go back and make that dream a reality?

Sephiroth knew that Reno wished to go back—he had never claimed otherwise—but as he and Rufus were. . .at odds now, Sephiroth didn't believe that would be a wise course of action for him. Of course, that was another decision that was not his, when it came right down to it. Staying with them or returning to Midgar was a personal choice, one that Reno needed to make for himself. Only he could decide if Rufus was worth the effort, and it was truly none of Sephiroth's business.

Genesis, however, was very much his business.

As though reading his mind, the man in question stirred at his side. Genesis shifted closer, reaching across him to press one gloved fingertip to the page, his sensuous lips moving soundlessly as he read. His free hand shifted from Sephiroth's back to his side, his thumb moving in a gentle, absent caress, as it had since he had first started reading. His near-perfect features were partially hidden beneath a thick fringe of auburn hair, making it impossible for Sephiroth to discern his reaction through his expression. He was careful to keep his own features neutral as he waited for the other man to finish, but he couldn't help but wonder precisely what his lover's reaction would be.

It was a fair offer, and Genesis had always loved his career. It had been the most important thing in his life for ten long years. Yes, he had made the decision to flee Midgar with him, but that didn't mean that the other man did not miss the life he'd left behind. After all, it was a truly generous offer, one unprecedented in the company's history. Would Genesis see this as an opportunity to return to that life, and what would Sephiroth do if he did? Could he truly force himself to go back to a life that he despised, even for Genesis?

No, Sephiroth realized with something akin to amazement, he could not. He'd spent the months after he first returned at Shinra only because Genesis was there. Had he returned later, after Genesis' desertion, he would've left immediately, his only goal to be reunited with the man he loved. He loved Genesis with every fiber of his being, with every ounce of his corrupted, tainted heart, but he could not return to that life.

Genesis finally eased back, his red-gloved hand sliding from the document to rest on his forearm, and the movement was enough to jolt Sephiroth out of his startling emotional epiphany. He released a slow, controlled breath and very slowly closed the file, his thoughts churning as he continued to gaze at the deceptively innocuous manila folder. He could not return to Shinra. That much was certain. No matter how many of these concessions Rufus held to, too much had happened for him to ever truly trust the man again, nor return to a life that had been nothing more than a cleverly crafted lie.

He was so much more than the weapon they had made of him, and he wanted the chance to discover exactly who he had become, something which could not be done while living that lie.

Genesis chose that moment to turn towards him, a silent question in the pale skies of his eyes. Sephiroth reached up to tentatively touch the silver earring which hung from his right ear, the loving gesture an answer in itself. The other man only smiled and turned into the touch, lifting his own hand to finger the pendant that he had given him as a symbol of their love, and Sephiroth felt a rush of relief so great that it threatened to undo him.

He lowered his head and pressed a tender kiss to Genesis' forehead, humbled beyond measure to know that his kitten loved him enough to turn his back on the dream he had once held so dear. 'Thank you, koneko.'

Genesis smiled as those words whispered through his mind, the loving gesture filled with the happiness that Sephiroth had given, and leaned forward to brush a soft kiss across his lips. 'No need to thank me, moonbeam,'" he returned in a mental whisper. 'Just tell Reno no. That will be enough for me.'

Sephiroth dipped his head in acknowledgement and forced himself to pull away, well aware that they were not the only people occupying this room. He and Genesis were of one mind in this, and now it only remained to discover if the others were as well.

"So," he looked up to find that Reno had moved closer, practically leaning across the table, his blue-green eyes sharp as they stared into his own, "what do ya think, yo?"

His shoulder rose and fell in an intentionally casual shrug, one that belied the apprehension he had experienced just moments before, and held the file out to him. The younger man took it and tucked it into his jacket, his thin lips twisting into a crooked smile. "I told Tseng you wouldn't go for it, yo," the Turk said sagely, "but he insisted that I make the offer, anyway. Sorry, babe."

Sephiroth smiled faintly at the once-hated moniker and crossed his arms over his chest. "It is a fair deal," he allowed, making a short, aborted gesture towards the document in question, "more than fair, truth be told, but..."

Reno merely nodded and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, not surprised in the least to have the offer rejected. In fact, he would have been surprised if Sephiroth had taken the deal. Common sense or not, General Hotness wasn't that freakin' stupid. He wasn't going to fall for Rufus' bullshit now, and Reno had known it. It was just too bad that the Boss Man hadn't realized it too.

Angeal finally stirred, sitting up straighter as he met Sephiroth's gaze somberly. "When I first read it, I was tempted," he admitted solemnly. "But the last thing I want is to risk Aerith's safety by returning to Midgar. Considering everything that's. . .happened," his noble features darkened for a moment before he shook himself, "I think that Wutai might just be the best place for us—provided that Godo is willing to let us stay."

"Of course, he will," Zack chimed in brightly, leaning into Angeal with a wide smile. "We're awesome!"

