A/N:
Hiya folks! I'm not dead! Really! This story has been in the works for almost a year now, so I hope you like it. Also, because this is my first long oneshot, I need to ask your advice. Would it be better if I split this up into chapters or left it as is, what with it so long? Please tell me!
Format Notes: lines signify scene changes. Scenes surrounded by ... are flashbacks. Italics = thoughts or emphasis. Rated for blood and battle scenes, not overly graphic, just violent. Enjoy ~Alma

Reverberation
By Alma Heart

Genesis suppressed a shudder as he walked into the medical lab. He did not like this place, with its cold, florescent lights, and the cloying scent of antiseptic hanging heavy in the air. This wasn't a home clinic in the slightest sense of the word; the science and medical departments mended dying SOLDIERs here. As many people died here as were saved, and the caretakers were so practiced that most of them had taken the humanity out of their work. There wasn't any pity here in the doctors, it was washed away with the blood from the operating tables. Only a few of the nurses retained flickers. Normally he never would have come here.

But today there was a reason, and one that he refused to be turned away from. So, carefully moving through the wards, the red SOLDIER made his way towards the back of the medical wing. He knew the way to his destination, and so he thankfully didn't have to ask directions of any of the doctors hurrying around, clipboards in their hands. He avoided eye contact with them, trying to keep his mind fixated on one goal.

Finally, he reached four large sets of double doors at the back of the winding maze of beds. The operating rooms were off to his left, he knew. He'd been in there before, once or twice, though of course he didn't remember. He wasn't entirely sure where two of the remaining three doors led; the cold smell of metal tables was the same all around, but he could guess at what sorts of laboratories were concealed behind them. He wasn't naive enough to think that all of the scientists working here valued the health of the patients above all else. He knew this to be untrue, knew it well.

But it was the last door he was interested in. It was large and made of green metal, bold red letters emblazoned across its surface. Intensive Care Ward.

Looking at it, Genesis felt an ineffectual surge of rage and pain. It shouldn't be like this. Stuff like this wasn't supposed to happen. Not to...


...

Genesis rolled his eyes as he walked out to the helicopter. "I don't see why they had to send you, too, Sephiroth. I mean, I could have done this perfectly well by myself."

The general shrugged easily as he walked after the red SOLDIER. "Neither do I, Genesis," he replied passively, mentally checking that his weapons were in order. Masamune was secure in its sheathe, as was the dagger he kept in his belt for emergencies. All of his materia accounted for. Satisfied, Sephiroth climbed into the helicopter after Genesis, careful to sit down in a way that didn't stab either his companion or the pilot with his blade.

Genesis blew his breath out noisily as he fastened his harness and the helicopter took off. Really, he was insulted that Lazard hadn't been willing to let him take this on alone. Sephiroth was Sephiroth, of course, but surely Genesis could do something as simple as rebel eradication by himself. He wasn't some little boy, or a green recruit who couldn't do anything without the illustrious general's careful direction. By the Gods, he was a SOLDIER 1st, just like Sephiroth! Why couldn't anyone give him some recognition for that? He was good! But, no, of course, it was always his friend that got all the attention. Sephiroth was the general. Obviously that was all anyone cared about. His bitterness curled in his chest as the flight progressed.

Sephiroth's silence didn't help. He was re-reading the briefing for their mission, again. Genesis didn't understand why Sephiroth always had to read the stupid thing three or four times. He knew and had proof that Sephiroth remembered ninety percent of anything he read the first time through. So why? It didn't make any sense, and today it unnaturally frustrated Genesis. It was as if the general didn't even realize that his success was the bane of Genesis'.

And he just sits there, reading... He snarled to himself, hands tensing on the seatbelt. If he stared at Sephiroth much longer, he knew he was going to lose his temper.

He didn't really want that, not this early in a mission. With a restless sigh, Genesis looked out the window, glaring at the dark sky. All he wanted was a chance to prove that he, too, could be a hero. Was that really all that much to ask from them? From Sephiroth?

The sun was just starting to rise when the pilot broke the silence, repeating the required briefing that neither of them paid any mind to, already knowing all of the information. "You are being dropped into a rebel active zone. There is a small group of them hiding out here, according to our intelligence. They are concentrated within a small area, but we do not know numbers. Your task is to find their hiding place and either kill them or flush them out. Our intel is scarce about their weapons capabilities. You are to assume they are armed and dangerous. It will be difficult to get back up to you within this area, so when you're finished you must return to the drop zone for evac. Understood?"

As one, both SOLDIERs nodded. "Yes."

The pilot nodded and Genesis held onto the side of his seat as the sense of gravity changed and he felt the helicopter begin to descend. As always, a rush of adrenaline screamed through his veins at the prospect of a mission. Gods, he would never understand how Sephiroth could sit there perfectly still, waiting.

The rapid descent stopped after a moment, and gravity nearly stabilized again as the craft hovered above the ground. "I'll come back for you here when you call me," the pilot said over his shoulder. "Good luck."

Nodding, Sephiroth turned and quickly pulled the side door open. The rush of wind slammed into them, throwing Sephiroth's hair wildly and making Genesis wince, shielding his eyes from the blast.

There was a moment of hesitation, and Sephiroth said something. Genesis couldn't hear the words over the wind, but he saw the movement that accompanied them. "Let's go." Then Sephiroth was gone, dropping easily and gracefully out of the helicopter.

Genesis saluted the pilot and jumped out after the general. The rush of wind was even worse out here, buffeting him from all sides, and the sound of the helicopter's whirring blades was deafening. He plummeted quickly through the chilled air, his hair thrown back by the force. The ground rushed up to meet him, but he was fearless of the drop. A moment later and he was on the ground again, feeling the earth through his boots. The helicopter's barking faded as it drew away, leaving them there in the eerie quiet of the morning.

Genesis straightened, shaking his head, feeling oddly refreshed. He looked over and saw Sephiroth standing nearby, waiting patiently for him, a form of black with flashing silver in the dim light. The word patiently in his thoughts made him momentarily cross; what sort of right did Sephiroth have to act like his parent? They were the same age! But, then, he reasoned that he had jumped second, and that's why Sephiroth was waiting, not because he felt some sort of paternalistic arrogance. Genesis blinked. What? Where had that idea even come from? That made no sense. Did he really make assumptions that quickly?

Glowing green eyes flashed in the early morning light, meeting Genesis' look. "Shall we?" Sephiroth asked, a slight glint of amusement flashing in his eyes at the use of language that Genesis usually would use.

Genesis smiled and fell into step beside the general as they walked towards the small group of buildings nearby. "Let's."

...


With a deep sigh, Genesis opened one side of the door to the Intensive Care Ward, entering quietly. The atmosphere changed slightly; the murmuring of voices was still there, but it was even more hushed than before, as if the slightest sound could decide the fates of those dying or living here. It even seemed that everyone walked on tiptoe. There was an absence of people here; it felt empty, dead. Genesis hadn't been in here in a long time, and it still chilled him.

There was a young nurse, a lab assistant probably, who was working at the check-in desk off to one side of the entrance area. Genesis turned to her.

She had looked up with a puzzled expression when Genesis had entered. Guests in the ICW were somewhat rare. Most of the cases in here were either closed to visitors, or not even identified. But then, when she saw who was looking at her with dimmed blue eyes, she sat up immediately, an uneasy look on her face.

Genesis looked at her steadily still.

She bit her lip. "He's...he's still very weak, sir." For some reason, she whispered. "He's still not..."

"May I see him?" Genesis asked, his own voice dropping to a near whisper in response to hers. "Just tell me that."

The woman seemed to hesitate, worrying her hands. "Well...technically...the doctor said it helps..." She sighed. "But then Professor Hojo said no...but it might do him good to...to have someone there who doesn't...who hasn't..." Something terribly uneasy shone in her eyes at this babble, some painful decision. But then she looked up at Genesis, her eyes steady. "Yes, you may see him. Please, follow me."

Genesis nodded as she rose from her desk. "Thank you." His own voice sounded numb. He fell into step behind her as she walked.


...

Genesis paused at the edge of a small stand of trees, looking out towards the two buildings nearby. He paused, head cocked, analyzing one, then the other. Their target was allegedly in this area. It was almost certain that the group was hiding somewhere in one of those buildings. It would be best not to walk into an empty building and risk tipping the others off. So, which building should they go to first?

Sephiroth's footsteps were almost silent behind him, but Genesis heard them. The general came up next to him, his eyes regarding the buildings intensely. "The one on the left."

Genesis glanced at him sharply. Sephiroth met his eyes. "Smell them," he explained, nodding towards the building. "They're there."

Genesis blinked, then frowned. Now that it was mentioned, he did detect the faint scent of others off to one side, but it was very faint, barely detectible. It frustrated him that he hadn't noticed it until Sephiroth had pointed it out. The fact that he had long suspected Sephiroth's senses were keener than his own did not help the situation; it simply made him even more annoyed. Sephiroth, Shinra's general, who always did everything perfectly. Genesis wished fiercely, just once, to see the general mess up. Just once. Or not even that; he'd be content just to see something Sephiroth couldn't do by himself. Just that evidence that Genesis wasn't so completely and totally unnecessary in this scenario.

Sephiroth had glanced back at him, then stopped, looking at him with a vaguely questioning expression. Again, he didn't understand where the sudden, brooding flash of hostility in Genesis' eyes came from. Angeal he could feel at ease with; at least the man was consistent. But Genesis, that was another story. At times it seemed as though the red SOLDIER deeply hated him, and then at others it seemed as though he considered them friends. Sephiroth couldn't hope to keep up. So he waited, uncertain what to say or do but hope that Genesis' momentary agitation passed and they could carry on with the mission. They didn't really have time for any sort of confrontation. That, and Sephiroth really wasn't in the mood. It wasn't worth getting into a fight with Genesis right now.

Luckily, whatever was passing through his head, Genesis was a SOLDIER, too. He never lost sense of the mission and what was required of them. So, despite being unreasonably annoyed again, he crushed down such idle thoughts and turned towards the building on the left. Knowing that his companion was still waiting for a response, Genesis nodded. "Yeah. Let's go deal with them." One thing, perhaps, that was good about all this. He was certainly in the mood to smash something.

Sephiroth nodded, catching some of Genesis' mood and understanding.

...


Almost mindlessly, Genesis followed the nurse through the dimly lit corridors of the last place any living SOLDIER wanted to end up. Shinra was in no official conflict right now, no war, no skirmishes, nothing. But, naturally, official story or not, there were still men in here, hovering between life and death, some closer to one extreme than the other. SOLDIERs, some foot soldiers, if they were lucky enough and unlucky enough to end up here, perhaps some lab hands, though probably not. He could hear myriads of hums, clicks, beeps, and whirrs of machines all around, doing the work broken bodies could no longer do, in the idea of saving them. The soft, discordant mechanical song, though quiet, overlapped any murmurs of the medical staff and breathing of the patients, adding to the inhumanity of this place. The only sound he could hear reliably was the out of place clumping of his boots against the immaculately clean tiles beneath his feet.

