The Last Temptation

Chapter 16: Into the Abyss Part Three

***A HUGE thank you goes out to Lady Kaliska for all of her insights on this chapter.**

"I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." John 12:46

"Darkness always had its part to play. Without it, how would we know when we walked in the light? It's only when its ambitions become too grandiose that it must be opposed, disciplined, sometimes—if necessary—brought down for a time. Then it will rise again, as it must." - Clive Barker, Abarat **


She didn't have to ask. The younger Sephiroth used Masamune to precise effect in cutting the chains. However when, Sephiroth's weight slumped forward, it was upon Aeris that he landed. The Cetra groaned out an 'umph' as his much larger body collided with hers, but somehow she managed to keep them both from falling over.

"You came." He said in a tone that conveyed a very deep disbelief. Aeris only smiled and nodded at him. It took a moment for Sephiroth to gain his feet.

"Here." The younger one said, holding out Masamune to his older self. Sephiroth took it in hand and he seemed relieved to once again be in the possession of his sword. The two stood in place, staring at each with some unspoken communication that Aeris did not understand.

"Aeris," the older one intoned, his silver head turning to look at her. Now, standing on his own volition and looking very much alive, his appearance struck her full force. There was no madness in his eyes, though they still had the same living green irises and black cat slits, his hair flowed around him reaching nearly to his knees in the longest sections. She shivered, watching as he sheathed Masamune with such casual elegance. No one should move like that. She thought, wrapping her arms around herself. What change would take him once she performed this final merge?

The implications were slightly frightening, but she answered him anyway.

"Yes?"

"Are you ready?" Yes, despite the fact that she could feel the Jenova taint crawling beneath her skin like tiny living wires, she was ready. However she left all of those extraneous details unsaid and merely nodded. The two men turned to face each other and Aeris had to force herself to move forward and stop studying the differences between the two of them. Now was not the time to get distracted.

Still she approached them slowly, reaching out her hands to them at the same time. She felt the strength of their grips; saw the look of raw determination in their eyes. There was no fear in them at all. It was a humbling and elating moment. The younger Sephiroth drew her attention when his lips curved into a ghost of a smile.

"You know, I never would have thought that someone like you would be the one that saved us. I doubted, and I'm sorry. Maybe the truth is that you were always the only one who could. Thank you Aeris." His words brought the tickling of tears to her eyes and she wanted to savor that strangely bittersweet moment. Instead she started the spell that would pull the taint into her and assimilate the two of them. When she squeezed his hand, the white-green light flowed up from her feet and wrapped around her body.

The curious energy, Planet's energy, spiraled down her arms and reached their hands. It flowed over the younger Sephiroth in a gentle wave, for she had already pulled the taint out of him. However, the older Sephiroth's hand clenched hers and his jaw set in a line of clear pain. She could see the taint underneath his skin, moving along his veins at a frenzied pace. Aeris switched her concentration to him, locking her eyes with his. Planet's energy seeped in through his skin, creating a conduit through which she forcibly pulled the Jenova taint out of Sephiroth. His eyes widened when he realized just what it was she was doing.

"Aeris, no!"

She only gripped his hand tighter, gritting her teeth.

"Don't fight her." Came his younger voice from her right. "It's a lot harder for her if you fight it." He didn't say the word, but his voice echoed believe, have faith.

His hand relaxed and the moment he stopped struggling against the magic, Jenova's taint roared through the connection, hitting Aeris hard. Still she didn't let go. Couldn't let go.

Almost...don't stop...have to hold on.

"Do it now." She painted as the world spun in front of her eyes. The Sephiroth at her right, reached out and took the other's hand, drawing them closer together until the magic surrounding them both meshed in a riot of energy, pulling them ever closer together. The radiance was blinding when the synthesis completed. Sephiroth fully merged, encased her now empty hand with his larger one as the magic of Planet and Ancients swirled around them in resplendent, harmonic glory.

The pain of the taint faded into the background and Aeris looked up at Sephiroth, smiling at the look of deliverance on his face. It was rapturous and a small voice in Aeris' head that quietly said - You did it. He looked at her then, his hands drawing her closer to him. There was a look of tempered wonder in his eyes as he lifted one hand and touched her cheek. The black leather felt smooth and cool against her hot skin, creating a drowsy sensation she that she knew she wasn't able to indulge.

"I'd hoped, but I'd never left myself really believe." He said and she understood both the words he chose to say and the ones he did not. "What have I done to deserve this kind of mercy?" The question hung in the air between them.

"Everyone deserves hope, Sephiroth. Besides its not like I did this myself. You're the one who contacted me and led me here. If you hadn't..." I would be dead. She swallowed hard.

"That night you went into Cloud's mind, that's the first time I felt you. I think maybe we met inside the Lifestream, and I experienced so much light. It seemed impossible that one person could contain it all. I had to reach you again and see if I was right. The more I talked to you, the more that I knew I was right. You're very brave." Now that did start the tears and she couldn't look him the eyes anymore.

