My friend who was going to edit this story, hasn't been able to finish it for several reasons. To that end I've decided to go back through and do the YAOI rewrite on the original version. I figured the wait had been long enough. The first several chapters won't change, though I have combined some chapters together.
The original pairings of AerithXZack and TifaXRude will remain.
Added pairs will be CloudXSephiroth along with a few others that I'm keeping to myself for the moment.
I am going to try and add at least 1 chapter a day. When the major changes hit it may be spaced out a bit further.
It had been 5 years since Sephiroth had called Meteor down on their heads and destroyed Midgar, 3 since Sephiroth had returned through Kadaj and Geostigma had been cured, and 2 since the incident with Deepground. Cloud Strife had learned one thing in all these years, he was happiest when he was fighting for his life. He'd like to blame the experiments in the lab for what he considered a suicidal complex but after his head finally cleared, and he put all the pieces of his former self together he knew better.
Cloud even at a young age had been angry and a fighter. He use to think that he was just some poor bullied kid, that was certainly the picture Tifa had painted. He was an outsider in the small village and that made him angry, but it was his anger that made him and outsider. He had always been desperate to prove himself, be noticed, be remembered.
It was why he had left home in the first place and as much as he hated to admit it, why the Shinra Military felt like home. There was always someone who was willing to fight. He always wondered why he hadn't made the original SOLIDER program, he may have had a slightly smaller build back then, but physically he was just as good, if not better than any of the other recruits. He had tested well on Mako Tolerance, despite his comatose state after the escape from the labs and dips in the lifestream, he really had better tolerance then over 99% of the cadets. The levels to cause poisoning in him would have killed anyone else several times over.
Then he remembered, he'd fail the psychological evaluation. He had been determined to unstable, apparently anger management issues were frowned upon in super enhanced humans. He'd had a bitter laugh at that. Psychopathic tendencies were ok in Shinra's Scientists just not their cadets.
In the 5 years since Meteor fall a few more things became apparent. The WRO while great at rebuilding the world, was not so great at maintaining it. They were a horrible governing body that more often got lost in paperwork than anything else. The world needed Shinra, Cloud could see it. Up until crazy scientists bent on world domination came into the picture, Shinra had been a good company to work for, and while they weren't perfect it had given a certain stability to the world. Edge was fine but many of the outlying towns were reduced to a way of life from over a hundred years ago. The dark ages all over again. In the power vacuum several gangs sprouted up and terrorized the populace.
Then there was Rufus, who really had changed. Yes he was still a cocky bastard that only told people what he thought they needed to know at the time. During the crisis 5 years ago he had been a teenager flung into a position of power he coveted but wasn't prepared for. He had done things that he believe would solidify his power, fear worked faster then gil. Now he understood that to hold true power and be a true leader meant to actually care about the people he was in charge of. He had been secretly funding the WRO, helping to rebuild a world where everyone hated him.
All of this added up to the fact, that 10 years after Cloud had left Shinra's service, he was now standing in front of one Rufus Shinra agreeing to work for him again. The world needed Shinra's guidance, Shinra needed a general, and Cloud needed a reason to live. At least now he was in a position to make a difference.
The news of Cloud's new employment came as a shock to several of his former companions. But before long Shinra had made more progress in 6 months then the WRO had made in 5 years. Shinra Electric Power Company was back in business and Cloud had a stronger sense of self then he'd ever had.
Cloud opened his eyes and sat up from his bed in the new Shinra building. While the new base of operations wasn't nearly as massive at the old tower, it was still one of the most impressive buildings still standing at 30 some stories. The building project had been a huge success for the economy and the morale of the people. Instead of just existing and surviving like they had, now they had a purpose again. Even after the building had been constructed, many kept their employment. Some became administrators in the building, some joining the new Shinra Military and some became the taskforce needed to finish putting the world back together.
He let out a sigh of contentment, as he headed for the shower, a little bit of dried blood still clung to his hair. He'd been exhausted the night before, the caravan he had been escorting was suddenly attacked by a few Behemoths, 6 of them had managed to make it a pretty decent fight for him.
