This story is partly told in real time, partly in flashbacks. All flashbacks are written in Italic, so you'll be able to easily tell them apart. In my perception, the Kingdom Hearts characters are not the same as their namesakes in the Final Fantasy series. However, this story does deliberately contain many allusions to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII nonetheless.
Also, note that Squall changed his name to Leon after failing to defend his home. So in the flashbacks, I'll refer to him as Squall.
"Dammit," Squall cursed, swinging his Gunblade. Three Heartless vanished into clouds of black smoke.
"More?" Cloud asked, looking over his shoulder.
"A lot more," Squall nodded, looking to his left. Cloud followed his gaze to see another wave of the black Shadows moving up the hill from the chasm, their ranks lining up against the horizon.
"Where are they all coming from?" Cloud muttered, swinging out the Buster Sword. A dozen Heartless squealed as the gigantic blade sliced them apart. He and Squall had been cutting down the dark entities for what seemed like an eternity and there seemed to be no end in sight. Their endurance and strength was running out.
"Where are the girls?" Squall asked.
"Holding the passage into town," Cloud replied, jerking his head. Behind them, the rock face narrowed into a small ramp up through the cliff to the hill overlooking the Radiant Garden village. At the top of that cliff, Aerith had erected a small barrier around the area with her powers while Yuffie and Tifa fought off the occasional Heartless that slipped by Squall and Cloud to make it up the hill. At least, it had been just the occasional Heartless, now they came a lot more often as the two swordsmen tired.
Cloud flipped the Buster Sword's grip in his hand and dashed. The Sonic Blade sliced apart a long row of Heartless, and Cloud hefted the sword back onto his shoulder.
"Cloud, behind you!"
Cloud looked up to see Aerith staring at him from the top of the hill. He spun just in time to see a Soldier Heartless leap at him. He gasped as the helmeted monster slammed into his chest, knocking him backwards. Cloud fell back and screamed as the two tumbled down the edge of the cliff, dust and dirt slamming into his face. He rolled and landed heavily, groaning.
"Cloud!" Aerith cried, moving to go down the hill.
"No, stay back, we need you to help protect the town!" Squall snapped.
"But Cloud needs help!" Aerith protested.
"He can handle himself," Squall muttered, swinging.
Below, Cloud put out a hand and pushed himself into a kneeling position. There was a chattering sound, and he lifted his head. The chasm floor was covered with Heartless of all shapes and varieties, all staring at him. Cloud winced and climbed to his feet.
"Great," he groaned, lifting his sword.
Overlooking the chasm, three figures watched as the Heartless pounced and Cloud spun, ripping them apart.
"Look at his power," the first smiled.
"Agreed, he is an impressive warrior," the man beside her agreed, tightening his grip on his staff. The eyes of the cobra glowed slightly. "But he's destroying our Heartless."
"We'd better send the Darkside in, they can handle that wretch!" the third snarled. "Do it, before he slices more up!"
"No," the first shook her head. "Don't you see what I see, you fool?"
"I see a man tearing our army apart like paper!" the third grumbled, pointing his hook at Cloud leaping and spinning to knocking back the Heartless.
"Yes, exactly," the first nodded. "I see a heart brimming with darkness and rage just waiting to be set free."
"It's too dangerous," the second objected.
"Patience, my foolish friends," the first chuckled. "Let him attack," she lifted her staff and opened a portal on the chasm floor, spewing more Heartless into the battle. "I have an idea."
- - - - - - - - - - -
"He's here…" Cloud muttered, looking around the tower roof.
"Cloud, you worry too much," Aerith sighed. Cloud ignored her and kept searching.
"Is she the one?"
Cloud's eyes widened at the familiar voice filling his ears.
"Is she the one who holds the light you so cherish?"
"Sephiroth…." he whispered, tightening his grip on his sword.
"In that case…"
There was a familiar whoosh, and Cloud turned to see a dark portal materialize behind Aerith.
