The Fires of a New Birth
The apartment reeked of sweat and mako and bile. The acrid stench made Genesis’s stomach roil. “Hana?” he called from the entryway, lowering his hand from his mouth and nose once the initial shock from the smell subsided.
“In here.” Her voice was tiny and strained and had come from the hallway. He had hardly needed it to find her; there was a clear path of drops and streams of the nacreous green fluid leading past the kitchen and toward Sephiroth’s bedroom.
He found Sephiroth first. His friend was face down on the floor of the hall. His hair was splayed in slick, slimy cords, tinted with the unnatural sheen of mako. His entire body was seeped in it, everything from the leather of his clothes to his translucent skin giving off a sickly, green glow.
Hana was at his head, looking up at Genesis with impossibly wide, panicked eyes. Her face was drawn and bloodless. Her hands were half-extended to her husband, torn as to whether or not she could actually touch him.
“Sweet goddess,” Genesis hissed at the scene. “Please tell me he is soundly unconscious.”
“I’m not sure….”
Sephiroth’s body jerked suddenly and violently, his breath a harsh hiss forced through clenched teeth. His bitten-back scream sounded like a death rattle as it tried to escape his lips through the fluids in his throat. He choked, and from his mouth spilled a mixture of blood and bile and lots and lots of mako.
Hana jumped back in alarm. The mako glow was bright.
“Don’t touch him, at least until I can get the mako off,” Genesis said. “Where’s the shower?”
Hana jumped to her feet and pushed open the door on the left. As Genesis pulled his friend up, he heard Hana start the water.
Footsteps thundered closer and closer until Angeal, breathless from his sprint, tore into the apartment. “Oh…” Angeal breathed. One look at Sephiroth was all it took for the two friends to understand.
“Don’t just stand there, help me get him showered.”
Each of the men took a shoulder and between the two of them, they carried Sephiroth’s limp body to the shower, tossing him in clothes and all. Hana had brought a folding metal chair, which they draped his body on, Genesis holding the man upright by the back of his neck. The walk-in shower was big enough for all of them, but only just. Angeal detached the showerhead from the wall and began hosing him down, the water on the floor of the shower running away in rivers of toxic green.
“He’s out of it, all right,” Angeal said. Sephiroth didn’t respond to the water at all, so much so that Genesis had to manually reposition his head to keep him from inhaling the shower water and drowning any more than he already was. Most of him was relatively easily cleaned, but the biggest task by far was dousing his head and scalp a thousand times so they could get all of the mako out of his heavy masses of wet hair.
“Is that good?” Hana asked.
“It’s the best thing he’s got going for him in this situation,” Genesis said. “This would be a lot harder if we had to deal with-“
“He’ll be all right, Hana,” Angeal said, cutting across Genesis too strongly. He pulled the silver pauldrons off Sephiroth’s shoulders and tossed them aside. He started then on the buckles on Sephiroth’s coat, Genesis helping with the one hand he wasn’t using to support the man. “Can you get him some dry clothes?”
Hana turned eagerly but stopped. The door to Sephiroth’s room was closed, and she stared at it.
“Given the situation,” Genesis said irritably as he lifted one of Sephiroth’s arms up, “I really don’t think he’d mind if you went in his room to get him a change of clothes.”
When that sent Hana on her way with a start, Angeal turned the nozzle to spray Genesis right in the face. “Hey!” the redhead sputtered.
“Watch your tone.” Angeal said, and he meant business.
When she came back they had peeled Sephiroth’s coat, boots, and socks off his body and the water wasn’t running away quite as bright anymore. One look at her husband, bare chested, made her cheeks flame. She turned her head to the side and shielded her eyes with one hand. “Um…pajamas…and some extra clothes because you’re getting wet too…”
“Thank you, Hana. Towels?” Angeal asked softly.
“Yes, I’ll get them.”
Sephiroth was choking softly again. Genesis grunted, beating Sephiroth’s back with his fists to try to help his friend expel the liquid. “How in Gaia did it get in his lungs? There’s breathing tubes in those tanks to keep this from happening.”
“I don’t want to know,” Angeal said.
Genesis growled and continued to hit his back. “Cough it up, Seph…”
Hana set a tall stack of folded towels just outside the shower and then scurried out with a squeak, shutting the door behind her, when she found that they were working Sephiroth out of the rest of his uniform. “Ha!” Genesis scoffed. “Worried about privacy in a time like this.”