This new Shinra had been a wonderful thing in his opinion. A lot of the trade routes had been shut down after Meteor, because the lack of trained SOLDIERs made it far too dangerous, and often deadly. Even Barrett, (Who wouldn't talk to Cloud for a month after he announced his plans) was singing Shinra's praises after additional funding allowed for the discovery and processing of several large Oil and Natural Gas pockets, for now the energy crisis was solved. Comfort levels were still below Mako energy but at least no one had to worry about freezing in winter.
Of course there were still solutions to be found. There were few enhanced SOLDIERS or otherwise left in the world, 15 in all that were currently employed by Shinra, The regular army was fine, but an unenhanced human, even one with the Turks training and tenacity, were no match for some of the greater monsters out there. There just wasn't enough manpower to go around.
A Doctor Rayleigh, who was very knowledgeable on the process of creating a SOLDIER had regretfully informed both Rufus and Cloud that Mako was not the sole ingredient in creating a SOLDIER, Mako in and of itself was a deadly poison to the human body. A substance that she now understood to be Jenova cells, in small amounts, had been used as a catalyst to bind the Mako to the soldier's blood. That was an option none of them were willing to pursue.
Doctor Rayleigh, had also unwittingly gave him a piece of his past, apparently he had been assigned to protect her on a mission alongside a Turk and he had helped save her life, something she was extremely grateful for even if he couldn't remember. Knowing he hadn't been completely useless as a cadet had made him feel a bit better.
She had sworn to find a way to make the SOLDIER's stronger, without Jenova or human experiments. It was a monumental task, but for some reason he trusted her more than anyone else in a lab coat. Maybe it was more of his past that he couldn't remember.
As Cloud dried his hair his thoughts turned from the past to the future, more importantly what he was going to do that day. Rufus had discovered that he hadn't taken a full day off in damn near 3 months. While he appreciated the worth ethic, he rather looked down on the idea of Cloud exhausting himself. There was a small comment about his mental health as well, but he was certain it was the bigger concern. Sephiroth had worked himself into a stupor before Nibelhiem and while he would still threaten to kill anyone that likened him to Sephiroth, he really couldn't blame them.
He slipped on a pair of pants and stretched a bit, when he caught a glimpse of red out of the corner of his eye and turned toward it. His quarters were on the 29th Floor with no balcony. He narrowed his eyes and picked up his Hollow blade, it had been closest to him and moved slowly to the window. He flung it open and looked out.
What he saw startled him. Seemingly glued to the side of the wall was a man with cinnamon colored hair and a long red coat. A flash of confusion and then recognition crossed his features. "Genesis!?" he nearly shouted.
"Please refrain from such loud outbursts, I didn't use the door for a reason. May I come in? We have much to discuss." Genesis said staring Cloud in the eye.
Cloud's eyes narrowed but he was fairly confident that the man didn't want a fight, and if he did, he was fairly certain he could win. From what he remembered, he could never best Sephiroth even in his prime. He moved to the side. "This had better be good."
Genesis nodded and landed gracefully on the floor in front of Cloud. "You can put your sword away, I couldn't fight you even if I wanted too." Genesis said as he brushed a strand of hair from his face.
Cloud just stared hard at the man, grip not leaving his sword. Genesis sighed but figured he had better get on with what he had to say.
"I'm not quite sure where to begin, though I suppose the beginning is usually best. Shortly after you and Zack escaped Nibelhiem, I meet with Zack trying to find a cure for my degradation. I knew Hojo had been experimenting on him but determined that the process he had been through to become a SOLDIER made his DNA incompatible with Sephiroth's DNA and his body was rejecting it. The amounts that were able to remain were useless to me and the only suitable source left was yourself." Genesis started, Cloud held a death grip on his sword but made no move so Genesis continued.
"Before things went any further Zack helped me see the truth, and the Goddess Minerva took me in as her Knight. It is currently her will that keeps me alive and puts me before you today. The planet is in a state of flux, and someone else has recently won their own fight with Jenova." Genesis broke his eye contact with Cloud for a moment. The next part of this was tricky to say the least.
