Marionette
A Darkfic by Dot

For those of you who have seen the ending to FF7, have you ever noticed a red lifestream (most likely Sephiroth's) enter Cloud after the anticlimactic "final battle"?
Well, I did, and this fanfic practically screamed to get out.

(P.S.: A big thanks to Jeremy, who gave me lots of helpful suggestions in maximizing the horror value in this story. :)


Meteor was steadily approaching the Planet. The searing heat of the immense rock was already peeling away the topmost layers of Midgar. Beneath it, Holy was barely holding back the inevitable, its bonds of energy slowly weakening.

And then a miracle happened.

Cid was the first to notice it. "What the hell is that?!?"

The other members of Avalanche looked to where Cid was pointing, and saw it too.

Lifestream.

The tiny, glittering ribbons of light rose out of the Planet. It passed through the slums of Midgar, where children rushed to the windows to see it; one even reached out to caress the glowing strands. It rushed up into the disintegrating symbol of power, greed, and destruction known as Upper Midgar. It swirled around and over Holy, which was about to collapse completely. And it began attacking Meteor.

Everyone watched breathlessly as the Lifestream surrounded Meteor and began taking it apart bit by bit. The noise coming from the battle between the essence of life and the messenger of death sounded like the roar of a wounded beast. Meteor quaked and buckled under the relentless assaults of Aeris' prayer.

And then, with a final explosion, Meteor disappeared.

Silence.

And then, it sunk in: the Planet was saved.

"YES!" Cloud shouted.

"ALL RIGHT!" Barret roared, raising his artificial arm into the air.

"I don't believe it!" Tifa lept into Cloud's arms, squeezing him tightly.

"AW, YEAH!" Cheered Cid, giving Yuffie a triumphant high-five, forgetting for the moment how much she loved to aggravate him.

"YAHOO!" Both the cat and its enormous remote-controlled moogle erupted into an estatic dance.

Red and Vincent watched silently, each with his own thoughts.

We have not fought in vain... A tear of happiness trickled down the lion's remaining eye.

Lucresia...you are avenged... Vincent fingered the Death Penalty lightly.

--6 months later--
Tifa took a deep breath, letting the sweet spring air of Nibelheim fill her nostrils. She smiled, not just enjoying the beautiful weather, but reminiscing on her memories of her time with Cloud. After Meteor was stopped, he became much more cheerful and open. Between rebuilding her beloved hometown and coaxing the refugees from other cities to live in it, Tifa had found herself drawing closer and closer to Cloud.

Cloud sat down next to Tifa, jolting her out of her thoughts. "Tifa?"

"Yes?"

Cloud blushed a little. "There's something I need to ask you."

Tifa's heart began to hammer. She didn't quite dare to hope, but she trembled with anticipation nonetheless. "Go on."

Cloud began taking something out.

Oh, my God...is he really...?

Cloud held forth a magnificent ring. "Tifa, will you marry me?"

"Oh, Cloud!" Tifa looked into Cloud's eyes.

And froze.

For a brief but absolutely terrifying moment, Cloud's eyes were green.

Just like Sephiroth's.

"Tifa?" Cloud prompted, apparently unaware of Tifa's fright, his Mako blue eyes peering at her quizzically.

Tifa forced herself to stay calm. It was only a hallucination, she told herself over and over again. The stress of fighting Sephiroth and seeing The Planet nearly destroyed took a heavy toll on everyone's minds, and hers was no exception.

Cloud reached up to caress Tifa's face. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Tifa managed a smile. "I just have cold feet, that's all."

Cloud smiled as well. "So that means you'll marry me?"

Tifa kissed Cloud lightly on the nose. "Of course."

***
Tifa stood in an immense meadow covered with flowers.

"Hey, Tifa!"

Tifa turned to see Cloud running towards her. "Hi, Cloud! What's up?"

Cloud grinned and brought out a bouquet of flowers from behind his back.

"How sweet of you!" Tifa moved forward to hug Cloud. Suddenly, she felt something sharp stick into her gut. She looked down to see a knife.

Holding onto it was Cloud.

"Cloud..." Tifa choked out, coughing up blood.

Cloud's grin turned feral as he gazed upon her with the eyes of the demon who had tried to destroy her life. "Serves you right."

"H-how?"

The Sephiroth/Cloud composite's smirk spread. "Simple. Since Cloud wanted so much to triumph over me, I gave him his victory, and slipped inside him while he thought it was all over. The poor fool never knew the fate to which he had condemned himself."

Tifa grit her teeth as Cloud/Sephiroth pulled out the knife with a vicious twist; she was beginning to pass out from the loss of blood. "You...bastard..."

"You wound me," Cloud/Sephiroth pouted mockingly. He picked up a nearly unconcious Tifa by the collar. "When you see Aeris in hell, tell her that the pleasure of ending her life was nowhere near the pleasure of ending yours."

