Kingdom Hearts II

Duel of the Fallen Heroes

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is! It was directly inspired by the theme Violence; does it make you stronger? at 20 Heartbeats. The title is a combination of the Star Wars song titles Duel of the Fates and Battle of the Heroes, with me slipping in the word "fallen." I'm rather obsessed with aggressive and even downright mad Cloud, who would instigate a fight for once, and it all fell into place quite well. It follows my usual timeline, and there are also a couple of quick references to Into the Ocean, a oneshot where Cloud is drowning and then is rescued by Sephiroth.

The figure made its way down the darkened corridors slowly, stealthily, its eyes the only light in the inky blackness. Its dominant hand was upon the hilt of its sword, apparently in readiness for a confrontation with the one for whom it was seeking.

Its stance was straight, and alert, its gaze darting hither and thither, as if expecting trouble. But when it reached the end of the hall and a door flew open, it stiffened as if in surprise. But perhaps it was instead feeling apprehension.

A second figure was standing in the doorway, framed by the glow coming from within the room. The blue eyes were narrowed, the expression twisted in anger and hatred. In the gloved hands, another weapon was clutched. This one was much more wide and heavy, and a white cloth crisscrossed over the blade down to the hilt.

"This is going to end now, Sephiroth." The voice was cold and dark, but not filled with any sort of righteous anger. The tones were dripping with rage, abhorrence, and a merciless sense of pain. It was the voice, the face, of one who had fallen.

The first figure stepped into the shaft of light, revealing the winged man who was being addressed. He narrowed his eyes at the other, but kept his voice even when he spoke.

"It doesn't have to be this way, Cloud." Yet by now Cloud was too far gone. He had lain siege to Hollow Bastion, opening the old castle and taking it over as a tyrannical ruler. This battle had been inevitable for months. Both of them knew it.

"It does." The blond glared at his hated nemesis. "You know what I want now."

"You want my powers." The Masamune was swiftly withdrawn. "I'm afraid I can't comply."

"Then . . ." Cloud lunged abruptly. "I'll just have to kill you to take them!"

Instantly Sephiroth blocked the attack, giving Cloud a piercing look as he tried to force back the other. It was more difficult than he remembered it being. Cloud had grown stronger since their last fight . . . or so it would appear.

At last the pressure caused the blond to stumble back into the spacious, domed room. Sephiroth entered it as well, again crashing his blade against Cloud's. Their eyes met---Cloud's overflowing with hatred, and Sephiroth's veiled and frozen. But there was something behind the green stare, something that he was trying hard to control.

"This is not going to bring Tifa back," he growled.

Cloud gritted his teeth, forcing Sephiroth backward. "This is not about Tifa!" he screamed. Viciously he lunged, slamming the buster sword repeatedly against the Masamune as Sephiroth led him around the perimeter of the room. Outside, the sun was dramatically setting, the light coming in through the large, picturesque windows. But neither combatant paid attention.

"More precisely, it's about how you couldn't save her," Sephiroth retorted.

"Shut up!" Cloud's voice echoed loudly throughout the building, rent with anguish and self-loathing. "It was your fault! You could have saved her! You didn't do anything!" He sliced into the other's right arm, hearing a hiss of pain. The blood splattered from the wound onto the wall, over the sword, and across Cloud's face.

Sephiroth pulled back, gripping his sword tighter. "I couldn't save her, Cloud," he answered. "When I got to her, she was already dying. She told me to tell you not to mourn for her." He looked firmly into the younger man's blue orbs. "Then she died, in my arms. I took her to Merlin's house, but he couldn't do anything for her either."

It was not what Cloud wanted to hear. It was not what he could bear to hear, especially not in his crazed state. "You're lying!" he accused furiously, charging again. Tifa could have been saved! She would not have died so easily! "You probably killed her on purpose!"

Sephiroth met the other's pain-filled lunge, blue feathers flying as their blades crashed. Then he pulled back, slicing at Cloud's dominant arm. Somehow, he had to make his opponent unable to continue this fight. It was only going to end in disaster. Cloud was not in a condition to battle. Sephiroth could easily kill the other, but he did not want to. Still, it might come to that.

He watched as the blond stumbled back, hissing as the blood flew every which way. "Look at yourself, Cloud," he said, stepping aside to avoid it. "Look at yourself! You're not even making sense. You've let yourself become swallowed by hatred! And for what? Is this what Tifa would want from you? Is it?"

