And in the end, rest for all of Jenova's children.... (Includes spoilers for Advent Children.)
It is cold. Cold in a way that transcends simple tactile sensation. After all, I don't have a body anymore. I think. I'm almost certain. Floating here, it's hard to tell. All is soft, liquid weightlessness. But cold. I float, have floated, will float, and if I were still alive, could still sleep, I'd think that I'm dreaming, watching memories come and go...
--the view from the tall jungle trees in Wutai, the valley spread before me, lush and smoking in the places we've burned out the insurgents--
--the sound of the rain at night, loud on the canvas tents, softly dripping into puddles and mud--
...most of the visions are neutral, like life. Good days and bad days, but mostly a lot of in-between days, which are neither. The taste of coffee, the feel of Masamune's grip, the view from the office that I tried my damnedest never to set foot in....
--the face of the phalanx of scientists who raise me for want of a better term, Carter who likes crosswords, Tanner who doesn't talk much, Seever who brings me candy one Yule holiday and then explains to me what Yule is and then what a holiday is--
...the memories slide over and around and through me, and I can never tell if they come from me or from outside of me. Perhaps it is this weightless, humming life I float in that gives length and breadth and depth to my memories, or perhaps they float here with me, drawn to me like filings to a magnet....
--the face of the first man I ever kill, a criminal whose name I don't know, how easy it is to slide a knife between his ribs and twist just as I've been taught, to watch curiously as he gasps and dies, his eyes filled with some as-yet-unknown emotion above the gag, and the scientists and Hojo in particular are pleased, and I don't understand why, thirteen years old and not yet allowed out of the lab--
...I remain enough of myself to know that the Planet should hate me, should attack and eliminate me like a parasite in its blood, but if it's trying, it's doing a poor job of it. The only discomfort is the cold and the occasional bombardment of memories I'd rather forget. I can't tell whether even that is a result of sentience, some punishment, or simply fallout of my own pain...
--Hojo's face is contorted in rage, realizing I've been holding back on my exams, skewing his data because I can, it is the first and last time that he strikes me, and I don't even mean to hurt him, just grabbing his wrist as his fist whistles past and holding on too tight, feeling the bones grind and crack, seeing his face go white--
--the horrible realization printed in impartial black and white, I am a mistake, an experiment, a monster, an abomination, a FREAK--
-- her voice in my head, so hard to think around, pulsing, drowning, a wayward child to be brought into line, no no not even that, a vessel, a slate, a flawed program, overwritten like all I've been, all I've ever been is nothing but bad code to be rewritten, and I am corrupted, deleted, betrayed, left howling in my own mind, left as the bare tether, the bridge between her and my body, as the rest of me turns to her like a plant to the sun and says, "yes, Mother...."--
--the girl on the stairs, the boy, so young and frightened, who comes after me and I hear him, we all do, me and her and the other me that is hers, and my body tries to turn, to cast a spell that will incinerate him where he stands, before he can even reach me, because that is easier than anything for the Silver General, but there is still enough of me, quickly being coded into a corner, to hold all of us still, to wait a heartbeat too long, until blades flash and it is all over and we are falling, and naive as I am I think that it will all be over soon...all be over soon--
--the girl slumps, blood blossoming from her back, staining her dress, staining the water, and is this right, I can't remember, oh it must be right, because Mother is happy, yes, yes, kill her, she will hurt us, she will destroy us, kill her NOW--
...am I being punished? Is this the Planet's idea of karma, left to relive every moment of a cursed life over and over again? Is it waiting for me to realize something? To feel something, to repent, to beg for forgiveness, to seek absolution? Does it understand that what floats here is not really its enemy, is as much its child as it is Jenova's? I have the right to be angry, I think, but I've learned the price of anger. Anger used to sustain me here, red and thick and hard. Anger at her, anger at myself for my weakness, anger at those who made me, anger at the hurts that replayed over and over, every slight, every recoil, every rejection, every failure....
--the shrill, piercing pain of her voice, berating my failure, can I not even do this right for her?, as we rise and fall, and the last thing I see is the boy, that same boy, eyes blue like the sky, hair like the sun, face and hands and sword streaked with blood, and as I fall I can see two perfectly clean tracks through the blood, beneath those sea-clear eyes, and they are a mystery I will never solve--
...and the anger was my downfall, again. Anger and its daughter, hate. It fed her, wherever she was, whatever trace of her remained in me. She fed upon it, nurtured it, brought it to bloom, a painfully beautiful, poisoned three-petalled blossom....