"Cloud, this all my seem like bits of random information but think of them as puzzle pieces that will come together at the end. You know that Aerith is able to maintain her presence in the lifestream, it's not that surprising since she is a Cetra after all, but what about your friend Zack? He died almost a year before Aerith, and has no such claim, how do you think he maintains himself in the lifestream when people are meant to reunite with it? " Genesis asked
A look of confusion crossed Cloud's face. He truly hadn't thought of that before. "I take it you know why, or you wouldn't have phrased the question that way." Cloud finally spoke.
"You've seen the gunman's love interest and Sephiroth's mother Lucrecia Crescent correct? She tried to commit suicide and couldn't do you remember why?" Genesis offered.
A look of understanding crossed Cloud's face. "Because she had such a high amount of Jenova cells in her body, but you said it yourself Zack's body rejected them."
"But they were still present. And in higher amounts then most SOLDIERS ever see. Enough to keep his body from fading and thus kept his spirit from being able to merge into the lifestream. Zack Fair has spent the last 5 years in a state between that of life and death." Genesis finished.
"How do you know all this? and if his body is still alive where is it?" Cloud said grip returning to his sword. Cloud really was a lot like Sephiroth, Genesis realized and he didn't think it was all from the professor's experiments.
"I know because Minerva has told me, she has guided me here. Zack's body is currently encased in crystallized mako in the caves under what was once Banora. " Was Genesis's reply.
"Take me there now." Cloud said turning to gather the rest of his swords. Forgetting that he wasn't even half dressed.
"I will when we finish, but there is more." Genesis said.
Cloud's eyes came back to rest on Genesis
"I told you someone was fighting their own battle with Jenova and recently won. You know yourself how much of a parasite on the mind that thing can be. Sephiroth may have lost his mind in Nibelhiem partially because of my own goading but I only made it happen quicker. Jenova latched onto his mind the moment he set foot in the town. The man who had been Angeal and my friend and a hero to the people and the man that destroyed your town and tried to destroy the world were not one in the same.
Sephiroth was merely a puppet to Jenova, and he's been trying to throw off her control, you saw yourself the mad look in his eye. I can assure you the level of control you felt was muted greatly then what Sephiroth himself did, because she had to go through him to get to you."
Cloud put the last of his fusion sword, First Tsurugi together and looked back at Genesis. "He's in the cave too isn't he? How can you trust he's not insane and wont destroy the world?"
"You of all people I figured would be the most understanding to what he's gone through the past 10 years. From what I understand he only has hazy memories of what happened but his world was destroyed at his own hands. And if you don't believe me you can ask your Cetra friend. The lifestream tried to help his fight, it tried to help flush Jenova's taint from his system. That was part of the catalyst, for Geostigma and the remnants. Jenova was trying to make a Sephiroth that wouldn't fight her influence. She used your memories of the man to shape the one you fought when Kadaj took in her cells. That's why he was more intent on hurting you then doing anything else. " Genesis explained.
"If what you say is true then why hasn't Aerith contacted me herself? She hasn't had much trouble doing so before, why send you as the messenger?" Cloud asked eyes sharp. He still didn't fully trust the man before him.
"Aerith's story is much the same. The lake you put her in when she died preserved her body. Even Cetra aren't suppose to be exempt from merging with the lifestream. She was stuck in the same state as Zack. But with her connection with the planet she was able to do much more than just sit and watch. I dare say if you hadn't laid her to rest in the lake, then Meteor would have destroyed this planet. And I'm sure by now you understand that she as well is in this cave. They are waiting for you. Only you can wake the three of them and you need to do so soon. Jenova isn't done, she's only really just begun. She's a stubborn bitch and won't give up this planet easily. " Genesis finished.
A look shown in Cloud's eyes. "Take me to this cave. If Jenova wants a fight, a fight she shall have."
