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: Revelation scenes can be a bitch to write, but I think I finally nailed it! Hopefully, you'll think so, too. Drop a line and let know=) Oh, and remember that I'm still betaless, so excuse any mistakes you find. I'll be correcting them as I find them. Thanks, DS1.
Final Fantasy: Final Requiem
Kuja knelt gingerly before the dead campfire, shivering violently as his exhausted body continued to fight the icy coldness of what his angel called the Northern Continent. He could hear Sephiroth and Vincent as they moved around in the darkness behind him, but couldn't be bothered to look for them. Even if he weren't the most powerful mage on three separate planets, he was fully confident that Sephiroth wouldn't let anything happen to him. And honestly, he didn't think that Vincent meant them any harm. The utterly gorgeous, annoyingly silent man had ample opportunity to attack them on way back to camp, and if he hadn't tried anything then, Kuja thought it highly unlikely that he would now.
The wind howled almost angrily as it swept over him, tossing damp, tangled silver locks into his face, and he pushed it back with a shaking hand. His little temper-tantrum had cost him dearly, and he was quickly coming to the end of his normally indomitable physical endurance. He needed to get warm as soon as possible, or death by hypothermia could become more than a mere possibility.
And while he was forced to admit that a part of him enjoyed having Sephiroth take care of him – it was touching, really – his angel's overprotectiveness was slowly driving Kuja up the proverbial wall. He was an Angel of Death. He was fully capable of taking care of himself. He'd just found himself totally unprepared for the inhospitable climate of his angel's world, that was all.
Kuja focused on the dead fire, determined to relight it before Sephiroth could, in case the other needed a reminder of just how capable he truly was. He narrowed his eyes and called on the magic that was such an intrinsic part of him, a simple Fira spell this time. It wasn't nearly as impressive as Flare would be, but he was tired, he didn't trust himself to control such a powerful spell while feeling so utterly drained.
He smiled with tired satisfaction as his body responded to the call, the magic rising up to flow through him in a sweet wave of power. It coursed through his veins like warm honey, infusing his body with heat, temporarily distracting him from his physical misery. He cradled the dancing Fira spell between his hands, savoring the feel of live-giving heat against his frozen skin. He held the spell for as long as he dared – contrary to what others might believe, he could be harmed by his own magic, under the right circumstances – and then let it go.
He dropped his hands and willed the sphere of red-hot magic towards the remains of the campfire. The damp, charred wood sputtered and sparked before finally catching, and he heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank Gaia," he muttered to himself, extending both hands to the fire's blazing heat, "I'm not going to freeze to death after all!"
He felt the presence at his back just moments before Sephiroth's deep, divinely sexy voice wound its dark way through his heightened senses. "You say that as though I'd allow it," the other man stated rather arrogantly, much to Kuja's chagrin.
He cast an arch smile over his shoulder, making sure his displeasure was known, even as his gaze devoured the tall, muscular form that literally towered over his own. "So, you're here to save me from my own stupidity, are you?" he questioned haughtily, doing his vest not to be distracted by flowing rivers of glinting silver hair. "How very. . .kind of you, angel."
The other man raised one silver brow – Kuja had to admit that he was surprised that they were so light when the man's lashes were so silky and dark – and dropped a bundle of leather into his lap with a grunt. "Heat that," his angel ordered in a tone that brooked no argument. "Eat before you drop, Kuja."
Oglop, Kuja thought again, scowling as he opened his mouth to offer a scathing retort. A second eyebrow shot up to join the first, a hard expression creeping crawling in to brighten the already brilliant depths of those cat-like green eyes, and Kuja hastily thought better of it. The last thing he wanted was to start another fight with this man, whom he had such high hopes for. His angel could be an uncivilized boor at times, but he did mean well. He could forgive alot, in light of that.
Kuja turned away and focused on the bundle in his lap, his icy hands fumbling with the straps of what appeared to be a large purse. The odd collection of bottles and little round spheres told him that this was probably a weapons pack, and the accompanying scent of food was enough to make to make him salivate.
Sephiroth was instantly forgiven for treating him like a two-year-old as Kuja found the remnants of what he assumed was the large rabbit the other man had been cooking earlier. He ignored the grease which all but coated to his fingers as he separated a drumstick from the rest of the dead beast. He wouldn't find anything as civilized as napkins out here in the uncivilized wilds, and right now he couldn't afford to be picky. He was starving.
And yet, the food was temporarily forgotten as he watched his angel crouch before fire and feed yet another damp log into it. Even that simple, ordinary motion was marked with an elegant grace that was nearly inhuman, and it was enough to make him sigh with sensual appreciation. He had always loved beautiful, dangerous things, and he could think of nothing more beautiful or dangerous than his silver-haired angel. The man truly was perfection.
As though sensing his thoughts, Sephiroth's head slowly turned towards him. The moonlit veil of his hair blew wildly around his face, tossed to and fro by a sudden gust of wind. The quieted as suddenly as it had risen, falling to frame his beautiful face in pale perfection. It shimmered ethereally in the firelight, turning from a river of satiny silver to a molten flow of pure white-gold, and Kuja had to curl his hands against a nearly overwhelming urge to reach out and touch it. The pale jade of his angel's eyes glimmered as they reflected the fire's light, and the raw lust emanating from their charged depths was enough to send frissions of heat shooting through his body.
