10/17/2015: Some corrections.
"Hold the door!"
A gloved hand snapped forward and caught the closing elevator door, effortlessly pushing it back. Genesis slipped through the crack before he even finished identifying the helpful party. It was easy to recognize the moment when he did: his shoulders tensed and a blank smile settled on his face.
SOLDIER First Class Sephiroth tilted his head, watching his old friend with piercing green eyes. Their relationship had been strained for months now, for no other reason he could discern than Genesis' jealousy of his abilities. Although Sephiroth felt no responsibility in this, it would have been a lie to say he was unaffected.
"Genesis. Running a bit late?" he said, trying for levity.
"Nonsense. I'll be arriving at the same time you will, won't I? And the Hero Sephiroth is never late."
Another one of those one-liners delivered with a perfectly amiable face, with Genesis already turning from him to stare at the closing doors. Sephiroth allowed himself a rare but aggravated sigh, conveying wordlessly to Genesis what little patience he had for his bitterness.
As the elevator began to rise for their not too short trip to the rooftop, Genesis seemed to understand a veneer of politeness would be necessary if they both wished to end this mission unscathed.
"So… the Wolf, uh?"
"So it seems."
"Are you… excited?"
Genesis turned his head to look at him. Sephiroth merely raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, come on! Admit it. This guy has made you wildly curious for ages."
"And he has also generated wild false leads for ages. I do not have much hope that we will find him in Kalm. If he was there, he will probably be long gone when we get in town."
"That may have been true in the past, my friend, but he has never strayed so close to Midgar before."
"That the Turks know of."
"True. But still, we will be there before the trail can get cold. If there has ever been a chance to catch him, this is it."
Sephiroth hummed in answer, unwilling to express such confidence. They reached their destination before he was forced to sustain the somewhat awkward conversation any longer. Genesis strode forward as soon as the doors opened. The wind caught in his coat and his hair, making them billow like strands of blood in water.
Sephiroth followed, posture impeccable as always, and started towards the helicopter whose blades were already turning, ready for departure. As he bent to reach the door, got in and strapped himself in, his thoughts turned towards the ever elusive Wolf.
The man was a complete enigma. Shinra had become aware of his existence nearly four years ago, when he had completely destroyed a Mako reactor next to the little-known village of Nibelheim. He had previously evacuated all the scientists and guards operating the facility and left them in a safe place to await rescue, which had certainly been unexpected from an anti-Shira terrorist.
Even that was unclear: could the man really be called a terrorist when he only opposed Shinra sporadically, shied from the public attention most activists craved as a mean to gain the people's sympathies, and avoided losses of lives when at all possible? The Wolf was more often reported culling dangerous monsters populations than fighting Shinra soldiers.
He had become something of an urban legend, a tale people spun of a hero that was always ready to help anyone. They called him the Nibel Wolf, the hunter from the harsh mountain.
But Shinra was very angry with the man that had destroyed one of its reactors and kept poking his nose in highly classified projects he should have had no way of knowing about. There were already plenty of investigations going on in the company's highest levels to try and uncover the leak that was feeding the Wolf information, but so far nothing had turned up.
Sephiroth himself wondered if the problem wasn't actually coming from the outside. It had been said that the Wolf was sometimes accompanied by a strange man dressed in red, silent and discreet as a ghost. He had to be the one who had helped the Wolf evade Shinra's search parties for so long. If he was that good, who was to say he couldn't slip past Shinra HQ's tight security?
Sephiroth, though, was more interested in the legendary swordsmanship the Wolf had been reported to use. He knew not to let his hopes get the better of him, but if even half of what was said about him was true…
He closed his fist tightly, the leather of his glove creaking under the pressure. Despite what he had told Genesis, his blood was already beginning to boil.
People fell silent as soon as they spotted them. SOLDIER First Classes were rare and well-known. Sephiroth would have resented their easily recognizable appearances, but it made one thing painfully clear: the Wolf was still here. Kalm's villagers would not have feared their presence so much if it hadn't been the case.
