"Darkness comes in all forms, Cloud." Sephiroth's words penetrated him as deeply as the sword that was embedded into his shoulder through cracked armor, pinning him to the rock walls of the Dark Depths. Sephiroth ignored Cloud's movement to remove the blade from his body, gloved hand reaching forth to grab onto Cloud's clawed arm.
In a flash, Vincent's gauntlet was cast aside, skittering and falling over the cliff's edge.
"Why cling to such mere memories?" Cloud's leg jerked up, boot connecting with Sephiroth's palm as the pale-haired man caught the attack before Cloud had even seen the movement. Kicking Sephiroth's hand from his foot earned enough time for Cloud to wrench Masamune from his left shoulder with a squelch of blood, throwing it to the side and grabbing his Buster Sword.
Metal flashed and Cloud blocked the attack meant to behead him, swinging his sword about to deflect the blow and to lean in for a jab to Sephiroth's stomach.
He barely caught a flash of Masamune before the butt of the behemoth sword was connecting with his temple. If he had been any less of a realist, Cloud would have sworn he felt his entire brain connect with the opposite side of his head, equilibrium becoming scattered for a breath of a second and his sword falling from his grasp, clattering to the ground.
Sephiroth's fist grabbed onto the front of his cloak, slamming him against the wall of the Dark Depths and pulling back Masamune, sheathing it and allowing Cloud to regain his sense of balance long enough to realize that Sephiroth was preparing to throw him clear across the rocks.
He opened his mouth, a shout escaping thin lips before his body was lurched into a pile of rubble. Upon impact, pain flared in his body, the back of his head cracking into the rock before he collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Cloud could feel his heartbeat prominent in every nerve of his body, feel the tickling sensation of blood sluicing down the side of his temple. It slid down his cheek, dripping off of his chin and staining the ground below him with each struggle for breath that Cloud took in.
Gravel crunching caused Cloud to crack his eyes open from where he's slumped against the rocks, sucking in a breath and releasing it. Sephiroth's boots stood beside the blond's prone form.
He jerked his head up just in time to roll towards the man and out of the way of Masamune stabbing into the ground where he once was. Cloud crawled underneath Sephiroth's spread legs, instantly scrambling for his discarded sword.
Sephiroth caught onto the hem of Vincent's tattered cloak, dragging Cloud backwards and kicking the exSoldier onto his back, a knee digging into Cloud's stomach and crushing the breath out of him.
The blond's fingers clawed at the rock surface beneath him, trying to find a catch in the ground to pull himself away from the mentally imbalanced man, the source of his darkness.
Sephiroth leaned down, locks of starlight hair slipping over his shoulders and falling into Cloud's face, tickling the blond's fair cheeks. Cloud pursed his lips, watching Sephiroth place Masamune on the ground, and with his left hand, extract a pale, shining aquamarine vial from a pouch that was clasped to his side.
"The lifestream..." Sephiroth began in a slow drawl, ignoring Cloud's struggles for air. "It was everything to our world, wasn't it?" Leather creaked as Sephiroth swished the vial around, gaze wandering from the glass tube and to Cloud's grimacing face.
Sephiroth uncorked the vial, thumb slipping over the opening to cap it. His other hand moved to grab at the cracked shoulder gear of Cloud's injured left arm, fingers slipping underneath of it and wrenching it away. By sheer force, the clasps snapped under Cloud's armpit, cutting into his skin before the armor was thrown across the Dark Depths, clattering into the wall. Cloud's injured arm jerked out to punch Sephiroth, his hand caught in the man's un-occupied fist and forced to the ground.
"Such a precious thing, our lifestream... though..." Sephiroth paused, his thumb slipping off of the tube's opening as he upended it over Cloud's open shoulder wound.
"It can be just as deadly." The liquefied lifestream splashed against Cloud's clothes and skin, seeping into the wound and fabric. At first, Cloud felt nothing but the same icy hot feeling one would get when they stick their finger under the hot faucet, a numbing sensation before everything flared into a burning pain.
Cloud choked, his breath escaping him in an uncontrollable whoosh.
"Cloud, get up, its sunrise." Sephiroth said, his voice becoming stern. Cloud choked, turning his head to the side as Sephiroth placed a hand on his other shoulder and shook it.
Cloud's eyes snapped open, breath sucking in through his nose heavily as he stared up at Leon, who was removing his hand from the blond's right arm. Cloud lay on his side, the left side of his body crushed under his own weight and causing a numbed throb to beat all the way down to his fingertips. Leon gave him a prolonged stare before he turned, walking out of the room and shooting the words "Get ready," over his shoulder.
