Chapter 32 – The Reunion

Warnings: yaoi sex, filthy language, adult situations

Full Disclaimer: I do not own or profit in any way from Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children, Crisis Core, or any of the stuff Square Enix owns. I'm merely borrowing the characters/situations for my own amusement. (More's the pity.)

This is it. Setting things up for the events of Advent Children and then finishing it up. Allow me to propose an alternate ending. Thank you so much, all you followers who've kept pace with me over the past months. This ending is for you! XD

A/N: some FFVII terms defined: "esuna" – cures your character of all status problems "Phoenix Down" – brings a recently deceased character back to life, although in a weakened state "Raise" – magic that brings a character back from being recently killed "Regenerate" – gives HP back to your character over time.

Cloud Strife sat in his bedroom on the second floor of Seventh Heaven, the six blades of First Tsurugi spread out around him. He was cleaning and sharpening them, a job that would take him hours to complete properly. A normal person would be sleeping now … but Cloud needed something like this, to occupy his mind and give him something to do besides just lie in bed wishing for the obliteration of sleep. He thought briefly about his youth … when he could fall into bed, be sound asleep in under five minutes, and then sleep for 10 hours straight. Those days were long gone. He was lucky if he got 4 or 5 hours a night now, and those hours were broken by nightmares and long periods of wakefulness.

He sighed and held up one of the small "switchblades", looking critically along its edge, checking for any nicks or burs. It looked good. Like it could slice through your wrist and you wouldn't even know it happened until the blood welled up, dark red and thick. Closing his eyes and wiping his forehead on the back of his left hand, Cloud stopped that line of reasoning. He wasn't going to kill himself. Oh, he still wanted to die - there wasn't anything in this world that could stop that – but he'd decided that when it happened it wouldn't be because he'd done it himself. Accident, disease, murder … fine. In fact, PLEASE. Anything but a long, mako-extended life.

There was a timid knock at his door. Cloud looked at it but didn't say anything. Then Tifa's voice came softly, "Cloud? You have a visitor."

Fuck. He set the switchblade down and got up, walked to the door and opened it, frowning. Then his eyebrows rose in surprise as he saw who was there behind Tifa. What was her name again?

"Nash," she said, uncannily knowing exactly what he was thinking. "The General's secretary. Or I was. May I come in?"

Cloud considered it while Tifa looked from one of them to the other in consternation. She was actually wringing her hands! Cloud finally decided to take pity on her and end the stress. He nodded and opened the door wider. Maybe she was here to exact revenge on the General's murderer. Good. He didn't look at Nash as she entered, instead he muttered, "Thanks," to Tifa and shut the door gently, leaving his friend out in the hallway. Then he stood there, facing the door for a moment or two before forcing himself to turn around.

Nash was standing in the middle of all the swords, looking at him. A gentle smile was on her face. "It's good to see you again, Strife," she said softly.

Helplessly, Cloud's eyes filled with tears as he looked at her. She hadn't changed in the past few years, not a bit. She was still tiny and matronly-looking, with her snapping dark-brown eyes holding all their secrets. What was she doing here? After all this time! She was a reminder of better, sweeter days … a reminder he didn't need. "Wh-what …" he tried to speak, but his voice broke hoarsely. He didn't try again.

"I know, dear," Nash said gently. "I'm the last person you expected, probably, and more than likely the last person you want to see." She looked at the swords admiringly, then looked at him again. "I figured it was about time I came to see you, now that you're …" she paused, clearly searching for a mannerly way to say now that you're sane again. "Now that you're better."

Cloud wiped his eyes impatiently. How many tears can one fucking person hold?! He took a deep breath and steadied himself. "What do you want, Ms. Nash?" He couldn't bring himself to be pleasant to this person who was so intimately connected to the General. Sephiroth. Sephiroth.

"Two things," she said in her now-I'm-all-business voice. "Commander Genesis Rhapsodos and Commander Angeal Hewley are dead," she announced, her face carefully blank.

Cloud just stared at her. Everyone had thought they were dead, but since their bodies hadn't been found, it wasn't for sure.

"Apparently they had been living down in Mideel," Nash said, seating herself on the edge of Cloud's bed in a very ladylike manner. "But now they are back home in Banora." She smiled, sadly.

"What happened?" Cloud asked, although he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Mutation. Genetic tampering by Professor Hollander. When they disappeared it was because he'd captured them and was experimenting on them."

"He dead too?" Cloud asked, although his voice was almost bland.

"Yes."

"Good."

When Cloud didn't speak again, when he merely sat down and began oiling the mechanisms that joined his swords into one, Nash cleared her throat. "So that was the first reason for my visit. The second one … you were mentioned in the General's will."

Cloud's hands hesitated slightly, a minute halt in the lubricating of First Tsurugi's joints. "I don't want anything. And I don't want to hear what he said, or what he wanted. I don't want to hear about it."

"That's what I thought you'd say. But it doesn't matter. The item he wished you to have has never been found."

There was only one thing she could be speaking about – Masamune. That beautiful, deadly sword. He'd felt its edge more than once. At this point, he hated the fucking thing. "So if it's never been found, what the hell are you doing here, Ms. Nash?" Cloud asked, his voice low and hopeless. Why did she come? Like he needed any reminders of how good his life used to be!

"He g-gave Inoue the vehicles," she stammered, coming to a halt with a small gasp. "I'm … I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Nash said, her voice breaking. "I'm working for ShinRa still, even though there's not much left, but I've read all the reports and … and I just couldn't … did he really, I mean, I can't ..." Her voice trailed off, and Cloud looked up to see that she was crying silently, tears tracking down her cheeks.

He got up and went to sit next to her. "It wasn't him, Nash. He was gone. He was insane. I don't know where the real Sephiroth was, maybe buried down inside underneath all that madness and hate … but it wasn't him." His voice sounded mechanical, but Nash didn't pick up on it. He was just repeating what they'd said to him in the asylum, over and over. Nash leaned over onto his shoulder and wept without a sound, shoulders shaking, fingers clutching at the material of his one long sleeve. (A/N: See Cloud's clothing in Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children)

After what seemed like a very long time (to Cloud), Nash sat up, retrieved a tissue from her purse, and dabbed at her tears. "Please excuse the outburst." Something in his manner had finally gotten through to her. If she had been hoping for a sort-of 'wake' wherein she and Cloud would share memories of better days with Sephiroth, she was sadly mistaken. Cloud would not, could not do that. No matter who needed it.

After Nash had left, Cloud finished the maintenance on his huge interlocking sword and put it all back together, the blades fitting together smoothly and perfectly. He practiced with it for an hour, keeping his mind carefully blank, concentrating on the forms and his execution of them. When his arms were trembling with exhaustion, he took a shower and then laid down in his bed, closing his eyes and hoping for a quick slide into sleep. But of course, as usual, it didn't happen that way.

