A/N: Last chapter, peoples! *runs around in circles* OMG - I'm so going to miss writing this fic, but... ugh... I was going to postpone the posting of this chapter until all readers (at generally review each chapter) catch up, but I can't wait anymore! I've gotten such a positive response from the reviews that I have received that I can't possibly make you guys wait any longer. That, and I'm so damn excited to see how the conclusion is received, so if you would pleeease be so kind, leave a review after you've completed this chapter? *puppy eyes* Reviews = Happy Angel. XD Here it is; enjoy!
Cloud finally made it to the reactor and looked up at the tall building. His breath came in ragged gasps now and his legs were threatening to give out at any moment. Even though he had never been inside the reactor, he seemed to know exactly where he was headed. He ran through the entrance and raced down a long, cold hallway. As if by instinct he turned down one of the corridors and ran despite his legs' protest against any further strain.
His heart throbbed strongly in his chest and all he could think about was getting to Zack before it was too late. He wondered briefly if it would hurt when it was his turn; if Zack would be waiting to take the trek towards the light with him, hand-in-hand, on the other side. The ease in which he thought of his own death startled him but that didn't matter right now. He just needed to be with Zack when it did happen.
He couldn't help but grow nervous as he felt he was approaching his final destination. Final destination, indeed he thought to himself. He was so consumed by his thoughts of Zack and their final moments in this world that he forgot all about Tifa until he saw her crumpled body lying motionless at the bottom of a too-familiar staircase leading up to a door. The room was eerily familiar; his eyes desperately scanned the pods scattered throughout and his heart ceased up in his throat as he quickly made his way to Tifa's side. Zack was nowhere to be found.
He knelt beside Tifa's body and gently cradled her shoulders and head in his arms. "Tifa." he spoke softly. No movement. "Tifa, wake up." he tried again.
Her eyes fluttered for a moment before they opened with great effort. It was obvious that she was in so much pain as her eyes scanned his face before realization sunk in and she smiled weakly at him. "Y-you promised…"
"Tifa…" He couldn't bring himself to say too much more.
"You promised… it was you…" Her breath hitched in her throat as her eyes flickered before focusing on him. "You promised that you would come… when I was in trouble…"
Cloud nodded and looked down at her soft features. He lifted her up and carried her to the side to the room and gently placed her down. "I'll be back, alright?"
"Captain Silence…" he murmured, a contented smile forming on her face. "Cloud, m-my hero…"
Cloud nodded again for a lack of anything better to do or say then he rose to his feet. Zack had to be up those stairs. He seemed momentarily frozen on the spot. This was it. He slowly walked towards the stairs and placed his foot in the first one; his eyes were trained on the door above. He was trying to brace himself for if Zack's body were to come flying out of that door. After a few seconds of nothing he preceded to climb the stairs slowly, eyes never leaving the door. He made it halfway up before a loud battle cry echoed through the reactor followed by a thud causing him to freeze in panic. He waited but saw nothing and began to run up the remaining stairs. He reached the door and didn't hesitate to fly through it when his heart stopped beating at the sight of what he found.
Zack's body was on the ground across the room from where he stood, slumped over and motionless as Sephiroth stood ten feet away from the SOLDIER with Masamune drawn in one hand and something indistinguishable in the other. He watched in horror as Sephiroth turned towards him with a look of complete hatred which quickly changed into something unreadable. His eyes couldn't leave from the man that had taken everyone he loved away from him. An anger that he had never felt before filled his body as he noticed Buster sword lying on the ground a few feet away from him. He knew there was no way he would be able to take the General down but he was going to go down swinging; for Zack, for his mother, for his hometown.
He dashed towards Buster sword and scooped it up before running towards Sephiroth in one fluid motion. He hadn't realized how heavy Buster sword really was but his anger and hatred seemed to give him strength as he drew the sword in an offensive manner and continued to charge at the General. He was so consumed by his emotions that he hadn't realized that Sephiroth's eyes had saddened.
"Sephiroth!" he shouted angrily at the top of his lungs as he drew closer.
"Cloud…" was the General's only response. He clutched the unknown item in his hand tightly as he lowered his sword.
"I hate you!" Cloud yelled as he took his first swing at the General. Sephiroth dodged the attack easy enough, but Cloud completely missed the sorrow that filled his green eyes. "Why did you do this?" he demanded as he took another swing, missing his target as the sword hit the wall with a loud clang. "My hometown! My mother! Zack!"
