Disclaimer: Dissidia Final Fantasy and all characters and settings are the property of Square Enix. No profit is made or intended from the writing of this fiction.
I've been planning this fanfiction for a while now, and I know it's probably been done to death before, but I wanted to present my take on how to twist up space, time, causality, and all that fun stuff for an adventure story with a smattering of romance, but mostly a lot of melodrama, introspection, and sword fighting. Because this is Dissidia, and it is never over.
Be warned that there will be slash and het. And smack me if I start to take things too seriously.
Part 1. Reverse Gaia
"I've thought of a wonderful present for you..."
Cloud gripped his sword tighter.
And he hissed, eyes widening in horror. His hands were empty, painfully light when relieved of the Buster Sword's weight—it's not heavy—and grasping at nothing.
He reached into the dry well of his MP reserves, throwing an arm forward. A weak, sputtering fireball shot forward, dwindling as he watched, and sparked out.
"I am your reason!"
Cloud shot up to his feet, the comforting heft of the Buster in his right hand. A thin trickle of sweat ran down his neck, cold against his skin.
He let out the breath he'd been holding and rubbed his free hand over his gritty eyes. He looked around the room at the contours of practical, unembellished furniture bathed in a faint green glow of mako-shot eyes. Same as always.
In the first years since Meteor, he had travelled the Planet as if Nibel wolves were snapping at his heels. He had hired out his services (mercenaries, Zack had said) at first, but then people started recognizing him, the job offers changed, and he balked.
It wasn't as if he needed the gil, anyway.
He spent his time up north after that, stalking through the Ancients' city and killing monsters in the snow fields, and his friends thought he was going mad. He hadn't stopped moving for a moment after Meteor, they said. He hadn't come to terms.
He didn't know how to respond to that. What else could he do but fight?
And then it happened.
He couldn't explain what it was. Planet, he could barely remember what it was. Ithad happened, and he was back, and all that was left over were fragments of visions filled with bright colours and dangling beads, half-remembered screams, helpless nightmares, and a blinding headache behind his eyes when he tried to think about it.
He had come out of it, though. And he felt lighter. He bought a small house in Kalm, put a stand for the Buster sword beside his bed, and his friends had stopped haranguing him. The people in Kalm had gotten used to his presence once he didn't do anything worth noticing for a few months. Cid had nodded, that horrible dog-end in the corner of his mouth, and pronounced him "too damn skinny, but alright." Settled.
He didn't tell them about the nightmares.
Cloud didn't move.
The blue and white curtains (a gift from Yuffie, who also tried to hang banners of Leviathan from his walls) at his window hung flat, as if lead weights dangled from their ends, and the dead air was stifling, quiet like a storm was bearing down.
Ha, how dramatic. Just because he'd been dreaming about himagain—
Cloud's breath rasped in his lungs. He was at the window in two quick strides, he pushed aside the curtain, looked down at the street, and he wasn't surprised, because he knew.
A dark figure stood there, head tilted up toward his window, looking like a shadow cut out of the night.
Moonlight shot through a short gap in the roiling clouds, lighting up a flash of silvery hair and pale, luminous green eyes, and he launched himself out of the window. He knew.
Steel clashed against unyielding steel, throwing sparks up into the muggy air. Cloud slashed upward, diagonally under the figure's shoulder, but he was blocked with ease. Using the force of the parry to swing himself around into a hack against the other shoulder, he felt the whistle of shifting blade, ducked under as he disengaged smoothly, and lunged to plant the hilt of the Buster in the figure's rib cage. A hand slammed against his elbow and knocked him reeling backward as the figure stumbled a few steps away.
Cloud stood back, sword raised to guard, and he wondered.
The other hadn't taken the offensive once.
Cloud's eyes were slitted instinctively, almost shut to prevent the glow of his mako eyes from giving up his exact position in the dark. From the glint of green that seemed to flit in and out of his sight, his visitor was doing the same. And yet, he did not attack.
Quietly, Cloud said, "Sephiroth."
He looked the same, Cloud thought. Aloof as always and somehow too large of a presence to comfortably fit in Cloud's tiny kitchen. The lamps flickered once overhead. They ran on solar power now, charging throughout the day, but it had been overcast for several days now, and Cloud did not tap into the rapidly diminishing mako power grid that still stretched beneath their feet.
