Kingdom Hearts II
When the Dark Night Seems Endless
Notes: Sephiroth and Zack are not mine, the other characters are, and the story is, too! It was largely inspired from talking to Libekory at Livejournal, as well as by the prompt "Morning; even the deepest night gives way" at 20 Heartbeats. As usual, it follows my KH timeline, which is explained in detail in The Darkness Will Rise From the Deep and I Don't Feel Enough for You to Cry.
It was a strange courtroom in which to be. The floors were marble, as were the pillars that stretched upward to the ceiling, or what was there in place of it. Instead of a normal roof, it seemed to be the sky---bright blue, with white clouds lazily drifting across the canvas. An outdoor court? It did not make any sense. It did not seem to be outside, in spite of how it appeared. There was not any wind or breeze at all; it was perfectly calm.
"Sephiroth. Step forward."
The voice was commanding and firm, and it echoed through the confines of the spacious room. When he looked toward it, he could see three figures seated at a high desk, somewhere up ahead. Three judges? To the side were twelve others---a jury, perhaps---in twelve chairs. There were no spectators.
The entire situation was absurd. Where was he? He had been impaled on the battlefield only moments before, and had swooned in the arms of someone who had found him. Now, he was not wounded at all, and he was standing in this chamber. Swiftly he began to walk forward.
"What is this?" he demanded indignantly. "There's a war being fought. My soldiers need me! I don't have time to waste." He reached the desk, glaring with fury at each of the three. They looked back steadily, unimpressed and blasé. Did they deal with this kind of attitude frequently? Well, it would not be a surprise. This was outrageous! No one would appreciate ending up here if they had something important to do.
The person in the middle seemed to be the one in charge. That judge was a woman with short, no-nonsense, ash-blonde hair, who laced her fingers as she regarded him. "This, Sephiroth, is the hall of judgement," she told him in a completely calm tone. "You are correct that there is a war being fought, but now you do not have a place in it, nor do you need to concern yourself with its details. You no longer exist on the mortal plane."
He drew back, her words slamming into his heart. He had not merely swooned. . . . At the time, he had known he was dying. But then, when he had regained consciousness here, he had been confused, wondering if he had been mistaken. His next thought had been whether someone there had healed his wounds. He had never been a particularly religious person, nor had he believed in an afterlife. Now he was being faced with it.
It was strange being dead . . . especially when he did not feel dead at all. He felt completely alive, moreso than when he had been mortal. All of his senses were heightened. He could hear even the slightest sound with perfect clarity, and the room was sharp and vibrant to his green eyes.
The man to the woman's right, with dark brown hair and glasses, gave him an unsympathetic look. "You have been charged with many crimes, Sephiroth," he announced. "You allowed your anger to control every part of your being. You let it transform into hatred, and you enacted vengeance on your enemies."
Before his eyes, he could suddenly see a large screen, a screen that displayed in detail all that the judge had said. He again witnessed the many acts of violence he had committed against the country's adversaries. Over time, after seeing the atrocities that they had been inflicting on his people, he had come to loathe them, to despise them with every fiber of his being. And he had lashed out against every one of them, civilian as well as soldier. He had treated them mercilessly. But they deserved what they had received! They could not expect that they would simply be allowed to act so abominably!
"You have the right to be their judge and jury, Sephiroth?"
He could hear the third one making his inquiry in a soft tone, but now he was not paying attention. He . . . he was feeling so many emotions that were not his own. The immense pain and suffering of his victims was overwhelming him. And he had not hurt only the guilty. Many innocents had felt the sting of his blade. He had not cared whom he had struck down. They had all needed to perish. None were worthy to live! They were all monsters!
But now he saw that it was not true. Many had not agreed with what the soldiers had been doing. Many had tried to stop them. Zack had tried repeatedly to tell him, to make him stop, but he had not listened. He had pushed his only friend away. Now he could feel Zack's pain too. And that was more horrifying to him than anything else he was witnessing. He had been harming the guiltless in his crazed and uncaring state of mind. He was supposed to be for justice and righteousness, but he had become the very sort of monster that the opposing soldiers were.
