So this is my first post here in quite some time. I've been struggling with personal things and as a result my writing has suffered. I've been making some headway though, and I'm really pleased with how this one turned out. It's a fic I've had sitting in my folder for years and this is probably the third or fourth time I've rewritten it. You can also read this on A03, my account there is under the same username. I hope you all enjoy reading, and please don't be afraid to leave a comment or two. I love to hear from you.
DISCLAIMER: Tifa Lockhart, Genesis Rhapsodos, and Sephiroth are all characters created and owned by Square Enix (or did they change their company name?) and are featured here only for your reading pleasure.
This is it. This is how I die.
Such is the dramatic lamentation of Genesis Rhapsodos, who is held hostage by his own sense of duty. For the third time that month, he finds himself in the grand ballroom of a prestigious hotel whose name he cannot recall, stuffed into a stiff, uncomfortable tuxedo (although he does cut a rather dashing figure if he says so himself) and surrounded by a sea of wealthy party-goers. They are of the elite class of citizens who have some vested interest in the ShinRa company, mostly shareholders, and he despises every last one of them. Men and women alike, they are as false and manipulative as humans are capable of being; sickly bright smiles and vapid conversation cannot quite mask the predatory gleam of hunger in their eyes. There is no such thing as too much for this lot – wealth, sex, power – and they will eat alive anyone who stands in their way.
Genesis may be arrogant, and more than a little vain, but he prides himself far more on his honesty and integrity. He has never had to step on another to achieve his goals, and he will readily take his own life before betraying a friend. That he is routinely forced to spend great quantities of time in the presence of such disingenuous ilk is taxing not only mentally, but spiritually as well. He's only been there for an hour and already he can feel the life being drained from him. At this point to die of boredom would be merciful, if not a little lackluster for a soldier of his caliber. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and Genesis will take escape in whatever form it presents itself.
Just as he is considering drowning himself in the courtyard fountain, Minerva grants him a small reprieve. The tide parts, and amongst the waves of drab blacks and greys he sees her. Neither tall nor short, slim of waist yet possessed of a strength in her limbs that no simple dress can disguise. The gown in question, however, is no simple scrap of cloth. The fabric flows like water down her legs, with a quality like it is floating, carrying her effortlessly toward him. Whatever it is sewn of glitters like the night skies of Cosmo Canyon, the beads catching and scattering the low lights of the chandelier. She is starlight on earth; hair black as pitch, eyes the color of aged red wine. Never has he seen anyone, woman nor man, so finely wrought and he feels as if he is beholden to something divine, something not of this world. His heart, previously struck still, regains motion in a slow, thick rhythm. Her head turns, ever so slightly, not quite enough so he can catch her gaze –
"If you stare any harder," murmurs a voice to his left, startling him badly enough Genesis nearly drops his untouched flute of champagne. "She will burst into flame."
Reluctantly, as though it pains him to do so, he tears his eyes from the woman – angel, faerie? - and pins them to the interloper. Sephiroth's cool eyes gleam with quiet amusement, and the ire for which Genesis is known sparks to life. "What do you want? Don't you have fawning admirers to tend to?"
The quirk of a slim brow is the General's only response, which serves to agitate Genesis even further. They are friends, close enough that each considers the other to be kindred, but Genesis has always been easy to bait and Sephiroth rarely passes up an opportunity to goad him. "I have plenty of admirers, but I find their company is not as entertaining as winding you up."
Genesis clenches his teeth, grip tightening dangerously around the flute, but he elects to ignore Sephiroth in favor of seeking out The Woman again. He thinks she should be easy to locate, given how different she is from everyone else, how easily she outshines the crowd. He comes up empty, however; she is nowhere in sight. He sighs, dismally reflecting that of course any ray of hope would be cruelly snuffed out. Sephiroth, being a man of keen wit and renown for his powers of perception, assesses the state his friend is in and makes an offer many would consider out of his character.
"Would you like me to introduce you to her?"
Genesis snaps his head around so quickly his neck nearly cracks. "You know her?"
A small smile, nearly imperceptible. "Of course I know her. She is the heiress to the Lockhart fortune – the family's only child. If you had bothered to attend the last of these utterly delightful gatherings, you would know that."
Genesis frowns, regretting for the first time in his years of distinguished service successfully avoiding this particular responsibility. He is loathe to accept the offer, his pride clinging to the knowledge that Sephiroth extended it in part to tease him. He suspects Sephiroth's intentions are mostly good, however, and acquiesces. "I would be obliged."
Sephiroth's laugh is more a huff of air than anything else. "Very well, come this way."