Sephiroth was watching the magnetic-backed clock attached to the fridge with idle interest. It had been Tifa's idea of a birthday gift: a dancing bubble marked the passage of seconds while two models of dolphins pointed to the hour and minute. Cloud had not wanted to let the man into his house. It was only when light flooded the street from a neighbour's open window that Cloud stepped back to his door, where an overhang blocked him from view from above. He'd picked the lock easily. He'd locked himself out on several occasions before, when he'd thought he felt... well, him, and dashed out through the upper storey window. He'd glanced back at Sephiroth, who had lowered his blade, but otherwise stood still, ignoring the wide eyes staring at him from other houses, and Cloud had jerked his head inwards once before walking away, leaving the door open for Sephiroth to follow.
The Soldier hadn't said anything about Jenova so far, and Cloud was taking that to be a positive sign.
Then again, he hadn't said anything at all. The Buster Sword leaned against the side of the kitchen table, within easy reach.
"Sephiroth." Cloud's voice sounded coarse to him, breaking the stillness of the tableau.
The man fixed him with an impenetrable look. "Strife."
Cloud frowned. "I'm not your Soldier."
Sephiroth's stare wavered, and he looked almost confused. "My apologies. My memories... are not clear as they should be."
"What do you remember?" Cloud said, trying to keep the hesitation from his voice. If he remembered, then... His hand twitched, and he quickly dropped it to his lap, although there was no doubt that Sephiroth had noticed him refrain from reaching for his sword.
"I remember... Nibelheim."
Cloud gripped the hilt of the Buster now, uncaring if Sephiroth saw it as a threat.
"I remember looking up at you while I fell toward the mako," Sephiroth said, unconcerned and staring at him unblinkingly. "And then I remember looking up at you again, like I was at the bottom of a dark pit, and you had a sword that glowed blue." His eyes flickered to Cloud's white-knuckled grip on the Buster Sword. "After that, I am not sure. There was... a red demon, and a grey land that stretched out with no sun in the sky. And again, I remember you."
"You remember slaughtering my mother, then," Cloud said, his chest tight and still.
Sephiroth did not respond, watching him steadily. A shadow crossed his eyes.
"You remember Jenova!"
Cloud was on his feet now, anger boiling through his veins. Sephiroth did not move, face as blank as ever, and Cloud would have leapt across the table at him but for his eyes. It was strange. Foreign. But Cloud had seen this kind of pain and emptiness before, in the other place.
"I remember a voice in my head. I remember rage, and fire. And then it was gone, and I looked up to see you, approaching me in the centre of the world. You killed me. And I woke up in the grey land."
The quiet voice sapped away Cloud's rage, leaving confusion and weariness behind.
"Why are you here?"
Sephiroth was silent for so long that Cloud thought he would not answer, and then he said, "I expect that I do not have a response that would satisfy you. When I found myself back on the Planet, I tried to contact Zack—"
Silence stretched out again. "I see."
When Sephiroth looked up again and opened his mouth, Cloud could see the words forming before they were spoken, and he spun, knocking over his stool and stalking away and up his staircase so that the kitchen door slammed on Sephiroth's words.
"I am sorry, Cloud."
The man was still sitting in the kitchen the next morning when Cloud couldn't ignore the presence in his house anymore.
He entertained a slightly hysterical thought that perhaps he should offer his guest breakfast, but discarded it. He wasn't going to be able to force any food down his throat, anyway, so there was no point in just feeding Sephiroth as if he was the man's mother. Cloud suppressed a nasty thought about Sephiroth and his mother, and he ignored him, crossing to his counter to start a pot of coffee.
He ground his beans quickly, thankful for the noise to distract him from his hyperaware nerves. Dumping them into a filter, he filled the machine with water, leaned forward to press the switch, and he stumbled, images stabbing into his eyes.
A blonde woman smiled at him dryly, a whip looped and hanging from her side. A long table stood in front of him, covered tureens wafting the scent of eggs and some sticky jam. The noise was overwhelming, roaring like a waterfall in his ears. He thought he might have heard a voice he recognized, so he strained to filter out the noise, and he thought the sticky sensation may have been his eardrums rupturing...
There was a hand on his arm, gripping his elbow.
He looked up through the black spots dancing around his vision and focused on the wisps of long silver-white hair and the glowing green eyes.
Gasping for breath, Cloud let Sephiroth heave him to a standing position and dug his fingers into his arms until the swaying stopped.
"Did you see something?"
Cloud glanced up sharply. The question was too pointed to be a guess.
"Have you been seeing things, too?"
Sephiroth nodded. "Glimpses of another world, perhaps."