Cloud sat up, wincing as the blood seemed to rush back into his arm, causing a feeling of pins and needles to ricochet through his entire limb. He hissed through his teeth, free arm reflexively moving to clasp to his forearm as achingly familiar shocks of pain hit him like being struck with a low-voltage taser. .
After his fight with Sephiroth, where he'd been found lying unconscious in the Dark Depths by Leon and Aerith, Cloud's arm had become infected with the same Geostigma that had begun to plague their home world a few months before its destruction. It was like a series of dark bruises that marred the surface of Cloud's once-pale arm, occasionally sending jerking pain through his nerves. Cloud had easily hidden it beneath his cloak, and soon changed over to a new outfit with a long sleeve that brushed the edges of his knuckles, his right arm remaining bare.
Cloud clutched to his infected arm, waiting out the electrifying pain that caused his muscles to jump and twitch like a miniature seizure. A few seconds passed and the door cracked open again as Leon poked his head through to see Cloud holding to his clothed appendage.
The man scowled, unaware of the marred flesh beneath the black fabric of Cloud's nightshirt, "Whatever's wrong with you, don't let it hinder your work today." Leon's eyes narrowed as he said this, scrutiny evident in their pale depths before he pulled his head back, calling out for Cloud to 'hurry up' before the door clicked shut.
Cloud pulled himself to his feet, shaking off the last shudders of pain with a flick of his wrist and going about getting dressed for the day ahead of him. They had to start tearing down the steep walls of the Great Maw, along with smoothing out the Crystal Fissure and the Ravine trail to make it a more inhabitable place.
According to Leon's plans, they were to make it possible for refugees of other worlds to find solace in Radiant Garden.
Today's schedule, from what he'd overheard at dinner the previous night, was that Leon and Cloud were to oversee the tearing down of the Ravine's excess walls so that it would become twice as spacious. Yuffie was in charge of the crane, while Tifa was to instruct the volunteers from the Garden on moving the rocks that would be thrown off the edge of the Dark Depths. This was done in order to fill the large canyon that separated it from the castle. Aerith would stay with Merlin and help him remodel the small home (thanks to Merlin's magic, it wasn't as nearly as small inside as it looked outside) while Cid continued his tinkering with the different uses of the Claymore technology.
Pulling on his boots, Cloud stepped through the threshold of his bedroom and made his way over to the breakfast table, where everyone was seated and eating off of magically-refilling plates. A pot of coffee refilled Leon's cup before floating over to fill the mug hovering near Cid's head while the man worked away at the computer.
After Sora had returned to his island, he and his two confidants had been employed by the king to make runs to different worlds in order to maintain order and to collect those who'd been scattered from the dead planets to bring to Radiant Garden.
The town was beginning to flourish with its new inhabitants, who were eager to help the very people that gave them a place to live. They were the main reason that the castle's restoration had been finished by the end of the year and that the committee had been able to start work on the rest of the Garden.
Cloud took his usual seat to the right of Tifa and left of Leon, reaching out for an empty cup as the jug of orange juice floated over and began pouring itself into his glass. Thanking the inanimate object out of routine, Cloud brought the glass to his lips and took a long gulp of it, letting the bitter citrus flavor wake him up.
He set the drink down as Yuffie gave the blond a cheerful 'Mornin' Spike!' through her mouthful of pancakes, to which Aerith scolded the young ninja for trying to talk around her food.
Cloud glanced over to see Leon's plate of pancakes empty, knowing full well that the stoic man was unable to resist any kind of bakery product. (Given the fact that Yuffie had shown up to the worksite with a box of pastries to bribe the man into letting her out of hard labor was enough to make Leon's weakness well known throughout the Restoration Committee.)
"Cloud," Tifa spoke up, pausing in her conversation with Leon about the work to be done in the Great Maw. She placed a strong hand on Cloud's forearm, oblivious to the way the man tensed beneath her fingertips. "How're you doing?"
Cloud pulled his arm from her grasp by reaching out to retrieve his orange juice again, grunting softly. "Fine." He brought the glass to his lips, taking a quick sip before grabbing up his fork and cutting out a triangle of his pancake.
Tifa scowled, but didn't say anything. Things continued on until everyone had finished eating. Leon stood first, retrieving his gloves from beside his plate and tugging them on. "We'd better get to work, the volunteers will be out around nine, so we've got two hours to work on the Maw with the crane." He commanded, earning varied noises of acknowledgement from the table. Sighing, the man turned and left the room, door shutting behind him.