"Zack…" Sephiroth repeated sadly and lowered his eyes to the ground. "Cloud…"
"Shut up!" Cloud screamed as his eyes fiercely held the General's.
"Cloud, wait…" the General said softly.
Cloud let out a loud cry as he lifted Buster sword over his head, readying himself to strike the General as his wrists were grabbed from behind, effectively disarming him. Cloud struggled against the iron grip as he heard Buster sword being kicked out of reach and the hands twirled him on the spot and pulled him in a tight embrace.
He continued to struggle against the arms until a familiar scent registered in his mind and he's body felt as though it weighted a thousand pounds. "Zack?" he whispered softly, having to look up at the violet eyes to confirm that is was, in fact, Zack holding him tightly. Those violet eyes looked down at him full of love and sorrow. "Zack!" he cried as he flung his arms around his lover. A sob escaped his lips as relief replaced the previous anger and he buried his face in his lover's chest.
Zack buried his face in the blond spikes and took in his lover's scent. He, too, was so relieved to be holding the cadet that he couldn't force himself to say anything. It was Cloud who spoke first.
"I thought I'd lost you."
Zack tightened his embrace around the blond and squeezed his eyes shut.
Cloud tried to squeeze tighter in response but he was already holding Zack with all of his strength. "I thought…" Another sob escaped from his throat.
"Cloud…" Zack's voice was so soft and gentle that Cloud barely heard him. Zack loosened his bear hug on the blond and looked down into his face.
"But Seph…" Cloud said next, looking over his shoulder at the General who looked at the pair with grief-stricken eyes. "You…" Cloud's voice changed from relieved to angry again as he looked at his former hero. "You did this…"
Sephiroth opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. The sight was eerie; the great General Sephiroth completely at a loss for words and looking as though he was hurting so badly. Sephiroth shook his head and looked down to the floor. "I'm so sor-"
"Don't you dare say you're fucking sorry!" Cloud screamed at him, feeling Zack's grip on him tighten preventing him from moving.
Sephiroth's eyes remained on the floor.
"Cloud," Zack said softly. He tried to turn Cloud's body towards him but the blond fought to remain facing the General. "Cloud, can you listen to me?"
"He killed Mom, Zack." Cloud's voice was hoarse from anger and agony.
"It's important that you listen to me, Cloud. Please?" Zack tried again, pulling a little more strongly on the cadet's arms to turn him around. Sephiroth never looked up.
Cloud shot a venomous glance back at his lover; his eyes softened as he met Zack's, so full of angst. "It wasn't his fault, honest." Zack began, realizing by Cloud's response that that wasn't be best way to begin explaining what had happened.
"What?!" Cloud shouted at him this time. "Are you seriously going to try to defend him after what he did?" Zack winced at Cloud's words and found it hard to keep eye contact with those wildly enraged eyes. "Please tell me that you're not going to try and justify with that monster did tonight!" he hissed at his lover.
Zack took a deep breath. "I'm not going to justify it, but I'll tell you why it happened." Again, noticing the blond's response, he knew that he began explaining it all wrong again.
"Don't you fucking dare!" Cloud knocked Zack's hands off of him and pulled away. "Don't you fucking dare tell me that there's a good explanation as to why my mother had to be killed; why my hometown had to be burnt to the ground."
"No!" Zack's panicked voice responded as he tried to draw closer to the blond, his heart breaking when Cloud took another step away from him. "That's not what I was going to say. There is no reason why this had to happen." He looked over at the General who looked as though his insides were being torn to shreds. "I wanted to tell you why Sephiroth did it."
"Because he's a fucking monster!" Cloud shouted at Zack. He couldn't believe the rage he felt towards these two men right now. He understood where it came from with regards to Sephiroth, but it was these feelings towards Zack that scared him the most. Deep down inside he was screaming at himself to stop yelling at Zack, to trust him, but his despair controlled his body right now.
"I am." Sephiroth said quietly, breaking the tension between the two lovers and causing them both to look his way. "I am a monster."
"Seph…" Zack's voice was hurt.
"Damn right." Cloud hissed.
