Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of its characters. I am just borrowing them for a while.
Author's notes: Well, this is my third FFVII fic, but my first with this pair. I hope you enjoy it and please review if you can. ~Enjoy!
"What I have shown you is reality. What you remember…that is the illusion."
-Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)-
"One Winged Angels"
Chapter 1: "Significance"
Sephiroth Crescent opened his eyes, feeling disoriented. He stared at the nothingness ahead, trying to decipher where he was and how he'd gotten there. The pain that was once his constant companion was gone. That was the first thing he noted, even when unsure as to why he should be feeling pain in the first place. He was also aware that he should be worried, yet he wasn't. There was something new inside him. Or rather, it felt as though something he'd lost and forgotten had suddenly been returned to him. Sephiroth felt in complete control of his mind. He felt his sight unobstructed by something that had been there, creating a haze; as if the blindfold he'd worn over his eyes had been torn off. The memory of Cloud's sword cutting through him prompted the reminiscence of pain to dance across his body.
"I'm… dead?" he murmured, searching for a wound that was not there. His body felt odd. There was no weight, no gravity to pull him to the ground. In fact, he was floating aimlessly, hovering just above what seemed like liquid Lifestream. Wherever he was, Sephiroth felt at peace. It had been so long since he'd last felt this safe…
Slowly, the haze inside him –that which had impeded his mind from functioning properly- began to drift away. Memories of a distant past played not inside him, but around him. Scenes of the people in his life swirled in the air, dancing before his eyes like ghosts.
Angeal polished his sword in the armory, a thoughtful look on his face. Genesis perched on one of the few trees in Midgar, LOVELESS held between his fingers as he devoured its pages, oblivious to everything else. Zack flashed his never-wavering smile as he approached him, sword resting languidly on his shoulder. Cloud adjusted his helmet nervously, stepped out of the truck and into Nibelheim, his old town.
Suddenly, the memories turned less peaceful, peeling his life away in layers- breaking him from the inside out. Sephiroth was forced to witness a recount of what happened when his mind had snapped.
Angeal's white wing turned a rusty red, his blue eyes lacking his usual confidence as he struggled to come to terms with what he was. Genesis's degrading form took flight, sharing with him a look of bitterness that left an ugly taste in his mouth. Zack's brows met in anger, his hands gripping his sword, his eyes accusing him of betrayal. Cloud walked towards him, oblivious to the sword embedded in his stomach; his eyes flashing with feral madness.
Then he saw her. She rolled down the stairs, painting the surface red with blood. Sephiroth watched with disgust his former self just walking away, not caring about what he'd done -how he'd broken her. He knew that his mind had entertained only one thought and it had not been guilt. The realization prompted the last image to dissipate the other ghosts. Jenova. The entity floated there, her steely figure smiling -mocking him!
Sephiroth screamed, unable to take the magnitude of his fall. How had he allowed himself to fall so low and get so lost? At last, he understood what had really happened. The realization that he'd been played- controlled so easily, left him shaking with a rage he'd never felt before. The power of it was frightening as heat spread inside him, biting at his mind and heart with an unstoppable fury. He'd been under her control for so long. He'd done things in accordance to her will, stripped of his freedom to decide and played like the puppet he'd thought Cloud had been! It was perturbing and intolerable! How had he, the great Sephiroth Crescent, been bested so easily? How had he allowed her to whisper commands in his ear and believe them to be his own?
A chuckle dispersed the memories and his regret gave way to curiosity. His verdant eyes swept the area around him, until they settled on a stranger. It was a woman with long, straight hair that glinted gold. Her skin glowed with an eerie light, as though she was beyond a constant spotlight. Her face was pale and her eyes swirled from color to color, never quite settling on one. She looked battle-ready, clad in a gold and silver armor, successfully belying what could have been a lean complexion. In one hand, she held a silver shield that covered half-her body. In the other, she held a rod with a tip that resembled an abstract open-winged angel.
"Who are you?" he asked. As strange as it was, the woman made him feel little and yet, he was not frightened. On the contrary, he was intrigued.
"Welcome, Sephiroth. Son of Jenova and humankind. One-winged angel," she spoke calmly, soothingly. Her tone made him think of a gentle river flowing by. "I am Minerva, the Goddess of Gaia, Guardian of the Lifestream."
He watched, almost spellbound, as the glowing liquid below them rose, forming a planet. It was the planet he had almost destroyed, Gaia.