Cloud's head snapped up, his eyes flashing with rage. "Don't tell me what Tifa would want! And don't tell me what I've become! I know what I've become!" He gripped his sword all the more fiercely. He would have to ignore the injury to his arm, even though it was his dominant limb. He would not give up this struggle. He would defeat Sephiroth! Once and for all, he would destroy his hated enemy and take from him his immense powers. He would become strong enough to bring back the dead.

Sephiroth gripped the Masamune's hilt, his hands shaking. "You don't know what you've become." His voice was rising, and it had gained an edge. But he could no longer hold back his feelings. He could no longer make it look like he did not care.

"You've become me!" he screamed. "This is what I tried to stop from happening! I wanted you to be stronger than I was! I wanted you to prove that you did not need hatred!" He paused, breathing heavily. "I wanted you to prove that the light did suit you!"

"Oh, I'll be stronger than you ever were, or could be." Cloud's voice was filled with ice. He had missed the entire point.

Sephiroth's heart sank. Cloud had lost his mind, giving in to his darkness.

"So be it," the silver-haired man said quietly, coldly.

They ran forward, their blades crashing again and again. Blood from both men splattered across the room, their swords, and each other. Then Cloud jabbed his buster sword cruelly into Sephiroth's main wing, and the older man's eyes widened in agony. Slowly the weapon began to be moved diagonally across the appendage, feathers and blood flying in all directions as bones were heard snapping. It was all Sephiroth could do to not cry out in utter, unrestrained anguish.

Abruptly he snatched the dull edge of the sword, his hands trembling as he tried to keep the blade from tearing further into his wing. There would not be any reasoning with Cloud now. He had never thought that the other would do this. His wings had not been harmed since he had been mauled by that dragon. His eyes narrowed. He had been underestimating how far Cloud had fallen. If the blond was in his right mind at all, he would never be this sadistic, not even to a hated nemesis. But Sephiroth would not give up. He would not allow himself to die this way!

He jerked back, finally pulling free of the sword's grasp. But standing up straight was nigh to impossible at first. Instead he doubled over from the imbalance of his torn wing, breathing heavily. It was as if an arm or a leg had nearly been sliced clean through. His vision was swimming in and out of focus, but he could still see the steady dripping of the blood as it splashed to the floor. By now it had made quite a large puddle. He looked away, the dizziness increasing.

Shaking, he raised his gaze again. Cloud was looking back at him, winded as well, bleeding from his own wounds. He was not injured nearly as seriously, for though Sephiroth had been cutting at arms and legs in a desperate attempt to ground him and cease the battle, Cloud had always darted out of the way before the blade could dig very deep. Though, the silver-haired man had landed a good assault to the other's left shoulder, impaling it all the way through. But in spite of that, Cloud was continuing to fight as a rabid lion, as if the wounds did not bother him in the least.

It struck Sephiroth then---this was going to be a battle to the death. There was not any way around that now.

The blond began to raise his sword again. He did not speak, nor did Sephiroth. Both knew that words had become pointless. They would speak with their weapons. The Masamune was lifted as well, and Sephiroth lunged, crimson flying from the ragged, royal blue wing. Cloud growled as his side was lacerated. Once more the figures were locked in battle---eternal enemies. But neither had ever imagined that a final fight would ever come under such circumstances.

And Sephiroth had to admit, he had not featured that it would culminate with his own demise.

While he was airborne for another attack, using his lower wings for balance, the buster sword ran him through.

The pain was incredible. It was horrific. He had been impaled before, but never like this. Never by such a heavy, powerful weapon. The blood rushed to his throat and he gasped, choking and coughing desperately. Maybe the wound itself would not kill him. Maybe he would be asphyxiated by his own blood. But this was without a doubt the end of it all.

Cloud lowered him to the floor, extracting the red-coated metal. He gazed at the blood dripping off of it, almost as though he did not quite know what to make of it. Then he looked back to the man he had just fatally injured. His hands shook, a sick look coming into his eyes. Had he done this? Could he have truly been responsible for all of these wounds? They had both been aggressive in the battle, but he . . . he had actually, deliberately torn the other's wing. He would not have had to have done that. He had done it out of spite, out of sheer loathing, because he had wanted Sephiroth to feel pain. And now . . . now Sephiroth was dying.