Kuja sent him a slow, provocative smile in return, one that echoed the sensual images racing through his agile mind, and nearly laughed aloud when the older man stiffened and hastily looked away. His angel might be a man of unparalleled beauty and power, but he certainly didn't seem to know what to do with him. But that was all right, because Kuja was more than willing to help him out with that.
Sephiroth rose to his feet and withdrew from the fire without uttering a word, and Kuja couldn't stifle the smug smile which sprang to his lips. Oh, yes, he told himself confidently, his angel most definitely wanted him. That he could have thought differently – even for a moment – had been incredibly foolish of him. It was a mistake that he would not make again.
A quiet grunt sounded as his angel dropped to the ground behind him, and his smile only widened as strong arms wrapped around his waist and hauled him back against a hard, muscled chest. "And here I thought I might have embarrassed you," he said in an intentionally blasé tone.
Another grunt sounded as long, leather-clad legs stretched out on either side of his hips, framing his own in a surprisingly intimate fashion, and Kuja all but melted against him. "My angel," Kuja murmured on a sigh, and he felt more than heard the chuckle that rumbled through that perfect chest.
"Little monkey," Sephiroth returned, the low tone laced with humor and the lust he had yet to banish. He hadn't planned on approaching Kuja so soon after their argument – especially after the. . .moment they'd just shared – but his instincts seemed intent on disregarding his logical mind and staking a claim he wasn't certain that he wanted to make.
He chose not to respond to the younger man's surprisingly perceptive comment and squeezed his slender waist in affectionate warning. "You must eat to regain your strength, Kuja. Do not make me tell you again."
The younger man sighed a second time, the sound deep, long, and utterly dramatic as he pulled the drumstick out of the pack. He used just enough Fira magic to warm the rabbit leg, smiling with satisfaction as the aroma of freshly cooked meat filled the air. "Voila!" he exclaimed theatrically, waving the now steaming meat up above Sephiroth's head. "Satisfied?"
"No," Sephiroth stated flatly, his breath hot against the smaller man's ear as he ducked his head. "I have yet to see you actually consume anything."
"Oh, bother!" Kuja tossed his sodden head, more to hide the sudden shudder of his body than in real irritation, and lifted the meat to his lips. He sunk his teeth into the hot meat and immediately groaned with appreciation. He chewed as quickly as good manners would allow, fighting the urge to tear into the drumstick like a starving peasant. Gaia, but he was famished!
Sephiroth's voice sounded again, the teasing tinge more obvious this time. "It's good, I take it?"
"It's absolutely wonderful, angel." Kuja twisted around and pressed a quick, pleased kiss to the cool skin of his cheek. "Thank you, for hunting and preparing it for me."
Sephiroth raised one eyebrow, trying desperately to ignore the way his body hardened with need at that simple, innocuous touch. "You are welcome," he told the young sorcerer warmly, then ruined the moment by adding, "Although, I had both of us in mind when I caught it."
Kuja snorted – elegantly, of course – and disregarded his words with a wave of one violet-tipped hand. "Semantics, angel, nothing more."
Sephiroth smiled down at the crown of his head, watching as that curious violet-tinged feather whipped to and fro in the brisk wind. "As you say, Kuja. Now," his voice hardened perceptively, "eat."
The other man grumbled under his breath - something about oglops and pushy angels – and finally began to eat. Sephiroth watched him closely, leaning over his shoulder to make sure that every piece of the drumstick made it into Kuja's sensuous mouth. Kuja merely rolled his eyes and continued to eat, although the smile that Sephiroth glimpsed curving his lips told him that the younger man was far from unhappy, and Sephiroth concluded that he simply didn't like being told what to do.
Unfortunately, that was something he would have to become accustomed to, Sephiroth thought, fully conscious of his own arrogance as he did so. But it was the truth. If Kuja truly was from another world, then he would need a guide here on Gaia, someone to protect him while he learned how to live in a society that was vastly different from his own. While he had nothing but Kuja's unfinished story – and he fully intended to hear how that ended – and his bizarre clothing to go by, Sephiroth would surmise that his world very different indeed.
Kuja finally declared himself full and stuffed what little remained of the cooking Jumping back into the deceptively small leather pack. He set the bag on the ground beside him and leaned back once again, wiggling a bit to find a more comfortable position on the hard, cold ground. "Ah, that's better," he declared, fitting the back of his head into the hollow of Sephiroth's shoulder. "You make a very comfortable pillow, angel."
"Do I, now?" Sephiroth questioned quietly, smiling to himself as he felt those small, deceptively delicate hands begin to trace a sensuous journey up the leather encasing his thighs. "Kuja, I thought we agreed that we needed to discuss this part of our. . .relationship before we took it any further."
Kuja's hands stilled at the reminder of their earlier talk, and the fight it had led to. Damn it, he really should apologize for that. "I owe you an apology," he began stiffly, ignoring the sting of his pride as he humbled himself before the other man. "I didn't mean to fly off the handle, or misinterpret your words the way I did. I guess you were right when you said that I was. . .sensitive, and I-I'm sorry."
