This should have been written and posted a long time ago. Anywho, this was requested by Kichi Hisaki, and the exact prompt will be kept a secret…for now. And I've began, and rewritten this story a good half dozen times, so enjoy.
Pairing(s): Sephiroth x Cloud with hints of one sided Cloud x Tifa
Word Count: 7,554
Disclaimer: Nope. I still owe nothing but the plotline.
"Go all alone 'cause I won't follow. This isn't giving up, this is letting go. Out with the old dreams I've borrowed. The path I call from here on out will be my own. A path to take me home." This is Letting Go by Rise Against
"That's it! I'm cutting you off Cloud."
The addressed, blue-eyed, blond swordsman lifted his gaze from the shattered bottle that he held in hand. Memories had this annoying tendency to surface at the most inopportune moments, and unfortunately, most of his were creations straight out of a normal person's nightmare. Thus when one flickered in his mind's eye, it startled him from his dozy stupor and hardened, SOLDIER instincts kicked in…
What a waste of perfectly good beer.
Cloud flexed his hand and shook the glass shards and spilt alcohol away. Only a few pieces managed to pierce his leather gloves and even fewer broke through skin. He could feel his body healing, the mako permeated into his system burning and forcing his metabolism into high gear. Bits of glass were pushed to the surface, rejected, and soon blood clotted, congealed before being rapidly replaced by new skin.
It was a process so familiar to him that he was hardly even aware of it happening anymore.
"Tifa," he kept his voice low, if only to mask the raggedness of disuse,"you know SOLDIERs can't get drunk." His body treated it like a poison and promptly boiled it away. The closest Cloud had ever come to becoming inebriated due to his drinking habits was when he was, at the same time, suffering from severe blood loss. He had come to the bar after a particularly brutal battle and had drunk his pains away until his head spun and what remained of his blood felt as if it were on fire.
Unfortunately, the sensation had passed all too quickly.
The brunette bartender snorted with disbelief before wiping the counter, cleaning away all evidence of the bottle being broken. "It doesn't matter. You shouldn't drink. It's not healthy, Cloud, acting as if you will find all the answers to your problems at the bottom of a shot glass."
"I stopped taking shots years ago," the blond pointed out, as if to defend his case, but he knew that look in Tifa's eye. He had already lost this argument.
"No…you haven't. You just treat the whole damn bottle like one big shot!"
He dropped his eyes. He could no longer meet Tifa's passionate stare. Those sable eyes bespoke of fear, anger and grief…She wanted him to be someone he wasn't. She wanted him to be her hero. She wanted him to be the final piece of her perfect family. Cloud knew that he would never be that man. He would never be able to give her what she wanted…needed. He was broken, a shell of what he once was and could have been. Gaia! He did not even know who he was some days, his mind was so fractured.
She needed someone who could hold her, support her, love her. And he…he was a monster. And monsters did not fall in love, certainly not with beautiful women like Tifa.
"Cloud…" it was painful hearing her voice filled with such confusion.
"What do you want from me, Tifa?"
There was a moment's worth of hesitation and then,"I want you to stay. I need you, Cloud. And Denzel needs a father…he's growing up, but there is no one to show him what it means to be a man." The brunette reached forwards and placed a hand on his shoulder, the heat of her skin warming the leather encasing it. "Please."
"No," Cloud stood, shrugging her away,"I'm not the man you or he needs in your life. Find someone else…move on, Tifa. Let go of your childish fantasy of marrying some hero who comes to your rescue! You know that we never could, and never will, work out."
Tifa balked for a moment before curling her hand into a fist and dropping it to her thigh. Her lips pressed firmly together briefly before she snapped in response,"When will you grow up and take responsibility, Cloud? When will YOU let go of your nightmares? The past is the past, when will YOU stop living in it!"
The blond was silent and instead of walking away, he snatched from another customer a half-filled mug. After downing the contents, he peered through the faceted glass at the woman his childhood friend had become. At nearly thirty, she was at the prime of her adult life, and possessed a body that any man would love to wrap his arms around at night. She was short, busty and lithely muscular—a martial artist who also could have been a lingerie model sort of build. And it was not as if she hid much beneath her white half-top, unzipped leather vest and hip-hugging shorts. Tifa had to have suitors crawling at her feet.
She was also watching him with disappointment.
Lowering the mug to the bar's counter, Cloud did everything he could not to look at Tifa. He scanned the room, noting how there were only a couple people lingering in the early hours of morning, most of who were drunk out of their minds, much like the man whom he stole the drink from (who was, at the moment, still staring at his hands as if uncomprehending on how his mug had suddenly vanished). The tables and chairs were skewed, the fluorescent lights above flickered and the pinball machine in the corner blinked sullenly. Then his gaze dropped to the counter and he examined the grooves of the wood grain, followed their sinewy paths; noted each circular watermark marring the dark varnish, as well as every stain.