He looked pathetic as he lay there, gasping, his hair and wings spread out around him as blood spilled from the killing injuries. Cloud swallowed hard, a prick of something cutting into his own heart. Was it regret?

Sephiroth looked up at him, his eyes glazed over. "Well," he gasped, red trickling from his mouth, "I've failed." He smirked grimly. "I guess that means I'll go to Hell now. Maybe I'll see you there, Cloud . . . once you find that this path will be your downfall." And maybe this time, death would not be so drawn-out and agonizing. He was already slipping away. He could feel it, as all began to grow fuzzy in front of his eyes. Death was sealing his vision, as well as all other feelings and sensations. Then . . . he was simply gone.

The sword crashed to the ground, the clanging sound echoing through the spacious room. Cloud slumped to his knees, shaking, as he stared at the other's body. He had done this. He had killed his enemy. But there was no satisfaction, no pleasure---only sorrow and sickened alarm.

"Sephiroth!" he screamed hoarsely. With a shaking hand, he touched his fingers to the other's neck. There was nothing. No . . . no . . . he could not be dead! Cloud did not want to be responsible for this . . . this murder. That was what it was. He had killed in cold blood.

Crimson was dripping from his fingers. Sephiroth's blood was all over his hands.

He drew back, shuddering. What would Tifa think of him, if she had seen all of this, and what had led up to it? What about Aerith? And Zack? Cloud had killed Zack's other friend.

He stared into Sephiroth's unseeing, dead eyes. If only . . . if only this could be different! If only he could change it! Oh! He would. He would turn back the hands of time. He would never allow himself to become so lost in his grief that he would turn against everyone and their attempts to help him. He would never allow himself to be swallowed by the darkness. But it was too late for his If Onlys. He had been consumed by those feelings, and Sephiroth had perished trying to stop him. It was such an irony.

His shoulders shook as he began to weep in earnest, heart-renching despair.

He had become a monster.

The blond started awake, gasping, his eyes wide open as he flew straight up in bed. Cold sweat had matted his hair to his face and had pressed his clothes to his body. His hands were trembling as they clutched the covers.

There were no corpses here, no blood . . . no guilt. It was his own room, in his small house. Tifa was not dead, either. And he had not given in to his hatred and darkness again. He had been trying to get his life in order.

Throwing the covers back, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed to the floor and shakily stood. Why had he dreamed such a horrible, realistic, downright frightening thing? Was it an inner fear of his---that something would happen to someone he loved and it would push him over the edge? Or . . . could it have been a warning that it would happen, if he could not learn better to control his feelings?

He stumbled into the living room doorway, running a hand through his clammy spikes. He could not make sense of this. And the very thought of bringing to pass what he had witnessed made him very nauseous. It still was a misgiving of his---giving into his darkness and becoming a monster. That would be a worse fate than having someone precious die.

He could still feel so acutely the weight as he plunged the buster sword into Sephiroth's body. He could clearly see the shocked eyes as the form went limp, and he could yet hear his enemy's rueful words as he breathed his last. He had to get something from the kitchen to quell his nerves, something to take away the memory of touching Sephiroth's neck and not finding a pulse.

He hated vivid dreams. If they were ill, they left one drained and despairing. And if they were good, they left one regretting that they were not reality. And then other times, they were just there, in all their weird, outlandish glory.

He froze when he entered the room, narrowing his eyes at the sight before him. Sephiroth was laying on his ratty orange couch, presumably asleep. He was still wearing his coat, but his boots he had left at the front door. He was facing the back of the furniture, and his three wings hung to the floor, where they were unprotected and could be easily stepped on if their presence was unknown. They were limp, but proud and strong---though one was partially crippled. None were currently wounded or bleeding. Cloud had not sliced any of them with his sword. He would not do such a thing.

The blue-eyed man stepped closer, silently, frowning more. He had realized some time back that the other apparently came at times to sleep on his couch, as there were often blue feathers caught in the cushions. But he had never before apprehended his rival in the act.

He leaned down. This was ridiculous, but he had the unquenchable urge to see if Sephiroth was breathing. Of course he would be; he would not have passed away on Cloud's couch. But still, after that dream, he was still undeniably shaken. The contents bothered him to no end, and even though Sephiroth was his enemy, the blond felt it critical to see whether or not the other yet lived. He leaned down further.

