In Black and White

Chapter 1


Often in his relatively short and miserable life, Sephiroth had found himself wondering if perhaps he was being kept alive merely to sate someone's sick sense of humor. Just now, he was almost convinced that was so.

Groaning, he raised his shaking left arm and brought it to his opposite shoulder, probing the wound just below his collarbone. Pain shot through both his shoulder and arm and he screamed into the cold night air. Amazing that he was still alive, especially so because of the rocks that pinned him down at the bottom of the crater. Only his arm and upper torso were uncovered. He still wasn't sure if that was a good thing, considering the bitter chill that bit at his skin.

He breathed deeply and bit down hard on his lower lip, then wrenched his right arm from beneath the slab of granite. Blood streamed from his bite and the new scrape on his arm, and he lay back, panting. He lay back, panting, already feeling the Jenova cells starting to regenerate the missing skin. Even after she was supposed to be all kinds of dead, Jenova's influence stayed on. At least I can't hear her, he thought. Avalanche must have really killed her.

But what if she comes back?

He refused to think about that. "Gotta… Gotta finish this," he gasped, needing to hear something other than the howl of the wind and the grating of rock on bone. Gripping the boulder that lay over his stomach, he pushed it to the side, muscles bulging, sweat dripping from his pores. Four stones, a strangled cry, and an hour and a half later, Sephiroth lay on his back, naked except for pants that were more hole than fabric and covered in blood. Surveying his wounds, he guessed that his legs were crushed, his right shoulder sliced open, and at least three of his ribs broken. The rest of his injuries were mostly cuts, bruises and scrapes, though he suspected internal bleeding. Still, he told himself, it could have been worse. I'd really rather not try to see if Jenova cells will regenerate whole limbs.

For three days he rested, enduring the cold and the maddening itch that comes with healing. While he waited he reflected on Jenova, and his connection with her, and what he would do to keep her from taking over him again. His thoughts were a mess of half-remembered memories and illogical psychobabble he'd picked up from Professor Gast.

The scent of blood was sharp and intoxicating in his nostrils. Cloud stared at him, horrified, and the rest of his friends did the same behind him. The Cetra slumped over, held up by the Masamune, her blissful smile frozen in death. It had been quick, at least. Not like it would be for Cloud. He smiled, filled with a joy that was not his own, and opened his mouth to speak…

Probably would have happened some way or another, whether you found out about her or not. It was just easier for her to use you this way.

But I still went along with it.

Only at first. It's not your fault she convinced you to keep going.

Cool green water surrounded him. No, not water. Mako. The Lifestream. He'd fallen into the reactor; Cloud had thrown him in with some inhuman strength. It didn't matter. The soothing voice was telling him to wait, to heal, to hide in the shadows and seize his opportunity. What opportunity? he'd asked.

Why, she said, the opportunity to control the Planet. To become a god.

But I went along with it.

She tricked you. You didn't know. Don't worry about it.

You don't understand. I wanted it. I wanted that power. I hated the humans for what they did, then and now. I wanted revenge, for Jenova and myself. For everything, not just two thousand year old slights; for my life.

I went along with it, even though I knew deep down that it was wrong.

Three days of this and Sephiroth was beyond sick of it all. He was determined to go by that time, whether his injuries were healed or not. As it was, he was able to walk, and would be able to defend himself should the need arise, if just barely. He stumbled over rubble and into the maze of caverns that lead to the surface, grabbing the Masamune from a pile of stones near where he had fallen. He gripped it tightly, flexing the muscles in his right arm. Something felt off; the muscles in his shoulder were still mending. Well, it would have to do for now. He straightened up, slung the sword over his shoulder, and started off into the darkness.

It was going to be a very long walk.

Bone Village lay on the edge of the Sleeping Forest, a rambling mass of tents and rough, unpainted clapboard houses, inhabited by excavators, archeologists, and their families. It was obviously not the height of civilization by any means. There was a radio used to contact the mainland in the main structure, a long house that most people dubbed the town meeting house, along with the only television within fifty miles. Unless someone took a boat to the mainland and trekked across the plains to Rocket Town, the townspeople were completely isolated, and they knew it.

But it was amazing how fast they could communicate with the rest of the world when they believed themselves in danger.

Sephiroth ducked as the pickaxe hurtled over his head and crashed into the side of a building. He slid into the gap between a pair of houses and ran for the next street, keeping his head down. Shouting from behind told him that he'd have company as soon as he hit the open street, but he kept on. Better to be attacked where he had room to maneuver than to be trapped in this narrow space that didn't deserve the name alley. He looked up and almost fell on his face trying to stop. In the entrance to the street, fur bristling and teeth bared, was the feline creature called Red XIII. Damnit! He thought he'd avoided Red XIII when he came down into the village.

The lion-like beast stepped forward, tensed to spring. Sephiroth looked back over his shoulder; a crowd of diggers, bearing pickaxes, shovels, and sharpened rocks, blocked the other end. He cursed. Back from the grave and already his luck was out. Wait, scratch that. His luck was nonexistent. Cloud and the former Turk, Vincent Valentine, had appeared behind Red XIII. The cat must have called ahead as soon as he heard the commotion.