His fingers twitched with the inane urge to trace these blemishes with his fingers, but he refrained from doing so and tore his gaze towards the door.
"See ya around, Teef." he knew now was the time to walk away.
"Cloud Strife! Don't you dare run away from me again."
The blond ignored her and kept moving. If he stopped now…
Two hands, one at either shoulder, forced him around in an astounding display of strength. His eyes widened before dropping to the floor. Tifa was crying…they were hurt, angry tears, but still…the monster had made the girl cry. Next thing Cloud knew, he was flat on his back, the right side of his face stinging. "What—?" he began, but the brunette was already helping him up onto his feet, her grip like iron bands around his wrist.
"Stay," she commanded.
"No. No excuses. Just…just one night, Cloud. Stay one night. It's late, you're in no shape to be on that monstrosity you call a motorcycle, and…You owe Denzel just a few minutes of your time. He idolizes you, Cloud. It hurts him to see you keep running away like this." 'You hurt me,' she implied through her incoherent rambling. Tifa was grasping for straws, any reason to make him stay, they both knew it…but for the first time, out of all the times she offered or demanded he stay the night…he nodded his acceptance. He owed her that much…
The brunette's eyes lit up.
Soon, Cloud found himself ushered into a small, cramped room with two beds taking over most of the space. He sighed, feeling guilty. It was the same as it had always been. She had kept both beds despite the fact that the blond had taken to sleeping in Aerith's church, years ago, when he was in town. Both were wood-framed and covered in clean, plaid-printed sheets—reminiscent of Nibelhiem. In fact, much of the room bore trace reminders of that backwater, mountain village in which they grew up. From the woven rugs strewn across the floor, to the deceptively simple dresser and cabinet in the corners, to the small hand-carved nick-knacks and sketches that sat in every inch of unused space.
He picked one of said sketches up, curiosity getting the better of him.
Surprisingly, it was one of his first drafts of Fenrir. The motorcycle he actually built looked nothing like the Hardy Daytona knock-off drawing he held in hand.
Memories suddenly assaulted him. Thus he clamped his eyes shut and allowed for the gridded, blue paper to return to its rightful place.
The headache did not pass as it usually did.
Instead it lingered, swelled, and pounded violently at the crown of his skull. Cloud gritted his teeth and massaged his hurts. Perhaps sleeping in a bed for a change would harbor pleasant dreams and a restful night. He could not remember the last time he actually slept…
He took a step backwards, and the world began to spin, his conscious mind swimming in an incomprehensible jumble of unconscious thoughts. Whispers hissed in his ears like radio static and images flickered behind his eyes like grainy scraps of film. Cloud swore he saw his whole life flash before his eyes…ONLY his life. Not scraps of Zack's. Not the lies he had once perceived as the truth…but his life. The one he had wanted to leave behind, only to find himself desperate to regain once he lost it.
The back of his knees hit the edge of the bed. His legs buckled. In the midst of his collapse, Cloud swore he saw Aerith reaching for him. Time seemed play out in slow motion as he tried to grasp the flower girl's dainty hand in his own. She smiled at him, her emerald eyes pulsing with the ethereal glow of the Lifestream; her swirled, chestnut bangs floating as if upon the surface of an unseen body of water—wisps of energy tangling around her form in diaphanous ribbons of luminescent green.
Right before their fingers touched, Cloud felt his back hit the plush comfort of the mattress…
…then his world went dark.
When he next opened his eyes, light flooded over him, cold and unrelenting. With only a mild hitch in his breathing from surprise, the blond propped himself up on his elbows, blinking away the spots that decided the collect in his vision. Mako-enhancements had their drawbacks—such as his acute senses being rather…sensitive. Bright lights, sharp or loud sounds and particular odors were ten times more offensive than they would be to a normal human. Of course, he adjusted like anyone else, but the initial discomfort was always disconcerting.
As his vision came into focus, Cloud stopped breathing. His eyes widened with disbelief and his whole body went rigid.
'I'm in a hospital,' his mind offered unhelpfully. He hated hospitals. He had doctors. He hated anything to do with the medical industry.
In his state of panic, the blond did not consider the consequences of ripping the IV's from his arms—which prompted the machines monitoring his vitals to begin flashing and chirping in alarm. All he was aware of was his instinctive need to escape. Whatever was wrong with him that prompted Tifa to bring him here was over with…so he was getting the heck out!
Groping blindly, the blond managed to untangle the sheet from his legs so that he could swing them to the side and stand up.
