Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of its characters. I am just burrowing them for a while.
Summary: Jenova's control over Sephiroth broke with his death. Now, he is sent back to protect Tifa and save the planet from the entity that threatens it. The problem: how to convince her of his good intentions? ::TifaxSephiroth:: R&R!
Other pairings and characters appearing: CloudxAerith, CidxShera, Yuffie, Barret, Vincent, Reeve, Genesis.
Author's notes: Well, this is my fourth FFVII fic, but my first with this pair. I hope you enjoy it and please do not forget to review. Also, if not enough people read this I may not continue (even if I have the entire plot sketched out). Why? Because a story void of readers has no purpose, I suppose. ~Enjoy!
"Normal" – Talking
*Italics* - Flashback
"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 lazily and immediately felt disoriented. He stared at the nothingness ahead, trying to decipher where he was and how he'd gotten there.
The pain –a constant companion of his- was gone. That was the first thing he noted, even if he was unsure as to the reason why he should be feeling pain in the first place.
He was also acutely 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. The General felt in complete 'control' of his mind. He felt his sight 'unobstructed' by something that had been there, bugging him. It was almost as if the blindfold he'd worn over his eyes had been finally discarded.
Vividly, an image of Cloud's sword slashing at him flashed inside his mind, sending only the reminiscence of pain dancing through his body.
"I'm… dead?" he murmured briskly, idly searching his body for a wound that was not there. It was strange, however, how his body felt. 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. And he felt truly 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 began to play, not inside him, but around him. Images of the people of who've shared his life swirled in the air, dancing before his eyes like mocking ghosts.
Angeal was polishing his sword, a thoughtful look on his face of complete tranquility. Genesis was perched on a tree's branch, LOVELESS held between his fingers as his mako eyes scanned the pages with avid interest. Zack was smiling his never-wavering smile as he approached him, sword resting languidly on his shoulder. Cloud was nervously adjusting his helmet just as they were about to reach Nibelheim…
Suddenly, the memories switched to less peaceful ones. These new memories were slowly peeling his life away -breaking it, as he watch in impotence a recount of what had happened when his mind had snap.
He saw Angeal's white wing marred with blood. He saw Genesis degrading form flying away, a look of sadness in his eyes. He saw Zack preparing to fight him, his eyes concerned and filled with distress. He saw Cloud moving towards him, seemingly oblivious to the sword embedded on his stomach, as in his eyes flashed a feral madness that awed him.
And then he saw her.
The body of that woman –his guide to the mako reactor- was rolling down the stairs, painting the surface of the ground red with her blood. Sephiroth watched almost with disgust his former self just walking away from her, not caring about what he'd done –how he'd broken her. He knew that his mind had entertained only one thought that was far away from guilt during that particular moment and the time that followed.
This realization brought the last image to be showcased within the nothingness ahead, dissipating the other ghosts with its power. Jenova. The entity flashed strongly all around him, her steely figure smiling amusingly -mockingly at him.
And Sephiroth could take it no more! At last, he understood what happened. The realization that he had 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 through every part inside him, biting at his mind and heart with wild 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 her ear and believe them to be his own?
A chuckle made the images disappear and his concentration –his temporal self-loathing- vanished to be replaced by careful curiosity. His green-blue eyes swept the area around him, until they settled on a stranger that was standing some meters away from him.
It was a woman with long, straight hair that glinted gold with an eerie light that seemed to emanate from her very skin. Her face was pale and her eyes swirled from color to color. She looked battle-ready. A gold and silver armor protected her lean body, and successfully hid her complexion entirely from observation. In one hand, she held a silver shield that was as big as half-her body. In the other, she held a rod with a tip that resembled an opened-winged angel in an abstract sort-of way.
"Who are you?" he asked when his inspection was over. As strange as it was, the woman made him feel little and yet, he was not frightened at all. In fact, if anything, he was more intrigued.
