Little angel, go away

Come again some other day

The devil has my ear today,

I'll never hear of what you say.

[Weak & Powerless – A Perfect Circle]


He stood before a church.

Smiling a little at the irony of a church holding something he needed, he checked the wrinkled piece of paper he held in his hand—an almost indecipherable map drawn in haste by a very harried citizen of the slums—to make sure he had the right place. Poor artwork aside, there was no mistaking that this was his intended location. Tucking the paper back into one of the interior pockets of his long black duster, he stepped forward and pushed open the large wooden door. It opened with a screech that spoke of age and dilapidation, and the sound echoed eerily throughout the interior of the building.

So much, he mused, for his silent entrance.

He closed the door behind him—with another shriek to rival the first—and surveyed the interior. It was, as he'd guessed from the exterior, in a state of utter disrepair. The pews were scattered in great disarray, most of them broken. Sunlight, tinted from the few remaining intact stained glass windows, filtered through to illuminate what appeared to be a patch of flowers growing up through the broken wood planks of the floor. Standing in the midst of the flowers were two people, and he saw instantly that they were both alert to his presence.

She was one of them, he realized a heartbeat later—the girl Mother had insisted he find. Clad in a worn and faded pink dress, with overlarge sturdy boots and a wooden staff, she regarded him with open curiosity. The other, a lean blonde man with an enormous blade strapped across his back, he instantly recognized. He smiled then, an expression that was anything but friendly.

"Strife." He said flatly.

The man's expression was both horrified and astonished. "Sephiroth?"

He nodded, his unpleasant smile growing wider. "None other. Surprised to see me?"

The blonde man didn't answer, but Sephiroth already knew the answer. He continued in a conversational tone, but there was no mistaking the underlying malice. "As you can tell, I survived my little fall. However, it seems everyone believed me to be dead. I came back," he paused, and there was a cold glint in his remarkably green eyes, "to prove them wrong."

The girl, sensing the almost tangible tension between the two men, shifted hesitantly, taking one small step backwards. The blonde man unconsciously moved so that he stood in front of her, shielding her from the threat he was just beginning to fathom. "Why are you here?" He demanded.

"I've come," Sephiroth gestured, "for the girl."

She made a frightened sound, a sudden, sharp intake of breath. "Cloud," she said, making that one word a blatant plea.

He turned and nodded to her, an agreement to something she had asked him previously. He slid the blade from its sheath and held it out before him. Sunlight glinted off several colorful pieces of materia attached to the pommel. "What do you want with her?"

Sephiroth began to tense slowly, his hand inching upwards in preparation to draw his own weapon, the wickedly long Masamune.

"That," he replied calmly, "is none of your business."

Cloud scowled at the answer before turning his head a fraction and whispering something to the girl. She nodded and began backing away. Sephiroth made his move; his blade slid smoothly from its sheath and he cut the air before him with deadly, practiced strokes. His own materia, few yet potent, were set in grooves along the engraved hilt. Cloud widened his stance in preparation, and Sephiroth did the same with a sigh of irritation. This was a nuisance, a minor deterrent, and he intended to deal with Cloud Strife in a manner appropriate for people as insignificant as he—payback, such as it was, for the long fall he had taken off of a catwalk in a reactor one night not so long ago …

Behind him, the door again emitted its screech, announcing a new arrival. Turning so that that he could keep Cloud in sight, Sephiroth watched as two Shinra soldiers followed by a man in a dark suit entered the church. Sephiroth, upon recognition of the latter, felt his lip curl in disdain.

"Reno of the Turks." He said slowly. Reno, seeing the legendary warrior standing before him, made a noise of surprise. The sound was echoed by that of his retinue.

"Turks," Cloud said, and the expression on his face was almost a mirror of Sephiroth's. "What do you want?"

Reno, still staring at Sephiroth, said only, "But ... you're dead ..."

"Obviously a rumor," replied the other, "Or I wouldn't be standing here, would I?"

The sound of footsteps caught everyone's attention; the girl had turned heel and fled back into the depths of the darkened church. Reno issued a command to the soldiers; shaking off their amazement at seeing the great Sephiroth alive, they went to give chase after her. Cloud, however, moved to intercept them; they hesitated, having not expected this simple abduction plan to include violence.

What do you want with Aerith?" Cloud asked Reno.

"Nothing, personally." Reno said, having regained his composure. He pulled a cigarette from where it had been secured behind his ear. A lighter appeared in his hand, and as he lit the cigarette he moved his eyes slowly from Cloud to Sephiroth. He continued after inhaling deeply, "Hojo needs her and sent me to fetch her."

"Hojo!" Said both Sephiroth and Cloud simultaneously. Sephiroth pondered this for a moment—fascinating indeed that Hojo should want what Mother had sent him for …

Cloud was shaking his head, "Leave her alone."

Reno sighed before taking another long drag from his cigarette; letting it fall to the ground he shook his head as though disappointed by Cloud's answered, but Sephiroth didn't miss the sudden, eager gleam in his eyes—the Turks were always spoiling for a fight. Reno glanced at Sephiroth, who stood with his blade lowered and brows drawn together in a pensive frown; having ascertained that he'd receive no interference from that quarter, the Turk turned to Cloud with a wide and anticipatory smile, "Fine. We'll do this hard way."

He pulled a short, compact metal rod from across his back, and as he gave it a sharp flick it elongated into an tactical baton. Cloud was already moving, lunging at the Shinra soldiers with his blade so that they scattered before he whirled about and ran further into the church after the girl. Reno and his men watched Sephiroth for a moment to see what he would do, but when the former general merely smiled mockingly at them and gestured for them to pass, they did. He watched thoughtfully as they raced after the girl and Cloud. Mother had not mentioned anything about Hojo having an interest in the girl as well, and that bothered him. He would discern the reasons for this new development on his own and return for the girl later. Cloud or no Cloud, he would capture her and bring her to Mother as directed. She was, he had been told, a hindrance to their progress, but having seen her now he sincerely doubted that she could be anything of a threat.

But Mother was not to be disobeyed ...

He sheathed the Masamune in one effortless movement before turning to leave the church.