Chapter 28

So I have played a bit with the continuity to fit a bit better with my, surprisingly there, outline.

Wanna have a laugh at my expence? Here I am trying to figure out how to organically work Zirconiade in the story and suddenly I end up with a 20k paper for Uni on Zirconium dioxide also known as Zirconia.

FF7 has hacked its way into my life.

Send help.


The day that dawned was warm and unusually sunny, almost welcoming, as if the Planet knew on of her own was starting on his way to true freedom. And Genesis was feeling remarkably better.

"Absolutely not." was the resounding rejection he got when he entertained the thought of returning to work. Everyone from Bella with her 'You are being fucking Stupid.' look, to Angeal with the sheer amount of 'disaproval' exuding from every pore.

Which of course didn't even hold a candle to the way Sephiroth slowly raised his head from his paperwork to nail him with dead eyes set on a blank expression "Genesis I will sit on you." and that was a promise.

"Alright, alright." He relented, raising his arms in surrender. "Don't bite my head of."

"Overachievers I swear." Yu-Heng groaned, as she re-entered the room and depositing a up in his hands. "Dink your tea."

"Yes mother." he snarked. The flick on his forehead was completely worth it.


Genesis, had found out in his life, that the correct mindset could get you through a lot of things. Determination had gotten him through basic training, wanderlust had gotten him through Wutai and excitement had gotten him through his...sickness.

"Wing out."

Physical therapy? That was the one thing that was singlehandedly trying to become the one thing he wasn't able to get through. He knew it was a new limb, but damn he hadn't expected it to be this hard. He felt so tired and the muscles on his back just burned with exertion.

"Flex."

Genesis did as instructed, only to topple sideways because there was suddenly a different centre of gravity. He fell, pulled to the side, but instead of meeting the carpet like he had expected, what met him was pitch black fuzz.

What?

His eyes flew followed the trail of feathers to the wing he had fallen almost on top of. The fact that it didn't hurt should have been enough of an indication, but when his eyes finally landed on his wing, rather than the misshapen naked limb he saw little black feathers already hiding the pinkish skin with pieces of grey and black fuzz covering the space in between them, long, bristle-like feathers extending further to create a shape. And there was indeed an extra peak on his wing, unlike any he'd seen in birds.

Something flicked his ears and he realized he was staring. "Get up, you'll crush the feathers."

"Oh, right." he rushed to get up, nearly falling again when he didn't gauge the skewed center of gravity correctly. Thank the Goddess for Yu-Heng or else he would have fallen on his back.

"Easy." she laughed, as if he wasn't holding him upright with his wing flapping around. "I have you. Just fold it."

"I'm trying." he ground out, the damn thing almost had a mind of its own, whipping around the place, as if trying to take him airborne right then and there. Every time he tried to right himself it would just whip and almost send him careening to the floor again.

Yu-Heng was a steady rock, keeping him grounded every time he felt his feet threaten to leave the ground. "Just get your legs under you." she pulled him upright and he somehow managed to ignore the wing pulling him every which way. And when he did, holding on to the woman like a lifeline and miraculously, it calmed down.

Deep breaths Gen.

"See, it's fine." she soothed, helping him stand up fully and detangling their arms.

The wing was still twitching. "If it's this bad now, I fear how heavy it's going to be when it's fully grown."

"That's why we're doing it now." she chirped, patting his arm "Now try try to flex again for me."

Genesis sighed. "'The wandering soul knows no rest'"


Bella had reluctantly opened up her shop again and she was keeping her busy-meter at a minimum in case she needed to drop everything and go. And she was actually succeeding, even with the staggering amount of people coming in that day. A lot of her Reapers were there, that brought a smile to her face, even if they were taking their orders on the go, they still seemed to be enjoying it.

Well, that allowed her to have the pot stewing in storage for Sector 5 so she wasn't really complaining.

One of the seats on the counter got occupied and two elbows planted themselves in front of her.

"Hey Boss," Andrew greeted with a smirk, giving her a salute with a sheaf of papers. "this little thing just got in."

She smiled, placing a glass of water in front of him "Trade me?" she extended her hand.

"Here." the Reaper handed them over with a flourish, and looking expectantly at her while she read through them. "What do you think about it?" he prompted, looking at her like a puppy.

She hummed "Very opportune. Do you want to be the one stalking them or should I send Sirius?" she asked as she rolled the papers up and stashed them under the counter, fingers twisting out of sight to cast a Notice-Me-Not.

"Senpai." the answer was immediate "Poor guy probably needs a break from President duty."

She nodded understandingly and turned around to make Andrew's coffee "Okay, I'll switch you then. Meanwhile, take a break to enjoy your coffee." she winked when he went to disagree "It's an order."

Andrew sighed in resignation, but he didn't hide his smile.


A sharp cracking noise ran through the appartment and any other day, Genesis might have cared. Now, he was in too much pain to even bother looking. Yu-Heng could take care of it. Probably.

"Hi, hi hello! I've brought food."

Ah, so it was Bella, Diana, fuck, he really didn't care.

"You didn't have to, really." He only half meant it, because, Bella's food. Didn't mean he couldn't be polite.

"Nonsense." she dismissed, placing the bag down and separating the things that were going to the fridge from the ones for immediate consumption. "How's the wing coming allong?"

"I mourn my once perfect gait."

Yu-Heng snorted. "What he means to say is his center of balance is still off."

"It's still not fully grown yet, right?" she inquired and Genesis flinched because she was right.

"No, but it's well on his way. His feathers are coming along nicely.

"And...this?" she motioned to him slumped gracelessly on the couch, like he had just dropped and stayed.

"Physical therapy." Genesis groaned and elaborated no further, sometimes intonation fucking hurt.

"Do you need some potions? I still have some from when I was recovering from sarcopenia." she asked. Her voice, soft and tinged with commiseration, came from directly above.

He opened his eyes, looking at her thoughtfully as she leaned over the couch, before the pain won over his pride and he nodded with visible effort. "'Wings of light and dark spread afar, She guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting'"

"Just think of when you will finally be able to fly." she patted his shoulder.

"'My friend, your desire, Is the bringer of life, the gift of the Goddess'" he closed his eyes again and slumped back on the couch, he felt her fingers trace an an familiar pattern, too quick and too complicated to fully understand it, and in the next second, he felt magic seep into his system, bringing with it relief. He would need to ask her about the rune later. "Speaking off, what do you have in mind for then." he powered through the sudden drowsiness the pain relief brought and asked.

"How are you so sure I have something prepared?" she had the gall to feign ignorance. He opened his eyes again to nail her with his best blank stare.

He drawled "Because it's you." He was no Sephiroth, but he sure as fuck had picked a thing or two.

"Oh you know me so well."

"At my detriment at this point, I assure you."

"Oh fuck off." she laughed.


The days went slow, well, slow-ish, bringing back memories of the slow days in Costa del Sol. None of them really minded.

It was really peculiar though. Genesis was not the only one with the privilege of having his house connected to the witches residence, all of them had the same set-up. It was a testament to how little time they actually spent in their homes, that those gates were so very rarely used, even by accident. He was pretty sure Sephiroth's portal rope was just gathering dust.

It wasn't, Genesis realized one afternoon, just sitting on the couch and waiting for his back muscles to stop hurting, that they didn't see each other. Genesis, Angeal and Sephiroth worked in the same fucking building and Diana worked in a caffe they more than just frequented. But he had missed this. All four of them in the same house, same room even, just comfortable silence, intercut with casual chatter.

Genesis wondered, what had his reason really been when he had taken it upon himself to call at odd hours to make iddle chat over arrays and runes and magic. And Diana indulged him.

And then another thought came to him. Nadeshiko had stayed in Gaia for five years, yet he knew precious few things about her.

"I swear you and Sheila would get along so well together. Always bullying me like that." Diana's voice rang, breaking him away from his thoughts. The two witches were sat in the corner created by the couches in his living-room, both of the with their legs tucked underneath them and cradling mugs of tea. For the nature of her whine, the tone of her voice was only playful.

Yu-Heng's reply was just as playful, voice mirthful "Oh shut up, I'm not so crass as to pick on targets who don't deserve it."

For all he knew, there could have been moments like that between her and Nadeshiko. The way Diana looked when her friend old her she had to leave only corroborated the though. He had just never seen any of it.

How often did they really see her? Actually visit? In five years?Genesis himself could only count ten, and he was the one that actually used that portal the most.

Was she lonely?

