"Hey! Hey, Cloud!"
The blonde paused at the sharply familiar voice, not bothering to glance around.
"Cloud! I found this totally awesome movie! You are going to come watch it with me, Spike, it looks way cool! It's called Advent Children, starring you, man! And me, occasionally! How cool is that?!"
"Okay, that makes no logical sense whatsoever," Cloud sighed, running one hand through his blonde spikes. "You're dead, Zack."
"Oh, yeah, and Seph's coming too!"
"Oh, don't worry, I'll vouch for him! He's sane!"
Cloud had absolutely no choice in the matter. Before he had time to do so much as blink, his surroundings warped into an insubstantial plane of green and there was a weight on his left shoulder. "Get off, Zack."
"Ah, come on! It's been ages since we watched a movie!" Zack Fair pouted, laughter in his violet eyes. "Please? Please puppy eyes?"
"Did you just say 'puppy eyes'?" Cloud snorted, elbowing the Zack-spirit gently in the ribs.
"I was activating my super-awesome power of puppy eyes," the ex-SOLDIER explained cheerfully. "Pleeeeaaase?"
Cloud had made a mistake; he'd looked the man in the eye. Bad move, strategically speaking, especially when he had that mournful freshly-kicked puppy look on. "Zack… but… oh, alright…"
"Awesome!" Zack perked up again instantly and shoved Cloud down onto a sofa that he swore hadn't been there a second ago. An entire living room, complete with wide-screen television, had materialized around him, Cloud recognizing it vaguely as Zack's old apartment. "Come on, Seph, you can't possibly be late for this," Zack mumbled to himself as he fiddled with the DVD player.
"I am already here, Zackary."
Cloud glanced behind him listlessly, unsurprised to see the tall form of ShinRa's general standing behind the couch. He'd been dragged into the Lifestream (at least he assumed that was what had happened; with Zack in the game it was a bit hard to be sure) and was now being forced to watch a movie he apparently played some role in, though he sure as hell didn't remember filming it, so really, was it so impossible for Sephiroth to be wandering around the place, entirely sane?
Even if it wasn't, he didn't have the energy to protest.
"And here we go!" Zack cheered, bouncing over to the sofa and dragging Sephiroth down beside him; no other person would ever dare manhandle the poor guy like that. "Everybody shhhh! The movie's starting!"
"You are the only one making any noise, Zackary."
"Why the heck is Marlene doing the introduction?" Cloud asked blankly.
Zack shrugged. "Don't ask me, man."
"Who is Marlene?"
"…Like I'm telling you that…"
"The Planet's a lot madder than – what does that even mean?!"
"Who are those two children?" Sephiroth asked blandly, ignoring Zack's confusion. "Cloud, do you know them?"
A little unnerved at being spoken to by the man he'd killed just a year before, Cloud replied slowly, "Well, the girl… yeah, but the other one… well… he kind of looks familiar…"
"Hm." Sephiroth frowned. "What is wrong with them?"
"Shh! That's a major part of the plot!" Zack insisted.
"You've seen this before? Oh no." Cloud looked a little green at the thought of Zack making calls all through the movie.
"Nope!" the dark-haired man said happily. "I just read the blurb on the box!"
"…You can read?"
"What's with the wolf?"
"Forget the wolf, Spike, what's with the sword?!" Zack howled. "Man, Angeal would kill us both if he saw that! You're so lucky I didn't bring him along! I was seriously considering it, too, but something inside me said 'No, Zack, that's a bad idea…'"
"A bad idea detector? I didn't think you had one of those."
"Shut up, Seph."
"Why aren't you answering your phone?"
Cloud shrugged. "I have a lot of friends, get called every fifteen minutes or so. And it's usually Barret asking 'and how's Marlene now?!' or Tifa asking 'where the hell are you?!', and contrary to popular belief, I do not live at home, do not watch Marlene like a hawk, and my deliveries across other continents do not take five seconds! So it's easier to just ignore it and take voice messages."
"Okay, what the fuck was that?"
"You're asking me?"
"Well it is you up there…"
"No it's not!"
"It certainly appears to be you."
"Well, I never filmed no movie."
"What, and that's proof?"
"It should be."
