I'm not even gonna try to explain, at this point in the game. If it gets updated, it gets updated, if it doesn't, it doesn't. Voila.
Also, seeing CC in its full glory had strangely the opposite effect I thought it would--instead of making me want to write Sephiroth more, it actually made me want to write him in this story less. I finally got a feel for how his character was supposed to be, and pre-crazy Sephiroth wasn't quite the homicidal maniac I initially made him out to be; arrogant as hell, yes, but more...sullen and lonely. Of course, no one ever said that post-crazy Sephiroth has to be anything like pre-crazy Sephiroth, either; going bugfuck insane does things to one's personality. So does dying twice.
This section also sucks. I'm sorry. Enjoy? :(
Oh, and the lack of the equals sign makes me a sad panda.
Chapter 6: When You've Gotta Go, You've Gotta Go
"Sephiroth plus store full of weapons equals bad."
His gaze sharpened to a point.
Tromp-tromp thump stomp.
The muscles of his jaw locked in an intense battle to keep his temper under wraps.
Shuffle-sniff. "I really like what you've done with your hair, Tifa--did you cut it a bit?"
The Cetra needed to die in the worst possible way. That's all there was to it.
Over the past weeks, the ex-General had settled into something of a routine. He would awaken, do a quick round of exercises (because though he would never admit it, he was still silently elated that he could make use of his limbs), and begin the long, arduous process of ignoring the shrew. Or, rather, he would attempt to ignore her. On most occasions, he would succeed for an hour, maybe two if he was exceptionally busy or focused, before her blathering would shatter whatever spell of pseudo-tranquility he had, and he would be forced to share words on her bumbling idiocy.
AVALANCHE, though, would certainly share words of their own on that matter. Out of self-preservation, he remained silent, despite her constant chattering, shuffling, and sickeningly emotional episodes that went on nearby. It had been a little over three hours. Sephiroth knew that if this kept up unabated, he was going to go completely and utterly insane. That was a road he certainly did not want to go frolicking down again; not without ensuring Strife was good and dead first, in any case. And perhaps the bar maid, also, if he was feeling puckish.
Another round of sniffling alerted him to the tsunami of tears to come from the Cetra, and he braced his poor beleaguered psyche against the incoming onslaught. "Oh, Tifa, I've missed you so much; I really have."
Oh yes, he decided. The bar maid would definitely be next.
Aerith shuffled away, wiping at her nose childishly, and sidled up to Sephiroth. He contained a groan of disgust through years of hard-won practice. "They all look so different from when I remember seeing them last." 'Yes, two years will do that, harpy.' "I think Tifa cut her hair a little, but I'm not sure. What do you think?"
He just barely stifled a growl of hatred. She was not asking him about his opinion on Lockheart's hair.
A little part of his brain threw up the white flag in surrender as Sephiroth sucked in a breath abruptly, wheeling around to face the troupe that warily followed behind him. "We should rest for the moment," he ordered succinctly.
The group halted slowly, distrust plainly written on their features. Strife's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
Sephiroth quickly scrambled for a lie that didn't involve dismemberment of some poor woodland creature, like he was itching to do. "There is...something that I need to do."
The blond's eyes narrowed further, Mako eyes glowing. "Like what?"
He glared at a nearby tree and willed it to burst into flames. It didn't comply. Damnable oversized toothpick. "Is it necessary that I go into detail? Sufficed it to say, you won't want to follow."
Strife's head crooked to the side, his unruly mop of hair swishing from the movement as if it were a palm tree rustled by the wind. "Why not?"
Wallace, behind 'Fearless Leader', seemed to keep himself from slapping the boy upside the head, and Sephiroth wondered why the man had only now decided to use a modicum of self-restraint. "Damn Spikey, he's sayin' he's gotta take a piss. Shi't, man."
The ex-puppet's expression went blank while the others unhappily digested the information Then, his face twisted to flawlessly match the utterly clueless look in his eyes. "You didn't go before we left?"
Suddenly, Sephiroth wished Valentine had gone ahead and shot him, earlier. "Would have that been before or after you started trying to kill me?"
