Kingdom Hearts II

The Darkness Will Rise From The Deep

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is! This is a very random story idea that came to me, and it would not be silent until I gave it voice. I really had no idea where I would take it at the end, however, but inspiration suddenly struck, and here it is! I haven't ever tried writing for the Kingdom Hearts versions of these characters before, so I hope I've done alright with them. Also, to me, Sephiroth's wing in Kingdom Hearts looks dark blue, so that is what I call it. And while Cloud's wing isn't visible in Kingdom Hearts II, I made it so here, for story purposes.

The deep blue of the canyon rocks was stained a deep crimson, the liquid seeping into every possible crack and niche and pooling on the flat part that had served as a battleground. The colors had mixed and blended together, producing a sort of morbid purple that was also apparent on the scattered royal blue feathers that had lightly fallen into many spots where the blood was, as well as other places where it was not.

Two figures lay in the middle of the gore, and from a distance it would not be apparent at all that either had not passed into the Great Beyond. But then the limp, leathery wing attached to the left shoulder of the one twitched slightly. The black-clothed body shuddered, and slowly the hands began to move as well, pushing on the hard stone to force their owner to his knees.

Blood came, unbidden, to the parched lips, and suddenly the turquoise eyes widened as a cough forced its way upward. He bent over, gasping and choking as the crimson substance dripped from his mouth to the ground. Then it was over and he slumped back against a rock, his spiked blonde bangs falling over his eyes. He felt terrible. And though the battle had ended, he did not feel as though he had especially won any sort of victory. Instead he felt blank, empty, and unfulfilled. He ran a shaky hand through the spiky locks, shuddering again.

He turned his blurred vision toward his opponent---former opponent, by the looks of it. The body finally lay still and prone, blood still emerging from the many inflicted wounds. The long silver hair was now tangled and sporting red as it spread out around the once-strong form. The straight bangs on either side of the face were half-concealing the emerald eyes, but they were closed. The other could see that much. A bit of blood trickled from the side of the silent mouth, as well.

The blue, feathered wing still protruded from the right shoulder, but now it was motionless and torn. Blood dripped from the serious wound, mixing with the surrounding feathers and pooling underneath the appendage. The longer the blonde looked at it, the more it began to dawn on him that his own wing was damaged. He could feel a sharp pain shooting through it, and when he dared to look over, he narrowed his eyes at the bad slice. He remembered now---the other's sword had generously cut into it towards the end of the fight.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that he had hoped not to view. Fingers weakly moved, attempting to curl over onto the bloodied palm. Immediately the dark-clothed man came to attention, tensing at the sight. His nemesis was not dead after all. But if he fully regained consciousness, would he try to get up and continue the battle? His sword was laying nearby. The blonde's own weapon was not in sight, and panic began to rise in his throat as he cast his gaze desperately about to locate it. Wait, there it was---half-caught in a crevice in the rock. It had plunged there when he had slowly collapsed from the blood loss, after being unable to stay hovering in the air.

Trying to stand in order to get over to it, however, seemed an impossible task. He pushed his hands against the stone again, wanting to use it to balance himself as he got to his feet. He rose several inches, ignoring the wave of pain that swept over him. He had to get up, he had to get his buster sword before the other could take hold of the Masamune. He had to have some means of defense. But his legs were not having any of it. Swiftly they crumpled under him, and he gave a weak cry as he fell face first back to the ground. Instinctively he threw his hands out in front of him to take the brunt of the crash.

Even so, the agony that slammed into his badly wounded form was still ferocious. Every part of him was on fire---his torso, his arms and legs, his wing. A splitting headache was now screaming to be noticed as well, and he clenched a fist tightly. There was no way he could stand right now. He would not even be able to lift his weapon if he succeeded in getting to it. And he was just noticing blood pooling underneath his left leg. It was apparently badly torn.

"Well, Cloud, how do you feel now?"

He started at the deep, rasping voice. He had been so focused on his failed attempt to rise that he had not even realized that his enemy had completely awakened. Now he looked over, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. The other's green eyes were open, or at least one of them. The left was still shut, blood trailing over it. And he was smirking quietly---that knowing, self-assured smirk. He was half-dead and he was still feeling such confidence. It frustrated the blonde. No matter what he did, there was not any way to be rid of his hated nemesis. He had thrown all of his heart and soul into this fight, and had still failed.