"That is a really cool motorbike, Spike."
"Is that the Jaws theme they're playing?"
"Who the hell are those guys THEY JUST KICKED THE SWORD!" Zack suddenly shrieked.
While he spazzed and cursed at the TV screen, Cloud leaned forward and said around him, "Does he know he just made a sexual innuendo there?"
Sephiroth shook his head slightly. "I do not believe so."
"What sexual innue- ohhhh."
"Big brother?" Cloud asked blankly.
"My money's on Sephiroth!" Zack cheered.
"Sephiroth's dead," the blonde pointed out.
"So? They're obviously as crazy as he is."
A short pause.
"I thought you said he was sane," Cloud said cautiously.
"Yes, I was quite sure I was sane now," Sephiroth agreed mildly.
"I refuse to answer on grounds of digging myself deeper!"
"Who the hell are these guys?"
It was Cloud who answered; he'd scrounged up the disc case and the booklet from inside. "Apparently they're your clones, Sephiroth. They all represent different aspects of your personality." The grin he was wearing couldn't bode well. Sephiroth braced. "The one who's crying is your masculinity."
The silver-haired man dropped his head into his hands.
Zack howled with laughter.
"Okay, that was really dumb," Cloud remarked. "You just don't drive your bikes off a cliff, especially not that one. I tried it once and came away with three broken bones and a narrowly avoided broken neck."
"You did what?!"
"It was an emergency!"
"Did your motorbike just cough out swords?! Oh, awesome! I want one!"
"'Mother'? How the fuck would I know where your mother is? Or who she is, since we're on the topic?"
"Well, Cloud, let's think: these guys are essentially Sephiroth. Who's the one person Seph calls 'mother'?"
"Jenova? I thought we smooshed her!"
"You did what?!"
"Don't cry, Sephiroth," Zack said teasingly.
"Don't make me stab you, Zackary."
"'Brother'? What the hell? Why do they think I'm their big brother?" Cloud sputtered, appalled. "I neither have nor want any brothers!"
"Oh, come on, Zack, you know you don't count."
"I believe they are referring to the Jenova cells that we all contain," Sephiroth remarked. "Little brother."
"…" Cloud went pale and huddled into Zack. "Ick. Never say that ever again!"
"PHYSICS!" Cloud cried in frustration. "This makes no sense! How does he – I – whoever the hell that is – keep from falling off that thing!? High speed chase, spinning around on the bike, reversing your momentum and taking out monsters, that can't happen!"
"It's a magic bike! It spits out swords and does cool shit like this!"
"Fenrir's good, Zack, and she does spit out swords, but she can't pull that kind of stunt! I've tried, and it hurts!"
"You named your motorcycle?" Sephiroth said dubiously.
"THERE! The sparky thing again! What the heck is that?!"
"I though you said it was a big part of the plot…"
"No, that was the brown stuff."
"I believe it is symbolising pain, indicating that Cloud has injured his left arm."
"Show me your arm."
"Zack, I'm fi-"
"Seph, hold him down."
"No – what – ah! Give me back my shirt!"
"Well, bye-bye go the glasses," Cloud remarked distantly.
Zack was having a hysterical fit. "OHMIGOD HE JUST SHOT CLOUD IN THE HEAD DID YOU SEE THAT HE KILLED HIM I'M GONNA KILL HIM OHMIGOD HOW COULD YOU DO THAT –"
"Zack, sit down and leave the TV alone."
"Now where are they going?"
"Zack, it's something you'd put a bandaid on."
"Where are my bandaids?!"
"See?!" Cloud yelped, as Barret's brash slang hit their ears. "I told you so! He just called me up to tell Marlene something! Why couldn't he just call the bar?"
"He can't call you Spiky! I'm the only one who gets to call you that!"
"Calm yourself, Zackary, you're making the whole couch rock with your histrionics."
Zack doubled over with laughter. "Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, Reno," he choked, "You – Reno – outside – locked – ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha-"
"Just tune him out," Cloud advised Sephiroth, who was watching Zack with some concern. The silver-haired man shrugged and murmured an agreement.
"President Shin-Ra?" Zack echoed the on-screen Cloud wonderingly. "I thought he was dead! I thought Seph killed him!" Cloud smirked.
