Kingdom Hearts II

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is! I know the opening setup is weird, but it wouldn't get out of my head. I hope Mickey is in character; he was a bit more difficult to write for than I thought he would be! Thanks to Azrail Liddell for the suggestions on Goofy! I fixed up a couple of his lines, as I mentioned I would.

The hunter should have been satisfied with his catch. He had downed five quail, three geese, and two ducks on his outing---all very good, spotless birds, whose stuffed forms would look very impressive in his trophy room. But though he was pleased, he wanted something else, something bigger and better. He had heard rumors of large birds that roamed through the woods and sometimes would land near Hollow Bastion. Imagine the envy of his friends if he could kill such a creature and have it mounted on his wall!

He had been trying in vain to locate one of them for months. They were always terribly elusive, but the extremely large feathers he sometimes collected were proof that they did exist. And frankly, though he had returned home without one many a time, he was determined that it would not happen again. He would not abandon his quest until he did catch the magnificent creature.

Almost as if on cue, a heavy flap of wings brought his attention to the sky. There, that was one of them now! Was it . . . was it really? After so long? He looked up, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun. It was far above him, so much so that he could not see many details, but he could see enough to know that he could surely strike it down.

He brought the bow up, smirking to himself as he positioned the arrow. It had to be just right. He could not damage those wings at any cost. They would have to be seen to be believed, and for any of them to be pierced by an arrow hole would be a crime. Of course, if it happened, he would see to it that the wounds were patched in the best possible way so as to be nearly unnoticeable. But it would be better for it not to happen at all.

He let go of the string, the arrow hissing as it was launched into the air. It hit its mark before the bird knew it was coming, and the creature froze in pain as it was struck in the back. Once again the hunter fired, swiftly, before it could try to get away in spite of the wound. Again it was hit, and apparently the shock and the agony was too much. Its wings went limp, sending it plunging out of the sky.

The huntsman chuckled low, hurrying forward. He could hear it falling through the branches of a nearby tree, where it crashed on the grassy surface with a grunt of pain. He frowned in confusion. Did birds grunt? That had sounded more like . . . But that was impossible. . . .

His eyes widened in shock and alarm when he finally got to where the body had landed. This . . . this was not a bird at all. It was a human of some description, a human with wings bearing the size and color of the feathers he had been finding. It was unheard-of! Was it intelligent? It was wearing clothes . . . and carrying a long sword. . . .

He backed up when it shuddered and looked up at him. The green eyes were filled with pain, as well as anger. Slowly it began to push itself up into a sitting position, despite the arrows protruding from its back. Was it going to attack in retaliation?

The hunter was really quite a coward, in spite of his professed bravery. Immediately he turned and fled, not wanting to stay and find out what would happen. That sword could easily plunge through his person. And since the creature had managed to kneel, maybe it would have enough strength to impale his assailant.

Sephiroth glowered after the retreating fool. There was not any point wasting energy to seek revenge for this idiocy, even if he had some energy to spare. It would not be worth it. Besides, he had been foolish enough to not realize that he was being shot at. For that inexcusable oversight, he deserved what he had gotten.

Shakily he reached behind him, grasping the arrow closest to his hand. If he could just pull it out. . . .

His eyes widened as the renewed pain swept over him, bringing vertigo with it. It was lodged deeper than he had thought. Even if he got the blasted things removed, what would he do if he passed out from the blood loss and the agony? It was unlikely to happen, with his high tolerance, but it would not be wise to test it. Before doing anything, he should teleport somewhere---though it was possible that in his disorientation he would send himself where he did not mean to go. But he would have to take that chance. Maybe he would be able to get to Zack's. . . .

Shuddering, he gathered up the last bit of his strength. In the next moment he vanished, leaving only a few blue feathers and his red blood gracing the green grass.

"I wonder how Sora's doin' . . ."

Goofy remarked, somewhat sadly, as he and Donald made their way over the grounds of the Disney Castle. It had been months since they had seen their human friend, and it seemed so . . . strange without him around. And whether Donald would admit it or not, Goofy had the feeling that he felt the same way.

"He's probably having fun with Kairi and Riku," Donald answered with a shrug. "Anyway, things are back to normal now."

"Yeah . . . but dontcha kinda miss the old times, travelin' around with Sora, meetin' new people . . ."

"I don't miss the Heartless," Donald retorted.

"Well . . . no, I don't either," Goofy agreed slowly. "But still . . ."

He was interrupted at that moment by a sudden burst of light that appeared in front of them both. He gasped, stumbling back into Donald as he tried to shield his eyes from the glare.

"What is it?!" he yelped.

Donald cried something unintelligible in reply.

As the glow faded, and as Goofy dared to uncover his eyes, he saw something he was not expecting in the least. A man was suddenly on the grass, on his hands and knees, his long hair spilling around him as he gasped in pain. The three wings on his back were hanging limp on the ground, and two arrows were deeply embedded into his back.

"That's Sephiroth!" Donald screamed now, his voice filled with confusion and indignation.

Goofy swallowed hard. It was true, it was Sephiroth. He remembered the other all too well from their past encounters. "Gawrsh, he's hurt," he said tenatively.

"It's probably a trick!" Donald warned, as Goofy took several steps forward. "He can't get hurt. He's the dark part of Cloud's heart! Don't you remember?!"

Goofy stopped, frowning, bewildered as well. "I thought Cloud'd beaten him!" he exclaimed. And yet, here he was. He certainly did not look as if he was pretending to be hurt. The blood was dripping off his back into the grass. His green eyes were wide and agonized, and slowly he tried to push himself back so that he was kneeling upright. Instead he fell forward again, gripping at the blades of green with his hands.

"Maybe he beat Cloud!" Donald said. "We need to tell the King!"

Goofy nodded, still confused. "Maybe we need to help him first," he mused. It would seem cruel to simply run back inside and leave him here in misery.

Sephiroth looked up, highly unimpressed by their actions of talking around him. "I can hear you both," he muttered. Though deciphering the duck's half-quacking vernacular was not always easy, especially in his dazed state. It mostly just sounded like a garbled mess.

Now he did push himself into position, his upper wing twitching with the motion. Reaching behind him, he took hold of the arrow once more. This was not at all where he had meant to go. But he could not possibly try again. Teleporting a second time would almost certainly leave him unconscious upon entry, and that was the last thing he needed. Gritting his teeth, he began to pull out the sharp weapon.