"I wasn't strong enough to fight her." Sephiroth said again, his eyes looking sadly up at Zack. Zack's eyes softened as he sighed gently, looking at his friend.
Cloud was just stunned. His eyes went back and forth between the two, not sure which one he should be yelling at right now; Sephiroth for obvious reasons or Zack for looking as though he sympathized with this monster. "What?" was all that he could manage.
Zack looked back over to his lover and his eyes softened further. "Sephiroth was being controlled by an alien life form, a Centra, named Jenova." Zack decided to jump right into an explanation. He was hoping that Cloud would remain confused enough to keep him quiet long enough for him to finish his explanation. "She was controlling his body and mind, like a puppet, and making him do… all of this…"
"Jenova?" Cloud asked, eyes bearing into the General. "That's the name of your mother. She's dead." Anger flared up as his voice and his mind added to that sentence: Just like mine. Sephiroth looked over at the blond, eyes still holding great remorse and nodded his head.
"A long time ago Shinra scientists found Jenova and began experiments using her cells." Zack continued to explain. He couldn't afford to have the blond stop listening until he fully explained the situation. "The Shinra scientists began testing on human beings. They wanted to create a super-SOLDIER, an ultimate weapon. They injected a baby fetus with her cells to see what would happen." Cloud still wasn't looking at him and for this he was grateful. It was so much easier to keep his thoughts collected when he wasn't being torn apart by the eyes that he loved so much. "They created Sephiroth."
Cloud's eyes widened as they looked over at the ravenet then back to the General. "Created?"
Sephiroth nodded as Zack continued. "Sephiroth was created for one purpose; to become Shinra's ultimate weapon. Raised and trained by Shinra scientists, Sephiroth has no life, no existence, outside of the company. When he found this out… well, it scared him."
Cloud's eyes still never left the General, who looked back down to the ground. His frown deepened as his listened to Zack explain his miserable existence to the man that he had taken almost everything away from.
"When we came to Nibelheim, he discovered that the Jenova Project occurred right here in this town and began looking into it more thoroughly. When we inspected the reactor... we found her."
Cloud looked over at Zack with fearful eyes. "Found her?"
Zack nodded. "Being that close to her with a weakened mind, because of this new information about himself, she was able to gain control over him. She had a grudge against the human race for stopping her from gaining control over this planet and because her cells are a part of Sephiroth's DNA, she was able to use him to exact revenge." Zack took a testing step towards the blond and was relieved when Cloud didn't step away. "What happened tonight, that wasn't Sephiroth - that was Jenova."
Cloud looked over to Sephiroth just as the General's eyes rose to meet his own. They connected for a moment before Cloud began feeling completely drained of all energy. "What's to stop this from happening again?" Cloud asked, anger still very much apparent in his voice.
Sephiroth shifted his eyes from Cloud's to the object in his hand. Cloud followed his eyes to the thing he clutched in his fist. His eyes widened as he realized that it was a head - what looked to be a human head. "She can't control me anymore." Sephiroth said sadly.
Cloud gasped as he took a step back. "Is that… is it…"
"Jenova." Zack answered the blond's unfinished question. "She can't hurt anyone anymore."
"I have to be sure." Sephiroth said, his voice low and still so full of hurt. "I need to make sure she goes back to the lifestream where she belongs."
"How are you going to do that?" Zack asked, his eyes flickering towards Cloud's shocked expression before focusing on the General again.
"I'm going to take her… it to the only place where the lifestream is exposed on this planet. I'll dispose of it for good."
Zack nodded and decided to chance getting close to the blond again. He needed to touch him in some way. He took hesitant steps towards his lover and gently wrapped his arms around his body from behind. Cloud stilled, his eyes still focused on Jenova's head in Sephiroth's hand. "Cloud," the ravenet began. "Do you understand what I mean now?"
Cloud looked as though he was still trying to process what he had just been told. After a moment he slowly nodded his head, his eyes finally breaking away from the head up to the General's eyes. "Make sure it never comes back." he said coldly, seemingly unsure as to whether he forgave the General for what happened.
Sephiroth let out his breath he must have been holding for sometime and nodded to the cadet. "I'll make sure of it; I promise."
Cloud nodded and looked over his shoulder at the ravenet who was holding him close. His eyes softened and held an air of apology for his previous actions. The ravenet seemed to have picked up on this silent apology and nodded before placing a soft, lingering kiss against his temple.