His whole body had begun to tremble with adrenaline intermixed with phobia fueled anxiety.
White. So much white. He was drowning in a sea of white. White walls. White floors. White cot. White sheets. White curtain. White light from above…And bleach…the whole place reeked of bleach.
He had to get out. He had to escape the suffocating whiteness of the room.
Cloud stumbled towards the curtain, ignoring the weakness in his limbs, the draftiness of his loose hospital gown, and the sticky feeling of his bare feet against the tiles. Though he did hesitate when he realized that he was not in one of the private rooms of Edge's Memorial Hospital. Instead, the curtain revealed a series of empty cots and other, likely occupied and curtained off ones.
The last time he had been in a hospital room with this many people confined to it was when he was a Cadet enlisted in the SOLDIER program. The military had its own medical wing connected to the main building of the ShinRa Tower, and its purpose seemed to be to care for as many people at once as in as short amount of time as possible as cheaply as possible.
Realizing this did not help his state of mind any.
Cloud hated ShinRa even more than he hated hospitals.
He then conceded that the only thing that would make this nightmare—'Gaia, please let it be a nightmare!'—worse would be if that deranged lunatic Professor Hojo returned from the dead to torture him with needles, and tests and mako tanks.
"What are you doing?" Cloud, whom had begun to scramble through the room, heard a sharp voice inquire. He stilled for a moment, wide-eyed, as a young woman in a crisp lab coat and wire-rimmed glasses approached. Her hair was pulled back into a severe ponytail, only a few strands laying stray against her cheek, and in hand she held a clipboard. And, she was walking his way, a sharpness to her step trademark of the military trained, her stride long and powerful for a woman of her lean stature.
The blond stood his ground, noting the fact that this was no gentle Miss. She was as much a soldier as he if the way she moved was anything to judge by.
"Well boy?" the doctor, whom was a couple inches taller than he (Odd, she had to be tall for a woman. He was small for a man at five foot eight inches, but he had to look slightly up at her) was soon within arm's reach. "Answer me, Cadet!"
Cadet? Cloud tilted his head to the side, presenting himself as aloof as possible despite his racing heart and mind. He wanted out of there. He needed out of there. And this woman was in his way. Deciding that this was all some bizarre nightmare he needed to work his way through, the blond dropped into a crouch and swung his leg in a clean arc, catching the woman around the knees and causing her to crumple to the ground.
Immediately he rose up again, before sprinting towards the exit.
Which, Cloud discovered, was blocked by an influx of nurses.
His brain registered the fact and promptly decided that the best course of action would be to plow forwards and pray to Gaia that they had the common sense to get out of his way. Most of them did, the blond noted, as he bowed his shoulders and charged. However, a couple remained steadfast, a none too pleasant glint in their eyes.
"Security!" someone shouted.
"Grab him," another commanded.
"He's obviously suffering from a breakdown," observed a third.
One of the nurses, a bulky male with a buzz cut and a thick scar on the left side of his face that left him with a permanently crooked grin, set himself into a defensive stance, his feet spread for balance. He expected Cloud to crash straight into his chest.
The blond in question, however, had different plans and none of them involved grappling with a behemoth posing as a medical professional.
Cloud hit the ground again, sliding easily between the man's legs before leaping up and continuing to run as if nothing had even bothered to intercept him. Adrenaline coursed through his system, setting his blood aflame. His muscles burned with the familiar ache of mako flooding into his bloodstream and granting him access to the high-energy mutagen's power. As he dodged both doctors and what looked to be armed soldiers, Cloud's world seemed to fall into slow motion.
Years of fighting, not only to stay alive, but to save the very world from those who seek to destroy it, had crafted him into the perfect SOLDIER. His mind and body were in harmony with the mako humming in his veins—an achievement that only Cloud and one other could claim. The other being the man whose clone Professor Hojo had attempted to turn Cloud into.
The first son of Jenova.
And in his failure, Hojo had created something greater. Something that felled his prized specimen not once, but thrice.
The perfect monster.
Cloud pushed all thoughts of Hojo, Sephiroth and his own monstrous nature aside. Now was not the time to wallow in old hurts. Now was the time to escape this place.
'Tifa, what possessed you to bring me to a damn hospital?' She often told him that he needed help, that he was not well. But the brunette knew better than to take him within ten miles of doctor's office. So what changed? Did he fall into a coma or something and she panicked?
The blond's thoughts were shattered by the sound of a gun firing.
A rubber pellet glanced off his arm.
To an unenhanced person, that would have hurt. To a SOLDIER, it was mildly irritating. Especially when more pelted against his barely clothed form. Cloud hissed with frustration and ended up ducking through a swath of nurses to avoid further assault. Now, where was the exit?
Blue eyes quickly centered on an elevator door.