Goofy stared at him. "You're just gonna get that out yourself?!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"I trust myself . . . to do it right," Sephiroth gasped. At last it came free, dripping with red. He stabbed it into the ground, going for the second one. That one had gone in deeper. He narrowed his eyes. He should still be able to get it out.

"What happened to you?" Donald demanded, still not convinced that this was not an elaborate act. "And where's Cloud?!"

"Safely back in Hollow Bastion," Sephiroth said, not bothering to address the first inquiry. "I don't have time to explain." He did have to wonder what he was going to do in the meantime. He would be ready to travel again before long, in a few hours, but it was obvious that right now he needed to rest. And though he did not want to stop here, this was where he had landed. Not that he would be welcome here anyway.

Goofy slowly walked behind him, seeing the struggle that he was having with the second arrow. No matter how he pulled, it did not seem to want to extract itself. And every time he attempted it, more blood ran over his gloved hands and down his back. Goofy swallowed hard, sickened at the sight. Either Sephiroth did not have the strength to remove it, or else it was . . . caught on something in there. . . .

"It looks like you really need somebody to help ya!" he said. This was all very bizarre. And though he certainly did not trust Sephiroth, he still felt concern for the other because of his injuries. He did not want the winged man to be hurt.

"You aren't even a whole person!" Donald quacked, nervous and concerned. He did not like Sephiroth's presence here at all. What could he be plotting? "You're part of Cloud!"

"I'm not literally part of Cloud," Sephiroth found himself hissing. It was truth, but not one that he revealed often anymore. Maybe he was saying it to get the bird to shut up. He was such a motor mouth. And though his gangly companion was somewhat of a meddler, he seemed to be the more reasonable of the two.

"You're not?!" Goofy gasped.

"You're lying again!" Donald accused.

"Prove it." The spots and stars were swirling in front of Sephiroth's eyes now, and it was obvious that he was not going to last. To fall unconscious in front of these . . . beings was not what he wanted at all. He wanted to show them that he was stronger than that. It was bad enough to show weakness to Cloud. But at least Cloud was a human.

"Hey! What's goin' on here?!"

Donald and Goofy whirled around, and Sephiroth weakly raised his gaze to focus on the figure of a mouse in royal attire coming toward them. Great . . . the ringleader, too. All of them would be here to witness this ignoble moment.

"Your Majesty, it's Sephiroth!" Donald screamed.

"He's hurt!" Goofy chimed in.

"Sephiroth? Hurt?" King Mickey frowned deeply, making his way over to the shuddering human. This was indeed unexpected. He had heard tales of the legendary swordsman and warrior, who had mysteriously vanished several years ago before suddenly reappearing. The reason for those events had never been explained. Sora, Donald, and Goofy had told him some time back that the other claimed to be the darkness in Cloud's heart, but though the mouse was certain that could not be true, he was not sure of what the truth could actually be.

The silver-haired man trembled again, his hands dropping from the stubborn arrow embedded in his flesh. "Your Majesty," he smirked in great effort. His eyes rolled back into his head as he fell forward among the soft green blades.

Zack Fair was leaning back in his office chair, his eyes narrowed as a concerned frown graced his normally cheerful features. On the desk in front of him was a sheet of paper, a report that had been filled out earlier by a hysterical and spooked hunter.

The man had shown up at the military base an hour ago, ranting and raving incoherently about shooting a man with wings. Zack had immediately ushered him into his office, and had tried for what seemed ages to get the full story to come out in an intelligible manner.

It had been difficult for him to even keep his temper in check upon being told that the hunter had simply fled and left the creature there in agony. He had been afraid for his life, but it was not an excuse! He should have tried to talk to Seph---for Zack was certain it was Seph. The description matched perfectly---the silver hair, the blue wings, the long katana. . . . The hunter should have offered to get the arrows out, to do something to help! Instead, he had just abandoned his victim, leaving him there to bleed to death for all he would know!

And where was Seph now? He would not have stayed there if he had been able to help it, but was he too hurt to go very far? What if he had tried to teleport and something had gone amiss? What if he had lost a lot of blood and had not been able to remove the arrows, and he had passed out somewhere in the woods? The brunet clenched a fist. He had to find the other, and it had to be immediately.

"So basically, he got himself shot out of the sky like a big turkey?"

The raven-haired man frowned more, looking over to where Cloud was leaning on the desk and also reading the report. The blond had been called by Zack as soon as the hunter had left, as Commander Fair did not want to involve the other soldiers in the search. That could get too complicated, if one of them happened to find Seph. The military still suspected that Seph was a fraud, after all. If they caught him in a wounded condition, they might decide to bring him back and interrogate him. And if he was really dazed, maybe even delirious, there was no telling what he might say.

"That's not funny, Cloud," Zack scolded. "He couldn't help what happened. Would you think, if you were flying around, that someone would mistake you for a bat and shoot you?"

The other spiky-haired man straightened up, muttering. "Bats don't have one wing, and birds don't have three." But he knew that was beside the point.

He sighed. "Alright, we'd better go find the guy before he bleeds to death." He headed for the door. "Where are we going to look?"

Zack followed after his childhood friend. "If he's not at either of our houses, then we'll go through the forest," he directed. "If he's not there, then we'll check the canyons, and anywhere else we can think of, until we do find him." He had already checked his own house, while waiting for Cloud to arrive, but they should look again after all this time. If Seph managed to teleport anywhere, his destination would likely be Zack's house or his office.

Cloud blew out his breath in vexation. Somehow he had the feeling that this was going to take a while.

He could not recall feeling anything so soft.

He was laying in a bed that was very comfortable and which sank down, yet which still had a certain firmness to it. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was just right. As were the pillows.

Slowly he opened his eyes. He was laying on his stomach, and it felt like the upper half of his body was bare, save for the bandages on his back. Bandages . . . why were there . . . oh yes, some idiot had shot him out of the sky. He winced as the memories rushed back, along with the pain.

Wait . . . he had swooned at the Disney Castle. Did that mean he was still at that location? He frowned slightly in confusion. Would they take care of someone such as him? And was he free to go wherever he wished, if he could get up? Or would they have made him a prisoner in this room? If the king did not know about that battle against Cloud, it was likely that the dog and the duck would tell him, and they would be sure to mention that Sephiroth had come across as the villain. They would surely not want him to be able to roam at will through the castle, in case he had some secret desire to conquer the kingdom. Which he did not.