"No, I'm really not. I'm pretty selfish if you think about it. It wasn't supposed to happen like this and if I had failed with you..." She trailed off, unwilling to think about the fate of the world had she failed. "I just...it just wasn't fair."

Slowly, hesitantly Sephiroth drew her closer, folding her into him for a closer contact. It was obvious he wasn't accustomed to such gestures and it brought the strangest of laughs to her lips. A laugh that turned into a great flood of tears - relief, sadness, guilt, elation, joy, all her fears, all her uncertainty - everything that she had hidden from the world broke through the carefully constructed walls and the mask she'd worn for so long. Aeris cried in Sephiroth's arms and he only held her head to his shoulder, her face pillowed in his hair. Did he realize? Did he know that so many of these tears were for him and because him?

"I was hard on you, Aeris. I asked so much of you. I shouldn't have. But after feeling the warmth in you and seeing all that light, I didn't want to be the one to snuff it out. Maybe everything else I've done could have be forgiven, but my soul would have really been damned to Hell if I'd killed you. I'm the selfish one. I think that the fact that we're even here proves that point. I'm sorry." Yes he did know and that only made the tears fall faster until she hiccupped out her cries. When his arms tightened around, her she felt safe. When one hand stroked over her matted hair, she felt at peace. When he leaned his head against hers, Aeris thought she might want to stay in this moment forever.

Somewhere, somehow in all of this mess - in all of the dreams and the journey of his mind - Aeris had come to care for Sephiroth. It would be easy to say that she cared for everyone, but she knew this was different. It was closer to the way she'd felt for Cloud and Zach - maybe it was even the same. Except that this was far more intimate. They had been in each other's minds. They had shared their joys and sorrows and the deepest, darkest places in their hearts. While she felt a little guilty about the depth of her emotions, she accepted them like she did everything else, because denying them would be to deny the soul wearying journey they'd traveled both separately and together.

Finally her tears abated and she wiped her eyes on her sleeve, feeling a bit silly and childish for crying all over him. She noticed that he hadn't released her and that she still hand one arm tucked against him and that hand and snuck up under his hair and rested on the curve of his neck. The familiarity of the moment caused her to blush deeply and she looked up to stammer out an apology. She hadn't expected his head to be close enough that she could feel each breath he exhaled move over her skin. Had his eyes always been that clear and brilliant?

Then the light around them faded abruptly. With its departure, the pain in Aeris body - no, in her very soul returned full force. With a strangled yell, her knees gave way - once again Sephiroth kept her from falling down.

"Aeris!" Nope, it's never good when the greatest military tactician of your age sounds that worried. He crouched on the ground and held her against him. "This was too much for you. I have to take the taint back. You aren't built to handle this." She stopped him with a hand to his cheek and a weak smile.

"I'll be fine, Sephiroth. Besides, there's another problem you need to take care of right now." She looked over his shoulder and then he did the same. Standing behind them was HIM - the Sephiroth Jenova had created to complete her plans. His lips twisted into an expression of maniacal glee.

"Well, well, it's not everyday that I get to kill two birds with one stone." His eyes landed on Sephiroth and narrowed. "You've been quite the pain in the ass for Mother and I. You think we didn't know about her little ritual for Holy? Did you really believe that we didn't know what you really were trying to do when you reached out to this little bitch?" He laughed and the sound filled the room and sent a frigid chill down Aeris' spine.

"Well we knew. In fact we encouraged it without you knowing. She doesn't complete her little spell, Mother gets to kill the interfering little shit through the taint, and I get to put you back in your place." His eyes narrowed at them and Aeris flinched from the look of sick joy on his face. "Maybe I'll even play around with the little tramp after I chain you, and your insufferable pride, back up. Just think, Brother, of how much more fun your private, little corner of Abaddon will be now that you know that you led her right into our hands. I mean before she would have been just as dead, but she probably could have generated enough of Holy to stop us. But now?" He laughed again with even more malice than before.

"Now she's just going to die in the most horrible way I can think to kill her, Brother, and you get a front row seat." He pointed Masamune at Sephiroth. "Now get up, you sanctimonious shit!"

"Aeris," Sephiroth placed her gently on the ground and took off his long coat, wrapping it around her, "rest. I won't be long." She heard the steel in his voice but as he moved to turn on his adversary, Aeris grabbed his hand.

"Be careful. I'd really hate to think that I came all this way..." She couldn't finish the thought and he regarded her with a solemn expression.

"Even if I die here, Aeris, I will get you out and back to your friends safely. If I die here, my body and that bastard will die with me. No matter what happens, I won't be a threat to you anymore. You'll just have Mo...Jenova with which to contend." He squeezed her hand and then rose to his feet, Masamune scraping the floor as he drew it up over his head. Sephiroth looked at his doppelganger and Aeris read the determination and hatred in his expression.

