Disclaimer: Alas, I do not own Final Fantasy VII. I do not hold any rights to Sephiroth, Cloud, Vincent, Rufus, Zack (aka 'the amethyst-eyed man'), Barret, Tifa, Scarlet, or Hojo. The world known as Gaea and any people currently populating it belong to Squaresoft. Er… Square… ENIX. Ugh.
Warning: This fanfic contains an implied relationship between Cloud and Sephiroth, but it is not pronounced or definite in the least. It can be attributed to either a prior romantic relationship between the two of them, or to Cloud's relative insanity during this point in the game; the choice is yours.
Author's Note (6/8/04): This story is placed during the portion of the game when Cloud gives the Black Materia to Sephiroth for the second time, when Sephiroth tells him the truth and Zack is finally introduced. Most of the lines spoken in it are taken directly out of the game, but there are some extra spoken lines—and all unspoken lines—that I came up with.
Author's Note (2/2/05): I went through and touched up a few things here and there in all three chapters, cleaning it up significantly, so it's much easier to read now. Also, I've changed a couple things to make descriptions more clear. I hope anyone reading this new, updated version will enjoy it.
Author's Note (2/7/05): My computer is currently offline, and it will be for about two or three weeks. This means that Bound, Glimmer, and everything else will be on hiatus until I get my computer back. I'm very sorry, everyone! I'll try to get it hooked back up faster than I think I will!
Part One: Your Reality
The world was white. It was not the intense white of a light, nor the faded white of a veil, but the barren white that remained when all else had been taken away. White, blank, empty nothingness.
"What is this!" a high voice cried. "What happened!"
Intense azure eyes closed as Cloud took a deep breath, noting that the air was still as chilly as it should have been—chilly and damp as a snow-topped mountain. "Calm down, Tifa," he soothed, never opening his eyes lest the whiteness disorient him as it had his childhood friend. "Sephiroth is nearby; anything could happen."
The world began to fade back into existence: first, a cobbled street, then a building on either side, a rusted truck no one ever drove…
Tifa's cinnamon eyes widened. "…Nibelheim?"
Cloud's eyes snapped open, flashing brightly as emotion surged in time with the name of his hometown. Could it be…?
The normally taciturn Vincent narrowed his scarlet eyes, mouth opening ever so slightly, revealing his inhumanly sharp teeth for an instant before he spoke. "Why…?" His brow furrowed as he shot a look over his shoulder at Cloud. "Is it an illusion?"
The blond took another deep breath, looking out at his hometown. The air was cold—too cold, even for Nibelheim. "This is an illusion Sephiroth made," he said, with a hint more relief than he had initially intended. He gave a sideways glance in either direction, as though he thought the man was right beside him. When no glowing emerald eyes met his own Mako-bright sapphires, he turned back to face his comrades. "He's trying to confuse us." His eyes met Tifa's, and he gave an easygoing smile, waving a gloved hand in dismissal. "It'll be all right," he assured her—although the sudden slurring of his words, his tone falling from that of a noble to that of a commoner, made any reassurance worthless. "As long as we know it's an illusion there's nothing to be afraid of." He started forward. "Come on, let's keep going."
Tifa gave a weak smile, closing her eyes—more to shield them from what she knew was coming than to display any ease—and heading forward. "Yeah, you're right…" She started, head snapping back to follow the road behind them; her gaze lost any semblance of relaxation as they lit on a pair of black boots. Her eyes grew wide with shock as they traveled up those boots, black slacks, a steel belt and a nearly-bare chest to reach the face that haunted her memory; to meet those cold, glowing green eyes…
"Look!" she cried, her voice laced with more fear than she would normally have liked; currently, however, neither she nor Vincent nor Cloud cared about the fright in her tone. Tifa had done her duty, and raised the alarm. The men dashed to either side, both knowing that there was nowhere to conceal themselves even as they did so, as that all-too familiar figure came into view. He walked between them, then past them, then stopped to glance over his shoulder.
When he did, Cloud's breath caught in his throat. Sephiroth was smiling. Not the malicious, manic grin he had worn when he killed Aerith, but a true, wholehearted smile. And, though the simple display of mirth was still lined with some of the Ancient's usual darkness, the bitterness that had lined his features last time they met was nowhere to be seen.
The silver-haired man, still smiling, spoke at last. "All right, let's go," he said, turning to face forward once more.
He just…looked past us… Cloud thought in puzzlement. What…? He trailed off, thought broken by the appearance of three more officers. Hey, I remember this…
Two lesser officers, garbed in the standard Shinra uniform, walked up, followed by…someone who was not Cloud. It should have been, if this illusion really was what Cloud thought, but this Shinra officer simply was not Cloud. He had long hair, thick and spiky and black as night, locks falling over eyes of shining amethyst.
