Disclaimer: None of the following characters belong to me. Please don't sue!
Sequel to "Choice." Please read that first, or it will make no sense!
Cloud supposed it was his own fault he had been surprised. He should have known this would happen. The Cetra had warned him; Aeris and Zack had warned him. Hell, even Sephiroth had warned him! The former general had told him he wouldn't become a memory…
Still, Cloud reflected as he checked his materia once more, this really sucked.
Rufus had contacted him when the Turks had discovered some rather unsettling signs about the Crater. Upon joint reflection between the members of AVALANCHE and ShinRa, they came to the conclusion that they had better be ready for the worst. So here they were, gathered outside the rim of the crater, getting ready to fight all together for the first time.
The clash of personalities alone had given Cloud a headache. He couldn't wait until this was over so he could go back home and go to sleep. Sleep sounded really good after having been camped out here for three days. He hadn't slept much since his thoughts kept creeping back to the request the Cetra had asked of him four years ago. He had never thought the Cetra could succeed in their attempts. Maybe they hadn't, and they were all facing annihilation in a few seconds.
Lovely thought, that.
"Watch out!" Yuffie's shout broke Cloud from his thoughts. He whirled, pulling his sword free from its place on his back. Besides him Tifa fell into a ready position. It was like a scene from a horror film, the kind that had given kids nightmares back when Midgar used to have a theater. The earth shook and steam rose off of the Lifestream barely visible within the depths of the Crater. Out of that fog arose a figure forever imprinted on Cloud's memories, dressed in black, black wing extended and his usual smirk firmly in place. His silver hair remained still as he hovered for a moment, and then lightly dropped down to the soil.
Sephiroth lived again.
Green eyes locked on Cloud's own blue. He forced the fear that abruptly sprang up back; he had defeated Sephiroth three times. He could do so again, if necessary. The former general moved forward slowly, moving across the earth with almost liquid grace, never breaking eye contact with the man he had once called his 'puppet.' Cloud shuddered, almost unable to bear the weight of that gaze.
"You bastard!" Yuffie quickly tossed her Conformer, unwilling to allow Sephiroth a chance to attack. The dark clad man abruptly turned his path, dodged the incoming attack and seized the ninja about her neck, all in a matter of seconds.
"Sephiroth!" Cloud shouted, nor was he the only one. No one moved. No one could, not knowing how long their friend had left to live.
Slowly, the man turned. He released his grip on Yuffie's throat and resumed his walk towards Cloud. The blond's sword came up, ready to block an incoming attack-
-And nearly fell over as Sephiroth knelt before him, head bent in submission. "Master."
Sephiroth did not understand Cloud Strife.
The man had been his guiding light in the world beyond, quite literally. His soul had served as a target, an anchoring point so that he could regather his essence and pull himself free of the Lifestream. He had every intention of staying by the blond's side, as was only right thing.
And yet Strife did not want him.
It was disturbing. His Master never said as much, but clearly he did not enjoy his presence. But surely his place was by this man's side? He knew it; it was carved in his mind. Where else would his place be? "Master."
"Sephiroth." Cloud sighed. He glanced at the man looming over him, his irritation at the form of address carefully hidden, though Sephiroth could tell. Cloud had forbidden him to call the blond by his proper title in public. Instead Sephiroth had to call him "Strife." Luckily, they weren't in public often.
"You seem troubled." Of course he knew what troubled his master. It was his presence. He had disrupted Cloud's life greatly when he had reappeared. Perhaps it would be beneficial to show Cloud that he was more than a burden. True, all previous attempts had been turned away but he sensed his Master was tired tonight. His resistance had been lowered by the long trials of the day. Maybe finally the man would stop opposing what was rightly his. Sephiroth certainly would not mind; his master was as beautiful as he was deadly. "You should relax."
