It had started out innocent enough. The winding alleyways and whispering voices lurking in the corners where everyone else feared to glimpse served as a ready element to lose his spiraling memories, pushing himself further and faster, lunging around obstacles, running across the roofs of buildings. Anything to keep her at bay. The silence was too sharp and threatened his composure like a rattlesnake poised for the bite. Dusty roads blended with shadows and windows, disappearing like a slide show running through the projector too fast. The snap of his trenchcoat in the wind, the force of his descent pulling at his limbs, the reverberation as his boots struck solid ground - it breathed new life back into the twisted ledges of his mind, steadied the ever precarious mood enhancers in his blood, and gave him a collective calm that stretched through the nerves in his body.
Then a cacaphonous noise had clanged against the inside of his skull, like two cymbals crashing on both of his temples, and he staggered as a migraine took him. One hand grasped the brick wall beside him as hazed emerald eyes watched the local enforcers whizzed past him one by one - two of them were on foot, and the other was riding a creature that for the life of him he could not have recognized - all the while sirens blared. Sephiroth fell quietly in step behind the hasty uniformed men, allowing his predatorial instincts to carry him soundlessly and without so much as a whisper to the backs of their heels, platinum hair skipping in the ocean breeze over pale, frighteningly studious features. It took him a minute to notice the object of their attentions - a bright crimson chocobo running for its life with a basket of greens dangling from its beak - and something inside felt like suddenly a gear had fallen loose, like something had been thrown into the works. It became much more difficult to navigate precisely, to concentrate flawlessly.
Could it.. no, of course not.
Nevertheless he trailed the officers all the way to the seashore, and by the time they had made it there the sun was beginning to rise over the water - splashes of disarming crimson, alert goldenrod and sleepy orange spilled across the shimmering aquamarine ocean like a rainfall, as though God himself had dropped his palette into the middle of its depths. Sephiroth already had his menacing arc of a sword drawn by the time the guard sensed his presence and turned around -- the inhuman blur of speed dove at the man, and the blade came down at several angles in the space of eight seconds. The look on his face was priceless, a cross between loud disbelief and pain, before he toppled down onto his face. The cells of Jenova seethed inside of him, ricochetting his body around like a heat sensing missle taking down everything with a heartbeat. The only person who managed to get away was, surprisingly, a woman in the guise of a male soldier, and she ran away bleeding. For some reason that was unclear to him, he'd let her live.
Then it occured to him like a flash of lightning striking the ground.
The sound of laughter. Sephiroth saw her conversing cheerfully with Leviathan, unafraid of the giant serpent as though they'd been raised together, child and puppy. Every other single thing in the background ceased to be of any significant importance at that moment, watching the graceful beauty swing around to scold the pesky chocobo for stealing the greens. The same tone of voice, the same eyes, the same radiant smile. And a thousand years inbetween memories of them. Sephiroth had to steel himself against the pounding rush in his head, the loud voice that screamed in his ear. Contradictory to what the council had believed, Jenova II, better known to the rest of the unsuspecting world as Alma, was alive -- and obviously quite well from what he could ascertain. How long had it been really since he'd dropped her on that ranch? The world had thrived, struggled, fallen, then risen again. Sephiroth had completely lost his mind, destroying everything in sight, including old friends, and had attempted to bring the entire universe down in a rain of fire. Aeris was dead, Shinra was in mangled pieces, and now the place she remembered as home was in ruin. Everything she knew was gone. Hell, everything he knew was gone, for that matter. A steady stream of words flowed through his brain, a million things that he wanted to say all at the same time, unable to discern which were his thoughts and which were his 'mother's'.
What came out was, "You shouldn't play with summon creatures, kid.. they're dangerous."
It was one of the single most relieving events to ever occur for him. Alma was battling the ever tilting scales of extreme surprise and joyous bliss at having found him after all this time and it was the first time Sephiroth had ever seen that look in another person's eyes directed at him. Too much had been severed inside of him to the point that he couldn't even comprehend what he felt. It was like wanting to trap her in a space and have her entirely to himself for the rest of her life and being terrified to talk to her at all rolled into one inner conflict. It was the closest to wanting to embrace someone he'd gotten since Zack's death. God, she'd grown up so much over the years spent apart. It was stunning to leave a child behind only to return to a woman - and that's precisely what she was, proud, tall, slender and a flourishing beauty. Sephiroth knew that she'd have trouble with the men when she started getting interested in that world, and it made him want to smile. How strange it was to have walked through the nine pits of Hell only to wind up here at the same time as she did.
Between them nothing and everything was barred. There were many issues that he found himself tiptoing around : what had become of Shinra, was he here on a mission, how was Tseng and the others, what in god's name had he been up to for the past god knows how many years since they parted. The fact of the matter was this - nothing remained of what she remembered save for the scattered members of the Turks and Cloud's little party team. There'd been a battle that had almost decided whether or not the entire planet was going to burn, and in a moment of weakness Cloud had dropped him to the ground. Sephiroth had one handedly almost succeeded in ending the world. The idea of breaking that to her, well, it made him feel worse than he had when he'd murdered that entire Wufei campaign against Shinra for the first time. So he left out small bits of information, obscured some truths, and gave her just enough so that she could be satisfied and not ask anymore questions. Unfortunately that lasted about as long as Alma's inquisitive, if not fearful, inquery on whether or not Sephiroth had ever heard a 'voice'. A woman directing him to do things against his own will that he found increasingly hard to deny or ignore.
It was not only the idea of it happening to Alma, but the memories of what it had made him do that turned his blood to ice in his veins and pushed fear to his eyes. It was a flash, gone before most would have caught it, but it made him wary. Just how far could Jenova's influence have reached to this girl? Of course he was different, having been fed the radiation his entire life from infancy, but no one quite knew everything. Not even Hojo. Doing something he'd never done before, Sephiroth reached out to take the mako-induced beauty of the woman by her shoulders, and reassured her. Comforted her, told her that she was strong enough to keep it at bay, that he was there to protect her. The idea almost made him laugh now. Him? Protect anything? No, everything he touched turned to ash. It was what he had been built for, to destroy, not protect. The ultimate soldier, the superior killer, the personification of solidarity. And here she'd found the smallest chink in his inpenetrable armor and he was soft for her. The buried humanity that Hojo'd believed had been beaten out of him before his eighth birthday welled up when he saw his 'lil sister' again - he wanted to protect her the way he couldn't when they'd been pumping her full of serums, torturing her and ruining her life - the way that had been denied to him when he'd been in chains at only ten years old. Alma had been taken from him so fast.
The city had grown quiet as late afternoon glided unnoticably into early evening. Scores of angels flitted back and forth to hang their nightlights one by one in the pitch black heavens and slowly the buzz of electric lights began to fill both the roads and windows of the small town. Sephiroth sat on the window ledge watching it all take place, sharply aware of the woman sleeping soundly a few feet away from him on the bed. They'd talked well into the morning hours, sitting side by side, and finally the younger woman had fallen asleep against his shoulder. Although he didn't want to move, didn't want to shatter that frame in time, he'd bundled her up into his arms like something made of glass and taken her back to his room. Ever since she'd slept right through the hours, and he sat there patiently thinking and wondering and watching the world unfold. Too much time had been spent in the darkness devising machinations against life - had he ever really noticed any of this before? - and for one day and night he stopped fearing, stopped hating, stopped plotting, and just lived.
Just like everyone else for once.
Just like her.