Tifa shook a shaky breath, holding a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. No…it can't be… she shook her head, taking a step back. Sephiroth! Please, don't…do this…
Vincent squinted, cocking his head to one side and leaning in closer to the unfamiliar man. He was dressed the same as Cloud, he had Cloud's sword, and the expression he bore was one Vincent had seen on the young blond's face several times; the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly in the faintest of smiles, eyes shining both with the power of Mako and with excitement. "That's not Cloud," the ruby-cloaked man said softly. "Who is this man?"
"Stop…" Tifa breathed, voice barely audible. "Sephiroth!"
Cloud sighed, rolling his impossibly blue eyes. "This is so stupid…"
Sephiroth, the Sephiroth of the past, laughed aloud, eyes alight with true mirth—a light his gaze had long since lost. He bent over, hands on his abdomen as the laughter cramped his insides, and he waved one hand as though in dismissal. The man who was not Cloud spoke—or seemed to speak. His mouth moved wordlessly, his voice lost to their ears, and Sephiroth shook his head. His smile still had not faded, and Cloud felt his heart wrench.
This was Sephiroth; the true Sephiroth. This was the man he had befriended in SOLDIER, the man he had wanted so badly to be, the man who had laughed aloud at the mention of his parents—although Cloud had yet to learn why. If only they hadn't come to Nibelheim that day…if only the Mako Reactor hadn't malfunctioned… The young man felt his Mako-bright eyes burn, and reached up to wipe them before anyone could see.
He winced in pain as a flash of white light burned his eyes, and the eyes of his comrades. For a moment Cloud was blind, his vision nothing but eternal white, but as he blinked he dispelled both the tears and the loss of vision. Vincent's sight returned first, as usual, and he saw that the group of Shinra officers were gone.
The scarlet-eyed gunner looked about. "Now," he inquired quietly, "how do we get out of here?"
Tifa, blinking her eyes back into focus, turned her still-blurry gaze on Cloud. "Cloud," she said, her voice wary, "it's just an illusion. Don't worry about it…"
The world, once again, went white. Cloud closed his eyes once more, dizzy from the onslaught of emptiness that had assaulted his vision, and took a deep breath. The chill was fading, slowly being replaced by the vaguest heat… The ex-SOLDIER clenched his eyes tightly shut, concentrating hard, until he caught a familiar scent. Snow on stone, damp and cold…the Gaean Cliffs. Then this heat is an illusion too, he thought, feeling almost relieved. He should have felt entirely relieved, he knew that. And yet, for some reason he couldn't understand, he was vaguely—just enough that he knew it—disappointed.
Sephiroth should have been able to make an illusion so real no one could break free of it, such was his power. Had he grown so weak in those five years that a mere ex-SOLDIER could breathe through the chinks in his magic?
He shook his head to clear it of those confused, renegade thoughts. "What's next?" he inquired, knowing perfectly well that the snowy-haired son of Jenova would not answer, no matter how close he may have been.
Tifa, hands over her eyes to block the hot tears burning behind them, let out a faint whimper as she tried not to shake. "Stop it already!" she cried, her voice breaking.
Vincent's scarlet eyes remained open, staring intently into the white, watching as it faded into something else. Vincent could stare into the pure nothing undaunted; white for a moment was preferable to black for years. As if the man behind this dream could sense the ebon-haired gunner's thoughts, the whiteness deepened into a familiar place, albeit and unfamiliar scene.
Nibelheim in flames. Houses burning, people burning, everything… There was heat, but it was fair fainter that it should have been; this was, indeed, an illusion. An illusion that, for Vincent, brought a rush of guilt to his heart.
"All this…" he breathed. He closed his eyes, brow creasing as he bowed his head. "All this…while I was sleeping…" He ground his teeth, angry. Damn Hojo and his meddling, he thought seethingly. The anger wavered, then dissipated as the memories returned of what had happened then…what had created this monster. He sighed. Damn me and mine, too…
"This is what actually happened five years ago," Cloud explained. The blond could see nothing but the burning town, and knew the others were in the same condition, but hoped fervently that they could hear him. "But it's probably not me that's going to come out of the Shinra mansion." He sighed, shrugging, and then shook his head. "He's going to try and show us another stupid illusion."
Cloud was correct in his assumption—the same ebony-haired, amethyst-eyed man that had replaced him earlier came rushing out of the mansion. His blue-violet eyes widened, the flames turning them swiftly scarlet, and his mouth worked silently in disbelief.