Aerith giggled from her place at his side even as she nodded in agreement. She never had the chance to meet Yuffie's father personally, but she'd watched over her friends from The Promised Land, and she knew that the man had been thoroughly dispirited by the war his country had lost. "I'm sure that Godo is as tired of the fighting as Rufus is," she said sagely. "He'll welcome the chance to put a peaceful end to it."

Cloud merely slumped on the bench, reaching up to grip the table to steady himself, relief flashing across his too-young features. "Thank the Gods," he muttered, his deceptively innocent countenance hardening as he sent an eloquent glance his nemesis' way. "I would have fought you if you'd made any other choice."

"Hell, yes, he would've!" Kadaj declared spiritedly at his side. "And he isn't the only one!"

"I'm afraid that Kadaj is correct," Yazoo told him ruefully, tilting his head to one side as he smiled at his progenitor apologetically. "Had you expressed a desire to return to Shinra, we would have done our very best to show you the error of your ways."

"Yeah," Loz piped in cheerfully, "and we might've even tried talking you out of it, too!"

Sephiroth blinked at that, one eyebrow shooting up as he traded a bemused look with his friends. Angeal merely shook his head at the boys' audacity, while Genesis uttered a low laugh and shot the three young remnants an affectionate look. "While I'm sure that would have been interesting," Genesis' lips curled into a regretful, wistful smile at the thought of sparring with his stepsons, "we've got enough to deal with without having to worry about beating the shit out of each other."

A deep, quiet chuckle escaped Sephiroth at his kitten's—always—unique manner of speaking. "We can save the playing," he shot Kadaj a warning look, well aware of how much he still wanted to test himself against Genesis, "for another time. As Genesis says, we have enough to deal with at the moment."

"But it would be fun," Kadaj insisted with disconcerting eagerness, his blue-rimmed green eyes meeting and holding Genesis' own as he added, "You know you're curious about what it would be like, Gen."

"Of course, I am," Genesis returned honestly, and then cast a pointed glance at Sephiroth, who was frowning darkly at them both. "But you have to take your father's feelings into consideration, Kadaj. If he's not comfortable with the idea of us sparring, then we have to respect his wishes."

The young swordsman snorted and tossed his silver head impetuously, but let the subject be dropped, much to Sephiroth's fervent relief. "Well, we can always do it later, I suppose," he allowed graciously. "For now, we have something to tell Father. Don't we, Loz?"

Loz's slanted green eyes were almost comically wide as he cast his youngest brother a frightened look, and it was all Genesis could do not to burst out laughing as he realized exactly what the boy was referring to. "But 'Daj," Loz hissed in a loud whisper, "we wanted to wait until later to tell him!"

"Pfftt." Kadaj made a rude sound and crossed his arms over his lightly muscled chest at that. "I keep telling you that he's not going to care, Loz. You should listen to me every once in a while!"

"But I always listen to you, tenshi!" the older boy protested, and Genesis did release a chuckle as Cissnei quickly came to her boyfriend's rescue. "This is one of those things that couples like to announce on their own, kid," she told Kadaj with exasperation. "It's got nothing to do with you."

"Oh, I know that, Sister," Kadaj rushed to assure her, making a cutting motion towards Sephiroth with one black-gloved hand. "I just hate having to wait, that's all."

Cissnei gazed at him with affection, fully aware of how excited he was by the prospect of becoming an uncle, and that he was just bursting to brag about it. To be honest, she was surprised that he'd kept his mouth shut this long, as it was. She turned back to her lover, who was watching his brother with obvious apprehension, and squeezed his hand gently. "I think we can go ahead and tell him, now," she told him softly. "If you're ready, that is."

He sent her a frightened, yet loving look, and she raised her free hand to stroke his cheek tenderly. "It's up to you, Loz," she said simply. "I'll abide by whatever decision you make."

The fear bled out of his expression as he nodded his silver head solemnly. "I'm a little scared," he told her in hushed voice, "but I do wanna tell him."

"Then, that's what we'll do," she said with a smile. She leaned forward, brushing a kiss over the high curve of his sculpted cheek, and settled back beside him to wait. She sent Sephiroth a smile, one which widened at his suddenly wary look, and hoped he'd take the news as well as she thought he would. She would hate to see Loz disappointed.

Loz turned back to gaze at the man he considered his father, the one whose existence had made his own possible, and drew a deep breath to steady himself. "Cissnei's pregnant!" he blurted out, immediately cringing at the less than eloquent delivery.

Damn it, he thought angrily, he knew that he should've let Yazoo do it! He'd never been very good with words. He watched Sephiroth's lips part on a quiet gasp, the silver-green eyes so similar to his own widen dramatically, and prayed that the reaction wasn't as bad as he thought it was. He thought it was great news, and he wanted his father to think so too!

Sephiroth could only gaze at the young couple, stunned by those two deceptively simple words. "Pregnant," he repeated dumbly, watching as Cissnei grinned and nodded her coppery head. "Pregnant, as in, with child?"