The thought made something very unpleasant twist in his chest. Was he being a good friend? Because what had he really done for her. And he really couldn't stop the ugly little whisper in the back of his mind, so more frequent now, that declared "Nothing" with incomprehensible vitriol.

And he couldn't really ask her because her standards for friendship were so low, basic human decency was looked at like it was the greatest charity.

And speaking of, what did they know about her? She was powerful and so kindhearted, him being where he was at that moment was testament enough. Her past was not a happy one and at one point she had died. The only reason she was alive right now was, according to her, pure spite. And the machinations of a manipulative old man had turned her into something higher than human with an eldritch aura that she kept under a very tight leash because it was disconcerting to everyone else. And all that had landed her in a situation no one person should have to shoulder by themselves, yet she somehow was managing.

But what else? Family? Nothing. Schooling? Next to nil. Home? Just the country and how idyllic it apparently was. Job? Don't even go there. She never really talks about it.

And they never asked.

'The wind sails over the water's surface, quietly, but surely.'

A part of him tells him all he has to do is ask, but is it really that simple?


"You were very quiet there for a while."

Of course Angeal noticed. Genesis opened an eye to look at his friend, who was not overtly concerned, but the furrow of his brow was there. How did he say his thoughts to Angeal? If Genesis felt like shit over it then he couldn't even compare to how fiercely Angeal felt.

"Just-" he cut himself off, the lie about his back already feeling like ash without even having to be spoken. Angeal could tell when Genesis lied, he alway could.

"Gen?" now the tone was there. Angeal was worried proper.

Genesis grimaced, motioning for his friend to wait. Because did he really want to bring his thoughts to his friend attention? But then again, Angeal was too smart to not have had that train of thought...

"Hey, Geal." he sighed, looking up at the ceiling. "Bella's done a lot of things for us, hasn't she?"

There is silence. And then he feels the bed dip as his friend sat down with him. Genesis looked down again, looking at his friend's face and trying to gauge his reaction, his state of emotions.

"Indeed she has." his tone was honest and light. The slight smile on his face bore no hint of sadness, nothing that would hint on Genesis own thoughts. But then he spoke up and he realized that was not the case. "And for so little."

The way those words were spoken, with that slight edge of affection and Genesis now realized that his friend had a different opinion.

"What have we done Geal?" he stressed it, it was not something he could let go.

"Her love is not transactional." He might have said it, yet he didn't sound like he himself was overly pleased about it.

Genesis scoffed "I'm willing to make the case that it very much should."

"And I'm willing to agree." Angeal replied "But, Bella just wants us, someone, to care? For her, the fact that you even have these thoughts is enough." his tone shifted, betraying how discontented he really felt.

Genesis really wanted to see just where his friend was taking this. "Angeal that is no excuse to do nothing."

"Of course it is not." he readily agreed, almost flippantly. And then he sighed and he sounded tired "But you are forgetting one factor."

Oh.

The thought connected immediately and it suddenly made a bit more sense "Bella herself."

Just try to even hint at any kind of repayment in her vicinity and you were suddenly banging your head on a wall.

"Yes."

"That doesn't make it okay." he refute, frustrated.

"It does not." and he knew Angeal was very much not okay with it either.

"I truly believe she needs it." for exposure if nothing else "maybe she is not...ready?" Yay for throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.

"This is Bella, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case."

"I think she's lonely." their eyes fall to the armchair in Genesis' living-room, barely visible though the door, where the two witches were swaddled in the same blanket, Yu-Heng asleep and Bella dozing as she usually did. There would be another sleep cycle very soon, they were all keeping an archive of it. Sephiroth stepped up silently ifrom somewhere out of view, covering both women better with the blanket they were sharing. It was a testament of the trust Bella had for them that she didn't even budge when he tucked her hair away from her face.

"I think," Genesis grimaced as he put his thoughts together "that it doesn't register to her."

"What doesn't?"

"That she can ask. For anything. She cares but it is astounding to her that we care." he tried his best to word it in a sense that would be at least...palatable, but there was no sugarcoating that last bit. "I don't think she even sees us as...equals."

Angeal hummed, his brow furrowing in though "So it's her perception of us you say. That she sees us...children?" Yeah, it really didn't sound nice. It was very easy to forget, but Bella was two years older than him and Angeal and four years older than Sephiroth. But that wasn't exactly what he was thinking.

"No, I doubt that. Cloud is a child to her, but not us." She sure as hell didn't treat Sephiroth like anything less than the General he was, or them like anything less than the Commanders they were. But at the same time...not "It's hard to put into into words but I think it goes against something."

"She does hold herself to this ridiculous standard." his friend murmured thoughtfully.

"But she won't hold us to it." probably because she realized, at least internally how unfair it would be.

The look on his friend's eyes told him he understood.

"We need more information."

Indeed they did.


"Answer a question for me." Yu-Heng's voice rang clearly across the room, so that really, the ones in the room with her, had to put their attention on her. It was with a margin of surprise that they realized the question was directed to two people, angeal and Sephiroth. And once she had their attention, she asked. "When do you two want your wings?"

There is a silence while the two men digested her words.

"I did not realize we had a choice." Angeal replied in surprise. The woman just shrugged.

"Well, it just need a stimulus to start emerging and you can wait for it to come naturally, like Mr. Rapsodos-" she was cut off by said man yelling "Just Genesis!" from the couch, who she summarily ignored and continued "-or you can have it provided artificially."

"Would the artificial stimulus have to be now?"

"Not really."

"Then no, not right now."

"How come, if I may inquire?"

"For starters, it will be hard for all three of us to go out of commission so close to each other." Angeal answered. "Especially with the President's newfound hatred towards AVALANCHE."

"It might be the Turks that are dealing with them right now, but it was assigned to SOLDIER." Sephiroth added, crossing his arms, his face impassive but his voice was annoyed. "Angeal might be able to get a week in the near future, but I am currently under too much pressure to have a day off in three months."

Yu-Heng nodded in understanding. The other witch on the other hand was not so accepting.

"Do you want me to give you an opening?" Diana, now sporting light violet locks, looked up from where she was scribbling in her Grimoire.

Sephiroth shook his head, his face a bit more relaxed, but it was Angeal who answered. "No, but thank you either way. Perhaps we should save our incapacitation for when you need to make another impact."

She stalled and Yu-Heng muffled a snort. Genesis leaned forward to snag a cookie with a wide grin. "SOLDIERs don't get sick and the timing was a just a bit too perfect. You think we wouldn't notice?"

She recoiled. It was not really surprise, but she had a certain expression on her face. "I didn't expect anything of the such. Maybe though, I should have told you something."

"Perhaps, gave me a damn heart attack the first time, but I trust you to not endanger people." Genesis assented. "Also, perhaps you shouldn't have, it had an impact."

"That's what I was going for too, but don't you try to distract me!" she chucked another cookie to his head to his amusement, as he snatched it out of the air with little effort. "I will not hold your wings from you for my benefit! I will not keep you!"

"We are not asking you to." Angeal refuted firmly but that seemed to only make her more determined

"And I am refusing. The air, up there," her hands clenched at her chest as her voice filled with emotion "you don't know the feeling. The first time I rose to the air, that was it for me! It is not a feeling I will let you refuse!"

They honestly had not expected this vehemence.

Sephiroth was the first to knock himself out of the haze "We are doing no such thing. But understand, Hojo might not be a problem but others are. The timing is just not good."

"And I am asking you. Do you want me to make it good?"

"No, because I want to do it myself good."

Somethings dropped in the pit of Genesis' stomach. A tenseness started to settle in the air. That was something he himself had always thought of, but had never been able to bring himself to express it.

She fell silent, her eyes her eyes glazing as she was consumed by her thoughts. Her eyes widened as she seemed to come into a conclusion. But whatever it was she reached, it made her cast her eyes on the ground and away from view. And then she let out a little sigh and nodded.

"I understand. I'm sorry."

Her voice was level but her eyes were still unseen and a chill just went down their spines.

Oh fuck.

Yu-Heng was no longer in the room and nobody could tell when it happened nor did they care. There was a surge of white noise in Genesis' ears. This conversation felt way too soon and way too late all the same. But fuck, he knew none of them was ready for it.

"There is nothing to be sorry about." Angeal placated her, a furrow on his brow but she shook her head.

"Of course there is if I am being overbearing. I was so consumed with my own bias and completely neglected to consider your own circumstances."

Oh no. She was speaking like that.

The three men shared a look, seeing the concern on reflected on each other's eyes before Genesis cleared his throat, bracing himself and speaking words he scarcely knew how to express to have any kind of impact "No, Bella," because fuck the cover right now, there were more important things to care about "it is not like that." he got a glimpse of a green spark, hidden behind the contacts and shadowed by dyed bangs that made him pause. "Okay maybe it is a bit, but for a completely different reason."

