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

Plot Synopsis: SephirothxKuja, my two favorite Final Fantasy villains brought together. Beyond that. . .I'll let you know =)

Author's Note: Finally finished. Woo-hooo! I've been jumping back and forth between stories, trying to do a little to each, and getting nowhere fast. I finally settled down with Sephiroth and Kuja—and isn't that a great fantasy!—and this is the result. No smut, sadly, but it's too soon in the plot for it. I hope you enjoy it, anyway =).

Final Fantasy: Final Requiem

Chapter Six

Sephiroth gazed at the dancing creature before him with something akin to disdain. Shortly after leaving the campsite, the eerie sensation of being observed had come over him. He'd searched carefully for his unseen pursuer, but to no avail. It had neither attacked nor approached, seemingly content to merely follow his progress. In the end, he'd decided to allow it, confident in his belief that the wild lands of the Northern Continent held nothing he could not handle. Still, he would like to know just who—or what—was stalking him, and it galled him that he didn't. Had eight years of imprisonment truly dulled his senses that greatly?

And, now this, Sephiroth thought with a snort. The Jumping—a ridiculous, if somewhat apt, name—hopped to and fro before him, its long ears flopping with every swift movement, its clawed hands slashing at the air before it. He sighed and glanced down at Masamune, hating the thought of using such a deadly, honorable weapon on such an inconsequential foe. He didn't even know if the rabbit-like creature would be safe for Kuja to consume, as its body would be saturated with mako, and he claimed to be from another world. But as Sephiroth had yet to come across any other suitable prey, he decided that it would simply have to do. Besides, he'd always had a fondness for rabbit.

Sephiroth smirked to himself, lifted Masamune, and flicked his wrist once. The immense katana whistled through the brisk night air, slicing through fur and muscle and bone with astonishing ease. The Jumping's head tumbled through the air before landing on the snow-covered ground with a faint thump, while its body simply crumpled where it stood—or hopped, as it were.

Sephiroth chuckled darkly as he moved towards the dead creature, ignoring the stench of blood and mako as he knelt down before it. He made quick work of the Jumping, draining the body of blood and viscera as he prepared it for the fire. He and Kuja would eat well tonight, if nothing else. He would worry about tomorrow when it came.

Once done, he meticulously cleaned his gloves in the snow, careful to remove even the slightest speck of blood from the smooth material. He grasped the carcass by its legs and stood, flicking the blood from Masamune's length with a sharp movement, and turned back the way he had come.

He caught only a glimpse of the creature in his peripheral vision, a flash of deep crimson and beyond-pale skin, but it was enough. Sephiroth tightened his hold on supper and burst into action, his boots barely touching the snow-covered ground as he broke into a run. It hadn't been the Jumping that he had sensed in the darkness, nor any other common creature. It had been a man, or something that resembled one, and it was heading straight towards the camp—towards Kuja.

Sephiroth swore under his breath and increased his speed, narrowing his eyes to lessen the icy sting of the wind-driven snow, determined to reach his sleeping companion before this unknown threat did. Whether Kuja was truly a being from another world—and he still had his doubts about that—or merely another of his incarnations, he was Sephiroth's responsibility. Sephiroth had known it from the moment he'd awakened to find the beautiful young man holding him so protectively, the knowledge an ephemeral, wholly instinctive thing that he didn't understand, but could not deny. Kuja was his, and he would allow no harm to come to him.

A swirl of red was Sephiroth's only warning before the humanoid creature he followed began to change. Gone was the pale, nearly luminescent skin that Sephiroth had glimpsed so briefly. In its place was a rippling pool of deep crimson, one that defied gravity as it twirled and spun and wove its way through rough, boulder-dotted landscape. Sephiroth knew that his eyes were wide as he watched the startling phenomenon, but he had never before in his life seen anything like it. This was no mere monster, a creature mutated by exposure to The Planet's life-blood, nor was it a man in any acceptable sense of the word. This was something else, something other, and it was outdistancing him with a speed that even he wouldn't have believed possible.

He thought again of Kuja, curled up so vulnerably before the fire, and knew that he had to do something. If he could not catch this creature by normal means—and he was beginning to doubt his ability to do so—then he would do so by abnormal ones. Anything, so long as it kept Kuja safe and out of death's grasp.

Sephiroth watched the flowing red marvel closely, studying its movements closely until he could discern a pattern in them. All living things had patterns, whether they were aware of it or not, and this creature was no different. All too soon, its random, seemingly chaotic movements revealed that pattern, and Sephiroth swiftly moved to counteract it.

He quickly calculated the distance between them, using the creature's pattern to predict the path it would take, and simply teleported to the spot. He materialized ahead of the monster and swiftly turned to meet it, Masamune gleaming malevolently in the moonlight as he raised it before him, placing the seven-foot blade between the unknown threat and himself. The great crimson mass halted abruptly, hovering in the air nearly ten feet away, before it began to change yet again.

Sephiroth watched with hidden fascination as the creature coalesced before him, transforming from a rippling mass of unidentifiable crimson to a slender, dark-clad human man. A tattered red cloak floated around his slim form, which was covered from throat to feet in thick black leather. His face was a pale splash of moonlit skin set against a tangled backdrop of long midnight hair, while shining crimson eyes stared out from beneath a fringe of surprisingly long sable lashes. Their deep red color was startling, as was their glowing luminescence, an unmistakable sign of prolonged exposure to mako.

Something stirred in Sephiroth's mind as he gazed into those intense, unusually-shaded eyes. The flash of gunfire, the smoking muzzle of a gun as it was lowered, and then it was gone, hidden by the haze that accompanied most of Sephiroth's memories of that time in his life. "Who are you?" he demanded, angling Masamune so that its curved edge served as a razor-sharp barrier between them. "Why do you follow me?"

Something glimmered in those unusual ruby orbs, a flicker of some vague, unidentifiable emotion, and then it was gone. Their luminous surfaces became opaque once again, empty of any trace of emotion, cold and remote and unreadable. His tattered red cloaked flared around him as though it had a life of its own, wrapping around his slim form, obscuring it as he once again changed shape.

The shimmering crimson mass hung suspended in the air before him, no hint of the man he had so briefly confronted in its indistinct form. It shot away suddenly, darting through the cold night sky, until it disappeared into the turbulence of the winter storm.

Sephiroth frowned after him, slowly lowering Masamune as he considered giving chase. That brief, fleeting flicker of memory was enough to make him hesitate. His memories of his life after the debacle in Nibelheim, of his actions while under Jenova's malevolent control, were vague and unfocused. He hadn't seen much from his underground prison as Mother made her bid for The Planet, surrounded by naught more than mako and darkness, but what he had witnessed was enough to both shame and enrage him.

No, he decided at length, there was no need to go after the man. He could no longer sense the stranger's presence, and he had fled in the opposite direction of the camp. Kuja was in no longer in danger, but he might become so if Sephiroth were to leave him alone in the wilderness for too long.