"Do you recognize anything?"
"Not at all."
Cloud scowled, trying to reach through his memory. "I think I heard a familiar voice, but..." He shook his head, huffing a tired breath.
Cloud looked down at the large hand still clasped around his arm, and he stared pointedly until Sephiroth rolled his eyes and let go, turning away to reclaim his seat at the kitchen table.
The gesture was oddly normal for the most feared man on the Planet.
Cloud flicked on the coffee maker, leaned against the counter, and watched Sephiroth watch the clock again.
When Sephiroth spoke again, there was a distinct tinge of frustration in his voice. "That clock runs slow. It will be one second off in two days."
Cloud eyed him warily for signs of mental deterioration. "And this... bothers you."
Sephiroth's eyes flicked to him and back. "Does it not bother you?"
Cloud reached out slowly, took the clock off the fridge, removed the batteries, and placed it face down on top of the appliance. He offered a half-shrug when Sephiroth looked at him. "I know what time it is," he said, as if that was an explanation.
The coffee machine spluttered warningly, and he reached into a cupboard and took down two mugs. Sephiroth accepted a mug readily, and when Cloud placed the milk on the table next to the sugar bowl, the Soldier had already tossed at least three lumps into his coffee.
Cloud's eyebrows crawled up into his spikes. The General liked his coffee black and sickening sweet.
The domestic scene felt utterly surreal.
"This is much better than Shinra coffee," Sephiroth said, and Cloud wondered if he should take it as a compliment.
The Masamune was leaning against a counter, out of Sephiroth's immediate reach, and Cloud knew it was a move calculated to reassure, just as he knew Sephiroth would be able to arm himself in the space of time it would take to blink.
Sephiroth was staring down into the curls of steam, though.
"About Zack," he said finally, "how—"
"I don't want to talk about it," Cloud interrupted.
Sephiroth gave him a look that made his shoulders tense until they creaked, but he nodded curtly.
"Sorry," Cloud found himself saying. "Maybe later."
Sephiroth nodded again, after a while.
And it was an uneasy truce.
Cloud was surprised by how easily Sephiroth settled into his life. He kept to himself, offering information on his visions and asking sharp questions about Cloud's. He vanished without a trace when Cloud's friends appeared to drag Cloud out to have a drink or show him a new chocobo someone had been breeding. It was their method of checking up on him, he supposed. They hadn't gotten used to him answering his PHS and not being busy hacking a monster to pieces when they called, yet. When Cloud begged off, citing uproarious drunkenness that he could act out quite well until he stepped into the quiet of his house, Sephiroth would be there again, a glass of water set out for him and the same unimpressed look on his face.
And either Sephiroth was good at hiding it, or Cloud had visions far more often than he did, and they seemed to be increasing in frequency.
They didn't seem to make much more sense than before, though now he felt as if he had simply stepped into the other world, able to see and interact with objects. He had not seen a person since the blonde woman with the whip.
They were sitting on Cloud's couch as he half-heartedly watched a news feature on New Shinra's efforts to clean up the Midgar area (Reeve looked frazzled under the reporter's rapid questioning), when Sephiroth shifted and let his head fall back onto the worn upholstery behind him.
Cloud muted the programme.
He had learned to read Sephiroth more in the past few weeks, although he wasn't entirely sure if some of it wasn't Zack's influence. He could tell when Sephiroth was exasperated or more often bored by the smallest changes in his eyes. Displeasure was easy because he didn't bother trying to hide it, but it was rare, and even rarer was the tiny tilt at the corner of his mouth, a far cry from the cruel smirks that the Sephiroth he remembered used to give him.
And the most obvious tell was the way he said Cloud's name. "Strife" was back, stiff and formal, when he was feeling harried or distracted. He would call him "Cloud" more often than not, the syllable sharp and without inflection, unlike the way Sephiroth would draw out the name, rolling it around his tongue when he was feeling particularly vindictive. And when Cloud saw something, and the painful pressure slammed down on his head again, Sephiroth would reach out for him immediately, his name ringing out with true fear underlying it.
It was strange to think that Sephiroth feared for him, and Cloud could not understand why he cared.
He watched him sometimes, puzzling thoughts tasting of tin on the back of his tongue, but he did not ask.
Sephiroth was worried now, staring up at the ceiling with a thin crease between his brows.
Cloud sat in the silence and waited.
"Why am I here?" he said finally.
"Why am I alive when I clearly remember dying, even though I remember so little else?" Sephiroth turned to look at him. "Does it have something to do with these visions of another world?"