"Aerith!" he screamed.
"What's wrong?" Aerith asked, smiling. The portal vanished as Sephiroth appeared behind her, Masamune held back. Aerith turned and gasped at the one-winged angel standing over her.
"…allow me to snuff her out."
Aerith's eyes went wide as Masamune's blade emerged from her back. Sephiroth looked down at her with a smirk as she collapsed against him, his sword holding her up against him.
Cloud gasped as Aerith pulled herself up to face him, the Buster Sword sliced through her and blood running down its steel edge. "How could you?" Aerith sobbed softly, tears in her eyes. The eternal light shining in her emerald orbs vanished, and she fell into Cloud's chest. Cloud's mouth fell open as he felt warm blood touch his fingers, and he stumbled back. Aerith and the Buster Sword fell to the ground as Cloud stared in horror at his blood-covered hands.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cloud's eyes slowly opened as the dream ended. He winced and put a hand out. His arm screamed in pain, and he remembered. Oh yeah….
"Damn him," Cloud coughed, spitting a clot of sticky blood on the stone under his head. The slices and bruises littered about his body reminded him of how he had ended up unconscious in the middle of the wasteland surrounding the Radiant Garden village and castle. Sephiroth.
"Over here, I heard something!"
Cloud lifted his head, his vision blurring slightly. A blob of indistinguishable red and pink appeared on the path leading down, and began moving towards him. Cloud watched as the blob came closer and his vision cleared enough for him to see who had come.
"Oh my god…" Aerith whispered, kneeling beside him. "Cloud…"
"I'm fine," he wheezed. Aerith ran her fingertips over the myriad of small slashes up and down his clothing, red staining their edges.
"This is worse than last time…" she said sadly.
"I'll be fine," Cloud repeated, putting a boot out. He pushed himself into a semi-standing position, wobbling slightly. "There, see? I'm standing already." He looked over at Aerith, and noticed his arm slung around her shoulders. Oh.
"Come on, let's get you back to the village," Aerith advised, taking a step forward. Cloud murmured something in protest as his feet automatically followed her lead. Yuffie and Leon emerged over his line of vision as it blurred again.
"You…thouldn't have come," Cloud muttered, slurring slightly. "I…dun wan you involve…"
"It's your fight to fight, but I'm not going to abandon you," Aerith scolded. "Youi always let us help you before, what makes this time so different?"
"Becau…Sephi…" Leon moved to take Cloud's other arm, and the blond registered him saying something before he passed out. He silently used his last thought to thank his friends for not letting him hit the ground.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cloud's knee hit the ground, and he gasped for breath. His muscles ached, he was bruised from his trip down into this maw of Hell. And the Heartless kept coming. Forcing himself to his feet, he forced his arm and swung the Buster Sword out once more. A few Heartless vanished, a small fraction of the army circling him on all sides. The blade of the sword dug into the ground as Cloud leaned on it for support, panting again.
"Poor, poor boy."
Cloud lifted his head as a plume of green and black flame appeared among the Heartless. A woman with long dark robes and a long staff stepped out, smiling at him. "You look so tired…" she said. "Are the Heartless too much for you?"
"I…can't win…" Cloud muttered bitterly.
"You can…if you let me help you," the woman corrected. She held out her hand, and Cloud watched a small black orb of energy appeared in her palm. "With this, you can prevail and save your home," the woman explained. Cloud stared at the pulsing orb of dark power, wincing.
"Is the only way to win," the woman said sharply. "Would you let this all go? Would you let your friends lose your home because you're scared of the darkness?"
"No!" Cloud cried, shaking his head.
"Then take it. And use this power to unleash your true nature!" the woman urged. Cloud looked at the Heartless surrounding them, and slowly reached out his hand. Silently closing his eyes, Cloud let his hand drop on the orb. The orb quickly vanished into a multitude of black tendrils that began to snake up his arm.
