Even the Best of Them
Daughter's Record: 20th Day after birth.
Sephiroth held the tape in his hands, transfixed by the familiar handwriting. The same hand as in so many of those files at Nibelheim.
He'd been quite young when he had been told of Gast's death, as if it were an unfortunate accident, but it was not so many years later that he began to suspect the lie. He had long since divested himself of any doubts that Hojo had murdered the man out of jealousy.
Gast had had no children. He'd had no wife. He had not been a guarded man, and he would have mentioned them. At his first opportunity, Sephiroth had read every file on Gast to which Shinra had granted him access, and surely there would have been some record of so mundane a fact.
So when had he lived here? When had he found a partner? When had he had a daughter?
« Does it matter? »
Did it? Gast was the man responsible for his creation, but Sephiroth had absorbed the sum total of his research even before he'd had the opportunity to travel the Lifestream. Gast hadn't had a complete understanding of what he'd done.
But, neither had Sephiroth ever had a complete understanding of Gast.
Maybe it was nostalgia, again. The same feeling that had drawn him to the basement of the Shinra manor. Many kilometers away yet, his real body was numb, and had been for a long time, but his borrowed one felt the cold that had seeped into the empty house and reminded him that he had once taken part in this world.
He had thought himself human, once, and there lingered questions that had never been answered to his satisfaction.
His curiosity got the better of him. He pushed the tape into the machine.
Somehow, he wasn't prepared for the sound of Gast's voice. It had been more than twenty years... This was a voice which had instructed him, guided him, praised him... but for all that Sephiroth had been the pinnacle of his achievements, had Gast ever doted on him?
He didn't look any younger in the video than Sephiroth remembered. Another might have attributed it to a shift in perspective--as a child, Sephiroth had seen him as older than he was--but he'd seen photographs, too, since then. There was no significant difference in years, and then...
The woman on the tape looked so much like her, too much like her. And the woman Sephiroth had killed hadn't been old enough for this recording to have been made before the Jenova Project. Hojo's violent interruption--and the thud of Gast's body hitting the floor--confirmed that it had happened after.
Gast hadn't died when Hojo had told him so. That he had lied about that, too, came as no surprise, but Gast had made no farewell, and that had always supported the idea of an abrupt, unexpected departure. For Gast to have left the company of his own volition...
He had left Sephiroth behind.
Sephiroth watched every last one of the tapes. Gast had known. He had found out what Sephiroth really was, and he had left him.
Was Hojo the only one, after all, who had seen his true worth?
No. There was no intelligence behind Hojo's faith. That he was correct was almost accidental. The result of a haphazard methodology and convoluted reasoning that existed to support the delusion of his own genius. Hojo wanted so badly to believe in his superiority to Gast, so of course he would insist on the superiority of his own...
What would Gast have thought of his daughter?
Sephiroth had admired her resolve. She was naive, she was misguided, but she had had the will to defy him all on her own. The power of the Cetra was inferior to Jenova's, but neither had she been human, and her interference could yet prove troublesome.
Killing her had been a calculated move, but now, after the fact, he felt the same surge of vindictive satisfaction that he had felt on running his sword through President Shinra.
Gast had abandoned him for this. For a brief life in hiding with a woman whose power and knowledge paled in comparison to his mother's. For a daughter he had never had the chance to know.
« You're angry with him. »
He had never felt anger towards Gast before. Even when he had learned of the Jenova Project, he had found reason to excuse the man. It was a complicated subject to discuss with a six-year-old. Maybe he had intended to wait until Sephiroth was older. And maybe, given more time, he would have rectified his other flaws as well. Gast had been a noble man working within a corrupt system, and Sephiroth had always felt that, under Gast's direction, he would have seen the outside of the lab much sooner.
Only, none of that was true.
It really shouldn't have mattered. In the grand scheme of things, it changed nothing. All humanity would perish once Meteor answered his call, and even their thoughts and memories which remained in the Lifestream would be reshaped, reborn. All of this would be wiped clean. All of it.
But a part of him had been human once. The body he now occupied had been unable to withstand Jenova's cells, and it retained nothing of who it once had been, but Sephiroth remembered everything.
« It's all right to be angry. Anger has its purpose. »
Was it only anger? His borrowed throat felt tight, and he pulled himself back, disconnecting from the body and returning for a moment to the numbness of the Northern Crater. In the absence of touch or sight, with even the howl of the wind muted by the crystallized Lifestream enveloping him, he had nothing but his own thoughts.