He glanced down at the Jumping, still hanging upside-down from his right hand, and turned back towards camp. As much as he longed to go after the stranger and force him to answer his questions, he was not sure that he was prepared to hear the truth. The less he knew about that time in his life—or his afterlife, rather—the better.

Sephiroth arrived at the camp to find Kuja lying in the same position in which he had left him. The younger man was curled up on his right side, his head pillowed on his left arm, his right hand curled loosely under his chin. Damp silver locks curled wildly around his head and shoulders, partially obscuring his lovely, unusual features. Luckily, the fire seemed to be doing its job, as was evident by the wayward wisps of rapidly drying hair that fluttered and streamed in the storm's brisk winds. That single violet feather with its streaks of silvery down waved in an almost defiant accompaniment, as though defying the power of the storm, and Sephiroth found himself chuckling as he strode forward.

"Little monkey," he murmured to his sleeping companion, his deep voice laced with that inexplicable affection which had baffled him from the beginning. He knelt beside the young mage, setting the Jumping aside in an absent gesture, thoroughly captivated by his unusual companion. He still didn't understand why he felt this abnormally strong fascination with Kuja, but he had to admit that while he found the sensation unsettling, it was not an unpleasant one.

Far from it, Sephiroth thought with a self-deprecating smile. He reached out and slowly, gently, swept deep platinum locks away from the other man's face. He trailed gloved fingertips over the swell of one delicately arched brow, pausing to brush the startlingly long fringe of his deep silver lashes. He traced the curve of one high, broad cheekbone, his hand turning to cradle the gracefully stubborn line of his jaw, even as it slid ever closer to the full, sensuous mouth beneath.

Acid-green eyes narrowed, flaring brightly with a combination of lust and mako, and Sephiroth found himself hesitating. He might not understand his sudden fascination with Kuja Tribal, but he understood what it could lead to, were he foolish enough to allow it. It had happened once before, the strength of his will overridden by the force of his emotions, and it had led to his ruin. And yet, that knowledge meant absolutely nothing to his baser instincts, which were screaming at him to take what was his and damn the consequences.

He had to forcibly remind himself that he had been down this road before, and that it had only led to his damnation. Regardless of what his body wanted—and it wanted with an intensity that he had never felt before—he could not allow their relationship to progress any further. Simple flirtation, he could handle. A full-blown obsession, he could not.

Even as he thought this, his hand moved of its own accord, his thumb sweeping down to glide gently across the blush-kissed skin of Kuja's bottom lip. The other man slept on, oblivious, as his thumb moved up to softly trace the full curve of his upper lip. Sephiroth commanded himself to stop, to pull his and away and to cease this madness, but to no avail. A part of himself he had thought dead was roaring to life, and he had as little control over now as he then.

His free hand moved to cup the other side of Kuja's face, slowly—inexorably—angling the other man's face towards his own. He leaned down towards him, his glowing green gaze never leaving those perfect lips, his desire so great that it was all he could do just to keep his touch gentle. He could feel the heat of the younger man's breath as it washed over his lips, and he had to bite his own to suppress a groan sheer, unadulterated lust.

Unwittingly, it was Kuja himself who brought Sephiroth back from the brink of sensual madness. The younger man stirred beneath his touch, a breathless sound escaping those lush lips, as he rolled over on to his back. Sephiroth snatched his hands away, dropped them into his lap, and watched the sleeping man warily. His body screamed at him in protest, tightening nearly to the point of pain, while the rest of him was damned grateful. He was both embarrassed and troubled by his lack of control, and he could only be relieved that his newly awakened desires hadn't overcome him completely.

He would have to be very careful of how he handled Kuja Tribal in the future, Sephiroth thought tensely. The other man looked young and guileless in slumber, innocent in a way that defied what little Sephiroth knew of him. Kuja claimed to be an angel of death, and after witnessing him cast that high-level Flare spell from nothing more than his own innate power, Sephiroth believed him. And yet, it was not death that came to mind as Sephiroth watched him sleep, but rather life—full, passionate life.

Kuja slept on, oblivious to his thoughts, and Sephiroth forced his worries to the back of his mind. Despite his overly familiar demeanor, Kuja truly did not know him. The young mage could not possibly comprehend the threat he represented to one whose passions had once drove him down the dark road of insanity. No, this problem was Sephiroth's, and Sephiroth's alone. He would find a way to deal with both his confounding emotions and his body's needs

Keeping that thought firmly in the forefront of his mind, Sephiroth turned his attention to the more mundane task of preparing their meal. If Kuja's innate healing ability was anything like his own, he would wake in a few hours, and he likely would be ravenous. Sephiroth wanted to have the food ready for him when he did. Kuja was his responsibility, and he would take care of him, to the best of his ability.

Kuja awoke to the mouth-watering scent of roasting meat. He moaned appreciatively and pushed himself into a sitting position, peering through an untamed tumble of violet-tipped silver hair. Sephiroth sat crossed-legged before the fire, a long stick in one graceful hand, five others supporting the source of the utterly delicious smell that hung over it. Kuja dragged his gaze upwards, only to be caught and held by luminous, cat-like silver-green eyes.

He shivered delicately beneath the heat of that glowing, exotic gaze, his own eyes widening as he realized how horrible he must look at that moment. He hastily reached up to make himself presentable, pushing his hair back from his face and running his hands through it, hoping to tame the heavy mane into something resembling order. A low laugh stopped his self-ministrations, and he scowled as he realized that the laughter was aimed at him.

"It's not funny!" he snapped, his embarrassment making him irritable. He couldn't look that bad, damn it! "I know that I must look a fright, angel, but laughing at me is uncalled for!"

Sephiroth forced himself to stop laughing, but he couldn't quite hide the tiny, crooked smile which replaced it. "You do not look a fright, Kuja. You are merely," beautifully, perfectly, adorably, "disheveled."

Kuja harrumphed and tossed his hair, unconvinced, and pointedly looked away. He heard a smothered sound that sounded suspiciously like more laughter—muffled this time, thankfully—before his stomach rumbled warningly. He looked down at his abdomen and scowled, both hands coming up to cover it defensively. "What are you cooking there?" he threw out, his voice sharp as he began to slowly, grudgingly, scoot closer.

Sephiroth thought of all the answers he could give, the explanations about the way mako had mutated a normal cottontail into the being now spitted over the flames, and then thought better of it. "Rabbit," he replied simply. "It should be done soon."

"Oh, good!" Kuja said with a very real relief. "I'm famished!"

Sephiroth slid him a sidelong glance, hoping that his amusement wasn't too obvious as he watched the young man approach in what he probably believed was a stealthy manner. "I thought you might be," was all he said in return, his tone bland as he purposely turned back to the fire.

He waited as the other man came to rest at his side, not the least bit surprised when that thin, lithe body leaned into his own as though it had every right to be there. Shy, his little monkey would never be, he thought with a mental grin. Instead of speaking that thought aloud and possibly starting what he didn't doubt would be another intimate conversation he could not finish, he merely shifted the spit to his right hand and lifted his left. Kuja squirmed even closer, ducking under his arm and all but melding himself to his side, and Sephiroth was hard pressed to suppress yet another bout of laughter. No, Kuja was far from shy.