The Wolf was everyone's hero. Despite Shinra's propaganda, not a lot of people wanted him caught.
"We are close," Genesis breathed in his ear.
Sephiroth nodded and his keen eyes watched a woman bend down to whisper something to a young boy, who jumped from the crate he was perched upon and ran away. As soon as he was gone from sight, Sephiroth ignored the villagers trying to get his attention and tore after the child among cries of dismay. Genesis managed to keep in his wake, though the troopers they had brought with them didn't get this chance and got stuck in a crowd of angry civilians.
"My friend, the fates are cruel. There are no dreams, no honour remains," Genesis excitedly quoted. "Shall we make it a contest, Sephiroth?"
Ordinarily, Genesis' competitiveness would have grated on his nerves, but today, his heart was already beating with the thrill of the chase. He smirked.
"See you when I get him."
Barely thinking about it, Sephiroth launched himself in the air. He could leave Genesis to follow or interrogate the boy. He was burning with the need to find the Wolf on his own.
He jumped from the wall to the rooftops and run across them, barely peering in the streets below. He had seen blurry pictures of the man, but more than his eyes, it was a deep-seated sense of… something, that told him his prey was not there.
Veering abruptly, he jumped from his high position and tore down three side streets, barely seeing the frightened civilians he brushed past.
He slid in one of the village's main streets in a swish of his black leather coat and long silver hair. Incredibly intense blue eyes were already on him. Sephiroth stilled, locked in a mutual stare.
The Wolf had a somewhat unassuming body frame. If it hadn't been for the form-fitting clothes displaying his lithe muscles, the huge sword behind his back and the aura of quiet warning around him, he could have passed for a civilian. Nearly. Those eyes, though… Mako blue eyes. The rumours hadn't been exaggerating.
He was also as calm as they came, not a trace of surprise or alarm on his face or in his body language. He had been expecting them.
No. Expecting him.
Sephiroth heard Genesis emerge from a side street and run to his side. He didn't turn to see the sourness in his friend's eyes. The Wolf was looking dispassionately at the second SOLDIER. Civilians were cowering behind him, anxiously whispering to each other.
He raised his chin to address them in a calm voice.
"Let's take this outside of town."
He turned on his heels. Genesis made to intercept him, but Sephiroth seized him by the arm.
"Sephiroth...!" Genesis hissed, turning furiously to him.
"Genesis," he returned, in a voice that was barely more than a growl.
Whatever was reflected on his face, it was enough to make Genesis stop, wide-eyed, and yield without a second thought. They followed their target, the man crossing town without hurry, never even looking back to make sure they were behind him.
Sephiroth knew he would not attempt to trick them. It would have gone against anything he had ever learned about him.
The Wolf led them to a hill overseeing the river flowing from Kalm, before stopping and turning to them. The wind from the nearby sea ruffled his hair.
"I take it you are here on behalf of Shinra?"
"Will you come peacefully?" Sephiroth asked.
He sure hoped not. Thankfully, the Wolf merely looked amused and shook his head. Genesis stepped forward and drew his sword.
"You no doubt know who we are," he said, elegantly shaking red hair from his eyes. "May we at least have a name in return?"
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.
"No last name? Is this an alias?"
Cloud didn't expand on his answer. He seemed to be a man of few words. Genesis smiled.
"So be it, then."
Genesis knew Sephiroth wished to fight the Wolf himself. It had only been transparent for the past few years, after all. And yet, with their current tattered friendship, Sephiroth should not have been surprised to see his companion throw himself headlong at his coveted opponent.
He drew Masamune like he should have from the start, pale with rage, but it was already too late to intervene. He should have seen this coming from a mile off, but he had been too focused on Cloud—
A metallic clash rang in the air like thunder and Genesis flew back, flung away like he was nothing. He crashed painfully to the ground.
Cloud hadn't even had his weapon drawn when Genesis had charged, but he appeared perfectly unruffled, sword raised in a defensive posture and eyes set on his fallen enemy.