Nash's face swam before his eyes. Why did they think that he would want to talk about what happened? Why did they want to? Oh, he knew all the reasons – they'd certainly explained it very thoroughly at the asylum. He'd been stripped bare there, they'd gone all the way back into his childhood and unearthed every hurtful hateful thing he'd ever been through. From the molestation he'd suffered at the hands of his father's brother ("you were just a child, Cloud, you couldn't do anything but obey him and do those things"), to the incident with Ravien, all the bullying he'd endured … they ripped it all out of him and made him examine it and relive it. All in the name of sanity. Didn't they know that defense mechanisms were there for a reason? Didn't they have the example of Sephiroth before them – he who'd been just FINE until he'd been forced to face his 'reality'?

It had been so good to get away from those misguided doctors. On the day he'd left the asylum, Cloud had felt a sensation that was close to happiness. It wasn't, of course. He knew what real happiness was.

The nights were the worst, of course. Long empty hours, devoid of sleep, lying in bed alone, aching and yearning for what was. The nightmares were bad, reliving the worst moments of the hell he'd been through, killing Sephiroth over and over as the night wore on. But somehow, the non-nightmare dreams were worse. Dreams wherein Sephiroth's glowing green eyes gazed at him, shining with love. Making love … every sensation, every kiss, every touch felt so real, so incredibly vivid. Their sweetness became vicious bitterness when he woke up and realized that none of it was real. Not anymore. Then the tears would come. Wretched sobs, howls of despair that he muffled in his pillow. It felt like his soul was being pulled out in pieces, as though he was being tortured. Finally he would give in and cast sleep upon himself … or pull out a peace ring and put it on … but he tried, he really tried to keep from doing those things. Pride, mostly, what few shreds of it he had left. He wanted to die, but he at least wanted to be himself when he went into the Lifestream.

XXX

The sun was hot, beating down on his bare arm and the top of his head. His sunglasses were gone, though – during the battle they'd been actually shot off his face! Someone up there must like him, because he should be laying on the ground with his head blown off. Blood trickled down one cheek as he revved Fenrir and looked up at the cliff – the cliff where Zack was buried, where the Buster sword stood as a headstone for him. A lone man straddled a motorcycle, looking down at him. Then the slender male gunned the motor, turned it around easily, and was gone.

Who were these motherfuckers?! Two of them had come after him out of the blue, attacking him, shouting strange questions about their mother and calling him 'brother'… their eerily familiar faces intent, demanding answers. Dammit. He'd just been out on a run, a simple delivery, and had been on his way back 'home' (he always put it that way in his head. 'Home.' Because it wasn't, not really. Nowhere was.) To have these jerks jump him out of the blue … he didn't need crap like this interrupting his life. He just wanted to easily float along until it was over.

But don't you wish they'd killed you? a sneaky, oily voice inside his head said. Cloud gunned Fenrir's motor and peeled out on the scree. Yeah, he'd rather be dead. So what else was new.

XXX

Seeing Reno again was no treat. Cloud knew all the things Reno had done during the 'bad times', and he could not forgive. Perhaps the redhead's loyalty was really to Rude, but he'd still chosen to follow Rufus' orders every single time … and Cloud could not abide that. He'd thought they were friends. Now, although they were no longer enemies (since ShinRa was no longer a threat, decimated as the company was), Cloud still wanted nothing to do with him. Having him call out of the blue was aggravating. So Reno had a job for him, huh? Who fucking cared.

But Tifa had said Reno had sounded strange. Had they learned something about the geostigma? Just because Cloud wouldn't mind if the disease claimed his life, that did not mean he didn't want to see Denzel healed. (A/N: Denzel, the boy Cloud found outside Aeris' church and took home, on Tifa's orders. He lives with them all at Seventh Heaven. See FFVII-AC.) Well. Whatever. He'd go and see what the redhead wanted. Perhaps just for the pleasure of turning him down.

RUFUS. It had been Rufus! Cloud's shock had almost left him breathless. How the fucker had survived the blast from Weapon – the blast that had practically totaled the upper 5 levels of ShinRa headquarters … Cloud didn't give a fuck. But there he was. Only he was suffering from what had to be one nasty case of geostigma, since he was covered almost head to toe by a blanket, in a wheelchair, bandages peeking out from under the soft linen. Seeing Rude was also no treat … that smug bastard had tried to take Cloud's head off when he walked into the room – like Reno before him, that fucker! – but Cloud had gone in with First Tsurugi ready and had blocked them easily.

So. Now he was on his way back to Midgar and was thinking furiously. What. The. Fuck. Who were those bastards who'd attacked him earlier? What was all the talk about Mother, about 'remnants'? Remnants? What the hell did that even mean? Remnants of what – or of who? Cloud was uneasy, filled with memory and foreboding, remembering Hojo and his fucked-up experiments, the shambling black-cloaked figures of the Sephiroth clones who'd been drawn to the Great Northern Cave. But like he'd told Rufus, Sephiroth was DEAD. He'd made damn sure of that, hadn't he? A spike of pain stabbed him in the chest and he resolutely turned his thoughts away from that subject.

Genesis and Angeal had also been made to participate in experiments, so Nash had said. Were these remnants of them? Cloud shook with anger. All these years and he was still having to deal with all this utter bullshit. Why couldn't people just leave him alone?! Why was it him that they'd turn to, hoping he'd fix things, take out the bad guy, return the Planet to rightfulness again? Son of a BITCH. He was sick of it! Perhaps it was time to leave Midgar, stay away, find a quiet place to just "be".

XXX

But of course he didn't leave Midgar. The kids needed him. Tifa couldn't hold things together there on her own, although the bar was making a nice living for her. Denzel's illness was a major issue … he was weak, he required care. Although Cloud wondered if his care was what the boy really needed. He knew that, like most people, Denzel and Marlene considered him to be a hero. The thought was bitter, so bitter. Cloud Strife, the citizen who had come back from Professor Hojo's manipulations and saved the Planet, saved it from a madman who was bent on destruction. What did they know?! That was definitely not how Cloud thought of himself, not even fucking close. Pushed into a role that didn't suit him, forced to murder his former lover, made to lead a group of fighters when he had no fucking idea what he was doing!