Clouds head was full of thoughts as he rode Fenir in silence. He wasn't going to fly there by Genesis carrying him, no matter how much the man insisted it was faster. Genesis did however fly over head keeping pace with the motorbike rather easily. Genesis had finally explain that he came to Cloud in the manner chosen because he feared Shinra and the Turks reaction to his presence. Despite everything else, Genesis was still a deserter and had cause the company a lot of trouble. A fight was not something he was willing to risk.
Cloud did have the foresight to call Tseng on his way out. Explaining that he would be taking an extend break of at least a week, and that he would call if something else came up. Tseng could tell by the sound of his voice that something wasn't right. He promised that he would fill the man in when he had more information. And he truly meant it. Tseng had loved Aerith as much as he himself had, and through that had become close to Zack. The man deserved to know if they were alive.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, most monsters knew better then to attack the two men and it was easier then Cloud thought to negotiate passage to the southern continent. It was almost as if the planet wanted him to arrive as quick as possible, and with what Genesis had said he couldn't rule out the possibility .
18 hours after Genesis first set foot in his room, Cloud was walking into the damp Banora caves. He had faint memories of the place, but at least he knew they were his own. Genesis guided him through the caves. "I'm sure Minerva would grant you safe passage, but I don't want to risk it, those who don't know their way around these caves will die here." Genesis offered his reasoning.
Genesis lead him to a small pedestal in a cavern in the cave and dropped what looked like a large red materia in the center. "Before we go much farther Minerva wishes to speak to you herself." He said turning to Cloud.
Cloud angered that he had not been informed of this part of the journey and thought it a sign of treachery made to attack Genesis, but faltered before his sword was even half raised. Before him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Genesis silently kneeled to her and backed away.
"Cloud, such a violent heart, it pains me to see as such but it is what will serve us all in the coming battle. You need to trust in Genesis and all your allies, past and present if we are to survive. I can read the confusion in your mind. No I am not the spirit of the Planet, nor a former Cetra, I am greater then both , I am the protector of this universe, of this existence. Jenova has been a plague on this universe for millennia and I intend to stop her progress now. You were this planet's chosen champion and now you shall be mine. " As the words washed over him, he heard it in his soul more than his ears, like thousand voices signing to him. And he knew without a doubt that her words were true.
Cloud felt his whole body glow and he rose into the air. Wisps of the lifestream surrounded his body and Genesis just stared in awe, he had a general idea of the conversation between his goddess and Cloud but her power still amazed him. When it was finished Minerva spoke to Cloud again.
"I have purified the Jenova taint within you. I could not completely remove it at this point lest I kill you but she will have a much harder time trying to corrupt you. Her voice will be muted, and you will hear me in her stead. " Minerva sang. "Go now, you have much to do and much to prepare for. War is coming and we can't afford to lose"
Cloud covered his eyes as she disappeared in a flash of light, only leaving the pillar and bright red materia behind. Cloud stood still, absorbing everything that happened. Genesis moved slowly past him , placing the red materia back in his pocket. "I don't know what all she said to you, but I do know that I serve you now as much as her. The will of the Goddess. I will do as you say, according to her will, but might I suggest we free your companions?"
Cloud looked over at Genesis still locked in thought. "I have no will to disobey her, and I don't know if it's because I actually want to follow, or because of what she has done."
"She is merciful, and will do what she needs to protect this world, and all the others, but she respects free will. I serve her because I have decided too not because she forces me. It will be the same with you and the others. She may feed off your violent and vengeful side or the side of you that wishes to protect, but your decision to do as she wishes is yours." Genesis explained.
"I suppose either way I don't have a choice, I can't sit back and let Jenova destroy the world, and as with the remnants I doubt she would leave me out anyways." Cloud said finally replacing his sword on his back. He hadn't realized he had maintained his grip on it through the whole exchange.
"This way though if you will, Zack and the others aren't far beyond here. " Genesis walked past the pedestal.