"Genesis don't try to tell me I am not the Deus Ex Machina that is way too utilized."

"Where is the shame in that?" He rushed to dissuade her. Why did she persist so much in just burying herself in blame. It was not something he even wanted to think about nor did he have the information to confirm or deny, but damn, were there some fucking assumptions. He was going to at least try to dissuade her, even if it ended in tears.

Whose he didn't know, nor did he care right now.

"Honestly, you alone have been the greatest amount of help and support us three had in our collective lives." Angeal was there, thankfully, but she was shaking her head again, still refusing to raise her head.

"I don't want to be a bitch, but in your situation, something is always better than nothing." she scoffed, her words becoming a little tremulous "And don't you dare tell me I have not been overzealous with it."

"Bella, don't you dare be ashamed for wanting to help." Angeal said sternly, leaning forward and clenching his hands in his lap.

"Being helpful is one thing. Completely removing your agency is another." her voice was low and somber.

How? How did she even come to that conclusion.

"When!? When did you?" Genesis exclaimed, well on his way to outrage "When you saved our lives? When you were the only person to give enough of a shit to actually be truthful and honest?"

She lurched, folding further into herself. "No!" she sobbed "When I was off dumping my actions on you, making calls I should have consulted you about, and oh, trying to force a painful process because of my own biases!" her voice was urging them to understand a point that had a barely tangible basis. "Fuck! You didn't even ask me to!"

Genesis felt his chest tighten and burn "Bella we are not having this conversation so you can deprecate yourself!"

"How, if it's the truth?!"

Because it's not damnit!

"I will find the ones who made you think that way about yourself and I will murder them." Sephiroth's voice cut through the tense air like a knife, deadly serious for the first time in a while. Bella's head snapped up in surprise.

Oh shit.

His eyes shone in a narrow stare, not allowing for a word to be spoken as he locked gazes with the startled witch. "Look. This is not my forte so I will be frank. You are human and humans make mistakes. Humans make mistakes especially if they are under stress. And humans make mistakes when they are consumed by emotion. So far, your only crime is being human and having the emotional capacity to care." Leave it to Sephiroth to be the most clinical and at the same time the most effective in his bluntness.

Angeal sat up straighter, his words morose. "If it wasn't for you, none of us would be anywhere near what we are now, certainly not nearly as well adjusted after the war." He tried to keep his voice soft and level. Bella was operating like the recipient of a castigation and the last thing they needed in this situation was to feed into that subconscious blame game. Not when her default option was to blame herself.

"You refuse to let us deprive ourselves of our wings, and trust me, neither I not Angeal feel especially happy to have to wait. But I, and Angeal and Genesis by extension, refuse to let you undermine all that you've done for us. I refuse to not repay you at least by being helpful to you and I refuse to let you keep doing things that further inconvenience you in the guise of helping us."

Genesis spoke up next "You want to consider our circumstances and feelings, correct?" he didn't wait for an answer "Then consider our feeling of gratitude and of not wanting to feel like we are leeching off of your kindness." he tried to be gentle but the woman's hands were so tightly clenched on her skirt they were white. "Yes, sometimes you are being a literal deus ex machina but it was us who let you be that. It that was our decision to let you help us for things we could have done ourselves. That is not your fault."

"Perhaps it was not the best for us, we run the risk of becoming complacent, and it clearly was not for you since it obviously fed into that ridicoulous idea that you have to be held to this exorbitant standard." Sephiroth crossed his arm "You are human, treat yourself like one, for once."

She stalled, coming short of an argument and she just seemed to crumble further "It's-it's not like that." she still did not look at them. Worse however was her voice that was trembling. Like she didn't know what to do if she couldn't fall back into her default choice of action.

"Bella, look at me." Sephiroth was off his feet and now crouched in front of her "You did nothing wrong. Just let us do a few thing by ourselves as well. And let us help too."

"But you don't need to." the tone of her voice, the incomprehension, as if she couldn't register the possibility that someone would not accept help, that she needn't do everything.

"Bella you and I had that conversation once before."

Genesis gave into the urge to rub the bridge of his nose. "You are currently concerning yourself with saving an entire planet, something that entails getting rid of Shin-Ra without inconveniencing the people that need the service, the state of the planet in general with multiple rites and rituals, and on top of that you are actively searching for Deepground via nightly patrols. Additionally, you have now started a new project concerning the people in the slums and the swaying of public opinion. And you want to add more on top of it by helping three more people, that are more than capable to take care of themselves? Any of these is an undertaking in and off itself, but for some reason you have decided to do everything yourself. And I'm asking you, why?"

The look did not leave her eyes, her voice started to tremble from frustration "What do you mean why? Because I have the power to." she was starting to get tired and it showed.

Fucking hell, what the fuck kind of mindset was that! When Sephiroth had first described that one conversation, neither Genesis nor Angeal had fully believed the extent of it. But now, as the two childhood friends shared a look that bordered on horror, now that they saw it, experienced it, now they just didn't want to believe it.

And Sephiroth was not in a good place either because it was becoming that very same argument. His hands grabbed hers and slowly unwrapped the taut fingers from her skirt, they were not just white but also cold, she had clenched them so tight. It was actually hard to get them to relax. "Bella, we've had a conversation like that before." he reminded her gently. "Do you remember what I told you then? This is our planet."

Her breath hitched as she remembered. But just as they thought she was finally going to let her emotions out, she froze and took a deep breath. She drew herself up straight, eyes closed as she took deep breaths. She was extending a great amount of effort to keep calm. Her stance was just so rigid, so unnatural and they didn't know if they preferred it to having a sobbing woman in their hands.

Genesis just couldn't feel content with it but it was Angeal who felt the most disconcerted. Because, while he didn't have the right to claim the sheer volume of trauma Sephiroth had, he was the one that was closer to the SOLDERs and the infantry. After the war, he could recognize an unhealthy coping mechanism. And this entire situation had all the hallmarks of it.

Casting his mind back to his men, there were many reasons to hold back one's feelings like that. Shame was very common. One he was very displeased to see every time it came up, somehow thinking it made them less. Fearing ridicule was another, tying up with the shameful showing of feelings along with the thought of some kind of retaliation. Many thought of it as an underhanded attempt at pity, a free pass of a kind.

And then there were the cases that had been actively trained not to due to a completely different kind of retaliation.

No matter what the case was, what mattered was that somewhere along the way, something had taught Bella that she couldn't show her feelings. A part him whispered "Someone.", a thought that made something unpleasant roil in his gut.

"Bella, nobody is going to blame you or think less of you for not doing something you don't need to do." he said clearly. There was a jolt in the air.

The witch was staring at him, rigid and with wide eyes, Eyes that were rapidly glazing. A shiver went down their spines. A feeling they recognized as magic. Punctuated by a sob. And then another as her stance crumbled like a tower of cards.

Yeah, nobody was equipped to deal with that. Sephiroth was panicking because he was still holding her hands and he looked like he didn't know what to do. Angeal was panicking because he had practically made her cry, and if Genesis felt like a piece of shit for witnessing it, then how was Angeal feeling who had fucking caused it?! Genesis panicked, yes. But. Not for long, surprisingly. For him the world came in focus with startling clarity. He stood up grabbing Angeal on his way up. His friend made a startled noise but Genesis motioned to her with his head and that was all that was needed between them.

Bella had been there for them every step of the way. The least they could do was be there when she needed support.

"What right bullshit." her voice was husky. She gently extracted her hands from Sephiroth's grip and binging them to her face. They could hear the deep breaths she drew in to calm down but this time, it felt...right, natural.

Angeal settled to one side of the armchair, slightly hunched over her with a hand on her back "You can cry if you want." He rubbed soothing circles even if there were no more sobs.

She exhaled, forcing all the air from her lungs and took her arms off her face. "I could try. But it feels too unnatural for me at this point." her voice was back to normal, if not still a bit husky. The implication was left there to hang and nobody touched it.

She finally raised her head to look at them. Her eyes were a bit red and irritated and she quickly went to take the contacts out. Genesis came on the other side of the armchair with one of the many case she had left littered around their apartments. The methodic movements seemed to center her and when she was done she let out a tired sigh. Bella leaned back, fully on the couch but none of them moved from where they were seated around her, not even Sephiroth whose knees must have at least been uncomfortable from holding that position.