But the Planet was still here. Things were coming back, moving slowly toward normalcy. Whenever he looked at Tifa and caught her looking at him with those eyes … shining with love and calm acceptance … he berated himself for staying and making it impossible for her to move forward with her life. Although she knew he was gay, that didn't stop her from loving him. But he just couldn't give her what she wanted. It wouldn't matter even if she'd been a man – he couldn't give any of them what they wanted. That part of Cloud Strife was dead. The fact that he would wake up from some of the "good" dreams with a painful, straining hard-on … that didn't matter. His body could still react sexually, but so what? It didn't mean he would do something about it. He wouldn't. He couldn't. The "hero" got offers all the time, from men, from women … it didn't matter. His heart, what was left of it, was cased in a thick coating of ice. No-one, nothing could compare to his first and only love. Maybe Cloud should have thought of that before: what life could be like post-Sephiroth. If he'd been tossed aside like the lovers who'd come before him. But he hadn't ever seriously considered it. It had all been so wonderful –

Cloud gave himself a mental slap and stopped the painful reminiscing about his one-of-a-kind lover.

His lover who had gone mad, murdered Cloud's mother and most of Nibelheim, attempted to murder Cloud more than once, killed Aeris … the list went on and on. So many names. So much death. But in the deep dark recesses of his heart, in the middle of the night when the world slept and Cloud stared into the blackness of his room, when the tears scalded his eyes and his throat ached from sobbing … Cloud admitted it. He still loved him. It would never die. And it burned. Guilt. Shame. Self-loathing. None of that changed a thing. Sephiroth. Sephiroth.

WHY?! Oh Odin … why?

XXX

A/N – As you can probably tell, some of the events of "Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children" have been taking place alongside the story. Please recall the events of the movie, and allow me to fast-forward to the following scene. (And if you haven't watched it – holy hell, why not?! Go and watch it, right now! Yes, I mean it, right now! For the best experience, make sure it's Advent Children – Complete. You won't regret it, it's fantastic!)

Their names were Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz, Cloud thought as he reassembled First Tsurugi and prepared to fight Bahamut. Barret yelled up at him, "You're late, bitch!" and Cloud looked down at him, expressionless, then back up into the sky where Bahamut circled. Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz, what the fuck. The three who'd attacked him that day outside Midgar … the 'brothers' that Rufus Shinra had given him such piss-poor information about … the three remnants that Vincent Valentine had spoken of in the Sleeping Forest. But remnants of what or who? Cloud thought as he clenched his jaw, looking up at the summon monster. He began running along the I-beam, preparing to leap into the fray with the huge creature. Could be remnants of Genesis and/or Angeal, he thought, muscles in his legs bunching. Or, as Vincent thinks, remnants of Jenova's cells, washed up from the Lifestream. And it could really be that – she with her pale hair and delicate features and frame. He leapt into the air, conjuring as he did, so that he arrived directly over Bahamut's head, raising his sword high. "But I think it's something else!" he shouted, anger giving him strength. "They look like someone else!"

He wasn't afraid of fighting Bahamut … hadn't he done so before, in all the summon's different forms? Fought him and beat him, actually held his summoning materia, for many years. Eventually he knocked Bahamut Sin down, and the creature rose up high into the sky, sucking in air as it prepared to launch its most devastating attack, Tera Flare. As Cloud's former battlemates (he couldn't stand to call them 'friends' anymore) helped propel him upward toward the monster, it launched it – a huge blue fireball that streaked downward toward the city.

Cloud fearlessly plunged into the fireball, half-hoping it would consume him, but somehow knowing it would not. Suddenly movement caught his eye … ahead … it was … a hand reached out toward him as he traveled through the Tera Flare, a hand, wrist, an arm wearing a familiar bracelet. Aeris!? It was Aeris! "Ready?" she asked, and grabbed his hand to fling him up and out with greater speed, transferring energy through their linked hands.

Aeris! Goddammit, what was she doing? … what the fuck was going on!? What had he gotten himself into – there was no time to think it over further, there was Bahamut, prepping another attack. Cloud blocked it, slashed at Bahamut's head, and then jabbed First Tsurugi into the creature's neck. Climhazard – it had always been one of his best moves. Stick the sword in, then run down the monster's body, dragging the blade, slicing the flesh open from stem to stern.

And it worked now. Bahamut's lifeless body tumbled back to Gaia. Cloud landed nearby, breathing hard but not wounded. He stared down at the creature. Aeris. What was she doing involved in all this? He wiped his forehead. But before he could ponder it any further –

A flash of light in the near distance. A shout of surprise and despair. What?

XXX

"Mother!" Rufus had her the whole time, of course, Kadaj had suspected as much – Rufus was a consummate liar and schemer, trying to turn everything to his own advantage every fucking time. But he forgot about the other man in one split second when Rufus tossed Mother off the side of the building. Kadaj leapt after her, straining, disregarding the sound of gunfire behind him … until, blessedly, finally – he held his Mother in his arms. It felt like his heart was going to beat its way out of his chest.

Loz and Yazoo had returned and were waiting below, and when Kadaj landed lightly near them, they all nodded at each other. Time to go. Tucking his Mother safely in close to his body, Kadaj jumped onto his motorcycle and tore out of the center of Edge onto the freeway that would lead him back into Midgar proper. Yazoo and Loz followed closely behind. Get out of Edge and away from Rufus and Cloud, find a quiet spot to re-group. Then they could find out what Mother wanted them to do.

[A/N – Insert the motorcycle chase/fight scene here. Isn't it fantastic? :D Include the events inside Aeris' church.]

XXX

Cloud sat on Fenrir, revving it, looking at the water that now formed a small pond inside the old church. He felt a resurgence of energy and looked down at his formerly geostigma-ravaged left arm. Healed. The blotchy black disease was simply gone. He took a deep breath and could feel air fill his lungs completely, without pain or that horrible feeling of stretching. So. Aeris comes through again, huh? What was she healing him for. What was going to happen. He didn't have time to think things through, he could hear Kadaj's motorcycle speeding away outside. He kicked Fenrir into gear and guided the huge motorcycle around the pond, then out of the old church, trying not to think too much, trying to ignore Aeris' voice when she spoke in his mind, spurring him on. In his experience, since her death she'd brought him nothing but heartache and grief.

What were they expecting from him this time?

XXX

Kadaj hung from the edge of one of Midgar's decimated buildings, a long fall yawning below him, gasping for breath as he clutched his Mother to his abdomen. He'd kept her safe ever since he'd been reunited with her, through the motorcycle chase and the battles with Cloud, he'd kept her tightly tucked against his side. Now he glanced up at Cloud where he stood above him, First Tsurugi at the ready. The wind playfully tugged at their clothes and hair.

So what if I'm a puppet? Once upon a time … you were too!

The water in that old crappy church had hurt him. He felt weak and it seemed like he couldn't hold onto a thought properly. But what was there left to say? His sword had fallen to the rubble below, he had no way to defend himself or his beloved Mother. He flicked another glance up at Cloud, growing desperate now—

"Brother!" Two voices, calling in unison. Cloud tensed above him, his blue eyes looking past Kadaj, his fingers tensing on the hilt of his huge sword. Kadaj jerked his head back and to the side, looking over his shoulder, down, down … and saw his brothers standing below, their arms outstretched.