"Yep," the former Turk replied simply, resting one hand on her still-flat stomach protectively. "You're going to be a grandfather, General."

"A. . .grandfather?" he echoed, his deep voice laced with bewilderment. "But. . .how?"

"Oh, the usual way," Loz said with a grin of his own, slanting a heated glance at the woman at his side. "You know, like how it'd be with you and Gen, if you weren't both guys."

Genesis simply couldn't contain it any longer. He finally burst out laughing, one hand covering his mouth, as he watched his lover blush. Sephiroth's face bloomed with sudden color, a testament to his embarrassment—and his discomfort with the intimate nature of the conversation—and Genesis wrapped both arms around him even as he continued to laugh his ass off. Sephiroth sent him a dark look, but the expression in his vivid green eyes was one of wonder not anger.

"A child," he murmured, wonder echoed in his voice as he began to smile. "A child, Genesis. Our son is going to have a son of his own."

"I know," Genesis returned, his voice softening as he squeezed the other man affectionately. "Isn't it grand?"

"Um, that's not exactly right." Sephiroth turned back to his eldest child with a surprised, quizzical expression, and Loz quickly explained, "Big Sister says that it's going to be a girl, not a boy. Sorry."

Sephiroth's eyes widened once again at that wholly unexpected piece of information. "A girl?" he questioned hesitantly. "Jenova has never produced a female before. Is such a thing truly possible?"

"More than possible," Aerith informed him breezily, sharing an excited look with Cissnei as she waved him forward. "Why don't you touch her and see for yourself? I'm right about this, I promise you."

He shot a startled glance at Cissnei, surprised when she smiled and seconded the unexpected invitation. "Go ahead, Sephiroth. I don't mind," she assured him with a wry laugh. "Kadaj and Yazoo both insisted on doing the very same thing when we told them, and they were able to confirm it for themselves. So can you, if you want to."

Sephiroth leaned forward unconsciously, tellingly, and Genesis' heart turned over. He dropped his arms and rubbed the younger man's back encouragingly. "Go on," he told him in a soft voice. "You can tell me what it was like later."

He reached up and very gently tapped the side of Sephiroth's head, and Sephiroth responded with a quick, eager nod. "I will," he promised, lifting his legs over the bench and rising to his feet. He approached Cissnei with cautious steps, still unsure about the physical contact, but wanting to share this unique experience with his boys.

Cissnei tipped her head back as he came to a halt before her, reaching out to take one of his hands in her own. She tugged lightly, and Sephiroth followed her silent instruction, lowering himself until he was kneeling before her. She set his hand on her stomach and covered it with her own. Her smile was echoed in her tawny eyes as she squeezed gently before withdrawing.

Sephiroth splayed his hand wide, the rather intimate nature of the physical contact forgotten as he felt it. The being cradled in Cissnei's womb stirred to life at his touch, awakening from a deep, satisfied slumber. Its consciousness reached instinctively for his own, responding to the strongest of their mometic line. Power shivered along its nerve-endings, the likes of which he had never before felt, and he realized that this child—this girl—might very well become the strongest of them all.

But not now, he thought with a rush of adoration, his natural reserve forgotten as he laid his head on Cissnei's stomach and closed his eyes. It would take years for this child to develop her skills, to learn how to use whatever abilities the Gods had granted her, and he would be there to nurture her every step of the way, as would her loving uncles. She would have the life that The Planet—through Hojo and Shinra—had denied them, and she would know what it was to grow up safe and loved and happy.

Suddenly, the question of going anywhere but Wutai seemed utterly ludicrous. There was no way they could ever return to Shinra now. Not when this tiny, defenseless being needed them to assure her safety. "You are the future," he told her, unaware that he had spoken aloud as he turned his head and brushed a reverent kiss over the flesh which housed her. "You are our future, and you will want for nothing."

"That's beautiful, Sephiroth."

He glanced up to see Cissnei gazing down at him with large, tear-filled topaz eyes, and couldn't help but reach up and press a second kiss to her cheek. "Neither of you will ever want for anything, daughter," he told her in a voice which resonated with emotion. "Whatever you want, you need only ask, and it will be yours."

A sniffle sounded behind him, and Sephiroth smiled as he turned to Loz and enveloped him in a tight embrace. "I was afraid that you would be mad," the young man admitted in strangled whisper. "I didn't want you to think it was like Hojo tryin' to breed you or anything, cause it's not."

A fist seized and squeezed Sephiroth's heart as he ran comforting hands down the boy's back. "I never thought that," he assured him quietly. "I am proud of you, Loz, of the family that you are creating for yourself. And, I am very happy for you, son."

"Thank you, Father." It came out as a loud, relieved wail, and Sephiroth had to suppress a fond laugh at the boy's emotional response. It would have been inappropriate, given the circumstances, and might have hurt Loz's feelings, which was the last thing that Sephiroth wanted to do. The young warrior's sensitivity was something he had grown accustomed to over the past few months, and it was one of the boy's best qualities. That Hojo had been unable to torture it out of him was truly a miracle, and he would do nothing to stifle it.