He bit the last word off, his tone brimming with prideful reluctance, and Sephiroth tightened his hold fractionally. "And I regret that I did not explain myself more clearly," he returned with simple sincerity. "Do you require an explanation, now?"
The younger man shook his silver head negatively, and Sephiroth felt a sense of relief. Jenova – and his tie to her – was not his something he liked to talk about. Instead, he rubbed his chin against the smooth skin of Kuja's temple, silent as he considered his next question. "Precisely where does this leave us?"
Kuja twisted just enough to gaze up at him, his diamond-bright eyes wide and very blue. His beautiful, normally confident features wore a vulnerability that Sephiroth hadn't seen before, and it touched the heart that he had prayed was dead. "This leaves us exactly where we were before I decided to throw a my little tantrum. Unless," the younger man hesitated, lowering his gaze almost shyly as one violet-tipped hand come up to trace delicate patterns on the lapel of his coat, "you've changed your mind about me?"
Sephiroth shook his head negatively, sending rivers of satiny silver flowing over them both, as he reached up to capture that hand in his own. "No," he said a solemn, uncomfortable voice, "although I should disclose that I hadn't yet decided exactly what I should do about. . ." he floundered for a moment, searching for the right word to describe what the passionate fire that flared between them, and then gave in with a heavy sigh, "us."
He shook his head again, sorrow creeping in to darken the pale green glow of his eyes, and Kuja felt a tightening somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. "Why?" he asked in a calm, quiet voice that didn't quite hide the hurt Sephiroth's words had caused. "Surely, you don't still think that I'm one of your. . .whatever it is that you thought I was when we met?"
Those bright green eyes studied him for a long, endless moment. "I don't know," his angel answered, honest even as reluctance coloring that sinfully deep voice. "I simply do not know, Kuja."
Kuja was shocked by the depth of the disappointment which filled him at those mournful words. He swallowed hard and forced a smile to lips, more worried about his angel in that moment than himself. Whatever had happened to Sephiroth on his world, it had scarred him, and left him with a deep distrust of others. Nothing that he couldn't handle, of course, but it would make seducing the man a tad bit more difficult.
"Well, I'll just have to work harder to convince you that I'm not this something else then, won't I?" he questioned in a bright, cheerful voice that belied the seriousness of their conversation.
Sephiroth frowned as his discomfort deepened. It entwined with an emotion perilously close to hope, a dangerous combination for one such as him. He untangled his hand from Kuja's and brought it up to his face, sliding his hand along the pure line of his jaw, his gloved thumb sweeping gently over silken skin. "There are things you don't know about me, Kuja," he told the younger man all too somberly. "What I've done, who I've been, the people I have hurt. You may very well change our mind once you hear them."
A small, tender smile curved Kuja's lips at that. "Oh, angel," he said softly, "if you weren't horrified by what I have already told you, there certainly isn't anything that you could say to scare me away."
Sephiroth merely gazed at him with a sense of consternation. His wariness of intimate relationships had been hard-earned, and hearing Kuja's fantastic tale had only reinforced his belief that he should ignore this attraction that flared so hotly between them. And yet, as he gazed down at the warm, openly affectionate expression on Kuja's sensually beautiful features, he could only wonder if fighting this overwhelming swell of emotion was even possible.
The polite clearing of a throat was enough to remind both men that they weren't alone. Kuja promptly scowled and shot their forgotten visitor a dark look, while Sephiroth merely uttered a silent sigh and pulled himself back to the reality of their situation. "We will discuss this another time," he told the younger man as he dropped his hand. "For now, why don't you lie down and try to sleep. The sun rises early in the north."
Kuja frowned harder at what was essentially another order, but even he had to admit that this was hardly the time for an intimate discussion. Later, after their mysterious guest left and they were alone once more, he would broach the subject again. For now, he really was tired, and frankly, he could use the break. It had been a long day.
"Fine," he muttered, unable to mask his frustration as he shifted, dropped his head onto his angel's lap, and curled himself around one splayed leg. "Don't stay up too late talking to your friend there. I want to be out of here and someplace warm and dry as soon as possible!"
Sephiroth blinked as the other man appropriated his lap – and a good portion of his leg – and promptly closed his eyes. He knew that he shouldn't be surprised by the younger man's actions, as Kuja had already shown that he had little respect for the personal space of others, but he couldn't help but marvel at how comfortable this beautiful, unusual man seemed in his presence after less than a day's acquaintance. Did Kuja truly believe that he knew him so well?
"He seems very. . .comfortable with you," Vincent said into the silence, unconsciously echoing his thoughts as he splayed his gauntleted hand on the ground behind him and leaned back. "Has he been with you long?"
Sephiroth reached down to the man in question, running a gentle hand over Kuja's shiny fall of heavy silver hair. He heard what suspiciously resembled a moan of pleasure escape the younger man and smiled to himself as he purposely repeated the caress. "Not long, no," he answered belatedly, his voice little more than a distracted murmur as the bulk of his attention centered on the beautiful man lying so trustingly against him. "When I awakened in the crater, he was there, holding me. Protecting me," he added with a touch of humor. "He was quite the sight to behold."