He lowered his arm and encircled those slim shoulders, keeping the smaller man close to him in a loose grip. "How are you feeling?" he asked at length, doing his best not to think about the lightly-muscled body resting so heavily against his own. "No burning sensation in your extremities, no lingering numbness?"

Kuja shook his head even as he wound his arms around Sephiroth's waist. "Except for the fact that I'm hungry, cold, and probably look atrocious, I'm perfectly fine," he muttered in a disgruntled voice.

Sephiroth cast an exasperated look at the crown of his silver head, but didn't comment, choosing instead to discuss the stranger he had met so briefly earlier in the night. "When I was hunting, I came across a man," he began, hesitating as he realized that, whoever the stranger had been, he wasn't completely human. "Or, what I thought was a man," he amended quietly. "He never spoke, but when we met he. . .changed."

Kuja shook his hair out of his face and angled his head back to look up at him. "Changed, how?" he asked curiously.

"He appeared to change forms," Sephiroth answered haltingly. "I believe that the proper term to describe what I saw would be 'shape-shifter'."

"A shape-shifter, hmm?" Kuja yawned, raising one delicate hand to cover his mouth, supremely unconcerned. While such beings weren't common, he had fought several on Gaia who were capable of altering their physical forms. While they were different, and their abilities varied, they hadn't been powerful enough to defeat him. "Interesting, angel, but I'm sure it's nothing that we can't handle."

"Probably not," Sephiroth agreed, fully conscious of his own arrogance as it was reflected in the other man's voice, "but I wanted you to be aware, just in case it—he—returned. I didn't want you to be unaware of the danger."

"And now, I'm not," Kuja returned matter-of-factly, twisting in his arms and lifting a hand to pat his cheek patronizingly. "Thanks, for the concern. It's touching, angel, really."

Sephiroth frowned down at him, not liking the condescending treatment, only to receive another gentle pat before the younger man withdrew. Settling against him once more, Kuja yawned a third time and simply slumped against him. "Gaia, but you make a good pillow," he murmured, rubbing his cheek over the smooth leather covering Sephiroth's chest. "We'll have to try this again sometime, preferably from a prone position. It's easier to. . .sleep that way."

Sephiroth found himself fighting yet another smile—he never smiled—at the innuendo lacing those deceptively innocuous words. "You're taking an awful lot for granted," he commented dryly.

Kuja sent him a coy look from beneath half-closed lids. "Oh, am I?" the younger man questioned innocently, and Sephiroth couldn't help but laugh.

"Yes, you most certainly are," he said laughingly, squeezing his shoulders in both affection and warning. Kuja merely blinked with that same false innocence, and he shook his head in fond exasperation. "We barely know each other, Kuja. Don't you think we should take the time to get properly acquainted before we rush headlong into. . .intimacy?"

"Oh, I already know all that I need to know about you," Kuja drawled playfully, trailing one violet-tipped finger down the center of his chest. "If you remembered our first meeting, you'd know that."

That slender digit skipped teasingly over the top of his weapon's belt, and Sephiroth hastily grabbed it before it could go any further. "I've already told you that I have no memory of our meeting prior to awakening in the crater," he reminded him, his voice little more than a husky rasp as he added, "Perhaps, it is time that you enlightened me."

Kuja uttered a deep, not entirely dramatic sigh at the request. "It's a very long story, angel," he said, utterly serious now. "Are you sure you want to hear it, now?

Sephiroth met those suddenly solemn diamond-blue eyes and nodded slowly. "Tell me what it is that makes you so certain about," he almost said "us", but changed his mind at the last moment, "me?"

The younger man sighed again and shifted just enough to meet his gaze more comfortably. "When you first came to me, I was trapped in the Iifa Tree. I'd been imprisoned there, you see, as a punishment for my. . ." those diamond-bright eyes slid away from his, "hubris, I guess you could say."

"Hubris," Sephiroth repeated in a murmur, wondering if that meant what he thought it did. "Go on."

"It's my own fault," Kuja began, lifting one hand to play with his hair self-consciously. "When Garland first announced his intention to replace me with Zidane, I did not take it well. Oh, I fussed and fumed and threatened to kill the old coot if he didn't change his mind, but nothing I said made a damned bit of difference. Zidane would supplant me when he came of age, and that was that."

Kuja paused, curling a lock of hair around his finger as he remembered the day that changed his life forever. "I lacked empathy," he said with a shrug. "I was powerful, more powerful than Garland, his ancestors, and any being on Gaia combined, but that was not enough. Because I had been created as you see me now, I never experienced a true childhood, and the old man felt that it had hampered my emotional development."

Sephiroth barely contained a sneer at that. Hojo had believed just the opposite, that his emotional development was unimportant in the face of his obvious physical superiority. After all, what god had need of such a human failing?

He realized that Kuja had stopped speaking and quickly focused on him once more. "Don't stop," he encouraged in a quiet voice. "I want to hear it all."

Kuja eyed him sulkily, disliking that he lost the other man's attention—even for an instant—and then let it go. His angel had his own issues with the man who had raised him, and if their earlier conversation on the subjects of disinterested fathers was any indication, this was likely triggering his own unpleasant memories. In light of that, Kuja could afford to be generous.

"As I was saying," he couldn't help the pointed look that reminded Sephiroth that they were talking about him just now, "Garland believed that I was emotionally deficient, and therefore unworthy as an Angel of Death. But as Zidane had been created as a child, it would take time for him to mature into a full-grown Genome, time that I intended to use to prove my own worth."

"It didn't work, of course," Kuja said with a shake of his head of his gilded head. "Nothing I said or did was enough to convince Garland that he truly needed me. Zidane was to be my successor, and that was to be the end of it. I would be stripped of my soul, of my very individuality, and turned into a mindless puppet like all the others."

His sensually beautiful features hardened, and his pale blue eyes flashed brilliantly as he thought of it. "Zidane was barely a year old when I finally had enough of the old man's gloating. I didn't trust the crazy old bastard not to find a way to accelerate Zidane's growth, if only to spite me by replacing me that much sooner."

"But I outsmarted he and Zidane both," he proclaimed, pressing one fisted hand to his chest proudly. "I took Zidane away from Bran Bel—away from Garland—and took him to an orphanage on Gaia. I left him there, knowing that Garland would never be able to find him, and that I would finally be safe."

Sephiroth felt a pang of sympathy and squeezed the hand still clasped in his own. Kuja sent him a decidedly crooked smile and returned the pressure, leaning forward to lay his head on his shoulder once again. "I spared Zidane because I knew that it wasn't his fault," he murmured. "He was a pawn, just as I was. He had no control over his fate, and as ruthless as I undoubtedly was, even I couldn't countenance taking my brother's life."