He tried very hard to keep his eyes fixed downwards, and not to look into any of the quiet rooms they passed, so as not to see what suffering lay there. This was the part of the glory of Shinra that no one on the outside was allowed to see, but for Shinra's finest, the deaths of those who served were a daily reality. Familiarity, however, did not lessen his intense aversion to the ward. The chill in the air could not be only in his imagination. There was a weight in this place. He couldn't believe that he was coming here, now, for... He didn't have the heart yet to finish the thought. Not yet.

The realization nearly tore a laugh out of him at how pathetic it really was. Was he really that much of a coward? He couldn't even think it? The answer seemed to be yes.

After a very long and yet very short time, the nurse stopped and turned to one side. Genesis had almost walked into her when she had stopped, so intent was he on not looking around. But, catching himself, he turned to follow her, and found himself facing an ordinary sized door, made of heavy glass. There was a folder slot on one side of this door, with an incredibly thick set of papers tucked into it. Right underneath that, there was a label for the room, bearing a number, and a name. He shied away before reading the name there.

The nurse opened the door, which swung out on silent hinges, and walked into the room beyond. Genesis went to follow, feeling the cold of the glass through his glove. But then he hesitated in the doorway, for a moment seemingly insurmountable uncertainty freezing him in place. What if...what was he here for? What was he going to do when he saw him, in here?

The earlier surge of pain returned, stronger this time, acute, and he had to take a deep breath to wrestle it down. No. He was here because he had to be. Because he couldn't live with the thought of...he couldn't get the image out of his mind! At least see him without blood, at least reassure himself that he wasn't...no, that wasn't allowed, he couldn't do that for Genesis, that wasn't alright at all...


...

At the door to the dark building, though Genesis walked confidently through, Sephiroth paused, his bright green eyes searching the darkness closely. Something flashed in his eyes, betraying that he at least felt something at the prospect of a hunt, even if it was a ludicrously simple one.

Genesis glanced back over his shoulder, a half-annoyed, half-questioning look in his eyes.

"Listen," Sephiroth muttered, his eyes still trying to pierce the darkness. "Something's...off."

Genesis rolled his eyes. "I don't hear anything," he retorted grumpily, his hand unconsciously moving to his sword. It was a lie, he heard breathing and frantic shuffling in the back of the large space enclosed by the walls, but that wasn't anything "off" as Sephiroth put it. Everything was as it should be, and he really wanted to leap towards the frightened shuffling and scatter it.

Sephiroth's brow creased as he still tried to pinpoint what in the sound was wrong.

Genesis sighed and kept walking. "Come on. Let's just do this." His voice echoed in the quiet.

Sephiroth's head came up as soon as Genesis took his first step away, green eyes flashing sharply towards the back of the room. His hand moved down towards his weapon on instinct.

Genesis smiled, his blue eyes flashing. There was a soft rustling, he deftly flipped Rapier out of its sheath, the crimson blade catching the light and flashing like fresh blood. Easily, Genesis turned his hand, not even looking, and parried an attack from an obviously desperate man.

A flick of his blade threw his assailant back, and another dropped him to the ground with a thud. There were battle cries echoing around now, and as Genesis' eyes adjusted to the darkness, forms emerged, rebels running towards him with all manner of weapons. Genesis smiled pityingly. The poor things were so outclassed it wasn't even funny.

There was a sense of something behind him, of motion faster than any man should have been able to move, then it stilled into a sense of proximity. Metal flashed in his peripheral vision. However, the speed let Genesis know not to whirl and attack the presence. There was only one person who could move with that unnatural speed. Sephiroth stood at his back suddenly, appearing as if out of midair, Masamune a single silver streak in the light. The smile on Genesis' face lengthened slightly. Frustrations or not, there was an innate satisfaction in fighting back to back with the most dangerous man in the world, and seeing the way that their attackers hesitated in near instinctive fear at seeing the two of them.

Not, he reminded himself, that he needed Sephiroth there. Just that, perhaps, sometimes he liked it.

...


Fighting the paralysis with all of his strength, Genesis took a deep breath, and entered the room.

The first thing that he saw in the soft light was the metal bars at the end of a mobile hospital bed, like bars of some cage. The harsh, cold, florescent lights from the hall had been softened slightly in here, and dimmed, trying and failing to make the room appear a kinder place. Everything was smooth and reflected light in some way, from the tiles to the door, even the walls somehow. Ordinarily this would have been very painful, but thankfully the light was less intense in here, and so it was bearable. Outside it had been as quiet as a funeral, but in here, once the door swung closed quietly, it fell near silence. The only sound was breathing, slow and soft.

After absorbing all this, Genesis finally turned and looked at the form that lay motionless on the bed. At seeing him, as he had predicted, Genesis' brain stopped, and all he could do was stare blankly and painfully.

The first thing to hit him was the fact that Sephiroth's eyes were still closed, and had been closed for almost four days now. Silver eyelashes didn't stir, not even as in dreams as Sephiroth lay there as if dead. The expression on his face was calm, not reflecting any pain, as if he were merely asleep. But Genesis knew Sephiroth never looked completely calm when he slept, and the image was betrayed by the oxygen mask that obscured the lower half of his face, misting slightly with each slow breath, the only way of telling he was even still alive.

The general was on his back, the blankets pulled off his upper body. Layers of bandages wrapped his entire torso, over his shoulders, and down the side of his left arm, strands of gauze sticking out between the strips. Some thinner parts were stained red, as if even since the bindings had last been changed something had been bleeding. On the far side of the bed, a metal stand held three plastic bags of liquid, each connected by a tube into Sephiroth's bare arm. Other thin cords, not tubes but wires, ran underneath the bandages and across his skin, connecting to the multitudes of computer screens that monitored him, body temperature, respiration levels, heart rate, blood pressure. Behind the IVs, lines shuddered impassively on a computer screen, charting each beat of Sephiroth's heart.

Genesis didn't hear the nurse's whispered words. The only thing he could hear was the muffled sound of Sephiroth's breathing, in and out, and the rhythmic blip of the heart rate monitor. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Sephiroth's face as the general lay there fighting to survive, and yet looking helpless, without emotion or any sign of life.

The beep of the heart-rate monitor sounded again and Sephiroth took another breath.

Gods, why did you…? Genesis couldn't keep the thought of those closed green eyes out of his mind.


...

His sword connected with another attacker, then withdrew, dropping the faceless assailant to the ground with a dull thud. Sephiroth completed the turn of his blade, listening for another. But he couldn't catch any moving breath besides Genesis' beside him. Genesis was enjoying himself; Sephiroth knew not so much in the death, but in the fight. But he wasn't having fun. He didn't like the sound of bodies hitting the floor, the dull thud of death that was different than when a living person fell. Maybe because he'd heard it so many times.

But that didn't mean he was about to let them land an attack. He was a SOLDIER, and a sense of pity did not become him. He listened, but didn't hear anyone coming. So that had been all of them, then?

He stopped moving, listening again. That didn't make sense. Something was nagging at him, still, as it had at the door. Something was wrong.

Genesis swept his sword upwards with a flourish as silence fell again, his eyes flashing. The taste of blood in the air itself did not please him-he wasn't bloodthirsty like some warriors he'd known-but the action of the fight left him exhilarated. It was undeniably true; that was one of the best ways to overcome frustration. The ease of the altercation did not upset him. It was nice to feel accomplished every now and then, even if he had to ignore the fact that it had probably been easier for Sephiroth than it had been for him.

"Well, I think we're done here," Genesis said with a smile, turning back towards Sephiroth with flashing eyes.

Green eyes were searching the darkness still, not looking at him. But, at hearing his voice, Sephiroth turned slightly, his eyes moving towards Genesis'.

Genesis saw something troubled in the instant those eyes met his.

A gunshot ripped through the world.

His initial flash of shock was at the fact that he didn't feel pain. Nothing. He hadn't been hit. But...

A dull wrenching thud, so much quieter than the gunshot it was amazing he heard it. Green eyes flashed and dilated. Sephiroth's body jerked suddenly, thrown viciously forward, as if dragged by some invisible force. His head snapped back. Pain flashed through his eyes as he stumbled, and the scent of blood suddenly assaulted Genesis' senses. A gasp.

Genesis' eyes went almost as wide as Sephiroth's as the sound of guns cocking all around passed unheard through his ears. All he heard was the sudden strained breath that Sephiroth tried to take, and the way it was hard.

Things suddenly happened too quickly to keep up. Green eyes seared into his, wide with pain, shock, and some sort of burning determination. Then Sephiroth moved, lightning quick. Something slammed into Genesis, and he was thrown backwards to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Genesis was too shocked to stop himself as he slid away. He didn't even register impact. As he hit the ground he saw two things. A small green orb glowed in Sephiroth's right hand, and Masmune flashed in his left. Drops of blood fell on the ground.

Then the room exploded in gunfire, and Sephiroth was furiously deflecting shot after shot, twisting back and forth, Masamune in a thousand places at once. Genesis lay stunned, staring. Deflected bullets bounced off a wall of shimmering power that had suddenly appeared in front of him. Sephiroth had cast Wall in front of him after pushing him away. He'd had a split second, and he'd used it for that.

His mind was too numb to feel anything. The incessant sound crushed him, and he lay there, staring.

Sephiroth blocked bullet after bullet. But he was hit, too. Genesis could see each time his body jerked, ripped forward by a shot, then slammed back by another. Masamune slowed enough to be seen, then slowed further, and more got through, slamming into Sephiroth and making him stagger and shake. The attackers, like hounds hunting a panther, caught the scent of blood and closed in, and then it was impossible, there was no way, even the general couldn't overcome this, no matter how hard he tried.

Masamune stopped moving all together, and complete silence fell.

...


Genesis sagged into a chair next to Sephiroth's still form. Why! he demanded silently. Why the hell did you do that!

Sephiroth's emotionless face didn't give him any answers. Only silence, and then another slow breath. Beep. Another heartbeat.

It was that silence that really got to him. Sephiroth was quiet by nature, so it really shouldn't have bothered him as much as it did. But this was different. Just by virtue of being around Sephiroth, regardless of whether he always considered him a friend or not, Genesis had learned by necessity to listen for quiet things. Sephiroth only ever showed what he was thinking or feelings with soft sounds, easily missed. Emotion became a matter of the way he was breathing. But now there was nothing. Just the quiet, rasping sound, accompanied by the low whirring of machines to make sure it didn't stop.

Something hissed, more gas released up the hose into the mask obscuring Sephiroth's face. The nurse had disappeared at some point. They were alone now.