At one point, Zack had awkwardly peeked into the bathroom. “Hey…I’m here,” he said.
“Take care of Hana,” Angeal said, not pausing his work. He’d lost count of how many times they’d rinsed Sephiroth’s hair, but the water was still running away green. Genesis murmured something about just cutting it off more than once.
“Yes, sir.” Zack closed the door behind him, very happy to be uninvolved with the cleaning up of his comatose commanding officer.
It was almost more of a chore to dry and re-dress him than it had been to wash him, as limp as he was, and a whole other task besides to figure out how to wind up all his sopping hair in a towel. But once it was done Sephiroth looked somewhat better, if only because he wasn’t glowing green anymore. The two men took off their own boots and gloves and left them in the shower to contain the mako residue, and then Angeal had left the room. He hadn’t gotten nearly as wet as Genesis had because he had been the one wielding the nozzle, and he left the redhead to change into the spare clothes Hana had brought.
“Hana,” Angeal called. She jumped up from where she’d been sitting on the couch. Angeal shook his head. “Relax, he’s going to be all right. I know it looks bad, but we’re SOLDIERS. He can handle the mako, I promise. You just need to stay away from it, or it’ll make you sick. Don’t touch the shower or any of the clothes we’ve left in there and stay away from the spills on the floor. That means no cleaning.”
“Okay,” she said. “But…Sephiroth?”
“Angeal,” Genesis called from the bathroom. His voice sounded very strange. “I don’t think we’re done yet…”
“Stay with Zack,” Angeal said. Hana made as if to follow but Zack literally held her back.
“Come on,” Zack said, taking the cue from his mentor and trying to pull her toward the kitchen. “Let’s make him a broth or something. He’s bound to be hungry after all this.” It was an absolute lie and they both knew it.
She stared at Angeal all the way until he shut the bathroom door behind him.
“Is it the fluid in his lungs?” Angeal asked. Genesis’s eyes were wide with horror, and though he held Sephiroth up by a fistful of his hair as the man coughed up more mako into a trash can, he held him as far away from himself as he could.
“There’s something in his back,” Genesis hissed. “Something under the skin. And it’s…moving.”
Angeal didn’t have time to be as disgusted or horrified as Genesis clearly was. He quickly removed the shirt from his silver-haired friend, pushed his hair out of the way, and looked for himself.
There was nothing.
“I’m not making it up, there was something…!”
Angeal squinted his eyes and gingerly placed a hand on Sephiroth’s back. There was no response. Slowly, he moved his fingers across the alabaster surface, and though both men waited with baited breath, nothing happened.
Until Angeal’s palm ghosted over his shoulder.
Sephiroth howled and his body reeled with a tremor that left him writhing, wracked with pain, for many long seconds. His thrashing was so violent that he tore himself from Genesis’s grasp, and hit the tile floor with a harsh thud.
Angeal hadn’t missed the distinct ripple in the skin and muscle across his friend’s right shoulder blade, now thinly veiled under wet silver strings of hair.
Both men stared at Sephiroth’s back, as if waiting to see something that would disprove what they had both just seen. There was nothing except Sephiroth laboring for breath, a terrible, low moan of pain reverberating unreleased in his chest.
“What do we do?”
Angeal had no answer.
“Angeal, what’s going on?” Hana cried, banging on the door. “What’s happening?”
“What did that bastard do to him…?” Genesis said, still staring disbelievingly.
“I’m calling for help!”
“Don’t! Zack, stop her!”
She may have been determined, but Zack had been trained to respond to orders - fast. And though Hana was yelling and hitting Zack, demanding to be released, he seemed to be doing his job of restraining her and the two men in the bathroom took the sounds of their continued struggle as evidence that, for the time being, no one had been called.
“Does she not understand anything that’s going on?” Genesis asked, though the answer was clear enough. “You’d think it’d be something that he’d at least mention before they got married.”
“Apparently not,” Angeal said, looking at Sephiroth, who was still splayed helpless on the floor.
“So am I going to tell her or are you?”
“Get him to the bed,” Angeal said. “At least he’ll be more comfortable there. I’ll take care of Hana.” And he left the bathroom before Genesis could protest.
“It’s all right,” Angeal said to Hana, who was still restrained in Zack’s grip. Her face said she didn’t buy it in the slightest. “He’s just having a rough time getting the mako out of his system.” It wasn’t false.
She was angry, and she was shaking. “Why can’t I call the paramedics?”