He was faster than Genesis, Sephiroth thought, heart beating hard against his ribs. He stepped forward and kicked Genesis' sword from his hand. His friend glared up at him, livid with surprise and anger.
"Stay back," Sephiroth ordered, not bothering to hide the biting ice in his voice.
Cloud obediently switched his attention to his new opponent. Sephiroth wondered if it was wishful thinking on his part that he believed he saw satisfaction in his eyes.
Sephiroth charged him, faster even than Genesis had been. Cloud met the attack head on, yielding only the barest amount under his strength, before deflecting and trying to slip under his guard. Sephiroth blocked effortlessly and had the surprise to see his opponent's sword spilt itself neatly in two, Cloud catching the second half and swinging it at his unprotected arm.
He barely evaded the attack and felt the leather of his sleeve give and the tip of the blade trace a burning path on his biceps. He jumped back and asserted with new eyes the dual swords Cloud was now wielding.
No, not dual swords, he realized. Now that he knew what to look for, Cloud's weapons were still each a fusion of smaller blades. Sephiroth had never before seen the likes of such a weapon, and it was evidently not wasted on Cloud, who had seamlessly slipped into dual wielding.
Sephiroth felt himself start to smile. He couldn't remember the last time a foe had drawn first blood before him.
He launched himself with renewed energy in the fight, Cloud meeting each of his strike with an exhilarating ease. For the first time in his life, Sephiroth was truly struggling to gain the upper hand in a fight against a single human adversary. Cloud was fast and strong, nearly as much as him, and he compensated what little he lacked by an eerily accurate prediction of his moves.
He could see Genesis from the corner of his eyes, a red silhouette that hovered nearby but appeared to have lost all inclination to join the fight.
The battle kept gaining intensity until they were methodically wrecking the hill and the land surrounding it, felling trees with single strikes, digging huge trenches in the ground and reducing boulders to piles of pebbles.
Pressed hard, Cloud actually crossed the entire river in a single bound to gain himself some breathing time. Sephiroth lost no time following him to the other side, bright-eyed.
"Who are you?" he called.
The blood was singing in his veins, and he was torn between exhilaration and awe. How could such a man exist? Sephiroth had spent his entire life knowing he would never find his equal in battle, and yet, today he had.
Cloud locked blades with him and smiled bitterly.
Sephiroth breathed deeply.
"Then that makes two of us."
Cloud's smile fell abruptly and a peculiar look crossed his face. Sephiroth would have seized the opportunity to fling him back, but suddenly foreign images were flooding his mind.
… a burning town, flames leaping high to the sky, a single figure swathed in darkness strolling through them
… the dark inside of a Mako reactor, eerie green light catching on the silhouette of a madman
… a flying monster, wings sprouting from a human torso where legs should have been
… an abandoned library, dust coating everything, a sense of lies and forbidden knowledge pervading the air
… a cave lit by numerous Mako crystals, a feminine body barely visible in the tallest of them
… his own face, half turned away, long hair swept by the wind, sunlight pouring over his bright green eyes and his self-mocking smile.
'You are no monster.'
Genesis' cry washed over him and brought him back to himself. He was lying on his back, one of Cloud's swords kissing the skin of his throat. He could hear Genesis running to them, unexpectedly frantic, but he could not detach his eyes from Cloud's.
They stared at each other in silence. Cloud slowly stepped away. He joined his swords in a single blade again and glanced at the approaching Genesis. The red-haired SOLDIER flung himself in front of Sephiroth, pale and breathing hard. Sephiroth shook himself out of his daze and slowly rose to his feet.
"Sephiroth! Are you okay?"
"Yes," he said, eyes searching Cloud's. "I am fine."
Genesis advanced on Cloud, menacing.
"What did you do to Sephiroth?"
Cloud merely blinked.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I didn't even know it could happen."
So, it had been coming from him. For someone who didn't know it could occur, he didn't look very surprised. Sephiroth caught Genesis by the arm, trying to placate his strangely furious friend.
