"AERITH!" Zack's cry echoed through the Lifestream, transmitted forever through the swirl of souls and time. The Lifestream gave no resistance; no matter the distance Zack's voice was just as loud. Those souls who knew him—Angeal, Lazard, other soldiers, and especially Aerith—stirred at the desperation there. Souls in the Lifestream weren't supposed to be burdened with that sort of pain, the fear that was heavy in Zack's voice.
Aerith was beside him in an instant. She couldn't ignore that tone. "Zack, what's–" But she stopped short when she followed his eyes to the swirling blackness in front of them.
They were standing near an 'edge' of the Lifestream. Normally, souls couldn't reach places like this; the power of the Lifestream prevented it, in an attempt to safeguard them. However, with Aerith's help, Zack had been searching weak places in the Lifestream for quite some time. He had never said what he was looking for. There had never been the need. Aerith knew there was only one thing, one remnant of his past that could draw Zack to seek out such places. She'd never stopped him, and had even offered her help, and though he was grateful, he truly wondered why. He was searching for the man who had killed her, after all. But, as if to reassure him that some things could never change, Aerith continued to listen to his tales of the Sephiroth she had never known, and said that she could forgive him, if ever he came back.
But she hadn't expected this. The swirling blackness of Jenova's taint seemed to gnaw corrosively at the whites and pale greens of the Lifestream before her, breaking it down into tiny trails of the planet's energy. The darkness continually shifted and writhed, but it maintained a fairly stable shape, only sending out tendrils and ribbons of oily blackness before they were repelled by the Lifestream's energy. But it refused to be purified all together. Distances were distorted in a world of white, but Aeirth could normally judge them. This, however, she couldn't get a sense of. Jenova's blackness could be feet wide or yards wide; she could only feel the wrongness emanating from it as she stared at the corrosive, nauseating blackness.
This shouldn't be possible! her thoughts sped desperately. All taints of Jenova should have been removed from the Lifestream after the Geostigma incident, purified and healed. How could the alien creature still have a presence here? She should not be able to touch the Lifestream unless... Aerith gasped as she realized the implications, the only possible way Jenova could linger in the Lifestream. Unless she is based in something or someone who is irremovably anchored to the Lifestream!
As soon as the though occurred to her, Zack spoke up, his eyes never leaving Jenova's taint. "I found him...He's got to be here..."
Genesis Rhapsodos paused at the door to the house, as he always did. He didn't know if he should be here; it almost seemed an insult to the dead. So many memories were anchored in this house, so many things he would never forget. This house had been an irrevocable part of his life for so long, but now, after so much time, he did not know if he was even welcome. After all, he had caused the deaths of both the house's inhabitants; driving Angeal mad with the truth of their past and thus prompting his mother's suicide. His best friend and the woman who had been kinder to him than his own mother.
Genesis sighed deeply. As always, no answer came to him; no permission, but no repulsion, either. So he walked in, carefully closing the door behind him. It was unlikely anyone would be looking for him and even less likely they would be watching this place, but old instincts told him it was better to be cautious. Especially when he wasn't the only one who depended on him for the foreseeable future.
In the end, he was only sure it stirred old emotions to be in Angeal's house again. Memories stirred as he walked through the familiar entryway. Chasing his best friend when they were only seven, while Gillian scolded them for running indoors. Eating homemade Banora White Apple pie and getting sticky, apple-scented jelly all over his face. Reading Loveless to Gillian for the first time and asking her for help with words he was too small to pronounce or understand.
Halfway to his destination, he gave up, and turned towards the living room. Down the hall, Weiss' unconscious form would be right where he left him, Genesis knew. Lying in that room, on the bed Angeal had used when they had both been children. Genesis ran a hand through his red hair as his mind wandered through that room. Gillian had tidied things after the two of them had left for Midgar and their future as SOLDIERs, but it was still the same room. He had sat on that same bed as a six-year-old trying to hold up a too big book and read the play he loved to Angeal for the first time. He wasn't sure he could withstand the nostalgia if he went in there.
Restless, Genesis moved across the small living room, his mind wandering through a distant, happier age. He was barely aware of it as he skirted the chair where Gillian had sat knitting in the evenings. It seemed that entering SOLDIER had been the end of that long ago, idyllic time.
Genesis paused at the mantle as something caught his eyes. Surprised, he reached out and brushed years of dust away from the glass, staring into a frozen instant from yet another time in his life. Three young men stood side by side, looking back at him.
Naturally, Angeal was in the middle. The black-haired man looked relaxed and wore a gentle smile. It was his smaller, genuine smile, not the one for cameras, but the one that lit up his blue eyes and showed that he was truly enjoying the others' company. To his right, a slimmer, red-headed man had his arm thrown over Angeal's shoulders and a wide grin on his face. His smile was mostly genuine and partly exaggerated for the sake of the camera. Despite his memories, Genesis could hardly recognize himself in the wide, happy, half-exuberant smile. He never smiled like that anymore. And to Angeals left, set off slightly by the space between himself and the others, was a man with long silver hair. He faced the camera squarely, probably from force of habit, though he was leaning slightly towards his companions. Unlike the others, he wasn't smiling, only looking at the camera with a neutral expression. His aqua-green eyes seemed to glow even in the daylight.
