Kingdom Hearts II
To Bring You Back
Notes: The characters are not mine,
and the story is! This is a direct continuation/follow-up to
Reflections, and it is recommended to have read
it first. And both of them are part of a little series that includes The Darkness Will Rise From the Deep and I Don't Feel Enough for You to Cry, though each story is a standalone.
The night was quiet and calm---the sky perfectly clear, the wind completely still, the lights from the town far in the distance. It had been his home for all of his life, save for the times when he had been on assignment to other locations, and the times when he had unwillingly wandered. But that was not something he cared to recall. It was in another lifetime, as far as he was concerned.
He was going to leave all of this behind now, he knew as he placed a crumpled piece of paper in his pocket. Once he opened the portal, he would travel to the other side of this world, deep into the forests if necessary. No one would know of his departure. No one would care, either. The only one who would be interested in what he was doing was the very person he was leaving to find. And it was possible that he was dead.
His fist clenched. No. No, he would not entertain that thought. His friend was only missing. He was still alive, and he would be found!
The sudden sound of running footsteps startled the quiet man back into the present situation. Someone was here after all, and whoever it was had apparently climbed onto the top of the cliff upon which he was standing. Before he had a chance to turn, a hand abruptly seized his arm.
"Sephiroth! What's on that paper?"
He did not have to look back to recognize Cloud's voice. "It could be anything," he answered flatly. "Why do you ask? I didn't know you would be interested in something belonging to me."
Without answering, the blond shoved his hand into the other's coat pocket and withdrew the paper. Sephiroth half-turned, watching with a deadpan expression as Cloud read through it. The more lines he read, the more sickened and alarmed his expression became. His leathery wing stiffened as a board, then slowly went limp, as if the life had gone out of it.
"What is it?!" another voice exclaimed. Sephiroth recognized the Keybearer, Sora, as the boy ran out of the darkness and over to the others.
Cloud glared at the paper, willing his blue eyes to burn a hole all the way through it. "It's like what that soldier told us when he dropped by," he said darkly. "It says Zack's missing." He looked back up at Sephiroth, the anger and outrage obvious on his face. "How long have you known this?!" he demanded.
Right after the soldier had left the white house several moments earlier, the thought had suddenly occured to Cloud that he wondered if Sephiroth had already known about Zack. It fit with the way he had behaved around Sora, at least. The Keybearer had offered encouragement, saying that maybe they should try to find Sephiroth, and so they had wound up here. It was a good thing, too, Cloud thought darkly. His enemy had looked ready to suddenly take off somewhere.
Sephiroth regarded the other calmly. He would not reveal how much his heart was aching, or how deeply concerned he was over Zack's disappearance. That was not Cloud's business. If it had been up to him, Cloud would still not know that he was well acquainted with Zack. When the blond had found out about their friendship several months previous, it had been a headache and a near disaster for all three of them. Though it was true that things had settled down by now, and Cloud and Sephiroth had adapted to a more civil relationship---at times, anyway.
"It was just found out by the military today," he answered, taking the paper back from Cloud. "I happened to find that copy of a letter to the Major General, and I took it. That was in the afternoon."
Sora stared at him, his own eyes widening in shock. If Sephiroth had found out this afternoon, then that meant that he had known during the entire time they had been talking. Suddenly more puzzle pieces were slipping into place. No wonder the winged man had seemed so melancholy! His comments about Sora reminding him of Zack returned again, and the Keybearer swallowed hard. If Kairi or Riku or any other friend was missing, he could never have acted as quiet as Sephiroth had done. But it was so obvious that Sephiroth had been, and still was, aching over Zack's disappearance.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Cloud was yelling now.
Sora snapped back to the current situation, frowning. "Zack is Cloud's friend too!" he said with some indignation. It was true that he felt pity for Sephiroth, not knowing if his friend was alright, but that did not mean that the silver-haired man should not have told the truth to Cloud. Had he ever planned to tell? Or had he not cared whether Cloud ever found out or not?
Sephiroth grunted, taking back the paper and replacing it in his pocket. "I knew the military was likely to contact you about it," he answered. "And somehow, the thought of bringing Sora to you and then announcing that Zack happened to be MIA did not seem appropriate."
"Appropriate, my foot!" Cloud shot back. "You just didn't want to tell me!" He grabbed a handful of the other's dark coat, twisting the cloth in his fist.
Standing to the side, Sora wished that he knew what to do about this mounting argument! He was upset too, but instead of standing around yelling, it would be better to do something productive---such as trying to find Zack. Did they even have an idea of where to look? The letter had probably mentioned something.
Sephiroth was of the same mind, that the discussion topic should be changed. He took hold of Cloud's wrist, forcing it back from him. "Alright, if you want me to admit that I didn't want to tell you," he said, every word seeming to freeze as it was spoken. "I didn't, because I wanted to be alone to search for him. I didn't want interference from anyone else, particularly you."
Cloud never could fully explain or understand his next actions. How dare Sephiroth be not only bold, but blunt, selfish, and downright icy! He was not the only one who would be concerned about Zack's location! The blond tore his wrist free from the other's grasp, and suddenly and without warning, punched him across the face.
Sora stared in disbelief, his sapphire eyes widening as Sephiroth stumbled back. "Hey . . . !" he started, but then was not sure what to say. Sephiroth had been inconsiderate, not to tell Cloud---no matter how much he had still been reeling from the news himself. But to lengthen the confrontation was not going to help at all.