Strife let out a soft gasp as Sephiroth hands fell on his shoulders, gently massaging tensed muscles. Sephiroth could feel the blond attempted to gather his mind, to think rather than feel. He gave the barest of mental nudges then kissed Cloud's neck. His master jumped and whirled, just in time to be caught. "Sephiroth-" Cloud managed to gasp as the older man released him from the kiss. Sephiroth decided he liked the blond saying his name that way. He slipped his hands under Cloud's shirt, feeling the warm, taunt muscles across the blond's back. "Come, Master."
"No." The blond's denial was weak; his body arched into Sephiroth's touch.
Tonight, there would be no more rejection. No more self sacrifice. "Master, allow me to do what I'm supposed to do. Let me serve you."
"No, I won't force you."
More forceful this time, but still weak. Sephiroth smiled. Truly he was blessed to have such a master! "You aren't forcing me." He leaned close, so he could whisper in the man's ear. "I offered. Let me show you a world to which you have never been." Cloud all but collapsed, leaning on Sephiroth. He scooped his master into his arms and carried him into the bedroom.
Victory was very, very sweet.
Cloud awoke slowly and slipped out of Sephiroth arms. Strange how quickly he had adapted to Sephiroth's presence in his life. It hadn't even been a year yet, but it almost felt normal to have the man shadowing his every action. A month and three days till the anniversary of the day Sephiroth had returned…
That day had been a fiasco, Cloud recalled. More than a few members of AVALANCHE had attempted to kill Sephiroth. That had nearly resulted in Cloud getting killed right along with the resurrected man. The amount of chaos – thankfully not including the creature itself – had been unbelievable. Cloud sometimes wondered how they had escaped without a fatality. Sephiroth had no qualms killing to defend himself or his "Master." But the real shock had come after things had settled down.
Cloud had ordered – ordered! Him, order General Sephiroth! – to stay with Vincent. The blond could trust Vincent to keep his cool and keep the others from bothering the green eyed man. Sephiroth seemed relatively stable – or at least not insane in the Going-To-Destroy-The-World-To-Become-A-God sense – and Cloud really didn't want to set him off again. Confident that Sephiroth would be taken care of, Cloud set off toward the place he could contract the Cetra the easiest.
Aeris' old church.
"What. Did. You. Do!" Cloud hissed as he marched into the church. No one was visible, but that didn't mean they weren't around. They were always around. "I want an answer, right now!"
"Only what they told you, Spike." Zack's voice echoed in the air slightly as the ex-SOLDIER's image manifested.
"They told me they'd switch the bond or something. That thing can't be Sephiroth! Even when he was insane he wasn't like that!" Oh, he had been angry with Sephiroth. He might have even hated him when he was completely honest with himself, but Cloud had never stopped respecting him, or rather who Sephiroth had been before that fatal mission.
That Sephiroth would never have prostrated himself before Cloud of all people.
"You weren't exactly yourself when Sephiroth controlled you either, Cloud."
A low blow, and one that hurt. Cloud clenched his fist. "I never wanted to control Sephiroth! You of all people know that!" Well, at least not really. And certainly not like this! "I didn't want to make him into that."
"I know, Spike." Zack looked frustrated. "I'm sorry. I don't like seeing him like this either."
'That's right,' Cloud recalled abruptly. 'You knew Sephiroth before.' If this had been painful for Cloud, who had barely know the man as the General and as an opponent, how bad was it for Zack, who had actually worked with Sephiroth on a regular basis? "No, I'm sorry. I didn't think."
"Not your fault," Zack sighed. "Spike, I know it's hard, but it will get better. Some of the Cetra's best mind healers are working on Sephiroth. It'll take a long time, but sooner or later he will get back to normal. It's a sad thing but they actually had to make it worse before they could make it better. They literally rewired parts of his brain; his entire world is based around you now."
Cloud shuddered. He really didn't like that idea. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"Just take care of him the best you can. It won't be easy, but try to make him feel wanted. Feeling as if he has a home will help a lot." The blond's mouth fell agape. That was practically impossible! "You can do it, Cloud. You have to be the best person at doing the 'impossible' that I know."