"Do you know, Sephiroth, what the significance of a one-winged angel is?" she asked, her eyes switching from a soothing blue to a lively green.
Sephiroth pondered that for a while, but failed to come up with a satisfactory answer. At any rate, he was still trying to decide if the creature before him was really a Goddess. Treading on the careful side, he tilted his head, silently bidding her to continue.
Minerva relented, "An angel needs two wings to fly. One with a single wing is, therefore, incomplete. To fly, he requires another angel to make him whole. Think of it as a puzzle, there is only one person in the entire universe who possesses the other wing. Only that one particular wing can enable him to fly." She stepped forward and studied him intently, as if trying to read comprehension in his face. Whatever she saw, prompted her to expound, "Whereas angels are independent creatures, one-winged angels cannot remain alone. Or rather, they're not made to be alone."
"Even with one wing, I can still fly on my own," he pointed out, folding his arms across his chest. For some reason, her words sent chills down his spine.
Minerva's eyebrows arched mockingly. "Do you, now?" she chuckled. "I guess it would depend on your definition of flying."
Sephiroth's brows met in an uncertain frown. The definition of flying? Surely, there was only one definition, wasn't there?
"Do you desire… revenge, Sephiroth?" she asked abruptly, her eyes now a crimson color that was slowly changing into bright gold. "Do you wish… redemption?"
His interest peaked as he answered, "Absolutely."
Minerva smiled. "Then, I will give you another chance. But it will not come free. For every action there is a consequence, for every favor a price."
"Name it," he said, fully conscious that there was nothing he could lose anymore. He was standing at the bottom of a pit and the only direction left was up.
"I bring you back to life and charge you with two missions that will go hand-in-hand with your desire." While she spoke, the planet morphed into a featureless woman. "One mission is to destroy Jenova. The other, is to protect her," she pointed at the liquid figure. "She's the planet's hope, and will play a key role in ridding the planet of Jenova's threat once and for all."
Sephiroth gazed curiously at her. She looked familiar, yet he couldn't put a name to the body that was moving to and fro. He noticed that she was holding something that looked like a rag. As if to prove his musings right, she leaned forward and began cleaning.
"Who is she?" He was mesmerized by the graceful way in which she moved. She was like a dancer, or a fighter, maybe even both.
"There is a girl who once jumped into the Lifestream with the intention of saving a broken man. The Lifestream healed the man, but she needed no mending and should have died," Minerva confided, gazing at the woman with eyes the color of a cloudless sky. She moved toward the figure slowly and, leaning her shield on her leg, she touched her cheek tenderly. "I approached her within the Lifestream with the intention of taking her life. Yet, as soon as I touched her, I knew she was special..."
"Special?" he prompted when her voice died out, her gaze transfixed on the figure of water almost…lovingly?
"Yes, special." She blinked, snapping off her reverie. "Her heart, you see, held power beyond that of any I had met. The strength within her was such, that instead of killing her, I gave her sufficient power to confront Jenova and sealed it within her heart." She turned to him, and Sephiroth could see the flame of hope and excitement burning in her now orange-shade eyes. "You, Sephiroth, shall give her the key to unlock the powers of her heart. Together, you and her -alongside some of the chosen I will send to your aid -will destroy Jenova and save Gaia in the process."
Sephiroth's attention switched back to the liquid figure. Again, that feeling of familiarity tugged at his heart. Where had he seen her before? "Alright," he accepted. "Where do I find this woman?"
Minerva smiled, "Where do you often find angels?"
He frowned. "In Heaven, I suppose."
The Goddess nodded and he saw amusement spilling over her face, "Indeed. Search then for the 'Heaven' of Edge. There you shall find the 'locked heart'."
Before he could ask for a less vague explanation, he found himself falling. He saw Minerva looking down at him until her face disappeared amidst the darkness to become one of many blinking stars.
When Sephiroth opened his eyes to solid reality, it was to face none other than Cloud Strife. Automatically, he parried Cloud's sword as he attacked. Though he knew he didn't have time for this, he fought him -feeling part of his old self resurfacing as he did. When he realized he was losing control, he decided to retreat. It would not do for him to forget why he'd been returned to this world. So spreading his black wing, he parried Cloud's sword for the last time and said -not to him, but to the presence of Jenova he felt nearby, "I will never be a memory"
And with a smile, at noting Jenova's surprise, Sephiroth teleported. He left the blond swordsman behind and the mistakes he'd made with him. He focused on one thing only. He needed to fulfill his mission. He needed to find 'Edge's Heaven' and protect the 'locked heart'.