Loz finally drew back, reaching up with hand to swipe at his damp cheeks, and Sephiroth squeezed his shoulder before reluctantly withdrawing. He returned to his own seat, grasping Genesis' hand in his own, happy in a way that he had never experienced before. Genesis shifted closer, sliding one arm around him as he smiled hugely, and Sephiroth dipped his head to press a tender kiss to his lush lips.

"A grandfather at thirty-three," he murmured with a rueful smile. "This is not something I had ever anticipated."

A startled expression crossed Genesis' beautiful face at his words. He hadn't really thought about it, but of course, Sephiroth would be older than him now. "Thirty-three, huh?" he questioned rhetorically, shaking his head just a bit. "Gods, and I never thought any of us would make it to thirty."

"Nor did I," Sephiroth returned honestly, careful not to mention that—technically—he hadn't. "Nor did I ever imagine that I would ever have children, let alone grandchildren." He paused a new thought struck him. "Your parents will likely be very confused, once they hear the news."

"Oh, shit!" Genesis exclaimed, raising wide, alarm-filled blue to his own. "You're right, Seph. They still think that the boys are children trapped in adult bodies. How the hell am I going to explain this to them?"

"I'm sure you'll think of something," Angeal said, leaning towards them with a small smile. "Although, I have to admit that I don't envy you having to do it."

"Yeah good luck with that. Mama and Papa Asshole aren't the most understanding people in the world, yo." Reno chimed in dryly. He pulled his PHS out of his pocket and dragged himself to his feet. "I'm gonna call Tseng and give him the bad news, yo. Oh, and I'll mention that little thing we talked 'bout back in Nibelheim. Be right back, yo."

Fiery brows drew together in a fierce frown as Genesis watched him wander over to the galley door and lift the phone to his ear. "You know, I'm still not sure why I haven't kicked his scrawny little ass, yet," he mumbled disgruntedly. Sure, his parents were a little standoffish, but they weren't complete assholes!

"Ignore Reno's rather colorful descriptives," Sephiroth advised him, reaching up to brush his hair back from his face in an infinitely loving gesture. "Your parents love you, Genesis. They will do their best to understand, I'm sure."

"Father's right," Kadaj told them, slipping from his seat to make his way towards them. "Nana loves you, Gen. Besides, I've got her wrapped around all of my fingers, not just the little one. She'll understand, once I explain it to her."

He flopped down on Sephiroth's lap without permission, taking it for granted that he wouldn't be rejected, and he wasn't. Sephiroth's arms came up to steady him automatically, shifting the boy to a more comfortable position, his patrician features filling with loving exasperation. "I believe that Yazoo was correct when he said that you were too big to be sitting on my lap in this fashion, Kadaj."

Kadaj made a rude noise and wound his arms around his father's neck. "But I'm the youngest," he said in pure, childlike tones. "Until my niece is born, I can sit wherever the hell I want!"

"Here we go," Vincent muttered, pushing away from the wall with a loud sigh. He moved until he was standing directly behind Yazoo and set his unguantleted hand on the young gunman's shoulder. "You seem to forget that this child is Yazoo's niece as well. It doesn't belong to only you, Kadaj."

Yazoo tilted his head back just enough to send him an amused glance as, true to form, the youngest remnant immediately began to verbally blast him. "Don't you even start with me, Vincent!" Kadaj all but growled, glowering up at the former Turk with genuine dislike, a feeling that was more than returned by the older man. "And it's not an 'it'. It is a she, and don't you forget it!"

Vincent's gaze cut towards Cloud, an eloquent expression shimmering in their unusual ruby depths, and he only offered a crooked smile in return. Kadaj was argumentative by nature, and he really didn't like his brother's choice of lovers. And when it came down to it, Vincent really wasn't much better. The former Turk had little patience for Kadaj's dramatic antics, and he was becoming less and less inclined to indulge the younger man as their journey progressed. Personally, Cloud didn't think that they would ever get along, but as long as they tolerated each other and didn't come to blows, he could live with it.

"It's done, yo." Reno approached the table and slid back onto the bench. He set one elbow on the table and dropped his chin into the palm of his hand, his blue-green gaze immediately zeroing in on Sephiroth. "Tseng was disappointed, yo, but he wasn't surprised. He said to make sure you knew that you wouldn't have to worry about gettin' any more shit from Shinra. You're kosher, yo."

Sephiroth hid a sense of relief as he nodded in acknowledgement. "And the other matter I asked you to look into?" he inquired quietly. Kadaj stirred on his lap, sending him a curious look, and Sephiroth shook his head to forestall any questions. "Have the arrangements been made?"

Reno grinned winningly and sent him a conspiratorial wink. "Got that covered, too, babe. Told ya I'd take care of all that, didn't I?"