"I've had to listen to your pathetic, power hungry delusions for over five years now. It's time that I shut you up."

CLANG...SNNKKKTTTT. Aeris swore she felt the vibrations of their swords crossing all the way in her teeth. They glared out each other over their crossed swords; he with a twisted grin and Sephiroth with a lazy smirk. As similar as they looked, Aeris could tell them apart easily. Sephiroth didn't have that shade of deathly paleness and eyebrows that didn't bend with a constant air of disdain. They even carried themselves differently. Sephiroth remained composed - his motions, though flawless, consumed no more energy than necessary; while the other had an element of wild energy that made his blows more forceful perhaps, but not as precise.

He slashed and Sephiroth absorbed the force of his blow on Masamune, though it scooted him back an inch or two on the ground. With a powerful thrust of his sword arm, Sephiroth forced his opponent's sword high, giving him a spare moment to unleash a wicked slash. He was fast enough to move. Well almost. A bright well of blood sprung up from his chest and ribbons of the vicious liquid ran down the black leather coat, staining it darker.

With a furious spin and a snarl, he attacked again with a series of lightening fast blows that drove Sephiroth back and to the side as he met the doppleganger's blade time and time again.

Clash!

Clang!

Snnnkkktttt!

The last however caught Sephiroth on the arm, drawing a look of pain and anger to his features. He smirked with a mocking bow in Sephiroth's direction.

"I've gotten better, Brother. Have you?" Sephiroth, struck out again and sparks flew from the blades as they pressed and twisted - each one trying to gain the advantage.

"You're arrogance will be your undoing."

"Funny that you should talk about arrogance, since it was your arrogance that landed you here!" An explosion of fire left his hand.

Aeris blinked, trying to clear the spots from her vision and the lessen the grip of fear around her heart. She should leave... now. It would be the prudent thing to do. However should and would are two different things, and she wouldn't leave Sephiroth alone in this battle. Shakily she got to her knees, trying to summon her strength.

He sprung up into the darkness above them with Sephiroth right behind him. Both of them flipped through the air in a flurry of motion too fast for Aeris to follow. Swords clashes echoed in the area followed by grunts and growls that could have come from the throat of either man. It killed her to not know what was going on in the black above her. What she could hear didn't alleviate the fast beat of her heart. Spells sailed over her head in brilliant bursts of color and clanging, discordant noise. Who had the advantage? She couldn't know and the unknowing lay like a leaden weight in her chest.

Sephiroth pushed off the wall with his feet, Masamune curved across his body to leave only small openings for his adversary. He met Sephiroth in the air, sparks flying from their swords. His doppelganger did not expect the vicious left cross Sephiroth dealt him. A blow that sent him plummeting to the ground with Sephiroth on top of him. With their swords locked and Sephiroth in the dominant position, he continued to rain brutal punches on his opponent. Only when they got close to the ground did Sephiroth kick off of him, flipping graceful through the air and landing on his feet.

He hit the ground with enough force to crack upon the stone beneath him. It only took a moment for him to gain his feet.

Suddenly Sephiroth was behind his opponent and managed to wound him again. However his adversary rounded on him quickly and it was only Sephiroth's quick feet that allowed him to turn and avoid the full brunt of Masamune. The sword cut his leg deeply. Sephiroth grimaced though his expression barely moved his lips.

"You've never fought for anything past your own strength." Slash. Sephiroth spun, missing the blow, but Aeris could tell that his movement was slower this time. "Do you really think you can have a happy ending?"

He sent a twist of Black Dragon's Fire at Sephiroth. The flames enveloped him in darkness.

"Do you think that this weak woman can turn you into something else? Do you think she can erase the fact that you are a killer?" The darkness exploded and hurled back at him with frightening speed. The doppelganger's mouth opened in shock as he brought up Masamune. The Fire bit at him, opening up great welt on his skin. It burned away most of the dark overcoat from his body.

"Do you think you can really beat me?" Sephiroth answered his questions with a question and the implication escaped Aeris at the moment. He was weak and Aeris knew this must end soon for him to emerge the victor. Her heart leapt into her throat and she prayed. Please, oh Gods, please.

It happened so fast that she almost missed it. He managed to knock Masamune out of the Sephiroth's hand. The great blade skidded across the floor. Sephiroth weaved in and out of his opponent's path, trying to work his way back to the sword and taking a considerable amount of damage in the attempt. He backed up, panting and holding one arm. His face grim.

"Yes, I really think I can."