"What happens now?" Cloud asked, looking over at the General. He felt so much lighter now that Zack was close.
Sephiroth looked over to the two lovers and seemed almost defeated. "I…" he began. A brief pause followed before he sighed. "I can't go back to Shinra."
"What do you mean?" Zack asked, a hint of alarm in his voice.
"Not after what I've done here tonight." Sephiroth continued.
"That wasn't your fault!" Zack said a little more forcefully than he had meant to.
"Even so, if I go back… what life do I have there?" the General looked down to the ground. "They'll lock me up until they find another way to control me or…" He paused again. "Or I'll be destroyed."
"I'd like to see them try to do that." Zack scoffed. His eyes softened at his friend who looked back up at him.
"I know too much now." Sephiroth said quietly. "I have to disappear until I figure out what to do next."
"We can help you." Zack tried again. He distinctly felt Cloud stiffen in his arms. "We can explain-"
"Zack…" Sephiroth interrupted before being interrupted himself by the SOLDIER.
"We can think of something!"
Sephiroth shook his head and looked over at the blond. "Cloud, I don't expect you to forgive me. I will never ask that of you." His frown deepened and his eyebrows furrowed. "All I can ask is that you know that I truly never meant to harm anyone. It breaks my heart to know that I hurt a friend so deeply through my actions." Cloud winced at the word 'friend'. "I wish I could undo what happened tonight, but I promise-"
"Seph, enough…" It was Cloud who interrupted the General this time. Cloud's voice sounded so defeated and he looked down to the ground. "Just make sure it's destroyed, okay?" The General was hurt by these words and his eyes almost seemed as though they were filling up with tears. Cloud looked up at Sephiroth, eyes softening. "I trust Zack more than I could ever trust anyone else." the blond began. "If what he said is true, then you aren't the one to blame for what happened."
"I-" the General started before being interrupted yet again.
"I have no reason to forgive you because you didn't do anything that needs to be forgiven." Cloud's eyes met Sephiroth's in a hard stare. "It would mean a lot to me if you would rid of that thing for me so it can't take anything else away from anyone ever again."
Sephiroth's mouth formed a tight line and he gave a brief nod. "I will."
Cloud bit his lower lip and gave a short nod before looking back at Zack. The ravenet also had tears in his eyes. The blond felt a wave of relief wash over him at the feeling of Zack being so close. "I love you."
Zack smiled as a tear escaped his eye. He kissed Cloud's temple and buried his face in the blond spikes. "I love you, too."
"Now what?" Cloud asked after his heart calmed down enough to allow him to speak.
"I have to leave." Sephiroth answered, sheathing Masamune.
"Let us come with you." Zack offered.
"No," the General shook his head. "You two need to go back and report to Shinra of the incident that occurred tonight. Explain everything, be honest, but you two can't know where I am."
"Why?" Zack asked, not willing to let his friend just leave.
"Because they will be after me." the General answered. "They won't let me go. They'll find a way to control me again."
"We can help-" Zack tried again.
"No." Sephiroth shook his head. "Trust me, Zack. It's better this way." He gave a half smile as his eyes softened at Angeal's puppy. "I'll keep in touch."
Zack buried his nose in Cloud's hair again. "I don't know if I can go back."
Sephiroth walked towards the couple and placed a hand on Cloud's shoulder. "Go back like normal. I'll let you know what's to happen next." He nodded at the blond before looking up at the ravenet. "Thank you, Zack. Thank you for being my friend." He struggled to keep composed. "You mean a lot to me. I'm almost grateful that Angeal introduced us." He smiled as Zack let out a sad chuckle. Sephiroth nodded as Zack's smile disappeared. He walked past the lovers; out of their lives.
Zack sighed and held Cloud close. Cloud turned in his arms and pulled their bodies closer as his eyes fluttered shut. "Zack…" he sighed happily.
"I love you, Chocobo-head."
Cloud smiled before his eyes flew open. "Tifa!" he almost shouted. He pulled out of Zack's arms and the two boys ran down the stairs to Tifa's body.
"There's no home for her here now." Cloud said sadly as he lifted the unconscious girl's body from the ground.
"We'll take her back with us to Midgar." Zack responded. "I know someone who will help get her back on her feet."
