Pairings: Squall/Seifer (past mild Squall/Rinoa); Cloud/Sephiroth
Summary: (FF7/8) Jenova has returned in the power of the Sorceresses, and two saviors from very different times will be drawn together to fight the new threat and their own demons.
Warnings: Angst, battle violence (naturally), some sexual content, and lots of language. Occasional hints of self-deprecating humor, because how can you not make fun of this?

1. No canon from Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus, or Crisis Core. Also, I'm well aware that Cloud never had a clone number—I just don't care. So slight AU on that part.
2. If something is confusing or doesn't work, please tell me and say why so I can fix it. Alternately, I am always open and looking for suggestions or concrit.
3. Huge heaps of gratitude to Mad Violinist, for supporting my fangirlism, and to artimusdin, who gave me incredibly helpful advice and also took a highlighter to this to make it much better than before. Any remaining mistakes are purely my own.


Past memoriesor Jenova's voice
Thoughts.


Imperfect Tense

Hades' Phoenix
Betaed by artimusdin

1.

Squall dreamed.

He stood in a field of white and yellow flowers, scattered stars in a viridian pool, and the sky went on in eternal white. He knew he dreamed because the ache that had never really left his body, the weariness that had followed his heels for so long it was second nature, were all gone, replaced with a quiet sort of almost-serenity that he had so rarely known in his short life.

But he had never had a lucid dream before. When he did dream, rare occasion that it was, he never remembered it more than a few moments after waking; there were times, after all, when it was best to not remember.

It took Squall a few steps before he realized that he could walk forever in this pale void and get nowhere. Content to wait—it was just a dream, after all—he leaned down to touch a flower so pale it was nearly blue.

The hairs on the back his neck suddenly prickled and Squall whirled sharply around, a hand flying to an absent gunblade. A grey wolf watched him with eerily sentient eyes, a strange glowing blue. Neither Squall nor the beast moved, both seeming to wait for the other to make the first move.

Squall blinked—

and there was no longer a wolf but a man, a little shorter than Squall but with the same painfully thin build. He looked a little like Zell, Squall thought, with the young, fine-boned face, short stature, and a physics-defying head of blond spikes. But the resemblance ended there; his skin was fair enough to show the exhaustion beneath the unnaturally brilliant eyes, a strange glow behind them just like the wolf's. The stark blackness of his clothes made him look sickly-pale.

And unlike Zell, there was a sense of sorrow and loss about this man, as though he gone out to see the world and lost everything.

Squall waited for the other man to speak, perhaps to explain (why would he dream about someone he had never seen before? Dreams were regurgitations of things the brain had already experienced, nothing was truly original in them) but he did nothing, simply returned the young Commander's gaze. Squall wondered at the enormous sword slung over the blonde's back, its apparent weight belying the thin body that carried it.

"Who are you?" seemed the most sensible question, even if this was just a night time delusion.

Something dark flickered in those strange eyes.

"Cloud. Cloud Strife. Although sometimes I don't know, myself," the other man said softly, more to himself, with a touch of morbid humor.

The name didn't sound familiar, but Squall wasn't particularly bothered by it. He was used to that feeling, after losing so many of his memories to the Guardian Forces.

Perhaps he had died? It wasn't completely out of the question—after all, he was a mercenary. But it seemed highly unlikely, given that his last memory was going to bed in his quarters at Balamb Garden.

"Who are you?" the man, Cloud Strife, asked in return. It took Squall a moment to reply; he was weighing the softness of Strife's voice against the overlarge sword and coming up with a contradiction.

"Squall Leonhart."

Squall. Cloud.

SquallandCloud(bruisedcloudsandragingstorms)

It seemed Strife had noticed the connection as well, the amusement shining briefly in those unsettling eyes. "Why are you here?"

There was always the possibility that this was not a dream and instead some form of magic, but Squall refused to acknowledge the implications of that particular idea.

"I was dreaming," was the safe, neutral answer he chose, letting Strife take from that what he would.

A small frown crossed pale lips. "Only the dead or the Cetra can use the Lifestream like this, Leonhart."

Squall raised a brow, as though to ask what Strife was doing there as well, then.

The blonde man looked down and slightly away. "The dead, the Cetra, or the broken," he amended softly.