Sephiroth released his hand to pull him closer, stroking his leather-clad back comfortingly, and the young mage uttered a weary sigh. "Fifteen years later, my benevolence came back to bite me in the ass. I had become a weapons dealer, you see," he elucidated in a flat voice. "My job as Angel of Death was to incite war, and what better way than to go to the least powerful country on the planet and offer my 'services'?"

Kuja laughed then, but it was a harsh, shrill sound, devoid of humor. "I went to the kingdom of Alexandria and ingratiated myself with Queen Brahne." He shuddered with very real revulsion at the memory of the fat, blue-skinned woman he had spent so long deceiving. "She was a truly hideous sight to behold, but she was very ambitious. Her husband had kept her greed in check while he lived, but once he was gone, that all changed. She wanted more land, more wealth, more power."

"Which you provided," Sephiroth guessed correctly.

"Of course," he replied mockingly, "or rather, I provided the means for her acquire them. I took my army of little mass-produced Black Mages and sold them to her. She used them to destroyed Burmecia, leveled their odd little country to the ground, but that wasn't enough for her," he all but spat, his disgust more than clear. "The bitch wanted it all—Burmecia, Lindblum, Cleyra. . . all of it."

"On my advice," Kuja grimaced here, because he wasn't proud of all he'd urged The Elephant Lady do, "Brahne took the army to Cleyra to hunt down the survivors. She even tortured her own daughter to extract her Eidolon from her, so that she would have the power to completely annihilate her enemies, the poor little canary."

Sephiroth blinked at that, wondering what an extinct bird had to do with any of this. In the end, he decided against asking, settling for what he considered to be a more important line of inquiry. "What is an Eidolon?"

It was Kuja's turn to blink at the totally unexpected question. How could he not know? he asked himself incredulously. Just how different was this world?

"An Eidolon is an incredibly powerful being, one born from Gaia's Crystal for the sole purpose of protecting the planet," he explained as simply as he could. "Normally, only a summoner of the Madain Sari tribe can use one, as they are given their summons' gem at birth. It merges with its summoner, becoming a part of him or her, so it's useless to anyone else. I, however, found a way around that little problem. You only needed the gem from which the Eidolon originated, and it could be forcefully extracted from its summoner."

Sephiroth frowned at that. He was beginning to share Kuja's antipathy for this unknown queen. "And Brahne did this to her own daughter?" he said, knowing the answer even as he asked the question.

"Oh yes, with a smile on her lips and a skip to her step," Kuja answered harshly. "I'd been looking for a way to obtain my own Eidolon for years, but this was the woman's daughter, angel. I never expected her to go through with it. I honestly believed that, when it came time to act, I would be the one forced to do it. But, The Elephant Lady surprised even me. Garnet was a lovely girl, beautiful, strong, and kind-hearted, and that bitch just. . .tore her spirit apart to increase her own power."

Sephiroth studied him for a long moment, taking in the downward curve of his normally smiling lips, the shadows in those diamond-bright eyes, and learned something important about Kuja in the process. "You cared for her," he stated with both surprise and unease. "You cared for this girl, and yet you were willing to torture her yourself, if it furthered your own ends."

Lines of stress bracketed that sensual mouth even as Kuja nodded in affirmation. "I was a different man then, angel. I would have done anything to free myself from Garland, and I believed that I needed an Eidolon if I was ever going to succeed." He shivered and burrowed closer, seeking comfort in the face of his own past perfidy. "I can't say that I loved her, but I wanted her—badly—and still, I would've have hurt her to get what I wanted. I can only thank Gaia that I've changed," he added fervently. "If my death taught me nothing else, it taught me how I should have lived, and I have every intention of heeding that lesson now."

He raised his head slowly, his pale blue eyes slamming into Sephiroth's own, and Sephiroth felt the impact all the way own to his blackened soul. "You needn't worry that I will betray you, angel." A slender hand rose and cupped Sephiroth's face with a reverence that he would never have expected. "I will never be that man, again."

"Kuja. . ." Sephiroth could only gaze at him in silence, suddenly hating the parallels between his lovely new companion, and the man who had once destroyed him. Genesis had been much the same, utterly ruthless when it came to dealing with those he loved, willing to hurt them—to break them—so long as he got what he wanted. Sephiroth thought of his earlier fears and was suddenly unsure if he wanted this—whatever it was forming between them—to continue. He had been broken once before, and it was an experience he'd sworn never to repeat.

Still, no matter how much of a resemblance Sephiroth saw, Kuja was not Genesis. He had admitted his past mistakes, taking the full blame for them on his own slender shoulders, and had asked for nothing in return. He was giving Sephiroth the rare gift of honesty, and Sephiroth refused to throw it back in his face, no matter how much his truth troubled him.

"What does this have to do with our first meeting?" he questioned at length, careful to keep his both his voice and his expression from reflecting his newfound doubts. It would only hurt Kuja to discover their existence, and they truly hadn't known one another long enough to discern the other's true nature. Kuja said that he had changed, and so far, his behavior had confirmed his words. He would not insult the other man by withdrawing from him now.

Kuja smiled gently, gratefully, and stroked his cheek with his thumb before drawing away. "It has everything to do with it," he said simply, his smile fading as quickly as it had formed. He was not looking forward to telling the rest of his tale, and he wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

He shifted to stare into the fire, his pale blue eyes locked on the dancing flames. "After destroying Cleyra and Lindblum, Brahne turned on me." He shook his head at the memory of the bitch's unparalleled stupidity. "She showed up at Iifa with her fleet of warships—it was quite an impressive sight, I must admit—and declared that she no longer needed me."

"She attacked you?" Sephiroth guessed, and Kuja's answer was small, humorless laugh which was an answer in itself. The smaller man leaned back against him, and Sephiroth didn't even attempt to fight the impulse that sent his own arms banding around him. "Not very smart of her, I take it?"

Kuja snorted, somehow making the inelegant noise sound elegant, and slid his arms around Sephiroth's own. "She summoned Bahamut, thinking it would be enough to destroy me. She was wrong, of course," he said with a shrug of his slender shoulders. "Apparently, she hadn't realized that I am nearly invulnerable. I'm not saying it didn't hurt—I mean, the bitch drew blood—but her little Eidolon wasn't powerful enough to actually harm me."

He lifted one deceptively delicate hand and touched the spot at his hairline where Bahamut's power had marked him. You couldn't see it now, but it had left a nasty scar on his forehead for at least an hour after the attack. At least, he hadn't been permanently disfigured. He might have destroyed morethan just Terra had that happened.

Kuja shook his gilded head and let his hand drop back into his lap. "I have an affinity for dragons, you see," he continued, reaching up to caress the leather-clad arms beneath his. "And even if I hadn't, I had the Invincible. Brahne didn't stand a chance, and she was too stupid to realize it."

Sephiroth gazed down at the top of his burnished head, at the silver-and-violet feather that swayed like a living thing in the brisk artic wind, and shook his own head. "What is the Invincible?" he asked at last, unable to deny his curiosity as Kuja wove his fantastic—and somewhat tragic—tale.