Sephiroth sent him a flat look. "You have shown yourself to be somewhat competent," he allowed in a bland voice. "Something I would never have expected from a Turk of your caliber."

"Aw, come on, babe." The younger man affected a hurt expression, one hand coming up to cover his heart dramatically, even as his aquamarine eyes danced with mirth. "You know, it really hurts when you say stuff like that, yo."

Sephiroth uttered a quiet, surprisingly elegant snort. "You will live," he shot back unsympathetically. "Considering your penchant for touching me without permission, be glad that is all I did."

Reno echoed the sound, the hurt expression gone as though it had never been. "You're a pain in the ass, yo," he declared with another grin. "I don't why I ever crushed on you as hard as I did."

"Nor do I," Sephiroth returned, deadpan. "And you may stop doing so at any time."

The former Turk laughed at that. "Never gonna happen, babe," he said with a leer. "If you'd just admit that you love the attention, it'd make things a hellova lot easier."

"He will do no such thing," Genesis cut in edgily, a hard glint appearing in his sky-blue eyes. "Now, what 'matter' did you 'take care of' for Sephiroth, and why don't I know about it?"

"Probably 'cause it's got nothin' to do with you," Reno drawled carelessly. That bright blue gaze narrowed ominously, and his grin only widened. Screwing with General Asshole was just too easy. "Sorry, Genesis," he said aloud, "but it ain't none of your damned business, yo."

Genesis' eyes flashed with outrage, and Reno rolled his own as Sephiroth shot him a dark look and quickly stepped in to diffuse the situation. "I merely asked Reno to speak with Tseng regarding full-time care for Cloud's mother," Sephiroth told his lover in a low voice. "I thought that Cloud would prefer it if I kept the matter private."

"Oh." Genesis flushed, having the good grace to look ashamed as he sent an embarrassed glance down the table. "You have my apologies, Cloud. I didn't mean to drag your personal business out in front of everyone."

"Um. . .that's alright," Cloud responded, his voice faint as he stared at his nemesis with something akin to amazement. "I didn't think you'd remember considering. . .well, everything else that's happened."

He made a vague, all-encompassing gesture with one black-gloved hand, and Sephiroth merely shrugged self-consciously. "It is the very least I could do, all things considered," he said in a rumble. "While you will obviously have to get the details from Reno, you may rest assured that your mother will be well cared for in your absence."

Cloud merely blinked those big blue eyes of his before bobbing his head once. "Thank you," he returned in a low, uncomfortable murmur, and Sephiroth merely inclined his head in acknowledgement.

As Genesis began to stammer out a second apology—this one to Sephiroth, which Reno had to admit surprised him a little—he quickly began to lose interest in what was well on its way to becoming a personal conversation. While it was good that Cloud's mom would be taken care of, the last thing he wanted was to watch Sephiroth and Genesis coo at each other like a couple of teenage girls. He had other, more important problems of his own to deal with.

Like whether or not he believed Tseng's insistence that his exile was only temporary, he thought with a sigh. The Director had assured him that Rufus' order to stay with Sephiroth wasn't a rejection. He claimed that it was nothing more than Rufus' misguided attempt to protect him from Weiss the Immaculate, and that he would be recalled as soon as Rufus felt that it was safe to do so, but Reno couldn't help but question that. Rufus had always relied on him for protection, not the other way around. Not that Boss Man wasn't a tough son of a bitch—because he was—but he was more of a tactician than he was a fighter. To think that he would try to protect someone whose job had always been to protect him was a stretch and a half!

But, the Gods knew that other things had been changed by what he'd helped Sephiroth do, so why not Rufus too? He really didn't blame the other man for what had happened the day he'd left Midgar. Sure, he hated that he'd got his fucking ass kicked by his boyfriend, but he knew that Rufus hadn't meant to do it. The other man had just. . .lost control of himself, and while it had shocked the hell out of him at the time, he really did understand why it happened.

Not that it really mattered right now, Reno reminded himself with another sigh. Until he got a call from Rufus himself—personally asking him to come home—there wasn't a damned thing he could do to change his situation. He was stuck here on The Highwind, playing the part of the thirteenth wheel, and feeling just about as useful as one.

He folded his arms on the table and slumped over them, resting his chin on his forearms as he continued to mope. "You okay, Reno?"

He looked up, startled, only to find Kadaj leaning across the table, nearly face-to-face with him as he peered at him with concerned green eyes. He quickly checked the involuntary urge to jerk back out of the kid's reach, knowing that it would probably hurt Baby's feelings if he did. The little brat was sensitive, that way. "I'm fine, yo," he answered with a quick, unconvincing shrug. "Why do ya ask?"

"Because Yaz says you're feeling sad right now," a deep voice boomed from his right, "and we don't want you to be sad."

Reno's head whipped around, only to find Loz standing directly beside him. The oldest remnant was bent towards him, his nearly identical green eyes narrowed as he too examined him with obvious worry. "Okay," Reno said slowly, "now that's just fucking creepy."