"I... think so," Cloud said. "I think there is something that we need to do."
Sephiroth gave him an amused glance. "Like destiny, Cloud? Really?"
He shrugged, and it was when he opened his mouth, maybe to give a defensive retort, when the pain slammed into the back of his head again.
Growling and breathing through his mouth, Cloud pressed his fingers into his temples and raised his head, and what he saw felt like a punch to his stomach.
A man with dark hair falling messily around the scar cut into his forehead and nose was hunched in front of him, clutching at his head as he raised it up. Their eyes met, mako blue and slate widening simultaneously in recognition.
Cloud could only stare, frozen and blank, until the vision flickered and vanished like a snuffed candle, leaving Sephiroth's acid green eyes peering down at him. He hadn't been wearing his armour or his gloves for a while, and his hands were pleasantly cool around Cloud's wrists.
"What did you see?"
Cloud sucked in a few breaths of air greedily, pushing them deep as if he could shove down the anxiety in much the same way.
"Squall," he gasped finally. "I'm seeing into Squall's world. And he's seeing mine."
The visions quieted after that, as if satisfied that the message had been delivered. He was able to catch glimpses into Squall's world on occasion, but he hadn't seen the man again.
No matter, they had plenty to worry about.
"You are certain you cannot recall exactly where you met Squall? Or how to get there?"
Cloud bit back a growl. "No. I've told you everything I can remember. I only know he is a friend. A comrade. I know his name. We fought together in the other place. But I can't tell you where this other place is, or how I got there or back. You were there."
"I remember even less than you."
"You seemed to have all of your memories while you were there. You certainly enjoyed taunting me about what I didn't know and what my purpose was."
Sephiroth was looking at him, but he looked more like he was staring through him. "Perhaps," he said slowly, "the person I was then knew just as I do now that you represented some key to who I was or what purpose I was to serve. I knew that you were important."
Cloud didn't know how to respond to that.
The green eyes focused on him, and Sephiroth waved a hand dismissively. "Or perhaps you provoked me."
Cloud thought he would have attacked the man if his words hadn't sounded so oddly like a joke. He shook his head. "Never mind that. The question is, if we're connecting to other worlds, who could be causing that, and who would stand to gain from it?"
The answer dangled tantalizingly out of reach, inextricably tangled with the lost memories.
They did not have the luxury to think long upon the mystery, however. The news reports had gotten steadily more frantic.
There had been a sharp rise in sightings of strange, mutated monsters. Ark dragons with wingspreads of several feet and a paralyzing screech had been joined by Allemagnes, and Cloud was certain he had never seen those outside of the Northern Crater. At first, the monsters would hide near the Mythril Mines, ambushing lone travellers, but as their numbers increased, swarms had crept closer to human villages.
The same phenomenon was occurring all over the Planet. Grossly proportioned monsters and ones breeding outside of their natural habitat attacked any prey they could easily find, and they were getting bolder.
The smash of collapsing gates had Cloud on his feet and sprinting down into the village square with sword in hand long before the screaming began.
"Always the middle of the night," he groused, taking a ready stance and casting a quick fire spell to illuminate the enemy.
He needn't have bothered. Huge horns silhouetted against the stars rose up and dropped sharply as the King Behemoth reared. The blasted thing didn't bother to hide, and was too big to do so in any case. Shrieking, it dug in its hooves and charged at him.
Cloud leapt out of the way, landing a heavy slash on the beast's side and cringing when it howled. It charged at him again, and a multitude of slashes scored into its other flank, the Masamune only visible from the blurred flashes of reflected light.
The Behemoth spun, its tail whirring around like a mace, and Cloud flung himself backward to avoid the spikes.
How much HP did the bastard have, anyway?
Cloud reached inside of him and shoved, and his sword glowed bright orange. Leaping straight up in to the air, he charged blade first, first stabbing through the monster's skull before pulling back and cleaving straight downwards.
The Behemoth staggered, its head pouring green blood, and it collapsed in a heap. Starting slowly, as if with great reluctance, and then gathering speed, its body disintegrated, throwing a foul smell out onto the wind.
"I have never seen a King Behemoth in Kalm, before," Sephiroth said behind him.
Cloud turned and looked at him. A spray of green blood was clinging to the man's long hair, and he was wiping at another splatter across his cheek with an expression of resigned distaste.
"Yeah, me neither. I wonder. It can't be natural."