"It was the old man's airship," Kuja replied, frowning faintly as he wondered exactly how to explain just what what the Invisible was. "It was built as a battleship, but also as a repository of souls. It housed the essences of the Terrans who had entrusted Terra's future to Garland, but it also. . .well. . .absorbed the souls of those it killed—and those that I killed—through The Eye."

One silver eyebrow shot up in an expression of blatant skepticism, and Sephiroth was grateful that the younger man couldn't see him. "The Eye?" he repeated encouragingly, wondering once again exactly what this had to do with a meeting he didn't remember, and if he could truly believe the tale that his alluring young companion was weaving.

Kuja nodded forcefully. "The Invisible was more than just metal and electronic parts. It was biomechanical. It had living parts," he explained, twisting just enough to meet the other man's catlike gaze, "and The Eye was one of them. Not only could it release a highly damaging laser beam, but it also worked as a conduit for the souls trapped aboard."

"A conduit," Sephiroth murmured, half to himself, as began to piece the next part of the tale together himself. "A conduit, I assume, that you were able to use in some way?"

"Oh, yes," the young mage answered with relish, and Sephiroth caught the faintest glimpse of the man he had once been as he smiled smugly. "The souls trapped in the Invincible were bitter, angel. Most had been dead for a long time, and were disappointed by Garland's lack of progress. The newer ones, the more recent dead, hadn't yet accepted their fate, and they were angry. Not that I blame them," he added in a more philosophical tone. "Death wasn't something that I enjoyed, either."

Sephiroth felt a pang of impatience and quickly tamped it down, schooling his features to reveal only mild curiosity. Genesis had also had a tendency to ramble, to weave long, unnecessarily intricate tales, and rushing him had only resulted in arguments that Sephiroth had never won. He didn't doubt that Kuja—as sensitive as he'd already shown himself to be—would react in a similar fashion, and that was something to be avoided at all costs.

Something, some hint of his frustration, must have leaked through, because the younger man harrumphed and stuck his noise in the air. "Anyway," Sephiroth couldn't help but hear the annoyance in that one long, drawn-out word, "I summoned the Invincible and used its souls to take control of Bahamut. I turned the Elephant Lady's greatest weapon against her, and I destroyed her fleet, her Black Mage army, and her."

Another shrug of those paudroned shoulders came as Kuja laid his head on Sephiroth's shoulder once more. "I found out later that she'd jettisoned an escape pod and made it to coast of Iifa," he murmured in a more subdued tone, "but she was injured too badly too survive. Once she died, her soul was drawn into the Invincible, just like all the others. In the end, it was her spirit that made it possible for me to enter Trance, and that proved to be my undoing."

Sephiroth frowned at that, a glimmer of memory forcing its way through the veil that concealed much of the last eight years of his "life". "Be careful, angel," Kuja's voice came to him as though from a great distance, "You know how deadly Trance can be."

"Trance," he murmured, half to himself. "Why does that sound familiar?"

He heard Kuja gasp and turned his head, locking gazes with the wide-eyed mage. "You told me to be careful," he said awkwardly, unable to clarify something that he could barely recall. "You reminded me that Trance could be deadly?"

"Yes," Kuja said quickly, elation soaring through at the realization that Sephiroth was at least remembering part of what had led to their original meeting. "You were fighting a young warrior with a large broadsword—Gaia, but he had the strangest head of spiked blond hair!—and at one point he began to Trance, and I was worried that you'd be overwhelmed."

Sephiroth stiffened at the description of Cloud Strife, the young Shinra trooper that had killed him after his descent into madness in Nibelheim, and who had defeated Mother's puppet twice since. "You saw me fighting him?" he questioned uneasily. The younger man nodded, the motion touchingly eager, and Sephiroth uttered a heavy sigh. It was not he that Kuja had originally come to Gaia for—was he truly beginning to believe the other man's outlandish tale?—but Jenova's nightmare child.

He gazed into those pale, diamond-bright eyes, so full of hope that it almost hurt to look into them, and lifted a gentle hand to cup that sensual face. "That was not me, Kuja," he told the younger man quietly. "The monster that you saw—the manyou believed to be me—was nothing more than a puppet created in my likeness—Mother's puppet."

"Bullshit!" Kuja exclaimed instantly, lifting a hand to touch his hair with a reverence that made Sephiroth's chest tighten unnervingly. "I saw you, angel. The blond boy was attacking you, and his Trance-aura was flaring all around him, and you," his hand combed through his hair to emphasize his words, "stopped him before it went too far. You stabbed him with that frightfully long katana of yours, and then you launched him into the sky. The only reason you lost is because you couldn't stop him from Trancing a second time!"

"That was not me," Sephiroth repeated, the first hint of anger creeping in to tinge his too-deep voice.

"The hell it wasn't!" Kuja turned his hand in Sephiroth's and gripped it hard, silently willing him not to do this. "You know, I forgave you for scaring the daylights out of me when I got here—I even forgave you for trying to kill me—but only because I suspected that that blue-skinned monster was controlling you! I'll be damned if I'll just let you dismiss me now, after I've finally got you! You're stuck with me, angel, and you'd better damned well better get used to it!"

Sephiroth felt a surge of frustration at the other man's obstinacy. He reached up and grasped Kuja's hand, pulling it away from his hair and forcing it back down into his own lap. "Look at me, Kuja, and understand," he growled, waiting until those pale blue eyes had narrowed angrily—stubbornly—on his to continue. "I died eight years ago in Nibelheim. I have been imprisoned in the heart of the Northern Crater—in the Lifestream—ever since. The monster—the abomination—that you saw fighting Cloud Strife today was not me. It was Mother's creation, created to be her ideal of the perfect son. It was what she wanted me to be, not who—or what—I truly am. Do you understand, now?"

Kuja merely gazed at him for a long moment, hurt beyond comprehension as the man that he'd forsaken redemption for denied the very real connection between them. "Let me get this straight," he said in a smooth, even tone that almost concealed his pain at this oh-so-obvious rejection. "You're telling me that the man I left Purgatory for—the only being powerful enough to ever be my equal—is not what I thought he was, so I should just. . . what? Give up? Go home?"

Sephiroth made a strangled sound—why did he have to be so damned stubborn—and began again. "I am merely trying to explain that I am not the man you believe I am," he forced through gritted teeth. "I do not remember our first meeting because I was not present for it. The monster that you claim tried to kill you was not me. Is that truly so hard to comprehend?"

"Oh, no I comprehend it perfectly!" Kuja's voice shook with the force of his anger as he yanked his hand free and sprang to his feet. He towered over Sephiroth, his silver-blue eyes sparkling with righteous indignation—and a devastating sheen of tears. "You know, all you had to say was, 'Sorry, Kuja, but I'm not interested,'. Why the hell didn't you just tell me that you didn't want me? What was the point of acting like you cared if you really didn't?"

Sephiroth winced inwardly and reached out to him, only to have his hand knocked away. "Kuja, this isn't a rejection—"

"Oh, please!" the young mage shot back scornfully, his hands fumbling with the clasps of the greatcoat his angel—the angel, he quickly reminded himself, not his—had so solicitously given him. "I've rejected enough men—and women!—in my time to recognize it when it's happening to me!"