It was Squall's turn to frown, denying that he was in any way one of those three things, but Shiva's voice was suddenly calling him back to consciousness. Judging from the faint grey lines that shone through the blinds on the window, it was just before dawn, and Squall opened his eyes to blankly stare at the wall. He was on his side near the edge of the bed, the cross of Griever warm against his skin, and once he was awake the Guardian Force withdrew into the back of his thoughts.

The wall wasn't particularly interesting. It was the plain white that was uniform through all of Garden's living quarters; the kind of white that spoke of no imagination on the part of the painter, but it was there and Squall was not really looking at it so much as through it.

Cloud Strife…

There had been something strange about the man, something in his presence that made the hairs on the back of Squall's neck stand on end. It was like a gentle hum in the center of his chest, the same kind of energy that Rinoa (don't think about that) had inspired as a Sorceress. But with Strife, it hadn't been so obvious.

Sorcerer? Unheard of.

Guardian Force? Squall snorted. No.

It was just a dream. Don't be stupid.

He allowed his thoughts to slip away, meandering from one subject to the next until they blurred into mental white noise. Dreams were insubstantial, born from unconscious influences that had little to no bearing on reality and were, therefore, a waste of time. Inconsequential.

He lay unmoving for a long while. There was no sound in his quarters except for the quiet hum of Garden's utilities, steady and subtle and unending, and he wrapped the silence around himself in a thick blanket of comfort.

But chronic insomnia and his duties as Commander finally caused him to push back the thin blanket and stand in one smooth movement, grabbing his clothes as he went to the shower. Then with LionHeart sheathed at his side—there was technically no immediate threat, but this was a mercenary training facility and only an idiot went out without his weapon—Squall straightened his jacket, ran an uncaring hand through damp hair, and stepped out with the mechanical whoosh of an electronic door.

He met no one on the way to his office. Unsurprising, given the hour.

Zell had once joked that everything Squall touched turned grey. But now, in his utilitarian office of light grey walls and colorless, nondescript carpet, in the dark uniform of SeeD and the faint light of dawn just managing to crawl miserably in through the window, it seemed that Zell's humor had found a grain of truth.

There was, as usual, paperwork that had somehow managed to pile itself on his desk overnight. Military requests, political demands and tiptoeing, applications—they all ended up on the Commander's desk at one point or another. Squall wondered, not for the first time, why people seemed unable to do things for themselves.

For a moment he considered walking back out of the room and inflicting LionHeart on the grats and T-rexaurs. After all, the only reason he kept his position as Commander after the War was because it would have been too much work to convince the Headmaster (and Quistis, and Selphie, and Zell, even Rinoa) that killing a near-immortal being doesn't qualify one as a good leader.

He began sifting through the reports and dossiers and the million other little things. Yes, he had fought, and yes, he had saved the world—but not because he wanted to. He was a mercenary, and money spoke.

He had his own personal reason.

He was still flipping through the papers when the sun rose a little more, making his office feel surreal. Long shadows shortened, and already Squall realized that he was not going to find that particular reason listed in these reports.

"Squall?"

His office door had opened and Quistis was leaning in, blue eyes stern behind her wire-rimmed glasses as he looked up at her. Taking his silence as assentshe fully opened the door and walked in, the whip coiled at her waist bouncing against her thigh gently.

"There's been another request from Galbadia, demanding restitution," she said bluntly. Squall's eyes narrowed.

"Garden is not a charity."

"Nevertheless, they feel that SeeD as a whole is at least partially responsible for Ultimecia's reign. They want to see SeeDs sweating out there, never mind the fact that we're still working on our own repairs."

Squall couldn't care less if Galbadia wanted children laboring for her. SeeDs were fighters, not humanitarians.

Quistis obviously read his silence, as she smirked and said, "I'll tell them to look elsewhere for their extortions. I think they thought that appealing to a female staff member might've worked, which is why I received it and not you or that secretary of yours."

Squall snorted softly.

"Oh, and Laguna's been trying to get a hold of you. Apparently there's something that's come up, but he wouldn't tell Selphie. He wanted to talk to you, and you alone." She raised a slender brow. "Been bonding recently?"

Squall gave her a glare that literally caused the room to drop a few degrees.

She shrugged, unfazed. "I didn't think so. All the same, he left a message with Selphie to have you call him if he doesn't get to you first."

"Whatever."

Chuckling, she turned to leave when Squall had a sudden irrational thought.

"Quistis, have you ever heard of something called the Lifestream?"

A bit surprised at having more than monosyllables from him, the woman paused and frowned slightly in thought. "It sounds familiar. I think I might've heard it mentioned in one of our classes…one of our magic courses, maybe? I'm sorry, I don't know anything about it. Why?"