But to be held prisoner by a group of anthropomorphic animals . . . it sounded so demeaning. He should be strong enough to be able to defeat them, and he could, if he had not been wounded. They were not anywhere near his size.

. . . It did make him wonder how they had managed to even lift him inside. How many of them had needed to assist? If he was not so exhausted, the image of ten or fifteen of the kingdom's residents carrying his limp body might amuse him more than it currently did.

"Oh hey! You're awake!"

The sudden voice gave him a start. So someone had been appointed to watch him? He turned his head slightly to the side in the direction of the voice, recognizing the doglike creature that had followed the Keybearer.

"How long has it been?" he mumbled, his voice rasping.

The dog shrugged helplessly. "Gawrsh, it's been a while," he answered. "Maybe a couple hours. . . . We brought ya inside, and got ya fixed up, and I said I'd wait here till you woke up. You got hurt really bad. Were you fightin' someone?" He blinked wide, curious eyes at the other.

"No." Sephiroth raised up slightly, taking in the large, luxuriously decorated room. The sun was still streaming in from outside---afternoon sun, from the looks of it. The heavy, royal red curtains with gold trim were pulled back on either side by matching golden ropes. The walls, ceiling, and floor were made out of smooth marble, which caught the rays of the light and heat source outside and reflected them off of each other. Various expensive paintings and exquisite vases added to the decor, and both the porcelain surfaces and the gold and silver trimmed frames also caught the sun's light.

He looked back to the canine---Goofy, was it? "I wasn't expecting that I would be treated so well," he said bluntly as he sank back onto the pillows. There was still the thought in his mind that maybe this was part of some scheme to give an illusion of freedom, but no . . . the dog seemed sincere. And he did not appear to be the sort who would be able to trick someone into believing he was if he was not. Zack had a name for that kind of person---"What you see is what you get." No facades or masks, just the pure personality, whatever that happened to be.

Goofy blinked again, in surprise. "You didn't think we'd just leave ya there, bleedin', did ya?!"

Sephiroth grunted. No, he had not expected that, either. He did not think that they were heartless. Quite on the contrary, they seemed to be the sort who wanted to always fight for righteousness. To leave him to his own affairs at that point would have been below them.

"I thought your king would want to take precautions to ensure that I wouldn't try to topple the kingdom," he said at last.

A flicker of worry passed over the animal's features. "You wouldn't, would you?!" he exclaimed.

A spark of sadism crept into Sephiroth's heart as he smirked. "What if I would?" he replied.

Goofy frowned at him. "Aw, you're tryin' to scare me," he scolded.

Hmm. So he would not believe everything he was told. Interesting. Apparently he was not as simple-minded as he initially appeared to be. Though, Sephiroth did recall that Goofy had a certain amount of spunk, judging from their previous meeting, at Hollow Bastion.

Slowly the silver-haired man raised up again, crossing his arms on the downy pillow. "You're saying that your king isn't concerned at all in that direction?" Ordinarily he would honestly not care one way or another. But he would be here for a short while, until he felt rested enough to teleport out again, and he had to admit that he was vaguely curious. Not to mention ungodly bored, and that could be a powerful motivator. There was not anything to do except to think or else to talk to this dog. And he had plenty of time to think as it was.

"Well, I guess you'd havta ask him."

Goofy regarded the injured man with a certain amount of unease. It was certainly true that he had fought Sora for the Keyblade in the past. If he was a power-hungry sort, then maybe he would go after the castle, or at least, the King's Keyblade. Would it even matter that they had tried to help him? Maybe he would consider that they were all fools and that they shouldn't have trusted him. But he was surely too hurt right now to do anything.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?"

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "You're physically capable of it," he retorted.

Goofy nodded, seeming to take courage. "Did ya really mean what ya said, about not being part of Cloud?"

Sephiroth studied him thoughtfully. It had been said in a moment of sheer frustration and pain, and if he had been with it better, it would not have been uttered. But now it had been, and he was too weary to play mindgames by effectively dodging the statement. There was not a reason why this entity needed to believe the half-truth, anyway.

"I meant it."

Goofy shifted. "So . . . Cloud really is okay?" he asked slowly.

"Unless he's gotten himself into trouble during the time I've been here, then yes, he's fine."

"Well . . . that's good." Goofy still looked confused. "But . . . why do ya wanna hurt Cloud? He's already been through a whole lot."

"I'm not trying to hurt Cloud." Sephiroth smirked grimly to himself. He really must be worn out right now. On the other hand, it seemed more interesting to tell these truths to this entity, rather than partial falsehoods.

Goofy frowned again. "What would you call it, then?" he demanded.

"I would call it being cruel to be kind."

The dog made a face, placing a hand to his chin as he leaned back and deeply pondered this statement. Then he shook his head slowly. "Nope . . . that don't make sense," he proclaimed.

Heh. That was expected. "I didn't think you'd understand it," Sephiroth said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Cloud don't, either, does he?" Goofy asked.

"Not really." Though the blond was not downright hostile any more. He seemed somewhat weary himself, as if he was growing exhausted with their rivalry and just wanted it to end. Maybe some of that was because of now knowing that they had a mutual friend. Or maybe it was due to the civil conversations they had shared while Sephiroth had been recovering from the dragon attack. But in any case, Cloud was now somewhat more teachable, for which Sephiroth was pleased. As a result, he had started to tone down the severity of his approach.

"Then why do ya do it?!" Goofy persisted.

Sephiroth studied him, his expression deadpan. "Because, ever so slowly, I'm seeing positive results," he replied. And that made it worth it, he supposed, despite the frustration.

Goofy blinked in surprise.

The door abruptly opened. "What's going on in here?!" demanded the motor mouth duck from earlier.

Goofy started and looked over, and Sephiroth turned as much as he could without irritating his back.

"I'm just talkin' to Sephiroth, Donald," Goofy replied. "He woke up!"

Donald came in, glaring at Sephiroth suspiciously. He was met with a gaze of boredom, which did not ease the other's concerns.

"You're probably not grateful that we helped you," he muttered.