"Face it, Zack, who has Sephiroth managed to kill when he actually aimed to kill that person? I mean, he's slaughtered millions of helpless bystanders, sure, but only because he missed the one person he was really trying to kill. Think about it – he tried to kill us both in Nibelheim: failed; tried to kill me several times after you were done in by a grunt: failed; tried to kill several members of AVALANCHE: failed."
Zack grinned mischievously. "Hey, yeah!" he exclaimed. He turned to Sephiroth, who was feigning extreme interest in the movie and pretending not to hear the conversation. "Is there anyone you did manage to kill, Seph?"
Sephiroth considered, aware his dignity as a credible villain was riding on his answer. "I killed the flower girl," he said eventually. "What was her name – the one with the pink ribbon? Aerith?"
A deadly silent pause. Then Zack exploded.
"You killed my girlfriend?!"
"I was insane at the time!" Sephiroth defended.
Cloud was paralysed with laughter.
"Why do you dwell in a ruined place of worship?"
"It's that or live at home, okay? Which is exactly like being in the church, except I don't have the option of just ignoring my phone and taking a message, because people are talking to me. There are people there, and I have to see them and talk to them."
"…Dude, you have issues."
"Plus, Tifa makes me baby-sit."
"I instantly accept your argument."
"Why is she saying you're sick, Cloud?!"
"How the hell would I know?!"
"Please take a moment to realise the fact that Reno and Rude are on the floor writhing in pain."
"YES!" Zack cheered, pumping a fist in the air. "Those two get on my nerves, it's so cool that Seph's insanity personified can beat the crap out of those two losers!"
"They annoy you?" Cloud grumbled, crossing his arms.
"Personally, I'm shocked he knows the word 'personified', much less can use it in conversation," Sephiroth mused.
"Shocking, isn't it?"
"You guys are mean!"
"The cameraman has an unusual obsession with Kadaj's crotch," Cloud said, nose wrinkling his distaste.
"…Until you mentioned it, I hadn't noticed," Zack said, mildly disturbed. "Is there something you're not telling me, Cloud?"
Cloud considered several answers, eventually choosing the one with the most potential for amusement. "Just wondering how accurate these clones are."
As one, the two youngest members of the movie-watching trio glanced at Sephiroth, who had to resist the urge to cover the front of his pants with his hands and glared at the pair of them.
"I miss the days when I could shove the both of you into a gym and make you run until your feet bled," he growled.
"…Well, they're really Seph's clones alright. They've said 'mother', what, fifty billion times in the last five minutes?"
"Twelve, actually," Cloud corrected. Zack looked at him in horror.
"You were counting?!" he demanded. "Hel, Spike, you're turning into him!" He pointed a damning finger at Sephiroth. The blonde frowned.
"I am going to assume you're talking about his assessing mentality and not his tendency to burn important buildings to the ground," he said sternly.
"It's rather liberating, burning things," Sephiroth commented mildly. Then, after a pause, "Enjoyable to a fault, too."
"Why did you leave the Buster sword there?"
"That's where you died. The sword is exactly where your head was."
"…Yeah, because that's not creepy at all."
"Awesome! I'm finally in the movie and – WHY IS HE GASPING HE'S IN PAIN HE'SINPAINHE'SINPAINHE'S-"
"Zack! Breathe! It's just a movie!"
"Must – save – Cloud –"
"… Are you alright?"
"'Wanna play'?! Oh, please! That just screams 'creepy rapist stalker pedo guy'! Seph, I didn't know you were into that sort of thing!"
"Cloud, could you please try to control your dog?"
"I'm not a-"
"Shh – movie – fight scene – Tifa!"
"They stood on the flowers!!!"
"Breathe, Zack. Deep breaths."
"Sephiroth, he's crying again!"
"Okay, Cloud, why the fuck did you just leave a whole crate of materia sitting in the church? Without hiding it or even, like, putting a lock on it or something?!"
Cloud shrugged. "It was locked. Yuffie has corrupted her." Zack frowned.
"Spike, buddy – here's a little hint when dealing with priceless weapons: if a seven-year-old can find it by accident and access it in less than a second, you need to hide it better."