Genesis clenched his fists as he stared at Sephiroth. Of all the things…You had less than a second. The memory of the look in Sephiroth's eyes wouldn't leave him alone, the pain, but also the split second of understanding there. You knew. You knew they'd try to kill you, not me. You're the one they wanted. Sephiroth, general of SOLDIER, the prize everyone wants.

Sephiorth's breath left him slowly, an almost pathetically weak sound.

It just made Genesis angrier. So then, why did you try to protect me! Why didn't you cast that spell in front of you?

There was no answer. Just the indifferent sound of the machines. He heard the tone off to one side. Sephiroth's heart beat again.

Biting his lip, Genesis wrestled down the intense wave of helpless rage that threatened to overwhelm him. It took all of his self control. But he refused to break down here, not here, in this place where none of the doctors even treated Sephiroth like he was a person, rather than some company investment put in jeopardy. This place wasn't human. He couldn't imagine Sephiroth being here alone.

Because of him.

Looking up at his friend, Genesis shook his head helplessly. Gods, why did you do it? Just tell me why! I never did anything good for you in my life. And now look at you...

He knew his eyes were glowing now in rage, but he also knew that if he didn't rage they'd go dull with grief. Genesis bit his lip. Lazard had told him and Angeal that morning. 7 bullets. 7 bullets that didn't go through. They got all but one of them out. But that last one's too close to your heart. Anyone else would already be dead.

Another heartbeat.

So now all they can do is wait and see if you can push it away from your heart yourself, so they can get it out of you. Because you've survived this far... Genesis realized he was unconsciously timing his breathing with the sound of the heart rate monitor. He looked over at it, nestled in the jungle of electrical equipment. Anything not to look at that face. But they don't know anything, because no one else would be alive. Your body could reject the bullet...you could survive till tomorrow...you could die right now. Your heart could stop. Right now.

His eyes unseeingly followed one of the cords up to a pulse monitor attached to Sephiroth's finger. He wanted to reach out and touch that motionless hand, just to reassure himself that it wasn't cold, as it had been that day. Just to forget the feeling of cold skin and the sound of fast, shallow, blood-choked breaths.

"I said you only had to hold on a little longer. But..." His voice was soft, too quiet, barely piercing the silence. The words shook, but they were too important for Genesis to let shame silence him. He looked back at Sephiroth's face. "You have to keep fighting! Please..." Emotions muddled beneath his rage that he didn't dare touch, didn't dare think about. "Please, just...just don't die." His name slipped out, weakly, a pain wracked plea more than anything else, and one that Genesis knew he couldn't hear. "Sephiroth..."

Another heartbeat.


...

Genesis stared as the gunshots stopped.

Sephiroth was still standing, still holding his sword. But with each harsh breath Masamune's tip weaved up and down. The blade shook unceasingly, only just barely held above the ground. The scent of Sephiroth's blood was thick, overwhelming.

Green eyes were fixed somewhere straight ahead, drilling into the ground. Each breath seemed a conscious effort, the air would catch and blood would force itself out, shaking him and leaving trails on his chin. Sephiroth coughed weakly, swaying as he tried to stay on his feet. There was a splash of blood on his cheek, contrasting terribly against the pale skin. Red on the ground, the sound of each drop etched agonizingly in Genesis' ears.

No...

For the first time in his life, Genesis saw pain change Sephiroth's face. As he struggled to breathe, the general involuntarily opened and closed his eyes, each blink a tiny flinch that left tense lines on his forehead and around his eyes. For most people this was a normal reaction, but not for him. Genesis could see the agony glowing in Sephiroth's eyes, flickering erratically and focusing on nothing.

The silence was so total Genesis could hear the soft grunt as Sephiroth choked. A wince. Then slowly the general's head turned and green eyes moved towards Genesis. The look in them wasn't knowing, calculating, not even thinking. Just pain and a desperate, wordless question.

Their eyes met only for a split second before Sephiroth's were driven closed by a gasp that visibly shook him. A weak cough, almost a cry. His head fell, bowing towards the ground. Through his hair, something flashed, blood on his neck.

Genesis' eyes widened. No!

He saw Sephiroth's eyes one more time, half open, unseeing. Just pain and fear, glowing in the dark. The hand holding Masamune went limp, and the sword slipped out, flashing towards the ground.

NO!

Green eyes winced shut. A single, shallow breath, catching in the silence. Then Sephiroth fell.

It seemed forever before his body thudded heavily against the ground, blood stirred and splashed up onto him. Red stained silver with impossible clarity in Genesis' eyes.

Masamune's blade seemed to bounce in slow motion, flashing silver in front of motionless silver hair.

"SEPHIROTH!"

It was an almost animalistic roar, torn from him with incredible force. The wall before him fell into nothingness; he was running through it, past it, not even hearing the overwhelming screeches of gunshots, aimed at him now, aimed at him. He didn't feel himself block them, didn't even notice he had moved until he was in the middle, standing over the still silver form, blood on his boots, and an orb in his hand glowing with power.

I'm going to kill you! The words were chillingly clear in his thoughts, screeched by some monstrous hate. He was going to make them pay.

Uncaring of the bullets streaking around him, Genesis glared out with glowing eyes and unleashed Ultima on his foes.

The flash of blue light surrounded him, blinding and terrible. Cries and blows sounded all around him, and he could see forms through it, thrown back viciously by his rage. But it didn't satisfy, not enough, never enough, not until he had ripped the life from every single one of them with his bare hands!

It only took a minute, and bodies were tossed on the ground carelessly, like so much trash. There were screams of fear, and he honed in on them like a shark smelling blood, looking for those who dared live.

It was then that a bullet tore into his shoulder, knocking him a step forward. There was a splash. The scent of his own blood was drowned out by the scent of Sephiroth's, sending a flash of rage spiked adrenaline through his hands. Barely even feeling pain, Genesis whirled with a wordless roar and fireballs flew off his hand, falling upon his enemy with a dark fury that left him only time to see eyes reflecting fire and wide with panic before they were gone. Blood and fire all around, and he whirled relentlessly, looking for the others that he smelled.

Gasps and cries, and he heard footsteps. They were running, the cowards. Thinking they'd felled their enemy, instead they had awakened an enraged demon. With a savage roar, Genesis leapt after one, catching him with his blade and slamming the body into a wall.

I'll make you sorry!

But then their footsteps faded and the overwhelming scent came back to him as the fire guttered and died. No. He couldn't chase them, not when-!

The thought of pursuing them was gone, as if it had never been there. Suddenly panicked, Genesis whirled and ran back to where Sephiroth lay. "Goddess, please!" The incoherent prayer slipped out unconsciously as he fell to his knees. "Sephiroth!"

Fast, rasping breaths. He heard them and something shuddered with unbearable relief. Still alive. Not dead. Not dead!

A low grunt, choking. Green eyes suddenly cracked open. Sephiroth tried to lift his head out of the blood. "Ghh..." He couldn't get the sound out, only gasp there softly. "G...Ge..." It was like a blow that he couldn't even hold his own head up.

Hands shaking, Genesis reached out and supported Sephiroth's head. Red dripped off silver hair. "Shh. Don't talk." His voice was shaking, too, sounding like someone else's even as he heard it. "I'm here! Sephiroth, I'm right here..."

A painful gasp, and Sephiroth leaned against Genesis' hand, eyes slipping out of focus. "Nhhh..." He coughed, hard, sounding like someone was crushing him.

Genesis blinked, his eyes stinging. Gods, he sounded so weak. The scent of blood was overwhelming. He'd never seen Sephiroth hurt, not this much...the smell made him a little sick. How could...what...! It made it hard to think, hard to function. But he had to! Sephiroth would die! Not even he could survive something like this without help.

There were sounds outside, and Genesis took a deep breath. They had to get out of here, now. He vaguely recalled the pilot's words. To get out they had to be back at the drop site, up the hill. It had seemed like such a trivial thing when they'd come...

Blood on his hands. Genesis looked down, seeing against his will the way that Sephiroth's chest was stained red, holes torn in the leather of his jacket, and the entire front of it practically dyed crimson. Old training came back. Get out of the combat area. Then, no matter, what, stop the bleeding.

You are not going to bleed to death. I won't...you can't...! Genesis closed his eyes hard, taking a deep breath. Calm down. Calm down! Get him out of here!

How? the panicking part of him demanded.

Carry him. The calmness that accompanied the thought shocked him in itself. But it didn't matter. He just grabbed onto it. "You're going to be alright." The words came out much steadier than the ones before. "Just hang on." Goddess, please, just hang on!

Trying as best he could to be gentle, Genesis wrapped his arms around Sephiroth and lifted him out of the pool of blood. It was like lifting a rag doll; the way the general fell against him limply was honestly terrifying. It was hard to ignore the smell of blood and that of fear, which was only detectable this close. Silver hair dripped crimson. That, and he knew he was causing Sephiroth unspeakable pain by moving him.

As he lifted him, Sephiroth coughed and gasped, his eyes screwed shut. His shallow breathing became desperate chokes. When Genesis finally got one of his arms over his shoulder, there was a quiet sound, almost a whimper.

Genesis withheld a shudder as he leaned Sephiroth's body against his and felt blood on his shoulder and side, dripping off his coat. "I'm sorry," he whispered, unable to do anything else. "I know it hurts. I'm sorry." A bloodstained strand of hair flashed in his peripheral vision. Labored breathing near his shoulder. He honed in on the sound, making it the most important thing in his world. Keep breathing...

He didn't see the passing trees around him as he darted away from the building. The only thing he was focused on was trying to find a balance between moving swiftly and not jerking Sephiroth. His passenger leaned against him helplessly, Genesis' grip the only thing keeping him off the ground. In the back of his mind Genesis knew that following would be easy; he could almost sense the blood trail behind them, but it didn't matter, nothing mattered beyond the harsh, shallow breathing next to him and each pause in it that left him terrified that it would stop.

It was as if his feet found the way themselves. Genesis looked up in hatred at the sun that rose as if nothing was wrong as he ran up to the drop zone field.

He stumbled forward, unbalanced by Sephiroth's weight on the incline of the ground. The jerk caused a low whine of breath and the shaking hand Genesis was holding over his shoulder shuddered slightly. Shiva, it must have been agony. Genesis winced, as if the pain was his own. "Sorry. Just a little longer." He was repeating things under his breath, unsure if his voice would help at all. "Just a little farther..."

Kneeling down, Gensis slipped Sephiroth off his shoulders, cradling the general with shaking hands as he fell. Gods, it was painful to see him like this, this...helpless. Sephiroth struggled to breathe, one side of his bangs more red than silver, his head resting heavily against Genesis' arm. The scent of blood wasn't fading. The grass under them was changing color. Sephiroth's blood was all over Genesis now, red on his red coat.