Sephiroth was suddenly amused. "You sound like Cloud," he said.

Donald was not expecting that. He blinked, opening his mouth, shutting it again, frowning at the other, and then finally opening his mouth again. "Then Cloud knows what he's talking about!" he retorted.

"Does he?" Sephiroth replied vaguely. This was entertaining for a few minutes, but it was quickly getting stale. He got enough of running in verbal circles with his blond nemesis, without engaging in the practice now with this duck. Somehow, barely being able to understand what the other was saying lessened his enjoyment of the game.

"Okay, fellas. I want to talk to Sephiroth now."

Again the room's occupants all turned in the direction of the door. King Mickey was entering, his expression slightly amused by the banter---though there was a more serious gleam in his eyes.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Donald agreed, stepping aside.

"Alone," the mouse said in a calm, yet firm tone.

Both Goofy and Donald were surprised.

"Alone?!" Goofy repeated, blinking amazed eyes at his ruler and friend.

"But . . . Your Majesty . . . ! Shouldn't we stay here, in case he tries something?" Donald gasped.

The king chuckled. "No, I'll be alright," he said, going to a chair next to the bed and climbing up on it.

Donald was not ready to give up. "But . . ."

Mickey responded by giving the other a stern look that said his mind was made up. The duck knew that look well, and his shoulders slumped in defeat.

"Come on, Donald," Goofy said resolutely, heading for the door. "If the King thinks he's okay, then he must be."

Donald glowered at the floor, then at Sephiroth, before turning to follow the other. Somehow, Sephiroth had the feeling that they were going to linger in the hall, perhaps to attempt eavesdropping at the door.

Mickey apparently thought the same. He chuckled softly, shaking his head. "You've made a pretty infamous name for yourself in some places," he remarked, looking to the human stretched out on the bed. "That's why they're so worried."

"Yes, I'm quite aware of that."

Sephiroth studied the rodent thoughtfully. It seemed odd, that one so small was so powerful. He wielded Keyblades, but not only that, he had all of this kingdom at his beck and call. Size of the body, he supposed, was not as important as the size of one's mind. But he still took quite a bit of pride in his physical strength and stamina, as well as his reasoning abilities.

"You may be making a mistake, to not have anyone around to protect you."

"Maybe," Mickey agreed, "but I'm not worried." He smiled. "I guess you could say that I'm trusting you."

"People who trust too much often end up dead."

"If they don't trust, are they really happy?"

"It's not a matter of deciding not to trust anyone," Sephiroth stressed. "The problem is in knowing who is trustworthy."

"Yep." Mickey nodded. "That can definitely be a problem."

Sephiroth frowned slightly. "You're saying, then, that you find me trustworthy," he deduced.

"Well . . . I don't really know ya or anything, so I'm giving you the benefit of a doubt," Mickey said.

Blind trust, then, just what Sephiroth had mentioned often killed people. "Why?"

"You needed help. Who would've given it to you, if we hadn't?"


"It's hard for you to accept help, isn't it?" Mickey mused.

Sephiroth grunted. "If it has to be done, then I don't have much choice in the matter," he answered. "Though, most people wouldn't want to help me. I can only think of one person who would do so willingly." He was, of course, thinking of Zack. Cloud would offer assistance to Sephiroth, if he thought it necessary, but he would do it grudgingly. Though, in spite of all his complaining, he honestly did not want harm to come to the other. Perhaps some of his grumbling was a front, albeit Sephiroth had no doubt that at least some of it was genuine.

"One person?" Mickey repeated in disbelief. He shook his head again, a sad smile gracing his features. "I think maybe you just haven't been around too many of the right kind of people," he declared. "Actually, there's a lot who'd be willing to help out. I think some of 'em don't because they're just afraid of gettin' in the way, or that their help really isn't wanted, and that kinda thing."

"And some of them honestly don't care," Sephiroth came back.

He found himself slightly annoyed by the direction the conversation had taken. Maybe he was too pessimistic, it was true. Zack said that a lot. But Sephiroth did not mind when Zack said it. Zack was his only friend, the person whom the other entrusted with everything. Zack knew why he felt as he did. This mouse did not. It was not his place.

Mickey nodded. "Yeah . . . I know some of them don't," he agreed. "But in the big picture, there's a lot less of them than there are of the helpful kind."

"Maybe. But then there's a large percentage of those who only help because they're seeking a reward for it."

"Do you think that's why we helped you?" Mickey asked.

"No." Sephiroth smirked grimly. "I wouldn't have anything to offer anyway, unless you wanted my powers. And I'm not willing to part with them."

Mickey smiled. "Well, we wouldn't wanna make you do that." He blinked curiously at the silver-haired man. "Why do you think we helped you, anyway? If you don't mind my asking."

Sephiroth continued to smirk in his sardonic way. "I would assume because your consciences wouldn't allow you to rest if you didn't."

"Well . . . I guess when you think about it, that is part of it," Mickey conceded. "But you don't think we just wouldn't wanna see you laying there in pain without tryin' to help out?"

"I don't think you're heartless, if that's what you mean." Sephiroth continued to watch the mouse as he spoke. "If you mean whether I think you would care about me, personally, then no, I don't. I believe you would probably help anyone who fell into your midst, out of a desire to not see anyone suffer."

"That's a good reason," Mickey said with a nod. "But you're kinda overlookin' the fact that if we don't want anyone to suffer in general, we wouldn't want you, personally, to suffer either." He smiled. "And you mentioned knowin' one person who'd wanna help you 'willingly.' Is that someone you're close to?"

Sephiroth gave him a look that said it was not his business. Unoffended, Mickey continued.

"That's another reason why we want to help you---so that that person won't havta worry."

"He will if he doesn't know I'm here," Sephiroth replied almost immediately. To him, it sounded like faulty logic.

"Well, that's true," Mickey had to admit. "And unfortunately, there isn't a phone service that goes through all the worlds. But I could send a messenger, if you'd like."

"That won't be necessary." He would be home soon. He would make sure of that.

"Are you sure?" Mickey looked him over, his eyes narrowed slightly in concern. "You probably oughtta stay here a while, until you're better."

"No," Sephiroth interjected. "I'm fine." And he would be able to rest much better back home. He was not going to stay here for longer then several hours at the most.