"You know me so well," Cloud said now, sarcasm dripping from his weakened voice. "Don't you already have the answer, Sephiroth?"

The smirk never faded as the other warrior continued to lay where he was, his chest slowly rising and falling as he painfully breathed. "You're frustrated, of course. And you're blank inside." A pause, as he mulled over the matter. "Are you really still confused, though? This isn't the first time this has happened. We've been brought to this type of draw in the past. Surely you know why."

Cloud glowered. "The only reason I feel any emptiness is because you're still here," he answered.

A low, amused chuckle. "But I'll always be here. That's what you never have figured out---as long as you exist, so do I. That is, if I am the manifestation of your darkness. How can you expect to kill what represents a part of yourself? You can suppress the darkness, but it will never be gone entirely."

Cloud did not answer. Instead he observed the other from his current position on his stomach. Did he dare attempt to even sit up until the pain quelled? It did not seem like a wise idea. It did not look like Sephiroth was going to be able to move, either, so maybe he was safe enough.

"You've always tried to convince me to give in to my darkness," he replied coldly. "You know that if I do, you'll get complete power over me."

Sephiroth was silent for a moment, seeming to be gathering his strength. Even if he could not die, he certainly looked the part. "Have you ever found it strange, or ironic, that I have an angel wing, which is generally thought of as a symbol of light?" he mused. "And you have a symbol of darkness." His open eye focused on the other's demon wing.

"What's your point?" Cloud snapped.

Sephiroth raised up slightly, coughing, before falling back to the cold ground. "Several things," he answered. "The darkness can't exist without the light, nor the light without the darkness. It's a necessary contrast. You can't get rid of me because even if I'm the physical representation of your dark side, those feelings still exist inside you, no matter what happens to me. No one is entirely good, Cloud." Another hesitation. "Nor is anyone entirely bad."

Cloud thought this over, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position. Again he slumped against the rock behind him, observing his hated enemy. "If you're trying to say you're not, I'm not buying," he retorted. He tore off a piece of his raven clothing, pressing it against his leg. That injury was probably another reason why he had not been able to stand. It would likely be several weeks before he would be able to successfully walk on it again.

Still the quiet smirk. "Haven't your skills have gotten better over the course of our many battles?" Sephiroth said. "You've been pushed to do your best, and more."

Cloud remained silent, thoughts of their fights going through his head. He remembered all the times Sephiroth had taunted him, all the times he had insisted that Cloud would never let go of his pain and his past. And he recalled Tifa coming to him this last time, reassuring him that the darkness would be there, but that she would surround him with light to counter it. Sephiroth had tried to fight her, not wanting her to interfere.

"You're messing with my head," he growled finally. "Just like always. You never change."

"Do you change, Cloud?" Sephiroth returned. "Or do you continually wallow in the unpleasant memories of your past? I've told you before, that's where you live. You can never stay focused on the present for long. And I'm not the one who causes you that problem. You yourself bring it about."

This was not the sort of conversation Cloud had ever expected to have with his darker self. He regarded the other coldly, his turquoise eyes narrowed. What new kind of trick was he trying to play?

"Oh . . . and there's one other thing you should remember." Sephiroth looked back calmly. "You have to accept that you have a dark side, and that it's your own fault, no one else's. I may be the manifestation of your darkness, but it's because of you I exist. You're concentrating on the wrong enemy. If you want to conquer your darkness, you have to do it from inside yourself. By now you should have realized that focusing on me does nothing for you."

"I don't care what you say to me," Cloud snapped. "Why would you be trying to get me to accept light? You've told me that the light doesn't suit me."

"I never said that was what I was trying to do. But as to whether the light suits you, have you ever really tried to prove me wrong?" Now Sephiroth rose up slightly on his left elbow. His wing hung uselessly from his back as he continued to speak. "You hate me, Cloud, and with that loathing you're only fueling your dark side."

"That's what you want," Cloud muttered.

"If you think so, then why do you want to give me what you think I want?" Now Sephiroth's smirk had turned amused, as well as knowing. "Shouldn't you want to be the opposite of me? Shouldn't you want to prove that you don't have to hate me? Embrace your dark side. Learn to live with it, instead of being afraid or hateful. Only then will you ever begin to be able to move on and heal."