"Yes! Embrace the darkness!" the woman laughed, vanishing in black and green fire. Cloud clutched his chest as the dark tendrils grew and surrounded him in a dark aura. The shoulder of his clothing tore as a leathery black wing emerged behind his left shoulder, extending into the air. Cloud rose to his full height and hefted the Buster Sword over his shoulder.
With a snarl, Cloud swung. Dozens of Heartless vanished into black smoke as the Buster Sword cleaved them in two, crackling waves of dark energy cutting the air in its wake. Turning and lifting the sword over his head, Cloud slammed it into the ground. A shockwave of energy burst along the ground, tearing up the dirt and rock and destroying rows of Heartless.
High above the slaughter, Aerith heard Cloud's scream of rage and turned her head. Watching in horror as the man took down the Heartless by the dozen, she stood and ran down the path.
"Aerith!" Squall cried.
"He needs help!" she protested. Three Heartless leapt at her, and Aerith stopped and closed her eyes. A barrier rippled around her and pulsed, knocking the Shadows back. Aerith ran past Squall's back, ignoring his words and heading for the winding path to the chasm floor where Cloud fought.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cloud sniffed, the smell of cooking meat and herbs reaching his nose. He opened his eyes to find himself lying on a bed on his back. He turned his head to see Aerith sitting on a chair against the wall, sewing up one of the slashes on his clothing with a spool of black thread. He looked down to see a sheet wrapped around his waist, his chest bare.
"You don't need to do that," he said softly. Aerith jumped at his voice and turned her head.
"You're awake," she smiled. "Good." Cloud lifted an arm and studied the wrappings of white bandaging wound up his lower arm, stained with blood. "Try not to move too much," Aerith advised. "I tried to heal the more serious wounds as best as I could but the smaller ones you'll have to go easy on. Sorry, I just didn't have the strength."
"It's alright. Thanks," Cloud replied, turning his head to the wall. Aerith sighed and went back to her sewing. There were footsteps on the stairs, and Tifa quietly entered the room.
"Here," she said, setting a cup on the table by the bed. Aerith leaned over. A cup of chicken noodle soup. "You should eat something, help build your strength back up."
"Not hungry," Cloud muttered, staring at the wall. Tifa bit her lip and knelt by Aerith's ear.
"Has he always been like this since we lost Radiant Garden?" she whispered. Aerith nodded sadly. Tifa, like the rest of them, had been separated to the other worlds when Merlin had cast his spell to teleport them to safety when Radiant Garden fell and became Hollow Bastion. Tifa had eventually found her way back to their world shortly after Malificent was defeated and all the former residents of the Garden began making their way back. Cloud had also been scattered, but to where Aerith hadn't known, until Cid had found him while he'd been out testing a Gummi ship and brought him back to the castle.
Something had changed in Cloud, though. There was a new hardness in his eyes, a new shadow. That in itself wasn't strange, they had all gotten that look after seeing the village swarming with Heartless before the villagers entered Merlin's portal to safety. But Cloud's shadow was different. Their home was theirs again but Cloud was still wary, still quiet. Something had happened that dark day when the Garden fell. Aerith didn't know what though, and despite her best efforts and urgings Cloud refused to tell her. All she knew is that it had something to do with that man she had seen that day.
Sephiroth. Before the assault on Hollow Bastion she had never seen him before. He was a mystery. He had never attacked them with Heartless, and had never attacked any of them, although he didn't seem too concerned with their safety either. For whatever reason, his interest was with Cloud alone. Aerith knew something had happened that day before she had reached Cloud, but his lips were sealed. That was something that hurt Aerith to watch, as Cloud focused on the dark swordsmen and forsook his friends and home. He never spoke to them anymore, not like he used to, and whenever he came back she caught him staring into space. His thoughts were always elsewhere.
"Hey," Leon called softly. The two women looked over at the doorway. "Aerith, come here for a sec," he finished. Aerith nodded and stood up.