He let her fall to the ground before raising the knife. Tifa screamed soundlessly as the gleaming weapon came down towards her.
***

Tifa sat up, panting heavily, sweat pouring down her face. Beside her, Cloud snored on.

"It's just a dream..." she whispered to herself.

Or was it? The details were all too real. Especially the stabbing. And that relentless, unfeeling expression in Cloud's eyes. Those green eyes. Tifa shuddered from the memory.

Cloud was a wonderful husband: Besides being extraordinarily passionate in the bedroom, he helped Tifa around the house, gave her spontaneous hugs, kisses, and boquets of wildflowers, and was almost always the first to apologize when they had the rare argument. But every once in a while, Tifa would be siezed by bouts of unexplainable, uncontrollable panic, during which she thought she saw Sephiroth looking out of Cloud's eyes, and all she wanted to do was get as far away from Cloud as possible. And then it would pass, and she would feel guilty about making Cloud worried, and she would try to forget about it.

But she couldn't get the thoughts out of her head, even though Cloud had repeatedly assured her that he had killed Sephiroth. These moments of fear were the only dark spots in Tifa's life with Cloud, and she hated it.?

Why can't I just get over the past? she asked herself.

"Because the past just came back to haunt you," said a frighteningly familiar voice, the same one which Tifa heard in her dream.

Sephiroth. All of Tifa's nerves stood on end. "Where are you?"

Sephiroth's voice chuckled, making Tifa's blood run cold. "In your dear Cloud, of course. That was no dream: that was your future," he paused to let it sink in. "But you could always change that."

"How?"

Tifa could actually hear Sephiroth smile. "You know how," he replied, as if answering a little child.

"No!" Tifa shouted, trying to suppress the waves of helplessness. "This isn't happening!"

"Oh, but it is. Just like when Cloud almost killed Aeris for me. He resisted that time, though, so I had to do it myself," Sephiroth spat out the last word as if it were some dirty object. "But this time, Cloud will only be able to watch as I use his body to kill you. And then, maybe I'll let him regain control of himself so that he can end his own life in grief and despair."

"STOP IT!" Tifa screamed, clutching her head in her hands. "STOP, DAMMIT!"

Cloud finally woke upon hearing Tifa's cry. "Tifa? What's the matter?"

Tifa began sobbing. "Stop it..."

A confused and bewildered Cloud reached out to hold Tifa. "Stop what?"

Tifa collapsed into Cloud's arms. "It was terrible!" The rest of her words were muffled by her uncontrollable weeping.

"It was...that again, wasn't it?" Cloud whispered.

Tifa could only nod.

Cloud sighed. "It's been a whole year already, Tifa."

Tifa took in a deep breath, and her sobs subsided. "I know. But I'm still so afraid that I'll lose you..."

"I promised to protect you, didn't I?" Cloud hugged Tifa even tighter. "Trust me. Everything is going to be all right."

For the first time, Tifa knew that just Cloud's promise wouldn't be enough. She needed to get help, and soon. But who would she be able to go to? She had lost track of the whereabout of her friends; besides, if Cloud really was possessed by Sephiroth, it would be downright dangerous to leave him by himself.

What in the world am I going to do? Tifa wondered, a bit desperately. She felt her heart sink as she realized there wasn't much that she could do at all, except what Sephiroth had suggested.


--The next night--
Tifa, slicing carrots for dinner, nervously watched Cloud out of the corner of her eye.

"You won't be able to stop me," taunted Sephiroth's voice. "You're too softhearted to hurt him."

Tifa tried to block out Sephiroth's mocking voice. It didn't work.

"After I'm done with you, I'll go after the others," Sephiroth continued, fully enjoying himself the way a cat enjoys playing with its prey, and letting his victim know that he did. "I'll take them apart bit by bit. Or, if I feel nice enough, I'll put them out of their misery in one shot."

Tifa's grip tightened on her knife.

"Are you all right, Tifa?" Cloud asked, concern in his voice.

"I'm fine--" Tifa turned, and her grip tightened even more.

Cloud's eyes were green again.

"What are you going to do, Tifa?" This time, the voice that came out of Cloud's mouth was unmistakeably Sephiroth's. "Stab me?"

Tifa felt her anger rising quickly. She placed the knife on the counter behind her as her hands balled into fists. "I'm warning you..."

"I'm waiting," Sephiroth stood lazily in the body of the man Tifa loved.

Tifa had enough. She no longer saw Cloud. Only those horrible eyes. Only Sephiroth. And she wouldn't let Sephiroth have his way again. Not now. Not ever. With a loud battle cry, she released all of her rage into her ultimate limit break.