"So-so there!" He finally unfastened the leather monstrosity, balled it up in his hands, and threw it at the other man. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that I need you, angel," he all but sneered. "I'm an Angel of Death. I don't need anyone."

Sephiroth snatched the coat out of the air with an almost absent movement, his silver-green eyes locked on Kuja as the younger man ran his hands through his heavy silver hair and lift his chin proudly. "Have a nice life, angel. I'll make my own way from here on out, and don't you worry, there are plenty of men and women who will be eager to taste what you were so willing to throw away!"

Kuja turned on his heel and walked away from the campsite, those deliciously rounded hips swinging with every angry step that he took, and Sephiroth sighed deeply as he contemplated whether or not to go after him. It was cold, and Kuja had nearly succumbed to hypothermia not too long ago. It wasn't wise for him to go off by himself, especially considering how little his unusual clothing actually covered. But if Sephiroth went after him now, before he had a chance to calm down and think about the situation rationally, they would only end up arguing again. And that was the last thing he wanted.

He glanced at the fire, and the forgotten supper that was only minutes away from burning, and then shook his head. It would be better if he waited for Kuja's anger to dissipate before going after him. He would finish cooking the Jumping and eat. He'd make sure that he saved enough for Kuja, but he would not chase after the other man. It had never worked with Genesis, and he doubted that it would work with Kuja now. The other man would come back when he was ready and not before, and he would not try to force him to.

Sephiroth ignored the little voice in the back of his head that was telling him, "Go after him now!", confident that he had made the right decision. Whether Kuja was another of his clones—which he truly was beginning to doubt—or not, he was not going to give in. He was not in the wrong here, and he'd be damned a second time before he let himself grovel for anyone's forgiveness.

He was still telling himself that an hour later as he banked the fire, called Masamune, and strode determinedly into the storm.

Kuja stomped through the icy, snow-packed landscape, swiping angrily at the tears that threatened to turn to ice on his already frozen cheeks. Damn him! he fumed. How dare he do this to him?! He was to one who had reached out to Kuja—he was the one that had made Kuja's passage between worlds possible in first place—and yet he'd still had the nerve to reject him! No wonder he'd seemed so amused by Kuja's efforts at seduction. Granted, the weather and lack of proper shelter didn't provide the most romantic of circumstances, but he'd been working under the assumption that his angel desired him. And now, to find out that he'd been wrong, that Sephiroth didn't want him at all. . .it was simply devastating.

No, he was not going to let this hurt him! he told himself sternly. His angel—Sephiroth, he reminded himself hastily—had made his decision, and that was that. It was a stupid decision, one that Kuja was certain he'd come to regret, but that wasn't his problem any more. He had to figure out how to get back to the world he'd so recklessly—stupidly—left behind so he could finish his confinement and be redeemed. Hopefully, whoever—or whatever—had spared him wouldn't hold this little lapse against him. He was trying to be a better person, he'd just lost his way for a few hours, that was all.

Just the thought of returning to the Iifa Tree, and his boring, monotonous existence was enough to bring a well of fresh tears to his eyes. He truly hated it there, and to know that that was all that was left to him was enough to make him rethink his plans. Did he really want to return to that boring facsimile of life? Was redemption truly worth the price he'd been paying? He didn't want to spend the rest of his life alone, with no one to talk to and no one to love him. But if he couldn't have his beautiful, perfect—or not so perfect—angel, was he ready to face a life on a strange new world alone?

Kuja came to an abrupt halt, glancing around at his barren, ice-covered surrounds. He wrapped his arms around himself and wished that he'd kept Sephiroth's coat, missing the other man in a way he wouldn't have believed possible, all the while trying to make what would be a life-altering decision. He absolutely loathed being alone. He'd always surrounded himself with people, loving the chatter and noise and chaos that came with along with them. Thanks to Garland, he'd spent most of his formidable years alone. It wasn't until he'd become a gunrunner on Gaia that he'd been able to fill his longings for companionship. While it was true that none of his "friends" had truly known him, at least he hadn't felt so damned lonely when around them.

He could probably make new friends here, but if Sephiroth's initial reaction to him—during their second meeting, not their first—was anything to go by, he might not get the warm reception he'd come to expect. He'd always been different, even on Gaia, but here he might be seen as something. . .well, monstrous, and that just wouldn't do at all.

Kuja looked down at his beautiful, sumptuous clothes, sodden with moisture and dripping icicles here and there, and knew that he'd have to have a whole new wardrobe if he was to survive here. He was sure that the entire planet couldn't be this cold, but his clothing was obviously inappropriate. If Sephiroth's were any indication, leather was the material of choice here, and he'd probably be forced to wear pants on a regular basis.

He shuddered at the mere thought of it. He didn't wear trousers for a variety of reasons, the most important being that they couldn't conceal his tail. It couldn't be comfortably hidden in them, and displaying it was out of the question. He would have to alter whatever he procured, and then wear one of those atrocious leather greatcoats to simply hide the fact that he possessed the appendage. Talk about a bother!

But, it could be done, he thought with a the beginnings of a smile. Of course, he hadn't revealed that part of him to his angel yet, but once he did, he was sure that Sephiroth would help him—

"Damn it!" he swore aloud, his smile morphing into a scowl as he remembered that Sephiroth wouldn't help him with anything, because he'd decided that he didn't want him. He saw his angel in his mind's eye, reaching out to him with a devilishly graceful gloved hand, and his own shooting out to knock it away.

"Kuja, this isn't a rejection—" He winced, wishing that he'd kept his mouth shut long enough to hear the rest of that sentence. What if he'd meant it? he asked himself with a hope he couldn't deny. What if his angel truly hadn't meant to reject him? Then, if not a rejection, why had he kept insisting that he wasn't the man Kuja believed he was?

"The monster that you saw—the man you believed to be me—was nothing more than a puppet created in my likeness—Mother's puppet."

"Oh, for Gaia's sake!" Kuja exclaimed, throwing both hands up in the air as comprehension finally dawned. "Is that what this is all about? Is it because you think I want the crazy side of you more than the sane side?"

There was no one there to answer him, of course, but it made perfect sense. His angel had repeatedly referred to his mother—to this Jenova creature—as a monster. His angel was a dominant man, one with definite control issues, and that other part of him had serious mommy issues. If that side of him had been controlled by her, then it stood to reason that he would see that part of himself as monstrous as well.

"Well, hell, angel," he swore into the cold night air, "I do believe I owe you an apology."

The thought chafed—badly—but in all fairness he had been the one to fly off the handle. While he never apologized for his actions, Sephiroth was his equal. If couldn't humble himself before him—just a little, mind you—then he wasn't a man worthy of the name. So, he'd go back to camp, apologize for acting like an ass, eat the meal that his angel had hunted for him, and then he'd let the man screw him silly.