"Planet please... HELP ME!" Her heart cried as she reached out for the sword laying just a few agonizing feet from her. A surge of energy careened through her body and her finger tips closed around the blade. With a grunt, she flung the sword across the floor where it whirred in mad circles toward Sephiroth just as he went to strike the final, deciding blow. Sephiroth quickly stepped on the hilt of the sword, sending it flipping up in the air. With a twist he turned, catching the hilt behind his back and with the same eerie grace she'd witnessed before he struck out. The hilt hit him right in the gut and the blade twisted in Sephiroth hand before it opened up his chest and sent his Masaume into the wall.

With Planet's strength still humming in her veins, Aeris pushed herself to her feet and half ran, half stumbled to the two men. Sephiroth was about to kill him.

"Wait!" Aeris screamed, grabbing Sephiroth's hand. "You can't!" Because she understood that this was a part of Sephiroth as well, as much as she hated it. Without waiting for either of them to respond, much less for her flagging strength to fail, Aeris grabbed onto him and began the final spell. He fought with all of his might and Aeris struggled only to find that her attempts met with failure.

Despair and then enlightenment.

She wasn't just fighting him, she was fighting herself: she didn't want to merge this evil, this darkness back into Sephiroth. It scared her but... Everyone was a mix of light and dark, of good and evil. Those extremes bled into multifaceted shades of gray, and in that gray was the struggle and triumph of life. Aeris understood. Sephiroth could not be himself without his darkness any more than she could be herself without Planet. So Aeris released her fear into the ether and opened up to everything that Sephiroth was. She saw it in him - the same understanding. He merely nodded his head once. With her heart opened up so completely and without reservation, she accepted him, all of him, into her warmth, her light, and for one breathtaking moment, two souls merged into one.

When the light died, Aeris crumpled against Sephiroth again. Her breathing shallow. The pain no longer bothered her quite so much now, but she thought it was so because she was so very, very tired. He pulled her against him, cradled her on his lap and once more draped his coat over her.

"We need to go." He murmured gently, his gaze studying her face intently.

"Are you," she coughed, wincing at the tightness in her chest, "are you free?" He smiled so softly at her, stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers with a sadness in his eyes that remained a mystery to her.

"Yes," he said, "you saved me." Her eyes closed and Aeris smiled, peace settling inside her in a slow, pleasant wave.

"I'm glad. I..." She opened her eyes again with words she did not know if she should say on the tip of her tongue. "Can we just, stay here for a little while?" The sorrow in his eyes increased and he shook his head.

"We're running out of time." He said and the sorrow in his voice was as clear as in his eyes. Her brow knit in confusion.

"I don't..." But she never got the chance to finish the thought, because suddenly he was kissing her. He'd instigated the kiss suddenly but softly. His lips roving over hers with such a light touch. To her surprise, her hands coiled around his neck, pulling herself closer with a whimper generated from the overwhelming swell of emotion his actions caused. Unlike her earlier crying bout though, she felt free and buoyant - like champagne bubbles bursting in her head or ocean water splashing over her feet. He held her tighter and pulled her closer with one hand tangled in her hair, supporting her head.

When he nipped her lower lip, Aeris opened her mouth greedily, pulling his lower lip in between hers before returning to a more thorough exploration of his mouth. His tongue tickled hers and even though she was tired, beaten down, and still in pain - Aeris would not have traded this moment for anything other moment in the world. Tears stained her cheeks again and her heart felt full, near to bursting. His body was warm, alive, and coiled around her in a way she never would have dreamed of, but could not reject. We're alive, WE'RE ALIVE! The thought kept dancing around in her on waves of exuberance.

When he pulled away and buried his face in the curve of her neck, Aeris whined in displeasure. She thought he felt him smile against her skin, but when he lifted his head, his expression was grave. Slowly he thumbed the wetness from her cheeks and studied her like he was trying to commit every detail of her face to memory.

"We're out of time, Aeris. Just," he closed his eyes and agony sharpened his features before he opened them, "choose me, Aeris."

All the warmth fled her as realization reared its head and shot down her spine like cold lightening.

"No... !" She screamed, and she thought maybe she saw tears in his eyes as the world faded into nothing.


A/N: Some random thoughts here. 1.) At the line "I've had to listen to your pathetic, power hungry delusions for over five years now. It's time that I shut you up." I always hear some type of Metal starts blaring in my head and usually turned on some Disturbed to write the section of HIS and Sephiroth's fight. In fact I listened predominately to Disturbed's Warrior, Papa Roach's Last Resort, Drowning Pool's Bodies (always good butt-kickery music), Redlight King's Bullet In My Hand, and Disturbed's Enemy, while writing that section. 2.) The quote from Clive Barker really fits much of this story to a tee, plus I lurve me some Barker stories. I highly recommend "The Thief of Always" to any horror lovers out there. 3.) I'm starting to wonder if I should change the genre to "Spiritual", especially after this chapter. 4.) Again much thanks to Lady Kaliska. I might have agonized over this chapter for a year had she not provided her insight. Enjoy everyone!