"I'll make sure he eats," Tifa promised. Aerith smiled at her and follow Leon into the hall.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I spoke to the Gullwings, they saw the battle," Leon explained. "It cost me a bit but at least we know what happened."
"Don't waste your money Leon, we know what happened," Aerith chided. "Sephiroth happened, again."
"Yeah, but…Sephiroth beat him, but he didn't kill him. He even told the Gullwings to come find us so we could get him to safety," Leon said.
"What?" Aerith gasped. "That doesn't make any sense…why would Sephiroth be so intent on fighting Cloud, but refuse to kill him?"
"I don't know. I was hoping you could find out. He talks to you more than he does any of us," Leon replied. Aerith sighed and looked back in the room at the man lying on the bed.
"That's not saying a lot," she murmured.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cloud's face twisted in a sneer as he leapt up, bringing the Buster Sword down. The large, fat Heartless exploded in a black cloud as he cleaved it in two. With a cruel laugh, he turned, swinging out the Buster Sword to slice apart a pair of Heartless sneaking up on him. His black wing flapped as he backflipped, spinning the sword over his head. Cloud's gaze caught something bright against the blue and black rocks, and looked at the source.
"What does she want?" Cloud hissed, watching Aerith move down the path to his battlefield. This was his fight, no one else's! That girl would not take his kills. Although to his dismay, the Heartless had begun to flee him, as well they should have. His battle was nearly done, but it was his battle, not hers.
"Then kill her yourself."
"What?" Cloud asked, landing and knocking the Heartless to the ground with a shockwave from his sword. The voice, he had heard it clearly, but it had been inside his head.
"Kill that girl. Don't let her interfere with our battle."
"Our battle? Who are you?" Cloud demanded, swinging.
"I'm the one keeping your pathetic body moving. Don't question me."
"Don't order me around!" Cloud snapped back. The voice chuckled darkly as Cloud dashed and cleaved apart another row of Shadows and Soldiers. "I'm not hurting Aerith, this battle is with the Heartless!"
"Very well. If you will not kill her, allow me."
"No!" Cloud protested. Turning and unleashng a wave of green and black energy with his swing, the last long line of Heartless vanished, and Cloud watched the few scattered survivors of his onslaught flee.
"Cloud!" he turned as Aerith jumped down the rest of the path and ran towards him. Cloud took a step towards her, and gasped. His arm lifted the Buster Sword over his shoulder on its own accord.
"Aerith, get away from me!" he cried. Aerith stopped a few feet away.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Relax, it will be quick," the voice in Cloud's head soothed.
"No! You're not hurting Aerith!" Cloud snarled, taking another step forward against his will.
"What is it?" Aerith asked, closing the distance between them. Cloud growled and swung, and Aerith cried out as the flat of the Buster Sword caught her on the hip, sending her spin to the dirt.
"Good. Now finish it," the voice urged. Aerith put a hand on the ground to push herself over, and looked up as Cloud gripped the Buster Sword, raising it above his head.
"Cloud, stop!" she pleaded, falling on her back.
"I…can't…" he protested.
"You can. You don't even have to swing, just move your arms forward and let the sword and gravity cut her for you," the voice insisted.
"Cloud, fight it!" Aerith urged. Cloud leered down at her, and Aerith gasped as his ocean blue eyes flashed green for a moment.
"Aerith! I can't stop him," he choked out.
"You can, whatever or whoever is doing this you can beat them!" Aerith said.
"Don't be ridiculous. Without me you would have lost to the Heartless and had your heart fall into darkness!" the voice roared.
"Then what do you call this!?" Cloud demanded. With a cry, he swung. Aerith screamed and raised her hands over her head, falling back as the Buster Sword came down.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Cloud opened his eyes and sat up in the bed. He looked out the window. It was night. And he was waiting. Standing up off the bed, he noticed Tifa asleep sitting against the wall, Aerith slumped forward on the table near his now sewn-up clothing. With a silent thanks, he grabbed it and quickly got dressed, grabbing the First Tsurugi from the wall and moving out of the room.