Something hit him in the head, knocking him forward to fall on his face. He grunted and felt the back of his head, not surprised to find it sticky with blood. His side exploded with pain; while he'd been checking himself, Red XIII had attacked, clawing at his stomach. He screamed. Healing himself had drained him, and now he was too weak to fight back. Struggling, he managed to bat the feline away before the pain got to him, and he fainted. At least I'll leave a beautiful corpse, he thought before consciousness left him. Too bad they'll tear me apart before they can enjoy it.

The body that lay in the infirmary seemed a far cry from the infamous and insane general Cloud had struck down a year ago. Cloud himself stood near the door, arms crossed and ever watchful of the wounded Sephiroth. Lucky Red XIII was here helping the diggers, he thought. Still, how in the hell was that bastard alive? I killed him! Cloud silently raged. Physically and mentally I killed him! How can he be lying in that bed when he's supposed to be rotting in hell?

Someone placed their hand on his arm and he jumped, immediately going for his Buster Sword. Tifa Lockheart raised her hands to defend herself. "Whoa, Cloud, calm down!" she said.

Cloud sighed. "I'm sorry, Tifa. I just…" He trailed off, his gaze returning to the occupied bed.

"I know. It makes me nervous, too." She spared Sephiroth's sleeping form one fearful glance before shuddering and turning away. "I still don't know why Vincent said to spare him. I'd feel so much safer if we knew he was dead."

"He probably wants to get some information out of him. About Lucrecia."

"Mmm." She rubbed her upper arms like she was cold. "Anyway, I came to tell you Barret's taking the next shift, so you can come eat something in fifteen minutes. Shera made some kind of casserole. It's really good." A small smile touched her face. She patted the crook of his elbow and turned to leave. "Don't stay up all night like last time, you hear me?"

Snorting, Cloud was about to respond with a witty retort when Sephiroth groaned and opened his eyes. Cloud started forward, jumping to the side of the bed, and he heard Tifa's footsteps thundering down the hall as she ran to get the rest of the group. He snarled and pulled the Buster Sword from its place on his back, holding it out in front of him. The emerald eyes that watched him, glowing from Mako enhancement, regarded him with disdain.

"Please, Cloud. Do you really think I'm going to jump up and slit your throat from here?"

"Shut up," Cloud snapped. What sounded like thunder behind him was Avalanche coming to witness this, their enemy and their leader in another epic face-off. At least, it was what they expected. Cloud had to admit that Sephiroth was at a definite disadvantage. He took a deep, slow breath and expelled it through his nose, a trick he'd learned to keep his cool. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Recuperating, it seems." Cloud growled at him, and Sephiroth shrugged. "Look at a map, Cloud. Bone Village is the closest town to the Northern Crater, aside from Icicle Inn. I couldn't very well swim to Junon, could I?"

The Buster Sword slammed into the bed's headboard. Sephiroth stared at it blankly. Was that supposed to frighten him? He sighed. "If you're wondering why I'm not dead, I can't tell you. I don't know why, and threatening me won't make me tell you what I don't know myself." He glared at Cloud, engaging him in a contest of wills. Neither man was willing to back down. They stared at each other in silence, and as the seconds ticked by the members of Avalanche grew nervous. Finally Sephiroth looked away, and the group released a collective sigh that would have been comical if their sworn enemy had not been in their midst. Sniffing, Sephiroth muttered, "For the pain I've caused you… I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Barret stepped forward, gun arm half raised. "You're sorry! Damn right you better be sorry! But sorry don't begin to cut it, you crazy bastard. Sorry don't bring back Aeris. Sorry don't bring back everyone who died when Meteor hit. Don't think that just 'cuz you say sorry you gonna get off the hook!"

Sephiroth struggled to sit upright. "I'm not stupid enough to think that. If you wanted to cut off my head and burn my corpse right now, I wouldn't stop you. But I'd rather apologize when it's not enough than say nothing." He stared each and every Avalanche member in the eye, one by one. Most of them looked away, shifting nervously from foot to foot or staring at the ground. "You want me to make it up to you? Earn the forgiveness that I don't deserve anyway? Then give me something to do."

Silence. What could any of them say to this man, who had torn their group apart and lived when it should have been impossible?

Finally Cloud stepped forward, shaking. His eyes were narrowed to slits, hands clenched at his sides. "You find a way to bring back Aeris," he said, voice trembling in rage. He grasped the handle of the Buster Sword and yanked it from the headboard. The wood cracked, the headboard split, and part of it went flying across the room to smack into the opposite wall. "Or so help me gods," he continued, "You'll wish I really had killed you." Whirling on the ball of his foot, Cloud stalked out of the room, heading toward the kitchen, not waiting for a response.

Five minutes later, as he helped himself to a good-sized serving of casserole, Tifa came up from behind and slipped her arms around his waist. "He agreed to it," she said. Cloud thought he detected a hint of disappointment in that beautifully husky voice.

"Well, he'd better have. Unless he's crazy enough to want to die again."

"Cloud!" Tifa sighed and lowered her voice. "You scared me back there. What got into you?"

"I don't know." He turned around and kissed the top of her head. "I just want Aeris back. I promise, I'll control myself from here on in. Okay?"

She nodded as Cid strolled into the room. "Hey, Spike-Ass," he snapped. "Nice going there with Sephiroth. Now that'll be three thousand gil for that bed you ruined back there."