"It's true that heinous acts were committed against your people," said the woman, as the screen's contents began to fade. "But your desire to stop the enemy quickly became a desire to eliminate them entirely. You completely lost yourself. If that means nothing to you, it meant everything to your friend Zack Fair."
He clenched a fist. He did not need to hear that from her! He had viewed it himself, he had felt Zack's agony, he had seen the sorrow and helplessness in the usually bright and cheerful lavender eyes. The screen may have been there for moments, or maybe for an eternity. It had felt like eons. To feel the intense pain of innocent people . . . and of a man closer to him than a brother . . . and to know that he was responsible for it all. . . .
Indescribable illness washed over him. What had he done? Now . . . now, there was not any way to fix it. His victims were dead. Zack was . . . he was alive, but the agony he had suffered, was still suffering, was irreparable. Sephiroth could not bring back the dead. He could not undo what he had done to them, or to Zack. It was inexcusable.
"You're starting to get an inkling of the damage you've caused," commented the bespectacled man.
"But do you fully understand?" added the woman. "You destroyed countless lives in your rage. And you repeatedly crushed Zack's heart by your actions and by rejecting his friendship and his honest, sincere concern for you."
Anger rushed through his veins. "I am aware of it!" he screamed, his voice echoing down the corridors. "What right do you have to judge me?" He would be his own judge, and he was a very harsh one.
"The judgement you used against others will now be used against you, Sephiroth," was the cold declaration. "You did not show mercy. And you will not be shown mercy, either."
The third, a man with raven hair who had mostly been quiet, suddenly spoke. "But in spite of everything he's done, Zack Fair still cares about him. . . ."
The courtroom fell silent as all present began to digest this information. Sephiroth slumped back, shaking. It was impossible. How could Zack still care? How could he even still want Sephiroth around? He would take back everything he had done, if he only could! But he could not. Zack was probably in anguish again now, knowing that his friend was dead. . . . Being condemned was all that he deserved.
"Sephiroth, stand at attention."
He snapped back to the present, looking to the judges. They would have to send him to Hell. There was no way around it.
"You are going to be brought back to life."
He could only stare. What? They were going to give him a second chance, in spite of the treachery he had committed? How could they? They had just said they would not show mercy. . . .
"The consequences of your actions are that you will wander the earth aimlessly. No one will see you, and if they do, they will not recognize you."
The brief disbelief and shock faded to horror and alarm. To be all alone in a fiery furnace, or a black nothingness, with his thoughts would be bad enough. That was what he had expected ever since fully realizing what was happening. But to actually be around people he knew, to be around Zack, and to not be seen or recognized. . . . Would he be able to endure it? Was that his fate for all eternity?
He did not have a chance to ask, to protest, or even to fully comprehend. He felt himself falling, descending through the floor, and everything went black.
It felt so strange, to begin regaining consciousness again. To be back in a physical body seemed confining, more so as the memories returned and he recalled what was going to happen to him now. But . . . had that been real? Maybe it had not happened. Maybe it was only a nightmare. Maybe he was delirious from the wounds he had received, but he would be fine now. . . .
No, he was not wounded. He could feel it. . . .
A quiet groan escaped his lips involuntarily as he moved his arm across the grass. Something else moved along with it, without his consent. He frowned, the mists clearing away from his tired mind. What . . . was that? And why did he feel so odd, as if there were other limbs growing out of his body? That could not be! . . . Could it?
He raised up, his heart racing as he looked over his right shoulder. He was not wearing his coat or gloves, but only his black pants and suspenders. A large, royal blue wing was protruding from his upper back, hanging down to the ground. Behind it, growing out of his lower back, was another.