--too weak, you are too weak, failure, pitiful son, useless to me, come to me my seed, and I shall make something useful of you, and the pain, the pain, her fingers running through the ragged edges of me, knowing, replicating, stealing, three Others forming under her hands, and they are parts of me, my cunning, my strength, my devotion, the parts she finds most useful, and she laughs, casting them out--
...I could only watch, through her, unwilling. They were not me, but I saw myself in them: a tilt of the head, dogged determination, grim and unceasing purpose. The desperate longing to be wanted, not for what I could do, but for who I was. They were children, young and innocent and amoral, clinging together in the cruel world, and I envied them fiercely, for they had each other. And she laughed, whispering, They long to be you, for you are my best-loved son.
I was too weak to do anything when she took over the devoted one, Kadaj, her power flashing one last time, reaching deep into his cells to wake the power sleeping in him. Perhaps he chose my face, in his envy of me, or perhaps she did it to taunt me. In the end, it mattered little, the boy...the boy there again, the eyes sadder, older, more lost, but still the color of the sky. He cut me down a second--no a third--time, and it was a painful relief, even as I hung, a helpless watcher, praying to any god who might be listening that it be over....
--as I watch, the devoted one falls, and the rain comes, something happening, something that has the Lifestream singing around me and smelling of flowers, and they are gone, and something that might be my alien-hybrid heart breaks for them, wondering if they've found peace and envying them once again for it--
...but her voice is only quiet, not silenced, still whispering inside of me, curled in my DNA like the virus she is. All of it, so much pain: mine, the Planet's, the boy's, my child-brother-sons'...all of it, and she is still there, in me, the original seed. They could find her head, destroy it once and for all, but I am still here, carrier of her disease, helpless to destroy myself as would only be fitting.
I remember those tears, on the boy's face as he killed me. I have never cried. I have never been that happy, that sad, that anything. But now, perhaps I am that desperate, that tired, that sick and weary.
In the cold wash of the Lifestream, it isn't hard to feel the hot slide of tears against my skin.
There is a shiver, a change around me. I open my eyes, and there is a flash of white sky, green leaves, before it changes to silver-white hair, cat-green eyes. The squeeze of the Lifestream subsides, becomes three pairs of strong arms, wrapped around me. Three heads leaning against my shoulder, my chest.
I reach out, touch Kadaj's hair, Loz's arm, Yazoo's cheek. They are mine. I can feel it, in the hum between our skins. But they are clean, untainted now. Jenova's eye inside me turns to them and howls, seeing no purchase, nothing of her left in them. I am happy for them, even as I feel like a cesspool, contagion seething under my skin.
Their smiles are familiar, even though I never smile. They stroke my hair, my skin, their touch strange and comforting. Kadaj slides up. It is all right, brother. You will see. And as his lips touch my forehead, as Yazoo's arms tighten around my waist, as Loz's cheek settles on my shoulder...I do.
We meld, and heat settles into my heart, strength into my limbs, clarity into my mind. I can see myself as they see me, as the Planet sees me: not ones and zeroes, not amino acids, purines and pyrimidines, but something else, something indescribable. I am ether held together by will and consciousness and memory, iridescent, stretched soft and ragged. I can see her contagion for the first time, not as an indelible part of me, not built into me, but an overlay, an invasion. A parasite.
I excise it, lift the thin phantasm of it out and away until it mewls pitifully in my hand. There is silence within me for the first time ever. The relief is almost crushing, and only my brother-sons keep me upright.
And then she is there. The girl and another behind her, familiar and dark-haired and wry-grinning. They hold out their hands, and I give them the shadowy, viscous taint in my hand. They take it, fingers warm against mine, and let me see as magic glows between their fingers, the bright, pure light of holy magic falling like sunshine upon my face. There is a thin wail, Jenova's impotent protest...and then it is gone, nothing but blessed silence remaining.
You could have done that to me/, I think. /It would have been so much easier....
The girl smiles, and the dark-haired one--Zack, his name is Zack--swats at me. As if we'd do that.
We are all clean, brother/, Loz says, satisfied, yawning. /All clean. Don't cry.... It's all right.
It is, I agree, my eyelids growing heavy. I am tired, so tired, but I don't want to sleep, not yet. Surely there's something else to be done...? But Zack is squeezing my shoulder in understanding, and the girl is kissing my forehead, accepting my wordless apology, saying Sleep.
I close my eyes and fall back onto the soft earth, my brother-sons dozing heavy and peaceful against me, the yellow flowers nodding over our heads in the warm breeze.