In those first few weeks Cloud found Zack's request almost impossible to consider, much less complete. Sephiroth's reemergence into his life had shattered the fragile patterns he had begun to construct. His delicate relationship with Tifa had been broken beyond repair; living with her was impossible now. Living around people at all was a problem as Sephiroth had developed a tenancy to lash out at anyone. Except Cloud, of course.
The first incident had nearly left Marlene and Denzel dead. It had also made Cloud realize why the Cetra had altered Sephiroth's mind the way they had. Cloud's command had halted Sephiroth's attack instantly. It had been thing that had kept the children from dying.
Cloud served as the Cetra's living chain, binding the 'One Winged Angel' until the man's reason could return and serve as his own restraint.
The blond shivered, cold without his clothing. His eyes wandered over to the mirror, wondering what Sephiroth saw. He had quickly learned about homosexual pairings when he had joined the army – the sexist no female rule made life more than a little difficult for many – but he had never expected Sephiroth to ah, 'bottom.' Cloud flushed even as he thought the term.
It was sad. There really was nothing between them besides sex, lust and the meddling influence of the Cetra. Perhaps some sympathy and pity on Cloud's part. At least he was used to the idea of casual sex. He had gotten plenty of offers in the days before Hojo. Tifa would have fallen over in shock. It certainly was enjoyable even if it was casual and –
"You're thinking too much."
Cloud didn't jump as Sephiroth's voice suddenly broke the air, though he once would have. He glanced over to see the man slide from the bed, looking utterly comfortable despite the fact that he wasn't wearing a stitch. "How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough," Sephiroth purred, entwining his arms about his master. "You're freezing."
Cloud shook his head; he couldn't understand how the Cetra's meddling seeming had changed Sephiroth into a sex fanatic. 'That better not have been Zack's idea. If it was, I'll kill him. Even if he is already dead.'
Things were better now, Sephiroth thought as he lay down besides his Master. After Strife had accepted his offer things had greatly improved. Well, after the first day they had woke up together. His Master had been rather embarrassed but luckily that was rather easily fixed. It merely required…repetition. Practice, if you would.
The pair was on the outskirts of old Midgar now. Rufus ShinRa had called them out here three weeks ago with reports of monsters in the area. They had taken down quite a few, including two large dragons. Sephiroth smiled in remembrance. His master was wonderful to watch in battle. Fierce with his blades and talented with his materia, Cloud Strife was everything a warrior should be. A perfect match for his own skills. And Sephiroth was proud to call Strife his.
The man shifted his head so it lay in Strife's lap. They stayed that way in silence for some time until a sound broke the quite that had over come their camp. Sephiroth shifted his head, listening to the distinct sound of footsteps. Cloud laid his hand on the silver hair; Sephiroth stilled calming under his Master's touch. He recognized this one now; it was the dark former pet of Hojo, Vincent Valentine. Of all of this Master's ex-companions – ex because he was Strife's only companion now and always would be – Valentine was the one Sephiroth tolerated the most. The gunner was quiet and more or less respected Sephiroth. He never came around when he was unwanted, was observant enough to understand was going on without being told and generally wasn't an annoyance.
That could not be said for all of them. The beast known as Red XIII was almost as good as Vincent; however, the creature made Sephiroth uneasy with his accurate insights and pointed remarks that left him unsettled. Highwind was loud and obnoxious. His presence irritated Sephiroth to no end. Wallace was more of the same only he had even less restraint than Highwind. Sephiroth was getting down right irritated at the black man's constant habit of shoving his gun arm in his face.
Cait Sith was more or less a neutral figure. His antics and high voice grated on Sephiroth's nerves, but he rarely saw the robot or the man who stood behind it. Reeve was more of an unknown than anyone else. He hadn't known him before he had died and hadn't interacted with him since.
The ninja brought back unpleasant memories of terror and pain, men who had served under him dying as more of her kind assaulted his camp, only to be cut down in a bloody rain. He didn't like to think of those times; they brought back memories of a man with black hair, as wild as his Master's. It hurt to even think of him, a deep wound in his soul.
