Disclaimer: FFVII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.
They took Angeal inside and left Sephiroth waiting in the hall. He could still feel the warmth on his chest, the touch of a strong gloved hand. Angeal had known who would best serve even before Sephiroth himself.
They were like each other, Angeal and Genesis. They could share so much with just a glance. It made sense they would share blood too.
Sephiroth had never known what that was like, to grow up sharing things with someone else. To have things in common. He heard the words again in his mind.
"You won't do."
He never did. He was too different. It weighed on him, pulling at the pit of his stomach. Some days, with them, he had been able to pretend. Pretend to be like them, pretend to be more normal. He had liked it. He turned away from the cold steel door and began to walk away, seeking some private place.
He barely made a sound as he moved down the hall. Sometimes he sought solitude. This time it was thrust upon him. He was not like the others and the reminder had been cold. There was no one like him in the world. Until now.
He was alone in his apartment when Genesis came to see him. A courtesy call, Genesis called it, wearing distress plain on his face. "I'm leaving," he said, interrupting (kickstarting?) all Sephiroth's plans. "I can't stay anymore. What they're doing, it's not working. I have to go."
Sephiroth looked up from his task, but not at Genesis.
"Sephiroth," Genesis said, "did you hear me?"
"I heard you," Sephiroth said. He let his pen fall to the desk.
"Don't you have anything to say?" Genesis asked. "Aren't you going to try to stop me?"
Sephiroth did look at him then. "Do you want me to?"
Genesis shrugged, looking worn and pale, his skin paper thin. "Angeal said you might try. I thought I'd give you the chance to do it up front."
"Hmm." Sephiroth glanced over his work, his thoughts miles and miles away.
"Now or never," Sephiroth said, more to the air than his company.
Sephiroth looked up. "Yes, Genesis?"
"I'm leaving. Don't you have anything to say?"
Sephiroth took one deep breath and let his tongue move before his head could rationalize against it. "Go pack. Dress warmly. Angeal too. Meet me at the garage level in half an hour. Don't be seen."
He was a man with a mission now, a man on the move. Nothing he hadn't done before. He set a brutal pace, even for SOLDIERs, and pretended not to hear Genesis wheezing behind. He had to keep going, keep them moving behind him, following, or else he would have time to think and change his mind and he could not risk that. This needed to be done. He had put it off far too long.
They had gone to the train station but not taken the train. They walked down drab tunnels in the dark, crouching against damp walls when bright lights on wheels went clattering by. A broken service access let them climb down the rest of the way. The slums were no obstacle, the way out long known. They had marched and hitchhiked and ridden and even stowed away and all the while Sephiroth refused to think about what he had just done. Genesis began to fall behind more often. Angeal stayed to help him along.
Sephiroth would not stop. He looked back once, when they were on the water, to the city fading in the distance and the tower that had been the center of his entire life. He had taken this route and others like it on many occasions before, but it was different this time.
He knew they were talking behind him. He knew they were talking about him. He always knew when people were talking about him. But he couldn't blame them this time. He had kept them in the dark about everything, about the route, the destination, even the reason. Especially the reason.
Later. He would think about it later. There was too much to do now for him to afford the distraction. Ice crunched beneath his feet. Snow gathered on his eyelashes. His own breath obscured the trail from view. He traced the path by heart and memory alone. He left no markers, so that no one else would ever find it. Angeal and Genesis would have to follow along the best they could.
"He's going to kill us."
Genesis struggled to move in the deep snow. "Sephiroth," he said, fighting for breath in the cold air. "He's going to kill us."
Angeal shook his head and gave Genesis an arm to hold on to. "Now how do you figure he would do a thing like that?"
Genesis shot Angeal a bitter look. "He has a six foot sword and armor full of materia. How do you think he's going to do it?"
Angeal rolled his eyes. "I guess the word I really wanted was 'why'." He put an arm around Genesis's waist and hoisted him out of the snow. Sephiroth was a vague shadow up ahead, half-hidden by snowfall.
Genesis leaned into the warmth and let himself be guided along. "We've betrayed the company," he said, beginning to wheeze. "You know how he is, the job is everything. It's everything he stands for. He brought us out here to clean up the mess and then he'll go back and say we were killed in action." He paused to catch his breath. Angeal thought his face looked a little grey. "The press has a field day, the public mourns, the company makes a killing off its own memorabilia and the world goes on like it did before."
Angeal sank deep into the snow himself. It was possible. He hated to think it of Sephiroth, but it was possible. He had never been like them.
It was two more days before they crossed the mountains. Sephiroth had found – known – some surprisingly easy trails up and through the deadly peaks. All the same Angeal had been convinced that he would have to put Genesis on his back before the journey was over.
"Do we even know where the hell we are?"
"Judging by all the snow," Angeal said, "I'd say somewhere up north."
"Very funny, Angeal." Genesis fell to one knee. Angeal shouldered both their packs and gave Genesis an arm to hold on to.