As the door slammed behind him, Aerith's eyes popped open. Yawning and looking around sleepily, her eyes fixed themselves on the empty bed.
Outside, Cloud made his way through the quiet sleeping village, moving to the path to the castle overlooking it. He was there, he was still here. Waiting for him as always. Narrowing his eyes, Cloud picked up his pace as he left the village and began heading up the stone path to the castle. It was time to settle this.
"Cloud!" Cloud stopped on the stone walkway leading to the castle gates but didn't turn. Aerith ran up and moved past him to stand before him. "Where do you think you're going?" Aerith demanded.
"I told you, I don't want you involved," Cloud said harshly.
"I knew it!" Aerith accused, jabbing a finger into his chest. "You're going to get yourself killed fighting him!"
"No, he can't kill me, he won't," Cloud shook his head.
"Why?" Aerith demanded. Cloud turned his head away. "What is it about him that scares you so much? That you can't let us help you, let me? Do you think you're alone in this because you aren't."
"I know I'm not! That's why you can't come," Cloud protested.
"Then what? Give me a straight answer, why can't I help you?" Aerith pleaded. "I can take care of myself, I don't need you to save me all the time!"
"That's not it at all!" Cloud turned his head back to look at her.
"You're getting yourself killed and letting him draw you into the darkness and you're telling me to sit back and watch it happen. Why won't you let me try and help you?" Aerith asked, tears in her eyes. "I'm not going to watch as he drags you away from me and you won't let me pull you back!"
Cloud lifted a hand to cup Aerith's cheek, smiling softly.
"You've already pulled me back…that's why I need you safe…so you can do it again," he whispered. Aerith turned her head and gently pressed her lips to his palm.
"I don't want to lose you," she replied, bringing her hand up to cover his.
- - - - - - - - - -
There was a thunk, and Aerith slowly turned her head to see the Buster Sword imbed itself in the rock beside her skull. Cloud fell to his knees and clutched the left side of his chest. The dark wing over his shoulder vanished into a swirl of dark power as Aerith ran to his side.
"I…couldn't stop him…" Cloud panted. "Forgive me…"
"It's okay, we have to get out of here before they come back," Aerith replied, helping him to his feet. Cloud staggered forward, and winced.
"Aerith!" Cloud gasped out, stopping. Aerith watched as Cloud let out a cry of pain, his fingers digging into the fabric of his clothing. He closed his eyes, face contorted in agony.
Behind him, Cloud's shadow suddenly grew. With neither of them noticed, the shadow grew longer, and a wing emerged over its shoulder.
"Cloud…what's happening to you?" Aerith asked. Cloud groaned and fell forward, hitting the ground heavily. "Cloud!" she cried, kneeling. Behind them, the shadow did not vanish, but swirled into a dark portal in the ground. As Aerith tried to lift Cloud up, the black vortex gave birth to a figure. Rising out of it, black cloak and white hair swirling slightly, long sword held against his forehead, the man opened his eyes and stared down at Cloud.
"Fool," the man sneered, lowering the Masamune from his face. Aerith spun around as the man pointed his sword down at them, the feathered black wing over his shoulder extending out.
"Who are you?" Aerith asked.
"I am Sephiroth…" the man replied, reaching down.
"Get away from him!" Aerith screamed. Sephiroth ignored her and grabbed the back of Cloud's clothing. "No!" Aerith jumped up to her feet, and Sephiroth casually flung out his sword, knocking her back with the flat of the blade. Sephiroth turned Cloud's unconscious body around to face him, and frowned to see his head lull forward.
"I told you. Without me you would be lost now," Sephiroth chuckled, drawing the Masamune back. "But it's too late now. Your heart is gone, and with your life forfeit mine comes into birth. Goodbye!" Aerith sat up and stared in horror at the long katana pointed towards Cloud's chest.