"Welcome, Sephiroth. Son of Jenova and humankind. One-winged angel," she spoke calmly, soothingly. Her tone made him think of a gentle river passing by. "I am Minerva, the Goddess of Gaia, Guardian of the lifestream."
He watched, almost spellbound, as the glowing liquid below them rose. In seconds, a liquid planet was formed between them. It was his planet. The planet he had almost destroyed.
"Do you know, Sephiroth, what the significance of a one-winged angel is?" she asked before he could say something else, her eyes switching from soothing blue to lively green.
Sephiroth pondered about that for a while, but he could not come up with a satisfactory answer. Heck, he was still trying to decide if the creature before him was really a Goddess. So he settled by tilting his head slightly to one side, silently allowing her to continue.
A corner of Minerva's lips quirked upward, "An angel needs two wings to fly. An angel with one wing is, therefore, incomplete on his own. To fly, he requires another angel that would complete him –someone that would make him whole. Think of it as a puzzle, there is only one person in the entire universe, who possesses the other wing that can match his. Only that one particular wing would enable him to fly."
She gave a step towards him and Sephiroth felt her eyes studying him before she broke the silence again. "Two winged-angels are independent creatures. One-winged angels, on the other hand, cannot remain alone. Or rather –they are not made to be alone," she finished.
"Even with one wing, I can still fly on my own," he pointed out stoically, folding his arms across his chest. For some reason, her words sent chills down his spine.
Minerva's eyebrows rose, "Do you, now?" She chuckled to herself. "I guess it would depend on your definition of flying, then."
Sephiroth's brows met in an uncertain frown. The definition of… flying? Surely, there was only one definition for such an action, 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 to attain… redemption?"
His interest peaked and, without hesitation, 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. No. He was standing in the bottom of the pit with no way of falling even deeper. The only direction left was up.
"I will give you your life back and with it, two missions that will go hand-in-hand with your desire," she said. Slowly, the liquid forming the planet began to morph into the figure of a featureless woman. Minerva continued, "One mission is to destroy Jenova. The other, is to protect the 'planet's hope', for she will be key in ridding the planet of Jenova's threat once and for all."
Sephiroth gazed curiously at the watery figure. She looked familiar, yet he couldn't put a name to the body that was moving from side to side. 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, what he guessed to be, the surface of a table.
"Who is she?" he asked, feeling mesmerized by the way the figure moved with a grace she seemed unaware of.
"There is a girl who once jumped into the lifestream with the intention of saving a man whose insides were broken. The lifestream healed the man, but she needed no mending and should have died," Minerva explained, gazing at the woman with eyes the color of a cloudless sky. She moved towards the figure slowly and, leaning her shield on her leg, she touched the cheek of the liquid woman tenderly. "I moved towards her within the lifestream with the intention of robbing her life. Yet, as soon as I touched her, I knew she was special."
"Special?" he prompted when she remained quiet, her gaze transfixed on the figure of water almost…lovingly?
"Yes, special." She blinked, snapping off her stupor before she continued, "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 in 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 said, accepting the task and the challenge it posed. "Where will I find this woman?"
Minerva smiled ghostly, "Where do you often find angels?"
The General frowned, "In Heaven, I suppose."
The Goddess nodded once and he could again read amusement all over her face, "Indeed. Search then for the 'Heaven' of Edge. In there you shall find the 'locked heart'."
Before he could ask for a less vague explanation, he suddenly found himself falling. He saw Minerva looking down at him until her face disappeared amidst the darkness to become one of the many blinking stars.
When he opened his eyes to solid reality, it was to face none other than Cloud Strife. Automatically, he parried Cloud's sword as the blond ex-SOLDIER attacked him. Though he knew he didn't have time for this, he fought him –feeling part of his old self resurging as he did.
When he realized what was happening and how he was -like before- losing control, he decided best to retreat. It would not do for him to forget why he had return to this world after all.
Thus, 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 feeling Jenova's open surprise- he left. He left the rookie soldier behind and the mistakes he'd made with him. Only one thing was in his mind. 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 had saved 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. Having done that, he proceeded in asking around -always wearing a concealing outfit that mainly consisted of a dark, long cloak and hood- for a place that could be known unofficially as the 'Heaven of Edge'.