So he didn't.
The last member of Cloud's former companions made his blood boil. Lockhart had tried to kill him more than once; he could tolerate that. He had people trying to kill him for as long as he could remember. No, what was unforgivable was her attempt to take his master away from him. She wanted Strife for her own. no one would take Cloud away. They had no right.
Sensing his growing rage, Cloud gently stroked his hair. Sephiroth leaned into the touch, relaxing beneath his master's gentle influence. It didn't matter what that bitch wanted; Strife had stayed with him and that was all that counted. "Stay here. I need to talk with Vincent." Cloud shifted out from under him, leaving his head on the blanket. "I'll be back in a few minutes." Sephiroth closed his eyes and lightly dozed, keeping only a small portion of his mind attuned for danger. He didn't worry about Strife; his Master was strong and could handle Valentine if things went wrong.
Cloud absent mindedly noted Sephiroth's mind shifted from the pleased blankness that occurred after the man had finished killing a difficult opponent – or sex, for that matter – to a turbulent mess at Vincent's arrival. He tangled his fingers in Sephiroth's long hair, the firelight making it appear to appear even more silver, more metallic. Like metal strings.
Cloud had learned a great deal about the power he had over Sephiroth in the last five years since this little partnership had started. He had to be very careful of what he said. Anything resembling an order would be completed immediately, even sarcastic ones. He had to be equally careful with wishes. Sephiroth would jump at any chance to make him happy, including gleefully killing someone. Actually, Sephiroth would always gleefully kill someone. The man was downright bloody minded most days.
Speaking of which… Cloud nearly flinched as Sephiroth's mind abruptly turned murderous. He mentally projected calm and resumed his fingers' trek through the man's hair. "Stay here. I need to talk with Vincent." He stood, carefully laying Sephiroth's head down. "I'll be back in a few minutes." The pair of former AVALANCHE members moved away from Cloud's camp, stopping when they were out of Sephiroth's hearing range. "I take it the others sent you?"
Vincent nodded. "They have not heard from you in quite some time, Cloud. They worry."
"There isn't exactly a post office around here," Cloud quipped, a ghost of Zack's personality surfacing briefly. "The phones aren't working. There's some sort of interference from the old mako near the surface. Sephiroth does not deal well with the others, Vincent. You know that. I don't want to take a chance."
"We realize that. Still, they worry. Tifa especially."
Cloud's face softened. "How is she? And Marlene and Denzel?"
"Tifa is doing fairly well. Business seems to be increasing." Vincent's expression didn't change, but Cloud had the distinct feeling the ex-Turk was amused. "Believe it or not one of the neighbors has finally started courting her."
"Good," Cloud replied, looking satisfied. "She deserves someone who cares for her. Marlene?"
"She moved up to Coral with Barrett last year. She's continuing her training, however. Tifa got in touch with Zangan. He has agreed to take Marlene on as his apprentice. I hear from Barrette that Zangan is praising Tifa's work with her. Denzel has taken up a fascination with machinery. Cid is allowing him to do an internship with him this year."
"Good," Cloud repeated. "I'll see if I can't get more messages through on a regular basis." He turned to leave.
"Tifa had a question."
"Are you happy?"
Cloud paused for a long moment, considering the question fully. No, he wasn't happy, really. He'd be happier if he didn't have to take care of a maniac, constantly watching his ever word. But at the same time he wasn't unhappy either. He was getting to exercise his skills to the fullest. He was living, growing, learning and free. "I am content," he finally answered. He gave Vincent one last nod and then walked off into the darkness, returning to his charge.
He might have changed his answer if he realized how many years he would carry his current burden.
Yes, Seph is out of character. He is SUPPOSED to be. I'm sorry, but it is necessary for Linn's desire to flip the puppet idea upside down…I mean, the plot. Trust me, he won't be happy when he finds out what he's been doing...