There were armed men in front of it, their weapons raised and ready. Cloud counted them and decided that he could handle five soldiers easily enough without his sword or materia.
"Halt!" one of the men, whom had a fancy gold emblem on his helmet that signified rank, commanded. "Or we will use deadly force." Ah, that meant they had real bullets in those semi-automatics. Getting hit by one of those would actually hurt.
Stopping now was not an option.
So he didn't.
He heard the rattle of gunfire and felt the sharp sting of bullets grazing his skin. The mako in his system continued to burn, its presence flaring to life behind his eyes, giving the pale pools of blue a luminescent quality. To many, the sight of intensely glowing eyes typically meant a sharp spike of emotion, but to others, those experienced with SOLDIERs, it signaled a possible battle rage. The gunmen made audible noises of surprise and hesitated in their fire.
Apparently they had not expected to be dealing with someone mako-enhanced.
But they recovered faster than predicted. Rather than stop completely, they began to fire with more urgency, their helmets hiding all but the grim line of their mouths.
Cloud pressed onwards, jerking reflexively when the bullets imbedded into flesh.
It was in this haze of bittersweet numbness that a small part of the blond's mind sparked with realization. The thought was small and dormant, but soon it grew into a full-fledged epiphany. Memories assaulted him like flashes of cannon fire, blinding him with lightning bright intensity. These men, these armored guards, were not clad in the uniform of Continental military. They were the wrong color and the insignias were foreign…yet familiar.
As he reached the men, his hands wrapping around the gun belonging to the ranked officer so that he could rip it away, Cloud at last put two and two together, long since suppressed memories at last clawing their way to the surface. He saw the red diamonds. He knew what they meant. Horror as well as hatred surged forth and he nearly shattered the metal he clutched between his hands.
These were ShinRa soldiers.
Blind and deaf from all reason, Cloud reached out with one hand and grabbed the larger man's throat, aware that he was creating bruises beneath the high, starched collar of the blue uniform. He was no longer aware that the bullets had ceased to riddle his flesh, and that his excessive wounds were quickly healing, the invading metal rounds slowly being ejected and the tissue stitched back together. All he knew was that his head swam, not only from blood loss, adrenaline and pain, but from the massive wave of emotion that flooded him.
After so many years of trying to forget this part of his life...it was as if the demons of his past had been reincarnated just to terrorize him and drag him back into the blackest depths of oblivion.
And here, held tight in his grasp, was one of those demons. It would be so easy to snuff it out, just a little more pressure applied to the man's throat and his purple hue would fade to white.
Cloud let out a low, guttural growl.
"L—let…let m—e….g-g-go…" the man managed to choke out, clearly struggling to remain conscious as he scratched vainly at Cloud's fingers, as if to pry them away. "P…please…Do—on't k-kill m-m-e. "
'Why shouldn't I kill you?' the blond asked with his eyes, but he remained silent, his attention acutely focused on the erratic pulse beating wildly beneath his hand. There had been a time where he would have been appalled by his own actions and dropped the man, not wanting him to suffer. Tifa's scolding voice echoed in his ears, telling him to just that. But another part reminded him that he had been merciless at one time as well, willing to end any life that had a ShinRa label attached. It was how he saved the world, not through peaceful negotiations, but through the mindless decimation of armies and monsters as he fought to stop not only Meteor, but Sephiroth's ascension into godhood.
Only the memory of a gentle, green-eyed flower girl kept him from slipping back into that state of mind. He recalled her innocent love of all life, how she refused to kill and no matter a man's crime, she was willing to forgive. In death, she even forgave her killer when no else could. Cloud never understood why she did not hate Sephiroth for stealing her life, but Aerith's happy laughter assured him that her forgiveness was genuine. It was her purpose. And, she often told him, until he found his own and forgave himself for sins he did and did not commit, she would stay with him…and do her best to guide him to his own destiny.
Apparently, Cloud had not reached it yet.
Not even after all he went through, he had not fulfilled the purpose fate set out for him at his birth.
He felt the body he held aloft grow limp…the pulse slow but present. It brought him harshly back into reality. Thus, he dropped the unconscious soldier. What was he doing? What would more killing prove? In his hesitation, he found himself suddenly feeling disoriented and weak.
Mako burned through him, healing his hurts and enhancing his strength tenfold. It was a familiar rush. One that caused him more pain than any flesh wound ever would. It was why he, like any SOLDIER, appeared impervious to injury no matter how many hits he took. His kind kept fighting well past their physical limit and did not falter in stride until their death. Mortal wounds would slow him, but only once the heat of combat subsided and he could allow himself the luxury of acknowledging injury.
