Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Final Fantasy VII, X, or any other associated materials.
AN: WARNING: This will contain spoilers for Advent Children Complete. Not too many, but several of them are in regards to the newer material in the movie. That aside, her begins my first crossover fic. Hope you enjoy.
It was over. Sephiroth was gone, for good this time. With Geostigma no longer actively harming the population, and Cloud finally safe and content, the duo felt that their work was done. Aerith turned to her once-boyfriend, eyes glimmering with curiosity. With Sephiroth completely gone, spirit and all, thinking about him would no longer hold the risk of drawing his memories together into a functioning form.
"You know, Zack, you never really have told me about him. Before he became what he was."
"Sephiroth? Eh, he was cool. Quiet, yeah, but he always watched out for us. He was kind of like a big brother to everybody in SOLDIER. Him, Genesis, Angeal…All three of 'em were like that. We really looked up to those guys." He chuckled. "Hey, I remember this one time that we went to the Gold Saucer when we were on leave, and some guy in a Chocobo outfit started bugging Sephiroth about-" He was cut off as the world around them rushed into activity.
And then something happened. Something that, for perhaps the first time after her death, was truly capable of surprising the part-Cetra hybrid into complete silence. The Lifestream began to twist and shape itself into a form that all three were capable of recognizing instantly, but which none of them had ever truly hoped to see again.
Sephiroth. The self-proclaimed god had always been unique in his life, and his deaths were no different.
The first time he had died was in Nibelheim, thrown to his death by a burst of unexpected strength from an injured teenage boy, whose eyes had held a light green glow that should have been impossible for someone not in SOLDIER. He'd been humiliated, enraged, and much to his surprise, highly curious about the young boy. But Sephiroth wasn't ready to die.
Through sheer force of will, he'd fought back the natural course of the planet and rejected the Lifestream. He refused to dissipate and become nothing more than another piece of the collective memories and knowledge of the planet's energy. And he searched. He searched for the truth of his past, the truth of the Cetra. He spent what in that place felt as though it could have been hours or countless centuries weaving through memories, and emotions, and knowledge, until he finally found what he'd desired in life.
He'd initially thought that perhaps the young soldier that had fascinated him was in fact one of his own people, one of the last Cetra, somehow channeling the power of the planet through his own body without realizing it. It would explain the unnatural strength, as well as the unusual features that accompanied those small but significant moments of rage. Then he had learned a greater truth, a truth regarding his own origin. He understood what he really was.
He was never one of the Cetra. He was something entirely different. A being that had used a natural and twisted combination of deceit and biological warfare to bring almost the entire world to its knees, Cetra or otherwise. Humanity had gone into hiding, terrified of the beast known as the Calamity of the Skies, while the Cetra infected by its seemingly unstoppable disease had degraded into monsters. Though they had eventually suppressed the Calamity, the damage was done. The Cetra would soon fade into history. And he was the legacy of that Calamity, borne by human parents, but provided with the opportunity to achieve a far greater destiny through genetic tampering while in the womb. He wasn't human. He wasn't one of the Cetra superior to those humans.
He was a god.
But he was limited. Though his will was powerful, he could not subdue the entirety of the Lifestream. And his mother had long since deteriorated into nothing but a beast of instinct and chaos, leaving him as the only one to guide their decisions. So he continued searching until he found something beautiful. Something that could bring him true, genuine, ultimate power. The Black Materia. Meteor. And so he planned, and he waited. Soon enough, his opportunity had presented itself. And after a lifetime of waiting, he was ready to make his move.
It was a simple thing, to free his mother's body from her prison in Shinra. SOLDIER had long since been spread thin, no longer situated primarily in the city of Midgar. Those who remained in Shinra Headquarters were pathetically weak, insects compared to one of his kind. Yet he'd found himself elated. Cloud, the weak boy whom he'd believed dead after such grievous wounds, was still living. Not only was he living, but his mind had been warped and reshaped by their mother's cells, leaving him a nearly-shattered remnant of what he might have once been able to achieve. A remnant that would need only a few simple pushes to destroy.