"Brother! We're here!" Loz shouted.

Kadaj looked up at Cloud. This changed everything. He half-turned and hurled the small lacquer box that held his Mother, threw it out and behind him. The box separated mid-flight, half of it falling away. Cloud let out a wordless sound, his eyes flicking from the box back to Kadaj … and then Kadaj flung himself backward with all his remaining strength, a grunt of effort accompanying the movement. He caught up to the box easily and snatched it up again, holding it gently against his chest as Cloud watched, stunned into immobility.

Kadaj began to fall, his eyes on his Mother, a peaceful look on his face. Then he raised his eyes to Cloud, and cunning amusement spread on his features. The box fell away as he removed his Mother from it and let the box fall away. "Our reunion … bet you're dying to watch," he said, the words almost too soft for Cloud to hear.

Stunned, Cloud muttered "fuck!" to himself and leaped, jumping high and far, launching himself towards Kadaj, his hands tightly clenched onto First Tsurugi. Below him, he saw Loz and Yazoo staring upwards. Loz was laughing joyfully, arms still stretched out towards his falling brother, but Yazoo kept his customary calm, merely smiling as he reached for his sibling.

Kadaj fell straight onto them, still cradling his Mother tightly to his chest. Yazoo and Loz seemed to catch him, gathering close. Cloud was falling fast, eyes glued to the scene below, he saw Loz put his arms around his brothers, the three of them standing close, so close, Jenova's head in the center – they seemed to blur suddenly – Cloud blinked – they were surrounded by a white glow or mist – no time to think about it, First Tsurugi held out in front of him as he fell toward the threesome, ready to strike them down, take them out, remove the threat, do as he could feel the Planet Aeris Zack everyone pushing him to do—

His fall was stopped. The clang of sword-meeting-sword. But … but Kadaj's double-bladed sword had fallen, how? – stunned, he looked at the blade single blade! that First Tsurugi had been stopped by. He swallowed hard – looked beyond it – into bright green eyes. His own eyes widened as his breath stopped in his throat.

"Good to see you … Cloud."

It's difficult to describe what went on inside Cloud Strife at that moment. To say that he went immediately into shock is too weak to describe the intensity of feelings and thoughts that hammered into him all at once. Those eyes. That voice. The physical presence of this once-beloved man. "UH!" His breath gusted out of his lungs in a rush. A huge crushing pain exploded in his chest, raced out along his left arm and seemed to tear the muscles in his neck and jaw. Blood vessels broke in his eyes as he burst into tears from shock and pain. And then ….

And then ….

Silence. Glowing green strands of light. Soft comforting well-being. Midgar was gone, replaced by bright white nothingness, interrupted by the rivers of beautiful green light that flowed around him. Cloud "rose" to his "feet" and gazed around him. What? "Wh-where … where am ..."

You're in the Lifestream, Cloud, a soft familiar voice said, and Aeris appeared at his side. Her gaze was sad, filled with pity for him. You had a … a massive MI. Your heart …. Suddenly Zack was there as well, his face a mirror of Aeris'. Pity. Sadness. Genesis. Angeal. His mother. They gathered around him, touching him. Cloud. Cloud.

Rip. A pulling, tearing yank at his soul, as he was pulled out and away. Cloud screamed, hands out in front of him, watching as they quickly receded from view, and then ….

And then ….

"Oh, no you don't. You don't get to die so easily, Cloud," he heard as weight returned to his body. Aches, pains, the coldness of a hard surface under his buttocks and against his back. First Tsurugi was lying across his thighs. He lifted his head, neck muscles screaming with remembered pain, and looked up as his head fell back against the hard wall behind him. Sephiroth – Sephiroth! – crouched in front of him, his face hard and intense as he stared down at Cloud. "H-how …." Cloud's voice sounded rusty with dis-use, as thought it'd been years since he'd spoken.

"Phoenix down," Sephiroth said through gritted teeth. He reached forward and brushed the remnants of the 'feather' off Cloud's chest. "You don't get to opt out like that. Not after what you've done. Now get up."

He straightened up and stepped back, Masamune a silent threat in his right hand. He watched Cloud intently. "Get up. Now."

The power of the General. Cloud clambered to his feet, fighting dizziness – he'd never been dead before – and moved to his left as quickly as he could, scrambling to catch hold of First Tsurugi's hilt before it fell off his legs, one hand on the wall to steady himself. He couldn't take his eyes off of Sephiroth. There he was – just as tall and beautiful as ever. "You … you used a Phoenix down … on me? Why?" The question popped out before he could censor himself.

"I just told you. You don't get to have a heart attack and die like that. It's too easy. We have … unfinished business." That voice. Hard and cold, deep and threatening … but still, still Sephiroth's voice.

Masamune's tip scraped along the stone floor, striking small sparks, as Sephiroth brought it around and into a tip-down position directly in front of him. Cloud looked at it, thoughts whirling around in his head. Sephiroth had saved him … only so that he could personally kill him. That's all he could grasp at the moment. The knowledge sank slowly into him, like thick caustic oil slipping between the lobes of his brain, burning, hurting, so bad. He wanted to grab his head and squeeze, tight, try to force it all away. But, suddenly, he became aware that … that all of the thoughts flitting through his head weren't necessarily his own. Pressure, against what felt like the back of his eyes … it was … The Planet/Aeris urging wordlessly, pushing, crooning to him of duty and honor and ….

And ….

Sephiroth watched him closely. Cloud stared up at him, so tall and beautiful, glowing with health and vitality. A soft warm glow infused Cloud … Sephiroth smirked slightly as he healed Cloud with a wordless bit of magic. "Don't want this to be too easy," he said. Panic swirled through Cloud as he finally realized what this was: they were going to fight, again. He was going to have to kill Sephiroth, again. His nightmares, come true. Memories blew like hurricane-chased leaves through his mind – the other times he'd fought Sephiroth, those seemingly-endless battles that had ended in blood and grief and despair. The last time he'd fought Sephiroth, re-born in all his half-naked beauty, inside Cloud's mind they'd told him, sure, but it had certainly felt real to Cloud! But the end result the same, every time, Sephiroth – beaten and bloody, sliced to ribbons, lifeless and still upon the ground. Tears filled his eyes and he dashed them away, still feeling the wordless pressure of The Planet inside his head. Aeris called out to him gently, reminding him of his duty.

Sephiroth watched him closely. Then he took two steps forward, bringing Masamune's tip up off the ground to point at Cloud's heart. "Well?" he asked in that horribly familiar yet unfamiliar voice. "Come."

