Kingdom Hearts II

Spread Your Wings

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was inspired by the prompts Acrophobia; Fear of Heights (it's a long way down) at 13 Fears, Guide (take it step by step, one foot then the other) at 20 Heartbeats, and Learning at Key Blade. (Wow.) And this is for 1wngdngl, based on a request. It follows my usual timeline, but instead of taking place post-I Don't Feel Enough for You to Cry, it takes place entirely during the time when Sephiroth was cursed and wandering about.

Change was a strange thing, sometimes.

Seasons shifted from one to another---the blossoms of Spring becoming the heat of Summer, which then morphed into the vibrant colors of Autumn, and the snows of Winter.

Cities and towns were constructed, lived in, remodeled---sometimes simply dying out in the end, due to sickness as the inhabitants perished, or from lack of interest, as they moved to new lands for one reason or another. And of course, some locations were razed during wars. Or they might be torn asunder by conquerors assuming control, for good or for ill.

People rarely stayed the same. Life's experiences could tarnish the most naive and innocent of souls. Heartache could turn idealists into bitter pessimists. Hatred could warp those who were righteous and determined beings, if given the right fuel.

Apparently, people were even capable of having their physical forms altered by means other than age, mutilation, or surgery.

Sephiroth smirked grimly to himself as he stood atop the highest peak of the oddly colored mountains. They rarely changed, if ever. Their hue was still a deep royal blue shade, as he always remembered. Sometimes the sun's light would illuminate the weathered stones, making them glisten and shine, their pigmentation becoming brighter and more striking. But then it would fade again, leaving the creations to return to their darker forms.

Interesting, that their usual state was also his own.

He belonged to the darkness. He had given into his raging hatred, and had destroyed not only others of like kind, but many guiltless people. He had wounded many others, including his friend Zack Fair. Now, though he had been eliminated in battle, he had been revived by the judges whose court his presence had graced---and he had been cursed for his wicked deeds. No one could recognize him, even if they saw him, for reasons still unknown to him. It was as if an invisible veil had been placed over his form, hopelessly distorting his features even though they had not been altered.

And now he had something else in common with these lifeless mountains. The three cursed wings sprouting from his back were the exact same color as the surface upon which he stood. When the sunlight hit the feathers, that color was also the same as when the stones were brightened.

But right now it was night. He did not want any observers for this event. If it went amiss, and he wound up looking a fool, he still had enough pride that he did not want to be seen at all, even if he would not be recognized.

As long as he had these wings, he needed to become acquainted with their proper usage. He was going to attempt flight.

The wind seemed about right---gently blowing, tousling his hair and his feathers, but not to excess. He was not a small bird, however; he was not avian at all, and would that make it harder for him to become airborne? A thoughtful frown graced his features as the options played out in his mind. Would he need to take a running leap and try to catch the breeze? Would he be able to stay in the air for any length of time? Maybe he would immediately descend back to terra firma, proof that humans could never fly.

Still . . . why would he have been given these appendages, if he would never be able to make use of them? Another element of the curse? Heh. Well, he would soon learn the truth.

At least it was easy enough to manipulate the blasted things while on the ground. It was just like having other arms, when it came to being able to quickly unfurl and move them. They were all spread now, ready for this experiment. Maybe if he just flapped them slowly, and then gradually gathered speed. . . .

Up and down, up and down. . . .

They were strong and capable, and they were moving with deliberate precision. If the bitterness could be forgotten for a moment, it was actually fascinating. He was rising into the air, propelled only by the three extensive appendages. And what a strange sensation it was, to be off the ground and to know that it was solely under his own volition and will---not because of some aircraft. It was not especially unpleasant either, though he would never admit it aloud.

But was this the only way he could fly, or could he maneuver his body horizontally, as a bird's? Vertically ascending would get tedious after a while, if he could do nothing else.

Changing position, however, was a very bad idea. Not being accustomed to these new appendages at all, the realization came too late that the alteration in weight was confusing his already-bewildered mind. With the instruction overload, he must have forgotten to keep beating the wings. At least, that seemed to be the only logical explanation as to why the ground was suddenly rushing toward him.

What would happen when he hit? Would he be seriously hurt? Killed again, even? Or maybe his pride would just be injured. The sharp stones were coming closer and closer. He had to pull up somehow! Maybe if he could flap the wings quick enough. . . .