He allowed Mother to release the puppet.
Shinra was in disarray, even with the arrival of a more competent president. Stringing the puppet and its friends along was simple. A mere glimpse of his blade had been enough to force them to take the path that would inevitably lead his puppet into a confrontation with its master. To his delight, still more discoveries were to be made. One of the puppet's companions was the last of the Cetra. A sickeningly sweet half-breed that had somehow escaped his "father" and his experiments.
Breaking his favorite plaything had been a simple matter. Taunting him with claims that he was nothing but an experiment created in a lab, forcing him to beat his half-breed friend into submission, tricking him into passing on the Black Materia to his master with his own two hands, and killing the lovely little Cetra in front of his eyes. The game had been long, but worth its while, as the puppet's mind reached its limit. However, he had made one undeniable mistake.
He underestimated the puppet's other allies. Somehow, even with Shinra and the weapons of the planet itself at their heels, they had not only managed to survive, but to return their lost leader. They had defied all odds, and destroyed his mother. They had destroyed his physical forms. Then, at last, it had come down to the only two who truly mattered. The Master, and the Puppet. And the puppet had won. Cloud had won. In that last struggle between their spirits in the Lifestream, he had somehow gathered a strength that Sephiroth still didn't understand to this day, and had struck him down. Struck him down with an attack resembling that of his own favored technique, but improved to new levels.
So in the end he acknowledged Cloud. His spirit was weakening after that duel, and his will beginning to dissipate into that of the Lifestream. His mind was too busy, too chaotic to remain separate. Desperate to remain his own being, he had sacrificed everything that no longer mattered. Childhood, friendships, allies, and dreams all disappeared from his mind, and all that remained was Cloud. His Cloud, his rival, his puppet. His most hated enemy was his saving grace, the focusing point that he needed to stabilize his spirit and reject the Lifestream once again.
This time, he'd decided, there would be no mistakes. Though the Lifestream had destroyed the threat of Meteor, the cells of his mother that had fallen into the life energy of the planet after her death at the hands of this "Avalanche" had joined it as it broke through the surface. Countless thousands, millions, had been infected with the rapidly reproducing cells that he himself carried. But he couldn't return. Those cells were spread too thin and too far, their concentration at any single point too low for him to make use of.
But his power was absolute. If he could not act in the physical realm, then he would create something that could. In a mere two years, nothing for a being prepared to wait centuries, he could act once more. He came out of his hiding in the Lifestream, forcing the spirit of that accursed half-breed to submit and flee from his power. His mother's cells, his cells, began acting, creating a plague unlike any other, that the mortals called Geostigma. Each death at the hands of the stigma broke the natural cycle of life, their spirit energy joining his own in a corrupt parody of the Lifestream.
Finally, the last step through the barrier between life and death was within his reach. His Avatars, the children who called themselves Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, were brought forth to the world of the living, created by the very same Lifestream that had once sought to destroy him. They kidnapped, and tortured, and killed, until the most driven of the three managed to avoid defeat at the hands of Cloud or his friends. This Avatar absorbed the greatest remnant their mother's remaining cells into its own body, and at long last he was able to reshape himself and face his puppet once again.
The battle had been enthralling. Cloud's strength had somehow grown, in spite of his fear and guilt. And for all of that growth, he was still too weak to stand in the face of true power. Sephiroth had reveled in the chance to toss aside the same technique that had defeated him two years previously, impaling the blonde through the chest as he attempted to repeat the final strike, leaping into the air with a reckless desperation. He hadn't been able to resist mocking the child.
"Is this the pain you felt before, Cloud? Let me remind you." His rival was squirming, futilely grasping at the blade tearing through his chest. "This time, you won't forget."
And he'd thrown him through the air, slashing and stabbing him with the true, original version of that miserable imitation that the one-time puppet had created. He'd laughed, suspended in the air, taunting the pathetic bleeding form before him.