"I have some ideas," Angeal said, "but I couldn't pinpoint us on a map." He squinted into the snow. It swirled down from peaks above them. "At least we're out of the mountains now," Angeal said. "Can you imagine being stuck up there in all this?"
"Oh, and being stuck in some goddess-forgotten glacier valley is even better?" Genesis forced himself upwards, gasping with every breath. "If there's an avalanche they'll never find us."
Angeal squinted into the snow, keeping an eye on the dark figure retreating into the storm. "That might be the idea."
"Death by accident?" Genesis lurched onward. "Act of nature?"
"Not being found." Angeal refused to engage the more morbid possibilities.
"We're going to die here." Genesis moaned, falling behind again. "If it's not Sephiroth, it'll be the weather." He stopped. "I hear freezing to death is dreadfully slow business."
"Don't worry, Gen," Angeal said. "Maybe the wolves will get us first. I hear that's much faster."
"There are wolves this far north?" Genesis hurried forward.
"Probably." Angeal looked around. "You're not planning on going down without a fight, are you?"
"Never!" That put starch in his spine again. Angeal knew Genesis was ill, terribly so, but how much of the moaning was real and how much for show he never could tell. Genesis carried on bravely enough despite his complaints, though he had to wrap a scarf around his nose to keep the air warm enough to breathe. The sky dimmed above them.
"Wherever we're going, I hope we get there soon," Genesis said. "It gets dark early here."
Angeal stared into the snowfall. His eyes began to find more than Sephiroth's back fading into the distance. They were heading into the woods now, a mass of hardy evergreens that had sprung up to reclaim the earth. Angeal's eyes began to pick out shapes buried in the snow, large rocks, tall stumps, and, veiled by the snow, even the uprights and slopes that suggested the remnants of long gone shelter. It was common, if they were as high north as Angeal suspected. This land too, had been settled many times. No people ever stayed for long. The archaeologists at Bone Village would have a grand time if they ever made it this far.
They walked until the trees surrounded them. Angeal was afraid they would reach mountains again. "Angeal, is that a light?" Genesis's breathy voice nearly blended with the wind.
Up ahead, there did indeed seem to be a light in the distance, part reflection, part soft glow. "I think it is," Angeal said. And just like that, Sephiroth stopped walking.
Nestled against the slope of the land, half-sheltered from the worst of the wind, was a cottage, very likely the last that remained of all the long gone villages. Sephiroth stood under the eave, attempting to shake the snow from his boots and tame his hair. He was still at it when Angeal caught up with him, stopping a short distance away to take in the sight. The light was coming from a window.
Genesis stood in the snow, leaning forward with his hands on his knees, gasping. "This your private hunting lodge, Sephiroth?" he said. "Could have told us." Sephiroth shot him an odd look.
Angeal was leaning backwards to check the depth of snow gathering on the steep slope of the roof. It did not occur to him that the odd knocking sound was Sephiroth rapping on the door. He nearly tipped over in surprise when it opened.
Sephiroth's broad shoulders blocked the sliver of entryway from view, but the glow behind it was the kind that came from a wood fire on a cold night. Sephiroth bowed his head at the door. His voice was so soft even SOLDIER ears could not hear him. Then the door opened wide and he was beckoning them inside. Angeal stood where he was.
Half-hidden behind the door was a very young woman. She had wide eyes in a pale face and a cautious smile on her lips. "Please, come in," she said. Angeal could sense Genesis beside him, staring like a deer in headlights.
"Come in," Sephiroth said gruffly. "You're letting all the heat out."
Genesis recovered first, ever the social savant. "I beg your pardon, Miss," he said, turning the charm up high as he crossed the threshold. "I'm Sephiroth's friend, Genesis, if he's ever been so good as to mention me." The woman laughed, and there was something very girlish about it still.
"I'm Aerith," she said, rubbing her arms against the chill. Angeal stepped in quickly.
"Angeal Hewley, ma'am," he said. He ducked his head to get in the door, and let his eyes adjust while she latched it tight behind him.
The difference was astounding. The wind howled like the devil outside and he could see the snow piling up outside the small windows, but the little kitchen was warm and cozy. Shiny pots and old fashioned crockery shared space on neatly lined shelves. Winter onions filled baskets hanging from the low ceiling. There was even a row of herbs growing in small pots on one windowsill, close enough to get warmth from the little wood-burning stove. The snow seemed miles away.
The rest of the cottage matched his initial assessment. It was a sturdy log dwelling, a decent size, well-crafted, tidy and showing the touch of reclamation from ages past, hewn logs stacked on a stone foundation. The kitchen's low ceiling, likely a loft, looked to be of brighter, newer wood than the rest, and the stairs leading up to it looked newer still. Here and there were signs of recent inexpert repair. Angeal could well-imagine the place being restored out of the husk of something older as each wave of settlement passed through. His eyes strayed to the other end of the cottage, where a large stone fireplace sat dark and unused.