One jet-black brow shot up upon hearing that. Vincent shifted slightly on the hard ground, bringing one knee up and wrapping his free hand around it. He could only watch, both shocked and amazed, as Lucrecia's child tend to his young, vociferous companion with a care he wouldn't have believed him capable of. That bow-shaped mouth – so like his mother's – was curved ever so slightly at the corners, and although those pure, painfully familiar angelic features never quite thawed, the inscrutable expression did soften around the edges as Sephiroth gazed at his sleeping companion. While it wasn't much, it was enough to tell Vincent that Lucrecia's child had very strong feelings for the strange, powerful, androgynous young man before him.
It went against all that Vincent knew of the great General Sephiroth, but even he had to admit that his knowledge was limited. Out of all the members of AVALANCHE, Cid and Cloud were the only ones who'd met the great General before his descent into insanity. Cid's meeting had been a brief one with few words exchanged between them, and Cloud's association had been short, violent and tainted by madness. Not one of them knew what he had been like as a man, before betrayal and madness had warped him into the homicidal megalomaniac that he had once helped kill. Perhaps, he hadn't been as cold as Tifa believed, or as distant as Cid had described. It was possible that, behind closed doors, he had simply been a man like any other.
He'd had friends once, Vincent knew. He'd learned that much from Tseng after saving he and Elena from Kadaj and his gang in the Forgotten City. Tseng was a Turk, normally the most tight-lipped of men, but he had been grateful enough to answer a few of his questions about beautiful Lucrecia's only child. Vincent had already known about his friendship with Zack Fair – Cloud's tattered memory had retained that much – but it had been the first time Vincent heard the names Angeal Hewley and Genesis Rhapsodos. Both men had been Shinra Generals, powerful SOLDER Firsts in their own right, and with whom Sephiroth had been. . .close. While Tseng hadn't actually confirmed that they had been intimates, Vincent had been trained as a Turk. He knew how to read between the lines and hear the unspoken. Hewley and Rhapsodos had been Sephiroth's lovers before Hewley committed suicide, and Rhapsodos had been the one to reveal the awful truth of the Jenova Project to him. Perhaps, losing them had contributed to his descent into madness.
And although he loathed what he was about to do, the words had to be spoken. "Is he one of yours?" he asked in a carefully inflectionless voice. "Another remnant, perhaps, or a forgotten clone?"
Sadness flitted across those patrician features, and answer in and of itself. Or so Vincent believed, until the other man spoke. "I don't know," Sephiroth answered with heavy honesty. "He says not, and after some of the things he's told me, I'm almost inclined to believe him, but. . ."
Almost. Vincent latched onto that one word, and the uncertainty tingeing it, as Sephiroth's voice trailed off. "Why almost?" he queried in a low voice. "Wouldn't you be able to feel it if he wasn't?"
Those pale green eyes with their elliptical pupils, which had terrorized so many in the years since Nibelheim, rose and locked onto his own. Vincent suppressed as shiver as he felt himself unable to move, pinned beneath the sheer intensity of that animalistic gaze. "What I feel for Kuja is," Sephiroth hesitated for along moment, lowering his gaze to the sleeping man once more, and Vincent stifled a sigh of relief, "different. The pull is strong, unusually so, but it does not tear at the very fiber of my being as it should. And while I have never before experienced a feeling this intense – nor, I believe, has he – he does not feel like one of Jenova's puppets. And yet, there is a. . .a familiarity between us that should not be present on such a short association."
One metal-pauldroned shoulder fell and rose in a helpless half-shrug, and Vincent realized that he meant it. Sephiroth truly didn't know what Kuja was, and he was far from comfortable with his lack of knowledge. Vincent glanced down at the man in question, curled trustingly – if possessively – around Sephiroth's leg, and nodded once. If it came to light that Kuja was a remnant or a clone, he would be dealt with by the WRO. If he wasn't, Vincent would do whatever he could to make sure that the mage-born man never fell into Rufus Shinra's hands.
Shinra Electric Power Company might not be the dominating global force that it once had, but its sly, manipulative young president was not a man to be underestimated. If Rufus thought that there was even a chance that this young man carried Jenova cells inside of him, Kuja would simply disappear. No trace of him would ever be found, and not even Sephiroth would be able to save him.
Vincent pushed the thought away as quickly as it formed. Sephiroth was already displaying a marked possessiveness towards the young mage, and he had admitted to caring for him. Vincent didn't want to imagine what would happen, what havoc the One-Winged Angel would wreak on their already devastated world, if something should happen to his unusual companion.
No, he would keep his silence on the subject, and wait to see how events unfolded. There was no use in worrying over what might occur. The worst had already happened, and The Planet had weathered the storm. Only time would tell whether or not that storm had truly passed. For Lucrecia's sake – and her son's – he hoped that it had.
"You have her eyes." Those glowing green orbs shot up to his own, their cat-like tilt becoming more pronounced as they widened fractionally, and Vincent forced himself to return that stare steadily. "You have yet to question me about Lucrecia. I would have thought that you would be curious about your mother."
Vincent didn't miss the small, pale hand that tightened on Sephiroth's leg, nor the twin slivers of pale blue that appeared between the silvery veils of Kuja's eyelashes. The younger man didn't speak, merely watched him without expression, ready to intervene if he felt it necessary, no doubt. He was as protective of Sephiroth as the other man was of him, and once again, Vincent was forced to ponder the nature of whatever feeling drew them to each other.