And then she smiled, small but honest and it felt right. "Thank you." she said, addressed to all three of them. "It's easy for me to get into these kind of funks. And I know it's not easy to get out of them."

Angeal's hand moved to her shoulder where he squeezed comfortingly. "You're very much welcome." Genesis said smugly and she chuckled.

A cough broke them from the moment. And oh, yeah, there came Yu-Heng, entering the conversation with what looked like a bottle of alcohol in her hand and looking like she was enjoying the show. "Need me to go back to Dong-Cheng's place for a bit?"

Genesis could see the same flush he was feeling rising on the others' faces

"Hen-" Bella practically whined but Yu-Heng cut her off.

"Color me impressed though." she commented with an appreciative nod. And then she pushed off and started heading towards them, or more specifically the other witch. The three men scrambled to get back to their places and Bella opened her mouth to say something.

"Nuh-ah." the doctor flicked Bella's forehead hard enough to push her back. Τhey grimaced, it looked like it hurt, something only proven correct when Bella recoiled with a hiss. She brought her hands up to rub at the quickly reddening spot shooting the woman a glare. "We agreed that I would call you out on your bullshit no matter what. So I am inclined to agree with the boys here." she sat on the empty spot next to Genesis, and really, how had he not noticed her leaving in the first place, and took a nice hearty swig. "By the way you're out of absinthe." she threw out nonchalantly.

Bella startled by the abrupt change of subject, eyes immediately going to the woman. The thoughts running through her mind were almost visible "What do you mean I-wait you drank all of it?!"

"Take it as my payment plus emotional reparations." she replied airily, taking another big swig and oh, there was probably the last of it.

"That's a strong one doctor, is everything alright" came from the same doorway Yu-Heng had been leaning on moments ago. The blond's eyes went from the the half empty bottle of Habsburg's Premium, to Sephiroth that due to the paleness of his skin the flush of embarrassment was still visible eve if diminished, and then to the other witch in the room whose eyes were still red and a bit swollen. "Did I miss something?"

"Yes as a matter of fact, you did." Yu-Heng started- "Bells was having a moment." and then threw her right under the bus.

Cloud pierced her with a stare that seemed to discern everything that had happened. "Call Stella." the statement didn't even have room for argument.

"She has a Law Firm to worry with right now."

"She also has a Ph.D."

The moment Cloud looked at her and then tilted his head, the whole thing was lost. Bella groaned and didn't even raise a defense for herself.


There were no stars visible in Midgar, yet Bella still found herself looking to the sky. She didn't know what she was expecting to see every time she looked up but she was the only one to blame for getting sad every time the same black clouds greeted her. She had so loved astronomy back then. And now, the stars were different. Eery time it filled her with this indescribable feeling that made her chest constrict and her breath catch.

There might have been no stars but the light pollution from the upper plates was more than enough to make the rest of the city more than visible. Midgar supposedly never sleeps and it's apparently becaus the turn their light so damn bright. If she ever got back home the night will seem like the fucking void.

Glass clinked in the kitchen, almost inaudible, but the night was so quiet. Gold shined in the corner of her eye and her lips rose to a slight smile. "Still awake dear?"

"Obviously." a half full glass of water was placed on the windowsill "Too strung up."

"Training isn't doing it for you, huh?" she turned to face him as Cloud joined her on the window.

"Compared to Gen? Or Geal? Or Heaven forbid Seph? Fuck no." he snorted.

They stayed in comfortable silence, looking at the expanse of the Sector's lower plate, before Cloud spoke up again. "Sis, I have a concern."

She hummed, turning to lean her back on the window so she was facing him.

Cloud took that to elaborate. "About incident with AVALANCHE. I should have been able to discern both the Sister Ray and the Reactor."

She placed her hand on his shoulder. "Cloud, dear, Divination is finicky at the best of times. No matter how good you are, there will always be times that results will be lackluster. It's no fault of yours." she comforted him but he shook his head.

"No, that's not what I'm trying to say." he grimaced, trying to figure out how to best say what he wanted. "It is just that one thing. Everything i try to find about that incident comes up blank on me. Even when committing the cardinal sin of Divination, assuming."

That gave her pause. Assuming. That was the worst thing one could do in Divination. assuming answers. Because that projected those desires, thus tampering with the results. But if even that brought forth blanks...

She frowned, looking downwards in though. "Would you say that you are getting...blocked?"

Cloud looked uncomfortable. "Visions of the future cannot be blocked because they are not set in stone." he recited "Visions of the past can only be inhibited according to the Diviner's knowledge."

"Damn." she grit her teeth "Something is sabotaging us." she hissed, almost slipping into parseltongue.

The moment the words left her mouth, a chill descended on them. Redundant as it was to say, things that cannot happen, do not happen. And if they were to, well,it was because something had changed their fundamental properties.

And that was far beyond the capabilities of anything normal or human.

"Damnit." Cloud hissed. There was only one...person that had these particular capabilities.

Bella sighed in irritation "In all honesty, I'm surprised it took her this long. All things considered we are damn lucky that my affiliation with Death involves every one of us because had it not been so we would all have been long dead by now. I'll speak to Death. Juristiction has been withdrawn from her fro Gaia, she shouldn't even be looking at the place."

"We noticed it now, but who knows how long Fate has beed meddling without our knowing." Cloud mussed, brows drawn into a thoughtfull frown.

Bella worried her lip between her teeth. "Who knows what kind of bullcrap she could have slipped in." she banged her hand on the windowsill "Damn!"


She was in the middle of cooking a bιg vat of stew when she decided to check up on her godfather's progress. It had been a day since she sent him, that was normal right, daily check-ups? So with half a mind on the fire and reaching for the herbs she had mixed on the side, she dialed with the other.

"Prongslet!" his voice came jovial and rested. "How are you doing?"

"Just fine." she answered lightly. "Just wanted to see how you're doing with the new assignment."

She heard him laugh and she couldn't help but smile as well "Honestly it's like a vacation."

She was happy to hear that, she had wanted to give the poor guy a break "Good call then. Any highlights?"

"Oh, are there any." he said in excitement "I just watched a nice show here in Costa Del Sol."

"Did you?" she asked as she stirred the stew.

"Yes. Remember Club Duel, the one's who tried to poach Vincent?" there was laughter in his voice.

Oh yeah, fun memories, trashing the place "I do. That was fun."

"Yeah, the newbie absolutely wrecked them!" he crowed.

She took a moment to remember who the rookie he was talking about was "Good for her!" she honestly, said recalling the young blonde Turk in the Sister Ray's control room. "So when do you think they're returning?"

"They said they'll stay to 'recuperate' a few days and then back to Midgar." the way he said recuperate made her laugh. Poor guys were probably overworked too. Not that she pitied them, but working for Rudolf was punishment enough, let alone dealing with his bullshit expectations "Though, these people, they are not here willingly." he informed her somberly and it would have beed a lie to say she was surprised.

"Those two have gotten the short end of the stick a lot lately." she said, ending in a sigh "But they are Turks. Keep an eye on the whole thing, see if you can track the people the nabbed and I'll see when I can organize an extraction"

"Got it."

Diana hung up. She felt her anger swell, deep within her, stirring up the Black Madness. She had to restrain herself from logging the phone on the wall. "Voluntary my ass." she seethed.

The row of glasses on the far wall behind her shattered into dust.


It was supposed to be the last day before Genesis was declared fully healthy again. His control was pretty good and his balance was back to normal when the wing wasn't out and other than some remaining fatigue he was fine. Yu-Heng however was adamant to keep him one last day to make absolutely sure. The man himself took it with, perhaps some put upon acceptance, from what they could glean between the 'The wandering soul knows no rest' and 'Dreams of the morrow hath the shattered soul'.

They all take the time to savor the slow pace, they didn't know when they could do this again. When the next wing would decide to pop out.

Speaking of the wing and all its issues, it was growing well, and perhaps a tad too quickly. Genesis just couldn't get his balance right when it was out. They all recognized that the problem laid in the fact that it was always bigger every time he brought it out. Genesis just counted his blessings that it wasn't flailing around wildly anymore. Case in point, the measured exercises he was currently doing, under the Chinese woman's vigilant guidance.

It had become a habit to have tea ready for them when they finished. So it was only a slight surprise to see the vaguely familiar tin in the back of the cabinet. "Hey Hengy, I just remembered I have some new tea. Wanna give it a try?" she grabbed the tin to remember what exactly it was, perhaps to give her remembrance as to why she had put it so back in the cabinet.

"Sure, what is it?"