"Won't you please sit down?" Aerith was saying, smoothing her dark dress. "I was about to start dinner. I guess I'll need the big pot now." There was a nervous edge to her voice. It made sense. Most people were nervous when SOLDIERs descended upon them unannounced. But Sephiroth was clearly no stranger here from the way he was unpacking his supplies, and perhaps his word was good enough. Angeal did not miss the furrow of concern on his brow. "Is stew okay?" Aerith was saying. "I've got a lovely smoked ham Sephiroth brought me too."
"Whatever you have is more hospitality than we deserve, dropping in on you like this," Genesis said, taking a seat at the small kitchen table. He looked instantly revitalized by the warmth. "I never would have imagined Sephiroth was bringing us to a place like this." He wagged a warning finger at the man, who ignored it and kept unpacking. "He kept it a secret the whole time."
Angeal found his voice. "Do you live here all alone, Miss Aerith? You seem pretty isolated up here."
She laughed again, lightly, and Angeal saw Sephiroth stiffen. He walked to the far end of the room and bent down to a crate that hung swinging on a long rope from the ceiling. "I'm not alone here," Aerith said, her eyes on Sephiroth's back.
Sephiroth turned around with a drab grey blanket bundled in his arms. "She's not alone," he said. The blanket stirred. A tiny arm emerged, and a tiny head, with silver hair and large green eyes. "This is our little girl, Elle."
"I'm going to kill him," Genesis said, hacking wood with a vengeance. "I'm going to kill him till he dies from it, and then I'll beat him to death."
"I think that's the definition of overkill," Angeal said. He was content to set the wood up for splitting and let Genesis work out the shock with the axe. "You seem to be feeling better."
"Because I'm so! Angry!" Genesis sent the wood flying.
Angeal ran to pick it up. Funny how the cold didn't seem so bad once they knew there was someplace warm to return to. And it would be warmer still once they got the big fireplace lit properly. But in the meantime, Genesis needed room to stew.
"I'm sure he had a good reason for keeping her a secret," Angeal said.
"Good reason like what?" Genesis whacked another log.
"Can't say, exactly," Angeal said, setting up more wood. "But give him a minute. It might be an interesting story."
"I have no doubt it's interesting," Genesis said. "Excuses for cradle robbing are always a trip."
Angeal got his hands out of the way in the nick of time. "Cradle robbing?"
"Come on, 'geal, you've seen her. Aerith is young. She must be… Goddess, I don't even want to guess." He hacked at seasoned wood.
"Maybe she just looks young," Angeal said.
Genesis snorted. "You saw the kid too, right? She wasn't born yesterday. Factor in gestation time and Seph's going straight to jail."
"Depends on if city laws apply out this way," Angeal said. "You know how it goes the more rural you get."
"Oh, yes," Genesis said, swinging with a vengeance. "Twelve for girls, ten for boys, two and a half for sheep." He stopped and looked around nervously. "You don't see any sheep around here by chance, do you?"
"No, Gen. I'm pretty sure he's not that far gone."
"We can hope." Genesis set the axe down and took a seat on the chopping block. He stared at the back of the house, but there was only the wood pile and tiny, darkened windows of the larder and wash area.
"I can have a little talk with him to figure things out, if it's bugging you that much," Angeal offered.
"That would help," Genesis said. He put his chin on his fist, looking glum. "Cute kid, at least. Guess it figures Seph would spawn pretty." He sighed heavily.
"Okay, what's bugging you?"
Genesis circled away on the stump. "He could have told me I was an uncle."
"What?" Angeal would have laughed but he had kindling to pick up. "How does Sephiroth having a kid make you an uncle?"
"I'm an only child," Genesis said, not pouting, definitely not pouting. "This is as close as I'll ever get." He dug one toe into the snow. "I mean, unless you've been keeping secrets, it's not like I could knock you up."
Angeal fidgeted. "Move over," he said, nudging Genesis to get some room on the stump. "You want kids all of a sudden?"
"Yes. NO!" Genesis slumped. "I've been thinking about it lately. What it would be like." He held his hands out. The tremor was fine and not entirely due to the cold. Angeal chose to remain silent.
"Did you ever wonder, Angeal?"
"Having children. Did you ever want any?"
Angeal shivered. "Can't really say that I gave it much thought. Never figured it was in the cards, you know." He chuckled. "Just as well. I prefer them old enough to train. Don't have to worry about diapers and all that."
"Hmm." Genesis looked up to the black sky. The stars were brilliant out here, beyond the last floating flakes of snow. "That's a shame. I always thought you'd make a good father."
"Did you?" Angeal cocked his head. Genesis could still surprise him after all these years. They sat sharing each other's warmth for a while.
"Snow's stopped," Genesis said.
"Yeah, a while back." They raised their heads at the sound of a distant howl.
"So there are wolves this far north." Genesis squinted into the distance. "What do you figure they eat?"
Angeal shrugged. "What wolves normally eat. Anything they can take down."
"There's game about, then." Genesis stood. "You up for a little hunting?"
"I could be," Angeal said, "but are you?"
Genesis looked up at the wisps of smoke rising from the cottage. "We have to bring a gift for our hostess, don't we? Besides, I have a feeling Seph could use a little time to get his story straight."