In the years before Jenova, his memories of Gast had been important to him. They had been evidence, flimsy though it was, of a worth beyond what Hojo saw in him and what Shinra intended for him.
Gast would bring him books devoid of academic substance, encourage him to draw from his imagination, ask him to trace his own constellations on maps of the stars you couldn't see in Midgar. When Hojo dismissed it all as a trivial waste of time, Gast would share a conspiratorial look with Sephiroth. "Well, what does he know?" he would say. "Even I don't know how you might discover the things that make you special."
From everyone else, 'special' had always felt clinical and impersonal; they thought of themselves and how Sephiroth might be of use to them. But when Gast said it, there had been warmth behind it. His smile had pushed up his moustache and reached all the way to his eyes, in a way that suggested that what and who Sephiroth was were things that they would learn together.
Why hadn't Gast continued to think he was special, when he'd discovered the truth of his origins? If he'd thought Jenova a horror, Sephiroth had been nothing but a child, then. A child surrounded by all the horror humanity had to offer, with Gast as his only buffer against it.
Even more than that, when others spoke of parents, Gast had been his nearest comparison; in the absence of anything else, he had held tight to that vague approximation of family. A one-sided approximation, as it turned out.
For the first time since his days in that basement library, he wished that Gast wasn't dead. Perusing the knowledge of the Lifestream wasn't like speaking to the dead. He couldn't single out the consciousness of a man twenty-two years dead. It had long since dispersed. There was no one to interrogate, no explanation to demand.
Perhaps Sephiroth shouldn't have held him to a promise he had never made, and that was all.
He reached out again, hoping to find some escape from his thoughts. Far to the south, the puppet and his companions travelled over the snow fields in his wake, their mood somber.
He didn't need this. He didn't need their collective mourning over the daughter of the man who'd abandoned him.
« I'm here, » said Jenova.
Sephiroth let himself sink into the embrace of her presence in his mind. She was here. She always was.
« This is the last of your own illusions, » she said. « It is time to let it go. »
It caught me off-guard, he said. I thought that I had already understood his flaws.
« And you believed his merits outweighed them. I understand that. »
It's unusual for you to acknowledge any human merit.
« He was the one who found the prison the Cetra had made for me, » said Jenova, « and he gave me you. I have been to other worlds, encountered other races. I have never had a child. For that, I bear him an appropriate amount of gratitude. But he would never have released me. He would never have freed you. He thought himself our superior, and that would never have changed. »
I know, he said. And that was the illusion. He had wanted to believe that Gast was more different from Hojo than he had been. But Sephiroth had, from the beginning, been his creation, not his child. And when it had become clear that that creation did not meet with his intent, then just like Hojo, he had deemed it a failure.
A part of him had always been disappointed that Gast hadn't lived to see him reach his full potential. Now he realized: that was Gast's choice.
His shortsightedness was unfortunate. Sephiroth truly was a triumph of scientific genius. He knew full well the results of Hojo's efforts to introduce Jenova's cells into a human host. To their bodies, it was an infection, as it had been to the Cetra millennia ago, and one to which they ultimately succumbed, without fail. What Gast had achieved in Sephiroth was something on another level entirely. He was far more than a vessel for her will. She was as much a part of him as he was of her.
Soon they would be one, as they were meant to be.
He knew it wasn't the kind of connection humans had; it surpassed all that. He and his mother would reshape the universe to their liking.
He owed that impending achievement in no small part to Gast. Perhaps it was fitting that all that remained of the man would become a part of that union as well. If Sephiroth had had any lingering doubt, any thought that some part of humanity might be worthy of persisting in its current form, it was gone now. Even the best of them were irredeemably flawed.
He would raise them to something higher.
Sephiroth returned to the body at Icicle Inn. In his absence, Jenova herself had moved it from Gast's house. Snow compacted beneath its feet.
He wouldn't have much longer to spend in this world. Everything that he hated about it, and even those flimsy things that he had once been forced to rely upon, would soon be gone.
Sephiroth passed through the thicket of pines at the northern end of the village, and the vast expanse of snowy mountains opened before him, like a blank canvas. Millennia ago, his mother had looked out on the same landscape and known that she could do better.
They could do so much better than this.