It was no jealousy act, either. Genesis wasn't angry because someone else than him had beaten Sephiroth, he looked genuinely worried.
"I don't understand," Sephiroth said. "What was this? And who are you really? How can you present all signs of being a SOLDIER when you are not?"
"This is not only about being a SOLDIER!" Genesis added, indignant. "How could you possibly beat Sephiroth?"
Cloud's smile was a strange thing, small and rueful and self-conscious.
"I guess it's my fault for giving you so many questions. Maybe I should apologize by at least saying…"
He lowered his head, pensive.
"I was made… no. I was supposed to be another you?"
He looked at Sephiroth as he said that, the tilt of his head wordlessly asking if it was enough.
It really wasn't.
"Another Sephiroth?" Genesis gasped. "What in the Goddess'— do you mean, like a clone?!"
Genesis knew quite a bit about clones. That rat Hollander had attempted to manipulate him into joining him and creating an army of his copies to oppose Shinra. Thankfully, Hollander had been mysteriously murdered before any true harm could have come from it, and Angeal had been able to talk Genesis out of the scientist's influence.
Cloud's smile became wry.
"Sephiroth can't be cloned. But that doesn't mean they won't try."
Sephiroth took a step forward, but stopped when Cloud seemed to grow wary.
"So, these images in my head… They came from a link between you and me? What were they?"
Cloud shook his head.
"Don't trouble yourself with it. It's nothing you need to worry about."
"You said I was no monster."
Cloud fell silent. Sephiroth insisted.
"It was you, wasn't it? That voice in my head."
Cloud turned away from him.
"So? You're not. You shouldn't think there is something wrong with you. You have been created different, but aren't the monsters those who tinkered with your body in the first place?"
Sephiroth blinked, thrown.
"What about you, then? You are the one who said you were an aberration. You couldn't help it any more than I could, could you?"
Genesis was glancing from Sephiroth to Cloud, not daring to intervene. Rather unexpectedly, Cloud smiled. It was much brighter than before, and Sephiroth felt his breath catch.
"That's not what I meant," he answered, warmth in his voice. "I have come to terms with what I am. It took me a long time, but I'm fine with it. Which is why I'd like you to be, too."
"I said that because I shouldn't exist. Not in this time and place. That's why I'm an aberration."
"I don't understand."
"It's okay, you're not really supposed to. Like I said, it's nothing you need to worry about."
This careless statement was really beginning to grate on his nerves. Fiercely frowning, he marched to Cloud and, this time, ignored the way he tried to recoil. Although the man still had his weapon drawn, it was his free hand he raised as if to physically push him away. Sephiroth caught his arm.
"You admit you are some sort of clone of me, shove a medley of incomprehensible images in my head and talk nonsense about your place in the universe, all after purposefully not killing me when you had the chance and when you knew we were here to kill you or drag you back to Shinra. And I shouldn't feel involved in the slightest? Really?"
His voice dripped with venom, but Cloud, wide-eyed, didn't seem to know how to answer to non-physical violence on his part.
"What do we do with him?" Genesis asked from behind Sephiroth.
He looked worried.
"If someone is really trying to clone you, Sephiroth, getting him back to Shinra where they could study him to their hearts' content is probably not a good idea."
Genesis' loyalty to Shinra had been notably loose since his quasi-defection. Lately, Sephiroth couldn't really say he had the company's best interests at heart either.
"Why, do you intend to fight him until he stops resisting?"
Genesis turned to survey the devastation they had left on the river's other bank.
"… Yeah, no. I'll pass," he admitted, uncharacteristically modest.
Cloud cleared his throat.
"Can I go, then?" he asked, pulling on his arm.
Sephiroth glared at him, refusing to let go. He didn't want to. He had been searching for this man for years, dreaming of the day he would finally fight him, vainly trying not to get his hopes too high. But Cloud had not disappointed; far from it.
The day had come, and Sephiroth had found more than a good fight. He had found an equal, and one who seemed to be hopelessly intertwined with his own existence. It felt like this man had been made for him. Cloud was an enigma, and he drew Sephiroth in like nothing else ever had. He couldn't fathom going back to his usual life and never meeting him again.