This was . . . what was the purpose of this?! What had they done to him?! Shakily he pushed himself into a kneeling position as he looked to his left. Only one wing was there, level with the lower one on his right. Three wings. . . . Was that why no one would recognize him? He . . . he was a monster!
. . . So that was it, then. They had turned him into a beast on the outside, to match how he had become on the inside. It was fitting, ungodly so.
Slowly he began to stand up. He was . . . he was back at the base. How long had he been gone? Had the war ended? Maybe there had been a victory. But the soldiers he could see trudging toward the barracks did not seem triumphant at all. He frowned, taking a step forward to follow them. Instead he swayed, nearly crashing back into the grass.
Immediately he brought out all limbs to steady himself. It was these blasted wings! They were throwing him off-balance! His dark expression became even more stormy. He was going to have to learn to deal with it. At least no one had seen him acting like a fool.
Again he started attempting to walk, going more slowly this time. He managed, and soon he came to where the soldiers were gathering in the doorway. Only some had physical injuries and sported slings, canes, or casts, or other bandaging, but all of them seemed mentally wounded.
"I just don't understand how it happened," Corporal Kazuki said sadly. "Why, if it was going to be any of us, did it have to be Commander Sephiroth?"
A fist clenched. They were discussing him, his death.
"Commander Fair said that he must have killed the enemy commander," Private Edwards chimed in. "But . . . where could Commander Sephiroth be?! How can he be Missing In Action? We've looked everywhere!"
Missing?! They . . . they thought he was missing?! But . . . someone had found his body, someone on their side. He remembered that much! What was going on?!
"Maybe he was taken prisoner," Private Shirley suggested, his tone grave.
"Where is Commander Fair, anyway?" Corporal Mason asked.
"He's in a meeting," Corporal Kazuki said as he turned to go inside. "I think it's to figure out what to do now."
Sephiroth frowned. Something was suspicious about all of this. He would have to find this meeting. He turned to go.
He froze. They had seen him? Surely, surely they would recognize him! How could they not? He had been their leader for ages. And, catching his reflection in the window as he turned, he could see that his physical appearance was the same. Just because he had the wings should not make a difference! They should be able to tell his identity!
"Is there something we can help you with?" Corporal Kazuki asked. His eyes were completely devoid of recognition. He might as well have been gazing at a stranger.
Sephiroth could only stare. It was true.
"What are you doing here?" Private Randall demanded. "This is military property. You don't belong here!"
A wave of frustration and anger swept over him, and he could not stop himself from responding. "Of course I belong here!" he cried. "I am your commander. Don't you recognize me?!"
They gawked at him. "He's insane," Private Edwards whispered.
"We should have him contained here!" Corporal Mason declared. "Commander Fair should interrogate him. Maybe he knows what's happened to Commander Sephiroth!" Instantly he and some of the other uninjured men came forward, bearing their weapons. But without warning they found themselves gazing only at thin air, and two blue feathers floating to the ground.
It happened so quickly he could not even process it at all. Instead of being forced to fight the soldiers he had led, he had suddenly appeared in a large, well-lit conference room. Zack was there, along with the other commanding officers in the army. They were sitting around a table, seeming to be in deep conversation, and none of them even looked up at the new arrival.
He backed up against the wall, not even shuddering from the chill of it touching his bare flesh. What had happened?! How had he ended up here? He had only thought of finding Zack, and now, suddenly, he was here. Was it some kind of power, maybe teleportation? That would make sense . . . and yet it was a poor substitute for being able to be recognized.
What was the meaning of this? Did he have other odd abilities? Were those judges attempting to teach him how empty power could be? He had been seeking it before his death, wanting to become as strong as he possibly could. But though he had said it was so that they could gain victory, and it was true, in his heart he had also desired to use it out of hate on his adversaries.
"Commander Sephiroth's death is very grievous news, Commander Fair."
He stared over at the leaders. So they knew that he was dead! Why . . . why did his men believe otherwise? It did not make sense!