“Because at best they won’t know what to do with him and at worst-“
“Genesis!” Angeal yelled. “Just get him in the bed!”
“You’re not doing her any favors by sugar coating it,” was his friend’s retort, but the redhead went back to work.
“What’s going on?” she screamed at him, thrashing against Zack. “Tell me what’s happening to him!”
“Listen to me, Hana.” Angeal tried to tone his voice down and sound much calmer than he actually felt. “SOLDIERS are different. The mako makes our bodies operate differently. Regular doctors aren’t trained to handle us. The medical wing couldn’t do anything for him that we haven’t already done. Now that the mako’s gone, we just need to make him comfortable until this passes, all right?”
“Then who’s over health care for SOLDIERS? There has to be somebody! The science department?” She made a grab for her phone, which Zack held at arm’s length while still trying to hold her with the other arm.
“That’s exactly where he just came from, Hana!” Genesis yelled from the bedroom. “And I’m no mind-reader but he’s probably not too enthusiastic about going back any time soon. Now stop trying to drag more people into this mess and let us handle it!”
Hana stopped grappling for the phone. She stopped fighting and then she stopped moving all together. Her hands fell to her sides and she stood up straight, blinking slowly. “The science department…did this…to him?”
Angeal hardly needed to, but nodded slowly.
Angeal sighed. Genesis came in, task completed, and his face was grave. “Sephiroth’s never mentioned anything to you about Hojo? About…that?” Genesis waved toward Sephiroth’s bedroom in lieu of words.
“No. Nothing.” Her voice was too calm and quiet, too blank. “Does it happen…often?”
Angeal and Genesis looked at each other. “Not infrequently,” Angeal admitted quietly.
Zack, too, stood in uncharacteristic silence. He let Hana go, and she made no move to take back her phone.
“Why wouldn’t he say something?”
“It’s not something he likes to talk about,” Genesis said. “Angeal and I only found out on accident a few months ago.”
“How long have they been…? Why wouldn’t he just…?”
Genesis scoffed. “You tell her,” he said to Angeal. “Zack, let’s give them some privacy. I know someone who might have something to help.”
“Uh…uh, yeah…” Zack touched Hana gently on her arm once, and then left to follow Genesis.
Sephiroth started coughing again in the next room. Hana rushed to the kitchen and pulled out a large bowl, setting it in the sink and filling it with cool water as she pulled out multiple kitchen rags. She took the cloths and the bowl into his room without paying any attention to Angeal.
Angeal watched her from the doorway in silence. Sephiroth was unconscious in the sheets, a thin layer of sweat making him shine in the lamplight, face flushed red with fever as his body tried to burn away the mako. She crawled up into the large bed, kneeling beside him, looking small and shy next to him and in the expanses of crimson sheets. Whispering something that Angeal couldn’t hear, she soaked one of the rags in the water and then slowly pressed it to his bare chest.
A small sigh escaped her husband’s lips as she washed him with the water - soothing his chest, his cheeks, his brow, his lips - and though he still trembled and his chest heaved in his efforts to breathe, his back lost its pained arch and he fell into the sheets, surrendering to his exhaustion under the gentle coaxing of his wife’s touch.
It was something Angeal knew Sephiroth never would have permitted had he been conscious. But his body gave him away - he desperately needed the touch of healing hands.
“How long?” Hana asked quietly, dipping the rag to cool it again before resuming her slow strokes. “How long have they been doing this to him?”
“He’s never said,” Angeal answered. “But…he was raised in ShinRa all his life. In the science department. Under Professor Hojo’s care.”
He heard her breath catch and her hands stopped moving as she drew her own conclusion.
Sephiroth convulsed in a fit of coughing, and the two were forced into motion again. Angeal helped her roll him on his side until he had expelled more mako from his mouth. Angeal carefully mopped it up, pushing Hana’s eager hands away to keep her from exposing herself to the toxin, and then he went to put the ruined rag with the other tainted clothes in the shower.
When he came back, she was gathering water in her cupped hands, dribbling it into his mouth and then tilting his head to the side so it could escape into a small bowl. When she had rinsed his mouth as best she could, she went back to washing him with the cool water. While he was on his side, she rinsed his back too before gently easing him into the sheets again. She paid no attention to the mess except to keep her hands away from the caustic mako.
“Why would he allow this?” she asked. “Why not…run?”
Angeal gripped her shoulder firmly. “That’s something he needs to tell you himself.”