Sephiroth Crescent settled in Edge barely three days after his resurrection. With the money he'd accumulated on a bank account when he'd been working for SOLDIER, using an alias as a precaution, he'd bought a small apartment in the downtown district. Then wearing a hooded, dark cloak, he began his investigation into what place might be known as the Heaven of Edge. Though he'd initially suspected his search would prove difficult, it was with surprise he discovered that there was an actual establishment referred to as the 'Heaven of Edge'. The irony? It was a tavern!
"What's the name of this tavern?" he asked a man in his mid-thirties, who'd given him the richest and most reliable information so far.
The man leaned on the wall in front of him and grinned. "Wass dat, sir? I tend to 'ave problems wit m'memory summtimes."
Sephiroth glared from under his hood, despite knowing that the man wouldn't be able to see it. He took out a handful of gil and offered them. He had half-a-mind to just whip his sword out and wipe the smirk off of the man's face, but he knew better than to give in to the remaining impulses of Jenova's presence.
"Ah, I remember now," the man said, pocketing the coins, "s'called Seventh Heaven."
Wow, he should have seen this coming. "Where can I find the place and who runs it?"
The man smiled goofily, his tongue visible through the gaps. "M'damn memory keeps failin', y'know. It jus ain't what it used t'be, y'know."
Sephiroth scowled. Even he had a limited well of patience and it was drying out. With a quick move, he tripped the man. Towering him, Sephiroth revealed a small knife he'd pulled from his belt. He tilted his head to one side when the man began squirming and brought his boot down on his chest when he tried to leave, pinning him with enough strength to make him yelp.
"I-I remember now, s-sir!" he stammered.
"I'm listening," Sephiroth said, urging him to speak by applying pressure with his foot.
"It's on the main street," he said, "near where the damn dragon attacked, 'kay?"
The Dragon? Yes, he'd heard about the incident. How could he not? Bahamut had attacked shortly after his arrival. "Who runs it?" He lifted the pressure a little.
"A young, pretty lass," the man gulped. "Her name's Tifa…Tifa Lockhart!"
Sephiroth's eyebrows arched in surprise. He really hadn't seen this coming. Had he really expected things to go smoothly, though? Without a word, he turned on his heels and walked away, leaving the petrified man behind. Truth was, for a second there, he had expected things to go smoothly.
As he marched through the darkened streets, he grew grim. So what if this new information posed a problem? He would just have to make do. This was certainly not his first difficult mission and would most probably not be his last.
Tifa Lockhart… how troublesome. Lockhart was not only a former member of AVALANCHE, but also Cloud Strife's childhood sweetheart. Though these were not the only things that were bound to cause him trouble, they were of significance.
Deciding he had enough for the night, Sephiroth made his way back to his apartment. He took off his cloak and dropped on his comfy couch ungracefully, feeling stress settling in the back of his neck. He massaged his shoulders as he mulled over the information he'd gathered. What if this bar was not the heaven he'd been asked to find? He snorted and shut his eyes. The image of the planet morphing into a woman flashed beneath. He realized just then why the woman silhouetted in the Lifestream had seemed so familiar. Indeed, there was no mistake about it. The woman Minerva had sent him to protect was Tifa Lockhart.
He sighed. Well, had he paid closer attention he would've realized that the Goddess had practically spelled her name! Even with the vast problems piling on his plate, Sephiroth couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips. Minerva had chosen her words carefully; words that were spoken in riddles, but which, in themselves, held the answer he'd sought.
The locked heart found in heaven. Tifa Lockhart found in Seventh Heaven.
He chuckled softly. Strangely enough, far from feeling stupid, he felt motivated. The fact that he'd missed something so obvious upped the challenge. With interest, he wondered if it was pure irony that Lockhart's name had fitted Minerva's description of her so perfectly. He shook his head as the whole idea of just who his target was finished sinking. Sephiroth bit back a curse at the amount of complications this set forth.
Oh, well, a confident voice inside his head stated, how disastrous can this be?
"Very disastrous," he muttered, heading to his bedroom. Disastrous or not he would think about it tomorrow.
During the week that followed, Sephiroth studied Seventh Heaven attentively. He noted that Lockhart opened at nine o'clock in the evening and closed at two-thirty in the morning. Additionally, he found that she lived in the upper floor of the bar with two young and energetic kids.