But Squall had already stopped listening, and waved her away. Quistis had always been the scholarly one of their little circle.

He frowned at himself for having indulged a moment of whimsy. It had been a dream; of course it meant nothing.

Nothing at all.

xxx

Squall dreamed again.

The flowers were still buttermilk and warm sun, the sky still white nothingness. Somehow he could feel the lightness of growing things beneath his heavy boots.

The fair-haired man was there again, now sitting amid the flowers with his elbows on his knees and that impossibly great sword still slung loosely across his back, the tip pressing lightly into the ground. Squall stood beside him, silently observing the faraway expression in the inhuman eyes.

Time was impossible to measure and so it could have been minutes or days before Squall finally seated himself beside the other warrior, laying LionHeart across his lap so that its handle wasn't digging into his hip.

It smelled like not-yet-fallen rain.

Neither man spoke but that was all right, because there was nothing that needed to be said. A dream? Did it matter?

No. Not right now.

Then Strife murmured, "People say war and death are the worst because they're inevitable."

Squall said nothing.

"But they're wrong. The worst inevitability is the silence afterwards."

xxx

"Squall! I'm so glad I finally managed to catch you. It seems like you're harder to talk to than a wall."

The brunet stared back at his father, already regretting having accepted the call his secretary picked up. Laguna's voice was as cheerful as ever, even through the tinny quality of the video feed, though Squall could see the uncharacteristic lines of worry at the corners of his eyes. (It was weird, to look at the man and see his own eyes look back so cheerfully.)

"What do you want?"

Esthar's president looked taken aback by the abruptness, but a wry smile found its way back to his lips and he sighed. "You know that Estharian technology pretty much surpasses everyone else's, right?"

Squall waited for the man to get on with his point.

"Of course you do. Well, something's…happened. We're not sure what, exactly, only that it…probably isn't good."

If people were given a finite number of words to use in their lifetimes, perhaps business would have been conducted with much more efficiency. Less obscurity. Even fewer bloodstains, judging from the way Squall's expression went so deadpan.

"Spit it out."

Laguna sighed, bit his lip, and shifted a little in his seat as he put one arm behind his head. He chuckled a little nervously. "Well, uh, to be honest…I'm not quite sure what exactly happened."

"Then find me someone who does," Squall said, the barest hint of impatience breaking into his voice.

Laguna was gently pushed aside and Kiros' dark face appeared, looking as tired as Squall had ever seen him. "Some of our systems have detected an anomaly on the northern continent. Tremors and unusual weather patterns, mostly. Normally these wouldn't matter, but there've also been rumors of monsters that have never been seen before showing up in Dollet's northernmost boundaries. There's no solid proof, though."

Why haven't I heard this? Squall wondered.

"Our scientists aren't concerned at the moment, especially since the populace is still rather paranoid and suspicious anyway. Then again, past experiences have shown paranoia to be better than idleness, so we're keeping an eye on the monsters."

He would need to speak with Quistis about getting their own reports on these alleged monsters and then, if there was truth in these whispers, address the SeeDs so that they would be prepared for their missions.

"And you remember what we spoke about last time, Squall?" Laguna said suddenly, and the sudden spark of shrewdness reminded the Commander that this man, for all his apparent clumsiness, was the president of a powerful nation. "If there is a potential threat we might need to concern ourselves with—"

"No."

"Surely you see—"

"Balamb Garden is an independent institution," Squall said flatly. "An alliance with any nation will not only bring down suspicion but usurp the entire purpose of SeeD."

Laguna had been pressing for a treaty between Esthar and Balamb Garden, where the school would promise aid to Esthar in the event that the nation was attacked in return for financial security during peacetime. It made the young man's skin crawl to imagine such powerful restraints on SeeD actions.

Garden belongs to no one, and he severed the connection, watching the screen go dark.

xxx

"Look 't me!"

But grey-and-blue eyes never once turned in his direction, and he was confused and angry, because everyone else looked at him (and even though it was only in irritation and anger, at least they saw him).

"Look 't me!"

Seifer grabbed the smaller boy's arm and twisted the skin, leaving a raw red rash over the pale flesh. He grinned when those eyes finally turned to him.

"Dun' ignore me," Seifer growled. The other boy wrenched his arm out of the blond's grasp and swung a tiny fist that connected painfully with a young jaw, and then they were on the ground snarling and kicking and biting like little wild animals.