Cloud's fingers tensed on the hilt of First Tsurugi. The muscles in his arms clenched as they prepared to raise it to fighting position. But they didn't move. The tears rolled unnoticed down his cheeks as he clenched his teeth. Sephiroth darted forward, Masamune coming in for a swift first strike, Cloud's arms raised First Tsurugi automatically, the swords clanged together as he blocked Sephiroth's move. Their faces were inches apart. Cloud looked up into Sephiroth's eyes, seeing the cold anger there as they glared into his own.

"Good," Sephiroth said. "You're strong again. Good."

His breath gusted against Cloud's face … he inhaled, and shook with body memory, a visible shudder as he took Sephiroth's breath inside his body, as he'd done so many times in the past. Their blades ground against each other as Sephiroth leaned in even closer. They were practically nose to nose.

"N-No," Cloud said.

Sephiroth's eyelids flickered minutely, then he frowned, still pushing forward with Masamune. Suddenly he was pushed backward as Cloud forced First Tsurugi outward with all his strength. Sephiroth readied himself to go on the attack again, but then something happened that brought everything to a screeching halt.

"No," Cloud repeated. "I said no!" he shouted … and he threw First Tsurugi away, off into the darkness to his right, as hard as he could. "NO!" he shouted again as his hands came up to his head, clenching at his temples. "I won't! I won't do it this time, goddamn you all, I WON'T! I CAN'T!" He was screaming it now, he bent at the waist, doubled over by the pain and anguish. "I WON'T DO IT! NOT AGAIN! NO!" He fell to his knees.

"Get up," Sephiroth ground out. He didn't understand what was happening here. This was not how it was supposed to go. Cloud looked up at him, his face streaked with tears. Sephiroth lashed out with Masamune, slicing delicately along Cloud's left cheek. Blood began to run down his face, dripping off his jaw onto his chest. "I said get up!"

"No. I won't. I can't do it this time." Cloud's voice was quiet now, soft but hoarse with determination. His face twisted. "I just can't. No. So go ahead and kill me. I don't care."

Sephiroth's eyes flickered as he looked around the room – some nameless office in the old ShinRa HQ, Cloud guessed – looking for Tifa? Barret? Cid and Vincent? Maybe. They came to rest upon Cloud again as he confirmed that they were alone. He placed the tip of his long elegant blade against Cloud's chest, a bald deadly threat. He jerked in surprise as Cloud reached up and grabbed the blade.

"Go ahead. I want you to. I'm ready …" he said as the tears began again. "I've been ready all these years. So do it." He looked up into Sephiroth's eyes, blue eyes scanned that pale face, recommitting it to memory, a spark of gladness sputtering deep in his soul at being able to look upon his beloved one last time. No matter the circumstances. Sephiroth.

Sephiroth hesitated. This was not how this was supposed to go down! They were supposed to fight again, fueled by hatred and history, another long bloody battle that this time would end in Cloud's lifeless body on the ground! He frowned, staring down at the smaller male. He was staring at him, blue eyes huge in his pale, blood-streaked face, one hand gripping Masamune's blade and holding it against the center of his chest. What was going on here? Some trick?

"Sephiroth."

He startled oh-so-slightly and the point of the blade nicked Cloud's chest. The blond didn't even seem to notice. Sephiroth looked at Cloud's face and saw the change come over it. His expression softened, brightened, his eyes glowed with inner emotion, his grip on the sword tightened and blood began to seep out between the clenched, gloved fingers.

"I love you."

Sephiroth backed up a step, frowning. He tried to pull Masamune back but Cloud held it steady. He frowned down at his enemy.

"I love you, I always have. I always will. Then, now, forever after. Remember? We promised. You and me, together forever." His voice broke on the last word. He wiped his eyes with his free hand. "I won't fight you again. So kill me. And I'll be waiting for you in the Lifestream."

Sephiroth's eyes jerked from side-to-side, quickly, then settled on the blond again. "What?" he said quietly. "This isn't … this isn't the way it's supposed to go …." He sounded slightly confused. He'd been knocked off his path and his equilibrium had suffered.

"I know," Cloud said. His gaze, riveted to the older man, was filled with love. He even smiled. Smiled as he leaned forward onto the razor-sharp tip of the long deadly blade.

Sephiroth yanked it backward. It slid out of Cloud's hand, making him hiss in surprise and pain. Sephiroth backed up, puzzlement clear on his face. "What … what did you say? Wait. Wait." He stared down at Cloud … and pain lanced through his head, like a knife plunged straight through his skull. He dropped Masamune without knowing it, both hands flew up to his head, he gripped it tight and closed his eyes, struggling against the pain, looking much like Cloud just had moments earlier. "Nnnh," he grunted wordlessly, staggering.

Cloud watched, filled with alarm. "Sephiroth?" he asked. What was going on?

Suddenly Sephiroth fell to his knees, holding his head, groaning through clenched teeth. Not caring what might happen to him now, Cloud crawled over to him, grabbing his hands and pulling them away from his face. "What is it? What … Sephiroth?!"

The white-haired man groaned again in reply, his face twisted in pain, his body shuddering with it. Ohmygod ohmygod, Cloud thought. All thoughts of battle and death and swords were gone … what could he do? He began casting magic – cure, heal, esuna, revive, restore – some of those were utterly wasted but he was desperately trying anything he could in order to help the suffering man. He even dropped a Phoenix down on him.

He even dropped a Phoenix down on him. The magical item that restores life to those recently deceased. Conversely, it would cause death when dropped on the undead. What would it do to Sephiroth … a dead man so recently brought back to life and fused with three of his clones … fused with the power of Jenova cells, a dead Ancient. Perhaps Cloud should have thought more clearly, instead of trying anything and everything he had on him, in a state of panic. Maybe he'd've thought it through better, reasoned it out, come to the conclusion that either it would be harmful … or maybe it wouldn't do anything at all. But he was panicked. And not thinking clearly at all.

He tried it all, everything he could think of, everything he had. He wrapped his arms around the suffering man and held him tightly in his arms, even unconsciously rocking him back and forth slightly, as Sephiroth had done to him so long ago. He was reciting a mantra under his breath, "It's gonna be okay … s'gonna be okay … gonna be okay …." When the groaning stopped suddenly, when Sephiroth went limp in his arms, Cloud panicked anew, gasping, looking down at the man slumped in his arms, and checked his pulse. Nothing. Nothing!

He dropped another Phoenix down on him.

And hit him with Raise, for good measure.

