A/N: Yes, an actual chapter finally! I have had most of this chapter for a while, but I was stuck in indecision over whether I wanted to use this sequence of events first or another one that I had started writing, and then there was a third scene that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to incorporate yet or not. I went with not, even though the result was a much shorter chapter than I'd like - but on the other hand, that means I have most of chapter 5, so it should come out pretty quickly after I write chapter 4 - no promises on when that will be done though.

A Matter of Control

Chapter 3

It sickened Sephiroth. The effort it took to move; the leaden weight of his body; the slight grogginess that made it hard to focus. The Materia were partly to blame, but there was also the lack of all the gifts Mother had given him. That he was so weak without her support… surely there had to be something more than that.

Surely his strength hadn't come from Mother alone.

The collar had eight bulges; Seal and Time were certainly in use, possibly Mystify as well, and assuming that Cloud had all of the known types of Materia it also would be logical to assume that there was a Manipulate, though if there was, why wasn't Cloud using it? And the other four? His MP was being drained, but that could be an independent function of the collar; Cloud could certainly sense his condition, but that could be because of the telepathic link.

There had been a department experimenting with Materia when Sephrioth still served Shin-Ra, so perhaps there were other Materia types he didn't know about. It could even be possible that all of the effects he was currently under were coming from a single hybrid Materia. He couldn't make any assumptions. There were no conclusions to be drawn about what could potentially result from those gloved fingers making contact with the collar. In order to defeat Cloud, the first thing Sephiroth would have to do is rip off that damned gloved arm.

It had been about three weeks, Sephiroth figured. Three weeks of playing obedient pet for the blond upstart; eating from his hand, bathing and relieving himself at his captor's leisure. He was tired of having his life restricted to the crypt, the bathroom, and the path between the two, his passage dictated by a firm tug on his imprisoning collar. That was why Sephiroth could forgive himself for the feeling of overwhelming relief when Cloud led him past the bathroom door.

The room was at the back of the house, windows looking down into the mansion's grounds – a small garden with a few flowers poking out between the weeds and a few fruit trees that hadn't been pruned in over a decade, and then beyond that an overgrown field. The direction of the shadows and quality of the light indicated that it was early afternoon.

A chair was turned toward the windows and that was where Cloud led his captive. Sephiroth sat without hesitation. He started to glace around the room, but the cold, firm touch of the glove on the side of his face prevented him. Irritated, Sephiroth tried to bat the hand away; it immediately went instead to the collar, and Sephiroth felt, for the first time in his life, the heavy blanket of a Stop spell wash over him. Cloud redirected his head so that he was looking directly out the window, then went to the bookshelf, just barely within Sephiroth's peripheral vision, took out a book, and then disappeared into the space behind the paralyzed man. Sephiroth heard what he assumed was Cloud sitting down in the other chair, then only the occasional sound of a page turning.

Outside the window, Sephiroth saw a group of children kicking around a red ball as well as they could in the wild grass. After the still surroundings that had been all he'd seen for the last three weeks, the change was refreshing enough that trying to discern the rules of the game the brats were playing was almost interesting, and it wasn't as if he was being allowed to look anywhere else.

After several minutes it seemed apparent to Sephiroth that there were no rules. There were no teams that he could see, it was just a matter of the kid with the ball trying to kick it to whomever he'd chosen to kick it to and others attempting to intercept it as the mood struck them, and yet others attempting to block those people should they feel the urge to. Someone who had once stolen the ball from one kid, could end up trying to kick to that very same kid later in the game, or blocking someone who had earlier kicked to him. Faint laughter reached him.


"You are above such inconsequential pastimes."

Sephiroth shut his eyes. Shut out the playing children. Shut out the childhood always on the other side of the glass. Shut out the oily voice that clung to the sharp edges of his memory. In his stopped state, the stillness of his body was comfortable despite the rigidity of his posture; with the time around him stopped, his muscles never ached, as if he had only just sat down.

In that strange, heavy comfort, Sephiroth slept.

His eyes snapped open, darting around. He was no longer in the chair in Hojo's office, but neither was he in the crypt. He was lying on the bed in the room with the secret passage; not just lying, but covered by the blankets. After the weeks of sleeping in those restraints, even the old, lumpy mattress seemed luxuriant.

The window was in front of him, the sky outside darkening, he had been sleeping for hours. He tried to move his hand, to slide it up along the sheet a little; it obeyed, albeit sluggishly. Cloud was not within his range of sight.

Logically, he knew that little bastard was behind him, watching with that damned emotionless mask of his, and had sensed the moment Sephiroth had awakened; even so, the urge to try to escape was overwhelming, despite the desire to take advantage of being in a bed to rest longer – he was so exhausted. Maybe Strife had fallen asleep, or was otherwise not paying attention. Maybe he'd gotten cocky; had left his captive alone with the assumption he'd been too well-trained by now to try to escape if he wasn't sure Cloud was watching. The only way to know for sure was to either try to break through the window and run, or turn around and look. If he looked and Cloud was there, he would probably lose any element of surprise that could have bought him some time.

Ridiculous. Strife is faster and stronger; it wouldn't matter if I got even a five second head-start.

He hated admitting that – Hated it. A shard of self-loathing lanced through him; the festering awareness of his own pathetic state that grew every time he was obedient.

He turned around. As he thought, Cloud was sitting in the chair by the bed, one leg tucked up and his chin resting on the forearms crossed over his knee. His eyes were fixed on Sephiroth.

Sephiroth was trapped for a moment between defiance and acquiescence; his expression neutral. Exhaustion eventually won out; Sephiroth closed his eyes again and drifted off to sleep, never doubting that he'd awaken back in his restraints.