"I'd think before, since you were wai--"
Highwind snorted in exasperation, shaking his head and yanking the perpetual half-smoked cigarette from his lips. "Christ, Spike, will ya just let the psycho do his fuckin' business, already? Jesus, I wanna get the hell back to civilization before I start collectin' my pension."
The ninja brat sourly replied, "You mean you don't, already?"
He scowled, replacing his lit cigarette where it rightfully belonged. "Shame, too, brat--maybe I could've used the check to buy ya a fuckin' muzzle." His thin lips tugged into a devious smirk. "Or maybe some new shoes. How're yer socks fairin', anyway?"
Her eyes lit up in rage. As amusing as their petty arguing was, Sephiroth's rage needed an outlet before it exploded into a bloody mass of disemboweled AVALANCHE members. He stalked through the underbrush silently--or as silently as one could stalk through densely packed twigs, branches, and an assortment of feather-light objects that all loved to go 'crunch' under his boots. Now he remembered why he was so quick to get in and out of the Sleeping Forest when he'd been on his trek to break the puppet and kill the Cetra; that vicious little life-sucking harpy.
In hindsight, maybe it would have been equally as scarring if he'd piked her on top of a tree like that Zolom. He dismissed the idea with a soft grunt. Repeating the same psychological head-trip was just lazy. It was so much more interesting to think of new ways to kill people. (He ignored the fact that he'd impaled people through the back thousands of times before shishkabobbing the shrew.)
He came upon a small clearing in the forest and halted, allowing himself a moment of silence to gather his thoughts.
Until he heard her behind him. "Where are you going?"
Said thoughts scattered out of reach like cockroaches with a light turned on. He whirled on her immediately. "What are you doing?"
She glanced around skittishly, blinking. "Talking..."
"Unless someone else can see me..."
"Why?" he demanded, shoulders and back going rigid as he wrangled in the urge to tear something apart.
Aerith blinked again. "Why what?"
He released a breath in a slow, malevolent hiss. "Why. Are. You. Talking?"
"Because you asked me a questi--"
"Not now, you stupid little tart!" Sephiroth growled, aquamarine eyes ablaze. He tilted his head to the side and pinned her with a steely gaze; a predator sizing up its next meal. "Then. While we were walking. For three hours. Non-stop. Why?" His brows rose in silent request for an answer, but allowed her no time to give one as he pressed on, "Are you really that dense? Did you expect those imbeciles--who you already knew were oblivious to your presence, mind you--to turn around and respond? Even if they could respond, why would they? The world is in danger, and you're asking them about their hair?!"
Aerith' face went slack from his vitriol, shoulders drooping in mild reproach. "Well, as far as conversation starters go, I could've done worse--"
"It's not a conversation if they can't hear you!" he bellowed, voice echoing in the unnaturally quiet forest. "And that's not the point," he huffed irritably, trying to regain emotional equilibrium as he remembered that AVALANCHE was nearby, waiting for his return. He couldn't let them think he was still crazy. Did seeing dead people qualify as being crazy? "If you knew they couldn't hear you, why were you talking? Incessantly?" His expression twisted with incomprehension, lips curling back into a sneer. "Babbling and crying and simpering everywhere, like someone would actually want to comfort you." He sighed in disgust, bringing a hand up to knead the migraine from his temples.
The Cetra's expression pulled tight with misery as she seemed to shrink in on herself. "I...it's overwhelming. Haven't you ever wanted something, but it was completely out of reach?"
Sephiroth stared at her, coldly.
She took his his lack of response as an affirmation. He took his lack of response as a succinct, 'Shut up, already.' It went unnoticed. "Well then, you should know how I feel."
'When Hell freezes over.' He replied sourly, "I don't sob uncontrollably and at the drop of a hat. I most certainly do not talk about another person's hair."
"That's not the--" Hastily, she swiped at her eyes and gnawed at her lip. "I'm sorry for being an emotional wreck. I just..." Her mild soprano tapered off into a strangely uneasy silence.
He frowned. "You're weak." Her emerald eyes shot up to his, bright with indignation. "You're looking at me like that only because you know it's true. Emotional trauma doesn't suit you."