Genesis lay him on the ground. The way Sephiroth's head fell back lifelessly caused him near physical pain as the image seared itself into Genesis' mind. Bullet wounds and torn flesh, exposed on his chest and hidden by shredded black leather. Blood obscuring his skin, on his neck and face. His dripping bangs had touched his face, leaving half-dried trails of blood over Sephiroth's left eye. Like bloody tears.

Genesis flinched away. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, ignoring the scent that clung to it, too. Fingers found the memorized number no SOLDIER ever wanted to dial.

There was a pause before they picked up. Nothing really, usually. But right now it was agony as he heard Sephiroth's weak gasps next to him, fast, painful, like he couldn't get enough air.

"Commander Rhapsodos?"

He almost lost the power to speak, the scent of blood interfering with his thoughts. He fought against it like it was an enemy, it was the only thing he knew to do. "Medvac, now." His voice sounded cracked, harsh.

"Location and severity." The voice on the other side of the line didn't miss a beat. This was their job, after all.

He closed his eyes, the words like a knife in his throat. "Drop zone." Give facts. Be calm. He kept repeating it to himself, but gods the next statement hurt. "The general is down, shot. He needs to get out, now!"

"Y-Yes, sir." The slightest hesitation at the beginning. Shock. "Ten minutes." A click as the line went dead. They were coming.

Ten minutes... Genesis didn't notice whether or not he put his phone away. He turned back to Sephiroth, eyes searching wildly. Does he have that long?

Blood, again, fogging his mind. Was it on his face, too? He didn't know, knew only that it wouldn't get out of his head. Stop the bleeding! Casualty training came back, long forgotten things he'd never thought he'd need like this. Bleeding was death.

He didn't remember falling to his knees, nor did he remember pulling the first aid kit out of his belt. Only that he suddenly had bandages in his hand, white and thin. He had to restrain the sudden, helpless urge to scream in frustration. He knew that he couldn't stop it, only slow it down. But giving in to his frustrations wouldn't help, he would just be being selfish while Sephiroth was dying in front of him.

He reached down, to find one of the wounds he didn't want to see. Genesis started, a shudder running all through his arm when he touched Sephiroth. His skin was cold. Eyes wide, Genesis grabbed a limp, blood spattered hand. Sephiroth's fingers were like ice. He couldn't find a pulse in the frozen wrist.

Instinct drove his fingers to Sephiroth's throat, searching wildly for a pulse. There had been a breath a moment ago, he had to have one, his heart couldn't stop! The fact that it was so horribly wrong that he could touch Sephiroth's neck like this passed through his mind like lightning, gone almost as soon as it appeared but it burned just as painfully. Sephiroth would never have let him, had no reason to trust him...

There. A weak, erratic beat against his fingers. But so slight, so fitful! Sephiroth's breaths were coming too fast, nearly six rattling gasps for one of Genesis', as if he was panting even though he could barely breathe.

The sudden understanding was chilling. Shock...He's going into shock! Genesis didn't realize his fists were clenched until he heard the bandages crumple in his hands. Even Sephiroth's body couldn't stand some things...

He didn't even feel himself shaking, only saw it in his hands. I'm not going to let you die! The strength of the thought was overwhelming. The scent of blood suddenly didn't freeze him. It just made him angry.

Genesis bit his lip as he bent over Sephiroth. "Come on, stay alive...fight, curse you!" He was muttering it, not caring if he was heard or not. "Hate me. Taunt me. Fight with me, I don't care! Just don't you dare..." Blood on his hands. The words were tight in his throat again. "Don't you dare, you..."

Painfully short breaths ringing harshly in his ears. Bullet wounds under his hands. "If you die, I will never...I will never forgive you!"

No response. Everything was beyond his reach now, but the blood in front of him. That was what he had to focus on now.

The minutes passed unnoticed. Genesis had no sense of time, of anything but the interplay of white and red underneath his hands. He ceased to distinguish between his blood or Sephiroth's, it ceased to matter. Mindlessly, he'd find a wound and wrap white over it, pushing down to try to slow the flow of blood. Blood was all over his hands, soaked through his gloves, it was on his arms, in his hair when he pushed his bangs out of his eyes, but he didn't have time to notice it. Only the breaths in his ears and under his hands, the cold skin contrasting with the warm blood, the gradually soaking bandages, and an occasional glimpse of crimson strands that should have been silver and eyelids that should not have been closed.

It seemed like a very long time before he heard the familiar barking of helicopter blades slicing through the air. He didn't look up even as the sound thundered, his hands still fumbling against bandages. He was running out.

The sound became overwhelming and wind began to rip across the field, viciously throwing the grass back and forth. It slammed into him, throwing his hair fiercely and making him wince. Instinctively, unconsciously, he leaned down, shielding Sephiroth from the blast as best he could. Silver hair whipped and snapped in the wind, contrasting sharply with the motionless face.

Then the screeching creature touched down nearby, and the wind faded with the whirring of the blades. Genesis glanced up as the doors opened and white-clad strangers jumped down. He watched them wordlessly as they approached.

One of them, presumably the leader, nodded to him as he came over. "We'll take it from here, sir." He sounded like he was in a hurry.

Genesis nodded numbly, getting to his feet to move back out of the way. The movement brought his exhaustion into sharp focus and before he got upright he wavered, stumbling.

There was a sharp succession of words that passed without understanding through his ears. Orders of some sort. Someone came over to him. "Sir, are you alright?"

He couldn't think, could only try to balance and shake his head. A hand was suddenly on his arm, leading him off to one side. Genesis stumbled forward, tripped up a step, then obeyed the gentle pressure and sank back. He sat down on something hard and metallic. The helicopter.

"Sir, are you hurt?" A vague face hovered nearby, peering at him from eyes of an indistinguishable color.

Not green.

Staring out at the grass, Genesis caught sight of silver hair from the center of the swiftly moving mass of strangers. He shook his head, sharply. Turning away, he glared his questioner, assuming what was left of his commanding persona. "You take care of him before you touch me." Thankfully, the words came out sounding much stronger than he felt.

The face hesitated briefly before bobbing up and down. "Yes, sir." Then the stranger was gone, and Genesis leaned against a wall of some sort. He felt utterly spent. He couldn't do anything anymore. Sephiroth's life was out of his hands. All he could to was stare as the paramedics moved around like white ants.

It wasn't a very long time that he sat there and stared, at times seeing flashes of Sephiroth's face, still with trails of blood on the cheek, this time covered with an oxygen mask. But for Genesis it seemed like an eternity.

There was somebody near him again, a presence next to him. "You did good, sir." The same voice. A hand on his arm, turning it over. "Rest a bit."

Genesis didn't resist. He shook his head slightly as a needle pierced his skin, not even feeling the instant of pain. He glanced over towards the face. "Is he going to be...?" He couldn't even finish, the words dropping from his tongue hopelessly, leaving him waiting helplessly for the answer.

There was an uncomfortable pause as the needle withdrew. "We don't know..." A sigh. "We'll do our best, sir." It sounded like he was trying to be comforting.

Genesis shook his head slightly. No...I didn't do good enough. It's my fault he got hurt...

Because he was a SOLDIER, the sedative took additional time to take effect. So there was a period of time that he sat there silent in the helicopter, waiting as the drug slowly overcame his mako-raised resistance. As consciousness gradually became fuzzier, it seemed that his heartbeat became glimpses of silver, bloodstained hair through the whirling dance of white forms. Each image filled him with a wordless mix of momentary relief, burning rage, and acute, excruciating pain that nearly made him scream or cry. He didn't make a sound, however, only waiting for the next fleeting glimpse as his head grew increasingly heavier.

When finally the peripheral forms laid Sephiroth down near Genesis in the helicopter, the red SOLDIER was almost entirely gone. Even so, he dragged his eyes open, searching wildly, mindlessly afraid that his heart wouldn't beat again if he didn't see silver hair every time.

There were no green eyes. Silver hair was pulled to one side, tied out of the way as paramedics still knelt beside his chest, still working tirelessly even as the ground moved unsteadily and Genesis fell to one side, against something soft on the wall. The scent of blood made him want to cry out like a child, but he didn't make a sound, not wanting anyone to come when he didn't need them, and green eyes were gone.

He was falling, darkness too heavy now. With a quiet sigh, Genesis stared down at Sephiroth's emotionless face, the scent of blood making him wince.

Please...

Everything was getting dark. He could only make out a strand of long hair, half silver, half red.

Please...don't...

Then everything was gone.

Sephiroth...

...


...

A heavy, dull ache behind his eyes was the first thing to return. Like when Angeal had cried the first time all those years ago. For a moment he didn't understand, regarding the pain groggily. Where had grief come from?

Sharp, physical, flesh-and-blood pain then, in his shoulder. Gunshot. The thought came immediately. And the ache in his head intensified tenfold.

Sephiroth!

The name was insistent and desperate. But he didn't understand why it came. The general...why did his name do that to him? All Genesis knew was that he wanted to scream it, if only he could find the strength.

"How is he?" An anxious, strained voice off to one side.

Part of him lurched and fastened on that voice. Angeal! Angeal was with him. Something that had been shaking in his mind stopped.

A voice he didn't know answered, and Genesis listened with rapt attention, grappling with the words he wasn't quite conscious enough to process. "He's alright. He appeared to be suffering from a traumatic stress reaction, so he was sedated on the flight back. There's a bullet wound in his shoulder, but it's not very serious. I took care of it already, and it is healing well."

A moment of silence, processing, and then Angeal asked, quieter now, "So then, when will he come to?"

"Anytime now."

He finally managed to blink his eyes open. Ceiling tiles came into view, with a black form slightly lower, off to his right. Wincing at the light, Genesis groaned softly, turning his head.

The form next to him shifted as he forced his eyes to focus. Then Angeal was leaning down near him, blue eyes wide with worry. "Genesis!"

Genesis blinked slowly, breathing out. "Angeal..." It was difficult to express just how happy he was to see him. It was as if Angeal somehow anchored a world that was spinning wildly, and Genesis could hold onto him no matter what happened.

After the initial moment of overjoyed shock, Angeal broke into a tired smile. "Gods, it's good to see you." There were dark worry circles under his eyes, and his voice sounded so weary. He didn't say it out loud; Angeal would never scold like that, but Genesis could see in his eyes that he had been given quite a scare.

Genesis blinked, realizing that Angeal must have been there for some time, waiting for him. The drug was slowly leaving his system, and certain details were becoming apparent. "Where...?" he asked, discovering that his throat was very dry.

"Midgar," Angeal informed him. Then, watching with a worried expression as Genesis started to sit up, he reached out and picked up a glass of water from the nearby table. "Here. Drink."

Genesis managed to get into a sitting position with only minor difficulties. The haze in his head was clearing now with the speed of morning fog. His shoulder hurt, the pain of torn flesh, but no intense broken bone feeling, nothing serious. His body was regenerating already; he could tell by the stiffness of the area. The injury would knit and heal in time. That pain felt for some reason of entirely third rate importance. Something else was filling him with urgency, and it was just outside of his reach because of the sedative...