Then he casted Full Cure, just to bump up the first two, just in case. He held another Phoenix down in readiness, just in case, just in case. He checked him again. A slight thready pulse, very faint. Cloud, nearly dead on his feet now through too much magic-casting and too much stress, casted Regenerate on the tall man. And hit him with Full Cure again. Reeling with fatigue, scared out of his wits, totally out of his head so much that he didn't even wonder what he was doing trying to save the man that was supposed to kill him … Cloud tugged him in close again, wrapped both arms around him to keep him warm – "s'okay, gonna be okay," – and promptly passed out.

XXX

When Cloud woke up, the first thing that his gaze fell on was a small fire. Only this fire was weird because it appeared to be stones that were burning cheerfuly a few feet from his face. The warmth was nice, he thought. He started to close his eyes again but then memory hit him like a hammer. He sat up, heart thumping in his chest, and looked around. He was … this was … the Forgotten Capital. Where Aeris had died, he was right on the edge of the lake where she'd dropped Holy and …. He looked at the lake. There, submerged to his waist in the water, stood Sephiroth. He was wringing out his hair, looking for all the world like he'd just taken a bath, his back to Cloud.

He turned his head slightly, looking over his shoulder. "Truce," he said quietly, going motionless.

"Truce," Cloud replied, his voice scratchy, feeling for all the world like he must be dreaming. That flawless muscular back, that long beautiful hair … he swallowed hard. What had happened?

"Your friends were getting too close," Sephiroth said calmly from where he was splashing water onto his arms. "I woke up and you were out, so I had to move us." He looked around. "Perhaps not the best place, but it's all I could think of."

Cloud didn't say anything. Or rather, he couldn't. He was covered by a clean but ratty-looking blanket. First Tsurugi laid in front of him. He looked at the sword, wondering if he'd ever want to pick it up again. Then he returned his gaze to the feast for the eyes that was Sephiroth at his bath. He swallowed again, then tore his eyes away. Don't. Don't start thinking about things, wishing for things, that weren't going to happen. Don't do that to yourself, idiot. It's just a truce. A temporary cease-fire. He imagined he'd find out why sooner or later.

"I had to get cleaned up," Sephiroth was explaining. "When I woke up I had this black goo coming out of every orifice – and I mean every. I don't want to talk about that anymore." His newly-washed clothes were laid out on the ground on the other side of the fire. "Toss me that blanket, if you don't mind," he said, mildly.

Cloud, growing more confused by the second, unwrapped the blanket from his legs and tossed it to Sephiroth, who caught it one-handed and began walking out of the lake. Cloud turned his eyes away. He couldn't look. He wanted to, but he couldn't. His heart ached to look, but he didn't.

Sephiroth knotted the old blanket around his waist as he emerged from the water, then walked over to the fire and sank down to sit near it. If the "camp" had been a clock, the lake would have been at 12:00, Cloud would be at 6:00, and now Sephiroth would have been at 10:00. For a while, they sat there, the only sound was the crackling of the flames.

"What did you do to me?" Sephiroth asked, sliding his gaze from the fire to Cloud.

Cloud hoped the heat from the fire could be blamed for his blush. "I—I panicked," he admitted. "I hit you with everything I had." He ran down the list of what he could remember casting. "There might've even been a Re-Raise in there somewhere, I don't know. I just … I didn't know what to do. So I did everything."

"You almost killed yourself," Sephiroth said.

Cloud stared at him, blankly, in surprise, and then he started to laugh, borderline hysterical. "Oh, did I? What a shame that would have been, right? Not like that would have been a bad thing, right?" Sephiroth sat there like a stone, not laughing, not anything, just watching Cloud as he sputtered down into silence, wiping his eyes, not knowing if this was laugh-crying or just plain crying.

"You've become cynical," Sephiroth observed, eyes narrowing slightly.

"Oh, have I? Well, I wonder why that is. Wow." Cloud was definitely hysterical. Words came tumbling out of his mouth. "Couldn't be because I had to kill my lover over and over … couldn't be because everybody else considered my actions to be heroic … or because I spent a few years in an asylum while they tried to keep me from offing myself … or because I couldn't even die from a disease that was killing people all around me. Or because it was the fucking PLANET keeping me alive so I could do it all AGAIN just in case you showed up again." Again, he sputtered to a stop, clenching his jaws shut, making himself stop speaking. He dropped his head, staring at his lap. "Sorry," he muttered, feeling the old despair well up again. When the truce was over ….

"Don't be," Sephiroth said. "I know exactly what you mean." He was running his fingers through his hair in the old manner, helping it dry in the heat from the fire. Cloud watched, mesmerized. When he glanced up at Sephiroth's face (he couldn't help himself), he startled a bit. Sephiroth was watching him watch him.

Again, he hoped the fire could be blamed for the color in his cheeks. What the fuck was wrong with him? He should be scared out of his wits, and all he could do was blush whenever their eyes met? Oh, gods, he was sick. But … it had been so long …. He remembered the feeling of Sephiroth's body in his arms when he'd been holding him, right before he passed out. Gods. "Where's your wing?" he blurted out suddenly, remembering the long black single wing that had sprouted out of Sephiroth's back during their final battle. Their final real battle, anyway.

"I don't know," Sephiroth said, eyes on the flames now. "I know I had one, at one time," his eyes slid over to Cloud, who could just feel Sephiroth remembering their battles that had ended in his death. "But I don't think it's there anymore."

"Ah." Cloud could think of nothing else to say. I love you. I love you, still, so much. He kept his eyes on the fire, too. But he could feel fatigue slipping over him again, his eyelids beginning to droop, weakness coming over him in waves. He laid down before he could fall down. "Pro-promise me … you won't kill me while I'm sleeping," he said to Sephiroth. "Promise. I want to be awake."

"Okay."

XXX

When he woke up again, it was dark. Near the still-burning fire, Sephiroth was sitting closer to him, at roughly 8:00 position now, dressed in his leathers but without the shoulder pads. Masamune laid, all its potential killing energy at rest, on Sephiroth's other side. Cloud sat up, rubbing his eyes. Sephiroth wordlessly handed him a water jug and a potion. Cloud, mentally shrugging his shoulders at the thought of poison, drank both down in record time. He wiped his lips and squirmed a bit.

"There's a bathroom that still functions somewhat …" Sephiroth intuitively offered, tilting his head toward the large shell-like building that towered over them behind Cloud.

Cloud went there and did what he needed to do. When he was done, he walked out of the bathroom and down the curving inner hallway of the "shell". When he got to the bottom, he looked one way and then the other, wondering if he should just haul ass and leave, run away as fast as he could. He stood there, unsure, for a few moments … but then he shrugged and made his way back down to the fire. He sat down where he'd been before and held his hands out to the flames.

"I wasn't sure you'd come back," Sephiroth said, quietly.

"Well … why put off the inevitable?" Cloud replied, just as quietly.