'It doesn't suit you, either,' that damnable little voice chided him.
He rolled his armored shoulders in a small, dismissive shrug. "There's...no shame in it." 'Hypocrite.' "It's simply a silly human reaction."
The harpy's features darkened, slightly. "You're human, too, you know."
He scoffed, glancing out into the glowing woodland surrounding them. "Not nearly enough for that." Off in the distance, he spied a figure fumbling through the cobweb of old, gnarled branches; swearing loudly as he shoved them to make headway into the clearing. "Hmph. Highwind."
Sephiroth idly wondered if Highwind drew the short straw. He was certain the man would have never volunteered to go looking for him, otherwise. "...Oughtta just let the bastard freeze his goddamn ass off in this Godforsaken shithole...the forest that time fuckin' forgot--ow, dammit!"
Quizzically, Sephiroth regarded the pilot. "Did the tree bite you?"
"Piss off, ya miserable little fuck," Cid hissed as he untangled his pant leg from a thorny bush. "What the hell's takin' ya so damn long, anyway? Jesus, mountains move their shit faster than you."
The opportunity presented itself, and despite his own irritation, Sephiroth simply couldn't refuse it. It was an odd feeling; to give into an impulse. The last time he did that, things spontaneously combusted. ...Maybe it was for the best. "Well, I have been dead for two years--"
"Stop being a fuckin' smartass," the pilot groused, rubbing at his pockmarked thigh. At Sephiroth's nearly astounded silence, he added, "What, you think I'm scared of ya? Well, I got news for you, pal: I never was. Wasn't in the army, wasn't when I was fightin' ya in the crater, and I'm goddamn well not now when I have to babysit yer ass while takin' a shit. Fuckin' Spike with his goddamn paranoid bullshit--he can haul his ass out here." He blinked, seemingly reorienting himself with his train of of thought. "So if ya got somethin' to do, psycho, fuckin' do it already and stop wastin' our goddamn time!"
Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Aerith cringing, though her eyes were warm with nostalgia. Damn her.
"Are you always this pleasant and accommodating?" Sephiroth queried with an arch of his brow.
"Christ." Highwind sighed, defeated, and he fingered the pack of cigarettes shoved into the strap of his flight-goggles. "You must be fuckin' great at parties." He turned, grumbling, "Fine, forget it; whenever the hell yer ready, just come back and let us know yer not dead, or ya didn't go nuts and start burnin' even more shit down." Scratching the back of his head, he glanced over his shoulder and added, "Though if ya wanna torch this fuckin' forest, I ain't gonna complain."
Sephiroth watched the pilot stagger back through the underbrush--his silent trip periodically broken by barked obscenities--with a pensive expression on his face. He could almost respect that level of blunt honesty and brashness. At least he wouldn't ever have to wonder if Highwind was thinking. He wasn't entirely certain if that was a good thing. Knowing his luck, more than likely not.
Casting his gaze over to the Cetra waif, he motioned to to his departed guest with an imperceptible jutting of his chin. "You traveled with him?"
She nodded amiably. "Yes."
"And you're still..." He fumbled for the appropriate description. 'Non-corrupted, irritatingly naïve, blind--' "...You?"
The harpy blinked, hair rippling as she tipped her head to the right. "Why wouldn't I be?"
He shook his head. "Forget it." Fixing her with a glare, he closed the distance between them, fairly towering over her petite form. Which was exactly what he was going for. "Let me make myself clear, Cetra--when I am around others, you are not to interfere in my business by making a nuisance of yourself."
"But I'm only talking," she replied, exasperated.
"Talking when it isn't necessary," he rebuked, thin lips pressed into a line. "You are here, acting as a guide, not a pen-pal. I'm not interested in the meaningless comings and goings of your mind. If it isn't deathly important to myself or someone else in this group, then it isn't worth speaking aloud." He allowed her a moment to let the words sink in. "Am I understood?"
Aerith matched his irritated expression with a surprising accuracy, her arms akimbo in womanly outrage. "Alright, General."
His tainted jade eyes narrowed. He did not like the way she said that.