He follows behind eagerly, eyes scanning over the crowd for the merest glimpse of silver. He spares only a moment to wonder how Sephiroth knows where to find her, but he is benefiting from the knowledge and decides there is no point in questioning its origin. Sephiroth leads him to a quieter, less crowded corner, and Genesis finds her immediately. She is conversing quietly with a pair of businessmen, who leer at her repulsively, and the way she laughs at whatever is said sets him on edge. The sound is tinkling, almost practiced, and he knows it is fake. A tiny sliver of something worms its way through him, a vile apprehension, the fear that beneath her shimmering veneer she is no different than the others. The men catch sight of their approach and make their excuses to slip away – the soldiers are intimidating at best individually and few are keen to face them both together.
She turns to meet them and her smile cleanses him of everything but the sight of it. He is awash in her beauty, knows only the radiance of it, and believes with all his passionate heart that if hers is the last countenance he looks upon he will die content. Her voice, free of social airs, is a joy upon his ears. Deeper than he expects, and rich with something he desperately desires to learn for himself. "General, good evening! I wasn't expecting you tonight."
Sephiroth inclines his head respectfully. "Miss Lockhart, the pleasure is mine. You are well this evening?"
"I am, although," she lowers her voice a little, laughter prevalent in her dark eyes. "I confess this is the dullest event I have ever been duty-bound to attend."
Sephiroth chuckles, a smoky sound, and Genesis glances at his friend in surprise. The General is not as unfeeling as the media paints him, but he is reserved with his emotions. That this woman, who is by all accounts a stranger, can make him laugh so easily is telling of her sincerity. If even Sephiroth is this open with her, she can be nothing but genuine. Any doubt Genesis harbors in his heart melts away.
"I will second that," Sephiroth replies, inclining his head toward Genesis. "My friend is of a similar opinion, and as he was unable to attend the gala where we were introduced I thought perhaps you would like to know each other."
Genesis stands tall as her eyes rest over him, assessing yet kind. "I am Genesis, and delighted to make your acquaintance."
The glow in her eyes is a blessing, heavenly praise. "Tifa Lockhart, Genesis, I'm happy to meet you as well."
Instinct tells him to kiss the back of her proffered hand, but he resists. It seems disgraceful somehow; it is a gesture he has made too often to women far less deserving and to bestow it upon her would be akin to blasphemy. He merely lowers his face, touching his forehead to her knuckles gently, reverently. When he meets her eyes again it is to find a curious gleam in them, but he allows the moment to pass.
"It's a shame you missed the last one," she says, smoothly continuing the conversation. "There was dancing then, at least."
"There was also the matter of Scarlett's dress catching fire," Sephiroth adds, looking disconcertingly pleased by the recollection.
Tifa's laugh this time is real, quiet but true, and something cosmic aligns in his heart. "She was absolutely furious. I felt terrible for laughing at her, and the poor dress was ruined."
"I thought it an improvement," is the dry confession, and this time it is Genesis who laughs.
"Scarlett on fire is a delightful thought," he muses, smiling widely at the look on Tifa's face. "If you knew her outside of these parties you would feel the same."
Her frown is skeptical, but doesn't last long. "I can imagine. I've met people in the last year who inspire me to set them on fire."
Genesis nods sagely. "Sephiroth and I are veterans of such things as these and we can tell you with complete honestly that it will never be any different."
She eyes him slyly. "I wouldn't say that."
Intrigued, he raises an eyebrow in question only to be interrupted once more by Sephiroth. "Forgive my rudeness, but Professor Hojo has caught sight of me and I am not ashamed to admit that I intend to continue avoiding him."
Tifa giggles, a delightful sound, and Genesis pats his friend sympathetically on his shoulder. "Say no more, my friend. We will manage on our own."
"Miss Lockhart." He bids farewell and makes his stealthy escape, unfathomably dissolving into the masses as though he had never been there.
"I'm amazed he can vanish so easily," Tifa says, shaking her head in amusement. "You would think he'd be easy to spot with how tall he is, and all that hair."
Genesis sighs. "It is a skill I have long envied him."
She turns her full attention to him and Genesis finds he has never before known a greater pleasure. "How long have you known him?"
"Since we were children," he replies, settling into the discussion. "I was adopted by a wealthy family in Banora, and it wasn't long after that I met him. There was a small children's home he lived in, and before long he too was taken in by a younger couple. Vincent and Lucrecia Valentine, both employed by the ShinRa facility outside of town. They are good people, and they accepted our friendship easily. Since then he and I have rarely been apart. Sephiroth is the closest I have ever had to a brother."
