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 fact that it was a church that held something he very much needed, he glanced down at 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 destination. Tucking the paper back into one of the interior pockets of his long black coat, he stepped forward, laid his gloved hand flat against the large wooden door, and pushed. It opened with a reluctant screech that spoke of age and dilapidation and the sound echoed eerily throughout the interior of the building.

So much for a silent entrance.

The door closed behind him with another shriek to rival the first. He took a moment to survey the dim 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 noticed 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 and overlarge sturdy boots, clutching a wooden staff, she regarded him with open, hesitant curiosity. The other, a lean blonde man with an enormous blade strapped across his back, he instantly recognized. He smiled then, a faint curve of the lips 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 said nothing, but Sephiroth already knew the answer. His tone as he continued was conversational, but there was no mistaking the underlying malice. "As you can see, 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 minutely, taking one small step backward. The blonde man immediately moved so that he stood in front of her, shielding her from the considerable threat he was just beginning to fathom. "Why are you here?" His demand rang forth as a challenge, but that didn't mask the fact that his voice was tight and stilted. It signified that he was afraid.

Sephiroth took a moment to enjoy that fact.

"I've come," he said, gesturing, "for the girl."

The girl in question made a sound of fear then, a sudden, sharp intake of breath. "Cloud," she said, making that one word a blatant plea.

Strife half-turned and nodded to her, a wordless agreement to something she must have asked him previously. Moving carefully, he slid his large, uneven blade from its sheath on his back and held it out before him. Sunlight glinted off several colorful pieces of materia attached to the pommel. Though his face was now an expressionless mask, uncertainty still rang clear in his voice. "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 evenly, "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, her wide eyes still glued on the imposing man in the long black coat. It was then that Sephiroth drew his own weapon, the long, curved blade sliding smoothly from its sheath. He cut the air before him with easy, practiced strokes. His own materia, few yet potent, were set in grooves along the engraved hilt. Cloud's face had paled and expression had become grim, his fingers flexing nervously around the grip of his sword, but he widened his stance in preparation. Sephiroth did the same with an audible 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 Mako reactor one night a few years ago …

Behind him the door again emitted its screech, announcing a new arrival. Pivoting so that he could keep both Cloud and the girl in sight, Sephiroth watched as two ShinRa soldiers closely followed by a man in a dark suit entered the church. Upon recognizing the latter, he felt his lip curl in disdain.

"Reno of the Turks," he said, every word dripping with scorn. Reno, eyes alighting on the legendary warrior standing before him, made a strangled sound of astonishment and fear which was echoed immediately by 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 quick patter of footsteps suddenly arrested everyone's attention. The girl had turned heel and fled back into the darkened depths of the ruined church. Reno, with a hissed expletive, issued a command to the soldiers that had accompanied him. Shaking off their amazement at seeing the great Sephiroth alive and unscathed, they began to give chase. Cloud moved to intercept them and they hesitated, the plan as they'd known it having been simply to abduct a lone flower girl from the slums. Encountering two armed men—one of them the great Sephiroth—was not something they were even remotely prepared for.

Staring past the two ShinRa soldiers that faced him, Cloud demanded of Reno the same thing he'd demanded of Sephiroth, "What do you want with her?"

"Nothing, personally," Reno replied. He'd managed to regain his composure somewhat. He pulled a cigarette from where it had been secured behind his ear. A lighter appeared in his right hand, and as he lit the cigarette his narrowed eyes slid from Cloud to Sephiroth and back again. He continued after inhaling deeply, "Hojo needs her. He sent me to fetch her."

"Hojo!" Both Cloud and Sephiroth spoke at the same time. Sephiroth pondered this bit of information for a moment—fascinating indeed that Hojo should want exactly 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, he ground it out beneath the heel of one scuffed shoe. He shook his head as though disappointed by Cloud's words, but Sephiroth didn't miss the way his expression transitioned into one of eagerness. Turks were always spoiling for a fight. Reno glanced at Sephiroth, who stood now 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 a tactical baton. Cloud was already moving, lunging at the ShinRa soldiers with a wide sweep of his blade, scattering them before he whirled about and raced 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 gave pursuit. 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 just now he sincerely doubted that she could be any type of a threat.

But Mother, as he knew so very well, was not to be disobeyed.

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