Disclaimer: I don't own, not making any money, you won't get much if you sue me. Nothing actually, so don't bother.
/.../ - italics
//...// - thoughts
*...* - mindspeech/telepathy
- speech (duh)
----------------- - Scene change, flashback, dreaming (it's a multi-purpose stream of dashes)
Send all questions, comments, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is eventual shounen-ai, but nothing concrete yet...flames because of pairing will be dealt with...harshly...actually, flame away, it's nice to have something to laugh at. Bigotry is amusing.
i'm just trying to talk to you between the raindrops
rain falls on everyone the same old rain
and i'm just trying to walk with you between the raindrops
rain falls on everyone the same old rain
and i'm just trying to walk with you between the raindrops
and i'm just trying to walk with you between the raindrops.
- Raindrops and Sun Showers The Smashing Pumpkins, Machina
The world was drowning, and Cloud was drowning with it. All of heaven, the Promised Land above, had opened its gates, and the result was the pouring rain, drowning the unfortunate human, swirling the colors of the earth into muted tones of brown, green and the gray of the far off city.
Although, Cloud never was sure, sometimes, if there was a Promised Land, despite what Aeris told him then, despite the power of the souls of the Lifestream, holding him here, in this time, this place.
Through this dismal day, Cloud walked toward the gray beyond. The mud pulled him down, and the rain pushed him down. The added weight of wet clothes and cloak weighed down the fighter. It was just another burden to bear, another problem. But today, of all days, in this time and place, Cloud Strife did not need anymore problems.
The gray before him was enough for his lifetime.
The city was bustling with activity, even looking at it from so high above it, on this rocky outcropping, mako powered lights warding off the dusk, fireflies in the gloom, the distant sound of the train that circled around the central pillar to the station in the slums below...
A Midgar before Meteor.
A dead Midgar, one that didn't exist anymore. This world was perfect in a way that his was not, had not been since the start of everything. Still, Cloud felt a tension in the soul of the planet, an offbeat pulse, and the sadness of knowing too much echoed through him.
Mako eyes looked out on the city, dulled by the rain into a haze of light and gray. Cloud knew gray, knew how blood looked on sharp gray steel, knew how Zack's blood had looked on the hard gray of outcropping like this one, those years in the past...and the future.
It had hurt so much then, that it was easier to let the rain wash away the blood, and with it his memories, so that it never happened, so that as long as he was Cloud Strife, SOLDIER First Class, Zackery wasn't dead.
But now, he didn't have to pretend. He was who he was, and the present was preferable to this waking dream, a collective memory wrought in sorrow and guilt.
//You sure you'll be okay, Spike?//
Zack was always worrying, always concerned, so caring and calm. If Cloud could repay that, he'd do anything, do anything to stop things from happening.
People can't change, the past can't change, life is all one deep rut drawn in the dark of the earth...but it was all he had. All they had, and Cloud would protect that. He'd stop this....stop it.
I'll be fine, Zack, just fine.
Speaking aloud to the empty air crowded with raindrops, Cloud's soft voice was drowned out in the downpour. It didn't matter, as by the time the words faded, the cliff was empty, the man descended, swallowed by the rain, and the gray.
SOLDIER headquarters at Shinra was always a busy place, the bustle of scientists, fighters and military personnel impossible to avoid at any time. At sometimes of the year it was intolerable, such as in the fall, when new recruits came into the program, and whenever the president showed up, or like now, when the SOLDIERS put on an obligatory demonstration to the newbies. It was enough to make someone head spin, being around that many people, and to this young man, it was more then he could take, sometimes.
The painfully shy do not play well with large crowds.
Still, to some degree the young man was used to it, so it would have taken a practiced eye to detect the slight shiver of cold from being outside so long, in such a thin outfit, or the slender flinch that spread through the young body at the synchronized shouts.
And a practiced eye was exactly what a certain SOLDIER possessed.
The boy jumped as a strong hand fell onto his soldier, the man sneaking up behind him with his normal awkward grace...no, not awkward, more playful, exuberant in a way the boy knew he would never be.
You don't want to be sick again, get back to the dorm, alright?
A pause then, the brief negative emotion at the fact that he should get back to his dorm, was that fragile that he couldn't sty out here with the rest of the cadets and watch the Second Class fight, passed through the boy, before he crushed it beneath the fact that despite being a friend, he had still been given an order by one of his superiors.
He had so many, as was expected, not that it helped his self esteem any, but since the boy did not have much of that to begin with, the harm was inconsequential. As the boy walked toward the main building, his gaze clouded and turned inward, thoughts scrolled across his mind like the clouds in a fast paced wind.