He left her to switch the ceiling fan on. “He looks much better now. I think he’s through the worst of it.”
“Thank you for your help,” Hana said. “I was scared. I didn’t know what to do and I panicked. I’m sorry to get you out of bed like this.”
“No,” Angeal said. “We're glad to help. Even Genesis, though I know he doesn't sound it. He gets ornery and snappy in a pinch. It's a front to hide how upset he really is." He watched her hands continue their healing work for several moments. "I’m only sorry that you had to find out like this.”
Hana hummed, closing her eyes for a moment. She was exhausted - they all were.
“You should rest,” Angeal said.
“The tea,” she said, disregarding his remark and continuing her work. “I brewed some. It’s on the stove. Can you pour a cup and melt an ice cube in it so it’s not too hot for him?”
“All right.” He closed the door behind him to give the two of them some privacy.
Angeal took his time with the tea, firstly because he wasn’t sure it was what Sephiroth needed (though he supposed it could hardly hurt either), but mostly, he wanted to give Hana time to settle. He couldn’t believe that this was the first she’d heard about the matter, and he couldn’t believe Sephiroth’s selfishness in withholding that from her only for her to find out this way. To save face, he had put her through a nightmare, witnessing his pain but not having the faintest idea of what could bring the strongest man on the planet to suffer so.
It was cruel.
Not for the first time, Angeal cursed Sephiroth’s pride. He always thought he could suffer in the dark alone without his troubles impacting anyone else. He was always wrong.
Angeal shook his head to clear away his thoughts and he began to pour the tea as Hana requested. The bedroom was silent. He hoped it was peaceful as well.
A few minutes before six, Genesis returned, Zack in tow, and put two large syringes on the kitchen counter next to the teacup Angeal was preparing. “It was all I could wrangle out of old man Hollander. Morphine - the really good stuff too. Except now that it’s over it’s hardly any help. He claimed there was nothing that could really neutralize the mako itself, but some techies will come to clean up tomorrow. Where’s Hana?”
Angeal wordlessly gestured back to the bedroom with his thumb, using his other hand to stir the ice into the tea with a small spoon. Genesis raised his eyebrows. “…Really?” Angeal nodded, still staring into the tea and pushing the shrinking ice cube around in the cup. Genesis smiled. “Well, at least something good happened from all this. I was going to say we should get her away from the mako, but…well…”
Genesis respected his friend’s silence for a while, but eventually grew bored of it. “You think Seph will continue to allow it when he regains consciousness?”
“Though I would hope so, I seriously doubt it,” Angeal said. The ice cube was now only a white sliver swimming in the honey-colored tea, and as Angeal dribbled more of the liquid over it, it disappeared entirely. “Zack, you can go home if you’d like. We’ll take care of things here.”
Angeal was unsettled by his pupil’s behavior. Zack was just standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall, weapon drawn, and, most uncharacteristically, silent and still. He shook his head at Angeal’s invitation. “No thanks,” he said. “I’m…Hana’s guard. I can’t go.”
Genesis poured himself a cup of tea from the pot. “Suit yourself,” he said. “But I’m not going to let you get away with slacking tomorrow just because you’re tired.”
“I don’t think I could sleep now if I tried,” Zack replied. "And there's only an hour or so left of the night anyway."
Angeal looked hard at his pupil. “I don’t think any of us will be getting much rest tonight,” he agreed.
Genesis sipped his tea, and though Angeal was ready to take Sephiroth’s tea in to Hana, he was reluctant to disturb the silence in that room. Time passed by unmarked, unheeded.
They all heard Sephiroth’s deep, low groan come from the bedroom, followed by Hana’s soft voice. All three looked at the bedroom door, ready to intervene, but all fell still again.
“Will he really be all right?” Zack asked.
“He’s had worse,” Angeal said, though it was only half-reassuring.
“Much worse,” Genesis added. “Besides, he’s ShinRa’s best weapon. The scientists aren’t stupid enough to put his life in any serious danger. It’s just unfortunate that he can take so much more than the rest of us mere mortals.”
The headboard smacked against the wall - hard. First once, and then again, and a third time. Was he having another fit? Hana’s voice was rising in volume and was sounding less and less confused and more and more panicked.
Angeal took the tea, Genesis took the morphine, and Zack went in empty-handed, but all three were immediately at the door.
“Hana, what’s happening?”
“We’re fine!” she squeaked. “…Um…everything is fi-aaah!”