Another faint swore broke the uneasy, hostile silence. He broke eye-contact, scanning the pulsating forest. Though he didn't discern the blond's frame among the unearthly glowing trees, he wondered if Highwind was waiting for him to catch up. It wouldn't do to have them up in arms mere hours after his first meeting with them. Harrumphing, he cast one last warning glance at the shrew before retreating into the Not-So Sleeping Forest.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and the troupe had managed to find themselves at Bone Village as twilight descended on the treacherous Northern Continent. AVALANCHE scattered when they reached the town proper, each heading to a shop to acquire something necessary. The ninja brat made her way to a clothing store to replace her missing shoes. Cid made his way to a bar. The vampire disappeared into the shadows, complete with a yanking of his tattered red cape.
Sephiroth himself--with Strife acting as a 'bodyguard', of course--headed to the nearest weapon shop. "You have no weapon?"
"I wouldn't be heading to a weapon shop, if I did," Sephiroth answered, annoyed that the lanky blond actually had to ask the question in the first place. "And though I'm sure you would love to keep things that way, I would much rather ensure that I'm not rendered useless at the first sign of trouble."
The boy's eyebrow quirked underneath his wild mane of hair. "You're useless without a weapon?"
"Not nearly as useless as you are with one." Regarding Strife over his shoulder, he asked with faux sheepishness, "You wouldn't happen to have a spare sword, would you?"
Strife appeared he was trying his very hardest to set Sephiroth's hair on fire with his eyes alone. Strangely, his imagination rewarded him with the absurd image of the failed clone's attempts resulting in setting his own bangs ablaze. It amused him greatly. "Well then," he stated, "off to the weapon shop, we go."
The store was a glorified shack, with weapons of all shapes and sizes fastened to the rickety wooden walls. He sincerely doubted he would find anything suitable, but it couldn't hurt to find something other than what he was currently sporting. He imagine much laughter would arise from his adversaries if he threatened them with his Sharpened Fang of Death.
His gaze roamed over his limited choice in weaponry--a glaive here, a javelin there--and they eventually fell upon a claymore jutting from a half-hidden case along the far wall. Humming to himself in thought, he crossed the distance and studied it carefully. Grabbing the cool metal hilt, formed to appear like dragon scales, he hefted it in his left hand while examining the blade itself with his right.
The double-sided sword stopped at nearly four feet, with intricate carvings running up the length of it; he critically ran a thumb across the ridges and indentations to spy for any immediate imperfections in the steel. Experimentally, he raised it to eye level and flicked his wrist, letting the sword whistle through the air. It was made of denser material than that of the katana, his sword of choice, and thusly felt heavier than he thought necessary. Still, he wasn't in a position to be picky, and after all, it appeared to be of a rare sort of craftsmanship.
"I don't think I've ever seen you with a broadsword," Strife commented idly, his hands surgically attached to the hilt of his own sword. He knew the boy was thinking something along the lines of, "Sephiroth plus store full of weapons equals bad." He wasn't about to disprove the notion.
He glared at the blond over his new weapon, but remained silent otherwise. Turning to the tender, who was giving him one of the more scathing looks he'd ever seen, he flipped the sword in his palm and stabbed the tip of the blade into the floorboards. "I'd like to purchase this weapon," he said firmly.
The clerk--a middle-aged woman, of all things--glared at him with beady brown eyes. He cleared his throat and tucked his right hand into his beloved trench, digging his fingers into the hidden inside pocket that currently held the sum of his gil. "What is your price?"
The woman continued to glare.
"I know who you are. Sephiroth."
Lovely. "Oh." He frowned. He could have sworn he was more eloquent than this before he died the second time. What exactly did the Planet do to his brain?
Keeping her distrusting, acidic glare in his direction, the tender reached underneath the plain wooden desk and yanked out a rather nasty looking halberd; the axe serrated and curving dangerously towards his skull. Briefly wondering how something that was taller than him managed to fit so perfectly under a counter-top, he merely blinked at the insinuated threat. "I'm afraid I only have cash on me," he added, undaunted.