Abruptly Sephiroth's eyes snapped open, and he turned slightly onto his back as he extended a bare hand and placed it on the other's forehead. Cloud sprang up with a start.

"What do you think you're doing?!" he cried in disbelief.

"I heard you screaming in your sleep," the silver-haired man announced flatly. His alert tone and eyes told Cloud in an instant that he had been awake all of this time. "You've had a fever after your unexpected swim in the afternoon." He removed his hand. "You still do."

Immediately feelings of humiliation and annoyance washed over the younger man, and his cheeks flamed red as he looked away. "So you just laid there and listened to me?!" he snapped. "You probably found that pretty funny, didn't you."

"No, not especially." Sephiroth sat up slowly, regarding Cloud with an indescribable expression. "I went to the doorway and looked in on you. I saw that you were asleep and I contemplated waking you up. But then you quieted and I assumed you would either sleep more peacefully or else wake up yourself."

Slowly Cloud turned back. "What was I saying?" he muttered.

"Frankly," Sephiroth said, "you were calling to me. You sounded agonized."

Cloud shuddered. The scream he had uttered upon fully realizing that Sephiroth had died---upon coming to the knowledge that he, Cloud, had done it. He had said it aloud.

"Would you have wanted me to wake you up?" the other asked, still in that same, matter-of-fact tone.

The blue eyes narrowed. "No." He could imagine how that would have gone---going directly from seeing Sephiroth dead in a dream to instantaneously encountering his living self in reality.

"I didn't think so." Sephiroth watched him, the green eyes narrowed as well. But somehow, it almost seemed as though there was some level of concern in his gaze. Confusion and curiosity, certainly. It was not as if Cloud yelling his enemy's name in such a strangled tone was something that occurred with some frequency.

"It must have been a horrifying dream."

Cloud nodded slowly, gripping his arms. "Yeah . . . it was." He would not meet Sephiroth's eyes.

"Was I destroying something important to you?"

The blond stiffened. The exchange about Tifa's last words returned to him with sharp clarity. In the dream, Sephiroth had not killed her. Somehow, Cloud was certain of it. He had been telling the truth, and Cloud had been too angry and too full of pain to really listen. Was that how he had often been in the real past, not just with Sephiroth, but with others---even his friends?

"No," he said, shaking his head. He hesitated. "I . . . I fell into my darkness . . . and I killed you when you were trying to stop me." He stared at the floor. "I guess then I really realized how I'd ended up. And I couldn't stand it. I hated you for dying and leaving your blood on my hands . . . but I knew it was my fault. I'd killed out of hate . . . and it was always going to haunt me."

Sephiroth was silent for a time. "Why do you think you would dream that?" he wanted to know.

Cloud looked back, his eyes flashing. "I don't know!" he yelled. "I'm trying to figure it out, and I don't know!" Sephiroth had mentioned that Cloud had been suffering from a fever, so that was probably one of the causes. But still, the nightmare's contents could not have been pulled out of thin air. It was probably something always in the back of his mind, as he had already decided. It was not something that would ever become reality!

Sephiroth sighed. ". . . Don't let that happen to you, Cloud," he said at last, his tone slipping and revealing the weariness he truly felt. It was not physical, but mental and emotional. "No matter what happens to you or what anyone says to you. Don't betray yourself, or the people who care about you. It's too great a price to pay." He paused.

Somehow he looked so much smaller without the heavy shoulder armor, even though he was a strong, muscular man.

"Don't do what I did."

Cloud had been going to angrily retort to Sephiroth's comments, but this final one and the look in his eyes made him stop. It was the first time the other had actually admitted to having traveled such a path, though he had often said that he and Cloud were similar in many ways, including their struggles with their dark feelings. The blond's mouth opened slightly, but then closed. He did not know what to say.

"Sit down, Cloud." Sephiroth gestured to the beaten couch.

For some reason, Cloud took him up on it. Almost mechanically, he thought later, he walked over and slumped into the sagging cushions. Sephiroth did not speak again, and neither did he. Instead, for an indeterminable amount of time, they simply sat there in the darkness.

Two lost souls trying to find their way back to the light.