Taken completely by surprise, Sephiroth couldn't even block, much less retaliate, as Tifa jumped at him and began the attack. He felt 'his' organs buckle and bones break as Tifa lashed out at him again and again with punches and kicks. Tifa ended the combination with a devastating piledriver. When she finally jumped back, she was completely winded.

But Sephiroth still moved.

Tifa's jaw dropped.

"Impressive. I really didn't think you had the guts to do it," Sephiroth slowly got up and spat out a mouthful of blood. "Too bad you won't be able to finish the job."

With a wave of his hand, Sephiroth summoned the Masamune out of thin air.

And then he whispered one word that extinguished Tifa's every hope of living.

"Omnislash."

--Elsewhere--
Vincent felt his heart lurch with such force that it seemed to leap out of his throat; he gripped his drink so tightly that the glass shattered.

This is bad. Very bad, he thought grimly. The last time he had the premonition of eminent doom, Sephiroth murdered Aeris.

But Cloud had killed Sephiroth...hadn't he?

"Shit!" Vincent stood up suddenly, knocking his stool over. He winced as the pain of the glass cutting into his hand finally registered in his brain. He tore off a corner of his shirt and wrapped it around the wound for a makeshift bandage. There would be time for real first-aid later; he had more important matters to attend to first.

--Meanwhile--
Sephiroth finished the final moves of the Omnislash, not caring that his opponent had already been cut into pieces some five or six swings earlier. He was too angry, both at himself for underestimating his enemy, and at Tifa for being actually able to hurt him.

"Stupid Cloud," Sephiroth mumbled, looking at the battered hands of his host. He grimaced as his injuries unceremoniously announced themselves in the form of relentless, throbbing pain. "Even in this Mako-enhanced body, you're still nowhere as good as me."

Hearing a sound behind him, Sephiroth turned. And smiled when he recognized who was standing in the doorway.


Vincent stared, mouth agape, for who knows how long. Not many things fazed him, but seeing all the blood and bits of...whoever it was--Tifa, probably--strewn all over the place, as well as Cloud's own condition, made him feel slightly sick.

Cloud must have heard something, because he turned to face Vincent. The corner of his mouth turned up slightly. "Well, hello there, Vincent."

A chill ran up Vincent's spine as he realized that the one looking at and speaking to him was not Cloud, but Sephiroth.

"You like my handiwork?" Sephiroth gestured to Tifa's remains. "Brings back old memories, doesn't it?"

"I'm not the monster which slept in your little basement of horrors anymore, Sephiroth. Both of us know that!"

Sephiroth snickered. "Of course not, Vincent. But how easy it is to release old demons!"

Vincent frowned even deeper. "It was Hojo who made me like that!"

"But you weren't exactly the helpless victim, were you? I'll bet you even enjoyed it."

Vincent growled at the reminder of his less than glorious past. "Enough talk; what do you want?"

"What do you think I want? Revenge, of course."

Vincent loaded his Death Penalty. "I'm not going to let you."

Sephiroth laughed, a long and awful sound. "You'll shoot me to death? I'm so frightened."

With an inhuman roar, Vincent launched himself at Sephiroth.

--Much Later--
Vincent wiped the blood from his mouth. Damn. Forgot how good the kid was. And having Sephiroth possess him sure didn't help. If he hadn't been beaten up like that, he just might have won.

The battle had been long and fierce, the only thing in Vincent's favor was the extensive injuries Cloud's body had endured under Sephiroth's control, and Vincent's ability to...change.

Old demons indeed, Vincent thought bitterly. I can't believe I actually had to bite him. Blech. I don't think I'll ever be able to wash the taste out of my mouth.

Vincent looked at Cloud's mangled body, feeling somewhat sorry for the young man as he regained consciousness just before he died. The shock was still frozen on Cloud's face now, no matter how Vincent tried to rearrange it.

Vincent sighed. Oh, well. Nothing much more I can do here.

He removed the shoulder covering from Cloud's arm and salvaged a ripped shirt that he hoped was Tifa's. He would have the unpleasant task of informing the others.

Yes. He would find them.

The worms.

Vincent shook his head, hard. Where the hell did that come from?

He got up and walked out of the door.

Had he bothered to look into a mirror, he would have discovered that his formerly red irises were gradually taking on a different hue.


Before you flame me, I most heartily assure you that I am in no way Anti- Tifa, Anti-Cloud (although some of you might not have a problem with that :), or Anti-Vincent. This story just came out naturally after I got the original idea. After all, this is Sephiroth we're talking about here; what else is he going to do? Sell flowers? ^_^
This story is one of the few that I wrote in the span of a single day (the draft, at least), and one of the even fewer really dark stories.

(P.S.: Incidentally, Aeris also has green eyes.)


Copyright 1998 by Dot
Questions? Comments? Suggestions?