Tifa's eyes are warm. "That's so wonderful. I don't have any siblings of my own, but my friend Yuffie is like a sister to me. I'd be pretty lost without her, even though it seems like I'm always getting her out of some kind of trouble."
He recognizes the name at once, and it is his turn to eye her appraisingly. "You are friends with the princess of Wutai?"
She grins, at once mysterious and sheepish, and he is further drawn into her allure. "Our mothers were close friends as well, when they were little girls. Yuffie's mother was from a wealthy family and was chosen to marry the son of the emperor. My own mother married the son of a successful business tycoon and here we are. I spent nearly all my summers in Wutai, running through jungles and mountains with Yuffie. I miss those times, especially when it seems like all I do is fake a laugh to impress people who would rather see me fall off my pedestal."
His heart goes out to her. How often has he lain awake at night, thinking these same thoughts? Long has he felt that his time with ShinRa is running out. His work poses no challenge, holds no satisfaction. He is trapped in a monotonous routine of political games and social subterfuge, and it is slowly killing him. How much longer can he last, he wonders?
"I understand how you feel," he murmurs. "I do what I do now out of duty, because I am SOLDIER and I have a responsibility to this organization, but at what cost to myself? How much more am I expected to give? How long before I have nothing left?"
The look she gives him burns through his core, stirs him like nothing has in an infuriatingly long time. It is intense, all the more so for the profound sadness in her eyes. It is an emotion he would kill to safeguard her from. "It's so nice to have someone who understands. My father, he tries to be encouraging, but it's not enough. I just wasn't made for this like he was, and I'm the only child. There's no one else to take my place, to brave this battlefield for me. To be perfectly honest, I am terrified that this will be the rest of my life. I'll die doing this, there's nothing else for me."
"I don't believe that." He doesn't know where the words come from, or the faith behind them, but he does know they are the absolute truth. The surprise on her face tells him she is as startled by his conviction as he. "In the short time I have known you it's clear to me that there is life in you, and a strength few possess. That you are afraid to be trapped in this life and to die in it is proof that you will not. I think you will find a way out, or if not find then make. If your father has no heir, that is not your concern. It is his life's work and he must bear the burden of sustaining it, which means choosing another successor if his daughter doesn't want the job. If he loves you, and I'm certain he does, he will understand."
She stares at him for a long time, long enough that he worries he may have overstepped an unseen boundary. He will not take back his words; Genesis never says what he does not mean, and never goes back on that which he does. Finally, she speaks. "Thank you. I'm sorry to put all that on you, but thank you. It's been so long since someone actually listened to me, and cared about what I had to say. You're very kind."
He smiles. "Not kind, Miss Lockhart, simply honest. Do not apologize; it is more than refreshing to meet someone as genuine as you. Tonight is the first time I am happy to have subjected myself to the misery of these pretentious gatherings. Talking with you has been the single highlight of my evening." Possibly of my life.
She flushes, a becoming rouge that blooms prettily across her cheeks. "You are also very charming."
This startles a laugh from him and he decides, then and there, that he will not let this woman walk out of his life when she departs for the evening. He doesn't know where it will lead, but surely anywhere is better than where he is now, drowning in the lack of soul and passion and intimacy in the dying-life he is wading through. "Miss Lockhart –"
"Tifa," she corrects, her face soft and aglow.
"Tifa," he amends, unable to resist the warmth spreading within his chest. "I have enjoyed my time with you this evening, more than I have anything else in these longs months. Would it be too forward to say I desire the pleasure of your company again in the future? In a more... relaxed setting?"
The pure happiness unleashed in her smile is incandescent in a way he hadn't thought possible. He is left awed, wondering idly to himself if she is not Minerva incarnate, a goddess condescending to walk among inferior mortal men, and deigning to favor him with her time and attention.
"I would really, really like that," she says, breathlessly, and it strikes him that she is not a goddess, or an angel, or anything other than a woman. A human woman, who is sad and lonely and perhaps as desperate for simple intimacy, for someone who understands, as he is, and has been for too long. The realization strips away the illusion of untouchability and, emboldened, he grasps her small hand firmly in his. Her skin is impossibly soft, the fingers long and delicate in the way of a skilled musician, but callused at the tips and palms. There is more to her than her softness. He meets her eyes steadily, his own gleaming brightly with more than a little mischief.
"I'm glad to hear you say so," he replies, leading her away from the ballroom, from the lights and the noise and the vultures that had been circling them all evening, waiting for the first opportunity to dive in for the kill. "Let's start right now."
Her laugh, the one that is light and free and true, rings out over the courtyard as they make their daring escape; it echoes in his ears, illuminating places in him he had long thought dark and dead.
Genesis falls in love.