"Cloud!" she screamed. Cloud's eyes shot open as Sephiroth's sword came forward. His hand came to wrapped around the blade and struggled against its force as the tip came near his chest.
"Impossible…your heart has been consumed in darkness, you cannot still be alive," Sephiroth protested. Cloud growled and lifted a leg. With a kick, Sephiroth stumbled back and Cloud fell to the ground, running back and drawing the Buster Sword from the soil.
"Your heart is full of darkness. How is it you haven't fallen into it yet?" Sephiroth demanded.
"Because I have light in my heart too," Cloud snapped, lifting his sword and charging. "Aerith, get out of here!"
"Go!" swords clashed in a shower of sparks, and Aerith reluctantly turned to run away. Sephiroth's eyes shifted to watch her go.
- - - - - - - - - -
"I'm the whole reason he exists…it's my task to destroy him. And mine alone," Cloud said, drawing his hand back.
"No," Aerith shook her head. "I don't know why you think that way but it's not true. I'm here to help you and I'm not running away this time." Cloud smiled again.
"You've already helped me…more than you could ever know," he thought.
Cloud turned and lifted his sword as Sephiroth floated down the ground, the dark portal in the air vanishing.
"Good to see you…Cloud…" he smirked, lifting his sword over his shoulder. "It's good to know you're still so predictably foolish."
"Shut up!" Cloud snapped. "It's time we finish this!"
"Impossible. You know as well as I do you can't kill me," Sephiroth sneered. "I was birthed and am sustained from the darkness in your own black heart. You can defeat me but you'll just end up turning to watch me rise back up from your shadow a minute later." Cloud narrowed his eyes as Aerith gasped behind him.
"Well, if it'll shut you up for a minute," he scowled, charging. Sephiroth chuckled and leapt up, bringing Masamune down over his head. Cloud jumped to meet him and pushed him back. Sephiroth's feet touched down on the castle wall and he jumped forward. Blades flashed against each other as Cloud touched on the ground. Sephiroth landed opposite him, black wing extending. With a smirk, he ran forward, Masamune whistling through the air. Cloud lifted the First Tsurugi and deflected every attack before launching his counter. Sephiroth's eyes widened and he backflipped into the air as Cloud dashed forward and sliced the air where the one-winged angel had stood a second earlier.
Sephiroth floated back as Cloud jumped up, bringing his sword forward. Sephiroth smiled as Cloud hacked and slashed against him, his blows clanging heavily in the air. Cloud's feet touched on a balcony for a moment to gain moment to his flight, sword slicing the air faster than he could see. Sephiroth's eyes lit up at the sight.
"Where did you find this strength?" he chuckled.
"I'm not about to tell you!" Cloud snapped, drawing the sword up and cleaving it down. Sephiroth kicked, sending Cloud spinning backwards in the air to land on his stomach on the stone below. He looked up and lifted the First Tsurugi as Sephiroth dove towards him. The Masamune was deflected and Cloud swiped towards Sephiroth's hips, intent on cleaving him in two. Sephiroth vanished in a black light and Cloud's attack hit nothing but air.
"Behind you!" Aerith called. Cloud spun as Sephiroth emerged from a portal behind him and attacked. The First Tsurugi intercepted the blow but flung Cloud back. Sephiroth glared over his shoulder at Aerith.
"You…" he muttered, turning to face her. Aerith steeled herself as Sephiroth's lip curled up. "I know you…"
"Sephiroth!" Cloud cried, running and swinging. Sephiroth turned and blocked the attack, forcing Cloud back with his attacks. Cloud stumbled back as Sephiroth teleported behind him and kicked him forward. Cloud groaned as Sephiroth stood over him, then raised his cat-like gaze to Aerith again.