She hummed in appreciation when she finally clocked in the label "Oh it's the good shit!" Sei had sent it for her birthday last year and she had put it aside for special occasions "No, we're doing this, we're celebrating today!"

"Really?" Genesis inquired "What tea is it?"

"I'm not telling."

"Why?"

"Because Hengy will say no because she will feel bad."

"Hey, I'm not that bad." The woman tried to defend herself but her tone was not convincing.

"With luxury things? Yes you are." she drawled.

"Well, sorry!" she exclaimed in frustration "I'm just learned to not want to spend undue amounts of money."

Genesis let the two women banter, paying attention to the words he heard but not otherwise commenting. The subject sounded very tetchy. He was putting the few pieces together to make, not a picture, but an outline of one.

"Nah, don't worry." The disguised witch let the water boil and started measuring the leaves carefully. "That's what you have us for, to spend it for you. And it's not undue if you deserve it."

It sounded like Yu-Heng came from a very difficult background as well. Birds of a feather flock together, huh?

"Whatever you say." she groaned "I've had this conversation so many times and I never win." The other woman laughed smugly.

The tea was brewed in companionable silence, the soft requests only serving as a sort of comforting background noise. Just as he was starting to get tired, a heavenly scent filled the room, giving him enough incentive to just push through the final stretch of the exercise.

The first sip of his tea was shallow and he thanked the Goddess on his hindsight, savoring every drop. Luxury tea indeed.

"So I wanted to ask." he said. "What are you going to do now Doc?"

She shrugged "I will stay until you can achieve flight."

"Is that really okay?"

"Yes. If something important happens back home, I have trustworthy people that will contact me" she answered uncaringly, more concerned with savoring her own tea. "Additionally, perhaps if I stay away for a bit they will learn how to appreciate their people." her features formed a grimace. "I suppose this is a good time to mention I was detained in my home and threatened to disappear," she took a sip like she hadn't just dropped a bob of a statement

"Are you serious?" Genesis' eye were nwide. He almost dropped his tea, the cup staying stable on it's own when one of Diana's fingers twitched "It might be redundant to ask but are you going to be alright?"

She smiled confidently "Oh yes I am. I'm letting the non magical fascist dicks stumble on the very higher than them people that will tell them they can't do shit like that."

"What would even elicit such a response?"

"Oh I just said something publicly that the government didn't like. One day later a guy enters my office and tells me to be careful so 'I don't end up like Fang Bin and Chen Quishi', I believe were his words." she gritted her teeth. The expression that rose to her face was so full of hate it made her look inhuman.

"There are kinds of problems back there too?" What could he even say? To something admitted so easily too?

"Oh everywhere, people in power are always tetchy, what varies is how competent they are with it. China is just one of these places that everyone knows the people up top are totalitarian, they just don't admit it on paper. Republic my ass."

"They can't really, one North Korea is already enough. Too much behind agenda." Diana drawled sounding distinctly displeased as well.

Oh that was a barb. Spoken like a curse and in a tone that implied prior experience.

He turned his eyes to his tea, contemplative. "There too, huh?" he was now staring to see where the witch's hate might have started to come from.

"In spades." Diana snarked "Believe it or not, Gaia is better in that regard than Earth."

His eyes turned to her so fast his neck audibly protested "Truly?"

She nodded "Well, the planet is in a pretty bad state. Additionally, you live in a near apocalyptic distopia. Even unconsciously the people have moved away from many preconceptions by proxy of, well, better things to care about." she shrugged "Take for an example nepotism or cronyism, the most commonplace example of corruption that they are. As said before, the world is fucked. The conditions have forced some kind of meritocracy. With the exception of outward corruption that is. It's a general rule that incompetence means you're fucked. On top of how fucked the world already is, that means doubly fucked "

Genesis let out a bitter little laugh "I can see what you're saying." Goddess knows how Hollander is still in the position he's on, or Scarlet, or Heidegger. "That speaks to a lot of the problems we have here."

"Indeed, other than Shin-Ra due to what I can only attribute to either arrogance or outright stupidity, you won't encounter, that kind of corruption anywhere else, and especially as obvious as it is." she confirmed. And then after a pause she continued. "The same goes for more, let's say obvious, stupidity. Like sexism."

Oh. He looked at the women incredulously. "Wait, you're serious?"

"Unfortunately." Yu-Heng sighed.

Diana nodded "Hengy here especially has a whole score of detractors. Many of them believe she has reached her position in both the medical and the military field by sleeping around. And well, China has never been particularly kind to women."

"With obvious evidence to the opposite?"

"As I said. Stupidity. I have people calling me a whore even after I've dragged them back from the brink of death. After a time I just stopped bothering with them since I am high enough, and I've been there long enough," That was an interesting thing to say, she looked young. But then again so did Bella and she was pushing 27. Another case of delayed aging because of magic, perhaps? "that anybody who cries 'Cronyism' can be easily called stupid. Damn sexism gets so much worse back on Earth, I'm generally well off in that respect." she shrugged. "But damn if it doesn't feel nice to not have the constant idiocy as background music."

"I bet." he murmured. sinking in his thoughts.

Diana hummed contently. "On more happy news. I found a Cetra!"

Genesis swiveled to look at her, so fast his pained neck muscles complained viciously. "You did? from Gaia? Where?"

Yu-Heng on the other hand looked interested but otherwise calm "Oh a Shaman? From the ones that were eradicated?"

She nodded with a soft smile "Yes. And if the energies were right I'd bet my entire supply of white tea that she's actually a druid." she took a sip to wet her mouth "And would you believe me if I told you I found her in Midgar? Sector 5."

"In Midgar?" Genesis breathed in astonishment "So close?"

"Yeah I was surprised too." she nodded "She's young too. 18 tops."

"Is she safe?" Yu-Heng asked and Diana's face fell minutely.

"That's the thing." Her voice was a mix of frustration and concern. "She was followed by Turks."

"Damn." Genesis hissed.

"Yeah. I have Andrew looking into it and I'll start going to Sector 5 more." she said "But now that I know she is there, you bet I will make sure she's safe."

"I'll dig around too." Genesis said "Hollander gets loose lipped if you know how to ask." he continued when the witch's eyes shot at him. She nodded contemplatively. "Alright. Let's let Geal and Seph know when they come too."


The caffe was starting get a lot more traffic as of late. That was not something she would have had any complaint about. Usually. But they were more of the...vapid variety, than she was used to. Clientele that came in looking around as if they were searching for something, never ordering anything and acting belligerent when asked to either order or leave because there were actual patrons waiting outside.

There was this one girl in particular that day. The amount of snootiness this one chick possessed was just on another level. How could one person contain so much unpleasant-ness was just unreal. "No miss, I need you to either order something or please leave." she stared at the girl, couldn't have been more than 20, who was shorter than her by half a foot, a damn miracle there, and was still able to somehow look down on her, an even bigger miracle.

Damn Carens. Even here they were a fucking disease.

The girl, honest to fucking Hecate, sniffed at her, turned around and made a showing of looking at the place, that she had squatted for three days now, as if seeing it for the first time and it was insulting her sensibilities. Then, she picked up the menu, gave it a glance, sniffed again and then turned back to her with the most put upon, holier than thou look Diana had ever seen. And she had spent six years going to school with Draco Fucking Malfoy.

"Bring me the best drink you have. And it's ma'am to you."

Holly fucking shit are you for real?

She shot the girl an unimpressed look before going to prepare the order.

At that point, her phone ringing was a very nice distraction.

"Prongslet, you will not believe what I have witnessed with mine two pure eyes." Sirius's voice came full of astonished glee.

"Your eyes are anything but pure, but sure, I guess." she measured the coffee beans and had them ground. "What have you witnessed with your two eyes Padfoot?"

She heard a bark of laughter before the laughter laden voice came through again "They got wrecked! This wanker just popped out and wrecked them!"

"Really? Reno and Rude too?" she asked in surprise. Those two were rather good in combat if what Sephiroth had said was true. Her eyes caught sight of the days worst patron, and more specifically the lapel that had revealed itself and-

Oh.

Well. Took them long enough.

"Yes! The newbie is the one that's holding him back. And the guy's a bloody tank!" Sirius' voice brought her back to the conversation.

"Damn! She must be good if Reno and Rude got their shit pushed in."

"It's a bloody sight."

"Keep an eye on him then. If he's going to SOLDIER he might actually be a problem down the road."

"Gotcha."

The call disconnected and she went on to send another message.

Me

-Hey Seph, you might want to start coming from the back and sitting in the kitchen for a while. I have chicks from the Silver Elite polluting the space here.