"…Okay, now they're abducting small children… This doesn't help your 'I'm not a paedophile' claim, Seph."
"I refuse to honour that statement with an answer."
"Okay, so I find Tifa, and then pass out because… I'm… degenerating?" Cloud guessed, frowning at the rather vague film. "Then the scenery changes to some with rather disturbing connotations… and why is the wolf there!?"
"He's considering eating you, clearly," Zack said matter-of-factly.
"But how did he get into Aerith's church?" Cloud argued.
"Spike, you left the bloody door wide open. This is just like 'why did my materia get stolen?' – because you were an idiot. That is all."
"Why are you in bed with Tifa – oh, wait, no, it was just a perverted camera angle."
"Why are those Turks in Tifa's bedroom? Don't answer that."
"Wait, wait, wait!" Zack waved his hands back and forth in the air, symbolling to stop the world while he deliberated. "So you're telling me," he said slowly, "that Spike here is not only over-sensitive to mako-" he began to count on his fingers, "-chosen as the 'test to destruction' subject in Hojo's lab, spent a year catatonic, lost all his memories and absorbed mine, and then gets this creepy voodoo disease with no cure?!"
"Yes," Sephiroth confirmed helpfully. Zack threw his hands up in the air and spun, grabbing Cloud to hug him.
"Poor Spike. Your whole life is a lemon! You have the worst luck ever!"
"Dude, Cloud, angst much?"
"Why am I being condemned for stuff I haven't and may or may not do in the future?" Cloud demanded. Zack levelled a finger at him.
"Just stay away from the emo-cloud that hovers over your head all the time, capishe?"
"That is a lot of kids and a lot of creepiness."
"And a lot of propaganda."
Zack and Cloud both turned to look at Sephiroth, who bristled defensively.
"Honestly! This is worse than blaming Cloud for the things his caricature is doing!" he scolded. "It's not even a proverbial me up there: leave me be!"
"Seph, why is he drinking the water? Cloud, didn't you bury Aerith in that lake?"
Cloud was gagging. "Those waters are fucking rancid! Oh, Denzel, don't drink that stuff, it's got, like, germs and dead people and stuff in it!"
"Why are all those trees glowing?"
"Well, obviously Cloud's high."
"…Did I just crash and die, or something?"
"No, dude, you're totally high, so you're hallucinating."
A sweet, female voice began to speak on the television, and both Cloud and Zack began to cough.
"AERITH!" Zack half-shouted. "She's alive!"
"No, she just dragged me into the Lifestream to talk to her, apparently," Cloud grumbled. "I've been hearing voices lately, but I didn't think she'd do that. That's more your thing, Zack." Cue significant look around and raised eyebrow. Zack turned up the volume.
"My god, Seph, your clones fail at aiming. Ow, Cloud, that fall looked like it hurt."
"Big brother? Black sheep? This guy needs a lesson in why metaphors are to be used sparingly."
"Actually, I get the impression he was being literal," Sephiroth sighed. Cloud nodded.
"He represents insanity, remember?"
"What, is that tree made of chalk, or something? Wood does not do that!"
"Oops, Spike, lost your phone. Um, is this red cloak thing good, bad or the-director-ran-out-ideas-so-this-is-us-stalling?"
"Good. It's Vincent."
"Seph, please, the movie."
"Gasp! Brace yourself in horror for the attack of a scared little girl!"
"Shut up, Zack."
"Well, you and this Vincent dude jumped like chipmunks on a high with you heard her rustling! Then again, you are high at the moment, Spike – bad trip, or something?"
"Aw, but now you're sounding so paternal and reassuring. It's so cute!"
"Zackary, please. If you must hug Cloud, do not do so quite so enthusiastically: I am not sure he can breathe."
"Uh-oh!" Zack sang. "Looks like a few people have caught on to your paedophile secret, Sephiroth!"
"I am not," the general began heatedly, but stopped and sighed. "Nothing I say here will make any difference, will it?"
"Not even remotely."
"As far as crowd-clearing goes, that whole 'summon man-eating monsters in their midst' was pretty effective. We should try it sometime."
"Zack, you're dead."
"…Activating kicked-puppy look."
"No fair! How come Sephiroth gets to come back to life and I don't?!"