"Language, my friend," a third voice scolded—albeit gently—just as a firm hand landed on his shoulder. Reno jumped then, he couldn't help it, even as he slanted an exasperated look over his left shoulder. "You three are killing me here," he grumbled embarrassedly. "I'm a Turk, yo! You're not supposed to be able to sneak up on me like that!"

"Pfftt!" Kadaj dismissed his words even as he leaned closer, reaching out with one tiny gloved hand to pat his crossed arms. "We're SOLDIER, Reno. SOLDIERs are better than Turks any day! Besides, you're our Turk, now. We take care of our own."

"Yep," Loz agreed cheerfully as he slid onto the bench beside him. "That means we're allowed to play with you, now."

"Be nice, brother," Yazoo admonished as he squeezed his shoulder gently. "We are supposed to be offering comfort, not playing."

Loz let a great breath, disappointment shaping his sculpted features. "But, Yazoo—"

"No buts, brother." Yazoo smiled down Reno, who was glancing between them somewhat warily, and gestured towards the bench with his free hand. "May I?"

Reno shrugged once and pushed his own discomfort aside. They did mean well, after all. "Knock yourself out, yo."

One silver brow shot up even as Yazoo slid onto the hard metal surface with inhuman grace. "Thank you," the young gunner murmured, his hand never leaving Reno's shoulder as he settled beside him. He tilted his head to one side, his heavy-lidded eyes studying him closely, and Reno managed a crooked smile. "I'm fine, yo. You three don't need to waste your time worryin' about me."

"Hhhmmmppphhh." Kadaj snatched his hand back and settled himself on Sephiroth's lap once more. "I never said I was worried! That was Yazoo!"

"Besides, is that not what friends do?" Yazoo queried with a typically tranquil smile. "Worry about one another?"

He thought of Rude, who still treated him like a two-year-old, and gave a short laugh. "Yeah, I suppose it is. . ." his voice trailed off as Yazoo's thumb began to move in slow circles over his shoulder. "Uh, Yaz," he paused as a shiver of pleasure shot through his body, "what, exactly, are you doin' to me here?"

"Why, I am comforting you, of course," came the unexpected response. "I would have thought that obvious, Reno."

He flushed at the gentle rebuke in underlining those honeyed words. "Uh, yeah, well. . ." He shot a quick look at Valentine, who was watching them with a flat expression in his freaky red eyes, and hastily looked back at the younger man. "What about your boyfriend, yo? I don't think he's too happy watchin' you touch another guy."

Yazoo's smile took on a confident cast as his hand moved from Reno's shoulder to his hair. "Vincent knows that he can trust me," he said simply, running gloved fingers through the length of his ponytail. "He would not try to deny me your friendship. You needn't worry on that account."

Reno flicked another glance at Valentine, who inclined his head once and looked away, and let out a silent breath of relief. He wasn't afraid of Valentine, but tangling with Chaos was another thing altogether. "So," he said conversationally, "what makes you think that I need comfortin', gorgeous?"

Large, slanted silver-green eyes met and held his own. "You've been unhappy since you returned from your phone call with Tseng," Yazoo replied quietly, much to his chagrin. " You hide it well behind that foolish smile, but I can sense it. I do not know what passed between you, nor will I ask, but I did not want to be alone with your pain."

Reno cast a quick glance around the table, grateful to see that none of the others were paying attention to their conversation—or, at least, they were pretending not to. "Tseng said that Rufus was only trying to protect me when he ordered me to stay with you guys," he explained in an atypically hushed voice. "I'm not so sure I believe him, yo."

Nor was he, Yazoo thought with a touch of anger. Aloud, he merely said, "You were worried about Weiss' awakening yourself, were you not? Perhaps, Rufus has taken your warnings to heart."

"Yeah, maybe," Reno replied unenthusiastically, unconvinced. "I guess there's a first time for everything, yo."

Yazoo shifted closer and slid his arm around the other man's shoulders. "I find it hard to believe that in all your years of friendship, Rufus has never once attempted to protect you."

"Wasn't his job to, yo," Reno said as he lifted a hand and rested his chin on it. "I mean, I'm supposed ta to be one of his bodyguards, not the other way around."

"Don't matter," Loz told him solemnly, patting his back hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. "You protect the people you love, Reno. That's just the way it works."

Reno coughed and drew a sharp, much-needed breath. "Yeah, well, Boss Man's not wired like everybody else," he shot back choppily. "The rules are different for Shinras, yo."

"That's a bullshit." Kadaj made his own opinion known with a wave of his tiny hand. "The rules are the same for all of you humans, even your idiot President. Only we," he thumped his lightly muscled chest once, "can do whatever we want, and that's because we're better than all you puny little human beings."