"If you're sure, then we can't keep you," Mickey said with reluctance. He did not think that Sephiroth was well enough to leave. When he had passed out on the lawn, he had looked very pale and weak. And he had not responded to Mickey's and Goofy's attempts to revive him, so at last they had given up, determining that he would have to simply sleep it off. He did seem to be completely coherent now, which was a good thing.

He was an interesting person, actually---not at all what Mickey had been imagining. He seemed so bitter towards the world, as if he believed he had seen it all, and at the same time he did have someone whom he cared about very much. He had not entirely shut himself away from everyone. In some way, he seemed so tired and sobered, too---as if he had made drastic mistakes in the past and had only recently begun to realize the extent of the damage. And that reminded the King of his old friend Ansem the Wise.

Sephiroth spoke again. "I'm sure."

Mickey nodded slowly. "Well, alright," he agreed.

He studied the other thoughtfully. "Ya know, I've heard some other things about you," he said.

"Like what?" Sephiroth sounded disinterested, which he was. There were many throughout the worlds who had heard of him. And he knew most of what they heard.

"I heard that you were a really famous swordsman," Mickey replied, "and that you just up and disappeared once, in some battle. Then, about a year later, you started showing up places again, but you weren't with the army anymore."

"It might be true," Sephiroth said noncommittally. "It might not be." So, he was back to playing mindgames again. Or maybe not. Somehow he had the feeling that the King was not fooled. Which was interesting, considering that most people ended up bewildered by his statements.

"Yup," Mickey said cheerfully. "It'd havta be one or the other."

Sephiroth grunted. "What's your point?" he asked.

Mickey sobered a bit. "I'm just sayin' that . . . well, if you got mixed up in some things you shouldn't have, I can understand that. I've had a couple friends who had that problem. Good people, they just got kinda twisted by their own darkness until they didn't know how to get out of the webs they'd made."

"It happens." And from Sephiroth's experience, one usually did not even fully come to realize what they had done until something shocking and completely unexpected occurred---such as dying. But by then it was too late.

"What happened to these people?" he queried. It was not that he especially wanted to know. Maybe it was just morbid curiosity.

"Well, one of 'em decided that he was gonna overcome his darkness, but that he would havta accept it first, since it was just as much a part of him as his light side." Mickey smiled. "He's doin' really well now. I think he's found himself and really knows better how to live in the light."

"Good for him."

Now the mouse became serious again, the sadness obvious in his eyes. "And the other . . . well . . . he realized that he'd let his hurt feelings and his pride turn into hatred, and he sacrificed himself to try to do what he could in order to make up for his mistakes."

"Can one ever fully make up for anything?" Sephiroth remarked flatly. "What's done is done. Even if you regret your actions, you can't reverse them, no matter how you try to make your life better from that point on. The wounds caused to other people are still there."

Mickey bit his lip. "Yeah, that's true," he admitted slowly. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't change. You can still make a difference for good if you do."

"That's not what I'm saying," Sephiroth said. "Naturally one should try to mend their ways. But they shouldn't believe that everything will be alright if they do. They shouldn't forget about the people they brought down."

Mickey smiled gently. "Ya know, I think that if they really do change, they never could forget," he answered.

Sephiroth watched him closely. "Then what is the solution?"

The mouse narrowed his eyes, leaning back as he considered the other's question. Finally he looked back to the silver-haired man. "I'm not sure there really is any easy solution," he admitted. "I guess . . . all we can really do is live our lives the best we can, and try to do whatever we can do to make up for what we've done that's hurt others. I mean, it won't take away what we did to hurt them and all, but I think a lot of times it really does help to ease the pain, to know that we regret it." He smiled again, in a melancholy way. "I think, sometimes, that's all we can really give to people we've hurt---our regrets."

Sephiroth grunted. That was true. Zack had said something similar to him in the past. But it did not satisfy him. Regret, for him, was not good enough. And yet, if it was all he had to give, what more could he do? He despised such quandaries. Whenever possible, he wanted to be in control. In these cases, he always felt at a loss.

He looked back to Mickey, deciding to change the subject. ". . . If I did decide to overpower you and take your Keyblade, or if I succeeded, would that alter at all the way you give help to others in the future?"

The King blinked. "Well, it wouldn't make me stop helpin'," he said.

"I didn't think so. But do you honestly believe it's a good idea to extend such privileges to someone who is a possible threat to your kingdom?" The green-eyed man's expression never changed as he regarded the one with whom he was conversing. It was hard to figure out what was going through these people's minds. "It isn't as if all such beings will be suddenly, miraculously changed by being shown trust and kindness. Some of them will just use it to their advantage and exploit you."

"Yeah . . . I know," Mickey nodded. "We gotta be careful. But then again, sometimes you gotta take risks, too. That's what happens when you're sharin' your life with other people."

"Sometimes the results of the risks may be too grievous to bear."

"That's true. But you sound kinda like you're talkin' from an army general's point of view," Mickey commented. "I mean, all logical and strategical and that kinda thing. And that's good, we need those things," he smiled, and then paused before continuing.

"But sometimes, you just can't look at things logically. That's kinda one of the mistakes that one of my friends made. Everything to him was all about how it worked scientifically, and well, some things just can't be looked at like that 'cause they aren't scientific at all---like your different feelings. They can't be explained away, since a lot of times people don't even make logical decisions."

Sephiroth grunted. "I suppose." He had tried to train himself to operate on logic, and he had succeeded a good deal, until Zack had entered and turned his theories upsidedown. Zack was always so filled with hope, and he seemed a lot happier than Sephiroth. The silver-haired man was content at times, but as far as being actually happy . . . he was not sure if he ever had been truly happy.

And then on the other hand, when Sephiroth had started to let emotions get the better of him, he had become hateful and vengeful. He had lost all sense of logic and had cared only about defeating their enemies in whatever ways possible. And it had ended up being not only them who he had hurt. He had wounded Zack by the path he had chosen, and that pierced him more painfully than the sword that had killed him.

What would happen to him if anything ever happened to Zack? It was not something he liked to think about; he did not want to consider that his friend might meet some tragic end. But honestly, if he did, then Sephiroth was not certain he could bear it. He had somehow gone on during that year in the past, when Zack had been physically fine but had not been able to see or hear the other. But the winged man had been despairing then, going through life as if he was a machine. He wondered now if he had still possessed some glimmer of hope himself; that since Zack was alive, there was still a chance. And Zack had finally seen and recognized him, and had broken the curse over him. But if Zack died, there would be no chance for that curse to break.