Angeal put the glass in his hand and Genesis drank it automatically. Cool water soothed his dry throat, and made him immediately alert.

Something tightened painfully as the urgency converged on a single image of red and silver, and the scent of blood that still wouldn't fade.

Genesis started and whirled to Angeal. "Sephiroth!" His blue eyes glowed as if on fire. "Where's Sephiroth!"

Angeal's eyes fell, and something in the way he was sitting tensed painfully. He looked away from Genesis for a moment, but it wasn't fair to look away from glowing blue eyes that seared into him so desperately. Carefully controlling his voice, Angeal looked back at his friend. The look in his eyes was incredibly lost. "It's been 3 hours since you two got here. They're operating on him now." The tone was steady, but the words were definitely trembling somehow. Angeal shook his head, as if jerking himself. "He's still alive."

Genesis blinked, trying to process the words through the sudden, intense wave of memory and shock. Not dead...not dead. Not dead! His fists clenched tight, causing a twinge of pain in his shoulder. He is not dead. He shook his head hard, trying to banish the scent of blood from his mind. It was maddening.

Sephiroth was still alive. Genesis silently repeated it to himself, like a mantra. He was alive. He was still alive. But one look at Angeal's eyes was enough to tell Genesis it was bad. He didn't have to ask to know that survival wasn't certain anymore. He had seen that with his own eyes. Gods, he had felt that. The red SOLDIER took a few deep breaths, wrestling to control himself. He was not going to dissolve into helpless screams, he was not! If only he could escape the sight of red and silver hair that flashed in his mind's eye even now.

Angeal couldn't see what was in Genesis' mind. For once, he couldn't fully understand what was tormenting his best friend. But he could see it, sense it. His voice was heavy with understanding. "Genesis."

Genesis sighed shakily, leaning his head against a fist. "3 hours...has he been in there that whole time?"

Angeal nodded, half-wincing.

Genesis fist was so tight his skin stretched white. After a long moment, he sat straight, blue eyes glowing like a man possessed. He took a deep breath, swallowing with difficulty. But when he spoke his voice had stopped shaking, turned to steel. "I have to talk to Lazard."

Angeal measured him with his eyes, then nodded. "I'll get someone to clear you." After a brief hesitation, he stood and walked away.

Genesis heard the soft sigh and saw Angeal glance back at him before going to find a doctor. The thought made him pause. Angeal...Angeal had been there when both of them had been flown in, unconscious, Sephiroth bleeding to death. Gods, how much Angeal must have worried waiting for him.

Well, now they both had to wait. There was nothing else they could do. Shaking slightly, Genesis buried his head in his hands, pulling at his hair, the pain keeping him from thinking about other things.

You can't die in there. You hear me? You can't die in a place like this...

Suddenly he jumped, jerking his hands away. There, again, the scent of blood that haunted him. It was so real. Why couldn't he get away from it?

His fingers encountered something in his hair and it suddenly made sense, making him shudder. Sephiroth's blood was still in his hair. It was hanging down in his face; that was why he couldn't get away from it. One of his hands automatically ran over the hardened strands. It must have gotten there while he was...

Footsteps coming back, and he quickly dropped his hands away. He wasn't even sure why. He didn't want people to see him struggling to control his emotions like this. That wasn't the way a SOLDIER 1st acted...

He barely heard most of the doctor's advice, didn't process most of it. His shoulder would heal on its own; he could feel that, and it wasn't important, not at all. He had to talk to the director, and he had to do it now.

But before anything else he needed to get that blood off.

Within minutes, as he restlessly brushed off all of the doctor's suggestions that he should eat or rest, Genesis was walking with Angeal out of the medical wing.

"Can you tell Lazard I'll be up to see him in about five minutes?" Genesis asked tensely, walking with purposeful strides.

"Where are you going?" Angeal asked, watching his friend worriedly.

Angeal's worry made him feel the weariness nagging at the back of his mind. He was a SOLDIER...he couldn't ignore his body fully. After seeing Lazard...then he'd try to eat something. But first things first.

"I'm going to wash the blood out of my hair." The word blood shook, but otherwise he managed to keep his voice even. "I can't think until it's gone."

Angeal's eyes darkened at the words, and he nodded in understanding. "I'll tell Lazard."

"Thanks." Genesis sighed, wishing he had the energy to properly express just how glad he was that Angeal was willing to keep him going. Gods, if Angeal wasn't there...he probably wouldn't be able to say two words together, wouldn't be able to stop thinking about- Stop. He shook his head weakly, fighting the inexplicable urge to laugh at himself and to punch the wall. He was so confused...

Gods...you get hurt and I just fall to pieces...pathetic.

...


Genesis laughed softly, the sound hollow and painful. "I still can't get it out..."

Sephiroth's slow breathing echoed in his ears.

His eyes involuntarily returned to the general's motionless face. "I can still smell your blood in my hair. It's all in my head, I know, but I just can't..."

His voice broke then. Taking a shaking breath, Genesis stared helplessly at Sephiroth, willing him to live and yet painfully aware that he could do absolutely nothing. The useless rage welled up again, inescapable, unappeasable. It made him want to destroy something, utterly and completely obliterate it.

"Gods..." he choked, his voice sounding like a stranger's. "Do you even know what you're doing to me?"

But the reply came to him immediately, overshadowed by the tone from one of the emotionless machines in the corner.

Of course you don't know. Genesis shook his head, looking down at the floor, hands buried in his hair. You'd probably think I'd be thrilled to see you like this...

Gods, like a little kid, his eyes were burning. He shook his head, fighting it hopelessly. Maybe that was all he could do, all he was good for, but he was not going to cry. SOLDIER did not cry, never, not even when...

A breath.

Evidence that you're not invincible...that you're human like us...and that you can get hurt and die just like us... You'd think it'd put me on top of the world.

He sighed shakily. I made sure you knew I hated you.

The thought drove his eyes closed. The taste of the self-loathing was foul in his remembered the jealousy he'd felt for Sephiroth even that day. For all of the stupidest things, over and over and over. Gods, what sort of a person was he? Was he really that much of a selfish bastard?

He'd asked for something Sephiroth couldn't do. Fate had given it to him, and now he wished so terribly that he had never seen it.

"It was a setup." He didn't mean to speak aloud, but he couldn't help it. He was so used to holding one-sided conversations with Sephiroth.

"You knew it was a setup the moment they shot you. You knew..." Again, no matter how hard he tried not to, he looked back at Sephiroth. Seeing him like this was almost as painful as not seeing him at all, but still...just as long as there wasn't all the blood, then something had changed.

He laughed, the motion almost more of a snarl. "They were waiting for us. And you knew in a minute they'd try to kill you, not me. So you..." He couldn't finish again. Something closed, and he was locked in silence for a long time, hands shaking, staring at Sephiroth.

The sound each heartbeat was like a knife, a reminder of blood and protection he had never, never deserved. And the inhuman rage that consumed him, shaking him to his very bones.

Echoing footsteps against the immaculate tiles jerked his eyes to the door. Boots. None of the doctors in this godforsaken place wore boots.

A minute later Angeal pushed through the door. Genesis watched his friend in a sort of painful detail. He'd known Angeal since infancy. He could read his friend's emotions with incredible accuracy.

Angeal stopped just inside the door, eyes finding Sephiroth and stopping. A split second of shock crossed blue eyes. Angeal stared for a full second at the general, taking in the reality of Sephiroth being hurt.

Genesis realized that Angeal hadn't been able to see Sephiroth when the medevac had brought them in. They'd taken the general directly to emergency surgery. It seemed such a long time ago to be only four days, but it was. This was the first time Angeal had seen Sephiroth since he had been perfectly fine less than a week before, before the terrible mission, when he'd been as untouchable as ever.

Angeal took the sight without a sound. Genesis saw the tension that set into his friend's body upon the realization that this was real. His fingers moved a little, tensing slightly towards a fist, and Angeal's face tightened into sad lines. His eyes dimmed and he took a deep breath, as if steadying himself against it. The look in his eyes turned vulnerable for a split second, before hardening.

Genesis watched the pain on Angeal's face, saw it appear then be dragged back down inside, until it was only visible in the lines on Angeal's forehead, and reflecting in his eyes. It was hurting Angeal, too, just like it was hurting him.

That realization pushed his rage over the edge. Hurting him, big deal. Maybe he deserved it. But hurting the other two, hurting them like this, trying to kill Sephiroth and now doing this to Angeal, he couldn't stand for that! The rage drove him to his feet, just as it had driven him after their enemies like a demon four days ago. The same growl boiled in his throat, but quiet this time, bitten back in the silence.

Angeal watched as Genesis paced back and forth, stabbing his feet into the ground with each step, his hands in tight, shaking fists. Genesis felt Angeal's eyes follow him, and he knew that Angeal understood, as no one else would.

Once, twice, three times he paced back and forth, trying and failing to control himself. Each time he turned back he was faced with Sephiroth lying on the bed, eyes still closed, breathing slowly and silently fighting a bullet away from his heart. Each time Genesis jerked away from the sight and walked away, only to be dragged back again by the curling, burning hate that was searing in every fiber of his soul.

He could not just sit here! He had to do something!

The fourth time something snapped and he stopped next to Angeal, his entire body shaking in the effort to hold back the animalistic roar that he could feel building inside him.

"I'm going to kill them!" he spat finally, just managing to keep from screaming the words, to keep his voice low. His voice twisted in a snarl.

He could feel his eyes glowing like they were on fire as he looked up into Angeal's eyes. "I'm going to kill them all!" He was demanding something, but he didn't even know what. He just had to tell someone!

Angeal met his eyes steadily for a long moment. There was something hard reflected in the mako-glow of his eyes, that Genesis had not seen in a very long time. Angeal glanced over at Sephiroth, and his eyes narrowed slightly, flashing in the low light. A moment, he closed his eyes and breathed out, slowly.

Then he turned back to Genesis, and put a heavy hand on the red SOLDIER's shoulder, gripping the pauldron firmly. The two of them shared a look, Genesis' eyes still glowing like suns, Angeal's steady and edged with iron.

"Lazard wants to see you," Angeal said after a long moment, not breaking eye contact. His voice was steady, calm, but there was an unmistakable current underneath it that matched the look in his eyes.

Genesis blinked, for a moment everything stopping. Lazard had found them. It had to be, it had to.

He took a fast breath, nodding jerkily, eyes wide. Lazard had found them, like he'd promised, and now Genesis was going to make them pay.

Angeal gave him a long, hard look, words in his eyes that Genesis understood immediately.

"I will kill them," Genesis hissed through his teeth, his eyes boring into Angeal's. I swear.

Angeal nodded after a moment, breaking the gaze and withdrawing his hand. His eyes moved back to Sephiroth then, and the pain came back, the iron fading a little.