Instinctively, as he became aware of his state of injury, his left hand dropped to cradle his lower ribs and he felt warmth gush into a cupped palm.
Blue eyes glazed over and he swayed, the alert figures of armed men drawing slowly closer.
'It's okay Cloud,' Aerith said from somewhere within the fog filling his head. 'You do not have to fight.' But why? he wanted to ask. Why did he not have to fight? Why did he feel so weak? The adrenaline rush had abandoned him, leaving Cloud utterly drained as his body focused on healing itself. Had Aerith done that? Had she, from her place in the Lifestream, shattered his battle-induced haze? It would not have been the first time the half-cetra had interfered with the matters of the living.
He stumbled forwards; his free hand stretched before him…the formation that had been drawing closer, parted, uncertain of how to react after their leader was disabled. Cloud tottered over to the elevator and immediately found himself supporting his weight against the door. Never before had he felt this weak after a rush. What was going on?
He needed out, now.
It was then that the door slid open, dislodging Cloud and pitching him forwards…
…straight into the arms of the only occupant.
Panic temporarily seized him again, but a faint, motherly whisper caressed him. Cloud struggled briefly, but a few blinks later, he fell into the depth of unconsciousness.
If you could have anything, what would it be? (All I want is for this nightmare to be over) Is that what you consider your life? A nightmare. (I've lost everything...including my humanity. Why would I want to continue living as a monster?) If you could do everything over again…change the course of history…would you? (Gaia, no! No. no. no. no. Never again.) Not even for a second chance? (Not even for a second chance)
Green eyes. Blue eyes. Sorrow. Greif. Hatred.
You need to let go of the past, Cloud.
(If I let go, what will remain of me?)
Cloud jackknifed from where he lay, his heart beating rapidly, sweat streaming down his face. All around him was darkness. No white. Thank Gaia, no white! The blond gingerly combed his fingers through his spiky mess of hair, the gravity defying locks ardently remaining in whichever direction they had chosen. Though, said locks felt longer…bouncier than he remembered.
He was in darkness.
His mako-enhanced vision typically cut through all but total blackness.
Cloud looked down and strained his vision in an attempt to see the hand laying in his lap. Nothing. He wiggled his fingers and curled them in the blanket that covered his legs. The fabric was rough, woolen and familiar. He lifted the blanket to his nose and inhaled, curious. It smelled clean, though there was a slightly musty, musky scent trademark of something older…perhaps kept safe from the passing of time in a trunk in a cool, dry place.
He shifted his weight and discovered that instead of a thin, medical cot beneath him, there was the firm comfort of a mattress.
It was then he sighed in relief. Just a dream. The whole thing was just…a…dream…? Cloud stiffened as he mulled over the thought, reminding himself of the total darkness and the fact that the bed he had collapsed in had felt fluffy and plush as he sank into it….fully clothed. The blond touched his arms, then his chest, quickly discovering his near nudity. It was very unlikely that Tifa stripped him to his boxers, and even if she had, he would have woken up in her attempt. No. He was still dreaming. He had to be…
But it felt eerily real…too real to be imagined.
So where was he? What was happening to him?
Cloud yet again swung his feet over the edge of the bed and his feet met unrelenting metal. He took a few steps, oddly uncertain upon his feet, as if they did not belong to him. The blond dispelled the ridiculous notion as he searched for a wall. Soon, his palms met more metal, cool and unyielding. It was then, as his skin met steel, that the lights flickered on, low and artificial…casting a sickly yellow glow against the reflective metal.
He leapt back, dropping into a fighting stance, as he prepared for attack…
…however, it never came.
The minutes crawled by and Cloud found himself alone in an empty room, save for the bed in the middle.
He eventually straightened himself. What was going on? Why was he in a room made of dark metal? Were there cameras watching his every move? Had he been taken captive by some sick madman seeking to recreate the SOLDIER program? Or worse, had Sephiroth returned from the dead, incapacitated him somehow, slaughtered his loved ones and taken Cloud hostage?
The last idea nearly threw him into a paranoid fit.
But he forced himself to remain calm. This was just another bizarre scenario he would get himself out of. It was nothing new. He just had to remain calm…yes, calm. Deciding he needed to put himself into a state of perfect calm, Cloud lowered on the ground and assumed the lotus position, his eyes fluttering shut. Yuffie had shown him how to meditate during their travels around the world, and for all of her childish games, she did have a certain level of work ethic. It was how she grew to become one of the more powerful members of the group despite her unenhanced body and youth. Through daily mediation and rigorous training of the mind, body and spirit, she became connected to every elemental aspect within herself as well as the aspects of the universe around her.