Sephiroth smirked grimly. Caring about someone could bring feelings of contentment or even happiness, but it could also bring down pain sharp as no other. Caring about anything could do that. Hence, how he had wound up letting himself become filled with hatred---it had started because of his outrage over what their enemies were doing. And then he had crossed the line between anger and loathing. He still believed that the people he had fought against deserved what they had received from him, even though he also knew that he had lost himself in the process. And Zack had never deserved to be put through the anguish of watching Sephiroth tread that lonely road.

On the one hand, it seemed more wise to allow logic to rule over one's heart. On the other, that would not allow for something as off-the-wall to take place as he and Zack becoming almost like brothers. He could never explain how that had happened, and he would not even try.

He glanced back to Mickey, who was just sitting patiently while waiting for his reverie to conclude. "There aren't clear-cut answers for many things, it seems," he remarked now.

The mouse nodded. "But if ya stick to what makes ya truly happy, then I think you'll be okay," he said. "I mean, no one could be truly happy if they're causing someone else to be sad. Or even themselves."

Heh. Sephiroth could think of some people who would differ, even if they would only be deceiving themselves. But as for himself, he knew that he would not be happy or content if he had never let Zack into his life. In that case, his emotions had been a good thing, despite the pain. And Zack always said the same thing, even though he had been in such agony when Sephiroth had traveled on the road of hatred.

Perhaps the bottom line was that one needed to stay in control of one's emotions, and to keep a good balance. But then the question still arose as to how that would be accomplished.

He lowered his head onto the pillow. Right now, after that long discussion and the queries raised, he was starting to feel tired again. But the last thing he wanted to do was to go to sleep when he was not alone. He wanted to ensure that he appeared strong.

"Still with the pride thing, Seph? Come on, anyone'd be ready to drop after what you've been through. You don't have to put on some big show, especially not for me." He could almost hear Zack saying that, watching him with a trademark smirk. He could never be fooled. It was an irritation at times, and yet also, oddly comforting---that someone could know so much about him and yet still care about him unconditionally.

As it turned out, Mickey also seemed able to see through any act Sephiroth was trying to put on. "I'll leave ya alone right now," he said as he jumped down from the chair, "and you can get some more rest before you go."

"I'm not tired," Sephiroth said flatly. Though he had to admit that he was grateful for the other's departure, and the fact that the king had said nothing aloud if the winged man's exhaustion was that apparent. That saved him an unnecessary bruise to his ego.

"See ya!" Mickey called cheerfully as he walked out the door. "It's been nice talkin' with ya!" He shut the door behind him.

Sephiroth was asleep again before he quite realized it himself.

Cloud muttered in irritation as he parted more of the bushes that were blocking his way. As he stepped between them, he kept his sole wing close to his body, not wanting it to be snagged on the sharp branches. The ripping sound behind him said that his ragged cape had just become more ragged.

He rolled his eyes. This was the last thing he wanted to be doing right now---chasing down his nemesis who had been senselessly shot and possibly killed. Knowing Sephiroth, he would not die. He was too stubborn. And he could not die anyway---Zack would be devastated if that happened.

Poor Zack. . . . It was him Cloud felt sorry for, not Sephiroth. That idiot should have heard the arrows coming, even if he had not seen them! Now he was gone and Zack was panicked.

Stupid hunter, too. He should not have shot Sephiroth down in the first place, and then just running away literally added insult to injury. Then again, Sephiroth could have easily called something out to him. He should have. Instead, he just let the other go free. Maybe he had figured that calling out would have only made the moron more worried, and that he would have run even faster. Heh. That probably would have happened.

Even if Sephiroth was not dead, he might be laying unconscious somewhere. He might have lost a lost of blood, or maybe one or both of the arrows had pierced something vital. That would make Zack worry a lot too, if his friend would need some kind of surgery to pull through.

For once, Cloud thought sarcastically, he wanted them to find Sephiroth in a completely normal, healthy state. Well, normal for Sephiroth.

What would it be like, to be minding your own business one minute and then to suddenly be shot the next? That would have to hurt. Poor Sephiroth.

Cloud frowned, catching himself. No, Sephiroth did not need any pity or sympathy from him. He had said once before that he did not want that from Cloud. He probably did not want it from anyone.

A hint of deep blue and red met his eyes, easily standing out against the green grass. The blond bent down, slowly picking up a long feather from Sephiroth's wings. Dried blood was across it, and more was among the blades on which he was standing. And when Cloud looked around the immediate area, he could see several other feathers as well. Was this where Sephiroth had been shot? Or had he come there afterwards, dizzy and in pain? At any rate, he was gone now.

He looked up, seeing Zack going through the trees several yards away. "Zack!" he called, waving the large feather above his head. "Sephiroth was here."

The brunet was swiftly running over to him. Shakily Zack took the feather, swallowing hard as he saw the blood. Then he looked out, surveying the surrounding area as Cloud had done. The sight of the crimson splattered among the royal blue feathers made him feel sickened. Poor Seph. . . . Wherever he was, he must be in agony.

"We've gotta find him," he murmured.

Cloud sighed but nodded. "I know." He laid a hand on Zack's shoulder. "Don't worry. We will."

His voice was gruff, but Zack could tell that the other was trying to be comforting. And that meant a lot to him. He smiled, the light of determination coming back into his lavender eyes.

"Yeah," he said then. "Of course we will!" And Seph would be just fine.

He had to be.

It was dark outside by the time Sephiroth found himself awakening again.

Slowly he pushed himself up on his elbows, blinking as he took in the barely visible room. The moon shining in from outside provided some light, as his eyes adjusted. He could make out the walls and the furniture, as well as something additional. He reached out, touching the black cloth of his coat. It had been draped on the chair, cleaned and mended for him---along with his armor.

He felt much more rested now, and hesitantly he began to push himself up into a kneeling position. Good . . . the dizziness was not coming back. Maybe he would be able to leave now. He had been gone since early afternoon in his world. Did time move the same in this one? Maybe back in Hollow Bastion, he had been missing much longer. He frowned.