He off-handedly blocked the woman's attempt at taking his head off with a loud tink! "You realize I still haven't bought this yet...?"
"If this is your idea of price negotiation--"
"If you don't want me to pay for this, that's entirely your prerogative, but--" Tink, tink, tink! "You know, the point of using that is to actually hit me--"
He sighed, side-stepping the axe-head's arc and watching with disinterest as it cleanly sliced through two staves and dismounted a shield. "Cloud," he said plainly, "I don't believe this woman wants our business."
"Our business?" he squawked, then added, "'Cloud'?"
The crazed demon-woman stopped in her frenzied attacks, glaring at the here-to-fore silent customer. "You!" she shrieked. "You're AVALANCHE! You're a hero! Why are you just standing there?"
Sephiroth could feel the boy's blue burning gaze against his back. He was trying to set his hair on fire again. How adorable. "Didn't you get the memo? Heroes don't exist." Idly, the ex-General yanked out a few crumpled bills and tossed them on top of the mass of splintered wood, steel, and china piled near his right foot. "For the trouble. A pleasure doing business with you."
Smiling grimly, he pivoted on his heel and strode in front of the former puppet, silently motioning for him to step aside so he could leave. The woman wailed in pent up rage and sent the halberd sailing through the air. With a tiny noise of displeasure, he slid out of harm's way.
Leaving Cloud blankly in his wake.
The strangled yelp that fought its way out of the boy's throat when he barely dodged the hurtling spear was a sound he would forever cherish. As would be the small chunk of blond hair that fluttered harmlessly to the ground about them both as Strife gracelessly dragged himself from his prone position.
Sephiroth noted the halberd jutting inches from the door frame amusedly, and nodded at the seething tender with an appreciative smirk. "Very good aim, Miss. It's a shame you never considered joining the military."
The Shera was a majestic beast of a machine, Sephiroth mused as he watched the world streak below the airship's observation deck; the waning sunlight winking off its polished metal surface. It appeared that Shinra's ill-begotten funds were being used well; it was sleek, refined, almost alien in nature.
"She's a beaut, ain't she?" Highwind remarked with pride.
The ex-General glanced over to the blond. His wind-chapped lips were split into a grin, and yet somehow, he still managed to keep the cigarette held firmly at the corner of his mouth. 'What an odd talent. Pity he couldn't have a useful one.' He nodded curtly. "It is a very efficient design. Superior to the Highwind in nearly every way."
Cid's steely blue eyes snapped to his angrily, which he got immense satisfaction out of, but he strolled out of earshot before the pilot could make good on the non-spoken threat. He strode calmly to the edge of the deck, boots thudding dully against the solid wooden planks, and merely waited with his arms crossed over his chest.
So far, Aerith had continued to abide his wishes and remained silent the entire trip--almost too silent. Instead of jabbering relentlessly to the point where he would be forced to yell at her to keep her damnable mouth shut, she simply stared at him.
He'd never actually seen a person go four and a half hours without blinking--well, a living one, anyway--and Sephiroth had to admit, it was rather disconcerting. Especially given the unearthly nature of the Cetra's emerald green eyes; he got the distinct impression that she was trying to dissect him. From the inside out.
And people thought he was a freak.
"Taking my advice somewhat literally, aren't you?" he asked brusquely, continuing to gaze at the sea rushing thousands of feet beneath him.
Silence greeted him for a solid thirty seconds before she replied, "...Is that what you call 'advice'?"
Actually, it was far closer to what one would call a 'direct order', but he wasn't going to quibble over the naming details. "And you're doing a splendid job of it, so far, I might add." He glanced in her direction before adding, "If you hadn't answered me just now, I was going to fear that you had cut out your own tongue out of some silly sense of spite."
"I don't have a tongue to cut out." 'How to Miss a Point Entirely, in One Easy Step': a novel by Aerith Gainsborough.
Sephiroth sighed, slightly, and continued to look out of the observation desk as the rugged, washed-out crags and plateaus of the Midgar shoreline slowly rolled into view below him.
"I miss my friends," Aerith stated sullenly.
"Have you ever missed friends, before?" she asked.