"At least he looks nice?" Yuffie offered meekly, earning a scowl from Cloud and a soft laugh from Aerith.
"Ya know, Cloudie, I've noticed how strong Leon's been gettin' lately, what with all the heavy liftin' you two are doing." Yuffie huffed as she lifted another heavy rock and handed it off to the blond. After using the crane to break down a good portion of one of the rock walls, the committee and its volunteers had begun a human chain that would hand each rock off from one person to the next, leading all the way out to the Dark Depths, where Tifa was tossing them off the ledge.
"He's getting to be a good sparring partner." Cloud confirmed, taking a boulder out of the petite ninja's hand and giving it to the refugee beside him. Yuffie didn't seem satisfied with the man's response, a sigh of exasperation leaving her small lips as she hefted up another chunk of rubble with a grunt.
"Honestly, Cloudster, haven't you tried thinking outside of the closet?" As she said this, she shoved the large rock into Cloud's arms to emphasize the importance of her words.
A scowl pursed the exSoldier's lips, handing off the boulder and opening his mouth to respond when Leon walked by with a pile of logs held on one shoulder.
Sans jacket, the pale flesh of Leon's skin was sinfully visible through his sweat-drenched wife beater, causing Yuffie to whistle a catcall to the man, who paused before turning to level her with a scowl. Yuffie pointed to Cloud, who earned a flicker of a glance from Leon to see the blond man shaking his head and motioning back to Yuffie.
"How about you stop playing, Yuffie, and get some work done?" Leon scolded, embarrassment evident in his face as he turned again, hands adjusting the logs and heading off towards the Bailey.
Cloud hid the smirk on his face by reaching past Yuffie to pick up some rubble off of the ground and give it to the man beside him while the young ninja gaped at Leon's retreating backside.
Her shoulders hunched and the girl shook her fist at Leon's turned head. "Why, if I had some materia on me, I'd..." She trailed off with a threatening growl, watching the brunet man disappear through the Castle Gate.
Cloud's smirk returned, this time more noticeable. "You'd what?" He questioned, a teasing lilt to his voice. Yuffie seemed to contemplate this for less than a half second when she opened her mouth to speak, words muffled by the sound of a Gummi ship rocketing overhead. Her mouth snapped shut, quickly spreading into a wide grin.
The boulder in her hands was hurriedly shoved into Cloud's not-quite-open arms as the petite girl blurted, "Someone's gotta go greet the Keybearers!" and shot off.
Cloud stared at the rubble in his hands before tossing it to the ground and walking away from the work site, heading after Yuffie at a much slower pace.
He barely made it through the tail end of the Bailey when the sound of running caught up to him. "Cloud, wait!" Tifa called out from behind him, jogging up to the man and grabbing onto his left arm to get him to pause as she caught her breath. Cloud grimaced, but otherwise didn't react to the young woman's actions.
The Bailey echoed loudly with their footsteps, Tifa's fingers gripping to his arm as she contemplated her words before speaking. "Cloud.." The raven-haired fighter began, voice laced with concern. "You never talk to us anymore."
They exited the Bailey, walking past the landing pod that Cid had built on the outer walls of the Borough, where Sora's ship was parked. "I talk." Cloud muttered quietly. A sigh escaped Tifa, eyes rolling heavenward.
Cloud went silent as they made their way down the steps towards Merlin's house. He heard Yuffie before he saw her, picking up the petite ninja's yelling instantly.
"Leon! Let me in! I'll knock that Turk bastard on his ass, for sure!" They neared the old house, the two fighters catching sight of Yuffie kicking the door angrily.
Cloud assumed that Merlin had magicked the door to keep Yuffie out, judging by the way it shocked her every time she tried to touch the knob. Tifa strode past Cloud, placing a hand to Yuffie's shoulder to get her to back off from abusing the aged wood.
She wrapped thin fingers around the brass knob, turning it and opening the door with ease. Yuffie cursed Merlin's magic under her breath, slipping behind Tifa to get inside.
Cloud was close after them, though he barely caught a glimpse of red hair and a black suit before Yuffie released a Wutanese battle cry, lunging forward and tackling the newcomer into Merlin's table. The aged furniture let out a deafening groan before the two back legs collapsed. The center of the table bowed dangerously at the same time until it snapped in half, causing Yuffie and her victim falling to the ground in a heap of wood and limbs.