"Humans are not weak." Sephiroth, who had been doing his very best to give Reno at the least the illusion privacy, could no longer remain silent. Kadaj twisted on his lap, tilting his silver head back to frown up at him, and he resisted the urge to return the dark look. "They were strong enough to defeat us when they were called to do so, despite our 'superior' abilities," he reminded the boy sharply. "Humans are an integral part of The Planet, Kadaj, in a way that we are not. And, you seem to forget that we are part human ourselves."

"Don't remind me," the youngest remnant muttered, disgust shaping his features as he scowled his displeasure. "We might've had human parents, but we are not human. We are more than any of them ever could be!"

"That's why it's our duty to protect them!"

Kadaj's head whipped around as he stared at Zack with surprise. "Why so shocked, kid?" the young SOLDIER asked with a small smile. "I'm smart enough to know that if all of you have Jenova cells, then I probably have them too, even if they don't affect me the same way."

Sephiroth slanted a sharp glance at Cloud, who quickly shook his golden head. "I didn't tell him anything," the younger man said. "Zack put it together on his own."

He drew a deep breath and nodded with obvious reluctance. He hadn't expected Zack to draw the conclusion that he had, but he should have. That friendly, energetic, puppy-like exterior housed a sharp mind, indeed. "1st Class mako treatments do contain Jenova's cells," he confirmed quietly, "but not enough to cause mutation in the subject. Your previous SOLDIER treatments effectively rendered you immune to Mo—" he paused and hastily corrected himself, "to Jenova's call."

"I figured," Zack returned with an easy shrug that didn't quite hide his relief. "I'm just glad she's gone, so can't mess with us anymore."

Sephiroth's smile was so faint that it was nearly non-existent, and tinged with a grief he truly could not have explained if asked. "As am I, Zachary."

The intercom crackled to life above them, a faint whine issuing from the speaker that had nearly everyone in the room wincing with pain, and provided a much needed distraction. It ended abruptly, only to be replaced by an obnoxious sound that was nearly as grating. "Get your asses up to the bridge!" Cid hollered without preamble, and Sephiroth's body tensed with anticipation. "We just hit Wutaian airspace, and I don't know about any of you, but I sure as hell don't speak the fuckin' language!"

The intercom clicked off with another whine, and Cloud winced again, rubbing his ear as though that would alleviate the pain. "I'd forgotten how much that hurts," he muttered as he stood and strode towards the door. He paused near Sephiroth just long enough to snag Kadaj's hand in his own and tug him off of the older man's lap. "Come on, baby. I think it's time we talk to Cid about fixing the damned intercom, again."

"If he will," Kadaj stated sourly. "The Captain's really fucking picky about changing anything on this bucket of bolts!"

"I will mention it, as well," Vincent said as he and Yazoo fell into step behind them. "Perhaps, he will listen if Cloud and I make the request, this time."

"Hmmmpphhh." Kadaj stuck his nose into the air as they left the room, leaving Loz and Cissnei to trail after them. "Hey, wait for us!"

Sephiroth traded a quick glance with his friends and quickly followed suit, exhilaration surging through him at the knowledge that their goal was almost in sight. "We're almost there," Genesis whispered at his side, unknowingly echoing his thoughts, the breathless quality of his words betraying his own excitement. "I can't believe we made it this far."

"I know," he murmured deeply, his hand finding and clasping Genesis' own. "Truly, we have been blessed."

He heard the deep, heavy tread of Angeal's boots behind them, followed by the lighter steps of both Aerith and Zack, and felt a sudden blossoming of hope. He knew that hishonorable, stolid friend still had questions about everything he'd learned—how could he not, after all that had occurred?—and yet the other man had put aside his desire for answers in favor of supporting him in this endeavor. Angeal was a good man, the best of them, and Sephiroth knew that he deserved the full truth, even as he acknowledged that he could never give it to him.

At least, he and Genesis were in agreement on this point, Sephiroth comforted himself. If the other man believed that revealing the truth would damage Angeal, then Sephiroth knew that he had made the right decision. Genesis knew Angeal better than anyone else, even Zachary, and that was enough to calm Sephiroth's fears, if not alleviate them fully. That, he feared, nothing could do.

They entered the bridge to find Cid Highwind at the controls, his weathered features pulling into a scowl as he caught sight of them. "Get your ass over to the com and talk to those fuckers!" he ordered, pointing to the console that sat directly across the deck. "If they blow my baby out of the sky, I'm takin' it out of your ass, General!"

Sephiroth merely shot him an amused look and strode to the command console, nodding at the communications officer as he came to a halt beside him. The young man returned the greeting, dipping his head once, his Adam's apple bobbing as he quickly switched on the video screen. Sephiroth ignored his obvious discomfort as a middle-aged Wutaian appeared on the small view-screen. A rich green ceremonial robe was draped regally over the man's slender shoulders, while the faintest traces of a scowl showed on his noble features. Nobuo Staniv, Emperor Godo's top adviser, as well as his diplomatic liaison. He was also one of Sephiroth's most bitter adversaries.

Sephiroth affected a bow, not too deep, but not so shallow as to offer offense, his eyes never leaving those of his counterpart. "Aisatsu, Staniv-k."