He didn't want to be helpless, to be weak, and he knew he was doing better, but sometimes it just hurt so much, to curse his slender frame, curse the boys born, it seemed, with the muscles and constitution to be wanted he wanted, what he had to be.
And beneath all of that was always the reminder, childhood memories surfacing with malicious intent...he had to make it into SOLDIER...because that was all there was, all he knew he could be.
The point of no return, no going back from here.
Couldn't go back home a failure, he had been that in his life far too often, couldn't let everyone down, to tell his Mother that he didn't make it. He would not do that...wouldn't fail everyone at home who believed in him. Believed in worthless him. It was a foreign concept, to imagine that others could think he had worth, that others thought he was worthwhile. He would be sorry, and distraught, to let them dow-
The sound, soft and quiet on against the steady soft of the rain, fought against the weather, to be heard, acknowledged. It was stopped by the other voice, the man he had grazed slightly, lost in his thoughts.
Don't worry about it. Just be careful, Cloud.
With that, the man was gone, his cloak gently passing over the air as he moved away, a picture of quiet grace, leaving the young boy to stare at him for several minutes as he stood at the edge of the crowd, confusion running through his mind.
//How did he know my name?//
A shout then, Cloud turned, looked up to see Zack coming toward him, concern on the normally grinning face. Sometimes it seemed as if Zack had no middle territory in emotions, it was all or nothing.
You alright? I thought you would have gotten to your quarters by now.
Normally, he would hate that worry, the fact that there was a need for it, that he had to be worried about. At the present, confusion was predominant in his mind. If the man was personnel, he could know his name, but he'd be in uniform, and he certainly wasn't. Random people, to his knowledge, didn't just wander through SOLDIER training and headquarters.
Zack, sir, who's that?
A sigh from his superior. How many times have do I have to tell you before I drill it into your chocobo head? Drop the sir unless we're in a drill, Spike. Who?
The man in the dark cloak over there.
I don't know, never seen him before, why do you ask?
A pause, hesitation, but no more than was usual, coming from the petite blond. His hesitation was very much an integral part of his shyness.
No reason, Si-Zack. It's not important.
Well, Spike, I don't know who he is.
Zack was lying, but he didn't know that.
It had been easier than it should have been, to sneak into SOLDIER headquarters. He knew the old passcodes, a string of numbers and letters that identified him as a recruit, SOLDIER, visitor, or arms dealer. Reeve had given them to him, and the man was President of Midgar, so even if Cloud could never truly treat the man as his superior, having fought with the giant Cait Sith moggle version of him, he could respect that he knew what he was doing.
Still, he expected someone to stop him, anyone to wonder about the unusual shape of his cloak over his back, but they were all busy with the demonstration. And the security was just lax...if they were at the Midgar Cloud knew, they'd be dead.
That was unfair, because if they were home, the security would be tighter. It came with the territory, so to speak. Besides, if he was right, the Wutui war was over, complete domination of Shinra assured, so the whole of Shinra had a reason to be lax, to celebrate.
They did not know that that these were the times to worry about, the times when you were celebrating and happy. To fall from on high made the realization that you could not fly all the more painful, so the world always waited for the good times for everything to come caving in.
//Spike, you are one pessimistic brat, you know that?//
A smile, quiet radiance, broke out on his face at his remembrance of another's joking mockery. He had never been open and charming, full of quiet calm and fury rather than smiles...but there were still people who could make him laugh.
No matter how bad things got, there were still people, people who could make him smile.
Still, he wasn't in the past to reflect on it. The power of science and lifestream, the collective memory of thousands upon millions of souls could only hold him here for so long before he would phase back, but that was alright. He had time, it would happen soon, and before he had to go back.
He was sure of it.
The SOLDIERS' united shouts rang into the air, hammer upon anvil, forging a sword out of the new recruits, taking their idolism and shaping it, their dreams, bent to /be/ there, one day. His heart twisted slightly, seeing himself, still not out of the rain, with Zack beside him, watching the perfect steps of the fighters, the rain dulling there blue uniforms to tin gray.
//A whole pack of tin soldiers...and I had wanted to be like them, to fit in to be one of that box, one in the same.//
He didn't know, now, whether he was sad or happy that he had never gotten that dream. Sighing, his eyes raked over the crowd, searching for him, for the one who would always stand out. He felt his heart catch in his throat when he saw him.
A welcoming darkness among the gray, strange that the man still wore leather with the raindrops falling harder now, the silver hair shining through the gloom, that setting him off as much as his height, and the fact that the air itself seemed to become still in his presence, reverent. The man turned, and Cloud saw the eyes, a brilliant jade, stern and commanding, not alight with the fires of madness, nor shining with the softness of compassion.