"Yuffie!" Aerith gasped, a hand rising to her mouth from where she had once stood beside the man that Yuffie was currently pulling the bright red hair of. Sora hurried over to the two struggling bodies, stopping mid-conversation with Leon and his friends in order to try and help the newcomer. His hands encircled Yuffie's waist, leaning back in an attempt to wrench her off of the man. Riku joined in, grabbing Yuffie's legs -- though the little ninja held steadfast to the newcomer's hair, growling threats on the man's life.
It took Cloud a moment to absorb the sight of Reno, one of the Turks who'd worked for ShinRa. Or course, he couldn't really blame Yuffie for wanting to kill the man -- their world had been annihilated because of ShinRa. He rose a hand to the hilt of his buster word in a battle-ready movement.
Taking the heartless and injecting them with Mako had generated the most demonic and indestructible beasts that Cloud had ever laid eyes upon. The largest one, which Cloud later found out was a mutated form of a DarkSide, had called a portal of darkness that had soon torn all of Gaia to pieces. Cloud and the others had watched helplessly from space as their world ceased to exist.
"Easy kitten!" Reno shrieked, his hands atop of Yuffie's to try and ease her hands out of locks of bright auburn hair. "I didn't do nothin'!" He wasn't fighting back, merely trying to save his own skin from the wrath of Yuffie Kisaragi.
Leon glanced over to Cloud, one eyebrow raising in question as to why Yuffie would be attacking a supposedly 'complete stranger.' Kairi, a girl that everyone had heard about, but barely knew, walked over to Cloud and Tifa with pursed lips.
"We found him in the New York, he was staying with a homeless man and some dogs. We wouldn't have realized he was from Midgar if he hadn't recognized our ship. We disguised it this thing called a car, but the magic only works for those that are native to their world." Cloud nodded solemnly, his hand dropping from where it had hovered over the hilt of his buster sword.
Approaching Leon, the blond murmured quietly to him. "Tie him up, he moves fast." The older man nodded, his arms uncrossing so that he could motion to Merlin from across the room. The magician understood the signal, extracting his wand and flicking it so that rope shot out from the tip. It slipped past Riku and Sora, tying itself around Yuffie and pinning the ninja's arms to her side. Yuffie flopped to the ground beside Reno, squirming.
"Merlin, you old coot! Untie me!" The raven-haired girl roared, though it fell on deaf ears as Merlin did the same thing to Reno before the man could get to his feet.
Reno slumped to the ground with a cross look on his face. "I had nothing' to do with those experiments, yo! I'm just a Turk, do what yer told and don't ask questions!"
Cloud narrowed his eyes as Yuffie spat out, "Lies!" and tried to wriggle her way over to the man, teeth gnashing. Riku grabbed onto the rope that was binding her and lifted the petite girl over a shoulder. The older keybearer smirked at the laugh that escaped Sora when Yuffie roared at Riku and kicked her legs wildly.
Cloud approached Reno, his clothed arm lifting to grab a hand at the rope that bound the man, pulling Reno close. "Where are the other Turks?" He asked, getting straight to the point, regardless of whatever trauma Reno might have undergone. Reno scowled.
"How did you survive?" Aerith asked gently from where she stood nearby. Cid grumbled at his computer, murmuring about 'weasels' and 'running away'.
"Rude." Reno muttered, his eyes falling to the ground, unwilling to elaborate. Cloud, displeased, released Reno and stepped back, turning to Leon.
Understanding the silent message, the gunblader withdrew his weapon with a loud 'shing', holding it just under Reno's chin and forcing the man to look up.
Reno's eyes went wide, panic setting in as he looked from Cloud, to the other former Gaians. Tifa and Aerith looked away while a pleased grin stretched onto Yuffie's face, dark eyes alit with malice.
Leon stepped forward and Reno leaned his head back to avoid having his neck cut open. "Elaborate. I also don't appreciate you calling my friends rude." Having heard this reminded Cloud that Leon had no idea who the Turks were, or what ShinRa had done to Cloud's home.
Reno hunched his shoulders. "I got pulled inta th' portal with the Darkside. Woke up on the docks a' some old city. Got taken in by some homeless fella who felt bad fer me." Leon, dissatisfied, twisted his gun blade into Reno's skin. Reno's lower lip trembled in a stutter before he continued.