At her scream Angeal opened the door and all three of them were in the room. Sephiroth was half-propped up, his head and shoulders against the headboard at an uncomfortable angle. It looked like she’d been trying to slide a pillow under him to support his neck when she had screamed and jumped back. Now she hugged the pillow to her and had buried her face in it.
Sephiroth’s eyes were wide open, the seething vengeance of the mako making his absinthe eyes glow brighter far than the lamp at his bedside.
“He’s not awake!” Angeal assured her quickly. Hana’s whimpered response was too muffled by the pillow to understand. “I know it’s frightening, but he’ll be out of it for some time to come. It’s the mako taking its course.”
“He must’ve taken enough mako to power a small reactor for his eyes to glow that bright…” Genesis mused.
“Not helping, Genesis,” Angeal snapped at the redhead. “Hana, has anything else strange happened or is it just his eyes?”
She took several shuddering breaths and then righted herself, still refusing to look her husband’s way. “I thought…but it was probably just a trick of the light. I think I was just startled.”
“It is downright creepy,” Genesis said, but he had moved to Sephiroth’s side and was looking his unconscious friend right in the eyes morbid curiosity. “Maybe I can…?” Slowly, he placed two fingers over Sephiroth’s eyes and gently slid his eyelids closed. “Better,” he said. “Let’s get all the lights on though, shall we?”
Zack did that for them, looking more than a little green himself.
That done, Hana folded the pillow lengthwise and slid it under her husband’s neck.
It was too fast, too vicious an assault for any of them to fully comprehend what had happened.
Sephiroth shot upright and seized Hana. He collided with her hard, and her breath was knocked away. His hands clawed into her shoulder blades, frantically searching for a handhold until he found her arms to latch onto with the iron grip of a vice. His teeth were bared and he growled and snarled in pain between loud breaths that were half panted, half gasped. Mako was seeping from the corners of his lips, rivulets falling to Hana’s body, but she was too stunned to feel the burn.
All three men tried to pry Hana from Sephiroth’s death grip in vain. The more they fought, the harder he resisted, and the more desperately he grappled to keep his prey. Their ferocity strengthened Sephiroth’s own feral madness, and he was clinging to her so hard that Hana couldn’t hold back her cry.
All was chaos. Hana could not distinguish the yelling of her friends from the shouts of her husband driven to insanity by the pain. And crushed against him, vision swimming, suffocating in his grip, she felt his agony seep into her body as well as the mako splashed across her skin began to burn.
She burned with him, felt the fires sear away the rest of the world until there was nothing but pain. It drowned her, shook her until she was senseless and helpless in its maw. Thought, and then her very identity was stripped away until she was, deep down to her soul, nothing but a slave to the throes of anguish.
Would she be snapped in two by the arms around her first, or would the mako finish her? Whether torn from within or without, she would not last long under the strain.
It was an eternity of torture, and neither body could sustain it long. As one, after every last ounce of their strength and sanity had been ripped away, Hana and Sephiroth broke, both of their final screams rending the air as they shattered into oblivion together.
Someone (Genesis?) finally struck true, stabbing Sephiroth in the back with the syringe of morphine. As the needle disappeared into his flesh, the torrents of pain were dammed by a taut silence, put on hold as the medicine surged through his system.
Sephiroth’s entire body fell slack and air flooded Hana’s starving lungs as three pairs of hands finally tore her from her husband.
But it was not finished.
As they pulled her away, she saw everything with horrifying clarity.
Her heart stopped as she heard the sound of ripping flesh. Sephiroth's mouth formed a scream but no sound came, his eyes rolled into the back of his head as his back arched and every muscle in his body tensed to its breaking point.
And then, amid a haze of crimson blood, a single dark wing tore from his body.
No one breathed. The world stopped.
Sephiroth gasped, the tiniest, strangled whimpers escaping. He was paralyzed but for his trembling, body held erect and wing unfurled and held high by nothing more than shock.
His breath deserted him and his eyes closed as he fell, defeated.
She was so simultaneously stunned and horrified and mesmerized that she no longer felt the burn of the mako across her bare skin, or how flaring bruises were already forming across her arms and back.
Her world stood still as she stared at the black appendage, tinted red in the light with his lifeblood, uncurling weakly to its full length and then lying in exhaustion with its master. It was something so grotesque but so magnificent, so misplaced and utterly impossible, that though her mind insisted on its name, she could not come to terms with what she saw.
A large, black, solitary wing.