The first time he'd seen them, he had mused about who they were and how the fitted the picture of her life. Were they hers or someone else's? He'd eventually concluded they couldn't be hers -at least not biologically speaking. First off, they didn't look in the least like her and, second, they were too old. Still curios, he gave in and asked around. With carefully chosen questions asked to carefully chosen people, he learned that the young girl, Marlene, was actually the daughter of Barret Wallace, founder of AVALANCHE no less. The boy, Denzel, on the other hand, was an orphan who'd been taken in by Cloud and Tifa.
The discovery only led to further questions, like where was Cloud? He wondered if his absence had to do with his resurrection and the fight that had ensured. Perhaps Cloud had gone away with the intention of finding him and finally finishing what he'd started? After all, revenge was not something easily cast aside. But Sephiroth was not sure of this and so decided to find out.
On the seventh night, he waited patiently in an alley near Lockhart's bar. When a man, who Sephiroth recognized as a regular customer, stepped out swaying drunkenly from side to side, he made his move. During his time with ShinRa, he'd learned that drunks were easy prey and this time was no exception. In a matter of seconds he was extracting information that, perhaps in a more sober state, the man would not have shared so readily. Apparently, Cloud had left Lockhart a while ago, which caused Sephiroth to inquire as to his reason. The drunken man had spat angrily and, by what he'd gathered from the slurred babble that followed, it seemed that Cloud had never gotten over Aerith Gainsborough's death. Cloud had therefore left Lockhart, not because he could not make her happy, but because he could not be happy with her. According to the man, Lockhart would have been happy only to have Cloud around -though Sephiroth doubted the veracity of this last.
"But 'tupid spiky-haired ass'd gone leavin' Tifa all alone with them kids. Ah… I hate'im!" the man drawled, closing in on Sephiroth as if he was about to share a secret. "I wish someone woulda beat the shit outta that chocobo-haired 'tupid sonofabitch, y'know?"
Sephiroth smiled and offered, "It's never too late."
The man laughed and raised the empty bottle he was still holding in a cheer. "Damn right, y'are!"
Having extracted all he needed Sephiroth left, feeling his amusement building as he heard the man continue to badmouth Cloud. Why had he ever wished to destroy this planet and its delightful inhabitants again?
When Sephiroth returned to his apartment, he was engrossed by somber thoughts. One of them was Lockhart's presumed happiness at having Cloud around. Granted, he was not an expert -he barely knew her, but still, the information he'd gathered did not add up. Every person had a different version of her, and Sephiroth wondered how many of her smiles where fake. How much of her presumed happiness did she actually feel…?
Now that he knew Cloud would not be an obstacle, Sephiroth decided to proceed with the next phase of his plan. From tomorrow onwards, he would visit her bar and study her. Yes, Sephiroth would meet Lockhart mask to face; his being the mask obviously. After all, it wouldn't do for him to simply stroll unannounced -and most definitely unwelcomed- into the bar of his former enemy, would it? This was Tifa Lockhart, after all. He knew that when he stepped into her life, he was going to be entering a minefield. If there was someone in the entire planet who hated him more than Cloud Strife, it was definitely Lockhart. And could he blame her? He'd probably hurt her the most out of the mismatched group that conformed AVALANCHE.
He'd not only murdered her father, but he'd also tried to kill her -though he was now glad he'd been unsuccessful in that particular enterprise. Before that, he'd burned her home, watching stoically as her city went down in flames. And if that hadn't been enough, he'd killed Gainsborough, the last Cetra and her close friend, and had endangered Cloud and company more times than he cared to admit. Then there was that small detail of him summoning meteor and almost destroying the planet…
No, Sephiroth was pretty sure that he was not on Lockhart's list of favorite people. He was probably leading the list of her most hated demons, possibly starring some of her nightmares. Still, he couldn't give up. If anything, this raised the challenge, and if there was something he enjoyed it was taking on a difficult mission.
He would tread carefully, of course -else he stepped on a mine and blew off his chance at both revenge and redemption. He smiled contentedly at the idea of paying her a visit personally. Yes, tomorrow he would visit her and inspect -how had the man referred to it…? Ah, yes!- her angelic smile up close and personal. He would find the true meaning of it and he would know if she lied -if she faked it. Perhaps even, he would learn the reason why.
To be continued…