Zack looked as though he had not slept at all since it had happened. His spiky black hair was even more wild, flying in all directions and floating into his face. His lavender eyes were bloodshot, and bordered by dark circles. He was obviously absolutely miserable. It pained Sephiroth just to look at him, knowing that he was causing Zack's agony. He had never wanted to hurt his only friend.
"I don't like this plan," Zack said at last, sticking his finger through the knot of his tie and loosening it as he spoke. "I don't think saying he's Missing In Action is going to change anything. The enemy can figure out easy that he's . . . that he's dead. . . ." His voice caught in his throat, but not from the tie. Still, he yanked off the offending cloth and dropped it on the table. "And how can I lie to Seph's men like that?!"
"You can, and you will, Commander Fair," came the answer from General Mathews. He was the highest ranking officer in the army, even above Sephiroth and Zack. Though they were both generals as well, they were the level of general directly below Mathews. Whether they wanted to or not, they always had to obey Mathews' orders or face immediate court-martial.
"Commander Sephiroth's men need you," he continued. "Even if you were to refuse and be dismissed, where would it leave them? I think this comes down to the way you believe you can do the most good. If the enemy believes he is still alive somewhere, it may make them a bit more wary and cautious, and enable us to finally get the upper hand. We can't afford to lose to them again." He rubbed his eyes wearily. "This is such an inconvenience. . . ."
Sephiroth was indignant. After all the years he had put into the military, making it his whole life, they were calling his demise an "inconvenience"?
Zack was angry as well. "It's not like he wanted to die!" he snapped, pushing back his chair.
"Commander Fair, this meeting isn't concluded yet," one of the other, lesser generals protested.
"It is for me!" Zack retorted. "I won't spill your secret, but I'm never going to think it's right." He grabbed up his tie, wadding it in his hand as he stormed toward the door . . . and Sephiroth. "Seph gave his life fighting for this country's freedom. He should be honored for what he's done. Instead you're just brushing his death under the carpet like it never happened, and you're even going to lie to the soldiers who looked up to him! You're going to have them hoping he might turn up someday, when we all know he won't!"
He reached the door, then stopped and looked back. "I'm disappointed in all of you," he said, his voice quieting and bespeaking the immense, indescribable sadness that was squeezing his heart. In that moment, he looked ten years older.
Sephiroth stared at Zack as the brunet pushed the door open and walked out. No one tried to stop him. And as the winged man moved to follow him into the hall, he was not called back either. Had they not seen him? Or were they too stunned by Zack's rebuke to even say anything?
It was overwhelming, really. . . . Zack honestly did still care about him. Zack had never given up; he had always believed that someday, Sephiroth would find himself again. Sephiroth had known that in the back of his mind, and it had been drilled into him by that screen. But he had started to hate himself so much that it seemed impossible to even consider that Zack yet thought of him in positive terms.
When they were alone in the hall, he reached out, touching the other's shoulder. "Zack . . ." Of all people, Zack would be able to see him, and to know him! The curse could not affect him too! It could not. . . . Especially not after the scene Zack had made in the conference room. . . .
Zack shivered, whirling around. He felt something . . . ! His eyes met Sephiroth's . . . or did they? No . . . Zack was looking right through him. Zack could not see him.
The brunet smiled sadly, turning back to face the door.
Sephiroth turned the opposite direction. He could not bear to follow him outside. For Zack to not see him was the final, crushing blow.
This was Hell, after all.
His eyes flew open as he gasped, staring up at the darkness above him. Where was he? What was this? Was he still alone? No . . . he had been lost once more in an incubus. Blasted things.
All of that had happened several years ago now, but it was still perfectly fresh and clear in his memory. Usually he did not actively think or dream of it, but there was a reason why it was currently on his mind again.
His heart began to slow down to normal. He reached up, running a hand over his face. He was laying on his back on a black leather couch, the two wings on his right side hanging to the floor while the left one was draped across him like an arm. This was not one of the cheap hotels in which he had stayed after discovering that Zack could not see him. This was a familiar couch, a familiar room . . . Zack's living room. He was sleeping on Zack's couch because he no longer had a home of his own to go to. But that was alright.