The winged man looked up slowly, wiping the blood from his lip as he gazed steadily at Cloud. "You didn't let me finish," he said in a flat tone. If he was startled by the younger man's actions, he did not give any indication of it. Then again, hardly anything seemed to faze him.
Sora had not seen him turn pale when he discovered the letter. He had not seen the warrior's strong hands tremble, nor his cold green eyes widen in shock and horror.
He had traveled down a path of darkness during his life. He had been killed, and he had been brought back to life in a cursed state. He had been assigned to watch over Cloud, to try to keep him from treading down the same path of darkness. But save for a brief period when no one had recognized him, Zack had always been there for him---the one positive constant in his life. Losing Zack was the one thing Sephiroth could not take.
Cloud glowered, trying to hide the fact that he was massaging the hand he had used to strike the other. It had been a stupid thing to do, and judging from the pain shooting through his limb, he would be paying for it for some time. "There's nothing you could say that I would want to hear now," he snapped.
Sephiroth ignored that comment, as well as the blond's current actions. He could see that Cloud realized he had been foolish, and the silver-haired man was too weary to speak of it further. "I wanted to go alone because I am familiar with that area," he said instead, straightening up. "I was there in the past." There was not a need to inform Cloud that he had been there during his time in the military. He knew that two of the biggest questions on Cloud's mind were, where had Sephiroth gone when he disappeared, and why was he now no longer part of the armed forces? But he never intended to answer them.
Of course, the truth was that he had been killed in battle, and even though the army had reported him as Missing instead, they had actually known what had happened. And now that he had returned, they did not know what to think at all. He suspected that they believed he was not truly the Sephiroth who had been one of their strongest commanders, but a fraud claiming to be him. But, since they did not want to publicly admit that they had lied about his status in the past, and that therefore he could not possibly be that Sephiroth, they could do nothing but observe him and and see if he seemed to be a threat. Zack had volunteered for the task, in order to get to see him often without arousing suspicion.
Anyway, it was one of the main points as to why Zack's vanishing act worried him so greatly. What if he was dead now as well, and they had only reported him as Missing, for whatever reason? Sephiroth's only consolation was that they had only told a falsehood about his own death because they did not want the adversary to know that he had been killed. And since dragons were their only enemies right now, it did not seem likely that they would pull the same trick again---especially considering that Cloud had been informed of the possible tragedy.
Cloud was not impressed by Sephiroth's response. "And how do you know I wasn't there too?" he demanded.
"Zack told me you were not," came the simple answer. "It isn't exactly an ideal resort, that people would choose to visit."
"Hey!" Sora cried again, getting in between the two rivals. "Look, we all want the same thing right now---to find Zack. The longer we mess around like this, the more trouble he could be getting into! Let's just go look for him already!"
Both of them started, looking to the teenager. Sora had been all but forgotten amidst the angry argument between two men who were pained over the possible loss of a dear friend. And both had to concede to the boy's logic.
Sephiroth turned away, grateful for the interruption. "I will be going," he said, concentrating to make one of his portals in midair. As it appeared, Cloud and Sora each seized an arm.
"Of course you're going," Sora said, "and we're coming too!"
"I might not know the area, but I'm not an immature kid," Cloud growled. "I won't do anything stupid." As much as he would hate it, he would have to follow Sephiroth's lead, especially since the area included a largely uninhabited forest. But he was more than willing to let Sephiroth be the guide, if it meant saving Zack.
"That," Sephiroth retorted, "is debatable." The thought of taking anyone else irritated and exasperated him. If he had left sooner, he would be the only one going. But, on the other hand, Cloud and Sora could have found some other way to end up there. And it would undoubtedly be worse for them to suddenly plow into things, as opposed to them coming with Sephiroth from the beginning.
He watched Cloud with irritation. "You'll have to fly up to the portal yourself," he said. "I can't carry both of you."
Slowly Cloud released him. "Just as long as you know I'm coming," he muttered. "If you try to ditch me, you'll regret it."
Sephiroth ignored that. He rose without another word, taking Sora with him as he went. The boy held tightly to the silver-haired man's side and shoulder, glancing around him at the other's mighty wings. Each of the three extra appendages looked long enough to wrap around them both at least once, and as each flapped in unison, Sora could hear the wind being furiously pushed back.
Part of him wondered what had happened to the other's top left wing, or if he had ever possessed one to begin with. When Sora had first met and fought him two years previous, he only remembered seeing one wing, the upper right. Then the other two had been in place last year.
He did not have much time to be fascinated. Now he saw that they had gained the doorway, and it loomed ominously in front of them. What would be beyond it? When he had been here before, he had not strayed far from the main town, where Leon and the others lived. That was the only location the Heartless had attacked in this world, to his knowledge. Leon had mentioned that there were other populated areas, but that they had little to do with the main town. Mostly they consisted of those who had wanted to explore other areas of the world and isolate themselves.
Were they friendly? If Zack was injured, would they take care of him? Would they tell about him, if asked? These were questions that all of the mismatched trio wondered and worried.
Cloud kept up, flying right alongside Sephiroth, and now he came around to hover in front of the portal as he waited and watched the other two. Despite his continuing aggravation, he knew better than to dive headfirst into a strange place.
"Now you should take hold of me," Sephiroth instructed, looking to him. "Gateways such as this can be unpredictable. I have to ensure that we'll all end up in the same place when we land."
Cloud glowered, nodding curtly as he took hold of the other's arm.
Sephiroth pushed forward into the light from the doorway, taking his unexpected passengers with him. Two small feathers came loose, floating to the ground in their wake as the portal vanished without a trace into the night sky.