Though he had initially believed his search would prove difficult, it was with welcomed surprise he found that the only establishment every citizen referred to as the 'Heaven' of Edge, was in fact a tavern.
"What's the name of the tavern?" he asked a man in his mid-thirties who had given him the richest and most reliable information so far.
The man smirked and said mockingly, "I jus' don't understand the question, sir."
Sephiroth glared coldly from under his hood, despite knowing that the man wouldn't be able to see it. Stoically, he took out a handful of gils and offered them to the shady man leaning on the wall in front of him. He had half-a-mind to just whip his sword out and wipe the smirk of his informer, but he knew better than to give in to the reminiscence of impulses Jenova's presence had left behind.
"Ah, I remember now," the man was quick to pocket the coins, "It's called Seventh Heaven."
Wow, he should have seen this coming.
"Where can I find the place and who runs it?" he asked.
The man smiled goofily at him, his tongue visible through the gaps. "My memory keeps failin', y'know."
The General cracked his neck in response. Yes. Even the great Sephiroth had his limits.
With a quick move, he tackled the man to the floor. Towering him, he allowed the imprudent cod to get a glimpse of a small knife he had unsheathed from where it had been hanging by his belt.
He tilted his head to one side when the man began squirming. Immediately, he brought his boot down on the man's chest with enough strength as to make him yelp, while still avoiding breaking his ribs in the process. At the same time, the action served to discourage the retreat the wide-eyed man had been planning.
"I-I remember now, s-sir!" he stammered, his eyes filled with fear.
"I am listening," Sephiroth replied smoothly, urging him to talk by applying a bit of pressure to his foot.
"The bar's on the main street," he said, "near where the damn dragon attacked, 'kay?"
The Dragon? Yes, he'd heard about the incident where Bahamut had attacked shortly after his arrival in Edge."Who runs it?" he asked, releasing a tiny bit of the pressure –an indication that he was satisfied with the former answer.
"Ah, it's a young lass," the man gulped and closed his eyes, almost as if in defeat. "Her name's Tifa…Tifa Lockhart!"
Sephiroth's eyebrows arched at this. He really hadn't seen 'this' coming. But had he frankly expected things to go smoothly? Without a word, he turned on his heels and walked away, melting into the darkness ahead and leaving the petrified man behind.
Truth was, for a second there, he had expected things to go smoothly.
As he marched briskly through the dark streets, he felt himself growing grimmer. So what if this new information posed a problem? He would just have to make do with the situation. This was certainly not his first difficult mission and would most probably not be his last.
Tifa Lockhart, lone owner and barmaid of his targeted bar…how very troublesome.
To his slight annoyance, his conscience chose that moment to remind him of 'who' he would have to deal with. Tifa was, after all, 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 particular significance.
Deciding he had enough for the night, Sephiroth made his way back to his apartment. Once he closed the door behind him, he took off his cloak and almost crashed on his comfy couch, feeling the stress of his new situation settling in the back of his neck.
Automatically, he began massaging the balling nerves as he mulled over the information he had aptly gathered. What if this bar was not the heaven he had been asked to find?
He smirked sardonically at the lack of conviction he felt towards his baseless assumption, and closed his eyes. The image of the planet morphing into a woman flashed beneath his eyelids. 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 have realized that the Goddess had practically spelled her name out! Even with the vast problems piling in his mind, the ex-SOLDIER couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips as he recalled their conversation.
Minerva had carefully chosen certain words to relay her message. Words that were spoken in riddles, but which, in themselves, were the straight 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, the powerful male felt excited. The fact that he had missed something as obvious as this made the game all the more attractive.
So with something between amusement and curiosity, he further wondered if it was pure irony that Tifa's name had fitted Minerva's description of her so perfectly. He shook his head as the whole idea of just who the barmaid was finished sinking in his restless mind. Sephiroth bit back a curse at the amount of complications this provided.