He looked over at the doorway. Zack was there, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and trying not to yawn. As usual, he had a chronic case of "bedhair", and the raven locks were splayed in all conceivable directions---and some not so conceivable.
"Hey, you okay?"
He nodded, pushing himself up into a sitting position and letting the left wing fall onto the couch. He was fine.
"Just a dream," he grunted.
Zack came over, gently moving the wing aside so that he could sit down. "It's getting close to the day when you were killed," he remarked quietly. He did not say so aloud, but the unspoken query was "Are you thinking about that?"
Sephiroth hesitated, then nodded slowly. There was not any point in denying it. Zack probably already knew.
Zack leaned forward, watching his friend in concern. "I know that first year was Hell for you, Seph . . . but if you had to do it over again, and you knew everything that would happen later, would you do it?"
Sephiroth frowned slightly. It was a good question. He despised being Cloud's mentor, since it was so much like watching himself as he had fallen into his darkness. But they had started to come to an understanding. And whatever else happened, Zack was always there.
He still felt that he had probably deserved every bit of what he had gone through. That, however, did not ease the truth of how painful it had been.
Still, in spite of what he had suffered upon first being revived, his life was not that bad now. It was certainly different, and strange, and not at all like when he had been a famous general. Sometimes he missed that. He was a natural leader, and without people to command he often felt restless. But he could be having so many worse fates than just not being able to be in the military any longer.
"Yes," he said finally. "I would."
Zack smiled a bit, leaning back into the couch. "I'm glad," he declared. "I missed you, Seph."
He hesitated. "Hey . . . if you want something better to remember, it's also the day the curse was broken," he reminded, still smiling softly. "And that's a pretty good memory, isn't it?"
Sephiroth gave a slow nod. "It is," he agreed. Zack had been the one to break the curse, a year after his death. Only then had he truly felt that he had been granted a second chance. Zack could see him now, and recognize him. And he had been attempting to get his life in order. He still made mistakes, of course, but overall he felt that he had been doing well.
"Sometimes," he remarked now, "I still wonder if it was always planned or known that the curse wasn't permanent." He gave Zack a sidelong glance. "Or did you simply and unknowingly interfere with my punishment?" It had certainly seemed to him that the judges meant for the consequences to be in place eternally, and that was how he supposed it was done. He had been stunned when Zack had looked at him and had spoken his name, that stormy night at the base.
Zack blinked. "I dunno, Seph . . . I don't think I could get past divine judgement." He studied his friend thoughtfully. "I really think they meant for you to get a real second chance, but that they wanted to, well . . . wear you down first. Knock off some of those arrogant corners and that kinda thing." It was certainly not a secret that Sephiroth was a prideful person. It was just part of his personality, but when he had given into his hatred it had been magnified tenfold. When Zack had finally seen him, in his quarters, he had quickly deduced that Sephiroth had been sobered by what he had gone through. Once again, he had been the Seph Zack had known for years. The pride was still there, but not to overwhelming levels.
"Maybe." Sephiroth had often wondered the same thing, though he had not ever mentioned it aloud. "Though they still consider me a hopeless case," he added in a flat tone. It was something he had gotten used to over the years, and if it bothered him, he did not give any indication of it.
Zack smirked slightly. "They've probably just never dealt with someone so rebellious and stubborn before," he said. "I bet you drive them crazy."
Sephiroth smirked as well. He would not be surprised about that.
He relaxed into the couch, being careful not to bump his half-crippled wing. He was feeling more at peace now that he had been given the chance to calm down, and to speak with Zack. That miserable year was far in the past, though the important lessons he had gained then were still with him today. There was not any sense dwelling on the negative side of the experience.
He looked to the window, where he could see the sun just beginning to rise.