Carefully he brought his legs out from under him, swinging them onto the marble floor. Then he leaned over, switching on the lamp by the bedside. He blinked again. The light stung his eyes as it filled the quiet space. He sighed, running a hand through his hair before taking hold of his coat and pulling it over to him.

He laid it across his lap, fingering the places where the arrows had entered. Save for the thread he could feel in those locations, there was not any way to tell that the cloth had been broken. And there was no indication of the red that had been generously decorating it a few hours ago. Someone had obviously spent quite a while fixing it up.

These were good people, he mused to himself. Hopelessly idealistic, but good. He had been arrogant and proud towards them, and still they had treated him with nothing but kindness. They deserved his respect, even though his logical side could not fully agree with their views. If the day came when he could repay them for what they had done, he would be certain to do it. But for now he needed to get home.

He leaned over slightly, grabbing for his thigh-length boots. His back screamed at him, and he eased his upper body straight again as he pulled on the boots and fumbled aimlessly with the buckles. But he was too worn out to bother with them. They were mostly for decoration anyway.

Draping the coat over one arm, he took hold of the bedpost and began to ease himself upright. His back demanded that he stop, reminding him of the wounds that had been inflicted. And the injuries joined voices, agony shooting through his body courtesy of their complaints. But he gritted his teeth, continuing to rise until he was completely up. He would not allow those wounds to control him. He was going to leave, and that was that.

The room teetered as he spread open his coat and began to slowly pull his arms into the skintight sleeves. Maybe if he shut his eyes, the vertigo would go away. Would he really have enough strength to get back home? What if he ended up in some other dimension? No . . . he was stronger now than he had been when he had teleported here. He would make it back.

He opened his eyes again when he heard a knock on the door. "Come in," he called, picking up his gloves from the nightstand. Pulling them on, he gathered up the armor and tucked it under his arm. He could not take the time or the effort to try to affix it right now. That was strength he would need to put towards teleporting to Hollow Bastion.

The door opened, and King Mickey stepped inside. "I saw the light under the door, so I figured you were up and fixing to leave," he greeted.

Sephiroth nodded. "I am." He took hold of the Masamune, which had been propped against the nearby wall.

"Is there anything I can get you before you go?"

"No, thank you. What you've already done is enough." He turned to face the other, looking down into the cheerful eyes. "I'll find a way to repay you."

Mickey blinked. "Oh no!" he exclaimed. "You don't havta do that."

"I always pay back my debts," Sephiroth answered.

The mouse smiled. "Well, the next time you find someone who needs help, you can repay us by helping them," he said. "Just pass it along."

Heh. That sounded like something that an idealist would say. Sephiroth was not surprised. He nodded slowly. "Very well."

Mickey looked him up and down, the tiredness in his eyes not lost on the ruler. "Will you be able to get back safe?" he asked. "You still look pretty give-in."

"I will be able to." But he would not lie to himself. Once he got back, he would need to rest. Zack would agree wholeheartedly.

Mickey nodded slowly. It would be pointless to try to convince him otherwise; his heart was made up. And it was good of him to want to return so that his friend would not be worrying. "I guess this is goodbye, then," he said, and held up his hand.

Twenty-four hours ago, Sephiroth had never imagined that he would be shaking hands with a mouse. But now he reached down, grasping the hand firmly for a brief moment. Then he stepped back to concentrate his powers on forming a portal.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Goofy and Donald watching him from the doorway. Both were nervous, that was apparent from their body language---and they looked ready to jump in if Sephiroth suddenly decided he wanted Mickey's Keyblade. It looked as though Donald had been the ringleader and Goofy had come along reluctantly, though curious.

Mickey saw them too. "See, fellas? Everything's alright," he said.

Goofy tried to relax, looking somewhat embarrassed at their intrusion. "I told ya, Donald," he declared.

"He's leaving now, anyway," Mickey added.

"Good riddance," Donald muttered.

Sephiroth ignored them. Creating a portal took immense willpower to do, especially when he was feeling as weak and ill as he currently was, and it was all he could do to not start focusing on the pain instead. It was certainly vying for his attention the longer he worked, and he could feel beads of perspiration sliding down his face. But he ignored that as well.

Hopefully he would go where he actually meant to, instead of teleporting to Cloud's, or the Restoration Committee's, or even someone's bathtub.

There, the portal was taking shape now. It was glowing as it started to open, enveloping him within it. He was going home.

Zack leaned forward dejectedly, staring into the glass top of his living room's end table. "We've been all over the place," he murmured, clasping his hands after laying his arms on his knees. Seph was not in Hollow Bastion, Zack was almost positive of it. But that meant he could be almost anywhere else. If his sense of direction had been off enough, he could have even teleported to some other world.

Would anyone have even helped him? Maybe he would have landed right into a nest of villains who would have no interest in assisting a winged man who had been shot. Or maybe he would have ended up on an uninhabited world, where all he could do would be to lay there and die. . . .

He shut his eyes tightly. He could not allow himself to think like that.

"Zack. . . ."

He looked up, opening his eyes again as he met Cloud's blue-eyed gaze. The blond shifted, looking like he did not know what at all to say.

"It's not like you to give up."

He shook his head, the many layered raven spikes flying with the motion. "I'm not giving up, Cloud. I just . . . right now, I just don't know where else to look." His shoulders slumped. "If he's not even in this world, we might not ever find him. He might be laying somewhere, half-dead, and I'd never know to be able to go there and find him before . . ." He swallowed hard. "Before it's too late. . . ."

Cloud had never seen his friend so actively devastated. He hated to think how poor Zack would have reacted, had he been the one to find Sephiroth's badly mauled body after the dragon attack. As it was, Zack had only seen the other after he had started to heal. Sephiroth had been coherent then, not the delirious madman Cloud had been struggling to quiet for several days prior to Zack's arrival.

"Zack . . ." He sighed. "I'm sorry." And he meant it. If he could, he would drag Sephiroth back from wherever he had gone, even if that place was Hell---just to give Zack peace of mind. The brunet deserved it more than anyone.

Zack smiled weakly. "Yeah, I know. I am too."

Both of them started as a bright glow suddenly filled the room.

Cloud immediately gasped and shielded his eyes. "What is that?!" he muttered. Though he could make a guess. . . .

Zack continued to watch, to hope. No one else would be appearing here, in his living room. It had to be Seph! It had to be! And it was. The light faded, revealing the exhausted yet triumphant silver-haired man. Zack leaped up, joyous as he ran over to him.