The doors opened in front of him. The two guard, their faces unreadable, escorted him into the office, so Wutaian yet at the same time bearing a few touches that broke the mold. Small things, breaking the minimalistic air. A jade fountain pen, detailed ink paintings, the intricate vases in front of plain white and beige with designs not native. Fuhito restrained himself time and again from sneering. Such pathetic attempts to grandstand. Wutai had once been a great nation, yet after they came in contact with Shin-Ra they had degraded.

Yet here was the Emperor, unaware of his own degeneration, projecting this front of benevolence that he had no right to be wearing. It was a miracle for them that the planet itself had decided to interfere, sparing them in the process, it was only a matter of time until the Fantom saw how undeserving they had become and left them to their demise. Yet here he was, asking a long washed up fool for help. At least, he could give someone deserving the support he could. If it meant Shin-Ra had one less hold however, he could live with it.

"Well met, Fuhito-san."

"Well met, Your Majesty." the short man smiled as he motioned to a servant. The servant came forward with a tea-set. It was beautiful, in an understated with delicate vibrant green designs on a matte black surface, just enough to draw attention to the excellent craftsmanship.

He graciously accepted the tea. No matter what the misgivings that might be with the offerer, the offer itself was too good to ignore.

"I am intrigued by your proposition, I won't lie." his eyes were drawn to the man as he spoke.

"It is an honor." Fuhito placed his tea back on the desk and gave him a small smile.

"Then please, let me hear your proposal."

"You and I have suffered in the hands of Shin-Ra Your Majesty."

"I would struggle to find a person in this planet that truly hasn't."

"Our organization has already started our retaliation." he nodded, struggling to keep the emotion from his voice as memories of that incident resurfaced. "But," flashes of metal played in his mind's eye "something very important came to my attention."

The man leaned forward, invested in Fuhito's words "Please tell me."

"You see," Fuhito could not fully repress the shiver as his eyes fell on a vivid green jade vase. "There is someone, a person I myself used to hold into high regard." toxic green shining from beyond the dark.

"My, that sounds like a painfull story." the sympathy he heard in that sentence made his teeth itch.

Fantom pains ran through the shoulder that damn woman had shattered. He reached to grasp it, schooling his features into a mournful smile. The Emperor looked at him with sympathetic eyes. "It was." he kept his voice low before taking a slow breath and launched into the tale of his 'woes'. "I thought we fought for the same cause." he twisted his face mournfully and dropped his gaze to his tea "I thought we saw eye to eye." he said.

And his eyes fell on the cup.

Green.

"Let me tell you Fuhito, no matter what you believe or do, you and I will never see eye to eye."

The shudder that wracked his frame was genuine "I was wrong, and nearly paid dearly."

Dainty lips twisted into a scoff. His blood on the filthy ground. A great blade spearing the cement underneath and pinning him down. Blood in his mouth. The blade ripping out in a spray of red. Flesh and innards with it. Pain. Painpainpainpainpain-

Roll. In his hands and knees. Splashing sounds. Gagging and pain.

Blink.

There's nothing there.

Eyes full of contempt stared down at him.

He tore his eyes away from the tea, the cup with the pretty, shinning greengreengreen-

He shuddered again.

Bullshit, she had let him live and that rankled bitterly, the contempt in her eyes as she batted his bullets away and threw him around like he was a rag-doll. "She is very dangerous." he said, gaze downcast "and she kept it very well hidden. I never could have imagined her to be so cruel."

Laughter and pain.

"But I suppose one had to be to affiliated with Shin-Ra so." he took a deep breath again to give the illusion of steading himself. "I wanted to warn you your Majesty before anything else." he looked the Emperor in the eye but he had to keep his surprise hidden at the stoicness he found there. Perhaps the old man wasn't completely useless.

"I understand. Please," he motioned. "you have my attention."


It was a bit delayed, but Bella needed to talk to Nadeshiko. Additionally, she needed something to anchor herself after the almost breakdown. The image on the screen came clearly, the other woman stood in front of the camera without a hair out of place.

"Already missing my presence?" the voice came through the speaker with the perfect amount of smugness and the witch settled in the familiarity of it, falling into the banter she was so used to.

"Like I'd miss a blister." she drawled nonchalantly.

"Aw no need to lie, I know you love me." she simpered in a saccharine voice.

"You are delusional." she scoffed with a dismissive motion of her hand "I simply had information that I'd thought you'd find of interest." her stance changed slightly, becoming more muted. It was enough for Nadeshiko to adopt a more serious stance herself.

"Really? Shoot then?"

"I found a Cetra."

The woman froze unnaturally, leaning forward with her hands linked in front of her "Elaborate."

"Midgar, Sector 5. She's young, can't be older than 18. And I'm pretty sure she's a druid." she recounted methodically and watched Nadeshiko's eyes shine with emotion.

"Fuck. She's too close to the fuckers." she cussed, bringing a hand to her face in a mixture of concern and thought. And she wouldn't be making it any easier on her unfortunately.

"Way too close. She had a Turk detail. They followed her from a distance."

"Fuck!" behind Nadeshiko the hanging light fixture swung and flickered.

"I've already pinged her. I'm heading to Sector 5 soon and I'm intent to scour the place."

"Can we extract her?" Which, good question.

"I don't know, I'll try." she worried her lip in between her teeth "I'm waiting on Andrew's information and the boys said they'll try to get information too." though getting information out of Hojo had Sephiroth understandably leery. She hadn't agreed, but the man had been adamant "If not I'll encourage her to at least visit the caffe when I find her."

"Alright. I'm finishing here as soon as I can and yeeting myself back. I'll try to bring materials for her."

"I'll keep you up to date about my progress here." she nodded letting out a sigh and they both changed the subject synchronously. "On other news, how is it going on your side?"

"Meh. Clean-ups. A subjugation. A couple catacombs. The usual. Way below my paygrade. They've paired me with some greenhorns too. I'm not having fun." she groaned, bringing her head on her hands on the desk.

Diana winced, remembering some unpleasant first assignments "Oof. Rich kids?"

"You betcha. Silver lining though?" she raised her head, eyes shining with vicious mirth "I have them pulling their fucking weight. You wanna be in this business kid, you better believe I'll have you digging through that pile of corpses for identification material. Naive little milqetoastes, thinking they only need to swing a sword and now a ditty little chant. Hah!" She scoffed derisively and Bella heard an echo from her friend's side.

"Oh sounds bad~" she drawled smugly with a smirk "Good for me it's not my expertise~" Thank fuck for that too.

"Shut your mouth. You might end up doing the same shit with the wave of incompetent asshats." Nadeshiko growled. It made her wince though. It was the confirmation that the brewing incompetency she'd glimpsed years back, starting at Clock Tower and spreading, was still there and unfortunately growing.

"But I get hired to do so and I can refuse~" she chirped with a smirk.

"Fuck you."

"Pleasure~"

"You know, I miss our missions." The wistful tone out of her friend's lips mede her startle. And it hit her with a wave of emotion she hadn't expected, nor was prepared for.

"Me too Shiko." she replied softly "At least Gaia has a wealth of places we can scratch that itch in." she sighed, putting her elbows on the desk and linking her hands, placing her chin on top.

"Ooooh, is that foreshadowing I'm listening?"

"Mayhaps. Nothing certain yet but I'm working my way towards a subjugation here, among other things." she looked at her friend with on eye open and a smirk.

"Nice!" she cheered and then reached to the side, bringing a thick book up on the desk, opening and flipping through until she reached the page she wanted "Okay, now that I have you here. I need your brains for a passage we found in Quebeck."

"Quebeck?" she reclined back with a smile "Hit me." she reached for a notebook and settled for a nice long conversation.


She was doing her first run through Sector 5, rolling along a trolley with a vat of food. She was so far doing well. A few of her patrons from this Sector were accompanying her with laughter in their voice and joy in their face. They were a godsent when it came to helping her locate the people in need.

And just as the vat was getting half empty a phone call drew her attention. She motioned for the men to continue on as she moved further away to take her phone call. But she was not prepared for the frantic voice that greeted her.

"Prongslet! I found it!"

His urgency took her aback, her mind failing to draw a connection and leaving her to flounder in concern and confusion. "Padfoot? Is everything alright? Found what?"

"The Vortex! I found it!"

Her mind staggered. And then the gears started spinning in staggering speeds.

They found it. They found it.

More specificaly, Sirius had. And if Sirius found it then something must have happened where he could see it. "They nabbed the tanky guy?"

"No! He went willingly." his tone was full of frustration and it was very much understandable.