"It's all right," Sephiroth murmured, and it wasn't until he tore his gaze from Vincent's and looked down that Vincent realized that he was fully aware of Kuja's conscious state. "Remember that it is not Jenova he speaks of, little monkey. There is no need for you to protect me, now."
The young sorcerer merely nodded and ran a hand down Sephiroth's thigh in a comforting gesture, but astonishingly enough, chose not to speak. He simply closed his eyes once more, settling more comfortably against his companion, and Sephiroth's hand moved over his slender shoulders in silent gratitude.
"I am curious," Lucrecia's son admitted, his deep voice quiet and inflectionless as he lifted his gaze to Vincent's once more, "but I fear that my inquiries might be. . .offensive to one who cared for her as you did."
". . ."
Vincent looked down for a long moment before shaking his sable head negatively. They both knew that Vincent had loved Lucrecia, but she had been a married woman, one who had been unfaithful to her husband and had experimented on her own unborn child. It had been a mistake, one she had acknowledged too late, but he would neither justify nor deny her transgressions. They had both sinned, and the man sitting before him was the one who had been forced to pay the price for their transgressions.
"Ask your questions," he told the other man quietly. "You will not offend me."
Sephiroth considered the man – if that was indeed the correct term – before him somberly. Vincent Valentine had cared for his mother, had loved her enough to die in an unsuccessful attempt to protect her. Surely, he would have an idea of what lied in her heart the day she'd decided to experiment on the innocent child that she carried in her womb?
"Why?" he asked at last, the question one which had haunted him since learning the whole truth of his birth in the Lifestream. "Why did she choose to use me as a test subject for The Jenova Project?"
Crimson eyes glimmered with regret as Vincent slowly shook his head. "That, I do not know."
Sephiroth's lips tightened, the only sign of his displeasure with what he was certain was an evasion, and Vincent forced himself to sit up straighter. "Truly, Sephiroth, " Gods, but it was strange to say his name so casually, "that is a question I have never been able to answer for myself. I can only tell you that she regretted what she had done, and that she never recovered from losing you."
Sephiroth merely nodded silently, yet his disappointment was a palpable thing. "Was it Hojo?" he asked, an edge to his voice that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than anger. "Was it my father who ripped me from my mother's arms?"
Those brilliant ruby eyes focused on him, narrowing as the faintest of frowns tugged at his brow. "It was Hojo, yes, but. . ." Vincent's voice trailed off as he lifted his gaze back to Lucrecia's son – to the man he had always suspected was not Hojo's child but his – and debated the merits of telling him. Would it matter to Sephiroth that Hojo might not be his biological father? Would it bother him that a Turk - that a monster - was? Would he blame Vincent for his failure to protect both he and Lucrecia from the sadistic madman who had shaped so much of his horrific life?
It was the frown that did it, Kuja thought drowsily. Not the actual expression itself, but the way those gorgeously slanted eyes narrowed amidst a backdrop of long, thick lashes and alabaster skin. Much like when he'd first "met" Vincent Valentine, Kuja found himself marveling at just how similar this man seemed to Sephiroth, and quite suddenly, he sure that he knew why. It was more than his scent, more than that strange mix of mako and something other that was so reminiscent of Sephiroth's own. It lied more in the shape of his face, in his tall, slender, yet muscular physique. He even moved with an animalistic grace that echoed Sephiroth's own. If his suspicions were right – and he was never wrong – they would certainly explain the way that Sephiroth had conjured a second greatcoat out thin air. Perhaps, shape-shifting simply ran in the family.
He opened his mouth to speak, to voice his suspicions to the man he had willingly left purgatory for, and then thought better of it. While Vincent was certainly beautiful enough, and the similarities between he and Kuja's were angel unmistakable, there was the little problem of Vincent's age. The other man simply wasn't old enough to be Sephiroth's father, nor to have known his "human" mother. And yet his own father, for lack of a better term, had been more than seven-thousand-years-old when Kuja had killed him. Who was to say that it wasn't possible?
"Angel?" Kuja turned in Sephiroth's lap, reaching up with one delicate hand to touch the gentle curve of his angel's chin, loving the way that those stunning green eyes immediately focused on him. "I know there's a lot that I don't understand about what's going on here, but why do you believe that Vincent knew your mother when he's too young to have known her?"
His angel shot their strange visitor a quick, eloquent look before turning back to him. "I believe Vincent because," he took Kuja's hand in his own and pressed a gentle kiss to the tips of his fingers, "he died trying to protect her from my father."
Kuja blinked, his surprise obvious, and one corner of Sephiroth's mouth twisted into a humorless smile. "Professor Hojo possessed no morals to speak of, Kuja. He thought nothing of taking human lives if it furthered his all-consuming passion for science."
The last word was all but spat down at him, and Kuja felt another, stronger pang of sympathy, an emotion he was quickly becoming familiar with – at least, when it came to his angel. "Garland was the same way," he offered quietly, brushing a long-nailed fingertip over those sensual, unhappy lips. "Just remember—"
"That it was their failing, not ours," Sephiroth finished for him. A slight, genuine smile curved his lips, and Kuja returned it as he nodded with approval. "That's exactly right, angel. Now, tell me how your crazy old man managed to bring Vincent back from the dead when even Garland had trouble mastering resurrection?"