It was no use. They would not move sufficiently fast. Either that or they were getting all tangled up with each other. It almost felt like the top one was getting wound up with his hair. . . . The best he could do would be to swerve out of the way and take whatever would come next.

He landed on top of a grassy hill, headfirst, and immediately began to roll to the bottom. Arms, legs, and wings splayed in all directions as part of his accidental cartwheel, and then, suddenly, he slammed down hard on his back.

A grunt escaped his lips as he gazed up blearily into the night sky above him. The wind had been completely knocked out of him, and he took a shaking breath. While in motion, he had not noticed the dizziness, but now everything was spinning. He had fallen much too swiftly. It might be a good ten minutes before forcing himself up would become possible.

His heart was slowing down to normal. It was odd, to hear it pounding in his ears. Sometimes it was hard to believe that he was still alive, when no one recognized him, and they usually could not see him at all. It made him feel like a wandering spirit, doomed to never journey to any sort of afterlife, but always to roam the mortal plane.

A gentle chuckle penetrated his consciousness. What was that? No one had been around . . . or at least, he had not seen anyone. Obviously he had missed someone. A frown deepened on his features as he raised up on his elbows to look. A man was coming towards him, an older man dressed in blue and sporting a long beard.

"My, my . . . I must say, you took quite a tumble there, Sephiroth. You're not hurt, I hope?"

Despite his situation, he was still a prideful man. How dare anyone laugh at him . . . !

. . . Wait! Sephiroth?! What?! It could not be. . . .

"Why did you call me by that name?" he demanded. No one knew who he was now, not even Zack! How could this strange man possibly be aware of his identity? And had he been secretly observing the failed flight all along the way? It was possible, since this spot had not been remembered as existing until it had become a crash landing site.

The odd person stopped near him, and now the stars and moons on his hat and cloak were apparent. This was a wizard of some kind. Sephiroth had heard of several throughout the worlds, but he could not recall ever meeting one. He had never been one for believing in magic or sorcery, and yet just in the past weeks he had been personally involved in so many uncanny events. Now he even had powers of his own; in addition to the wings, he was able to cast fire spells.

Another unsatisfying substitute for being able to be known.

The magician smiled slightly through his beard. "Oh, I guess you could say it's merely a feeling I have . . . intuition." He looked the other over thoughtfully. "Sephiroth disappeared several weeks ago, and it's been whispered in some circles that he met his demise in battle. But he seems to be very much alive."

Sephiroth grunted dryly, pushing himself further up until he was sitting on the grass, his wings laying among the soft blades. "Living is in the eye of the beholder. Do I look like Sephiroth?" he asked.

"Well, I wouldn't know," the wizard chuckled sheepishly, "I haven't ever seen Sephiroth."

"You can't conjure up his image?" the winged man retorted, not trying to disguise his sarcasm. "I thought a powerful sorcerer could be shown a picture of anyone he chose."

Abruptly the elderly man's expression changed and he frowned in a stern manner. "That's the trouble with people these days," he said. "They don't have any true understanding of what it entails to be a wizard! They can't simply do whatever they choose, and anything they can do must be learned through many hours of hard work."

"Is it worth it?" Now Sephiroth did the studying. Most people backed down in the face of his commanding, no-nonsense personality. On the one hand, he enjoyed that feeling of power. It was so satisfying, to know that he had that effect, and that he was both respected and feared. But on the other, sometimes it was nice to find someone who could hold his own. Zack had always been that way.

"Sometimes," was the nodded answer. "And sometimes we wish we could do more." He smiled sadly. "Unfortunately, there are some things we could never do, even if we did all the studying in the world."

"Such as breaking a curse bestowed in the afterlife?" Sephiroth crossed his arms. It made sense, really. But even though he would never stoop to begging, it would be refreshing to know that there was someone who could end this torment. That, however, was not likely. He was in this position because of his own actions. There was not anything he could do to change that, nor did he have the right to do so.

There was a pause, then another nod. "But that doesn't mean all is lost," the sorcerer said, comfortably positioning himself on a smooth rock near Sephiroth. "Maybe the cursed is supposed to find his own way to break it." As if he was able to read Sephiroth's thoughts.