"Now I remember…" Sephiroth snorted. "You were the one who called him back from the darkness." He looked down as Cloud crawled away from him and climbed to his hands and knees. "Is she the one?" Sephiroth demanded, kicking Cloud back to the ground. "Is she the one who holds the light you so cherish?"
"Sephi…roth…" Cloud gasped, getting back up. Sephiroth smirked.
"In that case…" there was a whoosh as he teleported, and Cloud lifted his head to look at Aerith. Ocean blue met emerald green, and a chill shot up Cloud's spine. Those words…oh no.
"Allow me to snuff her out."
"NO!" Cloud pushed his aching body to its feet and ran forward as Sephiroth appeared behind Aerith, sword back. Aerith spun at the sound, and Sephiroth grabbed her chin. Cloud's eyes went wide in horror as Masamune impaled itself through Aerith's chest. He stopped and stared as blood ran down the edge of the sword. Aerith gasped and opened her mouth a few times before the sound came out.
"How pitiful," Sephiroth mused aloud, watching Aerith wither. "Not even token resistance. Is this the power of light, to so easily be extinguished?"
"You…" Sephiroth looked up from the girl before him as Cloud lifted the First Tsurugi and let out a scream of rage, charging forward. Withdrawing his sword and flinging Aerith away, Sephiroth was pushed back as Cloud assaulted him, his sword slicing the air. "I'll kill you!" Cloud cried, swinging. Sephiroth leapt back into the air and Cloud jumped after him.
"Incredible," Sephiroth laughed. "If dispatching that girl was all that was needed to consume you in darkness again, I would have done it long ago."
"Shut up, you have no right to talk about her!" Cloud roared, slashing him furiously. Sephiroth turned in the air and flew back, wing flapping quickly as Cloud pushed his attack.
"Even now your rage and hatred for me grows. And with it, your darkness grows as well," Sephiroth taunted, bringing Masamune to bear. "Hate me, Cloud. The more you hate, the stronger I become. I'm just a reflection of your own darkness, you can't escape me!"
"I said shut up!" Cloud landed and jumped back up. Sephiroth teleported, and Cloud gasped as he felt a rush of air behind him. A boot slammed into his back, and he plummeted to the ground. The First Tsurugi fell from his grasp and clanged on the stone as Cloud rolled heavily, his head slamming into the castle call behind him. With a small groan, he slowly opened his eyes to see a shadow fall over him. With a gasp, Sephiroth's sword buried its tip in his shoulder, and Sephiroth sneered as he twisted the blade. Cloud's eyes squeezed shut in agony.
"Don't you see?" Sephiroth laughed. "The harder you try to defeat me, the stronger I get. You can't win this fight, Cloud. Accept your destiny, to be immersed in darkness. It's your true nature. I may just be darkness, but I'm your darkness, a reflection of your own heart. Accept it, and embrace it. The power of darkness is your absolute."
"No…" Cloud shook his head. "You're wrong…my heart is not dark! And even if it is, I'd never give in willingly, not to you!" Sephiroth smirked.
"Very well," he sighed, drawing his sword back. "If you won't give your heart to darkness, then I'll send it there." Cloud lifted his head as Sephiroth stabbed. The Masamune cut through the air towards his chest, and stopped. Sephiroth's hand recoiled as a glowing wall of white energy appeared around Cloud. "What is this?" Sephiroth demanded. Cloud looked at the shining barrier, and gasped, turning his head. Sephiroth noticed his gaze and spun around.
Aerith lay far away, holding out her hand, her fingers aglow in magical light. Clutching her bloody wound with her free hand, she focused and sent a pulse of energy. Sephiroth jumped back as the barrier rippled and repelled him. Sephiroth landed in front of her, his boot slamming down on her wrist.
"Wretched girl," he snarled, grabbing her by the neck and holding her in the air. "Every time we meet, you prove yourself a nuisance!"
"Does that worry you?" Aerith choked out from his iron grip. "That Cloud has a power you can't understand?"