"What, why?" Did he not know what they would do to him down there?

"Why else Bella? Bloody power!"

"Damnit! Do you have a location?"

"Yes, It's right under Midgar!"

"Under it?" her voice rose an octave. She cleared her throat and took a breath to calm down, hoping to Hell and back there was some Vortex space fuckery going on and the damn thing hadn't been under her feet the entire fucking time! "How? I would have fucking picked it up!"

"No, It's under the Tower! Under Sector 0." Fucking damnit! She had been there not even a fucking month ago! "There are Mako pipelines running all along the damn place, I can't feel my own damn self!" A migraine was blooming behind her eyes and a weight plummeted in her gut.

"Wait are you in the damn thing?"

"Fuck no! I'm above it with Shaton."

"Fuck." she carded a hand down her hair, looking to the trolley abd the people that were shooting her concerned looks. "Tell you what, I'm finishing here soon. Bring Miss Wolfe to my place and wait there for me. I'll give you some of the tools we use in these cases and we'll figure it all out, alright?"

"Alright."

With quick steps she returned to the kart. The two men accompanying her were immediately upon her with concern written on their face. "Is everything alright?" one said with a frown "That sounded urgent." another said in reference to her previous tone.

"Kinda." she said with a grimace. She ran a hand trough her hair only to catch on the bun she had thrown together that morning. "It's urgent, but it's not something I can just tackle carelessly." unsaid was left the fact that she had been devising plans for just when the fucking place was found. She had just expected it would have been her to find it.

But maybe it was best this way, she might have actually gotten in then and there. Anyway she had calls to make. It seemed Shiko would get her wish sooner than expected.


There was this tension in the air. It felt unnatural in the place that had been made into a sanctuary for all of them. Standing in this space, all four of them but this time with the intentions to systematically destroy. It felt momentous. Bella had had Deepground in her sights from the start, when she'd seen it mentioned in Shinra Mansion. And that's been six years ago. And she had spent every night she could, going around Midgar, totting with her her Camera Obscura because the filament was able to pick up spiritual presences. And finally, after a year in Midgar, they found it by complete happenstance.

Perhaps it was that the previous days were so antithetical, just last night there had been a movie marathon, but the moment the witch had spoken the word Deepground, the gathering had become a war council.

And yet there was anticipation there as well. Instincts long dormant since the war, coming back with a vengeance. But battle maneuvers weren't going to be usefull here.

"You know you three cannot be involved in this, right?" It was the first thing the disguised witch spoke to them, softly, knowing that none of them was particularly pleased about it.

Angeal nodded "Technically" he agreed "However, if nobody learns we were involved, then on paper we weren't involved." he fucking shrugged while Genesis choked on his own spit and got whiplash from turning to his friend. Sephiroth was even openly showing surprise.

"We have destroyed you."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"No matter what three of us end up doing in the end, we still need a plan." Sephiroth cut through.

"That is true. I can get in unseen no problem, but the moment I'm in I'm going blind."

Angeal answered in a resigned tone "You are not going in alone."

"Of course I'm not. I have already arranged for sufficient backup."

Oh, that was a surprise

"Oh, how come?" Genesis leaned back on the couch, crossing his arms.

"I'm not that bad." she cried indignantly "And I have had a lot of time to plan this out. I have dealt with Vortexes before, but never alone. I do not have the knowledge for it. My runes can do a lot but I need Sei at least. And if what I believe about the place is right, then there is jus too much. It will need some delicate handling to not overload the Lifestream and end up killing the Planet."

That sounded more like an excuse as to why she couldn't do it alone. Completely redundant, until you realized she was justifying it to hershelf.

Sephiroth hated to have to ask that question but it needed to be asked "Is that going to be okay? I know your teammates have been coming and going on loopholes, but for how much longer can you get away with it?" They were some of the most capable people he had ever been blessed to associate with. But he also knew, from bitter experience, that good things don't last forever. It was better to prepared for that time rather than be left hanging in a time of need.

It seemed however, the witch had already thought of that. "No mater how much some people may not like it," she started with a knowing smirk, "they would need to get off their asses and fix shit to even come close to stopping me and I know they won't do that because that means they they will need to fix things that line their pockets. I'm pretty much golden." she shrugged nonchalantly before vindictively adding. "And don't worry everything is official and very legal."

"So." Genesis cracked his knuckles "How are we doing this?"

"I'm glad you asked." she snapped a finger, manifesting sheaves of paper on her lap and on the table in front of her. "Let's get to business. First and foremost, a distraction."

"Something big enough and long in duration to get at least six people inside and completely unnoticed."

"You will also need to stay unnoticed after you get in too. Raising alarms the moment you get in i inconvenient. Or..." he trailed off when he saw her giving him a meaninglfull smirk "You plan to make sure any alarms won't do them any good either way."

"Exactly that. I don't plan on hiding. It is going to be an attack."

"And what will you do with the target that's going to put on you?"

"I plan to free every single victim there is and seize documents. Those old files in the Mansion mentioned that the company has taken 'subjects' off the street, accompanied by words like 'detained' and 'uncooperative'. Three guesses what that means." she spat in disgust as her fingers clenched on her arms.

"So it's blackmail." Angeal deduced. Because the moment it got out what Deepground did and was allowed to get away with it, it wouldn't matter if Shinra had behind him all the SOLDIERs and Turks in the world. There would be an uprising and he would be lynched.

"Bingo. Addittionally, these files can nail a lot of people and I have a lot of axes to grind."

"I think you are miscalculating something." Sephiroth spoke up mulishly, making her look at him.

"Do tell." she prompted with an encouraging motion of her hand.

"You're giving the President too much credit." Sephiroth said making Bella blink rapidly in astonishment. "Shinra is vindictive and petty. If he gets pushed he will retaliate in the most extreme way he can. You saw it. He hears no and the apropriate response is a death threat to him. He will not act will probably forget AVALANCHE all together. He will put all his manpower behind finding you."

"And probably all the people you got out that he can get his hands on." Angeal added, grimacing with disgust.

"Maybe even unrelated people." Bella muttered thoughtfully.

"He despises losing." Genesis snarked, drowning whatever other unsavory comments he might have had in a big gulp of tea.

"I see." she nodded but didn't seem overly concerned about it. More like...sheepish?

The silver haired man sighed when he recognized the look "What bombshell are you going to drop?"

"Um, in my defense, I'm so used to it, I completely forget the same doesn't apply to others." her smile looked closer to a grimace "Out of my team, only me and Nadeshiko are acrually fully...um" she winced, looking away, one hand going to scratch at the back of her neck nervously "human."

Okay.

Wait what?

"Excuse me?" Angeal asked, completely thrown off.

"What exactly do you mean by fully human?" Genesis prodded. Him, Angeal and Sephiroth could not possibly be considered fully human but those two were? The Mistress of Death was human? Nadeshiko was human? Nadeshiko who tore a dragon's head off? Then what exactly counted as not human?

He was suddenly excited. And that concerned him.

"I am sorry, on Earth you are considered to be fully human?" Angeal and Genesis drop all thoughts to just stare at Sephiroth who had the gall to look at Bella in pure bewilderment.

Damnit Seph! Fucking phrasing?

"Don't mince any words, why don'y ya." she gripped, but the tension had fled her shoulders. "Yes, Mistress if death I might be, but untill I die I am fully human."

"Then you will probably not have great difficulty with Deepground."

Bella looked at Angeal confused "How did you figure. I mean yeah, that was my point, but how did you get to that conclusion?"

"Distribution of power. Everything that we have learned about your world points to the fact that humans are really in the bottom of the food chain. You are an attack team, and from our experience, competency was never an issue. So it stands to reason that you would all be powerfull individuals as well."

Bella laughed in surprise, her cheeks flashing as she cast her eyes downwards. "Would it be arrogant of me to say you are right?" her voice cracked and she fidgeted with her fingers.

What was with this adorable image?

"Bella believe me, arrogant is the last word you could be described with." Genesis said and she flushed even more.

So. Note to self. Throw compliments around. She is obviously not used to them and the results are adorable.

Something pinched the back of his hand. Genesis turned to see Angeal give him a look.

"Oh by the way, you're not going to ask about the others?"

"I'm curious, I won't lie." Genesis shrugged "But I would rather ask them myshelf."

"So I take it you don't mind."

"Why would we?" Angeal said. "Human or not, we are most certainly not. And we have been operating under the assumption that none of you were normal either way. Even is Sephiroth could have been a little bit more delicate about it."

"So you will bring your entire team." Genesis decided to spare Sephiroth "How do you want to do this."