Cloud nodded and followed. The room Genesis took him too was vast, and full of luminescent crystallized Mako. The floor was damp and each footstep cause a small splash and a ripple on the floor. Cloud's breath was nearly stolen when he caught sight of three large crystals in the center of the room. As promised Zack, Aerith and Sephiroth seemed to be silently sleeping inside. Before them was a man half naked, with hair larger then Clouds, and startling white.
"Weiss, we have a guest now." Genesis said catching the man's attention. "I almost forgot with everything else, this is Weiss, and while I don't think you have ever met before, your gunman friend should know of him. And you would know a few of his former companions, such as Rosso."
"A Tsviet? What is he doing here?" Cloud demanded sword again in hand.
"Former Tsviet." Weiss supplied. "After the fight with Valentine and Omega, he left me for dead, Genesis found me and saved me. Many of the others weren't so lucky. I now serve Genesis and through him Lady Minerva. I've been guarding these three since he left." Weiss pointed towards the crystals.
"I didn't want to leave them unattended. There are powerful creatures in these caves, this use to be Emerald Weapon's home before it awoke during Meteor." Genesis supplied.
Cloud remembered Minerva's words of trust and stood down, looking past Weiss. "I'll be honest part of me didn't believe you. But here they are. You said only I could wake them, but I don't know what I have to do." Cloud shook his head. He still wasn't sure that he wanted to awaken Sephiroth, but if what Genesis had said was true, he was as much a victim of Jenova, as anyone else.
"I don't know the specifics myself, but go to them. Maybe then you'll understand." Genesis offered.
Cloud sighed and moved forward as Weiss went to Genesis' side. The crystal felt warm to the touch, even through his gloves, almost like materia. He had first went to Aerith and peered up to her sleeping eyes that looked much the same as the day she died. "Please wake up" he whispered. He knew it wasn't that easy but a small part of him hoped. He noticed her dress still had the rip from where Masamunehad pierced her chest. Her spiritual self never had that mark. He really couldn't believe she was alive.
Next he moved to Zack and while the peaceful look on Aerith's face had made him solemn, the still form of Zack nearly tore his heart in two. The man had always been full of energy and life. He punched the materia weakly with his hand but it was as effective as asking had been. As with Aerith Zack's clothing showed how he had died, His shirt and pants torn with bullet holes. Bullets he had taken trying to protect Cloud.
Last he moved to Sephiroth. He had admit that he had never seen such a look on the man's face, except for maybe at the end of the battle in the Northern Crater. He'd tried to deny it but a look of release had washed over the silver swordsman's features when he had died. Sephiroth shouldn't be allowed to be that peaceful and in a fit of rage he slashed at the mako crystal. Genesis surprised made a move to stop the man, but before he could the crystal cage shattered and Sephiroth had fallen into Cloud's arms.
Slightly startled, Cloud looked down in time to see, pure green -cat slit lacking- eyes starting up at him. "Cloud? I made it?" Sephiroth said closing his eyes and standing on his own. Genesis already on the move, came beside Sephiroth and helped steady his friend.
"Sephiroth?" Genesis asked quietly.
"She's finally gone, after all this time there peace. It was incessant and now it's gone." He smiled.
Cloud wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't prepared to deal with Sephiroth this way, or anyway that didn't involve him actively trying to slaughter everything Cloud held dear and certainly not while Aerith and Zack were still sleeping. So for the first time, he put his back to Sephiroth, letting Genesis deal with the man, he focused back on the other two.
Zack took his focus next, he had felt something when he awoke Sephiroth, a raw emotion that had connected him to the man. He thought that if he could summon something akin to that for both Zack and Aerith , he could awaken them as well. However hate and rage were ironically easier for him to summon.
What did he feel for Zack and for Aerith? He had once thought he loved Aerith, but he now knew that to be Zack's feelings for the flower girl. Aerith was like a dear sister to him now. Zack was harder to understand, and he had never been good with this. He glanced over for a moment to see Weiss offering a bowl of something to Sephiroth as Genesis continued to talk to him.
"How much do you remember?" Genesis asked Sephiroth.