"Tell me what you cherish most." The blonde had stumbled again, unable to even crawl to his knees. His smirk widened. "Give me the pleasure of taking it away."
And he swooped down. The time for torturing his lesser half was over. It was time to end their struggle once and for all. But the puppet, Cloud, rose again. His attack was simple to knock aside just as all of his previous attempts, and they both took to the sky, Cloud rambling about things that would never save him. He, this weak inferior creature, pitied a God? It was laughable.
The feeling of metal tearing through his skin as his rival seemed to disappear, however, was not. One, two, seven, thirteen times that child attacked, each movement bringing him unfathomable pain. And then it was over.
Sephiroth had once been a kind man, if somewhat quiet. Sephiroth had once been a great leader both on and off the battlefield, respected and loved by those who served him. Sephiroth had once been a friend, and mentor. Sephiroth had sacrificed those memories and feelings for the sake of power.
And with the thoughts of his former friend and ally, now long since deceased, those discarded memories of friendship and kindness were swelling before them, taking the form that anger and lust for power had thrown aside. The manifestation of what had once been Sephiroth, now standing before two of the most important people he had ever known.
A manifestation of the Sephiroth, who without the knowledge of the crimes he'd committed after discovering the truth of his existence, which remained now that the enemy of the world had been destroyed for good.
"Where," The voice was familiar to all both, but the lack of arrogance and maliciousness was familiar to only one "Where am I?"
"…Zack?" He glanced around, taking in the unfamiliar sight of what most would call the Promised Land.
"Holy crap!" Honestly, Aerith wouldn't have been able to say anything more accurate herself. Since neither of them could say anything much more coherent at the moment, he said it again.
Admittedly, Sephiroth remained an imposing figure, but Aerith couldn't really imagine him being anything but intimidating regardless of his mental state. Still, as she allowed her senses to merge with that of the Lifestream's, she couldn't sense any of the Sephiroth that she had known in the person before her. The anger had been replaced by a strange sense of calm, though there was some obvious confusion that she wouldn't need any abnormal senses to see.
"Zack, what's hap-" He was cut off as several large tendrils of green energy wrapped around his waist, and more began appearing to restrain his arms and legs. He briefly struggled against the bonds, more testing their strength than making a heartfelt attempt to escape, before looking into the surprised eyes of the duo in front of him. "What is this, Zack?"
"I, uh…Aerith, you got this one?" The dark-haired man glanced over at her, clearly as confused as his former idol. Before Aerith could voice the idea that was forming in her mind, yet another form began to mold itself between Sephiroth and his companions. Aerith had never seen the feminine figure, but the presence was simple to recognize. Zack, apparently, actually had seen the Goddess of Gaia before.
"Hey, that's the crazy monster lady from the Northern Crater!"
"Zack, don't be so disrespectful! That 'crazy monster lady' is the manifestation of the consciousness of the planet itself!"
"She's what now?" Both Aerith and Sephiroth sighed, heads dropping in exasperation as Aerith lightly slapped her friend in the back of the head.
"In legend and myth, they call her Minerva." A small bit of information he'd once learned from Genesis, not that he'd ever thought it would be useful. He frowned at that. Perhaps he should have given that particular conversation more time to unfold before going off to request a mission.
"It's basically the mind of the planet in a form that lets it communicate with people." Or that could communicate with a Cetra, anyway. As the armored figure spread one hand out in front of her, gesturing towards the silver-haired man, Aerith had the distinct feeling that the two non-Cetra spirits had no idea what Minerva was saying.
"My apologies." That tone didn't particularly scream 'I'm sorry' but she let it go. Standing in front of the physical representation of the planet, when moments before you hadn't even realized that you were dead, must have been an uncomfortable experience to say the least. "Aerith, then. What is it saying?"
Aerith closed her eyes, focusing on the voice that only she seemed to hear. The Goddess remained patient, probably having expected such a situation.