Bella nodded "Tsukiyo comes in first. She is in charge of scouting and sabotage. She gets in, nestles somewhere where she can't be found and proceeds to guide the rest of us and wreck shit as needed. She will need to be of the first people in." she started.

"I am assuming you are using your cloak?" Sephiroth asked and when she nodded he continued "Will she need someone to watch her back?"

"No, she is more than capable. But I want to send her in with Sei."

"How come?"

"Sei will erect a ward that makes sure nobody gets in and out without his say so."

"So that's what you meant." Angeal said, remembering her earlier statement "Shouldn't you go with them then?"

"There is no space for two people under the cloak." she shook her head "Additionally, Sei-chan is a Wardsmaster on top of a Curse Breaker. I am a Runesmistress, I can create wards but he his wards something integrally more than mine do that makes them come up stronger than mine in a much shorter timeframe."

That has a hefty statement, considering what Bella's wards were like.

Angeal nodded "Alright. What's next?"

"The rest of us get in. From there, we split up and Kiyo guides us."

"What about everyone else?" Sephiroth prompted, a desperation burning inside of him as he was having some certain...memories.

"Nadeshiko you know about, Yuri is the battlefield medic but she can very easily switch to attack position. The only person that's left is Annalise but that depends on wether we'll be able to actually get a hold of her. If yes, well, Fucking-Shit-Up, thine name is Annalise Jones. Honestly she is the one that does more damage than all of us."

Okay...That was terrifying.

"You know this is all very general, right?" Sephiroth drawled but sounding resigned at the same time.

"I do." Bella answered with a pained smile, saying she couldn't do anything about it "This much is already pushing it with how my luck works. I'm afraid I might have already fucked it up with all the scenarios I've come up in an attempt to just brute-force it. But even if that was not the case, we are so in tune with each other that we don't need details."

Genesis forced an exhale through his nose, his head bowed and his hands over his nose and mouth "And now I'm concerned again."

"I would tell you to trust me and that it's not the first time we do something like that, but I don't think it would work."

"You're right it wouldn't." He run a hand through his hair. "What can we do? If you don't include us in your plans then we technically don't count for your luck to screw us over."

"I need to create a helplessness in Shinra. I need to drive home that no matter what he does and no matter how hard he tries he will alway be a step behind me. So what I need you to do, is try your best-"

The reaction was immediate, a knee-jerk response full of denial.

"Absolutely not!"

"Bella we will not hurt you!"

She tilted her head "And you will not."

That. That right there. She said that with fucking conviction.

At that moment all three of them were united in their thoughts. And by the Goddess they were ugly! Did she really not see them as equals? Yes the action was very much logical. The point was there. It would keep them off the radar and elevate her to the forefront. But did she really think that she could just skirt by? That all would work out perfectly no matter how hard they tried?

But that couldn't possibly be it. This was Bella, so

"You are not underestimating us." Sephiroth's voice jolted them into reality.

Wait.

"I am not." Sephiroth looked at her pointedly and she raised her hands up in surrender "Let me rephrase that. I want you do your best based on what they know." she rushed to explain hershelf, and yes that made more sense but it did not abate the sting "Wait-do you really think I'm asking you to actually try to fucking murder me?" she had the gall to sound incredulous.

"Sorry but you didn't exactly sound like you were giving us much credit." Genesis refused to feel bad for assuming, and no, he was not sulking.

"But it would be so fucking stupid otherwise!" she had the gall to laugh. "Did you really think I'm asking you to earnestly try and break Sei's wards? If I put you two together," she pointed at Genesis and Sephiroth, both of them looking taken aback by the outburst "it will probably take you half an hour at the longest. Merlin!" She burst out laughing. Genesis was having a headache and a glance showed that Angeal and Sephiroth were in the same boat. "Though, I am astounded you even went there." she took calming breaths to

"But I suppose it would only be normal. If I try to do everything for you, of course you'll think I don't put you in my eyes. I won't make any excuses for that." she admitted softly, a smile still on her lips. Tiredly. The belatedly remembered that she was teethering very close to another Cycle.

"But let's make a few things clear trust goes both ways. And I know that's rich from me, considering how I tend to wreck my own shit, but you don't really trust me, do you?" she spoke calmly, her stance relaxed, almost carefree if it wasn't for what she was actually saying. "Sure, you trust me in plenty of aspects, but you don't realy trust me to handle the situations that come my way well. You sure as fuck don't trust me to take care of myshelf." she shrugged. Accepting of it, never once accusatory. They tried to interject to interrupt to say it wasn't like that but...it was, wasn't it?

"Let me tell you why that is wrong."

"I know perfectly well how fucked up I am." Bella's tone remained light, like she was talking about the weather "That there is an entire host of things that are wrong with me? I would even wager that I am not suited for the job I was given, that was the first thing I said to Death when he told me." she shrugged nonchalantly. And then she turned her attention directly at them, linking her fingers and leaning forward.

The smile that was on her face did not fit the words she was speaking. And she herself looked...irritated with it. "I know exactly what is wrong with me and I know there is shit I also don't know about that is wrong. And I choose to let that happen."Her eyes were dead serious and it pinned them in place, a shiver going down their spines. "However, don't make any mistakes of it, I am by no means saying I fucking like it. I am not glorifying my pain, I am accepting it as a neccessary evil." She almost threw hershelf back in her seat, her back flush on her armchair.

She turned her eyes to the ceiling and she was so tired "I know that if I croak halfway then it was all for nothing so I will make sure I do not. I will see this through, That I promise you. I told you that Seph when we had that wondrous conversation. If I start fixing things I get less productive." She stressed the words and that hurt. Because it was right and it shouldn't have to happen in the first place.

"So let me be perfectly clear. This whole thing is not me not trusting you, or downplaying your abilities. By Hecate, I've fucking taught you a lot of thing that make you scary opponents to face, what do you think?! This is me trusting you to know exactly what to do." She ran a hand down her face, dropping her head with the motion to look at them again. She had a furrow in her brows that indicated irritation that vanished the moment she was fully looking at them "Though." she took a breath, her tone evening out "I do realize I might not exactly have been the most fair in the way I do things." she sighed running her hand dropping in her lap and she slumped back again. She was exhausted, physically and emotionally.

They all wished for the aether to open up and swallow them.

"I-" Angeal spoke up but Bella cut him off, punctuated with the snapping her fingers to refill her cup.

"If you apologize I'm chucking my cup at you." she sot him a wide and oh, so fake smile.

"Bella-"

"If we don't talk how are we going to understand each other?" she said simply her smile becoming soft and whistfull.

"You still shouldn't have to suffer like that." Angeal insisted in frustrated sadness. He ran his own hand through his hair.

"As I said before. Better me than someone who is not used to it. And if I can help even one person, then my suffering is sacred. I don't like it, I don't like being like this, believe me I don't" she whimpered and they could believe it. "But if that means that one person doesn't have to go through what I did, that one person will not be as damaged as I am now, then I would do it all over again."

"You are not damaged."

Bella snorted in her tea. "Honey, I'm a mass of complexes and a ton of phobias masquerading at being well adjusted. The only reason I can function is because I know how to compartmentalize." she snarked.

"I really want to find who did this to you." Sephiroth muttered lowly and well, at this point, Bella would have liked to have a chat with some of them too but...

So she just shrugged "You can't, most of them are already dead and the rest are relatives and I still have some filial piety and pity in me." she reached to place her cup, still half full, on the table "Bottom line of all this is both of us were right and at the same time wrong. Which is why we should talk to each other. But holy fuck, how did we go from battle plans to this conversation?"

Genesis shot her his own snark "Well, you are such a large part of this, we want you to not be miserable."

"And I really love and appreciate you for it."


"A problem has arisen." was not what he wanted to see first thing in the morning.

Neither was the litany of action attributed to said problem.

And even more unwanted was the description of the person responsible for his new problem.

"This description." blue eyes roved over the words "Black hair and luminous green eyes. Mako, perhaps?"

But even more curious, the description niggled at something in the back of him mind. Like he had read something very similar before. In this context, it was no leap to assume that it was in regard to Sin-Ra. In truth, it wasn't difficult for Rufus to gain access to company records. And now, he had this feeling, this woman had come into the Company's eye before.

"Mellissa." His new secretary, blessedly in possession of a spine, stood in attention. "Look into something for me."

.

Soooo heavy stuff, but they need to happen...

Thank you all for reading my story! Feel free to leave a review, they always make my day and help me get better.

I wish you all a wonderfull day and hope you all stay safe

~Sil