Oh, well, a confident voice inside his head stated, how disastrous can this be?
"Very disastrous," he muttered quite convinced, but then shrugged as he stood up and moved towards his bedroom. Disastrous or not he would think about it tomorrow.
During the week that followed, Sephiroth studied Tifa's bar attentively. He noted she opened at nine o'clock in the evening and closed at two-thirty in the morning. Likewise, he realized that she lived in the upper floor of the bar with two kids.
The first time he'd seen the kids, he had mused about who they were and how the fitted the picture of her current life. Were they hers or someone else's?
Upon further inspection, however, he had concluded they couldn't be Tifa's –at least not biologically speaking. First off, they didn't look in the least like her and, second, they were too old to be hers.
Still, not able to keep his curiosity in regards to this at bay, he proceeded to ask around. With carefully chosen questions asked to carefully chosen people, he learned that the girl –Marlene- was actually the daughter of Barret -which if he remembered correctly was the dark, big man who'd founded AVALANCHE. The boy –Denzel, on the other hand, was an orphan that had been taken in by Cloud and Tifa.
This information, nevertheless, led to further questions. The most important one being, where was Cloud? He wondered if his absence had to do with his resurrection and the fight that had ensured shortly thereafter. Perhaps the puppet 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.
With his interest now peaked, he patiently waited on the seventh night in an alley near Tifa's bar. When a man –who Sephiroth recognized as a regular client- stepped out of her bar swaying drunkenly from side to side, he silently approached him.
Drunken men were the easiest prey. In a matter of seconds he was extracting information that –perhaps in a more sober state- the man would not have been so avid to share. Apparently, Cloud had left Tifa long ago. He had broken her heart in the process, which had led him to inquire as to the reason for the breakup. The man had gone into a fit of bitter laughter at Sephiroth's choice of words. By what he'd understood from the slurred babbled that followed, it seemed that Cloud had never moved on from Aerith's death. The rookie had left Tifa, not because he could not make 'her' happy, but because 'he' could not be happy with her.
According to the customer, Tifa would have been happy only to have Cloud around –though Sephiroth was skeptical as to the truthfulness of this declaration.
"Still, 'tupid spiki-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 hit the shit outta that chocobo-haired 'tupid sonofabitch, y'know?"
Sephiroth smiled, "It's never too late."
The man laughed and raised the empty bottle he was still holding in a mocking cheer, "Damn right!"
The ex-SOLDIER left shortly thereafter, feeling his amusement building as he heard the man continuing to badmouth Cloud loudly. Why had he ever wished to destroy this planet and its delightful inhabitants again?
When Sephiroth had returned to his 'house', numerous –and more somber- thoughts were entertained by his mind. One of them was Tifa's presumed happiness at having Cloud around. Granted, he was not an expert on her –he barely even knew her- but still, the information he'd gathered about her 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…?
Shrugging, he decided it was time to finally move into action. Now that he knew Cloud would not be an obstacle, he could proceed with the next phase of his plan. From tomorrow onwards, he would visit her at her bar and study her with his own two eyes.
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?
No. This was Tifa Lockhart he was talking about. He knew that when he stepped into her bar, he was going to be entering a minefield. If there was someone in the entire planet who hated him the most, it was definitely Tifa Lockhart. And could he blame her? After all, he'd probably hurt her the most out of all the mismatched group that conformed AVALANCHE–Cloud included.
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 the city went down in flames. Then -as if that had not been enough- he'd killed Aerith in cold blood. Not to mention that, he'd endangered Cloud and the rest of her friends.
And 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 favorite people's list. Still, he couldn't give up. If anything, this raised the challenge, and if there was something he enjoyed was engaging in a difficult mission.
He would tread carefully, of course -else he should step on a mine and blow 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 did the men referred to it…? Ah, yes- her 'angelic' smile up close and personal. He would find the true significance of it.
And he would know if she lied –if she faked it. Perhaps even, he will learn the reason why.
To be continued…