"She," For calling the female figure 'it' didn't feel right "says that this is your judgment."
"My…judgment? But what-" The figure's hand shifted in a brief waving motion, and Sephiroth's forehead wrinkled as he closed his eyes. He seemed to struggle for a moment, as if reliving some kind of painful experience, and both Aerith and Zack had a feeling that they knew what it was that the man was seeing. After a few minutes, his eyes opened again, focusing on the figure of the Goddess.
"I…see." The memories, more like quick flashes of a life that he didn't know he'd lived, had been unnerving. The last thing he'd remembered in full was speaking with Genesis in the Nibelheim Reactor. They'd been saying something about being a monster. No, the perfect monster. "I did something horrible that day, didn't I?"
Minerva tilted her head slightly, arm lowering to her side. A sad and almost motherly smile graced her features as Aerith began to explain.
"She says that you haven't done anything. She says that the part of you behind those things was destroyed."
"Hey, how's that for ya Sephiroth? Sounds like the goddess lady here isn't holding a grudge. Good news, right?"
"But…" Aerith started as the Goddess closed her eyes, lowering her head slightly. "There's still some of Jenova's malevolent will in you. Or fear of it at least. There are so many souls in the Lifestream that become aware when you're around, and disturb its flow because they won't accept your presence. And as long as that's happening, the Lifestream is going to have trouble healing the world."
"Oh. Well, that sucks, eh Sephiroth?"
"Jenova? My mother? Healing the world? Were my actions so severe?"
"Weeellll, you did kinda go on an ego trip and try to-ow!" Zack rubbed his ribs, pouting at Aerith's innocent face as she retracted her elbow. "Fine, I'll just shut up."
"It's complicated. From what I've been able to gather, your mother was named Lucrecia. Hojo said it was Jenova because of this experiment they did. I don't really…" She trailed off, not wanting to somehow trigger a relapse of some kind. Sephiroth's head dropped slightly.
"I think I understand where this is going." He looked over at the armored entity. "So my judgment?"
After a brief moment, Aerith looked at the Goddess in surprise.
"You can do that?"
"Yeah Aerith, what's she saying? I bet it's something cool, isn't it?"
"She can give you a second chance, she says. I'm not sure exactly what she means by that. I'm sorry."
"A second chance…And this 'second chance' of mine, it will give me a chance to set things right? To start over?" He tilted his head in curiosity. Surely it wouldn't involve sending him back to the world of the living, or something of the sort. If he'd truly done something so horrible that the planet itself was both unwilling to accept him and unable to heal due to his presence, there wouldn't be much use in sending him into a world that would no doubt hate him.
"I…would like that, I think." The Goddess gave him a gentle smile, nodding her head in affirmation.
"She's saying that we should probably say goodbye. Whatever this is, I don't think she expects us to be able to meet again." Not that Aerith would feel exceptionally comfortable with that in the first place. Zack had memories of the SOLDIER legend when he was still sane, but her only memories of him involved watching him torture her friends and trying to destroy the world.
"If that is how it must be." He turned to Zack. "If I've done something to you, either of you, then I apologize. I'm afraid I have little else to say."
'If I've done something to you' he says? Understatement of the century. Yet she couldn't be angry with him. Especially not with Zack actually looking sad at the prospect of not seeing a saner version of his old partner again.
"Ah, don't worry about it. I uh, guess this is goodbye, Sephiroth."
With that, the Goddess moved forward and placed a hand against Sephiroth's cheek. Aerith and Zack looked on with curiosity as Sephiroth's body almost seemed to dissolve, a few last words echoing around them as he disappeared.
AN: Most of it was recap, but I hope I kept it interesting enough for you guys. This story was inspired by the canon novella "On the Way to a Smile: Case of the Lifestream" and the non-canon novella "Maiden Who Travels the Planet." If you're interested in the details, I'm putting up a topic in my forum for this story. Anyway, hope you enjoyed.