"Or maybe there isn't a way to begin with," Sephiroth said ironically.

Now this was starting to be understandable, at least somewhat. This was probably Merlin, reportedly the most eccentric of the famous magicians. He certainly fit the description. But why was he here, and why was he bothering to speak to a man whom he seemed to know had been cursed? Most would not want to spend their time in that way, considering it a foul waste.

"Such a pessimist," Merlin scolded, shaking his head.

"You're not the first who's said that," Sephiroth replied. "I consider myself a realist. If I'm not expecting anything good to begin with, I won't be disappointed if it doesn't come to pass."

"So you expected that you were going to fall just now?"

Sephiroth blinked. That was an unexpected twist. "Why would I?" he frowned.

Merlin looked amused. "Well, if you never think anything good will happen, then you would have to believe that you would not be able to fly and that you would fall instead. But if that were so, then I would have to ask why you were trying to fly in the first place."

What an irritating person. When it was put like that, it sounded so illogical. And it was not true, anyway. Well . . . to an extent, maybe it was. There had definitely been doubts over whether he would be able to utilize his wings properly. But it seemed those concerns had been proven right. That did not mean, however, that he was going to give up. He would keep trying until he got it correct. That was because it was something he could control, and his military training had only added to the determination that had always been a large part of his personality. He would never quit when it was something in which he could eventually gain victory.

"There's a difference between being pessimistic over what you can change and what you can't," he said now. "And it's only when it's over what you can't change that it's realistic."

"I see," Merlin mused. "That's very interesting." A pause. "So what you're saying is that you are more idealistic when it comes to something you can change."

"That's not what I'm saying at all," Sephiroth grumbled. "It's only realistic to know your own limits. And if you know you haven't reached a limit, then it stands to reason that it must be something you're capable of accomplishing."

"And you feel you're capable of flying?"

Now his patience was stretching thin. Why should he tell anything to a stranger, especially concerning any supposed boundaries of his abilities? Why were they having this conversation in the first place? "It's hardly your business," he snapped.

Instead of being offended, Merlin still looked entertained. "That's true," he admitted, "but who else will listen to you right now? No one else even knows who you are. They all think you're either missing or dead."

Sephiroth glowered. "And I still don't know why you believe I am Sephiroth," he said. "'A feeling' is not a logical answer."

"Maybe not, maybe not," Merlin conceded with a smile, "but feelings rarely are logical, are they? Yet they're not always false."

"Someone must have told you about Sephiroth," the silver-haired man continued, deciding to ignore that comment. He was definitely not in the mood to debate the validity of emotions. Sometimes he had done that with Zack, though the brunet was as fond of logic as he was of believing in one's hunches---and that had always been something with which Sephiroth had been impressed.

"And what would they tell me?" Merlin asked pleasantly.

This was getting more ridiculous by the minute. "I'm sure I wouldn't know," Sephiroth said, a certain amount of haughtiness slipping into his voice.

There was a definitely a part of him that was growing annoyed with this unusual sorcerer. But it was also unbelievable that Merlin continued to remain here at all. Surely he would be put off by Sephiroth's personality, if not by the tales of him giving into his hatred, which he had probably heard if he had heard anything in the first place. Perhaps that was another reason for Sephiroth's ill tones---as a test to see just how long Merlin would put up with him.

"Maybe that Sephiroth was a skilled warrior, and a kind and good man?" Merlin mused. "But that he made some wrong choices in his life and is now suffering the consequences of them?" He eyed the royal blue wings, as the top one flicked in aggravation.

"Maybe also that Sephiroth is a wicked man who destroyed many innocent lives," was the sardonic retort, dripping with bitterness. "Whatever he was before, he is no longer that person."

"Sephiroth has done wicked things," Merlin agreed. "But he is still a good man."

Now the former general looked over in stunned shock. "What makes you say that?" he demanded. Surely no one would think such a thing, if they knew all that he had done! He could have done a better job researching who had been committing the heinous acts against his people and who had been against it. But he had not wanted to. He had stubbornly believed that all of the opposing people were guilty, and had not even listened when Zack had tried to tell him otherwise. It had not mattered to him; he had just wanted to destroy them all.

Merlin smiled gently. "Because he regrets what he has done," he said.

Sephiroth looked at him hard for a moment. "Maybe he only regrets it because he hates how he's ended up."