Genesis gazed into those Mako green eyes for a long time, staring back at him from that old picture, his mind shifting from childhood memories with his best friend to the days at Shinra's SOLDIER. Finally he shook his head, sighing softly. "You knew, didn't you, Gillian? You knew we were three, rather than two."
He had to admit it to himself, in retrospect. Entering SOLDIER had not been the end of his happiness, or Angeal's. Perhaps the end of their innocent childhood, but Genesis could remember being filled with excitement and dreams upon entering that new world. Learning to fight, proving himself. No, he hadn't been unhappy. He had had fantasies. He had had a goal.
His eyes moved back to Sephiroth. He could clearly remember that day. It had been shortly after their return from the Wutai war, just when the silver-haired SOLDIER had begun to accept and even seek out their company. When Angeal had begun his tireless attempt to show Sephiroth just what friendship was. Genesis could remember himself railing on Sephiroth for not smiling during the picture. They had argued, and this one had been the only one of the three takes where there wasn't any tension between them.
Now, looking back all these years later, Genesis paused. It was certainly true, Sephiroth's expression was calm and seemingly expressionless. But there was a glimmer of something in those glowing green eyes that he had never noticed before. It was something warm and soft that Genesis hadn't seen in a long time, not for years.
Genesis blinked, distrusting what he was seeing. Then his own eyes softened and his expression turned into a rueful smile. "You were," he murmured. "Why didn't I notice?" Sephiroth's eyes were smiling, lighting up the usually cold green, showing that, like Angeal, he had been enjoying being beside the others. That is, until Genesis' thoughtless comment forced him to argue to defend himself.
Genesis let his hand fall away from the mantel as he sighed softly. Always he was led back to the same conclusion. He couldn't count how many times in his past he had thoughtlessly said something and caused pain to those around him. He had rarely opened his eyes enough to notice, and had rarely cared when he had. This was particularly true with Sephiroth, for whom he had felt awe and jealousy. But now, years later, the pain he had caused was obvious.
Feeling suddenly tired, he sat down in Gillian's chair, resting his face in his gloved hand. He had spent nearly three years in hibernation beneath Deepground. Since then, he had learned of Sephiroth's reappearance and the destruction that had followed. Jenova's corruption of his comrade had been terrible and chillingly effective, such that he could not recognize the Sephiroth he had known. He had known the creature was powerful, but that she could twist his friend into someone unrecognizable so easily shocked him. That she could even control Sephiroth had been a shock.
And now, remembering back to Nibelheim, to the harsh words he had said, Genesis couldn't help but wonder how much he had helped Jenova secure her hold on Sephiroth. In that time, he had been angry and afraid of his own degeneration, and he had again spoken words that had cut Sephiroth deeply. Perhaps, had he behaved differently...
Genesis ran his hand through his hair again, his glowing blue eyes seeking out the picture. It was useless to ponder. The events were long gone now, though sometimes he wondered if his friends could ever forgive him if they ever met again. He could not lie and say he had always meant well, but he had never meant for it to be like this.
"I had the dream again last night," Genesis told his friends quietly. He had dreamt it for the third time that night. He had rarely had recurring dreams before, and he had heard that they were usually nightmares. But this dream wasn't frightening. Instead, it left him with a feeling of energy, as if to go somewhere or do something, as well as a feeling of anger, though he could not truly remember why. He could never remember the dream completely. Instead, he recalled flashes of green and white, a sense of writhing darkness, and Angeal's presence, Angeal's voice calling to him and trying to speak to him. He would wake restless, feeling that something was left that needed to be done, that there was some presence missing in the dream that should have been there.
He had been puzzled the first time, days ago. The green and white had been familiar, but the feeling of loss, the feeling of something missing was surprising. Dreaming of Angeal usually left him either sad or nostalgically happy. Not this feeling of energy in his hands, nor this insatiable need to leave the house and walk through the fields. Immediately upon waking, he would feel as though he needed to go somewhere, knowing exatly where that was. But shortly thereafter he would lose that feeling of direction and have to wander aimlessly back to the house.
"I'm missing something, aren't I, Angeal?" Genesis asked, drawn restlessly to the mantle again. It was an old habit, long disused, but Angeal had always been wiser than he was, and better at seeing what to do. Years ago, he had often consulted Angeal on actions. Naturally, though, he found none of the answers he sought in his old friend's blue eyes as they smiled up at him from the old photo. "I'm not understanding something important, right?" There was of course no answer. He stood staring at the picture for a long time as the sun's rays strengthened through the window behind him.
Then, as Genesis' tired thoughts strayed again to his old friends, something shifted in the corner of his vision. A shadow of something that looked like feathers. As he turned to look at it, it pulled back from the path of the light, but a sudden familiar breeze ruffled his hair.
Genesis whirled, tense as he recognized a presence of someone else behind him. Lifestream energy unfolded. Green light played across his face, turning his auburn hair emerald and highlighting his wide blue eyes.
"It can't be..." he whispered.