"Light?" Sephiroth sneered. "Ha…sentimental nonsense. Light is nothing. The darkness is Cloud's heart. You must know this."
"I do know his heart," Aerith agreed. "There's darkness there, but there's light too. And it shines brighter than your darkness ever could. And that's why you can't win."
"Really?" Sephiroth drew Masamune back. "Well, that remains to be seen. In the meantime…let us see if you survive this a second time." Aerith closed her eyes…
And Sephiroth gasped as the First Tsurugi burst through his chest.
Snorting and dropping Aerith to the ground, Sephiroth turned his head to see Cloud standing behind him, panting.
"Don't you people ever die?" Sephiroth scowled, swinging his sword behind him. Cloud leapt back and pulled the First Tsurugi from Sephiroth's chest, the blade clean. "I told you, I'm darkness. I don't bleed, I don't feel pain. I don't have a heart to lose, or to impale," Sephiroth lectured. "You, on the other hand…"
"You know…" Cloud panted, cracking his neck. "You're really a pain in the ass when you get like this," he sighed. He charged, and Sephiroth raised Masamune. The First Tsurugi burst into an array of light, and to Sephiroth's shock, it sliced clean through the katana. Masamune was cut in two, the longer half falling uselessly to the ground as Cloud assailed the one-winged angel relentlessly, glowing Tsurugi cleaving over and over and over. Sephiroth watched as Cloud stepped back to catch his breath.
"You don't listen," Sephiroth sneered, lifting a hand to point at Cloud. "I can't be…" he trailed off as he noticed something, and turned his head. His arm was covered in small slashes from Cloud's attack…and Sephiroth drew his arm to his face. There, on his skin…
"It can't be…" he whispered, putting a hand to the ruby-red liquid leaking from his skin. Looking down at himself, Sephiroth let out a moan as he felt the true agony of Cloud's weapon. Small drops of blood leaked out of his skin virtually everywhere. "I…no…Cloud," Sephiroth raised his head to stare at Cloud in horror.
"This is finished!" Cloud said, running along the stone. Sephiroth watched, stunned, as Cloud drew the First Tsurugi along the ground and cleaved it upwards. Sephiroth was knocked backwards into the air as a long glowing wound was carved on his chest and even up his face and forward. Cloud fell to his knees as Sephiroth looked down at him coldly, the tattered folds of his cloak falling in the air around him, baring his wounds for full viewing. Tendrils of dark smoke rose from his body in the pre-morning twilight.
"You…" Sephiroth muttered, blooding running down his face and chest. "You can't destroy me forever…the darkness will always be a part of you, and someday, we'll see each other again…"
"I'll keep that in mind," Cloud nodded. "In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the silence for once."
Sephiroth glared as his wing extended and wrapped around him, his body vanishing in a flurry of black feathers and purple vapor. Cloud watched as Sephiroth dissipated, and dropped the First Tsurugi to the ground.
"Aerith!" Cloud ran to her and pulled her to her feet, clutching her against him.
"You're alive," Aerith whispered happily, lifting her head to look up at him. "I knew you'd live…"
"But you…" Cloud looked down at the bloody hole in Aerith's dress where Sephiroth had impaled her. "Are you…"
"I'll be fine…just need some good magic," Aerith joked weakly.
"Come on, we have to get back," Cloud agreed, putting her arm over his shoulder and slowly walking to the path back to the village. The sun had risen on the horizon, and Aerith put a hand on his chest. "What is it?" Cloud asked.
"That's you," Aerith said softly, nodding at the sun. Cloud turned his head to watch. "You've got darkness in you, but there's light too," Aerith explained.
"I know…Sephiroth was that darkness…" Cloud admitted. Aerith nodded.
"I heard him talking…if he's your darkness, then who's your light?" she asked. Cloud smiled down at her, and turned and ducked his head, lightly kissing her cheek.