Cloud frowned. "You contradict yourself," he pointed out. "You got angry when Tifa tried to encourage me to move on."

The silver-haired man shrugged weakly. "It was our fight. I didn't want interference, especially from her." He observed the blonde thoughtfully. "And I did quite a number on you. Are you sure you'll be able to stay conscious long enough to find help for yourself?" It was not any secret that they were far away from any civilization. When their powers had clashed in the sky, they had ended up in this desolate location. Initially they had thought it would be useful, in order to battle without any other interruptions. But now, in the aftermath, it was inconvenient. Not that either of them would admit it.

"Don't worry about me," Cloud grumbled. The dizziness seemed to have passed now, and he wondered if he dare attempt standing. At any rate, it did not seem that he had anything to lose. He could throw his weight onto his right leg. Slowly he placed a hand on the rock above him as he began to ease his body upright.

He narrowed his eyes further as he looked out at the sprawling canyons. They seemed to continue endlessly. There was no way that they would be able to climb down from where they were, and he doubted that Sephiroth would even have the strength to teleport them away. Not that he ever wanted to rely on the silver-haired man. That was the last way he wanted to get down, but if Sephiroth could manage it, Cloud knew that he would have to set aside his pride and hatred and allow it to happen.

He turned his gaze back to the other. Sephiroth was moving again, easing himself onto his left side. He remained in that position for a moment, looking down at the ground, his face concealed by the long bangs. It was obvious that he was in immense pain. Again he was collecting his strength, too badly wounded to immediately sit up. Then, carefully and painstakingly, he began to force himself to his knees, where he then stayed. Gently he began to bring his wing around himself, wincing as he tried to move it.

"There isn't any way you can get us out of here, is there?" Cloud asked flatly, not holding out any hope.

Sephiroth gave him a self-depreciating smirk. "I could try, but there's no guarantee that we'd end up where we're supposed to," he replied. If he concentrated very hard, it was possible that he might be able to get enough strength to send them somewhere---but it was debatable whether they would actually arrive in Hollow Bastion. He might only be able to get them to the bottom of the canyon. And on the other hand, they could end up at the bottom of a lake.

Cloud rubbed his eyes. "Don't try," he muttered. "I guess it's pointless to ask if you can fly."

The emerald-eyed man gave him a Look in reply, then gazed down at his mangled wing. He never had managed to move it very far, and now it was hanging limply at his side. The bloodied feathers had clustered on top of each other, and some had fallen over the wound. It hurt just as badly as if he had cut his hand or his foot, and he started to tear off part of his coat to press against the affliction.

"Yeah, nevermind. That was a stupid question." Cloud slumped back down to the ground, propping his back against the stone again. "It looks like we'll both probably die here." He did not know about Sephiroth, but if he himself did not get medical treatment very soon, the blood loss would kill him, if nothing else. And once he died, then Sephiroth would as well. Though he did not care about that aspect, he supposed that Sephiroth would.

"Does that really bother you?" Sephiroth countered. "Have you actually been living at all?"

"I don't want to talk about that with you," Cloud snapped. "It's not any of your business."

"Whose business would it be more than mine?" was the smooth answer. "You know that I am you."

Cloud frowned again. "That's another thing that you've contradicted yourself about," he remarked. "Sometimes you say that I just say that, as if you don't believe it, and then other times you say that it really is true." He thought back to what the other had been saying a few moments earlier. "What is this, some other way that you're supposedly 'testing' and 'pushing' me?" he demanded.

Sephiroth did not respond. Instead he continued to work with the makeshift bandages, never looking up or even giving any indication that he had heard the blonde. But Cloud was certain that he had been heard.

He turned his attention to his own wing. He had been ignoring it throughout all this, probably not a wise move. It was not as badly damaged as Sephiroth's---as the injury to the other's wing seemed to be his worst ailment. But still, Cloud's own wound was not a mere trifle. What could he do to temporarily patch it so that nothing unwelcome could get into it via the slice? About all he could really do was to apply another piece of his clothing.