"I never had friends," he grunted, already regretting his foolish impulse to break the silence he himself had asked for. 'Hypocrisy and You': a Self-Help pamphlet by ex-General Sephiroth.
"Oh come on," the harpy insisted with a stomp of a foot, "what about Zack?"
"Zachary was an over-eager puppy that craved attention and acceptance," he snapped irritably, suddenly reminded of all the silly, inane shenanigans Fair would try to get him involved in.
"Who do you think would win in a drinking contest? Orcs or Dwarves?"
"Hey, could I borrow your Masamune for a second? I need to test a theory."
"Come on, Seph, how you do you know pigs can't fly? With enough speed, trajectory, and maybe a haste spell..."
"I wonder if a Buster Sword really could cut a tomato?"
Sephiroth closed his eyes and shuddered a little. Those were not his best moments. "I see now why Strife became so attached to that sugar-laced jumping bean. They both had the same overall capacity for stupidity."
"Hey, they weren't dumb!"
"Ah, don't direct that anger at me, Cetra," he retorted with a lopsided smirk. "You've no one to blame but yourself for your bad taste in men."
"Jerk!" Aerith barked, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the railway in a huff. She looked like she was five. That only made his humor more pronounced. Chuckling to himself, he again took full note of the scenery below him...
And promptly went silent.
His jade eyes befell Midgar in all of its decimated glory. Nearly all of the city was ripped open; gutted like a fish, with its rotting insides exposed for all the heavens to see. Entire sectors were nothing more but heaping ruins, steel and slab alike jutting into each other; pieces of an unholy jigsaw puzzle forming a macabre picture.
Sephiroth felt strangely torn.
On the one hand, part of him--well, okay, most of him--was doing an intricate series of cartwheels and flips in celebration of the city's horribly painful demise. It being the pestilence it was, he wasn't sorry to see it was forcibly excised from the Planet's flesh, and the ex-General truly doubted any of the AVALANCHE members mourned its passing, either. On the other hand, the sheer raw damage inflicted was an awesome sight to behold, even for a battle-hardened warrior that was used to seeing things being blown up on large scales.
Oh, Sephiroth knew what he had been capable of doing. He could liquefy a person's insides with a flick of his wrist, he could cleave buildings in half, he could cause computers to short out and explode with a thought, and he could set a whole lot of stuff on fire (which was nothing a skilled pyromaniac with a high level materia couldn't achieve, really)--but this? The single-handed, systematic destruction of an entire city, and the near destruction of an entire world?
Perhaps in another time, he would have thought the sudden impact of what he attempted to do hitting him two years later amusing; at the moment, he found it equal portions impressive and terrifying.
Not that he would ever admit that, of course. Least of all to the shrew, who was currently staring intently at him; as if she could unlock mystical answers if she looked hard enough. That was easily the more terrifying thought. "Admiring your handiwork?" the Cetra queried.
He sensed no immediate biting sarcasm, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe she was finally learning a hint of cunning. He scoffed at her attempt, regardless. "As if you wouldn't have razed Midgar to the ground yourself, if you had the opportunity."
Her thin coral lips curved into a small, secret grin. "I already am."
That got his attention. Straightening his back, he loosely gripped the thick metal railing in his hands as he met her unreadable gaze. "What do you mean?"
The grin widened a fraction. "The Planet shapes in a way your methods never will--naturally." Backing away from the crystal-clear windows that domed the entire deck, she pivoted on her heel and strode away.
Damn it, she enjoyed that.
"Attention to all of our esteemed passengers," Highwind's voice boomed over the speakers in a far-too polite voice. Curious, Sephiroth inclined his head to listen to the man's words more clearly. "We're nearin' Edge, so you all better get yer asses up to the observation deck, pronto! And enjoy yer fuckin' flight! Highwind out."
Frowning deeply, Sephiroth stared at the ruins of Midgar as the Shera finally passed into the outskirts of the city proper. Though he was certain from a logical standpoint that he could never see that accurately from such a high altitude, he could have sworn that he saw the faintest outline of flowers lining one of the reactors.
Hmph, damnable Planet.
There went his lead.
To be continued...