"That's possible," Merlin agreed with a nod. "In fact, that's probably part of it. It's likely that he feels that he's become a monster and he can't stand himself because of that." He paused. "But also, I have a feeling that he abhors the thought that he brought pain to guiltless people, and especially to Zack Fair."

A fist clenched at Sephiroth's side. "And what if he does?" he growled. "There's nothing he can do about it. The damage has been done. He can't bring back the dead or erase the heartache brought to the living."

Now Merlin looked thoughtful. "For now, all he can really do is live the life he's been given," he said. "Maybe his sorrows will not last forever."

There had been over enough time wasted on this discussion. He needed to get back to his flying practice. "He doesn't want to spend time hoping for something that likely won't be," he said as he started to pull himself upright. "Whatever he's going through now, he deserves it, and more."

Again with the gentle smile. "If there was a way for him to make restitution, would he take it?"

"There could never be a way," Sephiroth retorted. "But if there was, yes, he would take it. Go ahead and pass that information to your informer."

"I will," Merlin declared, rising as well.

He hesitated, watching the weary man with a contemplative look. "As for your flying problem . . ."

"What about it?" Sephiroth interrupted. His voice carried a definite warning---he was not in the mood to be told how he should be using his wings, nor to be laughed at again. And Merlin surely had never had wings. He would not be able to correctly instruct on their proper usage. It would be the blind leading the blind. Sephiroth would determine himself how it should be done, and he would learn through trial and error, if that was the only way.

Merlin did not seem at all bothered by the dark tones. "I'm certain you will do just fine," he assured, "as long as you don't try to go too fast at first. You have the time to take it slowly. Just go forward one step at a time, making sure you've learned one thing completely before moving on to the next level. And then soon, you will be flying."

It was sensible. He should not have tried so soon to shift position. He should have recalled from his time in the military that he could not try to do too much at once. Either he had let pride take over due to a momentary victory, or else he had become so desperate to learn flight that he had deliberately rushed through it, wanting to finish. And both possibilities were unfitting for a former soldier---a general no less!

It was humiliating to have to be given such advice now. But it did show how far he had fallen in the last weeks---months, even. He had started to fall away from being the logical, strategical leader once he had begun to give in to his hatred.

"It doesn't always have to be a bad or demeaning thing, to receive help or opinions from someone," Merlin said now, with amusement. "And it doesn't make you any less of an independent man."

Sephiroth gave him a withering look. "I never said that was what I was thinking."

"No," Merlin agreed. "You didn't have to."

Sephiroth grunted. "I'll keep that in mind . . . Merlin."

Now the magician looked surprised. "What makes you think I'm this Merlin?" he asked.

A slow smirk of satisfaction came over the silver-haired man's face. "A feeling," he replied. "Intuition."

Merlin blinked. Then a low chuckle began to build in his throat. "Very good then," he said. "I'll leave you to your flying now. We'll meet again, at some point." And before Sephiroth could say another word, the strange man gave a short bow and vanished completely.

For a moment, the one remaining simply stood where he was, a thoughtful expression gracing his features. Then, shaking his head, he turned to start back up the hill. It was likely that they would meet again, judging by his luck. In one way, he would prefer if they did not. The man was exasperating. And yet, on the other hand, the fact that Merlin seemed to know about Sephiroth but did not pass judgement on him was so odd. What would inspire such a thing to be said, that he was still a good person? It was not as if his soul was able to be viewed by everyone! Knowing about someone was not the same as knowing the person. Merlin could not be aware of what Sephiroth was truly like.

Reaching the top, he took a moment to survey the small, grassy enclosure. It was the only spot nearby that was not a stony surface. If he was to take any more spills, this would be the only safe location for it to happen. And hopefully, no one else would be watching him. That was the last thing he wanted. This was a private matter, something he needed to do by himself.

Again he spread his wings, hearing the quick sound of them unfurling. It was such an unnatural experience, to have them attached to his body. The judge and jury were probably watching him in satisfaction, enjoying every moment of his displeasure. They had known what would be the worst punishment for him, what he would despise even more than being entrapped in a fiery pit. It would be much more horrible for him to be alive, but in a state where no one knew him. And the wings . . . blasted acquisitions. He had always been very proud of his strong form. Apparently they had wanted to take that away from him too, and to make him ashamed of himself both inside and out.