His frown deepened as he took hold of the bottom of his shirt and started to rip it. He had told Aerith that he would come back. If he died now, he would be breaking that promise. And would it not be saying, in essence, that he had been defeated by his dark side? True, he would be taking Sephiroth down too, but that was not the way he wanted to do it. And according to the silver-haired man, Cloud never would be able to get rid of him. That disgusted and irritated the blonde to no end.

"What do you really want with me?" he asked suddenly.

Sephiroth looked up this time. "What do I want?" he repeated.

"Just assuming for a minute that you're not after my complete destruction, or trying to make me go completely crazy," Cloud said, "what is it you think you can do? Why would you try to test me and push me to do my best?" He could not believe he was actually inquiring that at all. The blood loss must be making him delusional. Otherwise he would surely not even be considering that there was anything to the other's recent words. Or maybe Sephiroth was just out of his mind as well, to say those things in the first place.

"Honestly, Cloud, you should be able to figure out that possibility," Sephiroth returned.

"Well, I can't!" Cloud snapped. "You've been hinting that you might have had some other reason for doing what you've done, and it doesn't make sense to me! You've never had any reason for what you do except for trying to torture me, to make me think that darkness is the only way." He began to concentrate on a bad laceration on his arm, holding his hand down on it harder than he had meant to do. He soon realized his mistake, hissing in pain as he eased the pressure. "That's what you're trying to do now, too," he added. "You want to confuse me so much that I won't know what's what. Sort of a final ace up your sleeve right before we die."

"Maybe." Sephiroth placed a hand over his mouth, looking away as he coughed into it. It was true that they had been brought to non-victorious draws before, but never like this. Cloud was certain that this time they had both been hurt worse than usual, and Sephiroth more than he had thought possible, outside of outright killing him.

Now he turned back again, wiping his mouth with a sleeve. "I may be you, Cloud," he said now, "but you're me, as well."

Sephiroth had stabbed him again with the Masamune, without even picking it up. Cloud clenched his fist tightly, the fury and indignation overwhelming him. "No!" he retorted, his hand shaking. "No, that isn't true!" Streams of blood dripped down from between his fingers, splashing to the ground. He barely noticed. "I'm nothing like you! I hate you!"

The silver-haired man smirked, satisfied. "You're just proving you are like me," he observed. "You're proving everything I've said. The light doesn't suit you, because you won't let it!"

It was strange, how quickly Cloud managed to gather up a burst of strength. He scrambled to his feet, tearing the buster sword free of its makeshift sheath and holding it above his head as he lunged. He would kill Sephiroth. He did not care what the other said, there had to be a way to kill him, when he could be so gravely wounded. And Cloud would find that way, right now. This would not go on any longer. He would not any longer put up with these taunts and Sephiroth's self-assured attitude. He would not!

The clash of metal against metal started him fully into the present. Sephiroth had managed to grab hold of his sword, and now had brought it up just in time to meet Cloud's weapon. His hands and arms were trembling, but he continued to hold them in place, using the Masamune to block the blonde's attack. He looked up at the other, his open eye completely cold and impenetrable. But then a knowing glint mixed with the deep green hue.

That look only made Cloud all the more angry. Abruptly he kicked out, hitting Sephiroth hard in the stomach and sending him falling backwards to the ground with a gasp. He still held on to the Masamune, but his arms flailed about, and for that moment he was unprotected. Cloud lunged again. He would plunge the heavy weapon into the other's chest. No one would be able to survive a fierce attack from the buster sword, and especially not in such a condition. Sephiroth would be dead. Cloud would be rid of him at last, his darkness gone.

He looked so pathetic, sprawled on the ground and surrounded by his own bloodied hair and feathers. He was coughing again, the crimson rising to his throat, and with his free hand he gripped desperately at the ground. He was in pain, terrible pain.

Abruptly Cloud stopped, swallowing hard. What was he doing? He was trying to kill out of hate. That was not how he had been trained. That was not who he was, was it? Sephiroth had been taunting him, trying to prove to him that he, Cloud, belonged to the darkness. And Cloud had walked right into the trap. He was such a fool! Killing someone, anyone, in the condition Sephiroth was in was not honorable. It was not something he could do, even to this creature. He started to lower the buster sword.