Sephiroth was silent, merely staring into the flames. After a few moments, he said, "You killed me. Why."

Cloud stared. He almost blurted out, 'well, you were trying to kill me!' but instead he sat for a moment and thought about it. Finally he replied, "You were dangerous. Insane. You were trying to destroy everyone and everything. You had to be stopped. The only one who could do it was me."

Sephiroth nodded, his eyes still on the fire. "And if I call the truce off and threaten to kill you now?"

"Go ahead," Cloud said immediately. "The Planet will have to find someone else this time. I already told it, told them – I can't do it again! I just can't. And I won't." He got to his feet, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "So if that's what you're going to do, stop playing with me! Come on, get up and get it over with! This is cruel, making me sit here and talk with you, be with you, you're toying with me! Get up!" Cloud's voice echoed around the Forgotten Capital, 'get up … get up ….'

Sephiroth rose smoothly to his feet in one swift, graceful movement. Cloud, startled, started to back away but then clenched his jaw and stood his ground, looking defiantly up at Sephiroth as he picked up Masamune and took the several steps that would bring him up within striking distance of Cloud. He stood there, staring at Cloud, his face shadowed by his long hair.

After a moment, Cloud could no longer stand the suspense. He felt the tears welling up in his eyes, felt his lower lip begin to tremble. The stress was getting to him. He looked at his tall former lover for a long moment, blinking the tears back, committing his beautiful form to memory once more. He closed his eyes. "I love you," he said, voice quiet and sure. "Then. Now. Always." He waited for the killing blow. It will all be over soon, he thought. All the pain, gone. Done.

And waited.

"I …" Sephiroth said, "I know what I'm supposed to do … but that inner voice is gone. The one who kept saying you had to die. I'm not sure I know what to do now."

When Cloud opened his eyes again, he looked up to see that Sephiroth's face was still in shadow. "What," he began, and had to clear his throat to go on, "what do you want to do?"

Silence. Sephiroth stood there, sword clenched in his hand, and Cloud wished he could see his face.

"Sepiroth?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Do you know … what you want to do?"

"No."

"Well—" Cloud began, but Sephiroth moved so fast, in a flash he was on Cloud, the blade's sharp edge pressed up against his throat.

"You!" Sephiroth hissed, right up against Cloud's face, "you killed me. Over and over. You say you loved me, but you killed me! Tell me how to fucking handle that!"

"I don't know," Cloud said, breathlessly. Scared, so scared, the man was so fast! "But it's true. I do love you! Dammit, I'm not lying, why would I? I'm about to die, so why in the hell would I—"

The sword clattered to the ground. Strong arms were around Cloud in a heartbeat, hot lips searched for and found his, stopping his words in his throat. YES, Cloud's body responded with every fiber, he flung his arms around Sephiroth's neck, straining upwards on tiptoe, meeting kiss for kiss. He was crying helplessly – was this really happening? Was he dreaming? Was he already dead? No … no, nothing could be more real than to be in this man's arms. Oh, finally, finally, there were no words to describe the rightness, the joy, the blood singing in his veins, the mad thumping of his heart, how every inch of his body was suddenly alive again, and he could feel it, it was HIM, it was him he was here, he was here and he was loving Cloud again …. Oh my gods.

Timeless moments. How long? Who knew. Who cared. To be back in each other's arms after everything that had happened … timeless moments where love was rediscovered, reawakened, reaffirmed. The stars crawled slowly across the sky.

"Cloud … Cloud," Sephiroth broke the kiss, finally, and spoke in hushed wonder as he held the blond as closely as he could. He stroked the soft spikes of his hair, he cradled the lithe muscular body in his arms, they were pressed together so tight, so tight.

Cloud was crying wordlessly, joyously, keeping a stranglehold on the taller man. He couldn't think, he could only feel. He turned his head and captured Sephiroth's mouth again, kissing more leisurely this time, but still with utter abandon. Their tongues re-learned each other, twining and stroking just like it'd been only yesterday since they'd last kissed. Hands stroked and caressed, using the power of touch to convey the depths of emotions long, long withheld.

Sephiroth's tongue plundered Cloud's mouth, in and out, and Cloud had a second to think I can feel his erection! in one blazing white-hot thought before he spasmed and shook, shuddering in Sephiroth's arms. After a timeless moment, he tore his mouth away from the older man's, gasping for breath, his head lolling back on his neck. "Oh gods," he husked, "I just came." From just a kiss.

"Don't … don't speak," Sephiroth growled, his jaws clenched as he fought for control as he stared down into blue eyes, their pupils huge with desire.

"No," Cloud said, and he forced his hand down inside the front of Sephiroth's leather pants, sliding his fingers down to clasp that slick hardness, "don't hold yourself back from me. Not ever again." He stroked it once, twice, and then watched in blissful happiness as Sephiroth came in his hand. His face … his beautiful face, made even more glorious by the throes of passion.

Clothes were ripped off. Gasping breath, shaking hands, urgent kisses … finally they were naked in each other's arms. "I … I missed …" no, that wasn't good enough, "I needed you! So much! I—" Cloud's words were stopped by demanding lips, kisses that burned with desire. Sephiroth sat down on the blanket, cradling Cloud close in his arms, the blond sitting facing him, legs wrapped around him, feet crossed at the ankles behind Sephiroth's hips. They couldn't bear to separate enough to get in any other position, only this one could afford the closeness they craved. Sephiroth's hands stroked up and down Cloud's body, learning the feeling of this no-longer-teenaged lover, the fine muscles, the long limbs, the finely-carved abdominals. Nipples hardened under his touch. Their erections, pressed closely together in this amazing position, rubbed and shared fluids as they moved against each other.

Cloud found his hips moving almost of their own accord, in a timeless rhythm. He felt sexy, desired, powerful, as he listened to the gasping of his lover's breath, the moans that rumbled deep in Sephiroth's chest, in response to his every touch. When Seph's fingers slid down his spine to caress the cleft of his buttocks, he shook as his belly muscles tightened, fluttering in response to a deep wave of pleasure that crested inside his abdomen. "Oh …" he breathed, "yes … please, please …."

Sephiroth slid his fingers to Cloud's opening, rubbing it, teasing it softly, pressing a bit and then releasing, pressing again, circling it. He wrapped the fingers of his other hand around their dicks and began a slow tantalizing rhythm, just as he slid a finger inside Cloud. The blond's back arched as he responded, straining to keep moving, thrusting himself in and out of Sephiroth's moving hand. "Cloud," Sephiroth whispered. "Come for me, baby …." He slid his finger deep inside, found Cloud's prostate, and stroked it lovingly.