Watch this! (Yuffie?) A tiny slip of a girl stood before him—her slanted, gray eyes glittering with mischief as a manic grin played upon her lips. Clad in a tank top; tiny, khaki shorts; and hiking boots—the little, tomboyish ninja did not look like much of a threat. Her dark, cropped hair tied back with a headband emphasized her youth…But the way she held her weapon of choice, a giant shuriken named Conformer, eliminated any doubt that she was a master of her art.
Yuffie bounced away, her shuriken twirling playfully as she assumed a ready stance.
Focus! That is the key part of uniting your energy with that of the physical world. Yuffie closed her eyes and took in a deep breath…and a split second later, her body and her weapon were a blur of motion. Conformer danced as effortlessly as its mistress and as she collected her inner energy, it began to glow, resonating with power. Then, Yuffie halted her fluid sequence and with a shout, split the very seam that separated the fabric of space and time.
A blast of pure energy shot forth, devastating everything in her path.
(Isn't that your newest limit break?)
Yuffie grinned, but her whole body trembled from exertion.
Yeah. Aint it cool? It's an old, ninja secret, but any whom master the flow of his or her own chi can eventually learn to control every aspect of their body…that includes limit breaks. Awesome, right? One day, I'll be able to perform All Creation whenever I want! And I'll be faster at it too…
Yuffie was always laughing.
Cloud opened his eyes as the memory dissipated.
It was in that instant that he knew something was terribly wrong.
He could sense him.
The blond's skin itched and his mind whirled. 'Reunion,' his cells whispered. 'Mother.'
A wall slid open and the sallow light seeped into the shadows leading into the unknown. Cloud was on his feet in two seconds flat, his every instinct flaring alive as he searched for anything in the room that could be used as a weapon. Oh, he missed First Tsurugi right about now. The fusion sword crafted from pieces of the Planet's WEAPONs was his pride and joy. Consisting of six separate, interlocking blades—it had gotten Cloud through some of his hardest battles, including Sephiroth's return during the Geostigma incident.
It was a blade that could slay mortal men and fallen angels alike.
And here he was, weaponless…defenseless…trapped.
As a tall, ominous figure filled the doorway, Cloud once again dropped into a fighting stance, prepared to prove his worth by refusing to go down without making one hell of an impression on someone's face! He did his best to recall all of the hand-to-hand Tifa and Yuffie had attempted to drill into his head, and balled his fists as he did so.
The figure in the doorway stood enshrouded by the shadows for a few heartbeats longer before slowly entering the room, the sound of his heavy boots against metal echoing in the silence. Cloud's eyes narrowed as he examined the intruder. Every inch of him declared that the man was Sephiroth, but the figure was not clad in the trademark battle armor of the fallen General. He was wearing black, yes, but it was a standard First Class SOLDIER uniform rather than a dramatic-looking trench coat and thigh-high boots.
In fact, if he did not know any better, this nondescript man before him could have been just about anyone. He was clad in a short-sleeved turtle neck and baggy cargo pants tucked into the tops of his army boots, which were neatly laced and reached just below the knee. The standard, dual belts were buckled around almost too lean hips and waist. And a cap (which was part of every SOLDIER's uniform, but many neglected to wear due to loose policies involving the matter) sat atop his head, the bill casting the distinct, glowing SOLDIER eyes in shadows.
There was no weapon on his person.
Without one he still radiated power and control, his movements that of a predator—the embodiment of lethal grace.
"Cadet Strife," murmured the uniformed man and Cloud's suspicions were confirmed. It was the deep, rumbling baritone of the one-winged angel. A voice so dark and sensual that it sent shivers down the blond's spine as he remembered their last encounter, how Sephiroth ordered Cloud to fall to his knees and beg for mercy and forgiveness. Even in the midst of insanity, the proud swordsman retained his infamous, chilling demeanor. His impenetrable calm enough to disconcert even the bravest of souls.
He was nightmare incarnate…
…with a face that an angel would envy.
Cloud balked at the thought. Why in Gaia's good name would such a thing come to mind at a time like this?
"Cadet. Strife." repeated the fallen General, his tone sharp with command. The blond could not help but take a wary step backwards. "Are you, or are you not, Cadet Cloud Strife?"
'Cadet? What sick game is the psycho playing? Is he attempting to relieve his glory days as General by capturing me and attempting to convince me that I'm back to my Cadet days before ShinRa's fall?' Cloud found himself nodding carefully as he watched the oddly uniformed General draw closer. Sephiroth soon, however, reached the outer limit of the blond's space bubble, and his overwhelming presence could no longer be tolerated with nonchalance. Blue eyes widened and a snarl ripped from Cloud's throat, "Stay back!"