Both sets of eyes Cloud knew. This was the man he had known, and Cloud would have wanted only to stand here, in his presence and forget, forget everything.
But the planet was screaming. All the players were here, and it was time to move the pieces.
All good things end, and nothing lasts forever, not even death. No matter how many times he killed, it would still come back.
But Cloud wouldn't give up, wouldn't bow to the inevitability of fate, hated accepting anything, because...
//To accept is to give up. To die, to lay down and let them come. To be a failure, and I will /not/ be a failure.//
Not his words, Cloud didn't think himself as eloquent in words, but a borrowed expression does just as well in a pinch, and chuckling to himself, Cloud let the cloak fall off, drawing stares now, the Ultima Weapon was a bit hard to miss, they'd be attacking soon.
They shouldn't bother, they had bigger /things/ to worry about.
Drawing his weapon and schooling his expression to careful blankness, Cloud slipped out of the grip of the approaching Shinra security and charged.
Zack barely had time to register the movement of the man that Cloud had pointed out to him, before the man had thrown off the cloak covering him and was charging into the crowd of trainees and troopers. So swift was the man that he was he was only a blur, a flash of blue eyes and tied down blond hair.
And one really big sword.
Shit! Intruder, intruder in the courtyard, SOLDIERS, on alert. Detain the intruder!
There was never time to think in situations like these, those that sprung up out of nowhere, to surprise and destroy those unaware. There wasn't time to think, only to react, and Zack reacted as his training dictated.
Detain the intruder, use force if necessary.
Or if you could.
That was a questionable point, because the man was just so fast, fast enough that he couldn't be a regular human, but there was no one like that in the ranks, and as second in command, Zack knew who was where and when. It was part of his job after all, and he would certainly have noticed someone in the ranks who was fast enough so that he himself, running all out in the cramped space, dodging people for all he was worth, was not gaining on him. Sure, the man wasn't pulling away as he neared the demonstration stand, but he wasn't getting any closer either.
He couldn't claim that the man wasn't weighed down as he was either, the sword on his back easily carrying the same weight as the Buster sword Zack used and carried. At least neither of them could draw in the crowd like this, and the second class weren't useless, standing ready to detain the man who leapt up into the air, pulling his broad sword out as he did, landing on the platform, not sliding, despite the slickness of the rain soaked surface.
The Seconds should be able to handle him, there was only one of him, and so many of them...
Zack stopped. Stopped running, stopped even thinking, as did those that had not yet evacuated the area, unable to comprehend the sight before him.
//Who...what...is this guy?//
The SOLDIER fell, the first cut down by the flat of the impressive sword that the man handled as if he had been born to do so. There was a twirl, and the Second's standard blade flew high into the air, out of the fighter's hands, the man falling before his sword hit the ground, the blade shining softly, washed clean in the rain.
And then there were seven.
Wary now of sharing their comrades fate, two charged as one, the attacking leader leaping over the head of the man to land behind him, following up with a swift side strike that would have cut the man in two had in connected and not met his sword, the impact knocking the blade out the Second's hands, a sidekick delivered to the man's head knocking him off the platform, full of the power of his turn as he blocked the downward strike of the Second on the other side, quickly disabling him.
Bringing the count down to five. Four as the remaining numbers charged together, safety in numbers the driving, futile thought. The man was behind the leader, so swift that it was as if the rain hadn't had time to occupy the space he had left, a dry section among the damp. One stroke with the flat of the blade and he went down, the man flipping over the rest, which left Zack to wonder how one could flip over people with the weight of that sword, never mind land safely.
Four people left, and they had turned by now, watching him, waiting for him to make his move, defense the best offense they could afford in the face of superior skill. Silent and still, the man didn't move, staring at them. The tension stretched to something unbreakable, the ever present rain the only sound. In the lull, Zack felt rather than heard - one could /never/ hear the man - Sephiroth come up next to him, the tall presence reassuring as always.
Aren't you going to help them or stop him, Sephiroth?
As soon as he finishes with the Seconds.
Umm...Seph? Nice to know you have such faith in the rest of the troops, but what good will that do?
To come into the fight now, against a skilled opponent, would do far more harm than good. It could result in the death of one of the remaining fighters. Besides, he's not aiming to kill, he's working hard to avoid doing so.
Zack paused, considering this. It was true, the man had only attacked the fighters with the flat of the blade of his broad sword, an act that spoke for his skill. Zack used a sword like the stranger's, the Buster sword was of roughly the same dimensions, and in the same weapons class. The sword had enough inertia and weight to deal with, swinging it with the flat to strike meant swinging that side into the wind, causing an incredible amount of air resistance and drag. Large swords could be handled because they cut through the air as they were swung. It made the weight and size possible.