"Have faith, Zack, it could just be the raving of a lunatic."
"Cloud, face it: your luck just ain't that good."
"…Do you think they're aware that Jenova isn't really alive? She's a freaking head in a jar."
"Do not insult Mother in that manner."
"Seph, you were the one who made her a head in a jar. Before you scalped her, she was in one piece and arguably alive, at least vaguely."
"…I was insane at the time."
"I find all these names they are calling me rather flattering, I must say." Zack raised both eyebrows in surprise.
"They're calling you 'the Nightmare'," he squeaked. Sephiroth nodded, as if waiting for Zack's point.
"It's flattering – despite every horrible thing that has happened in history, my one-year stint as the world's, excuse the term, 'bad guy' has earned me the title 'the Nightmare'."
"Well, you were a very good bad guy," Cloud pointed out. "Except for the way, you know, you failed to kill anyone important… and you didn't really achieve anything… and you talked way too much about Jenova…"
Sephiroth fixed him with a stern glare. "Hush. I am trying to watch the film," he ordered severely.
"I imagine all this talk of 'mother knows best, she'll decide what to do when she gets here' makes perfect sense to you, Sephiroth?"
"…Is that really all you're going to say to this?"
"You're not blushing, are you?"
"This is humiliating. Are you sure these are my clones?"
"The only successful ones."
Sephiroth buried his face in his hands.
"Okay, who the hell are all these people that just turned up?!" Zack shrieked. Cloud looked at him.
"Friends of mine," he said listlessly. Zack looked put out, as if he hadn't anticipated Cloud making friends after he died.
"I, too, am curious as to their identities," Sephiroth remarked. Cloud sighed.
"You know Tifa and Denzel. The black guy is Marlene's dad, Barret, leader of AVALANCHE before I decided I wanted to be in charge. The red lion-dog is Nanaki, or Red XIII. Ignore the cat: I've never gotten that thing. The girl with the parachute is the Wutaian Princess Yuffie. She… actually turns up like this quite a bit – I think she spends her whole life cruising the Planet looking for battles to jump into. Vincent I've explained-"
"Not really," Sephiroth put in, almost hopefully. Cloud ignored him.
"The cussing blonde one is Cid, the pilot."
"Man, he has a mouth on him."
"Actually, this is toned down. A lot. And the big flying thing is Bahamut-Sin."
"Yes, we've met," Zack said tersely. Cloud smirked.
"Do you and your friends get together to fight like this often, Cloudy? It's just, you guys seem oddly good at kicking butt as a team."
"You have no idea."
"More disturbing connotations."
"Zack, mind out of gutter, brain connected to mouth. Please."
"This film doesn't set much stock in the way of continuity, does it?" Sephiroth observed mildly as Kadaj shot at the President approximately fifteen minutes after he pulled the trigger.
"Or gravity," Cloud said through gritted teeth as Zack adopted a 'now, boys' expression and on-screen the President and Kadaj began to fall to their presumed deaths. "Please pause the movie. I need to rant."
The film was obligingly stopped, and Cloud stood, taking a deep breath. "Gravity! Nine point eight metres per second per second does not change! No matter how bad-ass you are, you cannot fall faster or slower than that! Gah!"
Throwing his hands up into the air, he threw himself back onto the sofa, muttering mutinously. Zack started the movie again without comment.
"Fail aiming President ShinRa!"
"Seriously, he was right below him! How hard could it be – aim down, pull trigger. Easy."
"How the hell is that – that's not even physically possible!"
Zack shushed him. "Who cares? It looks damn cool!"
"Presumably that is what the directors wanted us to think," Sephiroth observed coolly.
"HE DROVE A MOTORCYCLE OVER THE FLOWERS!!!"
"Breathe, Zack. Are you okay?"
"NO, I'M NOT!"
"THEY BLEW UP THE FLOWERS!!!"
Zack looked like he was having a hysterical fit. The other two ignored him.
Zack came out of his fit to laugh as on-screen Yuffie said, "That Cloud's a royal pain in the ass. Just like always."
"Well, she's got you pinned," he teased his blonde friend.
"Oh, back with us, are you, instead of agonising over the imaginary demise of flowers?" Cloud replied bitingly.