"Hey!" a voice called. The replacement turned, the vaguest smile—Cloud's smile—gracing his features; a survivor! Sephiroth hadn't killed them all!
Tifa turned her gaze on the speaker, her cinnamon eyes widening as she recognized her teacher. Zangan…it had been so log since she saw his face…
"Hey, it's you!" Zangan shouted over the roar of the flames and the cries of those whose lives they claimed. His voice was so far away… "You're still sane, right?"
The man gave a nod, setting his mouth into a determined line, the smile gone forever.
"Then come over here and help me!"
With another nod the man rushed over, leaping over the flames to reach the aging fighter.
"I don't want to…watch this." Tifa swallowed, attempting to purge the lump from her throat. Her mouth was cry, her hands shaking, and she closed her burning eyes. Clenching her hands into fists and holding them up to her face, Tifa shook her head forcefully. "Cloud…!" she called, hoping he could hear her just as she could hear him. "…don't watch."
The shade of Zangan pointed first at the inn, then Cloud's house. "I'll check this house, you check that one over there!" The fighter disappeared into the inn; the replacement of Cloud, amethyst eyes dark, looked about—first at the photographer laying to his right, then to the petty officer on his left. Neither was moving at all… His shoulders dropped and he shook his head, tears visible on his tanned cheeks.
"Sephiroth," the man whispered. "This is horrible…" He shook his head, dropped to his knees, face contorted in turmoil. "Sephiroth, this is just too horrible…!" His voice was smooth, even through such pain, and held a conviction that, for some reason, made Cloud's heart ache.It's almost…
The world went white.
Cloud shook his head to rid it of the thought. Familiar? No, certainly not. He didn't know this man any more than this man was real. It was just an illusion. With his eyes closed he could hear almost everything. Vincent letting out yet another sigh; the fire fading away; Tifa…crying. His brow furrowed. "What's wrong, Tifa?" he inquired. "I told you before, right? As long as we know it's an illusion, there's no need to be scared."
Vincent watched as the world faded back into existence; this time he was standing on the cobbled ground, Cloud and Tifa before him. He turned to Tifa. "You all right?" he inquired. She turned to face the spot where the replacement had been, but there was no one there. The gunner's dark brows arched. "Hmm? It was an illusion…" He turned to Cloud, fully prepared to tell him he was right, but the younger man cut him off.
"Sephiroth!" he yelled, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "I know you're listening! I know what you want to say! That I wasn't in Nibelheim five years ago." His voice echoed through the empty streets, and Vincent noticed for the first time that the flames had gone silent. Cloud's eyes, narrowed and glowing angrily, cast from one side to the other, searching for the son of Jenova—his archenemy, his old partner, and his… He ground his teeth, forcing his voice to stay level. "That's it, isn't it?"
There was another flash of white, and Sephiroth stood before the young blond. "I see you finally understand," he said, his usually cold voice holding a hint of what could have once—in another time, another place—been called warmth.
Cloud stood before him, unshaken even under those glowing green eyes. They were close enough to touch, close enough for Cloud to smell him…the sweet cold of winter, painful and lovely as Yuletide morning, beautifully warm inside, deadly cold outside, and so painfully familiar. Cloud forced his emotions down, taking a shaky breath, and narrowed his eyes once again. "What you're trying to say is that you want to confuse me, right? But," he took a deep breath, "even making me see those things won't affect me." In defiance, he took a step closer to the would-be Cetra and raised his voice. "I remember it all. The heat of the fire…the pain in my body…and in my heart!"
Sephiroth raised one icy eyebrow. "Oh, is that so?" he inquired, giving the same terrible, beautiful smile he had given to Aerith when she died. "You are only a puppet…you have no heart…and cannot feel any pain." He took a step back, cocking his head to one side, still wearing that smile, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "How can there be any meaning in the memory of such a being?" He cupped Cloud's face with one hand and lifted, letting his glowing emeralds meet Cloud's glowing sapphires. "What I have shown you is reality. What you remember…that is the illusion."
Cloud shrugged nonchalantly, though his heart was pounding, and averted his eyes, jerking away from the taller man's touch. He cast his gaze to the ground, brow furrowed, and pondered what his former partner had said. Could it be…? Could my life be an illusion? He bit his bottom lip. I… He clenched his eyes shut, trying to think. I…remember… His shining eyes snapped open. …nothing. I don't remember anything…!