Genesis winced slightly. "Angeal..."

He didn't even get to finish his question. Angeal looked back at him and nodded. "I'll stay with him." He glanced over at Sephiroth sadly.

Genesis couldn't smile, not just then, but he managed a shaky attempt. Angeal knew him so well...sometimes he forgot how lucky he was. The thought of Sephiroth being alone in this place...it made him shiver.

At the door, he paused, his gaze pulled back against his will.

Sephiroth lay still, eyes as closed as ever. Genesis watched the slow rise and fall of one breath, watched as the bandages stirred and then settled again. Another heartbeat was sounded in the corner.

Green eyes burned in his memory as he watched that still face.

I'll be back. I'll kill them, I promise, and I'll be back.

Heartbeat.

Just...be here when I get back. Please...

Angeal glanced at him, then turned away and walked over to Sephiroth, sitting in the chair Genesis had vacated. Genesis already knew that he'd be there every chance he got.

Part of him hated to leave, but the rest of him was still boiling over with hate, and he left the medical wing as fast as he could. He was going to make each and every one of those men regret what they had done.


SOLDIER Director Lazard was standing by the table when Genesis entered. He looked up at the footsteps. "Genesis. Good of you to come so quickly."

Not trusting his words still, Genesis nodded, fixing glowing blue eyes on the director.

That first report after the mission, and again this time, there was something slightly off about the director. Something in the way he moved, the way he spoke seemed clipped, agitated. Lazard was ruffled by this, too.

It was obvious that the director knew what was on Genesis' mind to make his eyes glow so brightly. He didn't bother with pleasantries, instead turning towards the file open on the desk. Genesis obeyed the gesture and approached, looking down at the map that was laid out on top of the other sheets.

"Here." Lazard pointed at a blank spot on the map, several miles from a small town. "They've regrouped their forces here, in an abandoned factory.

Genesis took a deep breath, feeling his fists clench. They were there, the bastards. He nodded, feeling Lazard's eyes on him, but not trusting himself to look up just now.

"Your mission is to destroy any remnants of their forces. I want this group out of commission. Methods are unimportant."

Genesis nodded once, focusing on loosening his hands before he broke his own fingers. That he could do. "Yes, sir."

Not much more explanation was required either way, so Lazard pushed the map and memo off the folder over to Genesis. "Those are for you, these are mine..." He looked up after a moment. "I am sending a Turk with you for support purposes. He will meet you at the helicopter pad, 6-B. You leave in ten minutes. Understood?"

Without a word, Genesis nodded. Everything in his mind was condensing around the anger he felt now. If he didn't contain it, he would explode, and that would be a waste. He could use this hate. It would become a blade soon, and then he would use it against them. He'd make them sorry.

Unusually, Lazard paused at the door. Blue eyes, suddenly hard like stone, flashed back to Genesis. Lazard took a deep breath. "Genesis."

At his name Genesis looked up.

"Professionally, this is just another mission." The director paused, pretending to adjust one of his gloves. "However, personally, kill them all."

Genesis restrained a start at the venomous tone at the back of the words. Lazard looked absolutely murderous. Had he been SOLDIER, the director's eyes would have been glowing, like Genesis' were now. As it was, Lazard's narrowed blue eyes were radiating such ruthless anger that Genesis was startled. He'd never seen Lazard become emotional about something like this before.

It clicked. Lazard, too, was furious. Lazard, too, had been agonized by this, by having his general shot down. Lazard, too, wanted the act to be avenged.

He could give him that. Genesis nodded firmly. "Yes, sir." His voice came out like steel, and he had no anxieties about it wavering. They will die.

Lazard nodded after a moment, the sharp look in his eyes not fading. "Good. Go, then, and good luck."

Genesis nodded and left, his hand already shifting restlessly to grip his sword hilt.


He didn't have anything to attend to before leaving this time, since he'd only just returned from one mission and now turned right around to go out again. Nothing to put in order, nothing to pack, nothing that needed to be thought about with any manner of calm or calculation. He wouldn't even be giving any orders.

All this was very, very lucky. As he walked straight for the helicopter pad Genesis knew he would never have been able to run through his normal preparations as if nothing was wrong. It was impossible. The anger, the hate that had built steadily since his return was reaching fever pitch. Only his focus on a single purpose momentarily kept it at bay. He was saving it. He would use it. And they'd know, they'd understand for a split second before he ended their time for regret. He'd make sure they understood.

No one was allowed to hurt…not like that….no one.

Genesis didn't really even process where he was until his feet found their way to the helicopter pads. The sound beneath his boots changed from that same echoing tile to metal, and he finally glanced upwards. The sleek black bird was already perched on its berth, the colors of the Shinra symbol glaring out of the black background.

It couldn't possibly have been ten minutes, but there was a man dressed in a black suit and tie, short black hair drawn back from his angular face into a ponytail. Dark eyes gazed impassively at the restless, slightly disheveled SOLDIER who stormed up the ramp, almost as if he would plow right through the helicopter and continue on.

Genesis stopped when the turk uniform came close enough to identify. Glaring, he met brown eyes with a scowl, aware his eyes were glowing, and strongly not caring. This man with his sharp, steady gaze must be the Turk Lazard had assigned to go with him. Genesis sincerely hoped that he wouldn't have to argue with the Turk; he was already set on going in alone. This was a personal matter, no matter what official story was written in the mission statement.

"SOLDIER Rhapsodos," the man said in a cool, quiet voice. When Genesis gave a wordless nod, the Turk continued. "Lazard has assigned me as your backup. My name is Tseng." Apparently aware Genesis' quite obvious agitation, he didn't waste time. "If you are prepared, we will depart now."

Genesis nodded. "Yes. I'm ready."

Tseng nodded and entered the helicopter, sitting down in the pilot's seat and putting on the headset. Without a word, Genesis followed, hand tight on Rapier's hilt.

Was it really possible that only four days before he'd entered just like this with Sephiroth? That Sephiroth had carefully maneuvered Masamune so as not to hurt anyone with the blade, and Genesis had looked out the window and shifted restlessly, agitated and angry with the general for trivial things? How could that even be possible?

He was angry now, but the rage was so different it was painful. Genesis sat still, holding the hilt of his sword tightly as the Turk steered the helicopter towards their destination.


"We're here."

Genesis head snapped up at the Turk's voice. He felt the helicopter set down on solid ground, heard the slowing whine of the blades as they ceased slicing through the air.

If Rapier required breath, he would have accidentally strangled it during the trip. He was holding so tightly to the hilt that his arm was shaking. Taking several deep breaths, Genesis forced his aching fingers to relax. He couldn't fight with a tense hold like that. His anger would only serve him if it was in the blade, not the hilt.

Once the helicopter was still, they disembarked. Again, the landing was on a hill, with grass beneath Genesis' boots. The sound of the dirt beneath his feet echoed in his ears for reasons he didn't understand. Probably an echo from when he had stumbled up that hill days ago.

The thought sent another spark of rage through his stystem, and before he realized it Rapier swung in a swift circle in front of him. The blade sliced through the sky with a soft, harsh ringing sound as the air was parted around it.

Taking a deep breath, Genesis halted his swing, holding Rapier up before him. His blade was sharp.

He was going to use it to kill them.

Tseng somehow sensed this. He walked up beside Genesis, appearing unconcerned even after the unprovoked and unexplained attack on a seemingly invisible foe. "There."

Glowing blue eyes jerked from the blood red blade to the warehouse that Tseng indicated.

"They're in there," Tseng confirmed. His gun was already in his hand.

A wolfish grin spread across the red SOLDIER's face. "They're mine." The words were half snarled, half whispered, an unsettling combination.

He had expected some argument, and been ready to whirl on the Turk. It probably would have taken a great deal of restraint not to attack him. But, surprising him, Tseng bowed his head in acknowledgment.

"I will give you twenty minutes. If you have any problems..." The turk let the sentence fall, apparently anticipating the answer.

Surprised blue eyes flickered to him for the barest instant. Then Genesis bared his teeth in a snarl as he began to walk down towards his enemies. "There won't be any problems."

Tseng watched the red demon stalk towards his prey. Despite their status as enemies, he felt the slightest pity for the victims of the red SOLDIER. It would not be a pleasant death. The turk settled down to wait for the SOLDIER's return.


The sentry, thinking himself hidden next to the door, didn't even see the flash of red and glowing blue until Rapier was through him to the hilt. A twirl of the sword and the body fell to the ground with a heavy thud. Blood fell from Rapier's tip as Genesis glared at the dead man.

They had only posted one sentry. They thought themselves safe. The insult made his blood boil, he snarled under his breath. Ambush Shinra's general, gun Sephiroth down like a dog, and then they are safe, no one left with the power to face them.

Hell were they wrong.

Stepping over the body, Genesis walked boldly into the warehouse, a blood-red shadow with glowing blue eyes. Rapier flashed through fresh blood, catching sunlight that fell through holes in the dilapidated ceiling. He didn't care if they knew he was here. Let them come. His purpose here was death, and death could be delivered just as well straight to the face as it could be through the back. Let them hear Rapier sing.

At the door to a darkened room, Genesis paused, eyes narrowing in an attempt to pierce the darkness. He could smell them within, the thick scent of fear.

Good, something inside of him snarled. They knew he was here. They were beginning to understand.

At that thought there was movement, and for the barest instant light etched the circular barrel of a gun. The explosion of a gunshot; the sharp scent of powder, and a metal ball hurtled towards him.

His reaction was instantaneous and instinctive. A slight turn, pivoting his feet, Rapier flashing in the air as he raised it to his face. The bullet clanged harmlessly off the blade, and one of the materia in the sword glowed before the sword even finished its arc.

He had one instant to see the panicked eyes reflect the blue of the lightning, the instant of harsh light throwing unnaturally angular shadows across the dark room, forms shifting in the back, trying not to let him see. Hell Thundaga released its fury on the unfortunate shooter, and there was a dull thud as the energy disappeared, and darkness fell again.

Silence. But Genesis could smell them there, quaking, waiting for him. He knew that man's purpose. A sacrifice. Bait to lure him in, the same trick he had fallen before, the same trick that had allowed them an open shot at Sephiroth's back. The memory of his own arrogance twisted a roar in his throat. He growled softly at the dark. Do you think that's going to work on me twice!

He stayed in the doorway, reaching out again to the power of the materia in his sword. This time it was going to be a fair fight, face to face. No sneak attacks, and no running.

"Firaga."

At his call, the green orb in his sword leapt to violent life, glowing brighter even than his eyes. Power leapt along the blade, throwing red light onto Genesis' face. Then the fireballs leapt into the air with hissing shrieks, flying like deadly meteors to the wooden beams, and setting the walls aflame.

There were howls of fear and pain at the burning, but Genesis hadn't been aiming at the men. Any injuries were by luck alone. No, he intended to make good his oath to tear the life from each one of them with his own hands.