"ShinRa didn't tell us nothin' 'bout the experiments. We was just s'posed to do what we're told and don' ask questions. When th' big an' ugly came along, they sent all us Turks out to fight it without telling' us they was the ones who made it." Reno's accent became thick, most likely the result of the nervousness that shone in his bright eyes. It reminded Cloud that he was hardly more than a street thug that had been taken from his home and raised to kill for survival.
"None of us stood a chance. Killed almost all th' Turks before the portal even showed up. Me'n' Rude were th' only ones left when the darkness came."
Tifa took a step forward, placing a hand on Leon's shoulder when she saw the way Reno's face became filled with anguish. Sensing it, Leon withdrew. Yuffie had fallen silent, her body going limp on Riku's shoulder as she absorbed the words that Reno had spoken, recalling the murder of her own home, and how she'd been helpless to stop them, just like everyone else.
Tifa knelt beside Reno, who's head was bowed, long hair disheveled and hanging in his face and over his shoulders. A strong hand grasped to his shoulder in order to get the man's attention.
"Reno, what happened to Rude?" Tifa inquired gently. Reno turned his head away from the fighter, taking his lower lip between his teeth.
"Ain't never seen a body impaled on somethin's claw like that. Got me too, but Rude was standin' in front of me, didn't have a chance." Reno's voice was barely above a whisper, causing the majority of the room to shift awkwardly at having forced the man to confess one of the many horrors he was forced to see.
Tifa curled her fingers into Reno's shoulder out of comfort and Aerith walked up to him, motioning for Merlin to magic the ropes off of him. The wizard did so, and Reno instantly curled himself into a ball.
"I didn't wanna fight that thing. Me'n Rude, he was my buddy, we just wanted a home and th' money to live. None a'this was s'posed to happen." Aerith kneeled down Reno's other side, threading her hand through his messy hair and patting his back.
"You're safe now, Reno. You can stay with us, Cloud has a spare bed in his room." Reno picked his head up to look at her with a stare that bordered on disbelief as Leon stepped forward, protest on his tongue.
"Wait just a minute." The brunet began, "How do we know he won't kill Cloud in his sleep?" Having heard Leon's statement, Yuffie voiced her agreement loudly from Riku's shoulder, though she went silent at the look that Tifa shot her.
"Cloud can take care of himself." Aerith stated smoothly, gentle eyes glancing over to her close friend. Cloud crossed his arms from where he stood near the door, leaning against the frame. He was silent.
"Its not Cloud that I'm worried about, its this guy. We don't know how strong he is, or- "
"He can stay." Cloud's voice rang loud and clear across the room, drawing the attention of everyone inside of it. Cid paused in his typing, seat creaking as he turned to stare at the man.
"Ye' so sure 'bout that, Spike?" He barked, cigarette bobbing up and down in his mouth with each word. Cloud pushed himself to his feet, stepping towards Leon and Reno.
"He's fast, but he's not strong. He can stay." Reno didn't seem to protest this, however injured his look was, and Leon accepted Cloud's words, finally sheathing Lionheart.
Sora shifted awkwardly as Riku eased Yuffie to the ground, the ropes disappearing from around her body. She crossed her arms, an unhappy frown on her face.
"We have to get going, we need to see the king before sundown." Sora's voice was remorseful, apologizing silently to the room. Riku nodded his agreement at the boy's statement, proving that Sora wasn't just bluffing to avoid the awkward moment that would soon be coming.
Leon rose a hand to brush a few stray locks of chestnut hair out of his eyes, holding a hand out and taking the keybearer's, shaking it firmly. He repeated the action with Riku, startled when Kairi's skinny arms wrapped around his abdomen in a hug. Awkwardly, Leon patted her head, face flushing at the muffled laughter from Aerith.
Sora and Riku gave hugs to all of the girls before the brown-haired keybearer approached Cloud and held his hand out expectantly. Cloud rose his left hand, pausing at the twitch of pain from his stigma, and then grasped tightly to Sora's extended palm, shaking it firmly.
"Take care." He uttered softly, accepting a hug from Kairi and a nod from Riku. They bid their goodbyes to the Restoration Committee and parted through the doorway. A tense silence fell upon them as Cloud realized that the entire crew had abandoned their posts at the Great Maw.
Reno cleared his throat, grasping the attention of the entire room. "So…" He drawled, nervously peering around himself. "What's for lunch?"
Commission 1 from Mitsuru Aki.
Leon/Cloud with 'Gravity' 'Chemistry' 'Denial of Feelings' and 'Geostigma;FF7'
Commission requirement, 20 pages.
50 percent complete.