"SEIFER."

"Dun' ignore me!"

"SEIFER."

The young blond boy wrestled his way free of the other and looked up at Fujin, her short white hair leaving a single crimson eye visible. Her calloused hands carried a small tray.

"Fu?" Seifer rasped, blinking away his dream? Memory? Look, I can fly…

"EAT."

His rickety bed was cold even though he had been laying there for several hours. Seifer shivered as he pulled himself to sit upright. He was so weak, you insignificant little worm—

There was a bowl of broth that warmed his hands when he cradled it, and he let his lips rest against the edge for a moment, imagining that the heat from the broth passed through the bowl and his cold lips to soothe the pounding in his temples.

Had Fujin always had only one eye? He couldn't remember.

No, she lost it in that fight. Asshole tried to rape her and gouged out an eye instead, but the fucker lost more than that himself. Pride, that his friend was so strong. Guilt, that she was wasting her time here.

For what?

Because I'm weak.

"OKAY?"

Fujin's voice pulled Seifer's attention back to her as if it were a spell, and it took him a moment to realize her meaning.

"I feel like shit and this tastes even worse," he sniped, but his words were abnormally quiet and held only a shadow of his usual haughtiness. It seemed he was too preoccupied to keep up appearances and wasn't that just pathetic?

If he tried hard enough, Seifer could pretend that the way in which the light played off the surface of the broth was fascinating. He tilted the bowl a little to see the murky liquid swirl slightly, refracting the light off of the dim fluorescent lighting into sickly yellow prisms. He didn't see the quiet sadness in Fujin's typically blank expression and he couldn't know what she was seeing.

(A proud man broken into pieces that refracted reality in the same poor shades that the broth commandeered the light; once the most powerful figure and second in combat only to one, lost in his confusion of that was then and this is now.)

—broken into the little boy that had always been there behind the cold sneers and cruel words, who had wondered why he was so wrong that no one could love him, and he turned his fear into a rage that lashed out at the world.

Weak. Pathetic. Sob stories only get you so far until the audience loses interest and forgets you.

That particular lesson Seifer did know, with painful intimacy.

Her hands were cold against the feverish warmth of his skin as Fujin gently but firmly pressed the bowl against his lips again.

"DRINK," she commanded, and through the haze of voices and mixed-up timelines Seifer felt a shudder of anger (how dare she patronize me) and guilt (fuck I'm such an immature little shit).

But eventually Seifer managed to finish the meager meal that was all his stomach could handle, and then those hands pressed him back down against the bed.

"SLEEP."

And that was all he was good for now, after all.

How the mighty have fallen.

xxx

Vincent knew he had been dreaming for a very long time. As he slept, his breathing had evened out until his heart slowed to beat once every century, and the flow-and-ebb of his blood had begun to mimic the natural tide of the Planet.

He dreamed mostly of the past in vague blurs, like a theater through a rain-drenched window. The figures were indistinct, soundless shapes that played out familiar scenes, and most of the time he was content to watch them and memorize their streaks of color in their playacting. If he tried hard enough, he could remember someone teasing him long ago for his love of art, most especially that of the impressionists who left their own memories in streaks and blotches of color.

Sometimes he dreamed of darkness and blood and an agony that narrowed his world into pure sensation, and it was those times that he could hear Chaos laughing.

But most often he lay in blissful oblivion, cradled in the warmth of the Planet in a sleep that was as close to death as he could come. He could see the Lifestream, could touch it with the tips of his fingers, but he could never join the cycle of soul-birth that was the right of all mortals. All humans.

He recalled once finding himself on a cliff he recognized as the one just outside Midgar, the sky dark in twilight and the first stars beginning to show. He stood at the very edge of the bluff and when he looked to his side, he saw a familiar man sitting beside him.

No words had been spoken; Cloud had simply given him an unreadable look and then resumed his silent vigil on that lonely cliff. Vincent could guess what the place meant to Cloud from the pieces that he had been told about the false SOLDIER, but he said nothing. After the dream had dissipated but while the smell of mako still lingered, Vincent realized how it felt like to know that there was at least one other person who understood.

It was a very strange experience for a Turk.

But now his dreams were changing. The pulse of the Planet was shifting, becoming faster, more purposeful. He could feel awareness of the world returning to him, followed by sensation and he recognized that soon he would have to wake up.


Edited 29 August 2007.