Baby. With that one word, Cloud knew – really knew – that Sephiroth was truly back. Joy once again bloomed in his heart, followed by a spike of pleasure as his cum arced out of him, spraying their bellies as he shouted in ecstasy. Sephiroth watched him, then was hurtled into his own orgasm by the writhing blond in his lap. So good. So fucking good. Just like it always was. He grunted as his cum mixed with Cloud's, his cock flexing as pleasure tore through him, radiating outward and making him shake and clutch Cloud even closer.

Gasping, they looked into each other's eyes and kissed. Slowly at first, with whispered endearments and caressing fingers. After such a long dry spell, it didn't take long for both to recover, for the desire to amp up again. But this time it was slower, less desperate, the actions of people in love who have re-found each other when it seemed impossible before. Emotion thrummed in every look, every touch. When Cloud began to move on Sephiroth's lap again, it was with deliberate slowness, every action given weight by the joy of reuniting with his long-lost beloved. Sephiroth prepped him lovingly, carefully, sliding his fingers in and out, stretching the delicate, long-unused opening until both it and Cloud were more than ready.

He slid his hardness inside, easing past the sphincter, rejoicing in the warm wetness that clenched tightly around him. Cloud gasped, fingers clutching at Sephiroth's shoulders, the remembered sensations making tears come to his eyes again. "Does it hurt?" Sephiroth whispered, stopping the intrusion, shaking with effort.

"No … no! Don't stop … please …." Cloud pressed himself downward onto Sephiroth's cock, just to make sure his lover understood.

It was all Sephiroth needed to know. He leaned forward, rearranging them so that Cloud was lying on the blanket, Seph's hard throbbing member still buried inside him. Cloud raised his legs, bending his knees, so that he'd be able to take all of it and still have Sephiroth close. He began slowly, both elbows holding him slightly up off Cloud, kissing him with deliberately sensuous lips and tongue. Slowly he slid in, until he was almost buried to the hilt, and then back out again until the rim of his head came up against Cloud's sphincter.

"So good, so good," Sephiroth murmured against Cloud's lips. "You're so warm and soft inside."

"Stop … stop speaking," Cloud gasped, hanging on tight. "I'm … I'm already … you … ah!"

Sephiroth smiled … for the first time since their reunion. And then got down to serious business. His hips snapped forward, making Cloud shout with pleasure … and then he snugged Cloud's legs up around his waist and quickened the pace. Flesh smacked against flesh, sweat dripped off Sephiroth's body onto Cloud, he nibbled and licked his way down Cloud's neck to the sensitive skin at his collar bone, coming up onto one elbow, sliding in and out in a delicious pace.

"Ah! … Nn! … More, give me more of you!" Cloud shouted, unable to control his voice and uncaring. He moved under Sephiroth, urging him on. "Give me all of you!" The pleasure! So intense, so good!

"Cloud!" he shouted, and came up onto his knees, Cloud's lower body slanting up Sephiroth's thighs to where they were joined. "Ah, Cloud, Cloud!" His hips worked like a machine, sliding his cock home, almost all the way, pistoning it in and out, his hair a shimmering curtain hanging down his back, he gripped Cloud's hips and held him steady.

"W-wait!" Cloud shouted. He shoved Sephiroth back, turned over onto his hands and knees, grabbed Sephiroth's hand and put it into his hair. "Now give it to me!" Cloud said, over his shoulder. "Give it all to me! No holding back! Please!"

Something snapped inside Sephiroth. That infamous control, the way he held back from completely letting go, the fear that he'd go too far too fast and hurt his little lover … it disappeared. He lost it, he absolutely lost it. Wild, fucking with abandon, he gripped Cloud's hair and pulled his head back, making his back arch. The other hand pressed down on Cloud's lower back, holding him in position. Gasping for breath, grunting as he mounted his mate, Sephiroth had the first totally unfettered, let-it-all-go fuck of his life. Their hips slapped together, Cloud shouted out his pleasure over and over, hands planted on the ground in front of him, pushing backward against his lover.

Sephiroth shouted wordlessly, letting go of Cloud's hair and grasping his buttocks, spreading them, opening him up so that he could plunge in even further, even faster. It wasn't long before Cloud screamed, "I'm coming! Ah, gods, Sephiroth! Sephiroth!" And the sounds, the feelings, the homecoming, the intensity of letting go, Cloud's voice ringing in his ears, calling his name – Sephiroth shouted, shuddered, slammed himself home and held on for dear life, shaking and gripping Cloud's ass with both hands as his cock flexed and twitched deep, deep inside, spilling his seed. It seemed to go on forever, the pleasure that flooded him in waves, each more intense than the last … until finally it subsided and he was left gasping and shaking in its wake.

"Cloud …" he managed to say through shuddering breaths, "Cloud, baby … gods …."

Gasping for breath himself, feeling half-broken, Cloud managed to raise his head and say, "I … I know … amazing … amazing …."

"I love you, Cloud. I love you." Never again would he hold himself back from saying these words, Sephiroth vowed. Especially when he saw the look that came over Cloud's face when he said them.

Letting his now-soft member slide out, Sephiroth wasted no time in gathering up Cloud in his arms. He kissed him over and over, holding him close, cuddling even. Whispered words of love, admiration, gratitude … Cloud was blushing like his old teenaged self before he finally kissed Sephiroth into silence. He still coddled his lover post-orgasm, just like he always had … holding Cloud so close, petting and kissing him, helping him softly back to Earth.

Later, as they lay by the fire in the ratty old blanket, kissing and talking quietly, it was Sephiroth who said, "What are we gonna do now?"

Cloud thought about it. His friends … definitely would not understand. They would never welcome Sephiroth back, no matter how he appeared to have changed … and Cloud could understand that, they'd never loved him as he had. All the others who'd loved Sephiroth – Zack, Angeal, Genesis – they were already gone.

He was supposed to kill Sephiroth again, in order to save The Planet, again. But … wasn't it better this way? he thought. Aeris … isn't it better to protect the Planet through love, instead of murder? His heart told him yes. Yes it was.

So in answer to Sephiroth, he said, "I don't care what we do. As long as we do it together."

A sweet smile and a loving kiss was the only reply. The best reply.

XXX

End Chapter 32, and End of "Running Away"

Thank you so much, all you loyal readers. I hope you enjoyed the alternate ending (done to satisfy my own sense of romantic rightness, lol). I think there may be an epilogue in there somewhere, in order to satisfy any curiosity about what Seph and Cloud end up doing, but that's for another day.

In explanation: I've always thought that, in Advent Children, the clone brothers were Sephiroth split into three: Kadaj had his anger and ambition, Loz his emotion and childishness, Yazoo his cool intelligence. So put them back together and what do you get? There ya go.

Once again, thanks so much for reading!

Ahvienda