"Seph!" he cried, breaking into a grin. "Seph, you're okay! You're really okay. . . ." He threw his arms around the other's shoulders, hugging him close as his heart swelled. "Oh man, you scared me! I didn't know where you were at all. . . ."

Sephiroth let the younger man talk, and to hug him, though he did not try to return his friend's embrace. It was a relief to finally have returned. His impassive expression changed as he smiled vaguely at Zack's enthusiasm and joy. He had made it back, somehow. It had taken more out of him than he had thought it would. The dizziness was returning, stronger this time, and honestly, if Zack was not supporting him, he would probably collapse.

The brunet pulled back, gripping the other's arms as he studied the green-eyed man. Seph was weakened and sick, that was obvious. But he was alive. And he was home.

"Where have you been?" Zack exclaimed now, still holding onto the bigger man's arms. He could feel Seph's weight leaning against his hands, and he knew that if he let go, Seph would fall.

"You might not believe me if I told you," Seph answered. "For now I'll just say that I was helped."

Zack nodded. There would be time to talk later. Though Seph would not admit it, right now he did not feel like having a long conversation. And that was certainly understandable. "Come on," he directed, "you need to rest, pal. I'll take the couch tonight and you can have the bed."

Sephiroth was too weary to argue. And he had to admit, right now he did not want to sleep on even the softest of couches.

Zack draped Seph's right arm across his shoulders, then hesitantly reached to put his arm around the other's waist for added assistance. "Where were you shot?" he asked. If he was not careful, he might jar the arrow holes.

"You're fine," Sephiroth grunted. "The wounds are higher on my back, close under my shoulders."

Zack nodded again, then looked over at the all-but-forgotten Cloud. "Are you gonna say something to him?" he asked lightly. The blond looked annoyed, yet relieved at the same time. It was an amusing contrast.

Cloud rolled his eyes, as if to say, "What could I say to him?" But he looked to Sephiroth, his arms crossed, and glared into the tired green orbs. "Don't do that again," he grumbled. "You worried Zack half out of his mind."

It surprised him somewhat, that Sephiroth was so willing to let Zack help him, but he supposed that just indicated how badly he had been hurt. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to lay down and go to sleep.

"I'll remember that," Sephiroth said now, his tone ironic, "the next time some idiot shoots me out of the sky." Of course, it would never happen again. He would not let it.

He allowed Zack to lead him down the short hall and into the brunet's bedroom. The soft mattress was immediately inviting, and the comforter and pillow as well. It was all he could do to not abruptly flop across it.

Zack realized. He reached down quickly as they approached, turning back the quilt. Then he carefully began to ease the older man down onto the bed, as Seph gratefully complied. He was too exhausted right now for his pride. In the morning he might regret that, but morning was so far off.

The raven-haired man smiled softly, pulling off the other's boots before swinging his legs under the covers. Seph was already half asleep, judging from his closed eyes and the fact that his grip on the armor was loosening. Zack took that from him as well, tossing it into a nearby chair.

"Boy," he murmured, "I'm sure grateful to whoever helped you today, Seph. You really did scare me to heck." He brought the comforter up around the other's shoulders, the three wings twitching as the material was laid against them. Parts of the feathery appendages hung out from underneath the quilt, but Seph was hardly bothered.

The silver-haired man grunted, bringing the pillow closer. He could hear Zack talking to him, and what was being said, but only vaguely and through a fog. He relaxed further, his wings going limp as the two on his right brushed Zack's legs. He was home.

"Thank you," he mumbled quietly, barely discernibly.

Zack grinned. "Just sleep now, pal." He reached to turn off the light.

Watching in the doorway, Cloud crossed his arms and started to turn away. Heh. Sephiroth was back, and Zack was happy again. Of course, the brunet would have felt the same worry if it had been Cloud who was missing. He loved both of his friends equally.

Cloud would never admit that he was relieved Sephiroth was alright. But he did not want to see Zack grieving. And he knew that it would be very difficult for Zack to get over the death of someone close to him, even if he tried to smile and say it was okay, as he had done when his mother had died. He and Cloud had still been kids then. . . .

You'd better stay safe, he thought silently to his enemy.

It seemed so odd to be thinking that, for whatever reason, considering that Cloud's only desire in the past had been to defeat Sephiroth permanently. Though, in the past he had believed that the silver-haired man was the personification of his darkness. His opinion had started to change, he supposed, ever since learning that the older man was actually his own person. And it had been even more impossible to think of him the same way after learning that he was Zack's close friend. In good conscience he could never bring harm upon someone whom Zack thought so much of.

He looked up as Zack walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him. "Why doesn't he just always come to your place?" the blond asked. "You actually want him here." He was still irritated by the finding of blue feathers woven throughout his ragged couch, though he was starting to get used to it. Sephiroth sleeping at Cloud's did not hurt anything, though the blue-eyed man thought that he had a lot of nerve to do it.

Zack looked amused. "He does, unless I'm on a mission or something like that," he said. "That's when he goes and crashes at your place."

Cloud muttered, turning away to walk back into the living room.

"Hey . . ." Zack reached out, laying a hand on the other's shoulder.

The blond blinked, looking back. His friend was regarding him seriously, his lavender eyes bespeaking the gratitude he felt.

"Thanks for helping me look for him today," Zack said sincerely. "I know he still isn't one of your favorite people."

Cloud shrugged. "He's one of yours," he answered.

Zack smiled. "He's a good guy," he declared, and then leaned his arm on Cloud's shoulder. "'Course, you are, too."

"Heh. . . ." Cloud walked on again, into the living room. He did not know that he believed that about Sephiroth or himself, but he knew Zack did. Zack always tried to look for the good in everyone.

"Where do you think he was?" he asked after a moment.

Zack shrugged. "Who knows. I'm sure he'll tell me later." He entered the room and plopped on the couch. "He could've been to Kingdom Hearts for all I'd know. I'm just glad he's back safe."

Cloud nodded slowly, sitting down next to him.

He sighed as he felt something tickling his neck. That was becoming usual, at both his house and Zack's. Reaching behind him, he extracted a long, blue feather from between the creases in the back of the couch.

Zack looked at him in amusement as he muttered and laid it on the end table.