Sephiroth paused, his head tilted almost imperceptibly to the left, the silence between them filled with question. "You are...different." He lifted one gloved hand to the brim of his cap and adjusted it, lifting the shadows away from his eyes just slightly. It took a moment to register, but Cloud realized that the man before him was acting…uncomfortable. Almost nervous. To anyone who knew him any less than he, they would see nothing of the sort, but those subtle gestures were uncharacteristic of the arrogant, overbearing SOLDIER he knew and loathed. "…Cloud."
"I said: Stay back!" Cloud felt the back of his knees hit the edge of the mattress. Had he been inching backwards this entire time? Unable to continue his retreat, he knew that his next action would have to be forwards. A solid charge. His one chance at escape. "I don't know what kind of mind game you're playing, Sephiroth, but it's time for it to come to an end."
The swordsman's silver brows arched with surprise and his lips parted, softening the hard line that they had previously been forming. "I am not here to harm you…Cloud." Why was Sephiroth suddenly using his first name? What happened to the Cadet Strife nonsense? Whatever, when his mind game failed, he must have dropped that particular pretense. "Please, sit."
Sephiroth motioned towards the bed,"I wish to speak with you."
Cloud gritted his teeth and like a trapped animal, he blindly chose the obvious solution to his situation. Instead of sitting, he lunged forwards, hoping to skid beneath any attempt the General would make to stop him…unfortunately, the swordsman's reflexes were far superior to that of the doctors'. Just as Cloud believed he had dipped below Sephiroth's outstretched arm, the man moved in a blur of motion, looping the offending limb around the blond's waist and pulling him off the ground.
Air rushed out of his lungs. Cloud then proceeded to blink, breath…and panic. Like a cat, he writhed against his captor, thrashing his whole body as he twisted, curled and bucked. He felt his knuckles meet the smooth plane of a cheek and his elbow clipped the larger man's jaw as his heel sank into a muscled thigh. The blond was desperate and was prepared to start clawing and biting if need be, but the mighty SOLDIER quickly disabled him, tossing the other swordsman facedown onto the floor as he wrestled both arms behind Cloud's back.
Indignant, Cloud began to spit insults.
Sephiroth said nothing in response to the slurs against his manhood. Instead, he perched himself upon the blond's legs to keep them from kicking and held Cloud prone on the floor until he stopped fighting. Which took longer than the man likely expected.
As his efforts were realized to be in vain, Cloud grew still and glanced hatefully at the General. When would this nightmare end? After all, he had been captured and manhandled by his worst enemy and had been unable to break free of his clutches and become the hero…Ah, screw being the hero. It was not all it was cracked up to be…All he wanted was to wake up!
"Ready to listen?" Sephiroth's voice was thick and sultry, and Cloud hated it! That silky, seductive tone haunted Cloud's every waking moment. He would hear the General mocking him from every shadow, his whispers replaying inside the blond's head like broken record. And to make things worse, Cloud was not certain whether the man had always spoken that way or if that tone was his ears only. "I am not here to harm you, Cloud. I wish to help."
"Liar!" Cloud spat.
"I am many things," the General lowered his voice into the softest of whispers,"but a liar I am not. I promise you, Cloud, my intentions are earnest."
With an indignant snort, the blond glared spitefully at his reflection on the floor. The metal was a dark, murky shade of metal; and with the diffused light pouring from above, he could barely discern the outline of his face from the inky shadow cast by his captor. This was it. This was the end. He would die here and now in this humiliating position at the hand of his worst enemy. Gaia damn it all!
Apparently taking Cloud's silence as a form of acquiescence, Sephiroth shifted his weight and loosened his iron grip. However, he kept his body above the blond's, clearly ready to subdue the smaller male at a moment's notice.
"You are Cadet Cloud Strife," Sephiroth began,"Hometown: Nibelhiem. Age: Fourteen. Height: Five foot three inches. Weight: One-hundred and fifteen pounds. Six months previous you enlisted in the ShinRa military academy. Your education track is that of SOLDIER." Cloud gritted his teeth. The sicko was still attempting to play the whole 'Cadet' game? Did he have some fucked up fantasy involving him as a Cadet that he wanted to play out? Just thinking about it made him ill. After all, the man had to be over thirty by now, even if he never physically appeared to age a day past twenty-one, and he was trying to convince Cloud that he was some fourteen year old kid!
"One week ago you were admitted to the medical ward's emergency unit in a comatose state, a status resulting from a severe reaction to initial mako testing. Your body rejected the principle dosage…yet, earlier this morning you displayed characteristics of SOLDIER level enhancement. Unaccustomed to the rigors presented by mako enhancement, your body fell into a state of shock. Then you were taken here…the Dark Room, to recover and await further assessment." Sephiroth then paused and added in what was presumably a reassuring tone,"Mako enhancement can occasionally lead to temporary, psychological abnormities such as paranoia, disorientation, anxiety or even partial amnesia."