If he could master the art of flying, and possibly later even soaring, then it would not be quite so frustrating. At least then, his wings would not simply be dead weight.

Slowly he maneuvered the extra appendages, closing his eyes briefly as their rhythmic motion again began to carry him into the sky. Right now it did not feel so bad. It was almost calming, save for the fact that he had to concentrate solely on keeping himself aloft. Maybe, if it ever became second nature to him, flying could become a soothing action.

Bah. Ridiculous. This was not something that could be gotten used to! His eyes opened again, taking in the deep velvet sky all around him. The moon and stars were lazily shining, sometimes vanishing behind the clouds that were being equally lethargic in their travels. He was continuing to ascend straightway, until the ground was far below him. But he could not keep going up until flapping his wings became impossible due to the height or his own exhaustion. It was time again to attempt shifting position. He would be more careful this time.

Now he began to lean forward, tipping himself so as to be on his stomach. He would not forget to beat his wings while doing it. And it seemed like he was settling in without trouble. His bangs blew into his face, and his hair was streaming out behind him, not entangled with any of the wings. Maybe this would not go so badly after all.

Flying into a cloud was extremely unexpected. Suddenly nothing was able to be seen, the view obscured on all sides by the fluffy whiteness! Maybe if he could go downward, and leave the blinding substance, he could go normally on his way. But would he even be able to do that at this point, without being able to be aware of his surroundings?

Getting into the right direction was the main problem. It seemed like he was traveling south, as he wanted---down, down . . . or maybe he was simply losing too much altitude, too fast. Was he going to fall again?!

As he finally emerged from the cloud, a sharp mountain peak promptly greeted his eyes. It was directly in his path, and there would only barely be enough room to get away from it. He swore under his breath, swerving to miss its jagged edges. As he turned, part of his body struck the obstacle. Pain immediately rushed over him.

There had not been enough allowance made for the wings to get past! It had been the left one that had hit against the cutting rock. Now he was falling. But this was absurd! The last thing he wanted to do was to crash a second time to the earth. Could he spread his wings enough to glide the rest of the way? The one on his left side was still stinging, and it was so fierce it almost felt like it was literally vibrating.

Pain was nothing new to him. He had fought in many battles. He could handle this, even though it would be hard to flap that wing right now. It had to be done.

All three wings immediately went straight out, allowing him to glide with ease towards the hill. He landed on it near the middle, and his wings twitched and flapped slightly, still spread out most of the way. At least he had ended up on his feet. Now if he could just regain his bearings. He blinked several times, wanting to clear his vision. There was still a feeling of disorientation, and that aching wing was starting to throw him off-balance. . . .

He tumbled down the lower half of the hill, turning over and over to sprawl on the bottom and land on top of what felt like at least two of the feathery appendages. And one of them was the wing he had just bumped. This was not going to help it any to heal.

A frustrated half-growl left his lips as he placed his hands on the grass, pushing himself up into a kneeling position. Swinging his legs out in front of him to sit down, his attention was swiftly turned to the injured wing. It did not look lacerated, or cut even in a small way, unless it could not be seen because of the plumage. But surely any hint of blood would be able to be detected, especially under the bright moonlight.

He reached out with a finger, poking cautiously at the most tender spot. Another wave of pain immediately protested the action. It was probably bruised under the feathers, or at least sore. But it was not seriously injured. He would wait a few moments and then try again.

Naturally it could not be expected to be able to fly perfectly so soon, but these foul ups were still highly annoying. Failing was something he had always loathed. But this round had certainly been better than the previous and first attempt. Maybe the next time, he would be able to make it even more successful. And eventually, he was going to see to it that he improved and honed this ability to complete accuracy. He would not be defeated by three wings, sharp cliffs, clouds, or even the wind itself.

Nor was he going to allow this curse to continue depressing him and dragging him down. If this was the way his life was to be right now, then that was that. There was not any point in remaining here. Maybe, after gaining knowledge of flight, he would work on his powers of teleportation. Maybe he would start visiting the other worlds, to see what he could learn from them. And maybe, someday, when all was said and done and he returned to Hollow Bastion, Zack would once again be able to see him and recognize him.

After all, he had changed, but he was still Sephiroth.