Kuja grinned at the crudeness of his thoughts, but he was sure that the term would prove to be especially apt. Those pesky control issues that Kuja already knew were going to drive himcrazy would probably preclude him being top, at least for a while, but he was fairly certain he could live with that. Once his angel got to know him, once he learned to trust him, he'd bring subject up. Until then, he could more than handle bottoming for the most powerful, perfect man in existence.

He sighed longingly at the lovely imagery that accompanied those thoughts and turned around, intending to go straight back to camp and his beautiful angel. A frown tugged at his brows as he realized that he had gone much farther than he'd intended, and that he wasn't quite sure where he was. He could no longer see the light from the fire, smell its smoke, or even detect the salivating scent of roasting rabbit.

He could see only the vaguest depressions beneath the rapidly falling snow, and he could only hope that his own footprints lasted long enough to get him back to camp, or Sephiroth was going to end up being forced to rescue him again.

"Lovely," he muttered under his breath, tucking his cold hands under his arms as he began to trudge forward. "Next time, we're going someplace warm, angel. Just so you know. No more artic regions—ever."

He kept up a steady stream of nonsensical conversation with himself, trying to take his mind off the fact that he was walking through the middle of a full-blown blizzard with absolutely no idea of where he was. Sure, he had his footprints to follow, but they were fading fast, and his superior nose still hadn't caught any familiar scents. How the hell had he managed to wander so far away from camp in such a short amount of time?

A scent came to him then, an interesting mixture of human, that godsawful mako stink, and something else, something that he recognized on a purely instinctual level. It was a scent that he had come to associate with Sephiroth, an extra. . .freshness, for lack of a better word. He'd never known anyone else whose body carried that particular pheromone, and he wondered briefly it was something that his angel's mother had contributed to his DNA. It would certainly explain why Sephiroth was so completely different from anyone else he'd ever known, although it wouldn't explain why he was smelling it now, when he knew that Sephiroth wasn't anywhere nearby.

A glimmering cascade of shining scarlet flowed out of the storm before him, landing nearly ten feet away from him, and his question was left unanswered as he concentrated on the being before him. It was a glorious sight as it stretched up from the snow-covered ground in a shimmering column of crimson, one that Kuja would certainly never forget, even as he prepared to kill it.

He gathered a mass of magical power in his right hand and waited, watching with bright, curious eyes as the tower of red slowly coalesced into the form of a man. And an utterly breathtaking man, at that, Kuja thought with appreciation. Clad in form-fitting black leather, the scarlet matter settled over the man's shoulders, taking on the shape of an elaborate—if somewhat tattered—cloak. A gold gauntlet encased the man's left hand, its clawed tips a warning to anyone smart enough to observe them. His right hand was clad in a simple black leather glove, and it hovered above a large scabbard that was strapped to a slender yet masculine thigh. Protruding from the holster was an unusual weapon, one Kuja had never seen before, and he quickly deduced that it was probably some kind of shortsword, much like the oversized daggers Zidane had always used in battle.

"Interesting," he murmured to himself, dragging his inquisitive gaze up over that spectacular body to the near-perfect face above it. He smiled slowly, seductively, and hoped that he wouldn't have to kill something so pretty this night. "Oh my, you are a handsome one, aren't you?"

There was no response from the man before him, but Kuja didn't really care if he got one or not. He was too busy appreciating the stranger's dark, undeniably striking good looks to care if the man did something so mundane as speak. He admired the long mass of silky sable hair that tumbled over the man's shoulders, nearly reaching the small of his back, in a stunning contrast to the rich crimson of his cape. And the face it framed. . .

The stranger had the palest skin, like pure alabaster, almost as perfect as his angel's. His nose was straight—if a bit large at the end for Kuja's liking—and it sat perfectly over a pair of luscious-looking lips with those little upturned grooves at the ends that he'd always adored. It was his eyes, though, that captured one's attention and held it. A deep shade of crimson red, they shone in the darkness like a pair of iridescent rubies, and were impossible to read. They held the same unusual glow as Sephiroth's did, and he wondered if all of the men on this world were so. . .so devastatingly divine.

As those marvelous eyes flickered, and the hand near the shortsword slowly dropped away, it occurred to Kuja that this might be the shape-shifter that Sephiroth had mentioned before their little blow-out, but he wasn't overly concerned. Not only did the man seem decidedly not hostile, but swords—no matter how elaborately decorated—were no match for the power of magic.

"Are you the shape-shifter that my angel ran into earlier tonight?" he asked, tipping his head to one side in a deceptively coy manner. "He didn't mention that were so. . .attractive."

Those lovely ruby eyes flickered again, something almost. . .inhuman crawling through their bloodlike depths, and Kuja sighed with disappointment. He had to admit that he was not used to being ignored in such a way, and he was beginning to suspect that this man was just a pretty monster after all.

"If you're capable of speech, now would be the time to talk," he informed the other man loftily, gathering just a bit more energy for the fight he was suddenly certain was coming. "It's not often that beautiful men appear out of thin air before me, but as I'm spoken for, I'm afraid that I really don't have time to play with you. It's a pity, though," he added with a shrug. "I'm sure I would have enjoyed you."

"How have you managed to hold that spell for so long without casting?" came the totally unexpected response.

Gaia, but his voice reminded him of Sephiroth's! Kuja thought with a shiver. Deep, smooth, and deliciously dark, it glided over the skin like a physical touch. The other man shifted and crossed both arms over his chest, seemingly oblivious to the storm raging around them, and Kuja suddenly remembered that he'd been asked a question.

He hoped that the darkness hid the embarrassed blush creeping into his cheeks as he snapped, "That's right, you need those little glass orbs to cast magic here, don't you?" in a waspish voice.

One sable brow crawled up the man's forehead in a gesture that was a little too familiar to Kuja. "Normally, yes," the stranger answered somewhat arrogantly. "I don't sense any Materia on you, though."

"Ah, well, let's just say that I'm. . .different," Kuja waved one hand around dismissively, "and leave it at that, shall we?"

A second eyebrow shot up to join the first, and Kuja barely refrained from rolling his eyes. "Why don't you tell me why you decided to suddenly—magically—appear in front of me?" he countered impatiently. "Or, we can begin with a proper introduction, if you'd like. Either way, I would like you to answer my question—preferably now."

"Vincent Valentine," the stranger replied, pausing as though the name was supposed to mean something to him. Kuja nodded once and opened his mouth to respond when the stranger—Vincent Valentine—cut him off. "The man you're traveling with, do you know who—or what—he really is?"

Kuja opened his mouth to offer a scathing retort—he really didn't like the other man's choice of words, not to mention being so rudely cut off—when he was interrupted for a second time. "He knows what he needs to, Turk."

Sephiroth came strolling out of the storm, his expression hard, that ridiculously oversized katana of his clasped in his left hand, Kuja's discarded greatcoat in his right. Valentine responded immediately, whirling around and setting his hand on the hilt of his unusual weapon. Sephiroth stopped a good ten feet away from him—with that sword, he really didn't have much of a choice—and pointed the massive odachi straight at the red-cloaked man.