The corner of Sephiroth's lips twisted, and he opened his mouth as if to speak.
This time, when the pressure hit, they both winced and curled around their heads. There was a heavy sensation, as if they were already laminated against a wall, but something was trying to force them even further into it, and Cloud began to gasp for breath. The pressure felt like it had collapsed his lungs. He pushed back against it, not sure if he was pushing physically or with his mind.
And then, just as suddenly, it was gone.
Cloud was on his hands and knees, retching as his airway rubbed against itself as it inflated.
There was a new voice, groaning as if in pain.
He looked up at the person sprawled in front of him.
The first thing he saw was the tail, curled around like it was trying to shield itself. He saw the brightly coloured clothing, flaring out at the leg, and he saw the golden hair.
Zidane was feeling much better once Cloud had dragged him into his house and forced some water down his throat, as evidenced by the way he was hanging by his tail from the banister of the staircase.
"Wow! Everything looks so... made! What's this do?"
The lights flicked on and off.
"What kind of magic lamps do you have? They light so quickly!"
"What's this box? Do you have your Tetra Master cards in here? Whoa, what are these glowing spheres? Are they some kind of treasure?"
The boy looked up guiltily, a materia in each hand.
"Do you know what happened? How you got here?"
Zidane hopped up onto the arm of the sofa, tossing a Contain materia up into the air and catching it again.
"Oh yeah. I've seen this before. It's like when Terra and Gaia tried to merge. Someone is trying to force two worlds to occupy the same space, like Garland did."
"Perhaps Garland is the force behind our worlds colliding, then?" Sephiroth mused.
A chill snapped through the air, the beginnings of a Freeze spell, and Sephiroth snatched the materia away from Zidane with an icy glare.
Zidane stared at his empty fingers, perplexed. "What was that? I felt Mist in that sphere."
"It was a spell," Cloud said. "And please don't touch any of my materia until we know you're not going to use it against us by accident."
Zidane attempted to look contrite. He leaned in closer to Cloud. "Why are you hanging around with one of Chaos' warriors, anyway?" he said quietly.
"Chaos?" Cloud's fingers dug into the cushions. Images pounded into his head. Golden Cosmos. Fiery Chaos. He blanched. He remembered the war, and judging by Sephiroth's expression, he did as well.
Tension stretched between them as Cloud stared at Sephiroth, wondering if he would be able to reach the Buster Sword before Sephiroth spitted him like a pig. He searched Sephiroth's eyes for hostility as they flickered.
"I was never loyal to Chaos," Sephiroth said lowly, so that Zidane had to strain to hear.
"Looked like it." Cloud's knuckles were white.
"Uh, guys..." Zidane said, glancing back and forth.
"Naturally. Your judgement has been nothing but laudable, if memory serves." Sephiroth's voice was soft and flat, but acid-green eyes glittered, brittle.
"You—!" Cloud surged to his feet, a hand swinging out to his weapon, and he barely registered the crash of a lamp toppling to the ground. He heard Zidane shout his name. He raised the Buster, glaring down at the seated Soldier, and he paused.
Sephiroth had the Masamune balanced in one hand, poised defensively. He hadn't moved otherwise.
It was the furious jump to Sephiroth's jaw that made Cloud hesitate.
"You..." Cloud scowled. "You're angry. Why?"
Sephiroth narrowed his eyes.
"Why would you care?" Cloud continued, after a moment. "You act as if I accuse you. Unjustly."
"I would be pleased to fight you anytime you wished, Cloud." Sephiroth stood, staring down at him. "But it will not be on anyone's terms but ours. I am no pawn, controlled by the dangle of memories before me."
"Oi!" Zidane waved an arm between them. "You're both idiots! Why do you have to fight?"
There was a long, terse moment, and then the clunk of the Buster Sword lowering to tap on the ground was loud in the silence.
Sephiroth's eyes flitted to Zidane. "Hmm," he said, and a corner of his mouth lifted. "Why not fight?"
Cloud's jaw clenched and he looked away. "Not interested."
Zidane looked as if he was about to protest again, but a whine sounded from down the hall.
"This climate does not agree with me!"
Kuja slunk into the room, fingers tugging ruefully at the spray of feathers standing at his hairline. "Look how dry my hair is, Zidane!"
Cloud knew his confusion must have been written plainly on his face because Zidane looked at him and grimaced.
"My brother," he said simply, shrugging his shoulders as if to say what-can-you-do.
TBC - Let's see what they're up to in FF3verse next!