To his credit, none of the Wutaian's hatred crept into his voice as he said, "Aisatsu, Sefirosu-taishou," in a simple, respectful greeting. Then, the Wutaian man surprised him by switching to the common language. "We welcome our most honored guests to our humble country."

"You humble us with the warmth of your welcome," he returned politely.

Staniv inclined his head in polite acknowledgement, and Sephiroth straightened. He was forced to trade more pointless niceties while he waited for The Highwind to be granted landing privileges. This diplomatic small talk something he had never excelled in. He could be—and was—unfailingly polite, but he lacked the subtlety that was necessary for such a delicate procedure. Luckily, he had Genesis with him to cover his lack of conversational skills.

As he translated for his lover, who was more than capable of the delicate verbal dance that was diplomacy, he studied Staniv's proud countenance closely. It was obvious that Staniv did not want them here, and equally obvious that his emperor had given him no choice. Sephiroth was not surprised to learn that they would be greeted at the landing docks by a full contingent of The Crescent Unit, Wutai's oldest and most honorable warriors, nor did the news upset him. He had learned to respect the samurai, as they were known in their native tongue, and fighting them had always been an honor. He could only hope it was not an honor that would be bestowed upon them today. He was here not to fight, but to put an end to a decade of war, and start his life anew.

When permission was finally given, Sephiroth waited for the screen to go blank before stepping away from the console. They had a great deal to do to prepare for their landing, and very little time in which to do it. "Pack your belongings," he told the boys sternly. "We will land within the hour, and it wouldn't do to keep Lord Staniv waiting."

He ignored Kadaj's snort and turned back to his friends. "Come," he intoned, meeting first Genesis' gaze, and then Angeal's. "We need to agree on exactly what terms we wish Rufus to come to."

Angeal let out a reluctant laugh as he shook his head and turned to follow. "Why do I think that Rufus is going to regret asking us to do this?" he asked no one in particular.

"He'll live," Genesis retorted tartly, tossing his fiery head spiritedly. "He should consider himself lucky that we're willing to do this for him at all, considering all the shit he's pulled since Sephiroth put him in The President's chair!"

Sephiroth slanted him an inscrutable glance at that. "It is enough that we will be away from Shinra," he said neutrally, and he meant it. While his memories of Wutai would always be less than pleasant, this was the life he had chosen. Wutai was the safest place to take the boys—the only place where they had any hope of living without the threat of Shinra interference—and that part of his past had no bearing on his life now. He wasn't the same man who had fought a bloody war on their sacred shores, and he never would be again. Wutai truly held no power to hurt him.

"I have to admit that I'm looking forward to this," Genesis said, rubbing his hands together in a universal gesture of greed. "I haven't had decent Wutaian food in months. Say what you will, but Godo has always fed us like kings!"

Sephiroth's mouth curled into an affectionate smile at that. "You still have to teach me to use chopsticks," he reminded the other man, purposely turning his thoughts to other, more pleasant things. "Don't think I will let you forget, Genesis."

Genesis uttered a low, wicked laugh, his arm brushing against Sephiroth's own as they walked. "Oh, don't you worry, moonbeam," he purred, reaching down to run a possessive hand over the taut mounds of Sephiroth's ass. "I haven't forgotten anything."

"Ahem." Angeal rolled his eyes as both of his friends sent him amused looks over their shoulders. "You two had better behave when we're meeting with Godo, or these negotiations are going to go downhill fast."

"You needn't worry, Angeal," Sephiroth assured him calmly, reaching down to grasp Genesis' roving hand and drag it up to his waist. "I assure you that at least one of us is capable of socially acceptable behavior."

"Hey," Genesis protested, laughter causing his voice to waver unsteadily, "are you implying that I'm not able to keep my hands to myself?"

Sephiroth merely slanted him a small, smirking glance, and Genesis snorted in response. "I see how it is," he snapped, jerking away and swatting Sephiroth's upper arm sharply. "Well, I promise you that I'll keep more than my hands to myself if you keep talking like that!"

Sephiroth might have panicked at that less than pleased statement, had it not been for the smile that tugged at the corners of Genesis' sensuous mouth. "As you wish, kitten," he returned with a suitably dramatic sigh of regret. "As it is, Godo will likely assign us to separate quarters, so it will make little difference."

"Oh, hell no, he won't!" the other man declared, effectively distracted as they came to a halt before the conference room door. "I'll make sure of that."

Sephiroth's smile deepened as he triggered the lock and stepped inside. He knew his fierce kitten too well, at times.

Aisatsu, Staniv-kyō = Geetings, Lord Staniv.

Aisatsu, Sefirosu-taishou = Greetings, General Sephiroth.

AND, a special thanks to Kirael von Voltaire, for pointing out that not only had I placed the Japanese titles at the beginning of the names instead of the end, but that I'd gotten one of them wrong. Again, THANK YOU.