Sephiroth opened his mouth to respond and paused as he realized that he didn't know. He only knew of Lucrecia Crescent and Vincent Valentine because Mother had known of them. Had her puppet not immersed himself in the Lifestream for five long years, he would not even know that much. "I don't know," he answered at length, lifting questioning eyes to Vincent's own. "I understand that my. . .mother somehow fused you with Chaos, but I also know that there are others. Those, I know nothing of. Would it be safe to assume that they have helped you remain. . .as you are?"
That gilded head tipped curiously to one side as the former General voiced the question, sending a thick veil of glossy silver hair tumbling over his shoulders, and something in Vincent's chest tightened until it was difficult to breathe. Even with his undeniably masculine features and the beyond-pale shade of his hair, the resemblance to beautiful Lucrecia was painfully obvious.
"I remember very little after Lucrecia left the lab," Vincent murmured in a quiet voice. "I only know that she was responsible for Chaos because she used to talk to me while she was trying to. . .heal me. To this day, I don't know where she found him, or how she was able to harness him for our. . .fusion."
Luminous crimson eyes darkened as Vincent looked away, the faintest of frowns pulling at the unlined skin of his brow as he fought to pull the tattered pieces of his past together. "Hojo liked to talk as well, but his words rarely made any sort of sense to me. I understood enough to know that he didn't believe Lucrecia's 'experiment' had been successful. He called her theories on Chaos rubbish, and believed that he could succeed where she had failed."
The older man blinked and pulled himself back to reality with visible effort. He lowered his chin until the cowl of his cloak concealed his expression and shrugged once. "As to how he created the others, I don't know. I only know that he did. They are – and always will be – a part of me."
Sephiroth merely nodded in silence, his expression more solemn than Kuja had ever seen it, and Kuja's curiosity threatened to eat him alive. He felt for Vincent – Gaia knew that being poked and prodded by Garland wasn't among his favorite memories – but Vincent was being much too mysterious for his peace of mind. And, he hadn't really answered Sephiroth's question.
"Are these 'others' are what keep you looking so young?" he asked, not liking the path his thoughts were beginning to take, but needing to know. "What are they? Multiple personalities? Separate beings that share your body? Do they have anything to do with your shape-shifting abilities? And if so, how do they keep you from aging?"
Two sets of lovely, brilliant, exotically-tilted eyes swung to him, and that sense of familiarity returned and redoubled. There was no way that these two men were not related. He's stake every last bit of gil in his purse on that. As to the suspicions that were forming in his mind. . .He hoped to hell he was wrong about those, or he and his angel were going to have yet another fight tonight!
"…" Vincent shifted uncomfortably and buried his face even deeper in his collar, supremely uncomfortable with this line of questioning. He resented the barrage of questions shot at him so carelessly by this man he did not know. What he had been through was none of Kuja Tribal's business.
He sat up straighter, pulling both knees up before him and wrapping his arms around them, intent on telling the powerful young mage exactly that when a glimmer of gold caught his eye. Firelight glinted off the gauntlet that encased his damaged left hand, and he heaved a heavy sigh. It was an unnecessary reminder of what had been done to him by his lover's crazed husband, but it was enough to make him realize that Sephiroth deserved to know. Whether it would make a difference to Lucrecia's son – to his son – was another matter altogether.
"I share my body with four other beings," he said in a painfully flat voice. "I know that Chaos is an ancient demon, but only because he told me so. The others are. . .different, somehow. They can't communicate with words. Only their emotions reach me, and that's never been enough to tell where they came from. I only know that Hojo is responsible for them, that they manifest themselves physically when I am injured or near death, and that they – somehow – are responsible for my current state of being."
He couldn't quite conceal the bite of displeasure tingeing his deep voice as he lowered his gaze to Kuja's and asked, "Is that answer enough for you?"
"That's more than enough," Kuja replied faintly, his thoughts swirling unpleasantly through his mind as he added, "Thank you," in a distracted voice.
He gazed up at Sephiroth, who was watching their "guest" with sympathetic green eyes, and suddenly felt like screaming. Vincent had asked Sephiroth if Kuja was "one of his", but Kuja hadn't comprehended his meaning. When he'd used the word remnant, Kuja hadn't understood the context, and had dismissed it as unimportant. As for asking if he was Sephiroth's clone. . .Except for the similar shades of their hair, he and his angel looked nothing alike. Surely, that alone was enough to tell anyone that he was his own being?
"What was she like?" Sephiroth voice broke the silence which followed, his deep voice filled with a desperation that made Kuja's heart ache for him, despite his rapidly growing anger. "I know that she was a scientist," he bit the hated word off, "but she must have had some redeeming qualities, for you to have cared for her as much as you did."
Vincent offered a faint smile at that. "She was beautiful, brilliant, and," ruby eyes gleamed briefly in fond remembrance, "every bit the absent-minded professor. If I didn't remind her to eat, she could go an entire day without doing so. She was fascinated with The Ancient – with Jenova – but not to the same extent that Gast and Hojo were. She truly believed in what they were doing. She wanted to resurrect the Cetra race, so that humanity could learn from The Ancients and make the world a better place. She was an idealist," he added with just the faintest touch of whimsy.