Instead, the fire licked greedily at the walls in huge barriers of death, sharply backlighting the rebels who gazed from the flames to their caster in fear.

Genesis stepped forward, a wolf-like scowl on his face. The ring of flames closed behind him. They couldn't run.

Blue eyes glowed fiercely, catching the yellow light. Red hair flew about in crackling air as the vengeful demon stalked forwards. Genesis regarded his enemies with narrowed eyes. "Now, let's see how good you are when you can't hide in the shadows and shoot me in the back."

Rapier leveled at them, drenched in firelight, a drop of blood falling from its tip.


Tseng watched as flames climbed steadily up one side of the building, sparks leaping greedily into the air. Genesis was doing his job much more thoroughly than was necessary. However, judging by what Veld had told him during briefing for this mission, it was to be expected.

He was here to back up SOLDIER Rhapsodos. It was his job to ensure that there was not another terrible injury on this mission like the one General Sephiroth had suffered. Shinra couldn't afford such setbacks.

Tseng weighed the validity of his options as he watched flames gladly devour more and more of the building. There was little time before it became a full blown fireball. That was materia fire, judging by its strength and hue. Notoriously difficult to defuse, and incredibly tenacious once caught. There would be nothing left but ash. If Genesis was inside when the flames covered their victim, Tseng would have to worry.

However, the look in those blue eyes had stopped him from offering his assistance upon landing, and made him hesitate here. Tseng didn't know the details of Genesis' last mission, how Sephiroth had been so badly injured, but he had enough sense to see the rage in Genesis' eyes.

Something was eating at the man, something at the heart of the hatred he was so violently unleashing on their enemies. This was something that the red SOLDIER had to do, in order to redeem himself in his own eyes, for whatever had happened.

And Tseng did not want to interfere with that.

Turks and SOLDIERs both knew: a mission was a mission. But that didn't mean they weren't human. And human grief and rage required some sort of outlet to avoid self destruction, even for them.

Still, it was against his orders to allow the man to kill himself in the process.

Five minutes... Tseng ran a finger over the trigger of his gun. If Genesis didn't come out in five minutes, he would have to go into whatever remained of the building after him. The thought of which he did not relish.

Finish it, SOLDER Rhapsodos. You're running out of time.


The rational part of him had to admit a grudging respect for them. Oonce the fire closed off all escapes and they came to realize that he was serious, they began to understand. It was him or them. Only one side could leave this room alive.

Once they realized that, those left crushed their fear and brought everything they had against him. He bled from several injuries. Once, in an apparent kamikaze attempt, one he had disarmed lunged at him, throwing them both into the flames. It was only through his superior strength and acrobatic skill that he managed to recover with only burns. The other was not so lucky.

In the end, though, they had never had a chance.

The instinctive part of him was still snarling like some bloodthirsty beast.

Genesis stood in the center of his fiery inferno, breathing hard, struggling to regain control of himself. The blood that dripped off his sword was an echoing sound. Just like before.

The flames licked at the building surrounding him. The sound of splintering wood hissed all around, white noise in his ears.

Breathing out one last time, trying to ignore the scent of smoke that only now invaded his senses, Genesis wiped the blood off Rapier before turning and walking out of the room. A swing of his sword parted the flames long enough to exit.

It was done.

Tseng looked up as he saw a single red form emerge from the doomed structure. The light of the fires threw dark shadows on Genesis' face as he walked away from the destruction.

Tseng did not speak as the red SOLDIER approached him. Genesis walked slowly, head tilted downwards, Rapier held loosely in his hand. The blade seemed very heavy suddenly. His blue eyes had lost their fierce glow, and even some of their focus.

Genesis stopped when he stood beside the turk. The darkness of the sky merged with the darkness of the helicopter. Genesis sighed quietly as he sheathed his sword. Everything ached, exhaustion heavy in each muscle. Were his hands shaking...? Something was, he was sure, but it could have just been his thoughts. Just his heart. He could barely think as the sapping emptiness swept through him, all energy gone.

He had expected to feel...something afterwards. And yet he didn't. It was done. They were dead, and Sephiroth... Sephiroth's pain had been avenged. They'd never shoot him in the back again.

No triumph, no satisfaction. He felt numb.

Some small part of his heart cried out quietly for Angeal. Angeal could explain this to him, tell him why after he'd fulfilled his goal he just felt like curling into a ball and crying.

How could he feel...? It couldn't change anything if Sephiroth wasn't...

That thought jarred something inside him into motion. He didn't even know if Sephiroth was still alive! He needed to go home. If only he wasn't so exhausted...

"Let's go back..." Genesis turned slightly towards the turk, but didn't have the energy to look up. His voice was very quiet. Take me back...!

Tseng nodded. With a half-glance at the SOLDIER to ensure he got into the helicopter, Tseng slipped into the pilot's seat. He was glad that Genesis didn't have to get himself back. Judging by the exhausted expression in the man's eyes, he wouldn't have managed much farther than the helicopter, and probably wouldn't have even remembered how to get back.

Genesis slumped against the harness, staring sightlessly at the sky. His hands were definitely shaking now, and his head pounded with each breath. He...he must not have paid attention to his body, under the adrenaline rush...

He didn't feel anything at the memory of those he'd killed. He had completed his mission. He'd finished...

Sephiroth...

Closed green eyes.

A silent cry choked in his throat as Genesis' hands clenched into tight fists. What if he had died while Genesis was...?

The pain at the thought hunched his shoulders and drove his head down. No! He had to get back. Sephiroth hadn't...he couldn't...! He'd begged him...

Biting his lip as his shaking hands ached from the strain, Genesis willed the helicopter to fly faster.

Shiva, Sephiroth...Don't you dare...!


He was exhausted, but that was never an excuse, not for a SOLDIER. There were things that he needed to do. Protocols were demanded after a successful mission.

No matter how much he wanted to see Sephiroth, right now, he couldn't. He had to report to Lazard, tell him it was done. High security information had to be returned directly to Lazard, to maintain secrecy. That was his duty. That was what he had to do.

Genesis forced a look of composure onto his face before entering the director's office. He couldn't show his exhaustion, or that the only thing he could think about right now was a cold hospital room. An ordinary infantryman, maybe, but not him. SOLDIER 1sts didn't feel emotion. They cared about the mission, and the only the mission.

And if they died to fulfill that mission, well, then-

No! Sephiroth wouldn't...!

Pain pulsed rhythmically in his hands, making his fingers quiver uncontrollably, but he couldn't let them.

The director was bustling as Genesis pushed open the door. Lazard was leaning down on his desk, typing on his computer with one hand as he moved a stack of reports in the other. Energy and efficiency seem to hover around his movements. The atmosphere in Lazard's office was always hurried and tiring, but now especially Genesis was too exhausted for it. Wordlessly he walked forward and put the paper on the desk.

He was only barely conscious of the action thoughts instead moved raggedly through information he had forgotten. He was tasked with training 3rd classes now that he was fully functional again. They wouldn't allow him to skip out on it. Shinra would proceed as normal, never letting on that anything was wrong, that Sephiroth was lying there in the ICW...

He hadn't even thought about it, hadn't even realized...

He wouldn't be able to see Sephiroth until...

What if he was already gone? What if...!

It took all his self control to hold back the shaking. He couldn't let anyone see, he couldn't! It wasn't professional, it wasn't- He had to stay here, motionless, until he was dismissed. That was the way of a SOLDIER.

That was how Sephiroth always acted, no matter what.

As soon as he saw red, Lazard turned to Genesis with such speed the red SOLDIER jerked back. Blue eyes came to bear on blue eyes, and Genesis stared at the director with tired confusion. Lazard seemed very agitated again. Had something happened...?

"Genesis. Medbay. Now."

Something cold stabbed at his heart. Sephiroth-!

"But, I have-!" The reaction was instinctive, and excruciating. It flew from his throat like an open wound. He didn't want to protest, this was the only thing he wanted, the only thing that could keep him alive at this point. He had to see him! He had to see Sephiroth! He had to...

But he couldn't disregard orders, couldn't... He had his duty, much as he despised that word just now, despised it with all his soul. He had...

It tore, and it must have shown in his eyes, despite his attempts to hold it back.

Lazard gave one curt shake of his head. "No, you don't. Out. Now. That's an order."

Confusion and exhaustion, overridden by terror, prevented any coherent response. But the proper answer was programmed into him. "Yes, sir!"

Obedience was hardwired, too. He was moving, almost running, barreling people over in the hallways. Genesis couldn't think, didn't even know where he was going, had no sense beyond his feet carrying him forward.

He couldn't be gone...he couldn't! If he were, Lazard would have told warned him! Sephiroth couldn't...!

The terror that gripped at him was stifling. He couldn't breathe.

He had to get down there. He had to know.


He was hearing tiles under his feet before thought caught up to him. He had no memory of the elevator ride; maybe he hadn't even gone there, maybe he'd ran down the stairs without seeing. No recollection taking the turns where he had to, or passing through the doors to the ICW. All he knew was he had to get to Sephiroth.

The glass door loomed before him, startling, sudden. His gloves slipped on the smooth surface, the metal handle, and he clawed desperately to force it open. The door was heavy, pushing against him, a terrible and painful weight on his heart.

Goddess, please...!

And then he stopped, panting slightly as his exhausted eyes absorbed the room.

Just like before. A hospital bed, guest chairs on one side. A jungle of medical equipment in the far corner. The curtains were drawn back slightly, and gentle light spilled in, softening the edges of metal and making silver hair shine.

Silver hair... He grasped onto that with a lurch and looked up.

Sephiroth lay on the bed, just as before, silver hair shining softly in the light. His eyes were closed, his face calm.

Beep.

The sound was like a lifeline, holding together his frayed edges. Genesis swallowed with difficulty, eyes wide, holding on. A heartbeat. Sephiroth's heartbeat. He was still here. He was still alive.

His eyes stinging started Genesis out of his shock. Sephiroth was alive. He wasn't about to cry, that would be stupid...

The relief was so powerful he could barely think. Sephiroth was ok... Sephiroth was ok... He couldn't do anything but stare.

And then he noticed other things. The oxygen mask was gone. He could hear the steady rhythm of Sephiroth's breathing, slow and even, reassuringly strong. Some of the bandages had been replaced with smaller gauze pads, held in place by cloth.

Slowly, the panic faded. But now he was puzzled. Why had Lazard sent him down here so urgently if nothing was wrong? Not to say there was anywhere else he wanted to be right now, but why...?

Beep. A reassuring heartbeat.

"Genesis, you're back!"

Genesis started, pulled away from convincing himself Sephiroth was still alive. He followed the voice to the guest chairs.

Angeal was sitting next to Sephiroth's bed, watching Genesis with a mixture of worry and surprise.