"Get away from him, Kuja," he called out, his catlike green eyes never leaving Vincent's crimson ones. "I'll take care of this."

Kuja's patience finally ran out. "Oh, for Gaia's sake!" he exclaimed, drawing the unused Meteor spell back into his body with a sharp shake of his hand. "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, angel, but I am more than capable of defending myself!"

"Now," he made his way to Sephiroth's side, keeping a careful eye on their new "friend" as he circled him, "why don't you tell me exactly who he is, and why you didn't mention that you knew him before."

Sephiroth never even glanced at him as he said, "I don't remember him, Kuja, but I recognize his name. That's enough."

Kuja suddenly felt like banging his head into a wall. "Angel. . ." he growled threateningly.

The other man's lips tightened, the only outward sigh of his displeasure, as he forced himself to offer an explanation. "He is one of Cloud Strife's companions, one of those who hunted Mother's puppet three years ago, and helped stop my remnants from triggering a second Reunion this morning."

Kuja cast Vincent a dark look, ignoring all the little details he didn't yet understand, and focused on the one statement that he had no trouble comprehending. "You helped that little blond swordsman kill my angel?" he asked in a voice that dripped with venom.

Sephiroth heard the darkness which crept into that smooth, cultured voice and was shocked to realize that Kuja was angry on his behalf. "Kuja, I have already explained that that monster was not me," he said in a far gentler tone of voice, hoping to diffuse that anger before something irrevocable happened. "AVALANCHE had every right to hunt and destroy him. I bear them no grudge for doing so."

Kuja responded with a slow, chilling smile. "Maybe, I'm not so forgiving."

Vincent watched the silver-haired man with the unusual facial features and disturbingly long fingernails call on another spell and tensed, ready to flee if it became necessary. He was no match for Sephiroth, let alone a second opponent who could cast magic without materia. Perhaps, it was time for him to do as the mage suggested and speak.

"I'm not here to fight either of you." He swung his gaze back to Sephiroth's, who so resembled beautiful Lucrecia that it hurt to look at him, and let his hand drop away from his beloved Cerberus. It was a risk, but since Sephiroth didn't seem to be brilliantly insane at the moment, he didn't want to antagonize him. Besides, this was the first time he'd ever had a coherent conversation with Lucrecia's son, and he wasn't about to give that up for anything. "I wanted only to speak with your. . .traveling companion, and ascertain whether or not he was accompanying you willingly."

Sephiroth surprised him by grunting and lowering Masamune, though he still kept it positioned between them, his wariness by no means vanquished. "You need not worry yourself on that account, Turk. I could not rid myself of him if I tried," he returned, deadpan.

Sephiroth caught the furious look that Kuja sent his way and had the insane urge to smile at the outrage which leapt into those pale blue skies eyes. "Now, wait just a minute—!" the younger man began to protest, and Sephiroth cut him off by tossing the trench coat at his startled face. "Put that on," he ordered in a tone which brooked no argument. "I don't want you dying on me."

"As if I would!" Kuja huffed, outraged by his angel's domineering behavior, and equally—reluctantly—touched by his thoughtfulness. Once again, he dismissed the spell he'd been building, and began to fight his way into the tight, damp leather monstrosity. "Gods, I don't know how you can stand wearing clothing this damned tight. And leather, in a snowstorm? Really? Don't you know that leather shrinks when it gets wet?"

Sephiroth's lips twitched as he fought to keep his rapidly growing affection for the younger man from showing. Kuja began to curse—creatively—as he tried and failed to pull the heavy leather over the pauldrons of his own tunic, and Sephiroth could suppress his smile no longer. "Kuja, do you need me to help you with that?" he asked in an intentionally bland tone.

"No, I damn well don't need your help!" Kuja shot back, his tone turning nasty as he continued to fight with the greatcoat. "I am not a child! I've been dressing myself for twenty-six years now, thank you very much!"

Vincent watched with something akin to fascination as Sephiroth—the One-Winged Angel, The Nightmare, Jenova's Child—began to laugh at his companion's antics. It only a short laugh, closer to a chuckle, but it lacked the malevolence that still haunted Vincent's nightmares, and betrayed Sephiroth's fondness for the odd-looking man who accompanied him.

Kuja finally managed to maneuver the uncomfortable leather greatcoat into place, settling it over his armor and quickly fastening all seven buckles. "There!" he said at last, propping two slender hands on his shapely hips. "Happy, now?"

"Yes, very," Sephiroth answered, his dry tone at odds with the warmth that radiated from the depths of eyes. "Thank you, little monkey."

"Harrumph!" Kuja tossed his silver head and sidled closer to him, his own expression making it clear that he was only grudgingly forgiving him, before shooting Vincent a decidedly unfriendly look. "As you can see, I'm with my angel of my own free will, so you can just. . .go away now, Vincent Valentine!"

Vincent only blinked and leveled an eloquent glance at Lucrecia's child. "I'd hoped we could talk," he said, his voice little more than a silken murmur beneath the howl of the wind. "I'm sure you have questions about your mother, and I—"

"His mother?!" Kuja slid his slim body in front of Sephiroth's in a blatantly protective gesture, much to Sephiroth's chagrin. "Oh, I don't think so!"

Sephiroth cursed the blush that crept into his cheeks even as he set his free hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "He is not referring to Jenova," he told the younger man awkwardly. "He means my human mother, Kuja."

"Human mother?" Kuja half-turned back to him, his expression one of dumbfounded disbelief. "Angel, I think that you and I need to have a little talk of our own!"

"Yes, we do," Sephiroth agreed, smiling faintly as he gave Kuja's shoulder a gentle squeeze before withdrawing, "but that can wait until later."

The humor drained away as he lifted solemn silver-green eyes to Vincent Valentine. "Come, Vincent," he intoned in a quiet voice. "We can talk after we return to camp, and Kuja has eaten."

He didn't give Vincent a chance to answer, merely turned on his heel and strode away, his long silver hair swaying with every silent step. Kuja sent Vincent once last glare and turned away, practically jogging as he sought to catch up to his companion. Vincent watched with surprise—and not a little interest—as Sephiroth slowed his pace to accommodate the younger man, even going so far as to take Kuja's hand in his own and pull him to his side. Lucrecia's son seemed to have formed an attachment to the odd young magic user, and Vincent couldn't help but wonder if that was because they shared similar—if not identical—genetics.

Vincent sighed heavily at the thought. If Kuja was yet another remnant, or a clone that had escaped some unknown Shinra laboratory, Cloud and the others would have to be informed. He couldn't be allowed to roam free, wreaking havoc on their already devastated world. Vincent knew that he should have already called Reeve Tuesti, the president of the W.R.O., with the news that Sephiroth had been reborn. He'd chosen to follow him instead, to observe him from the shadows and ascertain for himself just what his intentions were. That much, he owed Lucrecia Crescent.

Shaking his head at his own sentimentality, Vincent flipped his cape back away from his weapon and began to follow. It was going to be an interesting night, to say the least.