"Cloud…" Vincent breathed, his inhumanly sharp eyes catching every subtle change in the younger man's expression. The blond's eyes were wide, his mouth open ever so slightly, and his breath was coming in short gasps.
Tifa took a shaky breath. "Cloud…!"
Sephiroth was the one who drew Cloud's gaze, however. When their eyes met, Cloud could almost feel the determination in Sephiroth's heart; such belief, such unwavering certainty…Sephiroth, at least, thought he was telling the truth. His smile had faded, his mouth set into a grim line. His brows were arched, and there was a glimmer of the real Sephiroth visible in his expression. "Do you understand?" he inquired, sounding almost as though he had just completed briefing him on a mission.
"I don't want to understand," Cloud replied, taking a step back. "But I want to ask you one thing." Sephiroth raised his eyebrows and gestured with one hand for the younger man to go on. "Why? Why are you doing this?"
The man let out a single heartless laugh, then disappeared in a flash of light. Tifa's cry as
she bolted to Cloud's side was signal enough to prove that the former elite SOLDIER was not gone from their presence, however. Cloud turned to see Vincent with his scarlet eyes locked onto Sephiroth, narrowed slightly in rage. The white-haired man turned his head lazily to face the gunner and Vincent turned away, joining Tifa beside Cloud. Unlike Tifa, however, Vincent did not run.
Sephiroth laughed again, eyes traveling from the cloaked man back to Cloud. "I want to return you to your true self, the one who gave me the Black Materia that day." His lips curved in a broad grin, showing a flash of perfect white teeth, and his shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. "Who would have ever thought a failed experiment would prove so useful?" He let out a loud strain of laughter, eyes clenched tightly shut, and remained that way for several seconds. Then, bent over, hands on his abdomen, his emerald eyes opened, narrowed slightly. "Oh, Hojo would just die if he knew!"
Cloud started backward. "Hojo!" He had almost let himself believe that his days dealing with that lunatic were done—he was surprised to hear his name again at all, much less from Sephiroth. "What does he have to do with me?"
Sephiroth's laughter trailed off and he stood straight, letting out a sigh in exasperation. Would he have to explain everything? No wonder Hojo had given up on this boy; he was indeed a wreck, a mess of dreams and illusions, memories of smoke and vapor that he took for the truth. "Five years ago you were…" he paused, searching for the most accurate term, "constructed…by Hojo, piece by piece, right after Nibelheim was destroyed. A puppet made up on vibrant Jenova cells, knowledge, and the power of Mako. An incomplete Sephiroth Clone." He took a step closer to the blond, then another, then another…Tifa darted behind Cloud, hands over her face. "Not even given a number," he continued, stopping just in front of him and placing a hand on the side of the younger man's face, brushing his fingers along the curve of Cloud's cheek. "…That is your reality."
The ex-SOLDIER once again cast his Mako eyes downward, concentrating. I remember… He thought, tilting his head slightly, as though the motion would jog loose some memory. I remember…
"Cloud…don't listen to him…" Tifa hissed, placing one shaking hand on his shoulder, shoving back her fear of Sephiroth, who was just…so…close…! She shook her head, raising her voice. "Close your ears! Close your eyes! Don't listen!"
The young man turned to look at her over his shoulder, brow furrowed. "What's wrong, Tifa?" he inquired, giving a weak smile. "I'm not affected by it…" His smile faded as he turned his gaze back on Sephiroth; the silvery-haired man who seemed to know more truth that Cloud had ever known in his entire life. Entire life? What was that, five years? If Sephiroth was right, then it had only been five years since…since… He took a deep breath, standing a little straighter. "I wasn't paying attention to him."
"All that talk of Hojo constructing you is a lie!" Tifa continued, her voice raising even higher, her eyes wide and frantic. "Don't we have our memories together? Being kids together? Starlit nights…?" The words came out in rush, and she knew she was probably making him even more wary by sounding so afraid. But she couldn't have him find out…he could never know…the truth….
Sephiroth chuckled, turning his piercing gaze on the girl. "Tifa…why are you so worried? Why are you so scared by these words?" He cocked his head to one side. "Hmm…shall I show everyone here what is in your heart?" Tifa started, her mouth going dry, and she turned her back on the horrible, beautiful image of Sephiroth and Cloud. "You look like you're not feeling well," he said softly, his voice barely above a whisper. With one more laugh, Sephiroth disappeared.
Not much different than the original, but a bit clearer. Writing Bound has really been a great writing exercise for me, and I tried to give this rewrite the same basic flavor as my oversized AU fic.
Thanks to anyone who's reading this, and to anyone who reviewed the old version. You guys are the only thing that keep me writing. :)