"An idealist," Sephiroth repeated, his obvious skepticism belied by the hopeful light in his pale green eyes. "Yet, she was willing to sacrifice her only child in a highly unethical scientific experiment?"
Vincent's fine, faintly Wutaian features reflected sorrow at his words. "I've never been able reconcile that side of her with the loving, gentle woman that I knew," he answered honestly. "The decision to inject herself and you with Jenova's cells was one that still baffles me to this day. I know that she wanted you, that she had every intention of raising you herself, but beyond that. . ."
One crimson-clad shoulder rose and fell in a helpless half-shrug, and Kuja realized that he knew even less about his own circumstances than Zidane had, which he wouldn't have believed possible. His anger melted away in an instant, filled with an empathy he hadn't believed himself capable of. Vincent's life sounded as though it had been little better than his son's – or his own, for that matter – and it made the older man's suspicions about him a little more understandable.
"I died eight years ago in Nibelheim."
Sephiroth's words, uttered with such ferocity only a short time ago, echoed through Kuja's mind. It was astonishing just how much he – a being from a completely different world – had in common with these two remarkable men. Whether one chose to call it fate, destiny, or some kind of inter-dimensional fluke, Kuja had been brought here for a reason – one besides winning and bedding the most spectacular man he'd ever known. He just had to figure out what that reason was.
Well, he was nothing of not intelligent, Kuja thought with just a touch of arrogance. If anyone could figure this out, it was him. And figure it out he would, just as soon as he got a little more information about this world and the people who populated it.
But not right now. He had other, more important things to worry about at the moment, like giving his angel a father who wasn't a total nightmare. "Vincent?" He aimed a bright, expectant look in their guest's direction, making no attempt to hide his intentions. The older man's gaze swung to his own, a guarded expression in their glowing depths, and Kuja sent him a sympathetic smile. "I believe that you have something to tell Sephiroth."
He paused, and those gorgeous, shimmering crimson eyes sharpened shrewdly on his own. "Or am I wrong about you – Vincent Valentine?"
Sephiroth frowned as his own gaze found the older man, the former Turk who had suffered in ways that even he could not comprehend. Vincent's cold, emotionless expression softened fractionally, and he felt something that suspiciously resembled hope creep into his suddenly pounding heart. "Vincent?" he questioned in a quiet, nearly inaudible voice.
Vincent had to fight to hold that bottomless green gaze with his own. Intelligence gleamed in the depths of those eyes – of Lucrecia's eyes – and the resemblance to between mother and son increased tenfold. He could see himself there as well, in the emotional intensity with which the younger man watched him, and Vincent suddenly wondered how Sephiroth would have looked had he not been imbued with The Calamity's essence.
An image of Sephiroth with a long, flowing veil of sable hair flashed through his mind, and Vincent's chest tightened unnervingly. He found that he couldn't be angry with Kuja for calling him out, even though he had all but decided to hold his silence. This was a secret that should have been revealed long ago, and a part him wanted Sephiroth to know. He only marveled that his son's prissy, seemingly self-centered companion had discerned a truth that not even the closest of his friends had.
"Kuja is right," he said at last, praying that his son wouldn't hate him when all was said and done. Surprise flickered across Sephiroth's patrician features, and then it was gone, replaced an intense expression that Vincent couldn't begin to interpret. "My relationship with your mother was. . .intense, for lack of a better word. We met when we could, where we could, but there were parts to her that I was not privy to."
He paused as memories of smiling green eyes and silken honeyed hair flashed through his mind, and his own lips curved sadly in response. Sephiroth nodded in silent understanding, his head tilting slightly to the right to indicate his interest, and Vincent drew a fortifying breath. "You have to understand that she was unhappy with Hojo," he explained in a murmur. "The were both scientists, and as much as she loved her work, she didn't understand her husband's fixation with it. He was obsessed with science, with the idea of creating a being with all the powers of The Ancients, to the exclusion of everything else – even her."
Those bow lips, echoes of his mother's, turned down at the corners, and Vincent resisted an impulse to cross the camp and reach out to his son. Sephiroth was not the kind of man who would appreciate an emotional gesture from a complete stranger – even if that stranger happened to be his father. "They drifted apart," he forced himself to continue. "By the time I was sent to Nibelheim to guard her, their marriage was all but over."
He uttered a soul-deep sigh and shook his dark head. "It was not my intention to become involved with a married woman. It not only went against Shinra regulations, but against everything I believed in. It was wrong – I knew that it was – and yet I. . .I loved her."
Sephiroth looked away, his heart racing in his chest, as he realized just what this man might be telling him. "Is that why Hojo killed you?" he asked at length, his voice rough with strain. He thought of the cold, callous way that Hojo had informed him of his parentage, and had to clench his fists to keep his emotions restrained. "Did he discover the affair and—"
"No." Vincent drew a deep, shuddering breath and released it slowly. "No, it wasn't the affair. He didn't care what Lucrecia did outside of the lab, so long as it didn't interfere with her. . .work."
Kuja waited in an agony of suspense for the older man to continue, frustration filling him when Vincent failed to do so. He was on the verge of speaking, of prompting the other man to continue, when Vincent uttered a great sigh. He raised those startling crimson eyes to Sephiroth's, and Kuja was shocked by the myriad of emotion he saw in their mako-charged depths.