"I remember everything before Nibelhiem fine. " A pained expression that seemed so out of place to Cloud crossed the man's face. "You and Angeal leaving. Zack and I tracking you down. You should have just told me you know. I would have happily offered to help. I always felt left out when you too went off." Sephiroth sounded depressed but continued. " After Nibelhiem I had brief points were I could gain control again, but for the most part it was like sitting in a theatre watching a play. I was aware of bits and pieces, but it's mostly a haze. I remember being in the lifestream and fighting her will with all I had. I couldn't stop her, not from razing the town, from kill the president , the Cetra or anyone else, and I couldn't stop her from using that blasted materia."
Cloud looked away from what was clearly a raw and private moment between the two former friends. Genesis had told the truth, this Sephiroth appeared a broken man. Cloud knew now that he could not seek to destroy this Sephiroth. The one who's regrets echoed his own. It was like looking into a broken mirror.
Cloud closed his eyes, eager to concentrate and stop the soul searching over his former enemy. Looking back up at Zack he felt something stir with in him. He wasn't quite sure how to describe it, a mix between, guilt, and a desire to prove himself worthy of Zack's sacrifice. A deep longing to be strong enough so that no one he cared about ever had to die again. As he touched the crystal it cracked and splintered, and then all at once shattered into a million tiny pieces, leaving Cloud to catch Zack in his arms. Cloud just looked down at Zack hoping for him to stir again.
"Man, what a rush." Zack said pulling his eyes tightly closed. He had more trouble than Sephiroth standing on legs that hadn't been used in over 5 years. Finally he opened them. "Spike I knew that was you!" He grinned that goofy grin and Cloud wanted to hit him. After everything that had happened Zack hadn't changed at all. Like it was the most normal thing in the world for him to wake up from a coma in Cloud's arms.
"Do you feel alright?" Cloud asked trying to give Zack a once over as Zack rested on a mako outcropping.
"Yah I'm fine, great actually. I forgot how good having an actual body is. And man look at you! You're amazing now Cloud, I mean it. I mean I knew you had gotten strong, but the lifestream kind muted things a bit for me, I didn't have the same connection Aerith did, so my perception wasn't always the greatest. And damn that sword, you'll have to let me check that baby out. And oh Aerith! You should wake her up now, I really want to give her a big hug. I haven't actually been able to physically touch her in ages!' Zack said in a little under 30 seconds. Cloud looked exasperated. Only Yuffie had that much energy, and Cloud suddenly felt very sorry for Vincent.
"I'm trying Zack, but I don't know how to connect properly. Your emotions for her are a bit-overwhelming" Cloud phased.
"That's right, you thought you were me for awhile didn't you? I'm sorry about that, I was just trying to be all noble when I died, like Angeal, I intended for you to live on and continue what we'd started, I never intended to make you me." Zack scratched the back of his head.
"It's alright, I've got the parts of you separated, but I formed much of my opinion of Aerith when I was using your persona. It makes it difficult for me to isolate my own true feelings." Cloud said looking up at the woman still incased in Mako.
"I can tell you what she thinks of you if that would help" Zack offered with a smile.
"It's worth a shot I suppose." Cloud shrugged.
"Well, actually she thinks a lot of you like she did Tseng, a big brother out there to protect her. She worries about you and your happiness, and thinks that you'd be a wonderful father someday if you met the right person. " Zack started.
"We'd sort of talk about you a lot. I was kinda worried that you liked her like I did, and that she felt the same way. She told me that the part of you she liked most though was me. I was kinda relieved. She does love who you really are, just differently. You're like her best friend and she thinks you're brave, and a lot more compassionate then you give yourself credit for. " As Zack's words washed over him he never took his face off the flower girl.
He really could understand Aerith's prospective on their relationship. Even after death, she was always there to comfort him and offer advice when he most needed it. She was a little sister and a best friend all rolled into one and much more for it. And he smiled as he felt a now familiar feeling. Just because it wasn't romantic love, didn't mean that he didn't love Aerith. It didn't mean that it wasn't just as powerful, and as he gazed at her, the crystal shattered and down came Aerith into his arms.