"Sephiroth, my friend," Genesis breathed, stepping to his shoulder.
Sephiroth considered his dilemma a few seconds more, lips pressed in a stern line. Cloud stared back evenly, not even impressed by the harsh gaze of his inhuman pupils. Fire was beginning to awake in Sephiroth's stomach. This man was extraordinary.
"I'll come with you."
That made Cloud react. He gaped in perfect unison with Genesis.
"Sephiroth, what?" Genesis exclaimed, and his voice threatened to jump an octave.
Sephiroth turned to him.
"You of all people can't tell me you have never thought of leaving the company, Genesis."
"Yes, I thought about it! In the end, I knew it was madness, Sephiroth! Shinra wouldn't just let anyone leave, especially you!"
"I'd like to see them try and do something about it. I am the best they have."
He didn't say he felt fairly certain he could even take on Genesis and Angeal at the same time if they sent them after him, but Genesis didn't need to be told. He heard it all the same, and his face darkened a little.
"Don't I get a say in the matter?" Cloud intervened, rather crossly.
He wrenched his arm from Sephiroth's grip.
"I am listening."
Cloud frowned, apparently not knowing how to take his amiable tone.
"I travel alone," he complained.
"Fine. Then I'll travel alone with you."
Genesis raised a hand to cover his smiling mouth, trying not to laugh at Cloud's expression.
"Wha… You can't just…" Cloud tried. "Why would you want to do something like that?!"
"Oh, you are right. Shinra is such a good place to be," Sephiroth said, deadpan. "Clearly, everyone should aspire to spend their entire life in its service, whether out of their own volition or not."
Cloud's expression wavered. The evocation of Sephiroth's utter lack of freedom to choose his path in life seemed to have a rather unexpected effect on him.
"Sephiroth…" Genesis said, back to his worried frown.
Sephiroth smiled at him.
"What are you complaining about? This way, you can have the place of the strongest in the company."
Genesis suddenly looked murderously angry.
"As if that was the problem, you dimwit!" he spit out. "You always have to be the hero no matter what you do, don't you? Fine, have it your way! The day Shinra's entire army will bear down on you and rip you to shreds, I'll laugh at your body and try to ignore Angeal's tears!"
He shoved him like an angry schoolboy and whirled around, beginning the trek back to Kalm with long, furious strides, not even bothering to underline his exit with one of his dramatic LOVELESS quotes. Sephiroth felt an unexpected swell of affection for him.
"Thank you for worrying, Genesis!" he called.
"Go to hell!"
Sephiroth turned back to his remaining companion, who looked sorely disturbed both by Genesis' virulence and by the last scene in general.
"… I don't remember agreeing to anything."
"Let's go," he said, brushing by him. "Your business in Kalm is done, isn't it?"
Cloud then had what looked to be an uncharacteristic burst of emotion; he smacked a hand against his face with a sonorous swearword, before reluctantly falling into step with him.
Five months later
Cloud stared, blue eyes wide with shock.
"… Say that again?"
Sephiroth smiled. Contrary to the proud and confident demeanour Cloud assumed in dangerous or uncertain situations, he had proved to be rather hesitant and self-conscious in private. Sephiroth was not surprised by his reaction.
"I said I am rather hopelessly in love with you, Cloud."
He tenderly smoothed a gloved hand against Cloud's bandaged cheek.
The last fight they had faced had been quite gruelling, and seeing Cloud fighting by his side like he had been born to be there and repeatedly saving his life had finally cemented his resolution. These feelings were not going away, and he felt rather at peace with them.
Cloud was still staring, no sign of a reaction other than pure, undiluted shock. Sephiroth could appreciate the sight, but the urge to kiss the man was becoming more pressing by the minute.
"But weren't you saying just yesterday that I seriously piss you off?" Cloud exclaimed, just when he was beginning to lean in.
Sephiroth stopped and raised a wry eyebrow.