"I want you to know that if I known – if I had even suspected – the truth, I would have taken your mother away from that accursed man. By force, if I'd had to." Vincent's deep, dark voice resonated with emotion, and Kuja didn't doubt his sincerity. The question was: would Sephiroth believe him?
Sephiroth merely gazed at him in silence, unwilling to ask the question that hovered on his lips, all but begging to be spoken. If what he now suspected was true, he wanted to hear it from Vincent himself, without any prompting. He would accept nothing less.
"Lucrecia was the one who ended the relationship," Vincent explained, leaning forward in his urgency, wanting – no, needing – his son to understand. "It wasn't what I wanted, but her happiness meant more to me anything. When she went back to Hojo, I thought I had no choice but to accept it. And then she announced that she was pregnant, and that she and Hojo intended to include the child in the experiment. . ."
"I know that I should have said something, that I should have tried to stop her, but I didn't feel as though I had the right." Vincent shook his head, sending a silken cascade of thick black satin tumbling over his shoulders, even as one black-gloved hand balled into a fist. "She and her husband were going to have a child, and I had no say in the matter. I hated it, but I thought that I had to respect her right to make that decision."
Kuja sensed more than felt the hands that fisted against his back and quickly glanced up at his angel. Sephiroth was watching Vincent with intently, his silver-green eyes flashing madly with emotion, his beautiful dace drawn taut with it, and Kuja fought the urge to pick up the nearest rock and send it hurtling Vincent's way. Gaia, couldn't Vincent just forgo the long, drawn-out explanation and tell Sephiroth the damned truth already? Couldn't he tell how badly his son needed to hear it?
Sephiroth's lips tightened until they little more than colorless slashes in his equally colorless face. He understood exactly how Vincent had felt – he had once felt the same way about Genesis and Angeal – but it was agony to sit here and listen to the older man say everything but what he wanted to hear.
"I should have listened to my instincts that day." Vincent's voice dropped to a hushed, nearly inaudible murmur, and Kuja wondered if he and Sephiroth had been forgotten. "I should have followed her out of that room and begged her to listen to me. Instead, I let her walk away, and ruined the lives of the woman that I loved," he raised his head slowly, almost reluctantly, and met Sephiroth's glowing green gaze once more, "and our son."
Sephiroth's breath left him in an audible rush. "Then, you are my father."
It was phrased as statement, not a question, but Vincent answered anyway. "Yes," he told him in a quiet voice, "I believe that I am."
"That is," Sephiroth's entire body relaxed visibly, "very good to know. I thank you for your candor, as well as your honesty, Vincent."
Vincent merely stared at him with thinly veiled uncertainty, and Kuja rolled his eyes at his angel's less than enthusiastic response. "I think that means that he's happy to have you as a father, Vincent."
He shifted and pulled himself into a sitting position, grinning as his angel sent him a most magnificent frown. "Is that not what I just said?" he asked with the beginnings of annoyance, and Kuja reached up and patted his cheek condescendingly.
"Just because I can interpret you, doesn't mean that everyone can, angel," he informed the other man loftily. "You basically told Vincent that you were glad to discover that Hojo wasn't your father. You didn't tell him that you were happy that he was. You see the distinction, I presume?"
"I – " Sephiroth looked at the father who was willing to claim a monster such as himself as his son, "Yes, I see the distinction, Kuja. Thank you, for making it clear."
Kuja smiled, pleased with himself, and leaned into the other man. Strong arms wrapped around him in return, and he happily tucked his head under his angel's chin. "You're more than welcome, angel."
Sephiroth gazed at Vincent over the top of his head, his lips inching upwards in the barest hint of a smile. "Forgive me for not responding in a more appropriate manner," he told the older man – his father – in a solemn voice. "I am pleased to know that you are my biological father, Vincent. Never think otherwise."
Vincent inclined his head and took refuge behind the cowl of his cloak. "Thank you, Sephiroth. It's more than I deserve but," the corners of his eyes folded slightly as he smiled, "exactly what I needed to hear."
Sephiroth merely nodded and lowered his chin until it rested on the crown of Kuja's head. "I would like to hear more about you and my mother," he murmured awkward sincerity, "but not tonight. Kuja nearly succumbed to hypothermia today, and he needs to rest if he's going to have the strength to make it to Icicle tomorrow. If you're willing to share our fire tonight, you are welcome to accompany us."
"I'd like that," Vincent returned simply. He glanced at Kuja, who was yawning as he burrowed even more deeply against Sephiroth, and rose to his feet. "I'll stand watch tonight. I don't require much in the way of sleep. You concentrate on taking care of. . .Kuja."
Sephiroth caught the minute hesitation and instinctively – protectively – tightened his hold on the younger man. He watched the older man disappear into the icy night, as though in defiance of the freezing weather, and sighed heavily. It didn't matter whether Kuja was a clone, a remnant, or a Genome from another world, Sephiroth was determined to protect him. He didn't doubt that the other man was strong – after all, he could cast magic without materia – but he didn't seem to understand how their world worked. Otherwise, he would never have ventured into the north without proper equipment.
And while he was pleased to learn that Vincent Valentine was his biological father, he would allow no one to harm Kuja Tribal.