Cloud blinked…then rested his forehead against the floor, wishing away the scene. Only, the scene did not change. Sephiroth's weight remained on his back. And he was stuck listened to the man bullshit about why Cloud was here. "I'm going crazy," he muttered,"after all these years, I've finally lost it. Here I am hallucinating or dreaming or something about Sephiroth, ShinRa and SOLDIER. Why in Gaia's name am I stuck in this delusion?"
"Cloud," the blond peered through the corner of his eye up at the General, whom was staring down at him with a curious, albeit concerned, expression upon his typically stoic face. Great, now he was personifying the figment of his imagination as having emotions! Sephiroth was a cruel, domineering block of ice who wouldn't know of humor or compassion for the human race if it walked up to him and poked him in one of his freaky, slit-pupil eyes. "I am here and telling you these things because I wish to help."
"Liar!" it was a natural reaction on Cloud's part. The Sephiroth he knew was a master manipulated who would do or say almost anything to get what he wanted.
The fallen General seemed unfazed and merely cocked his head to the left, this time more noticeably. Why did he keep doing that!?
"It is understandable that you would not trust me or my intentions," Sephiroth released Cloud's arms, a silent gesture that the blond did not quite trust nor understand. "And the situation you have found yourself in is quite unique. But understand that I have been in your shoes, Cloud. I know what traumas you had to have faced recently…and at whose hands those traumas were caused by." Was that sympathy he was hearing? "Know that I will not allow that…monster to harm you again. It is the least I can do considering…"
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Hojo," was Sephiroth's ominous reply.
Hojo? HOJO! Cloud drew in a panicked breath to soothe his anxiety ridden lungs, but it did not help. He felt as if he were suffocating. Sephiroth was bad enough to have in a nightmare, but at least Sephiroth had the curtsey to fight honorably and when he killed, he always killed with a clean efficiency. Hojo on the other hand took the word atrocity to a new level. Cloud often still had night terrors involving his years of torture spent at Hojo's hands. The screams of pain from both himself and Zack echoed and intermingled with the madman's wicked laughter and frustrated muttering. Failure, Hojo had called him, his experiments not gaining him the desired results. It had been bittersweet relief when the man became bored with his idle experiments and left Cloud to die, comatose and unresponsive whilst floating a tank of mako.
The blond did not realize he was hyperventilating until Sephiroth began to stroke his back in a…comforting manner. Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with him? Where was all the taunting and fighting and…and…of god, Hojo was here somewhere! Cloud shivered and held his breath, more desperate than ever to awake.
"My presumptions were correct," the General stated, a sliver of disdain coloring his cool tone. "Hojo has harmed you…but you escaped…or he deemed you a failure." Sephiroth, to Cloud's dismay, gathered the smaller blond in his arms in an awkward attempt to offer a comforting embrace. Had Cloud been in any better shape mentally or emotionally, he would have resumed his struggles for freedom. But he couldn't. It was too much. At the moment, Sephiroth was the lesser of two evils he would apparently have to face in this…nightmare…(Or was it reality? Had Aerith…had she really done the impossible? Had she found some way to turn back time and grant him an unwanted second chance at life? If so, he had a few choice words to share when he saw her next.)
"Relax Cloud. I will keep you safe."
"Why?" it was quite honestly the million gil question and the only one that Cloud could formulate without worsening his panic.
Sephiroth sighed and tilted the blond's chin up, forcing blue eyes to meet those of brilliant mako-green. "Because Cloud," he murmured,"I spent a lifetime wishing someone would so the same for me. I wanted, no…needed, someone to save me."
"I don't need…."
"Don't fall into that mindset, Cloud. Everyone needs someone when they fall."
For the first time ever, whether in real life or in his dreams, Cloud saw Sephiroth for what he was: human. Just a man forced to play the role of emotionless god of war, whose fall from grace was not his in the making. He was created and cultivated from birth to be the perfect SOLDIER, an avenging angel whose loyalty never faltered from his creator's. But one cannot make a god out of a mortal.
No matter how hard he tries.
The tiniest of smiles played upon the General's lips as he watched the blond's fear turn into wonder. It was then that Cloud felt the energy leave his body…all the adrenaline fleeing and abandoning him to the weakness of the aftermath. Perhaps…this would not be so terrible. Perhaps…this was a dream rather than a nightmare…
Or, perhaps, he considered with no small amount of dread, this was the start of a life he never had a chance know before.
A/N: ( This is a twoshot. The next half will fulfill the requirements of the prompt I was given. I hope you have enjoyed it thus far, and am always eager to hear ideas, theories and suggestions.)