"Children," Sephiroth intervened.
"He ate the radioactive green muck?!" Zack shouted. Cloud massaged his temples.
"Yes. Yes, he did."
"Mother!" Sephiroth sounded – briefly – agonised. At the twin incredulous looks he received, he straightened, recovering his composure. "I mean, oh dear, he appears to have consumed the radioactive material."
"Oh, don't even try to recover from that one."
"Seph's in the movie!" Zack cheered. Cloud scowled.
"He's come back from the dead to kill me and you're happy about it?!" he demanded. Zack hesitated.
"Well," he stalled, "He's my friend, too, and it's a huge achievement to come back from the dead. Hey, what did he just say?"
"He said it was a pity Cloud's geostigma was gone," the off-screen Sephiroth reported, eyes fixed on his on-screen doppelganger. Zack grinned.
"Wootness for Aerith's happy-soap!" he cheered.
"Okay, Seph, you can't listen to that speech and not think 'nut job'!" Zack appealed to his friend, waving his hand at the posturing Sephiroth on-screen. Off-screen Sephiroth didn't reply, and Zack gaped at him. "You mean you can? Weirdo."
Cloud glanced at Sephiroth and replied for both of them. "Zack, shut up."
"You have a WING, Seph!?" Zack shrieked. Sephiroth looked from Zack to the version of himself hovering on his single wing on the television screen.
"Yes," he said.
"Urk." Zack made a sound like a bird that had been stepped on. Cloud instantly pressed hands over his ears, and Sephiroth wondered why. A second later, he found out.
"THEY SHOT HIM THEY SHOT CLOUD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD CLOUD HANG ON DON'T DIE DON'T DIE DON'T DIE FUCK CLOOOOUD!"
Cloud pried a hand away from his ear. "Is it over?" he asked Sephiroth around Zack. The once-general shrugged.
"With Zackary, who knows?" he pointed out as Zack gathered Cloud into his arms, hauling him into his lap and seeming to attempt the act of zipping Cloud inside Zack's jacket alongside his friend.
Sephiroth idly wondered if he should intervene, but decided that the movie would be more interesting.
As the explosion rocked the on-screen world, Sephiroth turned to the more amusing spectacle that was a white-faced Zack clutching a squirming Cloud so tightly the smaller of the two couldn't breathe, move, or (more importantly) protest.
"No!" Zack shouted defiantly. "I am never letting you go again! Ever!!"
Cloud looked imploringly at Sephiroth. "Help!"
Sephiroth smirked. "Not likely."
Zack beamed. "You mean I get lines in this movie? Like, actual lines, not just flash-back lines?"
"Line, Zack," Cloud corrected. Zack scoffed.
"Oh, come on, that's at least two lines!"
"Nineteen words," Sephiroth put in. Zack scowled at him.
"You are too smart for your own good."
"…Zack, even you should be able to count to nineteen."
"…No more flowers?"
"No more flowers."
"Ah, well. You have a magic swimming pool instead, that's just as cool!"
"Argh. Is the movie over yet?"
Before much more time had passed, the movie had finished, and Zack turned to look at Cloud reluctantly.
"I guess I have to let you go home," he said. Cloud nodded.
"Yes you do," he said firmly, squirming where he was still being held in the bigger man's lap. "Zack, come on – this is humiliating."
Zack grudgingly let Cloud up and followed him off the couch, to the door. Cloud paused when he got there, glancing back at the room: Sephiroth had stood as a courtesy as well.
"Okay." He levelled a finger at Zack's nose. "Quit doing this. Tifa already thinks I'm nuts, I don't need you adding to it by screwing around with space and time, thanks."
Zack pouted, then grinned. "No promises, Spike," he said, ruffling Cloud's hair wildly. "Now get outta here!"
"Bye, Zack," Cloud said, opening the door and stepping through it, back to reality.
He was exactly where he had been before being abducted by an obsessive, dead stalker – astride his motorcycle, ready to ride off at high speeds.
For a moment – just a moment – he considered the fantastic story he'd just cringed through.
Could never happen, he decided, pulled his glasses down over his eyes, and roared away.
A/N: Reviews make us happy.