Cloud nodded as the two began their trek back down the mountain discussing exactly what they were going to tell Shinra about their failed mission.
It had been months since Zack and Cloud had gotten back into their normal routine at Shinra Electric Company. At first they were questioned endlessly about their mission and what happened to the General, but each dodged the question easily by responding that it all happened so fast; they weren't sure where the General was headed. After weeks of repeating the same story over and over they were left to resume duties and classes like normal. President Shinra was uncommonly quiet about what was to become of Nibelheim.
Zack had brought Tifa to Sector 5 slums where he introduced her to Aeris and her mother. He explained the situation and both were more than happy to give her a place to stay and help her begin a new life. Zack decided not to bring Cloud along on this mission as he was a little uneasy as to how Aeris would respond to him being there. Although she took their previous breakup very well, he still wasn't comfortable introducing his boyfriend to his ex-girlfriend when he was asking for a humungous favour. Aeris had slipped in a quick question about Cloud's whereabouts at one point which he dodged effortlessly. Tifa didn't know about their relationship yet and he asked Aeris to keep it quiet until the four of them could get together sometime in the near future. She took this well and smiled, turning her attention to Tifa. The visit, although brief, was full of unrequited emotions that Zack knew he would have to deal with eventually.
Although Zack and Cloud needed to keep separate living quarters, they very rarely spent any time apart aside from work hours. They chose what apartment to eat at, sleep at, and hang out at based on whose was closer at the time and how much noise they expected to be making that night. Zack's apartment had thicker walls.
Cloud was relieved that he hadn't felt a panic attack since that dreadful night before his hometown was attacked by Jenova. He couldn't help but think that maybe he was actually being shown the future because fate was uneasy with its own path. He smiled to himself at the memory of the last time he saw his mother. Protect the one you love her voice still echoed through his mind. Even if it seems as though he's the one doing all the protecting. She had been right. Although he couldn't do much that night in the way of protecting, it was a lesson that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. Protect Zack, even if the ravenet was too stubborn to let him. I will, Mom.
Their relationship seemed to have grown stronger since that night in Nibelheim. Although both thought it was entirely impossible to love one another more than they already did, both felt something else between them that neither could explain. A bond would be the closest word either could come up with, but somehow that word wasn't strong enough to explain this feeling. A lover's intuition, Olivia had called began when they both realized that they probably wouldn't see one another again before they confronted Sephiroth, or Jenova controlling Sephiroth's body, and the relief of being in one another's arms after the crisis solidified this feeling that lived in the depths of their very souls. Their hearts throbbed almost painfully for one another until they could make it back into each other's arms; their minds were trained on thoughts of the other until it went blank from relief after being side by side again; their souls yearned for one another, almost tugging their bodies closer until they couldn't press their bodies any closer. Neither could explain it but neither would trade it for the world.
Zack sighed as he flung himself onto his couch, resting his head on Cloud's lap. Cloud smiled and ran a hand through those unruly black spikes. "Anything interesting?" the blond asked, looking down adoringly at his lover who was rooting through his mail.
Zack scowled at an envelope before tossing it across the room. His eyes fell on the next envelope and tore it open curiously. "Maybe?"
Cloud waited for Zack to finish reading the letter before tugging on the black spikes. "What is it?"
Zack's eyes looked up at the big, blue eyes as he handed Cloud the letter. "It's him."
Cloud's eyes looked from his lover's to the letter now in his hand. His breath hitched and he reread the letter to ensure he had read it correctly.
Zack and Cloud;
I hope all has returned to normal for the two of you and want to let you know that you are never far from my thoughts. My task has been completed; however, I have found new information leading me to believe that there is more to this than I had originally thought. I think it's time that we meet up as I need my friends by my side to help me prevent more tragedies from occurring. I'll understand if you have reservations based on what little information I have told you, but all that I can ask is that you trust me.
If you could, please meet me at Costa del Sol when you can vacation together. Shinra must be stopped once and for all.
!!! Is that how it ends? *shifty eyes* Well, I don't know. I suppose it all depends on the feedback I receive. Let me speak to my muses and I'll get back to you on that... Anyhow, that is it for 'Of What is to Become'. I hope you guys enjoyed it and - *phew* Zack didn't die!!! *falls to the ground in a fit of giggles* Please review?! Please, please, please!