"Rest assured that I still consider you an aggravatingly tight-lipped individual and that I will keep protesting the endless secrets you seem to have. But I don't see why it should prevent me from appreciating the rest of your personality."
He leaned closer with every intention of making his point clear, but Cloud jumped like a startled rabbit and blurted out:
"I'm a time-traveller."
Sephiroth froze and blinked. Then he was the one to say:
"Say that again?"
Cloud was staring at him with even wider eyes than before and quickly paling. Clearly, he had not meant to say that.
"I… I'm a time-traveller," he repeated, gulping.
Sephiroth watched, transfixed, the shift of the light against his throat as he did so.
"Oh," he said. "I guess that explains a lot."
It also raised a multitude of questions. Questions he had no intention of asking now, because there was no way in hell he was letting Cloud change the subject.
He looked up.
"Is there any reason this should prevent me from kissing you?"
Cloud simply gaped.
Sephiroth swooped in, enjoying Cloud's startled squeak against his lips and the way he clutched his shoulders to regain his balance. He was rather pleased to be so successful in surprising a man who supposedly knew the future.
Two years later
"— President Tuesti, what about the Mako reactors? There is a general demand from the citizens for alternate sources of energy to be found to replace Mako, what is the WRO's position on this?"
"We have already engaged extensive research on the matter, and we hope to have some reliable answers within a year. Ideally, we'd like to see all Mako reactors disabled within ten years of now, but we have to wait on experts' opinions to assert how realistic this deadline would be."
"Will these experts be ex-Shinra scientists?"
"I realize that there is a real fear in the population that the WRO will turn into another Shinra, especially as most high-level experts in all fields, from the scientists to the soldiers, were once employed by the company. Please rest assured that we do our best to recruit outside Shinra's old employees."
"President, is it true that the famous Nibel Wolf has agreed to join the WRO? And what about the old war hero Sephiroth, who unexpectedly left Shinra a few years ago?"
"I can confirm negotiations have been opened with both Cloud and Sephiroth. They have expressed great interest in the WRO, and we are working on a proposition that could benefit all of us."
Sephiroth heard the front door open despite the ruckus the journalists were making, eager to ask more questions about the two "legends" their listeners loved. He switched the radio off and waited.
Cloud appeared in the doorway, shrugging off First Tsurugi's harness with a tired look that brightened a bit when he saw Sephiroth and let his eyes rake his form. Sephiroth was lazily reclining on the sofa, long leather-encased legs taking up most of the seating space while his shoulders braced against the arm-rest, silver hair negligently cascading down to pool on the floor.
He held up a hand that Cloud eagerly took before climbing next to him. He settled down, half-lying on Sephiroth's chest, and the ex-SOLDIER revelled in his solid warmth against his side.
"For all his polite consideration, Reeve is a very obstinate man. I don't know how many times I've had to tell him I don't want that Head of Security post."
Once upon a time, he had been wary of Reeve Tuesti, even though Cloud had very good reasons to trust him. It was hard telling a time-traveller he was wrong when one didn't know half the arguments behind his reasoning.
Still, Reeve had proven his worth. When Shinra had fallen, hard and good, the man had been there to pull through and prevent wide-spread panic. And that was only the tip of the iceberg of everything he did for the people. With an organization like the WRO taking charge of this sorry world, things were definitely looking up.
Cloud was absent-mindedly smoothing a hand against Sephiroth's black turtleneck. Sephiroth caught his wrist and gently removed his glove. When Cloud looked up, he bent his head to kiss him. Cloud pressed back and rose on his elbows to deepen the kiss. Sephiroth massaged the calluses on the hand he still held, and Cloud's moan shot straight to his groin.
Cloud broke the kiss and slipped to his knees to better straddle him.
"When are your friends coming?" he asked breathlessly.
Sephiroth smiled, grateful he had not invited Genesis and Angeal to come early.
"Two hours yet."
Cloud may not have been meant to exist in this time and place, but Sephiroth felt they were adjusting quite well.