Genesis blinked, taken completely aback. In his terror that he might have lost Sephiroth, he'd forgotten about Angeal. Angeal had kept his promise. Of course he had.

That calmed something in him. Sephiroth was alright. And if he wasn't, Angeal would have told him.

Genesis walked quietly over to his friend, head cocked to one side. "Angeal...is he...?" It was hard to force a sentence out. His voice was so hoarse. "Is he ok...is he...?"

Angeal blinked, seeming confused by Genesis' distress. He nodded quickly. "He's alright, Genesis." A firm, clear statement. A smile spread across his face. "He did it."

Genesis blinked, too exhausted to understand.

Angeal saw it. "The bullet. They were able to remove it this morning, while you were gone," he explained, a look of such relief and joy on his face that Genesis felt better even before the words processed.

And then they did process. It was like a shockwave ran through him. Blue eyes widened, glowing with unhidden surprise and relief. "So then...?" He couldn't get the words out, could only stand there and stare.

Angeal nodded. "He should be coming to any time now. Lazard wanted you here, but he wasn't sure when you'd get back..."

Genesis was only half-listening. He was staring at Sephiroth, watching the general breathe. So...it was ok then? Sephiroth was ok... His hands trembled as he tried to internalize that fact.

But green eyes were still closed, and he still had to apologize. It wasn't ok yet. It was all his fault! If he hadn't been...

Sephiroth, please...

The machine called out another heartbeat.

Genesis' heart stopped abruptly as silver eyelashes trembled. The next breath was delayed, and came out a soft, barely audible sound. Angeal, turned towards Sephiroth with wide eyes, while Genesis stood frozen, rooted to the floor, unable to do anything but stare.

Green eyes flickered open, staring blearily at the ceiling. Sephiroth blinked several times, each time bringing his eyes closer to focus, each time coming closer to the world he had almost left. After a long pause, confusion passed slowly over his face. He didn't know where he was.

Angeal leaned forward. "Sephiroth?" Genesis felt something tense inside him, slowly suffocating as he waited with baited breath for a response. Proof that Sephiroth had really returned to them.

Sephiroth started when he heard the voice. Genesis could see the way his hands tensed a little, the way his head jerked slightly. Sephiroth heard Angeal's voice just as Genesis had three days before, an anchor in a world of pain and confusion. Somewhere safe, stable. Someone who cared. Slowly, with obvious effort, the general turned his head to look up at his friend.

Angeal sighed with relief as green eyes focused on him, and registered his presence. Sephiroth was back.

Sephiroth blinked, looking at Angeal for a long time, confusion running through his eyes. He drew a careful breath, testing the air in his mouth. Then, in a hoarse whisper, "An...geal...?"

The quiet of that voice stabbed at Genesis. Sephiroth didn't speak like that!

Angeal nodded reassuringly. "Gods, it's good to see you..." He sighed, releasing some of the worry that he'd been hiding. "We thought we'd lost you..."

Sephiroth breathed out softly, looking at Angeal with a slightly puzzled expression. With each passing second, Genesis could see the man he knew gradually returning from the darkness. Sephiroth's eyes became alert, searching his surroundings and Angeal's face. Soon he would remember what had happened.

Genesis saw it when he did. Alarm flashed through Sephiroth's green eyes like lightning, making them glow brightly as he stared up at Angeal. His hands tensed slightly, and Sephiroth fixed Angeal with a firm look.

"Genesis," Sephiroth demanded, his voice slowly regaining strength. "Is Genesis-!" In his need to know, the hoarse words didn't even shake.

Genesis' eyes widened.

That was worry in Sephiroth's eyes. He could see it, glowing green, demanding an answer, and, in that instant, afraid of it. Sephiroth had nearly died, and his first thought was Genesis?

He only realized his hands were clenched into fists when they began to ache. You...you idiot! How can you... A low growl built up in his throat. If you had died, I... Something choked off and he couldn't even finish the thought. And you're all worried about me! Shiva, you could have been dead! For long moments he was shaking in rage, furious that Sephiroth had been willing to sacrifice his life to protect him.

What the hell...! I don't deserve that! If you had died for me, Sephiroth, I would've... You can't!

Genesis stared helplessly at the almost desperate light in Sephiroth's eyes. He could hear the agitation in each breath. Didn't Sephiroth understand how much more valuable his life was...? Did he even know...? The growl threatened to break free, and he fought it, but it seemed a losing fight. He was furious, but he couldn't yell at Sephiroth, not now when he had been so close to losing him. How could he do something like that!

Angeal blinked at Sephiroth's expression. His eyes softened in understanding. Angeal always understood. He leaned away, looking over at Genesis.

Genesis froze as Sephiroth slowly turned his head, following Angeal's eyes, and found him.

For a long, long time, Sephiroth stared into his eyes. Concern, confusion, even maybe a little fear was reflected in glowing green. He blinked several times, breathing at a slightly faster tempo than before. It was as if he were trying to reassure himself that the red-clad SOLDIER standing before him was real.

Genesis blinked, all the anger drained out of him in an instant by the little hitch in each breath Sephiroth took. It couldn't be, but his mind stubbornly insisted that was fear. Sephiroth hadn't shown an instant of fear when he'd been shot from all sides, not until delirium took him. He hadn't been afraid for himself, the idea itself was alien to him. That shudder hadn't been there when he awoke or when he realized Angeal was there.

What could Sephiroth possibly be afraid of? What in the world could possibly strike fear in him, if death itself didn't seem to faze him at all? He'd thrown himself into mortal danger without an instant of hesitation to protect Genesis, not making a sound even in pain until he fell. What could make that sort of a man afraid?

Genesis didn't know what told him what to do. Maybe it was Angeal's presence, which always softened him a little. Maybe it was the fact that he had never seen fear in Sephiroth before, and so he desperately needed to do something. Whatever it was, Genesis slowly walked to the bed, meeting Sephiroth's eyes steadily. Carefully, as if handling something fragile, he reached out and brushed a gloved finger against Sephiroth's left hand. I'm...I'm here...

The heat of that hand beneath his fingers felt so reassuringly real. Genesis felt something finally release in his chest, and his face softened slightly. "Sephiroth..."

Green eyes regarded him carefully, measuringly, but with that same unidentified shudder in. But at the touch, when he heard his name, Sephiroth's expression softened slightly. Only his friends could've seen it. His hand relaxed tiredly. "Good..." he murmured wearily, looking up at Genesis with tired but warm eyes. "You're alright..."

Genesis stared, feeling something inside him shiver. It was true, then. Sephiroth's first conscious thought had been Genesis' safety. The thing that had frightened him was Genesis' danger.

The muddle of emotions stirred by that fact were hard to restrain. Genesis tried to say something several times into the silence. He wanted to apologize, to demand an explanation, to yell at Sephiroth for being such an idiot, and to break down crying like a child. There was something trembling in his heart again. Why was he valued so much by someone he could wrong so easily? It didn't make any sense! He didn't deserve it!

"You..." The words tumbled around on his tongue, inane, useless to express what he wanted to say. It couldn't come out right. He could never say it. Gods, he was called the poet, why couldn't he ever just say what he wanted to!

Finally, the only thing he knew managed to stumble out. "You idiot...!" he said quietly, looking away so that the sparkling in his eyes couldn't be construed as tears. But it was only a second before his eyes were dragged back, just to make sure. Green eyes were still open. It was real. The reassuring presence next to his hand was still there.

"You shouldn't be worried about me," Genesis chided softly. There was no bite to his voice, and they both knew it, but still, it was all he could do. "Not when you got in such a mess. Get better fast, already. You can't..." Something else almost slipped out there, but he couldn't make it right. He just couldn't... "You don't want me to have a chance to surpass you while you're down for the count, now, do you...?"

The words fumbled out of him, the same confrontational, useless words that he retorted with so often. He hated them, and he hated that they were all he could say, but the words weren't important. What was important was that touch he felt against his fingers, that wordless thing that spoke in their hands. Reminding each other that they were alive. Reminding each other that they still stood side by side, even despite all the useless words. Genesis pretended not to notice he hadn't drawn his hand back yet. Their hearts weren't quite strong enough to fully believe, after everything they had been through. Not yet.

His hand was shaking slightly, but he wasn't even ashamed of it just now.

I'm here. I promise. I'm here...and I'm sorry.

Sephiroth finally calmed enough to breathe easily. The slightest smile touched his expression at Genesis words. Tired now, he rested his head back against the pillows, though as if sensing Genesis' thoughts Sephiroth refused to close his eyes. Despite the weariness, Genesis could feel the strength in the hand next to his. Sephiroth was alive, and he was getting stronger.

Green eyes glowed softly, steadily, as Sephiroth gazed sleepily at the red SOLDIER. I'm here. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere.

Something settled inside him, a feeling of peace for the first time since the first gunshot had torn his world. Maybe he couldn't express himself well enough to say things, but Sephiroth's eyes told him they had come to some sort of understanding.

If Sephiroth understood the apology, he seemed to forgive Genesis. Then again, it seemed like he always did, in the end.

Though he might not have understood it at all. They often misread each other's actions. Miscommunication was made even easier by the fact they both often hid their emotions, particularly from each other.

But, understanding or not, Sephiroth was alive. And for Genesis, that was more than enough. Judging by the slight smile in Sephiroth's eyes, the feeling was reciprocated.

Something finally lined up inside him, and something he desperately wanted to say managed to slip out. "Its...Shiva, it's good to see you, Sephiroth." It didn't even come out a challenge. No parries, no barbs, just the statement, only what he wanted to express. Still, it felt horribly inadequate to express just how much he'd needed to see calm clarity in Sephiroth's green eyes again, after seeing so much pain there.

Green eyes softened and Sephiroth gave one of his slight, rare smiles. "It's good...to be back." His voice was weak, but this time Genesis could hear the Sephiroth he knew, calm and steady.

And that subtle smile ended all of Genesis' doubt. Sephiroth was alright. There was no ill will between them, even after Genesis caused all this.

Genesis smiled, feeling his eyes glow gently.

Of course, there was still his pride to consider. "Just don't do it again, idiot," he muttered grumpily. "Angeal was worried sick." He very lightly tapped Sephiroth's hand, just as he would usually take a swing at his head to punctuate the point, an attack Sephiroth would of course effortlessly avoid.

Angeal chuckled softly as Sephiroth shook his head carefully. "No...we can't have that," the general murmured in quiet agreement. He was still smiling. Though there wasn't a sound to it, Genesis and Angeal both knew Sephiroth was laughing, too.

Normally, that silent laughter would have particularly annoyed Genesis. It seemed so often Sephiroth could be laughing at him. At his inadequacies, at his weakness, his arrogance. It was so easy for Genesis to hear mockery in Sephiroth's silence, even though at times it was only imagined.

But now he just smiled, weak with relief. Goddess he'd never been so grateful for that laugh he couldn't hear.

It was good have Sephiroth back.