Dizziness swept over him then, his adrenaline rush passing, and he gasped as he crumpled to his knees and then to the stone ground. How had he managed to do any of that---to stand up, to grab his weapon, to run with it held high? Hate was such a powerful weapon. For that moment, he had felt so strong, as if he would be able to do anything---but he had been blind. Killing, or trying to kill, with the rage driving him, would have proven him weak. It would have disappointed Tifa and Aerith, and himself. He would have lost himself.

Something cold and sharp pressed against his neck. He froze with sudden realization. It could not be, but it was, he knew it was. There was no one else there. He focused on the glint of silver, following it up to the left hand that held it. He was staring at the long blade of the Masamune. Sephiroth had struggled to stand to point it at him. But he had not been able to get up at all a moment ago. How had he done so now, and so quickly? It did not make sense!

The other smirked now, seeming to be ignoring all of the harsh wounds on his body. In fact, they did not appear to be bothering him at all. He was gripping the sword effortlessly, moving it warningly along Cloud's neck in a way that just barely scraped the skin, but did not draw blood.

"You almost gave in this time," he remarked. "But then you stopped at the last moment."

Cloud glowered up at him. It was typical, for him to be so ungrateful. He had expected that, he had expected to be taunted for his actions, but he had not expected Sephiroth to be able to stand up, nor to be able to point the blade at him. It was as if . . . as if he was not actually hurt at all. But that could not be.

"If you're going to kill me, just do it," he said now, his tone dark.

The sword tickled his neck for a moment longer before it was abruptly withdrawn. "You passed," Sephiroth told him, placing the Masamune back in its sheath. "And without any assistance from that girl, either."

Cloud lay where he was, stunned. What did Sephiroth mean? He had . . . passed? Passed what? He narrowed his eyes in confusion, looking up at the other. The moon was out now, and under its light the other appeared completely healed. His silver hair blew out slightly in the breeze, devoid of the crimson that had previously stained it. His clothes were likewise mended, the places where there had been wounds having vanished. And his wing was spread out perfectly normally, the deep blue feathers revealing that there was no tear under them.

"Get up," he ordered, looking at Cloud with both eyes. "You're not wounded."

Cloud frowned, the confusion only deepening. Of course he was wounded! They both were, and he would prove it. He looked down at himself, searching for the harsh lacerations that had been there a moment earlier. His leg had been badly torn, as had his arm. He had not even known how he would walk for weeks. But now there was nothing. He had been healed, just as Sephiroth had been.

Slowly he sat up. This was too much, too strange to comprehend. "What's going on, Sephiroth?" he demanded.

The other shook his head slowly, not looking impressed. "You didn't figure that out either?" he answered. "None of this has been real. Since you woke up, this has all been an illusion, a test. And you got past the first part of it."

"That doesn't tell me anything," Cloud retorted. If anything, it made him more bewildered.

"You had to face your darkness on your own," Sephiroth replied, "without the girl, or anyone else you care about. If she'd been here, calling to you and bringing you back from your lapse of madness, how would you know that you would have stopped yourself if she hadn't been here?" He looked at the blonde coldly, seriously. He could see that Cloud did not understand. But that was alright. He did not need to, not right now.

"By the way, Hollow Bastion is just down the mountain," he said, nodding towards the edge.

Cloud got to his feet slowly, looking in the direction the other had indicated. Sure enough, he could see the lights of Hollow Bastion in the distance. They were not lost in the middle of nowhere. Home was so close, and apparently had been all this time.

It still seemed too impossible that he had not been wounded. He had seen the blood, and had felt the pain so clearly! It had been agonizing. And yet, he supposed, the mind could be made to believe almost anything. He had been right---Sephiroth had been messing with his head. But what he did not know now was, Why.

He looked back at the silver-haired man. "Who are you really?" he demanded coldly.

Sephiroth smirked again, his bangs blowing over his face as he used his one wing to take flight. "I told you, Cloud," he replied, "I am you." He rose higher into the sky, summoning one of his portals among the stars. As the other watched, the emerald-eyed man disappeared into it. He was not going to go with Cloud down the mountain, or to simply teleport him away. Cloud was going to have to get down himself.

"Well, that's typical," he muttered.

He glared at a lone, blue feather that floated softly to the ground in front of him. Sephiroth had also said that Cloud had passed the first part of the test. That meant that there must be other parts. Cloud would be seeing him again.

He walked past the feather, taking up his buster sword as he began to look for the nearest way down from the mountain.