To force a sword like that bluntly through the air would not only result in slow, pained swings, but muscle fatigue and would most likely get the swordsman killed. It took incredible skill not to kill with a sword, but still fight as well as someone who was aiming to murder.
Zack knew now that he could give that man a good fight, but he'd have to leave it to Seph, and hope nobody got hurt.
Or rather, leave it to Seph, and hope he was close enough to cast a good cure spell, but nicely shielded by impact resistant concrete, perhaps in the form of a pillar or two. Although, if he had Heiddiger down here, he'd probably do as well...Palmer did not have the height to hide a crouching fighter.
The thought of trying to accomplish such a feat, and how to purge his mind after doing so, removed the man from his view as effectively as the aforementioned big boned executives would have. So Zack missed the man swing his sword around his hand and onto his back, a move that would have had his attention, and not just because it was idiocy to sheath a sword before the end of a fight.
The move, had Zack seen it, would have been immediately recognized as something he was working on, and could just about do without cleaving his skull in two.
This epiphany might have changed things, forced all of he nagging thoughts about the man to a culmination, but he didn't see it.
The fire spell, on the other hand, directed at the platform beneath the seconds, caught his full attention.
Cloud knew exactly what he was doing, and it was working perfectly. Most of the people in the courtyard had evacuated, and the remaining numbers were of a skill high enough not to get immediately destroyed.
But he didn't have much time. He could feel it coming, the planet screaming at high, voices of past and present echoing through the dark and hollow places in his body, his soul throbbing in resonance.
It was coming...and he had come to this place, this time, this waking dream to stop it. After that he could go home, an action that was something like waking from a dream to enter a nightmare, but it could not be helped.
There was very little that /could/ be helped.
He couldn't help staring as the Seconds collapsed under the brunt platform, couldn't help hoping they were alright, couldn't help looking at the mop of a mane of black hair that had not changed throughout the years, Zack was the same then as now...
And he couldn't help looking at the perfect space of darkness that took the Seconds' place.
Tall and imposing, a shade of darkness, unsullied black that made the silver stand out all the more, a perfect portrait of imposing ability and grace. Cloud stared at him, remembering him, remembering everything about him, about them.
Blue eyes met green and the world itself stopped, the impossible gaps in time and space that Cloud had crossed faded away and the world followed them. There was nothing left but the rain, falling around them both in a haze of aqua and emerald.
Cloud was frozen, couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but stare at the man, so wonderfully sane, so marvelously alive - and not his. Had he the ability, he would have laughed, even though he knew he could barely breathe. Here he was, so far from home, mooning over a man that was dead, that was no doubt preparing to beat the living daylights out of him. Shaking himself free of the spell of those eyes, Cloud tightened the grip on the Ultima Weapon, and tried to let the rush of battle prepare him for the man's inevitable assault.
But Sephiroth just stood there, looking at him, as if he was remembering him as well, as impossible as that may be. Cloud wished he would move, wished anyone would move, dispel the tension in the air, the haze of the rain and the pressure of Sephiroth's eyes, points of green among the gray.
Cloud got his wish, although not quite how he might have wanted it.
The courtyard began to shake, the reverberations breaking the tension, scattering it to the winds. The rush of adrenaline did come now, but it came from the anticipation, not the battle. He knew what was coming, and at all costs the past had to be preserved. Failure was not an option.
It came, as he knew it would. A fury of hatred and darkness, a sickening demon burst from the planet it had tainted with its presence, from the Lifestream it had used to traverse the gaps that Cloud had crossed. A vision that darkened the sky and the souls of those who saw it.
Cloud knew this demon, knew it just as he knew that Sephiroth and Zack were n longer concerned with him. Its voice, her name, cascaded around his mind, a sinuous chant, the promises and voices coming back full force.
The Calamity from the Skies, she who he must destroy.
//And she just had to be so god damned large, didn't she?//
Sighing, Cloud readied the Ultima Weapon, and wished for the days when hearing voices just meant that you had gone insane.
Author's Notes -
1. Ugh...I'm really not sure what this'll become. If it sucks, it will be suitably killed in infancy to be replaced by an updated version. If it really sucks just all go and read A Long, Hard Road and leave my pathetic drivel alone.
2. The title. It's Greek. It's weird. It ties in later. If someone else knows what it means, tell me. It does mean something, never fear.
3. At this point, even I'm confused, okay?
4. Gah. Just...Gah.